Re: [Synoptic-L] Composing on a codex
- View SourceTo: Synoptic
In Response To: Ron Price
On: The Codex Breakthrough
Like so many before it, this scroll-to-codex thread seems to have gone
beyond the point of possible convincement. But how can one resist the appeal
of an argument seemingly grounded in the very text of Mark?
RON: It needed a bold and imaginative thinker like Mark to make the break.
It was not *in spite of* but *because of* the Jewish use of scrolls that the
change was made (Mk 2:22).
BRUCE: Mk 2:22 "And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; if he does,
the wine will burst the skins, and the wine is lost, and so are the skins;
but new wine is for fresh skins."
Hmm. I somehow don't see this as a cameo appearance of Mark in his own
Gospel, recommending new media for new messages. I see it as a cameo (cameo
because uncontexted) appearance of Jesus in Mark's Gospel, justifying his
departures from the doctrine and the practice of his former mentor John the
Is this reading justified? I think so, and I will take a moment to explain.
First, however much the later Synoptists hate it, and fight to minimize it,
John the B plays the lead-in role in Mark's story of the Jesus movement.
Second, Herod (again within that story, but Markan evidence is surely
relevant to the question of supposed Markan codical symbolism) killed John,
and took alarm at Jesus's preaching, thinking it more of the same thing.
Third, an undercommented passage if there ever was one, Jesus in the Temple
challenges his questioners to deny the divine source of John's baptism. Not
that Jesus himself baptized (he conspicuously did not, though we know his
later movement did; a rapid reversion to the parent movement), but he linked
his own authority to "do these things" to the same source which John had
invoked, namely God.
So far the continuities. As to the departures, we have, in whatever stratum
of gMk it may reside, the question about why, given that John's disciples
fasted, Jesus's disciples did not. As to novelty more generally, we have the
first Capernaum audience: "he taught them as one who had authority, and not
as the scribes [mere orthodox interpreters]." There are persistent
indications that Jesus took a new line on the Mosaic code. Thus, when (again
in a later layer, if I am to be candid about this) Jesus runs through the
Commandments for the person wrongly called "a rich young ruler," he
conspicuously leaves out the whole first half, the ceremonial piety half, of
the Mosaic Ten (this is what underlies his neglect of Sabbath rules and
sacrificial purity generally). In the retained human-relations half he
inserts a new one against fraud (for which, as I showed in the course of my
James paper at SBL/NE 2007, there is abundant early Christian documentation,
and also sufficient OT precedent). The novelty is not in Jesus' having read
the OT, but in his having made his own choices among its provisions along
the line of the Later Prophets. John assumed that people knew what he meant
when he called them to repentance; he assumed they were instructed by
tradition as to their sins. Jesus *redefined* sins, leaving out the ones
which only lined the pockets of the Temple elite. Here was the novelty.
Can you decant that new, simpler, and humanly compelling understanding of
Mosaic tradition into the old Pharisaic bottles? No, the two are
incompatible. You would only spoil the finespun and, in their own terms,
coherent arguments of the populist Pharisees by attempting it. That is,
Jesus is not willing to have his movement construed as capable of
accommodation within Pharisaism. The old is Johannine, and the new is seen
at some points in specific contrast with the preceding Johannine.
I suggest that Mk 2:22, however abruptly it appears in the otherwise
continuous stream of the Markan narrative, is talking about this novelty. As
to codices vs scrolls, I could write Mk 2:22 it on my fingernail, if I
needed to write it at all. But the genuine parables of Jesus, from where I
sit in the back of the crowd, are remarkable for their lack of need for
transcriptional followup. They are not lessons to be copied out, they are
not enigmas for the seminarian to puzzle over (as the late-layer
interpretation of the Parable of the Sower famously insists). They are ear
candy for the many. Short, sweet, stunningly intelligible, startlingly new.
Why didn't Mark take just a little more time to fill in what Jesus's message
*was,* instead of leaving us with these tantalizing bits about its novelty?
I wasn't there, and I don't know. I can only guess. The answer, as it seems
to me, is hard or easy to guess depending on who you think the Gospel was
meant for. If to acquaint strangers with the content of Jesus's teaching,
then I have to concede that Mark is ineffective. If to inform an audience
already aware of Jesus's teaching (in fact, an audience of local converts,
say in Damascus) about the theological interpretation and implication of
Jesus's life, a thing on which Jesus in his lifetime will have said nothing
because he was busy living his lifetime, and pursuing the goals to which his
convictions led him, then it makes much more sense.
Mk is not a missionary tract, it is a congregational supplement.
Statements in Mk about the novelty of Jesus's teaching are not there to
transcribe the teaching, they are there to explain the opposition which the
teaching aroused; they are there to explain the failure of Jesus, both with
his own people (which was a disappointment), and with the Romans (which
might have been stipulated). Once we reach this point (which I first did
publicly in my SBL/NE paper of 2006), it is not difficult to define the
genre of Mark. In the strict classical sense, it is an apologia. The
comparison is not to Homer, but if anything in that direction, to the last
days of Socrates. How do you explain, and above all how do you dignify, the
death of a founder? That is the problem that probably to some degree vexed
the most convinced of Jesus's followers, the week after Passover, and that
is the problem that, as I see it, Mark set himself to solve.
In that solution, it seems to me that Mk 2:22 has a perfectly functional
place. It reminds, it focuses, it relates, without needing to expound.
E Bruce Brooks
Warring States Project
University of Massachusetts at Amherst