Re: SBL Report
- Can anyone please give a report on the review session of Adela Yarbro
Collins' Markan commentary (SBL 22-22)? Thank you much in advance.
John (Jang Ryul) Lee
--- In Synoptic@yahoogroups.com, "Jeffrey B. Gibson" <jgibson000@...>
>not unnamed. He had a name tag (pinned on to his linen cloth).
> Weaks, Joe wrote:
> > For what it's worth, I can confirm that the young [German] man was
> Was the name on the tag "Jeffrey Gibson"? I am a photographer, too,
> know.the complimentary coffee pot.
> > And further, when he finished, he ran not away, but rather back to
> And what compliment did the coffee pot give him?
> Jeffrey B. Gibson, D.Phil. (Oxon)
> 1500 W. Pratt Blvd.
> Chicago, Illinois
> e-mail jgibson000@...
- To: Synoptic
Cc: GPG; XTalk
On: Mark Session (AYC Commentary)
In response to John Lee's query (on Synoptic), and in the absence of more
authoritative responses from those so situated as to make them, perhaps I
should expand my earlier brief account of the SBL session, posted to
Synoptic on 11/27, which was devoted to a consideration of Adela Yarbro
Collins' new commentary on Mark. I don't do stenography, more's the pity,
and my own notes are mixed on the page with my reactions to them (and with
my memoranda about things to do next), but such as they are, here are a few
more details, necessarily intermingled with my comments because that is how
The listing of the panel in the program was as follows:
SBL22-22 Mark Group / 9:00 AM-11:30 AM / Book Review: Adela Yarbro Collins,
Mark: A Commentary (Hermeneia; Augsburg Fortress) / James W. Voelz,
Concordia Seminary, Presiding / Panelists: / Tom Shepherd, Andrews
University (20min) / Rikki Watts, Regent College (20 min) / J. Keith
Elliott, Leeds University (20 min) / Response: Adela Yarbro Collins, Yale
University (30 min) / Discussion (60 min)
1. The session in general abounded with assertions of "the unity of Mark"
and, as a variant, "the stylistic unity of Mark." These are unexamined
postulates, and are directly contradicted by the manifest inconsistency of
the work, its mutual contradictions and explicit reversals of doctrine, and
yes, the fact that its famed stylistic markers cluster in some kinds of
material more than in others. I also note that many of them ("straightway,"
beginning every other sentence with "and," and adding parenthetical
explanations after "for") are obvious even in post-King James English, and
are the first mark of authenticity that a later writer would be likely to
seize upon in order to render his additions consistent, and palatable to an
audience already accustomed to the previous text. The ancient writers were
not as stupid, or as stylistically insensitive, as modern experts are
sometimes pleased to think them. Only a suitably arranged test of deeper
structure will prove anything about the unity or disunity of Markan style,
and pending the results of a little more library work on my part, that
investigation seems never to have been seriously undertaken, in a way that
would pass muster with someone who knows what stylometrics is all about.
2. Tom Shepherd objected to Adela's PPN (Pre-Markan Passion Narrative)
reconstruction, presented on p819 of her commentary and argued for ad locc
in the main commentary. Tom wanted to save the burial narrative (excluded
from Adela's PPN) as original. He challenged in particular Adela's criterion
of "vague spatial markers" after Mk 15:38 (the rending of the veil, which is
where she ends her reconstruction of the original PPN). She later conceded
(there was an audience question also, slightly later) that of her two
categories of vague markers after that point, the other one is the more
valid. Tom seemed also to rely (my notes are indeterminate at this point) on
the "sandwich" theory, due to Edwards and to several before him, as an
explanation of structures in Mk which to the unprejudiced philological eye
tend to indicate a later interpolation (eg, 14-3-9, the Woman at Bethany)
and not a piece of Markan authorial felicity. I have refuted this theory on
an earlier occasion. My own preference is to follow out the indications of
added material, and see if they lead anywhere. If further support of the
Resurrection as original doctrine, Tom adduced 1 Cor 15:1-8 as containing
the Gospel as transmitted to Paul, and noticed that it included a
Resurrection. This, to him, proves the case. The fallacy here is to have
ignored the possibility that the Gospel About Jesus may have evolved from a
simpler state before reaching the form in which it was transmitted to Paul.
This possibility would in principle be supported if early strata of Mark are
earlier in date than the conversion of Paul, or anyway Paul's consultation
with Jerusalem orthodoxy some years later. There turns out to be good
evidence that such was indeed the case (the latest strata of Mark contain
datable events which all cluster in the early 40's, while Paul was still
alive and preaching, thus putting the earlier strata well back in the 30's).
In my terms, Adela's reconstruction of this segment of Mark is actually
testifying to Layer 1, the base narrative, not just of the Passion but of
the whole of Mark, whereas the Resurrection doctrine belongs to Layer 3. The
way to interpret Corinthians, in my opinion, is thus to say that Paul tapped
into Christian doctrine at the point where, at least in one locality, it had
reached Stage 3 of its early evolution.
It is well known that not everyone at Corinth accepted the Resurrection,
another sign that their doctrine may have been early, and that Paul, coming
on the scene later, represented the newer doctrine. This idea too I have
expounded at greater length elsewhere.
3. It is not for nothing that Australian movies are sometimes issued with
English subtitles. To my ear, Rikk Watts' comments on this panel could have
used them at a few points, and his off-mike undertone asides to Adela
(seated next to the lectern) were totally lost to me, even though, fearless
of new knowledge as always, I was seated in the front and not the back of
the room. There was something said about general prophetic terms in Mk 13,
and about a "high" interpretation of Jesus (meaning, in my terms, an
interpretation of Jesus such as is reflected in Mark Layer 2 or higher), and
about Jesus's deeds as equivalent to the deeds of Yahweh. A propos miracles
of this sort, it was noted that Adela in her book had cited instances in
non-Christian literature about "walking on water," usually as an impossible
feat, but sometimes attributed to people, all of whom turn out to be rulers
or the equivalent. The progressive deification of Jesus is indeed a feature
of early Church theories of Jesus (it constitutes one of the major Synoptic
Trajectories, along with Jerusalemization, the rise in power of Jesus's
family, and the attenuated role assigned to John the Baptist). It does not
characterize Mark the way it characterizes John, and I will now add, it does
not characterize the early layers of Mark in the same way that it
characterizes the later layers of Mark.
There was also a question about the Markan audience: Christians? Preachers?
The point is well enough taken, though my notes do not show that it was
answered. The "unity of Mark" spectre was raised here as well. See above.
Somebody or other complained that though Adela marshals an impressive number
of previous opinions (as well as much valuable background from Greco-Roman
culture), she often simply presents them without deciding between them; it
seemed to be a complaint that she does not emerge with a single theory of
Mark. I would respond that to one used to Chinese commentaries, what she
does is wholly and entirely familiar. Where the commentator has a
preference, including a negative preference, the reader has no real trouble
identifying it. The rest are there for completeness, and (perish the
thought) to allow the reader a little thinking room. Myself, I am far from
faulting Adela for taking a "non liquet" view of many points in Mark. There
are some nubbins that are probably never going to be satisfactorily
explained (inside jokes like the naked young man; whatever), and for a
commentary to take positive stands on each and every one of them is to risk
refutation as a whole. The wise course, it has always seemed to me, is to
say what can be said, and on the unpronounceable parts, not to make a
pronouncement, but rather to cite reputable previous opinion or add relevant
new facts, and move on. The objection seemed to me to be distinctly
4. Keith Elliott, coming out of the textual critical corner, commended Adela
for speaking of the "earliest recoverable text," not of the "original
manuscript." Elliott is an eclectic critic, and he criticized in Adela's
book the tendency to respect "the best text" (Vaticanus), a category which
he does not recognize, and in many cases to prefer the shorter variant as
original. On the latter point, he has indeed a point, and he cited a couple
of places where skipping to a like wording further down (homoioteleuton, or
anyway an error based on it) would be a better explanation, in these cases
the longer text being better. Among them, as I recall (they went by a little
too fast for scribal comfort; here perhaps is a brand new type of scribal
error - too much allegro in the one reading the text to be copied) were
9:44, 46; 11:26, and 9:38. I have not yet had time to investigate the
specifics of these or other mentioned passages, and so have no opinion to
offer as of this date. These and some of the following text critical points,
I may mention, were the only corrections offered at this session which Adela
herself seemed to take very seriously, and she, like myself, made notes at
this point. I hope hers were a little more complete and tidy than my own.
At 6:23 (W omits the first half of the verse), the matter of "Markan style,"
presumably in its reduplicative propensities, came up again. So did the
problem of "OT in NT," in 10:19 ("do not defraud," which is not actually in
the Decalogue), where some MSS (eg Vaticanus corrected, Sinaiticus original,
Alexandrinus, Bezae) have the phrase MH APOSTERHSHS "do not defraud" and
others (eg Vaticanus original, Koridethi, Washingtoniensis, not to mention
Matthew and Luke) do not, and thus have a shorter reading. As I read the
evidence, Matthew and Luke wrongly excise what was very likely a part of the
original Jesus teaching, which eliminated temple piety from the Decalogue
and extended what was left a little further in the direction of economic
justice. Some MSS follow Mt/Lk, or follow a like principle (in the end, a
pedantic principle) in arriving at the shorter reading. In my view, the
longer reading should be maintained.
However that may be, I noted in listening to several of Elliott's remarks a
general principle, which was this: Text criticism, the juxtaposition of
manuscript variants, solves nothing, since the interpretation of those
differences is done either by mindless rules of thumb (brevior or its
reverse, both well attested in the literature) or by reference to some
unexamined and usually simplistic theory of the author or the text, which in
the lack of a previous *investigation* of the text, to see if in fact it
implies a single author, can only be arbitrary. Or to put it in terms which
were still current at mid-century, the higher criticism is sometimes
prerequisite to the lower criticism. Since the reverse is also true,
criticism in general must proceed in the usual series of spirals, gradually
reaching an understanding from which the basis of that understanding itself
may plausibly be established. Things get clear gradually, at one end and
also at the other. It's not exactly circular, but it is sometimes
Another crux was the name of John the B, whether Baptist (8:28) or Baptizer
(6:25). Elliott remarked that "the nominal form [that is, BAPTIST] is
textually insecure in Mark." Well, maybe. Most texts have BAPTISTOU at 6:25,
but L and 700 exceptionally have BAPTIZONTOS. And at 8:28, most texts have
BAPTISTHN whereas 28 and 565 [I am looking at Swanson] have BAPTIZONTA. It
would seem that both the nominal and verbal forms are pretty secure in their
respective places. It will do no harm to list all the occurrences of this
epithet in Mk. WH followed by RSV have:
BAPTIST: Mk 6:25, 8:28; common in Mt, 3x in Lk.
BAPTIZER: Mk 1:4, 6:14, 6:24, never in Mt/Lk.
There are some nominal variants in the latter cases. It is easy from this to
formulate a theory that BAPTIZER is the old form, which has been replaced by
BAPTIST in Mt/Lk, and scribally overridden at most points of Mk also,
perhaps in some cases by Mt/Lk harmonization, a process which is definitely
attested in certain places. But the question is, why only *at certain
points* in Mk? It would also account for the evidence to say that Mk has a
mixed usage, and that where he has the nominal form, a very few minor MSS
have normalized it to the verbal counterpart which is admittedly more common
in Mk. But what accounts for the mixed form in the first place?
[Answer: the narrative voice in Mk uses the verbal form, whereas quoted
speeches (whether of Salome or of the disciples) use the nominal form. The
difference between 6:24 (indirect reported speech; verbal form) and 6:25
(direct quote, nominal form) is the crux; the minimal pair. I venture to
suggest that it matters, not only what the reading IS, but what the reading
There was also the matter of OCLOS (Mk passim) / OCLOI (Mk 10:1 only;
Vaticanus original, Sinaiticus, Alexandrinus, Washingtoniensis, but OCLOS in
Bezae, Koridethi, 700, Family 1, and several others). Adela did not notice
the variant in the notes attached to her translation (p457). The point is
amenable to explanation, but I decline to add a further excursus to a
perhaps already overly excursive note.
Elliott did pay Adela the compliment of saying, at the end, that he had been
accustomed to going to Taylor for Markan commentary, but that her book would
now become his first reference. I have felt exactly the same way, and was
pleased to hear that thought expressed by someone in authority.
What no one observed, but has seemed obvious to me as a reader, was that in
addition to the immense amount of work that it represents, Adela's
commentary is distinguished by a more acute literary sensibility than many
of its competitors, past and not so past.
As noted in my earlier brief report, the session had no more than begun
reassembling for the general discussion when the hotel fire alarm sounded,
and second floor persons were eventually advised to evacuate. When after ten
minutes or so the coast was again clear, only about half the audience, and
virtually none of the panelists except the author, were present. Discussion
was less than edifying, and I forbear to report on it.
[Also less than edifying is the fact, which became apparent only on later
analysis, that the Sheraton Boston hotel valet parking personnel steal
things out of cars left in their care, including credit cards that one had
thought were lodged in inconspicuous places. If anyone else had this
problem, they are welcome to contact me off list; I have information that
may be of assistance to them].
E Bruce Brooks
Warring States Project
University of Massachusetts at Amherst