Cc: GPG, WSW
Again On: Mk 4:10f PS
I had recently argued that Mk 4:10-25 are an interpolation,
essentially because they are a narrative interruption in the preaching
sequence 4:1-34. Of course the worst crux in this area is 4:11-12, by
far the most terrible statement in the entire NT. It comes to this:
Jesus's preaching is intentionally obscure (in riddles, Hb meshalim),
lest the people he is preaching to understand his message and be
forgiven, and thus be saved. That is, everyone in the audience except
the disciples (and them only by the narrowest of margins and narrative
interventions) is damned to hell forever.
This has caused some little consternation among the exegetes.
Archibald M Hunter, Interpretating the Parables (Westminster 1960)
devotes a whole Appendix to it. He lists in ascending order of
personal approval three solutions previously offered:
(1) C H Dodd takes the saying "as a later church construction, not a
saying of Jesus." He notes words reminiscent of Paul, and "thinks the
saying reflects the doctrine of the early Church, that the Jews were
providentially blind to the significance of Christ's coming. In other
words, this explanation of the purpose of the parables is an answer to
a question which arose after Jesus's death and the failure of his
followers to convert the Jewish people." Hunter comments, "A simple
solution but a drastic one."
(2) T W Manson thinks that v12 "conceals a mistranslation from the
Araramaic," partly because Mk 4:12 quotes not the Hebrew, or the LXX,
but the [Aramaic] Targum: Aramaic de can mean "that" (Gk hina, as in
our text) but "can also mean "who." This makes the sentence
descriptive, not intentional. Jesus does not intend that the crowd
shall fail to understand, but simply describes the condition of "those
outside." Hunter comments,
This view seems to us more satisfactory than Dodd's." I respond: It is
not. It leaves the idea of the parable teaching, which it is evidently
the purpose of the passage to comment on, uncommented on. The reading
is palliative rather than successful.
(3) Jeremias accepts Manson's Targum point, but does not believe that
the saying originally referred to teaching by parables. He translates:
"To you God has given the secret of the Kingdom of God, but to those
who are outside everything is obscure, in order that they (as it is
written) 'may see and yet not see, may hear and yet not understand,
unless they turn and God will forgive them." Jeremias notes that
"various features show v11 to be an insertion into an older context.
Since this is so, we must, when interpreting, ignore its present
context," also "The saying is early, Palestinian, and probably
authentic, since it agrees with the Targum and contains several
Aramaisms. Hunter continues: "The Aramaic dilema underlying mepote
('lest') here means 'unless,' as the rabbinical exegesis of the
passage proves. Mark, misled by the catchword parabole, inserted the
saying into his parable chapter, but originally it did not refer to
the parables, as it affords no criterion for their interpretation."
And Hunter concludes, "This seems to us the best solution."
I disagree. Mark probably knew enough Aramaic to display what modern
scholars detect as Aramaisms, but for that reason, is unlikely to have
misinterpreted an Aramaic original. The passage means what it has
always seemed to mean. Jeremias' acknowledgement of the secondarity of
Mk 4:10f, with which (as will have been seen) I strongly agree,
supports Dodd's point, that we likely have here a saying arising in
the post-Crucifixion community, and not a saying of Jesus. His
interpretation of the hostility of 4:12 to the audience makes sense of
they were symbolically regarded as typifying Jews in general, rather
than those eager to hear his own message.
The Markan community, as of the composition and insertion of this
passage, had written off the Galilee followers en bloc, an attitude
which is carried a step further in the Second Tier Gospels, both of
which curse the key Galilean centers, Capernaum, Bethsaida, Chorazin.
The other effect of the intrusive explanation of the Sower parable is
to transfer it from the time of Jesus to the time of the later
community, and to make it portray the vicissitudes of later attempts
to convert the populace.
The corollary, if one works this conclusion back along the veins and
tendons of one's theory of Markan formation, is that the Markan
community could not have been located in Galilee. I happen to regret
this implication, since I always liked the idea of a Galilee locale,
but evidently it will not work. Like so much other early lit,
including the Didache, we are probably going to have to accept a
The church dynamic that this Syrian text then reflects, as of the
intrusion of Mk 4:10f, is the one in which Jerusalem has become the
dominant center of what I may call Palestinian Christianity, and the
conservative (and nationalistic) Jewish communities of Syria are
beginning to rid themselves of the Galilean embarrassment.
Retrospectively, and by manupilating of previous authority text, as
seems to be the standard way with these things in much of antiquity.
Chinese antiquity included (see The Original Analects, Appendix 3, for
the question of Confucius's House).
I am not by and large a fan of C H Dodd, but still, sometimes the
simple solution, "drastic" or no (drasticity is a matter of the eye
and Sitz im Leben of the beholder), is the best.
E Bruce Brooks
Warring States Project
University of Massachusetts at Amherst
Louis Martyn (whose marginalia to Hunter I happen to be watching out
of a corner of my eye), a propos Jeremias' comment "various features
show v11f to be an insertion into an older context," has added, and in
red yet, "not if one BEGINS with Mark!!"
Not so. It turns out that there are Marks and Marks, and by the
standard rules of evidence, v11f are indeed an insertion into "an
older context [within Mark]."
The first question to ask of any text one wishes to use in historical
research is, Do we have here one text or more than one? The answer for
this prerequisite query for Mark is, More than one. That gained, we
can begin to look productively at otherwise tough conundrums like Mk
4:10f. To everything there is a season, and the fun of autumnal
interpretation can only come after an energetic spring of philological