Re: [XTalk] The Great Omission
- To: CrossTalk
In Response To: Ron Price
On: The Lukan Omission
This is one of those revolving topics that come up now and then, and get
treated in exactly the same way each time, eventually boring everybody to
tears and leading to the death of E-lists and such grim sequelae. Tsk.
For the record, however, one last time (I had referred to Streeter's finding
on the Lukan Omission):
RON: Few modern scholars follow Streeter on this point. This of course
prove him wrong, but it should give you pause for thought.
BRUCE: I have in fact given it some thought. But how many modern scholars
have actually read Streeter? I get the sense that they are reacting to the
general idea of a mutilated Mark, and not surprisingly they, or a
substantial subset of them, take umbrage at the very idea of a mutilated
Mark. If anyone out there is actually interested in the subject, take a
Greek text of Mark and (in the other hand) one of Luke, and follow along
with both, word by word, just before the Omission, until you come to the
place where Luke loses contact with Mark. Make a note of it. Then line up
the respective points at the end of the Omission, where Luke regains
contact, again following the two word by word. What will emerge, I venture
to suggest, but only for those actually taking the time to perform the
experiment, is that the boundaries of what Luke includes and omits *do not
correspond to pericope boundaries.*
That, and not the alleged opinion of an unspecified horde of "modern
scholars," is the thing to think about. (See further toward the end of this
RON: . . . Casey is forthright in his criticism ("An Aramaic Approach to Q",
p.5): "Streeter's arguments for this view are absolutely arbitrary ..... It
is ... most
unlikely that a copy of Mark would be mutilated in this way, and that so
assiduous a collector of information as Luke would be unable to obtain an
BRUCE: Well, that is surely forthright, not to say accusatory, but
forthrightness is perhaps not all.
In the first place, Streeter is not "arbitrary;" he is paying attention to
the word-by-word texture of the two documents. He may be faulty in
observation, or fallible in inference, but I find it, at bottom, to be
proper procedure. What else, in fact, is there to methodology in the text
sciences, save to look at the texts?
Second, though what we modern persons can and cannot readily imagine is
perhaps not best evidence, I don't find the implied scenario at all
(a) Casey's word "mutilated" implies intentional violence. It is one of
those highly emotional words which tend to turn up when someone is offended
by a proposal involving the nonidentity of an ancient text with our modern
text. Suppose we cool it. We have, so far, on the evidence and without
consulting our emotions, the implied hypothesis of an imperfect Lukan
Vorlage, not one which has necessarily reached that condition by the intent
of some hateful miscreant, whose vile misdeeds it is our primary duty to
censure. Guy's dead anyway, if guy there in fact was. Let's move on to the
things that remain for us to consider.
(b) Since we seem to have an omission from the interior of a document, we
are not dealing with an imperfect or damaged roll (which would leave no
material on the other side of the tear), but an imperfect or damaged codex
(from which interior leaves can be subtracted without necessarily destroying
those on either side). Is that a shocking idea? Perhaps not very: the vast
majority of NT and apocryphal papyri seem to come from codices. Why that
form caught on so fast, and seemingly fastest among Christians, I don't
pretend to know. But we do not yet have an impossibility; in fact, that
prospect is a little more conguent with the archaeological evidence than a
scroll implication would have been.
(c) Replacement. Did Luke realize his Vorlage had problems, or did he just
bulldoze his way through as best he could? I don't know what he *thought.*
That datum is not available to me. But what we see him *doing* (Streeter is
very plausible in his conjecture; read him) is to bridge the resulting
narrative gap as best he can. Whether he knew he was doing that or merely
thought he was fixing one of Mark's well known inconcinnities or
infelicities of narrative, I don't happen to know. But let's suppose he did
realize that something was amiss (he might have seen the physical signs
where those leaves of the codex had been lost). What, in that case, could he
(d) He could have gone to the bookstore for another copy. But as will be
obvious from the situation of the ending of Mark, which brings up exactly
the same questions, there are not likely to have been other copies. The idea
that Mark, once it reached the world beyond its own community, was widely
published around the Mediterranean, whether or not it is currently popular
(and yes, I have read some of the books of those who think that way, who
take "publication" in its full modern sense), seems to me to be ill
grounded. At minimum, however many copies of Mark were available to
medium-income readers in Syria, noneof them contained the ending of the
text. Matthew, another known Mark reader, did his best to patch in what he
thought would have been the ending. That merely shows that the ending was
missing for him too. Some later scribes, in a variety of ways, performed the
same restorative service to the end of the Mark copy they were then making.
Same inference. Their results are interesting without being convincing. For
them too, the only recourse was their best guess. All this labor, all this
guessing, merely documents the ancient sense that the ending of Mark was not
satisfactory to its early readers. It may be that some "modern scholars"
find it comfortable. Very good, and I am always glad to hear of other
people's happiness. But I am afraid that this modern comfort avails little
as against the clearly evidenced ancient sense of unease about this part of
But the same question then arises, with the Ending as with the Omission: Why
did they not get another copy? Or failing that, maybe it had sold out, why
did they not go to the Markan community for an oral report of the true text?
The only firm fact is that they did not do so, since there the ending, or
lack of it, still is. The rest is conjecture. But the obvious implication,
and thus the most likely conjecture, is that there were not that many copies
running around, and/or that the Markan community, by that time, was no
longer effectively in existence. The latter possibility works especially
well if, as I and some others have concluded, Mark is early, with a core
narrative written in the early or mid 30's, and a latest addition not much
after 50. The supporting community might thus have vanished after 50, and
have been unavailable to Luke, if Luke, at the time of his first draft, was
writing somewhere around the year 60 (that is, still before the destruction
of the Temple).
Is this death of the Markan community, in turn, an inconceivable situation?
Or do we know of persecutions, whether or not led by people like the
fanatical Pharisee named Saul, which might explain the extinction of a group
whose preserved take on things like daily ritual would have especially
outraged someone like him? Answer: We have Saul's own confession on record,
in his own handwriting, that he had killed as many of these people as he
could get his hands on (in Luke's opinion, as recorded in Acts, his
devastations affected Christian coimmunities all over Palestine: in Judaea,
in Samaria, and in Galilee). And it is certainly possible that Saul was not
the only one. Then the supposition of a scattered community, never mind a
situation of very few surviving copies of their house text, is not at all
fantastic or arbitrary.It is, if anything, perhaps the least unlikely
(e) For those prepared to consider the FG Hypothesis, there is one more
option for Luke as the reader of Mark, when he came to the place that may
have alerted him to the possibility of textual loss. He might have consulted
Matthew, to whom the missing material was clearly available. Why did he not?
I don't know. But there would seem to be several possibilities. (1) He may
have been following Mark at that time, and not noticing Matthew, his other
source. This gets us into Tom Brodie's mischievous question, How many knees
had Luke? Or, (2) He may have known of it, but regarded the Matthean
intervening material as Matthean invention (the way some people view the
Washingtoniensis version of the ending of Mark), and thus without authority.
This is the option that best fits Michael Goulder's suggestion. Or, (3) He
may have hated Matthew, as I have several times tried to suggest, and so
refused to take his lead in this matter, whether or not he regarded the
material in question as Mark-derived and therefore as the correct answer to
And there is a fourth possibility, which arises from my own work on Luke
(SBL 2008; scheduled for publication in 2011). It is that Luke wrote his
Gospel in at least two stages, and more likely three. In the first, he
worked directly from his copy of Mark, such as it was, and had not yet
encountered Matthew. This is the state of Luke which opened with the still
sonorous and adequate beginning at Lk 3:1. Subsequently, Luke did encounter
Matthew, and was furious at being (as it must have seemed) upstaged at
several points. He retaliated by adding in his own versions of those
Matthean improvements which he simply could not ignore, in a competitive
market (the Birth of Jesus was the chief of these, and one can easily see
how, here at least, he triumphed decisively over his competitor). But
patching up the Second Feeding, and so on, evidently had lower priority with
him, and here he let his previous version stand, whether by choice or by
default owing to greater attention given elsewhere, we do not know.
So far my position. It obviously contains several points requiring
demonstration in detail. I have posted some of those details (such as the
later relocation of material in Luke) on this or that NT list over the past
decade or so. Those who want more will find some of it in the respective
Perhaps the key question, with Streeter's and my view of the Omission, is:
Can a codex hypothesis be framed such that the Omission lies on a finite
number of leaves, and also so that the preceding material begins, as it
must, at the top of a recto page? The answer is Yes. Several attempts have
been made to show this. One such attempt made years ago on this family of
E-lists seemed to me to be flawed in detail. A less flawed construct (to my
mind) is possible, but I have so far not been able to place that paper with
any of the SBL groups which might have hosted it. It too will eventually
appear, though it seems not earlier than 2012.
I mention this not to be tantalizing, but as an assurance that I have looked
at the details, including how wide an omega is on Codex Vaticanus (it is
wider than a Codex Vaticanus iota, which is why attempts to visualize Luke's
Vorlage by word or letter counts are unlikely to give a closely convincing
result). I may be wrong, but I am at least using something more than
imagination, and avoiding any recourse to my own reserves of righteous
Not that I have any reserves of righteous indignation, as regards NT texts.
My field is ancient China, and if somebody wants to tear out as hateful, or
to imperil by frequent and devoted rereading, a section of an NT text, or
if, on the contrary, they want to biggen it by adding an update, or to stir
the pot by rearranging previously written text, fine with me. My only
reaction, based on some experience with what happens to texts in antiquity
(to mention only antiquity) is to shrug.
And why? Because stuff like this happens all the time, in all literate
traditions. Horace, Vergil, Homer, Confucius, the Chinese Art of War, the
Mahabharata; you name it. Nothing strange here, and by extension, nothing to
get all het up about.
CODICIL: WHAT IS AT STAKE
So much for truth in advertising at my end. One might then ask, Why does
Ron, in particular, always appear in opposition when this topic comes up? He
can best say, but I think it may have to do with the fact that his version
of Q, and his idea of Mark, rest on a different and incompatible model of
text construction. The difference may easily be seen in the matter of Markan
interpolations. Ron (as previous on-list discussion has established) agrees
with me that Mk 14:28 and 16:7, which are obviously related to each other,
are also interpolated. For those passages, we agree that the evidence is
strong. But he does not recognize other interpolations for which, as I see
it, the text evidence is equally strong. Why not? Because, as I understand
it, his model of the text will not allow that much expansion over the course
of (what I take to be) its first composition and gradual later extension.
So what we have here, at bottom, is two contrasting and incompatible models
of text construction. Ron, somewhat to simplify, thinks that Mark was
written from the beginning in modules, to fit exactly the space available
for it. I find a looser model not only more plausible a priori, but in
better agreement with the evidence in the text itself for the later
extension of the text. It is that looser model which allows, as I gather
Ron's does not, for the end of a codex leaf NOT to coincide with the end of
a pericope, so that the removal of a certain number of leaves from a codex
would leave behind, not a clean sequence of complete pericopes, as Ron's
model would do, but a ragged set of abruptly terminated ends and opaquely
unintelligible beginnings. That is, it would leave behind the sort of
situation which Streeter, as I think accurately, reports.
Streeter, to conclude, is my evidence (I wouldn't base anything on my own
sense of the text; my Greek is strictly interlinear) that the last pericope
before Luke's Omission, and the first pericope after it, had in fact this
I think this puts all the cards on the table. As to who wins the game,
hopefully that will not require the computational skills of a modern Pascal,
assisting a modern Chevalier de la Méré. But we shall see.
E Bruce Brooks
Warring States Project
University of Massachusetts at Amherst
Copyright © 2010 by E Bruce Brooks
PS: If anyone should be seriously interested in any of the above
suggestions, may I invite them to get in touch with me privately? Things may
shortly be happening along some of these lines.
- At 10:23 AM 8/3/2010, E Bruce Brooks wrote:
>...Perhaps the key question, with Streeter's and my view of the Omission, is:Your discussion intrigues me, but perhaps out of ignorance. Please
>Can a codex hypothesis be framed such that the Omission lies on a finite
>number of leaves, and also so that the preceding material begins, as it
>must, at the top of a recto page? The answer is Yes. Several attempts have
>been made to show this. One such attempt made years ago on this family of
>E-lists seemed to me to be flawed in detail. A less flawed construct (to my
>mind) is possible, but I have so far not been able to place that paper with
>any of the SBL groups which might have hosted it. It too will eventually
>appear, though it seems not earlier than 2012....
provide greater detail, or at least references, on the "Several attempts have
been made to show this."
And how do you respond to Dennis Goffin's reply?
Northern Arizona University
[Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
- To: Synoptic, CrossTalk
In Response To: Dennis Goffin (and Bob Schacht)
On: Lukan Great Omission
Bob asks for details about previous attempts to fom a model for the Lukan
Omission in terms of lost codex leaves. I am afraid that on this point my
memory is not well supported by my Rolodex. All I can say at this point is
that, as hinted in my earlier note, one attempt was based on wordcounts of
Mark, and another on letter counts. For the reason I gave (neither Greek
words nor Greek letters are isometric, unlike Chinese characters), neither
approach bodes well.
I was also asked to respond to Dennis Goffin's objection.
DENNIS: Reading the relevant passage in Streeter, I notice that he makes an
excellent case for 'the Great Omission' to have been no such thing, merely
that Luke got an earlier version of gMk than was finally published.
BRUCE: That's a fair summary of Streeter 172-174. The interesting part
starts at the bottom of p174, and begins to get warm at the bottom of p175.
Keep on reading.
DENNIS: Nor do I see anything in Hawkins' view that necessarily militates
BRUCE: Streeter quotes Hawkins' opinion that the style of the disputed
matter is "if anything, more Marcan than Mark." I might add that the style
of Colossians and of 2 Thessalonians is more Pauline than Paul. It is just
here that they betray their possibly secondary nature: the craftsman is
plying his trade a little too zealously. In Mark, it is quite possible that
at some point in the fornative process, much of the material here disputed
was indeed added to a previously existing text. If Luke had had a sort of
interim copy of Mark, including the the early layers but lacking the later
layers, we might explain the Omission - but again, only if the omission
coincided with pericope boundaries. It is Streeter's point (and mine) that
this is not the case. So that theory is untenable. It is also untenable for
other reasons, not all of them previously exposed (at least not by myself)
on this family of E-lists. Roughly: there are significant stretches of Mark
where the most obvious Markan style markers are either absent or (like kai)
reduced to statistically unremarkable levels. If Luke lacked *all* of this
late-layer material, then we might think (except for the ragged edges of the
Omission, which would still resist this explanation) that he had somehow
gotten hold of an early author's manuscript. But he does not. The Omission
is the only long stretch of Mark which is not represented one way or another
in Luke. Then his Vorlage was an essentially complete Mark, except for the
two pieces recently discussed.
DENNIS: I notice also that Streeter talks about the copy of gMk that Luke
got as a papyrus roll, not a codex.
BRUCE: That's Streeter's slip. His "Small Omission." I have ventured to
correct it. I don't see how a torn papyrus roll could leave behind it the
situation Luke seems to have confronted. A simple tear might have been
patched, with only minimal illegibility along the mend; that pattern is not
what Luke shows. A tear with loss of one half would result in half a Mark,
which again is not what Luke shows. What Luke shows would need to have been
brought about by two tears, with loss of the middle section, but with the
outside sections somehow patched together. It is very hard to imagine this
for a roll, but very easy for a codex. (Some of my own books have loose or
lost signatures or pages; it is a characteristic vulnerability of the codex
DENNIS: What are the clinchers against the above?
BRUCE: See previous, and above all, read Streeter (with Greek text
preferably in hand) past p175 and into the top of 178, slightly downplaying
the rest of 178 and following, where Streeter lapses into a more
The lamp that is hidden will be revealed, as the Good Books say, but it will
not necessarily remain long on view.
E Bruce Brooks
Warring States Project
University of Massachusetts at Amherst
- Bruce Brooks wrote:
> ..... If anyone out there is actually interested in the subject, take aBruce,
> Greek text of Mark and (in the other hand) one of Luke, and follow along
> with both, word by word, just before the Omission, until you come to the
> place where Luke loses contact with Mark. Make a note of it. Then line up
> the respective points at the end of the Omission, where Luke regains
> contact, again following the two word by word. What will emerge, I venture
> to suggest, but only for those actually taking the time to perform the
> experiment, is that the boundaries of what Luke includes and omits *do not
> correspond to pericope boundaries.*
This conclusion assumes that Luke was merely copying the text of Mark, as
opposed to freely editing it, and further examination shows clearly that the
assumption is invalid.
If Luke had been a mere copyist, then an examination of Mk 6:42-44; 8:27;
and Lk 9:17-18 along the lines you suggest would show that he omitted KAI
APO TWN ICQUWN and the sentence mentioning the PENTAKISCILIOI, and then
omitted the first part of Mk 8:27 with its mention of KAISAREIAS THS
FILIPPOU. But far from omitting the mention of the five thousand, he had
already mentioned them several sentences earlier. Also, in 9:18 he added
that Jesus was 'praying alone'. This is not the work of a copyist. Once we
grant that Luke was an editor exerting considerable freedom in his use of
Mark (and this is easily verified when we expand our comparisons between
Mark and Luke), it is surely a nonsense to claim that Luke's deviation from
Mark can be pinned down to mid-sentence, or even to mid-pericope.
> ..... At minimum, however many copies of Mark were available toThey all contained the ending (16:8). It's just that some people
> medium-income readers in Syria, noneof them contained the ending of the
underestimate Mark's skills as an author. ;-)
> Matthew, another known Mark reader, did his best to patch in what heMark revelled in subtlety. Matthew, as a good teacher, liked to set things
> thought would have been the ending.
out clearly. This simple distinction explains many of the differences
between their texts.
> ..... if, as I and some others have concluded, Mark is early, with a coreNot a chance. Several older aphorisms untainted by the synoptic editors
> narrative written in the early or mid 30's, .....
indicate that the original disciples expected the imminent return of Jesus.
Why write anything down if you think the end is imminent? One of the
clearest trajectories in the early Jesus movement is from eager expectation
of an early return, to acceptance of, and preparation for, an increasingly
long delay. Mark illuminates a part of the trajectory when he deliberately
sets the embarrassing 9:1 in a context designed to suggest that the
expectation of an imminent return was somehow fulfilled in the
Web site: http://homepage.virgin.net/ron.price/index.htm