- To: Synoptic (GPG)
In Response To: Chuck Jones and Mark Matson
On: Historical Probability
CHUCK: And I personally have concluded that Mark is more historically
accurate here. I believe that the appearances Paul lists in I Cor. occurred
in Galilee. Mark is correct that no one saw a risen Jesus on the Sunday
after his death in Jerusalem. The scene in Mk is a literary device to
foreshadow the Galilean appearances.
MARK: Though I have no idea how you would assess the historical value of
that claim. Is it just priority of Mark? Or a preference for no appearance
of Jesus? How does one decide on this basis that one is more historical?
BRUCE: Chuck expresses his opinion simply as an opinion, but I think it can
be objectively supported. How does one decide any historical question? One
guideline is to prefer the earliest evidence, thus eliminating a lot of
later elaboration or amplification. Of the Gospels, Mark is earliest (I find
the Trajectory arguments sufficient for this point, though there is much
else). Within Mark, the earliest account of the Crucifixion is the one
isolated by Adela Yarbro Collins in 2007. (She calls it the Pre-Markan
Passion Narrative, but that to me is a matter of terminology: It preceded
the canonical Mark version, and the canonical mark version was produced by
adding further material to precisely this early version). Then it is with
Adela's PPN that as historians we must first of all reckon. It does not
contain a burial narrative, and it does not contain an Empty Tomb narrative.
OK, then we classify these as later amplification of the earliest account.
Those amplifications are interesting facts, in their way and in their time,
but they belong to a later chapter of Christian history.
Even the amplified Mark account does not contain a Jerusalem appearance of
any kind; simply a report that Jesus, though buried in or near Jerusalem, is
not there any longer, and (this being reinforced by a very late
interpolation) that he will see them (and they him, naturally) in Galilee.
It is at this point that the Jerusalem Trajectory is helpful: the Four
Gospels (in the order Mk > Mt > Lk > Jn) progressively eliminate Galilee
from the picture, and reconstitute the life and death of Jesus on a
Jerusalem basis; as has been noted in this conversation, John even has the
gall to resituate most of Jesus's teaching in Jerusalem. This shows us how
the winds of doctrinal evolution were blowing: they were blowing in a
Jerusalem direction. But by the same token, if we want to find out where the
wind is coming from, we have to track it upwind, and this takes us to
And, as mentioned, if we go beyond the canonical texts and (with Adela's
help) track Mark itself to its source, or at least to its earliest presently
recoverable textual state, we get no Appearances of Jesus at all; in fact,
no Resurrection. It is this pre-Resurrection stage that (as I have earlier
had occasion to note) is massively documented in extant texts, both
canonical and otherwise, from the early James and Two Ways to the 3c Acts of
Thomas (the Greek, not the expansive Syriac) and the 4c Clementine Homilies.
This highly developed theology and body of church practice including
hymnology is what I have ventured to call Alpha Christianity. The
implications of Adela's PPN are thus handsomely supported in the preserved
literature. They are not a freak or a fake result. They seem to be in grain.
As for Paul, look again at the dates of the extant Epistles. We have no
comment of his on this or any other matter earlier than the 50's, almost a
generation after Jesus died. By that time, myths had had a long time to form
and grow and expand, even to the point where they included that
fence-sitter, James the Brother, as the recipient of a special Appearance.
Already, at the time Paul kicks in with a witness to the state of the
Jerusalem tradition as it was in his day, the Jerusalemization tendency was
in full blast.
So as a final comment on Chuck's comment,
CHUCK: I personally have concluded that Mark is more historically accurate
I would chiefly add:
BRUCE: And everywhere else, save where we can detect a state of Mark itself
that is earlier than our canonical version.
E Bruce Brooks
University of Massachusetts at Amherst