In Response To: Ron Price
On: Markan Strata
Thanks to Ron for being so alert so early. I am not persuaded by his
objections, but I appreciate the clarifying value of having them. Herewith
my attempt at further clarification:
RON: I find that your analysis does not sufficiently recognize the
creativity of the Markan account.
BRUCE: To me, a baffling objection. Surely the creativity of the Markan
account is not something objective, to be recognized, but something to be
discovered. I do not start from any previous position regarding the nature
of Mark, but ab initio, so the nature of Markan authorship is for me a blank
space on the worksheet. I conclude, after some investigations not wholly
reported in my message, that the author(s) of Mark did exercise considerable
control over their material. Whether the degree and nature of that control
is properly called "creative" I would rather leave for later (it would seem
to have to do with whether in their own minds they were reporting or
improvising). As an interim term, I would call Mark an "authorially active"
text, certainly not stenography, and not an exercise in scribal precision.
RON: . . . nor the strong desire of its author to denigrate both the
'twelve' and the family of Jesus.
BRUCE: It does not enter into the passages on which I based my message, but
I would certainly agree that Mark in general is negative on Jesus's family.
As to the Twelve, and separately toward what the text much more normally
calls the "disciples," we quickly get into the question of the Messianic
Secret. Suffice it here to say that, as many before us have noticed, Mark is
not invariably negative toward the disciples. The Twelve, well, that too is
mixed up with the Messianic Problem. I can submit a suggestion on that
problem later, if desired. In the meantime, I think it is easy to show that
the Markan take on the Twelve is fundamentally positive. Why are the Twelve
there? Answer: We can best determine that by seeing what they do. What then
do the Twelve do in Mark? Mobilize to resist the High Priest's gang of thugs
at the Arrest? No, their designation does not appear in that narrative.
Chiefly, as 3:13f tells us, to go and preach and heal in the villages of
Galilee. Do they actually do this? Yes, they are sent out in 6:7-13 and
return in 6:30-31. Are they criticized on either occasion? Answer : No, they
are sent out with careful instructions, and they return full of joy at their
new powers, and Jesus suggests they have earned a good rest. How negative is
At maximum, I certainly think it falls far short of "denigration." Please
RON: I take all of the passages you question to have been part of the
BRUCE: That's your privilege, but to take only one passage, have you given
full weight to the structural and narrative anomaly in the Last Supper
scene? I repeat the key portion (Mk 14:16-26) here for convenience:
 And the disciples set out and went to the city, and found it as he
had told them; and they prepared the Passover.
 When it was evening, he came *with the Twelve.*
(There follows what I suggest is the interpolation:)
 And as they were at table eating,
[18b] Jesus said, Truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me, one
who is eating with me.
 They began to be sorrowful, and to say to him one after
another, Is it I?
 He said to them, It is *one of the Twelve,* one who is dipping
bread in the same dish with me.
 For the Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to
that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would be better for that man
if he had never been born!
(and here I think we resume the original Last Supper narrative:)
 And as they were eating, he took bread, and blessed, and broke it,
and gave it to them, and said, Take; this is my body.
 And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them,
and they all drank of it.
 And he said to them, This is my blood of the covenant, which is
poured out for many.
 Truly I say to you, I shall not drink again of the fruit of the vine
until that day when I drink it new in the Kingdom of God
 And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.
I think it will be agreed that (1) the passage reads perfectly smoothly
without the material which I have here indented, and that (2) it is
remarkable that there is no response to what, in 14:20, can only have been
the identification of the betrayer. The interruptive character of the
passage (1) and the lack of response to it in the immediate context (2)
together are normally recognized as strong evidence for interpolation.
It might just be my impression that the sequence here is uncomfortable. Is
there any support in antiquity? Not from Matthew, he makes it worse by
actually identifying Judas by name. But Luke reverses the two, having the
prototype Last Supper first, followed by the revelation that the betrayer
was present among them - but then, just as they begin to ask themselves who
it would be, Luke shifts to another controversy among the disciples: [22:24]
"A dispute also arose among them, which of them was to be regarded as the
greatest . . ." It certainly deflects the tension of the betrayal
revelation, but (as I pointed out earlier, in connection with some Lukan
shifts of material) only at the cost of introducing further improbabilities.
Is it really likely that they would pause in trying to discover the
betrayer, to dispute which of them was the more important?
I submit that it is not. John seems to agree, since in his version [13:1f]
Jesus first fulfils the role of a servant, mentioned but not enacted in
Luke, by washing the disciples' feet. Then comes the identification of
Judas, and for the first time in the Gospel sequence, it finishes in a
narratively workmanlike way. John 13:27 "Then after the morsel [which Jesus
had given him], Satan entered into him. Jesus said to him, What you are
going to do, do quickly. Now no one at the table knew why he said this to
him. Some thought that, because Judas had the money box, Jesus was telling
him, Buy what we need for the feast, of that he should give something to the
poor. So, after receiving the morsel, he immediately went out, and it was
There you have an exit of Judas, and an explanation of why there was no
furore among the other disciples at the discovery that he was the betrayer.
John never does get around to the proto-Eucharist, but at any rate his Judas
scene ends, and (by describing the inner thoughts of those present) takes
some trouble to end, in a narratively convincing and well finished manner. I
offer this improvement as evidence of a feeling that improvement was early
felt to be needed.
BRUCE [Quoted by Ron] . . . This second claim, this claim of an intimate
betrayer, of course makes for more exciting reading. It stirs the readership
to a higher pitch of indignation. But given its textually precarious
situation in Mark . . .
RON: Textually precarious? Please explain.
BRUCE: Evidence for interpolation. By "precarious" I mean "not narratively
secure in context; superfluous, having the formal features normally
associated with an interpolation, not well integrated into the surrounding
context." As in the previous example.
RON [on the identification of Judas as "one of the Twelve" in 14:10, which I
had claimed was narratively superfluous, and that a similar identification
shortly thereafter, in 14:42, is not only superfluous, but outrageously
superfluous]: Perhaps it was to distinguish him from the well-known Judas, a
Jesus (Mk 6:3).
BRUCE: I am not convinced. Once maybe, but twice? It shows considerable
authorial insecurity, not normally a trait we are invited to associate with
the voice behind gMk.
RON: You will doubtless have heard of the characterization of Mark as a
'passion narrative with an introduction'. I have reason to believe that this
notion can be taken further, and that the author actually wrote what we call
chapters 14-16 before the rest of the gospel. This would to some extent
excuse the presence of "one of the twelve" in 14:10 in spite of 3:19.
BRUCE: Not unless the Twelve were somehow introduced, rather than being
simply mentioned as though people already knew who they were, which is
precisely how the Twelve mentions (none of them narratively functional, all
of them narratively dispensable without the slightest damage to concinnity)
in Mk 14-16 are handled. For this and other reasons, I am not convinced by
the thought that the core of Mark was its passion narrative, though I admit
I have run across it in various forms. Mark seems to me to have a lot more
than that in mind, focal though it doubtless is, and I don't find a point at
which thus Urmarkus might be thought to have begun. Can Ron or anyone else
suggest one? An elided beginning?
RON [to my assertion that the Twelve "are not, as Meyer would have it,
pre-Markan"]: But they most certainly are, for Paul mentions the "twelve" in
1 Cor 15:5 about 15 years before Mark was penned.
BRUCE: This dating of Mark rests solely on Mk 13, and I am not convinced
that Mk 13 is integral to Mark, or for that matter that Mk 13 has to refer
to the events of the year 70. Taking Mark as a whole, there are signs of
pre-Pauline doctrine and practice in the Pauline literature, and signs of
some of those same beliefs and practices may also be found in Mark. I think
this situation (whose stratigraphy it would be wearisome to argue for at
this point) suggests a time-depth and not a single authorial moment in Mark,
and also suggests that the early point of the time depth reaches back to a
period earlier than Paul.
The key position here, I suppose, is whether it is possible to detect strata
in Mark (permitting the separation above argued for, and also underlying my
previous Judas and Twelve suggestions). And I further imagine that the
possibility of detecting interpolations is fundamental to the identification
of strata. Let me close with an example of an interpolation in Mark, one
which affects a key moment in the history of the Twelve, in fact, it more or
less comprises the only significant episode in that history (the rest is
phrases). If this is interpolated, then the Twelve as a whole are also
liable to consideration as a late element in Mark. As noted, one test of an
interpolation is that it is isolated in context; the surrounding text does
not take narrative note of it; the following passage looks right past it to
respond to something else. OK? Now here is my example.
Mk 6:6 And he [Jesus] went about the villages teaching.
Mk 6:7 And he called to him the Twelve, and began to send them [etc]
Mk 6:12 . . . So they went and preached that men should repent
Mk 6:13 And they case out many demons, and . . .
Mk 6:14 King Herod heard of it, for . . .
For what? For the rumor of the Twelve fanning out over the countryside in
teams, stirring up the populace? Not a bit of it: "for Jesus' name had
become known. Some said, John the Baptizer . . ."
See? Herod and his spies in the countryside completely ignore the
missionarizing of the Twelve, and concentrate instead on the teaching of
Jesus, back in 6:6. That is, he (and his staff) behave as though Jesus were
all they had to deal with, and as though the Twelve did not exist.
I suggest that when this passage was written, the Twelve did not exist, and
that they were added only later, producing the feat of official inattention
which Mk 6 in its present form presents to our puzzled gaze.
For that matter, is the Calling of the Twelve any more secure in context?
Jesus has been healing, and ordering the demons "not to make him known."
Then there is a digression (3:13-19) when the public is suddenly not
present, Jesus goes up into the hills, and there selects (presumably from a
larger company who have followed him) the Twelve. These being enumerated, we
have 3:19 "and Judas Iscariot who betrayed him. Then he went home."
3:20, "And the crowd came together again, so that they could not even eat."
3:21 "And when his friends heard it, they went out to seize him, for they
said, He is beside himself."
Crazy. And for what? For choosing twelve followers in a remote location? Not
likely. What the friends will have heard of is his trafficking with demons,
as recounted in 3:12 and preceding, and there said to be in the public
domain. Then the effort of his friends to have Jesus committed follows
naturally on the demon episodes there mentioned, but is not well motivated
by the Calling of the Twelve which now comes between the two. The
implication for a text critic is that the Calling originally did not come
between the two, but was a later addition.
Mark is in narrative modules, any of which can be rearranged without much
loss. The join of the typical Module A to the following Module B is zero.
But in the above cases, where an action is said to be consequent on a
preceding action, we have a claimed linkage. In both cases, the more
reasonable linkage is with the event preceding the Twelve episode, not with
that episode itself. That such situations regularly arise with the Twelve
episodes (and most of the Twelve mentions in Mark are mere appositive
phrases, not episodes at all) is, to my mind, strong evidence that these
passages as a set are not integral to Mark, and not original in Mark.
The Twelve are late tradition, textually exiguous in Mark, and also
narratively nonfunctional in Mark. If we excise all of them, we do zero
damage to the integrity of the Markan narrative. I think that the case for
their superfluity is very strong.
Thanks anyway to Ron for his suggestions; it is always a pleasure to have an
excuse to look once more at the ancient texts. Anything to keep the day's
newspaper at bay for another hour.
E Bruce Brooks
Warring States Project
University of Massachusetts at Amherst