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Re: [XTalk] Historical Presents

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  • Jeff Peterson
    Bruce, I know just enough Aramaic to be dangerous, so this post is offered as an invitation for comment by people with actual expertise, but here goes. I
    Message 1 of 36 , Jan 3, 2009
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      I know just enough Aramaic to be dangerous, so this post is offered as
      an invitation for comment by people with actual expertise, but here
      goes. I wonder if an analogy to Mark's extensive use of the historic
      present (or the "narrative present," as I prefer to call it) isn't
      presented by the use of the "waw consecutive" (or "conversive") with
      the imperfect tense in Semitic narrative texts; this is common in
      biblical Hebrew but not in Aramaic, though I believe there are some
      instances from Qumran (which would be the Aramaic evidence nearest in
      time, and probably also in space, to Mark's formative milieu). The
      parallel isn't exact, there being only two tenses plus participle in
      Aramaic versus half a dozen in Greek, but as with the waw consecutive
      construction a tense usually describing uncompleted action is used in
      the narrative of presumably completed events.

      If Greek is a second language to Mark, or if Mark is writing in a
      scriptural style (I'd think both the case, though both are of course
      debatable), this might account for the prominence of the narrative
      present in his work. In any case, I'd think this holds more promise
      than an approach like Robert Gundry's, who supposes he can determine
      the emphasis that each instance of the narrative present conveys in
      its Marcan context.

      Things it would help to know: 1) The percentage of Mark's uses of the
      narrative present that follow immediately on KAI (presumably a very
      high proportion of them follow closely on a KAI, given Mark's heavy
      use of the conjunction; the case gets stronger the more immediately
      follow KAI, as this accords with the Semitic idiom). 2) The proportion
      of biblical waw consecutive constructions that is rendered with the
      narrative present in the various book of the LXX. 3) How widely used
      the narrative present is in other Greek texts written by Jews (e.g.,
      Josephus), and in Greek texts written in the Hellenistic Roman era

      Love coming up with questions for other people to answer.

      Jeff Peterson
      Austin Graduate School of Theology
      Austin, Texas

      On Jan 3, 2009, at 12:29 PM, E Bruce Brooks wrote:

      > To: Crosstalk
      > Cc: GPG
      > On: Historical Presents
      > From: Bruce
      > A couple of us are working on historical presents in Mark. This
      > usage exists
      > in English, but it is there largely confined to informal or uneducated
      > speech, hence (a classicist friend tells me) the extreme
      > unwillingness of
      > translators to render Greek historical presents into English
      > translations of
      > Mark. The usage is OK in Greek, it seems, but it carries socially low
      > connotations in English.
      > What is the case in Aramaic? Does the construction exist, and if so,
      > is it
      > socially limited, as in English, or is it stylistically more
      > general, as
      > apparently in Greek?
      > Any comments welcome.
      > Bruce
      > E Bruce Brooks
      > Warring States Project
      > University of Massachusetts at Amherst

      [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
    • E Bruce Brooks
      To: Crosstalk Cc: GPG (the smaller conversation) Following Up On: Mine of 1/11/09 On: Historical Presents as a Layer Marker in Mark From: Bruce Just to repeat,
      Message 36 of 36 , Jan 11, 2009
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        To: Crosstalk
        Cc: GPG (the smaller conversation)
        Following Up On: Mine of 1/11/09
        On: Historical Presents as a Layer Marker in Mark
        From: Bruce

        Just to repeat, in case there was somehow a failure in delivery: I had
        earlier suggested that the following seven passages were for various
        internal reasons (not here repeated) typologically late or internally
        discordant in Mark, or both:

        (a) The Beelzebul accusation (3:22-30), interrupting other material.

        (b) The Woman With a Flow of Blood episode (5:24-34), ditto.

        (c) The Death of John the Baptist (6:17-29), ditto, plus very long.

        (d) The Rich Young Man (10:17-27). Absolute opposition to wealth.

        (e) The Parable of the Vineyard (12:1-12). Typologically unique;
        substantively late

        (f) The Eschatological Discourse (13:3-37). Long; theologically late.

        (g) The Anointing in Bethany (14:3-9). Interruptive; legendary in tone.


        Are there common traits among these seven, independent of the ones used to
        isolate them for discussion in the first place? I had previously reported
        that though there are c150 HP in all of Mark, none of these seven passages
        contains a single HP. Together, they amount to a sizeable percentage of the
        total Mark, and this absence may conceivably be statistically significant.
        If it reflects a real situation, this already puts the Maloney data in a
        different light: we may have, in Mark the detectable presence of a late
        author, one not as concerned as any earlier ones to maintain the style of
        Initial Mark.


        That is suggestive, though (as I previously noted at some length) not
        definitive. To follow up the suggestion, and see whether it holds, for all
        or part of this material, we might next ask: are there further features
        which these seven passages share?

        Answering my own question (since it is now quite a while since I asked it,
        and I have had a little time to think), I might mention the following.

        1. EUQUS. Along with initial KAI and the HP itself, this is one of the most
        conspicuous components of Mark's "breathless" style. EUQUS occurs (in that
        precise form) 51x in Mark. Only one of those occurrences is in any of these
        seven passages (5:30). We thus cannot say that the EUQUS feature of Markan
        style is absent from the seven passages, but it is surely much reduced. It
        might be objected, But these stories are not such as would readily
        accommodate EUQUS. I answer: The Death of John, for one, might easily have
        done so, but the statement does generally hold. I suggest, however, that it
        is merely another way of saying, These passages are written in a style
        different from that of the typical early Markan EUQUS passage. They are more
        dignified (even when they are sensationalistic); they don't grab the reader
        as firmly by the lapel. The tone is different, and the relative lack of
        EUQUS is one way that this different tone is signaled.

        2. Women. Adult women are notably prominent in these passages, either as
        present or as contrastively absent. (a) No women directly present, but note
        that the Beelzebul accusation interrupts, and thus distracts attention from,
        an episode in which Jesus's mother and sisters have a distinctly negative
        role, as unbelievers and indeed persecutors. (b) Jesus's only healing of an
        adult woman, and it is really her faith, and no conscious act of his, that
        produces the healing. We are way past the typical Markan healing scene,
        which is a deed of power by Jesus. (c) The Death of John contains a female
        part that any diva would kill for. (d) Nothing special here. (e) Ditto. (f)
        There is a perhaps notable sympathy, in this cataclysmic picture, with
        "those who give suck in those days." (g) Here is another starring female
        part, this one emblematic of personal devotion; her actions are pointedly
        defended by Jesus.

        If we subtract these passages from Mark, how many adult women of consequence
        are left? I omit the Women at the Tomb as a cluster rather than an
        individual. On that basis, I think just one: the Syrophoenician Woman
        (7:24-31). Any EUQUS there? Just one. Any HP there? Just one, and it
        introduces not a statement of Jesus, but the retort of the Woman. Hmmm. The
        incident itself is typologically odd: a distance healing. Hmmm.

        3. The Elect. This I find a confusing term, but I am prepared to take it in
        the sense of an appropriated Jewish identity: those to whom God has
        previously given a promise. Then the Elect are the Christians, specifically
        identified with the New Israel, at a time when the Christians see themselves
        as having replaced the Jews in that role. The term itself occurs only in
        (f), but the Transfer of the Covenant is the whole point of (e) also. This
        perception of the Christian community is late; it occurs in Paul and in
        Didache 9:4 and 10:5, in the late layer of a generally early text; it has
        become nearly conventional by 1 Peter 1:1, and is wholly so in the Johannine

        4. The World Mission. This was pointed out previously, but both (f) and (g)
        refer to the Gospel being preached in the whole world, a notion which very
        likely took time to develop in the early Movement. An actively propagated
        and specifically Gentile Christianity (see previous).


        Nothing so far makes these the product of the same moment, or of the same
        authorial hand. Text philology is not THAT easy. But I am coming to suspect
        that these passages, or most of them, may well reflect a common literary and
        theological milieu, and that milieu may itself be late in the history of the
        post-Crucifixion movement. The passages themselves may well be late within
        the formation process of Mark, most of which seems to speak out of different
        perceptions, and to address different needs and concerns. That is the basis
        which I offer for any further suggestions, either in extension or in

        In addition to these suggestions for seven (or eight?) passages, taking them
        out of the HP discussion may usefully clarify that discussion, by reducing
        the amount of work that a description of HP in Mark has to do.


        E Bruce Brooks
        Warring States Project
        University of Massachusetts at Amherst
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