Re: [XTalk] Historical Presents
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.
Austin Graduate School of Theology
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.
> E Bruce Brooks
> Warring States Project
> University of Massachusetts at Amherst
[Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
- To: Crosstalk
Cc: GPG (the smaller conversation)
Following Up On: Mine of 1/11/09
On: Historical Presents as a Layer Marker in Mark
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;
(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
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