Re: [XTalk] Historical Presents
- I talked about this discussion with Maurice Casey and the following are his comments. (Sorry I can’t do Aramaic letters in e-mails, nor mark long vowels, shewas etc.):
1. No-one should work on historic presents in Mark without learning Aramaic themselves, and reading texts in Aramaic so they can see what they really say, instead of being so unlearned as to have to ask someone else for basic information, rather than for informed debate.
2. Carlson’s formulation ‘if a present tense is really needed, the present participle can be used’ is peculiar, because no-one working in a language which has no present tense could possibly imagine that one was really needed.
3. Carlson is right to draw attention to the ‘present’ participle. This is a much commoner narrative tense than he says. For example, at Dan. 3.3-4, ‘Then assembled the satraps….and stood before the statue…the herald called…’, the three verbs which I have put in italics are all narrative participles. It has often been suggested that the frequency of historic presents in Mark is due to translating Aramaic participles. Anyone working on them should become familiar with all that secondary literature.
4. There is much to learn from the Syriac versions, but we should always bear carefully in mind that they are translations into dialects different from the ones which Jesus spoke, and should not be handled as crudely as suggested here, or with such small samples.
5. In Mark’s day, texts were unvocalised. In a consonantal text, there is no difference between the third sg. pf. and the ‘present’ ptc. of ’mr. In other parts, e.g. the plural, there are different forms. So, for example, for Mark’s legousin at Mark 9.11, a real rather than a narrative present, I reconstructed the participle ’omrin.
6. Torrey’s work was methodologically defective, as I among others have pointed out, and I have proposed something more sophisticated. People who can’t read Aramaic can’t read it and are therefore in no position to assess it. In particular, I have argued at length that some Son of man sayings in all three synoptic evangelist are literal translations of sayings of Jesus written down in Aramaic, and others were composed in Greek. I have also proposed that some parts of Mark, and some parts of the ‘Q’ material are literal translations from Aramaic, while other parts were composed in Greek.
Nottingham / Napier
[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