Re: [XTalk] Historical Presents
- To: Crosstalk
Cc: GPG; WSW, others
In Response To: Stephanie Fisher
On: Historical Presents
Thanks, I think, to Stephanie for checking with Maurice Casey on the
delicate matter of the Greek Historical Presents in Mark. I quote his main
point, as she transmits it, and then respond slightly to the general
methodology issue which it raises.
MC via SF: "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."
BRUCE: That's one philosophy, and very prevalent it is, to be sure. I follow
another. My view is: the relevant specialties are so many, and the time to
acquire any one of them to the point where it can actually be used
independently is so long, that the notion that everyone in NT should know
exactly the same things (or be excluded from the club) is not practically
possible. The same of course applies in physics: not everyone knows enough
post-tensor calculus to do the math on the theory end, and at the same time,
you need a good glassblower in there somewhere, along with an electrical
engineer, so that there is some experimental data for the theory end to work
on in the first place. All scientific work of any consequence is team work,
and the members of the standard scientific team do not replicate each other.
Instead, and by design, they complement each other.
If we accept that model, whose phenomenal success in the verifiable world
perhaps somewhat recommends it, then an NT team should ideally include, or
at need have access to, a specialist in the Rabbinical tradition, an
Aramaist, an expert in the secular Graeco-Roman world, a textual critic (Hi,
Eldon), while we're at it a dedicated Paulinist would do no harm (preferably
one who is sound on the 1/2 Thess matter, if we are going to be fussy), and
a couple of other people whose contributions can easily be imagined.
Maurice Casey evidently knows Aramaic. Equally evidently, on his own
account, he is not comfortable functioning as a consultative member of a
collaborative enterprise. Too bad, but there it is. The rest of us will just
have to make do with our collective resources, such as they may be.
More than one can play at this game, and I could do a "Casey" myself, if I
were not, by nature and by Chinese conditioning, such a polite person. It
might work something like this.
Fact One: NT people are studying a historical time and place in which the
wisdom of the East (including but not limited to the mystical and
renunciative elements of Buddhism) is interfacing, in and around the trade
centers, with stuff of more local origin. Fact Two: Our seminaries continue
to pour out, in their hundreds, graduates who do not know, and who moreover
are systematically impervious to, anything further east than Babylon.
Implication: That's just fine, except that people like Hillel on the one
side, and Matthew and Luke on the other, not to mention Demetrius and
Seneca, were, how shall I say it, somewhat pervious to those exotic
elements. The result is that people in our day continue to misread what they
wrongly call the Parable of the Unjust Steward (thus Snodgrass 2008, a very
good book by the way; see the review of it for China specialists at
http://www.umass.edu/wsp/reviews/snodgrass.html) through not knowing its
remote Chinese source, and continue to misconstrue the bits of lateral ethic
which sit, some of them translated almost verbatim from the Chinese
originals, in the supposed teachings of Jesus. Not to put too fine a point
on it, they don't know what Jesus taught, and they can't understand why, in
an adapted form (and the second tier Gospels are there to show the
adaptation in detail) those teachings spread so far and so fast, beyond
their originally envisioned confines.
Maybe yes, maybe no. But suppose for a moment that the previous paragraph
were even partly true. What would be the solution? Four years of immersion
in classical Chinese for the ThD, and we haven't even mentioned Pali yet?
Not perhaps terribly practical, either administratively or humanly. But I
think it might be a useful amelioration, in this inevitably imperfect world,
if one or two people who HAD gone through that regimen would sit down
occasionally at the same table with the Biblical Greek specialists, the
Secular Greek specialists, the general philologists, the Sumerists, the
Mithraists, the Iranists, the ANE archaeologists, the economists, the
rhetoricians, and yes, why not an Aramaist or two, and compare strategies
Not once a year (some here present will have heard me on this theme, in real
time, at annual SBL; it gets us exactly nowhere). Try once a week, and see
To me, the interest of notional "tables" like Crosstalk (and its cousin over
the way, Synoptic, not to mention my own much smaller discussion group) is
the possibility of that sort of combination. I don't see where else such a
thing is likely to arise. Does anyone?
E Bruce Brooks
Warring States Project
University of Massachusetts at Amherst
- 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