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Re: [XTalk] Historical Presents

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  • James Crossley
    Dear Bruce,   I must confess to being a little confused by some of your remarks but, perhaps inevitably (I apologise in advance), I do not think you have
    Message 1 of 36 , Jan 10, 2009
      Dear Bruce,


      I must confess to being a little confused by some of your
      remarks but, perhaps inevitably (I apologise in advance), I do not think you
      have being doing justice to some of Maurice Casey’s points and you have made
      some unfortunate (and I think inaccurate) guesses. E.g. your comment ‘evidently,
      on his own account, he is not comfortable functioning as a consultative member
      of a collaborative enterprise. Too bad, but there it is.’ I’ve known Maurice
      for years and this struck me as being a bad guess from not the most detailed of
      evidence. He has been open in what he has learnt from colleagues over the years
      and he has been more than happy to help others out with his own expertise. Now
      Maurice (via Steph Fisher) did say, ‘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
      countered with a model of collaboration. Ok, fair enough, few would disagree.
      But, on the other hand, maybe Maurice has a point that when working on details
      of Greek grammar, which may well have Aramaic background, such speciality
      knowledge might require knowledge of both languages…? Wouldn’t your analogy of
      a collaborative model be broader than this (e.g. using social scientific
      interpretation, literary criticism and so on)? I don’t know where we draw
      boundaries on this (if indeed we can) but it seems that the specialisation you
      speak about would have to be incredibly minute in terms of NT studies. Is that


      Bruce also said,

      'Aramaic seems not to have a parallel to the Greek historical
      present, hence the Greek historical presents in Mark are not artifacts of a
      previous language, but are the result of composing in Greek, in an especially breathless
      and immediate style. That the author of Mark may have had a Semitic linguistic
      substrate, which may have affected him at one place or another, is hardly in
      doubt, but I think the hypothesis of Torrey et al, that Mark is a Greek
      translation of an Aramaic original, must now be given up.'

      This seems to be a firm conclusion based on a very brief
      discussion. I know that there are limits to presentation on an e-list but the
      final line is very strong. For what it is worth, I actually agree with you that
      there was no such Aramaic gospel of Mark and that there were underlying Aramaic
      passages but it is not demolished by your argument on historic presents and
      those bits of Mark with historic presents along with the ‘breathless and
      immediate style’ could still be (or not of course) translations of Aramaic.
      These are such precise questions of grammar that I can understand Maurice’s
      frustration with people not knowing uses of Aramaic just as I can understand
      his similar frustration in his book on Q – again discussions on Q (or not Q) are
      frequently minute technical discussions of linguistic details. If these
      technical issues are to be discussed in minute detail, shouldn’t Aramaic be one
      of the key things to learn? I don’t want to say what people should and shouldn’t
      do but it seems a reasonable enough point for the advancement of knowledge. If this were a question of general use or a student taking a Greek course, ok, that would be a different issue. But XTalk does have a high level of technical discussion with top professionals so maybe Maurice does have a point, right...?

      I don’t want to go through point-by-point but I have to
      respond to the final remark. Bruce wrote about the blurb on Casey, Aramaic
      Sources of Mark’s Gospel:

      'The last sentence, which I have italicized, seems to be the kicker. Do we have
      here, at bottom, an inerrancy agenda?'

      That would be pretty amazing given that Maurice is a known
      non-believer! He is also someone who has openly criticised inerrancy agendas
      and has taken some stick for polemically doing so. In his work on the Aramaic
      background Maurice has also explicitly used approaches that are anything other
      than those based on a model of inerrancy and has again criticised such
      approaches. Maurice might be right, he might be wrong, but I honestly don’t
      think engaging with blurb over book is remotely helpful and is leading to some
      idle and equally unhelpful speculation. It would be far better, would it not,
      to find out what available evidence there is (e.g. Maurice’s work – not just
      blurbs), analyse it, and then make the judgments?

      Unfortunately, I do not think your response to Maurice in general is helpful and is just too speculative when evidence is available.

      James Crossley,

      Dept of Biblical Studies,

      University of
      Sheffield, UK

      [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
        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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