Re: [XTalk] Historical Presents
- 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.
Dept of Biblical Studies,
[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