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[XTalk] Re: Provenance of GMark

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  • George Brooks
    Jeff writes: If I understand Philip correctly, you miss his point. The real issue is not the desire on the part of Mark to get a message out, but whether
    Message 1 of 69 , Mar 11, 2000
      Jeff writes:
      If I understand Philip correctly, you miss his point. The real issue is not
      the desire on the part of Mark to get a message out, but whether anyone would
      be interested in what he had to say since he was a relative unknown. To use a
      modern parallel, at the risk of anachronism, there are today many authors who
      attempt to publish, but who don't get picked up either by a publisher or by
      the reading public NOT because they are untalented, but because they haven't
      the backing of a publicity mill behind them.

      Jeff makes some nice points. And if we were talking about "Mark"
      publishing to a general audience, or the "toggle switch" of capital
      investment (you either have it or you don't) required to print a "legitimate"
      book, the analogy would be perfect.

      But I feel we are more talking about "Mark" reaching an "interested"
      audience - - his fellow Christians. Christians who are **very** interested
      in the careers of the Apostles, as well as Jesus. "Mark" says he has "notes
      right from Peter" ... this is going to be very appealing to any big or
      little Christian community he visits. "Shhhhh..... be quiet. Listen
      to "Mark". He knew Peter. He worked for Peter. He has the words of
      Jesus from Peter".... and so on. He's not trying to sell a book on

      As far as the costs of publication, it is precisely the nature of
      civilization at that time that "legitimate writings" did not have
      to be bound in hard covers, with glossy photographs and so on. A
      writer benefited from expensive patronage - - naturally. But a
      writer could also function without it. If he wrote a dozen page
      letter on paper (the poor man's lambskin), to a Christian community
      he was heading to, or coming from, no one was going to say "Hey,
      this isn't a **real** book..... this is just some letter!"

      GMark is not the longest "book" in the world. How long would it
      take a person to copy it out? If "Mark" only did one a month
      his output could have been substantial. If he only did six a year
      for 3 or 5 years, why couldn't this have been enough to trigger
      a cottage industry of Gospel copying?

      George writes:
      > But in this whole process I see no reason to think that Mark can't,
      all by > himself, trigger the distribution of a "top selling" publication throughout the Christian world. This is certainly what Mark would want.

      Jeff writes:
      Excuse me, but how do you know this?

      Well, what I said was "I see no reason to think" otherwise. I didn't
      say I know. And if you are detecting a "know it all tone" in me, I
      really do apologize. I don't **know** at all. But I haven't heard
      anything to disprove it.

      I agree that GMatthew is dependent on GMark, and I agree that
      there was only a few decades for GMark to get into the hands of
      "Matthew". And I know that each of the early spiritual leaders
      of the Church(es) were very competitive about what was "truth" and
      what "wasn't" (This should not be a stretch of the imagination to
      any participant of any listserver.)

      And if I were "Mark" with his important link to an apostle to Jesus,
      and I wanted to "correct" the misinterpretations of some local
      Bishop or congregation, I would read from my "book". And if I had
      the time, I would make a copy to make my words a permanent part of
      the congregational viewpoint. And I would do this at each new
      community as often as I could.

      How did Paul's letters get distributed? Paul wrote lots of letters.
      And when he wrote a letter to Corinth, the Church at Corinth considered
      it precious (and Paul did not work for Peter, who actually LIVED with

      If you read the Didache (which now quite available in book form
      or online), you see the special role of wandering holy men and the
      graciousness and respect that is supposed to be paid to these men
      (even if they didn't work for Peter). Imagine the honor to the
      Church community if "Mark" asked for a dozen sheets of paper so he
      could write it a letter or a copy of his "book"? I think the response
      would be fairly positive.

      Whether "Mark" was in Rome, Alexandria or Palestine, we **KNOW**
      that GMark made the rounds in sufficient time. We can develop a
      simple scenario, or we can develop a complicated one. You tell me
      which one you prefer.

      I have not yet been successful in locating my references to the
      "purported superiority of oral witnesses" for "many" Church Fathers.
      I will continue to look this over (if only for my own sanity's sake).
      But it would be unfair to say to the list that "I **know** I will
      find it some day". I hope I can re-discover the source of this
      concept. But in the meantime, the best thing is for me to officially
      withdraw my position that anyone else other than Papias felt that
      oral witness was superior to written documents.


      George Brooks
      Tampa, FL
    • Mahlon H. Smith
      ... Dear Bob, You are beginning to remind me of my 16 year old daughter. Whenever I tell her she can t do something she really wants to do, she says: Please
      Message 69 of 69 , Mar 25, 2000
        I wrote:

        > On the basis of these normal rules of scholarship the *idea* that
        > associates Mark with Peter in Rome is traceable to 1 Peter 5:13 & *no
        > earlier*. The *idea* a Mark who was interpreter/translator of Peter's
        > preaching in Rome was identical with the reputed author of this
        > anonymously composed gospel can be traced to Papias or (*if* one trusts
        > Papias' aural memory) to an oral statement by a presbyter named John &
        > *no earlier*. Any argument that either of these pieces of information
        > represents fact rests totally on an intellectual decision regarding what
        > type of reports one is prepared to accept as historically reliable....

        Bob Schacht replied:

        > Dear Mahlon,
        > My father (who was in rebellion against his Baptist parents) used to tell a
        > story about the Baptist minister's sermon notes. In the margin at one point
        > was the notation, "Point weak here; speak louder!" Your use of asterisks as
        > a hammer to pound home your points reminds me of this.

        Dear Bob,

        You are beginning to remind me of my 16 year old daughter. Whenever I
        tell her she can't do something she really wants to do, she says:
        "Please don't shout!" -- no matter how quietly or calmly I try to
        explain to her why she can't do it. If I use caps to convey emphasis in
        an e-mail, I'm accused of shouting. If I refrain from using caps & use
        discrete asterisks to highlight lower case words to convey the points I
        want to emphasize, I'm accused of shouting. Strange, I don't recall you
        protesting the use of asterisks by other XTalkers.

        would you rather i imitate e e cummings and write everything in lower
        case and without punctuation like this sentence so that you are free to
        decide where to put the emphasis and ignore the words you do not really
        want to hear if so i recommend that that be made standard list protocol
        and that we ban smileys as well if not may i return to normal
        conventions for conveying emphasis and intonation without constantly
        being accused of shouting


        I take it the implication of your anecdote is that my point must be weak
        because *you* think I'm shouting (pardon the asterisks). Even if I were,
        your reasoning would be syllogistically false. For no matter how much
        mindless demagogues may shout to get people to believe an unsupportable
        claim, "shouting" *per se* does not make an argument weak. Otherwise
        every point emphasized by anyone would immediately be suspect.
        Therefore, *I* suspect that your protest is based not on the fact that I
        emphasized something but, like my daughter, you did not like the
        implications of the point I was making. But what *you thought* I implied
        is not what *I* actually wrote or even intended.

        Your own eisegesis of my argument just goes to prove my point that
        people -- not just you but all humans everywhere, including myself --
        tend to read things into statements that they either read or hear,
        things that were never actually said or even intended by the
        writer/speaker. Let me just illustrate by analyzing your objection. You

        > I will focus here
        > only on your twice hammered point, "*no earlier*".

        I didn't hammer. I repeated & highlighted to make the point that in
        scholarship one is supposed to be trained to identify & credit the
        source of any data or idea. That's what footnotes are about. With enough
        research one may be able to trace a thread of transmission through other
        authors crediting their sources. But eventually that paper trail will
        run out. When it does, the oldest text is the earliest recorded source
        to which one can credit that datum. Before that there's no one to
        footnote, no name of a person who can be demonstrated to have
        communicated that information. That's all I meant by "no earlier," with
        or without asterisks. If you doubt that, go back and reread what I
        actually wrote.

        But you protested:

        > You are taking a
        > legitimate principle of scholarship and taking it beyond its normal limits.

        If it is a principle of scholarship, it does not have limits. It is,
        rather, this principle of documentation that distinguishes us scholars
        from amateurs & trains us to set limits on what *we* claim to know.
        Every scholar knows that what cannot be documented is to be credited to
        that particular scholar's own interpretation of the data. While a
        scholar may firmly believe that his/her interpretations are true or at
        least more cogent than other interpretations, no scholar would dare
        assert that someone else knew what s/he knows when there is no recorded
        evidence. For if s/he did, s/he would be chewed to pieces by other
        scholars for engaging in unfounded speculation. Thus, C.S. Mann is
        careful to distinguish what "I believe" (i.e., his own interpretation)
        from what he can demonstrate (the data he uses to support that
        interpretation). So, too, Ted Weeden in presenting us with his argument
        regarding the identification of Salome in Mark 16 speaks of "my
        proposal" or "my case" rather simply stating it as fact.

        > The 4 lane highway leading back to Eusebius, and the two lane state road
        > leading from Eusebius to Papias, and then the gravel road leading back to
        > John the Presbyter, and then ...what? The principle you are using applies
        > to the written trail of evidence,

        So far you seem to have followed my argument, although the road metaphor
        is yours not mine. As an intellectual historian I would hazard a guess
        that your idea of various kinds of roads was suggested to you by my use
        of the metaphor "paper trail." Paper trails, however, are not roads but
        rather more like tracks or droppings, because they are sporadic & often
        have wide gaps between. The thing that allows the scout to connect them
        is that they contain most of the same features or ingredients & clues
        that indicate the direction from which the subject being tracked
        actually came. The fact that Eusebius credits Papias & Papias, John
        helps the historian track the development of an idea & proves an
        indisputable line of dependence for the information in question.

        > whereas you seem to shout the idea that
        > the road leading back to John the Presbyter ends there,

        Here is where your distortion of my metaphor begins to get you into
        trouble & leads you to find fault with things I cannot be demonstrated
        to have said or thought. Roads begin & end at set points. Paper trails,
        like any kind of tracks, just appear & then give out without any
        indication of real origin or eventual distination. Like the wind, you
        don't *know* where they came from or where they are going. But you can
        still guess.

        There's an old European adage based on the plans of the Roman empire's
        corps of military engineers: "All roads lead to Rome." Once one has
        gotten to the end of any road one can go no further. But that is not
        true of a paper trail or any other kind of track. As anyone who's ever
        been a scout should know, when tracks give out you cannot just assume
        that whatever it was you were tracking stopped there. It's just that
        from now on you know you will have to proceed on hunches -- hunches that
        may pan out or may not. But no one who has ever tried to track anything
        would claim that even the best hunch is infallible. Therefore, a hunch
        can never be considered as certain as a document.

        > and there can be no
        > thought of any oral tradition or personal experience on which J the P could
        > have drawn.

        Would anybody who has read my post that Bob is critiquing show me where
        it can be demonstrated that I ever said or thought anything of the kind.
        This interpretation of the intention of what I said is, rather, the
        hunch of one identifiable individual: Robert M. Schacht. I never claimed
        that Papias or John *could not* have had access to oral tradition.
        Papias tells us he was not an eye-witness. That is why he credits the
        oral source of his information. But what he credits is a particular
        person, John the presbyter, rather than tradition in general. If what
        Papias wrote about Mark was generally known apart from John's testimony,
        he would not have to have credited this particular source any more than
        any modern scholar has to footnote material that he & his readers regard
        as general knowledge. If Papias had heard this information from someone
        other that John, he probably would have reported it somewhere in his 5
        volume *Exegeses*. That fact that the authors who knew & cited Papias'
        work cite only this passage makes it probable that John was Papias' sole
        source. Where John got this information from one can only guess. But
        since the idea that Mark was composed in Rome was apparently not a
        widespread *general* tradition as far as Papias knew, one cannot assume
        that it was a *general* tradition at the time of his alleged source,
        John. For the direction of the spread of any piece of information never
        shrinks from the general to the particular. Of course, it is always
        possible to *think* that John the presbyter got this information from
        John the apostle who in turn got it from Mark or Peter or some other
        contact with the church at Rome -- perhaps in a cover letter for a
        complimentary copy of gospel of Mark sent from Rome to Ephesus, a cover
        letter like 1 Peter. But any scholar should recognize that when one
        engages in this type of *thinking*, one is speculating rather than
        reporting irrefutable fact.

        > Your implication is evidently that someone made up, ex nihilo,
        > the idea that Mark was written in Rome.

        *My* implication was nothing of the sort. Rather what I said is that
        there is a very clear list of ingredients that went into this compound:

        (a) some association of Shim'on bar Yohanan, whom Jesus & Paul & others
        including the apostle himself probably regularly called "Kephas," with
        Rome -- probably widespread reports of his martyrdom;
        (b) a letter ascribed to "Petros" (though the author credits Silvanus
        with the actual composition) that identifies Mark as a junior companion
        in "Babylon" -- exactly whose companion, Peter's or Silvanus', being
        impossible to prove from the context;
        (c) an anonymous gospel, identified by some scribe as KATA MARKON.

        Drop this data into the fertile field of pious imagination & voila! what
        does one get: the gospel of Mark recording the words of Peter in Rome!
        Is that what *really* happened? I can't prove it, but no one can prove
        the contrary since there is no evidence to contradict it. What makes me
        think that this is probably what happened in the development of this
        idea is that my analysis of (a) the trajectory of where this tradition
        first appears (in Asia Minor & Alexandria rather than Rome) & (b) the
        contents of the gospel of Mark itself has led me to conclude that the
        Greek patristic tradition of Rome & Peter as the source of *this*
        particular gospel narrative is not only unverifiable but probably

        > Now, I really don't know how to
        > trace the dirt road leading from J the P to Mark and/or Rome, but your
        > energetic insistance that there can be no such road leads me to question
        > your argument, if only to be contrary.

        That's precisely my point. We have a dirt road without any tracks that
        anyone can trace. So where it goes is anybody's guess. I happen to think
        that speculating about what *might* have been the origin of a Greek
        patristic tradition about the origin of this or any gospel is a waste of
        time -- time better spent in analyzing the gospels themselves. For in
        many cases patristic tradition, like later traditions have proven to be
        in error regarding claims of historical fact. As evidence of this, let
        me sieze the occasion to introduce my long heralded critique of the
        testimony of Jerome. Stephen did not specifically mention Jerome, but
        rather subsumed him under a general statement as his final point of
        external evidence:

        > F. (Negative Inference) Later fathers corroborate Mark's composition
        > in the West, particularly in Rome, with the one exception of John
        > Chrysostom...

        I subsequently added Augustine as an important exception who did not
        corroborate this tradition. But for now just let's look at what Jerome
        says. For anyone who doesn't happen to have a copy of Jerome's "On
        Illustrious Men" handy, Stephen has done us the service of posting the
        text in both Latin & English on his website. URL:


        But first an introduction & perspective. Jerome (Eusebius Hieronymus)
        was probably the most learned & erudite Xn scholar in the 4th c. CE. He
        collected a series of libraries (first secular which he gave away, then
        ecclesiastical) that would make any modern scholar green with envy. He
        was undoubtedly the most travelled of all Xn scholars up until his time
        -- born in Dalmatia, educated at Rome, 10 years of study in the East
        (Constantinople, Antioch, Caesarea), a journey to Egypt (Alexandria to
        Cheoboskian), & many tours of the Holy Land before finally settling down
        for 35 years of prayerful study at Bethlehem. Though a noted ascetic
        monk, Jerome was hardly a recluse. He had intimate personal acquaintance
        with virtually every major Xn figure of the late 4th c. -- both orthodox
        & heretics -- except for Augustine. So, Jerome probably had a better
        historical perspective on Xn tradition than anyone else of his period.
        In 395 CE he composed the first Xn "Who's Who" to counter pagan claims
        that Xns were a bunch of nobodys.

        Mark was eighth on Jerome's list of Xn notables. He is introduced thus:

        "Mark, disciple and interpreter of Peter according to what he heard
        Peter relate, wrote a brief Gospel as requested by the brothers in
        Rome.When Peter heard, he approved and ordained it on his authority for
        reading in the churches, just as Clement wrote in the sixth book of the
        Hypotyposes, and Papias the Hierapolitan bishop. Peter also mentioned
        this Mark in the first epistle, under the name of Babylon figuratively
        signifying Rome: she who is in Babylon chosen together with you, sends
        you greetings and
        so does Mark my son [1 Pet. 5:13]."

        Though Jerome credits Clement & Papias with this info, he may not have
        read their works himself, since he took a lot of his info straight from
        Eusebius & this passage essentially summarizes what Eusebius says about
        earlier sources in H.E. 2.25.2, 3.39.15 & 6.14.5-7. But Jerome
        introduces as fact something that is *not* reported by earlier writers.
        He wrote:

        "When Peter heard, he approved [the gospel of Mark] and ordained it on
        his authority for reading in the churches, just as Clement wrote in the
        sixth book of the Hypotyposes, and Papias the Hierapolitan bishop."

        In fact, neither Clement, nor Papias nor even Eusebius claimed this. For
        Papias expressly claimed that Mark wrote *after* Peter's "exodus"
        (death?). And Eusebius reported Clement as saying: "And when this matter
        came to Peter's attention, *he neither strongly forbid it, nor urged it
        on*." Cf. full translation of this passage in my Synoptic Primer. URL:


        In other words, any modern scholar would say that Jerome either
        misinterpreted his written source(s) or deliberately contradicted them
        by erroneously ascribing to them an idea for which there is no written
        evidence prior to his own writing. Where Jerome got the idea that Peter
        personally promulgated the gospel of Mark for reading in churches --
        apart from an anachronistic projection of his own view of papal
        authority onto the prince of apostles -- it is impossible to say. But we
        do have enough documentary evidence to prove that he was wrong in
        ascribing this idea to the sources he identifies.

        Moreover, Jerome's demonstrable errors do not stop there. For he goes

        "And so, he took the gospel which he put together and proceeded to
        Egypt. First proclaiming Christ in Alexandria, he founded a church with
        such teaching and self-control in life that she compels all followers of
        Christ to her example. Further, Philo, the most brilliant of the Jews,
        upon seeing the first church of Alexandria when it was still Jewish,
        wrote a book about their dealings as if in praise of his own people, and
        he handed down a remembrance of what he saw was done in Alexandria under
        the instructor Mark in the same manner that Luke relates that the
        believers of Jerusalem had everything in common."

        Whether Mark became bishop of Alexandria or not cannot be demonstrated.
        Nor can one demonstrate when such a "tradition" originated or where
        Jerome learned it or from whom. Chrysostom is evidence that it was
        accepted by eastern bishops outside of Constantinople. But when it comes
        to Jerome's statements about Philo, any modern scholar will attest that
        Jerome's view of history was distorted by his ecclesiastical prejudices.
        He assumed (a) that if Mark was the first bishop of Alexandria & (b)
        Philo was a near contemporary & (c) Philo's works were used by Xns, then
        Philo must have "handed down a remembrance of what he saw was done in
        Alexandria under the instructor Mark." There isn't a Philo scholar I
        know of who wouldn't laugh at such a claim. In fact, one would be hard
        pressed to find any passage in Philo that might have given Jerome such
        an impression.

        Thus, if the most sophisticated of 4th c. fathers could be so wrong &
        yet so confidently present his misinterpretations of documented evidence
        as historical fact, one needs to be extremely cautious in speculating
        about possible prior sources of information for any patristic tradition.

        Recent debate on the XTalk thread "secular historians" shows that even
        modern critical historians are not immune from misrepresenting
        historical facts, even though their training should have taught them
        better. Antonio cited Harman Akenson's critique of the JS in which he
        alleges that:

        "..the Seminar's original scoring system produced so few "authentic"
        sayings of Jesus that the criteria of authenticity had to be modified
        radically in midcourse - and silently."

        Where Akenson, who never attended a meeting of the JS, got this piece of
        information from, I haven't the vaguest idea. But as a historian myself
        who participated not only in almost every JS debate but in planning
        program & preparing reports, I can personally attest that there was no
        "radical modification in midcourse" regarding the "original scoring
        system" & most certainly that no changes were made "silently." Every
        decision, every debate of the JS is on both video & audio tape. And
        every session was covered by the secular press. I suspect that the
        source of Akenson's information *may* have been Lloyd Young's webpages
        criticizing the JS's weighted voting system. But whatever statistical
        merit even the Seminar's harshest critic may find in Lloyd's critique,
        one should recognize that he hardly qualifies as an accurate source of
        historical information about the JS's decision-making processes.

        So just because a churchman or a historian states something as fact does
        not mean that it is so. One must always ask: what is the demonstrable
        source of that piece of information? If one cannot identify a source
        that would have been in a good position to know that datum, there is
        good reason to question its reliability.

        > Do you really think that unless something is written, it didn't happen?
        > (This sounds to me a bit like the question about if a tree falls in the
        > forest and there was no one to hear it, did it make a sound?)

        No. Only that unless we have some record (in writing or in artifact) we
        cannot know exactly what happened.

        > Perhaps I misunderstood your argument, and if so, I apologize. Its just
        > that in debates, I appreciate the rapier more than the hammer.

        I too prefer the rapier, as anyone who reads my posts should know by
        now. As for misunderstanding me, no apologies are necessary. Your
        misunderstanding has only served to confirm my claim that even
        statements of fact may be nothing more than mistaken speculation. Even
        intelligent people can read false things into their sources of
        information. If I may be permitted one final personal anecdote to
        illustrate this:

        I've just finished marking midterms for my basic NT survey course
        covering the synoptic gospels. I regularly stress at the beginning of
        every course that students will be graded on their *knowledge* &
        analysis of material presented in *this* course rather than on what they
        personally *believe* or have heard elsewhere. A reminder of this is
        printed at the head of every exam. I spent a week going over the
        synoptic problem & made my Synoptic Primer website required reading. In
        class I had pointed out passages supporting the 2SH but also some
        passages that could be used to support a rival source theory. I let them
        decide which position they found more convincing. The first essay
        question I asked required them to compare the gospel accounts & discuss
        evidence regarding their sources. This is what one student wrote
        regarding Mark:

        "The gospel of Mark was written by John Mark who was mentioned in Acts.
        He became a secretary for Paul on his journey to Rome. In Rome he met
        Peter who asked him to record his sermons, so Mark jotted down notes
        which he published after Peter's death."

        There was more. But nothing on the synoptic problem & nothing that had
        been assigned or discussed in my course. When I looked at my attendance
        book I could see why. He'd hardly ever showed up for class. Yet he could
        confidently record as fact that this is what he had learned in my
        course. *If* everything else I ever wrote or said disappeared without a
        trace & one had only this one student's report of what I'd taught him
        (without my grade) would you be confident that you were in a position to
        know what information Mahlon Smith really transmitted to his students?
        If you were, you'd probably be completely wrong.





        Mahlon H. Smith, http://religion.rutgers.edu/mh_smith.html
        Associate Professor
        Department of Religion Virtual Religion Index
        Rutgers University http://religion.rutgers.edu/vri/
        New Brunswick NJ

        Into His Own: Perspective on the World of Jesus

        A Synoptic Gospels Primer

        Jesus Seminar Forum
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