[XTalk] Re: Provenance of GMark
- 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?
> 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.
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.
- I wrote:
> On the basis of these normal rules of scholarship the *idea* thatBob Schacht replied:
> 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....
> Dear Mahlon,Dear Bob,
> 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.
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 hereI didn't hammer. I repeated & highlighted to make the point that in
> only on your twice hammered point, "*no earlier*".
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
But you protested:
> You are taking aIf it is a principle of scholarship, it does not have limits. It is,
> legitimate principle of scholarship and taking it beyond its normal limits.
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 roadSo far you seem to have followed my argument, although the road metaphor
> 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,
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 thatHere is where your distortion of my metaphor begins to get you into
> the road leading back to John the Presbyter ends there,
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
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 noWould anybody who has read my post that Bob is critiquing show me where
> thought of any oral tradition or personal experience on which J the P could
> have drawn.
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,*My* implication was nothing of the sort. Rather what I said is that
> the idea that Mark was written in Rome.
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 toThat's precisely my point. We have a dirt road without any tracks that
> 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.
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
> F. (Negative Inference) Later fathers corroborate Mark's compositionI subsequently added Augustine as an important exception who did not
> in the West, particularly in Rome, with the one exception of John
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.
"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
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
"..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?No. Only that unless we have some record (in writing or in artifact) we
> (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?)
cannot know exactly what happened.
> Perhaps I misunderstood your argument, and if so, I apologize. Its justI too prefer the rapier, as anyone who reads my posts should know by
> that in debates, I appreciate the rapier more than the hammer.
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
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
"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
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