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[XTalk] re: Provenance of Mark

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  • Mahlon H. Smith
    Dear Ted: Thank you for having taken the time to provide such a fulsome reply to my questions about your Guidelines for locating the Markan community. It
    Message 1 of 1 , Mar 28, 2000
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      Dear Ted:

      Thank you for having taken the time to provide such a fulsome reply to
      my questions about your "Guidelines" for locating the Markan community.
      It demonstrates not only your command of the primary material but your
      mastery of a wide range of recent critical scholarship. It helps clarify
      the development of your own thinking since the publication of your
      *Traditions in Conflict* -- the sole library copy of which in New
      Brunswick I was finally able to recall & peruse in preparation for this
      reply. Finally your post raises many issues that force me to think in
      greater detail about the probability of my proposal of a Judean
      provenance for Mark & his readers & calls my attention to objections
      that I will have to answer, if I pursue it. For alerting me to these
      points, I thank you in advance.

      But on the basis of the arguments you present, I am not yet ready to
      retract my proposal, although I remain always open to be persuaded that
      your case for a northern Palestinian Sitz is more probable when I have
      read it in full once you have gotten it in print. For now the purpose of
      this reply will not be to present a comprehensive case for a south
      Palestinian Sitz -- since as I indicated in my previous post I have yet
      to work out all the details & implications of my own hunch -- but rather
      to provide you with more critical feedback to (a) your own arguments
      *against* a Judean setting for Mark's readers & (b) the arguments that
      you have used here to support a Galilean or northern locale for the
      Markan community. I offer this as a friendly critique from one who
      thinks that most of your basic instincts & many of your intuitions are
      essentially correct, so that you will be able to review & strengthen
      your arguments to make them less easy for harsher critics to dismiss as
      improbable "speculation" when they are formally published.

      Let me begin, however, by indicating several points of agreement with
      you in terms of general methodology. My undergraduate training was in
      literary criticism, drama & history. So I am in total agreement with
      your insistence that to understand the text of Mark properly one needs
      to pay close attention to the dramatic impact of an oral performance of
      this particular narrative upon its original 1st c. audience. Matthew &
      Luke provide ample 1st c. evidence that once Mark was taken out of that
      original setting it became problematic & had to be revised. If it was
      read at another time in another place it did not produce the desired
      effect of being really an EVAGGELION. Rather its plot became, like the
      Markan view of parables, an enigma that needed interpretation for those
      who were outside the sphere of the audience intended by the author.
      Thus, to preserve it, those who valued it had to edit it.

      I suspect this problematic character of Mark for the wider Hellenistic
      world is the reason why Mark was generally *not* cited by early
      Greek-speaking Xns at Rome or elsewhere in the Mediterranean world & why
      there is so little ms. evidence of it as an independent narrative prior
      to the 4th c. CE. I am not yet ready to concede, however, that the
      earliest extant mss. represent an unedited version of Mark that is
      essentially identical with the first century autograph. On the contrary,
      as one who has worked with editing medieval mss. -- both in Latin & in
      Greek -- I find such a hypothesis historically indefensible --
      particularly in the case of a demonstrably problematic work like Mark --
      & plausible only if one is writing just for those who have had no
      experience in actually studying mss.

      So that is my first caution. I wouldn't put too much stock, if I were
      you, in arguments that depend on passages that give any hint of
      interpolation. To use such passages to support your case risks seeing
      your beautiful reconstruction of the original Sitz sink in quicksand.

      My 2nd point of basic agreement with you is your contention that Mark
      has to be read as an oral performance in which (a) author & audience
      share many basic unexpressed assumptions & (b) the author tries to win
      his intended audience to his point of view by subtle associations in the
      construction of his plot. I also agree that, like any dramatic
      composition, little details that the author introduces at the beginning
      of the performance provide significant clues of what is going to happen
      later in the plot. One has only to compare the *bath qol* after J's
      baptism with that in the transfiguration scene, or the passion
      predictions with the passion narrative, to know that Mark is
      particularly adept in introducing motifs early in his plot that he is
      going to exploit later on. His Greek grammar may be rough, his
      story-telling skills awkward, but his plot development is masterful.

      Moreover, I agree with you that (a) for Mark & his audience Jerusalem is
      the place where J's opponents are in power & where he dies, (b) Mark
      (and probably already his audience) holds the Judean temple hierarchy
      uniquely responsible for J's death, & (c) Mark uses conflict-stories
      with scribes & Pharisees to forewarn his audience against the lethal
      potential of those who espouse an interpretation of Hebrew tradition
      that stemmed from Judea (& ultimately Jerusalem).

      That said, however, I'm afraid I have to disagree with your repeated
      claim that Mark had a general "anti-Judean bias" & your use of this as
      evidence that Mark could not have been composed in Judea for a Judean
      audience. In fact, I was surprised that *you* would argue in such broad
      sweeping generalities in a way that is uncharacteristic of your
      customary attention to detail. Have you retracted your own critique of
      Etienne Trocme for engaging in similar speculation? I quote
      (*Traditions* 21):

      "There is a polemical thrust in Mark against *certain* Jewish practices.
      But to read into this attack a *programmatic assault* upon the Jewish
      religious Establishment in the Jerusalem of Mark's day and an assault
      upon the mother church at Jerusalem is *not warranted*. Jesus'
      sanctioning of the priestly practice at 1:44 and occasional advocacy of
      Mosaic teaching (7:10-13; 10:17-19; 12:28-34) and Mark's setting of
      Jesus' ministry in the synagogue speaks *against* a thoroughgoing Jewish
      polemic." [asterisks mine]

      With that statement by the early Ted Weeden I am still in 100%
      To the evidence you cited in that passage let me just add Mark 12:28-34
      in which Mark -- and Mark alone among the synoptics -- tells how one
      scribe in Jerusalem respectfully commended J's prioritizing of certain
      commandments after which Mark concludes: "And when Jesus saw that he
      answered *wisely*, he said to him, 'You (*singular*) are not far from
      the KofG.'" Matthew suppresses the mutual commendations & Luke turns the
      story into an adversarial prologue to the parable of the Samaritan in an
      encounter with a lawyer before J even gets to Judea.

      If *Mark* really envisioned Judea & Jerusalem as the unqualified source
      of all opposition to J, why did he locate that particular story where he
      did -- between the attack on the temple & the prediction of the temple's
      destruction? My hunch is that he wanted to make it clear to his audience
      that J's opposition to the *abuse* of the temple (Mark 11:17) & his
      forecast of its fall (Mark 13:2) was based on his passion for scriptural
      principles that were indeed accepted by some scribes in Jerusalem (my
      hunch: the peace wing of the Hillelites).

      In identifying J's opponents, Mark should not be confused with John. He
      does not lump them altogether as "Jews". In fact, the word IOUDAOI
      occurs only 6 times in our text of Mark: once in the parenthetical gloss
      (7:3-4) that *interrupts* the narration of conflict over handwashing --
      thus could hardly have been part of an original *oral* performance for
      audience that *shared* the author's presuppositions; and 5 times in the
      passion narrative where it is *always* used to describe *Jesus* as "King
      of the Jews." In other words, the original narrator of Mark *never* uses
      the term "Jew" (or "Judean") to characterize any opponent of Jesus. The
      idea that Pharisees & scribes are necessarily Judeans wherever they
      appear in Mark (even in conflict stories set in Galilee) is an inference
      *imported* into the narrative by non-Judean interpreters of this gospel.
      In fact, Mark's repeated use of the title "King of the IOUDAIOI" in the
      story of J's crucifixion would have more ironic dramatic impact *if* one
      assumes that the original audience for which the author intended this
      work identified *themselves* as IOUDAIOI.

      As for your interpretation of Mark 1:5 as a deliberate inference that
      *all* Judeans were sinners: I think this reads both more & less into
      that verse than is warranted. Rather, read in context, Mark describes
      *all* Judeans as *repentant* sinners who submit to John's baptism for
      *forgiveness of sins* (Mark 1:4). And this prepares the way for Mark's
      own later emphasis that J himself was criticized as a "friend of
      sinners" (2:15f), who himself claimed authority to forgive sin (2:10) &
      even announced to skeptical scribes sent from Jerusalem that "all sins
      will be forgiven the sons of men" (3:31). For Mark & his audience public
      admission of sin & accusations of being a sinner are no more stigmas
      than for modern evangelical Xns.

      Apart from this passage there are only 3 other references to Judea in
      Mark. Two (3:7 & 10:1) identify the place from which crowds came to see
      & hear J. I'm afraid I find your attempt to minimize the degree of
      loyalty to J on the part of Judeans in 3:7 forced & too subtle to have
      been caught in an oral performance of this gospel. The mental image
      which Mark is invoking in this passage is that of masses of pilgrims who
      took the trouble to journey from their homeland all the way to Galilee
      just to see J for themselves. Would any modern audience think that those
      who travelled 100+ miles to see the Pope or Billy Graham were *less*
      devoted than members of the celibrated religious leader's own entourage?

      The final mention of "Judea" in Mark (13:14) is the passage where the
      author gives people in that region advance warning (advanced, at least,
      at the narratological level) when & how to escape disaster initiated by
      something (or someone) identified as a "desolating sacrilege" -- a
      peculiarly Judean idiom (if ever there was one) for something very
      un-Judean. Does an author who warns Judean readers to flee from this
      sound like someone who has an "anti-Judean bias"?

      In fact all the specific references to "Judeans" & "Judea" in the
      narrative proper of Mark I can interpret in a positive light, which is
      one of the things that convinced me that Mark was *not* written by a
      gentile for a gentile audience. Jews & Judeans were hardly a uniform
      harmonious group. They had fierce partisan antagonisms. The author of
      Mark knows this & exploits it in his juxtaposition of (a) J's defense of
      resurrection against skeptical Sadducees & (b) the *positive* reaction
      of a Jerusalemite scribe who endorses J's prioritizing of *mitzvoth*

      The fact that the Dead Sea covenanters lived in Judea did not
      prevent *them* from scathing criticism of the "wicked" priesthood in
      Jerusalem or in declaring that the time would soon come for their own
      separation from Judah as the true Israel. If that is the case for Judean
      Essenes who were fiercely devoted to the Mosaic Torah, I see no reason
      for thinking that Mark & his audience could not have been Judeans
      defending their interpretation of the Torah against Pharisees & the
      temple priesthood. And I see plenty of narratological indicators that
      they were [but more on that later]. As far as I can see there is no
      reason good for thinking that Mark & his audience could not have
      belonged a Judean party similar to the one described in 1 Thess 2:14ff
      whom Paul claims experienced opposition & persecution from their fellow

      I'm afraid I don't quite get your point about alleging Mark's
      geographical ignorance of the relative direction of Bethphage & Bethany
      from Jerusalem. Unless you know a different ms. recension than the
      one used in Aland's synopsis, Mark says only: "And when he drew near to
      Jerusalem, to Bethphage & Bethany, before (*pros*) the Mount of
      Olives..." (11:1). There are two ways of explaining this sequence of
      places. *If* the author meant to tick off the names of the towns on J's
      itinerary from Jericho then obviously he is disoriented. But he doesn't
      say that J came first to Jerusalem, then Bethphage, then Bethany. And
      there is no reason to think that the Markan audience was supposed to
      imagine itself as accompanying Jesus from Jericho to Jerusalem. Rather,
      I think the dramatic impact of the Markan narrative is increased *if*
      one sees the narrator as getting his audience to imagine Jesus coming
      closer to *them.* On this supposition, the order of places in Mark 11:1
      becomes perfectly logical as oral narration to an audience located
      anywhere in Judea west of the Mount of Olives, either in Jerusalem
      itself or points west (Emmaus, Modein, Lydda, Joppa, or perhaps
      Arimathea). In any case, I don't see how this geographically odd point
      in Markan narration becomes any more intelligible by presupposing a
      north Palestinian Sitz.

      Nor do I see why such a topical aporia should have more negative
      probative force than geographical displacements in Mark's account of J's
      Galilean itinerary (e.g., the sea crossing in which the disciples head
      toward Bethsaida on the northwest shore (7:45) but instead wind up on
      the eastern shore at Gennesaret (7:53) or when he "returned from the
      region of Tyre (latitude 33 degrees/15 minutes) and went through Sidon
      (latitude 33 degrees/35 minutes -- almost 20 miles *north* of Tyre) to
      the Sea of Galilee (latitude 32 degrees/40-50 minutes) -- 35 miles
      southwest of Tyre but at least 55 miles south of Sidon. It seems to me
      that these geographical displacements in the Markan narrative present
      far greater difficulties for a northern Palestinian Sitz for the Markan
      narrator than the simple inversion of 2 villages a few miles apart in
      the outskirts of Jerusalem is to a Judean Sitz. In fact the geographical
      order of Tyre to Sidon becomes perfectly intelligible *if* one supposes
      that Mark & his audience are in Judea, for that is the order of stops as
      one goes up the Mediterranean coast from Joppa & that is the order these
      cities were regularly referred to in *Judean* scripture (Jer 47:4, Joel
      3:4, Zech 9:2).

      But let me not pursue this, since I'm not trying to develop my own case
      for a Judean Sitz but merely want point out why I do not find your
      objections adequate to prefer a location of Mark & his audience
      somewhere in northern Palestine rather than in the Judean heartland.

      I am in total agreement with you when it comes to identification of
      Galilee as the Markan "promised land." For it is the land to which J
      (thru the symbolic youth at the right hand) directs the disciples at the
      end of the Markan narrative & from which J himself had first come. In
      fact I find your analysis of the opening 15 verses of Mark in relation
      to the exodus motif to be ingenious. But I wouldn't over-idealize
      Galilee in contrast to Judea. For Mark both regions are ambiguous. If
      Galilee is the early Xn promised land, Mark realizes that it was just as
      difficult for J to conquer as Canaan was for the ancient Israelites. For
      he locates most of his conflict stories there (without explicitly
      identifying J's opponents as Judeans except in the Beelzebul
      controversy. And Mark & Mark alone among the synoptics implicates the
      "Herodians" as J's opponents. In fact his lurid portrait of the family
      of Herod Antipas is far more detailed than those of J's Judean
      opponents. It is the Markan Herod who himself identifies J with "John
      whom I beheaded" (6:14). So this Markan "promised land" is certainly not
      portrayed as a comfortable retirement village.

      I have other problems with some of your key arguments for preferring a
      northern origin for Mark (e.g., Mark's dependence on Q particularly for
      the SofM sayings) that I don't have space to go into here. Suffice it to
      say that I have a completely different take on the SofM sayings than you
      presented in your post, one that I spent years working on. Rather than
      try to summarize that here let me simply point you to my articles (in
      case you are interested) two in FORUM -- "No Place for a SofM" (FORUM
      4/4, Dec 88, pp. 88-107) & "To Judge the SofM" (FORUM 7/3-4, Dec 91, pp.
      242) -- & one on the internet: "Missing the SofM" URL:


      BTW the Q-Thom "fox-hole" saying (Matt 8:20 par) was not the only SofM
      saying that the JS voted pink. The "Lord of the Sabbath" saying also was
      accepted into the data base (cf. 5Gospels p. 552 - #71).

      I point all this out not to try to dissuade you from your own thesis or
      to claim that my SofM is more accurate than yours, but simply to
      indicate that *if* your intended audience includes scholars who have
      done their own research, it is rather risky to base crucial arguments on
      theories that are not widely accepted. To my knowledge not many of our
      colleagues have followed Burton Mack in proclaiming Mark's dependence on
      Q. Nor have many followed Crossan's proposal of the priority of the
      Petrine "cross gospel." You of course are free to follow whom you
      choose. But I seem to recall that it was you who said that an author is
      more likely to persuade his intended audience *if* they both share
      certain basic views. So the more your reconstruction depends on
      presuppositions & theses that your own intended audience deems tenuous,
      the fewer you are likely to lead to your conclusions.

      But rather than argue such tangential issues, I'd like to turn to your
      arguments against my sketchy analysis of the Markan little apocalypse.
      You wrote:

      > Scholars for the most part have seen the reference [to a desolating sacrilege in Mark 13:14 as
      > part of a pre-Markan source which was created to give
      guidance to the
      > Christian community in Jerusalem as a result of the
      > incident.

      Here indeed you have majority of published scholarship behind you & it
      is *my* thesis that Mark 13 is totally a Markan composition (albeit from
      bits & pieces of previous oral tradition) that represents a minority
      view. I am well aware of that & realize that I will have to develop an
      extensive critical analysis of this chapter in relationship to the rest
      of the Markan text to persuade scholars that they should think
      otherwise. If I simply declare that "*I* believe" that the author of
      Mark conconcted the whole little apocalypse I know that few would
      listen. For who am I to so boldly contradict generations of scholarship.
      That's part of the reason I have not yet ventured with my Judean thesis.
      Not out of timidity, but simply out a circumspect realization that I am
      going to have to get scholars to reexamine basic assumptions that
      they've been comfortable with in order to get them to see things that
      they have apparently overlooked till now.

      Since a lot of the detailed work is still to be developed, limits of
      time & space make it necessary to sketch only the broad basic
      observations that make me confident that I can challenge the current
      majority consensus on this issue.

      1. Size: recent scholarship on the Markan little apocalypse has caused
      the extent of the alleged pre-Markan source to shrink dramatically till
      it is little more than a few verses in length. Theissen & you are proof
      of this. Both of you recognize the hand of Mark in *most* of chapter 13.
      Theissen ascribes only 13 verses out the 37 in that chapter to Mark's
      source; you reduce that to 9. The size of the resultant passage is in
      fact so small that it is doubtful whether it could have circulated as a
      separate document & survived in this form for more than 25 years.

      2. Content: These verses are not distinct enough from the author's own
      language & ideas to be easily identified as the work of another
      authorial voice (as is the case in distinguishing the signs gospel from
      the 4th evangelist or even the cross gospel from GPeter). E.g., concern
      about "the end" (TELOS) in both 13:7 (in the alleged source) & 13:13
      (not in the alleged source); injunctions against alarm in 13:7 (in
      alleged source) & anxiety in 13:11 (not in alleged source).

      3. Redaction: Mark has so seamlessly integrated this material into this
      chapter that there are no *stylistic* grounds for including or excluding
      particular verses in this source. The only good reason for excluding
      Mark 13:5-6,9-14,21-23 from this string of warnings is that these lines
      are difficult to reconcile with the idea of a pre-Markan Jewish source
      written at the time of the Caligula crisis. Therefore, the isolation of
      this little "little apocalypse" is totally determined by the *a priori*
      assumption that Mark was using such a source. I can't go into a lengthy
      historical analysis of the grounds of such a thesis here. Nor should I
      have to with someone like you who commands the secondary literature on
      Mark far better than I. But I suspect that the basic reason behind the
      identification of the little apocalypse as a pre-Markan source was & is
      intimately linked with the need to reconcile (a) recognition that *this*
      section is very Jewish & specifically Judean with (b) a scholarly
      conviction that Mark had to be composed elsewhere. The little apocalypse
      is difficult to reconcile with a conviction that Mark was written for an
      audience in Rome or Galilee or any place outside Judea; therefore it had
      to be ascribed to a pre-Markan source. But that is circular reasoning &
      verges on special pleading. *If* one is going to insist on the integrity
      of the extant text of Mark as a unified composition of a single author,
      then the logic of this passage should certainly be granted to be a
      Markan *composition*.

      4. Provenance: The little apocalypse is immediately relevant *only* to a
      Judean audience. Why & how this warning to Judeans was (a) taken beyond
      Judea & then (b) *reissued* in its *original* form by a non-Judean
      author for a non-Judean audience half a generation or more later
      presents a socio-historical problem that no amount of scholarly
      speculation can transcend. What were Xns in Rome or Caesarea Philippi
      supposed to make of an urgent warning about a *desolating sacrilege* in
      Judea? How were they expected to react on hearing this?

      Of all passages in Mark, the narrator does not present this as
      historical retrospection but as a message of significance for his own
      audience (13:37). That would be true even if the aside in 13:14 is
      secondary. *If* Mark was read as an oral performance, all of the
      warnings in this chapter are delivered to Mark's audience as if they
      identified *themselves* as Judeans. The author of Mark is not
      Shakespeare writing historical drama for the descendents of War of the
      Roses, much less the reminiscences of earlier disciples for an audience
      on the other side of the sea. It was that realization when I began to
      take Mark seriously as an oral text (even before I read Kelber) that led
      me to begin to question the tradition of a Roman provenance for Mark &
      why I will be hard to convince me that a northern Palestinian Sitz is
      much better.

      Again, please realize that I offer these rebuttals not to reject your
      reading of the internal evidence in Mark out of hand but to help you
      think through possible objections to your thesis & prepare cogent
      rebuttals -- if not on this e-list, at least when you put your arguments
      in print. In the meantime, I would appreciate your pointing out any
      weaknesses you find in my reading of the evidence or my line of





      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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