Jesus Against the Scribal Elite

Friday, February 22, 2013

Hurtado on the Survival of Mark

Given that around 90% of Mark is represented by Matthew and that Luke incorporates around 60%, why did early Christianity keep Mark around at all? The venerable Larry Hurtado discusses this question and suggests an answer.

I might also add that we have numerous examples from the ANE where texts were cannibalized. That is, they were incorporated, authorship was "reassigned" and the primary text was destroyed. Notice, however, that we find at least two remarkable exceptions to this in Jewish scripture. We have overlapping traditions set side by side in the Pentateuch and a similar relationship demonstrated between Samuel/Chronicles. The presence of these texts in the Qumran library suggests that these concomitant shelf-lives are not merely explained by geographical preference. I might also add to this list the case of Jude/2 Peter. Could it be that there was an element of "sacred preservation" in Jewish culture that Christianity inherited?

-anthony

12 comments:

  1. Also Pistis Sophia vs Eugnostos the Blessed.

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  2. Anthony, interesting! I think you have a point about Jewish practice and “sacred preservation”, but I’m not sure how to make that argument.

    While I agree that there are overlapping traditions contained in Torah, it’s not at all clear that this was recognized in the Jewish community until the advent of modern analytical techniques like source and form criticism. So I can’t say that Torah represents an ancient intentional Jewish practice of “sacred preservation” of different versions of the same story. It may well be that the authors/redactors of written Torah WERE thinking about “sacred preservation”, but our earliest surviving exegetical tradition reads Torah as a single text with a single author.

    As for the Qumran library, I don’t think its diverse contents prove “sacred preservation”, just as we would not assume that the presence in a modern library of a particular text (such as Das Kapital or Mein Kampf) indicates community adoption or even acceptance of that text.

    Samuel/Chronicles is a better example of what you mean, though I think the Jewish view would be to give priority to Samuel. I’ve never considered this issue before, but the online Jewish Encyclopedia says that “on the whole, Chronicles was regarded [in Rabbinical literature] with suspicion; its historical accuracy was doubted by the Talmudic authorities; it being held to be a book for homiletic interpretation.” So again, the Jewish preservation of Chronicles is not exactly analogous to the Christian preservation of Mark. Chronicles may have been preserved as something more like midrash than as a text co-equal to Samuel.

    What strikes me as unique about the Gospels is not only their preservation of multiple accounts of the Jesus story, but also their seemingly equal standing relative to one another. I don’t know of a precedent for this in the ANE. I don’t have a good answer to the question, “why four Gospels?”, so it’s hard to approach the possibly subordinate question of “why not three Gospels?” Sometimes, things are the way they are because that’s the way they turned out to be. But don’t quote me on that.

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    2. Doesn't the existence of texts like Jubilees and 1QapGen alongside full copies of Genesis at Qumran show that redundancy is no issue?

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    3. Well ... it depends on what you mean by "redundancy". There are many reasons why a group might "preserve" a text that they don't regard as sacred. Sometimes folks might "preserve" a text so that it's handy in case they want to argue against it. The folks at Qumran could get quite argumentative when the mood struck.

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  3. Much here that warrants comment... for now I will simply clarify that I don't think that the diversity of the Qumran library "proves" anything. This was my attempt to bypass any "well northern Israelites preferred this text while southern Isrealites preferred that one..." statements. Or in NT terms, we like to say things like "well the Johannine community saw it this way but..." anyway, the jars at Qumran seem to have had a purpose - "preservation" seems as good a word as any.

    -anthony

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    1. Man! That's a thought-provoking reply. Comparing the jars at Qumran to the decision to retain Mark ... that seems so right and so wrong to me at the same time, there's got to be something to what you say. I mean this very seriously.

      I might reply that there's a difference between putting a text into a canon and putting a text into a jar. But I'm honestly not sure that there IS a difference, if the concept we're considering is "preservation". Perhaps the comparison should be between REMOVING something from the canon and REMOVING something from a jar. Once the thing is "in", the instinct to leave it in (or perhaps, the cold shiver that runs down the spine at the thought of removing it) seems to come from the same primal place. The decision to remove can always be "sensibly" postponed, but cannot always be reversed. Just ask any man of my generation whose parents threw out a collection of baseball cards just before they became valuable.

      The idea that Jews are religious "packrats", with an odd and eclectic collection of stuff in the attic, and that we cannot bear to part with any of it ... rings true. I don't know if early Christians inherited this Jewish tendency -- the early Christian interest in heresy hunting may argue in a different direction. But this is one heckuva interesting idea, IMHO.

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  4. Do Gospel of Mark represent/present historical Jesus accurately ?

    OR

    Mark also adds his theological motives into the actual sayings of Jesus ?

    OR

    How much is Gospel of Mark close to 'Q' , did Mark add to 'Q '?

    Please do answer

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    1. Dear Anonymous,
      Concerning your first two questions, I recommend that you pick up my very affordable book: Historical Jesus: What Can We Know and How Can We Know It?

      As to your third question, those scholars who follow the Q hypothesis argue that Mark and Q are relatively independent. Although, you might want to consult Mark Goodacre's work concerning the so called "overlaps" between Mark and Q.

      -anthony

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    2. Why "OR"?

      Your suggestions do not seem to be mutually exclusive.

      (I, personally, side with Goodacre - "Q" is material added to Mark by Matthew that was the adopted by Luke. To what extent Matthew actually had a written source for this material, we won't know until someone bothers to do a proper source analysis of Matthew without presupposing the existence of "Q". Viewing "Q" and special M separately will not be very informative.

      /uninformed babbling

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  5. I remember reading the same kind of point in a book about the midrash. Midrashic literature not only often preserves apparently contradictory material, it seems to almost delight in it. The comparison was made with the dual accounts in Genesis, to suggest that preserving such things rather than harmonizing them out is a long-standing tendency in Jewish culture.

    You can also find this in other cultures, though, so it's not a uniquely Jewish. The Rg Veda, for example, has several different creation accounts, and moreover one of them (where a god measures out the universe in three steps) is attributed to different gods at different times.

    No doubt there's a lot you could say about this case in terms of Vedic religion often not treating gods as entirely distinct entities, and the genre of a praise-hymn (the recipient of hymn is often treated as they're the most important or even only god).

    However, I'm inclined to think that 'sacred preservation' probably does explain these things. The original redactor was in the position of having two (or more) traditional accounts, stories or hymns that were prima facie incompatible, but both seemed extremely venerable, time-honoured and traditional, and no obvious way to choose between them. Preserving both seems like a good way out.

    Western society is likely to do things differently, of course, like assuming they were variant accounts of the same event and using them to produce a single account.

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  6. "
    Sometimes, things are the way they are because that’s the way they turned out to be.
    "
    Welcome to the world of evo-devo. Why are you afraid of living here?

    Given how many gospels have been lost to us, I as an outsider, find it a bit unlikely that texts were already considered sacred and untamperable by then.

    The packrat hypothesis does indeed ring true, but it would have had to be an early tendency that was soon dropped, given what has been lost.

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