MARK page 2

W. ROBERT CONNOR   11/19/12
Bill, you send me back to the text with eyes more open. BUT I am stalling on the very first word — kata. The gospel “according to” Mark is the standard translation, but what does kata Markon really mean?

bill berg photo crop 1

On kata, Google coughed this one up, from Adolf von Harnack. Ι suspect he’s just citing the communis opinio when he writes:

“Nor, on the other hand, may we take these titles ‘according to Matthew,’ etc., as if by them the compiler would imply that these books were not composed by Matthew, etc., but were only indirectly dependent upon them. No one in antiquity understood the titles in this way. The matter becomes quite clear when we consider the titles of the apocryphal Gospels: The Gospel of Peter professes to be written by St Peter, for St Peter speaks in the first person, and yet this Gospel bears the title: The Gospel according to Peter. The titles with kata … mean ‘the Gospel according to Matthew’s own description,’ etc., not ‘the Gospel according to Matthew’s tradition,’ etc.”

Who is this communis opinio guy who keeps raising his ill-shaven head? He may be right but I want to keep playing with kata.

rick pacific crop 3RICHARD McKIM   11/20/12
I’m now up to 2:23 — more on all THAT to come! Meanwhile, Bill’s point about the present tense reminds me that today’s historians use the “historical present” constantly, at least on TV: “It’s 44 BC and the senate’s getting fed up with Caesar’s high-handed ways, so Brutus and his cohorts come up with a bold revolutionary plot — to assassinate him!” Then there’s what some wag called the “sports present” in counterfactuals, a favorite of color commentators: “If Henderson doesn’t steal second [which he did], then he doesn’t score on that bloop single [which he did].”

To translate these verbs into some other language as past or conditional would clearly misrepresent their effect. Same goes, I imagine, for Mark’s Greek present. It should be translated as present, as Bill implies. Has anyone previously done so for the NT?

Well, I do it, straight out and literal. It’s not the English way, of course. It sounds weird at first, but you get used to it after a while. Let visitors trip, as Nabokov used to say. BTW, it sounds perfectly natural to my wife, who is Japanese. Their storytelling style also mixes past and present, she says.

Gospel "kata Markon", first page. S. Italy/Sicily,12thC

Gospel “kata Markon”, first page. S. Italy/Sicily,12thC

So Rick is at 2.23 and I am still stuck at word one, kata. It’s an unusual way to entitle a treatise. In the Septuagint the books have names in the nominative, Isaiah, Jeremiah, etc. Classical Greek texts have the author’s name in the genitive.– “Of Thucydides,” to choose an author at random. In the NT, Revelation is “of John”; and the non-Pauline epistles have the author’s name in the genitive, like a good classical text. So there is something funny about kata. If it were the title of a speech it would mean “against” the person named. That’s not the case here, clearly, but the unusual phrasing tells us to be on our toes. Don’t kid yourself; what follows doesn’t claim to be the exact words of Mark, but a report about Jesus that “came down from” someone named Mark. Was this oral tradition, an Aramaic text, or what? Or was it an adaptation of notes or something else written by Mark? I don’t see how we could possibly know.

What’s clear is that there is no claim that this gospel is “of Mark,” in the way other books are “of” their authors. And, as we read the first sentence, we find a clue that the author did not think the good news in this book is his own but belongs to, or consists in Jesus himself: “[This is] the beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ.” The “Down from Mark” reminds us of the special nature of this kind of writing, and that the good news is Jesus himself, not anything Mark has reported..

Pointy-haired Mr. Scholarly Consensus (first cousin to bald-headed Mr. Communis Opinio) thinks that Matthew and Mark are so often identical because both of them are cribbing from an earlier εὐαγγέλιον, most often called simply “Q” (or sometimes “The Sayings of Jesus”). The two evangelists’ citations from this hypothetical Q, however, vary often enough in choice of vocabulary to suggest that they’re translating from a language in Q that is not Greek, so probably Aramaic. Matthew has the fuller, originally Jewish, account, plus his own embellishments (fables & genealogy etc.), whereas Mark keeps to the essentials, preserving only what’s most relevant for proselytizing the Gentile community.  So εὐαγγέλιον κατά Μάρκον might be tantamount to “the εὐαγγέλιον as Mark took it down” or “as Mark passed it on” or even “as Mark translated/transmitted it.”

So goes the story, anyway. Now, far be it from me to be labeled an Apostle of the Acceptable. I’m glad someone here is taking issue with those gentlemen, and I’m eager to hear more about it, Bob!

McKIM   11/21/12
Sharp observations, Bob, on κατά versus the genitive of authorship. You may well be on to something. My difficulty is with the sentence Bill likes: “The good news is Jesus himself, not anything Mark has reported.” You suggest we’re to construe the genitive JC in the opening sentence to mean something like “the good news consisting in JC” or “of JC’s existence” rather than the reporting “about” him that the gospel is entirely devoted to. Plausibility aside, I wonder if this is a distinction without a difference.

Surely our author would say that JC himself is good news precisely because of what the gospel reports about him. If not because of that, then what? I may be misunderstanding your point, but it seems to imply that the opening sentence sets us free to discount the reports — the miracles, the voice of God in the sky saying Σὺ εἶ ὁ υἱός μου, anything that we have trouble believing — while still leaving something called “Jesus himself” to hang on to. The result might be Jefferson’s cut-and-paste gospels, leaving only the wise sayings of an admirable sage who was kind to children, sparrows & hookers. I doubt this is the JC whom our gospel author considers to embody such good news. He leads with a slew of healings & exorcisms, not with JC’s teaching, because for him those are what give the teaching its clout.

As a skeptical want-to-believer who totally lacks the courage of conviction (to put my cards on the table!), I’m in no position to advocate an all-or-nothing approach to the good news kata Markon. But I do think it’s an affront to our worldview — Paul’s stumbling block & folly — not something we can force-fit into that view. So we shouldn’t too comfortably assume that the text invites us to disregard its own contents.

CONNOR   11/22/12
Now we are getting down to brass tacks. So far (I’m only through ch. 2) I haven’t seen much about the content of Jesus’ teaching, and his “miracles” (our term) seem to me to be told to emphasize his authority — ἐξουσία — not some “take it leave it” creedal statement. It seems to me that so far the text is building up some suspense, making us ask “Just what IS his teaching?” A question that is held off until we have our answer to “Just what is his authority?” Such postponement makes sense when we recognize that J. is staking out a position that runs deeply counter to ideas of authority in the OT — I think, though I imagine the current tendency in NT criticism would deny that.

“The text is building up some suspense, making us ask, Just what IS his teaching?”
Still, he seems to be getting a good jump on the teaching by at least showing in ch. 2 what it’s not about — the rituals and prescriptions of the Torah for duties of man to God like the Sabbath, for example. All those ἔργα νόμου that we need to get bulldozers in here to clear out and make room for the prescriptions of the Sermon on the Mount. “The Sabbath was made for the people, and not the people for the Sabbath. The Son of Man, you see, is also Master of the Sabbath.” (2:27)

Question here: this is the first time we see “Son of Man” in Mark. The term mystifies me. Apparently it’s used in the OT as well, but nobody seems to know exactly what it means. Maybe it was too much of a formula by Jesus’ time for anyone to ask what it signified. Authority? Man? both? neither?

And we get some direction in ch. 2 as to whom his teaching was for — the ἁμαρτωλοί with whom he  likes to dine. Translation: “disreputable folk”? “lowlife”? or do we have to render it consistently as “sinners”? They seem to be pretty much in the same contemptible class as toll-collectors (which of course includes Levi/Matthew) (2:15-16), another who immediately has eyes for the Magic Man. Maybe we’re to hear “sinners” as something not terribly serious, as nothing more than a popular epithet for the less appetizing members of society. After all, the real sinners are not the reprobates, but the Scribes and Pharisees, right?

Another question on 2:8: Jesus can tell τῷ πνεύματι αὐτοῦ what the scribes are thinking. How do we think about this πνεῦμα? Does it have anything to do with the “breath” that descended upon Jesus at baptism and blew him into the desert? Or is it something entirely different? In Matthew’s account (9:4) of the same miracle, Jesus simply “sees their thoughts” — ἰδὼν ὁ Ἰησοῦς τοὺς ἐνθυμήσεις αὐτῶν.

I’m still trying to get behind the way Mark tailors his tenses to suit his purposes. Mark the cinematographer seems to have set up two cameras for the scene of the Healing of the Paraplegic: #1 for background: house & the crowd sitting/standing around (past tense), #2 focusing on the paralytic himself and his encounter with Jesus (present tense), at least until the moment of his healing — then he lopes off into the past, his mat tucked under his arm, leaving the reader still in present time — for the reader lives in present time, where the interaction between Jesus and the paraplegic takes place, eternally. Present time is your time.

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5 thoughts on “MARK page 2”

  1. Gary Pence said:

    Source theory, pretty generally accepted today, holds that, not only was Mark the first of the four canonical Gospels, but that Mark did not have access to Q[uelle], which apparently was only a collection of sayings (something like the Gospel of Thomas). So Mark creates a narrative structure working back from an extensive passion story that may itself have derived from prior “suffering servant” narratives found in the OT and intertestamental literature and focused on deeds rather than words. (An interesting sidebar is that the creeds, from the earliest and simplest to the most developed ones, contain no teaching of Jesus at all. The Apostolic and Nicene Creeds reduced Jesus’ entire career to a series of mostly aorist passive[!] participles.)

    Matthew and Luke later wove the sayings culled from Q into the Mark’s narrative frame to create their fuller versions of the εὐαγγέλιον, and they added material exclusive to each. They are presumed to have worked independently so that the variations in their quotations from Q are understood as their editorial revisions reflective of their distinctive theologies and narrative purposes. These revisions led to much of the work of so-called redaction criticism. (See Kurt Aland, Synopsis Quattuor Evangeliorum, for the tool used to make exacting comparisons of the Greek texts.)

    My own conclusion is that Mark and the other Gospels are neither history nor biography, but theology in narrative form, so I don’t read them to find out “what happened,” but for what εὐαγγέλιον each author was trying to communicate.

    The attachment of names to each writing (κατὰ τὸν . . . .) apparently occurred during the second century CE, and it’s thought that the point is that there is one εὐαγγέλιον, but various readings of it, four of them declared to be reliable, as though we readers are seeing this one εὐαγγέλιον through four different lenses.

    • I have always learned from Gary Pence ever since we were at the University of Michigan in some antediluvian era. I’m glad it’s still happening!

      But here’s my problem — Quellenforschungen. We classicists suffered grievously from our German masters who pull Homer and Thucydides and how many others apart into Gott weiss how many strata, etc. They may have been right — at least some of the time. After all, a complex work is likely to have a complex genesis. But I felt (and I think most US classicists since the mid-50s or so came to feel) that this left us with dust in our hands. So we paddled back, upstream, to a glade where we could say “What we have is a text, a Greek text, however it came about. Let’s read it as a text not a source puzzle.” When I shifted gears and started reading Thucydides that way, the dust came alive. (I’m no Homerist but I’ve seen it happen there, too.) It was literature. It repaid every effort I could pour into it.

      So, naturally, when we turned to the NT, I tried to do the same. Not easy because the quest for the historical evangelist is seductive. Maybe it should be; but I feel it can only be consummated (if you will excuse the metaphor!) if FIRST one treats the text as coherent, that is as literature. I’ve been stumbling in that direction and again, for all the deficiencies of my reading and all my ignorance, whenever I push really hard I find a reward.

  2. “(An interesting sidebar is that the creeds, from the earliest and simplest to the most developed ones, contain no teaching of Jesus at all. The Apostolic and Nicene Creeds reduced Jesus’ entire career to a series of mostly aorist passive[!] participles.)”
    A very interesting sidebar, indeed! So the “Apostles’ Creed,” which gets a perfunctory recitation during the ceremonial services of the more orthodox divisions of Christianity, manages to gut the essential spirit of the faith, omitting any reference to the Sermon on the Mount, or the Golden Rule that Jesus called “the law and the prophets” (Matt 7:12), or Paul’s admonition to “Bear each other’s burdens, and in that way fulfill the King’s Law” (Gal 6:2), or James’ invocation of “the King’s Law according to scripture, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself” (2:8)! And this has been happening from the fifth century onward? Shouldn’t we be asking who was responsible for this moral about-face? ~ Bill

  3. Richard Deppe pointed out to me that if you check the Proto-Indo-European root of Greek ‘kata’ in Pokorny it means “transmitted through,” which is the meaning you want in the NT Greek. My own reaction is from the Others’ lingo. Tantum religio potuit suadere malorum.

    More positively, from Yeats’ “Among School Children”

    Labour is blossoming or dancing where
    The body is not bruised to pleasure soul.
    Nor beauty born out of its own despair,
    Nor blear-eyed wisdom out of midnight oil.
    O chestnut-tree, great-rooted blossomer,
    Are you the leaf, the blossom or the bole?
    O body swayed to music, O brightening glance,
    How can we know the dancer from the dance?

    • Christianity has not found it easy to come to terms with the body, even though it all started with Word becoming flesh and came to communicate largely through bread, wine, water, oil and sounds the body needs to hear: “O body swayed to music… ”

      That yin/yang tension eclipsed, degraded, talked to death! Until body was no longer wrestling with soul, and vice versa, as I think they must. Let the kiddies tussle!

      But if I see aright by borrowing Mark’s eyes, Jesus is not much bothered by having been incarnated. He dines (with sinners!), drinks, feeds hungry people, restores hearing, bodily life even, spits in a blind man’s eye to cure him, and at the end has somehow gone off to Galilee in some bodily form or other. My hunch is that Mark would have liked [some of] Yeats, maybe even “The body is not bruised to pleasure soul.” I had forgotten pretty much everything except the famous last line of the poem — even ” O body swayed to music, O brightening glance”. A great line! Thanks for bringing me back to it.

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