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?
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.
RICHARD 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.
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!
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.
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.