let the beatings begin

Once this post goes live I’m bound to get an ear-full from Gospels scholars, particularly those of the Markan priority type. But no matter. A little disagreement is good every now and then. As long as it’s constructive.

For the past two weeks I’ve been (re-)exploring the world of Gospels scholarship, specifically the discussions on the so-called “Synoptic Problem” and the priority of Mark. In the majority of cases, the view of Markan priority (i.e. Mark’s Gospel was the first to be written and then used by Matthew and Luke) is integral to “solving” the Synoptic Problem. The two big questions that have bugged me for a while, and they are the ones fueling my (re-)exploration, are: 1) are the arguments for Markan priority really that good/persuasive, and 2) on the basis/assumption that Matthew and Luke used Mark, did Mark use any sources or is he exempt from relying on such things?

To stir the pot a little (with an industrial blender), I am finding myself not being persuaded by most of the arguments for Markan priority–i.e. I don’t think they’re all that good. I’ll have to come back to that discussion later, for it will take a little more time to develop. Based on what I’ve seen thus far, I can say the same thing for the case for Mark’s use of source. For this post, I am going to consider one argument (=piece of “evidence”) related to that case. The argument comes from B.H. Branscomb (The Gospel of Mark [1937], xxiii) and runs as follows–with running commentary by yours truly:

The series of conflicts between Jesus and the Jewish religious leaders narrated in ii.1–iii.6 evidently came to the editor [of the Gospel] in written form. . . .

How this is evident is not clearly defined, but I’ll let it slide for now–unless it’s evident in a petitio principii sort of way.

This is generally accepted. . . .

That’s news to me, but then again I’ve spent the majority of my academic research in Pauline studies. Admittedly, this “generally accepted” remark was made in 1937 and things may have changed since then. Or maybe they haven’t. Anyone?

But the source from which this came also contributed some further material. . . .

So, based on everything said so far, we’re dealing with a (supposed) written source from which the editor of the Gospel of Mark gleaned information. Okie dokie.

For in xii.13 there appears another conflict episode introduced by a reference to the combination of Pharisees and Herodians against Jesus with which iii.6 closes.  The Herodians as a party are not mentioned elsewhere in ancient literature. . . .

Hang on a minute. You can’t say “The Herodians as a party are not mentioned elsewhere in ancient literature” after contending that the conflict story which mentions the Herodians is derived from a written source which came to the editor’s attention. Had you said, “The Herodians as a party are not mentioned elsewhere in ancient extant literature” that would be fine, because you already admitted that the other “sources” used are no longer extant. But you didn’t, and that’s not fine–especially if we’re using the details of your argument. In other words: if we accept that the editor used a written source, and that written source mentions the Herodians, then they arementioned elsewhere in ancient literature”, despite the fact we longer possess that source as independent testimony.

Nowhere else does Mark mention this combination of opponents, nor do the contents of either section suggest their names. . . .

Yeah, so? Nowhere else, outside of 7.26, does Mark mention the Syrophoenician race. Are we to assume that Mark (or the editor of) could only obtain knowledge about such people from written sources? I just don’t see the necessity for that assumption, or the one in the previous claim (of Branscomb, that is).

It seems plain that there is a connection between the two passages, and the influence of a written source would seem to be the natural explanation. . . .

“Big deal” to the first half, and “No it doesn’t” to the second. It does only if you’re already assuming the use of a written source, but that’s starting to slide into petitio principii.

But how much more this document supplied, whether the one additional episode only, or the section from xii.13 to xii.34, cannot be said with assurance.

That’s it?! Hardly a convincing case. No real arguments outside of suppositions.

Branscomb’s got seven more pieces of “evidence” that presumably prove the existence of (written) sources behind Mark’s Gospel. If the remaining seven are anything like this one, in the words of Prince Humperdinck: “I’ll shall be very put out.”


One comment

  1. Have you read David Allen Black’s Why the Four Gospels? He argues strongly for Matthean priori and is very convincing. I hear people poohoo his views but not once have I heard no one engage in it. He argues that the early church fathers believed in Mathean priori. He also argues other points but that is his main one.

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