“Make a Path”: Maurice Casey’s evidence of an Aramaic source for Mark’s Gospel, or Creative Fiction?

Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

by Neil Godfrey

Edited 13th November
The path . . .

Maurice Casey argues that the author of the Gospel of Mark translated written Aramaic sources about Jesus as early as within ten years of the crucifixion.

He expresses impatience with scholars such as those like John Dominic Crossan who “spend their whole lives in detailed examination of these primary texts” (p. 21) instead of studying what he believes were the Aramaic sources of those texts.

One example highlights both Casey’s rationale for believing the Gospel of Mark was in several places a direct translation of an Aramaic text about life and sayings of Jesus, and what I believe is a much simpler explanation for the question raised.

Make a Path

Mark 2:23 And it came to pass — he is going along on the sabbaths through the corn-fields — and his disciples began to make a way, plucking the ears . . . (Young’s Literal Translation)
“To make a way” is generally translated more like “as they went”. The Greek phrase consists of two words: odon {=WAY} poiein {=TO MAKE,}. Casey translates this, “to make a path

Making a path through the corn fields on the sabbath, as Casey reasonably notes, would have been the sort of work that was forbidden on the sabbath. Casey believes that Jesus at no time broke the sabbath law, so the author of Mark’s gospel made a  mistake when he wrote “odon poiein”, “to make a path”.
The mistake was in misreading a single letter in the Aramaic, a letter which was easily mistaken for another:
Mark says ‘his disciples began to make a path’, an improbable and illegal action which is not mentioned in the subsequent dispute. In Aramaic, however, ‘make’ is ‘bhar, only one letter different from ‘go along’, with ‘dh’ (ד) rather than ‘r’ (ך) as the final letter, and ‘go along’ is just what the context requires to set up the following dispute. Moreover, these two letters, very similar in the square script which I have printed here, were often virtually indistinguishable in an ancient written text. (p. 321)
So because of this one letter confusion, Casey reasons that Mark misread the Aramaic word for “go along” as “make”, thus erroneously portraying the disciples as “making a path” instead of “going along a path”.

So Casey argues

  1. that Jesus would never have broken the sabbath,
  2. that Mark would never have knowingly implied that Jesus did break the sabbath,
  3. and therefore what Mark wrote about Jesus’ followers “making a path” was in error,
  4. and the error can be explained if we:
    • imagine that this section in Mark’s Gospel was translated from an Aramaic version,
    • and if the Greek translator mistakenly reading a single Aramaic letter.

For one assumption to work . . .

I would add that this set of assumptions, especially the two parts of #3, are easier to accept if we further postulate that this author/translator had never heard the story in oral form from anyone either, but learned of it for the first time when he read it in an Aramaic document, and that there was no one around to discuss the story with and who might have heard or known of it from other Aramaic speakers. Without these additional assumptions, it is very hard to imagine a translator of Aramaic in this context making such a silly mistake so that he erroneously wrote that Jesus allowed his disciples to “make a path”, thus breaking the sabbath! Did the alternative and more natural reading of “go along a path” never occur to him as he must have wondered whether he was reading a resh ך or a dalet ד.

Maurice Casey (and his colleague James Crossley in The Date of Mark’s Gospel) insist that the disciples would never really have “made a path” through the corn fields, since that would have been breaking the sabbath, and Jesus would never have permitted that. Both insist, rather, that what the disciples were really doing was taking their entitlement, according to Leviticus 19:9-10:

`And in your reaping the harvest of your land ye do not completely reap the corner of thy field, and the gleaning of thy harvest thou dost not gather, and thy vineyard thou dost not glean, even the omitted part of thy vineyard thou dost not gather, to the poor and to the sojourner thou dost leave them; I [am] Jehovah your God.

Casey (and Crossley) assume that this Levitical law dominated the cultural and religious landscape in Galilee (a landscape well removed from the purview of Pharisees and Temple priesthood) in the early decades of the first century. To question that assumption requires another post, so I will not address that here. But even taking the biblical verse on which the permission to pluck grain is granted at face value, it is surely clear to any reader that the harvesters are required to leave the “corner” or “outer edges” of the field for the poor. What need is there for any poor to “make a path” through the fields to find something to eat?

Did it not occur to the author that Jesus was unlikely to be allowing his disciples to be “making a path” on the sabbath? Is it not reasonable to expect that if the author/translator knew enough of Aramaic to translate it, he knew the difficulty the two letters could present, and that there was, therefore, a much more appropriate word at hand?

Added 13th November: Casey argues that the mistakes in Mark are explained if we imagine it was only a first draft, and that if had Mark lived long enough he would have corrected many of them. (p. 76)

(Readers unfamiliar with Casey’s or Crossley’s publications may well wonder why the author singled out the disciples, and not Jesus, for presumably violating the sabbath command in plucking ears of corn. The answer they offer is that Jesus, being a carpenter or son of a carpenter, was not poor enough to qualify to as sufficiently “poor” to pluck grain when hungry according to Leviticus 19. What questions such an “explanation” raises about the relationship of Jesus to his followers, and the relative economic status between carpenter’s sons and tax collectors and fishermen, I will not venture to discuss at this point.)

An alternative explanation: understanding the nature of the “primary sources”

Maurice Casey’s argument rests on the assumptions that the author of the Gospel of Mark

  • was drawing on an earlier tradition or narrative
  • that was written in Aramaic
  • and was about a real historical event
  • in the life of Jesus
  • and that Jesus never broke (or allowed his disciples to break) the sabbath commandment
  • and that this author intended to use his Gospel to pass on faithfully exactly what he thought this written narrative said

I suggest that a much simpler explanation for Mark having written “make a path” presents itself if we first understand the literary form or nature of the Gospel. This makes excellent, even a priori, sense as a method of historical inquiry. To understand the nature of the source we are utilizing is surely the first essential step to understanding what it contains.

The Gospel of Mark can be read either as creative literature featuring many of the literary devices common to well known Greek epics, tragedies and novellas of the time. It can also be read as a patchwork of a many different oral and written sources stitched together to create the original template of later gospels. Maurice Casey tends to read it according to the latter perspective; I find fewer problems with the text if I read it as creative literature by an author who is deceptively crude in his grammatical constructions. The author was called by Hippolytus in the third century “stump-fingered” and some interpreters understood this to be a reference to the lack of sophistication in his writing style. Some scholars have suggested that Mark’s apparent crudity of expression is really a masterful use of natural speech idioms of his day. There are simply too many well-turned creative moments in his Gospel for the author to have been a semi-illiterate. A number of these are discussed in Michael Turton’s commentary on the Gospel of Mark. Joseph Wallack has discussed Mark’s literary style in ErrancyWiki. I have addressed a few small aspects of Mark’s literary character (including his “bookend” or “inclusio” structures) on vridar.info. I plan to do more posts here in the future examining the literary devices this Gospel shares with Greek tragedy, epics and Hellenistic novellas.

Many biblical historians stress the importance of genre and literary forms of their sources to explain apparent difficulties in the New Testament epistles. It is the literary form and function of the letter genre that is used to explain the paucity of details of Jesus’ life and sayings in them. The apocalyptic genre is understood and interpreted through its conventional use of visions, prophecy and symbolism. Similarly, a number of scholars have identified literary devices and reader-impacts in the Gospel of Mark that testify of an author who was well accomplished in the arts of creative literature. One of these is Werner H. Kelber. And one of his easier to read publications for general readers in which he discusses literary and theological creativity in Mark’s Gospel is Mark’s Story of Jesus.

In the opening chapter of this book Kelber writes:

The very first time Mark alludes to an aspect of Jesus’ life, he does so in terms of a “way.” The reader knows Jesus will be traveling a way. We shall observe that the Markan Jesus is indeed in constant movement from place to place, from region to region, frequently back and forth, and all the way from life to death. Jesus’ whole career is conceived in Mark as a journey. The reader will understand Jesus, his life and death, by paying close attention to the points of departure and arrival, to the directions and goals of his travels. There is logic to Jesus’ journey, and to grasp that logic is to grasp the meaning of his mission and identity. (p. 17, my emphasis)

Unfortunately I do not have my copy of Kelber’s book with me at the moment, but my recollection of it is that it opened up for me a wealth of meaning I had failed till then to see in the various journeys of Jesus to and fro across what Mark calls “the Sea” of Galilee. These to-ing and fro-ing, the dualities in the miracles and events in Jesus’ life, point not only to a new way for the people of God, but the uniting of Jew and Gentile in that way.

Mark’s gospel begins:

Mark 1:1-3:

A beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, Son of God. As it hath been written in the prophets, `Lo, I send My messenger before thy face, who shall prepare thy way before thee,’ — `A voice of one calling in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, straight make ye his paths,’ —

An interlinear translation shows that the words used here for “way” and “make” are the same as we read in Mark 2:23 where the disciples of Jesus are said to “make a way” or path!

Other uses of “odon” or “way” in Mark can be seen here. The word for “make”, poiei(te), is more generic but can be followed up from here.

I suggest that when the author of the Gospel of Mark opened his gospel with “make a path for the Lord!” and subsequently depicted the disciples of that Lord “making a path”, presumably for Jesus, their Lord, as they plucked ears of corn to eat, this author was consciously linking the action of the disciples with the call of John the Baptist and the earlier prophets to “make a path” for their Lord!

The disciples were doing this. But the Pharisees could not see that this action was pregnant with meaning for the ways of the Lord who had newly come to them. By now it should be obvious that the whole scene, and the image of the making the path, is a literary image intended to convey theological meaning. The author is a creative literary artist. He is not ‘recording history’!

All the Pharisees saw was the plucking of the corn. Only the reader who had been prepared from the beginning for a gospel about preparing or making the way for the Lord was aware of the significance of the disciple’s actions. The phrase that Maurice Casey interprets as a historical or factual error on the author/translator’s part is really the flag to the reader to take note that here, in this episode, we see a new way being made for Jesus and his disciples. From henceforth they will acknowledge that Jesus, not the Jews or Jewish law, is the Lord of the Sabbath. This is, after all, the moral on which the episode concludes:

And he said to them, `The sabbath for man was made, not man for the sabbath, so that the son of man is lord also of the sabbath.’ (Mark 2:27-28)

Now I readily acknowledge that there is much more to Casey’s argument than this single phrase, “make a way/path”. Casey (and Crossley) see eye to eye in their interpretation of the discussion about David and his followers eating the consecrated showbread, presumably also on the sabbath day. But this is not a book chapter, only a blog post. So a completion of this discussion will have to await a future time when I have opportunity to collate the material with my thoughts before constructing a concluding post.

But! I propose that a little thought about what is required for Casey’s proposal (that the author of Mark misunderstood yet relied on an otherwise unknown Aramaic text as his source for his own narrative) to work, and a comparison of that with the simplicity and elegance of the creative literary interpretation of the supposedly “problematic” phrase, will leave a student of the Gospel and Christian origins leaning favourably towards the latter option.

The following two tabs change content below.

Neil Godfrey

Neil is the author of this post. To read more about Neil, see our About page.

Latest posts by Neil Godfrey (see all)

If you enjoyed this post, please consider donating to Vridar. Thanks!

71 thoughts on ““Make a Path”: Maurice Casey’s evidence of an Aramaic source for Mark’s Gospel, or Creative Fiction?”

  1. The suggestion that the Markan author “was consciously linking the action of the disciples with the call of John the Baptist” would explain why the Markan version, as opposed to the Matthean version, lacks any reference to Num. 28:9-10 (cf. Matt. 12:3-4) and Hos. 6:6. The moral is simply that a new way is being made for Jesus and his disciples.

    The Matthean version is richer in intertextuality; and the moral is different. David broke the law in eating the shewbread. Later Jewish tradition places the event on a Sabbath (b. Menah. 95b; Yalqut, on 1 Sam 21:5), which makes sense in the Matthean framework. Jesus is seen as that which is “something greater than the temple,” with the temple in turn being greater than the Sabbath (see L. A. Huizenga, The New Issac, pp. 282-286).

    With regards to Casey, it seems that wishful thinking got the better of critical scholarship. There is something about this example that vaguely reminds me of Carsten Peter Thiede (1952-2004), who felt that 7Q5 (an unidentified Qumran fragment) must be a fragment of Mark 6:52-53. The fragment contains one legible word, namely, “kai.”

  2. “Make a way” sounds like the natural action one would make when moving though high/thick vegitation. One does not merely walk though it. I’m not sure if this kind of movement would be a special issue for the Sabbath. The passage doesn’t concern it’s self with moving however but picking and eating. Mark does use “way” alot and the book is a journey narative, like Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit (How much Tolkiene thought about Mark or vice versa I don’t know. I have often thought the point of Mark is to provide a travel guide for his auidience, this is the Way to follow the Path of Jesus. Iwouldn’t make to much of his use of the words here as far as interpreting the meaning of the pericope however. I think Mark just saw another place to insert one of his key words a bit like those mythical subliminal Coke ads in movie theaters.

  3. See Ched Myers, Binding the Strong Man and Burton Mack, A Myth of Innocence. I am far from the first person to interpret Mark as an extended parable on finding the Way. Of course it can’t be proven, but in my view it is largely unwarranted prior assumptions about historicity that prevent this understanding from being the prevailing view.

    However, I’d be glad to claim it if it was also worth Dan Brown money.

    1. And Mary Ann Tolbert, “Sowing the Seed”.

      Trying to recall who it was who read the end of Mark as a direction to return to the beginning and start reading again of Jesus coming into Galilee, meeting his disciples . . . from the new perspective. . . .

      1. “Darrell J. Doughty [Darrell J. Doughty, class lectures. Cf. Norman Perrin, “Towards an Interpretation of the Gospel of Mark,” in _Christology and a Modern Pilgrimage: A Conversation with Norman Perrin_, ed. Hans Dieter Betz (Claremont: New Testament Colloquium, 1971), pp. 1-78.] suggests that Mark’s gospel, which has so many mysterious features, would make a lot more sense if we read it as having a circular structure–if we started with the resurrection! That’s why the book seems to end so abruptly at Mark 16:8, with the women fleeing from the tomb after a young man tells them that Jesus will rejoin his disciples in Galilee. Mark wants the reader to look next at the only place there is left to look: the beginning. There we find the episode of Jesus’ calling the disciples at the lakeside and the mysteriously immediate response: The disciples drop what they are doing and follow him. Doughty noticed how much sense this scene makes if we assume the disciples know him already. Think of how similar the scene is both to Luke’s version in Luke 5:1-11 and to that in John 21:1-11, where it is explicitely a resurrection story! _This_ is the reunion Mark’s young man was talking about (Mark 16:7)! So once the Risen Jesus regains his disciples at the Sea of galilee, the post-resurrection teachings begin. They continue throughout the Gospel of Mark.”

        R. M. Price, Deconstructing Jesus, pp. 34-35.

        John Killinger plays with similar thoughts, see Killinger, Hidden Mark (Mercer UP, 2010).

        1. Ouch. I don’t like the 1ike bringing the abruptness of the ending into supporting the argument. I had the ending worked out from comparisons with other literature of the time.

          But thanks for the references.

          An alternative explanation for Luke’s scene of the large catch of fish appearing near the beginning is to undermine John’s post-resurrection/Galilee scene, since Luke’s aim is to keep the focus on Jerusalem as the centre of the faith, and so reserve resurrection appearances to Jerusalem only. (This is assuming a Luke-the-last of the gospels, of course, and the “redactor” of our canonical Luke was the author of Acts and challenging Marcionism.)

          1. You suggested in an earlier post (“Peter, in the Enoch tradition, commissioned to replace the High Priest?”) that Peter’s repentance should be seen as a reversal of his earlier denial. Perhaps the original purpose of John 21:1-19 was simply to exonerate Peter, who had presented himself in unfavourable light (cf. John 13:38). Then along came Luke, who could not accept a resurrection appearance at the Lake of Galilee, because he wanted the Gospel to be preached “from Jerusalem.” He changed the timing, but decided to put an extra emphasis on Peter (cf. Luke 5:10). It seems like a plausible reconstruction of who borrowed from whom.

            According to Elchanan Reiner, the Jews of Galilee considered the Lake of Galilee the historical stage on which the Israelites entered the Promised Land. If the legends about Joshua in Galilee provided inspiration for the earliest gospel writers, it seems only logical that, according to some traditions, Jesus was crucified not in Jerusalem but on the shores of the Lake of Galilee.

  4. And, as an afterthought, your jibe about Revelation misses the mark. Such reinterpretations are obviously self-serving and ad hoc. I am genuinely trying to understand what I consider a fascinating and puzzling text from antiquity.

  5. I would be careful in finding “parables” in the stories in Mark. If you look for confirmation you will find it. I thought Mack’s Lost Gospel Q was interesting, but I’m not sure about the separation between the Jesus of wit and wisdom, and the guy preaching the end of the world. Might I add that Mack still believes there is a historic core in his fable.

    Neil, yes I do think that the Gospel has a neat trick in how it wraps around its self(I’ve recently become enamored with the notion that the end of John was Mark’s original ending, so the call from Jesus to Peter to “follow me”, is a repeat of what he said when they fist met him in Mark. But other explanations are possible) , and Mark may have other tricks, but the assertion that it is intended as a fantasy parable I don’t support. If so it was lost on every ancient reader of Mark we know of. Mark from beginning to end seems to present its self as a an account of Jesus life. If the attempt is to fool the uninitiated into thinking that, even then, it would have to have some over lap with what was believed about the life of Jesus. Now I have little doubt that Mark felt free to manipulate what he knew about Jesus in all sorts of instructive and creative ways, but i don’t think that it was only Mark’s whim that kept his gospel from beginning “This is how Jesus traveled to India and taught Alexander the Great!” or any thing else. Mark thinks he is telling the beginning of the good news about the messiah, the beginning of Christianity. Does he care about history? Vaguely, but even he understands the tenuous nature of the tales he has received. He is like a director of a Super Man movie. He has 50 years of conflicting tales to sort out to make into his own coherent 2 hour story, but Super Man has to wear a cape, live in metropolis, and be made mortal by kryptonite. Make him a Londoner with a opium addiction and a cloak and he’s Sherlock Holmes.

    1. Mike, we are talking about scholarly work that has been done on Mark as a parable, not amateur speculation.

      You are falling into the false dilemma here. No one has spoken of a “fantasy parable”, least of all one that is an “attempt to fool the uninitiated”. This is the sort of false dilemma one often reads from hostile critics of the idea who appear wilfully ignorant of the actual arguments that are made.

      As for Mark having to sort through 50 years of conflicting tales about Jesus, what evidence is there for such a claim? I know of none. (There is abundant evidence within his “tales” for their sources without having to resort of speculative traditions.)

  6. In my study of the Dead Sea Scrolls (in translation), I came across an interesting take on the Isaiah passage about making a way in the desert in the Community Rule (1QS 8:12-16), that it was interpreted as referring to the practice of Torah study.

    From a PDF I found online:

    “The syntactical analysis of the corrected text [a Cave 4 copy of the Rule]shows that the Rule understood the verse [Isaiah 40:3] as a figurative directive for communal life centered around the study of the Torah, conducted not in a real desert but in a figurative one. The “desert” is most likely the segregation of the community from the majority of Israel.”

    If the author of Mark’s interpretation echoed that of the Community, which seems to me not out of the question, then we can read the quotation of the passage in Mark as yet another hint that the author’s intent is parabolic or midrashic. “The Way” = “A straight path in the wilderness” = the Gospel = a new interpretation of Torah = piety.

    1. While we can make midrash of Mark, demonstrating that Mark intends midrash is another thing. Without our midrashing Mark to explain otherwise, it seems he thinks that John doing stuff in the real desert is a fulfillment of Isaiah. Mark gives no reason anyone should think this is anyone other than the John the Baptist killed by Herod.

      1. And Plato gives no reason anyone should think his Socrates is anyone other than the Socrates who drank hemlock in Athens. But that doesn’t stop him from employing this figure as a fictional mouthpiece for his own philosophical ideas.

        The interpretation I’m giving of the Isaiah passage, by way of showing that it was a viable interpretation among some Jews at the time, is part of a demonstration the the author of Mark intends his work as an extended parable. It’s the first clue.

        The second clue is the extended interpretation he gives for the Parable of the Sower. Jesus says, if you can’t understand this parable “how will you understand all the parables?” “All the parables” here means the gospel itself. My reasoning here is two-fold. First, the parable is simply not that hard to interpret. It’s a very basic allegory. The interpretation cites Isaiah again for the reason why “everything must be told in parables,” the author’s explanation for the whole work. He’s saying here, basically, that if there were some simple instructions that would put you on the Way, then it would be easy to understand and everyone would already be on the Way and there would be no need of the Son of Man or the “Good Tidings” he brings to show them the Way. The second thrust is the fact that the Parable of the Sower then becomes the key, or the master parable, for understanding the rest of the gospel that deals with Jesus’s ministry on the Way to Jerusalem. Each of the ways that the seed scattered on the Way can fail to bear fruit is illustrated in turn by a different episode of healing or exorcism, punctuated by two tellings of the feeding of the multitude for emphasis, until finally Bartimaeus, the blind man, is made to see, tying everything back neatly into the citation of Isaiah 6, in which “the seeing” do not understand. Bartimaeus is given sight, and with it understanding, just as Jesus comes to Jerusalem. The gospel is fulfilling Isaiah, not any specific episode related within it, and it’s doing it by the author’s understanding of what it means to “make a straight path for the Lord. John the Baptizer is a mouthpiece for this understanding, a herald on the Way.

        The Passion narrative is even more obviously midrash-like, with its complete dependence on the Psalms (primarily Psalm 22) and the prophets for the sense of the action.

        1. C.J., your theory certainly doesn’t lack immagination and would make a fine Dan Brown novel. You know, to us it is the Last Supper, but if you know the hidden clues… Unfortuanately it seems Mark has buried his super parable so cleverly that no one understood it until now. That also means it can never be proven, or shown to be a better way of understanding, vs. all the other possible mystical understandings a person could find in Mark. It reminds me of how Revelation can always be “interpreted” so that the end of the world is just around the corner.

  7. A fantasy parable would be one that is not based in a real event, like the the sower. The parable is not referencing any particular sower with any particular seeds or field. Mark no doubt, has a lesson he would like his reader to learn from reading this beyond what towns Jesus went to or who was in charge in Jerusalem. But Mark has every appearance of wanting to be taken as a account of the life of Jesus. The bit about fooling the uninitiated was a response to C.J.’s line “He’s saying here, basically, that if there were some simple instructions that would put you on the Way, then it would be easy to understand and everyone would already be on the Way and there would be no need of the Son of Man or the “Good Tidings” he brings to show them the Way.” So it would seem that Mark appears to be about one thing at first glance, the life of Jesus, but really it means something else. If that is the case then it was more successful than it hopped in presenting the first idea, but absolutely obscure in the second. There is, and I can’t state this enough, no reason to believe this parable interpretation of Mark.

    There is no evidence that he intends this to be taken as as a fictional allegory or parable. I could make an instructive story out of the life of Kennedy or who ever, but it doesn’t reduce them to fictional people or the events of his life to fiction. The “abundant” evidence for the source of the tales beyond tradition is imaginative hocus pocus. Reading though a number of your post there appear a to a number of scholars with nothing more important to do but see every boat ride as the Odyssey. I was just reading “Does the New Testament Imitate Homer? Four Cases from the Acts of the Apostles” by Dennis McDonald the last couple of days, and while I think it likely that Luke read Homer, McDonald ‘s evidence couldn’t even make that claim, much less that it imitates Homer. I suspect C.J.’s theory that the next few exorcism and healing are illustrating the sower parable are of the same thin gossamers of connection.

    This is unsubstantial evidence and methods like these can produce any result you want them too. This is Templar, Freemason, Da Vinci Code drivel. It would be more acceptable if it were presented for what it was, idle speculation, but there are a growing horde of empty headed people who think being atheist suddenly gives them an intellect boost beyond the one little fact they’ve correctly guessed at.

    McDonald’s role as a scholar does little to increase the likelihood of his theories, though it should have kept from making such unsupported claims, but Phd’s make bad arguments all the time. If you are going to claim that a work is actually a parable you need to present serious evidence for the claim. You can’t just say, well I think it might be! And there is nothing in C.J.’s speculation about the beginning of Mark that would tip a reasonable person off that they are about to read a parable. These are silly ideas for gullible people looking for some affirmation of their beliefs.

    My claim, regarding the 50 years of conflicting tales would be based on the assumption that there were Jesus stories prior to Mark. There is little evidence to suggest that Mark predates all other Christian works or thought, there is a lot to suggest that there was significant time before Mark was written, and evidence from within Mark of multiple traditions. These assumptions rest on much better ground than the idea that someone created Mark as a fictional parable involving Paul’s savior figure, or some other mysterious personage.

    1. MIKE
      My claim, regarding the 50 years of conflicting tales would be based on the assumption that there were Jesus stories prior to Mark

      Indeed there were. Paul has stories of Jesus being the agent through whom God created the world, and of being the rock which accompanied the Jews in the desert.

      And also of Jesus speaking to him telling him to withstand the messages of Satan.

      1. Specifically C.J.’s idea about The parable of the sower being the master parable and we should look at subsequent passages as showing “Each of the ways that the seed scattered on the Way can fail to bear fruit is illustrated in turn by a different episode of healing or exorcisms”, or that this parable is a key to understanding the rest of the book is completely unsubstantiated by the rest of the text out side the imagination of someone who really wants to see it there. That is not good literary criticism. It is like Charles Manson’s belief that the Beatles “White” album had hidden messages to incite revolution. He can point it all out for you, but you wouldn’t see it with out his explenation.

        Then today’s selection mystery interpretation J.W.‘s HANDS theme. Now to be honest, J.W. may only be parading C.J.’s theory with this, but if he is serious, this is an awfully contrived theme. It is essentially his own midrash that he is fooling himself into believing was the authors intent.

        Going into the past, there is http://vridar.wordpress.com/2010/10/10/jesus-and-heracles/

        “While Kotansky’s argument as a whole contains certain problems,(Yes, mostly in that there is no indication in the text that Jesus travels to the edge of the world) the idea that Mark’s text (or its pre- Markan source) alludes to the traditions of seafarers arriving in strange and distant lands seems likely.(well, I suppose I might think of other stories where someone is on a boat, the odyssey, Treasure Island, Sinbad, the Old Man and the Sea) There are many common elements between the stories of sea travel discussed in chapter 4 and this Markan unit.845 The disciples and Jesus are threatened with shipwreck and death (4:37-38) (a boat story involving trouble at sea, what are the chances!)and land on a distant shore in which the “natives” behave in uncivilized fashion—living among the tombs and in the mountains(the story introduces us to another exorcism, would the demoniac invite Jesus to a tea party? Are the other demoniacs also barbarians from foreign lands? Where are their boat trips?) (5:2-5). My advice, don’t waste the $300.

        Then, http://vridar.wordpress.com/2010/08/31/the-elijah-elisha-narrative-as-a-model-for-the-gospel-of-mark/
        While there are parts of Mark definitely based on Elijah/Elisha stories, this article oversells it by venturing into this territory;
        “The Purging/Cleansing of the Temple
        Both the Elijah-Elisha and Mark narratives focus especially on the Temple(s) at their ends.
        Jehu’s actions climax when he purges and destroys the temple of Baal (2 Kgs 10:18-27)
        The aftermath in Judah centres on the takeover and renewal of the Temple in Jerusalem (2 Kings 11-12)
        Compare the centrality of the Temple in Mark in the concluding narrative:
        Jesus’ first act on reaching Jerusalem is to cleanse the Temple (Mark 11)
        Jesus preaches in the Temple (Mark 12:35-40)
        Jesus predicts the Temple’s destruction (Mark 13:1-4)
        The Temple is an issue at his trial (Mark 14:57-58)
        The first effect of his death is the tearing of the Temple veil (Mrk 15:38)”

        So two stories about a town best known for its temple involve a temple. While a country preacher might give a good sermon on the Temple in Jerusalem being the temple of Baal, and the church is the renewed Temple, there is little in the story to suggest the author has this in mind.

        Don’t take this the wrong way Neil, I find you blog both entertaining and informative. It has given me a chance to see new ideas and read some fabulous exchanges such as in the comments here, http://vridar.wordpress.com/2010/05/27/how-and-why-scholars-fail-to-rebut-earl-doherty/
        I just happen to think too much is made of slight similarities in these texts. I’m sure they are qualified scholars and have done honest work, but it just doesn’t add up to a good argument.

        1. “Now to be honest, J.W. may only be parading C.J.’s theory with this, but if he is serious, this is an awfully contrived theme. It is essentially his own midrash that he is fooling himself into believing was the authors intent.”

          No, don’t be honest. I also hate contrived proof-texting. Jerry Camery-Hoggatt, who wrote the book so to speak on irony in “Mark’s” Gospel, “Irony in Mark’s Gospel: Text and Subtext”, makes the same “HANDS” observation in his book so you should be thinking about that scene in “Annie Hall” where Woody pulls the author in question in from the sidelines to settle the dispute and you probably do not want to make any more posts here anytime soon.

          Regarding such claims of literary contrivance I think we should have criteria for them such as Clark has for possible parallels. As usual, the criteria should be qualitative and quantitative. HOW important is the claimed contrivance to the story and HOW often is the contrivance used. In the offending story both rate high. Also in general we would all agree that “Mark” contains a high portion of fiction so it is a short Puttristic to contrivance.

          Yes, I have just handed it to you.


          1. That’s nice that someone else makes this point but it doesn’t change the fact that the only relation 2:23-3:6 have to do with each other in regard to hands is the characters have them. That we should think of these Pharisees as scribes that work with their hands and the disciples pick grain with their hands and then go, “Hey, irony!” when Jesus heals a hand is a stretch. There isn’t much that could have been done in 2:23-28 that wouldn’t use a hand. Same goes for 6:2 and 6:3, if he were a fisherman he would use his hands, a scribe, a farmer, pretty much anything but a soccer player or apple bobber.

            1. JW:
              I’m surprised you posted again here so soon after my last post. I was going to go out on a limb and prophecy that Neil was going to agree with me that “Mark’s” HANDS here are tied to Contrivance, which if correct would give me one more correct prophecy than John the Baptist had in his entire career whom “Mark’s” Hand-El Messiah declared the greatest prophet of all time, but Neil HANDED it to me first. So now I have 3 and on the other HAND is only you and Casey.

              I have to give you a HAND though in your observation that in general many actions involve hands (see how easy that was?). That is why we need Criteria to measure the strength of our observations. Good criteria though. Criteria should measure the weight of the evidence and not try to measure the conclusion. Using criteria to measure a conclusion is backwards and a misapplication of the process. As in The Criterion of Embarrassment. HJ misuses this to claim likely historical. It’s potential though is only relative as in more likely to be historical (This criterion means little as there is logic in general to embarrassing information from sympathetic sources being more likely historical but there is offsetting logic to sympathetic sources omitting the embarrassing so you have to look for other possible reasons for embarrassing information such as literary reasons. Is embarrassment and irony a significant part of Paul/”Mark’s” themes? Of course. “Embarrassment” does not deserve its own criterion and since it is secondary to source questions could not possibly determine historicity by itself anyway.)

              Neil has previously presented Clark’s criteria for valid parallels:


              “1. Similarity in content

              Too vague to stand on its own as a criterion of authorial intention for passages to be read in parallel. May complement other similarities.

              2. Similarity in language

              Lexical repetitions or synonyms. Rare words are more likely to be significant. Consider synonyms, too. Are compound forms forms apparently used as intentional parallels to their original forms?

              3. Literary form

              May not stand on its own but can complement other similarities. Healings of paralytics by Peter (Acts 3:1-10) and Paul (14:8-10) share a common literary form — both contain information about the place, action of the man, word of healing, gesture of healing, immediate occurrence of healing, demonstration of healing, and effect on the crowd (from Lüdeman, Early Christianity, 53).

              Sometimes better to speak of distinct literary motifs in common: example, the double visions in each of the conversions of Saul (9:1-19) and Peter (10:1-48).

              4. Sequence

              The more extensive a sequence is the stronger it is as an indicator of intentional parallelism. Sequences may not always be in the same strict order, however.

              5. Structure

              Larger parallel structures, even though not always perfectly matched, are another strong indication of an intent to create a double pattern. Examples: Talbert’s 32 parallels of content and sequence between the Gospel of Luke and Acts; between Acts 1-12 and Acts 13-28. The parallel structures suggest an intention to highlight a theme of continuity between Jesus and his disciples, and between the apostles and Paul.

              6. Theme

              Another complementary criterion that carries weight when in conjunction with other criteria. Perhaps also an essential criterion.

              Also note: Disruption of the text

              If the flow of the text is disrupted, or if a pericope is awkward internally, where a parallel appears, this is a strong indicator that the parallel was an important feature in the author’s mind.

              From Clark’s Parallel Lives, pp.73-80.”

              Using this as a starting point for criteria for Contrivance let’s start with the best Markan potential for HANDS contrivance:


              “Mark 6:1 And he went out from thence; and he cometh into his own country; and his disciples follow him.

              Mark 6:2 And when the sabbath was come, he began to teach in the synagogue: and many hearing him were astonished, saying, Whence hath this man these things? and, What is the wisdom that is given unto this man, and [what mean] such mighty works wrought by his hands?

              Mark 6:3 Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary, and brother of James, and Joses, and Judas, and Simon? and are not his sisters here with us? And they were offended in him.

              Mark 6:4 And Jesus said unto them, A prophet is not without honor, save in his own country, and among his own kin, and in his own house.

              Mark 6:5 And he could there do no mighty work, save that he laid his hands upon a few sick folk, and healed them.

              Mark 6:6 And he marvelled because of their unbelief. And he went round about the villages teaching.

              So in trying to measure contrivance for HANDS I see the following potential criteria:


              1) Parallels in potential sources

              2) Similarity in language

              1 – “Mark” as a whole

              2 – Specific story

              3) Common Theme

              4) Unusual choices of words/phrases to get closer to subject


              1) Repetition

              1 – “Mark” as a whole

              2 – Specific story

              2) Relative amount of story with subject


              1. There is a bit of irony here that one of the definitions listed for tekton is contriver. I don’t see much of a case here however. Certainly nothing to seriously suggest that the occupation of tekton (carpenter here), was selected to play up some word play with hands. Mark often has Jesus reaching out his hand, holding hands, healing with his mighty hand, ect. The folks at answers.com feel it means some one who works with their hands, but i’m not sure if that is the Greek root word for it, as our word “Handyman”. if it is then totoaly ironic. If it just means a craftsman of some type, them i’m not sure how strong the irony is here.

        2. I suppose I should be pleased someone finds my blog entertaining. What strikes me as a common theme running through your examples here, and also in other comments, is that you will take strong exception to a single point (e.g. hand, temple), but fail to recognize that the argument is not about a single point, but about a complex set of structures and ideas that that point holds together across the twists and turns of a narrative; or that the argument is really about a coherent set of themes that regularly find expression through a variety of images throughout a complex narrative.

          What I and some others see as evidence for a creative mind manipulating themes and ideas through either a single image or a complex of images, you seem to see as merely evidence that an author just happened to use this or that image for no reason other than that it was “obvious” and that there was no choice made by the author at any more sophisticated level of theme and theology, etc.

          Anyone who has done a little creative writing knows that the words selected by an author are not there just because the author saw them as “obvious” or had no choice but to mention them. When we see very specific themes, abstract and meaningful messages (as is the nature of theological writing) being expressed or tied together by a pattern of specific images, then we can be sure that this is the result of a creative conscious choice and effort.

    2. Mikeliso wrote: “Mark has every appearance of wanting to be taken as an account of the life of Jesus.”

      You would be well advised to spend some more time on this question.

      T. L. Thompson (“The Role of Faith in Historical Research,” p. 129) writes: “The issues of genre and related formal issues, I believe, are far more helpful in exposing a text’s function and purpose than issues of chronology: whether a text may be late or early.”

      So, what is known about the Markan genre? M. E. Vine’s book, The Problem of Markan Genre (2002), is probably the most advanced study conducted to date. Vines (pp. 161-163) proposes that “a chronotopic investigation of the genre of the Gospel of Mark supports a connection with Jewish novelistic literature of the Hellenistic period… Mark’s story belongs with other popular Jewish stories of divine deliverance mediated through human agency.” Mark should be referred to as a Jewish novel.

      The “idea that someone created Mark as a fictional parable involving Paul’s savior figure” brings to mind a fascinating study by Henrik Tronier (Copenhagen), who proposes that Mark was _written_ the way Philo _interpreted_ the biblical narratives about the lives and journeys of Abraham and Moses, the founders of the Jewish people:

      “They (Abraham and Moses) are stamped images of God’s logos, sophia and pneuma as active in history. Their travel activities are the outward appearance of their knowledge, which has been transformed by God’s logos (etc.), a knowledge which the allegorical reader will recognise as the defining mark and nature of God’s elected people and as constituting his own kinship with the founders. The various locations and people that are left behind on Abraham’s and Moses’s journeys constitute deficient or lower levels of knowledge and ethics in the unified epistemological, cosmological and anthropological framework that is allegorically plotted onto the geo-, ethno- and topographical space of the journeys.”

      Tronier concludes that Jewish, Middle-Platonically inspired allegorical hermeneutics was the womb and birthplace of New Testament Christianity.

      1. “You would be well advised to spend some more time on this question.”
        I no doubt will. Your reading selection doesn’t seem to be earth shattering, you have to look hard to find them. I have to ask, who thinks “M. E. Vine’s book, The Problem of Markan Genre (2002), is probably the most advanced study conducted to date.”? At any rate if mark is so definitely to be taken as a some sot of allegorical, or extended parable involving the heavenly son of god involved in fictional hijynx on earth, with such known figures as John the Baptist, who amazingly Baptizes him(this being, who is a a heavenly being, not a human by any stretch of the imagination), his mother and brothers (why does the heavenly being have relatives, what is this demonstrating?) healing people and doing exorcisms like a street magician, getting crucified by a former official of the Empire, berating Peter and a bunch of other guys for being stupid, never mentioning Paul… none of this makes sense as a parable. and doubtless for these and a thousand other reasons, there doesn’t seem to be any indication that any one in Christian history thought this was only a parable. Why and how would a parable take over a religious community it was created for so thoroughly that it would wipe out all evidence of the myth that spawned it within a few decades. It reads like what it purports to be, the beginning of the good news about the messiah. Whether it is particularly factual or not the issue, Braveheart was not particularly factual, but it wasn’t a fictional parable about freedom. The issue is whether the author meant it to be instructive about the Life of Jesus or a parable about a mystic entity. If it doesn’t look like a parable about a mystic entity, it is rather silly to treat it as such. It would be like using the Sistine chapel as a treasure map. You could argue that it is, but why should any one believe that?

        1. mikelioso writes

          with such known figures as John the Baptist, who amazingly Baptizes him(this being, who is a a heavenly being, not a human by any stretch of the imagination), his mother and brothers (why does the heavenly being have relatives, what is this demonstrating?) healing people and doing exorcisms like a street magician, getting crucified by a former official of the Empire, berating Peter and a bunch of other guys for being stupid, never mentioning Paul… none of this makes sense as a parable.

          John the Baptist, the mother and brothers and what they demonstrate, the healings and exorcisms, the crucifixion, the ignorance of the disciples, — all of these are in their core essences parabolic. There is nothing superflous in their presentation that indicates anything but symbolism or allegory. The arguments have been presented throughout this blog and elsewhere. But they are not idiosyncratic opinions. The arguments can be found in the mainstream scholarly literature, too. But they are legitimate there because they are not presented in a way that challenges historicity.

          Example: the details of the family and disciples set Jesus in the train of OT men of God who were rejected by family and betrayed by those close to them. Even the names of the brothers of Jesus are as fake as if someone named their children “Washington, Jefferson, Hamilton, Franklin: the names themselves convey a close identification with the nation’s foundational past.” That is from mainstream scholar Paula Fredriksen in her book, “Jesus of Nazareth”, p. 240 — not from a mythicist.

          If you don’t think Mark looks like a parable, you might at least acknowledge that it does look like a parable to others. Many of the arguments are straight from mainstream scholars.

          You disagree with these arguments that have been presented, but why call them “silly” and for “gullible people who are looking for affirmation of their beliefs” when the same arguments are found among mainstream biblical and historical Jesus scholars?

          The Moses and Elijah parallels found in Mark’s gospel have long been argued by historical Jesus scholars themselves. Are these scholars just being “silly”? Mainstream scholars may talk like this about mythicists, but do interested lay readers have to follow their on-the-field examples? We do know better and that when the professionals behave like this they are ceasing to be role models.

          1. It’s worth noting that the Gospel of John has long been thought to be not strictly historically true, but “spiritually” true. Even apologists have been known to admit that John’s author used myth, allegory, as well as literary and rhetorical devices to get at underlying, eternal truths. Common wisdom said (says?) that the Synoptics are more concerned with mundane, historical matters than John.

            So it strikes me as a little odd when some people take issue with the idea that Mark might have been doing the same thing. It’s a false choice that I see again and again, even among NT scholars who claim not to be apologists. They accuse skeptics (as if that’s a bad word) of calling Mark “fiction,” as if there were only two categories — as if Mark is either a diligent historian or he’s a liar.

            1. Tim, perhaps there is such a huge investment on a historical Jesus in traditional Christian theology that the synoptic gospels are necessary as a group to provide a strong historical foothold, especially if some other NT literature can be viewed as myth with meaning. Since “synoptic” by its very definition is used to categorize some gospels as describing events in Jesus’s life from a similar point of view, then allowing Mark to be viewed as fiction could weaken the toehold of that threesome purported to be so allied in historical purpose.

              1. I think that’s exactly it. It’s less of a “strong historical foothold” than a branch on the side of a cliff. With one hand, they cling to Josephus’ Antiquities as the only external source that can possibly be construed as a first-century non-Christian “witness.” With the other, they cling to Mark, the earliest Christian document that cares about the earthly Jesus. Perhaps they have a toehold on the crumbling dirt they call Q, but they dare not put too much weight on it.

                The apologists keep tossing down the rope of blind belief, while we keep encouraging them to let go. No wonder they’re so cranky.


      2. Thanks so much for the Tronier reference. It looks like it is a key piece of an answer that has been missing from my sights.


        Mark’s gospel is far more “Hellenistic novella” (really a parable tale), with all the rhetorical devices and structures of Hellenistic epic and tragedy that are often found in such works, than “bios” as so many scholars like to insist.

  8. Hi Folks,

    Mark 2:23
    And it came to pass, that he went through the corn fields on the sabbath day;
    and his disciples began, as they went, to pluck the ears of corn.

    as they went
    odon poiein
    ὁδὸν ποιεῖν

    While the discussion is fascinating, we start with Maurice Casey cherry-picking a translation without explanation. odon poiein — A little checking indicates “as they went” as a simpler and more accurate translation. Even Rotherdam has “began to be going forward” so the Young’s-Casey translation looks to be the aberration.

    And, contra the above, a different phrase is used in Mark 1:3 :

    Mark 1:3
    The voice of one crying in the wilderness,
    Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.

    prepare the way
    Ἑτοιμάσατε τὴν ὁδὸν
    etoimasate thn odon

    The problem is that the word for way or path is the same, but not the word for make or prepare, which is simply not there in Mark 2:23.

    Beyond that, the point was made that the prohibition was not against the path.

    There are a few other interesting points, especially about the dating and language of Mark.

    However this language check by itself nullifies much of the above discussion. Thus the discussion of whether making a path is prohibited or not (by rabbinics and/or by Torah) becomes irrelevant to the verse.

    Steven Avery
    Queens, NY

    1. If you read the post again you might notice that I draw attention to the word for “make” in Mark 1:3 in the phrase adjacent to the one mention here, and which is a doublet of the first phrase. Both words are used to express the idea of making a path in 1:3, and repeated in Mark 2:23.

  9. Hi Folks,

    The other point is simple. There is an alternative concept to the Aramaic idea that explains well the rough Greek grammar of Mark. And that is the idea that Mark was originally written in Latin (there is strong evidence of the Roman target audience, which would be Latin first, then Greek, not Aramaic at all) or a Graeco-Latin dialect. Then the Greek translation came early and it was disseminated in Greek with the NT books. Herman Hoskier has one section with ideas along this line, and some others have written on this language explanation. Historically this is a lot more sensible than the Aramaic idea and both offer similar, strong explanations of the Markan Greek grammatical structure.

    And I don’t mention this as a debating point, such theories are notoriously hard to demonstrate to anyone’s satisfaction, simply as a counterpoint for consideration.

    Steven Avery

  10. Hi Folks,

    May I suggest a couple of corrections in the article, at least by footnote, since they are fundamental to the argument given. The error was originally Maurice Casey yet it was compounded a bit by our host..

    “poiein {=TO MAKE)”

    While this is a possible translation, the sense is more frequently simply “to do”. Here is an example where the word is used in both ways.

    Acts 1:1
    The former treatise have I made, O Theophilus,
    of all that Jesus began both to do and teach,

    “made” and “do” are both poieō (ποιέω).
    So there is no necessity for “making” a path and it is an ultra-minority translation, cherry-picked by Casey from Youngs because otherwise there was no argument. At the very least he had a responsibility to mention that this is not the normative translation.

    “An interlinear translation shows that the words used here for “way” and “make” are the same as we read in Mark 2:23 where the disciples of Jesus are said to “make a way” or path!”

    As I showed above, this was a mistaken reading of the Interlinear.

    Steven Avery

    1. Do you know who Maurice Casey is and his qualifications in biblical languages? To suggest he has cherry-picked a translation from Youngs is absurd. Casey in fact has a more detailed discussion of the translation of this phrase on pages 86 and 140 of his earlier more technical book, “Aramaic Sources of Mark’s Gospel.”

      The Greek word you are discussing (poieo) has no exact equivalent in English. It is the root of our word “poetry”. So it is context that must determine the meaning for a translator. People don’t “do” paths, they “make” them. Did Mark 1:3 call on people to “walk along a path” in preparation for Christ or to “make a path”, and to make it straight, for him? (The word for path is different against the “poieo” word in 1:3, but it is a doublet of the phrase where “odon” is used. The meaning is the same according to the conventions of the original language.)

      Determining a “correct translation” by counting the numbers of variants in published works and opting for the one with the most hits is not a sound way to seriously understand the original meaning.

      Since posting the above I am adding this:

      One might wonder if the Greek for “make a path” is an idiom for “walk along a path”, but it appears there is no supporting evidence for this being the case, and the Greek phrase is said by Casey to be “notoriously unsatisfactory Greek”. I don’t know enough Greek to evaluate that claim, so will have to accept it until another learned master of the language says otherwise.

      Bear in mind also that one of the principles of biblical textual studies is that a more difficult reading is more likely to be original than a later one.

      1. See:


        Note pp. 41-43. In particular:

        “A possible explanation is that the disciples began to make a way, i.e., to open a path, by plucking the ears of corn. But this cannot be maintained as an inviolable rule, for the LXX clearly uses ὁδὸν ποεῖν in the sense of to make one’s way, to journey.”

        It seems there is ample precedent for an idiom similar to our own English “make one’s way,” which doesn’t mean “construct a road” or “beat a path,” but just “go.” However, rather than be satisfied with a natural, simple, idiomatic expression that can be translated (and is usually translated), “…his disciples began, as they went, to pluck the ears of corn,” Casey prefers to invent a weird fantasy of Mark playing stenographer and misinterpreting a nonexistent Aramaic wax tablet.

        Let me get this straight. Mark’s Greek is rough, inelegant, and heavy-handed because he’s an Aramaic native speaker. But he can’t read Aramaic reliably because he’s a native Greek speaker. Or maybe he’s a Roman — a native Latin speaker — because he uses the word “centurion.”

        Finally, according to Casey, Mark is a “primary source,” but he isn’t an eyewitness, and he has to compile his gospel from written Aramaic records. I don’t think Casey knows what real, competent historians mean by “primary.”

        1. Thanks for this article, Tim. Reading the key pages, it looks like Casey’s translation is at least debatable. It does not appear to be ruled out, so this looks like one of those topics that a certain kind of audience (me included) would love to watch the experts discuss with their to and fro sparring. The Greek nuances across Septuagint and Koine styles are beyond my very elementary skills.

          It’s a good point to note that Mark can be faulted for both his Greek and his Aramaic. Maybe his native tongue was Coptic.

          1. Correction: I overlooked when typing the above that Casey does indeed offer a perfectly reasonable explanation for Mark’s terrible Greek “translation of Aramaic sources”.

            Obviously, Mark died too soon. Had he lived long enough he would have revised what was clearly intended to be merely his first draft. Not that Mark would have produced a Gospel as polished as those known as Matthew’s and Luke’s. Mark was always one of those of whom teachers say, “He tries his best” — he still would have used “and” and “immediately” and “again” far too often to be short listed for a Pulitzer Prize.

            What I [i.e. Casey] mean is that the number of mistakes like those which I have just listed is so great that he would have revised at least the majority of them, and that we should infer from them that this is an unfinished draft of his Gospel.”

            William of Ockham was still 1200 years from being born, so razors for simplifying assumptions, hypotheses etc to make an argument work with the least effort had not been invented yet.

            1. Never underestimate the psychic abilities of independent historians.

              They can read Aramaic documents nobody has seen better than people who speak Aramaic as their mother tongue and who have actually seen the documents.

              And they can tell that people would have revised a previous work.

              This all puts Paul the psychic octopus into the shade.

            2. That’s just precious. I’m hoping that perhaps Casey can get a government grant to let him devote even more time to his precog-history. In time he may “discover” Mark’s hair color, height, and weight. Was Mark right-handed?

              Even better, since Casey can read those Aramaic texts much better than Mark, and he knows what Mark would have written in his second draft, perhaps Casey can produce a corrected version of the Gospel of Mark, which I’m hoping will have “accurate” post-resurrection accounts. Could he get Jesus to write the preface? I sure hope so!

  11. JW:
    Casey has no External or Internal evidence for an Aramaic “Mark”. As Neil has pointed out, the use of “WAY” for the offending verse is actually supported by the Argument from Theme (Kelber = Jesus is on a Mission). I find Casey’s Argument from Incredulity (“way” would violate the Sabbath which Jesus would never be a part of) incredible since ironically that is the very subject of the offending verse. Jesus has been part of a Sabbath violation in some sense. The issue is in what sense. HOW? The ending makes this explicit, “Lord of the Sabbath”. In an irony that I think the author of “Mark” would really appreciate, instead of us reading Casey, Casey should be reading us. The Maurice Casey has struck out.

    The offending verse is an excellent example of “Mark’s” literary art:

    “Mark 2:23 And it came to pass, that he was going on the sabbath day through the grainfields; and his disciples began, as they went, to pluck the ears.”

    This is all part of an ironic contrived structure of contrasting physical/literal HANDS with spiritual/figurative HANDS. Note the opposition:

    “the scribes of the Pharisees”

    What interest would Jerusalem scribes have in spying in Galilee? None. The art is that the Law comes through the HANDS of the scribes. What exactly are the Disciples accused of? Plucking or working with their HANDS. Note the following story, Jesus cures the withered, the withered, uh, help me out here Neil. “Mark” now makes the HAND explicit.

    “Mark” brings the Sabbath/HANDS theme all the WAY home in 6:

    “Mark 6:2 And when the sabbath was come, he began to teach in the synagogue: and many hearing him were astonished, saying, Whence hath this man these things? and, What is the wisdom that is given unto this man, and [what mean] such mighty works wrought by his hands?

    Mark 6:3 Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary, and brother of James, and Joses, and Judas, and Simon? and are not his sisters here with us? And they were offended in him.”

    Note the contrived ironic contrast between the physical/literal works from the HANDS of the carpenter and the spiritual/figurative works from the HANDS of the Christ (good evidence for MJ by the Way as Jesus’ profession for Christ’s sake looks contrived and even worse, subsequent authors can only deny it but not correct it. The original Jesus had a 1 year Ministry. What was his career before than? It’s looking MJ). How does this fit into McGrath’s theory that we know Jesus existed because we know some of his life’s events. We don’t know his career but we know he was baptized? Doesn’t really work , does it.

    The coordination here of this type of contrived narrative in “Mark” in general and specific stories such as this one makes the Argument from Theme a good one for “Mark”. The only thing Casey is right about is that Argument from Theme is a criteria for Textual Criticism. Here though, it goes opposite from him supporting that “WAY” is likely what “Mark” originally wrote.

    “Mark” has a primary theme that the Law became a tool which The Jews actually used to create unrighteousness. Following the letter of the law is preventing the Jews from following the spirit of the Law. The supposed plucking on the Sabbath is a prime example. Even though Jesus explains that the plucking did not violate the spirit of the Law (feeding the hungry) the Pharisees use this violation of the letter of the Law as the reason to plot to kill Jesus (on the Sabbath). What is also especially ironic here is that it is specifically Jesus’ TEACHING regarding the spirit of the Law here which is the reason for the Pharisees to kill Jesus! The same great irony is found in the Trial when it is Jesus’ judgment of the Judges that is their reason to judge him. This isn’t a simple fisherman writing this but one of the great authors of the time.

    As always the greatest irony here is that the author of “Mark” would see the modern Christians such as Casey, McGrath, Steven El-all, as just like the misunderstanding characters in his play who keep trying to take it all literally.


    1. We see eye to eye on the hands motif. Have made similar arguments, but so have a number of “mainstream biblical scholars”, e.g. Mahlon Smith, on other forums in the past.

      The “historicist” reading of the Gospels opens up so many implausibilities such as the ones you raise here. Mark only really makes sense when read as a parable and definitely not as history. Perhaps the biggest anomaly a historicist reading produces is the Pharisees being such nit-picking letter of the law people. That does not explain their popularity in the pre-70 perdiod. But it does make sense as a charicature by later Christians who found themselves in some tension with emerging rabbinic Judaism post 70.

      Casey and Crossley refuse to give such literary analysis of Mark the time of day. They are ignoring the demonstrable nature of the document in hand and creating an imaginary set of documents behind it from which to create their historicist explanations.

  12. See Ched Myers, Binding the Strong Man and Burton Mack, A Myth of Innocence. I am far from the first person to interpret Mark as an extended parable on finding the Way.

    Maybe it’s coincidence, but Mark’s “way” ends on Passover, which is the beginning of another “way” in the Torah – the Exodus. The word “Exodus” has been Latinized a bit, but it’s originally Greek: ex (out) odos (way).

  13. Word-counting may prove useful.

    Mark 8:22/27-10:45/11:1 is often referred to as the ‘Way’. The term “odos” appears seven times in the ‘Way’ section (8:27; 9:33, 34; 10:17, 32, 46, 52). There are only two Matthean parallels (both with aorists: 20:17b [par. Mk 10:32]; 20:30 [par. Mk 10:46]) and one Lukan parallel (18:35 [par. Mk 10:46]). These cases should clearly be explained by redactional intent.

    There are seven occurences of “odos” outside of the ‘Way’ section (1:2f; 2:23; 4:4, 15; 6:8; 8:3; 11:8; 12:14). Five of these occurrences are paralleled in both Matthew and Luke.

    I know it is a weak argument, but this result may be taken as an indication that 2:23 should not be read in the light of this redactional intent.

  14. The discussion has raised points that are more positive than anything in my original post. I’d like to follow up the details when I am resettled. I have only skimmed some work on Mark’s allusions to the Exodus, particularly the new Exodus in Isaiah. It looks like this is the time to have a closer look at those arguments.

    1. W. M. Swartley’s dissertation, “A Study of Markan Structure” (Princeton, 1973), is a full-scale attempt to understand Mark entirely in terms of an Exodus paradigm. See also

      W. M. Smartley, “The Structural Function of the term ‘Way’ (Hodos) in Mark’s Gospel,” in: W. Klassen, ed., The New Way of Jesus (Kansas, 1980)

      Rikki E. Watts, Isaiah’s New Exodus in Mark (J.C.B. Mohr, 1997)

      (There is a less expensive reprint of the latter thesis published by Baker Academic.)

  15. Hi Folks,

    Neil, it does not matter what credentials Maurice Casey has, since dozens of equally or better qualified linguists have translated the phrase as walk a path. So the appeal to authority falls, especially when the authority is trying to use the translation for what turns out to be a special pleading argument.

    You made the error about the supposed comparison verse in Mark 1:3 .. hopefully that comparison verse did not come from Casey ? If not, where from.

    Overall, I’ll let the Greek linguists slug it out, yet a person having a language background does not mean they will not err to match their hoped-for arguments. To put it simply, I think if you check you will find a better expression for making a path, involving the physical labour (something like the preparing the way) yet either way .. it is clear that Casey went outside the translational norm and that the fact that this matches his argument is likely purposeful.

    Steven Avery

    1. When you learn a little more about what is involved in translations and why they differ, and learn from the writings of translators themselves, and not only Christian apologist ones, then we can have a reasonable discussion. It would also help towards civil discourse if you acknowledge your own failure to comprehend or read what you are responding to rather than blame the original author for “errors”.

  16. Hi Folks,

    Edersheim “Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah” did discuss the Greek, giving some references for those interested. Place, it can show a precursor of the Maurice Casey argument from Frederick Brotherton Meyer, likely known by Casey and hopefully acknowledged in his section.

    “Meyer insists that the odon, poiein, or more correctly odopoiein, (St. Mark 2:23) should be translated literally, that the disciples began to make a way by plucking the ears of corn. Accordingly, he maintains, that there is an essential difference between the account of St. Mark and those of the two other Evangelists, who attribute the plucking of the ears to hunger. Canon Cook (Speaker’s Commentary, New Testament i. p. 216) has to my mind, conclusively shown the untenableness of Meyer’s contention. He compares the expression of St. Mark to the Latin ‘iter facere.’ I would suggest the French ‘chemin faisant.’ Godet points out the absurdity of plucking up ears in order to make a way through the corn.”

    If you want to wait for Godet … es sufficiente.

    Steven Avery

    1. Steven Avery wrote: “Canon Cook … compares the expression of St. Mark to the Latin ‘iter facere.’ I would suggest the French ‘chemin faisant.'”

      It is a pity that the Codex Bobbensis, hypothesized to feature a Latin version older than the Vulgate, does not contain the first seven chapters of Mark, or else we would have had yet another clue as to whether or not Mark’s Italianate Greek supports the idea of a Latin Vorlage (cf. Paul-Louis Couchoud’s paper from 1930).

  17. Hi Folks,

    Yes, Paul-Louis Couchard – L’ÉVANGILE DE MARC A ÉTÉ ÉCRIT EN LATIN, 1930 and Herman Hoskier (section in Codex B and its Allies), with quite differing approaches, seem to be the two scholars who have most emphasized the Mark and Latin connections. And Klaus Schilling has worked recently with some Couchard ideas, at least in the realm of translation and web visibility.

    And I likewise did think of this variant as a support of Mark being originally in Latin (or Graeco-Latin). It would be interesting to see if Couchard or Hoskier discuss the phrase.

    Steven Avery

  18. Interestingly, Maurice Casey dates Mark 13 by reference to Caligula’s ordering of statue to be placed in the Temple.

    This never happened.

    Although no such statue was ever erected, Casey uses it to date Mark 13 to AD 40, a mere 7 years after Jesus was dead.

    So how does that make ‘Mark’ historical, or connected with Jesus?

      1. I think Casey’s logic is that once one plan to put a statue in the temple had failed, no later person could ever have dreamed that another Roman emperor would ever try to put a statue in the Temple.

        A bit like the way Americans know Al-Qaeeda will never attempt to blow up a building again, because it has already happened once.

        Surely, in the real world, once a threat has been issued , people can easily prophesy that somebody will later try to carry out a similar threat, and there is no logic to Casey’s dating.

        1. Once again, I have failed to engage with the scholarship, and distorted what people have written.

          Me bad.

          Maurice Casey answers the very questions I raised, showing my lack of engaging with scholarship.

          Maurice Casey claims on page 70 the prophecy in Mark can be dated to 40 AD because that is when Caligula threatened to have his statue erected, and Maurice Casey claims on page 71 that Jews of a later date feared that this threat would be carried out in the future.

          Casey cites sources like Tacitus confirming that later Jews could easily have prophesied that one day a statue would be erected in the Temple?

          So how can Mark’s prophecy be dated to 40 AD when Casey cites sources showing that Jews after 40 AD also feared this would happen?

          Of course, Casey only claims that that this passage of Mark ‘could have been’ written at the time of Caligula.

          He has no evidence that it was written at the time of Caligula, so is forced to rely on couda bean soup – a thin dish, lacking in nutrients and not very nourishing.

          If only Casey actually had some evidence, just think how free his book would be from couda bean soup.

          Does Maurice Casey read his own writing?

          Does he engage with the scholarship to be found in the works of people like, say, Maurice Casey, to take one name at random?

          And if ‘Mark’ puts words into Jesus mouth, just a few years after Jesus died, that all the people who knew Jesus would at once have detected were bare faced lies about the Son of God, how can ‘Mark’ be historical?

          1. Christopher Markou also makes a worthwhile criticism (on the Sheffield Biblical Studies Blog) of Casey’s use of Jesus declaring that no stone would be left upon another as a plank in his argument for a pre-70 date:

            In keeping with the work of his former student James Crossley, Casey argues that the conventional criteria for dating Mark sometime closely after 70CE are both historically and methodologically flawed. Whereas it has been habit to date Mark after the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple, Casey argues that this is premised on a faulty reading of the details of Mark 13 wherein Jesus declares to his followers that ‘there shall not be left here a stone upon a stone that shall not be destroyed.’ From this reading Casey concludes, as does Yarbro-Collins in her recent Hermeneia commentary, that this statement does not accurately describe the fate of the temple as it was not entirely destroyed by the Romans, but instead set on fire and destroyed somewhat less than totally. Thus Casey does not conclude that Mark has Jesus speaking prophecy after the fact, but instead a genuine prophecy about the future of the temple. It does not seem however that this is an entirely accurate argument to make, for it presumes that Mark was not having Jesus speak in superlatives but instead trying to accurately report the level of devastation wrought on the temple.

            There is no historical reason to suppose that an author closely after 70 would have an accurate idea of the level of devastation brought upon Jerusalem and her temple., unless they had been witness to the event, or had reliable information from a witness. There may well even have been those in Jerusalem who fled during the siege who could only presume during the fighting that the temple would be decimated. Certainly rumors would have circulated throughout Palestine and further afield that the Temple had been destroyed, but presumably it would have required an eyewitness (which Mark certainly was not) to know the precise details of Jerusalem’s fate. Moreover, is it not possible that most pious Jews would have regarded any degree of destruction to the temple as complete devastation, even if only spiritually? There seems to be insignificant evidence to make such a claim, but we cannot underestimate the human capacity for over exaggeration particularly when it comes to matters of spirituality.

            Thus appears that Casey’s reading of Mark 13.2 may be too strict a reading of Jesus’ words. The description ‘there shall not be left here a stone upon a stone that shall not be destroyed’ may well be just accurate enough of a description by an author who had himself only heard rumors and hearsay about Jerusalem’s destruction. While much has been written about Mark’s ‘poor geography’, it is clear that Mark appears to be the least knowledgable of Jerusalem and its environs, perhaps never having visited it himself or only on occasion. As Eric Stewart has recently suggested however, it is somewhat disingenuous to expect cartographic exactness from an ancient author. Moreover, had Jesus in Mark 13.2 said something to the effect: “there will be pretty extensive damage, not too bad though, they lit it on fire and all…but there will still be a wall here or there” we could hardly expect the reading to have the same stark impact and finality that Mark gives it. As such, Mark 13.2 is probably best understood as an acceptable account of the devastation of Jerusalem by an author who did not have first hand knowledge of its details.

  19. It has always seemed to me much more reasonable to assume a date after 130 CE, and that the prophecy is discussing the construction of Aelia Capitolina and is then retrojected into a past just out of living memory. This also makes sense of the Ignatian and Justin Martyr references as the first references to anything resembling the “gospel” story.

    1. Agree. And when we see how historical time-lines were not so clearly/accurately conceptualized by people like Justin Martyr and Clement of Alexandria — as when, for example, Justin conflates the time between the crucifixion “under” Pilate’s reign and the destruction of Jerusalem by Rome and the end of the Herod dynasty — it is even easier to see how the evangelists could conflate events of the 130’s and 70.

  20. ‘Making a path through the corn fields on the sabbath, as Casey reasonably notes, would have been the sort of work that was forbidden on the sabbath.’

    Casey’s argument is that ‘Mark’ was so knowledgable about the Jewish Law, as were all of his readers, that ‘Mark’ simply assumed that everybody knew these details of the Law.

    And yet Casey claims Mark wrote a schoolboy error, having Jesus break the Sabbath.

    How can these two positions , Mark an expert on the Law, Mark blunderingly writing that Jesus broke the Law, be reconciled?

    1. I think Casey implies that Mark was in a bit of a rush when he translated the Aramaic and made lots of mistakes that he would have corrected had he lived long enough (pp.76-8). So it seems he was not particularly fluent in Aramaic after all, nor was he particularly adept in Greek (as Tim pointed out). (I think his native language was Coptic and he came from a poor family and hence his parents could not afford the best Greek and Aramaic tutors for him; alternatively he was translating under extreme stress such as the threat of a Roman pillage of his part of the city, and he was caught up in the melee and killed before he had time to finish what he was doing.) Steven, you are so unimaginative. You will never make it as a real biblical scholar!

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Discover more from Vridar

Subscribe now to keep reading and get access to the full archive.

Continue reading