While preparing a new post on a new topic that had nothing any more to do with Casey I stumbled across this list of Latinisms in Mark’s Gospel. The one that hit me hardest was one that Casey uses to justify his argument that Mark was clumsily translating an Aramaic expression into Greek. Well, if this list has any credibility, then Casey’s learned argument, at least with reference to this particular instance, collapses.
Steven Carr has made this point a number of times and will be quite rightly saying “Told you so!” if he reads this.
But look there at Mark 2:23 — I’ve highlighted it in red. Scroll back to my post dated 10th November 2010. I outline there Casey’s argument for Mark’s “make a path” being strong evidence that Mark had a written Aramaic source in front of him, but that Mark misunderstood an Aramaic word meaning “go along”, and thought it was Aramaic for “make a path”. Casey explains two possible reasons for this mistake: Mark was a bilingual and therefore not fully competent in either his Greek or his Aramaic; and the two words differed by a single but easily confused letter. (See my 10th Nov post for the extreme weakness of these arguments.) Casey further argues that this sort of mistake made by Mark was so obvious anyway that he must have died before he had a chance to go over and correct such mistakes in his Gospel.
Through all that multilayered argument I don’t recall reading a single hint that there was an alternative explanation for this phrase known among scholarly circles. Yet I find one such explanation in a Bible College’s online introductory course.
Added 7th December, 2010: I have since been informed that Casey does discuss this one particular Latinism in his earlier book on Aramaic in Mark. See my comment below: /2010/12/06/roll-over-maurice-casey-latin-not-aramaic-explains-marks-bad-greek/#comment-13062
When I pick up a work by a scholar, especially one 560 pages long and hailed as being the defining and greatest work on the Historical Jesus of the decade, I expect to learn from the academic author what the alternative explanations are, why they are wanting, and why the new proposal is superior. As a layman I do not expect to be kept in ignorance and walk away from time with such a scholar remaining unaware of any other point of view.
Maybe Casey has a simple reason for not bothering to raise the Latin alternative. But he owes his readers — is it not a standard procedure of any serious academic work anyway? — to explain his rejection of previous ideas.
Make a Path: two explanations
- Mark was not fully competent in either Aramaic or Greek.
- He was reading an Aramaic word on a wax tablet, and the letters were small, and one of the letters was not clearly legible.
- Casey does not say this, but his argument also depends on Mark not ever having heard this story orally, but knowing nothing about it apart from what he was reading on a small wax tablet. And this was within five or so years of Christ’s death that Mark was unaware of hearing the story — if he had heard it he would have been able to understand the common Aramaic word immediately. (Thanks to Tim who posted a comment for reminding me about this point.)
- As a result, Mark misread the Aramaic word for “go along” as “make a path”.
- Even though Mark knew the biblical law and that Jesus’ disciples would not be “making a path” on the sabbath day, and even though he was surely competent enough to know a very common Aramaic word such as “go along”, and that this very common Aramaic word looked very similar to the one he was reading, he nonetheless translated the it as “make a path”.
- This was nonsensical, and Mark clearly knew better, but he was in a bit of a rush and, had he not died prematurely, he would have revised and corrected such an error.
- Mark uses Latinisms as often as he employs Aramaisms. One such Latinism is the literal Greek for the Latin “to go along”.
- The literal Greek translation fitted Mark’s love of puns and wordplay perfectly: recall that he began his Gospel with a call to all to “make a path” or highway for the coming Jesus. The disciples were here “making a path” in the sense of paving the way for Jesus to introduce his new teaching that He was Lord of the Sabbath.
I like the latter one for its simplicity.
No doubt if I understood Aramaic and rabbinic halakh debates I would prefer the complexity of the former for enabling my skills to find a long-lost relevance at last.
A more general explanation for both Latinisms and Aramaisms in Mark
In a book detailing the many features Mark’s Gospel shares with Greek tragedy, Gilbert G. Bilezekian wrote:
Mark’s use of Aramaic expressions and occasional Latin terms also has antecedents in Greek tragedy. Aristotle stated that “a certain admixture of unfamiliar terms is necessary. These, the strange word, the metaphor, the ornamental equivalent, etc. . . . will save the language from seeing mean and prosaic.” (p. 114 of The Liberated Gospel)
Or as elsewhere translated from Aristotle’s Poetics:
A diction that is made up of strange (or rare) terms is a jargon. A certain infusion, therefore, of these elements is necessary to style; for the strange (or rare) word, the metaphorical, the ornamental, and the other kinds above mentioned, will raise it above the commonplace and mean . . . (Poetics, XXII)
(Joseph Wallack will love to see this reference here, and is entitled to place a link to his own site discussing this theme at greater length.)
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