Roll over Maurice Casey: Latin, not Aramaic, explains Mark’s bad Greek

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by Neil Godfrey

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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.

The list is found on this New Testament Introduction course webpage: http://www.abu.nb.ca/courses/ntintro/mark.htm (ABU is now Crandall University.)

Examples of Latinisms in the Gospel of Mark are as follows:

  • Mark 4:27: modios = Lat. modius (a measure)
  • Mark 5:9, 15: legiôn = Lat. legio (legion)
  • Mark 6:27: spekoulator = Lat. speculator (guard)
  • Mark 6:37: dênariôn = Lat. denarius (a Roman coin)
  • Mark 7:4: xestês = Lat. sextarius (container)
  • Mark 12:14: kênsos = Lat. census (tribute money)
  • Mark 15:15: phragellan = Lat. fragellare (to whip)
  • Mark 15:39, 44-45: kenturiôn = Lat. centurio (centurion) (Both Matthew and Luke use ekatontrachês, the equivalent term in Greek.)

In addition, on two occasions Mark provides his readers with Latin translations of Greek words:

  • Mark 12:42: lepta duo, which is said to be the equivalent of a kordrantês = Lat. quadrans (the smallest Roman coin)
  • Mark 15:16: aulês, which is said to be the praitôrion = Lat. praetorium

Finally, there are also a few examples of Latin idioms translated into Greek in the Gospel of Mark:

  • Mark 2:23 hodon poiein = Lat. iter facere (to make one’s way)
  • Mark 3:6 sumboulion edidoun = Lat. consilium dederunt (to give counsel)
  • Mark 3:17; 7:11, 34; 12:42; 15:16, 42 ho estin = Lat. hoc est (that is)
  • Mark 15:15: hikanon poiein = satis facere (to satisfy)
  • Mark 15:19 tithentes ta gonata = Lat. genua ponentes (bending the knees)
  • enturio (centurion) (Both Matthew and Luke use ekatontrachês, the equivalent term in Greek.)

In addition, on two occasions Mark provides his readers with Latin translations of Greek words:

  • Mark 12:42: lepta duo, which is said to be the equivalent of a kordrantês = Lat. quadrans (the smallest Roman coin)
  • Mark 15:16: aulês, which is said to be the praitôrion = Lat. praetorium

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

Explanation one:

  • 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.

Explanation two:

  • 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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51 thoughts on “Roll over Maurice Casey: Latin, not Aramaic, explains Mark’s bad Greek”

  1. Dear Neil,

    Just a follow up to my earlier comment. I think it is helpful to keep in mind that there are two kinds of people, or audience that you are writing for. There are of course the supernaturalists that are trying to defend their world view, which you, and other historians threaten, so they fight you. I think in general, these are a waste of time to address. I will post two other links soon, when I look them up again, but it has been demonstrated recently that “facts don’t matter”. Studies have been done that indicate that people not only ignore facts when making decisions, but that if people find facts that contradict their existing beliefs, that these facts, don’t help them change their minds, but actually reinforce their existing beliefs against the actual facts. This should be kept in mind when we have the view that if we could simply present someone with an incorrect view the proper information, that they will change their minds. And , I would think should make us understand that it is better to simply not talk to these people. Here is the logic. IF studies have shown that facts will be ignored, and will actually harden incorrect beliefs, THEN IF we provide people that already have incorrect beliefs with facts, THEN we are actually facilitating them hardening their incorrect beliefs. It would be better for us to simply ignore them.

    Second, There is a great study by a canadian sociologist, that I will post a link to soon, that talks about the concept of “Right Wing Athoritarianism”. This is a useful concept study to help others understand why many can be attracted to religious myths.

    Finally, I recently saw this video on youtube, which is the actual reason for this post. I wanted to pass it along to you. It is called “why we believe in gods” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1iMmvu9eMrg and it discusses a number of evolutionary reasons that religions have historically been attractive.

    Again, I try to concentrate on talking to people that are looking for information to understand why people believe in religious myths. I do not spend any time talking to people that have already decided to be supernaturalists, and try to promote that. I do not find that is is of any value talking to those people, based on the “facts don’t matter” concept mentioned about, and actually think that talking to them does more harm than good.

    But, I thought I would give you this youtube link in case you think it might be helpful to provide others that you come across that are actually looking to understand the reasons that people have been susceptible to supernaturalistic legends historically.

    Cheers! RichGriese.NET

    1. Rich Griese: Excellent link for the YouTube video on the connection of brain activity to religious thinking. No doubt about it: This is where the answers about the origin of religious thinking are to be found: in how the brain’s biological mechanisms work in natural and social interactions. “Why We Believe in Gods” is a highly informative introduction to the current state of research. Your posting it is extremely appreciated. I, for one, am very thankful, even if a bit belatedly.

  2. Hi Rich, Are you thinking this post is “talking to supernaturalists” or the like? I don’t think so. If I wanted to go out of my way to talk to the sorts of people you are referring to I would post this on the Sheffield Biblical Studies blog etc. I have never gone out of my way here to talk to people who don’t want to listen to what I have to say.

    I write the above for others who have read or have heard of Casey’s book — it has gained quite a lot of publicity — and offer this post along with my others on his work to show that there are people who read it more critically than the typical biblical scholar does. I am hoping to show how it looks when viewed through what I believe are more direct and simple logical analyses of the evidence and with fewer conventional theologically-grounded assumptions.

    I write for those who are sympathetic towards anyone who might take a similar journey as the one I took. I think it is worthwhile putting out a way of looking at biblical studies that challenges the conventional wisdoms.

    If I address those who are not open minded to what I have to say, it is because they have talked to or about me first. I once was naive enough to say that I am not really talking to them, but to the wider audience who are less committed either way and are following the exchange. But I am talking to them of course. What I should have said was that I am talking to them as a foil for the opportunity of addressing a wider audience at the same time.

    I have followed many discussions, many heated discussions, and many attacks on others by other academics in “scholarly” lists. Sure there is an argument for saying nothing and turning to another audience, but it does not hurt for the benefit of a wider audience to sometimes offer a reply, too.

    I am sure I don’t get my replies right many times, and I am sure if I looked back I would cringe at some things and wish I had said nothing, something differently, or spoken when I did indeed say nothing. (Usually especially when I look back and see what I wrote/did not write when I was tired.) Mais c’est la vie.

    Sometimes I think I respond to test my own position, to see if it does hold. Sometimes this leads me to see where I may have been overstating some point, and where I need to be more careful in how I do express and argue a case.

    It’s encouraging to find people who seem to agree with some of the things I say, but I see us each with our own journeys and interests.

    I have had the fortune of being able to do some wider than average reading about biblical topics, and I think it’s a good idea to share with lay audiences what is out there and not widely known. I imagine most people who find something of interest on my blog are those who are exploring, unsure, asking questions, curious. If I’ve offered something that prompts them to rethink a point or two that may lead to even deeper questioning later, then that’s great.

    It’s also useful for me to get my own thoughts and readings down: it helps me sort out what I think or need to revise or explore further myself.

    But I’ve tried to explain in a couple of posts that my interest is not in bashing Christianity, and that includes not taking on “supernaturalists” etc.

  3. Hey Neil,

    Sorry, my comment was not about this specific post. One of big problems with comment systems is that, they force a comment into a specific post. Generally, as you probably know, you get the same community of commenters over and over again. And in reality, comments are really just a general conversations by the community, not always about the specific post. My previous comment went to the idea of going “round and round” based on something I saw on that particular thread. But when I wanted to make todays comment, which was really a continuation of that previous idea, I could not find that post/thread, so I just went to your most recent blog post, and made the comment. Sorry if that was confusing.

    BTW, the main point was to give you that youtube via which I thought was excellent. The other two ideas came cause I am a “linker”, ie, giving you that link, may me mentally think of “oh, yeah, there are two other good links I should remember to give him too.”

    Again, sorry that the post was confusing cause it made no sense as related to the specific post/essay.

    Cheers! RichGriese.NET

    1. No worries. Thanks for the clarification. And for the youtube link. (Sometimes people just drop an offtopic email/comment into my About Vridar or ContactInfo page.)


  4. ‘Steven Carr has made this point a number of times and will be quite rightly saying “Told you so!” if he reads this.’

    Told you so!

    Casey ,of course,knows perfectly well that there are Latin loan words in ‘Mark’.

    Naturally he is a True Biblical Scholar so does not inform his readers that there are any Latin loan words in ‘Mark’.

    As it would detract from the idea that there were Aramaic sources for Greek, detectable by the bad Greek, Casey does not even mention the prescence of Latin loan words.

    A real scholar mentions facts which might seem to other scholars to put his work into question, and attempts to answer those questions.

    This is what I am used to when I see scientists writing. I naively took it for granted that all scholars in all fields had the same sorts of standards as the lowliest scientific researcher into the memory of mice.

    I now have entered a world where True Bible Scholars simply ignore whatever does not fit their ideas.

  5. An independent historian by definition does not need to refer to other historians he doesn’t want to.

    But you hid from us the best part. Not only does Casey explain that Mark used this Latinism (Herodiani, followers of Herod) because there was “no straightforward Aramaic alternative”, but —

    Even though there was a “normal Greek expression” he could have used (Josephus used it), Mark stuck to the Latinism because he read it in the Aramaic source of course!!!

    Casey’s thesis is about as unfalsifiable as you can get. I think it will resist all attempts and demolition and last forever. (tongue pressing hard into left cheek)

    And also . . . .

    Casey also explains that Latinisms were used by “the business community” among Gentiles in Antioch, and acknowledges that a Palestinian Jew (viz. Josephus) would use a Greek expression for this term. Mark, Casey explains elsewhere, was only bilingual, speaking both Aramaic and Greek (only) with something less than full proficiency in either, and that Greek and Aramaic were both in some common use in Palestine.

    But Casey does not explain why the Aramaic source from Palestine used a Latinism rather than a normal Greek expression if there were no normal Aramaic equivalent.

  6. As a language enthusiast, I find this sort of thing fascinating.

    Are there genuine Aramaicisms in Mark aside from the Latinisms above, or is Mark’s writing style best summarized as that of a Latin speaker?

    1. Mark does use Aramaic as well as Latin. In raising the little girl from the dead, for example, he has Jesus issue a command in Aramaic. A number of commentators have remarked on the dramatic effect of this. It adds an air of ‘mystery’ to such a the divine command.

      Casey does not only argue that Mark’s text is explained by his translating Aramaic words, but also by his mis-reading even very common Aramaic words, and he even adds that at least one Latinism was included in the Aramaic text! I don’t think anyone is going to win an argument against this thesis!

      1. Well, it seems to me that someone who explicitly inserts real Aramaic into his text but accidentally fills it with Latinisms is most likely a native or near-native speaker of Latin with general competency in Greek and just enough Aramaic to show off when he wants to add a touch of authenticity to the story.

  7. Neil, have you checked out Casey’s “Aramaic sources of Mark’s gospel”? I saw that he mention this “iter facere” in it.

    And maybe the original Aramaic document just had some latinisms in it 😛

    1. Thanks. He did indeed. Here is Casey’s explanation from “Aramaic Sources in Mark’s Gospel”:

      From a Griesbachian perspective, Riley comments: `To make (their) way is perhaps a Latinism, from iter facere, to journey, and a sign of secondary writing; in any case, the words coming after going through the grainfields are tautologous. This is quite in Mark’s manner, but it results in the word began being attached to the wrong verb.’ Everything is wrong with this. The central point is that it merely catalogues what Mark would have to be thought to have done if the Griesbach hypothesis were right: it does not explain his behaviour at all. This is most obvious with Mark adding something tautologous, which he has to be thought of as doing often, while omitting most of Jesus’ teaching as he found it in Matthew and Luke. To do so while attaching began to the wrong verb makes him not merely a fool, but a fool too inexplicable for us to believe in. In the real Mark’s Aramaic source, FJYt was correctly connected to YBSOM [will attempt to substitute the Hebrew letters later] because the disciples had to go along a path to be able to take Peah. This was then literally translated, as we have seen. On Riley’s model, however, Mark had no reason to introduce [odon poiein] at all, and to interpolate an unnecessary Latinism when he hardly has any others makes him a quite peculiar bilingual. We must conclude that Riley’s account of Mark is incredible. The proposed Aramaic source, however, makes excellent sense in its own right, and the behaviour of the translator is also wholly in accordance with the known behaviour of translators.

      I find it somewhat breathtaking that Casey uses Mark’s bad Greek to justify his argument for Aramaisms, but rejects the possibility of Latinism because they would make Mark produce bad Greek!

      And we can see from the list I posted from the Crandall Uni site the extent to which Mark uses “hardly any other” such Latinisms as Casey asserts!

      Casey is so intent on arguing that the Aramaic source “makes excellent sense in its own right” that he has completely lost sight of the fact that Mark’s Greek also makes complete sense in its own right, as I attempt to point out in my post.

      Casey also resorts to the argument that Jesus really was walking through the grainfields and Mark needed to present (most obliquely) a historic explanation for this. Balderdash. Bultmann was right. The whole scene is a set up.

      1. No, thank you for this fantastic blog!

        Yes, hardly any Latinisms! 😀

        Casey also resorts to the argument that Jesus really was walking through the grainfields and Mark needed to present (most obliquely) a historic explanation for this. Balderdash. Bultmann was right. The whole scene is a set up.

        What? Does Casay seriously think that this actually happened?

        Was a group of pharisees following Jesus around on the sabbath? Just waiting to see what that rascal would do next?

        1. Don’t laugh. Casey is a well-respected scholar and the author of the definitive book on the historical Jesus of the decade. He argues that the Pharisees also had every right to walk around the grainfields, that it was not more than a sabbath day’s journey, and that the reason they chipped Jesus for what his followers were doing and not Jesus himself was because Jesus was not as poor as the disciples, and thus was not allowed by Levitical law to pluck the grain.

          Have discussed this at http://vridar.wordpress.com/2010/11/13/casey-versus-bultmann-and-why-jesus-was-not-as-hungry-as-his-disciples/

          If you were not either a hostile anti-Christian bigot or a closet anti-semite or a well-meaning pious Christian innocently distracted from this fact, you would know this.

      2. Here is a fun statement from my Word Biblical Commentary on the first half of Mark, by R.A. Guelich: “Some scholars have found internal evidence for Rome [being the place of composition] in Mark’s disproportionately numerous Latinisms…”

        Mark has hardly any Latinisms, but it also has “disproportionately numerous Latinisms”.

  8. “Mark” 9.40
    “For he that is not against us is for us.”

    Comment by Michael Turton [I presume you have his site]:

    “v40: paralleled in traditions outside the Gospels, for example, in Cicero Speeches 41: “For us, all are opponents except for those who are with us; for Caesar, all are his own in so far as they are not against him.”

    This does not mean that the author of Mark read Cicero, but rather that the idea might suggest itself in many situations independently, and need not go back to a source or to Jesus.”

    Cicero died 43 BCE
    I tend to partly disagree with Vork on this.

    For me the similarity between the phrase as used by the author of “Mark” and from Cicero is too close for coincidence and thus would suggest literary dependence to me.
    In the sense that author “Mark” was aware of the tradition of Cicero and Caesar.
    It suggests a Latin classical background for the author of “Mark”.

    1. Definitely. Thanks for this Cicero allusion. It fits with the story of Caesar having to be restrained from continuing a boat journey in a storm and this story’s echoes in Mark’s story of Jesus asleep in a boat in a storm — http://vridar.wordpress.com/2010/08/21/how-jesus-christ-outclassed-julius-caesar/

      Add to this the whole procession of Jesus on the way to Golgotha being a mock Roman Triumph — http://vridar.wordpress.com/2009/07/03/recognizing-the-triumphant-conqueror-in-marks-crucifixion-scene/

      I know many scholars lean towards Mark being written somewhere around Syria nowadays, but that does not rebut the clear Roman allusions such as these.

  9. To the list in “Explanation One” above, there are even more moving parts to the Casey-ine clockwork.

    * Mark was unaware of the oral tradition (which surely goes against the grain of NT scholarship). He simply translated the “original” Aramaic on the page into bad Greek.

    * Mark had no one to ask when he got to a difficult passage in his wax tablets. He was apparently writing alone, cut off from any Christian community — which begs the question, “Then who was he writing for?”

    Does Casey ever explain why Mark left in some (transliterated) Aramaic words? Do they have magical value for healing and invocation? Or is it just for rhetorical effect?

    1. TIM
      Mark had no one to ask when he got to a difficult passage in his wax tablets.

      You are misrepresenting Casey.

      Casey claims Mark did talk to people about difficult passages, but could not understand their answers properly (page 189)

      1. I forgot about that bit. For benefit of those who have not wasted real money on this theological speculative work, here is what Casey says in explaining how Mark came up with the word “Boanerges”, said to mean Sons of Thunder, the epithet Jesus gave James and John. Boanarges, Casey says, is not a real word so one must ask how Mark came to write it. The original Aramaic for “sons of thunder” was [bene re’em], and Casey explains how Mark made a botch of transliterating these two Aramaic words into “Boanerges”:

        Mark’s first problem was a ‘shewa’, a short noise in Aramaic and Hebrew, represented by the [e in bene], all short vowels. Mark must have asked someone what to do, and misunderstood their answer, because either a or o would have been all right, but oa is ridiculous. He can’t have been very happy with what he put either, because when he got to the shewa in re’em, he left it out. . . . [He then used the ‘g’ for a gutteral sound, which was usual.] He then misread the final Aramaic ‘me’ as an ‘s’, a natural mistake if he was use to letters being written as they are in the Dead Sea Scrolls, natural that is if he did not recognize the Aramaic word for ‘thunder’. That is also natural in a bilingual, for most bilinguals are not fully competent in both their languages, so Mark . . . called thunder bronte in Greek.”

        It’s a fascinating insight. So we have learned from this one word Boanerges that Mark:

        1. like most bilinguals not fully competent in both his languages
        2. was not very good at transliterating from Aramaic into Greek [discussed in a section previous to the quotation here]
        3. must have asked someone how to transliterate bene re’em into Greek
        4. misunderstood their reply
        5. so wrote something ridiculous
        6. was not very happy with what he wrote
        7. presumably did not ask anyone when he came to the problem a second time so just left the letter out
        8. was used to Aramaic letters being written as they are in the Dead Sea Scrolls
        9. therefore he got some letters mixed up and transliterated them wrongly into Greek

        So that is why today we read “Boanerges” in our Gospel of Mark!

        The detail is so rich one could turn the whole process into a movie. It needs a bumbling incompetent trying his very best but making a botch of everything to write a book that changed the course of history. A Forest Gump?

        1. And, of course, this bumbling incompetent was the main source for ‘Matthew’ and ‘Luke’.

          What happened to all this reliable oral tradition that later Gospellers were forced to rely on first drafts written by people ‘not fully competent’ who wrote works full of things that even they would have had to correct if they had lived?

          Surely some of these rich women who financed the ministry could have paid someone who could read Aramaic competently to write up these wax tablets.

          1. With half the disciples from well-to-do businesses and such a wealthy coterie of women financial backers they would not need to resort to wax tablets at all. Unless the Pharisees had Pilate freeze their bank accounts after the crucifixion.

        2. A biblical scholar named Casey
          Said Mark’s understanding was hazy.
          He jumbled the facts
          That he read from the wax,
          And perhaps he was just a bit lazy.

          Mark’s author was given to blunder.
          How he finished is truly a wonder.
          His vision was dim;
          His listing skills, grim.
          Which is why he wrote “Sons of Thunder.”

        3. And that bumbling incompetent took a typical triumphal procession of the Caesars and the ‘passion’ and funeral of Julius Caesar (where his wax image was mounted on a cruciform tropaeum) and called it a crucifixion!! Certainly the women who supported his ministry, not to mention the more successful disciples could have afforded a biographer!


    *Ra, ra Rah, man. Ga, ga, god, man. Bad Romans.*

    My challenge Thread at FRDB still stands:


    “Is the Gospel of Mark “ungrammatical” or Smooth, Sualvific and Deboanerges?”

    Still waiting for one clear example of “Mark” simply being ungrammatical.

    Have not read Casey’s book and it sounds like he should be reading this rather than vice verses. The usual arguments that “Mark” is an original Greek composition:

    1) No extant early Aramaic text.

    2) No Patristic discussion of detail analysis of Aramaic text

    3) “Matthew” and “Luke” clearly copied from a Greek “Mark”.

    4) No known textual variation in “Mark” explained by controversial Aramaic original.

    5) No known textual variation in “Mark” explained by alternative Greek translations for Aramaic original.

    6) References/quotes from Jewish Bible generally copied from Greek translations.

    We have a picture of James McGrath sending out drones to scout the entire Internet universe for signs of mythicism to criticize from sources no one has ever heard of yet he is unable to offer any criticism of a book that is currently sitting on his desk which every one is familiar with (Markan irony?). Why do I have to do this? Where the hell is The Matrix when you really need it?


  11. Thanks, this is most enlightening.

    Paul Louis Couchoud wrote a paper, which can now be read at Dr. Hermann Detering’s site: L’évangile de Marc a été écrit en latin (“Mark was written in Latin,” 1930). An English summary written by Klaus Schilling is found on the same site. Couchoud hypothesized that the Latin version found in the fifth-century Codex Palatinus (Mark 1:21-6:9) and in the fourth-century Codex Bobiensis (Mark 8:9-16:8) were closer to the original Latin text than the Vulgate. When it comes to Mark 2:23, the Palatinus text unfortunately omits the suggestion that Jesus’ disciples “began to make a way.”

    The Palatinus text has: “Discipuli vero eius coeperunt vellere spicas et manducare.” (But his disciples began to pluck heads of grain and chew.)

    The Vulgate has: “Et discipuli eius coeperunt praegredi et vellere spicas.” (And his disciples began to go forward, and to pluck heads of grain.)

    This does not rule out the possibility that the original version included an additional “iter facere.” (If the Greek version is actually a translation of a Latin text, it could have been based on a better MS. than the Palatinus.) Following your earlier suggestion that Mark 2:23 should be seen as an allusion to Mark 1:2, the author could have written something like this: “Discipuli vero eius coeperunt praeparare viam et vellere spicas.”

        1. Pearl: Thanks for locating the links.

          Couchoud claims: “Looking at the earliest patristic quotes from Mark’s Gospel, it becomes evident that Greek versions in the likeness of our manuscripts were not widely in circulation even in late second century. Ireneus and Clememt of Alexandria plausibly use ad-hoc translations of Latin versions” (trans. Klaus Schilling).

  12. Paul D.:
    “Well, it seems to me that someone who explicitly inserts real Aramaic into his text but accidentally fills it with Latinisms is most likely a native or near-native speaker of Latin with general competency in Greek and just enough Aramaic to show off when he wants to add a touch of authenticity to the story.”

    As regards the Latinisms in Mark and what that means for the author’s native language: it should be stressed that all the Latinisms are terms concerned with the military or with Roman administration. The language of the legions in the eastern Mediterranean was Greek, not Latin (most of the soldiers posted in the East were not Italians). But it only makes sense that uniquely Roman terminology for military and administrative matters would be expressed as Latin loans into this Greek lingua franca. Issues like Semitic word-order and the use of whole Aramaic phrases makes it seem much more likely to me that the author was a native speaker of Aramaic (or Syriac, a dialect), and that the Latinisms are included because they were current in the spoken Greek of an region dominated by Eastern Mediterranean Roman military administration.

    1. The question of Latinisms is not limited to individual words. Couchoud, in his 1930 paper, refers to a short paper written in 1928 by C.H. Turner: “Marcan Usage” (Journal of Theological Studies, 1928, pp. 352-305), in which it is proposed that the principles governing the sentence structure in Mark’s Greek text are more typical of Latin than of Greek. (In Latin sentences the verb is generally written last etc.)

      As Luke writes ordinary Greek, examples of the following kind are instructive:

      (1) Mark 3:10
      ut eum tangeret (Latin Mark)
      hina autou hapsOntai (Greek Mark)
      haptesthai autou (Luke)

      (2) Mark 5:31
      quis me tetigit? (Latin Mark)
      tis mou hEpsato (Greek Mark)
      hEpsato mou tis (Luke)

      (3) Mark 14:30
      ter me negabis (Latin Mark)
      tris me aparnEsE (Greek Mark)
      tris aparnEsE me (Matthew)
      tris aparnEsE mE eidenai me (Luke)

      (4) Mark 5:10
      ne illum expelleret (Latin Mark)
      hina mE auta haposteilE (Greek Mark)
      hina mE epitaxE autois (Luke)

      (5) Mark 9:18
      ubicumque eum adpraehenderit (Latin Mark)
      hopou ean auton katalabE (Greek Mark)
      lambanei auton (Luke)

      (For more examples, see Couchoud’s text.)

  13. JW:
    Just discovered the Source for Casey’s Aramaic Gospel of “Mark”:


    “Aramaic sources of Mark’s Gospel By Maurice Casey”

    I thought this sort of proof-reading-texting where you use your own text to determine the source of the text, was limited to Paul/
    “Mark” but apparently the holy spirit is alive and well in Casey. No doubt those wax tablets (isn’t this how Mormonism got started?) were circular.


  14. JW:
    Some Kook is writing a sympathetic review of Casey’s book here:


    “A third example is Mk 1:41 “being angry” (o0rgisqeij), which is the harder reading so likely changed by a scribe to “being filled with compassion.” Scholars puzzle over the anger, suggesting it was directed at the man himself or demonic forces causing the affliction, but Casey argues the original Aramaic regaz can mean “angry” but has a wider range of meanings including “tremble” or to “be deeply moved” (113).”

    Potentially, this is the type of argument Casey needs. A puzzling word in the Greek version which could have a reasonable cause in an underlying Aramaic. Textual critics (Ehrman) accept “anger” as original to 1:41 and point out that “Mark” describes Jesus as angry elsewhere, including another healing, and that the tone of anger is supported by the following use of “sternly warned/admonished”. I point out here:


    that there is another reason to think “anger” was intended by “Mark” at 1:41. 1:41 is the start of Jesus’ Galilean ministry. Note that 3:5 where Jesus is again angry, is the end of the Galilean ministry. This is one of “Mark’s” Stylish techniques where he frames a story with an emotional tone at the beginning and end. “Mark” does this a number of times (the hometown story for example where first the hometown is amazed at Jesus and than Jesus is amazed at the hometown). I’m going to inventory this style technique of emotional framing at:


    Mark’s DiualCritical Marks. Evidence Of Intentional Fiction In The Original Gospel

    Getting back to Casey, his book must be pretty bad if he thinks 1:41 is a representative example of solid evidence for an Aramaic original. So, regarding evidence for an Aramaic original for “Mark”:



    1. I hadn’t read Kok’s review until today. His final comments are unsettling:

      “He also critiques the extreme view that Nazareth did not existed [sic] (Zindler, Salm) based on a problematic handling of archaeological and textual evidence (128-32). To his observations I would add Acts 24:5 “Nazarenes” was likely an early name for Jesus followers deriving from Jesus the Nazarene and still in use by Jewish Jesus followers according to Epiphanius and Jerome, but the theory that the evangelists invented a small insignificant village like Nazareth as Jesus hometown has more credibility on the internet than among trained scholars.”

      It’s unsettling because it’s deliberately misleading. We have two fallacies at work here: false equivalence and illegitimate framing.

      By illegitimate framing, I’m referring a specific form of disinformation in which the question is tainted with false information. Conservatives are quite good at this. Consider framing questions such as: “Why did the Supreme Court forbid prayer in public schools?” and “Do you believe that humans evolved from monkeys?” These questions are poisoned from the start, yet they enter the public mind as the basic framing ideas in the debate.

      Similarly, when Casey attacks the straw man position that Nazareth never existed and that the gospel writers invented it, his lie frames the debate. “Well, that’s just crazy!” say Casey’s readers, who will never check the source material. But the truth is, people who claim Nazareth was uninhabited in the early part of the first century CE admit that it was inhabited when the evangelists were writing. In fact, the archaeological evidence shows that it had been settled off and on for decades. The Nazareth critics simply point out that there is no evidence for settlement during Jesus’ supposed lifespan.

      By false equivalence, I’m referring to Casey’s (and Kok’s) disgust for the “extremes.” Quoting Kok:

      Of special interest is the abuse of archaeology by both the faithful and the faith-less.

      It is a rule in politics and religion these days that if you attack the Right for its unscrupulous tactics, you must also pretend that the Left does the same thing. If conservative apologists are abusing archaeology, then liberal atheists must be doing it too. Casey pretends he has no ax to grind; he’s just an independent historian looking for the porridge that is neither too hot nor too cold.

      But let’s be clear here. The Shroud of Turin and the James Ossuary are fakes. When people who should know better keep trying to foist them off as true artifacts, it stinks of dishonesty. When other people question whether Nazareth was inhabited from 1 CE to 30 CE, it’s a legitimate concern. And when “independent” scholars attack those who question Nazareth’s habitation by calling them “extreme,” misrepresenting their views, and attacking their credentials — well that stinks, too.

    2. Re Joseph’s comment:

      If ‘anger’ was in the original, then we may be seeing its idea repeated at the end of the gospel, as quite a number of images in the opening chapters are. The leper was instructed to go to the temple to offer a sacrifice, but he didn’t. (The temple system was as good as a rent garment — henceforth useless as a result of Jesus — as Mark has Jesus explain shortly after.) Instead, it was Jesus who went to the temple and rendered sacrifices impossible, with implicit anger. This would link Jesus’ anger with the temple system — it’s failure to heal or restore people to be whole and part of the society once again. (And also with the intent of its associates to kill the one who could heal and restore.)

  15. One reason Latinisms in Mark don’t surprise me is that the very name Marcus is as Latin as you can possibly get. It’s derived from Mars, a vague equivalent of the Greek Ares.

    Really, why on the planet would anyone from Syria or Palestine or for that matter a Greek be named Marcus!?!

  16. Hi Neil, I agree that Boanerges can’t be taken from a Semetic language and that it’s Greco-Latin. It doesn’t mean Sons of Thunder but paraphrases it. It means something like Bunch Of Windbags.
    Thanks for your excellent post.

    1. Interesting. Such an interpretation coheres (“criterion of coherence”! 😉 with Mary Ann Tolbert’s accounting for the name “Peter” (Sowing the Gospel) as a play on the shallow rocky soil of the parable of the sower. I’d like to be able to see some similar allusion in the Gospel of Mark to some similar sarcasm of the nickname of James and John but I can’t. But I do find Mark so often reminds me of gnostic literature: rich in paradoxes and hidden mysteries, Perfect Thunder Perfect Mind, silence verses the shout, tradition of association with Basilides . . . But of course none of that could ever lead anywhere, could it (?).

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