While much has been written about the history-changing impact of Mark being the first to compose a written gospel, there is much in this written gospel to suggest that it was meant to be orally delivered. It was written for an oral performance. (I am repeating here what I have read by a number of scholars, most recently Bilezekian. But I have reservations about this as an explanation for its grammatical roughness. Even polished and over-flowery texts were written for oral delivery. It might be more to the point to argue that Mark’s style indicates an intent to reproduce natural and unsophisticated speech.)
(I am losing my conviction that Mark was the earliest gospel, too. But that discussion can wait. The grammatical “crudities” of Mark can be explained in ways to fit either hypothesis.)
Gilbert G. Bilezekian (The Liberated Gospel) is one scholar who has advanced that the best explanation for the extremely repetitive “and” as the sentence-linker (the scholarly term for this is parataxis) throughout Mark’s Gospel is it reflects the colloquial spoken language of the day.
[T]hose irregular features of syntax and style characterize Mark’s language as a very popular and colloquial brand of Greek. Vincent Taylor [The Gospel According to Mark p. 52] said that it has “striking affinities with the spoken language of everyday life as it is revealed in the papyri and the inscriptions.” . . .
If most of the Gospel was originally a transcript from oral sources, it is understandable that it contains this type of sentence structure. If the Gospel was destined for public reading rather than private study, it is even more understandable. Kleist has said that “sometimes parataxis is due to conditions extraneous to the mind. Perhaps foremost among these is the power to express the relation of thought to thought by other means than the spoken word. Gestures, tricks, and looks have expressional value, and may reveal one soul to another more intimately than bare words can do. ” [The Gospel of Saint Mark, p. 13] Parataxis could be an original feature of apostolic preaching that was kept in the Gospel to reproduce for the listeners the reality of oral delivery. (p. 115, my emphasis)
(Questions: What if Mark were written as a reaction against the formal written eloquence of Matthew and Luke? Did not Marcion stress the non-literal nature of the Gospel, insisting that the Gospel was primarily a matter of spiritual comprehension that could not be directly communicated by “the letter”?)
Just as a reminder of what this paratactic character of Mark looks like, here is a chunk of chapter one:
9. And it came to pass in those days, Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee, and was baptized . . .
10. and immediately coming up from the water, . . .
11. and a voice came out of the heavens, . . .
12. And immediately doth the Spirit put him forth to the wilderness,
13. and he was there in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by the Adversary, and he was with the beasts, and the messengers were ministering to him.
14. And after the delivering up of John, . . .
15. and saying — `Fulfilled hath been the time, . . .
16. And, walking by the sea of Galilee, he saw Simon . . .
17. and Jesus said to them, `Come ye after me, . . .
18. and immediately, having left their nets, they followed him.
19. And having gone on thence a little, he saw James of Zebedee, and John his brother, and they were in the boat refitting the nets,
20. and immediately he called them, . . .
21. And they go on to Capernaum, . . .
22. and they were astonished at his teaching, . . .
23. And there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, and he cried out,
24. saying, `Away! what — to us and to thee, Jesus the Nazarene? . . .
25. And Jesus rebuked him, . . .
26. and the unclean spirit having torn him, and having cried with a great voice, . . .
27. and they were all amazed, . . .
28. And the fame of him went forth immediately to all the region, . . .
29. And immediately, having come forth out of the synagogue, . . .
30. and the mother-in-law of Simon was lying fevered, and immediately they tell him about her,
31. and having come near, he raised her up, having laid hold of her hand, and the fever left her immediately, and she was ministering to them.
32. And evening having come, when the sun did set, . . .
33. and the whole city was gathered together near the door,
34. and he healed many who were ill of manifold diseases, and many demons he cast forth, and was not suffering the demons to speak . . .
35. And very early, it being yet night, having risen, he went forth, and went away to a desert place, and was there praying;
36. and Simon and those with him went in quest of him,
37. and having found him, they say to him, — `All do seek thee;’
38. and he saith to them, `We may go to the next towns . . . .
39. And he was preaching in their synagogues, in all Galilee, and is casting out the demons,
40. and there doth come to him a leper, . . .
41. And Jesus having been moved with compassion . . .
42. and he having spoken, immediately the leprosy went away from him, and he was cleansed.
43. And having sternly charged him, immediately he put him forth,
44. and saith to him, `See thou mayest say nothing to any one . . .
45. And he, having gone forth, began to proclaim much, and to . . .
Note the present and past-continuous/present tenses, the “immediately’s” or “straightaways” — harking back to the “Make His Paths Straight!” in the introduction, and the direct speech also in present tense . . . All these were discussed in my previous part 1 of this series. They are as important to think about as much as the literary allusions, puns, inclusios (book-end/bracketing narratives) and mimesis of classical and Jewish texts. Something is going on here and it needs addressing as much as those attributes that some see as marks of “literary genius” in Mark. (In the colour-coding above I have, I confess, relied entirely on the Young’s Literal Translation without having checked the Greek text itself.)
And when he does not use And he still gets it “wrong”
Thirty-seven times in the Gospel Mark not only avoided “and” as a connector, he omitted any connector at all to link sentences that cry out for some verbal joint. The technical term is asyndeta, meaning “not joined together”. While asyndeta has been said to have been a characteristic of Aramaic, it is also found as a characteristic of colloquial (and other, even literary) Greek. One example (unable to find the other 36 at the moment) :
Jesus said, ‘Truly I say to you, one of you will betray me, one who is eating with me.’ They began to be sorrowful. (14:19)
This too is a device used in emotional or deliberately impressive narration or discourse. . . . The unusual omission of a connective between the words of Jesus and the following sentence produces the same effect as silence in a conversation when a delicate point has been touched upon. (pp. 115-6)
These can be defined as a break or lack of sequence in the structure of a sentence. This is hardly tolerable in a written document, but it occurs constantly in everyday speech. Some thirteen instances of anacolutha can be found in the Gospel of Mark. Not all of these instances consist of confused sentence structure . Some, by reproducing the effect of oral narration, suggest very well the sequence of thought in life while they “illustrate the popular character of Mark’s Greek and . . . are due to the rapidity of the movement of thought and action.” (p. 116, quoting Taylor, “The Gospel According to Mark”, p. 50)
And that you may know that the Son of Man hath authority on earth to forgive sins — he saith to the paralytic — I say to thee, Rise, and take up thy couch, and go away to thy house. (2:10-11)
but to sit on my right and on my left, is not mine to give, but — to those for whom it hath been prepared.’ (10:40)
And they reasoned with themselves, saying, If we shall say, From heaven; He will say, Why then did ye not believe him? But should we say, From men — they feared the people: for all verily held John to be a prophet. (11:31-32)
And whatever place does not receive you or listen to you, as you go forth from there, shake off the dust that is under your feet for a testimony against them. (Mark 6:11)
The last example is taken from the TruthOrTradition site, where it is correctly explained that the correct ending should be “it”, not “them”, to refer back to “place”. Mark is mimicking natural speech in preference to correct grammatical style.
The stylistic features here strongly suggest a Gospel that is to be read in a rush, with an emphasis on the oral performer’s gestures and tone of voice to bring out special emphases. Alongside the present or continuous past tense and repetition of immediately”, they suggest a Gospel to be read at a single performance, at a fast pace, but not without dramatic pauses. And all in Everyman’s everyday speech.
What implications does this have for other more literary features such as mimesis, inclusio doublet scenes, and the concluding chapter’s mirroring of those images and motifs found in the earlier chapters?
Thinking. Thoughts welcome.
To conclude this series in another post.
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