There is nothing . . . improbable that for certain purposes an abbreviated version of the Gospel might be desired; but only a lunatic would leave out Matthew’s account of the Infancy, the Sermon on the Mount, and practically all the parables. (Canon Streeter, The Four Gospels, p. 158, cited in Dungan . . .)
David Laird Dungan cited the above passage from Canon Streeter’s The Four Gospels, p. 158, in his chapter in Jesus and Man’s Hope.
Dungan does proceed to offer evidence from the second century Patristic writings that someone really might have written an abbreviated Gospel that removed all the birth narrative and a very large portion of the teachings of Jesus. He quotes Irenaeus:
[Marcion] mutilates the Gospel which is according to Luke, removing all that is written respecting the generation of the Lord, and setting aside a great deal of the teaching of the Lord . . . (Against Heresies, 1:27:2)
And from the fourth century, Epiphanius:
For indeed [Marcion’s] Gospel appears to resemble Luke, but having neither beginning, middle, nor end [!], giving the appearance of a garment gnawed by many moths (Pan. adv. Haer. 42.11 — Dungan’s quotation, with his emphasis)
The mistake of assuming a single Gospel trajectory
Dungan next addresses the assumption that all the Gospels based on Matthew and Luke were intended to complement them. He quotes Beare:
It is hard to imagine why Mark should ever have been written, if it was designed for the use of churches which already possessed and were using Matthew and Luke. Who would want this ‘apocopated’ version of the gospel story?
Beare, says Dungan, further ‘goes on to assert that the “whole history of the use of the gospels in the church” bears out this contention.’ Dungan’s replies:
The fact is, the whole history of all known Gospels bears out precisely the opposite: many Gospels were created or used in opposition to Matthew and Luke — apocopated ones, elongated ones, all kinds. For example, Epiphanius tells us the Ebionites had a “forged and mutilated” Gospel that was like Matthew except that its birth narratives were cut off, which they used to the exclusion of all other Gospels (adv. Haer. 30.13.2 ff.). The Gospel of the Egyptians likewise was used by a group in opposition to Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Marcion certainly rejected the use of Matthew and canonical Luke, according to the testimony of Tertullian, Irenaeus, and others. Indeed, he had a most “apocopated” Gospel for his churches, many of which had no doubt been using Matthew and Luke previously. Tatian’s Diatessaron was apparently an anti-Marcionite version, but he did not seem to have any qualms about completely remoulding the Gospel tradition, and thereby displacing the Gospels of his forebears. The Gospel of Peter may have served as a replacement for the canonical Gospels, in that it is a sort of harmony of all four (as Vaganay shows, . . . ), and is clearly stemmed from a milieu where the four canonical Gospels were well known, but not too well liked apparently (see Eusebius, H.E. VI 12.4 f.). In short, during the early second century, it was not at all uncommon to turn away from canonical Matthew and Luke, either by rejecting them completely, or combining parts of them into new Gospels which then superseded them, or simply pitting John against them (see especially R. M. Grant, Earliest Lives of Jesus, p. 28 ff.). (p. 94)
Christians who might have produced a Gospel of Mark
Irenaeus writes of those who taught Jesus was separate from the Christ though in the one body for a time:
Those, again, who separate Jesus from Christ, alleging that Christ remained impassible, but that it was Jesus who suffered, preferring the Gospel by Mark (adv. Haer. III 11.7)
Some Christians seemed to interpret Mark’s passion account in a way that Simon of Cyrene, not Jesus, was crucified. Dungan adds:
This seems to fit with the odd remark of Hippolytus, who said concerning the Marcionites . . . : “when therefore Marcion or some one of his hounds barks against the Creator, and adduces reasons from a comparison of what is good and bad [i.e. from Marcion’s writing, the Antitheses], we ought to say to them that neither Paul the apostle nor Mark . . . announced such (things). For none of these doctrines has been written in the Gospel according to Mark” (Syntagma VII 18 ANF V 112). (p. 95)
What to make of this linking of the Gospel of Mark to Marcionites? Tertullian and Irenaeus tell us that it was the Gospel of Luke that Marcion redacted — “although apparently Marcion denied this”. I have earlier posted the discussion from Tyson’s book on Marcion and Luke-Acts that present strong arguments that it was indeed a version of Luke’s gospel that Marcion adapted for his own. So how to explain Hippolytus’s remarks?
Dungan cites the “showcase evidence for the Two-Document hypothesis”. In Mark’s account of the rich man addressing Jesus as “Good Master” and asking what he must do to inherit eternal life, Mark’s Jesus replies: “Why do you call me good? No-one is good but God alone. . . .” (Mark 10:17 f.). Matthew, on the other hand, has the rich man say, “What good thing must I do to have eternal life?” and Matthew’s Jesus replies: “Why do you ask me about what is good? One there is who is good . . . ” (Matt. 19:16 f.)
Now the point always made in discussions of this passage is that no-one in the early church would have reformulated Mark’s version out of Matthew’s. It is generally considered a piece of show-case evidence for the Two-Document hypothesis. But Hippolytus claims that Marcion had this passage in his Gospel, and interpreted it a special way:
“For this reason, [Marcion] affirms, Jesus came down unbegotten, in order that He might be liberated from all (admixture of) evil. And He has, [Marcion] says, been liberated from the nature of the Good One likewise, in order that He may be a Mediator, as Paul states [Gal. 3:19] and as [Jesus] Himself acknowledges: ‘Why call ye me good? there is one good’.” (Hippol. Synt. VII 18 AFN V 113). (p. 96)
Thus it is quite possible that, for the Marcionites and probably others, Luke’s or Mark’s Gospel accounts would have been preferable to Matthew’s. Mark’s (and Luke’s) accounts can be used to distinguish the Marcionite “Good God” revealed by Jesus from the Old Testament God of the Jews.
Given this possibility, it is quite reasonable to think of Mark’s gospel as being composed later than Matthew’s, and being dependent upon Matthew’s.
Dungan stresses that he is not arguing that the Gospel of Mark was the Gospel used by the Marcionites. Such a view would require a thorough re-evaluation of all the Marcionite studies published till now. But their gospel was certainly something like Mark’s.
The political context of de-Judaizing Jesus
S. G. F. Brandon has proposed an anti-Jewish motivation for the creation of Mark’s gospel — a motivation that explains the character of its contents, and especially its omissions. Dungan refers to his works, The Fall of Jerusalem and the Christian Church (1968) and especially Jesus and the Zealots (1967). Brandon proposes a date around the fall of Jerusalem in 70.
But Roman anti-Jewish sentiment may have run higher for several decades after that, when word came back of the many insurrections during the year 115-117, and especially after the great Bar Kochbah (Ben Cosibah) Rebellion in 132-135. It is interesting to note that the two waves of gospel-producing activity seem roughly to correspond to the lull following the two major rebellions in 67-70 and 132-135. Using Brandon’s suggestion, therefore, as a way of accounting for the specific character of Mark’s contents (and omissions), namely, as an attempt to “de-Judaize” Jesus, we can readily see on Griesbachian terms how Mark could have been produced in Rome anytime between 70 and the first sure, extensive reference to it (in our form), namely, Tatian’s Diatessaron. (p. 97)
I am aware of a range of literary and textual arguments that are not addressed here and that are used to argue for the priority of Mark. I will attempt to address some of those in future posts. The point here has been to show the broader contextual possibility and possible motivations for wanting to produce a Gospel like Mark’s in response to one like Matthew’s.
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