Why Is the Gospel of Mark in the New Testament?

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by Neil Godfrey

Lion of St Mark by Vittore Carpaccio
Lion of St Mark by Vittore Carpaccio

I recently completed Michael J. Kok’s exploration of why the Gospel of Mark came to be associated with the apostle Peter and included in our canon despite appearing at first glance to be little more than a synopsis of the other gospels and little used by the early church according to the extant records, and despite having a “questionable past” among the “heretics”. His book, The Gospel on the Margins: the Reception of Mark in the Second Century, is a published version of his PhD thesis.

When I first read the Gospel of Mark I was stunned. I was a devout young Christian attending the local Methodist church and had decided to read the four gospels in sequence for the first time. I had a nifty paperback new English translation of them that made the project appealing for a young teenager. The Gospel of Matthew was pretty much as I had expected. But the Gospel of Mark left me confused. It was not light. It was dark. Foreboding. Nothing like Matthew at all and nothing in my Sunday school classes had prepared me for it. Lucky Luke came next and restored my image of an approachable and compassionate Jesus with a loyal following with whom I could identify.

Fast forward many years and I am no longer a Christian but I have chosen to follow through my earlier interest in the Bible and now enjoy learning what I can about its origins from a historical perspective. One thing I have learned is that the Gospel of Mark appears to have been cited very rarely in the early literature of the Church Fathers. The Gospel of Matthew appears most frequently. However, most scholars have concluded that Mark was the earliest gospel that was written. Matthew and Luke repeat — generally with subtle but significant modifications — large portions of it; many scholars also believe the Gospel of John was composed in some sort of dialogue with Mark and a little digging quickly shows us why they have come to this conclusion.

So if the Gospel of Mark does so easily disturb one immersed in orthodoxy and if it was so little used among the earliest Fathers then why was it copied with revisions by later evangelists and even incorporated into our New Testament canon?

Recall some of its “strange” features: 

Jesus suddenly appears without any background explanation as to where he has come from, or why. Immediately after his baptism he is declared to be a son of God as he is possessed by a spirit that drives him into a wilderness. There he dwells with wild beasts and contends with the devil. Angels come to his rescue. That sets the pace for the remainder of the gospel: Jesus is swept from one dark crossroads to another in rapid succession until he vanishes as mysteriously as he entered. When he enters Capernaum demons cry out in his presence, also declaring him to be the Holy One sent from God, and they horribly convulse the persons they possess as Jesus drives them out. Jesus confuses those around him. The look for him and when they find him he tells them he must leave straight away. He enters into more confrontations with demons and with scribes and Pharisees from Jerusalem. When he confronts and defeats a particularly vicious legion of demons across the “sea” the whole region is in fear of him and beg him to leave. When he teaches his followers he makes it clear he speaks in riddles to keep them in darkness. Even when he explains his teaching to his disciples they fail to understand and are forever at cross purposes to his will. He even calls their leader Satan. Meanwhile he himself is transfigured into an unearthly appearance and once again a heavenly voice declares him to be the Son of God. When his disciples are in fear for their lives at sea Jesus miraculously walks on water but proceeds to bypass them completely until they scream out for him. Nonetheless his disciples swear they will never leave him even when commanded to take up their crosses and follow him; but they do flee in the night and in their places strangers and criminals are compelled to bear their crosses. After his death at the time the sun is covered in darkness, when he finally released his final breath (or spirit?) with a great shout, his body is entombed but then vanishes. A mysterious young man tells his women followers to go to Galilee with the other disciples to see him but they run away in great fear and say nothing to anyone.

What can a narrative like this be all about? Such a story invites studies like John Carroll’s The Existential Jesus. An unprepared reader (certainly one who has not yet learned to read Mark and smooth out its stark strange edges through the perspective of Matthew or Luke) concludes the gospel with some of the fear of the fleeing women. It’s not an easy gospel to talk about. Jesus is as fearful and unfathomable as the ancient God who strikes dead even well-meaning followers who touch the sacred ark of the covenant.

The theological messages likewise defy orthodoxy. Is Jesus really declared to be the Son of God only at the moment the spirit possesses him after his baptism for the forgiveness of sins? Why does an early manuscript lead us to believe that Mark’s Jesus was actually angry with the leper who begged to be healed? Are followers really healed by their own faith alone and not by that of Jesus? How can followers truly follow Jesus as he commands, giving away all their possessions and turning their backs on their families? What happened to the spirit at the time of his death?

It’s a strange gospel indeed.

So I am always on the lookout for any further insights into the history of this gospel and how it came to be a part of our canon.

Enter Michael Kok’s The Gospel on the Margins: the Reception of Mark in the Second Century

That elusive (apparently early second century) Papias whose writings on Mark we know from Eusebius is called in as the first witness. Kok examines the various claims and traditions about this gospel and its author made by Papias and found in the early records (e.g. Irenaeus, Clement) and suggests that some of these arose out of early attempts by “orthodoxy” tame Mark, to make it acceptable.

For example, Papias is said to have excused certain deficiencies in Mark’s gospel by claiming that their author wrote everything down as he remembered it all from Peter’s teachings. This does not really describe the Gospel of Mark as we know it, however, and I don’t recall if Kok ever discussed that anomaly in any depth. No-one would ever suspect it is a jumbled mess of chronological gaffes. Matthew and Luke did not change too much of its sequence, after all. This makes me wonder if Papias had ever even read the gospel and was relying upon hearsay. Either that, or the gospel he knew looked significantly different from the one that has come down to us. The point I took away from Kok’s argument, however, is that such an excuse or story arose as part of an early attempt to give some respectability to this gospel. Excuses were needed to justify its inclusion in what became the canon.

Other stories proliferated: Peter did not bother to check the gospel after it was composed by his secretary; Mark wrote it only after Peter had died and was unable to cross-check the details; Mark’s fingers were mutilated or short and this may have been a metaphorical way of backhandedly criticising or “explaining” the deficiencies in the gospel. Or was the text cut short for some reason thus leaving ambivalent details unexplained?

The main detail of these early stories was the role of Peter, says Kok. By associating the gospel with the chief apostle all its sins could be forgiven.

And what were those sins?

According to Irenaeus the gospel was known to have mixed with bad company in the past.

Irenaeus reveals that the students of Valentinus, Basilides, and Carpocrates were invested in Mark. Some of the recurrent texts in the debate, such as Mark 1:9-11; 10:17, or 15:34, seemed to some interpreters to distance the human Jesus from the divinity and support a separationist Christology where the celestial entity possessed Jesus at the baptism and vacated the premises at the crucifixion.

Another way to bypass the paradox of how a divine being could suffer was to disallow that Jesus died at all by substituting Simon of Cyrene in his place. [A strictly literal reading of Mark makes it technically possible to interpret the narrative as indicating Simon of Cyrene took the place of Jesus on the cross.– my note]

Groups legitimated their elucidation of the Jesus tradition by equating it with the hidden gnosis or “mystery” that Jesus imparted to his disciples.Other esoteric themes in Mark could perform this function as well. [Mark speaks of the “mystery” of the kingdom of God and the apparent modern discovery of a “Secret Gospel of Mark” increases the possibility in the eyes of a few scholars that our Gospel of Mark was meant as an introduction to deeper secrets. — my note]

Finally, some Alexandrians took the injunction to voluntary poverty in Mark 10:17-21 too literally and Clement had to neutralize this through his allegorizing and moralizing exegesis.

In the end, Mark was too dangerous to be left in the wrong hands. (p. 285 — my formatting)

Bringing the lost gospel into Peter’s fold was not sufficient, however.

As mentioned above, other evangelists had to change it. Matthew rewrote the baptism of Jesus and the descent of the Holy Spirit so that Jesus was not being baptized for the forgiveness of any sins but rather because “it was the right thing to do”. The motions set the example even though there was no need for any spiritual cleansing. Moreover, the spirit did not fall down from heaven into Jesus, possessing him and driving him to do anything. It gently glided down upon him and presumably sat on his head like a pigeon on a statue. The preceding birth narrative explained unambiguously who this man Jesus really was from the outset. I have written several other posts here pointing to the differences between Mark and the other gospels and demonstrating a theological motive behind the changes.

Not that the Gospel of Mark was the only gospel tainted by questionable company. Irenaeus informs us that Matthew was the gospel of choice among the Ebionites (who believed Jesus was a man only, the biological son of Joseph); that Luke was the favourite among the Marcionites; and John was the beloved of the Valentinians. We are frustrated by having available only the very tips of icebergs here. So much of the history we would love to know is lost. Some scholars (or at least one I have read) suggests that the Ebionites might well have been more gnostic than we have been led to believe; others suggest it was a proto-Luke that was actually embraced by the Marcionites and that our canonical Luke is a rewritten (sanitized) version of that; and see Roger Parvus’s posts for interesting possibilities for the Gospel of John. The “proto-orthodox” Fathers appear to have been interested in creating creating genealogical lines of succession back to the twelve apostles and Jerusalem and “catholicizing” the church by “baptizing” and revising a range of texts all for the purpose of establishing a legitimacy in their struggles with rival Christians.

But if the Gospel of Mark was not the only tainted gospel of the synoptics it was certainly the most in need of redemption.

Unfortunately we are still left in the dark about the origins of this gospel. Kok refers to it as a narrative of Jesus’ life, a “bios”. That’s a widespread view but one I find difficult to embrace without reservation. The narrative strikes me as far too redolent of symbolism, metaphors, mysteries, puns, unnatural events, to be truly a ‘life’. Character and crowds come and go according to theological demands; settings change from house to wilderness, from Galilee to gentile territory and Judea, with thinly veiled theological associations; names of both persons and places bear a striking correspondence to plot developments. Again this is a topic I won’t repeat here since I’ve posted on it very often in the past here and at vridar.info.

A “life” narrative of Jesus begins with Matthew and Luke. They transform Mark into a form of ancient biography as I understand the genre.

This segues into mentioning a new book I must read before I post anything more on the question of Mark’s genre: The Art of Biography in Antiquity by Tomas Hägg. It’s an expensive one, unfortunately, so I hope I can access it via the Darwin library’s interlibrary loan service.

Another view I am patiently waiting to read is Roger Parvus’s discussion of further details of his Simonian origin thesis. I suspect that could open up a whole new pathway to explore the gospel’s association with Simon Peter.

Kok has outlined his thesis at Bible and Interpretation. See Why Did the Gospel of Mark Survive?


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56 thoughts on “Why Is the Gospel of Mark in the New Testament?”

    1. I wish people would stop assuming Peter was a fisherman. If this occupation for the “fishers of men” isn’t a Markan invention, then why doesn’t Paul use this comparatively lower status of Peter in his arguments?

  1. I always presumed Mark was included because it was the earliest Gospel. If it wasn’t the earliest, it would have no authority at all. I guess it was so popular for so long that it was included almost by default.

    Now I come to think of it, I think this is what David Trobisch says in The First Edition of the New Testament.

    1. Right. It seems reasonable to assume that Luke and Matthew both represent conscious attempts to revise and expand Mark in order to make it a better church document. If everyone in Polycarp’s day had been able to agree on either Luke or Matthew, maybe there would only be that one canonical (or maybe one synoptic + John). But evidently they could not agree and some churches were still using (something closer to) the original version, so the compromise had to include all three synoptics. I doubt Mark as we know it is really the original version, but it could very well be a different style of revision: more like a quick-and-dirty hack job, taking out chunks of text that were theologically inappropriate, totally unlike Matthew and Luke, rewritten from the ground up.

      The above is all pretty superficial guesswork and there could be much better hypotheses, but it seems like a reasonable first guess.

  2. Hi,

    I often listen to audio versions of the gospels to get to sleep….and dare I say it , very effective. All except Mark …which gives me , well, unpleasant visions shall I say. Especially as the old JC gets hoisted before I can drop off.

  3. I had assumed it was that Jewish and Gentile groups (and camps) came later. Matthew and Luke were their gospels. Who were the groups whose gospel was Marks?

  4. When your list of some of Mark’s “strange” features is made, you write that, “When his disciples are in fear for their lives at sea Jesus miraculously walks on water but proceeds to bypass them completely until they scream out for him.”
    Rather than fearing for their lives, a careful reading might allow that the disciples are just having a tough time making headway against an adverse wind. Conflating Mark with Matthew and Luke, however, might put the disciples in fear for their lives. The same goes for, “they scream out for him” which might better be put as, “cried out because of him.”
    And, it might be a conflation to say, “…miraculously walks on water.” Mark says, “…on the sea.” Matthew introduces, “on the water” that one could sink in. Mark credits the disciples’ as being “utterly astounded” about the miracle of the loaves, and possibly that the wind ceased (when they conceivably put in for Jesus to get in their boat), but not astonishment about not sinking into the sea. Is our untamed Mark just making an understatement here? If we only had the first Gospel would we not assume that Mark intended to communicate only that Jesus was walking in the shore waters and intending to pass them that way and being mistaken for a ghost?
    I’m just wondering because I have long been perplexed by the reason given for the disciples being astounded.

    1. You are right. The disciples were struggling in a great headwind and we are not told they were in fear for their lives. I misremembered that bit. And yes, Mark always speaks of the “sea” of Galilee. I take the narrative as portraying Jesus walking on the sea towards the disciples, however. (But then we are told he was walking on past them!) There are several moments throughout the gospel that we find an unexplained fear or amazement. I read all this as building up an awe, a mystery, around Jesus.

      It is always possible, but entirely speculative, that critical references that would explain this fear more directly have been removed at a very early stage of the gospel.

      Incidentally, a number of scholars are wanting to ditch form criticism and criteria of authenticity and return to the gospel narratives as primary sources for understanding Jesus by means of the impact he had on his disciples. I would be interested to know how many of these scholars focus on such fear and amazement passages in Mark.

  5. Maybe this answers several concerns. Paul, who c 56 ACE preceded GMark, stressed a civil spirit or mood. Putting aside lust, fear, anger. Mark seconds that. Picturing it however, as an exorcism of the old, destructive, animal emotions.

    Both teaching the temperament of Roman civilization. Keeping civil, and calm.

  6. Thank you for interacting with the book; I appreciate it. I will just add a few clarifications on a few points.

    First, I believe Papias took Mark’s Gospel to be a record of Peter’s preaching on the Lord’s sayings/deeds, but used the term “taxis” (order) to refer to Mark’s literary or rhetorical arrangement in contrast to a well-crafted composition such as Matthew’s Gospel (e.g., complete narrative from birth to vindication, five teaching discourses). However, you are right to point out that Matthew and Luke do not really depart from Mark’s chronology and other scholars who judge chronology to be Papias’s concern tend to think that Papias favoured Johannine chronology (e.g., Martin Hengel, Richard Bauckham), but I argue for my own view in the section on Papias in chapter 5.

    Second, you sum up my views well about how various 2nd century “Gnostics” read their own views into Mark’s text (i.e., the divine Christ possessed the human Jesus at the baptism, Simon of Cyrene was crucified, the “mystery” that Jesus taught was their secret gnosis), though I would distinguish their concerns from those of the first century Jewish author of the Gospel.

    Third, rather than seeing Mark’s Gospel as an introduction to deeper secrets, I consider “Secret Mark” to be a later work of a 2nd century Alexandrian scribe who elaborated on points in Mark’s narrative such as the “mystery of the kingdom”, the rich man, or the youth in the linen cloth (I recognize that the authenticity of this text is hugely controversial so I mostly bracket it to an appendix and point out that Irenaeus already told us that the Carpocratians were citing Mark’s “mystery” in Against Heresies 1.25.5).

    Finally, I look forward to your post on Tomas Hägg’s book; another possibility for why Matthew and Luke may accord better with the bios genre is that Mark was intentionally parodying some of the values of elite biographers such as their interests in an illustrious geneology or birth story of their subject as argued by David Aune in “Jesus, Gospel Tradition and Paul in the Context of Jewish and Greco-Roman Antiquity.” Thanks again.

    1. Following Doherty and many others, it seems to many of us that an early Platonistic emphasis on “spirit” preceded Marcion and gnosticism proper. And so a proto-gnostic sentiment, Platonism, is not just second century. But can be found in Paul say. Heb. 8.5 et passim.

      It is found perhaps in even Peter. But also in Mark’s emphasis on Jesus exorcising bad spirits, to allow the spirit of God to enter.

      So Papias missed a few early proto-gnostic, spiritual elements in Mark.

    2. Thanks, Mike. A couple of points:

      Isn’t one of the arguments for the authenticity of Secret Mark its close textual affinity to the Gospel of Mark itself? If so, does that not militate against it being a later scribal product? (I admit it is a long time since I have read Secret Mark arguments and I have a more recent work on it still waiting on my shelf to be read.)

      And yes, I did depart from much of your own argument re Papias and fell back upon a question that has dominated my own mind. I took your own handling of this to be worth a full topic on its own and will perhaps treat it separately in a future post. (My own perspective in addressing the Papias evidence has been somewhat coloured by a 1904 comment by a certain E. Schwarz that I have quoted a few times now, e.g. here.)

      1. Interesting quote by E. Schwarz about Papias and I also found Luise Abramowski’s chapter on the Memoirs of the Apostles in Justin valuable. I know that I am definitely not the last word on Papias; I am also looking forward to checking out Stephen Carlson’s postdoctoral work on the reception of Papias.

        The hard time I have with seeing “Secret Mark” as an original part of Mark (cf. Koester, Crossan, Meyer) is that an editor almost completely omitted the story yet overlooked 10:46 (leaving Jericho without anything narrated there) and 14:51-52 (leaving an enigmatic, previously unidentified youth in a linen cloth) and I am not convinced by Scott Brown’s view that the Secret Mark form a Markan sandwich when inserted back into Mk 10. With no other ancient reference besides Clement of Alexandria, I think that an Alexandrian scribe immersed in Mark’s phraseology decided to fill in the gaps on Mk 10:46 and 14:51-52 and created a story to counter the negative example of a rich man in Mk 10:17 as here a rich youth forsakes everything to be a disciple except for his burial shroud. One could argue that a modern forger could imitate Mark’s style, but I find the counterarguments that Morton Smith may not have had the level of Greek to pull off a letter by Clement and seemed to misinterpret his discovery persuasive. If it turns out to be a forgery all along, I have tried to point out that the accepted writings of Clement and Irenaeus already criticize an alternative reading of the Markan story of the rich man and of the Carpocratian interpretation of the “mystery” in Mark.

  7. If was Mcn the Earliest Gospel, then the reason for putting Mark into Canon was only in virtue of his disseminated (but still very few and superficial, therefore ipso facto suspect) clues of anti-marcionism (beginning with the Prologue that talks about John the Baptist as link to OT).

    1. ? But in Mark 1, John immediately defers to Jesus, when the spirit from heaven (home of spirits and Platos ideal forms) unites with Jesus.

      More Marcion than not. And then there is the massive preoccupation with exorcising evil spirits and demons that really defines Mark.

      To me Mark looks 70% proto Marcionite. Albeit disguised or toned down.

      1. Or–if Roger Parvus is right–Mark betrays the influence of Simon Magus (Paul) who, seemingly, was a precursor to Marcion, the latter’s theology a watered-down version of Simon’s (without allegorizing and gnostic mysteries–at least not as much). That, to me, explains the proto-Marcionite elements in Mark–its writer belonged to a sect precursor to Marcion’s, the Simonian/Pauline sect.

        Since Mark is not explicit and speaks in riddles, it’s deceptively easy to confound Marcionite influence with Simonian authorship. At least that’s how I’ve come to view it. I’ve always found the Marcionite elements in Mark interesting, but never was able to accept a late 2nd century date along with Marcionite authorship.

        1. Thanks. But be sure to look too, at Platonism and animism, as precursors of Paul in turn. Much of anthropology thinks religion came from the belief that invisible spirits make inanimate matter move and live.

  8. Neil,

    There are a few points that I think can help you with this problem you have with Mark. First you have to understand what it meant to be Orthodox and Heretic in the 2nd century. The dividing line was not over the nature of Christ, whether he had any human element in him or not – there was wide variance in both camps – but the properties of God. If you held the God of Creation, the Law (Mosaic) and Prophets was one and the same as the High God who’s Christ had come, then you were Orthodox, whether Christ had human flesh or was adopted or whether he was only divine – the Trinity had not yet been invented (*). You were a Heretic if you believed the High God was unknown and Christ unannounced, having nothing to do with the “demigod” (or Angel if you prefer) who Moses knew. Again what you thought of Christ did not matter.

    If you look at it from that standpoint, the Marcionite, and the Johannine (in at least the first two layers) were fully heretical, while Mark is undeniably orthodox. The Catholic layer on the gospel of John is so thin, and almost all the heretical elements remain in the gospel, that I am left wondering how that one got into Canon. By comparison Luke’s layer over Marcion is like a hundred foot high glacier of material and adjustments, only a few anomalies remain.

    I think the biggest hurdle we have in looking at what it meant to be orthodox or heretic is the considerable downplaying of the divinity of Jesus. Modern Christains strike me as somewhere between Adoptionist and Arian, emphasizing the physical human nature of Jesus, trying hard to eliminate the divine elements in the stories. So we look at Mark, which while sharing the one God concept presents divine creature that seems so inhuman we are flummoxed.

    (*) I am suspicious of Irenaeus actually being a 2nd century writer. He is alone in defending the trinity by at least 50 years placing his writings at the end of the reign of Commodus. Perhaps what we have is a second hand who wrote on top of the original – it would explain some glaring incongruities in AH. Anyway the trinity is the concept that pulled together various factions with a nature of God that allowed a variety of emphasis and swallowed up over time most of the differences in the Orthodox camp. On Papias, I suspect he is completely an invention of Eusubius. Like all other characters Eusubius writes about, they can only be taken as real if we have other independent sources.

  9. Jesus “came from nowhere”. I am inclined to believe that the gospel “chronology” was based on or forced to fit the prophecy in Daniel regarding the 70 Sevens and the “cutting off” of the Messiah (i.e. execution) after three & a half years which would help to counter the impact of the curse on hanged men.

  10. I think the reason that Mark was included in the canon is due to the possibility that the “orthodox” were the latecomers in early Christian history. If these gospels were already popular among the “heretics” and widespread before proto-Catholics started catholicizing, then they had no choice but to co-opt this gospel in their (Marcion-derived) canon. How could they be the “whole” church if a significant portion of Christians they wanted to gather into their fold who were using this gospel weren’t included?

    It may also be that Mark was the least heretical gospel out of the ones available, if we are going by Irenaeus’ post-facto argument for why there are four gospels.

  11. Just a comment in response to various commenters on the originality of Marcion’s Gospel. I am aware of the current academic debate over whether Marcion edited canonical Luke, canonical Luke and Marcion’s Gospel independently derived from a proto-Luke, or canonical Luke redacted Marcion’s Gospel. However, the problem I have with the thesis that Marcion’s Gospel pre-dates all four NT Gospels is that the earliest explicit reference to Marcion in Justin Martyr (1 Apology 58) implies that Marcion is still alive ca 150 CE, so I do not think he was born earlier than the last quarter of the first century. I remain convinced that the Gospels of Mark and Matthew are first century texts based on the earliest external references (e.g., Matthew copied Mark; references to Matthew in the Didache and Ignatius) and the internal evidence that Mark is written sometime around the Jewish War and with the expectation of the imminent coming of the Son of Man within a generation of Jesus. I also think that the legal debates in Mark and Matthew presuppose the normative authority of Torah and are intra-Jewish halakhic debates over extra-biblical oral traditions (e.g., what constitutes work on the Sabbath, the importance of hand-washing to prevent the transmission of impurity to food), questions that would be of no interest to Marcion who believed Jesus came to liberate Christians from the law of the inferior Demiurge, and the church fathers tend to agree that Marcion’s Evangelion had some kinship with Luke’s Gospel (including the quote from Irenaeus in the above post). For those interested, there are some posts by Dieter Roth on reconstructing Marcion’s Gospel in critical interaction with Markus Vincent’s thesis over at Larry Hurtado’s blog and Daniel Gullotta interacts with Marcion scholarship (Jason DeBruin, Joseph Tyson, Sebastian Moll, etc) on his blog.

    1. Yes, Mark addresses Jewish food and work laws. But only in order to modify them in a gentile direction. Which an early hellenized Jew – and a later Marcionite proper – would like.

      1. I think Mike is referring to James Crossley’s argument that the Gospel of Mark “records” what are in effect intra-Jewish legal debates between Jesus and the Pharisees. I have addressed these elsewhere. Suffice to say I find them too laden with questionable assumptions and bypassing without comment other ready at hand simpler and more plausible explanations that cohere more satisfactorily with the larger narrative.

    2. the problem I have with the thesis that Marcion’s Gospel pre-dates all four NT Gospels is that the earliest explicit reference to Marcion in Justin Martyr (1 Apology 58) implies that Marcion is still alive ca 150 CE,

      Why ca 150 CE? (I am aware of Justin’s reference.)

      I have other difficulties with the Gospel of Mark being linked with Marcion but that’s another question that is too complex to address in comments here, I think. Maybe I can try a post on it — seems to be quite a bit of interest and varation of views. I’ll be waiting for Roger Parvus to complete his series first.

    3. What is the evidence for the Didache knowing GMatthew?

      I have a vague recollection of seeing the argument reversed with Didache even being identified with Q.

      1. Hi Neil, I looked up the reasons for the dating of Justin Martyr’s “First Apology” and found some useful info on the dating in Erwin R. Goodenough, “The Theology of Justin Martyr,” pp. 80-81 (on Google preview).

        Hi Sili, I think the Didache’s distinctive titular use of “gospel” in its time (cf. 8:2; 11:3; 15:3-4) including a closely parallel version of the Lord’s prayer in the “gospel” (8:2) suggests the use of Matthew as well as other potential parallels (cf. Christopher Tuckett). You may be remembering Alan Garrow’s “The Gospel of Matthew’s Dependence of the Didache” (cf. his website) that I have admittedly not read, though I did listen to the author present on the Synoptic Problem while at Sheffield and consulted a few reviews online (Paul Foster, Sean Adams). My impression of Garrow’s lecture is that he is a brilliant and innovative scholar, but it would take a lot to convince me of his thesis that Matthew was relying on Mark, an early version of the Didache (his Q source) and Luke and, from the reviews, he seems to assign the above “gospel” texts to a later redactional layer after the completion of Matthew’s Gospel rather than see them as possibly refuting his thesis on which way the lines of dependence run.

        1. It’s a long time since I tried to find out the various arguments for Marcion’s date (and Justin Martyr’s date and the integrity of the surviving texts we work with). And some time after that little exercise I read Moll’s disagreement with Hoffmann’s interpretation of Justin’s surprise that Marcion was still active at such a late date – summed up at Marcion’s date. I haven’t caught up with the more recent works on Marcion, however.

  12. I recall that Stephan Huller stated on the old BC&H / HAR fora that Clement of Alexandria was aware that gMark came from an imperial source. In fact, in his Stromata, Clem states that Mark composed his gospels from the notes he jotted down from Peter’s teachings, and presented it to the Romans who heard the preaching and wanted a written copy.

  13. Why should one assume the collections of “logia” that Papias says was compiled by a “Mark”, translator of Peter, is the same text that came to be known as Gospel according to Mark?

  14. Shouldn’t the main question be, why Matthew and Luke were written? Mark seems kind of homogeneous with Paul, and in a different way with Revelation. These are intuitively the ‘real article.’

    The cosy baby Jesuses of Matthew and Luke, the sagacious boy outwitting the learned religious authorities, the uplifting life-messages and ethical big picture of the Sermon on the Mount and that sort of stuff – all of this is what is new. It intuitively has zero to do with the kind of message Paul is preaching, in which the world is undergoing meltdown awaiting the final parousia and enthronement of its global Davidic monarch.

    The difference is obvious and a scholarly commonplace: this great arrival never happens, and the communities Paul was writing for are busily reproducing and metastasizing. They need a normal life message and ethics; they need a religion; they need picturesque details; they need Sunday school material; soon enough they need their own Sabbath and holidays.

    Paul never says anything appropriate for children and doesn’t think there will be any time to bring any of them up. That children even exist only emerges in passing at 1 Cor 7: 14. He is forming a spiritual gentile army for a definite spiritual war, and is not setting up villages and founding cities. God knows who wrote Mark or when, but he is still on message and hasn’t dug in for the long haul. The catastrophic cosmic messianism of Paul and the Jerusalem people he fell in with has not yet turned into an internal personal savior message that can be reproduced ad naus. for another two or three thousand years, or forever if you like, as a sort of Buddhism for the Roman empire. Christianity hasn’t happened yet in Mark.

  15. What are the best, most recent scholarly opinions of the “Secret Mark” of Morton Smith? Was it an IMpious fraud, after all?

    The Second Gospel is a surprising literary achievement in itself, and there are good reasons now to think it came after Matthew.

        1. It’s not like I’ve never heard the Secret Gospel of Mark. Recently a pair of scholars from Sweden (at least one from that country) did a handwriting analysis of Clement of Alexandria’s letter to Theodore and their conclusions essentially cleared Morton Smith’s name. So if it wasn’t Morton Smith it had to be somebody else who forged the gospel, who lived prior to the 18th Century. Carpocrates, perhaps?

        2. And I rechecked that Wikipedia article and it cites more findings from the evidence that Morton Smith could not have done it (although the two Greek paleographers hired by BAR disagree on this).

          1. Scott Brown & Allan Pantuck have criticized Craig Evans on academia.edu but I don’t know where we are regarding expert examination of the original MS.

              1. Extracts from Craig A. Evans, “Fabricating Jesus” (2007), pp.94-97 (references, p.260): “Magnification of the handwritten text reveals…’forger’s tremor’…[Discolorations reveal mildew, suggesting that] the book in question was not originally part of the library of Mar Saba…[A] document Smith dates to the twentieth century is signed ‘M. Madiotes’…facetiously alluding to himself (that is ‘M[orton] the baldhead’).

                “The entire story…is foreshadowed by James Hunter’s ‘The Mystery of Bar Saba’ (New York: Evangelical Publishers, 1940). Indeed, one of the heroes of the story…is Scotland Yard Inspector Lord Moreton”.

                It looks as if this minor joke should be added to the long list of plausible fakes or hoaxes that include the Turin Shroud, Piltdown Man, Moroni’s Golden Plates, Adamski’s Flying Saucers, Blavatsky’s Dyzan Stanzas, Thiering’s Jesus, Hitler’s Diaries, the Aquarian Gospel and the Protocols of the Elders of Zion.

              2. “In particular, on the subject of the handwriting, Roger Viklund in collaboration with Timo S. Paananen has demonstrated that “all the signs of forgery Carlson unearthed in his analysis of the handwriting”, such as a “forger’s tremor”, is only visible in the images Carlson used for his handwriting analysis.”

                I remember when Viklund and Paananen’s paper came out: it was 2011 or 2012 IIRC. And where is “madiotes” in the Greek referring to “bald-head?” Couldn’t find it in Google Translate (Modern Gk) or Tufts Perseus Greek Word Study Tool (Classical & Koine Gr.)

              3. Oh, Stephan Carlson hypothesized that the name Μαδιοτης (Madiotês) came from the verb μαδω (madô) “to lose hair” and “to swindle.” Since the name was not Madiotes, it really does not matter.

  16. “Madiotes…a pseudo-Greek name, whose root means ‘sphere’…in reference to a person, ‘baldy’…Smith was quite bald” (Craig, p.97); see also his other references apart from Carlson’s 170 page study. I don’t mind being proved wrong for thinking this was an academic prank.

    1. The Madiotes-connection has long been proven erroneous. It was an entirely faulty assumption by Carlson who never examined the uncropped photography of MS22, but only the cropped one in Smith’s book.

      Firstly, contrary to Carlson’s suggestion, MS 22 is not a text written by one person, but a set of short texts written by several people. Secondly, the text that Carlson claims is written in the same hand as the Clement letter is not written in the same hand, but in a markedly different one, yet still a characteristically eighteenth-century handwriting. Thirdly, Smith had not dated this text to the twentieth century. He had not dated it at all, nor commented on it. Fourthly, the text is not signed by M. Madiotes. It is not signed at all. That is because the text supposedly written by M. Madiotes is a different hand on the same page. Fifthly, the text said to be by M. Madiotes is written in a different style and upside down in relation to the text Carlson assumed was written by M. Madiotes. Whoever wrote this, wrote nothing apart from the name (his name?). Sixthly, it was therefore only the name that Smith dated to the twentieth century. The text that Carlson mistakenly thought that Smith attributed to M. Madiotes is in contrast written in typical eighteenth century handwriting. All in all, so to speak, six errors of fact! Besides, the name probably was not even Madiotes. Smith in all likelyhood made a mistake in reading the faint name, which seems to have been M. Modestos.

      See Allan J. Pantuck; Scott G. Brown, “Morton Smith as M. Madiotes: Stephen Carlson’s Attribution of Secret Mark to a Bald Swindler”, Journal for the Study of the Historical Jesus 6 (2008) p. 106–125.

    2. I like to use Ockham’s Razor a lot, after getting burned on 9/11. My rule is, don’t assume a conspiracy theory unless you have proof. So far we have not found proof that Morton Smith revealed to anyone (especially Stateside) that he fabricated the letter bound into the book.

      Side call-out to Roger Viklund — thank you so very much for joining in on this debate right after my last post, above. And I wouldn’t doubt that “Madoites” is really “Modestos” in Eighteenth Centurry Greek handwriting. I’ve seen examples of late Sixteenth Century Greek writing in J. Lipsius’ De Crvce and I found it to be utterly illegible.

  17. The handwriting issue (e.g. Burke/Craig, pp.91-93) seems the most decisive aspect, but inconclusive; on the other hand, a variety of little details and coincidences seem to weigh together in favor of “forgery”. Smith’s “Jesus the Magician” is worth reading – the old Jewish charge in a modern version.

    1. Hopefully next month, Timo’s and my article “An Eighteenth-Century Manuscript: Control of the Scribal Hand in Clement’s Letter to Theodore”, will be published in Apocrypha 26. I believe that we rather convincingly show that Agamemnon Tselikas’s study on the handwriting fails when he tries to connect it to Smith’s hand, as he is using palaeographic methods which are not suitable for detecting forgeries. We argue that the only sustainable analysis was done by Venetia Anastasopoulou when she claimed that Smith could not have written the letter and also that the handwriting of the Clement letter is indistinguishable from authentic eighteenth-century handwriting.

    2. PS – Sorry, I meant “Evans” not “Craig” – the Godsquad has too many “Craigs” – Keener, Blomberg, William Lane…and I shouldn’t be writing well after midnight GMT. Will look out Roger Viklund’s article in due course.

  18. Maybe the gospel of Mark was a satire: The Sanhedrin trying Jesus on Passover Eve? Not a chance. And finding him guilty of blasphemy for his messianic claims? There was nothing blasphemous about Jesus, Bar Kochba, or anybody else claiming to be the messiah (though of course they might be mistaken).  And, as Dr. Avalos said, Jesus sets a horrible example, such as telling people to leave their families. You don’t find it even a little comical that Jesus went around teaching in parables when he freely admits that none of the people he was teaching had the key to understand them? lol And the cluelessness of the disciples wondering how Jesus could perform a feeding miracle when he had just performed one. And all those pericopes that were haggadic midrash or mimesis being passed of as history. Maybe Mark was writing a parody or satire of Christians, in the way Aristophanes wrote “The Clouds” lampooning the intellectual atmosphere of his time (especially Socrates). Maybe the young man in the tomb at the end of Mark was a practical joke: the young man lying that Jesus had risen when all that had really happened was he and some of his friends had stolen the body as a prank. 

    1. And yes, there you have it. It almost certainly is a parody. The whole Markan gospel is brimming with all kinds of slapstick, deceit and misunderstanding. The persona of Jesus is portrayed as a scoundrel that successfully talks people out of their money, to give to the “poor”, and is out for free meals wherever he can talk his dupes into it. Never fasting, ignoring the sabbath and foodlaws, makes the description of a party-animal, the bridegroom my foot. In the end the Keystone cops from the temple catch up with him and from then on his quick wit leaves him and he gets his just deserts in the end. The writer must be making fun of people who fall for this kind of charlatan.
      To make it even more juicy, the writer is probably a woman. The Jaïrus daughter pseudo-healing is a dead giveaway, the girl isn’t sick or dead, she just had her menarche, a topic only a knowing woman would turn into a joke. And don’t forget the many diminutive forms in Mark, women of all ages love that.

        1. Could be a real person that gets bashed, just as likely a literary creature by a lively imaginative author commenting on a real social issue of the times. No way to tell for sure.

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