For all posts in this series: Roger Parvus: A Simonian Origin for Christianity
One problem with accepting Mark as a Simonian/Pauline allegory (see the previous post) is the role it gives to John the Baptist. As it stands canonical Mark seems intent on presenting John as the foreshadower of Jesus. His preaching of repentance foreshadows the preaching of it by Jesus (Mk. 1:15) and then by Jesus’ apostles (Mk. 6:12). The rejection of John’s authority by the chief priests, the scribes and the elders (Mk. 11:27) foreshadows the rejection of Jesus’ authority by the same. John is the end-time Elijah whose suffering and mistreatment foreshadow what happens to Jesus as the Son of man (Mk. 9:12-13). And John’s execution, as recounted in one of longest episodes in Mark (6:17-29), foreshadows that of Jesus.
The story of John is the only section in the gospel which is not specifically about Jesus. Even this, however, is narrated because what happens to John points to the one who follows him — as did the earlier section about John at the beginning of the gospel. John’s death foreshadows that of Jesus: there are even similarities in the stories, since both John and Jesus are put to death by political rulers who recognize their goodness, but who are described as weakly giving in to pressure. (Morna D.Hooker, The Gospel According To Saint Mark, Black’s New Testament Commentaries, pp. 158-159.)
Mark would have us believe that the resemblance between the ministries of John and Jesus was such that “people were saying, ‘John the Baptist has been raised from the dead,’” (Mk. 6:14) a sentiment which is also put on Herod’s lips: “It is John whom I beheaded. He has been raised up.” (Mk. 6:16)
Now, I have a hard time accepting that a Simonian/Pauline allegory would devote that much attention to John. Neither John nor Elijah is ever mentioned in the Pauline letters. There is no indication in the letters that Paul believed Elijah had recently returned and prepared the way for Jesus. Paul reproaches the Jews for their unbelief but never brings into it their failure to accept the preparatory testimony of John the Baptist. If John was an important figure to Paul, I expect that failure would have been a normal part of his upbraiding. But no, Paul seems to have little time for Jewish history or figures, whether recent or not. He skips that and instead connects Jesus with pre-circumcised Abraham.
Must we abandon then the thesis that Mark is a Simonian/Pauline allegory? I’m not yet ready to do that, for it seems to me that there is a decent possibility that the Baptist passages were not originally part of Mark. They do, after all, contain problems that scholars have recognized for some time. The usual way to deal with the problems is to claim that Mark was probably working with various earlier traditions and his weaving of them into his narrative was not always smooth. Perhaps, but since for various reasons the tradition scenario itself is questionable, I think we should also remain open to the possibility that the problems were caused by a reworking of the text. A Simonian/Pauline allegory featuring a Jesus who foreshadowed Simon/Paul may not have been acceptable to a rival Christian. He or she may have reworked it to set Jesus up with a different hero, John the Baptist.
We may be so accustomed to how Mark begins that we fail to realize how strange it is.
So let’s look at the passages in question, the first of which occurs right at the beginning of Mark:
1. The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, Son of God, 2. as it is written in Isaiah the prophet, ‘Look, I am sending my messenger ahead of you to prepare your way. 3. A voice crying in the wilderness — Prepare the way of the Lord; make his paths straight.’ 4. John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.
We may be so accustomed to how Mark begins that we fail to realize how strange it is. No sooner is Jesus Christ named than attention is immediately shifted to John the Baptist. And the shift occurs not by naming John — that doesn’t happen until verse 4 — but by quoting verses from Scripture. And Mark presents the verses as being from Isaiah, but in fact verse 2 appears to be a combination from Exod. 23:20 and Mal. 3:1. In Matthew and Luke that verse clearly has the Baptist in view, but in their gospels it turns up later as part of a passage often assigned to Q. And in their gospels it is not attributed to Isaiah.
In regard to the misattribution of verse 2 scholars offer various explanations:
Mark may have taken over the combination of texts from Christian tradition — possibly already gathered together in a testimony book (i.e. a collection of Old Testament passages used by the early church) — and perhaps wrongly assumed that the whole of what he was quoting came from Isaiah. Or perhaps he chose to mention Isaiah because it was of special importance to him. Another possibility is that Mark quoted only the passage from Isaiah, and that v. 2 was added later. (Hooker, p. 35)
Thus some scholars acknowledge that verse 2 may be an interpolation. But even if it is, does it really matter much? After all, verse 3, with its “voice crying in the wilderness,” surely does refer to John the Baptist, no?
I’m not so sure. According to Robert Guelich, in all other instances when the expression “as has been written” is used as an introductory formula, it always refers back and never forward in its context (“The Beginning of the Gospel — Mark 1:1-15,” Biblical Research 27; 1982). Unless one is prepared to argue that we are dealing here with an exception, whatever quotation followed the expression should refer back to Jesus Christ mentioned in verse 1, not forward to John the Baptist in verse 4.
Now in this instance the context might seem to demand an exception. The “voice crying in the wilderness” does look to be John’s, for the passage goes on in verse 4 to say that “John appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” The ‘wilderness’ in the verse 3 quotation matches up with John’s ‘wilderness’ in verse 4. Notice, however, that if John is removed from the passage, we are still left with a perfectly good context for a wilderness figure, but it would be Jesus instead of John. For after the Baptist section Mark has Jesus going “into the wilderness” (Mk. 1:12) and staying “in the wilderness” for forty days (Mk. 1:13). And as Mary Ann Tolbert notes in her book “Sowing the Gospel:”
Jesus’ preaching mission in Galilee is often linked with wilderness places (erēmos topos): soon after the start of his ministry, he goes out to a wilderness place to pray (1:35); then, as his fame spreads, he can no longer enter towns openly and so stays out in a wilderness place but people still come to him from everywhere (1:45); and both incidents in which Jesus feeds the multitudes after teaching and preaching to them for days occur in wilderness areas (6:31, 32, 35; 8:4). Throughout the sowing of the word, Jesus repeatedly embodies ‘the voice of one crying in the wilderness’ (1:3) – p. 245.
There is then, to my mind, still a respectable chance that the original Mark opened like this, with Jesus, not John, preparing the way of the Lord:
The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, Son of God, as it is written in Isaiah the prophet, “A voice crying in the wilderness — Prepare the way of the Lord; make his paths straight.
a preaching mission by the obtuse Twelve seems incongruous
Something else that leaves me uneasy is the way John’s repentance message is handled. Jesus, as if he was following in the footsteps of John, is presented as immediately preaching repentance (Mk. 1:15). But after that he never does so again. And right before the account of John’s execution the Twelve too are made to preach repentance (Mk. 6:12). But again, something is not quite right. We are told that when Jesus sent out the Twelve he “gave them authority over unclean spirits” (Mk. 6:7). No instruction was given to preach repentance or anoint with oil. Yet according to Mark as it now stands “they went off and preached repentance. They drove out many demons, and they anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them” (Mk. 6:12-13).
Markan commentators have noticed that a preaching mission by the obtuse Twelve seems incongruous here. To account for its presence recourse is usually had to the use of an earlier tradition.
The tradition is certainly pre-Markan, since this picture of a mission by the disciples to some extent contradicts Mark’s own portrayal of them as far from comprehending the truth about Jesus — and therefore about the gospel — at this stage of the ministry. (Hooker, p. 155)
But, again, I am wondering if interpolation explains the situation better. The original would have had them simply casting out demons. That is something Jesus could have empowered them to do even if they did not yet understand the gospel message. And it is something we see them doing three chapters later. They attempt to cast out a mute spirit yet without any accompanying sermonizing or anointing (Mk. 9: 14-29). Thus their preaching of repentance as well as Jesus’ could be insertions that serve to make readers interpret the gospel as being in conformity with John’s teaching.
An Artificial Sandwich
The mission of the Twelve is divided in two by Mark’s account of John’s execution. At first glance it might seem that this is another instance of Mark’s ‘sandwich’ technique. On closer inspection, however, it turns out that this sandwich is different from the others. Unlike them, “There seems no logical connection between the two themes…”, notes Morna Hooker, and the result is that the account of John’s death comes across as a “somewhat artificial insertion” (Hooker p. 158).
Joel Marcus thinks that:
The story probably existed in substantially its present form before it was incorporated into Mark; in contrast to most other Markan passages, it makes no use of the historic present but is told exclusively in the imperfect and aorist, although the pluperfect would have been more appropriate to its present context… (Mark 1 — 8, The Anchor Yale Bible, p. 397-398).
Marcus also notes that the transition to the story is carried out “none too smoothly,” for “Herod hears about the disciples but comments about Jesus” (p. 398). The “awkward” transition, says Marcus, “may reflect an earlier version of the story in which he (Herod) actually heard something about Jesus… perhaps an uncomplimentary remark that Jesus had made about him or his family… one that reminded him of John.” But couldn’t the awkward transition reflect that the passage is an interpolation? And wouldn’t this also explain why the supposed sandwich here is not like the others. Any interpolation inserted into the middle of a passage would create this kind of sandwich.
I am wondering, then, whether an interpolator has been at work here. The original passage could have consisted simply of parts of verses 7, 12 and 30:
7. He summoned the Twelve and began to send them out two by two and gave them authority over unclean spirits […] 12. So they went out and […] drove out many demons […]. 30. And the apostles returned to Jesus and told him all that they had done […].
I tell you that Elijah has come… (Mk. 9: 12-13)
There are missing links here, and they are not easily restored
Another problematic Markan passage about John occurs three chapters later. It doesn’t actually mention John by name, but he definitely appears to be the figure Jesus has in mind when he says: “I tell you that Elijah has come and they did to him whatever they pleased…” (Matthew later spelled it out: “Then the disciples understood that he was speaking to them of John the Baptist” – Mt. 17:13). The whole passage goes like this:
9. As they were coming down from the mountain, he charged them to tell no one what they had seen until the Son of man should have risen from the dead. 10. So they kept the matter to themselves, questioning what rising from the dead meant. 11. And they asked him, ‘Why do the scribes say that Elijah must come first?’ 12. And he told them, ‘Elijah does indeed come first and restores all things, and how is it written regarding the Son of man that he must suffer greatly and be treated with contempt? 13. But I tell you that Elijah has come, and they did to him whatever they pleased, as it is written of him.
This confusing conversation is presented as taking place as Jesus and his disciples were walking down the mountain after the Transfiguration. The conversation gives us, as C. Clifton Black puts it, “Mark at his most obfuscatory” (Abingdon New Testament Commentaries — Mark, p. 208). The obfuscation is such that many Markan commentators agree with D.E. Nineham that “… we should not dismiss too lightly the suggestions of interpolation or dislocation…” (The Gospel of St. Mark, The Pelican Gospel Commentaries, p. 239).
The subject of the conversation is first about the Son of man and his rising from the dead, but then the disciples ask about Elijah. As Morna Hooker notes, “The logic behind the disciples’ question is far from clear, since it seems to introduce an abrupt change of subject. It is possible that Mark has in fact added a separate tradition at this point…” (The Gospel According To Saint Mark, p. 219)
And this is followed by another turn. Jesus, in answering the disciples’ question about Elijah, brings us back to the Son of man with these words: “… and how is it written regarding the Son of man that he must suffer greatly and be treated with contempt?” (Mk. 9:12b). D.E. Nineham comments: “The abruptness and apparent inconsequence of this question constitute an undeniable difficulty” (The Gospel of St Mark, p. 240). The conversation then turns again and ends by coming back around to Elijah.
Commentaries on this passage often provide tentative proposals about how it should be filled in. The thinking is that “There are missing links here, and they are not easily restored” (F.W. Beare, The Earliest Records of Jesus, p. 144). I’m not convinced, however, that missing links caused the problems. Continuity seems to be reestablished by simply removing Elijah/John from the passage. Once that is done we are left with the apostles trying to understand two things about the Son of man: (1) what his rising from the dead means, and (2) how it is written about him that he must suffer greatly and be treated with contempt. The passage would look like this:
9. As they were coming down from the mountain, he charged them to tell no one what they had seen until the Son of man should have risen from the dead. 10. So they kept the matter to themselves, questioning what rising from the dead meant [… ] 12b. and how is it written regarding the Son of man that he must suffer greatly and be treated with contempt?
Assigning the second question to the disciples also makes sense in the larger context, for Jesus, in the episode before the Transfiguration, had begun to teach them that
the Son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again (Mk. 8:31)
|Regarding the scripture referred to in Mk. 6:12b, Morna Hooker rightly notes that “there is no direct prophecy of suffering for the Son of man in the Old Testament” (The Gospel According To Saint Mark, p. 220). “But”, Hooker adds “it is perhaps implied in the description of the suffering of the remnant of Israel in Daniel 7.” I suspect that the scripture in question is the one I wrote about in posts 7, 8 and 9: the Ascension of Isaiah. It not only contains a direct prophecy of suffering for a divine Son who will look like a man, it also directly prophesies his rejection by the children of Israel, a contemptible death for him — crucifixion — and a resurrection after three days.|
John’s baptism again
After this adamant refusal Jesus ultimately tells them anyway
The last Markan reference to John occurs in chapter 11. At that point Jesus is in Jerusalem and he brings up John’s baptism in order to deflect a question. The chief priests, the scribes and the elders had asked him about his authority. He parries by asking them a question about the authority behind John’s baptism. It is a question he knows they won’t answer. When they don’t, he says: “Neither shall I tell you by what authority I do these things” (Mk. 11:33).
One oddity here is that after this adamant refusal Jesus ultimately tells them anyway:
Have you not read this scripture passage: ‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; by the Lord has this been done, and it is wonderful in our eyes’ (Mk. 12:11)
As part of his reply Jesus tells the parable of the tenants. Many scholars are convinced it has been reworked in various ways. And some hold that the son in the parable is John, not Jesus (e.g., A. Gray, D. Stern, P. Parker, C.S. Mann). But I am wondering whether it was present at all in the original Mark. The plural “parables” at Mk. 12:1 doesn’t match up with the singular “parable” at Mk. 12:12. So it may be that the original parable, i.e. riddle, here was the rejected stone of Psalm 118. Remember that for Mark a parable need not be anything developed or story-like. Jesus first speaks in parables in chapter 3 of Mark, and there the word is used for a kingdom divided against itself (Mk. 3:24) and then for a forced entry into a strong man’s house (Mk. 3:27). So here the parable could be the rejected stone that becomes the cornerstone. If so, when the Tenants parable was inserted the singular ‘parable’ was switched over to a plural in one verse (12:1) but overlooked in the second (12:12).
Where does this leave Jesus’ “embarrassing” baptism?
As I see it, there is enough uncertainty about the above passages to justify doubt that John played any significant role in the original Markan gospel. And this means I am skeptical even about John’s baptism of Jesus and the descent of the Spirit that accompanies it. In canonical Mark the Spirit descends in connection with the baptism and immediately drives Jesus into the wilderness (in a Dodge Spirit?). But then, — just as with John’s repentance message — the Spirit goes missing. No Spirit is mentioned driving Jesus forward at any other points in his ministry. And the Spirit’s descent “like a dove” is also a bit peculiar. Those words have “been taken as secondary by some” (Guelich, Mark 1-8:26, Word Biblical Commentary, p. 32). And, notes the same author, “the absence of clear precedent for identifying the dove symbolically with the Spirit, despite the extensive literary use of the dove in ancient literature… makes any explanation of the dove’s role in this pericope… tenuous at best…” (p. 33). At times I have toyed with the idea that the words “hōs peristeran” (“like a dove”) are replacements for others, the “periastrapsai phōs” (“light shone round about”), for instance, with which Acts’ depicts Paul’s vision in Acts 22:6, but who knows?
In any case, I suspect that, at most, John’s baptizing activity in a proto-Mark may have simply furnished the occasion on which Jesus saw the heavens torn open and heard the voice from coming from it. In this scenario the vision and voice experienced by Jesus could function as a foreshadowing of the similar experience Paul allegedly had while approaching Damascus. The Jordan would be Jesus’ Damascus. Similarly, Jesus’ subsequent departure for the wilderness would foreshadow Paul’s going into Arabia – without a push from the Spirit. So when all is said and done we would be left with a gospel that opened something like this:
The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, Son of God, as it is written in Isaiah the prophet, “A voice crying in the wilderness — Prepare the way of the Lord; make his paths straight.”
As Jesus was coming from Galilee to the Jordan where John was baptizing, he straightway saw the heavens torn open. And a voice came from heaven: “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well-pleased.” And straightway Jesus went into the wilderness. And he was in the wilderness for forty days, being tempted by Satan. He was among the wild beasts, and the angels ministered to him.
The conventional wisdom is that John’s baptism of Jesus was only reluctantly included in the Markan gospel. The baptism’s momentary subordination of Jesus to John was somewhat embarrassing but could not be avoided since it was supposedly such a well-known fact to the early Christians. But what I am proposing is that the baptism was not part of the original Markan gospel at all. And its subsequent insertion was not reluctant at all. It was done on purpose by a fan of John’s who was looking to bring the proto-Markan Jesus into line with John.
But if someone went to the trouble of modifying the proto-Markan Jesus in this way, wouldn’t he/she also give him Baptist things to say? That seems reasonable and this is where Q may come into play.
Q and the Baptist
Q, of course, is the hypothetical source that many scholars think Matthew and Luke drew from, at least for the sayings which they have in common with each other but not with Mark. Although Q proponents disagree to some extent about its contents, in all proposed models John is prominent.
One of the more surprising features of Q is the amount of space devoted to John the Baptist. John’s preaching is set out in detail in Q 3:7-9 and in 3:16f , and a long section a little later in Q (7:18-35) discusses the position of John in some detail. So too John’s ministry is evidently given a significant place in the saying Q 16:16 … (I)t seems clear that there is also in Q wholehearted support for John’s teaching and a willingness to incorporate the tradition of his teaching into Q itself with no hint that John’s message had been superseded, or rendered in any way invalid, by the ministry of Jesus himself. (Christopher M. Tuckett, Q and the History of Early Christianity, pp. 108-109)
More recently Clare K. Rothschild has taken this further and written a persuasive book arguing that “current models of Q suggest that, at some early stage in its undoubtedly complex pre-history, Q existed as a source containing Baptist traditions exclusively.” By ‘Baptist’ she does not necessarily mean John himself but “unknown representatives (comparable to the also unknown NT evangelists) associating themselves with his name or movement” (Baptist Traditions and Q, p. 3)
Rothschild bases her case on the
(1) double attribution or the attribution of certain sayings to John in Q, but to Jesus elsewhere; (2) contradictions between Jesus’ sayings in and outside of Q, (e.g., fasting/feasting, afamilial/familial, itinerant/urban, didactic/charismatic, spiritual-moral/physical, traditional [stressing obedience to the Law, including purification]/iconoclastic [flouting Law on certain points, denying efficacy of purification rites, including dietary (Mk 7:1-23, 7:14)] and expectant/fulfillment eschatology), and (3) thematic continuities between Q sayings and Baptist traditions. (Baptist Traditions and Q, pp. 8-10).
Regarding the thematic continuities Rothschild points out that
Despite the paucity of evidence in the NT about John, all of the major themes of Q can be connected to his few traditions…. (1) the announcement of the coming kingdom…; (2) eschatological warnings…; (3) pronouncement of punishment on this generation and its leaders…; (4) rejection of traditional family structures…; (5) the rigors of an itinerant, wilderness lifestyle…; (6) warnings of persecution…; and (7) wisdom sayings. (Baptist Traditions and Q, p. 98)
Q and Mark
Were insertions intended to correct particular Pauline teachings in proto-Mark?
Now although Q was first hypothesized to account for a number of sayings shared by Matthew and Luke, there have always been Q proponents who held that Mark knew and used it too. Mark, both absolutely and relative to its length, easily has the fewest teachings of Jesus. Yet interlaced among these teachings are sayings which are Mark-Q overlaps. M. Eugene Boring, in discussing this situation writes:
Within the framework of the two-source theory, this problem has usually been expressed by the question: Did Mark know Q?’, with numerous scholars standing on each side of this debate. The dilemma is clear: If Mark did not know Q, then how can we account for the several places where he seems not only to overlap Q and Q-like materials but to be excerpting from them (e.g. 6: 7 – 13?) If he knew Q, then how can we account for his using so little of it and for his selection? The chief argument, in fact, in favor of the theory that Mark did not know Q has been that he would surely have included more of it had he known it. (Sayings of the Risen Jesus, p. 197)
But the failure to use more of Q is only a problem if one assumes that the author of Mark aimed to tell us as much as he knew about Jesus and his teachings. I, of course, question that assumption. I am proposing that the saying were added by an interpolator and his aim could have simply been to bring the proto-Markan Jesus into the Baptist orbit. To accomplish that limited goal extensive use of Q would not have been needed. It would have been enough to just put a significant number of Q sayings on the lips of Jesus. Mark has about 70 sayings-units. Roughly half of those are arguably Mark-Q overlaps. So it would seem that, assuming Q is of Baptist provenance and was used to modify proto-Mark, Baptist teaching is well represented relative to the overall amount of that gospel’s sayings material.
A related question in this scenario is: Did corrective considerations guide the interpolator’s choice of which Q sayings to add? In other words, were his insertions intended to correct particular Simonian/Pauline teachings in proto-Mark? At times it does not seem so. There are passages where the connection between the sayings is very loose, seemingly tied together based on little more than catchwords. See, for instance, Mk. 9:42-50. But at other times it is easy to think that the interpolator was aiming at more than a representative sample of Baptist teaching. Thus, for example, the Q-overlap sayings in Mark 4:21-25 break up the parables around them and seem intended to correct the secretive purpose that proto-Mark attributed to the parables. Many Markan commentators eagerly latch onto the sayings “Does a lamp come in to be put under a bushel, or under a bed, and not on a lampstand? There is nothing hid, except to be revealed; nor is anything secret, except to be brought into the open” (Mk. 4:21-22). These verses are thought to bring some welcome balance to the troublesome verses about secrecy earlier in the same chapter (Mk. 4:10-12). The balance they bring allows one to think that Mark’s “secrecy or hiddenness is apparently intended to serve the purpose, not of obscurity, but of clarity and openness” (Tolbert, p. 87).
|Why, by the way, does v. 21 make reference to both a bushel and a bed? Doesn’t “under a bushel” make the point clearly enough? I am wondering whether the bed was brought into this because the interpolator had in view rival Christians whose get-togethers were rumored to be promiscuous and involved some kind of formal extinguishing of lamps. Justin, in a chapter of his First Apologia devoted to Simon, Menander (Simon’s successor), and Marcion, writes: “And whether they perpetrate those fabulous and shameful deeds—the upsetting of the lamp and promiscuous intercourse, and eating human flesh—we know not…” (ch. 26, my italics)|
Another example: In Mark 6 there is preaching mission by the dense Twelve which, as already noted, seems somewhat incongruous. As part of their send-off Mark provides a few mission instructions that overlap to some extent with Q. The instructions seem innocent enough at first glance, but they do address things that were a subject of controversy between Paul and his Corinthian opponents. The Markan Jesus forbids the bringing of any food, sack, or money (Mk. 6:8). And by telling his missioners: “Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you leave that place” (Mk. 6:10), he implies that their hosts are to provide for their needs. These do not appear to have been practices that Paul embraced. He was criticized for not living off his Corinthian hosts. So again, I am thinking that corrective intent may have here guided the selection of which mission instructions to borrow from Q.
The eschatological discourse
The end of the discourse could be the original answer
The most substantial corrections, however, may be in Mark’s longest continuous speech, the so-called eschatological discourse located in chapter 13 of Mark. It is presented as Jesus’ response to two questions:
Tell us, when will these things happen? And what will be the sign that all these things are about to be fulfilled? (Mk. 13:4)
It turns out, as we learn twenty-eight verses later, that Jesus doesn’t know when these things will happen: “Of that day or that hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” (Mk. 13:32). And he appeals to his ignorance as a motive for constant vigilance: his followers must be on high alert because no one —including he himself—knows when the time in question will arrive. But why then are end-time signs given in the intervening verses, signs which cannot help but undercut the urgency of Jesus’ warning?
Long ago T. W. Manson in his The Teachings of Jesus (pp. 261ff) suggested that verses 32-37 at the end of the discourse could be the original answer to the first question in verse 4. I too am thinking that may be the case. And I am thinking that almost all of the intervening verses are a subsequent insertion/correction. I say ‘almost all’ because I am inclined to retain verse 10: “The gospel must first be preached to all nations”. This functions more as a prerequisite than as a sign, and it is usually considered an outlier. Morna Hooker, for instance, writes:
This saying is an enigma. It interrupts the argument abruptly, and without it the argument progresses smoothly from v.9 to v.11. Matthew and Luke seem to agree with this judgement, since the former moves it to the end of the section, and the latter omits it altogether. It is also missing from the parallel passage in Matt. 10.17-21. It looks very much as though Mark has inserted the saying into the tradition. (The Gospel According to Saint Mark. p. 310).
But if verse 10 looks out of place it may be because Q material has been inserted around it. The verses on both sides of it (9 and 11) are Mark-Q doublets, as also are many other verses in the vv. 5-31 signs section of the discourse. That this section has borrowings from a Jewish-Christian document — a Little Apocalypse — was first proposed by Thomas Colani in the 19th century. And that it has much in common with another Jewish-Christian apocalypse concerned with signs — the book of Revelation — has also been noted by many (see, for instance, Sayings of the Risen Jesus, by M. Eugene Boring, pp. 193-195).
Looking at this from the perspective of my Simonian/Pauline Proto-Mark hypothesis, the original end-time destruction foretold in the discourse would presumably have God as its agent, not the Romans. According to some sources, Simon expected this world would be destroyed, not transformed. The saved were destined for heaven, not a transformed world. And if Simon was Paul, I doubt he gave much shrift to supposed signs that would precede that destruction. Paul’s end-time preoccupation was to evangelize the world.
So I am thinking that the signs material may be the alien elements in Mark 13. The original discourse would have simply had Jesus foretelling that the gospel must first be preached to all nations before the end-time destruction occurs. The Father alone will determine when the gospel has been sufficiently preached to the world. In this scenario the Proto-Markan eschatological discourse would have consisted of this:
1. And as he came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, teacher! What wonderful stones and what wonderful buildings!” 2. And Jesus said to him, “Do you see these great buildings? There will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.” 3. And as he was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter and James and John and Andrew asked him privately, 4. “Tell us, when will these things happen?”5. Then Jesus began to say to them: 10. “The gospel must first be preached to all nations. 32. But of that day or that hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 33. Take heed, watch, for you do not know when that time will come. 34. It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves his house and puts his servants in charge, giving each his task, and he commands the doorkeeper to keep watch. 35. Watch therefore — for you do not know when the master of the house will come, whether in the evening, or at midnight, or at cock-crow, or in the morning — 36. lest he should come suddenly and find you sleeping. 37. And what I say to you, I say to all: ‘Watch!”’
Among the signs provided by the eschatological discourse there is particular insistence on the appearance of false Christs. It is the first sign:
Then Jesus began to say to them: “Take heed that no one leads you astray. Many will come in my name, saying ‘I am [he!]’ and they will lead many astray.” (Mk. 13: 5-6).
And the same idea resurfaces later in the discourse:
“And then if anyone says to you then, ‘Look—here is the Christ!’ or ‘Look, there he is!’, do not believe it. For false Christs and false prophets will arise and will perform signs and wonders in order to lead astray, if possible, the elect. Be take heed; I have told you everything beforehand” (Mk. 13: 21-25).
It is extraordinarily difficult to know who these imposters are, or what they are claiming.
These supposed prophecies were likely written after the events in question had taken place (vaticinia ex eventu). That makes it all the more interesting that there is so great uncertainty regarding the identity of the false Christs. Morna Hooker, for instance, writes: “It is extraordinarily difficult to know who these imposters are, or what they are claiming.” (The Gospel According to Saint Mark, p. 306). And usually the fallback solution is that they must be figures like the Judas and Theudas that Acts 5:36-37 brings forward. The problem though is that “it is not certain that any of these made messianic claims, and certainly they did not come ‘in Christ’s name’” (D. E. Nineham, The Gospel of Saint Mark, p. 345).
Moreover, the first prophecy seems to indicate that the pretenders will claim to be in some way Jesus himself. If so, it is thought we are at an impasse, for “if these men were actually claiming to be Jesus, we are dealing with a problem for which there is no evidence elsewhere…” (Hooker, p. 307). Or as Nineham puts it, we would be dealing with “pretenders, otherwise unknown to us, who actually claimed to be Jesus himself returned from on high” (Nineham, p. 345).
But are such pretenders really “otherwise unknown to us?” Is there really a total lack of evidence elsewhere? Hard evidence, yes, but there is the fact that all of the earliest proto-orthodox heresy hunters consistently name Simon of Samaria as the first and most notorious false Christ. And according to Irenaeus, Simon claimed to be “the Son who suffered in Judaea” (Against Heresies, 1.23). And after Simon’s death a disciple of his named Menander made the same claims that Simon did: “After him Menander, his disciple (likewise a magician), said the same as Simon. Whatever Simon had affirmed himself to be, this did Menander equally affirm himself to be…” (Pseudo-Tertullian, Against All Heresies, c. 1). So in my opinion these two have to be considered the likeliest candidates for the false Christs “foretold” by the eschatological discourse. True, in Mark 13:6 Jesus says that “many” will come in his name. But if this oracle was emitted after Menander had succeeded Simon, the emitter would have had reason to believe and fear that a precedent had been set, and that other successor Christs would follow. The oracle may have been worded so as to cover that eventuality.
The new Jesus not only does not foreshadow Simon/Paul, he vehemently disowns him.
Between the above warnings about false Christs there is another perplexing sign, one of importance especially to those “who are in Judaea” (Mk. 13:14): the appearance of the abomination of desolation standing where he should not. The fact that Mark modifies the neuter noun ‘abomination’ with the masculine form of the participle ‘standing’ is taken by many scholars to mean that the sacrilegious figure he has in mind is some man, not some object such as a statue or altar. But, again assuming we are dealing with a vaticinium ex eventu, it is remarkable that the identity of the figure has proved so elusive.
If my identification of Paul and Simon of Samaria is correct, we would have a solution to the difficulty. The abomination of desolation would be one of the false Christs. He would be Simon/Paul. Simon claimed to be the Son of God, a claim that could be viewed as blasphemous by some. And if he was Paul he apparently entered the temple sometime around the year 60, an entry that could be viewed by some as a desecration of the temple. The blasphemous Simon/Paul was standing where he ought not.
Now one could object that Simon/Paul does not sufficiently fit the desolation oracle, for those in Judaea are told to flee Judaea for the mountains (Mk. 13:14) as soon as the desolation figure stands where he ought not. Judaea was not devastated until several years after Paul’s visit to the temple. So why the need for swift departure? But no one has ever been able to identify any event from that period where immediate departure was necessary for survival. So perhaps the bit about fleeing without delay was just a dramatic device. The oracle aimed to dramatize the magnitude and inevitability of Judaea’s sad fate which, in the prophet’s eyes, was sealed from the moment that Simon/Paul set foot in the temple. As the prophet saw it, Simon/Paul’s desecration of the temple put Judaea under a horrible curse. To a curse of that magnitude the only appropriate response was to set off at once for the hills.
If this interpretation is correct, the most biting correction to Proto-Mark was in the signs section of eschatological discourse. Proto-Mark, I have proposed, was a Simonian/Pauline allegory which featured a Jesus who foreshadowed and prepared the way for Simon/Paul. The creator of canonical Mark, after inserting the Baptist and his teaching throughout the allegory, has placed in the eschatological discourse oracles that directly albeit in veiled fashion (“Let the reader understand!”) condemn Simon/Paul and his claims. The new Jesus not only does not foreshadow Simon/Paul, he vehemently disowns him.
|In regard to timeframe: when I began this series I was inclined to put the date of Proto-Mark’s composition around 100 CE. But if my breakdown of the eschatological discourse is correct, it now seems to me that the mid 60s is more plausible. I tend to think the Proto-Markan eschatological discourse would have been written differently if the writing had been done after the destruction of the temple by the Romans. For one thing, its Jesus wouldn’t confess ignorance about the time schedule. The timeframe for canonical Mark, on the other hand, could be anywhere from the early 70’s to around 130.|
My best guess, at least for the moment, is that there was a Simonian/Pauline Proto-Mark. And that subsequently its Jesus was forcibly hybridized by the author of canonical Mark.
Clare Rothschild, in her Baptist Traditions and Q, writes that “the abundance of Q traditions and themes duplicated in Mark suggests that the beginning of the assimilation of the Baptist and Christian traditions began, not with Q’s integration in the compositions of the First and Third Gospels, but with their Markan ‘forerunner.’ Not only did the authors of Matthew and Luke incorporate Q traditions into their accounts of Christian origins, but the author of Mark did too — this author, in fact, initiating the tradition of assimilation. Indeed once Mark had established the precedent, the authors of Matthew and Luke were emboldened to open the floodgates, incorporating as many, now written, Q traditions as they considered helpful to a persuasive, accurate and clear depiction of Christian origins. (p. 171)
I too think that Q was used in the production of canonical Mark. And while I am persuaded by Rothchild’s arguments about a Baptist origin for Q, I am not convinced that the Q traditions were brought in as part of a friendly assimilation, that the author of Mark was in effect “cutting a compromise with two groups” (Baptist Traditions and Q , p. 171). As is clear from this post, to me there are too many rough spots in Mark, too many indications of a hostile takeover. My best guess, at least for the moment, is that there was a Simonian/Pauline Proto-Mark. And that subsequently its Jesus was forcibly hybridized by the author of canonical Mark.
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