A Simonian Origin for Christianity, Part 17: Mark and Proto-Mark

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by Roger Parvus

John before Herod; Jesus before Pilate
John and Herod; Jesus and Pilate

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)

The Baptist passages contain problems that scholars have recognized for some time. . . . we should remain open to the possibility that the problems were caused by a reworking of the text.

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)


Whose voice?

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.


Preaching repentance?

a preaching mission by the obtuse Twelve seems incongruous

Jesus Sends the TwelveSomething 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?

Baptism-of-Jesus-by-Juan-Fernandez-de-NavarreteAs 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

destructionofjerusalemThe 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!”’


False Christs

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 Abomination

The new Jesus not only does not foreshadow Simon/Paul, he vehemently disowns him.

Paul-in-JerusalemBetween 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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Roger Parvus

Roger Parvus is the author of this post. Roger is the author of A New Look at the Letters of Ignatius of Antioch and Other Apellean Writings and two series of Vridar posts: Letters Supposedly Written by Ignatius and A Simonian Origin for Christianity. In a previous life Roger was a Catholic priest.

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51 thoughts on “A Simonian Origin for Christianity, Part 17: Mark and Proto-Mark”

  1. I can’t thank you enough for these posts, Roger. They have certainly opened my mind to new questions and possibilities that will keep me thinking for some time to come. I think your insights belong alongside those of Earl Doherty and the higher criticism coming out of the Tübingen School.

    One question you did not address in the above post, however. Style. The gospel’s “And then/s..” etc. That’s one area I’d like to have a look with your suggestions in mind. Comments?

    1. Hi Neil,

      I am the one who should be doing the thanking. I cannot thank you enough for allowing me to post my ideas on your blog. And for making the posts reader-friendly by formatting them, adding artwork, etc. And for your patience in putting up with my many delays along the way. I am truly grateful.

      In regard to your question: I’m obviously not an expert on style, but it seems to me that Mark’s is distinctive in a way that would be very easy to imitate. The repeated use of “and then…” by any would-be reworker would already go a long way toward making one’s modification look like Mark’s work. Likewise for the use of Mark’s favorite particles, e.g., straightway.

      And, to turn this around, Mark’s style seems to be one that would be quite easy to “de-Markize”. I assume the authors of Matthew and Luke did not want their readers to know that they lifted material from Mark. If so, they went a long way toward accomplishing that by simply removing or changing his “and thens” and his distinctive particle usage.

      I realize there is more to Mark’s style than that, and it is something I should look into. I would also like to see what other proponents of a Proto-Mark have written on the subject of style. That will have to be for another day.

      1. Can you give some names and works of other proponents of a proto-Mark that I can follow up?

        Where does the evidence in Justin Martyr (esp Trypho) fit in here? I’m thinking in particular of his account of the baptism of Jesus with odd details like John “sitting” by the Jordan and especially the Jordan erupting in (spiritual?) fire as Jesus enters it.

        1. Many of those who have argued for a Proto-Mark (or Ur-Markus) were German and their works have not been translated into English. For example, Johannes Weiss, Hermann von Soden, E. Wendling, Eduard Meyer, E. Hirsch. The English writers I had in mind were: Benjamin Bacon (The Beginnings of Gospel Story, a Historico-critical Inquiry into the Sources and Structure of the Gospel according to Mark), Wilfred L. Knox (The Sources of the Synoptic Gospels, vol. 1, St. Mark), and Arthur Temple Cadoux (The Sources of the Second Gospel). I haven’t read these yet but, as I understand it, they all propose that one or more earlier gospels were used in the production of canonical Mark. They don’t think the earlier gospels in question were Matthew or Luke. I don’t know what they have to say, if anything, about differences in style between the alleged earlier gospels.

          In regard to Justin: I don’t think anyone knows for sure from what source he drew his baptism details. But the Synoptic gospels were likely in existence by the time he was writing, and it is thought some apocryphal gospels had already been written too.

          1. I have begun reading Burkett (thanks for your notice). He opens up with a very powerful case for Matthew and Luke NOT using Mark, and for Mark independently using the same sources used by Matthew and Luke.

            It’s a riveting read.

            Roger — wondering already ways your thesis could be nuanced to accommodate such a model.

            1. I found the following reviews and responses to Burkett’s first book:

              Black, C. Clifton. The Disciples According to Mark: Markan Redaction in Current Debate, Second Edition. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2012. Pages 316-19.

              Burkett, Delbert. “The Return of Proto-Mark: A Response to David Neville.” Ephemerides Theologicae Lovanienses 85.1 (2009): 117-34.

              Carlson, Stephen C. “New Synoptic Problem Book: Burkett, Rethinking Gospel Sources.” Hypotyposeis – Sketches in Christian Origins. 22 Feb. 2005. Web. 11 Sept. 2016. .

              Carlson, Stephen C. “Burkett’s Rethinking Gospel Sources.” Hypotyposeis – Sketches in Christian Origins. 22 Feb. 2005. Web. 11 Sept. 2016. .

              Geyer, Douglas W. “Review by Douglas Geyer.” Review of Biblical Literature. 14 May 2005. Web. 11 Sept. 2016. .

              Peabody, David B. “Review by David Peabody.” Review of Biblical Literature. 12 Feb. 2005. Web. 11 Sept. 2016. .

              Kirk, Alan. “Orality, Writing, and Phantom Sources: Appeals to Ancient Media in Some Recent Challenges to the Two Document Hypothesis.” New Testament Studies 58.1 (2011): 1-22.

              Longstaff, Thomas. “Review of Rethinking the Gospel Sources: From Proto-Mark to Mark.” Catholic Biblical Quarterly 68.1 (2006): 134-35.

              Neville, David. “The Demise of the Two-Document Hypothesis? Dunn and Burkett on Gospel Sources.” Pacifica: Australasian Theological Studies 19.1 (2006): 78-92.

              Neville, David. “The Phantom Returns: Delbert Burkett’s Rehabilitation of Proto-Mark.” Ephemerides Theologicae Lovanienses84.1 (2008): 135-73.

              Pahl, Michael W. “Review of Rethinking the Gospel Sources: From Proto-Mark to Mark.” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 48.4 (2005): 827-28.

              Rodd, C. S. “Review of Rethinking the Gospel Sources: From Proto-Mark to Mark.” Theology 109 (2006): 128-29.

              Taylor, Nicholas H. “Review of Rethinking the Gospel Sources: From Proto-Mark to Mark.” Journal for the Study of the New Testament 28.5 (2006): 57-58.

              The Synoptic Problem: Four Views. Ed. Stanley E. Porter and Bryan R. Dyer. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2016.

              Tuckett, Christopher. From the Sayings to the Gospels. Tübingen, Germany: Mohr Siebeck, 2014. Page 79.

              Watts, Joel L. Mimetic Criticism and the Gospel of Mark: An Introduction and Commentary. Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock Publishing, 2013. Pages 214-16.

          2. I have read a few pages using the Amazon preview. It does look interesting and, since there were used copies available for just a few bucks, I’ve ordered one. Thanks for the recommendation, Paul.

            1. I recently picked up a copy of Burkett’s book after it was mentioned by one of the commenters on Tim’s article about one of the “minor agreements”. I agree with Neil. Burkett’s book is a riveting read and that the case that he builds is powerful. I have been nominally interested in the Synoptic Problem (SP) for several years now. There’s no question that his book has changed the way that I look at this topic (even if, in the end, I end up deciding that I don’t agree with him on every single point). It does an excellent job of shining light on the weaknesses of the generally-accepted solutions that have been proposed for the SP. I feel like I have a much better understanding of the key issues after having carefully read the first six chapters or so.

              I have already pulled together a significant collection of scholarly responses to Burkett’s work (both positive and negative) from journal articles and books. It’s interesting to note that, in the most recent edited compilation supporting the Farrer-Goulder-Goodacre Hypothesis, there is an entire chapter devoted to the task of trying to rebut the first chapter in Burkett’s second volume, which is a book length defense and discussion of Q. I’m not particularly impressed with the attempted rebuttal at this point, but will need to dig deeper into the details in the near future. The edited compilation that I’m referring to is entitled “Marcan Priority Without Q: Explorations in the Farrer Hypothesis”. Apparently his approach is important enough to warrant at least a little bit of special treatment.

              Burkett’s first book has definitely deepened my interest in the Synoptic Problem. In the past two weeks, I have downloaded several journal articles and ordered 9 additional books about the SP, including Burkett’s second volume. It has also motivated me to start studying Greek. I’m currently learning the alphabet.

              In another context, someone remarked that, “The Synoptic Problem is one specific area of inquiry in the larger subject of Gospel Origins. As such, the Synoptic Problem really only deals with the relationship that the Synoptic Gospels have with each other (or the possible relationships). It doesn’t deal with the question of the origins of the material or tradition …”

              I’m in the minority here. I think that the gospels are actually based on historical events. If you’re wondering how in the world that could be, I also recommend the following book:

              Humphreys, Colin J. The Mystery of the Last Supper: Reconstructing the Final Days of Jesus. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011.

              This book discusses the well-known discrepancy regarding the dates of the Last Supper and the crucifixion and proposes a new solution to the problem.

              1. I have already pulled together a significant collection of scholarly responses to Burkett’s work (both positive and negative) from journal articles and books.

                Paul — I have found the following. Any others that you can share? (Not asking for a formal set out like my machine-generated list, though.)

                • Foster, P. (2010). Book Review: Q – a Single Unified Written Source Delbert Burkett, Rethinking the Gospel Sources Volume 2: The Unity and Plurality of Q (Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2009. $35.95. pp. x + 282. ISBN: 978-1-58983-412-5). The Expository Times, 121(9), 469–470. http://doi.org/10.1177/00145246101210090702
                • Jacobson, A. D. (2011). Rethinking the Gospel Sources, Vol. 2, The Unity and Plurality of Q. Catholic Biblical Quarterly, 73(1), 154–155.
                • Kirk, A. (2012). Orality, Writing, and Phantom Sources: Appeals to Ancient Media in Some Recent Challenges to the Two Document Hypothesis. New Testament Studies, 58(1), 1–22. http://doi.org/10.1017/S0028688511000257
                • Longstaff, T. R. W. (2006). Rethinking the Gospel Sources: From Proto-Mark to Mark. Catholic Biblical Quarterly, 68(1), 134–135.
              2. Add to the list Christopher W. Skinner’s review of Burkett’s “Rethinking the Gospel Sources, Volume 2: The Unity and Plurality of Q” (Review of Biblical Literature, 6/20/2010, accessible at https://www.bookreviews.org/pdf/7221_7859.pdf). Skinner describes the content of each chapter of the book and then finishes by giving his own impressions.

                Skinner brings forward this quote from page 250 of Burkett’s book: “the Evangelists functioned primarily as compilers rather than as composers”. To me that seems to be the assumption that underlies Burkett’s first volume too. If that assumption is correct, his case for multiple gospels earlier than the Synoptics looks good. Otherwise, not so much.

              3. Yes, this has been the question in the back of my mind, too, and one that I want to explore more carefully against his respective arguments. But I’m slow. Not even half-way through it yet.

                I’m always guiltily conscious of how much aesthetic preferences seem to have the power to tilt the scales of an argument/assumption/analysis one way or the other.

  2. There are many stories of Christians claiming to have cut up their bibles in order to resolve contradictions, but then giving up and accepting the whole as perfect. Then there’s Thomas Jefferson. Such trite lies in ignorance of the fact that the text as it is often reads as if it was cut up and pasted back together. For believers there is absolutely no awareness at all of any discontinuity or imperfection.

  3. Hi Roger,

    you write:

    The last Markan reference to John occurs in chapter 11.

    Have you thought about 15:34-36 as the true last reference to John/”Elijah” ?

    Under the your hypothesis of an interpolated JtB in proto-Mark, I think that these verses should be interpolations, too, because they link the effective expiation of sins (by Jesus’ crucifixion) with the not-so-effective expiation of sins (by JtB’s baptism ”with water”). The people assume (wrongly) that Jesus is calling a more powerful Jtb/”Elijah”, when the irony is that Jesus’s baptism (”with fire”) is more powerful than Jtb’s baptism, even if in that moment Jesus is abandoned by the Spirit of Christ. The irony would be also that the Jesus baptized by John (a Jesus who is possessed the first time by the spirit of Christ) is paradoxically still a sinner Jesus (in virtue of the intrinsic failure of the JtB’s baptism), while the Jesus who is going to be abandoned by the spirit of Christ (on the cross) is paradoxically a purified Jesus (in virtue of the triumph of the cross).

    Under the hypothesis of a JtB genuine in Mark, I think that his surprising occurrence in Mark serves to define the goal behind the entire Gospel: the total forgiveness of sins cannot be gained by the previous prophets + JtB, therefore the destruction of Israel is required (allegorized by the crucifixion of the son of man).

    1. Hi Giuseppe,

      Yes, there is a reference to Elijah at Mk. 15:34-36. But I’m not sure that it was part of the Baptist reworker’s work. It is presented as a mistake, i.e., the people misheard what Jesus actually said.

      In regard to the baptism “by fire”: Those words are on John’s lips at Mk. 1:8, and I would put them on the Baptist side of the ledger. I think the fiery “baptism” they have in view is the one mentioned in Revelation: “And fire came down from heaven and consumed them. And the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.” (Rev. 20:10)

  4. Hi again Roger. Thanks for this latest installment. I’m afraid I don’t agree on seeing much Paulinism in GMark. I found the Dykstra book very underwhelming. What do you think of the idea that GMark’s attitude is really opposition to any and all apostles who would set themselves up as special mediators with Jesus?

    I’m thinking especially of Mk 10:35-45, the request of James and John, with Jesus’ pomposity-pricking response: “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all.”

    Also I’m thinking of the way the most faithful followers of Jesus in GMark are humble, often going unnamed, and doing no more than simply trust in him, but receive the healing their simple faith warrants. Aren’t these “little ones” who come to Jesus the heroes of GMark, and a rebuke to all leaders of the faith who set themselves up as authorities?

    1. Hi EmmaZunz,

      You ask: “What do you think of the idea that GMark’s attitude is really opposition to any and all apostles who would set themselves up as special mediators with Jesus?”

      I would say Proto-Mark’s attitude is opposition to any and all apostles who do not understand or accept Proto-Mark’s Jesus. And since I think Proto-Mark set Jesus up as the foreshadower of Simon/Paul, in effect the attitude is opposition to any and all apostles who do not understand or accept Simon/Paul’s gospel. For all such are “false apostles, deceitful workers, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ” (2 Cor. 11:13).

      GMark changed that by turning the Proto-Markan Jesus into a kind of disciple of John the Baptist with John’s teaching on his lips.

  5. Hi Roger, you wrote: “Neither John nor Elijah is ever mentioned in the Pauline letters.”

    I do not know if you would count it as original, but Elijah is mentioned in Romans 11:2.

  6. Apparently there was a separate group that followed John only, for thousands of years.

    My guess is that when later Markan authors went seeking to uncover the roots of the Jesus story, some felt that it actually originated mostly from stories of the Baptist. Embarassed by their similarity and possible identity, Marcan editors handled this by proposing the two were “cousins.”

  7. Hi Roger,

    your post has galvanized me!

    First question: do you think that Simon/Paul entered into the temple only in virtue of the relative episode in Acts? Or do you have other evidence of Simon entering in the Temple?

    Second question: Which is the meaning of ”Son of Man” in proto-Mark? Do you think that it is a collective term (see the use of ”sons of men” in 3:28) ? How do you explain the total absence of that term in the epistles?
    Or do you will comment about it with more detail in a next post?

    Thanks in advance,

    1. Hi Giuseppe,

      I think the Acts account should be viewed together with 2 Thess. 2:1-12. As you know, I think Paul was originally Simon of Samaria and that the Pauline letters have been interpolated. And I think that in several instances the interpolator made Paul condemn himself. Or, put differently, made Paul condemn Simon. One such instance is the 2 Thessalonians passage. There the interpolator used some oracle to make the Apostle say that the day of the Lord will not come

      “unless the apostasy comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of perdition, who opposes and exalts himself against all that is called god or that is worshipped, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God….”

      To me this prophecy makes sense if Simon/Paul is viewed as the man of lawlessness and if his enemies believed that he had already tried once before to take his seat in the temple of God.

      The passage continues with:

      “And you know what is restraining him now so that he may be revealed in his time. For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work. Only he who now restrains it will do so until he is out of the way. And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will kill with the breath of his mouth and bring to nothing by the brightness of his coming. The coming of the lawless one is according to the working of Satan with all power and signs and lying wonders, and with all wicked deception for those who are perishing, because they refused to love the truth and so to be saved.”

      I think this “prophecy” may have been written while Simon Paul was still in prison, either at Caesarea or Rome, or very shortly after his release. His restrainer would be the Roman under whose authority he was held. The emitter of the prophecy either believed or knew that once that man or the reigning emperor was out of the way (dead or removed from power) , Simon/Paul would be released and attempt to bring his work of lying deception to completion. Not to worry, however, for the Lord Jesus will come and will kill Simon/Paul.

      In regard to your second question: No I don’t think that “the Son of Man” in Proto-Mark was a collective term. I think it designated the Son in the Ascension of Isaiah who took on the form of a man. That Son may have also been identified with the one like a son of man in Daniel 7.

      I don’t know why the expression is absent in the epistles. Any suggestions?

      1. Its wild that millions of people can pour over a few letter for thousands of years, twisting and tying themselves in knots re-weaving the tapestry of lies over and over again to stave off reality, and people come along and cut away the tapestry and uncover potential motives lost behind layers of denial.

  8. Given that Paul did not teach Jesus “after the flesh” and therefore revealed little historical detail about Jesus, is it possible that Mark in the process of creating his Jesus in the flesh simply pieced together what ever historical details he had, including John the Baptist, and merged those historical details with his overarching purpose to create an account of Jesus who was a parable for Paul, the purpose of which, as Dykstra and Volkmar have pointed out, was to validate Paul’s gospel and Paul’s Jesus in opposition to the Ebionite “heresy” of the Jerusalem Church?

    1. Sounds good. The authors of Mark went adding various materials to form their Jesus. Sandwiching them together crudely to form their Jesus composite. Two major types of sandwich material included 1) legends of many possibly real, grumpy and lascivious holy men, like John. And 2) the more idealized, philosophical visions of an ideal Lord, among the Simonean, Pauline, Platonic thinkers. (Meat and bread respectively?)

      1. I will interpret “lascivious” as meaning worldly, the meaning of which is: Whomsoever would use religion as a means to the kingdoms and power and glory of this world, will many times worship the god of this world, into whose hand it is given. Which I think is what Mark 1:13 is shorthand for, that Paul’s Jesus (like Paul) was tempted in the wilderness by the Zealots and Sicariots who were like wild beasts to their own people (according to Josephus) in trying to establish God’s kingdom here on earth. But that is just one point of view. But it does have modern parallels.

  9. Cyril of Jerusalem, writing during the the Fourth Century in his Sixth Cathecetical Lecture 14, was explicit that Simon had created an apparent Jesus Christ. Cyril wrote that Simon had created the focus of Christian worship by name and title, Jesus Christ, not only by function as Irenaeus had.

    This is discussed here:


    Paul supposedly decried a competitor who preached “a different Jesus whom we didn’t preach” (2 Corinthians 11:4). It is mind-bending to think that that might be an echo of Simon complaining about proto-orthodox missionaries promoting their earthly Jesus.

    1. I guess you could call Mark a founder of proto-orthodox Christianity. But the true orthodoxy of Paul’s time was taught by the “Judaizers”. And the most likely scenario is that Paul’s “other Jesus” was simply the Jesus taught by his Torah abiding Judaizing opponents. Paul’s letters and (allegorically) the Gospels and Acts portray a simple and consistent picture of competition between Paul and these Judaizing opponents, which was probably the Jerusalem Church. And this competition is not imaginary. It is a reflection of very real human nature and what we know from other very real historical situations; for example in more recent times the competition between the Protestant Churches and the Catholic Church.

  10. I’ve read Claire Rothschild’s book and I think the implications for New Testament studies are far-reaching. I’d not really considered the full import of her ideas for understanding Mark. This series is great, because it unsettles the routine thinking about the New Testament. Rothschild’s book does the same, from the perspective of examining John the Baptist. I’d love to see a discussion of her book on Vridar.

  11. Roger wrote: 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).

    I can’t help but think of Acts:
    Acts 18:25 This man (Apollos) was instructed in the way of the Lord; and being fervent in the spirit, he spake and taught diligently the things of the Lord, knowing only the baptism of John.

    Whenever Mark uses the phrase “chief priests, scribes, and elders” or even “hypocritical Pharisees (separatists)”, Mark almost always seems to be referring to Galatians 2:12-14 and those sent by James (the chief priest of the Jerusalem Church) that were being critical of Paul’s authority.

    Now the Jerusalem Church would have had no issue with John’s authority, but that logic would have been meaningless to Mark. It is well within Mark’s capability to Paulinize John (as he did Jesus) so as to portray the “chief priests, scribes, and elders” as opposed to John to make his point that they had no authority, but that Mark’s John and Paul’s Jesus did. And that could be the reason that the Gospel of Mark (as we have it) brings in John, so as to further legitimize Paul and Paul’s Jesus. We see the same thing in Acts with Peter being commanded to eat all things, just the opposite of what James commanded Peter to do in Antioch as referred to in Gal 2:12-14.

    Of course one might also suppose that Mark knew that the Sadducean chief priests were opposed to the historical John and historical Jesus just as they were opposed to Paul , but that was for an entirely different reason, sedition. But Mark seem to have had no problem allegorizing the original Jesus [Barabbas] and the Quisling Sadducean chief priests to make his case for Paul and Paul’s Jesus and against the chief priests of the Jerusalem Church.

    1. Act_24:5 We [Sadducean chief priests] have found this man to be a pestilence and raising seditions among all the Jews throughout the world: and a ringleader of the sedition of the sect of the Nazarenes. (Duay Rheims/Vulgate)

      Paul was a fundraiser for the Nazarenes, so in spite of his teaching of obedience to Rome, Paul was still collecting money for the sedition [the Poor] in Judea (according to the author of Acts).

    2. Acts 18:25 This man (Apollos) was instructed in the way of the Lord; and being fervent in the spirit, he spake and taught diligently the things of the Lord, knowing only the baptism of John…whom when Aquila and Priscilla had heard, they took him unto them, and expounded unto him the way of God more perfectly (according to Paul’s teaching).

      I can’t help but think this is what the Jerusalem Church taught, the baptism of John and the baptism of the Jerusalem Church which was similar to that of the Essenes (DSS sect) and that Paul’s disciples had to correct this teaching as defective, as did Mark. What better way to correct this Ebionite heresy (which apparently all the apostles practiced and the Gentiles would have known about and honored) than to pull it into the orbit of Mark’s Paulinized Gospel? Because that is basically what Mark is fighting, the Ebionite “heresy”. And the best way to fight it is to have John implicitly sanction Mark’s Jesus (who is a parable for Paul). Who is going to say to Mark that he lies, and that John would never have sanctioned Paul’s Jesus? After the Roman war most of the original Jewish Church is dead.

      1. I wonder if there could be some kind of connection between Apollos, who knows only the baptism of John; the gnosticism of the John cult if we judge by John’s only surviving followers, the Mandeans; the semi-gnostic style of the Gospel of the John, which may have been written by Apelles. And the Gospel of John is, after all, named for someone named John.

    3. Whether the original Mark or a later addition to Mark, the inclusion of John the Baptist is consistent with the later Gospels of Matthew and Luke in using John to bless Mark’s Pauline Jesus. Matthew, Luke, and Acts also paint a less critical picture of the original Jewish disciples probably because they also paint the Jewish disciples as more understanding of the Pauline Jesus and his teaching. This later tendenz seems to serve the purpose of making it appear that the Jerusalem Church approved of Paul’s Jesus. But that is just the opposite of what Mark’s parabolic Gospel is saying.

      Mark, whether in word or parable, is highly critical of the Jewish disciples, Jesus’ own family, and the scribes and pharisees and chief priests [of the Jerusalem Church], and they either do not understand him or they are his enemies. Even if Mark allegorically overlays the conflict between Paul and the Jerusalem Church onto what was likely the original conflict between the historical Jesus and the Quisling Sadducean chief priests, Mark’s true opponents seem clear enough, those Judaizers who were teaching another Jesus and another Gospel than Paul.

      1. A little criticism: ”another Jesus” than Paul’s Jesus is a not-crucified Jesus (not coincidentially, in the allegory: Jesus Barabbas) because the Paul’s Jesus is obviously a ”crucified Christ”. According to Paul, the crucifixion removes the need of the Law’s observance. So the Pillars, observing still the Torah, are making not useful the crucifixion of Jesus, therefore de facto following paradoxically a not-crucified Jesus (=”another Jesus” than Paul’s ”crucified Christ”). The evidence of a Zealot Jesus disappears.

        1. Thanks Giuseppe, that too makes sense, another allegory. And that too might explain why this “other Jesus” need not be crucified, although I was thinking more along the lines of Yom Kippur in which one goat, the demonic Azael scapegoat, is released into the wilderness like the Sicarii and Zealots, whereas the other innocent goat of atonement is sacrificed for the sins of the people. But there is still the question of why Mark’s other Jesus (or Barabbas) is an insurrectionist, unless that is what Mark thought about the Pillars and their teaching concerning Jesus? So I can’t help but think that Mark is also dissociating his Pauline Jesus, and by extension his Pauline Church, from the Jerusalem Church and their teaching about a Jesus who was coming to overthrow all the Gentile kingdoms, including Rome, and instead establish a Jewish kingdom of God here on earth, a theocracy ruled by the Jewish Saints, as it is written in the book of Daniel and in Revelation.

        2. Azazel, also spelled Azazael, appears in the Bible in association with the scapegoat rite. In some traditions of Judaism and Christianity, it is the name for a fallen angel. In Rabbinic Judaism, it is not a name of an entity but rather means literally “for the complete removal”, i.e., designating the goat to be cast out into the wilderness as opposed to the goat sacrificed “for YHWH”. My spelling is really bad. Margaret Barker (and some others even earlier) have suggested this explanation as to why Barabbas was let go. http://www.marquette.edu/maqom/atonement.html

      2. Some have pointed out that John as Elijah (in camels hair) and the Son of God appear together at the beginning of the Gospel, at the transfiguration, and at the crucifixion when Jesus is misunderstood as calling out for Elijah even as the Roman centurion calls Jesus the son of God. So the evidence would suggest that John and Elijah were integral to Mark’s Gospel, because the “scribes” were saying that Elias must come first. It also seems Mark intended that those who mocked Jesus at the very last were also these same “scribes”.

        Mar 15:36 And one ran and filled a sponge full of vinegar, and put it on a reed, and gave him to drink, saying, Let alone; let us see whether Elias will come to take him down.

        Just as Elias did not come to take Jesus down from the cross, so too one might speculate Elias did not come to take Paul down from one of Nero’s crosses. If Mark witnessed Paul’s crucifixion, it might very well explain his bitterness towards the scribes and Pharisees of the Jerusalem Church.

  12. And having been mocked by the “scribes” because he had no authority (letters from the Jerusalem Church), what better way to mock the “scribes” than to have their enemy Paul be the Son or God in the guise of Jesus instead of their own Barabbas?

    1. The main argument for linking the Gospel of Luke with Marcion is that there were evidently many overlaps between Marcion’s gospel and passages found only in Luke. One that comes to mind is Tertullian’s claim that Marcion partly relied upon Luke 6:43-44 (Jesus’ saying about a good tree being incapable of producing both good and bad fruit) as evidence that Jesus denounced the Creator God of the Jews (the Demiurge) as morally ambivalent and lesser than the only True Alien God who could produce nothing but good fruit.

      The main argument for thinking of a proto-Mark as Marcion’s gospel, I think, is Mark’s ostensibly hostile treatment of the Twelve. But that leaves us with Marcion’s critics addressing a Marcionite gospel that has uniquely Lukan passages.

      Joseph Tyson’s solution is that Marcion was using a proto-Luke that a later redactor took to convert into a pro-Pauline cum catholic “proto-orthodox” gospel, while at the same time twisting or adding sections to have the same gospel reject Marcionism.

      Another thought that just occurs to me now is that the Gospel of Mark may be read as an attack on the Twelve but it also can be read as presenting a quite dark and harsh, unpredictable and judgmental Jesus — quite unlike Marcion’s Jesus. Irenaeus tells us, iirc, that the Gospel of Mark had originally been treasured most by the followers of Basilides. Marcion was not the only figure opposed to the Jewish-centric Twelve. Paul spawned a diversity of Christian schools.

      1. One line of thought that I haven’t seen much considered is that if proto-Mark was a Simonian creation, and Marcionism grew out of (or adapted for its purpose) a Simonian milieu, maybe proto-Mark was in some form the Marcionite gospel. This is, after all, a natural connection to make. It isn’t to say it automatically follows because with questions like these nothing does, but it seems it should be considered among the possibilities.

        One reason why I like to think so is because of this:


        I’m not competent to judge it. From its conclusion:

        “The above analysis leads to some obvious questions: Why would Marcion use as his ‘base text’ a gospel (Luke) from which he felt the need to remove so much text, when there already existed a shorter gospel (Mark) in which the great majority of the text that he wanted to remove simply did not exist? Then, assuming that Marcion did in fact edit Luke, how was he able to arrange that nearly 90% of the text that he did remove was actually text that had no parallel in Mark? And finally, having gone to all that trouble, why also did he, according to the evidence of both Tertullian and Epiphanius, still leave in Mcg so much of the text of Luke that went against his position that both were able to refute him just from what he left? Why did he (apparently) remove the wrong text from Luke?

        “Even allowing for the possibility that Marcion might have wanted to simply exclude from Luke everything prior to the start of Jesus’ preaching, we are still left with the fact that nearly three-quarters of the other 110 verses that Epiphanius states that Marcion had removed from Luke have no parallel in Mark. To have achieved this by selectively cutting text out of Luke, as Marcion is accused of doing, would have required him to have had a very detailed synopsis comparing Mark with Luke, as the chances of him being able to achieve the result described by Tertullian and Epiphanius without careful selection of the Lukan verses not in Mcg based on their presence in or absence from Mark, are very slim indeed.”

        This researcher seems to hold that – as you can see – most of what Marcion supposedly removed from Luke does not exist in Mark, raising the possibility that Marcion’s gospel was based on some version of Mark. I’ve heard some speculate that Marcion’s gospel might have been the first gospel. Wouldn’t it make sense if this were a proto-Mark? And if Simonianism was among the first Christianities?

        1. Good observations. Little is sure when it comes to proto-gospels, so I don’t see how the possibility you suggest can be ruled out. It would seem to indicate, however, that the saying about good tree versus bad tree (at Lk. 6:43-44) was present in the proposed proto-Mark. Offhand I don’t see why those verses would have been cut out by whoever reworked proto-Mark, unless of course the reworking occurred late enough that Marcion’s use of them was already becoming an issue.

  13. Roger,

    I was alerted to your series by a friend and I have not started it yet, but will soon. I read the last installment about Mark and Proto Mark which caught my eye because of my recently published book “Unlocking the Puzzle” in which I use Mark’s literary constructions (chiasmus and triplets) to figure out how Mark’s Original Gospel was constructed. You might be interested. However, here I wanted to point out constructions in Mark that are counter arguments to your suggestion that John the Baptist might be an interpolation into the Gospel of Mark as originally written.

    I am in complete agreement that Mark is an allegorization of Pauline Christianity. This is a main thesis of my book. I also agree that a large part of the death of John the Baptist is interpolation. In my book I conclude that the Original Gospel did not contain 6:14-15, 6:18-26, nor 6:28. The birthday party based on Esther is the main part of the interpolation. However, I conclude that the rest of the story about John’s death is original to Mark.

    With regard to Mark’s literary constructions, he had numerous triplets and sextets throughout his gospel. I list over 80 in my Appendix 2. The first construction I would point to is that there are three pericopae that contain the words “forgiveness of sins” (aphesin hamartiōn): 1:4-8, 2:1-12, and 3:20-30. The phrase “forgiveness of sins” is used 6 times in these 3 pericopae; there are two triplets. Markan triplets have a unique construction wherein the middle element is slightly different from the first and third elements. This can be an aid in deciding when a relocation has taken place.

    With the construction of these “forgiveness of sins” pericopae, Mark is trying to get across to the reader Paul’s doctrine of justification by faith. What do all three pericopae have in common? They all refer to 2 Kgs 1:2-17 where Elijah condemns Ahaziah to die because he didn’t have faith in the God of Israel. The description of John at Mark 1:6 is a quotation of 2 Kgs 1:8 (LXX). Jesus healing the paralytic at Mark 2:1-13 is a reversal of 2 Kgs 1:2-17 (Ahaziah dies because he had no faith, but the paralytic’s sins are forgiven because he had faith). In Jesus’s controversy with the Jerusalem scribes at Mark 3:20-30, they accuse him of being possessed by Beelzebul and at 2 Kgs 1:2-17 Ahaziah foregoes consulting with the God of Israel in order to consult with Beelzebub (obviously intended to be the same). 2 Kgs 1:6 and 16 are the only times Beelzebub is mentioned in the OT. This is clear evidence that Mark 1:4-8 was in the original gospel. I doubt that a redactor would have constructed the triplet.

    You also noted that the Markan Sandwich of sending out the twelve/death of John/return of the 12 is an atypical sandwich and may imply interpolation. After the publication of my book I discovered a strange construction in Mark where in connection with every Markan Sandwich, Mark used an OT source in reverse order from that found in the OT. In this series of constructions the OT sourced passages overlap the Markan Sandwich. Reversed source OT passages are not found in other parts of Mark. In the particular case in point, it appears that the source for Mark 6:7-11, sending out the twelve is 2 Kgs 5:22 while the source for Mark 6:30-31, return of the twelve is 2 Kgs 5:15. In his Gospel Mark reversed the order found in the OT. Typically, though not always, the reversed source consists of consecutive passages in the OT. Since all the instances of reversed order OT sources are associated with Markan Sandwiches, this is evidence that the death of John sandwich is original.

    As implied, I do not think that Mark’s use of the character John the Baptist is fatal to concluding that Mark is an allegory of Paul’s Christianity. My theory is that Mark decided to historicize Paul’s celestial Christ and using Josephus as a source historicized Jesus in the time of John, Herod and Pontius Pilate. Mark needed a forerunner of Jesus because of Mal 4:5, and he needed to institute baptism as a sacrament because Paul mentions it in 1 Corinthians and I assume it was an established initiation ritual by the time Mark was writing.

    I might add that I agree with the suggestion that the transfiguration has been relocated. While I find it is entirely in its original form, it was originally located immediately following 6:31, return of the twelve. I find that the transfiguration/coming down the mountain pericopae is an extremely important plot point in Mark’s Original Gospel where Jesus’s view of the Son of Man changes after his talk with Elijah and Moses.

    I look forward to reading A Simonian Origin for Christianity.

    David Oliver Smith

    1. Hi David,

      Unfortunately, the little I have read over the years about alleged chiasms has not impressed me. I remember reading a book by Peter Ellis in which he argued that 7 of Paul’s letters display chiasmic structure. The book was initially tantalizing enough that, just for fun, I decided to look at some things I myself had written and to see if they too could plausibly be considered chiasmic. The makeshift experiment left me thinking that if I was looking for chiasms I could pretty much find them everywhere.

      I could be wrong, of course, and I would be interested to know how well your chiasm proposals match up with those of Michael Turton (http://www.michaelturton.com/Mark/GMark_chiasm.html).

      1. Roger,

        Thanks for the response. I have now read the first 5 posts in your series. It is fascinating. I really like your analysis of possible proto-orthodox interpolations into Paul’s epistles.

        Actually, Turton’s “Historical Commentary on the Gospel of Mark” is my bible. My first book “Matthew, Mark, Luke and Paul” is based on one of Michael’s excursuses (excursi?) “Did Mark Know the Pauline Corpus.” I started writing on that, and think I discovered passages based on Paul in Matthew and Luke that are not found in Mark.

        I think I have improved a bit on Turton’s pericope level chiasms in Mark, but my main focus was finding large chiastic structures extending over several pericopae. When I found large amounts of text that did not fit into any chiastic structure I immediately suspected that it may be interpolation.

        I had Bob Price review my book before publication and his early comments were to the effect that he didn’t see the chiastic structures I saw. In his later comments he started agreeing that I may be on to something.

        By book has a chapter on Mark’s sources (OT, Paul & Josephus) and I can compare my ideas of Mark’s use of Paul with your proposed interpolations into the epistles to see if I see any use of your proposed interpolated passages by Mark. This assumes that Mark’s use of Paul was of the original epistles.

        I agree with your dating of Mark to early 2nd century. I think it has to be after Josephus wrote “Antiquities.”

        I hope to finish your series today or tomorrow.


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