I don’t know if the Gospel of Mark did begin its life as a Hebrew text but in the light of the previous post it is necessary to share some of the reasons a few scholars (or at least Jean Carmignac : see also Wayback Machine) have thought it did.
Chapter three of The Birth of the Synoptic Gospels sets out the history of research into semitisms in the gospels and discusses in some detail nine types of them.
- Semitisms of Borrowing
- Semitisms of Imitation
- Semitisms of Thought
- Semitisms of Vocabulary
- Semitisms of Syntax
- Semitisms of Style
- Semitisms of Composition
- Semitisms of Transmission
- Semitisms of Translation
I’ll post here a few of the parts in #7, Semitisms of Composition. Carmignac suggests that there are numerous turns of phrase in our Greek gospels that would not exist in our Greek texts unless they had been translated from a Semitic or Hebrew language original.
Crying in the wilderness
After its title: Beginning of the Gospel of Jesus, Messiah, Son of God, the Gospel of Mark begins in the following fashion:
As it is written in the Prophet Isaiah “Behold I am sending my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way. The voice of one crying in the wilderness: prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths.”20. The word “and” is not found in all the manuscripts, and one has good reason for thinking that it does not any longer figure in the primitive Greek text.
There was John baptizing in the desert (and)20 preaching (Mark 1:1-4).
How did this citation from Isaiah (which combines Exodus 23:20, Malachi 3:1 in a form other than is found in the Septuagint, and Isaiah 40:3) come about? (p. 27)
Carmignac finds a simple answer to his question. Isaiah 40:3 begins with “voice crying in the wilderness”:
|במדבר||bemidbâr||in the wilderness|
22. The initial syllable we corresponds to the conjunction “and ” present in certain Greek manuscripts but not in all.
23. The pesher consists in describing a present situation in the terms of a passage from the Old Testament.
. . . . and if Mark 1:4, is retranslated into Hebrew, we obtain the following: wayyehî Yôhânân matbtîl bemidbâr (we) qôré.22
The words bemidbâr (in the wilderness) and qôré’ (crying or preaching) are taken from Isaiah and applied to John the Baptist according to the process which is known as pesher, such as it was practiced at the time at Qumran (and elsewhere).23
The pesher only works in Hebrew, not with the Septuagint (Greek) translation of Isaiah. In the Greek text of Mark 1:4 a different word is used for John’s crying or preaching (κηρύσσων / kérussôn) whereas the Greek text of Isaiah 40:3 used “bôontos“.
In order that the pesher be noticed in English, it would be necessary to use the verb proclaim twice: from Isaiah, the voice proclaiming in the desert and from Mark, in the desert proclaiming a baptism of conversion.) Thus the citation from Isaiah only agrees with the account of Mark in Hebrew, but not in Greek in which its meaning disappears. (p. 27)
Forgive us our debts
29. This root nâshâh does not exist in Aramaic and therefore this triple play on words is not possible in this language.
30. This play on words has already been tracked down by Theodor Buchmann (= Bibliander) in 1548. See my book: Recherches sur le Notre Père (Letouzey, Paris, 1969), p. 223, and my article: “Hebrew Translations of the Lord’s Prayer: an Historical Survey,” in Biblical and Near Eastern Studies, Essays in Honor of W. S. LaSor, ed. G. Tuttle (Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, 1978), pp. 32-33
As we will see in several examples, Hebrew has a great preference for plays on words and it takes great pleasure in making reference to similar sounds, which facilitate the task of memorization. Another typical case is hidden in the Our Father (Mt 6:12-13), in which the word forgive corresponds to the root nâsâ,’ debts and debtors to nâshâh,29 and temptation to nasah.30 Is this yet another case of mere chance? Isn’t it reasonable to think that these words have been chosen by design in order to produce a sort of internal rhyme? (p. 28)
Send with power to cast out
Another triple play on words exists in Mark 3:14-15: (Jesus) sends (the apostles) to preach and to have power to cast out devils: to send translates the verb shâlah, to have power the verb shâlat, and to cast out the verb shâlak. Is this once again a matter of chance? And these three verbs are even placed in alphabetical order (het, tet . . . kaf). (pp. 28f)
With the wild beasts
Why does Mark 1:13 which treats so curtly the temptation and the sojourn of Christ in the desert, specify that Jesus was with the wild beasts? Wouldn’t this be because of the excellent play on words wehâyâh im hahayyâh? (p. 29)
Turning stones into children of Abraham
And why do Matthew (3:9) and Luke (3:8), when they want to show the power of God, speak of changing stones into children of Abraham? Many commentators have already remarked, that if they choose this example it is because rocks are known as ‘abânîm, and children: bânîm. (p. 29)
Sitting and reflecting
In Mark 2:6 the scribes are sitting and reflecting: yôshebîm wehôshebîm. (p. 29)
The afflicted touch Jesus
In Mark 3:10 those who seek to touch (nâga’) Jesus are not the sick but those who had all types of afflictions (nèga’). (p. 29)
After the sun rose
How much bread do you have?
In Mark 6:38 Jesus says to them (lâhèm): how much bread (lèhèm) do you have (lâkèm)? Go . . . (lekou). (p. 29)
Foams at the mouth, gnashes his teeth
In Mark 9:18 the possessed foams at the mouth (weyâraq) and grinds his teeth (wehâraq). (p. 29)
Mocked and spat upon
In Mark 10:34 Jesus predicts that he will be mocked (wesâhaqû bo) and will be spat upon (weyâreqû bo). (p. 29)
Tables of the money-changers
In Mark 11:15 and Matthew 21:12 the money changers tables are mentioned, because tables is signified by the word shûlehânôt and changers: shûlehânîm. (p. 29)
Earthquakes and famines
High priests listened and were delighted
In Mark 14:11, the high priests listened (wayyishme‘u) and were delighted (wayyismehû). (p. 30)
Disciples leave and find
In Mark 14:16, the two disciples leave (wayyese’û) . . . and find (wayyimse’û). (p. 30)
Sleep and take your rest
Blindfolded and hit him
In Mark 14:65 to blindfold (the face) and to hit correspond to the roots sâtar and sâṭar, and perhaps to the very same causative form. (p. 30)
They saw and feared
In Matthew 9:8 the words they saw (wayyir’û) and they feared (wayyîr’û) are closely associated; the same coincidence is to be found in Matthew 14:30 and 27:54 and Mark 5:15 and in John 6:19, but nowhere else in the New Testament, and therefore never in works certainly written in Greek; on the other hand, it is found sixteen times in the Old Testament. (p. 30)
How much left to chance?
Certainly, one or another of these translations back could be questioned and one or another of them could be said to be a result of chance. But, can all of them be absolutely taken exception to and all of them be said to be possible results of chance? If not, we should admit the conclusive value of such Semitisms of composition since the words have been chosen in Hebrew precisely in order to show forth their assonance, which disappears in Greek as in English. (p. 30)
Why did I write this book?
Actually the Dead Sea Scrolls inspired this book.
They accustomed me to the Hebrew in use at the time of Christ and, quite easily, I came to recognize in the Greek of the Gospel of St. Mark as though in transparency, this same Hebraic language, which was simply carbon copied in Greek.
But this intuition could be false and misleading; it was therefore necessary to verify it scientifically.
Technical investigations have resulted in some proofs which seem decisive and which have an equal bearing on the Gospel of Matthew and the documents used by St. Luke.
But then the consequences of these verifications go much further: The Gospels therefore have been redacted earlier than is customarily claimed. They are much closer to the events. They have a historical value of prime importance. They contain the witnesses of disciples who followed and listened to Jesus.
These scientific arguments should prove reassuring to Christians and attract the attention and interest of nonbelievers.
But they overturn theories presently in vogue and therefore they will be fiercely criticized.
In order to present only irrefutable proofs to the public at large, I have, over the last twenty years, been pursuing very minute and meticulous investigations, which will be set forth in a number of technical volumes.
Nevertheless, I was asked to keep in mind not only specialists but to introduce the present results of these twenty years of work to the public at large.
That is why I wrote this little book which is only a preliminary glance kept as simple as possible and devoid of complicated discussions.
It is merely the detailing of some key proofs and of their logical results. It in no way seeks to refute those who hold different theories.
It is up to the reader to compare the arguments and to judge which are the most scientific.
One can discount the conclusion that a Hebrew origin brings us closer to Jesus but it does make a difference to assigning date ranges to the appearances and developments of the gospels. What were those “memoirs of the apostles” we find mentioned in Justin’s writings of the mid-second century? Does this hypothesis give support to the Tubingen school who pushed our canonical forms of the synoptic gospels into the latter half of the second century?
Some other sites addressing Carmignac’s ideas:
Carmignac, Jean. 1987. Birth of the Synoptic Gospels. Translated by Michael J. Wrenn. Chicago, Ill: Franciscan Pr.
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