Markus Vinzent's Blog

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Soft and hard evidence for the priority of Mark?

In his introductory book The Synoptic Problem: A Way through the Maze (2001), Mark Goodacre explains in some detail soft and hard evidence for priority of Mark.
Now what are arguments in favour of a priority of Mark?
a)      ‘Some of the material not in Mark makes better sense on the assumption that it has been added by Matthew and/or Luke than on the assumption that it has been omitted by Mark’.[1] And M. Goodacre things of the following material:
a.       ‘If Mark wrote third … why it is that he omitted so much material from his predecessors. … Of course the natural answer to this question would be that the Double Tradition pericopae [material that is in Matthew and Luke alone] must have been material that was in some way uncongenial to Mark.’[2] But the contrary seems true, ‘the Double Tradition does not obviously have a clearly un-Markan profile’.[3] Goodacre adds that there are, indeed, passages like Mark 11:20-5 which ‘might have been an ideal location for Mark to have inserted’ texts from Matthew or Luke, like here the Lord’s Prayer, hence the ‘data does not make good sense on the assumption of Markan Posteriority’.[4]
b.      So while there are no obvious un-Markan elements in the additional material of the Double Tradition, Goodacre adds, Mark shows an ‘apparent addition of elements not congenial to Matthew and Luke’: Mark 7:33-6 (Healing of a Deaf Mute); 8:22-6 (Blind Man of Bethsaida); 14:51-2 (Man Running Away Naked). He points to the ‘graphic details of Jesus’ healing techniques’ in the first (‘He spat and touched his tongue’) and the third story (the use of saliva) and to the ‘somewhat bizarre story’ of the Blind Man of Bethsaida and concludes that ‘the material unique to Mark makes better sense as material omitted by Matthew and Luke than it does as material added by Mark’. But he also admits that one could see it the other way around that ‘Mark added this material to Matthew and Luke’.[5]
c.       A third argument pertains to style and oral tradition. If Mark came third, why is his Gospel ‘the most “oral” in nature’, but being third mostly relies not on oral tradition, but on the text of the other two? Goodacre calles it an ‘anomaly in early Christianity, with relatively little contact with oral tradition in comparison with Matthew, Luke, Thomas and others’,[6] and, yet, we can only speculate to what extent the mentioned texts depend on oral traditions.
b)      On the assumption of Mark’s posteriority ‘the supposed omissions and additions’ do not ‘make for a coherent picture’, and, yet Goodacre believes that ‘the addition of banal clarificatory additions is not consonant with the generally enigmatic, ironic tone of Mark’s Gospel’, from which he draws ‘that Mark was the first Gospel to be written, a work of brutish genius, which was subsequently explicated bo both Matthew and Luke’.[7]
c)      These soft readings, Goodacre wants to support ‘in other ways’, although even in this category, it is to do ‘whether Mark looks more like the document from which Matthew and Luke worked, or more like a document based on Matthew and Luke.’[8] Indications are:
a.       Mark often has the more difficult reading’, but we are not taken to a harder reading than that Mark’s Priority seems the ‘more likely scenario’, because what is unclear in Mark has been clarified by the other two (but if so, why would the earlier source be less precise than authors who write later? How with the growing distance to the events did they increase knowledge and precision?);[9]
b.      Or a christological argument taken from Mark 6:5 par. Matth. 13:58: ‘Whereas in Mark the clear impression is that Jesus is unable to do mighty works there, in Matthew we hear rather that Jesus simply “did not” do any mighty works. It is a small but striking point that is usually held to point towards Markan Priority. It is straightforward to imagine Matthew making the change here, but stranger to think of Mark making the change in the opposite direction.[10] All depends here, of course, whether one see a decrease or increase in power attribution to Jesus over time. Those who think of low-christology as the outset will give Mark historical priority, but those who think of high-christology as the early expressions that were modified towards a low-christology will opt for the contrary. And although, Goodacre had stressed these examples as ‘hard readings’, he admits that this category ‘is an extension of the previous’ one, the soft reading.[11]
c.       Editorial fatigue: There are cases in parallel pericopes where sometimes Matthew, sometimes Luke show inconsistencies whereas Mark preserves a consistent story, or, as explained by Goodacre, ‘when one writer is copying the work of another, changes are sometimes made at the beginning of an account that are not sustained throughout.[12] A first example is Matth. 8:1-4 // Mark 1:40-5 // Luke 5:12-6, where Mark and Luke have a consistent story, but Matthew first introduces ‘many crowds’, hence, sets the story into the public, but then adopts the Mark-Luke-version that Jesus tells the one who has been healed from leprosy that he should not tell anyone. And there are more examples where Matthew displays such ‘lapses’.[13] And it appears that we find similar inconsistencies in Luke when ‘Luke apparently omits features of Mark’s Parable that he goes on to mention in the Interpretation’:[14] in Luke 8:6 // Mark 4:5; Luke 5:19 // Mark 2:4; Luke 5:22 // Mark 2:8. It is interesting to note that all the examples in Luke that Goodacre mentions are elements that are not attested for the text of Marcion’s Gospel, and yet, one also has to ask the question whether the hermeneutical principle of consistency is correct – why would it be more likely for a redactor to fall asleep in his work rather than the principle author writing a story that features inconsistencies which an attentive redactor picks up and corrects. One typical feature of redaction and even copying is precisely a tendency to correct perceived mistakes, difficult readings, inconsistencies, one of the reasons why in textual criticism and redactional criticism the lectio difficilior is normally the preferred text. Even if one would opt for the contrary – this only shows that ‘fatigue’ is certainly not conclusive and far from being ‘strong evidence’, or ‘a clear decisive indicator of Markan Priority’ as claimed by Goodacre.[15]

[1] M. Goodacre, The Synoptic Problem (2001), 59.
[2] M. Goodacre, The Synoptic Problem (2001), 58.
[3] M. Goodacre, The Synoptic Problem (2001), 58.
[4] M. Goodacre, The Synoptic Problem (2001), 59.
[5] M. Goodacre, The Synoptic Problem (2001), 59-61.
[6] M. Goodacre, The Synoptic Problem (2001), 62.
[7] M. Goodacre, The Synoptic Problem (2001), 65.
[8] M. Goodacre, The Synoptic Problem (2001), 65-6.
[9] M. Goodacre, The Synoptic Problem (2001), 66.
[10] M. Goodacre, The Synoptic Problem (2001), 67.
[11] M. Goodacre, The Synoptic Problem (2001), 67.
[12] M. Goodacre, The Synoptic Problem (2001), 71.
[13] See M. Goodacre, The Synoptic Problem (2001), 73-4, 73.
[14] M. Goodacre, The Synoptic Problem (2001), 74.
[15] M. Goodacre, The Synoptic Problem (2001), 75.

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