Selected Examples of Rewriting in Mark’s Account of Jesus’ Last Week

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It has been noted that in instances where Mark’s editorial hand restructured his story, Luke has preserved a more primitive form of the account, a form that is independent of Mark’s influence. Gospel scholars need to properly evaluate Mark’s editorial style and acknowledge that frequently a theological agenda influenced his rewriting.

Revised: 02-Jul-2013

It has been noted that in instances where Mark’s editorial hand restructured his story, Luke has preserved a more primitive form of the account, a form that is independent of Mark’s influence. Gospel scholars need to properly evaluate Mark’s editorial style and acknowledge that frequently a theological agenda influenced his rewriting.[1]

In 1922 William Lockton proposed a theory of Lukan priority. According to Lockton’s hypothesis, Luke was written first, copied by Mark, who was in turn copied by Matthew who copied from Luke.[2] Forty years later Robert L. Lindsey independently reached a similar solution to the so-called “synoptic problem.” He proposed a theory which argues that Luke was written first and was used by Mark, who in turn was used by Matthew (according to Lindsey, Matthew did not know Luke’s Gospel).[3] As in the more popular Two-document (or Two-source) Hypothesis, Mark is the middle term between Matthew and Luke.

Lindsey arrived at his theory by accident. Attempting, for the benefit of modern speakers of Hebrew, to replace Franz Delitzsch’s outdated translation of the New Testament, Lindsey began by translating the Gospel of Mark, assuming it to be the earliest of the Synoptic Gospels. Although Mark’s text is relatively Semitic, it contains hundreds of non-Semitisms that are not present in Lukan parallels. This suggested to Lindsey the possibility that Mark was copying Luke and not vice versa.[4] With further research Lindsey came to his solution to the synoptic problem.

A number of researchers in Israel, most prominently David Flusser, espoused Lindsey’s source theory.[5] These scholars believe that a Hebrew Vorlage lies behind the Greek texts of the Gospels and that by translating the Greek texts back into Hebrew and considering how this Hebrew text would have been understood by first-century readers, one gains a fuller understanding of the Gospel texts’ original meaning.

In their emphasis on the importance of Hebrew for synoptic studies, Lindsey, Flusser, and their students, are a product of the pioneering work of Hebrew University professor M. H. Segal, who suggested as early as 1909 that Mishnaic Hebrew showed the characteristics of a living language.[6] Segal’s conclusions have largely been borne out by the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Bar Kochva letters and other documents from the Dead Sea area.

Lindsey’s synoptic theory is a minority opinion. The vast majority of today’s New Testament scholars assume the Two-document Hypothesis: Luke and Matthew wrote independently using Mark and a common source, which is sometimes termed Q. Since, according to this theory, Matthew and Luke relied in their Triple Tradition material upon Mark, one would not expect texts of their Triple Tradition to be superior to Mark’s. Certainly, one would not expect to find Luke and Matthew agreeing against Mark (such agreements are termed “minor agreements”[7] )to preserve a more primitive wording. Yet, this is sometimes the case. In the Synoptic Gospels there are examples of what appear to be Markan rewriting of Luke’s account (or one of Luke’s sources or a Lukan-like source).[8]

Let us compare the Matthean, Markan and Lukan versions of the following passages, or portions of them, from the last week of Jesus’ life (only the first in some depth): 1. Jesus’ Last Visit to the Temple (Aland pericopae 271-274); 2. the Parable of the Wicked Tenants (Aland 278); 3. The Great Commandment (Aland 282); 4. the Last Supper (Aland 311); 5. Jesus before the Sanhedrin (Aland 332); and 6. Jesus’ Death on the Cross (Aland 347-348).[9] Examination of a limited corpus of material from the last week of Jesus’ life could shed light on Mark’s editorial methods and indicate the interdependency of two of the Synoptic Gospels (Luke and Mark). Obviously, for these examples to be compelling, it would be necessary to integrate them into a fuller treatment of the synoptic problem.

Jesus’ Last Visit(s) to the Temple

The “Cleansing” according to the Synoptic Gospels

Luke’s version of the Cleansing is brief and straightforward: “And he entered the temple and began to take out the sellers, saying to them, ‘It is written, “My house will be a house of prayer,” but you have turned it into “a den of bandits.”’” According to Luke’s Gospel, Jesus cleansed the temple on the same day that he and his disciples reached Jerusalem. Matthew’s Gospel agrees with Luke’s that Jesus “cleansed” the temple immediately after his triumphal entry into Jerusalem. The two writers agree against Mark that the Cleansing did not take place on the day following Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem. In contrast to Luke and Matthew’s accounts, Mark’s account of the temple’s cleansing is much more complex: Jesus entered Jerusalem and went straight to the temple. After “he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve” (vs. 11).[10] The next day—“In the morning,” according to Matthew—on their way to Jerusalem from Bethany, Jesus cursed a fig tree. (Matthew adds: “And the fig tree withered at once.”) Arriving in Jerusalem for the second time, Jesus entered the temple. According to Mark, it was on this second visit to the temple that he “cleansed” it, driving out not only the merchants, but their customers, as well. He overturned the money changers’ tables and the pigeon sellers’ chairs, even preventing the transporting of burdens in the temple. (Matthew, following Mark up to this point, omits “he would not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple.”)

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  • [1] A revised and abbreviated version of this unpublished article (written in 2004) was published as “Evidence of an Editor’s Hand in Two Instances of Mark’s Account of Jesus’ Last Week?” in Jesus’ Last Week: Jerusalem Studies in the Synoptic Gospels (ed. R. Steven Notley, Marc Turnage and Brian Becker; Leiden: E. J. Brill, 2006), 1:211-24. The “Evidence of an Editor’s Hand in Two Instances of Mark’s Account of Jesus’ Last Week?” contains rewriting carried out by the volume’s editors. Where there are contradictions between the two versions, the text of the original, longer version, here published for the first time, represents the author’s view. I am greatly indebted to Randall Buth for his guidance in writing this article. On numerous occasions we discussed the passages here dealt with and Mark’s theological penchants. Without Buth’s help, I could not have written the article.
  • [2] William Lockton, “The Origin of the Gospels,” CQR 94 (1922): 216-39. Lockton subsequently wrote three books to substantiate his theory, all published by Longmans, Green and Co. of London: The Resurrection and Other Gospel Narratives and The Narratives of the Virgin Birth (1924), The Three Traditions in the Gospels (1926), and Certain Alleged Gospel Sources: A Study of Q, Proto-Luke and M (1927).
  • [3] Robert L. Lindsey, “A Modified Two-Document Theory of the Synoptic Dependence and Interdependence,” NovT 6 (1963): 239-63. Lindsey’s theory postulates four non-canonical documents, all of which preceded the Synoptic Gospels in time, two that were unknown to the synoptists—the original Hebrew biography of Jesus and its literal Greek translation—and two other non-canonical sources known to one or more of the synoptists. Here is how Lindsey described these latter two non-canonical sources: “Anthology (or, Reorganized Scroll). Before the Greek Life of Jesus was widely circulated, its contents were reorganized: opening incidents were collected from teaching-context stories and, together with miracle and healing stories, placed at the beginning of the new scroll; discourses were collected from the teaching-context stories and placed in the second section of the scroll (these discourses were often grouped on the basis of common key words); twin parables, normally the conclusion to teaching-context stories, were collected and placed in the third and final section of the scroll. Thus, parts of the Greek translation were divorced from their original contexts and the original story outline was lost; First Reconstruction. Not long before Luke was written, an attempt was made to reconstruct a chronological record by excerpting units from the Anthology. This resulted in a much shorter version of Jesus’ biography (a condensation of about eighteen chapters), as well as a significant improvement in its quality of Greek” (“Conjectured Process of Gospel Transmission,” Jerusalem Perspective [henceforth, JerPers] 38-39 [1993]: 6). In Lindsey’s theory, Matthew, Mark and Luke were acquainted with the Anthology, but Luke alone was acquainted with the First Reconstruction. Mark used Luke while only rarely referring to the Anthology. Matthew used Mark and the Anthology.
  • [4] Priority of writing order does not necessarily imply originality of text.
  • [5] David Flusser, “Jesus,” EncJud 10:10.
  • [6] M. H. Segal, “Mishnaic Hebrew and Its Relation to Biblical Hebrew and to Aramaic,” in JQR (Old Series) 20 (1908-9): 647-737. See also Segal’s A Grammar of Mishnaic Hebrew (Oxford, 1927).
  • [7] In the Triple Tradition there are approximately 800 Matthean-Lukan minor agreements, and a similar number of Matthean-Lukan agreements in omission (where Matthew and Luke agree to omit words from Mark’s account).
  • [8] One potential type of Markan rewriting is the changing of the order of events, for example, the placement of the tearing of the temple curtain after Jesus’ death rather than before it (Mark 15:37-38; for a fuller discussion, see the section, “Jesus’ Death on the Cross”); or, the placement of the guessing game the guards played after a meeting of the council rather than before it (Mark 14:53, 55-65; for a fuller discussion, see the section, “Jesus before the Sanhedrin”).
  • [9] Two of the examples I will consider (numbers 2 and 5) are Matthean-Lukan minor agreements (against Mark). Such agreements are extremely significant. If, in Triple Tradition, Matthew and Luke, supposedly working independently, agree to disagree with Mark, this would appear to be evidence that Matthew and Luke had a common source other than Mark; however, according to the Two-document Hypothesis, the only source for their Triple Tradition materials was Mark. The improbability that at these points of agreement Matthew and Luke were copying from Mark creates a challenge for proponents of the majority view.
  • [10] “As it was prescribed that the roasted lamb be eaten within the walls of the holy city [m. Zevahim 5:7-8; cf. m. Pesahim 7:9], on the last evening Jesus did not return to Bethany, but remained in Jerusalem [Matt. 26:17-20]” (David Flusser, The Sage from Galilee: Rediscovering Jesus’ Genius [Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2007], 134).

Comments 2

  1. In your article, “Selected Examples of Rewriting in Mark’s Account of Jesus’ Last Week,” you examine the wine-bread order in the Passover meal as practiced in early first century Israel. “The Pharisaic order for festive meals, including the Passover meal, was wine-bread.”

    You begin by pointing out that Luke records the traditional wine-bread order but Mark (Mk. 14:22-25), agreeing with Paul in 1 Cor. 11:23-25 instead presents a bread-wine order.

    R. Steven Notley’s scholarship is then introduced to suggest that Mark may have been influenced by the Essenes’ belief that, “this would be the order followed by the messiah of the End of Days.” (The Essenes noted the example of Melchizedek’s offering of bread and wine to Abraham.) However, is there any evidence in the synoptics or elsewhere that suggests that either Mark or Paul were so influenced by Essene thought as to modify the record of that last Seder?

    Curiously, however, Luke does in fact add a second cup “after supper” (Luke 22:20). This sounds to me identical to Paul’s wording in 1 Cor. 11:24-25. Might this not then be simply a case of Mark not including mention of the previous cup as found in Luke’s narrative? Dr. Notley himself pointed out in a recent lecture at the Lanier Theological Library, “Between the Chairs,” that Mark never saw or copied from Luke’s Gospel.

    As I understand the Passover Seder as presented in a typical Passover Haggadah, the wine-bread order continues to this day in Jewish practice. However, it appears that today’s traditional Seder meal is far more elaborate than was the case during Jesus’ day.

    Paul teaches the Corinthians that Jesus first broke the matzah and distributed it. Then after supper Jesus took the cup of wine. Matthew (Mt. 26:26-28) follows this order, with Jesus taking, blessing [God] and breaking the matzah during the main meal. Then he takes the cup, but Matthew does not tell us which one.

    Paul independently claims that he received the order of service of the bread and wine directly, “from the Lord.” Besides, is it not reasonable that there could have been a first cup of wine prior to the meal of lamb and bitter herbs as in today’s Seder? If so, then Jesus simply would have been waiting for the moment he had chosen to introduce his identification with a particular course of matzah and a particular cup of wine.

    However, all this for me raises some questions. Assuming that the order observed by Jesus during his last Passover meal was bread-wine, in practice, how did this work? How many cups of wine were distributed during the meal all together? How many courses of Matzah? Synchronizing the Synoptic Gospel accounts with Paul in 1 Corinthians it appears to me that there was at a minimum a meal (of lamb and bitter herbs), then a cup of wine, then Matzah blessed, broken and distributed and then another cup “after supper.”

    Therefore I ask, 1. what food elements were included and what was the order of Jesus’ and the disciples’ Passover meal? 2. What were the food elements and the order of the Passover meal in the early first century Pharisaic tradition?

    Thank you.

    David Bensoren

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David N. Bivin

David N. Bivin
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David N. Bivin is founder and editor of Jerusalem Perspective. A native of Cleveland, Oklahoma, U.S.A., Bivin has lived in Israel since 1963, when he came to Jerusalem on a Rotary Foundation Fellowship to do postgraduate work at the Hebrew University. He studied at the Hebrew…
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