A Statistical Approach to the Synoptic Problem: Part 4—Non-Linear Hypotheses

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In Part Four of his series, "A Statistical Approach to the Synoptic Problem," Halvor Ronning compares Lindsey's theory of Lukan Priority to alternative solutions to the Synoptic Problem.

In this series I have proposed various tests that have the potential to rule out some of the theoretically possible relationships between the Synoptic Gospels. So far we have focused on scenarios of simple linear dependence (A→B→C), and we have discovered that only one of the six possible scenarios of this type withstands the tests: Luke→Mark→Matthew. But what about other scenarios that do not claim linear dependence between all three Synoptic Gospels, but only between two? Such scenarios are much “safer” ground for the theoretician because it is next to impossible to devise tests that could prove in which direction the dependence flowed. These scenarios are “blessed” with allowing a fantastic range of play to the imagination of the theoreticians. That is exactly what one can observe. In the introduction to the papers of the 1984 Jerusalem conference, the editor, David Dungan, wrote:

Contrary to all expectations, these conferences were making matters more confusing, not the reverse. With each successive assembly of biblical scholars, the list of new questions grew longer and longer, while the list of answered questions grew very slowly or not at all. This “negative progress” was frustrating to all concerned. In hindsight, it is perhaps accurate to say that much of the lack of progress was due, not to stubborn resistance but to the fact that as major questions were raised, new and complex scholarly tools were called for, taking years to complete, and meanwhile everyone just had to be patient.[1]

In the discussion that follows we will consider how non-linear hypotheses of Synoptic dependence compare to the hypothesis of Lukan Priority.

So far we have observed three strong points of the Luke→Mark→Matthew model:

1. The elegance with which Lukan Priority explains the verbal identity relationships between the Synoptic Gospels, including its promotion of the minor agreements from a problem to a key part of the solution because of seeing Mark in the middle position (see Part One).

2. The ability of Lukan Priority to give a consistent picture of each writer’s relationship to his parallel texts (see Part Two).

3. The ability of Lukan Priority to account for the level of Semitic influence in the various parts of each Gospel (see Part Three).

As we now turn to non-linear scenarios we can question whether these scenarios can explain the statistics of verbal identity and the levels of Semitic influence in each Gospel as well as the Lukan Priority model. The most prominent non-linear hypotheses are the Multiple Source theory, Markan Priority (also known as the Two-source Hypothesis), and Markan Conflation (also known as the Two Gospel Hypothesis). However, since the Multiple Source theory relates primarily to hypothetical documents that we do not have in hand, I will not deal with it here, since without verbal identity statistics or measurements of Semitic influence from these conjectured sources there are no statistics upon which to base a comparison.[2] I will therefore focus on Markan Priority and Markan Conflation, both of which can be subjected to statistical analysis.

In each case we will examine the ability of the non-linear hypothesis to satisfactorily explain the statistics of verbal identity and the levels of Semitic influence in the three Synoptic Gospels. The verbal identities are measured as “IFS,” words in parallel texts which are “identical in form and sequence” (as discussed in Part One of this series).[3] With respect to Semitic influence, my assessment will not be based on Martin’s net frequencies of Semitic indicators referred to in Part Three, since we lack so much of the essential data. Instead, we will base our assessment on Lindsey’s observations regarding the relative ease or difficulty of translating the Greek texts of the Gospels into Hebrew. Accordingly, I will be referring to the “ease of retroversion,” in other words, the ease of translating the Synoptic Gospels back into Hebrew. When Martin’s statistics are more complete, this exercise can be done more accurately. In the meantime, the confirmation of Lindsey’s observations by what Martin has already quantified gives me all the more confidence in relying on Lindsey’s observations.

Markan Priority

Markan Priority or the Two Source Hypothesis

Markan Priority or the Two-Source Hypothesis

The theory of Markan Priority, or the Two-source Hypothesis, supposes that the authors of Matthew and Luke both relied on the Gospel of Mark as their primary source. Mark’s Gospel not only supplied the wording of the stories Matthew and Luke copied from Mark, the Gospel of Mark also bequeathed its narrative outline to Matthew and Luke. The Two-source Hypothesis further supposes that in addition to Mark, the authors of Matthew and Luke copied from a source called “Q” document. “Q” is the source of the Matthean-Lukan Double Tradition (DT) pericopae, but since neither Matthew nor Luke were aware of one another’s work they inserted the Q pericopae into different slots within Mark’s narrative framework. That is how the Two-source Hypothesis accounts for the general agreement of pericope order in Triple Tradition (TT) versus the absence of agreement with regard to pericope order in Matthean-Lukan DT.

1. IFS
Matthew’s dependence on Mark is supported by the fact that 50% of Matthew’s text is composed of words that are Identical in Form and Sequence to the wording of the Markan parallels whether Luke also has the parallel or not.

Luke’s dependence on Mark is supported by the fact that 40% of Luke’s text is composed of words that are IFS to the wording of the Markan parallels, whether Matthew also has the parallel or not.

50% of Matthew’s text in parallels with Luke alone (Matthean-Lukan DT) is composed of words that are IFS with Luke. But in great contrast to Matthew’s text in parallels with Luke which also have parallels in Mark (DT within TT), the percentage of Matthew’s text that retains IFS with Luke drops to 20%.

This shift from 50% to 20% in Matthew’s relationship to Luke just because Mark happens to have the same material demands an explanation. One is forced to conclude that although Matthew is able to maintain a high verbal identity with Lukan parallels, Matthew reflects the wording of Mark whenever Mark is present (at the same consistent 50% average), regardless of what happens in relationship to Luke. Additionally one must explain the origin of the minor agreements, i.e., how it is that 4% of Matthew’s text is composed of verbal identities with Luke that are not shared with Mark.[4]

2. Ease of Retroversion
Mark is typically erratic throughout his Gospel in terms of ease of Hebrew retroversion. Sometimes Mark translates quite easily into Hebrew, and sometimes not. This inconsistency can be observed even from sentence to sentence.

Matthew is almost as erratic as Mark in Matthew’s parallels to Mark whether Luke is also parallel (TT) or not (Markan-Matthean DT).[5] By contrast, Matthew is often as Hebraic as Luke in parallels with Luke alone (Matthean-Lukan DT), and sometimes even more so.[6] Matthew’s Single Tradition (ST) is also more Hebraic than Mark.[7]

Luke is more consistently Hebraic throughout than any of the other Synoptic Gospels. This means that Luke is not only able to sustain a highly Hebraic character in materials not found in Mark, but that in passages where—according to Markan Priority—Luke is dependent on Mark Luke is evidently rewriting the erratic Markan material to force it to become more consistently Hebraic.[8]

The level of Semitic influence in the Gospel of Luke appears to be a genuine difficulty in the light of Martin’s findings. Although Lindsey described the ease of reverting (or “back-translating”) Luke’s Gospel into Hebrew, Martin has shown that on a syntactical level there is no consistency of such a nature that could support the hypothesis that Luke intentionally rewrote his sources in a Hebraizing style. Too much switching between Semitic and Greek syntax is taking place in Luke to sustain the theory that Luke sought to artificially impose a Semitic style on his materials. The data fits better with the theory that Luke used snippets from various Semitic sources, interspersed with his own Greek redactional comments, as both Martin and Lindsey suppose. This explanation is consistent with Lindsey’s sense of the overall relatively greater ease of retroverting Luke to Hebrew.

Matthean Priority (Griesbach-Farmer, the Markan Conflation Variation)

Matthean Priority-Markan Conflation

Matthean Priority with Mark’s Gospel as a conflation of the writings of Matthew and Luke.

According to this view, Matthew is the oldest Gospel. The author of Luke used Matthew in additions to the apostolic traditions he had received, and the Gospel of Mark drew from Matthew and Luke, often harmonizing the versions of Matthew and Luke when they shared the same story.

1. IFS
Mark’s dependence on Matthew is supported by the fact that 40% of Mark’s text is composed of words that are IFS with the wording of the Matthean parallels, whether Luke has a parallel text or not.

Mark’s dependence on Luke is supported by the fact that about 30% of Mark’s text is composed of words that are IFS with the wording of the Lukan parallels, whether Matthew has a parallel text or not.

Luke’s dependence on Matthew is supported by the fact that 30% of Luke’s text is composed of words that are IFS with the wording of the Matthean parallels. But there is a tremendous difference between Luke leaning on Matthew alone (Matthean-Lukan DT), when 50% of Luke’s text is composed of words that are IFS with the Matthean parallels, in contrast to Luke leaning on Matthew when Mark also is parallel (DT within TT), when only 20% of Luke’s text is composed of IFS with Matthean wording.

To justify this scenario one must explain why Luke treated his Matthean material inconsistently. It would appear especially difficult to explain how the presence of Mark, who came later (according to the Markan Conflation theory), appears to be the cause of this inconsistency.

2. Ease of Retroversion

Some parts of Matthew are relatively easy to revert to Hebrew, but when parallel to Mark retroversion of the Matthean text becomes much more difficult. This fluctuation in Matthew with respect to ease of retroversion must be explained somehow, since the Markan Conflation theory holds that since Matthew was prior to Mark there was no way for Matthew to know when Mark would copy his material and when he would not. One is forced to explain why Mark accepted only the parts of Matthew that are difficult to revert to Hebrew (where they remain equally reversion resistant in Mark).

Luke follows Matthew’s highly Hebraic materials involved in the 21.59% of Matthew’s total text length which is Matthean-Lukan DT (involving some 3,951 words of Matthew’s text out of Matthew’s total TT length of 8,298 words).

Luke drops some 41.89% of Matthew’ text: 73% of what Luke drops is Matthean ST (some 5,596 words) that is strongly Hebraic, and the remaining 27% of what Luke drops is Matthean-Markan DT (some 2069 words) that is difficult to revert to Hebrew. Most striking, however, is that when Luke accepts Matthean material that is difficult to revert to Hebrew (as is almost all 36.52% of Matthew’s text which is Matthean-Lukan with Markan parallels [DT within TT], some 6,682 words of TT), Luke rewrites this material in such a way that it becomes easier to revert to Hebrew.

Markan Conflation faces the same serious problem we noted above under Markan Priority: the need to explain how Luke managed to convert a source text that is difficult to revert to Hebrew into a text that is easy to revert to Hebrew. The difference here is that according to Markan Conflation Luke must have been re-Hebraizing parts of Matthew that resist retroversion to Hebrew, whereas according to Markan Priority, Luke must have been re-Hebraizing parts of Mark that resist Hebrew retroversion.

Furthermore, Mark accepts material from 47.82% of Matthew’s text; this is the part of Matthew that is difficult to revert to Hebrew (i.e., the material which appears together with both Mark and Luke [some 6,682 words] or just with Mark alone [some 2,069 words]).

Mark drops 52.18% of Matthew’s materials, whatever of Matthew is easy to revert to Hebrew (i.e., the material which is either Matthew’s Single Tradition [some 5,596 words] or Matthean-Lukan DT [some 3,951 words]).

In contrast to Mark’s policy of copying only the parts of Matthew that are most resistant to Hebrew retroversion, Mark’s criteria for accepting or dropping material found in Luke is unrelated to ease of retroversion, since Luke is relatively easy to revert to Hebrew throughout his entire text.

Mark drops 65.14% of Luke’s text, some 12,669 words; 30% of these words are the materials which Luke shares with Matthew, material that not only easily yields to Hebrew retroversion in Luke but also in Matthew.

Mark has parallels for 38.86% of Luke’s text which involve some 6,779 words, of which 95.62% are paralleled in Matthew precisely in Matthean texts that resist Hebrew retroversion. Only 297 words of Luke’s text are material which is shared by Mark alone (Lukan-Markan DT).

According to the Markan Conflation scenario, it would appear that Mark had a strong aversion toward accepting anything from Luke unless it was paralleled by Matthean material that resists retroversion to Hebrew. It would appear that the only reason for Markan Conflationists to suppose that Mark leaned on Luke at all is to explain why Mark sometimes has the same pericope order as Luke in contrast to Matthew. But, as logicians have amply shown, all arguments for the direction of literary dependence that are based on pericope order are inconclusive.[9]

Lukan Priority

LukeMarkMatt

Lukan Priority

According to this view Luke is the oldest Gospel, which the author of Mark used as the basis of his Gospel. The author of Mark was highly selective, choosing only some of the stories he read in Luke, and he was also highly creative, recasting the stories he selected in his own words. The author of Matthew used the Gospel of Mark as one of his main sources. He never knew of the existence of Luke, but he did have one of the sources the author Luke had utilized when writing his Gospel. In this way Matthew was able to restore some of the same stories that had been in Luke that Mark had omitted and he was able to restore some of the original wording of the stories Mark had rewritten (i.e., the minor agreements).

1. IFS

Mark’s dependence on Luke is supported by the fact that about 32% of Mark’s text is made up of words that are IFS with the Lukan parallels whether Matthew is present or not.

Matthew’s dependence on Mark is supported by the fact that about 50% of Matthew’s text is made up of words that are IFS with the Markan parallels whether Luke is present or not.

50% of Matthew’s text is made up of words that are IFS with the Lukan parallels in Matthean-Lukan DT. The high frequency of IFS with Luke would seem to point to direct dependence of Matthew on Luke were it not for the fact that Matthew’s relationship to Luke when Mark is parallel (DT within TT) is entirely different. When Mark is also parallel only 20% of Matthew’s text is made up of words that are IFS with Luke. The advantage of the Lukan Priority scenario is that Matthew’s changing relationship to Lukan material depending on whether or not Mark is also present is not a challenge to the Luke→Mark→Matthew scenario, but a proof of its viability. When one takes a closer look at the 20% it turns out that only 16% is left after one subtracts the “minor agreements” of Matthew and Luke against Mark, that is, the words that have not come from Luke via Mark into Matthew. This 16% is exactly what the Luke→Mark→Matthew scenario predicts as Lukan IFS arriving into Matthew via Mark.[10] This prediction is exactly what the statistical facts later confirmed from our research.[11]

2. Ease of Retroversion

Throughout his entire Gospel, Luke is easier to revert to Hebrew than either Mark or Matthew.

Mark is consistently more difficult to revert to Hebrew than Luke. Lukan Priority is able to explain the greater ease with which Luke reverts to Hebrew than Mark by supposing that the author of Mark consistently paraphrased Luke’s wording with the result that his text is further removed from Hebrew idiom and word order than the text of Luke.

Matthew follows his sources faithfully and consistently. He sticks with Mark throughout and consistently reflects the same resistance to Hebrew retroversion as Mark in all parallels with Mark. The only exceptions are the “minor agreements” which are basically stylistic “corrections” which Matthew made to Mark. The “minor agreements” are the result of Matthew’s reliance on Luke’s Hebraic source, which Matthew used in addition to Mark. By relying on this earlier, more Hebraic source, Matthew sometimes achieved a more Hebraic text than Mark’s.

Matthew, when not influenced by Mark, reverts to Hebrew with about the same ease as Luke in Matthean-Lukan DT and in much of Matthew’s ST. It is mainly when Mark is parallel to Matthew that Matthew’s material resists retroversion to Hebrew like Mark.

In fact Matthew sometimes reverts to Hebrew even more easily than Luke. This is the basis of Lindsey’s conjecture that Matthew did not depend directly on Luke, but rather that Matthew depended on the same Hebraic source that Luke had used when composing his Gospel.

Lindsey'sStemma

Lindsey’s solution to the “Synoptic Problem.”

Summary

The Markan Priority, the Markan Conflation, and Lukan Priority scenarios have now been measured against each other in terms of their ability to handle the statistics that have been presented in this series. How well did each scenario explain the facts of verbal identities between the Gospels? How well did they explain the relative ease of retroverting the Greek text of the to Hebrew? The consistency and elegance of the Lukan Priority scenario contrasts sharply with the difficulties faced by the other two scenarios.

The Markan Priorists are correct in emphasizing the significance of Mark, especially in relationship to Matthew. They are also correct to recognize the existence of some document(s) that existed prior to the Synoptic Gospels. Their failure has been to argue from pericope order and from the overall brevity of Mark. The brevity argument backfires against Markan Priority when one compares apples with apples, that is, when one looks within Triple Tradition it is precisely Luke that is the shortest and Mark that is the longest. Additionally, Markan Priorists have been extremely feeble in their efforts to explain away the “minor agreements.”

The Markan Conflationists are correct in emphasizing the significance of Mark, especially in terms of recognizing the existence of conflationary styles of redaction that existed in the first century. The Markan Conflationists are also correct in not trying to argue from modern notions of what an author might like to include or omit. They have recognized that Mark was aware of materials such as those we have in Matthew. The mistake of the Markan Conflationists has been to suppose that the source of the Gospel tradition was the canonical Greek Matthew rather than its predecessor, the Hebrew Matthew to whom the Church Fathers testify.[12]

Neither Markan Priority nor Markan Conflation can explain the publicly observable facts and verifiable statistics as well as Lindsey’s hypothesis of Lukan Priority. There is a great advantage for synoptic research when it is understood that Mark is in the middle.[13] The immeasurable advantage to be gained by seeing Mark in the middle is the way it can account for the so-called “minor agreements.” For Lukan Priority the Matthean-Lukan agreements against Mark in TT pericopae are no longer a problem, but part of the elegant solution made possible by these “key agreements.” When Mark is placed in the middle the Matthean-Lukan agreements against Mark can now be easily understood as the “corrections” of the final Gospel writer. The final writer—the author of the canonical Greek Matthew—is to be imagined as working with Mark, his immediate source, in front of him. But out of his awareness of Luke’s Hebraic source, Matthew reinserted many of the exact words that Luke had copied from that first Gospel, words that Mark had omitted. Matthew reinserted them right back into the exact same positions as in Luke. Not only did Matthew make many reinsertions, he also frequently omitted words and phrases that Mark had inserted, words and phases that were not present in that earlier Gospel that stands behind the Gospel of Luke. This all falls into place as we see the statistical support for the mediating position of Mark between Luke and Matthew.

A Final Touch: Mark as Dramatizer

Lindsey’s original insight that Luke is the first among the three Synoptic Gospels and that Mark is in the middle came from the surprising fact that he Lindsey could “back-translate” Luke more easily into Hebrew than the other two Gospels in Triple Tradition contexts. This discovery came as a great surprise to Lindsey, since, prior to this discovery, Lindsey had assumed that the theory of Markan Priority was correct and had, in line with most Markan Priorists, considered Luke to be the last writer among the Synoptic Gospels. After all, Luke is the only one of the New Testament writers who, according to Church tradition, was not Jewish and whose Gospel is sometimes called the “Gospel to the Gentiles.”

Paradoxically, the reason the Gospel of Luke is the most Hebraic of the Synoptic Gospels in terms of Semitic syntax underlying his Greek, is that the author of Luke was the least Jewish in terms of his approach to his sources. The author of Luke approached his sources very differently from the Jewish midrashic and targumic writers of his time. It was the practice of targumists to enliven and dramatize a familiar narrative by retelling it in a novel way. Straight copying was practically forbidden to such a writer.[14] This penchant for retelling a story differently for the sake of dramatic effect is well known not only among the Jewish targumists, but also in the writings of Josephus.[15] According to Shinan, “Josephus’ use of the Biblical stories was selective. He omitted from his works whatever he found unpalatable or that he felt his potential readers might find distasteful…. Whatever is not mentioned in the Bible, or is merely alluded to or hinted at, is expanded upon by Josephus….”[16]

In relation to such Jewish writers, we can judge that Luke was more steady and less innovative in relation to his sources. Even though we do not have copies of Luke’s sources we can observe how Luke preserved whole blocks of material that are more consistently easy to translate into Hebrew than the parallel material in Mark or Matthew. Luke does not share the same degree of erratic character with respect to Hebrew retroversion as does Mark. Like Luke, Matthew is also generally easier to revert to Hebrew than Mark, except where Matthew has a Markan parallel. Where Matthew has a Markan parallel, Matthew is just as difficult to revert to Hebrew as Mark. These observations are the origin of Lindsey’s insights regarding the dependence of Matthew on Mark, and the independence of Luke from either.

Mark’s Gospel, on the other hand, exhibits the expansionist characteristics of a Jewish midrashic or targumistic storyteller. Like a targumist, Mark absolutely refused to replicate the wording of Luke. If, for instance, the Lukan text has “Jesus said,” the Markan parallel has “Jesus told.” If the Lukan text has “Jesus told,” the Markan parallel has “Jesus said.”


 

Mark’s editorial activity is not a matter of high theological interference with his sources. As a Jewish author, Mark simply followed in the footsteps of good targumic style: he dramatized his source by substituting synonyms, adding words from elsewhere, and rearranging and reversing word orders; anything to hold the reader’s attention and fascination.[17] Due to this ‘targumic’ activity the stories Mark told are almost always (literally 80% of the time) longer than the parallel accounts in Luke and Matthew.[18] Mark is the longest Gospel, not the shortest in terms of the actual stories he decided to incorporate. Mark is shortest only in terms of overall length, but that is only because of the stories and sayings he chose to omit. Mark’s expansionist style fits his character as a sophisticated targumic story teller.[19]


  • [1] David Dungan, The Interrelations of the Gospels: Papers from the Symposium in Jerusalem, 1984 (Macon, Ga.: Mercer University Press, 1990), xi.
  • [2] I am not being cynical when I refer to the sources conjectured by the Multiple Source theory as “hypothetical. I am myself convinced from internal evidence in the Gospels that Matthew, Mark and Luke are ultimately based on a Greek translation of an original Hebrew Gospel. The Church Fathers also testified, as external evidence, that such a document existed. Nevertheless, these sources remain hypothetical—however real they may have been historically in the sense that it is they are not available for statistical analysis.
  • [3] For a fuller definition of IFS and how IFS are counted, see “A Statistical Approach to the Synoptic Problem: Part 1” under the subheading “A Method for Eliminating Some of the Six Theoretically Possible Linear Relationships.”
  • [4] How does the Luke→Mark→Matthew scenario of simple linear dependence explain the “minor agreements” of Matthew and Luke against Mark, since this scenario presumes that the author of Matthew never saw the Gospel of Luke? As we discussed in Part Three, the “minor agreements” can be explained if in addition to using the Gospel of Mark the author of Matthew also used the source that stands behind the Gospel of Luke.
  • [5] Notice that in the charts from Martin’s statistics in Part Three Matthew is less Semitic than Luke in the TT parallels to Mark 11-16.
  • [6] Flusser noted that Bussman had already distinguished between two kinds of “Q” material: material in which Matthew and Luke were very similar, and material in which Luke was secondary. According to Flusser the secondary character of Luke is especially pronounced in the Lord’s Prayer and in the Sermon on the Mount, which are both less Hebraic in Luke than in Matthew. How can a theory of Lukan Priority accommodate the fact that in some places Luke is secondary to Matthew? The answer is that Matthew had access to the same literalistic Hebraic Greek source that Luke used, but Matthew occasionally preserved the underlying Hebrew idiom of that early source more faithfully than Luke. Luke seems at some points to have adjusted the wording to fit the sensitivities of his Greek audience, for example, Luke twice dropped the reference to “heaven” from the Lord’s Prayer. See David Flusser, Das Christentum—eine Juedische Religion (Munich: Kösel Verlag, 1990), 53-62.
  • [7] Compare Lindsey’s observations to the charts in Part Three based on Martin’s Statistics which show Matthean-Lukan DT to be much more Semitic than Mark. Matthew’s ST also registers slightly above Mark’s material in terms of Semitic influence.
  • [8] In Part Three we noted Martin’s surprise over how “much more Semitic” the Lukan and Matthean Passion Narratives are than Mark’s. See Raymond Martin, Syntax Criticism of Johannine Literature, The Catholic Epistles, and the Four Gospel Passion Accounts (Lewiston, N.Y.: Edwin Mellen, 1989), 45.
  • [9] See Joseph B. Tyson, “Sequential Parallelism in the Synoptic Gospels,” New Testament Studies 22.3 (1976): 276-308; Hans Stoldt, “The Proof From the Common Narrative Sequence,” in History and Criticism of the Marcan Hypothesis (trans. Donald Niewyk; Macon: Mercer, 1980), 135-154; Malcolm Lowe, “The Demise of Arguments from Order for Markan Priority,” Novum Testamentum 24 (1982): 27-36. On the persistence of the argument from pericope order, see John C. Poirier, “The Synoptic Problem and the Field of New Testament Introduction,” Journal for the Study of the New Testament 32.2 (2009): 179-190.
  • [10] If 32% of Mark’s text is Lukan, and 50% of Matthew’s text is Markan, then 16% (50% of 32%) is the theoretical prediction as to what percentage of Matthew’s text should be expected to be made up of words which are IFS with Luke. In other words, there should be enough Lukan words surviving via Mark to make up 16% of Matthew’s text.
  • [11] On this point see Part One of this series.
  • [12] It seems that an early literalistic Greek translation of this Hebrew Matthew was the main source for both Luke and the second main source (Mark being the other) for (canonical) Matthew.
  • [13] The Markan Priority and the Markan Conflation theories do, in fact, recognize the critical nature of the position of Mark. But placing Mark either before or after the other two Synoptic Gospels provides only partial solutions rather than the elegant and statistically consistent solution made possible when it is understood that Mark is in the middle between the Gospels of Luke and Matthew.
  • [14] On characteristics of targumic renderings, see Martin McNamara, Targum and Testament—Aramaic Paraphrases of the Hebrew Bible: A light on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1972), 69-78; Hermann L. Strack, Introduction to the Talmud and Midrash (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society of America, 1931), 201-202. On midrash, see Adin Steinsaltz, The Essential Talmud (trans. Chaya Galai; New York : Bantam Books, 1976), 223ff.
  • [15] I am indebted to Joseph Frankovic who noticed the similarities between Josephus and Mark’s editorial style.
  • [16] Avigdor Shinan, The World of the Aggadah (Tel Aviv: Mod, 1990), 51. Shinan continues, “Thus, for example, he [i.e., Josephus—H.R.] describes a romance between Joseph and Potiphar’s wife, or he has a wonderful story…of Moses’ marriage to the woman of Cush. Josephus also describes at length the emotional feelings of the characters involved, and there is a certain emphasis on the psychological aspect of the events, while making the story palatable to the Hellenistic reader.”

    This alternation of omission and expansion in Josephus is clearly indicated also by Louis Feldman of Yeshiva University, NY, NY, in his article, “Josephus’ Interpretation of Jonah,” The Journal of the Association for Jewish Studies 17.1 (1992): 1-29. Josephus “deems it necessary to report what is found in the Scriptures concerning Jonah. But when we consider how much of the biblical narrative Josephus has omitted in his paraphrase, this seems like a mere pretext for introducing material that he thought important…he, indeed, omits most of what is written in the Book of Jonah….” (Feldman, “Josephus’ Interpretation of Jonah,” 5). But Josephus also expands: “As a historian, Josephus is eager to give the impression of being precise. Thus, the Bible (Jon. 1:3) reports that Jonah found a ship going to Tarshish, a city whose location is unknown; and one might well wonder whether the city is fictitious and whether the whole story is a mere parable. Not so in Josephus, who unambiguously identifies (A. 9.208) the city as Tarsus in Cilicia,” (Feldman, “Josephus’ Interpretation of Jonah,” 6). Feldman adds further examples.

  • [17] Mark also demonstrates that he had an intensely active associative mind by recalling of words and phrases and ideas from the Septuagint and the writings of Paul and working these words and ideas into his paraphrase of Luke’s text. See, for example, the highly instructive word study of Markan innovations in Mark 7 where this activity is more intensive than anywhere else in all of the Markan-Lukan parallel passages: Yochanan Ronen [Halvor Ronning], “Mark 7:1-23: ‘Traditions of the Elders’Immanuel 12 (1981): 44-54.
  • [18] This statistic can be verified in any statistical concordance as I have done with Morgenthaler’s synopsis. R. M. Morgenthaler, Statistische Synopse (Zurich: Gotthelf, 1971).
  • [19] The issue of the chronological significance of Mark’s style goes back to the very origins of the Markan Priority hypothesis when the liveliness of his style was proclaimed as a sign of his priority, a sign of eyewitness character. But this point has been debated from the start, as is evident in the historical review given us in the nineteenth century doctoral thesis of H. Meijboom A History and Critique of the Origin of the Marcan Hypothesis 1835-1866 (trans. John J. Kiwiet; Macon: Mercer, 1993; Dutch 1866), 105-115.

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Halvor Ronning

Halvor Ronning

A founding member and past director of the Jerusalem School of Synoptic Research, Halvor Ronning (B.A., St. Olaf Lutheran College; B.D., Lutheran Theological Seminary; M.A., Yale University) now serves as one of the four members of the Jerusalem School’s Board of Directors. An officially licensed…
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