Spontaneous Growth Parable

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An exploration of a parable unique to the Gospel of Mark.

Mark 4:26-29

(Huck 95; Aland 126; Crook 148)[1]

Revised: 26-November-2019

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Text

To view the text of the Spontaneous Growth parable, click on the link below:

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In addition to the translations of Delitzsch and Lindsey given above, we also present our best attempt at reverting Mark’s Spontaneous Growth parable to Hebrew:

וְהָיָה אוֹמֵר כָּךְ מַלְכוּת שָׁמַיִם כְּאָדָם שֶׁיִּתֵּן הַזֶּרַע עַל הָאֲדָמָה וְיִשְׁכַּב וְיָקוּם לַיְלָה וָיוֹם וְהַזֶּרַע יַעֲלֶה וְיִצְמַח הֵיאַךְ לֹא יָדַע מֵעַצְמָהּ הָאֲדָמָה עוֹשָׂה פְּרִי תְּחִילָּה עֵשֶׂב אָז שִׁבּוֹלֶת אָז חִטָּה שְׁלֵמָה בַּשִּׁבּוֹלֶת וּכְשֶׁיִּתֵּן הַפְּרִי מִיָּד יִשְׁלַח מַגָּל כִּי בָשַׁל קָצִיר

And he would say, “Thus the Kingdom of Heaven is like a person who will put the seed on the ground. And he will sleep and he will rise night and day, but the seed will come up and grow—how, he did not know. Of itself the ground produces fruit: first a blade, then an ear, then a full wheat in the ear. And when the fruit will give, immediately he will send the sickle, for the harvest is ripe.”

Conjectured Stages of Transmission

The Spontaneous Growth parable is the second parable in Mark’s parables excursus (Mark 4:1-34). This parables excursus in Mark is based on the discussion of the Four Soils parable in Luke 8:4-18, to which the author of Mark added a few sayings culled from other parts of the Gospel of Luke and supplemented by the Spontaneous Growth and Mustard Seed parables. Luke’s version of the Mustard Seed parable was copied almost verbatim from the Anthology (Anth.),[2] so the author of Mark could have based his highly-redacted version of the Mustard Seed parable on either (or both) of these sources.

The Spontaneous Growth parable, on the other hand, does not occur in Luke, so the author of Mark must have taken this parable either from Anth. or from some other written or oral source. Alternatively, the author of Mark could have manufactured Spontaneous Growth ex nihilo. We are reluctant to suppose that the author of Mark simply made up parables and attributed them to Jesus,[3] and there is reason to suppose that behind Mark’s Spontaneous Growth parable there stood a literary source. Although, strictly speaking, Spontaneous Growth is unique to the Gospel of Mark,[4] this Markan parable nevertheless bears a striking resemblance, in terms of themes and vocabulary, to Darnel Among the Wheat,[5] which in the Gospel of Matthew occupies the same position that Spontaneous Growth occupies in Mark.[6] On account of their shared themes, vocabulary and placement, some scholars have suggested that Matthew’s Darnel Among the Wheat parable is an expanded form of the Spontaneous Growth parable in Mark.[7] But having found 1) that Darnel Among the Wheat, despite the evidence of some Matthean rewriting, reverts reasonably well to Hebrew; 2) that Darnel Among the Wheat makes sense within the context of Jesus’ teaching; and 3) parallels to Darnel Among the Wheat in rabbinic sources, we believe that the reverse may, in fact, be the case: the author of Mark produced the Spontaneous Growth parable by condensing and rewriting the Darnel Among the Wheat parable, which he knew from Anth. This hypothesis accounts for the themes and distinctive vocabulary shared by these two parables and for the considerable difficulty we encounter when attempting to revert Spontaneous Growth to Hebrew (on which, see the Comment section below).

Sources of the Markan Parables Excursus

Below we have a side-by-side comparison of Mark’s Spontaneous Growth parable and our reconstruction of how Darnel Among the Wheat may have been worded in Anth.:

Darnel Among the Wheat (reconstruction) Spontaneous Growth
[εἶπεν δὲ πρὸς αὐτοὺς παραβολὴν] λέγων καὶ ἔλεγεν
And he told them a parable, saying, And he was saying,
τίνι ὁ λόγος ἐστὶν ὅμοιος ὅμοιός ἐστιν οὕτως ἐστὶν ἡ βασιλεία τοῦ θεοῦ
“To what is the matter similar? It is similar In this way is the Kingdom of God:
ἀνθρώπῳ σπείραντι σπέρμα καλὸν ἐν τῷ ἀγρῷ αὐτοῦ ὡς ἄνθρωπος βάλῃ τὸν σπόρον ἐπὶ τῆς γῆς
to a man sowing good seed in his field. like a man might put the seed on the ground
ἐν τῷ καθεύδειν αὐτὸν ἦλθεν ὁ ἐχθρὸς αὐτοῦ καὶ ἔσπειρεν ζιζάνια ἀνὰ μέσον τοῦ σίτου καὶ ἀπῆλθεν καὶ καθεύδῃ καὶ ἐγείρηται νύκτα καὶ ἡμέραν
While he was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed darnel among the wheat and he departed. and he might sleep and he might rise night and day
ὅτε δὲ ἐβλάστησενχόρτος καὶ τὰ ζιζάνια ἐβλάστησαν καὶ ὁ σπόρος βλαστᾷ καὶ μηκύνηται ὡς οὐκ οἶδεν αὐτός αὐτομάτη ἡ γῆ καρποφορεῖ πρῶτον χόρτον εἶτεν στάχυν εἶτεν πλήρες σεῖτος ἐν τῷ στάχυϊ
So when the blades sprouted, the darnel also sprouted. and the seed might sprout and grow, he not knowing how. By itself the earth bears fruit: first a blade, then an ear, then a full grain in the ear.
προσελθόντες δὲ οἱ δοῦλοι αὐτοῦ εἶπον αὐτῷ κύριε θέλεις ἀπελθόντες συλλέξωμεν αὐτά  
Approaching him, his servants said to him, ‘Lord, do you want us to go gather them?’  
εἶπεν δὲ οὔ μήποτε συλλέγοντες τὰ ζιζάνια ἐκριζώσητε ἅμα αὐτοῖς τὸν σῖτον ἄφετε συναυξάνεσθαι ἀμφότερα ἕως τοῦ θερισμοῦ  
But he said, ‘No, lest gathering the darnel, you might uproot the wheat along with them. Leave them both to grow together until the harvest.  
καὶ ἐν καιρῷ τοῦ θερισμοῦ συλλέξατε πρῶτον τὰ ζιζάνια καὶ δήσατε αὐτὰ εἰς δέσμας καὶ κατακαύσετε αὐτά ἐν πυρί τὸν δὲ σῖτον συναγάγετε εἰς τὴν ἀποθήκην μου ὅταν δὲ παραδοῖ ὁ καρπός εὐθὺς ἀποστέλλει τὸ δρέπανον ὅτι παρέστηκεν ὁ θερισμός
And at harvest-time, first gather the darnel and bundle them into bundles and burn them in fire. But the wheat you will bring into my barn.’” But when the crop permits, immediately he sends the sickle, because the harvest is ready.”

From the above comparison we see that, in addition to distinctive themes and vocabulary both parables share, the plot lines of the two parables progress along parallel tracks. Parallel to the man’s sowing seed in his field in Darnel Among the Wheat is the man’s putting seed on the ground in Spontaneous Growth. Parallel to the man’s sleeping in Darnel Among the Wheat is the man’s daily routine of sleeping and rising in Spontaneous Growth. Parallel to the man’s ignorance of the enemy’s stealthy activity in Darnel Among the Wheat is the man’s ignorance of how the seed germinates in Spontaneous Growth. Parallel to the description of the simultaneous sprouting of the darnel and the wheat in the Matthean parable is the description of the developmental stages of the wheat from blade to ripened ear in the Markan parable. Parallel to the instructions about the harvest in Darnel Among the Wheat is the description of the harvest in terms of the allusion to Joel 4:13 in Spontaneous Growth.

Despite the impressive points of contact between these two parables, there is a marked contrast in terms of dramatic suspense. Darnel Among the Wheat describes conflict, sabotage, infestation, doubt, consultation and the ultimate triumph of patient wisdom. Spontaneous Growth, on the other hand, is an irenic tale that passes serenely from beginning to end without interruption, obstacle or mishap. Is it possible that the author of Mark would have stripped Darnel Among the Wheat of plot twists, characters and dialogue, as well as a surprise ending, in order to produce a story devoid of drama such as his Spontaneous Growth parable? His treatment of the Mustard Seed parable, which immediately follows Spontaneous Growth in Mark, suggests the author of Mark might indeed be capable of just such a procedure. Whereas Anth.’s version of the Mustard Seed parable is a narrative about a specific person who planted a single mustard seed that grew to folkloric proportions, Mark’s reworked version of the Mustard Seed parable is a general description of how mustard seeds grow.[8] The Anthology’s version of the Mustard Seed parable, which lacks conflict and dialogue, was a less complex illustration than Darnel Among the Wheat to begin with, so the author of Mark’s flattening of the narrative drama into a prosaic description is less drastic, but the same basic editorial approach is evident in his redaction of both parables.

Another similarity in the author of Mark’s editorial approach to the two parables is his introduction of biblical allusions at the conclusion of the parables. Neither the Mustard Seed parable nor the Darnel Among the Wheat parable culminated in allusions to the prophetic writings in their original versions, but the Markan Mustard Seed and Spontaneous Growth parables conclude with allusions to verses from Ezekiel and Joel, respectively. Moreover, these allusions to prophetic verses sit awkwardly within the context of the parables they conclude.

Despite the differing dramatic trajectories of the Darnel Among the Wheat and Spontaneous Growth parables, their shared distinctive vocabulary and parallel themes convince us that the two parables are “genetically” related. Our finding that Darnel Among the Wheat reverts to Hebrew with much greater ease than Spontaneous Growth indicates that Darnel Among the Wheat is the progenitor and Spontaneous Growth is its progeny.[9] This conclusion does not seem incredible when we take into consideration the author of Mark’s interventionist approach to his sources.[10]

Click here to view the Map of the Conjectured Hebrew Life of Yeshua. __________________________________________________________________

Comment

L1 καὶ ἔλεγεν (Mark 4:26). Mark’s narrative introduction to Spontaneous Growth, καὶ ἔλεγεν (kai elegen, “and he was saying”), is less Hebraic than καὶ εἶπεν (kai eipen, “and he said”) or even εἶπεν δέ (eipen de, “but he said”),[11] and appears not to have occurred in Anth. Moreover, the use of ἔλεγεν (elegen, “he was saying”) and ἔλεγον (elegon, “they were saying”) is typical of Markan redaction.[12] The author of Mark used the exact phrase καὶ ἔλεγεν to introduce the Mustard Seed parable (Mark 4:30).[13] Earlier in his parables excursus the author of Mark included καὶ ἔλεγεν as part of a slightly longer narrative introduction to the Four Soils parable in Mark 4:2. The author of Mark also used καὶ ἔλεγεν in Mark 4:9, 11, 21, 24. None of these uses of καὶ ἔλεγεν are supported in Luke or Matthew. The repeated use of καὶ ἔλεγεν in Mark 4 is an example of the author of Mark’s homogenization of the vocabulary across the pericopae included in his parables excursus.[14] The appearance of καὶ ἔλεγεν in L1 is the first example of such homogenization in the Spontaneous Growth parable.

L2 οὕτως ἐστὶν ἡ βασιλεία τοῦ θεοῦ (Mark 4:26). Plummer noted that the use of the adverb οὕτως (houtōs, “in this way”) in Mark 4:26, which anticipates a comparison rather than referring backward, is highly unusual in the Synoptic Gospels.[15] It is also difficult to reconstruct in Hebrew, as the non-literal translations of Delitzsch and Lindsey testify. Elsewhere in LOY we have reconstructed οὕτως as כֵּן (kēn, “thus”; cf. Yeshua’s Thanksgiving Hymn, L10) or כָּךְ (kāch, “thus”; cf. Lost Sheep and Lost Coin, L35, L54), but in Mark 4:26 neither of these equivalents are suitable as the opening of a parable. In addition, Mark’s word order is un-Hebraic.

Following Luke’s lead, the author of Mark preferred the designation “Kingdom of God” over “Kingdom of Heaven.” We think it is unlikely that Anth. connected the Darnel Among the Wheat parable to the Kingdom of Heaven,[16] so the reference to the Kingdom of God in Spontaneous Growth was probably the author of Mark’s own innovation. The author of Mark’s designation of Spontaneous Growth as a “Kingdom parable” may be one point in which the Markan parable influenced the author of Matthew’s redaction of Darnel Among the Wheat (cf. Matt. 13:24).

L3 ὡς ἄνθρωπος βάλῃ τὸν σπόρον (Mark 4:26). Mark’s Gospel is unique among the synoptics in using the conjunction ὡς (hōs, “like,” “as”) to construct a comparison formula in a parable (Mark 4:26, 31; 13:34).[17] In the Mustard Seed parable, opposite Mark’s ὡς κόκκῳ σινάπεως (“as to a seed of a mustard plant”; Mark 4:31), Matthew and Luke agreed to write ὁμοία ἐστὶν κόκκῳ σινάπεως (“it is similar to a seed of a mustard plant”; Matt. 13:31; Luke 13:19), which resembles the typical question-and-answer opening of rabbinic parables, -לְמַה הַדָּבָר דּוֹמֶה לְ (“To what is the matter similar? [It is similar] to…”). The Lukan-Matthean agreement against Mark’s use of ὡς in the comparison formula in the Mustard Seed parable virtually guarantees that the Markan comparison formula is redactional. Likewise, the use of ὡς in the comparison formula in the Spontaneous Growth parable is best attributed to Markan redaction, and reflects his policy of homogenization in his parables discourse. Mark’s likely source, Anth.’s version of Darnel Among the Wheat, probably read ὅμοιός ἐστιν ἀνθρώπῳ σπείραντι σπέρμα καλόν (“It is similar to a person sowing good seed”), which the author of Mark paraphrased as ὡς ἄνθρωπος βάλῃ τὸν σπόρον (“as a person might put the seed”).

Parallel to σπείρειν (speirein, “to sow”) in Darnel Among the Wheat (L4) the author of Mark wrote βάλλειν (ballein, “to throw,” “to put”). We suspect the author of Mark picked up this unusual Greek usage from Luke’s (or Anth.’s) version of the Mustard Seed parable, where βάλλειν is used to describe the action of the man planting the mustard seed in his garden (Luke 13:19).[18] This is a classic example of what Lindsey referred to as a “Markan pick-up.” According to Lindsey, when the author of Mark picked up a given word or phrase from Luke to use as a synonym in his rewriting of a pericope, he would typically refuse to use that word or phrase at the same point Luke had used it in his Gospel. Thus, in Mark’s version of the Mustard Seed parable, opposite Luke’s use of βάλλειν, we find σπείρειν (Mark 4:31).

Note that both Delitzsch and Lindsey felt compelled to render Mark’s subjunctive βάλῃ (balē, “he might throw”) with a participle, an indication of the difficulty of reverting Mark’s wording to Hebrew. Another option for reconstructing Mark’s subjunctive is שֶׁיִּתֵּן (sheyitēn, “who will put”), but nothing corresponding to the relative pronoun -שֶׁ is indicated in the Greek text.

The subjunctive mood, which dominates the first half of Mark’s Spontaneous Growth parable, not only resists Hebrew retroversion, it also fits uncomfortably in a parabolic context. The Anth. versions of the Darnel Among the Wheat, Bad Fish Among the Good, Mustard Seed and Starter Dough, Hidden Treasure and Priceless Pearl and Persistent Widow parables, for instance, are narrated in the indicative mood and generally in the aorist tense.[19]

Parallel to σπέρμα (sperma, “seed”) in Matthew’s Darnel Among the Wheat (L4), the author of Mark wrote σπόρος (sporos, “seed-time,” “seed”) in Spontaneous Growth. The selection of this synonym was probably influenced by the occurrence of σπόρος in the Lukan versions of the Four Soils parable (Luke 8:5) and the Four Soils interpretation (Luke 8:11). In the Markan versions of the Four Soils parable and the Four Soils interpretation, however, we find that the author of Mark avoided using the term σπόρος. In other words, we have in the author of Mark’s use of the noun σπόρος another example of a “Markan pick-up.”[20]

L4 ἐπὶ τῆς γῆς (Mark 4:26). Parallel to ἐν τῷ ἀγρῷ αὐτοῦ (en tō agrō avtou, “in his field”) in Darnel Among the Wheat (L5), the author of Mark wrote ἐπὶ τῆς γῆς (epi tēs gēs, “upon the earth”) in his Spontaneous Growth parable. Since the author of Mark wrote ἐπὶ τῆς γῆς/ἐπὶ τὴν γῆν 5xx in his parables excursus, none of which are supported in the Lukan or Matthean parallels,[21] his choice of “upon the earth” as a substitution for “in his field” is best explained as another example of Markan homogenization of the vocabulary in the parables excursus.[22]

Bronze statuette of Eros sleeping (first cent. B.C.E.-second cent. C.E.). Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

L5 καὶ καθεύδῃ καὶ ἐγείρηται νύκτα καὶ ἡμέραν (Mark 4:27). Parallel to the sleep during which the enemy sabotaged the sower’s crop in Darnel Among the Wheat (L6), the author of Mark describes the habitual sleeping and rising of the sower. The verb used in both parables is καθεύδειν (kathevdein, “to sleep”); it is one of the key terms shared by the two parables.

Although it is more usual to find the order “day and night” in Hebrew sources (יוֹמָם וָלַיְלָה in BH; בַּיּוֹם וּבַלַּיְלָה in MH),[23] the order “night and day” (either לַיְלָה וְיוֹמָם[24] or לַיְלָה וָיוֹם[25] ) used to describe habitual or continuous activities is also attested in Hebrew. Consequently, we cannot say that Mark’s νύκτα καὶ ἡμέραν (nūkta kai hēmeran, “night and day”) is un-Hebraic.[26] In Mark 5:5 we again encounter νυκτὸς καὶ ἡμέρας (“night and day”) in an unparalleled description of the Gergesene demoniac’s habitual self-harming behavior. The collocation of καθεύδειν (kathevdein, “to sleep”) and ἐγείρειν (egeirein, “to rise”) also occurs in the Markan and Matthean versions of Quieting a Storm (Matt. 8:24-25 // Mark 4:38; cf. Luke 8:24), but nowhere else in the Synoptic Gospels.[27]

L6 καὶ ὁ σπόρος βλαστᾷ καὶ μηκύνηται (Mark 4:27). Parallel to the description of the simultaneous sprouting of the wheat and darnel in Darnel Among the Wheat (L10-12) is Mark’s description of the sprouting of the seed in the Spontaneous Growth parable. These are the only instances of the verb βλαστάνειν (blastanein, “to sprout”) in the Synoptic Gospels. The coincidence is all the more remarkable since βλαστάνειν does not occur in LXX, so the verb is not part of the stock biblical vocabulary pertaining to agriculture that would have been familiar to the authors of Mark and Matthew. The verb μηκύνειν (mēkūnein, “to grow”) does occur in LXX, but only three times (Isa. 44:14 [גִּדֵּל]; Ezek. 12:25, 28 [נִמְשַׁךְ]).

Note that the καί + noun + verb word order in L6 is rather awkward in Hebrew. A more Hebraic word order would be καί + verb + noun (i.e., καὶ βλαστᾷ ὁ σπόρος). As we noted above in Comment to L3, the subjunctive mood presents a challenge to Hebrew retroversion.

L7 ὡς οὐκ οἶδεν αὐτός (Mark 4:27). Parallel to the sower’s ignorance of his enemy’s clandestine activities in Darnel Among the Wheat (L6-9) is the man’s ignorance of how seeds germinate in Spontaneous Growth. The translations of Delitzsch and Lindsey highlight how un-Hebraic is the word order of Mark’s Greek in L7.

L8 αὐτομάτη ἡ γῆ καρποφορεῖ (Mark 4:28). A comparison of Mark’s Greek wording with the translations of Delitzsch and Lindsey reveals how un-Hebraic they found Mark’s phrasing to be in L8. Another option for Hebrew translation might be מֵעַצְמָהּ הָאֲדָמָה עוֹשָׂה פְּרִי (mē‘atzmāh hā’adāmāh ‘ōsāh peri, “from itself the ground makes fruit”).

Wheat beginning to germinate. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

The author of Mark’s use of the adjective αὐτόματος (avtomatos, “automatic,” “spontaneous”) is similar to Herodotus’ description of a certain kind of millet that generates spontaneously from the ground (αὐτόματον ἐκ τῆς γῆς γινόμενον; Hist. 3:100).

In LXX the noun סָפִיחַ (sāfiaḥ)—a term that denotes produce that grows of its own accord during the Sabbatical Year from seeds that naturally dropped to the ground during the previous year—is translated τὰ αὐτόματα ἀναβαίνοντα (“that which spontaneously [αὐτόματα] comes up”; Lev. 25:5).[28] This usage of αὐτόματος in LXX has led one scholar to opine that “the mention of automatos [in the Spontaneous Growth parable—DNB and JNT] indicates that the land is on sabbatical.”[29] This confident assertion notwithstanding, reading a reference to the Sabbatical Year into the Spontaneous Growth parable is problematic in the extreme.

In the first place, “that which spontaneously [αὐτόματα] comes up” in Lev. 25:5 (LXX) explicitly refers to that which has not been sown, whereas the Spontaneous Growth parable is equally explicit in stating that a man intentionally put the seed into the ground. In other words, the Spontaneous Growth parable does not take place in a Sabbatical Year because a person does not plant in a Sabbatical Year, and by definition סָפִיחַ cannot be planted or sown.

In the second place, the man in the parable plants the seed with the intention of reaping a harvest, whereas according to commandments governing the Sabbatical Year, סָפִיחַ (spontaneous growth) may not be reaped:

אֵת סְפִיחַ קְצִירְךָ לֹא תִקְצוֹר

The growth [from seeds unintentionally strewn] from your harvest you may not reap. (Lev. 25:5)

Since eating that which grew of its own accord during a Sabbatical Year was permitted (cf. Exod. 23:11; Lev. 25:6-7), the prohibition against reaping סָפִיחַ apparently refers to harvesting the entire crop of spontaneous growth at once and placing it in storage for personal use.[30] On the other hand, taking what was needed for immediate consumption while leaving the rest of the growth in the field was allowed. Taking a little bit of the crop to eat at a time, however, is not the scenario envisioned in Mark 4:29, as the allusion to Joel 4:13 makes clear. The Spontaneous Growth parable envisions precisely the kind of bountiful harvest of a cultivated crop that was expressly forbidden in a Sabbatical Year. In short, the Sabbatical Year concept has no place in a discussion of the Spontaneous Growth parable.[31]

With respect to καρποφορεῖν (karpoforein, “to bear fruit”), it must be noted that, apart from the Spontaneous Growth parable, the only other instance of this verb in the Synoptic Gospels is in the Four Soils interpretation (Matt. 13:23 // Mark 4:20 // Luke 8:15). The reappearance of καρποφορεῖν in the Spontaneous Growth parable is probably due to the author of Mark’s homogenization of vocabulary throughout his parables excursus.

In LXX there is but a single instance where καρποφορεῖν translates a verb in the underlying Hebrew text. That instance occurs in Hab. 3:17, where καρποφορεῖν renders פָּרַח (pāraḥ, “to bud”).

L9 πρῶτον χόρτον εἶτεν στάχυν (Mark 4:28). Whereas Codex Vaticanus has the adverb εἶτεν (eiten, “then”), critical editions read εἶτα (eita, “then”). Descriptions of successive stages using πρῶτος…εἶτα (prōtos…eita, “first…then”) do not occur in LXX,[32] but they are found elsewhere in NT,[33] and we find examples of πρῶτος…εἶτα in descriptions of plant growth in other first-century sources, for instance:

λάβετε ἄμπελον· πρῶτον μὲν φυλλοροεῖ, εἶτα βλαστὸς γίνεται, εἶτα φύλλον, εἶτα ἄνθος, καὶ μετὰ ταῦτα ὄμφαξ, εἶτα σταφυλὴ παρεστηκυῖα

…take a vine, first [πρῶτον] it sheds its leaves, then [εἶτα] there comes a bud, then a leaf, then [εἶτα] a flower, and after this the unripe grape, then [εἶτα] the full bunch. (1 Clem. 23:4; Loeb)

ἔασον τὴν ῥίζαν αὐξηθῆναι, εἶτα γόνυ λαβεῖν τὸ πρῶτον, εἶτα τὸ δεύτερον, εἶτα τὸ τρίτον εἶθ᾽ οὕτως ὁ καρπὸς ἐκβιάσεται τὴν φύσιν

Let the root grow, next [εἶτα] let it acquire the first [πρῶτον] joint, and then [εἶτα] the second, and then [εἶτα] the third; and so finally the fruit will forcibly put forth its true nature…. (Epictetus, Discourses 4:8 §40; Loeb)

Οὐδεν..τῶν μεγάλων ἄφνω γίνεται, ὅπου γε οὐδ᾽ ὁ βότρυς οὐδὲ σῦκον. ἄν μοι νῦν λέγῃς ὅτι θέλω σῦκον, ἀποκρινοῦμαί σοι ὅτι χρόνου δεῖ. ἄφες άνθήσῃ πρῶτον, εἶτα προβάλῃ τὸν καρπόν, εἶτα πεπανθῇ. εἶτα συκῆς μὲν καρπὸς ἄφνω καὶ μιᾷ ὥρᾳ οὐ τελειοῦται, γνώμης δ᾽ἀνθρώπου καρπὸν θέλεις οὕτως δι᾽ ὀλιγου καὶ εὐκόλως κτήσασθαι;

Nothing great comes into being all at once; why, not even does the bunch of grapes, or a fig. If you say to me now, “I want a fig,” I shall answer, “That requires time.” Let the tree bloom first [πρῶτον], then [εἶτα] put forth its fruit, and finally [εἶτα] let the fruit ripen. Now although the fruit of even a fig-tree is not brought to perfection all at once, and in a single hour, would you still seek to secure the fruit of a man’s mind in so short a while and so easily? (Epictetus, Discourses 1:15 §7-8; Loeb)[34]

Since εἶτα occurs in the Markan and Lukan versions of the Four Soils interpretation (Mark 4:17; Luke 8:12), the use of this adverb in Spontaneous Growth is probably another example of Markan homogenization of vocabulary in the parables excursus of Mark 4.[35]

Delitzsch and Lindsey translated πρῶτος…εἶτα in Mark 4:28 as רִאשׁוֹנָה וְאַחֲרָיו (ri’shōnāh ve’aḥarāv, “first and after it”). Another option is תְּחִילָּה וְאַחַר כָּךְ (teḥilāh ve’aḥar kāch, “first and after that”), a combination that occurs in the Mishnah (cf., e.g., m. Ber. 2:2; m. Sot. 1:7; m. Par. 7:5). Note, however, that אַחַר + pronominal suffix was never translated as εἶτα in LXX (אַחַר כָּךְ, being Mishnaic Hebrew, does not occur in MT, so there is no LXX equivalent), and there is nothing in the Greek text corresponding to the conjunction -וְ (ve, “and”).

Yet another option is to reconstruct εἶτα (eita, “then”) with אָז (’āz, “then”). The LXX translators almost always rendered אָז as τότε (tote, “then”),[36] but in Job 22:26 they rendered אָז with εἶτα. The major difficulty with using אָז to reconstruct εἶτα in Spontaneous Growth is that whenever אָז…אָז is used in MT to coordinate events the combination always expresses simultaneity rather than succession. For instance:

וְדָוִד אָז בַּמְּצוּדָה וּמַצַּב פְּלִשְׁתִּים אָז בֵּית לָחֶם

And David was then [i.e., at that time] in the stronghold, and the Philistine garrison was then [i.e., at that same time] in Bethlehem. (2 Sam. 23:14)

καὶ Δαυιδ τότε ἐν τῇ περιοχῇ, καὶ τὸ ὑπόστημα τῶν ἀλλοφύλων τότε ἐν Βαιθλεεμ

And David was then [i.e., at that time] in the enclosure, and the garrison of the other-tribesmen [i.e., the Philistines—DNB and JNT] was then [i.e., at that same time] in Bethlehem. (2 Kgdms. 23:14)[37]

According to Segal, אָז fell into disuse in Mishnaic Hebrew.[38] Thus, reconstructing εἶτα…εἶτα in Spontaneous Growth with אָז…אָז would represent an otherwise unattested usage of אָז.

In short, Mark’s πρῶτος…εἶτα…εἶτα construction does not look like a reflection of a Hebrew source, but rather resembles Greek compositional style.

The noun χόρτος (chortos, “fodder,” “grass”) is one of the key terms shared by Spontaneous Growth and Darnel Among the Wheat. Not only do the two parables share the same term, they use it in a distinctive way to refer to a developmental stage of a grain’s growth that is unusual for Greek authors.[39] We believe this distinctive usage in Spontaneous Growth is an echo of the Hebraic usage of χόρτος in Darnel Among the Wheat.

L10 εἶτεν πλῆρες σεῖτος ἐν τῷ στάχυϊ (Mark 4:28). The noun σῖτος (sitos, “grain”) is another key term shared by the Spontaneous Growth and Darnel Among the Wheat parables. Moreover, this is the only instance of σῖτος in Mark. Luke and Matthew both have the term σῖτος in Yohanan the Immerser’s Eschatological Discourse (Matt. 3:12 // Luke 3:17), and Luke has the term in a few additional pericopae that probably stem from Anth. (Luke 12:18; 16:7; 22:31). Note that the order adjective→noun (πλῆρες σεῖτος) is un-Hebraic. Moreover, it is difficult to find a good way to express “full grain in the ear” in Hebrew. Delitzsch offered הַחִטָּה הַמְּלֵאָה (haḥiṭāh hamelē′āh, “the full wheat”) as a translation of Mark’s πλῆρες σεῖτος (plēres seitos, “full grain”). Another option might be חִטָּה שְׁלֵמָה (ḥiṭāh shelēmāh, “complete wheat”), but neither of these options are attested in MT, DSS or rabbinic sources.

L11 ὅταν δὲ παραδοῖ ὁ καρπός (Mark 4:29). The homogenization of Mark’s parables excursus vocabulary continues with the use of ὅταν (hotan, “when”) and καρπός (karpos, “fruit”) in L11. The author of Mark added ὅταν once to the Four Soils interpretation (Mark 4:15 [cf. Matt. 13:19; Luke 8:12]) and twice to the Mustard Seed parable (Mark 4:31 [cf. Matt. 13:31; Luke 13:19], 32 [= Matt. 13:32; cf. Luke 13:19]). In all, the author of Mark used ὅταν 5xx in his parables excursus.[40]

The noun καρπός occurs 3xx in Mark’s parables excursus (Mark 4:7, 8, 29). Since the instance of καρπός in Mark 4:7 is unsupported by the parallels in Matthew and Luke (cf. Matt. 13:7; Luke 8:7), the author of Mark added καρπός at least this once, and probably also in the Spontaneous Growth parable.

Their non-literal translations of παραδιδόναι (paradidonai, “to give over,” “to permit”) in L11 show that Delitzsch (גָּמַל [gāmal, “ripen”]) and Lindsey (בָּשַׁל [bāshal, “ripen”]) struggled to put Mark’s Greek into Hebrew. In LXX παραδιδόναι is never used to translate either of these Hebrew verbs, but usually occurs as the translation of נָתַן (nātan, “give”).[41] Although נָתַן + infinitive can be used in the sense of “permit,”[42] Mark’s παραδοῖ ὁ καρπός (“the fruit might give”) is not an equivalent to this construction. The verb נָתַן can also be used in the sense of “yield fruit,” but here in Mark 4:29 “fruit” is the subject rather than the object of the verb. While Mark’s intransitive use of παραδιδόναι may not be normative Greek,[43] it cannot easily be explained as a reflection of a Hebrew source.

A knife (upper left) and sickle (lower right) from the period of the Bar Kochva revolt (132-135 C.E.), discovered in the Cave of Letters in the Judean Desert. Photographed by Joshua N. Tilton at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.

L12-13 εὐθὺς ἀποστέλλει τὸ δρέπανον ὅτι παρέστηκεν ὁ θερισμός (Mark 4:29). Lindsey referred to the adverb εὐθύς (evthūs, “immediately”) as a “Markan stereotype[44] because it appears with such high frequency in the Gospel of Mark. The numerous Lukan-Matthean minor agreements against Mark’s use of εὐθύς demonstrate that εὐθύς is a strong indicator of Markan redaction.

In his conclusion to the Spontaneous Growth parable the author of Mark alluded to Joel 4:13 (3:13 ET):[45]

שִׁלְחוּ מַגָּל כִּי בָשַׁל קָצִיר

Send a sickle, because ripe is the harvest. (Joel 4:13)

ἐξαποστείλατε δρέπανα, ὅτι παρέστηκεν τρύγητος

Send forth sickles, because the harvest has come. (Joel 4:13; NETS)

Differences between Mark’s wording and LXX include Mark’s use of the simple ἀποστέλλειν (apostellein, “to send”) instead of the compound ἐξαποστέλλειν (exapostellein, “to send out”) found in Joel; the present indicative of ἀποστέλλειν in Mark versus the aorist imperative of ἐξαποστέλλειν in Joel; the singular δρέπανον (drepanon, “sickle”) in Mark in place of the plural δρέπανα (drepana, “sickles”) in Joel; and the use of the generic θερισμός (therismos, “harvest”) in Mark as opposed to the specific τρύγητος (trūgētos, “grape harvest”) in Joel. The differences between the Markan allusion and the LXX version of Joel 4:13 are consistent with the author of Mark’s tendency to paraphrase the wording of his sources. However, the substitution of LXX’s τρύγητος (“grape harvest”) with Mark’s θερισμός (“harvest”) was probably inspired by the use of the latter in the Darnel Among the Wheat parable (L27, L28; Matt. 13:30). Not only is θερισμός a key term shared by Darnel Among the Wheat and Spontaneous Growth, but the only other place θερισμός occurs in the Synoptic Gospels is in “The Harvest Is Plentiful” saying (L42; Matt. 9:37-38 // Luke 10:2), which the author of Mark omitted.

Conclusion

The points of contact between Darnel Among the Wheat and Spontaneous Growth, including distinctive vocabulary, common themes, and parallel narrative development, are too strong to be merely coincidental. Since Darnel Among the Wheat can be reverted to Hebrew, and it conveys a message that resonates with Jesus’ teaching, it is likely that Darnel Among the Wheat ultimately originated from the Hebrew Life of Yeshua. Mark’s Spontaneous Growth parable, on the other hand, resists Hebrew retroversion and is replete with signs of Markan redaction. It appears that the author of Mark based his Spontaneous Growth parable on Anth.’s Darnel Among the Wheat parable, preserving its key vocabulary and its basic outline, but eliminating the dramatic elements such as dialogue, conflict and resolution in order to present a serene illustration of the effortless and uninterrupted progress of God’s Kingdom.


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  • [1] For abbreviations and bibliographical references, see “Introduction to ‘The Life of Yeshua: A Suggested Reconstruction.’
  • [2] See Mustard Seed and Starter Dough, under the subheading “Redaction Analysis: Luke’s Version.”
  • [3] We were likewise reluctant to suppose that the author of Mark simply made up the story about Jesus’ encounter with the Syro-Phoenician woman. Despite our conclusion that this story was not taken from Anth., we did not rule out the possibility that the author of Mark had learned of this story from others, perhaps even from people who were personally acquainted with the woman in the story. See Jesus and a Canaanite Woman, under the subheading “Conjectured Stages of Transmission.”
  • [4] See, inter alia, Swete, 83; Plummer, Mark, 130; Bundy, 231 §136; Taylor, 265; Vermes, 119.
  • [5] Darnel Among the Wheat and Spontaneous Growth share eight key lexical items: ἄνθρωπος (anthrōpos, “person”), καθεύδειν (kathevdein, “to sleep”), σῖτος (sitos, “grain”), βλαστάνειν (blastanein, “to sprout”), χόρτος (chortos, “grass”), καρπός (karpos, “fruit”), θερισμός (therismos, “harvest”) and πρῶτος (prōtos, “first”). Not only are these key terms shared, but most occur in both parables in the same order. See Darnel Among the Wheat, under the subheading “Conjectured Stages of Transmission.”
  • [6] See Darnel Among the Wheat, under the subheading “Story Placement.”
  • [7] See Darnel Among the Wheat, under the subheading “Conjectured Stages of Transmission.”
  • [8] See Mustard Seed and Starter Dough, under the subheading “Redaction Analysis: Mark’s Version.” Cf. Bundy, 232 §138, 368 §263.
  • [9] Flusser, described Mark’s Spontaneous Growth parable as “thoroughly Greek.” See David Flusser, Die rabbinischen Gleichnisse und der Gleichniserzähler Jesus (Bern: Peter Lang, 1981), 151. Contrast Martin’s assessment that Mark’s Spontaneous Growth parable is “translation” Greek, i.e., derives from a Semitic source. See Raymond A. Martin, Syntax Criticism of the Synoptic Gospels (Lewiston, N.Y.: Edwin Mellen, 1987), 42.
  • [10] On distinctive traits of Markan redaction, see LOY Excursus: Mark’s Editorial Style.
  • [11] See Robert L. Lindsey, “A New Two-source Solution to the Synoptic Problem,” under thesis 7.
  • [12] See Hawkins, 12, 52; LOY Excursus: Catalog of Markan Stereotypes and Possible Markan Pick-ups, under the entry for Mark 2:16.
  • [13] See Mustard Seed and Starter Dough, L3.
  • [14] On the homogenization of vocabulary in the Markan parables excursus (Mark 4:1-34), see Mustard Seed and Starter Dough, Comment to L11.
  • [15] See Plummer, Mark, 130-131.
  • [16] See Darnel Among the Wheat, Comment to L2.
  • [17] Gould (79) noted that Mark’s comparison formula is awkward Greek. One would have expected the text to read either ὡς ἄνθρωπος ὃς βάλῃ (“as a man who might throw”) or ὡς ἐὰν ἄνθρωπος βάλῃ (“as if a man might throw”). Swete (84), citing 1 Cor. 9:26 and James 2:12, offers ὡς ἄνθρωπος βαλών (“as a man throwing”) and ὡς ἄνθρωπος ὃς ἂν βάλῃ (“as a man who when he might throw”) as viable alternatives.
  • [18] See Mustard Seed and Starter Dough, Comment to L11.
  • [19] We do encounter the limited use of the subjunctive in the Friend in Need and Lost Sheep and Lost Coin similes, but these, it should be noted, are constructed differently than the narrative parables, taking the form of rhetorical questions.
  • [20] See LHNS, 75.
  • [21] The following table shows the instances of ἐπὶ τῆς γῆς and ἐπὶ τὴν γῆν in the Markan parables excursus and their parallels in Luke and Matthew (if any):

    Mark 4:1 Four Soils parable (cf. Matt. 13:2 [ἐπὶ τὸν αἰγιαλόν]; Luke 8:4 [–])

    Mark 4:20 Four Soils interpretation = Matt. 13:23 (cf. Luke 8:15 [ἐν τῃ…γῇ])

    Mark 4:26 Spontaneous Growth

    Mark 4:31 Mustard Seed (cf. Matt. 13:31 [ἐν τῷ ἀγρῷ αὐτοῦ]; Luke 13:19 [εἰς κῆπον ἑαυτοῦ])

    Mark 4:31 Mustard Seed (cf. Matt. 13:32 [–]; Luke 13:19 [–])

  • [22] See Mustard Seed and Starter Dough, Comment to L11.
  • [23] See Persistent Widow, Comment to L23.
  • [24] We encounter the phrase לַיְלָה וְיוֹמָם in Deut. 28:66; Isa. 34:10; Jer. 14:17.
  • [25] We encounter the phrase לַיְלָה וָיוֹם in 1 Kgs. 8:29; Isa. 27:3; Esth. 4:16.
  • [26] Lindsey (LHNS, 75) noted that νύκτα καὶ ἡμέραν occurs in Luke 2:37 (describing the widow Anna’s continuous worship in the Temple), and suggested that the author of Mark picked up this phrase from there. We also encounter νύκτα καὶ ἡμέραν in Acts 20:31; 26:7.
  • [27] Luke’s treatment of the Four Soils parable (Luke 8:4-18) is followed by Yeshua, His Mother and Brothers (Luke 8:19-21) and then by Quieting a Storm (Luke 8:22-25). The author of Mark based his parables excursus (Mark 4:1-34) on Luke 8:4-18, and sandwiched this excursus between Yeshua, His Mother and Brothers (Mark 3:31-35) and Quieting a Storm (Mark 4:35-41).
  • [28] We encounter the phrase τὰ αὐτόματα ἀναβαίνοντα also in Lev. 25:11, again as the translation of סָפִיחַ, and cf. 4 Kgdms. 19:29. There are also instances of αὐτόματος in LXX where it lacks a counterpart in the underlying Hebrew text (Josh. 6:25; Job 24:24).
  • [29] See Bernard Brandon Scott, Hear Then the Parable: A Commentary on the Parables of Jesus (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1989), 369, 370.
  • [30] See Jacob Milgrom, Leviticus (3 vols.; Anchor Yale Bible; New Haven: Yale University Press, 1991-2001), 3:2160.
  • [31] Cf. Snodgrass, 185.
  • [32] In LXX books corresponding to MT εἶτα is restricted to Proverbs (Prov. 6:11, 7:13) and Job (Job 5:24; 11:6; 12:2; 13:22; 14:15; 16:4; 21:3; 22:21, 26; 23:6; 24:20; 33:27). Only in Job 22:26 does εἶτα represent a term in the underlying Hebrew text. There it is the translation of אָז (’āz, “then”).
  • [33] Examples of πρῶτος…εἶτα are found in 1 Tim. 2:13; 3:10.
  • [34] Flusser (Die rabbinischen Gleichnisse und der Gleichniserzähler Jesus, 150-151) noted the similarity of Mark’s Spontaneous Growth parable to Epictetus’ analogy.
  • [35] Apart from the Four Soils interpretation and Spontaneous Growth, the only other instance of εἶτα in the Synoptic Gospels is found in the Blind Man of Bethsaida narrative (Mark 8:25), a pericope unique to Mark’s Gospel.
  • [36] See Dos Santos, 5.
  • [37] Additional examples of אָז…אָז occur in Lev. 26:41; Josh. 1:8; 2 Sam. 5:24; Ps. 51:21; 126:2; 1 Chr. 11:16. In each case אָז…אָז expresses simultaneity.
  • [38] See Segal, 134 §294.
  • [39] See Darnel Among the Wheat, Comment to L10.
  • [40] In the Markan parables excursus we find the conjunction ὅταν in Mark 4:15, 16, 29, 31, 32.
  • [41] See Hatch-Redpath, 2:1058-1059.
  • [42] See BDB, 679.
  • [43] See T. W. Manson, “A Note On Mark iv. 28 f.,” Journal of Theological Studies 38 (1937): 399-400; G. D. Kilpatrick, “Mark IV. 29,” Journal of Theological Studies 46 (1945): 191.
  • [44] See Robert L. Lindsey, “Introduction to A Hebrew Translation of the Gospel of Mark,” under the subheading “The Markan Stereotypes.”
  • [45] On reasons for supposing that an allusion to Joel 4:13 was indeed intended, see Snodgrass, 186. While we concur with the conclusion of Vermes (178) that the allusion to Joel 4:13 is due to Markan redaction, we do not accept the reasoning that led him to this conclusion, namely, that the author of Mark was more likely than Jesus to be familiar with the Scriptures.
  • 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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    Joshua N. Tilton

    Joshua N. Tilton

    Joshua N. Tilton grew up in St. George, a small town on the coast of Maine. For his undergraduate degree he studied at Gordon College in Wenham, Massachusetts, where he earned a B.A. in Biblical and Theological Studies (2002). There he studied Biblical Hebrew and…
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