Evidence of an Editor’s Hand in Two Instances of 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: 21-May-2013[1]

In 1922, William Lockton proposed a theory of the priority of Luke. According to Lockton’s hypothesis, Luke was written first, copied by Mark, who was in turn copied by Matthew who also copied from Luke.[2]

Forty years later Robert L. Lindsey independently reached a similar solution to the Synoptic Problem suggesting 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).[3] In Lindsey’s proposal, Mark, as in the more popular Two-document (or Two-source) Hypothesis, is the middle term between Matthew and Luke.

Lindsey arrived at his theory unintentionally. Attempting to replace Franz Delitzsch’s outdated Hebrew translation of the New Testament, Lindsey began by translating the Gospel of Mark, assuming it was the earliest of the Synoptic Gospels.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. With further research Lindsey came to his solution to the Synoptic Problem.[4]

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  • [1] This article appeared in Jesus’ Last Week: Jerusalem Studies in the Synoptic Gospels (Volume 1) (ed. R. S. Notley, M. Turnage and B. Becker; Leiden: E. J. Brill, ISBN 9789004147904, 2006), 211-224. Jerusalem Perspective wishes to thank Koninklijke Brill NV for permission to publish the article in electronic format. A longer form of the article was published in 2004 as Selected Examples of Rewriting in Mark’s Account of Jesus’ Last Week.
  • [2] William Lockton, “The Origin of the Gospels,” Church Quarterly Review 94 (1922): 216-239 [Click here to read a reissue of this article on JerusalemPerspective.com]. Lockton subsequently wrote three books to substantiate his theory: The Resurrection and Other Gospel Narratives and The Narratives of the Virgin Birth (London: Green and Co., 1924); The Three Traditions in the Gospels (London: Green and Co., 1926); and Certain Alleged Gospel Sources: A Study of Q, Proto-Luke and M (London: Green and Co., 1927).
  • [3] Robert L. Lindsey, “A Modified Two-Document Theory of the Synoptic Dependence and Interdependence,” Novum Testamentum 6 (1963): 239-263; now reissued as A New Two-source Solution to the Synoptic Problem. Lindsey’s theory postulates four non-canonical documents, all of which preceded the Synoptic Gospels in time, two that were unknown to the Evangelists—the original Hebrew biography of Jesus and its literal Greek translation—and two other non-canonical sources known to one or more of the Gospel writers; see Lindsey, “Conjectured Process of Gospel Transmission,” Jerusalem Perspective 38 & 39 (May-Aug. 1993): 6.
  • [4] Priority of composition order does not necessarily imply originality. Although he suggested that the order of the writing of the Synoptic Gospels was Luke-Mark-Matthew, Lindsey observed that on various occasions Matthew and Mark (although Mark less frequently) preserved the earliest form of the Gospel account.

Comments 1

  1. JP

    The following comment was posted by “Bismark” in our forum and has been republished here as a comment:
    Dr. David Bivin’s [article] highlights a heightened hostility, in Mark’s gospel, to the Temple of Jerusalem, when compared to the more muted memories in Matthew and Luke. Church tradition tells, that Mark wrote in Rome, recording the preachings of the Apostle Peter. Thus, Mark’s record reflects the deep discords, between Jerusalem and Rome, in the 1st century AD.

    ‘Liberal’ vs. ‘Conservative’ Christianity
    Mark was Peter’s “interpreter” (Papias [c.100 AD] op.cit. Eusebius [c.300 AD], Hist. Eccl. iii. 39), who wrote “what had been preached by Peter” (Irenaeus [c.200 AD], Adv. Haer. 3.1.1), after Peter and Paul were executed c.67 AD*. Indeed, “the Gospel of Mark was clearly intended for a church consisting largely of Gentile members” (Mark). Thus, Mark’s gospel reflects a ‘liberal’ (diaspora, gentile) conception of Christianity, in Rome**.

    * Judea rebelled in 66 AD, and Emperor Nero “dispatched Vespasian to restore order”. Probably, Peter and Paul were prosecuted as part of Rome’s reaction to the revolt, recognized as motivated by Messianism. The near annihilation, of the XII Legion, in Nov. 66 AD, would, when word reached Rome, motivate emergency measures.

    ** Would Mark have written in Latin?

    Conversely, Matthew’s gospel was written in Hebrew (Papias [c.100 AD] op.cit. Eusebius [c.300 AD], Hist. Eccl. iii. 39), for the Hebrew-speaking Jewish Christians in Jerusalem, c.65 AD, “while Peter and Paul were preaching at Rome” (Irenaeus [c.200 AD], Adv. Haer. 3.1.1). Thus, Matthew’s gospel reflects a ‘conservative’ (‘circumcision party’) conception of Christianity, in Jerusalem.

    Mark emphasizes Cleansing of the Temple
    Mark’s account condemns the Jerusalem Temple establishment:

    Mark’s literary creativity in placing the episode of the Temple cleansing in between the cursing of the fig tree [cf. Rom 11:17 ?], and its withering, intends to draw ideological and theological consequences for his reader… in Mark’s Gospel Jesus never weeps over Jerusalem, thus severing Jesus’ ties to the holy city… the cursing and withering of the fig tree was Mark’s literary, creative way of presenting Jerusalem, and its Temple, as already judged and cursed.

    Moreover, Mark’s portrayal is much more violent:

    In Mark… Jesus began to violently disrupt the economic activities of the Temple — even to the extreme of shutting down the Temple by not allowing “anyone to carry anything through the Temple” (Mark 11:16). Neither Matthew nor Luke agrees with Mark’s presentation of Jesus’ actions within the Temple as his shutting down the Temple completely… What in Luke is a protest against the commercialization, and corruption, of the sacred Temple by the chief priests, in Mark, because of Jesus’ shutting down of the Temple, becomes an indictment against the Temple itself… Luke’s account of the events within the Temple lacks any mention of violence on Jesus’ part… In the Lukan account of the events, Jesus does not use force but simply removes the sellers through his quotation of the Hebrew Scriptures. Mark, and Matthew following him, understood the word ἐκβάλλειν in its more common meaning of “to drive out” implying force. Possibly Mark expanded the violent aspect of his text in a midrashic manner based upon the fuller context of Jeremiah 7.

    Thus, Matthew and Luke’s gospels gloss over the cleansing of the Temple, which would have been quite controversial, to their ‘conservative’ audiences, in Jerusalem and Judea. In stark contrast, Mark, reflecting Roman ‘liberalism’, records a violent totality, with which Jesus symbolically and spiritually toppled the Temple, in Jerusalem.

    Internal to the Church, Jerusalem witnessed the crucifixion of Jesus c.30 AD; and, it witnessed the imprisonment of Peter, first leader of the Christian community, c.43 AD, and his narrow escape to refuge in Rome (PBS [Empires] Peter and Paul (DVD)). External to the Church, Judea was a hotbed of resentment and resistance to Rome throughout the 1st century AD, culminating in the calamitous 1st Jewish War from 66 AD, and the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD. These profound political oppositions appear to be buried in the detailed differences, between the gospel accounts, of Rome’s ‘liberal’ Mark and Jerusalem’s ‘conservative’ Matthew.

    “And no one dared to ask him any more questions”
    All three synoptic gospels agree, to great degree, about one of Jesus’ Temple teaching sessions, wherein Jesus preached about:

    Parable of the Wicked Tenants (Matt 21:33ff, Mark 12:1ff, Luke 20:9ff)
    Parable of the Wedding Banquet (Matt 22:1ff, —-, —-)
    Paying Taxes to Caesar (Matt 22:15ff, Mark 12:13ff, Luke 20:18ff)
    Marriage and Resurrection (Matt 22:23ff, Mark 12:18ff, Luke 20:27ff)
    The Greatest Commandment (Matt 22:34ff, Mark 12:28ff, —-)
    “more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices” (—-, Mark 12:33, —-)
    “and no one dared to ask anymore questions” (—-, Mark 12:34, Luke 20:40)
    Whose Son Is the Christ (Matt 22:41ff, Mark 12:35ff, Luke 20:41ff)
    “and no one dared to ask anymore questions” (Matt 22:46, —-, —-)

    All three gospels agree, that the gathered crowds asked no more questions, after Jesus proclaimed the Greatest Commandments. However, Mark records a controversial comment, coming from a Pharisee, praising Jesus’ pronouncement, and particularly emphasizing that the Greatest Commandments trumped the Temple establishment. Conversely, Matthew significantly softens that dramatic denouncement, by omitting mention of the controversial comment, and delaying explicitly commenting, on the crowd’s increasing quietude, until after a further teaching of Jesus. Thereby, Matthew makes it look like the crowd’s quietude arose from a riddle, rather than a rejection of Temple establishment supremacy. Likewise, Luke simply skips the section.

    Similarly, in the previous parable, of the wicked tenants, Mark maintains yet more emphasis on the sins of the Temple establishment:

    In Mark’s account, the tenants murder the son in his father’s vineyard, then throw the son’s body out of the vineyard (Mark 12:8). In Matthew and Luke’s accounts, however, the tenants throw the son out of the vineyard and then murder him (Matt. 21:39; Luke 20:15)…

    In his retelling of the parable, Mark seems to have subtly changed the parable so that instead of it being a condemnation of the temple high priests for not tithing, it became a statement about the pollution of the temple—Mark has the son killed by the tenants in the vineyard, thus defiling it. Apparently, in Mark’s eyes, the temple was already hopelessly defiled.

    Thus, Mark’s account, in contrast to the others’, is, much more confrontational, and much less compromising, in its attitude towards the Temple. This is completely consistent with the petulance of Peter(John 18:10), as well as 1st century AD political conflicts between “liberal” Rome and “conservative” Jerusalem*.

    * Mark’s gospel goes on to add yet another detail, also omitted by the other evangelists, about the Poor Widow’s Offering, further emphasizing the importance of Faith over Money (the condemned core of the Temple establishment).

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  • David N. Bivin

    David N. Bivin

    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…
    [Read more about author]

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