LOY Excursus: Mark’s Editorial Style

Dedicated to the memory of Professor Eduard Yechezkel Kutscher (1909-1971).
Revised: 11-August-2017
The writing style of the author of the Gospel of Mark has long been regarded as idiosyncratic.[73] Mark’s pervasive use of the “historical present”[74] and its bizarre proliferation of the word εὐθύς are two well-known examples.[75] Despite its awkwardness, and indeed sometimes because of it, Mark’s Gospel has been regarded as the most primitive of the Synoptic Gospels and one of the sources for the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. Robert Lindsey challenged this scholarly consensus of Markan Priority when he discovered the more Hebraic quality of Luke vis-à-vis Mark and vis-à-vis Matthew wherever Matthew was dependent on Mark. Lindsey concluded that Luke was the first of the Synoptic Gospels, that Mark reworked Luke, and that Matthew is based on Mark and one of the sources upon which Luke is based.[76]

Lindsey’s theory not only explains why Luke’s Gospel is so much more Hebraic than Mark’s, but also why Luke’s text often seems so much more reliable. For instance, Luke’s version of Jesus’ prophecy about the destruction and liberation of Jerusalem addresses the disciples’ question, “When will these things be?” and retains the theme of the fate of Jerusalem throughout. In Luke 21, Jesus’ prophecy is infused with a Jewish nationalist sentiment that is appropriate to a first-century Jewish teacher. In Mark 13, by contrast, there is no concern for the fate of Jerusalem or the Jewish people. Rather, in Mark’s version the focus is on the elect and on the advent of the Son of Man. Most striking of all, Mark’s version of the prophecy fails to answer the disciples’ question about when the Temple will be destroyed.[1]

Another example of Luke’s greater reliability in comparison with Mark is the conversation between Jesus and the chief priests during Jesus’ interrogation. According to Luke’s version, Jesus engaged in a sophisticated dialogue in which, through subtle biblical allusion, Jesus led his interrogators to draw their own conclusions about his messianic claims (Luke 22:67-70), whereas in Mark’s version (Mark 14:61-62) Jesus’s answer is unequivocal and the chain of biblical allusions is obscured by a single overt citation of Daniel 7.[2]

Lindsey’s Stemma. (Graphic created by Pieter Lechner.)

A third example of Luke’s greater historical reliability is found in the Healing a Man with a Withered Hand story. According to Luke’s account, the Pharisees discuss what they might do with Jesus (Luke 6:11), the point being that there was nothing the Pharisees could do since Jesus had not violated Sabbath prohibitions. Luke’s account resembles the story of the first-century B.C.E. Hasid Honi ha-Me’agel (m. Taan. 3:8; cf. b. Taan. 23a), in which a Pharisaic leader rebukes Honi and remarks אֲבָל מָה אֶעֱשֶׂה לְךָ (’avāl māh ’e‘ eseh lechā, “But what can I do to you?”), because although the Pharisee disapproved of Honi’s behavior, Honi had not actually transgressed the halachah. In Mark’s version of the Healing of Man with Withered Hand, however, the Pharisees plot with the Herodians how they might destroy Jesus (Mark 3:6).[3] Plotting to murder Jesus for the healing of a man on the Sabbath when Jesus had not committed any violation of Sabbath rest[4] is not only a priori unlikely, but the question of whether acts of mercy take precedence over the restrictions of work on the Sabbath was an open one in the first century. It seems clear that Mark artificially attributed the motives and intentions of Jesus’ later opponents to his Pharisaic critics.[5]

One of the main advantages of Lindsey’s hypothesis is that it allows us to observe and evaluate Mark’s editorial style. Lindsey’s hypothesis releases us from the assumption that Mark preserves the most primitive and original forms of the synoptic tradition. Accepting Lindsey’s premise that Luke often preserves a more authentic and reliable account opens our eyes to observe the freedom with which the author of Mark treated his sources.

Mark’s Freedom and Creativity

Lindsey concluded that the author of Mark was not interested in transmitting his sources as he had received them. Instead, Mark’s editorial style is characterized by creativity. Lindsey noted the following characteristics of Mark’s treatment of his sources:

  1. Relocation of pericopae from the Lukan order to a new context.
  2. Rewriting pericopae by substituting synonyms for the words Mark found in his source(s).
  3. Rewriting pericopae using vocabulary Mark had picked up from the sections of Luke that Mark had omitted, from Acts, from the Pauline Epistles and from the Epistle of James. These “Markan pick-ups” allowed Mark to show how the stories about Jesus resonated in the experiences of the later Church.[6]
  4. Radical abbreviation, for example, the Temptation narrative in Mark as compared with the Temptation narratives in Luke and Matthew.
  5. Expansion of pericopae by adding detail and duplicating phrases, for example, in the Lawyer’s Question Mark adds “Hear! O Israel….” to the citation of the double love commandment (Mark 12:29), and he repeats the entire answer (Mark 12:32-33).

Lindsey believed that the Lukan-Matthean minor agreements against Mark are an important witness to the readings of the pre-synoptic source that stands behind all three Synoptic Gospels.[7] The Lukan-Matthean minor agreements reflect traces of the pre-synoptic source shared by Matthew and Luke that escaped Mark’s editorial activity. Therefore, careful examination of the Lukan-Matthean minor agreements provides clues for understanding the author of Mark’s editorial style.

In attempting to classify the Lukan-Matthean minor agreements, Neirynck compiled a list that includes the following categories:[8]

  1. Asyndeton in Mark and conj. in Matt. and Luke, and vice versa
  2. Historical present in Mark and not in Matt. and Luke[9]
  3. Genitive absolute in Mark and not in Matt. and Luke, and vice versa
  4. Active or middle voice in Mark and passive in Matt. and Luke, and vice versa
  5. Simple verb in Mark and compound verb in Matt. and Luke, and vice versa
  6. Object-verb [order] in Mark and verb-object in Matt. and Luke, and vice versa
  7. Verb supplied in Matt. and Luke
  8. Prepositions changed in Matt. and Luke, and vice versa
  9. Changes in vocabulary; diminutive in Mark and not in Matt. and Luke[10]
  10. Singular in Mark and plural in Matt. and Luke, and vice versa
  11. Duplicate expressions in Mark and simple phrases in Matt. and Luke

Neirynck’s list is an excellent, if partial, description of Mark’s editorial method. To Neirynck’s list we add the following changes the author of Mark made to his source(s):

  1. Mark inverts word order. For example in Mark we find, “scribes of the Pharisees” (Mark 2:16), instead of “the Pharisees and their scribes” (Luke 5:30); “lord…the son of man…of the Sabbath” (Mark 2:28), instead of the Lukan-Matthean, “lord…of the Sabbath the son of man” (Luke 6:5; Matt. 12:8); “governors and kings” (Mark 13:9) instead of Luke’s “kings and governors” (Luke 21:12).
  2. Mark transposes the order of events. For example, the author of Mark wrote “and killed him and threw him out of the vineyard” (Mark 12:8), opposite the Lukan-Matthean, “and they threw him out of the vineyard and killed him” (Luke 20:15; Matt. 21:39). We also find this type of Markan change in the Preparations for Eating Passover Lamb pericope where the author of Mark transposed the order of Luke 22:8 and 22:9.
  3. Mark repeats words and sentences. Compare, for instance, “fearing and trembling” (Mark 5:33) to Luke’s “trembling” (Luke 8:47). In the Call of Levi story the author of Mark stated that Jesus’ critics seeing “that he is eating with sinners and toll collectors” (ὅτι ἐσθίει μετὰ τῶν ἁμαρτωλῶν καὶ τελωνῶν) ask “Why is he eating with toll collectors and sinners?” (ὅτι μετὰ τῶν τελωνῶν καὶ ἁμαρτωλῶν ἐσθίει; Mark 2:16).[11] Mark repeats “and he appointed [the] twelve” (Mark 3:14, 16) in the Choosing of the Twelve pericope. Mark repeats Jesus’ statement that it is hard for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven (Mark 10:23, 24) in the Rich Man Declines the Kingdom of Heaven incident, and likewise repeats the double love command (Mark 12:30-31, 33) in the Lawyer’s Question.
  4. Mark also duplicates stories in his text, creating a second story resembling the first and partially preserving its vocabulary. Examples include Feeding 4,000 (Mark 8:1-10), which duplicates Feeding 5,000 (Mark 6:30-44). The Walking on the Water (Mark 6:45-52) is a duplication of Quieting a Storm (Mark 4:35-41). The Blind Man of Bethsaida (Mark 8:22-26) may be a duplication of Man Healed of Blindness (Mark 10:46-52).
  5. Mark adds and expands Scripture quotations. For example, against Matthew and Luke, the author of Mark added the quotation of the Shema (Deut. 6:4) to the Greatest Commandment (Mark 12:29). Against Matthew and Luke, the author of Mark expanded the quotation of Isa. 56:7 in the story of Yeshua’s Protest in the Temple to include the phrase “all nations” (Mark 11:17).[12] Likewise, only Mark has “In the days of Abiathar the high priest” in the Lord of Shabbat story (Mark 2:26).[13]
  6. Mark supplies the names of anonymous individuals. For example, in Man Healed of Blindness only Mark’s version gives the name of the name of a blind beggar (Bartimaeus; Mark 10:46). Likewise in Prediction of Jerusalem’s Destruction where the questioners are anonymous in Luke 21:7 and are designated only as “the disciples” in Matt. 24:3, the author of Mark identified them as Peter, James, John and Andrew (Mark 13:3).
  7. Mark supplies additional biographical detail. For example, the author of Mark supplied information about Jesus’ vocation (Mark 6:3);[14] and he highlighted familial connections: e.g., “Levi the son of Alphaeus” (Mark 2:14) against “Levi” (Luke 5:27) and “Matthew” (Matt. 9:9); “Peter and James and John the brother of James” (Mark 5:37) opposite Luke’s “Peter and John and James” (Luke 8:51);[15] and “Simon, the father of Alexander and Rufus” (Mark 15:21) opposite Matt. 27:32 and Luke 23:26 where the names of the sons of Simon are omitted.
  8. Mark supplies numerical specificity. For example, the author of Mark specified the age of Yair’s (Jairus’) Daughter (“12 years” [Mark 5:42], against a Lukan-Matthean agreement of omission [Luke 8:55; Matt. 9:25]); he specified the cost of feeding the 5,000 (“200 denarii” [Mark 6:37], against a Lukan-Matthean agreement of omission [Luke 9:13; Matt. 14:17]); and he specified the number of times the rooster crowed (“Before the cock crows twice” [Mark 14:30; cf. Mark 14:72], against Matthew and Luke’s “Before the cock crows” [Matt. 26:34; Luke 22:34; cf. Luke 22:61]).
  9. Mark adds vivid descriptions. For instance, the author of Mark specified that the people sat “on the green grass” (Mark 6:39), against a Lukan-Matthean agreement of omission (Luke 9:14: “sit down”; Matt. 14:19: “sit down on the grass”); and in his account of the Transfiguration, the author of Mark says that Jesus’ clothes became “intensely white, as no fuller on earth could bleach them” (Mark 9:3; unparalleled in Matthew and Luke). Similarly, according to Mark Jesus “was in the stern asleep on the cushion” (Mark 4:38), against a Lukan-Matthean agreement of omission (Luke 8:23; Matt. 8:24).[16] Compare Mark’s μύλος ὀνικός (“donkey millstone”; Mark 9:42), in place of Luke’s less vivid λίθος μυλικός (“millstone”; Luke 17:2).
  10. Mark, alone of the Synoptic Gospels, inserts Aramaic phrases into his narratives. Many Semitic words in the Gospels (e.g., mammon, korban, rabbi, abba) are found in both Hebrew and Aramaic.[17] However, Mark’s is the only Gospel to incorporate words that are unambiguously Aramaic transliterations.[18] They are: Ταλιθα κουμ (Mark 5:41) and Ἐλωῒ ἐλωῒ λεμὰ σαβαχθάνι (Mark 15:34).[19] The word Εφφαθα (Mark 7:34) is probably also a transliteration of an Aramaic command.[20] The presence of Aramaic phrases in Mark is more likely to inform us about Mark’s linguistic background than about the language spoken by Jesus.[21] In fact, it appears that all of the Aramaic phrases in Mark are secondary. Lindsey argued that Ταλιθὰ κούμ in Mark 5:41 was inspired by Peter’s command Ταβιθά, ἀνάστηθι (Acts 9:40).[22] Buth has shown that Mark reworked the tradition according to which Jesus quoted Psalm 22:1 from the cross. In the pre-synoptic tradition the bystanders confused Jesus’ cry of Ἠλὶ ἠλὶ with a summons for the prophet Elijah (Ἠλίας). Mark’s Ἐλωῒ ἐλωῒ makes the reason for the bystanders’ confusion incomprehensible, a clear indication that Mark’s version is secondary.[23] Ἐφφαθά, too, is likely to be a Markan creation. It appears in a story not paralleled in Matthew or Luke that contains thaumaturgical elements that are peculiar to Mark’s Gospel (see below).
  11. Mark introduces Latin loanwords into the text of his Gospel. Latin loanwords appear in all three Synoptic Gospels.[24] We have counted fifteen Latin loanwords that appear at least once in Matthew, Mark, or Luke.[25] Of these fifteen Latin loanwords, six appear in Luke,[26] eleven appear in Mark,[27] and eleven appear in Matthew.[28] Three Latin loanwords are unique to Mark, namely, κεντυρίων (Mark 15:39, 44, 45), ξέστης (Mark 7:4) and σπεκουλάτωρ (Mark 6:27). Three additional Latin loanwords were introduced by Mark and copied by Matthew, namely, πραιτώριον (Mark 15:16; Matt. 27:27), φραγελλοῦν (Mark 15:15; Matt. 27:26) and κῆνσος (Mark 12:14; Matt. 22:17).[29] Thus, supposing Mark relied on Luke as the source for his Gospel, Mark is responsible for introducing six of the fifteen Latin loanwords that appear in the Synoptic Gospels. By contrast, there is only one Latin loanword unique to Luke (σουδάριον [Luke 19:20]), and Matthew is responsible for introducing only two of the Latin loanwords in the Synoptic Gospels (κουστωδία [Matt. 27:65, 66; 28:11]; μίλιον [Matt. 5:41]).[30] There is one Latin loanword shared by Matthew and Luke that is unknown to Mark (ἀσσάριον [Matt. 10:29; Luke 12:6]).[31]
  12. Mark introduces elements of Hellenistic thaumaturgical practice into his healing narratives. Mark 7:32-35 describes the healing of a man who was deaf and unable to speak (unparalleled in Matthew or Luke). Uncharacteristically for healings by Jesus, Mark’s story has Jesus insert his fingers into the man’s ears, spit and touch the man’s tongue. According to Mark, Jesus also sighs deeply. In the Healing of the Man in Bethsaida from Blindness (Mark 8:22-26; unparalleled in Matthew or Luke, cf. John 9:6), Mark reports that Jesus spat on the man’s eyes. The use of spittle, reports of sighing and/or groaning, and the use of magical words are common in Hellenistic descriptions of magical healings.[32] The Jewish Sages, by contrast, expressly opposed the practice of spitting in the context of healing (cf. t. Sanh. 12:10; b. Sanh. 101a; Avot de-Rabbi Natan, Version A, chpt. 36 [ed. Schechter, 108]).[33] The Hellenistic thaumaturgical practices attributed to Jesus appear to have been introduced into the Gospel traditions by Mark.[34]
  13. Mark provides psychological insight.[35] For example, Mark reports that Jesus was “moved with pity” (Mark 1:41), and that Jesus looked at the rich man and loved him (Mark 10:21; unparalleled in Matthew and Luke). Compare Mark’s “Jesus knew in his spirit” (Mark 2:8) with Matthew’s “knowing their thoughts” (Matt. 9:4), and especially Luke 5:22: “When Jesus noticed their argument.” Observe also Mark’s statement that Jesus “looked around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart” (Mark 3:5) in comparison with Luke 6:10: “He looked around at them all, and said…,” and Matt. 12:13: “Then he said to the man….” Mark likewise informs his readers that Jesus’ family members believed he was out of his mind (Mark 3:21), a statement unparalleled in Matthew or Luke. Mark’s details that Jesus was indignant toward his disciples (Mark 10:14; unparalleled in Matthew and Luke) and that at the Transfiguration Peter did not know what to say “for they were exceedingly afraid” (Mark 9:6; unparalleled in Matthew and Luke) falls within this category.
  14. Mark heightens drama. In Mark, for example, a person can be “guilty of an eternal sin” (Mark 3:29), in place of Luke’s Hebraic “he who speaks a word against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven” (Luke 12:10). In Mark 5:5 we learn that the demoniac would cry out and injure himself with stones, dramatic information not present in Luke or Matthew. Similarly, in the story of the Boy Delivered from Demon Mark heightens the drama by describing the demon as “a dumb spirit” (Mark 9:17; unparalleled in Matthew and Luke), by adding dramatic symptoms such as grinding his teeth and becoming rigid, by depicting the attack in graphic detail when the boy approaches Jesus (compare Mark 9:20 with Luke 9:42), and by adding the detail that after the attack the boy seemed to be dead (Mark 9:26; unparalleled in Matthew and Luke). Mark is also the only Gospel to report the dramatic story of the young man who fled naked at Jesus’ arrest (Mark 14:51-52).
  15. Mark multiplies words of astonishment.[36] It is a strange fact that Luke and Mark never agree to use the verb θαυμάζειν at the same point in their Gospels. In Luke θαυμάζειν occurs 12xx and in Mark 4xx. In place of θαυμάζειν in Luke, the author of Mark frequently substituted synonyms. Thus in Yeshua Attends Synagogue in Nazareth, Mark replaced Luke’s καὶ πάντες…ἐθαύμαζον ἐπὶ τοῖς λόγοις τῆς χάριτος (“and everyone…marveled at his gracious words”; Luke 4:22) with καὶ οἱ πολλοὶ ἀκούοντες ἐξεπλήσσοντο (“and the many who heard were astounded”; Mark 6:2), cf. Matthew’s ἐκπλήσσεσθαι (Matt. 13:54). In Quieting a Storm, the author of Mark replaced Luke’s φοβηθέντες δὲ ἐθαύμασαν (“and fearing they marvelled”; Luke 8:25) with καὶ ἐφοβήθησαν φόβον μέγαν (“and they feared a great fear”; Mark 4:41), cf. Matthew’s agreement with Luke against Mark to write ἐθαύμασαν (Matt. 8:27). And in Question Concerning Tribute to Caesar, the author of Mark replaced Luke’s καὶ θαυμάσαντες ἐπὶ τῇ ἀποκρίσει αὐτοῦ (“and they marveling at his answer”; Luke 20:26) with καὶ ἐξεθαύμαζον ἐπ’ αὐτῷ (“and they were amazed by him”; Mark 12:17), cf. Matthew’s ἐθαύμασαν (Matt. 22:22).
    Despite his avoidance of θαυμάζειν wherever it appears in Luke’s Gospel, the author of Mark used a variety of synonyms for wonder or astonishment: θαυμάζειν 4xx (Mark 5:20; 6:6; 15:5, 44); θαυμαστός 1x (Mark 12:11);[37] ἐκθαυάζειν 1x (Mark 12:17); ἐκπλήσσεσθαι 5xx (Mark 1:22; 6:2; 7:37 [ὑπερπερισσῶς ἐξεπλήσσοντο (“completely they were astounded”)]; 10:26 [περισσῶς ἐξεπλήσσοντο (“much they were astounded”)]; 11:18);[38] ἐξίστασθαι 4xx (Mark 2:12; 3:21; 5:42; 6:51);[39] ἔκστασις 2xx (Mark 5:42; 16:8);[40] θαμβεῖσθαι 3xx (Mark 1:27; 10:24, 32); and ἐκθαμβεῖσθαι 4xx (Mark 9:15; 14:33; 16:5, 6).
    Three Markan words for amazement (ἐκθαυάζειν, θαμβεῖσθαι, ἐκθαμβεῖσθαι) do not appear at all in Luke or Matthew. It should also be noted that the author of Mark sometimes attributed astonishment to the crowds and to the disciples for no apparent reason (Mark 9:15; 10:32).
  16. Mark expands sayings and narratives. Partly as a result of the editorial techniques outlined above, Mark’s pericopae are generally longer than their Matthean and Lukan counterparts. Although Mark is the shortest Gospel, this is because the author of Mark elected to report fewer stories, not because he was given to brevity.[41] Two extreme examples of how expansive Mark can be are the Boy Delivered from Demon and Yair’s Daughter and a Woman’s Faith.

Scholars often refer to the unique wordings of Mark (wordings often followed by Matthew) as “vivid detail” or “freshness,” assuming these “primitive” readings to be a sign of Mark’s originality. However, once Mark’s Gospel is recognized as dependent on Luke’s, Mark’s editorial style becomes unmistakable.

A Jewish Model for Mark’s Editorial Style?

The author of Mark’s modus operandi was to make almost every kind of change to his text that an editor can make. Often his changes appear to be without purpose—simply change for the sake of change. Yet, although to post-Enlightenment western readers Mark’s treatment of his sources may seem arbitrary and even indefensible, there are ancient Jewish models for Mark’s editorial techniques in the later rabbinic aggadic midrashim[42] and in the targumim (especially in the Palestinian Targum tradition as represented by Targum Neofiti, Targum Pseudo-Jonathan and the Fragmentary Jerusalem Targums).[43]

Aggadic midrash is a rabbinic approach to the Hebrew Scriptures that seeks novel interpretation and fresh encounters with the stories of the Bible. Aggadic midrash is infused with a playful sense of creativity. Hirshman writes, “The Spirit of the aggadic enterprise may be summed up in ben Bag Bag’s dictum in Avot 5:22, ‘Turn it and turn it again, for all is in it….'”[44] The appeal of aggadic midrash was not restricted to highly educated rabbis, but was directed toward a broader audience. Its creative approach was intended to entertain and to draw listeners in and to engage them with the biblical text.[45]

Among the techniques that can be observed in the aggadic midrash is heightened dramatization of biblical stories. For example, in expounding the Binding of Isaac, we read:

“And Abraham took the wood for the burnt-offering [and put it on his son Isaac (Gen. 22:6)]”—as one who bears his cross on his shoulder. (Gen. Rab. 56:3)

Another technique is providing psychological insight to explain the motives of biblical characters. For example, in the story of Lot’s daughters it is stated:

They [the daughters] thought that the whole world was destroyed, as in the generation of the flood. (Gen. Rab. 51:8)

Likewise, when Abraham sent his servant to find Isaac a wife, the servant asks what he should do if a woman was unwilling to return with him (Gen 24:5). The midrash asks: “Why did the servant ask this question?” Answer: “Because he was hoping to give his own daughter to Isaac in marriage” (Gen. Rab. 59:9).

A third technique for engaging listeners was to identify anonymous characters[46] and to supply additional biographical information. Thus the tradition cited above identifies Abraham’s anonymous servant as Eliezer (Gen. 15:2). Likewise, the aggadic midrash supplies a backstory for Sarai’s maidservant Hagar—she was the daughter of Pharaoh:

When Pharaoh saw what was done on Sarah’s behalf in his own house, he took his daughter and gave her to Sarah, saying, “Better let my daughter be a handmaid in this house than a mistress in another house.” (Gen. Rab. 45:1)

Similarly, Ruth and her sister-in-law, Orpah, are said to be the daughters of Eglon, king of Moab (Judges 3:12):

Eglon rose from his throne when Ehud informed the king that he came with a message from God. “The Holy one, blessed be he, said to him: ‘You stood up from your throne to honor me. By your life, I will raise up from you a descendant sitting on the throne of the Lord.'” (Ruth Rab. 2:9)

Yet another feature of aggadic traditions is to provide numerical specificity. Thus, when Rebekah’s family requests that “the maiden remain with us יָמִים [yāmim, lit., “days”; the number is not specified], at least ten days” (Gen. 24:55), an aggadic tradition states, “Yamim refers to seven days of mourning” (Gen. Rab. 60:12).[47]

Many of these aggadic techniques are also reflected in the targumim, the Aramaic translations of the Hebrew Scriptures. The targumim were not merely translations of the Hebrew Scriptures, they also provided a fresh look at the text. Rather than rendering the text literally, the targumists frequently introduced a variety of changes designed to keep the audience engaged. Sperber describes the style, or approach, of the targumists, giving examples from Codex Reuchlinianus of more than 30 categories of targumic change, for example:

  1. Changes in accord with similar biblical passages
  2. Free translation
  3. Figurative speech
  4. Elaboration on a brief text
  5. Additions necessary for a better understanding
  6. Collective nouns treated as plurals
  7. Abstract nouns replaced by corresponding concrete forms
  8. Adding and omitting suffixes with substantives and verbs
  9. Active construction in lieu of passive, and vice versa
  10. Choice of verbal tense adjusted to the context
  11. Addition or omission of particles
  12. Finite verb instead of abs. inf.
  13. Change of place names
  14. Asyndeton instead of polysyndeton, and vice versa

Although the Gospel of Mark is earlier than the rabbinic collections of aggadic midrash and the targumim, these ancient Jewish treatments of Scripture may provide a useful model for understanding Mark’s creative approach to the Gospel traditions.[48] Moreover, many of the methods exhibited in aggadic midrash and the Aramaic targumim are also discernable in Jewish literature from the Second Temple period, including works such as the Book of Jubilees and the Genesis Apocryphon, Pseudo-Philo’s Biblical Antiquities, Philo’s commentaries on the books of Moses, and Josephus’ re-telling of the biblical narratives.[49]

Roman fresco depicting a man with a papyrus scroll. Herculaneum (first-century C.E.).
First-century C.E. Roman fresco depicting a man with a papyrus scroll (Herculaneum). Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Even the Septuagint (ca. 150 B.C.E.), the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible, exhibits elements of creative exegesis. For example, the Greek translation of Exodus 22:28 reinterprets the verse for a diaspora setting, and rather than saying “You must not curse אֱלֹהִים [God],” it says θεοὺς οὐ κακολογήσεις (“You shall not revile gods [plur.]”; NETS).[50] Another example is LXX’s translation of Ruth 1:14, which reads, Ρουθ δὲ ἠκολούθησεν αὐτῇ (“but Ruth followed her”), as opposed to the Hebrew text which reads, וְרוּת דָּבְקָה בָּהּ (“but Ruth clung to her”). The verbal change may seem insignificant—after all, Ruth did follow Naomi from her homeland in Moab to Bethlehem in Judah—however the Greek verb translated “followed” had another connotation: to adhere to a philosophy or moral code. This same Greek word is used in the Gospels to refer to discipleship. In later Jewish sources, Ruth’s decision became a paradigm for conversion (Ruth Rab. 2:22; Targum of Ruth 1:16). A third example is LXX’s rendering of 1 Sam. 14:42, which greatly expands the original verse.[51]

The method of creative exegesis exists even in the Hebrew Bible itself! Observe how the author of Deuteronomy expanded portions of the Ten Commandments in midrashic fashion. For example, the author of Deuteronomy saw that the expression שׁוֹר וַחֲמוֹר (“ox and donkey”) in Exod. 20:17 is a synonym for בְּהֵמָה (“beast”) in Exod. 20:10, so he combined them in Deut. 5:14, giving all three nouns. Another example is how the Chronicler retells the stories in the Books of Samuel and Kings. In the Chronicler’s retelling of the story of David’s Census, for instance, the Chronicler explains that it was Satan who incited David (1 Chr. 21:1; cf. 2 Sam. 24:1, where it is the LORD who incited David). The Chronicler also identifies the site of the Temple in Jerusalem with the mountain upon which Abraham proved his faithfulness through the Binding of Isaac (2 Chr. 3:1; Gen. 22:2). At another point the Chronicler explains away an apparent contradiction in 2 Sam. 21:19 where we read that Elhanan (not David!) killed Goliath. According to 1 Chr. 20:5, Elhanan slew Lahmi, Goliath’s brother.

These Jewish models of creative exegesis may provide the necessary framework for understanding Mark’s editorial style. Mark attempted to retell the familiar story of Jesus’ words and deeds in a fresh, attention-grabbing manner. Mark’s editorial changes were intended to draw his audience in and to keep them enthralled with the dramatic tale of Jesus’ adventures.

A good example of the author of Mark’s aggadic style is his version of the Mustard Seed parable (Mark 4:30-32). The author of Luke speaks of a seed which, when cast in a garden, becomes a tree. Notice the brevity of Luke’s text (Luke 13:18-19)—only 27 Greek words. Mark expanded the parable by 60% (by 16 words). The author of Mark explains that the mustard seed, when sown on the earth (Luke: “garden”),[52] “is the smallest of all the seeds on the earth” (repeating “earth”), but when sown (repeating “sown”), it becomes the greatest (dramatization) of all the herbs,[53] and puts forth large (dramatization) branches so that (an explanation of Luke’s Hebraic καί) the birds can (added by Mark) dwell in its shade.[54] In the Lukan-Matthean parallels to Mark’s version of the parable (each are only two verses in length), there are six Lukan-Matthean minor agreements against Mark:

  1. ὁμοία ἐστὶν ἡ βασιλεία
  2. ὃν λαβὼν ἄνθρωπος
  3. αὐτοῦ (Luke: ἑαυτοῦ)
  4. αὐξηθῇ (Luke: ηὔξησεν)
  5. δένδρον
  6. ἐν τοῖς κλάδοις αὐτοῦ

Mark’s version of the parable is dramatic, exaggerated, creative and exciting, just like the creative interpretations of Scripture found in aggadic midrash and the targumim.

Mark’s Portrait of Jesus

If the author of Mark were writing his Gospel today, perhaps he would have chosen to write it as a graphic novel. The Gospel of Mark certainly has features that are reminiscent of comic book stories. Like a comic book, the Gospel of Mark uses bold lines and vivid colors that attract a reader’s attention.[55] Mark’s strange use of εὐθύς (evthūs, “immediately”) reminds one of changes of scene in a comic book from one frame to the next.[56] Like a comic book, Mark has a superhero: Jesus. And just as a comic book is better suited for action than dialogue, Mark’s Gospel mainly focuses on the stories rather than on the teachings of Jesus. The one kind of teaching Mark retains, apart from a highly redacted eschatological discourse in Mark 13, are parables, which are themselves picturesque illustrations.

Comic book-style portrait of Jesus by illustrator Jim Padgett. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

The Markan portrayal of Jesus is that of a superhero with immense power and authority.[57] In the opening scene of Mark’s narrative, John the Baptist declares that one who is even more powerful is about to arrive (Mark 1:7). And immediately Jesus begins to demonstrate his power and authority by summoning total strangers to leave everything behind to follow him (Mark 1:16-20; cf. 2:14). Synagogue worshippers recognize Jesus’ authoritative teaching (Mark 1:22) even before Jesus has a chance to demonstrate his authority to command demons (Mark 1:27). Jesus not only has authority over human beings and evil spirits, he also has authority to forgive sins (Mark 2:10). Jesus is also able to impart authority to others (Mark 3:15; 6:7). The chief priests and their entourage unsuccessfully challenge Jesus’ authority (Mark 11:27-33).

Neither science, nature, nor religion are a match for Jesus: Jesus is Lord of the Sabbath (Mark 2:28), nature obeys Jesus’ command (Mark 4:41), and Jesus is more potent than the doctors who failed to stop the woman’s bleeding (Mark 5:26; unparalleled in Luke and Matthew). Mark’s emphasis on Jesus’ power is demonstrated in his use of the verb δύνασθαι[58] to describe Jesus’ ability or to contrast Jesus’ power with the inability of others to succeed. Jesus is able to cleanse lepers (Mark 1:40); Jesus is proved able to forgive sins, despite the scribes’ belief that only God is capable of this action (Mark 2:7); Jesus is able to bind the strong man and plunder his house (Mark 3:27; δύνασθαι absent in Luke 11:21, but copied in Matt. 12:29); Jesus subdues the demoniac whom no one was able to bind (Mark 5:3; δύνασθαι absent in Luke 8:27, no Matthean parallel); Jesus proves able to procure food in a remote place (Mark 8:4; δύνασθαι absent in Matt. 15:33, no Lukan parallel); Jesus censures the father of a boy with a demon for his doubt in Jesus’ ability to exorcise his son (Mark 9:22-23; no Lukan or Matthean parallel); Jesus’ success is contrasted with the disciples’ inability to exorcise the demon from the boy (Mark 9:28; no Lukan parallel, but copied in Matt. 17:19).

Yet Mark’s superhero is elusive.[59] When crowds seek Jesus, Jesus avoids them and goes elsewhere (Mark 1:38). Mark’s Jesus does not want people to know his whereabouts (Mark 7:24; 9:30; both verses unparalleled in Luke or Matthew). And, in Mark, Jesus insists on secrecy when he performs miracles and drives out evil spirits (Mark 1:44; 3:12 [unparalleled in Luke or Matthew]; 5:43; 7:36 [unparalleled in Luke or Matthew]; 8:26 [unparalleled in Luke or Matthew]). Jesus also demands secrecy about the transfiguration (Mark 9:9; no parallel in Luke, but copied in Matt. 17:9). But it is not only his miraculous powers that Mark’s Jesus attempts to conceal. In Mark Jesus also attempts to conceal his teachings. According to Mark, Jesus hides from the crowds in order to teach the disciples (Mark 9:30-31; cf. 13:3). Jesus’ public instruction was in the form of parables, a term Mark seems to understand in the sense of riddles, in order that the outsiders will not understand the secrets of the Kingdom of God, for otherwise they might be forgiven (Mark 4:12). Only when the disciples are alone does Jesus reveal to them the meaning of the parables (Mark 4:34; unparalleled in Luke and Matthew).

Not only is Mark’s Jesus secretive, Mark also portrays Jesus as impatient and disdainful: “Are you also without understanding?” Mark’s Jesus chides his disciples (Mark 7:18; no parallel in Luke, but copied in Matt. 15:16). Later, when Mark recounts the feeding of the 4,000, Mark’s Jesus chides the disciples again for their lack of understanding (Mark 8:21; no parallel in Luke, in Matt. 16:12 the disciples do understand). When the Pharisees ask Jesus for a sign, Jesus groans in exasperation (Mark 8:12; unparalleled in Matthew and Luke). Mark’s Jesus is a lonely figure, a towering genius forced to endure the company of fools.

The author of Mark went to great lenghts to demonstrate Jesus’ alienation from the people around him.[60] The alienation of Mark’s Jesus begins with his own family, who consider him to be insane (Mark 3:21; unparalleled in Luke and Matthew). The people from Jesus’ hometown took offense at Jesus, because although he came from Nazareth he was different from the rest of its inhabitants (Mark 6:3; unparalleled in Luke, but copied in Matt. 13:57). The Jerusalem scribes deemed Jesus to be possessed by Beelzebul (Mark 3:22),[61] and Herod supposes that Jesus is John the Baptist who has come back from the dead (Mark 6:16).[62] Even the disciples sometimes regard Jesus’ actions as ridiculous. In response to Jesus’ suggestion that they feed the multitude, the disciples patiently explain to Jesus that it would cost too much money (Mark 6:37; unparalleled in Luke and Matthew). Later, in the story of the feeding of the 4,000, despite their having witnessed Jesus’ earlier miracle, the disciples protest that it is obviously impossible to obtain bread in the desert (Mark 8:4; absent in Luke, but copied in Matt. 15:33). And when Jesus told his disciples of his impending death, Peter went so far as to rebuke his master (Mark 8:32; unparalleled in Luke but copied in Matt. 16:22). The disciples’ failure to understand Jesus is a major theme in Mark’s Gospel. Despite his best efforts, the disciples continue to misinterpret Jesus’ parables (Mark 4:13; unparalleled in Luke and Matthew), his teachings (Mark 7:18 [unparalleled in Luke, but copied in Matt. 15:17]; 8:16-21 [cf. Matt. 16:12]; 9:10 [unparalleled in Luke and Matthew]), and actions (Mark 6:52; unparalleled in Luke and Matthew).

The estrangement of Mark’s Jesus reaches its climax in the passion narrative.[63] In contrast to Luke’s account, where Jesus’ execution is mourned by the people of Jerusalem, in Mark Jesus is abandoned by all those who are close to him. The disciples flee at Jesus’ arrest, Jesus is brought before Jewish authorities and Roman rulers for reasons that are not clearly stated, at the cross Jesus is mocked by everyone, and Jesus’ dying conviction is that even his heavenly Father has abandoned him. With sound justification, Flusser described Mark’s passion narrative as Kafkaesque.[64]

Flusser remarked that the Markan Jesus’ connection to Judaism and the Jewish people is practically non-existent (ibid). This observation is particularly borne out by the highly redacted version of Jesus’ eschatological prophecy in Mark 13. In Luke’s version of the prophecy, the fate of Jerusalem and of the Jewish people is Jesus’ central concern. In Mark’s version, by contrast, Jesus forgets about the Temple and Jerusalem and focuses instead on the fate of the elect (Mark 13:20, 22) and their gathering into the kingdom (Mark 13:27). Israel has no place in the future redemption envisioned by the Markan Jesus.

However, it is not clear that Mark is anti-Jewish.[65] The author of Mark does not assert that keeping the Sabbath is wrong, only that Jesus is Lord of the Sabbath (Mark 2:28). Contrary to the opinion of many interpreters, the Markan Jesus does not abolish the Jewish dietary laws, but simply declares that ritual handwashing is not obligatory.[66] The explanatory note about Jewish ritual customs (Mark 7:3-4) gives the impression that Mark’s audience was non-Jewish, but the author of Mark does not condemn the Jewish customs he describes.[67] It should also be noted that despite the author of Mark’s improbable suggestion that the Pharisees plotted with the Herodians how they might destroy Jesus (Mark 3:6),[68] the Gospel of Mark does not implicate the Pharisees or the Jewish people as a whole in the passion narrative.[69] The last we hear of the Pharisees in Mark is their question about paying taxes (Mark 12:13), which takes place prior to Yesua’s arrest, trial and crucifixion. For the author of Mark, the Jewish people are not Jesus’ enemies, but neither are they the focus of his mission.[70] At worst, the author of Mark was neutral toward Judaism and indifferent toward the Jewish people, and his indifference is reflected in his portrait of Jesus.

The Markan portrait of Jesus is that of an inscrutable, powerful, tragic and lonely individual who is compelling and mysterious. Misunderstood in his time, Jesus will nevertheless be revealed in glory when he gathers the elect into his kingdom.

Appreciation for Mark

Understanding the author of Mark’s editorial style allows for a proper appreciation of Mark’s Gospel. The Gospel of Mark is a retelling of Jesus’ story, an aggadic-type dramatization based on Luke’s text. Although Mark is not the best source for the most authentic and historical traditions about Jesus—for that we must turn to Luke and the non-Markan portions of Matthew—the Gospel of Mark remains an important and valuable witness to the development of pre-synoptic traditions and the way they were understood by the early Church.[71] Mark shows how deeply the early Christian community was influenced by Jewish interpretive techniques. In addition, as Lindsey observed, without Mark’s Gospel it would have been impossible to arrive at a correct solution to the Synoptic Problem:

Without the Gospel of Mark we would not understand the interconnections of the Synoptic Gospels. Without Mark the verbal distance between Matthew and Luke would remain a conundrum and the important distinction between Matthew in his non-Markan and Markan contexts would be unclear. Without Mark the homiletical methods of John would appear to have no antecedent, for John’s use of some of the Markan stereotypes is an important key to understanding the approach of the writer of the Fourth Gospel. Moreover, without Mark the extremely important insight of Markan priorists that Matthew and Luke are independent of each other could not have been achieved.[72]

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  • [1] See David Flusser, “The Times of the Gentiles and the Redemption of Jerusalem.”
  • [2] See Robert Lindsey, “The Hebrew Life of Jesus,” under the subheading “Jesus’ Interrogation by the Chief Priests.”
  • [3] Given the types and volume of change Mark introduces into Gospel stories (see below), one wonders whether οἱ Ἡρῳδιανοί (“the Herodians”; Mark 3:6; 12:13 [= Matt. 22:16]) are a Markan invention. The Herodians are found nowhere else in ancient literature. BDAG (440) suggests that the Herodians are to be identified with “the partisans of Herod” (οἱ τὰ Ἡρῴδου φρονοῦντες; Josephus, Ant. 14:450; trans. Marcus [Loeb ed.]).
  • [4] Note that, just as it was not Honi, but God who sent the rain, so in the Healing of Man with Withered Hand, Jesus takes no action to heal the man. He only tells the man to stretch out his hand and God effects the miraculous healing.
  • [5] See David Flusser, “Foreword to Robert Lindsey’s A Hebrew Translation of the Gospel of Mark,” under the subheading “What they might do…”
  • [6] For a fuller discussion of the Markan pick-ups, see Lindsey, “From Luke to Mark to Matthew: A Discussion of the Sources of Markan ‘Pick-ups’ and the Use of a Basic Non-canonical Source by All the Synoptists.”
  • [7] See Robert L. Lindsey, “The Major Importance of the Minor Agreements“; idem, “Unlocking the Synoptic Problem: Four Keys for Better Understanding Jesus,” under the subheading “‘Minor’ Agreements.”
  • [8] Frans Neirynck, ed., The Minor Agreements of Matthew and Luke against Mark (Leuven: Leuven University Press, 1974), 7-8, 199-288.
  • [9] We define examples of the historical present as third person indicative present tense verbs that appear in narrative contexts where the action is clearly in the past (see Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics: An Exegetical Syntax of the New Testament [Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996], 526-529). Accordingly, we have identified 156 instances of the historical present in Mark, 99 instances of the historical present in Matthew, and 13 instances of the historical present in Luke:
    156 Instances of the Historical Present in Mark
    1 1:12 [ἐκβάλλει] TT (cf. Luke 4:1 [ἤγετο]; Matt. 4:1 [ἀνήχθη])
    2 1:21 [εἰσπορεύονται] Mark-Luke (cf. Luke 4:31)
    3 1:30 [λέγουσιν] TT (cf. Luke 4:38 [ἠρώτησαν]; Matt. 8:14 [–])
    4 1:37 [λέγουσιν] Mark-Luke (cf. Luke 4:42)
    5 1:38 [λέγει] Mark-Luke (cf. Luke 4:43)
    6 1:40 [ἔρχεται] TT (cf. Luke 5:12 [καὶ ἐγένετο…καὶ ἰδοὺ]; Matt. 8:2 [καὶ ἰδοὺ…προσελθὼν])
    7 1:41 [λέγει] TT (cf. Luke 5:13; Matt. 8:3 [λέγων])
    8 1:44 [λέγει] = Matt. 8:4 TT (cf. Luke 5:14)
    9 2:3 [ἔρχονται] TT (cf. Luke 5:18 []; Matt. 9:2 [])
    10 2:4 [χαλῶσι] TT (cf. Luke 5:19 [καθῆκαν]; Matt. 9:[–] [–])
    11 2:5 [λέγει] TT (cf. Luke 5:20; Matt. 9:2 [εἶπεν])
    12 2:8 [διαλογίζονται] TT (cf. Luke 5:22 [διαλογισμούς]; Matt. 9:4 [ἐνθυμήσεις])
    13 2:8 [λέγει] TT (cf. Luke 5:22; Matt. 9:4 [εἶπεν])
    14 2:10 [λέγει] = Matt. 9:6 TT (cf. Luke 5:24)
    15 2:14 [λέγει] = Matt. 9:9 TT (cf. Luke 5:27)
    16 2:15 [γίνεται] TT (cf. Luke 5:29 [–]; Matt. 9:10 [ἐγένετο])
    17 2:17 [λέγει] TT (cf. Luke 5:31; Matt. 9:12 [εἶπεν])
    18 2:18 [ἔρχονται] = Matt. 9:14 [προσέρχονται] TT (cf. Luke 5:33 [–])
    19 2:18 [λέγουσιν] TT (cf. Luke 5:33 [εἶπαν]; Matt. 9:14 [λέγοντες])
    20 2:25 [λέγει] TT (cf. Luke 6:3; Matt. 12:3 [εἶπεν])
    21 3:3 [λέγει] TT (cf. Luke 6:8 [εἶπεν]; Matt. 12:[–] [–])
    22 3:4 [λέγει] TT (cf. Luke 6:9; Matt. 12:11 [εἶπεν])
    23 3:5 [λέγει] = Matt. 12:13 TT (cf. Luke 6:10)
    24 3:13 [ἀναβαίνει] TT (cf. Luke 6:12 [ἐξελθεῖν]; Matt. 10:1 [–]; cf. Matt. 5:1 [ἀνέβη])
    25 3:13 [προσκαλεῖται] TT (cf. Luke 6:13 [προσεφώνησεν]; Matt. 10:1 [προσκαλεσάμενος])
    26 3:20 [ἔρχεται] U
    27 3:20 [συνέρχεται] U
    28 3:31 [ἔρχεται] TT (cf. Luke 8:19 [παρεγένετο]; Matt. 12:46 [–])
    29 3:32 [λέγουσιν] TT (cf. Luke 8:20 [ἀπηγγέλη]; Matt. 12:[47 (εἶπεν)])
    30 3:33 [λέγει] TT (cf. Luke 8:[–] [–]; Matt. 12:48 [εἶπεν])
    31 3:34 [λέγει] TT (cf. Luke 8:21; Matt. 12:49 [εἶπεν])
    32 4:1 [συνάγεται] TT (cf. Luke 8:4 [συνιόντος]; Matt. 13:2 [συνήχθησαν])
    33 4:13 [λέγει] TT (cf. Luke 8:[–] [–]; Matt. 13:[–] [–])
    34 4:35 [λέγει] TT (cf. Luke 8:22 [εἶπεν]; Matt. 8:18 [ἐκέλευσεν])
    35 4:36 [παραλαμβάνουσιν] TT (cf. Luke 8:22 [–]; Matt. 8:23 [–])
    36 4:37 [γίνεται] TT (cf. Luke 8:23 [κατέβη]; Matt. 8:24 [ἐγένετο])
    37 4:38 [ἐγείρουσιν] TT (cf. Luke 8:24 [διήγειραν]; Matt. 8:25 [ἤγειραν])
    38 4:38 [λέγουσιν] TT (cf. Luke 8:24; Matt. 8:25 [λέγοντες])
    39 5:7 [λέγει] TT (cf. Luke 8:28 [εἶπεν]; Matt. 8:29 [λέγοντες])
    40 5:9 [λέγει] TT (cf. Luke 8:30 [εἶπεν]; Matt. 8:[–] [–])
    41 5:15 [ἔρχονται] TT (cf. Luke 8:35 [ἦλθον]; Matt. 8:34 [ἐξῆλθεν])
    42 5:15 [θεωροῦσιν] TT (cf. Luke 8:35 [εὗρον]; Matt. 8:34 [])
    43 5:19 [λέγει] TT (cf. Luke 8:38 [λέγων]; Matt. 8:[–] [–])
    44 5:22 [ἔρχεται] TT (cf. Luke 8:41 [ἦλθεν]; Matt. 9:18 [ἐλθών])
    45 5:22 [πίπτει] TT (cf. Luke 8:41 [πεσών]; Matt. 9:18 [προσεκύνει])
    46 5:23 [παρακαλεῖ] TT (cf. Luke 8:41 [παρεκάλει]; Matt. 9:18 [])
    47 5:35 [ἔρχονται] = Luke 8:49 [ἔρχεταί] TT (cf. Matt. 9:[–] [–])
    48 5:36 [λέγει] TT (cf. Luke 8:50 [ἀπεκρίθη]; Matt. 9:[–] [–])
    49 5:38 [ἔρχονται] TT (cf. Luke 8:51; Matt. 9:23 [ἐλθών])
    50 5:38 [θεωρεῖ] TT (cf. Luke 8:52 [–]; Matt. 9:23 [ἰδών])
    51 5:39 [λέγει] TT (cf. Luke 8:52 [εἶπεν]; Matt. 9:24 [ἔλεγεν])
    52 5:40 [παραλαμβάνει] TT (cf. Luke 8:53 [–]; Matt. 9:25 [–])
    53 5:40 [εἰσπορεύεται] TT (cf. Luke 8:53 [–]; Matt. 9:25 [εἰσελθών])
    54 5:41 [λέγει] TT (cf. Luke 8:54 [λέγων]; Matt. 9:25 [–])
    55 6:1 [ἔρχεται] TT (cf. Luke 4:16 [ἦλθεν]; Matt. 13:54 [ἐλθών])
    56 6:1 [ἀκολουθοῦσιν] TT (cf. Luke 4:16 [–]; Matt. 13:54 [–])
    57 6:7 [προσκαλεῖται] TT (cf. Luke 9:1 [συγκαλεσάμενος]; Matt. 10:1 [προσκαλεσάμενος])
    58 6:30 [συνάγονται] Mark-Luke (cf. Luke 9:10)
    59 6:31 [λέγει] TT (cf. Luke 9:[–] [–]; Matt. 14:[–] [–])
    60 6:37 [λέγουσιν] TT (cf. Luke 9:13 [–]; Matt. 14:16 [–])
    61 6:38 [λέγει] TT (cf. Luke 9:13 [–]; Matt. 14:17 [–])
    62 6:38 [λέγουσιν] = Matt. 14:17 TT (cf. Luke 9:13)
    63 6:45 [ἀπολύει] Mark-Matt. (cf. Matt. 14:22)
    64 6:48 [ἔρχεται] Mark-Matt. (cf. Matt. 14:25)
    65 6:50 [λέγει] Mark-Matt. (cf. Matt. 14:27)
    66 7:1 [συνάγονται] = Matt. 15:1 [προσέρχονται] Mark-Matt.
    67 7:2 [ἐσθίουσιν] Mark-Matt. (cf. Matt. 15:[–])
    68 7:5 [ἐπερωτῶσιν] Mark-Matt. (cf. Matt. 15:1)
    69 7:18 [λέγει] Mark-Matt. (cf. Matt. 15:16)
    70 7:28 [λέγει] Mark-Matt. (cf. Matt. 15:27)
    71 7:32 [φέρουσιν] Mark-Matt. (cf. Matt. 15:30)
    72 7:32 [παρακαλοῦσιν] Mark-Matt. (cf. Matt. 15:30)
    73 7:34 [λέγει] Mark-Matt. (cf. Matt. 15:[–])
    74 8:1 [λέγει] Mark-Matt. (cf. Matt. 15:32)
    75 8:6 [παραγγέλλει] Mark-Matt. (cf. Matt. 15:35)
    76 8:12 [λέγει] Mark-Matt. (cf. Matt. 12:39; 16:2)
    77 8:16 [ἔχουσιν] Mark-Matt. (cf. Matt. 16:7)
    78 8:17 [λέγει] Mark-Matt. (cf. Matt. 16:8)
    79 8:19 [λέγουσιν] Mark-Matt. (cf. Matt. 16:9)
    80 8:20 [λέγουσιν] Mark-Matt. (cf. Matt. 16:10)
    81 8:22 [ἔρχονται] U
    82 8:22 [φέρουσιν] U
    83 8:22 [παρακαλοῦσιν] U
    84 8:29 [λέγει] TT (cf. Luke 9:20; Matt. 16:16 [εἶπεν])
    85 8:33 [λέγει] TT (cf. Luke 9:[–] [–]; Matt. 16:23 [εἶπεν])
    86 9:2 [παραλαμβάνει] = Matt. 17:1 TT (cf. Luke 9:28)
    87 9:2 [ἀναφέρει] = Matt. 17:1 TT (cf. Luke 9:28)
    88 9:5 [λέγει] TT (cf. Luke 9:33; Matt. 17:4 [εἶπεν])
    89 9:19 [λέγει] TT (cf. Luke 9:41; Matt. 17:17 [εἶπεν])
    90 9:25 [ἐπισυντρέχει] TT (cf. Luke 9:42 [–]; Matt. 17:18 [–])
    91 9:35 [λέγει] TT (cf. Luke 9:[–] [–]; Matt. 18:[–] [–])
    92 10:1 [ἔρχεται] Mark-Matt. (cf. Matt. 19:1)
    93 10:1 [συμπορεύονται] Mark-Matt. (cf. Matt. 19:2)
    94 10:11 [λέγει] Mark-Matt. (cf. Matt. 19:9)
    95 10:23 [λέγει] TT (cf. Luke 18:24; Matt. 19:23 [εἶπεν])
    96 10:24 [λέγει] TT (cf. Luke 18:[–] [–]; Matt. 19:24 [λέγω])
    97 10:27 [λέγει] TT (cf. Luke 18:27; Matt. 19:26 [εἶπεν])
    98 10:35 [προσπορεύονται] Mark-Matt. (cf. Matt. 20:20)
    99 10:42 [λέγει] TT (cf. Luke 22:25; Matt. 20:25 [εἶπεν])
    100 10:46 [ἔρχονται] TT (cf. Luke 18:35 [ἐγένετο…ἐν τῷ ἐγγίζειν]; Matt. 20:29 [ἐκπορευομένων])
    101 10:49 [φωνοῦσιν] TT (cf. Luke 18:40 [–]; Matt. 20:32 [–])
    102 11:1 [ἐγγίζουσιν] TT (cf. Luke 19:29 [ἤγγισεν]; Matt. 21:1 [ἤγγισαν])
    103 11:1 [ἀποστέλλει] TT (cf. Luke 19:29; Matt. 21:1 [ἀπέστειλεν])
    104 11:2 [λέγει] TT (cf. Luke 19:30; Matt. 21:2 [λέγων])
    105 11:4 [λύουσιν] TT (cf. Luke 19:33 [λυόντων]; Matt. 21:6 [–])
    106 11:7 [φέρουσιν] TT (cf. Luke 19:35; Matt. 21:7 [ἤγαγον])
    107 11:7 [ἐπιβάλλουσιν] TT (cf. Luke 19:35 [ἐπιρίψαντες]; Matt. 21:7 [ἐπέθηκαν])
    108 11:15 [ἔρχονται] TT (cf. Luke 19:45 [–]; Matt. 21:12 [–])
    109 11:21 [λέγει] Mark-Matt. (cf. Matt. 21:20)
    110 11:22 [λέγει] Mark-Matt. (cf. Matt. 21:21)
    111 11:27 [ἔρχονται] TT (cf. Luke 20:1 [–]; Matt. 21:23 [–])
    112 11:27 [ἔρχονται] TT (cf. Luke 20:1 [ἐπέστησαν]; Matt. 21:23 [προσῆλθον])
    113 11:33 [λέγουσιν] TT (cf. Luke 20:7 [ἀπεκρίθησαν]; Matt. 21:27 [εἶπαν])
    114 11:33 [λέγει] TT (cf. Luke 20:8 [εἶπεν]; Matt. 21:27 [ἔφη])
    115 12:13 [ἀποστέλλουσιν] = Matt. 22:16 TT (cf. Luke 20:20)
    116 12:14 [λέγουσιν] TT (cf. Luke 20:21; Matt. 22:16 [λέγοντες])
    117 12:16 [λέγει] = Matt. 22:20 TT (cf. Luke 20:23)
    118 12:18 [ἔρχονται] TT (cf. Luke 20:27 [προσελθόντες]; Matt. 22:23 [προσῆλθον])
    119 12:41 [βάλλει] Mark-Luke (cf. Luke 21:1)
    120 13:1 [λέγει] TT (cf. Luke 21:5 [λεγόντων]; Matt. 24:1 [ἐπιδεῖξαι])
    121 14:12 [λέγουσιν] TT (cf. Luke 22:9 [εἶπαν]; Matt. 26:17 [λέγοντες])
    122 14:13 [ἀποστέλλει] TT (cf. Luke 22:8 [ἀπέστειλεν]; Matt. 26:18 [–])
    123 14:13 [λέγει] TT (cf. Luke 22:10; Matt. 26:18 [εἶπεν])
    124 14:17 [ἔρχεται] TT (cf. Luke 22:14 []; Matt. 26:20 [])
    125 14:27 [λέγει] = Matt. 26:31 TT (cf. Luke 22:[–])
    126 14:30 [λέγει] TT (cf. Luke 22:34 [εἶπεν]; Matt. 26:34 [ἔφη])
    127 14:32 [ἔρχονται] = Matt. 26:36 [ἔρχεται] TT (cf. Luke 22:40)
    128 14:32 [λέγει] = Matt. 26:36 TT (cf. Luke 22:40)
    129 14:33 [παραλαμβάνει] TT (cf. Luke 22:[–] [–]; Matt. 26:37 [παραλαβών])
    130 14:34 [λέγει] = Matt. 26:38 TT (cf. Luke 22:[–])
    131 14:37 [ἔρχεται] = Matt. 26:40 TT (cf. Luke 22:45)
    132 14:37 [εὑρίσκει] = Matt. 26:40 TT (cf. Luke 22:45)
    133 14:37 [λέγει] = Matt. 26:40 TT (cf. Luke 22:46)
    134 14:41 [ἔρχεται] = Matt. 26:45 TT (cf. Luke 22:[–])
    135 14:41 [λέγει] = Matt. 26:45 TT (cf. Luke 22:[–])
    136 14:43 [παραγίνεται] TT (cf. Luke 22:47 [προήρχετο]; Matt. 26:47 [ἦλθεν])
    137 14:45 [λέγει] TT (cf. Luke 22:47 [–]; Matt. 26:49 [εἶπεν])
    138 14:51 [κρατοῦσιν] TT (cf. Luke 22:[–] [–]; Matt. 26:[–] [–])
    139 14:53 [συνέρχονται] TT (cf. Luke 22:54 [–]; Matt. 26:57 [συνήχθησαν])
    140 14:61 [λέγει] TT (cf. Luke 22:67 [λέγοντες]; Matt. 26:63 [εἶπεν])
    141 14:63 [λέγει] TT (cf. Luke 22:71 [εἶπαν]; Matt. 26:65 [λέγων])
    142 14:66 [ἔρχεται] TT (cf. Luke 22:56 [–]; Matt. 26:69 [προσῆλθεν])
    143 14:67 [λέγει] TT (cf. Luke 22:56 [εἶπεν]; Matt. 26:69 [λέγουσα])
    144 15:2 [λέγει] TT (cf. Luke 23:3; Matt. 27:11 [ἔφη])
    145 15:16 [συγκαλοῦσιν] Mark-Matt. (cf. Matt. 27:27)
    146 15:17 [ἐνδιδύσκουσιν] Mark-Matt. (cf. Matt. 27:28)
    147 15:17 [περιτιθέασιν] Mark-Matt. (cf. Matt. 27:29)
    148 15:20 [ἐξάγουσιν] TT (cf. Luke 23:26; Matt. 27:31 [ἀπήγαγον])
    149 15:21 [ἀγγαρεύουσιν] TT (cf. Luke 23:26 [ἐπέθηκαν]; Matt. 27:32 [ἠγγάρευσαν])
    150 15:22 [φέρουσιν] TT (cf. Luke 23:33 [ἦλθον]; Matt. 27:33 [ἐλθόντες])
    151 15:24 [σταυροῦσιν] TT (cf. Luke 23:33 [ἐσταύρωσαν]; Matt. 27:35 [σταυρώσαντες])
    152 15:24 [διαμερίζονται] TT (cf. Luke 23:34 [διαμεριζόμενοι]; Matt. 27:35 [διεμερίσαντο])
    153 15:27 [σταυροῦσιν] = Matt. 27:38 [σταυροῦνται] TT (cf. Luke 23:33)
    154 16:2 [ἔρχονται] TT (cf. Luke 24:1 [ἦλθον]; Matt. 28:1 [ἦλθεν])
    155 16:4 [θεωροῦσιν] TT (cf. Luke 24:2 [εὗρον]; Matt. 28:[–] [–])
    156 16:6 [λέγει] TT (cf. Luke 24:5 [εἶπαν]; Matt. 28:5 [εἶπεν])


    99 Instances of the Historical Present in Matthew
    1 2:13 [φαίνεται] U
    2 2:19 [φαίνεται] U
    3 2:22 [βασιλεύει] U
    4 3:1 [παραγίνεται] TT (cf. Mark 1:4; Luke 3:3)
    5 3:13 [παραγίνεται] TT (cf. Mark 1:9; Luke 3:21)
    6 3:15 [ἀφίησιν] TT (cf. Mark 1:[–]; Luke 3:[–])
    7 4:5 [παραλαμβάνει] DT (cf. Luke 4:9)
    8 4:6 [λέγει] DT (cf. Luke 4:9)
    9 4:8 [παραλαμβάνει] DT (cf. Luke 4:5)
    10 4:8 [δείκνυσιν] DT (cf. Luke 4:5)
    11 4:10 [λέγει] DT (cf. Luke 4:8)
    12 4:11 [ἀφίησιν] DT (cf. Luke 4:13)
    13 4:19 [λέγει] Mark-Matt. (cf. Mark 1:17)
    14 8:4 [λέγει] = Mark 1:44 TT (cf. Luke 5:14)
    15 8:7 [λέγει] DT (cf. Luke 7:[–])
    16 8:20 [λέγει] DT (cf. Luke 9:58)
    17 8:22 [λέγει] DT (cf. Luke 9:60)
    18 8:26 [λέγει] TT (cf. Mark 4:40; Luke 8:25)
    19 9:6 [λέγει] = Mark 2:10 TT (cf. Luke 5:24)
    20 9:9 [λέγει] = Mark 2:14 TT (cf. Luke 5:27)
    21 9:14 [προσέρχονται] = Mark 2:18 [ἔρχονται] TT (cf. Luke 5:33 [–])
    22 9:28 [λέγει] U
    23 9:28 [λέγουσιν] U
    24 9:37 [λέγει] DT (cf. Luke 10:2)
    25 12:13 [λέγει] = Mark 3:5 TT (cf. Luke 6:10)
    26 13:28 [λέγουσιν; parable] U
    27 13:29 [φησιν; parable] U
    28 13:44 [ὑπάγει; parable] U
    29 13:44 [πωλεῖ; parable] U
    30 13:44 [ἔχει; parable] U
    31 13:44 [ἀγοράζει; parable] U
    32 13:51 [λέγουσιν] U
    33 14:8 [φησίν] Mark-Matt. (cf. Mark 6:25)
    34 14:17 [λέγουσιν] = Mark 6:38 TT (cf. Luke 9:13)
    35 14:31 [λέγει] Mark-Matt. (cf. Mark 6:[–])
    36 15:1 [προσέρχονται] = Mark 7:1 [συνάγονται] Mark-Matt.
    37 15:12 [λέγουσιν] Mark-Matt. (cf. Mark 7:[–])
    38 15:33 [λέγουσιν] Mark-Matt. (cf. Mark 8:4)
    39 15:34 [λέγει] Mark-Matt. (cf. Mark 8:5)
    40 16:15 [λέγει] TT (cf. Mark 8:29; Luke 9:20)
    41 17:1 [παραλαμβάνει] = Mark 9:2 TT (cf. Luke 9:28)
    42 17:1 [ἀναφέρει] = Mark 9:2 TT (cf. Luke 9:28)
    43 17:20 [λέγει] TT (cf. Mark 9:[–]; Luke 17:6)
    44 17:25 [λέγει] U
    45 18:22 [λέγει] DT (cf. Luke 17:4)
    46 18:32 [λέγει; parable] U
    47 19:7 [λέγουσιν] Mark-Matt. (cf. Mark 10:4)
    48 19:8 [λέγει] Mark-Matt. (cf. Mark 10:5)
    49 19:10 [λέγουσιν] Mark-Matt. (cf. Mark 10:[–])
    50 19:18 [λέγει] TT (cf. Mark 10:19; Luke 18:20)
    51 19:20 [λέγει] TT (cf. Mark 10:20; Luke 18:21)
    52 20:6 [λέγει; parable] U
    53 20:7 [λέγουσιν; parable] U
    54 20:7 [λέγει; parable] U
    55 20:8 [λέγει; parable] U
    56 20:21 [λέγει] Mark-Matt. (cf. Mark 10:36)
    57 20:22 [λέγουσιν] Mark-Matt. (cf. Mark 10:39)
    58 20:23 [λέγει] Mark-Matt. (cf. Mark 10:39)
    59 20:33 [λέγουσιν] TT (cf. Mark 10:51; Luke 18:41)
    60 21:13 [λέγει] TT (cf. Mark 11:17; Luke 19:46)
    61 21:16 [λέγει] TT (cf. Mark 11:[–]; Luke 19:[–])
    62 21:19 [λέγει] Mark-Matt. (cf. Mark 11:14)
    63 21:31 [λέγουσιν] U
    64 21:31 [λέγει] U
    65 21:41 [λέγουσιν] TT (cf. Mark 12:9; Luke 20:16)
    66 21:42 [λέγει] TT (cf. Mark 12:10; Luke 20:17)
    67 21:45 [λέγει] TT (cf. Mark 12:12; Luke 20:19)
    68 22:8 [λέγει; parable] DT (cf. Luke 14:21)
    69 22:12 [λέγει; parable] DT (cf. Luke 14:[–])
    70 22:16 [ἀποστέλλουσιν] = Mark 12:13 TT (cf. Luke 20:20)
    71 22:20 [λέγει] = Mark 12:16 TT (cf. Luke 20:23)
    72 22:21 [λέγουσιν] TT (cf. Mark 12:16; Luke 20:24)
    73 22:21 [λέγει] TT (cf. Mark 12:17; Luke 20:25)
    74 22:42 [λέγουσιν] TT (cf. Mark 12:35; Luke 20:41)
    75 22:43 [λέγει] TT (cf. Mark 12:36; Luke 20:42)
    76 25:11 [ἔρχονται; parable] U
    77 25:19 [ἔρχεται; parable] DT (cf. Luke 19:15)
    78 25:19 [συναίρει; parable] DT (cf. Luke 19:15)
    79 26:25 [λέγει] TT (cf. Mark 14:[–]; Luke 22:[–])
    80 26:31 [λέγει] = Mark 14:27 TT (cf. Luke 22:[–])
    81 26:35 [λέγει] TT (cf. Mark 14:31; Luke 22:33)
    82 26:36 [ἔρχεται] = Mark 14:32 [ἔρχονται] TT (cf. Luke 22:40)
    83 26:36 [λέγει] = Mark 14:32 TT (cf. Luke 22:40)
    84 26:38 [λέγει] = Mark 14:34 TT (cf. Luke 22:[–])
    85 26:40 [ἔρχεται] = Mark 14:37 TT (cf. Luke 22:45)
    86 26:40 [εὑρίσκει] = Mark 14:37 TT (cf. Luke 22:45)
    87 26:40 [λέγει] = Mark 14:37 TT (cf. Luke 22:46)
    88 26:45 [ἔρχεται] = Mark 14:41 TT (cf. Luke 22:[–])
    89 26:45 [λέγει] = Mark 14:41 TT (cf. Luke 22:[–])
    90 26:52 [λέγει] TT (cf. Mark 14:[–]; Luke 22:51)
    91 26:64 [λέγει] TT (cf. Mark 14:62; Luke 22:67)
    92 26:71 [λέγει] TT (cf. Mark 14:69; Luke 22:58)
    93 27:13 [λέγει] TT (cf. Mark 15:4; Luke 23:[–])
    94 27:22 [λέγει] TT (cf. Mark 15:12; Luke 23:20)
    95 27:22 [λέγουσιν] TT (cf. Mark 15:13; Luke 23:21)
    96 27:24 [ὠφελεῖ] TT (cf. Mark 15:[–]; Luke 23:[–])
    97 27:24 [γίνεται] TT (cf. Mark 15:[–]; Luke 23:[–])
    98 27:38 [σταυροῦνται] = Mark 15:27 [σταυροῦσιν] TT (cf. Luke 23:33)
    99 28:10 [λέγει] TT (cf. Mark 16:[–]; Luke 24:[–])


    13 Instances of the Historical Present in Luke
    1 7:40 [φησίν] U
    2 8:49 [ἔρχεταί] = Mark 5:35 [ἔρχονται] TT (cf. Matt. 9:[–] [–])
    3 9:33 [λέγει] TT (cf. Mark 9:6; Matt. 17:[–])
    4 11:37 [ἐρωτᾷ] U
    5 11:45 [λέγει] U
    6 13:8 [λέγει; parable] U
    7 16:7 [λέγει; parable] U
    8 16:23 [ὁρᾷ; parable] U
    9 16:29 [λέγει; parable] U
    10 17:37 [λέγουσιν] DT (cf. Matt. 24:28)
    11 19:22 [λέγει; parable] DT (cf. Matt. 25:26)
    12 24:12 [βλέπει] TT (cf. Mark 16:[–]; Matt. 28:[–])
    13 24:36 [λέγει] U

    Not only do we find that the historical present occurs in Mark with a much greater frequency than in Matthew and Luke, but an examination of the distribution of the historical present in the Synoptic Gospels reveals some interesting patterns. In Mark, the historical present occurs 119xx in TT, 27xx in Mark-Matt. pericopae, 5xx in Mark-Luke pericopae, and 5xx in uniquely Markan material. In Matthew, the historical present occurs 49xx in TT (20xx in agreement with Mark, 29xx without Mark’s agreement), 14xx in Mark-Matt. pericopae (agreeing with Mark only 1x), 15xx in DT (never in agreement with Luke), and 21xx in uniquely Matthean material. In Luke, the historical present occurs 3xx in TT (agreeing with Mark only 1x [Luke 8:49 = Mark 5:35; cf. Matt. 9:–]), 2xx in DT (never in agreement with Matthew), and 8xx in uniquely Lukan material. In addition, the historical present occurs 18xx in Acts (19xx if the textual variant in Acts 2:38 is accepted). If Luke depended on Mark, one wonders why he expunged almost every instance of the historical present from Mark, since the instances in DT, uniquely Lukan material, and Acts prove that the author of Luke had no aversion to the historical present in principle. One possible explanation is that Luke did not rely on Mark, but on a pre-synoptic source that rarely used the historical present (if at all), and that the author of Mark was responsible for the introduction of the historical presents in his Gospel. The 84 instances where Luke and Matthew agree against Mark’s use of the historical present may suggest that, at least in these instances, the historical present in Mark is editorial. Note that Matthew and Luke never agree to use the historical present in parallel with one another.

    Historical Present in Acts
    [–] 2:38 [φησίν]* Textual variant
    1 7:25 [δίδωσιν]* Stephen’s historical overview.
    2 8:18 [δίδοται]
    3 8:36 [φησιν]
    4 10:11 [θεωρεῖ]
    5 10:27 [εὑρίσκει]
    6 10:31 [φησίν]* Cornelius’ account of his experience.
    7 12:8 [λέγει]
    8 14:9 [ἔχει]
    9 19:35 [φησίν]
    10 21:37 [λέγει]
    11 22:2 [φησίν]
    12 22:30 [κατηγορεῖται]
    13 23:18 [φησίν]
    14 25:5 [φησίν]
    15 25:22 [φησίν]
    16 25:24 [φησιν]
    17 26:24 [φησιν]
    18 26:25 [φησίν]


    84 Lukan-Matthean Agreements Against Mark’s Use of the Historical Present
    Group 1: Lukan-Matthean agreement against historical present in Mark (different vocabulary)
    1 Mark 1:12 [ἐκβάλλει] against Luke 4:1 [ἤγετο]; Matt. 4:1 [ἀνήχθη]
    2 Mark 1:30 [λέγουσιν] against Luke 4:38 [ἠρώτησαν]; Matt. 8:14 [–]
    3 Mark 1:40 [ἔρχεται] against Luke 5:12 [καὶ ἐγένετο…καὶ ἰδοὺ]; Matt. 8:2 [καὶ ἰδοὺ…προσελθὼν]
    [–] Mark 2:4 [χαλῶσι] against Luke 5:19 [καθῆκαν]; Matt. 9:[–] [–]
    4 Mark 2:8 [διαλογίζονται] against Luke 5:22 [διαλογισμούς]; Matt. 9:4 [ἐνθυμήσεις]
    5 Mark 2:15 [γίνεται] against Luke 5:29 [–]; Matt. 9:10 [ἐγένετο]
    6 Mark 2:18 [λέγουσιν] against Luke 5:33 [εἶπαν]; Matt. 9:14 [λέγοντες]
    [–] Mark 3:3 [λέγει] against Luke 6:8 [εἶπεν]; Matt. 12:[–] [–]
    7 Mark 3:13 [ἀναβαίνει] against Luke 6:12 [ἐξελθεῖν]; Matt. 10:1 [–] (cf. Matt. 5:1 [ἀνέβη])
    8 Mark 3:13 [προσκαλεῖται] against Luke 6:13 [προσεφώνησεν]; Matt. 10:1 [προσκαλεσάμενος]
    9 Mark 3:31 [ἔρχεται] against Luke 8:19 [παρεγένετο]; Matt. 12:46 [–]
    10 Mark 3:32 [λέγουσιν] against Luke 8:20 [ἀπηγγέλη]; Matt. 12:[47 (εἶπεν)]
    [–] Mark 3:33 [λέγει] against Luke 8:[–] [–]; Matt. 12:48 [εἶπεν]
    11 Mark 4:1 [συνάγεται] against Luke 8:4 [συνιόντος]; Matt. 13:2 [συνήχθησαν]
    12 Mark 4:35 [λέγει] against Luke 8:22 [εἶπεν]; Matt. 8:18 [ἐκέλευσεν]
    13 Mark 4:37 [γίνεται] against Luke 8:23 [κατέβη]; Matt. 8:24 [ἐγένετο]
    14 Mark 4:38 [ἐγείρουσιν] against Luke 8:24 [διήγειραν]; Matt. 8:25 [ἤγειραν]
    15 Mark 5:7 [λέγει] against Luke 8:28 [εἶπεν]; Matt. 8:29 [λέγοντες]
    [–] Mark 5:9 [λέγει] against Luke 8:30 [εἶπεν]; Matt. 8:[–] [–]
    16 Mark 5:15 [ἔρχονται] against Luke 8:35 [ἦλθον]; Matt. 8:34 [ἐξῆλθεν]
    17 Mark 5:15 [θεωροῦσιν] against Luke 8:35 [εὗρον]; Matt. 8:34 [–]
    [–] Mark 5:19 [λέγει] against Luke 8:38 [λέγων]; Matt. 8:[–] [–]
    18 Mark 5:22 [ἔρχεται] against Luke 8:41 [ἦλθεν]; Matt. 9:18 [ἐλθών]
    19 Mark 5:22 [πίπτει] against Luke 8:41 [πεσών]; Matt. 9:18 [προσεκύνει]
    20 Mark 5:23 [παρακαλεῖ] against Luke 8:41 [παρεκάλει]; Matt. 9:18 []
    [–] Mark 5:36 [λέγει] against Luke 8:50 [ἀπεκρίθη]; Matt. 9:[–] [–]
    21 Mark 5:38 [θεωρεῖ] against Luke 8:52 [–]; Matt. 9:23 [ἰδών]
    22 Mark 5:39 [λέγει] against Luke 8:52 [εἶπεν]; Matt. 9:24 [ἔλεγεν]
    23 Mark 5:40 [εἰσπορεύεται] against Luke 8:53 [–]; Matt. 9:25 [εἰσελθών]
    24 Mark 5:41 [λέγει] against Luke 8:54 [λέγων]; Matt. 9:25 [–]
    25 Mark 6:1 [ἔρχεται] against Luke 4:16 [ἦλθεν]; Matt. 13:54 [ἐλθών]
    26 Mark 6:7 [προσκαλεῖται] against Luke 9:1 [συγκαλεσάμενος]; Matt. 10:1 [προσκαλεσάμενος]
    [–] Mark 8:33 [λέγει] against Luke 9:[–] [–]; Matt. 16:23 [εἶπεν]
    [–] Mark 10:24 [λέγει] against Luke 18:[–] [–]; Matt. 19:24 [λέγω]
    27 Mark 10:46 [ἔρχονται] against Luke 18:35 [ἐγένετο…ἐν τῷ ἐγγίζειν]; Matt. 20:29 [ἐκπορευομένων]
    28 Mark 11:1 [ἐγγίζουσιν] against Luke 19:29 [ἤγγισεν]; Matt. 21:1 [ἤγγισαν]
    29 Mark 11:4 [λύουσιν] against Luke 19:33 [λυόντων]; Matt. 21:6 [–]
    30 Mark 11:7 [ἐπιβάλλουσιν] against Luke 19:35 [ἐπιρίψαντες]; Matt. 21:7 [ἐπέθηκαν]
    31 Mark 11:27 [ἔρχονται] against Luke 20:1 [ἐπέστησαν]; Matt. 21:23 [προσῆλθον]
    32 Mark 11:33 [λέγουσιν] against Luke 20:7 [ἀπεκρίθησαν]; Matt. 21:27 [εἶπαν]
    33 Mark 11:33 [λέγει] against Luke 20:8 [εἶπεν]; Matt. 21:27 [ἔφη]
    34 Mark 12:18 [ἔρχονται] against Luke 20:27 [προσελθόντες]; Matt. 22:23 [προσῆλθον]
    35 Mark 13:1 [λέγει] against Luke 21:5 [λεγόντων]; Matt. 24:1 [ἐπιδεῖξαι]
    36 Mark 14:12 [λέγουσιν] against Luke 22:9 [εἶπαν]; Matt. 26:17 [λέγοντες]
    37 Mark 14:13 [ἀποστέλλει] against Luke 22:8 [ἀπέστειλεν]; Matt. 26:18 [–]
    38 Mark 14:30 [λέγει] against Luke 22:34 [εἶπεν]; Matt. 26:34 [ἔφη]
    [–] Mark 14:33 [παραλαμβάνει] against Luke 22:[–] [–]; Matt. 26:37 [παραλαβών]
    39 Mark 14:43 [παραγίνεται] against Luke 22:47 [προήρχετο]; Matt. 26:47 [ἦλθεν]
    40 Mark 14:45 [λέγει] against Luke 22:47 [–]; Matt. 26:49 [εἶπεν]
    41 Mark 14:53 [συνέρχονται] against Luke 22:54 [–]; Matt. 26:57 [συνήχθησαν]
    42 Mark 14:61 [λέγει] against Luke 22:67 [λέγοντες]; Matt. 26:63 [εἶπεν]
    43 Mark 14:63 [λέγει] against Luke 22:71 [εἶπαν]; Matt. 26:65 [λέγων]
    44 Mark 14:66 [ἔρχεται] against Luke 22:56 [–]; Matt. 26:69 [προσῆλθεν]
    45 Mark 14:67 [λέγει] against Luke 22:56 [εἶπεν]; Matt. 26:69 [λέγουσα]
    46 Mark 15:21 [ἀγγαρεύουσιν] against Luke 23:26 [ἐπέθηκαν]; Matt. 27:32 [ἠγγάρευσαν]
    47 Mark 15:22 [φέρουσιν] against Luke 23:33 [ἦλθον]; Matt. 27:33 [ἐλθόντες]
    48 Mark 15:24 [σταυροῦσιν] against Luke 23:33 [ἐσταύρωσαν]; Matt. 27:35 [σταυρώσαντες]
    49 Mark 15:24 [διαμερίζονται] against Luke 23:34 [διαμεριζόμενοι]; Matt. 27:35 [διεμερίσαντο]
    50 Mark 16:2 [ἔρχονται] against Luke 24:1 [ἦλθον]; Matt. 28:1 [ἦλθεν]
    51 Mark 16:6 [λέγει] against Luke 24:5 [εἶπαν]; Matt. 28:5 [εἶπεν]
    Group 2: Lukan-Matthean agreement against historical present in Mark (identical vocabulary)
    1 Mark 1:41 [λέγει] against Luke 5:13; Matt. 8:3 [λέγων]
    2 Mark 2:3 [ἔρχονται] against Luke 5:18 [–]; Matt. 9:2 [–]
    3 Mark 2:5 [λέγει] against Luke 5:20; Matt. 9:2 [εἶπεν]
    4 Mark 2:8 [λέγει] against Luke 5:22; Matt. 9:4 [εἶπεν]
    5 Mark 2:17 [λέγει] against Luke 5:31; Matt. 9:12 [εἶπεν]
    6 Mark 2:25 [λέγει] against Luke 6:3; Matt. 12:3 [εἶπεν]
    7 Mark 3:4 [λέγει] against Luke 6:9; Matt. 12:11 [εἶπεν]
    8 Mark 3:34 [λέγει] against Luke 8:21; Matt. 12:49 [εἶπεν]
    [–] Mark 4:13 [λέγει] against Luke 8:[–] [–]; Matt. 13:[–] [–]
    9 Mark 4:36 [παραλαμβάνουσιν] against Luke 8:22 [–]; Matt. 8:23 [–]
    10 Mark 4:38 [λέγουσιν] against Luke 8:24; Matt. 8:25 [λέγοντες]
    11 Mark 5:38 [ἔρχονται] against Luke 8:51; Matt. 9:23 [ἐλθών]
    12 Mark 5:40 [παραλαμβάνει] against Luke 8:53 [–]; Matt. 9:25 [–]
    13 Mark 6:1 [ἀκολουθοῦσιν] against Luke 4:16 [–]; Matt. 13:54 [–]
    [–] Mark 6:31 [λέγει] against Luke 9:[–] [–]; Matt. 14:[–] [–]
    14 Mark 6:37 [λέγουσιν] against Luke 9:13 [–]; Matt. 14:16 [–]
    15 Mark 6:38 [λέγει] against Luke 9:13 [–]; Matt. 14:17 [–]
    16 Mark 8:29 [λέγει] against Luke 9:20; Matt. 16:16 [εἶπεν]
    17 Mark 9:5 [λέγει] against Luke 9:33; Matt. 17:4 [εἶπεν]
    18 Mark 9:19 [λέγει] against Luke 9:41; Matt. 17:17 [εἶπεν]
    19 Mark 9:25 [ἐπισυντρέχει] against Luke 9:42 [–]; Matt. 17:18 [–]
    [–] Mark 9:35 [λέγει] against Luke 9:[–] [–]; Matt. 18:[–] [–]
    20 Mark 10:23 [λέγει] against Luke 18:24; Matt. 19:23 [εἶπεν]
    21 Mark 10:27 [λέγει] against Luke 18:27; Matt. 19:26 [εἶπεν]
    22 Mark 10:42 [λέγει] against Luke 22:25; Matt. 20:25 [εἶπεν]
    23 Mark 10:49 [φωνοῦσιν] against Luke 18:40 [–]; Matt. 20:32 [–]
    24 Mark 11:1 [ἀποστέλλει] against Luke 19:29; Matt. 21:1 [ἀπέστειλεν]
    25 Mark 11:2 [λέγει] against Luke 19:30; Matt. 21:2 [λέγων]
    26 Mark 11:7 [φέρουσιν] against Luke 19:35; Matt. 21:7 [ἤγαγον]
    27 Mark 11:15 [ἔρχονται] against Luke 19:45 [–]; Matt. 21:12 [–]
    28 Mark 11:27 [ἔρχονται] against Luke 20:1 [–]; Matt. 21:23 [–]
    29 Mark 12:14 [λέγουσιν] against Luke 20:21; Matt. 22:16 [λέγοντες]
    30 Mark 14:13 [λέγει] against Luke 22:10; Matt. 26:18 [εἶπεν]
    31 Mark 14:17 [ἔρχεται] against Luke 22:14 [–]; Matt. 26:20 [–]
    [–] Mark 14:51 [κρατοῦσιν] against Luke 22:[–] [–]; Matt. 26:[–] [–]
    32 Mark 15:2 [λέγει] against Luke 23:3; Matt. 27:11 [ἔφη]
    33 Mark 15:20 [ἐξάγουσιν] against Luke 23:26; Matt. 27:31 [ἀπήγαγον]

    (Key: U = material unique to the Gospel; TT = Triple Tradition; DT = Double Tradition; [–] = no corresponding verse or word)For all these statistics we are deeply indebted to Hawkins, 143-149.

  • [10] The diminutive nouns in the Gospel of Mark are the following:
    θυγάτριον (thūgatrion; dim. θυγάτηρ [thūgatēr, “daughter”])
    •    Mark 5:23 (TT) θυγάτηρ (Matt. 9:18; Luke 8:42)
    •    Mark 7:25 (Mark-Matt.) θυγάτηρ (Matt. 15:22)
    ἰχθύδιον (ichthūdion; dim. ἰχθύς [ichthūs, “fish”])
    •    Mark 8:7 (Mark-Matt.) = Matt. 15:34
    κοράσιον (korasion; dim. κόρη [korē, “girl,” “young woman”])
    •    Mark 5:41 (TT) Matt. omits verse; ἡ παῖς Luke 8:54
    •    Mark 5:42 (TT) = Matt. 9:25; omitted in Luke 8:55
    •    Mark 6:22 (Mark-Matt.) Matt. omits verse
    •    Mark 6:28 [first instance] (Mark-Matt.) = Matt. 14:11
    •    Mark 6:28 [second instance] (Mark-Matt.) second instance omitted in Matt. 14:11
    κυνάριον (kūnarion; dim. κύων [kūōn, “dog”])
    •    Mark 7:27 (Mark-Matt.) = Matt. 15:26
    •    Mark 7:28 (Mark-Matt.) = Matt. 15:27
    παιδίον (paidion; dim. παῖς [pais, “child,” “servant”])
    •    Mark 5:39 (TT) κοράσιον Matt. 9:24; omitted in Luke 8:52
    •    Mark 5:40 [first instance] (TT) verse omitted in Matt. and Luke
    •    Mark 5:40 [second instance] (TT) verse omitted in Matt. and Luke
    •    Mark 5:41 (TT) αὐτῆς Matt. 9:25; Luke 8:54
    •    Mark 7:28 (Mark-Matt.) omitted in Matt. 15:27
    •    Mark 7:30 (Mark-Matt.) cf. θυγάτηρ Matt. 15:28
    •    Mark 9:24 (TT) verse omitted in Matt. and Luke
    •    Mark 9:36 (TT) = Matt. 18:2; Luke 9:47
    •    Mark 9:37 (TT) = Matt. 18:5; Luke 9:48
    •    Mark 10:13 (TT) = Matt. 19:13; βρέφη Luke 18:15
    •    Mark 10:14 (TT) = Matt. 19:14; Luke 18:16
    •    Mark 10:15 (TT) = Matt. 18:2; Luke 9:47
    σανδάλιον (sandalion; dim. σάνδαλον [sandalon, “sandal”])
    •    Mark 6:9 (TT) ὑποδήματα Matt. 10:10; omitted in Luke 9:3; cf. Luke 10:4 ὑποδήματα
    ψιχίον (psichion; dim. ψίξ [psix, “crumb”])
    •    Mark 7:28 (Mark-Matt.) = Matt. 15:27
    ὠτάριον (ōtarion; dim. οὔς [ous, “ear”])
    •    Mark 14:47 (TT) ὠτίον (dim. οὔς [ous, “ear”]) Matt. 26:51; οὔς Luke 22:50
    Mark uses diminutive forms 25xx in his Gospel (12xx παιδίον); 15xx in TT; 10xx in Markan-Matthean pericopae. Except for παιδίον, Luke never agrees with Mark’s use of diminutive forms. Luke agrees with Mark and Matthew to write παιδίον 4xx. Matthew agrees to copy diminutive forms from Mark 11xx (6xx TT [5xx παιδίον]; 5xx Mark-Matt.), and uses a variant diminutive form in place of Mark’s diminutive 2x (TT). Of the fifteen instances of the diminutive in Mark’s TT pericopae, seven instances have no support from Matt. or Luke (two of these seven instances are Lukan-Matthean minor agreements). We believe the best explanation for these patterns is that the use of diminutives is characteristic of the author of Mark’s own writing style, and the author of Mark frequently added diminutives when rewriting his source (Luke). The author of Matthew accepted many diminutives from Mark, but sometimes rejected them due to his own literary preferences or (in TT pericopae) with the guidance of his non-Markan source (Anth.). On the use of diminutive nouns in Mark, see C. H. Turner, “Marcan Usage: Notes, Critical and Exegetical, on the Second Gospel,” Journal of Theological Studies 29 (1928): 346-361, esp. 349-351. On diminutive nouns in Luke, see Cadbury, 186.
  • [11] This repetition is omitted in the Lukan and Matthean versions of the Call of Levi story.
  • [12] On the secondary nature of Mark’s citation, see R. Steven Notley and Jeffrey P. García,  “Hebrew-Only Exegesis: A Philological Approach to Jesus’ Use of the Hebrew Bible” (JS2, 366-371, esp. 367 n. 59).
  • [13] Admittedly this example is weak since the detail added by the author of Mark is incorrect. Ahimelech was the priest at Nob, not Abiathar (1 Sam. 21), and therefore Markan priorists can explain this minor agreement of omission as a correction on the part of the authors of Luke and Matthew.
  • [14] “Isn’t this the craftsman?” (Mark 6:3), against Matthew’s “Isn’t this the craftsman’s son?” (Matt. 13:55) and Luke’s “Isn’t this [just] the son of Joseph?” (Luke 4:22).
  • [15] Here Mark also transposes the order of the names John and James.
  • [16] Mark’s version provides the location of Jesus in the boat and the detail about a cushion. Neither Matthew nor Luke have either of these details.
  • [17] On the Greek transliterations of Semitic words in the Synoptic Gospels, see “LOY Excursus: Greek Transliterations of Hebrew, Aramaic and Hebrew/Aramaic Words in the Synoptic Gospels.”
  • [18] Bivin notes that “It is often difficult to distinguish Hebrew from Aramaic in Greek transliteration. Most transliterated proper nouns, e.g., Γεθσημανεί gethsēmanei (Matt. 26.36; Mark 14.32) and Ταβειθά tabeitha (Acts 9.36, 40), may be Hebrew or Aramaic, and, regardless of their origin, could be used in either language (or any language, for that matter)” (David Bivin, “Hebraisms in the New Testament”).
  • [19] Buth has shown that the parallel in Matthew 27:46 is Hebrew, not Aramaic. See Randall Buth, “The Riddle of Jesus’ Cry from the Cross: The Meaning of ηλι ηλι λαμα σαβαχθανι (Matthew 27:46) and the Literary Function of ελωι ελωι λειμα σαβαχθανι (Mark 15:34)” (JS2, 395-421).
  • [20] Buth states that “εφφαθα, ‘be opened,’ is actually closer to a niphal Hebrew word הפתח…. But εφφαθα can also be explained as colloquial development within Aramaic…. Because 5:41 and 15:34 are unambiguously Aramaic, it is best to read 7:35 [sic] as Aramaic, too” (Buth, “The Riddle of Jesus’ Cry from the Cross” [JS2, 398 n. 12]).
  • [21] Grintz writes: “That Mark was written by one versed in Aramaic is clear from the citations of Aramaic expressions peculiar to this gospel. But that it was actually written in Greek and intended for Gentiles is attested by the explanatory glosses relating to specifically Jewish matters. On the other hand, arguments in favor of an Aramaic original of Mark are weak, and expressly refuted by the Aramaic citations. Were the text originally Aramaic, there would be no reason for the Greek translator to retain a few Aramaic expressions (Ταλιθὰ κούμ, 5 41; Ἐφφαθά, 7 34)” (Jehoshua Grintz, “Hebrew as the Spoken and Written Language in the Last Days of the Second Temple,” Journal of Biblical Literature 79 [1960]: 33 n. 3). Similarly, Buth comments: “The Aramaic quotations in Mark 5:41, Mark 7:34 (understanding ephphatha not as Hebrew but as a dialectical form of Aramaic ’etpataḥ) and Mark 15:34, are more enigmatic than helpful in revealing the language in which Jesus taught…. If Mark’s language switch implies that Jesus switched languages, then the words would imply that Jesus did not normally teach in Aramaic” (Randall Buth, “Aramaic Language,” in Dictionary of New Testament Background [ed. Craig Evans and Stanley Porter; Downers Grove, Ill.: Intervarsity, 2000], 89).
  • [22] Robert Lindsey, “Introduction to A Hebrew Translation of the Gospel of Mark,” under the subheading “Sources of the Markan Pick-ups.”
  • [23] Buth, “The Riddle of Jesus’ Cry from the Cross” (JS2, 398).
  • [24] On Latin loanwords in the Gospels, see Alan Millard, “Latin in First-Century Palestine,” in Solving Riddles and Untying Knots: Biblical, Epigraphic and Semitic Studies in Honor of Jonas C. Greenfield (ed. Ziony Zevit, Seymour Gitin, and Michael Sokoloff; Winona Lake, Ind.: Eisenbrauns, 1995), 451-458.
  • [25] We have identified the following Latin loanwords in the Synoptic Gospels:
    1. ἀσσάριον = assarius (a Roman copper coin); also a loanword in Hebrew (אִיסָר): Matt. 10:29; Luke 12:6.
    2. δηνάριον = denarius (a Roman coin); also a loanword in Hebrew (דִּינָר) and Aramaic (דִּינְרָא, דִּינָרָא): Matt. 18:28; 20:2, 9, 10, 13; 22:19; Mark 6:37; 12:15; 14:5; Luke 7:41; 10:35; 20:24.
    3. Καῖσαρ = Caesar (“Caesar”); also a loanword in Hebrew (קֵסָר, קֵיסָר) and Aramaic (קֵיסָרָא): Matt. 22:17, 21 (2xx); Mark 12:14, 16, 17 (2xx); Luke 2:1; 3:1; 20:22, 24, 25 (2xx); 23:2.
    4. κεντυρίων = centurio (“centurion”); also a loanword in Hebrew (קִטְרוֹן): Mark 15:39, 44, 45.
    5. κῆνσος = census (“tax”); also a loanword in Hebrew (קְנָס) and Aramaic (קְנָסָא): Matt. 17:25; 22:17, 19; Mark 12:14.
    6. κοδράντης = quadrans (a Roman coin); also a loanword in Hebrew (קוּדְרַנְטֵיס): Matt. 5:26; Mark 12:42.
    7. κουστωδία = custodia (“guard of soldiers”); also a loanword in Hebrew/Aramaic (קוּסְטוֹדְיָא): Matt. 27:65, 66; 28:11.
    8. λεγιών = legio (a Roman military unit consisting of approx. 6,000 soldiers); also a loanword in Hebrew (לִיגְיוֹן, לִגְיוֹן) and Aramaic (לִגְיוֹנָא): Matt. 26:53; Mark 5:9, 15; Luke 8:30.
    9. μίλιον = mille (“mile”); also a loanword in Hebrew (מִיל): Matt. 5:41.
    10. μόδιος = modius (a measure of quantity); also a loanword in Hebrew (מוֹדְיָיה, מוֹדְיָא) and Aramaic (מוֹדְיָיה, מוֹדְיָא): Matt. 5:15; Mark 4:21; Luke 11:33.
    11. ξέστης = a corruption of sextarius (“pitcher,” “jug”); also a loanword in Hebrew (‏קִסְטָא, קִיסְטָא, קִיסְטְ; קְסוּסְטָרִין, קְסוּסְטִין, קְסוּסְטְבָן): Mark 7:4.
    12. πραιτώριον = praetorium (official residence of a Roman governor): Matt. 27:27; Mark 15:16.
    13. σπεκουλάτωρ = speculator (“executioner”); also known in Hebrew (סְפִקְלָטוֹר, סְפִקְלָאטוֹר): Mark 6:27.
    14. σουδάριον = sudarium (“face-cloth”): Luke 19:20.
    15. φραγελλοῦν = flagello (“to flog,” “to scourge”): Matt. 27:26; Mark 15:15.

  • [26] The six Latin loanwords in Luke’s Gospel are: ἀσσάριον, δηναρίων, Καῖσαρ, λεγιών, μόδιος and σουδάριον.
  • [27] The eleven Latin loanwords in Mark’s Gospel are: δηναρίων, Καῖσαρ, κεντυρίων, κῆνσος, κοδράντης, λεγιών, μόδιος, ξέστης, πραιτώριον, σπεκουλάτωρ and φραγελλοῦν.
  • [28] The eleven Latin loanwords in Matthew’s Gospel are: ἀσσάριον, δηναρίων, Καῖσαρ, κῆνσος, κοδράντης, κουστωδία, λεγιών, μίλιον, μόδιος, πραιτώριον and φραγελλοῦν.
  • [29] Matthew uses κῆνσος twice on his own (Matt. 17:25; 22:19).
  • [30] It is possible that in Matt. 5:41 μίλιον reflects the Hebrew word מִיל. This word entered Hebrew via Greek and is already attested 9xx in the Mishnah: m. Yom. 6:4; m. Yom. 6:8 (4xx); m. Bab. Metz. 6:3 (2xx); m. Bech. 9:2 (2xx). It would make sense for Jesus to have referred to a Roman measure of distance in Matt. 5:41, since it was the prerogative of the Roman government to force provincials to transport burdens for them over long distances. See  Jonathan P. Roth, The Logistics of the Roman Army at War (264 B.C.-A.D. 235) (Leiden: Brill, 2012), 110-111. For a convenient list of Greek and Latin loanwords in the Mishnah, see Philip Blackman, “Hebrew Words of Greek and Latin Origin in the Mishnah” in Mishnayot (trans. Philip Blackman; 7 vols.; London: Mishnah Press, 1951-1956), 7:103-123.
  • [31] It is possible that, like μίλιον, ἀσσάριον represents a Hebrew word, in this case אִיסָר, which entered Hebrew via Greek, and which is attested in the Mishnah 29xx.
  • [32] See Young, JHJP, 139.
  • [33] See Barry Blackburn, Theios Aner and the Markan Miracle Traditions: A Critique of the Theios Aner Concept as an Interpretive Background of the Miracle Traditions Used by Mark (Tübingen: Mohr [Siebeck], 1991), 218-219.
  • [34] See Robert Lindsey, “Measuring the Disparity Between Matthew, Mark and Luke,” under the subheading “Search for the First and Third Writers.”
  • [35] Lindsey noted that “The Hebrew-styled story we see in Luke, and frequently in Matthew, is, like all Hebrew narrative, not given to picturesque redundancy and dramatization. It is straightforward and concise, emphasizing the verb and noun, nouns in construct, prepositional phrases, etc., but rarely adverbs, adjectives, or other constructions that introduce psychological descriptions of persons or events” (Robert L. Lindsey, “Introduction to A Hebrew Translation of the Gospel of Mark,” under the subheading “Sources of the Markan Stereotypes: Jesus’ Baptism”). Adding descriptions of a character’s thoughts and feelings is also a feature of the way Josephus retold the biblical narratives. According to Schwartz, Josephus added psychological insights to the narratives in order to make them conform to the standards of respectable Greek literature. See Daniel R. Schwartz, “Many Sources but a Single Author: Josephus’s Jewish Antiquities,” in A Companion to Josephus (ed. Honora Howell Chapman and Zuleika Rodgers; Chichester: John Wiley and Sons, 2016), 36-58, esp. 52-53.
  • [36] On wonder in Markan miracle stories, see Blackburn, Theios Aner and the Markan Miracle Traditons, 225-227.
  • [37] Matthew follows Mark in expanding the quotation from Ps. 118 to include θαυμαστός. This part of the quotation is absent in Luke’s parallel.
  • [38] In Luke ἐκπλήσσεσθαι appears 3xx, and in Matthew ἐκπλήσσεσθαι appears 4xx. Luke and Mark agree to write ἐκπλήσσεσθαι only once, in Yeshua Attends Synagogue in Nazareth (Luke 4:32; Mark 1:22; Matt. 7:28). The two other instances of ἐκπλήσσεσθαι in Luke (Luke 2:48; 9:43) are unparalleled in Mark and Matthew. Matthew generally agrees to copy ἐκπλήσσεσθαι from Mark.
  • [39] Luke has ἐξίστασθαι 3xx, and Matthew only 1x (Matt. 12:23). Luke and Mark agree to write ἐξίστασθαι only once, in Yair’s Daughter and a Woman’s Faith. Mark intensifies Luke’s καὶ ἐξέστησαν οἱ γονεῖς αὐτῆς (“and were surprised her parents”; Luke 8:56) with καὶ ἐξέστησαν εὐθὺς ἐκστάσει μεγάλῃ (“and were surprised immediately [her parents] with a big surprise”; Mark 5:42). The other two instances of ἐξίστασθαι in Luke have no parallel in Mark or Matthew (Luke 2:47; 24:22).
  • [40] Luke has ἔκστασις once, and the word does not appear at all in Mark. Mark replaces Luke’s καὶ ἔκστασις ἔλαβεν ἅπαντας (“and surprise took everyone”; Luke 5:26) with ὥστε ἐξίστασθαι πάντας (“so was surprised everyone”; Mark 2:12).
  • [41] Lindsey noted that arguments for Markan Priority based on the claim that Mark is the shortest Gospel are inherently flawed: “arguments based on the fact that Mark is shorter are valid only if we are talking about the overall length of Mark’s Gospel, but not valid if we are talking about the comparative length of individual pericopae” (Robert L. Lindsey, “Introduction to A Hebrew Translation of the Gospel of Mark,” under the subheading “Questions Not Answered”).
  • [42] For an introduction to aggadic midrash, see Marc Hirshman, “Aggadic Midrash,” in The Literature of the Sages (CRINT II.3.2; ed. Shmuel Safrai, Zeev Safrai, Joshua Schwartz and Peter. J. Tomson; Minneapolis: Fortress, 2006), 107-132.
  • [43] For an introduction to the targumim, see Philip S. Alexander, “Jewish Aramaic Translations of Hebrew Scriptures,” in Mikra: Text, Translation, Reading and Interpretation of the Hebrew Bible in Ancient Judaism and Early Christianity (CRINT II.1; ed. Martin J. Mulder; Minneapolis: Fortress, 1988), 217-251.
  • [44] Hirshman, “Aggadic Midrash,” 114.
  • [45] Hirshman, “Aggadic Midrash,” 113, 124-126.
  • [46] This technique is called זִיהוּי (zihūy). See Hirshman, “Aggadic Midrash,” 116.
  • [47] A different aggadic tradition specifies the length of yāmim as a full year (b. Ket. 57b; cf. Targum Onkelos and Targum Pseudo-Jonathan to Gen. 24:55).
  • [48] See Robert Lindsey, “Introduction to A Hebrew Translation of the Gospel of Mark,” under the subheading “Mark’s Midrashic Technique”; and idem, “Paraphrastic Gospels.”
  • [49] For a comparison of Mark’s editorial techniques with those of Josephus, see Halvor Ronning, “Who made the ‘Omission,’ Luke or Mark?
  • [50] Cf. Philo, Spec. 1.53; Josephus, Ant. 4:207; Ag. Ap. 2:237.
  • [51] On midrashic types of exegesis in LXX, see Emanuel Tov, “The Septuagint,” in Mikra: Text, Translation, Reading and Interpretation, 161-188, esp. 177-178.
  • [52] Observe that only a few verses earlier, in Mark’s garbled version of The Parable of the Tares, the author of Mark has ἐπὶ τῆς γῆς (“on the ground”; Mark 4:26), as here in Mark 4:31. Also notice that in Mark 4:26 this author does not write σπαρῇ (“is sown”), as in 4:31 opposite Luke’s ἔβαλεν (“throw”; Luke 13:19), but βάλῃ τὸν σπόρον (“throw the seed”), showing Mark knew Luke 13:19 when he wrote Mark 4:26.
  • [53] The word δένδρον (“tree”) in Luke is replaced in Mark’s version by the plur. of λάχανον (“edible garden herb,” “vegetable”), but Matthew’s use of δένδρον (Matt. 13:32) proves that δένδρον was part of Anth.
  • [54] Against “branches” in Matthew and Luke’s texts. The author of Mark had just used “branches” nine words earlier and so here replaced “branches” with “shade.”
  • [55] This tendency toward dramatization may account for Mark’s disproportionately high use of the historical present. According to Wallace, the main purpose for using the historical present is vivid portrayal. See Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics: An Exegetical Syntax of the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996), 526-527.
  • [56] Brad Young writes: “Mark was interested in compiling a gospel of activity. Indeed his narrative is a story of action par excellence” (Young, JHJP, 137).
  • [57] See Paula Fredriksen, From Jesus to Christ: The Origins of the New Testament Images of Jesus (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1988), 44-52; Geza Vermes, The Changing Faces of Jesus (New York: Viking Compass, 2001), 234-235.
  • [58] Δύνασθαι appears 32xx in Mark, compared to 26xx in Luke and 25xx in Matthew, both books about twice the length of Mark.
  • [59] Already in the late eighteenth century, Griesbach noted that secrecy was an important and distinctive theme in Mark’s Gospel. See Bernard Owen, trans., “A Demonstration That Mark Was Written After Matthew and Luke (A translation of J. J. Greisbach’s Commentatio qua Marci Evangelium totum e Matthaei et Lucae commentariis decerptum esse monstratur)” in J. J. Griesbach: Synoptic and Text-Critical Studies 1776-1976 (ed. Bernard Orchard and Thomas R. W. Longstaff; Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1978), 103-135, esp. 112-113.
  • [60] On the theme of alienation and abandonment in the Gospel of Mark, see R. Steven Notley, “Anti-Jewish Tendencies in the Synoptic Gospels,” under the subheading “Mark’s Abandoned Holy Man.”
  • [61] In Luke and Matthew, Jesus is accused of driving out demons by the power of Beelzebul, not of being possessed (Luke 11:15; Matt. 12:24).
  • [62] In Luke 9:9 Herod knows that Jesus cannot be John, because he had ordered John’s execution.
  • [63] See Flusser, Jesus, 21-22 n. 4.
  • [64] See Flusser, Jesus, 250; idem,  “The Synagogue and the Church in the Synoptic Gospels” (JS1, 17-40, esp. 24).
  • [65] See Tomson, 255-263.
  • [66] Mark 7:19 does not say that Jesus declared all foods clean, but only that the process of digestion turns impure kosher food into pure human waste. The Markan Jesus does not condemn the Jews for observing the Torah’s prohibitions against consuming pork and other non-kosher foods. Jesus could hardly do so when he had just denounced the Pharisees for abrogating the Torah’s commands to honor one’s father and mother (Mark 7:8-13). Cf. David N. Bivin, “Mark 7:19: Did Jesus Make ‘Unclean’ Food ‘Clean’?”; Peter J. Tomson, “Jewish Food Laws in Early Christian Community Discourse,” Semeia 86 (1999): 193-211, esp. 205-206.
  • [67] Young suggests that the reason the author of Mark omitted most of Jesus’ teaching is that his Gospel was intended for a non-Jewish audience. A Gentile audience would be less likely to grasp the rabbinic sophistication of Jesus’ teachings than the significance of Jesus’ miracles. Cf. Young, JHJP, 138.
  • [68] On the secondary nature of this report, see David Flusser, “Foreword to Robert Lindsey’s A Hebrew Translation of the Gospel of Mark,” under the subheading “‘What They Might Do…'”
  • [69] On Jesus’ enemies in Mark, see Tomson, 271-272.
  • [70] Indeed, in order to create a mission to the Gentiles, the author of Mark composed a travel account in which Jesus visits Tyre, Sidon and the Decapolis. See R. Steven Notley, “Literary and Geographical Contours of ‘The Great Omission’” (Rainey-Notley, 360-362); David N. Bivin and Joshua N. Tilton, “Jesus and a Canaanite Woman.”
  • [71] For a popular appreciation of the author of the Gospel of Mark, see Joshua N. Tilton, “Reflections on Mark.”
  • [72] Robert Lindsey, “Introduction to A Hebrew Translation of the Gospel of Mark,” under the subheading “The Study of Mark.”
  • [73] For abbreviations and bibliographical references, see “Introduction to ‘The Life of Yeshua: A Suggested Reconstruction.’
  • [74] See Hawkins, 143-149; Taylor, 46-47; Randall Buth, “Mark’s Use of the Historical Present,” Notes On Translation 65 (1977): 13-28.
  • [75] In Mark εὐθύς (evthūs, “immediately”) occurs 41xx, compared to 7xx in Matthew, and 1x in Luke.
  • [76] See “Introduction to ‘The Life of Yeshua: A Suggested Reconstruction.’

More on the Absence of an Aramaic Bible at Qumran: A Response to Jack Poirier’s “The Qumran Targum of Job as a Window into Second Temple Judaism: A Response to Randall Buth”

I appreciate this opportunity to return to some issues concerning the Targum of Job that I raised in “Where Is the Aramaic Bible at Qumran? Scripture Use in the Land of Israel” and to evaluate Jack Poirier’s response entitled, “The Qumran Targum of Job as a Window into Second Temple Judaism: A Response to Randall Buth.”

I will summarize briefly the main points in my original article:

An Aramaic Targum of Job was widely known in Jewish circles during the Second Temple period—there are two different copies at Qumran, two rabbinic stories connected with the Gamaliel family that mention a Targum of Job, and a bibliographic reference to an Aramaic account at the end of the old Greek translation of Job. That is remarkably wide attestation. Just as remarkable, there is no evidence, other than these copies of the Targum of Job, that an Aramaic Bible was in use before A.D. 70. I suggested several possible explanations for this paradox, and concluded that an Aramaic Bible, if it existed at all, was most probably not in general use in the land of Israel during the Second Temple period. Lacking an Aramaic Bible, it appears that the Hebrew Bible was the Bible in use for the majority of persons in the land during the first century.

Poirier’s response was definite, yet curiously indirect. “Finding myself at odds with his [Buth’s] conclusions…I would like to suggest a different reading of the evidence….” However, identifying his reading is difficult. Poirier’s main argument would appear to rest on his statement, “I only want to note that there is more than one way to interpret the evidence.” We agree on this; however, the question is not whether or not there exists a plurality of interpretations of the evidence, but which reading best corresponds to the evidence.

Apparently, Poirier argued that Qumran should not be expected to have an Aramaic Bible:

If the Qumran community was as averse to clothing its religiosity in Aramaic as recent scholarship has argued, then it would be wrong to draw a negative conclusion about the use of Aramaic beyond Qumran based on what we find (and do not find) at Qumran…. The fact that a number of Aramaic texts were found at Qumran does not substantially alter this picture, except that we are then forced to say that the Qumranites did not look upon Aramaic as religiously evil per se, but only as an inadequacy for true piety and communion with God.

This is a strange argument. First of all, besides assuming an anti-Aramaic campaign at Qumran, it slides over hard evidence. Qumran, in fact, has two targums to Job, found in Caves 4 and 11. The covenanters at Qumran were hardly boycotting Aramaic texts, and certainly not something as close to being canonical as the Targum of Job. The evidence would argue the opposite, that if a member brought in an Aramaic Bible text, the community would have respected and preserved it. Even more curious is the fact that fragments from Greek Bibles were found at Qumran. Poirier did not include this wider picture in his interpretation. The fact that the Qumran community collected and preserved Greek Bible texts shows that they were able to preserve biblical writings that they themselves did not compose. This, in turn, points to the irrelevancy of Qumran’s in-house language preferences. The issue about the choice of language for their own writings, be it countercultural or not,[1] did not prevent them from gathering and using writings in other languages. (Poirier stated, and I agree, that Qumranians preferred Hebrew for their own bylaws and compositions.) The important issue, then, is that they did use scriptures and translations produced by others. Exclusivity and a boycott of Aramaic scriptures is thus an implausible explanation for the missing Aramaic Bible. Most anything is possible, but that does not make it probable.

Poirier wrote, “Asking ‘Where is the Aramaic Bible at Qumran?’ might be like asking ‘Where is the lunch meat in a vegetarian’s refrigerator?'” Well, his metaphorical refrigerator is filled with meat: four copies of Aramaic Tobit, six copies of Aramaic Enoch, Aramaic Genesis Apocryphon, two copies of Aramaic Job, a piece of Aramaic Leviticus 16, not to mention all the Greek meat dishes! The Qumran sectarians were not “vegetarians” and yet they do not seem to have had access to an Aramaic Bible.

Other possible explanations were raised by Poirier:

  1. (quoting Milik) “Such [Aramaic] translations were little needed in the highly educated milieu of the Essene Community.” Agreed. Members of the community did not need Aramaic translations; but again, that hardly explains their absence. They little needed Greek, either; nevertheless, they had some Greek Bible texts.[2]
  2. “The Qumranites may have held to Mosaic authorship for the book of Job…. A belief in Mosaic authorship would certainly raise the value of a Targum of Job.” Possibly, but notice that there is no Aramaic Genesis, Exodus, Numbers or Deuteronomy at Qumran, and, quite possibly, no Leviticus as a book.
  3. “The conceit of Mosaic authorship may have guaranteed the Targum of Job a permanent place in the Qumran holdings, while other targums (brought in by new recruits or donations) were summarily destroyed. We have no indication that the Qumran aversion to Aramaic moved them to destroy Aramaic texts.” To his credit, Poirier distances himself from such a conspiracy theory—there is no evidence. It is one thing to recognize the Qumran community’s preference for Hebrew, but it would be irresponsible to suggest that there was a hateful, destructive war against Aramaic. This is contradicted by Qumran’s own holdings, and is a historical impossibility.

Poirier’s discussion of the rejections of an Aramaic Job by Rabban Gamaliel the elder and Rabban Gamaliel of Yavneh is helpful, but irrelevant to the question of Qumran acceptance of targums. If other targumim existed that the rabbis did not like, where are they? By all appearances, Qumran would have accepted them with open arms, at least they did so for two copies of Job.

Another puzzling comment is Poirier’s statement, “The hebraeophone view’s argument from the sparseness of the Qumran targumic corpus is more a smokescreen than a reasoned response.” First, I can only guess at what a hebraeophone’s view is. Surely, it cannot be my view that three languages, Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek, were in common use in the land of Israel. Each of these languages has left behind a considerable number of writings. Secondly, if the alternative to a hebraeophone’s view is thinking that only Greek and Aramaic were available for popular first-century writings, then Poirier may be guilty of circular argumentation. He may be reflecting a two-language attitude and then criticizing me for not forcing the data into that viewpoint.

Many scholars still write as though only two languages, Aramaic and Greek, were being used in first-century Israel, only giving passing mention to Hebrew, if at all. This “two-language” viewpoint is particularly noticeable in secondary literature that deals with possible written Semitic sources within the early Christian movement.[3] The point of my article was to urge the return to the primary data in dealing with the limited question of Bible versions in use in Israel. The “two-language” view predicted a commonly used Aramaic Bible. That Bible has not been found even though some write as though it had. The targum of Job is not such a Bible.

In evaluating the evidence and potential explanations of the paradoxical missing targum, probability requires us to move in the directions outlined in my article and this response. Those directions fit nicely with what specialists in Mishnaic Hebrew and Second Temple linguistics have written. M. H. Segal, E. Y. Kutscher and Abba Bendavid, Moshe Bar-Asher, Elisha Qimron and Michael Sokoloff do not have a problem with seeing three languages in common use in the late Second Temple period. In such a milieu, if a targum were also in use, fine, and if not in use (as it appears), fine. However, a problem arises if one assumes that a targum must have been in use, or assumes that the discovery of the Qumran Job targum is that targum. (Qumran’s two copies of Job add to our knowledge of a Second Temple-period targum of Job, but the existence of a Job targum was already known from the Septuagint and rabbinic literature.)

Incidentally, the existence and use of a Job targum makes excellent sociolinguistic sense. It appears to have been imported from the East and copied at Qumran. I would expect—although this remains an unsupported assumption—that the Aramaic-speaking Diaspora in eastern lands would want to produce an Aramaic Bible just as the Greek-speaking Jews in Egypt produced a Greek Bible, the Septuagint. Someday we may find a Second Temple-period Aramaic Bible in, or from, the East. Meanwhile, we should note that the Hebrew dialect of Job is strange. At any period, a translation of the book might have been highly desirable. Notice that the Greek translators of Job mentioned their having made reference to an Aramaic work (Job 42:17 LXX). Apparently, these third to second-century B.C. Greek translators were at home with the Hebrew Bible everywhere but in Job.

I would like to thank Poirier for his reference to Catherine Hezser’s work, Jewish Literacy in Roman Palestine.[4] It is a helpful and substantial work, although I am surprised that Poirier calls it “persuasive.” Hezser’s breadth of secondary literature is impressive. However, on details, her view of literacy has been overly influenced by Meir Bar-Ilan’s work, including his misapplication of rabbinic evidence on the scarcity of public readers in synagogues of the Talmudic period.[5] Likewise, Hezser’s handling of primary language evidence is weak. She refers to, and rejects, a few of the conclusions of scholars like Chaim Rabin and E. Y. Kutscher,[6] but she does not interact with the data discussed by them, nor by the following generation of Israeli scholars—Moshe Bar-Asher, Avi Hurvitz, Elisha Qimron, Michael Sokoloff, Steven Fassberg, and others—what might be termed the most active and detailed school of Second Temple and Mishnaic Hebrew studies in the world.

In summary, what Bible or version did Jews use in the first century in the land of Israel? The Targum of Job does not represent the norm. That should be clear. The multiplicity of documents at Qumran, the diversity of Greek Bible texts, the attested openness of the sect to collecting texts from beyond their community, and the Aramaic non-biblical texts all point to the Hebrew Bible being the biblical version in common use both at Qumran and in the rest of the land.[7]

  • [1] The choice of Hebrew as a written language does not appear to set the Qumran community apart from other streams of Jewish society. However, the style and kind of Hebrew at Qumran appears to be different. The scribes of Qumran wrote in a natural continuation of Late Biblical Hebrew (Second Temple Biblical Hebrew), but in a dialect that appears to be consciously cleansed from Greek loanwords. Notice that in their desire to write in a high style, they did not return to a First Temple Hebrew style. The Pharisees apparently chose a colloquial dialect of Hebrew for their oral law and the practice was continued when this oral law was collected and written down in the Mishnah, about A.D. 220. Mishnaic Hebrew was noticeably distinct from the “high” literary dialect. If Ben Sira is representative of the Sadducees, then even they were using a literary Hebrew for some of their writings. The Sadducees were also the probable recipients of a “proto-Mishnaic Hebrew” letter, 4QMMT. Even within the Jewish-Christian movement, the evidence for Semitisms in the Gospels points to narrative document(s) in Hebrew rather than Aramaic. (See note 3 below.)
  • [2] Discussion of the vernacular languages is not relevant here. My article does not deal with the complex question of the vernacular languages in use in the land of Israel in the Second Temple period.
  • [3] Please note, I am not suggesting that any of the four Gospels were written in a Semitic language. In all probability, they were written in Greek, and their immediate sources were Greek. On the other hand, because of internal linguistic evidence, I cannot attribute the highly Hebraic narrative style in Mark and Luke to some kind of artificial, holy style. The muted Hebraisms interspersed into the Gospel of Luke’s uneven Greek are not its author’s. Luke was partially smoothing out Hebraisms, not adding them. See my forthcoming article with Brian Kvasnica, “The Parable of the Vineyard, the Tenants and the Son” [JP—now published as Randall Buth and Brian Kvasnica, “Temple Authorities and Tithe-Evasion: The Linguistic Background and Impact of the Parable of the Vineyard, the Tenants and the Son,” in Jesus’ Last Week: Jerusalem Studies in the Synoptic Gospels Volume 1 (eds. R. Steven Notley, Marc Turnage, and Brian Becker; Leiden: Brill, 2006), 53-80.] A blatant element in translation Greek that separates Hebrew narrative style from Second Temple-period Aramaic narrative style is outlined in my article, “Edayin-tote, Anatomy of a Semitism in Jewish Greek,” Maarav 5-6 (1990): 33-48. For a popular presentation of the article, see my, “Matthew’s Aramaic Glue,” Jerusalem Perspective 28 (Sept./Oct. 1990): 10-12.
  • [4] Catherine Hezser, Jewish Literacy in Roman Palestine (TSAJ 81; Tubingen: Mohr-Siebeck, 2001).
  • [5] One of Bar-Ilan’s works is available on the web: “Illiteracy in the Land of Israel in the First Centuries C.E.” Certainly there was only a small minority of reliable public readers of the Hebrew Bible in the first-century synagogue, but reading the Hebrew Scriptures in public is a skill far beyond basic literacy. It requires a knowledge of pre-Masoretic Hebrew traditions.
  • [6] Hezser even attributes Rabin and Kutscher’s views to a “majority,” a majority view that does not yet seem to have penetrated New Testament scholarship. Both Rabin and Kutscher viewed the Judean villages as the natural home of spoken Hebrew. The Second Temple use of written Hebrew dialects is another matter, and should be beyond controversy. However, even at the beginning of the twenty-first century, it appears that many writers still assume only two languages, Aramaic and Greek, were available to members of the first-century, Jewish-Christian movement.
  • [7] This conclusion accords with what we find in tannaic and amoraic sources. Early rabbinic midrashim, for example, Mechilta, are almost wholly Hebrew and based on the Hebrew Bible. Later midrashim, such as Genesis Rabbah, begin to insert Aramaic stories into the Hebrew base text and commentary. The Aramaic Bible became a storehouse for exegetical traditions and attained a place of special mention.

Where Is the Aramaic Bible at Qumran? Scripture Use in the Land of Israel

Qumran has many Aramaic documents but shows a provocative lack of targum (Aramaic translations of Scripture). With nearly all the Qumran material published, we still have only two copies of an Aramaic Job and a piece of Leviticus 16 in Aramaic to represent the Aramaic Bible at Qumran. If we included the Apocrypha, we could add the four copies of Aramaic Tobit.

The indications of foreign origins of Aramaic Job[1] and the post-Second Temple origins of the general targums[2] need to be integrated into our understanding of targumic origins. Current paradigms concerning popular Aramaic Scripture use in the synagogue[3] and Aramaic Scripture use for gospel background[4] need reformulation.

We will find that first-century Scripture use was anchored directly in the Hebrew Bible in the land of Israel. This is certain at Qumran, very probable for the synagogue, for Pharisaic literature and the Gospels. Extensive, direct Hebrew Scripture use needs to be our working paradigm for the first century. This paradigm can help gospel studies and synagogue studies regain a proper focus.

Scriptural texts found among the Dead Sea Scrolls have produced surprises. Interest has been generated by para-biblical texts like the Temple Scroll and the many fragments now referred to as “reworked” Bible. Questions of canon have been reopened as we try to understand how these texts fit into the general landscape of Scripture during the Second Temple period.[5]

During most of the twentieth century New Testament studies generally have assumed that the targums—more precisely, Aramaic predecessors of our extant targums—provided the historical matrix for scriptural access for the general Jewish population in the land of Israel as well as for Jesus’ audience. The discoveries and publications of 4QtgJob, 4QtgLeviticus and 11QtgJob during the 1950s and 1960s are frequently cited in both Jewish and Christian scholarship as confirming these assumptions. Bruce Chilton writes: “Their [The Galilean Jews’] understanding of the covenant came not from the written Torah and Prophets in Hebrew, which few of them could read, but from their oral targum.”[6]

Levine writes,

There is a consensus regarding two matters. For one, the targumim already existed in the first century C.E. in both written and oral form. The fact that an Aramaic targum of Job was found on the Temple Mount in the days of Rabban Gamaliel the Elder (first half of the first century C.E.) would indicate that other such works of the Torah and the Prophets were undoubtedly also in circulation, and not only at Qumran. The other matter of consensus is that much of the material in the extant targumim originated in the synagogue setting.[7]

If there is such a consensus,[8] it is time for change, time to incorporate what the evidence at Qumran has to offer.

Qumran has many Aramaic documents so it should be no surprise to find Aramaic Bible as well. However, it is not the existence of two copies of Job, or a fragment of Leviticus 16, that should draw our attention. With all of the Qumran scrolls and scroll fragments published and visible, it is time to discuss the provocative absence of targums. In Second Temple period Judaism, Aramaic translations of Scripture do not seem to exist in the land of Israel.

Two fragments of the Targum of Job discovered in Qumran Cave XI. Each fragment is approximately 6 cm. wide. (Courtesy of the Shrine of the Book, Israel Museum)

The absence of targum in first-century Israel is even more glaring than what it might seem at first glance. As Muraoka pointed out, 11QtgJob has something of a foreign color to it.[9] It looks more like a copy of an import than a local product. Admittedly, the evidence is somewhat circumstantial and insufficient. From the extra alef letters in words like שבויא (shavvi’, “he placed”) (11QtgJob xxix 6) and תבוא (tavu’, “they returned”) (11QtgJob xxxii 3), it appears that 11QtgJob was copied at Qumran. However, the high incidence of writing the article “the” with alef instead of he points to a non-Qumranian, eastern origin for the targum. Muraoka noted that the use of emphatic-state nouns [= definite] for absolute state nouns [= indefinite] is another eastern trait. The resolution of dagesh into nun and the higher incidence of subject-object-verb word order further augment the eastern impression of this targum.

Cook has noted that the majority of “easternisms” in 11QtgJob are matters of orthography and, therefore, not a firm basis for a claim that the targum represents an eastern dialect within a Hatran-Syriac-Nabatean continuum.[10] While that may be true for establishing underlying dialects, it does not change the foreign status of 11QtgJob. If the targum was not produced in the land of Israel, we are left with virtually no targum at Qumran. The Aramaic portion of Leviticus 16 is much too brief to determine whether it was part of a liturgical reading or indeed part of a complete scroll of Leviticus. If the portion survived from a complete book, one could consider the question of its origins; however, unfortunately, the text is too short to determine its dialectical character.

The Book of Job itself is a strange item in the Hebrew Bible. It represents a unique dialectical profile in classical Hebrew. It uses many words in meanings that are unique and otherwise unknown within the Hebrew language. An Aramaic copy of Job is mentioned in the Septuagint (ca. 150 B.C.): “This man is described from the Aramaic book, on the one hand, as living in the land of Ausis, on the borders of Idumea and Arabia, and, on the other hand, as having been given the name Iobab….” (Job 42:17 [LXX]).[11]

The well-known stories of Rabban Gamaliel the elder and Rabban Gamaliel of Yavneh further attest to the apparently unique status of Job:

Said R. Jose: “It once happened that my father Halafta visited R. Gamaliel Berabbi at Tiberias and found him sitting at the table of Johanan b. Nizuf with the Targum of Job in his hand which he was reading. Said he to him, ‘I remember that R. Gamaliel, your grandfather, was standing on a high eminence on the Temple Mount, when the Book of Job in a Targumic version was brought before him, whereupon he said to the builder, “Bury it under the bricks.”‘ He [R. Gamaliel II] too gave orders, and they hid it.” (Babylonian Talmud, Shabbat 115a; Soncino)

We do not know why Gamaliel buried the Job translation. Did he consider that particular translation to be so poor as to be invalid? Was that translation hermeneutically offensive? Did he consider every translation of Job to be invalid? Was the copy worn out? Was he judging that the translation was to be treated as Scripture, thus needing geniza burial? (Geniza means “hiding” and refers to the special respect given to worn-out religious texts.) Was it a transgression of the prohibition of writing Oral Torah? Was the question one of canon for the Ketuvim (the Writings)? We do not even know for sure whether the translation referred to Aramaic or Greek. In any case, Job is the only Aramaic, translated, biblical book with multiple attestations in the Second Temple period: there are two copies at Qumran, the copy mentioned in the Septuagint, and the two different copies mentioned in connection with Gamaliel and his grandson. Clearly, the book of Job raised many questions and, during the Second Temple period, was treated a little differently than other books of Scripture.

In the light of the marginality of the Job targum (i.e., its peculiar Hebrew dialect, canonical status, and probable foreign origin of the targum), the consensus to which Levine refers rings hollow. He speculated that “other such works of the Torah and the Prophets were undoubtedly [emphasis mine—RB] also in circulation, and not only at Qumran.” Finding a foreign Job targum cannot support such wishful thinking. In fact, finding multiple copies and references to a Job targum, but without other biblical targums, argues the opposite of the alleged “consensus.” At Qumran, we have found only the targum that we already knew about from the Septuagint and the Gamaliel stories. But the Job targum does not represent the whole Bible. It represents Job. This means that the Aramaic Bible is missing at Qumran and the old consensus must reorganize around a new reality.[12]

What do the texts at Qumran tell us about language and access to Scripture? Firstly, we should not assume that there was antagonism to Aramaic at Qumran. The community had many Aramaic documents. In addition to the Job targum and the Leviticus 16 document, their library contained the Genesis Apocryphon, Enoch and Tobit in Aramaic. Secondly, it would appear that the Qumran community accepted scriptural translations from outside their circle. The many copies of biblical books in Greek attest to a certain openness to translated Scripture.

There are four possible explanations for the scarcity of Aramaic translations of Scripture at Qumran:

  1. The scarcity might have been due to chance. However, in light of the approximately 800 documents that have been recovered at Qumran, it is highly improbable that accident could describe the situation. We have too many Hebrew Bible manuscripts, Greek Bible manuscripts, and non-biblical Aramaic manuscripts to consider this a reasonable explanation.
  2. Perhaps the targum was only permitted to be transmitted orally at that time? This is one of the suggestions for Gamaliel’s burying the Job targum.[13] There are serious problems, however, with this suggestion. First, it is based on a contradictory extrapolation of a later synagogue practice. From the third century A.D., at least, the meturgeman (oral translator in a synagogue) was not supposed to read from a written targum during the liturgical reading of the Scripture (y. Megillah 4.1, 74d). But this liturgical restriction was in place during times when written targums were happily being used in the schools outside of the public Torah reading. The liturgical restriction did not rule out the existence and acceptability of written targums in general. The existence of written targums may be taken as a fact during the period when oral liturgical restrictions were in place, from the third to the sixth centuries A.D. Secondly, the restriction, like the prohibition against publishing the Oral Torah, was rabbinic. The Qumran community would not have considered itself bound by it, if it had existed during their time, before A.D. 70. Much of their reworked Bible, pesher and documents like the Temple Scroll can be considered written equivalents of Pharisaic Oral Torah. So, there are three counts against this suggestion: the liturgical restriction would have allowed written targums in a library, had they existed; the restriction did not apply to Qumran; the time period of the restriction may likely have been post-Second Temple period and thus not contemporary with Qumran.
  3. Perhaps the targum was tinged with Pharisaic doctrine, and Qumranians, being opposed to the Pharisees and rejecting books like Maccabees, rejected targum? However, the alleged existence of Pharisaically-tinged targums would not have prevented the Qumranians from creating their own targum, if such was the common practice in the land; nor would it have prevented them from acquiring more neutral versions from Damascus and further east. Furthermore, the existence at Qumran of Greek translations of biblical texts shows the difficulty of asserting that only a Pharisaic targum, boycotted by Qumran, existed.
  4. Targums were not used in the land of Israel at the time, or, at least, not commonly used. This is the plain reading of the Qumran evidence. If either the Qumran community or the general Jewish communities from which the Qumran covenanters came were using Aramaic translations of biblical texts, we would have expected much more representation among the extant manuscripts at Qumran.[14]

The documents at Qumran allow us to reconstruct Scripture access in the Province of Judea in the first century. The people at Qumran obviously related directly in Hebrew to the Hebrew Bible. However, their texts also reflect society at large. Many of their texts came from circles outside their own group. The Qumranites had Greek Bibles, Aramaic compositions, and Job targums, at least. From the evidence, we must assume that the Qumran community and the other Jewish communities in the land were using Hebrew Bibles. While this may be a subtle, and seemingly small, change in general perspectives on the period, it can have profound and far-reaching implications. Instead of an ignorant and somewhat disinterested general population, we may assume that the general population had direct access to the Hebrew Bible, generally understood it, and were interested in teaching that related directly to the Hebrew text. Included in the general picture would be the social interactions depicted in the Gospels of the New Testament. A careful investigation of these Gospels provides additional support to the thesis of popular Scripture use based on the Hebrew Bible in the first century.[15] But scriptural exegesis in the Gospels remains for another article.

An earlier form of this article was presented to the Aramaic Section at the annual meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature, November 2002 (Toronto).

Click here to read Jack Poirier’s response to this article.

And for Randall Buth’s response to Jack Poirier, click here.

  • [1] Takamitsu Muraoka, “The Aramaic of the Old Targum of Job from Qumran Cave XI,” Journal of Jewish Studies 25 (1974): 425-443; LXX Job 42:17; see also Ed Cook, “Qumran Aramaic and Aramaic Dialectology,” in Studies in Qumran Aramaic (ed. T. Muraoka [Supplement 3]; Louvain: Peeters, 1992), 1-21; and idem, “A New Perspective on the Language of Onkelos and Jonathan,” in The Aramaic Bible: Targums in their Historical Context (JSOTSup 166; eds. D. R. G. Beattie and M. J. McNamara; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1994), 142-156.
  • [2] Ze’ev Safrai, “The Origins of Reading the Aramaic Targum in Synagogue,” Immanuel 24/25: The New Testament and Christian-Jewish Dialogue: Studies in Honor of David Flusser (1990): 187-193.
  • [3] See note 7 below.
  • [4] See note 6 below.
  • [5] See Lee Martin McDonald and James A. Sanders, eds., The Canon Debate (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2002).
  • [6] Bruce Chilton, Rabbi Jesus, An Intimate Biography (New York: Doubleday, 2000), 4. Chilton’s remarks need a double correction. This paper only deals with the question of first-century targums. Chilton’s assumption that “few of them could read” explains his specific reference to an oral targum, but also reflects a minimalist view of Jewish literacy that also needs correction. The literacy question goes beyond the scope of this article and is irrelevant to the question of targums. Briefly on literacy, it can be noted that the rabbinic concern to find “readers” in a synagogue (Soferim 11:1; t. Megillah 3:5) does not reflect high illiteracy, but refers to a special group of people who could read the unvocalized Hebrew Bible in a synagogue setting before ten witnesses, according to the received tradition. The traditions were complicated and any mistake required rereading a verse. It was possible for a synagogue to have only one such reader. But a synagogue full of illiterates is a misrepresentation of Jewish society.
  • [7] Lee Levine, The Ancient Synagogue (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2000), 150.
  • [8] Edward Kutscher dated the Palestinian targum tradition to post-Bar Kochva (A.D. 135 ff.) and the Onkelos-type of targum to pre-Bar Kochva (“Language of the Genesis Apocryphon: A Preliminary Study,” Scripta Hierosolymitana 4 [1958]: 10 n. 44). He did not commit himself as to how far back an Onkelos targum had started. Ze’ev Safrai, “Origins of Reading the Aramaic Targum” (above note 2), specifically dates the targum to a post-Second Temple, second century period.
  • [9] See Muraoka, “The Aramaic of the Old Targum of Job from Qumran Cave XI” (above note 1).
  • [10] Ed Cook, “Qumran Aramaic and Aramaic Dialectology” and “A New Perspective on the Language of Onkelos and Jonathan” (above note 1).
  • [11] The Septuagint is probably referring to an Aramaic translation of the whole book of Job. Frequently, ἑρμηνεύεται (ermeneuetai) refers to translation, though it may be used for generic descriptions as well. The subject of the verb, οὗτος (outos, “this”), is masculine, so it refers primarily to Job the person rather than to a βίβλος (biblos, “book”), which is feminine, or a βιβλίον (biblion, “booklet”), which is neuter.
  • [12] Levine listed four reasons for the existence of written targumim in the Second Temple period:

    1. Job and Leviticus 16 were found at Qumran, and rabbinic tradition cites the Gamaliel stories about a Job targum.
    2. There are exegetical traditions found in the targumim that are parallel to those found in Josephus, Qumran, Septuagint, apocryphal literature, New Testament and rabbinic literature.
    3. There are linguistic ties between the targumim and Qumran Aramaic.
    4. Rabbinic authorities in the second century A.D. are aware of targumic practices in the synagogue and such a situation points to earlier, existing practices.

    Only this last point carries any weight. As detailed in this article, the first point actually exposes the lack of evidence for a targum to the whole Bible. The multiple attestations all point uniquely to Job, not to Scripture in general. The second point is irrelevant, but may expose a circular kind of reasoning used by many in the field. The point would be valid only if the exegetical traditions originated with the targum. Otherwise, it merely shows that there was a rich exegetical tradition in Jewish culture that shows up in many sources, including the targumim. The targumim were able to draw on those traditions and incorporate them. This makes the targum valuable as a source for old traditions, but does not place the targum in the Second Temple period. The third point about dialect cuts in two directions. The differences from Qumran Aramaic must also be considered. A second-century origin to targum traditions has a better fit than a first-century hypothesis. If foreign origins for targum traditions are posited for Job, then both time considerations and dialectical differences from Qumran become irrelevant. The fourth point, while important, becomes data that must fit first-century data. Ze’ev Safrai studied the rabbinic citations and concluded that the targumic practices under discussion started in the second century. He came to his conclusions independent of the archaeological profile provided by Qumran. We should acknowledge that Qumran supports him.

  • [13] See Saul Lieberman, Tosefta ki-fshuta, 3:203 n. 6.
  • [14] This matches certain hints in rabbinic literature. Mishnah, Megillah 1:8 records a rabbinic difference of opinion: “The books [of Scripture] may be written in any language…. Rabban Shim’on ben Gamaliel says, ‘They have not permitted Scriptures to be written in any language except Greek.'” This halachic dispute appears to reflect a situation in the mid-second century A.D., when Greek translations were an accepted fact, but an Aramaic targum was not yet in wide use in the Land of Israel. Qumran manuscripts reflect a similar situation at an earlier period.
  • [15] Please note that this does not necessarily imply that Hebrew was the first language, or market language, for most of the people, but only that it was part of a trilingual environment, with Greek and Aramaic also being widely used. Some of the complexity of language use is reflected in the ketubbot (marriage deeds). From the wording of Mishnah, Ketubbah 4:12, we may conclude that in Jerusalem and the Galilee marriage deeds were written in Aramaic, but in the Judean hills they were written in Hebrew. We might compare this linguistic situation to a mixed Spanish-Italian community where children grow up hearing both languages on a regular, even daily basis. It would not matter to members of this community which language was used as a mother tongue, or primary language. A speaker would use the language that was appropriate to the social context, and everyone would be able to follow. Besides Jewish multi-lingualism, it would appear that there were mother-tongue Hebrew environments in existence up through the second century A.D., probably more so in Judea than in Galilee, and a general decline of Hebrew after the destruction of A.D. 70, and especially after that of A.D. 135. From the third century A.D. Hebrew was still expected to be understood by the general adult Jewish population, but as a second language where Hebrew and Aramaic Scriptures were read antiphonally for interactive understanding. See S. Fraade, “Rabbinic Views on the Practice of Targum and Multilingualism in the Jewish Galilee of the Third-Sixth Centuries,” in The Galilee in Late Antiquity (ed. L. I. Levine; New York: Jewish Theological Seminary of America, 1992), 253-286; and note the situation behind y. Megillah 4.4, 75b, where parents in Tarbanat asked for half verses of Hebrew and Aramaic to be read for their children.

Leah’s Tender Eyes

Revised: 14-May-13

The King James Version translates Genesis 29:17 as follows: “Leah was tender eyed; but Rachel was beautiful and well favoured.” The New International Version has, “Leah had weak[1] eyes”; while the New American Bible reads, “Leah had lovely eyes.” The Hebrew text reads, literally, “And the eyes of Leah were tender, and [i.e., but] Rachel was beautiful of stature and beautiful of appearance.”

The Septuagint, the second-century B.C. Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures, used the Greek adjective ἀσθενεῖς (astheneis, weak; feeble, sickly) to describe Leah’s eyes. The uncertainty of the Targums (Aramaic translations of Scripture) about how to translate the Hebrew adjective רַכּוֹת (rakot, tender, delicate) created a plethora of paraphrases: Targum Onkelos: “And the eyes of Leah were beautiful”; Targum Jonathan: “And the eyes of Leah were moist[2] from weeping and praying before the LORD that he would not destine her for Esau the wicked”; Palestinian (Geniza) Targum: “And the eyes of Leah[…] because she would cry and pray not to emerge in the lot of Esau;[3] Targum Neofiti: “And the eyes of Leah were raised in prayer, begging that she be married to the just Jacob.”

E. A. Speiser is able to capture in English translation the nuances of biblical Hebrew better than any modern Bible translator or commentator. In his commentary on Genesis[4] he translated Genesis 29:17, “Leah had tender eyes, but Rachel was shapely and beautiful,” and commented:

“Tender,” not necessarily “weak,” for the basic sense of Hebrew rach is “dainty, delicate”; cf. Genesis 33:13 [“frail, tender” (children)]. The traditional translation has been influenced by the popular etymology of the name Leah as “weak.” What the narrative appears to be saying is that Leah had lovely eyes, but Rachel was an outstanding beauty.

It appears to me that Speiser is right. The Hebrew word order demands a contrast between Leah and Rachel. The second ו (vav, and) has to be understood as carrying the sense, “but, however.” The contrast cannot be “Leah was ugly, but Rachel was beautiful,” since the text does not contrast Rachel’s eyes with Leah’s, or Rachel’s body with Leah’s, but rather one part of Leah with the whole of Rachel. Therefore, the contrast is: Leah’s eyes were beautiful, but Rachel was beautiful in all parts of her body.

Perhaps Leah did have exceptional eyes, or perhaps she was so plain that her friends commented only on her eyes: “She has pretty eyes!”—a compliment that said less about her eyes than the rest of her body.

  • [1] In a footnote, the NIV adds: “Or delicate.”
  • [2] Or, “dripping, running.”
  • [3] Or, “that the fate of Esau would not befall her.”
  • [4] E. A. Speiser, Genesis (The Anchor Bible, vol. 1; Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1964), 224.

The Teaching of Balaam

Revised: 11-Apr-2007

Each May I lead a student tour to Greece and Turkey. During two weeks of travel and study, we explore the growth of the Early Church as it expanded from its Jewish setting in the Land of Israel and met the challenges of preaching the Gospel to the Gentiles in the Hellenistic world. One of the profound realizations we have made is how much of its Jewish character the Hellenistic Church retained. In fact, the term “Hellenistic Church” should better be understood as a geographical description rather than one describing cultural identity.

On a recent trip, I was struck anew by the integration of Jewish methods of interpretation of the Old Testament in the letter to the church at Pergamum (Rev. 2:12-16). On the one hand, the profoundly Jewish flavor of the Book of Revelation is surprising. It was likely one of the last New Testament books written. By that point in time, most scholars assume that Christianity was well on its way in departing from its Jewish context. On the other hand, scholarship has recognized the significant Hebraic influences on the Greek language of the Book of Revelation. These linguistic undercurrents may reflect the distinctly Jewish milieu of the apocalyptic work, telling us something about both the author and his readers.

And to the angel of the church in Pergamum write: “The words of him who has the sharp two-edged sword: ‘I know where you dwell, where Satan’s throne is; you hold fast my name and you did not deny my faith even in the days of Antipas my witness, my faithful one, who was killed among you, where Satan dwells. But I have a few things against you: you have some there who hold the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the sons of Israel, that they might eat food sacrificed to idols and practice immorality. So you also have some who hold the teaching of the Nicolaitans. Repent then. If not, I will come to you soon and war against them with the sword of my mouth.’” (Rev. 2:12-16)

Already at the turn of the century, W. R. Ramsay suggested that “the throne of Satan” was related to the fact that Pergamum was the first city in Asia to be awarded the cherished neokoros status, and granted the privilege to be the site of the first temple in Asia dedicated to a Roman emperor—Caesar Augustus. The pressure to demonstrate fidelity to the empire made the practice of emperor worship a necessity, and a challenge for Jews and for the Early Church. The Jewish king, Herod the Great, a century before the Book of Revelation, had built three temples to Augustus in Israel—at Caesarea, Sebaste (biblical Samaria) and Paneas (which was later renamed Caesarea Philippi). He did this to demonstrate his loyalty to his imperial benefactor. Yet, it seems that participation in the imperial cult was the focal point in the rebuke to the church at Pergamum.

For our limited study, I am particularly interested in the thrust of the author’s rebuke and the enigmatic reference to “the teaching of Balaam,” which seems to be derived from the author’s understanding of the Moabite prophet’s instruction to Balak. What is interesting is that no indication is given in the story of Balaam (Num. 22-24) to any advice by the prophet to Balak. Even less is it recorded that he encouraged the Israelites to participate with the Moabites in idolatry and sexual immorality.

Instead, this is one of those occasions when it is necessary for the Christian reader to be familiar with first-century Jewish interpretation of the Old Testament account. The letter to the church of Pergamum draws upon contemporary understanding of the Biblical event which had “filled in” Balaam’s role in Israel’s downfall. The genesis for this interpretative evolution is the obscure reference to the event in Moses’ words to Israel.

Moses said to them, “Have you let all the women live? Behold, these caused the people of Israel, in the matter [or, by the word] of Balaam, to act treacherously against the Lord in the matter of Peor, and so the plague came among the congregation of the LORD.” (Num. 31:6)

Greek translators of the Hebrew Scriptures already understood the Hebrew term דָּבָר (dabar)—which can be understood as “matter, thing, word, event”—to mean “the counsel or advice [of Balaam] to turn astray.”

Moses said to them: “Have you let all the women live? For they were to the Israelites in keeping with the word of Balaam to turn astray, to show contempt for the word of the Lord with regard to Peor, and a plague came upon the congregation of the Lord.” (Septuagint, Num. 31:16)

So also in an early Aramaic translation of Numbers 31:6, the translators understood Balaam to have taken an active role in the sin of the Israelites:

They were a stumbling block to the Israelites at the advice of Balaam, to falsify in the name of the Lord in the matter of the idol of Peor. (Targum Neophyti on Num. 31:6)

The first-century Jewish philosopher, Philo of Alexandria, also expanded the Biblical account to provide the precise advice Balaam gave to Balak.

“You have in your countrymen, king,” he said, “women of outstanding beauty, and there is nothing to which a man more easily falls captive than a woman’s beauty….

“But you must instruct them not to allow their wooers to enjoy their charms at once…. One of those (women) should say, with saucy air: ‘You must not be permitted to enjoy my favors until you have left the ways of your fathers and become a convert…if you are willing to take part in the libations and sacrifices which we offer to idols of stone and wood and other images.’” (Philo, Moses 1:294-298)

We witness the tendency of first-century Jewish interpreters to take advantage of ambiguities in the Biblical narrative to use the stories as vehicles to preach to their contemporaries. The expansions were not simply additions to the Biblical story, but an opportunity to caution their fellow Jews not to be enticed by the pagan idolatry which surrounded them or the loose sexual mores of the Greco-Roman world.

For their teaching purposes Balaam became a prime example of greed, idolatry and the evils which challenged the community of faith. This is in spite of the fact that according to the literal record of Scripture, Balaam did nothing wrong. He could certainly be faulted for being willing to speak against Israel. Yet, at the same time, he was one who had “knowledge of the Most High” (Num. 24:16), and he had only prophesied what God instructed him. Thus, three times he blessed the children of Israel rather than following Balak’s request to curse them. However, through a creative transformation, this complex figure came to symbolize the challenges and pitfalls of the people of God in the first century. The “teaching of Balaam” in the Book of Revelation, which resulted in “idolatry and immorality” by the Christians in Pergamum, parallels the post-Biblical presentation of Balaam’s role in Israel’s downfall given in an early Jewish midrash.

“They called to the people and offered sacrifices to their Gods” [Num. 25:2] for they followed Balaam’s advice…and set up tents and put prostitutes in them with all their finery…. Whenever a Jew would pass by in the market place…a girl would come out in her adornments and her perfume and seduce him by saying, “Why is it that we love you and you hate us—here, take this piece of merchandise for free—after all, we are both descended from a single ancestor, Terah, the father of Abraham. Wouldn’t you like to eat from our sacrificial offerings?” (Midrash Tanhuma, Balak 18)

Our study has brought to light the meaning of the “teaching of Balaam” in the letter to the church at Pergamum. We have seen that the notion is couched in contemporary Jewish interpretation of the story of Balaam with the purpose to address the spiritual challenges of the Jewish community living in a pagan world. Two points are particularly important for New Testament readers.

Relief of Balaam on the bronze doors of the basilica of St. Zeno in Verona. (Photo courtesy of Mattana.)
Relief of Balaam on the bronze doors of the basilica of St. Zeno in Verona. (Photo courtesy of Mattana.)

First, one should note how Jewish the letter to the Christians at Pergamum was—even at such a late date! Without an understanding of first-century Jewish interpretation of the story of Balaam, little sense could be made of “the teaching of Balaam” in the author’s warning. This fact argues against the common Christian opinion that from the day of Pentecost the Church was determined to depart from its Jewish context. The writer of the letter of Revelation and the congregation in Pergamum at the close of the first century A.D. still expressed themselves in profoundly Jewish ways.

Second, once again we see how important it is to engage first-century Jewish thought and faith to appreciate fully the message of the New Testament. Exploring the “Jewish roots of Christianity” does not mean simply a familiarity with the Old Testament, but instead, how that book was read and lived out by Jews contemporary to Jesus and his first followers. It underscores the immutable truth that Jesus came “in the fullness of time.” We as Christians living at the beginning of the third millennium must keep in mind God’s sovereign act in revealing Himself at a very specific point in history. As we look forward to the challenges before us, we must remember that our faith is founded upon one sent (not by accident!) at a particular point in time and in the midst of a particular people. It is these historical facts which must shape our reading of the ancient story to reveal God’s truth and determine how we might best serve Him in the present era.

Were Women Segregated in the Ancient Synagogue?

Did women play a passive role in the synagogue congregations of antiquity? Were they separated from male members of the congregation during prayer and study, as is the case today? According to Professor Shmuel Safrai, the answer to both questions is a resounding “No.”

When discussing the form and character of the synagogue, one should consider data from the land of Israel along with data from the Diaspora; there is no justification for treating them separately. The sources we will consider here pertain to synagogues in Jerusalem before the destruction of the Second Temple, throughout the land of Israel during the period of the Mishnah and Talmud, and in the Jewish Diaspora in Egypt, Syria and Greece.

The sources reveal that women regularly attended the synagogue and took part in its services, listening to sermons and to the reading of the Torah. Women also studied in the bet midrash (study hall).

A Woman’s Obligation

Prayer was a religious obligation not just of men, but also of women:

Women, slaves and minors are exempt from recitation of the Shema and from putting on phylacteries, but are not exempt from praying [the Eighteen Benedictions], affixing a mezuzah [to the doorpost of their house], or saying the blessing after meals.[1]

Women, like men, were obligated to pray the “Eighteen Benedictions” prayer daily. Rabban Gamaliel said: “One must say the ‘Eighteen’ every day.”[2] Although it was usual to pray the Eighteen Benedictions in an assembly of the congregation, women—and men—were permitted to pray them privately.

When this prayer was recited publicly—in the synagogue, for instance—ten individuals were necessary to create a religious quorum. It is important to note that women could be counted as part of the ten. The idea that ten males are required for this quorum is not found in Jewish sources until at least 500 C.E.[3]

Women Frequented the Synagogue

There are many stories in rabbinic literature about women going to synagogue. Note, for instance, this halachah, which implies that it was as natural for women to go to the synagogue as to the bathhouse:

An Israelite may put meat on the coals [to cook] and let a Gentile come and turn it until he [the Israelite] returns from the synagogue or study hall without having to worry [that the meat will become prohibited]. An [Israelite] woman may put a pot on a stove and let a Gentile woman come and stir it until she [the Israelite woman] returns from the bathhouse or the synagogue without having to worry [that the contents of the pot will become prohibited].[4]

Another relevant halachah is transmitted in the name of Rabbi Simlai:

In a village, all of whose residents are priests, when they pronounce the priestly blessing [in the synagogue], whom do they bless? Their brothers in the north, their brothers in the south, their brothers in the east, their brothers in the west. And who responds “Amen”? The women and children.[5]

In ruling that in the synagogue of a village of priests, women and children are permitted to say “Amen” in response to the priestly blessing, Rabbi Simlai obviously was making the assumption that the women were in attendance.

Greater Attendance on the Sabbath

Especially on the Sabbath, women and children went to synagogue:

It is right to translate for the general public and the women and children every Torah portion and the reading from the Prophets. That is why it was ruled: “On the Sabbath the people come [to the synagogue] early and leave late.” They come early in order to recite the Shema at sunrise like the strictly observant, and leave late in order to hear the commentary on the Torah portion. On festivals, however, the people come late because they [the women] have to prepare the festive meal [eaten after families return home from the synagogue].[6]

For testimony from the Jewish Diaspora, one could mention the journeys of Paul as related in the book of Acts. Luke informs us that on a number of occasions Paul met women in synagogues. When Paul reached Philippi on the Macedonian border, he went out of the town on the Sabbath to “a [Jewish] place of prayer” by the river and there spoke to the women (Acts 16:13). Here the writer emphasizes the presence of women because he intends to tell later about the Christian baptism of Lydia the God-fearer. Similarly, when Paul came to Thessalonica, important women were drawn to his teaching (Acts 17:4).

According to one source, even young girls attended synagogue services:

Young Israelite girls would go to the synagogues to gain a reward for those who brought them and to gain a reward for themselves.[7]

Daily Attendance

Some traditions depict women attending the synagogue every day.

It is told of one woman who grew very old and came before Rabbi Yose ben Halafta and said to him: “Rabbi I have grown too old, and now my life is one of disgrace since I cannot taste any food or drink, and I wish to be relieved of this world.”
He said to her: “What commandment do you take care to observe every day?”
She said to him: “I take care that, every day, even if I have something very important to do, I leave it until later and get up early to go to the synagogue.“[8]

Elsewhere, we read about a widow who had a synagogue in her neighborhood, but who walked some distance every day to pray in Rabbi Yohanan’s study hall [where services were conducted]:

He [Rabbi Yohanan] said to her: “My daughter, don’t you have a synagogue in your own neighborhood?”
She said to him: “Teacher, don’t I receive a reward for my steps [i.e., for the extra distance I walk]?”[9]

Rabbi Yohanan is surprised that the woman attends a synagogue outside her own neighborhood; he is not surprised by her synagogue attendance.

Women Came to Learn

There is a story[10] about a woman who went to synagogue every Friday night to hear Rabbi Meir teach Torah: “Rabbi Meir would go to teach in the synagogue of Hammath [near Tiberias] every Sabbath eve, and [there][11] one woman would go to hear his teaching.”[12]

The Midrash to Deuteronomy 29:10-11 informs us that women customarily went to the bet midrash (lit., “house of study,” but used here in its wider sense as a synonym for “synagogue”) even though they did not always understand the words of the teacher. On the text, “You stand here today…your children and your wives,” Midrash ha-Gadol comments: “Even though they may not be thoroughly trained [thus not able to argue halachic points], your wives come to receive a reward.” From this comment we may assume that men and women participated in synagogue study sessions and synagogue services, which also included teaching.

On the text, “More blessed than the women in the tent” (Jdg. 5:24), the Targum adds: “She [Yael] will be blessed like one of the women who serve [i.e., study] in the study halls.”[13] This statement indicates that women were present in synagogue study halls. It is significant that “service in the study hall” is one of the conditions for acceptance as a haver (member).[14]

Halachah Assumes Women’s Attendance

baraita in Tractate Niddah presupposes that women were present with men in the synagogue: “She may not come to the Temple [in her days of menstruation]; likewise, it is not permitted for her to enter the study hall or synagogue.”[15] Elsewhere, this prohibition is repeated: “She is not permitted to enter the synagogue until she immerses herself [following the end of her menstrual period].”[16]

Although this halachah is especially strict;[17] apparently, its observance was widespread. For example, the author of the Syriac Didascalia (sixth cent. C.E.) chastened the Jewish-Christian women of his community because they did not go to church during their menstrual period.[18] My point is this: Although Jewish women did not attend synagogue services or study sessions while they were menstruating; ordinarily, they participated just as fully as the men.

The Geonim, heads of the talmudic academies in Babylonia from the seventh to eleventh centuries C.E., received many queries about women’s attendance at synagogue. Their view, with few exceptions, was that women should attend synagogue.[19] The language of the responsa (see JP Glossary) suggests that women went to the synagogue. Here, for example, are the words of the Gaon Sherira (tenth cent. C.E.):

There are women who refrain from going to the synagogue [during their menses], but they should not refrain because there is no valid reason for doing so. If [they refrain] because they think the synagogue is like the Temple, then why, after immersing themselves, do they not go? If [they refrain] because they have not made atonement [by offering a sacrifice in the Temple]…then they would never be able to go until, in some future day, they brought a sacrifice to the rebuilt Temple. If, on the other hand, they [the synagogues] are not like the Temple, then they should go. After all, we are all ritually unclean due to contact with the dead, contact with creeping things, or to pollution [through contact with semen as a result of sexual intercourse or nocturnal emissions], yet we go.[20]

There is another halachic source that takes for granted the presence of women in the synagogue. The source discusses the case of a jealous husband (see Num. 5:14) who forbids his wife to go to synagogue.

Rabbi Yose [320-350 C.E.] asked: “Can a husband be jealous of a hundred men?” Rabbi Yose son of Rabbi Bun said: “If he [the husband] ordered her not to go to the synagogue, then she goes with him.”[21]

This discussion is an attempt to clarify to what degree a man may limit his wife’s synagogue attendance. Rabbi Yose argues that it would be ridiculous for a husband to claim that his wife is giving or receiving affection from every male in the congregation; therefore, the husband is not permitted to limit his wife’s synagogue attendance. Rabbi Yose son of Rabbi Bun agrees, but he rules that a husband can forbid his wife to go alone to the synagogue. If women did not attend synagogue, or, if they attended but were secluded and kept from the gaze of men, the husband would have no cause for apprehension and this discussion would be pointless.

A Special Section for Women?

Where did women sit in the synagogue and study hall? Did they sit in a special women’s section (ezrat nashim), separated from the men by a partition (mehitsah)? Or was the women’s section a gallery such as we find in synagogues built in recent centuries?

In 1884 Leopold Loew published an article in which he argued that there is no evidence for the separation of the sexes in ancient synagogues of the land of Israel.[22] He claimed that the first reference to a mehitsah is connected with the Babylonian amora Abaye (fourth cent. C.E.) in the Babylonian Talmud.[23] Loew pointed out that this is the only literary evidence for the separation of men and women by a divider and it is unrelated to the synagogue. The source relates that at a certain assembly of men and women the sage Abaye set up a row of pitchers and the sage Rava set up a row of reeds. This would seem to refer to a temporary divider—probably a partition erected during a banquet or similar gathering—not to a permanent structure. Rashi (eleventh cent.) expresses hesitancy regarding the meaning of the passage. He comments: “A place for groups of men and women for a sermon or a wedding ceremony.”

Loew’s suggestion has not been accepted by most scholars. They have rejected it for several reasons.[24] However, there is justification for reexamining Loew’s suggestion, not only on the basis of literary sources, but also on the basis of archaeological excavation of synagogues during the last decades, both in the land of Israel and the Jewish Diaspora.

The Women’s Court

Scholars have also sought to prove the existence of an ezrat nashim in the ancient synagogue from the existence of a court in the Temple called Ezrat Nashim (Women’s Court), and from the existence of a gallery, along three of the court’s sides, built specially for women. From this gallery women watched the annual Water Drawing Celebration that took place in the Women’s Court during the nights[25] of Sukkot (the Feast of Tabernacles): the women were separated from the men during these festivities.[26]

Here we need to clarify the question of the Women’s Court. The sages viewed Jerusalem as divided into three levels of holiness, and drew a parallel between the Tabernacle and the Temple:

Just as there were three camps in the wilderness: the camp of the Shechinah, the camp of the Levites and the camp of the Israelites; so there are three camps in Jerusalem: from the entrance to Jerusalem to the entrance to the Temple Mount—the camp of the Israelites; from the entrance to the Temple Mount to Nicanor’s Gate—the camp of the Levites; from Nicanor’s Gate to the interior [of the Temple]—the camp of the Shechinah.[27]

Note that the Women’s Court is given no special status, and no distinction is made between men and women regarding admittance to the camps, or areas, of Jerusalem.[28] The Mishnah lists ten degrees of sanctity within the land of Israel, the fourth of which is the Women’s Court.[29] The sanctity of the Women’s Court derived from the regulation that no tevul yom (literally, “immersed on that day”) was to enter it. Tevul yom refers to a person who has incurred one of the uncleannesses for which Scripture ordains “he shall be unclean until evening,” has immersed him or herself in a mikveh, and now awaits the day’s end to be ritually pure.[30] The Torah did not prohibit a tevul yom from entering the camp of the Levites; this Temple stricture was a later, further precaution instituted by the sages.[31] Moreover, the Women’s Court was one of the Temple’s later architectural developments and has no halachic status.[32]

In rabbinic literature we find no distinctions between men and women regarding the areas of the Temple to which they had access such as we find between pure and impure persons, laypersons and priests, blemished and unblemished priests.[33] Like men, women offered their sacrifices at the altar in the Priests’ Court, passing through the Israelites’ Court (the men’s court) to reach the altar. A baraita says: “A woman was not seen in the [Priests’] Court unless she was bringing a sacrifice.”[34] From this it is evident that when women offered their sacrifices in the Temple, they did enter the Priests’ Court. If, for instance, a woman offered a wave offering such as first fruits, she went up to the altar, waved the offering, and placed it beside the altar.[35] Similarly, a Sotah (a woman suspected of adultery by her husband, Num. 5:11-31), whose sacrifice also required waving, entered the Priests’ Court to do so. The Nazirite’s sacrifice was also waved in the Priests’ Court (Num. 6:1-21), and rabbinic literature discusses theoretical and actual cases of women who were Nazirites.[36]

Usually, however, women did not enter the Priests’ Court and would only approach the gate between the Women’s Court and the Israelites’ Court. Josephus states explicitly that women were not allowed to enter the Israelites’ Court,[37] but it appears that Josephus is describing the ordinary situation, since his statement is confuted by tannaic traditions which report that women did enter the Israelites’ Court as they made their way to the Priests’ Court.[38]

Nor was the Women’s Court used exclusively by women. Laymen and priests who came to the Temple passed through the Women’s Court on their way to the interior courts—Josephus relates that those who were ritually clean passed through the Women’s Court together with their wives.[39] In the Women’s Court’s four corners were four chambers that were directly connected with the Temple services and used by those who came to offer sacrifices. For instance, in the southeastern corner was the Nazirites’ Chamber, used by both men and women. In another chamber were to be found the musical instruments of the Levites.[40] All the special, public ceremonies that developed in the Second Temple period took place in the Women’s Court: it was there on the Day of Atonement that the high priest read the Torah before the people,[41] and there, every seven years, they held the Hakhel, the assembly during the Feast of Tabernacles of “men, women, children and aliens” for the public reading of Torah (Deut. 31:10-13).[42]

The Great Enactment

The Water Drawing Celebration deserves special consideration because during these festivities men and women were separated. The festivities were held in the Women’s Court, which was illuminated by four huge oil lamps. Dancing and singing went on all night, while on the fifteen steps leading from the Women’s Court to the Israelites’ Court, the Levites played various musical instruments.[43] In the Mishnah we read: “Originally, it [the Women’s Court] was smooth, but [later the Court] was surrounded by a gallery so that the women could see from above and the men from below but there would be no intermingling.”[44] However, the Mishnah as well as the baraitot of Tractate Sukkah make it clear that this separation occurred only during the Water Drawing Celebration: “At the conclusion of the first festival day of Tabernacles, they [the priests and Levites] descended [the fifteen steps that led from the Israelites’ Court] to the Women’s Court where they made a great enactment.“[45] Both Talmuds and Tosefta explain that the “great enactment” was the ruling that men and women were to be separated during the Water Drawing Celebration.[46]

It is difficult to know how this enactment was carried out. Was a temporary structure erected each year—which is hard to imagine—or was a permanent gallery built?[47] At any rate, it is clear that the separation was in force only during the Water Drawing Celebration when dancing continued all night. Both the Jerusalem Talmud and the Babylonian Talmud, attempting to find scriptural basis for this custom, deduce it from the verse that commands separation at a future time of mourning:

If, in the future [the time alluded to in the prooftext, Zech. 12:12], when they will be engaged in mourning and the evil inclination will have no power over them [i.e., at such a time, a lapse in sexual conduct is less likely], the Torah [i.e., Zech. 12:12, in the statement “with their wives by themselves”] nevertheless says, “Men by themselves and women by themselves”; how much more so now [during the Water Drawing Celebration, a time when there is a much greater possibility of sexual misconduct] when they are engaged in celebrating and the evil inclination holds sway over them.[48]

However, as already mentioned, throughout the rest of the year men and women intermingled in the Women’s Court.

Massacre in Alexandria

There is another source frequently cited in scholarly literature as proof that in the ancient synagogue there existed an ezrat nashim—a baraita in the Jerusalem Talmud that recounts the massacre of the Jews of Alexandria by the wicked Roman emperor Trajan:

And the [Roman] legions surrounded them and killed them. He [Trajan] said to their wives: “If you obey the legions, I will not kill you.” They said to him:”What you have done below, do [also] above.”[49]

Scholars have supposed this massacre took place in a synagogue: the men, gathered on the ground floor, were killed first, and then the women in the women’s balcony. As proof that the incident took place in a synagogue, they quote the beginning of the story: “He came and found them engaged in studying the Torah verse, ‘The LORD will bring a nation upon you from afar, from the ends of the earth… [Deut. 28:49].’”[50] However, there is no need to suppose that the massacre took place in a synagogue. The later addition of Scripture verses to historical accounts is typical of aggadic literature. Here, a verse was added to the massacre story to teach that the massacre was decreed by God.

A different version of the Alexandrian massacre tradition appears twice in Lamentations Rabbah: “They said to him: ‘Do below what you have done above.’” In other words, Trajan had first killed the men, who were above, and then the women, who were below.[51] Furthermore, at this point, the text of the Jerusalem Talmud may be corrupt: the writer of Me’or Eynayim (sixteenth cent. C.E.) quotes the tradition about Trajan from the Jerusalem Talmud, but in the following language: “What you have done above, do below.”[52]

Thus, it appears that the reality of the Alexandrian massacre tradition is of fortress walls on which defenders were standing and fighting. First, the Roman forces scaled the walls and killed the defenders. Then they went down inside the fortress and massacred the women.

Philo and the Therapeutae

Scholarly literature often represents Philo as saying that Moses ordered the separation of men and women in the synagogue.[53] No such statement is to be found in extant texts of Philo, although he deals several times with the subject of synagogues, and even discusses the attendance of women at synagogues. His opinion is that women should go to the synagogue when the marketplace is empty so they will not be exposed to the market’s carnival-like atmosphere—women had to pass through the marketplace on their way to synagogue—but he never mentions a requirement of separation of the sexes.[54]

In describing the Therapeutae, Philo notes that when they partook of their common meals in their sanctuary, the men sat on the right and the women on the left and there was a partition between them.[55] However, one should not generalize from the Therapeutae sect about the situation in the synagogue. Indeed, one might even infer that Philo’s emphasis on the Therapeutae’s segregation of men and women implies there was no such segregation in the synagogue.

Synagogue Ruins

Isometric drawing of the fourth-century C.E. Khirbet Shema' synagogue (showing traffic patterns). Notice the stairs leading from the synagogue's central hall to a balcony, the roof-like structure facing the two rows of columns. The excavators found little evidence for the balcony entrance opposite the stairway. From Eric M. Meyers, A. Thomas Kraabel and James F. Strange, Ancient Synagogue Excavations at Khirbet Shema', Upper Galilee, Israel 1970-1972 (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1976), 59, Figure 3.10.
Isometric drawing of the fourth-century C.E. Khirbet Shema’ synagogue (showing traffic patterns). Notice the stairs leading from the synagogue’s central hall to a balcony, the roof-like structure facing the two rows of columns. The excavators found little evidence for the balcony entrance opposite the stairway. From Eric M. Meyers, A. Thomas Kraabel and James F. Strange, Ancient Synagogue Excavations at Khirbet Shema’, Upper Galilee, Israel 1970-1972 (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1976), 59, Figure 3.10.

Archaeological excavations have revealed that a number of ancient synagogues had balconies, for example, the synagogues of Capernaum, Chorazin, Hammath and Beth Alpha. Some scholars have concluded that these balconies were used as women’s galleries.[56] Scholars, perhaps influenced by modern Jewish custom, drew this conclusion based on the assumption that the balconies fulfilled the same function as the gallery in the Women’s Court of the Temple. But the existence of balconies in ancient synagogues does not necessarily mean the balconies were intended for women. Rabbinic sources mention various functions for synagogue balconies and upper rooms, but there is never a connection made between these structures and women.[57] Moreover, in some of the synagogues that have balconies, the stairway leading to the balcony originates in the central hall of the synagogue. (This is true of the Khirbet Shema synagogue, for instance.) To reach the staircase, a woman would have had to intermingle with the men in the central hall, a contradiction to the theory that men and women did not mix in the synagogue.

Clerestory reconstruction drawing of the fourth-century C.E. Khirbet Shema' synagogue and "North Building" (to the synagogue's right). From Eric M. Meyers, A. Thomas Kraabel, and James F. Strange, Ancient Excavations at Khirbet Shema', Upper Galilee, Israel 1970-1972 (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1976), 66 Figure 3.11.
Clerestory reconstruction drawing of the fourth-century C.E. Khirbet Shema’ synagogue and “North Building” (to the synagogue’s right). From Eric M. Meyers, A. Thomas Kraabel, and James F. Strange, Ancient Excavations at Khirbet Shema’, Upper Galilee, Israel 1970-1972 (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1976), 66 Figure 3.11.

Many ancient synagogues did not even have a second room or a balcony where women could be isolated—for example, the mid-third-century C.E. Dura-Europos synagogue. Dura-Europos, located in the Syrian desert on the west bank of the Euphrates River, midway between modern Aleppo and Baghdad, was a caravan stop and military fortress. Astride the ancient highway between the great centers of Jewish culture and population in Babylonia and the land of Israel, it was only natural for Dura-Europos to have a Jewish colony.

The Dura-Europos synagogue was the largest room (interior dimensions: 13.65 m. x 7.68 m.) of a complex of rooms and courtyard. Built into its interior walls and floor was a plastered bench that completely encircled the hall. The bench was interrupted only by the hall’s two entrances, both on its eastern side. The main entrance was in the center of the eastern wall, and a smaller entrance was located at the hall’s southeastern corner. About a decade before the synagogue was destroyed, a second tier was added above the floor-level bench, increasing the hall’s seating capacity from 65 to 124.

Reconstruction plans of the mid-third-century C.E. synagogue at Dura-Europos (upper drawing) and the earlier synagogue (lower drawing) discovered underneath it. From Carl H. Kraeling, The Excavations at Dura-Europos: The Synagogue (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1956), Plans VI and VIII.2.
Reconstruction plans of the mid-third-century C.E. synagogue at Dura-Europos (upper drawing) and the earlier synagogue (lower drawing) discovered underneath it. From Carl H. Kraeling, The Excavations at Dura-Europos: The Synagogue (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1956), Plans VI and VIII.2.

There is little to indicate the synagogue had a women’s gallery: the hall has no partitions; there are no dividers along the benches; there are no balconies; there were no rooms adjoining the hall. Nevertheless, Carl H. Kraeling, who wrote the synagogue excavation report, concluded that the southern entrance of the synagogue had been the women’s entrance and that the benches along the hall’s southern wall had been reserved for women.[58] He reached this conclusion because the benches along the southern wall, in contrast to the benches along the other three walls, have intermediate steps to the upper tier—presumably to allow easier access for the women—and because the benches closest to the southern entrance, those along the southern wall and those between the two entrances, have no raised footrests—presumably omitted in the women’s section for the sake of modesty.

Beneath the synagogue, remains of an earlier synagogue (165-200 C.E.) were uncovered. Apparently, this earlier synagogue also had no interior divisions. To the left of the main entrance, just outside the earlier synagogue’s southern entrance, there is a rectangular room (Room 7).[59] Kraeling designated this room a women’s gallery, concluding that at first the Jews of Dura-Europos were conservative like their brethren in the land of Israel, but later when they built the new synagogue, they were more liberal and allowed the women to sit inside the synagogue in a designated area.

There is no basis to assume that Room 7 is a women’s gallery. If that room was indeed a women’s gallery, why did it disappear when the synagogue was rebuilt? One must assume that this room was only an annex, like those that have been found in other ancient synagogues. Moreover, there is no basis to assume that the southern-wall benches of the new synagogue were reserved for women. Architectural features to facilitate ascent to the upper tier of benches are found throughout the hall, and even next to the ark. In addition, the benches between the two entrances have no raised footrests, yet also have no intermediate steps leading to the upper tier.

Fresco from the west wall of the Dura-Europos synagogue.
Fresco from the west wall of the Dura-Europos synagogue.

One cannot doubt the Jewishness of the Dura-Europos community: the synagogue’s frescoes contain traditional Jewish themes, and the Jewish quarter adjoining the synagogue was built in conformity to the halachot of eruv hatserot (see JP Glossary), the regulations for creating common courtyards—yet this synagogue has no dividers or partitions.

Synagogue Inscriptions

Much may be learned from the scores of synagogue inscriptions that have come to light. These have been found on synagogue entrances, gates and mosaic floors, and in synagogue courtyards, guest houses and ritual baths. Some inscriptions even list the synagogue’s architectural components. If a women’s gallery had existed, the writer of a synagogue inscription might easily have mentioned it; however, no inscription has come to light that mentions a women’s gallery.

I will mention only three synagogue inscriptions, one from Jerusalem dating from the Second Temple period, and two from the Diaspora dating from a later period.

The Theodotos inscription was found in Jerusalem and dates from the end of the first century B.C.E. The inscription, written in Greek, reads:

Theodotos, son of Vettenus…built this synagogue for the reading of Torah and for instruction in the commandments, and [he also built] the guest house with its rooms and water installations as lodging for needy [pilgrims] from the Diaspora.[60]

The Theodotos inscription, a dedication from a first-century B.C.E. synagogue in Jerusalem. (Photo by David Harris.)
The Theodotos inscription, a dedication from a first-century B.C.E. synagogue in Jerusalem. (Photo by David Harris.)

A Greek inscription on a column from the third-century C.E. synagogue at Stobi (on the border between Macedonia and Greece, near the modern town of Bitolj [Monastir], Yugoslavia) reads:

He [Claudius Tiberius Polycharmos] built the rooms of this holy place and the hall with its rectangular portico.[61]

In the continuation of the inscription “upper rooms” are mentioned.

A Greek inscription from the fourth-century C.E. synagogue in Sida in Asia Minor mentions a benefactor who “covered the synagogue’s benches with marble, and had two pillars and two seven-branched candelabra made.”[62]

Ancient Churches

The earliest churches have no structures that indicate a separation between men and women.[63] If women were segregated in the ancient synagogue, it is unlikely that Christians, who received their institution of the church from the Jews, would have eliminated this segregation at such an early stage. In this instance, it is likely that Jewish practice determined Christian practice.

In one of the golden-throated orator John Chrysostom’s sermons he disparaged the synagogue as a disgraceful place in which men and women intermingle.[64] Chrysostom’s intent was to ridicule the Jews and, no doubt, he exaggerated immensely, but it is difficult to imagine there would have been any point to his attacks if Jewish women had indeed sat in a special gallery or behind a permanent partition?

Unconvincing Evidence

The evidence put forward to argue that the sexes were segregated in the ancient synagogue is not convincing. While rabbinic sources spell out regulations down to the smallest details of the synagogue’s construction, seating arrangements and order of service, these sources make no mention of a special women’s section or a separating partition.[65] That women were obligated to pray and definitely went to the synagogue, yet rabbinic literature never mentions a women’s gallery, strongly argues against its existence.

The assumption the balconies found in some ancient synagogues are women’s galleries is unsupported. Furthermore, many ancient synagogues had neither a balcony nor a second room. Early churches, patterned after the synagogue model, likewise have no structures that indicate a physical separation of the sexes. Synagogue inscriptions, while sometimes mentioning various architectural elements of synagogues, never refer to a women’s gallery.

The earliest clear-cut evidence for separation of men and women in the synagogue and synagogue study hall is found in the midrash Pirke Mashiah (Chapters of the Messiah) in its description of the redemption.[66] This midrash, which almost certainly dates from the Arab period, describes the enormous bet midrash of the future. While the women stand behind a divider made of reeds, God himself teaches Torah and Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel explains God’s teaching to the people. We can assume that this description reflects current practice in the local synagogues and study halls with which the author was acquainted. The author of Pirke Mashiah lived in a Muslim land, and local Jewish custom had likely been influenced by its environment: Muslim practice was—and still is—to separate men and women in the mosque.


In the Second Temple period, women were religiously the equals of men: ancient Jewish sources from the land of Israel and from the Diaspora show that women frequented the synagogue and studied in the bet midrash (study hall). Women could be members of the quorum of ten needed to pray the “Eighteen Benedictions,” a central prayer of the daily synagogue liturgy; and, like men, women were permitted to say “Amen” in response to the priestly blessing.

There is no real evidence for the assumption that the sexes were segregated in the ancient synagogue. Women did not sit, as they do in today’s synagogues, in a special women’s gallery, or in a special women’s section separated from the men by a partition. The balconies found in the ruins of ancient synagogues are not necessarily women’s galleries. The existence of a Temple court called the Women’s Court also provides no support for the assumption that women were relegated to a balcony or special section of the synagogue. Women were not confined to the Women’s Court, nor was it exclusively for women. In it, women and men—both laymen and priests—mingled freely.

It is true that women were eventually required to watch the annual Water Drawing Celebration festivities from a special gallery above the floor of the Women’s Court. However, this separation was very brief: it was in force only for five or six nights of the year.[67] Therefore, the separation of men and women during the Water Drawing Celebration cannot be proof that there was a women’s section in the early synagogue.

  • [1] Mishnah, Berachot 3:3. Women were also obligated to listen to the reading of the scroll of Esther at Purim (Babylonian Talmud, Megillah 4a; Arachin 3a).
  • [2] Mishnah, Berachot 4:3.
  • [3] See Shmuel Safrai, “The Place of Women in First-century Synagogues,” Jerusalem Perspective 40 (Sept./Oct. 1993): 3.
  • [4]baraita found in the Babylonian Talmud, Avodah Zarah 38b-39a.
  • [5] Jerusalem Talmud, Berachot 9d (end of chpt. 5); cf. Babylonian Talmud, Sotah 38b.
  • [6] Tractate Soferim 18:6.
  • [7] Tractate Soferim, end of chpt. 18.
  • [8] Yalkut Shim’oni, Ekev, remez 871 (Midrash Yelamdenu, an early rabbinic collection, is cited as the source); Yalkut Mishle 943; Sefer ha-Likutim V, 131a (ed. L. Greenhut, 1901). See Buber’s introduction to Midrash Proverbs, p. 32.
  • [9] Babylonian Talmud, Sotah 22a.
  • [10] Jerusalem Talmud, Sotah 16d (chpt. 1); Leviticus Rabbah 9:9; Numbers Rabbah 9:20; Deuteronomy Rabbah 5:15.
  • [11] Midrash ha-Gadol on Numbers (ed. Fisch, p. 122) adds taman (there).
  • [12] Literally, “go to hear his voice.” The Midrash ha-Gadol adds darish, i.e., “go to hear his voice preaching.”
  • [13] Evidently, women were not present in the study halls in Babylonia as they were in the land of Israel and in the Hellenistic Diaspora. See Babylonian Talmud, Moed Katan 18a.
  • [14] Mishnah, Demai 2:3.
  • [15] Ch. M. Horowitz, Niddah (Frankfurt, 1890), 30-33.
  • [16] Ibid., 48.
  • [17] This baraita seems severe, but many strict halachot no doubt had their origins in ancient traditions, traces of which have survived in tannaic literature. See Saul Lieberman’s comments on Sefer Metivot pertaining to purification after childbirth in B. M. Lewin’s edition (1934), 115ff.
  • [18] Achelis-Flemming, Die Syrische Didascalia (1908), 141; Harnack-Golhardt, Texte und Untersuchungen 25 (1904). Cf. Arthur Marmorstein, “Spuren Karäischen Einfluses in der gaonäischen Halacha,” Schwartz Festschrift (Vienna, 1917), 460; idem, “Judaism and Christianity,” Hebrew Union College Annual 10 (1935): 230.
  • [19] Only the Gaon Zemah forbade menstruating women from entering the synagogue. Cf. Otsar ha-Geonim, Berachot, pp. 48-49.
  • [20] Sefer Kol Bo, “Laws of the Niddah.”
  • [21] Jerusalem Talmud, Sotah 16c (chpt. 1).
  • [22] Leopold Loew, “Der Synagogale Ritus,” Monatschrift für Geschichte und Wissenschaft des Judentums 33 (1884): 364-374; later republished in Gesammelte Schriften, ed. Immanuel Loew (1898), 4:55-71.
  • [23] Babylonian Talmud, Kiddushin 81a.
  • [24] See Emil Schürer, Geschichte des jüdischen Volkes im Zeitalter Jesu Christi II4 (1901-1911), 527; cf. revised English version of Schürer’s work, The History of the Jewish People in the Age of Jesus Christ (175 B.C.-A.D. 135), ed. Geza Vermes, Fergus Millar and Matthew Black (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1979), 2:447-448, note 98; Jean Juster, Les Juifs dans l’Empire romain (1914), 1:458; Samuel Krauss, Synagogale Altertümer (1922), 357; idem, The History of Synagogues in Israel (1955), 339; Solomon Schechter, Studies in Judaism (1920), 1:313-326; E. L. Sukenik, Ancient Synagogues in Palestine and Greece (1934), 48; but cf. I. L. Elbogen, Der jüdische Gottesdienst (1931), 466-469.
  • [25] The festivities of the Water Drawing Celebration took place every night of the Feast of Sukkot excluding Sabbath and festival day itself, six nights if the first day of Sukkot fell on a Sabbath, five nights if it did not (Mishnah, Sukkah 5:1).
  • [26] Tosefta, Sukkah 4:1; Jerusalem Talmud, Sukkah 55b (chpt. 5); Babylonian Talmud, Sukkah 51b.
  • [27] Tosefta, Kelim Bava Kamma 1:12; Sifre Numbers, Naso 1; to 5:2 (ed. Horovitz, p. 4); Babylonian Talmud, Zevahim 116b; Numbers Rabbah 7:8.
  • [28] Cf. Shmuel Safrai, “The Role of Women in the Temple,” Jerusalem Perspective 21 (Jul./Aug. 1989): 5-6.
  • [29] Mishnah, Kelim 1:6-9: “There are ten levels of sanctity: the land of Israel is holier than any other land…the walled cities [of the land of Israel] are even holier…[the area] within the walls [of Jerusalem] is even holier…the Temple Mount is even holier…the rampart [which surrounds the wall of the three inner courts] is even holier…the Women’s Court is even holier…the Israelites’ Court is even holier…the Priests’ Court is even holier…the area between the porch and the altar is even holier…the sanctuary is even holier…the Holy of Holy is even holier.”
  • [30] Mishnah, Kelim 1:8.
  • [31] Babylonian Talmud, Pesahim 92b; Yevamot 7b; Zevahim 32b; cf. Jerusalem Talmud, Eruvin 22c (chpt. 5).
  • [32] Cf. Adolf Büchler, “The Fore-court of Women and the Brass Gate in the Temple of Jerusalem,” Jewish Quarterly Review 10 (1898): 667-718. Büchler suggests that the Women’s Court was created only in the last days of the Second Temple, but his arguments are unconvincing. Nevertheless, he is surely right in asserting that the Women’s Court was not one of the most ancient parts of the Temple.
  • [33] The anonymous sage who is quoted by Rabbi Joseph Ashkenazi (16th cent. C.E.) was right: “I have not found a text that says the Israelites’ Court is holier than the Women’s Court because women do not enter it. One may conclude, therefore, that women were not prohibited [from entering the Israelites’ Court]” (Melechet Shlomoh on Mishnah, Kelim 1:8).
  • [34] Tosefta, Arachin 2:1.
  • [35] Mishnah, Bikkurim 1:5; 3:6.
  • [36] Cf. Tosafot on Kiddushin 52b, to the paragraph, “Ve-chi ishah ba-’azarah, minayin?”
  • [37] Antiquities 15:419; War 5:199, 227.
  • [38] Büchler erred in accepting Josephus’ description. Cf. Büchler, op. cit., 697, note 1.
  • [39] Antiquities 15:418.
  • [40] Mishnah, Middot 2:5-6.
  • [41] Mishnah, Yoma 7:1; Babylonian Talmud, Yoma 69b.
  • [42] Mishnah, Sotah 7:8; Babylonian Talmud, Sotah 41b.
  • [43] Mishnah, Sukkah 5:1-4.
  • [44] Mishnah, Middot 2:5.
  • [45] Mishnah, Sukkah 5:2.
  • [46] Jerusalem Talmud, Sukkah 55b (chpt. 5); Babylonian Talmud, Sukkah 51b; Tosefta, Sukkah 4:1.
  • [47] Cf. Rashi’s commentary on this passage (Sukkah 51b), and Ch. Albeck’s commentary on the Mishnah (Sukkah 5:2).
  • [48] Jerusalem Talmud, Sukkah 55b (chpt. 5); Babylonian Talmud, Sukkah 51b.
  • [49] Jerusalem Talmud, Sukkah 55b (chpt. 5).
  • [50] Meir Ish Shalom was the first to make this suggestion (see Bet Talmud 4:200; cf. Sukenik, loc. cit.).
  • [51] Lamentations Rabbah, chpt. 1 (ed. Buber, p. 83); chpt. 4 (ed. Buber, p. 152).
  • [52] Ed. D. Kassel, p. 181.
  • [53] Based on Eusebius’ Praeparatio Evangelica 12:8. The source of this misunderstanding is apparently Juster (Les Juifs dans l’Empire romain, 1:458), from whom it has been copied by several other scholars.
  • [54] The Special Laws 3:171 (cf. Against Flaccus 89). See I. Heinemann, Philons griechische und jüdische Bildung (1932, repr. 1962), 234, and F. H. Colson’s note to 7:640 in the Loeb Classical Library edition of Philo. Philo also discusses matters pertaining to synagogues in his work Every Good Man Is Free, but without mentioning a women’s gallery.
  • [55] The Contemplative Life 69, 32.
  • [56] Cf. H. Kohl and C. Watzinger, Antike Synagogen in Galilaea (1916, repr. 1973), 35, plate II; Sukenik, loc. cit.; Sukenik, The Ancient Synagogue of Beth Alpha (Jerusalem, 1932), 15.
  • [57] Cf., for example, Jerusalem Talmud, Berachot 5d (end of chpt. 2); Shabbat 3a (chpt. 2); Babylonian Talmud, Hullin 92a.
  • [58] Cf. Carl H. Kraeling, The Excavations at Dura-Europos: The Synagogue (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1956), 8:16, 23.
  • [59] Ibid., plan VIII and p. 31.
  • [60] This inscription was published several times. See J.-B. Frey, Corpus Inscriptionum Iudaicarum (1952), inscription 1404, 2:332-335. Cf. also Moshe Schwabe, Sefer Yerushalaim (1956), 1:362-365 (Hebrew).
  • [61] Frey, Corpus Inscriptionum Iudaicarum (1936), inscription 694, 1:504-507. See Frey for a list of articles that discuss this inscription.
  • [62] Frey, inscription 781, 2:38-39. See Frey for a list of articles that discuss this inscription.
  • [63] Michael Rostovtzeff, Dura-Europos and its Art (1938), 100-134; John Winter Crowfoot, Early Churches in Palestine (1941), 1-8.
  • [64] Chrysostom, Orations against the Jews (Adversus Judaeos) I, 2.
  • [65] Cf. Tosefta, Megillah, chpt. 3; Tractate Soferim; Mishneh TorahTefillah, chpt. 11.
  • [66] Bet ha-Midrash (1855), 3:75.
  • [67] See footnote 25.

John’s Targumic Allusions

מְתֻרְגְּמָן Meturgeman is Hebrew for translator. The articles in this series illustrate how a knowledge of the Gospels’ Semitic background can provide a deeper understanding of Jesus’ words and influence the translation process.

The viewpoint of scholars toward the Gospel of John has changed considerably during the last generation. (See “Scholarly Attitudes to John” below.) Thanks to several recent discoveries, we are now able to appreciate a number of literary allusions in the Gospel’s introductory verses (1:1-18) that had previously escaped attention. We will discuss the background of a few of these allusions, and then consider some implications for translation.

Light from the Targums

In the synagogue, the targum (Aramaic translation of the Bible) was provided along with the Hebrew Scripture readings. By means of the targum, rabbinic interpretations of Scripture could be introduced without altering in any way the text of the Hebrew original. The tradition of an Aramaic translation may go back to the Persian era (539-332 B.C.) when Aramaic was the official language of government. In the first century it still provided help for those from outside the land of Israel who may not have known Hebrew well. The targums were transmitted orally at first and only written down in the second to seventh centuries A.D. The Qumran manuscripts and early rabbinic literature give evidence that some targums were written at an earlier date.[1]

A complete manuscript of a “Palestinian Targum” was found in the Vatican library in Rome in 1956. This discovery, while much less famous than the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, has provided important insight into a number of Jewish allusions in John 1:1-18.

Targums known prior to 1956 included the less paraphrastic Targum Onkelos to the Torah, Targum Jonathan to the Prophets, a late mixed-dialect Targum Pseudo-Jonathan, and a Palestinian collection of texts known as the Fragment Targum. The Fragment Targum testified to a targumic tradition that had disappeared, and Targum Neofiti (the name of the Vatican manuscript discovered in 1956) turns out to come from the same milieu as the Fragment Targum.

Word, Presence and Glory

One of the phenomena in the targums, and one that is more prevalent in the “Palestinian Targum” tradition, is the use of certain phrases to make references to God more abstract. Such phrases distanced God, in his utter holiness, from his creation.

The Fragment Targum gives an example of this at Genesis 1:27. The Hebrew text reads: “And God created man in his image.” The Aramaic “translation” is, “And the word [מֵימְרָא memra] of YHVH created Adam in his image.”

Something similar happens in Targum Neofiti at Genesis 1:3-5:

And the word of YHVH said, ‘Let there be light.’ And there was light according to the decision of his word…. And the word of YHVH divided between…. And the word of YHVH called….”

Throughout the creation account, this targum frequently substitutes “the word [memra] of YHVH” for “God [elohim].”

The repetition of “God said” in the Hebrew source was taken to imply that God spoke by means of his word.[2]

Two other favorite words for “God” in the targum tradition are אִיקָר (ikar, “glory”; variant יְקָר [yekar]) and שְׁכִינָה (shechinah, “dwelling; presence; Shechinah“). The Masoretic text of Exodus 24:10, “And they saw the God of Israel,” is rendered by the Onkelos Targum as “And they saw the glory [yekar] of the God of Israel.” The Hebrew of Exodus 25:8, “And I will dwell [from the root שׁכן sh-k-n] among them,” is rendered by the same targum as “And I will put my Shechinah among them.”

John’s Allusions

This targumic background becomes particularly meaningful in John 1:1, 14. The linking of God’s “word” with the opening verse of Genesis and with the creation is something that made its way into the written targumic tradition. The first creative act mentioned in Genesis is “And God said” (Gen. 1:3), an act of using words. The targumist, by rendering, “And the word of YHVH said,” did not understand this in a Christian sense as defining an entity or person within God. In the Jewish context it was simply a circumlocution, a way of talking about God more abstractly.

John made the same literary connection between Genesis 1:1 and “God’s word” when he began his Gospel. The shock and the beauty of his images come into focus in verse 14:

The word became flesh

and dwelt among us

and we beheld his glory….

Those are the three major terms that the targums used to allude to God. John used the same terms, but did not leave them as abstract references to God. Instead, they describe a penetration of our earthly and phenomenological realm by the deity.

There is evidence that John intended his readers to catch these allusions to God. For instance, John did not use a normal Greek word for “dwell.” Instead he picked a rare verb, σκηνόω (skenoo, “dwell [in a tent]”), which contains the Greek equivalent of the same consonants (s-k-n) as the Hebrew and Aramaic word for “presence, dwelling”—שְׁכִינָה (shechina, “Shechinah“).[3]

Jewish Prayer and John 1:3

The connection between creation[4] and “word” is reinforced in John 1:3: “Everything through him [or “it,” i.e., the word] came into existence.” These are words that were frequently on the lips of an observant Jew.

In the first century, different blessings were said before eating, depending on the class of food. The most generic blessing, used when other specific blessings did not fit or when one did not know which blessing was appropriate, was, שֶׁהַכֹּל נִהְיָה בִדבָרוֹ (shehakol nihyah vidvaro, “that everything came into existence by His word”). The Mishnah states that when a person says this blessing he fulfills his obligation to bless God before partaking of food (m. Berachot 6:2).

So, when John made the connection between creation and the word and used “the word” as the instrument of creation, he was using a term that was very well-known in Jewish culture.

The Law and Jesus

The relationship between the Law (i.e., Torah—the Instruction, the Guidance) and Jesus in John 1:16-17 has often been viewed as an antithesis, as though the Law were something bad. The Living Bible, often a helpful translation in other contexts, provides an example of this approach:

We have all benefited from the rich blessings he brought to us—blessing upon blessing heaped upon us! For Moses gave us only the Law with its rigid demands and merciless justice, while Jesus Christ brought us loving forgiveness as well.

That is an unfortunate[5] translation because it misses the fact that John portrays the grace of Jesus as built on top of a blessing—the Law. The Law is a blessing and Jesus came and added a blessing on top of it.

The grammar here is not contrastive.[6] The statements of verse 17 elaborate what was meant in verse 16; these statements are simply a listing of the points of elaboration, and are without explicit connective.[7] Barnabas Lindars brings this out in his commentary by using comparison: “Just as the law was given through Moses, so grace and truth…came into being…through Jesus Christ.”[8]

This is a better translation, but leaves out the sense of development and culmination that John means to give us. The Jerusalem Bible and New International Version avoid this pitfall by mimicking the terse quality of the Greek: “For the Law was given through Moses, grace and truth have come through Jesus Christ.”[9]

However one translates John 1:17, both clauses should be positively portrayed. After all, it is John himself who states that “salvation is of the Jews” (John 4:22) and that “the Hebrew Scriptures testify about Jesus” (John 5:39).

Allusions and Translation

Allusions are an aspect of language that often defy translation. They are part of the broad cultural and textual framework that help a speaker communicate with an audience. A speaker can rely on an audience making comparisons between his presentation and some common background knowledge, thus making it easier to communicate and to be sure that the audience will get the right overall interpretation.

John knew that expressions like “word,” “glory,” “dwell in a tent” and “came into existence by the word” would provide a powerful common base for some of his audience. These terms reinforced his claim that Jesus is the Deity-become-man.

Translators and exegetes need to consider the intended allusions of a text. This will influence their translation and their choice of words and grammar, even though they may not be able in the translation to refer specifically to the background knowledge. The easiest and fullest way to present such information is by means of an annotated translation, otherwise known as a “study Bible.” If only all translators had that option!

Scholarly Attitudes to John

Last century many scholars viewed the Gospel of John as a second-century work of the Greek church, and it was taken as axiomatic that the writer knew and used the Synoptic Gospels. However, the discovery in Egypt of an early second-century papyrus fragment* containing the text of John 18:31-33 (recto), 37-38 (verso) undermined the late dating of the book. Since John’s Gospel was circulating in Egypt by the early second century, as evidenced by this papyrus copy, the original must have been written in the first century or very early second century A.D. Today, most scholars would date the writing of John between A.D. 65-110, with A.D. 80-90 a common conclusion.

In 1938 the British scholar Percival Gardner-Smith published a widely influential book, Saint John and the Synoptic Gospels (Cambridge University Press), which suggested that John was independent of the Synoptics. Many scholars now have taken a middle position that treats John as an independent work, recognizing that its author probably knew at least one of the Synoptic Gospels but may not have used these Gospels as sources.

Much discussion in the last century centered on the Greek background of John’s Gospel. The debate was fueled by discussions about the philosophical background of the “logos” doctrine so prominent in the opening verse. However, nagging questions persisted about the unique geographical and Jewish background of the Gospel.

In John, most of Jesus’ ministry occurs in Judea, and it is John alone among the four Gospels that provides the long discussion with a Samaritan woman. The discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls has reinforced a trend to view the traditions transmitted by John as authentic. Some of the abstract terminology that appears in John, such as “light” and “darkness,” turns out to be prominent in writings of the Dead Sea sect. In addition, like John, the Qumran sectarians are highly critical of the Jerusalem Temple authorities, something that used to be considered a reason for questioning the Jewish background of John.

With the rediscovery of Jewish roots to John’s Gospel, scholars pay more attention to layers of historical data within the Gospel. This does not mean, however, that scholars now read John as unedited history. There is still a problem of determining where Jesus’ words end. (For example, do his words end at John 3:13 where the Good News Bible marks the end of the quotation, or at John 3:21 where the New International Version concludes Jesus’ speech?) John may not have been concerned to distinguish his own words from those of Jesus. In addition, the problem of the order of events in John’s Gospel is as difficult as ever (for instance, a cleansing of the Temple at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry rather than at its end as in the Synoptic Gospels).

*Designated Papyrus Rylands Greek 457 (Gregory-Aland P52). Acquired in Egypt in 1920, this fragment is the earliest known manuscript of any identifiable portion of the New Testament. It was published by C. H. Roberts (An Unpublished Fragment of the Fourth Gospel [Manchester, 1935]). Roberts dated this fragment to the end of the first century–beginning of the second century A.D. (Roberts, Unpublished Fragment, 13-16).

This image shows the front and back of P52.
This image shows the front and back of P52.


  • [1] Compare, for example, the Qumran Targum to Job (early first century A.D.) and Tosefta, Shabbat 13:2.
  • [2] This traditional exegesis of Genesis 1 was strengthened by the connection between “wisdom” and “the beginning” in Proverbs 3:19 and Proverbs 8:22. At Genesis 1:1 the Palestinian targums replace “In the beginning God created” with “By wisdom God created.” However, John 1 only develops the “word” terminology, so the “wisdom” terminology will not be discussed here.
  • [3] The close connection between John 1:14 and targumic phraseology has been pointed out by Alejandro Diez Macho, “El Logos y el Spiritu Santo,” Atlantida 1 (1963): 389; and Martin McNamara, Targum and Testament (Shannon, Ireland: Irish University Press, 1972), 103-104.
  • [4] It can be assumed that from the time John’s Gospel was written informed readers have all seen the connection between Ἐν ἀρχῇ (En arche, “In the beginning”) in John 1:1 and [the Greek translation of] Genesis 1:1.
  • [5] “Unfortunate” is euphemistically mild. Such mistakes can provide the seeds for Christian anti-Semitism. Much depends on one’s starting point. In order to correctly read the New Testament, one must start from within a Jewish context and look out inclusively to the Gentile world.
  • [6] Leon Morris made a correct grammatical observation even though he ended up interpreting the verse antithetically: “We should have expected the contrasting men and de. But John simply puts the two statements side by side” (The Gospel According to JohnThe New International Commentary [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1971], 111).
  • [7] Randall Buth, “Oun, De, Kai and Asyndeton (Null) in the Gospel of John,” in Linguistics and New Testament Interpretation (ed. David Alan Black with Katherine Barnwell and Stephen Levinsohn; Nashville: Broadman, 1993).
  • [8] Barnabas Lindars, The Gospel of JohnNew Century Bible Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1972), 98.
  • [9] Peter Renju, a United Bible Societies translation consultant in Africa, has suggested (oral communication) another model for translation: “For the divine blessing started with Moses, who has given us the Law, and has reached its fullness in Jesus Christ, who has given us grace and truth.” This kind of restructuring may be necessary for many translation audiences. Putting short clauses together like the Jerusalem Bible and New International Version may not make for clear, smooth communication.

Pieces to the Synoptic Puzzle: Papias and Luke 1:1-4

When the argument is advanced for a Hebrew “undertext” behind the Greek of the Synoptic Gospels, the evidence may be separated into two categories: internal and external. Internal evidence refers to evidence that is contained within the Greek text such as Hebraisms and the presence of parables or other types of rabbinic literary forms. External evidence refers to statements preserved in other ancient literature that affirm that Jesus’ life was originally recorded in Hebrew. The most important external evidence is a statement made by Papias, bishop of Hierapolis.

Sometime in the middle of the second century A.D., Papias wrote, “Matthew recorded the sayings [of Jesus] in Hebrew, and everyone translated them as he was able.” Papias’ statement was quoted by another bishop named Eusebius, who lived between 263-339 A.D. It is in Eusebius’ Ecclesiastical History[1] that Papias’ testimony has survived.

Papias provides us with two very important bits of information. The first is that the disciple Matthew recorded the teachings of Jesus in the “Hebrew language.” Although some would argue that Papias’ Ἑβραΐδι διαλέκτῳ (Hebraidi dialekto) really means Aramaic, this is probably not the case, as Jehoshua Grintz has demonstrated.[2]

The second important bit of information is that other individuals reworked this original Hebrew composition. The question is, in what manner? The Greek verb ἡρμήνευσε (hermeneuse), rendered above as “translated,” can mean “to explain, interpret, or translate.” The ambiguity is generated more by the English language than by the Greek. Apparently, the ancients did not make the fine and often arbitrary distinction we do between translation and commentary. To put it another way, the ancients had a different approach to translating sacred texts than that which is taken by modern scholars. They tended to be less rigid. If there was an unclear verse, it was not uncommon for an ancient translator to help clarify it. If a strong tradition surrounded a certain passage, it was not unusual for elements of that tradition to creep into the text.

A good example of an unclear verse that has been clarified in the process of translation is Genesis 4:8, “And Cain told Abel his brother. And it came about when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against his brother and killed him” (New American Standard Bible).

Obviously some important details, such as what Cain told Abel, are missing. These were supplied by the Septuagint translator: “And Cain told Abel his brother, ‘Let us go out into the field….'” It is possible that the translator of the Septuagint had a manuscript in front of him that included the clause, “Let us go out into the field,” but it is just as likely that he felt the text was incomplete and supplied the information.

A more radical example appears in the targumim, where such liberties are more common and pronounced. For example, Targum Neofiti’s rendering of Genesis 22:1 is:

Now it came about after these things that the LORD tested Abraham with the tenth test. He said to him, “Abraham!” And Abraham answered in the tongue of the House of the Holy One. And Abraham said to him [the LORD], “Here I am.”

In this one verse two new elements have been introduced: God is testing Abraham for the tenth time; Abraham (the Aramean) answered in Hebrew, the Holy Language. The first is an early and well-known Jewish tradition about this passage. The second represents an issue of great concern to the sages at the time this Targum was composed—the displacement of Hebrew by Aramaic.[3] Both accretions became part of an Aramaic translation of Scripture.

Returning to Papias’ claim, we now ask: What were those individuals who were translating “…as they were able” doing with Matthew’s composition? No definite answer to this question is available. From the above examples, especially that of the targumim, it is safe to postulate that all of them were not producing translations akin to the King James Version. Some translators treated Matthew’s Hebrew composition conservatively, but others may not have. One can imagine that from the very start a proliferation of materials about Jesus’ life occurred.

At this point assistance is available from another quarter. In the prologue to his Gospel, Luke writes:

Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile an account of the things accomplished among us…it seemed fitting for me as well, having investigated everything carefully from the beginning, to write it out for you in consecutive order, most excellent Theophilus; so that you might know the exact truth about the things you have been taught.” (New American Standard Bible)

Luke is providing another clue to the transmission process of the Gospel sources. Like Papias, he writes that a number of individuals had attempted to compile an account of Jesus’ life. He, however, says something more.

Luke’s use of καθεξῆς (kathexes, consecutive order) implies that confusion had arisen, not just from a proliferation of sources, but from the loss of the story’s chronological order. Though this sounds very strange, it is not without precedent in the transmission of other ancient, religious texts. For example, the sages believed that the Book of Isaiah originally began with chapter six. In addition, the chronological discrepancies in the Synoptic Gospels themselves attest to the disruption of the story order. The reason for this disruption remains a mystery. Perhaps it had something to do with lectionary readings in the early church.[4]

Viewed together, Papias’ and Luke’s statements offer a glimpse of the stages of transmission for the Gospel materials. They inform us that the original story of Jesus was written in Hebrew, that this story was translated and probably reworked by many individuals, and that somehow the original order of events was obscured.

The scenario described above is foundational to Robert Lindsey’s synoptic theory. He believes that Matthew’s composition, like the Pentateuch of the Septuagint, was translated literally into Greek. Then, this translation was rearranged according to literary form: incidents in Jesus’ life, teachings, and parables. In his prologue Luke seems to be describing conditions that resulted from this reorganization.

Once the composition had been rearranged, attempts were made to piece the story back together. Luke decided to use one such attempt, in conjunction with the reorganized text, in writing his Gospel. Mark based his story primarily on Luke’s, though apparently he also knew the reorganized text. The writer of Matthew, who is neither the disciple Matthew nor the Matthew of the Papias tradition, used Mark’s account and the reorganized text.

Interestingly, the attempts to restore order to the events of Jesus’ life do not end with the Synoptic Gospels. Sometime about 160 A.D. Tatian, a disciple of Justin Martyr, composed a harmony of the Gospels known as the Diatessaron. This harmonization became the standard Gospel text of the Syriac-speaking church until the fifth century. The adoption of the Diatessaron by Christians in the East further underscores the liberties that early Christianity allowed in regard to the transmission and reworking of the Gospels.[5]

Despite a rather turbulent transmission process, the Synoptic Gospels retain an astonishing amount of authentic and reliable material. This we know from the internal evidence. Indeed, Luke did not wholly succeed in restoring the original order of the story, as is evident from the success of Lindsey’s reconstructions,[6] but he did transmit in a conservative manner his two Greek sources, one of which contained highly Hebraic material stemming directly from the original Greek translation of the Hebrew.

  • [1] Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History III 39, 16.
  • [2] Jehoshua Grintz, “Hebrew as the Spoken and Written Language in the Last Days of the Second Temple,” Journal of Biblical Literature 79 (1960): 33.
  • [3] M. H. Segal, A Grammar of Mishnaic Hebrew (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1927), 14-15.
  • [4] Brad H. Young, Jesus and His Jewish Parables (Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 1989), 145.
  • [5] James Kugel and Rowan Greer, Early Biblical Interpretation (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1986), 115.
  • [6] Robert L. Lindsey, Jesus, Rabbi and Lord: A Lifetime’s Search for the Meaning of Jesus’ Words.

“He Shall Be Called a Nazarene”

One of the titles given to Jesus was “Nazarene.” Where did the title come from, and did it have any special significance? Ray Pritz traces the title’s origins.

The title “Nazarene” may have derived from the town of Nazareth where Jesus grew up, but this is not at all certain. Nazareth is never mentioned in rabbinic literature nor in any other writing outside the New Testament before its mention by the Hebrew poets of the seventh or eighth century. Its first post-New Testament appearance came with the discovery of an inscription listing the twenty-four priestly courses. This inscription, found in the summer of 1962 in a synagogue in Caesarea, has been dated to the third or fourth century.[1] The spelling of the name in the inscription is נצרת (natsrat), the same as in the much later Hebrew poets.

Two Problems

The New Testament starting point for investigating the title Nazarene must be Matthew 2:23: “[Joseph] came and resided in a city called Nazareth so that what had been spoken through the prophets might be fulfilled: ‘He shall be called a Nazarene.'”

This was one of the most difficult verses faced by the editorial committee of the annotated edition of the United Bible Societies’ Modern Hebrew New Testament. The main problem is that nowhere in the extant body of Scripture do we find the statement which Matthew seems to quote from the Prophets.

Which Prophecy?

Matthew uses the Greek word Ναζωραῖος (Nazoraios) for the title by which Jesus will be called according to “the prophets.” This most likely represents the Hebrew word נוֹצְרִי (notsri), a name by which Jesus is called several times in the Talmud.[2] The name נוֹצְרִים (notsrim, plural of notsri), referring to believers in Jesus, also occurs in the Talmud.[3] Many of these passages were removed by censors and can be found today only in collections of expunged passages taken from earlier manuscripts of the Talmud.

The Hebrew word notsri occurs six times in the Hebrew Bible.[4] In all cases it carries the sense of preserving or keeping. Some translations render the word in Jeremiah 4:16 as “enemies” or something similar (New American Standard Bible, Good News Bible, New International Version). However, other translations are consistent with the other references and speak of “watchers” (The Holy Scriptures [Jewish Publication Society of America], Luther’s sixteenth-century German translation, the Latin Vulgate). None of the other Gospels provides a parallel to Matthew’s statement, which comes at the end of his infancy narrative.

After fleeing to Egypt to escape Herod’s slaughter of the children in the area of Bethlehem, Joseph has been told it is safe to return to the land of Israel. However, since Herod’s son Archelaus is ruling in Judea, Joseph, Jesus and Mary do not return there but continue on north to Galilee, which had been given as a tetrarchy to another of Herod’s sons, Antipas. This move to Nazareth prompts Matthew to comment on the fulfillment of prophecy.

Fulfilled Prophecy

Such an emphasis on fulfilled prophecy is peculiar to Matthew, occurring over a dozen times in his Gospel, and in fact he had already used the formula four times previous to 2:23.[5] We get an idea of Matthew’s methods if we note that in all of the four quotations before this one he either mentioned a prophet by name or said “the prophet” (singular) in connection with a quotation which can be easily found almost exactly as quoted.

This pattern holds true for all other such quotes in Matthew, with three exceptions. One is in 26:56 where he also cites “the prophets”; the second is in 27:9 and 10, where he credits Jeremiah as the source for a statement which is found primarily in Zechariah; and the third is here in 2:23. A candidate for the source of Matthew’s quote should be clearly connected to a known prophecy or, to use Matthew’s phrase, “the prophets,” and it should have an evident link with Nazareth.


One possible source is Judges 13:5, where the angel of the LORD tells the wife of Manoah that her son, Samson, will be a Nazirite.

This potential solution has two serious problems besides the fact that it is not a prophecy in the sense in which Matthew normally uses the word. First of all, as far as we know Jesus was not a Nazirite. Indeed, he said of himself: “The Son of Man has come eating and drinking and you say, ‘Behold, a gluttonous man and a drunkard’” (Luke 7:34).

The other difficulty is that the Hebrew root for Nazirite, נזר (n-z-r) is not the same as that for Nazareth: נצר (n-ts-r). The similarity of the two words is only superficial. English versions of the Bible use only one letter (z) to express the two Hebrew letters: ז, the “z” sound, and צ, the “ts” sound. Greek generally uses the letter ζ (zeta) to represent the Hebrew ז (as it does in Judges 13:5) and the letter σ (sigma) for צ. However there are also instances of צ being transliterated as zeta.[6]


The challenge is to find a scriptural prophecy or prophetic idea which yet maintains a connection with the town of Nazareth. One long-standing candidate has been Isaiah 11:1 which says, “A shoot will come forth from the stem of Jesse, and a branch from his roots will bear fruit.” The word for “branch” is נֵצֶר (netser), which contains the same three consonants that form the root of the name Nazareth.

When we look in the Targum at the Aramaic translation of this verse, we see that the verse was interpreted messianically: “There shall come forth a king from the sons of Jesse, and a Messiah will grow from the sons of his sons.” The Targum goes on to read the Messiah into verses 6 and 10. The first ten verses of this chapter of Isaiah were almost always interpreted in Jewish midrashic literature as referring to the Messiah.[7] One interesting baraita[8] shows disciples of Jesus using Isaiah 11:1 in arguing with the rabbis about the messiahship of Jesus.

An attractive feature of Isaiah 11:1 as the source for Matthew’s statement is that not only is the verse itself messianic, but it also can be connected to a broader messianic context. The idea of the Messiah as a branch is found elsewhere in the prophets, although using other words than netser for branch. So, for example, Isaiah 53:2 speaks of a יוֹנֵק (yonek, tender shoot) and a שֹׁרֶשׁ (shoresh, root) out of dry ground. In Jeremiah 23:5 we read: “Behold days are coming, says the LORD, when I will raise up a righteous צֶמַח (tsemakh, plant) for David, and a king will reign and will bring about justice and salvation in the land.” Tsemakh is also used of a messianic figure in Jeremiah 33:15 and Zechariah 3:8 (“my servant, the Branch”) and 6:12.

When Matthew says that in going to Nazareth, Jesus was fulfilling something spoken by “the prophets,” perhaps he intended to point to the one idea which most unifies the biblical prophets, the idea of the Messiah.[9] Here, then, we have a solution to the puzzle of Matthew 2:23, which connects with “the prophets” while still linking to one prophetic verse that bears an etymological tie to the name of the town where Jesus went to live.

  • [1] Michael Avi-Yonah, “An Inscription from Caesarea about the Twenty-four Priestly Courses,” Eretz-Israel 7 (1964): 24-28 (Hebrew).
  • [2] Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 43a, 103a, 107b; Sotah 47a; Avodah Zarah 16b, 17a.
  • [3] Babylonian Talmud, Avodah Zarah 6a and Ta’anit 27b.
  • [4] 2 Kings 17:9; 18:8; Ps. 25:10; 119:2; Jer. 4:16; 31:6.
  • [5] Matt 1:22-23; 2:5-6, 15, 17-18.
  • [6] See G. F. Moore in Jackson-Lake, The Beginnings of Christianity, The Acts of the Apostles (repr. Grand Rapids, MI, 1979), 1:427; and F. C. Burkitt, Syriac Forms of New Testament Proper Names (London, 1912), 28-30.
  • [7] Lamentations Rabbah 1:51; Tanhuma, Vayekhi 10, 110; Genesis Rabbah 3:4, 97:9, 99:8; Ruth Rabbah 7:2; Song of Songs Rabbah VI, 10, 6; Shokher Tov 21, 72.
  • [8] Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 43a. The term baraita refers to any of the halachot or sayings not included in the Mishnah of Rabbi Yehudah ha-Nasi, that is, sayings that predate 230 A.D.
  • [9] See Acts 3:24; Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 99a.

Book Review: Michael Sokoloff’s A Dictionary of Jewish Palestinian Aramaic of the Byzantine Period

From the third to the seventh century A.D., the Jews of Palestine used Aramaic as their primary spoken and written language. This dialect has been of considerable interest to Christian scholars, and some have argued that it is the closest dialect to the Aramaic which Jesus would have spoken.

Dictionary of Jewish Palestinian AramaicHebrew was used in the first century both in a colloquial form, close to what is found in the Mishnah, as well as in a literary form, close to what is found in the Hebrew documents discovered at Qumran. There is some evidence to suggest that Aramaic was also used with two different “registers,” a literary dialect and a colloquial dialect. The colloquial Aramaic dialect is probably best represented in the Jewish Palestinian Aramaic (JPA) of the Palestinian Talmud and Midrashic stories. Whether Jesus taught mainly in Hebrew or in Aramaic, the dialect of Jewish Palestinian Aramaic recorded in post-Mishnaic sources is a major cultural and linguistic storehouse for our knowledge of New Testament times.

Professor Sokoloff’s A Dictionary of Jewish Palestinian Aramaic of the Byzantine Period limits itself to the best and most reliable sources of JPA, and thus has excluded Targums Onkelos, Jonathan and Pseudo-Jonathan. Sokoloff felt it would be better to rely only on definite Palestinian Targums like Targum Neofiti and the fragmentary Jerusalem Targums. Along with these, the base texts for the dictionary include some inscriptions from the period, the Amoraic haggadic midrashim, the Palestinian Talmud, all known poetry from the period, amulet-charm texts and marriage documents. For each document that is included in the corpus of JPA, Sokoloff bases all his research and his working concordance on the best manuscripts rather than the printed editions. This alone makes his dictionary a must for any Aramaic scholar.

The previous standard dictionary was by Marcus Jastrow,[1] who grouped Mishnaic Hebrew and three separate dialects of Aramaic into the same dictionary. Very often a scholar using this dictionary would not know if a particular word or meaning was found in specifically Palestinian Aramaic. If the word is not listed in Sokoloff’s dictionary, it is not attested in the best sources for JPA.

The individual word entries are alphabetical for nouns and alphabetical by root for verbs. Vowel points are added only when there is textual support for them, which usually means words from some of the Palestinian Targum manuscripts. A simple English gloss is given at the beginning of each entry. Cognate words from Samaritan Aramaic and Christian Palestinian Aramaic are cited. Syriac forms with vowels are cited from Carl Brockelmann’s Syrische Grammatik, though not exhaustively, and other Semitic cognates are more randomly cited. Greek loan words are also cited. Many citations are given with some context to help the user see the words and concepts with which the particular entry is used. Contextualized English translations for Aramaic citations are given.

Sokoloff states in his introduction: “For the rare lexemes, all the references are usually quoted, except when the word appears repeatedly in a stereotyped usage.” This means the dictionary goes a long way toward being a concordance. There is also an index of 223 pages listing all the citations of the dictionary entries in the order of source text. A person reading one of these texts can immediately know which words have a citation in the dictionary and under which spelling.

All in all, this is a magnificent new tool for anyone interested in Jewish Palestinian Aramaic.

  • [1] Marcus Jastrow, A Dictionary of the Targumim, the Talmud Babli and Yerushalmi, and the Midrashic Literature (New York: Putnam, 1903).

The Queen of Teman

Revised: 15-Aug.-2016

According to the Greek texts of Matthew 12:42 and Luke 11:31, Jesus used the expression “queen of south.” This is clearly a reference to מַלְכַּת שְׁבָא (malkat shevā’, “the Queen of Sheba”), who paid a visit to King Solomon (1 Kgs. 10:1-13).

The queen of “south” will stand up at the judgment with the men of this generation and condemn them; for she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon, and behold, a greater than Solomon is here. (Matt. 12:42; Luke 11:31)

Jesus’ substitute, “queen of south,” raises several questions. First, why didn’t Jesus use “Queen of Sheba,” which is found in the Bible, and second, why is there no definite article before “south” (i. e., queen of the south)? More importantly, how can “south” be an equivalent for “Sheba”?

Synonyms for South

Biblical Hebrew has three synonyms for south: תֵּימָן (tēmān), נֶגֶב (negev) and דָּרוֹם (dārōm).

Negev, the dry region in the southern part of the land of Israel, always appears with the article ha (the) in Hebrew, that is, הַנֶּגֶב (hanegev, “the Negev”). One would not expect it to be behind the article-less south in Matthew 12:42 and Luke 11:31 in the Greek expression βασίλισσα νότου (basilissa notou, “queen of south”). The Hebrew word dārōm never appears in the Bible as a place name.

However, tēmān, besides functioning as one of the words for south, is the name of a city or district in Edom (cf. Amos 1:12, and Gen. 36:34, which mentions a king of Edom who was from the land of the Temanites).

Jesus probably was not referring to the biblical Teman located in Edom, but rather to the classic “south land” of his day. This was the southwestern corner of the Arabian peninsula.

Eastern Orientation

Admittedly, if this is how Jesus used tēmān, it would be the earliest instance of the name Teman for southwest Arabia. However, a similar linguistic development later occurred in Arabic, and today this corner of the Arabian peninsula is called Yemen, from the same Semitic root, ימן (y-m-n), as Teman. Teman is derived from יָמִין (yāmin, “right”), the right side of a man who is facing east.

The reason south is related to right in Hebrew is because the Israelite’s orientation was facing the direction of the rising sun. Therefore, the east was before him, the Mediterranean Sea behind him and the south to his right.

Consequently, the Hebrew synonyms for “east” are related etymologically to the words for “before” or “rising of the sun,” the synonyms for “west” are related to “sea” or “evening,” one of the synonyms for “north” is the word “left,” and one of the synonyms for “south” is from the same root as “right.”

Kingdom of Sheba

In the first century, the ancient kingdom of Sheba no longer existed and there was some speculation about its identification. Jesus identified Sheba with Teman, and his identification appears accurate since Sheba seems to have been located in that same corner of the Arabian peninsula.

Queen of Sheba before Solomon by Nicolaus Knupfer. Holland, 1640s.

Why didn’t Jesus simply refer to this famous queen as she is referred to in the Bible: the queen of Sheba? Probably because, like a typical first-century Jewish sage, Jesus continually interpreted and clarified Scripture. Because the location of the ancient kingdom of Sheba was no longer known, Jesus identified it for his audience. When he mentioned the queen of Sheba, he automatically replaced Sheba with Teman.

The Construct State

The Greek version of Jesus’ statement contains no article before the word βασίλισσα (basilissa, “queen”). In Greek the article normally would not be dropped before the first word in a possessive phrase such as this. However, it often is absent in that location in works such as the Septuagint, which are translations from Hebrew. That the Greek version of this statement is a translation of a Hebrew original may be the best explanation for the absence of the article before “queen.”

There also is no article before νότου (notou, “of south”). In Hebrew it is normal to express possession by linking two nouns in what is called the construct state. The first word, the object that is possessed, is tied to the second word, the possessor, without the connecting word “of.”

If the second word is definite, the article is added to indicate that it is definite. If the second word is a proper name, no article is needed since proper names are by definition definite. Just as in English, one does not say “Queen of the Sheba,” but “Queen of Sheba.”

Thus, the most likely explanation for the missing definite articles is that behind the phrase “queen of south” is a two-noun Hebrew expression of possession, the second of the nouns being a proper name.

Only in Hebrew

In his article, “Hebrew as the Spoken and Written Language in the Last Days of the Second Temple” (Journal of Biblical Literature 79 [1960]: 32-47), Jerusalem scholar Jehoshua M. Grintz noted that “neither in Greek nor in Aramaic could the term for ‘south’ be used as an equivalent of Sheba. It is only in Hebrew that the archaic biblical name for south, ארץ-תימן [(’eretz-) tēmān, “(land-) Teman”], acquired in time this specific meaning…. In Jewish Aramaic…this word does not exist at all.”

For those who assume a Semitic (Aramaic or Hebrew) source for the story of Jesus, this example argues for Hebrew. The Greek translator apparently rendered a Hebrew word for south, תֵּימָן (tēmān), literally, rather than treating it more dynamically as a proper name: “Teman.”

My thanks to Aramaic specialist Charles Meehan for his help in preparing this article.

The Syndicated Donkey

Revised: 31-Oct-2012

Randall Buth may have discovered an idiom in the Greek text of Luke that could help us determine the original language of Jesus’ biography. In Luke 19:33, did the donkey that Jesus rode into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday have more that one owner as the Greek text states?

As Jesus approached Jerusalem for the last time, he and his large band of Galilean disciples climbed the steep eastern slopes of the Mount of Olives. Near Bethany (בית עניה), he sent two of his disciples to a nearby village, presumably Bethphage (בית פגי), with instructions to bring him a previously unridden donkey colt, which they would find tethered at the entrance of the village.

His disciples did as they were asked, but as they were untying the donkey, according to Luke 19:33, its “owners” (not “owner”!) said, “Why are you untying the colt?”

A Usage Without Precedent

All English translations of the New Testament, with the exception of The Jerusalem Bible, give “owners” at this point in the text. But why would this young donkey have had more than one owner, a thing that was unusual in ancient Jewish society? Was this a special donkey, so valuable that it had to be syndicated as many racehorses are today, or owned in partnership as a business investment?

Commentators generally have understood the plural “owners” to mean “the owner and those with him” (ICC), or “its master and mistress, expressed merely as the plural” (Anchor Bible). However, there is no ancient precedent for this understanding. There are examples of two or more animals being owned by one man, but no substantial evidence of one animal being owned by several men.

Jesus was staying at the home of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus in Bethany when he sent two disciples to Bethphage to secure a donkey for his entrance into Jerusalem. Today two churches are located in the heart of ancient Bethany. Photograph by Todd Bolen. Photo © BiblePlaces.com

A Possible Solution

Randall Buth may have provided a solution to this puzzle. He pointed out in his article, “Luke 19:31-34, Mishnaic Hebrew and Bible Translation: Is κύριοι τοῦ πώλου [kurioi tou polou] Singular?” (Journal of Biblical Literature 104 [1985]: 680-685), that in Hebrew בְּעָלִים (be’alim; “masters, lords, owners”), the plural of בַּעַל (baal; “master, lord, owner”), often is used in a singular sense.

The classic example of this usage is found in Exodus 21:29 in connection with the laws pertaining to a goring ox:

If, however, that ox has been in the habit of goring and its owner [literally, “owners”], though warned, has not kept it penned up [singular form of the verb] and it kills a man or woman, the ox must be stoned and its owner [literally, “owners”] also must be put to death [singular form of the verb].

Twice in this passage, the plural noun בְּעָלִים (be’alim; “owners”) appears with a singular verb, indicating that the noun is in fact used in a singular sense.

Singular Idiom

The same idiomatic use of this plural noun in a singular sense is found in Mishnaic Hebrew, except that the accompanying verb is usually in the plural. Ancient Greek and Aramaic translations of Scripture such as the Septuagint and the Targums render the idiomatic plural noun, “owners,” as “owner.” This suggests that the idiom was foreign to Greek and Aramaic.

In fact, this idiom does not exist in Greek or Aramaic. It is unattested in Greek literature and Jerusalem scholar and Aramaic specialist, Professor Michael Sokoloff, has confirmed that this idiom does not exist in any early Palestinian Aramaic text.

More Accurate Translation

Buth may have discovered a significant indicator, which may aid us in determining the language in which Jesus’ biography was originally written. Because Hebrew and Aramaic are so similar in their idioms, it is seldom that one can find in the texts of the Gospels a Hebrew idiom that is not also an Aramaic idiom. The be’alim (= “owner”) idiom, however, seems to be unique to Hebrew. It is all the more significant because it is found neither in the Septuagint nor in Greek literature in general.

As Buth has suggested in his article, if we assume a Hebraism behind the rather surprising plural, then the story reads more naturally. The owner, not “owners,” asked the two disciples, “Why are you untying the colt?”

This Hebrew idiom, sheltered in the Greek of Luke’s Gospel, is another example showing how translating the Gospel texts into Hebrew makes it possible to achieve a more accurate translation.

A donkey grazes in a field of Bethphage, a town situated on the road from Bethany to Jerusalem. Photograph by Todd Bolen. Photo © BiblePlaces.com