Thursday, January 12, 2012

Mark: The shortest but most detailed Gospel

The Gospel according to St. Mark will be read in the Church throughout Ordinary Time this year, hence we will benefit from a brief consideration of certain points relative to this book.
Having already discussed the petrine authority of this Gospel (since St. Mark wrote what he learned from St. Peter [see our earlier article here]), we now turn to the amazing degree of detail contained in this book.
While the Gospel of St. Mark can easily be read within two hours (it is by far the shortest Gospel), surprisingly it contains far more details than do the other synoptic Gospels.

Unique miracles
 There are only two miracles related only by St. Mark: The healing of the deaf and dumb man of Tyre (cf. Mark 7:31-37) and the healing of the blind man of Bethsaida (cf. Mark 8:22-26). Neither of these miracles are present in the other Gospels, and so there is nothing to which we may compare St. Mark’s attention to detail. Still, these miracles are a good sample of the general style of St. Mark who is focused so much on the details.
[31] And again going out of the coasts of Tyre, he came by Sidon to the sea of Galilee, through the midst of the coasts of Decapolis. [32] And they bring to him one deaf and dumb; and they besought him that he would lay his hand upon him. [33] And taking him from the multitude apart, he put his fingers into his ears, and spitting, he touched his tongue: [34] And looking up to heaven, he groaned, and said to him: Ephpheta, which is, Be thou opened. [35] And immediately his ears were opened, and the string of his tongue was loosed, and he spoke right. (Mark 7:31-35)
Notice the focus on place (vs. 31), and on touch (vs. 33), and also the use of Aramaic (vs. 34, Ephpheta). This kind of detail is not often found in the other Gospels, but is common to Mark.
The details of touch, person, place, time and numbers
That this attention to detail is particular to St. Mark will be seen more clearly when we compare a single story as it is related in the three synoptic Gospels. We will take, as a nice sample, the healing of Jairus’ daughter (which is interspersed with the healing of the hemorrhaging woman).
First, notice that St. Mark relates this miracle in 5:22-43 (22 verses), while St. Matthew does so in 9:18-26 (9 verses), and St. Luke in 8:41-56 (16 verses) – St. Mark’s account is considerably longer than that given by the other Evangelists, and this is common to most parallels between Mark and the others.
Below we reproduce a parallel of the healing of Jairus’ daughter (setting aside the case of the woman with a hemorrhage).
Mark 5
Matthew 9
Luke 8
[22] And there cometh one of the rulers of the synagogue named Jairus: and seeing him, falleth down at his feet.
[23] And he besought him much, saying: My daughter is at the point of death, come, lay thy hand upon her, that she may be safe, and may live.
[24] And he went with him, and a great multitude followed him, and they thronged him.

[35] While he was yet speaking, some come from the ruler of the synagogue's house, saying: Thy daughter is dead: why dost thou trouble the master any further?
[36] But Jesus having heard the word that was spoken, saith to the ruler of the synagogue: Fear not, only believe.
[37] And he admitted not any man to follow him, but Peter, and James, and John the brother of James.
[38] And they come to the house of the ruler of the synagogue; and he seeth a tumult, and people weeping and wailing much.
[39] And going in, he saith to them: Why make you this ado, and weep? the damsel is not dead, but sleepeth.
[40] And they laughed him to scorn. But he having put them all out, taketh the father and the mother of the damsel, and them that were with him, and entereth in where the damsel was lying.
[41] And taking the damsel by the hand, he saith to her: Talitha cumi, which is, being interpreted: Damsel (I say to thee) arise.
[42] And immediately the damsel rose up, and walked: and she was twelve years old: and they were astonished with a great astonishment.
[43] And he charged them strictly that no man should know it: and commanded that something should be given her to eat.
[18] As he was speaking these things unto them, behold a certain ruler came up, and adored him, saying: Lord, my daughter is even now dead; but come, lay thy hand upon her, and she shall live.

[19] And Jesus rising up followed him, with his disciples.


[23] And when Jesus was come into the house of the ruler, and saw the minstrels and the multitude making a rout,
[24] He said: Give place, for the girl is not dead, but sleepeth. And they laughed him to scorn.

[25] And when the multitude was put forth, he went in, and took her by the hand. And the maid arose.

[26] And the fame hereof went abroad into all that country.
[41] And behold there came a man whose name was Jairus, and he was a ruler of the synagogue: and he fell down at the feet of Jesus, beseeching him that he would come into his house:
[42] For he had an only daughter, almost twelve years old, and she was dying. And it happened as he went, that he was thronged by the multitudes.

[49] As he was yet speaking, there cometh one to the ruler of the synagogue, saying to him: Thy daughter is dead, trouble him not.

[50] And Jesus hearing this word, answered the father of the maid: Fear not; believe only, and she shall be safe.
[51] And when he was come to the house, he suffered not any man to go in with him, but Peter and James and John, and the father and mother of the maiden.

[52] And all wept and mourned for her. But he said: Weep not; the maid is not dead, but sleepeth.

[53] And they laughed him to scorn, knowing that she was dead.

[54] But he taking her by the hand, cried out, saying: Maid, arise.

[55] And her spirit returned, and she arose immediately. And he bid them give her to eat.

[56] And her parents were astonished, whom he charged to tell no man what was done.

From this table, we can easily see the greater detail present in St. Mark’s Gospel. To name a few points present in Mark but left out in Matthew: The name of Jairus, the interjection by a servant with the news that the girl had died (Matthew reports this from the beginning), the discussion of how Jesus put everyone out of the house excepting the mother and father and his three disciples, Jesus’ words to the little girl (Damsel, arise), the age of the girl, and the fact that Jesus bid that she be brought food.
Compared with St. Luke, St. Mark gives a more detailed account of the words of Christ – almost every time that our Savior is quoted, St. Mark’s account is longer and more detailed. Further, St. Mark quotes our Savior’s words in Aramaic Talitha cumi, whereas St. Luke only gives the Greek translation. Likewise, at the beginning of the passage, where St. Mark gives the very words of Jarius, St. Luke only summarizes what was said.
The use of Aramaic
Beyond the great focus on details, especially details of touch, St. Mark’s Gospel is peculiar for offering original Aramaic words and phrases.
Only St. Mark relates the words Talitha cumi (“Damsel, arise” [5:41]), and Ephpheta (“Be thou opened” [7:34]). Further, it is only in this Gospel that we hear the Aramaic word Abba (“Father” [14:36]). These are the very words, in Aramaic, which Jesus himself spoke – and only St. Mark gives such detail.
Likewise, the word corban (in the dispute with the Pharisees over care for one’s parents [Mark 7:11]) is found only in Mark – though, St. Matthew uses a similar word corbona referring to the treasury of the Temple [Matthew 27:6]. Further, there are several proper Aramaic names found only in Mark: Bartimaeus [10:46], Boanerges [3:17].
Finally, it is likely that St. Mark’s account of Christ’s words on the Cross, Eloi, Eloi, lamma sabachtani? [15:34] are more authentically Aramaic than St. Matthew’s rendering Eli, Eli (which could be more Hebraic) [27:46].
Additionally, it is surprising to note that St. Mark uses a good number of Latin words: speculator, sextarius, centurion, legion, quadrans, praetorium, caesar, census, flagello, modius, denarius. Though some of these are used also in other Gospels, St. Mark is peculiar in that he uses Latin more often than the others.
This indicates an eye-witness source: St. Peter
Given this particular focus on detail and the extraordinary use of Aramaic words and phrases, it seems very likely that St. Mark’s Gospel is based on eye-witness testimony. The Fathers, Doctors, saints, and theologians of the Church have consistently affirmed that this source is St. Peter, since there is no tradition that St. Mark was an eye-witness to these events.


A Sinner said...

I recently saw an article seeking to synthesize the various inter-textual relationships between the synoptic gospels with the tradition of the Church and what we know about its early history.

It basically suggested that Matthew was written first to serve as the common text for all the Apostles during the "Jerusalem" phase. That when Paul came along, Luke researched a new Gospel for the Gentiles (taking Matthew's structure/outline or order as his starting point, but adding new material as well).

However, because this could have caused conflict, Paul and Luke first sought Peter's approval of the new text, so Peter gave a series of discourses at Rome in order to "confirm" (by eyewitness Apostolic authority) the events in Luke's new text (at least, the ones he was around for), but with constant reference to the Matthew that Peter and the early church were familiar with, and that the "transcript" of these discourses was published and became Mark (and, in fact, were publicized before Luke's text as a sort of "bridge" authorizing it as acceptable alongside Matthew). Of course, St. Peter added his own unique details that he remembered in the process.

This theory gets rid of the idea of "Q" and all that.

Marco da Vinha said...

@A Sinner: That article was recently linked to here, on this blog, in relation to the previous discussion on the Gospel according to St. Mark. Just bringing you up to speed, in any case ;-)

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