Presumptions of reader knowledge in Mark.

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Ben C. Smith
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Presumptions of reader knowledge in Mark.

Post by Ben C. Smith » Tue Jan 16, 2018 12:09 pm

There are several junctures in the gospel of Mark at which the author/editor seems to presume previous knowledge, on the part of the reader, of significant parts of the overall storyline.

1. The imprisonment of John.

Mark 1.14-15: 14 Now after John had been delivered over [μετὰ δὲ τὸ παραδοθῆναι τὸν Ἰωάννην], Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, 15 and saying, "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel."

While John himself has been introduced (in 1.2-6), nothing has been said which would imply that he was going to be imprisoned. Therefore, this notice seems to presume readers will already know about John's imprisonment, in much the same way that John seems to presume that his readers will know about it:

John 3.23-24: 23 John also was baptizing in Aenon near Salim, because there was much water there; and people were coming and were being baptized — 24 for John had not yet been thrown into prison.

(ETA: John 1.15 is similar insofar as John the Baptist is claiming to have preached something which the gospel of John itself has not narrated; but the synoptic gospels do.)

Naturally, readers of John may well have known of this fact from previous gospels, but the notice in Mark 1.14-15 suggests that readers of Mark, as well, are expected to have known it. The notice itself is of the kind found frequently in the Hebrew scriptures whereby the narrative or oracle at hand is dated with reference to a well known event:

Jeremiah 24.1: 1 After Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon had carried away captive Jeconiah the son of Jehoiakim, king of Judah, and the officials of Judah with the craftsmen and smiths from Jerusalem and had brought them to Babylon, Yahweh showed me: behold, two baskets of figs set before the temple of Yahweh! [This is the first mention of Jeconiah in the book of Jeremiah.]

Baruch 1.1-2, 8-9: 1 These are the words of the book which Baruch the son of Neraiah, son of Mahseiah, son of Zedekiah, son of Hasadiah, son of Hilkiah, wrote in Babylon, 2 in the fifth year, on the seventh day of the month, at the time when the Chaldeans took Jerusalem and burned it with fire. .... 8 At the same time, on the tenth day of Sivan, Baruch took the vessels of the house of the Lord, which had been carried away from the temple, to return them to the land of Judah -- the silver vessels which Zedekiah the son of Josiah, king of Judah, had made, 9 after Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon had carried [μετὰ τὸ ἀποικίσαι Ναβουχοδονοσορ βασιλέα Βαβυλῶνος] away from Jerusalem Jeconiah and the princes and the prisoners and the mighty men and the people of the land, and brought them to Babylon.

Lamentations 1.1 LXX: 1 And it came to pass, after Israel was taken captive [μετὰ τὸ αἰχμαλωτισθῆναι τὸν Ισραηλ], and Jerusalem made desolate, that Jeremiah sat weeping, and lamented with this lamentation over Jerusalem, and said, "How does the city that was filled with people sit solitary! She is become as a widow: she that was magnified among the nations, and princess among the provinces, has become tributary."

1 Maccabees 1.1: 1 And Alexander, son of Philip the Macedonian, who came from the land of Kittim, after he had smitten [μετὰ τὸ πατάξαι] Darius, king of the Persians and the Medes, succeeded him as king. (He had previously become king of Greece.)

Likewise, for readers of Mark, the imprisonment of John seems to have been a known event.

2. Simon Peter.

Mark 1.16 seems to presume that readers will already know who Simon is. Unlike most characters in the gospel, Simon is given no introduction by nickname, patronymic, or any of the usual manners; and his brother, Andrew, is identified by his relationship to Simon. Refer to my post on named characters in Mark for more information: viewtopic.php?f=3&t=2551.

3. The son of man.

The gospel of Mark uses the title "son of man" in a way which seems to expect its readers already to know what it means. Mark 2.10 and 2.28 may be using the phrase "son of man" to mean "human," which is one of its main functions as a Semitic idiom. But in Mark 8.31 it means something more, and this "something more," as a title for Jesus, is never really explained, leaving modern scholars to write entire monographs on the topic.

4. The disciples of John.

Mark gives the reader no early indication that John might have disciples. His description of the prophet is as a loner in the desert: surrounded by crowds, to be sure, but not calling them to himself or instructing them as a mentor instructs pupils. So that John has disciples comes a bit abruptly:

Mark 2.18: 18 John's disciples and the Pharisees were fasting; and they come and say to Him, "Why do John's disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees fast, but Your disciples do not fast?"

To be fair, however, all groups in Mark seem to be introduced abruptly: "the scribes" (1.22), "the scribes of the Pharisees" (thus introducing the Pharisees themselves, as well, 2.16), and the Herodians (3.6). So the introduction of groups may not follow the pattern of introducing individual characters.

ETA: Stefan points out that the Sadducees are actually a group which Mark gives something of an introduction for. I missed that.

5. The betrayal by Judas.

In the list of disciples, long before Judas has betrayed his Lord, Mark already mentions that betrayal:

Mark 3.16-19: 16 And He appointed the twelve; and to Simon he gave the name Peter, 17 and James, the son of Zebedee, and John the brother of James (to them He gave the name Boanerges, which means, "sons of thunder"); 18 and Andrew, and Philip, and Bartholomew, and Matthew, and Thomas, and James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus, and Simon the Zealot; 19 and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed Him.

This is very similar to how John introduces Mary, even before she has anointed Jesus:

John 11.1-2: 1 Now a certain man was sick, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. 2 It was the Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment, and wiped His feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was sick.

This anointing will not take place until a chapter later, in 12.1-11. It is as if John expects his readers to already know this story (from earlier gospels, at least), and he is merely pointing out that this is that Mary.

Similarly, it is as if Mark expects his readers to already know the story of the betrayal by Judas, and he is merely pointing out that this is that Judas.

Compare also how Genesis 36.9 mentions the Edomites, descendants of Esau, long before any point in the narrative where Edomites should exist yet. It is as if the author is pointing out that this is the Esau who was the ancestor of those people, the Edomites, whom the readers are expected to know. Or compare how Josephus points out in Antiquities 1.13.2 §226 that the mountain upon which Abraham had been going to sacrifice Isaac was the same mountain upon which the Temple was later built. Despite being yet seven books away from describing the building of the first Temple, Josephus takes the time to connect Abraham's action (within narrative time) to something with which his Roman readership would already be familiar (without narrative time): the Temple Mount. (Josephus does not seem to expect his readers to know the exact history of the Temple, but he does expect them to know what the Temple is.)

6. Pilate.

Pilate, like Simon Peter, is one of the characters in Mark who needs no introduction: viewtopic.php?f=3&t=2551. He comes in unannounced:

Mark 15.1: 1 Early in the morning the chief priests with the elders and scribes and the whole Council, immediately held a consultation; and binding Jesus, they led Him away and delivered Him to Pilate.

Luke 3.1 and Matthew 27.2, on the contrary, give Pilate a proper introduction into the narrative. But Mark is hardly the only Christian who thinks he requires none. Many other Christian statements, especially some of a somewhat credal nature, also speak of Pilate as a known entity:

John 18.29: 29 Pilate therefore went out to them, and said, "What accusation do you bring against this Man?"

1 Timothy 6.13-16: 13 I charge you in the presence of God, who gives life to all things, and of Christ Jesus, who testified the good confession before Pontius Pilate, 14 that you keep the commandment without stain or reproach until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, 15 which He will bring about at the proper time, He who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords; 16 who alone possesses immortality and dwells in unapproachable light; whom no man has seen or can see. To Him be honor and eternal dominion! Amen.

Ignatius to the Magnesians 11.1: 1 These things I address to you, my beloved, not that I know any of you to be in such a state; but, as less than any of you, I desire to guard you beforehand, that ye fall not upon the hooks of vain doctrine, but that ye attain to full assurance in regard to the birth, and passion, and resurrection which took place in the time of the government of Pontius Pilate, being truly and certainly accomplished by Jesus Christ, who is our hope, from which may no one of you ever be turned aside.

Ignatius to the Trallians 9.1: 1 Stop your ears, therefore, when any one speaks to you at variance with Jesus Christ, who was descended from David, and was also of Mary; who was truly born, and did eat and drink. He was truly persecuted under Pontius Pilate; He was truly crucified, and truly died, in the sight of beings in heaven, and on earth, and under the earth.

Ignatius to the Smyrnaeans 1.2: 2 ...and was truly, under Pontius Pilate and Herod the tetrarch, nailed to the cross for us in His flesh. Of this fruit we are by His divinely-blessed passion, that He might set up a standard for all ages, through His resurrection, to all His holy and faithful followers, whether among Jews or Gentiles, in the one body of His Church.

Old Roman Symbol: Credo in deum patrem omnipotentem; et in Christum Iesum filium eius unicum, dominum nostrum, qui natus est de Spiritu sancto ex Maria virgine, qui sub Pontio Pilato crucifixus est et sepultus, tertia die resurrexit a mortuis, ascendit in caelos, sedet ad dexteram patris, unde venturus est iudicare vivos et mortuos; et in Spiritum sanctum, sanctam ecclesiam, remissionem peccatorum, carnis resurrectionem. / Πιστεύω οὖν εἰς θεòν πατέρα παντοκράτορα· καὶ εἰς Χριστὸν Ἰησοῦν, τὸν υἱὸν αὐτοῦ τὸν μονογενῆ, τὸν κύριον ἡμῶν, τὸν γεννηθέντα ἐκ πνεύματος ἁγίου καὶ Μαρίας τῆς παρθένου, τὸν ἐπὶ Ποντίου Πιλάτου σταυρωθέντα καὶ ταφέντα καὶ τῇ τρίτῃ ἡμέρα ἀναστάντα ἐκ τῶν νεκρῶν, ἀναβάντα εἰς τοὺς οὐρανούς καὶ καθήμενον ἐν δεξιᾳ τοῦ πατρός, ὅθεν ἔρχεται κρίνειν ζῶντας καὶ νεκρούς· καὶ εἰς τò ἅγιον πνεῦμα, ἁγίαν ἐκκλησίαν, ἄφεσιν ἁμαρτιῶν, σαρκὸς ἀνάστασιν, ζωὴν αἰώνιον. / I believe in God the Father almighty; and in Christ Jesus His only Son, our Lord, Who was born from the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary, Who under Pontius Pilate was crucified and buried, on the third day rose again from the dead, ascended to heaven, sits at the right hand of the Father, whence He will come to judge the living and the dead; and in the Holy Spirit, the holy Church, the remission of sins, the resurrection of the flesh (the life everlasting).

Apostles' Creed: I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth. I believe in Jesus Christ, God's only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried; he descended to the dead. On the third day he rose again; he ascended into heaven, he is seated at the right hand of the Father, and he will come to judge the living and the dead. I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen.

In Against Heresies 2.32.4 Irenaeus writes of the church receiving gifts from God "in the name of Jesus Christ, who was crucified under Pontius Pilate." In Against Heresies 3.4.2 he writes of Jesus having been "born of the virgin," having united man to God, and having "suffered under Pontius Pilate." In Against Heresies 3.12.9 he writes that the revelation which Paul received was of the one "who suffered under Pontius Pilate." In Against Heresies 4.23.2 he writes of Philip persuading the Ethiopian to believe in Jesus, "who was crucified under Pontius Pilate." In Against Heresies 5.12.5 he writes that Paul preached "the gospel of Jesus Christ the son of God, who was crucified under Pontius Pilate."

Mark's first mention of Pilate is every bit as abrupt as the creeds' mentions of Pilate are, suggesting that his readers already knew under whose authority Jesus was crucified.

7. Alexander and Rufus.

The book of Ruth gives, with the birth of Obed, a miniature genealogy leading down to David:

Ruth 4.17: 17 The neighbor women gave him a name, saying, "A son has been born to Naomi!" So they named him Obed. He is the father of Jesse, the father of David.

Clearly, readers of this book are expected to already know who David is, and the author is merely telling them that Obed happens to be this famous David's grandfather. In a similar manner, readers of Mark are expected to know who two sons of one of the supporting characters is:

Mark 15.21: 21 They press into service a passer-by coming from the country, Simon of Cyrene (the father of Alexander and Rufus), to bear His cross.

This kind of jumping out of the narrative to mention later people or events which depend in some way upon what is happening in the narrative is a fairly common storytelling device: viewtopic.php?f=3&t=3125&p=71433#p71433. In this case, Alexander and Rufus, while unknown to us, must have been known in some way to the first readers of this text.

8. The second Mary.

Mark 15.40 seems to presume that readers will know how to sort out the names of the women: Μαρία ἡ Μαγδαληνὴ καὶ Μαρία ἡ Ἰακώβου τοῦ μικροῦ καὶ Ἰωσῆτος μήτηρ καὶ Σαλώμη. The issue is that second Mary. The Greek wording is capable of being understood in six different ways, including three in which two separate women are in view:
  • Mary (the wife) of James the Less and the mother of Joses.
  • Mary (the daughter) of James the Less and the mother of Joses.
  • Mary the mother of James the Less and of Joses.
  • (A) Mary (the wife) of James the Less and (B) the mother of Joses.
  • (A) Mary (the daughter) of James the Less and (B) the mother of Joses.
  • (A) Mary the mother of James the Less and (B) the mother of Joses.
How is the reader supposed to know which option is correct unless s/he already has some knowledge of these women? (This point comes from Theissen.)

To summarize, I think that the author of the gospel of Mark was writing for readers who already knew at least certain parts of the story. One part of the story involves John the baptist, since readers are expected to know both that he was imprisoned and that he had disciples. Another part of the story involves the crucifixion of Jesus, since readers are expected to know who Pilate is, that Jesus was betrayed, who Alexander and Rufus are, and at least something about the women at the cross. There may be other presumed parts of the story that I have not sussed out yet. The title "son of man" may not be a story element at all, but rather an element of early Christian theology. And knowledge of Simon Peter may or may not include stories about him; he may simply have been known as a famous Christian apostle.

This analysis says nothing about whether what Mark's first readers knew came from historical facts, from legendary tales, or from previous gospel texts. Any or all of those options are left wide open, much in the same way that there are many different ways in which Josephus' readers might have come to learn about the Temple.

Ben.
Last edited by Ben C. Smith on Fri Apr 17, 2020 10:33 am, edited 5 times in total.
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Re: Presumptions of reader knowledge in Mark.

Post by andrewcriddle » Tue Jan 16, 2018 12:33 pm

This interesting argument is at least compatible with the tradition that Mark was written for people who had already heard the preaching of Peter.

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Re: Presumptions of reader knowledge in Mark.

Post by Giuseppe » Tue Jan 16, 2018 12:44 pm

To summarize, I think that the author of the gospel of Mark was writing for readers who already knew at least certain parts of the story.
Note also the fact that the confession of Peter in Caesarea Philippi seems to replace the identical answer ("you are the Christ") only given not by Peter but by the same people. "Mark" seems to have introduced a conflict between what the people believed and what Peter believed about Jesus. In contradiction with the words of Pilate ("...who you call king of the Jews").
Nihil enim in speciem fallacius est quam prava religio. -Liv. xxxix. 16.

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Re: Presumptions of reader knowledge in Mark.

Post by Ben C. Smith » Tue Jan 16, 2018 12:50 pm

andrewcriddle wrote:
Tue Jan 16, 2018 12:33 pm
This interesting argument is at least compatible with the tradition that Mark was written for people who had already heard the preaching of Peter.
I agree. It is.
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Re: Presumptions of reader knowledge in Mark.

Post by Giuseppe » Tue Jan 16, 2018 12:51 pm

If Pilate said that the people called Jesus as the Christ ("king of the Jews"), why does "Mark" insist that the same people called Jesus as John or Elijiah redivivus?

A real problem for the supporters of the Markan priority.
Nihil enim in speciem fallacius est quam prava religio. -Liv. xxxix. 16.

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Re: Presumptions of reader knowledge in Mark.

Post by Ben C. Smith » Tue Jan 16, 2018 1:02 pm

Giuseppe wrote:
Tue Jan 16, 2018 12:51 pm
If Pilate said that the people called Jesus as the Christ ("king of the Jews"), why does "Mark" insist that the same people called Jesus as John or Elijiah redivivus?

A real problem for the supporters of the Markan priority.
Ah, but the people also thought that Jesus had a mother and a brother, and that Jesus either was or was not a prophet. So... you do the math.
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Re: Presumptions of reader knowledge in Mark.

Post by MrMacSon » Tue Jan 16, 2018 1:15 pm

Giuseppe wrote:
Tue Jan 16, 2018 12:51 pm
If Pilate said that the people called Jesus as the Christ ("king of the Jews"), why does "Mark" insist that the same people called Jesus as John or Elijiah redivivus?

fyi -

Elijah is the most frequently mentioned figure from Hebrew scriptures in the Gospel of Mark -- yet, despite Elijah's unusual prominence, relatively little has been written on the matter. In Mark's Gospel, Jesus is popularly associated with Elijah redivivus, Elijah himself appears at Jesus' transfiguration, and in a discourse with the disciples Jesus strongly implies that Elijah has already come in the person of John the Baptist. Furthermore, both John and Jesus show various literary similarities to the 'historical' and eschatological Elijah. This paper will argue that whilst the identity of Mark's Elijah is not consistently maintained, Mark has subsumed his presentation of Elijah under an eschatological framework, found elsewhere in contemporary Jewish thought -- the appearance of Elijah signals to Mark's readership the imminence of the Day of the Lord, and therefore, the end of the world.

Description 1. Introduction -- 2. ʹHλ.ϊας in the Gospel of Mark -- 3. Elijah and John the Baptist -- 4. Elijah and Jesus -- 5. Summary and conclusion

https://www.researchonline.mq.edu.au/vi ... y/mq:46025

and http://hdl.handle.net/1959.14/1082113
download-able it seems

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Re: Presumptions of reader knowledge in Mark.

Post by Bernard Muller » Tue Jan 16, 2018 2:00 pm

The gospel of Mark uses the title "son of man" in a way which seems to expect its readers already to know what it means.
Most likely through 'Hebrews' or from Jewish preachers who visited the community.
If Pilate said that the people called Jesus as the Christ ("king of the Jews"), why does "Mark" insist that the same people called Jesus as John or Elijiah redivivus?
Pilate does not call Jesus "Christ", but "king of the Jews".
Note also the fact that the confession of Peter in Caesarea Philippi seems to replace the identical answer ("you are the Christ") only given not by Peter but by the same people. "Mark" seems to have introduced a conflict between what the people believed and what Peter believed about Jesus. In contradiction with the words of Pilate ("...who you call king of the Jews")
"King of the Jews" does not necessarily mean Christ. And it would be no conflict if Peter & other disciples were never heard saying Jesus is/was the Christ (and Peter's answer in Mk 8:29, with the gag order (8:30), was invented).

Cordially, Bernard
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Re: Presumptions of reader knowledge in Mark.

Post by Giuseppe » Wed Jan 17, 2018 12:12 am

Ben C. Smith wrote:
Tue Jan 16, 2018 1:02 pm
Giuseppe wrote:
Tue Jan 16, 2018 12:51 pm
If Pilate said that the people called Jesus as the Christ ("king of the Jews"), why does "Mark" insist that the same people called Jesus as John or Elijiah redivivus?

A real problem for the supporters of the Markan priority.
Ah, but the people also thought that Jesus had a mother and a brother, and that Jesus either was or was not a prophet. So... you do the math.
It's a strange math one seen only by you, since Pilate is explicit: all the people call Jesus as ''king of Jews'' (construct that, pace Bernard, means ''Christ'' and is converted in ''Christ'' by the equivalent passage in Matthew). If ALL the people call Jesus as Christ per Pilate's words, then ''Mark'' cannot say that the same people can have different views about Jesus.
Nihil enim in speciem fallacius est quam prava religio. -Liv. xxxix. 16.

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Re: Presumptions of reader knowledge in Mark.

Post by archibald » Wed Jan 17, 2018 2:35 am

Ben C. Smith wrote:
Tue Jan 16, 2018 12:09 pm
This analysis says nothing about whether what Mark's first readers knew came from historical facts, from legendary tales, or from previous gospel texts. Any or all of those options are left wide open, much in the same way that there are many different ways in which Josephus' readers might have come to learn about the Temple.
Indeed. Good observations, imo. In the post generally I mean.

Unfortunately, as ever, the observations themselves are, as you say, open to multifarious explanations and can probably be deemed compatible with almost any thesis.

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