Let the reader understand... Again

Discussion about the New Testament, apocrypha, gnostics, church fathers, Christian origins, historical Jesus or otherwise, etc.
Ken Olson
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Re: Let the reader understand... Again

Post by Ken Olson » Tue Feb 27, 2018 4:36 am

Back on Feb. 24, Ben Smith asked:
Ken, if I may ask a broader question of you, what is your "hook," so to speak? What is the internal or external datum (or set of data) that makes you look at Mark 13.14 and say, "Ah, that abomination thing must be official Roman persecution of Christians, and 'those in Judea' must mean 'Christians across the Roman empire.'" My own "hook" is the reference to Daniel and 1 Maccabees; since the abomination of desolation in those texts has something to do with the temple, and since the disciples are asking specifically about the temple, I say to myself, "Ah, I bet the abomination of desolation has something to do with the temple here."

Just to be clear, I am not asking where to find Roman persecution of Christians in Mark 13. I can spot it easily as one of several elements in verses 9-13. But its presence there, on its own, no more means that verse 14 has to deal with Roman persecution than the presence of earthquakes in verse 8 means that the flight to the mountains in verse 14 will be accompanied by an earthquake. So what, beyond the mere presence of the theme in verses 9-13, "hooks" you into interpreting verse 14 as Roman persecution? What sparks the idea in the first place? (I know you are reading Haenchen, but he is not here to interrogate; you are. )
First, I don’t claim to know for sure that Haenchen’s interpretation of Mark 13.14 is correct. I consider it to be the strongest explanation of the text of Mark that I’ve seen. If someone were to propose a better one that explained the abomination reference in terms of the other things I hold about Mark’s gospel (particularly his concern for the situation of Christians in the present) I would take it.

To answer your actual question, I think I have two “hooks”: generally, a methodological preference for explaining the text of Mark 13 in the light of Mark’s concerns in his present (sometime after 70 CE) as exhibited elsewhere in gospel, and specifically, I think Haenchen is correct in seeing 1 Maccabees 1.53 and 2.28 (alongside Daniel) as Mark’s referent and the context for understanding Mark 13.14.

To spell out this position in more detail (the first “hook” is #1 the second is #7):

(1) Mark is primarily concerned with the present situation of his Christian audience and not with giving historical or biographical information about Jesus. (This is not a categorical claim that Mark never says anything historically true about Jesus; it’s a claim that, if he does, that is incidental to his purpose of addressing present concerns of his Christian audience). Many of Jesus’ sayings in Mark appear to be addressing a future situation, not something going on in Jesus’ own lifetime (The Parables of the Sower and the Wicked Tenants, various sayings that arguably presuppose his audience’s knowledge of the destruction of the temple).

(2) The present situation of Mark’s audience is after the destruction of the temple in 70.

(3) While I’m confident that the evangelists did use sources, and some of the sources they used may be lost, I’m cautious about accepting the existence of lost sources hypothesized to resolve tensions in a text. The theory involving the hypothetical source frequently fails to resolve the tensions within the text any better than the theory that doesn’t involve them. Such theories often hypothesize an author or editor who combined sources without caring about the tensions this would cause.

(4) So far as I can recall, Mark does not take over blocks of material from sources that don’t fit the present context of his gospel unless he first alters them to fit his gospel. I can’t think of any “foreign bodies” in Mark that don’t fit the message he intends to convey in addressing the current situation of his audience.

(5) If “those in Judea” is taken to mean those around Jerusalem at its fall, then Mark 13.14-20 seems unusually sympathetic to the plight of non-Christian Judeans. Given what Mark has to say elsewhere (e.g., Mark 12.9, 11.17) it would seem Mark would think the suffering of the Judeans at the time of the destruction of the temple were well deserved. The situation is only slightly ameliorated by the presence of the elect among the Judeans in v. 20. Why does Mark introduce the beginning of the birth pangs in v. 8 and promise that those Christians who endure to the end will be saved in v. 13, but shifts from telling them about their current troubles to describing the tribulations of Judean refuges as the worst tribulations ever in vv 14-20, though now, on your reading, over. Why is Mark’s audience supposed to care about the tribulations of Judean refugees in 70 CE when they have their own problems in the present? And if v. 14 was the sign of the immanent end, but the tribulations following it are now over, how does this help explain why the Son of Man has not yet appeared?

I would prefer to read the sufferings of vv 14-20 as continuous with those of the preceding section, with no shift of the group who are experiencing the misfortunes, and reflecting their current situation. When the current tribulation is over, the Son of Man will arrive (Mark. 13.24-26).

(6) Many interpreters have suggested, for various reasons, that the “abomination of desolation” in Mark 13.14 might be an image of Caesar. There are, of course, well known difficulties with supposing that Mark 13.14 is about placing an image of Caesar in the temple. If it refers to Caligula’s plan to put his image in the temple, then we have to wonder why Mark still cares about this four decades or so after it failed to occur. Others have suggested that it refers to imperial emblems carried by the troops who destroyed the temple, but then we have to wonder why those in Judea should flee this – it seems to be already too late.

Revelation provides us with examples of how a Christian might refer to images of Caesar. Most interpreters have taken the references to worshipping the beast and its image in Revelation to refer to emperor worship (Rev. 13.4, 15; 14.9; 16.2; 19.20, 20.4). But Revelation does not explicitly identify the beast as Caesar, but gives it in code, saying:
Rev 13.18 This calls for wisdom: let anyone with understanding calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a person.

(7) Haenchen rightly points out that Mark takes the flight to the hills from 1 Macc 2.28, which is not about fleeing the temple in Jerusalem, but about fleeing compulsory worship of pagan idols in the town of Modein. The situation in Modein is a particular instance of a broader situation present in the towns of Judea.

I would explain Mark’s use of 1 Macc in terms of Richard Hays’ concept of metalepsis. Perhaps the classic case of metalepsis in Mark is the quotation of Psalms 22.1 Jesus’s cry on the cross in Mark 15.34. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” If the quotation is read by itself, the verse seems like a cry of despair. But many scholars have argued that by quoting the first verse of Psalm 22, Mark (or Jesus) means to evoke the entirety of Psalm 22, which concludes with:
30 Posterity will serve him; future generations will be told about the Lord, 31 and proclaim his deliverance to a people yet unborn, saying that he has done it.
The idea that Mark wants to evoke the entirety of Psalm 22 is supported by the fact that he also alludes to it at Mark 15.24/Ps. 22.18 and (likely) Mark 15.29/Ps. 22.8.

As a further example (and one that deserves more attention than it’s gotten so far), Hays has argued that Jesus’ partial quotation of Jeremiah 7.11 in Mark 11.17, in which he calls the temple a “den of robbers” should be read metaleptically. Mark’s Jesus did not just borrow a colorful phrase from Jeremiah, but means to evoke the larger context in which the phrase is employed, where God foretells that he will destroy the temple in Jerusalem as he did the one in Shiloh and he would do to Judea (in 587 BCE) what he’d done to Israel (in 722 BCE):
11 Has this house, which is called by my name, become a den of robbers in your sight? You know, I too am watching, says the LORD. 12 Go now to my place that was in Shiloh, where I made my name dwell at first, and see what I did to it for the wickedness of my people Israel. 13 And now, because you have done all these things, says the LORD, and when I spoke to you persistently, you did not listen, and when I called you, you did not answer, 14 therefore I will do to the house that is called by my name, in which you trust, and to the place that I gave to you and to your ancestors, just what I did to Shiloh. 15 And I will cast you out of my sight as, just as I cast out all your kinsfolk, all the offspring of Ephraim.
So Mark’s Jesus is, in effect, foretelling the destruction of the temple in Mark 11.17. The New Testament authors were not just using the Old Testament (or, rather, the Scriptures of Israel) as a grab bag for individual phrases, but as taking over stories they can use to think about issues pertinent to them.

To apply this concept of metaleptic reading to Mark’s use of 1 Macc.we have to look at the broader context in which the abomination of desolation and fleeing to the hills appear. What’s going on in the larger context in which those phrases occur? The titles and pericope divisions of the NRSV are, of course, provided by the modern English translators of the text. Nonetheless, it ought to tell us something that in 1 Macc the term “abomination of desolation occurs: (1 Macc 1.54) is found in a pericope which the NRSV titles “Installation of Gentile Cults” (1 Macc 1.41-1.64), while fleeing to the hills is found in “Pagan Worship Refused” (1 Macc 2.15-2.41).
50 He added,[e] “And whoever does not obey the command of the king shall die.” 51 In such words he wrote to his whole kingdom. He appointed inspectors over all the people and commanded the towns of Judah to offer sacrifice, town by town. 52 Many of the people, everyone who forsook the law, joined them, and they did evil in the land; 53 they drove Israel into hiding in every place of refuge they had. 54 Now on the fifteenth day of Chislev, in the one hundred forty-fifth year,[f] they erected a desolating sacrilege on the altar of burnt offering. They also built altars in the surrounding towns of Judah,
According to 1 Macc, many forsook the law and participated in pagan worship. The text then describes the subsequent suffering of those who did not, who are called Israel in the text :
58 They kept using violence against Israel, against those who were found month after month in the towns. 59 On the twenty-fifth day of the month they offered sacrifice on the altar that was on top of the altar of burnt offering. 60 According to the decree, they put to death the women who had their children circumcised, 61 and their families and those who circumcised them; and they hung the infants from their mothers’ necks. 62 But many in Israel stood firm and were resolved in their hearts not to eat unclean food. 63 They chose to die rather than to be defiled by food or to profane the holy covenant; and they did die. 64 Very great wrath came upon Israel.
Mark, of of course, would not care about observation of the laws on circumcision or diet, but nevertheless sees a parallel between the suffering of Israel for refusing tp participate in pagan worship and the suffering of his own contemporaries for the same reason.

The flight to the hills in Mark 13.14 is taken from 1 Macc 2.28. Unlike the previous pericope (1 Macc 1.41-164), in which the possibilities seem to be apostasy or death, this pericope (1 Macc 2.15-2.41) suggests a third possibility. The opening verse sets out the situation:
15 The king’s officers who were enforcing the apostasy came to the town of Modein to make them offer sacrifice.
And also contains the verse from which Mark is taking the flight to the hills motif in 13.14:
28 Then he and his sons fled to the hills and left all that they had in the town.
So the situation is that that they are fleeing, not from Jerusalem, but from the town of Modein, which is one of the towns of Judah in which pagan altars were set up and pagan worship was being required.

You have objected that in both Daniel and 1 Macc “abomination of desolation” is used to designate something that is going on in the temple. Our disagreement is about the scope of Mark’s intended allusion. You are taking individual terms or phrases taken from the Scriptures as meaning the same thing as they do in those Scriptures, while I am reading them as meant to evoke the larger story in which those terms or phrases appear. I take Mark to be drawing a comparison between the situation of Israel under Antiochus Epiphanes and that of the Christians under Caesar (probably, but not necessarily Domitian) with regard to compulsory pagan worship. The situations are not precisely parallel, of course. 1 Macc is looking back on an historical event and glorifying armed rebellion as the proper response to the situation, while for Mark it is the current situation which will end when the Son of Man comes.

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Ben C. Smith
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Re: Let the reader understand... Again

Post by Ben C. Smith » Wed Feb 28, 2018 11:24 am

Ken Olson wrote:
Tue Feb 27, 2018 4:36 am
First, I don’t claim to know for sure that Haenchen’s interpretation of Mark 13.14 is correct.
None of us is dealing in certainties here. :)
To answer your actual question, I think I have two “hooks”: generally, a methodological preference for explaining the text of Mark 13 in the light of Mark’s concerns in his present (sometime after 70 CE) as exhibited elsewhere in gospel, and specifically, I think Haenchen is correct in seeing 1 Maccabees 1.53 and 2.28 (alongside Daniel) as Mark’s referent and the context for understanding Mark 13.14.
My trouble with the first "hook" is that it seems to elide two things which I hold as separate. It is one thing to suppose that Mark is concerned mainly/only with his own present time, quite another to suppose that the details of his text are actually ciphers for things which exist in his own present time. His account of the death of John the baptist, for example, I take as offering points of interest to his own time; among others, it shows what may await any "righteous and holy man" (6.20) who stands up to the authorities ("king" Herod, in this case), or who accepts the mission upon which Jesus sends him (I refer to the initial and final frames of this intercalation), since Jesus' movement is no less dangerous than John's was, and the founders of both met a similar end. But I do not take John to be a cipher for anything in Mark's own time. Similarly, there is much for readers of Mark's own time to glean from Jesus' prediction of the fate of the brothers Boanerges in Mark 10.35-40, but I do not take James and John to be ciphers for anything. One can glean lessons from a text without the elements of that text being merely encoded versions of other entities outside the text. (I learned at a very early age that Mother Rabbit's advice to Peter Cottontail may well apply to me, too, in my own time and place; this does not make anything in the Beatrix Potter story a cipher for something from my own situation.)

One might think that we have grounds for suspecting a cipher here because of the phrase "let the reader understand," and there is merit to this approach, I admit; but "let the reader understand" implies only that there is a heightened capacity for misunderstanding a point, and ciphers are not the only kind of point susceptible to misunderstanding.

My trouble with the second "hook" is that I agree with it and believe it supports, or is at least fully compatible with, my own interpretation. Specifically:
The flight to the hills in Mark 13.14 is taken from 1 Macc 2.28. Unlike the previous pericope (1 Macc 1.41-164), in which the possibilities seem to be apostasy or death, this pericope (1 Macc 2.15-2.41) suggests a third possibility. The opening verse sets out the situation:
15 The king’s officers who were enforcing the apostasy came to the town of Modein to make them offer sacrifice.
And also contains the verse from which Mark is taking the flight to the hills motif in 13.14:
28 Then he and his sons fled to the hills and left all that they had in the town.
So the situation is that that they are fleeing, not from Jerusalem, but from the town of Modein, which is one of the towns of Judah in which pagan altars were set up and pagan worship was being required.
I recently made this very point to another poster on this forum that it was from Modin, not from Jerusalem, that Mattathias and his sons fled. I believe this is why Mark 13.14 speaks of "those in Judea" and not "those in Jerusalem."

I interpret the meaning here as a shortcut of sorts: whereas Mattathias first left Jerusalem (because of the abomination of desolation) and then had to flee Modin, as well (because pagan worship was enjoined elsewhere, as well), our author is just cutting to the chase and saying, this time, as soon as you see the abomination of desolation in place, just flee to the mountains; the crisis is going to affect the entire nation of Judea, so hiding out in one of the other towns is not going to do much good.

There is more to the Maccabean connection, I believe, but already you seem to take your interpretation further than I can countenance. You go from the abomination affecting more than just the temple in Jerusalem to the abomination having nothing to do with the temple in Jerusalem, which strikes me as a non sequitur. Unless you already know in advance, for other reasons, that Mark is not talking about the temple, you cannot validly use the former fact to come to the latter conclusion.
Why does Mark introduce the beginning of the birth pangs in v. 8 and promise that those Christians who endure to the end will be saved in v. 13, but shifts from telling them about their current troubles to describing the tribulations of Judean refuges as the worst tribulations ever in vv 14-20, though now, on your reading, over.
Mark 13 never actually describes current Christian troubles: not directly. As I mentioned before, our author did not have to turn this entire chapter into a private message delivered to four disciples (13.3), but he did. That he is conscious of this original audience of four is clear from 13.37: "what I say to you I say to all." It is manifestly obvious to me that much/most/all of what Jesus says to Peter, James, John, and Andrew would be applicable to the original readers of Mark (and some of it may have been specifically tailored for them), but I do not think that either Jesus or our author is worried about the ability of those readers to draw the necessary inferences.

In other words, on any reading of Mark 13, we are already taking words addressed to characters in the story and applying them to our own time and place. Jesus is not saying that "you," the readers of Mark, will be brought before kings, though I am certain that Mark intends his readers to realize that what is being predicted here of Peter and company can also apply to them.

Just because the abomination of desolation is something which is set up specifically in the temple and which precipitates troubles throughout Judea (mainly), for example, does not mean that the more general message cannot be drawn from the pericope that it is okay to flee in some circumstances. Also, the abomination of desolation still serves as a marker along the eschatological calendar, which would be of near universal relevance. Finally, Jesus is shown to be a true prophet if he predicted the abomination and it came true (at least in some sense which can be salvaged from the situation; "let the reader understand"); again, this one would be of near universal relevance.

(Incidentally, even if I were to come to the conclusion that my current interpretations of this chapter are wrong, my next stop would not be to assume that the abomination of desolation has nothing to do with the temple; there are other stopping points along the way between my current interpretation and Haenchen's, including the option that, for Mark, the abomination was still future. Honestly, I do not see any way to convince my brain that the abomination of desolation was meant as a code term for something having nothing to do with the temple, not with the relevant texts known to me; it would probably take the discovery of another cache of papyri somewhere.)

You seem to imagine the original reader of Mark reading about the abomination and thinking, "Hey, that would be Caesar's statue or Caesar's required worship in my own town," whereas I am imagining that reader thinking, "Hey, I bet what applies to that situation also applies to me," the same as that reader is probably thinking when it comes to the deaths of John the baptist and the brothers Boanerges. My interpretation preserves "the abomination of desolation" as something which affects the temple, but it by no means rules out reader relevance.
If “those in Judea” is taken to mean those around Jerusalem at its fall, then Mark 13.14-20 seems unusually sympathetic to the plight of non-Christian Judeans.
I would say that Mark 13 seems more sympathetic to Christian Jews, if I may profitably use that term, as represented by Peter, James, John, and Andrew ("you") and as described in verse 20 as "the elect."
Why is Mark’s audience supposed to care about the tribulations of Judean refugees in 70 CE when they have their own problems in the present?
Because those tribulations may serve as models for present behavior and belief.
And if v. 14 was the sign of the immanent end, but the tribulations following it are now over, how does this help explain why the Son of Man has not yet appeared?
There are two possibilities which I am still sorting through:
  1. The tribulation was cut short (verse 20). Viewed after the fact, it was supposed to lead directly up to the resurrection and all of that, but it was cut short out of mercy, and Mark's readers are now living in the (hopefully brief) gap left by the shortening of that period of time (the date of the final events not having changed). I have noticed that the commentators usually connect the shortened days of Mark 13.20 with the shortened times of 1 Corinthians 7.29 and other texts, but the concepts are slightly different. In those other cases, it is the time between now and the end which has been shortened; in this case, it is the time of the tribulation period which has been shortened, and this is not necessarily the same thing.
  2. The motif of the unknown hour in 13.32-37 had the effect among the church fathers of allowing them either to ignore the generational prophecy altogether or to apply it only to the fall of Jerusalem, with "that day and hour" referring specifically to the coming of the son of man. Perhaps, then, this was the intended effect all along.
These two possibilities are not mutually incompatible, but I am still working on it all at this stage.
Many interpreters have suggested, for various reasons, that the “abomination of desolation” in Mark 13.14 might be an image of Caesar.
Most of those interpreters, as you are aware, locate that image in the temple.
If it refers to Caligula’s plan to put his image in the temple, then we have to wonder why Mark still cares about this four decades or so after it failed to occur.
It is not that Mark still cares about it; it is more that Mark (or whoever) has had his expectations influenced by it. Antiochus had defiled the temple, Pompey had entered the temple, and most recently Caligula had threatened to have his own statue set up in the temple. It was perfectly reasonable to expect that something similar might happen again (especially in an eschatological context), and it is to be expected that past incidents of this nature would leave a mark on what was being imagined, much as Hitler and Stalin have left marks on modern Christian expectations of what the Antichrist will be like.
While I’m confident that the evangelists did use sources, and some of the sources they used may be lost, I’m cautious about accepting the existence of lost sources hypothesized to resolve tensions in a text. The theory involving the hypothetical source frequently fails to resolve the tensions within the text any better than the theory that doesn’t involve them. Such theories often hypothesize an author or editor who combined sources without caring about the tensions this would cause.
If I may be allowed to interpret the combining of sources liberally here, is that not exactly how we often find Matthew and Luke treating Mark? They both make changes, and sometimes they leave tensions in the text which they either did not notice or did not care enough about to fix.
Revelation provides us with examples of how a Christian might refer to images of Caesar. Most interpreters have taken the references to worshipping the beast and its image in Revelation to refer to emperor worship (Rev. 13.4, 15; 14.9; 16.2; 19.20, 20.4). But Revelation does not explicitly identify the beast as Caesar, but gives it in code, saying:
Rev 13.18 This calls for wisdom: let anyone with understanding calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a person.
This code or cipher in Revelation follows the principles of an exegetical tool which was widespread in antiquity: gematria. Is there a similar exegetical tool which would have clued ancient readers of Mark into the abomination of desolation having nothing to do with the temple and everything to do with the worship of Caesar in particular?
The New Testament authors were not just using the Old Testament (or, rather, the Scriptures of Israel) as a grab bag for individual phrases, but as taking over stories they can use to think about issues pertinent to them.
I agree with this (although sometimes a more pesher approach was taken, as well), and my interpretation of Mark 13 is fully dependent upon it. I have not yet had the chance to spell out all of the details, however; all in good time.

My main observation about this point, however, is that I think it is a mistake to assume that integrating entire stories from the scriptural or historical background must mean that a cipher is being employed. Exactly the same considerations that might go into reading Maccabean history as relevant to the present time can go into crafting a pericope about the time of Jesus or about the events of 70 which are also relevant to the present time. Both Christians and Jews were extremely adept at this sort of thing.
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Re: Let the reader understand... Again

Post by neilgodfrey » Thu Mar 01, 2018 3:11 am

Surely ciphers are the characteristic ingredient of apocalyptic prophecy, as per Daniel and Revelation. They are to be expected in a prophecy that touches on the real fears of and threats facing the readers -- as in Daniel and Revelation.

The closest we come to seeing something akin to "ciphers" in a more general teaching sense are in the parables. (And then we read something to the effect that Jesus always spoke in parables anyway.)

Ken Olson
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Re: Let the reader understand... Again

Post by Ken Olson » Thu Mar 01, 2018 10:00 am

Ben Smith wrote:
I learned at a very early age that Mother Rabbit's advice to Peter Cottontail may well apply to me, too, in my own time and place; this does not make anything in the Beatrix Potter story a cipher for something from my own situation.

My trouble with the second "hook" is that I agree with it and believe it supports, or is at least fully compatible with, my own interpretation.
Ken: So the situation is that that they are fleeing, not from Jerusalem, but from the town of Modein, which is one of the towns of Judah in which pagan altars were set up and pagan worship was being required.
I recently made this very point to another poster on this forum that it was from Modin, not from Jerusalem, that Mattathias and his sons fled. I believe this is why Mark 13.14 speaks of "those in Judea" and not "those in Jerusalem."

I interpret the meaning here as a shortcut of sorts: whereas Mattathias first left Jerusalem (because of the abomination of desolation) and then had to flee Modin, as well (because pagan worship was enjoined elsewhere, as well), our author is just cutting to the chase and saying, this time, as soon as you see the abomination of desolation in place, just flee to the mountains; the crisis is going to affect the entire nation of Judea, so hiding out in one of the other towns is not going to do much good.

It is manifestly obvious to me that much/most/all of what Jesus says to Peter, James, John, and Andrew would be applicable to the original readers of Mark (and some of it may have been specifically tailored for them), but I do not think that either Jesus or our author is worried about the ability of those readers to draw the necessary inferences.

In other words, on any reading of Mark 13, we are already taking words addressed to characters in the story and applying them to our own time and place.

the more general message cannot be drawn from the pericope that it is okay to flee in some circumstances ... again, this one would be of near universal relevance.

You seem to imagine the original reader of Mark reading about the abomination and thinking, "Hey, that would be Caesar's statue or Caesar's required worship in my own town," whereas I am imagining that reader thinking, "Hey, I bet what applies to that situation also applies to me," the same as that reader is probably thinking when it comes to the deaths of John the baptist and the brothers Boanerges. My interpretation preserves "the abomination of desolation" as something which affects the temple, but it by no means rules out reader relevance.

Because those tribulations may serve as models for present behavior and belief.
Ken: The New Testament authors were not just using the Old Testament (or, rather, the Scriptures of Israel) as a grab bag for individual phrases, but as taking over stories they can use to think about issues pertinent to them.
I agree with this (although sometimes a more pesher approach was taken, as well), and my interpretation of Mark 13 is fully dependent upon it. I have not yet had the chance to spell out all of the details, however; all in good time.
Ben,

I started a response to this, but then I realized I'm not at all clear on what you're claiming. At first I understood it to mean that you were agreeing with me that, since in the larger context in which the two allusions from 1 Macc are found, the central issue was state persecution of the faithful through compulsory worship of pagan idols and the faithful's resistance to such worship, that this was the broader issue being discussed and Mark's readers would have been able to apply that to their own situations (and Mark intended them to do that). But when I re-read it, I wondered if you meant something far more vague that that -- that Christians might need to flee in some circumstance in their lives and that they might sometime experience tribulation, so the text could apply to any Christians (or, really anyone) anytime. These are simply universal Christian (or human) experiences. It makes a difference because, if it's the first, then I think you're reading is basically in agreement with mine but you have encumbered it with some additional hypotheses that I consider unnecessary; whereas, if it's the second I think your reading is wrong and you're not dealing with some of the data I've presented.

To put that another way: is the fact that the two pericopes from 1 Macc from which Mark 3.14 drew its references are concerned with state compelled pagan worship relevant to how Mark intended his audience to understand how what he wrote relates to their situation?

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Re: Let the reader understand... Again

Post by Ben C. Smith » Thu Mar 01, 2018 11:04 am

Ken Olson wrote:
Thu Mar 01, 2018 10:00 am
I started a response to this, but then I realized I'm not at all clear on what you're claiming. [A] At first I understood it to mean that you were agreeing with me that, since in the larger context in which the two allusions from 1 Macc are found, the central issue was state persecution of the faithful through compulsory worship of pagan idols and the faithful's resistance to such worship, that this was the broader issue being discussed and Mark's readers would have been able to apply that to their own situations (and Mark intended them to do that). [B] But when I re-read it, I wondered if you meant something far more vague that that -- that Christians might need to flee in some circumstance in their lives and that they might sometime experience tribulation, so the text could apply to any Christians (or, really anyone) anytime. These are simply universal Christian (or human) experiences. It makes a difference because, if it's the first, then I think you're reading is basically in agreement with mine but you have encumbered it with some additional hypotheses that I consider unnecessary; whereas, if it's the second I think your reading is wrong and you're not dealing with some of the data I've presented.
Not B at all. Closer to A, although, since you mention only the Maccabean crisis and whatever crisis was facing the Marcan readership, I am not certain how you think I interpret the abomination of desolation itself, since I regard it as coming after the Maccabean one (and modeled upon it) but as not cleanly synonymous with whatever Mark's readers are going through.
To put that another way: is the fact that the two pericopes from 1 Macc from which Mark 3.14 drew its references are concerned with state compelled pagan worship relevant to how Mark intended his audience to understand how what he wrote relates to their situation?
Yes, it is relevant. What the Judeans may have had to do in order to escape virtually certain death can easily serve as a model for what Christians may have to do in order to escape the same.
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Re: Let the reader understand... Again

Post by Ben C. Smith » Thu Mar 01, 2018 11:19 am

I ought to say, though, that my reading of the abomination of desolation as having something to do with the temple is pretty much a base line for me. I expressed this earlier in a way that went something like this: verses 1-4 ask about the temple, the abomination of desolation famously has to do with the temple, and verse 14 predicts the abomination of desolation in a passage that mentions nothing else about the temple. Later I added: noticing that the abomination of desolation affects more than the temple is not at all the same thing as arguing that the abomination of desolation has nothing to do with the temple.

I doubt that anything short of a new manuscript find of some sort will change my mind about that element of my interpretation of Mark 13. To me, interpreting the abomination as related to the temple is one of the main strengths of the position. My interpretation of this passage has to conform to what I know to be solid ground, and not the other way around.
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Ken Olson
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Re: Let the reader understand... Again

Post by Ken Olson » Mon Mar 05, 2018 6:39 am

Ben,

Sorry, this one took a while and ends up being awfully repetitive. I’d like to have re-written it so that I’m not just making the same point (maybe three points) over and over, but that would have taken even longer.
Ben: One might think that we have grounds for suspecting a cipher here because of the phrase "let the reader understand," and there is merit to this approach, I admit; but "let the reader understand" implies only that there is a heightened capacity for misunderstanding a point, and ciphers are not the only kind of point susceptible to misunderstanding.
I’m glad you admit that there is merit to this approach. I admit other readings are possible (which I never denied). But I don’t think you do anything to establish that a “cipher” is not being used. The fact that we're dealing with an apocalyptic text and there is an aside to the reader to understand means that the possible presence of a "cipher" is well grounded, not that it's certain.
Ben: My trouble with the second "hook" is that I agree with it and believe it supports, or is at least fully compatible with, my own interpretation. Specifically:
1 Macc 2.28: Then he and his sons fled to the hills and left all that they had in the town.
So the situation is that that they are fleeing, not from Jerusalem, but from the town of Modein, which is one of the towns of Judah in which pagan altars were set up and pagan worship was being required.
Ben: I recently made this very point to another poster on this forum that it was from Modin, not from Jerusalem, that Mattathias and his sons fled. I believe this is why Mark 13.14 speaks of "those in Judea" and not "those in Jerusalem."

I interpret the meaning here as a shortcut of sorts: whereas Mattathias first left Jerusalem (because of the abomination of desolation) and then had to flee Modin, as well (because pagan worship was enjoined elsewhere, as well), our author is just cutting to the chase and saying, this time, as soon as you see the abomination of desolation in place, just flee to the mountains; the crisis is going to affect the entire nation of Judea, so hiding out in one of the other towns is not going to do much good.
But the fact that the “abomination of desolation” referred to a pagan idol and that it was specifically pagan worship that Mattathias was fleeing has no bearing on your interpretation of Mark 13.14. Well, that’s not quite true. It was used to refer to pagan idol in the source you hypothesize Mark to have used, but Mark took that source's language without changing it, but in Mark the abomination referred to the destruction of the temple rather than to a pagan idol. This creates a missing link of sorts in your chain of interpretations:

1. The abomination of desolation is a pagan idol in Daniel and 1 Macc, and believers should flee worshipping pagan idols in 1 Macc
2. The abomination of desolation is a pagan idol in Mark’s source, and believers should flee worshipping it
3. The abomination of desolation is the destruction of the temple in Mark, and people should flee when they see it happen
4. The abomination of desolation is the destruction of the temple in the understanding of Mark’s audience, but they would also understand this to mean that they should flee under certain circumstances, which might include compulsory worship of pagan idols. The fact that “abomination of desolation” actually does refer to pagan idols in all of Mark’s predecessors is coincidental.
Ben: There is more to the Maccabean connection, I believe, but already you seem to take your interpretation further than I can countenance. You go from the abomination affecting more than just the temple in Jerusalem to the abomination having nothing to do with the temple in Jerusalem, which strikes me as a non sequitur. Unless you already know in advance, for other reasons, that Mark is not talking about the temple, you cannot validly use the former fact to come to the latter conclusion.
I did not reject the idea that the “abomination of desolation” in Mark 13.14 referred to a pagan idol being worshipped in the temple in 70 CE because I thought it could refer to worship of pagan idols outside the temple. I rejected the theory that Mark 13.14 referred to the destruction of the temple in 70 CE because it faces serious problems. The most notable is that no pagan idols were set up to be worshipped in the temple or on the temple grounds in 70, but there are other problems as well.
Ben: Mark 13 never actually describes current Christian troubles: not directly. As I mentioned before, our author did not have to turn this entire chapter into a private message delivered to four disciples (13.3), but he did. That he is conscious of this original audience of four is clear from 13.37: "what I say to you I say to all." It is manifestly obvious to me that much/most/all of what Jesus says to Peter, James, John, and Andrew would be applicable to the original readers of Mark (and some of it may have been specifically tailored for them), but I do not think that either Jesus or our author is worried about the ability of those readers to draw the necessary inferences
.

When you qualify you initial statement with “not directly,” it seems you are allowing that, in fact, Mark 13 describes current Christian trouble indirectly. What Jesus says would be applicable to the original readers of Mark and he expects they will be able to draw the necessary inferences. Ok. But why “Let the reader understand” in 13.14? It seems like Mark is less confident that his readers will draw the necessary inferences here. I suppose on your reading this is because he’s reinterpreted “abomination of desolation,” which refers to a pagan idol in Daniel and 1 Macc to mean the destruction of the temple instead.
Ben: In other words, on any reading of Mark 13, we are already taking words addressed to characters in the story and applying them to our own time and place. Jesus is not saying that "you," the readers of Mark, will be brought before kings, though I am certain that Mark intends his readers to realize that what is being predicted here of Peter and company can also apply to them.
Steady on. I’m not taking words from Mark 13 and applying them to my own time and place and I didn’t think you are either. I’m applying the historical-critical method and trying to reconstruct what the text in terms of what it would have meant to the original author and audience.
Ben: Just because the abomination of desolation is something which is set up specifically in the temple and which precipitates troubles throughout Judea (mainly), for example, does not mean that the more general message cannot be drawn from the pericope that it is okay to flee in some circumstances. Also, the abomination of desolation still serves as a marker along the eschatological calendar, which would be of near universal relevance.
You're a bit vague here: “the more general message cannot be drawn from the pericope that it is okay to flee in some circumstances.” You again gloss over the fact that the abomination of desolation is a pagan idol in both Daniel and 1 Macc and the Judeans in 1 Macc were fleeing compulsory worship of pagan idols in Mark’s source texts in favor of “some circumstances.”
Ben: Finally, Jesus is shown to be a true prophet if he predicted the abomination and it came true (at least in some sense which can be salvaged from the situation; "let the reader understand"); again, this one would be of near universal relevance.
He’s already foretold the destruction of the temple in Mark 13.1-2. I don’t see how Mark 13.14 would make him any more a prophet. In fact, it seems odd that he would foretell the destruction of the temple explicitly and emphatically in vv 13.1-2 and then refer to it metaphorically as an “abomination of desolation,” though that term is used to refer to a pagan idol in his two sources.
Ben: Honestly, I do not see any way to convince my brain that the abomination of desolation was meant as a code term for something having nothing to do with the temple, not with the relevant texts known to me; it would probably take the discovery of another cache of papyri somewhere.)
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Ben: You seem to imagine the original reader of Mark reading about the abomination and thinking, "Hey, that would be Caesar's statue or Caesar's required worship in my own town," whereas I am imagining that reader thinking, "Hey, I bet what applies to that situation also applies to me," the same as that reader is probably thinking when it comes to the deaths of John the baptist and the brothers Boanerges. My interpretation preserves "the abomination of desolation" as something which affects the temple, but it by no means rules out reader relevance.
The abomination of desolation in Daniel and in 1 Macc refers to a pagan idol set up to be worshipped in the temple. While your interpretation does indeed preserves the “abomination of desolation” as something which affects the temple, that something is not a pagan idol set up to be worshipped. You seem to take it for granted that you can (and Mark did) reinterpret what the “abomination of desolation” actually is in the source texts as long as you keep it in the same place as the source texts. I, on the other hand, would say that “standing where it ought not to be” in Mark 13.14 is a vague enough to allow some latitude in interpreting the location, but I want to keep the meaning of “abomination of desolation” as a pagan idol.
Ben: Because those tribulations may serve as models for present behavior and belief.
So, on your reading, Mark 13.14-20 does not describe the current tribulations Christians are experiencing, but current Christians may see it as analogous to their current situation? I think that’s one more level of interpretation than we need.

On your reading, Mark would seem to be telling his contemporary Christian audience that the sufferings they are facing under Roman persecution are not as bad as those the Judean refugees previously suffered at the time of the temple’s destruction:
Mark 13.19: For in those days there will be suffering, such as has not been from the beginning of the creation that God created until now, no, and never will be.
That’s not actually impossible, but it seems to me more likely that Mark means to say that the worst tribulation ever is the tribulation his Christian audience is currently experiencing and that it’s the final tribulation before the Son of Man comes. It seems odd for an apocalyptic text to foretell the worst tribulation ever when that tribulation is already over from the POV of the text’s audience and that audience is experiencing a subsequent tribulation.
Ken: And if v. 14 was the sign of the immanent end, but the tribulations following it are now over, how does this help explain why the Son of Man has not yet appeared?
Ben: There are two possibilities which I am still sorting through:
1. The tribulation was cut short (verse 20). Viewed after the fact, it was supposed to lead directly up to the resurrection and all of that, but it was cut short out of mercy, and Mark's readers are now living in the (hopefully brief) gap left by the shortening of that period of time (the date of the final events not having changed). I have noticed that the commentators usually connect the shortened days of Mark 13.20 with the shortened times of 1 Corinthians 7.29 and other texts, but the concepts are slightly different. In those other cases, it is the time between now and the end which has been shortened; in this case, it is the time of the tribulation period which has been shortened, and this is not necessarily the same thing.
2. The motif of the unknown hour in 13.32-37 had the effect among the church fathers of allowing them either to ignore the generational prophecy altogether or to apply it only to the fall of Jerusalem, with "that day and hour" referring specifically to the coming of the son of man. Perhaps, then, this was the intended effect all along.
These two possibilities are not mutually incompatible, but I am still working on it all at this stage.
You suggested earlier that v. 14 was the immanent sign that Son of Man was about to appear and I agreed. But then you face the problem that, on your reading, the tribulations following v. 14 are now over and the Son of Man hasn’t appeared. On my reading, the tribulations following the abomination are the tribulations Mark’s original audience were then experiencing and the sign that the Son of Man was about to arrive.
Ken: If it refers to Caligula’s plan to put his image in the temple, then we have to wonder why Mark still cares about this four decades or so after it failed to occur.
Ben: It is not that Mark still cares about it; it is more that Mark (or whoever) has had his expectations influenced by it. Antiochus had defiled the temple, Pompey had entered the temple, and most recently Caligula had threatened to have his own statue set up in the temple. It was perfectly reasonable to expect that something similar might happen again (especially in an eschatological context), and it is to be expected that past incidents of this nature would leave a mark on what was being imagined, much as Hitler and Stalin have left marks on modern Christian expectations of what the Antichrist will be like.
You and I agree that Mark is writing after 70 with full knowledge of the destruction of the temple and the events surrounding it. Whatever earlier expectation might have been, the Romans destroyed the temple and did not set up idols to be worshipped there (not until 50 years or so later anyway) and Mark knows this. The poor fit with the actual events is why you hypothesized that Mark used an earlier source predicting idolatry in the temple, but Mark then repeated its language to refer to the destruction of the temple (would that make it a cipher?).

And when we compare someone to Hitler or the Stalin, we do not necessarily mean to suggest their activities will necessarily take place in Germany or Russia, though of course they could.
Ken: Revelation provides us with examples of how a Christian might refer to images of Caesar. Most interpreters have taken the references to worshipping the beast and its image in Revelation to refer to emperor worship (Rev. 13.4, 15; 14.9; 16.2; 19.20, 20.4). But Revelation does not explicitly identify the beast as Caesar, but gives it in code, saying:
Rev 13.18 This calls for wisdom: let anyone with understanding calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a person.
Ben: This code or cipher in Revelation follows the principles of an exegetical tool which was widespread in antiquity: gematria. Is there a similar exegetical tool which would have clued ancient readers of Mark into the abomination of desolation having nothing to do with the temple and everything to do with the worship of Caesar in particular?
Caesar in particular? No. A pagan idol, yes. Mark uses a term that always referred to pagan idols in his predecessors (unless you have a counterexample?).

And while gematria (numerology for us English speakers) is one possible way that the author of an apocalyptic text might clue his reader into what he’s referring to (i.e. Rome), it is by no means a requirement:
Rev 17.4 The woman was clothed in purple and scarlet, and adorned with gold and jewels and pearls, holding in her hand a golden cup full of abominations and the impurities of her fornication; 5 and on her forehead was written a name, a mystery: “Babylon the great, mother of whores and of earth’s abominations. ..
18 The woman you saw is the great city that rules over the kings of the earth.”
Ken: The New Testament authors were not just using the Old Testament (or, rather, the Scriptures of Israel) as a grab bag for individual phrases, but as taking over stories they can use to think about issues pertinent to them.
Ben: I agree with this (although sometimes a more pesher approach was taken, as well), and my interpretation of Mark 13 is fully dependent upon it. I have not yet had the chance to spell out all of the details, however; all in good time.
I look forward to seeing it.
Ben: My main observation about this point, however, is that I think it is a mistake to assume that integrating entire stories from the scriptural or historical background must mean that a cipher is being employed. Exactly the same considerations that might go into reading Maccabean history as relevant to the present time can go into crafting a pericope about the time of Jesus or about the events of 70 which are also relevant to the present time. Both Christians and Jews were extremely adept at this sort of thing.
Is it not equally a mistake to assume a cipher must not have been employed in Mark 13.14? It seems to me that what you’re establishing is that other interpretations are possible, not that they are more probable.

Here and in your comments on “Let the reader understand” and on gematria you’ve emphasized that my reading, a cipher, as you call it (I think I called it a code earlier) is not necessarily the case. That is freely conceded, but I don’t think you’ve done anything to show that the presence of a cipher or code is unlikely. Mark 13 is an apocalyptic text and ciphers and codes are very common in them, if we may judge from Daniel and Revelation (as Neil Godfrey commented above). And we do have the remark “let the reader understand” in Mark 13.14. I think your objection is that the particular cipher Haenchen proposed, and that I am defending, is unlikely because the meaning we attach to it is unlikely. I do not think you have done anything to show that the presence of a code is unlikely.

But I think the major point you have to justify is why you think Mark's changing the meaning of "abomination of desolation" from a pagan idol to the destruction of the temple is entirely reasonable in light of Mark and his audience's historical circumstances, but retaining the "abomination of desolation" as referring to a pagan idol but changing the location in light oh Mark and his audience's historical circumstances is, well, just crazy talk.
Last edited by Ken Olson on Mon Mar 05, 2018 1:34 pm, edited 2 times in total.

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Re: Let the reader understand... Again

Post by John2 » Mon Mar 05, 2018 8:30 am

Ken Olson wrote:
I did not reject the idea that the “abomination of desolation” in Mark 13.14 referred to a pagan idol being worshipped in the temple in 70 CE because I thought it could refer to worship of pagan idols outside the temple. I rejected the theory that Mark 13.14 referred to the destruction of the temple in 70 CE because it faces serious problems. The most notable is that no pagan idols were set up to be worshipped in the temple or on the temple grounds in 70, but there are other problems as well.
And:
... the abomination of desolation is a pagan idol in both Daniel and 1 Macc and the Judeans in 1 Macc were fleeing compulsory worship of pagan idols in Mark’s source texts in favor of “some circumstances.”
I suppose the definition of "idol" could be debatable, but I side with the camp that sees Josephus' reference to the Romans sacrificing to their standards as essentially being worship of a pagan idol.

War 6.6.1:
And now the Romans, upon the flight of the seditious into the city, and upon the burning of the holy house itself, and of all the buildings round about it, brought their ensigns to the temple and set them over against its eastern gate; and there did they offer sacrifices to them, and there did they make Titus imperator with the greatest acclamations of joy.
As Brandon, for example, writes in Jesus and the Zealots:
The legionaries' standards were sacred objects to the Romans, and they were adorned with medallions bearing the image of the emperor. Thus, in a very real sense the erection of these standards and the consequent act of worship achieved in A.D. 70 what the emperor Gaius had intended to do in A.D. 39, and what to the Jewish mind was the setting up of the 'Abomination of Desolation'. The association of Titus with this act of heathen worship in the Temple is also significant; for, in the Markan text, the βδέλυγμα τῆς ἐρημώσεως was clearly regarded as having been manifested in a human person, since the masculine participle έστηκότα is deliberately used to qualify the neuter noun βδέλυγμα.

https://books.google.com/books?id=tIC7A ... on&f=false
I can't speak for the above grammar (and hope I spelled the "masculine participle" right, since I had to find the letters in a Greek dictionary vs. cutting and pasting the other Greek words from Mark), nor have I thought through all of the implications of "fleeing" after the "abomination" is seen, but I think this Roman act of sacrificing to their standards qualifies as "idol" worship on the Temple grounds in 70 CE.
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Re: Let the reader understand... Again

Post by Ken Olson » Mon Mar 05, 2018 10:22 am

John 2 wrote:
I suppose the definition of "idol" could be debatable, but I side with the camp that sees Josephus' reference to the Romans sacrificing to their standards as essentially being worship of a pagan idol.

War 6.6.1:
And now the Romans, upon the flight of the seditious into the city, and upon the burning of the holy house itself, and of all the buildings round about it, brought their ensigns to the temple and set them over against its eastern gate; and there did they offer sacrifices to them, and there did they make Titus imperator with the greatest acclamations of joy.

As Brandon, for example, writes in Jesus and the Zealots:

The legionaries' standards were sacred objects to the Romans, and they were adorned with medallions bearing the image of the emperor. Thus, in a very real sense the erection of these standards and the consequent act of worship achieved in A.D. 70 what the emperor Gaius had intended to do in A.D. 39, and what to the Jewish mind was the setting up of the 'Abomination of Desolation'. The association of Titus with this act of heathen worship in the Temple is also significant; for, in the Markan text, the βδέλυγμα τῆς ἐρημώσεως was clearly regarded as having been manifested in a human person, since the masculine participle έστηκότα is deliberately used to qualify the neuter noun βδέλυγμα.

https://books.google.com/books?id=tIC7A ... on&f=false
This is a good point. One of the dangers of limiting the discussion to two people is that they may be arguing on shared assumptions that don't necessarily apply. I didn't address the possibility you raise in my (immediately) prior post, though I did address it in passing in my post from Feb, 27, when I wrote:
Others have suggested that it refers to imperial emblems carried by the troops who destroyed the temple, but then we have to wonder why those in Judea should flee this – it seems to be already too late.
One could raise objections on whether the Roman standards to which the troops sacrificed could be the "abomination of desolation" with the shift from neuter noun to masculine participle. I find Brandon's explanation on Titus' "association" with this act of pagan worship a bit vague. He doesn't actually attempt to explain the language Mark used, but seems to hint that the combination of the standards and Titus could be used to explain this in a way that either by themselves could not.

But that's not my major objection. If we acknowledge that Mark is writing an apocalyptic text and grant him a bit of license, we could imagine that he could plausibly have interpreted the Romans' sacrificing to their standards as the "abomination of desolation" in Daniel. My problem is what to do with the rest of it.

As Adela Yarbro Collins puts it in her commentary on Mark:
But what sense would it make to encourage those in Judea to flee to the hills at that late stage of the war? And what would they be fleeing from? (pp. 608-609)
I would add that the Romans were not requiring others to worship their standards. Josephus describes the horrors of the siege both for the Jews in Jerusalem and for those in its immediate vicinity. But why wait until the Romans had destroyed the temple and sacrificed to their standards to flee? The horrors had already occurred. Mark 13.14 seems to suggest that the abomination is a sign of something about to occur, but what is that?

I think the theory that the abomination in Mark 13.14 refers to the Romans sacrificing to their standards still has to face the questions of why those in Judea should flee and why, if Mark is viewing this in hindsight, he's viewing the Judeans' tribulations after the destruction of the temple as the greatest tribulation ever, greater than that faced by his actual audience, and apparently not the immediate sign of the coming of the Son of Man. (I have written this form the perspective that it is written in hindsight by Mark -- establishing why i think that's the case would require another post).

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Re: Let the reader understand... Again

Post by Ben C. Smith » Mon Mar 05, 2018 2:58 pm

Ken Olson wrote:
Mon Mar 05, 2018 6:39 am
Sorry, this one took a while and ends up being awfully repetitive. I’d like to have re-written it so that I’m not just making the same point (maybe three points) over and over, but that would have taken even longer.
I will try to keep this brief and to the point.

I am not objecting to finding ciphers in apocalyptic or eschatological literature in general; I am objecting to finding this particular cipher in Mark 13.14, because it strains the interpretation to the breaking point, for reasons already given.

From what I can tell, interpretation in antiquity was split between interpreting the abomination of desolation (A) as a prediction which has yet to come to pass (still future from the perspective of the interpreters, among whom number most if not all of the chiliasts) and (B) as having been fulfilled in AD 70 (in the past from the perspective of the interpreters, among whom number pseudo-Clement, Eusebius, possibly/probably some "uninstructed" folk written of by Origen, and apparently even Luke). My interpretation makes the most of both of these interpretations: the oracle was written before the fact, but was transmitted and modified after the fact in light of the events of AD 70.

It having been written before the fact explains its vagueness and complete reliance upon historical and scriptural motifs (the flight to the mountains, the dangers to pregnant and nursing women, and so on). It having been edited after the fact explains its situation in a passage whose introductory question deals with the fate of the temple.

Did anyone in antiquity catch Mark's meaning, if he meant what you and Haenchen are suggesting? On pages 126-127 of The Gospel to the Romans, Brian Incigneri lists various scholarly interpretations of the abomination of desolation, and Haenchen's suggestion does not even make an appearance. If the correct interpretation has eluded all but one modern scholar and what must be a scant handful of his intellectual heirs, how was Mark's readership supposed to understand it? "Let the reader understand" serves as an alert, but it can hardly be expected to actually guide the resulting interpretation.

My interpretation, on the other hand, serves to explain most of the extant interpretations, just like a textual variant thought to be original explains the other textual variants. Most scholarly interpretations link the abomination of desolation with the fall of Jerusalem, just like Luke 21.20 appears to do, but there is wide disagreement as to which element of that complex of events is in view; this is understandable if the prediction came before the fact and now has to be lined up with the facts as best we can. Other scholarly interpretations suggest, like the ancient chiliasts, that the abomination of desolation is a prediction which has not (yet) come to pass; this is understandable, again, if it was, in fact, a genuine prediction. Nobody has to guess what Mark 13.1-2 is referring to; the fact that guesses are all we have for Mark 13.14 is in and of itself a clue to my interpretation of it.
But I think the major point you have to justify is why you think Mark's changing the meaning of "abomination of desolation" from a pagan idol to the destruction of the temple is entirely reasonable in light of Mark and his audience's historical circumstances, but retaining the "abomination of desolation" as referring to a pagan idol but changing the location in light oh Mark and his audience's historical circumstances is, well, just crazy talk.
The difference is that, on my interpretation, Mark was forced to this contingency if he wanted both to keep the original oracle (because it did predict something important about the temple) and to find its interpretation within the suggested time frame ("this generation"). Connecting the defilement of the standing temple to the destruction of that temple was not plan A (even though, in retrospect, the temple was defiled numerous times during the war before its final destruction); it was plan B. On your interpretation, on the other hand, Mark apparently wrote all of this of his own free will. He deliberately set up the passage with a question about the temple and included a detail closely associated with the temple, only to mentally make that detail fail to apply to the temple. He deliberately associated the tribulation with the flight, even though mentally he thought of the tribulation as a much broader period of which the flight was only one facet. He deliberately buried the lead, so to speak, by hiding the destruction of the temple somewhere amidst the "wars and rumors of wars" in verse 7. And I simply do not think that he made any of these awkward moves. (Many doubts has Yoda about this, too.)
But why “Let the reader understand” in 3.14? It seems like Mark is less confident that his readers will draw the necessary inferences here. I suppose on your reading this is because he’s reinterpreted “abomination of desolation,” which refers to a pagan idol in Daniel and 1 Macc to mean the destruction of the temple instead.
Exactly. "Let the reader understand" that, whereas this passage looks like a prediction that the standing temple would be defiled, it was actually a prediction that the temple would be destroyed.
On your reading, Mark would seem to be telling his contemporary Christian audience that the sufferings they are facing under Roman persecution are not as bad as those the Judean refugees previously suffered at the time of the temple’s destruction:

Mark 13.19: For in those days there will be suffering, such as has not been from the beginning of the creation that God created until now, no, and never will be.

That’s not actually impossible, but it seems to me more likely that Mark means to say that the worst tribulation ever is the tribulation his Christian audience is currently experiencing and that it’s the final tribulation before the Son of Man comes. It seems odd for an apocalyptic text to foretell the worst tribulation ever when that tribulation is already over from the POV of the text’s audience and that audience is experiencing a subsequent tribulation.
My position is that Mark interpreted his source rather like Eusebius interpreted Matthew 24.21 = Mark 13.19 in History of the Church 3.7.1-2, in which he states that the events of 70 were the fulfillment of Jesus' prediction of the great tribulation (which he quotes in full in its Matthean version). Originally, recall, the "apocalyptic text" would have been genuinely predicting events, not recounting them. That time limit of "this generation" led some exegetes (like Eusebius and Luke) to find something to attach the prediction to within Jesus' own generation. Why should it be deemed odd if Mark did the same?
Steady on. I’m not taking words from Mark 13 and applying them to my own time and place....
Nor am I. I was writing from the perspective of Mark's original readers, but failed to make that clear enough.
Ben: Just because the abomination of desolation is something which is set up specifically in the temple and which precipitates troubles throughout Judea (mainly), for example, does not mean that the more general message cannot be drawn from the pericope that it is okay to flee in some circumstances. Also, the abomination of desolation still serves as a marker along the eschatological calendar, which would be of near universal relevance.
He’s already foretold the destruction of the temple in Mark 13.1-2. I don’t see how Mark 3.14 would make him any more a prophet.
In my reading, Mark wrote verses 1-2 after 70. But verse 14 was written before 70, and it predicted something important about the temple, which only had to be nudged into place a bit. The value in retaining the original wording of a prediction (a successful one, if tweaked enough in the right direction) seems obvious. Nobody would "remember" Jesus or any of his tradents uttering verses 1-2, but verse 14 might ring a bell. The fact that some of the crucial bits of Mark 13 seem to be paralleled in 2 Thessalonians 2 also gives legs to the notion that this oracle or something like it was at least somewhat well known.
The abomination of desolation in Daniel and in 1 Macc refers to a pagan idol set up to be worshiped in the temple.
Well, sort of. I think that in Daniel the abomination of desolation is a pagan sacrifice (the "abomination") which replaced the traditional offerings (the "desolation"). Porphyry is, I think, our earliest source to openly state that Antiochus erected a statue of Zeus in the sanctuary, though 2 Maccabees 6.1-2 is perhaps suggestive. Regardless, however, my interpretation holds the actions of Pompey and the intended actions of Caligula responsible for the tweaking of the "abomination of desolation" into what we find in Mark 13.14.
While your interpretation does indeed preserves the “abomination of desolation” as something which affects the temple, that something is not a pagan idol set up to be worshiped.
My interpretation does preserve this sense in the original oracle, written before the destruction. It was Mark who had to make things fit against their natural grain, after the fact.
So, on your reading, Mark 13.14-20 does not describe the current tribulations Christians are experiencing, but current Christians may see it as analogous to their current situation? I think that’s one more level of interpretation than we need.
Our views have the same number of layers of interpretation here. Mine has one situation in Judea informing a separate situation around the empire. Yours has a text written about Judea being interpreted as a cipher for the rest of the empire.
But the fact that the “abomination of desolation” referred to a pagan idol and that it was specifically pagan worship that Mattathias was fleeing has no bearing on your interpretation of Mark 13.14. Well, that’s not quite true. It was used to refer to pagan idol in the source you hypothesize Mark to have used, but Mark took that source's language without changing it, but in Mark the abomination referred to the destruction of the temple rather than to a pagan idol. This creates a missing link of sorts in your chain of interpretations:

1. The abomination of desolation is a pagan idol in Daniel and 1 Macc, and believers should flee worshipping pagan idols in 1 Macc
2. The abomination of desolation is a pagan idol in Mark’s source, and believers should flee worshipping it
3. The abomination of desolation is the destruction of the temple in Mark, and people should flee when they see it happen
4. The abomination of desolation is the destruction of the temple in the understanding of Mark’s audience, but they would also understand this to mean that they should flee under certain circumstances, which might include compulsory worship of pagan idols. The fact that “abomination of desolation” actually does refer to pagan idols in all of Mark’s predecessors is coincidental.
First, I disagree with the wording of #2. Mark connects the flight, not to idolatry per se, but to the severity of the tribulation in Daniel 12.1.

Second, the coincidence under #4 is illusory. Recall that, in my view, Mark knows very well what an "abomination of desolation" ought to mean; hence the need for him to add "let the reader understand" when he is forced to apply it to something a bit different. Well, it makes no difference whether he found this image in Daniel, in 1 Maccabees, or in a dominical oracle (in all of which it has something to do with pagan worship); it still has the same power, on its own, to connect to his readers' hypothetical situation vis-à-vis pagan worship. The fact that Mark was obliged to apply the abomination of desolation to the destruction of Jerusalem does not take away from what the image means in its own right, nor from the ability of his readers to take a lesson from it.
Last edited by Ben C. Smith on Mon Mar 05, 2018 6:44 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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