Let the reader understand... Again

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

Post by Charles Wilson » Sun Feb 18, 2018 4:55 pm

Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse Five:

"I looked through the Gideon Bible in my motel room for tales of great destruction. The sun was risen upon the Earth when Lot entered into Zo-ar, I read. Then the Lord rained upon Sodom and upon Gomorrah brimstone and fire from the Lord out of Heaven; and He overthrew those cities, and all the plain, and all the inhabitants of the cities, and that which grew upon the ground.

So it goes.

Those were vile people in both those cities, as is well known. The World was better off without them."

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

Post by Ben C. Smith » Sun Feb 18, 2018 4:55 pm

Aaaand... it only gets worse as one reads the church fathers who deal with the destruction of Jerusalem, some of whom are practically rubbing their hands in sadistic anti-Semitic glee at the thought of God taking vengeance on a wayward nation at the cost of hundreds of thousands of lives ended in horrific misery.
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Charles Wilson
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Re: Let the reader understand... Again

Post by Charles Wilson » Sun Feb 18, 2018 4:58 pm

So it goes.

Charles Wilson
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Re: Let the reader understand... Again

Post by Charles Wilson » Sun Feb 18, 2018 7:30 pm

Yer good people, Ben. Thanx.

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

Post by Ken Olson » Mon Feb 19, 2018 12:04 pm

Ben,

I snipped your first question because I don’t have much to add to what I already said about the parallel ταῦτα’s in Mark 13.4 and 13.19-20. I agree that there would prima facie appear to be some kind of parallelism between the two sets ταῦτα’s and I don’t currently have a good idea how to explain it.

Ben Smith asked:
Another question I would have is whether the verses about the tribulation period (verses 14-20) are well suited to describe Christian persecution, which seems to be described in different terms (terms which, unlike the ones employed in Mark 14.19-20, do not conjure the shade of Daniel 12.1) throughout the gospel of Mark (including in 13.9-13). You have already opined that Mark 8.34-38, along with other parts of Mark, addresses a situation wherein Mark expects "Christians brought to trial to accept martyrdom rather than deny Christ." If that is also the thrust of Mark 13.9-13, why the sudden breaking in of the abomination of desolation in verse 14? What is the difference between the situation in which "they will deliver you to the courts" to be put to death and the situation in which "those in Judea," upon seeing something in particular (called the abomination of desolation in our text), must flee? You represent Mark as offering flight as "an acceptable alternative" to martyrdom, but the text seems to be describing a normal situation in which Christians will be delivered over to the authorities as a matter of course followed by an abnormal situation in which they must flee. The alternative here does not sound like it is one of personal choice; rather, it sounds like something concrete is supposed to happen at which time flight (rather than giving testimony) becomes the new instruction.

If the abomination of desolation, on the hypothesis being examined, is a statue of Caesar, then is the text suggesting that it is only when such a statue is erected in one's town that fleeing becomes an option? Before that, one should just go on to court to stand trial?
Okay, I see two questions here: (1) If Mark. 13.14-20 is about persecution of Christians, why does Mark say “in those days there will be suffering such as has not been from the beginning of the creation God created until now ” in Mark 13.19, which is reminiscent of Daniel 12.1? This seems to suggest that Mark 13.14-20 is describing a superlatively bad situation that exceeds all other bad situations; (2) Mark 13.9-13 seems to describe a normal situation in which Christians will be handed over to authorities as a matter of course, but Mark 13.14-20 describes an abnormal situation in which people must flee after the appearance of the “abomination of desolation.”

The short answer is that, while you could read Mark 13.9-13 and Mark 13.14-20 as addressing different situations, I don’t see anything in the text that actually requires that, and much that argues against it. I see Mark 13.14-20 as redescribing the same situation as Mark 13-9.13.

This is similar to what happens in Hebrew poetry with parallelisismus membrorum, where there are two terms A and B, and B restates or elaborates what is said in A (in James Kugel’s terms, “A, and what is more, B"). Perhaps the classic example is “mounted on and ass and on a foal, the son of an ass,” which does not mean two different animals. The second term, “a foal, the son of an ass,” restates or elaborates the first “an ass”. Mark 13.9-13 and 13.14-20 are not really poetic texts and their verses are not constructed in parallel with each other, but the same principle applies.

I do not read Mark 13.9-13 in which brothers, parents and children betray each other to death and Christians will be hated by everyone because of Christ’s name as a “normal situation” which is then followed by the really bad period of tribulation in Mark 13.14-20. I take both passages to be describing the same period. Doing otherwise would also make nonsense of the latter half of Mark 13.13 “the one who endures to the end will be saved.” If I read the tribulation in Mark 13.14-20 as addressing a different situation, Mark 13.13 would have to be amended to mean “the one who endures to the end will be saved (provided he or she also makes it through the subsequent period of tribulation, which will be even worse).” I understand the ones who are saved in Mark 13.13 and the ones who are implied to be saved in Mark 13.20 as the same people, surviving the same situation. I realize you address these issues by attributing them to different levels of redaction, but I count the fact that I’m making sense of the final text of Mark as a point in favor of my reading.

Historically, persecution of Christians by the Roman authorities was never a “normal” situation in the Roman empire until the empire-wide persecution under the emperor Decius in 250. Before that it was relatively, rare, sporadic and localized. This is the conclusion of the majority of scholars who have published on the subject. Such persecutions nevertheless had a huge impact on the Christian communities they impacted.

Pliny, who had a great deal of experience in Roman government, claims in his letter to Trajan:
I have never participated in trials of Christians. I therefore do not know what offenses it is the practice to punish or investigate, and to what extent. (Pliny, Epistles, 10.96)
This, and Trajan's reply that there is no general rule, strongly suggests that there was no established imperial policy of persecuting Christians in Pliny’s time. Nevertheless, Pliny had heard of Christians and presumably of what took place at their trials:
Those who denied that they were or had been Christians, when they invoked the gods in words dictated by me, offered prayer with incense and wine to your image, which I had ordered to be brought for this purpose together with statues of the gods, and moreover cursed Christ--none of which those who are really Christians, it is said, can be forced to do--these I thought should be discharged
Pliny does not say why he initially began the proceedings against Christians, but says accusations spread once he had:
Soon accusations spread, as usually happens, because of the proceedings going on, and several incidents occurred. An anonymous document was published containing the names of many persons.
Trajan’s reply assures Pliny his procedures have been appropriate. He is not to seek out Christians (presumably by using the Roman soldiers and officials under his command), but must act on accusations brought before him (presumably brought by the locals), except that he is not to act on anonymous accusations.
You observed proper procedure, my dear Pliny, in sifting the cases of those who had been denounced to you as Christians. For it is not possible to lay down any general rule to serve as a kind of fixed standard. They are not to be sought out; if they are denounced and proved guilty, they are to be punished, with this reservation, that whoever denies that he is a Christian and really proves it--that is, by worshiping our gods--even though he was under suspicion in the past, shall obtain pardon through repentance. But anonymously posted accusations ought to have no place in any prosecution. For this is both a dangerous kind of precedent and out of keeping with the spirit of our age. (Trajan to Pliny, Epistles, 10.97)
There were statues of Caesar, other types of imperial emblems, and icons of pagan gods all over the empire. We hear about them in Judea because the Jews resisted their introduction there, but Jews and Christians in the rest of the empire just had to accept them. The issue isn’t just the presence of a statue of Caesar, it’s the Roman governor with the power to compel worship on pain of death. The councils and synagogues mentioned in Mark 13.9 could impose lesser punishments – Paul claims to have received the 40 lashes less one from the Jews five times (2 Cor. 11.24), but the governors and kings, which I would take to mean Roman governors of provinces and probably kings of Roman client states, could impose the death penalty.

IIRC, the Roman governor was typically the only official in a province with the power to impose capital punishment during peacetime. In many provinces, the governor acted as sort of circuit judge, travelling to different cities to hear cases. So I would understand “when you see the abomination of desolation set up where it ought not to be” in Mark 13.14 to mean “when you learn that the Roman governor has instituted proceedings in which he is compelling Christians to worship images of Caesar and the gods on pain of death.” I don’t understand this to be contradicting Mark 13.9: “As for yourselves, beware; for they will hand you over …” but elaborating on it. In that situation, you are encouraged to flee. There is no “normal situation” of persecution in which one is expected to had oneself over followed by a different situation of persecution in which one should flee.

The Martyrdom of Polycarp, though written much later than Mark’s gospel, can give us some insight into how Christians reacted to official persecution in different ways:
4.1 But one, named Quintus, a Phrygian lately come from Phrygia, when he saw the wild beasts played the coward. Now it was he who had forced himself and some others to come forward of their own accord. Him the Pro-Consul persuaded with many entreaties to take the oath and offer sacrifice. For this reason, therefore, brethren, we do not commend those who give themselves up, since the Gospel does not give this teaching.
5.1 But the most wonderful Polycarp, when he first heard it, was not disturbed, but wished to remain in the city; but the majority persuaded him to go away quietly, and he went out quietly to a farm, not far distant from the city, and stayed with a few friends, doing nothing but pray night and day for all, and for the Churches throughout the world, as was his custom. 5.2 And while he was praying he fell into a trance three days before he was arrested, and saw the pillow under his head burning with fire, and he turned and said to those who were with him: "I must be burnt alive."
6.1 And when the searching for him persisted he went to another farm; and those who were searching for him came up at once, and when they did not find him, they arrested young slaves, and one of them confessed under torture. 2 For it was indeed impossible for him to remain hid, since those who betrayed him were of his own house.
The author of this story is critical of those who had themselves over to the authorities, such as Quintus, because the gospel does not require it, and those who do it might then fail in their faith as Quintus did. Polycarp, the protagonist of the story is presented as undisturbed and initially intending to remain in the city (though not to hand himself over), but is prevailed on by others to flee outside it. He is nevertheless betrayed by members of his own household and ends up being martyred; of course, he does not fail in his faith and worship idols, but bears witness before the governor.

So, in summary, I don’t see any compelling reason to read Mark 13.14-16 as addressing a substantially different situation from Mark 13.9-13, rather than being a further explication of the same situation.

Best,

Ken
Last edited by Ken Olson on Mon Feb 19, 2018 3:02 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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

Post by Ben C. Smith » Mon Feb 19, 2018 1:04 pm

Thanks, Ken.

I have only two comments for the time being:
  1. The term "normal" was perhaps ill chosen on my part. I meant only that there seems to be a time before the sign to flee which is characterized by family members betraying other family members and believers getting arrested. I agree that persecution was sporadic; "normal" was not meant to imply otherwise. Nor did I mean to imply that one ought, according to verses 9-13, to turn oneself in (like Quintus; you probably got that impression from where I said that "one should just go on to court to stand trial," but I meant that one should remain in a situation in which that was possible, as opposed to fleeing); rather, the idea was that one cannot necessarily tell when somebody is going to betray you, whereas one is supposed to be able to tell when the abomination of desolation is in place ("when you see"). Also, verse 9 envisions several different situations (hauled to court, before kings or governors, or into the synagogues), not just the specific contingency of the worship of Caesar being demanded.
  2. I do not tend to take enduring "to the end" in verse 13 as meaning the end of this era in human history; I take it, on the heels of people being delivered over to their deaths in verse 12, as meaning that one is to endure in the faith until the end of his or her life. It is hard for me to imagine our author implying that one who dies (that is, does not endure) in the line of Christian duty before the end of the time of hardship has lost out on salvation; nor does it make sense for me to think of salvation here as merely the preserving of one's physical life, since "enduring to the end" would then be tautological with saving one's life (the one who endures to the end will have survived?). So I think, barring persuasion to the contrary, that verse 9 is telling the reader not to be a Quintus, giving up on one's faith instead of dying for it. Also, even if I were to view enduring "to the end" as referring to the end of the era, I think that the end would be the end: not just the end of some little period, but the end of it all, tribulation time included. (So there would be no "subsequent period of tribulation" after "the end," on my reading, regardless.)
Last edited by Ben C. Smith on Mon Feb 19, 2018 2:58 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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neilgodfrey
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Re: Let the reader understand... Again

Post by neilgodfrey » Mon Feb 19, 2018 2:35 pm

Ben C. Smith wrote:
Mon Feb 19, 2018 1:04 pm
[*]I do not tend to take enduring "to the end" in verse 13 as meaning the end of this era in human history; I take it, on the heels of people being delivered over to their deaths in verse 12, as meaning that one is to endure in the faith until the end of his or her life.
Ambiguity is a signature of the Gospel of Mark. "The end" can certainly be read as "end of one' life" but the context clearly sets up the reader to have the "end of days/certain events" in mind (as well, even primarily):

The opening questions relate to the signs of the eventual accomplishment of certain events; then we hear of early signs, such as wars and rumours of wars, "but the end is not yet". (Mark 13:7)

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

Post by Ben C. Smith » Mon Feb 19, 2018 3:23 pm

Scratch this post.
Last edited by Ben C. Smith on Mon Feb 19, 2018 3:50 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Ken Olson
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Re: Let the reader understand... Again

Post by Ken Olson » Mon Feb 19, 2018 3:38 pm

Ben Smith wrote:
Hopefully the two comments in my previous post made enough sense to you as to render my response here intelligible.
No such luck.
You say here that Mark 13.9-13 and 13.14-29 describe the same situation; however, later you say:
I take it you're suggesting there is some inconsistency in my interpretation. You might be right, but I can't see what you're pointing to.

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

Post by Ben C. Smith » Mon Feb 19, 2018 3:51 pm

Ken Olson wrote:
Mon Feb 19, 2018 3:38 pm
Ben Smith wrote:
Hopefully the two comments in my previous post made enough sense to you as to render my response here intelligible.
No such luck.
You say here that Mark 13.9-13 and 13.14-29 describe the same situation; however, later you say:
I take it you're suggesting there is some inconsistency in my interpretation. You might be right, but I can't see what you're pointing to.
That is because I accidentally posted before I was even remotely finished composing, and did not notice it for some reason. Sorry about that. I am losing my ability to do the internet, apparently. Ugh.

Here is what I meant to say:
Ken Olson wrote:
Mon Feb 19, 2018 12:04 pm
I snipped your first question because I don’t have much to add to what I already said about the parallel ταῦτα’s in Mark 13.4 and 13.19-20. I agree that there would prima facie appear to be some kind of parallelism between the two sets ταῦτα’s and I don’t currently have a good idea how to explain it.
Okay, we can skip that part for now; I have an idea as to what is going on, but it involves redaction, and here I am going to try to run with the idea that Mark 13 is all of a piece.

I hope the comments in my last post to you made enough sense to render my response here intelligible.
The short answer is that, while you could read Mark 13.9-13 and Mark 13.14-20 as addressing different situations, I don’t see anything in the text that actually requires that, and much that argues against it. I see Mark 13.14-20 as redescribing the same situation as Mark 13-9.13.

....

I do not read Mark 13.9-13 in which brothers, parents and children betray each other to death and Christians will be hated by everyone because of Christ’s name as a “normal situation” which is then followed by the really bad period of tribulation in Mark 13.14-20. I take both passages to be describing the same period.
Here you take Mark 13.9-13 and Mark 13.14-20 as describing the same situation. But later you write:
IIRC, the Roman governor was typically the only official in a province with the power to impose capital punishment during peacetime. In many provinces, the governor acted as sort of circuit judge, travelling to different cities to hear cases. So I would understand “when you see the abomination of desolation set up where it ought not to be” in Mark 13.14 to mean “when you learn that the Roman governor has instituted proceedings in which he is compelling Christians to worship images of Caesar and the gods on pain of death.” I don’t understand this to be contradicting Mark 13.9: “As for yourselves, beware; for they will hand you over …” but elaborating on it. In that situation, you are encouraged to flee.
So I take it you feel that the pericope about the abomination of desolation and the tribulation to trump all tribulations, while describing the same situation as the previous pericope, does at least describe a special case of that situation, correct? Normally, there is not much one can do against relatives who secretly decide to betray you or local authorities who, on a whim (since, as you say, persecution was sporadic), decide to haul you into court. But, when the provincial governor is on his way to town (a circumstance often followed by demands of worship to Caesar), this is something that you can "see" (verse 14) and flee, correct?

If I am interpreting your position aright, what does this do to the "time of tribulation such as has not occurred since the beginning," nor ever shall? Does this tribulation begin at one time in one town and at another time in another town, depending upon the schedule of the governor? It even seems like it could happen in one decade in Italy, in another decade in Macedonia, and in yet another decade in Phrygia. Is this how you read it? Or is there supposed to be, on your reading, a more concentrated period which overall could be described as the greatest tribulation of all time?

I ask because I take "those days" (of tribulation) in verse 19 (notice the γάρ) to be the same exact period as "those days" (of hardship for mothers) in verse 17, and "those days" in verse 17 relate directly to the flight once one has seen the abomination of desolation being set up. So, if there are many different possible flights in many different towns over the course of years or decades, then the greatest tribulation of all time would seem to be an oddly repeatable event.

Is that how you read the tribulation period here, as a repeatable event, or do you have some way of consolidating it into a single, Danielic period of time which can stand on its own as (allegedly) the greatest such period in history? And, if you do have some way of consolidating it like that, how do you do so without ignoring the textual connections between the tribulation period itself and the specific moment when flight becomes the recommended option?
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