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gMark is intended to be history writing

Posted: Tue Oct 09, 2018 12:25 am
by Stefan Kristensen
I think the crucial evidence that the author of gMark presents his story, his narrative, as history writing comes right off the bat, when he inserts his story into the frame of prophecy: "As it is written in the prophet Isaiah" (Mark 1:2). His story may be one very special form of history writing, but nevertheless history writing indeed, i.e. a story relating real events.

To my knowledge there is no evidence that the prophetic predictions of Scripture were generally considered as anything other than predictions of actual, real events to come. That is, reality. And that is what history is thought to be: reality. As such, prophecy is a kind of proleptic history writing, because the real author of the prophecies was considered to be somebody who knows what is going to happen in the course of history, and that is God. Therefore, when Mark presents his story as fulfilment of prophecy he presents it as real events of the (recent) past, and that is the most basic definition of history writing.

And so everytime Jesus does something in the story where he fulfils prophecy or speaks about the fulfilment of prophecy this is evidence that we're dealing with history writing, because prophecy is history, not fiction. It makes no sense at all to write a 'fictional' or symbolic story of somebody who fulfils prophecy. Prophecy is history.

So when many of the characters in the story are persons we know to be historical from outside the biblical writings, such as Pilate and Herod, this is simply because Mark is intending to present historical events. Another small piece of evidence might be the appearance of the character Simon of Cyrene, because Mark here seems to explicitly refer to his cross bearing as a historical event when introduces this character with reference to his sons, which is a reference to persons in the real world, i.e. outside of the narrative.

The three other gospels in the NT have even more explicit evidence that they also want to present historical events. Luke explicitly presents his story as history writing in his introduction, when he says he wants to do the same thing that "many" othes have tried to do, i.e. to write an "orderly account of the deeds that have been fulfilled amongst us" (Luke 1:1-4). Here he is referring to historical accounts that he knows of, which may in fact be the other gospels.

John at the very end of his story tells us that he has only presented some of the "signs" that "Jesus did", but that he did many other signs also, and as such this author also means for his story to be history writing (20:30-31). The extended ending to John even explicitly assures us that the things presented in the story are historically true, as they are the written testimony of a disciple, and "we know that his testimony is true" (John 21:24).

Both Luke and John, then, has a narrator who addresses the reader directly in a way that reveals the intended historical aspect of the story. And this is also something that normally characterizes history writing, that the narrator of the events appears to the reader overtly as a chronicler or historian, from time to time addressing the reader directly with his personal comments or opinions on the related events.

Like Mark, Matthew doesn't do this same thing as Luke and John, with an overt narrator. But there are even more evidence in gMatt than in gMark that he also intends his story to be history writing. First of all the many fulfilment quotations: "All this happened to fulfil what has been spoken by the Lord through the prophet saying: 'Look, the virgin shall conceive and ...'" (Matt 1:23). It couldn't be more clear that this is intended to be historical events narrated in the story. Another small piece of evidence in gMatt is one place where there is an overt narrator, in Matt 28:15, where the soldiers at the tomb are given a sum of money to propogate a false story that the disciples had stolen Jesus' body: "And this story is still told among the Jews to this day" (Matt 28:15). Here, the narrator in gMatt suddenly (and uncharacteristically for gMatt) addresses the reader directly in a way that reveals that this event with the soldiers and their false story is the historical cause for this lie among the Jews.

So we can see that all four gospels clearly intend their stories to be understood as historical events. The gospel that has the least characteristics of history writing is gMark, in that the narrator is extremely covert and never ever addresses the reader directly in a way where he breaks his narration of his narrative, as chroniclers usually do. The one exception, like I pointed out, might be the reference to two persons that have no relation to the story, i.e. the sons of Simon of Cyrene, "Rufus and Alexander". They have no role in the narrative but the narrator apparantly expects his readers to know these two persons in the 'real' world, i.e. outside of the narrated events, whereby the narrator steps away from his role as narrator and becomes a real person who references other real persons known by him and his 'real' readers.


Now, the gospels' special form of history writing of course do not live up to our modern form of history writing. Actually, I believe that it didn't even live up to the contemporary understanding of history writing. Except for one particular form of history writing that we know of: Scriptures (OT).

Scriptures were generally regarded as history writing, of this there can be no doubt. The stories of Adam and Eve, the Flood, Abraham, the Exodus, the kingdoms of Israel and Judah, the Exile, the whole thing, all regarded as historical events of the past. In this way Scriptures presented a unified version of world history. And like I said, prophecy is also history writing, the future historical events, as it were.

One characteristic of the Jewish and Christian 'apocalyptic' worldview was that they had had revelations that had revealed the meaning of the prophecies, meaning that they knew the future events to come. In this way they had a revelation of the entire world history: from beginning to end. Their understanding, or version, of world history was characterized by the same traits that characterizes a narrative, a story. History as story. Meaning that world history had characters that act throughout the whole story to form a unified plot. And like most stories, narratives, world history was also structured according to the scheme: harmony -> disharmony -> harmony restored.

The harmony/disharmony element in this story consists basically of one thing: obedience/disobedience to God. As long as there is disobedience to God, there is a story, there is disharmony, and as soon as the disharmony vanishes, there are no more events to relate, and the story ends, like with all other stories: They lived happily ever after. No more disharmony means end of story. A story about harmony is no story. And because world history is such a story, then world history ends when disharmony ends, when harmony is restored, and in the case of this story of reality, world history, that means when there is universal obedience to God. And everyone lives happily ever after, end of story, end of history. They lived happily ever after, in fact, eternally ever after!

This means in turn, that the worldview of these religious folks were that reality is in fact a narrative. The main characters throughout the great narrative of world history is God, Israel, humanity (or 'the nations') and Satan, and as a new character compared to the Jewish version, God's son. So everything that happens is then chategorized under these characters. If the Romans do something, it is the character 'the nations' who is acting, and as such the Romans are given the same character traits as this character has always had throughout history, as revealed in Scripture.

Now we can see why Mark's story is history writing: Reality is a narrative, history is a story. All the various complicated events that take place in the 'real' world are in fact events that are done by the 'main characters' of reality, God, Israel, humanity, Satan or God's son. No matter what great event takes place, such as the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans, this is viewed as part of the great meta-narrative, so that it has to be one of the main characters who is acting. Although on the surface it looks like it is just the Romans, it is in fact the character God who is acting against the character Israel using the character 'the nations', as God sometimes do in this story.


But there is the problem with the 'history writing' of gMark that the narrator, the 'chronicler', does not come across at all like a chronicler. He doesn't even try, except perhaps for the introduction in Mark 1:2. Some events are narrated where we get to know the inner thoughts of the characters and some of the events couldn't possibly have been known by the 'chronicler' (Mark), such as Jesus' private prayer in Gethsemane. It can only be described as history writing which has the characteristics of what we would call fiction.

We simply have to conclude, that even though Mark wanted his story to be understood as historical, he also had no problem in presenting history in a kind of ordered way, so that it comes across to us as fictional. So the real problem is, that Mark wanted his story to be historical and at the same time he wanted it to be didactic and symbolic. But he definately wanted the events to be understood as on the whole historical, or else he wouldn't have presented them as fulfilment of prophecies. Also, the crucifixion of Jesus would surely have been regarded as a historical event in itself.

In the end, I think he just tried to mimick the 'history writing' he and his fellow Christians found in Scripture. Especially the stories of Elijah and Elisha.

Re: gMark is intended to be history writing

Posted: Tue Oct 09, 2018 2:40 am
by GakuseiDon
Stefan Kristensen wrote:
Tue Oct 09, 2018 12:25 am
The three other gospels in the NT have even more explicit evidence that they also want to present historical events. Luke explicitly presents his story as history writing in his introduction, when he says he wants to do the same thing that "many" othes have tried to do, i.e. to write an "orderly account of the deeds that have been fulfilled amongst us" (Luke 1:1-4). Here he is referring to historical accounts that he knows of, which may in fact be the other gospels.
Even beyond that, no-one seems to think that the Gospels were NOT historical. Dr Robert M Price likes to use the example of a Superboy story where Superboy goes a thousand years into the future and people then think he is a legendary figure that never existed; the irony being that Superboy is just fiction anyway. But the analogy fails since early writers -- even educated writers -- treated the Gospels as though they were historical literature.

The Synoptics all seem to fall into the same genre. Whatever that genre gets called, as you note about Luke, they are being passed off containing events set in history (even if writers like Origen suggested some parts also contained allegories). Even Dr Carrier believes that mystery religions of that time had allegorical tales that was passed off "as superficially true" in order "to conceal the true meaning from the public". So the Gospels were written to be presented as true, even under Carrier's theory. But if later pagan writers like the Emperor Julian recognised that the Gospels fell into that type of "hidden mystery religion" genre, there is no record that they recognised it that way. Julian called the Gospels 'lies', but only because they were being presented by Christians as the truth.

Plutarch does famously warn Clea in "Isis and Osiris" that the Egyptian legends did not "actually happen in the manner in which they are related":
http://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/R ... is*/A.html

Therefore, Clea, whenever you hear the traditional tales which the Egyptians tell about the gods, their wanderings, dismemberments, and many experiences of this sort, you must remember what has been already said, and you must not think that any of these tales actually happened in the manner in which they are related. The facts are that they do not call the dog by the name Hermes as his proper name, but they bring into association with the most astute of their gods that animal's watchfulness and wakefulness and wisdom, since he distinguishes between what is friendly and what is hostile by his knowledge of the one and his ignorance of the other, as Plato remarks. Nor, again, do they believe that the sun rises as a new-born babe from the lotus, but they portray the rising of the sun in this manner to indicate allegorically the enkindling of the sun from the waters. So also Ochus, the most cruel and terrible of the Persian kings, who put many to death and finally slaughtered the Apis and ate him for dinner in the company of his friends, the Egyptians called the "Sword"; and they call him by that name even to this day in their list of kings. But manifestly they do not mean to apply this name to his actual being; they but liken the stubbornness and wickedness in his character to an instrument of murder. If, then, you listen to the stories about the gods in this way, accepting them from those who interpret the story reverently and philosophically, and if you always perform and observe the established rites of worship, and believe that no sacrifice that you can offer, no deed that you may do will be more likely to find favour with the gods than your belief in their true nature, you may avoid superstition which is no less an evil than atheism.

But these myths do seem to be on a different level to how the Gospels are presented, as far as I can see.

I know there are various theories proposed that the Gospel of Mark was developed as fiction (e.g. stories derived from the OT), but is there any evidence that it and the other Gospels were ever thought to be fiction? Or were they always regarded and presented as being at least "superficially true", as Carrier puts it?

Re: gMark is intended to be history writing

Posted: Tue Oct 09, 2018 3:16 am
by neilgodfrey
There is no question that the gospels are narrated as "histories".

From T.P. Wiseman, “Lying Historians: Seven Types of Mendacity” in Lies and fiction in the Ancient World
For Seneca, in the first century AD, it was axiomatic that historians are liars. There is a passage in his Quaestiones Naturales (7.16.if.) where, discussing comets, he brushes aside the theory offered by Ephorus with a damning remark:
It takes no great effort to refute him — he’s a historian.
. . . .

Seneca justifies his paradox with a sardonic little digression on the practice of history as mere entertainment:
Some historians win approval by telling incredible tales; an everyday narrative would make the reader go and do something else, so they excite him with marvels. Some of them are credulous, and lies take them unawares; others are careless, and lies are what they like; the former don’t avoid them, the latter seek them out. What the whole tribe have in common is this: they think their work can only achieve approval and popularity if they sprinkle it with lies.
(Wiseman, pp. 122f)
Wiseman cites another ancient historian, Arrian, who explains the criteria he used in deciding what stories to write about Alexander the Great.
Everything concerning Alexander which Ptolemy and Aristobulus have both described in the same way I have reproduced as being true in every respect; when they have not given the same account, I have chosen the version which seemed to me more worthy of belief and also more worthy of telling . . . Other incidents recorded by other writers, because they seemed to me in themselves worthy of telling and not altogether unworthy of belief, I have reproduced as being merely ‘reported’ about Alexander.
Arrian has two criteria for what to include — essentially, credibility and interest, what’s worth believing and what’s worth telling. . . .

Seneca, in Wiseman’s view, held historians of his day in low esteem because
the historian is merely a story-teller, and story-tellers are liars.
(Wiseman, pp. 135, 136, 137)

Re: gMark is intended to be history writing

Posted: Tue Oct 09, 2018 3:23 am
by Stefan Kristensen
GakuseiDon wrote:
Tue Oct 09, 2018 2:40 am
I know there are various theories proposed that the Gospel of Mark was developed as fiction (e.g. stories derived from the OT), but is there any evidence that it and the other Gospels were ever thought to be fiction? Or were they always regarded and presented as being at least "superficially true", as Carrier puts it?
There are many theories as to the intended meaning of the texts of the gospels, though generally most agree, I believe, that they were meant to be understood as relating historical events. So I wanted to once and for all find the damning evidence from the texts themselves, that they are intended as historical.

It is interesting, your quote from Plutarch. These myths from the 'mysteries' are perhaps not just on another level from the gospels, but chategorically different. Because Plutarch calls it "superstition" to take the allegorical surface level of the mythical stories to be literal, whereas the gospel writers wants us to understand the surface level of their narratives as literal.

I guess that's also why I wrote this post, to show an aspect of the texts which I find crucial to analyze their intended meaning. Which is that the gospel writers, just as the like-minded Jews and Christians of their time, thought there were a hidden meaning in the surface layer of reality itself. Or in other words, they thought reality actually had two layers. The hidden meaning in the texts are meant to be understood as the hidden meaning in the historical, the 'real', events which are related. It is not the authors that communicate something, they would posit, they merely communicate some real events that have taken place, which themselves (the historical events) had the hidden meaning.

It is a fascinating phenomenon to observe, I think. That reality itself is regarded as an outer form or shape of an inner truth. The inner truth is on an invisible level, a spiritual level, not visible to fleshly eyes. The gospel of Mark is all about acquiring this spiritual vision, so as to perceive this inner truth hidden by the outer 'shape' of the visible reality.

Re: gMark is intended to be history writing

Posted: Tue Oct 09, 2018 3:37 am
by Stefan Kristensen
neilgodfrey wrote:
Tue Oct 09, 2018 3:16 am
There is no question that the gospels are narrated as "histories".

From T.P. Wiseman, “Lying Historians: Seven Types of Mendacity” in Lies and fiction in the Ancient World
For Seneca, in the first century AD, it was axiomatic that historians are liars. There is a passage in his Quaestiones Naturales (7.16.if.) where, discussing comets, he brushes aside the theory offered by Ephorus with a damning remark:
It takes no great effort to refute him — he’s a historian.
. . . .

Seneca justifies his paradox with a sardonic little digression on the practice of history as mere entertainment:
Some historians win approval by telling incredible tales; an everyday narrative would make the reader go and do something else, so they excite him with marvels. Some of them are credulous, and lies take them unawares; others are careless, and lies are what they like; the former don’t avoid them, the latter seek them out. What the whole tribe have in common is this: they think their work can only achieve approval and popularity if they sprinkle it with lies.
(Wiseman, pp. 122f)
Wiseman cites another ancient historian, Arrian, who explains the criteria he used in deciding what stories to write about Alexander the Great.
Everything concerning Alexander which Ptolemy and Aristobulus have both described in the same way I have reproduced as being true in every respect; when they have not given the same account, I have chosen the version which seemed to me more worthy of belief and also more worthy of telling . . . Other incidents recorded by other writers, because they seemed to me in themselves worthy of telling and not altogether unworthy of belief, I have reproduced as being merely ‘reported’ about Alexander.
Arrian has two criteria for what to include — essentially, credibility and interest, what’s worth believing and what’s worth telling. . . .

Seneca, in Wiseman’s view, held historians of his day in low esteem because
the historian is merely a story-teller, and story-tellers are liars.
(Wiseman, pp. 135, 136, 137)
Hahahaha, excellent. That's also to some degree my esteem of the gospel writers as 'historians'...

There is also some quote by some ancient historian, which is relevant, but I can't remember where it's from. If I remember correctly, this historian writes openly something to the effect that he personally constructs the speeches in his history work in order to convey the historical person's intentions and personality etc. I think I came across this in connection with research of Acts, with all its speeches, which were intended, then, to be understood in this way, i.e. historical in the manner of conveying the 'sense' of the historical person and event, not the actual precise event and speech.

Re: gMark is intended to be history writing

Posted: Tue Oct 09, 2018 3:54 am
by hakeem
Stefan Kristensen wrote:
Tue Oct 09, 2018 12:25 am
I think the crucial evidence that the author of gMark presents his story, his narrative, as history writing comes right off the bat, when he inserts his story into the frame of prophecy: "As it is written in the prophet Isaiah" (Mark 1:2). His story may be one very special form of history writing, but nevertheless history writing indeed, i.e. a story relating real events....
It appears to me that the author of gMark knew he was writing fiction but wanted his readers or audience to believe that he was writing history. The author masked his fiction by claiming or implying his invented story was a product of supposed prophecies in Hebrew Scripture and that his Jesus was the Son of the Jewish God.

We know the author of the Jesus story in gMark was writing fiction because all the accounts of his Jesus could not have happened or are implausible.


Here are some examples of the massive amount of fictional accounts in gMark repeated by other NT writers.

The Man with an Unclean Spirit (1:23-26; cf. Luke 4:33-35)

Healing Simon's Mother-in-law (1:30-31; cf. Luke 4:38-39)

Healing a Leper (1:40-45; cf. Matthew 8:2-4; Luke 5:12-14)

Healing Palsy (2:1-12; cf. Matthew 9:2-8; Luke 5:17-26)

The Withered Hand (3:1-6; cf. Matthew 12:9-14; Luke 6:6-11)

Stilling the Storm (4:35-41; cf. Matthew 8:23-27; Luke 8:22-25)

The Gadarene Demoniac (5:1-20; cf. Matthew 8:28-34; Luke 8:26-39)

The Daughter of Jairus (5:21-43; cf. Matthew 9:18-26; Luke 8:40-56)

The Afflicted Woman (5:25-34; cf. Matthew 9:20-22; Luke 8:43-48)

Feeding the Five Thousand (6:30-46; cf. Matthew 14:13-23; Luke 9:10-17; John 6:1-15)

Jesus Walking on the Water (6:47-56; cf. Matthew 14:24-36; John 6:16-21)

Syrophoenician Woman's Daughter (7:24-30; cf. Matthew 15:21-28)

Deaf and Dumb Man (7:31-37; cf. Matthew 15:29-31)

Feeding the Four Thousand (8:1-9; cf. Matthew 15:32-38)

The Blind Man Near Bethsaida (8:22-26, unique to Mark)

The Demoniac Boy (9:14-29; cf. Matthew 17:14-20; Luke 9:37-43)

The Blind Men Near Jericho (10:46-52; cf. Matthew 20:29-34; Luke 18:35-43)

The Withered Fig Tree (11:20-25; cf. Matthew 21:20-22)


The author of gMark could not have been a witness to any of those fore-mentioned events.

gMark's author was a fiction writer but believed to be writing history which later became the basis of a new religion.

Re: gMark is intended to be history writing

Posted: Tue Oct 09, 2018 4:09 am
by Ulan
Yes, with many stories in the gospels, the author doesn't even pretend there were witnesses present to pass on the conversations or what happened. I'm sure that the more educated readers were aware that this was rather the norm than an outlier.

Re: gMark is intended to be history writing

Posted: Tue Oct 09, 2018 4:40 am
by GakuseiDon
Stefan Kristensen wrote:
Tue Oct 09, 2018 3:37 am
There is also some quote by some ancient historian, which is relevant, but I can't remember where it's from. If I remember correctly, this historian writes openly something to the effect that he personally constructs the speeches in his history work in order to convey the historical person's intentions and personality etc. I think I came across this in connection with research of Acts, with all its speeches, which were intended, then, to be understood in this way, i.e. historical in the manner of conveying the 'sense' of the historical person and event, not the actual precise event and speech.
Yes, I've come across that as well, though I don't remember from where off-hand. Plutarch writes something similar in his "Parallel Lives":
https://archive.org/stream/plutarchsliv ... 2_djvu.txt

May I therefore succeed in purifying Fable, making her submit to reason and take on the semblance of History. But where she obstinately disdains to make herself credible, and refuses to admit any element of probability, I shall pray for kindly readers, and such as receive with indulgence the tales of antiquity.

Plutarch wanted to play up the virtues of his subjects in "Parallel Lives", pairing Roman leaders and ancient Greek leaders to show parallels. I'd think that many ancient history works were like modern day women's gossip magazines: written as entertainment for an audience, containing 'facts' to titillate. I wonder what would have been on the cover of the "Weekly Gospel of Mark" magazine? :)

Re: gMark is intended to be history writing

Posted: Tue Oct 09, 2018 4:56 am
by GakuseiDon
hakeem wrote:
Tue Oct 09, 2018 3:54 am
It appears to me that the author of gMark knew he was writing fiction but wanted his readers or audience to believe that he was writing history. The author masked his fiction by claiming or implying his invented story was a product of supposed prophecies in Hebrew Scripture and that his Jesus was the Son of the Jewish God.
That's the thing though isn't it? Whatever the intention of the authors, the Gospels appear to have been presented to the public as some kind of actual history or biography, and accepted as such.

Has anyone tried to make the case that the Gospel of Mark was originally presented as fiction like Apuleius's "The Golden Ass", but was mistaken by the public as being a biography? (IIRC Doherty did propose something along those lines, where gMark was compiled by a Q community made up of mini-Jesuses, with the stories and sayings of gMark Jesus reflecting that Q community.)

Re: gMark is intended to be history writing

Posted: Tue Oct 09, 2018 5:21 am
by Stefan Kristensen
GakuseiDon wrote:
Tue Oct 09, 2018 4:40 am
I wonder what would have been on the cover of the "Weekly Gospel of Mark" magazine? :)
Maybe: The secret life of Pilate! "I'm a Christian"