Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Bethsaida II: Recovering the Original Structure of Mark

In analyzing the Bethsaida section, three other pericopes need to be explored as well. As discussed earlier in this work, the tale of the death of John the Baptist (6:14-29) has been expanded with material from the Book of Esther in a very unMarkan way. The very next pericope, 6:30-44, also seems to be non-Markan. Here is the structure:

A..And they went away in the boat to a lonely place by themselves.

.....B..Now many saw them going, and knew them,
..........and they ran there on foot from all the towns,
..........and got there ahead of them.

..........C..As he went ashore he saw a great throng,
...............and he had compassion on them, because
...............they were like sheep without a shepherd;

...............D..and he began to teach them many things.

....................E..And when it grew late, his disciples came
........................to him and said, "This is a lonely place,
........................and the hour is now late; send them away,
........................to go into the country and villages round
........................about and buy themselves something to eat."

.........................F..But he answered them, "You give them
.............................something to eat."

..............................G..And they said to him, "Shall we go
...................................and buy two hundred denarii worth
...................................of bread, and give it to them to eat?"

...................................H..And he said to them, "How many
........................................loaves have you? Go and see."

...................................H..And when they had found out,
........................................they said, "Five, and two fish."

..............................G..Then he commanded them all to sit
...................................down by companies upon the green
...................................grass.

.........................F..So they sat down in groups, by hundreds
..............................and by fifties.

....................E..And taking the five loaves and the two fish
.........................he looked up to heaven, and blessed, and
.........................broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples
.........................to set before the people; and he divided the two
.........................fish among them all.

...............D..And they all ate and were satisfied.

..........C..And they took up twelve baskets full of broken pieces
...............and of the fish.

.....B..And those who ate the loaves were five thousand men.

A..Immediately he made his disciples get into the boat
.....and go before him to the other side, to Beth-sa'ida, while
.....he dismissed the crowd.

There are several indicators here of a non-Markan hand at work. First, the use of the word compassion, which shows up only in other places where the text appears to have been redacted. Second, the extensive use of narrative in the second half of the structure -- Jesus rarely goes so long in a pericope without uttering something portentious. Third, the completely unMarkan center, which has a very unMarkan rhythm. Compare, if you will, the very Markan center of the Sanhedrin trial (RSV):

A..And the high priest tore his garments, and said, "Why do we still need witnesses? You have heard his blasphemy. What is your decision?"

B..And they all condemned him as deserving death.

A..And some began to spit on him, and to cover his face, and to strike him, saying to him, "Prophesy!"

B..And the guards received him with blows

Note the prolix/pithy balance so common in complex Markan centers. The center of 6:30-44 does not resemble that nice rhythm in any way. Further, the brackets do not balance each other in true Markan style. The outside brackets, BCDE/EDCB can be construed to relate, but the interior brackets FGH/HGF do not relate to each other at all. Compare again the Sanhedrin Trial, where, when Jesus gives his non-answers, in the opposite brackets, Peter denies Jesus. Similarly, in the opening bracket the High Priest accuses Jesus of being Christ, in the paired closing bracket, the maid accuses Peter of being a follower of Jesus. Mark's brackets are usually very tightly structured, whereas the writer of this passage, 6:30-44, did not take the time to make sure the interior worked correctly.

Hence, 6:30-44 is not from the hand of the writer of the original Gospel of Mark.

In addition to 6:14-29 and 6:30-44, another pericope needs to be explored: Mark 10:46-52. This pericope contains the famous verse, Mark 10:46, which many exegetes believes signals that something has been removed. I have deliberately refrained from showing the chiasm for this pericope to give the reader a feel for its rhythm (text is RSV).
A And they came to Jericho; and as he was leaving Jericho with his disciples and a great multitude, Bartimae'us, a blind beggar, the son of Timae'us, was sitting by the roadside.

B And when he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to cry out and say, "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!"

C And many rebuked him, telling him to be silent;

D but he cried out all the more, "Son of David, have mercy on me!"

E And Jesus stopped and said, "Call him."

F And they called the blind man, saying to him, "Take heart; rise, he is calling you."

F And throwing off his mantle he sprang up and came to Jesus.

E And Jesus said to him, "What do you want me to do for you?"

D And the blind man said to him, "Master, let me receive my sight."

C And Jesus said to him, "Go your way; your faith has made you well."

B And immediately he received his sight and followed him on the way.

A And when they drew near to Jerusalem, to Beth'phage and Bethany, at the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples, and said to them, "Go into the village opposite you, and immediately as you enter it you will find a colt tied, on which no one has ever sat; untie it and bring it. If any one says to you, `Why are you doing this?' say, `The Lord has need of it and will send it back here immediately.'"
The first thing to notice about this pericope is the A bracket
And they came to Jericho; and as he was leaving Jericho with his disciples and a great multitude, Bartimae'us, a blind beggar, the son of Timae'us, was sitting by the roadside.
There's absolutely no question that this is unMarkan. The standard Markan A bracket has a location change that is both singular and concrete. Thus, I join with those who say that something has been removed here. In my own view it is most likely to be Mark 7:1-23, in which the scribes come down from Jerusalem. That is easy to see if Jesus is in Jericho on his way to the big city, but difficult to imagine if Jesus is in Galilee.

Another striking thing about this pericope is the center of it. From the C bracket to the B' bracket, this pericope consists entirely of brackets containing a single action, with the exception of the center F' bracket. This kind of rhythm is entirely unMarkan. I do not believe that this pericope is from the hand of the original writer of Mark.

Yet another sign of unMarkan origin is the pericope's allusion to Plato through the name of its central character, Bar-Timaeus. In Plato's dialogue of the same name, Timaeus, it is not difficult to find the parallel between Jesus -- about to be executed -- and Socrates -- eventually to be executed, as well as Peter, James, and John, and Socrates' three friends. Socrates, like Jesus, is a tekton. Bar-Timaeus is blind, and Timaeus has a discussion of optics and the physics of the eye. Like Jesus, Socrates will enlighten his companions as to the truth. The name stinks of literary invention, and this would make it the only pericope in Mark with an origin in Plato or some other Hellenistic literature. All in all, this pericope would not seem to be from the hand of the original writer of Mark.

Let us now summarize our findings
about the long interpolated section that starts in Mark 6 and continues to Mark 10 (and probably into Mark 11 as well). This list strikes out everything not original to Mark, according to my analysis. Redacted but original text is in bold.

Mk 6:14-29 Herod executes John the Baptist
Mk 6:45-56 Jesus walks on water
Mk 8:1-13 The second feeding miracle, of 4000
Mk 8:22-26 Jesus heals a blind man, who sees men like trees walking
Mk 8:27-33 Jesus makes first Passion prediction; "Get thee behind me, Satan!"
Mk 8:34-38 Jesus says you must deny yourself and take up cross to follow him
Mk 9:1-13 Jesus is transfigured on a mountain with Moses and Elijah
Mk 9:14-29 Jesus heals an epileptic that the disciples failed to heal
Mk 9:30-37 Jesus makes his second Passion prediction
Mk 9:38-41 Whoever is not with me is against me....
Mk 9:42-50 If your hand offends you, cut it off; salted with fire
Mk 10:1-12 Teachings on divorce
Mk 10:13-16 Kingdom belongs to children
Mk 10:17-31 The rich getting into heaven is like a camel.....
Mk 10:32-34 Jesus makes his third Passion prediction
Mk 10:35-45 James and John want to be at Jesus' right hand

Mk 7:1-23 Pharisees criticize Jesus for eating with unwashed hands (moved)

Note how this would flank the Temple episode with iterations of Psalm 110 and 118 in Mark 10-11 and Mark 12, and with Pauline material in Mark 10 (divorce and food laws) and in Mark 12 (taxes and love). It is likely that other parts of this narrative have been re-arranged, but the unsettled nature of the narrative section makes it difficult to tell.

Does the Gospel of Mark have a chiastic structure, as many exegetes have posited? It seems almost impossible that it does not, given the writer's obvious interest in recursive structures, but reconstructing it is extraordinarily difficult. Most exegetes tend to place the pivot point of the Gospel in Mark 8, where Jesus is spotted as the Christ by Peter. But Mark's smaller structures do not pivot on theologically important material, but on material that is dramatic for narrative purposes. For example, the center of the Sanhedrin Trial and Peter's denial is Jesus getting beaten by the guards. The Crucifixion centers on Jesus being mocked. A glance at other centers will show that theologically important material is generally outside the center. Hence, it is likely that the center of chiasm is not where exegetes put it, in Mark 8, but where the narrative pivots, at the fateful decision to cleanse the Temple, or in Mark 9, where the Transfiguration links the Baptism and the Crucifixion.

It is easy to pick out oppositions on either side of this divide. For example, front and back offer a sequence of 5 conflict stories and a major parable. Each parable structures the forthcoming narrative. Pauline material flanks either side of the Temple Cleansing. One might oppose the Gerasene Demoniac to Jesus' predictions in Mark 13, while John's announcement of Jesus' entry into the world surely parallels the now lost ending where Jesus exits the world and the disciples are sent out into it to preach. However, the element of subjectivity in such speculations is too high to be convincing.

In the next post we'll take a look at the larger structure of the Gospel.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

Do you believe that the Truth will set you free?

Michael Turton said...

Yes, the truth will set me free.

Zimri said...

Interesting. So you agree with me (The Bethsaida Gospel) that 8:22-26, despite that it's not in Luke, is nonetheless original to Mark. You also agree that 6:45-47 is Markan too.

I put the Bethsaida Section at Mark 6:47-8:21. You seem to be saying that 6:47-56 (2nd tempest) is Markan, and that 6:30-44 (1st feeding) should be considered secondary instead of 8:1-13 (2nd feeding). Your piece argues the latter point but not the former.

So: isn't 6:47-56 redundant? Mark's just done a tempest story in 4:35-41. Why tell the same story again? Maybe there's a blog post of yours which I've missed (I'm a newbie) but if so I'd like to see a link to it.

Thanks!

Michael Turton said...

Yes, but in my reading it is the second water story that is original, not the first.