Historical Commentary on the Gospel of Mark
|1: And he began to speak to them
"A man planted a vineyard, and set a hedge around it, and dug a pit for
the wine press, and built a tower, and let it out to tenants, and went
into another country. 2: When the time came, he sent a servant to the
to get from them some of the fruit of the vineyard. 3: And they took
and beat him, and sent him away empty-handed. 4: Again he sent to them another servant, and
him in the head, and treated him shamefully. 5: And he sent another,
him they killed; and so with many others, some they beat and some they
killed. 6: He had still one other, a beloved son; finally he sent him
them, saying, `They
||will respect my son.' 7: But those tenants said to one another, `This is the heir; come, let us kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.' 8: And they took him and killed him, and cast him out of the vineyard. 9: What will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come and destroy the tenants, and give the vineyard to others. 10: Have you not read this scripture: `The very stone which the builders rejected has become the head of the corner; 11: this was the Lord's doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes'?" 12: And they tried to arrest him, but feared the multitude, for they perceived that he had told the parable against them; so they left him and went away.|
|1: And he began to speak to them in parables. "A man planted a vineyard, and set a hedge around it, and dug a pit for the wine press, and built a tower, and let it out to tenants, and went into another country.|
This is drawn from Isaiah 5 (Fox 1992, p119):
Note the presence of the winepress and tower, as in Mark 12:1. The language of the parable is drawn completely from the Septaugint (Kloppenborg 2002, 2004), against Chilton (1984), who sees it as coming from a targum) and thus, cannot go back to Jesus.
Perhaps another example of Mark's Temple-focused hypertextuality is
in v1. Gundry (1993, p684) notes that there was a widespread belief in
Judaism that the "tower" in Isaiah 5:1-2 was the Temple, and the "vat"
represented the altar. The text does not make it possible to judge
whether the writer knew this, however.
|v1: When the time came... a reference to Lev 19, where the instructions for harvesting fruit are given (Donahue and Harrington 2002, p338). Kloppenborg argues (2002) that the parable is taken over by the writer of Mark rather than invented by him, and that the original was not preceded by the Isaiah quote.|
Alfred Loisy (1962) argued that this parable was an
|6: He had still one other, a beloved son; finally he sent him to them, saying, `They will respect my son.'|
|v6: A supernatural prophecy of Jesus' death.|
|7: But those tenants said to one another, `This is the heir; come, let us kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.'|
|v7: The parable is on its face is absurd, for how could the tenants inherit the farm if they were the killers of its heir? J. D. H. Amador (1992) has attempted to explain this absurdity using a sociological reading of the parable against the economic desperation of the Palestine peasantry in the first century.|
|10: Have you not read this scripture: `The very stone which the builders rejected has become the head of the corner; 11: this was the Lord's doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes'?"|
|v10-11: cites Psalm 118. The proverb was not originally intended as a messianic prediction but was read as such by early Christians. Another signal of Markan creation off the OT. The phrase "has become the cornerstone" is highly controversial, for the Greek can mean either cornerstone or capstone (bottommost or topmost stone) (Donahue and Harrington, p340).|
|v10: Psalm 118 was written during Maccabaean period. This is the second use of this Psalm in this sequence of events; it was one of the Hallel Psalms (113-118) that celebrate the entrance, Messiah-style, of Simon Maccabaeus into the Holy City.|
|v10: in Hebrew the word for stone (eben) is similar to the word for son (ben). Perhaps there is a pun here.|
|12: And they tried to arrest him, but feared the multitude, for they perceived that he had told the parable against them; so they left him and went away.|
|v12: This verse, in conjunction with the beginning drawn entirely from the Septaugint Isaiah, shows that the parable was most probably created by Mark to serve his narrative purpose of painting the chief priests and scribes as the bad guys.|
In this long section of Mark the writer is parallel the
narrative. The parallel frames are given below:
In her analysis of the Gospel of Mark, Mary Ann Tolbert (1989)
identifies the Parable of the Tenants as setting the typology for the
second great division of the gospel of Mark. Chapter 11 is the prologue
for the final three chapters, in which the Parable of the Tenants
serves as the synopsis of coming events, a common feature of
Hellenistic popular literature. The events of the Parable mirror the
events that happen to Jesus -- he will be beaten, shamed, wounded in
the head, and then killed.
The opening verses of the parable draw on Isa 5 as explained
above. Returning to Isa 5 brings the reader to a story of how Yahweh
will do to Israel essentially what Jesus says the authorities will do
In other words, the Parable of the Tenants connects back to a
threat by God to destroy the high and mighty of Israel, and where one
finds the promise that after all has been destroyed:
Additionally, a new and very nasty polemical theme emerges
here in the
parallel to the Eljah-Elisha Cycle: the Markan
makes the chief priests and scribes the equal of the priests of Ba'al
the 70 sons of Ahab. This is reinforced in Chapter 13.
Scholars differ greatly on every aspect of this parable. This
parable occurs as Logion 65 in the Gospel of Thomas. Some scholars
argue that Thomas depends on Mark, others that Mark depends on Thomas.
See the Excursus:
Mark and the Gospel of Thomas for a discussion of the issues.
This is the back end of a chiasm that extends across Mark 11
Because of this overarching literary construction, reinforced
(the parable was against them), its dependence on the OT, its
on the Septaugint, and its anachronistic/supernatural prophetic
there is no support for historicity in this pericope.
|13: And they sent to him some of
and some of the Hero'di-ans, to entrap him in his talk. 14: And they
and said to him, "Teacher, we know that you are true, and care for no
for you do not regard the position of men, but truly teach the way of
Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not? 15: Should we pay them, or
should we not?"
||But knowing their hypocrisy, he said to them, "Why put me to the test? Bring me a coin, and let me look at it." 16: And they brought one. And he said to them, "Whose likeness and inscription is this?" They said to him, "Caesar's." 17: Jesus said to them, "Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's." And they were amazed at him.|
|13: And they sent to him some of the Pharisees and some of the Hero'di-ans, to entrap him in his talk.|
|v13: Both instances of "Herodians" come in Markan redaction. Mark 3:6 is generally conceded to be ahistorical. Note how the Herodians and Pharisees both simply disappear from the Gospel after the reference here.|
|14: And they came and said to him, "Teacher, we know that you are true, and care for no man; for you do not regard the position of men, but truly teach the way of God. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?|
|v14: Note the Markan irony: the Pharisees and Herodians believe they are lying when they identify Jesus as a teacher of the truth, but in fact their false belief is true, just as the Roman soldiers falsely believe they are making fun of Jesus when they call him "King." Note the appearance of the motif of "the way" as a set of teachings (Winberry 1998).|
|15: Should we pay them, or should we not?" But knowing their hypocrisy, he said to them, "Why put me to the test? Bring me a coin, and let me look at it."|
|v15: coin. Jesus asks for a Roman coin. The request implies Jesus carries none, as his disciples are supposed to.|
|16: And they brought one. And he said to them, "Whose likeness and inscription is this?" They said to him, "Caesar's."|
|v16: As Donahue and Harrington (2002, p345) point out, the coin would likely have been a denarius of Tiberius, full of imperial titles which could imply divine power. Tolbert (1989, p251) points out that the likeness is an important key to understand the suppressed minor premise of the argument Jesus is making: just as the denarius carries the words and image of Caesar, so humans are made in the word and image of God (this argument actually originated with Tertullian). Thus, as we render onto Caesar what is Caesar's so we should render unto God what is God's. This type of argument is known as an enthymeme and was extremely common in antiquity.|
|v16: Finney (1993) also points out
another subtext here: images were probably forbidden in early
Christianity, including images of rulers on coins.
|17: Jesus said to them, "Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's." And they were amazed at him.|
|v17: Jesus does not even deign to give a clear answer to the question. In the usual Markan fashion, Jesus' adversaries do not press him for an elaboration, nor, despite being experienced quibblers and wits themselves, do they take a quill from their own quiver and direct it at Jesus. The depiction of the Pharisees in Mark is historically implausible.|
view of the state here is read by some to echo Romans 13:1-7. Note
Sandelin (1996) based on earlier work of other scholars, points out
that this may derive from Eccl 8:2.
Xenophon in his Memorabilia
of Socrates, says:
Although some exegetes read political tensions about taxation into this pericope (Theissen and Merz 1998, p 234), none are present. How could there be? There is no crowd. The writer of Mark has not placed this event in front of a crowd, completely denuding it of possible political explosiveness. Nor has he described anything in the narrative portion of the text that would let the reader know this might be an explosive qustion. The author's depiction of the Pharisees and Herodians is thus unrealistic and illogical. Only political idiots would ask an explosive question about taxation in front of a crowd where they could control neither the answer nor subsequent events, while it would be pointless to "entrap" someone without witnesses, as we see here, since without witnesses, any claims they made would look like lies (in any case they could make up a story any time they wanted). This is probably an invention aimed at readers who needed advice on taxation for their time, not a remembered event that took place in public.
The rest is redactive, related at the highest level to the
to the authorities derived from the Elijah-Elisha cycle. The ending is
implausible, as no one seriously out to entrap Jesus would let Jesus'
go unchallenged. Tolbert (1989, p251) notes that the "saying" appears
to stand out simply because it is the syllogistic conclusion to an
argument, and its smoothness differs from the disjointed style normal
to the writer of Mark. According to Tolbert, Aristotle emphasizes that
"gnomic sayings or maxims" are especially suited for premises and
conclusions of enthymematic arguments (p251). In general the
pericope presents the familiar structure of setting and riposte seen
elsewhere in Mark.
Robert Funk (1997), writing of the Jesus Seminar's
The ambiguity of the famous saying has lead to numerous interpretations, some of which argue that Jesus supports a "two realms" approach to the religion-government relationship, others that he is engaged in subversive anti-Roman activity (Doesn't everything belong to God?). It begins a bloc of Conflict Stories similar to the set of 5 in Mk 2.1-3.6. For more on the importance of this sequence, please see the Excursus on whether Mark Knew Paul.
The structure of this is a simple chiasm with an ABBA center, common in Mark.
Despite the Jesus Seminar's optimistic conclusions, nothing about this pericope commends its authenticity. It is one of a series of implausible depictions of the Pharisees, and its literary structure, historical implausibility, the probable relationship to Romans, and typical Markan saying, themes and structure indicate that there is no support for historicity in this pericope.
|18: And Sad'ducees came to him, who say that there is no resurrection; and they asked him a question, saying, 19: "Teacher, Moses wrote for us that if a man's brother dies and leaves a wife, but leaves no child, the man must take the wife, and raise up children for his brother. 20: There were seven brothers; the first took a wife, and when he died left no children; 21: and the second took her, and died, leaving no children; and the third likewise; 22: and the seven left no children. Last of all the woman also died. 23: In the resurrection whose wife will she||be? For the seven had her as wife." 24: Jesus said to them, "Is not this why you are wrong, that you know neither the scriptures nor the power of God? 25: For when they rise from the dead, they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven. 26: And as for the dead being raised, have you not read in the book of Moses, in the passage about the bush, how God said to him, `I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob'? 27: He is not God of the dead, but of the living; you are quite wrong."|
|18: And Sad'ducees came to him, who say that there is no resurrection; and they asked him a question, saying,|
|v18: The Sadduccees were a priestly group that were the chief rivals of the Pharisees. During the period leading up to the Jewish War they were the chief collaborators with the Romans and supplied the high priests for the Temple under Roman aegis. Caiaphas, the high priest associated with the death of Jesus, was a Sadduccee. They were held to have denied the body of oral interpretation of the Torah that the Pharisees had developed, and denied that there was resurrection or an afterlife. After the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem their power was destroyed as well, and they vanished from history. However, much of what has come down to us about them is from their chief rivals, the Pharisees, who formed the nucleus of later rabbincal Judaism, or from Josephus, who is often unreliable.|
is remarkable that although the High Priest is a Sadduccee who will
have Jesus killed, and although Jesus' enemies are the "chief priests,"
nevertheless the writer does not connect these items. Was he aware that
the High Priest was in all probability a Sadduccee?
writer of Mark never discusses the beliefs
of the Pharisees, Herodians,
Priests, or scribes, only the Sadduccees.
|19: "Teacher, Moses wrote for us that if a man's brother dies and leaves a wife, but leaves no child, the man must take the wife, and raise up children for his brother.|
Summarized here is Deut 25:5-6:
|20: There were seven brothers; the first took a wife, and when he died left no children;|
|v20-21: perhaps a connection to the story of Sarah in the Book of Tobit. She too had seven husbards, each of whom were killed. (Donahue and Harrington 2002, p350). Tobit may appear in Mk 16.|
|25: For when they rise from the dead, they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven.|
|v25: perhaps a reference to 1 Cor 15:35-50|
|26: And as for the dead being raised, have you not read in the book of Moses, in the passage about the bush, how God said to him, `I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob'?|
Jesus quotes Exodus 3:6:
usual Jesus' opponents disappear from the pericope once their statement
|27: He is not God of the dead, but of the living; you are quite wrong."|
v27: One wonders how being the God of the living relates to Jesus' cry of dereliction in Mark 15: "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"
|v27: 1 Cor 15:36 "You fool! What you sow is not brought to life unless it dies."|
This conflict is part of a second sequence of 5 controversy
stories. It contains all the usual features of a Markan conflict story,
including opponents who vanish once their statement is made, leaving
Jesus' question unanswered, and the familiar chreia structure. The
saying that terminates the pericope is based on the OT. There is no
support for historicity in this pericope.
The underlying structure of this pericope and its flanking pericopes is very complex and encodes a message from the writer of Mark:
The pericope itself has a simple ABBA structure:
For more on the origin and importance of this sequence, please see the Excursus on whether Mark Knew Paul.
|28: And one of the scribes came
up and heard
them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well,
asked him, "Which commandment is the first of all?" 29: Jesus answered,
"The first is, `Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one; 30:
and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all
your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.' 31: The
second is this, `You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no
||commandment greater than these." 32: And the scribe said to him, "You are right, Teacher; you have truly said that he is one, and there is no other but he; 33: and to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the strength, and to love one's neighbor as oneself, is much more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices." 34: And when Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, "You are not far from the kingdom of God." And after that no one dared to ask him any question.|
|29: Jesus answered, "The first is, `Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one; 30: and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.'|
|v29-30: From Deut 6:4. It begins a set of three OT cites (Deut 6:4-9, 11:13-21, Num 15:37-41) that must be recited three times a day by pious Jews.|
|31: The second is this, `You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no other commandment greater than these."|
|v31: a cite of Lev 19:18|
this too was a thought common in antiquity in many cultures. The
followers of Pythagoras, who transmitted dozens of sayings, some of
which resemble those of early Christianity, had perhaps the most
beautiful formulation: "What is a friend? Another I." (Thom 1994)
|32: And the scribe said to him, "You are right, Teacher; you have truly said that he is one, and there is no other but he;|
|v32-33: are a simply doublet for v29-31, a clear indicator of Markan redaction.|
|33: and to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the strength, and to love one's neighbor as oneself, is much more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices."|
|v33: Tolbert (1989, p255) points out that Jesus gets the last words here because otherwise the dialogue would indicate that the scribe had the authority to validate Jesus' words. The scribe instead is shown as deferring to Jesus.|
a reference to Hosea 6:6 and 1 Sam 15:22, where the emptiness of Temple
ritual is contrasted to the importance of heartfelt obedience to God's
law. 1 Sam 15:22 says:
Donahue and Harrington (2002, p40) note that just as in Romans 13:1-7
and 13:8-10, in Mark 12:13-17 and 12:28-34, a command to love follows
an injunction to obey the governing authorities.
The structure of this is very straightforward:
There is no support for historicity in this pericope. The
information the writer presents is all drawn from the OT and
traditional Jewish beliefs and practices.
For more on the importance of this sequence, please see the Excursus on whether Mark Knew Paul.
|35: And as Jesus taught in the
said, "How can the scribes say that the Christ is the son of David? 36:
David himself, inspired by the Holy Spirit, declared, `The Lord said to
my Lord, Sit at my right hand, till I put thy enemies under thy feet.'
37: David himself calls him Lord; so how is he his son?" And the great
throng heard him gladly. 38: And in his teaching he said, "Beware of
scribes, who like to go about in long robes, and to have salutations in
the market places 39: and the best seats in the synagogues and the
of honor at feasts, 40: who devour widows' houses and for a pretense
||prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation." 41: And he sat down opposite the treasury, and watched the multitude putting money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. 42: And a poor widow came, and put in two copper coins, which make a penny. 43: And he called his disciples to him, and said to them, "Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. 44: For they all contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, her whole living."|
|35: And as Jesus taught in the temple, he said, "How can the scribes say that the Christ is the son of David?|
|v35: Jesus just trashed the Temple, and now he is sitting in it, teaching, surrounded by a great throng.|
|36: David himself, inspired by the Holy Spirit, declared, `The Lord said to my Lord, Sit at my right hand, till I put thy enemies under thy feet.' 37: David himself calls him Lord; so how is he his son?" And the great throng heard him gladly.|
Jesus quotes Psalm 110 (109 LXX). Some scholars see this as a
later creation which admits that Jesus was not of the Davidic line and
seeks to mitigate the damage. Chilton (1984) argues that this is
an authentic saying due to the embarrassment criterion, since it
with later Christian understandings of Jesus. The Psalm
appears to have been used in a coronation ritual for the kings of
(Donahue and Harrington 2002, p359).
Psalm 110 is one of the most important texts of OT literature in the NT. It was widely used in early Christian circles in the NT period and is cited in Acts 2:34-5, 1 Cor 15:25, and Heb 1:13.. There are numerous allusions as well (Donahue and Harrington 2002, p359). This cite of Psalm 110 may also reflect back to Mk 10:35-37. In the Gospel of Mark it anchors the end of the chiasm in Mark 12, and belongs to several themes of the writer, including his presentation of Jesus as Simon Maccabaeus, as David, and as the High Priest. The Psalm in English runs:
The structure is apparently a chiasm of the ABC'B'A' style, or perhaps ABCC'B'A', depending on how v5 is interpreted. In it the one to whom it is addressed is exalted to the Heaven where he sits with God (A = v1), then acts as God's King warring on the day of Judgment (B = v2-3), then acts as the High Priest (C = v4), and then King and warrior again (B' = v5-6), and then is exalted once more (A' = v7). In these scant seven verses the one to whom the Psalm is addressed is exalted to Heaven, made King, and made High Priest. In the Gospel of Mark, Jesus is identified in each of these roles as Heavenly Savior, King and Priest.
|v36-7: Psalm 110, though traditionally
attributed to David, was written during Maccabean times, as it refers
to the high priest Simon Maccabaeus (1 Mc 13:36) through the use of an
acrostic of his name formed by its first several lines. This is the
third link of
Jesus to Simon since Mk 11:1.
|v36-7: For more on the importance of this sequence, please see the Excursus on whether Mark Knew Paul.|
|v36-7: the importance of Psalm 110 in the
Markan scheme of presenting Jesus as priest, king and messiah should
not be underestimated. In the entire Torah it is the only place where
the king is explicitly spoken
of as a high priest (Fletcher-Louis 2003). As Fletcher-Louis
|v36-7: Margaret Barker (Temple) observes:
|v36-7: Tolbert (1989, p249) interprets
this as Jesus clarifying
his status: it is fine to say Jesus' is David's son, so long as one
remembers that he is also his lord. The witty chreia-like structure of
the opening verses is also evident. The
Messiah is David's son? But how can that be, when David himself calls
|v36-7: Recall that Paul in Romans 1:3
observes that Jesus is of the line of David.
|v36-7: Stephen Smith (1996) argues that
the pericope must preserve a historical remembrance because of the
"embarrassment" caused to the early Church by Jesus' implication that
he might not be of the Davidic line. This argument fails for two
reasons. First, as discussed above, there are a number of ways to read
Jesus' remarks. Second, the early Church did not write the Gospel of
Mark, but the writer of Mark did. And he shows no embarrassment over
this. Of course, there was no early Church, in any case, but a
collection of disparate communities, so the whole argument collapses.
|39: and the best seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at feasts,|
|v39: This reads as though the writer of Mark is thinking of large synagogues in the later diaspora style, implying synagogues as separate buildings with defined seats. This would be a clear anachronism for which evidence from the first century before 70 is scant. This rant is most probably a creation of Mark.|
|41: And he sat down opposite the treasury, and watched the multitude putting money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums.|
|v41: the Greek word for "treasury" is unclear; it can also mean the collection boxes themselves as well as the storage of funds in the Temple (Donahue and Harrington 2002, p362).|
|v41: Jesus sits down facing the Temple. In the very next pericope he will face the Temple Mount to predict its destruction.|
|42: And a poor widow came, and put in two copper coins, which make a penny. 43: And he called his disciples to him, and said to them, "Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. 44: For they all contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, her whole living."|
are created out of the Elijah-Elisha Cycle in 2 Kings:
|v42: Steven Carr (2004) observes that of the four canonical gospels only Mark 12:42 explains that a lepton (one of the two "copper coins"), a coin used in Palestine, was worth half a quadrans, a word borrowed from Latin. The quadrans was not circulated in the East (Myers 1988, p323), leading some to argue that Mark was therefore written in Rome as some traditions hold. That need not be the case.|
Jesus Seminar (Funk et al 1997) noted that this story has parallels in
the rabbinic literature, ancient Greek writings, and Buddhist
tradition, a strike against historicity.
Vespasian ordered that the two copper coins be paid to the Temple of
Jupiter Capitolinus in Rome after the revolt of 70. Could the writer of
Mark be satirizing that order?
There is much scholarly debate whether Jesus really approves of the generosity he outlines in v44. Is she a model of generosity to be admired, or is he simply pointing out what a victim of religiousity run amok she is?
The second block of controversy stories ends here.
This pericope contains numerous literary features. These include the development of v35-37 and v42-44 from the OT, the position of v35-37 in the writer's larger pattern of comparing Jesus and Simon Maccabaeus, the position of Jesus facing the Treasury as he will later face the Temple in the next pericope, the implausibility of Jesus teaching to throngs in the Temple, a place he has just trashed, and the Markan elements of the tirade against the scribes and, of course, the crowds who hear him gladly. Due to these elements, there is no support for historicity in this pericope.
Mark and the Gospel of Thomas
The Gospel of Thomas is a collection of sayings attributed to Jesus. Parts of Greek versions of the Gospel of Thomas were discovered in an ancient garbage dump in Oxyrhynchus, Egypt late in the 19th century. In 1945 a complete version in Coptic, an Egyptian language that adapted an alphabet from Greek, was found at Nag Hammadi. Peter Kirby (ECW) writes:
The actual dating of the Gospel of Thomas itself is highly controversial. Some scholars, generally liberals, regard Thomas as predating the Gospels and ancestral to them. Others, generally conservatives and apologists, regard Thomas as derivative and postdating them. Estimates fall anywhere between 60 CE and 200 CE, when our earliest copies are dated.
The issues raised by the Gospel of Thomas can be dramatically shown with a simple comparison between Mk 12:1-12 and Logion (saying) 65 and Logion 66 from the Gospel of Thomas.
Note that Thomas has the material in bold, but does not have the material in italics. In general, the sayings in Thomas are shorter than those in the Gospels, and are shorn of any interpretive or allegorical context. For example, Logion 65 above does not contain the citation from Isaiah that begins the Markan version of this saying. Similarly, Logion 66 above repeats only half the citation of Psalm 118, two verses of which are given in the Markan version. Depending on their tastes, scholars view the shorter versions in Thomas as either more primitive, or more condensed. This pattern is repeated for all the Gospels, for all of them have material that is repeated in Thomas, though none of them have all the material in Thomas, and some Thomas sayings are found in no canonical gospel. Here are many of the sayings in Thomas that appear to overlap those of the Gospel of Mark (from Davies' Gospel of Thomas Website):
Several other sayings with affinities to Mark in Thomas may also be observed, such as "Buyers and merchants [will] not enter the places of my Father" which seems to relate to Mark 11:15-19, while some of those identified as similar to Mark are arguable at best. However, the cumulative weight of these parallels makes it difficult to imagine that these two gospels are independent of each other. But which way does dependence run?
Scholars who argue that Mark depends on Thomas generally cite several arguments. (1) They point out that the order of the sayings in Thomas does not appear to reflect the order of the sayings in the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke). (2) They argue that the brevity of the Thomasine versions of the Synoptic sayings indicates that they are more primitive. (3) They point out that none of the sayings in Thomas contains any stylistic elements from the writers of the canonical gospels. They bolster this with the argument that in order to recover the source of the saying from the Markan additions, the writer of Thomas would have needed the tools of a modern redaction critic. (4) Allegory is a later addition to the source by the Gospel writers. Stevan Davies and Kevin Johnson (1996) argue:
None of these arguments will stand up to serious scrutiny. The argument from order is particularly interesting. If Mark depends on Thomas, we simply see the mirror image of the problem of order: now we must account for why Mark mixed up the Thomasine order. The argument from order doesn't disappear by reversing dependence.
Argument (2) is an unfounded assumptive argument. "Shorter" simply means "shorter." It does not speak to primitivity in any way. For a precedent, Proverbs 17-24 is based on a longer Egyptian text, which also consists of pithy directives. Proverbs, though later, makes them even shorter.
The most potent argument, on its face, is (3), the lack of the hand of Mark, Matthew, Luke, or John, in Thomas. It depends, however, on the assumption that the ancients were somehow dumber than moderns, and I am always uneasy postulating that. The ancients were skilled literary critics and had no trouble creating, spotting, and extracting parallels and sayings. Moreoever, they were working in Greek, a language that was a living language which they spoke and thought in. Further, some of the sayings in Thomas go back to the Old Testament (such as the citation of Psalm 118 to be discussed below) and thus would have been easy for a literate compiler to pluck out of their Gospel context -- and hence to discover the habits of Gospel writers in assembling stories from OT citations. Note too that Thomas-first proponents have to argue that the writer of Mark was smart enough to strip off the Thomasine formulae at the beginning and end of sayings, but the compiler of Thomas was too dumb to spot the hand of Mark at the beginning and end of sayings. How's that again? Clearly the necessary skills existed in antiquity.
Argument 4, that allegory comes later and parable first, is assumptive -- it assumes that the parables go back in the tradition, which is precisely what one is trying to prove. In sum, no argument for the priority of Thomas based on order and style will hold. They are either irrelevant, subjective, or assumptive.
Mark 12:1-12 and Thomas Logion 65 and 66
The topic under dispute here comprises two passages, one a parable used by the writer of Mark as an allegory on the death of Jesus, the other a citation of Psalm 118. Both of these appear in Mark and Thomas.
Stevan Davies and Kevin Johnson (1996) make an argument for the dependence of Mark 12:1-12 on Thomas Logion 65-66:
At first glance this looks like a strong set of arguments. Davies and Johson say that Psalm 118:22 makes an inappropriate climax to the allegory of the Parable of the Tenants. They point out that this implies that the two have nothing to do with each other. Sure enough, we see that in Thomas the two are separated by taglines and formulaic introductions, though in the same order as in Mark. Davies and Johnson then go on to note that 66 can only interpret 65 if the writer has already established that 65 is an allegory of Jesus' death, but Thomas does not do that. It is the writer of Mark, not the compiler of Thomas, argue Davies and Johnson, who yoked these two unrelated sayings together to form one "complex discourse."
This argument, however, fails to understand the usage of Psalm 118 in Mark, and further, fails to take into account the structural features of Mark 11-12 that preclude Mark's dependence on Thomas and instead demonstrate that the compiler of Thomas, for whatever reason and by whatever route, has lifted these passages from Mark. Let's take a look at 12:1-12, starting with Psalm 118.
Psalm 118 is one of the Hallel Psalms (113-118) that celebrate the entrance of Simon Maccabaeus into the city of Jerusalem a couple of centuries before the time of Jesus. The writer of Mark cites it twice in Mark 11-12. The first time comes in Mk 11:9 where he cites 118:26 (117:25 LXX):
Mark 12:10 is the second citation of Psalm 118. The first comes in a very appropriate place -- as Jesus is entering Jerusalem in Mark 11. It makes an implicit comparison between Simon Maccabaeus' entry into Jerusalem and Jesus' own, casting Jesus as Simon. The historical comparison is apt, as Simon would later become High Priest as well as King, just as Jesus does. He would also wrest independence for the Jews from the Seleucids and found the Hasmonean Dynasty.
The second citation of Psalm 118 is the one in Mk 12:10:
That makes two instances in which the writer of Mark has linked Jesus to Simon. Yet there is still one more to come, the citation of Psalm 110 further on, in Mk 12:36. That citation is traditionally seen by exegetes as a later invention to explain away the "fact" that Jesus was not of the line of David, but it is almost certainly from the hand of the writer, for it too is an allusion to Simon Maccabaeus. Though traditionally attributed to David, Psalm 110 was written during Maccabean times, as it refers to Simon through the use of an acrostic of his name formed by its first several lines. In other words, Simon Maccabaeus' name is pointed to by a Psalm that appears in a set of verses that discusses Jesus' role as Davidic Messiah. This is the third link of Jesus to Simon since Mark 11:1. In each of the three times in this section that Simon's name has cropped up in this sequence, it has been linked to Jesus' triple role as King, Son, and Messiah.
Clearly the writer of Mark is not pulling this citation of Psalm out of Thomas. Rather, he has a definite program of linking Simon Maccabaeus and Jesus, which he does three times in the comparatively short space of 11:1 to 12:36-7, including an entrance into Jerusalem that offers people praising Jesus and laying branches at his feet, which might well be taken to be a fourth and separate reference to Simon (to 1 Macc 13:51). One reference might well be a coincidence. Four allusions constitute a program, and that program does not belong to the compiler of Thomas. One might also note two other allusions that link Jesus to Simon: there are five sons in his family (just as there were five Maccabees), and some of them bear the same names as the Maccabee sibs. Clearly this program goes back a long way in Mark.
Recall that Davies and Johnson's first argument was that Psalm 118:26 is inappropriate to interpret the Parable of the Tenants. Actually, as we have seen, it is a perfect capstone for the Parable, for it alludes to a series of events in which a King and High Priest, Simon Maccabaeus, comes to Jerusalem to cast out the Seleucids and take back Israel, just as Jesus will cast out the Wicked Tenants and take back the Vineyard. The writer of Mark was depending on the reader to go back to Psalm 118 and reflect on the history. One might add the additional parallel that Jesus, like Simon, would be cast as High Priest even though he was not of the tribe of Levi.
An additional problem is that in Mark the reason the Heir is killed is explained, while in Thomas, the Heir is simply killed:
But why should they kill him because he is the Heir? Thomas almost appears to presume Mark's explanation.
Davies and Johnson also claimed that the writer of Mark allegorized the sayings and parables he found in Thomas. But this calls for a rather strange sequence of events on the part of the writer of Mark. First, he must realize that Psalm 118 relates to Simon Maccabaeus. Then he must incorporate into his gospel. And then he must create a whole program off of it and insert that into his gospel as well. But then we run into other problems. If that is true, then we must accept that the writer then created the scene of the entrance into Jerusalem and the argument about Christ and David in Mk 12:36 because he found the saying from Psalm 118 in Thomas. In other words, that the discovery of this citation spawned Mark's four-point Simon/Jesus program. But as we have seen, the entrance in Jerusalem is structured by the Elijah-Elisha cycle, while the details are taken from 1 Sam 10. Jesus' entrance into Jerusalem has an utterly different basis that has nothing to do with Psalm 118. The writer of Mark has simply intertwined his Simon/Jesus comparison into that story.
Alternatively, one could argue that the writer had already placed the first citation of Psalm 118 in 11:9, and then the third allusion to Simon in 12:36, and went and looked at Thomas and lo and behold! There was another citation of Psalm 118 that he could use in his Simon/Jesus program! What luck! It's almost as if someone had compiled Thomas with the writer's needs in mind.
As we have seen, however, the structuring of the Elijah-Elisha Cycle continues throughout this sequence and all the way into Mark 14:1-11. Mark 12:1-12 parallels Jehu's killing of the son's of Ahab and taking their kingdom, while Mark 12:42-44 parallels 2 Kings 12:5-17. The Simon/Jesus comparison is a contrapuntal theme snaking through all this. In other words, Psalm 118 cannot be dictating structure as the writer already has another program in mind, one that he has been playing out since the beginning of the Gospel.
But there is another interesting feature of the citation of Psalm 118 in Mark 12:10: it contains a bit of wordplay that is right up the writer's alley. The Hebrew for stone is eben, for son, it's ben. A pun on cornerstone for son! What a coincidence, eh? Finding a cite from Psalm 118 in Thomas that exactly fits his program of casting Jesus as Son, King, and Messiah, as well as his tricksy sense of humor. It's almost as if Thomas was written with Mark in mind, or something.
Finally, Psalm 118 and Psalm 110 form another very important part of Mark 12 that is difficult to believe is not from the hand of Mark. For more on the importance of that pair of Psalm citations, please see the Excursus on whether Mark Knew Paul.
In light of all these swirling allusions that link Simon Maccabaeus and Jesus in a short space, we must ask ourselves: is it more reasonable to conclude that the writer of Mark found this Psalm citation in Thomas and then created a whole program out of it, or is it more reasonable to assume that the compiler of Thomas, like so many later interpreters of Mark, including those possesed of superior form-critical skills, missed the significance of the citation of Psalm 118 in the larger program of the Gospel of Mark, and pulled it from its context? I submit that the latter is more reasonable.
Mark 12:1-12 and the Lack of Critical Tools in Antiquity
1. The Parable of the Tenants
Davies and Johnson (1996) expresse a thought found in the minds of many exegetes:
Let's take another look at our side-by-side comparison of the two parables:
To reduce this allegory the Gospel of Mark to a parable in Thomas, the compiler had to prune the following.
Verse 1 is a citation from Isaiah and easily recognized by anyone familiar with the Old Testament. Verse 11 is also from Psalm 118 and is also instantly identifiable to anyone who has read the OT. In case our ancient form critic suffered a brain glitch and didn't recognize that, the writer of Mark has helpfully alerted the reader that this comes from the OT with the comment "Have you not read this scripture...." There is nothing particularly difficult about excising this dross; short opening formulae appear in Thomas and the idea would have been familiar to the compiler. That leaves:
One truly wonders how difficult it would have been for our out-of-time form critic to have removed verse 12. Anyone who had read the Gospel of Mark would be cognizant of the Markan focus on the Bad Guys associated with the power structure in Jerusalem. But in case our thumb-fingered Ancient Critic missed the fact that the writer has appended that to the end of the parable by way of explanation, the writer has helpfully supplied a strong hint that the parable has terminated with the phrase for they perceived that he had told the parable against them which could hardly be true unless he had finished the parable!
This leaves only verse 9, which contains a summary explanation of the parable's meaning. There are many sayings in Thomas, but few explanations. All the compiler had to do was recognize this as a superfluous explanation and excise it in accordance with his usual habit. Again the writer of Mark has supplied the helpful hint with the question in v9a: What will the owner of the vineyard do? which clearly indicates that the meaning of the parable is about to explained.
Obviously rendering this fleshy allegory down for its parabolic fat would not have been difficult at all. The argument from a lack of "form-critical expertise" is a twofold error: not only is very little "expertise" required to reduce this Markan giant to a Thomasine midget, but the argument from a lack of form-critical expertise also assumes what it sets out to prove; namely, that the writer of Mark is working off of a source. Thomasine priority is a function of one's assumptions about the relationship between the writer of Mark and his sources that has nothing to do with where the evidence points.
Burton Mack (1991) summarizes the serious problems with the view that Thomas represents an unallegorized parable:
2. The Parable of the Sower
Also found in the Gospel of Thomas is the Parable of the Sower (Mark 4:1-20) , Logion 9 in Thomas:
Once again, a glance at this shows how empty the argument from the lack of critical tools in antiquity is. To excise this parable, the compiler of Thomas had to get rid of the following:
How difficult would this have been? Anyone familiar with the Old Testament would have had no trouble doing it. The writer of Mark has helpfully supplied us with clues, such as v2: And he taught them many things in parables, and in his teaching he said to them: which clearly announces that Jesus is going to say something important. Sure enough, the very next word is Listen! which one finds in innumerable similar contexts in the OT. For example, in Genesis 37:9 and Genesis 42:21 meaningful dreams are announced with the word. In Judges 9:7 Jotham delivers a parable from Mt. Gerizim with the command to listen:
Clearly anyone familiar with the Scriptures could see that Listen!, prefaced by in his teaching he said to them, and could hardly fail to conclude that important words are about to be spoken at that point in the text.
In Mark the parable runs from v3-8. Verse 9 cites another OT formula And he said, "He who has ears to hear, let him hear" found in many places in the OT, including Psalm 135:17, Proverbs 20:12, Isaiah 30:21, and Isaiah 32:3. Again, no one familiar with the OT could fail to recognize this formula, and realize that the parable had terminated (it appears also in Thomas). But in case our would-be ancient form critic suffered a massive brain glitch about where the parable had ended, the writer of Mark has helpfully followed the clarion call of v9 with a change of scene in 10A: And when he was alone, and inquiry from his followers about what the parable might mean: those who were about him with the twelve asked him concerning the parables, neither of which could hardly be happening if the parable were still ongoing.
But even after all this, if our ham-handed ancient exegete was still unable to get a grip on the parable, the writer of Mark then gives us v11-12, the famous citation of Isaiah 6:9-10, which anyone familiar with the OT could hardly fail to recognize. After that comes an explanation of the parable. Surely our critic would not have confused the explanation of the parable with the parable itself.
In sum, the entire argument that Mark must depend on Thomas because there was a lack of critical tools in antiquity is founded on a completely unsupportable claim. As this detailed look has shown, it must be utterly rejected.
Thomas and the Cleansing of the Temple
The Gospel of Thomas appears to allude to Jesus' Cleansing of the Temple in a couple of places, most clearly in Logion 64b:
Davies and Johnson (1996) discuss why this must be a Markan expansion of a Thomasine saying:
This analysis is faulty on many levels, and once again we will confront the problem of a saying without context in Thomas that in Mark is intimately related to a set of allusions and further, to structural features in the Gospel that preclude Markan borrowing of an extant saying.
The analysis of Davies and Johnson goes wrong almost immediately. They write of Mark 11:15-16:
On their reading, Mark 11:15 is simply a statement of an event that occurred, while Mark 11:16 is unnecessary. However, as we saw in the notes and commentary to Mark 11:15-19, these two verses are not statements of history, but relate to Nehemiah and a similar Temple Cleansing in the Old Testament. The argument of Davies and Johnson depends on the writer of Mark having no alternative OT source for his story, for they have already conceded that "...the scriptural pastiche probably derives from Mark." Unfortunately for their case, Mark 11:15-6 is also "scriptural pastiche," for the details here are taken from Nehemiah:
Their analysis is correct in one respect: it was taken from an older source. The source is not Thomas, however, but the OT.
Note too that in addition to verses from the OT cropping out in Mark, the larger issue of businessmen and merchants in the Temple is also OT in origin. Earl Doherty (1999) has identified at least three possible sources:
The writer of Mark is aware of Malachi 3:1, for he cited it in Mark 1:2. Similarly, Zechariah 14:21 takes us to Zech 14:4, one of the most famous messianic verses of the period, which apparently lies behind Jesus' location on the Mount Olives when he begins his final essay into Jerusalem.
"Narrativization" of Thomas will not hold for another reason. As we saw in the commentary to Mark 11:15-19, the Temple Cleansing is the climax to the writer's use of the Elijah-Elisha Cycle in creating Jesus' activities in Palestine. The Thomas saying cannot have been narrativized to create a Temple Cleansing because that was already in the writer's program from long before. Thomas Brodie (1998, p92) explains. At the climax of the two legend cycles, the Temple is cleansed (Jesus drives out the moneychangers, Jehu kills the priests of Ba'al). Both are annointed (2 Kings 9), accession with cloaks on the ground (2 Kings 9), waiting before taking over (2 Kings 9:12-13, Mark 11:11), challenge the authorities (2 Kings 9:22-10:27), Mark 11:11 - 12:12), and money is given to the Temple (2 Kings 12:5-17, Mark 12:41-44). As Brodie puts it (p93), ..."the basic point is clear: Mark's long passion narrative, while using distinctive Christian sources, coincides significantly both in form and content with the long Temple-centered sequence at the end of the Elijah-Elisha narrative."
Finally, the problem of narrativization must confront the way the writer constructed the gospel by relying on the Old Testament for its details and intermediate structures. Davies and Johnson cite Maurice Goguel:
This position is indefensible. No evidence suggests that "the record must have been simpler." There is no record of this incident prior to Mark. The claim that "the record must have been simpler" is an assumption of source criticism, not a historical judgment (based on what evidence?). Goguel claims that Quite naturally the saying of Jesus was transformed into an incident although the opposite would be just as natural (aren't the various references to the Temple's destruction in the NT and Thomas an example of a "historical" event becoming a saying?). Then the quote talks about the "third stage" even though no evidence suggests there was a second, let alone a first.
The reality is that the writer of Mark had certain habits of creation that suggest the opposite case. The author created the Temple Cleansing using his standard operating procedure of grabbing structures and stories from the OT. Recall that Mark 11:1-11 is based on 2 Sam 9-10 while the first fig tree pericope seems taken from Micah 7:1. Davies, Johnson, and Goguel are in essence arguing that the writer of Mark relied on 2 Sam 9-10 for Mark 11:1-11 (annointing), then the writer picked up Micah 7:1 for Mark 11:12-14 (fig tree cursing), then he rolls into the Temple and suddenly veers into Thomas for one saying, 11:15a, then it is back to Nehemiah for 11:15b and 11:16. The writer of Mark simply doesn't work that way. If you attribute 11:15a to one of the three possible OT sources, there's no need for Thomas at all. Instead, we get the usual Markan picture of creativity off of the OT at all levels. In this case I would argue that 11:15a is based on Zech 14, which he has used elsewhere. Zech 14:4 is one of the most famous verses of messianic legend, and the whole passage is about how the nations of the world will worship in the Jerusalem Temple on the day of the lord, after terrible destruction. It is a textbook example of Mark's hypertextual focus on the Temple.
In other words, on every level, the format and details of this pericope show unmistakeable signs of Markan style. As we have seen, the Temple Cleansing is most likely an invention of the author of Mark. There is nothing in there from Thomas.
Finally, we should point out that against the argument from order, there are three sayings in order in Thomas, Logion 64B, 65, and 66. These are the Temple Cleansing, the Parable of the Wicked Tenants, and the Cornerstone Saying, in the same order one finds them in Mark. But in Mark that order is controlled by the events in 2 Kings. Hence, either Thomas has copied Mark, and retained Mark's order, or it's probably just another one of those coincidences....
Paul, Mark, and Thomas
Before I close out this excursus, I'd like to highlight one other issue from the point of view of priority. In Mark 8:17-18 we find:
In the Gospel of Thomas, Logion 17 similarly gives us:
While Paul in 1 Cor 2:9 observes:
Deuteronomy 29:2-4 says:
The Gospel of Mark apparently alludes to 1 Corinthians several times. Looking at the above sayings, it seems we must conclude that the compiler of Thomas had the same affection for the OT that Mark does, and the same affinities for 1 Cor. Eerie, isn't it?
Commentary on the Gospel of Mark
|Chapter 1||Chapter 9||Home|
|Chapter 3||Chapter 11||Topical Index|
|Chapter 4||Chapter 12|
|Chapter 5||Chapter 13||References
|Chapter 6||Chapter 14|
|Chapter 7||Chapter 15||Contact Author
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