"Love follows knowledge."
"Beauty above all beauty!"
– St. Catherine of Siena

Saturday, December 2, 2017

The Gospel of Mark: Comments and Observations, Part II

This is a continuation of my comments and observations on the Gospel of Mark in a discussion at the Goodreads book club, Catholic Thought.  Part I can be found here.  

Part I focused on the primacy of Mark’s or Matthew’s Gsopels.  Part II focuses on modern scholarship and the dating of the Gospels.

Irene wrote: "Many of them are Catholic scholars who are very faith filled, even priests and bishops. Let's not denigrate these modern scholars by calling their faith into question. WE need to keep this conversation..."

I'm not against anyone, believer or not, putting their opinions into the mix. But it can make a substantial difference in the way they read the texts. It comes down to the assumptions. A believer comes with different assumptions to the Gospels that a non-believer does.

Here's an example that happened to me while I was discussing that Canaanite Woman scene with someone who's forum nickname (this was not on Goodreads) is Manichean. I don't know if he's a believer or not, but the Manicheans were heretics, so we know his sympathies are not traditional. His claim was that Christ after calling the woman a dog and seeing her faith learned not to be prejudiced. Let me repeat that: Christ learned not to be a racist.

If you do not assume that Christ is God and all-knowing and sinless, then Manichean's reading is perfectly logical. Manichean's assumption is that Jesus is an ordinary man. But because we know that Christ knows how the woman will react and knows her heart and that Christ a priori cannot sin, then his reading is actually ludicrous.

Now if you believe that Matthew took from the Mark initial Gospel writing, then how did he rewrite the stories with additional information? He either had different information or he lied. Can a Gospel writer lie? A non-believer would say that is open to that assumption, and therefore he might see Mark as the first Gospel. A believer would say that for Matthew to lie is impossible because he is being guided by the Holy Spirit.

My point is assumptions are different for a believer and non-believer and they can radically shape the reading.

By the way, I still maintain that none of the synoptic Gospel writers were aware of each other's texts and that overlapping scenes are from scraps of texts that floated around from which they happen come across if they had the story and didn't if they didn't come across. Now I'm no scholar and I've never heard anyone put out this theory, so take it with a grain of salt.

Yikes, there's a ton to respond to and I probably won't get to it all. Let me address this that Irene stated:

"What I was reacting to was the claim that most who believe that Mark is the first Gospel to be written were secular scholars, those outside the faith."

I don't think I said that and if I implied it, it was not my intention. I fully acknowledge that Mark having primacy is the consensus opinion among scholars today, both within Catholicism and without. I admit, I am arguing counter to the conventional opinion.

To Francis: Yes, apparently Bishop Barron supports the consensus opinion.

To Susan: Thank you for pointing out no one was being disrespectful. I don't see my comments or anyone else’s as disrespectful.

To Kerstin: I agree, the Synoptic problem will never be fully answered. There are holes in all the established theories, including the one I've been pointing out.

With that I want to remind everyone of Joseph's comment, #45. Joseph is a seminary student in college right now. Here's his entire quote:

"I'm just going to jump in that this is hotly debated among professional scripture scholars. There are representatives of both schools at the seminary where I study and we won't know for sure which theory is right until we can ask the Evangelists themselves "So which of you wrote first?"

That is to say that while Mark may be the consensus opinion, it is not absolute. Frankly consensus opinions about ancient texts, not just Christian texts, have the half-life of an gnat's lifespan. Mark may be the consensus now, but in fifty years it's quite possible, if not probable, the "scholars" will move on to another opinion, maybe even go back to the opinion the Catholic Church had for almost two thousand years.

I did a search for those who support Matthew as primacy and found Taylor Marshall does:

I don't know who Christopher Fischer is, but he goes through the history as to why the Catholic Church chose Matthew as first and why he believes it is the first. It's a great read, here:

Let me just conclude, the reason the Catholic Church has long held that Matthew was first was because several of the Church Fathers claimed it, and they further claim that Matthew originally wrote his Gospel in Hebrew and was later translated to Greek. Rhetorically it just seems to me that Mark is condensing Matthew, not Matthew elaborating on Mark.

Irene in her last comment above brought out the issue of dating the Gospels. Modern scholars have dated all the Gospels to be post destruction of the Temple which occurred in 70 AD. As far as I can see the sole reason is that Jesus predicts the destruction of the Temple, and so the modernist assumption is that the Gospel writers had to wait until the destruction of the Temple in order to write in a prediction. Again this goes back to the assumptions. If Christ is truly God, then He should have been able to predict the future coming of the Temple's destruction.

In my research over this, I found the Catholic Church traditionally maintained that Matthew was written somewhere between 40-45 AD, not post Temple destruction, and that Matthew was originally written in Hebrew or Aramaic (I had never known this, and my next reading of Matthew in its entirety I'm going to look for echoes that have been pointed out) and that Mark followed Matthew, which completely jives with the rhetorical constructions I'm seeing in Mark during this current read. Catholic Answers has a great layout of the traditional Catholic understanding of when and how the Gospels were written. It really behooves a close reading of it, here:

I think everyone should ask themselves this: If you support the dating of the Gospels to post Temple destruction, why are you doing so? If you are accepting the reason that the Gospel writers could not have known of the Temple's destruction until it happened, then you are unconsciously supporting the secularization of Jesus Christ.

Thanks Irene. I'll have to look into those language and cultural nuances that could effect dating. Dating by the Temple destruction is certainly not nuanced and so it’s a vivid mile marker, but perhaps there are more subtle methods that have gone on. I guess I've been scarred by post-modernist scholars when it comes to literature. I have a masters in English Literature and my engaging with professors and articles during school was definitely forming. The scholarship across the university system is so biased against western tradition and religion I learned that once you probe their assumptions, most of their arguments start falling apart. This is especially true with the post-modernist critics who have it as a mission to deconstruct - and by implication destroy established western norms and traditions, whether by intent or by following "the consensus." I've learned that consensus in scholarship means little to me.

As to theology, I've found this fantastic article on Crux, a Catholic online magazine, about how a current crop Catholic theologians - Scott Hahn, Brad Pitre, others - who are now "correcting" (I would have used the word, revising) the modernist scholars of this century. Like I said, "consensus" in ancient texts has a half-life of a gnat's life. Definitely another excellent read:

By the way, Brad Pitre is excellent. I read his Jewish Roots of the Eucharist and it's a wonderful read. Highly recommend it. Also, his new book "The Case for Jesus: The Biblical and Historical Evidence for Christ" is on sale at Kindle for $1.99. I just bought it yesterday. It got a great write-up somewhere. I don't know how long it will stay at that price. Here:

Here's the concluding paragraph in the Crux article:

"Put simply, the skepticism of Bultmann, Borg, Crossan and Ehrman is out of date. New discoveries have pushed scholarship beyond their fanciful theories and dubious conclusions. The new wave of New Testament scholars readily accept the positive findings of a century’s worth of research, but in the spirit of true scholarship, they have also learned how to be critical of the critics."

So just because I'm in a minority voice, don't think that what I'm arguing is far afield. It's just not with the consensus.

Let me counter with two points. (1) The Catholic Church has always considered both Matthew to be first and Mark to have learned at the feet of Peter. There is nothing mutually exclusive about that. (2) We have all been formed by the modern scholar's timeline of the Gospel's all being post fall of the Temple. As far as I know the only reason for that is that Jesus predicts the fall of the Temple, and so the Gospels have to be after that. Well that's bogus if Christ is God because obviously God can know the future. (Irene above has argued it is more than just the fall of the Temple dating, but until I read that and am convinced, I'm sticking to the modern scholar's lack of faith in Christ.) Historically the Catholic Church argued that Matthew was written in in the early 40's, which would leave a good 25 years for Mark to then work with Peter to write his Gospel.

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