Posted by Quixie at 2:31 PMDuring the course of a recent discussion regarding my review of Ehrman's book on mythicism, I made the following comment, "Every single episode of the narrative of Jesus' life in the gospels has a counterpart (i.e. is a re-run) in the O.T."
A recent commenter who seems to be pretty convinced of Jesus' historicity responded with the proverbial raised eyebrow, "Really? I know that a lot of the stories are indeed copied from (or built upon) the OT but every single episode?"
Like most people, I'm prone to exaggerate now and then in the heat of discourse. But in this case, although it is a slight exaggeration, it's really not far from the actual truth of the matter, and I think that this is fairly easy to demonstrable. But lest this become too gargantuan a task to tackle in a blog, however, I'm going to limit the discussion to only the Gospel of Mark, the shortest gospel, for the sake of coherency and brevity (and my sanity). The contents of the Markan narrative are to a great extent determined, both materially and verbally, by a desire to show fulfillment. As with Mark, so with the others, though. If it can be shown that Mark, the primary model for all the subsequent gospels is but a midrash on the Jewish Bible, then it follows that this aspect is inherited by the rest. After all, 85% of GMark is embedded in GMatthew practically word for word. (Even GJohn follows its basic narrative/chronological structure.)
So … after almost a week of bible-geeking, I present the following outline. It is basically a pericope-by-pericope analysis of the Gospel of Mark, outlining and highlighting the tendentious nature of the author's sculpting the story of Jesus out of Old Testament clay—with a good sprinkling of Cynic ideology for spice. It will be by no means a complete or exhaustive analysis— just a mere outline, in fact— but I think that even my cursory reading will suffice for the intended purpose.
So here we go …
Let us open our Bibles to the Gospel of Mark …
The Gospel of Mark: (its use of the Old Testament and other mythic sources)
For the sake of space and organization, I formatted the scrollable window with an accompanying color code legend right next to it, so that it will be easy to reference my notation at any time.
µ = miracle story
X = chreia
Pagan or apocryphal precedent
••• = no O.T. and/or Pagan precedent
O.K. … in addition to noting the places that have no literary/folkloric precedent, I also mapped out some places where miracle stories, apophthegms, and incongruities occur in the narrative. These serve as a reminder of the very literary character of the Gospel of Mark. The higher criticism has revealed that this gospel, rather than being a haphazard collection of remembered sayings and deeds of Jesus transmitted orally (per James Dunn) or the written down memoirs of a companion of Cephas (per Papias), is actually a carefully constructed composition, one which employs many detectable strategic literary techniques (inclusio, chiasmus, cliff-hangers, etc) to tell its story. This is no memoir, this is an aretology. The gospels are myth historicied, not the other way around.
But I digress …
I divided the gospel of Mark into 104 pericopes (although this numbering is arbitrary, it is a convention I'll use for the sake of convenience), marked by large ascending Roman numerals on the left hand side, at the start of each pericope. When this symbol (•••) appears, it means that I could not link any O.T. or other literary precedent in antiquity to that particular pericope.
Out of the 104 pericopes, fifteen are •••'s.
'Aha!' — The shrewd reader will say.
'There you go … not "every single episode", like you said, is such a counterpart.
Not so fast, though … I invite the reader to look closely at those pericopes.
They are pericopes 4, 8, 15, 22, 26, 35, 40, 44*, 52†, 56†, 66, 78, 87, 89*, and 93†. You'll notice that these pericopes are transitional in nature. That is, though not entirely tangential, they serve merely to facilitate the flow of the story as interludes and segues from one episode to the next.
Notable exceptions to this trend are pericopes 52 & 56 (which deal with a single theme: i.e. children), and pericope 93, which is part of the crucifixion scene (where Simon the Cyrene carries Jesus' cross for him—a single verse). This last incongruous bit is more likely a sign of the author's creative invention than a historical report, however. Mark's is in fact the earliest narrative there is about the crucifixion of Jesus. I think it is a Markan fabrication (prompted by Paul's virtual silence on the matter?). The children-themed bits are kind of a novelty, though. Regardless, this essentially leaves us with about 2% of the pericopes which have no O.T. or other literary or folkloric precedent. This demands some sober reflection.
And so, while I may be slightly exaggerating when I say that "every single episode" in the gospels (please note that a pericope is not necessarily an "episode," btw) is derived from the sort of 'quote-mining' that I described … the person who would claim that this practice is found only "here and there" in the gospel … that is, the person that thinks that this practice is not normative …
… that person is just wrong.
Given the above outlined analysis, certain truths and patterns regarding GMark are clearly discernable:
- The events of Jesus' life in Mark are drawn primarily from the Old Testament, but also from Jewish writings, popular philosophies of the Roman empire, and similar sources.
- From this O.T. typological perspective, the writer has Jesus cross Palestine as Elijah, and then get arrested and crucified as David and Daniel.
"Earlier scholars (e.g., John Wick Bowman), as many today (e.g., J. Duncan M. Derrett), saw gospel echoes of the ancient scriptures in secondary coloring here or redactional juxtaposition of traditional Jesus stories there. But the more recent scrutiny of John Dominic Crossan, Randel Helms, Dale and Patricia Miller, and Thomas L. Brodie has made it inescapably clear that virtually the entirety of the gospel narratives and much of the Acts are wholly the product of haggadic midrash upon previous scripture."
— Add to all of the above the author's copious use of hypertextual formatting and cross referencing within its scriptural matrix, and there's just no denying that Mark is not a loose collection of oral traditions, but a tendentious and ambitious literary creation.