“Why Mark?”, I asked. “Because it’s short“, he replied. I was willing to give anything a go, so I took the vicar’s advice and read it and the Gospel of Mark just swept me up.
So says Australian musician Nick Cave
in his intro to the Gospel of Mark, which I found on this Italian Nick Cave fan site.
The Gospel of Mark has to be one of the weirdest and most compelling books ever written. Nick Cave continues:
Scholars generally agree that Mark’s was the first of the four gospels to be written. Mark took from the mouths of teachers and prophets the jumble of events that comprised Christ’s life and fixed these events into some kind of biographical form. He did this with such breathless insistence, such compulsive narrative intensity, that one is reminded of a child recounting some amazing tale, piling fact upon fact, as if the whole worlddepended upon it – which , of course, to Mark it did. ‘Straightway’ and ‘immediately’ link one event to another, everyone ‘runs’, ‘shouts’, is ‘amazed’, inflaming Christ’s mission with a dazzling urgency. Mark’s Gospel is a clatter of bones, so raw, nervy and lean on information that the narrative aches with the melancholy of absence. Scenes of deep tragedy are treated with such a matter of factness and raw economy they become almost palpable in their unprotected sorrowfulness.
Couple things about the Gospel of Mark:
- there’s no Christmas. Jesus just turns up one day down by the river where John The Baptist is doing his thing.
- the oldest gospel. “Most scholars agree” is a term you come across again and again when you read into Bible stuff, especially New Testament stuff. Let’s acronym that as msa. As far as I can tell most scholars do agree on this one.
- the shortest gospel. 11,304 words. Very cool.
- simple language. Mark is written in Koine Greek which I can’t read. I’m told this was a simple version of Greek that people could use all over the Mediterranean. “Koine” just means “Common.” Mark wrote Common Greek.
I’m told Mark’s Greek is “rough”:
Now, “rough” sure but “unrehearsed”? Isn’t it likely Mark was writing down stories and quotes that had been transmitted orally, and thus were quite rehearsed?)
The version I’m reading is:
Here’s what J. B. says:
J. B. seems more confident than others that Mark = John Mark, but who cares?
It’s cool to imagine in the rubble of burned out Rome Mark starts going around saying “guys, I got some good news.”
Other scholars insist that Mark was written after 70 AD, because that’s when the Temple was destroyed after the Roman Siege of Jerusalem:
which was a traumatic time. That chronology is the one Reza Aslan believes:
Me personally? I’m no expert but I think it’s possible someone like the writer of Mark might’ve been obsessed with the idea of the destruction of the Temple before it happened.
Maybe Mark saw things coming the way the Simpsons saw President Trump coming:
But let’s say Mark was written in 70. He’s writing about Jesus, who msa died around 33. So it’s like writing a book, today, about a guy who died in 1980.
John Lennon, say, or Colonel Sanders.
Mark isn’t writing a biography of Jesus though, he’s writing the “good news.” A good point by theologian Marcus Borg over at HuffPo:
Placing the Gospels after Paul makes it clear that as written documents they are not the source of early Christianity but its product. The Gospel — the good news — of and about Jesus existed before the Gospels. They are the products of early Christian communities several decades after Jesus’ historical life and tell us how those communities saw his significance in their historical context.
Here’s the craziest part about Mark imo. The last sentence of the original version, msa, is 16:8.
The women were shaking and confused. They went out and ran away from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.
What a freaky ending to your book!
Learned a lot about the Gospel origins from the PBS series From Jesus To Christ. Li’l snippet from this essay by Marilyn Matthews on their website:
What message did Mark intend to send to his audience? Scholars do not agree. Some argue that Mark deliberately constructs a bleak and frightening picture because that was the experience of the people for whom Mark composed his work. Elaine Pagels offers a different interpretation: “And the last words of the original gospel are ‘and they were terrified.’ It would be very bad news if it weren’t that underneath this rather dark story is an enormous hope . . . that this very promising story and its terrible anguished ending is nevertheless not the ending. That there’s a mystery in it, a divine mystery of God’s revelation that will happen yet. And I think it’s that sense of hope that is deeply appealing.”
This is Helytimes so next time we will have a look and see if we can find the oldest source of Mark.
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Put some of Papyrus One through Google Translate and this is what I got.
Probably a li’l jumbled between the 2nd century Greek and the modern Greek.
Wiki tells me that what’s on Papyrus One is, in fact, Mark 1 1-9.
The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God, as it is written in Isaiah the prophet:
“I will send my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way”—
3 “a voice of one calling in the wilderness,
‘Prepare the way for the Lord,
make straight paths for him.’”
4 And so John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.
5 The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River.
6 John wore clothing made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey.
7 And this was his message: “After me comes the one more powerful than I, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie.
8 I baptize you with[e] water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
9 At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan.
The papyrus skips over Mark 10:
10 Just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove.
Cool edit. The dove is a little much, too John Woo.
Then it continues:
11 And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”
12 At once the Spirit sent him out into the wilderness,
13 and he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him.
That from the New International version via Bible Gateway.
Grenfell and Hunt found Papyrus One at Oxyrhynchus in Egypt, along with a lot of other paperwork:
Administrative Documents assembled and transcribed from the Oxyrhynchus excavation so far include:
The contract of a wrestler agreeing to throw his next match for a fee.
Various and sundry ancient recipes for treating haemorrhoids, hangovers and cataracts.
Details of a corn dole mirroring a similar program in the Roman capital.
Plus some comedy scripts:
The classical author who has most benefited from the finds at Oxyrhynchus is the Athenian playwright Menander (342–291 BC), whose comedies were very popular in Hellenistic times and whose works are frequently found in papyrus fragments.
Menander’s most popular character was a kind of proto Oscar the Grouch it sounds like.
Menander or literally me:
Papyrus One is dated to the early 3rd century. Is Papyrus One the earliest fragment of Mark known to exist? We’ll take that up another time.
It’s interesting that there’s no birth of Jesus (“Christmas”) in Mark. Mark just jumps right in.
Here are the things Jesus says in Mark, Chapter One.
The time has come at last – the kingdom of God has arrived. You must change your hearts and minds and believe the good news.
Come and follow me, and I will teach you to catch men!
(to a demon) Hold your tongue and get out of him.
Then we will go somewhere else, to the neighboring towns, so that I may give my message there too – that is why I have come.
(to a leper) Of course I want to – be clean!
(also to a leper) Mind you say nothing at all to anybody. Go straight off and show yourself to the priest, and make the offerings for your cleansing which Moses prescribed as public proof of your recovery.
Mark Two: what is the oldest version of Mark?