The Aramaic, Hebrew, Greek & Latin Contour of Mark’s Gospel: Studies in Mark, Pt. 25

A few posts ago, I wrote about some of the circumstances surrounding the composition of Mark’s Gospel. In that post, I argued that the Gospel according to Mark was the product (attested to by the Church Fathers) of Mark recording a number of lectures given by Peter in Rome, where Peter compared Matthew and Luke’s accounts. It was during this time that the Romans sitting in the crowd, asked Mark for a copy of his documenting of the lectures. (Click the following link for more on this: Composing Mark.)

What this means, of course, is that Mark’s account was produced in the main, for a Roman audience. What I want to do in this post is to show how the many explanations of both Aramaic terms and Jewish customs in Mark’s work, give strong credence to the fact it was indeed, written in Rome for those of Roman orientation and/or origin. Furthermore, I will show a list of Latinisms and Latin load words that have been uncovered in the text. Surely, Mark would not have included such idioms (which, unlike the Aramiac terms and Jewish practices, he does not have to explain) and terms had his audience not been Roman.

Here is a chronological list of Aramaic uses as they occur in Mark’s Gospel:

* 3.17 (Boanerges – “which means, sons of thunder”)
* 4.12 (here quoting Isaiah, Mark veers from the LXX and follows the Aramaic Targum)
* 5.41 (Talitha Kum – “which means, Little girl, I say to you, get up”)
* 7.11 (Korban – “that is, devoted to God”)
* 7.34 (Ephphatha – “which means, be opened”)
* 10.46 (Bartimaeus – “which means, son of Timaeus”)
* 14.36 (Abba – no explanation, though one might take the following 'ho pater' as a parenthetical mark and thus, as an explanation)
* 15.22 (Golgotha – “which means, the place of the skull”)
* 15.34 (Eloi, Eloi, Lama Sabachthani – “which means, my God, my God, why have you forsaken me”)

One can see that after each Aramaic term or phrase that is used (with the possible exception of Abba in 14.36), Mark offers an explanation. Needless to say, he would not have wasted time, ink or parchment on writing down explanations of these terms had his audience been familiar with them. Aramaic, the language of the land of Galilee (esp. Palestine) was not the language of Rome, Latin and Greek were. What this suggests is that Mark was not composed for an Aramaic or Galilean audience.

Throughout Mark’s work, the reader also encounters a number of places where Mark takes some time to explain Jewish traditions and/or beliefs. These passages are as follows:

* 7.3-4 (“The Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they give their hands a ceremonial washing, holding to the tradition of the elders. When they come from the marketplace they do not eat unless they wash. And they observe many other traditions, such as the washing of cups, pitchers, kettles and dinging seats.”)
* 14.12 (“On the first day of the Festival of Unleavened Bread—when it was customary to sacrifice the Passover Lamb—Jesus’ disciples asked Him…”)
* 15.6 (“Now it was the custom at the Festival to release a prisoner whom the people requested.”)
* 15.42-3 (“It was Preparation Day—that is, the day before the Sabbath—So as evening approached…”)

What can we learn from these explanations? Well, just as he would not have had to explain Aramaic terms to an Aramaic crowd, Mark would not have had to define Jewish rituals and holy days to a predominantly Jewish crowd! So, we can gather from these explanations that the crowd was neither Aramaic speaking nor Jewish. However, there are a number of clues in Mark’s text that suggest that the audience was Roman. One of the most helpful textual clues come with all of the Latinisms and Latin loan words/phrases. Here is a list, which most textual scholars agree on—I have compared this list to other New Testament works, noting where Mark’s uses are unique or where they might correspond with other important uses:

* 2.23 (hodon poiein – Lat = iter facere; unique to Mk.)
* 3.6 (sumboulion edidoun – Lat = consilium dederunt; Mt. usually uses sumboulion elabon)
* 4.21 (modios – Lat = modius; Unique to Mk.)
* 5.9 (legei – Lat = legio; Lk. uses this once at 8.34)
* 5.15 (legiona – Lat = legio)
* 6.27 (spekoulator – Lat = speculator; Unique to Mk.)
* 6.37 (denarion – Lat = denarius)
* 12.14 (kensos – Lat = census)
* 12.42 (lepta; unique to Mk.)
* 12.42 (kodrantes; Used once in Mt. at 5.26)
* 15.15 (hikanon poiein – Lat = satis facere; Unique to Mk.)
* 15.15 (phragellan – Lat = fragellare; Used once at Mt. 27.26)
* 15.16 (Praitorion – Lat = Praetorium; Used once at Mt. 27.27)
* 15.19 (tithentes ta gonata – Lat = genua ponentes; Unique to Mk.)
* 15.39 (kenturion – Lat = centurio; Unique to Mk. When used in Mt., Lk. and Acts, the term is ekatontarches or a derivative of it)
* 15.44 (kenturiona – Lat = centurio)
* 15.45 (kentruionos – Lat = centurio)

As can be seen in the terms above, not all of these Latin terms/phrases are unique to Mark. Indeed, when Mark retells the passion events, he adopts a couple of Matthew’s Latin terms (e.g. verses 27.26, 27). Just as well, there are other terms, such as denarion that are used repeatedly throughout the New Testament. However, there are a number of terms and phrases that are unique only to Mark’s account. What can we deduce from this data? For one, it shows that Mark purposefully adapts his account, which is based on Mt. and Lk., to fit a Roman audience. Second, since Mark does not offer explanations of these terms but simply works them in, is telling; unlike the Aramaic words and Jewish customs, no explanation is needed. Had Mark’s audience not been Roman, we would have expected him to, as he did with the Aramaic words and Jewish practices, to explain. Thirdly, it shows that Mark had some knowledge of Latin but not a lot; he still wrote in Greek!

Thus, it appears, from a textual analysis of Mark’s account that his audience is clearly Roman. This comports well with my previous argument that indeed, Mark wrote in Rome at the request of Roman persons who were in the audience listening to Peter speak. With this knowledge, we might begin to look for some relationships between Paul’s letter to the Romans, the letters he wrote while locked-up in Rome, Roman historical works and Mark’s work. For instance, one can easily see how Romans 14 and Mark 7.1-23 speak to similar issues. One could also see how the opening of Mark’s work (often criticized for seeming abrupt, which I totally disagree with) is Roman in demeanor (click here to read a previous post of mine on this subject: Mark’s Opening Scene).

In forthcoming posts, I will continue to offer evidences for the circumstances surrounding the composition of Mark’s work, for now, think on these things.

No comments:

Post a Comment