Mark & Translation(s): Studies in Mark, Pt. 38

Some thoughts on Mk. 1.1 in regards to translation(s):

Grk: Αρχη του ευαγγελιου Ιησου Χριστου υιου Θεου
Arm: רשא דאונגליון דישוע משיחא ברה דאלהא
Frn: Le commencement de l'Evangile de Jésus-Christ, Fils de Dieu;
Grm: Dis ist der anfang des Euangelii, von Ihesu Christo, dem Son Gottes,

The first word of the Markan account raises some questions as it lacks a definite article or a temporal marker. For example, before Αρχη one might have expected to see τη , εν or some other referent (see Mk. 13.8 for example, the only other place in Mk. where αρχη shows up). The addition of such terms (often supplied in modern translations) would have suggested a specific time. However, with the absence of any such term, the text reads: “A Beginning” or more stringently, “Beginning”. (*Note: This same phenomenon occurs in the Hebrew--and LXX--at Gen. 1.1. Read my brief post about that here.)

The reader might also notice that Αρχη is the only nominative in verse 1. The other six terms are all in the genitive. This group of genitives emphasizes possession. Therefore, this is a beginning “of” the Gospel “of / about” Jesus Christ, son “of” God. ευαγγελιου should probably be taken as an objective genitive here, meaning that this is the Gospel about or concerning Jesus Christ, not the Gospel He Himself preaches. At Mk. 1.14 the reader is made aware of the fact the Gospel that Jesus preaches is the Gospel “of / belonging to” God.

We notice that in the Aramaic version of this verse the term רשא is not emphatic or determined and thus, there is no type of articular aspect to the front of this sentence. However, the French and German texts have supplied temporal markers. The definite article “Le” in the French is to be translated “The”. We also observe that in the French translation, the genitives are preserved by the three uses of “de”. (*Note: Almost every English translation includes an article as well. Some, such as the JPS, are very close to the German rednering.)

Within the German text we encounter a couple of translation issues. Firstly, the text begins: “Dis ist der” (This is the). This is quite a change from the other translations as it attempts to be incredibly specific. Also, where the other three languages use 1 nominative and 3 genitives, the German keeps the nominative (der) but proceeds with 2 genitives (des, von) and then adds a dative (dem). From a grammatical standpoint, this suggests that “the Gospel of Jesus Christ” is to be taken as a whole and as the direct object, while the indirect object is the one who is referred to as the “Son of God”. This rendering is, of course, a bit different than the other three as it places emphasis in places that the others do not.

Finally, it might be pointed out that in the Aramaic, the two terms דישוע and משיחא are choc-full of meaning. דישוע is certainly a formal name but it, of course, is related to ישע which, at it's root, means "deliverance" or "salvation". משיחא no doubt, means "anointed one". Thus, we have two important titles here that, when placed in their Semitic contexts, speak volumes. To be sure, in Greek, French and German, these terms are not nearly as potent as in the Aramaic.

In translating, one should probably not include the definite article. In fact, it’s absence might suggest a number of things: 1) The author did not consider his account “The” beginning of Jesus’ story but merely “a” beginning point [or simply a good point at which to begin writing about] in Jesus’ life, for example, the beginning of His ministry, 2) If supposition 1 is accepted, then, the author may see Jesus’ baptism as a turning point in Jesus’ life, again, as the point whereat His formal ministry began, 3) Perhaps the author believes that if he were to include a fixed beginning point, He must also include a fixed ending point, which runs counter to his theology [e.g. He believes that Jesus was raised and that there is no end-point], 4) If the author knew and used the accounts of Matthew and Luke as sources, he would have known of the birth narratives and thus, he would have been well aware that this was not “the” beginning of Jesus’ story, 5) If propositions 1 or 2 are correct, then this does not appear to be a heading as many have suggested, 6) This may highlight or emphasize Mark's selectivity in sharing the stories that he does [e.g. he could have started with another story but this is where he chose to begin], 7) Mark, by choosing to begin where he does, appears to place incredible weight on Jesus' baptism--does it have something to do with His anointing and delivering? and 8) Mark may be hearkening back to Gen. [1] as well as Exodus here. He leaves out the definite article, Has God the Father talking, shows the Spirit hovering over the waters, speaks of the firmament opening, talks about passing through the waters, speaks of deliverance from oppression and shows Jesus going into the wilderness, etc.

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