Monday, July 12, 2010

Tjitze Baarda Expresses Interest in Our Attempts to Rediscover the Martyrium of St. Mark in Alexandria

Tjitze Baarda is one of my favorite scholars. That doesn't mean that I always agrees with his interpretations of texts or traditions. But he is SO smart, SO knowledgeable and in possession of SO, SO, SO superior language skills than I was so excited to hear from him today.  Truly one of the greats EVER. 

He found out about my efforts to locate the Martyrium of St. Mark (if you are interested in reading more about that project click here)  Apparently he is working on a critical edition of the Martyrium Marci i.e. the Acts of Mark which is very exciting to hear. In any event, while we were talking about the Martyrium project, I happened to ask him about a topic I couldn't find any discussion in the literature, namely the reference to this line in the Diatessaron account of the Transfiguration:

And they thought that the time of his decease which was to be accomplished at Jerusalem was come.

I connect this with the preservation of various POST-RESURRECTION Transfiguration narratives including (but not limited to) Ephrem's Against Marcion Book 1 and the Ethiopic text of the Apocalypse of Peter which reads:

And my Lord Jesus Christ our King said unto me: Let us go unto the holy mountain. And his disciples went with him, praying. And behold there were two men there, and we could not look upon their faces, for a light came from them, shining more than the sun, and their rairment also was shining, and cannot be described, and nothing is sufficient to be compared unto them in this world. And the sweetness of them . . . that no mouth is able to utter the beauty of their appearance (or, the mouth hath not sweetness to express, &c.), for their aspect was astonishing and wonderful. And the other, great, I say (probably: and, in a word, I cannot describe it), shineth in his (sic) aspect above crystal. Like the flower of roses is the appearance of the colour of his aspect and of his body . . . his head (al. their head was a marvel). And upon his (their) shoulders (evidently something about their hair has dropped out) and on their foreheads was a crown of nard woven of fair flowers. As the rainbow in the water, [Probably: in the time of rain. From the LXX of Ezek.i.28.] so was their hair. And such was the comeliness of their countenance, adorned with all manner of ornament. And when we saw them on a sudden, we marvelled. And I drew near unto the Lord (God) Jesus Christ and said unto him: O my Lord, who are these? And he said unto me: They are Moses and Elias. And I said unto him: Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and the rest of the righteous fathers? And he showed us a great garden, open, full of fair trees and blessed fruits, and of the odour of perfumes. The fragrance thereof was pleasant and came even unto us. And thereof (al. of that tree) . . . saw I much fruit. And my Lord and God Jesus Christ said unto me: Hast thou seen the companies of the fathers?

As is their rest, such also is the honour and the glory of them that are persecuted for my righteousness' sake. And I rejoiced and believed [and believed] and understood that which is written in the book of my Lord Jesus Christ. And I said unto him: O my Lord, wilt thou that I make here three tabernacles, one for thee, and one for Moses, and one for Elias? And he said unto me in wrath: Satan maketh war against thee, and hath veiled thine understanding; and the good things of this world prevail against thee. Thine eyes therefore must be opened and thine ears unstopped that a tabernacle, not made with men's hands, which my heavenly Father hath made for me and for the elect. And we beheld it and were full of gladness.

And behold, suddenly there came a voice from heaven, saying: This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased: my commandments. And then came a great and exceeding white cloud over our heads and bare away our Lord and Moses and Elias. And I trembled and was afraid: and we looked up and the heaven opened and we beheld men in the flesh, and they came and greeted our Lord and Moses and Elias and went into another heaven. And the word of the scripture was fulfilled: This is the generation that seeketh him and seeketh the face of the God of Jacob. And great fear and commotion was there in heaven and the angels pressed one upon another that the word of the scripture might be fulfilled which saith: Open the gates, ye princes.

Thereafter was the heaven shut, that had been open.

And we prayed and went down from the mountain, glorifying God, which hath written the names of the righteous in heaven in the book of life.

In any event there are parallels which both he and I recognize exist between this account and Ephrem's Commentary on the Diatessaron especially Peter smelling flowers and seeing a vision of the Garden of Eden. I want the texts to prove Teeple's (and to a limited extent Reisenfeld's arguments) about the original Transfiguration narrative being a post-resurrection enthronement which might have ended alternative versions of the Gospel of Mark (more on that later). But anyway I was so honored to have Baarda express interest in taking up the challenge of making sense of this strange line. Here is what he wrote to me:

As to TA 24:5-6 (‘And appeared to them (Ms. B ‘to him”) Moses and Elijah, talking to Jesus. And they thought that [omitt. Mss. B E] the time of his decease - which was determined that it should come to pass in Jerusalem - had arrived’ (Lk 9:31b). This is a rendering of different elements taken from Mt 17, Mk 9, Lk 9. In my view, there is nothing in it that would suggest a relation with a possible tradition mentioned by you. For as it stands it is part of thinking of some persons (or of Elijah and Moses), not a presentation of a fact.

I cannot now deal with this tradition that you mentioned, but only with TA, which merely presents the Syriac text underlying the Arabic. The only element that strikes me here is the verb ‘they thought’. That is why your note presents me with a task to study the passage more carefully. I think that the reason is found in the fact that the Arabic text found (due to the harmonization process) twice the verb ‘to say’, and then had to render them differently (the verb ‘mr can be rendered differently in Arabic. But then the question arises who are the subject of ‘they thought’, I will try to solve this problem in a closer study of the text.

I hope you will see some day a short note on this question, and I will note in it that your question was the challenge.

The point again is that I am not excited that Baarda will necessarily AGREE with my interpretation but in my books there are ideas that MIGHT WORK and STUPID IDEAS that can't possibly work for this, that or the other reason. 

It is always refreshing when you have a chance to talk with a truly great scholar. It is even better when he tells you that your ideas are at least worth investigating. 

More to follow ...

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