Thursday, April 28, 2011

Proving that Mark 10:17 - 31 Took Place at the Beginning of the New Year

We have just examined the surviving Vatican manuscript of the Diatessaron and noted that this gospel harmony actually divides the narrative of the ministry of Jesus into two. The second part of the gospel begins just before the Question of Rich Youth (Mark 10:17 - 31) where we read in the margin in another hand:

This is the beginning of the second part of Diatessaron, which means The Four. '[Diat.28.1]

Now we should correct ourselves right there and say that this 'Arabic Diatessaron' does not have Mark 10:17 - 31 immediately after these words. In fact we find John 7:2 - 31 in between the beginning of the 'second part' and the Question of the Rich Youth.  I will cite the material in full for those who have never read it before.  The rest of you can just skip down to follow the continuation of my argument:

And at that time the feast of tabernacles of the Jews drew near. So the brethren of Jesus said unto him, Remove now hence, and go to Judaea, that thy disciples may see the deeds that thou doest. For no man doeth a thing secretly and wisheth to be apparent. If thou doest this, shew thyself to the world. For up to this time not even the brethren of Jesus believed on him. Jesus said unto them, My time till now has not arrived; but as for you, your time is alway ready. It is not possible for the world to hate you; but me it hateth, for I bear witness against it, that its deeds are evil. As for you, go ye up unto this feast: but I go not up now to this feast; for my time has not yet been completed. He said this, and remained behind in Galilee.

But when his brethren went up unto the feast, he journeyed from Galilee, and to came to the borders of Judaea, to the country beyond Jordan; and there came after him great multitudes, and he healed them all there. And he went out, and proceeded to the feast, not openly, but as one that conceals himself. And the Jews sought him at the feast, and said, In what place is this man? And there occurred much murmuring there in the great multitude that came to the feast, on his account. For some said, He is good: and others said, Nay, but he leadeth the people astray. But no man spake of him openly for fear of the Jews.

But when the days of the feast of tabernacles were half over, Jesus went up to the temple, and taught. And the Jews wondered, and said, How doth this man know writing, seeing he hath not learned? Jesus answered and said, My doctrine is not mine, but his that sent me.

Whoever wisheth to do his will understandeth my doctrine? whether it be from God, or whether I speak of mine own accord. Whosoever speaketh of his own accord seeketh praise for himself; but whosoever seeketh praise for him that sent him, he is true, and unrighteousness in his heart there is none. Did not Moses give you the law, and no man of you keepeth the law? Why seek ye to kill me? The multitude answered and said unto him, Thou hast demons: who seeketh to kill thee? Jesus answered and said unto them, I did one deed, and ye all marvel because of this. Moses hath given you circumcision (not because it is from Moses, but it is from the fathers); and ye on the sabbath circumcise a man. And if a man is circumcised on the sabbath day, that the law of Moses may not be broken; are ye angry at me, because I healed on the sabbath day the whole man? Judge not with hypocrisy, but judge righteous judgement.

And some people from Jerusalem said, Is not this he whom they seek to slay? And lo, he discourseth with them openly, and they say nothing unto him. Think you that our eiders have learned that this is the Messiah indeed? But this man is known whence he is; and the Messiah, when he cometh, no man knoweth whence he is. So Jesus lifted up his voice as he taught in the temple, and said, Ye both know me, and know whence I am; and of my own accord am I not come, but he Arabic. that sent me is true, he whom ye know not: but I know him; for I am from him, and he sent me. And they sought to seize him: and no man laid a hand on him, because his hour had not yet come. But many of the multitude believed on him; and they said, The Messiah, when he cometh, can it be that he will do more than these signs that this man doeth? [Diatessaron 28.2 - 32]

So we are no standing where we left our investigation in our last post. We suspect that the 'two parts' of the gospel narrative are divided according to the Jewish New Year (i.e. 1 Nisan). Yet the strange placement about a story which took place in the seventh month (i.e. John 7) doesn't necessarily help our argument.

Or does it ...

In our last post we noted that we hadn't consulted a much earlier version of the Diatessaron, the one cited in Ephrem the Syrian's Commentary on the Gospel of Concord. While Ephrem (b. 306 CE) does not cite the entire contents of the Syriac Diatessaron used in Catholic Churches in the Near East he does sketch the order and the contents of the entire narrative. It is universally acknowledged that Ephrem's text is more primitive. Sometimes the material differs markedly from both Arabic Diatessaron and canonical gospels. As it turns out Ephrem's version of Diatessaron 28/John 7 is one of those major variants.

If we read Ephrem's commentary very carefully we can be absolutely certain that his gospel's version of Diatessaron 28/John 7 was actually set before the Passover of Jesus's Passion. In other words, the words Jesus tells his disciples that he is not going to the Jewish Passover rather than the Feast of Tabernacles as all known manuscripts read. Ephrem writes:

"I am not going up during the feast," (var John 7:8) that is to the cross. He did not say "to the feast," but "during the feast." "For, even his brothers did not believe in him. But they were saying to him, No one does anything in secret" [var John 7:5, 3 -4] They were seeking him in order to hand him over. Therefore he deceived them, I am not going up. "But he went up secretly," (cf John 7:10) so that it might be confirmed that they were going to hand him over.

Now I have searched high and low to see if any other scholar picked up what I see in the material.  No one noticed ti before.  Yet as I have already noted, this is not a reference to an appearance of Jesus at the feast of Tabernacles. Ephrem clearly and expressly states that Jesus says 'I am not going to the Passover' i.e. the one in which he will be crucified on the cross. There is no doubt that at least some of the rest of the material in John 7 is retained, but Ephrem knew the passage as preceding Passover rather than Sukkot.

Of course I know that most people's instincts are to say 'well Passover begins in the middle of Nisan' not the beginning.  But the reality is that this was not so true in contemporary Jewish and Samaritan culture.  Exodus 12 as we have already noted connects Passover with the coming of the first month:

This month is to be for you the first month, the first month of your year. Tell the whole community of Israel that on the tenth day of this month each man is to take a lamb for his family, one for each household [Exodus 12:2,3]

We also saw that Samaritan and Qumran texts originally reflected not only an original significance to the 10th of Nisan but moreover that the first of Nisan was originally the first day of the Ordination Festival which originally lasted until the 8th of Nisan. Indeed we know from the ancient work known as Megillat Ta`anit the first eight days of Nisan were designated as a time of great rejoicing. It has long since disappeared from Judaism along with the importance of selecting the lamb on the tenth of Nisan.

In my mind there is no doubt that it was this festival which must have been the one that was originally referenced in Diatessaron 28/John 7. There are two very strong reasons for accepting this aside from Ephrem testimony cited above that when Jesus said 'I am not going up to the festival' he meant the Passover. The first is that Clement knew 'the gospel' to have narrated a year long ministry for Jesus. Yet it is well documented that Ephrem (Sermo 13) and the early Syrian Church (cf Abgar, Cyrollinas) shared this view. The point then is that it is simply absurd within a year long ministry to have Jesus go up at the beginning of section 28 of the Diatessaron to have an account of Jesus at Sukkot (which is in the seventh month) and then immediately followed by Jesus answering the question of Rich Youth just before Passover.

Perhaps we should bring back our chronology of events and sayings from the Arabic Diatessaron beginning in section 28 from our last post in order to help explain how Ephrem's earlier Diatessaron differs from it.  Here is the order of material as it appears in the Arabic Diatessaron.  The numbers on the left hand side are just a way to show that one passage follows the other:

  1. “This is the beginning of the second part of Diatessaron, which means The Four.” '[Diat.28.1]
  2. Historical Marker - Feast of the Tabernacles [Diat 28.2 - 32] John 7
  3. Parable of the Rich Fool [Diat.28.33 - 41] Luke 12
  4. Question of the Rich Youth [Diat. 28.42 -29.11] Mark 10
  5. Rich Man and Lazarus [Diat 29.12 - 26] Luke 16
  6. Parable of the Vineyard [Diat 29.26 - 42]  Luke 16/Matt 20
  7. Jesus Saying Sheep in the Ditch [Diat 29.43 - 48] Luke 14
  8. Saying about Inviting to Feast [Diat 30.1 - 25] Luke 14
  9. Continuation of (8) with more material from Matthew [Diat 30.26 - 30] Matthew 22
  10. Historical Marker - "And after that, the time of the feast of unleavened bread of the Jews arrived, and Jesus went out to go to Jerusalem. And as he went in the way, there met him ten persons who were lepers, and stood afar off" [Diat. 30.31] John 5.1
  11. Healing of the Samaritan leper [Diat 30.32 - 39] Luke 17
  12. Foretelling of Passion [Diat 30.40 - 45] Mark 10:32 - 34
  13. Question About Enthronement [Diat 30.46 - 31.6] Mark 10:35 - 45
  14. Going about the villages of Jerusalem [Diat 30.6 - 14] Luke 13
  15. Zacchaeus at Jericho [Diat 31.15 - 24] Luke 19:1 - 10
  16. Sees blind man coming out of Jericho [Diat. 31.25 - 35] Mark 10
  17. Nearing Jerusalem Parable [Diat 31 36 - 52] Luke 19
  18. Jesus enters Jerusalem [Diat 32]
We have already noted that Ephrem's parallel section seems to have (2) as a reference to the approaching of Nisan and the series of festivals that marked that month in the contemporary Jewish calendar.  We have already thrown out (10) because it is simply trying to break up a long section of material from synoptic sources all of which reinforce a ministry of a single year.

The point then is that Ephrem's much earlier Syriac Diatessaron not only reflects a one year ministry for Jesus, it does so with a streamlined text.  Now it has to be recognized that the following represents only passages that Ephrem decided to reference.  There might have been passages that he omitted to saying anything about or were later removed by subsequent editors of the text.  Nevertheless we can be certain that the 'historical markers' (highlighted in blue above were not in the text).  Here is the order in Ephrem's Syriac Diatessaron.  We have inherited the list from the previous ordering and left blank the references that don't appear in Ephrem's Commentary.  The Commentary has (2), (4), (5), (6), (13), (16) and (18) follow in the exact order shown:

  1. Historical Marker (Applied to a Festival in Nisan) John 7 

  2. Question of the Rich Man 
  3. Rich man and Lazarus
  4. Parable of the Vineyard

  5. The Request of James and John

  6. Zacchaeus
  7. The Blind Man of Jericho

  8. Jesus Enters Jerusalem

The point I want to make here is that Ephrem's Diatessaron clearly follows a chronological ordering which assumes not only a one year ministry but which reflects the idea that the marginal note in the Vatican copy of the Diatessaron likely represents a break at the beginning of Nisan.

The second argument which reinforces this understanding is that we see Matthew 17:25 - 27's reference to the half-shekel temple almost immediately preceding the break in  the Vatican manuscript.  Indeed it is not only the Arabic Diatessaron that does this.  We see for instance in Ephrem's Commentary the following order of material before the material cited above from John 7

  1. Temple Tax Matt 17:25 - 27
  2. Discussion About Divorce Mark 10:2 - 5
  3. Parable of the Ten Drachmas Luke 15:4 - 10
  4. Parable of the Two Sons Luke 15:13 - 14
  5. Parable of the Unjust Steward Luke 16:1, 4 - 7
  6. Forgiveness of Sins Matt 18:21, 22
  7. Prayer Alone and in Common Matt 18:20, 10
  8. The Galileans Killed By Pilate Luke 13.1; Luke 14.10
  9. Parable of the Barren Fig Tree Luke 13:6, - 8
  10. Historical Marker (Applied to a Festival in Nisan) John 7 
  11. The Question of the Rich Youth

Indeed when you look at this list of narratives there is not a single reference again to an 'act' of Jesus.  They are all either parables, sayings or historical references which have nothing to do with Jesus.  It should also be noted that (6) the discussion of the Forgiveness of Sins uses imagery and allusions which reinforce that the New Year was a Jubilee which we will note in our next post.

The point of course is that Clement of Alexandria - clearly using some 'gospel harmony' of his own or that of the Alexandrian community already connects (1) and (11) in his Homily on Mark 10:17 - 31 Quis Dives Salvetur:

Therefore on hearing those words (i.e. Mark 10:21), the blessed Peter, the chosen, the pre-eminent, the first of the disciples, for whom alone and Himself the Saviour paid tribute, quickly seized and comprehended the saying.

Clement understands there to be only one year to Jesus's ministry and connects the recent payment of the temple tax with the discussion on eternal life in Mark 10:17 - 31.  Clement's student Origen clearly connects the temple tax with the Passover in his Commentary on Matthew 13.

I am now quite certain that in the earliest gospels the Question of the Rich Youth occurred on or near the first of the first month.  The context of the question is - does paying the half shekel temple tax really achieve 'redemption' for the individual?  Jesus's answer is clearly no, you have to give up everything. It can't be achieved with just the giving up of a token amount for the temple.

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