7

Robert M. Price points out in The Christ Myth and Its Problems that Mark 1:9 omits the definite article [ὁ, tō, etc] before the name of Jesus, in contrast to the almost universal practice elsewhere in the Gospel. He suggests that this could be evidence that the sentence is an interpolation.

I am far from convinced that this omission is enough to believe that Mark 1:9 is an interpolation, but would like to know if there are grammatical or theological reasons for the original author to have omitted 'the' in this instance, while including the definite article almost everywhere else in the Gospel.

Alternatively, did the use of the definite article before a name fall out of favour after the second century?

  • I perused half of the Gospel of Mark in the Greek and this is the only verse where Jesus' name is in the nominative case where there is no definite article (very conventional in the NT Greek (at least in Mark) to see a person's name in the nominative case with the definite article). This is a "one off" variant from the convention. Using Occam's razor as I guide (fewest assumptions for competing hypothesis), loading this one variant down as a literary interpolation would not be my first thought (vocabulary, syntax look pretty Markan to me). – Patrick Bacon Dec 16 '15 at 6:59
9

It is true that the "anarthrous" usage of "Jesus" (Ἰησοῦς) in Mark 1:9 is unusual. Of 82 occurrences of the name in Mark, only eight of them lack the article (1:1, 9, 24; 5:7; 10:47[x2]; 16:6, 19). There is something of a pattern, though, as aside from 1:1, 9; and 16:19 (which is in the disputed "long ending" of Mark), these occur with an epithet, not a "raw" use of the name.

There are some factors to take into account in evaluating the instance in Mark 1:9 -

  1. As commentators regularly point out (e.g. E.P. Gould [ICC], C.E.B. Cranfield, R.T. France [NIGTC], Joel Marcus [Anchor Bible]), the syntax of this verse is strongly "Semitic": kai egeneto ... ēlthen reflects the Hebrew Bible's wayəhî + further finite verb. Hebrew proper names do not take an article, so perhaps this influences the use of the name at this point (if Hebrew usage is in the mind of the writer).

  2. This is the first usage of the name "Jesus" in the body of the gospel. As Cranfield (p. 51) suggests:

    Was Mark perhaps, consciously or unconsciously, feeling after a special dignity at the point where he was introducing Jesus for the first time?

  3. The wider pattern of usage is worth noting as well. First, LXX Joshua should be recalled, where "Joshua" is (of course) named as "Jesus" 172x. Of those, 18x it has the article (all dative, and this is all the dative occurrences, in fact), leaving by far the most common usage of "Jesus" in this familiar book as "anarthrous". Perhaps another reason for this first occurrence in Mark to echo the foreshadowing "Greek Joshua"?

  4. Second, in the whole NT, "Jesus" is used approximately 917x. Of those, roughly half are without the article (450 or so; 80x in the gospel of John alone), so it is not an unusual thing by any means.

  5. Finally, the syntax of the article with proper names in wider classical Greek usage is compared with NT usage by A.T. Robertson who cites Basil Gildersleeve's full treatment. There is a fair diversity of usage, so worth perusing those works to gain an impression of the situation.

  • Thank you for a thorough and helpful answer. We can say that 16:19 is an interpolation, and 1:1 has been mentioned as a possible interpolation, which by themselves lend credibility to 1:9 also being one (all the other anarthrous instances occurring with an epithet). But the rest of your answer strongly leads to the conclusion that the absence of the article says nothing about the origin of this verse. I also found the links to Robertson and Gildersleeve very helpful. – Dick Harfield Nov 23 '15 at 0:22
  • I take your point, about 'sloppy' reference to 16:19 - I should have said, "We can say that 16:19 is part of an interpolation" -please note I intentionally said "We can say" in respect for those who do not accept this (I know you do not, whereas I - after meticulous enquiry - do). For the moment I forget where I saw 1:1 (or some part thereof) discussed as a possible interpolation, but again note that I said "possible interpolation." – Dick Harfield Nov 23 '15 at 7:53
  • Since I don't know you personally, perhaps I should have said "(I believe you do not". Nevertheless you comment on my answers often enough (and you are welcome to do so - your comments are often constructive) that I feel I know a little about your theology. In fact you have previously commented against the Long Ending, and your "deference to Nick Lunn's work" which neither of us had previously used in argument, tells me you find his arguments (whatever they are - but I can see he believes the LE is original) compelling. – Dick Harfield Nov 23 '15 at 20:45
  • I think I would be more than guessing your belief on this matter if you are so willing to defer to Nick Lunn because of a blog that tells us nothing at all about why to defer to him, and even agrees that the majority view is that the LE is late? You say he is taken seriously, but there is nothing in the blog to say that anyone - other than his editor, with a vested interest - takes him seriously. I'm with the majority until I see a good reason not to be. – Dick Harfield Nov 23 '15 at 22:13
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    It’s possibly relevant (in support of your #3) that the dative τῷ Ἰησοῖ that subsumes most of the articular uses in Joshua is a form unknown to the NT, which always (?) uses (τῷ) Ἰησοῦ for the dative. (There are a couple of the latter in Joshua, and maybe that option explains the preference to include the article with datives to disambiguate?) (BTW, 4:14 has τὸν Ἰησοῦν -- אֶת־יְהוֹשֻׁ֔עַ, even. :-)) – Susan Nov 24 '15 at 1:11
1

I'm a scientist not a Greek language expert but I previously did a Bayesian probability analysis on the hypothesis that Mark 1:9 contains a scribal error vs. an interpolation/redaction using information from Bart Ehrman and Jesus mythicist/Nazareth mythicist Frank Zindler.

I concluded that the probability of a scribal error vs. an interpolation was about of equal probability. But there is also the unknown probability that Mark 1:9 was originally written without the definite article. That probability can't be assumed to be zero percent but the upper probability is unknown. I assumed a low 5% probability as a prior probability.

Zindler examined variations in all the over 50 critical editions of Mark that were published by Reuben Swanson and discovered numerous scribal errors and apparent interpolations in Mark. But he did not do a complete analysis and he was unable to quantify how many of these differences were interpolations without having the actual first manuscript of Mark, which of course no one has.

Zindler also believes that the verse in Matthew (21:11) that mentions Jesus of Nazareth from Galilee was used as the source text to fabricate Mark 1:9 but Matthew 21:11 contains the definite article. Another problem with Zindler's conclusion is that Matthew 21:11 could contain real historical information so even if it were interpolated into Mark it could still be historically accurate in Mark 1:9.

Bart Ehrman said he examined every verse in Mark and the numerous variants and concluded that the absence of the definite article in Mark 1:9 is almost certainly an early scribal error, based on his experiences looking at New Testament manuscripts. The definite article is often used optionally in New Testament texts and could easily be overlooked or omitted by scribes.

Interestingly, if you randomly delete definite articles from any of the Jesus verses in Mark in order to simulate a scribal deletion you also get many unique and striking patterns that appear to be intentional interpolations/redactions but that are of course only simulated scribal errors. [Zindler quite by accident made an error in the manuscript he wrote about Mark 1:9 and produced a sentence and paragraph that looks like an intentional interpolation if one is predisposed to be looking for interpolations, that is, practicing confirmation bias.]

I conclude that the absence of the definite article in Mark 1:9 is probably due to scribal error or redaction with about equal probability, close to 50-50 probability. And there is also a greater than zero percent probability that Mark 1:9 was originally written without the definite article. A 50-50 probability in Bayesian probability theory means we don't know and can't say otherwise.

-1

In my question, I stated that I was far from convinced that the omission of the article is enough to believe that Mark 1:9 is an interpolation. After some months, I noticed other features of Mark 1:9 that now support a reading of this verse as having been redacted.


Mark 1:9 is the only place in the entire Gospel where the town of Nazareth is mentioned, in the original Greek language. Moreover, the reference to “Nazareth of Galilee” is unusual for Mark – elsewhere, he refers to towns and cities such as Capernaum,Tyre, Sidon, Dalmanutha, Bethphage, Bethany and Jerusalem without telling us where these towns are.

Although English translations of Mark's Gospel often refer to 'Jesus of Nazareth' (eg Mark 1:24), the Greek text says in each instance, Ἰησοῦ Ναζαρηνέ (Jesus the Nazarene). While verse 1:9 only says that Jesus departed from Nazareth to meet John the Baptist, this is the nearest Mark ever gets to locating Jesus in Nazareth.

An argument against Nazareth as Jesus’ home town is that there is another town that, for Mark, might have been his home town. Apart from Nazareth in verse 1:9, the first town that Mark mentions is Capernaum, and some modern Bibles translate Mark 2:1,15; 3:20 in a way that suggests Capernaum was really the home town of Jesus:

Mark 2:1 (NAB): When Jesus returned to Capernaum after some days, it became known that he was at home.
Mark 2:15 (NAB): While he was at table in his house
Mark 3:20: (NAB): He came home ...

The later gospels leave no doubt that Jesus was from Nazareth. However, Matthew supports the above translations of Mark 2:1, 15; 3:20 because it tells us in verse 4:13 that Jesus moved there from Nazareth. With a slightly different approach, Luke 5:29 says that the house of Mark 2:15 is Levi’s house.

Conclusion

Mark 1:9 has three features, unusual for Mark, that, seen in combination, lead to a reasonable conclusion that the verse has been redacted:

  1. Omission of the definite article before the name of Jesus;
  2. Only mention of Nazareth in the entire Gospel;
  3. Nazareth is mentioned as being in Galilee.

To reach this conclusion, it is not necessary to explain why the verse was altered, but I believe this was done in order to place Jesus in Nazareth at the beginning of his mission on earth and therefore harmonise with the later gospels that tell us that Jesus was actually brought up in Nazareth. Knowing that Jesus began his mission from Nazareth, the reader would conclude that 'Jesus the Nazarene' had the same meaning in Mark as 'Jesus of Nazarene' had in the later gospels.

  • What logical need would there have been for Mark to mention Nazareth anywhere else in the entire Gospel, which basically describes Christ's public ministry upon reaching maturity, as opposed to His early childhood ? Furthermore, why would notorious towns such as Tyre, Sidon, or Jerusalem need any explanatory details concerning their whereabouts ? Not mention the fact that Christ's Galilean origins posed some serious difficulties to His being accepted as a Prophet (John 7:52). – Lucian Aug 22 '17 at 0:15
-1

The omission of the definite article before the name of Jesus in Mark 1:9 could very likely be due to scribal error (deletion) since scribal errors are very common in New Testament texts. The occurrence of the words Jesus and Nazareth and a scribal error in the same verse could simply be due to coincidence. After all, the omission of the definite article only looks striking because of data mining and data selection. And the words Jesus and Nazareth (or Nazarene) are commonly associated with each other so nothing surprising should be seen in a verse with both of them present. Of course even if Mark 1:9 contains an interpolation that is not proof that the verse is historically inaccurate and that Nazareth or Jesus never existed as Robert M. Price claims.

  • Thank you for your answer. I think it is more than a coincidence that, as well as omitting the article, this verse happens to be the only time that Mark ever mentions Nazareth. I make no comment on whether Nazareth existed at the time. – Dick Harfield Apr 18 '16 at 22:33
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    @HobartBaker It appears to me that you are arguing from Occam's Razor that since a scribal omission could explain the omission and coincidence can explain the common words, an interpolation is more complicated and thus less likely. Am I understanding you correctly? If so I think that is an argument with merit. It might be clearer though if you made that more explicit. Some formatting might help too. And it might get rid of the ever-unpleasant down vote (which is not from me). – user10231 Apr 21 '16 at 1:41

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