The Widows Pence

Mark 12.41-44

Luke 21.1-4

41 He sat down opposite the treasury, and watched how the crowd gut money into the Many rich people put in large sums. 42 A poor widow came and put in two small copper

1 He looked up and saw rich people putting into the treasury their gifts; 2 he also saw a needy widow putting in two small copper

which are worth a penny. 43 Then he called his disciples and said to them, "Truly I this poor widow has put in more than all


3 He said, "Of a truth Ltell this poor widow has put in more than all of

those who are contributing to the treasury. 44 For all have contributed out of their


4 for all those have contributed out of their

abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in all she her entire life".

abundance for the gifts, but she out of her poverty has put in all the life she had".

The episode is brief, being almost entirely taken up with the identifying details (the contrast between the rich people's giving and the two small copper coins of the poor widow), and with Jesus' observation which evidently made the episode so memorable (and which was consequently retained close to word for word). With such a brief pericope the scope for explanation in terms of Luke's editing of Mark is stronger. But even so, the flexibility of detail in the build-up to the climactic saying bespeaks more of oral than of literary tradition.

209. Here again Taylor's discussion in terms of 'fragments loosely connected at 35 and 36' and 'fragmentary stories' (Mark 403-404) betrays the assumption that there must have been an original story or original stories of which only fragments remain, and thus also his failure to appreciate the character of oral tradition.

Other examples could be offered.210 None of this is intended to deny that Matthew and Luke knew Mark as such and were able to draw on his version of the tradition at a literary level and often did so; in terms of written sources, the case for Markan priority remains overwhelmingly the most probable (§7.3). Nor have I any wish to deny that Matthew and Luke regularly edited their Markan Vorlage. Sometimes by substantial abbreviation.211 Sometimes by adding material to make a better212 or a further point.213 Sometimes to clarify or avoid misunderstandings.214 At the same time, however, it would be improper to ignore the fact that in a good number of cases, illustrated above, the more natural explanation for the evidence is not Matthew's or Luke's literary dependence on Mark, but rather their own knowledge of oral retellings of the same stories (or, alternatively, their own oral retelling of the Markan stories).

Students of the Synoptic tradition really must free themselves from the as-

210. The healing of Peter's mother-in-law (Mark 1.29-31/Matt. 8.14-15/Luke 4.38-39); the cleansing of the leper (Mark 1,40-45/Matt. 8.1-4/Luke 5.12-16); Jesus' true family (Mark 3.31-35/Matt. 12.46-50/Luke 8.19-21); precedence among the disciples (Mark 10.35-45 = Matt. 20.20-28; but Luke 22.24-27); the healing of the blind man/men (Mark 10.46-52/Matt. 20.29-34/Luke Why do the lists of the twelve close disciples of Jesus vary as they do

(Mark 3.16-19/Matt. 10.2-4/Luke 6.13-16)? Presumably because in the process of oral transmission, confusion had arisen over the names of one or two of the least significant members of the group (see below §13.3b). The sequence of Mark 12.1-37/Matt. 21.33-46, 22.15-46/Luke 20.9-44 could be orally related, but the extent and consistency of verbal link suggest a primarily literary dependence of Matthew and Luke on Mark. The constancy of verbal link among the three accounts of the feeding of the five thousand likewise probably indicates an editing rather than a retelling process (Mark 6.32-44/Matt. 14.13-21/Luke9.10-17); but John's version Qohn 6.1-15), where almost the sole verbal links are the numbers (cost, loaves and fishes, participants, baskets of fragments), surely indicates oral retelling. The character of the sequel (Mark 6.45-52/Matt. 14.22-33/John 6.16-21) points clearly in the same direction. And though Matthew's dependence on Mark for the passion narrative is clear, the alternative version used by Luke may well indicate a tradition passed down orally independent of the Mark/Matthean (literary) version (see further below §17.1).

See above chapter 7 n. 17. Lord notes that performances of often very different lengths are a mark of oral tradition (Singer of Tales 109-17).

212. E.g., Matt. 12.5-7, ll-12aadds precedents more apposite to the two cases of Sabbath controversy than were provided in Mark 2.23-28 and 3.1-5 (Matt. 12.1-8 and 9-14); cf. Luke 13.10-17; see below §14.4a.

E.g., the Matthean additions to explain why Jesus accepted baptism from the Baptist (Matt. 3.14-15) and in his presentation of Peter as the representative disciple (Matt. 14.2831; 16.17-19), and the Lukan addition of a second mission (of the seventy[-two]) in Luke 10.112, presumably to foreshadow the Gentile mission (cf. 14.23 in §8.5e below).

214. Cf., e.g., Mark 6.3a, 5a with Matt. 13.55a, 58; Mark 10.17-18 with Matt. 19.16-17 (cited above chapter 7 n. 20, with further bibliography). In both cases Matthew's respect for the Markan wording is clear, even when he changed it, presumably to prevent any unwelcome implication (see my Evidence for Jesus 18-22).

sumption that variations between parallel accounts can or need be explained only in terms of literary redaction. After all, it can hardly be assumed that the first time and Luke heard many of these stories was when they first came across Mark's Gospel. The claim that there were churches in the mainstream(s) represented by Matthew and Luke who did not know any Jesus tradition until they received Mark (or Q) as documents simply beggars belief and merely exemplifies the blinkered perspective imposed by the literary paradigm. To repeat: the assumption, almost innate to those trained within western (that is, literary) culture, that the Synoptic traditions have to be analysed in terms of a linear sequence of written editions, where each successive version can be conceived only as an editing of its predecessor, simply distorts critical perception and skews the resultant analysis. The transmission of the narrative tradition has too many oral features to be ignored.

The more appropriate conclusions are twofold. (1) The variations between the different versions of the same story in the tradition do not indicate a cavalier attitude to or lack of historical interest in the events narrated. In almost every case examined or cited above it is clearly the same story which is being retold. Rather, the variations exemplify the character of oral retelling.216 In such oral transmission the concern to remember Jesus is clear from the key elements which give the tradition its stable identity,217 just as the vitality of the tradition is indicated by the performance variants. These were not traditions carried around in a casket like some sacred relic of the increasingly distant past, their elements long rigid by textual rigor mortis. But neither were they the free creation of teachers or prophets with some theological axe to grind. Rather they were the lifeblood of

215. To evoke Occam's razor here, on the ground that direct literary interdependence of a limited number of written documents is the simplest solution, is to forget the complex hypotheses which have to be evoked to explain why the later author should depart so freely from the detail of a tradition already fixed in writing. The hypothesis of performance of tradition in oral mode, rather than transmission of tradition in literary mode, is actually the simpler explanation of the Synoptic data, even though it is much more difficult (impossible) to trace any sequence of performances apart from those attested by the Gospel tradition itself (which is presumably why the hypothesis has never been given much consideration). See also §10.3 below.

216. It should be noted that this deduction from the tradition itself coheres with Papias's account both of Peter's preaching and of Mark's composition: that Peter 'gave/adapted (epoieito — could we say 'performed') his teaching with a view to the needs (pros tas chreias — that is, presumably, of the audiences), but not as making an orderly account (suntaxin) of the Lord's sayings, so that Mark did no wrong in thus writing down some things as he recalled them' (Eusebius, HE 3.39.15).

217. 'The different versions [of a scene] generally agree rather closely in the report of what Jesus said, but use more freedom in telling the story which provides the occasion for it' (Dodd, Founder 35-36); cf. Vansina, who notes that 'the stability of the message' is likely to be as great or greater in the case of narratives than in the case of epics (Oral Tradition as History 53-54).

the communities in which they were told and retold. What Jesus did was important to these communities for their own continuing identity.218

(2) In the material documented above, the differences introduced by the Evangelists, whether as oral diversity or as literary editing, are consistently in the character of abbreviation and omission, clarification and explanation, elaboration and extension of motif. The developments often reflect the deeper faith and insight of Easter; that is true. But they do not appear to constitute any radical change in the substance or character or thrust of the story told.219 Of course, we have only sampled the Jesus tradition to a limited extent, and we will have to check these first findings as we proceed. But at least we can say that thus far the hypothesis offered in §6.5e and developed in §§8.1-2 is being substantiated by the evidence; on the whole, developments in the Jesus tradition were consistent with the earliest traditions of the remembered Jesus.

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