Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Mark 1:2 (Part 3) - Irenaeus and Tatian

[Continued from the previous post]
            Continuing our investigation about the text of Mark 1:2, let’s turn now to Irenaeus, the earliest evidence for Mark 1:2.  Irenaeus had grown up in Asia Minor (he states in Against Heresies 3:3:4 that he saw Polycarp at Smyrna), and served as bishop in the city of Lugdunum (now Lyons), in Gaul (now France).  He also visited Rome in 177, when Roman persecution targeted Lugdunum.  He wrote the third book of his most famous work, Against Heresies, in about 184, which means that his quotations of Mark are from a manuscript earlier than any known to exist.            
A Vulgate copy
from the 800's,
with "in Isaiah the prophet"
in Mark 1:2.
            Considerable sections of Against Heresies are extant only in Latin or Syriac, rather than in the Greek language in which Irenaeus wrote.  For this reason, some scholars have suspected that when we encounter quotations of Mark 1:2 with “in the prophets” in Against Heresies, we are seeing the hand of a Latin translator who replaced Irenaeus’ quotations with a text more familiar to the translator.  However, the Old Latin and Vulgate firmly support “in Isaiah the prophet” – so whoever suggests that the Latin translator made Irenaeus’ Greek quotation agree with some Latin text that read “in the prophets” in Mark 1:2 should identify what Latin text he has in mind.
            In Against Heresies 3:10:5, Irenaeus wrote, “Wherefore also Mark, the interpreter and follower of Peter, does thus commence his Gospel narrative:  ‘The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, as it is written in the prophets, Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who shall prepare your way.  The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare the way of the Lord; make the paths straight before our God.’  Plainly does the commencement of the Gospel quote the words of the holy prophets, and point out Him at once, whom they confessed as God and Lord, Him, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who had also made promise to Him, that He would send His messenger before His face, who was John, crying in the wilderness, in the spirit and power of Elijah, ‘Prepare ye the way of the Lord; make straight paths before our God.’”
            (The combination of variants in this citation is interesting, and merits closer study:  “Son of God” is included in verse 1, and “in the prophets” is read in verse 2; yet “before you” is not read at the end of verse 2, and the close of the quotation seems to be conformed to the text of Isaiah 40:3.)
            Against the idea that Irenaeus’ text has been altered here by a copyist of his works, it should be noticed that Irenaeus, commenting on the passage, did not proceed to say that one prophet (i.e., Isaiah) thus testified, but that they (i.e., the prophets) confessed him as God and Lord, and he made this affirmation as he saw no need for further comment.
            However, in Against Heresies 3:11:8, which is preserved in Greek and Latin, Irenaeus quotes Mark 1:1-2 with “in Isaiah the prophet.”  In addition, his brief quotation does not include the phrase “the Son of God” – Ἀρχὴ τοῦ εὐαγγελίου Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ ὡς γέγραπται ἐν Ἡσαΐα τῷ προφήτη.  This form of Mark 1:1-2a, excluding “Son of God” and including “in Isaiah the prophet” without τῷ before Ἡσαΐα, is rare; it is attested only in Codex Θ and in the Armenian and Georgian versions, and a few respectably early patristic compositions, as far as I can tell.  While nothing precludes the idea that Irenaeus possessed the kind of text displayed in Codex Θ (and in Oxyrhynchus Papyri LXXVI 5073, a talisman probably made in the late 200’s), there is another possibility:  that at this point Irenaeus was incorporating the contents of an earlier source into his own composition.        
            Let’s take a look at the context of the quotation in Against Heresies 3:11:8:  it arrives as Irenaeus is defending the idea that there are four, and only four, Gospels. Just as there are four cherubim around God’s heavenly throne; each angelic likeness is associated with one of the four Gospels.  Using Revelation 4:7, Irenaeus explains that the Gospel of John corresponds to the confident lion; the Gospel of Luke corresponds to the ox; the Gospel of Matthew corresponds to the man, and the Gospel of Mark corresponds to the eagle – this last association being based on the swiftness of an eagle’s flight and the swiftness with which Mark summarizes Jesus’ activities, providing a quick overview:  “Mark, on the other hand, commences with the prophetical spirit coming down from on high to men, saying, ‘The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, as it is written in Isaiah the prophet,’ – pointing to the winged aspect of the gospel; and on this account he made a compendious and cursory narrative, for such is the prophetical character.”
            Further along in Against Heresies, in 3:16:3, Irenaeus again refers to Mark 1:2.  He specifically quotes from Mark:  “Wherefore Mark also says, ‘The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, as it is written in the prophets.’  Knowing one and the same Son of God, Jesus Christ, who was announced by the prophets . . . .”
            In the two instances where Irenaeus quotes Mark 1:1-2a with “Son of God” and “in the prophets,” the adjacent comments from Irenaeus do not give any hint that his own text has been replaced with something else; his comments interlock with a text of Mark in which those two readings are in the text.  But at the same time, there is no sign of tampering in the quotation in which Irenaeus fails to use “Son of God” and in which he names Isaiah the prophet.
            None of these passages in Against Heresies shows any sign of tampering by the Latin translator of Against Heresies.  It looks like Irenaeus used two different forms of the text of Mark 1:2 – one which read, “in the prophets,” and one which read “in Isaiah the prophet,” in the Western form of the Greek text (ἐν Ἠσαίᾳ τῷ προφήτῃ).  The only conclusion this evidence points to is that two forms of Mark 1:2 – one reading “in Isaiah the prophet” and another reading “in the prophets” – were in circulation in the 180’s. 

            Now let’s turn to a comment made by a Syriac writer named Isho’dad of Merv, around A.D. 850.  Though later than Charlemagne, Isho’dad’s writings are valuable, inasmuch as he frequently relied upon older compositions.  Isho’dad acknowledged a difficulty in the Syriac text of Mark 1:2 (where the Peshitta reads “in Isaiah the prophet”) and he mentioned five proposals about how to resolve it, without expressing a preference for any of them: 
            “It is asked, ‘Why did Mark say, “As it is written in Isaiah the prophet, ‘Behold, I send My messenger before Thy face,’” etc., when it is written in Malachi? 
            “Some say that it was in Isaiah and was lost.  Other say that he put to the voice of one crying in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way,’ etc., this sign as an answer.  Others say that because it was translated from Roman [i.e., Latin; this reflects a tradition that Mark originally wrote in Latin] to Greek, and from that to Syriac, the interpreters made a mistake, and put ‘Isaiah’ instead of ‘Malachi.’ 
            “Others say that he [i.e., Mark] is not concerned to be meticulously precise about the reference, as is the custom of the Scriptures. 
            “Others say that the Diatessaron-book, which was composed in Alexandria, instead of this ‘as it is written by Isaiah the prophet,’ says, ‘by the prophets.’”  (See Margaret Gibson’s The Commentaries of Isho’dad of Merv, 1911, Vol. 1, page 126). 
            Let’s zoom in on that last proposal.  Isho’dad, in his description of the Diatessaron as a text composed in Alexandria, has probably confused the Diatessaron of Ammonius of Alexandria – a Matthew-centered cross-reference system mentioned in the much-circulated Ad Carpian, but not known to be extant – with the Diatessaron produced by Tatian (in the early 170’s), in which the contents of the four Gospels were blended together into a single non-repeating narrative. 
            The text that Tatian produced – whether Greek or Syriac – is not extant, and its fullest echo, the Arabic Diatessaron, has been extensively (but not entirely) conformed to the Peshitta. (That is, the arrangement of the text was substantially retained, but because Tatian was suspected of heresy due to his asceticism, the text itself was adjusted to agree (mostly) with the Peshitta, and this Syriac text was subsequently translated into Arabic.)  Isho’dad’s statement here, then, may be the only extant indication that Tatian’s Diatessaron originally contained the reading “in the prophets” extracted from Mark 1:2. 
            J. Rendel Harris, in the preface to Gibson’s translation of Isho’dad’s Commentary (p. xxviii), mentioned that a later Syriac writer, Jacob Bar-Salibi (d. 1171), expanded Isho’dad’s remark:  “Others [say] that in the book Diatessaron which is preserved [or was composed] in Alexandria and was written by Tatianus the bishop, as also in the Greek Gospel and in the Harkalian, it is written ‘in the prophet,’ without explaining what prophet.”
            If indeed Tatian’s Diatessaron read “in the prophets,” then this would constitute another second-century witness for that reading.

Continued in Part Four:  Mark 1:2 and Some Other Evidence


Jim Raymond said...


Perhaps you will be able to deal with how Irenaeus could have used two clearly different readings in the same writing. When he incorporated the second citation he had to have known it was different than the first. Why wouldn't he have made an attempt to determine which one was original and use only that one? Or if he wasn't sure, then pick one and go with it to be consistent.

-Jim Raymond

James Snapp said...

Jim Raymond,
The question calls for guesswork, so I hope I am not criticized for offering a guess.

The part in which the four faces of the four cherubim correspond to the four Gospels is similar to passages in other patristic compositions -- sometimes matching up with Irenaeus' comparisons, and sometimes not (the symbols for Mark and John get turned around, so that Mark is the lion and John is the eagle).

One possibility is that he utilized something he had written previously, when he had been in a different locale (as I mentioned, Irenaeus' footsteps fell in Asia Minor, Rome, and Gaul) where the text of Mark 1:1-2 read differently than the text in Gaul, and that he didn't sense that the difference had a significant impact on the point he was making.

But keep in mind that while, yes, the consistent thing to do would be to pick one and go with it to be consistent, patristic writers weren't always consistent. It is not rare at all to see patristic writers quote a passage one way, and then a different way. (Look, in the UBS apparatus, for the superscripted fractions next to authors' names for examples of this.) In every case, the exact means by which the author came to use one form of the text, and then another (when cases of mere loose recollection are not involved), maybe a mystery, and a sign of inconsistency by the author (or, possibly, of revision by the copyists of his works, but that doesn't seem to be the case here). But inconsistent evidence is still evidence.

James Snapp said...

Jim Raymond,

Another idea is that Irenaeus was using another composition that was written by someone else -- an idea that has been proposed by T.C. Skeat. (Find the Google Books format of "The Biblical Writings of T. C Skeat" and run a search for "cherubim" and you should be close to the relevant section.)