The 18th World Congress of Jewish Studies

Mark as a Jewish Targumist: A Jewish Solution to the Synoptic Problem

ABSTRACT: [260 words] [1550 characters with spaces]

The reigning theory of the relationships between the Synoptic Gospels of the New Testament is that Mark is the earliest of the three accounts about the life and significance of Jesus of Nazareth. Since Luke and Matthew are thousands of words longer than the text of Mark (11,078 words), the reigning theorists have not been able to imagine a writer who would drop so much significant material.

The whole picture changes when taking into account the style of Jewish targumists of those days. Targumists simply drop information of lesser interest, and concentrate and elaborate and expand and dramatize the material they choose to emphasize.

When the “triple tradition” material common to all three gospels is in focus, Mark is in fact the longest gospel and more dramatic by far than the parallels, e.g. Luke has “kai euthus” (“and immediately”) once, but Mark has it nearly 40 times.

Comparisons with the treatment of biblical stories by Josephus and Philo will bring out the similarities with Mark. Thus, his seemingly unusual style of abbreviating his sources, on the one hand, and, on the other hand, expanding the materials chosen for emphasis does not remain an enigma but becomes the very key to understanding the style of Mark.

Mark is the only writer who indeed dramatizes the opening of his account by calling it a “gospel”/good news! Contrast Luke who entitles his work as the Acts of Jesus (similar to his later work on the Acts of the Apostles). Contrast Matthew who starts his proof-texting approach with the account of the genealogy of Jesus.