THE BETHSAIDA GOSPEL


by David Ross
13 Oct 1998 - 10 Jan 2004

If one assumes Marcan priority, the Gospels under the names of Matthew and Luke were the earliest witnesses to Mark. But they do not witness to the same text of Mark. One example Helmut Koester has pointed to is Mark 6:45 - 8:26, most of which is incorporated in Matthew but none, or next to none, in Luke.

Here is the text of the passage.

This passage incorporates sayings, controversy, and miracle material between two miracles set in Bethsaida (not Bethesda / Bethzatha!) and environs. The word "Bethsaida" appears in Mark 6:45 and 8:22 (albeit not reproduced in the Matthew parallels - probably due to the curse of Matthew 11:21). I will be calling this region the "Bethsaida Section". The other mentions of Bethsaida within the four gospels are:


Delimiting Bethsaida.

Anyone who deals with the Bethsaida Section must answer why Matthew included it and Luke did not. Luke added enough to Mark to render the omission of Bethsaida intuitively suspicious.

Some scholars, most notably Heinz-Wolfgang Kuhn (Crossan I deal with below), have posited that Luke knew the section, but chose not to use it. Kuhn pointed to Luke's setting of the Feeding at Luke 9:10 (pp. 246-8). In Mark, Bethsaida occurs in a literary context right after the feeding (6:45, or 8:22 if one assumes that Luke did not know 6:45-8:21); in Luke, beforehand. Kuhn also noted that it is intrusive to Luke 9:10-12, where the disciples suddenly end up in a "remote place" (9:12 - p. 246). Finally, Luke 9:11 (like Matthew 14:14, but worded differently) added that Jesus healed the sick, where Luke 9:11's source Mark 6:34 just has "teaching many things". There are healings throughout the Bethsaida Section, but especially 7:32-36 and 8:22-26.

John Dart wrote, "In retrospect, it had been difficult to explain how Luke could place his [sic] version of the feeding story at Bethsaida (9:10) if, like Koester, I contended that Luke did not see the editor's [i.e. standard Mark's] reference to Bethsaida" (p. 130 n.11). I would agree that is certainly more likely that Luke adopted the setting from Mark 6:45 or 8:22 than that Luke borrowed it from whatever source inspired Luke 10:12. Bethsaida is cursed there, with Chorazin; if that had been Luke's only source, Luke would not have used it in 9:10, let alone so favourably ("he welcomed them": 9:11) any more than Luke used Chorazin. As it stands, Luke made the best of Bethsaida by having it "prepare the way for the woes" in Luke 10:13 (Kuhn p. 248). Also, Luke tacitly acknowledged that some time had passed between the feeding and Peter's confession; the latter occurred "once, when Jesus was praying in private" after the feeding (Luke 9:18). Mark had no delays in the action here, because he included the scenes.

John Dart grants 6:45-46 an exception as part of Mark outside Bethsaida. But 6:45-46 fits much better with 6:47-52 than with 8:27 and beyond.

6:45-46 sets a scene where Jesus is away from his disciples, in a place with no clear means of escape, and away from crowds. If 8:22-26 were not part of that copy of Mark, then 6:45's snapshot would segue right into a journey to Caesarea Philippi: where Jesus was with the disciples (8:27) in a place where Peter could take him aside in private (8:32), near a crowd (8:34). The transition from 6:45-46 and 8:22-26 would be even more awkward than the entry into Jericho (10:46), which John Dart believes to point to a missing story (c.f. Epistle to Theodore by Clement of Alexandria). John Dart recognised this: "In Original Mark they [disciples] no doubt arrived separately but directly in Bethsaida, then headed farther inland toward the villages of Caesarea Philippi" (p. 126 - my emphasis). This "no doubt" shows that Dart had to generate the necessary portion of Original Mark in order to support this portion of his thesis. But that statement requires proof of its own, which is lacking.

In its own context, there is no evidence of a seam between Mark 6:45-46 and the rest of the Bethsaida Section. Rather, it provides information essential to 6:45-52. 6:45-46 has Jesus send the disciples away by boat so he can ascend a mountain in private. In the rest of 6:45-52, Jesus has to walk off land onto water to bail out the disciples.

There is no a priori reason to split 6:45-46 and 6:47-52, and Luke knew of a Bethsaida setting following 6:44. This adequately proves to me that Luke knew Mark 6:45-52 (not 6:47-52) or 8:22-26 in its Marcan setting. It follows that at least one of these stories was original to Mark.

Currently the beginning and ending stories of Bethsaida form a circle. As Kuhn noted (p. 246), Mark 6:45 does not actually take place in Bethsaida but before it. This is one degree of separation from the itinerary. I see no reason an author would have the Son of Man tell his disciples to row to Bethsaida and never reach it. 6:45 assumes a journey's end in 8:22.

It is most likely that 8:22-26 was original to Mark. Luke would also have had the motive to ignore it, shared with Matthew: Mark 8:22-26 is magical and unworthy of a sage of Godly wisdom. In fact, Luke went on to ignore Mark 8:27; there is no mention of Caesarea Philippi in Luke, although its author will place the apostle Philip in "Caesarea" in Acts (8:40, 21:8).

So at least Mark 8:22-26 was verily-verily Marcan at the time Luke wrote, possibly 6:45-52 too. However, with Mark 8:22-26 back in the fold, we no longer need to resort to the entire Bethsaida Section to explain the extra healings in Luke 9:11. For the Marcan authorship of Mark 6:45-8:21, we have to leave Kuhn's article for other arguments. First, much of this is duplicated elsewhere in Mark and Q; Luke may have been cutting down some redundancy. Bernard Muller additionally noted that some of this material was embarrassing to Christians and to Luke in particular. Muller's primary observation (and not his alone!) was that Luke was a feminist who sympathised with non-Jews. The story of the Syro-Phoenician woman claims that Jesus once demanded an additional, humiliating statement of faith from a female Gentile. Finally, some scholars have seen reflections of Mark 6:45-8:21 elsewhere in the Luke-Acts oeuvre, just as Kuhn (correctly) diagnosed Mark 8:22 within Luke 9:10-11.

But as Muller put it, "many stories in the "missing block" were not objectionable, such as 'Jesus walking on the water' (Mk6:47-52), 'the trip in the region of Gennesaret', 'healing the sick' (Mk6:53-56), mention of 'a trip through the city of Sidon and the Decapolis' (Mk7:31. "Luke" would have relished having Jesus going through Gentile territory)". Muller also mentioned the healings of the deaf and blind, which actually were objectionable in the way Jesus effected them; but as Kuhn and I have said, Luke did refer to the latter healing even if she did not incorporate it.

Also, the itinerary of the Feeding, some activity near Bethsaida, and Peter's revelation on the way to Caesarea is preserved with or without the intervening material. In fact, the narrative would have run much more smoothly if it had just skipped from 6:51a to 8:22: no landing at the wrong port (6:53), no haring off to Phoenicia (7:24) and Dalmanutha (8:10), no blather (7:1-23, 8:11-21).

Finally, attempts to locate Mark 7:6b-7 in Acts 28:25b-28, and Mark 8:15 in Luke 12:1, will not wash. (More on that in the following page.) Instead, Muller noted that Luke showed a genuine ignorance of some of Jesus's Bethsaida sayings; his smoking gun was Acts 10:11-16, which could have cited, but did not, Mark 7:17-19. Where Luke knew of a Jesus tradition, she used it - even when it was not to be found in her, or any other, gospel ("it is more blessed to give than to receive").

As for 6:45-52: both it and 8:22-26 have parallels elsewhere in Mark; Luke may have seen either as redundant. But Mark 6:45-52 is dramatic compared with 8:22-26, and also forms a thematic parallel with the boat that kicks off Mark 6:32. Plus, if Luke had seen that Jesus was explicitly not yet in Bethsaida, she might have more easily integrated the town setting of 9:10 with the wilderness of 9:12 or might not have bothered with Bethsaida at all. Luke 9 shows no knowledge of a naval journey to the feeding or to Bethsaida, nor does it know of a mountain; Jesus merely "withdrew" (9:10) and the following story doesn't even require a journey (9:18). In contrast to 8:22-26, if Luke knew 6:45-52, I do not know why she took so little note of it.

That 8:22 was Markan and 6:45 post-Markan implies that the latter author felt that he was stuck with the itinerary and had to add the material as inobtrusively as possible. We see similar features in Star Wars and Star Trek apocrypha; the storyline is sacred, and the derivative work must preserve it even if said work ends up looking artificial.

Kuhn also devoted pp. 246-7 to refuting the possibility that John 6's feeding story, combined with Philip of Bethsaida, might reflect a "Signs Source" original which featured Bethsaida as did Luke. (Whether the source may have mentioned Philippi, too, he doesn't say.) Here I would agree with him that this theory is not yet ready for prime time.

I concluded - and Muller and Dart independently verified - that Luke owned a copy of Mark which did not have Mark 6:47-8:21. Contra Muller and Dart, I agree with Kuhn that Luke knew Mark 8:22-27, but chose to refer to it rather than to excerpt it. And contra Dart and Kuhn, I agree with Muller that Luke did not know Mark 6:45-46. So for me, the Bethsaida Section / Great Omission runs from Mark 6:45 to 8:21 inclusive.


Bethsaida and Mark.

Besides 6:45's mention of 8:22's Bethsaida, two other verses exist solely to link Bethsaida with the rest of the gospel of Mark: Mark 6:51b-52 and 8:19. Mark 6:52 links the disciples' amazement and hardness of heart over the Stilling of the Tempest with the loaves of Mark 6:30-44. Mark 8:19 is there for the same purpose; where 8:14-21 connects the loaves of 8:1-10 to the Pharisees of 8:11-13, Mark 8:19 also mentions the loaves of 6:30-44.

Was the earliest attestation of Bethsaida actually Matthew, later brought into Mark? Mark 6:51b-52 is not mirrored in Matthew 14:33, but that does not mean that Matthew did not know of it. In Matthew, the men in the boat bow and call him "Son of God". Mark 6:51b-52 can be split: "they were dumbfounded", "for they had not understood the incident of the loaves", and "< but > their hearts were hardened". Of these, it is possible that Matthew did not like the latter two (what did the tempest have to do with loaves? worse, why are the disciples compared to the Pharaoh of Exodus?). Instead, Matthew subtly changed the disciples' astonishment into a positive reaction. Also, Matthew left alone Mark 8:19 == Matt 16:9-11, right down to the exasperation he'd tried to remove from Mark 6:52's Jesus. It is easiest attributed to editorial fatigue, the version in Mark being written first.

Both 6:51b-52 and 8:14-21 link the bread of the Feeding to understanding. Understanding is more important to Bethsaida than it is to the rest of Mark. For instance, asunetoV appears in 8:17 alone. The verb sunihmi - "I understand" - appears in 7:14, 8:17, and 8:21 (and in 6:52a) but elsewhere only in 4:12, within quoted Isaiah 6:9-12 LXX. The synonym noein appears in 7:18, 8:17; elsewhere only in 13:14a == Matt 24:15. Even in Mark 13, the clause in which noein appears - "When you see the abomination that desolates (let the reader understand)" - appears in Mark and Matthew but not in its analogue in Luke... just like the Bethsaida Section itself.

Koester hinted that this vocabulary was unique to Bethsaida (p. 285). Koester would have been more accurate if he had said that this vocabulary belonged to the interpretative traditions which developed from Jesus's sayings. 7:1-23 and 8:16-21 are both expansions of the Jesus tradition; the first of the apothegma 7:5, 15 ("it's not what goes into you that can defile you, but what comes out"), and the second of the saying 8:15 ("beware the leaven of the Pharisees and of Herod"):

Again, the Gospel of Matthew witnesses to these, almost verbatim, in Matt 15:10-11, 15-20 and 16:5-12.

The parable of the Sower (4:1-9) uses the same strategy as Bethsaida, except that Jesus serenely quoted Isaiah 6:9-10 / Jer 5:21 / Eze 12:2 in 4:12 before suddenly turning on his disciples (4:13, not reproduced in Matthew or Luke - probably because they were taken aback by it). At least in Mark 9:28-30 and 10:10-12, Jesus did not repay his disciples' questions with scripture and scorn.

If Bethsaida got the sayings directly from the oral tradition, it imitated the Mark 4 style in expounding upon them. But the rest of Mark, as Koester pointed out, did not employ Mark 4:1-9's expansion technique as readily as did Bethsaida, and did not borrow the language of Isaiah 6:9-12 LXX for the main text.

Mark 7:5, 15 has been further expanded internally with a long, off-topic discourse on the Pharisaic practice of korban in 7:6-13. This could be deliberate intercalation, where one egregious example of hypocrisy is framed within another.

Mark and the redactor of the Bethsaida sayings sources were working with parallel material, but differed in how they used it in their text. Bethsaida attempted to out-Mark Mark in his sayings-source expansions. Since 6:51b-52 echoes 7:1-23 and especially 8:14-21, I conclude that the same author wrote all three. And since 6:45, 6:51b-52 and 8:19 look back to the rest of Mark, I would go further and say the Bethsaida section was compiled for the express purpose of inclusion in Mark. Those three pericopes, at least in that form, did not exist in a prior independent gospel.


The Bethsaida Miracles.

While the Bethsaida Section's final form is dependent on the rest of Mark, it is based on sources which precede Mark. The miracle source, in particular, is still discernible:

Mark Bethsaida
  in Matthew not in Matthew
Stilling the tempest 4:35-41 6:45-52 -
Legion 5:1-20 - -
Touching his clothes 5:25-34 6:56 -
Healing daughter from a distance 5:22-24, 35-43 7:24-30 -
Magic vs. Blind/Deaf 8:22-26 (10:46b-52) - 7:32-36
Feeding the thousands 6:30-44 8:1-10 -

from Koester p. 203

The table above reveals a thematic correlation between the miracle stories of Mark 4:35-6:44 and the Bethsaida section. These stories do not complement each other; they overlap and therefore contradict each other. Either one built on the other, or both used a common source.

Mark turned the offhand mention of the sick who touch Jesus's clothes (6:46) into the dramatic scene of the Hemorrhaging Woman. The dying daughter stories in each are even more different. Neither tale betrays any knowledge of its counterpart.

In addition, the story of the Feeding of the Four Thousand contains two phrases which do not appear in the Five Thousand: "they have been with me now for three days" and "some of them have come a long way". Both refer to Joshua 9:3-18:

3
However, when the people of Gibeon heard what Joshua had done to Jericho and Ai,
4
they resorted to a ruse: They went as a delegation whose donkeys were loaded [ Most Hebrew manuscripts; some Hebrew manuscripts, Vulgate and Syriac (see also Septuagint) They prepared provisions and loaded their donkeys] with worn-out sacks and old wineskins, cracked and mended.
5
The men put worn and patched sandals on their feet and wore old clothes. All the bread of their food supply was dry and moldy.
6
Then they went to Joshua in the camp at Gilgal and said to him and the men of Israel, "We have come from a distant country; make a treaty with us."
7
The men of Israel said to the Hivites, "But perhaps you live near us. How then can we make a treaty with you?"
8
"We are your servants," they said to Joshua. But Joshua asked, "Who are you and where do you come from?"
9
They answered: "Your servants have come from a very distant country because of the fame of the LORD your God. For we have heard reports of him: all that he did in Egypt,
10
and all that he did to the two kings of the Amorites east of the Jordan--Sihon king of Heshbon, and Og king of Bashan, who reigned in Ashtaroth.
11
And our elders and all those living in our country said to us, `Take provisions for your journey; go and meet them and say to them, "We are your servants; make a treaty with us."'
12
This bread of ours was warm when we packed it at home on the day we left to come to you. But now see how dry and moldy it is.
13
And these wineskins that we filled were new, but see how cracked they are. And our clothes and sandals are worn out by the very long journey."
14
The men of Israel sampled their provisions but did not inquire of the LORD.
15
Then Joshua made a treaty of peace with them to let them live, and the leaders of the assembly ratified it by oath.
16
Three days after they made the treaty with the Gibeonites, the Israelites heard that they were neighbors, living near them.
17
So the Israelites set out and on the third day came to their cities: Gibeon, Kephirah, Beeroth and Kiriath Jearim.
18
But the Israelites did not attack them, because the leaders of the assembly had sworn an oath to them by the LORD, the God of Israel. The whole assembly grumbled against the leaders,

The version of the Feeding of the Thousands known to Mark (and to John, by the way) was an allegory on the sheep lying down on the grass (Psalm 23 MT), the five books of Torah, and the two large fish of Behemoth and Leviathan (Psalm 74:14 - c.f. Magne, pp. 15-16). The Bethsaida miracle source turned it into a sermon on the need to accept gentiles, if not as equals. The verses which accord with Bethsaida's concerns are not reproduced in Mark, nor vice versa.

The Bethsaida miracles' attitude towards gentiles is reinforced in its healing story. The woman's daughter is a Tyrian, and Jesus argues against healing the girl at first: "it is not fair to take the childrens' food and to give it to the dogs" (7:27). Only when the Tyrian woman exclaims, "even the dogs under the table eat the childrens' scraps" (28), will Jesus help her.

In this context, the disciples' "hardness of heart" fits perfectly: "hardness of heart" is a Biblical phrase which evokes God's actions over Pharaoh in Exodus. The disciples see the miracles of Jesus over the waves - it is a new Parting of the Red Sea! - but God will not let them believe just yet. The miracles comprise a "Gospel of Signs", demanding belief as surely as did the Ten Plagues of Exodus. A secondary aim of the work was to convince other Jewish Christians to allow gentiles, even granted that said gentiles be inferior.

Once the Bethsaida Section became part of Mark, the context was lost; neither the Bethsaida editor nor Mark had an interest in making the disciples look wilfully stubborn. Matthew took the final step, censoring out the disciples' "hardness of heart".

Koester also hinted that the story of the Deaf Man (and Mark 8's Blind Man) were out of place, but I doubt this. I have posited a Bethsaida redactor here and a Secret Marcan redactor elsewhere. If these stories derive from a Secret Marcan intrusion, under my understanding of Secret Mark I should expect a reference to gnostic "mystery". On the contrary, these two are the most primitive and superstitious healing stories in the NT. That leaves either the Bethsaida redactor or a third one, otherwise unattested, writing after Matthew's snapshot of the evolving Marcan text.

I see no need to suggest a third redactor, because there is no reason to suppose that Matthew did not know of these stories. The deaf man of Mark 7:31-37 may have its echo in Matthew 15:29-31; note the Sea of Galilee, the crowds' amazement, and the healing of the mute. As for 8:22-26: Mark 7:31-37 is very like it, Luke didn't use it either, and Matthew 15:29-31 mentions healings of the blind as well as the mute.

Matthew had the motive to omit these tales. First, they are redundant, as a similar blind-man healing exists later on: Bar Timaios. Also, they are works of magic, not of the glory of God. In my opinion, the best solution is that Matthew deliberately left them out.


Original or Abridgement?

Where Muller and I part ways is that I believe a smaller Mark was expanded prior to Matthew, whilst Muller believes a larger Mark was abridged prior to Luke. Muller thinks that the Syro-Phoenician Woman tale was so offencive to Luke's community, that an angry member of it ripped out the entire section - the "fourth sheet" - before passing it on to Luke. Being a fan of biblical word-plays, I shall call Muller's hypothesised female predecessor of Luke, the Prioress.

I have shown that Mark 6:45-8:21 contains references to the rest of Mark. If the rest of Mark contained references to Mark 6:45-8:21, it would show that the rest of Mark was written at the same time as the Bethsaida section - and prove that Luke's copy of Mark was an abridgement. But no-one has provided such evidence.

This is not to say that Muller's Prioress did not exist. Someone may have expanded Mark, only for the Prioress to reject his work. If unconsciously, the Prioress would have acted much as I have acted - using the inconsistencies, redundancies, and Bethsaida-bracketing against it. If consciously, she may have been choosing which of the two versions of Mark to keep in the library (as the Qumran community owned both versions of Jeremiah), after which she just burnt the one she didn't like.

But ultimately, what we agree applies to Luke should apply to any editors of Mark. It is hard to see why an editor would have deliberately omitted a section which contains these "extra" sayings and miracles. It is equally hard to see how a Prioress could accidentally tear out a section so lovingly bracketed around Bethsaida, with such a high concentration of Marcan doublets, and at the same time leaving no trace in the narrative when removed. A post-Marcan redactor would on the other hand have had the means and motive to add such a section. Luke's copy of Mark was more likely an earlier version of Mark, than an abridgement.


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