Ancient Authors’ Practices and Procedures

This post is a question, addressed first and foremost to readers who may be scholars and students of ancient history and/or the Bible, but also to others.

For some time, researching the interrelationship of the Gospels and the question of sources used, I’ve often found myself wondering about the procedures these ancient authors may have used. If Luke used Mark and Q, or Mark and Matthew for that matter (I make this latter specification since I hope Mark Goodacre may answer!), then how would he have worked on his own literary opus? Are we to imagine him with his sources stretched out around him as he wrote? Or would he have had one or more assistants, ready to read to him alound at request? Or some other method?

Do we have any ancient authors who have written about the procedures that ancient authors such as historians followed? Any recommendations on things that have been written (whether primary or secondary sources, ancient or modern) that answer this question?

Thanks in advance for your help!

"One last thought.We can easily see similarities between the schizophrenic and the prophet who both ..."

Describing the Indescribable
"It would seem that the difference between the average churchgoer and the "vision having" prophet ..."

Describing the Indescribable
"Emma Higgs: "These events, whether we believe them to have been divinely initiated or imagined ..."

Describing the Indescribable
"I have finally managed to get hold of Gullotta's article. It's a good read, and ..."

What Happens When You Review Richard ..."

Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!

What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Cameron Horsburgh

    You know, I’ve often wondered what the cost of making a mistake is when writing on parchment. How much of the Scripture do we have because somebody was too lazy to fix a mistake they made?I mean, I’ve used the backspace key several dozen times just in this comment. I’ve changed sentences and changed my mind about thoughts I had written. What would this comment look like if the backspace key took work?

  • Frank McCoy

    I’m a layperson rather than a scholar, but, in any event, the best book on the subject I possess is Reading and Writing in the Time of Jesus by Alan Millard (New York University Press, 2000–but the copyright is by the Sheffield Academic Press, so there might be a British edition of it as well)As to how this subject impacts on the Farrer Theory, a good place to begin is “Unpicking on the Farrer Theory”, by Ken Olson in Questioning Q, ed. by Mark Goodacre and Nicholas Perrin (InterVarsity Press, 2004, pp. 127-150).

  • Bob MacDonald

    I have tried to imagine this writing process for the last 15 years – ever since I started writing and reading about our first century. My take on Mark is that he was a young man – maybe the John Mark of Acts, maybe the man who saw trees walking (unique to Mark), maybe the youngster who ran away naked in the garden. Both these last two stories have the signature of an author – my guess. I think this young man – horrified at Paul’s action in making bar Jesus blind, left the party at Perga and returned to Jerusalem but steeped himself in the Jesus tradition at an oral level – with excessive memorization. Then he came across at a later time in his life written summaries of the Jesus story – Matthew’s and Luke’s in such a form – and he performed them in miniature as an actor – my guess is that you could read Mark in performance in under 2 hours. People encouraged this and recorded his act. He may or may not have written himself. If this speculation has merit, then the process of literary redaction is short-circuited – what we should see is evidence of thoughtful variation on those experiences that find words to express the love of God for us. The 6 specifically unique bits of Mark have such a characteristic. (See my list here I really should include the Ephatha incident too but it does share 4 words sort of with Matthew)

  • Jared

    David Carr, in his book, “Writing on the Tablet of the Heart,” discusses this issue primarily with ancient Israelite and contemporary cultures (Babylonian and Egyptian) and working his way through 2nd temple Jewish, early Christian, and Rabbinic practices. His primary interest is in the Pentateuch, but his larger conclusion is memorization. So, in this case, the texts, like Mark and possibly “Q,” would have been written in order to be a memorization aid–thus, they would not need to roll out numerous scrolls at one time (which would be very cumbersome and difficult). Having internalized the earlier sources, an author like Matthew would be able to recombine the blocks of material into a new composition (which could be considered a performance).

  • Ken Brown

    That’s a great question; I’ll be eager to hear if you find a good answer! The only work that comes to mind is Harry Gamble’s excellent Books and Readers in the Early Church, but I don’t recall if he included a discussion of redaction per se (I don’t have a copy at hand to check for you).BTW, I don’t suppose this has anything to do with your piece on Mark’s Missing Ending which I just noticed in the SBL Session Guide?

  • William

    Hi:My name is William and I am CEO of the blog, . I look at your website regularly and I think it is good and I think it’s cool. In fact I have bookmarked it. I would like to partner and trade links with you. I am based in Chicago and I receive traffic locally as well as from all over the world. I hope to hear back from you soon and if you have any questions please let me know. If you decide to trade links with us please send back your web address and how you would like your site’s name to be listed. If you decide to trade links with us, use the name Joboja and the URL: . Until then have a great day. Best Regards,William ParkerCEO, 835-0188