Gospel of Mark’s Poor Jewish Knowledge

Gospel of Mark’s Poor Jewish Knowledge February 3, 2021

Here is a pretty extensive list of issues in the Gospel of Mark that show the authors lack of knowledge about Jewish customs in Jesus’ time. This casts some doubt on the hisstorical reliability of the Gospel and how he treated his sources. The author of the Gospel of Matthew omitted a number of these or corrected them, being thought to be far more knowledgeable of Jewish customs (writing for a more Jewish audience.

This list weas compiled by Steven Carr and appears at The Human Truth Foundation.

It is necessary to look very closely at how Luke and especially Matthew used Mark’s Gospel. Time and time again, we see Matthew correcting Mark’s blunders about Judaism. Clearly Matthew was a Jew and Mark, despite Papias’ bold assertion, was not very close to the Jerusalem Church.

  • Comparing Matthew 15:4 with Mark 7:10, Mark represents a more Gentile attitude in quoting the Old Testament as “Moses said” rather than “God said.” Matthew, a Jew, would never have attributed the 10 commandments to Moses. It was God who said them, as all Jews will tell you.
  • Mark 5:22: “One of the rulers of the synagogue.” Diaspora synagogues may sometimes have had more than ruler, as at Pisidian Antioch (Acts 13:15), but Palestinian synagogues normally had only one. Matthew 9:18, drops this phrase.
  • Mark 14:12: On the first day of unleavened bread when they sacrificed the Passover, confuses Nisan 15 with Nisan 14. Naturally, Matthew 26:17 drops the phrase “when they sacrificed the Passover”. Was Mark a Jew who did not know about the Passover?
  • Mark 14:13 says that the disciples were to be met by a man carrying a pitcher of water. Matthew 26:18 drops the idea that a Jewish man would do a woman’s work.
  • Mark 15:42, “When evening was already come, because it was Friday (paraskeue) that is, the day before the sabbath …” . This means “either that Friday began with that sunset, and Jesus had died on Thursday; or else, the evangelist forgot [or did not know] that the Jewish day began at evening.” Matthew 27:57-62 clarifies Mark’s confusion over Jewish days. Interestingly, the NIV tries to translate the problem away by writing for Mark 15:42 ‘So as evening approached“, rather than “and when evening had come“, as the RSV has it.
  • Mark 15:46 says that that same evening Joseph of Arimathea “bought a linen cloth.” Matthew drops the idea of a Jew buying something on the Sabbath. No Jew could have made that mistake.
  • Mark 1:2 wrongly ascribes Malachi 3:1 to Isaiah. Matthew 3:3 corrects this.
  • In Mark 2:7 the teachers of the law complain that Jesus is forgiving sins and say ‘Who can forgive sins but God alone?’. Jews did not think that. Matthew 9:3 drops the phrase. There is a Dead Sea Scroll called ‘The Prayer of Nabonidus'(4Q242) , written and copied by Jews, where it is said by Nabonidus ‘… an exorcist pardoned my sins. He was a Jew…’. Jews did believe that God could give authority to men to forgive sin.
  • Mark 2:26 – Abiathar should be Ahimelech.Matthew 12:1-8 does not repeat the mistake. Incidentally, if Jesus was thinking of 1 Sam. 21:1-8 when he said that David and those who were with him were hungry, then, in his omniscience, he forgot that David was on the run alone and the story that David told Ahimelech was a falsehood – David was not on a mission from the king and he did not have an appointment with any young men.
  • Mark 10:19 misquotes the Ten Commandments and inserts an extra commandment: “Do not defraud.” Matthew 19:18-20 sticks to the original 10, plus the one that many Rabbis regarded as a summary of the commandments.
  • Mark 15:34 has Jesus quoting Psalm 22:1 in Aramaic (Eloi). Had Jesus done this, bystanders could hardly have supposed that he was calling for Elijah. Jesus must have used Hebrew Eli, as at Matthew 27:46. The NIV tries to harmonize Matthew and Mark here by using Eloi in both places.

More dubious statements by a “Companion of Peter”

  • Mark 7:31 says that Jesus and his disciples journeyed “out from the borders of Tyre … through Sidon, to the sea of Galilee, through the midst of the borders”. The journey described is like “travelling from Cornwall to London by way of Manchester” (Anderson, H. _The Gospel of Mark_, NCB (London, 1976).
  • Mark 8:10 refers to the “the district of Dalmanutha.” As far as is known, there was no such place in Galilee. (The difficulty was recognized early because there are many textual variants in the manuscripts.)
  • Mark 5:1 specifies that the eastern side of the lake of Galilee is the country of the Gerasenes. This is more than 30 miles from a lake. This caused a lot of confusion as can be seen by the variety of names in the texts here. Matthew changed Mark’s Gerasenes to Gadarenes in Matthew 8:28. Gadara was a well-known spa only eight miles from the lake.
  • Mark 6:14-27 repeatedly refers to Herod Antipas as a “king.” Matthew commits this error only once (14:9). The correct title ‘tetrarch’ appears in Matthew 14:1Luke 3:19Luke 9:7Acts 13:1, but not once in Mark’s Gospel.
  • Mark 6:17 says that Antipas married the wife of his brother Philip. According to Josephus, Antiquities.18.5.4, she was actually the wife of a different brother.

Places where Matthew adds Jewish elements which ‘Mark’ overlooked

  • Mark 13:17-19 fails to urge Jesus’ followers to pray that they do not have to flee on the sabbath (compare Matthew 24:20).
  • Mark 2:23-28 lacks the appeal to the Mosaic Law found in Matthew 12:5.
  • Mark 7:19b, a comment by the evangelist, asserts that Jesus “declared all foods clean.” Matthew 15:20 drops this. It is inconceivable that Jesus would have abolished the food laws without his opponents ever once mentioning that in accusations.
  • Mark 9:4 names Elijah before Moses. Naturally, Matthew 17:3 puts Moses before Elijah, as Moses is far more important to Jews than Elijah.
  • Mark 11:10 refers to the kingdom our father David. No Jew would have referred to our father David. The father of the nation was Abraham, or possibly Jacob, who was renamed Israel. Not all Jews were sons of David. Naturally, Matthew 21:9 does not refer to our father David.
  • Mark 12:31,33,34 subordinate the Torah to love, and to the kingdom, in contrast to Matt. 22:36-40, who as a Jew, put a far greater emphasis on the Law.

Mark has to explain Jewish features.

Mark never explains Gentile matters, such as who Pilate was. However, he assumes that his intended readers know even less about Judaism than he does and he has to explain the most elementary features. By contrast, Matthew makes more use of Judaism and assumes his readers are up to speed. Was Mark really a Jewish companion of Peter, or someone who was very close to the earliest, Jewish, followers of Jesus?

  • Only Mark 12:42 explains that a lepton, a coin used in Palestine, was worth half a quadrans. Further more, “quadrans” is a word borrowed from Latin.
  • Mark 10:12 forbids women to divorce their husbands and remarry. But Jewish law already forbade that! The teaching would have seemed outlandish to a Jew of Palestine, but was an appropriate expansion for those of pagan background.
  • At Mark 3:17 and Mark 10:46, he has to explain the most elementary meanings of Aramaic surnames. This is supposedly from somebody to whom Aramaic was a mother tongue. Even if Mark is just explaining things to his readers, it is clear that his readers, being ignorant of elementary Aramaic and even the currency of Palestine, would have been in no position to check out any of the things that he wrote.
  • Mark 6:48 uses ‘the fourth watch’. The Jews divided the night into three watches. The Romans divided the night into four watches, according to the conservative ‘New Bible Dictionary’. This is still more evidence that Mark’s Gospel was written for people who would have been familiar with Roman and not Jewish customs, and so would have found it hard to check the Gospel stories.

There is nothing in Mark which a well educated Roman Gentile would not have known. For example, when Mark 15:38 talks about the curtain of the Temple, Roman Gentiles would have known that the Temple had a curtain, as it was taken to Rome after Jerusalem was sacked (Book 7, Chapter 5 in ‘Wars of the Jews’ by Josephus).


Stay in touch! Like A Tippling Philosopher on Facebook:

A Tippling Philosopher

You can also buy me a cuppa. Or buy some of my awesome ATP merchandise! Please… It justifies me continuing to do this!

"You gave an approving vote to C Peterson’s post below which included “Jesus, as portrayed ..."

Live Streaming Resurrection Part 3 with ..."
"The point of the wedding is your commitment to one another. Everything else is peripheral. ..."

Will Our Humanist Wedding Be Meaningful? ..."
"Those data were published when about 10% of Americans were vaccinated. Now virtually all of ..."

Would Jesus Get Vaccinated?

Browse Our Archives