Month: March 2013

Life In The Roman Empire : Books And Writing

Posted on

I look at the extant texts of female writers in the ancient world so this caught my eye. Check it out.

DIG: Excavations at Carsulae, Italy, June 16 – July 27, 2013

Posted on

Interested in going on a dig? There are many out there to choose from and you don’t have to have any prior knowledge. Check them out. 🙂

rogueclassicism

Seen on the Classics list:

EXCAVATIONS OF THE BATHS AT ROMAN CARSULAE
June 16 – July 27, 2013

We are now accepting applications from students and volunteers to participate in our ninth season of excavations of the baths at Roman Carsulae.

Project and Location
Carsulae was a Roman city that developed in the late third century BCE along the Via Flaminia, approximately 100 kilometers north of Rome in modern Umbria. The major public buildings of Carsulae were excavated from 1950to 1970, but most of the ancient city still lies undisturbed in what is now a beautiful archaeological park. The current excavation of the public baths a tCarsulae began in 2004. We plan to dedicate the 2013 season to excavating the remainder of the areas beneath the protective roof, and also to developing a longterm plan for the conservation and partial restoration of the bath complex.

Program
The field program welcomes…

View original post 364 more words

Differentiation of Christians and Jews in the 2nd and 3rd Centuries

Posted on

Pontius Pilate asked ‘What is truth?’ Both Christians and Jews viewed themselves as the portrayers of truth; The Romans viewed both as conveyers of false religion.  But how and why did the Christians differentiate themselves from Jews in the second and third centuries and how did the Romans distinguish the Christians and the Jews from each other? This essay will explore the how these groups were differentiated and distinguished in this period and what implications the Roman perspective has for the way we view the relationship between Christians and Jews.

Antonio Ciseri's depiction of Pontius Pilate p...
Antonio Ciseri’s depiction of Pontius Pilate presenting Jesus to the people.

In order to assess how and why Christians differentiated themselves from Jews in the second and third centuries it is necessary to explore texts by Christian writers in this period. Unfortunately there is a limited corpus of texts available from the second and third centuries. Despite this, the words of writers such as Aristides, Tertullian, Ignatius and Justin give us some understanding of the differentiation made and why they were distinguished by the Christians.  Regardless of which group is being referred to, the overriding theme is prescription of correct practices.

In examining the Christian texts, one of the main points of differentiation relates to the concept of truth.  The Christians saw themselves as the conveyors and students of truth and the Jews as a people who had erred from true knowledge.  Aristides, a second century writer, asserts that the Christians have come nearer to truth and genuine knowledge than the rest of the nations and the Jews have strayed from truth and instead make observances to angels and not to God.[1]  Tertullian, writing from the end of the first century and into the second, in his Apology also makes this differentiation, explaining that with truth comes hatred of truth, Jews are strangers to the truth and hence Christians are the enemies.[2]

The Christians also differentiated themselves from the Jews in terms of origins.  Tertullian explains that the Christians traced the origins of their religion to the reign of Tiberius, from Jesus the ‘son of God.’[3]  Aristides also expresses this in his Apology, saying that the Christians trace their religion to the Messiah.  Aristides explains that this is a significant difference between the Jews and the Christians as the Jews trace their origins of their religion from Abraham, ‘who begat Isaac, of whom was born Jacob. And he begat twelve sons who migrated from Syria to Egypt; and there they were called the nation of the Hebrews, by him who made their laws; and at length they were named Jews…’[4]  The Christians appear to be very determined, moving through the second and third centuries to express that there was little place in the Christian religion for Jewish laws and customs, this may be a significant reason why the Christians differentiated themselves in relation to origins.  But Christian writers in most cases do not attempt to completely divorce themselves from origins from Abraham.  Justin, for instance, asserts that Christians are the true spiritual descendants from Abraham; this terminology though still gives a distinct sense of differentiation between the Christians and the Jews.[5]

Christian texts from the second and third centuries illustrate that customs and laws were also used as a basis for differentiation. Frend assesses that Christians saw themselves as the ‘true Jews’, ‘the true vine’, but rejected Jewish ceremonial law.[6]  It was the rejection of this claim by Jews and Romans alike that led to the Christian’s often precarious situation.[7] One of the most evident of these differences is that of food laws.  Barnabas lays out the food-laws of the Jews; “Ye shall not eat swine, nor an eagle, nor a hawk, nor a crow, nor any fish…”[8]  Jews were also distinguished often by their clothes and dwellings in a separate quarter of the urban community, distinctions that the Christians rejected explicitly.[9]  Aristides also outlines some of these distinctions; he explains that unlike the Christians, the Jews celebrate the beginning of months, feasts of unleavened bread and a great fast, and fasting and circumcision and the purification of meats.[10]  Tertullian again illustrates how the Christians differentiated themselves from Jews in this way, stating that ‘we neither accord with Jews in their peculiarities in regard to food…sacred days…bodily signs, nor in the possession of a common name;’ which he suggests surely the Christians would if their God and religion were the same.[11]  The Didache even lays out the situation in reference to fasting and how Christians should make a point of fasting on days which are not fasting days of Judaism, of ‘hypocrites.’[12]

Justin Martyr
Justin Martyr

Justin Martyr wrote that the Jews ‘did not recognise Christ even when He came…He was crucified by them.’[13] In examining how the Christians distinguished themselves we see that many saw the Jews’ unrecognition of Jesus as Son of God as a key point. The Jews were seen as having rejected Christ and so were rejected by Christ.  The rejection of Christ by the Jews is an important point when assessing why the Christians took the liberty to differentiate themselves from the Jews so explicitly.  Aristides expressed that the Jews were the murderers of Jesus; pierced and crucified by them.[14]  Not only did the Jews reject the basis for the Christians origins but expressed it as blasphemy as Justin notes with Barchochebas, the leader of the Jewish revolt, who gave orders that Christians alone should be led to cruel punishments unless they would deny Jesus Christ and utter blasphemy.[15]

Melito in relation to the Jews and their rejection of Christ appears to even accuse them of deicide.[16]  The Jews are said not to have understood that which their own prophets predicted and therefore did not recognise Christ when he did come and so in seeing Jesus treated him with contempt.[17] In comparison, the Christians embraced him despite their lack of knowledge and prophecy.  In the minds of the Christians the Jews had killed Christ which is probably why this accusation of deicide appears in the likes of Melito. It seems a fair assessment that this ideology of the Jews would have been a key factor in why the Christians wished to be defined apart from the Jews as they had rejected the saviour, especially since the Christians saw themselves as the chosen people, despite lacking the wealth and the antiquity of the Jews.  Whether this rejection was out of ignorance or divine will is a subject which was debated and questioned even in the period under examination.

Throughout the majority of Christian texts addressing the Jewish religion a recurring theme of differentiation is the idea of old and new.  For instance, Tertullian asserts that the Jews had false trust in their ‘noble ancestors’; and Ignatius advises in his letter to the Magnesians not to be led astray by ‘old fables’ and that the Jewish converts walked in ‘ancient customs’ where as the Christians walked in a ‘new hope’.[18] The Christians did not have the antiquity that the Jews had and differentiated themselves through a sense of newness and regeneration.  Barnabas illustrates this stating that he made us new by the remission of sins he made us ‘another type’, that we should have the soul of children, as though he were creating us afresh.”[19] This idea of Christianity as new is also seen in the Roman texts but is seen in a different, more negative light.  Ignatius in his letter to the Philadelphians expresses that in the end Christianity was seen by the Christians as the superior group and their teachings and religion was to be preferred before all others.[20]  The Jews were seen as the lesser group and should only relate to the Christian teachings to show the superiority of the Christians.

The question remains of how the Romans distinguished the Jews and the Christians in the second and third centuries. The Romans distinguished the Jews as a special people in contrast to other groups due to their imageless worship (ἀθεότης), refusal to participate in the traditional and their exclusiveness (ἀμιξία). This exclusiveness and separation from the rest of society was a key point of differentiation that the Romans made between the Christians and the Jews.  The Jews kept to themselves whereas the Christians interacted with the rest of the community.  Caecilius illustrates this, describing the Jews as a people who ‘skulk and shun the light of day, silent in pubic…the lonely and wretched race of the Jews…but the Christians! What marvels, what monsters to they feign!’[21] This indicates that the Jews were distinguished from the Christians as not only a separate group but as a people who purposely isolated themselves from society.  Tacitus also expresses this idea of isolation, explaining that the Jews sit apart at meals, sleep apart and do not associate with strangers and foreigners.[22]  The exclusivity of the Jews seems to have been also a way that the groups were distinguished.  Jews were exclusive, Christians were not.

There are unfortunately few pagan references to Christianity in the second century but from the few sources available it appears that Romans also distinguished the Christians from the Jews in relation to the idea of a third race the ‘genus tertium’, though this idea is often debated by modern scholarship. The Treatise Scorpiace, for instance, indicates that the designation of Christians as a third race was common in Carthage in the third century.[23]  This designation was made on the grounds of faith and is implicit of a distinction between the Jews and the Christians; the Romans being the first race, the Jews the second, and the Christians the third. Tertullian also refers to this distinction made by the Romans, stating ‘Tertium genus [dicimur] de ritu.’[24] This distinction of Ἕλληνες, Ἰουδαῖοι, and Γαλιλαῖοι is seen throughout literary evidence, both Christian and Roman, and appears to be a key way that the groups were distinguished by the Romans.  This distinction is one that was made in relation to Roman society and is not to be confused with other ideas of race distinction based on locality which was also a common distinction in the period, as the Christians and the Jews were ‘genos’ based within the Roman populace.

The Christians differentiated themselves from the Jews in terms of presenting themselves as a new hope, a new faith.  The Romans also made distinctions between Christians and Jews by distinguishing Christians as new.  Benko explains that Christianity was seen as a new superstition that could not claim the sanction of antiquity like Judaism could.[25]  Even Tacitus who describes the Jews as ‘perverse and disgusting’ admits that ‘Jewish worship is vindicated by its antiquity.’[26]  Christianity, like Judaism, was seen by the Romans as ‘perverse and disgusting’ but was distinguished by also being ‘foreign and new’ and therefore much worse than Judaism.[27]  Frend also asserts that in the second and third centuries the Jews needed not the introduction that the Christians did.  This further suggests that the Romans distinguished the Jews and the Christians as old and new.  The newness of Christianity and that Christians did not offer tangible substitute of loyalty to the Empire like the Jews did was regarded as proof of subversive intent.[28] Saying this, Christianity was seen as a new thing but not necessarily as a new religion in itself but an invading one, new to society, and Christians were seen as people who had turned their backs on the traditions of their forefathers.

Literary sources also indicate that the Romans distinguished Christians and Jews in relation to physical attributes, for instance, circumcision and imagery. The pagan writer Tacitus shows this distinction by asserting that the Jews adopted circumcision as a mark of difference from other men.[29]  A difference between the Jews and the Christians that the Romans also exhibited knowledge of was the idea of imagery and idolatry that was practiced by the Christians but not by the Jews.  Tacitus again alludes to this distinction, stating that the Jews ‘do not allow any images to stand in their cities, much less in their temples.’[30]  This indicates that the Romans, not unlike the Christians, made distinctions between the two groups on a basis of customs as well as beliefs.

The Romans also distinguished Christians from Jews as they regarded Judaism as a genuine faith and Christianity as a subversive counterfeit.[31]  This, along with the distinction of old and new, relates significantly to the large number of stories about the Christians which contributed to the distinctions made.  Tertullian shows this distinction through accusations that the Christians killed children as part of holy rites, practiced incest and impious lusts.[32]  He explains that this was the type of thing that Christians had long been accused of and that no pains had been taken on the part of the Romans to elicit the truth of the accusations.  Frend also alludes to Octavius 150-160 which distinguishes the Christians as users of black magic, initiators of scandal and Bacchanalianism.[33]  Suetonius also accuses Christians of using magic and introducing a new and dangerous superstition.[34]  This is indicative of one means of distinction used by the Romans.  The Jews do not seem to be subject to such explicit accusations in this period as they were regarded as a genuine faith; the Christians on the other hand were distinguished as a superstitio through rumours and ideas created through distinct lack of knowledge.

The majority of points of distinction made by the Romans are of a particularly negative nature during this period, especially in regards to the Christians, who they regarded as new and dangerous.  Examination of some texts though illustrates namely two things; firstly that little was known about the Christians and so many distinctions were made in relation to rumours or other groups such as the Jews, and secondly that in this period there appears to have been a sense of leniency towards the Christians that distinguished them from the Jews on behalf of the Romans. For instance, under Hadrian in the second century the Roman imperial powers appear to have made a distinction in favour of the Christians.[35] Granianus thought it unjust to kill Christians without accusation or trial, to appease popular clamour. Hadrian wrote back saying that petitions and popular accusations should not be recognised.[36]  In light of the suppression of Jews in Asia Minor at the time this presents a distinction lenient to the Christians, despite Hadrian leaving the general question of Christianity rather vague.  It also expresses that while popular view was that Christians were a threat, Roman imperial powers saw them more as just a nuisance.

This sense of distinction is also seen in Pliny and Trajan’s correspondence.  These letters display a lack of knowledge in regards to the Christians and a leniency by imperial powers.  Pliny shows this lack of knowledge, stating that he does ‘not know what offenses it is practice to punish or investigate, and to what extent.’ Whether it is the name itself, even without offenses or only the offenses associated with the name that are to be punished.’[37] Pliny and Trajan do not appear to believe that Christians constituted a threat to the security of the State, though popular belief was that Christians detracted from the unified empire.[38]  Trajan almost seems tolerant and tells Pliny that Christians aren’t to be hunted but if denounced put to trial.[39]  The Roman perspective in many cases appears to be that the Christians were not a religious problem but one of disloyalty where as the Jews still paid their due to the Empire.  This suggests that the rulers were mostly acting on the demands of the pagan majority and common opinion.  In a period where the Jews were revolting and causing extensive problems, these ideas indicate a differentiation between groups.

The list of ways that the Romans distinguished Jews and Christians is diverse and variable throughout time and localities, so what is discussed above is a collection of some of the most widely spread and explicit ideas.  The way that the Romans saw the Jews and the Christians in the second and third centuries cannot be fully recognised in the present day, even when one attempts to fully explore these ideas and the branches of information and ideologies that spring from them.  Like the modern scholar, the writings of the second and third centuries were greatly hampered by bias and influence, and this again makes it difficult to assess how and why differentiations were made.  In order to create a better picture of how and why, a more extensive study needs to be made than is possible here.

The Roman perspective that we can reproduce from texts does have a variety of implications on the way we view the relationship between Christians and Jews in this period.  At first thought one might think that the Jews and Christians were both groups separate from Roman society and so understood each other’s predicaments.  This is the kind of idea the Roman perspective often implies.  There is the distinction of races; Romans as the first, Jews as the second and Christians as the third; despite this being a somewhat clear distinction by the Romans, the idea remains of there being the Romans and then the others.  The implication here is that the relationship between the Jews and the Christians was not a bad one, as they both fell into the category of degraded foreign cults.[40]  Other distinctions though are implicit of bad relations between Jews and Christians.  The distinction of old and new which is often imposed by the Romans has the implication that we view the relationship between Christians and Jews in this period on those terms, as a contest between old Israel and the new.[41]

As you can see, there are several ways that the relationship between Christians and Jews in this period can be viewed.  This is particularly influenced by whether one is looking at the Roman perspective as seen through the eyes of the Romans or of the Christians and Jews.  For instance, when looking at the Roman perspective of Christians in relation to accusations of magic, from the Roman writings we see mainly ignorance and rumour; but from looking at the Roman perspective from Christian writings we see an accusation of spreading rumours and hatred, accusations spread by the Jews to downsize and hurt the Christians, displaying a very negative relationship.  When looking at Roman writings, the implication is that we look onto the relationship between Jews and Christians with a limited knowledge and habit of distinguishing groups only to a certain point. When looking at the Roman perspective from Christian and Jewish texts, the way we view the relationship is fairly different, more severe and distinct but is influenced by the perspective of the groups in question themselves.  The Roman perspective in general implies a sense of ignorance or subjective thought in the way we view the relationship between Jews and Christians.

1250 French Bible illustration depicts Jews (i...
1250 French Bible illustration depicts Jews (identifiable by Judenhut) being massacred by crusaders

The Christians differentiated themselves explicitly from the Jews in the second and third centuries as can be seen in numerous Christian texts from the period.  This was done in relation to differences in customs, ideologies and philosophies such as origins, physical differences like circumcision and the idea of truth.  This differentiation was made based on ideas of competition and rivalry of old and new as well as clashes in ideology.  The Romans also took time to distinguish them on the basis of antiquity, origins, customs and accusation and this Roman perspective, which is seen in Roman, Christian and Jewish texts, has implications on how we view the relationship between Christians and Jews as the Roman perspective presents a different picture of the relationship than the Christian and Jewish perspectives and is generally a more available perspective due to the limitations of sources.


 

Bibliography

Modern Sources:

Adler, M., The Emperor Julian and the Jews, in The Jewish Quarterly Review, Vol.5, No.4 (Jul.1893), pp.591-651

Barnes, E.W., Rise of Christianity (London, 1948)

Barnes, T.D., Legislation against the Christians, in The Journal of Roman Studies, Vol.58, Parts 1 and 2 (1968), pp.32-50

Benko, S., Pagan and the Early Christians (London, 1984)

Bickerman, E.J., The Name of Christians, in The Harvard Theological Review, Vol.42, No.2 (Apr., 1949), pp.109-124

Cochrane, C.N., Christianity and Classical Culture (London, 1968)

Frend, W.H.C., Martyrdom and Persecution in the Early Church (Oxford, 1967), pp. 155-172, 461-466

Hazlett, I., Early Christianity: Origins and Evolution to AD 600 (Nashville, 1991), pp.52-64

Janssen, L.F., ‘Superstitio’ and the Persecution of the Christians, in Vigiliae Christianae, Vol.33, No.2 (Jun., 1979), pp.131-159

Keresztes, P., The Imperial Roman Government and the Christian Church, I: From Nero to the Severi, in ANRW II 23.1, pp.247-315

Keresztes, P., The Jews, the Christians, and Emperor Domitian, in Vigiliae Christianae, Vol.27, No.1 (Mar., 1973), pp.1-28

Lane Fox, R., The Spread of Christianity: Pagans and Christians (Canada, 2006), pp.428

Macmullen, R., and Lane, E.N., Paganism and Christianity 100-425CE: A Sourcebook (Minneapolis, 1992), pp.74-78

Macmullen, R., Christianizing the Roman Empire (A.D. 100-400) (London, 1984), pp.25-42, 132-138

Momigliano, A., The Conflict Between Paganism and Christianity in the Fourth Century (Oxford, 1963), pp.17-37

Poteat, H.M., Rome and the Christians, in The Classical Journal, Vol.33, No.3 (Dec., 1937), pp.134-144

Sanders, J.T., Christians and Jews in the Roman Empire: A Conversation with Rodney Stark, in Sociological Analysis, Vol.53, No.4 (1992), pp.433-445

Sherwin White, A.N., The Letters of Pliny: A Historical and Social Commentary (Oxford, 1966)

Sordi, M., The Christians and the Roman Empire (London, 1986), pp.57-60

Wilken, R., Pliny: A Roman Gentleman, in idem., The Christians as the Romans Saw Them (New Haven, 1984), pp.1-30

Wilken, R., The Christians as the Romans saw Them (Michigan, 1984)

 

Ancient Sources:

Aristides, The Apology of Aristides the Philosopher, (Trans. From the Syriac Version, by Kay, D.M., University of Edinburgh) [http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/text/aristides-kay.html]

Barnabas, Epistle of Barnabas, from: Apostolic Fathers, Kirsopp Lake, (Loeb Classical Library) (1912)

Caecilius (in Minut. Felix, viii. f.), [http://www.ccel.org/ccel/harnack/mission.iv.viii.html]

Diadache (Trans. Roberts and Donaldson) [http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/text/didache-roberts.html]

Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, trans. J. E. L. Oulton, Loeb Classical Library (Cambridge, Mass. 1932)

Ignatius, The Letter to the Magnesians (Trans. Roberts and Donaldson) [http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/0108.htm]

Ignatius, The Letter to the Philadelphians (Trans. Roberts and Donaldson) [http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/0108.htm]

Josephus, trans H. St. J. Thackeray et al., Loeb Classical Library, Vols 1-10 (Cambridge, Mass, 1926)

Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho (Trans. Roberts and Donaldson) [http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/text/justinmartyr-dialoguetrypho.html]

Justin Martyr, The First Apology of Justin (Trans. Roberts and Donaldson) [http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/text/justinmartyr-firstapology.html]

Melito, From the Discourse on Soul and Body (Trans. Roberts-Donaldson) [http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/text/melito.html]

Pliny, Letters, Book X, 96-97 (Trans. Melmoth, W., Harvard Classics Series, reproduced from: Internet Medieval Source-Book, ed. P.Halsall [www.fordham.edu/halsall/sbook.html])

Polycarp, The Epistle of Polycarp (Trans. Lightfoot, J.B.,) [http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/text/polycarp-lightfoot.html]

Tacitus, The Histories [http://www.novaroma.org/camenaeum/tacitus5.html]

Tertullian, An Answer to the Jews (Trans. Rev. Thelwall, S., (Canterbury)) [http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/text/tertullian08.html]

Tertullian, Apology (Trans. Rev. Thelwall, S., (Canterbury)) [http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/text/tertullian01.html]

Tertullian, Scorpiace (Trans. Rev. Thelwall, S., (Canterbury)) [http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/0318.htm]

The Martyrdom of Saint Polycarp, Bishop of Smyrna (Trans. Hoole, C.H., (1885))


[1] Aristides, The Apology of Aristides the Philosopher, (Trans. From the Syriac Version, by Kay, D.M., University of Edinburgh) [http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/text/aristides-kay.html] Chapter XV

[2] Tertullian, Apology (Trans. Rev. Thelwall, S., (Canterbury)) [http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/text/tertullian01.html] Chapter 7

[3] Ibid., Chapter 7

[4] Aristides, op.cit., Apology

[5] Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho (Trans. Roberts and Donaldson) [http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/text/justinmartyr-dialoguetrypho.html]

[6] Frend, W.H.C., Martyrdom and Persecution in the Early Church (Oxford, 1967), p.130

[7] Ibid., p.130

[8] Barnabas, Epistle of Barnabas, from: Apostolic Fathers, Kirsopp Lake, (Loeb Classical Library) (1912), Chapter 10 – the food-law of the Jews

[9] Frend, op.cit., p.146

[10] Aristides, op.cit., Apology

[11] Tertullian, Apology, op.cit., Chapter 21

[12] Diadache (Trans. Roberts and Donaldson) [http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/text/didache-roberts.html] 8:1

[13] Justin Martyr, The First Apology of Justin (Trans. Roberts and Donaldson) [http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/text/justinmartyr-firstapology.html] Chapter 36

[14] Aristides, op.cit., Apology

[15] Justin, Apology, op.cit., Chapter 31

[16] Melito, From the Discourse on Soul and Body (Trans. Roberts-Donaldson) [http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/text/melito.html] II 224-44

[17] Justin, Apology, op.cit., Chapter XLIX

[18] Tertullian, Apology, op.cit., Chapter 21 and Ignatius, The Letter to the Magnesians (Trans. Roberts and Donaldson) [http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/0108.htm] 8.1 and 9.1-2

[19] Barnabas, op.cit., 6.11

[20] Ignatius, The Letter to the Philadelphians (Trans. Roberts and Donaldson) [http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/0108.htm]

[21] Caecilius (in Minut. Felix, viii. f.), [http://www.ccel.org/ccel/harnack/mission.iv.viii.html]

[22] Tacitus, The Histories [http://www.novaroma.org/camenaeum/tacitus5.html] Book 5

[23] Tertullian, Scorpiace (Trans. Rev. Thelwall, S., (Canterbury)) [http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/0318.htm] x.: a word to heretics who shunned martyrdom

[24] Tertullian, Apology, op.cit., I.xx

[25] Benko, S., Pagan and the Early Christians (London, 1984), p.21

[26] Ibid., p.22

[27] Ibid., p.22

[28] Frend, op.cit., p.192

[29] Tacitus, op.cit., Book 5

[30] Tacitus, op.cit., Book 5

[31] Frend, op.cit., p.208

[32] Tertullian, Apology, op.cit., Chapter 7

[33] Frend, op.cit., p.187

[34] Ibid., p.124

[35] Ibid., p.169

[36] Ibid., p.168

[37] Pliny, Letters, Book X, 96-97 (Trans. Melmoth, W., Harvard Classics Series, reproduced from: Internet Medieval Source-Book, ed. P.Halsall [www.fordham.edu/halsall/sbook.html]) Book X, 96

[38] Sordi, M., The Christians and the Roman Empire (London, 1986), p.58

[39] Trajan in Pliny, op.cit., Book X, 97

[40] Benko, op.cit., p.21

[41] Frend, op.cit., p.133

Translation and Textual Criticism of Ancient Sources

Posted on Updated on

Translation: a rendering of something written in one language into another which does not misinterpret the meaning or sacrifice the feeling of the original. So what makes a good translation? It is difficult to know where to begin in answering this question due to the multiple theories throughout the centuries, so it is important to provide a base.  Definitions of a good translation include that a translation ‘Must neither be ‘free’ nor ‘literal’…faithful…a faithful imitation (not adaptation or approximation) of the original.  It must be faithful both to the language of the original text and to the idiom into which it is being translated.  It must be faithful both to the letter and to the spirit.’ Rees provides a definition which is quoted above but also adds that faithfulness is significant as ‘he is the best translator whose work is nearest the original.’  Knox highlights three simple rules for when creating a translation; be accurate, be intelligible and be readable, but this in some ways is too simplistic.  Peyser contributes one of the more comprehensive arguments concerning what makes a good translation by stating that ‘Comparative naturalness of expression should be the first aim in a translation, and whatever mars that should be discarded.  Sometimes it may be achieved by the retention of literalness, by rhyme, by metrical forms; sometimes it can be obtained only at the price of one or more of these.  How best to compass it is for the translator to decide’

By looking at such definitions it becomes evident that there are many ideas of what makes a satisfactory end-product.  So, is it really possible to define what makes a good translation? Through the study of different translations and theories, we see that different purposes involved in translating mean that different sets of criteria have to be issued.  Many aspects are considered when exploring the idea of correct translation: content, use, the nature of the translator, cultural production, text survival and the recognisation of limitations. When looking at these aspects, we see that there is no single set definition of what makes a good translation.

Schleiermacher

Friedrich Daniel Ernst Schleiermacher
Friedrich Daniel Ernst Schleiermacher

When looking at theorists, Schleiermacher comes into the foreground. He highlights many of the problems faced in translation and outlines what he considers makes a satisfactory translation.  Schleiermacher asserts that all translators are under the sway of the language they speak and in many cases there is little difference between better and worse renditions. The translator cannot fully understand concepts beyond the boundaries of the language he was educated in. Schleiermacher is a strong advocate of the idea that the translator, while endeavouring to keep his language sounding foreign, often fails to observe the fine line between undesirable extremes. Schleiermacher’s discussions highlight that with people understanding the concepts in what is to be translated, a satisfactory rendition can indeed be created. The idea of a good translation is fully dependent on the ideals of the individuals viewing it.

Schopenhauer

One must also consider Schopenhauer’s theories.  Schopenhauer points out the difficulty in rendering an accurate translation as it is not always possible to find an exact equivalent in one language for a word in another.  He states that it is almost never possible to transpose a sentence pregnant with meaning and character from one language to another so as to make precisely the same impression on a speaker of the second.  The equivalence of words issue in translation can be seen even in the translation of Schopenhauer, as seen in the two examples in your handout:

It is not always possible to find an exact equivalent in one language for a word in another.  Thus concepts signified by words in one language are likewise never exactly the same as those signified by words in another.

(Trans.: D.Robinson)

Not every word in one language has an exact equivalent in another.  Thus, not all concepts that are expressed through the words of one language are exactly the same as the ones that are expressed through the words of another

(Trans.: P.Mollenhauer)

Much of Arthur Schopenhauer's writing is focus...
Much of Arthur Schopenhauer’s writing is focused on the notion of will and its relation to freedom.

Couldn’t both of these translations be seen as good, as they maintain the essence of the original? Yet there are obvious differences in the choice of words and phrase.  As Schopenhauer himself says, this is the necessary inadequacy of all translations.  Schopenhauer, like Schleiermacher, also explains that in many cases concepts cannot be so easily transmitted. Addressing that words and concepts cannot be transferred, it is easy to fall into the trap of accepting that there is no such thing as a good translation.

Humboldt

Humboldt, also presents a comprehensive analysis of translation in his work entitled ‘The More Faithful, The More Divergent,’ a title which clearly illustrates one of the more prevalent of Humbolt’s views.  Like his contemporaries, Humbolt asserts that no word in one language is ever entirely like its counterpart in another, outlining a particular issue when one considers the idea of literal translation.  According to Humboldt, a good translation is one which is not a commentary and contains no obscurities resulting from ‘wishy-washy’ choice, with which the translator would do violence to the text by arbitrarily clarifying and so distorting.  Humboldt attempts to avoid these inadequacies himself by trying with every new revision to eliminate what was not stated equally plainly in the original text; recognising that the translator is tempted to add ‘alien trinkets.’

Nietzsche

Nietzsche focused on the translator in relation to the historian and what makes a good translation. He states that ‘The degree of the historical sense of any age may be inferred from the manner in which this age makes translations and tries to absorb former ages and texts.’  Translations influence historians.  Nietzsche pays particular attention to the idea that a good translation is one that fulfils the purpose and use set out by the translator. ‘Should we not make new for ourselves what is old and find ourselves in it?’ This was the idea of the Romans, and it remains a focus of theorists.  Differences in purpose and material will affect the character of, and the process of making a translation; it is no wonder that it is difficult to define what is ‘good’.  These theorists show explicitly that the question of what makes a good translation, and the act of translation itself, is subject to the opinions and interpretations of the individual and the period in which it is created and studied.

Discussion in relation to Examples

A good translation is in some ways like the concept of myth, you will know it when you see it but it is not easy to define.  To better understand the theories that we encounter, we must look at various translations and forewords.  Let us look at the translation of Ammianus Marcellinus by Walter Hamilton.  Wallace-Hadrill comments that cuts have occurred throughout to better fit the volume of the penguin edition and to remove tedious aspects, such as Ammianus’ digressions, to better accommodate the modern reader. This embodies the idea set out as early as Jerome, who asserted that a good translation fits its purpose.  Venuti makes a particularly relevant study of ‘translation to fit purpose’, explaining that it is fundamentally determined by a cultural political agenda in the present and asymmetrical relations, such as the economy.  Hamilton’s translation also demonstrates the difficulty in accessibility of original texts, as Hamilton relies on a single 9th Century corrupted manuscript, which would be unreadable if a close rendering to modern English was attempted.

Literalness, Equivalence and Use

What is particularly enlightening is the comparison of two renditions of the same text.  From these we can isolate the differences in style, choice and purpose set out by the translator.  Beowulf, translated in 1979 and in 1995 by Michael Alexander, highlights problems and how a good translation cannot be given one definite definition.  Both translations keep the content and essence of the text and attempt to maintain the concepts set out by the original author; however the 1979 version takes a non-literal approach in an attempt to maintain the epic composition.  In comparison, the 1995 rendition alludes to the difficulty in cultural accessibility for the modern reader and instead gives a word by word rendition devised for those who wish to study Beowulf in old English, and to work out the meaning for themselves.  Each version is translated to best suit its purpose and use.  Does the difference in translation mean that one is particularly better than the other? These translations also provide an interesting case between literal and non-literal translation; and yet Alexander himself asks scholars to consider whether a literal prose version of a verse epic, is properly, a translation.

Carson and Shaw’s translation of Sophocles’ Electra provides an excellent example of what theorists may consider to be a good translation as well as illustrating many of the problems.  This translation demonstrates the issues of finding English equivalents, such in the case of the verb λυπειν, as well as issues of context and diction.  When translating one is frequently confronted with analogous terms; perfect equivalence after all presupposes an identity of cultural or socially shared experience between two separate ‘speech communities.’ Carson and Shaw also demonstrate that in order to make a satisfactory translation, one must know the subject explicitly; they know for instance, that it is typical of Sophoclean heroes to set themselves cosmic parameters of moral action.  With such knowledge and understanding of the subject, they have better transferred concepts between languages.

Preservation of concepts and values of the original text

Prevalent theorists such as Schleiermacher assert that what truly makes a translation accurate is not so much the words that are preserved, but rather the virtues, thoughts and ideas. Bruni says that it is in understanding these that translators can reproduce accordingly. While various scholars have come to accept this idea, it is also related to several problems of translation.  This is supposedly due to significant fault in the nature of the translator as seen as early as Cicero who explains that every composition is subject to one’s own individuality. Most translators want to, or unconsciously add to, the original translation, even when attempting to preserve the thoughts and graces of the original composer. As Tytler says ‘a translator uses not the same colours of the original, but is required to give his picture the same force and effect.’ With this in mind we see that the nature of the translator is significant to the colours he chooses to use.

Understanding and standing of the translator

Theorists often make the hypothesis that a good translator understands and attempts to deal with the limitations of translation.  Like with the historian, the translator cannot simply create anything near an accurate account without first understanding the task ahead of them.  For instance, the ideal translator should be equally proficient in the languages concerned; be bicultural as well as bilingual. Von Herder remarks that the best translator is in fact the best critic. Unfortunately, the projection of the translator into the translation can hardly be avoided. It seems that the question must be asked of where the meeting ground is between the ‘personal’ and the ‘other’ text?  Batteux put it thus; languages are like men, who have one common nature which unites, and peculiarities which separate them.  It is hardly likely that one can reproduce perfectly a text considering this idea; but with the limitations in mind, the translator may be able to produce the next best thing.

Cultural Production

Much of what is translated is of cultural production; made in light of present circumstances, cultural moralities and ideologies.  These determine the translation of chosen texts.  Burian addresses the question ‘What possible excuse is there for new versions of texts?’  An approved answer for this is that translation is an ‘activity as fully implicated in its own world as any other form of cultural production.’ Anderson provides a valuable look into translation related to cultural production, asserting that the choices made by the translator are determined by changing goals and stylistic preferences within a cultural period. This cultural influence is seen in the many interpretations of Vergil and his views on heroism. Not only is a translation almost forced to conform with the culture for aesthetic reasons, but also for reasons of survival; no doubt that in a few generations, current translations could be considered obsolete.  For further study into this area it is useful to examine the works of Anderson and Eliot.

Literalness

Among the theories of what makes a good translation is the prevalent debate between non-literal and literal translation seen throughout the examples discussed. The Beowulf translations demonstrate that literal and non-literal can both be considered good based on purpose; modern scholarship though tends to sway towards the non-literal side.  D’Ablancourt states that at times it is necessary to retrench one part to give birth to all the rest. Denham asserts that translations should fit the foreign text naturally and easily as fluency is impossible to achieve with close or verbal translation. No word in one language has an exact equivalent in another. It appears that what, in the minds of most theorists, makes a good translation is transference of ideas and concepts rather than literal word for word, despite earlier scholars such as Horace implying that word-for-word translation is the faithfulness of a translator.

But while these two theories of what makes a good translation are prevalent, we must also consider whether this opposition is in itself a problematic simplification. Literal and non-Literal are indeed simplistic in definition and yet are valid definitions which relate to basically all theories of translation.  Unfortunately, theorists and translators often focus more on the literal/non-literal debate in general opposed to looking into why and/or how a translator has produced a rendition. In saying this, we see that that the habit of defining a translation based solely on its literalness is too simplistic because it often ignores the more integral reasons for the form of a translation.

How do the choices we make in answering this question relate to our idea of what a historian should be?

We have discussed what theorists and translators believe make a good translation, and the problems that arise, which often make constructing a faithful translation difficult. But how do the choices we make in answering this question relate to our idea of what a historian should be? In answering this question we must look back at what we have accepted as our idea of what a translator should be and ask how this relates to the historian. In this case it seems that our idea of what a historian should be relates significantly to the ideas that are confronted when one studies what makes a good translator.

The Historian, like the translator, sets out to create an account based on events, while being physically, culturally and emotionally removed from the events in question.  What makes a good history and what makes a good translation are in many aspects similar.  Readers and scholars deem that both should be faithful and accurate to the original.  We choose to look at translations in relation to the problems that may or may not be overcome; the influence and bias of the translator, the difference of interpretation and creation based on the period, purpose and use of the rendition.  The same can be said of how we approach the historian.

In choosing to look at specific theorists and translations we see various ideas of what a translation should be; the preservation of virtues, thoughts and ideas from the period, that which suits the purpose and period, faithful and accurate, literal or non-literal; and what the translator should be; understanding of limitations, extensively knowledgeable and yet still subject to the issues that face the translator.  In identifying these factors it is easy to relate them to the historian who is often subject to the same factors.  But much like with the question of what makes a good translation, what makes a good historian is based purely on interpretation. Here is one interpretation: What a historian should be is as faithful and accurate as possible, while recognising the limitations and influences that affect their work. A historian should attempt to avoid these issues but not to the extreme as to do more damage.  Isn’t it interesting that the same can be said for the translator?

The Transfiguration: Mark 9.2-10 and Parallels

Posted on Updated on

Form critics have asserted that the Transfiguration pericope may have been a misplaced resurrection account.  If this is so then it may allude to the resurrection appearance in 1 Peter 1.3.[1] By considering the subject matter of Mark’s transfiguration account, and Luke’s and Matthew’s, we gain a better understanding of why such critics have formed this opinion. There are parallels between the resurrection and transfiguration accounts, but the majority of these can be dismissed when considering a misplaced resurrection account. For instance, it has been argued that the transfiguration and the resurrection are the only occurrences where a miracle is done to Jesus. This can be debated due to the occurrences of miracles, such as during the baptism accounts. Stein even firmly argues that there stronger dissimilarities between the transfiguration and resurrections than there are similarities.[2]

Mosaic of the Transfigration, St. Catherine's ...
Mosaic of the Transfiguration, St. Catherine’s Monastery, Mount Sinai

Theories concerning the placement of the time reference in Mark 9.2 are numerous.  It may come from a Pre-Markan tradition following the six days Moses spent on Mount Sinai (Exod. 24:16); the six days preceding the Sabbath.  It could also refer to the seventh day which could in turn relate to the Sabbath.  However, the form of the Greek of this time reference actually makes this theory unlikely as the Sabbath would more likely be represented by the term ‘after the sixth day.’ Which begs the question: the sixth day after what?

If the Transfiguration is a misplaced Resurrection narrative, then the period of six days is unusual.  Most Resurrection accounts have very distinct temporal references to three days, the first day and during forty days but never six days. This time reference is also not unique in appearance as it occurs throughout the synoptic accounts in places with no association with the Resurrection. This suggests that what is seen as an indicator of resurrection is more an indicator of tradition.

There is also the hypothesis that James and John are later additions to the transfiguration story as only Peter speaks and if all three were present at the transfiguration how then could they have later denied their Lord? The three disciplines appear firmly embedded in Mark’s version despite only Peter speaking.  This is seen in the use of numerous third person plural terms and phrase which reflect the presence of multiple disciples; James, John and Peter. Such words as αυτους (them), μονους (by themselves), αυτων (of them), αυτοις (to them), εκφοβοι γαρ εγενοντο (for they were exceedingly afraid) and αυτοις ακουετε (You (pl.) listen), reflect that there is small ground for the view that the Transfiguration was originally only associated with Peter.

The two passages, Mark 9.2 and Mark 14.33, tell similar narratives in that Jesus took Peter, James and John along with him.  There have been theories concerning the Transfiguration occurring not at the time given in Mark but originally on the last night of the Lord’s life at Gethsemane when the three were alone with Jesus on the hillside. This would coincide with Luke’ account of the sleeping disciples.  There are several agreements between the two stories; notably, the presence of Peter, James and John, and the idea of not knowing what to say in Mark 9.6 and 14.40.

Whatever the case, the centrality of the characters is implicit in these two theories of the relation to the parallels between the two passages in Mark mentioned.  Not knowing what to say is indicative of the almost foolish nature of the disciples witnessed throughout Mark.  This parallel and the presence of the characters at the transfiguration could be seen as exemplar of their inability to understand despite how clearly it is laid out for them.  Could this be why they could have later denied their Lord anyway? If the Transfiguration did occur around chapter 14 as suggested, Mark could have separated them as an emphasis technique to make privy the nature of these disciples.

Luke’s version of the Transfiguration has a number of parallels with the ascension story in Acts 1.9-10.[3] The first notable comparison is seen in the inclusion of a cloud in Luke 9.34 and Acts 1.9, which blocks the disciples’ sight.  Some critics assert that this is an indication of a misplaced resurrection story in Luke but it appears more likely that it is an allusion to Old Testament tradition.  The idea of the cloud overshadowing is seen also in Exodus 40.34[4] and 1 Kings 8.10.[5] One of the most significant and obvious differences, which indicates that to the transfiguration belonging in its own category, is that in Luke the cloud leaves Jesus when it departs while in Acts the cloud hides Jesus from sight and he is taken up. A cloud regularly symbolises the presence of God and is not an indication of resurrection.

There is also the parallel of the two men which appear beside them, which is often taken similarly as an indication of misplaced resurrection.  While both appearances represent sinless and perfect beings, the type of which Jesus also belongs as a representation of the exemplar, the stories differ surrounding their actions and placement.  In Luke 9.30, the two men, Elijah and Moses, talk directly with Jesus and have no dialogue in the version.  In Acts 1.10, the two men remain unnamed and talk directly to the disciples; they appear after the ascension of Jesus rather than beside him.

The third comparison which holds scholars in debate is the physical appearance of the two men described in Acts and Jesus’ appearance in Luke 9.29. Jesus is described by Luke as having the ‘appearance of his countenance altered, and his raiment became dazzling white’ which parallels the white garments of the two men in Acts. Yet again the appearance in white could be alluding to Old Testament tradition, as paralleled in Daniel 7.9 where the Most High has clothing ‘as white as snow.’ It is a sign of holiness and sinlessness but it does not necessarily represent resurrection.  Jesus is acknowledged in Luke as the perfect man; in the presence of god it seems that occasion called for such an appearance.

Mark 9.9 is indicative of the Messianic secret found in Mark (paralleled in Matthew 17.9 and Luke 9.36).  This is the final time in Mark that we see the idea of secrecy surrounding Jesus as the Messiah.  The passages in Mark and Matthew clearly tell of the Son of Man being raised from the dead, asserting knowledge of the resurrection was presented to the disciples. The implication of this is that after the resurrection has occurred, the risks of letting the secret out no longer are issues.  The passage also provides the disciples with an explanation for finding the tomb empty after the Crucifixion (Jn.20.8). The passages announce the upcoming death of Jesus; notably in Luke with the preceding passage (Luke 9.31-31). It is directly related to knowledge of the Passion of Christ as well as the Messianic secret in the words “Until the Son of Man had risen from the dead.”

The message from the heavenly voice in Mark 9.7 addressed to the disciples is implicit of the importance of listening to the Lord, especially when he speaks of the approaching passion. This is particularly of significance in relation to Peter who had previously been unwilling to do so.  For instance in Mark 8.32, ‘He spoke plainly about this, and Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him,’ after Jesus predicts his death and resurrection.

The occurrence of the voice in Mark 1.11 is implicit of the presence of God, but the focus differs to the occurrence in Mark 9.7. Here the voice is directed at Jesus rather than the disciples and while it introduces the heavenly voice, it does not have the same purpose.  Mark 15.39 does not include the heavenly voice but instead echoes the message of the voice. It is as if the voice in these three passages is part of a formula that is implicit of the message that Jesus is the Son of God. Mark 1.11 introduces the idea and presents it to Jesus himself, Mark 9.7 presents the idea directly to the disciples though in Mark they fail to fully comprehend, and Mark 15.39 conveys the understanding of the message. This idea presents an argument against the idea that the transfiguration is a misplaced resurrection story as it makes no sense for the incomprehension to appear after the acknowledgement.

The Markan narrative of the Transfiguration story appears to have a significant function in the overall set out of Mark’s gospel. As discussed below, the words of God especially emulate the baptism and resurrection accounts.  This suggests that the transfiguration functioned as a link between the periods of Jesus’ life. It has been asserted that the transfiguration represented the climax of Mark’s gospel because afterwards it was all downhill, but this seems terribly unimaginative. Its function is more likely a prediction of events to come, an introduction to the glorified Jesus Christ and the explanation of the Messianic secret. Whether or not it was a resurrection account originally; the transfiguration in all three accounts has received a conscious placement which indicates that to the writers it was not misplaced.

Peter offers to build three shelters for Jesus, Elijah and Moses.[6] When one looks at the following line concerning Peter’s lack of knowing what to do, one questions Peter’s motives for this statement.  Mark 9.6 reads ‘He did not know what to say, they were so frightened.’ This shows that Peter and the disciples were confused and fearful, suggesting that the proposal was probably not made with consideration as it was made out of fear of an unusual event.  Such proposals generally don’t involve a judgement call.

The confusion that is seen is the result of Peter’s recent awakening from sleep to witness the strange event. Peter thinks of all three figures as if they were the same, but Jesus differs from Elijah and Moses and this grouping is made without thought. Jesus is seen as more important than his companions in this passage and yet Peter fails to differentiate. Peter’s proposal though is logical in the situation and practical; if these figures were to remain on the mountain-top for the night then they would indeed benefit from shelter.

The term ωφθη which is used preceding Peter’s proposal in 9.4 has also been said to indicate that this account was originally a resurrection account.  It is true that the verb ωφθη is often used in relation to resurrection appearances, though in this case the argument is dismissed by its agreement.  The verb in Mark 9.4 refers to Elijah and Moses rather than to Jesus as it would in a resurrection account.

The title that Peter gives to Jesus here is interesting when one considers the Greek.  While English translators often translate Mark’s version to read ‘Master’, the term is actually Ραββί (teacher, preacher). This suggests that Mark was not relating a misplaced resurrection story for two main reasons.  Firstly, the term likely belongs to a Pre-Markan tradition because Mark only makes use of it on two other occasions (Mark 11:21 and 14:45).  Secondly, it seems unrealistic to assume that a resurrection story would refer to Jesus as a risen Rabbi; there are far more suitable titles.

Matthew and Luke treat the issue of the fear and lack of understanding of the disciples differently to Mark though they also make mention of the issues.  Mark stresses that the disciples and Peter were afraid with the use of the adverb ‘exceedingly,’ or at least this is what one thinks until they refer back to the Greek text and find that the adverb is here missing, reading only ‘ου γαρ ηδει τι αποκριθη, εκφοβοι γαρ εγενοντο,’ but the emphasis remains. Mark’s placement of these issues though illustrates the point of the additional adverb by placing them together at the beginning of events and he attributes the issues to each other, ‘For he did not know what to say, for they were exceedingly afraid.’

Luke separates the issues and presents them as logical actions in the space of occurring events unlike Mark who presents the disciples as fearful and thoughtless from the first instance.  The not knowing what to say in Luke is a logical reaction to the appearance of Moses and Elijah, just as the fear is a logical reaction to the overshadowing of them all by a mighty cloud that basically blinds them.  Their fear in Luke is more an effect of awe in the presence of unexplained phenomena and the presence of the voice of God.

Matthew in turn presents the issues differently from Mark, but has some parallel in Luke.  Matthew ignores the ignorance issue altogether and excludes the idea of not knowing what to say in order to overshadow the ignorance theme seen in the Markan version.  This is a theme seen throughout Matthew.  The issue of fear is similar in appearance to that in Luke.  It appears as a logical reaction to awe rather than ignorant fear.  Matthew relates this clearly, saying ‘When the disciples heard this, they fell on their faces, and were filled with awe.  But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Rise, and have no fear.”

Matthew, Mark and Luke have similarities which demonstrate that all three share the same essence of the text. They also contain some interesting differences.  Luke starts his account by displaying one such differentiation; the temporal designation of ‘after eight days’ (Luke 9:28). We see parallels throughout the New Testament which may explain the eight days in context. Eight days was known as a week in the period. John 20:26 also includes the appearance of the divine after a period of eight days when Jesus appears to Thomas.  This suggests that Luke may have been taking from a known tradition or independent source which he believed to be a more suitable inclusion.

Luke alone records that Jesus was praying when his appearance changed. Luke appears to be indicating that Jesus was in contact with the heavenly world.  This passage is also exemplar of Luke’s independence from the other synoptic gospels as it is presented as a narrative in the past tense.  ‘Καὶ ἐγένετο ἐν τῳ προσεύχεσθαι αὐτὸν τὸ εἰδος του προσώπου αὐτου ἑτερον καὶ ὁ ἱματισμὸς αὐτου λευκὸς ἐξαστράπτων.’ (Luke 9:29)

Luke’s version of the transfiguration is the longest account, followed by Mark, with Matthew being the shortest in length.  The extra length in Luke’s version is due to the dialogue reported in Luke 9:31-32 and the experience of the disciples. This material expresses the upcoming departure of Jesus which he will accomplish in Jerusalem. The addition of this material from a possible independent source contributes to the argument that the transfiguration is not a misplaced resurrection story by emphasising Luke’s agreement with Matthew and Mark that the transfiguration was an event in the life of Jesus.

Luke does appear to use Mark in parts but is generally different in wording and focus. The Markan material is mostly found towards the end of the account with Peter’s conversing with Jesus.  This material also appears in Matthew and all three versions use similar wording with the exclusion of Matthew’s addition of ‘if you wish, I will…’ This addition in Matthew suggests a more conscious motive in Peter to prolong the experience rather than the confusion and ignorance that is expressed in Mark and Luke in the phrase ‘οὐ γὰρ ἤδει τὶ ἀποκριθη’ (Mark 9:6). Luke 9:33 echoes Mark in expressing that Peter has misunderstood the occasion.

The transfiguration account in Luke is again exemplar of Luke’s use of sources, his motive and audience.  We see a use of Markan and independent material which could be extracts from Q.  Matthew does express independent material in his account but not at the same points as Luke which is illustrative of his Markan priority. This is seen, for example, in Matt.17:1-2 where the wording is primarily Markan with few diversions. Luke expresses in his introduction a desire to present an orderly narrative to benefit those with prior knowledge of the faith and to narrate the life of Jesus historically.  The narrative form of the transfiguration and the lack of metaphorical and descriptive terms which are found in Mark and Matthew show this further. For instance in Luke 9:29 in comparison to Mark 9.3, with the description of Jesus’ transformation in appearance.

Matthew echoes Mark in the temporal inclusion of six days and the generally character of the text (Paralleled in Ex. 34:29-35). Matthew does differ from the Markan description of Jesus’ appearance. He reports that Jesus’ face ‘shone like the sun,’ which is a simple simile unlike Mark’s multiple descriptive phrases.[7] Matthew maintains a Jewish character in his text and presented his gospel as a teaching tool which did not require the descriptive disposition of Mark’s gospel. Mark, writing for a gentile audience, needed to provide explanations. The face being compared to the Sun is paralleled in Rev.1:16, which could suggest that a link to resurrection and the coming of Jesus.  But it is just as plausible that the description belonged to earlier traditions.  It is not enough to base the hypothesis, concerning a misplaced resurrection story, on the wording of descriptive phrase and the context of a few parallels.  The sun is a subject which appears throughout the Old Testament tradition (Jdg.5:31, Ps.84:11, 136:8, Mal.4:2).

Matthew exhibits the use of independent source material.  For instance, he is the only one of the synoptic accounts that records ‘with whom I am well pleased’ in God’s address to the disciples (Matt.17:5). This verse makes a link to the baptism account where God addresses Jesus in Matthew 3:17.[8] The ‘ακουετε αυτου,’ which appears alongside this addition, occurs in all three synoptic accounts and echoes Dt.18:15 which reports a promise that a prophet like Moses would one day come.[9]


[1] “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.”

[2] Stein, R.H., Is the Transfiguration (Mark 9:2-8) a Misplaced Resurrection-Account? In Journal of Biblical Literature, Vol.95, No.1 (Mar., 1976), p.83

[3] “After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.  They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them.”

[4] “Then the cloud covered the Tent of Meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle.”

[5] “When the priests withdrew from the Holy Place, the cloud filled the temple of the Lord.”

[6] And Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is well that we are here; let us make three booths, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.”

[7] “…and his garments became glistening white, as no fuller on earth could bleach them.”

[8] “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”

[9] “I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their people, and I will put my words in that prophet’s mouth. My prophet will tell them everything I command.”