Bart Ehrman, christian, christianity, Darrell Bock, gospels, history, literature, Marco Polo, Mark, scripture, Ulysses Grant
There are scholars like Bart Ehrman who don’t believe that Mark is the author of the second gospel. They object to Mark’s authorship based on certain internal evidence which they think raises serious doubts.
In a recent blog post Darrell Bock briefly addressed Ehrman’s concerns, attributing part of the problem to a flaw in his method. However, it was a couple of marginally related comments on the post that I found most interesting.
The first was a reader giving what I think he considered to be an example of that kind of so-called internal evidence against Mark’s authorship. It went something like this:
If, as most scholars believe, Mark got his information from Peter, why doesn’t Mark mention that Peter walked on water (Mark 6:45-52), as Matthew does in his description of the same incident (Matt 14:23-33)? The implication is that Mark’s failure to mention Peter walking on the water–when everyone readily acknowledges that Mark got his information from Peter–should be considered evidence that Mark didn’t write the gospel.
That sounds plausible enough.
However, a follow-up comment by another reader pointed out “just how weak most arguments from silence are in historical work.” He continued with a couple of cogent examples:
Can you imagine an adventurer writing a detailed travel diary of his trip straight across China in the late 13th century and not mentioning the Great Wall? or printed books? or tea? or footbinding? How about a Civil War general publishing two volumes of memoires with day-by-day notes about the events of those tumultuous years and somehow managing to leave out the Emancipation Proclamation? Yet Marco Polo did the former, and Ulysses Grant did the latter. The simple fact is that there are many reasons that authors both ancient and modern leave out things that we, with the perspective of hindsight, cannot imagine ourselves leaving out. Our priorities are often not the same as their priorities, and our incredulity at their omissions is a poor test of the authenticity and authorship of almost any historical work — certainly of the gospels.
That’s very well put. No doubt I’ve made this mistake myself at times. I intend to be more careful about that in the future.
Arguments from silence can kill you every time. It is also good to remember not to use that technique ourselves should we find ourselves opposing a viewpoint.
Barry Wallace said:
Good point, Andy. It seems to me like this might be a fine line that’s easy to cross. On one hand, it’s necessary to make some deductions from the text; asking the “why” question and answering it is a key step in exegesis. On the other hand, it’s possible to make unwarranted assumptions in the very process of making those necessary deductions. At least, that’s the way it seems to me at this point.
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