Embellishments of Mark

Embellishments of Mark


The Jerusalem School of Synoptic Research has demonstrated Lukan Priority after noting that Luke preserved whole blocks of material that are more consistently easy to translate into Hebrew than the parallel material in Mark or Matthew. (See Lukan Priority and the Jerusalem School). The conclusion is that Mark was not the earliest of the Synoptic Gospels, but that Mark followed Luke, rewriting and revising Luke’s wording. In the examination of Mark as compared to the other Gospels, Lindsey came to the realization of this understanding:

The basic reason for Mark’s unpopularity is that it was written by an early Jewish Christian who rewrote the gospel story using the midrashic methods of early rabbis.. Mark’s principal method was to replace about half of Luke’s earlier and more authentic wording with a variety of synonyms and expressions he culled from certain Old and New Testament books … Mark loved to find linguistic parallels to the text he was copying in other, often unrelated, books, and then mix words and phrases taken from these parallels with others of his sources. This method resulted in an amplified text that many scholars had thought gave an authenticity to Mark’s work, but which, in reality, should be described as a fascinating but rather inauthentic dramatization of the Gospel story. (Robert L. Lindsey, “My Search for the Synoptic Problem’s Solution,” Jerusalem Perspective (2013))

Halvor Ronning observed the same findings in his four-part series conducting a statistical approach to the Synoptic Problem (See Statistical Validation of Lukan Priority). In Part 4 after summarizing the results, Ronning added some final notes on Mark as a Dramatizer. He makes the following observations as compared to Luke: 

Mark’s Gospel, on the other hand, exhibits the expansionist characteristics of a Jewish midrashic or targumistic storyteller. Like a targumist, Mark absolutely refused to replicate the wording of Luke… Mark’s editorial activity is not a matter of high theological interference with his sources. As a Jewish author, Mark simply followed in the footsteps of good targumic style: he dramatized his source by substituting synonyms, adding words from elsewhere, and rearranging and reversing word orders; anything to hold the reader’s attention and fascination.

Due to this ‘targumic’ activity the stories Mark told are almost always (literally 80% of the time) longer than the parallel accounts in Luke and Matthew. Mark is the longest Gospel, not the shortest in terms of the actual stories he decided to incorporate. Mark is shortest only in terms of overall length, but that is only because of the stories and sayings he chose to omit. Mark’s expansionist style fits his character as a sophisticated targumic story teller. (Halvor Ronning, “A Statistical Approach to the Synoptic Problem: Part 4—Non-Linear Hypotheses,” Jerusalem Perspective (2016))

Embellishments of Mark listed below include material unique to Mark or material in which Mark amplifies or significantly modifies the text. This is material that is not attested or rejected by Matthew and Luke or, in special cases, there is a parallel in all three Synoptic Gospels and Matthew inherits a defective reading from Mark, and they are both is inconsistent with Luke. In such cases, the reading in Luke is more Hebraic (Luke exhibiting greater ease to translate back into Hebrew) than the Mark/Matthew reading. Words in phrases in bold indicate text that exhibits modification. 

A stereotype pertains to unique alternative words and phrases incorporated in Mark. It could be thought of as an idiosyncrasy or particularity of Mark.

A pick-up is simply an addition or interpolation. 

Mark 1:2-3, Misquote of Isaiah

2 As it is written in Isaiah the prophet, “Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way, 3 the voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight,’” (English Standard Version)

Pertaining to the bold text, Mark is quoting Malachi 3:1 but misattributing the quote to Isaiah. Reference is made to Malachi 3:1 much later in the narrative of Luke (Luke 7:27) when Jesus is speaking about John the Baptist.  

Mark 1:9-10, “Immediately he saw the heavens being torn open”

9 In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. 11 And a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with  you I am well pleased.” (ESV)

“Immediately he saw” and “being torn open” are clearly Markan Pick-ups that Luke does not exhibit. In Luke 3:21-22, the heavens were opened while Jesus was praying. The Markan account is accentuated by the added words. Matthew also incorporated the Markan embellishment of “immediately” but  lacks “he saw” and “torn.” 

Mark 1:12-13, Pick-ups of “immediately,”  “Satan,” “wild animals,” and “and the angels were ministering to him”

12 The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. 13 And he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. And he was with the wild animals, and the angels were ministering to him. (ESV)

Mark likes to add “immediately” and substitute words. In this case, changing Devil of Luke 4:1-2 to “Satan.”  Also, the grammar of Mark (and Matthew 4:1-2 even more so) gives a stronger impression that Jesus was tempted for 40 days, as opposed to being tempted during the 40 days. Mark also adds, “And he was with the wild animals, and the angels were ministering to him” as a further embellishment that Matthew 4:11 partially incorporates. 

Lindsey believed Mark’s version of the temptation narrative may have been inspired by T. Naph. 8:1-6: “the devil will flee from you, and the wild beasts will fear you, and the Lord will love you, and the angels will help you”. (See Lindsey, “From Luke to Mark to Matthew,” under the subheading “Mark’s Editorial Method: An Examination of Mark Chapter 1.” See also, Benjamin Bacon, The Beginnings of the Gospel Story: A Historico-Critical Inquiry into the Sources and Structure of the Gospel According to Mark, with Expository Notes upon the Text, for English Readers (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1909), 13; Claude G. Montefiore, The Synoptic Gospels: Edited with an Introduction and a Commentary (2 vols.; 2d ed.; London: Macmillan, 1927), 1:9, (Catalog of Markan Stereotypes and Possible Markan Pick-ups, Jerusalem Perspective, updated May 19, 2022)

Mark 1:14-15, “Now after John was arrested,” and “proclaiming the gospel of God”

14 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, 15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” (ESV) 

To add intrigue to the story, Mark 1:14 (and Matthew 4:12 even more so) imply that Jesus withdrew into Galilee due to John being arrested as compared to Luke 4:14 which simply describes Jesus as returning to Galilee without reference to John. Mark turns Jesus from the teacher of Luke 4:14-15, into a repentance preacher in a similar likeness of John the Baptist. Matthew 4:17 maintains some embellishment of Mark, but dials back on “repent and believe in the gospel” 

Mark 1:16-20, “Fishers of Men” and “immediately they left their nets”

16 Passing alongside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and Andrew the brother of Simon casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. 17 And Jesus said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men.” 18 And immediately they left their nets and followed him. 19 And going on a little farther, he saw James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, who were in their boat mending the nets. 20 And immediately he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired servants and followed him. (ESV)

Markan embellishments of immediately occur here twice. Mark significantly revises and embellishes Luke 5:10-11. Matthew 4:18-22 also mostly incorporates the Markan embellishments. The more primitive account in Luke 5:10-11 maintains that Jesus said, “Do not be afraid; henceforth you will be catching men.” and that “when they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed him” instead of Mark 1:17 “I will make you fishers of men” and Mark 1:20, “And immediately they left their nets and followed him.”

Opposite Luke’s non-Septuagintal (“beside the Lake of Gennesaret”; Luke 5:1), Mark has (“beside the Sea of Galilee”; Mark 1:16), a name that has no equivalent in Hebrew sources. Mark 1:16 is the first reference in Mark’s Gospel to the Sea of Galilee, and thereafter the author of Mark consistently used the noun θάλασσα (“sea”) to refer to the freshwater lake. The author of Luke, by contrast, never used θάλασσα with reference to the freshwater lake he knew as Genessaret. 

Not only did the author of Mark replace Luke’s “lake” with “sea,” the author of Mark added a sea-side setting to several stories where no such setting is found in the Gospel of Luke. That Mark’s seaside setting was at least sometimes redactional is shown by three Lukan-Matthean agreements against Mark to omit a reference to the sea. Mark’s use of the noun θάλασσα about the Galilean lake thus appears to be a Markan stereotype (idiosyncrasy). 

Lukan vocabulary pertaining to “Lake of Gennesaret” is Hebraic. The Markan vocabulary of “See of Galilee” is not. (Catalog of Markan Stereotypes and Possible Markan Pick-ups, Mark 1:16, Jerusalem Perspective, updated May 19, 2022)

Mark 1:21, “Immediately”

And they went into Capernaum, and immediately on the Sabbath he entered the synagogue and was teaching. (ESV)
Another Markan addition of “immediately” expanding Luke 4:31. Here the Greek syntax of Mark is less Hebraic than Luke

**Much more to be added. Work in Progress**


To see an extensive list, see List of Markan Stereotypes and Pick-ups

Mark 3:1-6, Man with the withered hand

1 Again he entered the synagogue, and a man was there with a withered hand. 2 And they watched Jesus, to see whether he would heal him on the Sabbath, so that they might accuse him. 3 And he said to the man with the withered hand, “Come here.” 4 And he said to them, “Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to kill?” But they were silent. 5 And he looked around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart, and said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was restored. 6 The Pharisees went out and immediately held counsel with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him. (English Standard Version)

In the story, Jesus’ opponents watch to see if he will heal a man on the Sabbath in a way opposed to the halacha. None of the Synoptists suggest that there was any open criticism of Jesus’ action. There is no discoverable reason why there should have been such criticism, for this kind of healing (by command) was not in opposition to the halacha. Yet, both Mark and Matthew, in almost identical words, state that “the Pharisees” (Mark adds also “the Herodians”) took counsel against Jesus “to destroy him”. Luke significantly says only that Jesus’ opponents “discussed among themselves” what to do “to” Jesus.

David Flusser in the forward to A Hebrew translation of the Gospel of Mark makes the following observation:

The incident in the Gospels must have occurred much as Luke has stated it. Jesus looks at the unfortunate man and in provoking challenge to all present says, “Is it permitted to do good or to do evil on the Sabbath, to save life or destroy it?” He then tells the man to stretch out his hand and as he does so the hand is healed. There is certainly an implied criticism of Sabbath legalism in Jesus’ words but he has done noting wrong. Luke’s “they discussed what to do to Jesus” may only mean “they discussed what could be done to Jesus.”… Mark, however, takes the phrase to mean that “they counselled with each other” with a view to doing what a later group of high priests would counsel together to do, namely, destroy Jesus. Mark has leapt ahead to a later event and attributed motives of a later time to the detractors of Jesus who.. are unhappy with the seeming imprudence of Jesus. (Robert Lisle Lindsey, A Hebrew translation of the Gospel of Mark, Dugith Publishers, 1973, pp.4-5)

Mark 14:53-65, Trial of Jesus and accusation of blasphemy 

53 And they led Jesus to the high priest. And all the chief priests and the elders and the scribes came together. 54 And Peter had followed him at a distance, right into the courtyard of the high priest. And he was sitting with the guards and warming himself at the fire. 55 Now the chief priests and the whole council were seeking testimony against Jesus to put him to death, but they found none. 56 For many bore false witness against him, but their testimony did not agree. 57 And some stood up and bore false witness against him, saying, 58 “We heard him say, ‘I will destroy this temple that is made with hands, and in three days I will build another, not made with hands.’” 59 Yet even about this their testimony did not agree. 60 And the high priest stood up in the midst and asked Jesus, “Have you no answer to make? What is it that these men testify against you?” 61 But he remained silent and made no answer. Again the high priest asked him, “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?” 62 And Jesus said, “I am, and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.” 63 And the high priest tore his garments and said, “What further witnesses do we need? 64 You have heard his blasphemy. What is your decision?” And they all condemned him as deserving death. 65 And some began to spit on him and to cover his face and to strike him, saying to him, “Prophesy!” And the guards received him with blows. (English Standard Version)

David Flusser in the forward to A Hebrew translation of the Gospel of Mark makes the following observations:

The high originality of Luke and the secondary character of Mark (so often repeated in Matthew) can be further illustrated in one of the most important areas of the Gospel story, the so-called trial of Jesus. Most of the difficulties which have plagued students of the “trial” have come as a result of the concentration of scholars on the Matthaean-Markan version of this event to the neglect of Luke. I want here only to mention two important points connected with the discussion…


In the Gospel of Luke, no mention of a condemnation of Jesus by the Jewish authorities is recorded. This is of special interest in view of the failure of Luke to follow Mark in such a mention either at the point of the “trial” or in the recording of Jesus’ third prophecy of his demise in Jerusalem… Luke does not hesitate to report the delivery of Jesus to Pilate by the Jewish authorities yet does not mention the Markan “condemnation,” and when we note that Mark’s “all judged him worthy of death” (Mark 14:64) can easily be Mark’s interpretation and extension of the conclusion of the high priest’s decision in Luke 22:71. 


The second point concerns the Matthaean-Markan agreement that the high priests accused Jesus of blasphemy. Scholars have labored long and lovingly to explain what might have been the nature of this blasphemy… None of our Synoptic materials give any facts which clarify the charge of blasphemy.  The accusation of blasphemy is absent from Luke, as it the Markan reference to the tearing of the high priest’s cloths. There is only an interrogation by the high priests and a most remarkable description of Jesus’ dialogue with the priests the rabbinic sophistication of which is not less astounding than the Hebrew word order and idiom of the account. There is every reason to accept the Lukan version in preference to that of Matthew and Mark. (Robert Lisle Lindsey, A Hebrew translation of the Gospel of Mark, Dugith Publishers, 1973, pp. 6-7) 

**Much more to be added. Work in Progress**

To see an extensive list, see List of Markan Stereotypes and Pick-ups