Thursday, June 05, 2008

Orality and Literacy V: Illiiterate Tradents?

I hope that it is already apparent that I regard James D. G. Dunn's article, “Altering the Default Setting: Re-envisaging the Early Transmission of the Jesus Tradition,” New Testament Studies 49/2 (2003), 139-75, as a very important and challenging contribution to the discipline. His approach in this article is summarized effectively in the following paragraph:
In a word, we naturally, habitually and instinctively work within a literary paradigm. We are, therefore, in no fit state to appreciate how a non-literary culture, an oral culture, functions. And if we are to enter empathetically into such a culture it is essential that we become conscious of our literary paradigm and make deliberate efforts to step outside it and to free ourselves from its inherited predispositions. It becomes necessary to alter the default settings given by the literary shaped
software of our mental computers. (142; emphasis original).
In previous posts in this series, I have attempted to argue that Dunn is overstating the case for the extent of our immersion in a literary culture. He is offering a valuable corrective but it is a perspective that may need a little nuancing. What Dunn describes is not our broader culture but the rarefied atmosphere of the academic sub-culture. His characterization of "our print-determined default setting" (150) and the"blinkers of a mindset formed by our print-dominated heritage" suggests that he is not engaging with the secondary orality of our culture and is inclined to over-emphasize elements in the academic's experience of the world. In this post, however, I would like to begin to think a little more about the other element in Dunn's contrast, the "oral culture", the "non-literary culture" that he says informed Christian origins.

The description of the world in which early Christians moved as an "oral culture" may be unhelpful. It is a world more accurately characterized as one in which there was interaction between orality and literacy, a "rhetorical culture" to use the term coined by Vernon Robbins. It is my working hypothesis that Dunn underestimates the importance of literacy in emerging Christianity and I will attempt to explain why by focusing on one element in Dunn's article that is shared with other studies of early Christianity, the issue of literacy rates and their relevance to the development of the synoptic tradition.

Now, Dunn is surely right to remind us of the extent of illiteracy in in this period. Citing Harris and others, he says that "literacy in Palestine at the time of Jesus would probably have been less than 10 per cent" (148). But what is the relevance of this frequently made observation to the discussion of the Synoptic Problem and the transmission of Jesus tradition, the elements at the heart of Dunn's study? The Gospel authors were of course literate, so the issue of literacy rates appears to be focused on (a) the pre-gospel period and (b) the mindsets of and the communities in which the evangelists moved. But how important is that fact of widespread illiteracy in these areas? Dunn writes:
In my judgement, discussion of possible allusions to and use of the Jesus tradition, both within the NT epistles (Paul, James, 1 Peter), within the Apostolic Fathers, and now also within the Nag Hammadi texts, has been seriously flawed by overdependence on the literary paradigm. For if we are indeed talking about largely illiterate communities, dependent on oral tradition and aural knowledge of written documents, then we have to expect as the rule that knowledge of the Jesus tradition will have shared the characteristics of oral tradition. That is to say, the historical imagination, liberated from the literary default setting and tutored in regard to oral culture, can readily envisage communities familiar with their oral tradition, able to recognize allusions to Jesus tradition in performances of an apostolic letter written to them, and to fill in ‘the gaps of indeterminacy’ in other performances of that tradition. (169-70)
I am particularly interested in the words underlined in the passage. The assumption appears to be that the tradents were illiterate or that the illiterate community members were themselves acting as tradents. Perhaps this was the case but I am not sure that this is self evident. After all, "aural knowledge of written documents" presumes literate community members reading out these documents, something that will itself have invested those who were literate with a particular authority that could not be shared by those who were illiterate. Might the same have been true also of tradents more broadly, of those who were sharing oral traditions about Jesus? How many of the early Christian tradents were literate?

Let us take a moment to think about the early Christian tradents we actually know about. The most well known, Paul, was of course literate. His sharing of Jesus tradition in places like 1 Cor. 9, 1 Cor. 11 and 1 Cor. 15 is a case of a literate tradent sharing Jesus tradition with another literate tradent (the reader of the letter) who will then share that tradition with his or her hearers. Here we have a clear example of the kind of interaction between orality and literacy that characterizes the development of Christian origins, or, more specifically, between literate tradents and (presumably) illiterate hearers of the tradition. Presumably Apollos too was literate (e.g. Acts 18.24) and so were Silas, Timothy and, we would have thought, Phoebe, Barnabas, Prisca and Aquilla and many others. If we can trust Luke, it is broadly implied that James too is literate (Acts 15.20), and his importance in the emerging Christian movement (cf. Josephus, Ant. 20) may also suggest literacy.

It is reasonable to assume that such people were participating as literate tradents in a culture in which there was interaction between orality and literacy. But we can go a little further than this. The tradition itself presupposes literate tradents. In 1 Cor. 15.3-5, he presents what he has received as of first importance (i.e. major, early tradition) and which he also passed on to the Corinthians (παρέδωκα γὰρ ὑμῖν ἐν πρώτοις ὃ καὶ παρέλαβον), "that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures". The content of the tradition invokes what is written. It is difficult to imagine illiterate tradents having success with the sharing of material that itself presupposes literacy in this way.

Additional note 1: I have deliberately used the term "literate" in a generalized way of those who would be able to dictate a letter, or to read and understand writing. The meaning of "literacy" of course changes, and there are different kinds of literacy even today, and different degrees of competence. We too readily think of (the physical act of) writing when we talk about literacy, and one of the difficulties for us is to imagine our way into a culture where the educated did not need to be and usually were not good scribes. More too on this in due course.

Additional note 2: Before anyone else says it, what about Acts 4.13, where Peter and John are described as ἀγράμματοί? Does this mean "illiterate"? This post is long enough already, so I will add a comment on this verse in my next post in the series.

24 comments: said...

How would Luke have known precisely what 'Peter' said or did? The answer is that Luke would not have known unless 'Peter' had written it down in a source document. At an early stage of the game, Acts was probably autobiographical, before Luke got hold of it. For example, about the lame beggar that held on to to 'Peter', the original writer would have written (3.12): 'I said to them, "Men of Israel, why does this surprise you? Why do you stare at us as if we had made ourselves impure?"' Of course our equally literate Luke had other ideas that do not ring so true. said...

For some reason my comment has not been logged but appears when I click on 'Comments'.

Richard Fellows said...

Mark, some of your arguments are (inevitably) based on anacdotal evidence from the extant sources, which are literary. Isn't it possible that these sources give a quite unrepresentative view of the way information was spread in the early church?

One further point: a disadvantage of writing, compared to memory is that writings could fall into the hands of opponents of the church. There is quite a lot of evidence that NT authors had to sensor themselves to be sure that they did not give sensitive information to enemies. And those who kept Chrstian documents would need to be careful that they would not get into trouble if they were caught with it in their possession. presumably you could hold the 'real' gospel in your memory, but perhaps only a sanitized version of the Gospel in your scroll rack.

Bill Heroman said...

Thanks for this post, Mark. I'll read the rest of the series soon. First I have a small point to share, before I forget.

Of the 200+ faculty on our High School campus, I might guess that less than 10% are fully "computer literate". But our resident IT guru(s) don't hold any special authority, except over the keeping and distribution of the equipment. From this experience, I must at least imagine that a "reader" in a first century ecclesia wasn't necessarily a position of authority, although it might have made sense for those people to also safeguard the actual texts belonging to the congregation.

Like I said - that may be somewhat off the main point, but I'll be interested to see how relevant and/or plausible you (and others) feel that analogy might actually be.

Bill Heroman said...

Now, to the point (I hope). I feel a bit like the "ordinary public" Mary Beard blogged about today in her post on ruins. Honestly, I wish I had half her grace of erudition to explain why that post was so much on my mind as I read your first few paragraphs here. But in short, a _purely_ literary paradigm seems (to me) perhaps like the Elgin Marbles seemed to the public audience of that day: quite simply, "broken down".

Let me quickly add I definitely see the value in your nuancing. To the best I can read you, I think your comments towards balancing and qualifying of Dunn's point(s) seem very apt. (Not that I have read Dunn yet, you understand.)

Let me sum up my own ideas on the topic with a single scenario, hopefully for your thoughtful response. In 57 AD, Luke came (with Paul) into Caesarea where they met Philip "the evangelist" (and his four daughters) and, possibly, also the famous Cornelius (or at least younger belivers who had known him very well). As Paul remained imprisoned there for two years, Luke most likely stayed and did his research. He probably even traveled a bit. James & Jude could have told him the christmas story (Mary would have been over 70 years old, if still alive!)

And now the question: Is it not possible (and - seperate question - is it commonly within the scope of academic considerings to imagine that this is possible) that Luke not only got primary source material for his writings by personal interviews of any or all of those people... but also that none of them might ever before, to that point, even once bothered to get those things written down?

Since I'm new, let me emphasize I am absolutely here to learn. And in that mind, I eagerly await your reply... said...

It seems folks that we have a literary extant gospel that was only gossipped after it was written.

Richard, how much more would one have been at risk of persecution if one had a copy of the Gospel of Judas in one's scroll rack? And how much more secure would one have been with a copy of Luke in one's rack, say?

Diarmuid said...

As an archetypal psychologist, let me add a brief comment to this interchange. Are we assuming, as scholars in several disciplines do, that the literary rendition is likely to be more sophisticated, accurate and informative than an oral rendering? In other words, the orality is sometimes assumed to be primitive compared with literacy. Psychologists of my persuasion (Jungian) have long believed that the "storied" dimensions of a culture, or indeed of an individual's life, are likley to reveal complexities and depth of meaning that the literary (based more on rational principles), is unlikley to honour. Obviously we need both, but I very much favour the oral dimension to unearth archetypal, deeper meanings.

Somewhat related to this is the work of Neil Douglas-Klotz (and others) on the subject of the Aramaic Jesus. Greek as a language seems to be strong on rationality, clarity and precision, whereas Aramaic (which I know can have various renderings)seems much more poetic, multivalent, and suggstive of complex meanings. Is it indeed possible that there was a richness in the texture of the Aramaic orality that became subverted (or even lost) in the Greek Gospels which we have inherited?

Diarmuid O'Murchu (London, UK). said...

One might consider, for example, Mk.1.2,3 as being rich in texture. These verses are in fact the conflation of three Old Testament references, Mal.3.1, Ex.23.20 and Is.40.3. These were not gossiped scriptures that Mark heard and casually inserted, but were the result of a long detailed search in the Old Testament to find texts that would suit Mark's literary aim. The activity was highly academic with a considerable degree of forced logic behind it. An archetypal psychologist could almost trace Mark's contrived thought process in arriving at the three scriptures, instead of the one that was drawn from memory easily for the more natural text of the original author. Mark has a habit of conflating Old Testament scriptures, sometimes in the spoken words he attributes to Jesus.

Anonymous said...


It seems to me that James Dunn got it wrong again. The presumption to illiteracy is way over stated. Jesus taught "the Word," hO LOGOS. And this is all we have - written documents! Why now speak of orality? Is it so that we may look down at prior generations of illiterate saints? Isn't this what Modernity promises its adherents, an eye at the apex of a pyramid? All we have are written documents. So, this scholar Dunn got it wrong again. said...

Mk.1.2,3 were not the reported prophet's spoken words, but were Mark's introduction to his John as the forerunner of his Jesus. The quotation was meant to be that of one prophet thus: "It is written in Isaiah the prophet", but instead it is the conflation of three old testament texts (Mal.3.1, Ex.23.20, Is.40.3). So what single prophet was quoted in Mark’s source and what led Mark to make such a hash of introducing John that Matthew felt obliged to change? Did the original quotation in Mark's source introduce the prophet’s activity rather than the person of John who would then be a fictitious foil to be written out immediately in Mk.1.14 so that Mark could bring his Jesus into the picture.

I suggest that Mark's original source introduced the prophet's work with another promise that God made beginning similarly to Mal.3.1 with "I will". This was the prophesy of Joel: "I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days." Mark read this in his source, and was reminded of Mal.3.1 that began similarly with: "I will send my messenger." So Mark wrote: "I will send my messenger AHEAD OF YOU, who will prepare YOUR WAY." - meaning prepare the way for his Jesus. Mark changed Mal.3.1 which has: "I will send my messenger, who will prepare THE WAY BEFORE ME.” Unfortunately, the “ME” being God was not suitable for Mark’s purpose of having John as Jesus’ forerunner, so Mark substituted “your way” for “the way before ME”. Mark also inserted “ahead of you” (from Ex.23.20) to press home his point that his John was to come before his Jesus. Mal.3.1 thus gave Mark the idea of an intermediate messenger to replace the prophesied coming of the Spirit.

For his next step, Mark had to create the character of John as the substitute for the Spirit. Is.40.3 was Mark’s inspiration for creating John as a wild prophet type preaching as the voice of God in the desert. John was the substitute for the prophesied coming of the Spirit to Israel. Then Mark put John ‘in prison’ (Mk.1.14), because he hadn’t yet worked-out how he would dispose of John in the story.

Matthew was probably aware of Mark’s source and he improved Mark’s version of events.

Anonymous said...

two comments
@bill - You say you are "new" and "here to learn" and I think it is fantastic that the scenario you envisage is to a large extent compatible with Richard Bauckham's thesis that the Gospels are in fact utterly dependent on eyewitness testimony. So your hunch is confirmed by a fantastic (although controversial) monograph produced by a distinguished scholar at the apex of his career. I've heard rumors that Profs Dunn and Bauckham have had, shall we say, their differences on display in public forums, but at the end of the day these two scholars are really not that far apart on the issue of early transmission of Jesus tradition. Dunn is perhaps tipped more towards 'traditional' NT scholarship, Bauckham is in some ways replacing a NT critic's paradigm to the side (not rejecting it, though!) in favor of trusting the classical sources (that is, graeco-roman authors who claimed to require eyewitness testimony to write 'good' history). Anyway, all that to say, Bauckham does argue for your scenario in a rigorously academic way. He also has companions in S. Byrskog's "History as Story, Story as History" and, maybe in other ways, R. Burridge's "What are the Gospels?"
@ Mark t.
I'm not sure that Mark G is so down on Dunn, and I think I can say fairly that it is not the ancient Christians whom Dunn is looking down upon, but modern critics more generally. I don't think he is so wrong; Dunn acknowledges the written documents and thinks they have a very high degree of connection with the first tradents of the traditions. Dunn is not speculating any wierd da vinci stuff. Just the opposite, in fact. His proposal is more about recognizing the oral nature of the very first traditions - even while Jesus was still alive - a corrective that is at least worth hearing. I think Mark's proposal, that Dunn overstates the case for the non-orality of our own time, is very interesting. I suspect it is not only his academic lens that creates the exaggeration, but the generational difference also. I bet Prof Dunn - with all respect Sir, in case I am wrong - has never used his computer as a phone. Just a guess... Maybe Dr. Goodacre is just in closer step with a younger culture, technologically speaking - how do I know? Prof Dunn has no blog (but then, neither do I).

Ok, so that was a bit too much in defense of Dunn

I fibbed - one more comment. I'm sure MG, you are familiar with Bauckham's book, and the work of L. Alexander, and now M. Bockmuehl, all of whom highlight the preference in antiquity for the living (and remaining) voice over the written word. I'm guessing Dunn has written on this too, but he has written quite a lot and I'm not going to go digging right now. Does this ancient preference come to Dunn's defense, in some ways (not perhaps his underestimation of the oral components of our culture, but at least the too hasty jump in our own minds for how quickly the traditions were written down)?
Jeremy G

Anonymous said...

Let me clarify that last comment - Dunn may exagerrate the illiteracy of the earliest Christian tradents, but then even highly literate tradents (in antiquity ) can still have a preference for the spoken word - so oral traditioning can be the primary mode of transmission even when the leaders passing along information are highly literate (such as e.g. Galen, Cicero, Quintilian, and Pliny).

Richard James said...

Anonymous, as far as I can tell only evangelical scholars and apologists (i.e. those who are already biased towards historicity of the Gospels) accept Baukham's romantic notion that much of the Gospel materials go back to eyewitness testimony.

Bill Heroman said...

@ Richard James - "Anonymous" is "Jeremy G", but unfortunately that makes him no less anonymous to me!? And sure, count me in with the romantics! But at least us romantics can try to be academically responsible, right? Mathematicians do this all the time. First, "assume" what you're setting out to "prove". Then, proceed logically and attempt to show any contradiction whatsoever. The more "steps" you can take without getting a contradiction, the more likely your assumption becomes proven, (depending on the parameters of the case and what else we know that pertains.) But I admit that I generalize. I'm just a HS Geometry teacher! :)

@ Jeremy G - this romantic now says on this biblioblog that your post was an answer to prayer. So thanks! And drop me a line so we can discuss this more.

@ Mark G - I yam what I yam (see above), but I'm still here to learn... and thus, eagerly awaiting your response to all this.

I also posted an idea or two about orality and poverty. In the modern world, Ruby Payne thinks they're related.

Bill Heroman said...

@ ALL - Oh, by the way. JG said the Gospels are in fact utterly dependent on eyewitness testimony.

If "utterly" means purely or solely, then I must disagree. I DO think there were writings. I just don't see how anyone could study this case as if there were ONLY writings and NO oral sources.

And I'm not sure it makes much sense to argue over which had priority. A good journalist or historian would weigh all sources and their use based on the relative veracity of the sources, not their mode of transmission.


So who's to say a written down list of sayings is more verifiable than whatever James had to say in person about his mom and dad's old stories, 50-60 years after they happened?

Or who's to say Philip "the evangelist" ever wrote his stories down before he told them to Luke in Caesarea?

Just for example...

Anonymous said...

Can't say I am able to 'read' the response to Prof Bauckham's book any more than confirming that in my limited experience those who praise it tend towards the evangelical camp (you say it like it's such a bad thing!). I hope you wouldn't dismiss his argument, however, just because it happens to attract the praise of a particular demographic or argue an opposing point of view. His thesis ought to be considered on its own merits, which I think, like most scholarly work, shows particular areas of strength and weakness. Interestingly, one could fully agree with his claim that the eyewitnesses continued to play a controlling role in the transmission of the tradition and still discredit the testimony of the eyewitnesses. Bauckham allows for that very possibility, because he says that to overrule the veracity of a particular testimony, one must trust in another testimony that offers a different picture of the events. True, Bauckham tends to uphold the testimony found in the Gospels as true (I'm sure I'm not nuancing this enough) as opposed to, for example, the testimony of anyone who might offer a different explanation/description of Jesus of Nazareth. I suppose this is all getting off track a bit. Sorry to all.

My point is this; Bauckham's thesis shouldn't be dismissed as 'romantic' when in fact he actually grounds his argument in the nature of historiography in the ancient world. I doubt he simply thought "How can I re-connect Gospel traditions to the eyewitnesses?" It seems his thesis grew out of years of research that eventually led him to see it as a possible alternative explanation to the form-critical model which still plays an overly influential role in Gospel studies.

And I'm no scientist, but maybe our resident mathematician Bill can verify that the simplest explanation should take priority when there are conflicting theories of how something came to be. My initial reaction to Bauckham's book is that his thesis clears the ground of a lot of rubbish and has the potential to yield some interestig results when others take up his hypothesis. This doesn't mean we dispense with form-critical questions entirely, but they may need to take a back seat at certain times - at other times maybe they do the driving?

Finally, don't all scholars, not just apologists, largely assume the historicity of the Gospels? The critical trend is to think they are historically important for describing the communities in which they were composed (another thesis rejected earlier, again controvesially, by Bauckham). Prof Bauckham believes (ooh, I hate claiming to know what someone else believes, but here goes) they are not primarily historically important for that reason, but actually testify to the life of Jesus.

Maybe more back on track - I said utterly depedent on 'eyewitness testimony' - that could be written or oral.

I also did state that Bauckham's book was controvesial (I suppose that presupposes that the audience I am thinking of is an academic one; people in the pew might find little in the book to be scandalized by). It certainly will never carry the day, but I thought it worth mentioning that a 'learner' and non-professional had a hunch which corresponds with the thesis of a respected academic.

Now I've really gone on for too long, sorry again.

Richard James said...

Bill, if you assume what you are trying to prove chances are you will not find a contradiction and you will end up where you started. The reason for this is that we are dealing with uncertainties and probabilities. Apologists are perfectly able to take the two birth narratives (Matthew and Luke) and conclude that there are no clear contradictions despite the amazing differences between the two stories. So they are both just emphasizing different parts of the story, right? Well, yes, that's always possible, but the question is is that the best explanation for the data? When we note the strong parallels between Matthew's infancy narrative and the traditions about Moses' birth and infancy we can wonder what explains the data better; that it actually happened that way, or that Matthew composes the story to bring across the message that Jesus is the new Moses, that he is the new savior. We could also take a look at the passion narrative and note the many parallels with the OT and wonder what is the best explanation for the data, that is actually happened that way or that the authors are trying to bring out the significance of Jesus by creating OT parallels. We could take a look at a lot of the stories in this way and ask what explains the data best. When Pilate gives the choice between Jesus, the son of God and Barabbas (which means 'son of the father', a completely noninformative name since we are all the son of our father), the violent revolutionary, we can ask what explans the data better? Did it actually happen this way or is Mark telling us, around the time of the Jewish-Roman war, that the Jews had a choice between peace with Jesus or violent revolt against the Romans. We could (to give one last example) take a look at Jesus' exorcism of the demons who are called Legion who entered the unclean pigs and drowned in the sea and ask what explans the data better? Did it actually happen this way or is Mark really alluding to the Romans in this story? When we start with history in each and every story in the Gospels and do our utmost to harmonize the accounts and do our best to make sense of the difficulties I think we can very well end up with history. Does that mean historicity is the best explanation of the data?

Bill Heroman said...

Woah. Unfortunately, I am NOT a mathematician. this guy is a Mathematician. I couldn't keep up with him if my children's lives depended on it. As for the rest, I don't know what to say.

Richard & JG, you guys should both get blogs. Tell you what - I'll copy the last few comments here as a post to my blog, and extend this invitation for you guys and others to pick up its ancillary threads over there.

Looking forward to more conversation... as much as to Mark G's next post here.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps the assumption (of some) that the earliest tradents of the Jesus tradition were oral tradents is related to the assumption (of some) that Jesus himself was an illiterate "Jewish peasant".

Bill Heroman said...

How early is "earliest"? How about in real time as Jesus was giving the 'sermon' on the mount?

Hmmm... I'm going to have to upack that scenario a bit over at my blog... hrrrrnnnhh... and there it is. Well, lookee that. It turned into four scenarios. :)

By the way, I don't think Jesus was illiterate. said...

It wasn't a question of the tradent 'sharing' in 1 Cor.15.3. It was about "passing on". The editor's non-descript "what" was a substitute for what the tradent had really "received", which was the Spirit. The tradent was passing on the Spirit much as Elijah passed the Spirit onto Elisha. The Spirit first "appeared" (15.4) to Peter (in reality Simon, Mk.1.17) and to his brother James (15.7) (who was thus separated from his real brother Simon by Mark in Mk.1). I suggest that the "James" of 15.7 was originally "me", implying that James was the original writer. said...

Thus the tradent who wrote the original of 1 Cor 15.3,4 was not passing on any Jesus tradition. This was a Pauline interpolation:"as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures". The so-called Jesus tradition, apparently oral, was in fact a purely Pauline literate creation, nothing to do with orality whatsoever. said...

And when the so-called tradent Paul, writes:"I assure you before God, what I am writing to you is no lie" (Gal.1.20), his credibility as a tradent of oral material comes under extreme suspicion. "I am not lying" protests Paul on three other occasions:Rom.9.1, 2Cor.11.31, 1Tim.2.7). "Read my lips, no new taxes" said George Bush senior. But let's not be Pharisaical, we've all done it. That's why we can recognise it when we see it.

In a similar reassurance, we have the apparent tradent of oral tradition Luke reassuring his reader that what he had written was authentic: "Since many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eye-witnesses and servants of the word. Therefore, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, it seemed good also to me to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught." We are left in doubt that Luke's "ordered account" was in fact produced from oral material, but was in reality adapted from existing written works. In any case, his words: "so that you may know the things you have been taught" have a distinct ring of authoritarian infallibility. said...

When another tradent Mark scrambles together three completely different OT scriptures in Mark 1:2,3 to replace what was one scripture written by ONE prophet in Mark's source document, he is undoubtedly playing literary games that owe nothing to orality. In addition, the passage following including John the Baptist's coming, Jesus' baptism by John, Jesus' temptation in the desert and John being imprisoned (1:4 to 1:14) looks like Mark's creative literary interpolation. John is a literary device.

Mischievously, Mark has the Spirit descending (1.11) and sending Jesus into the desert (1.2). This is a clue to what was the original single scripture written by the ONE prophet of 1:2 - Mark thought he could pull a fast one with his conflation of three scriptures apparently written by one prophet, but Matthew realised this gave the literary game away. The clue suggests the one scripture was the prophecy of Joel - "I will pour out my Spirit on all people", meaning on all the people of Israel. Mark gives the game away. There was no John, no baptism of Jesus, no descending of the Spirit on Jesus, and no temptation of Jesus in the desert (as a friend of mine believes) - all fiction.