22feb-ash-wednesdayAsh Wednesday is upon us again!

Here are 9 things to know and share . . .

 

1. What is Ash Wednesday?

Ash Wednesday is the day that Lent begins (see: 9 things you need to know about Lent).

The name comes from the fact that a particular rite is always celebrated on this Wednesday in which the faithful have ashes put on their foreheads.

According to the Roman Missal:

In the course of today’s Mass, ashes are blessed and distributed.

These are made from the olive branches or branches of other trees that were blessed the previous year [on Palm/Passion Sunday].

 

2. What does the putting on of ashes symbolize?

According to the Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy:

125. In the Roman Rite, the beginning of the forty days of penance is marked with the austere symbol of ashes which are used in the Liturgy of Ash Wednesday.

The use of ashes is a survival from an ancient rite according to which converted sinners submitted themselves to canonical penance.

The act of putting on ashes symbolizes fragility and mortality, and the need to be redeemed by the mercy of God.

Far from being a merely external act, the Church has retained the use of ashes to symbolize that attitude of internal penance to which all the baptized are called during Lent.

The faithful who come to receive ashes should be assisted in perceiving the implicit internal significance of this act, which disposes them towards conversion and renewed Easter commitment.

 

3. How does the distribution of ashes take place?

The Roman Missal states that after the homily, the priest blesses the ashes and sprinkles them with holy water.

Then the priest places ashes on the head of all those present who come to him, and says to each one:

Repent, and believe the Gospel.

Or:

Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.

Meanwhile an antiphon or another appropriate chant is sung.

 

4. Is there a particular way the ashes should be put on people’s heads?

Fr. Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at Regina Apostolorum University comments:

There are no set rules regarding this, and it largely depends on local custom.

In most English-speaking countries the prevailing custom seems to be that the priest places enough holy water into the ashes to form a kind of paste. The ashes are then daubed in the form of a cross on the forehead.

Many Catholics see this practice as a means of publicly showing their faith and leave the smudge on their forehead throughout Ash Wednesday.

In other countries, such as Spain, Italy and parts of Latin America, the prevailing custom seems to be sprinkling fairly dry ashes on the crown of the head. But even within these geographical areas, both customs are practiced and there may be other legitimate traditions as well.

 

5. Can this be done outside of Mass?

Yes. The Roman Missal states:

The blessing and distribution of ashes may also take place outside Mass. In this case, the rite is preceded by a Liturgy of the Word, with the Entrance Antiphon, the Collect, and the readings with their chants as at Mass.

Then there follow the Homily and the blessing and distribution of ashes.

The rite is concluded with the Universal Prayer, the Blessing, and the Dismissal of the Faithful.

 

6. Can someone other than a priest distribute the ashes?

Yes. The Book of Blessings states:

1659 This rite may be celebrated by a priest or deacon who may be assisted by lay ministers in the distribution of ashes. The blessing of the ashes, however, is reserved to a priest or deacon.

 

7. How long do you leave the ashes on?

There is no rule about this. It is a matter of personal decision based on the individual’s own inclinations and circumstances.

The ashes can be left on until they wear off naturally or they can be washed off or wiped off when the individual chooses.

 

8. Can ashes be distributed to the sick who cannot attend Mass?

Yes. The Book of Blessings states:

1657 This order [in the Book of Blessings] may almily should conclude by inviting the sick person to prepare himself or herself for the reception of the ashes.

 

9. Is Ash Wednesday a Holyday of Obligation?

No. There is no obligation to attend Mass.

However, Ash Wednesday is a penitential day and it (together with Good Friday) is one of two days of the year on which fasting and abstinence are required.

See here for more on the discipline of fasting and see here for more on the discipline of abstinence.

 

One More Thing . . . 

If I may be permitted a personal observation, Ash Wednesday is spiritual marketing genius.

Give away free stuff–on a limited time basis–and people will show up in droves.

No wonder Mass attendance soars on Ash Wednesday, even though it’s not a holyday of obligation.

 

Looking for Something Good to Read This Lent?

May I suggest my commentary on the Gospel of Mark?

It goes through the whole text and provides fascinating information that you may have never heard before.

It also comes with a verse-by-verse study guide with questions that you or your study group can use.

And it comes with a lectionary-based study guide, so you can read along with Mark in the liturgy and ponder its meaning before or after Mass.

Right now, this commentary is available exclusively on Verbum Catholic software.

Verbum is an incredibly powerful study tool that I use every day, and I heartily recommend it to others.

I can also save you 10% when you get the commentary or one of the bundles of Verbum software. Just use the code JIMMY1 at checkout.

CLICK HERE TO GET JIMMY AKIN’S STUDIES ON MARK.

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This version of The Weekly Francis covers material released in the last week from 1 January 2016 to 2 February 2016.

Angelus

Daily Homilies (fervorinos)

General Audiences

Homilies

Messages

Speeches

Papal Tweets

  • “As Christians, we cannot be self-centred, but must always be open to others and for others.” @Pontifex 28 January 2016
  • “Mary, Mother of Jesus, help us to share the wonders of the Lord with all whom we meet on the way.” @Pontifex 2 February 2016

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jesus teaches in the synagogueJesus meets an incredulous group of people from his home town in this Wednesday’s Gospel reading (Mark 6:1-6).

It’s a fascinating text, and it has a surprising number of interesting details.

Let’s take a look . . .

 

What Happened?

First, here’s the text itself:

He went away from there and came to his own country; and his disciples followed him.

And on the sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue; and many who heard him were astonished, saying, “Where did this man get all this? What is the wisdom given to him? What mighty works are wrought by his hands! Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him.

And Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor, except in his own country, and among his own kin, and in his own house.”

And he could do no mighty work there, except that he laid his hands upon a few sick people and healed them. And he marveled because of their unbelief.

 

Where is “his own country”?

This is presumably Nazareth, since his family is present (v. 3) and since the response he gets is very different than the one he received in Capernaum (Mark 1:21–37).

 

How do people react?

As Mark’s final statement (“and they took offense at him”) makes clear, people are incredulous when Jesus teaches in the synagogue. Their reaction is, “Who does Jesus think he is!”—that is, he is putting on airs and has gotten too big for himself.

The apparent wisdom of his teaching in the synagogue and the reports of spectacular miracles done elsewhere (e.g., the exorcism of the Gerasene demoniac, the raising of Jairus’s daughter) are too much to be credited to Jesus himself.

He is a fellow villager. He is “the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?”

 

“The carpenter”?

The reference to Jesus (not Joseph) as “the carpenter” indicates that Jesus had learned the family trade.

The Greek word used here (tektōn) indicates a person who works with wood, metal, or stone and not specifically a person who builds houses.

The second-century Judean writer Justin Martyr, in fact, indicates that Jesus’ father Joseph made plows and yokes (Dialogue with Trypho the Jew 88).

 

Why isn’t Joseph mentioned?

The omission of Joseph in the list of family members, coupled with the identification of Jesus as the son of Mary, may indicate that Joseph is dead and somewhat faded from the memories of the villagers, with Mary being Jesus’ more familiar parent.

 

“Brothers” and “sisters”?

The precise relationship of the “brothers” and “sisters” to Jesus is not clear. What is clear is that they are not biological children of Mary. This is known from a variety of sources, both inside and outside the New Testament.

Mary was already legally Joseph’s bride (thus Joseph’s plan to divorce her upon learning that she was pregnant [cf. Matt. 1:19]). Thus, her question to Gabriel of how she would become pregnant (literally from Greek, “How will this be, for I know not man”) would be unintelligible if she were planning on a normal marriage with sexual relations between her and Joseph (Luke 1:34). She would have assumed that Joseph would be the biological father of the child.

Similarly, Jesus entrusting Mary to the care of the beloved disciple at the cross (John 19:26–27) would have been unimaginable if Mary had had other children.

The earliest explanation of who the brothers and sisters were, found in the second-century document known as The Protoevangelium of James, is that they were stepbrothers through Joseph.

According to this document, Joseph was an elderly widower who agreed to become the guardian of Mary, a consecrated virgin. Being elderly and already having children, he was not seeking to raise a new family and so was an appropriate guardian for a virgin. This theory is consistent with Joseph’s apparent death before the ministry of Jesus.

It is the standard explanation in Eastern Christendom of who the brethren of Christ are.

Shortly before the year 400, St. Jerome began to popularize the view that the brethren of Christ were cousins, and this view became common in the West.

Other views are also possible. They could have been adopted children, or the terms brothers and sisters could be used merely to mean his kinsfolk without distinguishing any particular degree or form of kinship.

 

A prophet without honor

In any event, Jesus was too much of a known quantity to the people of Nazareth, and “they took offense at him.” Jesus responds by telling them: “A prophet is not without honor, except in his own country, and among his own kin, and in his own house.”

This principle applies even to people who are not prophets. Think of the common English saying “Familiarity breeds contempt” or the specifically British saying “No man is a hero to his valet.”

It is often difficult for those who are most familiar with someone to recognize his greatness or what God is doing through him.

Thus many find it difficult to evangelize their own families. Sibling rivalries and parental relationships often get in the way. For example, one can easily imagine a parent thinking, or even saying, “Who are you to tell me about God? I changed your diapers!”

As a result of their familiarity with Jesus, his own townspeople do not recognize his greatness, and “he could do no mighty work there, except that he laid his hands upon a few sick people and healed them.”

 

“He could do no mighty work”?

A “mighty work” would be one of the extraordinary types of miracles we read about in the previous chapter—Mark 5. We saw there, in the case of Jairus and the woman with the flow of blood, that their faith saved them from their desperate circumstances.

If there were people in such desperate circumstances in Nazareth, they did not have faith in Jesus and so did not seek relief from him. He does, however, perform a few lesser miracles.

Notice that faith is not conceived of as a magical, miracle-working power on its own that Jesus could manipulate like a sorcerer.

His power came from God, not from others’ faith, and he thus had all the power he needed.

Instead, the people’s lack of faith resulted in their not seeking Jesus’ help, and that is why no mighty work was done at Nazareth.

Those who may have been in desperate straights didn’t ask.

 

Jesus marveled

Though he knew that prophets tended to lack honor among those most familiar with them, Jesus still “marveled because of their unbelief.”

The Greek word for “marveled” here (ethaumazen, a form of the verb thaumazō) can mean to be extraordinarily impressed or disturbed, and the sense is likely that Jesus was chagrined at the lack of faith the people displayed.

In any event, he does not allow this to stall his mission, and “he went about among the villages teaching.”

 

Want to learn more?

It so happens that I recently wrote a new commentary on Mark’s Gospel!

It goes through the whole text and provides fascinating information that you may have never heard before.

It also comes with a verse-by-verse study guide with questions that you or your study group can use.

And it comes with a lectionary-based study guide, so you can read along with Mark in the liturgy and ponder its meaning before or after Mass.

Right now, this commentary is available exclusively on Verbum Catholic software.

Verbum is an incredibly powerful study tool that I use every day, and I heartily recommend it to others.

I can also save you 10% when you get the commentary or one of the bundles of Verbum software. Just use the code JIMMY1 at checkout.

CLICK HERE TO GET JIMMY AKIN’S STUDIES ON MARK.

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This morning I was informed that my grandmother–Rosalee Octava–who is 98, has requested to be put on hospice care.

She has been living on her own until now, but recently she got pneumonia and has been weakening.

I appreciate your prayers for her and for my family.

Thank you all.

–Jimmy

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Synoptic EvangelistsThe question of how the costs producing the Gospels would have affected the choices that their authors made is almost totally ignored. We will seek to remedy this by looking at the cost that producing the Gospels would have had on the Synoptic problem.

Today, when there are ministries that give away Bibles for free, people completely take the idea of owning the Gospels for granted. But in the first century, books were fantastically expensive, including the Gospels.

How expensive?

Let’s do some back-of-the-envelope calculations.

(NOTE: See here for other parts of my exploration of the Synoptic Problem.)

 

Paul’s Letters

A helpful resource for estimating the cost of the Gospels is E. Randolph Richard’s book Paul and First-Century Letter Writing. He has some helpful estimates of the cost of Paul’s letters, and he explains the estimates in a way that lets us extend them to other works.

First, he offers a word of caution:

[O]ur data from the time of Paul is too thin to draw any conclusions about the cost Paul incurred in writing and sending letters. All estimates are filled with guesswork. Some scholars will say that any attempts to estimate Paul’s cost should be avoided altogether. Nevertheless, many today could not even venture a guess as to the cost. We often have a vague impression that the cost to write Paul’s letters was insignificant, and such an impression is misleading. For this reason, an educated guess is helpful (p. 165).

Richards then breaks down the price Paul would have had to pay into the cost of supplies and the cost of the labor.

 

The Cost of Supplies

Concerning supplies, Richards writes:

The secretary usually took the initial notes and prepared the first draft on tablets or washable papyrus notebooks. We may assume these materials were not charged to Paul. The dispatched copy was written on papyrus, as was the copy Paul retained. Paul would have been charged for the papyrus for both copies (pp. 165-166).

How much papyrus would be used would depend on whether the scribe wrote in large or small letters:

Some secretaries wrote with large letters; some wrote in a small, cramped hand. We, of course, have no idea the penmanship used by Paul’s secretary. Judging from the papyri, a medium hand was the most common (p. 166).

And Richards judges that the ink and pens used by the scribes were likely included in the overall service charge:

Ink (and the pen), I assume, was not a separate expense but was included in the secretary’s basic charges (p. 167).

 

The Cost of Labor

Concerning labor, Richards writes:

Unlike merely preparing a new copy of an existing work, secretarial costs for preparing a letter needed to include the cost of writing out all the drafts and revisions. Since we have no idea how many times Paul had a letter rewritten, I cannot estimate this very well. . . .

After the preparation of an initial draft, there was probably at least one revision. To err again on the side of caution, I have said that for most of his letters Paul paid for a minimum of the initial draft and one revision, both done on tablets or washable notebooks, then paid for a copy to be dispatched (with nice script on good papyrus) and a copy to be retained (p. 168).

This results in at least four probable labor charges:

  • The initial notes taken
  • One revision
  • A final version to keep
  • A final version to send

These would be approximately the same length (unless Paul radically changed the length of a letter in the revision phase), and so would be of approximately equal cost.

 

The Exchange Rate

Richards estimates the cost of supplies and labor for Paul’s letters in terms of the denar, an ancient unit of currency. To make this meaningful to a modern audience, he also gives a conversion of this into modern (2004) dollars.

So what’s the exchange rate?

Richards writes:

Attempting to convert ancient denars to U.S. currency is a difficult matter. Some scholars choose to use commodities like grain prices or gold prices, yet ancients held such commodities in different esteem than we do. Once again, to gain the same “emotional” equivalent for currency, we shall return to the “workers conversion rate” used in chapter three. An unskilled laborer in the time of Paul earned a half-denar per day, or $60 in today’s currency. Since the drachma had devaluated some during Paul’s time and to err again on the side of caution, an additional 10 percent was removed from Paul’s rate, settling on a conversion rate of one denar = $110 (p. 168).

 

The Cost of Romans

Applying his estimates to a specific book—Romans—Richards comes up with the following figures.

He estimates, based on Romans’ length, that the papyrus for each copy would have cost 5.44 denars and that the secretarial cost per copy would be 2.45 denars.

Assuming Paul wasn’t charged for the reusable media for the initial notes pass and the revision pass, Paul would have had to pay for two batches of papyrus—one for his archival copy of the letter and one for the copy sent to Rome. That would be a total cost of 10.88 denars.

Paul would have had to pay for four scribal charges (notes, revision, and the two copies), for a total of 9.8 denars.

Adding the supplies and labor costs together, Romans would have cost 20.68 denars.

Assuming the $110 exchange rate, in modern currency, that would be $2,275 dollars.

Even once the initial copies of Romans had been written, a single, new copy would cost 7.89 denars (5.44 for papyrus and 2.45 for labor), or approximately $868.

This is a far larger sum than most people today would suspect, and the numbers get even bigger when we look at the Gospels.

 

The Single-Copy Cost of the Gospels

How much would it have cost, in the ancient world, just to have a single copy of one of the Gospels made?

To estimate this, we can use the numbers that Richards provided for Romans and scale them up based on the size of the Gospels.

Although the number of words in ancient manuscripts is slightly different due to textual variants, the Greek text of Romans may be said to have 7,111 words, while the four Gospels have these figures:

  • Matthew: 18,345 words
  • Mark: 11,304 words
  • Luke: 19,482 words
  • John: 15,635 words

These figures would be slightly smaller if the longer ending (Mark. 16:9-20) were omitted from Mark’s total and the pericope adulterae (John 7:53-8:11) were omitted from John, but they will do for purposes of making rough cost estimates.

Dividing these figures by the length of Romans, we can derive the following percentages:

  • Matthew: 258%
  • Mark: 159%
  • Luke: 274%
  • John: 220%

That is to say, Matthew is 258% as long as Romans, and so forth.

We can now scale up the cost of supplies and labor for making a single copy of each Gospel. If a single copy of Romans cost 5.44 denars for papyrus (equivalent to $598) then the following would be the approximate papyrus costs for the Gospels:

  • Matthew: 14.03 denars ($1,543)
  • Mark: 8.65 denars ($952)
  • Luke: 14.90 denars ($1,639)
  • John: 11.96 denars ($1,316)

If a single copy of Romans cost 2.45 denars ($270) in labor then the following would be the approximate scribal costs for the Gospels:

  • Matthew: 6.32 denars ($695)
  • Mark: 3.89 denars ($428)
  • Luke: 6.71 denars ($738)
  • John: 5.39 denars ($593)

Adding the costs of supplies and labor together, the costs for a single, new copy of each of the Gospels would be as follows:

  • Matthew: 20.35 denars ($2,238)
  • Mark: 12.54 denars ($1,379)
  • Luke: 21.61 denars ($2,377)
  • John: 17.35 denars ($1,909)

These are impressive figures! And they are only the beginning. We still have to consider the costs of producing and launching the Gospels.

 

The Cost of Q

Today the most popular theory among scholars holds is known as the “Two-Document hypothesis.” It holds that Matthew and Luke drew upon two sources: the Gospel of Mark and another hypothetical, lost source known as Q.

The Q source is thought to be behind approximately 235 verses of Matthew and Luke.

Because we do not have any surviving copies, we do not know what its word count in Greek (or any other language) would have been.

However, using 235 verses as an initial guide, that would make it 22% the length of Matthew (which has 1,071 verses) and 20% the length of Luke (which 1,151 verses).

Converting this into a word count, we would expect Q to have between 3,978 and 4,025 words in its Greek text. We may thus estimate Q’s minimum length as around 4,000 Greek words—at a minimum.

We must add “at a minimum,” because we do not know how much of Q Matthew and Luke would have used. Modern scholars frequently propose that they used virtually all of it, since it has not survived to the present day, but we do not know this.

However, if we assume that the Two-Document hypothesis is true then we may have another clue to Q’s length, because we can look at the way Matthew and Luke would have treated Mark.

On this view, Matthew would have used approximately 600 verses of Mark’s 661, which means that he would have used 91% of it. If Mathew treated Q the same way, he would have used 91% of it, making Q 258 verses long—or 4,419 words in Greek (given the length of verses in Matthew).

On the other hand, Luke would have used approximately 365 verses of Mark’s 661, meaning he used 55% of Mark. If Luke treated Q the same way, he would have used 55% of it, making Q 427 verses long—or 7,227 words in Greek (given the length of verses in Luke).

It is certain that, if Q existed, it would have been at least slightly longer than the 235 proposed verses would indicate, corresponding to the 4,419 Greek words our Matthew-based estimate provides.

However, it is quite possible that it was longer. The fact is, we do not know how Matthew and Luke would have treated this source, and so for estimating purposes, we will split the difference and assume that Q would have been halfway between the two estimates, or 5,823 words in Greek, making it 82% the length of Romans’ 7,111 words.

Using this as an estimate, we can calculate the costs of producing a single copy of Q as follows:

  • Papyrus: 4.46 denars ($491)
  • Scribal labor: 2.01 denars ($221)
  • Total: 6.47 denars ($712)

Although Q is only a hypothetical source, these figures will play a role in our later reasoning.

 

Production Costs

Before one of the Gospels could be copied, it had to be written, and there were costs associated with doing that.

The starting point for estimating them is recognizing the stages with which production proceeded. In the broadest terms, these can be described as:

  1. Research (before writing)
  2. Drafting (first writing)
  3. Revision (polishing before the final version)

At the end of the revision process there would be a final document ready for copying.

This leaves us to consider the three stages.

 

The Research Stage

Before an Evangelist began writing his Gospel, he needed to gather his source material.

For the material in his memory, there would have been no cost.

The same may have been true for material he learned from oral sources—if he committed it to memory. However, if it was substantial enough that he committed it to writing, he would have needed to pay for this.

Even estimating the latter cost at zero (based on re-usable materials he may have already had), the degree of word-for-word agreement between the Synoptic Gospels suggests that some Evangelists had written sources before them.

Given the cost of writings in the ancient world, that means that the Evangelists may have incurred significant costs in simply gathering their materials.

What might these be?

The answer will depend on which view of the Synoptic Problem one prefers:

  • If one assumes Markan priority then Matthew and Luke would have had copies of Mark.
  • If one assumes Matthean priority then Mark and Luke would have had copies of Matthew.
  • On the Farrer hypothesis, Luke would have had Matthew
  • On the Wilke hypothesis, Matthew would have had Luke.
  • And on the Two-Document Hypothesis, Matthew and Luke would have had Q.

But would having these documents really have been research costs?

This depends on what the Evangelists did with them.

Even before the age of word processor cutting and pasting, it would be tempting for an author to purchase a copy of the sources he wanted to use, take a knife or scissors, cut out the passages he wished to copy, and then paste them into a notebook to provide an initial outline. But this would be based on the inexpensive copies that have only been available in the last few hundred years. An author in the ancient world could have been deterred from this course of action by cost alone.

What would an ancient author have chosen?

He might still have chosen the literal cut-and-paste option, though he might have chosen something else as well.

For example, he might have chosen to mark up his sources so that he could turn to the parts he wanted to copy. If he marked them up only lightly then the sources could have been fit for later use, but if he marked them up too much, this would not have been the case.

Alternately, he might have chosen not to mark his sources but to have specific passages from them copied—either to papyrus or to wax tablets or washable notebooks. In such cases, he might limit or avoid the supplies cost, but he could still have to pay the labor cost of the copying.

One might suppose that an Evangelist had copies of all of the sources he wanted to use in his personal library. However, only rich people could afford libraries, and it is also possible that, before the Evangelists decided to write, their knowledge of the other Gospels (and/or Q) were based on what they heard read in church.

This is likely since it is hardly plausible that the authors of the sources would have had free copies sent to all their likely successors. The Evangelists probably encountered the sources they later chose to use through their reading in church, and they probably obtained copies to use themselves.

The ultimate question is not whether the Evangelists paid for these copies themselves. They may or may not have. Patrons or the funds of a local congregation could have paid for them. But the had to be bought for the Evangelists to use them as sources, and that would have put a strain on the funds an Evangelist had available to him, whether they were his own funds or those of an associate or congregation.

Thus, even if an Evangelist did not intend to make copies of his sources unusable in the future, it is likely that a cost was incurred in obtaining them.

How much this would have been would depend on what scenario one proposes, but it is implausible to either estimate the cost as zero or as full price for all sources, since free and/or reusable copies may have been available.

We will split the difference and assume that the research costs for each Evangelist would have been 50% of the single copy cost for whatever sources he had in front of him, or the following:

  • Matthew: 10.18 denars ($1,120)
  • Mark: 6.27 denars ($690)
  • Luke: 10.81 denars ($1,189)
  • Q: 3.24 denars ($356)

We can then convert these to research costs for various Synoptic hypotheses as follows:

 

Matthean Priority Hypotheses

  • Augustinian Hypothesis
    • Mark had Matthew: 10.18 denars ($1,120)
    • Luke had Matthew and Mark: 16.45 denars ($1,810)
  • Griesbach and Orchard Hypotheses
    • Luke had Matthew: 10.18 denars ($1,120)
    • Mark had Matthew and Luke: 20.99 denars ($2,309)

 

Markan Priority Hypotheses

  • Two-Document Hypothesis
    • Matthew had Mark and Q: 9.51 denars ($1,046)
    • Luke had Mark and Q: 9.51 denars ($1,046)
  • Farrer Hypothesis
    • Matthew had Mark: 6.27 denars ($690)
    • Luke had Matthew and Mark: 16.45 denars ($1,180)
  • Wilke Hypothesis
    • Luke had Mark: 6.27 denars ($690)
    • Matthew had Mark and Luke: 17.08 denars ($1,879)

 

The Drafting Stage

After the Evangelists had shouldered the research costs, they still needed to prepare an initial draft of their own Gospels. This also would have incurred costs.

In his book on Paul’s letters, Richards proposes that the initial drafts would have been written on reusable materials such as wax tablets or washable notebooks and that, because they were reusable, Paul would not have been charged for the materials on which his letters were drafted.

Such materials were used in the ancient world, and Richards was attempting to provide conservative cost estimates, but it is difficult to suppose that works the length of a Gospel would have been written on such materials, and that all of the Evangelists would have used them.

Still, to provide conservative estimates, we will assume that the Evangelists would have had to pay—on average—only half the supply costs of making an initial version of their works on papyrus. This would lead to the following costs:

  • Matthew: 7.02 denars ($772)
  • Mark: 4.32 denars ($475)
  • Luke: 7.45 denars ($820)

Similarly, an Evangelist could have saved costs by doing all of the scribal work himself—if he was literate, which is likely (illiterates did not author entire books). However, even major literary figures used paid scribes to help them with their drafting, and it is likely that at least some of the Evangelists did. To allow for this possibility, we will assume that they paid half of the ordinarily expected scribal costs, resulting in the following figures:

  • Matthew: 3.16 denars ($348)
  • Mark: 1.95 denars ($215)
  • Luke: 3.36 denars ($370)

Adding the halved supply and scribal costs together, we get the following as conservative estimates for drafting costs:

  • Matthew: 10.18 denars ($1,120)
  • Mark: 6.27 denars ($690)
  • Luke: 10.81 denars ($1,189)

 

The Revision Stage

Even after the Evangelists had an initial draft of their Gospels in hand, they would have polished them before releasing them to the world.

What would this have cost?

It is very easy to suppose that at this stage a copy of the Gospels would have been prepared on papyrus, rather than reusable materials like wax tablets or washable notebooks. I know that if I were writing, I would have wanted a “dress rehearsal” copy made on materials worthy of public release.

However, given the high cost of such materials, ancient authors—particularly cash-poor ones like the Evangelists—may have been willing to make do with reusable materials.

Similarly, they may have been willing to make do with their own—or with freely donated—scribal efforts in making a revision copy.

We will therefore assume that the cost of making a single revision would be equal to the cost of an initial draft, as follows:

  • Matthew: 10.18 denars ($1,120)
  • Mark: 6.27 denars ($690)
  • Luke: 10.81 denars ($1,189)

Of course, there is nothing to say that an Evangelist would have been happy with a single revision. He may have wanted two or more. On the other hand, even if he did want further changes after the initial revision, they may not have required the making of a whole new copy but merely periodic “spot edits” that did not substantially increase the overall revision costs.

While the revision costs could easily have been higher, in the interest of making conservative estimates, we will assume only the revision costs proposed above.

 

Drafting and Revision Costs

Between paying for an initial draft and a single revision—each of which we estimated at half the cost of a regular copy—we arrive at the following totals. Slight differences are due to rounding in the above numbers; the numbers that follow are the more precise:

  • Matthew: 20.35 denars ($2,238)
  • Mark: 12.54 denars ($1,379)
  • Luke: 21.61 denars ($2,377)

 

Total Pre-Production Costs

We can now add the costs of all the pre-final stages (research, drafting, and revision) to estimate what each Evangelist would have paid under each theory of Synoptic origins:

Matthean Priority Hypotheses

  • Augustinian Hypothesis
    • Matthew’s costs: 20.35 denars ($2,238)
    • Mark’s costs: 22.72 denars ($2,499)
    • Luke’s costs: 38.06 denars ($4,187)
  • Griesbach and Orchard Hypotheses
    • Matthew’s costs: 20.35 denars ($2,238)
    • Mark’s costs: 33.53 denars ($3,688)
    • Luke’s costs: 31.79 denars ($3,497)

 

Markan Priority Hypotheses

  • Two-Document Hypothesis
    • Matthew’s costs: 29.86 denars ($3,284)
    • Mark’s costs: 12.54 denars ($1,379)
    • Luke’s costs: 31.12 denars ($3,423)
  • Farrer Hypothesis
    • Matthew’s costs: 26.62 denars ($2,928)
    • Mark’s costs: 12.54 denars ($1,379)
    • Luke’s costs: 38.06 denars ($4,187)
  • Wilke Hypothesis
    • Matthew’s costs: 37.43 denars ($4,117)
    • Mark’s costs: 12.54 denars ($1,379)
    • Luke’s costs: 27.88 denars ($3,067)

 

The Launch Stage

The research, drafting, and revision phases would have brought an Evangelist to the point where he was ready to have final copies of his Gospel made, but how many would he need?

That would depend on his purposes.

According to the view that the Gospels circulated for a long time only in individual, widely-separated communities, the answer might be that he would need only one. Thus Matthew would need a single copy of his Gospel for his church, Mark would need one for his, and so on.

Despite its long acceptance in scholarly circles, this view is completely implausible. As Richard Bauckham and his co-authors demonstrate in their outstanding book The Gospels for All Christians, the first century churches were in constant communication, and the idea that the individual Gospels would have remained isolated in particular churches for any period is nonsense. Instead, their authors would have been writing for a general audience, not just one church.

Further, writing a Gospel was hard work and—as we’ve seen—it was very costly! Nobody would undertake this labor and expense just to have a single copy out there.

Authors are rewarded for their efforts by having their works circulated, and this was even more the case in the age before royalties, because seeing their works circulated was all the reward that they got! (Unless they were in the business of personally selling their works, which is unlikely in the case of the Evangelists.)

By investing the time and money to create a new book, an author was lighting a new literary lamp in the world, and as someone once said, men do not light a lamp and put it under a bushel but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. Authors thus wanted their light to shine before men and—in the case of the Evangelists—they wanted it to do so that men might see their good work and give glory to their Father in heaven.

This leads to a further consideration, which is that the Evangelists knew they were writing Scripture. Consequently, they would have viewed it as their obligation to share these new holy books with the broader Christian community.

It is therefore a given that the Evangelists would have foreseen a launch stage as part of their overall project. For this stage, a number of copies would have been made to provide their Gospels their initial distribution.

How many copies would that be?

 

Personal Copies

Whatever else they were, the Evangelists were authors, and authors keep copies of their books. You are not going to spend the time, effort, and money to write one and then not have your own copy. Each of the Evangelists thus would have planned on keeping one of the initial copies for himself.

If there was an individual patron underwriting the production of the Gospel—as was likely the case with Luke’s Theophilus—then the patron would be certain to have at least one copy for his own.

 

Local Congregational Copies

It’s also certain that a copy would have been made for the local congregation where the Evangelist was ministering at the time.

If there were multiple congregations in his current city then he could well have planned on a copy for each one of them, particularly if the funds of each congregation were being tapped to underwrite the project.

Even if local congregations weren’t underwriting the project as a whole, it is plausible that each local congregation would have wanted and/or expected a copy, and somebody would have needed to pay for them.

As the lengthy process of Gospel composition was underway, word would have spread among the congregations about what was in the works, and they may have volunteered to pay for their own copy, even if they didn’t feel in a position to contribute further funds to the project.

They thus might have raised funds from within their congregation and given them to the Evangelist when he was ready to have scribes set to work doing the initial run. Whether they paid for their own copies or someone else did, it is very possible that they would have had their copies made in the initial batch.

Even if their copies weren’t part of the initial batch, the Evangelist could foresee that each local congregation would likely want a copy in the very near future. He also would want them to have a copy, for the reasons discussed above, and he would take this into account when planning the scope of the project, regardless of who was paying.

How many local congregational copies would have been needed? This would depend on the size of the church in which he was ministering. If he was ministering in a large city with a sizable Christian population, as would be likely given the funding needed to underwrite a Gospel project, it could have a sizable number of congregations.

Do we have any indication what the number would be?

Mark’s Gospel is associated with Rome by patristic testimony, and the end of Acts suggests that this book, and Luke’s Gospel, was written in Rome c. A.D. 60. Fortunately, we have an indicator of the number of Roman congregations in the mid-first century.

At the end of his letter to the Romans, St. Paul has an extensive set of greetings (Rom. 16:3-15). Given the sensitivity of the letter, it is likely that Paul made this list of greetings as complete as he could.

It is also likely, since Paul had not yet visited Rome (Rom. 1:10), that he composed this list with the assistance of Tertius, who was his scribe for this letter (Rom. 16:22), who was likely a Roman Christian visiting Paul since—unlike in any other letter—the scribe greets the recipients and does so without further introducing himself, suggesting that they already knew him.

Analyzing Paul’s set of greetings for what they reveal about the structure of the Christian community in Rome c. A.D. 54 (when Romans was written), we find that it likely consisted of at least five plausible congregations:

  1. Prisca and Aquila and the church in their house (Rom. 16:3-5)
  2. Those who belong to the family of Aristobulus (Rom. 16:10).
  3. Those in the Lord who belong to the family of Narcissus (Rom. 16:11).
  4. Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermes, Patrobas, Hermas, “and the brethren who are with them” (Rom. 16:14).
  5. Philologus, Julia, Nereus and his sister, and Olympas, “and all the saints who are with them” (Rom. 16:15).

Paul also greets additional individuals who are not explicitly named as belonging to these groups. They may have been part of them or they may have belonged to additional congregations.

At this point, the clarity of our data fails us, but it is likely that at the time Mark and Luke were written, Rome contained at least five congregations, suggesting that each of these Gospel projects would have included at least five local congregational copies.

If a Gospel were penned in Jerusalem then the number of congregations could have been much higher, given the number of Christians that Luke suggests were living there; see Acts 2:41, 4:4. However, Luke also indicates that those numbers dwindled early on due to persecution (Acts 8:1), and even if they were rebuilt when the persecution ended, they would have taken another hit in the Jewish War of the A.D. 60s, when it is reported that the Christian community fled to Pella (Eusebius, Church History 3:5:3).

The only Gospel even possibly penned at Jerusalem would be Matthew, though the evidence for this is weak and conjectural, and the level of Gentile interest that Matthew displays may indicate an origin elsewhere.

However, given the early prominence of the Jerusalem church, it is one place that an Evangelist would be advised to have a copy of his new Gospel sent.

 

Strategic Copies

Any author wanting to give his Gospel a good launch would have wanted to send copies to the major Christian centers that would have been receptive to it, trusting that from there it would have been copied and distributed elsewhere.

This parallels the practice of modern authors and publishers sending review copies of a book to major reviewers and influencers in the literary community.

It is not to be expected that he would send a copy to each congregation in major Christian centers. That would have been too expensive. But it s likely that he would have sent at least one copy to such centers, and particularly to an influencer within that community who he knew about.

How many such communities were there?

Acts and the other books of the New Testament suggest at least the following:

  • Jerusalem
  • Antioch in Syria
  • Corinth
  • Ephesus
  • Rome

If each Evangelist was writing from one of these cities, we may suppose that he sent copies to at least the other four in order to give his work a proper launch.

 

Total Copies

What do we find if we add together the likely number of personal copies, local congregational copies, and strategic copies?

  • Personal copies would have totaled at least 1 or 2, depending on whether the Evangelist had a patron underwriting his project.
  • Local congregational copies could have been as low as 1 but were more likely around 5, given the size of the communities that the Evangelists were likely writing from.
  • Strategic copies would likely have been at least 4, excluding the major Christian center from which the Evangelist was writing.

Adding these figures together, we arrive at a total between 6 and 11 copies at a minimum.

For purposes of proceeding with a conservative number of copies, we will assume that each Evangelist envisioned at least 8 copies of his work ([6 + 11] / 2, rounding down) being made in its initial or near-initial run of copies.

 

Control Estimates

Do we have any other works that can provide us with controls on the estimated number of copies the Gospel authors would have wanted to make?

We do, and they are in the New Testament.

The Gospels—and, by extension, Acts—are what we are considering, but that still leaves us with other examples to consider.

They are not found in the letters of Paul. With the likely exception of Ephesians, Paul’s letters were not initially circulated to multiple communities.

Instead, for every letter except Ephesians, Paul likely had two final copies made—one of which he retained for his records and another that he had sent. One or the other of these then became the basis of his letter as it appeared in his collected letters in the New Testament.

Some of Paul’s letters are written to specific individuals (1 Tim. 1:2, 2 Tim. 1:2, Tit. 1:4, Philem. 1). Other New Testament letters are written to specific individuals (3 John 1) or specific congregations (2 John 1).

None of these likely had more than two initial copies made—one of which was the author’s archival copy and the other of which was sent.

Some New Testament letters are written to an unquantifiable audience (Heb. 1:1, cf. 13:23-24, Jas. 1:1, 2 Peter 1:1, 1 John 1:1, Jude 1).

If we exclude the above, that leaves us with two works that we can tell were initially sent to more than one community: 1 Peter and Revelation.

The introduction to 1 Peter reads:

Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To the exiles of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia (1 Peter 1:1).

The naming five destination locations suggests that this letter had at least six initial copies, counting one for Peter’s records.

Similarly, the book of Revelation is directed to be sent from John (Rev. 1:1, 4, 9, 22:8) to the Christian communities in seven Asian cities. We read that John heard:

Write what you see in a book and send it to the seven churches, to Ephesus and to Smyrna and to Pergamum and to Thyatira and to Sardis and to Philadelphia and to Laodicea (Rev. 1:11; cf. 1:4).

One authorial copy plus one copy for each of the churches in these cities totals eight copies.

Both 1 Peter and Revelation were substantially shorter than a Gospel. 1 Peter is 1,684 Greek words long (15% the length of Mark), while Revelation is 9,852 Greek words long (87% the length of Mark).

The shorter length of these two works would have made it easier to have multiple copies of them made, but the fact that Mark was a Gospel would have made it more important for copies of it to be made.

Consequently the fact that there were likely at least 6-8 of these works made serves to confirm the idea that an average of at least 8 copies of the Gospels were made in their initial (or near-initial) run of copies.

 

Final Costs

That being the case, even after the research, drafting, and revision stages of the Gospels were completed, the Evangelists likely would have expected another 8 final copies to be made, totaling the following costs:

  • Matthew: 162.80 denars ($17,904)
  • Mark: 100.32 denars ($11,032)
  • Luke: 172.88 denars ($19,016)

These figures represent the costs of the launch phase of the Gospels.

 

Total Gospel Project Costs

We are now in a position to determine what the overall project costs would have been to each Evangelist including all three pre-final phases (research, drafting, revision) and the launch phase. The numbers are as follows:

 

Matthean Priority Hypotheses

  • Augustinian Hypothesis
    • Matthew’s costs: 183.15 denars ($20,147)
    • Mark’s costs: 123.04 denars ($13,534)
    • Luke’s costs: 210.94 denars ($23,203)
  • Griesbach and Orchard Hypotheses
    • Matthew’s costs: 183.15 denars ($20,147)
    • Mark’s costs: 133.85 denars ($14,724)
    • Luke’s costs: 204.67 denars ($22,514)

 

Markan Priority Hypotheses

  • Two-Document Hypothesis
    • Matthew’s costs: 192.66 denars ($21,193)
    • Mark’s costs: 112.86 denars ($12,415)
    • Luke’s costs: 204.00 denars ($22,440)
  • Farrer Hypothesis
    • Matthew’s costs: 189.42 denars ($20,836)
    • Mark’s costs: 112.86 denars ($12,415)
    • Luke’s costs: 210.94 denars ($23,203)
  • Wilke Hypothesis
    • Matthew’s costs: 200.23 denars ($22,025)
    • Mark’s costs: 112.86 denars ($12,415)
    • Luke’s costs: 200.76 denars ($22,084)

 

As discussed above, these numbers are conservative. In all likelihood, the costs were higher.

Also, these do not include postal costs for the strategic copies of the Gospels. Personal copies and local congregational copies would likely have no such costs, but sending the strategic copies across the Empire could. This is not necessarily the case, though, as the major Christian centers were in regular communication with each other, and the strategic copies might have been sent with trusted travellers already headed to the key destinations. In the interests of conservatism, therefore, we will assume that the strategic copies were mailed for free.

This leads us to another major question . . .

 

Would It Be Worth It?

Each Evangelist thought that his Gospel had something important to offer the Christian world; otherwise, he would not have bothered writing and publishing it.

The value he saw in his Gospel made him willing to undertake the time, effort, and cost of producing it. (Unless we assume he was an egomaniac who just wanted to have a Gospel attributed to his name. However, this is unlikely. If building his name was a major concern for an Evangelist, he would have put his name in his work, and none of the Evangelists did.)

This means that we have a new way of testing Synoptic hypotheses: We can examine the relationship between the value that an Evangelist would have seen his work as having and the costs he would have shouldered (personally or through fundraising) in producing it.

For the first Synoptic Evangelist to write, the value in producing a Gospel would be obvious: Reducing the basic story of Jesus’s life and teachings to writing. But for the subsequent Evangelists, this task had already been done. The value that the subsequent Evangelists would have seen in producing new Gospels thus would be something else.

The value they would have seen in their Gospels would have been in what they did that was new—i.e., what the first Evangelist (or the previous Evangelists) had not done. Each later Evangelist would have had certain goals he wanted his Gospel to achieve which previous ones had not achieved. Such goals might include:

  • Rewriting existing material in a better style
  • Organizing the material in a new way
  • Including new material not previously written in a Gospel

It would be difficult to quantify the first two of these goals, but the third is easily quantifiable. Depending on which Synoptic hypothesis is being proposed, it is a straightforward matter to calculate the amount of material that would have been original in each Gospel.

A. N. Honoré provides the following breakdown of the number of Greek words in the Synoptic Gospels that belong to particular traditions:

Tradition Matthew Mark Luke
Triple 8,336 8,630 7,884
Matthew & Mark 1,764 2,034
Matthew & Luke 4,461 4,476
Mark & Luke 357 274
Single 3,704 307 6,726
Total 18,265 11,328 19,360

(Source: “A Statistical Study of the Synoptic Problem,” Novum Testamentum, 10 [Apr.-Jul., 1968], 96.)

We can convert this information for our purposes as follows, listing the total number of words in a Gospel, the number that would have been derived from the Gospels the Evangelist purportedly drew upon (counting Q as a hypothetical Gospel), and the number of words that would have been original to his Gospel:

 

Matthean Priority Hypotheses

  • Augustinian Hypothesis
    • Matthew:
      • Total words: 18,265
      • Derived words: 0
      • Original words: 18,265
    • Mark:
      • Total words: 11,328
      • Derived words: 10,664 (from Matthew)
      • Original words: 664
    • Luke:
      • Total words: 19,360
      • Derived words: 12,634 (7,884 from Matthew and/or Mark; 4,476 from Matthew; 274 from Mark)
      • Original words: 6,726
    • Griesbach and Orchard Hypotheses
      • Matthew:
        • Total words: 18,265
        • Derived words: 0
        • Original words: 18,265
      • Mark:
        • Total words: 11,328
        • Derived words: 11,021 (8,630 from Matthew and/or Luke; 2,034 from Matthew; 357 from Luke)
        • Original words: 307
      • Luke:
        • Total words: 19,360
        • Derived words: 12,360 (from Matthew)
        • Original words: 7,000

 

Markan Priority Hypotheses

  • Two-Document Hypothesis
    • Matthew:
      • Total words: 18,265
      • Derived words: 14,561 (10,100 from Mark; 4,461 from Q)
      • Original words: 3,704
    • Mark:
      • Total words: 11,328
      • Derived words: 0
      • Original words: 11,328
    • Luke:
      • Total words: 19,360
      • Derived words: 12,634 (8,158 from Mark; 4,476 from Q)
      • Original words: 6,726
    • Farrer Hypothesis
      • Matthew:
        • Total words: 18,265
        • Derived words: 10,100 (from Mark)
        • Original words: 8,165
      • Mark:
        • Total words: 11,328
        • Derived words: 0
        • Original words: 11,328
      • Luke:
        • Total words: 19,360
        • Derived words: 12,634 (7,884 from Matthew and/or Mark; 4,476 from Matthew, 274 from Mark)
        • Original words: 6,726
      • Wilke Hypothesis
        • Matthew:
          • Total words: 18,265
          • Derived words: 14,561 (8,335 from Mark and/or Luke; 1,764 from Mark; 4,461 from Luke)
          • Original words: 3,704
        • Mark:
          • Total words: 11,328
          • Derived words: 0
          • Original words: 11,328
        • Luke:
          • Total words: 19,360
          • Derived words: 12,634 (from Mark)
          • Original words: 6,726

 

The Cost of Originality

Using these theories of Synoptic origins, we can now take the costs of producing the Gospels and divide them by the number of original words they contain. This will give us a measure of the costs that he would have been willing to bear to get that new material in Gospel form.

This measure is only useful to the extent that providing the new material was one of the Evangelist’s goals. It is to be immediately pointed out that getting new material into Gospel form was not the Evangelists’ only goal, but doing the calculation will shed useful light on the question of Synoptic origins, as we will see.

Taking the costs associated with each Gospel and dividing by the number of original words in it, we get the following results:

 

Matthean Priority Hypotheses

  • Augustinian Hypothesis
    • Matthew:
      • Matthew’s costs: 183.15 denars ($20,147)
      • Original words: 18,265
      • Cost per word: 0.01 denars ($1.10)
    • Mark:
      • Mark’s costs: 123.04 denars ($13,534)
      • Original words: 664
      • Cost per word: 0.19 denars ($20.38)
    • Luke:
      • Luke’s costs: 210.94 denars ($23,203)
      • Original words: 6,726
      • Cost per word: 0.03 denars ($3.45)
    • Griesbach and Orchard Hypotheses
      • Matthew:
        • Matthew’s costs: 183.15 denars ($20,147)
        • Original words: 18,265
        • Cost per word: 0.01 denars ($1.10)
      • Mark:
        • Mark’s costs: 133.85 denars ($14,724)
        • Original words: 307
        • Cost per word: 0.44 denars ($47.96)
      • Luke:
        • Luke’s costs: 204.67 denars ($22,514)
        • Original words: 7,000
        • Cost per word: 0.03 denars ($3.22)

 

Markan Priority Hypotheses

  • Two-Document Hypothesis
    • Matthew:
      • Matthew’s costs: 192.66 denars ($21,193)
      • Original words: 3,704
      • Cost per word: 0.05 denars ($5.72)
    • Mark:
      • Mark’s costs: 112.86 denars ($12,415)
      • Original words: 11,328
      • Cost per word: 0.01 denars ($1.10)
    • Luke:
      • Luke’s costs: 204.00 denars ($22,440)
      • Original words: 6,726
      • Cost per word: 0.03 denars ($3.34)
    • Farrer Hypothesis
      • Matthew:
        • Matthew’s costs: 189.42 denars ($20,836)
        • Original words: 8,165
        • Cost per word: 0.02 denars ($2.55)
      • Mark:
        • Mark’s costs: 112.86 denars ($12,415)
        • Original words: 11,328
        • Cost per word: 0.01 denars ($1.10)
      • Luke:
        • Luke’s costs: 210.94 denars ($23,203)
        • Original words: 6,726
        • Cost per word: 0.03 denars ($3.45)
      • Wilke Hypothesis
        • Matthew:
          • Matthew’s costs: 200.23 denars ($22,025)
          • Original words: 3,704
          • Cost per word: 0.06 denars ($5.95)
        • Mark:
          • Mark’s costs: 112.86 denars ($12,415)
          • Original words: 11,328
          • Cost per word: 0.01 denars ($1.10)
        • Luke:
          • Luke’s costs: 200.76 denars ($22,084)
          • Original words: 6,726
          • Cost per word: 0.03 denars ($3.28)

 

This information might be more conveniently summarized as follows, listing only the dollar-per-word estimate and putting the Gospels in the proposed order of composition:

 

Matthean Priority Hypotheses

  • Augustinian Hypothesis
    • Matthew: $1.10
    • Mark: $20.38
    • Luke: $3.45
  • Griesbach and Orchard Hypotheses
    • Matthew: $1.10
    • Luke: $3.22
    • Mark: $47.96

 

Markan Priority Hypotheses

  • Two-Document Hypothesis
    • Mark: $1.10
    • Matthew: $5.72 / Luke: $3.34
  • Farrer Hypothesis
    • Mark: $1.10
    • Matthew: $2.55
    • Luke: $3.45
  • Wilke Hypothesis
    • Mark: $1.10
    • Luke: $3.28
    • Matthew: $5.95

 

Observations

An Overall Pattern

An obvious pattern that emerges is that the first Evangelist to write got the most “bang for his buck,” paying the equivalent of a little more than $1 for each original word he wrote.

This is what you would expect. For the first Evangelist to set pen to papyrus, all of his words would have been in Gospel form for the first time, and so his cost per original word would be lowest. The later Evangelists following the Synoptic format would have higher per-original-word costs since fewer of their words would be original.

According to most of the hypotheses, the cost then rose for the second Evangelist, and then rose again for the third.

This pattern is probable but not guaranteed. The second Evangelist to write could have used a high ratio of his predecessor’s work and included little new material, making his per-original-word cost higher than the third Evangelist to write. Thus the Augustinian hypothesis is an exception, whereby Mark’s costs are higher than Luke’s, even though Mark would be the second Evangelist to write on this view. (The Two-Document hypothesis is also something of an exception since it proposes that Matthew and Luke were written independently and either could have come before the other).

Still, the pattern of rising costs with each new Synoptic Evangelist is what you would expect if their authors were trying to achieve these goals:

  1. use the Synoptic format (i.e., the same general approach to telling the story of Jesus),
  2. incorporate material from their predecessor(s),
  3. introduce new material, and
  4. keep their Gospels to a certain general length.

To use the Synoptic format (goal 1), an Evangelist would have had to include a substantial amount of material or he would be telling the story of Jesus in a substantially different and non-Synoptic way. If he also kept his Gospel at a certain length (goal 4) then the major free play would have been between goals 2 and 3.

Thus, the more an Evangelist wanted to incorporate material from his predecessors (goal 2), the less room he would have had to incorporate new material (goal 3). As the number of predecessors increased, the less space there would have been for new material without violating one of the four goals.

Thus, as the number of Synoptic Gospels increased, the cost-per-original-word ratio would have tended to increase, as in most of the hypotheses above.

 

Beyond the Synoptic Gospels

The increasing cost of having something original to say in a Synoptic Gospel is likely part of why we have only three such Gospels. If someone contemplated writing a fourth Gospel in this format, he would have been confronted by the limitations of what can be done with this format.

Matthew, Mark, and Luke had already explored what could be done with different approaches to style and organization of material. They had also put a great deal of Jesus tradition into Gospel form.

What would a person with additional Jesus tradition have seen his options as being?

It would depend on how many traditions he had. As the first century wore on, fewer and fewer eyewitnesses were around, and though many had passed on some of what they knew to others, this was not going to be kept in living memory forever, and many of the higher value traditions were already in the Synoptic Gospels. The march of time meant that fewer original traditions would be available with each passing decade.

If a prospective Evangelist had only a few Jesus traditions, they might not be of sufficient value to undertake writing a whole new Gospel, given the costs. While we today would love to have any additional Jesus tradition, a first century tradent could decide that it wasn’t worth writing a whole new Gospel just to have a few additional stories of healings or an extra few sayings in Gospel form.

He might conclude this even if he had a few more valuable Jesus traditions. After all, the world might be ending soon, the Jesus traditions were already out there orally, our prospective Evangelist could himself repeat them orally, and if he wrote a new Synoptic Gospel that was basically a remix of Matthew, Mark, and Luke with a few extra traditions thrown in then he could be accused of too closely aping previous authors and wasting everybody’s time. Besides, writing a new Gospel was very expensive, and it just wouldn’t be worth it for getting a few extra traditions in Gospel form.

If he was really determined to put his traditions in writing, a person in this situation might write something much shorter than a Gospel. If anyone did that, though, it hasn’t survived—presumably because a small collection of Jesus traditions wasn’t seen as valuable enough to be regularly copied and thus preserved.

On the other hand, if a person had a large number of Jesus traditions that he considered worth preserving in a Gospel, he might write a very long Gospel—perhaps a multi-volume one—but that would put it out of the price range of all but the rich, and it would serve the Christian community better to make the work shorter and thus more affordable.

The obvious alternative would be to write a Gospel that did not incorporate large amounts of material from the Synoptic Gospels—to make a different kind of Gospel. This is what John did. Indeed, his Gospel appears to be a deliberate attempt to supplement the Synoptics tradition, and particularly Mark, without copying the Synoptic format (see Richard Bauckham, “John for Readers of Mark” in The Gospels for All Christians).

Many later efforts, such as the Gospel of Thomas and various Gnostic Gospels, did the same thing—apparently concluding that the basic story of Jesus had already been adequately told by the canonical Gospels, including the Synoptics.

Some groups apparently produced edited versions of one of the Synoptics (Marcion did so with Luke, and there were apparently edited versions of Matthew in use among some Jewish Christians). However, the creation of these Gospels seems to have been driven by sectarian concerns, and they were not accepted by the broader Christian community, which seems to have thought that the possibilities of the Synoptic tradition had been sufficiently explored and that producing new, slightly different Gospels on this model wasn’t sufficiently valuable given those that already existed.

This leads us to a consideration of the individual Synoptic hypotheses proposed above.

 

Matthean vs. Markan Priority

The most basic division is between the hypotheses that propose Matthean priority and those that propose Markan priority.

Here we notice two distinctly different patterns in the cost-per-original-word ratio:

  • Under the assumption of Markan priority, the costs rise for each additional Evangelist, but they stay within an order of magnitude, with the final Evangelist’s ratio being a little more than five times that of the first Evangelist’s.
  • Under Matthean priority, however, the ratio for Mark is vastly higher than either of the other Synoptics. This holds whether Mark is viewed as the second Gospel written (the Augustinian hypothesis) or the third (the Griesbach and Orchard hypotheses). On the former, the Markan cost-to-original-word ratio is almost 20 times that of Matthew, and on the latter it is more than 40 times!

This leads to an important argument against Matthean priority, and it gives numerical expression to an intuition that many have had: Mark’s Gospel would not have been viewed as worth producing if Matthew (or Matthew and Luke) had already existed.

On the Augustinian hypothesis, Mark would contain only 664 words not derived from Matthew—equaling 5.8% of its length. On the Griesbach and Orchard hypotheses, it would contain a mere 307 words not taken from Matthew or Luke—equaling 2.7% of its length.

It is impossible to see how Mark could have viewed these words as so important that they would justify the costs associated with writing his Gospel (the equivalent of $13,524 on the Augustinian hypothesis and $14,724 on the Griesbach and Orchard hypotheses). Indeed, these words include only lesser value traditions.

Therefore, if Mark used Matthew, he would have had to have some other powerful reason to write his Gospel. Yet what this would be isn’t clear. Mark does not dramatically improve on Matthew’s style (Matthew’s style is better). Mark does not arrange the Jesus traditions in a markedly better way (again, Matthew’s arrangement is better). And the extra material Mark adds to Matthew is small and of lesser significance.

There appears to be no adequate reason for Mark to write—and pay the costs associated with his Gospel—if Matthew (or Matthew and Luke) already existed.

Further, unless Mark was independently wealthy (which we do not have evidence for), he would have needed to convince his backer(s) that he had enough that was new and worth saying to justify the costs of producing his Gospel. Yet what he could have argued in making his pitch is far from obvious.

We thus have a strong argument against Matthean priority. The existence of Mark is easier to explain if Mark wrote first and Matthew and Luke expanded it.

The survival of Mark is also easier to explain. Given the high single-copy costs of the Gospels, it is hard to see why people would pay for copies of Mark if Matthew (or Matthew and Luke) already existed. Without copies being paid for, though, Mark would not have survived.

But if Mark was the first Gospel written and had already established itself by the time Matthew and Luke appeared—including establishing a reputation as being Scripture—then it is easier to see why people would be willing to pay for copies and thus why it survived.

Even so, it would be less popular than Matthew and Luke, and so they would overtake it in the number of copies produced. This is what the number of surviving early manuscripts indicates (see Larry W. Hurtado, The Earliest Christian Artifacts, ch. 1). But its survival is more understandable if it was already viewed as Scripture before Matthew and Luke were penned.
The Markan Priority Hypotheses

Although our cost analysis gives us a strong argument against Matthean priority, it does not allow us to so easily distinguish among the Markan priority hypotheses.

The Farrer hypothesis has the lowest cost-to-original-word ratios ($1.10 for Mark, $2.55 for Matthew, and $3.45 for Luke). Both the Two-Document hypothesis and the Wilke hypothesis keep Luke in the $3 range ($3.34 and $3.23, respectively), but both put Matthew near $6 ($5.72 and $5.95, respectively).

This, however, is not a decisive difference. On the Two-Document hypothesis, Matthew wrote without knowing about Luke and thus could not have judged the worth of his Gospel—and the costs of undertaking it—in light of the existence of Luke.

On the Wilke hypothesis, Matthew used Luke but easily could have judged the costs he was shouldering to be worth it, given the other goals he had for his Gospel, which included an organizational scheme that many have preferred to Luke’s and focusing on themes that Luke does not emphasize (such as the regal dimension of Jesus’ Messiahship, Joseph’s role in in Christ’s early life, and a general orientation to Jewish Christians rather than Gentile ones).

An analysis of the costs of producing the Gospels thus can shed light on the Synoptic Problem but does not resolve all its aspects.

 

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This version of The Weekly Francis covers material released in the last week from 3 September 2015 to 24 January 2016.

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popefrancisThis version of The Weekly Francis covers material released in the last week from 29 November 2015 to 19 January 2016.

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  • “Every Christian community should be an oasis of charity and warmth in the midst of a desert of solitude and indifference.” @Pontifex 15 January 2016
  • “The Gospel calls us to be close to the poor and forgotten, and to give them real hope.” @Pontifex 19 January 2016

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ehrmanBart Ehrman is a smart guy, but he sometimes handles his sources in the most frustrating and misleading manner.

For example, in his book Did Jesus Exist? (where he is on the right side for once), he writes:

Several significant studies of literacy have appeared in recent years showing just how low literacy rates were in antiquity.

The most frequently cited study is by Columbia professor William Harris in a book titled Ancient Literacy (footnote 6).

By thoroughly examining all the surviving evidence, Harris draws the compelling though surprising conclusion that in the very best of times in the ancient world, only about 10 percent of the population could read at all and possibly copy out writing on a page.

Far fewer than this, of course, could compose a sentence, let alone a story, let alone an entire book.

And who were the people in this 10 percent?

They were the upper-class elite who had the time, money, and leisure to afford an education.

This is not an apt description of Jesus’s disciples. They were not upper-crust aristocrats.

In Roman Palestine the situation was even bleaker.

The most thorough examination of literacy in Palestine is by a professor of Jewish studies at the University of London, Catherine Hezser, who shows that in the days of Jesus probably only 3 percent of Jews in Palestine were literate (footnote 7).

Once again, these would be the people who could read and maybe write their names and copy words. Far fewer could compose sentences, paragraphs, chapters, and books.

And once again, these would have been the urban elites (Did Jesus Exist?: The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth, 47-48).

The issue here is not the level of literacy in the ancient world or in Roman Palestine—it was, from the evidence we have, startlingly low.

The issue is the claim he makes about  Catherine Hezser.

It’s true that she published a very thorough examination of literacy in Palestine (i.e., her book Jewish Literacy in Roman Palestine).

But did she “show[] that in the days of Jesus probably only 3 percent of Jews in Palestine were literate,” where literacy is defined as the very limited ability to “read and maybe write their names and copy words”?

It would be nice to look up what Hezser said on the matter, but when you look at Ehrman’s footnote, all you find is this:

7. Catherine Hezser, Jewish Literacy in Roman Palestine (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2001).

No page number. No chapter number. Just a gesture at the whole book.

Okay, well, if you look in Hezser’s book, there is a chapter called “Degrees and Distribution of Literacy,” which is also the very last chapter in the book.

That’s exactly the kind of chapter that would present her final conclusions regarding the degree of literacy among Jews in Roman Palestine.

And, indeed, when we turn to the beginning of that chapter, we find Hezser writing:

Although the exact literacy rate amongst ancient Jews cannot be determined, Meir Bar-Ilan’s suggestion that the Jewish literacy rate must have been lower than the literacy rate amongst Romans in the first centuries C.E. seems very plausible.

Whether the average literacy rate amongst Palestinian Jews was only 3 percent, as Bar-Ilan has reckoned,(footnote 1) or slightly higher, must ultimately remain open.

The question naturally depends on what one understands by “literacy.” If “literacy is determined as the ability to read documents, letters and “simple” literary texts in at least one language and to write more than one’s signature itself, it is quite reasonable to assume that the Jewish literacy rate was well below the 10-15 percent (of the entire population, including women) which Harris has estimated for Roman society in imperial times.(footnote 2)

If by “literacy” we mean the ability to read a few words and sentences and to write one’s own signature only, Jews probably came closer to the Roman average rate.

Whereas exact numbers can neither be verified nor falsified and are therefore of little historical value, for the following reasons the average Jewish literacy rate (of whatever degree) must be considered to have been lower than the average Roman rate (Jewish Literacy in Roman Palestine, 496).

Gah!

You see the multiple ways Ehrman has misrepresented Hezser:

  • Whereas Ehrman said she “shows that in the days of Jesus probably only 3 percent of Jews in Palestine were literate,” but what she actually says is that “the exact literacy rate amongst ancient Jews cannot be determined,” that the question “must ultimately remain open,” and that “exact numbers can neither be verified nor falsified and are therefore of little historical value”!
  • Ehrman presents the 3 percent figure as representing Hezser’s own findings (she “shows” it as a result of her study), but she indicates that the figure isn’t hers and that she got the figure from Meir Bar-Ilan.
  • Her own conclusion is that the figure might be 3 percent “or slightly higher” but is unknowable.
  • Finally, whereas Ehrman said the 3 percent figure represented only limited literacy—the ability to read and write your name and maybe copy words—Hezser indicates that the 3 percent represented a broader form of literacy, with “the ability to read documents, letters and ‘simple’ literary texts.”
  • By contrast, Hezser says that if only low-level literacy is meant (“the ability to read a few words and sentences and to write one’s own signature only”) then—contra Ehrman—the number was higher and “Jews probably came closer to the Roman average rate” of 10-15 percent!

So Ehrman has completely botched this source and misrepresented what Hezser said.

Why?

Presumably because at some point in the past he encountered the 3 percent reference in her book and it stuck in his mind. That’s about all he remembered, though.

When it came time to write his own book, he didn’t look up the reference in Hezser (thus explaining the absence of a page number) and mentally reconstructed what he thought she had said.

If he was being more careful, Ehrman would have looked up what Hezser wrote and either represented her accurately and/or (even better) looked up Bar-Ilan’s paper and gone directly to the source of the estimate.

I don’t want to be too hard on Ehrman, because anybody can botch a source (and everybody does from time to time—and precisely because of fuzzy memories), but this is not the only time I’ve found Ehrman misrepresenting verifiable facts—something we may look at further in future posts.

By the way, Hezser does give a specific citation to Bar-Ilan’s estimate of ancient Jewish literacy.

His paper is online here if you care to read it.

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twelve apostlesToday we have standardized versions of the words of institution at Mass and of the Lord’s Prayer.

At least within a given language group and rite of the Church, you’ll find priests saying the words of institution and the faithful saying the Lord’s Prayer the same way.

But in the first century, things were not fully standardized.

Originally, the Christian community passed on the Jesus traditions orally, and this oral transmission gave rise to slightly different wordings that are preserved by the New Testament authors.

An interesting result is that we can tell something both about how the New Testament authors said Mass and prayed.

 

How First Century Christians Said Mass

The New Testament gives us four accounts of the words of institution at Mass. They are found in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and 1 Corinthians.

Here is Matthew’s account, with the words he has in common with Mark bolded:

Take, eat; this is my body. . . .
Drink of it, all of you; for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins (Matt. 26:26-28).

And here is Mark’s account, with the words he has in common with Matthew bolded.

Take; this is my body. . . .
This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many (Mark 14:22-24).

You can see how similar they are. Matthew has a few additional words of explanation, which is typical of how his Gospel works. Mark’s is more terse, leaving more for the reader to infer.

Now here’s Luke’s version, with the elements he has in common with Matthew and Mark bolded. I’ve also put certain elements in red, for reasons we’ll see in a moment.

This is my body which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me. . . .
This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood (Luke 22:19-20).

Already you can see how different Luke’s version is. The red elements aren’t in Matthew or Luke.

But they are in Paul.

Here’s Paul’s account of the words of institution, with the words he has in common with Matthew and Mark bolded and the words he has in common with Luke in red:

This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me. . . .
This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me (1 Cor. 11:24-25).

You can see how similar Paul’s version is to Luke’s. It has an additional sentence at the end, which parallels the words regarding the body to those of the blood, but it is much closer to Luke’s version than to Matthew and Mark’s.

 

What This Means

What this means is that there were at least two significant streams of tradition regarding the words of institution in the first century—one represented by Matthew and Mark and one represented by Luke and Paul.

There may have been others also, but they did not find a place in the New Testament.

We can also infer something about why these two streams of traditions are represented in the New Testament books they are.

It is almost universally agreed that there is a literary relationship between Matthew and Mark. Either Matthew copied from Mark or Mark copied from Matthew. So the account of one Evangelist could have influenced the text of the other.

But this isn’t the whole of it.

If, as our earliest information indicates, Mark was based on the preaching of Peter, then Mark’s version of the words likely stems from that source: It was how Peter said Mass.

This, as well as the concision of Mark’s account, means it is likely a very early and original version of the tradition.

It’s also probably how Mark himself said Mass (Mark being the first bishop of Alexandria).

Matthew—also an eyewitness of the Last Supper—has a similar but somewhat clarified version of the tradition, and it is likely how Matthew himself said Mass.

Even if Matthew used Mark, when he came to this passage he likely used his own experience in saying Mass when writing this passage.

What about Luke’s version?

We do not have a strong tradition of Luke being a bishop or a priest (note Jerome’s failure to mention him being either of these in his Lives of Illustrious Men, ch. 7).

As a result, Luke may not have been drawing on his experience of saying Mass but on his experience of hearing it, and we know one person who he would have regularly heard saying Mass: St. Paul.

Luke was a regular travelling companion of Paul, as indicated by the “we” passages in Acts (i.e., the passages in which the narration shifts from describing Paul’s travels in the third person to describing where “we” went—indicating the author’s presence at the events).

These passages indicate that Luke was with Paul for long periods of time, and he would have heard Paul say Mass frequently.

Further, both the Gospel of Luke and the Book of Acts were addressed to a particular man, who Luke refers to as Theophilus (Luke 1:3, Acts 1:1), though this may have been a codename to protect his identity (the name means “God-lover” in Greek).

Since Acts abruptly stops in A.D. 60, when Paul is awaiting trial before the Emperor Nero in Rome, it is likely that this is where and when Acts was written. Theophilus was likely an influential Roman Christian, and he may have even been the patron who subsidized the writing of these two works.

Given the interest that Acts takes in Paul, who becomes the dominant figure in Acts (after Peter played this role in the book’s early chapters), Theophilus was likely quite interested in Paul.

Acts—and even the Gospel of Luke—may have been prepared with an eye toward explaining to Theophilus how the Christian movement began and how Paul came to be awaiting trial in Rome.

This means that Theophilus likely knew Paul and had frequently heard him say Mass.

Whether because Luke had often heard Paul say Mass or because Theophilus had (or both), it would be natural for Luke, when coming to the account of the Last Supper, to use a version of the words of institution that Paul often employed.

Luke certainly either had Mark or Matthew in front of him (or both, as other passages in his Gospel show), but he didn’t use the tradition for the words of institution found in those Gospels. Instead, he used the same stream of tradition represented in 1 Corinthians.

We thus could infer from 1 Corinthians itself that this was how Paul usually said Mass, but the evidence of Luke’s use of the same tradition confirms it.

This has implications for something else . . .

 

How First Century Christians Prayed

Christians in every age have had many free-form, spontaneous prayers, but they also have pre-formed prayers—most notably the “Our Father” or Lord’s Prayer, which is represented in two of the Gospels: Matthew and Luke.

Here is Matthew’s version, with the words he has in common with Luke bolded and with words omitted from Luke in red:

Our Father who art in heaven,
Hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come.
Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread;
And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors;
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil (Matt. 6:9-13).

Here is Luke’s version, with the words he has in common with Matthew bolded:

Father,
hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come.
Give us each day our daily bread;
And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive every one who is indebted to us;
And lead us not into temptation (Luke 11:2-4)

As you can see, both versions are similar, but Matthew’s has an additional petition (“Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven”) and various clarifying elements (“Our,” “who art in heaven,” and “but deliver us from evil”). The two versions also have a paraphrased element regarding our sins/debts and how we forgive those indebted to us.

Since such clarifications are typical of Matthew’s Gospel, it may be that Luke’s version represents an earlier form of the tradition regarding this prayer.

However, even if it doesn’t, it likely represents something else: How Paul prayed.

Just like the words of institution represented a Jesus tradition that was memorized and frequently repeated in the life of the early Church, so does the Lord’s Prayer.

Indeed, the first was regularly repeated only by priests, while the latter was regularly repeated by all the faithful.

If Luke used what he heard from Paul’s lips at Mass when writing his Gospel, it’s very likely he did the same for the Lord’s Prayer as well.

This would not only have been how he (and Theophilus) heard the Lord’s Prayer from Paul but also how they said it themselves.

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francis-readingThis version of The Weekly Francis covers material released in the last week from 14 December 2015 to 11 January 2016.

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