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An Intentional Change in Mark 15:34

I have started giving some instances of what appear to be “intentional” changes made by scribes, as opposed to simple, accidental, slips of the pen.  In my previous post I pointed to an example in Mark 1:2, in which scribes appear to have altered a text because it seems to embody an error.   If I’m wrong that this is the direction of the change – that is, if the text that I’m arguing is the “corruption” is in fact the original text – then there is still almost certainly an intentional change still involved, but made for some other reason.   But either way, the change does not appear to have been made simply by inattention to detail.

Here I’ll give a second instance from Mark of what appears to be an intentional change.  I stress that these alterations “appear” to be intentional since, technically speaking, we can never know what a scribe intended to do.   I use the term I simply to mean an alteration to the text that a scribe appears to have made on purpose because he wanted to change it for one reason or another.  Part of the historical task is trying to reconstruct what might have been a plausible reason.

One of the most intriguing variations in Mark’s Gospel comes in the Passion narrative, in the final words attributed to Jesus in the Gospel.   Jesus is being crucified, and he says nothing on the cross until he cries out his final words, which Mark records in Aramaic:  “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?”   Mark then translates the words into Greek:  “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”   Jesus then utters a loud cry and dies.

What is striking is that in one early Greek manuscript…

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A Variant in Mark 1:1 — Accidental or Intentional?
Illustration of a Textual Change: Did Mark Make a Mistake?



  1. Avatar
    Wilusa  August 2, 2015

    What’s the precise meaning of the original Aramaic? (I assume it agreed with the Hebrew.) Was that left the same in all versions, the scribes assuming their readers wouldn’t understand Aramaic, anyway?

    • Bart
      Bart  August 3, 2015

      It means “forsaken.” yes, it was typically left as is.

  2. Avatar
    Jim  August 2, 2015

    A bit rabbit trail-ish, but which gospel contains the highest number of Aramaisms (Mark or one of the other three)?

    • Bart
      Bart  August 3, 2015

      I suppose it’s John. Mark has the most among the synoptics.

  3. Avatar
    shakespeare66  August 3, 2015

    I think of the “tears and gnashing of teeth” that Jesus said would be in the coming new kingdom, when I think of those who were trying to win over the portrayal of Jesus as they thought he should be. There was a lot of wrangling going on, and “gnashing of teeth.” Hopefully, they all had them to do so.

  4. Avatar
    justjudy6  August 3, 2015

    How interesting!

  5. Avatar
    Stephen  August 3, 2015

    Prof Ehrman

    Interesting. I had not heard of this variant before.

    But assuming that “forsaken me” was in the original, and taking the traditional view that Mark was quoting Psalms 22, and also assuming he was using the Septuagint, why do you think the writer felt the need to translate the Greek back into Aramaic and then approach it as if he is translating the Aramaic for the benefit of his audience of apparently Greek speakers? I realize we don’t have access to the intentions of the writer but would you care to speculate? Can we draw any conclusions from this (other than the obvious one that Mark and presumably his audience were aware that Jesus spoke Aramaic)?


    • Bart
      Bart  August 3, 2015

      For the sake of authenticity he is quoting the words of Jesus as they would have been spoken, since Jesus spoke Aramaic rather than Hebrew.

  6. John4
    John4  August 3, 2015

    Hey Bart! 🙂

    The NRSV footnotes Mark 15:34 as follows: “Other ancient authorities read *made me a reproach*.”

    Is this footnote, then, a reference to the Besae variation?

    Thanks! 🙂

    • Bart
      Bart  August 4, 2015

      Yup, that’s it. Strangely translated (to get God off the hook, I suppose)

      • John4
        John4  August 4, 2015

        Super. Thanks!

        I can’t tell you, Bart, how *very* much I am enjoying both your books (I’ve read six since Spring Break) and your blog. You are a joy in my life, my friend.


  7. Avatar
    Jana  August 3, 2015

    Very grateful for your scholarly insights Dr. Ehrman. I realized last night that my previous understanding of Christianity was at best hazy and at worse ignorant. Next I will read your text The Historical Jesus Apocalyptic Prophet. Another unrelated blog question after listening to your videos on Paul. In connecting the dots, would it be accurate to surmise that Paul came to his understanding of the Living and Resurrected Christ from his interpretation of the nature or source of his vision?

    • Bart
      Bart  August 4, 2015

      Yes, and from what he had heard from other Christians before him.

  8. Avatar
    Jana  August 3, 2015

    Also, my listening to your videos on both John and Paul and their theological emphasis on the Death and Resurrection of Christ leading to personal salvation, has lead to more questions about sacrifice itself .. it’s historical roots and significance in both Judaism and Christianity. Have you written specifically about this? If so I would really like to read more. Sacrifice does not occur in Buddhism.

  9. cheito
    cheito  August 3, 2015

    DR Ehrman:

    Your Comment:

    Jesus is being crucified, and he says nothing on the cross until he cries out his final words, which Mark records in Aramaic: “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” Mark then translates the words into Greek: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Jesus then utters a loud cry and dies.

    My Comment:

    I don’t believe Jesus uttered these words at all, because i don’t believe ‘Mark’ is a reliable source. We don’t know who wrote Mark. He certainly wasn’t an eyewitness.

    I’m inclined to believe what’s recorded in John’s Gospel because this account was related by an eyewitness.

    John 19:35-The man who saw it has given testimony, and his testimony is true. He knows that he tells the truth, and he testifies so that you also may believe.

    John 19:30

    30-When he had received the drink, Jesus said, “It is finished.” With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.

  10. Avatar
    Adam Beaven  August 4, 2015

    if god is dwelling in flesh is that a possession or incarnation? if god “became flesh” then god became physical and took on physical properties, right? if evangelicals say that god added a human nature to himself then god must have increased himself in learning, growing in wisdom and not knowing things. so god is plugged into both natures.

    why do evangelicals deceive people by saying ” oh no, this is not the divine nature, but human nature”

    but they plug god into both natures.

    • Bart
      Bart  August 5, 2015

      That would be a possession. *Becoming* flesh is an incarnation.

  11. Avatar
    dragonfly  August 5, 2015

    Does the codex Bezae show any other signs of anti gnostism?

  12. Avatar
    Airick  August 5, 2015

    Can you give a brief comment on your choice to label the view that Jesus and Christ are two separate entities, one fully human and one fully divine, as “Gnostic” as opposed to Docetic?

    I understand that The term Docetism is used to describe a variety christological views, including Jesus as a phantasm and Jesus and Christ as two separate beings.

    Is it simply the case that Docetism and Gnosticism are not mutually exclusive, or are the majority of Gnostic views also accurately labeled as docetic? It would seem that these terms are perhaps so imprecise as to cause confusion. Does this confusion stem from their broad/vague use from antiquity by herisiologists, or are we left with the imprecise language as a result of the way the terms are used in more modern biblical scholarship?

    • Bart
      Bart  August 6, 2015

      In my book Orthodox Corruption I differentiate between a “docetic” Christology that said that Christ only appeared to be a human of real flesh and blood (he was a phantasm), and a “separationist” Christology that said that Jesus and Christ were two separate beings, one human and one divine. Most gnostics held to a separationist view, though some were docetic. So I don’t thin either is “the” gnostic view.

      • Avatar
        Airick  August 6, 2015

        That’s a useful distinction that I don’t remember having heard before. My general impression was of the term “docetic” being used in a less precise manner, sometimes including separationist christology, hence my confusion.

        I also had the general impression that there would potentially have been groups of Christians with a separationist christology that scholars wouldn’t necessarily be comfortable labeling as gnostic. Perhaps I am mistaken on that front as well. Thanks for the blog and thanks for your response!

        • Bart
          Bart  August 8, 2015

          YEs, some scholars (especially before about 20 years ago, were not overly precise in their terms. and yes, it would be possible to have a separationist CHristology and not be a Gnostic

  13. Robert
    Robert  October 9, 2015

    I think it’s just a bored, absent minded scribe, probably sleepy after a big lunch with beer, inadvertently using a word over again that he’s already used previously in this context.

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