Johann Jakob Griesbach   1745-1812 

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Eminent German rationalist theologian & father of modern literary/historical analysis of the biblical text. Born in Hesse, Griesbach studied under Johann S. Semler at Halle (Prussia). He expanded the ms. base of the Greek NT with mss. he discovered during extensive travels & published (1774-75) the first revised edition of the traditional Greek "received text," complete with an extensive critical apparatus. He was appointed professor of NT studies at the U of Jena (1775). In 1776 he published A Synopsis of the Gospels of Matthew, Mark & Luke, the work that launched modern gospel studies. Since that time these three gospels have been referred to as "the synoptics."

Pointing to discrepancies between gospel narratives, Griesbach dismissed traditional attempts to harmonize these accounts & focused attention on their literary dependence instead. He accepted J. B. Koppe's observation that the text of Mark is often closer to Luke. This led him to turn Augustine's theory that Luke used Matthew & Mark around and claim that Mark was an uninspired compilation from Matthew & Luke. In 1789 he published his defense of this thesis as "A Demonstration that the Whole Gospel of Mark is Excerpted from the Narratives of Matthew & Luke" (Commentatio Qua Marci Evangelium totum e Matthaei et Lucae commentariis decerptum esse monstratur). In the 19th c. Griesbach's thesis was championed by his student, W. L. de Wette. After years of neglect it was revived in 1964 by the American scholar, W. R. Farmer as "the Two Gospel hypothesis."

In his Demonstration, Griesbach summed up his argument as follows:

This is a summary of the thesis we are defending:

  • When writing his book, Mark had not only Matthew but also Luke positioned before his eyes;

  • and from these (texts) he excerpted whatever deeds, speeches and sayings of the Savior he committed to memory;

  • so that mainly & most often he followed Matthew as a guide;
    yet sometimes, leaving Matthew, he allied himself with Luke;

  • where he would stick to Matthew's tracks, he still would not let Luke out of his eyesight, but would compare him with Matthew and vice-versa;

  • he would try to be brief, as he wanted to write a book with minimum mass; So not only did he leave out what was not pertinent to the role of teacher, which the Lord performed in public..., he also passed over several of Christ's wordier speeches.

  • Furthermore, ...he kept in mind his readers: that is, people far from Palestine, among whom the maxims & customs of Palestinian Jews, especially the Pharisees, were not well known, nor were necessary to know; so, partly for this reason,

    • he would cut out some things found in Matthew or Luke that were meant only for Jews, especially those in Palestine, or fit their way of thinking...,

    • he would be stingier in citing OT passages...,

    • he would add things that he thought necessary as illustration or useful for his readers to understand the narrative....

Thus, in Griesbach's view, Mark worked like a cross between a researcher & a Reader's Digest editor to produce for non-Jewish readers a single condensed version of two books, adding only minor details & 24 new sentences to passages quoted from his sources. Other scholars, like J. G. Herder, were not persuaded that this presented a realistic picture of how ancient scribes functioned.

[For full text & further information see J. J. Griesbach: Synoptic and text- critical studies 1776-1976 (ed. by B. Orchard & T. R. W. Longstaff) Cambridge: Cambridge U. Press, 1978. The passage translated here from Latin is found on pp. 76-77].

[For a detailed analysis & appraisal of Griesbach's hypothesis, see C. M. Tuckett, The Revival of the Griesbach Hypothesis, Cambridge: Cambridge U. Press, 1983].

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