I’ve recently reviewed a fascinating book: Keith E. Small, Textual Criticism and Qur’an Manuscripts (Lanham/Boulder/New York/Toronto/Plymouth: Lexington Books, 2012), the review appearing in Scottish Journal of Theology in due course. The book arises from Small’s 2008 PhD thesis, and is an impressive and stimulating work. To engage in depth his data requires, of course, a good competence in Arabic, one of my many deficits. But Small’s analysis and judgements seem measured, always based on evidence he proffers, and also respectful of the scholarship (both “Western” and traditional Islamic) that he so profusely engages. My reason for mentioning the book on this blog site is that Small’s study prompts some interesting comparisons with the textual history of the New Testament. Indeed, comparing the two textual histories (of the Qur’an and the New Testament writings) might enhance our appreciation of each one.
As an immediate comparison/contrast, note Small’s opening statement (p. 3): “It is widely acknowledged that there has never been a critical text produced for the Qur’an based on extant manuscripts, as has been done with other sacred books and bodies of ancient literature.” Small’s study is a only an initial step in that larger project, but it is illuminating nonetheless. Selecting one portion of the Qur’an as a sample, Surah 14:35-41, he compared the readings of 22 Qur’anic manuscripts ranging in date from the early 8th century CE (lst century of Islam) down to the a modern-era print copy, 19 of the manuscripts from Islam’s first four centuries. Also, however, he draws into the discussion evidence from palimpsest manuscripts (in which an earlier entire Qur’an text has been over-written), corrections in manuscripts (where whole words have been erased and written over), and reports of Qur’anic readings in Islamic tradition. As to approach/method, he draws on the categories and procedures developed in textual criticism of ancient literature generally, particularly New Testament textual criticism.
As to results, Small repeatedly notes that the Qur’an manuscripts exhibit a remarkable stability in the text across many centuries, from the earliest to the latest. In general terms, not much more than orthographic variants (vowel differences in the consonantal script) and other minor variants are found. There are occasional copyist mistakes, but no major differences involving whole clauses or sentences. This accords with traditional, popular Muslim beliefs/claims about the stability of the text of the Qur’an.
But Small also notes that the other evidence (especially palimpsests and reports from early centuries) suggest strongly that there was, in the earliest period, a considerably greater diversity in the text of the Qur’an than is reflected in the extant manuscripts studied. Moreover, as is widely accepted, in the late 7th century, disturbed by the diversity in the text of the Qur’an, the Caliph Uthman organized a standardization of the consontantal text (early Arabic, like ancient Hebrew, was a consonantal aphabet with no written vowels), suppressing variant versions.
As often the concern of monarchs, Uthman wanted to unify his religio-political doman, and suppress potentially dangerous differences. Therefore, given the place of the Qur’an in Islam, he focused on fixing its text. Thereafter, in successive centuries, further steps were taken to fix the text and its recitation. So, as Small observes, “the history of the transmission of the text of the Qur’an is at least as much a testament to the destruction of Qur’an material as it is to its preservation . . . It is also testimony to the fact that there never was one original text of the Qur’an” (p. 180).
Comparisions and contrasts with the textual history of the New Testament spring to mind. Most immediately, there is the obvious contrast in the textual diversity reflected in early NT manuscripts. This contrast seems to reflect historical differences in the two religious traditions. Even after Christianity was declared the official religion of the Roman Empire (late 4th century CE), there was no equivalent state or ecclesiastically sponsored project to create a standard NT text. NT manuscripts continue to exhibit significant (sometimes quite striking) variants all down through the first six centuries or more especially; and only by sometime after the eighth century CE do we see emerging the clear preponderance of the text-form called variously the “Byzantine”, “Ecclesiastical” or “Medieval” text, the type of text reflected in the great mass of NT manuscripts thereafter.
Because there was no equivalent early attempt to suppress the variation in NT, we can see the variation amply in the early manuscripts (from the first six centuries). As noted, differences in the history of Christianity and Islam are factors. Christianity did not obtain state sponsorship until its fourth century, whereas Islam became a religio-political phenomenon well within its earliest years. And, as indicated, even after receiving state sponsorship, there wasn’t the same concern to fix the scriptural text in Christian circles. Instead, perhaps one might see an analogy in the efforts in the 4th century CE and thereafter (promoted by the Emperor) to fix belief/doctrine, e.g., in the Councils of Nicaea and Constaninople.
Indisputably, in Christianity as well as Islam the scriptural texts were and remain crucial and unique in significance. But for ancient Christianity it appears that it was more the message of the scriptural texts that was the focus, not so much the wording of the texts. So, in ancient Christianity there wasn’t the same sort of effort to suppress textual variation and enforce one textual tradition. That’s fortunate for textual criticism, giving us lots of early manuscript evidence with which to work.
Small’s book will be of obvious interest to scholars and students of Islam and the Qur’an, of course. But it also provides an interesting example of how study of the textual history of one text can throw light on the textual history of others.
Further to my posting on the recent article on the dating of NT manuscripts: Pasquale Orsini and Willy Clarysse, “Early New Testament Manuscripts and Their Dates: A Critique of Theological Palaeography,” Ephemerides Theologicae Lovanienses 88, no. 4 (2012): 443-74, a few more comments on various recent discussions of the dating of early NT manuscripts and also on the early Christian preference for the codex.
Neil Godfrey recently posted on the dating of the famous Rylands fragment “P52″ here. In that posting, he comments: “Larry Hurtado does not appear to be particularly interested in P52 since he makes no mention of it in his post, though he does mention around 15 other manuscripts.” The reason I didn’t mention P52 is that Orsini & Clarysse date the manuscript to the 2nd century (which is where it has been dated for some time), only proposing (with a number of us recently) that it should probably be dated sometime in the later part of the 2nd century. Given that I’ve written an article on P52, I certainly am not disinterested in it: L. W. Hurtado, “P52 (P. Rylands Gk. 457) and the Nomina Sacra: Method and Probability,” Tyndale Bulletin 54, no. 1 (2003): 1-14.
That article was focused on the question of whethe P52 featured the “nomina sacra” forms of key words such as “Jesus”. But I do mention there (n. 2 and n. 20) that the date of P52 should probably be adjusted somewhat later, because of the re-dating of P.Egerton 2 later “downward to ca. 200 CE” (in light of the evidence from an additional fragement of P.Egerton 2 identified over a couple of decades ago). My notice preceded the article by Nongbri that mounted a more sustained critique of the early dating of P52: Brent Nongbri, “The Use and Abuse of P52: Papyrological Pitfalls in the Dating of the Fourth Gospel,” Harvard Theological Review 98 (2005): 23-48. I mention this simply to illustrate my point that NT scholars themselves engage in quite critical analysis of one another and “established” views, and in the case of the early dating of some NT manuscripts (such as P52) as well.
To turn to another matter, in another posting, Godfrey quotes with approval a source claiming the following: “Scholars and interested laymen alike have traditionally held the assumption that the codex form was especially popular amongst Christians and that the eventual predominance of the Church was somehow linked with the eventual prevalence of the codex. Bagnall shows that this cannot really be demonstrated from a statistical analysis of the data.” (His full posting here.) Actually, wrong on a couple of things.
First, scholars who have pored through the evidence (as I have) don’t “assume” that the codex was especially popular amongst Christians; we have concluded this from the evidence. I’ve discussed the matter in a number of publications, perhaps most accessibly and fully in the following book: Larry W. Hurtado, The Earliest Christian Artifacts: Manuscripts and Christian Origins (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2006), which includes a lengthy chapter on the codex, pp. 43-93. The discussion there is based entirely on the public data available, e.g., from the Leuven Database of Ancient Books.
Moreover, Bagnall actually agrees with this. In the first three centuries CE, literary texts were overwhelmingly copied on rolls, but early Christians preferred the codex. Further, this preference was almost total for copies of texts that they regarded and used as scriptures. Again, for details, see the discussion in my Artifacts book.
Bagnall’s own proposal to account for this Christian preference I find unpersuasive: That some sort of Latin/Roman influence was at work. In fact, he doesn’t show an early Roman preference for the codex for literary texts (and it can’t be shown). I remain of the view that the Christian preference for the codex (along with the “nomina sacra”) represented a deliberate move to give Christian books (especially books of their scriptures) a distinctive, identiable form. For a fuller discussion, see: Larry W. Hurtado, “The Earliest Evidence of an Emerging Christian Material and Visual Culture: The Codex, the Nomina Sacra and the Staurogram,” in Text and Artifact in the Religions of Mediterranean Antiquity: Essays in Honour of Peter Richardson, ed. Stephen G. Wilson and Michel Desjardins (Waterloo, Ontario: Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 2000), 271-88.
The eventual “triumph” of the codex over the roll (which is evident from sometime in/after the 4th century CE) is another question. Did it have something to do with the growing place of Christianity in the Roman Empire at that point? Maybe. But that’s beyond my interest and area of expertise. What I can say is that the early Christian preference for the codex precedes considerably, by at least a couple of centuries, any indication of a wider shift toward the codex in the general population. That’s not an assumption. That the fact, and it requires a cogent explanation.
As for Bagnall’s questioning of the second-century dating of some Christian manuscripts, it’s almost entirely based on his guestimates of how many Christians there were in Egypt in the 2nd century as a percentage of the total Egyptian population, which he then uses as a putative basis for allowing what percentage of 2nd century manuscripts ought to be Christian ones. It’s really a surprisingly facile argument. He doesn’t attempt a palaeographical analysis. For that, I recommend the article cited above by Orsini and Clarysse, who are palaeographers and focus on palaeographical method. And it’s worth noting that they wind up positing seven NT manuscripts with dates as early as sometime in the second century CE.
In my book, The Earliest Christian Artifacts: Manuscripts and Christian Origins (Eerdmans, 2006), I included an appendix listing copies of Christian literary texts (biblical and extra-biblical) palaeographically dated to the first three centuries CE, along with a number of other copies of biblical texts that served for comparison purposes. In an effort to keep up with developments, I’ve updated the list several times since the publication of the book, and I’ve placed the updated version on this blog-site under the “Selected Published Essays” tab. I’ve just now posted the latest update, in which I’ve taken account of the dating of NT manuscripts in the recent article by Orsini & Clarysse that I mentioned a few days ago.
Scan down the list of items to “Second-Third Century Christian Texts,” and click on it for the PDF of the list.
One of the most influential books ever published in the study of Christian Origins was Kyrios Christos, by Wilhelm Bousset. It originally appeared (in German) in 1913, a second edition prepared and published posthumously in 1921 (by Gustav Krüger, assisted by Rudolf Bultmann). It was from the outset controversial, as illustrated by the lengthy review of debate by Geerhardus Vos that had already erupted by the date of his article: “The Kyrios Christos Controversy,” Princeton Theological Review 15 (1917): 21-89. And the debate continued, with scholars in various countries wrestling with Bousset’s study of how faith in Jesus emerged and developed across the first two centuries CE. As further indication of the persisting influence of Kyrios Christos, an English translation was published in 1970 (Abingdon Press), which included Bultmann’s hearty endorsement of the book (Bousset was one of his teachers).
2013, thus, marks the 100th anniversary of the initial publication of Kyrios Christos, and over the last few months, David Capes has been at work organizing for a special session to be held in the annual meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature (November this year) to mark this, and to provide an occasion for a studied assessment of the book at this point. Capes has just released notice of the event, which will be held as a special session sponsored by the programme-unit, “The Extent of Theological Diversity in Early Christianity.” Several scholars will engage the work and offer assessments of it in light of current research: Cilliers Breytenbach, Kelly Coblentz, Lutz Doering, and myself.
Kyrios Christos was the model and precedent-work for my study of the topic over the last 25 years or so, culminating in my own effort to address key historical questions: Lord Jesus Christ: Devotion to Jesus in Earliest Christianity (Eerdmans, 2003). My first publication on the topic was an article in which I laid out some major problems in Bousset’s work: Larry W. Hurtado, “New Testament Christology: A Critique of Bousset’s Influence,” Theological Studies 40 (1979): 306-17. (A German translation of my article appeared the following year: ”Forschungen zur neutestamentlichen Christologie seit Bousset: Forschungsrichtungen und bedeutende Beiträge,” Theologische Beiträge 11 : 158-71.)
You can consult Capes’s notice on his own blog-site here. If you’re coming to the SBL annual meeting this November (or if you live near Baltimore), you’re most welcome to come along to this session.
One of my current PhD students brought to my attention a recent article that all concerned with the study of NT manuscripts should read:
Pasquale Orsini & Willy Clarysse, “Early New Testament Manuscripts and Their Dates: A Critique of Theological Palaeography,” Ephemerides Theologicae Lovanienses 88 (2012): 443-74.
The authors are both professional/trained palaeographers, and Clarysse is the founder of the extremely valuable Leuven Database of Ancient Books (LDAB), which provides data on all published/edited manuscripts from the ancient world, and can be accessed online here.
The object of the recent article is a critique of the tendencies of a few scholars in NT studies to push for early datings of NT manuscripts, sometimes improbably early datings. Carsten Thiede was the most notorious. But the main figures given critique in the article are Philip Comfort (most recently, Encountering the Manuscripts: An Introduction to New Testament Paleography & Textual Criticism, 2005) and K. Jaroš (Das Neue Testament nach den ältesten griechischen Handschriften, 2006). These scholars/works Orsini & Clarysse refer to as the key examples of “theological palaeography”. The apparent suggestion is that these works reflect some misguided apologetic concern: the earlier manuscripts can be dated, the more useful for engaging questions of the accuracy of textual transmission. It is certainly logical that the earlier the manuscripts the more useful for this question. But the valid point made by Orsini & Clarysse is that it is all the more vital that the dating of manuscripts be done on a sound basis.
So a major portion of the article is helpfully given over to laying out the method and categories that should be used in dating undated manuscripts (and, as the authors note, literary manuscripts are as a rule undated, and so require some sound method for estimating the matter). Following through their discussion should certainly make readers aware of how much is involved, and will show that Greek palaeography is a discipline in its own right. (I’ve picked up some sense of things over the years, enough to follow the analysis of palaeographers, and even to make some tentative judgement myself, but I freely admit that I’m not an authoritative palaeographer. My own emphasis has been that scholars interested in Christian Origins need to take account of the data and work of papyrologists and palaeographers, because they are relevant for wider historical questions beyond those usually considered by these scholars.)
The tendency of some scholars to push for early dating of NT manuscripts was criticized earlier in a small book by Roger Bagnall, Early Christian Books in Egypt (Princeton University Press, 2009), although Bagnall’s own approach to dating manuscripts is a rather dubious proposal. (See, e.g., my review of the book here.) Moreover, Bagnall gives the misleading impression that “biblical scholars” as a body tend to push for inappropriately early dates of NT manuscripts, whereas the only offender he cites is Thiede (who wasn’t really a NT scholar, but a journalist and auto-didact).
Orsini and Clarysse are a bit more careful in directing their complaints at the specific figures mentioned. But one could take the misleading impression from their article that it’s a case of palaeographers (as a body) having to correct NT scholars (as a body). In fact (as a perusal of their own footnotes confirms), there have been effective critiques of the early dating of manuscripts by Thiede, Comfort et al, lodged by NT scholars, and the improbably early datings are not registered in such more reliable indexes as the list of manuscripts in the Nestle-Aland Novum Testamentum Graece.
Still, it is very valuable to have Orsini & Clarysse weigh in on the matter. Moreover, in addition to setting out the proper approach to dating literary manuscripts, they also provide a table giving their dating of all NT manuscripts that they place before ca. 500 CE, also giving a comparison of the datings proffered by Comfort & Barrett, Jaroš, and in the Nestle-Aland list. As Orsini & Clarysse note, their own judgement most often supports the datings given in the Nestle-Aland list, with a few interesting exceptions. In a few cases, they propose a later dating (e.g., P15+P16, P 25, P35, P48, P77, P80, P102, 0188, 0220), but in a few other cases theirs is a slightly or significantly earlier dating (e.g., P64+P67+P4, P30, 0171, 0308).
My hosts in Houston (David Capes in Houston Baptist University, and April DeConick in Rice University) have encouraged me to give advance notice of lectures I’ve been invited to give there in April. These are all open to the general public, so if anyone out there is free and so inclined, do come along.
- On 10 April (Wednesday), I give the Burkitt Lecture in Rice University, 7 pm, the Kyle Morrow Room, Fondren Library. Title: “Revelatory Experience and Religious Innovation in Earliest Christianity”. I will engage again an emphasis I’ve made over a number of years now and in several publications that powerful religious experiences that came to recipients with the force of “revelation” comprised a major factor in producing significant religious innovations in earliest Christian circles, with special reference to the rapid emergence of the “dyadic” devotional pattern in which Jesus was reverenced along with God.
- On 11 and 12 April, I give two A. O. Collins lectures in Houston Baptist University. My lecture on 11 April (7 pm, Hinton Building, room Dillon 2) will be “Early Christian Dyadic Monotheism: God and Jesus in Earliest Christianity”. I will focus on the early Christian “mutation” in the pattern of ancient Jewish worship comprised in the programmatic place of Jesus in early Christian devotional practice.
- In the lecture on 12 April (9 am, same location), “The Place of Jesus in Earliest Christian Prayer and its Import for Early Christian Identity,” I will survey the ways that Jesus figured in early Christian prayer beliefs and practices, noting how this lent a unique identity to circles of believers.
For more information on the Houston Baptist University lectures, see the web site here.
As a member of the Committee of the International Greek New Testament Project (IGNTP), I took part in a Committee meeting yesterday, some of us (including me) participating via Skype, while others were sitting in a room in Birmingham. The IGNTP began in 1949 with the aim of producing a “new Tischendorf”, i.e., an edition of the NT with a large critical apparatus that would provide as complete an indication of variants as feasible, citing the witnesses that support them. The work went slowly, on account of several factors. But over the last couple of decades has begun to pick up the pace, thanks in some siginificant part to the energetic leadership of Professor David Parker (University of Birmingham).
One of the positive developments is a link-up of the IGNTP with the work of the Institute for Text-Critical Research in the University of Muenster, whose project is to reconstruct a critical edition of the NT as close as possible to what they call the “Ausgangtext“, i.e., the state of the text of NT writings that was copied and circulated (likely early 2nd century or so).
The IGNTP has now an informative web-site that gives brief background on the project, identifies those involved, provides bibliographies on particular subjects (more to be added in due course), lists freely-available transcriptions of NT manuscripts, and offers opportunities to get involved in the project (e.g., by learning to transcribe manuscripts). You can find the IGNTP web-site here.
I’ve just finished reviewing (for Journal of Semitic Studies) a recent multi-author volume that deserves attention from anyone interested in textual criticism of any of the bodies of biblical texts: Editing the Bible: Assessing the Task Past and Present, eds. John S. Kloppenborg & Judith H. Newman (Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2011). In the main, the contributions to the volume arose from a conference held in Toronto in 2007 on editing ancient and modern texts.
The unusual feature of this particular volume is that it brings together scholars and studies dealing with textual criticism of the “Hebrew Bible”, the “Septuagint”, and the Greek New Testament. More typically, scholars in these various bodies of texts have passed like ships in the night, using different approaches, sometimes using the same terms with different meanings, and hardly ever profiting from learning from one another. Moreover, it has taken extra effort for anyone working in one body of texts to acquire an acquaintance with the work done on any of the other bodies of texts.
This volume isn’t comprehensive by any means, especially slim on textual criticism of the Greek OT/Septuagint (only two of the ten chapters. and both focused on only a couple of specific texts). But, for obtaining a good update on key developments in textual criticism of the Hebrew Bible texts and the Greek NT, this book is recommended.
Contributors include John Van Seters (“The Genealogy of the Biblical Editor”), Eugene Ulrich (“The Evolutionary Composition of the Hebrew Bible”), Eibert Tigchelaar (“Editing the Hebrew Bible: An Overview of Some Problems”), Sarianna Metso (“Evidence from the Qumran Scrolls for the Scribal Transmission of Leviticus”), Kristin De Troyer (“Greek Papyri and the Texts of the Hebrew Bible”), Michael W. Holmes (“What Text is Being Edited? The Editing of the New Testament”), Klaus Wachtel (“The Coherence-Based Genealogical Method: A New Way to Reconstruct the Text of the Grek New Tesatment”), Holger Strutworlf (“Scribal Practices and the Transmission of Biblical Texts: New Insights from the Coherence-Based Genealogical Method”), David Trobisch (“The New Testament in the Light of Book Publishing in Antiquity”), and Ryan Wettlaufer (“Unseen Variants: Conjectural Emendation and the New Testament”).
To single out some contributions, the essays by Ulrich and Tigchelaar are particularly noteworthy for assessments of the projects currently under way toward producing critical editions of the Hebrew Bible. Holmes’s wide-ranging essay gives thoughtful analysis of some current issues in NT textual criticism. The essays by Wachtel and Strutwolf will given introductions to the new approach called the “Coherence-Based Genealogical Method” developed in the Muenster Institute for New Testament Text-Critical Research and adopted hereafter for their Editio Critica Maior project and for future editions of the Nestle-Aland Novum Testamentum Graece.
As I’ve indicated before, interested parties should also know about the journal TC: A Journal of Biblical Textual Criticism, the only journal devoted to textual criticism of all the biblical texts. This online journal is accessible here.
One of the many curiosities in the study of the NT and earliest Christianity is the early history and fortunes of the Gospel of Mark (hereafter, GMark). On the one hand (assuming the dominant view of Mark’s priority), the GMark appears to have been very influential. It is widely thought that the authors of the Gospels of Matthew and Luke were likely prompted to write the kind of Jesus-books that they did by GMark. Indeed, we scholars judge that GMark was the principal model and most significant source for them. GMatthew appropriates about 90% of GMark, and GLuke uses ca. 60% of GMark, each of them also, of course, following the basic “storyline” of GMark, commencing Jesus’ ministry in the context of John the Baptizer and taking the story on through to Jesus’ execution and resurrection. Indeed, a case has been made that GMark was also known and influential for the author of the Gospel of John. But, even if we confine ourselves to GMatthew and GLuke, if imitation is the highest compliment, the author of GMark did very well indeed!
On the other hand, to judge from the evidence of citations and identiable allusions in early Christian writers, and also from the comparative number of extant early copies of the Gospels, GMark seems not to have been cited, copied or read nearly as much as the others (especially GMatthew and GJohn). From among remnants of early Christian manuscripts of literary texts dated to the first three centuries CE, we have only one sure copy of GMark (in the Chester Beatty Gospels codex known as “P45,” dated ca. 250 CE). By contrast, we have remnants of at least a dozen copies of GMatthew, at least sixteen copies of GJohn, and seven copies of GLuke. For further perspective, we have remnants of three copies of the Gospel of Thomas. (For further details, see my discussion in The Earliest Christian Artifacts: Manuscripts and Christian Origins, pp. 15-41.) In short, it looks like GMark suffered an almost total eclipse in the second century CE.
But, curiously, in our earliest extant manuscript that was apparently intended to house in one codex the Gospels regarded as scripture (for/by those for whom the manuscript was copied), GMark is there among the “fab four” that thereafter comprise the four Gospels of the NT. Practically lost from sight, submerged from view in the second century evidence, GMark bobs up again like a cork in the water and takes a place in P45. And, granted, earlier in Irenaeus’ work, Against Heresies (3.11.8; ca. 175-190 CE), the familiar four Gospels are named as the only ones to be accepted (interestingly, GMark is named last here).
So, a couple of obvious questions present themselves: Why was GMark apparently given comparatively so little attention in the second century, after having such a remarkable influence initially? And why, given its comparatively less popular usage (neglect?) in the second century, did GMark nevertheless survive and, indeed, acquire a place among what became the canonical accounts of Jesus?
It makes an interesting contrast with what we think happened to “Q” (or at least those of us who accept the “Q” hypothesis). As widely thought among scholars, “Q” was also used as a major source (in this case, for a body of Jesus’ sayings) by the authors of GMatthew and GLuke. In response to those who ask why this “Q” didn’t survive, the typical answer is to say that “Q” was so heavily absorbed into GMatthew and GLuke that it was rendered thereafter redundant, and simply couldn’t compete with these more elegant and rich narrative Gospels. OK. So, why didn’t something similar happen to GMark? It too (so we commonly think) was heavily absorbed into GMatthew and GLuke, and (as noted) seems thereafter to have suffered a comparative decline in usage. But it survived, somehow, and indeed obtained a prestigious place in the Christian canon of scriptures.
Once the other Gospels appeared, especially GMatthew, we can, perhaps, understand more readily why GMark was comparatively neglected. Just about everything in GMark appears also in GMatthew, and a whole lot more in addition. But the more difficult question is why did GMark not suffer the same fate as ascribed to “Q”?
For my money (until someone comes along with a more persuasive suggestion), the early association of GMark with the Apostle Peter was likely at least one major factor. This tradition is reflected already in Irenaeus (Against Heresies, 3.10.5), and he was likely passing on a tradition that went back earlier still. (In the early 4th century, Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 2.15-16, ascribes a similar tradition to the 2nd-century figures Clement of Alexandria and Papias.)
In any case, even after acquiring a spot among the canonical Gospels, GMark continued to be comparatively less used down the centuries. This changed only in the 19th century, when GMark came to be seen as the earliest Gospel, and therefore more valuable as a historical source for the “historical” Jesus. The comparative simplicity of GMark was likewise then perceived as a virtue. (For a review of the historical fortunes of GMark, see Brenda Deen Schildgen, Power and Prejudice: The Reception of the Gospel of Mark, Wayne State University Press, 1999.) Nowadays, GMark might even be the preferred Gospel by many.
But, in addition to its inherent value and fascination, GMark presents us with these questions about its early fortunes.