BMCR 2017.03.13

The Vulgate of Mark with the Synoptic Parallels

, The Vulgate of Mark with the Synoptic Parallels. Mundelein, IL: Bolchazy-Carducci Publishers, Inc., 2016. xxii, 442. ISBN 9780865168350. $29.00 (pb).

This volume aims to provide engaging reading material for students of Latin at an early intermediate level. For this purpose, the author argues, the Gospel of Mark is an excellent choice. Its grammar and style are accessible, even with minimal reading experience, whereas its contents (in the hands of an enthusiastic and competent teacher) should be stimulating enough to elicit class discussion. As the author asserts: “every student will have an opinion one way or another about the Jesus story, even if their opinions may not be especially well informed. But no one in the room will fail to have something to say about it” (pp. vi-vii). The volume is above all intended to be a didactic tool, and in this it succeeds brilliantly. Throughout, one recognizes the work of an experienced teacher of classical languages.

The introduction contains the basics of what one needs to know to start reading very quickly. It briefly discusses the origins of the Gospel of Mark, the synoptic problem, redaction criticism, the Vulgate Bible and vulgate Latin. If the discussions on each of these topics may seem very basic to specialists,1 it should be remembered that this volume is intended for language courses at an undergraduate level (or even in high school? – cf. p. vii).

The text itself is that of the Nova Vulgata, available at the website of the Vatican, with clarifying punctuation and diacritics (e.g. vēnit vs. vĕnit) added by the author. Each chapter of the Gospel of Mark begins with a summary of its contents. The text is further divided into sections of varying length, headed by a title and a brief outline. After each section from Mark follow in smaller print the parallel passages from Matthew and Luke. At each unit of text, a vocabulary list is included for all three parallel passages combined. The “Historical and Grammatical Notes” serve two purposes. First, they enable students to read more fluently: they gloss difficult words and clauses, explicate grammatical rules, or elaborate on the realia mentioned in the text. To be sure, the volume only gives ad hoc grammatical explanations, and so should always be complemented with a Latin primer or grammar book. Secondly, in many places the notes also offer comparisons between the text of Mark and its synoptic parallels, and so serve the purpose of putting the reader on the trail of issues of redaction criticism.2

The grammatical notes accurately anticipate what could cause problems to intermediate learners of Latin. For example, in the first section of text and its synoptic parallels (Mk 1:1–8 // Mt 3:1–11 // Lk 3:3–16), the following items are singled out for grammatical clarification: an ablative of comparison ( fortior me), a periphrastic future ( venturus est), an extended ablative absolute, and the phrase ne forte ipse esset Christus which is simply glossed as “whether he might not be the Christ”. Phrases of a more complicated nature are more often glossed than annotated, especially when containing the conjunctions ut or ne, or gerunds and participles.

The end material includes a map of sites mentioned in the synoptic gospels, suggestions for further reading and a full Latin-to-English glossary. The suggested readings are limited to eight references (on the synoptic problem, the Gospel of Mark and the Vulgate version and its language). This appears to be sufficient for the scope and purpose of the volume as a whole. Although Grote’s volume has no pastoral goals in and of itself, it does point towards commentaries from a confessional (i.c. evangelical and Roman catholic) background.

There is one small problem that in no way diminishes the value of the volume as a text-book for students of intermediate Latin. It is one of the volume’s express aims to engage students in comparisons of passages from Mark and their synoptic parallels “to see how real authors find ways to express similar ideas in different ways” (p. xvii). Often, the notes on the text do indeed take the form of comparative observations of the stylistics of the Latin synoptic gospels. This is a very sensible and profitable approach for students of Latin. However, one should keep in mind that we are actually reading a 1971 update of a 1592 edition of a late 4th-century revision of one among many Old Latin text-types: whose stylistics are we actually comparing to whose?3

In conclusion, I would like to repeat that the author has managed to produce a didactic tool of great quality, with a clear focus which is maintained throughout. For this both author and publisher are to be commended.4


1. The traditional account of its origins in the preaching of Peter is given with reference to Papias of Hieropolis as cited in Eusebius. Other ancient sources or possible modern interpretations go unmentioned. On the synoptic problem, the author presents the Four Document Hypothesis.

2. More specifically, the author invites students to “start thinking like scholars. What’s the effect of the changes Luke and Matthew make to the material they got from Mark? (…) Are the changes merely stylistic or do they reveal something deeper?” (p. xvii). In the strictest sense, redaction criticism as a method should be applied first and foremost to the original Greek gospels, and rather less to their Latin versions. Still, what the author intends under the heading of “redaction criticism” would be a stimulating endeavour in the context of an intermediate Latin class. On a related note, the volume does occasionally engage with matters of textual criticism. The notes make infrequent mention of Greek variant readings, without any direct quotations (e.g. p. 33; p. 153). Important topics, such as the longer ending of Mark 16 and Luke’s “Great Omission”, are discussed at the appropriate places. In this connection, one factual error occurs in the suggested reading section, where it is stated that the Novum Testamentum Latine edition (K. Aland and B. Aland (eds.), Novum Testamentum Latine. Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 3 2014) in its apparatus lists “significant manuscript variations” (p. 407). The witnesses adduced are in fact various early-modern and modern printed editions, not manuscript sources.

3. The introduction seems to suggest that the volume contains Jerome’s “definitive Latin version” (p. xvii). The Nova Vulgata is, in fact, a 1971 revision of the Sixto-Clementine Vulgate (first printed in 1592) on the basis of scholarly editions of the Greek New Testament. As such, it is but one of a number of current editions of the Vulgate, next to the Oxford Vulgate and the Stuttgart Vulgate (on which it is based, without being fully identical to it). On this topic, one should consult H.A.G. Houghton, The Latin New Testament. A Guide to its Early History, Texts, and Manuscripts (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016) (BMCR 2016.10.07).

4. The volume also contains very few typos and omissions (e.g. p. 26 daemoniā should be daemonia; p. 133 ducentis is two-hundred, not twenty, and the line numbering of vv. 36-37 is off; ducenti is also missing from the glossary).