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According to the two-document hypothesis, the gospels are derived from two sources: the book of Mark, and a hypothetical, reconstructed document called Q, which contains wisdom sayings and material such as the Sermon on the Mount.

To a modern reader, who is culturally predisposed to think of Jesus as a great and original moral teacher, it seems strange that Mark is almost completely devoid of novel moral material, its moral admonitions being mainly to observe the Torah (in preparation for the coming kingdom of heaven). It seems weird to imagine that Mark was unaware of the Q material, or equally weird to think that he was aware of it but omitted it.

Recently, it has become clearer, on consideration of the non-canonical gospels, that gospels came in many different types, rather than forming a single genre. A literate, Hellenized Jew such as the evangelist would plausibly have some knowledge of Hellenistic conventions of genre and style. These ideas could have come simply by osmosis, from reading literature, or from knowledge of analysis such as the notion of the three unities, and classical theories of tragedy and comedy.

Does Mark fit cleanly into any classically defined genre, such as biography or history, or some pagan religious genre? If so, is it plausible that Mark knew the Q material but omitted it because he had in mind such a genre-based model of what he was trying to write?

All of the same questions can also be asked the other way around: whether Q belongs to a genre, and whether that would have implied leaving out events and biography. (But to my intuition formed by modern genres, it seems less surprising in any case that a collection of sayings would omit such things.)

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There is a lot to unpack here, and it can be difficult to explain everything that you're actually wanting to know unless you have a baseline of knowledge of Mark and Q scholarship. So instead of crafting a larger post, I'll keep this to the basic questions you asked and you can ask follow-up questions in a separate post.

Does Mark fit cleanly into any classically defined genre, such as biography or history, or some pagan religious genre?

This is a point of contention. I'm not sure what newer scholarship has been done since 2002, but Vines' monograph The Problem of Markan Genre argues (convincingly to my mind) that Mark is writing in the tradition of the Hellenistic Jewish narrative tradition. Think Maccabees or Esther.

If so, is it plausible that Mark knew the Q material but omitted it because he had in mind such a genre-based model of what he was trying to write?

Q's existence is often doubted by some people (Mark Goodacre's revival of the Farrer hypothesis is a recent example, and by "recent," I'm showing my age on this topic...), though even if you accept its existence, there is still debate whether Mark knew Q. The question isn't settled, and unless we find Q in the desert it never will be.

But there's an additional problem: Q's existence is defined in part by what it is (material shared by Matthew and Luke) and in part by what it is not (material that is not found in Mark). The process of figuring out if Mark knew Q becomes problematic if Mark uses Q in the same way that Matthew and Luke do. This is also supposing an independent Matthew and Luke who do not know each other.

(But to my intuition formed by modern genres, it seems less surprising in any case that a collection of sayings would omit such things.)

Proverbs, Sirach, and the Gospel of Thomas are just this. It's not only a modern thing.

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Before providing a response to this question, I should acknowledge the depth and breadth of scholarship (controversial and otherwise) associated with this topic—it is indeed vast. While the Q hypothesis (from Quella, meaning “source”) is an interesting idea, bear in mind, it is just that—an hypothesis. Debating the idea is really not too profitable (in my humble opinion) or essential for understanding the Gospel. But I will try to succinctly provide some context (and hopefully some understanding) of the discussion of the “Double-Source” theory.

To start, each gospel account (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) arguably has its own theological agenda (as well as sharing common themes) and most likely a specific audience in mind at the time of writing. Or one could say, there is one gospel depicted by four witnesses. Also, Matthew, Mark, and Luke are considered “synoptic” sharing similar material (to oversimplify it), whereas John is “autoptic” being more unique than the previous three gospel accounts. These similarities and differences of the gospel accounts is the catalyst of so much debate and discussion.

Theories as to how the Gospel accounts were formulated and preserved include: 1) Oral Tradition i.e., word of mouth (oldest view); 2) Fragmentary Theory—the sayings and deeds of Jesus were preserved in separate detached form; 3) Interdependence Theory (also called “Reciprocal Borrowing”, “Mutual Use”, and “Immediate Independence”--but there is no agreement on who borrowed from whom (there are essentially six different combinations); 4) Urevangelium Theory (also called “Mediate Independence”)—presupposes the existence of a “primitive Gospel” from which all three Synoptic accounts drew their material (Logia); 5) Documentary Theory (this would include the notion of a ‘Q’ document; 6) Formgeschichte Theory (Form Criticism)—Method of study dealing with the pre-literary stage of the Gospel tradition attempting to determine the influences that acted on the material while it was being transmitted orally. This theory dictates that the evangelists were not the authors, but merely collectors and editors of pre-existing forms.

As for why Mark is brief compared to the other gospels comes back to his theological agenda and perhaps his target audience. Where Matthew was, arguably, writing for a Jewish audience and concerned with illustrating Jesus’ kingship for example, Mark, writing for Roman Christians, might be primary concerned about illustrating Jesus' “servanthood” and "sonship" (bearing in mind both are attributes of Jesus’ messiahship as well).

And, for what it’s worth, there are clear examples of literary and theological intention in all four of the Gospels. Each gospel writer wrote his account to emphasize certain aspects of Jesus. But for sake of brevity, I will provide only a couple examples. Mark, for example, makes deliberate literary/writing choices in his Gospel account such as the perennial, almost anaphoric use of the word “immediately” (In Greek: εὐθὺς euthys) in his gospel account-—having the effect of depicting Jesus as full of energy and always on the move. Another literary feature Mark employs is an inclusio (a framing device). In the early verses of Mark we read: “And straightway coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens opened, and the Spirit like a dove descending upon him: And there came a voice from heaven, saying, Thou art my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased" (1:10-11, KJV). Note the Greek word for “opened” here is σχιζομένους (root: σχίζω schizō) meaning “to cleave, cleave asunder, rend; to divide by rending; to split into factions, be divided. Also note the words “Thou art my beloved Son.”

Toward the very end of the gospel we read: “And the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom. And when the centurion, which stood over against him, saw that he so cried out, and gave up the ghost, he said, Truly this man was the Son of God. And the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom. And when the centurion, which stood over against him, saw that he so cried out, and gave up the ghost, he said, Truly this man was the Son of God” (15:38-39, KJV). Here is the end of the inclusio as we see the term “rent” ἐσχίσθη which is from the same Greek root word as σχιζομένους / σχίζω schizō we saw at the beginning of the Gospel. And we see the centurion saying “this man was Son of God” completing the inclusio depicting Jesus as God’s son. While you observe the Gospel is “devoid of novel moral material”, I posit that Mark’s theological agenda here is to depict Jesus as the son of God—thus the epitome of morality.

Sources

Bauer, Walter, et. al. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament. University of Chicago Press, 1979.

Scroggie, W. Graham. A Guide to the Gospels. Fleming H. Revel Company, 1995.

The Holy Bible, Authorized King James Version, Thomas Nelson, 1972

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Thanks, cmw and David Anson, for your helpful answers to my question. This self-answer provides some other material that I came across when the question hadn't yet attracted any answers.

Here is a nice, lengthy, detailed, skeptical blog post by Michael Kok on the genre of Mark: https://jesusmemoirs.wordpress.com/2016/07/25/the-genre-of-marks-gospel/ . I would summarize it by saying that there isn't any label or hypothesis that has achieved any level of consensus in tying Mark to any Greco-Roman or Semitic genre. Therefore it seems to me that if Mark leaves out things, and his leaving those things out is surprising, there is probably not much of a case to be made for his doing that because he was following his audience's genre expectations or was limited by the fact that authors are generally not original enough to compose entirely sui generis works.

However, people certainly have made attempts at using genre to explain why Mark omits certain things. Kok says: '"It may be, as argued by Aune in “Genre Theory and the Genre-Function of Mark and Matthew,” that Mark parodied and inverted the values of elite biographies by paying no attention to the protagonist’s pedigree or birth (contra Matthew and Luke)."' Well, to me it seems unlikely that he would parody a genre that would have been unfamiliar to most of the people hearing the gospel used for its purpose, which was preaching in an urban church. But it does seem quite plausible that Mark had a radical ideology according to which birth and class were unimportant, hence his decision to omit this material.

Kloppenborg (Excavating Q, 2000, p. 411) has some interesting speculation on the social context of the Sermon on the Mount, which it seems to me may provide a plausible non-genre-based explanation for why that type of material would be omitted by Mark. He believes that Q's audience was marginalized and oppressed Galilean Jews living in small towns, as opposed to Mark's audience of urban diaspora Jews. The "Q people" were oppressed both by the Romans and by the Second Temple, and in Kloppenborg's view they had less connection to the Temple and to Torah observance than has usually been assumed, because of the centuries-long separation of Galilee from Judaea by the Assyrian conquest. "In this context [to love one's enemies] does not articulate an abstract altruistic principle, ... but represents a strategy for dealing with quite concrete local conflict." This seems like a pretty radical reimagining of the ethical content of the gospels, compared to what I grew up assuming. It would make this material more like an instruction manual for survival under oppression, sort of a "Br'er Rabbit" document. This would tie in with Kloppenborg's assignment of a genre to Q, which is an instruction (a near-eastern genre). If it's correct, then (even without having to invoke a genre) it does supply a plausible reason why Mark would omit material such as the Sermon on the Mount: his audience simply wasn't experiencing the same sort of oppression and alienation that Q's audience was, so they had no need of these survival strategies.

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