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Archive for the ‘Mimesis’ Category

October 24th, 2015 by Joel Watts

Jeremiah in Mark 1 and 2 — intertextuality and allusions as atmosphere

God reposing on Sabbath day. Illustration from...

God reposing on Sabbath day. Illustration from the first Russian engraved Bible. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One of the essential tools of mimetic criticism is the use of cues early in the text. We look for these as early as possible in the primary text so that as we read through, the secondary texts come through. This intertextuality is important — because it doesn’t just make cute allusions, but uses the previous text (preserving it, often times) to build an ideological (in our case, theological) aural atmosphere in which to read the text.

This is the case with the Gospel of Mark. If we miss these cues, we miss the points Mark is trying to make and make most often about Jesus. The entirety of the Gospel of Mark is a question — who is Jesus and what is Jesus doing? To get the audience to answer that, an answer Mark already knows, the author uses cues, tied to previous texts, to provide an interpretive framework.

Allusions do not mean Jesus is “fulfilling prophecy.” Mark is not proof-texting. Rather, these allusions and echoes point us to understanding Mark’s authorial intent — to understanding the early Markan message. He’s not writing biography, but rather, a memoir. 

One such cue I want to examine today is the use of Jeremiah in Mark 1 and 2 to further build up the high Christology in the Gospel of Mark, something many scholars fail to see in Mark’s Gospel. 1

The first cue is Jesus’s use of Jeremiah 16.16 when he calls Peter and Andrew. As I discussed in Mimetic Criticism and the Gospel of Mark, Mark 1.16-17 is connected to Jeremiah 16.14-21, not in the least because of the various word-to-word connections. Rather, look at the entire scene. This is God coming back to Israel after a long absence to remove the idols (the demons, et al, Jesus has cast out) and free the people. The exile is no longer Egypt, but now a new land (the land of the North — sure, Babylon at the beginning, but now assuredly Rome).

There is a lot in this portion of Jeremiah we can discuss and apply to Mark’s context, but we won’t. That is for you to decide to do. The main thing, however, is to note Mark’s early use of Jeremiah.

The second blatant occurrence is in Mark 2.18-20 with the discussion of the bridegroom. This almost goes without saying, but Jeremiah is replete with references to God as the bridegroom. Just up from Jeremiah 16.16 is Jeremiah 16.6-10 in which God demands no one mourn or fast, etc… because the bridegroom will be removed.

Another one, in quick succession, occurs in Mark 2.21–22. Wineskins, I believe, point to Jeremiah 13.12-14.

And then, of course, we have the Sabbath day speech in Mark 2.23-28. While I believe there is an argument to be made that Mark is contrasting the Deuteronomic version of the Sabbath with the Exodus version of the Sabbath — and I do think that — we also find a reference to the Sabbath in Jeremiah 17.19-27.

I maintain the intertextuality shared between Jeremiah and Mark is meant to provide us a boundary for reading what Jesus is doing here. This atmosphere points us directly to a divine Jesus acting in the place of God, coming to Israel to not only end the Exile but to inaugurate something new. It presents a picture of a Jesus that cares very little for being perceived as angry but a Jesus that is dead-set to rid Israel of the collective oppression. And why? Because he is simply divine.

  1. No, the image of the Son of Man at the right hand of the Father does not indicate high Christology.
August 4th, 2015 by Joel Watts

Dammit Bultmann! Stop rationalizing the miracles! The Bread, Loaves, and Myth

the-officeRudolf Bultmann, the father of demythologization, urged people to get behind the text. On that, I agree. I also agree that sometimes the superstition of the age, or the need to see things in a miraculous way, can be passed down in an oral society much easier than it can today. But, I don’t think that is what is happening with the story of the fishes and the loaves.

At this point, I do not care if the event(s) actually happened. I don’t think that we can determine if Jesus set on a hilltop and fed even a single person, much less test the validity of the miracle. But, this doesn’t stop people from placing this story into two interpretative categories. One, it happened as the Gospels say it did. Twice. Or, we can demythologize it and suggest the real miracle is that people shared what they had. Perhaps, as the demyth camp suggests, this event tells us that when the one lone boy shared his meal, then the hearts of the others were opened.

Personally, I find it easier to believe that Jesus actually fed 5000 (Mark 6.30-44) and 4000 (mark 8.1-10) people via a miracle than it is to believe that the story is actually a mythologized account of a communal sharing of a meal because of the heart of a small child.

Rather, this section of Mark, as Adam Winn has established, is based on the Elijah-Elisha narratives. You cannot — you should not — read Mark without reading 2 Kings several dozen times.

Let me give you an alternative to the dichotomy of the “it happened” camp.

Mark is using two feeding stories to show that 1.) Jesus is greater than Elijah-Elisha and 2.) Jesus’ bread is better than the Pharisees. If you’ll turn to 2 Kings 4, there are 2 feeding stories there.

2 Kings 4.1-7 is about the plentiful oil Elisha grants the widow.
2 Kings 4.38-44 details the story of Elisha recognizing the poisoned stew, fixes it with yeast or flour. Then, it feeds more than expected.

In Mark 8.14-21, the disciples are hungry and ask for bread. Look at the answer Jesus gives them. Not only does he compare the bread he has with those of the Herodians and the Pharisees but he then calls attention to the number of baskets, as if they were a sign!

If you seek to rationalize the miracle you will miss the theological significance of them. They are crafted in such a way as to put Jesus into a particular place in the story — not only Mark’s story, but Israel’s story as well. Jesus assumes the Elijah-Elisha mantle, does it better, and then does it in such a way as to counter the opposing religious viewpoints.

Stop rationalizing, accepting, or rejecting the miracles. Understand how they fit into the story.

July 30th, 2015 by Joel Watts

Jacob and Jesus’s wrestling with the divine

Jacob struggles with the angel, by Rembrandt (...

Jacob struggles with the angel, by Rembrandt (Gemäldegalerie, Berlin). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

You know the story. Jacob and the Angel wrestle throughout the night… until the break of day. If you don’t, it is found in Genesis 32.24–30.

The daybreak is important, as pointed out in IVP’s OT background:

leaving at daybreak. The reference to time indicates both the length of the struggle between Jacob and the divine being and serves as an indicator of Jacob’s lack of perception during the fight. Daybreak or “cock’s crow” are often found in folklore as the moment when powers and creatures of the dark lose their power to affect humans, though this is not a familiar element in ancient Near Eastern literature. In this case the issue is not one of potency, but one of supremacy (as indicated by the naming) and discernment (see v. 29).1

The trial of Jesus takes place at night. He is arrested after supper (Mark 14.43–52). The trial before the Sanhedrin takes place throughout the night (Mark 14.53–65). We are given a glimpse that the trial (Peter’s?) would be over at daybreak, with the crowing of the cock (Mark 14.66–72).

We are then told that at daybreak, Jesus was bound at turned over to Pilate (Mark 15.1). I find it interesting that John (19.36) picks this motif up (maybe? maybe I’m stretching here) and notes that the legs of the criminals would be broken but Jesus died before this could happen in order to fulfill a prophecy.

Is the story of Jacob wrestling with the angel a background to the trial of Jesus? Maybe. I’m not willing to say one way or the other right now.

But, if it were, then how does this underscore the trial of Jesus, if not the person of Jesus?

Jacob (Israel), wrestles with the Angel/Divine being (the Incarnation) and subdues him, requiring a blessing to let him go.

What do you think? What if Jacob’s story is meant to be invoked in the trial of Jesus? How does it inform your reading of it?

  1. Victor Harold Matthews, Mark W. Chavalas, and John H. Walton, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: Old Testament (electronic ed.; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000), Ge 32:26–30.
July 27th, 2015 by Joel Watts

Proverbs 22 as the Mimetic Precursor to Matthew 10 (Also, Luke used Matthew and Mark)

The Two Source hypothesis solution to the Syno...

I’d like you to compare, for a moment, Matthew 10 and Proverbs 22 (see it in the LXX here). Not, especially Matthew 10.18 and Proverbs 22.29.

A man who is skillful in his work, you shall see:
    before kings, he will serve;
    he will not serve before the commoners. (Proverbs 22.29)

And you will be brought before both governors and kings because of me, for a witness to them and to the Gentiles. (Matthew 10.18)

I can turn to Mark 13.9 as the literary precursor — as if often the case with Matthew who uses Mark as his primary Gospel source. But, I think the whole of Matthew 10 is pulling from something more here — or at least using something like Proverbs to expand Mark 13.9. I think Matthew 10 is looking at Proverbs 22 and giving it the mimetic wink.

Matthew only has this idea about standing before kings and rules/governors once, here at 10.18 — just like Mark does. Once — at Mark 13.9.1

Luke, on the other hand, has it twice.

Luke 12.11 mirrors Matthew 10.18, in placement of context. But, Luke 21.12 mirrors Mark 13.9 — a mirror absent in Matthew’s version of the Olivet Discourse in Matthew 24.

I think if you compare Proverbs 22 and Matthew 10, you’ll note a general overlay of concepts and points. I’d encourage you to do so.

I’m busy writing a review, but this stuff interests me too much to not document this.

  1. It is possible Mark used Proverbs 22.29, but that is another analysis much deeper than this one.
May 6th, 2014 by Joel Watts

what if the Gospels are histories…?

Cover of "Tropics of Discourse: Essays in...

Cover via Amazon

Thinking through a few things… I really like what is going on here, even though I may disagree with him on other things.

“[H]istorical narratives [….] succeed in endowing sets of past events with meanings, over and above whatever comprehension they provide by appeal to putative causal laws, by exploiting the metaphorical similarities between sets of real events and the conventional structures of our fictions. By the very constitution of a set of events in such a way as to make a comprehensible story out of them, the historian charges those events with the symbolic significance of a comprehensible plot structure. Historians may not like to think of their works as translations of fact into fictions; but this is one of the effects of their works. By suggesting alternative emplotments of a given sequence of historical events, historians provide historical events with all of the possible meanings with which the literary art of their culture is capable of endowing them. The real dispute between the proper historian and the philosopher of history has to do with the latter’s insistence that events can be emplotted in one and only one story form. History-writing thrives on the discovery of all the possible plot structures that might be invoked to endow sets of events with different meanings. And our understanding of the past increases precisely in the degree to which we succeed in determining how far that past conforms to the strategies of sense-making that are contained in their purest forms in literary art.

Conceiving historical narratives in this way may give us some insight into the crisis in historical thinking which has been under way since the beginning of our century. Let us imagine that the problem of the historian is to make sense of a hypothetical set of events by arranging them in a series that is at once chronologically and syntactically structured, in the way that any discourse from a sentence all the way up to a novel is structured. We can see immediately that the imperatives of chronological arrangement of the events constituting the set must exist in tension with the imperatives of the syntactical strategies alluded to, whether the latter are conceived as those of logic (the syllogism) or those of narrative (the plot structure).1

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  1. Tropics of Discourse: Essays in Cultural Criticism (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1978), 91-92
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