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

Mimesis in 3 models

English: Icon of Jesus Christ

English: Icon of Jesus Christ (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Peter Nesteruk has suddenly become a must read for those of us interesting in mimesis and mimetic criticism of texts. He presents three models of mimesis.

The first he labels “Mimesis of the Same.” Simply, hyperbole or “an imaginary community of identification.”

In the Gospel of Mark, we can see this in the use of the Elijah-Elisha narratives, especially in Mark 6–8.

His second model is “Mimesis of the other.” The basis of this mimesis is “an enemy to be either destroyed or incorporated; but to be learnt from first.” It is a “(a) mimesis whose origin may be ourselves. Mirror mimesis.”

I would propose we see this in the use of Vespasian and Simon bar Giora in the Gospel of Mark as the other, the enemy.

And finally, “Mimesis of the Other (unmistakably, unquestionably, the Other). As fear, as terror; as the Sublime relation – the very configuration of the Sublime relation.” And “Mimesis in the context of this shadow play is simultaneously the desire to understand larger matters (matters larger than ourselves) and to justify the existence of current totems, the masks of power. The Mimetic paradox.”

Somehow, I think this last model may help us understand more the Incarnation and Hebrews 1.1–3.

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quote of the day – Anthony Le Donne and Salome

I am reading through the books surrendered to me for review. So I’ll post quotes or insights from them as I progress.

Anthony Le Donne (while I think ascribing to GThom a too-early-date) has written a marvelous little book, laying a trap for us I think. Anyway, one quote at the moment stands out. In writing about Salome and the Proto-Gospel of James, Le Donne notes the explosion of post-canonical detail given to this unique woman in the Gospel narratives. He concludes,

When silenced by historical memory, historical fiction filled in the gaps. (34)

I am uneasy about the word “fiction” as far too often we associated fiction with such tropes as Vampires and Zombies. Further, poetry and rhetoric fiction is often used to create a truth in the audience’s mind more real than fact.

However, I think his quote here is monumental in understanding the Gospels, although he doesn’t apply it to the Gospels. Note Paul. Or, go with Le Donne and note GThom. Neither of which include historical details of the life of Jesus beyond the necessary. It is rather easy to understand why Paul, a theologian and exegetical preacher, would not need to relate the details of the life of Jesus. He expected to see Jesus return in his lifetime. His eschatological framework silenced the historical facts of Jesus except for the death and resurrection because nothing else was needed. Thus, after the Destruction of the Temple (which I believe is meant to be understood by Mark as the return of Christ), “fiction” had to fill in the gaps.

When the luxury of consideration was taken, the Gospels used the remnants of historical memory to create historical “fiction.” This doesn’t mean the stories in the Gospels are less true or based only on myth or legend, but that they are engineered to tell a story. This is not uncommon.

Anyway, a great book thus far.

Watson on Reinterpreting in Parallel (chapter 7, @eerdmansbooks)

Watson’s seventh chapter, Reinterpreting in Parallel, examines the literary trajectory from Mark (and maybe before Mark) to John through Thomas and the afore-not-mentioned Gospel of Peter. Several of his conclusions are going to be rather essential in examining John’s relationship with the Synoptics, specifically Mark. This chapter is filled with example and example of the trajectory we can see develop if we remove the subjective and imposed notion of canonical and noncanonical.

By this, I call into question the Gospel of Peter. At one time, it was considered canonical, or rather, it was considered usable in the liturgical life of the Church at Rhossus. Remember, at one time, someone proto-orthodox used even Thomas.

As many of you know, I  would like to propose John’s purposed dependence upon the Synoptics, specifically Mark (beginning, historical present) and Luke (the internal structure, or the so called Signs Gospel). Watson’s Figure 7.1 examines the parallel accounts of the trial narrative in Mark 15.2–18 and John 18.33–19.16. This examination is one of the most powerful examples of John’s reliance upon Mark.

Anyway, Watson concludes this chapter by saying,

It is only as the texts deemed noncanonical are taken into account that the true significance of the canonical boundary becomes clear (407).

For those interested in mimetic criticism of the Gospels — how one Gospel was preserved in the other, this is a quintessential chapter.


New Testament Perspectives interview with Adam Winn

I am saddened, just saddened that I did not think of this first. Anyway, here is my review of Winn’s book and then… Read Matthew’s interview:

Recently, I had the distinct pleasure to interact with Adam Winn concerning his book, Mark and the Elijah-Elisha Narrative: Considering the Practice of Greco-Roman Imitation in the Search for Markan Source Material. Winn’s work has been very influential on my own thinking, as I was able to present my first SBL annual paper in the seminar, Markan Literary Sources, in which Winn co-chairs. A copy of my work, “Of Kings and Mark: A Case of Mimesis in the Second Gospel,” can be found here. I am happy to say that Winn’s influence on my own work will also be witnessed again when I co-present a paper at SBL annual entitled, “Mark’s Mountain Mimesis: Exodus 24; 34 in Mark 9.2-15.”

via New Testament Perspectives: Mark and Literary Mimesis: An Interview with Adam Winn.

I hope Logos will carry this book soon… along with mine.

Bravo, Matthew, Brave.

Can you acceptably reshape a contemporary representation quickly?

A statue of Cato the Younger. The Louvre Museu...

A statue of Cato the Younger. The Louvre Museum. He is about to kill himself while reading the Phaedo, a dialogue of Plato which details the death of Socrates. The statue was begun by Jean-Baptiste Roman (Paris, 1792 – 1835) using white Carrara marble. It was finished by François Rude (Dijon, 1784 – Paris, 1855). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

…Lucan’s Cato differs from the closest contemporary representation of the historical figure on which he is based by taking action despite his belief that the Republic has long since ceased to be…1

The Historical Cato suffered something of  a transformation, moving from the real life General who committed suicide rather than live in defeat to the near divine God-man of Lucan who gave his life for Roman liberty to Plutarch who has settled Cato just a bit, but still sees him as the ultimate hero.

But, I find Lucan’s representation of Cato the most breathtakingly daring. Why? Lucan, in Pharsalia, was writing with a settled representation memorialized by Seneca who was Lucan’s uncle. This representation was one the people of Rome had come to know and love as history, and in fact, must of it was at the very least historical sounding. However, suddenly Lucan writes about a man who was divine, taking the place of the gods, acting as a cosmic sacrifice. Cato’s Stoicism, a surface Stoicism at best, was idealized. Cato was idealized. Cato was mythologized and not after hundreds of years of reflection or with an intense propaganda campaign, but because of a written answer to a moral crisis. Suddenly, what Seneca and the Roman people had accepted about Cato the Younger and his involvement in the Civil War was cast aside for a myth.

Lucan wrote a new representation of Cato the Younger but in such a way as to warp the contemporary representation, using memory and myth to do so. Thus, the contemporary representation of Cato the Younger was replaced by the contemporary mythical (re)presentation of Cato by Lucan, and it was one the people accepted enough to have Plutarch write to temper it.

  1. Shadi Bartsch. Ideology in Cold Blood: A Reading of Lucan’s Civil War (Revealing Antiquity) (p. 123). Kindle Edition.

Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra – Mark’s use of Literary Sources

So, I’ve been thinking about Mark’s use of literary sources and what they might mean. I do think that choice implies meaning (Steven Runge). If the author is using an Elijah reference, then we should look there for the theology or theological implication of the passage. If the author is using Deuteronomy, well, you get the point.

I was thinking of how best to describe this. Like all things holy, it comes back to Star Trek. In this episode, one of the most painful to watch, Picard meets an alien species who can only speak in metaphor,  but this is not simply metaphor as we would understand it. This language is meant to conjure up the past in speaking about the present. It is a rather robust metaphor, if anything.

My thoughts here lead me to believe that Mark is intentionally using these sources in his discourse not as a buffering edifice, but as the basic structure in which to appeal to his audience. In other words, it is not just a measure offered (thus says Scripture) but something more is implied. In the case of the four friends, I would refer this to the four lepers. The scene is about the end of war, when exile was threatened, and life was about to be extinguished. These four lepers brought the good news to the king that Israel was saved, forgiven, healed.

You see what  I mean, right?


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inventing “the other” to create identity, all the rage

IF AMERICA did not exist, Russia would have to invent it. In a sense it already has: first as a dream, then as a nightmare. No other country looms so large in the Russian psyche. To Kremlin ideologists, the very concept of Russia’s sovereignty depends on being free of America’s influence.

via Russia and America: The dread of the other | The Economist.

I need to file this away for later use, but the idea of building your identity not just away from another, but in opposition to other is an old one, a real one, and one that needs to be explored in a wide range of sciences, including Biblical Studies.

Anyway, read the article. Good stuff.


The Horror Movie Mimesis: Red-band Trailer (Mimetic Theatre)

Consider this a social experiment.

So the guy in the movie loves horror movies and gets sucked into one to discover he doesn’t like them nearly as much. Do you know why we love horror movies, or porn for that matter? Because it allows us to experience something that we would not normally experience. People are more apt to watch a dead boby on screen without any visral reactions, but on the other hand, if they see an autopsy performed, then they will get weirded out.  We can kill on screen and participate in some pretty vile actions. Or peaceful, beautiful moments that take our emotions and use them against us. This is Aristotelian mimetic theatre.

Warning… not sure why they say red-band, but there are a few less than normative words

The many elements of mimesis are awesome!!!

Kevin Schut on the Magic Circle of Games (@BrazosPress)

The implications are that games don’t really affect real life. If a game is in a magic circle, then what we do in a game is separate from what I do at work, with my family, and in my church—separate from how I think and talk in general. There’s certainly something to this. I have no trouble distinguishing between the buccaneers I was just battling in Sid Meier’s Pirates and the people walking down my street—I don’t start swordfights in my local mall. Humans have a great capacity for imagination and are quite able to keep that separate from everyday life… in a sense.

via Between the Lines: A Conversation with Kevin Schut – Part 2 – plus a video and a giveaway.

This is going to be a really good book, I think.

Irenaeus would have recognized Homeric tendencies in the Gospels

Irenaeus likened the ‘Gnostic’ use of Scripture to that of someone who takes Homeric verses and rearranges them to create a new poem on a totally different theme. This passage is strong evidence that Irenaeus was classically-educated — Homer was the backbone of ancient Greek education. Furthermore, in all likelihood, Irenaeus composed this little poem about Heracles himself. (Against Heresies, bk. 1 ch. 5–9)

via Irenaeus’ Homeric Poem | Read the Fathers.

So, Irenaeus was a classically trained author but could not recognize the supposed Homeric influences in Mark (and then Luke-Acts)? Come now…

Wonder if, in fact, there are no hidden Homeric hints in the Gospels…