Scholars of the Gospel of Mark usually discuss the merits of patristic references to the Gospel’s origin and Mark’s identity as the “interpreter” of Peter. But while the question of the Gospel’s historical origins draws attention, no one has asked why, despite virtually unanimous patristic association of the Gospel with Peter, one of the most prestigious apostolic founding figures in Christian memory, Mark’s Gospel was mostly neglected by those same writers. Not only is the text of Mark the least represented of the canonical Gospels in patristic citations, commentaries, and manuscripts, but the explicit comments about the Evangelist reveal ambivalence about Mark’s literary or theological value. Michael J. Kok surveys the second-century reception of Mark, from Papias of Hierapolis to Clement of Alexandria, and finds that the patristic writers were hesitant to embrace Mark because they perceived it to be too easily adapted to rival Christian factions. Kok describes the story of Mark’s Petrine origins as a second-century move to assert ownership of the Gospel on the part of the emerging Orthodox Church.
The Gospels contain many hard sayings of Jesus, but perhaps none have puzzled and intrigued readers as much as Jesus’ discourse on the coming of the Son of Man in Mark 13. Is Jesus speaking entirely of an event in the near future, a coming destruction of the temple? Or is he referring to a distant, end-of-the-world event? Or might he even be speaking of both near and distant events? But in that case, which words apply to which event, and how can we be sure?
Seasoned Gospels scholar Robert Stein follows up his major commentary on Mark with this even closer reading of Mark 13. In this macro-lens commentary he walks us step by step through the text and its questions, leading us to a compelling interpretive solution.
The first time, Jesus silently (ignore the Hosanna shouts) enters into city, goes to the Temple, looks around, and leaves. In Mark 11.15, Jesus enters the city and goes to the Temple to cleanse it. In Mark 11.27, Jesus goes to the Temple where he begins to preach. This happens quickly, within the space of 3 days.
Each entry is marked by an increasing sense of importance for Jesus. I may side with some who suggest the crowd was already present when Jesus entered the city, celebrating the Passover. In other words, Jesus slipped by and stood in the crown while it shouted the usual triumphant shout. The second time, however, Jesus comes in and makes himself known as a person of priestly suspicions (basically, he wanted the Temple pure). The next time, Jesus comes in and starts to preach.1
Could the thrice entry point us to some of Mark’s literary sources? I am inclined to believe Mark 11.15–17 points us to Titus’s siege in 70, wherein the bandits were holed up inside the Temple. What about the first one, then? I may argue in a future paper the first one points us to the attempted coup by the Egyptian. The third one? Well, Jesus did have to go Jerusalem… In all, however, the stories are told in such a way as to answer previous entries by would-be-tyrants and siege victors — they show that Jesus did not come to conquer.
Maybe these two entries, with their two goals, point to the Two Messiah Motif. ↩
There are common points. Both start at the Mount of Olives. Both have friends with them. For Jesus, they are his disciples. For the Egyptian, guards. There is a multitude of people as well.
If we go further, we find a connection between Mark 11.15–17 and the siege of the Temple, with the entry by my favorite baddie, Simon bar Giora (4.570-584).
I am attracted to the Egyptian story as a literary source because of Acts 21.38–39. I think there is something in Luke, perhaps calling attention to Mark’s usage.
So, why is Mark using two literary sources, but reversed, to present the story of Jesus’s entry? Because it is apologetic. Mark does not want Jesus seen as the conquering tyrant. He wants to show how peaceful Jesus was, so he mimics (borrows) the language of Josephus so that his audience can get a sense his intent.
Jesus does not come to conquer Jerusalem. /a/Christians are not traitors or treasonous.
Has no bearing on this article, but it must be said. Again. And again.
Adam Winn has made a decisive turn from the search for the literary sources of the Gospel of Mark to discovering the Roman ideology, or rather the counter to Roman ideology, buried in it. His new article in JSNT can be found here:
Tyrant or Servant? Roman Political Ideology and Mark 10.42-45 – Journal for the Study of the New Testament, first published on April 11, 2014 (Here).
Long time readers know that it was Winn’s 2008 volume, The Purpose of Mark’s Gospel, that got me going on Markan literary sources and in many ways, Roman imperial ideology. While others may not see what is plainly there, I believe Mark is written to do several things, but it is written because of Vespasian and the changes he wrought in the κόσμος. (<—yes, that is on purpose.)
Before we go further, let me call attention to my friend Garet’s post, wherein he states he disagrees with such enterprises. He is honest about his paper, that it is a “critical inquiry for apologetic purposes.” But, I do not think we can dismiss those who see anti- imperial ideology in the New Testament as somehow anti-apologetic. To understand what I mean, read pp23–24 in Winn’s article.
Winn examines Mark 10.42–45 as if it were read by a Roman audience. To introduce his readers to this worldview, Winn first lays out the groundwork necessary for “Mark as a ‘Roman Gospel,'” giving clear reasons for such a statement. He focuses largely on his work and one by Brian Incigneri, although he doesn’t fail to bring in other sources (even sources considered somewhat conservative – Evans). The reader must pay attention at this point, because the object rightly raised to any Roman understanding of Mark 10.42–45 is that it contains no directly related imperial language. Later, Winn can draw his readers back to this point to show them that Mark does not have speak the language consistently in order for his audience to understand him — after all, the sum of the Gospel is subversion of the imperial order.
Following this, Winn gives his reader a crash-course on the political ideology of Roman rulers and the recusatio. Without this section (and you may need to read it first before the article and then once more within the article), Winn’s arguments would falter. We are simply given what it meant to be a Roman prince.
Finally, the author exegetes Mark 10.42–45 section by section, drawing together his arguments thus far. Unlike previous volumes by Winn, he has little to no trouble offering a solid interpretation of his work and what it might mean, theologically. It is here that the genius of the thesis comes into play — one can actually hear how this section is read in the forum magnum next to Tacitus and Suetonius.
My concerns are tangential. I would like to have seen more developed in the narrative/Christological interpretation section. What sort of ruler, besides the self-sacrificing kind, is Jesus? Divine, or otherwise.[1 I am presenting a paper at AAR-EIS in a few weeks that I believe points to something of a high Christology in Mark, although different than John. It is higher than adoptionism, but not binitarianism.] Of course, this may be a theological bridge too far for such an article. Further, I feel 10.45 could be developed to show the “ransom” language is somewhat imperial (especially if you connect it to the Triumph – something Winn has already connected (in the article and elsewhere) to the Passion). Beyond that, his arguments are sound, if not near airtight.
Note, this is an article — not a book. I recognize that.
Winn does a masterful job of filling the void of reading this section of Mark as might have been read against the backdrop of political ideology. I rather appreciate the fact that the pericope’s interpretation is not because of language directly in the pericope, but taken as a whole from the Gospel. He also doesn’t date the Gospel of Mark, so we can take the article as a broad reaction against Roman imperial ideology. Further, he gives due attention to the author and the audience, rather than focusing on literary sources. Because of this new focus, Winn brings out the message as heard by the audience rather than any latent construction used by the author. He is careful to note Mark’s turning (he labels it “radicalizing”) of certain words and phrases and is equally anxious to let his readers know that what he is proposing is not emulation, but subversion. (Note, Garet misses this difference, as do many). In other words, even with his firm stance, he allows his audience some room in applying certain aspects of his thesis to their own stances.
My answer is nuanced. By opening his Gospel as Mark does, he is presenting Jesus as representing God, but this does not (as we know from the OT) mean the representative is the represented. But, Jesus is in God’s place.
Why? Because Jesus is slowly taking the place of God. Jesus is not God in Mark, but because God is absent, Jesus replaces God by doing what God does not. Jesus forces God to act by becoming the obedient Israel and absorbing the violence of his world into his body.
This is tiring, I know — but we see the same theology in Lucan’s Pharsalia. Cato the Younger acts in the place of God to become the God(divine)-Man. His death is the sacrifice for Rome and to the gods because the gods are absent.
Is Jesus God and a party of the Trinity in Mark’s Gospel? I don’t think so, but Jesus does become God.
Others have noticed Mark’s adoptionistic language. I’m okay with that.
I wanted to write this for first to start my thought process and second, perhaps, for discussion:
Mark is the first, and as I explained in my book, uses this for a particular reason. I think it is a rhetorical ploy. This explains Matthew’s continued use with it (keeping in mind the textual tradition you use and hoping we have a fairly accurate representation of the original text). In Luke-Acts, it is almost done away with and thus becomes just another verb choice.
Mark begins the Gospel genre. His use is rhetorical. Matthew sees this and uses it, expanding Mark’s story with his own. Luke‘s rhetoric goes into a different direction and thus doesn’t need word choice, or rather, doesn’t need this particular grammar choice. Or, he may not get the entire theme as displayed in Mark and Matthew and thus attempts to correct the “poor” grammar. Acts doesn’t really count here, except to show the author(s) of Luke-Acts as a single-minded writer who likes tidiness.
John reworks the Markan narrative including other narratives along the way and his own material but unlike Matthew and Luke, retains more of Mark’s rhetorical flair.
Oh, yes. Thomas (the Greek fragments such as P. Oxy 654) uses the historical present in relation to Jesus. The Coptic has it as past tense, indicating a translation from the Greek, I’d argue. Wonder if this means Thomas knew the Synoptics? —->
What does this mean for Revelation? First, I would argue Revelation is written by the same author(ial community) as The Gospel of Mark. Second, I believe there are direct literary connections between Revelation and Mark, such as the borrowing of certain phrases. Not words. Phrases.
I think the use of the historical present as we move from Mark to Revelation indicates an awareness — perhaps a theological intent — of the original literary use in the first written Gospel. I think it also indicates reliance (especially for Matthew, Luke, and John) on Mark.
What about Thomas? I don’t know, really, but it would be interesting to do a vivisection of the use of historical presents and where each of them end up. Numbering the usage starts us on a path, but the path should lead us to examining the exact use — where are the HP’s used in relation to one another.
I briefly made use of this in my book, but it bears more examination and given the question I was asked yesterday (see below), I wanted to write a short post on it. James P. Scott, the great writer of resistance, has three transcripts available for writers and audiences alike. They are the public, the hidden, and the double-meaning transcript. The double-meaning transcript allows for the “subordinate group politics” to act itself out in plain sight (Scott, Domination, 18–9). This acting-out involves using folk ways, words, and other things only the group would recognize to tell a story of resistance, but the difference between this and the hidden is the public performance of the former.
There is something along those lines in Latin rhetoric as well, at least according to Quintilian. Palam involves language used by orators and poets meant to be plain or forthright.1Aperte is that language which is “open,” or rather, open to those who understand it.2 Finally, silentium is used only when there is a need, when the outside and hegemonic group is prancing around with its power, and is done in such a way as to allow the orator/poet to speak freely but to have the audience apply their meaning to it.3 Like the doubling-meaning transcript to the hidden, silentium exists as a subordinate to aperte. It takes place only at the must crucial of times, but in plain view.
Yesterday, I was asked privately (so, no names) about the possibility of understanding the final production if one doesn’t understand or know of the source material. The Gospel of Mark, I contend, contains this aperte–silentium rhetoric, where the author is using a known story (namely that of Jesus) to present a hidden transcript in pubic (the double-meaning; i.e., the mirrored-reflection of the Jewish War and the messiahs who followed). My convoluted answer is that yes, on some level every audience will understand something of the final production even without knowing the source material or intention of the author. This doesn’t remove the original intent, nor does it suggest reception is the dominant aspect of the production. On another level, an audience may pick up on that something is being said but not clearly heard, even without the source material. This, I believe, drives our examination for the sources of these works today. But, there will always be an audience who understands the production as the author intended, namely the first audience (hence the importance of Matthew and Luke in reading Mark).4
Unfortunately, we today find it difficult to hear the silentium because the story is now so invested in our culture we see ourselves as the source material, hearing no cues as to the hidden meaning(s). Are we wrong, then, in reading Mark as a simplistic historical narrative of the life of Jesus? Hardly, but we aren’t fully reading it with the ears of the first audience. We have replaced the aperte with our need for palam and that prevents any serious investigation into the Gospel.
This is an apple, where apple means generic “sin.” ↩
This is an apple, whereas apple represents “sin” but a positive view of sexual lust if we were, say, either in grade school or Victorian England. ↩
What the public audience hears is the story of Jesus as a prophet, who lived and died for Israel. What the hidden audience will hear is that Jesus is as the Prophet like Elijah against false pretenders. What the double-meaning audience would hear (again, based on my hypothesis) is only by believing in Jesus and his Resurrection can one undo the plague of Vespasian along with the irony, the false flattery, and other aspects of rhetoric whereby Mark has hidden a rebuttal to the false messiahs and apostate believers, not to mention a redrawing of Christian eschatology. What is always left unsaid is the ↩
Illuminated Manuscript, Gospel Book, Evangelist Mark, Walters Manuscript W.527, fol. 1v (Photo credit: Walters Art Museum Illuminated Manuscripts)
Parallelism is a dangerous disease, as I believe Tom has shown us with this post. In this post, he suggests the young man in Mark 14.52 and 16.5 are the same person but transfigured through the lens of 2 Corinthians 5. I am unsure as to how he has come to such a conclusion but it is one based on the wrong parallel.
The first young man (Mark 14.52) is quite possibly the author, or rather understood as the author; however, this is not likely the case given some other autobiographical footnotes along the way. The second (Mark 16.5) is also not the author as the women are meant to be the ones to have seen Jesus first, or maybe not seen Jesus but believed. Instead, it is reasonable that these two instances of linen-glad men are meant to represent something else.
In 2 Maccabees 3.22-34, there is a scene depicting a proposed blasphemy against God’s Temple. Twice a young man appeared. In the first instance, the young man “splendidly dressed” beat Heliodorus until he fainted, preventing him from damaging the Temple. Heliodorus was going to die until his friends pleaded with the high priest to entreat God for his recovery. To further protect the Jews, God restored Heliodorus to life. The young man reappeared to give Heliodorus a message that it was God who had given life. After the message was delivered, the young man disappeared. In both instances, the dress of the person is noted. Likewise, in both instances, it is a man and not explicitly an angel who is said to have appeared and disappeared. Given the location of the appearances of the young man in relation to Jesus, the Temple, and the Passion, I favor the use of 2 Maccabees — due to the placement of the appearances as well as the number of them in accordance to the placement.
Tom rightly turns to Matthew to judge Mark’s reception, but misses the mark here as well. In Matthew 28.5, the Evangelist plainly says ‘angel’ whereas Mark simply has a human. Whereas Tom attributes to Matthew some disagreement with Mark about the nature of the bodily resurrection, I suspect this is more about Tom’s hopes than Matthew’s intentions. At several times, Matthew has not corrected Mark, but placed into the light what Mark has only subtly hidden. This is such a case. Matthew is calling the young man at the Tomb what Mark hinted at him to be, an angel.
Mark follows the program of 2 Maccabees in hiding the divine identity of the angels. While Mark does expressly name angels, angels are given for a unique purpose, and that is to minister to Jesus or act as a minister of Jesus/God. Matthew changes this up somewhat when angels begin to speak to people, such as with Mary. So, it is not out of the realm of possibility that Matthew would dispense with Mark’s subtleness here and simply states the young man is an angel. Further, given the placement of these two events, it is not difficult to see something of 2 Maccabees rather than Carrier’s mathematical assumption of 2 Corinthians.
One final word about the placement of the two young men — In regards to placement, I think Anthony Le Donne is correct when he comments on Tom’s blog post (see link above). Note the use of angels in context of Jesus’s eschatological forecasting in Mark 13. Angels are promised to proceed/succeed the final event (destruction of the Temple). Before Jesus enters the Temple for his own passion, there is the young man. To assure that God has indeed restored life to Jesus (Israel?), there is once more the young man. It’s all about placement and context.