Unsettled Christianity

Gloria Dei homo vivens – St Irenaeus

Archive for the ‘Mark’ Category

February 29th, 2016 by Joel Watts

Reading Justice – Mark 7.24-30 and Euripides’ Jocasta


Euripides (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A while ago, as my class was meandering through the Gospel According to St. Mark, I mentioned (again) that to read GMark properly, one must have a good grasp of allusions and external sources. I believe, and have stated before (my book, Mimetic Criticism and the Gospel of Mark, that there exists a strong possibility the Syrophoenician woman has a strong allusion to Euripides’ Phoinissai.

There are thematic elements, to be sure:

Jocasta associates justice with the order of the universe. She personifies the idea of isotês (‘equity’), as Eteocles personified and deified the idea of tyranny/monarchy (506), and describes it as a cosmic principle of universal applicability (541-6), which has taken the form of cyclic change, succession of opposites or periodicity, as happens, for example, when day and night succeed each other in turn. The philosopher Heracleitus, who focused on the juxtaposition and unity of opposites, had remarked that ‘The Sun shall not outdo the day; otherwise, the Furies, helpers of Justice, shall find him’ (fr. 94 D-K). In the Euripidean passage, equality takes on a political resonance which evokes the ideal of the same political and legal rights as the prerequisite of democ­racy. This ideal informed the political discourse of the Athenians of the fifth century and is reflected for example both in Pericles’ discussion of the Athenian democracy in Thucydides (2.37.1) and in Theseus’ similar remarks in Euripides’ Suppliants (404). – Papadopolou, Euripides.

If Jesus in Mark is bringing about something radically new in the political realm (don’t separate church and state just yet), then we get the sense that the Syrophoenician woman is demanding equality for the Gentiles in the new kingdom inaugurated by Jesus (i.e., equality with the Jews).

There is more. In one scene, there is a near verbatim quote, paralleled between Creon and the Syrophoenician woman:

[1650] What? Isn’t it right for that other to be given to the dogs?

No, for the vengeance you are exacting is not a lawful one.

Yes, if he was his country’s enemy, when not born an enemy.

Well, he rendered up his destiny to fate.

Let him now pay the penalty in his burial too.

Read the scene. The entire scene. How does this shape your understanding of the death of Jesus?

Now, what about the entire idea of equality between Jew and Gentile?

Am I convinced GMark is trying to get you to hear something of Euripides? Yes, and notably because others have seen something of Euripides in other Gospel accounts (Origen, Contra Celisum 2.34). Does this make the accounts false or untrue? No, especially if you understand how ancient writers worked their magic.


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.
October 14th, 2015 by Joel Watts

(video) Was Jesus God in Mark’s Gospel

This is part of my CTP class, and… well, my book, and studies, etc… I know people will disagree, but I think Mark writes in such a way as to constantly question his audience — to drive them into self-realization.

September 21st, 2015 by Joel Watts

Mark 1.1-11 – Jesus v. The World

Sculpture of Julius Caesar by 17th century Fre...

Sculpture of Julius Caesar by 17th century French sculptor Nicolas Coustou. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

These are notes from my CTP Class – but I wanted to put them here for a few reasons. And look… I made a video:

Why Isaiah and not “the prophets” or at least Malachi? Why is Mark… wrong? He’s not. He’s trying to draw your mind into something. He wants his hearers to understand something profound about Jesus.

These are what I would call mimetic cues. 

He begins by calling it Isaiah…something clearly “wrong… but this is a way to draw your attention. I think it is meant to draw your attention to at least two levels of Old Testament interpretation.

See my posts on the Gospels as memoirs

On the level of Isaiah (see below), he’s calling your attention to Isaiah 60. This first part begins with Isaiah and ends with Isaiah.

On another level, he is pointing you to Malachi. It is not that he is wrong. It is that he is trying to draw you out. Look at Malachi 3. Look at the language of baptism to be drawn from there.

[tweetthis]The Gospels are a-historical, not a-historical. They tell you more than what is on the page.[/tweetthis]

The Baptism of John positions the movement of baptism against the Temple elite. There were a few reasons for baptism during this time.

  • Women after childbirth or menstruation
  • A bride before her wedding
  • Priests (in the Temple) before divine service
  • Men on the eve of Yom Kippur (also optionally, before Shabbat)
  • For converts to Judaism
  • In preparation of a dead person for burial
  • For new kitchen utensils

Well, we can rule out a few of them, can’t we?

I think John’s baptism was directed against the Temple priests. I’m trying to limit my observations solely to Mark, but Mark is knowledgeable of St. Paul’s writings — so we cannot dismiss statements the statements about the church being the temple and our reasonable, i.e., priestly, service. Nor can I equally dismiss the “kingdom of priests” language from 1 Peter 2.9 and Revelation 1.6 (cf. Exodus 19.6) .

[tweetthis]The Gospel of Mark is as complex as Jesus, with as many levels.[/tweetthis]

The Dove:

The Dove represents at least 3 simultaneous meanings. The New Creation, the return of the covenant, and an assault on Rome.

  • When the dove returned to him in the evening, there was a freshly plucked olive leaf in its beak! Noah knew that the waters had receded from the earth. – Genesis 8.11
  • Isaiah 60.1-22
  • As Julius Caesar was felling a wood near Munda in Spain to clear a site for his camp, he noticed a palm-tree and ordered it to be spared, as a presage of victory. The tree then suddenly put out a new shoot which, a few days later,had grown so tall as to over-shadow it. What was more, a flock of doves began to nest in the fronds, although doves notoriously dislike hard, spiny foliage. This prodigy was the immediate reason, they say, for Caesar’s desire that his grand-nephew, and no one else, should succeed him. (Suetonius Aug. 94.)


September 8th, 2015 by Joel Watts

Where does Mark 1.1 come from and what does it mean?

Torah inside of the former Glockengasse Synago...

Torah inside of the former Glockengasse Synagogue in Cologne (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There may be simply several sources for Mark 1.1. I tend to think it comes directly from the Priene Calendar inscription, setting GMark as the anti-Roman Gospel.

This is Mark 1.1 in the Greek:

Ἀρχὴ τοῦ εὐαγγελίου Ἰησοῦ χριστοῦ.

This is the calendar inscription:

ἦρξεν δὲ τῶι κὀσμωι τῶι δι᾽ αὐτὸν εὐαγγελίων ἡ γενέυλιος ἡμέρα τοῦ θεοῦ

But, what if it is pointing to Genesis 1.1?

ἐν ἀρχῇ ἐποίησεν ὁ θεὸς τὸν οὐρανὸν καὶ τὴν γῆν

Another possibility is that it comes from Greek Hosea, 1.2

Ἀρχὴ λόγου κυρίου πρὸς Ωσηε

What would Mark 1.1 mean depending on the source?

The Roman Anti-Imperial Gospel is a direct challenge to Vespasian and the Roman propaganda machine after the destruction of the Temple and the subjugation of the Jews. This sets up the Roman centurian to make a rather profound statement at the Cross. Further, this is a direct challenge to Caesar and the entire line of Caesars, making the entire story of Jesus a rather profound attack on imperialism.

[tweetthis]Mark is a direct challenge to Caesar and the entire line of Caesars[/tweetthis]

A connection to Genesis 1.1 would connect it to the entirety of the Old Testament, but more explicitly the Torah. Jesus is the Torah (Wisdom). Further, this is the new creation — like the old, but now to include the Gentiles. And it is truly new. This is, possibly, picked up in John with John’s rather flamboyant retelling of Genesis 1.1. Notably, Matthew begins with a direct reference to Genesis, something Jerome thought was the original title of Matthew.

If we looked at Hosea, then we could see that Jesus is immediately thrust into the role of prophet. Further, look at what Hosea says about Gentiles. Look at Hosea 2.23 and 8.8. St. Paul uses Hosea 2.23 in Romans 9.25. Jesus is coming to call a people who is not his people to be his people. And… Israel is among the Gentiles. This may be why Matthew picks up a rather weak “prophecy” in Hosea to tell of the travels of the Holy Family.

Do we have to pick? Maybe, maybe not. Each source gives Mark a grand strategy that must be explored independently and then together. Hosea and the anti-Roman strategy can be better combined in my opinion.

Wow. I love literary source criticism — because I believe the source is intentional and meant to help the audience understand the new work by the light of the old.

%d bloggers like this: