Category Archives: Thesis

Review: Mark and the Elijah-Elisha Narrative: Considering the Practice of Greco-Roman Imitation in the Search for Markan Source Material

Mark and the Elijah-Elisha Narrative: Considering the Practice of Greco-Roman Imitation in the Search for Markan Source Material
Click to Order

This is not going to be a traditional review. I purchased this book, for my thesis work, which was inspired by Dr. Winn’s first work. This book has sat on my shelf for a while, waiting to be read in depth. Due to a recent review, I decided to spend some time with it. Of course, this work will help my own MA thesis, and my future dissertation. As a personal note, the first work by Winn has shaped my understanding of Mark, leading to independent research verifying, I believe, this view. This second work has strengthened my own work considerably, in my opinion. Frankly, I do not think you should begin to look at the Mark, and in many ways, the Synoptics and Acts, without reading Winn.


Since reading Adam Winn‘s first work, The Purpose of Mark’s Gospel, I have become intrigued with the use of Mark’s Gospel to counter Roman imperial ideology. Further, as I tested this theory on Mark 5.1-20, I discovered that Mark was employing mimetic rhetoric to counter the encroachment of imperialism into his community. In a 2003 work, Brian Incigneri, briefly mentioned mimesis as a possible motive of Mark’s imitation, but he classified this as an appeal to emotion (Incigneri, 2003, p53-55). This was not enough, as in my own explorations of Mark, a simple appeal to emotion was not the author’s primary purpose in using mimesis, especially as I tested the imperial ideological motif (per Winn) on other sections of Mark. In his second work, based on the completion of a post-doctoral fellowship under the direction of Thomas L. Brodie, Winn moves away from the imperial motif; however, what he does in return is to supply a set of strict criteria to all future interpreters of Mark that I believe can easily be incorporated into his previous monograph.


Before we progress, let me note that Winn’s purpose in this book is not an all encompassing survey of mimetic sources that Mark employs, although I will later note my problems with what appears to be a selective selection of sources and the hope that other sources will be considered as additional literary layers. Before the reader leaves the introduction, Winn gives the purpose of this work: “to build on the preliminary work already done by Brodie, and explore the possibility that Mark’s gospel is imitating the Elijah-Elisha narrative (10).” This book will also establish criteria for examining the use of imitation, especially in the Gospel of Mark. In my opinion, as a student of mimetic criticism, Winn’s criteria which he establishes must become the core criteria for any serious mimetic critic, scholar or student.


Winn’s book is in nine short chapters (the book has about 119 readable pages), giving a succinct examination of his subject. Unlike those of us who are blessed with the gift of verbosity, Winn manages to accomplishes his goals in less time than I fear this review will take. We may divide these chapters into two parts. The first part deals with Mark and Imitation, and after setting the stage, he shows how imitation can be used to show that Mark made use of the Elijah-Elisha narratives to flesh out his story of Jesus. To break down the first part more, and will examine the criteria in a later part of this review, we see Winn reviewing recent additions to Markan studies made through Dennis MacDonald and Wolfgang Roth (chapter 2 and 3 respectively) after first examining an ancient use of imitation as used by Virgil (70 BCE – 17 BCE) as he refigured Homer for his Aeneid. While a mimetic scholar must make use of the material provide for by Winn in his dissection of Virgil, this is a weakness of Winn’s work here. Virgil is more than 80 years removed from Mark’s composition and there are those who are closer, in ideology and rhetorical technique than Virgil. However, Winn is able to use Virgil’s recomposition of Homer to establish his criteria securely.

Why is new criteria important? As Winn notes in his introduction, source, form and redaction criticism has left us with too strict a criteria in searching for literary sources (7). Through source criticism, Mark has been established as a priority, therefore, Mark’s sources are ignored. Form criticism focused on the oral traditions which supposed underlie Mark’s Gospel, something Brodie has shown to be an unusable hypothesis (although Winn makes the point to note that the search for literary sources does not demean the use of oral sources). Finally, redaction is maintained only with a sort of copy and paste method. These criterion are just too strict to actually get to Mark’s sources. So, Winn develops new criterion which include: (1) accessibility; (2) structural similarity; (3) shared narrative details; (4) verbal agreement (although he allows that imitation from one language to another may preclude this); and (5), how the use of these criterion are combined to show that imitation has occurred.  This criteria is important as Winn moves forward in his examination of both MacDonald and Roth’s positions on imitation in Mark.

Winn is able to make quick work of MacDonald’s position in which the latter scholars is sure that Mark used Homer. Here, the use of Winn’s criteria is important and is developed further to rely on “clear and obvious” examples (49-50) in preference to those which bare only a minute similarity. This method shows the faultiness of MacDonald’s resulting conclusions on Homer/Mark, but what Winn is careful to do is to show respect for MacDonald’s methodology, in that it was MacDonald who pioneered the use of mimesis in the study of the New Testament, even if other commentators believe he has gone too far. Winn sets out clearly why MacDonald’s examples fail which are generally due to failing the “clear and obvious” test created by the author himself. He does much the same thing with Roth’s work, although Roth’s work provides its own fodder for Winn. Where MacDonald provides for imitation in examining Mark, Roth provides the parallelism between Elijah-Elisha and Mark. Winn, however, suggests that Roth may be wrong on trying to use the narratives to interpret Mark’s use of the material. While not truly a weakness of Winn (as he noted, interpretation is not the goal of this present volume), the lack of finding purpose in borrowed material will continue to keep imitation from achieving its full potential, in my opinion.

In chapters 4 through 9, Winn puts his methodology to the test to reveal the Elijah-Elisha narratives as mimetically similar to several of Mark’s accounts of Jesus. His strengths here include the structural similarities shared between the two narratives, as well as the initial mention of Elijah in Mark 1.2-3 along with other Elijah-like material in Mark’s prologue (chapter 1). His one weakness here is the resurrection accounts shared between the two. I would have liked to see Winn focus his time spent on this area in developing other episodes, as this one leaves just a little bit too much lacking for me to be convinced of the sharing of this one episode. That both conclude with a resurrection, albeit one which is unknown and the other which doesn’t happen to the protagonist, doesn’t really satisfy all of Winn’s criteria. Yet, even in this weakness, there is still very much something to consider. Perhaps Mark received his abrupt storytelling methods from these narratives. Regardless, the testing of the criteria by the author shows that his methodology is readily applicable to New Testament studies , and I would go one to say that it is one of the most convincing of current critical methodologies, as he pays attention to things often missed by other commentators due to their strict criteria.

This is the most important book on mimetic criticism in print today. Winn introduces sound criteria. He tests Brodie’s hypothesis of a Markan imitation of Elijah-Elisha and moves it from this category to a theory, if not law, but examining episodic events in Mark next to passages from the narratives. He meets his criteria and, because of this, one has to begin to accept his criteria as legitimate, and what’s more, that mimetic criticism, pioneered by MacDonald, mitigated through Brodie and fleshed out by Winn, is a valid rhetorical tool to get to the literary sources of the Gospels, if not more of ancient texts. In regards to interpretation, he, as a scholar, leaves this for others to decide. As a student of Adam Winn’s work, I am more enthused with the course that his work has established in this volume than I was with the first, although they are intimately connected.


I am choosing to post the reflections separate from the actual review (which has been posted on Amazon with five stars) because of their nature.

As I mentioned above, there are several issues I have with the complete work.  First, the criteria is excellent, but I do find that it lacks one key aspect, purpose. If Mark is using the material only to tell a different story, which was allowable in the time and place of composition, then it may be that interpretation is unnecessary (that it is unnecessary is not Winn’s point); however, if the author is using imitation to create a different reality or to counter ideology, then this purpose will guide the interpreter into determining the lengths of imitation, the historical value of the final work, and quite possibly, the original sources including oral sources. I’m not saying that Winn is not interested in the purpose, but it was not included in the criteria. Unless we are willing to forgo any hope of understanding the initial reception of the work, we must add to Winn’s criteria the “why.” For Virgil, the reasons seem to be implicit. Homer was virtually Scripture to the Greeks. As Roman culture began to mimic Greek culture, Homer saturated the Latins. Using Homer, then, would have given Virgil’s poem of Roman ascendancy some cultural allowance in the minds of his audience that this was important, that his work was blessed by the gods. For Mark, Winn begins with 1.2-3 to suggest, and rightly so, that Mark has left enough clues for his audience that he is wanting them to keep in mind Elijah-Elisha; yet, no mention is made of his previous work, The Purpose of Mark’s Gospel, in which he has laid down the challenge meant by Mark 1.1. I find it disheartening that his previous work is mentioned twice, regulated to the footnotes. This is a bit disappointing to someone who sees a great value in this former work, and the strong connection between that one and this one. If you remove the establishment of purpose from the criteria, the mimetic critic may in fact miss several of the sources used by the author.

Another issue that I find in the work is the use of Virgil, and subsequently Livy (72n9), as if they are the closest to Mark’s cognitive environment. Now, I need to be careful here, because my own work on imitation in Mark has been shared with the author, and the section of possible influences, received what I would consider positive comments. I do not mean to imply that the author should follow my work or that this present volume is the end of his scholarship in this area. My intention in citing this issue, and I avoid calling it a weakness in the work, is just as I did above, to note that both of Winn’s works can easily be joined. Winn cites Walsh who noted that Livy (59 BCE – 17 CE) used but one source of imitation and added new detail. Virgil does almost the same thing, using Homer as a sole source, adding his new detail to the finished product. Yet, Lucan (39 CE – 65 CE), someone much closer to Mark, uses not one, but several mimetic sources, such as Virgil, Homer, and (his uncle) Seneca. After Lucan, the Roman poet Statius (45 CE – 96 CE) did the same thing. While Winn does not implicitly suggest that Mark uses only one source, his use of Virgil, and the note by Walsh on Livy, allows me to worry enough that Winn may see only one narrative source for many of these passages. I believe that Mark is following Lucan and others in combining several sources; however, in at least one passage, there is an implied multi-level use of sources being used by Mark to further tell his story. In Winn’s previous work, he has correctly identified the purpose of Mark’s Gospel. Yet, he doesn’t return to this purpose for clues as to Mark’s literary sources.

It is my hope that Dr. Winn will continue on with this course of thought and fulfill the words of the Preacher, that of the making of books there is no end, as I believe, through my own independent research, that both of his works will be continuously validated, open the doors for theologians seeking to draw from the text sincere meaning giving new hope to Christians today, and continue to show the masterful hand of the author of the Gospel of Mark. Thus, if there are to be continuous books, like some of them be by Winn.

Do all literary sources need to be, well, literary? Adam Winn on (non-)literary sources

Mark and the Elijah-Elisha Narrative: Considering the Practice of Greco-Roman Imitation in the Search for Markan Source Material
Click to Order

I am trying to write my proposed SBL paper (since it is my first time, I have to turn the entire paper in). It will be fore Markan Literary sources:

This Seminar on Markan Literary Sources will explore Mark’s literary dependence on extant literature, especially Jewish, Christian, and Greco-Roman—a topic that has long been neglected. The method will include awareness of: (a) ancient methods of reshaping texts; (b) recently-developed criteria for judging literary dependence.

For those who have followed my blog – and to Robert who constantly has to hear about mimesis – you can see why I would love this section.

Anyway, as I am preparing my paper, I am discussing five scholars and their take on Mark 5.1-20. While Dr. Adam Winn doesn’t necessarily discuss Mark 5.1-20 (he does somewhat, just not like the others), his second work, pictured above (could you do me two favors? 1.) Order the book and 2.) request it on Kindle), provides me with something to set my mind at ease. After noting the problem with source and redactional critics and their use of strict criteria, Winn notes that this criteria for literary dependence “need(s) to be significantly revised in light of ancient writing practices – in particular the practice of mimesis or imitatio.” He notes that the lack of “strong verbal agreement and specific similarity in detail” are not the only criteria for a literary dependence. Other sources, in concludes, should be considered.

Okay, so that’s how far I’ve got into this book… but it is enough to convince me that my thesis is allowable. Woot.

Mimesis Explains Why We Struggle with Isaac’s Binding

Click to Order

As a reminder, I am reading several books on mimesis for my upcoming thesis work. This is not a review or a reflection, but an internal dialogue to which you are a party too. Further, it helps for me to summarize my work for later use. Feel free to drop suggestions, but remember that this is not the final book that I’m going to read on the subject and that my thoughts on all things are left to better facts if there are any.


I’m not doing this for a ‘real-life’ discussion which I was having yesterday, but because of the real-life discussion which I had yesterday, and the reading which took place after that discussion in a book I have been reading through, I will now post a post completely unintentionally related to a real-life discussion I had yesterday day.


In reading the section on Realism yesterday, Potolsky mentions Erich Auerbach who has done work with mimesis in Western Literature (representation of reality). He has also considered Christianity in this examination, to which he has brought some keen insights. First, we have to understand the difference between Plato and Aristotle’s vision of this concept. Second, Auerbach compares Homer’s Odyssey to the story of Abraham in Genesis. Auerbach contends that the former is related to Plato (ironic? because Plato was writing in part against the use of Homer as almost Scripture) due to the fact that noting is left to the imagination. Everything which the main character is thinking, all of his deliberations, is there on display. Everything is clearly seen, so that the audience knows why the person made his or her choice. Compared to this, the sparsity of Abraham’s plight is a psychological web, becoming akin to the Aristotelian Mimesis.  Nothing else is really given except God’s command, not having spoken to Abraham for a long time. Abraham dutiful obeys. Potolsky draws attention to the lack of detail in all of this, and of course, we still struggle with it. Auerbach through Potolsky contends that the “Biblical characters ‘have a greater depths of time, fate and consciousness’ than do the characters of Homer.” This lack of the knowns create an emotional attachment to the characters because the audience supplies their own feelings to the event, creating a psychological attachment, an emotional appeal. This leads Auerbach to develop two kinds of realism: Homer with his outward details leaving nothing for the audience to supply and the “interior, psychological realism of the Bible” which forces the reader of the Text to place themselves into the story in an unusually frightening way.

Potolsky goes on to offer a statement which I find as equally interesting, “For the Christian tradition, by contrast, every life is wracked by profound conflicts of faith.” I would amend it to include the Jewish life as well, considering the genesis of our tradition. However, the issue is that in the Tradition(s) which engage the Binding of Isaac meet those who struggle with the story with a harsh reality because we cannot understand how Abraham could so blindly follow God’s request. We have come up with good answers to placate us, more so on why God would ask rather than Abraham’s answer. We are angered at both God and Abraham, and perhaps ourselves, because of the request, the faith, and our questions. We do not know what went on in Abraham’s mind as he deliberated with himself over this choice. But, I think that in struggling with it, we are supplying to the story the much needed element, in that we are Abraham and suddenly Isaac is our son. We struggle against our own weaknesses and become attached to the situation much more so then if we could follow Abraham’s logic, listening to him as he deliberated on whether or not to kill his son for God.

And, I believe, that is what we are meant to do.

Summary of Mark’s Incipit… From Jewish Gospel to Greco-Roman Gospel, Craig A. Evans

This will be a summarization of Craig Evan’s article on Mark[1]. You can find the original here.

On the third page of the article, he notes that “Mark appears deliberately to highlight parallels between Jesus’ behavior and his treatment at the hands of the Romans, on the one hand, and Roman traditions and practices concerning the Ruler Cult, on the other. “ He then goes on to enumerate several of those parallels, but I will use a few for my purposes. For one, (his number two on the list), is the use of omens and prophecies. As we have discovered with McCasland, omens were often times a Roman tool, although employed by Josephus and of course, Mark. Here, he notes that the omens are around the transfiguration, a historical referent which I will explore later. Further, he notes the Roman Triumph and associates this with Mark 11.1-11. There is the divine terms used of Jesus and the healings. Here, he notes the ratio of healings to the length of the story (8).

He assigns the date of writing to the mid to late 60s, although he thinks that a different social backdrop would have been present had Mark’s Gospel been written in 68 or 69 (12-14).

So, pretty short, but there is the connection between Mark’s Gospel and Rome, something Adam Winn explores in his book, The Purpose of Mark’s Gospel.

[1] Evans, Craig A. “Mark’s Incipit and the Priene Calendar Inscription: From Jewish Gospel to Greco-Roman Gospel .” Journal of Greco-Roman Christianity and Judaism 1 (2000): 67-81.

Summary of The Jewish War and the Sitz im Leben of Mark – Joel Marcus

JUDAEA, First Jewish War. 66-70 CE. AR Shekel ...
Image via Wikipedia

This is a summary of what caught my attention while reading this article. It is by Dr. Joel Marcus[1]. This is only for me to better keep track of the information that I am gathering.

My thesis, if I am allowed to, due to time and other restrictions which may be placed on a Master’s Thesis, will focus on identifying Mark’s use of ancient rhetoric, in a particular style, in his Gospel. Marcus calls the idea that something happened a generation before the Jewish War, in the life of Jesus, a superimposition. I believe that this is wrong, and instead, would identify the technique being used, not as an apologetic imposition, but as mimesis, and used in a specific way. While I disagree with Marcus’ allowance, I found his article, overall, important, and in many places, I found myself holding my breath as I flipped the electronic pages, waiting to see if he had so succinctly stated my thesis for me. Fortunately, he did not.

I agree with him, and I assume “a growing minority of recent studies” (441) that Mark was written close to Palestine[2], by an eyewitness to the Reality (re: Aristotle). I do not agree with him, however, that Mark’s gospel came to be written either “slightly before or slightly after the Fall of Jerusalem in AD 70[3]” (442), as I would place Mark’s writing near between the publication of the now lost Commentaries of Vespasian and Titus and Josephus’ work, the War of the Jews. I will, no doubt, stick to this date, given McCasland’s argument and the fact that the historical referents in Mark needed to be identified and attached to emotionally. Thus, I would say no later than 76, if Josephus published his work in 75, and not earlier than some time after the fall of the Temple.

Marcus begins by addressing the ‘who’ and ‘when’ of Mark 13[4]. The Desolating Abomination has been identified as several historical figures, generally Titus or Eleazar son of Simon[5], but in my thesis, I will make the case that neither of these take into account another figure, whom would have been challenged before in Mark, via mimesis, and who would have directly challenged the Jewish-Gentile Christian community in Jerusalem. Marcus notes the “prophecies of false messiahs[6], war, persecution, and betrayal in chapter 13.6-13 (447). This is something which I believe do reflect the experiences of the community, and that list includes at least one prophecy which is directly countered by Jesus[7]. Of the infernal offender, Marcus writes,

…”Danielic “abomination of desolation” in 13.14 (“let the reader understand”) calls attention to an event that either has already occurred or is prominently on the horizon, and that event probably has something to do with the incidents that occurred in the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem during the Great Revolt.” (447)

It’s like a puzzle piece, or a race to find the clues. I would agree with Marcus, but disagree with whom he selects in regards to the Abomination, although he comes so very close to my conclusions. I feel that some of my thesis at this point will focus on countering Marcus, as he even notes that the “occupation of the Temple by revolutionaries” is what caused the subsequent destruction. According to Josephus, Titus actually sought to prevent the destruction. Therefore, for that and other reasons, I have to discount Titus as the Abomination.

Marcus looks at 11.17, which I do believe he has correct. I’m not sure how I could use this in my thesis, but Marcus’ interpretation (450) of it fits well into Josephus’ account of the Destruction of the Temple.

In regards to Simon bar Giora, see 458-9, see n86.

See also his rebuttal of Theissen’s date on 460, and his suggested location (which makes absolute sense) on 460-61. I disagree with him on the dating, which seems to be intertwined with the choice of Eleazar son of Simon, but overall, he has shown me how to pick the historical referent.

[1] Marcus, Joel. “The Jewish War and the Sitz im Leben of Mark.” Journal of Biblical Literature 111 (1992): 441-462.

[2] See 444, which gives an allowance that the Latinisms in Mark can happen around Roman Garrisons, such as the garrison which overlooked Gadara.

[3] He bases this date, in part, on the prophecy of Jesus to “free from Judea” (Mark 13.14), but fails to connect this to anything in history. He will contend on 454 that this line prevents Titus from being the Abomination, allowing it to be Eleazar. While he makes a solid case, I believe that he has misses some of the evidence.

[4] Marcus notes the “wide variety of evidence from chapter 13” which calls attention to the fact that Mark 13 arose in response to the Jewish War. I agree with him. Further, I agree that the Gospel writers might have followed Jesus in using surrounding events to repeat in parabolic form in order to tell a Truth. (448)

[5] Marcus directly proposes Eleazar son of Simon as the historical reference to the Abomination of Desolation (454).

[6] Marcus pits Theissen and J.R. Donahue against each other. Theissen is quoted by Adam Winn in his dissertation. What is interesting is that both of the previous authors or correct in who the False Christs were. (448, n35)

[7] For fleeing, see Josephus who has a list of the false prophecies.

Enhanced by Zemanta