Category Archives: Thesis

Exploring Mimesis – Theatre and Theatricality

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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 was correct – there wasn’t much in this chapter which pertains to my thesis work. What was interesting was the fact that our theater seems built upon mimesis, although it turns it on it’s head. Also, there are some psychological issues of connected between relationships which are interesting…

But, there are few things:

“Much like Plato, Augustine associates theatre with violence and irrational emotions, with the victory of ‘savage passion’ over reason and orderly thought.” (71)

So, mimesis is an appeal to emotion and later, it is an appeal to emotions use normal conventions which are recognizable to the audience, “Whereas imitatio is based on the conscious use of conventions.” (73)

Aristotle ‘saves’ mimesis from Plato by taking it out of the theatre. (72)

I found this interesting because of the idea that Aristotle uses orality, but not as theatre.

On 73, Potolsky notes that imitatio is “reconceived of the distinction between copy and original as a relationship between model and imitator, idealized past and belated present.” Okay, so that works for me.

The rest, however, is about theatre past and present, but not so ancient past.

Preliminary Bibliography for my Thesis (Expected in May 2012)

This is what I have so far, only on books. With a special thanks to my wife for helping me enter the book information and to Dr. Brady for his suggestions on how to use the iPad 2 for quick citation and annotation of pdfs.

Preliminary Bibliography:

Books –

Achtemeir, Paul J. “Mark, Gospel of.” Pages 541-57 in vol. 4 of The Anchor Bible Dictionary. Edited by David N. Freedman . 6 vols. New York: Doubleday, 1992.

Danove, Paul L. The Rhetoric of Characterization of God, Jesus, and Jesus’ Disciples in the Gospel of Mark. New York: T and T Clark, 2005.

Horsley, Richard A. Jesus in Context. Minneapolis, Minn.: Fortress Press, 2008.

Horsley, Richard A., ed. In the Shadow of Empire, Reclaiming the Bible as a History of Faithful Resistance. Louisiville, Ky.: Westminster John Knox, 2008.

Kennedy, George A. Classical Rhetoric and Its Christian and Secular Tradition From Ancient to Modern Times . Chapel Hill, N.C.: The University of North Carolina Press, 1980.

Kennedy, George A. New Testament Interpretation Through Rhetorical Criticism. Chapel Hill, N.C.: The University of North Carolina Press, 1984.

Kennedy, George A. Progymnasmata, Greek Textbooks of Prose Composition and Rhetoric]. Atlanta, Ga.: Society of Biblical Literature, 2003.

MacDonald, Dennis R., ed. Mimesis and Intertextuality in Antiquity and Christianity. Harrisburg, Pa.: Trinity Press International, 2001.

Melberg, Arne. Theories of Mimesis. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995.

Pietersma, Albert, and Benjamin G. Wright, eds. New English Translation of the Septuagint. New York: Oxford University Press, 2007.

Runge, Steven E. Discourse Grammar of the Greek New Testament: A Practical Introduction for Teaching and Exegesis. Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson Publishers, 2010

Bratcher, Robert G., and Eugene A. Nida. A Translator’s Handbook on The Gospel of Mark. New York, N.Y.: United Bible Societies , 1961.

Collins, Adela Y. Mark: A Commentary (Hermeneia: a Critical and Historical Commentary on the Bible). Mineapolis, Minn.: Fortress, 2007.

France, R.T.. The Gospel of Mark: The New International Greek Testament Commentary. Grand Rapids, Mich.: William B. Eerdmans, 2002.

Le Donne, Anthony. The Historiographical Jesus: Memory, Typology, and The Son of David. Waco, Tex.: Baylor University Press, 2009.

Resseguie, James L. Narrative Criticism of the New Testament: An Introduction. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic, 2005.

Beilby, James K., and Paul R. Eddy, eds. The Historical Jesus: Five Views. Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP Academic, 2009.

Watson, David F. Honor Among Christians, The Cultural Key to the Messianic Secret. Minneapolis, Minn.: Fortress Press, 2010.

Wilder, Amos N. Early Christian Rhetoric, The Language of the Gospel. Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson Publishers, 1999.

Winn, Adam. Mark and the Elijah-Elisha Narrative: Considering the Practice of Greco-Roman Imitation in the Search for Markan Source Material. Eugene, Oreg.: Pickwick Publications, 2010.

Winn, Adam. The Purpose of Mark’s Gospel. Tubingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2008.

Witherington III, Ben. New Testament Rhetoric, An Introductory Guide to the Art of Persuasion in and of the New Testament>/em>. Eugene, Oreg.: Cascade Books, 2009.

Journals, which represent only about 1/4 of the total selected:

Burrows, M. (1929). Mark’s Transitions and the Translation Hypothesis. Journal of Biblical Literature, 48(3/4), 117. doi:10.2307/3259718

Clapp, R. G. (1907). A Study of the Place-Names Gergesa and Bethabara. Journal of Biblical Literature, 26(1), 62. doi:10.2307/3259025

Collins, A. Y. (1968). The Apocalyptic Rhetoric of Mark 13 in Historical Context. Lloydia (Cincinnati), 1, 1-14.

Donahue, J. R., Url, S., & Donahue, J. R. (2011). A Neglected Factor in the Theology of Mark A NEGLECTED FACTOR IN THE THEOLOGY OF MARK. Society, 101(4), 563-594.

Dunn, J. D. G. (2002). Jesus and Purity: An Ongoing Debate. New Testament Studies, 48(04), 2002-2002. doi:10.1017/S0028688502000279

Havelock, E. (n.d.). Narrative in Mark. Interface, 16(1984), 32-45.

Hedrick, C., Journal, S., & Summer, N. (2011). Realism in Western Narrative and the Gospel of Mark : A Prolegomenon Realism Western Narrative and the Gospel of Mark : A Prolegomenon. Society, 126(2), 345-359.

Marcus, J., & Url, S. (2011). The Jewish War and the Sitz im Leben of Mark THE JEWISH WAR. Society, 111(3), 441-462.

McCasland, S. V. (1932). Portents in Josephus and in the Gospels. Journal of Biblical Literature, 51(4), 323. doi:10.2307/3259534

Poirier, J. C. (2003). Purity beyond the Temple in the Second Temple Era. Journal of Biblical Literature, 122(2), 247. doi:10.2307/3268445

Sandnes, K. O. (2005). Imitatio Homeri? An Appraisal of Dennis R. MacDonald’s “Mimesis Criticism.” Journal of Biblical Literature, 124(4), 715. doi:10.2307/30041066

Scroggs, R., & Groff, K. I. (1973). Baptism in Mark: Dying and Rising with Christ. Journal of Biblical Literature, 92(4), 531. doi: 10.2307/3263122.

Sellew, P., Journal, S., Winter, N., & Sellew, P. (2011). Composition of Didactic Scenes in Mark  ’ s Gospel COMPOSITION OF DIDACTIC SCENES IN MARK ‘ S GOSPEL. Society, 108(4), 613-634.

Wilder, A. N. (1956). Scholars, Theologians, and Ancient Rhetoric. Journal of Biblical Literature, 75(1), 1. doi:10.2307/3261516

Exploring Mimesis – Imitatio, or rhetorical imitation

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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.


This chapter begins part 2, wherein the author explores three versions of mimesis which are Imitatio, or rhetorical imitation; theatre and theatricality; and realism. More than likely, my focus will be on the first and the last, but will read the middle as well. After all, the Gospels were no doubt given and kept alive in an oral culture, filled with performances. The first one catches my attention specifically though, and the more so once I get into the section dealing with it.

Imitatio deals more with role models. The central character of the produced story is sometimes in rivalry with the ‘real’ story. Potolsky notes that the focus of this style is about the relationship between the original and the copy (it must connect to the past, but creates something new (58)). In this, mimesis is defined as a “historical phenomenon.” Indeed, mimesis is what creates genres  and sets the forerunners as an authority on them. I mean, think about. We have genres of literature which were created and mimicked, but they cannot deviate too far from the standard far. It is, as the author notes, making something “new out of old traditions” and “Imitation is the effective origin of tradition itself.” (50-51) I have to wonder, then, what ‘old’ would be? Of course, I don’t think I’ll need to worry about this as later, the author discusses, slightly, the political uses of mimesis made by Longinus who used it to slice at Nero.

I know that I cannot wrestle with Plato and Aristotle forever, but in this section, Potolsky starts to move into more modern thinkers, such as Alexander Pope. But, this comes in handy as Pope offers us the notion that Virgil mimicked (this is the technical term, and not to be thought of as mockery) Homer, which I have already slightly discussed in my soon-to-be thesis. Here, the idea of role model is narrowed down to a conventional idea. In other words, the role model is a very literal term here. Virgil mimicked Homer, adapting his style and work for his own. Further into the chapter, Potolsky gives an shorter list of the mimicks, such as Ovid who performed mimesis on Greek myths, or better, the Roman Civilization who mimicked the Greek (thus, mimesis becomes imtiatio.) Ovid, Virgil and Longinus are the names which ring in my hears in discussing Mark’s (possible) use of mimesis/imitatio because of the political nature of their work.

Potolsky, as I noted earlier, used Virgil as an example of Roman mimesis. It is something that I never could quite nail down in my exegesis, perhaps because I only had 15 pages to write my paper in. Virgil took the Illiad and the Odyssey, two works which the author noted previously as having an almost religious fixation by the Greek populace, and borrowed, here I insert the phrase ‘but not perfectly’, certain elements. It wasn’t a compressed tale, or abridged in some way, but one which was noticeably connected. Virgil had mimicked Homor’s plot points and certain other elements to create something entirely new. Could some of the original sources in the Gospels be events which are being mimicked, but in such a way as to show the power of Jesus? This idea of borrowing leads us to intertextuality, something every seminarian or student of the bible should be familiar with. This concept allows the “notion that all cultural products are tissue of narratives and images borrowed from a familiar storehouse.” (53) We see this in Scripture, and often times associate it with the narrative themes such as exile and redemption. But, it gives us an allowance to ask if the Gospels’ writers were using intextuality to influence his story telling.

In the section which discusses more specifically the Roman practice (Roman Echoes), Potolsky notes that “Imitatio was also a historical and political practice.” Just before that, he noted that this concept was “central to Roman literary education.”. I could imagine then, that such a well-trained writer as Oden believes that Mark was, would have been trained in such a way, perhaps as a juxtaposition between the Roman and the Hellenist worlds. If so, then Mark would have surely know rhetoric and the various concepts found in both Greek and Roman cultures. Further, given the highly political nature of Mark’s Gospel, we must look at the way politics was addressed in Roman schools of thought. Further, he may have engaged in the struggles of Roman philosphers who were grappling with the use of Greek rhetoric in understanding the difference between outright copying and something more along the lines of transformation (56). Perhaps he would have heeded Seneca’s voice, in that imitatio had to “both resemble and differ from its sources.” (57) Seneca argued for transformation, in which a copy wasn’t necessarily produced (the father and the child allegory), but that the foundation was clearly seen, but too much alike.

There needs to be more on Longinus, or maybe I need other books, but Longinus saw mimesis as a form of “writing that goes beyond mere persuasion.” (57), seeing mimesis as a possessing force. He might also qualify for poetic mimesis, as Virgil did, which moves “the reader to self-improvement” (64), an idea which Aristotle no doubt shared.

For all of this, I blame Dr. Adam Winn.

Exploring Mimesis – The New Critical Idiom, Aristotle’s Poetics

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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.


At the very least, this chapter, or perhaps better, Potolsky’s take on Aristotle’s understanding of mimesis, has solidified, in my mind, the use of it by New Testament authors. Further, I think that these pericopes in Mark are strung together to give a rational reason for the Cross, but that taken together, they present ‘complete’ tragedies which evoke the cognitive abilities of the audience, and in doing so, must be tied to an audience which would have had the emotion which Mark needed to relate to.

One of the fascinating things for me is the idea that Aristotle was rebuffing his teacher, Plato, on the idea of Mimesis. Of course, I still grapple with the idea that Plato was using Socrates’ narration to rant against mimesis which of course, used another’s voice, something Plato/Socrates derided. I mean, Plato in effect used an element of mimesis to rail against mimesis, thereby creating ethics, a goal of mimesis. Of course, that might be just me. Potolsky notes, however, that Aristotle’s defense of mimesis can actually be built upon Plato’s use of Reason, or rather, the magnification thereof. Platonic Reason drove Aristotle, so it may be that in some way, it is not a response from student to teacher, but an exercise, mimicking the Teacher’s greatest work. Aristotle focused so heavily on Reason that mimesis came natural. I might put it this way: Plato’s magnification of Reason forced Aristotle’s use of mimesis. Of course, mimesis had to be shaped differently, away from Plato’s use of the word, coming to be defines as “a craft with its own internal laws and aims.” (p33) Later, in quoting Aristotle regarding mimesis becoming art, Potolsky demands that mimesis be judged only by seeing if it met the “proper aims and methods.” (p36)

This focus, however, mystifies me, in that the work, the poem (remember, it is Aristotle’s Poetics from which the ancient philosopher’s understanding of the concept is derived) is seen as a complete work and should be judged ‘in itself’, with the reflected item coming secondary. Plato thought that the reflected item was, of course, the essential focus. I would fall, perhaps, into the realm between the philosophers. For my study in Mark, the reflected item is important, serving not so much as a mirror, but as an exact opposite, uncorrected, but it had to be known, and recognized in order for the periscope to work. Of course, not much is being said in using mimesis as a rhetorical tool just yet, and I may yet get to that point, but I think that if mimesis is to teach ethics, morals, and to cause/purge emotion, then the basis of the poem, the ‘reality’, needs to be knows so as to give cause to the cognitive senses. It allows the audience to focus on the differences, then, which in that phantom zone gives rise to the ‘ah this is he.’ I’ll get to that later.

On poets and poetry, the ancient writer says that for their tools, they have “rhythm, language, and melody;” that this person is a craftsperson; that “poetry has its own proper methods and aims and is not just a diminished version of science or philosophy.” (p34). Later, when Potolsky gets to the historian vs the poet, I think we real find a connection to the Gospels as divine poets, but first we have to understand that unlike science (history), poets have different aims, but that they no less truthful. Poets in tragedy is another connection to the Gospel writers, in that Potolsky contends that they serve to present people as better than they are. Again, it’s about the aims, truthful, although maybe not historical, that gives rise to the power of the Poets, which I think Plato feared. Mimesis causes the artist to mimic life, but diverge, and thereby create something almost wholly different, which is not a mirror, and therefore cannot be exactly what Plato defined it as. This happens through various ways, this divergence, but it is essential in understanding what Aristotle is trying to say.

Potolsky lists Aristotle’s three types of narration as history, epic, and drama. In history, the poet is speaking with his own voice (something Plato didn’t do, using instead, Socrates). Epic allowed the narrator to speak with another voice (thus violating the use of one profession only in the Republic). Drama, however, is by far the most interesting. Drama, according to our author, allowed the poets to put the characters in the middle of the audience. The audience got to ‘see’ (Potolsky later calls attention to the metaphor here of seeing = knowing) the characters “living and moving before” them (36).

I know, because a friend never lets me forget, that Dawkins has brought about the meme theory for biological evolution, but I do think that mimesis is a psychological process as well. This has become apparent the more I study mimesis, and the more so when I read that Aristotle thought the same thing. He notes that we have inside of us two sources of poetry, with the first being mimesis. This is what we do as children, in mimicking our parents of the nature of things around us. Aristotle thought that this contributed to our development of logic, while in adulthood, it brings pleasure and more importantly, knowledge. It is in adulthood, however, that mimesis becomes a way to separate ourselves away from the actual events or reality. As I said earlier, the reality needs to be known in order to accomplish any good from mimesis. Why? Because in linear thought, for a distance to occur, one must have a starting point. That starting point is in reality. The starting point is a historical person or event from which we travel through tragedy/poetry in order to take pleasure and knowledge of it through mimesis. Potolsky notes that the “fictional distance from things” allows “that the sufferings of tragic characters on stage can be pleasurable rather than painful.” Therefore, we can learn from what we see (i.e., Reason) whereas in being apart of the actual event, only emotions would rule. There is where the “Ah, that is he” statement comes in at.

Potolsky quotes Aristotle as saying, “Thus the reason why men enjoy seeing a likeness is that in contemplating it they find themselves learning or inferring, and saying perhaps, “Ah, that is he'”. I agree with Potolsky that this “provides insights into human action and character that we might not otherwise have.” (p37) The notion of inference grasps my mind. This is what Wright means when he says that the narrative (the Canon) shapes us, as it has shaped Israel. In that, I would say something along the lines that in Mark 5, the audience would have been able to infer from the story told that the Gospel writer was speaking about them, there, in Gadara. This is again, why I think that the Gospel of Mark is early, and based on historical events. Potolsky notes on p39 that mimesis reflects “the position and cognitive abilities of the viewer.” Surely, if Mark was removed by centuries from the supposed event, it would evoke the needed response or actually serve to mean anything except for a dull story. Further, I would contend that a historical Jesus is very much at the center of the audience’s thought, or else, the ethos would mean very little.

This idea of ‘complete’, which for Aristotle involved mythos, ethos, lexis, dianoia, opsis and melopoeia, may be be found in the small pericope of Mark 5.1-20, although I imagine that the whole of the Gospel includes these elements. The section in particular as a beginning, middle and an end, as needed by Aristotle, even though it is set in a section all by itself. Indeed, the ancient writer noted that the mimesis unit could be completely separate from other united in the tragedy and be completely whole. Of course, this gets into how big/small is too big/small? Aristotle rules here are insightful, especially for those writing such things, and perhaps for those wondering why each pericope is a mini-story all by itself. For Aristotle, the plot, mythos, is the center of the act. It is essential. Why? Potolsky says that it is through the plot that the character is revealed. Thus, the theologia crucis. The road to the cross, the mini-plots, everything revealed who Christ is, even if Mark is acting more as a poet than a historian.

Mimesis in Aristotle’s mind can include impossible elements, and be accepted as probable, as long as those elements are reasonable. There is much here to dwell on, especially when it comes to the wonder stories in the gospels and how easily they were accepted as reasonable, even through the lack of evidence, by the early Church. Why? Because the ‘real world’ is not the focus of mimesis, but the role of human thought. Potolsky writes, “impossible incidents can be made realistic if they seem probable.” In fact, they become real, understood, and responded too but only within reason of human thought. He writes, “Mimesis, in other words, need not be true to fact to be pleasurable and persuasive. It need only be true to the principles and normal processes of human cognition.” (p41) This leads to recognition, which I will write about in a later post, but the idea that the poet can create reality in the human mind is a powerful tool. And this, finally, is where the poet vs historian battle comes in at, or “what may happen” against “what has happened.”

This is a key principle, in my opinion, of understanding the Gospels as history. Both operate within the realm of truth, but the historian is tied only the events which he or she can prove happened. Thus, for Aristotle, poet is actually the higher pursuit. While the poet broadens the truth, the historian is tasked with shrinking the reality to only the known facts, and when you get right down to it, facts are hard to come by. Thus, I agree with Potolsky who writes, “Mimesis is defined not by its repetition of the real but by its ability to reveal universal truths in particular characters and actions.” (p42)

Potolsky moves on to discuss the role of emotion in mimesis in Aristotle. The ancient philosopher contends that the poet can in fact manage emotion, calling it a failure if emotions are not produced. In my view, Mark manages the emotions of the audience by showing them what has been accomplished and gives them the choice to move forward with a liberation already won. When Potolsky writes the wonder in mimesis is “internally logical, and so satisfies our sense of probability and necessity”,  I apply this to Mark’s Cross. The Cross doesn’t make sense for Mark, as other authors have noted. So, mark provides an Aristoltean rationality through these mini-tragedies which are complete parts of a whole, giving us the reason of the Cross, or perhaps satisfying the reason of the Cross for Mark. This, of course, means that Mark didn’t have to be an eyewitness, but needed only to know the brutality of the cross with scant details of the life of Christ, which is what we see expressed in the Gospel. The plot of Mark is hardly episodic, or rather a linear progression of boring events, one after the other. Instead, it turns on events. One event leads to another, with several larger events puncturing the Gospel story leading to the dramatic conclusion of the Cross, with only questions afterwards.

Aristotle’s two essential emotions are phobos (fear) and eleos (pity). Can’t we see that at work in Mark. There is a fear of the demonic, and then pity. But, after the liberation is won, there is now fear of Jesus by the towns people, in which we should feel pity for the soon-to-be-crucified Christ. Who will carry on his mission? Why, the demoniac of course? Won’t you join him? This is produces a psychological identification with the people in the story, and in our case, the many actors, including Jesus and even the town’s folk. This is what Aristotle calls katharsis, something which Potolsky notes is often argued over. I tend to agree with the idea that the emotions are to be aroused in that they didn’t know that they had them, but now do and must now act on them. (Such as the nationalistic response to the movie Braveheart, which quickly lead to homerule for first time in centuries for the people of Scotland.)

An Appeal to Scripture as Mimesis

For discussion of course, but Aristotle, in calling the poet an imitator, notes that the poet validate themselves and their choices in several ways, but one in particular caught my eye,

Further, if it be objected that the description is not true to fact, the poet may perhaps reply, ‘But the objects are as they ought to  be'; just as Sophocles said that he drew men as they ought to be; Euripides, as they are. In this way the objection may be met. If, however, the representation be of neither kind, the poet may answer, ‘This is how men say the thing is.’ applies to tales about the gods. It may well be that these stories are not higher than fact nor yet true to fact: they are, very possibly, what Xenophanes says of them.  But anyhow, ‘this is what is said.’ Again, a description may be no better than the fact: ‘Still, it was the fact'; as in the passage about the arms: ‘Upright upon their butt-ends stood the spears.’ This was the custom then, as it now is among the Illyrians. (Poetics, 25)

I note often that Paul and quotes scripture as defense, essentially saying, I’m right because ‘this is what is said.’

Paul, the poet, the mimick, the meme.

Exploring Mimesis – The New Critical Idiom, Chapter 1 – Plato’s Joke?

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I get this feeling that we are all, historically, being left out of Plato’s joke. In the Republic, Plato takes on the voice of Socrates and proceeds through books 2 and 3, but mainly book 10, to lambast mimesis. Yet, as Potolsky offers Socrates’ definitions of mimesis, Plato identifies with a  form of mimesis in which the narrator takes the voice of the actor, which in this case would be Socrates. It is in this voice (Socrates) which Plato speaks the most strongly against the use of mimesis.

Before I go further, this is not a review, reflection or otherwise. Indeed, it is merely a walking through this book, and using my blog not only as a bank, so to speak, but as a proving ground in exploring this subject as well as building my thesis (and who knows, my dissertation later on). Consider this something like notes to myself.

Potolsky, in the first chapter, takes us through Plato’s Republic which is one of the first extended interactions with mimesis by the ancient Greeks, although as the author points out, mimesis was more than likely coined around the 5th century. It would seem, however, that the context of the Republic must be understood in order for us to ascertain Plato’s view of mimesis. Like other writers, especially in the genre of apology, Plato disparages mimesis because of his own interactions with it as well as his needed goals. His readers must not see the value in mimesis and thus, Plato takes the hardline against it. It is, as Potolsky notes later, a political issue in that Plato is assaulting the role in which Homer’s two testaments, the Iliad and the Odyssey, had taken in Greek society, and through them the use of poetry. What is this role? Potolsky positions Plato’s parable of the cave, in which prisoners see nothing but shadows, assuming that they are real; however, one prisoner is led out, turns to the sun and embraces the truth (i.e, the light of philosophy) and finally sees what is ‘real’, as a central clue in understanding the philosopher’s abhorrence of mimesis. He who controls the images (in this case, the wardens of the prison) controlled the political situation. Poetry (which was acted out) contained nothing but images. Plato, using Socrates’ voice, sought to banish the imitators from the Republic’s City in order to govern by reason and not by emotion.

Interesting to me is Socrates’ use of mimesis as a ‘stamp’ for children, especially so since these children would grow up to be the guardians of the Republic. The idea of the ‘stamp’, or image, is one familiar in the New Testament. The Greek word is used for those not able to bare the image is ἀδόκιμος
(adokimos) (Heb 6.8, etc…) For Plato, the use of mimesis, at first, was used to stamp on the children the proper way of doing things. Here, Plato wanted mimesis, which was using familiar images, to be acted on later by the children in their role as Guardians, but it goes down hill from there. Socrates believed in specialization. Thus, to be an imitator, you had to act different roles (including gender) which went against the basic rule the Republic. Further, and this is where I have to wonder about this entire notion that Plato and Socrates were really opposed to mimesis, the imitator had to speak in the voice of another in the stories told to children to enforce a standard or hoped for goal. Potolsky writes, “in mimetic narration, by contrast, the narrator imitates the character in voice or gesture, as in a theatrical performance: ‘he gives a speech as through he were someone else.’ (Plato, 1991.71) (Potolsky 20). How is this widely different than Plato’s use of Socrates’ voice in writing the Republic? Interestingly enough, Plato again uses the same, or nearly the same trick, as what he opposes. He (or Socrates) decries mimesis as something other than true knowledge saying that Homer only acted as if he knew about politics and battles. Yet, Plato is using the voice of Socrates to establish a body politick, neither of which the men had any real knowledge of (p23-24).

Plato obviously didn’t care for mimesis. For him, it was a part of education, but it was also something which detracted from the society. Potolsky writes, “No longer a quality of just the pupil or the performer, mimesis describes the identification of an audience with the spectacle on stage. (p27)” This was dangerous because these stage plays, these tragedies, were playing into the social structures and would, even in a perfectly controlled city such as the Republic. What Plato was identifying was the social control of what we would call media as he knew that “political power lies in the control of images. (p29)”. This is why he took such a hardline against mimesis, because as a philosopher who had turned to face the sun, he was afraid of the return to the prison. It was reason against emotions, philosophy against poetry.

The stories told to the children were stripped of their human elements, such as gods who were debauched, heroes “lamenting their fate”, or the lack of modesty when it came to “sex, food, or money.” He took known figures, the gods and heroes, and turned the stories around to serve not as tragedies or humorous tales of more-human-than-divine-gods, but as ethical and moral tales used to sow the seeds of reason and good government. Plato gives mimesis, visual or oral, a certain degree of power. If Mark 5.1-20 utilizes mimesis, then it does so because of the then-recent events, which the people must be liberated from. Perhaps the Evangelist is fulfilling his vocation and Plato’s political aims in that he is using mimesis to liberate people into the Victory of God. Mark strips out the negative, replaces it with the positive so that this story is then used to teach the Gospel of Christ.

Just some thoughts.

Could the Gospel Stories be Vocational?

Jesus, Paul, the People of God and N.T. Wright
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My MA(TS) Thesis will focus on mark 5.1-20, using rhetorical criticism to highlight the source material. I’m not really struggling with the idea that Jesus ‘didn’t really’ cast out the demons, but I know that others are. As a matter of fact, I’ve wondered how you could go about preaching that without defeating faith or confusing the congregation or cause them to question the authority of Scripture. So, in reading Wright’s first essay in this book, I caught this line:

He begins, “Our vision of social justice and of salvation have become cruelly detached from one another.”

He goes one to say that he has covered this in an earlier book, Evil and the Justice of God, stating that philosophically, the “problem of evil has been allowed to float free from the cross, while the cross seen as atonement, has become quite detached from the massasive and deeply troubling fact of evil…”

Excellent. Agreed. Cheers. But, in this, he goes on, and I quote, “(T)he evangelists are reflecting a train of thought and prayer and vocation which was Jesus’ own train of thought.” I get the part that we cannot simply believe that Jesus had no clue as to what He was doing, leaving the creation of the mythos to the Gospel writers. But, my focus is, is the idea that the Gospel (telling/writing) is a vocation in of itself and was a means to confront evil so that the Gospel is still Jesus working a social justice concern through the salvic moment of the Cross which allowed the Evangelists to speak of Jesus, in the present, still working.


Exploring Mimesis – The New Critical Idiom, Introduction

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I have a Master’s thesis due in just a few short months. I will be using a paper written for class and expounding upon it for such a work, with hopes of using it to either write a book which single-handly changes the course of all biblical studies and theology while netting me millions of dollars with which I will promptly retire and become a recluse on a beach somewhere or, if that is not the case, to push me into doctoral work. My thesis, and thus my area of study for the rest of my life, will be on the Gospel of Mark as understood through rhetorical criticism. My focus for this thesis will be Mark 5.1-20. As such, I am going the Evangelist’s writing style against the Age’s rhetorical styles, namely, mimesis. To that end, I bought a book. Several as a matter of fact. To keep my thoughts and to implore you for help, I am going to post interactions with these books from time to time.

The first one up is Mimesis, The New Critical Idiom, by Matthew Potolsky.The kindle version is a little wonky, but the reason I chose Kindle is because it allows me to highlight and and keep notes on those highlights. I’m not sure if I will go full-bore Kindle or not, but this is a test case. The product description is:

A topic that has become increasingly central to the study of art, performance and literature, the term mimesis has long been used to refer to the relationship between an image and its ‘real’ original. However, recent theorists have extended the concept, highlighting new perspectives on key concerns, such as the nature of identity.

Matt Potolsky presents a clear introduction to this potentially daunting concept, examining:

  • the foundations of mimetic theory in ancient philosophy, from Plato to Aristotle
  • three key versions of mimesis: imitatio or rhetorical imitation, theatre and theatricality, and artistic realism
  •  the position of mimesis in modern theories of identity and culture, through theorists such as Freud, Lacan, Girard and Baudrillard
  • the possible future of mimetic theory in the concept of ‘memes’, which connects evolutionary biology and theories of cultural reproduction.

A multidisciplinary study of a term rapidly returning to the forefront of contemporary theory, Mimesis is a welcome guide for readers in such fields as literature, performance and cultural studies.

I’m not so concerned with later uses of it, but I am interested first in the history and early use which seemingly expanded Plato’s understanding of it. While we are talking about its identification several centuries before the Gospel writers, Rome only later came to use it (if I have my facts straight) around the turn of the first century CE, right in time for the Mark to have employed it. So, for my thesis, the first two points seem relevant, although I cannot not finish a book.

So what is mimesis? According to Potolsky, it is the “relationship between artistic images and reality” and yet, he goes on to now that translations and interpretations fail to note the complexity of the concept and the traditions surrounding it. (p1) (The author cites another work, by Gebauer and Wulf in which those authors ask, “What is the relation between the representational and the represented work?”) In my opinion, to cast mimesis as a simple reproduction, especially in the ancient times, is to dismiss the use of this rhetorical style as a viable means of communication. Moving from Plato to Aristotle, the author notes that the ancients believed that mimesis is only effective if it resonates with the ‘basic cognitive operations.’ How does this work? I would suppose that this is the use of words or imagery to trigger a ‘real’ memory in the mind of the audience. Here, we factor in mnemonic faculties which the orator is trying to reach, to ignite by mimesis.

Building on this, Potolsky cites as the source of mimesis the faithfulness to convention, not to nature. Again, I draw make my previous work in citing that Mark used the conventions of history and propaganda to tell the Gospel story which reached the senses of the oppressed people in that area. I am not too far off as the author notes that the “conventionalist account makes mimesis radically dependent on the social and historical context.” Exactly, which is why in taking Mark 5 next Vespasian, we get mimesis.

Adam Winn and Tom Verenna are just a few of those who are using this style in exploring biblical studies. Potolsky notes that the theories behind mimesis are often tied exclusively to Plato and Aristotle with few in recent times wanting to explore it. That at once frightens me and puts a smile on my face because there are only a few to argue with and their are only a few to argue with.

Finally, I note that Plato and Aristotle saw the concept differently. Plato hated it, it seems, seeing it as a potential corruption of reality. The later saw as a foundational aspect of human nature (p6).

Well, that was the introductions.

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Exegesis Mark 5.1-20 – Part 3 – Josephus and Mark, Dueling Propagandists

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The History of Vespasian and Simon bar Giora according to Josephus

According to Josephus, the soon-to-be Roman Emperor advanced on the Jewish rebels in and around the Sea of Galilee so that in the space of about three months, Vespasian captured both Gerasa and Gadara. Understanding Vespasian’s actions here is important to understanding Mark’ telling of the demoniac and Jesus, not only providing a mimicking account of the historical situation, but also a dual with Vespasian in which Jesus is clearly seen as the victor (and thus the proper Messiah). Gerasa is a side note, which we will deal with shortly.  At the end of March 68, Vespasian was marching on the town of Gadara, on his way to Jerusalem. The leading and wealthy men of the city would send an embassy to Vespasian for peace. They had, according to Josephus, a “desire for peace and from concern for their property, for Gadara had many wealthy residents.” Thus, they surrendered, but only after the pro-war crowd had brutally left.  I note in Josephus’ account is the details which are provided and which resurface later by another author. In Wars 4.400-437, the tale is repeated with much more detail and indeed, a different ending. During the waste of the land, which Vespasian had caused, Josephus tells of the capital city, Gadara, and what amounts to appeasement. Those of the anti-Roman party were besieging the city, killing those who escaped; however some did and asked that Vespasian come and save them. On the 4 Adar (21 March 68), Vespasian entered the town as he was asked to do by the wealthy men of the city. Of course, the entire city was not excited about the surrender.

The anti-Roman party, who according to Josephus was seditious and brutal, decided that they could not take the surrendering of the city and decided to flee; however, they decided that blood must be drawn to preserve their honor. To do this, they found a young man by the name of Dolesus who, as the leader of the city’s nobility, sent the embassy to Vespasian. Josephus reports that the anti-Roman party ‘slew him and treated his dead body after a barbarous manner, so very violent was their anger at him, and they ran out of the city.’ The ‘lovers of peace’ however, was able to secure the peace with Vespasian and preserve their wealth and property. On the other hand, Vespasian sent Placidus after the rebels and in a very bloody end, they met their doom. At the final battle of the Gadarenes, the Romans killed fifteen thousand, ‘while the number of those who were unwillingly forced to leap into the Jordan was prodigious.’ The remaining two-thousand two hundred were taken as prisoners.

The town of Gerasa provides for us several connections to Mark’s story. First, Gerasa was itself conquered by Vespasian who slaughtered 1000 young men, plundering what remained. He did so with the Tenth Legion, represented by the image of a wild boar and stationed at the hilltop city of Hippos. Further, the town of Gerasa is the birthplace Simon bar Giora, a Jewish militant during the revolt. He was successful at first, but due to his popularity, the religious leaders at Jerusalem refused to award him a command position in fear that his popularity would outweigh them. His promise to set at liberty the slaves and to give a reward to the free, allowed him to raise a 40,000 man army. After being invited into Jerusalem by the Jewish religious leaders and heralded as savior and guardian, he claimed himself king, wore purple at the place of the Temple[1], and minted coins with the legend ‘The Redemption of Zion[2]’ (Wars 4.486-504; 7.26-32). After the invasion and destruction of Gerasa, Vespasian learned of the death of the Emperor. He then retreated to Caesarea[3] where he awaited the new Emperor, Galba.

Exegesis of Mark 5.1-20

As we turn to the exegesis of Mark 5.1-20, we find a passage which has described as ‘weird and solitary[4]’ ‘eerie,[5]’ and ‘elaborate[6]’ in what one has called the ‘Cinderella Gospel’[7]. I have already weighted heavily the passage with the idea that Mark is using mimesis to undue Vespasian’s actions in Gadara and maybe suggesting a counter to Simon bar Giora’ claims. It is necessary, however, that I examine the normative source for a Gospel writer, the Jewish Prophets. The Gospel writers’ use of the Old Testament as a means of showcasing who Jesus is is well documented and must not be overlooked during any exegesis. In Mark, the writer has a formula[8] for introduction when he is using the voices of the Prophets to introduce something which Jesus has done/is doing to fulfill Scripture. The Evangelist used it least eight times[9], with a preference for Isaiah in the Septuagint. Knowing that, then, one must examine Isaiah 65.1-7 as a possible literary backdrop to Mark’s story of the demoniac.

On the surface, the two passages are similar. Gerasa was a Gentile city, which matches Isaiah 65.1c. Also of note is the imagery of living among the tombs and demons in Isaiah 65.3-4a while 63.4b speaks about swine’s flesh. The imagery of the tombs plays a large part in both passages, although in the LXX Isaiah the scenery is filled with the images which accompany pagan sacrifices and the move from henotheism to monotheism (65.3b – ‘the demons, which do not exist.’). Similar as well is the warning of the people to the Lord in Isaiah of not to come closer which is similar to Legion’s plea with Jesus not to have anything to do with it. Finally, what is also present are the images of hills and mountains as well as the repayment for the deeds done by the people.

What is missing, however, is the Markan use of the phrase ὡς γέγραπται. Without that formula it is difficult to assume that Mark is using his story in 5.1-20 as an eschatological fulfillment of Isaiah 65.1-7 (LXX). While Mark shows that he is familiar with the Septuagint and the Prophets, especially Isaiah, we cannot easily assume that Mark is writing to show that Christ fulfilled the words of the Prophet Isaiah. On the other hand, we might assume that the Evangelist is employing recent historical events in such a way that they themselves cause the situation in Isaiah 65.1-7 to take place so that Jesus as the Son of God can now fulfill them. The historical events which pre-dated Mark’s writing would have been prevalent in his mind, and if he was writing to counter, as Winn suggests, the rise of the Roman pretender to the Messianic throne then the author may well have seen the fulfillment of Isaiah’s oracle in Vespasian and thus would use mimesis to show that the mighty acts of Jesus were far superior to that of the Roman pretender.

μίμησις (mimesis), as I wrote earlier, was a literary tactic being employed around the time of Mark’s writing, in a variety of ways, but the use which we are concerned with is the use made by Lucan. Lucan used the great poetic drama of Rome’s history, the Aenied, to counter the moral decay of his present day Rome, taking political snipes at Nero along the way. While we cannot say for sure that Mark knew of this type of writing, the fact remains that his very Roman and Palestinian provenance would have given him access to such a style. It would be my contention that Mark was then using mimesis to develop his oral sources for his receptive audience and in doing so, issuing anti-imperial tracts in much the same vein as Lucan. Mimesis would have allowed Mark to not only prop Jesus up against Vespasian but allow Jesus through his mighty acts, to outdo Vespasian.

As Kennedy notes (Kennedy, 1980, 109), the delivery of rhetoric is important to the overall approach. While a text may be created due to the speech, the speech remains the act. Here, I follow Kenneth Bailey[10] in his compilation of the oral tradition as developed by Bultmann (informal uncontrolled) and the Scandinavian School (formal controlled) into the idea that the informal controlled oral tradition which allowed for the waters of the Jesus Tradition to be added to with guided measure. The oral tradition allowed for the message to be contextualized suiting the hearing audiences. If Mark was collecting oral tradition then we can be assured that the oral transmission was contextualized to suit the next audience, which Bultmann would have noted[11]. However, as Mark took to writing the text down, he would have been forcing upon it some control, along the lines of the Scandinavian school. In other words, Mark may in fact have been writing about an actual event, in some small measure, but as his readers would have heard the Gospel read aloud, it would have taken on a whole new meaning, especially in the political arena in which it was composed. What would they have heard from the reader of the Gospel?

Up until now, I have weighted the exegesis with the propaganda tales as written by Josephus, following Dr. Adam Winn’s lead. I have examined mimesis and stated that Mark may have been following Lucan’s use of the rhetorical technique, or at the very least, using letteraturizzazione to develop this passage in particular.  Further, I have briefly stated that as Mark moved from the informal uncontrolled oral tradition to the formal controlled writings, he may have used a historical event, but couched it in the political area of the day. Finally, I have suggested that had Mark used Isaiah 65.1-7 as a rhetorical backdrop, perhaps as a mini-mimesis, then he may have used it first as a situation created by the Gadarenes and their peace embassy to Vespasian and then as the historical flourish which allowed Christ to be presented as not only the Messiah, but one greater than Vespasian. In the following section, I will detail the proximity between the historical reality of Vespasian and his march upon Gadara and the Gospel of Mark’s telling of the demoniac in 5.1-20.

Mark’s lack of geographical detail has been a stumbling block for commentators and even his fellow Evangelists. Yet, we should consider what the point of the passage is. To that end, I suggest that Mark is using events which originally took place in Gadara while calling to mind the famous native of Gerasa to offer a juxtaposition not just between Jesus and Vespasian, but Jesus and Simon bar Giora. Further, as noted above, Gerasa had its own trouble with Vespasian. The town was conquered by the Tenth Legion, which had as its image the wild boar. Mark wasn’t using bad geography; Mark was using a rhetorical flair.

The demoniac man is paralleled in the historical figure of Dolesus, the rich leader of the pro-Roman party. He is brutally slaughtered by the anti-Roman party, but the brutality doesn’t end there. Josephus records that the Jews of the anti-Roman party actually continued to violate the dead body. In Mark’s account, the man who lived among the tombs was violent, but unlike Matthew’s account, was violent only to himself. The demoniac was constantly brutalizing his own body. The demonic had also torn apart the chains and simply could not be held due to his anger and strength. We may imply that due to the violent death of Dolesus, it would have been assumed that he was doomed to wonder the earth as an evil spirit[12]. If we note that there is some manuscript evidence to suggest that δαίμονες is used in 5.12[13], then we may safely draw the conclusion that Mark was suggesting to his readers that the bound man who was brutalizing his own body was the former Dolesus.

In 5.11, Jesus sees a herd of swine on a nearby mountain. Mark’s readers would have understood that he was referring to the 10th Legion which had trampled Gerasa and was part of Vespasian’s larger contingent. This legion, which was about 6000 men, was stationed in a town near to Gadara called Hippos which was positioned on top of a hill overlooking the Sea of Galilee. Hippos would have been the seaport which Jesus would have used to land for his walk to Gadara/Gerasa. Here, the terminology of Legion comes into play. The Roman Legion was something to be feared, consisting of nearly 6000 men and were the force of Vespasian’s army, a fact not lost on Mark’s audience. To add to this use of Legion, we have Jesus’ address to the Legion in v13. When asked if they could be sent into the swine, Mark writes that Jesus gave them permission. Placher[14] notes that the Greek word ἐπέτρεψεν would have been best understood as a military command along the lines of ‘dismissed!’ Once this command is given, the Legion rushes down the steep bank into the sea. Here, Mark is specific about the number of them, which was ‘about two-thousand’. The actions in 5.13 are eerily similar to the actions recorded by Josephus in Wars 4.435-436 in which after the last battle of the anti-Roman party, over 15,000 Jews were killed with more being forced to jump into the Jordan River, presumably drowning, while ‘two thousand and two hundred were taken prisoners.’ This, again, parallels Mark’s account with the leaping into the sea of about two thousand demons. In the collective memory of Mark’s audience, these mnemonic cues would have been enough to alert the listener to Mark’s rhetorical act.

This rhetorical act would have been heightened as well by the reversal of the town’s people. With Vespasian, they had welcomed him in to protect their property; with Jesus, they wanted to rush him out to protect their property. While the final few verses of the passage do not have the overall rhetorical flair of the first 13, they do provide the final mimesis, and in Lucan flair. Like Lucan who used the Aeneid’s ascent of Rome as the model of the descent in Rome his Pharsalia, Mark uses the same reversal of events to depict the reaction of the town to Jesus. Whereas they wanted the occupation by Vespasian, they refused the liberation which Jesus brought.

What then, if any, is the good news in this passage? Christ restores the victimized, as he did with Dolesus. The demoniac man who was unclean (Jesus follows this miracle with healing the woman with the issue of blood and raising the dead girl, both requires the touching of the unclean) and lived among unclean things. I note that his gashes and open wounds would have been infected and a cause for impurity, as the woman with the issue of blood. Christ went past the impurity to rescue the man. Further, if there is good news here, it is that Jesus has restored the dead man to life again, foreshadowing the Resurrection. While there is the element of the exorcism, the good news is that that people can be freed from superstition as well. The ‘demons’ (and here, I replay YHWH’s words in Isaiah, ‘the demons, which do not exist’) were actually the Romans who were brought into the city by choice. Here, Christ offers them the good news of liberation but as often is the case, they chose oppression and pleaded with the Liberator to leave their town. The town’s people weren’t just rejecting Jesus, but they were rejecting the Gospel which Mark’s Community may have been trying to bring to them, especially in light of Vespasian’s claim to the Messianic throne.

[1] Bar Giora was trying to escape underground, but once caught, emerged through the ground upon which the Temple had recently stood. Marcus (1992) suggests that the ‘abomination of desolation standing where he should not’ (13.14) refers to Eleazer son of Simon or to Titus. A future investigation into this figure being Simon bar Giora may be warrented.

[2] Evans, Craig A. (2006). “Messianic Hopes and Messianic Figures in Late Antiquity”. Journal of Greco-Roman Christianity and Judaism 3: 9–40.

[3] A Caesarea would be a turning point for Jesus, Vespasian and bar Giora, but that is of a different topic

[4] Charles Gore, A New Commentary on Holy Scripture (London: SPCK, 1929).

[5] William Barclay, The Gospel of Mark (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press: 2001)

[6] John R. Donahue, Daniel J. Harrington, The Gospel of Mark, (Collegeville: Liturgical Press 2005)

[7] Brendan Byrne,  A Costly Freedom: A Theological Reading of Mark’s Gospel Collegeville: Liturgical Press 2008)

[8] I don’t mean to imply that this formula is used for all quotes of the Old Testament in Mark’s Gospel, just for fulfilled prophecies.

[9] 1.2; 7.6; 9.12-13; 11.17; 14.21; 14.27

[10] Kenneth Bailey, “Informal Controlled Oral Tradition and the Synoptic Gospels,” Themelios 20.2 (January 1995): 4-11.

[11] McCasland (Portents in Josephus and in the Gospels S. V. McCasland Journal of Biblical Literature Vol. 51, No. 4 (Dec., 1932), pp. 323-33) 5notes in described Bultmann’s argument that the German theologian ‘writes that “Sitz im Leben” is a typical situation or mode of conduct in the life of a community and that the literary form which is created by such a situation is not an aesthetic but a sociological concept’ citing Bultmanns’ Die Geschichte der synoptischen Tradition

[12] See The Greek Magical Papyri in Translation, Including the Demotic Spells By Hans Dieter Betz p333.

[13] See Matthew 8.31 for the only uncontested usage

[14] William C. Placher, Mark (Belief), (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press: 2010)


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Exegesis of Mark 5.1-20 – Part 2 – Kennedy in View

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Examination of the Period’s Trend of Literary Rhetoric

In a chapter devoted to literary rhetoric in George Kennedy’s classical treatment of Rhetoric[1], he gives the sense that it has lost something along the way, especially as oral rhetoric was moved to written rhetoric. He notes that literary rhetoric relies more fully upon the reader to know rhetoric whereas oral rhetoric relies on the speaker. As the Evangelists moved oral history to written history, they must have been concerned that written tales of Jesus wouldn’t carry the same weight, while at the same time, they found that a literary rhetoric might allow for more stories with pointed criticism. There is a danger, as Kennedy notes, in the written text becoming linear, and that may explain why books such as Revelation have become difficult to understand, especially if it was meant to be heard. Mark, on the other hand, meant for his work to be read, and in doing so, we also allow that the author was concerned with the hearing of the text (Kennedy, 1980, 109) and may have used what Kennedy identifies as letteraturizzazione[2].

Kennedy notes that letteraturizzazione ‘was also made easier by the fact that a great deal of Greek literature is in some sense public, and like oratory, had religious and political functions within society’ (Kennedy, 1980, 110). While Mark’s Gospel may not fit neatly into recognized Greek literature, we may assume that Mark knew of some rhetorical styles and normative Greek styles, especially if we assume this Mark is the same Mark who traveled with the Apostle Paul who was known to use Greek rhetoric in his Epistles. He goes on to note that the ‘fiction of orality’ can be seen in written works with the characters often written so as to use rhetoric and other forms of ‘speaking’ where by the reader could easily understand that rhetoric was being used. If we understand that Mark is using this to his advantage, then the conversation between Jesus and the Legion, Jesus and the former demoniac, and Jesus and the Town People are thus needed to be examined as letteraturizzazione.

Literary rhetoric was being established during the time in which Mark was being written. We know that Longinus and Tacitus were writing around the end of the first century with a marked trend toward literary rhetoric. Further, Virgil, writing a generation before Christ, was mimicked by Lucan, a rising star of literary rhetoric in the mid-first century. Cicero, writing before Virgil, shows a Latin trend in literary rhetoric as well. The Evangelist, then, would have been at home, either in Rome or Palestine, in using literary rhetoric to write to a young Messiah-believing community. Kennedy notes that during the Silver Age in Rome, names familiar to us now, such as Ovid, Martial and Juvenal, were writing the first ‘truly rhetorical literature’ (Kennedy, 1980, 113). These authors surrounded the Christian era with Mark fitting somewhere in the middle.

In a matter directly related to my position on Mark’s demoniac story is the mimesis of Virgil’s Aeneid – the mythic poem of the glorious founding of Rome – by Lucan in his poem, Pharsalia, which details the downfall of Rome due to the lack of virtue found among her leaders. Virgil’s poem opens with,

Arms, and the man I sing, who, forc’d by fate,
And haughty Juno’s unrelenting hate,
Expell’d and exil’d, left the Trojan shore.
Long labors, both by sea and land, he bore,
And in the doubtful war, before he won
The Latian realm, and built the destin’d town;
His banish’d gods restor’d to rites divine,
And settled sure succession in his line,
From whence the race of Alban fathers come,
And the long glories of majestic Rome.

Lucan ups Virgil’s tale with a spiraling pattern of immorality, which is some ways aimed at Nero and all of the Caesars:

Wars worse than civil on Emathian plains,
and crime let loose we sing; how Rome’s high race
plunged in her vitals her victorious sword;
armies akin embattled, with the force
of all the shaken earth bent on the fray;
and burst asunder, to the common guilt,
a kingdom’s compact; eagle with eagle met,
standard to standard, spear opposed to spear.

There are other examples to be made, such as when the heroes of the poems are compared with one another and their various actions. Virgil presents a real hero while Lucan presents Rome at her lowest. Essentially, during this time, it has become the rhetorical flare of a few writers to take a well-known story and through μίμησις use it to tell a different story, sometimes, with an almost satirist take.

Kennedy notes that μίμησις (mimesis, or imitation) is ‘fundamental…in theories of literary rhetoric.’ (Kennedy, 1980, 116). It goes beyond, however, merely imitation or repeating a previous action but goes also to the length of imitating an action, or an actor, to tell a different story. I note that Lucan has been identified using mimesis with his coopting of Virgil against Nero which no one can call a real imitation, but can point to the mockery of mimicking. Aristotle notes that mimesis can be found in different forms,

Now it is evident that each of the modes of imitation above mentioned will exhibit these differences, and become a distinct kind in imitating objects that are thus distinct. Such diversities may be found even in dancing, flute-playing, and lyre-playing. So again in language, whether prose or verse unaccompanied by music. Homer, for example, makes men better than they are; Cleophon as they are; Hegemon the Thasian, the inventor of parodies, and Nicochares, the author of the Deiliad, worse than they are. The same thing holds good of Dithyrambs and Nomes; here too one may portray different types, as Timotheus and Philoxenus differed in representing their Cyclopes. The same distinction marks off Tragedy from Comedy; for Comedy aims at representing men as worse, Tragedy as better than in actual life. (Aristotle – Poetics, II)

While later literary rhetoricians narrowed mimesis, Aristotle allows for a variety of uses, such as perfecting in some way ‘real life.’ Again, I note that Lucan, while employing mimesis used Virgil’s structure and imagery but against contemporary Rome. In the same way, the Evangelist uses a historical event familiar to the Jews of Palestine to make his political point.

[1] George A. Kennedy, Classical Rhetoric and its Christian and Secular Tradition (Chapel Hill University of North Carolina Press, 1980), 108-119.

[2] See Chapter 1 of Kennedy’s work. It relates to the ‘repeated slippage of rhetoric into literary composition.’ (cf  Kennedy, Classical Rhetoric, 109)

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Exegesis of Mark 5.1-20 – Part 1 – Winn’s Purpose as Backdrop

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The next three posts will be in a series. It is the rough draft, well you know, of my exegesis assignment for New Testament. I split it up, because I wanted too. Other wise, it would be a very long post and well, who wants that? They are spaced about 5 minutes apart.

Introduction and Scope

The Gospel according to Mark has often been derided as being too short and lacking the more formal theological treatments provided by his fellow synoptics, Matthew and Luke; however, there is much in Mark which has been dismissed in as much as the normative reading of Mark limits rhetorical interaction. Amos Wilder[1], in his 1955 SBL President address, in speaking on Scholars and Ancient Rhetoric, noted that we may miss the meaning of the poem ‘if we reduce it to a prose equivalent’ or ‘deduce from it a testimony to the poet’s attitude toward life.’ He goes on to state that a ‘poem is a concrete creation which offers “news of reality,”’ which is of course about the experience or revelation it affords. He then cautions that in studying the New Testament, we cannot either ‘rationalize it or existentialize it.’ In the study of Mark 5.1-20, many have sought to do just that – to rationalize it, focusing on the passage itself instead of the Sitz im leben of the author or the author’s receptive audience. Wilder notes what he calls the ‘mytho-poet’ who is that person who brings to us the ‘dynamics of group life.’ Mark is our mytho-poet, who in reaching out to his first receptive audience, created a ‘dynamic dramatic character resting on deep cultural associations.’ This was nothing new for the early Church, as all we have to do to is to turn to the last book in the Christian canon to see a fully formed ‘mytho-poet’ at work. Wilder goes on to note, which is important to the overall understanding of Mark 5.1-20 that ‘the early Church interpreted political and social and cultural forces mythologically – in the attempt to speak most significantly about them.’ As a starting point, I will be using Adam Winn’s doctoral work[2] wherein I will first explain his position and using this as a back drop, go further to explain that Mark wasn’t just casting Jesus as the opposite of Vespasian, with the rhetorical action of mimesis was rectifying Vespasian’s actions as well as speaking against Simon bar Giora. Mark is creating myth as defined by Karl Jaspers[3].

Over the past decade, the field of criticism which examines the quest for the Historical Jesus has seen a large body of work beginning to be developed which focuses on the New Testament in light of the ideology of Imperial Rome. Adam Winn argues that Mark’s Gospel was written as a defense against Roman Imperial propaganda. While Winn maintains a connection to the theory that Mark was ‘simply… preserving history’, he gives the reasons why previous theories of interpretation of Mark’s purpose generally fall flat. He defends his point that Mark was written to a Christian community for a specific purpose, building his case on the socio-political forces which assailed the community. Winn’s purpose for Mark is an anti-imperial treatise in which the false Messianic claimants are dealt with by the ‘true history’ of Jesus.

While the location of the writing is not as important as the date, it may be noteworthy, however, especially in consideration of how fast known ‘history’ was reaching Rome in the form of Josephus’ writing. Winn postulates that Mark was written near the fall of the Temple in Jerusalem, sometime shortly after 70ce (Winn, 2008, 67, 77-91). Joel Marcus, however, supports a Palestinian provenance but matches Winn for the period of writing[4]. For the purpose of this paper, I will agree with the post-70 dating of Mark.

In chapter four of his work (Winn, 2008, 153-177, see 174) he examines the imperial cult of Vespasian’s Rome, ending with an examination of Mark’s Sitz im Leben. Winn notes troubles which Mark’s receptive audience is facing – notably, the false messianic claimants, of which Vespasian is the most important. Winn relates the history of Vespasian’s cult and along with Marcus (Marcus, 1992), notes that Mark 13 is specifically addressing the situation present at the time of Mark’s writing. In Chapter 5, Winn is able to present Mark’s Jesus juxtaposed against that of Vespasian through several Markan features, such as Christological Identity and Presentation, the Son of God motif, and the area in which we are concerned, Jesus as Exorcist, a power which Winn notes Vespasian specifically lacks (Winn, 2008, 183-184). In this section, Winn notes that the Gerasene demoniac is a ‘tailor-made’ polemic against Vespasian which ‘could be read as a Markan response to Vespasian’s awesome military might.’ Beyond this snippet, Winn never fully explores this passage and thus fails to draw together the closest and most powerful parallels between Jesus and Vespasian found in Mark’s Gospel.

Comparisons of Passage with Matthew and Luke’s (re)Telling

The story of Jesus casting out the demoniac is found in all three of the synoptics, although with some notable differences. For a brief comparison, I have created a chart:

Connection Matthew Mark Luke
Follows the calming the of the sea Yes Yes Yes
Raising of Jarius’ daughter No Yes Yes
Location Gadara[5] Gerasa Gerasa’s regions
Number of Demoniacs 2 1 1
Follow-up No Yes Yes


The meeting of the young man and Jesus is equally different among the three synoptics:

Young Man Matthew Mark Luke
Response to Jesus Has the time come Begs not to be tormented Begs not to be tormented
Violent To those who passed by Only to himself Nothing mentioned
Appearance Nothing mentioned Open wounds Naked


Mark’s depiction is almost that of a remorseful spirit, trapped on earth due to an angry death. Both Mark and Luke complete the story with the follow up events of the town sending an embassy to Christ asking him to leave to preserve the peace while the healed man became a disciple of Christ and was sent off to tell others about what this Jesus had done.

[1] Scholars, Theologians, and Ancient Rhetoric Amos N. Wilder Journal of Biblical Literature Vol. 75, No. 1 (Mar., 1956), pp. 1-11

[2] Adam Winn, The Purpose of Mark’s Gospel (Tubingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2008).

[3] “Myth,” says Jaspers, “is speech concerning a reality which is not empirical reality, that reality with which we live existentially.” As quoted by Wilder.

[4] The Jewish War and the Sitz im Leben of Mark Joel Marcus Journal of Biblical Literature Vol. 111, No. 3 (Autumn, 1992), pp. 441-462

[5] For a fuller discussion on the place names of Gadara and Gerasa, as well as the early Church’s struggle with the discrepancy see A Study of the Place-Names Gergesa and Bethabara Raymond G. Clapp Journal of Biblical Literature Vol. 26, No. 1 (1907), pp. 62-83