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

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

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

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

You see what  I mean, right?


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Joel L. Watts
Joel L. Watts holds a Masters of Arts from United Theological Seminary with a focus in literary and rhetorical criticism of the New Testament. He is currently a Ph.D. student at the University of the Free State, analyzing Paul’s model of atonement in Galatians. He is the author of Mimetic Criticism of the Gospel of Mark: Introduction and Commentary (Wipf and Stock, 2013), a co-editor and contributor to From Fear to Faith: Stories of Hitting Spiritual Walls (Energion, 2013), and Praying in God's Theater, Meditations on the Book of Revelation (Wipf and Stock, 2014).

9 thoughts on “Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra – Mark’s use of Literary Sources

  1. I think you’ve hit the nail on the head there. What do you think about the possibility that Mark used Paul?

    By the way…were you at SBL in Chicago…it suddenly came to me yesterday that a guy called Joel Watts was at a session I was presiding in…

          1. Unfortunately, I was only there for one session. Hopefully, I’ll be there for both this time! This is, by far, my favorite section.

            I submitted a paper, but didn’t post the abstract on the site because, well…

            So, if nothing else, I’ll be there again next year!

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