How do you bring to bear a cross-disciplinary approach to a generally discarded book of Scripture, suddenly transforming it from a canonical oddity to a pearl? You do it the way John Anthony Dunne has — with careful attention to detail, a wonderful writing style, and an innovative, but sacred, way of looking for the story beneath the headlines. Rarely have I read a more enjoyable and engaging book dismantling previous notions while asserting new ones — with arrogance and any slight against previous notions. Dunne does not get bogged down in a superficial need for footnotes, but simply lays out his argument in an narrow, but supported, manner.
How do we properly treat the book of Esther? As Dunne shows, Christians have treated it in a variety of manners, but always between the two poles of outright ignoring it or twisting it that it doesn’t even look like the story. He also shows just how little difference there is in what modern exegetes do and what the deuterocanonical additions did. They work at adding God into the story.
Esther and her Elusive God is divided between two parts — with the first part having three of the five chapters, an appendix, a bibliography, and indices of sources used along with a subject index. In the first part, Dunne examines the (lack of) evidence for Esther as a sectarian document, concluding that it is a rather secular story. If you are a critical reader, you will not be surprised at the accounts of how Esther pleased her king and thus earned her crown, or the suggestion of how Esther and Mordecai came to be named. In three chapters, Dunne dismantles the usual patina around the story — that of a faithful and docile Jewish girl from the country, a story of love-at-first sight, and of a caretaking God — to bring forth a tell the story of an exiled and accommodating people whose good fortune is based solely on luck.
Not only does Dunne present critical scholarship around the book, but he likewise presents modern (Christian) accounts of the snipe hunt theologians and others go on to find a Christian theme in the book. Quoting from a variety of sources, he is able to deconstruct the usual sentiments around the book to show that what is thought to be exegesis is more often than not an attempt by the reader to force upon the book their own need. Simply, no matter what you do with this story it is not a wonderful book about a faithful God preserving a faithful people. His conclusions are meritorious. They are valid. More than anything, they are interesting and truthful to the text.
Nederlands: Jan Lievens, Feest van Esther, 1625, North Carolina Museum of Art, oil on canvas, 134.6 x 165.1 cm (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I am unsure if I can say enough about Dunne’s work. My largest complaint in working in Christian education at the Church level is the continued need to gloss over tough passages, and books, in Scripture. Esther gets such a treatment. We ignore the sexual congress it took to win the crown, the injustice to the previous queen, and the absent God. None of that needs critical scholarship to pinpoint. In ignoring this, we force upon the story our canonical perspectives of having to have God in every story of the bible. This had to some rather silly interpretations along the way — including novels and movies, something Dunne uses constantly as reference points. However, if we listen close enough to the story, via Dunne’s aid, we will see something much more breathtaking in Esther. The story revealed is one, even with all of the adult behavior enshrined therein, that we must tell ourselves and our children.
After all, as Wesley said, “There are no coincidences.”
I once came close to actually meeting Andrew “Andy” Byers in the flesh during a presentation on John the Baptist in the Gospel of John. It was at the annual meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature in Baltimore. Before that, we had communicated over various forms of social media — blog, Facebook, Twitter, and email — about a variety of topics. We’ve even spoken via Skype. So, I guess that while I have never “met” Andy in any traditional sense, I have come to know him via online interactions, across the new media if you will, and maybe that is better. If in nothing else, better in the sense that it gives me a unique perspective on the subject matter presented in TheoMedia: The Media of God and the Digital Age.
Andy — er, Byers — writes not to simply add to the confusion about how to accept and use the so-called new media, but to give a voice of calm, blessed, assurance than the fear and trepidation caused by the onslaught of new media is likewise very similar to the earthquakes felt by our predecessors as they grappled with the new ways of communication. Further, we aren’t the only ones using media — God used and uses all sorts of media to communication himself. At once, this is an introduction to theological communication, a theology of communication, and a reimagining of sorts that pits God’s self-disclosure in either the verbal or written form against what we think is happening today. This is not simply a series of resurrected sermons or blog posts, but a well-thought out program aimed at getting the (afraid of the) modern (-era) reader to step back and redigest the narrative of Christian tradition via “media.”
The book is divided into five parts, with part 5 serving as the conclusion to the book. Part 1 sets the philosophical and theological tone of the book, allowing Byers to present new terms (theomedia, theomedium) to the reader. He also, importantly, highlights some of the current discussions around the new social media and how it is shaping our society. He tackles a variety of issues, such as communicable mediation, sex, book v. pixel, and the theology of media.
Part 2 presents the God of Scripture as one who communicates via media. This is an often repeated refrain in this book, but one necessary. If you speak to those who matured before social media, they may not get the value of Facebook and Twitter, especially Christianity communicate via such things — and yet, we find God finding images and other media to communicate to Israel. We find the authors of Scripture finding ways to communicate about God via media. And yes, he does include St. John of Damascus and his own unique defense of theomedia. (Well, I mean before we knew what theomedia was.)
The third part examines speech acts in the Old Testament as a form of media. Rather than images and other tropes as the sole avenue of God’s expression, there is likewise the verbal — written and oral. In this series of chapters, Byers argues for the elevation of the written over the, I’d call it, abstract media. For those anxious over such things, he even speaks to you (chapter 7).
In Part 4, Byers turns to the New Testament to speak of God’s greatest communication act — the Incarnation. He speaks of the canon, the Eucharist (glad to see this word embraced by other Protestants), and baptism — all symbols of God’s communication to us. He closes in Part 5 with an admonition to linger in the theomedia so that these new ways of communicating with the world can be effectively employed to speak well of God.
I can think of no better person to have written such book. Byers presents several stories — from his time as a youth pastor; his role as father, husband, and friend — that really give color and shape to his commentary. He shows a remarkable knowledge of ancient controversies as well as concerns from our own time. Finally, he speaks not as one who has mastered every aspect of the new media, but as one who stands in the Great Tradition of using that which God gives to speak more about God than previously allowed. Yes, there are those that will remain unconvinced by Byer’s grand view, but if you really take his words to heart, the new media, and the newer media from tomorrow, will not worry you, only give you pause long enough to decide how to best use it for the Church.
Joel Watts invites readers in to the world of Revelation in exciting, intriguing, and enlightening ways. Cutting the cord tying St. John’s vision both to history and “prophecy”, Watts reads Revelation with commentators crossing the vast spectrum of Christian history and confession, asking only that we indulge the possibility that there are layers upon layers of possibility within this much-contested text. Placing the text firmly within the liturgical and eucharistic practices of the early church, Watts makes each scene come alive as an opportunity to see what St. John saw – that our worship and song and praise, understood in the fullness of eschatological possibility, takes place both here and now and in the Heavenly Temple before the Throne of the Triune God. The prayers offered up draw on the full range of Biblical texts as Watts makes Heilsgeschichte come alive through the words of Scripture. This is more than an offering of a new way to read, and pray, the Scriptures, something for which I’ve long sought. This is a deeply spiritual, deeply faithful rendering of a text, letting the Spirit bring to life the dead words on the page in a new way.
Among the constant conversation partners most present is St. John of the Cross, whose vision of the “Dark Night Of The Soul” brings out the ways Revelation can guide the weary pilgrim through the hazards of a deepening faith to the table that is set before us and for us. In this way Watts also sheds light on that misunderstood word, “mysticism”. Nothing airy or dreamy here, playing the words of Scripture off the words of the beloved Spanish poet, Watts shows that the mystics presented the full struggle for salvation and perfection of all creation in the drama of their own lives. The proper resting place, both in Scripture, and through Scripture for the great teachers of the church, for that struggle is worship, specifically the Eucharist, at which and through which the drama of salvation is not only reenacted but offered to all, both here and above. Reading and praying Revelation in this way offers readers the possibility of seeing their lives as an important part of the whole story of Redemption. This drama – personal, communal, cosmological – is united in and through the body and blood of the crucified and risen Son of God.
I cannot recommend this book highly enough. It is more than an excellent study of Revelation. The prayers, especially the responsive ones, would fit in any long liturgical study of Revelation, or equally well in small group settings. This is a book not so much to be read as to be thankful for; someone has made the vision of St. John come alive in ways that leave behind both the popular silliness too long associated with the book as well as reducing the text to its final, victorious vision.
Praying in God’s Theater – Click to Order on Amazon
“Revelation is, at its heart, about mysteries. Such things are best approached in prayer, in an attitude of worship, and in conversation with wiser souls. Joel L. Watts’s approach does exactly that, weaving a mix of liturgical prayer and scholarly reflections together with insights from commentators both ancient and modern.”
—Gary Neal Hansen, University of Dubuque Theological Seminary, Dubuque, IA
“Watts has written a beautiful, creative, and informative book on John’s Apocalypse. Watts’ attention to the full landscape of the book of Revelation, coupled with his attention to multiple interpretive traditions, is commendable. This book will serve faith communities and university students alike. It deserves careful attention.”
—John Oliff, Department of Christian Studies, Eastern University, St. Davids, PA
Joel Watts’ Praying in God’s Theatre brings a brilliant and fresh view- point to the Book of Revelation. For those of you laymen or women, like myself, who have struggled with the meaning and nature of Revelation, no matter how many bible studies, Praying in God’s Theatre brings a spirited context to the Bible’s most controversial and enigmatic book.
A few years ago I filmed a documentary on contemplative prayer, Be Still, with Beth Moore, Mac Lucado, Peter Kreeft, Dallas Willard, and Robert Foster; but that documentary pales in compari- son with the soulful observation that Mr. Watts is able to imbue in this remarkable literary and academic work regarding the contem- plation of Revelation.
Mr. Watts returns to the grand tradition of “Lectio Divina” in which scripture and reader become one. What did the Yale Humanities Professor, Harold Bloom say? “You don’t read Shakespeare, Shakespeare reads you.” What Mr. Watts is suggesting in his smart but easy-to-read book is that a prayerful spirited heart is truly neces- sary so that Revelation can, in a way, read you. In so doing, this process brings new levels of vision in one’s own faith journey through the Holy Spirit.
In his remarkable book, Mr. Watts creates a practical pathway with a collection of wonderful prayers that will help the reader gain further insight into the mystic realms of the Revelation text. For so long, Fundamentalists have kidnapped the era in which we live. They have roped it around the end-of-days gloom seemingly inherent in Revelation. That interpretation only drives away the possibility of a truly meaningful life through Christ. Mr. Watts takes us to another place. “This is not just a chapter (Revelation) about endings, it is about new beginnings,” he writes. In his thoughtful and powerful way, he allows us to unlock “the most important message” of the “Fifth Gospel.”
￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼What I admire about Watt’s writing is that it is inclusive. It brings “the body of Christ” together. His intelligent and compas- sionate analysis hopefully strikes up a new kind of revival in which all brothers and sisters in Christ can partake. As a body, we have become so closed to discourse especially in the realms of science. Mr. Watts’ view point on scripture, opens us up, frees us, allows us to engage with others in, healthy, life-affirming ways.
Praying in God’s Theatre is for anyone who has struggled with Revelation. It opens your eyes and heart and mind to a fresh start. It may indeed alter your worldview in a way that will be surprising, loving, and Christ-like.
—David Paul Kirkpatrick Author, and former President of Paramount Pictures, and Walt Disney Pictures
I found this book to be a very spiritually Christian book. The hand
of God can be seen throughout the prayers
—Doug Iverson Baptist, Ripon, Wisconsin
Joel L. Watts has incorporated a great blend of the teachings and liturgy from the Old Testament, its Psalms and ancient churches of the New Testament. His inclusion of the early church fathers, church councils and some of the greatest theologians throughout history Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant bridges it all together. This book is a great tool for understanding prayers, the liturgy, and the union of the Sacraments with Christ. It provides an in-depth perspective into Revelation and the Liturgy
—Most Reverend Kevin B. Twohig East Coast Diocese of the Advent Independent Catholic Church
Joel L. Watts’ innovative reading of the Book of Revelation continues his tradition of opening Scripture from a new and fresh perspective and offering readers a unique take on texts. Praying Scripture—even if that Scripture is the Apocalypse—is a spiritual exercise many of the Ancients endorsed. Joel’s attempt to revive the practice is commendable.
—Jim West Professor of Biblical Studies, Quartz Hill School of Theology
In this work on the book of Revelation, Joel L. Watts has did an excellent job of utilizing the best of contemporary exegesis as well as the words of the Church Mothers and Fathers. This will not doubt be an important resource for worship settings as local churches continue to embody the traditions of the early Church passed down to us.
—Rod Thomas, ThM (Master of Theology), and Baptist writer and political commentator at PoliticalJesus.com
With the entirety of the Christian tradition acting as his palate, Watts opens up one of the Bible’s most mystifying and polarizing books. Rather than let John’s Apocalypse sit in stasis, Watts uses the disci- pline of prayer to open it to those all over the Christian spectrum. This book is proof that—liberal or conservative—Revelation doesn’t have to scare us.
—Rev. Chris Tiedeman United Methodist Church (Indiana)
In this engaging and practical approach to the book of Revelation, Watts provides us with a wealth of information, sources, traditions, and even theologies that it is difficult to imagine how he was able to interweave them so seamlessly. In fact, for those that are interested in ecumenism, religious synthesis and even in syncretism, I cannot recommend this book enough as an example of how different Christian traditions can be joined together successfully for means of Christian devotion.
Personally, for a person that was brought up in a theology simi- lar to the author’s, this volume is such a breath of fresh air, and, accessible scholarship, that I cannot emphasize enough how helpful it has been to understand and enjoy the book of Revelation anew.
In a very fortuitous way, I was recently asked to write a course on the book of Revelation for a local parish church. You can be assured that this book will be in my required reading list.
—Daniel E. Ortiz MA MTh BTh Ordained Pastor in the UCE (Bolivian Congregationalist Church) Denomination. (Presently an Anglican communicant and, soon to be, Doctoral candidate in Pentecostal and Charismatic Studies in The University of Birmingham, U.K.)
I once stood in the cave on the Island of Patmos where the ancient traditions of the church believed that the Apostle John received a revelation from God concerning the final triumph of the “Lamb that was slain.” Centuries of scholarship have revised our understanding of the origins of the Book of Revelation, but its promises and images continue to fascinate the contemporary disciples of Jesus.
In this fascinating book, Joel Watts has transformed those promises and images into prayers, and has shifted the focus of our fascination with this book from our theology to our spirituality. As I moved through the pages of this book, I found nourishment for my spiritual life as I prayed the ancient vision of the triumphant and reigning Christ and I trust that it will be the same for each reader. This book is creative, profound, and spiritually provocative.
—William Boyd Grove Bishop, Retired, United Methodist Church
Praying in God’s Theater – Click to Order on Amazon
Much like the book of Revelation, Joel L. Watts’ Praying in God’s Theater aims to pull readers into a deeper spirituality to confront the daily struggles of Christian life. Drawing from the rich well of Christian mystics and theologians from across the ecumenical experience, Watts uses the Apocalypse to build a series of prayers and devotions aimed at increasing what he identifies as the contemplative unity and the certain unity between the individual and Christ. He urges a radical vision of the prayer and the sacrament of the Eucharist.
Each chapter of Revelation is considered, explored, and finally used as a basis to draft prayers. Added to this is an application commentary that explores ancient liturgical practices similar to the scenes in Revelation while looking at Revelation in a mystical manner. Watts offers Revelation as an early liturgy, using this proposition as a catalyst for building prayers and a vision of life based on the Eucharist as the emblem of how we are to approach God. What emerges is a profound view on how we envision Scripture, prayer, and the book of Revelation.
What if the way the book of Esther has been taught to us in church and retold to us in films, cartoons, and romance novels has missed the original point of the story? Far from being models of piety and devotion, Esther and Mordecai seem indifferent to the faith of their ancestors. How then did this story become part of the Bible and gain the broad acceptance that it has? If the church should not neglect the story, how should it be read? Esther and Her Elusive God calls Christians to avoid the common attempts to make Esther more palatable and theological, and to reclaim this secular story as Scripture. Readers will be encouraged to see in Esther a profound message of God’s grace and faithfulness to his wayward people.
Likewise, you can get it from the publishers directly:
Jason Byassee has a generous orthodoxy and a healthy writing habit. For nearly the past decade, Byassee has written articles, blog posts, and offered other literary creations for Christianity Today, the Christian Century, First Things, and Duke’s Faith and Leadership webzine among other venues. His goal seems to have been to wrestle openly with a pastoral response to a secular culture. What he finds, like Jacob of old, is that God is very present even in the darkest of nights. Indeed, Byassee promises us that Jesus can still be found and found in places evangelicals and other Protestants may not look.
Our author has collected several dozen essays and categorized them into 8 parts, covering a wide range of material. They are, even in the categories, not necessarily linear. Rather, the categories are best understood as wide catalogues. The areas covered include, but not limited to, Catholicism, Sports, the African Church, and even popular Evangelicalism. What unites these categories? Jesus. Jesus and his Church have not departed, but as Scripture promises us, continues. This is the message Byassee insists upon. And how does this happen? Because Jesus is ever-present.
Like the author, I am a member of the United Methodist Church. However my heart lies awash in the Tiber so his section on Catholicism was of a particular interest to me and is a section I will highlight in this review. While Byassee makes a mistake about Wesley’s rosary (137; even Luther had one), what he presents in these 8 chapters of Part 4 is a balanced a respectful view of Roman Catholicism and a Wesleyan discipline not afraid, like Wesley himself with his out-stretched arm, to find Jesus even in those traditions with which he disagrees. He covers in one essay a Protestant view of Marian veneration that would, I believe, invite positive conversation from St. John Damascene. He treats the Mass and Latin liturgy with the same respect. It is not simply that Byassee finds Jesus in these practices, but he exhibits Jesus when he displays his this charity of respect to others.
During a seminary class, I was required to read and comment on Jason Byassee’s previous book on the Small Church. I made no issue with the fact I believed Byassee a self-centered and self-righteous, even pompous pastor. I may need to reconsider my earlier estimation of the author given the full breadth of these essays. They show a remarkable kindness and appreciation of the nooks and crannies of where the Church is. The Church is in the split of the wood and under the stone. Indeed, the Church hides in plain site. If we look, we find Jesus because Jesus is still here and is okay for Protestants to understand that. This is marvelous book and one worth taking up and reading.
Robert Hill, Dean of the Chapel and Professor of New Testament and Pastoral Theology at Boston University School of Theology, has with everyone in mind writtena marvelous introduction to not only the Gospel of John itself but so too to recent scholarship on the Fourth Gospel. I was pleasantly surprised to see such a balanced view and presentation of critical scholarship around the Gospel of John while maintaining what appears to be a faithful commitment to certain theological tenets.
The book is clearly a designed to be a textbook, but one cleverly disguised as something infinitely more usable. It is divided into four parts. The first part serves as a theological introduction, introducing the book and the scope of the scholarship. In here, we find that while Hill has written the majority of the book, he has included essays from others. Part Two is a dual commentary and autobiographical attempt at marking Hill’s interaction with the Gospel of John. Here, we are introduced to lectures, sermons, and even presentations by such Johannine luminaries as Raymond Brown. Part Three tackles various scholarly issues as well as propositions presented by various scholars, such as the aforementioned Brown and J. Louis Martyn. We are also given a short brief on Hill’s thesis as to the course of John. The final part includes theological summaries as well as examinations for a graduate level Johannine class.
What started off as a “why do I need this book” quickly became “why wasn’t this book given to me before.” I am currently working a Ph.D. in the Fourth Gospel. This book is a welcomed addition to that work. As a small group leader, this book is equally accessible to the lay reader and will serve as a fine addition in lesson planning. Finally, for preachers, it helps to connect the Church and the Academy is a fashion honoring both.
Mimetic Criticism of the Gospel of Mark: An Introduction and Commentary (Wipf and Stock, 2013)
What if the story of Jesus was meant not just to be told but retold, molded, and shaped into something new, something present by the Evangelist to face each new crisis? The Evangelists were not recording a historical report, but writing to effect a change in their community. Mark was faced with the imminent destruction of his tiny community—a community leaderless without Paul and Peter and who witnessed the destruction of the Temple; now, another messianic figure was claiming the worship rightly due to Jesus. The author of the Gospel of Mark takes his stylus in hand and begins to rewrite the story of Jesus—to unwrite the present, rewrite the past, to change the future.
Joel L. Watts moves the Gospel of Mark to just after the destruction of the Temple, sets it within Roman educational models, and begins to read the ancient work afresh. Watts builds upon the historical criticisms of the past, but brings out a new way of reading the ancient stories of Jesus, and attempts to establish the literary sources of the Evangelist.
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.