The editors at Wipf and Stock will be blogging soon… found this post in particular pretty funny…
Unsettled ChristianityOne blog to rule them all, One blog to find them, One blog to bring them all and in the darkness bind them.
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.
Mike Gantt has written what he seems to think is a scathing review of my book. (It is a review in twelve parts, and begins here.) He has stated on numerous occasions that I won’t be “very pleased” with what he has to say. In response, I’ll start by stating up front that it’s not that I’m not pleased with the criticisms he makes of my book because they’re good criticisms. I’m not pleased with them because they were a complete waste of my time, many of them bordering on unintelligible. His review is long; I’ll give him that. But part of that is due to the repetition of assertions that appeal only to people who already share his views, and that will otherwise persuade no one else. In reality, many of Gantt’s criticisms don’t even apply to my book. He has beaten a number of straw men; he has concocted claims I am supposed to have made; he has displayed a predilection for guessing at my unspoken motives, and in every case, he has misdiagnosed me. It’s really a sad review. So why am I responding? Honestly, because I’m bored, and because I’m procrastinating on projects I ought rather to be doing. With that said, I’ll get to the blah blah blah, whatever.
Why Thom, why?
Maybe Thom was bored?
It is a good book, by the way… and one you should buy.
Publisher’s Description: A detailed critical analysis of various apocalyptic texts which poses a solution to the problem concerned with the method of studying allusive Old Testament material, particularly from Daniel. This study shows how Daniel helped mold the eschatological thinking of both Jews and Christians around the time of Christ.
Published April 2010
About the Author: G. K. Beale is Professor of New Testament and Biblical Theology at Westminster Theological Seminary, PA.
You can order it from Amazon as well. Can’t wait to get into this one…
For the start of the series, start here.
He’s right. When inerrancy is taken to its logical level there is a lack of pure claimants; however, Stark is wrong in assuming that inerrancy is acted out only by biblical literalists (Although he attempts to correct this view, too late in my opinion, on page 40. Of course, since most inerrantists rely on the Chicago Statement which stresses literalism, he has evidence for his assumption.) Today, modern inerrancy is taking on the notion that the bible was delivered correctly, not that everything in it is correct. For example, in discussing inerrancy with others, I use the example of Job’s friends. My friends counter that not everything in the bible is correct, good and true, but it was delivered inerrantly. I think that Stark falls into the same trap with demanding that inerrantists must be biblical literalists, although he does note that new get-arounds are developed from among the community. What inerrantists falter at, he is correct, is that they have created within the canon a smaller canon, and even in that a smaller one than that! Christians no longer listen to the laws proscribed by Leviticus or some of the uglier points in the Prophets. Could I entice you to beg God to destroy the infants of your enemies as the Psalmist did in 137? On the surface, and at the climax of the doctrine, inerrancy leaves you answering only yes. And this is where inspirationists divide from inerrantists, even if they do not know it yet. And here again, he is correct that to counter the growing suspicion that inerrancy is not of the historical faith, and that it creates more problems than it solves, many inerrantists attempt to use other devices to solve their self-created riddles. If, as Stark notes, the same method of producing inerrancy (see his discussion on p18) was used by the Church Fathers, I would imagine that many of them could not have seen Christ so poignantly in the Hebrew Scripture. Inerrancy is not interpretation, but the lack thereof.
There is much to say about interpretation and those who practice the craft, such as biblical mention doesn’t mean divide allowance, but I suspect that this conversation is for another post.
I suspect that if inerrantists who were pastors would remove themselves from the debate, and step back to look at their own sermons, they would fully understand what Stark covers in his discussion on Ancient Jewish Hermeneutics, finding themselves well in line with the interpretative tradition. Interpretation generally didn’t involve what ‘really happened’ but examined what was happening in the now by what happened then. For an example, the Gospel of Matthew. By taking the eleventh chapter of Hosea and comparing it to the life of the young Holy Family, he could see the connection of the two. It was not that Hosea was speaking about Christ or that the Evangelist was examining the story of Exodus through Hosea’s interpretation, but that he saw in Christ and the flight to and from Egypt the events of the now mirrored in the words of the ancient prophet. Stark is right in pointing out that,
Interpretation was not a careful process of historical-grammatical exegesis, but an inspired identification of a “hidden meaning” in the text with a present-day reality or concern. (p20)
Further, I believe that he does well to show Daniel’s less than literal reinterpretation of Jeremiah’s 70-year prophecy wouldn’t make it if examined under the light of the Chicago statement. As I stated before, neither would Matthew’s (a particular prophecy is pointed out by Stark on p28-29), the author of Hebrews, Paul (as the author points on on p30-31) or many of the early Church Fathers’. As he moves into extra-canonical sources, namely the Qumran sect(s), we see the act of subjective interpretation developing full steam, with all too familiar associations with our modern sects. Of course, much to the disconcerting effects of inerrantists, Stark goes and ruins his section here with pointing out the very real fact that the Qumran sect(s) and the New Testament writers have a similar interpretative style (p26-27). While he is correct, it is still going to be disconcerting for those who believe that the New Testament was written in a vacuum.
Moving into the Patristic writers, Stark shows that he is able to confront with mainstream church history the doctrine of inerrancy. While I would caution that his reading of Marcion is too simplistic, I believe that he handles Origen and Augustine and their view of literalism well. In doing so, the author shows that the early Church wrestled with Scripture, and in the end, authoritative didn’t always mean inerrant. I do think that the lines of inerrancy and literalism are mangled in their mingling, but not necessary by Stark are others, but by such groups as the signers of the Chicago Statement; Stark simply resolves to answer them on their terms.
After discussing the ‘evidence’ of the Text and Patristic authors, Stark moves on to modern fundamentalists. I hate to use that word in a disparaging sense because I know a few that I couldn’t disparage, which is I why I try to separate the belligerent from the non-belligerent with the word extreme. I note that the author doesn’t fully disparage the idea that Scripture interprets Scripture but roundly takes to task those who use this method while attempting to hold to a historical-grammatical approach. Further, he notes fully the corner which those who are attempting to profess to only one right way of interpretation which they feel must necessary beget inerrancy but aren’t afraid of using others in a pinch are pushed into. Inerrancy is a redaction of the divine inspiration of Scripture, and thus a human face of God, as Stark might would put it.
Regarding his interpretation of 1st Timothy 2.12-14, I do believe that in attempting to showcase the problem here of inerrancy, he inadvertently dismisses the culture context of the passage and what the author may have been saying, which would still upset inerrantists. It seems that he is almost grinding an ax with Mark Driscoll.
For me, my faith is Christ and Scripture is more secure of these facts, not less. The fact is, I try to use Scripture as it said of itself to be used, as the inspired instrument for the person of God (2nd Timothy 3.16). This is a great book, by the way, whether I agree or disagree with some of the points.
I want to spend some time on this book, namely because there are some books which simply demand more than a 500 word review; some books demand engagement. I believe that this is one of them. The book’s tag line, What Scripture reveals when it gets God wrong (and Why Inerrancy Tries to Hide it), is sure to ward off conservatives and those who profess, such as myself, to be bible-believing Christians. Reading his endorsements, I am left with wondering where I might fit in at. From Gregory Body to Dale C. Allison and the likes of John Loftus, we find a broad range of people who insist that this book be read and properly engaged. I intend to do just that.
Inerrancy is a big issue among those who are leaving the evangelical fold, and in leaving it, they find that they are only a generation or three from those who forcibly created this new doctrine, or perhaps, codified it in such things as the Chicago Statement in the year that I was born. People feel as if the Scripture is under attack by those who are less than literal, or those who see Genesis One and Creation in a theological light rather than a scientific light, or by anyone challenging their views of Scripture. Regrettably, it has become a dividing line between Christians and polarized the camps, creating problems where there should not be.
In Stark’s preface, he notes that in his own tradition he has seen a move to the right in regards to inerrancy, which has left him feeling that a critique is necessary. Perhaps he is writing in the prophetic light, addressing his own people about the abuses and errors that he sees and if so, as Collins notes in the forward, Stark is assuming the role of Amos and Ezekiel in lobbing an attack against inerrancy as a misuse of Scripture. He is correct regarding the notion of inerrancy in that often times, it is the only version of Christianity presented. Ironically, inerrancy becomes the saving feature of the Faith. I say ironically because Christ and Paul both questioned their own versions of inerrancy in their day and was generally met with the same resistance we see today. But once you move past this, the beauty of God’s Creation opens up, and for me, so does His Word. The author writes,
I myself was once subject to the parochialism of Evangelical fundamentalism, but have since discovered, by the grace of God, a world that is much broader, more diverse, charitable, and vibrant than the “orthodoxy” that marked my youth (xvi)
Thus is his self-stated goal, paraphrased: to unshelter the sheltered. It is a lofty goal, and I would guarantee, one unwelcomed. I often say that the worse thing you can give an extreme fundamentalist is a book. Maybe Thom’s book will be the book that opens up a hole in the mud roof for many of them. His goals and intentions are well put, desiring only a holistically faithful account of Scripture in the Church. We should do no less if we desire to remain faithful and honest to the teachings of Christ.
Stark begins his work by describing the Argument, as he calls it. To be honest, for me this idea, which he gives word to or me, has been budding in the back of my mind for a while. Examine Ruth and Ezra, Leviticus and Deuteronomy, the book of the Kingdoms and the Chronicler’s works. They are debating with each other. Ezra wants to expel all foreigners from Judea, and yet Ruth whom the Law banned from entering into the Promised Land is David’s Grandmother! David is a bad king in the Kingdoms, but in the Chronicles, his errors are hardly mentioned? Further, there are those things which Stark points out in Job and other books of the (canonical) Wisdom Genre which would make us recoil if we heard Christians actually professing! And what of God’s own admonition of Israel through the Prophets and their later insistence of a divine right? The author correctly labels this the ‘Argument’ and after showing it to be an accurate painting of the text, briefly (much to my chagrin) describes the political need for a canon which arose during exile and subsequent troublesome times.
Of course, as some will today maintain, God’s hand of inspiration can still be seen in the collections of these books. What if God’s method of revealing Himself to His creation was really about disjointed arguments given in diverse and odd ways (Hebrews 1.1) to those who had ears to hear? Can we see God as simplistic or have we come to realize that God is not merely the paradox of transcendent and imminent but so too very difficult at times to fully understand? I do wish that a separation between inerrancy and inspiration was drawn early on, although admittedly, it would have destroyed the flow of the chapter.
I would recommend to those of you who are struggling with reading Scripture and to those who aren’t.