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

Vespasianus. Plaster cast in Pushkin museum af...
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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. ]], 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 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 ]].

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. ]] 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. 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:

Follows the calming the of the seaYesYesYes
Raising of Jarius’ daughterNoYesYes
LocationGadaraGerasaGerasa’s regions
Number of Demoniacs211


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

Young ManMatthewMarkLuke
Response to JesusHas the time comeBegs not to be tormentedBegs not to be tormented
ViolentTo those who passed byOnly to himselfNothing mentioned
AppearanceNothing mentionedOpen woundsNaked


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.

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

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

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

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

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

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