Mark’s Line in the Sand to Vespasian

This idea has stayed with me for a while, ever since reading Adam Winn’s book, The Purpose of Mark’s Gospel, in which he postulates that Mark’s Gospel was written in such away as to counter Vespasian’s claim to the Messiahship of Israel. In part of his work, he attributes Mark’s introduction to the notion that Mark was setting up Christ as the very thing that Vespasian claimed for himself, that Christ was to be seen as the true object while Vespasian the pretender. (I’m sure that this went over well with the Roman cult). Winn does make a convincing argument about the political overtones of Mark’s telling of the story of Christ, but he while he connects ‘Son of God’ in the first verse and other miracles found throughout the work as challenges to Vespasian, I believe that he misses out on Mark’s opening line,

Ἀρχὴ τοῦ εὐαγγελίου

‘Gospel’ is used infrequently in Matthew and Luke and never in John, and where the synoptics use it, they generally are found among the ‘shared’ material. But, Mark is alone in starting his treatise by announcing that his work is a Gospel about Christ. This Gospel, the Gospel of the Kingdom, is about the Messiah, the Son of God, things which Vespasian claimed that he was. But, it is εὐαγγελίου which interests me.

According to the ]], during Greco-Roman times,  εὐαγγελίου was

used originally with reference to victory in battle. It was employed in two connections: (I) to designate the actual good news of victory and its conse­quent deliverance, and (2) to designate a reward that was given to the messenger who delivered the good news after the announcement had been verified. For the adher­ents of the imperial cult the term acquired religious con­notations as it was employed in reference to the birth, power, and pronouncements of the emperor-god.

It would seem then, if Winn is correct that ‘Son of God’ and ‘Christ’ is presented first as a witness against the Roman usurper, I would believe that εὐαγγελίου stands as well as a monument for the victory which Christ won, one in which not even Vespasian could mimic. Mark is stating that regardless of what Vespasian has accomplished or even promises to accomplish, Christ has already issued His own victory declaration.

Just a thought.

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10 Replies to “Mark’s Line in the Sand to Vespasian”

  1. I enjoy your discussion of my book above, but I think a closer reading will show that I do note the language of Mark’s Incipit, see pages 92-97, 173-74, and 178-79. Like you, I believe this is crucial evidence for Mark’s anti-emperor polemic. The opening line sets the stage for the polemic to follow–and it keys the reader into the what the author is up to.

    1. Dr. Winn, I presume!

      Actually, I have used your book in recent discussions on Constantine and other issues of loyal opposition, citing your work in several papers. I will look at that again, as when it comes to Mark’s gospel, you book is never far behind.

  2. Thanks Joel. Yes, it is Dr. Winn . . . but please call me Adam. It is always nice to see your work valued–glad it has been helpful!

    Blessings,
    Adam

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