Review for “Mimetic Criticism and the Gospel of Mark: An Introduction and Commentary”

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Thanks to Geoffrey for this review:

In the 19th century, the great British statesman William Gladstone wrote a long, detailed, and wrong work on the similarities between Homer (“good old Homer”) and the Bible. This tradition has kept up in to the 21st century, with a recent scholar making a similar argument, using different justifications. In “Mimetic Criticism and the Gospel of Mark: An Introduction and Commentary”, Joel Watts makes that case that, in fact, it was another author from antiquity that, at the very least, sat in the back of the Gospel author’s head: Lucan, the satiric poet who was forced to suicide by Nero. To make his case, Watts delves deep in to the historical background of the text of the Gospel, its roots in the Septuagint, and describes in detail how mimesis was understood at the time the original audience was being addressed. He then turns and shows how Lucan, who turned Virgil’s triumphant Caesarian propaganda on its head in his polemic against his childhood friend, the Emperor Nero. He also relies heavily on the theory that, while it is true texts emerge from communities, they can also create communities. The power of Mark’s Gospel, for Watts, lies precisely in those things that have made it, in words he borrows from classical and contemporary critics, an embarrassment.

I cannot say I accept his argument whole-heartedly. Replacing one antiquated author with another, even with a stirring defense, still leaves many questions unanswered, not to mention unanswerable. Leaving aside this not unimportant issue, Watts nevertheless demonstrates the subversive, even revolutionary quality of the text. In so doing, he shows us that, even at its most controversial – embarrassing? – Mark’s Gospel nevertheless offers contemporary readers a vision of Jesus wholly at odds both with his contemporaries and their expectations as well as us and our own expectations. Inviting readers to consider an original audience understanding many asides and references that have long since been lost, Watts breathes life in to those first Gospel communities, still broken-hearted at the destruction of the Temple and the significance of that action (as well as the declaration of Vespasian as Messiah for the Jews) for them.and their devotion to the Jesus they have come to revere. On this last, Watts’s inclusion of a discussion of various “Jesus’s” and what that means both for original readers as well modern readers, particularly of Chapter 13, changed this reader’s whole perspective on this part of the Gospel.

Best of all, Watts has done a great service by showing readers how even this Gospel, too often derided for its poor Greek, its Aramaisms, its incomplete sentences, and lack both of a beginning and ending, is nevertheless a text with many layers. Some of those layers cannot be understood, as Watts whole project insists, unless we are willing to enter the mind and heart of the original audience, learn what they took for granted, and hear with faith the promise that, despite defeat and dispersion, God was nevertheless with them, just as Jesus told them.

via Customer Reviews: Mimetic Criticism and the Gospel of Mark: An Introduction and Commentary.

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