Scratchpad: Before and After

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We are preparing for two exegetical papers in NT 1 class – One on a Gospel and one a catholic Epistle. I have chosen Mark for my first paper. Each week, a question regarding the Exegesis is asked, and of course, answered.

Gorman writes about the importance of situating the text for exegesis in its immediate context (the pericope right before and after) as well as the larger section. Write two paragraphs that discuss the immediate and larger context of your passage and write about one insight that you gain from the context that helps you understand your passage better.

My answer:

Mark’s dramatic storytelling is done so with a mission – to speak more to the life of Christ. I note Philip G. Davis’ take on Mark’s overall narrative:

“Indeed, it is striking that many of the most notable Markan ‘omissions’ involve matters which are not susceptible of imitation, including the virginal conception and the pre-eschatological resurrection. Mark’s whole story of Jesus can be read as a blueprint for the Christian life: It begins with baptism, proceeds with the vigorous pursuit of ministry in the face of temptation and opposition, and culminates in suffering and death oriented towards an as-yet unseen vindication.” (p. 109)

I am not so much concerned with Mark’s omissions (as some of those require a series of redefinitions), but am concerned with Mark’s narrative in which Christ is seen performing a series of very ordered actions with a pointed goal. Of course, the same could be said with each Evangelist, who in responding to the needs of their respective community, told the story differently, I believe that Mark’s goal was to showcase Christ performing a certain action related to Messianic Expectation, namely, cleansing (the land of Israel) of impurity. I turn again to the (in my opinion) single most important pre-New Testament document for examining the Messianic Expectation which met the writers of the Gospel, the Psalms of Solomon.

In the 17th Psalm (which along with the 18th is the most openly Messianic), the Psalmist writes

And gird him with strength to shatter in pieces unrighteous rulers, to purify Ierousalem from nations that trample her down in destruction. (v22)

And he shall have the peoples of the nations to be subject to him under his yoke, and he shall purify Ierousalem in holiness as it was at the beginning. (v30

Further, in 18.5, the Psalmist notes that God will cleanse Israel before He brings up the Messiah,

May God cleanse Israel for the day of pity with blessing, for the day of election when he brings up his anointed one.

Preceding my selected passage of Mark 5.1-10, is the story in which Christ calms the storm on the Sea of Galilee. Following the selected passage is the story of healing and resurrection. The first passage, Mark 4.35-41, is one which is anchored in the imagination next to Jonah 1.1-16. Unlike the ill-fated prophet though, Mark’s Messiah is able to rest in the middle of the storm, in the middle of the storm, and further, able to calm the storms by his mere words, escaping being thrown overboard as a sacrifice to the sea gods. Not only is this the image which we are to receive, but so to the fact that the Davidic Psalmist had long ago written that YHWH was the master of the winds and the seas (Ps 107.29). This no doubt stirred the listeners to the Gospel (more so than we latter day readers) as they felt the climatic action build as Mark was able to show that Christ was plainly in charge (unlike later when he would become the crucified criminal, losing all control) and on a mission. This must be carried through my selected passage in that following the casting out of the demons into the swine, both impure objects; Christ rids Israel of two impurities: the blood-mired woman and the impurity of the dead girl. He heals the woman and restores life  to the dead, purifying Israel for his eventual assumption to Mt. Calvary.

By understanding the expectation of the Messiah (in both what the community was expecting in a Messiah and what they were expecting from the Messiah) in Mark’s community and aligning it with a text which shows the expectation’s foundations, I believe that the insight gained is that the story of the casting out of Legion of the ‘demon possessed’ man is further revealed to be not a random insertion, or lapse in chronological memory of the author(s) but fits well with the direction in which Jesus is progressing, both typographically and missionally. It is about cleansing Israel of impurities.

Philip G. Davis, “Christology, Discipleship, and Self-Understanding in the Gospel of Mark,” in Self-Definition and Self-Discovery in Early Christianity:  A Study in Shifting Horizons, Essays in Appreciation of Ben F. Meyer From His Former Students, ed. David J. Hawkin and Tom Robinson (”Studies in Bible and Early Christianity,” 26; Lewiston: Edwin Mellen Press, 1990), 101-19.

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