Vridar

2013/03/12

Reading Wrede Again for the First Time (9)

Filed under: Gospel of Mark,Wrede: Messianic Secret — Tim Widowfield @ 1:31 pm
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William Wrede’s The Messianic Secret

Part 9: Concealment Despite Revelation

This unit continues with the section of Wrede’s The Messianic Secret (1971 English translation) from pp. 82 through 114, which focuses on the phenomenon of the disciples (and others) seeing or hearing the truth about Jesus but failing to understand that truth.

Jesus with the Twelve(Duccio di Buoninsegna)

Jesus with the Twelve
“Are you guys even paying attention?”
(Duccio di Buoninsegna)

Where MacDonald went wrong

Somewhat coincidentally, Neil recently posted a piece called “Where Wrede Went Wrong? MacDonald vs Wrede on Why Jesus Tried to Hide His Identity.” In it, he discussed Dennis MacDonald’s contention that the Gospel of Mark at least in part draws upon narrative motifs from the Odyssey, including the necessity of secrecy as the travel-weary protagonist plots to take revenge against “the Suitors.”

According to MacDonald (see Ancient Fiction and Early Christian Narrative), Wrede mistakenly placed the revelation of messiahship at the resurrection, when the actual revelation occurred earlier. He writes:

This understanding of secrecy [i.e., the one for which MacDonald is arguing] deviates from most other interpretations, including Wrede’s, by proposing that the disclosure of the secret takes place not at the empty tomb but at the Sanhedrin trial. (p. 142, emphasis mine)

While I am amenable to his proposal that Mark at times imitates Homer, MacDonald has failed to understand one of the enigmatic features of the messianic secret. For while self-concealment is a core component of the motif, Mark’s gospel also contains a number of instances in which the true identity of Jesus is plainly revealed to the people around him, and yet the secret remains intact.

By that I don’t mean that certain people “in the know” keep his secret. They hear all, but understand nothing. Only the demons seem to understand the full implications of the true nature of Jesus, and they weren’t told, but already knew it, owing to their supernatural existence.

MacDonald is correct about the disclosure of the secret at the Sanhedrin trial. In fact, from a narrative perspective, it is the turning point that inexorably sends Jesus down the path toward crucifixion. However, as we will see, this instance of disclosure resembles previous occurrences in that understanding does not follow revelation.

Scenes of recognition

The scene in the Odyssey in which Telemachus recognizes his father, MacDonald says, bears a strong resemblance to the scene in Mark wherein Peter “recognizes” that Jesus is the Christ. Interestingly, Telemachus first believes he is in the presence of a god and is frightened nearly out of his wits. At the close of both scenes, the protagonist orders silence. MacDonald writes:

(more…)

2013/02/10

Jesus and the Dove — how a Roman audience may have read the Gospel of Mark

Filed under: Gospel of Mark,Peppard: Son of God in Roman — Neil Godfrey @ 12:03 am
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SonOfGodRomanWorldThis post presents a snippet from The Son of God in the Roman World: Divine Sonship in Its Social and Political Context by Michael Peppard. There is much more in this book that deserves closer attention and that will probably be given in the coming year. Till then, I think some of us may be interested in the following.

At one point Peppard “tries to imagine how a listener attuned to Roman culture might understand the dove”, the bird associated* with the Spirit as it descended from heaven at the baptism of Jesus. (Peppard’s approach stands in contrast to most interpretations in that they have sought to explain the dove in terms of Palestinian and Babylonian Jewish traditions.) After discussing bird omens in Roman culture generally, he comes to a survey of the dove in particular. In Roman literature the dove was often regarded as standing in opposition to the eagle, that bird of prey well known as the symbol of Roman imperial power.

Romans Read Omens Like Jews Read Scriptures

One could say that Romans used omens to interpret and explain their experience of the world in analogous ways to how Jews used Scriptures to interpret and explain their experience of the world. (The Son of God in the Roman World, p. 116)

Augur

Augur

There were the official readings of the flights of birds in the quadrants of the sky by colleges of augurs. There were also interpretations of individual flights of birds that were sanctioned by common opinion.

As for the meaning of the dove descending at the baptism of Jesus, Peppard suggests the widely varying views found in the literature are possibly the consequence of scholars failing to study this image within the full range of the cultural milieu of the earliest evangelist and his readers.

Peppard brings forward “the Roman historian and collector of tales” Suetonius. In his several “lives of the emperors” Suetonius speaks of many bird omens, and according to Peppard, they are all related to two themes, “and two only”:

the rise of imperial power and the fall from it. (p. 116) (more…)

2013/02/09

Reading Wrede Again for the First Time (8)

Filed under: Gospel of Mark,Wrede: Messianic Secret — Tim Widowfield @ 12:03 am
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William Wrede’s The Messianic Secret

Part 8: A Different Kind of Messiah? — An astonishingly persistent misconception

Get Thee Behind Me, Satan

Get Thee Behind Me, Satan! (credit: Wikipedia)

This unit picks up after our mid-stream break in which we answered the question: “What Is the Messianic Secret?

Restatement of purpose

It is not my main purpose to argue for or against Wrede’s thesis. That isn’t why I’ve embarked on this reading expedition. My reasoning is straightforward: Before we agree or disagree with Wrede, we ought to know what he really said. As I’ve mentioned in earlier posts, The Messianic Secret had a profound impact on NT scholarship. Yet that impact is mostly misunderstood and largely muffled by scholars and laymen who opine on the subject with only the most cursory reference to the actual source material.

I note with some sadness the historical irony here. Wrede continually asked his fellow scholars to stop ignoring Mark. Instead of asking, “Why did Jesus do that?” we first should ask, “What did Mark mean when he wrote that?” Having learned nothing from The Messianic Secret, scholars now ignore both Wrede and Mark.

The vast majority of scholars who talk about the Messianic Secret are clearly ignorant of Wrede’s work. They waste our time by rehashing arguments that Wrede already convincingly addressed and discredited. And they do a disservice to their students and the reading public who get a distorted view of what the Messianic Secret is all about.

A short autobiographical digression

When I left the USAF back in ’92, I ended up working for a consulting company that specialized in information technology (IT) management, and which also dabbled in business process re-engineering (BPR). We became heavily involved in helping the Air Force with the merger of the old AF Systems Command and AF Logistics Command into the combined AF Materiel Command. Specifically, we were to assist them in deciding on a single set of IT standards, methods, processes, etc.

I found myself in the unexpected role of facilitator in round-table discussions, with a group of high-ranking, strong-willed people who had larger-than-life egos. They were all rulers of their fiefdoms, and quite unaccustomed to being told how to run their businesses.

My job was to keep the discussion on an even keel, to make sure everyone contributed to the discussion, and to gently guide the group to a consensus. One of the rules that we followed (and which I enforced) was this: Before anyone could disagree with a previous point, he or she had to restate it to the satisfaction of the person who had made that point. You would be amazed at how well this rule works not only in de-escalating tensions but in saving time.

How does it save time? Well, people don’t hear very well when they think they and their cherished beliefs are under attack. So when Mr. X would speak up and say, “I disagree with Ms. Y, because the real problem with . . .” My job was to say, “Hang on. Explain what Ms. Y said.” Immediately his posture would change. Instead of leaning forward aggressively, he would usually sit back, reflect a moment, and say: “Well, I think she said . . .” The ensuing give-and-take helped to clarify the issues at hand, and more often than not, Mr. X would admit that he had misunderstood Ms. Y. Frequently they found that they were actually in “violent agreement.”

I tell this story to explain why I have such a strong conviction about understanding a work before criticizing it or proposing “better” explanations. The vast majority of scholars who talk about the Messianic Secret are clearly ignorant of Wrede’s work. They waste our time by rehashing arguments that Wrede already convincingly addressed and discredited. And they do a disservice to their students and the reading public who get a distorted view of what the Messianic Secret is all about.

“Don’t get the wrong idea about me.”

I almost hate to bring up Bart Ehrman again as a bad example, because it’s starting to look as if we’re unduly picking on him. He is not uniquely wrong at explaining Wrede; in fact in some respects he’s better than most. However, his assessment of the Messianic Secret motif is very instructive with respect to the idea of “different kinds of messiahs.” In his survey textbook, The New Testament, he summarizes Wrede’s thesis. He misses many of the nuances of Wrede’s arguments, but he’s generally accurate.

However, because Ehrman sees the gospel of Mark as an “ancient religious biography” (see Chapter 4), and because he fails to understand that Wrede’s questions are more about Mark, not the historical Jesus, he finishes his assessment by shooting over the heads of Wrede and Mark, offering the following historical explanation to what is essentially a form-critical question:

(more…)

2013/01/03

What Is the Messianic Secret?

Filed under: Gospel of Mark,Wrede: Messianic Secret — Tim Widowfield @ 9:48 am
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The Messianic Secret, William Wrede

The Messianic Secret, William Wrede

Taking a breather

Since more than one person has asked me, I thought it might be best to pause in the middle of my series on Reading Wrede Again for the First Time and state the case clearly and correctly. Given the lack of scholarly comprehension surrounding the motif and Wrede’s analysis of it, I probably should have started with this post. But there’s no sense in crying over water under the bridge.

Upon reflection, “lack of scholarly comprehension” is almost too charitable a description of the state of play. What we have instead is a prime example of “disunderstanding,” which, as I’ve mentioned in earlier posts and comments, is the active, deliberate misunderstanding of a point, usually in favor of a straw man argument. It is analogous to the difference between misinformation and disinformation, except rather than a dishonest transmitter we have a dishonest, incompetent, or lazy receiver.

Definitions

The motif in itself is not Wrede’s theory; it is observable evidence. Wrede’s theory is about seeking the best explanation for the presence of the motif.

The Messianic Secret is a motif in Mark’s gospel wherein Jesus exhibits behavior that appears to be aimed at self-concealment. In other words, he seems to be trying to keep the fact that he is the Messiah from the general public. He commands demons to shut up. He tells people not to spread the word about his healing of the sick. He teaches the crowd in riddles, so that they can’t understand him. Moreover, his own disciples fail to comprehend his teaching or his intentions.

By motif we mean a “theme.” It could be a narrative device, a theological contrivance, or a historical theme (i.e., an authentic habit of the historical Jesus preserved in Mark’s tradition). On the surface, we know that it is a literary motif, but only through diligent exegesis can we decide where it came from and what it means. The motif in itself is not Wrede’s theory; it is observable evidence. Wrede’s theory is about seeking the best explanation for the presence of the motif.

By Messianic, Wrede meant “of or pertaining to the Messiah.” But whose definition of Messiah should we use? Wrede was very clear. We must start with Mark, because that’s what we have at hand. If we ignore Mark, we ignore the early Christians for whom he wrote and we replace them with our own historical conjecture and presuppositions (or what NT scholars call “reconstruction”).

Wrede correctly points to Jesus’ confession to the High Priest as evidence to Mark’s understanding of Jesus’ identity. Quoting from the ESV:

14:61b — Again the high priest asked him, “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?”

14:7 — And Jesus said, “I am, and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.”

14:8 — And the high priest tore his garments and said, “What further witnesses do we need?

14:9 — You have heard his blasphemy. What is your decision?” And they all condemned him as deserving death.

For Mark the titles Christ (Messiah), Son of the Blessed (a circumlocution for God), and Son of Man are all bound up in the identity of Jesus. It is a mistake to apply to Mark a modern notion about discrete aspects of Jesus. So when Wrede’s detractors say the Jesus was hiding his “Sonship” at one point and his “Great Healer” aspect at another, hoping to divide and conquer, they are once again ignoring Mark. They are so intent on proving the historical nature of the Messianic Secret that they take no consideration of Mark’s view of Messiahship.

We continually see scholars wrestle with the problem of the blasphemy verdict, because in Judaism claiming to be the Son of God and Messiah would not mean Jesus claimed to be God or to be equal with God. But that’s not our concern at the moment. What we know from his gospel is that Mark thought calling oneself the Messiah would bring a charge of blasphemy.

(Note: I’ll have more to say about “what kind of Messiah” in a future post.)

By secret, Wrede did not simply mean concealed facts. In German, Geheimnis also connotes “mystery.” We may rightly think of “the Messianic Secret” (das Messiasgeheimnis) broadly as the theme of the (mysterious) concealment of Christ’s true identity in Mark and, to a lesser extent, the other Synoptic Gospels.

We’re just getting started

If you understood only this much and decided to run off and write a refutation of Wrede, it would be as foolish as trying to debunk Sir Isaac Newton when all you know about his theory of gravity is: “It causes objects to fall.”

Hang on. There’s more to it than that.

(more…)

2012/11/29

Reading Wrede Again for the First Time (7)

Filed under: Gospel of Mark,Wrede: Messianic Secret — Tim Widowfield @ 7:15 am

William Wrede’s The Messianic Secret

Part 7: “The Self-Concealment of the Messiah” — The injunctions to keep the Messianic secret

This unit continues Part 1, Section 2 (p. 34ff.) of Wrede’s The Messianic Secret (covering other features of the motif and the defense of a single coherent theory).

Demons in retrospect

Jesus Confronts Demons

Last time in Part 6 we finished up Wrede’s discussion of the demons’ recognition of the Messiah. At this point, we should probably mention why Wrede wrote about exorcisms first. And here, once again, I will refer to James D.G. Dunn’s 1970 paper, “The Messianic Secret in Mark” (PDF).

I rather suspect that Wrede was misled by taking the exorcisms as his starting point. It was natural that a nineteenth/twentieth century man should fasten on to these incidents which were to him among the most bizarre and incredible, and which for that very reason gave him immediate access to the theological viewpoint of the primitive Church — that is, to the way the primitive Church had viewed and worked over the historical facts. No psychological argument could explain how, for example, the Gerasene demoniac came to hail Jesus as Son of the Most High God, and recourse to a supernatural explanation was unacceptable. Therefore, Wrede concluded, we are in the presence of a legendary development in the tradition which leads us straight into the heart of the Messianic secret. Leaving aside the issue of demon possession and the possibility of supernatural knowledge, which I personally hold to be a far more open question than Wrede allowed, it still seems to me that Wrede’s approach was methodologically suspect. (p. 97 of the Journal, p. 6 of the PDF, bold emphasis mine)

Dunn thinks Wrede latched onto the stories of demonic possession (1) because they were “bizarre and incredible” and (2) because they give modern, critical scholars a window on the “theological viewpoint of the early church.” Yet Dunn is suspicious of Wrede’s methodology. Why would that be? Dunn is intimating that Wrede’s post-Enlightenment, scientific, naturalistic biases drew his focus to the exorcism stories, and that these biases further clouded his judgment, causing him to overstate his case.

(more…)

2012/11/16

Why the Gospel of John Depicted John the Baptist So Differently

Filed under: Gospel of John,Gospel of Mark,John the Baptist — Neil Godfrey @ 10:08 pm
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John the Baptist is almost unrecognizable in the Gospel of John to those who have known him only from the Synoptic Gospels.

Apart from the Gospel of John’s Baptist never baptizing Jesus, (and apart from the possibility that in John’s Gospel Jesus himself uniquely does some baptizing for a time), one major difference between the Fourth Gospel and the Synoptics is that in the latter there is a clearly laid out sequence while in John’s Gospel Jesus and John work alongside each other.

The reason that the Gospel of John treats John the Baptist so differently from the way he is depicted in the Synoptics is, I suggest, because that sequential pattern in the Synoptics implies something about the nature of Jesus that the last evangelist flatly rejected. So this post looks firstly at what that sequence implies about Jesus and that might have been at odds with the theology or Christology of the Fourth Gospel.

In the Gospel of Mark, first John the Baptist appears to Israel; John is then imprisoned; only then does Jesus appears to Israel. In the Gospel of John, however, John the Baptist and Jesus are carrying out their respective baptizing ministries in tandem. The only difference is that the followers of Jesus are increasing while those of John are diminishing. So the Baptist is said to explain:

He must increase, but I must decrease. (John 3:30)

That’s not how it is in the Gospel of Mark. In Mark a sequence is clear. First John the Baptist, then Jesus who announces the Kingdom of God, then (we must wait for it) the Kingdom of God is about to arrive (at hand). (more…)

2012/11/04

‘Is This Not the Carpenter?’ reviews continued. Chapter 10

Gospel of Mark’s Use of Literary Tropes and Myths to Create Tales of Jesus

Continuing my series of posts on ‘Is This Not the Carpenter? The Question of the Historicity of the Figure of Jesus I look here at Thomas L. Thompson‘s chapter ten, ” “Psalm 72 and Mark 1:12-13: Mythic Evocation in Narratives of the Good King”.

Thompson (TLT) is asking readers to become more savvy to the literary tropes of the ancient world and to understand the biblical literature, including the Gospel narratives of Jesus, within these literary conventions. One might compare the way the unflattering realities of America’s Wild West have been romanticized through the literary visions of Sir Walter Scott’s novels. The white knight, or cowboy in the white hat, is a literary construct that exists as a tool that authors apply either to characters entirely of their own imagination or to historical persons which they recreate as myths.

The point is that once we recognize these literary tools for what they are, we will not read the ancient literature — gospels included — naively. We will learn to recognize the cultural myths or ideologies underlying the words we are reading. (more…)

2012/09/23

Mark’s Parables as Simonian Allegories

Filed under: Christian origins,Gospel of Mark,Roger Parvus — Roger Parvus @ 12:05 pm
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AN ATTEMPT TO VIEW MARK’S PARABLES FROM THE INSIDE

Samuel Sandmel, in his The Genius of Paul (link is to full-text online), made this observation:

The parable of the sower in Mark (and in Matthew and Luke) is so presented in the Gospels as to have us believe that, clear as it was, the disciples did not understand it and they require explanation in private. The Gospel would have us suppose that there was more in the parable than meets the eye. Unhappily, there is not. The same is true in page after page of the Gospels. (p. 214)

Mark’s presentation of the parable of the sower does hint quite loudly that there is more to it and its gospel (“all things”, Mk. 4:11) than meets the eye. Its author asserts that his Jesus deliberately hid his meaning from those “on the outside”. And even though he makes his Jesus give a “private” explanation of the parable, his letting any and every reader and hearer of the narrative have access to that explanation shows that the beans have really not been spilled at all. Furthermore, he warns us that just reading or hearing the parable and its explanation will not be much help, for there are many who “look and see but do not perceive, hear and listen but do not understand” (Mk. 4:12). And he drives that point home in the rest of his gospel by relating how the Twelve themselves—even after being given their private explanation—still failed to perceive or understand.

To know what if anything is hidden [in the parables], one would first have to know who the Markan insiders were. Their identity is the key to correctly understanding their gospel.

But I think that Sandmel is wrong to rule out that there is really something more below the surface. To know what if anything is hidden there, one would first have to know who the Markan insiders were. Their identity is the key to correctly understanding their gospel. And, unfortunately, the provenance of Mark’s Gospel has never been securely determined.

I have explained in comments on a few other Vridar posts* why I think the Markan insider circle was Simonian, i.e., composed of followers of “Paul”/Simon of Samaria. As I see it, canonical Mark is a proto-orthodox reworking of a Simonian gospel, urMark, that sometime between the end of the first century and 130 CE was put together using two components:

  1. an earlier succinct myth about a divine figure, the Son of God, who briefly descended to this world to trick the princes of this world into wrongfully crucifying him. He did this by transforming himself and surreptitiously switching places, as Simon Kyrenaios, with a failed Jewish Messiah being led out by the Romans for crucifixion. To this was prefaced
  2. a cryptic allegorical portrayal of the apostolic career of “Paul”/Simon of Samaria.

The seam between the two parts is Mk. 15:15, the release of the Son of the Father (Barabbas).

That a Simonian would compose such a two-part life of the Son of God was fitting, for Simon claimed to be a new manifestation of the Son “who seemed to suffer in Judaea” (Hippolytus, The Refutation of All Heresies, 6, 19).

In this post I conduct a kind of experiment. . . . If the creators of the parables were Simonian, what was it they were looking to express by them, and what was it they were looking to hide?

In this post I conduct a kind of experiment. I assume— just to show where it can plausibly lead—that my identification of the insiders as Simonians is correct, and I examine how that identification changes our perspective of the parables in chapter 4 of Mark’s Gospel.

I attempt to answer the questions: If the creators of the parables were Simonian, what was it they were looking to express by them, and what was it they were looking to hide? What was it they wanted outsiders to see but not perceive, hear but not understand?

.

Hippolytus, in a few short chapters of his The Refutation of All Heresies (which I will abbreviate, going forward, as RAH), describes the teaching of Simon of Samaria as it was presented by his Great Proclamation (the Apophasis Megale). Hippolytus’ exposition, short as it is, is the fullest explanation of Simon’s system that is extant. It provides enough, I submit, to reveal what the Markan parables are really about. The translation of the RAH I will use is that of G.R.S. Mead in his Simon Magus (link is to full-text online). (more…)

2012/08/25

Understanding Mark’s Jesus through Philo’s Moses?

Filed under: Burton Mack,Gospel of Mark — Neil Godfrey @ 11:33 pm
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The upper part of The Transfiguration (1520) b...

The upper part of The Transfiguration (1520) by Raphael. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Recently I posted an introduction to Burton Mack’s and Earle Hilgert’s suggestion that the pre-Passion narrative in the Gospel of Mark has striking affinities with Philo’s first volume of On the Life of Moses. I have since caught up with more of the background reading to their argument, but I have also taken their suggestions further and wonder if there is a plausible case to be made that the evangelist was influenced by Philo’s account of Moses in the way he portrayed the character and roles of Jesus through his teaching and controversial exchanges with others. This post is exploratory. The views expressed are in flux.

But I must address one point in particular before continuing. Some people reject any argument that a gospel’s narrative content was imitating or influenced by other specific literature on the grounds that it is possible to argue for influences or imitations of more than one other literary source. It is not difficult to find places where the Gospel of Mark has adapted tales from the Old Testament (e.g. Jesus’ call of the disciples being modeled on Elijah’s call of Elisha; the raising of Jairus’s daughter from the dead owing much to Elisha’s raising of the Shunammite’s son.) But we have also recently seen a study that argues for the influence of Homer’s epics, the Iliad and Odyssey. Is it not going too far to bring in yet another source into the mix? Spectres of “parallelomania” are raised. But this objection is ill-informed. Thomas L. Brodie in The Birthing of the New Testament demonstrates that it was common practice for authors of the time to draw upon and assimilate multiple sources in their composition of new works. (This will be addressed in a future post.)

Start with the Transfiguration

Mark’s transfiguration scene is teasingly alike yet unlike the biblical scenes of Moses atop Mount Sinai. (more…)

2012/08/19

Bruno Bauer (through Albert Schweitzer)

Filed under: Bruno Bauer,Gospel of John,Gospel of Mark — Neil Godfrey @ 11:32 am
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English: Bruno Bauer

Bruno Bauer

Here’s a little more on Bruno Bauer’s arguments on Gospel origins. (My recent post on Roland Boer’s discussion has put me on a little roll.)

It’s a shame that more of Bauer’s works are not available at reasonable cost in English. I take this as an indicator that scholarship in the English speaking world generally continues to ignore him. Presumably many rely on what others say about his works than on what they have read of Bauer for themselves. Till I can access some of his German texts here is Albert Schweitzer’s presentation. The chapter is available in full online. I’ve cherry-picked from that chapter the themes that interest me the most and that I have raised in other contexts on this blog over the years.

This post is unspeakably long but it is intended to be a collation of references — pick and choose the headers of interest. (more…)

2012/08/10

30. Earl Doherty’s Response to Bart Ehrman’s Case Against Mythicism — Part 30 (Did Mark Invent Jesus of Nazareth?)

*

Did Mark Invent Jesus of Nazareth?

.

COVERED IN THIS POST:

  • How much did Mark invent in his Gospel?
  • John’s dependency on the Synoptics
    • John’s changes and innovations
    • Lazarus and the Signs Source
  • How independent of Mark are Matthew and Luke?
    • Robert Price on no “M” and “L” sources
  • Trusting Luke’s Prologue again
    • Ehrman’s fantasy world of “many Gospels” before Mark
  • Rehashing arguments which render an historical Jesus “fact”
  • Postscript

.

* * * * *

Did Mark, Our First Gospel, Invent the Idea of a Historical Person, Jesus?

(Did Jesus Exist? pp. 259-263)

.

Mark building on Q traditions

Mantegna's St. Mark.

Mantegna’s St. Mark. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In the final section of his critique of individual mythicists, Bart Ehrman addresses the question of whether Mark invented his Gospel character. Insofar as he has my specific position in mind, he doesn’t quite get it right, as usual.

It is widely thought among those who hold such [mythicist] views that the Jesus of the Gospel tradition—the Jewish teacher and prophet of Galilee who did miracles and then was crucified by the Romans—is an invention of our first Gospel, Mark. . . . This view is suggested in several places by Wells and is stated quite definitively by Doherty: “All the Gospels derive their basic story of Jesus of Nazareth from one source: the Gospel of Mark, the first one composed. Subsequent evangelists reworked Mark in their own interests and added new material.” (DJE? p. 259)

I do not say that “the Jewish teacher and prophet of Galilee who did miracles” is the invention of Mark, but rather of the Q community which preceded him, although that invention was not in the form of any narrative life story, but simply as the alleged originator of a bare collection of the community’s sayings and a few anecdotes, with no biography, let alone a personality, in view. (more…)

2012/07/25

Mark’s (Unclean) Bartimaeus and Plato’s (Honoured) Timaeus

Filed under: Burton Mack,Gospel of Mark — Neil Godfrey @ 6:38 am
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English: Close-up of Eric Gill relief, Moorfie...

English: Close-up of Eric Gill relief, Moorfields Eye Hospital The words here,’Domine, ut videam’ (Lord, that I may see!), comprised the answer, according to the Gospel of Mark, to Jesus’s question to the blind beggar Bartimaeus who called out to him in Jericho. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I have always been shy of accepting the argument one sometimes reads that the blind Bartimaeus in the Gospel of Mark came by his unusual name (along with its unusual manner of its explanation) from the influence of Plato’s Timaeus.

But a passage in Earle Hilgert’s chapter, “The Son of Timaeus: Blindness, Sight, Ascent, Vision in Mark”, in Reimagining Christian Origins has for the first time opened my mind to the possibility that Plato’s famous work could be behind the name after all. (I’m not saying I am sure it is. Only that I am more open to the possibility.)

After discussing the usual things I have read before in favour of the connection — that Plato’s Timaeus includes a lot of discussion about eyesight and its ability to lead us through observation of those mysterious moving lights seen above the world to come to know the great Eternal Truths of God — Hilgert writes this:

Runia has identified some dozen passages in Philo which are clearly influenced by this encomium, not to speak of its broader impact on Hellenistic thought. Of the Timaeus as a whole, he declares,

Its influence inevitably filtered down to men of letters and even those who had received only a smattering of learning. Indeed the Timaeus was the only Greek prose work that up to the third century A.D. every educated man could be presumed to have read.

In view of such widespread conversance in the Hellenistic world with the Timaeus and with its praise of eyesight, we should not be surprised if Mark reflects acquaintance with it. (pp. 190-191)

Now I’ve been trapped. I have been catching up with some background reading to Hilgert’s chapter — Burton Mack’s 1972 Studia Philonica article and chapters by Hilgert, Mack and others in The School of Moses: Studies in Philo and Hellenistic Religion — with a particular interest in the question of any direct or indirect relationship between what we read by Philo and in the Gospel of Mark. I had not till now fully appreciated the extent of the influence of the Timaeus apparently even in the time of the Gospel’s composition. I would like to track down the evidence on which Runia’s Philo of Alexandria and the Timaeus. Hopefully the Google preview will give me enough detail to satisfy my curiosity.

A multilingual pun

Another detail Hilgert goes on to mention is something I know I must have read in Burton Mack’s Myth of Innocence some years ago but had unfortunately forgotten: (more…)

2012/06/25

Dr. James F. McGrath: Conspiracy Theorist

Filed under: Gospel of Mark,McGrath: Burial of Jesus — Tim Widowfield @ 6:58 am

McGrath’s E-book

Awhile back I bought the Kindle edition of McGrath’s e-book, The Burial of Jesus: What Does History Have to Do with Faith?, hoping to get a review post out of it. Unfortunately, the work is just a tepid rehash of what you’ll find in Bart Ehrman’s (far superior) lectures from The Great Courses (aka The Teaching Company). Dr. McGrath adds nothing especially new or interesting in his assessment of the life and death of Jesus, probably because we’re not in his target audience — Christian believers who are troubled by the Talpiot tomb story.

English: Resurrection of Christ

English: Resurrection of Christ (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I was about to write off the effort as a complete waste of time when I came upon the section header, “Evidence for a Conspiracy?” Now we’re getting somewhere. This could be fun. Perhaps my slogging through page after page of leaden prose wasn’t for nothing. So, what sort of conspiracy is James talking about? He writes:

There is one point at which, if one were inclined to make a case for some sort of conspiracy or cover up in connection with early Christianity, one could do so particularly plausibly. I am referring to the missing ending of Mark’s Gospel. As all recent translations of the Bible point out, our earliest manuscripts end abruptly at Mark 16:8, after the phrase “they did not say anything to anyone, for they were afraid.” (Kindle Locations 1436-1443)

Ugh. Here we go again. As regular readers know, McGrath has a special curiosity about the end of Mark’s Gospel, which drove him to write a paper, “Mark’s Missing Ending: Clues from the Gospel of John and the Gospel of Peter,” which was recently reviewed (and corrected) here in Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.

Mark’s “Missing Ending” — Redux

James is much more forthcoming in his e-book than in his paper. When writing for the Society of Biblical Literature (SBL) or the Bible and Interpretation web site, he didn’t come out and say he thought an unknown ending once existed but is now missing. He left himself some wiggle room, some “plausible deniability.” But now we’re going to see his true colors:

There have been attempts to treat this ending as the way the Gospel originally ended, and the way the author intended for it to conclude. However, when we consider that copyists of the Gospel of Mark independently added at least two different endings, and that Matthew and Luke both felt the need to complete the story when they used Mark’s Gospel, it seems clear that early readers of Mark’s Gospel found its sudden ending at 16:8 unsatisfactory. Once we realize that it makes little or no sense to tell a story that ends with an assertion that no one was told about the events in the story, it begins to seem far more likely that the original version of Mark’s Gospel must have once continued beyond this point. (Kindle Locations 1442-1446, bold emphasis mine)

An argument from silence

McGrath is pointing out what many readers over the years have noticed. Mark’s Jesus predicts his death and resurrection throughout the gospel. Then when we finally reach the resurrection scene, we find out it has already happened “off stage.” Worse still, instead of treating us to a set of entertaining resurrection stories, Mark informs us that the women told no one and ran away in terror. The End.

James finds this silence displeasing. No, it’s more than displeasing; for him, it’s impossible. He doesn’t simply suspect Mark’s gospel continued after 16:8, he says it “must have once continued beyond this point.” Curiously, when Paul’s silence about Jesus is the focus of our discussion, the main alternatives are (1) Paul chose not to write about the historical Jesus or (2) Paul knew nothing about the historical Jesus. Now we have a viable third option, a McGrathian Conspiracy: Paul wrote about Jesus but it has mysteriously disappeared!

(more…)

2012/06/20

Is the Gospel of Mark Creatively Emulating Philo’s Life of Moses?

Filed under: Burton Mack,Gospel of Mark — Neil Godfrey @ 7:30 am
Tags: , ,

Moses Jesus action figures

Did the Jewish philosopher Philo influence the story-line and character-portrayals that we read in the Gospel of Mark? I cannot yet commit myself to believing he did but I am keen to follow up the question since encountering it in Reimagining Christian Origins: A Colloquium Honoring Burton L. Mack. (Mack, of course, is famous for his works on Christian origins and particularly on the Gospel of Mark.) Specifically it was in chapter 11, “The Son of Timaeus: Blindness, Sight, Ascent, Vision in Mark” by Earle Hilgert. He writes on page 187:

Particularly in the thought of Philo of Alexandria (c. 20 B.C.E. to c. 50 C.E.) the myth of ascent vision combines with the epic figures of Israel’s history, who are seen as models of this experience. As models, they are to be imitated; thus their stories become stories of the psyche, paradigms of the possibilities available to the individual. Mack has pointed out a striking formal parallel between Philo’s De Vita Mosis and the Gospel of Mark.

The work by Mack cited here is “Imitatio Mosis: Patterns of Cosmology and Soteriology in the Hellenistic Synagogue,” Studia Philonica, 1 (1972): 34. Since I do not have access to this article I decided to refresh my memory of Philo’s Life of Moses and compare with the Gospel of Mark myself. But Earle Hilgert does give us a head start when he lists the main points of apparent contact between the two works according to Mack:

Life of Moses 1 Gospel of Mark
The call-vision of Moses at the burning bush (1.65-70) The call vision of Jesus at his baptism
The secret announcement to the elders of Israel of an impending departure to a better land (1.86) Jesus’ announcement of the kingdom
The legitimization of Moses’ authority through miracles (1.91-139) Jesus’ miracles
Moses’ ascent and admission to the presence of God on Sinai — a model for all who are willing to copy (1.158) Jesus’ transfiguration
The journey through wilderness with its trials (1.164, 171, 183) The journey to Jerusalem
Moses’ ascent to heaven at his death (2.288-91) melded with his ascent to the divine presence at Sinai Jesus’ paradigmatic death

That’s Burton Mack and Earle Hilgert. My own reflections follow. The purpose of the following is not to argue dogmatically a particular point. It is to invite anyone interested into a consideration of another way of thinking about an old question, and that need not be limited to a direct cause and effect option.

(more…)

2012/06/19

Reading Wrede Again for the First Time (6)

Filed under: Gospel of Mark,Wrede: Messianic Secret — Tim Widowfield @ 7:46 am

William Wrede’s The Messianic Secret

Part 6: “The Self-Concealment of the Messiah” — Demons (cont’d)

Medieval book illustration of Christ Exorcisin...

Image via Wikipedia — Legion exiting the Gadarene demoniac

This unit continues Part 1, Section 2 (p. 24) of Wrede’s The Messianic Secret.

Revealing and Concealing

As we have seen, Wrede agreed with the critics of his day that Mark’s Jesus seems to be intent on keeping it a secret that he’s the messiah. Yet, right next to the commands to silence we find testimony to the fact that Jesus’ fame spread far and wide.

And he charged them that they should tell no man: but the more he charged them, so much the more zealously they proclaimed it; (Mark 7:36, KJV)

Similarly, the disciples seem to alternate from ignorance to knowledge and back again. Wrede’s concern is to discover where this motif comes from. Is it purely a literary convention, or is it historical? If it is a literary motif, was it present in his sources or is it a Markan invention?

By examining the various manifestations of the Messianic Secret, perhaps we can discover its roots and significance. Ultimately, thought Wrede, such knowledge may help us reveal authentic traditions of the historical Jesus.

Exorcism and the Messianic Secret

The exorcism stories in Mark provide two distinct aspects of the Messianic Secret. First, obviously, are Jesus’ commandments of silence. A more subtle, secondary aspect is the spiritual rapport between Jesus (now endowed with the pneuma) and the unclean spirits. In other words, the fact that the demons know exactly who Jesus is simply by being nearby, or as Wrede puts it:

A direct rapport exists between him and them; it is not tied to any earthly means of communication. Spirit comprehends spirit, and only spirit can do so. For this reason, the idea that Jesus’ messiahship was a secret is not to be found merely in the command to be silent but is already independently present in the circumstance that the demons know about him. Their knowledge is secret knowledge. (p. 25 — emphasis mine)

Demons detect the proximity of Jesus and immediately know who he is and what his presence on the earth means — namely, that they’re in imminent danger. Further, while they can’t help being terrified by the presence of Jesus, they are “magically drawn to him.” (p. 26)

(more…)

2012/06/15

Why many historical Jesus Scholars NEED John to Baptize Jesus

Baptism of Jesus, Bordone, Giotto 1276-1336

Baptism of Jesus, Bordone, Giotto 1276-1336 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Associate Professor of New Testament Leif E. Vaage argues that New Testament scholars have no valid reasons for believing that John the Baptist really did baptize Jesus. (Vaage, let the reader understand, is by no means denying the historicity of Jesus himself.)

Vaage argues that the author of the Gospel of Mark invented the entire scene of Jesus’ baptism. I am keen to post his reasons for this conclusion. Some of them overlap with suggestions I have advanced in earlier posts on this blog. This post, however, will outline only what Vaage sees as the flaws in the widely held belief that John historically baptized Jesus.

In his chapter “Bird-watching at the Baptism of Jesus: Early Christian Mythmaking in Mark 1:9-11” in Reimagining Christian Origins Vaage writes:

That the historical Jesus was baptized by the historical John is still taken by many scholars to be simply a historical fact: as sure an assumption as any can be on the basis of the canonical Gospel narratives. The reasons for this assumption, however, and furthermore its presumed importance (primarily for characterization of the historical Jesus) are essentially theological . . . . (p. 281, my emphasis)

Why theological?

. . . . as the historical Jesus would thereby evidently no longer be “just” the momentary embodiment of the orthodox second person of the Trinity.

The baptism scene is the anchor that holds Jesus down in history. Without it, we have only tales about one who is all too easily understood as nothing other than a nonhistorical man-divinity. (more…)

2012/05/27

McGrath’s “Missing Ending”: What Was Mark’s Story? — Part 3

Filed under: Gospel of Mark,Young man in the tomb — Tim Widowfield @ 7:01 am

[This post concludes my review of “Mark’s Missing Ending: Clues from the Gospel of John and the Gospel of Peter,” by Dr. James F. McGrath. You may want to read Part 1 and Part 2 first.]

Fish stories

The Miraculous Draught of Fishes

The Miraculous Draught of Fishes (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

At the end of part 1, I mentioned that McGrath commits the fallacy of relying on other gospels to shape his expectations of how Mark should end and then magnifies that error by looking for clues to the end of Mark’s “story” in other written gospels. I had to delay this discussion until now, because I spent so much time writing about oral tradition and “orality” in part 2.

The idea that a possible continuation of Mark’s story might be found in the incomplete, apocryphal Gospel of Peter or perhaps in the canonical Gospel of John is not a new one. McGrath reminds us that Burnett Hillman Streeter back in 1924 (The Four Gospels), building on C. H. Turner’s work proposed that very thing.

McGrath writes:

Streeter was of the view that not only the story in chapter 21, but also the appearance of Jesus to Mary Magdalene in the garden, were derived from the Gospel of Mark. (See Streeter, 1924, pp. 351-360)

To be fair to Streeter, he presented this notion as a “scientific guess” — a “speculation” he said should not be mistaken for the “assured results of criticism.” While he seemed rather enamored of the idea, he acknowledged that it would be difficult to prove.

Streeter thought that the authors of the Gospels of Peter and John were aware of an earlier version of Mark that contained the appearance to Mary Magdalene and the miraculous fish fry on the lake, and that the later evangelists built on those stories. (more…)

2012/05/17

McGrath’s “Missing Ending”: What Was Mark’s Story? — Part 2

Filed under: Gospel of Mark — Tim Widowfield @ 5:12 pm

[This post continues my review of “Mark’s Missing Ending: Clues from the Gospel of John and the Gospel of Peter,” by Dr. James F. McGrath. You can find Part 1 here.]

Jesus and the miraculous catch of fish, in the...

Jesus and the miraculous catch of fish, in the Sea of Galilee, by Raphael (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Why might Mark’s original audience not have thought the Short Ending was problematic?

Last time we discussed why the Short Ending (SE) of Mark is considered problematic. Now we’re going to look at the possibility that ancient audiences might not have felt the same way we do, i.e. wondering: “Where’s the rest of it?”

Why might they have reacted differently? Why might things be not so bleak as they seem? McGrath offers two reasons:

  1. The disciples could have stumbled back home to Galilee on their own, “leaving open the possibility of their fulfilling Jesus’ command inadvertently.
  2. [G]iven the primarily oral cultural context of early Christianity, it is appropriate to reflect on the significance of the fact that Mark was presumably telling a story which his readers already knew, and thus the end of his written Gospel need not have represented, either for him or for them, the end of the story.

For McGrath, the written Gospel of Mark is simply one recording of many possible live performances. He imagines that tradents in the Christian community (probably centered in Galilee) performed the gospel from memory. Presumably, each time they recounted the “story” they changed it to fit the audience, responding to feedback. (more…)

2012/05/16

McGrath’s “Missing Ending”: What Was Mark’s Story? — Part 1

Filed under: Gospel of Mark,Young man in the tomb — Tim Widowfield @ 1:10 am

The Two Marys at the Tomb

“The Two [or Three] Marys at the Tomb” by Bartolomeo Schedoni (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Stopping short

In his paper, “Mark’s Missing Ending: Clues from the Gospel of John and the Gospel of Peter,” Dr. James F. McGrath asks some interesting questions about the last chapter of Mark and what “story” the author may have understood to lie beyond it. This sort of question reminds me of the difference between the larger story arc of a character’s life in a play or film and the limited, internal story within the work itself. We have the backstory of the characters leading up to the opening scene, and we often also wonder what will happen after the curtain falls.

Mark’s Gospel, like many stage plays, covers a focused narrative that depends on our familiarity with a rich backstory (the entire OT?).  And similar to many plays based on well-known myths or historical events, we know (or we think we know) what will occur afterward. So the question at hand is, “What did Mark think happened next?” Surely such a question is legitimate, since the story of the early Christian church presumably begins somewhere in the murky shadows beyond the grave in Jerusalem. How did the early church emerge from two silent, terrified women?

McGrath’s paper addresses four major questions.

  1. Why do we perceive the short ending of Mark to be problematic?
  2. Why might Mark’s original audience not have thought it was problematic?
  3. Can we find clues to the ending of Mark’s Gospel (beyond the written ending, that is) in the Gospels of Peter and John?
  4. Does the ambiguity of the empty tomb story in Mark point to a greater reliance on religious experiences in Galilee that gave rise to the a belief in the resurrection?

He must have died while carving it . . .

Just to be clear here, McGrath is not talking about a written ending that somehow got lost or was mysteriously suppressed. Nor does he posit that Mark died in the middle of chapter 16 — “. . . for they were very afraid — Aaaaagh!” Most modern scholars now believe Mark’s Gospel ended at 16:8 (often referred to as the Short Ending or “SE”). McGrath is asking what the author of Mark and his community believed happened after the disciples had scattered. That is, what happened once the curtain fell on the final scene with the women too afraid to tell anyone what had happened? (more…)

2012/05/12

Ehrman: “It is simplest to assume”? How the Gospel of John IS Dependent Upon Gospel of Mark

Bart Ehrman claims that the Gospel of John is testimony to the existence of traditions or sources about the life of Jesus that were independent of anything that was known to the other Gospels. Therefore, so it is implied, the Gospel of John is a witness to Jesus that stands independently of the other Gospels.

When they do tell the same stories (for example, the cleansing of the Temple, the betrayal of Judas, the trial before Pilate, the crucifixion and resurrection narratives) they do so in different language (without verbatim overlaps) and with radically different conceptions. It is simplest to assume that John had his own sources for his accounts. (Did Jesus Exist? p. 259)

Bart Ehrman is a scholar so he does not make this claim lightly. He footnotes it to a source, a scholarly source no less:

Robert Kysar, John the Maverick Gospel, 3rd ed. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2007) (this links to an online preview)

And that’s it. A book is cited. Authority. Learning. No argument. If Ehrman had given a slight nod to the fact that scholars are in fact divided over the question of John’s dependence upon the Synoptics, he makes it clear that the “reality” is that there is really no question that the fourth gospel is truly an independent source. (Presumably Ehrman thinks scholars are divided over the nature of the reality about the Gospels.)

To begin with, there are solid reasons for doubting that the Gospel of John is based on Mark or on either of the other two earlier Gospels, even though the matter is debated among scholars. But the reality is that most of the stories told about Jesus in the synoptic Gospels are missing from John, just as most of John’s stories, including his accounts of Jesus’s teachings, are missing from the synoptics.

Can you imagine the response of a scholar like Ehrman toward a mythicist who cited a single work that expressed but one side of a contentious scholarly issue in order to make their argument look authoritative? “Quote mining!” would surely be the criminal charge.

But let’s examine one of the examples of the way John’s version of a Synoptic anecdote is so “radically different” and thus presumably derived from a non-Synoptic source.

Simplest to assume . . . ignorance

Bart Ehrman says the differences between the Gospel of John and a synoptic gospel are so radical that “it is simplest to assume” that they drew upon quite different sources.

Don’t biblical scholars talk to each other? Why did Ehrman not refer to the abundantly published studies by his peers that address the way writers of the era imitated and re-wrote their literary sources?

The question is critical. Studies in recent years have demonstrated decisively that ancient authors imitated or re-adapted literary source material in ways that made it look quite different from the original. Indeed, more often than not, the art of imitation that was most valued was one that shunned verbal and thematic similarities.

Ehrman has apparently never heard of any of this scholarship, or if he has, has declared that it is “simplest to assume” ignorance of it and pronounce, instead, that the primary author of the Gospel of John drew upon an otherwise unattested oral tradition that knew nothing of the synoptic Gospels.

Let’s examine that assumption with a case study of the “cleansing of the Temple”.

The Cleansing of the Temple in Mark and John

Why is the Gospel of John so very much alike the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke) yet so completely unlike them? It’s a bit like asking why Virgil’s epic poem of the founding of the Roman race by Aeneas of Troy is so alike yet so completely unlike Homer’s epics, the Iliad and Odyssey. (more…)

2012/05/05

Discovering the Sources for the First Gospel, 2

Aeneas tells Dido the misfortunes of the Troja...

Aeneas tells Dido the misfortunes of the Trojan city. Oil on canvas, 1815. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This post continues my notes from Adam Winn’s book that he produced from a Postdoctoral Research Fellowship at the Dominican Biblical Institute, Mark and the Elijah-Elisha narrative : considering the practice of Greco-Roman imitation in the search for Markan source material. The first post explained why Winn believes a study of the ways in which the Roman poet Virgil imitated and rewrote Homer’s epics, the Iliad and the Odyssey, in order to compose his own epic, the Aeneid, has potential relevance for a study of how the author of the Gospel of Mark might have used his written sources.

We outlined two of Virgil’s techniques of imitation in that first post, conflation and reversal, and in this post we look at the other techniques. A third post will list and explain criteria Winn will propose to assist us in analysing the Gospel’s literary sources.

Diffusion

Diffusion refers to Virgil’s technique of taking a single episode or character from his source (Homer) and dividing it into multiple episodes or characters. To illustrate this technique Winn points to the way Virgil has based three different characters on aspects of the life (or rather death) of one person in Homer’s Odyssey, Elpenor.

  • Elpenor was the youngest of Odysseus’s crew. While on Circe’s island he climbed up to a roof-top to sleep, but in the morning he forgot where he was and fell to his death.
  • Odysseus, leaving in haste to carry out his mission to visit Hades, was unaware of his fate. In Hades Elpenor’s ghost was the first one Odysseus met. Elpenor explained how he died and begged Odysseus return to where he died and give him a proper burial.
  • Odysseus carried out Elpenor’s wishes. He returned to Circe’s island to carry out Elpenor’s wishes. Odysseus mourned, cut logs for a pyre, burned the body and erected a grave marked with an oar.

1. Virgil used the Elpenor narrative as his template for the death of Palinurus.

  • At sea Palinurus, the helmsman, fell asleep and thus fell to his death in the sea.
  • When Aeneas, like Odysseus, visited Hades, Palinurus was the first to meet him. Like Elpenor, Palinurus told Aeneas how he had died and also begged for a burial. But Virgil never recounts Aeneas burying Palinurus.

2. In Virgil’s epic, the Sybil oracle instructed Aeneas to bury Misenus before he attempted to enter Hades. This Aeneas did. He found the body, mourned, cut logs for a pyre, then erected a grave marked with an oar.

3. Homer’s epic portrayed Odysseus returning from Hades to bury Elpenor. Virgil did not depict Aeneas burying Palinurus, but he did have Aeneas, on his return from Hades, burying his nurse, Caieta.

In Virgil’s imitation of the Homeric episode of Elpenor, we see Virgil using imitative techniques we have not yet seen . . . He essentially turns one Homeric character into three, i.e., Elpenor becomes Palinurus, Misenus, and Caieta. He also takes the events of one Homeric episode and diffuses them into three different episodes. (p. 29)

Compare what we find in the Gospel of Mark. (more…)

2012/05/02

Discovering the Sources for the First Gospel, 1

Why is it that all the modern commentaries on the Gospels of Matthew and Luke (and to some extent John) include discussions of those works’ literary sources but scarcely any raise that question for the Gospel of Mark, the Gospel that supposedly started it all?

Adam Winn (Mark and the Elijah-Elisha narrative : considering the practice of Greco-Roman imitation in the search for Markan source material) suggests the answer to this question

is directly related to the limited paradigm that New Testament scholarship has inherited from source, form, and redaction criticism. (p. 2)

Source criticism presumes that a source for a gospel has to be another gospel or at least something like another gospel (e.g. Q). So if Mark is the first gospel then the question of literary sources can scarcely arise.

Form criticism has declared that Mark’s sources were oral traditions. With this answer firmly entrenched there has been no incentive to ask if there might also be literary sources behind the gospel.

Redaction criticism established very stringent criteria to determine when a gospel author was dependent upon another work. There must be

  • specific agreement in details/order
  • strong verbal agreement

Winn challenges the assumption that ancient authors limited themselves to using sources so slavishly. He examines ancient instructions and practices to show that authors used their literary sources very often in ways that shunned strong verbal agreement and that freely changed the details and order of material in their sources. Dennis MacDonald made similar points in his earlier work, The Homeric Epics and the Gospel of Mark.

Winn argues the need for a new set of criteria that is derived from the typical practices of ancient authors.

The way forward

Gospel studies has traditionally given very little notice to the way ancient authors used literary sources.

Gospel interpreters have virtually ignored perhaps the greatest window we have into the way ancient authors used literary texts in their compositions. Certainly by studying the way in which ancient authors imitated and rewrote extant sources, we can gain insights into how the gospel authors might have used each other or even other extant literature to compose gospels. (p. 9, my emphasis) (more…)

2012/03/23

Jesus’ Journey Into Hell and Back — told symbolically in the Gospel of Mark?

Filed under: Gospel of Mark — Neil Godfrey @ 11:59 am
Tags:

Roger Parvus has posted an intriguing comment about the Gospel of Mark’s narrative of Jesus casting out of the “Legion” of devils (the story where he sends them all into a herd of pigs who then run off a cliff and drown) on Tim Widowfield’s discussion of Wrede’s Messianic Secret. He wonders if the story is in fact a parable or metaphor for Jesus descending to Hell — something we read about cryptically in other parts of the New Testament.

It is a fascinating possibility. Note that the author of Mark’s Gospel claims that Jesus always spoke in a parable of some sort to his disciples (Mark 4:34) and some scholars have even suggested that the entire Gospel narrative itself was written as a “parable” of the Christian’s destiny and way of life — that is, even the acts of Jesus are symbolic. This idea is supported by the clearly symbolic features of a number of the stories, such as Jesus in something of a joint-action healing a woman who had endured a blood-disease for 12 years while raising from a sleep or death a 12 year old (pubescent) girl. The author also curiously “explains” that the disciples were in shock on seeing Jesus walk on water because they had failed to understand the miracles of the feeding of multitudes with a few loaves and having so many baskets of scraps left over (Mark 6:51-52). There are mysteries in the narratives and sayings in Mark’s Gospel that are lost to us now.

Before I quote here Roger Parvus’s comment, I will quote an extract from another scholar who has broached the same idea that the scene of the exorcism of Legion is a metaphor for Jesus’ despoiling of the demons in Hell:

Eric C. Stewart (Gathered around Jesus: An Alternative Spatial Practice in the Gospel of Mark, pp. 261-2 — a University of Notre Dame thesis) refers to a study that argues Jesus’ voyage to the Gadarenes — where he exorcises the man possessed by Legion — is best read against the Greco-Roman traditions of sailing through the Straits of Gibraltar that were considered the gateways to land of the dead. (I have reformatted the paragraph for easier reading and added hyperlinks to the biblical references.)

Roy Kotansky argues that the story of the Gerasene demoniac is best read against the Greco-Roman traditions of sailing through the Straits of Gibraltar at the edge of the world.837

He first notes that the “other side” in Mark 4:35 has as its antecedent the sea in Mark 3:7.838 This sea is not identified in 3:7 as the Sea of Galilee. Kotansky argues that this sea should be read as the Mediterranean rather than the Sea of Galilee.839 The trip, then, becomes a voyage to the “Other Side,” that is, to the edges of the oikoumene. “Accordingly, all the sea-crossings of both miracle catenae, at least in the mythic imagination, are to be construed as true sea-voyages; their destinations, when recorded, will not tally well with known geographies of the circum-Galilean region.”840 (more…)

2012/03/18

Reading Wrede Again for the First Time (5)

Filed under: Gospel of Mark,Wrede: Messianic Secret — Tim Widowfield @ 4:42 pm

William Wrede’s The Messianic Secret

Devil medium

Image via Wikipedia -- A picture of the Devil from Codex Gigas (1204-1230 CE)

Part 5: “The Self-Concealment of the Messiah” — Demons

This unit begins Part 1, Section 2 of Wrede’s The Messianic Secret.

Patterns of concealment or the “Shrouded Savior”

In this section Wrede lays out the various ways in which Jesus hides his true nature from the public, and at times even from his own disciples. It’s worth mentioning again that the author of Mark and the readers of his gospel have no doubts about who Jesus is. The narrator tells us from the very start that he is the Christ, the beloved Son of God. However, Mark keeps us in suspense while we wonder at the inability of everyone around him to see the obvious.

“I know who you are!”

Now that Jesus has been possessed by the Holy Spirit (as Wrede puts it, “equipped with the pneuma“), the other actors in the supernatural dimension, the demons, become acutely aware of his presence. They tremble in fear for their lives. They beg not to be disturbed. It would seem they fear not just simple eviction, but that the Son of God’s presence on earth signals the imminent eschaton, in which they will meet their doom.

While reading the gospel, we cannot help noticing that the exorcisms in Mark follow a recurring pattern. The presence of Jesus agitates them. They cry out to be left alone, often throwing the demoniac to the ground. Jesus commands them to be silent and casts them out. The ex-demoniac is cured and “in his right mind.”

Why does Jesus order the demons to shut up?

The name of this section gives away the answer to that question. According to Wrede, Jesus commands their silence in order to keep the Messianic Secret. Is his conclusion justified? Craig A. Evans thinks not. (more…)

2012/03/13

Reading Wrede Again for the First Time (4)

Filed under: Gospel of Mark,Wrede: Messianic Secret — Tim Widowfield @ 1:11 am

William Wrede’s The Messianic Secret

English: A layered pound cake, with alternatin...

Image via Wikipedia -- A layered pound cake, with alternating interstitial spaces filled with raspberry jam and lemon curd, finished with buttercream frosting.

Part 4:  Mark — “Some Preliminaries on the General Picture of the Messianic History of Jesus.”

This unit covers Part 1, Section 1 of Wrede’s The Messianic Secret.

Layers upon layers

One of the things that struck me while reading this section is Wrede’s clarity of thinking, especially when it comes to making judgments about what the text of Mark means. In each case we have to try to come to terms with several distinct layers. I would include among them:

  1. The text as we interpret it today.
  2. The text as the early church fathers understood it.
  3. The text itself. (Often ambiguous.)
  4. The author’s intended meaning. (And what the first audience would have inferred.)
  5. The tradition as it came down to the author. (Whether it came from the first Christian communities or from Jesus himself.)
  6. What Jesus actually did, said, and thought.

The Son of Man sayings

I’m jumping ahead a bit, but I think this is a crucial matter, and one that is sometimes ignored in current scholarship. Wrede cites Mark’s use of the term “Son of Man” as a probable indicator of messiahship. Many modern scholars would likely dismiss that characterization out of hand, because we know so much more now about bar nasha, thanks in part to works like Maurice Casey’s The Solution to the Son of Man Problem. Presuming Jesus did exist, he likely spoke in Aramaic. Hence, his pronouncements such as “The son of man is lord also of the Sabbath” probably meant “Man is master of the Sabbath” (i.e., the Sabbath was made for human beings and not vice versa).

But Wrede knew that. It was already well known in his day that bar nasha is an Aramaic idiomatic expression for “the man” (or “a man” or “a guy”). He writes:

This would naturally make the passages no longer usable as proofs for an earlier use of the messianic title by Jesus. But this judgement is premature. Our primary concern is with Mark, not with Jesus. The original sense of the passage is completely immaterial here. The one thing that remains established is that Mark is here speaking of the “Son of man” in the same sense as he is everywhere. [p. 19, emphasis mine]

(more…)

2012/03/02

Reading Wrede Again for the First Time (3)

Filed under: Gospel of Mark,Wrede: Messianic Secret — Tim Widowfield @ 1:00 am
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William Wrede’s The Messianic Secret

Part 3:  Introduction

Gospels are stories

Illuminated Manuscript, Ethiopian Gospels, Eva...

Illuminated Manuscript, Ethiopian Gospels, Evangelist portrait of Mark, Walters Art Museum Ms. W.850, fol. 60v (Photo credit: Walters Art Museum Illuminated Manuscripts)

In the previous installment, we read through the front matter of Wrede’s The Messianic Secret. This time, we’re going to look at the Introduction, which while technically part of the front matter, is a meaty chapter unto itself.

Quite recently, Neil remarked on this blog:

The most striking thing that hit me in Richard Carrier’s online discussions or articles on Bayes’ theorem was the point that one needs to stop and distinguish between whether we know X happened (e.g. someone saw an empty tomb) or whether what we know is that we have A STORY THAT SAYS X happened.

Apparently, we’re still re-learning the things that Wrede said over a century ago. Indicting the current “defective critical method,” he wrote:

First of all, it is indeed an axiom of historical criticism in general that what we have before us is actually just a later narrator’s conception of Jesus’ life and that this conception is not identical with the thing itself. But the axiom exercises much too little influence. (p. 5, emphasis original)

The story is not the event. The map is not the territory. He then drives the point home even harder, declaring: (more…)

2012/02/27

Reading Wrede Again for the First Time (2)

Filed under: Gospel of Mark,Wrede: Messianic Secret — Tim Widowfield @ 8:56 am
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William Wrede’s The Messianic Secret

English: William Wrede (1859-1906) Deutsch: Wi...

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Part 2: Front Matter

A turning point in the quest

In the first installment, we introduced Wrede’s watershed book on the Gospel of Mark. And watershed is a fairly apt description of The Messianic Secret, since for many scholars it marks a turning point in The Quest of the Historical Jesus. In fact, as you may recall, Albert Schweitzer subtitled his classic work on the quest: A Critical Study of Its Progress from Reimarus to Wrede. For Schweitzer (and many others), Wrede signaled the end of the first quest.

If Wrede’s contributions to New Testament studies had such an impact, you would think today’s scholars wouldn’t simply skim over the Messianic Secret, concluding with a dismissive “Nobody believes that anymore.” Even if that were true, we should still like to know why he made such an impact in his day. What was it about the book that caused such a stir when it was published? Why did it have such a lasting effect on NT studies through most of the 20th century? The only way to be sure, I think, is to read Wrede’s work for ourselves. (more…)

2012/02/25

Reading Wrede Again for the First Time

Filed under: Gospel of Mark,Wrede: Messianic Secret — Tim Widowfield @ 11:07 am
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William Wrede’s The Messianic Secret

A four rotor Enigma machine.

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Part 1:  Preface

Game-changers

A handful of works in the field of Biblical studies have the reputation of revolutionizing the field.  Later scholars refer to them as ground-breaking, game-changing, or seminal.  These works arrive on the scene and immediately change the nature of the debate, often providing an entirely new thought framework.  More than that, they supply scholars with fuel for generations to come as the original work is reinterpreted, recast, and re-imagined.

Some examples come to mind immediately:  Wellhausen′s Prolegomena, D.F. Strauss′s The Life of Jesus Critically Examined, and Bultmann′s History of the Synoptic Tradition.  These important works in the tradition of historical-critical scholarship have much in common besides being seminal works.  First, they often unwittingly create a cottage industry for apologetic rebuttals. Dreadful little pamphlets and books hit the street almost immediately that attempt to debunk the new perspectives. These rebuttals, written by people who clearly aren’t up to the task, appear like mayflies: they burst forth, have their day in the sun, and then are entirely forgotten.

The unread classics

Among the common traits these ground-breaking classics share, we would have to include the way in which they become known to modern scholars and students.  They are not so much read as “absorbed” through the membrane of other scholars.  That is, students read what other scholars think the original work said, or they come across a synopsis of the work, and this serves a stand-in for actually reading it and understanding it on its own merits.  The original tract is reduced to footnote fodder with writers pretending to have read the work, when really all they’ve done is skimmed a summary, a passing reference, or an interpretation.

You’d have to look long and hard to find a better example of an unread classic than William Wrede’s The Messianic Secret (1901).  Unavailable in English until 1971, Wrede’s book was at first largely ignored in the US and UK (see J.D.G Dunn’s “The Messianic Secret in Mark,” (warning: link leads to PDF) Tyndale Bulletin 21 (1970) 92-117).  Apparently, by the time the English-speaking world took notice of it, so much had been written on the subject that scholars began to lose sight of the original thesis, while others simply misunderstood or deliberately misrepresented Wrede’s very description of the problem. (more…)

2012/02/16

Where did the Bible’s Jews come from? Part 1

Kurdistan  .Yazidis  .Judaism . Christianity ....

Kurdistan .Yazidis .Judaism . Christianity .Islam (Photo credit: Kurdistan Photo كوردستان)

This post is based primarily on a few pages in The Mythic Past by Thomas L. Thompson. It is slightly supplemented by fewer notes from a different but complementary discussion on the biblical meanings of “the people of God” in The Israelites in History and Tradition by Niels Peter Lemche. (All bold fonts for emphasis or highlighting key points for ease of reading are mine.)

I conclude with my own thoughts on what all of this means for the first of our Gospels.

The biblical tradition informs us of the meaning and understanding that the biblical authors’ contemporaries attributed to the past. Archaeological evidence points to a different reality of the past.

The religious understanding of Israel’s origin myth

The primary biblical referent for Israel’s ethnic and family identification is found in the stories and metaphors of “exodus”, “wilderness”, “exile” and “return”. Even in the Books of Kings the narrative is couched in the suspense of threats and promises of exile from the land. These themes centre on the motif of the children of Israel as the “people of God”, as Jahweh’s “first-born” and God’s “inheritance”.

These stories all are solidly rooted in the self-defining, grand epochal line of a God without a home or a people [and who was] searching for a people without a home or a God. It is in this metaphor that we find the foundation and matrix for the ethnographic metaphor of all Israel. This metaphor gives voice to the ‘new Israel’ with its centre in Yahweh’s temple of the ‘new Jerusalem’. This is an identity that is formed from the perspective of the sectarian theology of the way. (pp. 255-56, Our Mythic Past by Thomas L. Thompson)

Compare Niels Peter Lemche’s observation of the nature of Israel’s origin myth: (more…)

2012/01/07

If Adam and Eve are metaphors why not . . . . ?

Filed under: Gospel of Mark — Neil Godfrey @ 10:20 am
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Painting from Manafi al-Hayawan (The Useful An...

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If my good nemisis can re-use one of my posts I suppose I can pinch from one of his that is recycled from James Spinti’s blog.

Whoever wrote the Adam and Eve story in Genesis was “clearly inviting” his readers to understand it as metaphor.

[The names Adam and Eve] literally are ‘Humanity’ and ‘Life’. Few readers of the English Bible are aware of this connection, and thus they fail to realize how the text itself invites them to see these characters less as historical figures and more as metaphorical representations of the human race. Once one understands the driving metaphor we are expelled from paradise, however, suddenly the remainder of Genesis and even our own lives make much more sense.

Agreed wholeheartedly.

Now consider our earliest Gospel, that of Mark: (more…)

2012/01/05

Historical memory in the Gospel of Mark: a radical twist

Filed under: Gospel of Mark — Neil Godfrey @ 9:43 am
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The Daughter of Jairus

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On my way to post something on the Old Testament again I met a strange idea in a very old book, one published in 1924 and with an introduction by the renowned if obsolete Sir James Frazer.

Now I happen to think the best explanation for the source of those miracles by Peter in the Book of Acts — those where he heals the paralyzed Aeneas and raises the deceased Dorcas — is that they were borrowed and adapted from the Gospel of Mark’s accounts of Jesus healing the paralyzed man and raising the daughter of Jairus.

But Paul-Louis Couchoud long-ago published an idea that had not crossed my mind before, or at least one I had quickly forgotten if it had.

To introduce this arresting idea Couchoud accepts as “very probable” the ancient rumour that circulated about Mark writing down from memory the things Peter had told him.

According to an Ephesian tradition dating from the early part of the second century, Mark had been the dragoman of Peter (whose only language was doubtless Aramaic); and Mark wrote down later from memory, but without omission or addition, all that he had heard from Peter about the oracles and miracles of the Messiah. This is very probable. Only one might suspect Peter’s conversation of having been revised under Paul’s influence. For if, in Mark’s Gospel, Peter and the Galilean Apostles are everywhere in the limelight, it is only to play the parts of totally unintelligent and cowardly persons, who are in striking contrast to the ideal figure of the Messiah. Yet, after all, Peter, with whom we are unacquainted, may have been capable of representing things in this piquant and modest manner. (p. 42)

I have a more literary take on the Gospel of Mark and see little reason to think of it as a collection of memoirs. But sometimes other ideas contain germs of concepts that may be developed in new directions.

But then Couchoud gets closer to his radical idea. (more…)

2011/12/28

The earliest gospels 3 — Gospel of Mark (according to P.L. Couchoud)

Couchoud’s take on the Gospel of Mark follows. This post should be seen as a continuation of the previous three. (That is, it’s take on the Gospel of Mark is entirely my understanding of Paul Louis Couchoud’s analysis of this gospel as a reaction to what he believes to have been the original Gospel produced by Marcion. Quotation page references are from Couchoud’s “The Creation of Christ”.)

Like Marcion’s gospel there is no mention of an author — “unless ‘the beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ’ is intended to give the author” (p. 170). Couchoud earlier made the point that Marcion’s gospel was likewise anonymous and if pushed his followers would say it was “Christ’s” gospel.

It is possible that this gospel was written in Latin (Ephrem’s note), or was composed with a Latin and a Greek version. The surviving manuscripts are in poor condition with the original ending lost. (I do not believe the original ending was ever lost, but I am keeping my own views quiet while I focus on staging those of Couchoud for now.) (more…)

2011/10/07

More reasons for an early Christian to invent the story of Jesus’ baptism

Bill Arnal and Leif E. Vaage are not the only scholars who have published doubts about the historicity of the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist. I mentioned them back in January this year. Another was Burton Mack in Myth of Innocence. (The evidence against historicity is in my view overwhelming. I have shown the weakness of the arguments by E. P. Sanders for its historicity and posted before on how the scene’s can be explained entirely in terms of literary function and artifice without any need to resort to assumptions of extraneous events outside the text.) But for sake of completeness here is Burton Mack’s argument for treating it as entirely mythical. I highlight in bold type the reasons he sees evident for the need or wish of early Christians to invent the episode. Far from the scene being an embarrassment to the first Christians to have heard the story, it was surely welcomed. Only later evangelists reading Mark’s gospel felt embarrassment over Mark’s account because they had quite different views of Jesus.

The framework stories of the gospels are the most highly mythologized type of material. They include the narratives of Jesus’ birth, baptism, transfiguration, crucifixion, resurrection, and post-resurrection appearances. The transfiguration story is purely mythological, as are the birth narratives, the story of the empty tomb, and the appearances of the resurrected Jesus to the disciples. Critical scholars would not say that any of these derive from reminiscences.

The baptism story is also mythic, but in this case may derive from lore about Jesus and John the Baptist. Lore about John and Jesus is present in the sayings tradition, in a pronouncement story, and other legends both in Q and in Mark. John the Baptist was a public figure whose social role was similar to that of Jesus and whose followers were regarded by some followers of Jesus as competitors.

Except for the baptism story, however, there is no indication that Jesus and John crossed paths.

(more…)

2011/10/02

That Mysterious Young Man in the Gospel of Mark: fleeing naked and sitting in the tomb

Filed under: Gospel of Mark,Young man in the tomb — Neil Godfrey @ 2:13 pm
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Baptism of Christ. Fresco in Cappadocia

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An old (1973) article in the Journal of Biblical Literature by Robin Scroggs and Kent I. Groff make a case that the young man who fled naked from the scene of Jesus’ arrest in Gethsemane and the young man (reappearing?) in the tomb to announce Jesus’ resurrection were originally created as symbols of the baptism ritual for new converts to Christianity.

The young man having his linen cloak (σινδόν / sindon) snatched from him is substituted by Jesus who is entering into his “baptism” of suffering, death and burial — as depicted by Jesus himself being wrapped in a σινδόν/sindon for burial. The young man then reappears in the tomb, sitting on the right side, clothed in white like Jesus at the transfiguration. These narrative scenes find their meaning in the baptism ritual of early Christians: the initiate first removed his garment and entered the baptism naked and was then given a new robe to symbolize a new life in the resurrected Christ. (more…)

2011/09/19

What Mark’s Episodes Do For Readers (and the real historiographical question to ask)

Filed under: Bible as literature,Gospel of Mark — Neil Godfrey @ 11:18 pm
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As with any magic the spell works best when the audience does not know how it is done. On the other hand, understanding the way literary and rhetorical devices play with how we respond to what we read does help remind us that we are reading a creation of the human mind. Even if the words we read are telling a “true story” the words used to convey that information have been chosen to convey a certain meaning or feeling in relation to what we read.

One characteristic of the gospels, particularly the Gospel of Mark, that we sometimes hear is a mark of unsophistication and primitive literary skills, is the episodic nature of the first half of the Gospel — up to the Passion narrative.

Well, this post is an attempt to rescue something of the reputation of that part of the Gospel by pointing out what that episodic structure manages to achieve from a literary perspective. I am not going to argue that episodic writing is a sign of genius. But it did have an honourable history in ancient literature, at least from the time of Homer’s Odyssey (or even the Epic of Gilgamesh), so it must have been doing something right for many readers.

Whitney Shiner has a chapter titled “Creating Plot in Episodic Narratives: The Life of Aesop and the Gospel of Mark” in Ancient Fiction and Early Christian Narrative. The comparison is helpful but I will confine this post to the comments on Mark. (more…)

2011/09/05

Creativity with the Name of Jesus the Healer in the Gospel of Mark

This church converted to a blues night club was once called The Healer and was once a favorite place of mine -- A pity they changed the name.

Classicist John Moles presents a case for the Gospels making creative use of the name of Jesus in order to drive home its unique status as the power that tends, cleanses, heals and saves. In the Gospel of Mark — the portion of his Histos article I am addressing in this post — this creative play on the name of Jesus culminates in the final crucifixion and resurrection scenes where the name emerges as a saving healing power of cosmic proportions.

John Moles is examining the common classical use of literary puns as found in early Christian literature. He draws our attention to the meaning of the name of Jesus itself (the name itself, not the person) and how this is played with for theological purposes by literary composers.

I have given my reasons for thinking of the Gospels as something akin to parabolic or metaphorical narratives. Jesus and the disciples, especially in the Gospel of Mark, can be read very easily as two-dimensional ciphers to dramatize theological lessons. (I am aware that much secular ancient literature was not strong on building three-dimensional characters but the Gospels, I believe, go beyond this.) So this article by John Moles has my mind racing across those earlier thoughts. What was in the minds of the evangelists? Was “Mark” imagining he was writing about a real person or was he creating a character to represent a theological name of powerful import to the faithful? Now this is not of itself a mythicist argument. (And John Moles himself is definitely not a mythicist.) The same question could well be raised of an author who was writing in response to a faith that in other ways was derived directly from a historical person, but for whom that historical person was lost and replaced by a “Christ of faith” idea. If any conclusions are to be drawn either way then they must be led by other evidence in addition to, or that otherwise embraces any argument in relation to, the literary one. So let’s just focus on the nature of the literary qualities in relation to the name of Jesus in the Gospel of Mark as presented in his fascinating article.

In the following I will add my own comments in italics to my notes from Moles’ article. My own notes will probably often veer from the single theme Moles adheres to in his article. (more…)

2011/08/23

A scholar reads Paul without Gospel presuppositions

Filed under: Gospel of Mark,Paul and his letters — Neil Godfrey @ 1:13 pm
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The Last Supper

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Not every scholar thinks it is silly to read Paul’s letters without bringing to them assumptions from later documents like the Gospels. Some think it is a sounder method to interpret the later literature in the light of what we can understand from what went before it — and not the reverse.

Associate Professor William Arnal is one scholar who does know how to avoid bringing Gospel presuppositions into his reading of Paul’s letters. What he does in “Major Episodes in the Biography of Jesus: An Assessment of the Historicity of the Narrative Tradition” (Toronto Journal of Theology, 13/2, 1997, pp. 201-226) is use earlier sources to try to shed light on how the Gospel narrative came about.

Paul’s famous passage in 1 Corinthians 11:23-25 about the Last Supper saying of Jesus is often pulled out as evidence that Paul knew about the scene we read in the Gospels of Jesus having a final meal with his disciples just prior to being betrayed by Judas. But that is reading the evidence backwards, Arnal rightly argues. First we need to understand what Paul does say, and then compare with the later narrative in the Gospels, and ask what evidence we have to explain the relationship between the two. (more…)

2011/08/18

Why Mark Created a Gospel Role for Pilate

Filed under: Gospel of Mark — Neil Godfrey @ 9:57 pm
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Wenceslas Hollar - Jesus before Pilate 2

Jesus before Pilate : Image via Wikipedia

The earliest Christian records make no mention of Pilate. It is only with the composition of the Gospel of Mark that he first appears. And when he does appear, he is certainly not the bloodily efficient “historical Pilate” but almost a hapless figure who has no argument with Jesus at all.  Thinking through the narrative of Mark’s Gospel while walking home from work this afternoon it suddenly occurred to me that Pilate’s appearance fits a tidy theological-literary pattern that is introduced and sustained throughout the first part of the Gospel. Mark wouldn’t be Mark if he didn’t have a balancing book-end arrangement so that this pattern is repeated at the end to complete the full impact of his theological message.

Pilate missing from the earliest record

The New Testament epistles (excepting the Pastorals) are earlier than the Gospels according to widespread scholarly agreement. There are only two passages in these epistles that identifies those responsible for Jesus’ crucifixion:

  1. 1 Corinthians 2:8  — “None of the rulers of this age understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.”
  2. 1 Thessalonians 2:14-15 —  “. . . the Jews who killed the Lord Jesus . . .” (more…)

2011/07/17

Why Matthew changed the way Mark wrote about Jairus’ daughter and the hemorrhaging woman

Filed under: Gospel of Mark,Gospel of Matthew — Neil Godfrey @ 6:57 am
(Edited with additional headings and discussion of the different kinds of Jesus portrayed - an hour after original posting.)
(Again edited 8 Dec 2011)
Ressurection of Jairus' daughter

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As someone rightfully said in relation to my earlier post on this theme, Matthew’s “Misunderstanding” of Mark’s Miracle Stories,

It’s interesting what you can discover when you closely compare the two. Nothing beats a close reading of the texts.

In discussion following a recent post the question was raised why Matthew lacks Mark’s reference to Jairus being a synagogue ruler. (He also omits the name Jairus).

I don’t know if I have a definitive answer to that particular question, but in searching for possible explanations I did notice a number of other interesting differences between the two miracle narratives that indicate quite different agendas of the two authors. One detects not an interest in recording historical detail but in creating a Jesus who fulfils certain quite different expectations and narrative functions. (This is a tendency well known to historical Jesus scholars. But the implications for historicism or mythicism is a separate question from what I am addressing here. I am interested in understanding the nature of the Gospels more fully, in this instance by comparing the way two of them treat a particular narrative.) (more…)

2011/07/12

Jesus out-spitting the emperor

Filed under: Gospel of Mark — Neil Godfrey @ 8:58 pm

An interesting thing happened to me while I was on my way to write this post this evening. (I was intending to expand on the discussion relating to another post but now have something much more interesting to write about.) I saw a reference online to a scholarly article that was suggesting that Mark’s account of Jesus’ healing the blind man by spitting on him may have been written in response to the rumour circulating that Vespasian had not long before performed the same miracle by spitting. Was Mark drawing the readers’ attention to a contrast between Vespasian using the miracle to declare his universal authority and Jesus using it to lead into his message about humble service?

Eric Eve of Oxford had the article published in New Testament Studies in 2008, titled “Spit in your eye: the blind man of Bethsaida and the blind man of Alexandria“.

Eric Eve knows scholars have offered multiple reasons to consider the story a fiction: (more…)

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