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Posts Tagged ‘Gospel of Mark’

if Jesus was in fact praying the Psalms on the cross, Mark supplies the origin (Ps 22:1) and Luke the terminus (Ps 31:5) of the Lord’s final conscious string of prayer.

According to Mark, Jesus is heard by bystanders to have spoken from the cross words which are found in Psalm 22:1, “My God, My God, Why hast thou forsaken me?” (Mk 15:34).  Most commentators will admit (even if they disagree) that an old interpretation of this text claims that Jesus might well have been ‘praying the Psalms’ to himself in Aramaic during that last forsaken hour.

However, Mark further relates that these bystanders believed Jesus was calling Elijah, and offered Jesus a sop of soldier’s wine, waiting to see if Elijah would come for him.  It is not until after this interlude that physical death comes when, as Mark writes, Jesus uttered a loud cry and breathed his last (Mk 15:37).

According to Luke, the addition at Mk 15:37 doesn’t tell the whole story.  Luke has reason to report that the last loud cry which Mark reports on the lips of Jesus just before he breathed his last was in the form of actual words:  “Father, into thy hands I commit my spirit!”  Unbelieving Jesus scholars won’t like this, but I think Luke’s report of more speech is easier to accept than the idea of Jesus letting rip with one of those hideous screams that actors use when playing the bad guy falling off the cliff – AAAAUUGH!  Seriously?

Luke has given us a beautiful devotional window opening onto the mind of Jesus at the hour of his death.  Because these words reported by Luke are also from the Psalms (31:5).  This means that if Jesus was in fact praying the Psalms on the cross, Mark supplies the origin (Ps 22:1) and Luke the terminus (Ps 31:5) of the Lord’s final conscious string of prayer.

For Lent, then, it might be worth a shot to try ‘praying the Psalms’ with Jesus from the cross (Ps 22:1 – 31:5).  In faith imagine that you are experiencing a bit of what was actually passing through the mind of the Christ in the last few minutes of his material existence.  Put a little cheap wine on your tongue somewhere in the middle of it all.

PS – My word-count 2,302 is based on an English version I found online and copied to word processing for tabulation (minus choir directions and verse numbers).  I don’t know what it is in Aramaic.

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“your disciples … were not able” (Mark 9:18)

All three gospel records agree that the epileptic boy and his father enter the picture immediately after the events described on the mount of transfiguration.  Whatever we believe about the mountain-top experience, this sequel has a strong historical flavor – indisputable even by the unbelieving Jesus scholar who knows nothing outside of his poor ‘embarrassment principle’ – because it certainly reports a shameful failure of faith and power in the alleged Messiah’s chosen men.

Jesus, Peter, James and John return to camp to find the other apostles overwhelmed by defeat.  Two or more of them had tried and failed to perform an exorcism in a case obviously complicated by epilepsy.

Confronted with the scene, Jesus lumps the chagrined disciples together with the crowd and the scribes as one and all “faithless” (Mk 9:19).  “How long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you?” These expressions reveal an almost sorrowful astonishment, a mingling of disdain and divine homesickness.

“Faithless.”  In the absence of Jesus the disciples have been tested and proven ‘unable’ – they have tried and failed to exercise one of the hallmarks of messianic authority (power over demons).  What form might this failed exercise have taken?  I think it is fair to assume for it a standard form of prayer in his name, something like: ‘In the name of Jesus the Messiah of Nazareth, I bid you come out of him.’  Examples of the apostolic use of similar forms for healing are attested in the Acts.

But why had the authority of the messianic name been here invoked in vain?  Not because they lacked belief that Jesus was their Messiah.  These nine apostles had been present at Peter’s recent profession (Mk 8:29) of belief in their master’s messianic status.  And they had certainly seen wonders aplenty to confirm this special knowledge about Jesus.

And yet Jesus clearly viewed their failure as some kind of failure of belief, an example of faithless action, of unbelief.  In fact it looks very much like Jesus judges their current belief in his person and his mission not as belief but as unbelief.

“I believe, help thou my unbelief!” This cry of dilemma by the distraught father in Mk 9:24 is easily imagined in the mouths of the disciples later, when they asked about their failure privately (Mk 9:28).  And what did Jesus tell them they lacked?  Nothing but prayer (Mk 9:29).

So here is a group of logia with a strong warrant of historical authenticity which suggests two things:

(1) there are cases of belief about Jesus’ person and mission which are viewed by Jesus as a type of unbelief;

(2) there are forms of belief without which ‘prayer in his name’ cannot effect anything.

In a later post I will get some help from Martin Buber (Two Types of Faith, ET 1951) in further analysis of this story’s meaning for faith and belief – and unbelief.

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In my last post I quoted Dr. Vincent Taylor’s fine commentary on Mark, joining him in praise of the strokes by which the evangelist captured the complex and edgy person of the divine-human Son of God.  But there are also difficulties in Mark.  There are inadequacies in Mark, causes of perplexity, scandal and stumbling which engender further questions, questions about the birth and early life, about the lack of spiritual teachings, or whether anything substantial happened after the women found the empty tomb.

Do angels sing when the acts of a fallible human mind establish for all time such a history as Mark has made of the divine mission of the Word?

On the positive side, it cannot be denied that Mark’s story evokes a genuine sense of apostolic experience of an Incarnate Savior.  Mark’s framework of events was barely challenged by later writers, indicating that few in a fast-disappearing generation knew of a better.  And the passion narrative seems to have been a piece of his original territory.

Still, neither Jesus nor his apostles had (in 40 years) ‘put up’ any generally-accepted and authoritative text (even such a seminal text as the Sermon on the Mount seems not to have been known at Rome at the time of Mark’s writing).  There is a sense in which Mark broke this 40-year ban on written histories of the Word of God.

Mark makes available his invaluable material truth regarding the divine Son, but at the same time he casts into the world a Divine Antithesis, a ‘corpus’ a textual God of the letter, engendering other texts.  I think it has been the tendency of these texts to both release and to limit the power of the Divine Son.  But I am inclined to view a God-of-text as ultimately a negation of divinity, not to be worshipped.  The living God is real, shaping us in his image, but the textual God is a creation of human mind, a god shaped in our own image.

The human mind seems to crave escape from the obligations posed by the invitation of spirit to join it in real and living relationship – and it finds this escape in the relative safety of second-hand, imitative religious forms.  This retreat to creedal and textual forms is a kind of apotheosis of rejected mercy.  Since Pentecost the Spirit and the Son have been offered stubborn resistance by this human god (the text) which was ‘thrown’ into our finitude as a god of the ‘old ways,’ born from below.

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“The Markan Son of God is a Divine Being who appears in human form, whose dynamis is manifest in his bearing and speech and in his mighty works, and yet whose humanity is real so that he is deeply moved in the presence of human suffering (i. 43), angry with hypocrisy and grieved at the blindness of men’s heart (iii. 5), astonished at unbelief (vi. 6), indignant with stupidity and want of feeling (x. 14), limited in knowledge (xiii. 32), filled with shuddering awe at the approach of death (xiv. 33)…  The sheer humanity of the Markan portraiture catches the eye of the most careless reader; and yet it is but half seen if it is not perceived that this Man of Sorrows is also a Being of supernatural origin and divinity…    -Vincent Taylor, The Gospel According to Saint Mark, 1952, pp. 121

“The claim that, according to Mark, Jesus becomes the Son of God by adoption has often been made, but it probably rests upon a superficial reading of the Gospel.  The Evangelist’s idea is rather that Jesus is by nature the Son of God, and that the Voice at the Baptism declares Him to be such.  Mark has no theory of the Incarnation, but his assumption appears to be that Jesus is Deus absconditus, the Hidden God.  This view is not docetism, since the humanity of Christ is conceived as real.  It is rather the view that, behind a fully human life, Deity is concealed, but is visible for those who have eyes to see, in His personality, teaching, and deeds.”  -p. 121

I had enough time for a careful reading of the entire Gospel of Mark today.  I’m preparing some more writing on Mark (it seems so anyway) and in that vein I also got started with Wrede’s Messianic Secret (ET Grieg 1971).  In an earlier post I mentioned I was waiting for that book to become available to me (It did finally come off a certain professor’s ‘Spring Course Reserve Shelf’ where I watched it collecting dust all term).  But my appreciation for Mark’s Jesus seemed to be captured best by these quotes from Vincent Taylor’s 1952 commentary, which I grabbed from my own collection this evening.

“In so describing this Christology we are probably expressing it with a precision greater than that in which it appeared to the mind of the Evangelist.  It is uncertain , indeed, whether he had reflected upon it at all, and no more can be claimed than that this is the character of the christology which is implied.  Its nature will appear more clearly if we consider what is meant by ‘the Messianic Secret’ in Mark.”  pp.121-2

Taylor’s Introductory chapter includes a section on Mark’s Christology, in which he offers a view of Wrede’s book just after the quoted material above.  On Wrede and Mark, more to come…

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Saturday I had a chance to get back to the seminary for a couple hours and got what I was looking for in New Testament criticism:

Willi Marxsen, Mark The Evangelist (1956/ET1969)

Gunther Bornkamm, et al, Tradition and Interpretation in Matthew (1956/ET 1963)

Hans Conzelmann, The Theology of Luke (1953/ET1961)

Erhardt Guttgemanns, Candid Questions Concerning Gospel Form Criticism (1970/ET1979)

I figure I need to know the first three thinkers if I’m going to approach the synoptics from square one.  I’m a bit conservative on the method of redaction criticism, and so I want to see where I stand with these three, and depend on Guttgemanns to give me leverage against them.  Oh yeah, and I also grabbed Norman Perrin’s What is Redaction Criticism? (1969), which also more or less starts with Conzelmann, Marxsen, and Bornkamm.

Other books home now: 

Austin Farrer, St. Matthew and St. Mark (1954).  I already like this book after some morning time spent on it.  Farrer is my chief defense against Q theory, along with the late Michael D. Goulder, and Mark Goodacre at Duke.

Michael D. Goulder, Midrash and Lection in Matthew (1974). Goulder stepped back from some of this thesis later, I understand, but I want to get situated with his views on the author of Matthew, whom I see as the first reader of Mark who knew ‘other stuff’ about Jesus.

And lastly, I dumped the Crossan which got me so irritated last week, and took home volume 1 of Raymond E. Brown’s Death of the Messiah (1994) to get help with the Passion analysis I’m working on.  Crossan would see the irony in that, since he pretty much carves out his position in Who Killed Jesus? by constant contrasts to Brown.  Thanks for the tip, Dom.

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Here I want to place Luke and John in closer relation to Mark’s 20 verses on the period between the arrest and the trial before Pilate, and to changes in Mark introduced by the author of Matthew

To me it seems unusual that Mark has recounted everything he has heard about this night as if it happened at a single location.  The confinement of Jesus, the denial of Peter, the first Jewish trial, the spitting, mocking, beating, and taunting, and the second, early morning consultation of the council – everything seems to occur at the same Jerusalem address.  One  reason to doubt the authenticity of this feature in Mark is, as I  suggested in a previous post , the fact that Luke contradicts Mark’s single-location storyline, and is  supported by the author of the gospel of John.

Attention to details of location is a characteristic quality of a good eyewitness report.  If we can believe Luke and John, Mark’s sources have missed an important change of scene. For the purpose of retelling the events which he has in hand, Mark has pretty good control of his ‘collapsed’ singularity of location.  However, when the author of Matthew blithely accepts Mark’s single-location story but attempts to flesh it out with additional facts and assumptions, the results are even less acceptable to John and arguably to Luke as well (For signs of Luke’s knowledge of Matthew’s passion, see Michael D. Goulder, Luke: A New Paradigm,1989, pp. 6-7, etc.).

The Gospel of Matthew adds to Mark’s opening verses two new things (Mk14:53-4/ Mt 26:57-8).  First, in 26:57, is the  assumption that the location to which Jesus was taken immediately after his arrest was the residence of Caiaphas.  This addition, which seems at least to be a  reasonably well-educated guess,  is not confirmed by Luke and is flatly contradicted by John. Next, in 26:58, is the elimination of Mark’s courtyard fire, and the addition of a specific intent of Peter to ‘see’ the result of the trial.  This could be an attempt to raise Peter’s status as eyewitness, but more to the point, the implied darkness and outerness of Mark’s fire-lit courtyard is gone in Matthew – we now appear to be in an indoor court.  I think it is very interesting that Luke and John, who do not follow Matthew in this matter of identifying the residence with Caiaphas, retain Mark’s outdoor fire.

Too often I think modern critics of the gospels ascribe to the apostles and evangelists unworthy aims and ulterior motives in their writing.

Duccio di Buoninsenga - Jesus before Annas/Peter's first denial

But I find three practical and historical inducements for the author of John to make changes in the recorded history of events immediately following the arrest of Jesus: 

(1)  Correction of the tendency  of Matthew’s  additional matter to alter events remembered differently by his own sources;

(2)  Support for Luke’s tradition of a second location for the Jewish trial over the single-location version of Mark (followed by Matthew);

(3)  Introduction of eyewitness material  which builds on Luke’s two-location story by correcting the location of Peter’s denial – in the courtyard of Annas before Jesus is taken to Caiaphas for the official trial.

Note:  The right of Annas to interview Jesus before trial seems indirectly confirmed by the report of the historian Josephus (Ant.xviii.2.1 f) – that the wealthy former high priest was long a power in Judaism after the Romans arbitrarily removed him as high priest (an office traditionally granted for life).  I think Edersheim has evidence that Annas retained rule over the temple trade in animals and coin (I’ll confirm that).

For a treatment of the problem from a strictly synoptic viewpoint, without the help of the Fourth Gospel, see Matthew D. Larsen’s series on the Jewish trials.

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Two weeks ago I listened to a lecture podcast over at NTpod on the Messianic Secret in Mark, by Duke professor Mark Goodacre. The podcast (and the .pdf handout) were my first exposure to modern criticism of Wrede and showed me that I had been needlessly repelled by the theory (i.e., balked at reading the book) by my misconception that it was an organic whole which must be taken as such or discarded.  Goodacre’s freestyle treatment (the podcast is of an informal classroom lecture) unlocked a door for me.

The textual basis of Wrede’s theory is a widely scattered class of Markan logia of Jesus.  The characteristic of these logia is that they always check or censor the potential for popular acclamation and interpretations of the power, identity, and teachings of Jesus. The four categories are: (1) silencing of demons, (2) silencing of those who are healed, (3) concealment of teaching through parables, and (4) silencing of the disciples.  It’s a pretty strong motif, although all four categories have been shown to contain some elements that are not clear indicators of the theory (James D. G. Dunn showed this back in the 70’s).

I’m OK with Wrede’s hypothesis that elements of post-resurrection tradition have contributed a constructive theological spin to Mark’s record.  Without affecting the true identity of the Son, it suggests a healthy questioning of Peter’s later teaching of the imminent and fearsome return of the crucified and risen Jewish Messiah (Acts 2:22ff).  Also I’m open to anything that would tend to bring the historical value of the Fourth Gospel more into line with Mark and the synoptics.

I reject Wrede’s assumption that the silence/concealment motif is all post-resurrection material, without foundation in the pre-crucifixion history.  To the contrary, I think it is quite natural and uncomplicated to assume the existence of at least a core of authentic logia in which Jesus is “hushing-up” public acclamations about his identity and works.  I think the problem in Mark can be solved better without taking the pre-crucifixion Jesus completely out of the picture, and without implicating him in any deception, and without creating the need for wholesale fabrication of tradition (which is why I call mine a ‘soft’ version of the Messianic secret).

I still won’t be able to check out Wrede’s book for several weeks (it’s 50 miles away on 2-hour class-reserve and my status is non-student).  So I start with a few broad strokes until I can read it.  I plan to continue this important thread in additional parts under this subject category.

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