8. Anonymous Persons in Mark’s Passion Narrative
I enjoyed Backham’s opening paragraph. Until reading this I had not had opportunity to discover some of the more detailed reasons scholars have wondered if the Passion Narrative pre-existed independently before being incorporated into Mark’s gospel. It is logical to conclude that if an author writes the bulk of his book as a chain-like series of loosely connected episodes, but then concludes with a complex of episodes in which each episode presupposes some other episode, and the presence of one hangs on the webbed links to the others, — it is logical to conclude that the latter was not original to the author who composed the first part. (Unfortunately the logic is not conclusive since one sees exactly the same type of two-part book mirrored in Homer’s Odyssey — a loosely chained sequence of discrete events followed by a highly integrated complex of events.)
Bauckham sums up the main thrust of his “argument” till now as attempting to explain why some characters are named when the norm appears t be for characters to be unnamed. In chapter 8 B considers those contrary cases where the fact that some characters are UNnamed appears to be unusual. Some might at this point suggest that the data with which B is working presents no pattern at all that calls out for explanation, and that the whole hypothesis is little more than an ad hoc chain of speculations for whatever shape the data takes. But Bauckham remarks that in some cases the anonymity of certain characters “merits a closer look” and draws up the authority of Theissen for support.
Theissen suggests a reason for the fact that Mark not only hid the name of the one who cut off the high priest servant’s ear in Gethsemane, but even used ambiguous language to hide the fact that the culprit was one of the disciples. The reason he proposes, and that B runs with, is that at the time the story was being ‘formed’ it was vital to protect the guilty disciple from possible recrimination.
Ditto for the young man who flees naked. He has obviously offered resistance to arrest (how else would his clothes have come off?) and so is a wanted man and at risk from authorities if his name is leaked.
Thus with a single double-punch is laid low one of the most characteristic elements of Markan literary style — his ambiguity. Or perhaps Markan ambiguity can be retained for:
- his 16.8 ending (did the disciples here the message or didn’t they?);
- and for the identity of the one crucified (of course it was Jesus, but why does he leave open the possibility of it being Simon?);
- and of his identity as the Son of David (Bartimaeus was rewarded for knowing this, so why does he leave it open for contradiction in his debate with the scribes?);
- is that Mary at the cross and tomb his mother or someone else?;
- was Jairus daughter really dead or really only in a coma?;
- are the disciples the good guys or the bad;
- who and what is the young man in the tomb and does he have any relationship with the demoniac et al?;
- and on and on and on . . . . .
But with a “historically plausible” explanation for two of the more famous previous ambiguities we can at last remove them from this list — and from their long held place on the pedestal of exemplars of Markan uniqueness.
Should one ask why any of the disciples should have been remembered at all if it was prudent for 30 years to suppress their names? (Theissen says this sort of evidence of anonymity for fear of recriminations indicates the gospel tradition was being formed between 30 and 60 ce when name exposure would have jeopardized safety.) Surely members of the Twelve were the most wanted so why not keep them labelled for 30 years as (the faceless) twelve? The Book of Revelation had no trouble with combining them the highest honours while avoiding their names. And one cannot help wondering how seriously endangered could any person be by being identified (as most in Mark are) by a single name alone? What harm to anyone could have come from tossing in another “Simon” into the story, even as early as 30 ce?
Caiaphas is not named in Mark because, Bauckham reasons, the family of Annas to which he belonged was actively hostile to Christians throughout the time that the gospel tradition was coming together, so to refer explicitly to the name Caiaphas in an account of Jesus’ death would not be “diplomatic” (p.187). Bauckham does not explain how the name was preserved, therefore, for inclusion in the other gospels.
Pilate was named in Mark because the “not diplomatic” criterion did not apply in his case. He was disgraced for abuses of power with the loss of his office in 37 ce, so could readily be named and shamed in an account of Jesus’ death. I would love to know how this rationale sits with that other argument found throughout New Testament studies: the gospel authors were so fearful of offending Rome that they let Pilate off as lightly as possible by having him admit to Jesus’ innocence and by blaming the unruly Jews for intimidating this hapless governor to act against his better judgement.
Taking Theissen further
Bauckham applies Theissen’s “principle” to other cases: the unnamed owner of the colt which Jesus took to ride into Jerusalem and the unnamed owner of the house where Jesus secretively made arrangements for his last meal. Bauckham is right to point out how the way these stories are narrated by Mark dramatically increases the sense of secrecy and danger as Jesus begins his last days in Jerusalem. He is also right to ask, “Does Jesus in these stories display miraculous foreknowledge . . . ?” (p.187). The reader is left to decide whether the author was portraying the divine foreknowledge of Jesus as he entered Jerusalem or if this thought must be rejected completely in preference for Bauckham’s suggestion that Jesus had made secret plans ahead of time. While Bauckham is tearing down the divine trappings of the plot in preference for the mundane practicalities of a political subversive avoiding detection, one cannot help but wonder why, then, Jesus did not play it safe for them as well as himself “till the time was right” and simply enter Jerusalem secretly, in disguise even.
Wheels within wheels
One must also wonder if, as Bauckham stresses, the early Church was in danger for its views of Jesus, why any individuals positively associated with Jesus were named at all, such as Jairus the ruler of the synagogue or Levi the Son of Alphaeus. One can of course follow B and hypothesize reasons, But then one will be building wheels of hypotheses within wheels of hypotheses, maybe a bit like some ancient model of the rotation of the planets, moon, sun and stars around the earth, with nothing but skyhooks in place of grounded evidence to establish any stability.
Let no-one tell Judas
Curiously Bauckham further suggests that the name of the owner of the house is kept secret by Jesus so that he does not alert Judas ahead of time of where he was to be found, since Jesus somehow “knew” (though no other disciple did) that Judas was going to betray him. It is not clear how this supports any argument for requiring the owner of the house to be kept secret after the demise of Judas.
Climbing Down from Heaven
One may wonder why, if persons were named on the grounds that they were known to the early Christian community, why any of the above argument is necessary. Why not just assume that the owners of the colt and the house were not followers of Jesus? That of course runs into the wall of both of them supporting Jesus and therefore being likely known. So instead of questioning whether there really is a trend to name persons known to the early Christians, Bauckham goes where Theissen did not tread and denies Jesus anything so divine as foreknowledge in the train of prophets of old. No longer may one legitimately compare Jesus with Samuel in the supernatural prophetic insight he manifests at the point of declaring the first king of Israel (1 Samuel 9-10).
The woman who anointed Jesus
Bauckham argues that this woman, although to be a memorial to the whole world, was not named again for her own protection. Her life was in more danger than any other unnamed person because it was she who in a secret meeting in Bethany had anointed Jesus as the Messiah. B nowhere explains why Bartimaeus, on the other hand, should presumably not be in any danger even though he publicly declared Jesus the Son of David. Presumably James and John as members of the Twelve were immune from any similar threat despite attempting to plot with Jesus to sit on his right and left hand when he was King.
Questions immediately come to mind.
- What was there about Mark’s account that gives any suggestion that the woman is anointing Jesus as the Messiah? The account clearly says it is an anointing for burial.
- Can one imagine the disciples, in particular Peter, James and John, missing an opportunity to declare Jesus the orthodox Davidic Messiah destined to be a conqueror or liberator, not a crucifixion victim? Yet those who had been arguing with Jesus that he ought to go the way of the conquering King can only see a woman wasting precious oil here. If any authorities were out to accost her for subversion they would have astonishingly few witnesses to support their charges!
- If, as Bauckham has gone to great length to persuade the reader, certain of the Disciples were guarantors to ensure the validity of the story as recorded for posterity, why was Mark still bound by the limitations of fear that shaped the story at the time of its original composition, 30-60 ce, complete with its anonymities and secrecies and even outright deceptions?
- The authorities treated seriously the thought of a woman anointing the Messiah?
Bauckham answers this first question by saying that Messianic actions had to be played down as much as possible given the danger to the early Christian community. No one put that thought or concern into the mind of the author of Acts. And again, Mark is robbed of his hitherto characteristic subtlety and ambiguity, let alone theological interpretations. Mark’s Jesus has become a political subversive now and is constrained by the way the story was fearfully formulated between 30 and 60 ce.
B does not raise the second question.
B is deafeningly silent on the third question that comes to mind. (So loud I wish it never came to mind.)
To respond to the fourth question B pulls out once again his “fallacy of the possible proof”, discussed in a previous chapter’s discussion:
Admittedly, it would no doubt be very surprising for the Messiah to be anointed by a woman, but she might have been seen in the role of a prophet, like Samuel, inspired by God to recognize and designate his Anointed One (cf. 1 Sam 16:1-13) (p.191)
We are thus permitted to set aside the story as we read it and imagine how it might have been written differently. Another word for this is, as we know, speculation. But there is no other way, no cracks of evidence, that will allow Bauckham’s hypothesis to gain a foothold.
John Christens Mark
Bauckham writes as if no explanation had been forthcoming till now:
We are now in a position to understand why it is that several of the persons who are anonymous in Mark’s passion narrative are named in John (p.194)
- the woman who anointed Jesus — named in John as Mary
- the man who de-eared the servant of the high priest — named in John as Peter
- the name of the servant thus de-eared — Malchus
One is tempted immediately to recall the tendency for names and details to be added as any tradition grows, so Bauckham settles the matter up front:
These should not be regarded as instances of some alleged tendency for names to get added in the tradition. (p.194)
B asserts there is little evidence for such a tendency before the 4th century. (I will leave it to others to test this by viewing samples of literature for themselves across both time and place. Reading B is the first time I have heard this disputed. I had presumed it a truism.)
Question: Why was Malchus only named in the gospel of John, along with Peter as the one who lopped off his ear? Answer: John’s gospel was written after Peter’s death so he was no longer under threat of arrest and trial for this crime.
Question: But what about Malchus? Answer: Since Peter’s name had been suppressed for so long for his own protection, Malthus’s name was still remembered even after Peter’s death since “perhaps” (p.195) he was the victim of a popular but unsolved crime all those years.
Question (this one is mine): So what do we do with John telling us there was no evidence of any crime since Jesus joined the head and severed ear immediately? Answer: (please fill in this space)
Question (again mine): So why was the name Malchus not recorded till John’s gospel? Answer: (please fill in this space); OR, Answer (mine): that’s how traditions grow (but page 194 italicized and indented quote above disallows this answer so please return to previous answer.)
So why was Lazarus named by John but not even given an anonymous mention in the synoptics? Well, John says the authorities were out to get Lazarus — he was too well known. So the synoptics had to go one better during the lifetime of Lazarus and not give him a mention at all!
Bauckham unfortunately leaves another gap here. He does not explain why or how, if Lazarus was so well known that the authorities were hunting him down all over the place, it could have possibly made one whit of difference whatever the synoptic authors wrote or did not write about the Lazarus episode, anonymously or otherwise! Rather, B insists that Lazarus was in such great danger that the synoptic authors deemed it preferable not to even breathe a word about his resurrection! I failed to understand B’s insistence that silence by the synoptic authors could possibly have protected a man known to the authorities by name and whom they were already diligently hunting.
Resurrection miracles are historical?
Part of B’s conclusions about Lazarus derive from the gospel opinion that it was Lazarus’s resurrection that led to the Jewish authorities wanting to kill Jesus. He does not inform the reader if he can only make sense of this story by interpreting it literally — that Lazarus really was raised from the dead after 3 days. I am left wondering if Bauckham is a closet non-historicist and permits the inclusion of the divine, the nonhuman and other-worldly elements, as valid testimony informing his conclusions.
Naked Young Man
Bauckham closes this chapter opining on the identity of Gethsemane’s naked youth. Was he the gospel author himself, Mark? The former possibility (that fallacy again) has the majority view. Or was he even Lazarus? A raft of “plausible” reasons are collated. Who was the most likely witness of Jesus praying in Gethsemane while his disciples slept? What were the clothing customs that one could be rendered naked by losing just one piece of clothing? No detail is left untouched — except the allegorical possibility to all of the above.
Bauckham necessarily rejects the symbolic interpretations of Mark’s fleeing naked youth by calling on Brown’s discussion pages 301-302 (The Death of the Messiah, Volume 1). Brown’s gives his reasons for rejecting the interpretations that view the young man’s nakedness as related to baptism. Brown sees his flight as ignominious and hence cannot be associated with Christ or a baptismal initiate. I suggest that this view misses the point of symbolism. But that aside, Bauckham sees symbolic interpretations of Mark per se as
out of character with the rest of the Markan narrative . . . (p.197)
I doubt even Bauckham could reject the allegorical or symbolic functions of central features of Mark’s narrative such as the tearing of the temple veil, the gathering of the 12 and 7 baskets after the mass feedings, the stilling of the storm and walking on the water, the repetition of the 12 years in healings of the hemorrhaging woman and young girl, the cursing of the fig tree, and many more. I suspect most readers will also continue to search for some symbolism behind the fleeing naked youth.
Latest posts by Neil Godfrey (see all)
- The Big Lie: from Germany to Russia to the United States - 2021-01-18 23:05:23 GMT+0000
- Lessons From the 6 January Insurrection - 2021-01-18 10:57:23 GMT+0000
- When, Why and How People Change Their Minds - 2021-01-17 01:37:01 GMT+0000
If you enjoyed this post, please consider donating to Vridar. Thanks!