John Carroll likens Mark’s and John’s Pilate to Captain Vere in Melville’s “Billy Budd – Sailor”. He is a victim of the civilizing order (cosmos) he is responsible to uphold.
Focusing on Mark, however, I fail to see this in the same sense that Carroll suggests.
Mark opens with idyllic order. The whole of Judea went out to John the Baptist in response to his call for repentance (1:5). But the order is fragile because we are told that someone greater than John is coming. How can that order pulled together by John then hold? How can there be anything but a disruption to that order?
Jesus then enters with a cosmic shattering of the heavens. They are split apart (1:10) at his emergence from the chaos of the water. All others came through that baptism into the order that was focused on John. Jesus’ emergence means a tearing apart of the natural order.
Cosmic order was maintained among mankind on earth via the rulers. The King of the Jews, Herod, is torn against his natural inclination to rescue John by the pressures initiated by his own personal folly (6:26). He had been prepared even to tear apart his kingdom in his human lapse (6:23) but instead he was responsible for using his power to destroy the forerunner of the heavenly King of the Jews.
Pilate is not a victim of his responsibility to uphold the cosmic order in Mark, but he is the victim of the forces of chaos overwhelming him. The wild mob cries out for a setting aside of due process and justice and Pilate caves in to this mob chaos. The cosmic associations are underscored by the offer to release Barabbas — a custom not found in Judea but one related to ancient ceremonies of the turning of the old year over to the new through the gateway of momentary chaos.
And Jesus procession to his crucifixion is another association with the new year festivals and establishment of a new order via the bloodying of the old, given its mock Roman triumph allusions.
In Isaiah 13 the falling of the stars of heaven is a metaphor for the fall of kingdoms, and in Daniel the king is the kingdom. Both books are central to the literary content of Mark. Jesus foretold of the collapse of the cosmos with the fall of the stars from heaven, and Pilate’s being overwhelmed by the mob that is as treacherous as a stormy sea is surely the beginning of that time. Following Herod’s shadow, Pilate kills the heavenly King of the Jews, the king of order that is beyond the order of of this age. The temple veil, studded as it was with the stars of heaven, is torn apart at the death of Jesus. The silence of Jesus is broken with the destroying-conquering shout at the climax of the cosmic war (15:37-38).
The gospel opened with a reference to Psalm 2 as the King from heaven was declared the Son of God and it closed with another Psalm 2 reference with him being kissed. And the Psalm also points to the kings and peoples raging and opposed to the new order, the new cosmos that tears apart the old.
Was this the reason Mark brought in Pilate to be the focus of the death of Jesus? Other gospel authors appear to be politically embarrassed by this Roman governor’s role and attribute more responsibility to the Jews. Some noncanonical gospels even attributed primary responsibility of Jesus’ death to King Herod (see Justin, GPeter, Slavonic Josephus, Luke’s attempt to fit in Herod).
Mark was not embarrassed however at all. Was this because his gospel was not political so much as it was a cosmic allegory?
There are other reasons for reading Mark as allegory, and later gospel authors rewriting Mark appear to have missed this point. Mark has always been an odd one out in the gospel trajectory despite clear signs it was the original gospel. It’s Jesus is a cosmic order shattering power. Perhaps Pilate’s role was initially part of this grand allegory, too.
(Especially so if we see (1) Mark as a derivative of Paul’s thought and (2) Paul’s thought being influenced by Stoicism, with its cyclic cosmic order paradigms. And not to forget the possibility of Patella’s (and Ulansey’s) precession of the equinoxes possibilities in Mark.)
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