2007-06-02

John Carroll on the Existential Jesus (live this time) — (podcast/transcript)

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by Neil Godfrey

Mark’s Greek according to John Carroll (The Existential Jesus):

(pics nicked from here. Two faces or one vase?)

This is how Mark’s Greek works — surface text vs subtext — according to John Carroll:

Yet another ABC Radio National (Australian BC, not American BC) program (Lingua Franca) has given us another gem, this time a live presentation by John Carroll on the meanings of some of the words used in the Gospel of Mark.

I’ve heard various possible interpretations of Mark’s “Kingdom of God” before but never, till now, the translation ‘Sacred Order’.

Sacred Pneuma or Holy Spirit?

And of Jesus’ baptism by John? Pneuma is a spirit like the wind. The Gospel of John, to John Carroll the “great interpreter of Mark”, understands “pneuma” as “charged wind, cosmic breath, driving spectral force, even God”. It loses its impact in Mark if read as a personal or delineated entity. John the Baptist baptized with water, which represents purification, the cleansing of sin — an ethical thing. But Mark’s Jesus, unlike the Jesus of the later Matthew gospel, is NOT an ethical teacher! Jesus is baptized by John, yes, but on emerging from water baptism he himself “immersed” the spirit.

(I would go one further than John Carroll here and suggest Mark intends to convey that Jesus “baptizes” (meaning “immerses”) the Holy Spirit because it is the Spirit that enters “into” him, in Mark’s gospel!) But I would never have thought that without John Carroll alerting me to the juxtoposition of the two, within the immediate context of the meaning of “spirit/pneuma”, and the fact that in Mark’s gospel Jesus is NOT an ethical teacher.

In other words, that great problem of Christian scholars — why Jesus was said to have been baptized by his lesser, John — could possibly be solved by the original story’s contrast between the ethical or moral righteousness of John the Baptist and the higher righteousness of Jesus represented by his immersing (baptizing), or taking in to himself (baptizing), the very nature of God, or God himself! (Carroll is not so explicit. That is my extrapolation — and I suspect at the moment it has much to commend it!)

About that vase-silhouette trick? Mark keeps flip-flopping between the moral and physical realms. Take the healing of the paralytic. Jesus forgives “SIN” (that the critics see as a moral thing) but Jesus by doing this causes the paralytic to PHYSICALLY WALK. And the key to this doublebind twist is the nature of the word for “sin” — harmatia — the missing of the mark (missing “mark”?? yeh right, ha! ha!)

“Your (moral) sins are forgiven!” can also be translated “You are freed (from paralyzed being)”, you unhinged one!

But how are we meant to interpret the Gospel of Mark? John Carroll believes that the author of the gospel of John is the “great interpreter” of Mark. He juxtaposes the impasse of Peter’s three-fold “confession” in John (I “philia/love you as a friend” you rather than using Jesus’ “agape/ love me on a higher level”) with Mary Magdalene’s love for Jesus.

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Neil Godfrey

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