2007-06-06

mark’s parable of easter sunday

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by Neil Godfrey

Mark’s gospel concludes with a scene that contains several bizarre elements that defy logical explanation. One of these is his narrative of the women bringing spices to anoint Jesus’ body but wondering as they go: Duh, has anyone worked out a plan for how we are going to get through the door of the tomb? (Mark 16:3)

The story, as told, does not make narrative sense. Yes, one can imagine a whole array of factors to make it work, but then it becomes the story of whoever is doing that imagining, and it is no longer Mark’s story as he has given it to us.

But the story, as told, does make profound and cogent sense as a parable or allegory. It recalls two stories in the early chapters of the gospel:

Firstly, it recalls the paralytic healing story: Jesus was inside the house and four men carrying their paralytic friend came to see Jesus but they could not get inside for the crowd. The blockage at the door to Jesus is emphasized. It is remarked on in 2.2 and 2.4. Those who want to get to Jesus cannot get to him through the door of the tomb. The paralytic, as already explained in earlier posts, must be laid in a hewn out “tomb” — the way to get to Jesus is to die with Jesus, to be follow or be united in his death of the cross.

Secondly, it recalls the very namesake of one of the women at the tomb not being able to get to Jesus through a door in another house. But strangely in this incident the woman, said to be his mother, is not named here. And in the tomb scene in the last chapter she is named but not explicitly said to be his mother, this time. But the crowd around Jesus is so immense it prevents his mother from reaching Jesus whom she has come to reach — 3.20, 31, 32. Jesus insults his mother – 3.33-35. The point is that one’s physical kin are not one’s real kin in the kingdom of God. Jesus calls on his followers to leave their physical families for spiritual ones — 10.29-30. The physical kin, those of this world, cannot come to Jesus. They seek to come through the normal channels.

But to come to Jesus through the door of the tomb would be to simply come to anoint the dead. And Jesus is not dead. The stone blocking the door was removed because Jesus was no longer inside. Those who are truly of Jesus will come to him only by joining him in his death (via the cross) so that they can live in him. Mark has shown repeatedly in his gospel that this is a basic lesson. One cannot come to Jesus apart from dying with him.

Once again, Mark’s gospel makes no sense as historical narrative. But it makes perfect sense as a theological allegory.

  • tagertux
    2007-06-11 22:14:26 UTC - 22:14 | Permalink

    I don’t quite get your point. Just because someone didn’t act rationally doesn’t mean you can’t explain what they did. Surely it confirms that it is historical narrative. You’d be making it up if you expected human beings to always act rationally. Sure that would be a much greater leap. History is full of stories of people that did irrational/stupid/silly things. In fact I’m sure if you thought about this day….

  • 2007-06-13 03:37:26 UTC - 03:37 | Permalink

    My “point” is to try to understand the text as it is. That may be what you’d call “exegesis” of sorts or “explication”, even a touch of “literary analysis”, but whatever it’s called I am offering an explanation of a part of the narrative in terms of what we can understand from the larger text itself. When the narrative tells us that the women went to the tomb not knowing how they were going to get inside to do what they were going for, then the narrative poses a problem for its readers. You would interpret this as the women acting irrationally, but I believe that the explanation I have given points to the author of the gospel having a different meaning of this action in mind. Is there anything in the text itself that supports your interpretation?

    It appears that you are interested rather in using the text to support your personal belief in a certain event. I have no problem with you doing that, but I suspect you will have this belief even if Mark’s gospel did not exist. So in that sense, your interpretation is an attempt to rationalize the text to make it conform to your personal belief.

    That’s your right. But I have no interest and rather think it quite strange that people today would really attempt to prove from ancient texts that a god-man rose from the dead.

    My interest is to understand the text within the terms and parameters of the text itself.

  • 2007-06-13 16:37:40 UTC - 16:37 | Permalink

    Forgot to add: the implication of your comment is that it would be a greater leap to expect the author to have said the women had a plan to gain entry into the tomb, and that had the author said this then it would be less realistic than the current narrative because that would smack of just too much rational behaviour in the narrative.

    On the contrary, I suspect if the author had said that the women had thoughtfully arranged to gain entry you would take that as a surer sign of “historical credibility” than it currently possesses, and the apparent contradiction with other gospels would only serve to further convince you of its historicity because it demonstrates “normal” independent eyewitness variation.

    In other words, I suspect it doesn’t really matter what the text says, whatever it says will be used to add descriptive detail to the faith story. But as I said, my interest is attempting to understand the text within its own terms regardless of any confessional interest.

  • tagertux
    2007-06-13 21:19:55 UTC - 21:19 | Permalink

    You’re right about my second sentence. It is a logical fallacy. I would still stand by The Gospel of Mark being a historical account though.

    “In other words, I suspect it doesn’t really matter what the text says, whatever it says will be used to add descriptive detail to the faith story.”

    This is perhaps what I have a bigger issue with. The apostle Paul makes the, perhaps obvious statement, that is the resurrection isn’t a definite space-time actualt event then the Christian faith is ridiculous. I happen to believe that it was, but I am convinced that if it was not I’d have the humility to let christianity go.

    “But I have no interest and rather think it quite strange that people today would really attempt to prove from ancient texts that a god-man rose from the dead.”

    This is interesting. Say we printed out these web-pages and kept them in a box. It would be altogether reasonable for someone to find the box in 25 years and assume that we had had this conversation. They could also assume that we were discussing the book of Mark. They’d probably be able to tell that you’ve studied this quite a bit more than I have. It is only from ancient texts we know anything about the past.

    “My interest is to understand the text within the terms and parameters of the text itself.”
    This is obviously a philosophical difference, or perhaps as they say now… just linguistical analysis. The text was written by a person. It was written for a purpose and for the people that were expected to read it. I would say that we can understand most of it independantly from these considerations but we cannot fully understand it. Of course, as you probably know, Mark isn’t as up front as Luke about the purpose of his text. It’s safe to assume, I think, that because they were in a culture that passed things on verbally Mark felt what he was writing was so important that it HAD to be written down.

  • tagertux
    2007-06-13 21:23:04 UTC - 21:23 | Permalink

    “Once again, Mark’s gospel makes no sense as historical narrative. But it makes perfect sense as a theological allegory.”

    I don’t understand how it makes no sense. Luke clearly says that his intention was a historical narrative. Mark says a lot of the same things. Surely at least some of it makes narrative sense. Then you would be down to picking out the specific occaisions and trying to find reasonable explanations.

  • tagertux
    2007-06-13 21:23:19 UTC - 21:23 | Permalink

    “Once again, Mark’s gospel makes no sense as historical narrative. But it makes perfect sense as a theological allegory.”

    I don’t understand how it makes no sense. Luke clearly says that his intention was a historical narrative. Mark says a lot of the same things. Surely at least some of it makes narrative sense. Then you would be down to picking out the specific occaisions and trying to find reasonable explanations.

    My spelling is bad. Sorry.

  • 2007-06-20 02:18:40 UTC - 02:18 | Permalink

    something wrong — thought i had left a reply to this but it has vanished — hope to catch up with replies when return home — o/seas at moment and unable to respond at moment.

  • 2007-06-21 07:05:06 UTC - 07:05 | Permalink

    I am assuming that Mark was the earliest gospel and Luke a later interpretation. I am interested in understanding Mark’s text within the terms of his own text — it is not valid in my view to interpret Mark through Luke in order to understand Mark. (Such an approach is only valid for understanding Luke.)

    Try to read Mark without any preconceptions from Matthew and Luke — an almost impossible task I admit — but it changes everything if you can take the time and effort to do so.

    It will also suggest reasons for later authors re-writing Mark’s gospel and for Mark’s relative obscurity in comparison with the earlier reputations of Matthew and Luke.

  • tagertux
    2007-06-23 22:06:11 UTC - 22:06 | Permalink

    OK. Read Mark whilst trying to not think of the other gospels. I’ll give it a shot.

    I’m still confused by your whole blog/idea/concept but it something I’m keen to get to grips with. I doubt you and I would really agree but understanding what we’re saying would obviously be a starting point. There’s so many ranting atheists out there it unusual to find a rational one….

  • 2007-06-24 14:08:06 UTC - 14:08 | Permalink

    why bother to read mark any way at all? if you are starting from faith in a certain position then what difference will any point of view make apart from in the fringe details? though i admit fringe details can become a fascinating topic to spice up the main course of faith.

    what is confusing about my position? just ask me what is not clear or what is confusing and i am happy to attempt to clarify further.

    (have you ever found a rational faith position? Aren’t reason and faith contradictions with the implication that a rational faith position is an oxymoron? — i know, it is cool for churches to affirm that their faith is supported by reason, but think about the logic of that public relations spin . . . )

  • tagertux
    2007-06-24 18:19:29 UTC - 18:19 | Permalink

    Everyone has a faith. Everyone has a worldview, or perspective from which they understand reality. I have faith in the chair I am sitting on to hold my weight, it’s a reasonable faith because I bought it IKEA and as a general rule their furniture robust enough for it’s purpose. When it comes to rather more important questions then I would say the same rules apply. Everyone operates on some understanding of the world. Therefore it is just a question of whether your faith is well-placed or misplaced, or whether your world-view is a correct one. I do believe that my faith is rational. I could not live it out, and believe it, consistently for long if it were not.

    As to the confusion.. I’ve read a few posts and obviously we’ve been blogversing (a gross made-up word to describe our conversation) and I’m trying to figure out what your main question or investigation(?) is. Your musings, are they an attempt to explore Christianity or are they linguistic analysis?

  • 2007-06-25 06:27:14 UTC - 06:27 | Permalink

    This example of the faith in the chair to hold my weight is playing with a different meaning of faith that is (a) applied to those who are said to have religious faith and (b) misapplied to those who say science is a faith. This is a common but specious word game. Faith in the chair to hold me or that a fall from a great height will kill me is based on everyday experience of the physical observable testable world.

    Religious faith is by its own biblical definition opposed to evidence. The evidence of a terminal disease or stinking corpse, the difference between life and death even, or a mountain — or astrophysical and geological and biological and neurological sciences — is to count as nothing beside one’s religious faith. Religious faith is of the same order as a child’s faith in fairies under mushrooms or a teacup orbiting the sun or having an imaginary friend; such beliefs can neither be proved nor disproved, though belief in each can potentially be manipulated to have profound emotional or mental effects on the believers themselves.

    You comment that everyone has a perspective through which they view reality, but again, this is not the argument. Religious faith is not fundamentally an alternative perspective to some common standard of reality. Religious faith is the source of a totally different definition of reality itself. Religious faith is itself a perspective that grounds and sources a certain reality — not just a perception of the same reality common to all. God is part of the religious faith reality, and not a mere alternative perception of the same reality we both see in the rocks beneath our feet. Scientists can have different views and scholarly discussions about alternative hypotheses of a common observable reality but the one of religious faith (in the sense we are talking about here) cannot engage in the same debate on equal terms because to that person reality includes a belief in a strictly social psychological construct, god or gods or such. And the object of that belief, god or gods or such, is rarely if ever, I think, defined in a coherent way that is acceptable to all in the same way the rocks beneath our feet are acceptable as a common coherent and comprehensible reality.

    My interest is in understanding (through the evidence) the origins and nature of Christianity. To this end, my views are not static, but changing (whether by backtracking from or deepening a particular view) the more I learn. My interest is historical, sociological, cultural, psychological.

    My interest is also to do my little bit to make some of the scholarship to this end more accessible to others who think they could benefit from it. It’s the sort of information I wished I had more ready access to, and interest in, many years before now.

  • tagertux
    2007-06-25 22:54:52 UTC - 22:54 | Permalink

    “You comment that everyone has a perspective through which they view reality, but again, this is not the argument. Religious faith is not fundamentally an alternative perspective to some common standard of reality. Religious faith is the source of a totally different definition of reality itself.”

    But this this is the argument.

    “Religious faith is itself a perspective that grounds and sources a certain reality — not just a perception of the same reality common to all.”

    There is but one reality (as we’d both probably agree). Therefore whatever system of thought comes closest to explaining and being consistent with reality is the most correct. It is up to me if I believe the moon is made of cheese but it would not reflect reality. Therefore it is safe to assume that my belief in this case is in fact wrong. It obvious when pushed when people’s view of the world does not reflect reality. Take Zen Buddhism for example as a monistic faith that believes there is nothing but a pregnant nothing or even Dawkin’s recent claim (http://www.ted.com/index.php/talks/view/id/98) that marble statue could one day wave at you. Clearly these are faith statements that don’t fit with what see know about reality.

    How would you define an acceptable common coherent and comprehensible reality? How do we know something exists?

  • tagertux
    2007-06-25 23:14:01 UTC - 23:14 | Permalink

    p.s. Clearly these are faith statements that don’t fit with what we see and know about reality.

  • 2007-06-27 12:23:48 UTC - 12:23 | Permalink

    I have read Dawkins statement in his book The God Delusion and it is clear he is not making a “faith statement”, nor is it a statement about known reality.

    Your final questions don’t interest me, sorry. I know when it is raining and when I cut myself. We all know what is meant by basic everyday observable or testable experience. If people want to question “reality” then I will leave them to their thing. The philosophy of epistemology is interesting for many purposes but it is beside the point in this context from my point of view. If on the other hand you can present a good epistemological reason I should believe in lots of deities or something like that then let me know but also exactly what is meant by those or that deity/ies.

  • tagertux
    2007-06-29 04:18:26 UTC - 04:18 | Permalink

    What are your limits on how we can know things to be true? If it can be tested or is observable does that make it true/real? Is that the only way we can know something?

  • tagertux
    2007-06-29 04:19:46 UTC - 04:19 | Permalink

    p.s. Your name is obviously Neil. Mine isn’t ‘tagertux’, it’s Lincoln. Please to (sort of) meet you!

  • 2007-06-29 06:49:23 UTC - 06:49 | Permalink

    Hi Lincoln,

    What is wrong with testable, experiential, observable phenomena? We cannot observe atoms but we can test for them — that doesn’t prove our particular current concept of them is true and final, because there are still many tests and questions to resolve and no doubt our understanding and models of atoms will continue to be refined and adapt with these.

    Your chair case is a good one — i know reality in the same sense i know a chair will support me — until it doesn’t. Then I need to examine why it didn’t — and learn much more about the reality involved to require a chair to support me.

  • tagertux
    2007-06-29 08:19:21 UTC - 08:19 | Permalink

    And by testable, experiential, observable phenomena? We can know something is true if we can test it?

  • tagertux
    2007-06-29 08:22:51 UTC - 08:22 | Permalink
  • 2007-06-29 08:23:29 UTC - 08:23 | Permalink

    I don’t quite understand your question. This is a very abstract set of notions you are bringing together here that can have a variety of meanings in different contexts. I’d rather discuss the specific issue that is really the bottom line of what you are meaning to address. Till then, we can discuss words in a vacuum and play games with our results when applied to a specific situation not in mind at all at the time of the initial word-game, and have to start all over again. Just cut to the chase. Much more economical.

  • 2007-06-29 08:24:56 UTC - 08:24 | Permalink

    If you are arguing the validity of different philosophical schools of thought then that is one thing. But I don’t see the relevance. I am not discussing Empiricism or anything else like that on my blog.

    Or if you see a problem with my reasoning on any point just tell me where it is. I’d rather discuss in context.

  • tagertux
    2007-06-29 18:01:00 UTC - 18:01 | Permalink

    http://vridar.wordpress.com/2007/06/06/marks-parable-of-easter-sunday/#comment-1230

    I assumed we had kind of moved on from the specifics. How we know what we know is hardly a game. What we believe about reality affects how we live day to day. What we believe about reality or truth decides our perspective on all things. Once we understand where each person is coming from then we can truly communicate. If we talk about specifics from our two different perspectives and don’t address the presuppositions then we can’t be sure we understand each other. The church is as bad as anyone at this.

  • 2007-06-29 18:09:20 UTC - 18:09 | Permalink

    I’m happy to discuss the Gospel of Mark. If you wish to discuss epistemology then I will come into the conversation at the point it is raised directly in relation to a specific about the Gospel of Mark. I didn’t realize we had “moved on” from specifics at all. I take these different tacks into philosophy as momentary diversions to get ahead on specific points. I will stick with the specific points and address anything philosophical as it directly applies in situ. That’s not opting out of the epistemological question; it is addressing it in its application. . . . i.e. “Praxis” (=the welding the “theory” and “practice”)

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