Did not even John the Baptist recognize Jesus at the Jordan River?

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by Neil Godfrey

Geertgen tot Sint Jans (15th century): "John the Baptist"
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Mark’s gospel makes little sense if read as literal history, but it packs a powerful punch when read with a mind swept clean of all the other gospel accounts.

The punch the Gospel of Mark hit me with recently was its sentence noting John the Baptist’s baptism of Jesus. It’s bizarre if we try to read it as biography or history. But it makes for a great symbolic message about the identity and function of Jesus.

The Gospel begins with John declaring that one far greater than he is to come from God and cover his followers not with water but with the holy spirit. The preamble has informed readers that this coming one is to be the one of whom the Prophets said is the Lord himself. Everyone came out repenting and being baptized.

Then Jesus came along and John baptized him too.

And that’s it. Mark gives not the slightest hint that John baulked and said, Hey, you’re the one! Nope. It’s as if Jesus was the last in line and John routinely baptized him like all the rest.

Then up from the water came Jesus and “he” (only) saw the spirit descending to him like a dove. No one else saw this or the heavens splitting apart, and no-one but Jesus heard the voice from heaven declaring him to be God’s son.

This is strange. It is especially strange if, as many modern interpreters like to think, Jesus was originally a follower of John the Baptist.

No, what Mark is doing here is entirely at a literary level. His text has no thought for historical or biographical realities. He has written an introduction with John the Baptist standing as a clear representative of the Prophets — he is introduced by citations from Isaiah and Malachi and is dressed and lives like Elijah — and wants the readers to see Jesus emerge from out of him. Like the way the earth and life emerged out of the waters at creation, and the way Noah emerged out of the Flood to start the new world, and the way Israel emerged out of the Red Sea to be born as God’s people, and so on through Joshua, Elijah and Elisha — in the same way Jesus emerged out of the Prophets of old.

Mark is depicting Jesus as coming out of the Prophets and into Israel. John and the baptism are entirely symbolic. Once the baptism is done then John’s symbolic and theological function is done.

There is no dialogue between John and Jesus as they bumble over who should baptize whom. No. John is the representative of the Prophets that spoke of Jesus. So Jesus as it were submits to baptism to be born out of the Prophets in order to embark on his prophesied mission in Israel. Dialogue and touches of realism would distract from the whole point. It’s not about realism. It’s about symbol.

Mark has John arrested and put in prison. Those who like to see Paul’s influence in Mark might recognize the place of the Law and the Prophets here from Galatians. I don’t know if that’s necessary, but it is an interesting possibility.

[1] The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God;

[2] As it is written in the prophets, Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, which shall prepare thy way before thee.

[3] The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.

[4] John did baptize in the wilderness, and preach the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins.

[5] And there went out unto him all the land of Judaea, and they of Jerusalem, and were all baptized of him in the river of Jordan, confessing their sins.

[6] And John was clothed with camel’s hair, and with a girdle of a skin about his loins; and he did eat locusts and wild honey;

[7] And preached, saying, There cometh one mightier than I after me, the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to stoop down and unloose.

[8] I indeed have baptized you with water: but he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost.

[9] And it came to pass in those days, that Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee, and was baptized of John in Jordan.

[10] And straightway coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens opened, and the Spirit like a dove descending upon him:

[11] And there came a voice from heaven, saying, Thou art my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.

[12] And immediately the Spirit driveth him into the wilderness.

Matthew, it would seem, has read Mark’s account and lifted it out of the entirely literary-symbolic level and added a bit of historical plausibility to it. He has John say, No no Jesus, you’re the greater one so you baptize me, to which Jesus replies with an appropriately theological rationalization.

[13] Then cometh Jesus from Galilee to Jordan unto John, to be baptized of him.

[14] But John forbad him, saying, I have need to be baptized of thee, and comest thou to me?

[15] And Jesus answering said unto him, Suffer it to be so now: for thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness. Then he suffered him.

Luke didn’t play that sort of fleshing-out game, but he did miss Mark’s point when he did mention the baptism of Jesus without any reaction from or dialogue with John. He removed the reference from the baptism entirely from the what had for Mark symbolized the Prophets:

[18] And many other things in his exhortation preached he unto the people.

[19] But Herod the tetrarch, being reproved by him for Herodias his brother Philip’s wife, and for all the evils which Herod had done,

[20] Added yet this above all, that he shut up John in prison.

[21] Now when all the people were baptized, it came to pass, that Jesus also being baptized, and praying, the heaven was opened, . . .

That’s not mere lack of awareness on John’s part. It’s dissociation of Jesus’ baptism from John, tagging the mention of the baptism on as a necessary afterthought. Maybe Luke really did understand what Mark was doing and changed it so his Jesus would himself be like Elijah, and not “from” Elijah and the Prophets. He embodies rather than supplants the Prophets. (See the recent post on Spong’s explanation of Luke’s Gospel for the details.)

The Gospel of John does not even say John baptized Jesus, but does have John tell everyone what he saw — and that he recognized Jesus:

[29] The next day John seeth Jesus coming unto him, and saith, Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.

[30] This is he of whom I said, After me cometh a man which is preferred before me: for he was before me.

[31] And I knew him not: but that he should be made manifest to Israel, therefore am I come baptizing with water.

[32] And John bare record, saying, I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it abode upon him.

[33] And I knew him not: but he that sent me to baptize with water, the same said unto me, Upon whom thou shalt see the Spirit descending, and remaining on him, the same is he which baptizeth with the Holy Ghost.

Should we wonder about this last Gospel’s repetition of John the Baptist’s insistence that he did not know Jesus? Was this author rewriting Mark, acknowledging what Mark’s gospel appears on the surface to indicate — that the Baptist did not know who he was baptizing when he baptized Jesus — but inverting the spiritual happenings to Jesus from a private party to a public function? Mark is the Gospel of secrecy, with its Jesus unknown to the characters in the gospel, while John’s Jesus is the public and open one who is constantly declaring his identity to everyone.

I can’t prove any of this was in the minds of the authors. But it makes an interesting possibility.

But what I do think is worth making the fuss over is the character of Mark’s baptism scene. This is just one of many anecdotes throughout the Gospel that looks so odd and raises so many questions if read literally.

Maybe Mark would have been thinking: If you have to ask a silly question that pertains to the flesh, to this world and this life, then you are no better than the blind disciples who can’t think past the things of men. When he described the disciples worrying about how they were going to eat with only one loaf of bread among them, he explained it was because they did not understand the miracle of the loaves and fishes. That is, they did not understand that the loaves and fish were not grain and aquatic vertebrates, but something spiritual, eternal, life-giving.

Readers who fail to see the same with the baptism, Mark may have thought, are just like the disciples who simply don’t understand what he portrayed Jesus as doing.

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Neil Godfrey

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16 thoughts on “Did not even John the Baptist recognize Jesus at the Jordan River?”

  1. Neil, as someone who has been to many bible studies and heard many bad sermons in my life, I’ve been exposed to a lot of poor thinking, but this is as silly as anything I ever heard about the Rapture.

    You talk so much about the importance of evidence, then you create a factual scenario based on nothing more than your opinion about the literary structure of these writings. The idea that Jesus’ baptism was parallel to life being created out of water and so on — that’s a big stretch.

    If it is right, why did you have to invent it 2000 years after the book was written? Why wasn’t that the common interpretation of the event in antiquity?

    Do you believe John was a real person who baptized his followers? I assume you do since he was mentioned outside the bible, more credible sources according to you. If so, then why is it a stretch to think that Jesus was among them? And why would the baptism of Jesus be more siginificant than the baptism of anybody else? Did everyone who got baptized have the same meaning as Jesus’ baptism? And if Jesus was invented from whole cloth, why was he baptized by John instead of having a miraculous baptism?

    So 2000 years from now we can assume that you would doubt the results of this year’s NFL playoffs. Two no. 1 seeds losing to two no. 6 seeds? A 7-9 team actually advancing? That’s crazy. Hah, nobody would ever believe that.

    1. pf: “And if Jesus was invented from whole cloth, why was he baptized by John instead of having a miraculous baptism?”

      Are you saying that the heavens splitting open, a dove descending from the sky, and God’s voice booming out over the P.A. system is not miraculous? You’re hard to please.

      pf: “So 2000 years from now we can assume that you would doubt the results of this year’s NFL playoffs.”

      If all the physical evidence was lost, and the only indication that the Seahawks advanced (in awesome fashion) to meet the Bears was an anonymous note written in 2050, then copied by hand for several decades, would you seriously argue that people should believe it? Let’s see if I understand your argument correctly. People of 4011 CE, now hear this:

      1. It is plausible that the Seahawks advanced.

      2. From the internal evidence of the note and three other anonymous notes from the same period, we know that the authors were embarrassed that a 7-9 team should win the division and advance in the playoffs.

      3. Therefore it is unlikely that they would make it up. (“Why would anybody make it up?”)

      4. Therefore it is true.


    2. When I see a string of rhetorical questions posing as an argument I am reminded of something Dennett wrote in his “Darwin’s Dangerous Idea”, p. 178)

      I advise my philosophy students to develop hypersensitivity for rhetorical questions in philosophy. They paper over whatever cracks there are in the arguments.

      The fact is that no-one knows who the original audiences of the gospels were, nor who wrote them, nor where nor when or what the authors or original audiences thought about them. We only have vague parameters and ever fluctuating speculation. The variety of opinions on these matters testifies to the inadequacy of attempting to divine this information from the texts themselves.

      This is why I do what I believe is the only sensible thing that can be done by a serious historical inquiry that seeks to work with known evidence: do a literary analysis of the nature of the documents themselves. It is the gospels themselves that are the primary exhibits, not some hypothetical oral tradition or source notebooks. We need first to investigate what sorts of documents they are before we know what sorts of questions we can pose to them. This method works for Josephus and Livy and Homer and Genesis and Nehemiah and Revelation and Petronius and Euripides, so I think I can justify a case for using it with the Gospels, too.

      You say you presume I believe John was a real person “since he was mentioned outside the bibe, more credible sources according to you”. It seems you have not read many of my posts. I certainly do not think the Bible is any less credible as a source than any other document. What is important is to understand the nature of each source and the sort of information for which we can use it as a source. I invite you to read those posts of mine where I have explained my motive and interest in writing what I do in this blog. (Start with my profile where I have something linked.)

      Your comment imputes a dishonest anti-biblical bias to me that I challenge you to cite evidence for in anything I have written. Rather than impute motives and pile up rhetorical questions, how about engaging seriously with the actual arguments?

      As for historical claims in any document, I am guided by statements such as the following that have been made by biblical and nonbiblical scholars themselves of a wide variety of persuasions:

      Moreover, in the case of Jesus,. . . there are no data available in Jewish or Gentile secular history which could be used as controls. Thus the degree of certainty cannot even by raised so high as positive probability.

      — From page 401 of The Quest of the Historical Jesus, 2001, by Albert Schweitzer.

      And my other favourite quote from a biblical scholar back in 1904:

      The history of classical literature has gradually learned to work with the notions of the literary-historical legend, novella, or fabrication; after untold attempts at establishing the factuality of statements made it has discovered that only in special cases does there exist a tradition about a given literary production independent of the self-witness of the literary production itself; and that the person who utilizes a literary-historical tradition must always first demonstrate its character as a historical document. General grounds of probability cannot take the place of this demonstration.

      from an academic paper delivered in 1904 by E. Schwartz: “Uber den Tod der Sohne Zebedaei. Ein Beitrag zur Geschichte des Johannesevangeliums” (= Gesammelte Schriften V, 1963,48-123).

      A modern historian did a lot of work on exploring what led to the rise of social bandits in Latin America, and his work was seen to have relevance by biblical historians such as John Dominic Crossan and James Crossley in their studies of Jesus and Christian origins. This was Eric Hobsbawm.

      Richard W. Slatta quotes Eric Hobsbawm’s statement (in Bandits) stressing the need for external controls before deciding if a given narrative has any historical basis:

      In no case can we infer the reality of any specific ‘social bandit’ merely from the ‘myth’ that has grown up around him. In all cases we need independent evidence of his actions.

      From p.24 of A Contra Corriente: a Journal on Social History and Literature in Latin America (2004)

      Slatta himself adds:

      Researchers inclined to take folk tales at face value would do well to consider John Chasteen’s conclusion about the creation of caudillo mythology on the Brazilian-Uruguayan border. “Borderlanders collected, refashioned, or even invented outright memorable words of their political protagonists. . . . borderland Federalists constructed an image of the hero they wanted.”

      Many scholars have found popular and literary sources, folklore, and first-hand reports by “just plain folks,” to be fraught with difficulties. (p.25)

      One might also consider the everyday common wisdom of what another scholar once wrote of the problem of assuming we can read genuine history in the OT (http://vridar.info/bibarch/arch/davies2.htm) and ask oneself whether the same applies to the Gospels.

      1. Neil, I just stumbled here the other day and I don’t know your writings at all. If I sound harsh, I don’t mean to be. I like a good back-and-forth, it’s why I don’t anymore accept the teachings of the church. And in fact, I doubt most of the details of the gospels are true. I believe the birth and resurrection and miracle stories are myths. I don’t believe demons exist so Jesus couldn’t have commanded any out of people, and so on. My best guess is that Jesus was a failed apocalyptic prophet.

        That said, in my opinion you violate many of your own rules in your attempt at analysis. Your literary analysis could be 100% true, but it is also 100% made up in your own head. There is not a scintilla of evidence beyond your own assumptions. You have no idea what the authors of the gospels intended and (as far as I can tell by my limited reading here) you would not accept such as “evidence” if posited by christian scholars.

        Is it possible that the authors of the books wrote in code that if cracked would demonstrate that what they wrote about was an elaborate ruse? Anything is possible, of course, but it strikes me as having a very low probability of being true.

        1. PF, I’m not interested in “a good back-and-forth” unless it is going somewhere. Debate for debate’s sake does not interest me.

          And your regular jibes along the lines that I would not accept evidence if posited by Christian scholars or that I don’t think the Bible is as good a source as other documents etc are unsupported, unsupportable, and wrong.

          Read my comment you are replying to and you will see the first person I quote approvingly is a Christian scholar. Read a few posts and you will see I have quoted approvingly other Christian scholars such as Allison (he is the one who has the honesty to admit the circularity of the methods I discuss) and even Jim West who said the same. Look at the Contributor dropdown box and you will count many Christians in that list and can see I have referred to their works positively in many instances. Others I would have no idea if they are Christians or not and it makes no difference to me.

          Now how about responding to my comment and the thoughts cited by Schweitzer, Schwartz, Hobsbawm and Slatta. What do you fault with their remarks?

          Do you (or Mike Wilson) understand what is meant by literary and narrative explorations and analysis? I do not understand what you mean by “assumptions” or “evidence” in the context of what I wrote. It appears you are trying to read my remarks as something other than what they are meant to be.

          You have repeated your objection about the source of Jesus’ baptism without any indication that you have read my earlier comment on either this point or very similar and related points: http://vridar.wordpress.com/2011/01/14/scholars-who-question-the-historicity-of-jesus-baptism-and-why-they-do-not-persuade/#comment-14096 . Just repeating points without taking any notice of what others say in response gives me the impression it would be a waste of time ever responding to anything you write. Now do you want a serious discussion or not?

          1. ??? I’ve got no problem with the article. I can hardly prove the baptism is factual and no body knows what Mark was thinking, and you clearly state that. Hunches and speculation are free to all.

            Personally I don’t find the presentation of the baptism particularly odd, not given the nature of works of the time. Mark gives me the impression of being a dumping ground for folk lore and anecdotes in the form of a narrative. In this regard it is a bit like Demonax or Life of Secudus, but with a better linking narrative. It is generally held that Mark doesn’t know anybody who knows Jesus, though you may disagree, given the lack of confidence you have in previous research on the topic. So all Mark has to compose this “Beginning of the Gospel” are what ever folklore abounds and his imagination. I wouldn’t expect a lot of good detail to be carried with such reports, and any dialogue would be invented any how (conversations don’t transmit well by memory alone). Mark doesn’t add lots of dialogue that he might have, for clarification or what ever.

            For instance, life of Secundus records the conversation Secundus has with his mother preceding the unhappy event leading to his taking a vow of silence. What are the chances this has been accurately preserved? In fact, the whole episode seems like an invention, though probably not a symbolic one (though it could well be evocative of other similar shenanigans in other works, there is a little Oedipus in it, I’m not currently aware of a story similar enough though to say he lifted from it). It is just one of those tales that emerges when you have someone called the silent philosopher, and know one really knows why. It does serve a purpose beyond the trivial, however, since the lead in to the anecdote is that Secundus believes all women can be bought, and he proves it on his mom.

            You do raise an interesting point, that of John’s being taken to prison, while Mark has John taken to prison after the baptism, it is possible that Jesus died before John did. I hadn’t considered that before, but John is a minor point to Mark, and the Q material, if I’m reading it right, doesn’t implicitly have John in prison, and G.John only has it as a foot note of sorts. The two may well have been competitors (though not precluding Jesus as possibly one of those baptized by the guy). I wonder if any one else has thought of that before?

  2. “[1] The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God;”

    Neil, you should know by now that “the Son of God” is a forgery (which makes it very amusing seeing most Christian commentators go on and on here about its significance (in an irony that “Mark” would really appreciate)). Ehrman uses standard textual criticism to demonstrate the forgery but fails to invoke the best reason which is THEME. Theme is a superior criteria to word/phrase usage as theme has SCOPE. “Mark” never describes Jesus as “son of God” in an editorial comment. Too historical witnessish. It is always REVEALED through narrative (voices from heaven, implication from narrative anonymous character).

    What is especially interesting here at the BEGINNING of “Mark” is the STYLE:


    “The beginning g746 ἀρχή archē”

    Note that “the” is a mistranslation here. There is no underlying Greek “the”. It should be “beginning of the good news”. Note the extreme STYLE of using the word “beginning” to “begin” the story. So it’s bad grammar literally but boy is it stylish. So does “Mark” unintentionally use bad grammar or is he just being stylish? Also note that Greek translations of the Jewish Bible start with the same word:


    “1:1 ἐν ἀρχῇ”

    The Jewish Bible at least has the decency here to start with “in”. So “Mark” is beginning his Gospel with “begin” and using the exact SAME word that starts the Jewish Bible. All with a context here that his Christ’s history/background is the Jewish Bible. This extreme style is a L – O – N – G Way from Bios. I have faith Neil that you now accept Helm’s observation that Christ’s (not Jesus) background for “Mark” is the Jewish Bible. Do you now accept that this idea comes from Paul?

    This study is also useful, as usual, to consider priority. In “Matthew’s” version:


    “1:1 Βίβλος γενέσεως”

    “Matthew’s” second word is a synonym for the offending word, “generation”. Considering that both Gospellers have the thematic reference to the Jewish Bible here, which is more likely. “Mark” took “Matthew’s” second word and promoted it to first or “Matthew” just corrected what he thought was bad grammar/too stylish?

    “Luke”, written later, is farther from the original but still shows its evidence:


    “There was g1096 γίνομαι ginomai”

    After the forged Prologue “Luke” too uses a synonym. The standard situation where the evidence shows “Matthew” and “Luke” following “Mark” but if they change the word they do not agree.

    In “Mark’s” first line, “The beginning of the good news” he sets up his ironic ending. No one “gets” the good news of Jesus’ resurrection. This is the primary theme of “Mark”. Not that Jesus was resurrected but that his disciples did not believe it. The whole plot leads to this and it is the logical ending of what precedes = Greek Tragedy.

    “Mark’s” style on the other END is finishing with:


    “ἐφοβοῦντο γὰρ” (afraid for)

    This is a primary theme of “Mark” that the reason the Disciples do not “listen” to what Jesus said (as “The Voice” commanded them to) is FEAR. As Aristotle explains, “fear” is the primary emotion of Greek Tragedy. So “Mark” has extreme STYLE at the literal beginning and end. With apologies to Bauckham, inclusios really does exist but it is evidence of Fiction, not history. Again, “fear” at the end of “Mark” is the best evidence of 16:8 as the original ending since it is supported by THEME.

    For your readers with more delicate sensibilities, regarding Burridge, as Dennis said in the classic “Spongebob”, “Perhaps I’ve said too much.” In composing a post here in 5 minutes as opposed to Burridge spending a Gospel length career (like “John’s” 3 years) on a book, I give myself much looser standards regarding commentary on my enemies’ abilities. The price I charge for not charging you guys for this. If it makes anyone feel better I do not think that Burridge is dishonest compared to Bauckham.


    1. I’m certainly no expert on Aristotle or Greek tragedy, so maybe you could clear up some questions.

      As I understand it, Aristotle said that a tragedy evokes not merely fear, but fear and pity. We feel pity and empathy for the fallen hero, and as a collective audience we experience catharsis. For this process to work, Aristotle believed the story had to be seen on stage with live actors — simple narrative was not enough. How do you reconcile your theory with that?

      In a Greek tragedy the main character, our tragic hero, suffers a reversal of fortune. The cause of this reversal ultimately goes back to an action taken by the hero — an action with unforeseen consequences. N.B., the character’s downfall cannot be attributed to bad luck, fickle gods, or some other external force. If that were the case, Aristotle said, we’d be dealing not with tragedy but misadventure. How do you fit Mark into this definition of tragedy?

      Finally, did you KNOW that your shift KEY sticks once in awhile? You might want to GET that looked at.

      1. “I’m certainly no expert on Aristotle or Greek tragedy, so maybe you could clear up some questions.”

        Oh boy, the Columbo routine.

        “As I understand it, Aristotle said that a tragedy evokes not merely fear, but fear and pity. We feel pity and empathy for the fallen hero, and as a collective audience we experience catharsis. For this process to work, Aristotle believed the story had to be seen on stage with live actors — simple narrative was not enough. How do you reconcile your theory with that?”

        Sounds like you accept that the primary emotion in “Mark” is FEAR and per Aristotle this is the primary emotion of Greek Tragedy. Interestingly, the fear often seems misplaced (forced) in “Mark” as a reaction. I think what the author was going for was supposed fear regarding the intervention of God. Historically (religiously) this was bad and something to fear. Now, like Paulov Dogs used to being beaten by the Divine, they instinctively fear this presence, expecting (suspicious of) the worst. This is often out of place in “Mark” and pervasive fear is good evidence of the influence of Greek Tragedy (scope and lack of natural reason).

        Note especially that this fear in “Mark” is a REACTION. “Mark” is primarily about reaction to Jesus and not Jesus. This phenomena would be unknown in Greco-Roman biography (GRB) and exactly what Greek Tragedy is going for, evoking a reaction. So for someone who wants to establish genre based on proof-texting, the criteria of Fear and Reaction prove “Mark” is Greek Tragedy and can not be GRB.

        See how I turned around proof-texting here to prove that “Mark” is GT (Greek Tragedy) before getting to your objection that Aristotle (A) said GT has to be in play form. All while showing ungodly restraint with the SHIFT key. For starters it’s not really a very good objection if you think about it. Why couldn’t GT, which originated in Play form, be converted to Narrative form? Let’s say a play was, and unlike “Mark’s” Jesus, this is quite possible. Would it be fair to say it was not GT genre just because of the Forum? Fortunately I can have a Woody Allen moment here like in Annie Hall, and just give A’s exact words:


        “Part V

        Epic poetry agrees with Tragedy in so far as it is an imitation in verse of characters of a higher type. They differ in that Epic poetry admits but one kind of meter and is narrative in form.”

        I think A is clear that at a minimum GT should be in Play form. He may mean that it has to be. A emphasizes that GT is based on emotion and his implication is that emotion is best communicated visually by actors. In Bilezikian’s (B) classic “The Liberated Gospel” B devotes an entire chapter to GT in “Mark’s” time. B points out that there are some surviving GTs from A’s time that contradict Poetics so it could be that A here is prescriptive more so than descriptive. A wrote about 450 years before “Mark”. In this chapter B chronicles the development (expansion) of GT, primarily in “Mark’s” Latin situs, and gives lots of references to GT in narrative, especially in “Mark’s” time. As that famous 20th century philosopher, Bill Murray said, “Actually it’s more of a guideline than a rule.”

        “In a Greek tragedy the main character, our tragic hero, suffers a reversal of fortune. The cause of this reversal ultimately goes back to an action taken by the hero — an action with unforeseen consequences. N.B., the character’s downfall cannot be attributed to bad luck, fickle gods, or some other external force. If that were the case, Aristotle said, we’d be dealing not with tragedy but misadventure. How do you fit Mark into this definition of tragedy?”

        Per A:

        “Part XIII

        A perfect tragedy should, as we have seen, be arranged not on the simple but on the complex plan. It should, moreover, imitate actions which excite pity and fear, this being the distinctive mark of tragic imitation. It follows plainly, in the first place, that the change of fortune presented must not be the spectacle of a virtuous man brought from prosperity to adversity: for this moves neither pity nor fear; it merely shocks us. Nor, again, that of a bad man passing from adversity to prosperity: for nothing can be more alien to the spirit of Tragedy; it possesses no single tragic quality; it neither satisfies the moral sense nor calls forth pity or fear. Nor, again, should the downfall of the utter villain be exhibited. A plot of this kind would, doubtless, satisfy the moral sense, but it would inspire neither pity nor fear; for pity is aroused by unmerited misfortune, fear by the misfortune of a man like ourselves. Such an event, therefore, will be neither pitiful nor terrible. There remains, then, the character between these two extremes- that of a man who is not eminently good and just, yet whose misfortune is brought about not by vice or depravity, but by some error or frailty. He must be one who is highly renowned and prosperous- a personage like Oedipus, Thyestes, or other illustrious men of such families.”

        Note A’s use of “perfect” here. The hardest fit is “Mark’s” Jesus is pretty good. Not “good”, by his own words, but pretty good. B though gives examples of GT where the pivotal action is based on qualities commonly thought to be good, such as loyalty. Everything else here fits pretty good. Jesus’ change in fortune is caused by his decision to crucify his passions and the result is that he loses all his support (note the Pee Wee Herman Type post hoc historical observation here. Jesus failed as a conquering Messiah. After this failure Paul spun it as “He meant to do that”). If you are able to exorcise the other Gospels and the forged ending you will see that “Mark’s” Jesus is a failure. His Mission is to persuade his disciples to promote his Passion. He fails to do that. The implication is that Jesus’ fatal error was having faith in his disciples. I have to confess though that the author does not emphasize that observation explicitly. I think per “Mark” that there was not necessarily any error of judgment on the part of his Jesus. Jesus performed his Mission per God’s will but was simply unable to convince his Disciples. Their lack of faith was stronger than his faith. That is what the story is primarily about. But again, B shows variation in this GT theme in “Mark’s” time. This is another element that I think would otherwise be unknown in GRB, a discrediting of the supposed historical witness.

        “Finally, did you KNOW that your shift KEY sticks once in awhile? You might want to GET that looked at.”

        Simple explanation. When I cap words for emphasis it’s STYLISH. But when you do it with random words it just looks STUPID.


      2. Gilbert G. Bilezekian compares the Gospel of Mark with Greek Tragedy in The Liberated Gospel (1977) and writes:

        It would be . . . unfortunate, however, for one to interpret this study as an attempt to permute the Gospel into a Greek tragedy. The Gospel was designed for reading, perhaps public reading, not for stage presentation. It was written in colloquial prose and not in verse as tragedies were. Although large sections of the Gospel consist of dialogue, its style is essentially that of narration and not dramatic dialogue. The rule that no more than three interlocutors address each other on the stage at one time, which was generally respected in tragedies, was not observed the Gospel. Moreover, although it is common to outline the Gospel in five major sections, it does not readily fall into the rigid five-act pattern of Latin tragedy and even less in the stereotyped format of Greek tragedy. In the last analysis, such formal differences between the Gospel and tragedy may simply reflect the radical difference between the gospel-story and the subjects of tragedy. When Mark undertook to recount the one ultimate drama of world-redemption, his enterprise exploded by necessity the canons of any model . . . By combining reverence for evangelical tradition with appreciation for dramatic expression, without letting the latter dominate the former, Mark was able to reach beyond the categories of Jewish thought and beyond the achievements of Greek genius to proclaim the universal summons of Christianity, “from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.” — pp. 132-3

        Bilezekian argues that Mark chose to use the characteristics of Greek tragedy because the historical career of Jesus happened to map itself out in such a way that it coincidentally lent itself to those patterns in Greek tragedy. The conventions of Greek tragedy happily were just the sort of conventions that just happened to best express the life and death of Jesus because that’s how the life and death of Jesus was lived (like a Greek tragedy in many respects). But Bilezekian also argues that although Mark used these conventions of Greek tragedy, he did not sacrifice the “facts” of the life of Jesus to them. The gospel message that he was true to carried him beyond the limitations of Greek tragedy — and Jewish thought — so that he created something “beyond the achievements of Greek genius” to proclaim the gospel.

        As for the idea of a Greek tragic hero having to have some flaw that brings about their downfall, that “flaw” does not have to be a sin or character weakness. In the tragedy of Antigone, for example, it is Antigone’s piety, her resolve to obey the gods rather than men, that is her downfall. So Jesus can be seen a tragic hero in this same tradition.

        1. JW:
          I see your quote on page 137 but we may have different publications. Apparently you read further after your initial post and realized that B does conclude that “Mark” has significant elements of GT. Later, in his conclusion, he keeps talking as if “Mark” is GT (obviously he has previously qualified though per your quote) and finishes with:

          “Ancient TRAGEDY was the highest expression of the genius of man yearning for truth. It epitomized the upreach toward transcendence of minds ridden with myth but forever in quest of ultimate reality. The DRAMA of the Greeks prefigured unconsciously but expectantly the supreme DRAMA of history, the Incarnation. The life of the crucified and risen Son of God brought forth the unique, decisive, and all-encompassing fulfillment. It represented the very essence of TRAGEDY in its highest form. It deserved nothing less than to be laid in the immortal frame fashioned by the masters of OLD, and better justice could not have been done to TRAGDEY than to crown it with the story conceived in heaven, enacted on the cross, and penned on earth by an obscure disciple called John Mark.”

          After reading this I feel like the Asian drug Lord in the classic “The King of New York” when he says to Christ Walken, “Now I know you’re f—ing crazy”. B righteously points out at the start that he has no methodology to determine genre and neither did his few predecessors. He makes clear that he is limited to looking at parallels between “Mark” and GT and concludes that there are quality parallels. This is a relatively objective process. Conclusions as to the genre of “Mark” are relatively subjective. As long as I think “Mark” parallels better to GT than Bios I think it’s fair to call it GT in the context of genre discussion as long as it is qualified that there are differences between “Mark” and GT. I think the differences though tend to be more form than substance which further justifies a description of GT. Per A, the most important component of GT is plot and the most important elements of plot are combined Recognition of person, Reversal as consequence and ultimate portrayal of Suffering. These are also the emphasis in “Mark”.

          In an ironic reversal that I think “Mark” would really appreciate, B claims that the GT in “Mark” is evidence of history and is a tool used to reduce/eliminate fiction. I can’t help being reminded here of “Mark’s” primary theme. B recognizes the genre of GT but refuses to accept WHAT that means.


    2. There’s no question in my mind that ‘Son of God’ is not original to Mark 1:1. I was merely copying and pasting the passage as is and did not see any point in addressing the matter in the post.

      And yes, both Mark and John align their opening verses with the opening of Genesis. I’m not so sure that the inclusion of the article (“the”) in translations is a mistranslation so much as an interpretation. All translations are interpretations.

      As for priority, for every 4 strong signs of Matthew copying Mark I can come up with one that looks like Mark copied Matthew, and that makes me wonder if the question is really more complex than one of simple sequential priority. This is why I do not close my mind to the alternatives and possibilities not yet addressed. If we see Mark’s opener being generated by a “style” interest, then is it not just as reasonable to suggest Mark looked at Matthew and said, “How boring, how prosaic, I have a better plan that will leave commentators millennia from now trembling in awe at my creative genius!” (Okay, the first two clauses will do to make my point.) Is it not familiarity with the arguments that largely influences what we are quick to assume is more plausible or probable?

      As for Paul’s influence, I tried to be persuaded and read what was billed as the most extensive argument for Paul’s infuence on Mark — Tarazi. Maybe Tarazi tries too hard in seeing the mind of Paul in almost every passage of Mark, but I left the book feeling I had been in delivered the spiel of a shonky used car salesman. (No, Steph, Maurice, I am not accusing Tarazi of being a shonky used car salesman. I think I actually like Tarazi as a person from what I glean in his books. I am painting an image as layman for a lay audience to express what I found to be a superficial case.) Everything that did not look like it had anything to do with Paul was “shown” to be from Paul.

      There is certainly the bookend structure in Mark, but I think it works the same way as we see it in other works such as, say, Virgil’s Aeneid. It is not necessarily word for word, sequence for sequence: http://vridar.info/xorigins/storyechoes1.htm (that little exercise was done some years ago and is due for revisions and corrections.)

  3. JW:
    I’ve written the full post here:


    “Mark’s DiualCritical Marks. Evidence Of Intentional Fiction In The Original Gospel”

    where I argue that the main connection “Mark” wanted to make with the Baptism story was to parallel Jesus’ spiritual birth with Moses’ birth where they both are drawn out of the river (Nile/Jordan).

    I’ve already demonstrated that “Mark” uses a Greek Tragedy Recognition Scene to separate the Teaching & Healing Ministry with the Passion Ministry. In accordance with Paul’s theology that Jesus’ history was in the Jewish Bible, I think “Mark’s” major sources from The Jewish Bible for the supposed story of Jesus are as follows:

    Teaching Ministry = Moses

    Healing Ministry = Elijah

    Passion Ministry = David


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