2012-05-17

McGrath’s “Missing Ending”: What Was Mark’s Story? — Part 2

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by Tim Widowfield

[This post continues my review of “Mark’s Missing Ending: Clues from the Gospel of John and the Gospel of Peter,” by Dr. James F. McGrath. You can find Part 1 here.]

Jesus and the miraculous catch of fish, in the...
Jesus and the miraculous catch of fish, in the Sea of Galilee, by Raphael (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Why might Mark’s original audience not have thought the Short Ending was problematic?

Last time we discussed why the Short Ending (SE) of Mark is considered problematic. Now we’re going to look at the possibility that ancient audiences might not have felt the same way we do, i.e. wondering: “Where’s the rest of it?”

Why might they have reacted differently? Why might things be not so bleak as they seem? McGrath offers two reasons:

  1. The disciples could have stumbled back home to Galilee on their own, “leaving open the possibility of their fulfilling Jesus’ command inadvertently.
  2. [G]iven the primarily oral cultural context of early Christianity, it is appropriate to reflect on the significance of the fact that Mark was presumably telling a story which his readers already knew, and thus the end of his written Gospel need not have represented, either for him or for them, the end of the story.

For McGrath, the written Gospel of Mark is simply one recording of many possible live performances. He imagines that tradents in the Christian community (probably centered in Galilee) performed the gospel from memory. Presumably, each time they recounted the “story” they changed it to fit the audience, responding to feedback.

The oral gospel — storytime for the Markan community

This process is distinct from the oral reading of Mark’s Gospel after it was written. Sometimes when reading McGrath’s paper you may notice that the word “story” starts to get somewhat squishy. I wish he had been a little clearer at the outset, since “story” could refer to different things, namely:

  1. The individual pericopae that comprise the written gospels. Scholars presume that the memory of Jesus is preserved in these story nuggets. These individual, smaller stories were passed down from person to person, shaped by the retelling, modified to fit the needs of the communities of early Christians.
  2. The oral gospel as Christians understood it. If I understand McGrath correctly, most of the time when he uses the word “story” in this paper, he’s talking about the whole oral gospel from the Baptism to the Resurrection, which he imagines was performed in its entirety before a live audience, and which changed continually in the telling.
  3. The written gospel. Once Mark writes his gospel, the performance of the oral gospel fades and eventually disappears. “Writing is the destruction of every voice, of every point of origin.” –Roland Barthes

For me, Mark’s story is Mark’s written gospel. For McGrath, Mark’s story is the oral gospel that “must have” contained resurrection appearances. He writes:

I thus propose to focus in what follows less on the original form of the written Gospel and more on how the story known to the author and readers of this Gospel continued beyond Mark 16:8. Hopefully in doing so we can avoid an impasse between different approaches to the text since few would deny that the story itself points beyond the current ending, to resurrection appearances not narrated within this Gospel. [emphasis mine]

Count me among the few. I’m not saying it’s impossible that Mark and his initial readers imagined appearances in Galilee similar to those in the other written gospels. However, since the written Gospel of Mark does not contain such appearances, it seems only natural that McGrath should do a little work toward proving his assertion.

Christians reading Mark today would love to imagine that Peter is reconciled in the end, that Jesus appears to the eleven, that they all kiss and make up — however, those stories (there’s that word again!) are not in Mark’s gospel. Drawing attention to these facts does not make me hyper-skeptical; I’m merely stating the obvious.

Werner Kelber on oral gospels and Mark 16:8

Before proceeding, I need to say something about McGrath’s understanding of orality as it pertains to the Gospel of Mark. He writes:

In the terminology of current studies of orality and oral tradition, Mark’s Gospel would represent one performance of the story, and it is only our disconnection from the oral context of its writing that makes it seem the definitive one, if not indeed the only one.

This sentence ends with a footnote containing two citations, the second of which is Kelber’s The Oral and Written Gospel, p. 80. I guess to bolster his point McGrath is appealing to these sentences:

Even if one were to assume uniting the many into a single one, this story would still not be destined to become normative. No universally binding norm can assert itself in speaking actuality, for oral life escapes ownership by any single authority. In orality, one must allow for pluralism, as well as for a certain randomness. (p. 80)

While this line of reasoning, taken out of context, may seem congenial to McGrath’s thesis, anyone familiar with Kelber’s work will immediately see at least two problems here. First, Kelber is not at all amenable to the idea of a narrative, oral gospel along the lines of written Mark. Second, he very much sees Mark 16:8 as the logical, intentional ending of a sustained diatribe against the disciples and Jesus’ family.

Kelber’s position is abundantly clear if we begin reading from p. 77 (starting with Oral Pluralism versus Oral Gospel) and continue to the end of the chapter. He doesn’t doubt that the pericopae — the building blocks that constitute Mark — were formed and kept alive through oral tradition and oral transmission. Yes, he believes that the oral gospel will “gravitate toward the written gospel.” And Mark certainly uses oral conventions in chaining together the pericopae to create his written gospel. No, the problem is this:

The issue raised is whether there exists in orality the impulse to collect material into an oral gospel of the nature and scope of the written gospel. (p. 77, emphasis mine)

And Kelber thinks it does not. After summarizing Johann Gottfried Herder’s theory about the oral gospel — a full gospel story, committed to memory, and eventually written down on the page — Kelber says he remains unconvinced, partly because of issues surrounding the synoptic problem and the obvious literary dependencies among the first three gospels and partly because differences among the written gospels can be shown to have their roots in theological differences, not mutations arising from oral transmission. But perhaps his greatest objection is this:

[T]here is no evidence for a class of evangelists entrusted with the declamation of the oral gospel in the form of an extensive narration of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. (p. 78)

Furthermore, Kelber insists that our evidence shows when people began to collect oral traditions, they did not arrange them in a structured narrative, but in collections of similar types. He offers Q as an example of a genre collection. Material of a given sort attracts similar material. He writes:

Like draws like in this world, and knowledge is gathered and multiplied more than critically developed. . . . But this oral need for like to attract like is ill-equipped to draw heterogeneity into a single, consecutive plot. None of these cluster collections, including Q, can be regarded as connecting links in the tradition’s alleged evolution toward the written gospel. Deep-seated and complex as the gospel’s indebtedness is to the oral lifeworld, in the last analysis the gospel takes its cue from an authority other than the oral imperative. (p. 80, emphasis mine)

That’s about as clear as one can be on the matter. Contrary to McGrath’s assumptions, current studies in oral traditions do not support an oral gospel with a length and diversity of material comparable to Mark’s Gospel. And we can’t appeal to recitations in antiquity of oral compositions like the Homeric epics. Why?  Kelber explains:

The Iliad and the Odyssey are oral poetry in metrical language. The gospels are prose narratives with a heavy oral substratum but in themselves something other than transcribed orality. (p. 78, emphasis mine)

Further:

Textuality came early to the tradition, and it is not intrinsically implausible that Mark imposed his writing authority upon an unorganized oral lore. (p. 79)

I would agree. Mark’s gospel is notone performance of the story,” it is a new construction — Mark’s written effort, creating a narrative structure upon which to hang the short, self-contained stories he inherited from the oral tradition. So there is no oral proto-gospel of Mark, in which some versions of the performance had post-resurrection appearances and others did not.

In fact, Kelber scoffs at Norman Petersen’s claim that Mark 16:8 is inconsistent with Mark’s story, but not because he shares McGrath’s pipe dreams. It is rather because Mark’s story is all about the failure of everyone around Jesus to understand his mission, to follow his instructions, and to do his will. Kelber explains:

The disciples’ disobedience, as well as that of the women, does not damage Jesus’ credibility for the readers [contra Petersen].  Quite the opposite: the readers are to follow, where the disciples have failed. (p. 220)

And make no mistake; we’re talking total, colossal, abject failure here — with chapter 16 dealing the final blow.

Overcome by trembling, astonishment, and fear, [the women] flee. . . . As a result, the disciples, who had been absent at the crucifixion and have remained ignorant of the resurrection, never learn that the signal has been given for the reunion with the resurrected one. They are thereby effectively eliminated as apostolic representatives of the risen Lord. (p. 129)

Verdict: McGrath either has not read or does not understand Kelber’s work on the oral gospel. I’m shocked to see him cite an author who so vehemently disagrees with his main points. After all, when Earl Doherty cites scholars who aren’t mythicists, McGrath and Ehrman practically get apoplectic.

“I go a fishing.” (John 21:3)

At this point, having asserted that resurrection stories “must have” been part of the gospel in Mark’s community, McGrath goes fishing for them in other gospels. Luke, of course, is unacceptable, since his post-Easter stories all happen in Jerusalem or nearby. Matthew is not much help either, since as McGrath rightly points out, “[He] changes the women’s state of mind and introduces an appearance of Jesus in Jerusalem after it has just been announced that he would be seen in Galilee.

What does that leave us? We’ll find out next time in part 3.

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Tim Widowfield

Tim is an RV Park host who lives with his wife and multiple cats in a 20-year-old motor home. To read more about Tim, see our About page.

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20 Comments

  • gmalcolms
    2012-05-17 18:49:34 GMT+0000 - 18:49 | Permalink

    There’s nothing inherently wrong with citing a scholar on one point who disagrees with you, even vehemently, on others. It’s just that the point on which Kelber lends support is very minor when compared with McGrath’s assumption that Mark’s Gospel existed in oral form before he wrote it down. Moreover, one could also argue that Kelber’s assertion that the oral gospel will “gravitate toward the written gospel” opposes McGrath’s notion that other Gospels preserve a different version of an original oral Gospel narrative.

    • 2012-05-17 19:09:27 GMT+0000 - 19:09 | Permalink

      Even if McGrath had the barest passing acquaintance with Kelber’s work, I can’t imagine him citing him as a source. He deftly avoids scholars like Weeden, Marxsen, Lightfoot, and Lohmeyer.

  • 2012-05-18 00:09:48 GMT+0000 - 00:09 | Permalink

    To understand Wrede’s Messianic Secrete one must recognize the history of origins for the period 30 CE – 65CE, before Christianity, before the Gospels, even for the earliest decade before Paul. It’s the apostolic period of post-execution Jesus traditions: two denominations each with their own distinctly different understandings of Jesus. The first, the Jerusalem Jesus Movement beginning with the key disciples concerned to again take up the teachings of Jesus. This was soon followed by a group of Hellenists Jerusalem Jews who, with their traditions of dying and rising heroes or gods, took up the notion that Jesus significance was the salvific effects of his death for mankind’s sins which abrogated the Torah. This was deeply abhorrent to the Jesus Movement and treason to the Temple authorities. An insurrection set off by Jewish authorities resulting in the stoning of Stephen one of the Hellenists group, driving the group out of Palestine. Here Paul is introduced participating as a Temple sympathizer. The group fled to Damascus. Next we find Paul as persecutor pursuing the group having his “vision” experience on the road to Damascus, leading to his conversion to this group. It was from this group that he received his Christ kerygma. Paul takes his new found gospel to the Gentile world, beginning in Antioch, with his Christ kerygma to effectively sever knowledge of Jesus from his Jewish roots. As Reimarus, the father of the quest for the HJ said it: ‘Search the New Testament Scriptures and see if Christianity was not based on an historical mistake.” The mistake being Christianity was based on Pauline kerygma of the salvific effects of Jesus death and resurrection, rather than on the Jesus Movement with its teachings of Jesus.
    Now to Mark’s Messianic Secrete: Mark the Gentile author was proclaiming the Pauline Christ myth of what was now Gentile Christianity. Over against his opponents, the Jerusalem Jesus Movement led by the key disciples with their sayings of Jesus, Mark fashioned his secrecy motif to deliberately denigrate the disciples to say they were stupid, they just did not get who Jesus really was. He was the Christ the Son of God, Jesus knew it, even the most unlikely the demons knew it, certain women knew it, but Jesus kept it a secret.

  • ROO BOOKAROO
    2012-05-18 01:26:59 GMT+0000 - 01:26 | Permalink

    Beautiful choice of picture by Tim. Those fishermen look like Michelangelo athletes. Only Jesus looks a bit anemic compared to those magnificent physiques. Perhaps the contrast of aethereal mind over brute matter?
    However, this is one of Luke’s miracles. The connection is obviously not with Mark, but with McGrath. And you hinted that McGrath is not going to find his catch with Luke. Then perhaps john? Never mind, it’s a terrific picture.

    • 2012-05-18 01:43:06 GMT+0000 - 01:43 | Permalink

      Not to give away the ending, but McGrath is going to find what he wants in the Gospel of Peter and “echoes” in the Gospel of John.

      From GPeter: “But I, Simon Peter, and my brother Andrew, having taken our nets, went off to the sea.”

  • Will A
    2012-05-18 01:42:32 GMT+0000 - 01:42 | Permalink

    There’s also the Tolbert interpretation: GMark is an allegory whose message is to inspire the hearer to be the “good earth” and make the Word fruitful and multiply themselves. The “unsatisfactory” ending is meant to ask the question, will you stay silent out of fear or will you spread the Word in faith?

  • RoHa
    2012-05-18 10:54:15 GMT+0000 - 10:54 | Permalink

    “Mark was presumably telling a story which his readers already knew, and thus the end of his written Gospel need not have represented, either for him or for them, the end of the story.“

    Sure. And in T. H. White’s version of the boyhood of King Arthur, when he gets to Arthur in London, looking at the sword in the stone, he stops there. Because everyone knows that Arthur pulls out the sword and becomes King, right?

    Oh. Wait. In my edition of ‘The Sword in the Stone’ there are another seven pages, describing in detail Arthur pulling out the sword and becoming King.

    And what author – no matter how incompetent or lazy – would not include the dramatic high point of his story?
    Why bother telling the story at all if you are not going to include the most important bit? Even if everyone knows what happened, you are going to want to give your version, your interpretation, of the event.

    • Jer
      2012-05-18 23:53:01 GMT+0000 - 23:53 | Permalink

      And what author – no matter how incompetent or lazy – would not include the dramatic high point of his story?

      I would argue that this is untrue – Mark did include the dramatic high point of the story. If the story had ended at the end of Mark 16:7, with the young boy telling the women that Jesus had risen and had gone off to Gallilee and was reminding his followers to come meet him there, nobody would be worried about a “missing ending” at all. It would end on a suitably dramatic beat – the “good news” that Jesus had returned from the dead and would be meeting them all again soon, and the reader would just assume that the women went off and did as they were directed to do. Actually chronicling Jesus meeting with the apostles in that case is just beating a dead horse and actually pretty undramatic. In fact, the long ending is not dramatic at all – it’s a boring catalog of “and then they did this, and this happened and then there’s a summary of that think that Jesus told his disciples over in Luke and then Jesus went into heaven like Luke said”. Cutting out the long ending actually improves the drama and makes it less anti-climactic.

      It’s that verse in 16:8 that causes the problems – Mark ended it on a down beat. With the women afraid and telling people nothing. That verse is the one that doesn’t fit. It isn’t a lack of drama, it’s that that isn’t something an “orthodox” believer would consider “Good News”! How can it be good news? The women tell nobody – there’s no guarantee of the disciples hearing about the Resurrection! Peter, one of the Church Founders, was last seen denying Jesus! This can’t be correct – there must be more to this story! (And then later “we know this can’t be right – Matthew and Luke and John all say that Jesus appeared before the apostles – we must have lost that page where Mark talked about that bit”).

      And it is somewhat telling that some manuscripts did delete verse 9 and add a few lines where the women go see Peter and tell him and the apostles about Jesus’s return – exactly the solution you’d expect by “orthodox” believers upset by the idea that the women didn’t tell anyone and that Peter didn’t get a chance to take back his denial and prove himself again to his Lord.

      • ROO BOOKAROO
        2012-05-19 04:13:46 GMT+0000 - 04:13 | Permalink

        Excellent point, Jer.
        When Mozart was writing Idomeneo, he had to bring the sea god, Neptune, into play. Neptune saves Idomeneo from the storm, but extracts the vow that Idomeneo will sacrifice the first person he meets ashore. The drama is that the first person met is Idamante, the very son of Idomeneo.
        The voice of Neptune appears when Idomeneo offers himself in sacrifice to save his son Idamante.
        Mozart explains that Shakespeare made a big mistake by giving Hamlet’s father’s ghost too long a speech. The ghost loses his dramatic impact. A shorter speech would have made a far stronger dramatic impression.
        And the voice of Neptune, as set to music by Mozart, is formidable, but short. It issues its verdict, and gives no dissertation, unlike Shakespeare’s ghost. Neptune does makes a formidable impression. Wagner will remember this lesson, and manages too to keep some key dramatic moments on the short side (for him, who was used to interminable musical expansions).
        Same thing with Mark. 16:7 is a powerful declaration. Whereas 16:8 is a counter-beat, and the lengthy ending added later simply dilutes the power of the drama. It’s back to ordinary business of meeting with the disciples and clarifying the business at hand. No real powerful drama from a theatrical viewpoint.

      • RoHa
        2012-05-19 12:50:25 GMT+0000 - 12:50 | Permalink

        “Mark did include the dramatic high point of the story.”

        I would say “not exactly”. If Jesus has returned from the dead, we gotta see him in the story. Now it may be tricky to make this suitably dramatic (and I agree that the long ending of Mark doesn’t, and the other Gospeleers work hard at it) but you can no more leave it out than you can leave out the ghost/monster in a ghost/monster film. Sooner or later you have to have the ghost/monster on screen. Same with Jesus.

        Unless…

        You are saving that for the sequel!

        Coming soon to a scriptorium near you – MARK II !

        Luke did a two-parter. Maybe Mark intended to, but couldn’t get a backer. Maybe he wrote it, and it got lost or censored. It would certainly explain the odd ending of Mark I.

        • KevinC
          2012-05-19 13:13:08 GMT+0000 - 13:13 | Permalink

          Maybe he died while carving it… 🙂

  • KevinC
    2012-05-19 13:10:12 GMT+0000 - 13:10 | Permalink

    If gMark is a polemic against the disciples and family of Jesus, as Kelber seems to be arguing, wouldn’t that provide evidence for an HJ for the family and disciples to be linked to?

    This view makes a lot of sense to me. As I understand the world view of the mystical “Divine Logos” proto-Christians, the truer and metaphysically superior things in the spiritual/heavenly realms manifested themselves visibly as “shadows” in the material realm. So, for the author of the Book of Hebrews, the Heavenly Temple is the real thing of which the earthly Temple is a copy, and Jesus the spiritual High Priest brings his blood into the sanctuary as the spiritual Abel[1] whose sacrifice brings Yahweh’s forgiveness and protection, and whose role is shadowed by human high priests on Earth. Paul’s Heavenly Jerusalem (allegorically, Sarah) is reflected in the earthly Jerusalem (allegorically, Hagar), and so on.

    If this is the case, then for the early Christian mystics, if a historical Jesus did not exist, one would have to be invented (or found). The great salvific act of the heavenly Messiah as revealed in Scripture, being the greatest spiritual phenomenon of them all, would be expected to have some earthly manifestation or manifestations. The Logos mystics, or at least some of them, might be expected to start scouring recent history for “fulfillments” the same way they searched through the Hebrew Scriptures looking for “prophecies” and “encoded revelations” of his heavenly deeds. This kind of search could explain why Jesus’ “life” might have been set in at least two different periods by different proto-Christian groups.

    So, if they–or perhaps their most outspoken sympathizer, Paul–came to believe that the crucified leader of a small Galilean cult was the earthly manifestation of their heavenly Messiah, they could complete their cosmology, but with a major liability: the members of the Galilean cult, especially their recognized leaders, the disciples and family of the historical Jesus. Those people would expect to be given the keys to the new hybrid movement (“we knew Jesus–you didn’t”). However, the Logos mystics with their cosmopolitan Hellenistic views would not be interested in submitting themselves to a group of Galilean bumpkins. Hence, Paul’s polemics against James, Peter/Cephas, and the “Pillars” of the Galilean community, and, if Kelber is right, the Gospel of Mark.

    From the perspective of the Galilean community, the Logos mystical viewpoint would provide them a retcon for why their Messiah died instead of freeing Judea from Roman control: their guy was even more awesomesauce than they originally thought! The Logos mystics themselves would be the main problem, in particular their attitudes about other things like obedience to the Torah law, and their refusal to submit to the caliphate of James.

    For the mystics, the earthly Jesus was only necessary to plug a hole in their cosmology. He was not their actual founder, or particularly important in himself. Perhaps Paul’s comment that his Messiah was given the name Jesus after his triumph over the spiritual principalities and powers is evidence that the historical Jesus was only linked to the spiritual Messiah after the movement had already started. Since they wanted to use Jesus and the drama of a death by crucifixion as elements of their spiritual cosmology, they needed him to that extent. But the man himself, most of his teachings, his biography and associates were all either irrelevant or counterproductive to their enterprise. Since they were in the middle of a struggle against his associates for control of the movement, de-emphasizing the earthly life of their earthly shadow Messiah made political, as well as metaphysical sense.

    After the Jewish War, the James community was scattered, and the mystics won out by default. However, their triumph would be short-lived. The weakness of the mystics was that just about anybody could claim to receive “words from the Lord,” and there was no way to create a unifying core of doctrine or establish a structure of authority. Once it became apparent that the Apocalypse was not coming right away after all, and the “Christian” community would need to start building enduring institutions, the various communities started jockeying for position and arguing over the “true” doctrines of Jesus and Christianity. At this point, appeals to the historical Jesus and his earthly followers had a new purpose: anyone who could make a plausible claim to trace his leadership position back to “the original disciples and Jesus” could claim a kind of dynastic legitimacy that mystics without such a heritage could not: Apostolic Succession.

    In addition, the ability of a sect to ground its doctrines in (pseudo-)historical “fact” and authoritative writings could help it stand out from the pack, in contrast to the wild diversity of proto-Gnostic charismatic mystics channeling “revelations” at will. This resulted in a “canonization arms race” (the Gnostics ironically striking the first blow with Marcion’s canon). The proto-Orthodox entered the field with a kit-bash harmonization of the Jewish views of the remnant Jamesian community (the Ebionites) and the Hellenistic views of the Logos mystics. With Apostolic Succession as a basis for their legitimacy along with the authoritative cachet of the ancient Hebrew Scriptures,[2] and a finite–and now, also Scriptural[3]–sampling of Logos mysticism, they ultimately prevailed.

    This view also makes sense of the conflict in “drift” between the Epistles and the Gospels. If Doherty’s model is correct, we would expect that the earliest writings would portray a more ephemeral, “spiritualized” Christ, with later writings showing progressively more “drift” toward historicism to reach the hybridized “fully God and fully man” view that orthodox Christianity ultimately adopted. If the historicists are right, we would expect the earliest writings to portray Jesus as more earthy and human, with trappings of divinity accumulating over time.

    The evidence seems to indicate both. The epistolary record speaks almost solely of a divine, heavenly Christ with only a few much-ballyhooed references to any concrete earthly life. Since the Epistles, especially the genuine Pauline letters, are the earliest written sources, with later pseudoepigraphical Epistles introducing concrete historical details like Pilate as the one responsible for Jesus’ crucifixion, this fits Doherty’s model. However, the Gospels show a progression from a more human Jesus (he has fewer claims to deity, fears the coming crucifixion and prays to be delivered from it, etc.) to a more blatantly divine Jesus as portrayed in gJohn. His miracles become progressively more grandiose, as do his claims for himself.

    This would make sense if the Gospel writers were trying to shape an historical Jesus (who previously only served to fill a gap in their spiritual cosmology) into a notional Founder who could ground their authority and mesh with their spiritually-revealed divine figure, while propping up their various theological and political agendas.

    There is also a third kind of “drift” that is consistent (to my knowledge) through both the Epistolary and Gospel records as time progresses: the expansion of Jesus’ “biography.” First, Jesus’ “life” is only the barest hint of a Passion, “Christ, and him crucified.” “Born of woman, born under the Law, the seed of Abraham, the seed of David.” The absolute minimum “history” necessary to reveal the earthly shadow of Paul’s spiritual sacrificial Savior and establish his Scriptural bona fides. Then in gMark, a brief teaching and miracle ministry leading up to the Crucifixion. In Matthew and Luke, there are nativity narratives, with Luke adding a story from Jesus’ adolescence. John goes back further, pointing to Jesus’ eternal pre-existence as the Logos. Then, along come the various non-Canonical infancy and childhood Gospels, filling in more “details” of “Jesus’ life.”

    The point at which the divine Christ is identified with the man Jesus also moves back. In gMark, it’s only in his adulthood. In Matthew and Luke, Jesus’ birth is special, but only Luke has him manifesting any evidence of specialness before adulthood. Then, in gJohn, Jesus is the Logos made flesh and united with the Godhead from the start. The infancy and childhood Gospels add miracles and teachings to Jesus’ childhood, in contrast to the other Gospels that only give him powers as he starts his ministry.

    As far as I can tell, this model resolves the problems of both the historicist and mythicist models. Doherty’s “Great Silence” makes sense, as does the fact that it is broken on a few occasions (e.g. “James, the brother of the Lord”). The very early divinization (and incredibly sparse indications of humanity) of Christ in the Epistles, and the more gradual transition from human to divine in the Gospels.

    On the other hand, there are people here with a far greater knowledge of the non-canonical ancient texts (Odes of Solomon, the writings of the Church Fathers, etc., etc.) than I have, so maybe this reconstruction will soon be debunked. 🙂

    NOTES:

    1. In the fourth chapter of Genesis, note that Cain is not truly punished for murdering Abel. To the contrary, he gains a remarkable decree of protection from Yahweh against anyone who would avenge Abel’s murder. Since Abel was killed over the issue of Yahweh favoring blood sacrifice over vegetable offerings, it seems that when Cain killed Abel he was saying, in effect, “You want blood sacrifice? I got your blood sacrifice right here!”–and Yahweh approved. Even Yahweh’s claim that Cain would be “a wanderer and a vagabond” and the Earth would not yield produce for him proved to be only a local problem, as Cain was able (pardon the pun) to build a city as soon as he “left the presence of Yahweh.” The idea of the “favored son” as a sacrifice is a common trope in the Hebrew Scriptures, e.g. Isaac, Joseph’s (faked) murder, descent into a pit and “resurrection” (emergence) to sit at the right hand of the king, followed by his redemption of his brothers, etc..

    2. Many of the Gnostics rejected the Hebrew Scriptures, viewing Yahweh as an evil demiurge, and Jesus’ “Father” as a different, higher God.

    3. And thus, “set in stone,” so that a professional clergy upholding a Scriptural Tradition could prevent competition from new channelers of “words of the Lord.” By making Pauline and pseudo-Pauline writings the center of gravity of their “New Testament,” the proto-Orthodox could shed the burdensome restrictions of Judaism while holding onto its aura of antiquity, thus gaining the advantages of both sides and the disadvantages of neither.

  • proudfootz
    2012-05-20 01:04:35 GMT+0000 - 01:04 | Permalink

    I have been following this blog with interest for a short while, and reading this article and some of the comments a notion occurred to me which, while it may not be particularly original, I thought worthwhile sharing. In the meantime KevinC added his comment that seems to me consonant with this small idea.

    It is often observed that there isn’t much evidence by way of surviving literature of claims of a physically resurrected Jesus in the first century – no empty tomb cited or known as a place of pilgrimage, etc.

    If it is true that gMark is the earliest narrative of a biography of Jesus is it possible the ‘short ending’ is an attempt to account for this missing claim? If Jesus is risen why did not his disciples broadcast the news? According to gMark it was a secret – kept even from his earthly followers.

    Thus by the time gMark is written they can reconcile the claim there was in fact an empty tomb and simultaneously explain away the fact that no one was making that claim early on.

    • 2012-05-20 05:57:03 GMT+0000 - 05:57 | Permalink

      Up until the start of the 20th century, most scholars thought they had isolated two “pristine” sources for Jesus’ life and teaching: Mark and Q. Along came Wrede who simply asked, if we know that Matthew and Luke tinkered with their sources in order to fit their theological agendas, then why should we assume Mark did not? In fact, if we isolate the clearly redactional elements in the Gospel of Mark, can we see whether he had an agenda or at least a “point of view”?

      So to your point about making sense of Mark’s ending, yes, it’s possible. I’ve often thought that certain parts of the Passion and Resurrection narrative in Mark seem to be trying to answer implicit questions.

      “How do we know Jesus was resurrected?” Well, see, there was this tomb they laid him in.

      “What tomb?” There happened to be a tomb near Golgotha.

      “Really? Well, then who dragged the body there? The women?” No, no, see there was this guy, Joe, from uh, um, Arimathea. Yeah, that’s it.

      “Never heard of the place.” It’s very far away.

      “But how did he get permission to get the body off the cross and into tomb?” He stomped right into Pilate’s chambers and demanded it.

      “A guy just off the street got an emergency audience with Pilate on a Friday afternoon?” Did I mention Joe was a member of the Sanhedrin? He was a bigwig.

      “Wait a second. You said the Sanhedrin had voted to execute Jesus.” Oh yeah. Hmmmm…. Well, Joe was secretly on Jesus’ side.

      And so on, until we get to the last question:

      “So how come we never heard anything about this until now, Mark?” Because the women got very afraid and never told anybody about it.

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