2006-12-03

Interpreting Mark like any other work of literature

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by Neil Godfrey

For those like me who end up going in circles trying to follow the studies of the Gospel of Mark by authors with theological interests, reading a literary criticism of GMark by a trained and renowned literary critic, Frank Kermode, will be a refreshingly stabilizing experience. Kermode himself writes of this failure of biblical (implying ‘theological’?) scholarhip to guard its literary texts against the treatment secular literary critics have honed: “it is astonishing how much less there is of a genuine literary criticism on the secular model than there ought to be.” (p.137)

Listed below are extracts from Frank Kermode’s “The Genesis of Secrecy: On the Interpretation of Narrative” (Harvard University Press, 1979). Many would make excellent bylines for email signatures or ‘quote of the day’ bites — but that is the result of how I have made the selections and ought not be seen as a reflection on the depth of Kermode’s analysis. Publisher blurbs are normally to be played down as little more than hard sell but I encourage anyone new to this book to read Harvard Press’s summary — it is in my opinion spot on (except that Kermode’s focus is predominantly on the Gospel of Mark.) Continue reading “Interpreting Mark like any other work of literature”


2006-12-01

Re-reading Virgil’s Aeneid

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by Neil Godfrey

Initially read Virgil’s Aeneid for my interest in the classics and culture of the Roman world and the literature that inspired many throughout the ages. Re-read it recently to compare with the New Testament literature. In particular, note the sudden ending that is not a satisyfing ending at all for our tastes, and compare sudden “non-endings” of the Book of Acts and Gospel of Mark (assuming 16.9-20 is not original). Even some ancients could not accept that Virgil really intended the Aeneid to end so abruptly and composed their own endings for it, just as many have attempted to deduce possible intended endings for Acts and Mark.

Yet when one notices that the existing ending of the Aeneid is decorated with literary allusions and images used at the beginning (e.g. the literal storm imagery that opens the Aeneid in Book 1 is repeated figuratively in Book 12 to describe Aeneas attacking Turnus), thus bracketing the work like bookends, then one can more easily accept the current conclusion is as the author intended it. Similarly one notices a similar literary allusions bracketing the current opening and endings of Mark — (the most well known examples being the tearing of the heavens at Jesus’ baptism and the tearing of the temple veil at his death; and the disobedience of the healed leper to the command to remain silent against the disobedience of the women to the command to speak (16.8).)

As for the ending of Acts, one cannot avoid the similarities between the constant mythic and literary themes of pioneers struggling through hardships and opposition and dangerous travel to establish “a new and truly God-fearing community” in Rome. In both the conclusion is abrupt once the beginninngs of this are established through one final conflict.

(There is much more to add by way of comparison with NT literature, but I have saved specifics for other posts to come, in particular for the series I am adding to this site on the we-passages in Acts. An interesting read, with its plusses and minuses like like any read, is Marianne Palmer Bonz’s “The Past as Legacy: Luke-Acts and Ancient Epic” (Fortress Press, 2000).)


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2006-11-29

Jesus (in Mark), Jesus (in Josephus) and Cassandra

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by Neil Godfrey

As far as I am aware the observations linked here between the Jesus in Mark’s gospel and the Jesus in Josephus were first made by Theodore Weeden (author of ‘Mark: traditions in conflict’) in informal email discussio. I was excited to read a comment from someone somewhere recently (Michael Turton?) that Weeden is soon to publish a book about this. Can anyone tell me when to expect this and what it’s titled?

The only thought I can add is that the Josephan Jesus strikes me as a classic trope in the legendary-mythical Cassandra mold. Literary tradition depicted her as a demon possessed prophetess raving about the foredoomed destruction of Troy, and later of the King who conquered Troy and finally of herself, and whom all dismissed as mad.

Can anyone tell me more about Ted Weeden’s new book that I hear is coming out?


2006-11-27

Mark and Homer

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by Neil Godfrey

One more catch-up link for this new trial blog: notes I made from Dennis MacDonald’s book on the Gospel of Mark and Homeric epics. One plan for the future would be to go have checkboxes against each comparison indicating which criteria are met, and to what extent. I’m not confident that all of my own comparisons would go very far — I’m sure some are way “out there” but hey, why not push an idea to its limits and see what happens? It would be interesting to checkbox each one against the criteria some time.

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Neil Godfrey


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2006-11-26

Retraction already?

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by Neil Godfrey

Am I going mad? This looks like a retraction that my memory just told me I have not yet had time to write! When did I do this? Too busy, too busy….. Anyway, here ’tis.


Another view of the origin of the Gospel of Mark

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by Neil Godfrey

Again about a year or so ago I woke in the middle of the night with “a brilliant revelation” that I had to work out on keyboard asap. I had been exploring the range of views in the scholarship on the date and theology of the Gospel of Peter and it occurred to me that the Gospel of Mark, with so many cryptic unexplained references and incidents, might very well be best explained as a response to the sort of gospel narrative that we find in the Gospel of Peter. I was not arguing that the Gospel of Peter as we have it pre-dates GMark, but if GPeter was setting down in ink a previously known oral gospel then many apparent anomalies in GMark are resolved.

Alas, I have since in my mind revised this idea, but have not yet had time to put down my retractions in any essay yet. I did once begin to do this and on re-reading my GPeter-GMark piece began to wonder again if my retraction would hold water. Anyway, for what it’s worth, I’ve attached a link to my original essay on a GPeter related trajectory of the GMark and other synoptics. It did at least provoke some kind comments and thoughtful responses when first released. I may write something opposite tomorrow, but will leave this idea stand for at least discussion and thought nonetheless.


The Gospel of Mark’s fictional characters

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by Neil Godfrey

A year or so ago I wrote an essay discussing characterization in the gospel of Mark and attempted to show that the author paradoxically shows as little interest in the earthly person of Jesus as we find in Paul’s letters. A little thought about the way Mark depicts his characters demonstrates, I think, that he is working at a level as far removed from any interest in Jesus’ earthly history as was Paul. At the time I titled it a bit clumsily Notes on the fictive and parabolic character of Mark’s gospel.


Gospel of Mark’s bookends

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by Neil Godfrey

Have updated and webbed a table to help me keep track of some of the bracket points found in the Gospel of Mark. The opening and closing scenes contain numerous matching “bookends” that are either intended to guide the interpretation of the gospel and/or to help an original oral storyteller recall how the narrative is meant to go (see Shiner’s ‘Proclaiming the Gospel, 2003).


A Cyrenius-Cyrenian link between Josephus and Mark?

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by Neil Godfrey

It is not hard to see curious shifting reflections between the lead characters in Josephus and the Gospel of Mark. Judas first, then Simon with James and Simon with John are Jewish rebel leaders and Alexander and Rufus are two Romans responsible for their executions (though John is apparently spared). In Mark we have Judas, Simon Peter, James and John as leaders and Alexander and Rufus named as identifiers of the one pressganged into the execution of their leader. (And the one executed in place of that leader was anciently believed by at least one form of Christianity, and by modern deconstructionists, the author of Mark himself being characteristically ambiguous, to be Simon himself.)

But is there another name also shiftingly reflected between Josephus and Mark that has not yet been remarked on?

“The sons of Judas of Galilee were now slain; I mean of that Judas who caused the people to revolt, when Cyrenius (Quirinius in Luke 2:2) came to take account of the estates of the Jews, as we have shown in a foregoing book. The names of those sons were James and Simon, whom Alexander commanded to be crucified.” (Josephus, Ant. 20.5.2, Whiston trans.) Continue reading “A Cyrenius-Cyrenian link between Josephus and Mark?”