In Response To: Dave Gentile
I had questioned Dave's assumption that Mk 4:21 (the Parable of the Lamp) is
a later layer in Mk.
DAVE: I assumed it there because I'm convinced that the lamp in Mark,
combined with a couple other passages in Mark, are a reference to Zachariah
4:1-14. The punch line of this is that Jesus is "Lord of the whole world",
which I would argue is not likely to be an early theme, but rather a much
later one. To me the evidence for the reference to Zach. is completely
convincing. However, having attempted to present the
evidence before, I've noted that others are not likewise convinced. I find
this disagreement inexplicable, but I'll decline to explore it more at this
BRUCE: I would distinguish several ideas here: (a) OT references are likely
to be late; (b) the theme Mk 4:21 is world dominion, which is specifically
late; and (c) Mk 4:21 and others are a complex reference to Zc 43:1-14. They
could be evaluated separately.
At least as of this moment, I would think that: (a) Though it is very
reasonable to expect that late layers of Mk will be designed on an OT model,
while the early material is more naive, I am finding that it doesn't work
out in practice. Chiefly by identifying interpolations (B inserted into A,
meaning that A is earlier), I think it is possible to separate layers in Mk,
and in so doing, I find that both early and late layers have OT resonances.
With the Yarbro Collins Proto-Passion Narrative (she seems to rely on a
somewhat similar OT criterion), I find again that it is not possible, even
in that section, to construct a narratively plausible earliest layer which
is wholly without OT dimensions. So my view, my conclusion from experience
so far, is that the Markan narrative is likely to be OT-controlled at all
layers, though not in all layers from exactly the same OT passages. If so,
then point (a) doesn't help us either way, and at worst it doesn't refute
Dave's suggestion. (Which if I recall was made on GPG a year ago).
For (b), I think that the unaided words of Mk 4:21 are simply that the
purpose of a lamp is to be seen, and (metaphorically) that the purpose of a
revolution is to come into the open, albeit only at the opportune time. If
we read 4:21 as assuring the hearers that all will eventually come to pass
in real time, even if it is delayed for the time being (Gottes Zeit ist die
allerbeste Zeit), I think we have gotten the message. I am reassured in this
reading by noticing that the same theme runs through the other Parables in
the Mk 4 Sermon (small things later growing into mighty ones). This does not
preclude a decorative OT echo, it merely means that the echo is not crucial
to decoding the basic meaning of the Mk text. Again, the Zc dimension is not
necessarily refuted if we date Mk 4:21 early. I admit, however, that Dave's
specific reading, which involves world domination (Zc 4:14, "the LORD of
the whole earth"), would indeed get us into, not only the mission to the
Syrian Gentiles, but into the pan-Mediterranean phase of the early Church.
This does not conflict with the usual dating of Mk (way after Paul), though
it does conflict with my reading of the earliest layer of Mk (which I think
predates Paul). Here we have a conflict, without necessarily also having a
basis for deciding which end of it is right. I thus turn to (c).
Does (c) work? Tastes will differ, but to my eye, the idea of complex
references (separate passages in one text together constituting an allusion
to another text) is simply too complex. Each passage alone should carry its
share of the text being echoed. Any hearer of Mk who was acquainted with the
Septuagint would catch what I will call the direct echoes in any one
passage, and be enriched thereby. But if the echoes have to be further
assembled to permit the sense of any one constituent passage to be
appreciated, I think they fail. In Dave's view as I understand it, the Mk
4:21 passage contains the idea of world dominion only because of Zc 4:14
(whose point of contact in Mk is the two criminals crucified with Jesus),
whereas the Mk 4:21 part of the comparison is simply with the golden
lampstand of Zc 4:2. Now, Zc itself interprets the meaning of the lampstand
in terms of the seven lamps on top of it; that is, the lampstand as such
does not carry the meaning of the larger prophecy of Zc. It is the seven
times seven motif that carries it. Much the same could be said of the
lampstand in Exodus.
Do we have a decision basis here? Maybe. I note that the image in Zc (as in
Ex) is not a lamp, but an assembly based on a lampstand. On my current
theory, as far as it has gone, the lamp in Mk 4:21 ought to have a meaning
compatible with a Messianic agenda, a literal restoring of sovereignty to
Israel by the return of God to his now repentant people. Is there an OT
resonance, based not on a lampstand but on a lamp, that might reinforce that
Ex 27:20. "And you shall command the people of Israel that they bring to you
pure beaten olive oil for the light, that a lamp may be set up to burn
continually." The veil of the temple (prominent in the symbolism of the
Markan Crucifixion narrative) is mentioned in the next verse.
1Sa 3:3. "The lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down
within the temple of the Lord, where the ark of God was." Again the inner
sanctum of the Temple.
2Sa 21:17. "Then David's men adjured him, You shall no more go out with us
to battle, lest you quench the lamp of Israel." That is, its hope of a
Davidic rule. The whole point of the Messiah concept in Jesus's time was the
restoration of Davidic rule. The lamp in Mk 4:21 may without great strain be
interpreted as the ongoing hope of that restoration, whether or not we have
our finger in 2Sa as we read.
2Sa 22:29. The whole passage is in effect a Psalm of David, albeit
incorporated within 2Sa. Our particular passage reads "Yea, thou art my
lamp, O LORD, and my God lightens my darkness." Identification of God with
the lamp, cf 1Sa 3:3, above.
And from the Book of Psalms, explicitly so called, we have
Ps 119:105. "Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path."
Much like 2Sa 22:29. But further, the whole Psalm is a celebration of the
Law as ordained by God, and as showing the way to God. If there were a
Messianic movement around the year 30, and if it drew definition from the
OT, what would that movement preach, as the way to regain God's favor and
restore sovereignty to Israel? Obedience to the Law. Given that disobedience
to the Law is the cause of Israel's present woes [Roman occupation], what is
to be asked of the people of Israel before they can expect sovereignty to be
returned to them? Repentance for their previous disobedience to the Law.
What did John, and Jesus after him, preach? Precisely that. Mk 1:14-15, "Now
after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the Gospel of
God [sic] and saying, The time is fulfilled, and the Kingdom of God is at
hand; repent [sic] and believe in the Gospel."
Looks admirably close to me. I find that the lamp (not lampstand) of Mk 4:21
works simply as a familiar object invoked as a primary image, but if audited
in the context of a Messianic movement as above suggested, that image has
available to it much reinforcement from Davidic and other Kingship contexts
in the OT. The more you know of the Septuagint, as it seems to me, the more
the Markan lamp will shine for you.
Now to Dave's other point.
I had said, "My sense, then, is that the Lamp (4:21) and its interpretation
(4:22-23) fit the old series perfectly, and for that reason, I am not
prepared to assume that they are later material.
DAVE: It connects to the rest of the material in that it deals with the
theme of something hidden. But it does not seem to make any points about the
coming Kingdom or needing to wait for it or continuing to follow
teachings, so in that sense it does not connect. If the Lamp were a late
addition it could have been added at this point in the text because of the
rough surface level thematic agreement about something hidden.
BRUCE: The point it *says* it makes about the coming Kingdom is that the
Kingdom will inevitably appear, just as it is in the nature of a light that
it should shine. It is asking too much that the lamp symbol alone should
carry all else that Jesus wants to say about the Kingdom. But to me, it
already carries the essence of the whole Sermon. The eventual coming of the
Kingdom, by inevitable natural processes (seeds germinating, and then
finally appearing out of the soil), is the running theme of the rest of the
Parables. It is central to the whole discourse.
It almost follows that that theme would have made an attractive point of
attachment for Mk 4:21 if Mk 4:21 were late, so that part of Dave's
suggestion surely stands. The prior question is whether Mk 4:21 *is*
thematically late. If it means world dominion, than as I read the layering
in Mark, it *is* thematically late. If it means the presence of God in
Israel's temple, and the hope of Davidic sovereignty under God, it is not.
So there is our choice. I ask: Is there any reason, other than those adduced
above, to think that the OT lamp imagery, taken together, is consistent with
the Messianic lowest (and thus earliest) layer of the Markan narrative? We
might think of this test: If that is so, then we might expect some focus on
the Temple inner sanctum, and its veil (see the OT quotes above) in the
later Markan narrative. And I think we do find such a focus. I would mention
in particular the Cleansing of the Temple to make it a fit abode for God (Mk
14), and the tearing of the veil at the end of the Crucifixion narrative (Mk
15:38), as a sign of the failure of that hope. These are not trivial
details, they are hinge points of the whole Mk 14-15 story. I agree with
Yarbro Collins (as will appear) in seeing the latter as the final words of
the primitive Passion narrative; she does not include the former within the
boundaries she defines for that narrative.
So I conclude that there IS reason to relate the design of Mark's narrative
to the symbol of the Lamp, taken as 1Sa and Ps bid us take it. This at least
permits the reading I suggest for Mk 4:21.
E Bruce Brooks
Warring States Project
University of Massachusetts at Amherst