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RE: [Synoptic-L] Mark as a Pauline gospel (Motive and Method)

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  • E Bruce Brooks
    To: Synoptic Cc: GPG In Response To: Mark Matson On: Motive and Method in Mark From: Bruce MARK: If the purpose of the first gospel . . . BRUCE: Suggested
    Message 1 of 25 , Apr 13, 2010
      To: Synoptic
      Cc: GPG
      In Response To: Mark Matson
      On: Motive and Method in Mark
      From: Bruce

      MARK: If the purpose of the first gospel . . .

      BRUCE: Suggested convention: "first Gospel" is ambiguous. In NT usage,
      that phrase normally means "first canonical Gospel = Matthew," but for
      many who have examined the Synoptic question it all too readily
      suggests "Mark." I suggest using the specific names "Matthew" and
      "Mark," for maximum comfort and minimum confusion, and foregoing
      synonyms.

      MARK: . . . was mostly evangelistic, as opposed to didactic or
      dogmatic, would the rhetorical thrust really be focused around or
      against some "other thought" that existed?

      BRUCE: That question assumes a purpose which we do not begin by
      knowing, as a way to decide questions whose answers we also don't
      know. I think the logic of such an approach is faulty. I would urge
      instead that we can best detect the purpose or purposes of a text, not
      by assuming anything at all, but by examining the text. And we have
      some bases for doing so, as well as some precedents for recognizing
      the dominant purpose of a such texts as have a dominant purpose. For
      instance, the two halves of the Didache, the minor letters such as 1
      Peter, the Epistle of Barnabas, the Acts of Philip, are all useful
      contrastive specimens. They show us somewhat purer samples of what
      might have been going on in any less obvious or less simple text. From
      them, we can begin to acquaint ourselves with at least some of the
      possibilities, including polemical, parenetic, and so on. The doctor
      who can recognize tuberculosis and pneumonia has a better chance of
      sizing up the situation of a patient who, in fact, has both.

      As for "mostly," well, that is a quantitative judgement, which I
      should think must follow on previous qualitative judgements: what
      purposes can we detect in this text? And then comes, Which (if any)
      was the main one?

      So much for texts which we may call primary. There are also secondary
      texts, like the Pastorals in their present form (I here follow
      Harrison). They were evidently written chiefly in order to insert into
      the already accepted and authoritative pronouncements of Paul some
      strictures against earlier Pauline practices, such as women talking in
      church. I think that Winsome Munro goes too far to posit a similar
      insertion in 1 Peter, but be that as it may, the purpose of the texts
      that do this is to alter an existing canon of communal behavior.
      There's another category, albeit a subversive one. But we need not be
      too hard on the Pastoral fakers; most texts that have a purpose at all
      could probably be said to intend to subvert existing opinion, or lack
      of opinion.

      Presumably all the possible purposes of texts have been worked out,
      and provided with examples, and all I have to do to unconfuse myself
      on this point is to consult that list. Could someone give me a
      reference to it?

      MARK: . . . not sure the first gospel would have been entered into
      writing with a host of specific issues to oppose.

      BRUCE: Nobody with any sense is "sure" of anything, in the cloudy year
      2010, but meanwhile, one does one's best. My own hunch, based on some
      experience with texts in one place or another, is that texts are
      mostly written for reasons. What the issue or issues may have been in
      the case of, say, Matthew (we need not call them a "host" until we
      know more about the text) needs work. I don't think we can say a
      priori that there will be one, or two, or seven (see the Letters to
      Seven Churches in Revelation). Or none. Or anything. We need to look
      at the text, which, if anything, will contain the answer. Expectations
      about the answer don't have any weight at all. They just get in the
      way; they darken counsel, they inhibit technique, they polarize in
      advance of anything to get polarized about. Not recommended.

      MARK: Are we to think that every item which seems important to Mark
      has a corresponding social reality that it is constructed to oppose?

      BRUCE: To my eye at least, lots of things seem to be important to
      Mark. He doesn't oppose all of them. He is positive toward quite a
      few. For instance, he is concerned, at some points, to demonstrate the
      power of Jesus (what other purpose can readily be seen behind the
      Stilling of the Waves?). Probably he thought it was important that
      people know that. That's not oppositional, except in the universal
      sense that all teaching is opposed to ignorance. As for the things he
      DOES oppose, presumably he thought they were both real and current, or
      why would he bother?

      I don't know how to distinguish "social" reality from any other kind,
      but real enough to be concerned about. The Epistle of Jacob would
      presumably not bother to chide its recipients about snobbing the poor
      man among them, unless this was really happening, no?

      MARK: I see where you go with Jesus's family... there is certainly an
      issue here. Does this mean, though, by the miracle of mirror-reading,
      . . .

      BRUCE: I, for one, can do without these snide passing
      characterizations. Let's start over, if we may, and I will rephrase
      the question in less distracting terms:

      MARK: I see where you go with Jesus's family. There is certainly an
      issue here. Does this mean, though, that Jesus's family (and so read
      James) had a power structure in the church that needed to be opposed?

      BRUCE: Tilt. It is not given that "Jesus's family" in Mark must be
      decoded to mean "Jacob." Is that reading indicated? That is the
      question, and we can only go to the text to find out. To put that
      question in a form in which philology can answer it, I propound it
      thus: How does one naturally read that sentence? I don't know about
      modern exegesis, but I am tempted to invoke the aid of an earlier
      commentator, namely Jesus in the next line. What he does is this: He
      proceeds to define who his "family" are. He would seem to me making
      the point that his real family are not his blood kin, but his fellow
      doers of God's will. I will venture to quote Jesus here:

      "[And looking around him, at those who sat about him, he said] Here
      are my mother and my brothers. Whoever does the will of God is my
      brother, and sister, and mother." [Mk 3:24-25]

      Here, it would seem (subject to correction), is a validation of the
      new family, the righteous believers in God's promise, those who have
      accepted the Good News. (There are other passages in Mark, if
      confirmation were needed, that confirm this sense of the community).

      Of course these cannot be believers in Jesus's Resurrection, since
      that has not happened yet. I should say that they are one of our few
      firsthand glimpses of a Galilean believer community, with Jesus (by
      his own account) one of its members, all of them knit together by a
      common belief about God. Exactly what that was, we might wish we know.
      But that it was about God and not about Jesus himself, Jesus is here
      telling us. I don't know how much higher or more inward eyewitness
      authority we can expect on this point.

      If so, then the reading of the passage as an attack on the Jerusalem
      splinter group will not stand. The "new family" reading has used up
      the material. Nothing is left over to interpret another way.

      And if we WERE to single out one of the named persons in this passage
      against whom to imagine the whole comment of Jesus to be directed, it
      would probably not be any of his brothers, let alone his sisters, but
      his mother. Does this justify an interpretation that Mark is here
      opposing an early growth of the Marian cult? Nope. For the reason
      above stated: Jesus is not opposing one family member; he is
      redefining "family." And when we have said that, we have said all that
      the passage entitles us to say. Done.

      MARK: What then do we do with all the disciples who are treated as
      having "no faith" "lacking understanding" and "hard hearted?" Are we
      to assume then that the gospel is written in opposition to all of
      them? [I guess that is the tone of much of this conversation, but it
      kind of baffles me]

      BRUCE: Well, bafflement is a fair enough response to Mark or to any
      serious conversation about it; Mark can be a baffling Gospel. Until we
      come to realize that it opposes at some points what it praises or
      accepts at other points. It not only has a lot of enemies, it has them
      at different places.

      That is, Mark as we meet it on the page is simply gibberish, unless we
      do one of two things (or more, but at this moment I can only think of
      two): (1) Ignore some of the data, and so get a consistent Mark, and
      that Mark can be anything one likes, as long as one ignores the right
      sets of contrary data; or (2) Collate the points at which Mark seems
      to take the SAME view of things, and then separately collate the
      points as which he seems to take a DIFFERENT view of those things, and
      see what kind of sense those two defined data sets may make. I can't
      speak for anybody else, but (2) is more or less what I am trying to
      do. Naturally I recommend the same to others.

      And how does one do that? Well, take the poor disciples. At some
      points in Mark, three of them are treated as privileged intimates;
      they are chosen (and others are specifically left behind) to be
      present at the healing of Jairus' daughter, and the same three are
      similarly chosen to witness the scene at which Jesus (with Moses and
      Elijah) is transfigured, and at a few other places. There is no
      suggestion that they interfere with the healing by raising objections
      in the one case, or spoil the vision by refusing to credit it in the
      other; quite the contrary. They have, on any reasonable reading of the
      respective passages, full acceptance by Jesus and full understanding
      of what they witness in his company, on both those occasions.

      So far so good? OK, now we proceed.

      There are other passages where we DO find the disciples berated as
      being "hard of heart" (sometimes by Jesus, sometimes by the narrative
      voice) and as lacking understanding; even as being afraid to ask
      questions that might clear up their lack of understanding.

      So does Mark celebrate or oppose the disciples? Evidently both, but
      (and here is where it gets interesting) at different places. The next
      thing to do is to examine the respective places, and see just what it
      is the disciples are privy to when they are treated favorably, and
      what it is they cannot understand when they are said not to understand.

      We have a weekend coming up, ideal for such an investigation, and we
      have a lot of lead time left before the weekend starts, ideal for
      emptying the mind of prior ideas, so as to be open to what the text of
      Mark is actually doing, when we finally pick it up on the weekend.

      I will stop here in order to close with that action proposal, which is
      warmly recommended for anybody interested in finding out what, or what
      things, Mark, or conceivably a succession of persons who had their
      hand in the formation of the text of Mark, is (or are) up to.

      Respectfully suggested,

      Bruce

      E Bruce Brooks
      Warring States Project
      University of Massachusetts at Amherst
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