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Judas in Mark

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  • E Bruce Brooks
    To: Synoptic On: Judas in Mark From: Bruce This came to me off line, but it seemed interesting, and so I protect the identity of the sender, but offer at large
    Message 1 of 1 , Apr 17, 2006
      To: Synoptic
      On: Judas in Mark
      From: Bruce

      This came to me off line, but it seemed interesting, and so I protect the
      identity of the sender, but offer at large my comment on the substance.

      Q: I was wondering if there weren't another explanation for Mark's
      belaboring of Judas' relationship to Jesus. It certainly seems to me that he
      is insisting heavily that Judas was an intimate follower of Jesus, but does
      that require his audience to be unfamiliar with the idea? I can imagine a
      situation where some faction (from within or without of the community) of
      readers was propogating the idea that Judas was not an intimate follower of
      Jesus because it was not explicitly in the text, yet implicit in the
      community's understanding of the text.

      A: I think that such situations could occur, but for what it may be worth,
      it doesn't look to me like the rhetoric in Mark (in these Judas passages)
      suggests that sort of situation outside. In the Confucian texts, this sort
      of problem (that is, a contemporary controversy, either within or without
      the Confucian group is dealt with by having one disciple in a story
      represent the disapproved view, and then having Confucius administer the

      If we look for a Markan parallel to this device, I think we can find some
      possibles. For instance, when Jesus reproves Peter in Mk 8:28f, what exactly
      is it that Peter is wrong about? In context (8:32), he is rebelling against
      the idea that Jesus must die to bring about the desired conclusion of
      things. This, Jesus says in effect, is a mundane and not a high metaphysical
      attitude, a temptation (to himself) not to undergo death, but to get there
      by another route. A veritable Satanic error.

      I can very easily imagine that in the very early days of the Church, there
      were those who questioned the need for Jesus's death. It is certainly not
      implicit in the program announced in Mk 1:11 and environs; it is an added
      element in the expected scheme of things. Originally, repentance (and a
      return to right living) would save individuals. Suddenly, we are told, No,
      it is also necessary that there be an old-style Sacrifice of Atonement. That
      changes the rules. Rule changes, especially drastic ones, tend to provoke
      schisms, or at any rate challenge belief; look at the French Communists
      after the Nazi-Soviet Pact. There are some who fall out of the wagon. I
      think it not impossible that Peter in this passage is speaking for, and
      being reproved on behalf of, those at the time who were having trouble
      negotiating the turn. They needed to be scolded back on board.

      Returning to Judas:

      Q: Of course, such a controversy could be motivated either theologically
      (that is, what teaching could be supported by denying Judas' intimacy with
      Christ?) or politically (whose authority in the community could be
      undermined and usurped by this new faction with the right teaching?).

      A: No idea. But maybe somebody else can think of one. My best thought on
      this is that the legend of Judas was evolving in the direction of greater
      horroficness, and this is one stage in that process. I think I earlier cited
      later and even more horrific ones, in support of that thought. It's the best
      I can come up with, as of this afternoon.

      Q: An expedient way to deal with heresy would be to simply interpolate the
      truth back into the text making it abundantly clear for an audience that by
      and large already accepted that truth. Indeed I wonder whether the readers
      would stand for any other type of interpolation than making explicit an
      implicit truth.

      A: I don't think that early readers were aware of interpolations as such;
      they weren't sensitive to that sort of thing, hence the ease with which
      document proprietors could modify documents in this way. They took the text
      as it stood at the moment. In the Chinese case, this can be shown to be true
      of even seemingly expert readers, never mind the literate but untrained
      masses. The amount of protest against somebody else's spurious text, in the
      Chinese Centuries of Dispute, is surprisingly small. The rule seems to have
      been, If it's a text, it's citable. If a text, say one being read in sacred
      context, rebukes something you feel with, isn't your natural response to
      feel abashed. Didn't that ever happen to you in church? Or did it occur to
      you to think, I don't believe that is really a dominical saying? If so, I
      suspect it is a very unusual reaction. Did anybody get up during a
      performance of one of the plays that passed under Plautus's name, and shout,
      This is not the hand of the Master; it is some imposter? If so, it seems not
      to be on record. A few savants, sure. But not the public.

      Q: At any rate, the value in identifying interpolations in a text is found
      not in identifying the original
      document, but in illuminating the sense of the final document - the one we
      actually have.

      A: To me those are the same. The thing we have (in such cases) is a thing
      with an internal history; it didn't get like it is without a process of
      growth. You can look at the interesting scenery of the Lake Country of
      England, and very pictorial it is. But when, like Darwin, you become aware
      of the power of the glacier, not present but strongly implied in the past,
      that scored the rocks, and left behind the lateral and terminal moraines,
      then suddenly the object, the scene, comes alive for you. Not as a suddenly
      created thing, but as the result of innumerable tons of ice acting over
      untold centuries.


      Of course, not all hills are glacial, and not all texts are accretional. But
      the ones that are are terribly exciting to watch, and to imagine in action.
      Or so it seems from here.


      E Bruce Brooks
      Warring States Project
      University of Massachusetts at Amherst
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