- To: Crosstalk
Cc: GPG; WSW
In Response To: Rikk Watts' Notes
Being: Mark (2)
[As far as I am concerned, we are through discussing the Yarbro Collins
commentary, except as it and the SBL comments on it offer points of interest
for further clarification and research. Thanks again to Rikk for setting
many of those points before us. I proceed to consider another of them].
In summarizing his points made at SBL, Rikk had said,
RIKK: as far as dating, Adela employed Mark 13, proposing some time close to
the revolutionary war.
BRUCE: Like everybody else since the beginning of time. Doesn't mean it's
RIKK: I thought this was misreading Mark 13 as though it was some kind of
history when for me although containing some general historical tendencies
(increasing national tensions and hostility toward Jesus' followers) it
consists mainly of prophetic judgment topoi.
BRUCE: Mark, especially here, has a lot of OT decoration, but in substance,
as a whole, as a part of the story Mark is working to get across to his
people, MK 13 obviously refers to something contemporary, something that was
either there or looming up outside the window. Just so nobody will miss
this, Mark himself gives the reader a dig in the ribs (Mk 13:14), as though
to say, "Get it? You know what I am referring to, don't you?" I am not so
sure that the analysts of the present day DO actually get it, but that's
another paragraph; indeed, another millennium.
RIKK: This is why, e.g. the abomination of desolation is so darned tricky to
BRUCE: Maybe not so tricky for those who can distinguish desecration (AD 40,
threatened) from demolition (AD 70, accomplished).
RIKK: (BTW: it is a gold standard in the Law, the Prophets and the Writings
that it is Israel's abominations that lead to Jerusalem's desolation).
BRUCE: No doubt. But now we come to the problem of how to read the OT in the
NT. There are roughly two theories. Theory A says, Stuff happened, and the
NT writers sought in OT for a way to justify, or explain, or reconcile
themselves to, or perhaps even to dignify, what had happened. In that case,
the fit of the OT line with the NT fact will sometimes be tenuous or even
merely literary. Theory B says, OT was the playbook, and Jesus in his life
and/or Mark in his writing held it in one hand while deciding what to do
next. In that case, the fit of NT facts with the OT scenario will tend to be
both precise and extensive.
In this matter, I am with Theory A. I agree that OT echoes are many in NT,
but I do not think that OT is determinative for the events that NT is
dealing with. If so, then the historical context of the original OT sayings
need not be, and perhaps should not be, brought forward to supply the
missing historical context of the NT events.
RIKK: Given Jesus' identity (Adela sees him as a divinized Messiah)
Jerusalem's rejection of him necessarily entails judgment.
BRUCE: Jesus's identity is a famously disputed problem. Disputed first of
all within Mark, whose "Christology" is notoriously multifarious and
many-termed. Adela, going Kingsbury one better, sees Jesus as a collapsed
version of all three of major identities which Mark attributes to him
(Kingsbury collapses only two of them). Only so can one get a unified Jesus
out of a previously unified Mark. But is Mark in fact a unified text? Was
Jesus in fact conceived in only one way in the early Church? These are the
metaquestions. Not without documentary support, I think that the answer to
both of them is No. If that should be correct, then we need to back up the
tape a couple of feet and start over on the whole question.
RIKK: But how those judgments precisely work out in history is no more
Mark's concern than it was in the prophets before him.
BRUCE: NT writings on the whole are not prophecy, where the far end of the
string can be left in the air. They are something else. To take the
particular case of Mark, I can only imagine that what he was dealing with,
in real time, was precisely how the past Jesus events, and above all their
implied expectations, were working out in present-tense Church history. The
Gospels, and in their way the Epistles, really deal with little more than
this. What after all is the purpose of Mark? *What do we have,* if we have
it, that we wouldn't have if we *didn't* have it? Chiefly, I should think,
we have an explanation of Jesus and his meaning for the present moment.
It happens that the Markan explanation is complex, and consists of several
successive theories, laminated one over another like the archaeological
strata of Troy, or a stack of pancakes in the House of Pancakes, but that is
just a detail, a mere complication, a bone to keep the philologists chewing.
At any given moment in its formation process, Mark presents an idea of
Jesus, an interpretation of Jesus, which it implicitly recommends to those
reading it. In technical terms, it is not a history, it is an apologia.
Plus some rather kindergartenish motivation gestures, such as "You don't
want to be like those stupid crowds, do you? You don't want to be like those
slow-witted disciples, do you? Of course you don't. Then what you want to
think about Jesus is this . . . "
Elementary. But demonstratively effective. Exegetes from then until now have
been massively warned off the manifest meaning of the elements of earlier
doctrine which are still embedded in, and incompletely buried under, the
Markan exposition of later doctrine.
RIKK: This not only has important implications for how one interprets Mark
13 but it obviates the need to posit any time close to the first Jewish war
simply because this neither occasioned the prophecy nor
inspired its language.
BRUCE: In my view, it obviates all too much. Mark , in all human or
theological probability, was not doing needlepoint. He was writing for
certain people at a certain time, and his writing will make sense to us
insofar as we can succeed in recovering those now lost certainties. So far
and no farther. Otherwise it is indeed needlepoint to us, and we might as
well hang it on the gallery wall and get some art type to write up the
exhibition catalog for it. No?
E Bruce Brooks
Warring States Project
University of Massachusetts at Amherst