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Mark (3)

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  • E Bruce Brooks
    To: Crosstalk Cc: GPG, WSW On: Mark (3) From: Bruce I here interlineate the next paragraph of Rikk Watts summary of the SBL session on Adela Yarbro Collins
    Message 1 of 4 , Dec 5, 2008
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      To: Crosstalk
      Cc: GPG, WSW
      On: Mark (3)
      From: Bruce

      I here interlineate the next paragraph of Rikk Watts' summary of the SBL
      session on Adela Yarbro Collins' Mark commentary, but now separated from
      that context, and taken simply as points that are worth considering in
      connection with our own understanding of Mark.

      RIKK: given Adela's emphasis on hearing Mark in its first century world, I
      questioned the use of some non-first century terms to define Mark's genre. I
      didn't see why she couldn't stay with a form of historical bioi, even if it
      didn't fit precisely.

      BRUCE: Maybe the lack of precise fit was a good reason. To my eye, for what
      that may be worth, Mark somehow does not feel like a biography of Jesus. I
      think it more precisely exists to *explain* Jesus, and especially the
      ostensible failure of his movement (the only thing for which explicit
      reasons are provided in the text). For that reason, Joel Marcus (1/64f)
      calls it a history of the movement. I think that is a step better. But the
      explanatory feature, the need to make theoretical sense of Jesus, is perhaps
      more directly evoked by the term apologia, and this would still be my
      suggestion. I don't think of this as establishing Mark's "genre" (and I have
      doubts about the value of the focus on "genre" in general, but let that pass
      for the moment). At least it may avoid the arousing of expectations that are
      not going to be met by the text as it is, which is what I think the word
      "biography" tends to do.

      Even to ancient eyes, Mark seems to have had its shortcomings as a bio, as
      the biographical suppletions of Mt and Lk perhaps tend to demonstrate. No?

      RIKK: Also I'm not persuaded that Mark is apocalyptic because a) Mark's
      Jesus has far more parallels with Ps Sol 17, according to Adela an older
      prophetic style eschatology (so also Mark I would argue) and b) a few "on
      the clouds" phrases are insufficient to counter that weight and in my view
      do not indicate that Mark has abandoned history (if that is indeed actually
      what the apocalypticists thought they were doing; see Wright). Adela
      responded by saying that she saw a difference between apocalyptic (adj.) and
      an apocalypse (noun) which is partly true though it is interesting that when
      asked for evidence of apocalyptic in Mark proponents invariably point to
      what are typically genre indicators (language such as "son of man," and
      certain kinds of imagery "on the clouds" etc.).

      BRUCE: Here, I think, we may be approaching the crux. Mark, as it seems, can
      be made to fit the "apocalyptic" rubric only by choosing to accept certain
      indicators in the text, and to ignore certain others ("a few . . . phrases
      are insufficient . . . "). That is, the theological *unity* of Mark must be
      imposed on the *evidence* of Mark; it does not emerge from that evidence
      without assistance. Left to itself, Mark is not theologically unified. This
      was also the verdict of the survey taken by Naluparayil in 2000.

      What do we do with this observation? I think there are essentially two
      possible accounts that can be made of a Mark that has these characteristics.
      One is that Mark is an inattentive anthologist, who has collected various
      Jesus traditions together without noticing that they sometimes contradict
      each other. The other is that the text of Mark is layered, and that each
      layer is consistent within itself, the contradictions coming only when a
      late layer is added on top of an early layer.

      How do we decide which is the case? I would say: This choice is the kind of
      thing that can be submitted to philological scrutiny. If the various
      theories of Jesus in Mark stand on the same narrative footing, as it were;
      if they are mixed together on the same level, then we probably have Option
      1: an integral text made up of diverse material. If on the other hand they
      are distinct, with "on the clouds" passages sometimes inserted into running
      text of another character, but never vice versa, then we are probably
      dealing with an example of Option 2: a stratified text which is coherent
      within each layer but conflicts across layers. The latter, or so I find,
      proves to be the case.

      The benefit of this is that we do not need to weigh conflicting indications
      in order to determine the nature of the "real" Mark. All the Marks are real
      in their way, each being sufficient unto his own stripe of time. All we need
      to do is to get them properly identified and arranged.

      Such at least is the thought behind the Accretional Mark theory which I
      presented to that same SBL meeting, albeit at a different session than the
      one Rikk is here reporting.

      Bruce

      E Bruce Brooks
      Warring States Project
      University of Massachusetts at Amherst
    • John E Staton
      Bruce wrote, To my eye, for what that may be worth, Mark somehow does not feel like a biography of Jesus. I think it more precisely exists to *explain* Jesus
      Message 2 of 4 , Dec 6, 2008
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        Bruce wrote, "To my eye, for what that may be worth, Mark somehow does
        not feel like a biography of Jesus. I think it more precisely exists to
        *explain* Jesus"

        I think here we're getting into a confusion between the ancient concept
        of a bios and the modern genre of biography. Ancient bioi existed
        *primarily* to explain, and even to propagandise for their subject. They
        were commonly selective of the data they recorded, narrating those
        details/events that best suited the purpose of the author. We should not
        reject the possibility that Mark wrote his gospel as a bios merely
        because the work does not feel like a modern biography.

        As to the accretional theory, it would appear to me to be the mark of an
        inept author to insert material that is wholly at odds with the ideas of
        the text surrounding it. Are we not in danger here of creating a false
        dichotomy: where we see contradiction. maybe Mark would have seen
        creative tension, each idea modifying the other.

        Best Wishes

        --
        JOHN E STATON (BA Sheffield; DipTheol. Bristol)
        Hull, UK
        www.christianreflection.org.uk

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      • E Bruce Brooks
        To: Crosstalk Cc: GPG; WSW In Response To: John Staton On: Mark (3) From: Bruce I had reported that Mark feels to me more like an explanation than a biography.
        Message 3 of 4 , Dec 6, 2008
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          To: Crosstalk
          Cc: GPG; WSW
          In Response To: John Staton
          On: Mark (3)
          From: Bruce

          I had reported that Mark feels to me more like an explanation than a
          biography.

          JOHN: Ancient bioi existed *primarily* to explain, and even to propagandise
          for their subject. They were commonly selective of the data they recorded,
          narrating those details/events that best suited the purpose of the author.
          We should not reject the possibility that Mark wrote his gospel as a bios
          merely because the work does not feel like a modern biography.

          BRUCE: No indeed. But it still seems to me that Mark bears, and is there to
          bear, the burden of explaining things about Jesus that go beyond the usual
          celebratory motive for ancient biography. Jesus failed; what does it mean?
          What is the ongoing significance of Jesus for his followers? It seems to me
          that these are the sort of concern aMk has for his subject. Not just what
          happened. The text also deals with the question "Now what?"

          JOHN: As to the accretional theory, it would appear to me to be the mark of
          an inept author to insert material that is wholly at odds with the ideas of
          the text surrounding it.

          BRUCE: So it might seem, but interpolators do it all the time. In fact, they
          do it much more typically than authors mess up their own work even as they
          write it. The person adding a segment to an existing text is concerned, not
          primarily for the beauty and balance of the preceding text, but rather for
          the message contained in the piece he wants it to carry, a message for which
          he seeks the certifying power of the prior, established text.

          The world in which we (and perhaps also aMk) live and work has been shown to
          be somewhat less than idea. Stuff changes, leaves fall, interpolations
          occur. How many former bank buildings now carry rather garish signs
          identifying the gallery or boutique that now occupies that once dignified
          and dedicated space? It's awful, but it does happen. Regularly.

          JOHN: Are we not in danger here of creating a false dichotomy: where we see
          contradiction. maybe Mark would have seen creative tension, each idea
          modifying the other.

          BRUCE: That there is tension in Mark, I think few will venture to deny. The
          question is whether it is "creative," or shall we say "intentional."

          I can give an example of a text where seemingly blatant contradictions are
          in fact intentional; where it is not the text but the tension that in fact
          carries the message. Perhaps I might introduce it, just by way of
          orientation to the possibilities.

          The text in question is the Analects of Confucius (see my study, The
          Original Analects, Columbia 1998; many theological libraries seem to have
          it). (Confucius lived 0549-0479; the book was begun in the year of his death
          and continued to be extended until 0249; it was the house text of the
          Confucian school in his home state of Lu). This text consists of 20
          chapters, most of them composed of brief, mostly contexted, sayings or
          pronouncements of Confucius. It is very common for adjacent sayings to be
          related in some way (paired), and it not seldom happens that two paired
          sayings will express what seem like opposite views of the same thing or
          person (a famous example is the conflicting evaluations of Gwan Jung,
          minister of Chi in former times, in Analects 14:16-17). For this opposition,
          there are essentially two possibilities: (a) a discordant later saying about
          Gwan Jung was intruded next to an earlier saying taking a different view of
          him; this intrusion has created the pairing pattern. (2) the two paired
          sayings are original, and some sort of resolution of the contradiction must
          be made; the conflict cannot be solved by eliminating one saying as scribal
          static.

          Which is the better guess? Survey of the whole text shows that the pairing
          pattern is pervasive, not local or adventitious, and that when it is
          interrupted, the saying which interrupts the pattern can frequently be shown
          to be later than the chapter whose pattern it interrupts. Then there are
          indeed interpolations in the text (and they do, as so often happens,
          interfere with the original design of the text when they occur, as they
          could hardly help doing), but the pairing pattern as such is original, in
          grain, not subject to doubt as an artifact of intrusion. This is as far as
          philology per se takes us, and a very great help it is, but we are not yet
          through.

          We must still solve the problem of determining what was meant by the
          original, but nevertheless discordant, pair of sayings about Gwan Jung. One
          possibility is that one saying states a general rule, and the other gives a
          qualifying rule, or states an exception, the two together leading to a more
          adequate rule than either one alone could provide. Each formulation is
          appropriately gnomic and memorable, but the two together give a more
          reasonable and thus applicable teaching.

          This way of resolving contrasting pairs will also work with several other
          obviously discordant places, and it also clarifies some that are less
          obviously discordant, but which turn out to repay more thought than the
          casual reader might be inclined to bestow. There are even places (try
          Chapter 9) where the combined meaning of one pair (in effect, an unwritten
          but nevertheless communicated maxim) and that of the adjacent pair (ditto)
          themselves combine to be resolved in a still higher-level lesson.

          Fine, one might say, but how do we know we are not making this up? Or to put
          the question in a form in which philology can deal with it: What warrant do
          we have for thinking that those for whom these sayings were written, the
          pupils of the Confucian school, approached them in this way? Answer: We
          find, in the anecdotal contexts of these sayings (and I have in mind
          especially the 05th century part of the text, Analects 4-9 inclusive), that
          students are frequently commended for meditating on the sayings not for
          minutes at a time, but for months at a time. Students who spend the time but
          get less out of the sayings are not ranked as high as those who get more
          (the prize student, Yen Hwei, could "hear one thing and come back with ten,"
          so adept was he at getting the unexpressed lesson out of the expressed
          lesson). There is thus every reason to see these sayings as food for
          thought, and not just as grist for memory. Further, there is a whole
          technical vocabulary of thought in the 05c and 04c layers of the text,
          things like "deciding doubtful cases" (when two values seem to conflict,
          another instance of conflict resolution). The text itself thus explicitly
          countenances the kind of extended consideration and contradiction solution
          that we have posited for these seemingly inconsistent pairings. The task,
          very often in the Analects, is set by the pairing ("Go figure out why these
          sayings have been juxtaposed"), and defined by the contrast itself ("How can
          Gwan Jung be both commendable and reprehensible?").

          Those familiar with the Zen kôan (typically a *single* paradoxical
          saying)may recognize it as a sort of maverick grand-nephew of the Analects
          provocative juxtaposition teaching device.

          NOW THEN

          I would call that a case of "creative" [or as I would prefer to say,
          "constructive"] tension. Can we find traces of a similar intent in the
          seemingly conflicting passages of Mark?

          My own impression is, No, we can't. One member of the conflicting group is
          usually textually insecure in Mark, so that the conflict in those cases
          seems indeed to be an artifact of interpolation; the text in the act of
          updating something which it does not obliterate, but instead leaves
          standing, either because it was too familiar to be eliminated, or in order
          to serve as the ground for the update or refutation.

          Texts which argue with themselves in this way are more common than one might
          have thought. For examples in Biblical Greek, Homeric Greek, and classical
          Chinese, see my short paper, "The Rhetoric of Anticipated Objection," still
          available in PDF form at http://www.umass.edu/wsp/biblica/quest/index.html.

          Bruce

          E Bruce Brooks
          Warring States Project
          University of Massachusetts at Amherst
        • E Bruce Brooks
          To: Crosstalk Cc: GPG, WSW On: Mark (3) From: Bruce Perhaps just one line from an interesting private note. After rejecting the genre of eyewitness biography
          Message 4 of 4 , Dec 6, 2008
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            To: Crosstalk
            Cc: GPG, WSW
            On: Mark (3)
            From: Bruce

            Perhaps just one line from an interesting private note. After rejecting the
            genre of "eyewitness biography" for Mark, there came:

            CORRESPONDENT: In contrast to your statement above, I think we can establish
            the genre of Mark and that this helps one understand some of the things you
            wonder about below. As Mark is a creative fictional work it particularly
            belongs to the genre of what I'd call an extended parable (like Jonah or
            Job, for example). As Dom Crossan has succinctly put it, "the parabler
            became the Parable." The "plot-line" is written right off the ancient story
            of Israel from slavery to the glorious return from exile.

            BRUCE: It seems to me that there is a lot of room between the options
            "eyewitness biography" and "creative fiction." In particular, as I mentioned
            in my earlier response to what I am coming to regard as the Watts Theses, I
            do not think that OT is determinative for NT. I think that NT writers, while
            increasingly prone to clothe their work in OT language, were even more
            constrained by historical memory (at least at first) and didactic intent
            (throughout). Our problem is that at least some of us are overtrained in
            literature, and tend to regard literature as a sufficient end in itself.
            Mark is doubtless literature, but I suspect that it is nearer to the
            pragmatic than to the pure end of the lit spectrum.

            But this is just feeling vs feeling. Is there any way we can frame the above
            suggestion so that philology can deal with it? I think perhaps there may be.
            Take the Exodus suggestion, which has been made by several, and found favor
            with many. There are many lists of OT echoes (citations, references,
            allusions, what you will) in Mark. No two coincide, but that merely enlivens
            the afternoon's work. There is rough general agreement on a core of them.
            Let's isolate the quotes from Exodus, or perhaps more relevantly those which
            describe the "ancient story of Israel from slavery to the glorious return
            from exile." Now we are ready. Where, we next ask, do those passages occur
            in Mark. Is there anything we can learn from their distribution?

            There is an interesting pattern of distribution, the horizontal
            distribution, over the narrative course of Mark. But perhaps even more
            relevant to the present question is their occurrence in layers of the text;
            the vertical distribution. It turns out (and those who missed the SBL
            Accretional Mark session will have to trust me on this for the moment) that
            the Exodus motif, as above defined, tends to predominate in the later rather
            than the earlier layers.

            If, then, we regard Mark as a Parable of Escape, we may need to add that it
            did not reach that status all at once, but crept into it gradually, insight
            piled on top of discarded insight, until its character finally became clear
            at the end.

            Just a suggestion.

            Bruce

            E Bruce Brooks
            Warring States Project
            University of Massachusetts at Amherst
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