- To: Crosstalk
Cc: GPG, WSW
On: Mark (5)
Another sundown, another paragraph.
RIKK: Adela states that Mark's Jesus was modeled on Israel's past leaders:
namely, on Moses as teacher and interpreter of the law, Elijah and Elisha as
wonder-working prophets, and David as anointed king.
BRUCE: This strikes me as too generalized. What is it generalized from? I
should suppose that the focal point is the vision in Mk 9:2-8. No
commentator worth her salt could possibly ignore it. On the other hand, the
analytical question (as it seems to me) is, does that vision epitomize or
decode or otherwise explain ALL the rest of the text? Or only part of it? It
will be clear from previous notes that I find that "only part of it" is the
correct answer here. See previous, passim.
Why? Because there are other strands in the story than just this
proclamation by God that Jesus is his Son. Not long before this scene, in
fact, we have Jesus strongly criticizing Peter, on just the issue of Jesus's
identity and fate. Peter objects to the prediction of Jesus's death and
resurrection. Jesus calls him "Satan." So here is very much a conflict
scene. Does that scene directly plug into the Mk 9:2-8 one, whose siglum is
"Son of God??" Not a bit of it. The conflict scene (Mk 8:31-33) is instead
one where Jesus characterizes himself as "Son of Man."
Here, as it seems to me (and I have appropriated this idea as my own
interpretation of all these perplexities, © 2006, 2008), is the beginning of
an investigable thread, which leads precisely to a stratification of Mark in
which the Son of God passages (and several associated ones which do not use
that precise phrase) take their place in one layer of the text, and the Son
of Man passages (and associated ones) in another. These two statements of
Jesus's identity are not simultaneous and alternative, as most analysts
assume; instead, on philological scrutiny they turn out to be sequential and
incompatible. They define two Christianities, an early one, to which Paul's
opponents at Corinth probably have some sort of relation, and a later one,
represented by Paul himself. Not that Paul invented it, but that he got his
religion from a Christianity which had gone on to evolve to that particular
understanding of Jesus.
They are two stages of Church doctrinal evolution. Mark, an accretional
text, happens to be available to witness to both of them, each in its turn.
Which is our good fortune as bystanders and historians.
RIKK: David is a shoo-in, but Jesus as a new Moses seems more Matthean than
Markan, . . .
BRUCE: David I pass by for the moment. As for Moses, I don't think it
matters for Mark, let alone refutes Mark, if he starts something that
Matthew later picks up and develops. Better first to figure out Mark on his
own, since as far as we know, there was no Matthew on the horizon when he
was putting together, and perhaps revisiting from time to time, his house
RIKK: and instead of noting a couple of isolated parallels, comparing the
actual catalogues of Jesus'
wonders with those of Elijah and Elisha instead shows how dissimilar they
BRUCE: Sure. No parallel is exact, and no OT parallel is determinative for
any NT deed or thought. The NT theorists, coming after the facts of Jesus
and his associates, did their best to find those facts prefigured in a
passage, or a phrase, or merely a concept, in the OT. It was their basic
Just as the legal theorists of the Chinese 04th century were at pains to
discover (and failing discovery, to invent outright) ancient precedents for
what was in fact a new system of jurisprudence. So to speak, they didn't
have an available OT which gave them usable or reusable predictions. They
had to create what amounted to an OT of their own. The same wish for ancient
precedents also operated in the political theory sphere. And in the moral
sphere. And in the ritual sphere. It operated generally. The final textual
result of all this legitimation activity is what we call the Chinese
Classics. Not that those texts (or anyway the great bulk of them) actually
date from preclassical times, but that the classic age had invented them
precisely to fill that need. The past as the present would have wished to
But whether or not an actual predictive or certificational past is
available, the NEED to have one, and to make use of it in reconciling
society to the present, is very widespread indeed. I would suspect it is one
of humankind's most general constants. Not every tribe has a legal system
(or debt instruments, or powered flight), but all of them so far have ways
of dealing with the uncomfortable or insufficiently certificational past.
They do this by mythmaking: by inventing or distorting the past so that it
fits the needs of the present. The myth makes this statement: Heaven (or
juridical precedent, whatever) intends that things should be the way they
now are, or are shortly going to be.
It is a very powerful message, and I don't fault societies for relying on
it. I merely fault the observers of societies, for being sometimes too ready
to take the myth products at their face value. That is a member reaction,
not an observer reaction. And the way of science is to observe.
E Bruce Brooks
Warring States Project
University of Massachusetts at Amherst