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Mark (7)

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  • E Bruce Brooks
    To: Crosstalk On: Mark (7) From: Bruce RIKK: in view of Adela s massive collection of background I texts, I offered some supportive comments on Mark s Ideal
    Message 1 of 1 , Dec 9, 2008
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      To: Crosstalk
      On: Mark (7)
      From: Bruce

      RIKK: in view of Adela's massive collection of background I texts, I offered
      some supportive comments on Mark's Ideal Authorial Audience (Rabinowitz):
      namely that he almost certainly had one eye on the elite house church
      owner-leaders who would be responsible for teaching those churches.

      BRUCE: Audience is definitely one of the questions one should always ask of
      a text; there can be more evidence for that than for the author. I think we
      must also be careful not to assume that there was only one audience. An
      accretional text (and I think the signs of progressive compilation in Mark
      are strong) can easily shift its audience during its formative period, and
      even if the audience is the same, its taste and needs may change over time.

      Was Mark directed at the teachers or leaders of local churches; a kind of
      high-level encyclical? I would be glad to hear arguments in favor, but none
      occur to me offhand. I don't find that Mark even teaches his own
      parishioners very much that is basic; it would be an interesting task (if
      someone has a 12-year-old to spare) to list the things that Mark takes for
      granted as already known by his audience. One of them, for example, was who
      Rufus and Alexander were. Another, I would say, was the ethical content of
      Jesus's teachings, always assuming that there was any.

      So I could see a case being made that Mark (or at least one stratum of Mark)
      was written for a group at least some of whom had heard Jesus preach. What
      they needed was not a reminder transcript of that teaching, but rather an
      explanation of how they should handle the fact of Jesus's death. They are in
      the opposite situation from Paul: They know Jesus in his lifetime; what they
      are puzzled about is the way that lifetime ended, and what it means for
      them. Also, what sense to make of those who are currently giving them a hard
      time because of their beliefs.

      The idea that this group was Galilean has its undeniable attractions, at
      least for readers of my type. I read Roskam's book with much sympathy. But
      the hints of outsideness in the text, even in what I would call the earliest
      layers of the text, seem to me, in the end, to be too strong. Mark knows
      some Aramaic phrases, more or less, but he invariably translates them for
      his readers. And so on. If we accept this implication along with the last
      one, then perhaps it is worth considering whether Jesus himself left some
      believer cellgroups in Syria. The Markan account can perhaps be read as
      countenancing this possibility.

      RIKK: This would justify her including a large number of literary allusions
      of which one assumes most of Mark's uneducated audience would have been
      unaware.

      BRUCE: I haven't a list of these; I assume that Adela's extensive
      Graeco-Roman parallels are meant. I have also read Rikk's chapter on OT in
      Mark, which perhaps brings up a comparable issue. Some of the allusions Rikk
      posits, for example, are complex ones. Fully appreciating them might indeed
      require a certain amount of erudition. But is there any OT quote or echo in
      Mark which has to be recognized (let alone suppleted from memory) before the
      passage in question will yield a plain sense to the reader? I think not. (So
      also, as far as I recall, with any cited Greek literary parallels).
      Erudition may enhance the message, but in Mark it does not seem to
      constitute it. So in cataloguing Mark's awareness of OT, or of other aspects
      of contemporary culture, we are describing him, which is very useful, but we
      are not necessarily at the same time describing his median audience member.

      There are Chinese texts where the allusions are so opaque that you have to
      know them before the thing in front of you has any coherent meaning at all;
      we might call this substitutive allusion. There are others where knowing the
      source enriches the text, but connected meaning is still available; we might
      call this enhancing allusion. And of course there are still others where the
      surface meaning is pretty much the whole meaning. I would put Mark in the
      second and third categories, and feel that even the stuff in the second
      category would have been fully intelligible, on a sufficiently good level,
      to its probably intended readers.

      EXCEPTION

      If you know the Psalms which are structured into the Passion account, if you
      can hear them playing in the background, the whole scene acquires a
      transcendent and confident quality that it does not achieve otherwise. I
      would say that this is the only segment of Mark where a "plain" reader,
      utterly ignorant of the Scriptural background, would get substantially less
      than all of the text.

      So, is it reasonable to suppose a Psalm-ignorant readership (or hearership)
      for Mark? I don't think so. The Psalms are easily the most widely known part
      of the OT today, and on the evidence of the usage of the Evangelists, I have
      to think it was much the same for the members and fellow-fearers in the
      little synagogues in, around, and perhaps especially north of, Galilee
      around the year 030. Or so.

      Bruce

      E Bruce Brooks
      Warring States Project
      University of Massachusetts at Amherst
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