- To: Crosstalk
On: Mark (7)
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
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.
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.
E Bruce Brooks
Warring States Project
University of Massachusetts at Amherst