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Thesis:Addendum-Markan Burial Stories, 6:29 and 15:46

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  • Ted Weeden
    Dear List Members, In my recent essays in which I have begun to articulate my thesis that Mark used the Cross Gospel as a source for composing 15:42-16:8, I
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 23, 2002
      Dear List Members,

      In my recent essays in which I have begun to articulate my thesis that Mark used
      the Cross Gospel as a source for composing 15:42-16:8, I have presented a case
      EPI THN QURAN TOU MNHMEIOU ("and he laid him in a tomb. . . and rolled a
      stone against the entrance to the tomb") in Mk. 15:46 literally. By literally
      I mean Joseph of Arimathea *alone* placed Jesus' body in a tomb and rolled the
      stone against the entrance to the tomb. I have argued in making this case that
      the story of Joseph of Arimathea burying Jesus needs to be interpreted according
      to the norms which Mark has established for his narrative world and not
      interpreted by reading into Mark's narrative world inferences drawn from the
      real world and its norms. Thus, I have argued the conclusion proposed by many
      that Mark really meant that Joseph had help burying Jesus, even though Mark only
      cites Joseph as the *one* who buried Jesus, is making an assumption based upon
      the presupposition that, since burials in Jesus' time were communal, Mark
      naturally understood that Jesus' burial by Joseph was a communal act.

      What I did not do in my argument is raise the question as to whether elsewhere
      in the Mark's Gospel there may be clues that can give us insight regarding the
      burial norms which operate in Mark's narrative world, quite apart from the
      burial norms operative in the real world. In fact, Mark does give us such
      clues. In Mark's narrative world, aside from the burial of Jesus, there is
      one other burial. It is the burial of John the Baptist which Mark narrates
      (6:29) at the conclusion of the story of John's beheading (6:17-28). That
      story concludes, thus: KAI AKOUSANTES hOI MAQHTAI AUTOU HLQON KAI
      disciples [John's disciples] heard of it, they came and took his body and laid
      it in a tomb"). Before drawing attention to what I find to be the relevance
      of this verse to the question of burial norms in Mark's narrative world, I want
      to first address the problematic issues inherent in Mark's narrating the story
      of John's beheading itself.

      It has long been recognized that the story of John the Baptist's death in Mk.
      6:17-29 seems to appear narratively from nowhere, without any particular
      preparation by Mark, and it is not clear what connection it has with what
      narratively precedes or follows it. Thus, the story's relevance to the Markan
      narrative itself is quite puzzling. Surprisingly, as Gerd Theissen has
      pointed out (_The Gospels in Context_, 85), there are no obvious Christian
      features in the story and certainly no features having anything directly to do
      with Jesus. Yet, it is clear from the beginning of the Gospel that Mark
      conceives of John the Baptist as a precursor of Jesus who prepares the way for
      him (1:3ff.). John is the expected, future Elijah (Mal. 4:5; and cf., Mk. 1:6
      [John clothed like Elijah] and 9:11-13) who points to the coming of God's
      anointed one (1: 7-8). But in the story of John's beheading, none of that
      Markan linkage of John to Jesus can be found. Mark does make a linkage between
      John and Jesus (Herod thought Jesus was John redividus) in the verses preceding
      the story (6:14-16). But in the story itself no reference or inference is made
      to Mark's previously established narrative role which John serves vis-a-vis
      Jesus. Nor does the story itself directly suggest that there should be any
      theological or christological connection between John's death and Jesus' death.

      Theissen observes (85), further, that the story the Baptizer's beheading shows
      no signs of having originated in the circle of John's followers. There are no
      references or allusions to John's preaching on judgment, to his exhorting for
      conversion and baptism, or to his demands for righteous living. The story shows
      no interest in John as a prophet or martyr, which would have likely been the
      emphases that the members of the Baptist sect would have included in the story
      if it originated with them. Furthermore, if I would add to Theissen's
      observation, there is no effort in the story to offer an apologia in which John,
      according to the paradigm of the God's vindication of the persecuted, innocent
      righteous one, is vindicated by God before or after his death (see George
      Nickelsburg, _Resurrection, Immortality, and Eternal Life in Intertestamental
      Judaism_, and "The Genre and Function of the Markan Passion Narrative," _HTR_,
      73:153-184, as well as John Dominic Crossan's _The Birth of Christianity_,
      498-501, in which Crossan highlights Nickelsburg thesis with respect to this
      paradigm). The lack of Christian and Baptist elements in the story leads
      Theissen (85f.) to the conclusion that the account of John's beheading
      originated as a folk story in a popular tradition which sought to explain that
      Herod Antipas' defeat by the Aretas, the king of Nabatea, was God's reprisal for
      Herod having John beheaded (See Josephus, _ANT._, 18.116, 119).

      If that be the case, and I think that Theissen's reconstructed scenario is
      persuasive, it would explain why there are no Christian or Baptist motifs woven
      into the story. However, it does not explain why Mark did not rework the story
      to include them, especially since Robert Gundry (_Mark_, 312f.) finds Markan
      redactional fingerprints all over the story. How then does one explain Mark's
      use of this story?. Many efforts have been made to explain the point of Mark's
      introduction of this non-Christian story into his Gospel. Gundry has reviewed
      the many diverse and conflicting explanations (311ff.).

      I think some clues to its purpose can be found in the redactional framing which
      Mark has given it. By that I mean the framing of the story with 6:14-16 and
      6:29. It is clear that the issue in 6:14-16 is the issue of Jesus' identity,
      an issue precipitated by the mission of the Twelve to the various villages of
      Galilee (6:7-13). A list of identity-names are surfaced. Jesus is presumed
      to be either John the Baptist redividus, Elijah, or a prophet. It is the same
      list that is introduced in the Caesarea-Philippi story which culminates in Peter
      's confession and Jesus' subsequent revelation, for the first time, of his
      christological identity and purpose (8:27-33). It is clear that Mark has
      carefully crafted 8:27-33 as I have shown (see my essay, "Markan
      Fabrications-The Petrine Denial: III. Mark's Leitmotiv and Human Lack of
      Awareness," XTalk, Archives # 4525 [5/25/00]). I am persuaded that Mark has
      also created 6:14-16 with the listing of the same names as a part of his
      identity motif and does so to prepare his hearers for the crucial
      Caesarea-Philippi story and the christological revelation there. Thus, the
      segue into the story of John's beheading is enabled by Mark having Herod Antipas
      for the first time appear in the narrative and make the declaration that what he
      hears about Jesus convinces him that Jesus must be John, whom he beheaded,
      raised from the dead (6:14, 16). With that convenient pronouncement by Herod,
      Mark can then introduce the story of how and why Herod had John executed. Mk.
      6:14-16 is clearly created then to prepare the immediate introduction of the
      story of the beheading and also to prepare Mark's hearers for Caesarea Philippi.

      As I said, I am convinced that Mark brings the story of John's beheading to a
      close with its concluding redactional frame in 6:29, the depiction of John being
      buried by his disciples. There are two main reasons why I consider 6:29 to be
      redactional and not a part of the original story which, as Theissen has
      convincingly argued (87-96), Mark appropriated from the folk tradition
      circulating in northern Palestine and southern Syria, in the region, I would
      add, where Mark's community is located, namely, the village area of Caesarea
      Philippi (See my essay, "Guidelines for Locating the Markan Community," XTalk
      Archives #3913 [2/29/00]). The first reason is that the disciples of John play
      no role in the story itself. Their sudden appearance at the end, once John's
      head has been presented to Herod, seems to be a narrative appendage.

      The second reason is that Mk. 6:29, more than any other part of the story found
      in 6:17-28, is compacted with Markan vocabulary and redactional syntactical
      character. Again 6:29 reads as follows: KAI AKOUSANTES hOI MAQHTAI
      MNHMEIWi. Markan DNA is evident in the following elements of this verse.
      Mark uses KAI AKOUSANTES ("and hearing") at two other points in his narrative,
      3:21 and 10:41. In 3:21 Mark employs the clause to introduce the decision of
      Jesus' family to seize him when they hear that he that others are saying he is
      "beside himself." In this particular instance Mark is beginning to introduce
      his anti-family motif which appears in full dress in 3:31-35 and 6:3. The
      other instance, aside from 6:29, of Mark's use of the introductory clause
      AKOUSANTES is found in 10:41 where Mark indicates the response of the ten
      disciples to James and John's request for the honored seats when Jesus appears
      in his glory (10:35-40). The whole of 10:35-45, of which these passages are
      parts, is a very carefully crafted passage by Mark in the service of his
      vendetta against the Twelve (see my _Mark_, 34, 36, 68f.). Thus KAI
      AKOUSANTES in 6:29 betrays Mark's own stylistic introduction to the narration of
      the burial of John by his disciples.

      The term hOI MAQHTAI AUTOU which follows KAI AKOUSANTES, is the
      characteristic way in which Mark refers to the collective, the Twelve, in his
      Gospel (see, 2:23; 5:31; 6:1; 6:35; 7:17; 8:4, 27; 9:28; 11:134; 14:12. Mk.
      6:29 is the only occurrence in Mark's Gospel in which he uses term hOI MAQHTAI
      AUTOU as a reference to John's disciples, though he does use hOI MAQHTAI with
      reference to the disciples of John and the disciples of the Pharisees in 2:18.
      I consider occurrence of hOI MAQHTAI AUTOU evidence of Mark's hand.

      The verb HLQON, the aorist of ERCOMAI, which follows the term hOI MAQHTAI
      AUTOU, is found eight other times in Mark (1:29; 2:17; 3:8; 5:1, 14; 6:53; 9:33;
      14:16). In five (1:29; 5:1; 6:53; 9:33; 14:16) of those eight occurrences
      HLQON occurs in the introductory sentence to a pericope. HLQON in Mk. 6:29
      reflects the hand of Mark. In the statement which follows HLQON, namely, the
      the clause KAI EQHKAN AUTO EN MNHMEIWi ("and they laid it in a tomb")
      surfaces again almost as a "carbon copy" in Mk. 15:46. Consider the striking


      That cannot be accidental!

      With respect to the rest of the statement, KAI HRAN TO PTWMA AUTOU KAI
      EQHKAN AUTO EN MNHMEIWi, the term PTWMA ("body") occurs six times in the
      New Testament (Mt. 14:12; 24:28; Mk. 6:29; 15;45; Rev. 11:8, 9), and in the case
      of Mt. 14:12, Matthew adopts PTWMA from Mk. 6:29. Note, however, that Mark
      when Mark first mentions t Joseph's attempt to secure Jesus body from Pilate,
      the term for body which Mark uses is SWMA. But when Mark narrates Pilate's
      granting of the body, Mark switches to the term PTWMA, the term for body he used
      in 6:29 in reference to the Baptizer's body. It is as though Mark is
      intentionally creating a mental flash back for his hearers/readers to that
      previous burial of John the Baptist as Mark prepares the his hearers/readers for
      Joseph's interring of Jesus' body (see further, below). Finally, HRAN ("took
      up," or "removed") and the other cognates of AIPW occur nineteen times in Mark.
      Thus HRAN is part of Mark's vocabulary.

      It is clear in my judgment that Mk. 6:29 did not belong to the original popular
      folk lore story of the beheading of John the Baptist. It was appended to the
      story by Mark as the other half of the Markan framing to give the story the
      necessary Markan spin. And what was that spin? I think that Mark used the
      entire passage, the story of the beheading (6:17-28), plus its framing (6:14-16
      and 6:29) to foreshadow 8:27-29, the passion predictions, Jesus' hearing before
      Pilate his crucifixion, burial and resurrection. It is clear that 6:14-16
      foreshadows the Caesarea-Philippi incidents and the issue of Jesus' identity.
      Also 6:15f. and its reference to the resurrection of John, introduces the motif
      of resurrection, which is then picked up in the passion predictions (8:31; 9:31;
      10:33f.) and the empty-tomb story and applied to Jesus.

      The narrative circumstances by which Herod is forced to execute John are also a
      foreshadowing of the circumstances by which Pilate is forced to execute Jesus.
      The parallel, I submit, that is implicitly being drawn between John, vis-a-vis
      Herod Antipas, and Jesus, vis-a-vis Pilate, is that of a ruler who is reluctant
      to execute a subject but finally is forced to do so because he has granted the
      execution decision to the subject's enemies. In the case of Herod, the Markan
      text says that Herod, while fearing John, "kept him safe" (6:20) until,
      unwittingly, Herod is forced to relent, and sorrowfully so at that (6:26), and
      behead John in order to honor the oath he made to Herodias' daughter (6:22-27).
      In the case of Pilate, he is reluctant to accede to the demands of the chief
      priests to execute Jesus. Pilate, upon interviewing Jesus, wonders about the
      charges brought against him (15:4-5), perceives that the charges have been made
      because of envy (15:10), and does not himself find that Jesus has done any evil
      to warrant his death (15:14). But Pilate, according to the Markan narrative,
      is forced to execute Jesus when pressed by the crowd to honor his practice of
      releasing one prisoner at Passover. Pilate seeks to honor that practice by
      offering to release Jesus, but leaves ultimately the prisoner-release decision
      to the chief priests and crowd. The chief priests and crowds choose Barabbas
      over Jesus, and the Markan Pilate, "wishing to satisfy the crowd," has no choice
      but to crucify Jesus, as Jesus' adversaries demand (15:12-15).

      Finally, Mk. 6:29 is a foreshadowing of Jesus own burial by Joseph of Arimathea,
      who, in a similar way to the disciples of John with respect to the Baptist's
      PTWMA, secures the SWMA/PTWMA of Jesus (15:43-45) KAI EQHKEN AUTON EN
      MNHMEIWi ("and laid him in the tomb"). Moreover, with respect to the
      foreshadowing of Jesus' burial via the burial of John, Mark, not only
      foreshadows Jesus' burial by Joseph of Arimathea, but he also sets off the two
      burials in sharp narrative contrast by making John's burial a narrative foil of
      Jesus' burial. The burial of John by his disciples serves as a foil that
      intentionally casts the disciples of Jesus in a very negative light. For when
      Jesus dies his disciples, unlike John's at his death, are nowhere to be found.
      They do not come and, as John's disciples did for John, bury his body. The
      implicit, respectful care for John's remains, on the part of John's disciples,
      is the Markan narrative world completely absent as far as Jesus' disciples are
      concerned when he dies.

      Moreover, it is clear that John does get a corporate burial. By striking
      contrast, Jesus has only a singular, solitary figure, Joseph of Arimathea to
      bury him. And I have the strongest impression that Mark intentionally draws
      that contrast for his hearers/readers by the striking parallel existing between
      the two descriptions of burial to which I drew attention in the parallel
      comparison above. I cannot believe that that close to verbatim parallel and
      close syntactical parallel is accidental. Not only is Mark drawing a striking
      contrast between the disciples of John and the disciples of Jesus with respect
      to the burial of their respective teachers, but also there is a stark narrative
      contrast created in the fact that John is buried as a communal act and Jesus is
      buried as a individual act of a solitary narrative figure, Joseph of Arimathea.

      Ted Weeden
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