Thesis:Addendum-Markan Burial Stories, 6:29 and 15:46
- 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
for interpreting KAI EQHKEN AUTON EN MNHMEIWi ... KAI PROSEKULISEN LIQON
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
HRAN TO PTWMA AUTOU KAI EQHKAN AUTO EN MNHMEIWi ("and when his
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
AUTOU HLQON KAI HRAN TO PTWMA AUTOU KAI EQHKAN AUTO EN
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
statement KAI HRAN TO PTWMA AUTOU KAI EQHKAN AUTO EN MNHMEIWi,
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
6:29: KAI EQHKAN AUTO EN MNHMEIWi
15:46: KAI EQHKEN AUTON EN MNHMEIWi.
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.