[Synoptic-L] Thesis: Mark Used CG for 15:42-16:8, Pt. 3.B
- Dear Listers,
What follows below is Part 3.B of my thesis that Mark Used the Cross Gospel for
15:42-16:8. Earlier I sent Part 3.A. As I indicated in that post, due to the
length of Part 3, I am sending Part 3 in three segments, namely, 3.A.; 3.B; 3.C.
Part 3:B below is divided into the following sections: III.B.1. Biblical
Gapping and the Whole Truth: Sternberg's Insights; III.B.2. Biblical Gapping,
Whole Truth and Mk. 15:42-16:8; III.B.3 Discerning Markan Whole Truth:
Separating Wheat from Chaff; III.B.4. Caveat: Markan Gaps, Gaffes, or Blanks?;
III.B.5. The Women's Question: Blank, Gaffe or Gap?; III.B.6. The Stone's
Size: Gap, Gaffe, or Blank?; III.B.7. The Stone's Removal: Gap, Gaffe, or Blank;
III.B.8 The Best Hypothesis?
I look forward to any critical feedback on Part 3.B any of you may wish to
III. B. 1. Biblical Gapping and Whole Truth: Sternberg's Insights
Why did Mark not take the opportunity to depict how and when the stone was
removed from the grave (16:4)? Why does he raise the expectations of his
hearers/readers to expect some scene depicting the removal of the stone by
introducing the women's concern over who would remove it for them (16:3)? Why
does he draw attention to the size of the stone if neither the size nor the
removal of the stone serves any dramatic import for him (16:4)? Is Mark's
failure to produce a dramatic removal of the stone, or even his failure to
provide a simple explanation for how it was removed, one more instance of a
Markan rhetorical gaffe? Or could his failure either to depict the removal of
the stone or to explain how it was removed, as well as his failure to provide
any narrative import and meaning to his notation of the size of the stone,
actually be his employment of narrative gaps to lure his first hearers/readers
deep into his narrative world in search for the "whole truth" of his narrative's
What do I mean by this question? What do I mean by the terms "narrative gap"
and "whole truth"? I return to the enlightening insights of Meir Sternberg
with regard to the character and purpose of biblical narratives. In his
exhaustive and detailed study of numerous biblical narratives, Sternberg notes
that it is typical for the biblical narrator to narrate in a laconic style, with
a reticence to say more than is absolutely necessary to maintain the progression
and coherence of his narration. As Sternberg puts it (191), "Biblical
narratives are notorious for their sparsity of detail." The biblical narrator,
as a general principle, avoids superfluity and the use of repetition. He
invariably errors on the side of "undertreatment" of his subject matter rather
than "overtreatment" (365).
Not only does the biblical narrator not tell all that a reader would like to
know about characters, events, motives, etc., he often intentionally does not
tell enough. The biblical narrator is even known for suppressing narrative
essentials which can "create an extreme ironic discordance between [a] tale's
mode of presentation and the action itself, as reconstructed and evaluated by
the reader" (191). In this rhetorical game of hide and seek (my metaphor)
which a narrator plays with his readers, he, according to Sternberg, "abstains
from (1) sharing with the reader all the plot information accessible to him; (2)
elucidating structure and significance; (3) passing judgment by way of
commentary" (184). "[E]ven in commentary the narrator remains less than
forthright. He may supply exposition but not the exposition, sketch
character but often leave the essentials out, formulate motive but only in bare
outline...." (122)--- all with the intention of pursuing "the strategic
principle of maneuvering between truth [minimum truth, explicit in a biblical
narrative] and whole truth [the biblical narrator's truth, implicitly present
but hidden beneath the narrative's surface (cf. 50-55, 235, 321)]," in order to
produce "the play of ambiguity and the processing of meaning" (184f.). This
rhetorical technique of sometimes revealing but many other times concealing is
the means by which the narrator seeks to draw the reader into the role of being
both a spectator and participant (98).
If one reads a biblical narrative closely, Sternberg observes, it soon becomes
apparent how little the narrator actually tells his reader, how few answers to
questions generated in the reader's mind are explicitly given to the reader.
It is the reader who must provide the answers to his/her questions as best
he/she can from whatever leads the narrator chooses to give. "The world of
situations and dramas constructed by the reader --- causal sequence and all-
is," Sternberg finds, "far from identical with what he[/she] encounters in the
form of overt statement. From the viewpoint of what is directly given in the
language, the literary work consists of bits and fragments to be linked and
pieced together in the process of reading: it establishes a system of gaps that
must be filled in" (186).
What does Sternberg mean by "gaps." "A gap," he clarifies (235), "is a lack of
information about the world --- an event, motive, causal link, character trait,
plot structure law of probability--- contrived by temporal displacement. . . .
What happened (or existed) at a certain temporal point in the world may be
communicated in the discourse at a point earlier or later, or, for that matter,
not at all". Gapping, Sternberg contends (365), is the dominant logic of
biblical story telling. Gapping is a biblical story-telling technique to hook
the reader and entice him/her into being actively engaged in the search for
understanding and, finally, meaning within a narrative. It is a technique used
to enable the reader to move from the basic minimal truth of the story line of a
narrative, as the narrator has created it, to the whole truth, that "rounded
understanding that will bring one as close to the narrator's [own understanding,
his intended meaning] as is humanly possible" (235). Gaps "result from a
chronological twisting whereby the order of presentation does not conform to the
order of occurrence. The sequence devised for the reader thus becomes
discontinuous. . . and gap-filling consists exactly in restoring the continuity
that the narrator broke" (235f.). "Arising from lack in the telling, gaps give
rise to a fullness in the reading; the Bible presses this universal of literary
communications" Sternberg posits, "to extremes undreamt of before modernism"
It is left to the reader, Sternberg notes, to fill gaps by "forming and revising
and if possible deciding between alternative closures as he[/she] goes along,
till the end either resolves or fixes the play of ambiguity" (239). Often the
narrator, by withholding information, will intentionally create gaps to produce
discontinuity to breed ambiguity (236). The "play of ambiguity" then induces
the reader to formulate hypotheses to fill in the gaps in order to bring about
the satisfaction of closure. "This gap-filling ranges from simple linkages of
elements, which the reader performs automatically, to intricate networks that
are figured out consciously, laboriously, hesitantly, and with constant
modifications in the light of additional information disclosed in later stages
of the reading" (186).
Gaps, Sternberg states, are often strategically "left open precisely at key
points, central to the discourse as a dramatic progression as well as a
structure of meaning and value. Hence [the readers' gap] filling ... is not
automatic but requires considerable attention to the nuances of the text, both
at the level of the represented events and at the level of language; far from a
luxury or option, closure becomes a necessity for any reader trying to
understand the story even in the simplest terms of what happens and why"
Sometimes the biblical narrator never supplies information to the reader to
close the gaps. Those gaps remain at the close of a narrative as permanent gaps
(237-240). Consequently, the reader is left on his/her own to decide upon the
best hypothesis to resolve any ambiguity, fill the gaps and arrive at closure.
Yet, "[f]or all [the] attempts at restoration, . . . the breaches remain
ambiguous-and hypotheses multiple- as long as the narrator has not
authoritatively closed them" (236).
"As regards sophistication [in the use of gapping]", Sternberg declares, "the
Bible is second to none . . . . The opening and timing of gaps, the processing
of information and response, the interlinkage of the different levels, the play
of hypotheses with sanctions against premature closure, the clues and models
that guide interpretive procedure, the roles fulfilled by ambiguity: all these
show a rare mastery of the narrative medium" (230). In extolling the Bible's
mastery of the narrative medium, Sternberg compares, and very favorably so, the
Bible to Homeric epics: "Even a cursory comparison of biblical narrative with
Homeric epic . . . will reveal an unmistakable similarity in the management of
sequence. It includes deformation of chronology, playing on resultant gaps,
baited traps and false impressions, rise and fall and yoking together of
hypotheses, use of uncertainty for effects stretching from plot interest to
intricate characterization. . . . The Bible's art is on the whole richer and
craftier, it surface incomparably less formulaic, its play more serious, and its
view of meaning and experience as a process built rather than incorporated into
III. B. 2. Biblical Gapping, Whole Truth and Mk. 15:42-16:8
Several connections between the Markan burial and empy-tomb texts and Sternberg'
s insights on biblical "gap-filling" appear obvious to me. I list them as
(1) Mark's stories of the burial and empty tomb exemplify Sternberg's
observation that biblical narratives offer the readers ( I would add hearers)
only sparse detail. Mark does not tell us all that we would like to know; and
if Sternberg is correct, I would surmise that Mark, intentionally, did not tell
his first hearers/readers all that they would like to have known.
(2) If, as Sternberg contends, gapping is the dominant logic of biblical
storytelling, a rhetorical technique to lure readers into the search of greater
understanding and deeper meaning, then there is good reason to think that Mark
at times may have, himself, engaged in gapping. For, as a biblical narrative,
and a narrative that is modeled on other biblical stories (e.g., Mark's use of
the story of Ahithophel's betrayal of David as a model for Judas' betrayal of
David: see my essay posts,"Judas and Jesus," Kata Markon, 2/22/01 and "Judas'
Kiss and Methodology," Kata Markon, 3/26/00), we should not be surprised to
detect in Mark's burial and empty-tomb stories narrative ambiguities, logical
and narrative inconsistencies which need resolving, and narrative gaps which
need filling in order to derive the whole truth, namely, the meaning
behind/beneath these stories which Mark, as narrator, prompts us, via those
ambiguities and gaps, into discovering.
(3) If, as Sternberg insists, biblical narrators' use of gapping is to entice us
into developing hypotheses to bring closure to narrative gaps for the purpose of
discerning understanding and arriving at meaning, thus bringing an end to
ambiguity created by gapping, then that enticement by definition legitimizes, I
submit, arguments from silence derived from *within the narrative world*. For
are not arguments from silence often hypotheses provoked by gaps in a text,
hypotheses which serve as ways of filling in gaps with information the narrator,
for whatever reason, has not supplied, in order to resolve ambiguity and achieve
clarity in meaning?
(4) Given (3), not only can we not avoid developing hypotheses to resolve Markan
narrative ambiguities and fill in Mark's narrative gaps, but such hypothetical
formulations are indispensable if we are to discover the full meaning of the
burial and empty-tomb stories, along with Mark's purpose in composing them.
(5) If (4) is correct, and Mark, as narrator, does invite us to fill in
narrative gaps with hypotheses--- thereby causing us to engage in arguments from
silence derived from the content and context of the narrative world--- then a
hermeneutical pandora's box is open. And what is loosed from that box is a
hermeneutical nightmare, a hermeneutical nightmare in which all sorts of
hypotheses can plausibly be posed to fill in Markan narrative gaps in order to
bring closure, resolve ambiguity and thus discern fuller understanding and more
complete meaning. In such a hermeneutical scenario many radically different
hypotheses could be entertained as plausibe explanations of what the Mark the
narrator intended. How can that hermeneutical nightmare be avoided and a
hemeneutical path be found that will lead to determining which hypothesis, among
a host of hypotheses, best reveals the Markan whole truth in, as well as his
creative purpose for, the burial and empty-tomb stories?
III. B. 3. Discerning Markan Whole Truth: Separating Wheat from Chaff
Sternberg is well aware of this hermeneutical nightmare. He addresses it
forthrightly. "Of course," Sternberg acknowledges (188f.)," gap-filling may
nevertheless be performed in a wild or misguided or tendentious fashion, and
there is no lack of evidence for this in criticism ancient and modern . . . .
Illegitimate gap-filling is one launched and sustained by the reader's
subjective concerns ( or dictated by more general preconceptions) rather than by
the text's own norms and directives. A case in point is the readings to which
the rabbis subject biblical stories. The hypotheses they frame are often based
on assumptions that have no relevance to the world of the Bible . . . , receive
no support whatever from the textual details, or even fill in what the narrative
itself rules out. Where there's a will, the midrash will always find a way."
Sternberg offers a methodological procedure by which such hermeneutical
arbitrariness can be avoided and needed controls preserved in the exercise of
formulating logically and narratively appropriate hypotheses to fill in
narrative gaps. I quote him again (189): "Far from arbitrary, then, the
process of hypothetical reconstruction is variously directed and circumscribed
by such factors as:
a. the different materials--- actional, thematic, normative,
structuring---explicitly communicated by the text;
b. the work's language and poetics;
c. the perceptual set established by the work's generic features;
d. the special nature and laws and regularities of the world it
projects, as impressed on the reader starting from the first page;
e. basic assumptions or general canons of probability derived
from 'everyday life' and prevalent cultural conventions."
"It is," Sternberg continues, "'natural' or 'probable' we reason by appeal to
( e ), that such and such a person should act in such and such a way. The reader
tends to 'adjust' the narrated world, as far as possible, to such premises and
models, since the hypothesis that is most conventional in terms of his own
culture also yields the simplest and certainly the least demanding answers and
linkages. But the reader will often abandon (e) [everyday-life assumptions] in
favor of (d) [the special nature, laws, regularities which govern the narrative
world], and the like, under the pressure of criteria other than simplicity. The
most obvious is the historical sense and context or, negatively speaking, the
deterrent of anachronism. Another, also mentioned, lies in the appeal of the
hypothesis that organizes the maximum of elements in the most cohesive patterns.
And there is always the attraction of the gap-filling that presents things in
the most interesting light. So whenever the work fails to provide an explicit
answer to the reader's questions---that is, to the questions it itself
raises---these struggle to form the mimetic basis for the adoption or rejection
of hypotheses." One also needs to recognize, Sternberg submits (endnote 4, p.
525), that "the linkages or gap-fillings to which the world of literature
invites the reader are bound to differ from those normally performed either in
real life or within the simulacrum of real life inhabited by the characters.
The question is only how, where, and to what end they differ."
From my perspective Sternberg's five factors listed above are important for
determining (1) how hypotheses should be formulated regarding Mark's intent in
narrating his burial and empty-tomb stories and for (2) how we should decide on
the hypotheses that "correctly" fill in the narrative gaps, which Mark has left
his first hearers/readers, and now we today who seek to find understanding and
meaning in those Markan stories. In my essay, "Mark and CG: Methodological
Presuppositions," ( XTalk, Synoptic-L, Kata Markan, 2/6/02), I indicated the
importance both implicitly and explicitly of Sternberg's factors (a) through
(d), as I seek to read, engage and understand the Markan narrative. I spoke in
that essay about what I find Sternberg sets forth here as the first order of
business in interpreting the Markan text. That is, in order to follow the
hermeneutical path Mark intends us to follow to discover the "whole" truth he
encapsulates in the minimum truth of thestory-line, we must begin with the
Markan narrative world, its character, structure, order, and laws governing its
conceptuality, before we consider what correspondence, if any, that narrative
world has to the real world (i.e., Sternberg's [d]) of Mark's first century
hearers/readers, much less to our own.
Furthermore, when we seek to make sense of the Markan narrative world in the
context of the world of his first hearers/readers, we must be careful that we
not move too quickly, in Sternberg's words, " to 'adjust' the narrated world"
(see his [d] above]), to fit the perceived world of the first hearers/readers,
(see his [e] above), lest for reasons of our assumptions about their culture, or
the imposition of requisites of our own, we misread the meaning of a text or
story (e.g., the Markan burial story, empty-tomb story) Mark intended, in our
interest to facilitate coherence between the narrative world and the real world.
Further still, I think we must be careful that we are not attracted to seeking
and accepting immediately hypotheses that (to slightly paraphrase Sternberg, see
below are the most conventional, in terms of our perception of first-century
culture, and that yield the simplest and certainly the least demanding answers
and linkages. For Sternberg observes (189): "It is 'natural' or 'probable,'
we reason by appeal to (e [basic assumptions or general canons of probability
derived from 'everyday life' and prevalent cultural conventions]), that such and
such a person should act in such and such a way. The reader tends to 'adjust'
the narrated world, as far as possible, to such premises and models, since the
hypothesis that is most conventional in terms of his own culture also yields the
simplest and certainly the least demanding answers and linkages."
III. B.4. Caveat: Markan Gaps, Gaffes, or Blanks?
Before pursuing methodologically Sternberg's insights on biblical narrative
gapping, as they might prove fruitful in determining whether Mark's scripting of
the women's question in 16:3, his citing of the size of the stone, and his
failure to indicate how the stone was removed in 16:4, were gaps or just
rhetorical gaffes, there is yet a caveat that needs to be registered. The
ambiguities I have noted in Mark's citation of the question of the women, the
size of the stone and the removal of the stone could be neither evidence of
Markan gaps nor gaffes. Those apparent ambiguities could be nothing more than
narrative blanks. What do I mean?
Sternberg warns us that often what appears to be a narrative gap in a biblical
story may only be a narrative blank. He defines (236) a blank as an omission
in the narrative which was not included because it had no relevance or
significance, as far as the narrator was concerned. A gap, by distinction, is
an intentional omission that has direct relevance to the narrator's interest in
luring the reader into a quest for greater understanding of the narrative in
order for the reader to discern the meaning the narrator seeks to unveil through
his narrative. But it is not always easy to tell the difference between the
two within in a text. For, while a gap and blank have distinctively different
rhetorical origins, they "show," Sternberg observes, "identical characteristics
in all that regards temporal structure. ". . . [A]ny informational lacuna
may in principle give rise to either, one reader's gap may prove to be another's
How is it then that we can determine the difference between a gap and a blank in
a narrative when it appears that the narrator has left something out that, if we
knew, would contribute to greater understanding of the narrative and thus the
discovery of the fullest meaning of the narrative. Sternberg suggests four
ways in which a narrator gives us clues to alerts us to the fact that what we
have spotted in the narrative is a gap and not a blank. Those clues are found
in four rhetorical techniques the biblical narrator uses to draw attention to
his narrative gaps. The techniques, as Sternberg labels them, are (1) "echoing
interrogative," (2) "opposition in juxtaposition," (3) "coherence threatened and
fortified," and (4) "norms and their violations."
By "echoing interrogative" Sternberg (241) has in mind a biblical narrator's
technique of avoiding direct commentary on his narrative and, instead, alerting
the reader to his intentional narrative gap by delegating [via the
question-answer exchange] the voicing of the . . . implicit gap to agents and
observers within the drama itself. . . . [T]he question-and-answer enactment
doubly highlights [a gaps] relevance: the question always echoes and the answer
either dispels or perpetuates our sense of mystery, incongruity, discontinuity.
By "opposition in juxtaposition" Sternberg (243) has in mind a biblical narrator
's technique of juxtaposing "two pieces of reality that bear on the same context
but fail to harmonize either as variants of a situation or as phases in an
action." Such irreconcilable juxtaposition "pinpoints the incongruity and
launches the quest for harmony by gap-filling."
By "coherence threatened and fortified" Sternberg means the "threats" to
narrative coherence experienced by the reader when he/she finds the natural
sequencing of chronological order is narratively out of order, or finds
incoherence in characters or the "reality-model" upon which the narrative is
based, or finds other narrative non-sequiturs. By "norms and their violations"
Sternberg (249) has reference to points in a narrative in which a narrator
introduces something that violates established norms. Since the sense of a
narrative "hinges on the postulation of constancies--- laws, rules,
regularities, continuities, or in short, norms--- if for no other purpose than
to make divergence perceptible and meaningful," the reader is alerted to the
presence of a narrative gap when narrative events or features run counter to
those established norms.
III. B. 5. The Women's Question: Blank, Gaffe or Gap?
Guided by Sternberg's methodological criteria for identifying a narrator's
employment of gapping his narrative, I return to the issue of whether Mark has
in fact employed narrative gaps in 16:3-4 or whether what I have identified as
gaps are no more than narrative blanks at best or Markan rhetorical gaffes at
worse. As it turns out, all three of the textual oddities identified are
interrelated. They are interrelated because each deals with some narrative
aspect of the stone which was used to seal Jesus' tomb as recounted in 15:46.
The three textual oddities, to recapitulate, are (1) the women's concern over
who will remove the stone so they can anoint the body of Jesus, (2) the size of
the stone, and (3) the removal of the stone. Each of these facets of the
story in their context create narrative ambiguity. But, again, is that
ambiguity in each case falsely perceived on my part or is it real? And, if it
is real, is the ambiguity an indication of a narrative gap, gaffe or blank?
For I am reminded of Sternberg's declaration (236): "one reader's gap may prove
to be another's blank."
Let us return to the women's question about the stone's removal to see if we can
determine whether its ambiguity, the logical and narrative inconsistency it
creates, is a Markan narrative gap, blank or a Markan rhetorical gaffe. The
ambiguity created in the narrative by the women's question has, as I perceive
it, contextually has several backward-looking dimensions. By backward-looking
dimension I mean, first of all, what I have articulated earlier. If 15:46 is
intended by Mark to be the burial of Jesus by one man, Joseph of Arimathea, the
one who places the stone over the entrance to Jesus' grave, then the concern of
the women regarding the need for someone to remove the stone for them leaves me
a bit mystified. Why could not three women muster the physical strength to
remove the stone that was required of one man to place it over the entrance of
the tomb? Again, why do I persist in holding that Mk. 15:46 must be literally
interpreted to mean that Joseph of Arimathea alone buried Jesus, rather than
recognizing, as so many commentators have pointed out, that Joseph likely had
servants or others to assist in the burial?
I submit that the argument that Mark's first hearers/readers would have
understood that Joseph rolled the stone in place with the help of others is
based on the cultural norm that the burial of the deceased in the first century
CE was a communal affair, or something to that effect. But to conclude that
from a reading of the text, when the text itself does not state or infer that
Joseph had assistance in burying Jesus, is, as I suggested earlier, reading
into the text the conventional norms of the real world and imposing those
real-world norms upon the narrative world. We must not forget Sternberg's
methodological principle, one I have also similarly articulated in my essay on
methodological presuppositions. Proper understanding of a biblical narrative
must begin with the narrative's world, "the special nature and laws and
regularities of the world it projects, as impressed on the reader starting from
the first page" (189).
In Mark's narrative world, the issue concerning whether Jesus experienced a
communal burial or not according to Mark, vis-a-vis 15:46, must be decided upon
the information Mark the narrator gives us, even if that information contradicts
the conventional norms of the real world. And here is the information Mark
gives us. By 15:42, to rehearse again the "facts" of Mark's narrative world,
there was no one left of Jesus' family or community to assume the responsibility
for burying Jesus, much less make it a communal affair. By the time Jesus dies
on the cross, his family has rejected him, his hometown has rejected him, his
close friends and associates have either betrayed, denied or rejected him, the
religious leaders have condemned him and turned him over to the Romans to be put
to death, and God has forsaken him (15:34). There is no one left to bury Jesus
in the Markan narrative world, except one solitary figure, Joseph of Arimathea.
Here, then, to repeat, is an instance of what Sternberg identifies as a
violation of norms. The cultural norm of the real world of the time is for the
deceased to be given a communal interment. But, contra to the norms of the real
world, in the Markan narrative world Jesus is interred by just *one* person.
Added to the ambiguity surrounding the burial of Jesus by Joseph is, further
still, the ambiguity, I submit, with which Mark casts Joseph in his burial
narrative. I draw again attention to this Markan casting of Joseph. On the
one hand Joseph of Arimathea is identified by Mark as respected member of the
Judean council which condemned Jesus to death (15:43). That would suggest that
Joseph shared in the decision to have Jesus executed. The fact that he was a
respected member of the council narratively suggests to me also that Joseph was
recognized by other members of the council as being an observant Judean and
faithful observer of Torah, such as the Pharisees and the Sadducees in the
Markan narrative world. But on the other hand, Mark depicts Joseph as a
kingdom-seeker, which suggests that Joseph was, in radical contrast to the other
members of the council, a person of somewhat kindred spirit with Jesus, the
"kingdom proclaimer" (1:15, passim).
I cannot escape the impression that Mark *created* Joseph of Arimathea to serve
as that the singular person who buried Jesus and, further, that Mark has painted
Joseph in deep hues of irreconcilable "opposition in juxtaposition" --- to use
Sternberg's term for one of the techniques a narrator uses to create a narrative
gap--- in much the same way as the biblical narrative paints David, for example.
On the one hand, the biblical narrative portrays David as an adulterer and
murderer, and on the other hand , the biblical narrative also depicts David as
venerated king and inspired, cultic psalmist (see Sternberg, 188; cf., 242-247).
It is clear to me that Luke recognized this Markan narrative gap exposed by Mark
's casting of Joseph of Arimathea in opposition in juxtaposition. Luke sought
to harmonize the two opposing characterizations Mark had given Joseph by
inserting a bridging commentary into his appropriation of the Markan text.
This is the way Luke recasts the Markan Joseph of Arimatheas (Lk.23:50f.): "He
was a member of the council, *a good and righteous man, who had NOT consented to
their purpose and deed*, and he was looking for the kingdom of God." So in
Luke's gap-filling of the Markan portrait of Joseph, distance is created in the
profile of Joseph between Joseph and the other council members. Joseph did
not, according to Luke, agree to their decision to condemn Jesus to death.
Moreover, in painting Joseph as a "good and righteous man" Luke moves to align
Joseph with Luke's good and righteous Jesus. That is how Luke chose to bring
some harmony to Mark's sharply conflicting facets of Joseph's persona. Of
course, Matthew and John do away completely with the Markan "opposition in
juxtaposition" of Joseph's character in their rewrite of the Markan text. Both
Matthew (27:57) and John (21:38) make Joseph of Arimathea into a disciple of
Jesus (in John, Joseph is a secret disciple), and no mention is made by either
Matthew or John of any affiliation Joseph had with the Judean council that
condemned Jesus to death.
Thus, I submit, that already in the Markan burial story Mark seems to have
created two narrative gaps. One gap represented by the clash of norms, the norm
of the narrative world (burial by a single individual) and the norm of the real
world of Mark's hearers/readers (corporate burial). The other gap is
represented in the bifurcated character of Joseph of Arimathea (an opposition in
juxtaposition), which, like the clash of burial norms produces an unresolved
ambiguity. Unless Mark is a terribly incompetent writer, I do not think that
these two instances of ambiguity in the Markan burial narrative are either
rhetorical gaffes on Mark's part or Markan narrative blanks resulting from
aspects of the narrative for which Mark had no interest. Based upon the
narrative world as Mark has created it, in contrast to the customs and
conventions of the real world, with respect specifically to the burial of Jesus,
in Mark's narrative world Joseph of Arimathea alone buried Jesus.
I return to the women visitors to the tomb to draw attention to one other
ambiguous dimension related to their need to have the stone removed from the
tomb. That ambiguous dimension lies their stated mission itself, the anointing
of Jesus' body. It is not clear narratively why it was that they thought that
Jesus' body had not been already anointed. If one follows the storyline of
Mark's narrative world, there is no indication that Joseph did not complete the
burial, or, in particularly, that he was so rushed that he did not have time to
anoint Jesus' body. The fact that, according to Mark's narrative world, Joseph
had time to buy the linen shroud (15:43)--- a narrative element missing in the
Matthean (27:59), Lukan (23:53) and Johannine (19:40) accounts--- in which to
bury Jesus leaves the first hearers/readers no reason to think at this point in
the Markan narrative that Joseph did complete all the necessary burial
procedures to give Jesus a respectful burial. *Nothing* in the burial
narrative would suggest that Joseph completed the burial in haste or not in
respectable and good order. John, in his version of the story, leaves no room
for doubt about that. He provides a more detailed description of the burial
process, which includes Nicodemus supplying "a mixture of myrrh and aloes" and,
with Joseph, wrapping the body "in linen cloths with the spices, as," John
notes, "is the burial custom of the Jews" (19:39-40).
However, in Mark's Gospel, as I noted earlier, the revelation that Joseph had
not anointed the body is strangely introduced for the very first time in the
Mark's empty-tomb narrative. Why? If it is such a significant issue, why
did not Mark indicate that Joseph failed to anoint Jesus' body when Joseph
placed the body in the tomb?
As I shall elaborate in more detail in a subsequent part of my thesis, I think
Mark invented the anointing mission of the women as a narrative reason for the
women's motivation to go to the tomb three days after Jesus' burial. For the
purpose of Mark's plot-line, the women's motivation for such a visit had to be
something that required the women not just to go to the tomb but also to get
*inside* the tomb so that Mark could stage their encounter with the young man
who would then proclaim to them, and narratively to Mark's first
hearers/readers, the Easter message (16:5f.). Mark could not use, as the women
's motivation for returning to the tomb, the customary reason to visit the tomb
of a deceased person after three days, namely, for mourning and traditional
lamenting, a practice women were known to perform in antiquity (see Kathleen
Corley, "Women and the Crucifixion and Burial of Jesus," _Forum_, 1, 1: 181-225;
John Dominic Crossan, _The Birth of Christianity_, 527-573).
But I submit, contrary to Corley and Crossan, that Mark could not use mourning
and traditional lamenting as a motivation for the women's visit to the tomb.
Lamenting does not require that one get inside a tomb. Mourning and lamenting
are performed outside the tomb. And even if the lamenting women had found the
stone rolled away from the entrance of the tomb, it is doubtful that they would
have entered the tomb to see what happened. It is more likely that, having
discovered the tomb open, they would have rushed in great alarm to tell someone,
as Mary Magdalene does when, in the Johannine version of the empty-tomb story,
she finds the tomb open (20:1-2). However, if the women's purpose for going to
the tomb is to anoint Jesus' body, then the only way they can do that is to get
inside the tomb to where the body was placed. Thus, anointing narratively
places the women in the tomb. And there they cannot miss the presence of the
young man inside who has a message to deliver to them. That, I submit, was why
Mark contrived that particular motivation for the women's visit to the tomb.
But that contrivance only complicated further the incoherence of Mark's
storyline at this point. To imply that Jesus' body was not anointed ,
necessitating the women to do so, does not narratively square with what Mark
already dramatically presented days before Jesus' death. I have in mind the
anointing of Jesus by the woman with the flask of ointment, an act which leads
the Markan Jesus to declare that she *has anointed* his body (14:3-8). If
that narratively be the case, then what is the point of the three women going to
the tomb days after his death to anoint a body that was already anointed prior
to death? Once again the ambiguity shouts out loud. This ambiguity created
by the opposition in juxtaposition between a completed act of anointing Jesus'
body before his death and the women's need to perform an act of anointing his
body after his death, cannot be a result of a mere Markan rhetorical gaffe or
narrative blank. It is an ambiguity created by Mark for his own narrative
purpose of getting the women inside the tomb for their encounter with the young
III. B. 6. The Stone's Size: Gap, Gaffe, or Blank?
Mark's belated mention of the size of the stone is shrouded in similar
ambiguity. I have already given attention to what appears to be an ill-timed
and ill-placed citing of the stone' size, and noted the response of one of Mark'
s early readers, namely, Matthew who tried to resolve the ambiguity by
repositioning the citation of the stone's size back into the burial story. But
at that point I also noted that Matthew's repositioning of the citation of the
stone's size to the burial story creates its own ambiguous character. For the
size no longer seems to have any relevance for either the burial story or the
empty-tomb story as narratively cast by Matthew. The size of the stone does
not appear to present any particular physical challenge to Joseph. The stone's
size is clearly a non-issue in Matthew's empty-tomb story. Nor is it an issue
for the Matthean women who come to the tomb on Easter morning. And certainly
the size of the stone is not an issue, no matter how large it is, for the
supernatural power of the angel, who in Matthew's account of Easter morning,
rolls the stone away and sits on it (Mt. 28:2). The size of stone is an
extraneous item in both the Markan and Matthean narratives. I noted earlier
that Luke and John give no attention to the stone's size.
The strikingly odd placement of the stone's size, its narrative irrelevance, and
the resulting incoherence that it produces in the narrative order, a factor to
which Sternberg has drawn our attention as an indication of narrative gapping,
suggests in my mind that the stone's size, for whatever reason Mark introduced
it into his narrative at this point --- and I think there was a reason--- was
done so not as a narrative blank. Whether it is an example of Markan gapping
or "gaffing" we will have to delay judgment on until later in the third segment
(III. C) of Part 3 of my thesis .
III. B. 6. The Stone's Removal: Gap, Gaffe, or Blank?
I turn my attention now to the ambiguity surrounding Mark's failure to either
dramatize the removal of the stone, tell his hearers/readers who did it, or
tells them/us how it was done. As I noted earlier, Mark's first hearers/readers
would likely have expected answers to these questions, since they were
dramatically "set up" for answers to these questions by the women's own concern
about who would remove the stone for them. As I suggested earlier, I think it
plausible to surmise that Mark's hearers/readers would have expected some
dramatic, staged moment depicting the removal of the stone. But not only do
Mark's hearers/readers not get their expected dramatic, choreographed moment
when the stone was removed from the tomb, but they also never learn the answer
to the women's question. They are never told "who" it was that moved the stone
nor how it was done. All the hearers/readers get is a cryptic, laconic
statement indicating that the stone had already been moved before the women's
arrival at the tomb. Of all the dimensions of narrative ambiguity related to
the stone, this dimension is the strangest and begs most for some hypothetical
resolution, some filling in of this Markan narrative gap. Thus, I do not
think that Mark's failure to dramatize the removal of the stone and his failure
to indicate by whom and how it was removed is either an indication of a Markan
narrative blank of disinterest, or an indication of a Markan rhetorical gaffe.
I cannot escape the impression that the failure to dramatize the removal of the
tomb and the narrative withholding of information regarding who removed the
stone is anything else but an intentional Markan narrative gap.
Support for this conclusion is present in the narrative via one of the criterion
that Sternberg suggests betrays a biblical narrator's crafting an intentional
narrative gap. The narrative technique I refer to is the rhetorical
question-and-answer technique. Only in this instance the question is raised
(by the women), but no answer is given (by Mark), thereby creating a permanent
gap and unresolved ambiguity. It is noteworthy to point out in this regard
that only twice in the Markan saga of the burial and empty-tomb story does Mark
move from indirect discourse to direct discourse. Those two occasions are the
women's questioning among themselves and the young man's Easter message from
within the empty-tomb. Mark could have but did not use direct discourse when
he reported that Joseph of Arimathea went to Pilate and asked for Jesus body.
We are told that Joseph asked for the body and that Pilate inquired of the
centurion whether Jesus was dead. But none of that is scripted by Mark in
Yet, the women's question is scripted by Mark in direct discourse. In raising
the women's question to the level of direct discourse, Mark seems to signal to
his hearers/readers the very special narrative treatment he has chosen to give
that question, special narrative treatment reserved for only one other occasion
in Mark's burial and empty-grave stories, namely, the moment in the empty tomb
when Mark scripts the young man's Easter message in direct discourse. When the
women's question, presented in direct discourse, is seen in that light, it
certainly does set the women's question, along with the young man's Easter
proclamation, apart from the rest of the narrative and gives it prime narrative
attention. Moreover, that prime narrative attention given to the question
regarding who will remove the stone from the tomb only further accentuates the
narrative oddity of not only failing to answer the question but also treating
the removal of the stone as a non-narrative event, in the sense that the removal
happens behind the drawn stage curtain and prior to the curtain being raised for
the dramatic in-tomb event of Easter morning. Similarly, Matthew, Luke and
John's inattention to the women's question about the removal of the stone in
their own Easter stories of the empty tomb--- the women's concern over the stone
's removal does not even get a marginal, indirect reference among Mark'
successors--- only accentuates further the stark ambiguity of its role in the
Why did Mark not give any narrative attention to the stone's removal, when its
removal is given such prime attention as he moves his narrative along to the
climax of his story, the scene in the empty grave? How should this Markan
permanent narrative gap be filled to flesh out fuller disclosure and meaning for
the narrative. What gap-filling hypotheses can be offered?
III.B.8. The Best Hypothesis?
All kinds of hypotheses might be proposed? The simplest one might well be
that the stone's removal, despite the prime attention Mark gives to it through
the women's question, was not something Mark wanted to focus on. He, so the
hypothesis might be formulated, was primarily invested in making sure his
hearers/readers got the Easter message. Thus he did not want at that point in
his Gospel to have his hearers/readers distracted by non-essentials. Besides,
the hypothesis might continue, Mark would have probably assumed that
hearers/readers would infer, contra Sternberg, that the stone was removed
through some supernatural act. And, of course, one of his readers, Matthew,
filled in Mark's narrative gap by dramatizing, as we have seen, that
supernatural event in his own Gospel, in which a angel descends, rolls back the
stone from the entrance to the tomb and sits upon it (28:2).
But that hypothesis, as simple and attractive as it might appear on the surface,
does not account for the other ambiguous, narrative inconsistencies in Mark's
narration of his burial and empty-tomb stories. I think the hypothesis that can
best account for Mark's narrative gapping is a hypothesis which (1) "organizes,
to draw upon Sternberg, "the maximum elements" of the Markan burial and
empty-tomb stories "in the most cohesive patterns" and (2)answers best what led
Mark to narrate those stories in the way he did. Such a hypothesis, I
suggest, is inherent in my thesis that Mark used the Cross Gospel narrative of
the guard at the sepulcher (CG/GPet 8:28-10:42; 11:45-49), along with CG 6:21,
as the structural and ideational source for his empty-tomb story, in particular.
That hypothesis, I hope now to show, provides a good explanation for the
narrative gaps we find in Mk. 15:42-16:8. It is to the evidentiary support for
that hypothesis that I now turn in the third segment (III. C) of Part 3 of my
Synoptic-L Homepage: http://www.bham.ac.uk/theology/synoptic-l
List Owner: Synoptic-L-Owner@...