Results 1 to 10 of 10

Thread: The Gospel of Mark

  1. Top | #1
    Veteran Member Tharmas's Avatar
    Join Date
    Apr 2001
    Location
    Texas
    Posts
    1,269
    Archived
    184
    Total Posts
    1,453
    Rep Power
    75

    The Gospel of Mark

    Allen Brent, a noted scholar of early Christian history whom Poli recommended to me, is the author of A Political History of Early Christianity, which I started reading several weeks ago. I mentioned this in the “What Are You Reading Thread.” Needless to say, one of my hobbies is exploring early Christian history.

    At the same time I started reading Burton Mack’s Who Wrote the New Testament? as a sort of companion piece. I thought I had read Mack before, but it turns out I hadn’t – I had confused this book with another one of his.

    The comparison is fascinating. Both are noted scholars of early Christianity, fluent in Latin and Koine Greek (the language of the New Testament), and I would bet that Mack can add German, Aramaic and Hebrew to that list, but I can’t say for sure. Mack started out as a conservative evangelical preacher whose scholarship led him to become an extremely liberal theologian if not an agnostic, whereas Brent’s scholarly career took him from being an Anglican to becoming a Catholic priest.

    So they both emphasize The Gospel of Mark in their books, Mark, along with the epistles of Paul, being a foundational text in the development of Christianity. Brent, obviously the more conservative of the two, places Mark in the mid 60s CE, and reads it as the anguished response of the Roman Christian community to their persecution by Nero combined with their sense of doom for Israel as the political scene there deteriorates. Mack places Mark in the 70s and written by someone in Tyre or Sidon, saying “the older assumption that Mark lived in Rome makes absolutely no sense at all.” Incidentally Mack is writing 13 or so years before Brent.

    Wikipedia in no help, identifying the “probable” location of Mark as Rome but adding that “although Galilee, Antioch (third-largest city in the Roman Empire, located in northern Syria), and southern Syria have also been suggested.”

    So, what’s an inquiring mind to do? Find a book devoted to Mark. And, it turns out there is one*: A Myth of Innocence: Mark and Christian Origins, by none other than Burton Mack. So that’s next up on my reading list.

    I created a new thread for this topic because I didn’t know where to put it. If you’re interested feel free to comment. In any case I’ll add to it as I feel so motivated.

    *Actually I’m quite sure there are many

  2. Top | #2
    Deus Meumque Jus
    Join Date
    Jun 2010
    Location
    Canada's London
    Posts
    11,424
    Archived
    9,514
    Total Posts
    20,938
    Rep Power
    55
    An interesting hobby going so deep in one period/area/subject. The closest I've gotten to the subject is Paul Johnson's 'A History of Christianity'. I don't recall him mentioning the Gospel of Mark when discussing that era, instead the focus was mostly on Paul, but it has been about four years since I read the book. In either case I'm sure the books you've read go into far more detail.

    The impression I get is that most subjects before the Renaissance and Printing Press are sketchy at best, save scattered documents here and there, and archaeological finds. I've never focused too much on early Christianity, but the impression I get is that there isn't a lot of hard evidence and we're pretty much stuck with conjecture. My (possibly wildly naive) assumption would be that during the period the sect had minimal to no significance among a broad swath of sects, and so didn't leave a lot behind.

  3. Top | #3
    Sapere aude Politesse's Avatar
    Join Date
    Feb 2018
    Location
    Chochenyo Territory, US
    Posts
    6,184
    Rep Power
    23
    gMark is an interesting little puzzle, for sure! A lot of scholars believe that it was "written" as a recited oral text rather than originating as a written document, and follows an almost poetic structure pretty consistently aside from the obligatory panoply of suspicious later intrusions. It seems to not include some very important things, such as Jesus' birth as well as any explicit discussion of his resurrection after death. There are some internally strange exclusions also, characters who appear and then drop out without resolution, confusing descriptions of location and movement through Palestine. Despite this, it otherwise has fewer textual variations in its earlier sources than the other gospels, possibly because of its very short and sweet mentality. It's very readable, written in such simplified Koine that even an intermediate student of Greek should have very little trouble getting through it, with the implication that it probably sounded very nearly childish when recited to an educated Greek. That said, it is extremely readable, and in my opinion at least, easily the most humorous of the gospels. Lots of witty repartee; I always get the feeling that Jesus is regarding humanity throughout with a bit of a... tolerant smirk? Like he knows something we don't, but he doesn't hold it against us, he really is trying to get this gospel across even though his own disciples are thick as planks and the Pharisees are just hopeless. I'm not the only one who sees an element dark humor in the work, as a colleague of mine once did a public reading of the work in Koine for our seminary community, and it got a lot of oohs, laughter, sighs, etc. In the hands of a skilled orator at least, which Dan was, it hasn't lost its emotional heft. Most here will know that two of the other gospels, Matthew and Luke, very clearly used some version of Mark as a primary text when they themselves were being composed.

    As you note, the original author or authors of Mark are unknown, and other than mutual skepticism about the official Catholic backstory, scholars have not been able to make much progress on that. It is probably the earliest of the gospels we now possess a manuscript for, in or out of the official canon. There are also mentions in ancient works to the existence of a "Secret Mark" known only to adepts of the faith. For some time, many liberal scholars believed that this manuscript had been discovered and transcribed in two fragments scattered through the letters of Clement, but the document has disappeared, and there is increasing consensus that it was a "pious fake" of either ancient or modern derivation. Personally, I'm not as dismissive as some to the idea of Roman origin; it makes reasonable sense to me, partly because of its oddity, lack of certain theological elements, and the political issues raised by it, it would be a weird book to be accepted in Rome if it didn't have something of a history there. But there is no serious evidence that its canonicity was ever challenged, save by Marcion.

  4. Top | #4
    Sapere aude Politesse's Avatar
    Join Date
    Feb 2018
    Location
    Chochenyo Territory, US
    Posts
    6,184
    Rep Power
    23
    I never took a class on Mark, but I took one on the NT gospels generally, taught by David Balch now of the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley. A rare case of a scholar who converted from Catholicism to Lutheranism in the course of his studies. He was a Luke-Acts guy primarily, but I always liked his blended approach to exegesis, which tried to balance contemporary archaeological evidence against the more traditional strategies of interpretation. If you get into a Luke phase later, his recently published essay anthology Contested Identities and Images is an exploration of the social context of the canonical gospels and his thoughts on why Luke was intended as and may have come across as a direct challenge to some of the political and social messages then becoming "orthodox" in such ecclesiastical circles as existed at the time. Naturally, Mark came up a lot, though it is such a trimmed down gospel that the questions it raises are always hard to answer. Balch believed that Luke was the first and only gospel intended to come across as a fully fledged biography, and that Mark was more of a pedagogical manual for verbal preaching than a book as such, which Matthew and Luke re-interpreted with perhaps less reverence than one first assumes.

  5. Top | #5
    Veteran Member Tharmas's Avatar
    Join Date
    Apr 2001
    Location
    Texas
    Posts
    1,269
    Archived
    184
    Total Posts
    1,453
    Rep Power
    75
    Quote Originally Posted by rousseau View Post
    An interesting hobby going so deep in one period/area/subject. The closest I've gotten to the subject is Paul Johnson's 'A History of Christianity'. I don't recall him mentioning the Gospel of Mark when discussing that era, instead the focus was mostly on Paul, but it has been about four years since I read the book. In either case I'm sure the books you've read go into far more detail.

    The impression I get is that most subjects before the Renaissance and Printing Press are sketchy at best, save scattered documents here and there, and archaeological finds. I've never focused too much on early Christianity, but the impression I get is that there isn't a lot of hard evidence and we're pretty much stuck with conjecture. My (possibly wildly naive) assumption would be that during the period the sect had minimal to no significance among a broad swath of sects, and so didn't leave a lot behind.
    In my completely amateur studies of history I’ve generally gone deeply into one subject or era. For example, another area I have researched to a great degree is the air war in WWII. In that case there is a vast amount of material available of course – primary texts, secondary texts, tens of thousands of photographs, oral histories, memoirs, and even thousands of feet of film footage. Until recently there were plenty of surviving combatants from all sides still around. Museums are full of artifacts. Examples of most of the aircraft types are still around in museums or even still flying.

    Yet still, absolutely decisive conclusions are hard to come by; even when we know the “what” of what happened in a gross fashion, the “why” and “how” can still be elusive. Second guessing and opining by historians is rampant.

    So the paucity of materials available in early Christianity I see as something of an advantage. One can read virtually all the primary Christian texts from the first century of the religion. Putting these texts into the context of their times is a bit more daunting. I estimate Allen Brent spends a good quarter of his book filling in the history of Rome and Roman governance, literally from the myth of Romulus and Remus, down through the centuries to the era of the early Christians, in an attempt to provide some of that context. Mack does something similar with the culture of the Greek diaspora.

    But yes, there is a wide amount of leeway. There is a great deal of uncertainty and speculation. Maybe that’s another attraction for me. In the end, one is thrown upon one’s own imagination and sense of what’s likely or even possible. I can be comfortable with never knowing for sure.

  6. Top | #6
    Deus Meumque Jus
    Join Date
    Jun 2010
    Location
    Canada's London
    Posts
    11,424
    Archived
    9,514
    Total Posts
    20,938
    Rep Power
    55
    Quote Originally Posted by Tharmas View Post
    In my completely amateur studies of history I’ve generally gone deeply into one subject or era.
    I've gone the other direction - almost everything I've read has dealt with broad swaths of time or broad looks at subjects, including one book which did this consciously (Maps of Time by David Christian). I've always been a systems thinker and interested in the movement and change of our species on a macroscopic scale. I can think of very few books I've read that didn't at least cover a few centuries at a time. They exist but there aren't many. The closest thing to depth on a small era is likely post-colonial African politics, which I've read quite a bit about now.

    It's been a unique approach because I find I'm out of my depth on a lot of very specific subjects, but if you start asking about the broad patterns of humanity I'm at least past the Dunning-Kruger stage and approaching real confidence.

  7. Top | #7
    Veteran Member Tharmas's Avatar
    Join Date
    Apr 2001
    Location
    Texas
    Posts
    1,269
    Archived
    184
    Total Posts
    1,453
    Rep Power
    75
    Poli I haven't been ignoring you, but I'm trying to catch up on my reading and you've given me a lot to chew over here. I like the idea of Mark as essentially an oral transmission and would like to find out more. I need to reread Mark in any case. I look forward to Luke. To tell the truth I haven't read his gospel in years, but I'm fairly familiar with Acts.

    I wish I had your education without, or course, having to work at it.

    I do have an interlinear Greek/English New Testament and a Greek dictionary, so I can muck about some and follow scholarly arguments somewhat.

    Balch sounds like a good lead. I'll follow up.

    Many thanks!

  8. Top | #8
    Sapere aude Politesse's Avatar
    Join Date
    Feb 2018
    Location
    Chochenyo Territory, US
    Posts
    6,184
    Rep Power
    23
    Quote Originally Posted by Tharmas View Post
    I wish I had your education without, or course, having to work at it.
    Jesus, me too. That was a lot of work. Also $40,000 dollars. Not recommended.

  9. Top | #9
    Deus Meumque Jus
    Join Date
    Jun 2010
    Location
    Canada's London
    Posts
    11,424
    Archived
    9,514
    Total Posts
    20,938
    Rep Power
    55
    Quote Originally Posted by Tharmas View Post
    But yes, there is a wide amount of leeway. There is a great deal of uncertainty and speculation. Maybe that’s another attraction for me. In the end, one is thrown upon one’s own imagination and sense of what’s likely or even possible. I can be comfortable with never knowing for sure.
    I guess that's why I tend to not dwell on these subjects. When people can debate something like the historicity of Jesus for months, I feel that I can comfortably conclude that the answer is inconclusive and be fine with that. To me it's the knowable processes of history that are more interesting than definite facts. Understanding how we got from time [x] to time [y], or what caused something to change from [a] to [b].

    On another note, I thought your mention of Who Wrote the New Testament sounded familiar, and just now I realized that one of my aunts off-loaded it to me a few weeks ago. I'll have to take a look through it.

  10. Top | #10
    Veteran Member Tharmas's Avatar
    Join Date
    Apr 2001
    Location
    Texas
    Posts
    1,269
    Archived
    184
    Total Posts
    1,453
    Rep Power
    75
    Quote Originally Posted by rousseau View Post
    I guess that's why I tend to not dwell on these subjects. When people can debate something like the historicity of Jesus for months, I feel that I can comfortably conclude that the answer is inconclusive and be fine with that. To me it's the knowable processes of history that are more interesting than definite facts. Understanding how we got from time [x] to time [y], or what caused something to change from [a] to [b].

    On another note, I thought your mention of Who Wrote the New Testament sounded familiar, and just now I realized that one of my aunts off-loaded it to me a few weeks ago. I'll have to take a look through it.
    So when I say early Christianity interests me because all the data are knowable, I also mean it works for me like a laboratory experiment where you can see how much of established history is essentially myth. I agree that the endless arguments can get tedious, but it fascinates me that the underpinnings of Western culture for the last two millennia, presenting themselves as fact (only believe and you shall be saved), are in fact a gossamer fabric of elaborate myth based on precious few "facts." It leads me to the conclusion that much of history, including the sweeping analyses, are often elaborately fabricated myths.

    It's hardly necessary to stress that by "myth" I am referring to something a lot more comprehensive and considered than mere falsehood, and perhaps far less easy to identify in one's own thinking. Whether it's post-Enlightenment "progressivism", or Marxism, or great men, or cycles, it's all mythic to a degree. We'll never know all the facts. For want of a nail the kingdom was lost. There's a lot of chaos and contingency in history.

    Allen Brent (see above) argues that our post Enlightenment understanding of social realities completely blinds us to the perceived realities of ancient cultures and spends at least fifty pages explaining the weltanschauung of the typical Roman citizen at the time of Christ and how pagans perceived Christians.

    Not that I am implying in any way that I disdain larger historical perspectives by any means. One of the few history books that I saved when I did my "death cleaning" a couple of years ago was Frederick Merck's History of the Westward Movement, which treats U.S. history as the more or less inevitable result of one of the great mass population migrations in recorded history. It's particularly apropos for where I live - Texas - which has a history steeped in myth, and where society still rumbles in reaction to the tectonics of ongoing mass migration.

Posting Permissions

  • You may not post new threads
  • You may not post replies
  • You may not post attachments
  • You may not edit your posts
  •