Donahue and Harrington: A Welter of Proposals on the Genre of Mark

John R. Donahue and Daniel J. Harrington, The Gospel of Mark, Sacra Pagina (Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 2002), 16.

If awareness of genre is a necessary entree to proper interpretation, then potential readers of Mark may be lost in the welter of proposals. Even if there may have been no single model that Mark followed, his work is most at home in the realm of biblical narrative. Both in its simple but vivid language and in its style of rapid narrative with frequent changes of scene it resonates with the Old Testament cycles of prophetic narratives and with the stories of the lives of biblical heroes like Moses and David. Despite the claims for various influences of Greco-Roman literature on Mark (and elsewhere), the gospel contains no quotation of any Greco-Roman author and no allusion to any significant public figure apart from Herod and Pilate. Mark’s “pre-texts” are the Jewish Scriptures, which he generally cites in Greek. The authentication of his story comes “from above,” as is clear in the prologue in 1:1-13 (see Commentary). Although study of the proposed Greco-Roman models is intrinsically interesting and helpful for a broader understanding of the world that may have been confronted by early Christian preaching, it is more fruitful to view Mark as a “gospel,” not a unique but at least a distinctive genre of literature, which presents the Pauline-Christ event (also called “gospel”) in narrative form, and which weaves together diverse traditions (including the Old Testament) to create a unified story of saving significance of the public life, death, and raising up of Jesus of Nazareth.

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