Musings on Mark: Jesus and Wisdom

Marie Noonan Sabin, The Gospel According to Mark, New Collegeville Bible Commentary (Liturgical Press, 2006), 32.

In chapter 2, Mark dramatizes the way that Jesus, like Wisdom, restores human beings to wholeness, both physical and spiritual. In the opening incident, he shows Jesus equating forgiveness with healing. He next shows Jesus, again like Wisdom, seeking out sinners to be his followers. In particular, he shows Jesus singling out Levi, who stands for all the Jewish religious leaders who were selling out to Rome and thus weakening Jewish faith. By calling him to be his follower, Jesus/Wisdom is implicitly calling him, and Israel in general, to turn away from worldly power and back to the wisdom of their fathers.

Advertisements

The Weekly Roundup – 4.12.19

“Mark, wanting to make a theological point, locates the event in a place whose name is associated with casting out demons – the language, as Marcus points out, does kinda support this. This strengthens the exorcism theme of the pericope– seems legit. A few years later, Matthew, using Mark as a source for his own gospel, either misses Mark’s theological point or wants to achieve something else with his text and attempts to “correct” the event’s location. He deals with a remaining issue by locating the herd “some distance away” rather than on the hillside next to the lake. Around 150 years later Origen comes along, and, knowing that Matthew’s attempted fix isn’t watertight, relocates the event to Gergasa based on what is probably an ancient tradition.” – @bibhistctxt

  • Last month @MiraScriptura interviewed biblical scholar Tzemah Yoreh on topics including the Supplementary Hypothesis, his academic work (the guy is working on a second PhD), New Testament source criticism (i.e. the Synoptic Problem), and more. @MiraScriptura utilizes Yoreh’s website when working on his mirror reading material and so I know that he was excited to get to interview him!
  • @Bibhistctxt wrote a piece covering the geographic issues inherent to both the Markan and Matthean versions of the exorcism of Legion (Mark 5:1-20; Matthew 8:28-34). The central issue is over the location of Gerasa (Mark) and Gadara (Matthew) and their relationship to the Sea of Galilee. The portrait painted in Mark is that the exorcism happens on the shores of the Sea such that when the demon-possessed pigs rush off the cliff they don’t have to run very far. Matthew apparently recognized this problem in Mark and changed the town to Gadara but even this doesn’t help as much as you’d think. And then there are textual variants and interpretations of early Christian writers! It’s a freakin’ mess!
  • I got behind in @StudyofChrist’s ongoing series covering the book of Isaiah but I’m nearly caught up! Here is what I’ve watched recently.
    • His video on Maher-shalal-hash-baz (Isaiah 8:1) covers the attack of Assyria on Israel in the eighth century BCE. Maher-shalal-hash-baz means something like “rush to the spoils” and is intended to be a preview of how the Assyrians will carry off the spoils of Israel in war (8:4).
    • The next video begins to cover the Assyrian siege of Jerusalem during the reign of Hezekiah. One prominent figure that plays a central role in all of this is Merodach-baladan who, as @StudyofChrist points out, foments rebellion against Assyria which leads ultimately to the siege on Jerusalem.
    • The siege itself, described in both the book of Isaiah and in Assyrian records, is the topic of the next video. My favorite part is all the trash-talk between the Assyrian king’s representative and the king of Judah which amounts to, “Hey, your army sucks and your god will be of no help to you.” He also teases that we have three sources for the siege: the Hebrew Bible, Assyrian records, and Herodotus (with Egyptian records).
  • Back in November Candida Moss wrote a piece on the Pericope Adulterae (i.e. John 7:53 – 8:11). In it she discusses a new book that has come out on the text entitled To Cast the First Stone: The Transmission of a Gospel Story. As Moss discusses, the book shows that the pericope has long been noted as missing from manuscripts of John’s Gospel. This was first observed in the fourth century but it apparently was a significant issue. The pericope’s varying interpretation has made it a classic and Moss’ piece discussing it and To Cast the First Stone is a great introduction to it.
  • Does morality depend on God’s existence? This is the question Jason Thibodeau answers in a post from November of last year. The argument he puts forward is based on the suffering of children caused by torture. Step-by-step he shows that torturing a child is morally wrong for reasons that are valid whether or not God exists.

Featured image: Wikimedia Commons.

The Weekly Roundup – 4.5.19

“One would certainly not expect any literary reference to Christians or Christianity or Jesus himself in Roman authors of the first century.  Christianity was simply a tiny (TINY) religious movement that no one had heard of.  Most Romans would not even have heard the name Christian until probably the middle or end of the second century, well over a century after the movement started.” – Bart Ehrman


  • Biblical scholar David Glatt-Gilad addresses the issue as to why Elijah is able to sacrifice to Yahweh at an altar other than the one in Jerusalem. The Deuteronomic law prohibited sacrificing anywhere except the one designated by God which just so happened to be at the temple of Solomon. Yet in 1 Kings 18 Elijah sacrifices to Yahweh upon Mount Carmel in his famous contest with the prophets of Baal. How is this possible? Glatt-Gilad briefly discusses the rabbinic interpretations for this issue and then goes over some historical-critical responses to it.
  • @bibhistctx has continued his series on Israelite origins with a post on the Late Bronze Age collapse. As he points out, the consequences of this event are enormous but provided the opportunity for a people group like the Israelites to arise. His summary of the influence the Peleset people (i.e. Philistines) had on Egypt is vital to understanding their role in the biblical texts, including anachronistically in the book of Genesis. They loom large in Israelite memory.
  • Last year in The Journal of Theological Studies New Testament scholar Max Botner published a piece addressing Mark 2:25-26 entitled “Has Jesus Read What David Did? Probing Problems in Mark 2:25-26.” It is an interesting take on how we should understanding Jesus’ citing of scripture to support his disciples’ actions. There is much I disagree with but it is a well written and well thought out piece on the text. (See my post covering the same passage.)
  • About three years ago Justin Scheiber produced a video on the Real Atheology YouTube channel discussing the problem of divine hiddenness. For those unfamiliar with the problem, it is an argument against theism which asserts that the existence of sincere unbelief is incompatible with a God who wants to be known by and in a relationship with humans. The existence of sincere unbelief is contested by many Christians a la Romans 1:20. However, most reasonable people would agree that there are those who do not believe in God’s existence and that they do so for rational reasons.
  • Over on his blog Bart Ehrman posted an interview he did with History.com on non-Christian sources for the existence of Jesus. He brings up Josephus, Tacitus, and others. It is a good little post discussing why we can be relatively certain there was a historical Jesus.

Featured image: Wikimedia Commons.

Musings on Mark: Mark and the Cynic Tradition

John R. Donahue and Daniel J. Harrington, The Gospel of Mark, Sacra Pagina, vol. 2 (The Liturgical Press, 2002), 193.

If Mark reacts in any way to the Cynic tradition it is rather to distinguish Jesus and his disciples from that tradition and implicitly to reject it as a lifestyle for Christian missionaries. Jesus’ disciples are to wear sandals and not carry the begging bag that was characteristic of the Cynics. They are to stay with settled communities and are to move on only when their stay is unfruitful. Further indication that the Markan Jesus is not the Cynic Jesus is the Markan Jesus’ fidelity to the Torah. Rather than rejecting traditional values, Jesus promotes true observance of the Sabbath, encourages marriage, accepts and even welcomes children, and is constantly in the presence of crowds and disciples. He is far from the solitary and individualistic rejection of human contact attributed to the Cynics. The Cynic Jesus is a problematic reconstruction of the historical figure and a nonexistent model for the Markan Jesus.

The Weekly Roundup – 3.1.19

“Israel did not ‘believe’ in dragons anymore than their neighbors did. When Israel says God defeated the dragon, they use this myth in two ways. Most of the time, as in Psalm 74; Isaiah 27:1, where the dragon is named Leviathan just as in the Canaanite myth; and Isaiah 51:9, they are saying, ‘Whatever you Canaanites mean when you say ‘Our god defeated the dragon’–it’s true of our God, not yours. Yahweh, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, is the one who defeated the dragon, whatever that means.’” – Robert Miller II


  • @StudyofChrist’s video on the identity of Immanuel in Isaiah 7 is superb. He analyzes the text, draws from commentaries, and shows that at least in the context of Isaiah the reference is to a child born in the 8th century BCE and not Jesus. The video is longer than usual but it is well worth the twenty minutes it would take to watch it.
  • Back in October of 2018 Robert Miller II wrote a short piece for ANE Today on “Dragons in the Bible and Beyond.” He notes that dragon myths typically involve a conflict between the dragon and a storm deity. In the Baal Cycle the Litan is the creature Baal defeats, a beast who is depicted as a “fleeing serpent” (cf. Isaiah 27:1). Considering how often dragons appear in some form or fashion in prophetic literature, this is an excellent introductory article. Miller has also written a book on the topic entitled The Dragon, the Mountain, and the Nations: An Old Testament Myth, Its Origins, and Its Afterlives
  • New Testament scholar Michael Bird has a brief review of Donald Hagner’s latest book How New is the New Testament: First Century Judaism and the Emergence of Christianity. I have benefited from Hagner’s commentary on the Gospel of Matthew and will hopefully get my hands on this volume in the near future. Bird notes that this volume is based on lectures Hagner gave in the Philippines and that in their written form the author suggests that Christianity is not something other than Judaism but is rather “the fulfillment of Judaism.” Perhaps, but I would be interested in seeing how my Jewish friends might view such a position.
  • Phil Long over at Reading Acts posted a short piece on whether Saul’s encounter with Jesus in Acts 9 constitutes a call or a conversion. He writes, “Using modern Christian categories like “conversion” and “call” to describe Paul’s experience is a mistake. Paul’s experience in Acts 9 is quite unique in salvation history.” He also notes that while some have tried to place Paul’s theology within the spectrum of Judaism, this misses the radical nature of some of Paul’s teachings.
  • A couple of years ago Pete Enns wrote a brief post over on his website on how the biblical genealogies were not intended to convey “history” but rather something else. He writes, “The biblical writers were not ‘historians’ writing ‘accounts’ of the past. They were storytellers accessing past tradition to say something about their present. That includes genealogies.” Amen.

Featured image: Wikimedia Commons.

Musings on Mark: Mark 4 and Psalm 107

John R. Donahue and Daniel J. Harrington, The Gospel of Mark, Sacra Pagina vol. 2 (The Liturgical Press, 2002), 160-161.

Especially significant [to Mark 4:35-41] is Ps 107:23-32 (LXX 106:23-32), which Mark’s narrative virtually paraphrases. According to that psalm people “went down to the sea in ships” and “saw the deeds of the Lord” (v. 23). When God raises a strong wind that lifts up the waves (v. 25, kymata; see Mark 4:37) the mariners cry out to the Lord (v. 28; see Mark 4:38), and the Lord “made the storm be still [see Mark 4:39, “be still”], and the waves of the sea were hushed.” The psalm draws on the ancient portrayal of the sea as chaotic power, often the habitation of monsters, a motif that is deeply rooted in earlier Canaanite myths of creation where a storm god defeats the sea. While in the psalm it is YHWH who both stirs up the waves and calms them in response to the prayer, in Mark Jesus sleeps at the onset of the storm but afterward calms the waves as YHWH does.

The Weekly Roundup – 2.22.19

“The stories of the ancestors of the Israelites do not come from any one period but developed over time. It is best to see the ancestors as composite characters.” – John McDermott

  • Bart Ehrman asks and answers the question “Why does it matter if Mark’s Gospel was written first?” What it boils down to is that once we realize Mark’s Gospel was in all likelihood the first of the Synoptics to have been written we then have a framework with which to interpret Matthew’s and Luke’s Gospels. They must have edited Mark’s Gospel for some reason. If we can deduce what those reasons were then we “have some purchase on the question of what [their] ultimate concerns and objectives were.”
  • Related to Ehrman’s piece, a post over at Broken Oracles discusses the redaction of Mark 14:47 in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. Both try to resolve Markan ambiguity about the moral nature of the violent action undertaken by the anonymous disciple with particular additions. It is an interesting example of Markan priority at work.
  • Over a decade and a half ago John McDermott’s Reading the Pentateuch was published and its first chapter laid out the case for why it cannot be read as “strict history.” Some of that first chapter is available online. McDermott discusses the historical Abraham, the Exodus, and more.
  • Bradley Bowen at Secular Outpost wrote an introduction to a series making the case for atheism. In that post he briefly discusses strong vs. weak theism as well as type 1 atheism vs. type 2. As he defines it, atheism is at its core a rejection of theism and there may be a variety of reasons for which a person rejects theism.
  • Scholars have long observed that the Gospel of John appears to have gone through different stages of redaction. Back in 2015, Paul D. on his blog Is That in the Biblepublished a post examining the reasons why scholars think this. His discussion centers on two kinds of aporia or contradictory texts: geographical and chronological. This piece provides an excellent summary for the evidence of Johannine redaction.

Featured image: Wikimedia Commons.