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.

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.

Donahue and Harrington: Satan’s Testing of Jesus in the Gospel of Mark

John R. Donahue and Daniel J. Harrington, The Gospel of Mark, Sacra Pagina (Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 2002), 37.

The testing of Jesus by Satan (1:12-13) alerts the reader to Mark’s conception of Jesus’ ministry as a struggle against the cosmic forces of evil. An eschatological dualism familiar from the Dead Sea Scrolls (the Prince of Light with the children of light versus the Prince of Darkness with the children of darkness; see 1QS 3-4) is an assumption that underlies Mark’s narrative. Jesus’ first public activities in 2:1-3:6 – his exorcisms, healings, and debates with hostile opponents – are decisive moments in the struggle against the forces of the Evil One. The debate with the scribes in 3:22-30 makes clear that the origin of Jesus’ power as a teacher and healer is the Holy Spirit, and that he stands over against the one who is called Satan/Beelzebul/Prince of Demons.

Donahue and Harrington: The Suffering Just One

John R. Donahue and Daniel J. Harrington, The Gospel of Mark, Sacra Pagina (Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 2002), 33.

Intertextually two very strong Old Testament themes merge in the Gospel of Mark. One is that Jesus is the “suffering just one” who is “tested” by God (see Mark 1:12-13), suffers opposition from enemies, and is abandoned by friends and companions. Jeremiah (20:6-11) and Job (12:2-3; 16:20; 19:14) may be the oldest examples of this motif, which appears strongly in the Psalms; e.g., Ps 38:11-12, “my friends and companions stand aloof from my afflictions, and my neighbors stand far off”; Ps 41:9-10, “my bosom friend in whom I have trusted, who ate of my bread, has lifted the heel against me,” (see Mark 14:1-11); also Pss 31:11 and 88:19….The failure of Jesus’ disciples, who are most often the chosen “Twelve,” does not arise from moral or psychological failures, or because they are exemplars of a wrong theology; it simply continues the motif of the suffering just one who is abandoned even by friends and companions.

Donahue and Harrington: The ‘Great Human Realism’ of the Markan Jesus

John R. Donahue and Daniel J. Harrington, The Gospel of Mark, Sacra Pagina (Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 2002), 17.

Mark writes about Jesus with a great human realism that Matthew and Luke often omit or tone down; see, for example, 1:41 (his compassion); 1:43 (strong displeasure); 6:5 (surprise at disbelief); 8:12 (deep sigh); 10:14 (indignation); and 10:21 (love). Likewise Matthew and Luke omit or play down Mark’s realistic pictures of the disciples’ faults; e.g., in 1:36 they “track him down”; in 3:21 they try to seize him, for they think he is mad; in 4:40 Jesus asks them, “Have you no faith?” while in 6:52 their “hearts are hardened”; in 8:18-19 they have “eyes that do not see and ears that do not hear”; and in 8:33, Peter is called “Satan” (cf. Matt 16:23).

Mark 1:14-15, AEV

Below is my translation of Mark 1:14-15 which describes the beginning of Jesus’ ministry in Galilee following his baptism (1:9-11) and testing in the wilderness (1:12-13).

MARK 1:14-15, AEV

14 Following the arrest of John, Jesus came into Galilee preaching the gospel of God 15 saying, “The time has been fulfilleda and the reign of Godb has come near: repent and believe in the gospel.”


a The verb I have translated as “has been fulfilled” is peplērōtai, a perfect tense verb in the passive voice. The root verb, pléroó, is only used three times in Mark: 1:15, 14:49, and 15:28. However, that final instance in 15:28 is a later addition to the text of Mark.

b I have chosen to translate  basileia tou theou as “the reign of God” as opposed to “the kingdom of God” (NRSV). Here I have followed the work of Mary Ann Beavis who writes in her commentary,

The phrase translated here as the reign of God (hēbasileia tou theou) – often translated as “kingdom of God” – announces one of the main themes of the Gospel (4:11, 26, 30; 9:1, 47; 10:14, 15, 23, 24; 12:34; 14:25; 15:43). In English, reign captures the meaning of basileia better than “kingdom….” (Beavis, Mark, Paideia Commentaries on the New Testament [Baker Academic, 2011], 43)

Beavis herself quotes from John Donahue and Daniel Harrington’s commentary on Mark. They write,

Translation is a problem here, and not simply because of the androcentric overtones of “king.” The word “kingdom” is static and evokes a place where a king (or queen) rules. Greek basileia is more active and dynamic, with the nuance of “reigning” of God as well as a setting for that reign. (Donahue and Harrington, The Gospel of Mark, Sacra Pagina [The Liturgical Press, 2002], 71.)