The Two Gospels of Mark
performance and text
If you have a general question, post it here.
I will read the your book. I am very curious about a comparison between the your theory and a similar theory of the first gospel as a sacred drama, as exposed by the mythicist J.M. Robertson (maybe the greatest mythicist of the past according to Robert Price). Are you partly indebted to Robertson’s view?
When you say that you are not interested about the doctrine in Mark, are you saying that one may interpret Mark according to a Gnostic doctrine, for example (with Satan as the Demiurge)?
Thanks in advance for any answer.
Thank you for your thoughtful questions.
In regard to Robertson:
The answer is yes, but indirectly. Early in my research I found online the book The Gospel According to Seneca, by Livio C. Stecchini and Jan Sammer. Sammer plans to complete it and republish it, but it is still available online (perhaps not officially). In this book, Stecchini and Sammer (S&S) argue that the Passion story was a performed play. They offer many parallels to Greek tragedy. Robertson was one of their major inspirations. They quote Robertson near the beginning of the book. I did not read Robertson at the time. But S&S’s work persuaded me that the Passion had been a performed play. Then I asked, if this was true, was the earlier part of the Gospel of Mark performed? How? Etc.
After I had nearly finished my book, I read Robertson. His comments on mystery plays influenced my thoughts about the staging of the pre-Passion part of the Gospel of Mark.
In regard to “you are not interested about the doctrine in Mark”:
When I say that I am not interested in the doctrine in GMark, I mean that I do not discuss Mark’s belief system in the book. A play must be an effective play, first. I have enough to say about the play as a play.
I do not know what Mark’s audience (I believe it was his congregation) believed about Jesus, Satan, and God. I can infer that they were comfortable with watching a play with these characters, which means that they were Hellenized. Did some of them see the Satan character as representing the Demiurge? I don’t know. I am sure they had varied conceptions of the characters Jesus, Satan, and God, and their relationships. Nobody was policing their thoughts. They were exposed to many religious ideas in their environment. They all had something in common but not everything.
In the book, I try to shift the scholarly approach to GMark from “what did it mean religiously to the audience” to “what happened onstage/how did Mark translate that to a text.” Perhaps after you read the book you can revisit the question.
Please consider creating a post for comments on related scholarship, unless this post is OK for commenting, e.g.:
David M. Rhoads; Joanna Dewey; Donald Michie (2012). “§. The Story World”. Mark as Story: An Introduction to the Narrative of a Gospel (3 ed.). Fortress Press. p. 22.
Although Jesus, Herod, the high priests, and the Roman procurator Pilate were real people, they are, in Mark, nonetheless characters portrayed in a story. The desert, the synagogue, and Jerusalem are settings as depicted in the story world. The exorcisms, the journeys, the trial, and the execution are events depicted in the story world. The ancient performers of Mark drew their audiences into this story world. It is this story world that is the subject of our study. Thus, unless otherwise identified as helpful background information from the general culture of the first century, all subsequent references to people, places, and events refer only to the story world inside Mark’s narrative.
If you or another reader think related scholarship is relevant, I welcome the post. I will reply separately.
Regarding the above quotation from Mark as Story, I have to disagree with the very first sentence. I do not believe that Jesus was a real person, at least not the Jesus of Mark’s story. (It is possible a precursor character existed at some time that inspired the character of Jesus, but that is not relevant.)
I differ from Rhoads et al. on many points: the kind of story Mark wrote, Mark’s location, Mark’s purpose in writing. In my book I explain why I think Mark wrote a play, then a condensed and narratized version. I have enough to do in my book to demonstrate that Mark wrote a play. I do not address the religious meaning of what Mark wrote. Nor do I address why Mark wrote what he wrote (his religious, aesthetic, social, etc. purpose). Nor am I interested in enriching the religious experience of the modern reader.
Rhoads et al. are, to my knowledge, the left wing of academic biblical scholars. They recognize that Mark was not the secretary of Peter, which is a step. But they also believe that Mark told a story about a historical Jesus who lived at the time of Pontius Pilate, and they believe that Mark had an evangelistic or pastoral purpose. These (incorrect) assumptions color their interpretations.
I have and have looked through the follow-up volume, Mark as Story: Retrospect and Prospect, and found nothing of use to me. I commend those who think that Mark wrote for aural performance, i.e., storytelling, because that explains some dramatic features of the Gospel of Mark. I mention these modern scholars in the book. But I think I have a better explanation for the dramatic features of the Gospel.
I find that Gospel of Mark as a play explains many of Mark’s bizarre elements, such as the literary east-west axis geography that demarcates Jew from Gentile.
• Malbon, Elizabeth Struthers (2018). “Placing Bethsaida: From Mark to Matthew and Luke to John”. In Parsons, M. C.; Malbon, E. S.; Anderson, P. N.. Anatomies of the Gospels and Beyond: Essays in Honor of R. Alan Culpepper. Brill. pp. 127–143. ISBN 978-90-04-37349-5.
In Mark’s Gospel, the western side of the sea is clearly indicated as “Jewish,” the eastern side as Gentile. —(p. 127)
• Svartvik, Jesper (2014). ““East is East and West is West:” The Concept of Torah in Paul and Mark”. In Oda Wischmeyer, David C. Sim, and Ian J. Elmer. Paul and Mark: Comparative Essays Part I. Two Authors at the Beginnings of Christianity. BZNW 198. Berlin: De Gruyter. pp. 157–188. ISBN 978-3-11-027282-6.
“I have argued elsewhere that the east-west axis is far more central to the [Markan] narrative than the north-south axis. —(p. 178)
IMO the play would of maintained this axis for as long as possible. The traditional view of the Perean ministry, which holds that Jesus did not travel beyond the Perean territorial region of Herod Antipas is not supported by the Markan text. Notably the Markan author never uses the specific contemporary name for the east bank territory of Herod Antipas, i.e. Perea. Rather the same general term found in the LXX Book of Isaiah—”péran toú Iordánou” i.e. All-Transjordan (Mark 10:1) which is first used in Mark 3:8 in reference to the Transjordan region of the the Decapolis and other Gentile regions.
Dykstra, Tom (2012). Mark Canonizer of Paul: A New Look at Intertextuality in Mark’s Gospel. OCABS Press. ISBN 978-1-60191-020-2.
[The Markan author’s use of] geographical references reflect the logic of symbolism, not of geographical reality. —(p. 232)
In my proposed reconstruction of the action of the play, Jesus and the Three disciples (I think Andrew is not original) first go to Gentile territory when they cross the Sea of Galilee (the orchestra) and go to Gerasa (5:1). They return to Galilee, then take a second boat trip across the orchestra to Bethsaida (prior to 8:1). Then they return to Galilee (“Dalmanutha”, where there are Pharisees). Because in the world of the play Gerasa is clearly Gentile territory, so is Bethsaida. After Dalmanutha, they walk “on the way to the villages of Caesarea Philippi,” which is an odd stage direction (for several reasons). After this, they are in Judean territory–on the way to Jerusalem–and remain in Judean territory for the rest of the play. So, yes, Stage Right is Gentile territory for “Chapters” 5, 6, 7, and part of 8. I have a photo in the book showing how I think the locations of the story mapped onto the theater.
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