I am really late on this, but what do commenters think of this enjoyable video (HT Chris Tilling, Brian LePort, see also the Q & A below). I posted on form criticism (the idea that stories/sayings of Jesus were handed down individually, shaped into various literary forms, edited or even invented to serve different needs of various anonymous Christian communities, before finally reaching the evangelists who put them in their gospels) as well as alternative models, so I assume Dr. Williams supports a more formal process of transmission (i.e. the evangelists had direct access to eyewitnesses or the process of oral transmission from authoritative teachers or communal social memory was able to largely preserve the tradition). So the question to reflect on after watching this is whether details mentioned about geography/names/customs of Palestine reflect eyewitness testimony or whether some of the evangelists and/or their sources may have been Jews from Palestine and therefore could supply local colouring to lend verisimilitude to their narratives and what of some other scriptural echoes (e.g. the feeding narratives echoes the feeding of the Israelites with manna in the wilderness)
I wanted to post this video made by a fellow student when I was an undergrad to promote the good work they and other organizations do. Since Mark begins at the baptism and there is no infancy narrative (unlike Matthew and Luke), there has not been much Christmas posts at the blog. But I think Mark would agree with the theological sentiment expressed in Mary’s Magnificat “And his mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts; he has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate; he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty” (Luke 1:50-53).
Christmas holidays can mean different things to different people: a celebration of Christ’s birth, a much-needed holiday with family and friends, a lonely time for those away from home, a stressful time of last minute shopping and preparations, and perhaps an alienating time for those who feel on the outside of a majority that identifies as culturally Christian. I think it is in this context that Mike Bird’s post ”December 25 means the triumph of Christianity over paganism“ may have unwittingly (I think his original intent was to deal with an internal matter, namely to respond tongue-in-cheek to other Christians who dismiss celebrating on December 25 altogether) provoked interfaith tensions as seen from comments on the post or responses from Star Foster or James McGrath. How to turn this into a positive may be to take a closer look at the relationship of Jews/Christians/”pagans” in the ancient world and decide what this means for interfaith dialogue.
To start, lets get rid of anachronisms. First, the modern concept of Religion as a private system of beliefs separate from public life is a product of the Christian west, particularly the Enlightenment (Asad, 40-41). In antiquity, “religion” was embedded in ethnic/cultural identity. Fredriksen explains, “in antiquity, gods were local in the duel sense. They attached to particular places, whether natural (groves, grottos, mountains, springs) or man-made (temples and altars, urban and rural). And gods also attached to particular peoples; ‘religion’ ran in the blood” (40). Consider Herodotus definition of Hellene identity as blood, language, shrines/cult and customs (Hist. 8.144.2), the Ioudaioi (Jews/Judaeans) defined not only by land (Israel) and ancestors (patriarchs) but divine election and Torah as covenant charter, the mockery of Egyptian cultic practices (e.g. Plutarch, Isis and Osiris, Juvenal, Sat. 15.1-8, 11-13; Philo, Decalogue 76-80), etc. Naturally, the Romans believed their cultic practices the best exemplar of religio while foreign rituals (non-Roman/Greek, “barbarians”) were superstitio, including zoomorphic/aniconic imagery (practiced in Egypt or throughout Near East and Gaul) or magic or barbaric rites (Woolf, 215, 220-21; e.g., the Romans banned Druid practices according to Pliny, Nat. Hist. 30.4). Tacitus’ harsh description of Jewish praxis in Hist. 5 (quoted by Mike) fits typical ruling class xenophobia towards subject peoples (Fredriksen, 41) and we should be very wary about trusting Roman ethnographic descriptions on wild customs of minority cultural groups (cf. Harland on the charge of wild banqueting practices and canibalism) . What sets ancient Jews (and Christians) apart was not belief in one supreme high god (note the biblical worldview makes room for lesser divine beings [modern Christians might call them angels] in the divine council serving the Most High) but exclusive cultic devotion to this one god identified with Yahweh; thus a “monotheist” like Paul may allow for many gods and lords while alluding to the Shema (Deut 6:4) and encouraging exclusive devotion to one God and one Lord Jesus Christ (1 Cor 8:4). Thus, “Pagan” as an all-encompassing term for everyone else not Jewish or Christian is not only anachronistic but, as J.Z. Smith notes, itself a product of Christian discourse on the “Other” represented in terms of centre (Christian imperial civilization/urban life) vrs periphery (“pagan” from same root as “peasant” like a rustic villager, “heathen” denoting a “hearth dweller”) (236-237) (of course, modern pagans may redeem the term, just as Christ followers turned the political charge of “Christian” to a badge of honour in 1 Pet 4:16; Acts 11:26; 26:28; Ignatius Rom. 3:2; Eph. 11:2; cf. Horrell, “The Label Christianos”) .
So why did the Romans care at all about one more god Jesus? We might debate how sporadic and localized Roman persecution was before Decius and Diocletian (was Nero looking for any scapegoat for the fire, how widespread was the policy in the correspondence of Pliny and Trajan and note the recommendation not to actively hunt Christians out or accept anonymous tips, etc?), but Mike Birds is surely right in his second post that martyrdoms and official persecution were a reality. The Romans generally allowed subjects their own religious practices and could use the principle of interpretatio to equate foreign deities with Roman ones, evocatio to invoke alien gods to defect to Rome (cf. Kloppenborg on this “ritual” before a siege of a city) or simply offered private devotion to foreign gods as they traveled (Woolf, 214-15). It was not because the Romans were a model of tolerance in a modern sense but rather, as Fredriksen puts it, “a mark of a successful empire (the subordination of many different peoples to a larger government) was the variety of gods it encompassed (since many peoples meant, naturally, many gods) and accordingly the range of traditional religious practices it accommodated” (40). Allowances were made for Jewish sensibilities about the imperial cult (note how revolt almost broke out when Caligula tried to set up his statue in the Jerusalem Temple, likely influencing Mk 13:14 abomination of desolation). What seems to be the real issue is not that “Judaism” was a legal religion (religio licita) while “Christianity” was not, but the stability of the Empire depended upon people following their ancestral ways while there was suspicion of new collegia forming as potentially subversive. Again in agreement with Fredriksen, abandoning one’s ancestral traditions for foreign ways was equivalent to cultural treason and offended one’s native gods which spelled trouble, hence Greek & Roman writers found going over to Jewish ways (Judaizing) detestable (Fredriksen, 41-42; note this fits Mike Bird’s example of Domitian’s prosecution of Judaizers in his own family). Now imagine a new movement that was drawing people away from their own local customs and cults to worship a foreign God (the God of Israel), appearing as a potentially subversive secret society (proclaiming another king named Jesus, no longer participating in the imperial cult and yet not falling under the umbrella of Jewish customs to be granted an exemption from it) and the effect on the social and economic spheres (e.g. no longer participating in local festivals, not buying sacrificial meat sold in the temples, etc). Thus, even if not every Christian became an official martyr, there was no doubt they faced severe social ostracism and other forms of local persecution which is evident in the trials faced by Christians in Asia Minor in 1 Peter or Revelation.
Marginalized and suffering, it is this historical context to put the early Christian hope in the victory of Jesus and the kingdom of God. Woolf writes, “Roman senses of their own past included their rise through virtue and consequent divine favour from a small heterogeneous community to rulers of the world” (74). I have spent the last month arguing Mark’s ”good news” (euangelion) of Jesus was a direct challenge to the imperial propaganda that the gods had chosen Rome to rule and spread humanitas to the rest of humankind (e.g., Pliny Nat. Hist. 3.39; Virgil Aeneid 6.851-3; see further Champion, Roman Imperialism). We could turn our attention to the infancy narratives in Matthew 1-2 and Luke 1-2 read every Christmas: Matthew’s story has Rome’s client king Herod disturbed by the news of a new king of the Jews and trying to manipulate the magi in revealing his location, but Jesus as a new prophet and liberator like Moses escapes the attempt of the new Pharaoh to slaughter all the infants and comes out of Egypt, or Luke’s setting of the story in the grand context of imperial history (e.g. the census under Quirinus) and yet the one who will inherit the throne of King David is lying in a manger and attended by poor shepherds. One could see the message as turning the values of the Roman world upside down and that victory is not won through violent conquest but through justice/servanthood/humility as exemplified by the poor baby in the manger who will become the crucified one. However, and here is where I have been trying to strike up conversation, in some of my last few posts I have also problematized some of this as some scholars argue that the Gospel writers just adopt the same imperial imagery for Jesus and same violence directed towards outsiders (Jesus return in power and glory to rule, apocalyptic judgement to those on the outside) and, of course, Christendom did eventually become a tool of empire-building for all the good and ill that resulted. So where does that leave interfaith dialogue: it may mean to let the past be the past (modern pagans are not responsible for the atrocities of the Romans any more than modern Christians for some of the evil under the name of western Christendom). It may mean an honest admission of our differences (monotheism or the confession Jesus is Lord may be incompatible with the claims of contemporary paganism), but that on both sides we need to be cautious not to caricature the other and recognize that our the texts our communities want to claim (whether the biblical texts or the classics) have in them the seeds to contribute to the good of humanity but also (in the wrong hands) may be used to legitimize oppression and injustice.
- Asad, Talal. Genealogies of Religion: Discipline and Reasons of Power in Christianity and Islam. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1993.
- Buell, Denise Kimber. Why This New Race? Ethnic Reasoning in Early Christianity. New York: Columbia University Press, 2005.
- Champion, Craig P. Roman Imperialism: Readings and Sources. Malden: Blackwell, 2004.
- Fredriksen, Paula. “What Parting of the Ways? Jews, Gentiles, and the Ancient Mediterranean City.” Pages 35-63 in The Ways That Never Parted. Edited by Adam H. Becker and Annette Yoshiko Reed. Minneapolis: Fortress, 2007.
- Harland, Philip A. “‘These People Are… Men Eaters’: Banquets of the Anti-Associations and Perceptions of Minority Cultural Groups,” Pages 56-75 in Identity and Interaction in the Ancient Mediterranean: Jews, Christians and Others. Essays in Honour of Stephen G. Wilson. Edited by Zeba A. Crook and Philip A. Harland. Sheffield: Sheffield Phoenix, 2007.
- Horrell, David G. “The Label Christianos: 1 Peter 4:16 and the Formation of Christian Identity.” Journal of Biblical Literature 126 (2007): 361-381.
- Kloppenborg, John. “Evocatio Deorum and the Date of Mark“ Journal of Biblical Literature 124/3 (2005) 419–450.
- Mason, Steve. “Jews, Judaeans, Judaizing, Judaism: Problems of Categorization in Ancient History.” Journal for the Study of Judaism 38 (2007): 457-512.
- Smith, Jonathan Z. “Differential Equations: On Constructing the Other.” Pages 230-250 in Relating Religion: Essays in the Study of Religion. Edited by Jonathan Z. Smith. Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press, 2004.
- Woolf, Greg. Becoming Roman: The Origins of Provincial Civilization in Gaul. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998.
Since Jesus is a cultural icon, it is not surprising when he gets co-opted to support our politics, whether the Jesus of free-market capitalism (HT Scott McKnight) or the Jesus of Occupy (HT Jim West). But my last series suggested that Jesus, at least as our first narrative gospel Mark represents him, was something of a radical (rejecting the values of the contemporary social order with a vision of a new one he called “the kingdom of God”, challenging the politically powerful, overturning the tables of the money changers in the Temple as a public protest against injustice, advocating the absolute renounciation of wealth, etc). Granting the huge historical distance between an agrarian context in Galilee under Roman imperial rule and some contemporary socio-economic arrangements as well as that some radical demands in the Gospels may seem contingent on the expectation of imminent eschatological reversal (e.g., there is no time to say goodbye to family, to bury ones father, to store treasures on earth, to not give the kingdom one’s absolute commitment above all else [kinship, occupation, possessions], etc.), what does a radical Jesus mean for those who claim to be his followers? This issue seems to be especially important at Christmas when many in the pews gather to ponder the Incarnation and what it means to incarnate Christ’s presence on earth today as Christians. I really have no answer to what exactly is entailed for a contemporary community of faith to concede a radical Jesus/early Jesus community (e.g., Should we all become liberation theologians? Or admit our hypocrisy here and accept a Lutheran reading that perfection is unattainable so we need to fall back on grace? Or whatever other theological solutions?), so please share your own views in the comments section.
”For him, and other liberation hermeneuts, the ‘problem is not the Bible itself, but the way it has been interpreted’ (Richard 1990: 66). Postcolonialism, on the other hand, sees the Bible as both problem and solution, and its message of liberation is seen as far more indeterminate and complicated”
-R. S. Sugirtharajah, Postcolonial Criticism and Biblical Interpretation (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002, p. 117.
Sugirtharajah defines postcolonialism criticism: “First, to analyze the diverse strategies by which the colonizers constructed images of the colonized; and second, to study how the colonized themselves made use of and went beyond many of those strategies in order to articulate their identity, self-worth, and empowerment” (11). In this series I have looked at Roman imperial propaganda (seen for example in the post on the Priene inscription about Augustus; another article available online that quickly surveys the evidence is Justin Meggitt “Taking the Emperor’s Clothes Seriously: New Testament and the Roman Emperor“) and the way the Gospel of Mark resists it whether through direct opposition, subversion or mimicry and attempts to articulate the collective identity and destiny of the marginalized and persecuted Christ congregation. Note, however, that Sugirtharajah above and Moore in the last post highlight the ambivalence, internal contradictions and hybridity of this task in, for instance how imperialism is both resisted and reinscribed in Mark or how Mark borrows the terms and concepts to express their own collective identity from the colonizers’ own discourse, e.g. euangelion or ”gospel”). Thus, Mark is open to different interpretations, so to first look at ways Mark has been read as liberating:
- The first verse (1:1), the royal titles of Jesus and the coming kingdom of God in power all at least implicitly challenge the imperial cult of the emperor and that the gods chose Rome to rule and that true peace (the pax Romana) comes through Roman might. The crucifixion itself is transformed from the tragedy of yet another poor victim of Roman imperial domination to Jesus’ triumph over the powers themselves, which is confirmed by his vindication through the resurrection.
- In the ancient worldview ’as above, so below’ where divine beings represent peoples and empires (e.g. in Deut 32:8-9 where the Most High divides up the nations according to the number of the sons of god which the Septuagint alters to “angels of god”; the rebuke of the “gods” of the nations for not upholding justice in Ps 82, the angel Michael as the prince of Israel versus the princes of Persia and Greece in Daniel), the conflict of Jesus vrs Satan & wild beasts (cf. T. Benj. 5.2; also reflecting beast/empire symbolism in apocalyptic texts? Or Incigneri’s view of an allusion to the Roman colliseum?), the downfall of Satan’s kingdom in the binding of the strong man & plundering his goods or driving out Legion out of the Land and into the Sea all seem to me to have political implications.
- Jesus critiques the collaborating local elites - he overturns the tables of the money changers and calls the Temple a den of robbers due to the leadership’s economic exploitation and predicts its destruction (cf. sandwich of Temple “cleansing” with cursing of the fig tree, the temple torn apart stone by stone, the poor widow who gives her last two coins to the Temple treasury, etc). Mark sets the stage for the basic political conflict with religious & political authorities, represented by Pharisees (representing interests of scribal party from Jerusalem) and Herodians, alligned against Jesus (however anachronistic such an alliance may seem or to have a death plot against Jesus as early as chapter 3!). However, note in the last post how Moore notices that judgment seems focussed on the local elites rather than the Romans themselves (perhaps Mark’s community were more immediately affected by them or felt their collaboration was even more offensive?).
- Mark’s egalitarian social ethics challenge the whole system of patronage. True disciples are not to lord it over others “like Gentiles” but are to serve as the Son of Man came to serve, to not violently resist but take up a cross, to follow the model of a servant or a little child, to not set up exclusive social boundaries (e.g. story of how the disciples attempt to silence an alien exorcist), to renounce wealth and give to the poor, or to not seek rewards (Jesus rejects the request of James & John to sit at his right & left when he is enthroned, indeed the only ones on Jesus’ right & left in Mark’s Gospel are those crucified with him, and 10:30 the community is mainly the reward with eternal life tacked on at the end). Mark also overturns many conventional standards – the last will be first, women are exemplars of faith (the bleeding woman who reaches out in faith to touch Jesus’ garment, the Syro-Phoenician woman who ingeniously responds to Jesus, the woman who remain at the cross and commissioned to proclaim the risen Jesus) and other outsiders possess more insight than alleged insiders like the Twelve (the paralytic and friends, the Syro-Phoenician, the father of the epileptic child, blind Bartimaeus, etc.).
- Jesus is presented as a liberating prophet like Moses and Elijah, especially with the sea and feeding miracles. This is similar to other sign prophets mentioned by Josephus such as Theudas who expected the Jordan River to part (Ant. 20.97-99) or the Egyptian who led people out to the desert (War 2261-63), both expecting divine liberation from Roman rule.
- Parts of Mark usually pointed to as pro-Roman – the centurion’s confession, the portrayal of Pilate, the saying on taxes – may be more ambiguous than thought.
However, others argue that Mark does not reject imperialism altogether, because he proclaims the imperial rule of Jesus:
- Jesus replaces the emperor – the “gospel” is now the proclamation of him and his kingdom (1:1; 1:15), the voice “you are my son” at the baptism (and transfiguration) echoes a royal Psalm (Ps 2) where the Lord’s annointed king is given authority over the nations, the Son of Man imagery evokes Daniel 7 with Israel as a more humane kingdom triumphing over the beastly empires (note Rome also saw its task as spreading humanitas or civilization to its subject peoples), Jesus is proclaimed the son of David by Bartimaeus and the crowd anticipates the kingdom of David (I don’t think Mark 12:35-37 is so much a rejection of Davidic Christology as much as a redefinition of it in light of Jesus resurrection and enthronement as Lord in heaven), he is set apart as the last heir or the beloved son who inherits the vineyard, etc. Also, some scholars argue that the Sea miracle is like a divine theophany where Yahweh walks on the waters and defeats the Sea monster (though see Daniel Kirk’s interpretation where God extends this authority to the Davidic king in Psalm 89), but in any case in the ANE this may be seen as an imperial myth where the divine king conquers the powers of chaos and creates ordered space. This might be even stronger were one to accept Adam Winn’s argument that Mark’s christology directly mimics propaganda about Vespasian.
- Using colonial mimicry, Mark internalized the imperialist ideology of the colonizers by (1) attributring absolute authority to Jesus, (2) preserving the same insider/outsider binarism, and (3) its understanding of the nature of “legitimate” authority (Lieu 1999: 13). Thus, Leiu argues that Jesus is the absolutely authoritative expositor on scripture, has his authority confirmed by the crowds (he teaches as one with authority unlike the scribes in 1:21) or his opponents (always silenced in debate) or great figures of tradition (Moses/Elijah) or God himself, is allowed to author his own assumptions that others may not be able to accept (e.g. pronouncement stories or allegorical parables that only make sense to insiders who share Mark’s theology), is not bound by the same rules as the disciples (he is annointed even when it is complained that the money could have been given to the poor, can disregard his mother/brothers or can determine insiders from outsiders such as who is near the kingdom or who is a false prophet and who represents Satan’s viewpoint) and is presented with overwhelming power. While the disciples are all to be equals, there is a hierarchy of God as Father and Jesus as Lord with the disciples playing the role of loyal sattlelites, janitors or gophers and calling them children may be seen as a form of infantilization.
- Mark may not always transcend some familiar prejudices in the ancient world - for example in the dismissal of the Syro-Phoenician woman as a dog compared to the children (Israel) or in the representations of gender in the story of Herodias and her daughter.
- Lieu ultimately sees the parousia (coming) of Jesus in power as a non-choice, ”serve or be destroyed” as some people are too wicked or barbaric to live (and noting the saying that “with the measure you use, it will be measured against you, with added proportion” as signalling a greater punishment) (1999: 23). Indeed, Burton Mack is content to blame the Markan legacy and its myth of innocence (Jesus and his followers are the righteous, the Other deserves to be apocalyptically destroyed) for the entire history of the imperialism of Christendom, European colonialism and down to America’s own myth of innocence and manifest destiny to civilize the world as the sole superpower (369-374). Mack insists we must give up our “messiahs” in a multicultural world and that ”the church canonized a remarkably pitiful moment of early Christian condemnation of the world… a future for the world can hardly be imagined, if its redemption rests in the hands of Mark’s innocent son of God” (376). However, note Moore’s argument in the last post that the parousia in 13:24-27 focusses more on gathering the elect than punitive action (contrast Revelation) and Jesus directs threats of eternal judgment only to his own disciples!
So I want to end with a theological question for those who affirm Mark as canonical scripture (or interested observers), part of which is tied in with the larger debate about how to reconcile the different images of God (e.g. justice or violent wrath) in the canon. If Mark not only advocates non-violent resistance against one kind of imperialism but also borrows imperial and violent language/imagery for Jesus, what do we do with that theologically? Is such language different in the case of Jesus (e.g., unlike any other human pretender for Christians Jesus really is the world’s rightful Lord) or do we see some of this as part of Mark’s cultural baggage in his colonial context and then pick & choose between what images we see as more liberating for today? Should we continue to use the language of a “kingdom” or “empire” and should Christians seek other non-imperial ways to speak theologically about the vision for peace and justice in the world? For those who read Mark as liberating or oppressive, see:
- Horsley, Richard. Hearing the Whole Story: The Politics of Plot in Mark’s Gospel. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2001.
- Liew, Tat-siong Benny. “Tyranny, Boundary and Might: Colonial Mimicry in Mark’s Gospel.” Journal for the Study of the New Testament 73 (1999): 7-31.
- Meyers, Ched. Binding the Strong Man: A Political Reading of Mark’s Story of Jesus. New York: Orbis Books, 1988.
- Mack, Burton. A Myth of Innocence: Mark and Christian Origins. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1988.
- Moore, Stephen. Empire and Apocalypse: Postcolonialism and the New Testament. Sheffield: Phoenix, 2006.
- Sugirtharajah, R.S. Postcolonial Criticism and Biblical Interpretation. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002.
- Winn, Adam. The Purpose of Mark’s Gospel: An Early Christian Response to Roman Imperialism. Tubingen: Mohr/Siebeck, 2008.
of his colonizers.
I have written on Mark’s attack on the powers that be, avoiding the post-Enlightenment confinement of ”religion” to the private sphere when it was embedded in ethnic/cultural identities and politics in antiquity and remembering that “apocalyptic” was a protest against the socio-political system from which one felt marginalized and saw the only solution in divine intervention to bring about a new social order (the kingdom of god, and not any generic “god” but the “god of Israel“). However, what of counter-texts – why does judgments focus more on the Temple and Jewish leadership rather than on Roman officials, what about the saying on taxes, does the passion white-wash Pilate (a trajectory continuing in other Gospels and culminates in the ugly charge of Deicide in Melito’s Peri Pascha)? Thus, I thank Eric (here, here) for calling my attention to Stephen Moore, Empire and Apocalypse: Postcolonialism and the New Testament (Sheffield: Phoenix, 2006). Especially valuable in his intro is highlighting the difference between ”post-colonial” vrs “postcolonial” (the latter doesn’t asume a clean chronological or ideological break from the colonial past and complex relations of domination/submission even after official European decolonization) and how postcolonial criticism outside the discipline of biblical studies is often akin to poststructuralist or deconstructive readings (e.g., Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, Homi Bhabha) that highlight how texts produced under and negotiating with a colonizing culture reflect internal tensions, ambivalences, contradictions that may not be consciously recognized by an author. Recognizing ambiguity in literature of the colonized, Moore carves a path between Horsley’s liberating reading and Tat-siong Benny Liew’s counter that Mark uses colonial mimicry to replicate imperial ideology, and compares the many works of biblical scholars on Empire and those fluent on the theoretical side.
In his chapter on Legion (pp. 24-44), he notes numerous scholars who concede Roman occupation as background (25, n. 2), writing, ”With the emergence of a newly sharpened focus on ‘empire’ within New Testament studies, moreover, a focus enabled, on occassion at least, by the conceptual tools and critical vocabulary of extra-biblical postcolonial studies… we do have, pace Gundry, compelling reasons for hearing in Mk 5.9 a dual reference to demonic possession and colonial occupation” (25-26). He finds license for allegory in Mark’s parable theory (cf. 4:13-20) and contemporary postcolonial literatures where individual colonial subjects stand for the histories & destinies of colonized peoples (27). Applying an allegorical lens, he notes the root of Gerasa as grs means to ‘banish’ or ’drive out’ or ‘cast out’, the man speaks “in” (en) an unclean spirit which signifies his submergence in the possessing power and self-alienization as he internalizes the discourse of the colonizer, his self-injury reflects how armed resistance only leads to self-destruction, and echoes of the Exodus (28-29). This applies to other exorcisms (e.g. 3:22-30 plundering the ‘strong man’ as the downfall of Satan’s empire) (27). The collaborating local elites are exorcised in the “temple cleansing” and judgment comes on Temple (cf. cursing fig tree) and Israel’s tenants (29-30). However, while Jesus’ parousia (coming) spells an end for any other basileia (kingdom), he argues Mark’s representation of empire can’t be read straightforwardly anti-imperial without room for complexities, ambivalence and incoherence (cf. Bhabha on inherent instabilities of discourse & representation) (31). Is Pilate a benign but importent official or a consummate manipulator who shifts blame onto the crowd; does the centurion truly see Jesus’ divine sonship or is this a sarcastic “confession” alongside other insults; does “Give to Caesar” support the imperial right to collect tax or a coded message to those who share Israel’s covenant theology that everything belongs to God and nothing to Caesar (cf. Horsley)? (32-33). The parousia seems more to gather the elect (13:27) than a punitive strike on Romans or even the Judaean leadership (his interpretation is thus milder than Lieu, contrast Revelation’s vivid description of the destruction of “Bablyon”) as only the disciples hear threats of divine judgment [8:38; 9:42-49]) and invective seems reserved for local elites who mediate on behalf of Rome (Rome’s divide-and-rule strategy) and in 13:1-2 Rome acts as the instrument of judgment (cf. Jos, War 5.395) (35). Yet Mark is not politically quietist (26, n. 25 notes Mark’s aphorism on taxes is more open to different readings than Rom 13:1-7 or 1 Pet 2:13-17) – Mark does not enjoin respect for authorities (political or religious) as they are persecutors, advised his followers to not aspire to power/wealth but follow the model of a child/servant or relentlessly undermines the authority of the Twelve (36-37). Jesus himself is the only true authority but Mark does not simply replicate imperial structures. Rather, using Spivak’s concept of catachresis (denotes ‘misuse’ or ‘misapplication’) which is the way the colonized strategically appropriate and redeploy specific elements of colonial or imperial culture/ideology (37), Mark’s kingdom is presently concealed and of lowly origin (made up of servants, children, the deformed who cut off a hand or gouge out an eye, not the wealthy or powerful like “the Gentiles”) and even in its future appearance in power Jesus is evasive about what it will look like (he avoids reward theology inherent in the request to seat at his right and left, the community itself is the reward in 10:29-30 with the “age to come” as an afterthought) (38-40). Thus, Mark turns Greco-Roman values upside-down, yet the question must still be asked whether Mark’s radical ethics is negated by his apocalypticism (Jesus return in power and glory). In the end he concludes that Mark cannot quite let go of the dream for empire (albeit an eschatological one), but this vision is deconstructed by the bracketing of the parousia (ch. 13) with the story of two women who give extravagently (the women who donates her last two coins to the Temple and the woman who annoints Jesus) and, relying on Derrida’s concept of the Gift that cannot be reciprocated, argues that this undercuts the model of economic exchange (e.g., patronage and clients) that enables empires to function (43-44). I think I need to be a little more conversant in Theory to respond to some points more adequately (e.g., Spivak, Derrida) and I do have some critical questions (if Mark is pre-70 might it be the eschatological judgment on the Temple rather than Rome as God’s agent, I grant Mark is much more reticent that Revelation to explicitly speak of judgement on the Romans but does the drowning of the swine hint that the possessing power will meet the same fate as the priestly leadership and Temple, is the widow who gives her coins really an exemplary figure or just a lament of the temple’s robbery and reason for its divine judgment [Moore seems to resist this reading because Rome's response to the Jewish War caused great suffering and starvation for many a poor widow in Israel, but again what if the instrument of judgment was meant to not be Rome but God or the Son of Man at the eschaton?]) but all in all I found pretty convincing on the ambivalence of Mark as he both resists and re-inscribes imperialism.
Here is a good summary of the crucifixion narrative as parodying the imperial triumph (and of course scholars such as Brian Incigneri, Ivan Head and Adam Winn would put this in the context of Vespasian’s triumphal return to Rome to be acclaimed as emperor if you accept their arguments for a post-70 CE date):
The Praetorians gather early in the morning to proclaim the triumphator. He is dressed in the triumphal garb, and a crown of laurel is placed on his head. The soldiers then shout in acclamation of his Lordship and perform acts of homage to him. They accompany him from the camp through the streets of the city. The sacrificial victim is there in the procession, and alongside walks the official carrying the implement of his coming death. The procession ascends finally to the Place of the (Death’s) Head, where the sacrifice is to take place. The triumphator is offered the ceremonial wine. He does not drink it, but it is poured out on the altar at the moment of sacrifice. Then, at the moment of being lifted up before the people, at the moment of the sacrifice, again the triumphator is acclaimed as Lord, and his vice-regents appear with him in confirmation of his glory. Following the lead of the soldiers, the people together with their leaders and the vice-regents themselves join in the acclamation. The epiphany is confirmed in portents by the gods: ‘Truly this man is the Son of God!’
- T.E. Schmidt, “Mark 15:16-32: The Crucifixion Narrative and the Roman Triumphal Procession” NTS 41 (1995): 1-18, 16. I learned of this article through reading Michael Bird, “Mark: Interpreter of Peter and Disciple of Paul” in Paul and the Gospels (ed. Michael F. Bird and Joel Willitts; London & New York: T&T Clark International, 2011), 41-42.