Since James Crossley, Jim West and James McGrath have already mentioned the new edition of Relegere, I want to add that my review of The African Memory of Mark is also published in it. Overall I greatly appreciated how it introduces readers to the fascinating developments about the evangelist “Mark” as the first bishop of Alexandria and martyr, though I lay out my case for why I believe the author could be more critical with the later sources and why I am not persuaded about a historical core behind these traditions. I am grateful to Relegere and my friend Deane Galbraith for letting me have the opportunity to review such an interesting book, so let me know what you think of the review.
In the last post I noted that Theodore Weeden’s famous monograph on Mark argued that Mark corrected a “divine man” (theios aner) Christology with emphasis in the second half on the Passion story and a Christology of suffering and power in weakness. Other scholars such as Joseph Tyson (The Blindness of the Disciples in Mark), John Dominic Crossan (“Mark and the Relatives of Jesus“), Werner H. Kelber (The Kingdom in Mark: A New Place and a New Time) or William Telford (The Theology of Mark) see Mark as setting out to correct or polemicizing against some aspect of the Jerusalem Church – its alleged nationalistic Davidic messianism, its setting up some sort of family dynasty and hierarchy of the Twelve, its exclusion of Gentiles, its false view of eschatology, etc. One more item to call attention to is that one can get in the entirety on Google Norman Perrin’s article “The Christology of Mark: A Study in Methodology,” 125-140 in William R. Telford, The Interpretation of Mark (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1995). Perrin was one of the early premier redaction critics and his classic view is that Mark reinterpreted “Christ” and “Son of God,” titles already familiar expressions of devotion to his readership to establish rapport with them, in light of his own special Son of Man Christology. Perrin saw both the Caesarea Philippi and trial scene as redactional. In both scenes Jesus is identified by others as “Christ” or “Son of the Blessed”, but he redefines the roles with his own terminology of the Son of Man who must suffer or who will sit at the right hand of Power. While there are traditional Son of Man sayings that show up in multiple gospel traditions (e.g., apocalyptic Son of Man), according to Perrin Mark redactionally adds sayings about the Son of Man’s present authority (to forgive sins, to be Lord of the Sabbath) and explicit death & resurrection (3 passion predictions).
Undoubtedly Mark has an interest in the title Son of Man and his present task of suffering and future vindication, but this should not be pitted against other titles such as “Son of God” which JD Kingsbury (The Christology of Mark’s Gospel) among others has shown as crucial to Mark’s Gospel. After all, Jesus’ divine sonship is proclaimed at the baptism and transfiguration by no less an authority than God, someone who Mark surely saw as a reliable character. But this leads to the question of how much Mark should be seen as “corrective” of other Christologies. Do we have the evidence that James or Cephas and the Twelve (or other hypothetical opponents) held Jesus as a semi-divine wonder-worker or a Davidic king with a family dynasty that was exclusively for Israel and did not attempt to deal with the startling fact of the crucifixion? Mark seems to equally emphasize Jesus’ power – he is the authoritative interpreter of Torah, he has power over the demonic realm/disease/nature, he is enthroned as Lord and will return as the powerful Son of Man to establish a kingdom every bit as political and territorial-focussed as more traditional expectations (e.g., his followers inherit the vineyard or Israel). Perhaps Mark should less be read polemically against a specific deviant theological view, but rather as 1) trying to reconcile two paradoxical views of a messianic figure (with no noticeably pre-Christian view of a suffering one among the diversity of messianic expectation) with the reality of the crucifixion of Jesus and 2) “correcting” a natural human desire for the power and the glory now (perhaps with some polemic against the Twelve as representing this desire?) with the counter-cultural call to deny oneself and take up the cross in the present to follow Jesus’ footsteps. What do you think – to what extent is Mark a “corrective” christology?
In the reviews of Gathercole, Johannson and Peppard we have been looking at those who set Mark’s christology primarily against a Jewish (e.g., eschatological agents, intermediary or angelic figures, theophanies of Yahweh) or Roman (e.g., the imperial cult) background. A mark of some older scholarship on Mark was to see the Gospels’ portrait of Jesus as fitting into a common type known as a “divine man” (theios aner), a semi-divine figure such as an apotheosized hero or leader, charismatic magician or renowned sage, in Hellenistic literature (including Jewish literature more influenced by Hellenism such as Jewish historiographers or Philo on Moses). So Mark’s emphasis on Jesus’ supernatural feats especially in the first half of the Gospel was either seen as promoting an image of Jesus as a “divine man” (cf. Rudolf Bultmann, Theology of the New Testament; more recently William Telford, The Theology of the Gospel of Mark) or to combat such a theology with an emphasis on the suffering and weakness of the cross (cf. Theodore Weeden, Mark: Traditions in Conflict). While I think JZ Smith (Drudgery Divine: On the Comparison of Early Christianities and the Religions of Late Antiquity) and others fairly critique scholars who exclusively search for a Jewish background that has not been contaminated by the wider Greco-Roman world as seeking a “pure” geneology for “Christianity” (but also one in which it supersedes) and therefore I am all for searching for cross-cultural parallels (whether similarities between Gospel chriae or miracle stories or other rhetorical devices to the Hellenistic world or Peppard’s useful contributions on the importance of the imperial cult), the category of a theois aner has really gone out of use in a lot of recent Gospel scholarship. The reason is that this was seen as a scholarly construct and an abstraction that tried to catch so much disparate data that it really was not of analytical use to describe why Mark or the other evangelists narrate the story of Jesus the way they do. To see some works that have led to the decline of the use of the category theios aner, see:
Carl Holladay, Theios Aner in Hellenistic Judaism: A Critique of the Use of This Category in New Testament Christology. SBLDS 40; Missoula: Scholars Press, 1977.
B. Blackburn, Theios Aner and the Markan Miracle Traditions: A Critique of the Theios Anēr Concept as an Interpretative Background of the Miracle Traditions Used by Mark. WUNT 2.40; Tubingen: Mohr, 1991.
David L. Tiede, The Charismatic Figure as Miracle Worker. SBL Dissertation Series 1;, Missoula, Mont: SBL, 1972.
J.D. Kingsbury, “The ‘Divine Man’ as the Key to Mark’s Christology: The End of an Era?” Interpretation 35 (1981): 243-57
Walter L. Liefield, “The Hellenistic ‘Divine Man’ and the Figure of Jesus in the Gospels” JETS
The last two posts presented diametrically opposite positions that Mark either presents a pre-existence or a adoptionist Christology. In this post I will look at another work that argues for a high christology in Mark via a classic route, namely the Christological titles, in this case kyrios (master, lord). I will review Daniel Johansson’s “Kyrios in the Gospel of Mark” JSNT 33 (2010): 101-124 (for reviews of his work on Jesus forgiving the paralytic’s sins see here, here and here).
He opens with the observation that Mark’s use of kyrios has been little explored (101). An exception is Edwin Broadhead, who sees Yahweh as exclusively kyrios and the Messiah as only the kyrios-designate who rules in the future (12:35-7; 13:35; 14:61-2), but Johannson argues the line between God and Jesus is less clear-cut and Broadhead overlooks 1:3 (102). Instead, his thesis is that Jesus is linked to Yahweh as both share the identity of kyrios (102-3). Starting with 1:3 (103-5 ; see also my post for details), he navigates between scholars who exclusively identify Jesus or God as kyrios (disagrees also with J. Marcus’ attempt to mediate that v. 2 refers to Jesus ["your way"] and v. 3 to God ["way of the Lord... his paths"] but also links them together). The change from 2nd to 3rd person is due to v. 2 speaking directly to the Lord while v. 3 the messenger speaking about the Lord, but since Isaiah pointed to God and Mk 1:9 to Jesus kyrios should be understood to include both (104-5). Turning to 5:19-20 (105-6), 5:19 tells the liberated Gerasene demoniac to tell what ho kyrios (the Lord) has done for him but in 5:20 he speaks of Jesus. A majority of scholars take 5:19 as a reference to God and a few to Jesus (Telford argues Mark reserves the anarthrous kryios for God but Mark may not be so consistent with the definite article, while the reference to “mercy” and the parallel in Lk 8:39 and the reading in MS D suggest “God” as the referent), but it is deliberately ambiguous and the meaning may be that Jesus identifies his work with Yahweh’s work (v. 19) but v. 20 unites both Jesus and Yahweh under the designation kyrios (106). The reference to ho kyrios in 11:3 is the most ambiguous as either Jesus exercises his Lordly prerogative over the colt or the colt is requested in the service of the Lord (i.e. God) as its true owner and the latter option would move the referent from God in 11:3 to Jesus in 11:7 (107-8). Most take 13:20 as a straightforward reference to God, but 13:19 already had ho theos (God) as the subject so it seems redundant to name him again and “the elect” belong to the Son of Man in 13:27 so again there is ambiguity about who is kyrios (108-9). 12:9 and 13:35 has ho kyrios of the vineyard and the house (the parables are also linked by the verb apodēmeō and cognate noun apodēmos and similar themes); the OT background suggests God (e.g., as owner of the vineyard or Israel) while in Mark where Jesus appoints the Twelve (leaders of a renewed Israel) and has the coming Son of Man the reference is not so clear (109-11). In 2:28 Jesus is understood as the kyrios of the Sabbath since it is unlikely all humankind takes on Yahweh’s role as Lord of the Sabbath (the conjunction hōste links not to 2:27 alone but the entire pericope) and the previous titular use of ho huios tou anthropou (the Son of Man) in 2:10 also has him exercising a divine function (112). The Syrophoenician who falls to her knees in reverence and addresses Jesus in the vocative kurie (Lord) may only mean “sir” but Mark’s readers who address the Lord in worship may see a deeper meaning (cf. the centurion who confesses Jesus’ divine sonship) (113). 11:9 is not read traditionally where “in the name of the Lord” modifies “the coming one” (i.e. Jesus comes in the name of the Lord) but “blessed” (i.e., blessed in the name of the Lord upon Jesus); the crowd blesses Jesus in the name of the Lord (see the parallel blessing on the coming kingdom in v. 10) but Mark sees a deeper meaning with Jesus sharing God’s name, supported by Jesus’ speaking of behalf of God in his scriptural citation in the temple and the intertextual link with Mal 3:1 where Yahweh (and the Angel who bears his name) come to the temple (114-5). This is further supported by the divine imagery where Jesus “comes” (erchomai) in (en) the glory/name/clouds (8:38; 11:9; 13:26) and there is precendent for Jesus being granted the divine name in the Philippians hymn (115). Finally, with regards to 12:35-37 (116-9), Johannson makes 3 points: the emphasis is on what David calls the Messiah, David’s declaration has divine authorization (ie. spoken by the Spirit) and David calls both God and the Messiah kyrios (the second kyrios is anarthrous) (116-7) and adds that both figures share the divine throne (117-8). What we have is a tension between the one kyrios of the Shema (Deut 6:4; cf. Mk 12:32) and the two kurioi of Psalm 110, reinterpreting the monotheism of the former in light of the second Lord included in the divine identity (cf. 1 Cor 8:6) (116, 118-9).
Mk 1:2-3 seems to me to possibly be the strongest evidence in support of his argument, though if the evangelist intended it to be read in this light it is a pity (s)he did not develop the christological implications more explicitly. Other passages seem to me less secure – does he read too much ambiguity into passages where kyrios seems to be a straightforwardly God (i.e., 13:20), does the Syrophoenician implore Jesus as “master” (recognizing Jesus’ socially superior status in the cultural context or else recognizing him as God’s appointed agent with the power to heal), in what way does Jesus perform a divine function or in any way transcend Torah in allowing his poor disciples to pluck grain on the Sabbath and if the Sabbath was given to humans rather than the reverse do they not have lordly authority over it (or alternatively that Jesus as the human representative par excellence, the Son of Man, has the authority to make a halakhic ruling on the Sabbath), does not Mk 12:35-37 serve more to distinguish the two kurioi? And depending on what one thinks of his reading of 11:19, does that suggest Mark has a binitarian christology or includes Jesus in the divine identity (cf. Hurtado, Bauckham) or ought we discuss other intermediary figures that are given the divine name (e.g., Yahoel)? What do you think of the strengths and weaknesses of his argument?
In the last post I looked at Gathercole’s case for a pre-existence christology in Mark and I am not sure it could be made much stronger than what he put forward (perhaps one may try to argue further that the intepretation of Dan 7 in the Similitude of Enoch’s pre-existent eschatological figure [1 Enoch 48:3; 62:7] influenced Mark’s Son of Man title?). Now I will look at a recent book advancing a strong case for the opposite view that Mark presents an adoptionist christology – Michael Peppard’s The Son of God in the Roman World: Divine Sonship in Its Social and Political Context (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2011) (blog reviews here, here, here). A few caveats: first, Peppard clearly distinguishes how adoption functions in Mark from adoptionist christologies of 2nd/3rd century Roman Christians such as Theodotus of Byzantium and followers or in 8th century Spain (94-95). Second, as a Catholic he follows the late Raymond Brown in distinguishing the historical-critical task from the theological one; theologically he has no problem with a growing retrospective understanding of Christ’s divine nature that took centuries to hammer out and does not intend his historical study to advocate an Arian theology (which would be anachronistic) or to critique or contribute to systematic theology at all (6-7). Rather his goal as stated in the introduction is to revive a metaphor (i.e. “son of God”) whose meaning in its original sociopolitical context has been forgotten (3, 8).
Ch 1 (9-30) is a review of scholarship examining the Nicene Approach (described as a Platonic approach that divides reality between the static world of Being & dynamic world of becoming with Christ in the former and locates Gathercole here) (10-12), Narrative Criticism (12-14), Religionsgeschichtliche Schule (Bousset, Hengel, Dunn, Hurtado on slow or rapid christological development) (14-26) and the cultural resonances approach (Crossan, Collins on Jewish/Roman backgrounds) (26-28). In Ch 2 (31-49), he differentiates an old and new perspective (cf. chart on p. 32, 32-35). The old viewed “divinity” through the lens of the “map” of elite textual philosophical sources (e.g., Cicero, De Natura Deorum, De Divinatione) with an absolute division of the material and divine world in their essences while the latter looks at the “territory” of archaeological and inscriptional data with anthropological/social-scientific/cultural/ritual-studies approaches and sees divinity on a gradient (I was suprised to find no reference to JZ Smith given the language of “map” & “territory”). Divinity is based on a status honoured due to the powerful benefactions the divinity is able to provide (35, 39). Likewise, the imperial cult was once seen as political manipulation imposed from the top but not taken all that seriously and the emperor only exalted to divinity upon death (distinction between deus and divus), whereasnow the material evidence shows that the cult was geographically widespread and locally initiated with worship of the living emperor and his genius and numen (no deus or divas distinction as both theos in Greek) (37-44). The title “son of god” originated from Caesar’s adoption of his nephew Octavian and, though he had other means of legitimation (e.g., traced his divine ancestry to Apollo) the Caesar connection was his preferred and most powerful weapon (46). The Julio-Claudian house had trouble propogating their royal line through natural, begotten sons and so also relied upon adoption and even Vespian who established the new Flavian dynastry could take “son of god” as an honorific title even if he was not begotten or adopted by them (47). Indeed, in the period emperors made such by either begetting or adoption was a more powerful means of legitimation than distant divine genealogies (47).
Ch 3 (50-85) explores the practice of adoption in Roman society (51-60) including in law & literature (52-57) and adoption procedures (57-60). The key is that adoption was not primarily for the sake of the child but for the Roman man to follow his duty to his ancestors and ensure the continuity of the familial gens, name, glory and cult and to pass on his inheritable goods to a suitable heir (52). Ideally it had no impact on the status of the natural born or adopted son (54). The empire was seen as a large family and starting with Augustus the emperor as the ultimate pater patriae (only Tiberius refused the title “father”) (60-67). The emperor replaced the fatherly role of Jupiter and the title father was not about procreation but sovereign rule and dependence of those under his charge and the imperial cult was the equivalent to making offerings to the tutelary spirit of the family line (gens) and honouring the patriarch’s genius (62-3). After discussing adoption in the transmission of power (67-70) and divine election (70-3), he focusses on the ideological tensions involved in propping up imperial power on the basis of either natural dynastic claims or adoptive meritocracy (73-85). So when Augustus’ grandsons passed away before they could take the mantle of rulership Augustus adopted Tiberius (75-8), tensions were created between the natural son Britannicus and adopted son Domitus (Nero) (78-80), or Galba (80-83) and Nerva (83-85) extoll the virtues of adoption according to their historiographers.
Ch 4 (86-131) starts with the question of how is Mark to narrate a son a God who has no partner (86). He defends a Roman provenance of Mark (87-90) despite that it is not necessary to his case given the spread of imperial ideology including in Palestine (91-93). The arguments are familiar (see my provenance), though a new one is he points to Clement’s Adumbrationes on 1 Peter 5:13 (preserved only in Latin by Cassiodorus, 6th century founder of monastery & library at Vivarium, Italy) as suggesting an imperial context for Mark’s readership as it is addressed to men of the equestrian order (coram quibusdam Caesareanis equitibus) in close proximity to the imperial household (senior local magistrates, councillors, high priests of imperial cult) (90). Most of the chapter exegetes the baptism and can be found also here. He takes on commentators (Cranfield, France, Taylor, Lane, Schweitzer) who deny an adoption should be read into the baptism (96-7). Basically he begins with the Jeiwh background (95-106), noting the intertextual echoes of Ps 2:7 and Isa 42:9 are not as transparent as some exegetes make out (e.g., “you are my son” is common Greek and lacks rest of Ps 2:7, no verbal correspondences with Isa passage) (95-6), a discussion of adoption in biblical literature (Moses, Esther, Ruth’s son for Naomi) and in rabbinic discussions and documentary/epigraphic evidence (98-103) and divine adoption from the deity’s adoption of Israel (103) to the Essenes as a kinship group who left their biological mother for their adoptive parent God (Josephus, B.J. 2.123; 2.120; Pliny, Nat. 5.73; 1QH 17.29-36) (103-5) to the Davidic king (2 Sam 7:5-17; Ps 89:19-27; 2:7) (105-6). He concludes there is a Jewish precedent for adoption but not quite as Mark envisioned (106). As for Roman practice & ideology (106-31), first he examines the eudok-root (cf. Mk 1:7 – eudokēsa) in the LXX (most often “pleased to choose”) (107-8), Greco-Roman (can also take on meanings to be satisfied, to approve, consent; one example in an adoption contract) (108-9) and NT (choose, elect, decree, cf. Col 11:19) (109-11) and noun eudokia (linked to divine will; cf. Eph 1:5) (111-2) to show its link to adoption. The spirit in the OT enables prophecy/physical strength/charismatic authority, annoints kings and is on God’s servant (cf. Isa 61:1-2) and poured out on all humankind (cf. Joel 2:28-29) but none matches the role in Mark (enables healing or speaking at trial, creates new family) (112-3) and the descent like a dove has no obvious link to Gen 1:2(115). Instead the spirit is like the Roman genius as the unseen power that is an object of worship and unifies/perpetuates the family gens and the tutelary spirit that guards them and like the numen which is the personified expressed will of the divine being (cf. cult honouring the genius Augusti and numen Augusti) (113-4). Bird omens were important in Roman culture and especially at the change of imperial power (cf. Seutonius) (116-8) and the Eagle (a symbol of Roman power – Josephus, A.J. 17.155; B.J. 3.122-24; 4 Ezra 13-14) was often naturally contrasted with the dove (cf. Ovid Metamorphoses 1.504-7; Horace Carm. 4.4.29-32; dove as positive symbol in Jewish/Christian texts in Liber antiquitatum biblicarum 39.5; Letter of Aristeas 144-48; John Chrysostom, Hom. on Matt 12:3) (118-20). He points to Eusebius H.E. 6.29 and Protoevangelium of James 8:1-9:1 to show the descent of the dove in annointing as evidence of a similar idea in the reception history of the Baptism (122-3). Thus Jesus is a counter-emperor, the adopted heir to power, and rules in the spirit of the gentle dove (123), which can be described as “colonial mimicry” of imperial propaganda (124). Finally, he traces adoption christology through Mark (124-31), arguing that Jesus’ divine adoption makes irrelevant prior genealogies (124), Davidic ancestry (Mk 12:35-37) (125) or human father (the absence of Joseph especially glaring in Mk 6:3 compared to its Synoptic parallels, the rewards of a new kinship network in 10:30 does not include fathers) (126-8), defends Jesus’ authority from John’s baptism and sonship from his heavenly pater (Mk 11:30ff.) (125), puts Jesus under the sovereign authority of his Abba (129), places the transfiguration at the location where Herod’s son Philip set up a temple for Augustus (Caesarea Philippi) (130) and has a centurion representing the Roman army in acclaiming Jesus’ divine sonship (130-1).
The last chapter (132-171) takes a tour up to Nicea. Brown’s model (cf. Dunn) of christological development from parousia to resurrection, baptism, virgin birth and pre-existence may need to be more messy and some authors juxtapose different christological moments (Luke-Acts) (133-5). Paul has Gentile Christians as adopted sons of god (Gal 3:23-4:7; Rom 8:12-25) with Jesus adopted at the resurrection (Rom 1:4; 1 Cor 15:20-28) and the firstborn (Rom 8:29) (135-40). John emphasizes the begotten status of both Christ and those “born again” (140-45). Ultimately in NT the baptism is a crucial moment in divine sonship (146). In the 2nd cent (146-60), he is first reserved about describing the Ebionites as “adoptionist” for it fits better in Rome (Theodotians) (147). The Shepherd of Hermas has a “exaltationist” Christology with its parable of the “slave” (Christ) who becomes a co-heir and “exemplarist” Christology where all flesh in which the spirit dwells and live blameless can have a similar fate (148-52). Clement of Alexandria mostly uses procreative metaphors but also freely mixed begetting and adoption metaphors in speaking about different levels of Christian advancement with Christ’s baptism as an exemplar of adoptive divine sonship (Paed. 1.6.26) (152-5). Despite opposing adoptionist christologies and his views of the Incarnation as necessary for human divinization, Irenaeus also mixes metaphors when he describes the Christian inheritance using adoption/household metaphors (against Marcion) (4.8.1; 4.25.3; 5.32.2), the new begetting and adoption of Christians into a new generatio (4.33.4), the Father, Son and those who have received adoption as the “gods” of Ps 82:1 (3.6.1; cf. 4 praef. 4) and Christ’s divine sonship as uniting him with Christians (3.18.7; cf. 3.20.2) (155-60). A change occurs when Origen no longer mixes metaphors for Christ as the Son is begotten by nature (analogies of “light from light,” divine wisdom) and not adopted; he still uses begetting and adoption interchangeably for Christians when exegeting John but not Paul (160-62). Finally, before Nicea Christians were influenced by Middle/Neo-Platonism but the Arian controversy forced the question of when in time the Son was begotten; this led to the formula “begotten not made” and Christ’s son-ness (Being) as distinct from our adopted sonship (Becoming) (162-4). The triumph of Nicene orthodoxy was in a climate when natural begotten sonship was seen as more legitimate against adopted sonship (165-71), though in his conclusion he shows how difficult it was to keep these metaphors entirely separate in a homily of John Chrysostom on the Baptism.
Okay, this is an excellent book on the Roman imperial background (though I favour the Syria-Palestine provenance or leave it unknown) and I find parallels between Mark’s son of god with the emperor and Mark’s colonial mimicry fairly persuasive, though I am not quite as convinced by all of his readings of Pauline or Johannine texts (I would like more discussion of some potential pre-existence passages and wonder if some texts such as Rom 1:4 are creedal fragments that Paul accepts but has moved beyond in his christological formulations). What do you think of the strengths and weaknesses of the argument?
For many scholars Mark, indeed all the Synoptics, lack an explicit teaching on Christ’s pre-existence that we encounter in the Philippians hymn (Phil 2:6-11) or John’s theologically profound prologue on the Logos. However, one scholar to challenge the consensus is Simon J. Gathercole in The Pre-existent Son: Recovering the Christologies of Matthew, Mark, and Luke (Grand Rapids and Cambridge: Eerdmans, 2006). If you haven’t read it, you can listen to an audio-recording (part 1, part 2, part 3; HT Nick Norelli and Daniel James Levy), consult the RBL reviews with a highly critical one by James Dunn or the positive one by Frank J. Matera and see how various bloggers have interacted with him here, here, here, here, here. There is also criticism in Adela & John Collins, King and Messiah as Son of God. My focus will not be on the book as a whole but mainly the parts that pertain to Mark and my notes will be a summary of its contents. In future posts I will summarize books/articles with a very different take on Mark’s Christology but will probably leave my own thoughts or critique to the end of the series.
After an introductory review of scholarship (pp. 1-20) and a chapter arguing a pre-existence christology was widespread before 70 CE in passages such as Phil 2:6-8; 2 Cor 8:9; 1 Cor 15:47; Rom 10:6; 1 Cor 8:6; Col 1:16; Gal 4:4; Rom 8:3; 1 Cor 10:4-5; Heb 1-2 (if one accepts a pre-70 date); Jude 1:5 (depending on the text-critical solution) (23-43), he moves to discuss examples of the heavenly transcendence of Christ in the Synoptics (46-79). So for Markan examples (i.e. excluding the Matthean/Lukan redaction such as “Emmanuel” or Luke’s revised call narrative of Peter)
- Jesus stands above the Twelve who symbolize Israel (55-56) and angels (Mk 13:37) (56).
- Forgives sins, which is not something priest or prophet could pronounce, nor is it a divine passive for the passage goes on to emphasize that the Son of Man “can” and “has authority” to forgive and one should not read too much into “on earth” as God also acts on earth (57-58).
- Accused of blasphemy for forgiving sins and at the trial for his claim to the heavenly throne (cf. b. Sanhedrin 38b) (59-61).
- Sea miracles as divine acts (Ps 107 [Ps 106 LXX]; Job 9:8 LXX; cf. ego eimi in Mk 6:50) (61-64)
- Jesus “Name” (Matt 28:20; 28:19) and use of ego eimi (I am) (Mk 13:6 par; Matt 7:22; 12:12) (65-67)
- The recipient of obeisance/worship. There is little evidence in Mark though the Leper and rich man fall on their knees and Jairus at Jesus’ feet (Mk 1:40; 10:17; 5:22) (69-70)
- Supernatural knowledge into people’s thoughts (cf. Marcus, Mark 1-8, p. 222) (70-71)
- “Why do you call me good” seems to distance Jesus from God, but Jesus goes on to issue a command alongside the divine commandments and thus shares in the divine goodness (74)
These passages may imply a transcendent status for Jesus, but the heart of his case is part two on the “I have come” sayings (p. 84 lists 10 sayings: Mk 1:24 [par Lk 4:34]; Matt 18:29; Mk 1:38 [Lk 4:33]; Mk 2:7 [par Matt 9:13/Lk 5:32]; Matt 5:17; Lk 12:49; Matt 10:34/Lk 12:51; Matt 10:35; Mk 10:45 [par Matt 20:28]; Lk 19:10; p. 86 on Nag Hammadi). These usually have “I have come” (ēlthon) (alternatively “the Son of Man,” “you”) + purpose clause in the infinitive (exception Mk 1:38). He excludes 3 sayings - in Matt 11:19a/Lk 7:34 the emphasis is not on “came” but on on the modus vivendi of Jesus and John and has no infinitive of purpose (88-9); Lk 9:55 has text-critical issues (89-90) and Mk 1:45 probably a reference to the Leper (90-91). Although he sees an initial plausibility to the pre-existence option as it implies a “coming” from somewhere (86-87), ch. 4 (92-111) disputes all the “false perspectives” on the formula:
- Hellenistic prophets (cf. Bultmann) with the parallel of Vespasian in Josephus War 3.400 (but Josephus is speaking about one episode in Vespasian’s life rather than his whole life and ministry [p. 96]) and Origen Against Celsus 7.9 (but Celsus is parodying Christian claims and his prophets claim to be divine [p. 96-98]) (95-99)
- Aramaic idiom for “I am here”, “I will”, “it is my task” (Jeremias), but its problems have been exposed elsewhere and it should not be imported to Greek Gospels (99-100)
- … from Nazareth. This may only be possible for a few of Mark’s sayings but is still questionable (e.g., Mk 1:38 is hardly Jesus’ movement out of obscurity if he is just sticking to small villages but rather his purpose in coming to minister).
- Prophetic commission (cf. 1 Sam 16:1-5). But others “come” out to offer the sacrifice and the emphasis is on David who comes out to be annointed (103-4). The other example is Pesikta Rabbati 20, but it does not emphasize Moses’ prophetic status but the unique function of his ascent to heaven to receive Torah.
- The Messiah (cf. Isa 61; the Baptist’s “coming one”). But the formula does not emphasize the coming per see (i.e. Jesus’ coming or presence as fulfilling prophecy) but rather the goal of the coming and there is little specific messianic functions in the sayings (107-8)
- An epiphany (Dibelius). But “come” cannot be construed as some kind of technical term and proponents are too vague on what they mean by epiphanic (108-9)
- A leader’s boast. Gathercole sees this as a frivolous suggestion and one potential example (e.g. Julius Caesar’s veni, vidi, vici) is again a single episode rather than whole purpose (109-10)
The best parallel Gathercole can find is for angels (113-47), the heavenly Elijah (137-141) and God’s own coming (or the Angel of YHWH = a divine theophany) (141-45). They come from heaven with prior intent and sum up their mission with this formula and make up the best parallel to the sayings of the gospels that imply Jesus came from heaven (113-16). He also later notes that the early reception of these sayings took it in an incarnational sense (Heb 10:9; Jn 1:9; 3:19; 6:14; 16:28; 18:37) (174). Turning to the Synoptics (148-76), lets examine his exegesis of specific Markan sayings. He sees the “us” in Mk 1:24 as not just a reference to the name “Legion” or the plurality of demons residing in the man but to the whole demonic realm, the purpose of which Jesus’ came to destroy and the demons recognize his supernatural origin as the “holy one” (cf. Deut 32:3; Ps 89:6, 7; Dan 4:17; Zech 14:5) (152). Mk 1:38 is not just a local task (e.g. 1:9 from Nazareth, 1:34 from a house) but his whole purpose of proclaiming the kingdom for which he was sent (cf. Lk 4:43) and coming forth implies from somewhere (147). A local sense is unlikely in 2:17 where his mission is to save sinners (158). Mk 10:46 sums up Jesus’ entire “first” coming and carries the implication that Jesus did not exercise his right to be served, a right no mere prophet could assume (167-68). He does note that the parable of the tenants both the servants (i.e. prophets) and the son are sent by the tenant owner, but he argues that Mark already revealed Jesus’ heavenly identity as son in the baptism and transfiguration and so readers would bring heavenly resonances to the sending of the son which they would not for the commission of the prophets (188). Much of the rest deals primarily with Matthew (i.e. critiquing the identification of Jesus with divine wisdom, Christ’s presence in Israel’s history) or Luke (the Anatolē from on high); here are a few notes from his chapters on the traditional titles (Messiah, Lord, Son of God, Son of Man) as they pertain to Markan passages. Regarding the debate over whether the Christ is David’s son or his Lord in 12:35-37, he sees a critique of the idea that the Messiah was merely David’s son when his lineage was more exalted and the passage may even suggest that the Lord was addressing him in primeval time (cf. Hebrews interpretation of Ps 110 and the heavenly Melchizedek) (236-38). Along with 1:2-3, he entertains the option that the quoted scriptures are addressed to the Son from the Father outside of narrated time in eternity past or at least that 12:35-37 may hint at the Messiah’s pre-existence at the time of David, though he admits that this is inconclusive and may point to Jesus’ eschatological lordship (250-52). 5:19-20, like 1:2-3 and 2:28, present Jesus already as the exalted Lord and very closely identified with Yahweh (244). After covering some of the history of research on the Son of Man as a pre-existent heavenly being (254-58), he notes the fit with the expectation that the Son of Man ought to be served and from where he “came” in 10:45 (259). As for Son of God, this identity is recognized by supernatural agents and miraculously by the centurion (273). Son of God could just be a royal title but this Son of God shares in the divine holiness in the battle against evil (cf. Mk 1:24), causes demons to confess and bow down before him, is proclaimed as such by God on the mount of transfiguration with his shining clothes/appearance and accompaniment by heavenly figures (Moses, Elijah) suggesting he belongs to their world, is revealed to be of heaven origins (12:34-37), is above the angels (13:32) and is divinely sent (12:6) (276). There is more but that should give an idea of how Gathercole sees a transcendent, pre-existent Christ even in the pages in Mark, so let me know what you think are the strengths and weaknesses of his case.
In looking at the history and reception of some of the most controversial passages in Mark - the descent of the spirit and divine voice declaring Jesus’ sonship at the baptism, the question of whether the emphasis in Mark is on Jesus as a powerful theios aner (divine man), the refusal to accept the acclamation “good,” the accusation that Jesus usurped a divine prerogative in claiming to forgive sins, the ignorance of “the son” about the eschatological day or hour, the experience of Jesus being forsaken by God at the crucifixion – we have mostly been touching on Markan christology. In the next bunch of posts I plan to provide notes summarizing books/articles which have very different takes on Mark’s christology. I will by-and-large withhold my own opinions until concluding the series, but as always I invite readers comments and open debate in the comments section.