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?