My SBL Paper for the Annual Meeting in Atlanta

March 31, 2015

I received an email that my paper “Adoptionist Interpretations of Mark’s Gospel among Ancient and Modern Readers” has been accepted for the Mark Section at the SBL annual meeting in Atlanta. The topic of the session is about whether the Gospel of Mark portrays Jesus entirely within a human plane (e.g., Jewish prophet, Messiah) or on a cosmic one as well. I will have to wait for the program book to come out to refresh my memory of what I exactly wrote in my abstract as I misplaced it, but I can outline where I plan on going with it.

First, while advocates of an “early high Christology” correct some of the errors of past scholarship on the slow evolutionary development of Christological thinking, I may criticize some of them for assuming there was a single monolithic high Christology among all early Christ followers. For instance, I am open to the remarkably early pre-existent incarnational Christology or the quick eruption of Christ devotion in some of the texts, but we should not force every text such as Mark’s Gospel into this mold. I would also make the theological aside that the fact that different Christological conceptions were reached at different times among different Christ congregations, or that it took a great deal of time and intellectual effort to reach the majestic formulation in the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed, does not dispute the theological validity of those confessional claims.

Second, I would argue that Mark’s Gospel represents Jesus as elected/anointed for his messianic office as the Davidic king and Deity’s son at the baptism and installed on his throne after the resurrection. Likewise, Michael Peppard has made the case about how Mark’s claims rivals those of the Roman emperor, with imperial power often transferred through legal adoption. I do not see anything in Mark’s Gospel going beyond the concept of divine agency in the Second Temple period. I will also challenge other interpreters who spot pre-existence or theophanies in texts such as the “I have come” sayings, the Sea/feeding miracles or the transfiguration.

Third, I will follow the lines of my book The Gospel on the Margins (cf. my article at Bible & Interpretation) and suggest that this “adoptionist” Christology was later re-read in support of a “possessionist” or “separationist” Christology in the second century. That is, some groups argued that the divine Christ possessed the human Jesus at the baptism and left him at the cross and interpreted Mark in this fashion (cf. Irenaeus, Against Heresies 3.11.7). The redactional changes to Mark by Matthew and Luke made the latter two Gospels less susceptible to such a reading and some scribal changes to Mark may be explicable as an attempt to correct such a theology.

Now, the only question will be how far in advance I will write this paper.  I will try to not leave it to the last minute and scramble typing it on the plane 🙂

Blog reviews on my book

March 30, 2015

I plan to share the links of any bloggers who take the time to interact with my book The Gospel on the Margins: the Reception of Mark in the Second Century and hope to continue the dialogue over at my blog.  I just noticed that Neil Godfrey has offered his summary and reflections on the book in his post “Why is the Gospel of Mark in the New Testament.”  I left a comment over at his blog to clarify a few of my positions in interaction with his kind review.

  • I lean towards the majority view that Mark’s Gospel is our earliest extant Jewish biography of Jesus (ca. 65-75 CE), though I noted David Aune’s contention that there may be some parodic inversion of the values of elite Graeco-Roman biographies, and that its narrative served as the source for the Gospels of Matthew and Luke.  I covered a range of views in my genre post.
  • Against those who see Papias unfavourably contrasting Mark’s Gospel with the Gospels of Luke (Martin) or John (Hengel, Bauckham, etc), I argue that Papias compared Mark’s rhetorical or literary arrangement (taxis, order) to Matthew’s carefully arranged account with its complete narrative of the subject and five orderly discourses (cf. Eccl. Hist. 3.39.15-16).  Clement of Alexandria’s observation about Mark as rough “notes” may fit here (cf. Hist. Eccl. 2.15.2) and most Church Fathers privileged Matthew over Mark.
  • Neil summarized my case about how certain groups read Mark in a way that centrist Christian writers judged heretical, such as claiming that the divine Christ possessed the human Jesus at the baptism, that Simon of Cyrene was crucified instead of Jesus or that Jesus imparted hidden gnosis (knowledge) in the form of a “mystery” to his disciples. Irenaeus is my major source for these examples.  On the last point, I could bring in Clement’s Letter to Theodore as corroborating evidence about how Mark’s Gospel was being read by some Alexandrian Christians in the second century, but I tried to largely bracket this text to an appendix since I recognize its “authenticity” is still hotly debated in the guild and would point out that Irenaeus already told us how the Carpocratians understood the “mystery” Jesus taught in Against Heresies 1.25.5.

I also appreciate that Daniel Gullotta included my book in his interview and I second his answer about whether Mark was a “Gnostic Gospel”:  it is not a “Gnostic” text in that there is absolutely no identification of the Creator God of the Jewish Scriptures with the ignorant or fallen demiurge and Mark is adamant that Jesus came to die a vicarious death on behalf of others, but some “Gnostics” may have found an adoptionist reading of Mark’s baptism scene or the theme of secrecy (e.g., Jesus teaching a “mystery” to an inner circle of followers in private) conducive to their theological views.  My thanks to both bloggers who shared their thoughts on the book and I look forward to further blog conversations about the book.

*Update: since I mentioned that I “hope to continue the dialogue”, I thought I should re-enable comments whenever I interact with other bloggers reviews to let them or anyone else respond.