Shively, Elizabeth E. Apocalyptic Imagination in the Gospel of Mark: The Literary and Theological Role of Mark 3:22- 30. BNZW 189. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 2012. 295 p. $140.00 Link.
Elizabeth Shively is a lecturer in New Testament at University of St Andrews. Her book Apocalyptic Imagination in the Gospel of Mark is a light revision of her 2009 Ph.D. Emory University dissertation written under the guidance of Luke Timothy Johnson.
The basic thesis of the study is that Mark 3:22-30 functions as a programmatic statement for the Gospel of Mark. Three short parables and logion are placed together in order to construct the symbolic world which shapes the Gospel of Mark on both a literary and theological level. Shively understands parables of the Kingdom / House Divided and the Strong Man as apocalyptic discourse which is used to answer the question of the source of Jesus’ authority to cast out demons, but also to interpret Jesus for a new community of believers who are suffering. For Shively, Mark 3:22-30 is “cluster of apocalyptic topoi” that Mark expands to “reveal a word of cosmic conflict manifest in Jesus’ ministry” (p. 5).
Shively points out that most scholars who work on parables do not work with these three short sayings, despite the fact that Mark specifically calls them parables in 3:23. The reason for this is that most monographs on parables have defined the genre in a way which rules out these sayings. By taking this pericope as a programmatic statement for the gospel of Mark, Shively hopes to read Mark as a coherent, unified narrative within its own symbolic world. That world is “Jewish apocalyptic thought” as expressed in parabolic forms. By constructing this paragraph has he has, Mark is “describing Jesus’ ministry as ‘more than a rescue operation,’” Jesus is beginning the “reconstructive work of the Kingdom of God” (p. 82).
While the Gospel of Mark is obviously not apocalyptic in terms of genre, Mark is an “apocalyptic thinker.” Following Luke Timothy Johnson’s definition of symbolic worlds, she points out that symbols are “social structures in which people live” (p. 29). Clusters of symbols help people to understand the world and communicate that understanding to others who share these symbols. Like most modern scholars who work on symbols and metaphors, she stands on the foundation of Lakoff and Johnson Metaphors We Live By, applying their insights to the apocalyptic worldview of first century Judaism. Figurative language appears in this pericope to “stage a cosmic drama” (p.81).
Shively explains that apocalyptic symbols have two dimensions. There is a vertical dimension to this literate in which cosmic forces are involved in earth. This may take the form of angels and demons active in the world, for example. The horizontal dimension is a movement toward an imminent eschatological salvation. The righteous are undergoing persecution and look forward to God breaking into history to liberate them from their oppressors. This description of apocalyptic thinking is clear from texts that are considered apocalyptic by genre; Shively argues in this book that Mark reflects that thinking in his Gospel and uses it to shape his theological interpretation of Jesus’ ministry.
By way of method, Shively reads Mark 3:22-30 both “inner-textually” and intertextually. By inner-textually she means the “story world of Mark.” This means that she will pay attention to the Gospel of Mark as a whole, examining the rhetoric, plot, and characters of the book in order to trace the author’s interests. The second chapter of this book places this pericope in the overall context of the gospel by examining how it functions rhetorically at the beginning of the Gospel, and her fifth chapter examines the larger context of the Gospel, primarily the Gerasene Demoniac (5:1-20) and the apocalyptic speech (13:5-37).
By intertextual, she intends to read the Gospel of Mark in the light of textual traditions outside of the Gospel. Following on Richard Hays, she proposes to hear echoes of the Hebrew Bible in Mark 3:22-30. She acknowledges that intertextual elements do not only exist in quotes of allusions, but also in the form of metaphors and symbols in Jewish apocalyptic thought (p. 36). She says that “we cannot understand Mark’s intertextuality simply by looking at discrete OT citations and allusions” because Mark is “weaving citations, allusions and themes” in order to “awaken the reader’s memory” (261). (I made this point in my own dissertation on Jesus’s use of eschatological banquet traditions from the Hebrew Bible.) Since Mark wrote as an “apocalyptic thinker” he does not have to consciously cite a text from the Hebrew Bible. He may use a well-known metaphor from apocalyptic literature without having a specific text in mind. On the other hand, he may have a cluster of texts in mind rather than a single context.
I find this to be very helpful and interesting, but in practice there is not much which can be described as intertextual with respect to the Hebrew Bible in Mark 3:22-30. She does comment on the potential allusion to Isaiah 49:24-26 in Mark 3:27. Several commentaries have noticed this allusion, although there are only a few words shared by both texts. In LXX Isa 49:24 the strong one is a “giant” (γίγαντος), and he is captured (αἰχμαλωτεύω), not bound (δέω) and plundered (διαρπάζω) as in Mark 3:27. The word λαμβάνω is repeated in Isa 49:24-26 several times but does not appear in Mark 3:27. At best, this is an “echo” of Isa 49:24-26 and might be better described as an allusion to the tradition that the Lord is the ultimate Strong One who rescues his people from their enemies.
The key word in Mark 3:27 for Shively is ἰσχυρός. In Isa 49:26 it is the Lord who is the “strong one” who will end the exile for Judah by destroying the strong nations. In Mark 3:27, Jesus is stronger than the “strong man” (Satan) and is presently binding him in order to inaugurate the Kingdom. Mark “recontextualizes Israel’s captivity and rescue using apocalyptic topoi” (p. 74).
A second stage of the intertextual method in this book is a comparison to other Jewish apocalyptic literature. This is the subject of chapter 3. She begins by offering a brief orientation to seven apocalyptic texts she has chosen to compare to Mark 3: 1 Enoch, Jubilees, Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs, The War Scroll (1QM), Melchizedek (11QMelch), and Testament of Solomon. Shively then uses Daniel as a “template” for apocalyptic thinking and develops three themes from the book: persecution of the righteous, the activity of heavenly beings, and God’s protection through a future judgment. These three themes are key elements of apocalyptic thinking in Daniel and Shively demonstrates that they are found in each of the apocalyptic books chosen for comparison. This section is well-documented and the she makes the case that apocalyptic thinking from Daniel onward does in fact include these three areas.
I like how this chapter is designed, but I wonder if the results would differ if she had chosen another set of examples from Jewish apocalyptic literature. For example, she does not use her template on 4 Ezra or 2 Baruch, two books written after the fall of Jerusalem, perhaps only two decades after Mark was written. It is likely that the three elements of her template are present there, although the “coming judgment” may look different than Mark’s Kingdom of God. I am thinking specifically about 4 Ezra 9:22 where the “rescue” at the time of judgment concerns only a very tiny remnant which survives the final judgment. By broadening the database, perhaps the template would look different.
When she applies her observations to Mark 3:22-30, Shively finds that there is a “shared symbolic world” (p. 147-52). In Jesus’ ministry there is a persecution (by the human scribes or the demons), and Jesus is actively opposing these demonic forces by casting them out. Finally, he announces that the strong man has been bound and that those who oppose him will be judged guilty in the coming judgment (Mark 3:28-29).
Shively applies the findings of the study to Mark’s Gospel. Chapter 5 examines two examples of “power” in Mark’s apocalyptic thinking in the context of a story and a speech. The story Shively selects is Mark 5:1-20, the Gerasene Demon. In this exorcism story, Mark “engages in apocalyptic discourse directly reminiscent of Mark 3:22-30” (p. 183). An evil spirit is oppressing a human and Jesus appears to judge that demon. The result of this demonstration of the power of God is that the man proclaims what God has done throughout the Gentile region. Later in the book Shively suggests that the response of the man “becomes Mark’s Great commission” (p.250). The Olivet Discourse (Mark 13:5-37) concludes with a parable of a householder, reminiscent of the Strong Man parable in Mark 3:27. Shively states that the Mark’s apocalyptic discourse is “persuasive rhetoric” which seeks to persuade the followers of Jesus that righteous suffering is God’s will, they ought to act self-sacrificially (like Jesus) in anticipation of a final judgment on the world (p. 218). God’s power is acting through Jesus to overcome the strong man already, but Mark’s audience is told to look forward to the decisive return of the Son of Man.
The nature of the power which overcomes the strong man is developed in chapter 6. Shively examines Mark 8:27-10:45 as a unit, beginning with the confession of Peter and ending with the “ransom for many” logion. In this section Jesus subverts expectations by describing the “things of God” as his coming suffering. Jesus demonstrates the power of God which overcomes the strongman by suffering. Those who suffer manifest the power of God, even in death. This is the point of the empty tomb account (Mark 16:1-8). Through the resurrection Jesus asserts his power over the strong man.
Conclusion. Elizabeth Shively has made a significant contribution to the study of Mark’s gospel by suggesting Mark 3:22-30 as a programmatic statement which reflects Mark’s apocalyptic thinking. While not an apocalyptic writer, Mark reflects the sort of thinking which was common in the first century in order to communicate his interpretation of the life and ministry of Jesus as the “stronger man” who overcomes the power of Satan and enables his followers to understand their own struggle against the powers of darkness as they look forward to the return of the Son of Man to render final judgment.
Thanks to de Gruyter for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.
One thought on “Book Review: Elizabeth Shively, Apocalyptic Imagination in the Gospel of Mark”
I had great expectations when I read Shively’s Mark. I was looking forward to seeing her develop the Beelzebul parable theme more thoroughly. For instance, I am surprised she misses the connection between σκεύη (Mark 3:27) and σκεῦος (Mark 11:16). Although she makes one mention of Mk. 11.16 (p. 191) she does not develop it beyond the obvious. For the reader the tension that is created by the intratextual connection heightens the drama about to unfold. Particularly since only Mark records that detail. At any rate, in Mark’s narrative he just seems to let it lay there; tantalizing the reader.
I think she is on target with the Beelzebul parable driving Mark’s narrative. I just wish she had demonstrated how it works as Jesus “appears suddenly in the temple”. Then perhaps she could have demonstrated how χειροποίητον vs. ἀχειροποίητον (Mark 14:58 ) could also play into the ἰσχυρός theme.