Blackwell, Ben C., John K. Goodrich and Jason Maston. Reading Mark in Context: Jesus and Second Temple Judaism. Grand Rapids, Mich. Zondervan, 2018. 286 pp. Pb; $24.99. Link to Zondervan

This new volume of essays joins Reading Romans in Context (Zondervan, 2015), also edited by Blackwell, Goodrich and Matson. The book works its way through the Gospel of Mark by comparing a section of the Gospel to a particular text from the literature of the Second Temple Period. The chapters are brief and written by experts in the study of the Gospels. But they are also written to appeal to people outside of the insular world of scholarly academics.

Blackwell, Goodrich and Maston, Reading Mark in ContextOne of the important ramifications of E. P. Sanders’s book Paul and Palestinian Judaism is the importance of Second Temple literature for reading the New Testament in a Jewish context. Sanders challenged scholars to actually read Jewish literature rather than rely on well-worn anachronistic descriptions drawn from secondary literature. Despite the reservations of John Piper and others on the value of using Second Temple literature to illuminate the Bible, most New Testament scholarship post-Sanders recognizes the value of the Second Temple period for setting the context for Jesus, Paul, and other New Testament writers.

Each of the book’s thirty chapters begins by setting the section into the context of Mark’s gospel followed by a brief introduction to the non-canonical book used in the chapter. The author of the chapter then offers a short commentary on the text of Mark using the lens of the Second Temple text selected for that chapter. The chapter concludes with three sections entitled “for further reading.” First, the author offers examples of other Second Temple texts which may shed light on the particular section of Mark examined in the chapter. The second section lists English translations and critical editions for the Second Temple text used in the chapter. Third is a list of secondary literature bearing on the theology of the particular section of Mark.

There is no need to summarize every chapter of this book, two or three examples will be sufficient (see the end of this review for the table of contents). Elizabeth Shively reads Mark 3:7-35 through the lens of the Testament of the Twelve, focusing specifically on the binding of Beliar in the Testament of Zebuon 9:8 and the Testament of Levi in 18:12. This background sheds light on Jesus’s exorcisms and the saying “no one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man. Then indeed he may plunder his house” (Mark 3:27). Her secondary literature section has seven items, three on Jesus as an exorcist and two on Jewish eschatology and two on the Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs.

Timothy Gombis discusses the Triumphal Entry (Mark 11:1-11) as a “subversion of triumphalism” by reading the text alongside the “triumphal entry” of Simon in 1 Maccabees 13. Mark presents Jesus as a faithful Davidic ruler while the crowds of disciples want to make him a conquering military hero like Simon (178). Gombis points interested readers to Psalm of Solomon 17 as additional background to the triumphal entry along with relevant parallel material in Second Maccabees and Josephus.

Jonathan Pennington compares the Parables of Enoch (1 Enoch 37-71) and the coming of the Son of Man in Mark 13:1-37. Pennington focuses on two key elements from the Parables of Enoch, its apocalyptic worldview and the use of the phrase “son of man.” This chapter is very good as it is, but also frustrating because there is so much in these thirty-seven verses which need to be set in the context of the Second Temple period. Not only is the biblical section too large for a short chapter, the parables of Enoch is a large unit which is difficult to summarize in a few pages. There is about a page of text from 1 Enoch reproduced in this chapter, I would have liked less fully-quoted passages from 1 Enoch and more commentary on how 1 Enoch and Jesus share a similar “stock apocalyptic imagery” (215).

Conclusion. Reading Mark in Context is not a traditional commentary. The authors of each section focus on a single theological issue from the world of Second Temple Period Judaism. In some cases, the teaching or actions of Jesus are quite similar his Jewish contemporaries, but often Jesus subtly subverts what a Jewish listener might have expected to hear from a Jewish rabbi. For any given section of Mark covered in the book there are many other topics and texts which could have been the subject of the chapter. The book focuses only on Jewish literature for the background to the Mark, it would also be possible to write a similar book focusing on Greco-Roman material which illuminates the text. But to paraphrase the conclusion to the Gospel of John, these texts were chosen so that the reader might understand Jesus in a Second Temple Jewish context.

This book will be an excellent introduction for many readers to the literature of the Second Temple period and the application of that background material to the Gospel of Mark. The authors provide enough additional bibliographical material to assist students in finding in-depth studies of this literature.

 

NB: Thanks to Zondervan for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.

Table of Contents:

  1. Rule of the Community and Mark 1:1—13: Preparing the Way in the Wilderness (RIKK WATTS)
  2. The Parables of Enoch and Mark 1:14—2:12: The Authoritative Son of Man (KRISTIAN A. BENDORAITIS)
  3. Josephus and Mark 2:13—3:62 Controversies with the Scribes and Pharisees (MARY MARSHALL)
  4. The Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs and Mark 3:7—35: Apocalyptic and the Kingdom (ELIZABETH E. SHIVELY)
  5. 4 Ezra and Mark 421—34: Parables on Seeds, Sowing, and Fruit (KLYNE SNODGRASS)
  6. The Testament of Solomon and Mark 521—20: Exorcism and Power over Evil Spirits (MICHAEL F. BIRD)
  7. Mishnah Zabirn and Mark 5:21—6:6a: The Rules on Purity (DAVID E. GARLAND)
  8. Josephus and Mark 6:6b—29: Herod Antipas’s Execution of John the Baptist (MORTEN HORNING JENSEN)
  9. 4QConsolations and Mark 6:30-56: Images of a New Exodus V (HOLLY BEERS)
  10. The Letter of Aristeas and Mark 7:1—23: Developing Ideas of Defilement (SARAH WHITTLE)
  11. Jubilees and Mark 7:24—37: Crossing Ethnic Boundaries (KELLY R. IVERSON)
  12. The Damascus Document and Mark 8:1—26: Blindness and Sight on “the Way” (SUZANNE WATTS HENDERSON)
  13. Sirach and Mark 8:27—9:13: Elijah and the Eschaton (SIGURD GRINDHEIM)
  14. Tobit and Mark 9:14—29: Imperfect Faith (JEANETTE HAGEN PIPER)
  15. Rule of the Community and Mark 9:30—50: Discipleship Reordered (JEFFREY W. AERNIE)
  16. Mishnah Gittin and Mark 10:1——12: Marriage and Divorce (DAVID INSTONE-BREWER)
  17. Eschatological Admonition and Mark 10:13—31: Riches, Poverty, and the Faithful (MARK D. MATHEWS)
  18. Rule of the Congregation and Mark 10:32—52: Glory and Greatness in Eschatological Israel (JOHN K. GOODRICH)
  19. 1 Maccabees and Mark 11:1—11: A Subversive Entry into Jerusalem (TIMOTHY GOMBIS)
  20. Psalms of Solomon and Mark 11:12—25: The Great Priestly Showdown at the Temple (NICOLAS PERRIN)
  21. The Animal Apocalypse and Mark 11:27—12:12: The Rejection of the Prophets and the Destruction of the Temple (DAVID L. TURNER)
  22. Josephus and Mark 12:13—27: The Sadducees, Resurrection, and the Law (JASON MATSON)
  23. Psalms of Solomon and Mark 12:28—44: The Messiah’s Surprising Identity and Role (MARK L. STRAUSS)
  24. The Parables of Enoch and Mark 1321—37: Apocalyptic Eschatology and the Coming Son of Man (JONATHAN PENNINGTOM)
  25. Mishnah Pesahim and Mark 1421—25: The Passover Tradition (AMY PEELER)
  26. The Babylonian Talmud and Mark 14:26—52: Abba, Father! (NIJAY GUPTA)
  27. The Parables of Enoch and Mark 14:53—73: Blasphemy and Exaltation (DARRELL BOCK)
  28. Philo of Alexandria and Mark 15:1—15a: Pontius Pilate, a Spineless Governor? (HELEN BOND)
  29. 11QTemplea and Mark 15:15b—47: Burying the Crucified (CRAIG A. EVANS)
  30. 2 Maccabees and Mark 16:1—8: Resurrection as Hope for the Present (BEN C. BLACKWELL)