Book Review: Adam Winn, Reading Mark’s Christology Under Caesar: Jesus the Messiah and Roman Imperial Ideology

Winn, Adam. Reading Mark’s Christology Under Caesar: Jesus the Messiah and Roman Imperial Ideology. Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP Academic, 2018. 187 pp. Pb. $24.00   Link to IVP Academic  

This volume is an update to his 2008 doctoral dissertation at Fuller Theological Seminary, published as The Purpose of Mark’s Gospel: An Early Christian Response to Roman Imperial Propaganda (WUNT/2 245; Mohr Siebeck: 2008). As Winn explains in his acknowledgment page, that book was “strongly criticized.” After taking part in the SBL Mark Group for several years, Winn was motivated to move deeper into the world of Roman imperial ideology in order to “make sense of the disparate pieces of Mark’s Christology.” In the Gospel of Mark, Winn thinks Jesus “out-Caesars Caesar” (p. 116).

Winn, Reading Mark's ChristologyThese “disparate pieces” include Mark’s use of titles, stories in which Jesus demonstrates power (miracles, healings, exorcisms, revelations by supernatural beings, popularity and proclamations by crowds), the suffering of Jesus, and the so-called messianic secret. Although these various parts may be accounted for through form and redaction criticism (the various bits come from different sources), Winn considers narrative criticism the only way present a compelling Christology from Mark’s Gospel. He initially followed the lead of Robert Gundry who suggest Mark is an apology for Jesus’s shameful crucifixion, but in this study he uses a historical-narratival method using the final form of Mark’s gospel. He wants to set Mark’s gospel into a particular sociocultural and historical setting (p. 24). That setting is the Roman world after A.D. 70.

Winn devotes about half of the first chapter arguing for this date and provenance and then argues the destruction of the temple in A.D. 70 played a central role on Flavian propaganda. Vespasian needed a major military accomplishment to legitimize his and his son’s claim in the imperial throne. The destruction of Jerusalem was presented as a major victory and was celebrated through triumphal processions, coins and architecture. This was a “theology of victory,” the gods favored the Flavian dynasty and supported it through a series of miracles prophecies and other portents. In fact, Josephus, Tacitus, and Suetonius all report the tradition that Vespasian fulfilled prophecies from the Hebrew Scriptures when he conquered the east (p. 45). The Gospel of Mark “strips Vespasian of is powerful victories and places the victory into the hands of Jesus” (p. 164).

Chapters two through five apply this historical setting of the book to the several common ways scholars have sought to develop Mark’s Christology. First, Winn examines Mark’s Christological titles (Messiah, Son of God, Son of Man, Son of David, and Lord). He concludes these titles can be understood apart from their imperial context and are not necessarily responses to Vespasian’s imperial propaganda (p. 68). Second, Winn surveys the presentation of Jesus as a powerful miracle worker, especially during the Galilean ministry (Mark 1-8). Mark presents Jesus as the true Christ and Son of God in contrast to the propagandistic claims of Vespasian (p. 88). Third, Winn turns his attention to the suffering of Jesus in Mark 8:22-10:52 (the rest of the passion narrative is covered in chapter 7). Winn argues that an imperial reading of Mark eliminates the perceived tension between Jesus as a powerful miracle worker and his suffering and death. The disciples do not fully understand the suffering of Jesus the Messiah, drawing a parallel to the Roman readers of Mark’s Gospel (p. 115). Fourth, Winn interacts with David Watson’s Honor among Christians (Fortress, 2010) as he re-examines the so-called secrecy motif in the light of his “Roman reading” of Mark (chap. 5). The Roman political strategy of recusatio meant Roman emperors often refused public honors. Winn illustrates this with data from Augustus and Tiberius. Winn concludes Mark is contextualizing Jesus in a way which would have resonated with his Roman readers (p.129). Like the emperor, Jesus refuses public honor as a result of his powerful healing ministry.

Winn devotes a short chapter to Jesus and the temple, including the temple action, Jesus’s teaching in the temple and apocalyptic discourse. The temple action is a symbolic destruction of the temple (p. 138); Jesus is establishing a new messianic community as a replacement for the temple itself (p. 140) and marginalizing the sacrificial system (p. 142). Since Mark wrote the apocalyptic discourse after the destruction of the temple in A.D. 70, the “desolating sacrilege” may be a future eschatological sign (p. 145).

Finally, Winn examines the passion narrative through the lens of Roman imperial ideology. The so-called cry of dereliction, when Jesus cites Psalm 22 from the cross, is the unity between the powerful Jesus and the suffering Jesus. Although he is suffering, Psalm 22 looks forward to the glory and vindication after the resurrection. Regarding Roman imperial ideology, Winn sees the passion as a Roman triumph. He offers a series of observations to support this. For example, Simon carrying the cross parallel to a Roman official escorting a sacrificial bull and carrying a double-bladed axe; Jesus is the sacrificial animal and Simon carries the instrument of his death (p. 159). Since a Roman triumph ended at the temple of Jupiter, the Capitolium (caput is the Latin for “head), Winn sees a parallel with Golgotha, the place of the skull (p. 160). Winn sees this as a creative narrative which has a “clear and significant payoff for Mark’s Roman readers living in the shadow of Flavian propaganda” (p. 162). The suffering and death of Jesus is not a weakness, but a sign of strength and power. As with any literary allusion to culture, a reader sees what they want to see. Although it is possible to read the passion of Jesus as a parody of a Roman triumph, it is difficult to imagine the original readers fully appreciating the subtly of Mark’s allusions.

Conclusion. Winn argues Mark’s gospel presents Jesus as a powerful man but also as one who suffers tremendous shame. Both themes are present throughout the gospel of Mark and it is problematic to emphasize one over the other. Suffering and power are “Christological poles” which may seem to stand in tension, but they form a coherent unity when read in the light of Roman political ideology according to Winn’s reconstruction (p. 164).

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


Kindle Deals on Second Temple Judaism and the New Testament Backgrounds from Eerdmans

I was poking around on Amazon looking for something else, and noticed several excellent Kindle deals on a few older Eerdmans publications. I have all these books in my “real book” library and can state with confidence these are all worth owning and reading. I prefer physical books, but for a only two or three dollars, it might be worth your time to read these using your Kindle device or Kindle app on your iPad (or other tablet).

Beyond the Essene Hypothesis, QumranThere are two from Gabriele Boccaccini: Beyond the Essene Hypothesis: The Parting of the Ways between Qumran and Enochic Judaism (Eerdmans 1998), $1.99 and Roots of Rabbinic Judaism (Eerdmans, 2001), $1.99. John J. Collins said “Gabriele Boccaccini’s earlier book, Beyond the Essene Hypothesis, has been hailed as one of the most original and provocative works on Second Temple Judaism in recent years. He has now written a wide-ranging and ambitious typology of Jewish intellectual history in this period. He brings a fresh and original perspective to the material, and his bold reconstruction is sure to be controversial.”

Speaking of John Collins, his Between Athens and Jerusalem: Jewish Identity in the Hellenistic Diaspora (Eerdmans, 1983) is $2.99. This is the companion to The Apocalyptic Imagination: An Introduction to Jewish Apocalyptic Literature (Eerdmans, 2010) and covers the non-apocalyptic intertestamental literature. These two books are excellent introductions to the literature of the Second Temple Period. I used both books frequently in the Second Temple Period Literature series over the past few summers.

There are also two by Bruce Winter. After Paul Left Corinth: The Influence of Secular Ethics and Social Change (Eerdmans, 2001) is $2.99. This is one of my favorite books ever, essential reading for understanding the situation behind the Corinthian letters. I read this soon after it was originally published, my copy is extremely marked up and my notes on 1 Corinthians are deeply indebted to Winter’s book.

Winter’s Roman Wives, Roman Widows: The Appearance of New Women and the Pauline Communities (Eerdmans, 2003) is only $1.99. “In ancient Roman law ‘you were what you wore.’ This legal principle became highly significant because, beginning in the first century A.D., a new kind of woman emerged across the Roman Empire — a woman whose provocative dress and sometimes promiscuous lifestyle contrasted starkly with the decorum of the traditional married woman. What a woman chose to wear came to identify her as either new or modest. Augustus legislated against the new woman. Philosophical schools encouraged their followers to avoid embracing her way of life. And, as this fascinating book demonstrates for the first time, the presence of the new woman was also felt in the early church, where Paul exhorted Christian wives and widows to emulate neither her dress code nor her conduct.”

I have no idea how long these deals will be available, so grab the Kindle version of these excellent resources before they are gone. I am not affiliated with either Eerdmans or Amazon, but I do like passing on good book deals when I see them.

Great Deals on Second Temple Judaism, the New Testament and early Christianity Books

Dead Sea ScrollsIf you are looking for some good resources on Second Temple Judaism, the New Testament and early Christianity (and do not mind kindle books) there are some great deals from two different publishers right now. First is James Vander Kam and Peter Flint, The Meaning of the Dead Sea Scrolls: Their Significance For Understanding the Bible, Judaism, Jesus, and Christianity (HarperCollins Publishers, 2002, reprint 2013). This is a popular introduction to the Dead Sea Scrolls and might be a bit out of date, but for $1.99 it will serve as a good introduction to this important collection of Second Temple Jewish Literature.

The Nag Hammadi library is the other collection of literature discovered in the mid twentieth century. The collection included the Gospel of Thomas, the Gospel of Mary and many other Gnostic texts. For a limited time, you can purchase Marvin Meyer’s updated edition The Nag Hammadi Scriptures: The Revised and Updated Translation of Sacred Gnostic Texts Complete in One Volume (HarperOne, 2010). Gnostic expert Elaine H. Pagels wrote the introduction to the volume. This book is also only $1.99 in Kindle format.

From Wipf & Stock, two volumes of Mark Nanos’s Collected Essays are on sale through August 24 2018. Reading Romans within Judaism: Collected Essays Vol. 2  and Reading Corinthians and Philippians within Judaism: Collected Essays of Mark D. Nanos, vol. 4 are both only $2.99 for the Kindle edition. Both books were published in 2018 and contain previously published articles and papers. To have these article collected a single volume is extremely helpful. I was very happy to see Wipf & Stock publish the collections. The paperback edition of these books are $40 each, so this is a very good deal on an excellent collection of essays.

That makes four books for abut $10. The only drawback to these books is the Kindle format. I still prefer a real physical book, but the savings for these books is significant. These are limited time only offers (and I have nothing to do with the prices on Amazon; I am just the messenger here). So grab them while you can…

Following Jesus in Galilee 

The tour today focused on sites in the Jesus sits in Galilee. We left about 8 AM and made a stop at Yardenet, the pilgrim baptism site on the Jordan River. This is a location that is set up for large groups to come in and participate in a baptism in the Jordan River, although this is not the site Jesus was likely baptized. He was probably baptized near the Dead Sea since those were John the Baptist was baptizing in the Gospels. Nevertheless this is an interesting location because it preserves A portion of the Jordan River for Christian pilgrims. We didn’t perform baptisms today, but I did read from the Gospel of Matthew and talked briefly about Jesus is the beginning of Jesus’s ministry.

From the baptismal site we drove through Tiberius to Mount Arbel. This is not so much a biblical site, but a hike up to the top of Mount Arbel to view the sea of Galilee. From the top of the cliffs we can see the west and north quarters of the sea, essentially where all of the Jesus sites are located. We always take a group photo at the carob tree at the top of the hill but it was struck by lightning recently and there is nothing but a little stub left.

IMG_2036Returning to the shore of the sea of Gallilee we stopped at Migdal. Although it was the home of Mary Magdalene, the place is rarely mentioned in the Bible. However, a first-century Synagogue was recently excavated along with an unusual carved stone found near the center of the synagogue. The signs of the site suggest the stone is carved to look like the second temple, although this is not particularly conclusive.

But I think it is interesting that this is a first century synagogue not far from Capernaum. Although there is no evidence Jesus taught in this particular synagogue, the gospels portray him is teaching in many of the synagogues in Galilee. So it gave us an opportunity to discuss what teaching at the synagogue might have been like. There are a number of other excavated buildings adjacent to the synagogue including what appeared to be two or three mikvoth. These were not mentioned on any of the signs, and the brochure was late on details. Site costs 10 shekels for students and 12 shekels for adults, so groups will have to weigh the cost for such a short visit. I was told if I made arrangements ahead of time we could have a guide for the site.

IMG_2097.JPGAfter eating lunch and doing some shopping at Nof Ginnasar we arrived at the Mount of Beatitudes about 2 o’clock. All of the Catholic sites are closed from noon until two, and there were only two of the buses waiting in line when we arrived. Neither of these groups seemed to enter the actual garden or visit the church. The group was able to visit the chapel, and then we gathered on the rocks near the front of the garden to read the Sermon on the Mount, then had a few minutes to pray and read the Bible privately. This was one of the best visits I have had to the Mount of Beatitudes since it was so quiet and reflective.

We went back to the shore of the Sea of Galilee to visit Capernaum. For most the highlight here is Peter’s house, although it is difficult to see much of the house due to the large church built over the top. There is also a beautiful synagogue, although it dates to the fifth or six century, long after the time of Jesus. For me, the highlight of a visit to Capernaum is walking out in the beach near the Sea and reading the Bible. In this case I read Mark 2 since the healing of the paralytic takes place at Peter’s house.



It was getting late in the day so we continued around the lake to Kursi, the traditional site of  the exorcism recorded in Mark 5. There is a small Byzantine church on the site which has only partially been restored. We talked through the story, look at the cliffs and wondering how the pigs made the leap into the sea. The simple solution is the pigs were far closer to the Sea than the impressive cliffs.

When we finally turned back into the Ma’agan parking lot we had traveled around the whole of the Sea of Galilee. My students were very tired out by this time and were looking forward to the pool or a nap before dinner.

Tomorrow we enter Jordan and visit Jerash on our way to Petra.

Caesarea, Bet She’an and The Sea of Galilee

Our goal was to leave Jerusalem at 8 o’clock sharp this morning, but that did not happen since a pair of students oversleep and unfortunately leave their phone off the hook so that could not be called. By the time I pounded on the door we were about 40 minutes late. The only one who is happy about this was our friendly neighborhood scarf salesman who was able to sell another 45 scarfs to the group waiting on the bus. Lest anyone think of exaggerating let me assure you I am not. If you know somebody on the trip (spoiler alert), you’re going to get a scarf for a souvenir.


Our trip to Caesarea went quickly. Since it was the Sabbath it was virtually no traffic on the road. Caesarea has always been one of my favorite places to visit on an Israel trip. The city is Herod’s tribute to the Roman Empire. By building such a beautiful city Herod demonstrates he is the ideal Roman client king and makes the claim that Judea is not something backwards end of the Roman empire, it can hold its own against any other Greco Roman city.

As for biblical significance, Caesarea is the city Peter visit when he preached to Cornelius in    Acts 10. In Acts 12 Herod Agrippa was struck dead when he entered the theater looking like a God (a story confirmed by Josephus). Philip the Evangelist lived in Caeseara with his four daughters when Paul passed through the city on his return from Ephesus. Paul also spent two years under house arrest awaiting trial will Felix was the governor. It is what it was it Caesarea that Paul made his famous appeal to Ceasar. There is a cistern in Herod’s palace at Caesarea which claims to be the prison of the apostle Paul, but I think this has about a zero percent chance of being accurate. Since Paul was a Roman citizen it is highly unlikely he he would have been held in a cistern for two years (or at all for that matter).

After we visited the theater, many of the more adventurous students went down to the beach area to pick up shells and put their feet in the Mediterranean Sea, all the while ignoring the signs telling them to stay off the beach. I of course implored them all to come back, but they did not hear me (or simply ignored me). All in all was a good time.

From the beach area we walked across the hippodrome and explored some of the larger buildings the bathhouse storage areas and shops of the Byzantine Caesarea. The rest of Caesarea is preserved crusader castle that has been converted into a number of shops and restaurants. We enjoyed gelato, coffee, and several pizzas before leaving the site.

IMG_2009From Caesarea we traveled through Mount Carmel, past Megiddo and across the plain of Jezreel to Beth She’an near the Sea of Galilee. It was now quite late in the day and they were virtually no other tourists in the park. Bet She’an is excavated to the first century and features a mostly restored theater, a cardo with several restored shops and a large bath house complex. A favorite feature of this site is the sacred area and the water system that leads to several swimming pools and an ancient public toilet. Students seem to like sitting on the public toilets and posing for the camera.

We arrive at out hotel at the Sea of Galilee about 4:30, allowing the students plenty of time in the pool. We are staying at Ma’agan, the most beautiful resorts in Israel. Tomorrow we will visit quite a few sites related to the life of Jesus.

From the Mount of Olives and across the Kidron

After a lighter walking day yesterday, we started at the Mount of Olives with the goal of walking across the Kidron Valley, up to the City of David, through Hzekiah’s tunnel, and then Back up to the Dung Gate, back across the Old City and out the Jaffa Gate to meet the bus.

The day begin with a local vendor getting on our bus and probably making his profit for the month. My students were were scarfing up his wears, pun unintended; we bought probably 45 scarves from the man. And by “we” I don’t mean “me”.

IMG_1951.JPGThe drop off point for the Mount of Olives walk was (as usual) crowded with tourists and vendors hawking their wares. Several people in our group decided to ride a camel, so we watched them trot around the parking lot a bit before we were able to take our group down to the railing and have a group photo (including a particularly persistent beggar) and a time of teaching. By this time we’ve been to the southern wall excavations and seen several models of the city of Jerusalem so the students were asking good questions about locations of various things we were seeing.

We walked down to Dominus Flevit, a church about halfway down the Mount where (traditionally) Jesus wept over Jerusalem before the Temple action (Luke 20:41-44). The site was more crowded than previous trips (several large Indian groups), but we managed to get a location to look over the valley and discuss the Triumphal Entry and Jewish Messianic expectations in the first century.

From there we visited the Church of all Nations, the traditional site of the Garden of Gethsemane. This is another site which is usually crowded, and today was no exception. After a quick look at the olive trees many of the students went into the church to see the Agony Stone, the traditional place where Jesus wept on the night he was betrayed. We read Luke 22:39-46 (Jesus’s prayer) and 22:47-53 (the arrest). This gave us a chance to discuss the meaning of Jesus’s prayer asking God to “take this cup” from him.

Something I added to the tour last time was a walk through the Kidron Valley. This involves crossing the busy street and entering the walking path on the other side of the street. The parks service has cleaned this area up considerably in recent years and there are free toilets (not the cleanest in Jerusalem but good enough!) Walking down into the valley, we saw the so-called Tomb of Absalom and the Tomb of Pharaoh’s Daughter, none of which had anything to do with those people. They are impressive Hellenistic tombs, but dating to no more than 150 B.C. One of the locals has built a Bedouin tent here, and had a camel in a pen. Strangely he was not selling anything nor was he interested in talking.

There is a promenade on the west side of the Kidron which makes for an easier walk (I did stop halfway to explain the view and catch my breath). The walk ends at the south east corner of the Temple Mount, near the Southern Temple archaeology park, offering a unique view of that end of the southern Wall. It is just a short walk from there to the City of David. It looks like there are quite a few things being renovated in this site, mostly some walkways around the Stepped Structure and administration building. We could only look down on these things from the overlook.

IMG_1976.JPGWhat most people want to see at the City of David is Hezekiah’s Tunnel. This is the water system built by Hezekiah according to 2 Kings 20:20 and 2 Chronicles 32:30. After a short walk down through tunnels to the Canaanite spring, there is a split in the Tunnel between the “wet” tunnel and the “dry” Canaanite tunnel. The wet tunnel has water flowing over the knees, and is completely dark. This is the first trip I have led where the majority took the wet tunnel. I, however, took the safer route through the dry tunnel (fear of chaffing drives many of my decisions).

The dry Canaanite tunnel exits near the Jebusite walls, and the park has re-configured the walk further down the hill to the pool of Siloam. We no longer exit the park and walk along the street (which is busy and potentially dangerous). There are now a series of wooden walkways within the park and partially through a private neighborhood. This is much more convenient and it appears the site is developing additional viewpoints along the way.

The pool of Siloam is mentioned in connection with Jesus healing a blind man (John 9:7). In the first century it may have functioned as a public mikveh for pilgrims arriving at Jerusalem from the south. Since the pool was discovered more than ten years ago, additional work has been done to expose steps which appear to lead all the way up to Wilson’s Arch. Although the presentation of these recent discoveries is clear, it is a damp smelly place.

We had a bit of a scare when one of the students did not get on the shuttle back to the Dung Gate, but eventually we found her. This did allow most of the students to enjoy some ice cream in the shade (I had neither ice cream or shade). After our scare I took the students to the Cardo, the remnants of the Byzantine Roman Road through Jerusalem, and to the remnants of Hezekiah’s Wall on our walk back to the Jaffa Gate.

I planned to return to the hotel early enough to allow the students some time in the swimming pool. They seem to have appreciated this a great deal after three days of serious walking in and around the Old City.

As I finish up this post, I can hear music from a children’s concert as people are beginning to celebrate Shabbat.

We leave Jerusalem tomorrow morning and head north to Caesarea and our hotel on the Sea of Galilee.

Beginning from Jerusalem 

This was our first full day in Jerusalem. After a short walk from our hotel we visited the Garden Tomb. As always this was an early highlight for everyone. Our Garden Tomb guide was Peter, and his presentation of the facts about the Garden was excellent and his faith was both genuine and evident. For those who do not know the Garden Tomb, this is a rare British evangelical site next to Gordon’s Cavalry, a rocky cliff side that looks vaguely like a skull. The location has a good case for being the actual site for the crucifixion, burial, and resurrection although most scholars think the Holy Seplucher is the more likely location. I heard one guide say a Catholic friend told him something like “it isn’t the place where Jesus was buried, but it should be.”

From there we walked up to the Jaffa Gate where we visited the Tower of David Museum, although to be honest it does not have all that much to do with David. Sometimes the traditional names are not very helpful. The reason I wanted to go through this somewhat newer site was the overview of the history of Jerusalem from the Canaanite period to Suliman the Magnificent. There are several small museum galleries dedicated to periods in Israel’s history and one or two very helpful dioramas which help to visualize the Second Temple.

For some reason everyone was hungry about noon, so we walked to the Jewish Quarter where there are several options for lunch. Since I know everyone is wondering I had an excellent falafel.

After lunch we walked down the steps to the Davidson Center to visit the Southern Wall excavations. I have always considered this site a highlight of any tour, if you are in the Old City, plan of at least two hours (or more) for the short orientation video and to walk the site. Unfortunately there was a large and noisy group of high school students being led backwards through the site by a few rather bored looking teachers. We avoided them for the most part.

The Davidson Archaeological Park encompasses the southern Wall of the Temple Mount, including several massive Herodian stretch stones on the corner as well as some original steps going up to the double and triple gates. This is where Christian groups sit on the steps and read parts of the gospel. But sadly not a single Christian group other than mine walked down to the recent excavations in the Ophel. I suppose herding 60 older people down the steps would be difficult, but I think it is important to show the sites for both the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament.

We the went to the Western Wall. I have not been there since they re-oriented the entrance to the men’s section, which looks like a long term change. I noticed quite a few students put their prayers in the cracks of the Wall this time. Since it was late in the day, the plaza was not crowded, but I did see something special: a young Jewish man at the Wall praying with his young daughter. I did not know that was possible, but it was very nice to see.

On our way back to the Jaffa Gate we visited the Holy Sepulcher. It has only be a few weeks since the renovations were completed, and the shrine does look much better. But I thought  there were far more people than usual. Every section of the Church was packed and uncomfortable. Even the Syrian chapel was stuffed with two or three large groups. The Rotunda was closed, which was disappointing. If my goal was to confirm my students as official Protestants, I was successful.

We slowly walked back to the Jaffa Gate and then eventually our hotel. I wrote most of this before dinner (the food at our hotel is excellent) and the students are really enjoying their stay here.

Tomorrow we start at Yad VaShem, the Israeli Holocaust museum, then over to the National Museum for the rest of the day.