Book Review: Michal Beth Dinkler, Silent Statements: Narrative Representations of Speech and Silence in the Gospel of Luke

Dinkler, Michal Beth. Silent Statements: Narrative Representations of Speech and Silence in the Gospel of Luke. BZNW 191; Berlin: De Gruyter, 2013. 261 pp. Hc; $140.00. Link to De Gruyter

This monograph is a revision of Dinkler’s Ph.D dissertation completed in 2012 at Harvard Divinity School. She was one of François Bovon’s last students and his guidance is evident in this fine study of silence in Luke’s Gospel. Dinkler proposes to study “the complex ways that narrative intersections of speech and silences can be useful touch-points for how the Lukan narrative attempts to shape its readers” (5). She follows John Darr in arguing the goal of Luke’s Gospel is to persuade readers to become believing witnesses, and intentional silences in the text are powerful rhetorical elements used by the author to achieve this goal.

DinklerSince this is a revised dissertation, it necessarily begins with a review of previous literature on the rhetorical function of silence. While there are quite a few studies on silence in ancient literature, New Testament scholarship has scarcely recognized their value for reading the Gospels. One recent exception is Bruce Longenecker’s Hearing the Silence (Cascade, 2012), which was published at the same time as Dinkler’s study. Both books examine Luke 4, although Dinkler looks at the whole Gospel of Luke.

Dinkler highlights three main features of silence. First, silence is multivalent (8). When a writer includes silence, the readers fill that silence with something. Silence therefore can express shame, fear, admiration or domination (9). Multivalent typically implies a saying (or silence) is open to several interpretations. Since it is the reader who supplies the interpretation, I initially wondered to this approach to silence opens the door to a full reader-response approach to the text. In practice, this is not really the case. In the examples she studies in detail, it seems as though the narrator has led the reader to understand a silence with a certain range of meanings.

Second, the meaning of silence of contextually is determined (11). Ironically, silence can be considered a speech act since it is some kind of a response. But the meaning of the silence may be shaped by historical and social contexts. Like unpacking a metaphor, something left unsaid may be interpreted in many ways. Her example “shut the door” might be a request, or a warning, depending on the context. The narrator may provide clues for how the silence should be understood, but there are significant examples in Luke where silence is left open-ended, almost inviting the reader to fill in the gap.

Third, since silence has this illocutionary force, it is rhetorically powerful (12). Just as a powerful speaker will use pauses and silences for the rhetorical impact, so too a writer can make a point more powerful by omitting speech or letting characters remain silent, allowing the reader to interact with the text on a deeper level. Perhaps this is why most readers miss the rhetorical impact of literary silence, they simply read over a gap without noticing it is there! For example, Dinkler discusses the gap between Jesus’ childhood and the introduction of John the Baptist between chapters two and three. Most readers would move from one section of the book to the next without pausing to wonder what the point of a long silent gap in the life of Jesus might mean.

After some clarification on literary categories of narrative, narration, plot, characters, and themes, Dinkler proceeds to survey instances of silence in the Gospel of Luke. She focuses on how silence relates to speech, since “what is unsaid relates to want is said” (43). Sometimes silence is explicit, employing vocabulary like σιγάω or σιωπάω. But there are other examples where Luke as the narrator is silent. She cites Luke 23:9 as an example (46). When Jesus refuses to answer Herod, is this an act of defiance or silent acceptance of his fate? Luke does not make this clear with additional narration, allowing the reader to ponder the reason Jesus is silent before his accuser. Another example of silence in Luke is a character who ponders something in their heart (Luke 2:19, using συμβάλλω) or marvels silently about some event (Luke 11:14, using θαυμάζω).

Chapter 1 surveys silence in Luke’s prologue (1:1-4:13). In each of the sections of Luke surveyed by Dinkler, she begins with a few observations on the implied dialogue between the narrator and the reader. In any good storytelling, the narrator offers some information, but leaves much unsaid. This silence in the narration invites the reader to enter into the story and perhaps fill some of those gaps. As she showed in her introduction, silence is multivalent yet contextually determined. Two examples will suffice in this first section of Luke. Jesus’ first words are in Luke 2:49: “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know I must be in my Father’s house?” Since these are the first words Jesus says, they are extremely important, yet they are rather cryptic and left unexplained. Jesus does not explain them, and the narrator is silent as well. The interpretation is left to the reader (59).

A second, subtle silence is the chronological gap between the end of chapter 2 and the beginning of chapter 3. The narrator introduces Jesus as a boy and simple states he grew in wisdom and stature, but then jumps ahead to the ministry of John the Baptist many years later. A hero-story might fill this gap with an account of the training the hero received. A modern film might use a montage scene with background music. Dinkler suggests this narrative silence functions similarly to the silencing of Zechariah, it substantiates the prophecy of John’s future ministry (Luke 1:16-17, 76-78). This silence functions to “exert narratorial reliability, orient the reader, and stimulate readerly curiosity” (61).

The most obvious example here is the silencing of Zechariah. Usually this silencing is taken as a punishment for unbelief, standing in contrast to Mary’s belief. Dinkler as points out, silence in this context can be read as a proof of God’s omnipotence. Gabriel says he will silence Zechariah and he does; God will give a child to Zechariah and Elizabeth, and he does. Since silence is multivalent, this instance of silence can be both negative (punishment) and positive (proof of God’s power). Again, the emphasis is on building the confidence of the reader in the narrator’s reliability.

In chapter two, Dinkler surveys silence in Luke 4:14-9:50. Jesus is presented in this section as a divinely appointed authority whose speech causes others to act. Dinkler points out that with the exception of the Crucifixion, all of the hostility between Jesus and the Jewish authorities in Luke’s Gospel is conversational combat (91). She points out that in Greek novels these sorts of conflicts usually turn violent, but that is not the case here. I wonder if this is unique to Luke’s gospel, since the other three gospels have the same sort of verbal sparring between Jesus and some religious authority. While some react to Jesus’ words with increasing hostility, the disciples often react with confusion.

What is remarkable in this section of Luke is the contrast between Jesus’ increasing reputation and his command for silence. Using Luke 5:12-16 as an example, Jesus heals a leper and commands him to tell no one how he was healed. Nevertheless, “news spread about him all the more.” This is another example of the narrator introducing a question without offering an answer. Why does Jesus demand silence? Why do people not obey that command? This is a well-known problem in Mark (the so-called Messianic Secret). Dinkler recognizes the possibility this is a “vestigial element” taken over from Mark, but suggests rather Luke is purposefully using the command of silence to reveal Jesus’ identity more clearly.

The best example of silence in this section is Jesus’ meal with Simon the Pharisee (Luke 7:36-50). Simon’s inner dialogue and Jesus’ response invite the reader into a hidden conversation the others in the story cannot know. This silent dialogue creates a dramatic irony since Simon (and the reader) knows what he thought, thus proving Jesus to be exactly what Simon initially thought he could not be, a true prophet of God (129). The story ends with more silence: when Jesus pronounced the woman’s sins forgiven, the audience wondered “who is this man who even forgives sins?” Neither Jesus nor the narrator answer this question, it is up to the reader to supply the answer. Based on Dinkler’s introduction to rhetorical silence, I wonder how silence can be multivalent in this case. Luke has carefully brought the reader to this point in the narrative and is asking them to answer “who is this then?” There is only a narrow range of answers possible (a true prophet, for example). The silence in this case is rhetorically powerful, demanding an answer from the reader, but the answer to the question has to be the one Luke led the reader to give.

Chapter three covers the lengthy the central section of Luke’s gospel (9:51-19:27). The structure of this section has been described as a “travel narrative” since Jesus starts out for Jerusalem in 9:15 and does (eventually) arrive there in 19:28, but the various geographical notes Luke makes in the section do not strictly conform to a real journey. After mentioning briefly several suggestions for solving this puzzle, Dinkler points out all but two of the geographical references in the central section are accompanied by some kind of verbal utterance (136-7). It is conversation that moves the journey forward.

One of the most important features of this central section of the Gospel is Jesus’ parables. Twenty of the twenty-four parables in Luke appear in these chapters, and not surprisingly, what is not said in a parable is just as important as what is said (148). The narrator is often silent, using gaps, delays, open endings and internal monologues in the stories in order to deepen Jesus’ speech related teaching. “Every parable that contains an inner monologue,” Dinkler says, “can be read as a cautionary message: one’s response to God matters” (154).

Her key example in this chapter is Luke 14:1-6, the Pharisees’ silence before Jesus. At a Sabbath meal Jesus asks the Pharisees and teachers of the Law if it is lawful to heal on the Sabbath or not? They remain silent (v. 4a) and Jesus heals the man. He asks them again how their own legal rulings applied to healing on the Sabbath, yet they still have no reply (v. 6). Their refusal to dialogue with Jesus is striking, since Greco-Roman symposia featured this sort of philosophical debates (161). This silence may not be hostile; they may simply have had no answer. In fact, when the religious leadership speaks in the rest of the central, it is “feeble, fruitless speech” (163). This is ultimately demonstrated at the Triumphal Entry, when the Pharisees demand Jesus to silence his disciples (19:39-40). [As an aside, Dinkler’s chapter titles include 19:28-44 in the central section, the introduction, however, makes the break after 19:27 (48). It is difficult to know where to put the Triumphal Entry, since it is a translation from the central section into the Passion narrative.]

Finally, there are several significant examples of silence during Jesus’ ministry in Jerusalem, his passion and resurrection (Luke 19:45-24:53). These chapters are remarkably rich in dialogue, as the charts on pages 170-1 make clear. Dinkler describes the Temple conflicts as “verbal duels” and a ‘war of words” (171). Most significant for the theological and pastoral themes of the Gospel is the disciples’ descent into a silence they have chosen (175). When the arrest of Jesus finally occurs, the disciples are sleeping and do not testify to the words they have received from Jesus. They retreat into “self-protective silence” and do not speak until after the resurrection, and then only after the women and two disciples bear witness to the resurrection (178).

When Peter does speak, it is only to deny he knows Jesus. The climax to the denial story is Jesus’ silent gaze (22:60-61). When Jesus turns to look at Peter, the reader does not know if this is a compassionate look, forgiving Peter, or a look of condemnation for his denial. Luke does not explain, once again leaving this to the reader to decide. Dinkler argues this silent gaze is a trigger for Peter’s memory of Jesus’ words to him predicting his betrayal. Since everyone who reads Luke’s gospel will know Peter is a leader of the church, the silence that triggers memory of Jesus’ words is an important theological (pastoral?) point.

Perhaps the most important silence in this section of the Gospel is Jesus’ own silence before Herod (23:6-12). Jesus responds briefly to Pilate, but before Herod Jesus is absolutely silent. But there is more silence in the story, since the narrator does not tell us what Herod asked Jesus (v.9, he “plied him with questions”). Is Jesus’ silence disdain for Herod? Luke does not tell us, opening up several possibilities for the reader (194). After briefly looking at several common explanations, Dinkler points out the obvious: silence is the opposite of Jesus’ behavior elsewhere in the Gospel. He talks with everyone and anyone (demons, sinners, tax-collectors, women, Pharisees, Sadducees, even Pilate!), but now he chooses to be silent. This is the third trial (the Sanhedrin, Pilate, then Herod), each time Jesus becomes more silent (compare 22:67-9 and 23:3). His silence in his final trail functions as other silences have in the book, to call to mind the words of Jesus.

Conclusion. Dinkler’s study is an excellent introduction to a neglected aspect of narrative study. While it seems obvious, the rhetorical power of silence has been overlooked and Dinkler’s study fills that gap for students of the Gospel of Luke. Her concluding chapter ties her observations to the main theological themes of the Gospel, the Divine plan and Human Response, Salvation to the Ends of the Earth, and Discipleship. Luke wants to encourage the reader to become the “ideal disciple” who hears and does the word of God.

 

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

Book Review: Elizabeth Shively, Apocalyptic Imagination in the Gospel of Mark

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).

ShivelyShively 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.