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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 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)

Stein, Robert H. Jesus, the Temple and the Coming Son of Man: A Commentary on Mark 13. Downers Grover, Ill.: InterVarsity, 2014. 155 pp. Pc; $18.00.   Link to IVP

This short book is an extension of Robert Stein’s work on the Gospel of Mark in the Baker Exegetical Commentary series. I have frequently thought a monograph on the Olivet Discourse would make a good contribution to scholarship, Stein provides good introduction to Mark’s version of Jesus’ discourse on his return which attempts to solve many of the interpretive difficulties of Mark 13.

Stein, Jesus and the TempleIn Chapter 1 Stein introduces the reader to the basics of historical Jesus research including a brief history of the field. He provides a summary of the criterion of authenticity, although he the authenticity of the Jesus sayings in Mark 13 is not the main theme of the book. His goal in this book is to understand what the Evangelist Mark meant when he wrote Mark 13, in essence a “traditional, author-based hermeneutic” (p. 38). While the Gospel of Mark is an accurate, reliable account of the life and teaching of Jesus” most likely written by John Mark (p. 39), proving these assumptions are not the goal of the book.

Chapter 2 describes the main problems the interpreter faces when reading Mark chapter 13. For example he compares several suggested outlines for the chapter. He does not assume Mark created stories out of nothing and put them in the mouth of Jesus, nor is he interested in this book in determining Mark’s sources. At best, Mark is a “conservative editor of the Jesus Traditions” (p. 47).

Chapter 3 examines the first four verses of chapter in order to show the whole chapter is concerned with the destruction of the temple. The disciples observe the magnificence of the Temple buildings, leading Jesus to predict the temple will be destroyed. Stein thinks the key to understanding Mark 13 is the two-part question asked by Jesus’ disciples. They first asked when will “these things” be and then they ask “what will be the sign that “all these things” are about to be accomplished?” Jesus gives his answer to the first question as a prediction of the destruction of the temple (“these things”). The second question refers to the future coming of the Son of Man (“all these things”).

Chapter 4 concerns the destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem and the signs of that coming distraction. Stein demonstrates that Mark 13:5-23 is a unit concerned with the immediate future and the destruction of Jerusalem in the disciples’ lifetime. The unit is a chiasm: the appearance of false messiahs function as inclusio (13:5-6 and 21-23). The coming of the Son of Man (13:24-27) is in the next section outside of this clear unit. But from the perspective of Mark and his readers, there are two horizons present. First, Jesus answers the first part of the disciples’ question about the destruction of the Temple and warns them to flee when they see these things happening. The second horizon is Mark’s collection of these predictions in order to teach his readers something about Jesus (p. 100-1).

Chapter 5 is brief but concerns in the future aspect of this chapter the coming of the Son of Man. There is a temporal gap between the destruction of Jerusalem and the coming of the Son of Man “in those days” and “after that tribulation” (p. 105). Stein shows that this description of the coming of the Son of Man is consistent with the Hebrew Bible and do refer to a real, visible return of Jesus (p. 113). Stein is not interested in overly literal interpretations of these events nor interpretations which demythologize them (p.114). Here he seems to be trying to chart a course between popular dispensationalism and some of the equally popular dismissals of any predictions of a future return of Jesus in Mark 13 (N. T. Wright, for example). In many ways his observation of a gap between the fall of Jerusalem and the Coming of the Son of Man resonates with premillennialism, but he stops well short of making this point since his goal is Mark’s purpose (not our interpretation of Mark’s Gospel, a “third horizon”).

Chapter 6 is a short examination of the parable of the fig tree in Mark 13:28-31. Since Stein has already argued there is a difference between “these things” and “all these things,” he has less exegetical problems with “this generation” in Mark 13:29-30 than other expositors do. Finally chapter 7 examines the parable of the watchmen as an exhortation to be alert for the coming of the Son of Man. This parable reflects Mark’s pastoral interest in encouraging his readers to remain awake and look forward to the soon appearance of the Son of Man.

Stein’s final chapter is an interpretive translation of Mark 13. This is really more of an appendix to the book, and in the introduction he recommends some readers may want to start with this chapter before reading his exegetical discussion.

Conclusion. I found this short book to be a good introduction to the problems an exegete faces when attempting to interpret Mark 13. This is not a comprehensive exegetical study; Stein offers a framework for interpretation which, in his view, solves many problems. But many of the exegetical details are left for more technical commentaries. He intends to point the way for further study and reflection on Mark’s goals when he collected and edited the material in Mark 13. A pastor or teacher working through the Gospel of Mark should consider reading the book and wrestling the two horizons Stein suggests.

I would have liked one additional chapter, and I think Stein is well-qualified to write it: How was this material developed by Matthew and Luke? Assuming Markan priority, the other two Synoptic gospels appear to use Mark 13 in different ways. Tracing the trajectory of their interpretations might clarify some of Mark’s goals as well. I would also suggest it is possible Mark 13 is the framework for Revelation 6, although this is less accepted. This shortcoming of the book is not critical; it is simply beyond Stein’s stated purpose.

 

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

Published on November 19, 2014 on Reading Acts.

A few years ago the media went wild over the ‘Gospel of Judas,” a gnostic text which (it was claimed) described Judas as a faith disciple of Jesus, chosen to be the betrayer because he was so faithful. I first encountered this idea through William Klassen’s book Judas: Betrayer or Friend of Jesus? (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1996). Klassen argued that Judas was not the betrayer, but rather the most faithful disciple. Jesus had to be handed over to the authorities, so he entrusted this job to Judas. In order to make this theory work, Klassen has to make the “anti-Judas” statements into “later additions” by the church.  This includes the brief note in Luke that “Satan entered him” and the much later references to Judas as a thief in John’s gospel.  He makes much of the fact that Paul never mentions the betrayal or Judas.

Thirty Peices of SilverKlassen does have a point, the later texts do indeed offer a more pernicious view of Judas.  In John 12:1-8, Judas is described as a thief. He is embezzling from the disciples, and when a woman anoints Jesus’ feet with a precious perfume, he feels that he has been “cheated.” The perfume was not sold, he could have skimmed quite a bit from the sale (in John 13:28-30 Judas is the keeper of the funds for the disciples.) Greed could be a factor in Matthew 26:14-16 as well – Judas asked the priests “What will you give me….?”

Another answer is that the “perfume incident” forced Judas to understand that Jesus was not the Messiah, at least exactly as he understood the Messiah. One option is that Judas was convinced by the anointing that Jesus was not who he claimed, and the Pharisees were right all along. Jesus had to be destroyed as a false teacher. A second option is that Judas was shocked when he finally understood that Jesus was literally going to his death. He may have expected Jesus to go to Jerusalem to overthrow the Romans, but not to die. He may have wanted to ‘force’ Jesus to use his power to destroy the Romans.

At the time of the Last Supper, Judas had already made his choice to betray when Satan entered him (Luke 22:3). Perhaps Satan’s hand in the betrayal was to tempt Judas into making the decision or perhaps to keep Judas from losing his nerve by entering him. This is an extremely unique event:  Satan is never mentioned as “entering” anyone else. Satan has become personally involved because the previous efforts to stop Jesus have failed.

Another angle here is this: What did Satan stand to gain by getting Judas to betray Jesus? Why did Satan want to kill Jesus? He should have been able to understand that it would be Jesus’ death and resurrection that defeated him. Clearly Satan tried to stop him from going to the cross in the temptations, and tried to slow him down or stop him throughout his ministry, so why help him to the cross now? Satan’s role in the killing of Jesus is an indication of the arrogance of the devil. Perhaps he thought that if he could not stop Jesus in the world, that he could stop him in death. Maybe he thought that he could hold Jesus in the grave. Another option, although less likely, is that Satan was playing the role laid out for him, and that he was not truly a free agent in the whole affair.

Thirty pieces of silver was not a great deal of money, he would not have won many friends by betraying his teacher.  I suspect that his motivations were good, he wanted to help Jesus establish himself as the Messiah and to assist him in starting a Kingdom of God in Jerusalem.

But from a purely human perspective, what did Judas hope to gain?

Bibliography: Klassen also wrote the Anchor Bible Dictionary article, “Judas Iscariot”, 3:1091-1096. For a more balanced approach, see D. J. Williams, “Judas Iscariot”, in DJG, 406-408; John P. Meier, A Marginal Jew, 3:208-211.

Logos Bible Software has a great deal on 24 “classic commentaries” on Mark. The current community price bid is $30 for all 24 volumes, so a lilttle more that a dollar a book.  Logos has produced a good number of these “classic” sets, providing a good value on resources that are not readily available. By getting in on the community price bid, you can get the books for far less than they will cost later.

By classic, they mean old (published between 1860–1954). Some of these are not particularly valuable; I am not sure I would purchase Arthur Ritchie’s Spiritual Studies in St. Mark’s Gospel even at a dollar a volume. (Ritchie was the rector at St. Ignatius’ Church in New York at the end of the 19th century and wrote several multi-volume “spiritual studies” sets.)  There are commentaries from Lyman Abbott and William Kelley; both were of interest when they were published but are quite dated. Some of the commentaries are of historical interest, however. Leicester Ambrose Sawyer’s First Gospel, Being the Gospel according to Mark (1864) is an interesting insight in to the state of Mark and Q studies int he mid-19th century.  Benjamin Bacon’s Is Mark a Roman Gospel? (Harvard University Press, 1919) is well worth a browse as well.

Marie-Joseph Lagrange

Marie-Joseph Lagrange

An added value for some scholars will be several foreign language commentaries. In French, the collection includes Marie-Joseph Lagrange (Évangile selon Saint Marc, 1935). Lagrange was the founder of the École Biblique in Jerusalem as well as the journal Revue Biblique in 1892.

There are three German commentaries as well. Reading these in the Logos format will be much easier since older German books were printed in the older letters (Fraktur). There are three German commentaries in the collection, including Julius Wellhausen’s Das Evangelium Marci übersetzt und erklärt,originally published in 1903. While Wellhausen is better known for his OT studies, this commentary on Mark is a significant contribution since he argues the priority of Mark against the hypothetical “Q” document. Another name associated with OT studies is included August Klostermann (Das Markusevangelium nach seinem Quellenwerthe für die evangelische Geschichte, 1867). Finally, the collection has a commentary by Bernard Weiss (Die Geschichtlichkeit des Markusevangelium, 1905).

Is the set worth $30? I think that it is, since I might have paid that for Lagrange and Wellhausen alone if I ran across them in a used book store. Head over to Logos, browse the list and decide for yourself.

Hurtado, MarkLogos Bible Software is giving away a copy of Larry Hurtado’s commentary on Mark in Understanding the Bible series from Baker.  This series used to be published by Hendricksen as The New International Biblical Commentary Series.  When it moved to Baker Academic there was a name change and redesigned covers, but I believe the content is the same.  The series is a good “pastor’s commentary,” light comments on the English and Greek text. It is a very useful commentary for anyone who wants more depth than the average study Bible.  Visit the Logos Blog and get the code for the free book.

On the same page Logos offers a $20 gift code if you fill out a survey and fill out a FaithLife Study Bible Profile. The survey is long, but you can start and re-start it if you need to. (I tried to finish it today, but it stops after several questions; perhaps they will fix that soon!)

There are a number of discount codes from Logos the Blog as well, including D. A. Carson’s Pillar Commentary on Matthew (40% off).

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.

Mark is very brief and concise as he describes the crucifixion. The whole of Mark’s gospel has led up to the first phrase of verse 24, a simple line, “they crucified him.” He did not need to go into great detail, everyone in the Roman world knew what it was to be crucified, and as we saw a moment ago, it was considered impolite to talk about the execution in Roman society. Mark simply mentions it as a fact.

Crucifixion was not invented by the Romans, but the perfected this method of execution into the most horrible of deaths. They called it the “extreme penalty,” and “the humiliation.” It was reserved for the lower classes of their society, the conquered peoples who were not citizens. The Romans considered it too degrading for a Roman, reserved only for those citizens who had committed treason or fled in battle. There are several examples of this in Jewish history.

  • Jews who resisted Antiochus IV Epiphanies (167-164 B.C.) were crucified (Antiq. 12.5.4). Alexander Janneus, the Hasmonean high priest, executed 800 political opponents (many were likely Pharisees, Antiq. 13.14.2).
  • In 4 B.C. the Roman general Varus lined the road from Sepphoris to Galilee with 2000 crucified Jewish rebels (War 2.5.2, Antiq. 17.10.10). The procurator Tiberius Alexander ( A.D. 46-48) crucified the sons of Judas the Galilean (Antiq. 20.5.2).
  • In the Jewish War in A.D. 66 the Roman procurator Gessius Florus executed Jewish soldiers who refused to fight against Jews (War 2.14.9) and Titus crucified captives opposite the walls of Jerusalem (War 5.6.5, 5.11.1).

That Jesus was crucified would have been offensive to Jew and Gentile. The Romans considered talk of a cross or the executioner who preformed the crucifixion to be disgraceful, unworthy of a Roman citizen. The death of crucifixion was sadistic and cruel and was intended to keep the lower classes in their place and to keep subjected peoples from rebelling.

To the Jew, anyone killed by crucifixion was under the curse. The Old Testament said that anything that was hung on a tree was cursed (Deut 21:22-23). It was the ultimate insult to the Jew of the first century to be told that not only did the Messiah come and they did not recognize him, but that he had been crucified as a common criminal.

To the Greek, the death of Jesus on the cross was foolishness. The Greeks were civilized, believing in beauty and truth. To glorify the mangled body of Jesus on the cross was intellectually insulting to the worldview of  the Greek thinker.

What is the point of the Cross?  Jesus is executed as a rebel against Rome.  He would not have been thought to be a righteous martyr, but a failed prophet, a deceiver who was leading people in a rebellion against Rome.  Clearly he was not God, nor was he approved of by God.  This death is a humiliation such that no one in the first century would be drawn to Jesus as a religious leader let alone a savior. If death on the cross was such a confirmation for people living in the first century that Jesus was not at all who he claimed to be, what did God intend by choosing this sort of death for Jesus?

The answer is to be found in the resurrection.  The Roman, Greek and Jewish perceptions of what Jesus’ death meant are totally reversed in what happened three days later.  The humiliation of the cross makes the vindication of the resurrection even more spectacular.

A few years ago the media went wild over the ‘Gospel of Judas,” a gnostic text which (it was claimed) described Judas as a faith disciple of Jesus, chosen to be the betrayer because he was so faithful. I first encountered this idea through William Klassen’s book Judas: Betrayer or Friend of Jesus? (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1996). Klassen argued that Judas was not the betrayer, but rather the most faithful disciple. Jesus had to be handed over to the authorities, so he entrusted this job to Judas. In order to make this theory work, Klassen has to make the “anti-Judas” statements into “later additions” by the church.  This includes the brief note in Luke that “Satan entered him” and the much later references to Judas as a thief in John’s gospel.  He makes much of the fact that Paul never mentions the betrayal or Judas.

Klassen does have a point, the later texts do indeed offer a more pernicious view of Judas.  In John 12:1-8, Judas is described as a thief. He is embezzling from the disciples, and when a woman anoints Jesus’ feet with a precious perfume, he feels that he has been “cheated.” The perfume was not sold, he could have skimmed quite a bit from the sale (in John 13:28-30 Judas is the keeper of the funds for the disciples.) Greed could be a factor in Matthew 26:14-16 as well – Judas asked the priests “What will you give me….?”

Another answer is that the “perfume incident” forced Judas to understand that Jesus was not the Messiah, at least exactly as he understood the Messiah. One option is that Judas was convinced by the anointing that Jesus was not who he claimed, and the Pharisees were right all along. Jesus had to be destroyed as a false teacher. A second option is that Judas was shocked when he finally understood that Jesus was literally going to his death. He may have expected Jesus to go to Jerusalem to overthrow the Romans, but not to die. He may have wanted to ‘force’ Jesus to use his power to destroy the Romans.

At the time of the Last Supper, Judas had already made his choice to betray when Satan entered him (Luke 22:3). Perhaps Satan’s hand in the betrayal was to tempt Judas into making the decision or perhaps to keep Judas from losing his nerve by entering him. This is an extremely unique event:  Satan is never mentioned as “entering” anyone else. Satan has become personally involved because the previous efforts to stop Jesus have failed.

Another angle here is this: What did Satan stand to gain by getting Judas to betray Jesus? Why did Satan want to kill Jesus? He should have been able to understand that it would be Jesus’ death and resurrection that defeated him. Clearly Satan tried to stop him from going to the cross in the temptations, and tried to slow him down or stop him throughout his ministry, so why help him to the cross now? Satan’s role in the killing of Jesus is an indication of the arrogance of the devil. Perhaps he thought that if he could not stop Jesus in the world, that he could stop him in death. Maybe he thought that he could hold Jesus in the grave. Another option, although less likely, is that Satan was playing the role laid out for him, and that he was not truly a free agent in the whole affair.

But from a purely human perspective, what did Judas hope to gain?  Thirty pieces of silver was not a great deal of money, he would not have won many friends by betraying his teacher.  I suspect that his motivations were good, he wanted to help Jesus establish himself as the Messiah and to assist him in starting a Kingdom of God in Jerusalem.

Bibliography: Klassen also wrote the Anchor Bible Dictionary article, “Judas Iscariot”, 3:1091-1096. For a more balanced approach, see D. J. Williams, “Judas Iscariot”, in DJG, 406-408; John P. Meier, A Marginal Jew, 3:208-211.

After the Triumphal entry, Jesus returns to Bethany for the evening. As he is approaching Jerusalem the next morning, he sees a fig tree and expects to find a bit of fruit to eat, but there is none. Jesus then pronounces a curse on the fig tree, telling it that it will no longer bear fruit.

What is the meaning of the cursing of the fig tree? This is a symbolic action, dealing with more than a tree that does not bear fruit. The context supplies the clue, Jesus enters the temple and condemns it as a den of thieves, setting up the conflict stories as he teaches in the temple.

The fig tree is barren, a frequent symbol in the Old Testament of Israel’s unfaithfulness (Isa 28:4, for example), or God’s judgment (Jer 7:20, Hos 9:15-16). The most likely allusion is to Isaiah 6. There, the prophet describes Judah as a tree that will be cut down, but a remnant will remain (Isa 6:13). Judah would fall, but a tiny remnant will remain. Jesus has already quoted Isa 6 to describe his teaching in parables, so it is not a surprise that he would enact a parable with this fig tree based on Isaiah 6.

Jesus is looking for fruit in a place he has every right to find fruit, but does not find it. In the same way, he came to the nation looking for fruit, but did not find any. The religious establishment is a barren fig tree that is about to be cut off. Where did Jesus have every right to find a fruitful religious heart in Israel – the temple. Mark inserted the Temple demonstration into the narrative of the fig-tree to bring out the theological point of the Fig Tree sign.

On the third day after the curse is pronounced (and after the events in the temple), the disciples see the tree and note that it is dead – withered from the roots up. There are a number of Old Testament allusions here (Ho 9:16, Job 18:16, 28:9, 31:12, Ezek 19:9 ). The nation has gone past the point of no-return, they have rejected the Messiah.

But is there a “righteous remnant” as was the case in Isaiah 6:13? There are two ways of looking at this. First, we could read this as a curse upon Israel as a whole. They will no longer be God’s people and they are about to be replaced by the church. This is possible, but it seems to me to be theologically driven. Obviously from this side of the events it appears that the church replaced Israel, this parable talks about Israel being “cursed”, so it must predict the coming church. I would like to avoid this as anachronistic – Jesus is saying something about his ministry at that moment in history.

A second, better way to look at the meaning of this parabolic action is to see the religious establishment as “under the curse” and that they are being replaced by Jesus’ disciples. This is why Mark inserts the Temple demonstration into his “Markan Sandwich,” he is point to the meaning of the curse of the fig tree. Jesus came to his own people and they have rejected him. He created a new Israel with twelve disciples (twelve tribes) who will receive the promised New Covenant.

This story in Mark 7:24-30 (cf. Matt 15:22-28) stands in contrast to the hypocrisy of the Pharisees.  They have seen the miracles of Jesus and remain unconvinced, despite being the religious leaders of Israel.  They are the ones that ought to have understood that Jesus was the Messiah.  This is a surprise to the reader, that the good Jewish religious people (disciples and Pharisees) miss out on who Jesus is claiming to be, yet the Gentiles and demons seem to have no trouble in understanding he is Messiah, son of God, even God himself!

Why is Jesus staying in Tyre?  He instructed his disciples who avoid Gentile cities, yet here he is in Tyre.  It is possible that he is traveling alone, seeking a place where he can have some privacy from the crowds.  I doubt he is staying with Gentiles, rather, Jesus has entered the home of a supporting Jew with the hope of privately teaching his disciples, perhaps hearing their reports from their own mission in Galilee.

A woman approaches Jesus boldly and requests that Jesus heal her daughter of an evil spirit. This crosses several cultural boundaries:  man/woman, Jew/Gentile.  For a Gentile woman to approach a Jewish teacher and healer is incredibly bold!   We are told that the woman is Greek, born in Syrian Phoenicia.

There are some rather harsh comments by Jesus that it is not right to take the bread from the children (the Jews) and give it to the dogs (Gentiles)!  It is the usual practice of preachers to approach this passage by saying that Jesus isn’t really as harsh as he sounds.  The word for dog, for example, is a diminutive – a puppy.  Jesus is testing the woman’s faith, not telling her to get lost!

The fact is that the words are harsh and exclusivist.  Jesus calls her a gentile dog.  This is not a cute puppy begging table scraps, but rather a filthy scavenger.  The diminutive is not used to make the dog a “cute” puppy, but rather a little rat-like dog that steals the scraps from the garbage.  Jesus is also using a diminutive (“little dogs”) to refer to the woman’s child.  Jesus essentially says that it is unethical to take food away from the true child and give it to the dogs.

Jesus does not deny that the dogs will get their food, but it is after the true children have eaten their fill that the dogs will receive their crumbs. This condition is deleted from the Matthew version of the story.  Many take this to mean that Gentiles will experience salvation, but the gospel goes first to the Jews, then to the gentiles (not unlike Paul in Romans 1:16-17).

Does this story indicate that Jesus’ ministry is being broadened to include Gentiles at this point? The thrust of this series of stories (including the blind man and the feeding of the 4000, the near-context in Mark) is often described as an indication that the message of Jesus’ gospel was inclusive of the Gentiles, or at the very least was looking forward to the inclusion of the Gentiles in the Kingdom of God.  Many commentators will often link these stories with the later Gentile mission.  There is some merit to this, since the Lord associates food laws with Gentile ministry in Acts 10 in Peter’s Vision in the rooftop.  If Peter is the source behind Mark, then there is certainly cause to think that he is reflecting on his own involvement in some kind of Gentile ministry.

This may not be the case, however.  As Samuel Sandmel notes, the references to Gentiles in Jesus ministry are not the norm, but exceptions.  Gentiles are not replacing Israel, but rather some Gentiles may join Israel.  That the Gentiles would come into the kingdom was an expected part of the Kingdom of God, so it not unusual that some Gentiles might come into the kingdom via Jesus’ ministry. If these stories are conversion stories, that is.  It is entirely possible that the Gentiles that experience miracles in this section are no more converted to Jesus mission than the Jews in the previous sections.  It is highly unlikely that they convert to Judaism at this point!.  However, it is possible that there are “seeds planted” in the ministry outside of Galilee that will be a harvest later when Paul preaches a gospel apart form the law.

The point of Mark’s narrative is not that Jesus has “gone over to the Gentiles” after being rejected by the Pharisees.  Tyre and Sidon have benefited from Jesus’ ministry already (see 3:8).  Mark is writing about 40 years after these events, well into a period of Gentile ministry (quite possibly after Paul’s death!)  There is no need to “comfort and encourage” gentiles, they are the dominate element in the Roman church by the time Mark writes.

These stories of Gentile ministry serve as an ironic contrast to the lack of faith in Israel, and as such stand along side the testimony of the demons as to the true identity of Jesus.  He came to his own (Israel) but his own did not know him.  Are there other indications that Mark is intentionally contrasting the unbelieving Jews with believing Gentiles?

Bibliography:  Gene R. Smillie “‘Even The Dogs’: Gentiles In The Gospel Of Matthew,”  JETS 45:1 (March 2002): 73-97.

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Christian Theology

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