Thursday, October 07, 2004

Scripturalization in Mark's Crucifixion Narrative

Things have been quiet for a couple of days on the blog because I've had the usual enormous backlog of administration, and especially an enormous backlog of correspondence, all made worse by having to prepare teaching after returning early on Monday morning from Rome. But one happy interlude has been provided by the sheer necessity to get an article written on "Scripturalization in Mark's Crucifixion Narrative", which I will be giving in the Mark Group at this year's SBL Annual Meeting. We had our Graduate Biblical Studies Seminar in Birmingham today and it gave me the chance to give the new paper, which I finished at around 2.30 a.m. last night, a first try-out. Here's a summary at the end of the paper, pending my posting the whole paper on-line at the weekend after I have done a little more tweaking:
Allow me to summarise our discussion. (1) Scholars still seldom appreciate just what an extraordinary undertaking it is to have tried to write a narrative about a hero who was crucified. (2) Mark overcomes the problem with this anomalous frightful by grounding his story in God’s will as revealed in the Scriptures. (3) The process concerned is one of scripturalization, the retelling of traditional materials in the light of the Scriptures, a view more plausible than the alternative of prophecy historicized. (4) The context for the Scripturalizing work was one in which Mark was in continuity with Christians going back at least to 50s Corinth, and no doubt to 30s Jerusalem, and it was the liturgy, something that has left its own mark on the text in circumstantial evidence.
It is simultaneously a pleasure and an irritation (but I think more of a pleasure) that one is working towards a conclusion on this kind of thing only to find oneself getting a host of extra ideas. One thing that I have been struck by has been the way in which Jesus' cry of dereliction functions in Mark's narrative. This may not make a lot of sense without the whole context, but I am in the mood to share it here. What I am concerned about is the scholarly cliché of seeing the cry of derelection as a sign of "embarrassment". Is Mark really in any way embarrassed by this moment? I don't think so. Rather, the more that one dwells on the magnitude of the task Mark has embraced, that of telling a story in which a hero is a victim of crucifixion, the more such a cry makes perfect sense.
In these verses, where Jesus is, of necessity, largely silent, the Scriptures speak all the more loudly. They provide Mark with the means of telling a plausible story (a crucified victim might be depicted uttering a few choice words, but extensive conversations are quite out of the question if one wishes to keep one’s narrative plausible) at the same time as making it theologically robust. It acts as a useful reminder that discussions about the cry of Jesus from the cross as being an embarrassment, as being the more likely historically because of that, as quite out of place. Mark is not in the least “embarrassed” by this cry. It is an ideal means of expressing plausibly the horror of the cross at the same time as reaffirming, by quoting the Psalms, that it is in God’s will.
We had two other papers today, the first my colleague David Parker discussing Textual Criticism and Theology and the second his student Richard Goode talking about Orality and Textuality in the Gospel, both stimulating.

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