Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The Orthodox Redaction of Mark and the Question of Jesus' Father

In Jesus, Mary and Joseph!, James McGrath responds to the first element in my post on The Orthodox Redaction of Mark (and we both get a nice thumbs-up from Doug Chaplin) to the following effect:
It seems to me that, on the one hand, to suggest that Mark's readers would have thought he did not have a human father is to make too much of silences. As a rule, we assume that people have fathers, even when we don't mention them, and it seems to me that an exception to that rule would have required an explicit claim rather than silence. And while it is common for commentators to suggest that "son of Mary" reflected rumors that Jesus was illegitimate and his father unknown, that too seems to be reading too much into Mark's language, which is not followed by any defence of Jesus' legitimacy.
Well, James may be right, but the difficulty is that the Gospel itself does not provide the necessary clues, and this is where Matthew's (and several scribes') "orthdox redaction" comes in.  I am not suggesting that the author of Mark's Gospel thought that Jesus had no earthly father.  I don't know what the author of Mark thought because he does not tell us.  That is the difficulty with "silences".  The absence of key information invites the reader to speculate.  And in the case of Mark's Gospel, the person that I called "the unwary reader" might well assume that Jesus had no earthly father.  He is not named in key contexts when one would expect him to be named, like when Jesus is first introduced in Mark 1, or when his family is first mentioned in Mark 3.21 and 3.31-34, or when Jesus returns to his patris in Mark 6.1-6, and members of his family are named.  And, moreover, there are repeated references to another father, Abba Father, who addresses Jesus as his son, and who addresses others about his son.

So the way that I look at it is that the invitation is there to read Mark in a certain way.  And Matthew, Mark's first reader, is a careful reader and is attentive to possible mis-readings (as he sees them) and he makes sure that they are corrected.  And the genius of Matthew's Gospel is that he was largely successful in this project.

Nevertheless, James is right to draw attention to the oddity of Matthew's own answer to the question of Jesus' parenting.  He affirms the genealogy through Joseph right at the outset of the Gospel (Matt. 1.1-18), something he affirms elsewhere too (Matt. 13.55), but then he sticks right next to it a story that is usually read as affirming a virginal conception (Matt. 1.18-25).  The addition of the latter only serves to underline the point, however, about Matthew's "orthodox redaction of Mark".  It is this story, and the tension it throws up between simultaneously affirming Jesus' human parents and his divine origin that finds its way into Christian orthodoxy.  And in this Luke too, following Matthew's lead, plays a key part.

12 comments:

Wieland Willker said...

Well, there is also something called oral tradition.
I think it is incoceivable that Christians did not know about Joseph and Mary.

Mark Goodacre said...

I am not sure what point that is addressing, Wieland. In spite of the oral tradition, Mark still does not mention Joseph.

Wieland Willker said...

You wrote that someone could get the idea from Mk that Jesus had no earthly father.
That's right only in a vacuum. Oral tradition will tell them about Jospeh. That's probably the same source from which Mt got this information.

rbecs said...

Unrelated to the current topic, this is just to say we added you to our blogroll.

Mark Goodacre said...

I am inclined to agree, Wieland, that several early readers would have made that connection. We know two of them who did, Matthew and Luke, which is my point. Nevertheless, when it comes to Mark's Gospel itself, there is no earthly father for Joseph.

Mark Goodacre said...

Thanks, rbecs. Reciprocated.

Matt Larsen said...

Thanks for posting these thoughts, Dr. Goodacre. Interesting questions and stimulating conversation. I have reflected on some other places where Matthew redacts some Markan pericopae which have a somewhat adumbrated christology (as well as what this might tell us about the Sitz im Leben of both Gospels) over on my blog (http://matthewdlarsen.wordpress.com).

Jeff Cate said...

Mark, I wonder if you could address an issue related to your thesis. I'm hesitant to think that the unwary reader of Mark might assume that Jesus had no earthly father because in the two Markan passages in which his mother (sans father) is mentioned, his brothers are mentioned (3:31-34) and named (6:3). Wouldn't that cause the unwary reader to regard Jesus as having a normal family background?

Mark Goodacre said...

Good point, Jeff. It's difficult to know how to treat that evidence. One reading would certainly be to imagine that these are Jesus' brothers and sisters by two human parents, Mary and an unmentioned father. Later texts like the Protevangelium of James decided that they were children of Joseph by a previous marriage. And we don't know what Matthew made of them.

Jeff Cate said...

True, but later texts like Protevangelium of James (and even Epiphanius, Jerome, and others) are written assuming a miraculous birth, which then necessitates explanation about Jesus' relationship to his brothers. And maybe Matthew deals with that in Mt 1:24-25 (but of course, the meaning of "hews" there is debated).

But since Mark never hints at a miraculous birth for Jesus, the mention of his brothers in Mk 3 & 6 would seem to cause an early reader to assume that Jesus had a normal family background even though the father is unmentioned.

Mark Goodacre said...

Yes, I am inclined to agree, and I think that's how Matthew and then Luke read the text.

Nazaroo said...

Great points brought out here. Mark clearly has occasion to mention a human father to clarify Jesus' Heavenly Father, a special new character.

But to use Metzger's language, "the evidence for Matthew's priority over Luke is underwhelming."

I am far more convinced that Matthew is the 'final edition', not Luke.

peace
Nazaroo