Monday, October 11, 2010

The Orthodox Redaction of Mark

I have spoken on previous occasions about Matthew's redaction of Mark as something that shows a rich understanding of what is happening in Mark, and which sometimes attempts to take Mark's interesting ideas a little further (e.g. my articles on Simon Peter and John the Baptist [PDFs]). It occurred to me recently that a lot of what is happening in Matthew might be seen as a kind of  "orthodox redaction" of Mark, an attempt to fix some of the potentially troubling ideas and implications in Mark.

Take, for example, the question of Jesus' father.  In Mark's Gospel, Jesus does not have a human father.  He is "the craftsman, the son of Mary" (Mark 6.3); his father is in heaven and addresses Jesus directly as his son (Mark 1.11, 9.7) and Jesus calls him "Abba" (Mark 14.36).  Other supernatural beings know that he is God's son too (3.11).  The unwary reader of Mark might easily assume that Mark's Jesus, who simply appears on the scene as an adult in Mark 1, is some kind of god, perhaps the product of a union between a god and Mary.  Matthew sees the problem.  He gives Jesus a father, named Joseph; indeed, he begins the book with him (Matt. 1).  In redacting the Rejection and Nazareth story, he makes Jesus "the son of the craftsman" (Matt. 13.55) so that there can be no doubt about the matter.

The same phenomenon appears elsewhere.  Mark's Jesus, at his first appearance in the Gospel, goes to a baptism (Mark 1.9-10) which we have just heard characterized as a "baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins" (Mark 1.4).  The unwary reader might easily assume that Jesus is going to John to repent and have his sins forgiven, so Matthew makes sure that there is no doubt about the matter and engages in an "orthodox redaction", making clear that this is an unexpected and anomalous event (Matt. 3.13-17).

Other examples include the abrupt ending of Mark, which concludes the story before Jesus has appeared to the disciples (Mark 16.1-8).  Indeed, the last time they were seen, they were fleeing from the scene (14.50).  For all the unwary reader knows, they might never have come back  But Matthew knows traditions like 1 Corinthians 15, and that Jesus appeared to Peter and the twelve and that these traditions were regarded as foundational by the earliest communities (1 Cor. 15.1-3), and he provides what Mark only leaves implicit, and narrates appearances to the disciples (Matt. 28.16-20).

Matthew's orthodox redaction of Mark was so successful that we now find ourselves reading Mark through Matthew's -- and also Luke's -- eyes.  His skill as a redactor with "orthodox" beliefs was that he rescued Mark from the potential to have been read and interpreted quite differently.

10 comments:

Richard said...

Nice observations Mark. Do you think the name chosen by Matthew for Jesus' father was symbolic? Matthew draws significant parallels between Jesus and Moses and portrays Jesus to some extent as a new Moses. Joseph marks the beginning of the Israelites in Egypt, while Moses leads their exodus out of Egypt. Perhaps Matthew is thinking of this Joseph-Moses association when he names Jesus' father.

Regards,

Richard Godijn

Mark Goodacre said...

Michael Goulder flirted with the idea that Matthew chose the name Joseph because this new Joseph was similarly a dreamer of dreams. I think Matthew may well have known the name in his tradition, though.

Richard said...

I like Goulder's idea. Did he write this in his Midrash and Lection in Matthew?

I always have a hard time accepting something is traditional when we don't have access to the early traditions (and Mark and Paul don't have it of course) and when we see how creative the evangelists were. When I read your PhD thesis I noticed that was one of the greatest differences between Michael Goulder and yourself. Your version of the Farrer hypothesis seems to be more open to the possibility of oral traditions behind Luke's text than Goulder's version. I suppose the same is true with Matthew.

Mark Goodacre said...

Yes, that's right. I think it is in Midrash and Lection, yes.

James F. McGrath said...

Hi Mark. Thanks for posting on this. I have just posted a response in the hope that we can liven things up here in the biblioblogosphere a little bit. :)

kitavis said...

This sort of "redaction" flies pretty hard in the face of "infallible Word of God"(in which I believe the Bible never claims to be) doesn't it?

kitavis said...

This sort of "redaction" flies pretty hard in the face of "infallible Word of God"(in which I believe the Bible never claims to be) doesn't it?

kitavis said...

sorry for the double post

kashow said...

"Matthew's orthodox redaction of Mark was so successful that we now find ourselves reading Mark through Matthew's -- and also Luke's -- eyes. His skill as a redactor with "orthodox" beliefs was that he rescued Mark from the potential to have been read and interpreted quite differently."

This is a very illumining point for canonical critics to consider for how the New Testament is presented for people of faith. Brilliant discussion here, Mark.

Mark Goodacre said...

Thanks, Rob. I might develop this a bit more in the future, so appreciate the encouragement.