Early Christian dissertation getting clearer

Still hacking away at Chapter 2, but I had a discussion with my chair earlier this afternoon, to pitch an idea concerning Judas that has cleared things up. I thought I was going to have to write a very long Chapter 5 on the disciples – now, I think, it will center on Judas, with a smaller, more elegant argument.

For the unfamiliar, the entire dissertation has 3 goals.

The first goal is to present an approach to rhetorical criticism of the gospels – one with a “strong” authorship model (leaning towards the Farrier-Goulder hypothesis and the concept of the author in composition studies), half a ton of narrative theory (notably Walter Fisher), and a skeptical, secular viewpoint. This is the bulk of the project, requiring a chapter that gives an statement of intent and theory, and three chapters of exemplar case studies to demonstrate its value.

The second goal, requiring one chapter (Chapter 1!), is to argue that early Christian texts – including but not limited to the gospels – get short shrift in the big theories of rhetorical history, and that this is a salvageable situation, but it requires some readjustment of some basic assumptions about what makes ancient texts rhetorical.

The third goal is to discuss how the approach in goal #1 might be introduced to undergraduate and graduate students in rhetoric classes, with the pros and cons inherent in doing so. It will involve some historical poking into how ‘Bible as Literature’ has generally been taught in America, and likely argue for a more aggressive, rhetorical replacement, though we’ll see if it goes that far. That will be the final chapter, and with some luck, maybe I can test-drive some of it in a fall class.

Of the three case studies for goal #1, I’ve drafted two so far.

In the first, Chapter 3, I go through all the post-resurrection narratives of Jesus and argued that the Gospel of Mark ends where it does at 16:8 for Pauline reasons, to strip the apostles of the authority that they seem to have in 1 Cor 15, as the first witnesses to the resurrection. It’s not an argument that I’ve seen elsewhere, though I’m still reading, and it is a reasonable conclusion from a pro-Pauline, anti-disciple reading of Mark.

In the second, Chapter 4, I go through all the narratives mentioning John the Baptist, including Josephus, and argue that the Gospel of Mark invented a connection between Jesus and John for a variety of rhetorical purposes. This including a fairly lengthy (and necessary) discussion of Paul’s view of baptism and Josephus’s view of false messiahs.

What I’m thinking of for Chapter 5 is something that I noticed while finishing up translating Mark – Judas doesn’t seem to be a necessary part of the narrative. He’s only mentioned 3 times in Mark, at 3.19, 14.10, and 14.43-44, and Mark carefully defines him each time: ‘Judas Iscariot, who also betrayed Jesus’ and ‘Judas, one of the twelve,’ once as his betrayal begins, and again when he arrives with the crowd.

I suspect this careful defining is because Mark’s audience didn’t know who Judas was. In 1 Cor, Paul refers to some sort of supper narrative as “the night he (Jesus) was being betrayed,” (the Greek is more literally handed over) but he gives no name, or an indication that it was one of the disciples, a group, the chief priests, etc who did the handing-over. The argument that Paul is making there would lend to using a “betrayer” as a stand-in for unworthy Corinthians, but he does no such thing. It’s a curious problem, and worth investigation. Someone, I’m sure, has explored this already, but as I discovered in the previous two case studies, there’s always something new to add.

Anyway, that future chapter has me excited. It’s also another opportunity to demonstrate, as the other two chapters did in passing, that the Gospel of John knows the Synoptics – the Judas material in Matthew-Luke-John, I feel, adds another nail. Too bad that my 1-chapter-a-month schedule forces me to wait until May to write it.

Ugh. Back to Chapter 2.

6 thoughts on “Early Christian dissertation getting clearer

  1. Ah, at last, a fellow earthling who also recognizes the complete artifice behind Mark’s linking John the Baptist and Jesus! The two are set up as counterfoils from the beginning — John enters via the context of the Law and Prophets, Moses and Elijah, from the opening words of Mark echoing the opening of the Torah and the first and last of the prophets. He is not only Elijah, but the one who announces another to come after him, as did Moses, to whom all were to take heed. His thriving on the scraping of the wilderness (skins, locusts, etc) contrasts with Jesus’ power over it (angel servants) — is an image-contrast of the old covenant with the new. Bring back Campbell’s question about the chances of a rough haired man by the river, named Ea, etc etc etc ….. Now you’ve reminded me, I must do up a post on my blog listing the total of artificial studs tying the 2 together, leaving the obvious questions about historicity hanging.

  2. Yep. In addition, he’s a great foil for the disciples, too, instantly recognizing what they never quite grasp, and he allows Jesus to retroactively receive a Pauline-style baptism. Furthermore, his political execution foreshadows Jesus’s, and his special guest appearance makes a case for any disciples of John still around to convert, as well as boosting Jesus’s ethos in general by associating him with what I suspect was a more well-known sage. The connection between the two just solves a ton of narrative problems for Mark.

  3. On the Pauline connection with Mark, one question still haunts me. I’ve asked it before, maybe you can offer an answer. For all of the Pauline facets marking Mark’s gospel, there appears to me to be one stark contradiction between Mark and Paul. Paul speaks of Christ in us, with us here and now — yet Mark is very much a “Jesus is totally absent now and will be until the parousia” type of theology. Thoughts?

  4. Hrm. I don’t quite get that impression from Paul. He says certain congregations or people are ‘in Christ’ or ‘in the grace’ or ‘in the spirit’ of Christ quite often, but I think that’s acknowledging allegiance to the faith, as in his snarky comments in 1 Cor 1:10-17. When Paul says in Romans 8.10, “But if Christ is in you…” that’s speaking of the logistics of getting your spiritual resurrection. I assume this is the same presence that Mark 13:11 refers to when Jesus says the holy spirit will be around for those of the faith who freeze up on public speaking occasions.

    But I would agree there is a change in tone and emphasis on how close Jesus seems to be, and the reason, I think, is the passage of time and the rhetorical situation. Both Paul and Mark expect (or at least are selling) an imminent parousia. The same kind of ‘thief in the night’ warnings are in 1 Thess as Mark 13. The problem facing Mark, though, is that he’s writing later. The most prominent apostles – Paul, Peter, James – are dead. The Romans are fixing to, or have already destroyed, Jerusalem and the Temple, depending on when one dates Mark. But most importantly, Jesus still hasn’t come back.

    Every apocalyptic movement reaches a similar point where the message has to adjust. Talking about spirit or how wonderful it is to be in Christ might have worked for Paul, but it isn’t cutting it anymore by Mark’s time. I think much of Mark’s purpose in writing is to stem such worries by constructing a narrative past that anticipates these problems and explains them in a convenient manner. The anti-disciple theme is key to this, blaming the Jerusalem disciples for it all – they failed Jesus, no one ever went to Galilee to meet Jesus after his resurrection – he was left there tapping his watch as Robert Price has quipped – thus the elect are currently receiving the extra-rough extended wait that Mark 13 describes, with the revolt serving as the birth pangs.

  5. I suspect that the “allegiance to the faith” idea is more a post-Pauline Pastoral epistle concept. For Paul to have Christ in him is more than an allegiance — it is the very life of Christ in him — it is Christ revealed in him. Almost as if he’s saying (contra Mark) Here is Christ!

    But as for the parousia delay and re-writing the script idea, I agree there is a common routine among apocalyptic movements, and your explanation is consistent with the commonly given one. But of the few such movements I have known well personally, the order of the action is actually the reverse: timetables come first and lead to the disillusionment; the emphasis on contentment in the spiritual life is the subsequent resolution. That is, Mark 13 is what prompts the disillusion; Paul’s joy in the Lord here and now is the resolution. I can’t help but question the standard response to this question.

  6. There’s not enough info to answer it well, unfortunately. But the glimpses are fascinating.

    A possibility that might answer your concern is there having been a “timetable” before the first letter we have of Paul’s. If 1 Thess is 50-52, that’s at least 15 years for the first followers to wait for Jesus, nearly half a lifetime given the usual expectancy. In other words, Mark is likely not the first time there has been a major course correction. I should re-read the early letters with this in mind.

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