September Books 2) The Theology of the Gospel of Mark, by W.R. Telford

…it is only the external evidence of the Papias tradition which supports the traditional view of authorship and this evidence is problematic. The internal evidence of the text, which is ultimately decisive, tilts strongly against it. Indeed without Papias’ testimony the Gospel itself would hardly have suggested it. When we consider, however, that it was the religious value of the Gospel which led the early church to assert its link with Peter and not vice versa, then the matter of its actual authorship is not decisive for the question of its theology.

A fairly digestible book on the shortest of the Gospels, though one which provided core material for two of the other three. Telford concentrates (as per his title) more on the internal message of what Mark is trying to say, but I found his discussion of sources and process of composition very interesting: basically he rejects the traditional view that the author was a confidant of St Peter, pointing out that the Gospel displays ignorance of Palestinian geography and Jewish customs, and is no more pro- or anti-Peter than any of the other three, and moves on from that to try and discern what particular spin the author put on each pericope as he included it in the final text, a very satisfying process of analysis.

I’d have liked a bit more reflection on the originality of the enterprise – the gospels were a new genre of writing, and this one was the first one to be written; what existing models might have been in the author’s mind? I think the abruptness of the ending at 16:8, ἐφοβοῦντο γάρ, (which Telford defends for other reasons) is excusable if one remembers that nobody had ever written the closing sentence of a gospel before. (However the fact that there are several different additional endings in circulation, two of which made it into the received text, may indicate that early readers found the 16:8 conclusion as unsatisfactory as some later critics.)

Telford does go into some detail about what Mark actually wanted to say theologically, and gives an account of other scholars’ proposals as well as offering his own. He buys into the idea that Mark is portraying a Jesus whose mission was secret, revealed through hints and parables; and that the author is trying to navigate a new concept of Jesus between [Jewish] Messiah and [Greek] divine man (theios aner). He ends with the uncomfortable observation that the gospel’s clear rejection and dismissal of the Jews is a fundamental element of later anti-Semitism. To be honest I found the theoretical discussions of meaning much less interesting than the process discussions of writing, but I am not the target audience.

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1 Response to September Books 2) The Theology of the Gospel of Mark, by W.R. Telford

  1. irishkate says:

    I am still most fond of livejournal. I never posted all that much but it is still where I go to see how people are doing – many of whom I’ have never met.

    I am hoping it hangs on in there for a while to come.

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