But to what shall I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the market places and calling to their playmates, 'We piped to you, and you did not dance; we wailed, and you did not mourn.'

-Matthew 11:16-17


Blessed are you that weep now, for you shall laugh.

-Luke 6:21

I am big; I am small; I contradict myself'

- Walt Whitman


Monday, October 31, 2011

Mark's Magical (Circular) Mystery Tour

 The idea may not be as crazy as it first appears. Or if it is, at least I am not the first one who has seen Mark as a going in circles. I have already shown (Mark's Recursive Gospel) why I believe the original design of Mark was circular. At the end loop, the messenger of the Lord in the tomb unsuccesfully attempts to baptize the disciples into the death of Christ via their women. The body of Jesus is missing but the σομα χριστου lives in Paul's church(es) in the unio mystica of its saints with the Redeemer. The church itself is the body of Christ. The final scene of Mark (16:1-8) reveals the encrypted interpretation of Malachi 3:1, "Behold, I send my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek* will suddenly come to his temple**; the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight, behold, he is coming, says the LORD of hosts..."

*/ note the explicit parallel with Iησοῦν ζητεῖτε τὸν Ναζαρηνὸν in Mk 16:6.
**/ refers to Paul's metaphor of one's body as the temple of God (1 Cr 3:16, 6:19)   

In other words, Mark fooled the uninitiated reader into thinking his reference to Isaiah the prophet was to the messenger sent before the Lord, and he artfully encouraged the misstep by annexing Isa 40:3, with John as the voice crying in the wilderness to make the path straight for the Lord. The obscuring of the Malachi verse was deliberate as it provides the vital interpretive clue to Mark's allegory as a whole and specifically to the action of the messenger of the Lord in the tomb (16:6-7).

But Mark's ruse was not as simple-minded as that ! The mention of Isaiah also strongly binds with the strange allusion to gospel in the opening verse. Why would the writing start with something that looks like a title ? I am led to believe by the cognitive structures present that the first verse of Mark looked most probably like this: "In the beginning of the gospel, as it written in Isaiah the prophet" (ἐν ἀρχὴ τοῦ εὐαγγελίου καθὼς γέγραπται ἐν τῷ Ἠσαΐᾳ τῷ προφήτῃ).

We know there was only one gospel in Mark's time and it was the gospel of Paul. There is no indication there was anyone else who described his own missionary activity with what appears to have been a new verb εὐαγγελίζω (preach the gospel,  found as participle in LXX only in Isa 52:17 xref Rom 10:15) which gave the noun from which it has been derived a new context. The word 'gospel' would have been adopted in the earliest Christian communities with the understanding that it was the gospel of (Jesus) Christ. As Paul himself often dropped the descriptive tag to the word using it as standalone, and in Rom 2:16 referring to 'my gospel' I am persuaded that the association of the word with Paul was initially high and with a subtext that the word belonged to him and bespoke of his teachings. From there I reason that the mention of gospel in the first verse of Mark was not as much self-description of the text that followed but a tribute to Paul's teachings by which it was inspired. We know that ἐν ἀρχὴ τοῦ εὐαγγελίου was a turn of phrase used by Paul in Phl 4:15. Mark would have seen his creativity as inspired by, and owing to, Paul and himself very much in the large footsteps of the master builder(see my table Paulinisms in Mark earlier in the blog). By Mark's standards gospel of Jesus Christ (the Son of God) would be too longwinded for his purpose. Paul was the ἀρχιτέκτων of the gospel (1 Cr 3:10), upon which he, Mark is called upon to build. Hence also Jesus' own profession revealed in Mk 6:3. Isaiah 44:13 describes the initial master plan of the gospel and the fashioning the figure of Christ: The carpenter stretches a line, he marks it out with a pencil; he fashions it with planes, and marks it with a compass; he shapes it into the figure of a man, with the beauty of a man, to dwell in a house. This verse from Isaiah most likely also supplied the meaning of  Mark's  2:1, i.e. that it was reported after Jesus returned to Capernaum that he was ἐν οἴκῳ repeated as εἰς οἶκον in 3:20, and 7:17. In none of these instances Mark actually means to use οἶκος as home or house but as a code for the in-dwelling spirit.

Tale of a shared conjunction

The abrupt ending of Mark 16:8 has the potential of dramatically altering our view of the earliest Christianity. If the text of Mark was as Tischendorf presented it, the appearances of resurrected Jesus to his earthly disciples were believed to have happened not immediately after his death, but as a reaction to Mark's gospel, some forty years later. If Mark ended at 16:8, then resurrection was not an historical event but a theological concept which was first resisted and then modified in reaction to Paul and Mark by a group which has been dubiously described as Jewish Christians.

There was no single church at the outset but apparently two major independent, rival strands in the Jesus traditions, the older one disseminating the views of him by missions from Jerusalem and a newly formed one, which countered with an entirely different teachings on the meaning an death of the Nazarene prophet. Only the latter group, founded by Paul apparently accepted the cross as the symbol of Christ, renouncing the traditional Jewish messianic hope for a restored kingdom of Israel. The older group appears to have had great difficulty in accepting the purely spiritualist concept of resurrection as taught by Paul and allegorized by Mark. If this is not true then the original gospel of Mark in effect lied about the resurrection not being revealed to the disciples by Jesus, in person - postmortem. But if the women ran away from the tomb and did not share the annunciation they received, then the gospel (of Jesus Christ) reached the disciples, or those who believed in them as a source of tradition, through Mark's allegory, as Mark evidently intended. Mark's gospel is self-pointing, or recursive.

Markan exegets have often expressed incredulity at the gospel ending with a conjunction (γαρ), in what appears a syntax forced to suggest a continuation of the narrative. The grammar of the last verse (16:8) has been a subject of many discussions. My own solution at which I arrived independently but which I have learned since had been suggested by Robert Fowler (Let the Reader Understand) back in 1991 is that the conjunction actually was intended to connect the text back to the beginning. Fowler speaks of an analogy with a musical notation of coda, returning the reader/listener back to the beginning.

In my perspective, the circularity on the level of symbolism is given by two things.  One is the symmetry of the baptism by John, which in its effect brings about the descent of the Spirit into Jesus, and the baptism of the messenger of the Lord in the tomb, which in its effect causes the reader following the story, to recurse back to the beginning, if unable to read the plot:

1) Jesus acquires dual nature at the Jordan,

2) he becomes empowered by divine Spirit,

3) he acquires disciples and spiritual witness (the demons, the Twelve, Markan readers) of his ministry  - though others, including his family are convinced he has just gone off the deep end.

4) his disciples led by Peter and the Zebs (outside of the Twelve - read here) do not receive the spiritual mystery of Christ; after Peter, they come to idolize Jesus as the traditional Messiah who will restore Israel

5) but that is not what Jesus sees as his messiahship

6) the kingdom of God is not of this world

7) he must die and the witness of his resurrectional glory (the symbolism of the Transiguration) is sustained by faith 

8) that's all folks, there is no other good news (gospel) and.....

         ....if you do not have faith in the gospel, read it again, perhaps you will note on the second pass that Mark changed Malachi's 3:1 prepare my way to prepare your way, and that the messenger to be beheld, now refers to both John and the neaniskos in the tomb.  You are on your way to more discoveries on Mark's Magical Mystery Tour through the scriptures.  Just remember that Mark includes the letters of Paul as bonafide scriptures as well.

   Second, the gospel's cycle is simply given by the nature of the Spirit.  Bipolar challenge belongs in a class of mood disorders marked by a repetitive attacks. A severe manic episode is typically marked by stages where in the early phase of the episode, euphoric, over-confident, expansive and grandiose ideas and behaviours predominate. They  then morph into increasingly disorganized, agitated behaviours and experience which becomes dysphoric, finally ushering into panic attacks and severe inner torments in which the Spirit is internally perceived as a malevolent intruder and impostor, until the mental excitement subsides and the subject typically passes into depressed moods.
      The gospel begins with Jesus at the apex of euphoric intoxication; he is empowered by the Spirit, embarks on a chaotic tour marked by acts of large benevolence in providing cures, exorcisms, feedings and teachings of coming judgment which strangely belies a limitless potential for good that Jesus possesses (or Mark's reader is hypnotized to believe he possesses).  The anarchic fugue suddenly changes when Jesus' becomes gripped by a prophetic resolve to go to Jerusalem to be humiliated, tortured and killed.  At this juncture the Spirit animated by Jesus begins to realize the unreal, delusional, nature of the enterprise and seeks resolution of his predicament. Through the crisis, ironically plotted as the judgement of the Lord in reverse, even to the near-blowing of the allegorical cover of Paul, where Jesus is arrested "as if a robber" (ληστης) (cf. 1 Th 5:2), Jesus keeps his faith  even to the seemingly hopeless end.