Studies in Early Christianity
The Gospels of Mark:
Rethinking Jesus
E Bruce Brooks

 

It has long been acknowledged among New Testament scholars that Mark is the oldest of the Four Gospels. It should follow that it is also the best source for information about the Historical Jesus. Many have been reluctant to accept that implication, in part since the Jesus of Mark differs at many points from the Jesus of orthodox tradition. One name for this problem is the contrast between "the Jesus of history" and :the Christ of faith." This study sharpens the issue by pointing out that Mark itself is an accretional text, and is witness not to one, but several stages in the evolution of post-Crucifixion ideas about Jesus. In Mark, we can observe the early Christians continually rethinking what the life and death of Jesus meant to them.

It is philologically obvious that many passages in Mark are interpolations: later insertions into previous narrative. These interpolations together join to make not one but several layers of late material, suggesting that there were several points, not just one, at which the original narrative of Mark was amended by addition. The general tendency of the late material is to treat Jesus as a more exalted figure, and one who is anticipated in Old Testament prophecy. That material also reflects such events such as the ministry of Paul to the Gentiles, a development which was causing controversy in the Forties.

This book begins by confirming that the common opinion of the sequence of the Gospels (Mk > Mt > Lk > Jn) is correct, notes some important previous research (Grant, Taylor, Yarbro Collins) identifying interpolations and textual extensions in Mark, systematically identifies other interpolated passages, and assembles them into layers, each of which reflects one stage in the evolution of Jesus as his later followers came to see him. The earliest of those layers gives the first and least adulterated portrait of Jesus; it is the missing Original Gospel of Jesus. The last of the Markan layers shows the Jesus movement coming into contact with the preaching of Paul, and determining what would be the policy of the Markan community toward the novel idea of the mission to the Gentiles.

Once we have learned to read Mark not as a simple story but as a simple story with later additions woven into it, we can begin to see the history of early Christianity in more detail than was possible before..

Extracts from The Gospels of Mark:

Front Matter
Preface
Contents
Recovering Mark
1. Mark Among the Gospels
2. Some Previous Results
3. The Divinization Layer
4. The Twelve Layer
5. The Gentile Mission
6. Other Late Material
7. The Original Narrative
8. Canonical Mark: A Commentary
9. John Mark of Jerusalem

Recovering Jesus

1, The Mission to the Jews
2. The Davidic Messiah
3. The Mission to the Gentiles
Apparatus
Works Cited
Index to Passages
Subject Index

This book is addressed to the scholarly few, and not to the faithful many. But some of the faithful into whose hands it may chance to come may not be dismayed to find that the earliest account of Jesus - the core narrative of Mark - shows him as a remarkably forward-looking figure: a still human Jesus, striving to cleanse Judaism of its legalistic encrustations, to bring it back to the moral basics, and to renew Israel's covenant with God. The Jesus movement and the orthodox Judaism of the time would later abandon each other, leaving behind enmities which are still with us today. Mark shows us a Jesus who sought to realize that wider vision entirely within Judaism, keeping faith with what he found to be the best in Jewish tradition. That "best" turned out to be the moral essentials which Judaism shared with the rest of humanity. To this first Christianity, we have given the name Alpha.

For a look at the life and teachings of the Alpha followers of Jesus in the first Christian century, see the next volume in this series: Xristos.


E BRUCE BROOKS is Research Professor of Chinese at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.

The Gospels of Mark: Rethinking Jesus

Approximately 192 pages.
Tentative $50.95 cloth. ISBN 978-936166-41-1
Tentative $27.95 paper. ISBN 978-036166-81-7
Tentative Release Date: November 2017

When announced, this book may be ordered from the University of Massachusetts Press

 

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