Amazon Link: Mark as Story by David Rhoads
The primary purpose of the book, Mark as Story, by Rhoads, Dewey, and Michie, is to give a full introduction to reading the Gospel of Mark as Narrative or Story. This means that one should not first of all read mark as “history.” Instead, the authors recommend that the Gospel of Mark should be read (1) independently of other Gospel accounts, (2) while avoiding modern cultural assumptions, and (3) without reading in modern theological conclusions such as systematic formulas of the Trinity or Jesus’ Hypostatic Union. A full translation of the text of Mark is also provided in the book with particular emphasis on word and phase repetition, even to the point of maintaining the Greek word order where proper English allows. But the “bread and butter” of this book is contained in the literary analysis of the entire Gospel. In subsequent chapters to the translation, the authors provide detailed outlines and examples of how to understand the Gospel’s (1) Narrator, (2) the Cultural and Geographical Settings, (3) the Plot Lines, and (4) the Characters – such as Jesus, the Judean Leaders, and the Disciples of Jesus. Lastly, Mark as Story concludes with an afterword and two helpful appendixes. The afterword addresses how to read the Gospel of Mark with integrity, seeking to let the story of Jesus have its way with us and “work its magic” by using our imagination to read the story the way it was originally intended to be read by the first century audiences. The two appendixes are there for the more serious study of the Gospel, providing the reader with the proper tools and directions of what to look for when reading and re-reading the Gospel with several different questions and analysis points in mind.
Areas of Agreement
Keeping in mind that the authors of Mark as Story only intended this book to be a literary or narrative explanation of the Gospel of Mark, the reader must not misconstrue the fact that the Gospel of Mark contains accurate historical information about the first century, Jesus, and Jesus’ followers and enemies. The lack of historical analysis of Mark’s Gospel in Mark as Story is appropriate in the fact that the authors’ stated intentions were not to address this Gospel as “history.” Therefore, if one reads this book with the understanding that the authors are not denying the historical data that is found within the Gospel of Mark – let the reader understand – this book might be extremely helpful to the more conservative or evangelical reader.
In the literary analysis of Mark’s Gospel, multiple key subjects are highlighted and brought to the table by the authors: (1) the coming of God’s rule/kingdom, (2) the persecution that is associated with following God’s way, and (3) the work of Jesus to restore and change the way things are in world. These, along with other similar theological conclusions, are to be commended in the authors of Mark as Story. The general structure of Mark’s Gospel tells the story of God’s in-breaking rule and kingdom through the coming of Jesus and the persecution and rejection that is bound to follow those who seek after God’s way. This is something that other scholars have called inaugurated eschatology. Jesus’ life, death and resurrection inaugurate both the Kingdom of God and the Great Tribulation that was spoken of in the Old Testament Scriptures. By following the literary analysis provided in Mark as Story, one will come to a much deeper understanding of how important it was to the first century Christians who read or heard the Gospel of Mark while they were facing the wicked persecution of the Roman Empire in the mid to late decade of 60 A.D. It is with this clear structure that much of the Gospel of Mark can be cogently understood and read in its proper first century context.
A final and strong area of agreement is the fact that all Christians need to understand the literary side of Mark’s Gospel in order to better perceive the lessons and meanings that Mark intended his readers to receive as they read his Gospel account. By learning to read and understand plot lines, narrator functions, and cultural and geographical settings, the reader of Mark’s Gospel will have the ability to pick up on and imagine themselves in the story of Jesus as he brings God’s rule into this world and encourages all his followers to tell about God’s rule where they live and work. And while character analysis is an important feature of this Gospel, it is the conclusion of this reviewer that holding only to a literary reading of Mark’s Gospel will ultimately leave several character traits lacking, especially in the person and work of Jesus. This will be addressed in the next section that follows.
Areas of Disagreement
Many things could be said about the translation of Mark’s Gospel in Mark as Story, but an area of disagreement needs to be pointed out. Translating Mark in a word-for-word fashion is not the most effective way of getting the story of Mark across to the interpreter of Mark. Though this reviewer understands why the authors translated in this fashion, the overall translation was harder to follow in many areas given that Greek word order (which was emphasized in the translation) is non-existent for first century Greek grammar, especially as it relates to English grammar which demands word order for comprehension. But this is a minor disagreement and the translation can stand for the purposes of the authors’ literary analysis in bringing to light various patterns and repetitions in the Gospel of Mark.
Getting back to the Character analysis provided by the authors of Mark as Story, this reviewer cannot help but express his primary and strong disagreement and reservations with how certain aspects of Jesus’ character were described in the second to last chapter of the book. This is where a historical reading of the Gospel, along with a first century Christian understanding of Christology and Soteriology must be understood while reading Mark’s Gospel. Even though the authors believe that a literary analysis should exclude reading Mark as “history,” they do affirm the need for some cultural background to be understood in terms of Mark’s audience in the first century. Unfortunately, this is where several off-handed remarks are made by the authors of Mark as Story. For example, while it must be agreed that the Gospel of Mark does not need to address every theological meaning of Christ’s death, one cannot conclude with the character analysis that because “Jesus [was] already pardoning sin” that “his death is not needed to make forgiveness possible.” And later, in the same section, they conclude that Jesus’ statement about his “blood of the covenant” is not about sacrifice for sin, but merely a covenant sacrificial idea. But this assumes, once again, a certain view of modern theological interpretation that the authors of Mark as Story have so glaringly warned against. The first century Christian audiences would have had much more information about Christian theology than the authors of Mark as Story are willing to admit. While more examples could be given, this should stand as an adequate example of the types of problems that occur in the character analysis portion of the book.
Mark as Story is a valuable literary reading of Mark’s Gospel and should be commended to those seeking to study the Gospel of Mark in a deeper way with proper literary hermeneutical guidelines. While looking out for the areas of disagreement, much can be gained from both the translation and the literary analysis of the Narrator, Setting, Plot, and Characters provided in the book, Mark as Story.