I’ve been away from the blog for a short while but have been following the fascinating discussion of Markan Christology, especially the contributions from Anthony Le Donne (here and here) and Brant Pitre (here and here). Anthony prompted me to weigh in, so I will briefly. Let me put my cards on the table. I agree with Anthony that Mark’s Christology is ambiguous. I also agree with Brant that there are numerous places in the text where Mark is indeed trying to raise the issue of Jesus' identity vis-à-vis the God of Israel and implicitly making assertions, and thus I affirm (until I’m convinced otherwise) that Mark has a high Christology. I’ve put this opinion in print in the introductory essay to Jesus among Friends and Enemies (18–29). I also agree with Anthony and Bart Ehrman that, of course, Markan high Christology is nowhere near as explicit as Johannine high Christology. But that’s also neither here nor there, since the question, as I’ve understood it, is really whether Mark intends (however we might be able to decipher his intentions) to indicate that Jesus was, in some way, shape, or form, understandable in terms of the one God of Israel.
But let me tie together my agreement with Anthony and my agreement with Brant by emphasizing that, as far as I understand it, Mark is likely being purposefully ambiguous with his statements. Consider the three examples that everyone has trotted out so far. In Mark 2, Mark has the scribes accuse Jesus of blasphemy on account of putting himself—as a forgiver of sins—in the position of God alone (or “the one God”) (Mark 2:7). True enough, Jesus’ statement in Mark 2:10 (“…so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”) can be read to say that Jesus, as God’s representative, has been imbued with God’s authority as Son of Man, and many have read the overall narrative as such. Nevertheless, it remains significant that—at the level of the narrative—in Mark 2:7 the question of Jesus’ identity vis-à-vis the one God, the referent of the Shema, is raised. In other words, Mark has people around Jesus asking whether he should be doing the things that God alone does and thus I am entirely unconvinced by arguments that Mark’s narrative is uninterested in the question. It might be uninterested in answering it the way GJohn answers it; but it’s hardly uninterested.
Similarly, with the walking on the water in Mark 6, I agree with Brant that the ego eimi in 6:50 is significant, and precisely because in numerous HB/OT texts, God alone has the power to control the weather and sea (see Mark 4) and walk on water (Job 9:8; 38:8–11, 16, 34; Pss. 65:7; 77:19; 89:9). Now, it needs to be said that, in my opinion, Daniel Kirk andYoung have demonstrated that claims about controlling the water do not have to be read as equating someone with God; Psalm 88:26 LXX (89:25 MT) portrays God as granting power over the sea and rivers to the Davidic king with no indication that the Davidic figure then appears in the same category as God himself. But proving that Mark 4 and 6 do not have to be read in this manner is not proving that they cannot be, and I suppose this is my point. Mark presents readers with a narrative that certainly could be read in that way, just as the ego eimi could be read as “It is I” or “I Am." In light of the fact that Mark 2 has already raised the issue of Jesus' identity and God's identity, I'm less inclined to see this as mere coincidence and more inclined to see it as part of a pattern of purposeful ambiguity whereby Mark can claim what he wants to claim but without doing so explicitly.
And again, with Jesus’ usage of ego eimi in the “Jewish trial” of Mark 14, it can be read in both ways, as Bart Ehrman’s response to Brant, in which he essentially conceded Brant’s point, indicated. (Bart eventually retreated to the historical Jesus, but Brant had asked about the narrative of Mark, not the historical Jesus.) It could be read as “Yes” or it could be read as the divine name, which would justify the response of the high priest in Mark 14:63. Once more here the narrative tips its hat that there is something more to Jesus' answer than a mere affirmation that he's "just" the Messiah, but not in an utterly definitive manner.
Let me end with two further, and intertwined, points relating to my overall suggestion that Mark here knows what he is doing, and is being purposefully ambiguous, presenting a narrative that implicitly places Jesus in identity categories of the God of Israel but in such a way that they are not a hard and fast claim like “Jesus is God.” First, I think it significant that, in the history of scholarship, scholars have been divided on the identity of the Son of Man (Is Jesus referring to himself or someone else?) just as much as on whether Jesus makes a claim for divinity in the Markan occurrences of ego eimi. Scholars have argued both, and with justification: if Mark is being purposefully ambiguous in claims for Jesus "true" identity, there is evidence to support both arguments. With regard to the latter, can it be read as just “Yes”? Sure. Can it be read as “I Am”? Sure. And maybe that’s the way it was supposed to be.
But, Chris, maybe Mark’s narrative is just the product of a confused author/narrator who is inconsistent!! That’s always possible, of course, but this brings me to my second closing point, which is that it’s unlikely. For one thing, I have a hard time believing that any person in a Second Temple Jewish renewal movement, such as those earliest followers of Jesus in the second half of the first century CE, would use the phrase ego eimi--in narrative contexts like these--in a slipshod fashion. For another thing, if Mark is just confused, there are some strange patterns to his confusion. The occurrences of ego eimi occur in Mark 2 and Mark 14 alongside charges of blasphemy (2:7//14:64) and references to the authority of the Son of Man (2:10//14:62), whom I take to be Jesus himself and not another (as did many in a previous generation of scholarship). In other words, what we’re dealing with are repeated themes, or at least a repeated confluence of Jesus/Son of Man/blasphemy, not the accidents of a careless author. (You do not have the charge of blasphemy in the storm-calming and water-walking narratives of Mark 4 and 6, but the immediate audience in these instances is Jesus’ disciples, not the Jewish leadership, upon whose lips such charges against Jesus occur.)
In short, I personally think that Mark is explicitly raising the question of Jesus’ identity vis-à-vis the God of Israel via his characters and implicitly answering it with a high Christology, but in such a fashion that I can thoroughly understand why others would read it alternatively. Indeed, I think it very likely that Mark intended to write such an ambiguous narrative, and thus knew what he was doing.