Baker Academic

Monday, August 22, 2016

Scripture Reverberating through the Gospels: pt. 2

In the opening post of my review of Richard Hays's Echoes of Scripture in the Gospels, I mentioned that each of Hays's four substantive chapters include five sections:
§1: the evangelist as interpreter of Scripture;
§2: the evangelist's use of Scripture to interpret and re-narrate the story of Israel;
§3: the evangelist's use of Scripture to interpret and narrate the story of Jesus;
§4: the evangelist's use of Scripture to shape and orient the story of the church;
§5: a summary discussion of the evangelist's distinctive hermeneutic.
The first chapter, entitled "The Gospel of Mark: Herald of Mystery," filters the shortest Gospel through these five sections. The first section ("'Take Heed What You Hear': Mark as Interpreter of Scripture") is less than one page long, which I find unfortunate. Even in this too-short discussion, however, Hays makes a critical point: Mark, who "rarely points explicitly to correspondences between Israel's Scripture and the story of Jesus" (p. 15), nevertheless exhibits a "deft but allusive use of Scripture" that "repeatedly gesture[s] toward wider contexts and implications that remain not quite overtly stated" (p. 16). This claim will be fleshed out in the ensuing discussion.

The second section, "Apocalyptic Judgment and Expectancy: Israel's Story in Mark's Narrative," provides significantly more substance. Hays explores Mark's portrayal of Israel's story according to "four narrative strands": "inbreaking judgment, eschatological restoration, the strange continuing resistance of Israel, and the shocking death of God's son" (p. 20). This section provides discussion of the first three of these narrative strands; the fourth is taken up in the next section (see below). Hays offers a robust discussion of the judgment of God against Israel's idolatry and unfaithfulness, inasmuch as "Israel has reached a moment of crisis" and now awaits the promised day of the LORD, which "should be heard not as a word of comfort but as a terrifying word of warning" (pp. 16, 18–19). The theme of judgment continues beyond the scriptural themes surrounding the introduction of the Baptist in Mark 1 and includes Jesus' ministry, especially in the prophetic action against the Temple in Mark 11 (pp. 26–29). This discussion, which continues on from earlier works (see, e.g., Watts, Marcus), is a marked improvement from remarks one still encounters from time to time that John came preaching the judgment of God but Jesus brought grace and forgiveness. Rather than disjoining God's judgment against ungodliness and injustice from the promise of restoration for his people, Hays keeps these two ideas intertwined: "the threat of judgment and destruction can never be sounded apart from the more fundamental promise of God's ultimate design to bring about Israel's deliverance and restoration" (p. 29). This, I think, exactly captures the textual dynamics in Mark (if not also the other Gospels) and his reading of the scriptural texts. The apocalyptic restoration of Israel resonates across multiples features of Mark's Gospel, from the Isaianic context of euangelion to the appointment of twelve disciples to Jesus' healing of the deaf and blind and others, all of which Hays reads in light of Mark 1.1–3, which "serve[s] as a sufficient indicator for the attentive reader" that God is restoring his people in and through Jesus' words and actions (pp. 32–33). However, despite Mark's portrayal of Jesus' ministry as one of fulfillment of prophetic promises, Hays describes Mark as "the most reticent about claims of fulfillment," which Hays uses to explain Mark's "remarkable decision not to narrate any resurrection appearances of Jesus" (33). The reader, just as the disciples at the end of Mark 13, are left in a fundamental posture of waiting and expectation. Finally, Hays discusses "the strange continuing resistance of Israel" in Mark in two passages: the parabolic theory in Mark 4.11–12 and the parable of the wicked tenants in Mark 12.1–12. Hays's discussion of Mark 3–4 // Isaiah 5–6 helpfully draws out parallel movements between the two texts, though his discussion of "the beloved son" in Mark 12 misses, I think, a striking implication of Jesus' parable. Given the heavy presence of "Israel" in the parable and its evocation of the Isaianic song of the vineyard in Isaiah 5, the significance of Jesus as God's "beloved son" can only be grasped in light of Israel's election to sonship. For example, God sends Moses to Pharaoh to send out "my first-born son, Israel" in Exod. 4.22, and of course Pharaoh refuses. In the parable, the Temple authorities, who are questioning Jesus about his authority, find themselves on the verge of becoming like Pharaoh, opposing the redemptive movement of God (see also Mark 3:22–30), and imminently to be the objects of God's wrath. This reading, I think, strengthens rather than undermines Hays's approach to Israel's resistance to Jesus.

At over forty pages, the third section ("Jesus as the Crucified Messiah") is by far the heart of the chapter, entailing nearly half its content. This makes sense, of course; the Gospel of Mark is about Jesus even more fundamentally than it is about either Israel (§2) or the Church (§4). This section examines Mark's use of Scripture to define Jesus' identity under four headings: Jesus as Davidic king (pp. 46–57), Jesus as the glorified Son of Man (pp. 57–61), Jesus as the God of Israel? (question mark in the original; pp. 61–78), and Jesus as crucified Messiah (pp. 78–86). Hays also comments briefly on the total absence of references/allusions to Isaiah's Suffering Servant in his discussion of Jesus and Scripture in Mark (pp. 86–87): "In sum, it is very difficult to make a case that Isaiah's Suffering Servant texts play any signifiant role in Mark's account of Jesus' death—at least at the level of Mark's text-production" (87). Throughout §3, Hays emphasizes the metaleptic function of Mark's references and allusions to Scripture. Indeed, Mark instructs his readers to read Scripture metaleptically, as Hays overtly claims in his discussion of Psa. 22.1 and Jesus' final words:
[T]o read Jesus' cry from the cross in Mark 15:34 as an intertextual evocation of Psalm 22's promise of hope is not simply an exegetical cop-out, a failure of nerve that refuses to accept Mark's bleak portrait of Jesus' death at face value. Rather, it is a reading strategy that Mark himself has taught us through his repeated allusive references to snatches of Scripture that point beyond themselves to their own original narrative settings and lead the reader to reevaluate the surface sense of the Jesus story. (85; italics in the original)
I am completely sympathetic to this reading of Mark's resonance with Scripture; it would be peculiar even in Mark's account of the death of the son of God if Mark, after the three-fold prediction of Jesus' passion and resurrection (see Holly Carey, Jesus' Cry from the Cross, LNTS 398 [T&T Clark, 2009]), recounted Jesus' use of Psalm 22's first verse and didn't intend his readers to recall the psalmist's ultimate confidence in God's abiding presence. This section, 40+ pages in length, provides much that is helpful for thinking about Mark's use of Scripture in its portrayal of Jesus. Even so, there are weaknesses. For example, Hays presses his otherwise interesting discussion of the allusion to Job 9.8 LXX ("who alone stretched out heaven and walks upon the sea as upon dry ground") in Mark's account of Jesus walking on the sea in 6:45–52. Job 9 also uses the verb "pass by" (παρελθεῖν) in its praise of the One who walks upon the sea (see Job 9.11), which Hays links to the strange detail recounted in Mark 6:48: "Jesus comes to them [the disciples], walking upon the sea, and he wanted to pass them by" (ἤθελεν παρελθεῖν αὐτούς). So far so good. But then goes on: "To these observations should be added the insight that the verb παρελθεῖν almost surely alludes to Exodus 33:17–23 and 34:6, where God is said to 'pass by' Moses in order to reveal his glory indirectly" (72). This, however, seems an allusion plucked out of thin air, based on a single word—παρελθεῖν, "to pass by"—that occurs well over 100 times in the LXX and whose details do not fit the Markan text (except inasmuch as Hays wants to find Mark portraying Jesus as the God of Israel): Moses asks to see God; the disciples ask nothing of Jesus. Moses is bold in his request; the disciples cry out in terror. God places Moses in the cleft of a rock; the disciples are in a boat on the sea in a storm. While many (perhaps even most) of the allusions Hays identifies and explains are compelling or at least plausible, more than once he extends himself too far and imagines echoes where, to my ear at least, there is only silence.

Before we move on from §3, we should acknowledge that many readers will have problems with Hays's discussion of "Jesus as the God of Israel?" (pp. 61–78). The analysis in this section often rightly identifies places where Mark blurs the distinction between Jesus and the God of Israel, for example in the way Mark narrates Jesus coming on the "way of the Lord" that John prepared in the wilderness, or in the disciples' dismay that Jesus commands the wind and the waves and they obey. Hays is also careful to acknowledge that Mark also makes distinctions between Jesus and God (see pp. 76–78). Even so, as I read this section I could not help but think that Hays was betraying something of his original intention (to pay "particular attention to the ways in which the four Evangelists reread Israel's Scripture" [p. 7; original in italics]) and reading the Gospels through the lens of later Christological developments. To be sure, Hays draws a connection between Mark's reading of Scripture and later Christological reflection: "Mark's story already poses the riddles that the church's theologians later sought to solve in the christological controversies of the fourth and fifth centuries" (78). All of this leaves me with the uneasy feeling that Hays is bent on justifying later orthodox Christological decisions via a reading of the Gospels. For example, his discussion of Mark 2.7 ("Who can forgive sins but God alone?"; pp. 64–66) jumps to the conclusion that Mark portrays Jesus as the embodiment of Israel's God without ever mentioning that God forgives the sins of the people through the temple cult in Jerusalem and its priestly personnel. If the traditional significance of the conflict between Jesus and the scribes centers on the means of atonement and forgiveness rather than on the identity of Jesus, Hays's discussion will have silenced Mark's echoic use of Scripture in this passage.

The fourth section, "Watchful Endurance: The Church's Suffering in Mark's Narrative," is much shorter, which again makes sense since Mark's focus is never on the community of Jesus' followers. Even so, this section struck me as unfocused; very little of these pages (87–97) focused specifically on the Church or Jesus' followers. Hays begins by tracing Mark's use of Scripture to frame Jesus' followers' experience of suffering and persecution, focusing especially on the allusions to Daniel in Mark 13. Strangely, he reads "councils and synagogues" in 13.9 as alluding to Jewish opposition and "governors and kings" [ἡγεμόνων καὶ βασιλέων] in terms of gentile opposition (p. 89), though in Judea and Galilee I'm not sure which gentile rulers had these titles (Pilate isn't referred to by title in Mark, and the only figures called "king" in Mark are Herod Antipas and Jesus, both ironically). Other than Hays's discussion of Jesus' persecuted followers, he discusses [Jesus'] "challenge to Caesar" and "the gospel for all nations." The first of these is relevant to this section only in the last paragraph, where Hays tacks on a reference to "the church's self-understanding as a community set apart from business as usual, a community that owes ultimate obedience to God, while rendering only the most provisional acknowledgement of Caesar's temporary grasp on power" (p. 94). This, I think, is not much of an advance on what we could have said about "the church" without paying attention to the echoes of Scripture in Mark. The second of these ("the gospel for all nations") is a little better, though it still has its problems. First, while Hays mentions relevant passages (Mark 11.17; 13.10; 7.24–30, 31–37 [too briefly], and 15.39), his discussion of most of these is too short to be helpful. Second, he never mentions the first possible allusion to the inclusion of gentiles in this section: the story of the Gerasene demoniac in Mark 5.1–20 (though see p. 93). Third, he strangely entertains the possibility that Mark's πᾶσιν τοῖς ἔθνησιν in Mark 11.17 may have appeared "anachronistic on the lips of the pre-Easter Jesus," even though these are words found in Isa 56.7! (p. 95; see also p. 389 n.150). Unfortunately, these weaknesses overpower any strengths in this ten-page section, and as a result Hays's discussion of the community of Jesus' followers—whether in Mark's narrative or in Mark's social context—is anemic and heft-less.

The fifth and final section, "'Hidden in Order to be Revealed': Mark's Scriptural Hermeneutics" (pp. 97–103) brings Chapter 1 to a close. Hays describes Mark's Scriptural hermeneutic as an allusive language through which Mark is able to disclose Jesus despite the inadequacy of human language. All of this is fine as far as theological reflection goes. I would hesitate, however, to seriously entertain the notion that Mark thinks about his approach to or reading of Scripture in quite the way Hays does. (This is not to demean either author's reading of Scripture; it is only to differentiate what I think are two rather different hermeneutics.) For Hays, Mark pushes his readers to become competent readers of Israel's Scriptures: "Mark for the most part works his narrative magic through hints and allusions, giving just enough clues to tease the reader into further exploration and reflection" (p. 98). I'm not so sure. I don't see in Mark any real prods to push his audiences to search the Scriptures, unless "let those who have ears hear" and/or "let the reader understand" are such prods. Rather than pushing Mark's audience to re/read the Scriptures again, I think Mark's use of Scripture reveals something about his envisioned audience. (Here is my response to Danny Yencich's question to my original post: "If Hays had interacted more with Foley, where do you think it would have led him?") Mark's written Gospel employs an idiomatic use of Scripture (so far, I am agreeing with Hays); that is, Scripture provides the language and imagery in which Mark perceives, interprets, and responds to events in his world. That he uses that language without taking the time to unpack its dense (Foley would say "metonymic") referentiality suggests that he imagines himself communicating with audiences who also speak the language of Scripture. Rather than pushing his audience to a deeper understanding of Israel's sacred traditions, Mark is taking advantage of their understanding, leading them as they ask appropriate questions of their Scriptures (e.g., Who is this that the wind and the sea obey him? or, What must I do to inherit eternal life?) and pursue appropriate answers (Truly this man was the son of God). The language of Scripture is part of how Mark continues the "tradition of reception" of the Jesus tradition among his readers as he translates the stories he tells about Jesus from one set of media (oral preaching, oral teaching, informal storytelling, etc.) into a new medium (written narrative). The uninitiated reader may be perfectly able to follow the surface-level narrative of Mark's Gospel without any real problem. But s/he will lack the requisite "ears to hear" the resonating echoes of Scripture that Mark expects will lead his readers as they fill in the inevitable gaps in the story.

None of these criticisms should mask my appreciation for what Hays has accomplished in this rather lengthy chapter. And we should probably add another criticism: as Chris Keith has already mentioned, "the main text is full of ideas but the footnotes are light." Yes. But, again, the main text is full of ideas. Hays's discussion of the echoes of Scripture in Mark's Gospel joins an already star-studded cast of voices (Rikki Watts, Joel Marcus, Thomas Hatina, et al.) who have explored this territory. Readers familiar with these other voices will find Hays's discussion a worthy addition to this cast. Newer readers unfamiliar with them will find Hays's discussion a helpful point of entry into an ongoing and vibrant discussion.

Scripture Reverberating through the Gospels: pt. 1
Scripture Reverberating through the Gospels: pt. 2

1 comment:

  1. There are many ways to kook at the New Testament. Including not only its 1) continuities with say, the Old Testament or scriptures. By also its 2) discontinuities.

    Why indeed did Christians eventually consider themselves different from Jews? In part perhaps, because of even early discontinuities.

    For example? It is hard to reconcile Jesus as God himself, but then somehow dying. In the Old Testament, God is eternal; he does not die.

    To me, these discontinuities are just as important historically as the similarities. Historically, Christians fairly early distinguished themselves from Judaism; as early say, as the Gospel of John. This means that the bulk of Christian history was lived with a sense of distinction between these religions. And it is important to understand why this began not in 1938 AD; But as early as say, 55 to 90 AD.