Tuesday, July 2, 2013

The Gospel of Mark, a first look

Perhaps my biggest question about the Gospel of Mark is Why? It looks as though nearly everything written in this gospel is found in the other gospels, and so this one seems superfluous. The one benefit that stands out is that it is the shortest of the gospels and therefore the one I most quickly recommend to those who have never read Scripture. This brevity also means that looking at the content of this gospel and its order should take less time than any of the others. Unfortunately, whereas we had the aid of St. Thomas Aquinas in reading Matthew, we do not have such help for this gospel.

Another commentator whom I find impressive is Cornelius a Lapide (d. 1637), a Jesuit who wrote on nearly every book of Scripture, incorporating the teachings of the Fathers and all the language aids available in his day. Let's see what he says... [this always leads to me either reading until I become tired and unable to write, or I become distracted and want to write about something else]

"For this cause the cherubim of Ezek. i. and the Apocalypse, which have four faces, signify the four Evangelists. For the face of a man denotes Matthew, who relates the works of Christ’s humanity; the face of an eagle, John, who speaks of the divinity of Christ; the face of an ox denotes Luke, who begins with the priesthood of Zacharias; and the face of a lion designates Mark, because he begins his Gospel from the loud roaring of John the Baptist, as it were of a lion. For these four have drawn the chariot of the glory of God, the chariot of the Gospel, through the whole world, and have subdued all nations to Him, that He may triumph." (intro to Commentary on Mark)

This is great reading. He just lays out various Hebrew etymologies for Mark, looks at what all the Fathers taught about him, and then he looks at the intros and conclusions to the Arabic and Syriac versions of the text. He must have been in grad school for a very long time... Here is a link to his New Testament commentary translated into English:

“The wonders of Christ for the Hebrews S. Matthew did write;
  S. Mark for Westerns; for Greeks S. Luke in learning bright;
  For all S. John, who soared aloft with heavenly sight.”
(from a poem by St. Gregory Nazianzen)

"Observe Mark’s whole strength is given to narration, and does not care for the order in which things were done. Hence he places events which were done afterwards before some which were prior to them in order of time, and vice versa. Hear S. Jerome (Introd. to S. Matt.), “Second, Mark, the interpreter of the Apostle Peter, who indeed had not himself seen the Lord, the Saviour, but had heard his master’s preaching, related according to the truth of the things which were done, rather than the order in which they were done.” " (Comm. Marc. intro)

At the end of his intro, Cornelius states, "Here only a few things occur to be noted, because most have been spoken of in S. Matthew. There the reader will find them annotated. Here, therefore, I shall be brief."

Although the statement above says that St. Mark did not care for the order, I think he only meant order of time, for Mark intends to teach, and order is essential for teaching. So we shall try to discern an order. First, a brief summary of the chapters. I just read the last ones, so I'll start there:
  • 11: Entrance into Jerusalem (he enters 3 distinct times here)
  • 12: Refutation of Pharisees, Herodians, Sadducees, scribes
  • 13: Prophecy
  • 14: Passover and Betrayal (chapter starts 2 days before Passover)
  • 15: Suffering and Death
  • 16: Resurrection
It's odd that the commentators say Mark spends more time on narrative and less time on teaching than Matthew, but then that he should lack chronological order. He also uses temporal words like "immediately" and "on the following day", so it would seem odd for him to be inconsistent when it comes to time.

All right, I just went through the first 10 chapters again and briefly summed up what happens. An order is not particularly forthcoming, but here are some grouping of the events that occur:
  • Healing
    • 1: Fever
    • 1: Leprosy
    • 2: Paralytic
    • 3: Withered hand
    • 5: Flow of blood (he also raises the dead: is that healing?)
    • 7: Deaf
    • 8: Blind
    • 9: Dumb
    • 10: Blind
  • Casting out demons
    • 1: "What have you to do with Jesus of Nazareth?"
    • 5: "My name is Legion"
    • 7: "For this saying you may go; the demon has left your daughter"
    • 9: "I believe; help my unbelief!"
  • Other miracles
    • 4: Calming the storms
    • 6: Feeds 5000
    • 6: Walking on the sea and calming storm
    • 7: Feeds 4000
  • Teaching
    • (He teaches pretty much all the time, but there are several sizable places where he teaches)
    • 4: Introduces parables
    • 7: On the traditions of the Pharisees
    • 9: On children
    • 10: Evangelical counsels

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