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Is the Gospel According to Mark an Allegory?

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In my last essay, I presented the argument for why the strength of the historical evidence for the life of Jesus provided by the Gospels basically reduces to the strength of the evidence provided by the anonymously-authored book, written shortly after AD 70, that subsequently acquired the title “The Gospel According to Mark” most likely sometime in the 2nd century AD (henceforth, “Mark”).

So now it’s time to ask how strong that evidence is.

Now, the next step in the argument is this: it would be entirely reasonable to interpret Mark as a literary work of allegory, rather than as an attempt at history to begin with.

This may sound absurd at first, because most of us reading today assume that the whole entire point of the Gospels is to attest to the historicity of Jesus’ life. But bear with me: once you see how much the hypothesis can make sense of, I think it seems downright obvious. This understanding of the Gospels as works whose point was to attest to the life of a historical Jesus comes from theological constructs that did not exist until after the Gospels had already been in existence for some time. Those constructs were then applied to the Gospels themselves, retroactively. As we’ll see, the same goes for the standard reading of the works of Paul.

First, I’ll outline a couple general stylistic elements that indicate that the book can plausibly be seen as residing in the genre of allegory. Then, I’ll show what the allegory was actually supposed to be about.  To the first point, not only do the names of many characters in the story work to symbolically represent the role they play in the narrative, but there are multiple examples of stories in Mark that make no sense at all until we interpret them against the Old Testament passages to which they are making literary allusions.

When Jesus is being sentenced to his death, the Gospels claim that Pilate used his power to commute a prisoner’s death sentence by popular acclaim to offer the crowd a choice between a “Barabbas” and Jesus. In what appear to be the earliest variations of the text, Barabbas’ full name is actually given as “Jesus Barabbas”. Etymologically, the name “Bar–abbas” literally means “Son of the Father.” Is it a coincidence that the man offered up to the crowd as the alternative to Jesus happens to have a name which literally means “Jesus, Son of the Father?”

If you are reading this essay, you are probably aware that Judas is the name of the character that betrays Jesus and sells him over to his death for money. It is significant that in the original Greek, “Judah” (the land of the Jews) and “Judas” are literally the same word: Ἰούδας.

If you didn’t catch that, read it again: the name of the man who betrays Jesus is “Judah.

And this particular coincidence becomes even more significant when comparing Gospel passages about Judas with the Old Testament passages to which they are making literary allusions.

For instance, pay close attention to this passage from Mark 14:

Then Judas Iscariot, who was one of the twelve, went to the chief priests in order to betray him to them. When they heard it, they were greatly pleased, and promised to give him money. So he began to look for an opportunity to betray him.

Immediately, while he was still speaking, Judas, one of the twelve, arrived; and with him there was a crowd with swords and clubs, from the chief priests, the scribes, and the elders. Now the betrayer had given them a sign, saying, ‘The one I will kiss is the man; arrest him and lead him away under guard.’ So when he came, he went up to him at once and said, ‘Rabbi!’ and kissed him. Then they laid hands on him and arrested him. But one of those who stood near drew his sword and struck the slave of the high priest, cutting off his ear. Then Jesus said to them, ‘Have you come out with swords and clubs to arrest me as though I were a bandit? Day after day I was with you in the temple teaching, and you did not arrest me. But let the scriptures be fulfilled.’ All of them deserted him and fled.

A certain young man was following him, wearing nothing but a linen cloth. They caught hold of him, but he left the linen cloth and ran off naked.

This random mention of a naked guy running around in the middle of Judas’ betrayal of Jesus has perplexed many scholars for a really long time. But pay attention to this passage from Amos, written some time around 750 BC:

Thus says the Lord; For three sins of the children of Judah, and for four, I will not turn away from him, because they have rejected the law of the Lord, and have not kept His ordinances, and their vain idols which they made, which their fathers followed, caused them to err. And I will send a fire on Judah, and it shall devour the foundations of Jerusalem.

Thus says the Lord; for three sins of Israel, and for four, I will not turn away from him, because they sold the righteous for silver, and the poor for sandals, in which to tread on the dust of the earth, and they have smitten upon the heads of the poor, and have perverted the way of the lowly; and a son and his father have gone into the same maid, that they might profane the name of their God. … I brought you up out of the land of Egypt, and led you about in the desert forty years, that you should inherit the land of the Amorites. And I took of your sons for prophets, and of your young men for consecration. Are not these things so, you sons of Israel? Says the Lord.

But you gave the consecrated ones wine to drink, and you commanded the prophets, saying, Prophesy not. … flight shall perish from the runner, and the strong shall not hold fast his strength, and the warrior shall not save his life; and the archer shall not withstand, and he that is swift of foot shall in by no means escape; and the horseman shall not save his life. And the strong shall find no confidence in power: the naked shall flee away in that day, says the Lord.

The passage talks about the “sins of the children of Judah [Judas],” emphasizes that “they sold the righteous for silver” (Matthew 26:15 amends Mark’s use of the word “money” to say that Judas betrayed Jesus for “thirty pieces of silver”), and ends saying that “the naked shall flee away.” The parallel is obvious. And it fully explains the otherwise bizarre inclusion of a random, nameless, previously unmentioned naked guy just running around during Jesus’ betrayal.

As it so happens, almost all of the details of Jesus’ life can be seen as adaptations from scriptures in this way. One could argue that the evidence can be read one of two ways: it could be that the Gospel writers created the story of Jesus’ life by lifting directly from the Old Testament, or it could be that Jesus’ life really did fulfill everything that was ever said by the prophets.

But we have one definite way of establishing that the former explanation is superior to the latter. Sometimes, when the Gospel writers add details to Jesus’ life from the Old Testament scriptures, they misinterpret them or rely on mistranslations present in only the Greek Septuagint. For instance, Zachariah 9:9, written around 520 BC:

Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion!
Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem!
Lo, your king comes to you;
triumphant and victorious is he,
humble and riding on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a donkey.

The author is clearly repeating the line, “on a colt, the foal of a donkey” as a way of adding emphasis. The image is supposed to be of a King, humble enough to ride on such a lowly steed as a donkey—yes, a donkey. Grammatically, the idea might be represented better as so: “Humble and riding on a donkey—on a colt; the foal of a donkey.” But when the writer of The Gospel According to Matthew adopts this into his narrative in 21:2–7, he changes Mark’s original story of Jesus riding only a colt, and literally has Jesus riding a donkey and a colt at the same time:

Go into the village opposite you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied there and a colt with her … Now this took place that what was spoken through the prophet might be fulfilled, saying, “Say to the daughter of Zion, ‘Behold your King is coming to you, gentle, and mounted on a donkey, even on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.’” And the disciples went and did just as Jesus had directed them, and brought the donkey and the colt, and laid on them their garments, on which He sat.

Back to the parallel between Mark 14 and Amos 2. The important point here is not just how clearly the verses happen to parallel each other. The important point is why.

The traditional placement of the date of the writing of the Gospel According to Mark is based on the timing of the AD 70 destruction of Jerusalem. The reasons for this conclusion are too numerous to list in detail here, but one indication is Mark 13’s prediction of the Temple’s destruction:

As Jesus was leaving the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher! What massive stones! What magnificent buildings!”

“Do you see all these great buildings?” replied Jesus. “Not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.”

As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John and Andrew asked him privately, “Tell us, when will these things happen? And what will be the sign that they are all about to be fulfilled?”

… Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened.

In any case, scholars unanimously appreciate the significance of the AD 70 destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem when it comes to dating the Gospel According to Mark. But they may have underestimated its significance when it comes to interpreting the meaning of its content.

According to Josephus, 1.1 million people, mostly Jewish, were killed during the AD 70 siege of Jerusalem, and 97,000 more were captured as slaves. Suffice it to say that this was a really big deal. The Talmud also addresses the causes of the destruction of the Temple directly:

[W]hy was the second Sanctuary destroyed, seeing that in its time they were occupying themselves with Torah, [observance of] precepts, and the practice of charity? Because therein prevailed hatred without cause …

This passage resides in a long list of Jewish writing that blames the calamities that befall the Jews on the Jews’ own sins—whether “idolatry, immorality, and bloodshed” or “groundless hatred,” a constant theme throughout Jewish writing is that calamities that befall the Jews are punishment by God for their own weakness of faith and actions of religious infidelity.

The Gospel According to Mark was an allegory to establish this same point.

What is the book of Amos about? Exactly the same topic. It was a prediction of the calamities that would befall the nation of Israel if they didn’t turn from their rebellion.

Here’s another passage that fits the same theme, and makes no sense otherwise.

Mark 11:12–21 —

The next day as they were leaving Bethany, Jesus was hungry. Seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to find out if it had any fruit. When he reached it, he found nothing but leaves, because it was not the season for figs. Then he said to the tree, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” And his disciples heard him say it.

On reaching Jerusalem, Jesus entered the temple area and began driving out those who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves, and would not allow anyone to carry merchandise through the temple courts. And as he taught them, he said, “Is it not written:

“‘My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations’? But you have made it ‘a den of robbers.’”

The chief priests and the teachers of the law heard this and began looking for a way to kill him, for they feared him, because the whole crowd was amazed at his teaching.

When evening came, they went out of the city.

In the morning, as they went along, they saw the fig tree withered from the roots. Peter remembered and said to Jesus, “Rabbi, look! The fig tree you cursed has withered!”

As a 21st-century reader, what am I supposed to believe here? Am I really supposed to believe that God, after incarnating himself as a man, got pissed off at a fig tree for not bearing fruit out of season and then cursed a tree? Even if we step away from the religious element and just look at the Gospels as flawed, human works of their time, what am I supposed to believe? How could a story like this one have even grown out of legend?

It all makes sense when we turn to the Book of Hosea, also written in the 8th century BC.

Do not rejoice, O Israel; do not be jubilant like the other nations. For you have been unfaithful to your God; . . .

The days of punishment are coming, the days of reckoning are at hand. Let Israel know this. Because your sins are so many and your hostility so great, the prophet is considered a fool, the inspired man a maniac. . . . When I found Israel, it was like finding grapes in the desert; when I saw your fathers, it was like seeing the early fruit on the fig tree. But when they came to Baal Peor, they consecrated themselves to that shameful idol and became as vile as the thing they loved.

. . . Because of all their wickedness in Gilgal, I hated them there. Because of their sinful deeds, I will drive them out of my house. I will no longer love them; all their leaders are rebellious. Ephraim is blighted, their root is withered, they yield no fruit.

As this excerpt from Hosea 9:1–17 makes clear, the topic of the Book of Hosea was, likewise, the calamities that would befall the nation of Israel if they persisted in their behavior. And the parallels are once again remarkable: we have “early fruit on the fig tree” (Mark 11 makes it clear that the fig tree Jesus saw was “in leaf” and therefore that it was early in the growing season), we have people being driven “out of my house,” and then we have not only barren trees, but common use of a specific turn of phrase in “withered roots.”

Even if we were trying to take the “centrist” approach of interpreting the stories about Jesus as legends that grew up around a real historical figure, this passage makes no sense. But as literary allusion, it makes perfect sense. The most plausible way to understand this verse is that the author of the Gospel According to Mark was making the allusion intentionally—for literary purposes—because the book was a work of allegory, not about a historical Jesus, but about why the Jews brought the AD 70 destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem upon themselves. The Jesus of Mark’s story is just the medium for the delivery of the message.

As mentioned in the introduction to this series, the Gospel According to Matthew and the Gospel According to Luke both contradict each other by ten whopping years over the date when Jesus is born (Matthew’s story places his birth before 4 BC, because this is when the Herod it depicts died; Luke’s places it after AD 6, when Quirinius became governor of Syria).

But it is even more significant to recall why this was possible to begin with: Mark, the very first gospel, contains no stories about Jesus’ childhood. And modern readers would be surprised to learn how the very first–written of all the Gospels ended: there was no resurrection story. The elaborated endings of modern copies of Mark including resurrection stories are now known by all scholars, including the most conservative, to be forgeries.

As Richard A. Burridge puts it in Four Gospels, One Jesus?, “Mark’s [original story] ends as abruptly as it began. There was no introduction or background to Jesus’ arrival, and none for his departure. No one knew where he came from; no one knows where he has gone . . .”

In Mark 14:18, before the crucifixion, Jesus says: “But after that I am risen, I will go before you into Galilee.” Afterwards, the original story ends with Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome coming to anoint Jesus’ body, and finding inside the tomb a man who told them, “Ye seek Jesus of Nazareth, which was crucified . . . But go your way, tell his disciples and Peter that he goeth before you into Galilee: there shall ye see him, as he said unto you.” And the narrative ends on this verse: “And they went out quickly, and fled from the sepulchre; for they trembled and were amazed: neither said they anything to any man; for they were afraid.”

In the next entry, I’ll fit the writing of the allegorical Gospel According to Mark into the context of the writings, and theology, of Paul.


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  1. Petronius
    Posted July 17, 2017 at 12:04 pm | Permalink

    Aedon, are you using Rendell Helms’ “Gospel Fiction” as a basis?

    • Aedon Cassiel
      Posted July 17, 2017 at 1:35 pm | Permalink

      Not currently (though it rings a bell and I’m fairly certain I read it at some point in the past). Why?

      • Petronius
        Posted July 17, 2017 at 1:42 pm | Permalink

        Because its approach in analysing the Gospels is very similar to yours . He is less concerned about the history/myth question though, but about the way the story-telling of the Gospels is constructed and altered by each evangelist. It’s very interesting, like a literary detective work, I recommend it.

  2. James C
    Posted July 17, 2017 at 4:04 pm | Permalink

    I’m really enjoying this fascinating series. Thank you, Aedon.

  3. Posted July 18, 2017 at 12:43 am | Permalink

    I started vewing GoT only this year. Today I finish the sixth season.
    Please excuse my not so good english.
    Im a writer so the story and the characters and most of all the Story behind the Story is what matters to me.
    In one season there was a Behind the Scenes Feature. The main actors, writers, directors had a discussion.
    I got a little shock when I saw that even the blondes in the story were black haired. The Dragon queen and the Lannister queen were not at all blond haired.
    Obviously TV and Hellywood are jewish dominated. But that little unimpressive fact shows how far their hate and planes reach: No blond major actors.

  4. Jerome
    Posted July 18, 2017 at 1:05 am | Permalink

    Interesting. Are these ideas your own, or are they based on scholars you’ve read? If so, who? I’m interested in looking into this further….

    • Aedon Cassiel
      Posted July 19, 2017 at 1:43 pm | Permalink

      Once I get to the ending of the series, I’ll both:

      1. Include a reasonable citation list, and

      2. Open the discussion for further, more detailed higher level discussions if people want them.

      A couple critics have rightly observed that there are higher level arguments against the claims I’m making here that I’m not addressing. To that, I can only reiterate a point I made in the first entry: “I don’t intend to prove within the span of a couple of essays that the mythicist account is the most plausible story of how Christianity arose, but simply that an intelligent and mature mythicist account is possible.

  5. Stage IV
    Posted July 18, 2017 at 1:42 am | Permalink

    The Barabas and Judas connections have been thoroughly explored by other authors as well. Both Barabbas and Judas were common names in the era, so this could have been just as it happened.

    The question is, whether Jesus existed? According to the eucharistic miracles and the Shroud of Turin, yes he did. Everything else is just a footnote to this.

    Yes, the jewish people betrayed their messiah. It should have been bloody obvious to everyone, except the bible-thumper evangelical zio-asswipe prots. Evangelicals are really a cancer.

    The author comes from this cancerous environment, no wonder he tries to act all richard dawkins now.

    As I wrote before, this is the way out:

    • David Ashton
      Posted July 23, 2017 at 3:47 pm | Permalink

      A few “asides”.

      The Turin Shroud is not a shroud – attention should focus on the scalp, back and anatomical proportions. How it was made is uncertain, but it is not the clothing Jesus supposedly left in his tomb. What he was wearing If anything) when embraced by Mary Magdalene we cannot guess, but presumably not gardening togs.

      Robert Eisenman’s “New Testament Code” unlike his other books is not easy to read; it has the tone of an extraordinarily erudite but rambling non-stop saloon bar bore, and was written to prevent another “Holocaust” (like his brother’s Berlin memorial).

      The recognition of the Deity of Jesus by the Twin at John 20.28-9 (which the unitarian JWs retain in their latest New World Translation) also parallels recognition of the Roman emperor as Lord and God, but is a culmination of the Logos theme running through the plot structure.

      The argument over Bar-abbas as a substitute (sacrificial?) victim, the rebel bandit alternative to the spiritual king, continues. Much “mythicist” writing today is as unreliable as that of J. M. Robertson yesterday, but he had point about the gospel passion stories as play scripts. Re “pagan parallels” there remains however the public ridicule of King Agrippa by dressing a lunatic in a manner similar to the humiliation of Jesus (Matthew 27.26-31): the madman was named – Karabas (see e.g. H. G. Wood, “Did Christ Really Live?” [1938] p.105; Alfred Edersheim, “Life & Times of Jesus the Messiah”, vol.2, p.579, n.2).

  6. Che Guava
    Posted July 18, 2017 at 6:53 am | Permalink

    Interesting articles, Aedon, I will also have to find the parallel ones by Mr. Robertson.

    Am only posting to mention three that you may also take into account, I would guess that you have also read them.

    Recontructions of the Marcionite Luke, the Gospel of the Lord. No nativity, no OT parallels.

    The Secret [parts of the] Gospel of Mark.

    The Gospel of Thomas as, at least, a reflection of Q, only the very last verses are really strange, and they seem oddly prophetic of some current phenomena.

    You may also consider, for your future piece, touching on the epistles of St. Paul, the recontructions of the Marcionite versions, IIRC, Galatians and Corinthians at least are readily available, and far more powerful than the versions in the standard NT, for lack of OT interpolations.

    Also, the strange attributions and addressees of them in good translations of the NT.

    In any case, thanks again for the interesting articles.

  7. Interested Observer
    Posted July 18, 2017 at 2:36 pm | Permalink

    All one really has to do is read Josephus and Philo. As said in the other thread, the modern works of Carotta, Atwill, and Eisenman flesh out the details.

    Jesus = Divine Caesar, the Hebrew/Jewish parts of the mythology added by the Flavians who were co-opting the Jewish religion(s) after their conquest of Palestine. The “Christian Flavians” are known to Catholic history. Constantine – himself named Flavius, although we’re supposed to believe wholly unrelated to the earlier Emperors, essentially re-established his family cult as the official religion of the Empire. The “apostates” between the early Flavians, Vespasian, Titus, and Domitian, and the later Flavian, Constantine, are “apostates” because they rejected the specific Flavian/Palestinian/Hebrew gloss on the Divine Caesar cult.

    James O’Meara has pointed out numerous times that the Romans did the same thing to the Germans, after a conquest they wrote a “New Testament” with the Romans and their leader fulfilling the religion of the tribes they had just conquered. For the Jews, Christ/Savior was the Zionist prophet, for the Germans, he was a war-like tribal chieftain.

    Atwill’s specifics are rather amusing in the sense that the New Testament, as we have it, is much like The Golden Ass, a vicious parody but of the Jewish religion by their conquerors. If Atwill is to be believed, NT is full of inside jokes that become obvious when read along side Josephus. The Communion and Jesus’ crucifiction story are vicious parodies of what the Romans did to the Jewish rebels. Jesus’ apostles are literally stand-ins for the Zionist rebels that Vespasian defeated.

    Eisenman, in a more scholarly way, shows pretty much the same thing with the newly discovered Dead Sea Scrolls and long suppressed works like the Pseudo-Clementines.

    Once you see the pattern, it’s pretty much impossible to not see it. And once you see the pattern, it’s really difficult to take all the “spiritual significance” of the various stories as anything but childish superstitions. It’s like the Simpsons episode where two competing cults are repeating Bart Simpson’s catch-phrases and trying to divine some sort of “deeper meaning” from them. It’s absurd and embarrassing for educated adults to still be propagating this nonsense.

    If you need some sort of spirituality there’s a natural world full of mystery that has all the “deeper meaning” anyone could need.

    As Johnson has said, our culture will always have been Christian in the past. We can appreciate the wonderful art and music with Christian themes without trying to resurrect the dead, so to speak.

  8. Greg Pandatshang
    Posted July 18, 2017 at 9:56 pm | Permalink

    Has anyone suggested a based New Right Marcionite revival? Marcion, while not particularly anti-Semitic in his personal attitudes as far as I know, was the only one (besides some full-grade Gnostics) who argued that the Christian God, the Father of Jesus, is simply a different god than the God worshiped by the Jews per the Old Testament.

  9. Dan
    Posted July 19, 2017 at 10:33 am | Permalink

    Hi, I really enjoyed the last article, and this one as well, but I’d like to add some things and point out what bothered me in your demonstration and that you should address (here in the comments or somewhere else) :

    1) I’m fine with the gospel of Mark being an allegory, but something doesn’t quite match. In a very patriarchal society, such as the one where the gospel of Mark/the allegory is supposed to take place, women’s testimony are worthless. Why then are women the first to witness the empty tomb and the man inside who told them to tell the disciples that he’s in Galilee etc. The author of the gospel could have used any disciple to be the first witnesses of the empty tomb. It would have fit sociologically with those listening to or reading it, or even writing it. Isn’t this a clue highlighting some real event, something you cannot change that easily ?
    Or it may be a reference to something else. In this case I’m looking forward for your explanations.

    2) What about the language the gospels were written in ? Isn’t it worth taking it into consideration in your demonstration ?
    French authors Claude Tresmontant and Bernard Dubourg, by studying the language the gospels were written in and translating them « backward » from Greek to Hebrew, have come to an idea very close with the one your presented in this article. But instead of labeling the gospels (or just the gospel of Mark) an allegory, Bernard Dubourg claimed that they were midrashim written at least some 500 BC. He then claims that’s the reason why Jesus did not exist. Yes midrash can be metaphor, but one can use a real historical character in a metaphorical context. Furthermore, according to Bernard Dubourg pious Jews were the authors of these midrashim/ of the gospels, they regarded them as sacred as the Torah because they were expanding on it. So they regarded something they came up with sacred ? It’s not logical, unless you take these midrashim as a blueprint for the coming of the Messiah.

    A historical Jesus is then possible ; a Jesus (in my opinion) close to the one described in James Tabor’s The Jesus Dynasty or in Robert Ambelain’s work : a political rebel against Romans and their Jewish collaborators, rightful heir to the throne because he’s from David’s lineage (or claim so), leader of the Sicarii and aware of this specific blueprint for the coming of the Messiah (Hippolytus of Rome in his work, Philosophumena or refutation of all heresies, book 9, claims that the Sicarii sect spawned from the Essenes). He’ll just do what’s in the blueprint to base his legitimacy (even stage his own death and resurrection as in Hugh J. Schonfield’s the Passover plot?) as king.

    3) What are your thoughts on the secret gospel of Mark ? Since someone already asked you about it I’m not dwelling on this topic, neither on the other marcionite gospels. But I hope that we’ll get your thoughts on the Shroud of Turin.

    Anyway, interesting article. Looking forward for the next one.

    • Interested Observer
      Posted July 22, 2017 at 3:19 pm | Permalink


      Why then are women the first to witness the empty tomb and the man inside who told them to tell the disciples that he’s in Galilee etc.

      Isn’t this a classic example of begging the question? It assumes that the Gospels are sincere, that they were written by partisan Jews (as opposed to Romans) that the women’s testimony was supposed to be persuasive as opposed to say, for comedic effect.

      Why would one assume any of those things?

      • Dan
        Posted July 23, 2017 at 1:52 pm | Permalink

        @ Interested Observer

        Well, I don’t think so. I was putting myself in the author’s position to consider the gospel of Mark as an allegory. And in my opinion the detail I pointed out didn’t fit well in this perspective. Unless it is a reference to something else (as the tree withered from its roots) as I mentioned in my last comment.

        As for Atwill’s theory (which is implied in your message) it’s not the point of my comment. But I can give you my view on his theory.

  10. Norman
    Posted July 19, 2017 at 4:16 pm | Permalink

    I have to question the value and utility of such earnest inquiries regarding religious. “What gives?” might be an economical way of putting the question.

    What are the actual (intended, desired, measurable) fruits of the Plausibility Industry? Is it any more than a sort of variable comfy/edgy PR, furthered by the extraction and refinement of religious raw material?

    Maybe a personal need (to reduce, thus to un-ratify) is satisfied, but it seems naïve to expend intellectual energy upon a historical yay-vs-nay, upon an imagined toggle switch which “clears up” whether “God” exists, or existed, in history, in flesh, in word, or in any other purported substrate.

    Aside from reassuring the ardent (dis)believer, such crude materialism lacks purchase, because it lacks currency.

    I can offer some hope by suggesting that, in one’s heart, religious experience — like whatever unearthliness precedes birth — precedes intellectual prowess, as poetry precedes language and techne. Forgetful of this, the intellect is hidebound, earthbound, subject to regressive curvature, to false positives and false negatives.

  11. David Ashton
    Posted July 22, 2017 at 4:02 am | Permalink

    With a lifelong close interest in Christian origins and relevant scholarship from various angles, always open to novel if carefully reasoned views, I found this take on “Mark” most interesting. Discussion of its sequential relationship to “Matthew” and to Pauline theology contimues.

    Much could be said about Judas – and the alternative possible origins of his name (purse-holder, dagger-man, &c) – other than “Kerioth” which was not in Galilee (q.v. Walter Grundmann [1940], Hyam Maccoby [1992], Clay Alan Ham, in Craig A. Evans [ed], “Routledge Encyclopedia of the Historical Jesus” [2010]).

    My own current interest is in the Fourth Gospel, which uses some events and themes found also in Mark and the other Synoptics, but which is indisputably a theological drama that, by successive scenes and speeches, raises Jesus from a preacher-exorcist to the level of a Divine Hero in combat with the Satanic “World”. It is also quite probably based on a literal play-script in Greco-Roman style, that could be thus presented complete on the modern stage, preferably as an opera with appropriate music in the finest western tradition. This is supported by recent writers, including the Mennonite Jo-Ann Brant and the Quaker Philip Oakeshott.

    Despite its somewhat limited vocabulary “John” is a masterpiece of ancient literature.

    Without provoking interminable debate on the term “Ioudaioi” in the NT, still less the claim that these documents “caused ‘The Holocaust'”, I welcome opinions of readers interested in “classical” music, and Classical Theater. A return of the Thingspiel?!

    • James Barlow
      Posted August 2, 2017 at 8:14 am | Permalink

      An interesting play it would be! Especially at John 6 where Jesus scolds the Jews for not believing they must literally eat his flesh to gain eternal life—that is, all the doctrinal theology behind the Catholic Mass! Would love to see how our Mennonite and Quaker playright friends handled that one!!! (!)

  12. Lyle Bright
    Posted July 22, 2017 at 7:00 am | Permalink

    A. Casiel wrote: “Now, the next step in the argument is this: it would be entirely reasonable to interpret Mark as a literary work of allegory, rather than as an attempt at history to begin with.

    “This may sound absurd at first, because most of us reading today assume that the whole entire point of the Gospels is to attest to the historicity of Jesus’ life. But bear with me: once you see how much the hypothesis can make sense of, I think it seems downright obvious. This understanding of the Gospels as works whose point was to attest to the life of a historical Jesus comes from theological constructs that did not exist until after the Gospels had already been in existence for some time. Those constructs were then applied to the Gospels themselves, retroactively. As we’ll see, the same goes for the standard reading of the works of Paul.”

    When you say ‘a work of allegory to begin with’ it seems to suggest and to presuppose a defined self-consciousness on the part of the writer. You seem to imply that he sat down with an intention to put together an allegory. The question of ‘intentionality’ comes to the fore and this becomes a rather sticky problem, does it not? We are attempting to divine intentions and using what lies to hand: in this case assuming that the author employed allegory and that through his allegorical story desired to communicate a specific intentionality. How can one know about such things? One must ‘project’ mustn’t one?

    It seems to me — perhaps I do not grant enough self-consciousness and even shrewdness to the Gospel writers? — that these stories contain various levels of intentionality and that intentions run together. Certainly at a metaphysical level there is the Idea of God’s descent into the realm of living men in time. But at the same time the encapsulation of a focalized anger, a revolutionary sentiment, against the Jewish establishment and the use of woven narrative to attack and undermine that structure.

    It seems to me that the principle way to answer the question ‘What was the intentionality of this and these Gospels?’ can be answered only through an examination what in fact happened and what was done with them. And to locate and describe that is, obviously, quite complex.

    Frank Kermode wrote a very interesting book about ‘interpretation’ called ‘The Genesis of Secrecy: On The Interpretation of Narrative’. One of my favorite books. Have you read it? Given what you are writing about it would I think be quite interesting and helpful to you.

    In relation to this, and please excuse the disparate comment, I just read the short excerpt from ‘Lightening in the Sun’ (Savitri Devi) and notice that what she is attempting to do, and what many of use are actively attempting to do, is to turn narratives upside-down, to bring them out but to put a different spin on them; to claim them and possess them in a specific way and in a sense to turn them against their authors. To reinterpret ‘stories’ through which we — people generally — organize their relationship to life, culture, the motion of history, etc. Would it not likely have been the same with ‘Mark’ (in quotes since we have no idea who this person was) and with all these players in this multi-leveled resistance- and redefinition-project? (The formation of Christianity).

    Here is a pdf with one chapter in Kermode’s book. It might interest you:

    For me the question that comes out most strongly is: What am I attempting myself to do with my Christian notions? With my interest in and need of a certain metaphysical view? How will I interpret myself in realtion to my interpretation of the meaning of the Gospels, our present juncture in history, the re-empowerment of Europeans? (And so many other questions).

    Are we not involved in a multi-leveled project of reinterpratation whose purpose is Action at one level or another?

    • James Barlow
      Posted August 2, 2017 at 8:06 am | Permalink

      It would seem that the intention of the author of Mark is palpable enough: allegory IS history, in his mind, not to mention in Philo generally and in Paul from time to time. Just as in “The allegory of the cave” Plato clearly believes he is propounding metaphysical, epistemological, thus “historical” truth.
      Somewhere Nietzsche, as classical philologist, writes that the way “truth” was ascertained and certainty attained in those days was vastly different from our own. If a text or happenstance made you FEEL a certain way “they had no other way to describe this feeling than to call it ‘true’.”
      Given that the author was in all probability a Jew from the Pauline group writing in Rome on the heels of the debacle of the Jewish defeat in 70, his intentions have to include strategic proselytizing as well.
      It’s long been believed that the author was (1) writing during or shortly after the debacle of the Jewish War; (2) was himself a Jew and member of the Pauline group; (3) was writing from Rome. Proselytization has to be regarded as an intended objective as well. It’s interesting that the single secular evidence for an historical “Christ” having been crucified under Pilate comes from Tacitus writing in 115, who by reading Mark, and without any knowledge of its dependence on the Old Testament, could have concluded the book a kind of heroic history. But even if the Pauline cult believed in a spiritual Jesus his presence in the world in the 30s could be argued for if it was then that the Spirit-possessed visionaries who initiated the movement began their work.
      Mark is not so much intended literary allegory as it is a parable of a theophany, that the disaster of the Jewish nation proves “true.”
      Back in 2007 Dr. Robert Price wrote extensively on all this in an article findable at the Rational Revolution site. He is firmly on the side of allegory as to intent. That it was so soon after its writing taken as history is the interesting thing. Personally I have always thought it plausible that the book was a huge apologetic success, that many who read it BECAME Christians through a felt presence of Christ in the world (note its Jesus is absent from his tomb and there the story ends), startling older believers with a newfound faith that the events the book describes are ‘true’, so that it will have been futile to object to them by saying something like, “well, you know, the story is just a literary allegory.” If it adds to faith, it becomes true. …..

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