Back to the Messianic Secret in Mark. As we have seen, 19th century scholars by and large determined that Mark’s Gospel was the first to be written, and from that they concluded that it was a straightforward factual description of what actually happened in the life of Jesus. In their view, unlike the other Gospels, Mark had not invested his story with any (or many) literary touches – i.e. fictionalized any of it – and he hadn’t imposed his own theology onto the account. He laid out what really happened, and Matthew and Luke, then later John, took this factual account and modified it in light of their literary and theological interests.
So if you wanted to know what happened in the life of Jesus: read Mark! And for the various gaps (why did Jesus do this? Why did he start doing that? What drove him to do this other thing?) you provided plausible, psychological explanations of what Jesus was thinking at the time.
William Wrede’s book in 1906, Das Messiasgeheimnis (The Messianic Secret) called that view seriously into question. Wrede found that there was indeed a literary purpose behind Mark’s writing, which can be seen in a certain motif or theme found on many layers of the stories that he narrated, which, in Wrede’s judgment, and for reasons he explains, really could not be historical (even though everyone always had taken them as historical) (and many readers still do!). If they aren’t historical, what are they doing in Mark’s Gospel? They are Mark’s spin on the story of Jesus. They are literary touches that have “fictionalized” the account (my term, not his).
The theme Wrede noted involved Jesus’ constant attempts to keep his messiahship a secret. If the messiah came to earth, wouldn’t he want someone to know? Not for Mark. Jesus tries to cover it up. But why? The common explanation you still hear today: Jesus didn’t want anyone to know he was the messiah, because that would rouse opposition and he would be executed too soon, before he fulfilled his mission. A common explanation you would have heard in the 19th century: Jesus had to ease his disciples into the amazing realization of who he was. He knew it would take some time and training, so he did it slowly.
There are other explanations. 586 of you are coming up with one! But…
To see the real meat of this post, you will need to belong to the blog. It won’t cost much to join, every cent you pay goes to charity, and you will then have the benefit of knowing! Wanna know? Join!