I’ll be be dealing with just one question in this week’s Readers’ Mailbag, since the response will require some explaining. I has to do with the literary artistry of the Gospel of Mark – is it a fairly unsophisticated account of Jesus’ life and death?
The question itself will require a bit of set-up and explanation. In an earlier post I argued that Mark’s Gospel almost certainly ended in chapter sixteen at verse 8. Jesus has been crucified, dead, and buried. On the third day some women go to his tomb to anoint his body more appropriately for burial, but when they arrive the tomb is already opened, Jesus’ body is not in it, but a young man is, who asks them if they are looking for Jesus of Nazareth. He then tells them that he has been raised and that they, the women, are to go tell the disciples that Jesus will meet them in Galilee. The women, though, flee the tomb and don’t say anything to anyone because they were afraid.
In my post I argued that Mark meant to leave his ending abrupt and breath-taking, for several reasons. One of them is that Mark throughout his Gospel emphasizes that no one could understand Jesus – almost no one at all. His family thinks he has lost his mind; the people from his hometown can’t understand where he got all his knowledge; the Jewish leaders think he is possessed by the Devil; and even his own disciples never “get” who he is (Jesus harangues them for not understanding). Mark is unique among the Gospels in stressing this idea that no one can figure out who Jesus is. And in my view, the ending supports that motif: in the end, the disciples never *do* come to understand about him. They never even hear he has been raised from the dead. They are oblivious to the end.
This, then, was a question about that interpretation, raised by a reader:
Is it really likely that “Mark,” the least sophisticated of the gospel authors, would have intended an ending parallel to a motif of obliviousness?
I think Mark has an undeserved (though very common!) reputation for being unsophisticated. I have just the contrary view. I think as a literary artist Mark was extremely sophisticated, in ways that require deep study to recognize.
Let me give just one example….
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