Friday, August 31, 2012

Friday's with Focant: Mark's Prologue (1:9-13)

In this post, I will not rehash Focant's proposals for the second half of Mark's Prologue, but, rather, discuss Focant's interesting insights concerning 1:10:

10 And immediately, coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens opening and the Spirit descending like a dove toward him (Focant's translation; 39.)
What makes Focant's insights interesting here are not his reconstructions of where the 'dove' derives intertextually, as he suggests that Gen 1:2 remains the most favorable background (46), but the narrative role that the dove plays in Jesus' ministry in Mark's narrative. In a nutshell, Focant suggests that Jesus' ministry is 'dove-like' (my expression) when in confrontation with Satan and his forces, tied together narratively by the Spirit (cf. 1:12-13). Perhaps it is best to hear Focant lay this premise out:

The descent of the Spirit on Jesus can signify his messianic investiture along the lines of Isaiah 61:1: “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed.” In the plan of Mark’s construction, it is not insignificant that the Spirit who descends on Jesus will dare to drive him into the desert to face Satan (Mark 1:12–13), the leader of the unclean spirits. The Spirit “like a dove” appears like Satan’s opposite, which will make the controversy of 3:22–30 explicit. The pericope of 1:12–13 constitutes the first appearance of an offensive strategy that will see Jesus confront the unclean spirits without fear, but also without aggressiveness. In what follows, the narrative will furnish several concrete examples of this offensive strategy of Jesus announced discreetly from the prologue on. The reference to “like a dove” could very well specify one of the elements that differentiate the Holy Spirit that manages Jesus’ strategy in comparison to Satan who arouses that of the unclean spirits (42).

I am not sure what to think of Focant's proposal here. Perhaps if Jesus' ministry in confronting the demonic characterized by a lack of aggressiveness is linked to Jesus' mastery over the dark forces, then Focant's point can be granted. I think I need to think more on this. Narratively, I believe that he rightly notes the connection of the Spirit at Jesus' baptism and the same Spirit who drives him into the wilderness a couple of verses later. What say you?

Friday, August 24, 2012

Friday's with Focant and Mark's Gospel: Mark 1 (The Prologue: Part 1)

For my previous two entries in this series, click here.

Moving to the commentary proper, and by way of disclaimer, I will not attempt a summarization of all that Focant says in his commentary, chapter-by-chapter, nor even section-by-section, but rather, I will point out some positions that the author takes that stood out to this reader.

Focant follows the majority of Markan scholars by insisting that the prologue comprises the first thirteen verses of the gospel (1:1-13). Considering that Mark 1:2 begins with the conflated citation of Isaiah 40:3, to illustrate the 'good news' (εὐαγγέλιον) of Mark 1:1, Focant writes:
In its beginning, the narrative gives up first place to the gospel that is attested in a Scripture much earlier. The narrative does not absorb the good news; it is rather absorbed in the good news that precedes it and that will continue after it in the mission of the disciples. On all sides, the gospel goes beyond, transcends the narrative written by Mark. Knowledge of this fact is registered in the way the book begins and ends (29).
As noted above, the quotation in Mark 1:2 is a "conflated" one (Exod 23:20; Mal 3:1; Isa 40:3) that Focant explains this way:

The fact that he has placed the quotation under the patronage of Isaiah indicates the perspective from which it is appropriate to read it: a messenger is sent by God to prepare the way of Jesus, which will be the one of a new Exodus, God’s act of salvation (Marcus, Way, 12–47; Watts, Isaiah, 88–90), and it is obviously a matter of good news (29).
Moving on to Mark 1:4-8, Focant observes that from an historical perspective the  "all" of Judea and Jerusalem that come to John the Baptist in the wilderness is an exaggeration, but in the narrative, serves to illustrate "that his mission is accomplished: the way is ready..."(33).  For the author, the 'stronger one' of 1:7 is Jesus as his is a baptism in the Holy Spirit, whereas the forerunner, John is one of water (1:8; 34). Focant also observes an interesting narrative connection, writing:
At the level of the narrative as a whole, it is appropriate to once again raise the parallel between John, clothed in animal skins and sent “ahead” (pro) to “proclaim” (ekērussen) the one stronger than him, and the young man dressed in white, who at the conclusion will say that Jesus “goes before” (proagei) the disciples into Galilee (16:7) with the aim of launching the mission of “proclaiming” (kēruchthēnai) the gospel (13:10).
 The next post will take a look at the remainder of the verses contained in the prologue (vv.9-13)

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Mike Halcomb "Enters the Fray"

We stand on the shoulders of giants. No one understands this more than my good friend, and fellow-biblioblogger, Mike Halcomb (T. Michael W. Halcomb in scholarly parlance!), with his new book Entering the Fray: A Primer on New Testament Issues for the Church and the Academy. As one can tell by the subtitle, Mike has a passion for making scholarly issues relevant to the church, and is truly working hard to build a bridge between the two. It should be noted that Halcomb has co-written another book, called People of the Book: Inviting Communities into Biblical Interpretation, that invites reading communities into the task of biblical interpretation.

Regarding Entering the Fray, Mike not only lays out the "who's who" in the history of biblical scholarship, but all the major issues, making this the ideal go-to book for lay readers, students, pastors, and dare I say, scholars?  Further, Mike has created a handy companion website for the book, that includes video, timelines, etc...  So, do yourself a favor and "enter the fray."

Friday, August 17, 2012

"Friday's with Focant and the Gospel of Mark": Mark's Theological Aims

As promised, I wanted to write a separate post on Camille Focant's treatment of Mark's theological aims (14-19), in his newly translated The Gospel According to Mark: A Commentary, published by Wipf and Stock, and available for purchase here. For the initial post in this series that deals with other introductory matters, click here.

Focant reminds the reader that Mark's narrative key is provided at the outset, as his work is a proclamation of the good news of Jesus Christ, Son of God,(1:1) and further, Jesus' mission is to proclaim the good news of God, "the nearness of God's reign" (1:14-15; 14). Next, Focant tackles Wrede's famed "messianic secret" hypothesis, and grants that although faith in Jesus as Messiah is indeed a post-Easter phenomenon, Wrede's construal fails to convince him for: it justified from that that Mark would have imposed a theological-literary theory of the 'messianic secret' on the traditional materials? Although it has been defended for a long time, this explanation of a literary stratagem motivated by apologetic preoccupations seems somewhat anachronistic. It seems more justifiable to recognize that the gospel of Mark 'does not protect a secret, but narrates its dissolution' (Marguerat, "Construction," 256) (14). 

Focant rightly criticizes the "divine man" hypothesis as well. His statement summarizes the position well: "It is curious to attribute a development based on Hellenistic (theios aner) rather than Palestinian cultural uprooting to the Christology of the pre-Markan traditions"(15). Focant, also rightly in my view, criticizes attempts to read Mark as an apocalyptic work: "Nevertheless, if apocalyptic features are indeed present in Mark, the gospel is not structured as an apocalypse. It is thus venturesome to make the eschatological or apocalyptic concern the reading key to the whole work" (16).

Focant's approach follows that of Robert Tannehill, "The Gospel of Mark in Narrative Christology" Semeia 16 (57-95; 1979), where "it seems more solid to base myself on the very structure of the gospel itself and in the way the plot is constructed" something "Tannehill has done marvelously" (16). Focant spends the next few pages elaborating the narrative connections he sees in the plot and structure of Mark's Gospel (16-19). One aspect that I found interesting was Focant's alternate reading of the theme of secrecy in Mark's Gospel. He concludes this section by remarking:
...Jesus does not want to be construed as a thaumaturgist, a miracle worker. That is the meaning of his injunctions to silence. When someone thinks they know who Jesus is, this knowledge is put into question. The primary key to interpret him and his mission must remain the passion. He can be recognized for who he truly is only beginning with it (19).   

This reader wonders what Focant would have to say after reading David Watson's Honor Among Christians, published after Focant's work, that argues that the so-called "messianic secret" motif is to be better understood as the cultural realities of honor and shame that pervaded first-century Mediterranean life.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Dictionary of The Old Testament Prophets: Initial Impressions

(Thanks to the good folks at InterVarsity Press, particularly, Adrianna Wright, for providing me with this review copy.)

The eighth and final installment of the famous "Black Dictionaries" is now complete with the publication of the Dictionary of The Old Testament Prophets (henceforth, D.T.O.T.P), edited by Mark J. Boda and J. Gordon McConville, some twenty years after the first volume, the Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, appeared in print.

D.T.O.T.P. boasts of some 94 contributors along with 113 articles in a 966 page volume (including indices). Many of the contributors will be familiar to biblical scholars and students with names such as Craig Evans, John Goldingay, J. Gordon McConville, John Oswalt, and Rikk Watts, to name but a few of the luminaries. Covering both the major and minor prophets, the editors chose to follow the convention of the Christian Old Testament by including Daniel in this volume (ix).

Receiving the volume today, I chose to read Rikk Watts' excellent essay, "Exodus Imagery" (205-214).            Watts has established himself as an expert on this subject as his revised dissertation, Isaiah's New Exodus in Mark, demonstrates. Watts helpfully outlines his approach at detecting exodus themes throughout the prophetic material by one, delineating the exodus as "the events from Yahweh's initial response to Israel's cry in Egypt up to Moses' final words on the thresh unwieldy (205). Watts begins his investigation by outlining "Exodus Themes" (205-206) in order to trace for the reader the major themes that will reappear in the subsequent prophetic literature. Turning to the Prophets, the section on Isaiah (206-208) gets the most detailed treatment, followed by Jeremiah and Ezekiel, before turning to the Book of Twelve (210-212). Watts' contribution will prove a treasure trove for those wanting to investigate this theme throughout the prophetic corpus. Watts conclusion, in part is worth quoting here:
The extensive, diverse, sometimes specific, but more commonly allusive nature of the prophets' appeals to the exodus strongly implies a significant body of knowledge shared between themselves and their audiences. The exodus, in all its breadth of interwoven ideas and motifs, apparently is not their invention but rather is an older complex of traditions upon which they freely drew without any hint of the need either to justify that appeal or to explain its presumed content. Here was something sufficiently well known that although the prophets sometimes were very specific in drawing parallels, in many places they felt that a simple allusion would suffice (212).

 I look forward to reading through more of this dictionary and will provide several reflections on various articles in the days ahead.

Friday, August 10, 2012

"Friday's with Focant and the Gospel of Mark": Introduction

Very recently, Wipf and Stock has provided all students of Mark's Gospel with an immense gift. They have published a translation by Leslie Keylock of French Markan scholar Camille Focant's, The Gospel of Mark.  Thanks to the wonderful folks at Wipf and Stock, I was provided with a review copy of this commentary.

What I would like to do over the coming weeks and months would be to write a series of posts concerning this commentary. Keeping with the "Friday's with Focant..." idea, I will post something of my reading of this immense commentary (740pp.) every Friday. The posts will in no way be comprehensive, but rather, will be comprised of my impressions, questions, observations and the like.

So, a bit of background on this commentary will suffice for this post. First, this commentary debuted in 2004 in French under the title L'evangile selon Marc for the Commentaire biblique Nouveau Testament (CBNT), a collection of scientific commentaries. Second, Focant's interpretive  focus is on the text as a whole, and thus a narrative one. Third, Focant's translation of Mark "is not intended for public reading," (21) but, rather "does not hesitate to disorient the reader accustomed to hearing the gospel read" (21). In other words, Focant eschews a dynamic equivalence translation for a more wooden one, reflecting Mark's "rough" Greek.

The format is welcome to this reader at least, as Focant succinctly spends a mere twenty-one pages on introductory issues. This is not to say that Focant brushes these issues aside as all of the relevant matters here are considered (genre: evangelical narration [2]; authorship: John Mark [6]; date: between 64-69 CE [7]; place of writing: Rome [9]; recipients: somewhere in the vast Roman Empire targeting former pagans [9]; etc.). Focant also discusses structure where he favors this format:

  • Prologue (1:1-13)
  • First Section (1:14-3:6)
  • Second Section (3:7-6:6a)
  • Third Section (6:6b-8:30)
  • Fourth Section (8:31-10:52)
  • Fifth Section (11:1-13:37)
  • Sixth Section (14:1-16:8) [13]
Focant then discusses textual matters briefly (13), before turning to the "theological aims" of Mark's Gospel (13-19). Finally, the author describes his hermeneutical approach in the commentary that follows (19-21).

I will delay in discussing Focant's section on the "Theological Aim" of Mark's Gospel for a separate post, as I believe it deserves a separate treatment.