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.

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