Theodore J. Weeden. Mark—-Traditions in Conflict. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1971.
I decided to read this book when I saw that it was mentioned in a book that Richard Bauckham edited, The Gospels for All Christians: Rethinking the Gospel Audiences. The author who mentioned Weeden’s book disagreed with its thesis, but I thought that Weeden’s book might be interesting. I am interested in the diversity within the Bible and new ways of looking at issues.
Essentially, Weeden argues that Mark was responding to people who were like the super-apostles in II Corinthians. These people focused on signs and wonders: they performed them themselves, and they also highlighted that Jesus performed them as a divine man. They believed that they were connected in some manner with the apostles, perhaps as heirs to the apostles’ miracle-working ministry. They maintained that spiritual knowledge was hidden from the masses and was reserved for a spiritual elite. They also held that Jesus himself was in their presence, and that they were so united with Jesus that they themselves could be identified with him, on some level.
According to Weeden, Mark drew from these people’s traditions about Jesus in writing his own Gospel, but he did so as a way to refute them. Rather than focusing on signs and wonders, Mark emphasized the importance of suffering discipleship, which would speak to his historical context, a time when believers in Jesus were suffering. Mark depicted Jesus backing away from either performing miracles or highlighting them. Because Mark’s opponents stressed the apostles, Mark presented the disciples as people who simply did not understand Jesus’ mission. In the Gospel of Mark, they stumble over Jesus’ miracles, and Peter gets rebuked by Jesus because Peter simply does not grasp that Jesus will suffer and die. There are also no post-resurrection appearances by Jesus to the disciples in the Gospel of Mark: they miss the boat. Whereas Mark’s opponents believed in a secret spiritual knowledge, and this view is evident in Jesus’ telling of parables in the Gospel of Mark to obscure knowledge for anyone other than Jesus’ disciples, Mark contended that Jesus was public about his Messianic identity as Son of Man, and Mark also maintained that Jesus was inclusive, even towards those who were doing great works in his name yet were not part of his circle of disciples. While Mark’s opponents said that the risen Christ was in their midst and identified themselves with Christ, on some level, Mark in Mark 13 attempted to refute these claims. The people who come in Christ’s name, claim to be Christ, and perform signs and wonders are Mark’s opponents, Weeden argues. Mark rejects the idea that Jesus is with the Christian community, for Mark is clear that the Spirit is with the Christians, and the Spirit is not Jesus. Mark in Mark 13 warns the disciples against following those who believe that Jesus is here or there, and Weeden thinks that Mark here is arguing against his opponents’ view that Christ is in their midst. For Mark, according to Weeden, Jesus will be with Christians after the parousia, not before then. Until that time, the bridegroom will be away from the Christians.
A question that I had in reading this book was whether Mark 16:7 undermined Weeden’s thesis. There, a young man at the empty tomb instructs the women to tell the disciples, and Peter, that Jesus is going before them into Galilee. Does that not undermine the idea that Jesus was spurning the disciples by not giving them any post-resurrection appearances? No, according to Weeden. Weeden agrees with scholars who argue that Mark 16:7 concerns the parousia, not post-resurrection appearances. Weeden notes that the terminology used is the terminology that is usually employed in reference to the parousia.
Do I agree with Weeden’s thesis? There may be something to it. I myself have thought that the Messianic secret in the Gospel of Mark contrasts with Jesus’ public proclamation of his mission in the self-same Gospel. I have also been open to the possibility that the people who come in Christ’s name in Mark 13 and deceive many are Christians rather than the Messianic pretenders Josephus talks about, since they do come in Christ’s name.
But I still have questions. First of all, while Weeden is clear that Mark believed in an imminent parousia, did Mark envision the parousia occurring during the lifetime of Peter? The young man in Mark 16:7, after all, instructs the women to tell Peter that Jesus goes before them into Galilee. If so, how would that make sense to Mark’s community, which may have lived after Peter’s death (though I cannot be too dogmatic about this, for Peter may have lived a long time)? Was Peter supposed to pass on the tradition that Jesus’s parousia would be in Galilee? Second, why would Mark depict Jesus’ disciples as clueless about Jesus’ ability to perform miracles, when Weeden’s argument is that Mark’s opponents emphasized Jesus’ miracles? Was the point here that Jesus’ disciples were clueless, even on what people believed them to be experts on? Third, why would Mark emphasize the importance of suffering discipleship? Why did Mark believe that suffering was important? Did he think that suffering served some positive end?