Mark and Method: New Approaches in Biblical Studies

Since its publication by Fortress Press in 1992, Mark and Method has been an invaluable resource for the study of Mark, and of the range of methods used in interpreting the New Testament. This second edition offers a new introduction and chapters brought up to date with the latest developments in interpretation, including new chapters on Cultural Studies and Post-Colonial Criticism.

Preface to the Second Edition

1. Introduction: The Lives of Mark, Janice Capel Anderson and Stephen D. Moore
2. Narrative Criticism: How Does the Story Mean? Elizabeth Struthers Malbon
3. Reader-Response Criticism: Figuring Mark’s Reader, Robert M. Fowler
4. Deconstructive Criticism: Turning Mark Inside Out, Stephen D. Moore
5. Feminist Criticism: The Dancing Daughter, Janice Capel Anderson
6. Social Criticism: Crossing Boundaries, David Rhoads
7. Cultural Studies: Making Mark, Abraham Smith
8. Post-Colonial Criticism: Echoes of a Subaltern’s Contribution and Exclusion, Tat-Siong Benny Liew

The contributors include: Janice Capel Anderson, Stephen D. Moore, Elizabeth Struthers Malbon, Robert M. Fowler, David Rhoads, Tat-Siong Benny Liew, and Abraham Smith.

Review & Commentary

One thought on “Mark and Method: New Approaches in Biblical Studies

  1. Review

    Book Review: “Mark & Method: New Approaches in Biblical Studies”, Second Edition, Edited by Janice Capel Anderson and Stephen D Moore; Fortress Press Minneapolis 2008; ISBN978-0-8006-3851-1; 288 pp.

    The Gospel according to Mark is widely considered to have been written around the time of the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem in 70 C.E and to have been the first of the four canonical Gospels to be written. It was later copied and expanded by the writers of Matthew and Luke. Mark is also the shortest Gospel and in its very first verse, it presents its theologically exalted aim to reveal to the world “The Gospel of Jesus Christ, Son of God”. This aim continues to feature strongly within the four walls of Christian churches in our present 21st century. Mark’s theologically enigmatic Gospel finds itself in the traditionally dogmatic, sacred and supernatural-friendly context within the churches’ regular liturgical Gospel readings and in the inspirational sermons preached weekly from the pulpits. These presentations generally favor a literalistic understanding of the biblical text and this apologetical approach is supported by faith-based affirmations of the Gospel writer’s inspiration by Christianity’s Holy Spirit, the third member of its Holy Trinity or Triune God.

    An Academic Approach
    In contrast to this theological context and within the walls of many secular and scholarly classrooms and tutorial rooms throughout the world, however, Mark’s Gospel finds itself in a secular and a more science-friendly context. Such an academic context also takes this Gospel very seriously as very influential first-century literature but reads and analyses it with tools and methods drawn from the academic liberal sciences and from the literary humanities and literature studies. Priority here is given to insights gained from such scientific and inductive disciplines as anthropology, archaeology, cultural studies, rational history, psychology, sociology and various other academic disciplines.

    The seven authors of this book “Mark & Method” clearly have the secular and scientifically-minded classrooms in their sights with their seven well-researched chapters and it is not surprising to find repeated evidence throughout the book of a humanistic and secular world-view and methodology in the types of critical and evaluative analyses which are presented. These include narrative, reader-response, deconstructive, feminist, social, cultural and post-colonial analyses.

    Gospel of Mark as Literature
    The contents, as separate chapters in this book, were first written by five members of the Society of Biblical Literature, who were part of the SBL’s “Group on the Literary Aspects of the Gospels and Acts”. These chapters were first presented at the annual meeting of the SBL at Kansas City in 1991 and were first published in 1992. This second and extensively updated 2008 edition indicates its continuing wide-spread use and its academic value within Markan Studies. No doubt, further editions and updates will be produced, in order to keep readers up to date with the latest methodologies and approaches.

    Ten valuable pages of Glossary are included, which clearly explain over eighty different technical and innovative academic terms and concepts, which have recently arisen in various secular and scientific disciplines and which have also been used during the scholarly analysis of the Gospel of Mark. Of increasing importance is the difference between story and discourse (p.242), as well as between the real author, the implied author and the narrator (pp.237-9). Such subtleties are often overlooked by readers.

    The interesting biographical notes on the seven contributors to this book indicate that their chapters reflect much lengthier treatment of their often pioneering approaches and methodologies in their various lengthy, published books. Each author is really worthy of a separate review but this review’s short summary of this book’s contents and a few highlights must suffice to indicate the breadth and depth of their methodologies and the very valuable contributions being made by these seven scholars to the continuing, academic Markan scholarship.

    Janice Capel Anderson, who is Professor of Philosophy and Religious Studies at the University of Idaho, Moscow, Idaho, has co-edited this book and she has presented a chapter on “Feminist Criticism: The Dancing Daughter” (p.111).

    Stephen D. Moore is Professor of New Testament at the Theological School, Drew University, Madison, New Jersey and he prepared the chapter “Deconstructive Criticism: Turning Mark Inside-Out” (p.95).

    The Five Lives of Mark
    These two Scholars have presented a very informative and comprehensive Introduction to this book titled “The Lives of Mark”. These five lives depict the five types of treatment and analysis received by the writer of this Gospel during the past nearly 2,000 years since its composition in about 70 C.E. This Life has included plenty of demotions and promotions and in more recent times, some methodologies have been applied to the Gospel of Mark after being borrowed from extra-biblical literary studies and from the social sciences (p. 23).

    [1] The Gospel writer’s first Life depicts “How Mark became an Author” by being at first viewed as Peter’s Scribe, then as Matthew’s Summarizer, as the Holy Spirit’s Stenographer, as a Reporter, as a Theologian, a Scissors-and-Paste man, a Redactor and finally as a fully-fledged Author of an enigmatic narrative, containing both its surface story or myth and its sub-surface and supra-surface discourse or meaning (p.2).

    [2] Mark’s second Life was “How Mark became a Narrator” as an Allegorist and as a Narrator of a story or myth. [3] His third Life was “How Mark lost his grip on the Text” within Narrative, Reader-Response, Deconstruction and Feminist Criticism and [4] his fourth Life was “How Mark became increasingly distant” in the context of the study of Social Criticism. [5] His fifth and final Life depicted how Mark the “Evangelist and the Emperor” related to each other in Cultural Studies and Postcolonial Criticism. Such an Introduction provides an excellent historical and developmental context for this very complex and often baffling variety of approaches and methodologies in relation to Mark’s Gospel. No doubt some will wonder how the Gospel’s author would respond today if confronted with such a diverse range of analyses of Mark’s rather short, often racy, very episodic and mainly Galilean, miracle-filled narrative about Jesus Christ or Yehoshua Messiah, a figure which some eminent scholars are increasingly identifying conceptually with the Hebrews’ deity Yahweh, in its aspect as “Yahweh Saves”.

    The Real and the Implied Author
    Narrative Criticism is the theme of the first chapter and its author is Elizabeth Struthers Malbon, Professor of Religious Studies at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Blacksburg, Virginia. She begins her Gospel analysis with the text or narrative and then explores it in several ways. One way is through the narrative’s six components, which are needed for the text or narrative to fully function. These components include: [1] a real author; [2] an implied author; [3] a narrator; [4] a narratee; [5] an implied reader and [6] a real reader.
    The first three could be also labeled [1] the flesh-and-blood, living human author outside the text but responsible for the text; [2] the persona or mask created or constructed about the author on the basis of the information within the text; and [3] the narrator, who is placed within the text and who presents both the story or myth and the discourse or meaning as narrator. Similarly, the readers or audience can be [4] narratees within the story, [4] anticipated and implied readers on its edge or [6] real human, flesh-and-blood readers like you and me in today’s world (p.33).

    Mark obviously makes much use of literary forms and narrative elements, such as characters, geographical settings, plot and various rhetorical ways of persuasion and emphasis, such as juxtaposition, repetition, intercalation, framing, foreshadowing and echoing, symbolism and irony. This rhetoric is most persuasive on the implied reader, so Malbon concludes that the task of the narrative analyst is to seek to analyse and appreciate the implied author’s effect through the text itself on the implied reader. For her, the text is both central between the author and reader and it can also be described as being “intriguing” (p.41).

    Such literary studies can also apply to factual, to part-fact and part-fiction and to imaginary fiction and fantasy, so the way is left open for the analysis of texts and narratives which are considered to be either historically factual or creatively fictional, mythological and theological. This distinction is relevant, especially as Malbon explores the very famous miraculous story of Jesus “walking on the water” (p.48). This may also be a case of the writer fulfilling the role depicted in the full form of Jesus’ name, which is in Hebrew Yehoshua, meaning “Yahweh Saves”. Certainly in the first century, both Jesus and Yahweh were referred to as “the Lord”.

    Window or House of Mirrors
    A focus on the reader emerges in Robert M. Fowler’s chapter on “Reader-response Criticism: Figuring Mark’s Reader”. Fowler is Professor of Religion at Baldwin-Wallace College, Berea, Ohio. In Fowler’s opinion, a text can be viewed as a “window” through which readers see objective reality or the human condition being described. It can also be viewed as a “self contained house of mirrors”, which reflects internally its interacting characters, plots settings and syntax. In such examples, the meaning is given or supplied. Fowler suggests, in a very post-modern way, that meaning is the “dynamic, ever-changing creation of the reader in the act of reading” (p.60).

    Stephen Moore next addresses the method of “Deconstructive Criticism: Turning Mark inside-out” He has written six books on such issues as Postcolonialism, Poststructuralism and the Postmodern Bible and in his chapter in this book, he explores Western binary oppositions and Derrida’s concern that they tend to become hierarchical oppositions, organized in a vertical or pyramidal relationship of subordination rather than of equality. There are many examples of polarities or binaries, such as mind/body, nature/nurture, literal/metaphorical, good/bad, beautiful/ugly, text/interpretations, male/female and, in the present Markan context, speech versus writing. Since priority is often given to the first mentioned binary, Derrida accordingly advises readers to deconstruct such hierarchical binaries, including those in the text being analysed (p.98).

    Moore also expresses interest in the “liminal zone” in which the disciples are often placed. This is obvious in the non-ending at Mark 16:8. An ending had been anticipated by the expectation that Jesus would be going ahead of the disciples to Galilee where they would see him (Mark 16:7) but this became a “demolished expectation” when the story ended with no such sequence in Galilee (p.103). Interestingly, some commentators have viewed the solar-related transfiguration or transformation of Jesus, with Jesus’ face shining brightly like the sun ( Mark 9:2-13and Matthew 17:1-13), as a “misplaced post-resurrection appearance” of the exalted Christ, set by Mark in mid-summer and under the sun at its peak in Galilee. Is Mark trying to hide something here with his abrupt ending? Is Yehoshua/Jesus in fact a conceptualised solar humanization?

    Dancing Salome
    Janice Capel Anderson’s chapter “Feminist Criticism: The Dancing Daughter” is a most appropriate chapter to follow Derrida’s concern over hierarchical binaries. Anderson lists many other Feminist writers and colleagues and she leaves no doubt that in the male-female binary, all of these women can “witness to different forms and degrees of oppression in patriarchal religious institutions, the academy, and societies”. In contrast, she describes each of her fellow-Feminist critics as “a unique pearl with a unique color and shape”, who “together form intertwining strands of pearls, pearls of great price”. Equipped with such a positive image, the author feels confident to promote the exposure of the Bible as a long-standing, persistent and victimizing “tool of oppression” towards women (p.113). This is still an issue for both the Protestants and the Roman Catholics.

    As an answer to such an “androcentric and patriarchal/kyriarchal character” of both the Bible and biblical scholarship, Anderson proposes various “Feminist Constructions” such as female images of God, a study of human women characters and an analysis of biblical victims (p.117). The “dancing daughter” in her chapter title is Salome, daughter of Herodias. Salome has been here depicted as both a virgin-like innocent young girl simply used by her corrupt mother and she has been seen as embodying woman as the purveyor of sex and death (p.125). Her lengthy analysis of this story or narrative of the beheading of John the Baptist, the accompanying powerful illustrations and the inclusion of Esther, Judith and Jezebel, boldly articulates some very dark themes in Feminist biblical analysis in need of attention.

    Yahweh dwelling in the Holy of Holies
    David Rhoads, Professor of New Testament at the Lutheran School of Theology, Chicago, Illinois, has explored “Social Criticism: Crossing Boundaries”, which involves such issues as social description, social history, sociology of knowledge, socialization and enculturation, models from cultural anthropology and a case study of purity and boundaries. He explains that Mark’s narrative contains no “Christians”, only Judeans and that the social conflicts are not between religions but between faction within Judaism, namely the authorities and the peasants, or what we now call the “blue collar workers”.
    However, there were also important social factors in Palestine which affected the Gospel texts, such as the role of the Temple and its Holy of Holies as the depicted dwelling-place on Earth of the Hebrew deity Yahweh, the resulting governmental theocracy and the rule by the High Priests. In the Temple, Yahweh’s presence was seen to bring prosperity, productivity and security (p.158). The effect of the Temple’s destruction in 70 C.E., the detrimental impact on the Jewish religion and Mark’s presentation of the crucifixion of Yehoshua/Jesus on the charge of blasphemy, are understandable against the above social background.

    Abraham Smith, Professor of New Testament at Southern Methodist University, Perkins School of Theology, Dallas, Texas has dealt with “Cultural Studies: Making Mark”, which includes some important cultural issues such as resisting the rule of Empire and tracing tyranny.

    Finally, “Postcolonial Criticism: Echoes of a Subaltern’s Contribution and Exclusion” has been written by Tat-Siong Benny Liew, who is Associate Professor of New Testament at the Pacific School of Religion, Berkeley, California. He traces the beginning of this concern for post-colonialism back to the book “Orientalism” by Edward W Said and published in 1978 by Pantheon, New York. The Gospel of Mark is viewed as part and parcel of the Bible, which tended to accompany explorers, administrators and missionaries, who were active in previous colonizing empires and who according to Derrida, were engaging in “Globalatinization”, which, as defined in the helpful Glossary, has been the intermingling of religion, economics and colonialism since the days of the ancient Roman empire and still continuing today, mainly as “globalised capitalism”. Another way of describing this colonialism has been that the Europeans arrived in their ships at their remote colonial out-posts, fully armed with “alcohol, trousers, syphilis and the Bible”.

    This book successfully applies the extensive range of past and present-day academic methodologies and approaches to the study and analysis of the Gospel according to Mark and, in the expectation that further new approaches will emerge, this useful theoretical yet very practical book will no doubt experience further new editions in the future. The above summary of its contents and a few of its highlights should indicate the present and ongoing importance and value of this enlightening and challenging book for promoting a deeper, broader and a more honest academic and scholarly analysis of the enigmatic Gospel according to Mark.

    John Noack, June 2012. Email address:

    Reviewer’s Biography: John Noack has been a Lutheran Pastor at Rainbow in Victoria Australia; a Tutor in the Middle Eastern Studies Department at the University of Melbourne and a Teacher of History and World Religions at Trinity Grammar School at Kew in Melbourne Victoria.
    He has been involved in academic research at the Australian Institute of Archaeology and he is at present engaged in attempts to solve the various enigmas in the Gospel according to Mark.

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