James Crossley, Mark’s Christology, and Parallelomania

Over at The Jesus Blog, James Crossley has a rather spirited response to my piece on Marcan Christology. Crossley thinks my post was a rhetorical over play on parallelomania.

Here is my offending statement: “Parallels are good for mapping how readers familiar with a given text might understand the story – reading after all is matter of context and prior reading experiences – but parallels cannot determine purpose or over power the narrative sweep of a text.”

What I mean by “parallelomania” is when X is said to be either the source or meaning of Y even though there are no evidential reasons for thinking that the author of Y either knew X or had X in mind. What I’m particularly perplexed about is how Mark’s narrative construction of Jesus’ identity and relationship to God can be briskly overturned by the mere citation of one text where a similar action is attributed to a human figure rather than to a divine one.

Now I stated pretty darn clearly that parallels can show how a text might have been understood and that has genuine value. So I think it is possible to read the Marcan baptismal scene as an adoption if one were immersed in the Greco-Roman context, but in light of Mark’s entire story, I just don’t think that is how he wants it to be understood. Thus, what parallels cannot do is over-power the intention of the author (the real author or the implied author) or undermine the cumulative effect and interior coherence of the narrative which, through its own devices ranging from intertextuality to characterization, develop a web of associations for the protagonist. In Mark’s case, the Marcan Jesus is paradoxically human and Kyrios.

Let me give a solid example. Stephen Young and Daniel Kirk argue that Ps 88:26 (LXX) shows that “literate Christ followers could envision a nondivine figure with authority over the sea” (See Andrew Perriman’s response). My response is, “So what?” We all know that reading is a matter of context and prior experiences. If one’s prior reading experience was the Qu’ran or the Bhagavad Gita, one could make any number of associations between the Marcan Jesus and other religious categories from prophet to shaman. Reader-responses to a text can be multiplied endlessly. So sure, someone reading Mark 6 and Ps 86:26 (LXX) might think of Jesus as a human figure endowed with divine/kingly power over the elements. The QUESTION is: Are we supposed to read the text that way? The problem I have is that Mark appears to be making a theophanic description of Christ in Mark 6, and what I think the implied reader is meant to take away is that Jesus appears with Yahweh-like power over the sea, and this is part of a wider christological pattern in Mark’s Gospel, from Mk 1.2-3 to 14.62, which identifies Jesus as/with Israel’s Kyrios. Yet some bloggers appear to be saying in effect, “Well, I can find a parallel where a human figure has power of the sea, so maybe Mark’s Jesus is not divine but merely a human agent.” This is what I’m contesting, and I think it is a good point.

Crossley reveals his true complaint when he says: “And then there’s this nagging suspicion I have. It’s almost as if scholars are using Jewish texts as a Good Thing when they support their presuppositions and a To Be Neglected Thing when they do not.”

Fair enough point and I have no beef. My beef is in a different butcher shop.

What I’m concerned about is when the internal coherence and narratival construction of Mark’s christology is nonchalantly set aside by appeal to what someone might have inferred if they read some part of Mark in tandem with some text.

For me, the question is: “What is textual meaning?” and how does examination of an author, text, reader(s), and intertextuality make one “meaning” preferable to others. That is where I think we should go next in our blogfest on Marcan Christology!

So, to throw it out there, can anyone give me a reason why we should read Mark 6:45-52 in light of Ps 89:25 rather than in light of Ps 107:23-30?

Read the famous article by Samuel Sandmel on Parallelomania here.

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