Helen Bond’s The First Biography of Jesus– Part Five

Helen Bond’s The First Biography of Jesus– Part Five May 19, 2020

BEN: You have suggested that Mark’s biography seems most like the biographies of ancient philosophers and teachers. And yet oddly, Mark includes little teaching material of Jesus, except in Mk. 4 and 13? When one compares this to Matthew’s Gospel, it hardly seems a major emphasis in this Gospel. What is about the biographies of ancient philosophers that suggests you are right about such a comparison?

HELEN:

It’s certainly true that Matthew has more teaching than Mark, but I think Mark has quite a decent amount. In addition to the two passages you mention, there’s the journey to Jerusalem in chapters 8-10 which is full of teaching. There are no set conventions to these things – Diogenes Laertius records very little specific teachings for most of his (hundreds of) philosophers, only giving an account of teaching in the case of founders of particular schools. And Lucian doesn’t record any lengthy teachings from his teacher Demonax, most of what he records are anecdotes with pithy little quips. Actually, I don’t think Mark fares too badly when it comes to recording Jesus’ teaching. The point of the label ‘biography of a philosopher/teacher’ (though of course it didn’t exist in antiquity as a separate grouping) is to align Mark with the long and distinguished tradition of Greek biographies that go back all the way to Xenophon’s work on Socrates. Philosophers/teachers were a staple of the Greek tradition, whereas Romans tended to favor statesmen and generals in their vitae. Many of these philosophers were religious figures too, and there was a general expectation that the hero’s life would exemplify his teaching – all of which made this broad type of literature eminently suitable for Mark’s project.


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