BEN: One of the questions Chapter 3 raises for me at least, is whether any of these ancient bioi are seeking to present a novum, in this case a new sort of conversionist religion in an evangelistic way, a religion that was likely to be viewed as a ‘superstitio’ by many in the pagan world, or just plain absurd (see the famous catacomb graffito of a crucified man being worshipped, and the man on the cross has the head of a donkey). I don’t think any of these parallel ‘lives’ were under the same sort of constraints and issues that Mark was when he wrote, especially when it comes to the issue of historical accuracy, or the factual basis of the earliest Gospel. In short, I don’t think a Jewish writer for a tiny minority sect would have felt or had the freedom to wander across the spectrum from facts to fiction when you are trying to make plausible the notion of a crucified and risen early Jew as the Son of God. The very bedrock of the story itself was hard enough to persuade people about, whether Jew or Gentile, never mind the accounts of some of Jesus’ miracles (e.g. exorcisms) and hard sayings. How would you respond to this sort of rumination?
I’d probably go and get another coffee . . .
My first query would be whether you’re right that Mark wants to present ‘a new sort of conversionist religion in an evangelistic way, a religion that was likely to be viewed as a ‘superstitio’ by many in the pagan world.’ I think his goals were rather more modest – to harness the life of Jesus into what was generally referred to as ‘gospel’ and to present this as a model for Christ-followers. I’d also want to note that Mark’s difficulties with a crucified Son of God were not drastically different to Plato’s with the death of Socrates (executed of course by decree of the Athenian assembly for atheism and corrupting the youth). Many philosophers died as martyrs to their teaching in the face of jealous hostile authorities/tyrants (and Philostratus has much to say about this at the end of his Life of Apollonius of Tyana). What mattered most was the way that the story was told. So Plato redeemed Socrates’ hideous death from hemlock poisoning by describing it as the peaceful departure of his soul. It’s interesting that Mark doesn’t adopt this approach: he faces crucifixion head on, providing us with the longest account of crucifixion from antiquity, and makes no attempt to hide the shameful and servile nature of Jesus’ death. Where he does seek to redeem it, however, is both in the constant insistence that it’s the will of God and the clear indication that Jesus (as a good philosopher) has died in accordance with his teaching on self-denial and servanthood.