woensdag 6 februari 2013

Review of: Adela Yarbro Collins, Mark: A Commentary (Hermeneia), Fortress, 2007; in: Interpretation

Adela Yarbro Collins, Mark: A Commentary (Hermeneia), Fortress, 2007.

Review in: Interpretation 2009 63: 70
Review door: M. Eugene Boring
Gevonden op: http://int.sagepub.com/content/63/1/70.full.pdf+html

Mark: A Commentary
by Adela Yarbro Collins
Hermeneia. Fortress, Minneapolis, 2007.
894 pp. $80.00 (cloth). ISBN 978-080066-078-9.

THIS COMMENTARY, MAINTAINING the strict historical-critical tradition of the Hermeneia series, represents a benchmark in the discussion of the Gospel of Mark and presents to both academy and church a splendid resource for its interpretation.

In the extensive introduction (125 pages), Adela Yarbro Collins is a helpful guide for even the initiated reader through the maze of generations of research, objectively summarizing and evaluating important positions and turning points, sometimes leaving disputed questions open and sometimes making her own position clear. Mark was the first Gospel, influenced by the Hellenistic bios, but not merely a Christian version of it. Unlike many commentators, Collins has an appreciation for "the magnitude of Mark's innovation" (p. 17). Mark is essentially an eschato-logical historical monograph written in the biblical style, the climax and conclusion of biblical history. Regarding Mark as adopting the model of biblical history, specifically that of the Deuteronomic Historian, allows Collins to speak repeatedly of Mark's "synthesizing" of the clashing traditions he inherits. One might ask, however, whether "synthesis" is the best word for what Mark does. Are Mark's conflicting christological images of Jesus as the Son of God filled with divine power and the truly human being who suffers and dies synthesized, or are they juxtaposed without being harmonized or adjusted to each other? Collins' discussion of the Messianic Secret sees it in the light of various factors—social, cultural, and history-of-religion— rather than as a major literary device to allow this juxtaposition. The introduction's extensive section on Markan Christology focuses on the context of first-century Jewish texts as the primary setting for understanding Mark's theology. This is richly documented in the exegetical sections, where Collins argues that 1 Enoch's understanding of the Son of Man provided a major category for Mark's Christology: the eschatological judge shall come from heaven in the last days, but his identity has already been secretly revealed to the faithful community.

One of the strengths of the commentary is that both in the introduction and throughout the commentary, Collins manifests a depth of awareness and understanding of the OT and Jewish literature and its bearing on NT interpretation that is rare among NT scholars, citing the texts in the original languages (always with English translations for the linguistically challenged, in the Hermeneia style). For Collins, the internal data of the Gospel of Mark are compatible with either a Roman or Syrian (but probably not Galilean) origin, and neither side has compelling arguments, but in the exegesis she seems to lean toward an eastern origin, in both temporal and geographical proximity to the war of 66-73 CE., probably prior to the destruction of the temple. I would have appreciated a probing investigation of just how early the presence of the Gospel of Mark (or any other gospel) can be documented in Rome. The apparent lack of awareness of the gospel form and content in literature associated with Rome (e.g., Hebrews, 1 Peter, 1 Clement) seems to suggest that the gospel form came to Rome, or was accepted there, only after Mark's time; if so, this has important consequences for the history of early Christian literature and the reception of the gospel form.

For each pericope, Collins provides her own annotated interpretation and discusses issues of text criticism and translation. This is followed, as appropriate to each pericope, by discussions that include the narrative unity of major literary segments, an outline of how the genre and history of the tradition ofthat unit have been understood, issues of historical context and form criticism (regularly citing Bultmann, Dibelius, and more recent analyses), and the history of interpretation followed by verse-by-verse comment that often attempts precisely to distinguish tradition from redaction. Her discussion of the parable discourse in Mark 4, for example, not only distinguishes the three layers that have become traditional in exegetical discussion (the parable that goes back to Jesus, its interpretation deriving from the church, and the redactional "Markan parable theory"), but delineates two sources that came to Mark in which these elements were already assembled. One source had the three seed parables and concluded with v. 33; the other source had the parable of the sower, its interpretation, the "secrecy theory" of w. 11-12, and concluded with v. 34. Without merely indulging in the dreaded "parallelomania," the verse-by-verse section is often especially rich in parallels and texts from the religious and cultural life of Judaism and the Greco-Roman world. The story of Jesus' calming of the storm in 4:35-41, for example, can never read the same to one who has pondered the parallels Collins presents from the OT, the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Testament of Solomon, Homer, Herodotus, and the magical papyri. A substantial and nuanced excursus on "Resurrection in Ancient Cultural Contexts" illuminates Mark's own treatment in 16:1-8. Likewise, the call story in 1:16-20 is illuminated by points of contact in Jewish and Hellenistic literature, though here and elsewhere one sometimes wonders at the minimal discussion of the pericope's setting in the history of early Christian theology. Nothing is made of the "call" vocabulary that by Mark's time already had become a significant theological term within the church. So also, one wonders that Mark's possible use of ship imagery and house imagery is not explored in terms of Mark's ecclesi-ology. Concise histories of the interpretation of disputed points are incorporated, bringing the discussion up to date, and often concluding with arguments for Collins's own view. For instance, the variety of interpretations of the "desolating sacrilege" of Mark 13:14, especially in recent scholarship, are discussed and evaluated as the context for Collins's own argument that Mark was written in the late 60s CE., and that Caligula's attempt a generation earlier to install his own statue in the temple was still a living memory that shaped the eschatological imagery of Mark and his community.

I celebrate all of this as a substantial reassertion of the importance and validity of historical-critical study of the Bible. Collins surely has her own views of what is theologically important, along with convictions regarding imperialism and racism, political and feminist issues, social justice and world peace, but the Gospel of Mark is not made into a sounding board for these convictions. Historical study allows Mark to have his own voice for his own agenda.

The demoniac's designation as "Legion" (5:9,15) and Jesus' response to the question about paying taxes to the emperor (12:12-17) are discussed without imputing contemporary postcolonial anti-imperialism to the text. Mark's portrayal of the role of Jewish leaders in Jesus' death is presented without defensive disclaimers. The exegesis of the Markan Jesus' commendation of the widow who gives her whole living to the temple proceeds without making this apparent support of the "temple elites" into a problem (12:41-44). The celebrated case of the Markan Jesus' canine terminology in addressing the Syro-Phoenician woman and her incisive repartee (7:24-30) are interpreted historically, without reference to appropriation of this text in contemporary feminist hermeneutics. The notion that the woman who anointed Jesus in 14:3-9 was a prophet is ignored, and the view that the anointing was messianic is barely mentioned and rejected. The women at the tomb are discussed without Mary Magdalene becoming the first apostle. This is not to say, of course, that Mark has nothing to say to such issues, but it does represent the historical interpreter's conviction that Mark must first be heard in his own context. This is thoroughly in line with the avowed intent of the Hermeneia series, stated in the foreword, that has remained unchanged since its initial 1971 appearance: "This series is designed to be a critical and historical commentary to the Bible [utilizing] the full range of historical tools, including textual criticism,... to provide the student or scholar with full critical discussion of each problem of interpretation and with the primary data upon which the discussion is based." Whether the text's human relevance then "becomes transparent, as is always the case in competent historical discourse," remains a discussable point, but responsible claims to contemporary relevance can never ignore historical meaning, and it is to the task of bringing the reader within hearing distance of that meaning that this series, and this commentary, is dedicated.

Such rigorous historical study is not for the academy alone. The pastor or church teacher who wants to increase his or her competence in biblical interpretation as such (not only for the Gospel of Mark) could hardly do better than to work carefully through Mark with this commentary in hand, looking over the shoulder of a master teacher.

M. Eugene Boring, Professor Emeritus

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