Not a “Film Noir”: The Gospel of Mark
In her contribution to the essay collection recently presented to me by former students and some colleagues, Holly Carey (former PhD student) presents a cogent case that the Gospel of Mark is much more “upbeat” than some scholars assume. I share her view, and I commend her essay: “‘Is it as Bad as All That?’ The Misconception of Mark as a Film Noir,” in Mark, Manuscripts, and Monotheism, eds. Chris Keith & Dieter T. Roth (London: Bloomsbury T&T Clark, 2014), 3-21.
She effectively points out the selective reading of Mark that leads some scholars to portray the text as a dark, mysterious, brooding narrative, focusing on Jesus’ abject death, and leaving readers puzzled and unsure of what to make of it all, what Holly (and I) refer to as the “film noir” view of Mark. As she notes, from the outset, however (1:1), “Mark” announces that this narrative is “evangelion“, “gospel”, “good news”. Moreover, the Jesus of Mark seems to be the vehicle of remarkable divine power, as exercised in healings, exorcisms, “nature” miracles (e.g., storm-stilling), etc. But Carey’s still more effective point is the Markan emphasis on Jesus’ resurrection, showing how scholars have often overlooked this, with a monocular focus on references to his crucifixion.
For example, scholars typically refer to the three “passion predictions” in Mark (8:31; 9:31; 10:32-34), when, in fact, all of these texts should more correctly be described as “passion-resurrection predictions,” for along with predicting his sufferings Jesus also predicts as the outcome his resurrection. In further support of the importance of Jesus’ resurrection in Mark, note how it features so prominently in the transfiguration account (9:2-13; which all scholars formally recognize as something crucial in Mark). After the heavenly voice declares the resplendent Jesus to be “my Son, the Beloved” (v. 7), Jesus orders his disciples to say nothing of this “until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead” (v. 9). Now, obviously, this alludes to Jesus’ death; but the focus seems to lie on his resurrection as the event that triggers a new proclamation time. Moreover, again in 14:27-28, Jesus predicts that his disciples will desert him but that when he has been “raised up” (from death) he will rejoin them in Galilee. And, finally, it is pretty significant that the narrative proceeds then on through Jesus’ crucifixion and burial (15:33-47) to a climactic scene of an empty tomb and the bold announcement “He has been raised; he is not here” (16:6). (Whatever you make of the women’s response, this confident note should be clear. For my own “take” on the question of the women in Mark’s passion-resurrection narrative: Larry W. Hurtado, “The Women, the Tomb, and the Climax of Mark,” in A Wandering Galilean: Essays in Honour of Seàn Freyne, edited by Zuleika Rodgers, Margaret Daly-Denton and Anne Fitzpatrick McKinley [Leiden: Brill, 2009], 427-50, the pre-publication version available under the “selected published essays” tab on this blog site.)
As Carey judges, “Mark has no interest in leaving his audience wallowing in the depths of despair,” and, instead, “repetitively highlights the importance of Jesus’ resurrection alongside his suffering and death” (p. 20), Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection presented as “mutually interpretive and inherently linked” (p. 21). “For Mark, the gospel story is primarily about life, even if it comes by way of suffering and death,” and, contra some fashionable opinions, “It really is not ‘as bad as all that'” (21).
Readers interested in this issue will also find her published PhD thesis valuable: Holly Carey, Jesus’ Cry From the Cross: Towards a First-Century Understanding of the Intertextual Relationship Between Psalm 22 and the Narrative of Mark’s Gospel. LNTS, no. 398 (London: T&T Clark, 2009).
(In coming weeks, I plan to blog on the other contributions in the Mark, Manuscripts, and Monotheism volume.)