Jesus, the Cross, the Women, and Discipleship in the Gospel of Mark
I’ve just read an interesting essay by Jeffrey W. Aernie, “Cruciform Discipleship: The Narrative Function of the Women in Mark 15–16,” Journal of Biblical Literature 135.4 (2016): 779-97.
It’s doubly interesting to me, for he draws appreciatively on an essay of mine published several years ago in which I argued that the women mentioned (three times) in Mark 15–16 function positively as witnesses to Jesus death, burial and bodily resurrection: 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 of that essay is available among the essays listed under the “Selected Published Essays” tab on this blog-site.)
Part of my argument was that Mark 16:8 does not depict the women as disobeying and failing to do what they were told to do–to go to Peter and the Twelve with news of Jesus’ resurrection. Instead, “they said nothing to anyone” should be read as meaning that they said nothing to anyone else. This is a view of 16:8 that has gained endorsement over recent years, but it may still be a minority opinion. So, it’s encouraging to have Aernie’s endorsement in his newly published article.
Aernie’s focus, however, is on a conspicuous similarity between Mark and Paul in emphasizing that the life of believers is to be shaped by Jesus’ crucifixion. That is, in Paul believers are “crucified with Christ,” living out a death-to-sin, and empowered anew to live unto God. In Mark, Jesus is the true model for his followers, the Twelve deployed in contrast as fallible followers.
My only quibble is over his reference to my “sidelining” of the women. I don’t “sideline” them, but contend that they surface suddenly as important characters in 15:40-41, appearing again at crucial points in 15:47 and 16:1-8. Indeed, I propose that 16:1-8 is the climactic scene in Mark, where Jesus’ resurrection is announced, and the women are on site and able to verify an empty tomb, which means a bodily resurrection.
I suppose, however, that Aernie means that I don’t feature the women as exemplars of discipleship. True. Because I read Mark as presenting Jesus as the only full and valid model of discipleship. As I read the references to the women, they are crucial witnesses to the bodily nature of Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection. But I don’t quite see that they function as models of discipleship for readers. But others will have to judge for themselves, taking account now of Aernie’s clear and well-researched article.