Now we transition to the Gospel of Mark.
This is generally considered the first gospel written. The standard date is somewhere in the 70s; it was written after the Romans crushed the revolt of Judea, destroyed the Temple, and sacked and basically leveled the city of Jerusalem. Incidentally, they also changed the name of the administrative unit and the form of the government. Prior to this, the territory had been called Judea, after the native usage, and it had been ruled through the local high priests under the guidance of a Roman government official. After the revolt, the name was changed to Palestine to eliminate the nationalist sentiment surrounding “Judea”, and the local puppet rulers were removed and it was ruled directly as a Roman province.
In the period following the destruction of the Temple, there was a certain animosity towards things Judean in the minds of the ruling Romans. As such, the followers of Jesus had to be careful of the way Rome was portrayed in any writing. Overt hostility invited savage reprisals. The Romans, contrary to general opinion, were reasonably tolerant about a lot of things, such as local custom and local religion. Do your thing, but don’t get out of line was the general attitude. Those who got out of line, OTOH, were dealt with in brutal and merciless fashion. Crucifixion was a very common fate for any number of offenses, and the Romans often lacked patience. Obey, or suffer the consequences. But “obey” was largely political.
This accommodation with the Roman authorities is the root of some of the anti-Jewish sentiment expressed in the gospels. The blame for Jesus’ death was fixed on the Jewish authorities, and Pilate was allowed to wash his hands of most of the guilt. There is even a ‘Gospel of Pilate’, written in the second century CE, in which Pilate becomes an ardent Christian. There is no factual basis for this, but it gives some indication of the lengths that Jesus’ followers would go to in order to remove blame from the Romans.
But, OTOH, the Jesus assemblies had to retain some of the links to the Jewish past. In the Classical world, especially among the Greeks and Romans, lengthy history provided justification, especially for religious beliefs. Innovations got no respect. So the followers of Jesus, to maintain any credibility among the pagans, had to show that they were tied to the very long history of Judaism. As a result, the followers of Jesus had to walk a fairly fine line between disparagement and acceptance of their Jewish roots.
One other major change took place after the destruction of the Temple. I have never seen direct investigation of this, but IMO, the source for potential converts to proto-Christianity (for want of a better term) was probably pagans rather than Jews. This is largely an inference drawn from the way the gospels–especially Mark and Luke, and also John–are written. And where they were written. Mark and Luke were written outside of Judea/Palestine, and for an audience that wasn’t of Jewish heritage. Mark, for example, always takes pains to translate his Aramaic words because he realized his audience would not understand them otherwise. Luke, in fact, addresses his gospel and acts to Theophilus.
One interesting aspect of this change in audience is the implication that Paul “won.” It was the peoples that he proselytized that became the Christians of the turn of the First Century. As such, it would seem that the gospel writers would have been eager to use Paul’s writings, but it doesn’t seem that they did to any large extent. By early in the Second Century, writers who can be called Christian make references to Paul’s works, but such references did not pop up much before that. The inference to be drawn is that the gospel writers did not know of Paul’s works. The writing that became incorporated into Christian Scripture were originally written for fairly specific and local audiences. They gained wider acceptance as time went on; Matthew knew about Mark, and Luke probably knew about both, but, this dissemination took time.
The other thing to note is the reason the gospels were written. Paul’s writings resemble a lot of what St Augustine would produce: letters intended to meet a specific need at a specific time in a specific place. These were not ‘general’ works; the gospels were. Why?
Likely a couple of reasons. The first is that the message had become disseminated over a wider geographic span; the intimate knowledge of Judea was lost. But, also, time had passed. Two generations had come and gone since Jesus walked the earth. The audiences did not ‘remember’ him any longer. And this is one reason, I suspect, why the gospels took primacy in Christian thought. They ‘begin at the beginning’, as it were, where Paul’s letters drop us in mid-stream.
Finally, I should have made this clear at the beginning. Paul wrote some of the letters attributed to him. The Evangelists, OTOH, are a literary fiction akin to “Homer.” As such, their names should properly be presented in quotes, as in “Mark”, or should be called “the writer of Mark.” But this is cumbersome. I risk doing violence, or at least misleading, and perpetuating a literary fraud, but it’s too deeply ingrained now to change it.
Posted on November 22, 2012, in gospel commentary, gospels, mark's gospel and tagged Bible, Bible commentary, Bible scholarship, biblical scholarship, commenting, gospel commentary, gospels, mark's gospel, New Testament, theology. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.