Prof Joel Marcus completes his two volume commentary on Mark's Gospel with this new publication in March of this year. At 1182 pages, there's a lot to read but it is worth the price. What you get is a new translation, sound engagement with the text and with secondary scholarship. There are glowing reviews already out there making comparisons to other commentaries on the first gospel and concluding that this commentary joins a plurality of other good commentaries (Adela Yarbro Collins, Mark, 2007 R. T. France, The Gospel of Mark, 2002; Harrington and Donahue, The Gospel of Mark, 2005 etc.) that together shed much light on the text. If you've been preaching on the lectionary, you've already noticed these resources!
Since I cannot do justice to the whole commentary, I take here some soundings on what I think of as key passages in the second part of Mark's Gospel. The commentary opens at Mark 8:22, observing the narrative sequence of Mark 8:22-10:52 in which three healings are interspersed with six references to "the way" and three passion predictions. The way of Jesus and "the way of the Lord" in Second Isaiah was established first as a reading of Mark 1:2-3 and now sheds light on the healings of the blind (Is 35:1-7; 42:16) as God's way of power in healing and suffering is manifest in Mark as the journey to Jerusalem.
The narrative of the healing of a blind man in two stages (8:22-6) contains a wealth of verbs about sight: the verb blepein "to see" and three compounds of that verb (anablepein, diablepein, and emblepein) as well as another verb horan, also "to see." The adjective typhlos "blind" is used twice and the rare adverb telaugos, "in a far shining way," "clearly" (8:25) is used along with two different words for eyes: ophthalmoi (8:25) and ommata (8:23). Jesus' actions are to touch, spit, take someone by the hand and to lay hands twice. In the notes on the text, Marcus renders the Greek of 8:24 as "looking up and beginning to see again" thus rendering both nuances of anablepein as "look up" and "look again." What the individual sees is rendering the awkward Greek using two verbs for seeing, "I see people...because...I see people like walking trees" (8:24). Marcus proposes that the fractured grammar mirrors the fractured perception described.
Marcus renders 8:25 as "Then Jesus laid his hands on his eyes again, and his sight broke through, and he was restored, and he saw all things clearly from that moment on." The verb behind "his sight broke through" is diablepein, one of those blepo compounds which can mean "stare" or "see clearly" (the latter is in Matt 7:5 and Luke 6:42). But there are two verbs of sight in the verse. Following an extramission theory of vision in the ancient world according to which sighted creatures see by means of light beams that come out of their eyes rather than into them, the aorist verb diablepein reflects the breakthrough of the man's eyes past the barrier to the clear sight of the imperfect second verb.
I'd like to observe that while Jesus is the healer, the text of 8:25 doesn't actually identify Jesus. So a better more challenging rendering of the Greek would be "Then he laid his hands on his eyes again, and his sight broke through, and he was restored, and he saw all things clearly from that moment on." Jesus is not the narrative focus of Mark's text. The text emphasizes the reciprocity of healer and healed in the switch of subjects.
Marcus proposes that the first stage of the two-stage healing corresponds to the disciples' position of partial vision throughout the gospel. The second stage points to Jesus' resurrection as the stage of clear vision since the man whose sight is restored is sent home and forbidden to make the healing known. The next prohibition of 9:9 points to the resurrection as the place where secrecy ends. (To be continued...)
Tuesday, November 10, 2009
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