Sunday, 22 March 2015

The Gospel according to Me: the allegorical meanings of Mark's Gospel

If, as I believe, Mark's Gospel (GMark) is a fictional allegory about faith in the spiritual Christ who sacrificed himself to demons in the heavens, then how does this allegory work?

Firstly, these are my assumptions, with follow-up references:
  1. Jesus did not exist; the original Jesus religion was belief in a heavenly being.
  2. Christianity was in its first centuries a mystery religion with secret doctrines.
  3. GMark was produced by a sect closer in theology to the book of Hebrews than to Paul, though opposed to the sect led by Peter and James.
I will now go through GMark, chapter by chapter, summarising as I see them:
  • the main allegorical episodes;
  • their meanings;
  • and texts which corroborate the meaning.

Mark 1
  • John the Baptist is baptising people for repentance and forgiveness from sins in the Jordan River; he proclaims himself only a forerunner: “... I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
  • I would suppose on prima facie grounds that John existed, since he is recorded in a passage of Josephus which betrays no Christian agenda, and which gives a different account of his teaching: "immersion in water, it was clear to him, could not be used for the forgiveness of sins, but as a sanctification of the body, and only if the soul was already thoroughly purified by right actions".
  • However, if the passage is a polemical anti-Christian interpolation in Josephus, and John did not exist, then I still suppose it likely that there was at least a Baptist cult that proclaimed John as its founder, and which was a rival to the Christian cult (for who else would have interpolated it?)  Acts 19 likewise features some disciples who were baptised by John, but who haven't heard of the Holy Spirit or been baptised in Jesus' name, so Paul does this for them.  Presumably when Acts was written there were Baptist cultists around who did not believe in Jesus.  This episode in GMark would thus be a polemical allegory of John's subordinate forerunner status below and before Jesus.
  • There may also have been rivalry asserting that Jesus (once he was believed to have been a historical figure) was subordinate to John, since Luke 3 minimises John's role and delays the arrival of the Holy Spirit upon Jesus until after the baptism: "when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heavens were opened, and the Holy Spirit descended on him..."
  • John is probably presented in GMark as Elijah returned, since Elijah was expected to herald the advent of the Messiah (Mal 4:5).  In Mark 9, Jesus says Elijah has already come.  Jesus says John was Elijah in Matt 11.  John's appearance in Mark 1:6 matches Elijah's in 2 Kings 1:8.
  • When Jesus is baptised by John, the Holy Spirit descends on him, and God announces from Heaven that he is his beloved son.
  • This shows an aspect of what Christian baptism is: the Holy Spirit enters you and you are adopted by God as his son (or daughter).  Romans 8:15: "you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons".
  • Jesus is tempted by Satan in the wilderness.
  • The heavenly Jesus experienced temptation so as to form a proper counterpart relationship with Christians, who are subject to temptation; like Jesus, you should resist.  Hebrews 4:15: "For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin."
  •  Calling the first disciples.
  • They go straight away to follow Jesus' call, because they have faith, like you should have.
  • Jesus exorcises demons and heals the sick.
  • Jesus is your model for doing this yourself.  Paul says Christians have "gifts of healing"; Hebrews mentions "laying on of hands".  Exorcism is not mentioned in the Epistles, but we might suppose it was done due to its prominence in the Gospels, combined with the Epistles' focus on fighting evil spirits, e.g. Ephesians 6:12: "For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places."  Jesus "disarmed the rulers and authorities", who are of course the cosmic demon powers, not Earthly rulers.

Mark 2-3
  • Jesus' disciples work and eat on the Sabbath; Jesus heals on the Sabbath.
  • The ethics of the community behind GMark involve the abolition of Torah Law, and its replacement by a vaguer morality of compassion and virtue (see the Great Commandment in Mark 12).  Hebrews 13: "Let brotherly love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body. Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous. Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have..."
  • Appointment of twelve apostles.
  • In GMark, these twelve are representative of the Church leadership whom the sect of the Gospel opposes as faithless hypocrites.  Hence why they fail in their discipleship.  More on this below.
  • A group of twelve appears in 1 Cor 15 as recipients of an appearance (read: vision) of the resurrected Jesus, which was presumably what they or their followers claimed.
  • Jesus' family think he is out of his mind.
  • Probably what Christians' families thought of them when they joined the cult!
  • Jesus says those about him are his mother and brothers.
  • This reflects the Christian cult's use of familial terms for relations between members: not only are they "brothers in Christ" but your inductor in the faith is your "Father in Christ Jesus".

Mark 4-5
  • The Parable of the Sower.
  • The parable itself is about different responses to the Word, as Jesus explains.  However, it can also be used as a guide to the responses of different characters in GMark itself.  For example, the "rocky ground" in which the Word springs up fast, but withers as soon as the hot sun burns it, is an allegory of the Markan story of Peter, whose name means "Rock".
  • Jesus speaks in parables to the public, but explains privately to the twelve.
  • Jesus is modelling how to run Christianity as a Mystery Religion.  The purpose of speaking in parables is to prevent outsiders from understanding: "To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside everything is in parables, so that “they may indeed see but not perceive, and may indeed hear but not understand, lest they should turn and be forgiven.”"
  • There is plenty of evidence that Early Christianity had secret doctrines and grades of initiation.  Paul tells his readers to regard the apostles as "stewards of the mysteries of God".
  • Moreover, Jesus is clueing in the reader to the way in which GMark itself is an allegorical representation of a mysterious truth.
  • Jesus stills sea and storm, while the disciples wonder who he is.
  • Obviously, he is the Lord, the image of God, although they are too obtuse, fearful and faithless to understand: "Some went down to the sea in ships, doing business on the great waters; they saw the deeds of the Lord, his wondrous works in the deep. For he commanded and raised the stormy wind, which lifted up the waves of the sea. They mounted up to heaven; they went down to the depths; their courage melted away in their evil plight; they reeled and staggered like drunken men and were at their wits' end. Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress. He made the storm be still, and the waves of the sea were hushed. Then they were glad that the waters were quiet, and he brought them to their desired haven." (Ps. 107)
  • GMark is criticising the Church leaders for lacking faith in Christ.
  • Jesus heals the woman with the discharge of blood, and the daughter of Jairus.
  • These people obtain healing miracles because of their faith: "Daughter, your faith has made you well"; "Do not fear, only believe."  Contrast this faithful response to Jesus with the fearful behaviour of the twelve in the boat: "Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?"  Mark is showing the faithful, fearless manner in which you should approach Christ.

 Mark 6
  • Jesus is rejected by most in his hometown.
  • The Jews are mostly rejecting their own Messiah, though Gentiles were following him.
  • Feeding of the Five Thousand.
  • Just like Elijah's feeding miracle.  The main allegorical importance, I think, is that even after seeing this miracle, next time there is a crowd to feed (in Mark 8) the disciples still don't know what they are going to do.  They are ridiculously faithless and obtuse.  Jesus asks them there, in a clear reference to the way in Mark 4 he characterised those on the outside: "Do you not yet perceive or understand? Are your hearts hardened? Having eyes do you not see, and having ears do you not hear?"  They do not understand the inner truth of what they are seeing; this is a critique of the people they represent.
  • Jesus walks on the water.
  • The twelve still don't recognise in Jesus the God who "trampled the waves of the sea", in the words of ever-faithful Job.  They are "terrified", "astounded", uncomprehending, and "their hearts were hardened".  This is critique of the leaders the Markan twelve represent.

Mark 7-8
  •  Ethical debates with the Pharisees.
  • Jesus asserts the moral, compassionate core of the Torah, while abolishing its ceremonial and ritual rules, just like the community that wrote Hebrews appears to do.  The non-Christian Jews are accused of following the ritual without the compassionate heart that really matters.
  • A deaf man is healed.
  • Also a blind man in Mark 8, and a boy with "a spirit that makes him mute" (as well as epileptic) in Mark 9.  If the paralytic healed in Mark 2 will pass for "lame" then Jesus is shown to heal all the kinds of infirmities predicted to be healed in the Messianic age in Isaiah 35: "Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then shall the lame man leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute sing for joy."  These are presumably the healings Christians believed they were doing, or else future expectations for after the Coming of Jesus.
  • Jesus says no sign will be given to this generation.
  • This is strange considering that Jesus' miracles were surely signs of the truth of the gospel.  And Hebrews says "God also bore witness by signs and wonders and various miracles".
  • Peter recognises Jesus as the Christ (i.e. Messiah) but then rebukes Jesus for predicting his own death.
  • Peter is shown as unable to face up to the full implications of Christian faith.  Jesus calls him Satan.  This is a continuation of a damning allegorical critique of his leadership.  Jesus says, "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me."  But Peter in Mark 15 will do the opposite, denying Jesus and failing to follow him.

Mark 9-10
  •  Jesus predicts the coming of the kingdom of God within the present generation.
  • Very difficult to understand if GMark was written, as most suppose, after the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD (due to Mark 13:2).  Could that prediction be a fluke?
  • Jesus transfigured on a mountain.
  • It is possible that Peter and the apostolic leaders claimed that Jesus appeared to them on a mountain, for 2 Peter 1 says: "For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For when he received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,” we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain."  If they claimed to have witnessed such an epiphany, then GMark might here be admitting this but mocking Peter's reaction: "And Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good that we are here. Let us make three tents, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.” For he did not know what to say, for they were terrified."  Note that they were again caught up in fear, not faith.  Peter suggests doing something mundane that shows he has not grasped what he is being shown.
  • More mistakes by the apostles.
  • When Jesus repeats his prediction of being killed, "they did not understand the saying, and were afraid to ask him."  Again fear and misunderstanding, as the allegorical critique continues.  Then Jesus has to correct them, twice, because they have been arguing about who of them is the greatest, a totally wrongheaded mentality, since the first will be last.  The Church leaders are criticised here as more interested in status than service.

Mark 11-12
  •  Jesus curses the fig-tree, and the Cleansing of the Temple.
  • Richard Carrier cites an explanation for the fig-tree story which wraps around the cleansing of the Temple: the time for the sacrificial cult of the Temple has ended ("it was not the season for figs") and Jesus clears out the money-changers and pigeon-sellers who enabled people to make sacrifices there.  The fig-tree withers like the old dispensation, and Jesus moves into an exhortation to faith and prayer.
  • The Parable of the Tenants
  • Obviously an allegory for the Jews rejecting their Messiah, and Gentiles coming into God's promise of salvation.
  • “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's.”
  • The new Christian Messianism is not a rejection of foreign rule over the Jews, but a return to God (and liberation from demonic powers).

Mark 14
  • Judas Iscariot betrays Jesus.
  • If the etymological theory of Hengstenberg is right, the traitor's name seems to be as close as you can reasonably get to "false Jew".
  • The Lord's Supper.
  • I suppose this is a simple legendary presentation of the supper instituted by revelation to Paul (and perhaps to other apostles similarly).  Paul says in 1 Cor 11 that he found out "from the Lord" about the supper he instituted "on the night when he was delivered up" ("betrayed" is a tendentious translation; the same verb is used at Romans 8:32 where God "gave him up for us all", so in 1 Cor 11 it may be the same idea of being given over by God for crucifixion).
  • Peter denies Jesus.
  • This completes his fall from grace.  Like the seed dropped on rocky ground, the flowering of his faith withered under the first scorch of persecution.  The rest of the disciples have fled in fear upon Jesus being arrested.

Mark 15-16
  • Jesus does not speak to defend himself.
  • Isaiah 53: "like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent..."  Allegorically, Jesus accepted his duty obediently, without demur.  Phil 2: "he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death".
  • Barabbas, not Jesus, is released at the request of the crowd.
  • Barabbas ("Bar-Abba" is Hebrew for Son of the Father) is "among the rebels in prison, who had committed murder in the insurrection".  When the crowd calls to free him rather than Jesus, they pick the wrong Son of the Father, and are allegorically choosing the old-style military Messiah who would overthrow the Romans, and rejecting the new-style true spiritual Messiah.
  • Jesus is mocked.
  • Ps. 22 has the forsaken speaker mocked and gloated over.  I suppose this is what early Christians thought the demons had done to Jesus.
  • Jesus is crucified.
  • The crucifixion of Jesus could have been derived from a number of Scriptural passages: "They have pierced my hands and feet" (Ps. 22 in some translations, including the Greek Septuagint in use in New Testament times); "he was pierced for our transgressions"; "they look on me, on him whom they have pierced".  The crucifixion was known from Scripture; e.g. the Greek of Gal 3:1 says before the Galatians' eyes Jesus was "proegraphÄ“" as crucified, a word which normally means "written before".
  • Many of the details of the crucifixion scene come straight out of Ps 22, including Jesus' words, the mocking words directed at Jesus, the dividing of his garments by lots, as well as the piercing of hands and feet.  Not only does this indicate the essential unreality of the details, but also suggests these were thought to be details of the spiritual Jesus' crucifixion, transposed here onto Earth.
  • The tearing of the temple curtain.
  • The old Temple cult has ended.  The sacred route to God now goes through Jesus.
  • Resurrection.
  • Christ's death, burial and resurrection in the heavens were discovered by reading Scripture in a search for cryptic meaning.  1 Cor 15 literally says: "that Christ died for our sins, according to the Scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he hath risen on the third day, according to the Scriptures..."
  • The angel's message goes undelivered.
  • An apparent angel in the empty tomb tells the women, who have come to anoint Jesus, to tell Peter and the disciples that they will see the risen Jesus in Galilee.  But out of fear the women fail to pass on the message to anyone.  Note that nobody thought he would be resurrected, another damning condemnation of Peter and the twelve.  Both these details allegorically separate Peter and the disciples, and their real-life counterparts, from the resurrected Jesus, perhaps to query whether in fact they had an appearance from him at all.  After all the fear and faithlessness, they hardly deserve one!

No comments:

Post a comment

Please make your comment evidence-based and polite.