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" In fact, he and others instead see the gospel as a condemnation of the Jews who chose insurrection. Mark saw the choice between Barabbas and Jesus, as it was told and not necessarily as it happened, as one that symbolized the dramatic fate awaiting Jerusalem.
In Greek, the technical term for such a rebel bandit is lestes, and that is exactly what Barabbas is called. He was a bandit, a rebel, an insurgent, a freedom fighter - depending always, of course, on your point-of-view." (Crossan, 143.)
He continues to relate the story of Pilate's choice, one of either Barabbas or Jesus, to not the hatred of the Jews but instead to the historical realities of the day, those from which the Markan author was distinctly temporally separated.
But Mark was written soon after the terrible consummation of the First Roman-Jewish War in 70 C.E., when Jerusalem and its Temple were totally destroyed. We already saw how the Zealots, a loose coalition of bandit groups and peasant rebels forced into Jerusalem by the tightening Roman encirclement, fought within the city for overall control of the rebellion in 68 C.E. There, says Mark, was Jerusalem's choice: it chose Barabbas over Jesus, an armed rebel over an unarmed savior. His narrative about Barabbas was, in other words, a symbolic dramatization of Jerusalem's fate, as he saw it." (Corssan, 143.)
Inevitably, the gospel of Mark was tied directly to the actual histories and social forces at play in Jesus' world. Nevertheless, the religious histories, perhaps spun by oral tradition or written with fervent heart, stepped away from the political paradigm and into the world of religious heat, where the hated and death of a savior condemned the Jews, in the text of Mark, to a world of maligned despise.
This gospel, the "Little Apocalypse," was written with reference to the events and movements motivating the First Jewish Revolt, the destruction of the temple, the threat of war, the actual wars, great famine, national struggle, false prophets, and the wisdom to "flee from Judea." (7:14) Mark saw this time as a hallmark of great distress, one that would, between the time of creation and the ultimate revelation, be known as a period of great discontent. The historical illusions not only support the timing and placement of the gospel within the New Testament, affirmed over the Gnostic gospels, but also alluded to the great civil unrest brewing at the time of its authorship, furthering the impassioned perspective of the gospel's pen.
Unlike other gospels, Mark bears many traits that make it stand alone religiously, both furthering it form other gospels and also providing a source for its inclusion in textual collectives. In the first chapter, for instance, Jesus' interment in the wilderness for forty days and forty nights does not include discourse with Satan, but only instead encounters with the wild beasts of the terrain. (1:12) In the next chapter, Mark states that which Matt and Luke ignored, saying that the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. (2:27) This moment is a direct hit, once again, on the Jews and their cultural society.
Two literary hallmarks characterize the gospel of Mark, differentiating it from the others. First, Mark tends to ignore parables and riddles, a popular tool of the other gospel authors and disciples. Additionally, Mark tends to write in literary circles, providing great moments of contrast for the reader. This is most notable in the sixth chapter, when Jesus feeds five thousand with two fish and five loaves of bread. Barely enough food for the disciples and Jesus, this food ends up serving millions. The contrasts and use of literary circuitousness begin not just in the words, but in its context. The story of feeding five thousand is the story of a feast; it comes right after a story of another feast: one of Harod's birthday. Harod, being king, throws an exclusive bash, to which only a few are invited. Here, everyone dines in abundance, and (as seen by the presentation of the disciple's head on a platter) guests are so honored by the King that they can have whatever they want. The party is indulgent, excessive, secularly divine. Around him, Harod has everyone he once. Everything is consumed; nothing is left over.
On the contrary, Jesus leaves the group in search of quiet. He wants to find a place to himself, to think, and he is accompanied in this search for solace by his disciples, bearing meager food, barely enough to feed the thirteen. Yet, followers began to congregate, and eventually, a crowd of five thousand men are counted, not including the women and children no doubt also in attendance. The disciples ask Jesus what to do, questioning if they should send them away so that the people might be able to seek supper in the village before their sources of food might close; Jesus responds no, telling the disciples to "feed them." The disciples are shocked; how can they feed five thousand people and counting when they barely have enough for themselves? Yet, Jesus, quite opposite from Herod, does not deny anyone anything, and with very little, is able to make a feast for himself and his guests.
Out of five loaves and two fish, he makes - through the miracle of holy faith - enough to feed and satisfy the whole crowd, with food left over. When he sought solace, he found population; when he had little, he made much. Mark triumphed in the literary circle, making not only comparisons between what Jesus wanted and what he provided, but between Harod, the physical king, and Jesus, the holy king. One had a feast of divine indulgence, the other had a feast of indulgence divine. Mark continued his use of literary circles throughout the book, citing the crossing of the lake, the dispute with the Pharisees, and the feeding. Many motifs were harkened as important and relied upon throughout the stories, compelling the argument of a cohesive text (or well-knit oral story) even further.
Ultimately, the gospel of Mark addresses the foundational problems of the short story of the Life of Christ. It, like the other gospels, tells the story of the man god, and in doing so employs great literary tool that make it a timelessly persuasive piece of religious literature. Despite dubious origins and faulty geographical and lingual cognition, true comprehension of the Christian interpretation of Jesus is undoubted: Mark saw Jesus as the god king, the man whose bare humanity made him holy, feeding those who were hungry and not turning them away, accepting those rejected by others, and performing miracles. The gospel saw early popularity for its success at telling with conviction the story of Christ, and remains a fundamental part of the Christian church today for the same reason.
Bultmann, R. History of the Synoptic Tradition. Harper & Row, 1963.
Crossan, J.D. The Historical Jesus. New York: HarperCollins, 1993.
Dewey, J. "The Survival of Mark's Gospel: A Good Story?" Journal of Biblical Literature. Vol. 123, Iss. 3. 2004. p. 495-507.
Mack, Burton, L. Who Wrote the New Testament?: The Making of a Christian…[continue]
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