Eve-Marie Becker, Ancient History Writing, and the Genre of Mark

Not too long ago, I finished reading through Eve-Marie Becker‘s new collection of essays Der früheste Evangelist. Studien zum Markusevangelium, which contains  nine English essays and eleven German essays on the Gospel of Mark. As with other works of hers that I have blogged about, I enjoyed Becker’s multidisciplinary approach, her impressive grasp of the history of scholarship, and her independence of thought, all of which will undoubtedly also be showcased in her most recent book The Birth of Christian History: Memory and Time from Mark to Luke-Acts. For my full range of posts on the topic of historiography, see here.

If one is looking for an avenue into Eve-Marie Becker’s work, I recommend beginning with her autobiographical English essay “Mark in the Frame of Ancient History Writing: The Quest for Heuristics” (pp. 279-291, esp. pp. 284-291 in Der früheste Evangelist), which conveys central elements of her approach, provides insight into how she got there, and relates her research to her teaching. Here is a quotation from that essay:

289: So, where have we come? The contextualization of the Markan Gospel in the frame of ancient history writing has huge implications for textual interpretation. It leads us to a comprehensive view of Mark’s literary concept as well as its theological outline. Seen against the broader frame of ancient history writing, the Markan Gospel appears to be a piece of literature in which past time is depicted as a narrative construct of “history,” while the display of “time” becomes a matter of temporal orientation. By transforming the memory of the past into a cohesive narrative account for contemporary readers as well as for posterity, the Markan Gospel largely contributes to the shape of a narrative identity in early Christian times. To be sure, it hardly claims to be historiography stricto sensu, but it does certainly prepare the way for historiographical access (Luke-Acts; Eusebius) to the beginnings of the gospel proclamation and its memorization among Christ-believing groups.”

The reader, of course, will also profit greatly from Becker’s new introductory chapter “Der früheste Evangelist im Lichte der aktuellen Markusforschung. Eine Standortsbestimmung” (pp. 1-13), which introduces her own approach and helpfully situates her work in relation to recent scholarship on Mark. Here is a quotation and translation from that chapter:

1 (cf. p. 8): Der vorliegende Aufsatzsammlung liegt ein gemeinsamer Ansatz zugrunde: die Sicht auf Markus als den frühesten Evangelisten, der mit seiner Evangelienerzählung eine neue literarische Form, eine Gattung sui generis, schafft, die sich in den weiteren Rahmen der frühkaiserzeitlichen Historiographie einzeichnen lässt. / A shared conception underlies the present collection of essays: the perspective on Mark as the earliest evangelist, who, with his Gospel narration, creates a new literary form, a genre sui generis, which can be placed in the broader framework of the historiography of the early imperial period.

As indicated by the previous two quotes, Eve-Marie Becker returns at multiple points to the question of the genre of Mark’s Gospel. Here are two more quotations on that topic (and references to some others):

31 (cf. 188, 274): Wir haben es, so meine ich, hier nicht mit einer Biographie oder einer biographischen Darstellungsform, sondern mit einer personzentrierten vorhistoriographischen Erzählung zu tun, wie sie besonders aus dem Bereich der frühjüdischen Historiographie bekannt ist / Here we are dealing, so I believe, not with biographical form of presentation but with a person-centered pre-historiographical narrative, as it is known especially from the sphere of early Jewish historiography. [this claim is then given further justification in what follows]

126 (cf. 230, 244): Mark shapes a proto-type of a writing, which does have immediate (Matthew and Luke) and later (apocryphal gospels) successors. Because the Markan Gospel deals with a sequence of a ‘history of events’ that is related to the activity of a specific person (Jesus of Nazareth) and his mission, it might in terms of its macro-genre best be placed in the broader frame of ancient historiographical writings in which it appears more precisely as a ‘person-centered pre-historiographical account.”

Whether or not one is convinced by Becker’s argument that Mark should be classified as a ‘person-centered pre-historiographical account’ and not as a biographical form of presentation, I think that there is much to be learned from Becker’s extensive comparison of the ways that Paul, Mark, and Luke work with history – for example in “Patterns of Early Christian Thinking and Writing of History: Paul – Mark – Acts” (219-239), which includes an interesting discussion of 1 Cor 15:3b-5 and 11:23-25 (pp. 231-237), and “The Konstruktion von ‘Geschichte’. Paulus und Markus im Vergleich” (253-278), which I have discussed here.

From among the essays focused on key issues or texts in Mark, I profited especially from Becker’s discussion of the Markan summaries, i.e. “Die markinischen Summarien – ein literarischer und theologischer Schlüssel zu Mk 1-6” (pp. 327-349).

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German Mondays: Thank you for making it to the end of this blog post! I hope to be able to write at least one Monday blog post each month. Best, Wayne

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