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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Eve-Marie Becker on the Construction of History in Mark, Paul, and Luke

Adding to my other posts on historiography and New Testament scholarship, today’s post will provide a translation of a key excerpt from the work of another leading scholar in this area, namely Prof. Eve-Marie Becker (cf. here) of Aarhus University .

Our quotation is taken from her 2014 essay “Die Konstruktion von ‘Geschichte’. Paulus und Markus im Vergleich“, which appeared in Paul and Mark (ed. Oda Wischmeyer et al). It stands alongside her many other important publications in this area, such as her 2006 book Das Markus-Evangelium im Rahmen antiker Historiographie, her 2014 essay “Patterns of Early Christian Thinking and Writing of History: Paul – Mark – Acts” and her forthcoming book Historiography in New Testament Times (cf. here). More generally, readers of this blog may also be interested in her edited volume Neutestamentliche Wissenschaft. Autobiographische Essays aus der Evangelische Theologie.

Let us turn then to our excerpt. Since I will not be providing a grammatical commentary, I will alternate between the German text and my English translation.

Die Konstruction von ‘Geschichte’ (p. 415-16): Markus wählt für seine Erzählung eine ‘personzentrierte Darstellungsweise’. Die Geschichte der Evangeliumsverkündigung ist an einzelne Handlungsträger wie den Täufer, in erster Line aber an Jesus von Nazaret gebunden.

Mark chooses for his narrative a ‘person-centered manner of presentation’. The (hi)story of the proclamation of the gospel is tied to individual agents such as the Baptist, but primarily to Jesus of Nazareth.

Diese Personzentrierung wird nicht zuletzt deswegen möglich und nötig, weil Markus – anders als der Briefschreiber Paulus – nicht im Sinne der Selbst-Referentialität seine eigene Person als narratives Scharnier oder auch als autorisierenden Referenzpunkt seiner Darstellung anführen kann.

This person-centeredness is possible and necessary not least because Mark – unlike the letter writer Paul – cannot bring in his own person as (the) narrative hinge or as (the) authorizing reference point of his presentation in the sense of self-referentiality.

Im Lukanischen Doppelwerk ändert sich die narrative Bedeutung der Personzentrierung wiederum. Indem Lukas nämlich in beiden Werken eingangs die Hetero-Referentialität seiner Erzählung explizit macht, ermöglicht er dem Leser, die Handlungsträger der Darstellung, also vor allem Jesus, Petrus und Paulus, deutlicher von der Rolle des erzählenden Historikers abzugrenzen.

In the Lukan Doppelwerk [or in Luke-Acts] the narrative significance of the person-centeredness changes once more. For by making the hetero-referentiality of his narrative explicit at the outset in both works, Luke makes it possible for the reader to demarcate the agents of the presentation, i.e. above all Jesus, Peter and Paul, more clearly from the role of the narrating historian.

Damit variiert auch der geschichtliche Raum, dem sich der einzelne Autor narrativ zuwenden kann: Während Paulus faktisch nur über den von ihm selbst erlebten Zeitraum sprechen und Markus lediglich die zeitliche Periode, die an das Wirken seiner Handlungsträger gebunden ist, in den Blick nehmen kann, dehnt Lukas den zeitlichen Rahmen seiner Darstellung nach vorne und hinten erheblich aus:

In this way the historical space to which the individual author can turn also varies. While Paul can speak de facto only about the period of time experienced that he has experienced and Mark can only consider the temporal periods that are bound to the activity of his agents, Luke considerably extends the temporal framework of his presentation both forward and backward.

Die ereignisgeschichtliche Darstellung kann dort beginnen, wo der Historiker und Erzähler – für seine Leser erkennbar – seinen Quellen folgt. So kann erst die Explikation der Hetero-Referentialität zur zeitlichen Ausdehnung der ereignisgeschichtlichen Darstellung führen.

The event-historical presentation can begin where the historian and narrator – recognizably for his readers – follows his sources. Thus only the explication of the hetero-referentiality can lead to the temporal extension of the event-historical presentation.

II. Substantive analysis: What I liked about this quotation (and Becker’s essay as a whole) is that it brings the category of history into connection with Mark and Paul rather than relating it exclusively to Luke, while simultaneously showing with great precision how concrete differences in the authors’ perspectives and approaches resulted in important differences in the ways that they construct ‘history’ in their works.

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Petra von Gemünden on Affekte in the Synoptic Gospels

Today’s post will look at a model sentence from Petra von Gemünden‘s essay “Affekte in den synoptischen Evangelien. Die Bedeutung der literarischen Gattung für die Darstellung von Zorn, Begierde, Furcht/Angst und Neid” [Affects in the Synoptic Gospels: The Significance of the Literary Genre for the Presentation of Anger, Lust, Fear/Angst and Envy]. Pages 255-284 in Jesus – Gestalt und Gestaltungen: Rezeptionen des Galiläers in Wissenschaft, Kirche und Gesellschaft. Festschrift für Gerd Theißen zum 70. Geburtstag. Edited by Petra von Gemünden, David Horrell and Max Küchler. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2013.

For Petra von Gemünden’s English publications, see here. For some of her other relevant publications on the topic of this post, see esp. her 2009 book Affekt und Glaube: Studien zur Historischen Psychologie des Frühjudentums und Urchristentums (UGAhere).

Translation and German Text

English Translation (wmc): Here an important role is assigned to the affects of the (male and female) disciples and their failure. In the figures of the (male and female) disciples problems are addressed and moved into the light anew in a correcting manner. Jesus functions as an overcoming model: he is afraid but overcomes his angst. In this way the figure of Jesus makes possible a learning in relation to a model. As psychology has shown, learning in relation to an overcoming model is more effective than the example of a “perfect” (here: an absolutely fearless) person.

“Affekte in den synoptischen Evangelien” (p. 278): Den Affekten der JüngerInnen und ihrem Versagen kommt hier eine wichtige Rolle zu. In den Figuren der JüngerInnen werden Probleme angesprochen und korrigierend neu ins Licht gerückt. Als überwindendes Modell fungiert Jesus: Er fürchtet sich, überwindet aber in Getsemane seine Angst. Damit ermöglicht die Figur Jesu ein Lernen am Modell. Wie die Psychologie gezeigt hat, ist das Lernen am überwindenden Modell effektiver, als das Exempel eines “vollkommenen” (hier: eines absolut furchtlosen) Menschen.

Grammatical analysis

(1) Den Affekten der JüngerInnen und ihrem Versagen kommt hier eine wichtige Rolle zu.

(1) the subject is eine wichtige Rolle, the verb is zukommen (it separates and zu moves to the end), the datives den Affekten and ihrem Versagen indicate what a role is assigned to, the genitive plural der JüngerInnen elegantly deals with the difficulty that German writers must choose between Jünger (which does not specifically signal that women are also in view and could be understood to mean that only men are in view) and the feminine Jüngerinnen (which includes only women): In other words, assuming my understanding is correct, the term JüngerInnen conveys something like Jünger and/or Jüngerinnen, like our “s/he” [Jünger/innen is also used]. I have translated zukommen somewhat freely as “is assigned to” rather than “belongs” or “is due to”.

(2) In den Figuren der JüngerInnen werden Probleme angesprochen und korrigierend neu ins Licht gerückt. 

(2) In + dative den Figuren + genitive plural der JüngerInnen, plural subject = Probleme, verbs = werden … angesprochen and werden gerückt, korrigierend and neu are adverbs. ins Licht = in + das Licht (accusative since it is with a verb of motion, i.e., into).

(3) Als überwindendes Modell fungiert Jesus: Er fürchtet sich, überwindet aber in Getsemane seine Angst.

(3) Jesus is the subject, fungiert is the verb, als = as, I think Modell is a predicate nominative, überwindendes is a nominative, singular, neuter, present participle that modifies Modell.  Er is the subject, fürchtet sich and überwindet are the verbs, aber is postpositive, in Getsamene indicates the location, seine = his, Angst is the direct object of überwindet; since P. v. Gemünden uses Furcht/Angst it seemed preferable to translate Angst with “angst” rather than “fear”, with the hope that the semantic range of the German “Angst” and the English “angst” are close enough that angst is not a false friend; it could be, however, and it might be better to translate it as “fear”.

(4) Damit ermöglicht die Figur Jesu ein Lernen am Modell. 

(4) Damit is hard to translate: sometimes it is best to turn it into a “this”, but I often translate it with “in this way” or sometimes with “thus”, “thereby”, or “with this”. die Figur is the subject, Jesu is genitive (the figure of Jesus), ein Lernen [the verb lernen is made into a noun by being capitalized, which makes it “a learning”] is the object of ermöglicht, an [am = an dem] is often difficult: I sometimes use “toward” or “in relation to”, though neither is quite right; Modell is dative.

(5) Wie die Psychologie gezeigt hat, ist das Lernen am überwindenden Modell effektiver, als das Exempel eines “vollkommenen” (hier: eines absolut furchtlosen) Menschen.

(5) Wie = as (introduces a subordinate clause here, verb moves to end), subject = die Psychologie, past-tense-verb of the clause introduced by Wie = hat gezeigt, verb of main sentence = ist, subject = das Lernen, am = an dem (dative neuter) + überwindenden Modell, effektiver = comparative form of effektiv, als with a comparative = than (more effective than), das Exempel is also nominative, eines Menschen is genitive and is modified by the adjective vollkommenen, (hier: eines absolut furchtlosen) provides a gloss for what is meant by ein vollommenen in this case, for which reason it is also put in the genitive.

Substantive Analysis

There are many things that I appreciate about this excerpt and P. v. Gemünden’s essay as a whole. Perhaps most of all, I like how this quotation rightly and powerfully underscores the way in which Jesus functions as an overcoming model in Gethsemane, i.e, against the tendency to undercut or minimize this function by stressing the extent to which Jesus’s particular way of suffering and death was unique and unrepeatable.

Postscript

My own interest in the topic of historical psychology and New Testament interpretation was first ignited by my RBL review of Gerd Theissen’s 2007 book Erleben und Verhalten der Ersten Christen: Eine Psychologie des Urchristentum, and it received new life through my supervision of Amanda Atkinson‘s MA research on Pauline Conversion and Resurrection.

For my other posts on psychology and New Testament interpretation see here.

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German Mondays: Thank you for making it to the end of this blog post! Unfortunately, I have found it increasingly difficult to write a new post each Monday, but I hope to be able to write at least one or two  Monday blog posts each month. We’ll see. Best, Wayne.