Introduction: - |
(Best to read this first)
In the letter to the Ephesians we can read "For Christ himself has brought us peace, by making the Jews and Gentiles one people" (Eph. 2:13)
Some scholars believe Ephesians was written between 70 and 90 CE. 13 Recall how in 70CE, the Romans destroyed Jerusalem and its Temple. It was around this time, at the height of the conflict, that the gospel of Mark was written. 14 By this stage Paul had been killed. But as Ehesians shows, the followers of Jesus were continuing to talk about the unification of the Jews and Gentiles.
The Graeco-Roman Empire of the time had a Hellenistic (that is, Greek) culture and the "Gentiles" referred to in the New Testament shared in this culture. In fact by the first century CE virtually all the cultures within the Empire, except for Judaism, had been absorbed into Hellenism. 15
The situation of the Jews was that on the one hand they had the the dress, customs, architecture, language and burial customs etc that reflected the Hellenistic culture of the time.16. But most of them (about one-tenth of the Empire's population and scattered around it) remained loyal to the law of Moses (that is, the Ten Commandments). 17
Where did the followers of Jesus stand? According to Ephesians and other New Testament passages, they were trying to combine the two distinctly different world views. They were doing this by a focus on the person of Jesus.
For decades after the life and death of Jesus, the "house churches" of the his followers had been formulating oral traditions about the most relevant stories of his life.18. Meanwhile tensions between Judaism and the Graeco-Roman Empire were mounting. In 70 CE Rome wiped out the "centrepiece" of the Jewish faith, that is, Jerusalem and its temple. 19. It was against this background that Mark was writing. It is little wonder he would put a priority on trying to clarify where the followers of Jesus stood in relation to the conflict.
If, as appears in the first two sections of his gospel, Mark was setting out a basis for a society based on Law (c/f Judaism) and the attitudes needed
for a sense of direction in a society based on Order (c/f Hellenism), then he,
like other followers of Jesus around him, would be asking what sort of person could "straddle" both these
types of society.|
On the one hand the Jews were strong on moral law. But they demonstrated a tendency to be narrow. On the other hand the Romans with their tendancy towards violent oppression, appeared weak on morality. But there was no doubting their ability to impose order across the complexities of the known world. The straight roads that crisscrossed the Empire testified to this.
How did Jesus, the focal point of his followers, have the flexibility to combine the morality of the Jews with the idealistic rationalism of Greek philosophy? How could his followers do likewise?
It may be of help here to consider what other world religions say about such flexibility. A world away from the Palestine of 70 CE, the philosophy of Taoism had developed and was becoming the basic religion of China (and despite what the government may say, it remains so today).
The Lao Tzu, the tiny but basic book of Taoistic poetry, asks the question "Can you become as supple as a babe?" 20 Or again, "One who possesses virtue in abundance is comparable to a newborn babe." 21 Rationally the image of a babe would make sense here. Surely a baby or child is a person who is flexible enough to adjust (or move between) totally different social environments. The child's ability to pick up a new language witnesses to this. If Mark and other followers of Jesus had the same sort of insight about a child's flexibility would Mark, in his text, exhort people to become like an "adult child?" In fact Matthew 18:3 recorded the challenge of Jesus "Unless you become as a little child you shall not enter the Kingdom of heaven." Given this general background, it is credible Mark's Section C would explore such a challenge.
Section C follows shortly after Peter's exclamation to Jesus "You are the Christ." (Mk 8:29) Scholars who use narrative criticism as a method of Gospel interpretation say that this statement is the turning point of the Gospel story. 22 It could be said that Section C explores what "being the Christ" actually means.