Lectionary Year B
March 12, 2000
Mark 1:9-15

Step IV: Broader Context


(JFC) After the middle of the first century of the Common Era, we find a fledgling religion we now know as Christianity. It is in its infancy. The Gospel of Mark is written as if to new readers, inexperienced hearers, unfamiliar with deeply detailed and/or sophisticated literature and probably not conversant with the Aramaic, Hebrew or other languages in Palestine. It is, after all, the first edition of this type of writing (Gospel.) The accounts are short yet can readily stimulate discussions in reflection, they are frequently so exciting to contemplate, easy to remember and hard to forget. They convey basic, elementary, Introductory Courses' 101 style data. If this Gospel was composed in Rome, situations of political turmoil, intrigue, conflicts get addressed here as they do in Paul's Epistle to the Church at Rome.

(FS) One wonders just who was Mark's audience?

(JA) Unfortunately, the writer does not provide a description for us. Therefore, how one puts together a conjecture on that score is critical for interpretation.

(ME) Desert-temptation-baptism could represent Jesus as second Adam - as great high priest. Cf: Samuel (1 Sam 16:12b,13. Isaiah 64:1) the tearing of the heavens open could be likened to the curtain torn at the crucifixion

Or Hebrews "high priest after the order of Melchizedek?"

(JA) Be careful here, however, for the image must fit substantively, i.e. the reader is supposed to see image behind the moment.

The Spirit of the Lord seems to be important in eschatology; i.e. Spirit is integral to OT promises of the age to come: Cf. Isaiah 11:2, 42:1, 61:1.

"Beloved Son" appears prominently in Psalm 2:7.

(GG) Note that the "temptation" tradition appears in the synoptics but not in John.


(JFC) Mark's Gospel refers only subtly to the Old Testament. In the text at hand, for example, references to entities in nature, like the heavens opening (see Joseph and Aseneth, 14:4), the voice coming therefrom, the animals in the wilderness (see Job 5:22), as well as the announcement that the time has come (see Tobit 14:5) and "the Kingdom is near" will ring familiarly in Judaistic ears (see Daniel 7:13 & 22). Angels caring for the needy are mentioned in the Old Testament (see Psalm 91:11). Pre-Christian Jews regularly heard announcements, like in Ezra 1:1. The Old Testament often emphasizes the Kingdom of God as in many Psalms and Isaiah (mostly II Isaiah, but not exclusively), just to name a few. Old Testament passages that note the Spirit's invading persons include Numbers 23:5; Judges 3:10; 1 Samuel 19:9; Isaiah 37:7; 63:11. After all, as C. S. Mann says, "Judaism was at home with divine intervention". Old Testament prophets called Israel back to God and the Covenant by using the word "repent". It meant, in that context, a reviewing of the individual's and the nation's past errors, whereas, in the New Testament, Jesus means for us to review, regret and even more so, reform, as in reversing our journey.

(FS) Compare the "beloved" in LXX, Genesis 22:2, which refers to the unique and beloved only son Isaac.
Compare "wilderness" for the Qumran community, as the site of Yahweh's coming deliverance. Israel failed miserably in the Wilderness to be faithful to Yahweh.
Compare "forty days" which recurs frequently as an image in the OT.
Compare "testing" in Deut 8:2 where it is described that Yahweh tested Israel in desert for 40 years.
Compare "wild animals" in Ezek. 34:5 in which a scattered, shepherdless people are food for wild amimals; and Isa. 11: 6-9 in which a sign of the age of deliverance is the peaceful coexistence of humans and animals.
Also compare "animals waited on him" (1 Kgs 19: 1-8) describing Elijah's needs as they are provided for in the Wilderness; or note in the Genesis account of Adam and Eve that angels brought them food in the garden.


(JFC) Hellenists would appreciate that Jesus was a sojourner into new and different areas of the then known world. They would resonate with the Gospel's being Good News. Goppelt notes that "it was difficult for Hellenistic people (to) understand" the Kingdom of God terminology since "it had its roots in" and "came from Palestinian Judaism". Hellenists would be uncomfortable thinking, let alone believing, they had done (m)any wrongs deserving repentance. Surely, Hellenists would favor the announcement that the Time had come for God's Kingdom to come. Would they applaud the angels' coming to help Jesus in the wilderness? They were known to have engaged in such strategies themselves. I suppose they would approve of angels doing it as well. Equally, I suppose, these Greek-speaking Jews would object to John's imprisonment. But still in that John's imprisonment provoked Jesus to go to Galilee, they could find some positive redeeming elements in it.

(??) Compare the Magical Papyrus PGM 475-829: An invocation of a spell to be reborn through the "Sacred Spirit", sent by the "Immortal" who declares, "For I am the Son."

In a similar text, PGM 4.154-221 a sea hawk swoops down as a signal that the initiate can now arise, and is in a deified state. (May show influence of Gospel narratives.)

Compare papyrus fragment from a child's exercise book, 3rd century BC-3rd century AD: "What is a god? That which is strong. What is a king? He is equal to the divine."

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