Thursday, April 16, 2009

Mark on Mark

Mark Goodacre has brought up a good discussion on Mark 15:39 and the soldier's statement:

37. ὁ δὲ Ἰησοῦς ἀφεὶς φωνὴν μεγάλην ἐξέπνευσεν. 38. Καὶ τὸ καταπέτασμα τοῦ ναοῦ ἐσχίσθη εἰς δύο ἀπ' ἄνωθεν ἕως κάτω. 39 Ἰδὼν δὲ ὁ κεντυρίων ὁ παρεστηκὼς ἐξ ἐναντίας αὐτοῦ ὅτι οὕτως ἐξέπνευσεν εἶπεν, Ἀληθῶς οὗτος ὁ ἄνθρωπος υἱὸς θεοῦ ἦν.

Dr. Goodacre has asked the question: is this really a confession or is it a sarcastic remark on the soldier's part? His commenters have already noted several instances of ironic and sarcastic remarks throughout the passion narrative (as have I here). The question posed by some has been whether it's either sarcastic or confessional and I want to say that it's both.

If Mark is written as "Gospel" and these gospels were inherently liturgical from the get-go, then I think it has a double meaning. Irony only works in favor of the reader/hearer, not against them. It brings the reader closer to the author's/text's viewpoint, even if it's against the person who spoke the words. The readers/hearers have the 'inside scoop'. So, even if the soldier's remark is sarcastic, when the text was read aloud in the liturgy and heard by the people, they knew that "surely this man was (is) the son of God".


Brant Pitre said...

Dear Josh,
My first question is: Has ANYONE ever read the text this way in Church history? Do ANY of the early Fathers see the centurion's statement as sarcastic? (Especially the native Greek speakers like Chrysostom.)

If not, I'm strongly disinclined to accept the suggestion. The "alethos" just doesn't seem to carry the sarcastic force. This seems to me like an unnecessary exegetical novelty. Am I supposed to believe that the soldier is being sarcastic even in the face of the cosmic signs accompanying Jesu's death? (Darkening of the sun, tearing of the veil, splitting of the earth [in Matt], etc.)?

Anyway, that's my two cents.

Josh McManaway said...

The darkening of the sun is a good point (and one that was discussed on Dr. Goodacre's blog). I honestly haven't even looked at the patristic witness on this, though I would be interested to see if anyone took it as sarcasm.

steph said...

For Mark's darkening of the sun he probably had this in mind: Amos 8.9-10 ... God putting out the lights as a symbol of mourning "And it shall come to pass on that day - oracle of the Lord YHWH, I will bring in the sun at noon and I will darken the land/earth on a clear day. And I will turn your feasts to mourning....I will make it like mourning for an only son...." Tearing of God's garment is another symbol of mourning and the temple curtain represents that. Son of God is an important theme for Mark from the tearing apart of clouds in 1.11 to the tearing apart of the temple curtain in 15.38. Mark envisaged the crucifixion taking place somewhere such as the Mount of Olives, from where this centurion could see the outer curtain of the Temple torn in two. He is portrayed as drawing the correct conclusion from three hours’ darkness and the tearing of God’s garment: the dead man must be a/the son of God.

No sarcasm - this is the climax.

See Roger Aus on the passage.