Book Review: “Mark, Canonizer of Paul” by Tom Dykstra (2012) — Pt. 3

Chp. 5: Presenting Jesus as the Crucified One
     Dykstra begins this chapter with an important observation: “Another theme unique to Paul is his emphasis on the cross, or more specifically on the crucified Christ over the resurrected Christ” (p. 93). The terminology “crucified Christ” vs. “resurrected Christ” mirrors the two great models of salvation fighting one another for hegemony in the pre-canonical religion: salvation through faith (the “cross”) vs. salvation through gnosis (spiritual “resurrection”). In Pauline thought, salvation in “Jesus” is through faith in his atoning death on the physical cross. In gnostic thought, salvation in “Jesus” is through the acquisition of spiritual gnosis. These are two different religions and two different Jesuses—one material, one spiritual. Paul’s disputes with both James and Peter must be seen against this differing backdrop of theology: faith-based vs. gnostic. Thus Dykstra continues:

Paul’s epistles record the Apostle’s battles not only with so-called Judaizers but also with those from his own communities who wanted a resurrection experience in the present rather than the suffering symbolized by the cross. Accordingly, he consistently plays down the resurrection and emphasizes the crucifixion… Paul was so extraordinarily careful to avoid letting anyone think of resurrection as present reality rather than as a promise of something future to hope for, that he avoids even mentioning the very idea of resurrection using the past tense.

     The “resurrection experience in the present” is today called realized eschatology—a favorite theme of gnostics (cf. the Treatise on the Resurrection in the Nag Hammadi library). We can understand Paul’s refusal to view the resurrection ‘as past’ as a rejection of salvation by gnosis. After all, for the gnostic, once you have acquired gnosis (cf. the Buddhist “enlightenment”) you are already resurrected. Such a resurrected gnostic certainly has no need of any vicarious “savior” dying on the cross! Here we see plainly how the theology of gnosis was (and is) fatal to Pauline theology and to the great Church which grew out of his theology.
     Dykstra points out that the Gospel of Mark similarly knows no resurrection: “As in Paul, the only image of Christ one is left with after reading this ‘passion story with an extended introduction’ is that of a Jesus broken and crucified—no image of a resurrected Christ to be found in the book.”
     A few pages later Dykstra furnishes a pithy parallel between Paul’s experience and that of Jesus in GMk. He points out that at Gal 1:10 Paul asks in exasperation, “Am I now seeking the favor of men, or of God? Or am I trying to please men?” Bart Ehrman has interpreted this passage as anti-Petrine. Of course, Jesus levels precisely the same rebuke against Peter at Mk 8:33: “For you are not on the side of God, but of men.” Paul’s controversies with Peter are most often seen as being over the Jewish law, but Walther Schmithals long ago proposed that “in Galatia not Judaizers but only Jewish Christian Gnostics were active against Paul” (Paul and the Gnostics 1972:67). We would do well to replace the opposition to Jewish law with the much deeper opposition to gnosticism.

Chp. 6: Discrediting Jesus’ Disciples and Family
     On p. 109 Dykstra shows that James the Just was the ‘brother of the Lord’ in a spiritual, not a sibling, capacity: “James will only be a true ‘brother of the Lord’ if he decides to adopt Paul’s view of the gospel, in which case he will be doing the will of God.” So, James being “brother” of Jesus depends on him following the theology of Paul. How interesting…
     Mark’s emphasis on Pauline thought above all else translates into the evangelist denigrading all twelve apostles to the point that this is the principle theme of Mark’s gospel: “As Werner Kelber points out, the attack on the other apostles’ credibility so pervades the text that it can even be seen as the main theme of the entire book of Mark” (p. 110).
     Finally, Mark goes out of his way to portray the twelve as inept and slothful: “For the Gospel’s original readers, the picture of obtuse, glory-seeking, slothful disciples couldn’t help but bolster the authority of the one Apostle who was not so characterized”—that is, Paul.
     The evangelist Mark makes it clear to his readers that the actual enemies of the gospel are Jewish Christians: “[T]he real traitors are among the Christian Jewish leadership, not the non-Christian Jews. The name Judas (‘Jew’) corresponds so well to Paul’s view that his opponents were traitors to the cross of Christ by being zealots for Jewish traditions, that it is reasonable to suppose Mark deliberately named the betrayer Judas for that reason” (p. 117). Yet, the non-Christian Jewish leadership was also somehow associated with Jesus’ demise. “The chief priests, the scribes, and the elders ‘in the Jerusalem temple’ (11:27)…perceived that he had told the parable against them (12:12).” In my forthcoming book (Chapter 14) I show that this implication of the temple authorities is not accidental. The ‘real’ Jesus (not “of Nazareth”) apparently actually suffered a trial and execution at the hands of the Jewish religious hierarchy—about 66 BCE, however.
     Dykstra notes that it is a gentile who first recognizes (and thus affirms) the status of Jesus as the Christ: “at the end the Centurion becomes the first human being to recognize Jesus as the son of God” (p. 141). Everything in Mark’s gospel, apparently, points to the fertile field cultivated by Paul: the non-Jewish, gentile diaspora.

Brodie, MacDonald, and Dykstra
     Dykstra begins Chapter 8 by noting that Mark is “trying to defend the Gentile mission and validate the authority of the Pauline literary corpus.” In doing so, the gospel preserves “traces of Pauline language and echoes of Pauline autobiographical narrative… in abundance.” Dykstra’s argument deliberately refutes that of M. Werner (Der Einfluss, 1923) who held long ago that Mark’s language is “not Pauline.” Dykstra contests Werner’s methodology, noting that Mark was interested in “validating Paul’s authority” not in copying out his letters or even using Paul’s vocabulary (p. 144). Nevertheless, Dykstra cites numerous passages where Mark “used distinctively Pauline language.” The care with which he makes his case recalls the detailed mimesis criticism of recent scholars, placing Dykstra in a triumvirate and offering us three strong legs to the “mimesis stool”: gospel parallels to Jewish scripture (Brodie), to Homeric epic (MacDonald), and now also to the Pauline corpus (Dykstra).
     Dykstra notes that “Mark deliberately created a literary Jesus whose words and actions parallel the words and actions of Paul” (149). He points out “thematic parallels” but also “parallels to specific events in Paul’s life—such as Jesus’ rebuke of Peter for rejecting the cross, which parallels Paul’s rebuke of Peter for implicitly rejecting what the cross meant in practice in Paul’s Gentile community” (150). Galatians 2:1–12 was “especially prominent in Mark’s mind as he wrote his gospel” (152). A few pages on, Dykstra writes:

Mark’s narrative parallels Galatians. The Lord’s brothers and mother believe he is “standing outside” the pale of the Jewish community and come to take corrective action. In doing so it turns out that it is actually they who are “outside.” And in 4:11–12, it turns out that those who stand “outside” are destined to be deaf and blind to the gospel word, with the frightening verdict that they will not be forgiven. That verdict sounds very much like Paul’s dire warning, “You have been severed from Christ, you who are seeking to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace” (Gal 5:4).

     Finally, Dykstra points out that “Those who were of repute” in Galatians are the same three (Peter, James, and John) named in Mk 9:2 and 13:3–4.

Conclusion of Dykstra review

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *