3

This question was inspired by a similar question about the Gospel of John: Is the Gospel of John arranged as a chiasm?. I have reason to believe that the same question about Mark can be answered in the affirmative, and seek answers alternative to my own, which I present in an answer to this question.

1

This is a summary of my paper that can be found at 'A Proposed Framework Structure of Mark’s Gospel'. I begin here by introducing and explaining the proposed parallel structure for Mark’s Gospel, outlined in the following table (which, because it encompasses the entire Gospel, is far too large to indent in the usual way). Please bear in mind that Mark 16:9-20 is not generally believed to have been part of Mark's Gospel as originally written and, unsurprisingly, finds no place in this structure:

A John explains the coming of Jesus (Mark 1:1-8)
B The baptism of Jesus (1:9)
C The voice of God from heaven, "Thou art my beloved son" (1:11)
D The forty days in the wilderness as an allusion to Elijah and Moses (1:13)
E The people were astonished at what Jesus taught (1:22)
F Jesus casts out an unclean spirit (1:23-26)
G Pharisees took counsel with the Herodians how they might destroy Jesus (3:6)
H Demons, whenever they see Jesus, fall down and say that he is the Son of God.
   - Jesus commands that they tell no one of this (3:11-12)
I Jesus calls the 12 disciples (3:13-19)
J Jesus rejects his own family: he has a new family, his followers (3:31-35)
K Jesus rebukes the wind (4:36-41)
L The demoniac, wearing no clothes (5:15), cries out that Jesus not torment
   him and Jesus sends out the demons (5:1-20)
M Jesus comes into his own country (6:1)
   - Where he was brought up
N The people misunderstand Jesus and he can do no mighty work (6:2-6)
O Jesus sends out the disciples and curses those who will not receive them (6:7-11)
   - in sending the disciples with authority and expecting all to receive them, Jesus is asserting
     his own authority
P Herod thinks that Jesus is John the Baptist risen from the dead (6:14)
Q Herodias and her daughter conspire to kill John the Baptist (6:16-29)
R Feeding the thousands, and related miracles and discourses (6:31-8:21)
S Who do people say that I am (8:27)
T Peter affirms faith in Jesus as the Christ (8:29)
U Whosoever shall be ashamed of me: of him also shall the Son of man be ashamed (8:38)
V The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and scribes
    (8:31a)
W Be killed and after three days rise again (8:31b)
X Prophecy of second coming (9:1)
   - Jesus tells the disciples that some of them would not taste death until they saw the kingdom of
     God coming with power.
B' The Transfiguration of Jesus (9:2-3)
C' The voice of God from heaven, "This is my beloved son" (9:7)
D' Jesus talks to Elijah and Moses then to the disciples about Elijah (9:4-13)
E' A great multitude was amazed at Jesus (9:15)
F' Jesus cast out a dumb spirit (9:17-27)
G' Jesus says they shall kill the Son of man and he shall rise on the third day (9:31)
H' Jesus clarifies his divine status, saying that he is not God: "Why call me good? There is none
     good but God" (10:18)
I' Peter says the disciples have left all and followed Jesus (10:28)
J' Those who have left their family for Jesus have a new family: all Jesus' followers (10:29-30)
K' Jesus rebukes the 'sons of thunder', James and John (10:35-45 - cf 3:17)
L' Blind Bartimaeus cries out for mercy and casts off his clothes, then Jesus heals him (10:46-52)
M' Jesus comes into Jerusalem (11:1-10)
   - Where he will die
N' Jesus misunderstands the fig tree that can provide no fruit (11:13-14)
O' Jesus casts out them that sold and bought in the Temple and curses them for making the Temple
    a den of thieves (11:15-17)
   - Jesus is asserting his authority
P' Jesus asks whether the baptism of John is from heaven or of men, and the priests, scribes and
    elders can not answer (11:30-33)
Q' Parable of husbandmen who conspire to kill the vineyard owner's son (12:1-9)
X' Prophecy of second coming (chapter 13)
   - on clouds of glory, within the lifetimes of some of those to whom he was speaking
R' The Last Supper (14:17-25)
S' Art thou the Christ, Son of God (14:61)
T' Peter denies Jesus three times (14:66-72a)
U' And when he thought thereon, Peter wept (14:72b)
V' The chief priests, elders and scribes delivered Jesus to Pontius Pilate (15:1)
   - Delivering Jesus is a similar concept to rejecting him.
   - Both parts of the pair involve chief priests, elders and scribes
W' Jesus dies and on the third day rises again (15:37, 16:6)
A' The young man explains the departure of Jesus (16:6-8)


The following is a more concise summary of each pair in the parallel structure, as I see them:

Pair A defines the scope of the gospel. The opening event informs the audience of Jesus’ arrival, and when the second event is narrated they know the gospel has ended.

Events B and B’, the baptism of Jesus and the transfiguration of Jesus, complement each other, by defining our understanding of the living Jesus. They both provide an opportunity for God to speak to us about his beloved son Jesus.

In events C and C’, the voice of God from heaven tells us that Jesus is his beloved son.

Event D, the story of Jesus going into the wilderness, where he was ministered by angels is an allusion to Elijah (1 Kings 19:5-7) who was ministered by an angel and in the wilderness forty days. There is no actual suggestion that Jesus fasted for this time, but those familiar with the story of Elijah are likely to have assumed he did do so. This brings into play another allusion, to Moses when (Exodus 34:28) he fasted for 40 days while he wrote the words of the Ten Commandments on tablets. In D', Jesus talks to Elijah and Moses then to the disciples about Elijah.

In event E, the people were astonished at what Jesus taught (1:22). In event E’, a great multitude was amazed at Jesus. Verse 1:27 completes event E, by association through a Markan intercalation.

In event F, Jesus casts out an unclean spirit, then in event F’, Jesus cast out a dumb spirit. Events E and F interact with each other in the form of an intercalation.

The series of pericopes in Mark:2:1-3:5 are known collectively as the Galilean Conflict Stories and in each case Jesus was challenged by the scribes and Pharisees, who finally took counsel with the Herodians to put Jesus to death (Event G). It is impossible for the author of Mark to have known that this occurred, but it provides irony through event G’. Verse 9:30 simply tells us that event G’ occurs in Galilee, as if to flag a parallel to the Galilean Conflict Stories of event G. Then the audience is told they shall kill the Son of man and he shall rise on the third day. They will kill Jesus but they will not destroy him.

In event H, the demons fall down and call Jesus the Son of God, but Jesus is quick to instruct them to tell no one, thus no more than an implied admission. In the matching event of the pair (H'), Jesus once again clarifies his status, saying that he is not God yet not denying that he is the Son of God.

Jesus’ call to the disciples (event I) is matched by event I’ in which Peter says the disciples have left all and followed Jesus.

In event J, Jesus rejects his own family (And he answered them, saying, Who is my mother, or my brethren?): he has a new family, his followers. In event J’, those who have left their family for Jesus have a new family: all Jesus' followers.

Jesus rebukes the wind (event K); Jesus rebukes the ‘sons of thunder’ (event K'). Although events K and K' clearly form a pair, the reason for this pair is not immediately apparent. Mark uses the storm in event K to remind readers that James and John are the 'sons of thunder'. In event K', the author then associates the brothers with Castor and Polydeuces, sons of Zeus the thunderer, who were often portrayed as seated on the right hand and left hand of Zeus. By comparing the sons of thunder with the sons of Zeus Mark was, in the minds of first-century readers, comparing Jesus himself with Zeus, whom he will replace.

Both events in pair L have Jesus ask the name of the person he heals, the only time he does so in the entire Gospel. In the first, the demons answer for the unfortunate man: "Legion". In the second, the blind man is called Bartimaeus ( which means ‘son of Timaeus’) and we are then told (in Greek) that this means 'son of Timaeus'. Timaeus is an unlikely name for a Jew, as Timaeus must have been, but it is a Greek name. Both also have parallels in the Greek classics. Dennis R MacDonald provides credible evidence that the story of the demoniac (event L) was inspired by Homer's epics, the Iliad and the Odyssey. Plato wrote an important Dialogue called Timaeus, about nature and creation. There is also a parallel between Bartimaeus and blind Tiresias in the Odyssey, meaning that both events in this pair have parallels in the Odyssey.

In both events of pair O, Jesus is asserting his authority. When he sends out the disciples with authority, he curses those who will not receive them (6:7-11). When Jesus casts out them that sold and bought in the temple, he curses them for making the temple a den of thieves (11:15-17).

In event P, Herod Antipas thinks that Jesus is John the Baptist risen from the dead. In event P', Jesus asks whether the baptism of John is from heaven or of men.

Event Q is a flashback to explain how Herodias and her daughter had conspired to kill John the Baptist. The matching event is a parable in which husbandmen conspire to kill the vineyard owner's son.

Pair R was the most difficult pair for me to recognise. I realised that the Last Supper had to be part of the parallel structure, but I found it hard to identify a matching event in the range of verses 6:33-8:21. Then I realised that these verses were closely linked by both plot and theme. They form an integrated set of passages with ten references or allusions to food, including a summary by Jesus of the two feasts in 8:19-21, maintaining a consistent theme of food, plus a minor theme of not understanding:

  • Jesus and the disciples had no leisure so much as to eat , so they went into a desert place (6:31-32)
  • Feeding the 5000 (6:33-44)
  • When Jesus walked on water the disciples were amazed, for they considered not the miracle of the loaves (6:45-54)
  • Pharisees complain about the disciples eating with unwashed hands (7:1-8)
  • Discourse - what goes into a man goes into his belly and does not defile (7:9-23)
  • Greek woman metaphorically begs for crumbs from the table (7:24-30)
  • Feeding the 4000 (8:1-9)
  • Disciples are hungry and have only one loaf of bread (8:13-14)
  • Jesus warns the disciples about the leaven of the Pharisees and they reason, "It is because we have no bread," showing they do not understand (8:15-17)
  • Summary by Jesus of the two feasts (8:18-21)

    In event S, Jesus asks who people say he is. In event S’, when the high priest asks Jesus whether he is the Christ, Son of God, he is giving us the answer to Jesus’ earlier question.

At event T, Peter affirms his faith in Jesus, recognising him as the Christ. In striking contrast, it is Peter who denies Jesus three times in event T'.

In event U, when Jesus said, “Whosoever therefore shall be ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation; of him also shall the Son of man be ashamed”, he was speaking to Peter. In the matching event U’, when Peter thought on it he wept.

Verse 9:1 (event X) is an important prophecy of Jesus’ second coming, to take place before some of those to whom Jesus speaks will die. It is matched by event X’, in which Jesus prophesies his return on clouds of glory before this generation has passed. The location of event X’ between events Q’ and R’ is not normal for a parallel structure, but this minor deviation from standard does not invalidate this as a authentic parallel structure, because event X’ could not be placed after event W’ (the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus).

  • 1
    I appreciate the observation of structure in Mark, however it is not a summary of your paper, which proposes that Mark is a fiction hiding a secret. The first accusation against Mark being that of unlimited omniscience. Though Mark was written 40 years after, you marvel that he knew details he couldn't know.. Are we to believe when the disciples gathered after his resurrection that they did not discuss what happened or tell their own story to each other? Are we to believe that in 4o years they had no such contact with each other? + for the structural observation. - for the misdirection. – Bob Jones Aug 23 '16 at 19:57
  • 1
    Generally the chiasm was used to draw attention to a key point by placing it in the center of the structure. I there a true center to this structure? What is the heart of the writer's message? – Revelation Lad Nov 21 '16 at 14:29
  • 1
    @RevelationLad Thank you for your interest. This is not, of course, a chiastic structure but a parallel one. I believe parallel structures were probably only used for a relatively large number of events, such as in this case, because they would be so easy to detect and therefore 'boring' for a few events, whereas you would not so easily notice a short chiasm. By their nature, parallel structures don't have a centre. Read my explanations carefully - the second event of each pair expands on the first, leading to the message that Jesus would return in glory - event X'. – Dick Harfield Nov 21 '16 at 19:53
  • 2
    @SteveTaylor Mark's Gospel has been intensively studied for its literary style. The consensus of scholars is that it certainly contains at least several chiastic structures, evidence that the author was highly skilled in the technique. It also contains what some call 'Markan intercalatians', a type of literary sandwich, and the author is considered the foremost first-century exponent in their use. IMO parallel structures are better suited for longer structures, chiasms for shorter ones. This is the largest, most complex structure I know of in the Bible, except perhaps Hebrew poetic forms. – Dick Harfield Dec 21 '16 at 20:31
  • 2
    To what extent does the presence of either parallelism or a chiasmus argue more for a single author as opposed to a final redactor? – Revelation Lad Dec 31 '16 at 15:07

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.