I continue my August reading project. I am writing about Richard Bauckham’s book, Jesus and the Eyewitness.
There are some odd things about Mark’s story of Jesus’ passion. These include several anonymous people. Bauckham has argued that the named and known people in the gospels are often eyewitnesses. Anonymity generally would not need an explanation. It is the naming of characters than needs explanation. But, as I said, the anonymous people in Mark’s passion story strike one as odd.
These people are 1) the bystanders to whom the disciples give a password and from whom they receive the colt for the triumphal entry in Mark 11:3, 2)the woman who anointed Jesus in Mark 14:3, 3 ) the man carrying a water jar (women usually carried water jars, so this would make him stand out) who led the disciples to the upper room (Mark 14:14), 4) the “bystander” who cut off the ear of the high priest’s slave (Mark 14:47), 5) the high priest himself who remains nameless in Mark, and 6) the high priest’s slave himself, 7) the young man who ran away naked (Mark 14:51).
Gerd Theissen has a thesis that the passion narrative arose in Jerusalem sometime between 30 and 60 CE and that the anonymity is protective. It is protective because people still alive and known in Jerusalem could have faced consequences had they been named. Theissen argues this particularly with reference to the one who struck a blow with the sword and the one who ran away to avoid arrest. Mark does not even say that they were disciples. Both of these were disciples who had resisted and so continued to be endangered. Also the high priest remains anonymous because there is no reason to name and shame him. That would only aggravate the danger he already posed to the early church.
Bauckham goes beyond Theissen to suggest that this may be the reason for the other anonymous people in the story as well. An atmosphere of danger and conspiracy in Jerusalem marked both the initial events and the time storytellers strung the story together. He points out that John names people who were anonymous in Mark. Peter is the one who severed the ear. The man he cut is Malchus. And the woman who anointed Jesus is Mary the sister of Martha. This is not because John made up names to make the story more vivid. It is because there was no longer a need to protect these people. In addition to that, Bauckham thinks John has independent knowledge of the facts.
This is an interesting chapter. Bauckham has considerable discussion of the stories of the anointing of Jesus and the young man who fled naked. He does not really come to firm conclusions. Mary was the sister of Lazarus. Lazarus may have been the person most in need of protective anonymity. So Mark never mentions him, although maybe he was the one who ran away without his cloak. But Bauckman knows this is all speculative.
His main point seems to be that it was a convention to name eyewitness sources in the gospels. But protective anonymity might have overridden that convention in the case of Mark’s passion narrative.
I am a little puzzled about Bauckham’s view of Mark as an author. He sees Mark as relying on Peter as eyewitness for much of the story outside of the passion narrative. He accepts that there was a pre-Markan passion narrative. He accepts Theissen’s idea that it comes from the early Jerusalem church. But he also sees Mark as artistically shaping the passion narrative.
Was Mark really artistic and using a lot of clever literary devices? He seems pretty unsophisticated to me. He certainly did not use literary Greek. But then the majority of scholars today seem to think Mark ended his gospel in the middle of a sentence to make an ironic point like some kind of postmodern author. Rolls eyes.