Mark: the Anointing at Bethany

  • Patrick Grant

Abstract

Mark is preoccupied with signs and with the problem of their indeterminacy. Jesus is repeatedly called upon to provide signs to legitimate his claim, and refuses to do so. When the Pharisees question him, ‘seeking of him a sign from heaven’ (8:11), he replies even with a degree of vehemence: ‘Why does this generation seek a sign? Truly, I say to you, no sign shall be given to this generation’ (8:12). Later, when the disciples ask what signs will precede the last days, Jesus delivers an apocalyptic discourse (13:5–37). I will deal more fully with apocalyptic writing in the chapter on Revelation: suffice it now to say that the genre flourished at the time of Christ, and basically offered visionary interpretations of the world’s end and of judgement whereby the elect would be separated from the damned, and would reign in paradise. The apocalyptic mood is especially intense in Mark’s gospel, whether in his distinctive depiction of human turmoil and confusion, or in the sense that in such strange times as he records we are urgently under the burden of portentous promises, and judgement is soon to come on our disoriented and amazed humanity. The so-called ‘little apocalypse’ of chapter 13 expresses this mood directly, as Jesus responds to the request for a sign. But we should notice how much of the discourse is taken up with warnings against false messiahs, rumours, and prophets who will ‘show signs and wonders, to lead astray, if possible the elect’ (13:22).

Keywords

Burial Defend Verse Marin Amaze 

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Notes

  1. 1.
    See further, Monica D. Hooker, The Son of Man in Mark (London: SPCK, 1967) pp. 148ff., on the ‘confusion’ of historical and supernatural events;Google Scholar
  2. O. Linton, ‘The Demand for A Sign from Heaven’, Studia Theologia 19 (1965) pp. 112–29.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. 2.
    D. E. Nineham, The Gospel of St. Mark (London: Adam and Charles Black, 1963, rev. 1968) p. 346, suggests that the best commentary here is 2 Thessalonians, especially ch. 2, which shows that some Christians had been persuaded by events that the end had arrived: ‘The aim of 2 Thess. is to persuade such people that the end is not yet.’Google Scholar
  4. 3.
    See B. W. Bacon, The Gospel of Mark: Its Composition and Date (London: Oxford University Press, 1925) pp. 120ff.;Google Scholar
  5. W. Kelber, The Kingdom in Mark (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1974) pp. 113–16, on ‘parousia pretenders’ in Mark’s community.Google Scholar
  6. 5.
    Ambrose, De Fide, V, 16; Cyril of Alexandria, Adv. Anthr., xiv, cited by Ralph P. Martin, Mark: Evangelist and Theologian (Exeter: Paternoster Press, 1972) p. 125.Google Scholar
  7. 6.
    See Rudolf Bultmann, Jesus Christ and Mythology (New York: Charles Scribners and Sons, 1958) pp. 16–17;Google Scholar
  8. Hugh Anderson, The Gospel of Mark (London: Oliphants, 1976) p. 301;Google Scholar
  9. Eduard Schweizer, The Good News According to Mark, trans. Donald H. Madvig (Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1970) p. 279.Google Scholar
  10. 7.
    See for instance Sherman E. Johnson, A Commentary on the Gospel According to St. Mark (London: Adam and Charles Black, 2nd edn, 1972) p. 219.Google Scholar
  11. 8.
    Edward J. Mally, The Gospel According to Mark, eds. Raymond E. Brown, Joseph A. Fitzmyer, Roland E. Murphy, The Jerome Biblical Commentary, 2 vols (New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 1968), II, 39.Google Scholar
  12. 9.
    William Wrede, The Messianic Secret, trans. J. C. G. Greig (London: James Clarke, 1971; 1st edn 1901).Google Scholar
  13. 10.
    See Eduard Schweizer, The Good News According to Mark, p. 55; G. Minette de Tilesse, Le secret messianique dans l’Evangile de Marc (Paris: Beernem, 1968) pp. 26ff.;Google Scholar
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  15. 11.
    Ulrich Luz, ‘The Secrecy Motif and the Marcan Christology’, trans. R. Morgan, ed. Christopher Tuckett, The Messianic Secret (London: SPCK, 1983) pp. 75–96.Google Scholar
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  17. 12.
    This is a cliché of modern criticism, and is connected to the idea that composition proceeded backwards from the passion narrative. See for instance A. E. J. Rawlinson, The Gospel According to St. Mark (London: Methuen, 1925) pp. 260–1;Google Scholar
  18. Martin Kahler, The So-called Historical Jesus and the Historic Biblical Christ, trans. C. E. Braaten (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1964);Google Scholar
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  20. 13.
    See T. J. Weeden, ‘The Heresy that Necessitated Mark’s Gospel’, Zeitschrift für die neutestamentliche Wissenschaft 59 (1968) pp. 145–58,Google Scholar
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  22. H. D. Betz, ‘Jesus as Divine Man’ in Jesus and the Historian, ed. F. Thomas Trotter, festschrift E. C Colwell (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1968) pp. 114–30. Discussion has continued beyond Weeden, whose main thesis is now often questioned.Google Scholar
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  24. 14.
    J. Jeremias, New Testament Theology: the Procalamation of Jesus, trans. John Bowden (London: SCM Press, 1971) I, 284.Google Scholar
  25. 17.
    See D. E. Nineham, The Gospel of St. Mark, p. 374. David Daube, ‘The Anointing at Bethany and Jesus’ Burial’, Anglican Theological Review 22 (1950) pp. 186–99, argues that Mark wanted his reader to know that a burial rite had been performed, and so goes out of his way to emphasise how the anointing is for Jesus’ death.Google Scholar
  26. Sherman E. Johnson, A Commentary on the Gospel According to St. Mark (London: Adam and Charles Black, 1972) p. 224, writes: ‘This was a secret anointing for kingship, as in 2 Kings 9:1–3; 1 Kings 1:38–40; the woman was an enthusiast who hoped that Jesus would rule over the nation.’Google Scholar
  27. 19.
    For the emphasis on promises, see Ralph P. Martin, Mark: Evangelist and Theologian, pp.68, 114; Louis Marin, ‘Les femmes au tombeau. Essai d’analyse structurale d’un texte évangélique’, ed. C. Chabrol and L. Marin, Sémiotique narrative: récits bibliques (Paris: Didier-Larousse, 1971) pp. 39–50, suggests that the desire for a concrete discovery is replaced by a message promising future gratification.Google Scholar
  28. 20.
    On the empty tomb, see for instance James P. Mackey, Jesus the Man and the Myth (New York: Paulist Press, 1979) pp. 107ff.Google Scholar
  29. Austin Farrer, A Study in St. Mark (Westminster: Dacre Press, 1951) p. 130, connects the empty tomb and the anointing, and points out that the woman who anoints for glory anoints for burial, and the women who come to anoint for burial encounter Christ’s glory.Google Scholar
  30. 24.
    Augustine of Hippo, On Psalm 12, Exposition 2, Expositions on the Book of Psalms (Oxford: John Henry Parker, 1847) I, 150: ‘Who was the woman who came in with the ointment? Of what was she the type? Was she not of the church?’Google Scholar
  31. 26.
    Jacques Maritain, Art and Scholasticism. With Other Essays, trans. J. F. Scanlon (London: Sheed & Ward, 1930).Google Scholar
  32. 27.
    For a concise criticism of the excesses of Deconstructionist theory and its opposition to the ‘logocentric’, see John R. Searle, ‘The World Turned Upside Down’, a review of Jonathan Culler, On Deconstruction: Theory and Criticism after Structuralism, in New York Review of Books (27 Oct. 1983), pp. 74ff.Google Scholar
  33. 28.
    Paul de Man, Blindness and insight. Essays in the Rhetoric of Contemporary Criticism (New York: Oxford University Press, 1971) p. 17.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Patrick Grant 1989

Authors and Affiliations

  • Patrick Grant
    • 1
  1. 1.University of VictoriaCanada

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