Monday, April 18, 2005

Is Mark Q? Beelzebub and the Mark-Q Overlaps

This weekend I had to stay in Hsinchu again to watch the kids while my wife and her sister went shopping in the flower market. I found myself in another discussion with Earl Doherty over at JesusMysteries on the whole issue of Q, which Mark Goodacre's excellent The Case Against Q has convinced me is an artifact of scholarship.

Several years back Fledderman (2001) argued that the Beelzebub reference in Mark, Matt, and Luke demonstrated Mark's use of Q. While I agree that it is of import for the problem of Q, I have a rather different take on it. In two important ways, it shows the hand of Mark in Q, and thus, the dependence of Q on Mark. In this post I'll take a look at one of the arguments. Tomorrow I'll offer another perspective on the Beelzebub issue.

Is Mark Q? Two Arguments

Argument the First: The Argument from Possession
The Beelzebub reference in Mark 3:22 is a tell-tale clue that Mark is Q. Here is the context:
20: and the crowd came together again, so that they could not even eat. 21: And when his family heard it, they went out to seize him, for people were saying, "He is beside himself." 22: And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem said, "He is possessed by Be-el'zebul, and by the prince of demons he casts out the demons."(RSV)
This parallel story for this event is also found in Matthew 12:22-26 and Luke 11:14-18.

Possession is a key theme of the Gospel of Mark, and Jesus is its primary focus. While in the other canonical gospels Jesus is depicted as the Son of God from the beginning, in Mark Jesus appears as a human who, at his baptism, receives the spirit of God. Thus, in the Gospel of Mark Jesus is adopted as the Son of God (recall Paul's claim that believers were the adopted sons of God in Romans 8:14-17). Throughout the Gospel Jesus encounters possessed individuals, and demon spirits who correctly identify him, while at the end, his "God" leaves him as he dies on the cross. In Mark Jesus is literally a man possessed.

This understanding of Mark as an Adoptionist document allows us to understand what is going on in the famous passage. Traditionally exegetes, working from the premise that the story has some underlying historical source, have understood the passage as commenting on Jesus' relations with his family. In this context the so-called Embarrassment criterion is often invoked to turn the passage into history. However, this interpretation not only misses the boat, it has not even shown up at the right dock. This event, almost certainly an invention of the writers', was probably never intended by the writer of Mark to reflect on Jesus' family. Rather, it is intended to further highlight Jesus as a possessed person.

Painter (1999) has drawn attention to the inherently incredible aspects of the narrative:
"First, the reader needs to recognise that [Greek omitted] is a reference to the family although they have not yet been mentioned by Mark. Next, the reader needs to know what the family in Nazareth heard of the situation. There is no clear clue to enable the reader to grasp this. There is no indication how the news travelled to Nazareth. The family seems to arrive on the same day without any suggestion of a significant gap before their arrival to allow for travel both ways, of the message to them and then of their jounrey to Jesus. Of course, it can be argued that Mark had no idea of distances or wouldn't have cared had he known. More likely, Mark implies that those who went restrain Jesus were close at hand, ....whoever they were, were not a family from a village miles away that has not been previously mentioned."(p504)
As Gundry (1993) observes, the Greek for "family" here could mean any kind of close associate. Further complicating matters, in the Western tradition it is the scribes who come out to seize him, not insiders. However, it is generally accepted that the writer means Jesus' family at this point in the text.

Since the narrative on its face is not credible, what does the reference mean? As Fowler (1996) points out, the debate here is not over whether Jesus is possessed. Rather, it is over whether
the spirit that possesses Jesus is good or evil. In other words, the passage assumes possession. For the writer of Mark, it was probably perfectly natural that an ordinary man who suddenly thought he was the Adopted Son of God should be suspected of possession by his loved ones; indeed, it would strange if he were not. Thus the writer sets the reader up for one of his trademark motifs: an identification of Jesus that is apparently erroneous but ironically correct. The Gospel abounds in such references -- Roman soldiers who mock him as a Jewish king, a Roman Centurion who sees him as God's son, enemies who refer to him as one who speaks truly though they intend mocking insult, and priests who mock him as a false Messiah. Here, his family thinks that he is possessed. Ironically, in Mark Jesus is in truth possessed, but by God, not a demon.

However, Jesus' possession by God, and possession in general, is not part of any program of Matthew's or Luke's, both of whom posit a Jesus that is the Son of God from the get-go. So what is the reference to possession doing in their Gospel? If this tale is a Mark-Q overlap, then Q contains Markan stylistic features. In other words, Q is Mark.

Fledderman, Harry T. 2001. Mark's Use of Q: The Beelzebul Controversy and the Cross Saying. In Labahn, Michael, and Schmidt, Andreas, eds. 2001. Jesus, Mark, and Q. Journal for the Study of the New Testament Supplement Series 214. Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press. pp17-33.

Fowler, Robert. 1996. Let the Reader Understand: Reader-Response Criticism and the Gospel of Mark. Harrisburg: Trinity Press International

Gundry, Robert. 1993. Mark: A Commentary on His Gospel. Grand Rapids: Erdmans.

Painter, John. 1999. When is a house not home? Disciples and family in Mark 3:13-35. New Test. Stud. vol 45, 1999. pp498-513.

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