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Mark’s Secrecy Motif in Social Science Perspective

January 17, 2012

Today I am lecturing on the Gospel of Mark for my course on the Gospels and Jesus. One of the things I’ll be covering today is the so-called “messianic secret” that has been the subject of so much controversy since William Wrede’s important but tendentious study, Das Messiasgeheimnis in den Evangelien (1901; ET: The Messianic Secret in the Gospels). I have lectured on this subject numerous times over the past 7 years, but this time I’ll be including a discussion that is fairly new to me. Over the break I read David F. Watson’s Honor Among Christians: The Cultural Key to the Messianic Secret (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2010), in preparation to review it for Biblical Theology Bulletin (I gave the book a very favorable review). Watson uses a combination of social-science criticism and reader-response criticism to provide a new take on the significance of Mark’s secrecy motif. Using the honor-shame model that has proven so critical to social-science criticism, Watson suggests that the Markan Jesus continually resists common markers of honor in order to create new, countercultural ways to conceive of honor. I don’t agree with everything that Watson writes, but I find his treatment compelling enough to include it in my lecture as a viable way of understanding some elements of Mark’s secrecy motif. Check out the book if you get a chance.

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