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Mark as Story Reviewed Again (and Apparently Being Read By Others….)

July 19, 2013

This afternoon my buddy, Matt Whitlock (thanks, Matt!) pointed me to a review of my book (co-edited with Prof. Kelly R. Iverson), Mark as Story: Retrospect and Prospect (Society of Biblical Literature, 2011) in the recent fascicle of Catholic Biblical Quarterly. I was pleased to read another very positive review of the book and its contributions. Among other positive comments, the reviewer (Dr. Steven L. Bridge of St. Joseph’s College) remarks that the volume is a “fitting tribute” to the original Mark as Story, and “[o]verall, each contribution is well written and thought-provoking.” He concludes the review praising the inclusion of reflections from David Rhoads, Don Michie, and Joanna Dewey. He writes:

Allowing the original authors (who had been written about for 260 pages) finally to step out from behind the screen and “speak” for themselves proved a satisfying conclusion to this collection. The whole testifies to the results that can be achieved by interdisciplinary collaboration. Mark as Story has had an undeniable impact on NT studies, and this volume is a worthy recognition of it (p. 613).

To date, the book has been reviewed a total of 8 times (JSNT, RSR, JETS, AUSS, Pacifica, twice at RBL, and now CBQ). I am pleased that each review has been overwhelmingly positive, and even more pleased that the book is being used by those working in Markan studies, narrative criticism, performance criticism, and character studies. I was pleasantly surprised when, while sitting at my computer last week, Prof. Chris Keith contacted me via Facebook (gotta love social media) during a meeting of the Mark Group at the International SBL meeting in St. Andrews. He wrote to say that one of the presenters had just held up the book and cited it as a solid resource for those working in narrative criticism. I have also been notified of several institutions in which the book is being used as a course text (something Kelly and I hoped would happen when we wrote the original book proposal).

At the risk of appearing too bold, I would like to point out what I think are some the book’s strengths. When Kelly and I first conceived of putting this book together, we envisioned a resource that would not only celebrate the legacy of David Rhoads and Donald Michie (and later, Joanna Dewey), but would also make original contributions to current narrative critical approaches to the Gospel of Mark. As has been noted by numerous reviewers, the book has a strong focus on more recent movements in orality studies and performance criticism. These are two areas in which Prof. Iverson has particularly distinguished himself in recent years.* Many scholars regard performance criticism as the next organic methodological move arising out of narrative criticism. This is driven in part by the recognition that most of the original audience was unlettered and therefore unable to read for themselves. This means that, necessarily, most early readings of the Gospel of Mark were public recitations/performances. And since every performer would have approached the text a bit differently, every performance would have been distinctive. This raises all sorts of questions about an “original text” (which text critics are so anxious to recover). As an aside, this often makes me think of the Gospel of Mark and Jimi Hendrix in the same context. No one live performance of a Hendrix song was ever identical to his previous iteration. In the same way, we hypothesize that performances of the Gospel of Mark differed from performance to performance (and performer to performer).

Also, since methodologies are always evolving, historical and exegetical conclusions are continually being “tweaked.” Therefore, it’s helpful when you can look both backward and forward and shine light into current and former areas of strength and weakness. I think the book accomplishes this well in several essays. First, the chapter by Mark Allan Powell (“Narrative Criticism: The Emergence of a Prominent Reading Strategy”) distinguishes between three different approaches to doing “narrative criticism,” each with its own exegetical trajectory. Another interest that Prof. Iverson and I share is the function and presentation of characters in ancient biblical narratives. Two chapters in particular look both backward and forward, using Mark as Story as a primary conversation partner, in an effort to discuss narrative conceptions of character. See the essays by Prof. Elizabeth Struthers Malbon and Prof. Stephen Moore.

I could say much more, but I would spoil it for those of you who have now been convinced to go pick up a copy. I’ll make it easy for you. Just click here. 🙂

* See Prof. Iverson’s articles in the areas mentioned above:

“Incongruity, Humor, and Mark: Performance and the Use of Laughter in the Second Gospel (Mark 8.14-21),” New Testament Studies 59.1 (2013): 2-19.

“A Centurion’s ‘Confession’: A Performance-Critical Analysis of Mark 15:39,” Journal of Biblical Literature 130.2 (2011): 329-50.

“Orality and the Gospels: A Survey of Recent Research,” Currents in Biblical Research 8.1 (2009): 71-106.

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