4. Reader’s Expectation: Mark engages in a dialogue

Hamburg by night, Cafe Keese, 1989
Hamburg by night, Cafe Keese, 1989

with the reader. He teases the reader like a mystery writer who is always laying out new false leads, only to be delighted when the poor mystery reader falls for them.

He then rejects the reactions Mark evokes in the reader as inappropriate, thus playfully introducing the reader to the mysteries of being a Christian and of divine activity.


3. Outwardness: As a good narrator, Mark describes

800 years port of Hamburg, May 1989
800 years port of Hamburg, May 1989

the outward course of the action, which the reader must interpret for himself. In 1:40, the leper is seen falling to his knees.

One must fear that he will fall out of weakness or clumsiness and infect Jesus, who is standing directly in front of him, with germs of disease.

It is only from the context that the reader learns that the leper kneels in homage to Jesus as if he were a ruler.

Matthew uses the technical term proskynesis for kneeling before the ruler and thus deprives the reader of the tension that Mark so skillfully builds.


Theater 4: In Mark 1:42, the leper runs away from the sick person

800 years port of Hamburg, May 1989
800 years port of Hamburg, May 1989

as James and John run away from their father Zebedee in 1,20. One has the impression that Mark is thinking of a theater scene in which the sick person wears the old skin with the leprosy like an old dress.

In 1:42 another actor comes and takes away the old garment (the old skin) and underneath the new clean skin appears as a beautiful new garment


Today I interrupt the normal text to tell something about myself.

Johannes Neumann on the way to Lake Titicaca
Johannes Neumann on the way to Lake Titicaca

I am Johannes Neumann, I live near Dresden in Germany. Since my youth I have been interested in Christianity, its origin and the Bible.

Besides that, I am interested in archaeology and the history of the Ancient Near East, Greek and Roman antiquity and their literature. There is so much information there that helps us to better understand the Bible and the history of Jesus and early Christianity.

I am especially happy about every single person who reads my blog and writes comments. It is great if you put a link to my blog on your homepage or recommend me in your Facebook group. I want my theses to become even better known so that they can find their way into the discourse of theology.

If you want to support me, you can find a donation account on the front page of my blog. You can find my books on www.johannesneumann.com


Theater 3: Lepers and healthy people do not meet

800 years port of Hamburg, May 1989
800 years port of Hamburg, May 1989

in real life, Leviticus 13:45, only on the theater stage do they meet. That a leper meets Jesus 1:40 is only possible in the theater. 

While the leper is allowed to approach Jesus with impunity, Jesus apparently does not feel the helplessness of the lame man, 2:4. The show interlude of lowering the sick man from the roof seems strange in real life.

With theatrical technology, even ancient, it was easily possible. For the spectators, it was a fun show that stuck in their memory and carried the message. That was what mattered to Mark.


Theater 2: In Matthew there is no longer a baptizing John

800 years port of Hamburg, May 1989
800 years port of Hamburg, May 1989

in the desert, but it is John with the epithet the Baptist who preaches in the desert.

Luke, the historically interested evangelist, mentions the desert only as the place of the divine instruction to John and has the Baptist preach at the Jordan right away

The desert in which John preaches in Mark is therefore not a real one, but a theatrical desert, the spiritual emptiness in the minds and hearts of the people to whom John preaches conversion, a new beginning.


2. Theater: The stories of Mark are not realistic,

800 years port of Hamburg, May 1989
800 years port of Hamburg, May 1989

but theatrical, theater within theater, play within play. In Mark 1:4, John stands baptizing (so literally in the Greek) in the desert.

But how is John to baptize if he has no water to wash away sins?

In 1:5, where the act of baptism is told, the ancient manuscripts already added the water, there it says: they were baptized in the Jordan.


Symbolism 2: The great silence, 4:39, is in the Hellenistic philosophy of Epicurus

800 years port of Hamburg, May 1989
800 years port of Hamburg, May 1989

and later in the whole ancient philosophy a symbol for the mental balance, which is the goal of the philosophical instruction.

The calming of the storm, which is described as an actual event, is therefore of the same character. If this is so, one may ask: Does Mark commit the reader to the interpretation as historical narrative or parable?

Or does the evangelist give his audience a freedom of interpretation to choose one or the other? Is the reader allowed to decide whether to see the story as real or as a parable?


Narrative technique: In Mark, every word is carefully chosen, none is too many.

800 years port of Hamburg, May 1989
800 years port of Hamburg, May 1989

1. Symbolism: The first poetic device is symbolism. We are forced to ask ourselves the question: Is what is signified what is meant?

In the parables of Mark 4 this is obviously not the case, a parable points beyond itself to another, more difficult to understand matter.

But what is parable, what is history? Is the stilling of the storm, which crowns and concludes the parable chapter, a historical account or a parable?

(to be continued)


Continuation 5: 6. The Resolution of the External Conflict: Only the Actual Healing

800 years port of Hamburg, May 1989
800 years port of Hamburg, May 1989

brings the resolution of the conflict on the outer level. In Mark, the resolution of the conflict (the healing process is not described) is followed by an instruction for action: here in 2:11, as in 1:44, it is about a confirmation of the actual healing by the Jewish authorities.

The confirmation not only frees Jesus from the accusation of charlatanism, the scribes who just criticized Jesus now have to confirm his miracle healing.


Continuation 4: 4. The resolution of the moral conflict: Jesus

800 years port of Hamburg, May 1989
800 years port of Hamburg, May 1989

removes these doubts, he is allowed to heal, and he grants the sick person forgiveness of sins.

5. The resolution of the inner conflict: The sick person is now freed from the stigma that he himself is to blame for his illness, but he is not yet healed.

Is the forgiveness of sins only a pious saying after all? The scribes, 2:6-7, and Jesus himself, 2:8-9, feel this way, therefore he affirms his will to heal.


Continuation 3: In addition to the external level (the sick person and Jesus)

Hamburg, Außenalster
Hamburg, Außenalster

and the inner level (faith of the sick person and Jesus’ will to heal) there is now a third level, the moral one.

Here the question is asked: Is it allowed to heal, is Jesus allowed to intervene in the divine order? Does Jesus not criticize the divine creation as unfinished?

Doesn’t Jesus criticize God as a bungling creator, who left a half-finished creation to man, so that man could complete it?


Continuation 2: 3. The Moral Conflict: In 2:1-12, the most detailed

Hamburg, Außenalster
Hamburg, Außenalster

healing story in Mark, the reader expects a quick healing after the sick man’s helpers went to so much trouble to bring him to Jesus.

But Jesus makes the reader squirm. Like in a beautiful romance novel, where the lovers are in each other’s arms only after many obstacles and misunderstandings, Mark builds delays into the plot to increase the tension.


Continuation 1: 1. The external conflict: In 1:21-28 Mark describes an

Hamburg, Goldbekkanal
Hamburg, Goldbekkanal

external conflict between two persons. A sick man (evil spirit) attacks Jesus with words, Jesus has to defend himself.

The inner conflict: In 1:40-45 the preceding is already presupposed. Like the reader, the sick man knows that Jesus can heal, 1:40.

Here we are dealing with the inner conflict. Does the sick person want to be healed? Does he believe in Jesus? Does Jesus want to heal him or does Jesus choose his patients according to certain criteria such as neediness, moral qualities or affiliation to Judaism?


Mark has structured his narrative units according to a certain scheme.

Hamburg, Außenalster
Hamburg, Außenalster

The understanding of this scheme makes the interpretation much easier. He shows us the scheme with the first miracle stories in 1:21-2:12.

There are three conflicts, the outer, the inner and the moral conflict. These conflicts are first described, then resolved in reverse order.