Back to John’s Abduction

In an earlier post, I suggested that Mark’s application to John of the prophetic texts from the Hebrew Bible may have been sparked by playful verbal connections between those texts and John, but that the fuel set alight by those sparks might be a somewhat deeper connection:

John’s ministry of repentance was, I suspect, a ministry that self-consciously performed a preparation for the coming of YHWH as already understood in ways shaped by verses like these from Isaiah. John prepares for the coming of the Lord – and when the Lord comes in ways unexpected even by John, John’s ministry of repentance does not cease to be a preparation for it.

This is an inviting line of argument, or so it seemed to me at the time. It promises to give me a way of saying that to read John as preparing for Jesus is a reading with the grain of his lived specificity, even if John did not see himself as a forerunner of Jesus. And so it promises me a way out of worries about the violent abduction of John.

It is too easy, however – and not only because it involves a kind of speculation about John’s message and motivation which takes us way beyond any historical warrant we have. It either involves reading John’s obedience to YHWH purely formally, as if John will proclaim the Lord’s coming with no content, refusing to say anything about what that arrival will involve (a move which tends towards reading obedience as a purely negative submission, not as participation, and tends towards a reading of YHWH as arbitrary power), or it reads back into John a kind of apophatic theology which, while theologically much more attractive, seems to me to be historically implausible.

I could claim that this problem arises simply because I am seeking answers at too abstract a level of inquiry. Only if we ask more closely about what obedience to YHWH, preparation for YHWH, could mean in John’s time, and what we can tell of John’s take on such obedience, and what it means to claim Jesus as the fulfilment of such obedience, could we hope to make this line of argument stick… or so I might argue. Only that looks like turning into the kind of full-blown historical-critical investigation for which I have neither time nor competence.

And, in any case, this kind of discussion seems to show that (even when I have not acknowledged it) ‘saving’ Mark from accusations of violence has been my agenda – indeed, showing that Mark’s descriptions are (in some deep way) faithful to historical reality. I turn out to be wanting to out-historical-criticise the historical critics! And that’s not what I had originally set out to do: I think my rather different concerns have got dragged off path by the gravitational pull of some heavy apologetic questions lying off to one side. Time for a bit of a rethink.

Comments are closed.

Post Navigation