On and on and on

So here’s the story so far on the ‘abduction’ strand of my thinking. (And, yes, I know I am belabouring this to death and back, but the whole point of this kind of exploration is to see attend to the little niggles of irritation that suggest to me that I’m talking rubbish, and see whether I can make them go away.)

Really, this is all part of an exploration of the first two Greek words after the superscript in Mark: ‘As it is written’. I am interested, roughly speaking, in what kind of relationship to the Hebrew Bible, and to the Judaism of Jesus’ day and before, we are talking about if we take those words seriously. But in order to approach that hoary old topic at an angle, with the faint hope that it might help me think about it differently, I have been investigating a proxy issue that Mark immediately presents to us: the nature of Mark’s (the Markan community’s, early Christians’) reading of John the Baptist: the way in which the historical figure in the desert (I’m assuming there was one) became the textual John, written entirely as forerunner to Jesus.

After much footling, I came to a provisional and partial answer, based on thinking about what it meant for a Christian to claim that John’s identity was truly ‘hid with Christ in God’, and the difference between saying that and saying that Christians therefore knew John’s true identity in a way that John did not: a difference that has a lot to do with the fact that Christians are not God. And yet persisting in wanting to say that Christians do, through Christ, have ways of speaking truly about God – and so ways of talking about what it means for identities to be ‘hid with Christ in God’. I talked about a dialectic between Christ-focused reading (e.g., of John, starting our description of his identity with talking about how he related to Jesus) and registering the resistance, the excess of John relative to our Christ-centred description. And this whole dialectic making sense only as practised by people, a community, that is pursuing holiness (the purification of its love), so as to purify its descriptions from selfishness.

When we take this rather abstract idea back to Mark, however, we are forced to say that Mark displays only one side of the dialectic clearly: the Christ-focused description of John. The other side is present only in glimpses: the way the unassimilated John appears between the cracks in Mark’s description. (That’s a deeply problematic way of putting it, but let it stand for now.) This dialectic is not something I have derived from Mark, in other words – but is about asking what I, as a Christian reader of Mark who has a whole lot of other bits of Christian theology bubbling around in his head, have to say in order to be able to follow Mark, at least in part.

Then, I back-pedalled slightly, by noting that there might be ways in which we could describe John such that the tension between what we could glimpse of his unassimilated, pre-abducted identity through Mark’s Christ-focused description, and that Christ-focused description itself, was lessened. And that’s what I was talking about in the last post. But, as I noted in that post, my way of raising that possibility seemed to have comitted me to a kind of investigation for which I have neither the aptitude nor the appetite; I seemed to be back-pedalling for the sake of unconvincing, speculative apologetics – which isn’t what I had set out to do at all.

However, what that back-pedal does reveal which is more directly appropriate to my project is that speculating about John suggests that my dialectical hermeneutical proposal may rest on too dichotomous, too discontinuous, a picture of the unassimilated/assimilated distinction: that it may simply be assuming that John’s unassimilated distinction is utterly distinct from the use that Mark has made of him. Or at least that it tends in that direction. And whether or not that is unfair to John (I leave the detailed investigation to those who have the stomach for it), if we broaden our perspective back out to the wider question I started with, that overly dichotomous picture is more obviously a pretty dodgy one: it itself smacks of supersessionism.

So my neat, pious, ‘dialectic of description and registering resistance, within a life in pursuit of holiness’ might need to be rethought a bit.

Okay. If this is really all exegesis of the first two words of Mark, how long is the rest of it going to take me?

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