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Mark as Historian of God's Kingdom

C. CLIFTON BLACK Princeton Theological Seminary Princeton, NJ 08542

Was the Buffalo chicken wing invented when Teressa Bellissimo thought of splitting it in half and deep-frying it and serving it with celery and blue-cheese dressing? Was it invented when John Young started using mambo sauce and thought of elevating wings into a specialty? How about the black people who have always eaten chicken wings? The way John Young talked, black people may have been eating chicken wings in thirteenth-century Spain. How is that historians can fix the date of the Battle of Agincourt with such precision? How can they be so certain of its outcome? Calvin Trillin'
UNCERTAINTY BEDEVILS every historical endeavor. Though elicited by inquiry into a humble gastronomic item, Calvin Trillin's sober questions strike the bass key that resonates throughout this study and on which it will conclude.

I. The First Christian Historian The historian's art is not limited to collecting and framing traditions, however many he may have at his disposal. He must endeavour to illuminate and somehow to present the meaning of events. He must be impelled by a desire to know and understand. If Luke had had more traditions at his disposal, but had linked them together only as he does in the Gospel, he would not qualify for the title "historian." We ascribe this title to him only because he did more than collect traditions. He tried to combine in his own way, into a significant, continuous whole, both the tradition current in the community

' Calvin Trillin, "An Attempt to Compile a Short History of the Buffalo Chicken Wing," in idem. The Tummy Trilogy: American Fried: Alice. Let's Eat: Third Heipings (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1994) 268-75, here 275.




and what he himself discovered. Secondly, he tried to make clear the meaning which these events contained.^ For those reasons the mantle of earliest Christian historian has been draped upon Luke. Martin Dibelius does not argue, as he might have, that Luke's status as historian rests on being the first to narrate the development of Christianity in the decades after Jesus. Luke is not Ur-Eusebius. Dibelius's discritnen for historical reportage is not material, an account of initial steps along "the Way" (Acts 9:2; 19:9, 23; 22:4; 24:14, 22) among Gentiles and its parting froin the Jews. Instead, the criterion is perspectival: The historian is so recognized for construing the meaning of events, the communication of "a desire to know and understand" what has happened. If that is how the historian's craft is understood, then, standing this side of extensive redactional and literary investigation ofthe Gospels, there is no good reason to reject its expression in the Third Gospel as well. By express testimony (1:1-4) Luke intends not merely to chronicle anecdotes but to arrange them tneaningfully, persuasively, and with reliability. No biblical scholar would any longer characterize Luke as a simple collector of traditions. Grant that, however, and there remains no reason to deny that Mark, still reckoned by most as primary among Luke's own sources, also proceeds with historical intent on Dibelius's terms. By arranging antecedent traditions in a manner as sophisticated as it is subtle, Mark is demonstrably interested in the meaning of those events he recounts. Whereas that concem becomes palpable in Mark's celebrated central section (8:22-10:52), the tip-off is present as early as that Gospel's first verse (1:1): "The beginning ofthe good news of Jesus Christ [the Son of God]."^ From the very beginning the reader is directed to interpret the meaning of what follows as glad tidings of God's own anointed."* With commonplace allowance for differences in modus operandi ancient and modem, Mark has long been acknowledged as the ftrst of Jesus' biographers.^
^ Martin Dibelius, "The First Christian Historian," in idem. Studies in the Acts of the Apostles (cd. Heinrich Grccven; trans. Mary Ling; New York: Scribner, 1956; Gentian orig., 1948) 123-37, here 125. "Adjudicating the text-critical problem in Mark 1:1, the jury remains out. When it will return with a generally acceptable verdict is anyone's guess. ^ Thus Francis J. Moloney: "Every element in the [Marcan] story is there for a reason, which we will discover only by combing back and forth through the text until it yields its own narrative coherence" {The Gospel of Mark: A Commentary [Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2002] 22). To paraphrase Moloney's assertion in Dibelius's terms: The historian's impulse "to know and understand" is revealed in part by the principles of coherence she applies to those traditions available to her. ^ Clyde Weber Votaw, The Gospels and Contemporaiy Biographies in the Greco-Roman World (1915; FBBS; Philadelphia: Fortress, 1970). With differences in emphasis, Votaw's conclusions arc now widely accepted; see Charles H. Talbert, What Is a Gospel? The Genre ofthe Canonical Gospels (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1977); David E. Aune, "The Gospels as Ancient Biography and the Growth of Jesus Literature," in idem. The New Testament in Its Literary Environment (LEC; Philadelphia: Westminster, 1987)46-76; Richard A. Burridge, What Are the Gospels? A Comparison with GrecoRoman Biography (2nd ed.; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2004).



If ioc; or vita be recognized as a species ofthe genus historia, then to describe the evangelist Mark as a historian should no longer stretch anyone's credulity. And if that be accepted, then Marknot Lukemay be long overdue for recognition as the first Christian historian, if by the second of those adjectives we mean the earliest account of Jesus' life narrated from a point of view that would soon be accepted as characteristically Christian: history viewed through the confessional lens of Jesus as the Messiah of Israel and ofthe nations. It is just here that, in spite of their many intriguing theological intersections, Mark goes his own generic way, with determination and a difference, apart from Paul: For the thing in which the Apostle's letters evince virtually no interesta narrative account, located in time and space, of what Jesus said and did, and what in response to those events was done to him and his followersis Mark's bread and butter.^ "Bom of woman, bom under the law" (Gal 4:4) is inadequate as the story of Jesus' life that Mark, in sharp contrast, very much wants and considers it necessary to tell. We remain uncertain to whom Paul was referring as "the rulers of this age" who "crucified the Lord of glory" (1 Cor 2:8), but apart from Mark and the other evangelists we would never know that Jerusalem's high priests and Rome's Pontius Pilate (Mark 14:53-65; 15:1-15) were among the possible candidates. Without Mark and his successors, at least within the canon, the Lord Jesus in Paul's letters could have becomequite apart from the Apostle's intention"a Docetic figure, a figment of pious imagination, who, like Alice's Cheshire cat, ultimately disappears from view."^ After Mark, that possibility remains but is considerably harder to realize. II. The Uneasy Conscience of Historiography Throughout the course of his work the historian is selecting, constructing, and criticizing; it is only by doing these things that he maintains his thought upon the sichere Gang einer Wissenschaft.... [S]o far from relying on an authority other than himself,
' For this reason, among others, I remain unconvinced by Joel Marcus's arguments that Mark is dcmonstrably a Paulinist ("MarkInterpreter of Paul," NTS 46 [2000] 473-87). Although acutely exposing Martin Werner's labored attempts to drive a wedge between Apostle and evangelist (Der Einflu paulinischer Theologie im Markusevangelium: Eine Studie zur neutestamentlichen Theologie [BZNW 1; Gieen: Tpelmann, 1923]), Marcus has comparatively little to say on "A General PointThe Earthly Jesus" (pp. 476-79); as a scrupulous exegete of Pauline literature, Marcus derives his sparse comments directly from Paul's own. I tend toward a more elliptical correlation of Paul and Mark, which for Marcus goes not far enough; see C. Clifton Black, "Christ Crucified in Paul and in Mark: Some Reflections on an Intracanonical Conversation," in Theology and Ethics in Paul and His Interpreters: Essays in Honor of Victor Paul Furnish (ed, Eugene H. Lovering and Jerry L. Sumney; Nashville: Abingdon, 1996) 184-206. ' G. B. Caird, New Testament Theology (ed. and completed by L. D. Hurst; Oxford: Clarendon, 1994)347.



to whose statements his thought must conform, the historian is his own authority and his thought autonomous, self-authorizing, possessed of a criterion to which his socalled authorities must conform and by reference to which they are criticized. . . . Even if he accepts what his authorities tell him, therefore, he accepts it not on their authority but on his own; not because they say it, but because it satisfies his criterion of historical truth.... For the historian there can never be authorities, because the socalled authorities abide a verdict which only he can give." To speak of Mark and other ancient writers as "historians" in even a sense so highly hedged gives some historical critics the fidgets. It threatens to muddy all those careful distinctiotis that post-Enlightenment investigators strove mightily to identify atid preserve from taint.' The usual caveats are invoked. Unlike practicing historians of our day, the ancients (whether Herodotus or Thucydides, Suetonius or Tacitus, Josephus or Mark) favored typical motifs over comprehensive chronologies, didacticism over neutrality, subjectivism and degrees of tendentiousness over a Rankean insistence on "how it essentially was" {wie es eigentlich gewesen).^^ The real elephant in the historian's parlor is the etitwined question of transcendence and revelation, a subject so dense that its consideration, however cursory, must be deferred until this essay's end. Yet no matter how boldly one marks the borders between historiography ancient and modem, many shades of gray resist suppression. There is little doubt that the Gospel of Mark offers its readers, probably by intent rather than by default, a stylized presentation of Jesus that highlights typical traits. Mark does not offer a complete life of Jesus, either because his sources did not permit such or because the evangelist was interested mainly in what he considered religiously significant. Most likely both reasons were in play. Yet no life of Jesus produced in the past sixty years with hope for a scholarly hearing has fundamentally contradicted most of the materials that Mark's common reader would regard as both typical and suggestive of "how it essentially was": Jesus' alliance with John the Baptist; Jesus' performance of astonishing acts of healing in Galilee's environs; his teaching, in metaphor, about "the kingdom of God"; the confused mixture of acceptance and rejection that his ministry generated; key moments of Mark's passion narrative.
* Robin George Collingwood, The Idea of History (rev. ed.; cd. Jan van der Dussen; Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993) 236, 238. ' Albert Schweitzer, The Quest of the Historical Jesus (ed. John Bowden; trans. W. Montgomery, J. R. Coates, Susan Cupitt, and John Bowden; London: SCM, 2000 [based on the Gennan editions of 1906, 1913, and 1950]). '" Leopold von Ranke, The Secret of World History: Selected Writings on the Art and Science of History (ed. Roger Wines; New York: Fordham University Press, 1981) 21; cf. Burridge, What Are the Gospels? 105-84. In private correspondence (October 19, 2007) Marianne Mcye Thompson justly reminds me that Ranke's admonition is not principally concerned with the recovery of facts though he is often so interpretedbut, rather, to capture the "essence" of what actually happened.



especially Jesus' disturbing activity in the temple and some Jewish-Roman collusion precipitating his death in Jerusalem by crucifixion. To accept the historical plausibility of so many narrative traits while damning their selective typicality is a catch-22 that no historian, ancient or modem, could hope to escape. It should be further noted that, for reasons baffling exegetes to this day, Mark also admits into his narrative things that are atypical of his own portrait of Jesus, such as the eth.. nie or religious ehauvinism (7:24-30) that flies in the face of his own purported dietary and missionary liberality (7:1-23; 13:10). At least in principle, ancient historians were not as cavalier with the facts as is sometimes alleged." It is an equally fine question whether even modem historians play strictly by rules whose disregard among the ancients is oft lamented. It is very hard to read Barbara Tuchman's superb treatments of any subject to which she tumed her attention without the impression that in them she saw historical lessons her readers would do well to contemplate. Certainly President John F. Kennedy believed that when he required his specially formed executive committee to read The Guns of August, Tuchman's study ofthe causes of World War I, during the thirteen gorge-rising days ofthe Cuban missile crisis (1962).'- Didacticism with a heavy hand makes for ponderous reading; still, one wishes that the second Bush administration had read with appreciation Tuchman's March ofFolly^^ before launching its military adventure in Iraq (2003-). Although every successive contribution to the vast library of biographies of Abraham Lineoln aims to fill some important gap in our grasp ofthat figurebe it his alleged religious skepticism, clinical depression, or administrative genius'"*each also asks us to ponder some trait or set of characteristics that helps us take a more satisfying measure ofthe man than has been heretofore registered. Because Lincoln scholarship can assume general familiarity of its subject with reasonable comprehensiveness, the would-be Ph.D. or best-selling author now tends toward the selective cameo, not the wallencompassing mural. The issue of historical stylization also remains a disputed question among
" Thus Lucian: "As to the facts themselves, [the historianj should not assemble them at random, but only after much labourious and painstaking investigation. He should for preference be an eyewitness but, if not, listen to those who tell the more impartial story, those whom one would suppose least likely to subtract from the facts or add to them out of favour or malice" (Lueian. vol. 6, How to Write History, etc. [trans. K. K. Kilbum; LCL; London: Heinemann, 1959J 60). '2 Barbara W. Tuchman, Tiie Guns of August (New York: Ballantine, 1962). This book won the Pulitzer Prize for general nonfiction. '^ Barbara W. Tuchman, The March ofFoily: From Troy to Vietnam (New York: Knopf, 1984). '* See. respectively, Richard Lawrence Miller, Lincoin and His Worid: Tiie Eariy Years. Birth to Iliinois Legisiatiire (Mechaniesburg, PA/Lancaster, U.K.: Stackpole, 2006); Joshua Wolf Shenk, Lincoin's Meianchoiy: How Depression Chaiienged a President and Fiieied His Greatness (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2005); Doris Keams Goodwin, Team of Rivais: The Poiitieai Genius of Abraham Lincoin (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2006).



practicing historians. During the 1970s, in an undergraduate course on Renaissance and Reformation Europe, I read Garrett Mattingly's The Armada with no awareness of its drubbing by some experts for its novelistic quality.'^ To the contrary, its sparkling prose and rattling narrative made late medievalism come alive. Is Carl Sandburg's six-volume biography of Lincoln'^ to be pulped, because its author was no professional historian and his poetry kept getting in the way? Although retaining unmitigated respect for James McPherson's studies in the American Civil War,'^ for color and spectacle I still pull from my shelf Shelby Foote.'^ Are readers like myself simply confused, or do we respect alternative approaches to history for the different values to which they aspire? The one Rubicon that die Aufklrer crossed, from which there appears no turning back, is the control of the historian's imagination by corroborative evidence. As early as 1936, however, Robin George Collingwood (1889-1943), in his lifetime a foremost expert on Roman Britain and the intricate puzzles surrounding Hadrian's Wall, dared to articulate what surely had crossed the minds of other self-critical critics: Historians certainly think of themselves as working from data, where by data they mean historical facts possessed by them ready made at the beginning of a certain piece of historical research. Such a datum, if the research concerns the Peloponnesian War, would be, for example, a certain statement of Thucydides, accepted as substantially true. But when we ask what gives historical thought this datum, the answer is obvious: historical thought gives it to itself, and therefore in relation to historical thought at large it is not a datum but a result or achievement. . . . It is thus the historian's picture of the past, the product of his own a priori imagination, that has to justify the sources used in its construction." Has Collingwood thus skeptically undercut his own essays in ancient history? No, he replies: [T]his is only the discovery of a second dimension of historical thought, the history of history: the discovery that the historian himself, together with the here-and-now
'^ Garrett Mattingly, The Armada (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1959). Scholarly reception of Mattingly's award-winning classic is detailed and criticized by Richard J. Evans, //; Defense of History (New York: Norton, 2000) 122-30. '* Carl Sandburg, Abraiiam Lincoin: The Prairie Years (2 vols.; New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1926); idem, Abraham Lincoin: The War Years (4 vols.; New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1939). The War Years won for its author the Pulitzer Prize. " See, among others, James McPherson, Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (New York/Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1988); idem. For Cause and Comrades: Why Men Fought in Ihe Civil K^a/-(New York/Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997). "* Shelby Foote, The Civil War: A Narrative (3 vols.; New York: Random House, 1958, 1963, 1974). Foote began his literary career as a novelist: Follow Me Down ( 1950); Love in a Dry Season (1951); 5/7o/i (1952). " Collingwood, Idea of Hisiory, 243-45.



which forms the total body of evidence available to him, is a part ofthe process he is studying, has his own place in that process, and can see it only from the point of view which at this present moment he occupies within it. But neither the raw material of historical knowledge, the detail ofthe here-and-now as given him in perception, nor the various endowments that serve him as aids to interpreting this evidence, can give the historian his criterion of historical truth. That criterion is the idea of history itself: the idea of an imaginary picture ofthe past. That idea is, in Cartesian language, innate; in Kantian language, a priori. . . . [T]he idea ofthe historical imagination [is] a selfdependent, self-determining, and self-justifying form of thought.^" On its face this appears to put the historian at least formally on the same plane as the religious believer. That implication CoUingwood candidly accepts: "History is thus the believing some one else [sic] when he says that he remembers something. The believer is the historian; the person believed is called his authority."^' Asking himself wherein that authority lies, CoUingwood reasons his way, without flinching, to the anthropocentric deduction that opened this section: "the discovery that, so far from relying on an authority other than himself, to whose statements his thought must confonn, the historian is his own authority and his thought autonomous, self-authorizing, possessed of a criterion to which his so-called authorities must conform and by reference to which they are criticized. . . . Even if he accepts what his authorities tell him, therefore, he accepts it not on their authority but on his own; not because they say it, but because it satisfies his criterion of historical truth."^^ By reckoning with the history of historiography, Collingwood realizes that the root issue is irreducibly theological: [T]he facts have been obscured by a smoke-screen of propagandist literature, beginning with the "illuminist" movement ofthe eighteenth century and prolonged by the "conflict between religion and science" in the nineteenth, whose purpose was to attack Christian theology in the supposed interests of a "scientific view ofthe world" which in fact is based upon it and could not for a mornent survive its destruction. Take away Christian theology, and the scientist has no longer any motive for doing what inductive thought gives him permission to do. If he goes on doing it at all, that is only because he is blindly following the conventions ofthe professional society to which he belongs.^^ From within the historian's own framework, CoUingwood, among others,^''

Ibid., 248, 249. 21 Ibid., 234-35. " Ibid., 236, 238. 23 Ibid., 255-56. 2'' Similarly, Martin Buber: "But the philosophical anthropologist must stake nothing less than his real wholeness, his eoncrete self. And more: it is not enough for him to stake his self as an objed of knowledge. He can know the wholeness of a person and through it the wholeness o man only when he does not leave his subjectivity out and does not remain an untouehed observer. He must



has identified most ofthe terms for the rest ofthe argument this essay will pursue. By now, however, a few things should be painfully obvious. First, whether one speaks of pre- or post-Enlightenment figures, the durable tension between "faith and history" has obscured their highly porous membranes. From its inception Christian faith has never been predicated without reference to historical persons and events,^^ just as historical recotistruction has never been conducted apart from faith, whether orthodox or some secularized version in reaction to it. Second, as very likely the first to coordinate literarily the story of Jesus in a meaningful way, Mark owns the accolade of "the first Christian historian." Third, ifso, then Mark's Gospel is more than a mine of data frotn which later historians may quarry their own reconstructions of Jesus. To think that is to regard that Gospel only as an object for our disposition, whether academic or religious or some admixture of both. To the contrary, Mark is a subject, whose own historical and theological integrity makes of him a fully equal partner in conversation and debate with our own subjective biases as historians. To a degree considerably greater than many subsequent, even highly sophisticated constructions of Jesus, Mark poses the question of authority raised by that Galilean and his association with the kingdom of God. By now it should be clear that such is the fundamental question not only for Christian faith but also for one's understanding and practice of history.

in. Whose Life Is It, Anyway?

As historians ofthe Jesus tradition we are storytellers. We can do no more than aspire to fashion a narrative that is more persuasive than competing narratives, one that satisfies our aesthetic and historical sensibilities because of its apparent ability to clarify more data in a more satisfactory fashion than its rivals.^*

enter, completely and in reality, into the act of self-reflection, in order to become aware of human wholeness" (Between Man and Man [trans. Ronald Gregor Smith; London: Kegan Paul, 1947) 124 [italics in the original]). ^' Just here Martin Khler's theological critique ofthe Quest risks a parlous unilateralism (The So-Called Historical Jesus and the Historic Biblical Christ [trans, and ed. Carl E. Braaten; Seminar Editions; Philadelphia, Fortress, 1964]). The same might be ventured of our generation's Kahler, Luke Timothy Johnson (Living Jesus: Learning the Heart ofthe Gospel [San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1999]), even though Johnson is little concerned with Khler's Protestant principle of doubt, not only sin, as the basis for justification by faith. Let those who remember Kahler only as the bte noir of nineteenth-century Life-of-Jesus research be reminded that he explicitly "apprais[ed] the development of [historical] criticism as a divine dispensation for the church" (Kahler, 148 n. 25), owing to its chastisement of "abstract dogmatism" (p. 46): the biblically untethered fantasies of both preachers and systematicians (pp. 54-57, 67-71). Khler's battle was waged on not one but two fronts: versus both the practical Arianism ofthe Life-of-Jesus movement (see esp. pp. 102-3) and the Apollinarianism of contemporary dogmatics (pp. 78-87). At their least modest, in Khler's view, both historians and theologians were culpable of a dogmatism for which each needed the other's correction. ^' Dale C. Allison, Jesus of Nazareth: Miltenarian Prophet (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1998)



Nothing is easier, or offers more perverse satisfaction, than to position oneself against those believed incorrigibly misguided. Rather than choose that nasty path, 1 beg the reader's indulgence for a brief, cordial argumentstripped of belligerencewith one whose scholarship unfailingly instructs me. In spite of its unfortunately worded subtitle. Dale C. Allison's Jesus of Nazareth: Millenarian Prophet^^ makes important contributions to the current conversation, applaud. If not blindingly original,^^ Allison's Jesus, an eschatologieal strikes me as far more plausible than some alternatives lately proposed,^" precisely because it squares with the unadomed picture that Mark presents.-" And more than many "Third Questers," Allison is refreshingly humble about the historian's limitations, as evidenced in the quotation at the beginning of this section. The more I ponder this expression of Allison's common sense, the more per-

35-36. 1 am grateful to Professor Allison for graciously and cheerfully debating with me issues raised by the present essay. ^' Allison's use ofthe term "millcnarianism" derives from its technical use among social scientists and students of cross-cultural religious phenomena {Je.sus of Nazareth, 78-94). Some of its criteria, cited by Allison, correspond to Mark's presentation of Jesus: for example, imminent catastrophe (13:3-27), promotion of egalitarianism (9:33-41; 10:13-16: 12:41-44; 14:3-9), the shattering of taboos (1:40-45; 2:1-12; 2:23-3:6), the substitution of religious for familial bonds (3:31-35), and unconditional loyalty (8:34-9:1; 9:42-50). Some allegedly millenarian traits are flouted by the Marcan Jesus: a fairly exelusive appeal to the disaffected (see Mark 1:19-20, 39; 2:13-14; 5:14-17, 22-24, 35-43; 10:17-22; 12:28-34; 15:42-47), unfettered utopianism (see 10:29-31), nativism (see 7:1-23; 10:2-9; 12:13-27), revelation's authentication by miracle (see 1:44; 3:19b-21;4:35-41; 6:16a, 45-5 la; 8:11-13; 15:27-32), and a paradisiacal restoration with the retum of ancestors (see 6:1429; 9:9-13; 16:6-8). Others are eolored in Mark with highly ambiguous hues, sueh as revivalism (see 3:7-12//15:6-32), political passivity (see ll:l-19//14:43-50//14:53-65//15:1-5), and a tendency to divide humanity into camps saved and unsaved (see 4:10-l2//6:51b-52//8:14-21//10:35-45). Mark's eschatology is a tnotley affair, defying clear categorization. In any ease, nowhere in Mark does Jesus espouse a strictly theological millenarianism (9:1; 13:32-37; cf Rev 20:1-3). ^*' See Johannes Weiss, Jesus' Proclamation ofthe Kingdom of God (trans, and ed. Richard Hyde Hiers and David Larrimore Holland; Lives of Jesus; Philadelphia: Fortress, 1971; German orig., 1892); Ben F. Meyer, The Aims of Jesus (London: SCM, 1979). Incidentally, "blinding originality" is an overrated academic virtue, as experience shows. -' Allison, Jesus of Nazareth, 39-44, 95-171. '" Marcus J. Borg, Jesus, A New Vision: Spirit. Culture, and the Life of Discipleship (New York: Harper & Row, 1987), whose position is adumbrated in his "An Orthodoxy Reconsidered: The 'End-of-the-World Jesus,'" in The Giory of Christ in the New Testament: Studies in Christology in Memoiy of George Bradford Caird (ed. L. D. Hurst and N. T. Wright; Oxford: Clarendon, 1987) 20717. Earlier in my eareer 1 rendered a favorable assessment of Borg's Jesus (see lnt 43 [ 1987] 42224), which I now recant with some embarrassment. Borg's sapiential, non-eschatological, and essentially liberal Protestant Jesus does not adequately account for a perceived threat great enough to nail him on a cross. Rome might as well have executed a Rotarian. " Matthew and Luke present essentially the same picture. The message ofthe Johannine Jesus is no less eschatologically charged, albeit differently tinctured.



plexing it seems. Methodologically, please note in this statement that it is our stories that historians are called to fashion. Here Allison tacitly follows Collingwood. Silently we have slipped from the Gospels' narratives into our own. The cheerful (or vitriolic) cut-and-thrust of Jesus research implies criticism not of Mark's narrative but ofthe different ones we the historians construct. The persuasive rhetoric criticized is not the evangelist's but rather that of historians whose competing stories are reckoned more or less plausible.^^ Allison recalls Thomas S. Kuhn's celebrated notion of a convincing "paradigm," "an explanatory model or matrix by which to order our data.... The initial task is to create a context, a primary frame of reference, for the Jesus tradition, a context that may assist us in detennining the authenticity of traditions and their interpretation."^^ How else could a historian, operating as a historian, proceed?^'' Just there, however, lies a fundamental problem: Why must our "aesthetic and historical sensibilities" be satisfied? Since when have our paradigms become determinative for authentic interpretation? Since the Enlightenment's dawning, of course. We need, however, to recall CoUingwood's reminder ofthe wobbly epistemology on which the historical enterprise is based. Because we live in a philosophically confused erawhen was it never so?I should at this point state as clearly as possible that my critique in no way disavows critical historical study as such, nor implies on my part any conversion to a cranky postmodernism that would reduce all reasoned arguments to blatant if disguised power plays. I suspect that much of what currently passes for postmodernism is actually hyper-modernism, which, very much like the reactionary stance toward theology adopted in the nineteenth century by "the scientific view ofthe world," depends on modem values and could not for a moment survive their abolition. Since the Enlightenment, however, some things indubitably have changed. One is Western culture's relationship to the church. Back then the quest for the historical Jesus promised, without delivering, liberation from the iron first of ecclesiastical dogma.^^ Except for small pockets in some denominations, that is no longer a problem in the twenty-first-century West. The problem now is the church's general irrelevance to a thoroughly secularized culture, or the church's all but complete co-optation by it. Will Allison's historically reconstructed Jesus the typically failed leader of a Jewish millenarian movement, interchangeable with

'- Ibid., 51 -54,95-171.1 reckon Allison's point representative ofthat held by most competent historians now laboring in the vineyard. '^ Ibid., 36. See Thomas S. Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1962). ''' I prescind from the proeedural debate, conducted between Allison and others, whether it is wiser to proceed from accumulation of particulars to the construction of larger pattems, or vice versa. See Allison, Jesus of Nazareth, 45-51. 2' Schweitzer, Quest of tiie Historical Jesus, 3-13, 478-87.



the prophet Wovoka of the 1890 Ghost Dance^''liberate anybody? I doubt it. I should expect Allison to counter: You're asking the historian to deliver more or other than what the historian can offer. To which 1 would reply: You bet. More to the point, so would Mark, who, operating from different premises, could not more vociferously disagree with the conclusion that Jesus was a Utopian prophet finally proved wrong. To paraphrase the Apostle: If for this plausible narrative only the historian in Christ has aspired, we are of all people most to be pitied (cf 1 Cor 15:19)." I speak of the historian in Christ, who honors the scholarly contributions of Abraham's many children.^^ In that regard let me mention another heavy hitter whose work commands admiration: John P. Meier, whose magisterial Marginal Jew now runs to 2,305 densely argued pages and at this writing remains incomplete.-*^ Meier opens his introduction with ruminations on "The Quest for Objectivity": There is no neutral Switzerland of the mind in the world of Jesus research. . . . Whether we call it a bias, a Tendenz, a woridview, or a faith stance, everyone who writes on this historical Jesus writes from some ideological vantage point; no critic is exempt... . The solution is to admit honestly to one's standpoint, to try to exclude its influence in making scholarly judgments by adhering to certain commonly held criteria, and to invite the correction of other scholars when one's vigilance inevitably slips. Likewise, Allison: "Maybe our reach for the historical Jesus must always exceed our grasp. . . . Our goal is not to be free of prejudices but to have the right prejudices.'""'

^'Allison, 7e. of Nazareth, 78-94, 217-19. This I regard as the weakest aspect of Allison's reconstruction, quite apart from its theological implications. Here he follows Schweitzer and his adversaries into formal psychologism. " In fairness to Allison, I should stipulate that nowhere in his Jesus of Nazareth does he claim his historically reconstructed Jesus to be the only valid interpretation ofthat figure. Allison's Jesus, nevertheless, finally bears more than passing resemblance to Schweitzer's, though conspicuously denuded of the latter's heroism: "[Jesus] makes the best of a bad situation: things are not what they seem to be; everything will be O K . . . . Jesus the millenarian prophet, like all millenarian prophets, was wrong: reality has taken no notice of his imagination" (Allison, of Nazareth, 217, 218). By contrast, Mark the historian offers his readers one crucified and vindicated, for whom and for whose followers everything is not "OK," a Messiah whose ministry upends what we construe as "reality." ^* It should be needless to add that many responsible historians abjure any correlation of their endeavors with Christian faith. Still others register no such qualms (e.g., N. T. Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God. vol. 2 of Christian Origins and the Question of God [Minneapolis: Fortress, 1996]). ^' John P. Meier, A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus (3 vols.; New York: Doubleday, 1991, 1994, 2001) here 1. 5-6. '"' See Allison, of Nazareth, 33, 39. Doubtless Rudolf Bultmann would have preferred the term "presuppositions" (which for him are inescapable) to "prejudices" (which can and should



Who determines, however, which prejudices are the right ones? In common practice, certainly not Mark. By standard operating procedure, the redaction critic can and should limn the evangelist's intention, but under no circumstances should the critic's own Tendenz be allowed entre into the exercise. Once the evangelist's bias has been identified, then, through application ofthe scalpel-sharp criterion of dissimilarity,"" that point of view should be factored out of, or at least mitigated in, the critically reconstructed Jesus of history. That process I regard as multiply problematic. First, at the outset it eliminates Tendenzen possibly shared by both Jesus and the evangelist. Second, it unjustifiably elevates the historian's biasor, ifyou prefer, Meier's "adherence to certain commonly held criteria"over that of the evangelist, as though the latter were in no sense interested in the Jesus of history and whose point of view is self-evidently inferior to our own. Third, it fosters among many historians, and among the students and pastors they teach, an intellectual schizophrenia finally impossible to sustain. In effect, the historian is forced to choose between history and theology even though (a) many historians care about theology, and vice versa, (b) Mark is one historian who operates as though the two are inextricably wedded, and (c) historians as a class are (if we accept Collingwood's analysis) themselves believersif not in God, then in their own critical powerswhether they acknowledge it or not.''^ Fourth, standard procedure dissolves the tension between faith and history by dismissing confessional considerations tout court without entertaining a possibility that exegesis, as Moshe Greenberg suggests, "both edifies the [faith] community and enables it to retain its identity through continuity with its past.'"*^ Finally, genuine conversation about Jesus or any other subject of consequence will never take place as long as we

be left at the door before entering critical interpretation). See Rudolf Bultmann, "Is Exegesis without Presuppositions Possible?" in idem, New Testament and Mythology and Oiher Basic Writings (ed. and trans. Schubert M. Ogden; Philadelphia: Fortress, 1984) 145-53. In common parlance, "presuppositions," "tendencies," and "biases" are virtually synonymous, though "bias" in English veers toward "prejudice," which in the United States and the United Kingdom carries a pejorative connotation. We might say that a scholarly presupposition is a reasonable bias that has surfaced to the level of consciousness and, having been purged of personal idiosyncrasies by the guild's conventions of chastening, enjoys general acceptance as an argumentative a priori. *" Reginald H. Fuller {The Foundations of New Testament Christolog)' [London: Lutterworth, 1965] 18) states: "As regards the sayings of Jesus, traditio-historical criticism eliminates from the authentic sayings of Jesus those which are paralleled in the Jewish tradition on the one hand (apocalyptic and Rabbinic) and those which reflect the faith, practice and situations of the post-Easter Church as we know them from outside the Gospels." ^ Thus, Hugh Trevor-Roper (The Times Literary Supplement, July 25, 1980, 833): "Objective science has its place in historical study, but it is a subordinate place: the heart ofthe subject is not in the method but in the motor, not in the technique but in the historian." ^^ Moshe Greenberg, "Exegesis," in idem. Studies in the Bible and Jewish Thought (Philadelphia/Jerusalem: Jewish Publication Society, 1995) 361-68, here 367.



bracket out what we believe, as the Jews and Muslims and Christians that we are, while closing ourselves off from the claims made upon us by the traditions we study.'*'' To pretend otherwise again sets us at cross-purposes with our source material: However much one might wish it otherwise, apart from the church's faith there can be in Mark no access to the Jesus of history. That figure simply does not exist, save in the flickering figments of our all-too-historically-conditioned imaginations. Such is the risk entailed by realigning the historian's relationship to Mark as one of a colleague consulting a specialist, instead of a pathologist carving a cadaver. For the evangelist may pluck the probe from our hand to train it upon us. The historian is temptedindeed, if CoUingwood is correct, trained and rewarded by the guildto adopt the stance of independent investigator. If not a surgeon, then an archaeologist: The historian excavates the Second Gospel for traditional (read: heavily hypothetical) tells of scientifically verifiable data."*^ Mark, I submit, will have none of that; for the very gospel to which he testifies undermines his readers' delusions of autonomy, all pretense to neutrality, human hubris in demanding verification, our navet or arrogance in thinking ourselves sifters of evidence instead of those being sifted. Be we young students in early stages of perplexity, anxious to reconcile critical study with religious belief, or their more experienced and jaundiced instructors, Mark's Gospel dynamites everyone's intellectual comforts. IV. The Echo in Hamack's Well [I]t is beyond all doubt that Mark wants to emphasise that God's revelation happened in the historical life and death of Jesus, that is, in a real man. . . . [Yet] this does not mean that we could see anything which could really help us in the historical Jesus, without the miracle of God's Spirit who, in the word ofthe witness, opens our blind eyes to the "dimension" in which all these events took place.... [l]t is not the historical Jesus that [Mark] proclaims. It is not a Jesus who could be reconstructed and carried over from his time to our time by historians. [Jesus] can only be proclaimed and witnessed to by a believer like Mark.''* The primary thing we should note about Mark's history of Jesus is that he wrote one at all. Unless we adopt a minority position that might be correct notwith'*'' According to Hans-Georg Gadamer {Truth and Method [trans, and ed. Garrett Barden and John Cumming; New York: Crossroad, 1975] 245; see also 321-25), "In faet, history does not belong to us; we belong to it." ^^ I have worried over this elsewhere: C. Glifton Black, The Disciples aceording to Marie: Markan Redaction in Current Debate (JSNTSup 27; Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1989). " Eduard Schweizer, "Mark's Contribution to the Quest ofthe Historical Jesus," ATS 10 (1964)421-32, here 423, 431.



standing its apparent unlikelihoodthat, say, Matthew''^ or John''^ was the first Gospelwe have no evidence that Paul, Q, or anyone else prior to Mark produced in literary consecution a story of Jesus' life, death, and their immediate aftermath. The familiar suggestion that Mark was an Easter coda with an overblown overture''^ obscures the thematic coherence ofthe Gospel's first eleven chapters with its final five, which nearly six decades of analysis of Mark's composition and literary features have now demonstrated beyond reasonable doubt. With Mark the recoverable pastness of Jesushis consecutive activity, with a discemible character, in an ancient time and placebecomes important. Apart from its procedure in accordance with theistic faith and not a-theistic rationalismthe critical qualification invoked above by Eduard SchweizerMark could be justifiably regarded as the first who, by his work, sallied forth in quest of the Jesus of first-century Palestinian historywhich is not synonymous with "the historical Jesus" or "Jesus reconstructed in accordance with modem historical criticism." Mark thus places a question mark beside any attempt, ancient or modem, to reduce Jesus of Nazareth to a religious cipher, a bloodless repository of revealed knowledge (the Gospel of Thomas), or a mythic redeemer of a thousand faces (Joseph Campbell).'" Also notable in Mark's narrative is the peculiar manner in which it deals with questions of authority and warrant. The NT's Second Gospel makes no claim of authorship (cf John 21:24), nor offers any reason for accepting its account's reliability (cf Luke 1:1-4). When compared with ancient histories or biographies compared even with literature of other genres in the NT (see Acts 1:1-4; Gal 1:1-2; 2 Pet 1:1 ; Rev 1:4-l 1)Mark's nonchalance regarding its own bona fides makes of this Gospel an unusual literary product for its time. The authentication of Mark's Gospel extends no further than its claim to present "the beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ" (1:1); its only supporting corroboration lies in a suggested correspondence ( 1:2) of the Gospel's earliest narrative segment (1:4-11) with Jewish Scripture (Exod 23:20; Mai 3:1; Isa 40:3). One might say that, with this evangelist, we encounter a pure instance of Collingwood's idea of the historical imagination as "self-dependent, self-determining, and self-justifying," save for the fact that the author of Mark fades entirely from the scene, being present through" William R. Farmer, The Synoptic Problem: A Critical Analysis (New York: Macmillan, 1964). * John A. T. Robinson, The Priority of John (London: SCM, 1985). . " KMer (So-Called HistoricalJesus, 80 n. 11) states: "To state the matter somewhat provoeatively, one eould eall the Gospels passion narratives with extended introductions." '" Joseph Campbell, The Hero with a Thousand Faces (2nd ed.; Princeton, NJ: Prineeton University Press, 1968). Similarly, Georg Streeker ("The Historieal and Theologieal Problem ofthe Jesus Question," Toronto Journal of Theology 6 [1990] 201-23, here 215) observes: "the historieal eoneretion of the kerygma in the Gospels means that the Jesus event is attested extra nos of faith, as a given which must exclude from itself every [purely] subjeetive understanding of faith."



out the narrative only as an unidentified narrator. The one figure in the Second Gospel who, indisputably, is self-dependent, self-determining, and self-justifying is God, who privately, albeit infrequently, acclaims Jesus as his Son (1:11; 9:7).^' The vital point of intersection between God and Jesus is the subject matter of Jesus' preaching: the kingdom of God (1:14-15), already irrupting into everyday life (4:134). Nowhere in Mark does Jesus act as an autonomous agent: "Doing the will of God" is the only consequential criterion, for Jesus or for others (3:35; 14:36); his answer to questions is based on an intuitive penetration of Scripture's underlying intent (7:6-23; 10:2-9, 17-22; 12:18-37); "the Son of man goes as it is written of him" (14:21), toward rejection and vindication divinely ordained (8:21; 9:31; 10:33-34; 14:41-42). It is Jesus' refusal of conventional accreditationdue recognition of status, biblical literalism, astral signsthat repeatedly draws the fangs of his coreligionist antagonists (2:6-9,16-18; 3:1 -6; 6:1 -6a; 8:11-13; 15:29-32). With typical Marcan irony, obsequious entrapment is laced with truth unaccepted and unrecognized: "Teacher, we know that you are honest and don't concem yourself with what others think; for you are no respecter of persons but teach God's way with sincerity" (12:14a). Here we approach a watershed, cascading to the heart of Mark's testimony and its historical handling. Never has a disinterested life of Jesus been written. With his announcement in 1:1, Mark lays his cards face-up on the table before players who prefer to conceal their hands. By declaring his intent as "a beginning of the gospel," Mark calls into question the altemative values of those satisfied with der sichere Gang einer Wissenschaft (Collingwood). The distance between first-century scribes and twenty-first-century historians may be smaller than we suppose. For it is Mark's insistence that whenever the investigator approaches Jesus faithlessly, without trust that Jesus' compass is oriented to the magnetic north of God's will, then Jesus can never be understood. That is the fundamental point Schweizer was making in 1964; it remains true today. Ultimately it matters little whether we dress Jesus as the Cynic sage (Marcus Borg and Burton L. Mack),^^ the peasant revolutionary (differently conjured by S. G. F. Brandon, Richard A. Horsley, and John Dominic Crossan),^^ the frustrated apocalyptist (Allison, Albert
" One could argue, of course, that the God ofthe Second Gospel is nothing more than a mask for the autonomous if invisible evangelist. That is Ludwig Feuerbach's claim: the accusation of bad or at best confused faith by no conviction other than that which resides in the autonomous self (77ie Essence of Christianity [trans. George Eliot; New York: Harper & Row, 1957; Geman orig., 1855]). ^^ Borg, Jesus. A New Vision, Burton L. Mack, Tiie Lost Gospei: The Booii ofQ and Christian Origins (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1993). ^ ^ S. G. F. Brandon, Jesus and the Zeaiots: A Study ofthe Poiitieai Factor in Primitive Christianity (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1967); Richard A. Horsley, Jesus and the Spirai ofVioience: Popuiar Jewish Resistance in Roman Paiestine (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1987); John Dominic Crossan, The Historical Jesus: The Life of a Mediterranean Jewish Peasant (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1991).



Schweitzer, and Johannes Weiss), the "pale Galilean" (Emst Renan),^'' the exemplar of liberal values (Adolf Hamack and, in a feminist key, Elisabeth Schssler Fiorenza),'^ the epitome of God-consciousness (Friedrich Schleiermacher),^* the ethical (Immanuel Kant)^' or mythic ideal (David Friedrich Strauss and Campbell),^^ the mountebank (Reimarus),'' the blasphemer (Capernaum's unnamed scribes [Mark 2:7]), Satan's wizard (Jerusalem's scholars [Mark 3:22]), or in tbe costume of countless other roles in which we may cast him. In every case the rags can be assembled only temporarily before crumbling away, revealing the radical resistance of God's kingdom to all the wissenschaftlich evidence by which we might try to measure it. The deep well into wbich Adolf Hamack was said to bave peered, only to see bis own face staring back at bim,^" is the same as that wbicb Schweitzer exposed tbrougbout tbe nineteenth century before gazing into it bimself. It is as old as Narcissus, as recent as yesterday's Jesus book.^' If Collingwood is correct, that well is tbe historical imagination itself. If Mark is right, it is Jesus, tbe agent of God's apocalyptic sovereignty, wbo reveals to us wbo we really are and whetber our motives are misguidedly religious (3:4-5), timorous (5:34-36), disbelieving (8:11-13), or self-delusional bluster (14:30-31).^^ It is no accident tbat in Mark the

^'' Ernst Renan, The Life of Jesus (New York: Random House, 1927; French orig., 1863). '^ Adolf Hamack, What Is Christianity? (trans. Thomas Bailey Saunders; New York: Harper & Row, 1957 [German orig., 1899-1900]); Elisabeth Schssler Fiorenza, Jesus: Miriam's Child. Sophia s Prophet: Critical Issues in Feminist Theology (New York: Continuum, 1994). '^ Friedrieh Sehleiermaeher, The Life of Jesus (ed. Jaek D. Verheyden; trans. S. MacLean Gilmour; Lives of Jesus; Philadelphia: Fortress, 1975; German orig. posthumously published, 1864). ^' Immanuel Kant, Religion within the Limits of Reason Alone (trans. Theodore M. Greene and Hoyt H. Hudson; New York: Harper & Row, 1960; 2nd German ed., 1794). ^^ David Friedrich Strauss, The Life of Jesus Critically Examined (ed. Peter Hodgson; trans. George Eliot; Lives of Jesus; Philadelphia: Fortress, 1972; German orig., 1835); Campbell, Hero with a Thousand Faces. " Hermann Samuel Reimarus, Fragments (ed. Charles H. Talbert; trans. Ralph S. Fraser; Lives of Jesus; Philadelphia: Fortress, 1972; German orig., 1778). ''" George Tyrrell, Christianity at the Cross-roads (London: Longmans, Green, 1909) 44. *' Of all the reasons to write a book on the Jesus of history, the least persuasive is that it will offer a more historically reliable substitute than the account presented by Mark. Such a claim, whether explicit or tacit, follows from positivist assumptions of nineteenth-century historicism that, although yet to be verified, automatically discount ways of interpreting Jesus in alignment with traditional Christianity. As Robert Morgan argues ("The Historical Jesus and the Theology of the New Testament," in Glory of Christ in the New Testament [ed. Hurst and Wright], 187-206, here 197), "Purely historical constructions of Jesus are theologically at best defective and probably misleading." *^ One might protest that I insist only on eompliant readers of the Gospel, that I accord a privilege to Mark's perspective that disenfranchises other reading communitiessome resistantthat bring different eoncems and goals to the interpretive process. To such a charge I plead not guilty. I am not contending that Mark's perspeetive be accorded plenary privilege, except of course in communities of faith that have already so consented. My point is that if we regard the evangelist as a



only qualification for "getting Jesus right"which for the evangelist amounts to entrance into God's kingdomis not more information but self-renunciation (10:17-31; also 8:34-9:1). The problem is not that we don't know enough about Jesus. The problem lies in the self of the historian, who may know all that is important but refuse to V. An Apocalyptic Conclusion If we are going to stick to this damn quantum-jutnping, then 1 regret that 1 ever had anything to do with quantum theory.^ In spite of creative attempts to tackle the problem,*^ for Jesus' historical inquirers the resurrection remains no-man's-land, the frontier once occupied by miracle stories. The latterembraced so ingeniously by rationalists like Heinrich Eberhard Gottlob Paulus, whose explanations Strauss demolished with palpable relish**seem no longer an occasion for academic apoplexy. That is due in large
colleaguea fully equal partner in conversation and debate with our own subjective biases as historiansthen Mark's Tendenz has a right to be heard and grappled with even if finally repudiated, as ihe evangelist himseif concedes (thus 3:6; 6:3b; 8:17-18; 12:18; 16:7-8). Mark does not obligate any reader to accept his presentation of Jesus; neither do I. That is not the question. At issue, rather, is our respectful invitation to hear the evangelist out before accepting or rejecting his historical assessment. ^' Similarly, Leander E. Keck (Who Is Jesus? Histoiy in Perfect Tense [Studies on Personalities ofthe New Testament; Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2000] 147) observes: "the primary opponent to be overcome [by Jesus' follower] is not an external enemy, as in messianism, but a power intemal to the self" 1 regard Keek's contribution as one of the few "success stories" within recent Questliteratur, precisely because it sidesteps that project's deep flaws and instead offers nuanced rumination on Jesus as presented by the NT. In many ways Keek's book is a historically sophisticated, M'\e.s'c/(a/?/;c/!-conversant exercise in contemporary christology, based on exegesis of Mark by way of Paul (the earliest recorded interpreter of Jesus) and the other Synoptic evangelists (the earliest commentaries on Mark). ^ Erwin Schrdinger, quoted in J. C. Polkinghome, The Quantum World (London: Longman, 1985)53. ^' Recently, note Gerd Theissen and Annette Merz, The Historical Jesus: A Comprehensive Guide (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1998) 474-511. For Ernst Troeltsch, "On the analogy of events known to us we seek by conjecture and sympathetic understanding to explain and reconstruct the past" ("Historiography," in Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics [ed. James Hastings; New York: Scribner, 1922] 716-23, here 718). Theissen and Merz reformulate Troeltsch's analogical axiom to leave open, without possibility of historieal confirmation, the possibility of Jesus' resurrection by comparison with another mystery whose reality no one doubts: death. I doubt how far that refinement can carry the historian, who on such terms is no more able to corroborate the veracity of Easter claims than reports of near-death or postmortem experiences. The analogy also creaks at a critical point: The real tertium comparaiionis is not one mystery (resurrection) with another (death), but a common human experience (cessation of life) with Christian revelation (death's undoing by God). ^^ See Schweitzer, Quest ofthe Historical Jesus, 47-55, 65-90.



measure to their historical contextualization by Gza Vermes, among others, positioning Jesus alongside other Jewish wonder-workers.^^ In Mark's Gospel, however, Jesus' mighty works are ofa piece with his teaching (1:25-27), which includes the Son of Man's death and resurrection (8:31 ; 9:9) but comes repeatedly into focus on the kingdom of God (1:13-15; 9:1). The big question is not how the historian deals with the resurrection, which in Mark is but the climax of a larger apocalyptic scenario (see 13:3-37). The crucial issue is how we shall address a claim for the irruption of God's kingdom in human history. To date, responses to x] aoiXeia TO eo have been understandably guarded, removed by at least one degree from the phenomenon itself and practically identical to those surrounding resurrection. The scholarly drill is familiar: Document from the pseudepigrapha that some ancient Jews accepted such a thing in various ways, then halt because historical reconstruction cannot cope with the validity or spuriousness of religious claims. Let us entertain a thought experiment. If a historian were bold enough, or sufficiently foolhardy, to attempt even provisional description ofthe kingdom's intersection with human history, what sort of image might emerge? It would have to be an ambiguous, even paradoxical picture; at the moment it acquired adequate definition for discursive analysis, the game would be up. Such an image could never be verified as a cluster of activities expressive of God. In theory it could only be falsified as a human fabrication of what mortals think a divine kingdom ought to look like: namely, human goods of an exponential scale beyond reckoning. If it were God's kingdom with which the historian were dealing, then it would of necessity be temporally non sequitur (continuous with the past while disrupting it; now but not yet), circumstantially contradictory of normal experience, and impossible to characterize in positive terms that were not absurd. It would, I suspect, look rather like the depiction of God's kingdom in Mark's Gospel. Grant a historian permission even to address transcendence as it may impinge on history, and Mark's achievement appears formidable indeed. In every major aspect of this GospelJesus' teaching, couched in riddles (4:1-34; 12:1-12); his works, at once blatant yet secreted, unsatisfying, and inexplicable (3:7-12; 4:3541; 5:1-20; 6:45-56; 7:31-37; 8:11-21; 11:13-20); a messiahship crowned by contemptuous execution and God's silence (15:22-39); a vindication announced though never witnessed and immediately hushed (15:38; 16:1-8)ambivalent traces of God's intervention are acknowledged without rational explanation or any verification whatever. At day's end Markproves nothing. It is as though the author realized, as both theologian and historian, that such a kingdom as Jesus presented
'' Gza Vermes, Jesus the Jew: A Historian s Reading ofthe Gospels (London: SCM, 1973); see also E. P. Sanders, Jesus and Judaism (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1985) 157-73; Theissen and Merz, Historicai Jesus, 281-315.



is intrinsically impatient of proof, even or especially for sympathetic readers.*** The evangelist toils in the same twilight zone as Calvin Trillin in his quest for the Buffalo chicken wing. To chronicle the history of Jesus as agent of God's reign, Mark must bend Ranke's famous dictum: Wie es ist und wird werden, das ist wie es eigentlich gewesen, "How it is and is coming to be is essentially how it was." By intuitive understanding, the historian of God's kingdom attempts to convey the inner being ofthe future as it has pushed its way into the past. Such an approach, or any so theologically attuned, the classically trained historian will be tempted to dismiss out of hand. Before doing so, let her remember that, whether consciously or not, she already proceeds from a theological basis: namely, the deistic assumption of a closed system of commonplace cause and effect, subject to the autonomous investigator's analysis and adjudication. Her position is not unlike that ofthe classical physicist, whose deterministic view of mechanical reality, obedient to Isaac Newton and James Clerk Maxwell's laws, were overtumed by Emest Rutherford and Werner Heisenberg's demonstration of the unpredictable instability of a nuclear atom. It was to this now-famous uncertainty principle that Erwin Schrdinger objected in conversations with Niels Bohr in 1926. Even more viscerally repulsed was Albert Einstein: In 1924 he claimed that, if theories renouncing strict atomic causality were upheld, he would "rather be a cobbler, or even an employee in a gaming-house, than a physicist."*^ Although he never quit the laboratory for boot- or bookmaking, at length Einstein gave up his numerous attempts to undermine the uncertainty principle, which has become basic in quantum theory. As Kuhn would say, a paradigm, dominant for centuries, has shifted with revolutionary impact. My last suggestions are offered sans defensiveness or apologetic intent. Adoption of either would betray the Gospel I mean to interpret. By all means let the historian continue to probe ancient Galilee and Jerusalem, Jewish practice and belief in the early centuries of our Common Era, and the dynamics of imperial Rome with its conquered parties. Time-honored studies in those fields invite ongoing

*^ For this reason the present essay offers no sueeor to conservative apologetics, which occasionally plies syllogisms demanding that, if God can perform "supernatural" miracles (N.B. the deist-inspired language), then anything interpretable as intervention in a closed universe must be just that. For help in refming this elarification I am indebted to Markus Bockmuehl. *' Letter to Max and Hedwig Bom, April 29, 1924; quoted in Jrgen Neffe, Einstein: A Biography (trans. Shelley Frisch; New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2007) 335. '" It should go without saying that I cite this shift in the study of physics for illustrative purpose only. A universe characterized by the radieal indeterminacy of quantum mechanics is no more probative for historical procedure or theological veracity than the more predictable conviction that "[the Old One] does not play dice" (Einstein in a letter to Max Bom, December 4, 1926, quoted by Abraham Pais, "Subtle is the Lord. . . "; The Science and Life of Albert Einstein [Oxford: Clarendon; New York: Oxford University Press, 1982] 443).



refinement and occasional reconsideration. When carefully executed, they contribute important knowledge that is interesting on its own terms and needs no other justification. If, however, an investigative shift of quantum magnitude is to occur, the publication of yet another life of Jesus will never make it happen. If after more than two centuries of trial and error we have not yet learned this, then either we are cockeyed optimists or we haven't been paying attention. A quantum jump will take place when some historians summon the requisite intellectual and intestinal fortitude to question their hermeneutical assumptions and, as a consequence, reckon humbly with a divine eschatology that explodes modem historiography." As ever, historians will need assistance from experts in other fields: not only archaeologists, epigraphers, and numismatists, but also philosophers, theologians, and perhaps even poets.^^ Mark, evangelist and historian, stands ready to assist, for he was the first to make such an attempt. The results, impossible to predict, will surely surprise.

" For provocative reflections in this vein, see Paul S. Minear, The Bible and the Historian: Breaking the Silence about God in Biblical Studies (Nashville: Abingdon, 2002) 25-84. '^ See, among others, Andrew Louth, Discerning the Mystery: An Essay on the Nature of Theology (Oxford: Clarendon, 1983); C. Stephen Evans, The Historical Christ and the Jesus of Faith: The Incarnational Narrative as History (Oxford: Clarendon, 1996); Reynolds Price, Three Gospels: The Good News according to Mark: The Good News according to John: An Honest Account of a Memorable Life (New York: Scribner, 1996).