In Luke’s Gospel the two disciples who traveled to Emmaus didn’t recognize Jesus until they saw him through the breaking of the bread. For many Christians, this is how Jesus is seen and heard every week. This pandemic has taken away that experience away from them. Instead, we’re left with something closer to Mark’s open-ended account of the Resurrection. We’re trembling with fear. We don’t understand what’s happening. We haven’t experienced closure.
The Evangelist Matthew reminds us in this time that Jesus’ final words include the promise that he’ll be with us always, even to the end of the age. The Evangelist John reminds us that like Mary Magdalene, the Apostle to the Apostles, we can hear the Resurrected One’s voice if we listen as we’re addressed by name.
In our sacred Scriptures we have four similar but unique interpretations of the Resurrection. This year it’s important to remember that; it’s important to remember that we don’t experience the risen Lord the same; it’s important that even our individual experiences of Easter can change.
This Easter isn’t ruined. It’s different. It’ll add new texture to your understanding of the event and it’s meaning. Next year we’ll break bread again. But this year we experience fear and trembling, we hope for the the divine presence, and we listen for the Voice
Today’s lesson: lesson planning can sometimes take much, much longer when you know you won’t be present with your students to guide them. I’m preparing my students to read through the Arrest, Trial, and Crucifixion Narratives of the Gospels. In previous years, I had the ability to read with them so I could clarify things but this year that won’t be the case. Therefore, my ‘scripting’ (as my wife calls it) has had to be far more in-depth. And that doesn’t even include the videos I plan on recording this weekend where I’ll read through these passages so they can follow along with me.
On the other hand, I can’t complain. Basically, I get paid to study the Gospels, think about the Gospels, and write lessons about the Gospels. Not a bad gig!
This year I’ve been cosponsoring our school’s brand new Philosophy Club. Today at 4 PM (CST) we’re supposed to have a club meeting via Google Hangouts/Meet put on by our student leadership. Should be interesting! I think it’s great that our students want to continue to see each other and interact with each other. Honestly, I’m glad they miss one another. I’m glad they miss school. As it has been said many times: you never know what you’ve got until it’s gone.
MatthewD.C. Larsen, Gospels Before the Book (Oxford: OUP, 2018).
Well, now I don’t know to teach the Synoptic Problem to my students in a few weeks. This isn’t to say that Matthew D.C. Larsen’s Gospels Before the Book has overthrown the broadly accepted Two-Source Hypothesis but he has complicated it. In essence, Larsen contends that (what we call) the Gospel of Mark is not a finished narrative like the Gospels of Matthew, Luke, and John, but instead Hypomnemata—basically, written notes that function as the scripting of oral traditions.
Larsen begins by explaining the ‘publication’ process on antiquity (obviously, very different from the post-Gutenberg world) where texts went through several stages before being ‘ready’ for public consumption. Ancients like Cicero, Pliny the Younger, Plutarch, Galen, and others have left us examples and discussion of texts that were in process. According to Larsen, Mark is one of those texts in such a way that many first- and second-century people may not have interpreted the Gospel of Matthew as something radically different from Mark but instead a ‘public-eyes ready’ version of Mark’s ‘notes’ (hypomnemata). Chapters 2 ‘Unfinished and Less Authored Texts’, 3 ‘Accidental Publication and Postpublication Revision’, and 4 ‘Multiple Authorized Versions of the Same Work’ explain these ideas in-depth.
Chapter 5 ‘The Earliest Readers of the Gospel according to Mark’ supports Larsen’s theory that Mark is hypomnemata by appealing to how Papias, Irenaeus of Lyons, Clement of Alexandria, and Eusebius appear to explain Mark differently than they do Matthew, Luke, and John, hinting that they knew it was a lesser developed text, even when it begins to receive ‘book’ status by Irenaeus.
Chapter 6 ‘The Earliest Users of the Gospel according to Mark’ focuses heavily upon Matthew’s use of Mark and the aforementioned claim that many readers of Matthew wouldn’t have seen it as being something radically distinct from what we call Mark since almost every story in Mark is found in Matthew.
Chapter 7 ‘Reading Mark as Unfinished’ is the part of the book that has me scrambling for how to teach about the relation of one Gospel to another. For a few years I’ve embraced the idea that the abrupt ending of Mark is a literary device that’s part of a complicated narrative, but Larsen makes a strong argument that the organization of Mark points not to a developed narrative but five sets of notes with key words and ideas that hold them together. This means the abrupt ending is just how the fifth set ends, not some edgy, post-modern conclusion where the women don’t tell anyone of Jesus’ resurrection leaving this responsibility to the ‘reader’. Bummer.
If you’re interested in the Gospels, their composition, and their reception-history, this is a must-read in my opinion. Very thought-provoking and one of the few books out there that I would say has shifted how most scholars will write about the Gospels for the foreseeable future. In other words, it’s a ‘game-changer’.
Sunday was Day 3 of AAR/SBL 2019. I began my day at the ‘Comparative Studies in Religion Unit’ where the question was being asked whether ‘comparative studies’ was still a good approach to teaching religion. Many continue to say yes. Some advocate for teaching ‘worldview’ which would focus more on various lived experiences found in varieties of religion: myth, ritual, community, etc. Others seem committed to the ‘Great Traditions’ (Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, and other -isms) for heuristic purposes. Mixed into this discussion were questions regarding whether the best focus would be cultivating empathy, or creating global citizens, and how these foci might alter the shape of a course.
My second unit on Sunday was ‘Hinduism Unit and Teaching Unit’ where they discussed ‘Teaching Religion in Translation’. Being that I don’t know Sanskrit, Pali, or other relevant languages, I hoped to just hear the expert’s advice on choosing a good translation. Some preferred translations were given and the general feeling was that more translations are better than one. Not sure this benefits me much since I cover so much territory I can’t spend a lot of time on the Upanishads or Dhammapada, so I don’t see myself doing a lot of side-by-side translation comparisons. Maybe someday our school will lengthen and divide our current ‘World Religion’ offering and then that might be more feasible.
Yesterday I socialized, bought books, and attended one Biblical Studies session: The Synoptic Gospels/New Testament Textual Criticism group was discussing Matthew Larsen’s Gospels Before the Book. I’m about half-way through it, so it was good to hear some soft push-back on his thesis before I got to the end. It gives me some things to consider.
AAR/SBL 2019 comes to an end this morning. I won’t be attending any more sessions. It’s time for some vacation before school begins again next week.