SOUNDING THE ESCHATOLOGICAL ALARM: CHAPTER THIRTEEN IN THE PERFORMANCE OF MARK A paper prepared for presentation at the Society of Biblical Literature Annual Meeting Atlanta, Georgia; November 23, 2003 Whitney Shiner George Mason University All rights reserved.
Sounding the Eschatological Alarm - 2 use.2 The instructor reads short sections from the text and then explains the meaning. The use of scripture in both synagogue and church is a variation on this model. Depending on the type of material, the students may have been expected to memorize sections. I would expect that books like the Wisdom of Ben Sira or the Gospel of Thomas would have been used this way. A third group are intended for private study. They provide the readers with material that they can use in their own oral performances. Books like Plutarch’s Sayings of Kings and Commanders and Sayings of Romans appear to be of this type. Competent speakers in the ancient Mediterranean world were expected to have at there disposal a large stock of quotations from the poets and famous persons which they could insert into their performances at appropriate times. This is true not only for those making formal presentations, but among the better educated it was expected in more informal situations as well, such as discussions at symposia. These books may have served largely as compendiums of material that readers could memorize for use later in their own oral performances.
Sounding the Eschatological Alarm - 3 in the performance and the school commentary mode. On the other hand, school books or books for private study could not usually be successfully adapted for performance.
Sounding the Eschatological Alarm - 5 Reading a speech was considered to be in bad form.6 Quintilian suggests that speakers write out their speeches and then memorize them word for word. If one’s memory is weak, however, he allows one to memorize only the general structure of the speech.7 For both extemporaneous speaking and the reproduction of previously composed material, a good memory was essential, and as a result memory was one of the standard topics covered in the rhetorical handbooks.
Sounding the Eschatological Alarm - 6 A number of the rhetorical handbooks describe a system used for the memorization of speeches in which images representing either words or ideas are fit into a previously memorized architectural structure or a landscape.8 This allows the speaker to keep a large amount of material in a fixed order. Since the handbooks assume that the system is familiar and since all Greek and Roman education involved a great deal of memorization, the system was probably learned in the early years of a child’s schooling.9 I have argued previously that the structure of Mark’s gospel can be remembered by placing sections and episodes on a very simple symmetrical structure such as a temple front.10 The composition of Mark would have taken place through a combination of plotting major sections, each designed to make a few principle points, onto the structure and then plotting the episodes in each section onto the same structure.
Sounding the Eschatological Alarm - 7 memorize. The structure would have been memorized for performance. I doubt very much that it would have been memorized word for word. There are few places where the specific wording is very important, such as the verbal connections between the baptism and crucifixion scenes. The author probably kept in mind the connections he or she wanted to make. Such verbal connections were probably lost in the performances of others. I think that the flexible way that Matthew and Luke treat Markan episodes is very similar to the way performers of Mark would treat the episodes. The high value placed on improvisation in the rhetorical culture of the Greco- Roman world makes is highly probable that performers felt free to add or subtract material in order to fit their specific audience and the occasion of the performance.11 The architectural memory system allows the performer to depart from the set outline of the narrative and to pick it up again after the addition or deletion of material.
Sounding the Eschatological Alarm - 8 The gospel probably developed over time through progressive elaborations of a passion narrative in repeated performances. Paul takes his audience to task as “foolish Galatians, before whose eye’s Jesus Christ was publicly exhibited as crucified” (Gal 3:1). Hans Dieter Betz has recognized that the public exhibition to which the passage refers was most likely a vivid narration of the passion. The goal of narrative according to the rhetorical handbooks is to make the audience feel present at the actual event. Good narrative is a dramatic reenactment.12 The reminder of this portrayal serves as a link between baptismal language about being crucified with Christ and rhetorical questions that couple the reception the Spirit with hearing and faith. This line of argument suggests that Paul associated the passion narrative with baptism and the reception of the Spirit. He implies that the passion narrative should have had a profound impact on his audience and give them a proper understanding of the relationship between the cross of Christ and salvation.
Sounding the Eschatological Alarm - 9 were added to relate the narrative to the baptismal setting. The architectural memory system would allow Mark to reorganize his material mentally into progressively more complicated versions. He could simply shift episodes into a different organizational structure every time that additional narrative material was added.
Sounding the Eschatological Alarm - 10 Now I would like to turn to some observations about the eschatological discourse within the performance of the gospel as a whole. These observations are based on my investigation of speaking styles in the Roman world and my own dramatic readings of the Gospel.