A commenter by the name of Sid Martin left me a note about a forthcoming book he is writing (self-publishing?) on the Gos. Mark which looks to be absolutely dreadful. Here is the ‘about the book’ section quoted in full:
This book unearths the hidden history buried beneath the surface story in the earliest Gospel. Mark is a myth about the history of salvation. Jesus is a process, not a person, the process of God saving, which is what the name Jesus means. Jesus is a symbol of salvation. God is the savior. Jesus is the savior, not incarnate, but personified. That is the secret of the savior. The Gospel of Mark is an allegory of the history of Israel from
the Essenic point of view. Jesus is a serial composite character. Jesus first is Joshua, then David, then the Teacher of Righteousness, who founded the Essenes. There is not just one historical Jesus, there are many historical Jesuses. Be prepared for an exciting adventure in literary archeology. What we are doing is no less than unearthing the hidden history buried beneath the surface story in the earliest Gospel. Nearly everyone agrees that Mark was the first Gospel written. Matthew and Luke are rewrites of Mark. They preserve the basic story in Mark and repeat much of Mark nearly word for word. The story of Jesus is to a remarkable degree dependent on the Gospel of Mark. The Myth of the Messiah in Mark — that is where the story of Jesus really came from. Let’s see how Mark made the whole thing up.
If you’re not completely sold on the idea that this book will be a huge mistake, read his chapter summary. What’s more is that he attempts to link in some arguments I’m sympathetic with (i.e., syncretism, early Christianity, intertextuality) but the way he presents his case shows his utter ignorance of these concepts and how they are applied to New Testament.
For example, in his above overview, he writes that the Gos. Mark is “the history of Israel from the Essenic point of view.” And he attempts to present various reasons for this claim, including some rather bizarre presumptions like:
“Mark has “Jesus” confront the Pharisees over their differences with the Essenes.”
But Jesus never mentions the Essenes. In fact the Essenes don’t show up at all in the New Testament. It is also narrowed thinking to think that Essenes were the only sect who took full ritual baths before eating–there were potentially hundreds of Jewish sects in the region during the Roman period and we only know of about thirty. The Therapeutae, mentioned by Philo, were so similar to the Essenes discussed in Josephus and Pliny the Elder that some have argued that they are one and the same, the difference being that one allows for marriage while the other does not. The same could be said of the Pharisees. In fact, it may have been that the Essenes were a splinter sect from the Pharisees and thus some would have found them to be indistinguishable from each other—another reason why they have no mention in the New Testament. These points all make Martin’s whole argument here a little moot.
But there is more. There is always more when a dilettante attempts to write about a subject about which they are unfamiliar. The fact is we don’t know for sure if the Dead Sea Scrolls were actually written by Essenes or some other sectarian group (in fact it is becoming more accustomed to call the Dead Sea Scrolls ‘sectarian’ rather than ‘Essenic’ writings). Indeed, all our contemporary accounts of their sect, and those written about them later by Christian theologian Hippolytus, for example, suggest that the Essenes were not confined to one region but to many regions—in every town there were communities of Essenes to be found. Lawrence Schiffman takes it a step further and argues that the sect at Qumran weren’t Essenes at all, but Zadokites, a sect similar to the Sadduccees. Further complicating matters, archaeological evidence at Qumran have contradicted certain laws and customs found in the Dead Sea Scrolls, making some scholars question whether or not the scrolls were composed at the site or somewhere else, implying that someone or a group of people just hid the scrolls at the site after the fall of the temple.
Additionally, it may be true that these are not a single collection of sectarian texts but a library of texts which contain content from all sorts of perspectives, which may be why we find competing eschatologies in the scrolls (the place of wisdom vs. the place of law in a community, for example) along with competing messianic expectations (heavenly messiahs vs. Davidic messiahs vs. two messiahs vs. just one messiah). Granted, these may represent the changing of theological positions over time, but that alone does not explain away these discrepancies.
I don’t see any sort of engagement with any of these issues in Martin’s book and I suspect that in the actual text we will not see any either. And this is a central part of his thesis! Imagine what one can find when examining his supporting claims; like his woeful understanding of the healing of the Canaanite woman in Mark 5 as part of a continuing motif of the reversal of the status of the poor and unclean (he falsely labels the woman a “Jerusalem”—not sure where he picks this up from). The woman is bleeding—not as a result of Herod’s bloody reign, as Martin falsely suggests—as a result of a motif contra Lev. 15.25, which suggests that she is unclean and unable to be touched. When she falls upon Jesus in faith and is purged of her uncleanliness, it is again a part of the larger play on a series of healings of the unclean, the poor, and destitute through faith and works, so central to the message of Mark 5. God giveth these sufferings and God taketh away, as it were, through the faith of his followers.
The point in all this is simple: if you aren’t going to deal with the complexities of the scholarship of your subject, then don’t write a controversial book on it. If you don’t know the subject well enough, don’t write on it. You’ll confuse people, mislead them, and make the work for real historians more difficult.