After receiving a recent review of our book Reading Mark in Context: Jesus and Second Temple Judaism, we wanted to make the table of contents more accessible. We are quite pleased with the significant line-up of excellent Gospels scholars.

Foreword: N. T. Wright

  1. Rule of the Community and Mark 1:1–13: Preparing the Way in the Wilderness (Rikk Watts)
  1. The Parables of Enoch and Mark 1:14–2:12: The Authoritative Son of Man (Kristian A. Bendoraitis)
  1. Josephus and Mark 2:13–3:6: Controversies with the Scribes and Pharisees (Mary Marshall)
  1. The Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs and Mark 3:7–35: Apocalyptic and the Kingdom (Elizabeth E. Shively)
  1. 4 Ezra and Mark 4:1–34: Parables on Seeds, Sowing, and Fruit (Klyne Snodgrass)
  1. The Testament of Solomon and Mark 5:1–20: Exorcism and Power over Evil Spirits (Michael F. Bird)
  1. Mishnah Zabim and Mark 5:21–6:6a: The Rules on Purity (David E. Garland)
  1. Josephus and Mark 6:6b–29: Herod Antipas’s Execution of John the Baptist (Morten Hørning Jensen)
  1. 4QConsolations and Mark 6:30–56: Images of a New Exodus (Holly Beers)
  1. The Letter of Aristeas and Mark 7:1–23: Developing Ideas of Defilement (Sarah Whittle)
  1. Jubilees and Mark 7:24–37: Crossing Ethnic Boundaries (Kelly R. Iverson)
  1. The Damascus Document and Mark 8:1–26: Blindness and Sight on “the Way” (Suzanne Watts Henderson)
  1. Sirach and Mark 8:27–9:13: Elijah and the Eschaton (Sigurd Grindheim)
  1. Tobit and Mark 9:14–29: Imperfect Faith (Jeanette Hagen Pifer)
  1. Rule of the Community and Mark 9:30–50: Discipleship Reordered (Jeffrey W. Aernie)
  1. Mishnah Giṭṭin and Mark 10:1–12: Marriage and Divorce (David Instone-Brewer)
  1. Eschatological Admonition and Mark 10:13–31: Riches, Poverty, and the Faithful (Mark D. Mathews)
  1. Rule of the Congregation and Mark 10:32–52: Glory and Greatness in Eschatological Israel (John K. Goodrich)
  1. 1 Maccabees and Mark 11:1–11: A Subversive Entry into Jerusalem (Timothy Gombis)
  1. Psalms of Solomon and Mark 11:12–25: The Great Priestly Showdown at the Temple (Nicholas Perrin)
  1. The Animal Apocalypse and Mark 11:27–12:12: The Rejection of the Prophets and the Destruction of the Temple (David L. Turner)
  1. Josephus and Mark 12:13–27: The Sadducees, Resurrection, and the Law (Jason Maston)
  1. Psalms of Solomon and Mark 12:28–44: The Messiah’s Surprising Identity and Role (Mark L. Strauss)
  1. The Parables of Enoch and Mark 13:1–37: Apocalyptic Eschatology and the Coming Son of Man (Jonathan T. Pennington)
  1. Mishnah Pesaḥim and Mark 14:1–25: The Passover Tradition (Amy Peeler)
  1. The Babylonian Talmud and Mark 14:26–52: Abba, Father! (Nijay K. Gupta)
  1. The Parables of Enoch and Mark 14:53–73: Blasphemy and Exaltation (Darrell L. Bock)
  1. Philo of Alexandria and Mark 15:1–15a: Pontius Pilate, a Spineless Governor? (Helen K. Bond)
  1. 11QTemplea and Mark 15:15b–47: Burying the Crucified (Craig A. Evans)
  1. 2 Maccabees and Mark 16:1–8: Resurrection as Hope for the Present (Ben C. Blackwell)

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Simon J. Joseph (University of California, Los Angeles) has reviewed our Reading Mark in Context: Jesus and Second Temple Judaism in the Review of Biblical Literature.  He has some fair notes about the volume and ends his review thus:

Relocating the Gospel of Mark in its wider Jewish context, the essays in Reading Mark in Context introduce readers to the study of Mark within the literary, historical, and theological contexts that it both drew from and distinguished itself from. Although many of the essays reinscribe Mark’s promise/fulfillment paradigm (in which Jesus fulfills Jewish messianic prophecies), that is to be expected given the authorial Tendenz of the Markan narrative . The goal of this volume was not to distinguish between the Markan Jesus, a historical Jesus, and the Jesus of history but to illuminate the literary world of the Markan narrative. The editors and authors are to be commended for this collection of well-written and accessible essays, each of which illuminates the Markan context without unnecessarily complicating its discussion with questions of literary dependence. Readers will appreciate the introduction outlining the volume’s methodological approach and structure, along with its brief overview of Second Temple literature and a helpful glossary of key terms. I strongly recommend these essays for “beginning and intermediate students” of the gospels, not simply because they successfully contextualize the Markan texts in their wider literary contexts, but more so because they drive home the important message that a contextual reading of Mark requires attending to the creative complexity of its relationship with(in) Second Temple Judaism.

We got a few responses from our Reading Romans in Context: Paul and Second Temple Judaism volume that we were just beholden to the New Perspective and its fundamental problem—letting Jewish texts determine the meaning of inspired revelation. (That said, if they had actually read the volume or understood the New Perspective, they would have not so easily made that claim about our volume.) The challenge seems a little less pressing when you consider Jesus in his Jewish environment like we have with Reading Mark in Context: Jesus and Second Temple Judaism, but even then I (Ben) have received a comments from some quite hesitant to allow any uninspired text to shape our understanding of the Bible. That sounds spiritual, but the historical study of the Bible is foundational for all serious interpretations. Whether one follows the historical-critical method or its evangelical cousin the historical-grammatical method, the key idea is history.

We don’t have any problem studying the practices of the cult of Artemis in Ephesus to help us understand Luke’s portrayal of Paul’s experience there in Acts 19. We don’t have any problem looking at archeological dig sites to help understand the daily life of Jews and their Decapolis neighbors to understand Jesus’ early ministry in Galilee. In fact, my evangelical compatriots often rightly appeal to the distinctly historical nature of the narrative accounts in the Gospels and Acts to argue for their reliability. In these cases, allowing for a historical boundedness to meaning does not entail that we are letting uninspired knowledge determine the meaning of the Bible. Rather than a hindrance, we think of these as aids. In the same way, we have a treasure trove of Jewish texts that give us a window into historical perspectives of Jews contemporaneous with the New Testament. Why would ignore this rich variety that we find in the Apocrypha, Pseudepigrapha, Dead Sea Scrolls, Philo, Josephus, etc.? These help us gain invaluable historical information about the first century Jewish experience.

When you read Reading Mark in Context, you will see that Jesus and Mark disagree with or modify Jewish categories as much as they accept them. As a result, we are not allowing these other texts to control our understanding of the Bible. They do, however, enlighten our understanding. If we are concerned with bad interpretation, I am much more worried about those who ignore historical information and therefore import their own very modern conceptions back onto Jesus and the New Testament. As they try to avoid letting actual historical documents determine the meaning, they end up committing a worse error by allowing their own opinion to determine the meaning (i.e., eisegesis). God chose to reveal himself in Jesus in a Second Temple Jewish setting for a reason, and it behooves the serious interpreter to understand the historical context in which God’s revelation occurred so we can understand it better. Reading Mark in Context won’t uncover all the historical issues, but it can at least tangibly introduce you and your students to Jesus’ world.

Just the other day a new student asked me (Ben) about studying the New Testament and early Christianity. They were wondering how you study early Christianity because we have relatively few sources for knowing what they thought and practiced. However, when I noted exponential growth in the variety of material we have from the second, third, and forth centuries, the problem is not too little material from these early Christians to process but too much material. Of course, it’s not really too much, but there is so much that putting all the data together can be quite complex.

Since that is the nature of later Christian material, they offered that it’s too bad that we don’t have that same diversity with Jewish material for understanding the New Testament. While again we don’t have “too much,” we have quite a bit of theological, liturgical, historical, philosophical, mystical, narrative, etc. texts from Jews that lived within a similar time frame as the New Testament. The problem isn’t so much the limited amount of material that we have, the problem for students interpreting the New Testament is that they are almost completely unaware of the existence of the material, much less its breadth and depth.

9780310534457I was so much on board when the idea was initially brought up for Reading Romans in Context and now Reading Mark in Context because after seminary I was partially aware that this world existed, but I didn’t know anything about specific texts or much about particular ideas. Our goal with these is to introduce students to this world by making this material accessible to graduate and undergraduate level students. We provide glimpses into that world to help people know it exists and to get a sense of some of its flavor. With just glimpses this means that each chapter is selective, just covering one central topic. Of course, the depth and variety of each biblical passage means there’s much more that could be explored, but we hope this will whet the appetite to study these issues further.