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Was the Gospel of Mark an Apocalyptic Text?

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A pioneering social-scientific approach to Mark’s Gospel was found in Howard Clark Kee’s Community of the New Age: Studies in Mark’s Gospel (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1977). Although he accepted the form critical view that there was no exact analogue for Mark’s Gospel among the ancient literature and that Mark created a new genre for the church (17-30), Kee found some parallels to apocalyptic texts like the book of Daniel (65).  When a minority group is reduced to political impotence through social ostracism or political oppression, they may question their place in the social order and long for the transformation of society to accord with what the group understanding of the divine will (cf. Talcott Parsons on the intellectualism of the non-privileged group). Apocalyptic thought expects that the present historical crisis will be overcome by divine victory over evil forces, often leads to a group’s rethinking of interpersonal social bonds or older traditions (scripture) or relationships to socio-political structures, and encourages unwavering commitment (67, 70-4). Other Judean groups responded to the imperial situation differently – collaboration (Herodians), passive acquiescence while enforcing group purity boundaries (Pharisees), withdrawal from society (Essenes), or revolt (97-9). Mark chose an open inclusive community that saw itself as a new covenant community, was alienated from the main body and sectarian groups within Second Temple Judaism, and renounced political power through acquiescence to the tribute (Mark 12:17) (100).

While eschatological enthusiasm is certainly a part of the evangelist’s worldview, the problem with Kee’s thesis is that Mark’s Gospel lacks many of the standard features of apocalyptic texts such as pseudonymous authors, angelic guides, otherwordly journeys, coded symbolism of mythical beasts, and elaborate timetables. If anything, Jesus’ discourse in Mark 13 discourages confusing wars, natural disasters, or persecution with the end itself and insists that even the Son did not know the exact day or hour of judgment (13:32), giving little incentive to Christians in the past or present who want to make apocalyptic calendars.

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