Review: The Rhetoric of Jesus in the Gospel of Mark

rhetoric of jesus mark

The Rhetoric of Jesus in the Gospel of Mark, David M. Young and Michael Strickland. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2017.

Summary: A study of the four major discourses in the Gospel of Mark analyzing them in the context of first century Greco-Roman rhetoric.

When form criticism was used in biblical studies, the biblical text was divided into the textual fragments that represented to the critics the fundamental units out of which the text was built from various sources. With the advent of rhetorical criticism, the concern is less with identifying discrete textual units than considering the work of the writer or narrator in the text as we have it.

In this work the writers apply the study of rhetoric to the four major discourses in the Gospel of Mark (Mark 3:22–30, 4:1–34, 6:53–7:23, 11:27–13:37). The writers assert that the teaching of rhetoric, or at least familiarity with examples of well-crafted rhetoric was widespread in the world of both Jesus and Mark, and their hearers or readers would recognize rhetorical strategies and appreciate them. This work utilizes a methodology developed by George Kennedy that begins with establishing the rhetorical unit and situation, then engages in detailed, line by line, study of the text, noting rhetorical elements and devices such as parable and chiasmus, and then overviews the rhetoric of the discourse, whether it succeeds, and the implications for speaker and audience.

The writers then employ this methodology with the four discourses, as indicated above. Space precludes a summary of the analyses of each passage, but the writers reached several salient conclusions. One is that at both the primary level of Jesus the speaker, and the secondary level of the narrative, these discourses are well-crafted rhetoric, that are effective as persuasive works. In particular, each establishes the authority of Jesus against the challenges of the teachers of the law.  The writers particularly note the terse, economical character of Jesus’ speech and his effective use of parables, enthymemes, and other rhetorical devices his listeners would readily have recognized. Finally, they note the consistent pattern of movement from public discourse to private explanation with the disciples.

The work includes a glossary of terms in the end matter, and the reader not well-versed in rhetorical studies would do well to bookmark this as they study the text. The writers also offer an appendix on a brief history of Greco-Roman rhetoric. Some readers without this background might find reading this first to be helpful. Familiarity with Greek is helpful, and the analyses do go into fine detail on rhetorical structures in the text. The reward for this rigorous work is an appreciation of the rhetoric of Jesus and the rhetorical art in Mark. We see in finer detail how each element in these discourses persuade us of the authority of Jesus. This work is helpful both for the teacher of this material, and other scholars of Mark studying the discourses.

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through Edelweiss. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

One thought on “Review: The Rhetoric of Jesus in the Gospel of Mark

  1. Pingback: The Month in Reviews: January 2018 | Bob on Books

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