Re: "a" or "the" ?? (Mark 15.39)

From: Mark Goodacre (
Date: Fri Mar 27 1998 - 05:24:05 EST

Jim West wrote:

>Lets all be careful lest we assume that Mark is reporting actual
>historical events. Otherwise soon we will have an entire apocryphal
>gospel on the look on the centurion's face and what color clothing
>he had on, as well as what he had for breakfast. His tone of voice
>is immaterial, for Mark is not interested in the Roman, only in what
>he says. That Mark would have him say, in an insulting way, that
>Jesus was "son of god" (sneer supplied by our apocryphal gospelists)
>goes against the very purpose of the Gospel.

In my post I was discussing the Markan text without any assumptions
about historical accuracy or otherwise of the events concerned. My
suggestion that ALHQWS hOUTOS hO ANQRWPOS hUIOS QEOU HN is intended
to be taken by the reader as sarcastic is not based on speculation
about looks on faces and colour of clothing but on a careful study of
the Markan text, a study that attempts to extricate from one's
mind the contrasting Matthean version and the way that the incident
is played by John Wayne in *The Greatest Story Ever Told* ("Say it
with awe, John").

What has just happened that has led to the Centurion's "confession"?
Jesus utters a despairing lament (ELWI ELWI . . ., v. 34); the people
wonder whether Elijah might come to save him (v. 36), but instead
Jesus simply, with a great cry (FWNHN MEGALHN) EXEPNEUSEN. The
Centurion utters his "confession", Mark is careful to tell us, when
he he has seen the way in which Jesus expired (hOUTWS

There is nothing spectacular about the way in which Jesus dies here.
Quite the contrary. There is nothing in the narrative to suggest
that this is a confession of faith. The skill of the narrative is in
the dramatic irony. Mark interleaves between the narration of Jesus'
death (v. 37) and the narration of the Centurion's "confession" (v.
39) a special insight for the reader alone: the note that TO
Thus the reader knows what the Centurion cannot know, that Jesus'
death brings about the tearing (ESCISQH) of the curtain, just as
earlier in the Gospel the reader is allowed special insight into the
tearing of the heavens (SCIZOMENOS TOUS OURANOS, 1.10, again
associated with Jesus' sonship).

Jim West:

>Interpretation should keep in mind such things as authorial intent
>or the text becomes subject rather than object.

I agree that we should not dispense the attempt to ascertain
authorial intent. One of the ways of working towards this is to look
at the way in which the narrative has been constructed, but pursuing
this will take us away from standard b-greek discussion.

Jim West subsequently asked:

>But how can we know irony unless we can see their faces and hear
>their tone of voice? the whole tack that approaches the gospels in
>this way seems to me to be eisegetical rather than exegetical. For,
>quite simply, there is absolutely no way to demonstrate such irony
>except by a reading into the text something that is not necessarily

I disagree. One of the ways in which we can attempt to discover how
the author intended us to take the text is to look to see whether
there are other signs of the same factors elsewhere, specifically in
this case the Passion Narrative. Now Mark's Passion Narrative is
full of dramatic irony. Let me illustrate it just a little:

Mark 14.65: the soldiers ask Jesus to "Prophesy!", not knowing what
the reader knows, that they are fulfilling the threefold prophecy of
Jesus that he would suffer many things (8.31 etc.).

Mark 15.17-18: Jesus is clothed in a purple cloak, given a crown of
thorns and called "King of the Jews". The reader knows that Jesus is
indeed King, but the actors in the drama do not realise how
"true" their mocking actions are.

Sorry if this takes us away a little from grammar etc., but perhaps
it shows that in order to ascertain meaning, we sometimes need not
only a careful reading of a text, but also a careful reading of its

With good wishes

Dr Mark Goodacre
  Dept of Theology, University of Birmingham

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