A shorter version of this essay appeared in the Springfield News-Leader, October 31, 2016, p. 2C.
That America is divided is news to no one—particularly in this divisive Presidential election year (2016). The body politic seems to agree on very little, and our citizenry as a whole seems to have very little in common. I don't usually stumble about in political issues, but since the election this year has been particularly fractious, it set me to thinking about the ethical center of the country. If there is such a center, what might it be?
Our grand experiment in democracy has not united us, as our current incorrigible political discourse attests. Because America is a nation of immigrants our ethnicity does not unite us—we are, and are destined to remain, a nation of diverse ethnicities with different values and cultural traditions. Not even our vaunted secular educational system succeeds in uniting us because of homeschooling and private religiously-oriented high schools and colleges. Our religion does not unite us in terms of beliefs and values because the melting pot that is America hasn't worked on religion—we don't even do toleration well.
What we seem to have in common is that we are a secular people—that is, our society for the most part is "rationally organized around impersonal and utilitarian values and patterns and receptive to new traits."
The preamble to the U. S. Constitution is a very hopeful statement of the ideals and intent of the founders of the country. It is a vision of a "shining city on a hill," but the reality is far different. Today we are scarcely a "more perfect union," and cannot even agree on the nature of Justice in the social order. Too often domestic tranquility hinges on the neighborhood in which one lives. Congress bickers, but cannot agree on, how much or how little should be provided for the common defense. We all want for ourselves and our posterity the blessings of liberty, and do not seem bothered that not all citizens fully share in liberty's blessings.
The only thing we seem to agree on is the emphasis in the preamble on promoting the general welfare, as long as the welfare being promoted is mine—and this is my point: we all agree on the utilitarian value that "my welfare" should be promoted; yet we seem unaware that a government formed "of the people, by the people, and for the people" comes at some individual personal cost; put simply: freedom is not completely free.
A representative democracy, and the high ideals of the preamble to the constitution, can only succeed if they aim at working for all citizens, and that means concessions are required on everyone's part. Hence the goal is not "my welfare" but should be "our common welfare." Economic benefits must aim always at providing for the common good. An economic rising tide must "raise the boats of all citizens" to be successful. The traditions and beliefs of a religious majority cannot be mandated so as to compromise the religious traditions of minority groups. In other words, for a democratic society to function toleration is required. The goal is to achieve the greatest amount of liberty under the law for the greatest number of people.
Politics is the art of the possible, which always involves compromise. Everybody gets a little and gives a little in return. In a democracy the most successful politician is the one skilled at deal making, for s/he moves the country forward.
A wise man once said, "a state divided cannot stand" (Mark 3:24-25). We would do well to heed his caution, and seek common ground.
Missouri State University
Charles W. Hedrick signing books and meeting the public at Barnes and Noble Springfield, Missouri on Saturday 10/22/16. Charlie is chatting with Bill Lord, Chaplain (Colonel) U. S. Army (retired).
There are actually other statements in Mark's Gospel that strike me as odd (that is: peculiar, strange, or unexpected), but these two locutions are markedly so. We have come to rely on Mark as the earliest gospel—at least Matthew and Luke wrote their gospels relying on Mark as a source. Luke even noted there were many who had tried their hand at "compiling a narrative" of the doings and sayings of Jesus, so s/he apparently accepted Mark's narrative as the most acceptable of the "many" who wrote (Luke 1:1)—and yet Luke frequently edits out and changes much of Mark's narrative.
FIRST LOCUTION is Mark's obvious exaggeration about John the Baptizer's success with the population of Judea. An exaggeration is a political statement; it is not a historical statement:
And there were going out to him all the region of Judea, and all the people of Jerusalem; and they were being baptized by him in the river Jordan confessing their sins (1:5, Hedrick; see also 1:28, 33).
In the time of Jesus the "region/country" of Judea incorporated the area around Jerusalem extending northward to about the valley of Aijalon and southward to Masada, and included eight to ten villages. The population of the city of Jerusalem during the time of Jesus has been estimated at an upper limit of around 25,000 to 30,000.1 If the population of Jerusalem was only half this number, the idea that every single person in the city and all the villages in the region of Judea were going out, and eventually being baptized by John, is simply not credible. Luke eliminates this verse, but Matthew (3:5) repeats the exaggeration with a slight modification.
Mark borders on another unfortunate exaggeration when he writes: "And [Jesus] could do no mighty work there"; Mark avoids the exaggeration by adding: "except that he laid his hands upon a few sick people and healed them (6:5; see Matthew 13:58 for a more carefully worded statement).
Several translators have completely removed Mark's exaggeration (1:5) in their translations:
From all Judea and Jerusalem crowds of people went to John (TEV)
And they flocked to him from the whole Judean country-side and the city of Jerusalem (NEB)
People from Jerusalem and from all over Judea traveled out into the Judean waste-lands to see and hear John (Living New Testament).
SECOND LOCUTION is found in Mark 4:36. The sentence is ambiguous rendering it difficult to translate. To illustrate the problem here is my literal translation, which follows the Greek word order, with the unclear statement in italics; it is followed by several other translations:
And leaving the crowd they take him as he was in the boat (Hedrick)
And leaving the crowd, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was (RSV)
So leaving the crowd, they took him (just as he was) in the boat (Moffatt)
Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat (NIV)
So they left the crowd and took him with them in the boat where he had been sitting (NEB)
So they left the crowd and took him away in the boat in which he was sitting (Goodspeed)
And when they had sent away the multitude, they took Him along in the boat as He was (NKJ)
And sending away the multitude, they take him even as he was in the ship (Douay)
So they left the crowd, and his disciples started across the lake with him in the boat (TEV)
Translators have taken the odd locution to refer either to Jesus already being in the boat (see Mark 4:2), or to the appearance or condition of Jesus (as he was, NKJ, or just/even as he was: NIV, Moffatt, Douay). Goodspeed and NEB use words other than Mark's in their translation. And TEV simply eliminates the obscure phrase. Both Luke and Matthew, resolve Mark's lack of clarity by having Jesus get into the boat with the disciples when they leave, and thus eliminate the obscure phrase as he was (Luke 8:22; Matthew 8:23).
The larger issue raised by these two odd locutions is the ethics of Bible translation.2 Does the interpreter/translator allow Mark's problematic locutions to remain, or does the interpreter/translator change Mark's text in order to resolve the ambiguity in the interests of maintaining a text suitable for worship, since public reading of the Bible should not raise questions in the minds of the worshippers? To put the matter differently, does the interpreter/translator serve the interests of the church, or serve a historical sense that always demands complete transparency?
Missouri State University
1J. Jeremias, Jerusalem in the time of Jesus (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1968), 84.
2C. W. Hedrick, "Satyrs or Wild Goats. The Politics of Translating the Bible," The Fourth R 24.5 (November –December 2012):21-22, 24.
One hallmark of narrative fiction, which distinguishes the writing of fiction from the writing of history, is the novelist's ability to move in and out of a character's mind and tell the reader what a character is thinking. This shift in the reader's point of view from seeing events from the narrator's perspective to seeing the situation from within a paper-character's mind is a primary feature of the rhetoric1 of fiction by which a flesh and blood author develops characters and furthers the plot of the novel.2 Historians, on the other hand, work with theories as to what constitutes the chronology of past events; in doing so they are obligated to reconstruct their historical plan by a plausible cause and effect sequence. They do not have the luxury of appealing to what a participant in an event was thinking at the time in order to further their reconstruction of events. Historians cannot read the minds of flesh and blood people who are involved in historical events; it is easy, however, for novelists to read the minds of the characters they invent.
The Author of the Gospel of Mark makes extensive use of interior views of a character's thoughts; two of Mark's characters even read the thoughts of other characters in the narrative: Jesus (2:5, 8; 12:15); Pilate (15:10).
A technique the author uses repeatedly throughout the narrative is the feature of registering "astonishment" by characters or groups of characters to the presence of Jesus, to something he has said, or to something he has done (1:27; 2:12; 5:42; 6:51; 7:37; 9:15; 10:26, 32; 11:18; 12:17). Mark also employs this technique with the young man at the empty tomb (16:5, 8). When one is astonished, one is struck with sudden great wonder and surprise. Astonishment is an inner emotional response to some exterior element, and reveals what is going on in the mind of the character. Providing interior views of characters is more prevalent among primitive storytellers, but modern fiction writers are artistically more self-conscious and use a variety of techniques.3
Mark uses the technique excessively, providing access to the inner thoughts of individuals and groups throughout the narrative: Jesus (1:41; 5:30; 6:6, 34; 8:12; 10:14, 21; 11:12; 12:15; 14:33), the scribes (2:6), the disciples (4:41; 6:51-52; 10:41), minor characters (5:29; 14:4; 16:8), Herod (6:20, 26); Peter (9:6; 11:21; 14:72); chief priests and scribes (11:18); chief priests, priests, scribes and elders (11:32; 12:12), David (12:36), Pilate (15:5, 15, 44), Joseph (15:43).
The most extensive instance of the use of an interior view is in the case of Jesus' tortured prayer in Gethsemane (14:34-36) in which he seeks a reprieve from the crucifixion—possibly the most realistic moment in the narrative, but oddly it was not information available to Mark from an outside source.
These interior views provided to the reader by Mark are not traditional lore passed forward over time to the author orally by participants in the actual events. How could anyone have known, for example, what Herod "felt" (6:20, fear; 6:26, sorrow), unless Herod specifically told them? And the prayer of Jesus in Gethsemane may have even been an audible prayer, but Mark clearly rules out the possibility that it was overheard; Jesus was alone and Peter, James, and John were asleep (14:34-41)—hence it becomes an interior view. The interior views can only be accounted for as Mark's literary creations. It might very well be true, for example, that Joseph "took courage" (i.e., had mental or moral strength) in going to Pilate (16:43), but it is not historical data. The observation only represents how Mark wanted the reader to regard his paper-character Joseph in the situation presented in the story.
What should one then say about the Gospel of Mark as historical narration, in light of the fact that Mark uses the conventions and literary techniques of novelistic fiction? Several years ago, I argued that Mark's realism (i.e., how Mark views objective reality) is more akin to literary works portraying a romantic realism (i.e., to works relatively free of realistic verisimilitude) than it is to historical realism.4 Mark's pronounced tendency to inform readers what characters are thinking in his narrative lacks verisimilitude (i.e., lacks in the appearance of truth), because no one can actually read minds, and know precisely what others are thinking—except omniscient narrators who invent characters and have absolute control of events in the novel. Mark appears to be such an omniscient narrator (i.e., knows everything)—even what his characters in the narrative are thinking.
What should a reader think of Mark's reconstruction of the dialogue in the scene where Jesus appears before the High Priest (14:55-65)? Should the dialogue be regarded as what was actually said? Or did Mark the omniscient narrator create it as dialogue readers might expect in that situation?
Missouri State University
1That is the art of speaking and writing effectively.
2Wayne C. Booth, The Rhetoric of Fiction (2nd ed.; Chicago: University of Chicago, 1983), 16-20.
3Laurence Perrine, Perrine's Literature (edited by T. Arp and G. Johnson; 8th ed.; Fort Worth: Harcourt, 2002), 238.
4Hedrick "Realism in Western Narrative and the Gospel of Mark," Journal of Biblical Literature 126.2 (2007): 345-59.