Inevitability

Binding30 years in and Ched Myers’ Binding the Strong Man: A Political Reading of Mark’s Story of Jesus (1988) is more relevant than ever. This week’s commentary homes in on Mark 8:27-38.

Mark will tell us that it was “necessary” for John/Elijah (Mk 9:12:f) to challenge the highest powers and be executed by them; so too with Jesus, for that is the “script” Yahweh has given to the servant/prophets, as Mark will make clear through his parable of the tenants.

Secondly, Jesus drops Peter’s Messiah title and replaces it with “Human One.” Mark has already established within his own story that the Human One is someone who challenges the authority of the scribes (2:10) and Pharisees (2:28). I mentioned at that time that this apocalyptic persona is taken from Daniel:

I saw in the night visions: behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a Human One; and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him. And to him was given dominion and glory and kingdoms, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him [Daniel 7:13f.].

This figure, who also appears in the later apocalyptic tract of 4 Ezra, represents true “human” government as opposed to the brutality of the “beasts” in the visions. Mark is invoking Daniel, written under the pogroms of Antiochus Epiphanes IV two centuries earlier, as a manifesto of Jewish political resistance to imperial oppression by Hellenistic rulers. The “courtroom myth” of Daniel’s Human One will figure decisively in Jesus’ second call to discipleship.

Thirdly, Jesus predicts his condemnation and execution at the hands of a new political coalition. As is his pattern, Mark introduces new opponents (the elders and high priests) by linking them with already established ones (scribes). This coalition, in Mark’s story world, will represent the Jerusalem authority structure, which does in fact engineer Jesus’ murder (10:33; 11:18,28; 14:1,15,43; 15:1,31). The word used for their “rejection” (apodokimasthenai) denotes something “thrown out after a test” by an official court. Mark will return to it when he cites Psalm 118:22, again in the context of Jesus’ criticism of the Jerusalem of the Jerusalem establishment (Mk 12:10).

Each of these elements helps establish a new apocalyptic landscape to the story; the war of myths will now be played out in the docks of the powers. Why is this “necessary”? Is Mark betraying a “theological discourse of predestination,” as Belo complains? No; but he is challenging the accepted bounds of political discourse in the war of myths. According to the understanding of Peter, “Messiah” necessarily means royal triumph and the restoration of Israel’s collective honor. Against this, Jesus argues that “Human One” necessarily means suffering. This is so because, as the advocate of true justice, the Human One as critic of the debt code and the Sabbath necessarily comes into conflict with the “elders and chief priests and scribes” (Mk 8:31). In other words, this is not the discourse of fate or fatalism, but of political inevitability. It is in this sense that Jesus addresses his political vocation “openly” (8:32a, parresia, used only here in Mark; meaning frankly or boldly). Peter’s fantasies of power must be censured by clear-eyed realism.

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