I’m currently doing some research on the various views of evil reflected in the Gospels of Mark and John for a conference paper I’m writing. In recent days, I have really been stimulated by the work of John Riches on mythology in the NT. I am just beginning his monograph, Conflicting Mythologies: Identity Formation in the Gospels of Matthew and Mark (SNTW; Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 2000) and I have also recently read his related article, “Conflicting Mythologies: Mythical Narrative in the Gospel of Mark” JSNT 84 (2001), 29-50. In his article he asks:
[T]he root of this disagreement [over interpretations of evil in Mark] lies precisely in the area of cosmology: what kind of view of the origins of evil in the world underlies, is promoted by, Mark’s story? Is evil ultimately the work of some angelic/demonic power or does it derive from the rebellion of the human will? And: how will God intervene to overcome it? Will he send his son to destroy the dark powers in a heroic struggle with Satan and his cohorts, or will he sent him to teach and to heal, to demonstrate in his own obedience to the divine will the ‘way of the Lord’ (p. 33)?
He goes on to demonstrate that both a cosmic dualist cosmology and a forensic cosmology exist side-by-side in Mark with no apparent attempt to reconcile the two. He goes on to say:
[T]here is a therapuetic function in bringing out, if not into tthe open, then into popular and publicly recited story, the fundamental dilemmas of human societies. All this can, I think, be seen as true of Mark’s Gospel. The answers to the question that profoundly troubles the Judaeo-Christian tradition–whence is evil? unde malum?– are played out against each other in this drama in such a way that the story confirms above all one truth: neither of the prevailing explanations, cosmic dualist or forensic, will adequately account for the experience of the community that has made this story its own (p. 48).
All too often I come into contact with students and friends who approach me with the uncritical assumption that the NT offers a singular cosmology. Riches’ work is a useful reminder that not only do multi-faceted understandings of cosmology appear across the NT, but such potentially conflicting mythologies also appear in individual writings like the Gospels of Mark and John.