Review: Reading Mark’s Christology under Caesar, Part 2 (Gupta)


In the first part, I summarized the book and talked about the positive features of this fascinating book. Here I offer critical comments.

I mentioned before that Winn’s book is a deductive study—applying a hypothesis to the text and pointing out proofs or evidence in favor of his theory (namely that Mark’s Gospel was written to counter Vespasian’s claims to supremacy). Winn assembles many different types of evidence in favor of his theory. But, in my opinion, this doesn’t raise the level of his theory to probability, only possibilty. Here are some of the obstacles as I see it.

More primary Vespasian material. The part of the book that captured my attention most was material that demonstrated “Vespasian’s claim to be the true fulfillment of Jewish messianic prophecies and expectations” (45). Here he quotes brief snippets from Josephus, Tacitus, and Suetonius (pp. 45-46). I think Winn needed to really expand this into perhaps even a whole chapter. The more he could tie all of this directly to Judaism and Jewish thought, the better he could establish his case.

Beyond connections/parallels. It is common in anti-imperial readings of the NT to point out parallels or connections to support the case. But the perennial issue is, why does Mark not speak more directly against Vespasian? It is easy to find all kinds of parallels and resonances with imperial ideology – where do you draw the line?

Methodology. This is often ground on which many arguments are broken. When connections are detected, the question is why such parallels are there and what they are meant to mean in terms of interpretation. Is Mark anti-imperial at the whole-composition level? That is, is it a main reason why the Gospel was written? How do you know? When it is on a passage-level, is it a clever rhetorical device, an intentional criticism that has a point, is it a non-political parody? And, again, how do you know?

I think, for me, this “anti-Caesar” approach to Mark must address convincingly why Mark is not more explicit about this. Just as Paul is not explicit about any of this either.

That being said, Winn has come closer than most in arguing in favor of an anti-imperial approach to Mark, thanks to his historical spade-work. Again, I think you can “enjoy” a book without finding it completely convincing. Read it!

One thought on “Review: Reading Mark’s Christology under Caesar, Part 2 (Gupta)

  1. Nijay,

    It is common in most modern scholarship to postulate theories that the Gospels were written to counter Imperial “Emperor” Worship. Octavian (Augustus), Tiberias, etc. were deified, but it seems that the issue grew more to a head in the latter part of the First Century CE; even then, it was more localized than Empire-wide especially in Greek-speaking Asia.
    It appears that there is a certain amount of eisegesis going on when modern issues and attitudes are being read into the text. Trying to get the text to speak on the issues that are of concern for modern scholars than for ancient ones.
    “Ask the wrong questions and you get the wrong answers. Mark is writing for a specific audience putting into writing what Peter said when he was with Jesus. Those three and one-half years are all that matter to Peter and Mark. I do not think that the issue of Roman Imperialism or Emperor worship was what was guiding them.
    One final thought. If Peter died in 68 CE, then Vespasian would have been too early for Mark was writing down Peter’s memoirs long before Vespasian came onto the scene since also Vespasian would have been in Judaea and not in Rome where Peter died.

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