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Spring 1991 · Vol. 20 No. 1 · pp. 112–15 

Book Review

Watchwords: Mark 13 in Markan Eschatology

Timothy J. Geddert. JSNT Supplement Series no. 26. Sheffield, UK: Sheffield Academic, 1989. 352 pages.

Reviewed by Devon H. Wiens

One has further evidence in this volume by the Assistant Professor of New Testament at Mennonite Brethren Biblical Seminary in Fresno, that the scholarly study of the Bible has “come of age” in Mennonite (viz., Mennonite Brethren) circles. This fact may be attributable in part to a newer theological climate, which the aforementioned seminary has had no small part in fostering; this climate is much more conducive to a spirit of inquiry which is free to roam over the scholarly landscape and engage assorted interpretive positions in fruitful dialogue. At any rate, Mennonite Brethren biblical scholars have taken their rightful place alongside historians of the Anabaptist legacy, for whom scholarship was long regarded as their lone preserve.

Geddert’s work is an adaptation of his 1986 Aberdeen dissertation, “Mark 13 in its Markan Interpretive Context.” As such, it has been purged of the usual “dissertationese,” though not entirely so. Circumlocutions which will certainly not be easily negotiated by the faint of heart (and head!) are by no means absent. Geddert writes (convincingly, so it seems to the reviewer) for his scholarly peer group, though the method he employs and the conclusions at which he arrives are of considerable significance for all who wish to read the Gospel of Mark on its own terms.

As suggested by the sub-title, the author interprets Mark 13 (for which he eschews apocalyptic provenance, although he admits “apocalyptic associations” [e.g., 220]) in light of the whole of Mark. Thus, the aim is “to read Mark 13 from Mark’s perspective, to hear it as he intended it to be heard, and to catch glimpses of the eschatology which shaped his life and therefore his literary masterpiece” (15). Such a holistic approach is clearly in line with current scholarship, which views the evangelists as far more than “naive compiler[s] of Jesus traditions” (15). This angle of vision views a biblical book as an artfully-crafted literary work, whose structure clearly evinces authorial intention. Indeed, a recurring leitmotf in Geddert’s work is the opinion that Mark is less clumsy and more skillful in structuring his material than Mark has often been given credit for. {113}

Methodologically, Geddert analyzes the “Markan Perspective” on various themes which inform Chapter 13. His book is structured in two major parts. After an introduction, he discusses “Signs” (Chapter 2), “Discernment” (Chapter 3), “Discipleship” (Chapter 4), “Temple” (Chapter 5), and “Suffering and Persecution” (Chapter 6). The latter two he terms “Theology,” in contradistinction to “Perspective,” used for the first three. Then he discusses “Mark’s Literary Achievement,” “The Secret Kingdom,” and “The Timing of the End,” all in terms of Mark 13. A “Summary and Conclusions” section brings the book to a close.

Specifically, in Chapter 2, Geddert analyzes the Markan use of “sign” (semeion) and concludes that, in distinction from Matthew and Luke, Mark employs the term in a somewhat ambiguous fashion, so that there is here no “objective evidence,” which would render discernment (italics his) and its exercise unnecessary. Similarly, the result of the investigation of Mark’s use of “see” (blepo) as discussed in chapter 3, leads to the following conclusions: 1) Do not be misled by external appearances; 2) Do not be deceived by false words and misleading deeds; (3) Discern what it means to be persecuted as a Christian; and (4) Recognize the ways in which the secret kingdom is advancing. In Chapter 4, Geddert successfully argues for a distinction in meaning between “see” (blepo) and “watch” (gregoreo) as Mark uses these. Based upon an examination of the correspondence between the four watches of the night in the Doorkeeper parable (13:33-37) and the four watches of the Passion narrative in Mark 14, he underscores the importance of obedience and discipleship for Mark [Geddert is at his best when he discusses the implications of such correspondence]. In his words, “the term gregoreo, . . . outlines the duty of believers in the interim period before the master returns” (110).

The argument of Chapter 5 (“Mark’s Temple Theology”) and 6 (“Mark’s Theology of Suffering”) is that, inasmuch as Mark’s use of Temple language outside of Chapter 13 takes on a polemic tone (“anti-temple”), strongly suggesting a “Temple Replacement,” and is everywhere “veiled in secrecy” (145), the requisite task for Jesus’ disciples is to follow their Lord in obedient suffering. This is opposed to any sort of triumphalism which arrogates to itself a precise calculation of the “signs of the times.” Indeed, somewhat surprisingly, though he “hedges {114} his bet,” Geddert opines that “all suffering experienced by believers as a result of their discipleship obedience is redemptive, not only that of Jesus” [sic] (174). As with runners in a race, so, here, in a theological sense, the “baton” of suffering and faithfulness, which eventuate in death, is handed on from John the Baptist to Jesus and then, finally, to the believers.

The upshot of this argumentation is, as Geddert applies it specifically (and quite expertly, in the reviewer’s estimation) to the exegesis of Mark 13, in Chapters 7 through 9 of the book, that Mark provides ambiguous information as to an “eschatological time-table” (256). In Geddert’s words, “the theology of Mark’s Gospel centers around the ‘secret kingdom’ which comes without objective proofs of its presence. The challenge is for Jesus’ disciples to ‘see’ and ‘hear’ that which goes beyond the data available to the senses” (255).

It seems to this reviewer that Geddert has provided a substantial exegetical basis for the type of admonition which some of us have often passed on to students and church groups. In the similar sentiments of another commendation on Mark (William Lane), it is “vigilance, not calculation,” which is required. Several times Geddert stresses the point that Mark’s chief concern is with epistemology (how the readers are to know), rather than with eschatology per se (what the readers are to know about the future).

Geddert’s methodology is a parade example of how to go about arguing a thesis. Though he makes his case in convincing fashion, I have a few questions. Whereas it may well be true that Mark’s secrecy is modelled on the secrecy in Jesus’ own proclamation (e.g., 179), it is not always clear whether Geddert has method or message (or both) in mind. I suspect that it involves both, but would have appreciated more explanation. Again, in a modification of the widely-accepted notion that a “great divide” is to be seen in Mark 8, Geddert posits a “great transition” at a much earlier point in the Gospel, namely, in 3:6. For example, he sees differences in Jesus’ teaching methodology before and after this verse. Whereas before that juncture, Jesus “appeals overtly to Israel’s leadership to hear and see the nature of . . . the claims he is making as the authoritative Son of Man,” after that point “Jesus presents his teaching almost exclusively in parables with hidden meanings and miracles with hidden implications” (79). One is left wondering whether 3:6 as a dividing marker can bear as much freight {115} as Geddert puts upon it. After all, the data base prior to that verse is somewhat narrow, consisting of only 78 verses.

Although Geddert amply documents the case for a kind of Markan agnosticism of information about the eschaton, at times Geddert, so this reviewer feels, gave in to a sort of “if you can’t beat ’em [Markan ambiguity], join ’em” (a non-committal stance on Markan issues, such as the identity of the “abomination of desolation”) perspective. In fairness, Geddert defines such ambiguity in Mark as “deliberate,” one which is consistently and consciously applied throughout his evangelium.

Geddert is certainly “on top” of the current literature in Markan studies. In addition to a 23 page bibliography, there are 56 pages of endnotes in which the author carries on a more technical conversation with other scholarly points of view.

Occasionally (a bit too frequently, for this reviewer’s predilections) Geddert indulges in hyperbolic language; favorite terms are “incredible” and “utterly.” Also, the publisher is to be faulted for allowing too many stylistic infelicities to remain; note pages 15, 19, 21, 26, 54, 65, 68, 78, 89, 109, 125, 128, 156, 157, 174, 182, 199, 207, and 254. Finally, as is often the case with British book-binding, the physical character of the book seems destined for a considerably shorter life-span than the enduring qualities of the author’s argument.

Devon H. Wiens
Fresno Pacific College
Fresno, California

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