Monday, December 17, 2012

Gospel of Mark's Rhetorical Style

The Gospel of Mark is generally portrayed as being plain or uncultivated and even ungrammatical at points. In his NIB commentary on Mark, Larry Hurtado observes:

"To begin with basics, Mark's account is heavily narrative, conveying the feeling of fast-paced action. His Greek style is simple and unsophisticated, using many simple sentences connected by the word for 'and.' A comparison of events found in Mark and in the other Gospels will show that his version often seems wordy and less well constructed" (page 11).

However, Hurtado offers this qualification of his opening statements regarding the literary style of Mark:

"Yet, Mark did employ certain techniques that demonstrate some skill and literary intent. As we shall see, he sometimes quotes, but more frequently alludes to, the OT and seems to have expected his readers to be sufficiently familiar with it to appreciate these allusions" (ibid.).

(1) According to Hurtado, Mark's Gospel is "heavily narrative" and fast-paced. Therefore, we would expect certain literary devices or discourse markers to be present in Mark and they are. Indeed, one feature of the Gospel of Mark that is striking is the writer's continual use of the Greek EUQUS. It is no wonder that A. T. Robertson (A Grammar of the Greek NT) writes:

"broken and parenthetic clauses are frequent (cf. 7:19 KAQARIZWN); at times he is pleonastic (2:20 TOTE EN EKEINH TH hHMERA); he uses EUQUS (W. H.) 41 times; he is emotional and vivid, as shown by descriptive adjectives, questions and exclamations (cf. 1:24; 2:7); the intermingling of tenses (9:33ff., EPHRWTA . . . LEGIE . . . EIPEN) is not due to ignorance of Greek or to artificiality, as Swete well says, but to 'a keen sense of the reality and living interest of facts; there are 151 historic presents in the W. H. text against 78 in Matthew and 4 in Luke; there is frequent and discriminating use of prepositions (2:1, 2, 10, 13); the connective is usually KAI rather than DE, seldom OUN; there is little artistic effect, but much simplicity and great vividness of detail; the vernacular KOINH is dominant with little literary
influence, though EIPEN, PAIDIOQEN and OYIA are held so by Norden" (pp. 118-119).

(2) It has often been said that Mark's account of Jesus' life contains ungrammatical constructions. But one scholar, who challenges this charge, is David A. Black. Black faces this oft-mentioned criticism of Mark by utilizing the tools of discourse analysis and descriptive linguistics. Black's essay can be found in Linguistics and NT Interpretation: Essays on Discourse Analysis. Nashville: Broadman
Press, 1992.

The name of Black's study is "Discourse Analysis, Synoptic Criticism, and Markan Grammar: Some Methodological Considerations" on pp. 90-98 of the above referenced publication, which he edits along with Katharine Barnwell and Stephen Levinsohn.

Discourse analysis refers to the inspection of macrostructures (i.e. phrases, clauses, sentences, paragraphs and entire compositions) as opposed to lexemes or individual units of sound-meaning (otherwise known as words). Richard A. Young points out that discourse analysis examines genre, structure, cohesion, propositions, relations, prominence, and setting as well.

Discourse analysis is a top-down approach to communicative situations. It probes context (the socio-political and religious climate or Sitz im Leben), the co-text (literary context of a text) and the text itself rather than simply focusing on the potential significations of sound-forms.

In any event, Black avails himself of discourse analytical principles and a descriptivist approach (linguistically) to refute the charge that Mark's Greek is ungrammatical at times. I highly recommend his essay along with Robertson's big grammar which contains information on each NT book and its style. Moreover, Nigel Turner has penned a book on style that also deserves consideration.

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