Book review: The Gospel of Mark as Reaction and Allegory

by R. G. Price


This book provides an excellent collection of Markan midrash, going verse-by-verse through Mark and explaining its sources. Mark pulls his stories of Jesus from Isaiah and the prophets, and Price makes an excellent case for Mark also borrowing from the writings of Paul. Price also points out the influence of the war of 70 CE upon Mark’s Gospel, a topic I discuss in my book about Revelation, but not to the depth of this book. It is my opinion that this “war to end all wars” is too often understated in Gospel analysis, and Price’s analysis should contribute to scholarship on the topic.

The book’s stated purpose is to show that the Gospel of Mark was written as an allegorical study in reaction to the destruction of Judea in 70 CE, the intention of which was to portray Judean Jews as having brought that destruction upon themselves. In this, Price proves his point very well, though it may be optimistic to conclude, as he does, that this is the primary intention of the Gospel. A secondary purpose of Price’s book is to show that there is no flesh-and-blood “Jesus” beneath Mark’s midrash. Of this, I came away a bit unconvinced. Although Price does highlight the dependency of Mark upon earlier Christian (Pauline) writings, he does not take the second step of proving that Paul, himself, was never writing about a flesh-and-blood Jesus. However, I confess I read Price’s books out of order. I suspect his treatment of Mark builds upon a foundation laid in Jesus: A Very Jewish Myth, which I haven’t yet read. So, while there are a number of other reasonable conclusions I could draw about Jesus’ historicity from Mark’s Gospel alone, that topic will wait until I’ve read more of what Price has to say.

But whatever the reason for Mark’s parallels to other scripture, those parallels do unquestionably exist, and scholars are right to wonder why. This book’s conclusion details a very interesting scenario about how the Synoptic Gospels were derived. Hint: No “Q” gospel. Price touches lightly upon the possible derivation of John’s Gospel as well, but on this topic, he and I are at odds: I think he neglects evidence of Johannine familiarity with Judea, instead portraying the Fourth Gospel as the creation of an anti-Jewish Gentile, and I think he overlooks evidence of John’s dependence upon Pauline theology. But John’s Gospel is ancillary to what Price does do very well, and that’s to lay out plausible origins of Synoptic thinking.

If I have one complaint, it’s that the scriptural references could be condensed. Often, I found myself reading long passages in Old Testament references where it seemed that a single verse or two would be sufficient. In retrospect, I realize Price wants us familiar with the settings of these stories, so that we’ll recognize Mark’s many allusions to passages that deal with the destruction of Jerusalem. So, I’m warning you of this up front; if I had understood his purpose, I would have paid more attention to the lengthy references.

1 Comment

  1. Thank you for the review. Just a few notes. In case anyone is wondering, I am not the same person as Robert M. Price, seems to come up a lot…

    I do tend in my books to provide perhaps “too much” context in quotes, but this is because I like to let the underlying material speak for itself and I also want to avoid any accusations of selective quoting.

    My goal here is not to try and shoehorn supposed parallels between the two texts together, but to show the very real parallels that can reasonably be seen, which don’t require selective or twisted quoting, but are quite apparent in their full context.

    I’ll also warn you, if you thought the quotes were extensive in this book, wait until you get to Jesus – A Very Jewish Myth 😉

    Also, there is another note about the quotes and how they are used in this book, which is that the highlighted passages show the textual parallels between the works, but the other parts of the quote show what I believe is the underlying subtext, or is the meaning that is being referenced.

    For example with the cursing of the fig tree and its relation to Hosea 9, I highlight the textual parallels, but the non-highlighted portion is what I believe the underlying meaning of the scene refers to, this is what the author is making a reference to. The context from which the parallels are drawn is all about the displeasure of God with the Jews and the promise of coming wrath to be brought down on them, which is of course central to the thesis that this is what the Gospel of Mark is really all about in relation to the destruction of Jerusalem in the war with the Romans in 70CE.

    So yes, as you say, the quotes are a little long, but they serve multiple purposes, to ensure that there are no accusations of taking quotes out of context and, more important, because they provide the context for the thesis, which is that the meaning of the passages being referenced underlay the meaning of the Gospel of Mark itself.

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