A Year in Essays: Mark, Semester 1

I have to be honest and say that Exegesis of Mark’s Gospel was one of my favourite modules of the year. While this was at least partly down to the content – Mark’s gospel is probably my favourite book of the bible – it’s also partly to do with the teaching method of Conrad Gempf. He extensively used Socratic questioning, put lots of responsibility to lead on us as learners and was actually funny! (I know, a funny theologian, they do exist!) You might think that I agreed with almost all he said, but no! He has a much lower view than I of a certain bishop theologian that dominated at least one of our seminars, but I learned a lot from our discussions.

The module worked by each of the class selecting a week; doing all the preparation, preparing handout notes and questions, recommending specific reading and preparing to lead the seminar. The topic of that week was the natural choice of topic to select for the essay, and Conrad asked us to write our own title and run it past him. This eliminates the horrible bit before writing an essay of ‘I really want to write on that topic but the question sucks’ and replaces it with ‘I want to write about this, but what to I actually want to say’.

My week was a particularly challenging one: the part of Mark where Jesus first curses a fig tree, then clears out the temple, then returns to the withered tree. I titled my essay

Cleansing or Destruction? Jesus’ Temple Action in Mark 11

The first thing to notice is the ‘sandwich’ – the two halves of the fig tree story on either side of the ‘meaty’ cleansing story. The sandwich (as part of a larger ‘chiasm’, a multi-layer sandwich) indicates that the Temple action is the point of what Mark is saying, but helps us to understand its meaning. I examined a lot of different commentators’ readings of the stories, eventually coming to the conclusion that, rather than a massive riot, Jesus’ action was largely symbolic and is to be interpreted in the context of the fig tree.

The essay argues that the fig tree is an illustration of the temple – ‘the appearance of abundant life but no prospect of fruit’ and that Jesus aim was to direct people to worship, while enacting a prophecy of destruction in a very ‘Old Testament’ way. The shift in people’s attitude to Jesus indicates that they understood his message – before the fig tree, they are welcoming him with singing and palm branches; after, the temple leadership challenge Jesus credentials to teach. However, the title ‘cleansing’ is still somewhat appropriate, since Jesus’ action points people to worship and pray, exactly what they need to do to repent and avoid the judgement prophesied.

Mark Essay – download a .pdf file of the full essay.

Creative Commons Licence
This essay by Jon Rogers is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License.
Based on a work at www.jonrogers.co.uk.