Rhetorical aids in Mark

Examination of the text of Mark reveals quite a few structured textual arrangements—likely intentional—that rhetorically aid this gospel.

I.  One of these possible structures is found in 10:33a-34, where a barrage of verbs and pronouns may well be intentionally “poetic.”  One notices the similar, repeated “suffix” sounds when reading the Greek aloud, but some of it may be happenstance since some Greek verb-endings sound alike by nature (they can’t be said to “rhyme” per se).  The endpoints of this section, though, are the future middle/passive verbs that indicate Jesus 1) will be handed over, and 2) will Himself rise again, and those seem intentionally placed.  The middle of this mini-section contains the dramatic declaration (here, for the 3rd time) that Jesus will be handed over to the Gentiles.

paradothesetai   (will be handed over)
tois arxiereusin
kai tois grammateusin,
kai katakrinousin
auton thanato
kai paradosousin
auton tois ethnesin

kai empaixousin
auto kai emptusousin
auto kai mastigosousin
auton kai apoktenousin,
kai meta treis hemeras
anastesetai           (will myself rise up)


II.  Some have identified Mark’s¹ “triptychs,” and one of these may be seen in 2:1-12.  In point of fact, most or even all of Mark may be analyzed in terms of mini-“sandwich” structures of a few verses at a time.  (See here for an exhaustive listing.)  Some of these are centric, i.e., the middle of the sandwich is the point of emphasis; others are parallel sets of thoughts.  Some seem more significant than others, but looking into these structures can sometimes help the reader see the intended emphasis.


III.  Taken on the whole, Mark appears to have an intentional form:

A Beginning – the “forerunner” (John) points to Jesus (1:4-8)
B Jesus’baptism – The splitting of the heavens, “You are my son” (1:9-11)
C Jesus is tested in the wilderness (1:12-13)
D The parable of the sower (4:1-9)
. . .
D’ Parable of the vineyard (12:1-11)
C’ Jesus is tested in the temple (12:13-27)
B’ Jesus dies, the temple veil is split “Truly this was God’s son.” (15:33-39)
(also note in this gospel other declarations of Who Jesus is)
A’ The “post-runner” (the young man) points to Jesus (16:1-8)


IV.  Another serious Bible student I know has noticed the following large-scale chiastic structure just past the core/middle, which is found at 8:22-10:52:

A The Pharisees and the Denarius                    12:13-17

B The Sadducees and the Scriptures     12:18-27

C The Most Important Commandment – Jesus’ Answer 12:28-31

C’ The Most Important Commandment – Restated    12:32-34

B’ Jesus and the Scriptures                                12:35-40

A’ The Poor Widow and Her Two Coins           12:41-44

– Lee Patmore (used by permission)


As Lee has it (and I certainly see no reason to disagree), the center of 12:13-44 section involves a rather singularly emphatic, positive interaction with a scribe.  In the next post, I’ll highlight more of this very significant conversation in a different way.

B. Casey, 5/24/15


¹ It bugs me to type “Marcan” as scholarly convention has it, since the consonant in Mark’s name is a kappa (κ), not a chi (χ) or a “hard C” of any kind.  Maybe the “Marcan” spelling got started because of the Vulcans?  Anyway, if I type “Markan,” someone might object.  So, I avoid the issue.  I also don’t like the standard pronunciations of “Pauline” and “Johannine,” so I avoid those, too.  🙂

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3 thoughts on “Rhetorical aids in Mark

  1. Steve 06/04/2015 / 1:18 pm

    B–I reading Mark now in my personal time–and appreciate your insights. Of course you could just “dumb this down” for the rest of us by making a 2-fold division: Mk 1-8:30 = Who is Jesus? Mk 8:31-16:20 (or v9 for purists) = what does it mean to follow him (“on the way”)? 🙂

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    • Brian Casey 06/04/2015 / 7:31 pm

      Ha — no dumbing down needed for you or most others who pop in here! Two major divisions is certainly one way to look at it, but I like a three-fold division better: I. Jesus’ identity explored in Galilee II. Transition (hard to downgrade Caes-Philippi and transfiguration and certain other items to “transitional”!) and clarification of what it is to be “on the way” as they follow this rabbi to His Jerusalem death, and III. Jerusalem/passion. P.S. I guess I’m a fairly convinced purist on the v9 thing, seeing more coherence in that ending than in the longer one(s). But the overall outline wouldn’t change.

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