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Reading Readers of the Gospel of Mark

To argue for a ONE, correct, true interpretation of a text is to force a single truth on a plural world. Interpretation is always perspectival and particular. There is no one, correct, true reading of Mark. There are legion of readers and readings of Mark.

Making Sense of Mark's Ending 3

Two of the more popular attempts at making sense of Mark’s ending come from feminist interpreters. The first one, a historical reconstructionist perspective, argues that the women did not remain silent and afraid. How could the gospel ever spread if the first witnesses remained fearful and quiet? The second one comes from the literary perspective. Jesus’s followers drop the ball. The men drop it first. And then the women. The Markan Jesus tells his disciples God will raise him up several times in the narrative. The men don’t believe him. The women came to the tomb to anoint a dead body. They did not go there to welcome a Risen Lord. How about us—the text’s present readers—will we also drop the ball?

If Mark were a movie, it definitely does not end like a Walt Disney movie. It’s open-ended, much like the book of Jonah. The narrative ends at 16:8 with women silent and afraid. I propose the following readings that try to make sense of that ending.

“Watch” the “movie” we call Mark. One …

How does one do Jeepney Hermeneutics?

Canaan Banana posits that the Bible is an important book of the church and that it includes liberating messages; nevertheless, there remains the sense in which, unless one embraces the Christian concept of God, one is not fully a person of God. Mary John Mananzan points out that the Bible in spite of all the reinterpretations, remains a book written from a patriarchal, dominator, imperial perspective and thus must be used to inform and not define Filipino life and struggles. How then does one do a decolonizing reading of an imperializing text? In other words, as Musa Dube puts it, “how does one read the Bible without perpetuating the self-serving paradigm of constructing one group as superior to another?” How does one do jeepney hermeneutics?

It begins with one’s view of scripture. As Daniel Patte points out in conversation, “Traditional roles of scripture are problematic, when they involve submission to the text, or more exactly, defining the authority of the text in terms of moral pr…

Window, Story, Mirror

Most interpretations can be summarized into three categories: those that locate meaning “behind texts,” those that locate meaning “in the texts,” and those that locate meaning “in front of the texts.” Those interpretations that fall under the first category presuppose that scripture serves a referential function, the text is a “window” to a privileged past—to Israel, to the historical Jesus, to the gospel writers and their intentions, to the early Christian communities, etc.—that could be recovered. Interpretation is therefore aimed at first establishing what the text meant in order to arrive at what it means for today. The task of the interpreter is to recover meaning from behind the text to the historical setting from which it came. Traditional historical-critical methods like form, source, redaction criticism, and contemporary Historical Jesus research would fall under this category.

The second category of interpretations employ “closed reading” focused on plot, characters, settin…

Salamat, Fr. Carl...

Sequels are usually less exciting than the originals. In the case of Backpack of a Jesus Seeker: Book Two, it is not. In A Third Look at Jesus, Fr. Carlos Abesamis offered us his construction of Jesus that does not look anything like the blue-eyed blond, liberal messiah most contemporary researchers' works portray. Through nineteen chapters, which he calls "stop-overs," he "travels" through Jesus' life, death, resurrection, and promise of return. But he does not take this journey alone. He walks with companions: fisherfolk, laborers at the picketlines, mothers, daughters, farmers… maraming kasama. In Backpack… Book One, Fr. Carl—as one voice among a community, a symphony of voices—articulated the essence of Jesus and Jesus’s proclamation of God’s reign. Through a series of dialogical vignettes, readers encounter a Jesus who had a bias for the poor; a Jesus who was a rebel, a heretic, and an apostate; a Jesus who did not just die but was executed; a Jesus w…

FPJ, Asedillo, and Aguila

Most Filipinos love stories, telling them, listening to them, or watching them. Filipinos who do not enjoy movie watching are quite rare. I remember the moviehouses in the barrios where we used to go during summer vacations. Most of these had double programs. Your ticket bought you two movies to watch. A few had triple programs. We saved up for those triples, especially if they starred Fernando Poe Jr. (FPJ). We came in before lunch and came out six or so hours later. My kuya (older brother) and I are FPJ fans. In grade school I saw my kuya, on two occasions, apply the FPJ rapid-punching technique on two bullies bigger and taller than him. The technique worked. I was 7 when I first went to see a movie by myself. It was FPJ’s Asedillo. It was the first movie I saw that painted a totally different picture of America, and Manuel Quezon, and the period of American occupation many among our elders, even today, longingly call “peacetime.” It was the movie that introduced me to the Sakdal up…

Making Sense of Mark's Ending 2

Take a single verse in the Bible, say John 11:35 (“Jesus wept”). Take five biblical scholars using the same method for interpreting scripture, say redaction criticism. And what do you have? Five different readings. There’s no such thing as a disinterested reading or reader. Interpretation is always perspectival and particular. Interpretation always involves choices. Take a popular telenovela, say Darna. Take five faithful followers of the show, including my 8-year-old son Ian, and ask them why nobody in the narrative recognizes Narda as Darna, and vice-versa. And what do you have? Five different reasons.

Take Mark’s ending, 16:8 which reads, “So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.” Check out your Bible. Most have a footnote on verse 8 that says ancient manuscripts end on this verse. Verses 9 to 20 are later additions—attempts of ancient communities to make sense of Mark’s ending. If you s…

Making Sense of Mark's Ending

Imagine you are part of the original audience of the Gospel of Mark. Christianity is about 30 or so years old. You are a second-generation believer. You believe, like many in your community, that Jesus is risen. You believe, like many in your community, that he appeared to Peter, and then to many others, and then to Paul. Then, this short gospel comes along. It's disturbing. It does not have any stories of the risen Christ appearing to his disciples. Moreover, it ends with women at the empty tomb silent and afraid.

You don't even shake the hands of the one who read the gospel. No one did in the whole congregation. Actually, even today, most people don't care about Mark. They'd rather read Matthew, Luke, and John. These gospels end right--like Walt Disney movies. Matthew ends with the Great Commission and the Risen Christ's promise of Immanuel. John has the "Do you love me" cycle, and a beach scene to boot. Luke has special effects, Jesus ascending to the h…

Reading John inside a Jeepney

Jeepney hermeneutics is but one among many “Canaanite” readings. And it is a reading that (1) presupposes that the Bible is a “jeep,” an imperializing text, and that said jeep can be (2) transformed into a “jeepney.”

Let me offer a brief example using the Gospel of John. The connection of the Bible, its readers, and its institutions to Western imperialism do not call for special pleading. As Alan Lawson and Chris Tiffin insist: “Imperial relations may have been initially established by guns, guile, and disease, but they were maintained largely by textuality” (Lawson and Tiffin: 3). Simply put, the Bible was and is the key tool in the “textual takeover of the non-Western world” (Boehmer: 94). Yet, most commentaries and expositions on John available in Philippine seminaries take for granted or do not find problematic the gospel’s imperial rhetoric.

Spivey and Smith’s popular introductory text (Anatomy of the New Testament. New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 1995) describes the Gospel as reminding…