Sep 10, 2008

Ghosts and the Gospel of Mark

Josh Macmanaway has an interesting
post on ghosts and the Gospel of Mark. I must admit that I am not up on the primary literature so I am not sure what I think. But here is an excerpt from the post.

. . . I had just read Jason Robert Combs' (of Yale Div) article in RBL [JBL see the footnote] titled, "A Ghost on the Water? An Absurdity in Mark 6:49-50."(1) Combs' argument is that Mark uses this story to show that Jesus is not, in fact, just a ghost by virtue of the fact that he's on the water. Combs goes through primary sources from antiquity showing that it was a common belief that ghosts could not walk upon water.

Mark's "ghost sighting" is characteristic of ancient ghosts stories in three ways:

1) It occurs at night (6:48 - τεταρτην φυλαχην της νυχτος) during the fourth watch, which allowed for there to be some early morning light - (2)which was thought to be necessary to see ghosts, as the ancients did not share our sentiment that spirits luminesce. And 3) it caused the disciples fear.

However, Mark departs drastically from the typical ghost story by having Jesus appear on the water. Combs gives the rhetorical reasoning:
"The disciples' lack of understanding has long been recognized as a Markan theme that appears throughout the Gospel. Here it forms a striking narrative portrayal of cognitive dissonance: the disciples clearly want Jesus to be something that he is not, to the point that they are willing to believe the absurd (JM: That Jesus is a ghost) when Jesus approaches them as something much grander than they had imagined. Gods and divine men walk on water; ghosts do not. But when the disciples see Jesus walking on water, they believe the impossible rather thant he obvious. Mark's insertion of this absurdity, "because they saw him walking on the sea they thought he was a ghost" (6:49), emphasizes in dramatic fashion the discpiles' misconstrual of Jesus' messiahship."

(1)Journal of Biblical Literature; Summer2008, Vol. 127 Issue 2, p345-358.

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