Reopening the Word: Reading Mark as Theology in the Context of Early Judaism

Reopening the Word: Reading Mark as Theology in the Context of Early Judaism

Reopening the Word: Reading Mark as Theology in the Context of Early Judaism

Reopening the Word: Reading Mark as Theology in the Context of Early Judaism

Synopsis

In this book, Marie Sabin argues that Mark's gospel represents an early and evolving Christianity, which shaped its theological discourse out of the forms familiar to early Judaism. In that early Jewish context, she says, theology took the form of connecting scripture with current events: the biblical word was continually reopened - i.e. reinterpreted - so as to reveal its relevance to the present faith-community. At the time, the chief genre for this hermeneutical process was the synagogue homily. Sabin contends that Mark's composition represented an interweaving of homilies preached by Jesus and his followers in the local synagogues. Sabin sees Mark not as a mere collector or scribe, however, but as an original theologian shaping his material in the context of two theological traditions: the Jewish wisdom traditions and Jewish Creation theology. Reading Mark in the contexts of these traditions reveals fresh meanings that break open Christian formulas long frozen in time and illuminate the Gospel's striking relevance to our own time.

Excerpt

Kosuke Koyama, emeritus professor of ecumenics at Union Theological Seminary, used to startle (and humble) his classes by proclaiming, “Theologian gives job description to God!” The gift of Koyama's proclamation was that it threw his students off balance, for perceived that way, the whole enterprise of systematic Christian theology seemed like an enormous act of hubris. Koyama's challenge was not to our beliefs but to our methods. Once able to get out of the box, as it were, of our habitual modes of talking about God, we were freed to consider other ways of speaking about the transcendent.

It was a necessary freedom for exploring the non-Christian theologies of Hinduism and Islam, and even the nontheology of Buddhism. We did not, in Koyama's courses, consider Judaism—probably because the connections between Christianity and Judaism were taken up elsewhere. Nonetheless, this exercise in detached engagement with other forms of religious discourse was an invaluable preparation, I found, for trying to learn the language of religious Jews.

Had I confined my study of Judaism to the courses at Union Theological Seminary, however, I might not have noticed that I was still trying to understand “Jewish theology” in Christian terms. Instead I availed myself of the opportunity to study across the street at Jewish Theological Seminary, where I entered an entirely different culture. There I found myself in a world that was, first of all, more professedly religious than any I had experienced since my Catholic school and college: these young men and women preparing for the rabbinate were careful about keeping the Sabbath, intense in . . .

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