Academic journal article Journal of Biblical Literature

Audience Inclusion and Exclusion as Rhetorical Technique in the Gospel of Mark

Academic journal article Journal of Biblical Literature

Audience Inclusion and Exclusion as Rhetorical Technique in the Gospel of Mark

Article excerpt

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Upon close reading of the Gospel of Mark, a curious feature of the narrative emerges. The audience seems to be excluded from fully witnessing certain events or having the knowledge that the disciples have about Jesus and his teaching. What makes this particularly vexing is that Mark simultaneously includes the audience in other events and teachings that only the disciples witness, and he even discloses information exclusively known by Jesus and sometimes not even by him. This combination of inclusion and exclusion creates a peculiar mixed status for the audience, and I will argue that Mark uses this combination as one element of his complex rhetorical strategy to persuade and motivate the audience to become true insiders by attaching themselves to Jesus and seeking after the kingdom of God manifest in him.

I. Methodological Considerations

This study proceeds under the basic rubrics of narrative criticism by recognizing that the Gospel of Mark was constructed in its final stage as a unified story with a plot, characters, themes, motifs, and all the typical characteristics of a narrative. 1 The perspectives of modern narrative criticism are useful in gaining insight into how the text functions as a story, but I also wish to preserve the ancient character of the text as much as possible in the process. Therefore, I will employ several modified concepts. I will use the term "author" for the final editor of Mark, and it is possible to think of this editor as a real person who made discernible choices to include and exclude certain parts of an inherited tradition, who shaped that tradition in novel ways, and who crafted a story of Jesus intentionally. In place of the term "reader," I will use the term "audience" in the sense of "authorial audience" as Peter J. Rabinowitz has defined it.2 The authorial audience is the audience the author thinks will be reading (or hearing, in this case) his or her story. For the author, the audience is culturally and historically determined because the author has constructed the story to be read by a contemporary who knows a certain amount about the author's culture. We cannot posit an actual flesh-and-blood initial reader/hearer from the ancient world, so the authorial audience is the next best thing because it requires us to attend to the ancient character of the text.

According to Whitney Shiner, audience inclusion "was well known in the ancient world and was used in many forms of composition."3 Shiner primarily is talking about direct address to the audience in the course of a literary or dramatic work, or about the way that a person performing a text might include the audience by using the potential of "you" to have a double meaning when it appears in a text. For example, Mark 4:11 reads, "To you has been given the mystery of the kingdom of God, but to those outside everything happens in parables."4 Shiner argues that "every mention of 'you' in the narrative may have a double reference," depending on how it is performed by the reader. So, emphasizing "you" in the previous verse and pointing to the audience present, and then emphasizing "those outside" and pointing elsewhere to the imaginary outsiders can give the audience a sense of inclusion in the inside group that Mark is describing.5 Shiner makes a convincing argument of how oral performance of Mark according to ancient rhetorical conventions can shape audience inclusion and therefore the persuasive effect of the story. In contrast to Shiner's line of inquiry, I wish to explore not just the potential for inclusion if the performer desires it, but the ways that the text of Mark itself might indicate inclusion or exclusion of the audience. For our purposes, "inclusion" and "exclusion" describe the level of information given to the audience relative to the characters in the story. If Mark gives the audience the same or more information than the characters in the story receive, then I will consider the audience "included" and thus part of Mark's in-group. …

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