Notes on the Gospel according to Mark

(from an essay by John Drury, in Literary Guide to the Bible)


Key question of critics: what sort of literature is the Gospel according to Mark?

            It is about the holy


            It has practicality and the mystery of religious writing


            In it, Jesus legislates, speak oracularly and proverbially, appeals to myth and

compassionate common sense.


Everything in it is carried/given significance by the story it is in—Mark is



A further clarification of narrative as suggested by Drury—Mark is a folktale

            Folktale: grows from “unofficial” or common people, frequently oral before

            it is written, may have little to say or do or “praise” about authorities

Walter Benjamin: “folktale is the ordinary person’s way of shaking off the nightmare which myth puts on his chest.”


Folk Hero: typically one who wanders among the people, going through ordeals which

            commandeer, disrupt, and reorder the established myths  (consider Jesus in this

role); folk hero is unofficial, performs miracles beloved of popular piety—of

course these miracles are suspect since they seem to fulfill wishes instantly


In teaching Jesus used parables that rabbis have called “aggadah”—like the junk jewelry of the pedlar but in contrast to “halakah” the instruction of the elite, like the gems of leisured scholarship


Jesus poses riddle that delight the illiterate and children while taxing/challenging the authorities; Jesus suffers the disregard of the authorities as children and wayfarers of folk tales suffer from wicked step-parents or witches and are put to the test by kings.  Jesus emerges triumphant


The folktale demands close attention –there is no unnecessary digression, the stories are “lean, close and complex in articulation, with a precision which we tend to associate with

science rather than with art…They should be read no faster than the pace of speech…For they belong to the people clustered round the storyteller who brings out of his narrative treasure things new and old, rather than to the rapid browser in the armchair” (403).


Folktales—seldom specific names—watch this in Mark


Watch Mark’s portrayal of the disciples and their “blockheadedness”—Mark aims for exceptional comprehension, that can truly recognize Jesus as son of God; this understanding, as Mark sees it, is supernatural.