Monday, September 5, 2022

Markan Typology - my book! Now available to buy

Responding to the belief suggestion that scriptural typology was a later development of the early church, and not applicable to the earliest canonical Gospel, Jonathan Rivett Robinson stresses that typology has deep Jewish roots, and that typological modes of thought were a significant part of the Gospel’s historical and cultural background. He brings this insight to bear on four of the most dramatic miracles in Mark’s Gospel, discovering a surprisingly consistent typological approach.

Blog fans, I know you have been feeling neglected. I'm sorry, but at least a part of that has been because I was working to get this little beauty ready for publication! You can now buy it from here on the Bloomsbury website

This is the blurb, written by my very kind reviewer:

Responding to the suggestion that scriptural typology was a later development of the early church, and not applicable to the earliest canonical Gospel, Jonathan Rivett Robinson stresses that typology has deep Jewish roots, and that typological modes of thought were a significant part of the Gospel’s historical and cultural background. He brings this insight to bear on four of the most dramatic miracles in Mark’s Gospel, discovering a surprisingly consistent typological approach.

Essential to Robinson’s argument is the discovery of distinctive words and phrases taken from the Septuagint, that serve as unique indicators of Mark’s intent to refer back to miracles from the Jewish scriptures, pointing to influence from the scriptural narratives of Jonah, David, Elisha and Moses. These references in turn provide insight into Mark’s Christology, revealing that Mark presents Jesus as the fulfilment of scriptural human types and yet also in the narrative form of Israel’s God. Robinson argues that rather than imposing categories constructed from early Jewish literature, like “divine identity” and “exalted human figures”, the Gospel of Mark should be allowed to speak with its own unique voice.

Jonathan Rivett Robinson is a Teaching Fellow for the Theology Programme of the University of Otago and an Adjunct Lecturer for Carey Baptist College, New Zealand.


Wednesday, August 4, 2021

The Banquet of Death (Herod's Party in Mark 6:14-29)

A wee snippet from my PhD research as the subject came up on Twitter.

Pic: Salome with the Head of John the Baptist-Caravaggio, from Wikimedia commons

The first feeding account is preceded by an episode unique to Mark’s gospel. ‘Only here is there an extended story in which Jesus does not appear and not directly concerned with him.’[1] In his portrayal of Herod, Mark sets up a contrast between the two ‘kings,’ Herod and Jesus.[2] Two points concern this study in particular. First, Herod’s discussion of Jesus’ identity closely parallels Jesus and Peter’s later discussion.[3] This can be seen in the following comparison of the two discourses with corresponding words and phrasing marked in bold.

Mark 6:14 -16, Καὶ ἤκουσεν ὁ βασιλεὺς Ἡρῴδης, φανερὸν γὰρ ἐγένετο τὸ ὄνομα αὐτοῦ, καὶ ἔλεγον ὅτι Ἰωάννης ὁ βαπτίζων ἐγήγερται ἐκ νεκρῶν καὶ διὰ τοῦτο ἐνεργοῦσιν αἱ δυνάμεις ἐν αὐτῷ.ἄλλοι δὲ ἔλεγον ὅτι Ἠλίας ἐστίν· ἄλλοι δὲ ἔλεγον ὅτι προφήτης ὡς εἷς τῶν προφητῶν. ἀκούσας δὲ ὁ Ἡρῴδης ἔλεγεν· ὃν ἐγὼ ἀπεκεφάλισα Ἰωάννην, οὗτος ἠγέρθη.

Mark 8:28-29, οἱ δὲ εἶπαν αὐτῷ λέγοντες [ὅτι] Ἰωάννην τὸν βαπτιστήν, καὶ ἄλλοι Ἠλίαν, ἄλλοι δὲ ὅτι εἷς τῶν προφητῶν. καὶ αὐτὸς ἐπηρώτα αὐτούς· ὑμεῖς δὲ τίνα με λέγετε εἶναι; ἀποκριθεὶς ὁ Πέτρος λέγει αὐτῷ· σὺ εἶ ὁ χριστός.

The striking similarity between the two conversations presents them as an inclusio,[4] whereby Herod’s false conclusion prepares the reader for Peter’s later insight. It is within this inclusio, concerning Jesus’ identity, that we find both the feeding miracles.

Second, Herod’s conversation is followed by a description of a meal where Herod gives a banquet for his ‘courtiers and officers and for the leaders of Galilee’ (6:21).[5] In the typical form of a Greco-Roman banquet the meal, δεῖπνον (6:21), would usually be followed by a drinking party, συμπόσιον, during which entertainment such as music and dancing could also occur (Plut. Quaest. conv. 612E-F).[6] During the entertainment following Herod’s banquet, Herodias’ daughter dances for the guests and John the Baptist’s fate is sealed. His head is presented on a platter like a macabre part of the feast (6:22-28). In 6:21 Herodias finds an opportune time (εὔκαιρος) to dispose of John, while in contrast the disciples have no opportunity to eat (οὐδὲ φαγεῖν εὐκαίρουν, 6:31).[7] When Jesus makes the crowd recline (ἀνακλίνω) and organises them into ‘banquets’ (συμπόσιον) in 6:39 this evokes a banquet and so links back to Herod’s birthday dinner.[8] Indeed, Herod’s δεῖπνον (6:21), main meal, finds a complement in Jesus’ συμπόσιον, drinking party. However, it should be noted both δεῖπνον and συμπόσιον could metonymically denote the whole banquet.[9]  Thus Herod’s banquet of death both provides a contrast to and sets the scene for Jesus’ feeding miracle.[10] This juxtaposition creates a narrative analogy between the adjacent Gospel pericopae, ‘through which one part of the text provides oblique commentary on another.’[11]

Reinforcing this connection is a possible allusion to 1 Kings 18:4. As Pesch argues, there is a strong parallel between the story of John, Herod and Herodias and the story of Elijah, Ahab and Jezebel.[12] Just as John opposes Herod because of Herodias, so did Elijah oppose Ahab because of Jezebel (1 Kgs 21). Just as Herodias seeks the life of John, so did Jezebel seek the life of Elijah (1 Kings 19:2). Drewermann finds both Jezebel and Herodias are linked by the motif of ‘der verhängnisvollen Allmacht einer Frau über die Königsgewalt ihres Gatten.’[13] John, of course, has already been identified with Elijah (Mark 1:6) and will be again (9:13).

The ‘groups of hundreds and fifties’ of Mark 6:40 are generally thought to evoke Moses’ arrangement of the people of Israel in Exod 18:21, 25; Deut 1:15. However, 1 Kgs 18:4, καὶ ἔλαβεν Αβδιου ἑκατὸν ἄνδρας προφήτας καὶ ἔκρυψεν αὐτοὺς κατὰ πεντήκοντα , presents a closer, albeit less prominent scriptural correspondence to ‘hundreds and fifties’ (Mark 6:40). Obadiah, Ahab’s steward, rescues a hundred prophets in groups of fifty in 1 Kings 18:4 and then sustains them with bread and water. These prophets are specifically men, ἀνήρ (LXX 18:4), which corresponds to Mark 6:44. Importantly, the immediate narrative context for Obadiah's act is, ‘when Jezebel was killing off the prophets of the Lord’ (1 Kgs 18:4,) which corresponds with Herodias having John killed (Mark 6:14-29).[14] Immediately following, Ahab divides up the land between himself and Obadiah so that they can find grazing for the animals (1 Kgs 18:5-6). Thus Obadiah is portrayed as a pastoral herder of horses and mules who finds a way (ὁδός) to save them. Shepherding (as in Psalm 23) and the Exodus are two significant Biblical themes recognised as present in Mark 6:30-45. Given the strong parallel in 6:14-29 to the Elijah story, the mention of hundreds and fifties in 6:40 could possibly be an allusion to Obadiah (and by extension Ahab). This would serve to reinforce the contrast between Jesus and Herod, already implied by the juxtaposition of the murder of John at Herod's banquet and Jesus' feeding miracle.


[1] Boring, Mark, 176.

[2] Boring, Mark, 177.

[3] Sanae Masuda, ‘The Good News of the Miracle of the Bread: The Tradition and Its Markan Redaction’, NTS 28 (1982): 213; Marcus, Mark 8-16, 611.

[4] Feneberg, Der Jude Jesus und die Heiden, 145.

[5] Birthday celebrations were a regular part of the Greco-Roman patronage system, see Kathryn Argetsinger, ‘Birthday Rituals: Friends and Patrons in Roman Poetry and Cult’, Classical Antiquity 11 (1992): 175–93.

[6] Dennis E. Smith, From Symposium to Eucharist: The Banquet in the Early Christian World (Minneapolis, Minn.: Fortress Press, 2003), 31, 34–36, 49.

[7] Collins, Mark, 318.

[8] Collins, Mark, 324.

[9] Smith, From Symposium to Eucharist, 49.

[10] Aus, Feeding the Five Thousand, 131–32; Collins, Mark, 324; Garland, Mark, 254; Witherington, The Gospel of Mark, 217; Sick, ‘The Symposium of the 5,000’, 14. On the socio-economic significance of this contrast see Alicia J. Batten, ‘Fish Tales’, BTB 47 (2017): 11.

[11] Alter, The Art of Biblical Narrative, 21.

[12] Pesch, Das Markusevangelium, 1.339; also Collins, Mark, 307; Thomas R. Hatina, ‘Embedded Scripture Texts and the Plurality of Meaning: The Announcement of the “Voice from Heaven” in Mark 1.11 as a Case Study’, in Biblical Interpretation in Early Christian Gospels, Volume 1: The Gospel of Mark, ed. Thomas R. Hatina, LNTS 304 (London: T&T Clark, 2006), 42.

[13] ‘The fateful omnipotence of a woman over the royal power of her husband.’ Drewermann, Das Markusevangelium, 407. This in no way absolves Herod of guilt for John’s murder, however. See Hatina, ‘Embedded Scripture Texts and the Plurality of Meaning’, 39–40.

[14] Guelich, Mark 1-8:26, 331.

Monday, April 12, 2021

CFP for ANZABS 2021





6-7 December 2021

Te Kupenga Catholic Theological College



The 2021 Annual Meeting of ANZABS will take place at Te Kupenga Catholic Theological College (formerly Good Shepherd College) in Auckland on 6-7 December 2021. Further details of the meeting will follow later. But please put it in your diary now!


We are seeking papers of 20 minute duration, which will be followed by 10 minutes of discussion. As a rule of thumb, presenters talk at about 100 words a minute so a 20- minute paper should equate to roughly 2,000 words.


When you submit a paper proposal, please include a title and a 100 word abstract of the proposed paper.


Paper proposals should be sent to Emily Colgan at: Proposals should be received by 24 September 2021 – though early proposals are most welcome!


Further details on registration and conference arrangements will be sent out in late September. Conference fees will be set at $30 (waged) and $20 (unwaged, including retirees). This will be paid to the organization hosting the conference to cover expenses including catering.


Please share this call for papers widely, and do especially encourage graduate students to think about offering a paper.


We look forward to seeing you at Te Kupenga Catholic Theological College towards the end of the year!


Emily Colgan

(on behalf of the ANZABS Executive)

Tuesday, February 16, 2021

The Gourd is the Messiah!?

No this is not a Monty Python sketch, but my new article on Jonah's gourd and the way it is (possibly/probably/maybe) referenced in Mark's account of Jesus in Gethsemane. 

Jonah’s Gourd and Mark’s Gethsemane: 

A Study in Allegorical Messianic Intertextuality

A number of scholars have recognized a verbal allusion to Jon. 4.9 in Mk 14.34. However, the Gethsemane account (Mk 14.32-42) may allude to the narrative of Jon. 4 in other ways not previously observed. Some modern interpreters have suggested an allegorical messianic interpretation of Jonah’s gourd as Zerubbabel, despite lacking any basis for this interpretation in early Jewish literature. Mark’s allusion may be formerly unrecognized evidence of such an interpretation from the first century CE. This article will examine the wider allusion to Jon. 4 in Mk 14, suggest what kind of exegesis of Jon. 4 might motivate that allusion, and argue for the coherence of such an allusion within the immediate Markan context.

It is now published in Journal for the Study of the New Testament, 43:3 (2021), pp. 370–388. If you don't have access to the journal you can read a pre-publication version on If you need to cite it and don't have access, contact me and I'll be happy to share the published version with you.

The idea for this article came out of my PhD thesis, although this article is only a footnote in the actual thesis, I thought the idea was worth exploring further. It's nice to have it published as now, when and if I publish my thesis, I can reference my own article (scholarly life goals)! As he is today, there is evidence that Jonah was a character that inspired a lot of speculation and interpretation beyond the "plain reading" of the book named after him. Both Ancient Jews and Christians saw him as a significant figure, and Jewish traditions considerably embellished his story in exciting ways. The book of Jonah ends unfinished and on a question. I wonder if Mark got the idea for his abrupt and open ended conclusion to his Gospel from reading/hearing the story of Jonah?

Let me know what you think :-)

Tuesday, February 9, 2021

Von Thaden and "slogans" in 1 Cor 6:12-20

A few posts back I shared about my article, the excitingly titled, "The Argument against Attributing Slogans in 1 Corinthians 6:12-20", published in the Journal for the Study of Paul and his Letters. Long term readers of the blog will know that that was based on work done for my Masters thesis way back in 2010. But that is biblical scholarship for you, the wheels generally grind slowly (or not at all).

Anyway, I'm still returning to 1 Cor 6:12-20, there is plenty more to say on the matter (although I promise I do have other interests!) and while doing some research for something else I came across the even more excitingly titled Sex, Christ, and Embodied Cognition: Paul's Wisdom for Corinth by Robert H. von Thaden. His book was published around the same time as my article was under review, so there was no opportunity for us to use each other's work, but we arrive at very similar conclusions.

Obviously you'll have to read the book to get the detailed argument, but von Thaden begins by arguing, far more directly than I have, that the slogan hypothesis is not motivated by exegesis but historical construction.

. . . the genesis of various slogan hypotheses, like that of partition theories from the last century, is the desire to  resolve what scholars view as unsettling or intractable interpretive difficulties. . . a reconsideration of the function of various slogan hypotheses allows for a more nuanced reading of Paul's didactic rhetoric in 1 Cor 6:12-7:7. (p.197)

Like me, von Thaden's concern is that these reconstructions make a mess of the flow of Paul's thought, and he employs the category of didactic rhetoric to argue that Paul inventively uses many different sources to construct his argument, but in doing so does not refute them but employs all the elements together to persuade his audience. So, even if the so-called slogans are phrases that the Corinthians employ as "slogans", that still does not justify dismembering them from Paul's composite rhetorical structure.

Rather than resort to so-called slogans that purport to tell biblical scholars what is taking place "behind" Paul's letter, it makes more exegetical and rhetorical sense to read Paul's teaching 6:12-7:7 as a coherent example of didactic rhetoric . . . (p.199)

I believe that this interpretation restores a rhetorical integrity to the argument found in 6:12-7:7 that the search for Pauline opponents has obscured. (p.201)

So It is very encouraging to find someone following a similar line of thought to me but arriving there independently. I haven't had time to read the whole book, but the bits I have dipped into seem well written and to be extremely thoroughly researched, so check it out if you are into Paul, 1 Corinthians, or things like that! :-) I'll leave the last word to my new friend von Thaden:

I modestly suggest that handling the difficulties of 1 Cor 6:12-7:7 with slogan hypotheses, at least as they have traditionally been deployed in historical-critical studies, creates more problems than it solves. Paul certainly appropriated insights from all manner of resources, but given how paradoxical his thinking is I think it makes the best exegetical sense to put Paul back in control of his argument and to read 1 Cor 6:12-7:7 "without quotation marks."  (p.202)

Let me know what you think! :-)

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

Defining a Pastor (Oden)

I'm currently reading Thomas C. Oden, Pastoral Theology (1983). Judging by the introduction this seems to be the book where he started to figure out his avowedly-unoriginal "ecumenical consensus" approach to theology which works so well in his big systematic theology, Classic Christianity. As a Baptist in a denomination that currently has virtually no theology of ordination (yes, you read that right) it is challenging to read a book from Oden's ecumenical perspective. However, as Oden notes any emphasis on a distinct ordination of ministers risks undermining the general ministry of the Church (p.26). As a Baptist the danger of an ordained priesthood is that it would seem to contradict the priesthood of all believers (1 Peter 2:9-10). Nonetheless, there is no doubting that even within Baptistic churches, focused on the ministry of the people, the office of pastor has a peculiarity to it which, perhaps because it is so under theologised/theorised often becomes an authoritarian and managerial role. In this, I love Oden's centering definition of the pastoral vocation, as well as his repeated warnings as to how it can be abused.  

All the varied activities of the pastor have a single center: life in Christ. Pastoral theology seeks to point to that center in credible contemporary language and to see every single function in relation to that center. The Center is Christ's own ministry for us and through us, embodied in distortable ways through our language, through the work of our hands, and quietly through our bodily presence. (p. 3)

"The pastor," concisely defined, is a member of the body of Christ who is called by God and the church and set apart by ordination representatively to proclaim the Word, to administer the sacraments, and to guide and nurture the Christian community toward full response to God's self disclosure. (p 50)

Wherever Christians speak of authority or dignity of ministry or headship of the shepherd, these are not properly understood as coercive modes of power, but persuasive, participative modes of benevolent, empathetic guidance. This is an extraordinarily complex, subtle, and highly nuanced conception of authority, but it is intimately familiar to those who love Christ and listen for his voice. The proper authority of ministry is not an external, manipulative, alien power that distances itself from those "under" it, but rather a legitimized and happily received influence that wishes only good for its recipient, a leadership that boldly guides but on on the basis of a deeply empathetic sense of what the flock yearns for and needs. The analogy of shepherd was not promiscuously or thoughtlessly chosen by Jesus as the centerpiece of ministry, but wells up from the heart of God's own ministry to the world. (p. 53)

Anytime ministerial leadership of authority is asserted as a bald, coercive power over the will of the recipient, it has already become alienated from the interpersonal analogies that show evidence of its deeper participation  in the body of Christ. (p. 54)

Jesus prayed: "As thou hast sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world" (John 17:18). A moving analogy her begins to unfold between incarnation and apostolicity, between God's engagement in the world in Christ and our engagement in the world as ambassadors for Christ. (p. 61)

Let me know what you think :-)

Friday, November 27, 2020

Christ's Hidden Divinity?: Davies and Sonderegger on the Markan Transfiguration

One side effect of spending 3+ years working on a particular Gospel is that, while you recognise you still have plenty to learn, you feel rather protective of it and resentful of those who publish on passages where you have particular ideas waiting to be published. One such passage where I think my research has arrived at a new and not unimportant interpretation is the Transfiguration in Mark 9:2-9. So, it was with some trepidation I read Jamie Davies' new article on the same passage.

"Apocalyptic Topography in Mark’s Gospel: Theophany and Divine Invisibility at Sinai, Horeb, and the Mount of Transfiguration", Journal of Theological Interpretation Vol. 14, No. 1 (2020), pp. 140-148 

Davies is an expert in NT apocalyptic and appears to work mainly in Paul and Revelation. In this article he discusses both Mark's Transfiguration account in light of the theology of Katherine Sonderegger. 

For Davies "much discussion of apocalyptic theology in the New Testament has had a tendency to foreground eschatology in a way that has displaced the the importance of epistemology to its detriment" (p143). For him a key feature of Mark's Transfiguration account is the way that it reflects the "distinctly veiled" theophanies of Exodus 24 and 33 and 1 Kings 19, where "divine appearance is marked by a distinct ambiguity" (p141). In Davies' reading he finds it "most unusual" that "it seems like Mark goes out of his way to create a scene that does not so much clarify as obscure the divine identity of Jesus" (p144). He does not explain where in Mark he finds passages that are clear regarding Jesus' divine identity. Most likely (but possibly not) he means the stilling of the storm (Mark 4:35-41 ) and the walking on the water (Mark 6:45-52), usually considered the high point of Mark's narrative Christological portrayal, but I'm not sure these are any clearer in terms of divine identity than the Transfiguration - certainly their Christological implications are fiercely contested. 

Regardless, from this analysis Davies goes on to argue that Mark's Gospel has a doctrine of God similar that of Katherine Sonderegger in her The Doctrine of God (Fortress, 2015). Davies moves on to discuss Sonderegger's explication of "hiddenness as the mode of God's immanence and omnipresence" (Davies, p145). He uses Sonderegger's exegesis of 2 Kings 6 (Elisha and the blinded Arameans) to critique J. Louis Martyn's approach to Pauline apocalyptic: rather than warfare and invasion (Martyn) Davies sees apocalyptic as revelation of what is hidden (p145). Categorising the story of Elisha and the blinded Arameans as an apocalypse he writes, "This apocalypse is surely an epistemic claim, underlined, in a further narrative twist, when the armies of the Aramean king are defeated through blindness." Davies then relates Sonderegger's metaphysics of hiddenness to Mark's Transfiguration, "The apocalyptic theophany in Mark is both the visible disclosure of Jesus' glory and the (paradoxical) revelation of the invisibility of God in Christ" (p.146-47). In his reading, the Transfiguration is Mark's "narrative expression of an apocalyptic epistemology" and "reveals the presence of the One God in Jesus Christ precisely in his hiddenness" (p147).

Some quick thoughts . . .

1. I'm not convinced he's really got to grips with Mark if he sees obscurity as a "most unusual" feature. In terms of divine Christology, Mark is arguably the most obscure Gospel - and consistently so. Also, I'm not sure why "Apocalyptic Topography" in the title, he just cites Elizabeth Malbon on topography, his real focus is epistemology. 

2. I like his focus on apocalyptic epistemology. I have a half baked idea for a paper on Mark's epistemology and this has inspired me to look into it some more . . . sometime.

3. I'm out of touch with apocalyptic and Paul but I didn't think Martyn was representative of the field, I thought he was more a Barthian exegete influential on pro-Barth systematic theologians. Anyway, sounds like I need to read up on the subject!

4. I'm intrigued by Sonderegger's work. Both by its apparent basis in exegesis, and by the fact she is there honing in on a pet theological thought revealed to me by my (then) five year old daughter one night at bedtime: if God is everywhere then God has to be invisible or we wouldn't be able to see anything else!

5. This was an intriguing and fun article, rather short and under-referenced, especially when making a few claims that needed some more backing up. I haven't been forced to rethink my own ideas about Mark's Transfiguration (watch this space), but I do think I'll be returning to some of the ideas in this article for other things in the future.

Let me know what you think :-)

Markan Typology - my book! Now available to buy

Responding to the belief suggestion that scriptural typology was a later development of the early church, and not applicable to the earliest...