Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Mark and Luke: Intertextuality Again

I suppose that for a good time you can call 225-3994, like the note on the bathroom wall at that gas station on Highway 151 that saved my bladder says, but here's a better suggestion. For a good time, try holding Mark's 13th chapter side by side with Matthew's 24th chapter (remembering that Matthew's story is not done until chapter 25); or hold Mark's 13th chapter side by side with Luke's 21st chapter; or hold Matthew 24 (not forgetting chapter 25) and Luke 21 side by side. Heck, we could make a whole week's worth of fun out of this. I'll bet you can't do that by calling 225-3994!

The point of these exercises would be to see how these three inspired writers deal with the apocalyptic discourse that was first recorded in Mark 13 during the time of the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem, and then revised accordingly by Matthew and Luke some years after that devastating event. For some of you, who have only tuned into this fascinating blog recently, I have been trying to make a distinction between the way that Left Behind Theology reads texts like these and a more promising way of reading them. I call the method of Left Behind Theology 'homotextuality,' because it is a forced way of reading biblical texts as if they all say the same thing, merely needing a sophisticated insider to piece them all together on a timeline. In place of reading the Scriptures this way, I encourage you to read the relationship between texts as an intertextual relationship, where later writers quite deliberately receive words and meanings from previous texts, but also transform those words and meanings by re-telling their stories.

I would argue that when Mark 13 uses the language of Daniel 7-12, Mark is deliberately reaching back to a text that was written during a horrific incident of the temple's desecration as a way of telling the story and interpreting the destruction of the temple in his day. Likewise, when Matthew is using Mark's story as a primary source, but writing his gospel 10 to 20 years later, he uses Mark's story of the destruction of the temple, but alters it to fit his own situation, for which the destruction of the temple is a past event and not a present reality. And the same can be said for Luke's 21st chapter. Out of great regard for Mark's story (as I said yesterday), Luke maintains a lot of Mark's 13th chapter. But, out of a need to interpret these events for his own day (like Matthew, Luke is writing perhaps 10 to 20 years later than Mark), Luke will alter certain things, leave out some things, and add some things. Homotextuality would feel the need to reconcile these differences with some clever argumentation. Intertextuality sees these differences as opportunities to understand what Luke was specifically inspired to say, without trying to squish him into the same box of conformity where Mark is.

(Irrelevant point of interest: I have a friend who googled 'homotextuality' one day and my blog came up! But, it was down the list a bit, fourth or fifth in the order. In the process, he discovered that I did not, in fact, invent that word. Darn! It appears in the subtitle of a book by Rudi C. Bleys called Images of Ambiente: Homotextuality and Latin (O/A) American Art, 1810-Today. Any title that long, with a colon, and a parenthetical inclusion- the o/a show both the male and female suffix to Latin- has to be a dissertation, don't you think? At any rate, the word 'homotextuality' was also associated with Andre Gide, long before I started blogging. Double darn! Gide and Bleys' use of 'homotextuality' is different from mine. I am using it literally: Homo = same; textuality = regarding written texts. Bleys' uses it as a shortcut for texts about homosexuality, which is clever, but I still think I ought to get the rights to it, since I'm using it more literally. I could sue for damages, but I'll settle for being the first reference under the word 'homotextuality' in Google. You can help the cause by googling the word over and over and making it appear that I'm a lot more important than I really am! Or, for a good time, you can call 225-3994. Tell them Andre Gide sent you.)

An intertextual reading of Mark 13 and Luke 21 would give both Mark and Luke their own integrity, without trying to morph one of them into the other. And a side by side reading of them shows some significant differences. For example, after both of them record Jesus as saying that wars between nations will come, Mark says, "but the end is still to come." Luke, writing well after the temple's destruction and knowing that the end did not come during that catastrophe as many thought it would, says instead, "but the end will not follow immediately." It is different. Some Bible critics (in the worst sense of the word) would point to that and say, "See, the Bible has contradictions!" That's the kind of criticism that homotextualists are trying to avoid by insisting that all texts are really saying the same thing. But, both the critics and the defenders are off base here. What we ought to do is to look at this difference and say, "Mark is saying one thing with this story and Luke is saying another. Each is inspired and each had something important to say to their community in their time." And, we could add, that you and I can learn a lot by what Mark and Luke say, as well as by acknowledging their differences and learning from them. That's how intertextuality works.

Tomorrow (and perhaps on Thursday), we'll look at four other places where Mark and Luke tell this story differently. For now, I just encourage you to forget 225-3994 and treat yourself to a good time by holding Mark 13 and Luke 21 side by side for a while, respecting their words, honoring their differences, and listening for how God speaks to us today through them.


No comments:

Post a Comment

If you want to leave a comment using only your name, please click the name/url option. I don't believe you have to sign in or anything like that by using that option. You may also use the 'anonymous' option if you want. Just be nice.

Blog Archive