Thursday, March 25, 2010

Binding the Strong Man, 1B

Ched Myers
Binding the Strong Man: A Political Reading of Mark's Story of Jesus

Part One: Text and Context
Chapter One: A Reading Site and Strategy for Mark
Section B: Why Mark?

The section title suggests that Myers will now tell us why he is addressing Mark, rather than Luke, Ruth, 1 Kings, Exodus, or Revelation, say. But in fact, this section does not answer that question, and instead answers a separate question.

The separate question is to compare the political reading which Myers wishes to give with other techniques of reading. The titled question, "Why Mark?" is addressed only by-the-way. The main question is thus actually, "What is wrong with non-political readings of Mark?"

The answer is thus to be found in an engagement of the "battle for the Bible", and specifically, the problem with strategies which regard the local, the political, the social, as irrelevancies which the interpreter's job is to look past, to find the "timeless and universal theological principle" underlying the text. Such a method is deeply embedded with the interpreter's own situation, and here we see the benefit of Myers' up-front declaration of his own hermeneutical starting places in the previous section.

Myers rejects first the theological method which suppresses the contextual and socio-historical character of the text in favor of the interior and universal. Second, he rejects the historical relic method, which attempts to situate the text so firmly in the past that it pretends an objective and timeless examination of its past character. Myers insists that the root of the argument between these two, and between him and them, is to be found in economic differences, and not in existing denominational or theological allegiances.

Myers then addresses insiders, to argue for the value of Markan study. Mark is, as he puts it, a "political manifesto", and "we" (fellow radical disciples) are in need of such texts. So if we are to find an answer to "Why Mark?" it is for two reasons: Mark is a traditional starting place for new strategies of reading, and Mark's message particularly suits the movement Myers wishes to advance.

There is then a high-level form of eisegesis going on here. Myers is aware of the risk that his strategy will control the text rather than unpack it, and argues convincingly that supposedly "neutral" readings inherently fail even more strongly by leaving unaddressed the very factors which tend to control the text. But Myers does not discuss the way in which the choice of text plays a role. Mark functions as a manifesto for his movement (or, if Myers is right, it does), but what of Matthew?

Myers will beautifully write that there is a traditioning of the story built in to Mark: "Jesus gets the gospel from God; Mark gets the gospel from Jesus; readers get the gospel from Mark." But it is not Mark in isolation which is canon, but Mark in community with the other texts in question. Luke and Matthew, in different ways, try to "correct" Mark, and we must hear both their "correction" and the original Mark. It is surely good to hear the original Mark, but ultimately, our ears as Christians do not "get the gospel from Mark" as if we did not also get it from Matthew, Luke, John, Paul, Peter, and the rest.

And so the choice of Mark amounts to the following two arguments:
  • Mark's politics are similar to "our" politics so we can find a useful ally,
  • Mark is a fun text to work with.
Myers may successfully avoid the charge that he makes Mark into his own puppet, but by choosing the voice which is, he thinks, most similar to his own, he does perhaps make the ''scriptures'' his own puppet, by listening exclusively to the voice which sounds most like his own.

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