40 Days in Mark is a blog project of the Harvard Ichthus, a student journal of Christian thought and expression. Our blog will host reflections, commentary, and exegesis of the sixteen chapters of the Gospel of Mark, one of the twenty-seven books of the New Testament. We will proudly feature over 50 posts from a large cadre of talented writers, including students, professors, alumni, and ministers. Topics will range from the role of women in Mark, to Jesus’ “Messianic Secret,” to how to spend time with God. All posts will be united by a single goal: to better understand who Jesus was and what that means for us today.
Why 40 Days?
The “40 Days” of the project are the 40 Days of Lent. Lent is a Christian holy season, spanning late winter and early spring every year. It begins with Ash Wednesday (February 18 this year) and concludes with Holy Saturday (April 4). The first day after Lent is Easter Sunday, the day on which Christians celebrate the central moment in Christianity: Jesus’ resurrection from the dead.
For those who are interested in learning more about Christians and Christianity, Lent is the perfect time to dive in. That’s why we’re doing this project now. As the spirit of anticipation of Jesus’ death and resurrection builds, it’s hard not to get interested in the person and the story at the center of it all.
One of the best ways to learn about Christianity is to read one of the four gospel accounts: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, each of which describe the life and ministry of Jesus of Nazareth.
While each gospel has its own structure and provides a unique perspective on Jesus’ life, Mark has several features that make it particularly exciting for study and reflection.
First, Mark is widely considered to be the earliest-written gospel. Dating ancient documents is very tricky and contentious, but few scholars date Mark before the 70s C.E., and some date it as early as the 50s C.E. (For context, Jesus died around 30 C.E.) Matthew, Luke, and John were most likely written later in the first century, and some of them used Mark for source material.
Second, Mark stands out for its literary sophistication and intricacies. Our posts will highlight some of these features, such as the surprising symbolic use of numbers, the technique of chiasm (an “A” section followed by a “B” section with a return to an “A” section), and allusions to the Old Testament that showcase how Jesus plays the role of a figure from the story of Israel, such as Moses or the Shepherd of Psalm 23.
Finally, the Gospel of Mark is toned with an intriguing, mysterious character. The identity of the book’s central figure, Jesus, is unclear to all of his followers for much of the book. This aspect of Mark makes it a fascinating study for readers today, as we also wonder who this enigmatic figure truly was.
The Gospel of Mark can be seen to flow through three movements, each of which progressively reveals Jesus more clearly. In the first movement (1:1 – 8:21), Jesus’ identity is deeply mysterious, and almost all the action takes place in the region of Galilee. He preaches, teaches in parables, heals, works miracles, and gets into disputes. The second movement (8:22 – 10:52) depicts Jesus and his followers travelling to Jerusalem. Consistent with the theme of motion and direction, the phrase “on the way” appears numerous times in this movement. This second section further illuminates Jesus’ true identity, and he becomes less shrouded in mystery. He begins to foretell his upcoming death and resurrection, and continues to correct the disciples about what it truly means to follow him when they (constantly) misunderstand. The third and final movement (11:1-16:9) is set in Jerusalem, the site of Jesus’ arrest, trial, and death, as well as the empty tomb from which he was resurrected.
Is It True?
Much could be said about the authorship of book of Mark and whether or not it is likely to be historically accurate. Tradition ascribes authorship to John Mark, an early Christian who is believed to have based his writing on the preaching of Peter, a follower of Jesus whom we will meet in Mark. Contemporary scholars debate whether or not this tradition makes historical sense. Though we will not herein try to prove the historicity of the account or its authorship, for a starting point to that discussion we invite you to check out Jordan Monge’s He Is Risen: A Defense of the Historicity of the Resurrection, published in the Ichthus in Spring 2011. Though the Resurrection is the central event of the Christian faith, the Gospel of Mark, fascinatingly, may not have included much material about the Resurrection. We’ll tackle that tantalizing issue in our series, too.
Through the three movements of Mark, the mission and identity of Jesus will slowly be revealed. In 40 Days in Mark, we will be exploring and grappling with these movements. With each post, we will share links to the relevant Bible passages we discuss. We hope you join us during Lent as we share in the journey of understanding Jesus.