Hermeneia Series , Pp. xlvi, 894 , Fortress Press 2007 , $80.00 .
Commentaries are difficult, both to consult and to review; but Hermeneia is always different, notably for the balance of scholarship and accessibility that the series invariably manages. So it is with enthusiasm that one picks up even so weighty a volume as this, the more so in that it comes from Adela Yarbro Collins. She argues, in common with other scholars in recent decades, that the Second Gospel may indeed have been written by the John Mark of Acts, and the Mark referred to in Philemon 24. She also gives due weight to the evidence linking Mark to Rome, while discounting the often repeated view that Mark did not know Palestine, which she regards as a slightly more probable setting for the gospel. As for the date of Mark, she takes the view (common enough, in all conscience, but worth questioning for all that) that no vaticinia can be ante eventum, but argues nevertheless for 66–70, which is conventional enough. As for the genre of the gospel, she considers various options: gospel, biography, and history, before concluding that Mark is an ‘eschatological historical monograph’, which she accompanies with some decidedly interesting reflections on the relationship between what Mark is trying to do and the origins of historiographical writing in Israel. There is a long section on Marcan Christology (for which Collins prefers the title ‘interpretation of Jesus’), which she views as complex, multi-faceted, and somewhat ambiguous: Jesus is a prophet, Messiah, Teacher, but also (and very importantly) one who dies. This combination means that Mark's Jesus does not fit comfortably into any pre-existent categories (some or all of the above, you might say; but none of them quite works); and Mark does not fully explain Jesus' death, or, at any rate, does not offer just one explanation. The great merit of this work is Adela Yarbro Collins' easy passage through the Jewish world of the centuries either side of the birth of Christ, and her command of the evidence in LXX and Qumran. On the structure of the gospel, she makes a useful point by simply noting the extraordinary range of structures that have been suggested, which may suggest that the evangelist is about something that is beyond our ability to grasp. As one must today, she offers an account of the reception-history of Mark, though it feels a bit more like a nod in the direction of what goes on these days than arising from any conviction on the author's part that it helps our understanding, especially given that the commentary is explicitly aimed at helping the reader understand the gospel in its earliest context. And there is an interesting, and highly technical, account of the manuscript tradition. Turning from the Introduction to the Commentary itself, the reviewer's task becomes a good deal harder, although Yarbro Collins shows her accustomed immense erudition, lightly worn. Perhaps the most helpful aspect of it will turn out to be the parallel anecdotes from ancient sources (Greek, Roman and Palestinian) which she effortlessly brings forth from her treasury to illuminate Marcan pericopae. There is a very complete textual criticism, which is enormously helpful when one is looking for just that sort of thing; and, all the time, a notable emphasis on the form-critics and what they said about various Marcan pericopae. So the book is to be commended for the wealth of learning, generously and graciously distributed. What I suppose I miss in this text is any reason at all why one should read the gospel of Mark in the first place; but that is a charge that may be laid at more than one New Testament scholar's door. For learning that is at the same time available to interested readers, this commentary cannot be faulted.