Commonly in biblical studies, as in other academic disciplines, a scholar arrives at a genuine insight and proceeds to interpret everything through that lens, seeing it as the key to the whole. The problem is that such ancient texts defy easy modern categorization or simple unifying themes. Adam Winn admirably avoids this trap.
Reading Mark’s Christology Under Caesar he combines his own distinctive ideas on the Roman background of Mark with a well-rounded narrative understanding of the text that often emphasizes Old Testament background. In this way Winn renders to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.
Winn agrees with most scholars that Mark was written in Rome for Roman Christians. How then did this affect the writer and the readers?
Winn argues the gospel was written just as Vespasian was attempting to legitimize his position as emperor by propaganda of his defeat of the Jews and destruction of their temple, of miracles, of being a generous benefactor, and by accepting certain titles with divine significance. All this posed problems for Mark’s original readers which the evangelist sought to alleviate. It also lends insight into several knotty questions scholars have struggled with over the last century.
Why, for example, does Jesus sometimes tell people not to spread the news of his miracles or his identity as the Christ? The case for this “Messianic secret” is hard to maintain, however, when at other times Jesus embraces public recognition such as when he heals the paralytic with four friends, the man with the withered hand, the woman who was sick for twelve years, as well as in stilling the storm and feeding the masses.
The solution, Winn proposes, is by seeing these episodes in an honor-shame context and how Roman leaders handled public acclaim. While vilified emperors like Nero and Caligula created envy and opposition by excessively accumulating such tributes, those held up as models, like Augustus and Tiberius, accepted a few but regularly rejected many. Jesus, Winn says, is not acting inconsistently but in concert with the highest ideals of Roman leadership.
offers other valuable insights regarding, for example, the apparent conflict between a powerful Messiah and a suffering Messiah as well as the place of the temple in the gospel. I highly commend all this to readers.
As someone who has written a book on Mark using a particular lens, I value Winn’s book since even in my own Mark Through Old Testament Eyes I acknowledge that other approaches and background information are needed. With a multidimensional approach, we draw closer to a fuller understanding.
Disclosure: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher. The opinions I have expressed are my own.