Passover Plots

From Modern Fictions to Mark and Back Again

Authors

  • Richard G. Walsh Methodist College in Fayetteville

DOI:

https://doi.org/10.1558/post.v3i2/3.3.201

Keywords:

conspiracy theory, providence, myth

Abstract

Various modern fictions, building upon the skeptical premises of biblical scholars, have claimed that the gospels covered up the real story about Jesus. Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code is one recent, popular example. While conspiracy theories may seem peculiar to modern media, the gospels have their own versions of hidden secrets. For Mark, e.g., Roman discourse about crucifixion obscures two secret plots in Jesus’ passion, which the gospel reveals: the religious leaders’ conspiracy to dispatch Jesus and the hidden divine program to sacrifice Jesus. Mark unveils these secret plots by minimizing the passion’s material details (the details of suffering would glorify Rome), substituting the Jewish leaders for the Romans as the important human actors, interpreting the whole as predicted by scripture and by Jesus, and bathing the whole in an irony that claims that the true reality is other than it seems. The resulting divine providence/conspiracy narrative dooms Jesus—and everyone else—before the story effectively begins. None of this would matter if secret plots and infinite books did not remain to make pawns or “phantoms of us all” (Borges). Thus, in Borges’ “The Gospel According to Mark,” an illiterate rancher family after hearing the gospel for the first time, read to them by a young medical student, crucifies the young man. Eco’s Foucault’s Pendulum is less biblical but equally enthralled by conspiracies that consume their obsessive believers. Borges and Eco differ from Mark, from some scholarship, and from recent popular fiction, in their insistence that such conspiracy tales are not “true” or “divine,” but rather humans’ own self-destructive fictions. Therein lies a different kind of hope than Mark’s, a very human, if very fragile, hope.

Author Biography

Richard G. Walsh, Methodist College in Fayetteville

Professor of Religion

References

Aichele, George. 1996. Jesus Framed. London: Routledge.

———. 2006. The Phantom Menace: Postmodern Fantasy and the Gospel of Mark. New York: T&T Clark.

Aichele, George, Peter Miscall, and Richard Walsh. 2009. “An Elephant in the Room: Historical Critical and Postmodern Interpretations of the Bible.” Journal of Biblical Literature 128.2: 399-419.

Arnal, William. 2005. The Symbolic Jesus: Historical Scholarship, Judaism and the Construction of Identity. London: Equinox.

Baigent, Michel. 2006. The Jesus Papers: Exposing the Greatest Cover-Up in History. New York: HarperSanFrancisco.

Baigent, Michel, Richard Leigh, and Henry Lincoln. 2004 (original in 1982). Holy Blood, Holy Grail. New York: Delta.

Barkun, Michael. 2003. A Culture of Conspiracy: Apocalyptic Visions in Contemporary America. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Barthes, Roland. 1972. Mythologies, trans. Annette Lavers. New York: Hill & Wang.

Bellah, Robert N., et al. 1985. Habits of the Heart: Individualism and Commitment in American Life. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Blanton, Ward. 2007. Displacing Christian Origins: Philosophy, Secularity, and the New Testament. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Boer, Roland. 1997. Novel Histories: The Fiction of Biblical Criticism. Shef_eld: Shef_eld Academic Press.

Borges, Jorge Luis. 1999. Collected Fictions, trans. Andrew Hurley. New York: Penguin.

Brown, Dan. 2003. The Da Vinci Code. New York: Doubleday.

Bultmann, Rudolf. 1955. The Theology of the New Testament, trans. Kendrick Grobel, 2 vols. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons.

Camus, Albert. 1991. The Myth of Sisyphus and Other Essays, trans. Justin O’Brien. New York: Vintage International.

Cohen, Stanley, and Laurie Taylor. 1992. Escape Attempts: The Theory and Practice of Resistance to Everyday Life, 2nd ed. London: Routledge.

Crook, Zeba. 2007. “Fictionalizing Jesus: Story and History in Two Recent Jesus Novels.” Journal for the Study of the Historical Jesus 5.1: 33-55. doi:10.1177/1476869006074935.

Crossan, John Dominic. 1991. The Historical Jesus: The Life of a Mediterranean Peasant. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco.

Dean, Jodi. 1998. Aliens in America: Conspiracy Cultures from Outerspace to Cyberspace. Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press.

De Quincey, Thomas. 1853. Historical and Critical Essays, 2 vols. Boston: Ticknor, Reed & Fields.

Detweiler, Robert. 1964. “Christ and the Christ Figure in American Fiction.” The Christian Scholar 47.2: 111-24.

Eco, Umberto. 1984. The Name of the Rose, trans. William Weaver. San Diego: Harcourt Brace.

———. 1990. Foucault’s Pendulum, trans. William Weaver. New York: Ballantine.

Ehrman, Bart D. 2004. Truth and Fiction in The Da Vinci Code: A Historian Reveals What We Really Know about Jesus, Mary Magdalene, and Constantine. New York: Oxford University Press.

Evans, Craig. 2006. Fabricating Jesus: How Modern Scholars Distort the Gospels. Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press.

Foucault, Michel. 1979. Discipline and Punishment: The Birth of the Prison, trans. Alan Sheridan. New York: Vintage.

Geertz, Clifford. 1973. The Interpretation of Cultures. New York: Basic Books.

Hengel, Martin. 1977. Cruci_xion: In the Ancient World and the Folly of the Cross, trans. John Bowden. Philadelphia: Fortress.

Hofstadter, Richard. 1966. The Paranoid Style in Politics and Other Essays. New York: Knopf.

Jacobs, Andrew S. 2005. “Gospel Thrillers.” Postscripts: The Journal of Sacred Texts and Contemporary Worlds 1.1: 125-42.

Jaspers, David. 1997. “On Systematizing the Unsystematic: A Response.” In Explorations in Theology and Film: Movies and Meaning, ed. Clive Marsh and Gaye Ortiz, 235-44. Oxford: Blackwell.

Jenkins, Philip. 2001. Hidden Gospels: How the Search for Jesus Lost Its Way. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Mack, Burton L. 1988. A Myth of Innocence: Mark and Christian Origins. Philadelphia: Fortress.

———. 2008. Myth and the Christian Nation: A Social Theory of Religion. London: Equinox.

Martel, Yann. 2001. Life of Pi. Orlando: Harvest Books.

Moore, Stephen D. 1996. God’s Gym: Divine Male Bodies of the Bible. New York: Routledge.

Nickelsburg, George W. E. 1980. “The Genre and Function of the Markan Passion Narrative.” Harvard Theological Review 73: 153-84.

O’Leary, Stephen D. 1994. Arguing the Apocalypse: A Theory of Millennial Rhetoric. New York: Oxford University Press.

Petersen, Norman. 1980. “When is the End Not the End? Literary Re_ections on the End of Mark’s Narrative.” Interpretation 34: 163-68.

Pippin, Tina. 1999. Apocalyptic Bodies: The Biblical End of the World in Text and Image. New York: Routledge.

Raphael, D. D. 1960. The Paradox of Tragedy. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Schweitzer, Albert. 1968. The Quest of the Historical Jesus: A Critical Study of Its Progress from Reimarus to Wrede, trans. W. Montgomery. New York: Macmillan, 1968.

Segal, Alan F. 2007. “Christology in the Dark: The Da Vinci Code and The Passion of the Christ—What They Tell Us about American Religion Today.” In Jesus in Twentieth Century Literature, Art, and Movies, ed. Paul C. Burns, 211–22, UBC Studies in Religion 1. New York/London: Continuum.

Smith, Jonathan Z. 1978. Map Is Not Territory: Studies in the History of Religion. Leiden: E. J. Brill.

Tilley, Terrence W. 1991. The Evils of Theodicy. Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press.

Walsh, Richard. 1990. “Reconstructing the New Testament Churches: The Place of Acts.” In With Steadfast Purpose: Essays on Acts in Honor of Henry Jackson Flanders, Jr., ed. Naymond H. Keathley, 309-25. Waco: Baylor University Press.

———. 2001. Mapping Myths of Biblical Interpretation. Shef_eld: Shef_eld Academic Press.

———. 2008. “The Passion as Horror Show: St. Mel of the Cross.” The Journal of Religion and Popular Culture 20. Online: http://www.usask.ca/relst/jrpc/art20-passionashorror.html (accessed December 16, 2009).

———. Forthcoming. “The Hollywood Gospel and its Scholars: Lessons from Stigmata.” Postscripts: The Journal of Sacred Texts and Contemporary Worlds.

Wilken, Robert L. 1971. The Myth of Christian Beginnings: History’s Impact on Belief. Garden City: Doubleday.

Wilson, Andrew P. 2007. Trans_gured: A Derridean Rereading of the Markan Trans_guration. New York: T&T Clark.

Witherington, Ben III. 2004. The Gospel Code: Novel Claims about Jesus, Mary Magdalene, and Da Vinci. Downer’s Grove, IL: InterVarsity.

Wojcik, Daniel. 1997. The End of the World As We Know It: Faith, Fatalism, and Apocalypse in America. New York: New York University Press.

Wright, N. T. 2006. Decoding Da Vinci. Cambridge: Grove.

Ziolkowski, Theodore. 1972. Fictional Trans_gurations of Jesus. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Published

2010-02-26

How to Cite

Walsh, R. G. (2010). Passover Plots: From Modern Fictions to Mark and Back Again. Postscripts: The Journal of Sacred Texts, Cultural Histories, and Contemporary Contexts, 3(2-3), 201–222. https://doi.org/10.1558/post.v3i2/3.3.201

Issue

Section

Articles