From Modern Fictions to Mark and Back Again
Keywords:conspiracy theory, providence, myth
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.
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