Ideology of power in Mark 15
Definition of ideology of power.
A dominant mode of discourse in Mark 15 differentiates between people who give orders and people who carry out those orders. Pilate orders soldiers to crucify Jesus, and they do. Soldiers order Simon the Cyrenian to carry Jesus' cross, and he does. The young man in the tomb orders the women to go and tell Peter and the disciples about the empty tomb and the resurrection of Jesus. Perhaps another mode is properly called "request," but the social dynamics of a request are dependent on the person who issues it. The temple hierarchy requests that Pilate do something with Jesus, the crowd requests that Pilate crucify Jesus and release Barabbas. Pilate requests that Jesus tell him if he is king of the Jews, and he requests information from the centurion who remained at the cross where Jesus was crucified. Joseph requests the corpse of Jesus so he can bury it.
The objective of chief priests, scribes, elders, Pilate, centurions, and soldiers in Mark 15 is to gain or maintain power over other people in the setting. The objective of the women is to maintain an "honorable" relation to a person whom they have followed and "served" for a significant period of time. The objective of Joseph of Arimathea is either to honor Jesus of Nazareth or not to dishonor the sabbath by allowing a man to hang on a cross during it.
The dominant means for bringing these relationships into being are actions, giving orders, and making requests. Chief priests, scribes, and elders give orders for Jesus to be arrested. After the action of holding a trial, they take Jesus to Pilate. After Pilate interacts with a crowd of people who come to him to release a prisoner for the festival, he whips Jesus and gives orders for him to be crucified. After the soldiers mock Jesus through actions and speech, they crucify him. Joseph of Arimathea goes to Pilate and requests the corpse of Jesus, and Pilate, after he sends for the centurion and receives verification that Jesus is dead, gives permission to Joseph to bury Jesus' corpse. Joseph takes Jesus' body down from the cross, wraps it in linen cloth, and buries it in a tomb. Women buy spices and come to the tomb after the sabbath to anoint the corpse. The young man in the tomb announces the resurrection of Jesus and gives the women orders to go and tell Peter and the disciples what they have seen and heard.
The forms of institutionalization and power are the temple, the Jewish court, the Roman military establishment, and the office of prefect in Jerusalem. Markan discourse, then, presents two dominant institutional forms in Jerusalem.
The rationalization of the activity in Mark 15 is highly complex and conflicted. The temple hierarchy responds with rage to Jesus' answer to the high priest's question if he is the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed (14:61-65). The narrator asserts that Pilate perceived the chief priests had handed Jesus over out of envy (15:10), and the chief priests and scribes may be acting out this motive in their taunt that he saved others but cannot save himself (15:31). The inscription of the charge against Jesus read, "The King of the Jews" (15:26). Jesus provides the rationale for his death in scripture (9:12; 14:21) and "God's will" (8:31; 14:36). Just before he dies, Jesus cries out that God has forsaken him. Was it necessary for God to forsake Jesus at the moment of death so that he could cause Jesus to rise up from death?
The ideology of power in Mark 15, then, is highly complex. There can be no wonder that commentators with widely different ideological alignments can have a feeding frenzy at its table. In the words of Jonathan Z. Smith: Whether revealed in a characteristic form of spells: "You are this, you are not this, you are that" "It is I, it is not I, it is so and so who says this" or in the equally characteristic use in the biographical tradition of riddle, aporia, joke and parable, these figures depend upon a multivalent expression which is interpreted by admirers and detractors as having univocal meaning and thus invites, again by admirers and detractors alike, misunderstanding. The function of the narrative is to play between various levels of understanding and misunderstanding, inviting the reader to assume that both he and the author truly do understand and then cutting the ground out from under this confidence. The figure for whom the designation son of god is claimed characteristically plays with our seriousness and is most serious when he appears to be playing. This is a sign of his freedom and transcendence, the sine qua non of a religious figure of Late Antiquity worthy of belief (Smith 1978: 194).
From V. K. Robbins, Exploring the Texture of Texts, (Valley Forge, PA: Trinity Press International, 1996), pp. 113-4.
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