Vernon K. Robbins

Sociorhetorical Interpretation

Emory Studies in Early Christianity

Rhetoric of Religious Antiquity

Religious Sites in Atlanta

Emory Department of Religion

Emory Graduate Division of Religion



Narrative amplification in Mark 15:1-16:8

Socio-Rhetorical Examples

Definition of narrative amplification.

Extended composition containing recitation, recontextualization, and reconfiguration produces narrative amplification. Mark 15-16 presents narrative amplification of beliefs of early Christians about the death and resurrection of Jesus. The Gospel of Mark repetitively puts early Christian belief in the death and resurrection on the lips of Jesus in the form of a chreia. In the progressive texture of Mark, the first chreia expressing this belief occurs in Mark 8:31:

And he [Jesus] began to teach them that the Son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.

This chreia on the lips of Jesus makes no reference either to burial or to appearance after resurrection. In the mouth of Jesus, this chreia focuses on suffering and rejection "by the elders, chief priests, and the scribes" prior to death and resurrection. Mark 8:31 presents Jesus as a passive victim throughout his suffering, rejection, and death. But Jesus becomes active on the third day when he "rises up." The same shift from passivity to activity occurs when Markan discourse presents two additional recitations of the chreia. The first recitation of the chreia after 8:31 occurs in 9:31:

The Son of man will be handed over into the hands of men, and they will kill him; and when he is killed, after three days he will rise.

Again the shift from passivity to activity occurs when Jesus rises up. But there is an additional feature. This chreia contains language of Jesus being "handed over" to certain people who will kill him. We saw this language previously in the opening unit of Mark 15. It also appears in a third chreia that recites the death and resurrection tradition in a slightly expanded form:

And taking the twelve again, he began to tell them what was to happen to him, saying, "Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem; and the Son of man will be handed over to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn him to death, and hand him over to the Gentiles; and they will mock him, and spit upon him, and scourge him, and kill him; and after three days he will rise."

In Mark 14:43, Judas hands Jesus over to a crowd from the chief priests, scribes, and elders. In 14:64, the chief priests, elders, and scribes, presided over by the high priest "condemn him as deserving death." In 15:1, the chief priests, elders, and scribes "hand over" Jesus to Pilate. In 15:15, Pilate hands Jesus over to soldiers. In 15:16-20 these Gentiles mock him, spit on him (15:19), scourge him (15:15), and kill him (15:33-39). In 16:7, the young man in a white robe in the tomb tells the three women that Jesus "has risen." With this the story ends, because with this episode Markan discourse has fully enacted the chreia as amplified narrative.

Recitation, recontextualization, and reconfiguration contribute to the narrative amplification in Mark 15-16. Reconfiguration of Psalm 22 exists in the broader context of Mark 15. Recitation of wording from Psalm 22 occurs in Mark 15:24, 29-32, 34. The recontextualization of Psalm 22:19 in Mark 15:24 creates a scene in which those who crucify Jesus divide his garments among themselves. Mark 15:29-32 recontextualizes language from Psalm 22:7-9 in the form of "expansion composition" that produces a three-step scene featuring the mocking of three groups: (a) people passing by (15:29); (b) chief priests with scribes (15:31); and (c) the two thieves crucified alongside Jesus (15:32) (Robbins 1992b: 1177-78). Mark 15:33-39 contains recontextualization of the opening verse of Psalm 22. In this instance, the Markan text attributes the words in Aramaic to Jesus, forming a chreia statement, and to this the text adds a comment that translates the statement into Greek (Robbins 1992b: 1178). These oral-scribal activities in the context of other narration and attribution of speech creates a narrative that is an extended amplification of the brief chreiai in chapters eight, nine, and ten of Mark.


From V. K. Robbins, Exploring the Texture of Texts, (Valley Forge, PA: Trinity Press International, 1996), p. 51-2.

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