If you were to ask a group of professional scholars studying Mark what the genre of this text is, they would probably react like starved lions thrown a piece of raw meat. Nice image, right?
Seriously, the question has provoked a ton of debate over the last thirty years. Some examples of what people are saying?
• apocalyptic/historical monograph
• parody of biography
• tragic drama
And that's just a start.
What's with all the fuss? Well, genre is one of the primary means by which writers communicate to their readers. Think about it. What if you understood Stephen Colbert to be a regular Walter Cronkite. Same thing goes here: what if you've been reading the Gospel of Mark as a biography when it's really a novella. That makes a big, big difference.
Short of actually reading all of ancient literature and devising your own theory—which we totally condone—our advice is to keep these basic points in mind:
• Mark isn't writing in a vacuum—he didn't invent a genre called "gospel" out of thin air. He was drawing on a contemporary genre, its forms, and conventions to help readers understand the type of story he was trying to tell.
• Genres are like music scales. You learn them, but then you jam by introducing variation and finding your own flair. The point? While Mark wrote in terms of a contemporary literary genre, he creatively varied, expanded, and maybe combined its forms with others. He jammed. The result is something truly and distinctively Markan and even, well, gospely.
Bottom line: don't mistake Kiss for a country music band just because they appeared on the Country Music Awards.