Study Guide

Gospel of Mark Genre

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Want To Start A Fight?

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?

• biography
• historiography
• novel
• apocalyptic/historical monograph
• parody of biography
• tragic drama

And that's just a start.

Who Cares?

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.

Basic Guidelines

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.

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