Did Mark’s Jesus ‘live like a king?’: the Rex and Roman Imperial ideology in Mark’s Gospel
Item statusRestricted Access
Embargo end date30/11/2021
Lamas, Mark Gerard Jr.
The Gospel of Mark stands out uniquely from the other gospels in its understanding and presentation of Jesus’ kingship. Matthew, Luke, and John’s gospels positively assign Jesus the title “king” (βασιλεύς) and in fact such a status remains integral to each gospel’s characterisation of Jesus (e.g. Davidic typology in Matthew and prophecy in Luke.) and his mission (e.g. Lk. 19:38; Jn. 18:37). Mark’s gospel is strikingly variant, missing opportune moments to align Jesus and other positive characters (e.g. David) with royal themes, and especially the title βασιλεύς. Mark utilises the term βασιλεύς twelve times in three clustered units (Mk 6:14, 22, 25, 26, 27; 13:9; 15:2, 9, 12, 18, 26, 32) and each are overtly negative. This study shows that from Julius Vindex’s revolt against Nero (c. March 68CE) to 73CE (Vespasian’s fourth year in power), the political concept of libertas (“liberty”) had been revived. Political libertas had its origins in that transitional period when Lucius Junius Brutus had exiled Rome’s last king, Tarquinius Superbus, and initiated the Republic. In Roman memory, libertas meant Rome’s “liberation” from kingship (regnum) and was inextricably tied to the L. Brutus narrative. As evidenced in both the literary sources and numismatic material, the rebellion faction of Vindex and Galba (Mar. - 9 June 68CE) uniquely utilised political libertas, associating Nero with the kingship/tyranny motif of King Tarquin and L. Brutus’ subsequent exiling (and later Cicero and Marcus Brutus with Julius Caesar). The ripples caused by the civil wars, and its popular libertas propaganda, reverberated throughout the empire during the years that many scholars date Mark’s gospel (68-73CE). I argue that Mark’s reticence to name Jesus βασιλεύς was influenced by recent widespread politicisation of libertas and the lingering despotism of Nero, which would have negatively associated kingship with tyranny, thus compromising Mark’s message of Jesus. Additionally, I aim to distinguish between Mark’s two narrative worlds, i.e. the earthly and transcendent narrative worlds. It is in the former that we find a strong reticence by the Markan author to associate Jesus with earthly aspirations towards kingship. However, in the transcendent narrative world, cosmic truths about Jesus’ identity as “Son of God”, “Son of Man”, and “Christ”, which are loaded with kingship language, remain available only to Markan characters with access to both narrative worlds (e.g. non-human and demonic forces). In instances where Jesus’ identity is revealed to human characters within Mark’s story world, Mark sets their experience within a transcendent setting (e.g. Mk. 9:9) and always regards the full embodiment and power attached to his identity as future oriented (e.g. Mk. 14:61-62). The confession of the centurion (Mk. 15:39) is the climatic unification of the two narrative worlds where Jesus ontologically becomes “Son of God”, “Son of Man”, and the “Christ” with all of the power and kingly language attached to such titles. Mark presents this unification in a grand scheme of triumph and apotheosis.