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Mark's Jesus goes beyond the Church

  • 02 April 2007

In The Existential Jesus, La Trobe University sociologist John Carroll's central proposition is that Jesus is the Philosopher of Being. This interesting, but sometimes perplexing, reading of Mark's Gospel is the subject of this interview with John Carroll. Nayum Ayliffe: What brought you to Mark's Gospel? John Carroll: Basically what brought me to Mark was the Reading Group that I convened for a decade at La Trobe University. It wasn't a churchy group at all. We read Mark in the early days and we were all overwhelmed by it, and everything else we read after it was disappointing.

I've come to the view that Archetypal stories are the basis of every culture. The Gallipoli story is just basically a re-telling of Homer from 2500 years ago. In the West obviously the big story is Jesus. Mark is an extraordinary narrative, quite unlike any other in the new or old testament. John is great as a story, but it does not have the intensity or the potency of Mark.

NA: One of the perspectives I gained from the book was that you were rescuing Jesus from the church? Is that a fair analysis?

JC: Put crudely, Yes. Especially with Mark, I think the churches have distorted the text. I use the word for sin, the Greek word Hamartia really means missing your way, a bit like a spear throw that's gone wrong. Or it can also mean character flaw. It's not a moral, ethical term. Sin is really not the meaning. It's very clear that Mark's Jesus is not really interested in sin, or really whether people are good people or bad people. He's much more interested in What's the nature of the 'I', or the being of the individual, 'Who are we' in the deep existential sense. NA: Nick Cave wrote "The Christ that the Church offers us, the bloodless, placid 'Saviour' - the man smiling benignly at a group of children or serenely hanging from the cross - denies Christ His potent, creative sorrow or His boiling anger that confronts us so forcibly in Mark." JC: He's also very alone. He's really the stranger. Of any major figure in a Western text, there is noone more alone than Mark's Jesus. His followers are all hopeless. He ditches his family, "I haven't got a mother and I haven't got brothers." At the crucifixion, there are thousands of people screaming