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W]hen they saw him walking on the sea they thought it was a ghost ("phantasma"), and cried out; for they all saw him, and were terrified (Mark 6:49, RSV) Thereis a growing awareness among biblical scholars and others of thepotential value of modern and postmodern fantasy theory for the studyof biblical texts. Followingtheorists such as Roland Barthes, Tzvetan Todorov, and Gilles Deleuze(among others), we understand the fantastic as the deconstruction ofliterary realism. The fantastic arises from the text's resistance tounderstanding; the "meaning" of the fantastic text is not its referenceto the primary world of consensus reality but rather a fundamentalundecidability of reference. The fantastic is also a point at whichancient and contemporary texts (including books, movies, and TV shows)resonate with one another, sometimes in surprising ways, and thisresonance plays a large part in my argument. Mark and its afterlives"translate" one another, in the sense that Walter Benjamin speaks ofthe tangential point at which the original text and its translationtouch one another, not a transfer of understood meaning but rather apoint at which what Benjamin called "pure language" becomes apparent.Mark has alwaysbeen the most "difficult" of the canonical gospels, the one thatrequires the greatest amount of hermeneutical gymnastics from itscommentators. Its beginning "in media res," its disconcertingending at 16:8, its multiple endings, the "messianic secret," Jesus'stensions with his disciples and family -- these are just some of themore obvious of the and many troublesome features that distinguish Markfrom the other biblical gospels. If there had not been two othergospels (Matthew and Luke) that were clearly similar to Mark but alsomuch more attractive to Christian belief, it seems likely that Mark, like the gospels of Thomas and Peter, would not have been accepted intothe canon. Reading Mark as fantasy does not "solve" any of theseproblems, but it does place them in a very different context, one inwhich they are no longer "problems," but in which there are differentproblems. A fantastical reading of the gospel ofMark is not the only correct understanding of this text, but rather onepossibility that may have considerable appeal and value in thecontemporary world. This fantasticreading is a "reading from the outside," inspired by the parable"theory" of Isaiah 6:9-10 and Mark 4:11-12: "for those outsideeverything is in parables; so that they may indeed see but notperceive, and may indeed hear but not understand." Readingfrom the outside counters a widespread belief that only those withinthe faith community can properly understand the scriptures. It is the"stupid" reading of those who do not share institutionalizedunderstandings passed down through catechisms and creeds, i.e., throughthe dominant ideology of the churches.
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