Boasting in the Crucified King: Mark’s Use of Mid-Episodic, Non-Speech Historical Presents

A general consensus exists within Markan scholarship that the Gospel of Mark highlights the suffering and death of Jesus. For example, this is seen from the programmatic logion of Mark 10:45, the distribution of εὐθύς in the narrative, and the narrative space given to the passion week. Broadly, this paper proposes to bolster this consensus through an analysis of Mark’s use of the Greek historical present (HP) in mid-episodic, non-speech texts.

Traditionally the HP has been understood to dramatize or enliven the narrative for the reader (e.g., Burton, Robertson, MHT, BDF). While this view still has many adherents (e.g., Wallace, Köstenberger/Merkle/Plummer, Siebenthal), it has received more nuance and clarity through recent studies on Greek verbal aspect (e.g., Porter, Fanning, Campbell) or the HP as an indicator of discourse prominence (e.g., Levinsohn, Runge). The latter holds particular promise because it accounts for many of the occurrences of the HP in non-speech texts in Mark. For instance, Mark uses the HP—typically with verbs of propulsion—to begin a new section (e.g., 1:21; 4:1; 7:1), introduce a new character (e.g., 1:40; 3:31; 5:22), or move a character to a new location (e.g., 3:13; 4:36; 6:1). Still, as has been noted by some (e.g., Porter, Campbell), this does not account for all the uses of the HP in Mark, for the HP can also occur within a scene, whether in isolation from other present indicatives (e.g., 2:4; 6:48) or in clusters with other HPs (e.g., 4:37–38; 5:38–40; 11:6–7). This paper will contend that in such instances, the HP retains its discourse prominence but in a distinct way. As a marked tense-form within Greek narrative, it highlights or draws the reader’s attention to the event either already happening or about to happen.

To demonstrate this, this paper will analyze the mid-episodic occurrences of the HP in Mark in non-speech texts. In conversation with the increasing number of studies on the HP in Mark (e.g., Breytenbach, Buth, Callow, Enos, Maloney, Osburn), I will show that these mid-episodic occurrences play a special role in Mark: they draw attention to Jesus’ royal identity (e.g., 6:48; 11:6–7) and saving mission (e.g., 2:4; 5:22–23, 38–40). Further, while Mark distributes the mid-episodic clusters of HPs throughout his gospel narrative, they come to a climax in Mark 15, where nine HPs cluster in the span of twelve verses (15:16–27). This suggests not only that Mark uses the mid-episodic HP to highlight Jesus’ unique identity and mission, but also that he does so with a crescendo on the crucifixion narrative as the climactic and definitive expression of that message.

In conclusion, this paper will further scholarship’s general understanding of the use of the HP in Greek narrative as well as its specific understanding of the use the HP in Mark to draw the reader’s attention to Jesus’ unique royal identity and saving mission.