Last December I received an invitation to contribute to a festschrift in honor of the fortieth anniversary of Fr. Paul Tarazi’s ordination to the priesthood. Fr. Tarazi was the Professor of Old Testament at St. Vladimir’s Seminary, which I attended from 1985 to 1988, and since then I have edited a number of books and articles for him. A festschrift is a book that is made up of articles written and published to honor a distinguished scholar who has worked in his field for many years. The long period of service typically means this person has mentored a large number of students who themselves have gone on to be scholars, and they are generally the ones who contribute articles to the festschrift.
I immediately accepted the invitation, and proceeded to confer with Fr. Paul about what topic I might write on. I had some ideas, but he suggested I write about one of his favorite New Testament subjects: the Gospels as narratives whose blueprint is Paul’s apostolic preaching as reflected in the Pauline corpus, concentrating on Mark. This appealed to me, so I discarded my ideas and adopted his.
I edited the first book in which Fr. Paul publicly presented that theory: The New Testament: An Introduction. Volume 1, Paul and Mark, published in 1999. When I first received the text of this book for editing and began to read it, I thought for sure he had gone off the deep end. It was an approach I had never seen before and it seemed to be way out in the realm of conjecture rather than composed of solid arguments based on evidence, as I had seen so much of in the previous book I edited for him (a commentary on Galatians). Nevertheless, I was an editor at that stage and not an author, and so I edited it as best I could while retaining some doubts about the accuracy or viability of the ideas presented in the text. Even after the book was published I remained doubtful about the positions espoused in it. But gradually over the following ten years I increasingly saw evidence pointing in the same direction and came to adopt a similar view of Mark’s gospel myself. This doesn’t mean I’m convinced by every individual assertion made by Fr. Paul, but I have come to think that his overall approach to understanding the origin and purpose and meaning of Mark is on the right track.
Why write about what Fr. Paul has already written about? He was writing for the Eastern Orthodox faithful and did not situate himself in the tradition of scholarly research or cite other scholars, and thus his book never got noticed by scholarship. (He is himself quite conversant with modern scholarship but consciously chooses to write books for the general reader rather than for scholars and so does not fill them with footnotes.) He was also limited in how much text about Mark he could fit into a short book that also had to introduce the epistles of Paul. Of course I am only writing an article for the festschrift, and that is also limited in size, but I can address a few key issues in the article and incorporate the rest into a book to be published later.
You might also ask: after modern scholars worldwide with all of the tools available to modern scholarship have pored over the Gospel texts for centuries, how could there be anything new to find that is not already widely known? What makes me think I’m better equipped to see what Mark is really about than all those other scholars, and how can I hope to convince anyone now of anything other than that Fr. Paul and I are both crackpots? I’ll discuss that in my next post.