To David M. Scholer
In 1975, Nils A. Dahl identified God as the "neglected factor" in NT theology and encouraged scholars to pay more attention to the treatment of God in NT texts.1 Markan scholarship seems to confirm Dahl's critique; scholars of the Second Gospel evince minimal interest in Mark's understanding of God.2 As a way of redressing this lacuna, I propose that Jesus' cry of dereliction (Mark 15:34) is a helpful starting point for illuminating Mark's depiction of God. [End Page 755]
Despite the explicit focus on God in Mark 15:34 (ελωι ελωι λεμα σαβαχθανι / ὁ θεός μου ὁ θεός μου, εἰς τί ἐγκατέλιπές με), most commentators on this verse are silent about what Jesus' cry might reveal about Mark's understanding of God.3 Some treatments of Jesus' death in Mark scarcely attend to Jesus' cry.4 Mark 15:34 is even omitted in explicit theological analyses of Mark. W. R. Telford, for example, apparently finds no theological value in Jesus' final cry.5 More surprising is Jack Dean Kingsbury's complete neglect of 15:34 in an article entitled "'God' within the Narrative World in Mark."6 John R. Donahue devotes only one sentence to 15:34 in an article whose stated focus is to see whether there is "a distinct understanding of God in the gospel."7
Neglecting or minimizing 15:34 contributes to incomplete and inaccurate understandings of Markan theology. Donahue notes, for instance, that in Mark 13:32 and 14:35-36, "the image of Jesus as son is one of faithful trust in the Father, even in the face of mystery, the mystery of the end time and of the passion."8 Mark 15:34 provides an image of Jesus, however, that diverges sharply from Jesus as "a model of trusting fidelity."9 Similarly, Donahue contends that in Mark the "posture during suffering is to be one of faithful endurance (13:13) and watchfulness before the end (13:34-36)."10 Yet in Mark 15:34 there appears a distinctly dissimilar attitude toward suffering—one of questioning God's abandonment. Donahue notes that Mark has "Jesus speak of God throughout the gospel in the language of reverential transcendence, while at the same time speaking for God with a unique authority which is the teaching of the way of God in truth."11 But Mark also has Jesus [End Page 756] speak to God, and his words to God in 15:34—his only words on the cross and the very last words he speaks—deserve consideration in discerning Mark's theology.12
In 15:34, Mark portrays a God who abandons Jesus, and a Jesus who laments this abandonment. Mark's narrative develops these twinned motifs of lament and divine abandonment by appropriating and reconfiguring the Akedah in Genesis 22. Before explicating Mark's reconfiguration of the Akedah, I will consider briefly the intertextual relationship between Mark and Psalm 22. I conclude the article by considering the potential meaning(s) of this construal of God and Jesus for Mark's authorial audience.13
I. Mark 15:34, Psalm 22 (21 LXX), and Lament
Many arguments against understanding 15:34 as a lament of divine absence or abandonment are tenuous.14 Donahue and Daniel J. Harrington maintain that it "makes no sense at all" for Jesus to utter a cry of despair since it would be incompatible with Mark's genre as a "gospel ('good news')."15 Paul J. Achtemeier claims that Jesus' cry must be seen within the broader context of Mark's Christology, in which "Jesus will return with God's power to assume his rule (13:26-27)."16 Thomas E. Schmidt avers that Jesus' cry is offered not for himself but on behalf of sinners or the entire Jewish nation.17 It is questionable, however, if Mark's narrative logic invites reading 15:34 through these various filters. It is difficult not to conclude that the reluctance to see 15:34 as a lament is partly due to theologies or Christologies that preclude divine abandonment of Jesus.18
Many commentators minimize the accent on lament in 15:34 by claiming that...