Saturday, March 28, 2009

Book Notice: Binding the Strong Man - Ched Myers

Ched Myers
Binding the Strong Man: A Political reading of Mark's Story of Jesus
(2nd ed.; New York: Maryknoll, 2008)
Available from

When I was in theological college I had a revolutionary experience where I decided to leave Paul for Jesus in my immediate studies. I had naively thought that Paul had all the good theology and the Gospels (except perhaps for John) were merely the warm-up act for Paul. It was in a class on "Jesus and the Gospels" with, of all people, a pastoral studies lecturer that exposed us to study of Gospel of Mark with a social-scientific slant, it was there that the Gospels came alive to me in a fresh new way and I saw Jesus in ways that I never imagined. Since that time, Mark has always been my favourite Gospel and I have nearly twenty Gospel of Mark commentaries in my library. One book that I have found immensely stimulating is Ched Myer's liberationist reading Binding the Strong Man. Now I am no liberation theologian, but there are elements of this book that do make you really, really think about the social location of Jesus and Mark's readers and the socio-political implications of the Gospel story. In this 20 year anniversary edition are a number of testimonies by people as to how Ched Myer's book has influenced them. What caught my eye was this comment from Christopher Rowland of Oxford Uni:

"What I think is so striking about Ched Myer's Binding the Strong Man is that it's apparent on every page that it is written by a person whose understanding comes from within the struggles of life, and who knows, mutatis mutandis, what it is to follow Jesus 'in the way' and to understand the Bible out of that context. Ched understands something about the text, because he knows that what it means to be a follower of Jesus puts one in a position of being a nonconformist and an activist. If you're not, then one will miss things about the text and not grasp the wisdom and insight which is hidden in this strange story of a marginal Jew which we now as the Gospel of mark" (p. xliii).

Myers identifies three subplots in the Gospel of Mark: (1) There is Jesus' creation of a new community built around himself and his messainic preaching; (2) There is Jesus' mission to the crowds who teem with the poor and oppressed; and (3) There is Jesus' confrontation with the powers that held Israel in their dark grip. Let me give an example of Myer's approach with his summary of Mark 2.16-28:

"Jesus has challenged the ideological hegemony of the scribal and priestly classes by underminning their control of the redemptive media of purity and debt codes. This alone would be a programmatic statement, but Mark is not done. He now turns to the Pharisaic movement, which represented a different - though in Mark's view equally problematic - approach to the ideological maintenance of the people of God. I have noted above how the Pharisaic sect, which included both priests and scribes, pursued a program to extend the imperatives of the symbolic order to the masses while themselves following a rigorous practice of purity. Their attempts at building a popular base put them in direct competition with Mark's community. In the next three episodes Jesus' direct action campaign confronts the central tenets of the Pharisaic holiness code: their rules of table fellowship, pulic piety, and maintenance of the Sabbath" (pp. 157-58).

I should add another fairly unknown work on Mark that is a little gem and that is Herman C. Waetjen's volume A Reordering of Power. When you read his commentary on the passion narratives you will need a hankerchief or a kleenex nearby.


Angie Van De Merwe said...

I think that humans are uniquely different in the way they approach "faith" and develop their reason.

Some, I think cannot accept a reconstruction as "real truth", as it testifies to an ethereal "world" without being connected to the 'real world'. These are the agnostics and atheists in our world. But, they still have faith, they have just chosen to have faith in a real world of experience known through reason.

The "second naivete" of faith, is a choice, but must be assessed by the individual as reasonable. Or at least, what they feel that their ultimate priority or value is.

I think that symbolism is important in literature, and in teaching about universal categories, such as justice, honesty, humility, evil, envy, etc., but whenever faith has had real meaning in a life, that filled in gaps where human needs had not been met, then, it is improbable that these persons would desire to connect with a foundationless faith. But, it is where those "real needs" need to be addressed through counselling.

I find that what I have recently read about Marx, makes sense, in his sarcasim of a dichotomous world. This is why I have become most interested in our form of government and in government in general.

Unknown said...

Thank you for providing me with yet another title that I have to get my hands on and read. You guys are a source!

Angie Van De Merwe said...

I HAVE to add that just because I believe that this physical world is the domain that life is lived and I agree with Marx in his sarcasm on this subject, I do not agree with him in totality, at all.

simon said...

I too have found Ched Myers' volume really helpful and deeply frustrating in equal measure.

We are preaching through Mark at the moment - taking 6 months to do so, allowing us to tackle the whole gospel and giving us the space and time to let the story unfold at its own pace and speak to us on its own terms.

I have also found Paul Barnett's slender volume really helpful because he too tackles the social and political context and thrust of Mark's story.