Brief primer on Narrative Criticism part 1

You may have heard of Narrative criticism and be wondering ‘what is it and how does it apply to a biblical text, especially a NT text?I applied a narrative critical approach to Mark’s Gospel in my master’s thesis to understand why Jesus seems to hide his messianic identity from others, at least verbally. Mark’s account of Jesus’ life and miracles ironically further his messianic identity while he sternly warns individuals to be quiet about who he was (e.g., Mk 3:12; 8:30; 9:9). Narrative criticism evaluates a biblical text as story, in that it has a beginning, middle, climax and end replete with irony, plot, themes and so forth. If one reads Mark as a story written to an particular audience (the implied reader) then certain themes arise in the text. At this point you might be thinking ‘how can he say story? Does he mean Mark’s Gospel is now a mere fable or fantasy?’ Quite the contrary as our understanding of story differs from a first century Greco-Roman understanding of story or oral transmission of an event, and so forth. In my next post I will outline the critiques scholars have leveled against the usefulness of narrative criticism and the responses to those critiques. For a great introduction to narrative criticism, I highly recommend the following articles and/or books:

Dewey, Joanna. “The Survival of Mark’s Gospel: A Good Story?” Journal of Biblical Literature 123, No. 3 (Fall 2004): 495-507.

Dwyer, Timothy. The Motif of Wonder in the Gospel of Mark. Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1996.

Struthers-Malbon, Elizabeth. “Narrative Criticism: How Does a Story Mean?” In Mark & Method: New Approaches in Biblical Studies, edited by Janice Capel Anderson and Stephen D. Moore, 23-49. Minneapolis: Fortress Press.

Powell, Mark Allen. What is Narrative Criticism? Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1990.

Rhoads, David M., Joanna Dewey and Donald Michie. Mark as Story: An Introduction to the Narrative of a Gospel. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1999.

Rhoads, Davide M.“Narrative Criticism and the Gospel of Mark.” The Journal of the American Academy of Religion 50, No. 3 (S 1982): 411-434.

2 thoughts on “Brief primer on Narrative Criticism part 1

  1. Nice to see another fellow interested in such things. I just lamented on my blog last night how frustrating it is to be in the blogosphere and find very few people interested in narrative criticism and reader-oriented hermeneutics. I am currently co-editing a book with SBL/Brill entitled Mark as Story: Retrospect and Prospect (with Kelly Iverson). It is a celebratory volume of David Rhoads and Donald Michie’s seminal work. Look for it. Glad to see you blogging.


  2. Thanks Chris. I’ll have to check out your book when it comes out. It sounds good. I’m hoping to pursue a phd in the area of nt studies-primarily with a focus in narrative criticism and Mark. Haven’t narrowed the topic down yet, but it’ll happen on due time. 🙂

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