Mark Johnson. New South Wales Regional Meeting.

Philip Oakeshott opens his work with a series of the most sweeping generalisations I have read in any text, and certainly the most sweeping within the realm of contemporary biblical studies. It is within such unnecessary generalisations made by Philip that the many problems for this book lie. An alternative approach could have been one in which a niche for this book could be found without deriding everyone else’s scholarship, as if there has been a glaring error or blind spot which only Philip has been able to see and now point biblical scholars towards. Less gobsmacking hubris and more nuanced contribution would have been a preferred mature scholarly attitude.

In his preface Philip declares that his recent reading of modern New testament scholars has shown them to have too often overlooked what he regards as the “essential” differences between the four Gospels. In fact modern biblical scholarship has long dealt with many differences between the four Gospels, and also resemblances (in their use of each and other common sources). Just what the “essential” differences are is never explored by Philip except to have such a statement then function as basis for claiming that the content of those Gospels at the furthest poles to each other – that of Mark and John – are overlooked by all biblical scholars. It seems that only Philip is aware of the “factual” content of Mark and the “lack of fact” in John.

From this sorry foundation Philip deduces that the majority of modern scholars deny that any Gospel can be an eye-witness account and so are therefore forced to indulge in a range of “fanciful theoretical interpretations”; alternatively those few others who do not share the view of the vast majority indulge in a literalist understanding of all four Gospels being eyewitness accounts; leaving the rest of us  fleeing into the refuge of such gnostic influenced texts as that of Thomas.

Philip Oakeshott counters the entire modern biblical tradition and claims to start from the beginning so to not only give firm groundings for all biblical scholarship, but principally defend his central thesis that the author of Mark was an associate of Peter, that same Peter who was one of Jesus’ twelve, and therefore Mark is simply recording Peter’s memories of eyewitness accounts. Therefore far from being a Gospel Mark is therefore more of a biography. This is one of the many results of Philip’s claim. While Philip is certainly correct to indicate Peter’s pivotal role within Mark, that same role is actually pivotal in each of the first three Gospels, because it is Peter’s declaration of who Jesus is that is key to all three theological documents. But in regards to Philip’s relegating Mark to little more than a biography, he seems unaware of the very definite form of the biography which was extant at the time of Mark, and to which Mark bears no resemblance to.

A very extensive discussion of what a Gospel is, one that Philip could have listened to more deeply and certainly as a corrective to his biographical emphasis, is that of C.S Mann and his study of Mark as part of the Anchor Bible series.

Philip attempts to assist us in our understanding of Jesus and to make him more understandable to a Quakerly perspective by repeatedly discussing Jesus in terms parallel to that of George Fox and other Quaker luminaries; that via the lens of Fox and co, and waiting upon the Lord, we can understand Jesus’ motivations. Fox and co listened to that inner voice which compelled subconsciously, so too with Jesus of Nazareth.

I’m not at all sure what to make of this work from Philip Oakeshott, it is certainly not an exegetical work despite its claims. Instead it veers increasingly towards literalism and also to eisogesis, but these too are undone by the initial arrogance and extraordinary generalisation with which the work begins. There is no use trying to make Jesus more understandable to a type of Quakerly perspective when the work itself begins with such an un-Quakerly manner.

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