Horne explains what made Tolkien the man he was with clarity and incisiveness. Tolkien’s early love for languages, his forbidden relationship with his future wife, and his struggle with losing friends in the great war mark his early years. As life moved along, his struggle to support his family coincided with his perfectionism and his inability to ever consider his work finished (this explains why The Silmarillion was never published in his own lifetime). His friendship with C. S. Lewis which degenerated over time is also telling.
I was most pleased by Horne’s account of Tolkien’s Christianity. Christianity was a way of life for Tolkien—it was more the substructure of his life than a passion. Horne doesn’t try (in a “Christian Encounters” book) to turn Tolkien into someone he’s not, or read Christianity into his works. He simply reveals Tolken for the man he was: a brilliant perfectionist who lived and loved like the rest of us.
So, if you saw my last post on Mark, Revisiting Mark: the pattern, you saw a case for a pattern to the healings in Mark’s Gospel’s. But the full meaning of this pattern won’t be clear without considering the callings.
The Victory According to Mark: An Exposition of the Second Gospel
Click on image to go to publisher website
Jesus’ first calling is by the sea. He calls four fishermen to abandon their work and follow him. Since, fishermen working by the sea doesn’t seem that odd, one might not think much about the detail. But then comes the calling of Levi:
He went out again beside the sea, and all the crowd was coming to him, and he was teaching them. And as he passed by, he saw Levi the son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he rose and followed him.
(Mark 2:13-14 ESV)
In this case the fact that their by the sea seems to be a detail that has no real significance. But it serves to link this calling with the previous calling.
And it fits in the pattern I set down in my last post:
Exorcism, Cure, Cleansing, Cure-Feet –> Cure-Hand
Notice how the healings work with the callings:
Call 4 by name : Heal 4 people –> Call 1 by name : heal 1 person
I will demonstrate (to your satisfaction, I hope) that each line of miracles has a calling attached to the first healings and then to the complementary miracle. Jesus calls four and heals four ending with a paralyzed man walking (feet) and then he calls one and heals one withered hand. This is the pattern for all.
But the next calling also covers all the rest of the healings in the Gospel:
Jesus withdrew with his disciples to the sea, and a great crowd followed, from Galilee and Judea and Jerusalem and Idumea and from beyond the Jordan and from around Tyre and Sidon. When the great crowd heard all that he was doing, they came to him. And he told his disciples to have a boat ready for him because of the crowd, lest they crush him, for he had healed many, so that all who had diseases pressed around him to touch him. And whenever the unclean spirits saw him, they fell down before him and cried out, “You are the Son of God.” And he strictly ordered them not to make him known.
And he went up on the mountain and called to him those whom he desired, and they came to him. And he appointed twelve (whom he also named apostles) so that they might be with him and he might send them out to preach and have authority to cast out demons. He appointed the twelve: Simon (to whom he gave the name Peter); James the son of Zebedee and John the brother of James (to whom he gave the name Boanerges, that is, Sons of Thunder); Andrew, and Philip, and Bartholomew, and Matthew, and Thomas, and James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus, and Simon the Zealot, and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.
(Mark 3:1-19 ESV)
Only seven more are called, but Levi is given a new name. So we have eight new names called and, for the rest of the Gospel, we have eight more healings.
That makes thirteen healings. If that number makes you uncomfortable, then consider Jesus called first in his baptism by John. Then his own resurrection makes the fourteenth healing.
Here’s the deal with Mark’s miracle stories: While he has some summary statements, his narrations are always about one and only one person being healed. No story of ten lepers. No stories of two blind men (in fact, he drops them out of Matthew’s account).
So consider Mark’s last five healing miracles. Exorcism (7.24-30), Cure (7.31-37), Cure (8.22-26), Exorcism (ch 9.14-28), Cure (10.46-52).
But if we look at these details a bit closer something seems less than random: Exorcism of an unclean spirit (7.24-30), Cure of a deaf mute (7.31-37), Cure of a blind man (8.22-26), Exorcism of an unclean spirit that causes deafness and muteness (ch 9.14-28), Cure of a blind man (10.46-52).
- Exorcism, Deaf Mute –> Blind
- Exorcism of Deaf Mute –> Blind
So is this a coincidence. Did Mark just happen to write in a way where the elements repeated and consolidated?
Now lets look at this with the rest of the miracles, starting in Mark chapter 1:
- Exorcism, Cure, Cleansing, Cure-Feet –> Cure-Hand
- Exorcism, Cure-Cleansing –> ???
- Exorcism, Deaf Mute –> Blind
- Exorcism of Deaf Mute –> Blind
Let me explain a bit. Take the first line:
Exorcism, Cure, Cleansing, Cure-Feet –> Cure-Hand
The first cure is the raising of Simon’s mother-in-law. The next is the healing of the paralytic so he can walk. Then we have the restoration of the withered hand.
Feet then hands. This matches the end of the last two lines, the last five healings: ears and mouth, then eyes.
Jesus is restoring a complete person:
Their idols are silver and gold,
the work of human hands.
They have mouths, but do not speak;
eyes, but do not see.
They have ears, but do not hear;
noses, but do not smell.
They have hands, but do not feel;
feet, but do not walk;
and they do not make a sound in their throat.
Those who make them become like them;
so do all who trust in them.
(Psalm 115:4-8 ESV)
So why the move from body to head?
That brings us to the two healings, the cure-cleansing, in the second line:
Exorcism, Cure-Cleansing –> ???
Mark seems to have an aversion to any odd number beside 1. He gives us the story of the raising of Jairus’ daughter and puts, in the middle of it, the story of the cleansing of the woman with the issue of blood. These two women are quite obviously correlated. Both are called “daughter.” One is twelve years old and one has been unclean for twelve years. They would be an obvious match even if we didn’t know from Leviticus that the spreading dominion of death is the story behind the problem of uncleanness in Israel.
(A further comment. The stories follow each in cut time, 1-2-1-2… The exorcisms are always of “unclean spirits” thus making them the counter parts to the cleansings of the “leper” (a skin affliction that was not the modern disease of that name and probably wasn’t even contagious). and the cleansing of the woman with the the issue of blood.)
But the bottom line is: once you tell about a resurrection, what possible story can serve to “complete” the picture? Mark can tell us about a restored hand after a man is made to walk, or restored eyes after a man is made to hear and speak. But resurrection is an act that can’t be followed.
Thus, the move from body to head. This allows him to keep building to the final exorcism/cleansing/curing–the resurrection of Jesus.
The most obvious interpretation of the data is that humanity deserves death for sin and is granted resurrection life through Jesus by faith alone.
But Paul not only speaks of death as what sinners deserves. He also speaks of death as a present state that manifests itself in ongoing sin. We sin because we are dead.
And then, there is another interpretation having to do with Jesus himself: death was embraced as the path to new life for himself and all who entrust themselves to him. Death becomes pathway to life and glory.
And there is also a historical scheme. All humanity was dead in sin and spiraling into judgment death, but now we have entered the age of life and glory. We are in a new and undeserved age.
But all this fits together in one more way. Not only was the death in history a problem that needed to be solved, but it, itself, was part of the path to the solution–a final death of sin in the body of Christ on the cross to bring about new life. God allowed death to abound in order that life might abound all the more.
In short, this small biography of J.R.R. Tolkien is an excellent introduction to the life of this man who had such an impact on Western—and Christian—imagination. I’d especially recommend it for anyone who has a child interested in Tolkien and his works. The text is not written for children, but as I said above: it’s a very readable text, and a child or teenager could probably read it with no problems whatsoever. If it’s a kid who’s managed to get through The Lord of the Rings, then there’s no doubt in my mind that they could handle this.
J.R.R. Tolkien was an amazing writer, and one worthy of commemoration. He single handedly defined the rules that high fantasy novels today still draw on. It is only natural that such a noteworthy author receive such a well written, informative biography. Now everyone can learn about the man who created Middle Earth. I recommend picking this up!
The contrast between Jesus and Peter could not be starker. Peter is confident that he will stand in the coming trial and he sleeps. Jesus, the very Son of God Himself, is torn up with temptation and prays prostrate on the ground…If Jesus needed to pray, how much more did Peter, James, and John? How much more do we? (Mark Horne, The Victory According to Mark, p 177)
In his book The Victory According to
JesusMark, Mark Horne argues that Jesus’ prediction of the destruction of the temple actually foreshadows his own arrest, sufferings, and death (Victory, pp 166-18). Sadly, for many readers, (myself included) Jesus’ prediction of the destruction of the temple tends to overshadow the story of the persecution, crucifixion, and resurrection of Jesus.
Here is how Peter Leithart fleshes out Horne’s observation:
- Jesus predicts that the Jews will deliver the apostles to the courts (13:9); but first Jesus is delivered to the courts.
- Jesus predicts that the apostles will be “flogged in the synagogues”(13:9); but first Jesus is flogged (15:15).
- Jesus warns the disciples that they will stand before governors and kings to testify (13:9); but first Jesus stands before Pilate the governor (cf. Matthew 27:2, 11, 14-15, 21, 27) and before King Herod (cf. Luke 23:7ff.).
- Jesus tells the apostles to leave their cloaks behind them when they flee from the city (13:16); in Gethsemane, a young man flees without his cloak (14:51-52).
- Jesus predicts tribulation (13:19), and then suffers tribulation, sorrow, and pain.
-After the days of tribulation, “the sun will be darkened and the moon will not give its light” (13:24). At the cross, “when the sixth hour had come, darkness fell over the whole land until the ninth hour” (15:33).
-In the coming generation, “the powers that are in the heavens will be shaken” (13:25); at the death of Jesus, the temple veil, which symbolized the veil of the firmament dividing heaven and earth, was torn in two, rent like the heavens at Jesus’ baptism.
-When the temple falls, all will perceive that the Son of Man has received dominion from His Father (13:26). As Jesus dies, as the temple of His body is destroyed, a Gentile centurion confesses that Jesus was the Son of God (15:39).
-Even the Jews who mock Jesus on the cross recognize a connection with His temple predictions: “Ha! You who are going to destroy the temple and rebuilt it in three days, save Yourself, and come down from the cross!” (15:29).
The point here is that Jesus is the true and better apostle who experiences everything that his followers will experience. He is the true and better Israel who experiences the curses of the covenant in place of his people. He is the true and better temple that will be destroyed and raised again in three days.
The apocalyptic vision is not a square peg in a round hole. It is a cross-shaped story within the cross-shaped story. The good news here is that in the midst of all the turmoil, trials, and tribulations, all God’s elect/chosen ones are protected and preserved by God’s mercy. And as the gospel is preached throughout the world and all God’s elect/chosen ones are gathered from the four corners of the world.
Horne does a wonderful job of breaking Tolkien’s life into manageable chapters, and corresponding them with Tolkienesque chapter titles that made my inner geek smile. Beginning at the very beginning, Horne looks at Tolkien’s life from a dual-perspective: how it impacted the man, and how it influenced the writing. Drawing from previously written, more extensive biographies as well as Tolkien’s letters and writings, Horne creates a biography that is condensed without feeling lacking – an enjoyable read, but also substantive. And, of course, there’s attention paid to Tolkien’s faith and its role.
Read the res: A Word’s Worth: J.R.R. Tolkien.
The only thing I know that J.R.R. Tolkien and Salvador Dalí had in common—or rather, I suppose I should say, the only significant or unexpected thing, since they obviously had all sorts of other things in common: they were male, bipedal, human, rough contemporaries, celebrities, and so on—was that each man on at least one occasion said he was drawn simultaneously towards anarchism and monarchism.
This is well worth reading! Readers of my biography will be familiar with Tolkien’s “politics” as it stands out in this article.
I may want to interact with (and perhaps disagree with) some things in this article, but for the moment, I’ll just commend it as worth reading.
One way in which Tolkien can transform the political imagination, by the way, is to inspire a study of history that reveals the line between “public sector” and “private sector” was not as obvious or self-evident to our ancestors as we seem to think it should be. Royal dynasties inherited political rights and duties as their private possessions.
But more later.