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Professor Joel Marcus
Professor Joel Marcus

Q What led you to begin reading the Bible?

At Berkeley I had started reading the Bible because I wanted to be a writer, and all these writers were always making allusions to the Bible and I thought maybe I should read it. So I read through the whole Old Testament and then started reading the New Testament, too. I was interested in the figure of Jesus from the start, so I read through the Gospels. And then I got to Acts and I found this guy Paul really kind of repulsive, so I skipped to Revelation, which was the one book that I’d read before in high school. I read it because somebody told me that it was “psychedelic.” When I went back and finished up my undergrad at NYU, I already knew that I wanted to study the Bible.

Q When did you realize you wanted to become a biblical scholar?

Well, after I became a Christian, my first idea was to become a pastor. But then I found that I was so interested in learning languages and getting into the history surrounding the New Testament that my goals changed. Also, my wife didn’t much like the idea of being a pastor’s wife.

Q After the dissertation, what led you to do the commentary on Mark?

When Doubleday was looking for somebody to redo the Mark commentary, Raymond Brown, who had written one of the early and best commentaries in the Anchor series, the one on John, mentioned my name to Noel Freedman, the series editor. Freedman and I met to talk, and a few weeks later I heard from him that I had the contract. That was right around the time my daughter was born, and she’s now 18 and off at college. So she’s grown up with this commentary.

Q Was the commentary originally planned as two volumes?

I originally signed a contract for one volume of medium size, and then when I saw that I was going to need more space, I tried to get Doubleday to extend the word limit so that I could do one long volume. I fought for that for a long time. And then all of a sudden they said, “Well, how about doing two volumes?” And I said, “Yeah!”

I hadn’t even dared to ask them for two volumes, because I was told that they weren’t doing two-volume commentaries anymore. But I think they preferred two medium-sized volumes to one long volume, because at least they would have something out after five or 10 years, rather than have to wait something like 20 years, which is what we’ve had to do for the complete product.

Q How do you think your commentary might be most helpful for people preaching and teaching Mark?

I’ve tried to keep in mind the person “on the front,” the pastor who is preparing a sermon for Sunday morning and doesn’t have time to read 50 pages on a particular passage. So in writing the comment section, I’ve tried to limit it to 10 pages per passage. Of course, I want the scholars also to read the comment, because that’s where I give a connected account of the passage, whereas the notes tend to be more atomistic.

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