The book of Mark is like a music video. Full of allusions, disturbing, twisting and probing. It consistently has odd phrases popping up here and there seemingly innocent in comment but alluring in strange possibilities that twists our reading again and again.
One such phrase occurs in Mark 1:13.
‘He was with the wild animals…’
There have been various explanations given about what this meant. I think Richard Bauckham has said that this is a sign of the new Adam where Jesus neither domesticates nor is in conflict with these animals. He is simply ‘with’ or ‘next to.’ There have been explanations that the ‘beasts’ as some translations have it could be demonic powers.
I wonder if Mark is pointing us elsewhere.
The king of kings, ruler of the whole world was driven into the wild to be with the beasts. This was the fate of Nebuchadnezzar. Nebuchadnezzar? From Daniel? Well, I’ve chanced upon Daniel because Mark seems to keep alluding to various stuff from Daniel most prominently the title ‘Son of Man.’ Taking a look through I’ve found a few more possible allusions that Mark has to Daniel and think that Mark is far cleverer than I’ve been led to believe. I’ll come to the other allusions later.
We know the story from Daniel 4 where Nebuchadnezzar has a dream and asks Daniel to interpret it. I won’t recount the whole story but just look at some of the parallels and the inversions that seem to happen with Mark’s introduction to Jesus.
Daniel interprets the dream and warns of the future. John the Baptist proclaims a future that is to come and in Mark I can’t make out whether it’s a warning or a blessing.
In Daniel a voice from the sky declares something about Nebuchadnezzar, in his case it’s judgment. In Mark a voice from the sky declares something about Jesus’ true state and it is that he is a Beloved Son. (The Wiki page on Nebuchadnezzar seems to suggest that the name Nebuchadnezzar has some play on Beloved Son. But I haven’t checked that out.)
Then Nebuchadnezzar is driven into the wild. Jesus is driven into the wild.
Nebuchadnezzar is with the beasts. Jesus is with the beasts.
Nebuchadnezzar becomes like a beast. Jesus doesn’t.
I know that this kind of reading can be very selective but I wonder whether Mark is alluding to this Bablylonian King of kings and saying that the new King of kings is entirely different to the point where the word ‘King’ is nearly meaningless.
Nebuchadnezzar from Daniel’s account is power drunk as can be seen from the previous parts of the story. The warning doesn’t help and he falls to become like a beast. He does seem to come to his senses but then vanishes from the story without a trace.
Jesus is the king from the gutter and goes for John’s baptism which is the baptism for sins. This is the opposite of Nebuchadnezzar who was warned to repent but didn’t. The contrast is huge. Jesus doesn’t lose his humanity to the drunkenness of power. He is with the beasts and remains who he is. Fully human. Jesus has an entirely new relationship to power. Jesus is a redefinition of what power is. And Mark’s story has barely begun.