Vol 8, No 2 (2012) Mark/x after Marxism: Fernando Belo and Contemporary Biblical Exegesis


Lance Byron Richey


In 1974 Fernando Belo’s A Materialist Reading of the Gospel of Mark combined Marxist and structuralist ideas to uncover the revolutionary political themes he claimed were encoded in Mark’s narrative. Although hailed at the time as a visionary exegetical strategy, it has been largely forgotten over the last generation. While some of Belo’s theoretical and political concerns are inevitably dated, his contributions to understanding both the social and political environment of first-century Palestine and how religious texts such as Mark’s Gospel operated within it merit our attention and critical assessment, both of which this paper will attempt to provide. I offer a two-fold discussion of Belo’s materialist approach to Mark in light of subsequent developments in both philosophy and Marxist social theory. First, I will outline and critically assess the theory of texts found in his discussion of the “Concept of ‘Mode of Production’” which makes possible his exegesis of Mark as a subversive political text. Secondly, I will briefly explore his account of the specific “Mode of Production” operative in first-century Palestine which Belo sees Mark’s Gospel as challenging, with special attention given to its theoretical underpinnings. I conclude that, while Belo’s work is certainly limited both by the state of theory and of the historical knowledge of his time, his ground-breaking efforts to read Mark’s Gospel as a subversive text remains highly relevant to contemporary efforts at materialist exegesis.


Gospel of Mark; Fernando Belo; Marxist criticism


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