I first had the pleasure of hearing professor Patricia Duncan teach in the ancient ruins of Corinth, Greece – a once-bustling city a few hours west of Athens that served as the namesake for the two letters of Paul to the Corinthians in the Christian Bible. We were travelling as a part of a study abroad trip that was organized by the TCU Department of Religion and the Center for International Studies, and Corinth was one of the many stops along our journey.
Professor Duncan is an established scholar of early Christianity who examines the Christian Bible as a work of literature, often looking at the historical aspects and implications of the text. That day in Greece, she read passages from First Corinthians out of a heavily notated pocket-sized Bible. Behind her, the ruins of Corinth were silhouetted in the dusty air that hung heavy from the constant shuffling of feet along the rugged gravel paths that wove through the site. Despite the heat and the throngs of tourists who wandered past our group, everyone hung on her every word. Perhaps it was the magical realism of listening to something that was composed in the very place we sat nearly 2,000 years earlier, but something about that lecture stuck with me well after we left.
That day, I learned that Professor Duncan is a storyteller in her own right and was thrilled to learn that she was chosen as a presenter for AddRan College of Liberal Arts’ upcoming Back to Class event. Her talent for teaching and her passion for the subjects she covers deserve to be shared.
This time, she will be exploring yet another piece of the Bible: the Gospel of Mark.
Professor Duncan first became interested in the Gospel of Mark as a doctoral student at the University of Chicago. She came across a miniature, illustrated manuscript of the gospel in the library and immediately became enamored with it. She and her advisor set out on a quest to painstakingly transcribe the Greek text, only to discover that the manuscript was a modern forgery. Through this exhaustive exercise, Duncan realized the intricacy and power of the Gospel of Mark.
“The Gospel of Mark is a beautiful – and perhaps even brilliant – work of literature, but it has often been undervalued in Christian history alongside the more richly embellished gospels of Matthew, Luke and John,” she wrote. In her lecture, professor Duncan aims to expose some of the many secrets of the gospel, reflecting on the strangely abrupt ending and the impact the stories may have had on early audiences. “The implications are pretty amazing.”
Unlike other gospels where Jesus is portrayed as an all-knowing and powerful leader, Mark’s Jesus takes on a more mysterious and mystical quality, and “confounds everyone he meets.” Duncan even goes so far as to say that “even he [Jesus] has things to learn as the narrative progresses.”
“I firmly believe that great literature is always relevant,” Duncan said. “Through it we are given precious opportunities to pause and consider the meaning of our lives, and we are sometimes moved and transformed in the process.”
Patricia Duncan will discuss the Gospel of Mark in her lecture at Back to Class, a fundraising event aimed at helping students research, travel and learn through the AddRan College of Liberal Arts at TCU. Go Back to Class on March 28, 2019 to hear from Patricia Duncan and other professors on this topic and more. Learn more by visiting the Back to Class website.