The Immediacy of Mark: Pakaluk’s “Memoirs of St. Peter”
In 1981, an older publishing colleague took me to the Playhouse Theater in Manhattan to see the English actor Alec McCowen in a revival of his one-man show, St. Mark’s Gospel: McCowen on stage, no props or scenery save a table upon which he placed a paperback copy of the Gospel (saying with a wink, “Just in case . . .”), and in about an hour and forty-five riveting minutes recited all 11,304 words. McCowen described Mark’s writing as moving “with wonderful speed from event to event,” and of Mark (as author) that he “constructed his Gospel with the skill of a great dramatist.”
Michael Pakaluk, a regular contributor to The Catholic Thing and a professor at the Catholic University of America, does something similar in his new book, The Memoirs of St. Peter: A New Translation of the Gospel According to Mark. Professor Pakaluk provides not only a thrilling new rendering of the ancient Greek text but also provides lively scholarship in the commentary that follows his translation of Mark’s sixteen chapters.
Prior translators of the Bible have tended to level out Koine Greek verb forms as a way, by their lights, of making Scripture more understandable. Since everything recorded in the Bible happened in the past, nearly everything we read there should be stated in the past tense. The Bible as history.
But that’s not necessarily the way it was actually written.