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Violent Spectacles and Public Feelings


Trauma and Affect in The Gospel of Mark and The Thunder: Perfect Mind

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In both the Gospel of Mark and The Thunder: Perfect Mind, paradoxically powerful voices sound through broken bodies thrown into contact with other broken bodies and social outcasts. While Mark brings a (semi-)divine man into contact with the suffering, sick, and hungry multitudes as he journeys through Galilee and Judea on his way to eventual death at the hands of Roman authorities, Thunder’s (semi-)divine speaker contains these multitudes, inhabiting or being inhabited by them, speaking as many,Legion-like, with no particular narrative climax. Through gender dynamics that express and instigate feelings of vulnerability and humiliation, as well as claims to triumph and divine association, Mark’s Jesus and Thunder’sspeaker exemplify and confound social, gendered inflections of vulnerability, virility, and divinity. As texts composed in the midst of cultural upheaval and anticolonial anguish, Mark and Thunder function as trauma narratives that present pained and creative responses to violence and oppression. Following Ann Cvetkovich’s work on public feelings and affective archives, I treat Mark and Thunder as archives of feeling that enable or mark the vital traces of new practices and publics and gesture toward counterpublic responses to trauma.


Abstract

In both the Gospel of Mark and The Thunder: Perfect Mind, paradoxically powerful voices sound through broken bodies thrown into contact with other broken bodies and social outcasts. While Mark brings a (semi-)divine man into contact with the suffering, sick, and hungry multitudes as he journeys through Galilee and Judea on his way to eventual death at the hands of Roman authorities, Thunder’s (semi-)divine speaker contains these multitudes, inhabiting or being inhabited by them, speaking as many,Legion-like, with no particular narrative climax. Through gender dynamics that express and instigate feelings of vulnerability and humiliation, as well as claims to triumph and divine association, Mark’s Jesus and Thunder’sspeaker exemplify and confound social, gendered inflections of vulnerability, virility, and divinity. As texts composed in the midst of cultural upheaval and anticolonial anguish, Mark and Thunder function as trauma narratives that present pained and creative responses to violence and oppression. Following Ann Cvetkovich’s work on public feelings and affective archives, I treat Mark and Thunder as archives of feeling that enable or mark the vital traces of new practices and publics and gesture toward counterpublic responses to trauma.


Once again the chief priest questioned him and says to him: “Are you the Anointed One, the son of the Blessed One?” Jesus replied, “I am! And you will see the Human One sitting at the right hand of Power and coming with the clouds of the sky!” … And some began to spit on him, and to put a blindfold on him, and beat him, and say to him, “Prophesy!” And the guards slapped him around as they took him into custody.


The Thunder: Perfect Mind 14:32–15:2, 15:10–141
I am she who is disgraced and she who is important

Pay attention to me, to my impoverishment and to my extravagance

Do not be arrogant to me when I am thrown to the ground …

Do not stare at me when I am thrown out among the condemned

Do not laugh at me in the lowest places

Do not throw me down among those slaughtered viciously


The Gospel of Mark and The Thunder: Perfect Mind, a Coptic poem from the Nag Hammadi codices, juxtapose powerful divine claims and the precarities of bodily life.2 As I will argue here, in both texts gender performances engage public feelings that circulate in the vicinity of traumatic events and make space for what Ann Cvetkovich has called “unpredictable forms of politics that emerge when trauma is kept unrelentingly in view.”3 Like Cvetkovich in An Archive of Feelings, I treat trauma as a social and cultural discourse that calls into question distinctions between emotional and political life. Her readings of hard-to-archive queer histories and traces of other ephemeral public cultures present trauma as “the hinge between systemic structures of exploitation and oppression, and the felt experience of them.”4 Cvetkovich’s queer, affective, social approach to trauma histories demonstrates how cultural productions that mobilize (and are mobilized by) collective feeling – especially feeling that does not shy away from negative affects and seemingly perverse pleasures sometimes associated with trauma – shape new ways of life and work to transform the conditions that produce trauma.5 As texts composed in the midst of cultural upheaval and anticolonial anguish, Mark and Thunder function as trauma narratives that present pained and creative responses to violence and oppression.6 Following Cvetkovich, I treat them as archives of feeling that ­enable or mark the vital traces of new practices and publics, and gesture toward counterpublic responses to trauma. The trauma to which I refer encompasses not only acute instances of violence narrated in both texts but also long-term and persistent affects associated with oppression and displacement, including shame and anxiety as well as concomitant and sometimes subversive pleasures and pride.7

In both texts, powerful voices hold forth through broken bodies thrown into contact with other broken bodies and social outcasts. They exalt and undermine themselves, claiming relationships with divinity that at times undergird their authority and at other times seem to fail them and leave them vulnerable. Specifically, I attend to the ways gender marks how these bodies are bound to their social circumstances, signaling conflicted sites of authority in certain bodies over other bodies. As I will suggest, gender dynamics in Mark and Thunder express and instigate vulnerability, humiliation, and anxiety, as well as claims to pride, triumph, and divine association. Mark’s Jesus and Thunder’sspeaker exemplify and confound gendered inflections of vulnerability, virility, and divinity. They interrogate and inhabit the relationship between gaining or maintaining the power to inflict violence on others and the authority that such power confers to narrate and make legible meanings of that violence. If social life determines and is determined in part by gender, then gender categories produced by physically and socially felt traces of power can also offer spaces of subversive reorientation. As Mark focuses its biographical lens on a savior who doesn’t get saved,8 and Thunder reads as an ironic aretalogy of a (mostly) female-identified speaker who adopts divine language in the midst of degra­-dation and cries of distress,9 these texts archive alternative orientations to social values underwritten by gender ideals and representations of divinity.


Cvetkovich’s approach to trauma is in dialogue with queer work in public sphere theories, like Michael Warner’s Publics and Counterpublics, which illustrates how “interactions that seem to have no manifest political content can be seen as attempting to create rival publics, even rival modes of publicness.”10 As Warner articulates it, a public is “constitutive of a social imaginary,” and “the notion of a public enables a reflexivity in the circulation of texts among strangers who become, by virtue of their reflexively circulating discourse, a social entity.”11 As with the queer counterpublics whose creative and transgressive approaches to trauma Cvetkovich archives, Warner understands “queer and other minor publics” to be at times revising “what it means to be public,” circulating nonmainstream aesthetics, for instance, “making possible a different style of embodiment, a new sociability and solidarity, and a scene for further improvisations.”12 This circulation of new collective sensibilities and possibilities, although often “made reflexive by means of textuality, is more than textual.”13 While I recognize that this critique speaks to a contemporary (not ancient) framing of public and private spheres, I draw on this vocabulary to articulate the messy and surprising ways sociality might be felt in the midst of trauma. It helps mark ambivalent resistances to and intimacy with social, political, and physical forces that cause harm as well as a sense of collective life. Orienting to the affective dimensions of concepts of divinity, gender, and other ways of socially inscribing hierarchies of power in Mark and Thunder becomes a way of attending, as Warner puts it, to how “the fiction of the public is made real,” or is made to feel collectivelyreal. These affective dimensions surface in interactions and performances inscribed in the texts themselves and embedded in a (historical, social) field that is also more than textual.14

Lauren Berlant has described how “affect, the body’s active presence to the intensities of the present, embeds the subject in an historical field, and that its scholarly pursuit can communicate the conditions of an historical moment’s production as a visceral moment.”15 Attending to affect as collective and individual bodies’ lively, diffuse relations to “the intensities of the present” surfaces Mark’s concern with the precarities of colonial life under the Roman Empire as they are viscerally registered through gender and violence, signaling how the narrative imagines or invokes a counterpublic that can accommodate the complexities of social traumas. Similarly, my affective reading of The Thunder: Perfect Mind points to the text’s forging of a “queer” public culture through the disintegration of gendered identity categories in the midst of various kinds of power relations.16

Masculinity, Vulnerability, and Other Public Feelings in the Gospel of Mark


“Trauma can be a foundation for creating counterpublic spheres rather than evacuating them,” Cvetkovich contends.17 The Gospel of Mark’s throngs of sick, dissatisfied, and disenfranchised people who gather throughout the Galilean and Judean countryside are suggestive of such counterpublic spheres. The movements of crowds inscribe the circulation of public feelings across the Markan landscape, sketching potent eddies of traumatic experience. Loss and longing send people spilling out of towns into the wilderness to follow a renegade rabbi who rails against the status quo and promises alternate routes to healing and renewal.18 Collective ecstasy, shock, offense, delight, and fear sweep through groups of people gathered around Jesus (e.g. 2:12; 5:20, 43; 6:2, 3; 12:37), fueling enthusiasm alongside denunciation, bringing together people from different geographical and social locations.19 The public feelings that swell these collective bodies also stir up Jerusalem leaders’ fears of insurrection (11:18, 32), marking tensions between Temple authorities and Roman leadership.


Jesus frames this turmoil in relation to an approaching “devastating desecration” (13:14), an eschatological vision perhaps, but also a (scriptural) frame for the trauma of life lived in the vicinity of colonial conflict and war – whether impending or past (in the form of a prophecy of what is to come as conjured up by the narrative, or in the implied audience’s experience of what has already befallen them, with Mark writing during or after the First Jewish-Roman War) – that brings people viscerally together. The people who mob Jesus want to see him and hear him, but even more than that they jostle for contact with him, in need of a transforming touch (1:31, 41; 5:23; 6:5; 8:23, 25; 9:27). They press close among the others, yearning to brush up against him, even just his clothes (5:24, 28). The collective longing that underscores these counterpublic configurations presents itself as sickness in need of healing, blindness in need of sight, dispossession in need of inclusion and reintegration. Their needs mark a public vulnerability, while (for a time, at least) Jesus’ capacities for meeting those needs displays his impressive virility on a public stage.


Tat-siong Benny Liew locates Jesus’ masculinity in these public spaces. Jesus’ extensive travels and publicity generated by the people he openly heals and offends situate him as a very manly man: “A ‘real’ man, in the eyes of ancient Mediterranean people, belonged to the outside, the public, and the open.”20 Liew sees Jesus taking “the manly or active role in his dealings with every human character in the Gospel,” penetrating others with his teachings (figured as extravagant seed-scattering), covering multiple regions so that his (almost) always miraculous powers are the subject of a public gaze or opinion at every turn.21 By engaging in conflicts and besting his opponents with his quick wit, Jesus demonstrates – as Liew reads it – a masculinity that “is measured by one’s willingness to compete in the public world…. [T]hese conflicts or contests also signify Jesus’ manhood.”22 But while Liew reads Mark’s Jesus as unflinching in his movement toward Jerusalem, there are moments when Jesus seems as susceptible to being swept up by volatile feeling as the crowds. As Jesus encounters all those who marvel (1:27; 2:12; 5:20, 42; 10:32; 12:17), question or take offense (2:6; 6:3), lose themselves and wail with grief (5:38), press towards his door (or break through the roof) with desire or desperation (1:33; 2:2; 2:4), he, in turn, is moved by them. He is shocked at their misunderstanding and mistrust (6:6). He feels for people he sees as a vulnerable flock without a shepherd (6:34), surfacing a sense of collective loss, as well as their (his) felt investment in or longing for a sense of coherence. While the crowds’ enthusiasm for Jesus at times protects him – pumping up his power in Jerusalem when the Judean officials and scholars fear the crowds will mob them if they imprison Jesus (cf. 11:18; 12:12) – the crowd’s intensity unnerves Jesus, too. His fame, which he alternately seems to enjoy instigating and anxiously wants to suppress, spreads from body to (collective) body like a contagion. The crowds grow, and at times Jesus seems to get skittish: He gets the boat ready at the shore just in case he needs to make a quick escape (3:9); he tries to slip away alone in the early morning, but his followers track him down and tell him everyone’s looking for him (1:35–37). As Jesus and his entourage approach the geographical and political center of institutional authority, Jesus’ authority comes more into question (11:27), and his prowess appears sometimes as variable and shifting as the public feelings that both buoy and batter him on his journey; with Jerusalem looming, the anxiety thickens and volatility quickens.


Liew reads Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem in “a royal manner” (cf. 11:7–10) as proof “that Mark’s Jesus has no fear of entering his opponents’ territory,”23 but Jesus’ night at Gethsemane suggests otherwise. Jesus stays awake, praying alone, “apprehensive and full of anguish” (e˙kqambei√sqai kai« aÓdhmonei√n)and intensely sad (peri÷lupo/ß); when he realizes his followers can’t stay awake, he speaks sharply to them, but soon grows resigned (disappointed?) (14:33–34, 41–42). It’s a scene that evokes a frightened ambivalence about the fate of this son of God. Liew’s portrait of Jesus in public emphasizes self-mastery and unshakeable directedness, Jesus as popular teacher strutting his masculine stuff, but Jesus’ performance can also be read as less stable and self-sure. There is an uneasy inconsistency – or consistent uneasiness – around masculinity in Mark. For instance, Eric Thurman’s reading of the Gospel of Mark alongside a Greco-Roman romance, Xenophon’s An Ephesian Tale,surfaces the relationship between gender anxiety and Roman imperial social values in Mark. Thurman sees parallel anxieties in the production and maintenance of masculinity for colonial male subjects in Mark and An Ephesian Tale.24 Scenes of male suffering that confound feminine and masculine binaries in these texts, Thurman argues, function as ciphers for complexities of colonial subjectivity:


As texts that notably plot suffering for colonial male subjects as the providential will of the divine order, both the gospel and the romance may not only expose the arbitrary nature of imperial order (when the violence at its foundation comes into focus), but they may also (unconsciously) reveal the nature of the divine order to be equally, if differently, inscrutable and irresistible. On a comparative reading, then, the extreme shattering of the male subject in early Christian literature perhaps makes explicit and intensifies aspects of Greco-Roman romances’ already ambivalent views of political domination and resistance, empire and providence.25

Each text, however, demonstrates differing strategies for imaginatively negotiating anxiety about compromised masculinity and, in turn, the social and divine realms in which such masculine embodiment is performed. An Ephesian Tale plots the misadventures of Habrocomes and his lover Anthia. The romance recounts their separation after marriage and the various threats to their lives, chastity, and fidelity to one another. By the end of An Ephesian Tale, however, the trauma of enslavement, torture, and sexual vulnerability – which also register as threats to Habrocomes’ masculinity and social standing – are left behind, and the divine order is reinstated. Habrocomes overcomes all threats and finds his place again within the social order. After Habrocomes’ harrowing trials, he is rescued by various divine forces and returns to the comforts of upper-class luxury, marriage, and stability – a mainstream public cultural ideal, perhaps. Such re-establishment is not so clearly affirmed, however, in the Gospel of Mark. Unlike Habrocomes who is threatened with crucifixion and saved by miraculous divine intervention, Jesus is actually crucified, and the satisfaction of his resurrection is elusive at best.


Although one narrative leads to a fantasy of reintegration into the dominant social order (An Ephesian Tale) and the other hopes for resurrection and integration into God’s empire (Mark), both register collective anxieties around resistance and assimilation – public feelings, one might say, that draw attention to different ways of resolving colonial ambivalence toward the imperial order and the divine order. While its redacted endings long to assert more comforting conclusions, Mark’s ending at 16:8 resists closure and the attribution of unquestioned, uncritical success either to its protagonist or his God, or to those belonging to the dominant social order who are complicit with Roman rule.26 Instead, Mark turns toward the violence Jesus faces, the humiliation and subversive pride he asserts in its midst, and the uncertainty of the open tomb, all of which make space for counterpublic perspectives on what authorizes certain kinds of feelings about and relations between gender and divinity, as I will argue below.


Unlike other harrowing tales of martyred righteous sufferers, Mark’s passion narrative spares the gory details of the scourging and the crucifying (which in another narrator’s hands might have afforded the opportunity for dramatizing Jesus’ virility, his teeth-clenching endurance) but dwells on the elements of spectatorship and humiliation. These scenes of violence are often read ironically, as an inside “joke” that redeems this son of God’s real (but hidden) triumph, his place within a kind of mainstream public culture marked by his unbreakable link with divinity and thus with masculinity.27 What if, however, Mark’s passion narrative instead dwells on Jesus’ vulnerability without intending to hint at his inevitable triumph and his tormentors’ ironic misunderstanding? The passion narrative could rather gesture quite painfully toward the tension between this colonial subject’s seeming powerlessness and the fragility underlying his messianic claims to power and divine authority.


Jesus’ tenuous masculinity is constructed by – and makes way for him to be dominated by – the violence to which he is subjected. After the first round of interrogation by the Sanhedrin council, Jesus (now tied up and more reticent to speak than when before the Judeans) has been brought to the Roman authorities for the next round of questioning. Pilate says to him, “Youare the ‘King of the Judeans’?” and Jesus simply responds, “(If) you say so”(15:2). Pilate again presses for Jesus’ response to the chief priests’ accusations, but Jesus is silent. If Jesus will not claim it, the soldiers will force him into a painfully ironic enactment of it:


And the [Roman] soldiers led him away to the courtyard of the governor’s residence, and they summoned the whole company [of troops]. And they dressed him in purple and crowned him with a garland woven of thorns. And they began to salute him: “Greetings, ‘King of the Judeans!’” And they kept striking him on the head with a stick, and spitting on him; and they were getting down on their knees and bowing down to him. And when they had made fun of him, they stripped off the purple and put his own clothes back on him. And they led him out to crucify him. (15:16–20)


Forms of honoring explicitly become forms of mockery and reveal the intimate connection between shame, violence, and having the authority to author the meaning of one’s actions. The Roman soldiers have the power to “crown” him and title him, and their power to define this naming and ironic “honoring” is constructed through this humiliation. What is shaming and painful is performed as honoring (a “crown” that tears the flesh rather than imbuing that flesh with power to prevent its own harm). The robes of high office provoke not the soldiers’ obedience to this office-holder but violence to him. He is given a powerful title but put into a submissive position. Between putting purple robes on him and stripping them off again, sexual violence was conceivable as well.28

The narrative draws attention to the experience of Jesus’ alienation from the people around him, marked by the insults of the crowd, the authorities, and the other men crucified with him, not to mention the haunting absence of his now scattered followers. The soldiers’ abuse before and the onlookers’ mockery during the crucifixion, as well as Jesus’ last cry from the cross, by all conventional social standards point to the shameful death of an unmanly, deservedly vulnerable non-citizen body. Yet it is through attention to this body in this social space of public humiliation and feelings of agony that the narrative about an emasculated “son of God” surges toward its conclusion.


Thurman sums up the similarities between the two tales, that of Mark and that of Xenophon: “Subject to servile punishments and offering desperate prayers, both Jesus and Habrocomes are reduced to a state of unmanly humiliation. Yet in each text that state is carefully converted into a triumphant spectacle of reclaimed manly honor as each hero will be legally exonerated or divinely exalted to the amazement of witnesses.”29 Although he takes a different stance on Jesus’ masculinity than Liew,30 Thurman reads Mark’s ending as triumphant; but I would argue that Jesus’ vindication is not as overtly clear as Habrocomes’, with floods rescuing the latter from crucifixion and miraculous salvation from death by fire. Mark merely has Jesus predict (hope for), long before the passion and during it, his own return, his “coming in clouds with great power and glory” (13:26; cf. 14:62). I think Mark is ambivalent about the possibility of such a victory, although it does not stop Mark’s Jesus from imagining and predicting one, even as Mark strains against its own “dreams of empire,” as Stephen Moore has put it.31 Inasmuch as Jesus’ vision of his return is bound up with imperial representations of power, part of the Gospel’s struggle concerns the forging of relationship with this dangerous and desired ideal.


I am interested in how difficult it is to imagine triumph without imagining it in terms that mirror imperial triumph and aggressive masculinity.32 I read a cacophony of ambivalent responses to authoritative power in Mark, suggesting both desire for divine/imperial authority and control as well as resentment toward or fear of those who can claim cultural superiority, physical force, and the right to dominate, rape, and humiliate others. Jesus is presented as moving and teaching throughout a Roman-occupied Palestine, claiming an imperial title, being accused by officials of staking political claims, and predicting his own authoritative return, coming with great power and glory. But while Jesus may make such claims to power and yearn for glory mirroring Caesar’s, Mark also situates Jesus in scenarios that undermine these claims and, potentially, their fulfillment.33 In the end Mark manages to undermine even Jesus’ aggressive masculine yearnings after imperial power and its social ideals and feelings by dramatically depicting his cry of desolation and by neglecting to narrate the very resurrection and return his followers and readers have been set up to expect.


Jesus’ followers are affectively bound up with him in the ways they long to participate in visions of masculinity and triumph, to sit at his right hand and drink from his cup (10:37–8). Attached as they are to visions of his victory, they are also woven into vulnerability and precarity with him: Jesus tells them to look out for themselves, and also not to worry (should they believe him?) because they will be turned over to Jewish councils, beaten in synagogues, taken to trial before governors “on [his] account” and “universally hated because of [him]” (13:9, 13). Because Jesus’ death is figured as intimately bound up with the Temple’s destruction (14:58; 15:37–38), Jesus’ followers as well as his opponents (since many of them also seem to consider themselves to belong to Israel) will be affected by that “national” trauma; when this event occurs, he says, “[Y]ou will all be shaken and fall away” (14:27). In the sense that Jesus’ humiliation and death is figured as a national trauma, it collapses distinctions between “national” public trauma and “personal” or intimate trauma.


By the last line (16:8), the anticipated return of a victorious son of God is not yet concretely realized, and if the young man at the tomb is to be believed when he says the resurrected Jesus is waiting for his disciples at Galilee, it is uncertain if or how the news will reach those disciples – since the women run away terrified and tell no one. No other reliable observers to impress or prove wrong, no Roman soldiers, no Judean elders or scholars witness the scene. The vindication that might bring relief to his followers or foil his opponents’ attempts to subdue him is not (yet) successfully performed. The story of the “good news” breaks off in a state of tension, its proclamation of a confident and shattered son of God now carried by traumatized, terrified female subjects. Mark’s finale presents a social space in which authority resides in unreliable female characters and divine claims are laid on a humiliated, crucified man whose predicted triumph cannot yet be concretely realized.34 Mark’s failure to provide conclusiveness at 16:8 might be read as a queerly productive (if unnerving) gap – a gap that An Ephesian Tale notably closes with its normatively “happy ending.” In this gap, a counterpublic space opens up in which an audience is left to wonder: Are we incredulous that God could be identified at the center of (or in charge of) such degrading suffering? Are we strangely relieved? Mark seems unable to resolve those questions, and in fact its last lines suggest that staying present to unresolved ambivalence is a part of its own authorial power, part of the space it holds open; it presents an orientation to traumatic experiences that Mark either advocates or is unable to avoid.


Enduring and Disintegrating: How Gender, Divinity, and Identity Feel in The Thunder: Perfect Mind

Lauren Berlant asks “what a historicism that takes the affective event seriously might have to attend to, alongside paying attention to the institutions, events and norms that are already deemed historic and historical.”35 Here I’d like to press for attention to the historical work, the rendering of a queerly situated counterpublic, performed by unresolved tension between feelings of vindi­cation and loss in Thunder – a tension that resonates more with Mark than with either the romance Thurman analyzes or the ancient aretalogies Thunder resembles. Just as Mark’s enactment of the “extreme shattering of the male subject,” as Thurman puts it, can be read as a traumatized expression of “ambivalence toward the colonial social order” and anxiety about the many forms of violence that found, fuel, and enact imperial power, so The Thunder: Perfect Mind also exposes and performs the shattering of gendered subjectivity as an implicitly affective project of collective resistance.


Although much scholarship has situated Thunder as a cosmic descent narrative and self-presentation of a typical Gnostic revealer,36 I follow recent studies of Thunder that emphasize the poem’s social negotiations and its ambivalent resistance to human as well as divine authority and violence.37 Rather than determining an identity for Thunder’s speaker or the context of its composition (belonging to some strand of “Gnosticism,” for instance), I am in interested in the social and political dimensions of the mobile public feelings Thunder’s speaker invokes and inhabits.38

While the Gospel of Mark brings a (semi-)divine man into contact with the suffering, sick, and hungry multitudes as he journeys through Galilee and Judea on his way to eventual death at the hands of Roman authorities, Thunder’s (semi-)divine speaker contains these multitudes, inhabiting or being inhabited by them, speaking as many, Legion-like, with no particular narrative climax. Thunder’s speaker undermines stable identifications while relentlessly invoking the sturdiness of an enduring sense of self through its repetitive “I am”: “I am the coming together and the falling apart, I am the enduring and the disintegration, I am down in the dirt and they come up to me” (19, 12–13). The contradictions of falling apart and persistent enduring are also associated with being “down in the dirt” (19, 14). Evocations of violence and humiliation surface again and again as Thunder’s speaker locates her- or himself as one “thrown to the ground” in painful circumstances, alongside shamed, rejected, and “viciously slaughtered” bodies (15, 14). Through a litany of first-person identifications, the protagonist moves between masculine and feminine pronouns and inhabits relations saturated with affects like shame, fear, pride, anger, a longing to be witnessed.39 Thunder engages its listeners or readers by inviting intimacy with or resistance to a range of (often implicitly gendered) social roles and strong feelings about performing or being forced into those roles. In bringing typically powerful divine claims into intimate, complicated relationship with shame and violence, Thunder queerly turns the tables on theologies and social values that privilege stability, invulnerable masculinity, impenetrability. This text thus embodies and makes use of the rarely straightforward relationship between identity and affect. The many roles Thunder’s speaker dramatizes strain against institutionalized or stable forms of containment that identity claims might otherwise provide.


Thunder does, however, explicitly reference identity categories and the often prejudicial and hierarchical social relations they would have implied in the Hellenistic world. Its speaker calls herself (and sometimes “you”) a barbarian, a Greek, virgin, prostitute, holy woman, mother and child, lord and slave. She is one “whose God is magnificent” (16, 25), and one who is “without God” (16, 24). She takes part in “spectacular festivals” (16, 23) and is also subject to spectacles of shaming punishment. The speaker demands, “In my weakness do not strip me bare / Do not be afraid of my power” (15, 18–19), claiming experiences of both vulnerability and ferocity. She often attends to an emotional stance related to inhabiting these roles, usually sympathetically preferring or identifying with the less valued category, as when the speaker cries out, “Why then did you hate me, you Greeks? / Because I am a barbarian among barbarians?” (16, 1–2).


Thunder loosens the coherence of identity categories, not only in part by shifting restlessly between them, but also by emphasizing the visceral feelings associated with them. The speaker says: “Receive me with understanding and heartache” (17, 10), and “Bring me in shame, to yourselves, out of shame” (17, 15–17). Or the speaker intimately engages the audience through contentious accusation, saying: “I am he the one you thought about and you detested me…. / I am she whom you detested and yet you think about me” (16, 25–27; 16, 29–31). “You” detesting him or her has something to do with who he or she is and, likely, who – and how – “you” are. Through its continual address by this “I am” to “you,” the implied listeners, Thunder involves its audience in these feelings and unstable identifications, provoking a kind of counterpublic participation, both in divine qualities and in the residues of traumatic experiences of pain and violence.


Most scholarship has read Thunder as exclusively or primarily making paradoxical statements, but Thunder does much more than oppose or complicate merely dichotomous images, as Taussig et al. have observed.40 Thunder’s parallel identifications are not simply oppositional.41 The flux of gendered identity (and also of an uneven mixture of withdrawal, submissiveness, exuberance, and aggression) is explicit in Thunder, which moves between masculine and feminine pronouns, various kinds of social bodies, and even body parts.42 In this tangle of intimate, uneven relations, the speaker is “he the mother and the daughter” (13, 20) and “the limbs of my mother” (13, 21), parts of an intimately known body. The speaker is “the midwife” and“she who hasn’t given birth” and“the comfort of my labor pains” (13, 26–27). Then the speaker claims to be bride and bridegroom, father’s mother, husband’s daughter, husband’s mother, lord of her own child, slave to her own servant, tumbling into ever more riddled relations of familial and social power dynamics (cf. 13, 28–14, 3).43

When Thunder explores a mix of roles in the same place at once or in twisted relationship to one another, it might seem shocking or uncomfortable. But it could also describe how life generally feels – the way, as Christopher Frilingos has argued, a gladiator might be a model of virility yet at the same time occupy the submissively gendered role of slave to another man;44 or, as Diana Swancutt has shown, the way a woman who sexually penetrates other women or men becomes a differently gendered person entirely.45 Is the fact of Thunder’s speaker identifying as both “bride and the bridegroom,” as the child of “my husband who gave birth to me,” and as “my father’s mother, my husband’s sister, [when, also] he is my child” any more disconcerting than any other way power relations get named and imposed?


The poem’s scramble of roles and relations therefore destabilizes binaries and easy associations with gendered hierarchies. As Taussig et al. observe, “[T]he men and women in this section all partake in the same process: the word jpo in Coptic is usually translated either ‘to give birth’ or ‘to beget,’ depending on the gender of the actor. Yet the moving back and forth between masculine and feminine subjects who all participate in jpo creates a playful kind of disorder.”46 This shifting and even confusion of subjectivity performs realities of multiply-identified, multiply-gendered experiences in a world ­anxious about multiplicity, a world in which a virile man can become a vulnerable non-man and in which a woman can become threateningly masculine. For instance, Swancutt reads depictions of androgyny in Tiresias and other characters in Ovid’s Metamorphoses as processing anxieties about how shift-ing circumstances of social and political life destabilize any certainty about being able to maintain a stable gendered identity.47 Swancutt describes how “people must work to maintain their gender positions and they can overcome them by means of unnatural, overpassionate acts. The threat that they will do so – clearly an ethnic or ‘state’ threat – applies equally to penetrative-­women and passive-men.”48 This threatens those who are invested in being or having solidarity with a type of Roman vir, as well as those who might be punished or otherwise shaped by the dominant discourse as “gender monsters” of some kind or another.49 In turn, it reflects Roman imperial paranoid ­investment in imagining the empire’s own ideal, conquering “body” as inviol­able.50

Swancutt points to how performing certain acts can explicitly gender a person in the ancient Mediterranean, and Thunder seems to be interested in (or unable to resist) acting in ways that express the mobility of the speaker’s gendered roles in different kinds of relationships. Although Thunder is not concerned with women’s bodies alone, there does seem to be an emphasis on bodies “feminized” by shaming practices and discourses. The speaker of Thunder,from her often-vulnerable position, powerfully begs consideration of the kind of work public humiliation does, as if to unsettle the gendering that happens between those who inflict violence and those upon whom it is inflicted. Like the crucifixion in Mark, the kinds of violence and shifting feelings about being subject to that violence evoked in Thunder indict an audience, as the speaker calls out to spectators to relate more attentively with a felt investment:


Pay attention to me

I am she who is disgraced and she who is important

Pay attention to me, to my impoverished state and to my extravagance

Do not be arrogant to me when I am thrown to the ground

You will find me among the expected.

Do not stare at me in the pile of shit, leaving me discarded. (14, 33–15, 8)


Having called for this audience’s attention, she demands a kind of public intimacy with that audience in states of subjection and humiliation. She says:


Do not stare at me when I am thrown out into the condemned

Do not laugh at me in the lowest places

Do not throw me down into those slaughtered viciously…

Take me from the disgraced and crushed places. (15, 10–14; 17, 10–12)


This is one speaker among a plurality of “condemned” people, one among others who are being or have been “slaughtered viciously.” Thunder invites solidarity among other “conquered ones”: “You conquered ones: judge them before they judge you.” This could invite (uncomfortable?) solidarity from onlookers.


Elsewhere, when exposed, she seeks safety. She also either speaks for those who have access to that safety or perhaps ironically names her place of vulnerability as a kind of safety when she says:


I am she who exists in all fears and in all trembling boldness

I am she who is timid

And I am safe in a comfortable place. (15, 25–27)


But this is not only about the feelings of vulnerability and safety of one speaker. Thunder focuses on the “I” insofar as it also attends to relation with the “you” – the ways “you” and “I” construct each other and intimate levels of threat and of comfort, safety, support. Thunder invites the audience to identify with its speaker (“Audience, hear me … receive me” [13, 7–8]; “come toward me, you who know me” [17, 20]; invoking those “spirits of all men who exist with me / And the women who live in me” [18, 18–19]; and so forth), but the poem also puts the audience in the position of a “you” who hurts the speaker in various ways (“you” who “chased” and “captured” her [16, 15]; you who might “ignore” the speaker or “chase [her] from your sight” [13, 10] when in fact she calls you to see and attend to her; you who “hate [her] with your schemes” [15, 28]; and so on).The speaker becomes alternately passive and active, masculine and feminine. She “penetrates” her audience with her indictments (feminizing this “you”), only to then construct this audience as threateningly penetrating her by violating her space and her body, and disregarding her wishes and needs (masculinizing “you”). “You,” too, are caught up in this unpredictable, unavoidable queer counterpublic sphere of relations and feelings when you listen to this speaker and engage with the speaker’s performance.


Thunder’s speaker is anything but categorically stable and seems powerfully uninterested in being fixed in that way. Thunder also seems uninterested in maintaining the illusion that such a stable return – like Habrocomes’ return to marriage and normative society – is even desirable, suggesting that it might be impossible to be completely integrated into or well-contained in any social (gendered) category or stable affective orientation. And yet, Thunder expresses explicit interest in what forms a subject: “Since what is your inside is your outside / And the one who shapes your outside is he who shaped your inside / and what you see on the outside, you see revealed on the inside / it is your clothing” (20, 19–26). While it might be a reference to a divine creator who shapes “his” creations inside and out, this also evokes the shaping pressure of social relations. It is as if, by identifying with multiple positions or by making a fixed identification illegible, Thunder tries to break the circular logic of violence that produces certain gendered identities and of certain gendered identities incurring violence: “[H]ow one identifies (and how one gets identified) has everything to do with how much bodily harm and what kind one might be subjected to.”51 Thunder reminds its audience how these identity categories allow for or invite certain kinds of violence to (collective) bodies figured as expendable, penetrable, violable. Thunder doesn’t shy away from images of violence or from identifying with being subjected to it; rather, these images form the foundation of the queer relations threaded throughout the poem. Instead of shuffling these experiences off as marginal, Thunder associates them with conceptions of the divine, as if to hinder the alignment of divinity with political ideals and social hierarchies that exclude certain kinds of affective, ethnic, and gendered otherness. The way I see Thunder approaching trauma creatively, making space for it in public life and suggesting it is necessary to contend with it, resonates with the ways the queer public cultures Cvetkovich knows and writes about relate to trauma, shamelessly, erotically, embracing aggression and antisocial responses. Tracing Thunder’s queer approaches to the social life of trauma in the text, then, surfaces the links between politics and public feelings, making a particular sphere of affective life visible to history.


Lingering at the Open Tomb, Leaving Loose Ends


In their own ways, Thunder and Mark both enact what Swancutt describes as an “ethnic or ‘state’ threat” by evoking images of this oxymoronic penetrated-vir and, perhaps at times in Thunder’s case, the penetrative-femina, and they do so from positions of ethnic “otherness” (Jesus, the Galilean Jew, in confrontation with Roman order and ideals; Thunder’s speaker, the Egyptian “barbarian,” calling out aggressively to “you” Greeks). Their performances from these positions evoke the presence of counterpublic values. When viewed as this sometimes penetrative-femina, Thunder’s Tiresias-like gender flux is not only enacted by one body within the “I am”; it is also simultaneously rendered as a public entity, as when Thunder’s “I am” designates itself as or affiliates with groups of people or with divinity, or when Mark’s Jesus invites followers to take up the cross and become vulnerable as he has. Both texts dwell on many iterations of threat and public vulnerability, the diffuse spaces of pain and fear and moments of authority in the midst of their confrontations with powerful social forces and power-saturated intimate relationships.


The emphasis in Thunder on juxtapositions, strong feelings, accusations and invitations, role reversals, and participatory power dynamics helps illuminate the underlying queerness of the Markan Jesus’ sonship and his seemingly contradictory desires for both power and the value (and realities) of vulnerability. Reading the two texts in dialogue, with attention to affect, invites a rethinking of historical narratives about first-century communities’ engagement with the Markan version of Jesus’s life and death: They might not, after all, have been in need of a triumphant masculine savior; alternatively, a clear resolution might not have provided reliable meaning or offered a flexible enough model or foil for the communities’ own engagement with suffering and longing. Perhaps Mark’s story critiques the meager relational options and imaginative limits offered by narratives like the romances, traditional divine aretalogies, or even scriptural promises of God’s vindication, thereby articulating a set of counterpublic feelings and aesthetics. Reading Thunder and Mark together invites us to read Jesus and other characters in the Markan narrative as perhaps less certain or fixed. It allows us to linger a little longer with the watchful women at the tomb and the painful uncertainty with which the Gospel narrative ends, perhaps to wonder if it is productive and purposeful, illuminated by Thunder’s continual returns to places of anguish and fear.


Mark and Thunder are concerned with how people in pain are brought together and how they are alienated: Both address relationships between victimized protagonists and their observers, and both are wary of and ambivalently indebted to the power of performing before spectators. They confound others’ acts of identifying them as worthless or shameful and evoke divinity as being (inconsistently, tentatively) situated in or aligned with precariously gendered, dangerously shifting, penetrable bodies. Yet those precarious contacts with divinity also fail to protect bodies from harm or publicly establish their triumphs over others. The availability of divinity is no more stable than the sweep of feeling through crowds in Mark, or than the gendered identifications of the human bodies that cry out for or identify with God. Gender flux is close to the felt physical body and is interwoven with the larger social body – it speaks the confusion of both of these spheres, the traumatized physical body and the social body threatened with fragmentation and broken open to experimentation. Both Mark and Thunder hold open social, affective spaces that reverberate with the tension between vital resistance and inevitable victimization. How much the protagonist is hero, violator, onlooker, victim is never ultimately resolved – perhaps because such identification cannot be so easily untangled for these voices.


1Translation throughout of the Gospel of Mark is taken from Robert J. Miller (ed.), The Complete Gospels (Salem, OR: Polebridge Press, 4th edn, 2010).


2Translation of Nag Hammadi Codex VI, 2 The Thunder: Perfect Mind from Hal Taussig, Jared Calaway, Maia Kotrosits, Celene Lillie and Justin Lasser, The Thunder: Perfect Mind (New York, NY: Palgrave MacMillan, 2010).


3 Thunder is generally understood to be a Coptic translation of a lost Greek original (for example, see Paul-Hubert Poirer,“Thunder,” in Marvin Meyer [ed.], The Nag Hammadi Scriptures: The International Edition [New York: Harper One, 2007], pp. 367–71). Taussig et al., however, argue that the poem’s rich alliteration and wordplay in the Coptic suggest that if Thunder is indeed a translation, the extant version is highly Copticized and, as such, they read it as “a thoroughly Coptic poem” (The Thunder,p. 69).


4Ann Cvetkovich, An Archive of Feelings: Trauma, Sexuality and Lesbian Public Cultures (Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2003), p. 16. For a fuller sense of how Cvetkovich’s work on which I draw here circulates in the vicinity of other recent “public feelings” work, see her introduction, and also her acknowledgments, in Depression: A Public Feeling (Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2012) pp. 1–14; ix-xi. Here Cvetkovich situates her own contributions as part of a larger collective project under the rubric of Public Feelings, and (also relevant to my own engagement with her work in this paper) she articulates some of their queer theoretical underpinnings and contributions: “With its emphasis on identities and public cultures that cultivate non-normative affects, queer theory has also been a crucial resource for Public Feelings and its version of the affective turn. Especially important have been models for the depathologization of negative feelings such as shame, failure, melancholy and depression, and the resulting rethinking of categories such as utopia, hope, and happiness as entwined with and even enhanced by forms of negative feeling.  The Public Feelings project resists pastoralizing or redemptive accounts of negative feeling that seek to convert it into something useful or positive, but it also embraces categories such as utopia and hope” (ibid., pp. 6–7).


5Cvetkovich, An Archive of Feelings, p. 12, her emphasis.


6The queer approach that I adapt from Cvetkovich, therefore, involves engaging trauma “as a category that embraces a range of affects, including not just loss and mourning but also anger, shame, humor, sentimentality, and more … [in order to open] up a new way to examine historical experience in affective terms” (An Archive of Feelings, p. 48). Historical experiences at the intersection of trauma and the challenges of archiving affective life that interest Cvetkovich in An Archive of Feelings circle around the AIDS crisis, militant public mourning, and lesbian AIDS activists including those who took on roles as caretakers; queer performance culture in New York’s Lower East Side; incest narratives and lesbian lives in literature and performance art; transnational queer literature, performance and film; and Cvetkovich’s own personal history of depression and queer activism (which appears somewhat peripherally in this book but plays a more central role in Depression).


7I assume Mark was composed during or in the aftermath of the First Jewish-Roman War, and hence was embedded in experiences of imperial violence, including mass crucifixions and other public spectacles of imperial violence. It is difficult to determine the date and context of Thunder’s composition, but Quispel speculates that “[i]t might have been written in the third century B.C., like Siracides, when Palestine was a part of Ptolemaic Hellenistic Egypt …. On the other hand, the writing is so sophisticated that a later date, the first century B.C., and a Hellenistic milieu, Alexandria, all seem preferable” (see Gilles Quispel, “Jewish Gnosis and Mandaean Gnosticism,” in J.-E. Menard [ed.], Les textes de Nag Hammadi [Leiden: Brill, 1975], p. 86). Taussig et al. suggest that Thunder was ­composed in the midst of ancient Mediterranean social negotiations around gender, “­Gre­co-Roman prejudicial categories of Greek and barbarian,” possible conflict between Hel­lenized Alexandria and surrounding native Egyptian culture, and ancient Mediter­ranean patron-client and honor-shame social systems (The Thunder, p. 95). Noting that its only explicit historical references are to Greeks, barbarians, and Egypt, Thunder could have been written as early as the third century bce, when Greeks became a significant presence in Egypt; its latest composition date could be in the fourth century ce, the dating of the Nag Hammadi codices (ibid., pp. 8, 95–96). Concerning the Gospel of Mark’s dating and a summary of various arguments locating Mark’s composition in either Rome or near Palestine, see Adela Yarbro Collins, Mark: A Commentary (Hermeneia; Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2007), pp. 7–14; and Joel Marcus, Mark 1–8 (Anchor Bible 27A; New York: Doubleday, 2000), pp. 33–37. 


8For another recent creative historical and theoretical reading of the complexities of traumatic experience in Mark, see Maia Kotrosits and Hal Taussig, Re-reading the Gospel of Mark Amidst Loss and Trauma (New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2013).


9Settling on a genre for Mark is a contested enterprise, but in referring to it as “biographical” I want to be suggestive of the Gospel’s parallels to Greco-Roman biography and potentially to noble death literature. Richard A. Burridge, for instance, argues that the canonical Gospels resemble Greco-Roman biographical literature enough to be considered “lives” of Jesus. See Burridge, What Are the Gospels? A Comparison with Graeco-Roman Biography (Grand Rapids and Cambridge: Eerdmans, 2nd rev. edn,2004), pp. 231–51. For further consideration of Mark as ancient biography or not, see Collins, Mark, pp. 18, 22–33.


10 The Thunder: Perfect Mind is an aretalogy in the sense that it is “a recital of the acts of a divinity” but is ironic in that the speaker denies her own divinity as often as she claims it (Howard C. Kee, “Aretalogy and Gospel,” JBL 92.3 [1973], pp. 402–422 [404]). Taussig et al. point out that, while “the standard speeches of the self-revealing gods provide long lists of obvious virtues and abilities, Thunder intentionally presents an ‘I’ that embraces its own contradictions, undoings and humiliations. While the regular aretalogies served to confirm social power in the hands of the (composers of the) divine revealer, Thunder shakes the apparent sureness of identity and the social order it represents” (The Thunder, pp. 94–95). For further discussion of Thunder in relation to ancient aretalogies and ancient near eastern Wisdom traditions, see ibid., pp. 16–20; and G. W. MacRae, “Discourses of the Gnostic Revealer,” Proceedings of the International Colloquium on Gnosticism, Stockholm, August 20–25, 1973 (Stockholm: Almquist & Wiksell, 1977), pp. 111–22. Regarding the speaker’s gender and translation of Coptic pronominal forms, Taussig et al. have noticed that the speaker’s masculine identifications are often ignored in Thunder scholarship and translations (The Thunder, pp. 41–51); their recent translation has, however, rendered the shifts throughout the poem in gendered language visible rather than neutralizing the self-referential male pronouns of the speaker, using “one,” for instance or simply “correcting” the Coptic, translating masculine pronominal pe and pete as feminine (ibid., pp. 41–42, 105 n. 21, 106 n. 22).


11Michael Warner, Publics and Counterpublics (New York: Zone Books, 2005), p. 14.


12Michael Warner, Publics and Counterpublics (New York: Zone Books, 2005), pp. 12, 11.


13Michael Warner, Publics and Counterpublics (New York: Zone Books, 2005), p. 14. For Warner, counterpublics are “defined by their tension with a larger public…. Discussion within such a public is understood to contravene the rules obtaining in the world at large, being structured by alternative dispositions or protocols, making different assumptions about what can be said or what goes without saying” (ibid., p. 56). A counterpublic “maintains at some level, conscious or not, an awareness of its subordinate status…. This subordinate status does not simply reflect identities formed elsewhere; participation in such a public is one of the ways by which its members identities are formed and transformed” (ibid., pp. 56–57).


14Michael Warner, Publics and Counterpublics (New York: Zone Books, 2005), p. 16. Warner describes how publics are “essentially intertextual, frameworks for understanding texts against an organized background of the circulation of other texts, all interwoven not just by citational references but by the incorporation of a reflexive circulatory field in the mode of address and consumption” (ibid., p. 14).


15Michael Warner, Publics and Counterpublics (New York: Zone Books, 2005), 15.


16Lauren Berlant, “Intuitionists: History and the Affective Event,” American Literary History 20.4 (2008), pp. 845–60 (845).


17In this essay, I use “queer” (even in reference to subjectivity or identity in the ancient world), like Eve Kosofky Sedgwick, to point away from anything like a “seamless whole” regarding (sexual) identity: “queer” can refer instead to “the open mesh of possibilities, gaps, overlaps, dissonances and resonances, lapses and excesses of meaning when the constituent elements of anyone’s gender, anyone’s sexuality aren’t made (or can’t be made) to signify monolithically” (Tendencies [Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1993], p. 8).


18Cvetkovich, An Archive of Feelings, p. 15.


19Before Jesus appears on the scene in Mark, John the Baptizer is already drawing massive crowds away from Jerusalem to bathe in the wilderness and listen to his provocative teaching (1:4–5).


20Jesus (and the news of and strong feelings about his activities) moves through various geographical regions and social strata, making connections with “sinners and toll collectors” (2:16); scribes (12:28–34) and synagogue officials (5:22); Gentiles (the Syro-Phoenician woman, 7:25–27) as well as Judeans; and social outcasts marked by their “unclean” bodies (like the lepers in 1:40 and 14:3, the woman with unceasing menstruation in 5:25–34, and the howling Legion-possessed man living among the tombs in 5:1–20); etc.


21Tat-siong Benny Liew, “Re-Mark-able Masculinities: Jesus, the Son of Man, and the (Sad) Sum of Manhood?” in Janice Capel Anderson and Stephen Moore (eds.), New Testament Masculinities (Semeia Studies, 45; Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2003), pp. 93–135 (99).


22Tat-siong Benny Liew, “Re-Mark-able Masculinities: Jesus, the Son of Man, and the (Sad) Sum of Manhood?” in Janice Capel Anderson and Stephen Moore (eds.), New Testament Masculinities (Semeia Studies, 45; Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2003), pp. 101, 102.


23Tat-siong Benny Liew, “Re-Mark-able Masculinities: Jesus, the Son of Man, and the (Sad) Sum of Manhood?” in Janice Capel Anderson and Stephen Moore (eds.), New Testament Masculinities (Semeia Studies, 45; Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2003), p. 105.


24Tat-siong Benny Liew, “Re-Mark-able Masculinities: Jesus, the Son of Man, and the (Sad) Sum of Manhood?” in Janice Capel Anderson and Stephen Moore (eds.), New Testament Masculinities (Semeia Studies, 45; Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2003), p. 105.


25In light of the destabilization of traditional masculine stereotypes in the Roman imperial period, renegotiations of manliness were necessary. Power is experienced in a context in which “Roman imperialism represented both the logical conclusion and the paradoxical undoing of the equation of domination and manhood in antiquity” (Eric Thurman, “Novel Men: Masculinity and Empire in Mark’s Gospel and Xenophon’s An Ephesian Tale,” in Todd Penner and Caroline Vander Stichele [eds.], Mapping Gender in Ancient Religious Discourses [Biblical Interpretation Series, 84, Leiden: Brill and Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2007], p. 186).


26Eric Thurman, “Novel Men: Masculinity and Empire in Mark’s Gospel and Xenophon’s An Ephesian Tale,” in Todd Penner and Caroline Vander Stichele [eds.], Mapping Gender in Ancient Religious Discourses [Biblical Interpretation Series, 84, Leiden: Brill and Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2007], p. 193.


27For a reading of Mark’s ending at 16:8 as resistance to narrative closure (one of many such readings that have appeared in recent decades), see Donald H. Juel, “A Disquieting Silence: The Matter of the Ending,” in Beverly Roberts Gaventa and Patrick D. Miller (eds.), The Ending of Mark and the Ends of God: Essays in Memory of Donald Harrisville Juel (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2005), pp. 1–14.


28See, for example, Brian K. Blount, “Is the Joke on Us? Mark’s Irony, Mark’s God, and Mark’s Ending,” in Gaventa and Miller (eds.), The Ending of Mark and the Ends of God, pp. 15–32. Also, see discussion below of Thurman on Markan irony and Jesus’ identity.


29On the connections between sexual violence and crucifixion, see David Tombs, “Crucifixion, State Terror, and Sexual Abuse,” USQR 53 (1999), pp. 89–109.


30Thurman, “Novel Men,” p. 223.


31Thurman’s reading runs counter to Liew’s early argument that Mark’s Jesus embodies a tyrannically authoritative masculinity, but Liew later fleshes out the ways Jesus is “imprisoned” in a kind of masculinity that ironically puts him in a passive role in relation to that masculinity, or the force that fuels it: patriarchy. For the former argument, see Tat-siong Benny Liew, Politics of Parousia: Reading Mark Inter(con)textually (Biblical Interpretation Series, 42; Leiden: Brill, 1999),pp. 93–107, and for the latter, see Liew, “Re-Mark-able Masculinities,” pp. 123–35.


32On this ambivalence, but from a different perspective, see Stephen D. Moore, Empire and Apocalypse: Postcolonialism and the New Testament (The Bible in the Modern World, 12; Sheffield: Sheffield Phoenix Press, 2006), p. 44.


33Moore illustrates the resonances between imperial ideals and Mark’s attribution of “absolute, unassailable authority” to Jesus, wondering if “Mark merely mirror[s] Roman imperial ideology, deftly switching Jesus for Caesar” (Empire and Apocalypse, p. 37).


34For instance, the woman with the flow of blood drains the power from an unsuspecting Jesus, which Candida Moss reads as making Jesus “porous” and thus feminizing him; Jesus’ first attempt at healing one of the blind men in the Gospel is less than powerfully successful (the blind man at first cannot see clearly and declares that people look like trees, so Jesus tries again); the far-from-Johannine crucifixion and Jesus’ cry of desolation renders Mark’s messiah much less in control; and, finally, the missing body, lack of a resurrected Jesus sighting, and anti-climactic ending in Mark 16 leave Mark’s audience in the grip of uncertainty. For a reading of the gendered implications of Jesus’ loss of power in confrontation with the woman with the flow of blood, see Candida Moss, “The Man with the Flow of Power: Porous Bodies in Mark 5:25–34,” JBL 129.3 (2010), pp. 507–519.


35As Thurman describes it, the signs of Jesus’ suffering and shame “paradoxically confirm his exalted identity” (“Novel Men,” p. 213). His mockery could either ironically confirm or blatantly undermine this exaltation, especially if the Roman centurion’s comment at 15:39 is, following an increasing number of interpreters, taken as a joke or ridiculous assertion – as Blount, for instance, suggestively translates the centurion’s words (ambiguous in the Greek): “Yeah, right, this guy was the son of God” (“Is the Joke On Us?” p. 29).


36Berlant, “Intuitionists,” p. 846.


37 Thunder’s first English translatorGeorge MacRae recognizes the difficulty of classifying the text, noting that “it contains no distinctively Christian, Jewish or Gnostic allusions and does not seem clearly to presuppose any particular Gnostic myth” (G. W. MacRae, “The Thunder: Perfect Mind (VI, 2),” in James M. Robinson (ed.), The Nag Hammadi Library in English [San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1997], p. 271). Bentley Layton, however, identifies the speaker as the figure of “‘afterthought,’ a manifestation of wisdom and Barbelo in gnostic myth” in his The Gnostic Scriptures (Garden City: Doubleday, 1987), p. 77. Jorunn Jacobsen Buckley warns against “facile expectations” regarding “recognizable Gnostic ‘content’” of Thunder, although she does understand Thunder to be marking movements between upper and lower spiritual worlds, leaning toward anti-cosmic dualism, and addressing faithful believers, reading typical Gnostic characteristics into the text (“Two Female Gnostic Revealers,” History of Religions 19.3 [1980], pp. 259–69). 


38Following important recent interventions by Taussig et al., I read against interpretations of Thunder as representing “Gnostic” motifs such as liberation from materiality, the summoning of members of a “gnostic race,” as Layton situates the poem (Gnostic Scriptures, p. 77), in favor of a social reading of Thunder’s terms, marked for example by its emphasis on cultural dynamics between “Greeks” and “barbarians.” Taussig et al. also describe how the speaker’s claims to power and authority resonate with other self-presentations throughout ancient Mediterranean literature, but Thunder’s relentless attention to shame and degradation is unusual (The Thunder, pp. 53–60). See also Maia Kotrosits, “The Thunder: Perfect Mind and Early Christian Conflicts about Gender,” The Fourth R 24.1 (January/February 2011), pp. 7–12.


39In general I assume Karen King’s dismantling of the terms that render “Gnosticism” a coherent, legible category. I understand “Gnosticism,” like “Christianity/ies,” to function discursively and rhetorically, rather than as referring to essential characteristics of distinctive historical movements or theological systems. See Karen King, What Is Gnosticism? (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2003), and, more recently, King, “Factions, Variety, Diversity, Multiplicity: Representing Early Christian Differences for the 21st Century,” Method and Theory in the Study of Religion 23 (2011), pp. 216–37. For discussion of how these arguments affect interpretations of Thunder specifically and naming early Christian diversity in general, see Taussig et al., The Thunder, pp. 21–28.


40Regarding Thunder’s speaker’s shifting pronouns, see Taussig et al., The Thunder, pp. 41–51, 105 n. 21, 106 n. 22. 


41Taussig et al., The Thunder, pp. 29–30. Compare Bentley Layton’s reading of Thunder as primarily presenting paradoxes in “The Riddle of Thunder (NHC VI, 2): The Function of the Paradox in a Gnostic Text from Nag Hammadi,” in Charles W. Hedrick and Robert Hodgson, Jr. (eds.), Nag Hammadi, Gnosticism, and Early Christianity (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1986), pp. 37–54.


42Many of Thunder’s lines “cannot be charted as proper parallels, although they continue to display some of the technical characteristics of classic parallelism. Here the irony seems to overwhelm the parallels, even while the parallel structure displays itself in order to be undone…. [Relations are] then spun out of control with the quirky combination of paternal grandmother, sister-in-law, and child all in the same identity” (Taussig et al., The Thunder, p. 86).


43See Kotrosits’s reading of Thunder’spronoun shifts and other gender-bending moves in “The Thunder: Perfect Mind and Early Christian Conflicts about Gender,” pp. 8–9.


44As Kotrosits has pointed out, “[i]n the predictable parent/child and man/woman relations of the ancient world, the second partners in these pairs are basically powerless, considered as property. In Thunder, however, parent/child and masculine/feminine relations are reversed and power is revealed as slippery” (“The Thunder: Perfect Mind and Early Christian Conflicts about Gender,” p. 9).


45Christopher A. Frilingos, Spectacles of Empire: Monsters, Martyrs, and the Book of Revelation (Divinations: Rereading Late Ancient Religion; Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2004), pp. 33–55.


46Diana M. Swancutt, “Still Before Sexuality: ‘Greek’ Androgyny, the Roman Imperial Politics of Masculinity and the Roman Invention of the Tribas,” in Penner and Vander Stichele (eds.), Mapping Gender in Ancient Religious Discourses, pp. 11–61.


47Taussig et al., The Thunder, p. 31. 


48Swancutt describes how, in Ovid, “some of these androgynes represent both body-forms simultaneously (Hermaphroditus), while others embody sequential androgyny (Sithon, Iphis, Mestra, Cainis) or live in flux between male and female forms (Tiresias), all of which represent ancient types of androgyny” (“Still Before Sexuality,” p. 26).


49 “Still Before Sexuality,” p. 31.


50“Romans uniquely marked the body of the Roman vir with the anxieties of empire. Romans overtly identified physical inviolability and a huge penetrating phallus with Roman male imperial power. Hence, the vir was and had to remain the ideological sign of Roman inconquerability – the impenetrable penetrator, he could not be invaded. This identification of the penetrating phallus with empire had two main ideological consequences: the unacceptability of androgynous Roman men (mollis/pathicus) and the inconceivability of androgynous Roman women (tribas). Since the vir was by definition the penetrator (fututor) and the femina was by definition the penetrated (femina/puella), the penetrated-vir was an oxymoron…. [But] the penetrative-femina was not just an oxymoron, sh/e was ideologically unnameable. The idea of the penetrative-wo/man – who by the standards of the one-body model climbed the gender hierarchy and made herself a man – was so unacceptable to the imperial mind that it could not even be named as a Roman possibility” (“Still Before Sexuality,” p. 26, her emphasis). Swancutt is building on an extensive body of work in the field of classics that has made similar claims.


51 “Still Before Sexuality,” p. 32. 


52Taussig et al., The Thunder, pp. 62–63.

  • 5

    Cvetkovich, An Archive of Feelings, p. 12, her emphasis.

  • 11

    Michael Warner, Publics and Counterpublics (New York: Zone Books, 2005), p. 14.

  • 12

    Michael Warner, Publics and Counterpublics (New York: Zone Books, 2005), pp. 12, 11.

  • 13

    Michael Warner, Publics and Counterpublics (New York: Zone Books, 2005), p. 14. For Warner, counterpublics are “defined by their tension with a larger public…. Discussion within such a public is understood to contravene the rules obtaining in the world at large, being structured by alternative dispositions or protocols, making different assumptions about what can be said or what goes without saying” (ibid., p. 56). A counterpublic “maintains at some level, conscious or not, an awareness of its subordinate status…. This subordinate status does not simply reflect identities formed elsewhere; participation in such a public is one of the ways by which its members identities are formed and transformed” (ibid., pp. 56–57).

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  • 14

    Michael Warner, Publics and Counterpublics (New York: Zone Books, 2005), p. 16. Warner describes how publics are “essentially intertextual, frameworks for understanding texts against an organized background of the circulation of other texts, all interwoven not just by citational references but by the incorporation of a reflexive circulatory field in the mode of address and consumption” (ibid., p. 14).

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  • 15

    Michael Warner, Publics and Counterpublics (New York: Zone Books, 2005), 15.

  • 16

    Lauren Berlant, “Intuitionists: History and the Affective Event,” American Literary History 20.4 (2008), pp. 845–60 (845).

  • 18

    Cvetkovich, An Archive of Feelings, p. 15.

  • 30

    Thurman, “Novel Men,” p. 223.

  • 36

    Berlant, “Intuitionists,” p. 846.

  • 41

    Taussig et al., The Thunder, pp. 29–30. Compare Bentley Layton’s reading of Thunder as primarily presenting paradoxes in “The Riddle of Thunder (NHC VI, 2): The Function of the Paradox in a Gnostic Text from Nag Hammadi,” in Charles W. Hedrick and Robert Hodgson, Jr. (eds.), Nag Hammadi, Gnosticism, and Early Christianity (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1986), pp. 37–54.

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  • 47

    Taussig et al., The Thunder, p. 31.

  • 52

    Taussig et al., The Thunder, pp. 62–63.

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