C. Clifton Black

C. Clifton Black
(Photo Credit: Princeton Theological Seminary)

C. Clifton Black is Otto A. Piper Professor of Biblical Theology at Princeton Theological Seminary, Princeton, New Jersey. He is 5’6” high and as wide across. His other books include The Great Gatsby (1925) and The Sun Also Rises (1926), both regarded as classics of America’s “Lost Generation.” Even more impressive is that he published them thirty years before he was born.

The following interview was recorded in the author’s private booth at Waffle House, 46 Central Avenue, Hackensack, New Jersey.

* * * 

C. Clifton Black, author of The Disciples according to Mark: Well, we’re at it again: talking to ourselves in print.

C. Clifton Black, author of The Eighth Day of Creation: I always say, there are worse things than schizophrenia. It beats dining alone.

BDM: Pull your face out of those hash browns and wipe off that drool. Do you remember why we’re here?

BED: Of course. EerdWord invited us to speak — on the worldwide web! — about your new book, The Disciples According to Mark: Markan Redaction in Current Debate (2012).

Right. And I agreed, provided that we also mention your recent EerdBook, The Eighth Day of Creation: An Anthology of Christian Scripture (2008). Have you noticed how closely the worldwide web resembles Hackensack?

Yeah, but before we go any further: why does one title appear in italics but the other doesn’t?

Because you speak in italics, and I don’t. When I italicize something, it stays italicized. But when you italicize italics, it can’t take the strain and collapses into how I normally speak. Understand?

No. Can I speak like this instead?

No, you cannot. Boldface italics are still italics, only louder.

Oh. Are we ready to talk about the books?

As one spaghetti strap said to the other, “What’s holding us up?”

The Disciples according to Mark

The Disciples according to Mark

What is redaction, and why are people criticizing it in the Gospel of Mark?

Redaction means “editing.” If I said that Eerdmans didn’t publish my book, but Fortress Press or Nelson Publishers did, that’s the C.I.A.’s way of redacting something.

I think you’re still messing with my typographical mind. Does Mark redact things that way?

No. When Mark redacts his sources, he uses a more delicate, artistic touch.

For instance?

In Mark 4:35-41 a sudden squall scares the snot out of the disciples in a boat. They wake Jesus up: “Teacher, we’re dying! Don’t you care?” After stifling the wind, he asks them, “Why are you scared? Do you still have no faith?” Some scholars argue that Mark’s fingerprints are all over that story. He likes putting Jesus in boats. The disciples are snotless morons. Jesus berates them. Mark has twisted a miracle story to beat up the Twelve.

How do we know that Mark did all this?

We don’t. If Mark was the first written gospel, then we can’t be sure what his sources said. That, nestled in a moist casaba rind, is the book’s point.

Maybe Mark was only passing along the story the way he heard it.

Could be. But isn’t it more provocative to suggest otherwise? The book talks about that, too.

Why would Mark want to whack the disciples, anyway?

What if he didn’t but Mark’s interpreters do? Read the book.

Watch those italics; you’re muscling into my territory. So what led you to compose this breathless saga of exegetical intrigue?

I was trying to figure out what a group of influential New Testament scholars were up to, and why. It began as a doctoral dissertation that got out of hand; then it was published in 1989.

Why should anyone read a book published in 1989?

Have you still no faith? I would never unwrap a mess of old mullet in Grand Rapids. This is a second edition. I’ve brought a lot of scholarly confusion up to date.

Why should anyone read a revised dissertation? Sounds boring to me.

It’s a peculiar kind of mystery story. Wait till you get to the part where Rudolf Bultmann and Dwight Eisenhower team up to slay vampires. I’m telling you: the pages turn themselves.

Speaking of self-turning pages: let’s talk about my book now.

Be my guest. First, explain the title to me. What is The Eighth Day of Creation?

“It’s a dimension as vast as space and as timeless as infinity. It is the middle ground between light and shadow, between science and superstition, and it lies between the pit of man’s fears and the summit of his knowledge.”

You’ve just ripped off Rod Serling. That’s The Twilight Zone.

That’s where I was when I wrote it.

Scanning this book — in which, by the way, I haven’t spotted a single vampire — I see that you didn’t write most of it. It’s simply 568 extracts from the King James Bible, jumbled together. What gives?

It’s an experiment in biblical theology that Augustine and Wesley imbibed with Monica and Susanna’s milk. Scripture interprets scripture. When Mary sings, “My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour,” she’s answering Hannah’s call a millennium earlier: “My heart rejoiceth in the LORD, Mine horn is exalted in the LORD.” In this book I want to help readers who may know nothing about the Bible tune into its frequencies and enjoy it.

Side by side, some of these texts could give you whiplash.  I quote from your book: “. . . So are the sons of men snared in an evil time, when it falleth suddenly upon them”/“. . . there they crucified him. Then said Jesus, ‘Father, forgive them; they know not what they do.’”

Scripture unites in the Almighty’s chorus, but often the music is off-key with sprung meter. This side of paradise, that’s life. Growing into life with God is joyous and messy. This book is a biblical companion for fellow pilgrims.

“This Side of Paradise”: nice title. Keep it. The Eighth Day looks like a prayerbook.

That’s exactly what it is. Short of singing, can you think of a theology more honest?

You’ve used the King James Version. How come?

It’s the great-granddaddy of all English versions, with some of the most beautiful literature in that tongue. Nothing, peradventure, so quickens the bowels like a firkin drain’d to its lees at the sound of a sackbut.

Keep your sackbut away from my firkin. Would these books make attractive Christmas presents?

The Eighth Day is perfect for contemplative, snowy afternoons with a cup of hot cocoa. How about yours?

The Disciples according to Mark is the ideal gift for every seminarian, scholar, and drudge in your family. It lacks the sleek lines of a Mercedes, but The Disciples costs pennies by comparison. And — it’s never been involved in even one traffic accident. Let the Benzmeisters stick that in their Fahrzeugwelt.

There is one thing I would have done differently in The Eighth Day.

And that is?

One of the book’s many indexes is of “Scriptural Personages.” For the entry “Jethro, father-in-law of Moses,” I snuck in “. . . and cousin of Elly May.” My editor made me take that out. You can’t put anything over Eerdworld.

What about this interview?

Let’s wait and see.

* * *

Editor’s note: portions of the above article may have taken liberty with certain facts in the interest of entertaining readers. A keyword search of the text of The Disciples according to Mark, for example, reveals not a single mention of the word “vampire.” (We were curious, so we checked.)

At least three things, however, are completely true:

  1. It is surprisingly easy to “put things over” EerdWord.
  2. The Disciples according to Mark is a significant work of New Testament scholarship.
  3. Both books — though perhaps especially The Eighth Day of Creation — would make great Christmas gifts.

Click to order The Eighth Day of Creation: An Anthology of Christian Scripture or The Disciples according to Mark: Markan Redaction in Current Debate, Second Edition, both by C. Clifton Black. 

UPDATE October 2013: The Eighth Day of Creation is no longer available from Eerdmans. We apologize for the inconvenience.