What's a Mark Sandwich?


We've been having a blast studying Mark's biography of Jesus each week in Jesus Class. Last week we encountered the first of several examples of the Mark Sandwich. Mark tends to take a piece of one story and weave it into another in order to create a more interesting story line. Much the same thing happens all the time when you watch a movie that skillfully cuts one scene to another then flashes back to the first.

Here are a few helpful comments from gospels scholar R.T. France on the Sandwich:

"Mark's gospel was designed for oral transmission – and for transmission as a continuous whole rather than for private study or silent reading. Various features of Mark's style seem to reflect such a purpose notably his more expansive story telling manner… Such features make for a more memorable text, and make it easier for the listener, who does not have the option of stopping and turning back to refresh his or her memory, to keep the flow of the narrative in mind. The 'sandwich' technique is a well-tried device of the popular raconteur in order to hold the audience’s attention."

"Mark is a master at the narrative art of sandwiching one story or scene within another (also called interpolation, intercalation, dovetailing, framing, etc). Most of Mark's sandwiches are created by the interweaving of contemporary events in such a way that one helps to interpret the other. Notable examples are the enclosure of the scribal accusation that Jesus is in league with the devil within the story of his own family's attempt to restrain him because they thought he was mad (Mk 3:21-35), the more complex interweaving of the destruction of the fig tree with the demonstration against the 'fruitless temple' (Mk 11:11-27), and the parallel scenes of the trial of Jesus and the 'trial' of Peter which are interwoven (Mk 14:53-15:1)."

"Not only does he enclose one story within another, but he likes to set up parallel scenes and move the spotlight successively between them. This is a proven narrative and dramatic technique, to maintain interest and to allow the reader/hearer to gain a wider perspective on the constituent elements of the story, placing one alongside another so that they become mutually illuminating."

The Gospel of Mark (NIGTC) – by R. T. France (pp 9-10, 18-19).