Rhetorical analysis is a fresh look at biblical books that goes beyond historical-critical studies to concentrate on what the text actually says: its "message," the one Mark intended for his audience. Today's readers may be shocked by this message, but it is also a confirmation of many modern insights into the historical Jesus. Humphrey's "rhetorical analysis" of Mark is a convincing example of the merits of the rhetorical approach: it unveils Mark's narrative techniques and presents his message loud and clear, to Mark's contemporaries and to readers today.
The narrative structure of Mark that Humphrey presents is a refinement of many previous studies of the gospel's structure, especially B. Standaert's 1978 work, refined by A. Stock, and Philip's "Chiastic Structure." Yet it is also original, especially in claiming three major narrative sections, resituating the acknowledged center of the gospel—Peter's confession of faith—within a narrative section that begins with 6:30 (the banquet in the wilderness) and ends with the cleansing of the temple (11:19).
For readers of Mark who already have ideas about Mark's structure, Humphrey's proposal at first seems arbitrary, although similar to other structures. The introductory chapter, in which he presents this structure is dense and complicated, and the organization of the other chapters may seem repetitious. (In fact he goes through the gospel three times in three different ways). However his rationale and the merit of such an approach gradually become apparent. Gradually we see the "message" of Mark emerging with greater and greater clarity, like a photograph developed in a dark room.
In fact Humphrey's approach turns out to be similar to Mark's own narrative approach as a gradually unfolding series of episodes that reveal with ever increasing clarity his message to an audience that probably hears rather than reads the gospel. Mark begins with 1:2-13, a first 'narrative key' that already presents the whole portrait of Jesus, based on Scripture, involving a death (baptism), and a testing. Then, in a series of seven concentrically arranged sequences, he further develops the message of this 'key:' the 'way' prepared by Scripture, announced by John and Jesus, involves the Spirit as well as testing and adversaries. In a second sequence (4:35-6:29), these same themes involve 'belief and unbelief' —of disciples. Eventually this drama is most fully developed in the third section: the Passion and Resurrection narrative.
After perusing with Humphrey the gospel's three key narratives (chapter 2) and the seven-part chiasms of its three major sections (chapters 3-5), we now review all the episodes of the gospel in a more traditional commentary of the unfolding story (chapter 6). The 'picture' or overall message of Mark is now outstandingly clear. We now see how carefully planned this gospel is. Not an Aristotelian plot, yet not arbitrarily arranged "pearls on a necklace." In addition, we also appreciate Mark's ending at 16:8: the women who went from the empty tomb and "said nothing to no one" are part of Mark's carefully planned plot—to end with a "trap" for the audience, which having judged the disciples and the women negatively "now realizes there is only one candidate who can carry out the proclamation of the message—themselves" (quoting Paul Danove: "The Characterization and Narrative Function of the Women at the Tomb")