Scala/Art Resource

Turmoil in the heavens. A roiling sky at the baptism of Jesus heralds the beginning of his public life. The scene is part of a tryptich painted by El Greco (1541–1614) and now on display in Modena, Italy.

In an image unique to his Gospel, the evangelist Mark describes the heavens ripping or tearing open at the moment of Jesus’ baptism. Matthew and Luke simply see the heavens as opening in their versions of Jesus’ baptism. Author David Ulansey explains why Mark used the ripping metaphor and what it tells us about Mark’s understanding of Jesus’ career.