Monthly Archives: December 2012

Mark Chapter 2:13-17

This is a fairly short sequence, but including it either with the post before or the post after made each of them too long.  So, we have a short segment of Chapter 2.

13Καὶ ἐξῆλθεν πάλιν παρὰ τὴν θάλασσαν: καὶ πᾶς ὁ ὄχλος ἤρχετο πρὸς αὐτόν, καὶ ἐδίδασκεν αὐτούς.

And he went out again along the Sea (of Galilee). And the whole crowd came to him, and he taught them.

Repeated from the section before, want to make a point or two.  

Traveling along the shoreline of the Sea of Galilee. He did this before in Chapter 1. Looking at a map, there are a number of towns along the shore, one of them being Magdala–as in, Mary the Magdalene. The idea is that the shore line probably was fairly well populated.  As such, it would not be difficult to raise a crowd. Once again, Mark is telling us just how popular Jesus has become.

Now, about this. Based on what we have read, Jesus has not been out teaching for very long. All in all, we know that he spent time in the wilderness–but an unspecified amount–and he had a series of Sabbath days when he taught in the synagogue in Caphernaum, and then more Sabbaths teaching in the other neighboring towns. So, all in all, Jesus has probably been engaged in his ministry for perhaps 3, perhaps 6 months. And he has managed to attract such large followings that he can’t enter towns openly, and a crowd follows him around the shore of the lake. That’s pretty impressive.

But–how much of this is due to his association with the Baptist?  Any of it? Being associated with John would could have given him something of a ready-made audience, which would help explain how he got to be so popular so quickly. However, we aren’t told that he baptised people; we’re told he healed them, cast out demons, etc.

Another possibility for the level of Jesus’ popularity is that more time has passed since his baptism than the events here would indicate. Perhaps it’s been more than six months. John’s gospel seems to indicate that Jesus’ ministry lasted a bit longer than the three years traditionally assigned to it.  Maybe that’s how Jesus’ popularity spread.

Or, there’s always the possibility that Mark is simply exaggerating. Because the circle that we have to square is, if Jesus was as popular as Mark indicates, what happened to all of these followers after Jesus died?  Keep this in mind when we hear how Jesus admonished silence, as he did to the unclean spirit, and to the leper in Chapter 1.

The question with this is, how embarrassing was it for Assemblies of Jesus that there were so few followers in his homeland? Was this known? Did this matter? Because, on the one hand, if Jesus was as popular in Galilee as Mark says he was, why wasn’t there a larger Assembly there?  Or did other new followers, in Rome or Carthage or Macedonia particularly care about what had happened in Galilee?

I do not know that answer; I imagine the question has been asked, by those opposed to Christianity, whether in the ancient or the modern world.

13 Et egressus est rursus ad mare; omnisque turba veniebat ad eum, et docebat eos.

14καὶ παράγων εἶδεν Λευὶν τὸν τοῦ Ἁλφαίου καθήμενον ἐπὶ τὸ τελώνιον, καὶ λέγει αὐτῷ, Ἀκολούθει μοι. καὶ ἀναστὰς ἠκολούθησεν αὐτῷ.

And going along, he saw Levi, son of Alphaios, seated among the tax collectors, and he (Jesus) said to him (Levi), “Follow me.” And, standing up, he (Levi) followed him (Jesus).

I am admittedly a bit unclear on the rules for pronoun antecedents in Greek. In Latin, one distinguishes by using hic or illius, the latter vs the former. We have the distinction of the non-specified subject vs and the object, but that is not always clear without context.  That is the case here.

14 Et cum praeteriret, vidit Levin Alphaei sedentem ad teloneum et ait illi: “ Sequere me ”. Et surgens secutus est eum.

15Καὶ γίνεται κατακεῖσθαι αὐτὸν ἐν τῇ οἰκίᾳ αὐτοῦ, καὶ πολλοὶ τελῶναι καὶ ἁμαρτωλοὶ συνανέκειντο τῷ Ἰησοῦ καὶ τοῖς μαθηταῖς αὐτοῦ: ἦσαν γὰρ πολλοὶ καὶ ἠκολούθουν αὐτῷ.

And it happened that, reclining in his home, and many tax collectors and sinners were reclining with Jesus and his learners; for they were many and they followed him.

This is a great example of where the rules of antecedent really matter.  I spent a certain amount of time trying to work out the antecedents for the ‘his’ that’s in ‘in his home.’ Whose home? Levi’s? But, after a couple of  go-rounds, I concluded that they were eating in Jesus’ home. Then I checked my crib translations; the KJV, and the Revised English Bible agree with me. The NIV says they were eating at Levi’s house, and the ESV and the NASB take the coward’s way out and don’t pin it down. They leave the ‘his house’ ambiguous.  In this case, the Latin is no particular help, merely echoing the ambiguity of the Greek.  

They are eating at Jesus’ house. This is significant. This indicates that Jesus was of a level of means, not only to entertain a crowd at his house, but he was able to entertain what appears to be a fairly large gathering. In reading stuff about the Historical Jesus, there is some back and forth about Jesus’ economic status. Some say he was poor, some say he had adequate, if modest means. But this would seem to indicate that he may have been of substantial means, if he was able to entertain a decent party of tax collectors, who were often fairly well-off themselves. But I have not come across any citation of this passage; however, that may just mean I need to get out (and read) more.

But this also reflects back on 2:1, when he was said to be ‘at home’. At the time, my question was, had he moved to Caphernaum? Had he moved in with Simon & Andrew? Now it really seems like it’s Jesus’ house. So when did he move from Nazareth? When he first came along the Sea of Galilee, as he was about to call Simon and Andrew, the implication is that he was coming into a new place. But now, some unspecified amount of time later, he’s living there, in a house suitable for large parties. What’s up with that? Which leads me to ask, did he ever live in Nazareth? If we check Matthew, we are told that Jesus, Mary, & Joseph only moved there upon the return from Egypt. So, all in all, it doesn’t seem like Jesus has any real connection with Nazareth, except that the word was that he came from there. Matthew cites the OT to say that ‘he will be called a Nazarene.’ I get the sense that his biography may have been adapted to fit some such words of the prophets. When you get inconsistent stories, you have to ask if the official story may have been cooked up by the PR department.

And then we have Jesus breaking bread with people who were not respectable by the Jewish standards of the times. Tax collectors were not popular. The Romans were firm believers in small government. They would twist themselves–and their government–into pretzels to avoid creating any sort of bureaucracy. One manifestation of this was that they contracted out the collection of taxes. That is, they left it up to the private sector. The Romans put the contract up for bid; the highest bidder was awarded the contract. Then, the one who got the contract had to collect something over and above what had been promised to the Romans. This represented the tax collector’s profit. So, if I win the bid by saying I can collect 1,000 denarii, I have to collect that and give it to the Romans, then I have to collect more than that to make a profit. So the system was inherently corrupt, and tax collectors were hated for the levels of greed they exhibited since their incentive was to squeeze as much as possible. The only real check on their greed was tax riots and armed insurrection. Not a great system; but not so bad that it hasn’t been proposed in the US in the 21st Century. La plus ça change, la plus ça meme chose.  

But that’s not all. In addition to those bastard tax collectors, we have Jesus also consorting with sinners, of unspecified type. Again, this put Jesus outside the scope of ‘polite’ society. More on this in a moment.

15 Et factum est, cum accumberet in domo illius, et multi publicani et peccatores simul discumbebant cum Iesu et discipulis eius; erant enim multi et sequebantur eum.

16καὶ οἱ γραμματεῖς τῶν Φαρισαίων ἰδόντες ὅτι ἐσθίει μετὰ τῶν ἁμαρτωλῶν καὶ τελωνῶνἔ λεγον τοῖς μαθηταῖς αὐτοῦ, Οτι μετὰ τῶν τελωνῶν καὶ ἁμαρτωλῶν ἐσθίει;

And the scribes of the Pharisees seeing that he ate with sinners and tax collectors said to his learners, “Why with tax collectors and sinners does he eat?”

16 Et scribae pharisaeorum, videntes quia manducaret cum peccatoribus et publicanis, dicebant discipulis eius: “ Quare cum publicanis et peccatoribus manducat? ”.

17καὶ ἀκούσας ὁ Ἰησοῦς λέγει αὐτοῖς [ὅτι] Οὐ χρείαν ἔχουσιν οἱ ἰσχύοντες ἰατροῦ ἀλλ’ οἱ κακῶς ἔχοντες: οὐκ ἦλθον καλέσαι δικαίους ἀλλὰ ἁμαρτωλούς.

And hearing Jesus said to them [that] “The strong have no need of a physician, but those having illnesses. I did not come to call the just, but the sinners.

First, this is the second time that Jesus has said that he has come for a specific purpose. The first was in 1:38, when he said he came to preach to the other towns. However, there was a certain ambiguity about that one, since it could have just meant that he had come out of his house to go on to the neighboring towns. Now, he is stating that he has a purpose, and the purpose is to call the sinners.

Call them to what? The kingdom of God, presumably, since that’s what he started preaching after John’s arrest. Now, since his message is to repent, because the kingdom is at hand, it would make sense to call sinners. But is there more to it than that? So far he’s tweaked the noses of the scribes a couple of times already, and he does so again here. Is his message one of provocation? Why? 

Here it’s hard for the historian in me not to notice mention something about the power structure. After the disturbances of the very early First Century, Judea had been reorganized as a formal Roman province, ruled by an official sent from Rome.  That position was held by Pontius Pilate at the time this story takes place. Galilee, OTOH, was still ruled through a client king, Archelaus, Herod Antipas, son of Herod the Great. As such, even though Archelaus was a Jew, he was a collaborator, and such men are generally not looked upon fondly by those ruled. Now, the question is, would the scribes be seen as part of the collaborators’ regime? Is this why Jesus provokes them? But then, why fraternize with the tax collectors, who were every bit as much collaborators?

My point is that it’s one thing to minister to the sinners, the dispossessed, and such; it’s quite another to provoke the respectable class quite deliberately. What is it that Jesus has against these people? Or, does he have anything? I’ve been corrupted by the notions of the Historical Jesus quest, so I’m asking: Did Jesus have anything against the scribes as a group? Or did the evangelists write the issues of the 70s and 80s back into the story of Jesus? Perhaps as I read more of the Historical Jesus Quest (HJQ), I will have some answers for this.

In the meantime, Jesus is telling us he has come to call the sinners. Let’s keep an eye on this.   

17 Et Iesus hoc audito ait illis: “ Non necesse habent sani medicum, sed qui male habent; non veni vocare iustos sed peccatores ”.

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Mark Chapter 2:1-12

And now (sounds like Mark’s writing style) we start Chapter 2.

1 Καὶ εἰσελθὼν πάλιν εἰς Καφαρναοὺμ δι’ ἡμερῶν ἠκούσθη ὅτι ἐν οἴκῳ ἐστίν.

And coming again to Caphernaum after some days, it was heard that he was in his house.

This is interesting. Jesus is now in his house in Caphernaum. Did he move in with Peter? Or, had he been living there prior? While realizing that he is called “Jesus of Nazareth”, the fact is that almost none of the narrative takes place in Nazareth. Rather, it seems that Caphernaum is Jesus’ home. If this is true, then he may very well have been acquainted with Peter and the sons of Zebedee. This tends to detract from the idea that they dropped everything and followed a total stranger. We will look at this again when we come across later references to Jesus’ home and his family.

1 Et iterum intravit Capharnaum post dies, et auditum est quod in domo esset.

2 καὶ συνήχθησαν πολλοὶ ὥστε μηκέτι χωρεῖν μηδὲ τὰ πρὸς τὴν θύραν, καὶ ἐλάλει αὐτοῖς τὸν λόγον.

And many were gathered so that there was no longer space towards the door (around/outside the door), and he spoke the word to them.

This goes back to the end of  Chapter 1, when we were told that Jesus could no longer enter a town openly. Jesus is very popular, a theme that Mark will continue to stress.

Quick note on the Greek: here, he spoke the word << ἐλάλει >>.This word has a conversational sense.  The word used before was <<κηρύσσω >>, the root meaning of which is ‘to announce’, often rendered as ‘to proclaim’. Perhaps the use of this word is to convey the idea that this setting was more intimate, less formal than the speaking he did out in the world. He is at home, after all.

2 Et convenerunt multi, ita ut non amplius caperentur neque ad ianuam, et loquebatur eis verbum.

3 καὶ ἔρχονται φέροντες πρὸς αὐτὸν παραλυτικὸν αἰρόμενον ὑπὸ τεσσάρων.

And coming towards him, bearing a paralytic,  carried by four (men).

3 Et veniunt ferentes ad eum paralyticum, qui a quattuor portabatur.

4 καὶ μὴ δυνάμενοι προσενέγκαι αὐτῷ διὰ τὸν ὄχλον ἀπεστέγασαν τὴν στέγην ὅπου ἦν, καὶ ἐξορύξαντες χαλῶσι τὸν κράβαττον ὅπου ὁ παραλυτικὸς κατέκειτο.

And not being able to bring towards him (Jesus) because of the crowd, they removed the tiles (over) where he was, and breaking up (the roof) they lowered the litter upon which the paralytic reclined.

This is a fascinating set of details. It really has the feeling of authenticity. How could you make this up?  Mark has a number of pieces like this, each with its own peculiar touches that really give it the sense of an eyewitness account. However, these are also the sorts of details that accrue to a story over time. As a result, I don’t think that one can simply take this at face value. [Here is where Bond’s book is already having an impact: I’m thinking in terms of the “historical Jesus”; what is authentic, and what isn’t?]

4 Et cum non possent offerre eum illi prae turba, nudaverunt tectum, ubi erat, et perfodientes summittunt grabatum, in quo paralyticus iacebat.

5 καὶ ἰδὼν ὁ Ἰησοῦς τὴν πίστιν αὐτῶν λέγει τῷ παραλυτικῷ, Τέκνον,ἀφίενταί σου αἱ ἁμαρτίαι.

And Jesus seeing the faith of them said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are taken away.”

This is really interesting. Why does one say this? Are we seeing an example of the belief that physical sickness is an affliction from God, that one has brought down upon oneself by being sinful? Is that Jesus’ implication here? After all, this sort of thinking is the at the root of the Book of Job: he’s upright, so he is rewarded by health, wealth, and sunshine and lollipops. The horror of the story is that, as an upright man, he is afflicted by all these terrible things.  

Is that what’s going on here?

Or, is Jesus being deliberately provocative? The provocation is indicated in the silent reaction he elicits.

5 Cum vidisset autem Iesus fidem illorum, ait paralytico: “ Fili, dimittuntur peccata tua ”.

6 ἦσαν δέ τινες τῶν γραμματέων ἐκεῖ καθήμενοι καὶ διαλογιζόμενοι ἐν ταῖς καρδίαις αὐτῶν,

Some of the scribes were there sitting and were debating with themselves in their hearts:

First a quick word about the Greek: << διαλογιζόμενοι >> is what is known as a ‘middle’ form. It’s something kinda sorta like reflexive verbs in French or Spanish: it refers itself back to the person performing the action.  So the scribes are having a dialogue inside their hearts.  If you transliterate, it comes out as ‘dialogue-izomenoi’, so it’s obviously the root of ‘dialogue’.  

Meanwhile, back at the ranch: Cue the reaction…

6 Erant autem illic quidam de scribis sedentes et cogitantes in cordibus suis:

7 Τί οὗτος οὕτως λαλεῖ; βλασφημεῖ: τίς δύναται ἀφιέναι ἁμαρτίας εἰ μὴ εἷς ὁ θεός;

“Who is he to speak thus? He blasphemes. Who is able to take away sins other than God?” 

Blasphemy!  Love that word. So…visceral.

This is what I mean when I ask if Jesus is being deliberately provocative. The scribes represent the ‘official’ form of the religious establishment. Jesus has already made people mutter in synagogue with the authority of his teaching, and those hearing Jesus have already compared Jesus favorably to the scribes (Mk 1:22). We’ll pick this up again in a bit.

7 “ Quid hic sic loquitur? Blasphemat! Quis potest dimittere peccata nisi solus Deus? ”.

8 καὶ εὐθὺς ἐπιγνοὺς ὁ Ἰησοῦς τῷ πνεύματι αὐτοῦ ὅτι οὕτως διαλογίζονται ἐν ἑαυτοῖς λέγει αὐτοῖς, Τί ταῦτα διαλογίζεσθε ἐν ταῖς καρδίαις ὑμῶν;

And immediately Jesus knew in/by his spirit that they were thus arguing within themselves said to them, “Why do you consider this in your hearts?”

Here we get Jesus the Mind-reader. Or do we? He knows what they are thinking to themselves. Now, we could say that, as a divine being, he is omniscient, or he can tell what happens inside the mind of others. Or, we can say that he is a shrewd judge of character, with a good insight into how persons of authority might think. He has said something  that he knows will provoke them, and so he has a pretty good idea what they will think when they hear the words. It’s not so much mind-reading, as just having a good handle on his audience. This is the sort of skill we expect from an attorney who is good at cross-examination. At least, on TV.

8 Quo statim cognito Iesus spiritu suo quia sic cogitarent intra se, dicit illis: “ Quid ista cogitatis in cordibus vestris?

9 τί ἐστιν εὐκοπώτερον, εἰπεῖν τῷ παραλυτικῷ, Ἀφίενταί σου αἱ ἁμαρτίαι, ἢ εἰπεῖν, Ἔγειρε καὶ ἆρον τὸν κράβαττόνσου καὶ περιπάτει;

“What is easier?  To say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven’, or to say, ‘Rise, and take up your litter and walk about’?”  

This is interesting.  “Which is easier?” Why would anyone think of putting it this way? What point is he trying to make? Actually, that’s rather apparent, but I have to give Jesus/Mark credit for thinking to encapsulate the situation by framing it in this question.

Which is easier? Of course, neither of them are easy things to do. Certainly, it’s not easy to tell a paralytic to walk. How easy is it to forgive sins?    

9 Quid est facilius, dicere paralytico: “Dimittuntur peccata tua”, an dicere: “Surge et tolle grabatum tuum et ambula”?

10 ἵνα δὲ εἰδῆτε ὅτι ἐξουσίαν ἔχει ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου ἀφιέναι ἁμαρτίας ἐπὶ τῆς γῆς λέγει τῷ παραλυτικῷ,

“But so that you see that the Son of Man has authority to take away sins upon the earth,” he said to the paralytic,

10 Ut autem sciatis quia potestatem habet Filius hominis interra dimittendi peccata — ait paralytico:

11 Σοὶ λέγω, ἔγειρε ἆρον τὸν κράβαττόν σου καὶ ὕπαγε εἰς τὸν οἶκόν σου.

“I say to you, rise, pick up your litter and go to your home.”

11 Tibi dico: Surge, tolle grabatum tuum et vade in domum tuam ”.

12 καὶ ἠγέρθη καὶ εὐθὺς ἄρας τὸν κράβαττον ἐξῆλθεν ἔμπροσθεν πάντων, ὥστε ἐξίστασθαι πάντας καὶ δοξάζειντὸν θεὸν λέγοντας ὅτι Οὕτως οὐδέποτε εἴδομεν.

And he rose and immediately taking up his litter he went out in front of everyone, so that all stood beside themselves (were astonished) and praising God saying that “This we have never seen before.”   

The last three verses provide the payoff. First, we get our first use of “The Son of Man.” There has been endless speculation about this wonderfully ambiguous phrase. One recent scholar has stated that it simply means ‘yours truly’, or something such. But this is not so simple. There is argument about whether Jesus is referring to himself when he uses it. Here, it seems fairly clear that he does. In other places, it’s not quite as obvious.

Another point about this is that it contrasts with “The Son of God” as Jesus was called in Mk 1:1, which led me to speculate if Mark had included this phrase in his original text. 1:1 is not Mark’s only use of the term “Son of God”, but there aren’t many, and I believe this lends weight to the idea that it was an early insertion into the text.

The word Jesus uses is, again, ‘authority’, rather than ‘power’. Granted, the two can be pretty much synonymous, as when my dad told me to use a hammer ‘with some authority’, but the nuance matters here. He has, or has been given authority in the sense, I think, of ‘office’, as in ‘official capacity’. This leads to the question, how does he have this authority? Who/what granted it to him? Again, it’s a bit on the ambiguous side. Why does Mark play coy like this? Why doesn’t he state his position more plainly?

This is, I believe, a very, very important question. Why does Mark play coy? By the time we get to John, all of this has become completely explicit. “In the beginning was the Word…” Not much subtlety there. Why the evasiveness here? This question is even more pointed when we remember that Paul was not at all shy about proclaiming Jesus as The Christ. Sure, the unclean spirit (1:24) proclaims Jesus to be “The Holy One of God”, but that and the Son of God in 1:1 and My Son in 1:11 are it so far. And “Son of God”, as we have noted, is not necessarily all that exclusive if we are talking about God our Father.

All in all, this restraint in the gospel seems to be a step backward from Paul. Not Mark as intermediate, but Mark as regression. Has the audience changed that much? Paul was addressing pagans for the most part, but wasn’t Mark? The tradition is that he was writing in Rome, so we have to presume that pagans were a significant part of the audience. Or is Mark simply building tension? Is this simply a literary device: pose intriguing questions, tantalize the audience, only give away a little at a time to create suspense. Who is he? Stay tuned….

I referred to Mark as a journalist; that may be underplaying his talents. We have the ideal of the journalist as a ‘just the facts’ sort of guy, but a good magazine journalist, who is writing longer pieces, has to be able to keep his audience interested. Perhaps Mark has that level, or that type of talent, for which he does not get sufficient credit given the more bare-bones tone of the work overall.

One final way to think of this: who are Mark’s sources? Does he have more than one? Seems likely. Remember, Paul complained–bitterly–about ‘other gospels’, that apparently imparted a somewhat different message than Paul did. Was Mark aware of more than one gospel, one message? Given that both Akenson and Bond stress that Judaism was a multi-faceted phenomenon, and that Paul complained about multiple gospels, how can we not conclude that the early followers of Jesus had more than one message? Different groups may have had different, differing ideas. Maybe one of them, that Mark followed here, is a bit less certain of Jesus as Divine.

Maybe.     

12 Et surrexit et protinus sublato grabato abiit coram omnibus, ita ut admirarentur omnes et glorificarent Deum dicentes: “ Numquam sic vidimus! ”.

13 Καὶ ἐξῆλθεν πάλιν παρὰ τὴνθάλασσαν: καὶ πᾶς ὁ ὄχλος ἤρχετο πρὸς αὐτόν, καὶ ἐδίδασκεν αὐτούς.

And he went out again along the sea (of Galilee); and the whole crowd came to him, and he taught them.

Transition passage. Comment to follow in the next section…

13 Et egressus est rursus ad mare; omnisque turba veniebat ad eum, et docebat eos.

Summary Mark Chapter 1; addenda

Re-reading my last  2-3 posts, I realize there are a few things that deserve a bit more attention than they got.

1) John the Baptist

There has been a concerted effort to tie John the Baptist to the Essenes, who were more or less the community that produced the Dead Sea Scrolls. As humans, we like patterns. We like endings to books and movies where all the questions and hanging threads get answered and resolved and nicely & neatly tied into a pretty bow.

Life, unfortunately, is not like that.

More: always, always be suspicious of any historical thesis that ties up all the loose ends*. It’s very likely wrong. Case in point: What caused the Great Depression?  Economists and historians are still arguing over this. That no one has been able to find The Answer is a pretty good indication that there is no Answer, so be suspicious of anyone telling you that it was all…[fill in the blank with pet thesis…]. As for the negative side of this, the main ‘evidence’ that JFK conspiracy theorists provide for additional gunmen, etc, is that the story as we have it, does not tie up all the loose ends, and it seems improbable on its face. It does. But that’s how it works. Just because the guy in the crowd opened an umbrella doesn’t mean this had anything to do with the assassination. Coincidences happen all the time.

Those who would have John be an Essene really have no actual evidence to support this.  At least, I’ve never seen any. If there is any, let me know and I’ll revise my opinion. Akenson did an excellent job in pointing out that “Judaism” at the time of Jesus was a splintered, hydra-headed thing, lacking any real central cohesiveness, and had nothing like the consistency of a truly ‘organized’ religion.  And, as anyone who’s read a history of Christianity will realize, the central beliefs of Christianity were not fixed for 3-400 years, and, in fact, are still in flux. So, to see the Baptist as an Essene is to connect two dots that may not have had a connection. John may have believed similar things, he may have been influenced by the Essenes, he may have been a member of the community for a while. But, given that he was a solitary figure, IMO, indicates that he was not an Essene. Rather, he was sui generis, a lone gunman, if you will. He was more OT prophet, or later Christian hermit than a member of a group.

And, remember, if the gospel writers wanted to hitch themselves onto John’s lingering popularity, why not stress that he, too, belonged to an even older community? Remember: to the Greeks and Romans, antiquity was a very good thing. It granted prestige and seriousness. The further back the Jesus followers could go, the more street cred they gained in the eyes of religious seekers, of whom there were very many at the time. This is why, ultimately, the earliest Christians retained the connection to Judaism: it gave them an ancient pedigree.

And, read Robin Lane Fox’s book Pagan and Christian , and you’ll realize how multi-faceted religious thought was in the pagan world.  It was all over the place. So lots of thinkers and communities shared lots of the same beliefs.

(h/t J W Cole, Prof of Classics; R.I.P)

2) The sacred breath

Seriously, whenever you read ‘holy spirit’ in the NT, substitute ‘sacred breath’. It is every bit as accurate a translation as it’s more common rendering, and it gives you a very different idea of what was going on. The sacred breath came down in the form of a dove. What it does is eliminate the separation implied–linguistically in English–of God and the Spirit. The breath of God is not seen as something separate from God; the thought is borderline nonsensical. But we who are the products of a dualistic culture, in which the soul, or the self, or our spirit, are seen as separate from our physical bodies do see a distinction between Spirit and the Entity. This is a tad more problematic when dealing with a non-corporeal entity like God, but the picture is there. Rather than see the Third Person of the Holy Trinity, think of God acting through its breath. Just as God breathed on the water in Genesis 1:2.

Because, remember, the Third Person, and the Trinity itself, were not really invented–deduced, is probably the most accurate term–until well into the Third Century. As far as that goes, Jesus as the Second Person really was a bit hazy for quite a while, too. This led to the Arian Heresy, in the second and third centuries. The Arians held that Jesus was subordinate to the Father, and that helped solidify the orthodox position that Jesus was somehow indistinguishable from the Father (don’t want to go into the Christology here. Sorry!)

The whole point of ‘sacred breath’ is just to get out of the mindset that there was a Holy Spirit in the mind of the author of Mark.

 

3) Mark as Intermediate

Having tossed the idea of Mark as an intermediate step between Paul’s conception of The Christ, and Matthew’s idea of Jesus the Christ from birth, I had the opportunity to hear my local priest give a sermon on Mary’s meeting with Elizabeth. This meeting produced that wonderful piece of music called the Magnificat.  Having heard Fr Mike Coburn–a wonderful sermonizer (sic!) with some very keen insights–talk about this episode really drove home what I’m suggesting.

First, let me plainly state that I have never come across this suggestion: that, with time, the idea of Jesus as The Christ sort of crept backwards: starting with after the Resurrection with Paul, to the baptism by John in Mark, then to birth in Matthew, then prior in Luke, then to co-eternal in John. Much of this, I suppose, has to do with the idea that Paul only saw him as The Christ after the Resurrection. I got this as formally set out in Akenson’s book, but I had encountered the concept–if obliquely, and by implication–on a number of occasions. Perhaps this has not moved into consensus opinion yet.

Now, I find it impossible to believe that no one has made this suggestion before: that the becoming of the Christ worked its way backward with time. But, it this is true, then Wow. If someone has suggested it, I will gladly bow to my predecessor and compliment her/him on her/his perception.

Also, it helps to be aware of how this all developed after the point when we can reasonably talk about a Church. As mentioned above, Arianism had a different notion of Jesus as subordinate. Then the additions of  ὅμο-ουσιος, and later, ‘filioque‘ to the Nicene Creed caused big problems. The first, “homo-ousios” is the part about “of one being” with the Father. This is not in the earlier Apostles’ Creed, and its addition was very controversial. I won’t/can’t get into the ontology here, but it basically means that Jesus = God; they cannot be separated in the way the angles of a triangle cannot be separated and remain a triangle. The second was an addition of the Western Church, which is why the term is in Latin, rather than Greek. It simply means, “and the son”. As in, the Holy Spirit proceeds from “the Father and the Son…” This seemed a logical deduction if the Father and the Son were of the same being. But it was a deduction.

So, that all being the case, the idea of The Christ, and what that idea implied, evolved over time. The NT was not a coordinated effort; there are points when it’s contradictory (who was first at the tomb? faith alone <> faith without works is dead; & c). Yes, many of these can be resolved, sort of, but that’s the point. They have to be resolved. It’s not like the various evangelists are simple complementary to each other; they do conflict–Was the Last Supper a Passover Seder  or was it held on the night before the Seder would properly have been celebrated?  Depends on if you consult the Synoptics or John.

And recall: the earliest versions of Mark do not have a resurrection story. Why not?

So the point is, this idea is kind of a Big Deal. It needs to be addressed. Otherwise, we’re just like the ox hooked up to the millstone, endlessly going ’round and ’round in the same circle.

4) A new source

When I started this, my intention was deliberately not to read secondary sources on this. That may sound perverse; it may indeed be perverse. The idea was to avoid being unduly influenced by what these sources say. I wanted to approach the text fresh.

Well, like a lot of good intentions, it has proven much harder to do so than I’d imagined. Akenson’s  work has crept in here repeatedly; I’ve been using Pelikan, and R L Fox, so I haven’t been as staunch as I should have been.  Oh well.

The new source is The Historical Jesus: A Guide for the Perplexed.  The whole “guide for the perplexed” thing is that this is part of a series of other such books, and I am not at all familiar with either the series or any of the individual works. A quick trip to Amazon would cure that, but, again, oh well.  The author, Dr Helen Bond, is a Senior Lecturer in the New Testament at the University of Edinburgh.

Honestly, the whole Historical Jesus thing is, IMO, rather beside the point for what I’m doing here. However, the book is new, so the bibliography will be up to date, and I may encounter some new ways of looking at this. In particular, a bit of insight and knowledge of First Century Judea would definitely be a good thing. And I’ve already learned that the idea of grace was something kicking around in Jewish thought of the time. So that’s interesting. As time goes on, and I get further into the book, I may have more to say on this.

Summary Mark Chapter 1

Going through this, I realize that commenting on the gospels will be different than doing so for Paul. The thoughts there were shorter; here we have episodes, entire stories of varying length. As such, there are sentences, or sections, that are pretty much pure narrative, that don’t require extensive–if any–comment. Then we get to the matter of summaries. In this case, waiting to do an entire chapter was probably a mistake, but it wasn’t exactly obvious when to insert summaries. This will, I hope, sort itself out more effectively with time.

What we encountered:

    • The Good News of Jesus Christ begins here. At his baptism. Not at his birth.
    • It was written in the prophet Isaiah. Paul did make some OT references, but they were much more of an ad hoc sort of thing. Here, this sets the theme for the coming story of the good news. Reference to (Deutero-) Isaiah, what has become known as the “Suffering Servant” theme.
    • John the Baptist. Who was he? Did he belong to another group? We don’t immediately get that impression. How does his asceticism fit in with the times? Was Jesus a disciple? Probably. Did Jesus seek to capitalize on John’s heritage? After all, all of Jerusalem and Judea came to him. Did Jesus seek to attach himself, or expand his role to attract former disciples of the Baptist? Perhaps.
    • Holy Spirit. Or holy spirit. Or holy breath. Or, how about ‘sacred breath’. That really changes the way we would look at this expression. This needs to be looked at. The term is introduced by the Baptist, and not by, or in relation to Jesus.
    • Jesus of Nazareth gets baptized. Then he is thrown into the desert by–you guessed it–the spirit. Is this an attempt to have Jesus emulate his mentor?
    • Voice from “the heavens”, saying, “this is my son…” The voice is from the “heavens”, i.e., the sky, and not from “heaven.” This is my son–now he is? What about before?
    • John is arrested, Jesus says the time is fulfilled, and takes John’s arrest as his cue to start his own ministry.
    • Calling of Peter and Andrew, James and John. All of them may have been young men. Peter is the only one demonstrably married. Did he have kids? Not mentioned.
    • Preaching in the synagogues on the Sabbath. We are told this was an event that occurred more than once. However, we are told a story that, on the face, seems to take place continuously, in a single day.
    • Jesus astounds his listeners. He preaches with ‘authority’. He expels an unclean spirit, who announces that Jesus is “The Holy One of God.” Clever plot device, having the spirit make the proclamation. He heals Simon’s mother-in-law.
    • Word gets out about Jesus. He is more or less mobbed by people who wish to be healed, or that Jesus will heal a loved one. Jesus heals many, and expels many unclean spirits. There was, apparently, an epidemic of unclean spirits in Galilee in the First Century CE.
    • Jesus and the disciples go to the surrounding towns, because Jesus says, this is why he came. He heals a leper, and tells the leper not to tell anyone. Didn’t work, b/c by the end of the chapter we are told Jesus has attained so much notoriety that he can no longer enter a town openly.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, we discussed the idea that, perhaps, Mark represents the step between Paul, for whom Jesus may not have become The Christ until after the resurrection, and Matthew/Luke, for whom Jesus was The Christ from birth.

Mark Chapter 1:35-42

The end of chapter 1.

35 Καὶ πρωῒ ἔννυχα λίανἀναστὰς ἐξῆλθεν καὶ ἀπῆλθεν εἰς ἔρημον τόπον κἀκεῖ προσηύχετο.

And in the morning, it still being night, getting up he went to a deserted place and there he prayed.

This is sort of a very roundabout way of saying ‘very early in the morning, while it was still dark’, which is how it’s most often translated. However, that is not what it says.

35 Et diluculo valde mane surgens egressus est et abiit in desertum locum ibique orabat.

36 καὶ κατεδίωξεν αὐτὸν Σίμων καὶ οἱ μετ’ αὐτοῦ,

And Simon and those with him searched for him.

36 Et persecutus est eum Simon et qui cum illo erant;

37 καὶ εὗρον αὐτὸν καὶ λέγουσιν αὐτῷ ὅτι Πάντες ζητοῦσίν σε.

And they found him, and they said to him that “All are looking for you.”

37 et cum invenissent eum, dixerunt ei: “ Omnes quaerunt te! ”.

38 καὶ λέγει αὐτοῖς, Ἄγωμεν ἀλλαχοῦ εἰς τὰς ἐχομένας κωμοπόλεις, ἵνα καὶ ἐκεῖ κηρύξω: εἰς τοῦτο γὰρ ἐξῆλθον.

And he said to them, “Let us go elsewhere, to the villages at hand (neighboring towns), so that I can also preach there. For it is for this that I came.”

38 Et ait illis: “ Eamus alibi in proximos vicos, ut et ibi praedicem: ad hoc enim veni ”.

39 καὶ ἦλθεν κηρύσσων εἰς τὰς συναγωγὰς αὐτῶν εἰς ὅλην τὴν Γαλιλαίαν καὶ τὰ δαιμόνια ἐκβάλλων.

And he came preaching into the synagogues of them (of those towns), to the whole of Galilee, and he expelled the demons.

Quick note: the word used for ‘casting out’ the demons << ἐκβάλλω >> is the same word used in 1:12 for the spirit “casting” Jesus into the desert. There is a sense of physical throwing in the root of  << βάλλω >>.  So it’s a very interesting image to have the spirit do this to Jesus.

39 Et venit praedicans in synagogis eorum per omnem Galilaeam et daemonia eiciens.

40 Καὶ ἔρχεται πρὸς αὐτὸν λεπρὸς παρακαλῶν αὐτὸν [καὶ γονυπετῶν] καὶ λέγων αὐτῷ ὅτι Ἐὰν θέλῃς δύνασαί με καθαρίσαι.

And a leper came to him, beseeching him and kneeling saying to him that, “If you wish, you are able to make me clean.”

40 Et venit ad eum leprosus deprecans eum et genu flectens et dicens ei: “ Si vis, potes me mundare ”.

41 καὶ σπλαγχνισθεὶς ἐκτείνας τὴν χεῖρα αὐτοῦ ἥψατο καὶ λέγει αὐτῷ, Θέλω, καθαρίσθητι:

And feeling pity, he stretched out his hand to him and said to him, “I wish it. Be cleansed.”  

For whatever reason, the NIV translates this as “He was indignant…”  Seriously?  I suspect there was a glitch in the translation, or the posting, or something.

41 Et misertus extendens manum suam tetigit eum et ait illi: “ Volo, mundare! ”;

42 καὶ εὐθὺς ἀπῆλθεν ἀπ’ αὐτοῦ ἡ λέπρα, καὶ ἐκαθαρίσθη.

And immediately the leprosy came out of him, and he was cleansed.

42 et statim discessit ab eo lepra, et mundatus est.

43 καὶ ἐμβριμησάμενος αὐτῷ εὐθὺς ἐξέβαλεναὐτόν,

And  he (charged) him and he immediately cast him away.

Here’s an interesting situation.According to Liddell & Scott, the base meaning of  <<ἐμβριμησάμενος >> is something like ‘to snort’, as in a horse. L&S also indicates that it can mean “to be deeply moved”, or to be . This usage only occurs in John. As definition II, it can also mean ‘to admonish’, or ‘to rebuke’.  This usage only occurs in the Bible, once in the OT and twice in the NT.  Somehow, some way, this word morphed into something else. Interestingly the Latin word, << infremuit >>, means ‘to groan’.  This seems to be another instance where  a word somehow ended up as something entirely different.  How did this happen?  Who decided that this would mean “to rebuke”?  When was the decision made?  It had been made by the time the KJV was translated, which put it early enough to end up in L&S..

43 Et infremuit in eum statimque eiecit illum

44 καὶ λέγει αὐτῷ, Ορα μηδενὶ μηδὲν εἴπῃς, ἀλλὰ ὕπαγε σεαυτὸν δεῖξον τῷ ἱερεῖ καὶ προσένεγκε περὶ τοῦ καθαρισμοῦ σου ἃ προσέταξεν Μωϋσῆς, εἰς μαρτύριον αὐτοῖς.

And he (Jesus) said to him (the former leper), “See to it that you say nothing to no one.  Instead, go, show yourself to the priests and make the sacrifice regarding cleansing which was set up by Moses, in order to be a witness to them.

A couple of points about the Greek. First, the double negative (nothing to no one) is common in a lot of other language that aren’t English.  Second, because Greek, like Latin & Spanish, doesn’t require a pronoun if it is the subject of the sentence, you get a construction like this one.  [ the unspoken subject, understood to be ‘he’ = Jesus] said to him (the former leper)...Plus the ‘to him’  << αὐτῷ >> is in the dative case. This precludes this ‘him’ being the subject of the sentence, and shows this ‘him’ to be the indirect object.

44 et dicit ei: “Vide, nemini quidquam dixeris; sed vade, ostende te sacerdoti et offer pro emundatione tua, quae praecepit Moyses, in testimonium illis ”.

45 ὁ δὲ ἐξελθὼν ἤρξατο κηρύσσειν πολλὰ καὶ διαφημίζειν τὸν λόγον, ὥστε μηκέτι αὐτὸν δύνασθαι φανερῶς εἰς πόλιν εἰσελθεῖν, ἀλλ’ ἔξω ἐπ’ ἐρήμοις τόποις ἦν: καὶ ἤρχοντο πρὸς αὐτὸν πάντοθεν.

He then leaving, he began to preaching much, to spread the word, so that he was no longer able openly come into a town, but  he was outside in desert (lonely) places. And people began to do to him from all over.

45 At ille egressus coepit praedicare multum et diffamare sermonem, ita ut ian non posset manifesto in civitatem introire, sed foris in desertis locis erat; et conveniebant ad eum unidique.

I had some real issues with how to handle the comment on this section. There were no really obvious places as there have been in other sections. In some sense, this is a rerun of the previous section, in which Jesus cast out the unclean spirit and healed many others. 

What is important here, I suppose is the part after Jesus sneaks off to pray. He has come to go to the surrounding towns, he says, and to preach. This implies a mission. Who gave him the commission? And when? We have not actually been told. Perhaps, modern dolt that I am, I’m missing that this is all from the spirit that cast him into the desert. Maybe someone in ancient times would have just known this and accepted it without question.

Perhaps.

But the point to note is that there is a very big cloud of ambiguity here.  We do not know, really, who Jesus is. We are told that he is the ‘holy one of God’, but what does this title mean? Maybe it’s something I should know, or would know if I were more familiar with the scholarship of First Century Judaism. Maybe it is a synonym for “Messiah”.  But note: aside from the very first line, Mark has not used the term “The Christ” at all. This has just struck me as a tad suspicious.  Paul used the term all the time. Why isn’t Mark? 

To some degree, this goes to, or back to the question of the relationship between Paul and Mark. Was there one? What sort of traditions did Mark inherit that Paul didn’t? We cannot assume that Mark was familiar with Paul, or that the assembly Mark was addressing had the same core beliefs as Paul did. Paul effectively demonstrates that the belief of Jesus as The Christ dates back to the first generation after Jesus. Mark’s reluctance to use the term may–or may not–indicate that this wasn’t as clear for Mark as it had been for Paul.

Because let’s remember that the way Mark tells the story led to the Adoptionist heresy, which held that Jesus was not born divine, and that it was only at his baptism that he became the son of God. Plus, there’s the whole ‘son of man’ thing, and whatever that supposedly means. Bottom line is that the divinity of Jesus is much more ambiguous in Mark than it was in Paul.

Or perhaps not. As Akenson pointed out, Paul was not terribly interested in Jesus; his focus was on The Christ, and, for Paul, Jesus only became the Christ after the Resurrection.  For Matthew and Luke, Jesus was divine at least from birth, and even before that in Luke’s story. Is Mark the transition? The first, or maybe interim, step in moving The Christ back from the Resurrection to the historical Jesus, the step which was completed in Luke and then really stressed in John: In the beginning was the Logos…                 

 

Mark Chapter 1:21-34

21 Καὶ εἰσπορεύονται εἰς Καφαρναούμ. καὶ εὐθὺς τοῖς σάββασιν εἰσελθὼν εἰς τὴν συναγωγὴν ἐδίδασκεν.

And they entered into Caphernaum.  And immediately on the Sabbath going into the synagogue he began to teach.

Quick note about the Greek: “On the Sabbath” translates what would be rendered more literally as “on Sabbaths.”  Sort of a picky point, I realize, but just to provide a more literal sense of how the Greek works.

This is what I was talking about at the end of the last post (1:12-20).  We now find ourselves in Caphernaum, which is on the north shore of the sea.  The Sea of Galilee isn’t that large, but the from the south shore, closest to the Jordan starts to Caphernaum looks to be about 8-10 miles. I bring this up since Caphernaum will be something like the centre of the action for most of the gospel.

21 Et ingrediuntur Capharnaum. Et statim sabbatis ingressus synagogam docebat.

22 καὶ ἐξεπλήσσοντο ἐπὶ τῇ διδαχῇ αὐτοῦ, ἦν γὰρ διδάσκων αὐτοὺς ὡς ἐξουσίαν ἔχων καὶ οὐχ ὡς οἱ γραμματεῖς.

And they were amazed about the teaching of him (by his teaching),  for the teaching them was as of one having power, and not as the scribes.

The reaction to Jesus. This is, more or less, his public debut, and he is a hit.  He’s explaining the Scripture, and he carries conviction. He preaches with power, just as Paul did in 1 Thessalonians.  However, the word Paul used was <<δυναμις>>; Jesus taught with <<ἐξουσίας>>.  Both mean ‘power’, but <<δυναμις>> is more about bodily strength; <<ἐξουσίας>> OTOH, includes the idea of authority in the sense of government officials as well as the authority of knowledge. It’s arguable that I should have translated this as authority, but I wanted to bring out the parallel with Paul; also, just using ‘authority’ w/o reference to power, may have lost some of the impact. For example, ‘literary authority’, in English, has the sense of superior knowledge, but we tend to miss the potentially coercive aspect of the word.

 From here on, I will probably render this as authority.

The point here is that we’re starting off Jesus’ public career. Even here, he’s a hit, impressing the audience. What we don’t know, though, is what he was teaching. That would likely be interesting.

22 Et stupebant super doctrina eius: erat enim docens eos quasi potestatem habens et non sicut scribae.

23 καὶ εὐθὺς ἦν ἐν τῇ συναγωγῇ αὐτῶν ἄνθρωπος ἐν πνεύματι ἀκαθάρτῳ, καὶ ἀνέκραξεν

And immediately there was in their synagogue a man in an unclean spirit, and he called out, saying,

23 Et statim erat in synagoga eorum homo in spiritu immundo; et exclamavit

24 λέγων, Τί ἡμῖν καὶ σοί, Ἰησοῦ Ναζαρηνέ; ἦλθες ἀπολέσαι ἡμᾶς; οἶδά σε τίς εἶ, ὁ ἅγιος τοῦ θεοῦ.

“What is between us and you, Jesus of Nazareth? Did you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the holy one of God.”

Have to make one comment on this: << Τί ἡμῖν καὶ σοί >> is a terrific example of the dative of possession. Literally, this is ‘what to us and to you”.  This is a common usage in both Greek and Latin, and has been preserved, e.g., in French as ‘c’est a moi’: ‘it’s mine’.

Now we’re getting to some details on what Jesus was all about. In his first public appearance, Jesus is being hailed by an unclean spirit as the holy one of God. Now, we have not heard this term before, so we can’t exactly be sure whether or not it’s the same as, or different from The Christ. Plus, the spirit is aware that Jesus has the power to destroy them–since it refers to itself in the plural.

Comment on the episode will follow V-28.

24 dicens: “ Quid nobis et tibi, Iesu Nazarene? Venisti perdere nos? Scio qui sis: Sanctus Dei ”.

25 καὶ ἐπετίμησεν αὐτῷ ὁ Ἰησοῦς λέγων, Φιμώθητι καὶ ἔξελθε ἐξ αὐτοῦ.

And Jesus commanded him, saying “Be silent and come out of of him.”

“Be silent.” Jesus–or Mark–is playing coy. The spirit knows who he is, but Jesus–or Mark–wants to cover this up. Why?  Why not proclaim it? The answer, I suspect, is that Mark is trying to explain why the word about Jesus hadn’t spread further. Or something. Because contrast this to what happens later, when the word gets out to the whole of Galilee.

25 Et comminatus est ei Iesus dicens: “ Obmutesce et exi de homine! ”.

26 καὶ σπαράξαν αὐτὸν τὸ πνεῦμα τὸ ἀκάθαρτον καὶ φωνῆσαν φωνῇ μεγάλῃ ἐξῆλθενἐξ αὐτοῦ.

And convulsing him, the unclean spirit cried out in a big voice and came out of him.

26 Et discerpens eum spiritus immundus et exclamans voce magna exivit ab eo.

27 καὶ ἐθαμβήθησαν ἅπαντες, ὥστε συζητεῖν πρὸς ἑαυτοὺς λέγοντας, Τί ἐστιν τοῦτο; διδαχὴκαινὴ κατ’ ἐξουσίαν: καὶ τοῖς πνεύμασι τοῖς ἀκαθάρτοις ἐπιτάσσει, καὶ ὑπακούουσιν αὐτῷ.

And all marveled  so that they asked each other, saying, “Who is he? He teaches with authority, and he commands unclean spirits and they obey him”.

27 Et mirati sunt omnes, ita ut conquirerent inter se dicentes: “ Quidnam est hoc? Doctrina nova cum potestate; et spiritibus immundis imperat, et oboediunt ei ”.

28 καὶ ἐξῆλθεν ἡ ἀκοὴ αὐτοῦ εὐθὺς πανταχοῦ εἰς ὅλην τὴν περίχωρον τῆς Γαλιλαίας.

And the thing heard (story, news, report, tidings) of him immediately went out everywhere to the whole of the territory of Galilee.  

Just to note: once again, I chose a deliberately awkward phrase (the thing heard) to get across what the Greek actually says. The choice of any of the words I put in parenthesis will provide the meaning of the text, more or less. But it’s not, and cannot be, what the original says.  

OK, what do we have here?  There are several motifs and themes in this story. First, and this may go without saying, but I’m going to say it in case it’s too obvious to notice. Most likely we are so accustomed to the narrative format of the gospels that we don’t notice it. However, I hope that by starting with Paul, we get a sense of how–almost radically–different the narrative is from what Paul produced. This tells us a couple of things: namely, that the evangelists made a deliberate choice to tell their story–or, to tell a story–the way they did. It wasn’t the only possible approach. Paul demonstrated this.  So that means the evangelists–or, at least the author of Mark, who was then followed by the others–decided that this was the most effective way of getting their message across.

This was discussed in my intro to Mark, so I’ll let it go at that.

The two themes that I want to stress are: what we get is the story of how Jesus wowed the  crowd, and about how the news of him spread throughout all of Galilee. These things will show up throughout the gospel; folks are amazed, they marvel, they are awe-struck. Then, it quickly gets to the point that Jesus is something like a rock star who is followed constantly, and around whom a crowd forms whenever people hear that he is among them.

The intent of these themes is pretty obvious. But we have to ask ourselves just how true–as in ‘factually accurate’–these reports are. If they were true, would the evangelist need to stress them? Shouldn’t Jesus’ fame in his own time go without mention in subsequent times? IOW, it’s a case of protesting too much. By telling us, it seems that the evangelist thought it necessary to tell us, which wouldn’t have been necessary had it been true.  Hope that makes sense.

It was, IMO, probably the destruction of the Temple, and of Jerusalem that made the evangelist feel it was necessary to proclaim Jesus’ earlier popularity. The Revolt and subsequent diaspora likely created something of a hiatus in the narrative continuity; by the early 70s. a lot of the people and places that had known Jesus were gone or scattered. It was necessary to re-connect to that earlier time by way of the narrative history of the gospel.

Finally, we have the episode: a man with an unclean spirit. We should first ask ourselves about how the use of the word ‘spirit’ fits in with the discussion about God’s spirit. The answer? I’m not entirely sure at this particular moment.  At some point it will be necessary to take a look at uses of the word in the NT, and probably in the OT as well. An ‘unclean spirit’ is mentioned as early as the Book of Judges. Given that the evangelist emphasizes that this was an ‘unclean’ spirit probably implies that there were ‘clean’ spirits in contrast. It’s like those of us who are a certain age will remember how it was necessary for a man to specify that he was a ‘male nurse’, because the term ‘nurse’ almost always meant ‘female’. Is this perhaps why Mark feels the need to emphasize that it was an unclean spirit?

But aside from quibbling over wording, there is the story itself. This is Jesus’ first public act; he teaches with authority, and expels an unclean spirit. Not only that, the spirit calls him “The Holy One of God”. Quite an introduction to the world at large. Why start with Jesus expelling a spirit? Because the spirit can proclaim Jesus’ identity right from the start. This is no small consideration; it gives Mark a terrific opportunity. In fact, it’s so good that it almost seems scripted.  Jesus gets to show off his power and Mark gets to show off who Jesus is.

But why show him with power over unclean spirits? That’s the question, and, to be honest, I’m not sure I have the answer. What are the possibilities? Most obviously, power over evil would show power indeed. The ability to overcome the nasty aspects of life was kind of the point of shamanism, the ‘healers’ of any tribal or pre-modern society. We can bicker about whether ‘unclean spirit’ = ‘disease’ in first century Judea, but, at least in this case, there seems to have been a difference between the spirit and any physical illness.  This will be an issue in the episode of the paralytic, but here the man is presenting no physical symptoms like paralysis.

So, there is an obvious benefit to being a healer. But why a spirit specifically? Why not a blind man? The way to answer this question is to ask how people living in the first century viewed the world. Specifically, we have to ask how a non-Jewish audience would have viewed the spirit world; for, remember, the consensus is that Mark was not addressing Jews. As such, would power over the spirit world impress them? I believe the answer is yes. There were many temples of Asclepios throughout the Empire, but especially in the Eastern, Greek-speaking part. Maybe setting Jesus up as a physical healer would not have impressed them, since many claimed to have been healed at these temples. On the other hand, power over the spirit world may have been seen as power indeed.

I’m verging on circularity here (the proper use of the term, ‘begging the question’). Why did Jesus cast out a demon? To impress the pagans. How do we know the pagans would be impressed? Because Mark chose to have Jesus do this first.

But, perhaps the answer may be simpler.  Demonstrating power over unclean spirits is the perfect setting because it allows the spirit to proclaim Jesus as the ‘holy one of God’. The spirit can know this because it is tapped into all the non-material knowledge of the spirit-world. So we can have an entity of power make the proclamation, thereby not making it dependent on a credulous, possibly fallible human agent.

28 Et processit rumor eius statim ubique in omnem regionem Galilaeae.

29 Καὶ εὐθὺς ἐκ τῆς συναγωγῆς ἐξελθόντες ἦλθον εἰς τὴν οἰκίαν Σίμωνος καὶ Ἀνδρέου μετὰ Ἰακώβου καὶ Ἰωάννου.

And immediately going out of the synagogue, they went to the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John.

Stylistic note: this is no more appropriate here than it would be in a lot of places, but here it is. Notice how many of Mark’s sentences begin with << Καὶ >>, which simply means “And”.  This is a major feature of Mark’s stylistic compression. He doesn’t bother with any intermediary narrative. It’s just more added on to whatever came before.  “And another thing….”   .

29 Et protinus egredientes de synagoga venerunt in domum Simonis et Andreae cum Iacobo et Ioanne.

30 ἡ δὲπενθερὰ Σίμωνος κατέκειτο πυρέσσουσα, καὶ εὐθὺς λέγουσιν αὐτῷ περὶ αὐτῆς.

The mother-in-law of Simon was lying down being feverish, and immediately they told him about her.

One point of interest for anyone with any anthropology background is the composition of the household. Peter and Andrew, brothers, lived there, and Peter’s mother-in-law (and, presumably, his wife). Was Andrew married? I would guess not, but that he was living at the house of his older brother until such time as he did marry. Was this the house of their father, who is never named, that Peter inherited on his father’s death? So the younger brother Andrew had grown up there, and would be expected to live there until he married; or even after? Finally, we have Peter’s mother-in-law. I would guess that she probably would have moved in when her husband died, and Peter would be expected to care for this relative of his wife. Perhaps because she had no (living) son?

I have no real idea; however, kinship and living arrangements can provide a lot of insight into the cultural norms of a society. So it occurs to me to ask the question.

30 Socrus autem Simonis decumbebat febricitans; et statim dicunt ei de illa.

31 καὶ προσελθὼν ἤγειρεναὐτὴν κρατήσας τῆς χειρός: καὶ ἀφῆκεν αὐτὴν ὁ πυρετός, καὶ διηκόνει αὐτοῖς.

And coming to her he lifted her (by) taking her hand; and the fever left her, and she began to attend (wait on) them.

Boy, we sure could be cynical here about Jesus healing her so that she could attend to them, but we’ll let that one go.

But I do wonder about one thing: perhaps Peter’s wife had died? Is this why the mother-in-law had to wait on them? So, Jesus called a widower and an unmarried man, two men who could more easily leave behind their families to follow Jesus?  And since James and John were with their father in the boat when we met them, perhaps they were youngish and unmarried, still working for their father, still living with him, still unmarried. John in particular is, according to tradition, a fairly young man during Jesus’ ministry. He is reputed to have lived to about 100  CE. so if all this took place sometime around 30 CE, John could almost have been in his late teens. But I don’t know the normal age of marriage for that particular time and place. It varies historically; in good times, it tends to be younger; in hard times, when it’s more difficult to secure a living, it gets put off.  So James and John could have been a year on either side of 20 when they left to follow Jesus.

More importantly, though, we talked about Jesus casting out the demon rather than curing someone of a physical ailment. Well, he’s checked that off his to-do list here.  Two for the price of one, as it were.  Or, we got them both in a very short space of time.

31 Et accedens elevavit eam apprehensa manu; et dimisit eam febris, et ministrabat eis.

32 Ὀψίας δὲ γενομένης, ὅτεἔδυ ὁ ἥλιος, ἔφερον πρὸς αὐτὸν πάντας τοὺς κακῶς ἔχοντας καὶ τοὺς δαιμονιζομένους:

It having become evening, with the sun having set, they brought to him all those having afflictions (lit: bad things) and those possessed by demons. 

Note: ‘possessed by demons’ is a horrible translation of  << δαιμονιζομένους >>. Truth be told, I have no idea how to put that into English.  The main problem is that it’s a verb, here expressed as a participle. Given this, there is really no way to express this idea in English. ‘Demonize’ doesn’t work at all; it’s a transitive verb, but the Greek is intransitive. And St Jerome had the same problem; he did exactly what I did (or, I guess I followed his lead) and translated it as ‘having demons’.

32 Vespere autem facto, cum occidisset sol, afferebant ad eum omnes male habentes et daemonia habentes;

33 καὶ ἦν ὅλη ἡ πόλις ἐπισυνηγμένη πρὸς τὴν θύραν.

And the whole city gathered before the door.

33 et erat omnis civitas congregata ad ianuam.

34 καὶ ἐθεράπευσεν πολλοὺς κακῶς ἔχοντας ποικίλαις νόσοις, καὶ δαιμόνια πολλὰ ἐξέβαλεν, καὶ οὐκ ἤφιεν λαλεῖν τὰ δαιμόνια, ὅτι ᾔδεισαν αὐτόν.

And he healed many having afflictions (bad things) by various diseases, and he cast out many demons, and he did not allow the demons to speak, since they knew him.

34 Et curavit multos, qui vexabantur variis languoribus, et daemonia multa eiecit et non sinebat loqui daemonia, quoniam sciebant eum.

Now for those paying attention, here it seems like we may have skipped a bit; or, maybe, we’re getting another example of Mark’s skill in compression.  At the beginning of this section, in V-21, we were told that Jesus began going to the synagogue on the Sabbath, the verb tense indicating that he did this as a regular, repeated action. The authority he demonstrated in teaching caused his name to spread. But, it’s not until, presumably, after some period time in which he preached passed that he cured the man with the unclean spirit. From the narrative, we don’t get the sense that he had done this before the episode described above; that is, he was known as a powerful preacher, but he was not known as a healer until the event described here in V-23-28.  And, after he expelled the demon, we are told he immediately <<εὐθὺς ἐκ τῆς συναγωγῆς >> went to Simon’s house where Jesus healed Simon’s mother-in-law. And then, that same night, crowds of people, the whole town, shows up at the doorstep and wants him to heal those who are afflicted with various diseases, or those possessed by demons. This tells us right away that we are not dealing with a straightforward, continuous narrative of events, but one that has been edited–and edited skillfully.

The next thing: how big was Caphernaum?  I didn’t think it was that big after all.  But, here we have a whole passel of people with demons. I guess there was an epidemic at the time?  Once before I cited the Robin Lane Fox’s observation that, in antiquity, the sky hung low, and there was a lot of traffic–in both directions–between earth and the heavens. Given that more than one person having a demon showed up at the doorstep that night, one has to conclude that Fox’s observation was entirely true.

Finally, have to make an observation about the Greek word transliterated as ‘daimon’. Now, it need not be said that this is the root of the word ‘demon’. However, have to make one caveat that, in Greek, the word is much more neutral. Really, it’s much closer to our word ‘spirit’ that it is to our word ‘demon’. But I’m going to have to take a closer, or a more extended look at the words <<πνεῦμα>> and <<δαιμον>> and do something of a compare and contrast. 

Mark Chapter 1:12-19

We continue with Chapter 1.  I’ve repeated verse 12 for the sake of continuity.

12 Καὶ εὐθὺς τὸ πνεῦμα αὐτὸν ἐκβάλλει εἰς τὴν ἔρημον.

And immediately the spirit cast him into the desert.

12 Et statim Spiritus expellit eum in desertum.

13 καὶ ἦν ἐν τῇ ἐρήμῳ τεσσεράκοντα ἡμέρας πειραζόμενος ὑπὸ τοῦΣατανᾶ, καὶ ἦν μετὰ τῶν θηρίων, καὶ οἱ ἄγγελοι διηκόνουν αὐτῷ.

And he was in the desert 40 days, being tempted by Satan, and he was with the wild beasts, and the angels ministered to him.

Rather curious handling of this episode. The stories in Matthew and Luke are much fuller, telling us the details of the way Satan tempted Jesus. Here, Mark is satisfied with the bare mention that it happened. What does this tell us?

We can learn about a writer-and her/his subject–by what we are told. We can also draw inferences from what we are not told. The fact that Mark mentions the temptations indicates, I would think, the temptations were part of the general lore. Mark felt compelled to mention them; otherwise, why not omit this?  Why bother, given that the bare fact of the temptation really doesn’t tell us much. Mark’s gospel is the shortest of the four; I have heard, but I cannot verify, that it would fit on a single scroll, which made it easily portable.  IOW, Mark was writing under space constraints. Given this, I tend to think of Mark as a journalist: spare, lean, allude to the details, but don’t tell the whole story. Just capture the most important parts, and leave out some of the details.

Now, of course, we have Satan.  We met Satan in Paul as well.  Satan, it appears, was firmly lodged into the proto-Christian tradition, which means it may well have been firmly lodged in mainstream Jewish thought of the time.  There is no real analogue to Satan in the Graeco-Roman tradition.  There are supernatural agents who perpetrate malice against humans, but the idea of a legion of demons led by an arch-fiend originates in the ancient Near East. There is Ahriman, the Zoroastrian principal of evil as well as other, lesser agents of evil. My favorite among them is Pazuzu, whose statue was dug up at the beginning of The Exorcist. I mention this because the ambient ideas from other cultures had a significant impact on the development of the concept of The Devil as it has come to us in the Western World.

An excellent work on this is Devil: Perceptions of Evil From Antiquity to Primitive Christianity, by Jeffrey Bertrand Russell.  It’s the first volume of a four-volume set tracing how the concept of the devil evolved into our modern conception of it. Suffice it to say that the idea of Satan was still quite vague in the literature of the First Century CE.

Another curious point is that the angels ministered to Jesus. In Matthew and Luke, the idea is that Jesus was fasting.  Apparently, such was not the case here.

Et erat in deserto quadraginta diebus et tentabatura Satana; eratque cum bestiis, et angeli ministrabant illi.

14 Μετὰ δὲ τὸ παραδοθῆναι τὸν Ἰωάννην ἦλθεν ὁ Ἰησοῦς εἰς τὴν Γαλιλαίαν κηρύσσων τὸ εὐαγγέλιον τοῦ θεοῦ

After the handing over of John,  Jesus came to Galilee preaching the  good news/gospel of God.

This is extremely interesting. The implication is one of a causal connection here. The fact that John was arrested had the effect of making Jesus start to preach. Of course, the simplest explanation would be that Jesus had been deputized by John to take over.  But the text does not say this specifically, even if this would be, as it seems to be, a reasonable inference to draw.

But what we really have here, as I see it, is Mark doing something very clever. Without actually saying it, he has left the impression that Jesus was associated with John. Now, this has been taken as an indication that Jesus started his career in a subordinate position viz a viz John. But, the other way of looking at this is that Jesus was attaching himself to John’s coattails in  order to validate his own ministry. We find out later that the Baptist had disciples; the interesting question would be to  know how extensive a network John’s followers had. If it was big, then Jesus–or, more accurately– his successors would have reason to try to attach themselves to John in an effort to win over these followers to the message of Jesus.

This connection with John is strengthened by Jesus going into the desert. This is, after all, where John had spent a good deal of his time eating locusts and wild honey (anyone have a recipe?).  Once again, this could be seen as Jesus sort of going through his final test, or the evangelists telling the world that Jesus did the desert-thingy, too. 

Given what the text tells us, the relationship between Jesus and John is ambiguous. We have John preaching, and Jesus, seemingly, coming out of Galilee without previous connection to John. Then Jesus follows John’s example by going into the desert. This would argue for Jesus being, or becoming, a disciple of John. But the fact that Jesus feels that he can step into John’s role in Galilee when the latter is arrested seems to imply that Jesus may have had his own agenda. After all, why would a neophyte disciple feel like he could assume the master’s cloak after so short a period of time? To me, this says that Jesus was a bit of an opportunist, who saw an opening and jumped to take it.

Remember, the role of John is expanded  in the stories of the later evangelists. Were they trying to downplay the importance of the Baptist, as many modern scholars have suggested, we would expect the role of John to shrink with time.  So, we will re-visit this when we discuss this episode when we get to Matthew.  But remember, this is pretty much my idea as far as I know.

And here’s a question: why did he go back to Galilee?  Why didn’t he go right on to Jerusalem? Which leads to another question, where was John preaching? Given that those living in Jerusalem came out to see him, I suppose it’s reasonable to think that he was preaching somewhere reasonably close to the city. So, when Jesus came to be baptized by John, he would have had to come from Nazareth, in Galilee, and then go back to Galilee after hearing that John had been arrested. I suspect there has been some discussion of this over the past 2,000 years, but it’s not a topic with which I am familiar. However, this is what the text tells us, so it’s a question that needs to be considered, even if it can’t be answered.  Remember, in Luke’s story of the 12-year-old Jesus being left behind in Jerusalem, Mary & Joseph did not notice he was gone until the end of the day. The trip between Nazareth and Jerusalem was not a short one, some fifty miles as the crow flies. For the residents of Jerusalem to come to John in the numbers Mark implies, one would infer that John was preaching closer to the city than he was to Galilee.

Finally, Jesus began preaching the ‘good news’.  This is a single term in Greek, and above I said that ‘gospel’ might be a more accurate rendering. And it might be. This is, really, another word that has become so loaded with meaning that I suspect it’s really hard to get at what it may have meant to someone in the last quarter of the First Century CE. It’s a compound word; the prefix for good, or well, with the word for message. As such, ‘good news’ lacks the unity, and ‘gospel’ means something else to us. As it is used here, it does seem that the term can be taken as if it is a unitary concept.

14 Postquam autem traditus est Ioannes, venit Iesus in Galilaeam praedicans evangelium Dei.

15 καὶ λέγων ὅτι Πεπλήρωται ὁ καιρὸς καὶ ἤγγικεν ἡ βασιλείατοῦ θεοῦ: μετανοεῖτε καὶ πιστεύετε ἐν τῷ εὐαγγελίῳ.

And [ he was ] saying that “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent and believe the good news.”

“The time is fulfilled.”  This is a really interesting idea. What time? Fulfilled how? This is most likely a reference to the idea of the Hebrew prophecies, most notably those of Isaiah, as being fulfilled in Jesus. He was the “Suffering Servant” that Deutero-Isaiah had foretold.

This is worth thinking about a little further.  What did the prophets foretell? If we stop and think, they expended most of their energy foretelling doom and destruction unless the Israelites returned to the faithful and pure worship of YHWH. As such, the term ‘prophet’ is not always entirely accurate, IMO. For example, in Mediaeval Europe, especially after 1050 or so, the wandering holy man who preached fire and brimstone against the corrupt and worldly church of the time was not usually referred to as a prophet. And yet,  they were rather similar to, say, Jeremiah, who went into Ninevah to warn God’s coming wrath.

However, the prophets–at least some of them–did speak of the coming of the Messiah, of the Christ.  Given this, we have to infer that this is what is meant here. I’m qualifying to this extent because there is a legitimate question as to whether the author of Mark thought that Jesus was the Christ, or whether another was yet to come. The story in Mark is a bit conflicted on this point if you read closely; and the intent here is to read closely.

15 et dicens: “ Impletum est tempus, et appropinquavit regnum Dei; paenitemini et credite evangelio ”.

16 Καὶ παράγων παρὰ τὴν θάλασσαν τῆς Γαλιλαίας εἶδεν Σίμωνα καὶ Ἀνδρέαν τὸν ἀδελφὸν Σίμωνος ἀμφιβάλλοντας ἐν τῇ θαλάσσῃ: ἦσαν γὰρ ἁλιεῖς.

And going around the sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and Andrew, Simon’s brother casting (their nets) into the sea; for they were fishermen.

We’ll save the bulk of the comment for the end. But I do want to point out that the  ‘for they were fishermen’ sounds an awful lot like a marginal gloss that, eventually, was included into the text.  It could have been there in the original, but it just doesn’t feel like it to me. Mark skipped over the details of Jesus being tempted; why would he feel the need to tell us they were fishermen when he assumes we’ll figure out that it was nets that they were casting nets into the sea.    

16 Et praeteriens secus mare Galilaeae vidit Simonem et Andream fratrem Simonis mittentes in mare; erant enim piscatores.

17 καὶ εἶπεν αὐτοῖς ὁ Ἰησοῦς,Δεῦτε ὀπίσω μου, καὶ ποιήσω ὑμᾶς γενέσθαι ἁλιεῖς ἀνθρώπων.

And he said to them, “Follow me wherever, and I will make you become fishers of persons.”

17 Et dixit eis Iesus: “ Venite post me, et faciam vos fieri piscatores hominum ”.

18 καὶ εὐθὺς ἀφέντες τὰ δίκτυα ἠκολούθησαν αὐτῷ.

And immediately leaving the nets they followed him.

18 Et protinus, relictis retibus, secuti sunt eum.

19 Καὶ προβὰς ὀλίγον εἶδεν Ἰάκωβον τὸν τοῦ Ζεβεδαίου καὶ Ἰωάννην τὸν ἀδελφὸν αὐτοῦ, καὶ αὐτοὺς ἐν τῷ πλοίῳ καταρτίζοντας τὰ δίκτυα,

And going a little (further) he saw James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, and (saw them) sitting in the boat fixing the nets, 

19 Et progressus pusillum vidit Iacobum Zebedaei et Ioannem fratrem eius, et ipsos in navi componentes retia,

20 καὶ εὐθὺς ἐκάλεσεν αὐτούς. καὶ ἀφέντες τὸν πατέρα αὐτῶν Ζεβεδαῖον ἐν τῷπλοίῳ μετὰ τῶν μισθωτῶν ἀπῆλθον ὀπίσω αὐτοῦ.

And immediately he called them. And leaving their father Zebedee in the boat with the nets, they followed after him.

Saved the comment for the end because this is all one sequence. Two things are obvious: all four of these men are fishermen. Why? Is this a class thing? Were there things about fishermen that made them particularly receptive to trotting off and leaving their nets? Or, given  that he was walking along the Sea of Galilee, is this just the sort of person he was most likely to meet? I really do not know what the full implications of this are.

The second point, is where were they on the Sea of Galilee? Now, if Jesus had been baptized in the Jordan River, following along upstream would have taken them to the southern point of the Sea. Caphernaum, which is where Jesus and Peter seem to be living (more on that later) is on the northern shore. Did he walk along the entire eastern shore? Doesn’t really matter, but curious. And, given that Jesus was living in Caphernaum, is it possible that he knew Peter and Andrew, and the sons of Zebedee to some extent? Would this explain why they were so willing to drop everything and tag along? It seems a reasonable inference to draw. Or at least, a reasonable question to ask.

20 et statim vocavit illos. Et, relicto patre suo Zebedaeo in navi cum mercennariis, abierunt post eum.

Mark Chapter 1:9-12

9 Καὶ ἐγένετο ἐν ἐκείναις ταῖς ἡμέραις ἦλθεν Ἰησοῦς ἀπὸ Ναζαρὲττῆς Γαλιλαίας καὶ ἐβαπτίσθη εἰς τὸν Ἰορδάνην ὑπὸ Ἰωάννου.

And then it occurred in those days that Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and he was baptized into the Jordan under John.

Here we see << ἐγένετο >> again. This time it has a slightly different meaning, and the Latin reflects this. The basic meaning of  << factum est >> would be ‘it was done’.  Here it’s impersonal.

Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee.  He appears, without fanfare and without any prior build up, or foreshadow, or anything.  He gets baptized. What are the implications? Does this mean he’s a disciple of John? We are told later (Mk 2:18) that John has disciples.  But we were told that all of Judea and Jerusalem were baptized by John, and I doubt we can assume they all were his disciples.

This goes back to the discussion above about the connection–if any–between Jesus and John.  We’ll pick this up again later in the chapter.

9 Et factum est in diebus illis, venit Iesus a Nazareth Galilaeae et baptizatus est in Iordane ab Ioanne.

10 καὶ εὐθὺς ἀναβαίνων ἐκ τοῦ ὕδατος εἶδεν σχιζομένους τοὺς οὐρανοὺς καὶ τὸ πνεῦμα ὡς περιστερὰν καταβαῖνον εἰς αὐτόν:

And immediately coming up out of the water, he saw the sky dividing and the spirit as a dove coming towards him.

10 Et statim ascendens de aqua vidit apertos caelos et Spiritum tamquam columbam descendentem in ipsum;

11 καὶ φωνὴ ἐγένετο ἐκ τῶν οὐρανῶν, Σὺ εἶ ὁυἱός μου ὁ ἀγαπητός, ἐν σοὶ εὐδόκησα.

And a voice came from the heavens, “You are my son, the beloved, in you I have been delighted.”

11 et vox facta est de caelis: “Tu es Filius meus dilectus; in te complacui”.

12 Καὶ εὐθὺς τὸ πνεῦμα αὐτὸν ἐκβάλλει εἰς τὴν ἔρημον.

And immediately, the spirit threw him into the desert.

12 Et statim Spiritus expellit eum in desertum.

And immediately coming up out of the water, he saw the sky dividing and the spirit as a dove coming towards him.  And a voice came from the heavens, “You are my son, the beloved, in you I have been delighted.” And immediately, the spirit threw him into the desert.

Taking these all together.

First, let’s talk about << τοὺς οὐρανοὺς >>.  Here, it’s singular, but it’s often pluralized. It means “the vault of the sky.”   It also often is translated as ‘the heavens.’ What is important here is to recognize that ‘the heavens’ is a very different thing than ‘heaven’, and especially “Heaven’, which is what this eventually turns into in a lot of translations. In 1 Thessalonians we saw the Christ coming down from ‘the heavens’, which is how this became “Heaven,” and how Heaven was located in the sky.

Second, we get ‘the spirit’, which is more significant than it appearing in the form of a dove.  It has to appear in the form of something, after all, if observers can, or did, observe it. Now, to this point, we have had a couple of half-hearted discussions about what “spirit” means, and if/how it’s different from holy spirit even if we know it’s different from Holy Spirit. And, to this point, my analysis has been fairly lame. Why? Because I’ve been suckered into a mindset based on 2,000 years of Christian exegesis.

IOW,  the problem is that I’ve been thinking in terms of a ‘spirit’. In modern terms, at least modern American terms, a ‘spirit’ is an entity, representing something that is coherent, cohesive, and singular, and most likely has a ‘personality’ of sorts; in short, a ‘spirit’ is more or less a person without a body, much like the ‘ghost’ which was the common translation of the Greek << πνεῦμα >>, which in Latin is << spiritus >>, which is obviously the root of our ‘spirit’. The thing is, neither the original Greek word nor its Latin translation really means ‘spirit’. At root, both <<πνεῦμα  >> and << spiritus >> mean ‘breath’.  Or even ‘wind’, as in the sense of moving air; hence, ‘pneumatic’.  The Latin root of << spiritus >> is << spiro >>, ‘to breathe.’ Hence, ‘inspiration’ is when the Muse ‘breaths into’ us some sort of poetic revelation. Given that we’re talking about breathing in both of these words,  let’s translate this as ‘the divine breath came down in the form of a dove’. Rather puts an entirely different twist on this, doesn’t it? And, by extension, we’d be talking about “The Holy Breath”? How does that work?

The answer is that, in our cognitive sphere, it really doesn’t. We’ve gotten so accustomed to thinking in terms of a spirit, that the idea of mere breath is just bizarre. To us. To the ancients, however, my impression is that this would have made more sense.  Because, recall, that in Genesis 1:2, we are told that “the spirit of God hovered above the water…”  Except the word used is << πνεῦμα  >> again. So it’s not the ‘spirit’; it’s the ‘breath’ of God. It’s used again Genesis 6:17, when God warns Noah that he’s going to destroy all flesh that has the ‘spirit–.i.e. ‘breath’–of life.  

The juxtaposition of these two uses, I hope, gets across the idea of the connection between ‘breath’ and that which animates a living creature; the absence of breath = the absence of life. So God’s breath becomes a proxy for God, as the spirit–in both senses of the word, original and our conception of the word–that animated God. And I hope it also gives some sense of how the word evolved from the idea of breath, became the animating factor, and this animating factor came to be seen or conceived as a separate entity, a being in and of itself.  This is why, as we noted above, the idea of  a “Holy Spirit” as a third part of a Triune God took several centuries before it became formalized as this entity, separate from–but identical with–God. Our breath is, in some ways, separate from, but identical with ourselves; the breath animates us, but, once gone, there is something left–our dead corpse–which is both separate from our breath, but definitely identical with the breath when we are alive.

Yes, this is philosophy, and it may not be my strong suit. I apologize, but seeing both the distinction and the identity of ‘breath’ and ‘spirit’ is critical at this point. And it is critical to understanding why the idea of a “Holy Spirit” at this point really doesn’t work.

Finally, just to note that<<  ἐκβάλλει >> is the same word used when Jesus casts out a demon in Chapter 3.  Rather an interesting image. Perhaps we should think of it as the spirit ‘blowing’  Jesus out into the desert. Note that the Baptist also spent time in the desert.  Hold this thought for a few more verses.