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.

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About James, brother of Jesus

I have a BA from the University of Toronto in Greek and Roman History. For this, I had to learn classical Greek and Latin. In seminar-style classes, we discussed both the meaning of the text and the language. U of T has a great Classics Dept. One of the professors I took a Senior Seminar with is now at Harvard. I started reading the New Testament as a way to brush up on my Greek, and the process grew into this. I plan to comment on as much of the NT as possible, starting with some of Paul's letters. After that, I'll start in on the Gospels, starting with Mark.

Posted on December 8, 2012, in Chapter 1, gospel commentary, gospels, mark's gospel and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. The archaeologist, Shimon Gibson, has studied the area west of Jerusalem where John is supposed to have been born, Ben Ha-karim. Nearby at Suba is a cultic purification cave which has been identified with John since at least early Byzantine times, and Gibson believes is a strong candidate to be connected to John’s ministry. He admits a high speculation but has done much work to flesh out the strengths of his case. It may have little relevance to your arguments, other than he may have several locations he ministered to.

    However, according to Josephus, John spent much of his time speaking out against Herod Antipas, who had abandoned his wife and married his brother’s wife, against much Jewish law. Herod Antipas’ domain was Galilee and parts of the east side of the Jordan, including the eastern fortress Machaerus where John was held. For Jesus to go into the Galilee to pick up where John left off would have been very bold. In later passages, Jesus seems to be picking his geography carefully to avoid jurisdictions.

    When Jesus declares “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near…”, it would seem he is predicting the time foretold in Daniel and the source of much apocalyptic expectation. When “one like a Son of Man” comes to overthrow the sinners and a new age will start. Jesus has given no indication yet that he has any connection to the events that he is predicting will come, other than he has recognized the time has come and he wants to prepare others.

  2. Since I know that you left another comment about apocalyptic preaching, I will comment on both at one.

    As for John, the text seems to put him largely in and around the Jordan. It does not tell us if he had a particular ‘side’ or ‘bank’ on which he primarily served. Given though, that he attracted a large audience–IOW, taking Mark at his word regarding John’s popularity–I would have to infer that he preached on the more heavily-populated east bank of the Jordan, which would include at least parts of Galilee. This is reinforced by the discomfort John is said to have caused for Herod Antipas.

    This does not mean that he did not come from the west bank wilderness; only that the text implies that he spend most of his ministry on the east bank. A shrewd preacher goes to his audience.

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