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. 


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 16, 2012, in Chapter 1, gospel commentary, gospels, mark's gospel and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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