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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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 30, 2012, in Chapter 2, gospel commentary, gospels, mark's gospel, Summary and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. I thought that Galilee was under the control of Herod Antipas. That is why Herod Antipas was asked to deal with Jesus. Herod had a palace in Jerusalem, where he would stay when he was in Jerusalem for festivals. Archilaus controlled Jerusalem for 10 years after Herod the Great’s death, and was replaced by Roman governors.

  2. You are correct. It was Herod Antipas, not Archelaus. I have edited to reflect. Should have checked and not relied on faulty memory. Too many names that are too similar, and I’m no expert.

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