Monthly Archives: January 2013

Mark Chapter 4:1-12

Chapter 4 starts with the Parable of the Sower.

1 Καὶ πάλιν ἤρξατο διδάσκειν παρὰ τὴν θάλασσαν. καὶ συνάγεται πρὸς αὐτὸν ὄχλος πλεῖστος, ὥστε αὐτὸν εἰς πλοῖον ἐμβάντα καθῆσθαι ἐν τῇ θαλάσσῃ, καὶ πᾶς ὁ ὄχλος πρὸς τὴν θάλασσαν ἐπὶ τῆς γῆς ἦσαν.

And again he began to teach along the sea. And a large crowd gathered together before him, so that he embarked onto a boat to sit on the sea, and the whole crowd before the sea was upon the land. (was on the shore beside the sea. Slightly different use of prepositions.)

So again we get the big crowd. But this time we have a very odd little twist: Jesus sits in a boat and preaches to the crowd on the shore. Now, this sort of a detail is…detailed enough to make one consider, at least, whether this is an authentic detail.  Aside from that, we’re told again that Jesus attracted a crowd (seemingly) wherever he went.

I suppose it’s worth asking why he spent so much time along the shore of the Sea of Galilee. Was it because it was a fairly well-populated area? Or was there some other reason it was so attractive to Jesus, or why it was particularly receptive to him.  Is it because Peter and the sons of Zebedee were substantial citizens in the area, and this gained them a sympathetic hearing? I have no idea if this has ever been explored in any of the literature. I haven’t seen anything about this.

1 Et iterum coepit docere ad ma re. Et congregatur ad eum tur ba plurima, ita ut in navem ascendens sederet in mari, et omnis turba circa mare super terram erant.

2 καὶ ἐδίδασκεν αὐτοὺς ἐν παραβολαῖς πολλά, καὶ ἔλεγεν αὐτοῖς ἐν τῇ διδαχῇ αὐτοῦ,

And he taught themin many parables, and he said to them in his teaching,

2 Et docebat eos in parabolis multa et dicebat illis in doctrina sua:

3 Ἀκούετε. ἰδοὺ ἐξῆλθενὁ σπείρων σπεῖραι.

“Listen. Behold a sower went out to sow.

3 “ Audite. Ecce exiit seminans ad seminandum.

4 καὶ ἐγένετο ἐν τῷ σπείρειν ὃ μὲν ἔπεσεν παρὰ τὴν ὁδόν, καὶ ἦλθεν τὰ πετεινὰ καὶ κατέφαγεν αὐτό.

“And it happened in the sowing that, on the one hand, some fell upon the road, and the birds came and ate it up. 

4 Et factum est, dum seminat, aliud cecidit circa viam, et venerunt volucres et comederunt illud.

5 καὶ ἄλλο ἔπεσεν ἐπὶ τὸ πετρῶδες ὅπου οὐκ εἶχεν γῆν πολλήν, καὶ εὐθὺς ἐξανέτειλεν διὰ τὸ μὴ ἔχειν βάθος γῆς:

“And other (seed) fell upon the stones where it didn’t have much soil, and immediately sprang up because it did not have deep soil.

5 Aliud cecidit super petrosa, ubi non habebat terram multam, et statim exortum est, quoniam non habebat altitudinem terrae;

6 καὶ ὅτε ἀνέτειλεν ὁ ἥλιος ἐκαυματίσθη, καὶ διὰ τὸ μὴ ἔχειν ῥίζαν ἐξηράνθη.

“And when it sprang up, the sun burned it, and, because it did not have roots, it dried out.

6 et quando exortus est sol, exaestuavit et, eo quod non haberet radicem, exaruit.

7 καὶ ἄλλο ἔπεσεν εἰς τὰς ἀκάνθας, καὶ ἀνέβησαν αἱ ἄκανθαι καὶ συνέπνιξαν αὐτό, καὶ καρπὸν οὐκ ἔδωκεν.

“And other (seed) fell among the thorns, and came up and the thorns choked it, and it did not give fruit.

7 Et aliud cecidit in spinas, et ascenderunt spinae et suffocaverunt illud, et fructum non dedit.

8 καὶ ἄλλα ἔπεσεν εἰς τὴν γῆν τὴν καλήν, καὶ ἐδίδου καρπὸν ἀναβαίνοντα καὶ αὐξανόμενα, καὶ ἔφερεν ἓν τριάκοντα καὶ ἓν ἑξήκοντα καὶ ἓνἑκατόν.

“And other (seed) fell upon good soil, and it gave fruit, coming up and growing, and it bore thirty times, and sixty times, and a hundred.”

8 Et alia ceciderunt in terram bonam et dabant fructum: ascendebant et crescebant et afferebant unum triginta et unum sexaginta et unum centum ”.

9 καὶ ἔλεγεν, Ὃς ἔχει ὦτα ἀκούειν ἀκουέτω.

And he said, “Who has ears to hear, let him hear.”

I don’t have any support for this contention, but this phrase seems a might idiosyncratic. Is it possible that it is actually a catch phrase of Jesus? Like, “Amen I say to you”? Yes, it’s possible. But how plausible, or how likely is it? I would tend to suspect that these are the little quirks that remain intact, while the form of the story, even the content of the story evolves to meet the changing needs of changing times.

Overall, though, there is some consensus that this story, or its crux, anyway, does go back to Jesus.  I don’t dismiss this out of hand. I would consider this to be authentic before a lot—and that means most–of the rest of the content of this gospel and the others.

9 Et dicebat: “ Qui habet aures audiendi, audiat ”.

10 Καὶ ὅτε ἐγένετο κατὰ μόνας, ἠρώτων αὐτὸν οἱ περὶ αὐτὸν σὺν τοῖς δώδεκα τὰς παραβολάς.

And then when he was alone, they asked them, those around him with the twelve, (about the) parables.

The Greek here is a little funky; nothing quite like some of the borderline gibberish that Paul produced, but not entirely clear. It’s the last clause, “those around him with the twelve”, and the fact that “parables” is plural, when he only told one. In  fact, some translations simply render this as “parable”, in the singular.  But before that, the whole “those around him, with the twelve” isn’t exactly, as Professor C P Jones used to say, pellucid. It sounds like the people asking are not the twelve, but perhaps the next layer out. Perhaps.

10 Et cum esset singularis, interrogaverunt eum hi, qui circa eum erant cum Duodecim, parabolas.

11 καὶ ἔλεγεν αὐτοῖς,Ὑμῖν τὸ μυστήριον δέδοται τῆς βασιλείας τοῦ θεοῦ: ἐκείνοις δὲ τοῖς ἔξω ἐν παραβολαῖς τὰ πάντα γίνεται,

And he said to them, “To you the mystery of the kingdom of God is given. To those outside, all will be in parables.”

This is interesting: only the inner circle will get the mystery of the kingdom of God. The rest, those outside, will only get parables. Boy oh boy this sure has a Gnostic feel to it: to the initiates are revealed the full secrets, while those on the outside only get vague allusions. That is pretty much a defining characteristic of Gnosticism, in fact. Now, this is not to imply that Mark was influenced by Gnosticism–which comes out more fully in the Gospel of Thomas. Rather, it simply means that Jesus and this evangelist (at least, and in particular), and the Gnostics were drinking from the same fountain. This stuff was out there at this time. Like wonder-workers.

11 Et dicebat eis: “ Vobis datum est mysterium regni Dei; illis autem, qui foris sunt, in parabolis omnia fiunt,

12 ἵνα βλέποντες βλέπωσιν καὶ μὴ ἴδωσιν, καὶ ἀκούοντες ἀκούωσιν καὶ μὴ συνιῶσιν, μήποτε ἐπιστρέψωσιν καὶ ἀφεθῇ αὐτοῖς.

” ‘So that those looking see and don’t know, and those hearing hear and don’t understand, they may never turn and it may not be forgiven them.’ ”

Curiouser and curiouser. Lest they turn (“convert” would be a justifiable translation) and it be forgiven to them. IOW, let’s deliberately make the message vague so that they won’t understand it. By not understanding, they will not repent and have their sins be forgiven. Man, what kind of perverse thinking is that? I will deliberately not communicate effectively, and then blame you for it. Now, it is a quote, so this isn’t Jesus. But this is what Jesus–or the evangelist–wants to get across?

This is like God hardening Pharaoh’s heart so that he wouldn’t release the Hebrews from their slavery. I mean, why? How does this work with a God whose purpose is to save humans from…whatever the terrible fate is. This has not exactly been made clear yet.

12 ut videntes videant et non videant, / et audientes audiant et non intellegant,
ne quando convertantur, / et dimittatur eis ”.

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Summary Mark Chapter 3

Chapter 3 has some interesting points.

We start with the man with the withered hand. Jesus backs the Pharisees into a corner, forcing them that it’s acceptable to do good on the Sabbath. So he heals the man’s hand, and the Pharisees leave muttering (most likely) and plotting to kill Jesus. One point about this is that Jesus gets angry at them. This is the first, but won’t be the last, time Jesus gets angry in Mark’s gospel.

This anger may be one of the more interesting aspects of this gospel. Jesus portrayed as often being on the edge of losing his cool with people, both his followers and others. It’s a very human quality, and one that does not make the transition to later gospels. This tells me it has a ring of truth to it: face it, by the time we get to John, Jesus is a pretty detached figure, understanding and accepting the horrible fate in store for him. IOW, the anger, and the humanity was a bit embarrassing, so it was eased out of the tradition. This is the opposite of what happened with John the Baptist. Jesus’ relationship with the Baptist was, supposedly, embarrassing to the early church and so it got downplayed. But that’s not true: John has a bigger role for the Baptist than Mark, which is not the way it should work. Jesus’ humanity, OTOH, does get eased out of the tradition.

Then we have more travels along the Sea of Galilee.  Again, we have more expulsion of demons, and, again, Jesus insists that they not proclaim that he is the Son of God. Now, this is the first time Jesus is called this in Mark’s gospel. In fact, this is the only time Jesus is called this in Mark’s gospel, aside from the opening line, and it’s entirely plausible that was tacked on later. The similarity of this passage to the earlier one, with the change to Son of God from “holy one of God”, makes this seem suspiciously like a later addition.

But one point remains: we are told, again, of the size of crowds that Jesus attracted, and on a consistent basis.

Next we get the whole issue of The Twelve. Did they really exist? Or was this a later invention? Or was it just the names that were invented? That the twelve were to represent the Twelve Tribes of Israel is beyond doubt; whether Jesus actually instituted a group of twelve is entirely a different matter.

Finally, at the end, we get the whole scene that includes “those beside him”, who may or may not be his relatives, but his relatives–mother, unnamed, brothers and (interpolated?) sisters–definitely show up later. This passage feels jumbled, like some parts of it are out of order. Maybe this is scribal error, but the ms traditions don’t support this, unless it happened very early on. Anyway, we are told that someone–those beside him–thought that Jesus had lost his senses.

Now, the implications of all this are a little more straightforward: the whole notion of virgin birth had not been invented yet. Paul appears to have been unfamiliar with it; Mark seems to be as well. It does not show up until Matthew. Thus, I think we can say with certainty that the virgin birth does not trace back to the very beginnings, but was added on later. The same cannot be said of Jesus’ death and Resurrection; those are clearly part of the story from a very early time, showing up repeatedly in the two letters of Paul we’ve discussed.

But the true point of this passage is the end: the human, biological family is not what matters any more. So, just as in Chapter 2 we had Jesus apparently separating himself from mainstream Judaism (MSJ), here we have Jesus separating himself from something like mainstream life. This is, IMO, at least potentially the most radical notion, and the most original concept we have seen so far.

Mark Chapter 3.20-35

Chapter three continues and concludes.

20 Καὶ ἔρχεται εἰς οἶκον: καὶ συνέρχεται πάλιν [ὁ] ὄχλος, ὥστε μὴ δύνασθαι αὐτοὺς μηδὲ ἄρτον φαγεῖν.

And he came to (his) home. And again a crowd gathered, so that they were not able even to eat bread.

Some notes on the Greek: the fact that [ὁ], the definite article is bracketed indicates confusion over whether “a crowd” or “the crowd” gathered. The former would be people from wherever; the latter, IMO, would imply sort of the usual suspects.

Second, the number of persons indicated by the verb changes from the first clause “he came home”, to “they were not able” in the final clause. This tells me (asuming it wasn’t just a scribal error) that when Jesus went to his home, his inner circle came with him.

Now let’s talk about << εἰς οἶκον >>. Idiomatically, this would be rendered in English simply as “he went home”. I translated it as I did, again, to give a fuller sense of the literal Greek.

So let’s talk about “home.” Three of my four crib translations render this as some variation on “his home” or “went home”. Again, Jesus lives in Caphernaum, and he has no visible means of support. We are never told that he worked, and yet he maintains his own home. I was a tad surprised by this, by the idea of Jesus going to his own house. I have never seen this discussed, especially as to what it says about Jesus as a human who has to eat and sleep, and that it seems to have some serious implications about his social status.

20 Et venit ad domum; et convenit iterum turba, ita ut non possent neque panem manducare.

21 καὶ ἀκούσαντες οἱ παρ’ αὐτοῦ ἐξῆλθον κρατῆσαι αὐτόν, ἔλεγον γὰρ ὅτι ἐξέστη.

And those beside him hearing, they went out to take possession of him, for they said that he was out of his senses.

Whoa, Nellie!  He’s out of his senses? What is this all about?

The fact that this could be said about “Our Lord” has led a lot of people to claim that it’s very accurate. It’s too embarrassing to invent. There is a certain level of logic to this. But the most interesting part of this is how this sort of hangs there, without a whole lot of context. He’s home, a crowd gathers, they can’t eat, and people around him try to overpower, or take possession of him because he’s lost his marbles. Then, in the next verse, we jump to the scribes.

Frankly, I do not understand this.  So I consulted a commentary on Mark that I picked up at a library sale. His take is that those around him refer to the family members in V-31, his mother & brothers, who came from Nazareth. OK, that makes some sense, but how did they hear about this in Nazareth and come all the way to get him while it was all happening? Or, is there a chunk of the story left out?  

There would have to be, since it seems to be about 20 miles from Capheranaum to Nazareth; IOW, most of a day’s worth of walking.  So to get the news to Nazareth, and come back from Nazareth would take 2 days.

My immediate reaction was that Jesus’ family must have been living in Caphernaum, too. However, we read in Mark 6.1 that Jesus returns to his ‘home/native town’. In the passage it really sounds like Jesus’ mother and sisters (at least) still live there. So, bottom line, this is a puzzle. In the matter of Jesus, however, the fact that he goes to his ‘home/native town’ indicates that it’s no longer his residence.

The commentary also suggests that this house he returned to is really Simon’s house, where Jesus healed Simon’s mother-in-law, and that seems sensible, but that’ s not how the text reads, IMO.

 Now for the truly sticky part. As for who “those around him” are, << οἱ παρ’ αὐτοῦ  >> is a wonderfully ambiguous term. As I translated, it’s literally “those beside him”. Now, this can be in a literal sense; Jesus is sitting in a line of people, and those beside him are Peter and John. Or, it can mean those beside him more figuratively, such as friends. It can also mean family, which seems to be the favourite choice among Biblical commentators. But if it does mean family, and they do live in Nazareth, then we run into the logistical issues of a day’s journey each way, and that makes no sense in this context.

In which case, by default, it seems it must indicate his followers in this case.

But that doesn’t begin to address the part about being out of his senses. Was he fatigued from not being able to rest, or even eat?  Or was there some sort of contention, perhaps with officials? We get into that in the next verse, so that explanation has some merit. We’ll leave it at that.

 21 Et cum audissent sui, exierunt tenere eum; dicebant enim: “ In furorem versus est ”.

22 καὶ οἱ γραμματεῖς οἱ ἀπὸ Ἱεροσολύμων καταβάντες ἔλεγον ὅτι Βεελζεβοὺλ ἔχει, καὶ ὅτι ἐν τῷ ἄρχοντι τῶν δαιμονίων ἐκβάλλει τὰ δαιμόνια.”

About the Greek: great example of the distinction between << κατα >> and << ανα >>.  <<  ἄναβάινω >> as in The Anabasis, is The March Up Country. Here, they came down , which is  << καταβάινω >>.  Probably a bit pedantic. Sorry.

The ‘being in the kingdom’ is a great example of the dative of place/location.  

And the scribes that came down from Jerusalem said that “He has Beelzebul,” and that “(being) in the kingdom of the demons he casts out demons.”

Here we have scribes. And not just local ones, but from Jerusalem. Does this imbue them with any sort of legal status? Or are they just sightseers like everyone else? If the former, it may be that his followers of the previous verse want to extricate Jesus from a potentially sticky wicket.

As for Beelzeboul, this is likely some form of Ba’al, a Canaanite god who was reduced to the status of a demon in Jewish literature and thought, just as Pan became a demon in Christian thought. The iconography of  Pan contributed to the image of The Devil, per J B Russell’s book that I mentioned previously.

22 Et scribae, qui ab Hierosolymis descenderant, dicebant: “ Beelzebul habet ” et: “ In principe daemonum eicit daemonia ”.

23 καὶ προσκαλεσάμενος αὐτοὺς ἐν παραβολαῖς ἔλεγεν αὐτοῖς, Πῶς δύναται Σατανᾶς Σατανᾶνἐκβάλλειν;

And calling them to him, he spoke to them in parables.  “How can Satan cast out Satan?”

Here we start a very famous passage….

23 Et convocatis eis, in parabolis dicebat illis: “ Quomodo potest Satanas Satanam eicere?

24 καὶ ἐὰν βασιλεία ἐφ’ ἑαυτὴν μερισθῇ, οὐ δύναται σταθῆναι ἡ βασιλεία ἐκείνη:

“And if a kingdom is measured against itself, that kingdom is not able to stand.”

24 Et si regnum in se dividatur, non potest stare regnum illud;

25 καὶ ἐὰν οἰκία ἐφ’ ἑαυτὴν μερισθῇ, οὐ δυνήσεται ἡ οἰκία ἐκείνη σταθῆναι.

“And of a house is measured against itself, that house is not able to stand.”

25 et si domus in semetipsam dispertiatur, non poterit domus illa stare.

26 καὶ εἰ ὁ Σατανᾶς ἀνέστη ἐφ’ ἑαυτὸν καὶ ἐμερίσθη, οὐ δύναται στῆναι ἀλλὰ τέλος ἔχει.

“And if Satan stands against and is measured against itself, he is not able to stand, but has his end.”

26 Et si Satanas consurrexit in semetipsum et dispertitus est, non potest stare, sed finem habet.

27 ἀλλ’ οὐ δύναται οὐδεὶς εἰς τὴν οἰκίαν τοῦ ἰσχυροῦ εἰσελθὼν τὰ σκεύη αὐτοῦ διαρπάσαι ἐὰν μὴ πρῶτον τὸν ἰσχυρὸν δήσῃ, καὶ τότε τὴν οἰκίαν αὐτοῦ διαρπάσει.

“But no one is able to enter in the house of a strong man to plunder the goods unless they first bind the strong man, and then he may plunder the house.”

What does this all mean? Or, rather, what is the point? Yes, it addresses the idea brought up by the scribes.  But why do we need to go into this level of detail on  this? It’s a great metaphor; perhaps we should just enjoy it for the literary quality? I don’t see a whole lot of real religious/theological value to this, so I’m a bit perplexed at the point, if the point is not literary.

27 Nemo autem potest in domum fortis ingressus vasa eius diripere, nisi prius fortem alliget; et tunc domum eius diripiet.

28 Ἀμὴν λέγω ὑμῖν ὅτι πάντα ἀφεθήσεται τοῖς υἱοῖς τῶν ἀνθρώπων, τὰ ἁμαρτήματα καὶ αἱ βλασφημίαι ὅσα ἐὰν βλασφημήσωσιν:

“Amen I say to you, that all will be taken away from the sons of men, their sins and the blasphemies howsoever that they may blaspheme.”

It has been suggested that the phrase “Amen I say to you” is something actually Jesus said. Apparently, it is something of an usual usage, so there is reason to suspect it was perpetuated because it was authentic.

That being said, what happened here? How did we get from binding a strong man to rob his house to sins and blasphemies? It’s rough transitions like this that make me wonder if Mark wasn’t cobbling different sources together. I’m sure that this has been discussed in the literary criticism; or has it? Is this a situation where the question hasn’t been asked because “everyone knows” that Mark is a unitary construction.  I have seen it suggested that Mark in its present form is a collaborative effort, composed and edited by several different authors/editors. I guess that comes to the same thing: different traditions or points of view being woven together.

As for the meaning, there is probably nothing terribly remarkable about the sentiment expressed. Sins can be forgiven. I suspect that the question with this is how will the sins be forgiven? Are we working within the traditional Jewish framework of expiation of sins by way of sacrifice in the Temple?  Or have we moved to something more like what we saw in Chapter 2, when he ate with sinners who had not performed any sort of formal penitence?

28 Amen dico vobis: Omnia dimittentur filiis hominum peccata et blasphemiae, quibus blasphemaverint;

29 ὃς δ’ ἂν βλασφημήσῃ εἰς τὸ πνεῦμα τὸ ἅγιον οὐκ ἔχει ἄφεσιν εἰς τὸν αἰῶνα, ἀλλὰ ἔνοχός ἐστιν αἰωνίου ἁμαρτήματος

“But he who may blaspheme against the holy spirit does not have remission forever, but is held bound to (lit=of)  an eternal sin.”

So why is blaspheming against the sacred breath such a big deal? I understand taking God’s name in vain; is that what it means? While we don’t have a Holy Spirit here, we do have something that is an integral part of God: his breath, which moved over the waters in Genesis 1.2.

29 qui autem blasphemaverit in Spiritum Sanctum, non habet remissionem in aeternum, sed reus est aeterni delicti ”.

30 ὅτι ἔλεγον, Πνεῦμα ἀκάθαρτον ἔχει.

Apparently, his listeners didn’t get it either. Or somehow this message was outside their ability to understand, for whatever reason. Is the whole sacred breath thing something that Jesus made up? Or at least made popular? But, since they don’t understand, they resort to that most human of traits: they disparage what they can’t understand. Some things never change,.

30 Quoniam dicebant: “ Spiritum immundum habet ”.

31 Καὶ ἔρχεταιἡ μήτηρ αὐτοῦ καὶ οἱ ἀδελφοὶ αὐτοῦ καὶ ἔξω στήκοντες ἀπέστειλαν πρὸς αὐτὸν καλοῦντες αὐτόν.

And his mother and his brothers and standing outside they sent to him, calling him.

It’s kind of almost like this section of the chapter got sort of scrambled up: we’re back to (presumably) the people we left off in V-21. Here, we are told that it’s his family; his mother and brothers.  [ The addition of sisters in the next verse is pretty clearly, IMO, an interpolation. Sisters are not in this verse, and they’re not in verse 33, either. This was the interpolation I mentioned in the comment to 3.16 ]

Now, note, the family members are outside. So this sort of impliesa that they did not live with Jesus. Is this Peter’s house, after all? Is it Peter who is up high enough on the social scale that he can entertain a houseful of people, as he did after calling Levi/Matthew? (Mk 2.15)

31 Et venit mater eius et fratres eius, et foris stantes miserunt ad eum vocantes eum.

32 καὶ ἐκάθητο περὶ αὐτὸν ὄχλος, καὶ λέγουσιν αὐτῷ, Ἰδοὺ ἡ μήτηρ σου καὶ οἱ ἀδελφοί σου [καὶ αἱ ἀδελφαι σου] ἔξω ζητοῦσίν σε.

And the crowd was seated around him, and saying to him,  “Look, your mother and your brothers [ and your sisters ] outside are seeking you.”

The mother & brothers [ & sisters, interpolated ] cannot get through the crowd that is around ( περὶ ) him.

32 Et sedebat circa eum turba, et dicunt ei: “ Ecce mater tua et fratres tui et sorores tuae foris quaerunt te ”.

33 καὶ ἀποκριθεὶς αὐτοῖς λέγει, Τίς ἐστιν ἡ μήτηρ μου καὶ οἱ ἀδελφοί [μου];

And he answered them, saying, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?”

33 Et respondens eis ait: “ Quae est mater mea et fratres mei? ”.

34 καὶ περιβλεψάμενος τοὺς περὶ αὐτὸν κύκλῳ καθημένους λέγει, Ἴδε ἡ μήτηρ μου καὶ οἱ ἀδελφοί μου.

And looking around at those around him in seated in a circle, he said, “Behold my mother and my brothers.” 

34 Et circumspiciens eos, qui in circuitu eius sedebant, ait: “ Ecce mater mea et fratres mei.

35 ὃς [γὰρ]ἂν ποιήσῃ τὸ θέλημα τοῦ θεοῦ, οὗτος ἀδελφός μου καὶ ἀδελφὴ καὶ μήτηρ ἐστίν.

For he who may do the will of God, he is my brother and my sister and my mother.”

Note that the sisters show up again. But regardless, what is this all about? The point here seems to be that Jesus is breaking some of the traditional bonds of family. He is saying that blood-family is not as important as spiritual-family. This is, to the best of my knowledge, a fairly novel concept for the time. There is all sorts of discussion about whether this was a new rule, promulgated in expectation of an immanent apocalypse, so normal family ties, wives, mothers, brothers, were no longer particularly important since the world was going to end–and soon.

Now, I’m not sure that we need to read end-of-the-world implications into this. Rather, my thinking is that Jesus is redefining family in a particular way. Earlier, in 2.16 & thereabouts,  we had him eating with sinners and outcasts. I said we should keep an eye on that. Here’s my thinking: In the Graeco-Roman world, there was a philosophical school known as the Stoics. (Yes, the root of our word ‘stoic’, as in to accept good fortune and bad impassively. Think Mr Spock) One of their tenets was the idea of universal brotherhood. Or, in modern terms, the family of man. Or, the family of humanity. Now, I’m not necessarily saying that Jesus got the idea of a universal family from Stoic thought; rather, I’d suggest that the idea was in the air. Earlier, we are told to accept sinners and outcasts; now we’re told that our family is those who do God’s will. Is this, perhaps, one of the truly novel ideas that Jesus promulgated?

There was something different about him, or we wouldn’t be discussing him as we are. As Akenson and Robin Lane Fox show, their was an entire spectrum of religious ideas out there in the First Century. Perhaps Jesus’ gift, his genius, was to take some of these ideas and put them together in a new manner. Perhaps it was more than that.

35 Qui enim fecerit voluntatem Dei, hic frater meus et soror mea et mater est ”.

Mark Chapter 3.13-19

Chapter 3 continues.  [Updated]

13 Καὶ ἀναβαίνει εἰς τὸ ὄρος καὶ προσκαλεῖται οὓς ἤθελεν αὐτός, καὶ ἀπῆλθον πρὸς αὐτόν.

And he went to the mountain, and he called those whom he wished, and they went to him.

This is interesting: he went up the mountain. This is sort of the time in Matthew when the Sermon on the Mount took place; however, Luke has Jesus coming down from the mountain when the twelve are appointed.

13 Et ascendit in montem et vocat ad se, quos voluit ipse, et venerunt ad eum.

14 καὶ ἐποίησεν δώδεκα, [οὓς καὶ ἀποστόλους ὠνόμασεν,] ἵνα ὦσιν μετ’ αὐτοῦ καὶ ἵνα ἀποστέλλῃ αὐτοὺς κηρύσσειν

And he created twelve, [ whom he called apostles ] so that they might be with him, and in order that he might sent them to preach. 

[ whom he called apostles ] This is about as obvious an interpolation as you will find, until you get to the next verse.

14 Et fecit Duodecim, ut essent cum illo, et ut mitteret eos praedicare

15 καὶ ἔχειν ἐξουσίαν ἐκβάλλειν τὰ δαιμόνια:

And having power to cast out demons.

The twelve are to preach and to cast out demons. In Matthew, they actually go out, and then return, creating something of a hiatus in Jesus’ own preaching. More on that when we get there.

But that they are to preach is significant, if it’s true. This sort of indicates that Jesus had the intention of creating a movement larger that went beyond what he alone could do. And, given Paul’s letters, we know that members of Jesus’ circle did go out and preach. Was this Jesus’ intent? Did he want to found a movement, if not a religion?  Have to say, it seems likely. Or, it seems less likely that the followers would have done this on their own, after Jesus’ death.

As for the casting out of demons, this may be taken as sort of a badge of authenticity; that is having this power indicated that they were authentic agents of God. 

15 habentes potestatem eiciendi daemonia:

16 [καὶ ἐποίησεν τοὺς δώδεκα,] καὶ ἐπέθηκεν ὄνομα τῷ Σίμωνι Πέτρον,

[ And he created the twelve, ] and he imposed the name Peter upon Simon.

Note that the Latin does not include the first part of the verse, in brackets in the Greek and my translation.  Note also that this is a repetition of the first words of the verse before. Is this an example of a copyist, who wrote down V-15, then glanced back at his original, and got the wrong line? Instead of going right to V-15, he caught the beginning of 15 again. Who hasn’t done this when copying? And, given that corrections were very, very hard to make, he just left it in? Perhaps the Latin is based on a different MS tradition, one that did not have the error. So as good as an example of an interpolation as you will get, until you get to V-32.

Having Jesus change the name of Cephas/Simon seems to be an after-the-fact insertion. What this probably represents is that Simon/Cephas was called “Peter” in Rome, because that is more or less the translation of Simon/Cephas into Latin. He was called “Peter” later, so move this back to Jesus to make it official.

16 et imposuit Simoni nomen Petrum;

17 καὶ Ἰάκωβον τὸν τοῦ Ζεβεδαίου καὶ Ἰωάννηντὸν ἀδελφὸν τοῦ Ἰακώβου, καὶ ἐπέθηκεν αὐτοῖς ὀνόμα[τα] Βοανηργές, ὅ ἐστιν Υἱοὶ Βροντῆς:

And James the son of Zebedee and John the brother of James, and he put upon them the name Boanerges, which is the Sons of Thunder.

“Sons of Thunder” OTOH, may very well be authentic. Where else does this show up? If nowhere, or infrequently, then why bother inserting it? Of course, the possibility is that this name was given to them by the later community, so, as with Peter, the change was made retroactive.

17 et Iacobum Zebedaei et Ioannem fratrem Iacobi, et imposuit eis nomina Boanerges, quod est Filii tonitrui;

18 καὶ Ἀνδρέαν καὶ Φίλιππον καὶ Βαρθολομαῖον καὶ Μαθθαῖον καὶ Θωμᾶν καὶ Ἰάκωβον τὸν τοῦ Ἁλφαίου καὶ Θαδδαῖον καὶ Σίμωνα τὸν Καναναῖον

And Andrew and Philip and Bartholemes and Matthew and Thomas and James the son of Alpheus, and Thaddeus and Simon the Zealot,

When did Levi become Matthew?

18 et Andream et Philippum et Bartholomaeum et Matthaeum et Thomam et Iacobum Alphaei et Thaddaeum et Simonem Chananaeum

19 καὶ Ἰούδαν Ἰσκαριώθ, ὃς καὶ παρέδωκεν αὐτόν.

And Judas Iscariot, who also handed him over.

IIRC, it was Bart Erhman who suggested that “Iscariot” is a version of “sicarii”, the assassins mentioned by Josephus. The sicarius was the knife they used. However, my suspicion is that the coincidental similarity of the words led someone to posit a connection.

19 et Iudam Iscarioth, qui et tradidit illum.

Just a note about the word “apostle.”  It is basically a transliteration of  the compound verb “apo-stellein”, which means “to send out.” Now, this would be an appropriate time to talk about this. To our modern ears, the apostles were the inner circle of 12, and we use this as a more specific term than ‘disciples’, of which the number was unlimited.  We accept this distinction, even though having an inner circle of apostles is close to a contradiction of terms. They can’t be close if they’re sent out.

At this point, it occurs to me to wonder if The Twelve, and The Apostles were not different groups that became conflated over time. Hence the need for the scribe to tell us that they were called apostles. Now, three of my four crib translations leave out the part [ whom he called apostles ]. If you do that, the word only occurs one other time in Mark (6.30), and once in Matthew (10.2). Luke uses it a handful of times, and John uses it exactly once. It occurs very frequently in Acts, but Paul uses it very often. And note that Paul calls himself “an apostle” at the beginning of Galatians. Since he could not possibly have been part of the inner circle, perhaps calling them “The Twelve Apostles” is not exactly accurate.

As for the whole idea or the twelve,  I had a period in which I wasn’t certain that there were twelve “apostles”.  The number very obviously relates to the 12 tribes of Israel, so it’s a programmatic number. I am frankly suspicious of the number, in large part because we hear nothing of many of them. Bartholemew? Thaddeus?  Philip had a number of legends grow up around him. Simon the Zealot, IIRC, will make a cameo in one of the gospels. James the son of Alpheus has the distinction of being known as “James the Lesser”, and not much else.

But, it must be said, I’m deeply suspicious that there were actually 12 tribes of Israel; the whole 12 sons of Jacob (Israel) has aitiological myth written all over it. A whole bunch of them were conveniently “lost”, swept away in the Assyrian conquest of the northern kingdom of Israel.

The one thing made me reconsider is Paul, who in 1 Cor, 15.5, states that Jesus appeared to Cephas and the twelve after the Resurrection. The completely off-hand nature of the comment argues strongly in favor of authenticity. He just tosses it off without thinking, and as if it would be accepted with no questions asked. While I have some qualms, it seems very unlikely that the idea could have inserted itself into the tradition within a generation.

So, while the twelve tribes may have been pure myth, Jews of Paul’s time (and way too many non-Jewish scholars) accepted without reservation the existence of the tribes. As such, Jesus may have felt the need, or had the desire to refer to the myth of the 12 tribes as something important. Much of this goes to the root of the QHJ and the question of how Jesus saw himself, and what his intentions were.

If indeed–and I’m not completely ready to concede the point–Jesus did choose 12 “apostles”, or had some sort of inner circle, the implication of the 12 tribes is probably hard to escape.  [ updated ]

Note, I did a search for Bartholemew the Apostle, and came up with some legends about him, and that he is identified with the Nathaneal that John–and no one else–names as an apostle. Now, IIRC the name “Bartholemew” is really “bar-Tholemew”, the “son of Tholemew”, so it could be that his patronymic is used here, and his personal name is used by John. That, however, requires that John had information that Mark, apparently, did not. IOW, that a) either John accessed a tradition to which Mark was not privy; or, b) that John, or someone along the line,  thought it odd that this man had no personal name, so the name Nathaneal was made up for him.

Then there’s the fact that the companion of Paul is simply known as Barnabas, which could easily be rendered as a patronymic as well. Why did this remain in the texts? The answer could be that this is how Barnabas was known, and that to change this would have been too difficult. Bartholemew, OTOH, was not known, so his name could easily be changed. This argues, IMO, that no one named Bartholemew was actually chosen by Jesus.

Mark Chapter 3:1-12

Chapter 3 begins.

Καὶ εἰσῆλθεν πάλιν εἰς τὴν συναγωγήν. καὶ ἦν ἐκεῖ ἄνθρωπος ἐξηραμμένην ἔχωντὴν χεῖρα:

And he entered again into the synagogue. And a man was there having a withered hand.

1 Et introivit iterum in synago gam. Et erat ibi homo habens manum aridam;

καὶ παρετήρουν αὐτὸν εἰ τοῖς σάββασιν θεραπεύσει αὐτόν, ἵνα κατηγορήσωσιν αὐτοῦ.

And they watched him, if on the Sabbath he (Jesus) would cure him (the man), in order that they would accuse him.

2 et observabant eum, si sabbatis curaret illum, ut accusarent eum.

καὶ λέγει τῷ ἀνθρώπῳ τῷ τὴν ξηρὰν χεῖρα ἔχοντι, Ἔγειρεεἰς τὸ μέσον.

And he said to the man having the withered hand, “Get up into the middle.”

3 Et ait homini habenti manum aridam: “ Surge in medium ”

4  καὶ λέγει αὐτοῖς, Ἔξεστιν τοῖς σάββασιν ἀγαθὸν ποιῆσαι ἢ κακοποιῆσαι, ψυχὴν σῶσαι ἢ ἀποκτεῖναι; οἱ δὲ ἐσιώπων.

And he said to them, “Is it allowed on the Sabbaths to do a good thing, or to do bad? To save a life, or to kill?” They were silent.

Once again we turn to the issue of what is, and is not, allowed on the Sabbath. In reading about the Quest for the Historical Jesus (QHJ), the debate on issues like this revolves around the extent to which Jesus intentionally meant to challenge the authority and practices of the MSJ of the time.  The old interpretation, which I was taught in a Catholic school was that Jesus was striking at the overly-legalistic, letter-of-the-law religion of Jewish tradition, seeking to replace it with a religion based on what was in the heart. This interpretation has fallen out of favor, giving way to interpretations in which Jesus is very much a part of MSJ thinking.

However, there is a level of challenge here, without doubt. The evangelist meant to contrast Jesus with his nominal co-religionists. (a lovely word coined to describe affairs in the Age of Religious Wars in Europe, ca. 1559-1648).  But I think the point is whether the challenge came from Jesus, or whether it came from the author of Mark.  Sanders made an excellent point about Jesus’ overt challenge of Jewish practice: if Jesus had been this blatant about knocking down The Law, then why did Paul and the James Gang have to struggle over that very issue? If Jesus’ message about abrogating The Law was as clear and explicit as it’s made out to be here, and in other places, then the James Gang would probably not have had the level of authority they had, and would certainly not have been able to coerce Peter and Barnabas as we are told they did in Galatians.

But make no mistake: this episode is here, following hard on the heels of what happened at the end of Chapter 2 to make that very point: followers of Jesus are no longer Jews. And to give this message authority, it’s put into Jesus’ mouth in this way.

4 Et dicit eis: “ Licet sabbatis bene facere an male? Animam salvam facere an perdere? ”. At illi tacebant.

καὶ περιβλεψάμενος αὐτοὺς μετ’ ὀργῆς, συλλυπούμενος ἐπὶ τῇ πωρώσει τῆς καρδίας αὐτῶν, λέγει τῷ ἀνθρώπῳ, Ἔκτεινον τὴν χεῖρα. καὶ ἐξέτεινεν, καὶ ἀπεκατεστάθη ἡ χεὶρ αὐτοῦ.

And looking about at them with anger, being grieved over the blindness of their hearts, he said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” And he stretched it out, and his hand was restored.

This is the first, and won’t be the last, time that Jesus gets angry in this gospel. Mark’s Jesus is not the meek, retiring Jesus of the Good Shepherd parable. He is impatient, does not suffer fools gladly, and is fairly quick to anger. Why? What does this tell us about how his followers–and their faith–developed?

Off-hand, it seems like the point here is to underscore how Jesus was separating himself from the rest of the Jewish congregation.  However, not sure there is a single answer to this question.  The thing to do is follow the theme and see when & where else it pops up during the narrative.

5 Et circumspiciens eos cum ira, contristatus super caecitate cordis eorum, dicit homini: “ Extende manum ”. Et extendit, et restituta est manus eius.

καὶ ἐξελθόντες οἱ Φαρισαῖοι εὐθὺς μετὰ τῶν Ἡρῳδιανῶν συμβούλιον ἐδίδουν κατ’αὐτοῦ ὅπως αὐτὸν ἀπολέσωσιν.

And exiting, the Pharisees immediately with the Herodians gave counsel about him, how they will destroy (kill) him.

And following upon two episodes in which the authority of Jewish practice is challenged, the Pharisees are intent upon killing Jesus  in order to…what? Preserve their own authority? Save Judea from Roman reprisals? What? Why do they want to kill Jesus? Mark relates this segment as if the answer to this question is immediately and completely obvious. I’m not sure it is. Yes, Jesus has, to some degree, challenged their authority, but this assumes that the ‘their’ or the ‘they’ is a fixed and set number of individuals who cohere into a definable group. I don’t think that’s the case, especially when it comes to Pharisees.  Per Bond, the Scribes were local officials–but of the Temple? Of the puppet government? Of Herod Antipas? One can, perhaps, understand how they might be a bit put-off at having their authority–such as it was–challenged.  

Sanders makes the point that nothing Jesus said was a capital offense, and that seems very apparent here. But we will discuss the reasons for Jesus’ execution at more appropriate moments. 

6 Et exeuntes pharisaei statim cum herodianis consilium faciebant adversus eum quomodo eum perderent.

7  Καὶ ὁ Ἰησοῦς μετὰ τῶν μαθητῶν αὐτοῦ ἀνεχώρησεν πρὸς τὴν θάλασσαν: καὶ πολὺ πλῆθος ἀπὸ τῆς Γαλιλαίας [ἠκολούθησεν]: καὶ ἀπὸ τῆς Ἰουδαίας

And Jesus with his disciples departed towards the sea; and a great crowd from Galilee [followed]; and from Judea, 

7 Et Iesus cum discipulis suis secessit ad mare. Et multa turba a Galilaea secuta est et a Iudaea

καὶ ἀπὸ Ἱεροσολύμων καὶ ἀπὸ τῆς Ἰδουμαίας καὶ πέραν τοῦ Ἰορδάνου καὶ περὶ Τύρον καὶ Σιδῶνα, πλῆθος πολύ, ἀκούοντες  ὅσα ἐποίει ἦλθον πρὸς αὐτόν.

and from Jerusalem, and from Idumea, and from across the Jordan, and around Tyre and Sidon, a great crowd, hearing what he did, they came to him.

In her book, Bond says that the “gospels make it clear that Jesus’ reputation spread quickly and widely…” The point is, the gospels tell us this, but ought we to believe them? My suspicion is that, perhaps, we should not. The key, though, is how figures like Jesus were received in general, and what happened after they passed from the scene.  This will be the topic of a separate post.

8 et ab Hierosolymis et ab Idumaea; et, qui trans Iordanem et circa Tyrum et Sidonem, multitudo magna, audientes, quae faciebat, venerunt ad eum.

καὶ εἶπεν τοῖς μαθηταῖς αὐτοῦ ἵνα πλοιάριον προσκαρτερῇ αὐτῷ διὰ τὸν ὄχλον ἵνα μὴ θλίβωσιν αὐτόν:

And he said to his disciples that a boat should be waiting for him because of the crowd so they would not afflict him.

This is sort of a one-off, throwaway image, IMO, even if it is a good one. Very succint, but descriptive. Gets the point across effectively and economically.

9 Et dixit discipulis suis, ut navicula sibi praesto esset propter turbam, ne comprimerent eum.

10 πολλοὺς γὰρ ἐθεράπευσεν, ὥστε ἐπιπίπτειν αὐτῷ ἵνα αὐτοῦ ἅψωνται ὅσοι εἶχον μάστιγας.

For he healed many, so that they fell upon (assailed) him so that they having diseases might touch him.  

10 Multos enim sanavit, ita ut irruerent in eum, ut illum tangerent, quotquot habebant plagas.

11καὶ τὰ πνεύματα τὰ ἀκάθαρτα, ὅταν αὐτὸν ἐθεώρουν, προσέπιπτον αὐτῷ καὶ ἔκραζον λέγοντες ὅτι Σὺ εἶ ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ θεοῦ.

And the unclean spirits, when they beheld him, fell down before him and cried out, saying that “You are the son of God.”

11 Et spiritus immundi, cum illum videbant, procidebant ei et clamabant dicentes: “ Tu es Filius Dei!”.

12καὶ πολλὰ ἐπετίμα αὐτοῖς ἵνα μὴ αὐτὸν φανερὸν ποιήσωσιν.

And he censured them much, so that they not make him manifest (that they not reveal Jesus’ identity).

A quick note about the Greek.  << ἐπετίμα >> in its base meaning is “to pay honor to.” Now, ‘Jesus paid honor to the unclean spirits’ doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. But it can also mean “censure”, as in a judge censuring (reprimanding) someone. So it’s kind of like the English word “sanction”, which can mean to approve of, or, if imposed, to cut someone off.

Again with the silencing of the unclean spirits. This is what I mean about the crowds: the dude attracts people from all over Galilee and Judea and environs, and yet he doesn’t want the unclean spirits to make his identity known. Why is that? Are we to believe that he doesn’t want people to be told who he is, but wants them to figure out who he is by themselves? That does make sense, and it will tie in with his impatience with both the disciples and the more general audience when they fail to get his point. This is pretty much what happens in V 5 above: he gets angry because they’re so blind.

Overall, though, I think something like this is where we can best tell that we are not reading anything like history, or even biography. If you’ve ever read any of the early Mediaeval accounts of saints, such as are in Gregory of Tours, or Bede, you will recognize the style of telling. Of course, one can argue that the similarity is because the latter were imitating the gospels, and that would be true as far as it goes.  But why do they emulate the gospels? Because the gospels were doing exactly what these later chroniclers were doing: presenting a story about a supernatural being, and not necessarily recording events in a factually accurate manner.

12 Et vehementer comminabatur eis, ne manifestarent illum.

The Historical Jesus

When I first began this project, my intention was to avoid reading any secondary sources. The idea was to read the text without any preconceived notions. Unfortunately, as with a lot of (presumably) good intentions, this has gone by the wayside. The temptation was simply too great, and I caved. The first was St Saul, A Skeleton Key To The Historical Jesus, by Donald Harmon Akenson. An excellent work, and I highly recommend it. The second was The Historical Jesus, by Helen K. Bond, part of  The T&T Clark Guides For The Perplexed series.  I have  not quite finished it, but so far it has proven to be a terrific introduction to the topic. The third is Jesus and Judaism, by E.P. Sanders. I’m even less far along in this one as I am in Bond’s, but so far it’s seems really good as well.

The problem is that this has introduced another element into my analysis.  For the past few posts, I’ve been reading Mark from the perspective of how the text fits in to the Quest for the Historical Jesus. This is not a bad thing, per se, but it is a bit off-topic, so I apologize for the lack of focus. In the end, however, as I get a better handle on how to incorporate this new element, I believe this will add a new dimension to the discussion.

Let’s start with a couple of observations about the Quest for the Historical Jesus (QHJ). First, it is very striking that, by and large, the questers’ backgrounds are in theology or biblical studies rather than history. There is nothing wrong with this; however, the result is that they approach the topic very differently than an historian would. This leads to the second point: the most glaring difference between the questers and historians is that the questers base their search on the gospels, using Paul as a check and balance. As someone trained in history, the idea of  starting with a source that was written 20-25 years later than our earliest source is just odd. Akenson starts with Paul; not coincidentally, he is an historian rather than a theologian.

Even when we get to the gospels, the approach taken has an influence on the results.  The method I have stumbled upon, which consists of starting at the beginning of Mark and working through the work as it was written reveals certain properties that are, I  believe, different from what you get when you start elsewhere. Sanders, e.g, starts with the episode of the cleansing of the Temple, which occurs very late in Mark’s narrative. He then constructs an argument synchronically, without taking the progression through time into account. Again, as someone trained in history, this approach is somewhat odd.

So with apologies to Akenson, Bond, and anyone else I may offend I would like to engage in something like a thought experiment of sorts. It’s a general discussion meant to stimulate further discussion; it is not intended to prove an argument, or a thesis, or a theory. Which is good, since it does no such thing.

In his book St Saul, Akenson stressed that there were many different forms of Judaism (Judahisms, as he called them) current in first century Judea.  In her book The Historical Jesus, Bond makes the same point and with some emphasis.  This would lead me to believe that there is a degree of consensus on this subject.

This consensus leads us to a question.  Given this variety in Judaism, why should we expect that there was only one “Christianity”?

This is especially true if you take a look at where we end up when our sources become plentiful. By the mid-second century, “Christianity” is a very diverse lot. There are the tales of Matthew & Luke, followed by the very different story told by John; the ‘gnostic’ Gospel of Thomas; Valentinus, the founder of a Gnostic/dualist heresy bearing his name; these just to name a few.

Remember, Jesus wrote nothing.  M0re, two persons can witness the same event, hear the same speaker, and come away with diametrically opposing messages and ways of understanding what was said. If I may, I would like to mention the scene from Life of Brian, in which Brian’s mother (IIRC) heard the Sermon on the Mount and, not hearing properly, asked, “What’s so special about the Greeks?”, wondering why they should inherit the earth.

Granted, there was a body  appears to have been ‘disciples’, but how united were they? How uniform was their understanding and outlook?  We have seen the differences of opinion between peter and James in Galatians, and we realize just how differently two close followers can interpret the master’s message.

Consider a similar situation: Socrates. would we attempt to re-construct the ‘historical’ Socrates from Plato’s dialogues? No. So why do we think that we can get to the historical Jesus by way of stuff that was written 1-2 generations later? Plato knew Socrates personally, and yet he had no qualms about making him into the mythic symbol of The Sage. We, apparently, have no writings from anyone who knew Jesus. As such, thinking that we can re-create his teachings may be a bit presumptuous. To say the least.

Let’s take an even better example: Ronald Reagan. We are now about a generation removed from Reagan’s presidency, which is, more or less, the same time that had passed between Jesus’ death and St Paul’s earlier letters. In the intervening time, Reagan has become sort of the founder of the contemporary Republican Party in the US. He is revered and praised, perhaps not as a Saviour, but then again, the adulation often borders on worship. As such, we would imagine that his legacy would be carefully guarded by his followers. Except that isn’t what’s happened.

In the intervening generation, especially in the past ten years, what Reagan actually said and did and thought is not nearly as important to his followers as what they wish he had said and done and thought. The Myth of Reagan has overcome the Reality of Reagan among precisely those who are most devoted to his memory, who most ardently seek to be considered the “true” Reaganites.

Historians tend to believe that the memory of contemporaries will act as a check/balance to later accounts. In this view, those who remembered Jesus would act to correct any attempt made by a later chronicler to change the facts of the events of Jesus’ life. At one time it was an article of faith that veterans of the Athenian victory over the Persians at Marathon would have prevented Herodotus from deviating too much from the ‘truth’ in his account of that battle.  The problem is that this has adamantly not happened with Reagan and his legacy. We live in a world awash in information; we have voluminous records of Reagan’s official acts, miles of film that recorded his speeches, tons upon tons of evidence. Hundreds of thousands of people who lived through his presidency are still alive. And yet, has all of this information kept the memory of Reagan on solid factual grounds?

No.

In fact, many of those who claim to be his true heirs are often the ones most willing to distort the factual basis of Reagan’s views. They have completely forgotten–or simply don’t care about–a lot of what Reagan said and did. Instead, they ‘remember’–or make-up–those parts of Reagan that suit their immediate needs in the early 21st century. They don’t care if what they say is completely accurate; indeed, they don’t care if it’s pretty much a complete fiction so long as it suits their purpose. It is often said that Reagan would never survive a primary election given the state of the current Republican Party; and yet, those who would chase him out with torches and pitchforks are the ones most likely to revere St Ronald, and swear most vehemently that they honor his Cause.

These followers could easily verify the truth of Reagan’s record, his views, his deeds; however they choose not to, because they are not concerned with factual accuracy,. Rather than accuracy, they believe in a Transcendent Truth.

This distinction between mere factual accuracy and the greater Truth is the definition of myth.

Even Tacitus, even Thucydides–those most ‘scientific’ of ancient historians–were often more concerned with their moral–with Truth–than they were with mere factual accuracy. Tacitus loathed the office of Emperor; he spared no effort to make it seem loathsome. Thucydides was more subtle; he used specific examples–the Melian Dialogue, for example–to stand as a type and a paradigm for other actions by an imperial power corrupted by its power.

Given this, why should we expect the followers of Jesus to have acted any differently? They were not writing history, or even biography; they were writing hagiography. What Jesus said and did wasn’t as important as what they believed he must have said and done. This was, after all, the strategy used by Thucydides to report speeches he did not hear; he tells us this explicitly, in so many words. As for the objection that the evangelists would have been made to stick to the facts by the existence of persons who could challenge and correct the record, the followers of Reagan have not been corrected by the legions of journalists who lived through those years. More, when someone makes a sincere and concerted attempt to correct the record, to point out how Reagan’s followers are factually wrong when they say certain things, the followers simply ignore the fact-based narrative, carry on with their version, and keep repeating it until that version becomes Accepted Truth. Eventually, the misrepresentations and outright fabrications become established as facts that “…everyone knows…” The persistent and consistent and vocal believer has, and has always had, a huge edge over the reasoned scholar in the ability to win converts.

Given this, and given the necessarily fragmented state of the various assemblies of Jesus as they existed in the second half of the first century, to believe that the factual record was maintained with anything like historical accuracy is an exercise in fantasy. In both 1 Thessalonians and Galatians, Paul complained of ‘other gospels’ in his lifetime. What did Apollos of 1 Corinthians teach? There is no reason to think that these gospels did not multiply with time. Gospels continued to be written into the second and third centuries, indicating that the Jesus narrative was still plastic for a very long time.

This, perhaps, is one of the major issues that spurred “Mark” to set down a written record of Jesus’ life: to maintain–or create–a level of consistency in the story. Yes, there were other reasons for writing, but this one doesn’t get much consideration. More, there is a very high probability, IMO, that Mark was not the first to do this. Rather, Mark was the most successful in doing this. His version resonated, perhaps because he was a better writer and thinker than his competitors. In much the same way, the Iliad that we know was fixed because “Homer” provided the most brilliant version when writing became possible. It eliminated the competition, and the Iliad that we know became The Iliad.

Here is how I suggest the history developed. Different groups, with different backgrounds, different beliefs, reacted to and were influenced by Jesus in different ways. As a result, in the time between Jesus’ death and Mark’s writing, some remembered Jesus as a wonder-worker; others as a preacher of eschatology; others as a quasi-Cynic sage. Who was right?

Possibly, all of them.

And just as possibly none of them. In the gospels, the various strands of Jesus’ teachings do not always fit well together; I would suggest this happened this because the various and diverse followers who stressed the various strands did not agree. It’s not necessarily that Jesus encompassed all of these aspects; he may have, but it’s not necessary.

The likeliest explanation is that the various groups heard him say something that they could adapt to their own purposes, or that fit their own preconceived notions of Truth. Perhaps, following John, or referring to John, Jesus said something about the coming Kingdom of God. Hearing this, someone who was already convinced that history was entering the End Times could easily interpret–or misinterpret if you prefer– something Jesus said as preaching about the End Times. The Kingdom is coming, ergo the current times must be ending. It’s a reasonable inference, especially if you already believe in the End Times. Those who had experienced, and been impressed by, the Cynic sages could easily cast Jesus into this mold. Others who were impressed by the plethora of wonder-workers abroad at the time could have been certain that Jesus performed wonders, too.

One group that is often overlooked are those who would become Gnostics, or dualists of some sort. “Gnostic” is a very imprecise term that often encompasses two compatible but fundamentally different ideas. The first is the ‘gnosis’, the idea of hidden knowledge. Jesus talked in parables; from there it is but a short step to saying that he talked of esoteric secrets. The other aspect of Gnosticism, which is not a necessary component, but which is often joined with it is the distinction between flesh and spirit, the Dualist belief in Good Spirit and Evil Flesh. This was latent, at least, in Plato’s thought, and was explicit in Zoroastrianism. We’ve seen at least oblique references to it in Paul. We get glimpses of it in Jesus, especially in Mark. The logical conclusion of dualism, with regard to Jesus, is Docetism. There is a persistent rumor about a ‘Secret Mark” in which Jesus’ secret teachings are set down. Part of the reason this seems plausible is that Mark does sometimes include aspects that could be–and later often were–doctrines that could be avowed by Gnostics.

Each of these groups would then have incorporated Jesus into their belief system, creating numerous strands of Jesus beliefs. The genius of Mark is that he was able to weave these strands into a single, coherent, and (mostly) cohesive narrative that then appealed to each of these groups. We all recognize that the places where these different narratives are joined are not always completely smooth, but many of them are. This weaving together may have had the effect–perhaps intended–of bringing some of these different Jesus beliefs into a single body. It is, after all, only after Mark wrote that we start hearing about Christians in Roman or Jewish authors. [Note: Suetonius wrote after Mark, but he was writing of a period before Mark. Does this explain why he confused followers of Chrestus with Jews, who were expelled from Rome? ]

One reason I posit this conjunction is based on what happened after. Even after the canon of the NT had been set, different groups were able to find individual threads and to use these threads to explain why orthodox Christianity missed the point, or flatly got it wrong. In the Greek East, the several centuries between the fifth and eleventh centuries were riven over and over again with Christological controversy and schism and heresy, most of it based, to some degree, on the text of the NT. These later groups could find what they were looking for because Mark had included some bits of it into his narrative which was then repeated–if in attenuated form–in Matthew and Luke. This same experience of schism occurred in the Latin West, mainly after the turn of the millennium. It recurred five centuries later in the Reformation, when the more-or-less single strand of orthodoxy once again splintered into a welter of beliefs, idiosyncratic in some cases, bizarre in others, all of it based on Scripture.

Can we sift evidence and come up with sayings that date back to Jesus? Probably. Will these sayings pin down who Jesus was, and what he really thought? And taught? I have my doubts. The various scholars set out so ably in Bond’s book have each presented a case that is, mostly, plausible. That they have all done so, and not always agreed should tell us something.

The lesson we should glean from these varying interpretations of the historical Jesus is that they are all based, to greater or lesser degree, on things Jesus said. Not that he necessarily believed, or meant to impart or instill belief in all of these things, but because, like so much wisdom, he spoke allegorically, which is another word for vague. Think of the brilliant prophecy given to Croesus by the Delphic Oracle: when Croesus asked the Oracle if he should fight with the Persian Empire, the Oracle told him that “if you fight, you will destroy a mighty empire.” He did fight, and he did destroy a mighty empire: his own.

This oracle represents wisdom-speak at its best. The disciple discovers not the outside truth, but what is inside him. Think of Zen koans. What do they mean? What is the sound of one hand clapping?

The best wisdom literature and wisdom teaching is vague in this sense. The intent is not to impart specific knowledge, or even specific belief; rather, the point is to engage the listener, to make the listener ponder, to consider, and then to draw his/her own conclusions. Assuming that Jesus was such a teacher–and there is every reason to believe he was–is it any wonder that different groups reached different conclusions?

Mark Chapter 2 Summary

We get deeper into the story.

The chapter opens with some fairly mundane issues: where did Jesus really live? Was he from Nazareth, really? Aside from Mark telling us that Jesus of Nazareth (a phrase ever so easy to add to a text) appeared on the scene, we have nothing to indicate that he is from Nazareth.

On top of this, we go on about Jesus’ popularity. But then we get the really interesting story of the paralytic. Jesus forgives his sins, outrages the Scribes, and demonstrates that The Son Of Man has the power to forgive sins as well as to heal paralysis. This, incidentally, makes us ask what the connection was between sin and sickness in the thought of First Century Jews.  But the end result is that Jesus has thrown down the gauntlet.

Then more about how popular Jesus was. This will get tiresome.

Jesus calls Levi. This gets interesting. First, it seems like Jesus may be having dinner parties at his house. This definitely moves Jesus up the social scale. Then, there’s the whole idea of consorting with sinners and tax collectors, who are collaborators as well as sinners. But Jesus tells us he was “sent”–by whom unspecified–to call the sinners rather than the just. So Jesus has now stuck his finger in the eye of respectable society and the Scribes. What is he up to?

Then, not content with that, Jesus separates himself from both the Baptist and MSJ, and manages to predict his death while he’s at it. He doesn’t fast like the disciples of John, or the Pharisees. Nor does he feel obliged to follow the rules about the Sabbath. If his disciples are hungry, they can pick the ears of grain. AND–yes, there’s more!–he compares himself to King David.

But he’s still not done. He proclaims that the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath. I didn’t mention this in the chapter, but isn’t The Lord (Adonai) the Lord of the Sabbath?  In using this “Son of Man” term twice, Mark has made it clear that it refers to Jesus.

So, in all, Jesus has started taking shots at MSJ as it was being practiced. He is casting off fasting and following the rules of the Sabbath. He is also claiming the mantle of David, which would give him the right to set Judaism onto another course. And Jesus seems to be intent on doing this.  It would also let him step into the penumbra of being recognized as the Messiah. Whether this activity dates back to Jesus, however, is an open question.

So Mark is revealing the identity of this Jesus, step by step.

Mark Chapter 2:18-28

We come to the end of Chapter 2.

18 Καὶ ἦσαν οἱ μαθηταὶ Ἰωάννου καὶ οἱ Φαρισαῖοι νηστεύοντες. καὶ ἔρχονται καὶ λέγουσιν αὐτῷ, Διὰ τί οἱ μαθηταὶ Ἰωάννου καὶ οἱ μαθηταὶ τῶν Φαρισαίων νηστεύουσιν, οἱ δὲ σοὶ μαθηταὶ οὐ νηστεύουσιν;

And there were learners (disciples) of John and the Pharisees fasting. And they came and said to him, “Why do the learners of John and the learners of the Pharisees fast, but your learners do not fast?” 

I’ve probably made my point; the word that is always translated as “disciples”, which is <<discipuli >> in Latin, literally means ‘learners’ in both Latin and Greek.  I’ll switch back to the standard translation, but it seemed like a good idea to remind everyone what the word really means.

18 Et erant discipuli Ioannis et pharisaei ieiunantes. Et veniunt et dicunt illi: “ Cur discipuli Ioannis et discipuli pharisaeorum ieiunant, tui autem discipuli non ieiunant? ”.

19 καὶ εἶπεν αὐτοῖς ὁ Ἰησοῦς, Μὴ δύνανται οἱ υἱοὶ τοῦ νυμφῶνος ἐν ᾧ ὁ νυμφίος μετ’ αὐτῶν ἐστιν νηστεύειν; ὅσον χρόνον ἔχουσιν τὸν νυμφίον μετ’ αὐτῶν οὐ δύνανται νηστεύειν:

And Jesus said to them, “How are the sons/children (guests?) of the bridegroom in which the bridegroom is with them able to fast?  

A word about << υἱοὶ >>. The base translation of this is “sons.” However, there is a chance that it’s metaphorical here. Of the four crib translations, two translate as ‘guests’, one as ‘attendants’, and the KJV taking it literally as ‘sons’. It probably matters in some way, but I don’t think it’s at all critical.

19 Et ait illis Iesus: “ Numquid possunt convivae nuptiarum, quamdiu sponsus cum illis est, ieiunare? Quanto tempore habent secum sponsum, non possunt ieiunare;

20 ἐλεύσονται δὲ ἡμέραι ὅταν ἀπαρθῇ ἀπ’αὐτῶν ὁ νυμφίος, καὶ τότε νηστεύσουσιν ἐν ἐκείνῃ τῇ ἡμέρᾳ.

“The day (lit = ‘days’) will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast on that day.”

20 venient autem dies, cum auferetur ab eis sponsus, et tunc ieiunabunt in illa die.

21 οὐδεὶς ἐπίβλημα ῥάκους ἀγνάφου ἐπιράπτει ἐπὶ ἱμάτιον παλαιόν: εἰ δὲ μή, αἴρει τὸ πλήρωμα ἀπ’ αὐτοῦ τὸ καινὸν τοῦ παλαιοῦ, καὶ χεῖρον σχίσμα γίνεται.

“No one sows a new patch upon an old garment. If one does, in time the new from the old raises up, and the tear grows worse.”

21 Nemo assumentum panni rudis assuit vestimento veteri; alioquin supplementum aufert aliquid ab eo, novum a veteri, et peior scissura fit.

22 καὶ οὐδεὶς βάλλει οἶνον νέον εἰς ἀσκοὺς παλαιούς εἰ δὲ μή, ῥήξει ὁ οἶνος τοὺς ἀσκούς, καὶ ὁ οἶνος ἀπόλλυται καὶ οἱ ἀσκοί ἀλλὰ οἶνον νέον εἰς ἀσκοὺς καινούς.

And no one puts new wine into old skins; if you do, the wine rips open the skins, and the wine is spoiled and the skins also; rather new wine (is put) into new skins.

Several different and interlocking ideas/concepts here. First, the parables.  Some claim that the parables represent the oldest stratum of Jesus’ teaching. The thinking is that these are the sorts of things that those hearing him would remember. This has a certain amount of credibility. It’s a classic form of wisdom teaching; so, if one believes Jesus was a wisdom teacher, then there is a good case that the parables do represent a low stratum of Jesus’ teachings.  Against this, it sometime seems that these are the sorts of things that would grow up around a legendary figure. Think the story of Alexander the Great and Diogenes, in which the only thing the latter wants from the King of the World is that he stop blocking Diogenes’ sun. The analogy is not completely accurate, but stories do accumulate around legendary figures. For the moment, I will remain agnostic about this; when it becomes necessary, I will take my stand.

Then we get to the topics. We start with John’s disciples, and the Pharisees and the issue about fasting. This was a time-honored tradition in Jewish practice, and very much a part of Mainstream Judaism (MSJ), whatever that might be. And yet, Jesus eschews it. What does this imply?  I have also started reading E.P. Sanders’ book Jesus and Judaism.  This came as a reference from Bond’s book.  Kind of interesting about Sanders’ book is that the introduction takes up the first fifty pages. In this, he surveys the state of the argument to date. Since the book was published 25 years ago, there’s a bit less of it than is presented by Bond; however, this allows him to go into a bit more depth. One of the main areas of contention is “What was Jesus’ Intention?” Was he planning to overturn the practices of Judaism? Judging from this story, we might say that the answer is “Yes”. Of course, the reality is more complex than that, but that seems the prima facie idea behind Jesus’ disdain for fasting.

Or is it? The second part, the parable, hints at something more. We don’t fast while the bridegroom is at the feast; rather, we wait until he has left. What does this mean? One of the favorite conceptions of the historical Jesus is that he was a preacher of apocalypse, predicting the end of times and the coming of judgement. Paul mentioned the coming wrath several times. However, this doesn’t seem to fit that category, either, because people will fast after the bridegroom has departed. This implies that there will continue to be people. So, this seems to fall into another category: Jesus’ prediction of his death. You can fast, he says, after I’m dead.

What does this say about Jesus’ relation to the Baptist?  Has he stepped away? Or, was he never that attached to begin with? There was an implied connection in the early part of the gospel, and Jesus seemed to take John’s place, but was that an actual relationship? Or one that the evangelists created to provide Jesus with a pedigree? Given his quick disavowal of John’s practice, perhaps my whacky suggestion might seem a little less whacky now?

As for the disavowal of the Pharisees, this is blatant, but it’s in character with his previous attitude towards the Scribes. These were not the same group, but both could be said to represent Mainstream Judaism (MSJ). So, is this the point? Whatever the intent was, the result is that Jesus has separated himself from both the Baptist, and MSJ. Personally, I suspect this is something added by later tradition, as part of the gradual divergence of the Jesus Assemblies from MSJ.

Then there are the parables of the cloth, and the new wine. The analogy is the same in both cases: the new is separating itself from the old. In this way, they both fit in rather nicely with the separation from John and the Pharisees. The new patch will not readily attach to the old cloth, and the new wine will burst the old skins. IOW, Jesus is the new thing; the old has been superseded and is now out-of-date. 

22 Et nemo mittit vinum novellum in utres veteres, alioquin dirumpet vinum utres et vinum perit et utres; sed vinum novum in utres novos ”.

23 Καὶ ἐγένετο αὐτὸν ἐν τοῖς σάββασιν παραπορεύεσθαι διὰ τῶν σπορίμων, καὶ οἱ μαθηταὶ αὐτοῦ ἤρξαντο ὁδὸν ποιεῖν τίλλοντες τοὺς στάχυας.

And it happened on the Sabbath (that) he was passing through the fields, and his learners began to make way plucking the ears of grain.

Quick note about the Greek: <<αὐτὸν ἐν τοῖς σάββασιν παραπορεύεσθαι>> is a construction known as accusative and infinitive.  This is a very common grammatical construction in Latin, but doesn’t get used nearly so much in Greek. It’s a method of subordinating a clause.  

23 Et factum est, cum ipse sabbatis ambularet per sata, discipuli eius coeperunt praegredi vellentes spicas.

24 καὶ οἱ Φαρισαῖοι ἔλεγον αὐτῷ, Ἴδε τί ποιοῦσιν τοῖς σάββασιν ὃ οὐκ ἔξεστιν;

And the Pharisees said to him, “Look, why are you doing on the Sabbath what is not allowed?”

24 Pharisaei autem dicebant ei: “ Ecce, quid faciunt sabbatis, quod non licet? ”.

25 καὶ λέγει αὐτοῖς, Οὐδέποτε ἀνέγνωτε τί ἐποίησεν Δαυίδ, ὅτε χρείαν ἔσχεν καὶ ἐπείνασεν αὐτὸς καὶ οἱ μετ’ αὐτοῦ;

And he said to them, “Have you never read what David did, when he needed to eat and to feed also those who were with him?”

25 Et ait illis: “ Numquam legistis quid fecerit David, quando necessitatem habuit et esuriit ipse et qui cum eo erant?

26 πῶς εἰσῆλθεν εἰς τὸν οἶκον τοῦ θεοῦ ἐπὶ Ἀβιαθὰρ ἀρχιερέως καὶ τοὺς ἄρτους τῆς προθέσεως ἔφαγεν, οὓς οὐκ ἔξεστιν φαγεῖν εἰ μὴ τοὺς ἱερεῖς, καὶ ἔδωκεν καὶ τοῖς σὺν αὐτῷ οὖσιν;

“How he came to the house of God under Abiathar the high priest and they ate the bread having been purposed/set aside = consecrated, which is not allowed to eat except the priests, and he took and gave it to those being with him.”

26 Quomodo introivit in domum Dei sub Abiathar principe sacerdotum et panes propositionis manducavit, quos non licet manducare nisi sacerdotibus, et dedit etiam eis, qui cum eo erant? ”.

27 καὶ ἔλεγεν αὐτοῖς, Τὸ σάββατον διὰ τὸν ἄνθρωπον ἐγένετο καὶ οὐχ ὁ ἄνθρωπος διὰ τὸ σάββατον:

And he said, “The Sabbath because of man has become and not man because of the Sabbath.”

27 Et dicebat eis: “ Sabbatum propter hominem factum est, et non homo propter sabbatum;

28 ὥστε κύριός ἐστιν ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου καὶ τοῦ σαββάτου.

“In this way the son of man is also the lord of the Sabbath. “

28 itaque dominus est Filius hominis etiam sabbati ”.

After the stated separation of the section before, now we get positive identification. Rather than distinguishing himself from the past, Jesus is claiming to be the heir–spiritual, perhaps–of King David. This is a really bold move, for reasons that are probably obvious. David was The King. He was The Pinnacle of Israel’s worldly prowess, the Golden Age of Israelite History. To do as David did was to place himself in very rarefied company. What does he mean by this? That he will re-institute the kingdom of David?  One has to believe that any Jew in the First Century would have drawn that conclusion. What else could it mean?  And then he has the nerve–the nerve!–to overturn the traditional–or, at least, the way it had been normalized in his day–view of the Sabbath. This, certainly, is nothing more than a radical revision of what it would mean to be Jewish.

So radical, perhaps, that the intent wasn’t to address Jews, but Gentiles. This is Paul’s preaching to the Gentiles to the next level. Personally, all of this strikes me as later interpretations of Jesus, as a programme that was written back into the record from a viewpoint of someone living forty years after-the-fact. Look, “Mark” seems to be saying, “Even Jesus didn’t go for all that Jewish heritage.”

Now,  let’s take these two together. Jesus has separated himself from MSJ, and even the “reforming” variety as preached (probably) by John. Then he associates himself with David. The way this sequence is understood would have been very different, I believe, for a Jew and for a Gentile. For Jews, Jesus is taking on the authority of David; for Gentiles, he would be seen as stepping away from Judaism. Either way, the message is (relatively?) clear: there is a new sheriff in town.

This leaves us with “The Son Of Man”, who is the “Lord of the Sabbath.” I have separated these because they are two separate concepts. First, who is the Son of Man?

This is the second time Mark has used the term. The first time was in 2:10, when Jesus heals the paralytic to show the authority of the Son of Man to forgive sins. Here, he’s the Lord of the Sabbath. The first time is clearly meant to be Jesus. Here, it’s pretty clearly Jesus as well. So, uses #1 and #2 point to Jesus. Paul was pretty emphatic about Jesus being the son of God; Mark, for whatever reasons, prefers this term. Regardless, Mark is using the term to indicate Jesus’ authority–granted by whom we have not yet been told explicitly, unless it was breathed upon him at Jesus’ baptism.

The usual genesis of the term is cited as Daniel 7:13, in which “one like the son of man” comes down from the clouds, very much resembling what Paul predicted in 1 Thessalonians 4:17, when Jesus would come down from/on the clouds to meet those saved. In Daniel, the implication is that it simply means that the being is in human form–like a son of man; i.e., like a man. In Mark, we’ve stepped away from this. Some say that the term is an affirmation of Jesus’ humanity, as opposed to ‘son of God’, which stresses his deity. Others say that the term does not always and everywhere reflect back to Jesus in an unambiguous manner.  We will pay attention to this. Here, Mark is referring to Jesus. He forgave the paralytic’s sins, and he showed himself lord of the Sabbath.

So, if Mark is clearly referring to Jesus, why not use the more obvious “Son of God”? Here, perhaps, is where Mark’s ability as a weaver of different narratives comes into play.   What the ‘ambiguity’ of the term tells me is that, a) the term was in use; it seems highly unlikely that Mark made it up; and b) that the tradition that used this term was, perhaps, a bit hazy on whether Jesus was divine. Paul predates this; he does not use the term. Therefore, I believe we are justified to infer that a different tradition did. Mark retains the term; why, is difficult to say. But I believe the tradition he used was not completely clear on whether or not Jesus was divine; this is why we don’t get a birth narrative, or a resurrection story.