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.

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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 January 17, 2013, in gospel commentary, gospels, mark's gospel and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. When I first thought about Jesus’ attempts to quiet the attempts by the demons (and victims) in identifying him, I thought of Julius Caesar pushing away the attempts to crown him king, knowing that to accept this identification willingly might taint it. By the time of Luke and John, no such prohibition shows up.

    On second thought, while reading your discussion, I was reminded how the first step in fighting a supernatural being is to name it. Considering that Jesus is healing through magical actions (applying spit-mud) and words, this could reflect local magical beliefs, and may actually be more historical. On the other hand, it may be borrowed from similar stories of local healers.

  2. Don’t think I agree with the Caesar analogy. This isn’t Jesus pushing away the title; it’s the evangelist telling us who Jesus is in a roundabout manner. Given that the identification is made under false pretenses (in a manner of speaking), I don’t think we can ascribe the command to silence to a motive arising from Jesus. This is a piece of drama rather than history, so I think the reasons are dramatic rather than anything that Jesus said or did or thought. And this is a command, whereas Caesar was (perhaps) playing coy (although he may have had a good idea of the problems he would bring about by accepting a crown. Caesar was ambitious, but he wasn’t stupid. He was very concerned about acting, nominally, within the parameters of Roman tradition).

    As for the magical practice, that really hasn’t begun here yet. We get into the spit-mud later, and I will talk about that stuff at some length because I think it’s really important. Given everything that happens during the Passion, I’m not sure that there was a widespread acceptance of Jesus as the Christ. As such, I think we have to take this passage in a way that is consistent with Mark trying to get the message across of who Jesus was in a context where not many people believed it during Jesus’ lifetime. That’s why we have the “neutral third party” making the announcement, rather than Jesus or one of his followers. This effectively gives Jesus’ later followers–for whom Mark was writing–a layer of plausible deniability with the Romans of their day that Jesus was not going around claiming to be the Christ.

    Maybe I should have put a spoiler alert at the beginning?

    But there is a lot of stuff running at cross-currents here. I think there could be a lot more unpacking of this; I suspect I’ve barely scratched the surface.

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