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 ”.


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 29, 2013, in gospel commentary, gospels, mark's gospel and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Another way to read Jesus’ statements to his inner group, is: “You all know I’m being literal, but they think I’m being metaphorical. It’s a shame because if they don’t recognize I’m giving them instructions about the apocalypse, they might not recover from the new situation coming.”

  2. Here’s where we get into some Joseph Campbell. Was Jesus being literal? Per the other JC (Joseph Campbell), Truth is generally not best imparted by being literal. Think about that for a while, and what the implications of that are.

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