Monthly Archives: February 2013

Mark Summary Chapter 5

If you’ll recall, Chapter 4 was taken up with parables, about half of that dedicated to the parable of the sower. Chapter 5 was devoted to two stories: the Story of Legion, and the interwoven stories of Jairus’ daughter and the bleeding woman.

In some sense, it seems like we’ve kind of drifted a bit over the past three chapters. The gospel started with some heavy emphasis on the idea of the kingdom of God. We haven’t had a reference to that in some time. That theme, along with John the Baptist, were the introduction to the gospels. Now we’ve gotten to stories of Jesus. In a very real sense, there is no actual break between Chapter 4 and 5. We ended 4 with him crossing the lake and Jesus calming the storm; we started 5 with what happened once Jesus reached the far shore, where he was headed at the end of 4.

And in this way Chapter 5 is thematically related as well. We have more demonstrations of Jesus’ power: over Legion, healing the bleeding woman, and, essentially, raising Jairus’ daughter from the dead. All of this would point unambiguously to an individual with some divine power, but then Mark inserts the passage about Jesus feeling the power go out of him, making it seem as if Jesus were a conduit for, rather than a source of, the power. Why this is included baffles me. Given its context in the middle of all these stories of Jesus’ power over the natural world–storms, disease, even death–and the supernatural world–the Legion of demons–why make it seem like Jesus not in complete control of this power?

Here, I think, might be the answer. Remember, Jesus was being jostled by the crowd. It’s not like he had a cordon of Secret Service agents (the American law enforcement officers responsible for the safety of the US president) around him to keep the crowd at bay. In fact, his own disciples ask how they’re supposed to figure out who touched Jesus’ garments given the way the crowd was surging. Now, if Jesus is being touched by all these people, why does the power go out of him only this once?


I mentioned that this is the first time we hear Jesus say “your faith has saved you” in this gospel. The woman had faith. She believed. What did Jesus ask the disciples after he calmed the storm? Why do you not yet have faith? What did he tell Jairus when the latter was told his daughter was already dead? Believe. Have faith.

In the earlier chapters, and during the parables, when Jesus was talking explicitly about the kingdom of God, I observed that we are not told how we become members of this kingdom. What are we supposed to do to participate in the dawning kingdom? We didn’t really know because we hadn’t really been told. Well, I think this series of miracle stories answers that question. The theme running through most of this is the idea of faith: faith that he can calm the storm, faith that touching his clothes will heal, faith that the young girl had not, or will not die. Note that Jesus sent everyone out of the room, except his three trusted companions, and the mother and father. These were the people most likely to have faith, and this will matter later, in the next chapter. Granted, faith is sort of missing from the Legion story, but three out of four isn’t bad.

So we’re back to faith. This was what Paul preached, and this is where Mark has come. And this is what Mark holds out, apparently, as the way to gain entrance into the kingdom. He shows us Jesus’ power, but he also shows the necessity of faith. For, of all the people touching him in the crowd, it was only the woman of great faith who was healed.

That is what Chapter 5 was about.


Mark Chapter 5:35-44

Chapter 5 concludes with the end of the story of Jairus and his daughter.

35 Ἔτι αὐτοῦ λαλοῦντος ἔρχονται ἀπὸ τοῦ ἀρχισυναγώγου λέγοντες ὅτι Ἡ θυγάτηρ σου ἀπέθανεν: τί ἔτι σκύλλεις τὸν διδάσκαλον;

To him while he was speaking some came from the (home) of the leader of the synagogue, saying that, “Your daughter has died. Why do you trouble the teacher?”

35 Adhuc eo loquente, veniunt ab archisynagogo dicentes: “ Filia tua mortua est; quid ultra vexas magistrum? ”

36 ὁ δὲ Ἰησοῦς παρακούσας τὸν λόγον λαλούμενον λέγει τῷ  ἀρχισυναγώγῳ, Μὴ φοβοῦ, μόνον πίστευε.

Jesus, overhearing, them speaking this word said to the leader of the synagogue, “Do not fear, only believe.”

Here we go again. At the end of the last post, we saw Jesus tell the woman that her faith had healed her. Now, we’re sort of running into the same theme. I also commented about how unusual it was to have a subplot within another story; now, perhaps, we see the reason. The two stories are related by the need for faith. Surprisingly, to this point, this has not been a big theme for Mark. Why not? Per what we saw in Galatians, faith was the central tenet for Paul; why the downplaying of this so far in Mark? Hint: I will have something more to say about this in the summary of the chapter.

36 Iesus autem, verbo, quod dicebatur, audito, ait archisynagogo: “ Noli timere; tantummodo crede! ”.

37 καὶ οὐκ ἀφῆκεν οὐδένα μετ’ αὐτοῦ συνακολουθῆσαι εἰ μὴ τὸν Πέτρον καὶ  Ἰάκωβον καὶἸωάννην τὸν ἀδελφὸν Ἰακώβου.

And taking no one with him following along except Peter and James and John, the brother of James.

Again, only James, John, and Peter. It’s things like this that really make me question the whole 12 Apostles idea. Maybe there was a band of 12 much of the time, but it’s obvious that these three are really the only ones who matter to Jesus. It’s always these three, Sure, some of the others show up from time to time–Thomas, Judas Iscariot–but they are very much cameo roles. For most of the 12, it’s a one-and-done, walk-on/walk-off performance. It seems likely that an inner council, inner circle, would have a bigger role to play; the fact that they don’t seems to imply that they weren’t all that important to the mission. Yes, this is the argument from silence: assume the negative because there is no positive evidence. And yes, the argument from silence is dangerous for ancient history, given the dearth of sources; but this is a situation where the author can be assumed to have some knowledge. Given that, the fact that he doesn’t present this does carry positive weight as proof of the negative.

That made sense when I wrote it; hope it made sense when it was read..

37 Et non admisit quemquam sequi se nisi Petrum et Iacobum et Ioannem fratrem Iacobi.

38 καὶ ἔρχονται εἰς τὸν οἶκον τοῦ ἀρχισυναγώγου, καὶ θεωρεῖ  θόρυβονκαὶ κλαίοντας καὶ ἀλαλάζοντας πολλά,

And coming to the house of the leader of the synagogue, he then (=kai) he beheld a tumult of much crying and wailing.

<< καὶ >> is a very flexible word. The vast majority of the time, it simply means “and”. However, it can fill a number of other roles; at times, “but” is a proper use, at other times “or” is appropriate. At the bottom, it’s a conjunction, so it can fill pretty much whatever role is needed. Here, “then” is the thing that makes most sense to show that the two clauses are meant to express a single idea.

38 Et veniunt ad domum archisynagogi; et videt tumultum et flentes et eiulantes multum,

39 καὶ εἰσελθὼν λέγει αὐτοῖς, Τί θορυβεῖσθε καὶ κλαίετε; τὸ παιδίον οὐκ ἀπέθανεν ἀλλὰ καθεύδει.

And coming in, he said to them, “Why do you make a tumult and cry? The child did not die, but she sleeps.”

In this case, a comment about the Latin: the last clause, << Puella none est mortua, sed dormit >> is something that I would expect from a first-year Latin student translating into Latin. It’s about as basic as possible, including themortua est“. Which, btw, can be translated as “has not died” as well as “is not dead”. The Greek is specifically the former.

Also btw: << τὸ παιδίον >> is the neuter form. As such, translating as “girl”, which is what the Latin does, is not technically accurate here. Latin, however, does not have a neuter form of “child”. Like most Romance languages, it would default to the masculine when “child, sex non-specified” is meant.

39 Et ingressus ait eis” “Quid turbamnini et ploratis? Puella non est mortua, sed dormit.”

40 καὶ κατεγέλων αὐτοῦ. αὐτὸς δὲ ἐκβαλὼν πάντας παραλαμβάνειτὸν πατέρα τοῦ παιδίου καὶ τὴν μητέρα καὶ τοὺς μετ’ αὐτοῦ, καὶ εἰσπορεύεται ὅπου ἦν τὸ παιδίον:

And they laughed at him. But he threw out everyone, receiving the father of the child and the mother, and those with him, and they went where the child was.

The “threw out” is the same word used back in 1.11 for the spirit throwing Jesus out into the desert. Works rather nicely here.

40 Et irridebant eum. Ipse vero, eiectis omnibus, assumit patrem puellae et matrem et, qui secum erant, et ingreditur, ubi erat puella;

41 καὶ κρατήσας τῆς χειρὸς τοῦ παιδίου λέγει αὐτῇ, Ταλιθα κουμ, ὅ ἐστιν μεθερμηνευόμενον Τὸ κοράσιον, σοὶ λέγω, ἔγειρε.

And taking the hand of the child, he said to her, “Talitha koum,” which is interpreted (as) “Small child, I say to you, get up.”

Now to use the neuter form here, instead of using << κορη>>, the feminine form and a pretty standard word is rather odd. I can see “child” in the other situation, but not here. In fact, a lot of generic statues of young girls are called << κοραι >> which is the feminine plural, and simply means ‘girls’. Could Mark have not known this?

<< Talitha koum >>. This is extremely interesting. The phrase, apparently, is Aramaic, the language that Jesus and Judeans and Galileans spoke in the First Century CE. Mark quotes the original Aramaic, but then feels compelled to translate this for his readers. The inference is that they would not understand the original language, and so Mark had to put this into Greek for them. Here is a really good indication that Mark was not writing for Jews, or residents of Judea.

Mark will do this again, during the passion, when he quotes Jesus on the Cross: “My God, My God, Why hast thou forsaken me?”

41 et tenens manum puellae ait illi: “ Talitha, qum! ” — quod est interpretatum: “ Puella, tibi dico: Surge! ”.

42 καὶ εὐθὺς ἀνέστη τὸ κοράσιον καὶ περιεπάτει, ἦν γὰρ ἐτῶν δώδεκα. καὶ ἐξέστησαν [εὐθὺς]ἐκστάσει μεγάλῃ.

And immediately the young child stood and walked about, she was about 12 years old (lit = of 12 years). And they exulted in a great happiness (lit = ecstasy).

Suddenly, he felt the need to toss out that the girl was 12.

42 Et confestim surrexit puella et ambulabat; erat enim annorum duodecim. Et obstupuerunt continuo stupore magno.

43καὶ διεστείλατο αὐτοῖς πολλὰ ἵνα μηδεὶς γνοῖ τοῦτο, καὶ εἶπεν δοθῆναι αὐτῇ φαγεῖν.

And he ordered them a great deal in order that no one know this, and he told them to give her something to eat.

43 Et praecepit illis vehementer, ut nemo id sciret, et dixit dari illi manducare.

“He told them to get her something to eat.” Another of those fascinating little details that, I suppose, is meant to create the sense of reality. This, along with telling us, belatedly, that she is twelve, certainly gives the feel of a “true” story. Does it mean it’s true? Not necessarily. In fact, these are the sorts of things that I believe makes the story seem made up: seriously, how would this come down through the tradition to reach Mark intact?

Mark Chapter 5:21-34

Chapter 5 of the narrative that Mark created continues, with a slight change in location.

21 Καὶ διαπεράσαντος τοῦ Ἰησοῦ [ἐν τῷ πλοίῳ] πάλιν εἰς τὸ πέραν συνήχθη ὄχλος πολὺς ἐπ’ αὐτόν, καὶ ἦν παρὰ τὴν θάλασσαν.

And Jesus having crossed [ in the boat ] to the far side (of the lake/sea) a large crowd gathered upon him, and it was around the sea.

Greek: the verb << διαπεράσαντος >> contains the word << πέραν >>. The latter means “the far side” (not to be confused with the Gary Larsen opus); so the verb is literally “crossed to the far side”, but we include << πέραν >> as well, just to make sure we are clear. Honestly, a lot of languages have this tendency towards what would be considered redundant in English.

Now, we’ve crossed again. Did we come back from the land of the Gerasenes, and then go back to another part of the far shore? Or have we crossed back from the Gerasenes? It’s a little hard to tell. Offhand, it seems like we’ve come back, and then made another trip.

21 Et cum transcendisset Iesus in navi rursus trans fretum, convenit turba multa ad illum, et erat circa mare.

22 καὶ ἔρχεται εἷς τῶν ἀρχισυναγώγων, ὀνόματι Ἰάϊρος, καὶ ἰδὼν αὐτὸν πίπτει πρὸς τοὺς πόδας αὐτοῦ

And one of the rulers of the synagogue came to him (Jesus), by the name of Jairus, and seeing him (Jesus), fell before his (Jesus’) feet. 

The term << ἀρχισυναγώγων >> is a compound word, made up of << ἀρχι >>, which means ‘to rule’, and << συναγώγων >>, which is the direct transliteration of “synagogue.”

Since we’re apparently in Jewish territory, it may seem that we’ve come back from the land of the Gerasenes, and are on the Caphernaum side of the lake. These are the sorts of things that can keep professors in published papers for generations.

It’s also interesting that he gets a name. This is the same situation as with all of these stories. Did the names and details actually come down to Mark and he recorded them? Did Mark make them up? Did someone in the intervening period make them up, as details were added in the telling? Are they accurate? Does it matter? 

My inclination is to suspect that the details accrued over the forty years, as the stories were told and re-told. However, the Gospel of Thomas, which a lot of people want to see as older than Mark, has no such details. Nor does Q. Given that, my suspicion changes, and I tend to believe that Mark made a lot of these details up, that this is what made his gospel, above the others that were probably written, stand out as the one that people wanted to hear. Because of detailed narrative, it made this gospel the popular favorite. And do not discount this. It’s not dissimilar to what happened between VHS and Betamax (for those of you old enough to remember archaic technology like video cassettes.)

22 Et venit quidam de archisynagogis nomine Iairus et videns eum procidit ad pedes eius

23 καὶ παρακαλεῖ αὐτὸν πολλὰ λέγων ὅτι Τὸ θυγάτριόν μου ἐσχάτως ἔχει, ἵνα ἐλθὼν ἐπιθῇς τὰς χεῖρας αὐτῇ ἵνα σωθῇ καὶ ζήσῃ.

And he (Jairus) beseeched him (Jesus) a great deal, saying that “My daughter is having an extreme (i.e. situation), so that coming place your hands on her in order to save her life.”

So we have another healing miracle coming up.

Now, perhaps more than the name, is the man’s title. He was a responsible, respectable member of Jewish society. This is rather a contrast to the tax collectors and sinners that Jesus was hanging out with back in chapters 1 & 2. That is surely significant. Is Jesus’ appeal starting to move up on the social scale? Or is this a situational sort of belief: the man is driven to it out of desperation? And again, how much does this matter? Is he to become a member of the kingdom of God? Doesn’t this sort of desperation remind one of the seed that fell among the rocks? It grew up quickly, but died out for lack of roots. Does it feel like Jairus might be in this sort of situation? Once his needs are met, he’ll drift away? Or will the accomplishment of his desire to heal his daughter make a firm believe out of him?

Which of these are we supposed to infer?

I would tend to suspect that Mark intends the latter, that this belief will ‘take’, as it were. But what does that say about the kingdom of God? That God will help wretches like Jairus, and so like us? Or that it doesn’t matter how we get there; what matters is that we get there.

Answering a question like this gets into stylistic issues, IMO. Is Mark presenting this like a coherent argument, the way Paul set up Galatians? Or is this just a collection of episodes, designed to illustrate the kingdom of God? That wretches are saved? Again, my tendency is towards the latter, but form criticism is not my specialty.

23 et deprecatur eum multum dicens: “ Filiola mea in extremis est; veni, impone manus super eam, ut salva sit et vivat ”.

24 καὶ ἀπῆλθεν μετ’ αὐτοῦ. Καὶ ἠκολούθει αὐτῷ  ὄχλος πολύς, καὶ συνέθλιβον αὐτόν.

And he (Jesus) went away with him (Jairus). And the large crowd followed him, and put pressure on him.

 The verb << συν-έθλιβον >> is another compound word. The prefix << συν >> is the preposition for “with”. The main stem << θλιβον>> is the same verb used for ‘persecute’. While Jesus obviously isn’t being persecuted, the sense here is that the collective whole of the crowd is afflicting him, in the sense of stressing him out.

The crowd follows, regardless. Jesus cannot get a moment’s peace. Hence, the stress of the verb,

24 Et abiit cum illo. Et sequebatur eum turba multa et comprimebant illum.

25 καὶ γυνὴ οὖσα ἐν ῥύσει αἵματος δώδεκα ἔτη

And there was a woman, in a hemorrhage of blood for twelve years.

This is another great literary twist. Here, for the first time, we get a story in a story, a subplot. While we’re following the main action with Jairus, a woman is coming through the crowd.

25 Et mulier, quae erat in profluvio sanguinis annis duodecim

26 καὶ πολλὰ παθοῦσα ὑπὸ πολλῶν ἰατρῶν καὶ δαπανήσασα τὰ παρ’ αὐτῆς πάντα καὶ μηδὲν ὠφεληθεῖσα ἀλλὰ μᾶλλον εἰς τὸ χεῖρον ἐλθοῦσα,

And she having suffered much from many doctors, and having spent all her (m0ney), and not having profited, but having become worse,

The Greek is terrific; it’s a long introductory dependent clause. And, it’s some pretty nifty writing, a definite cut above the literary quality of much of what we’ve encountered so far.

26 et fuerat multa perpessa a compluribus medicis et erogaverat omnia sua nec quidquam profecerat, sed magis deterius habebat,

27 ἀκούσασα περὶ τοῦ Ἰησοῦ, ἐλθοῦσα ἐν τῷ ὄχλῳ  ὄπισθεν ἥψατο τοῦ ἱματίου αὐτοῦ:

having heard about Jesus, having come in the crowd, where from behind she fixed on (touched) his garments.

27 cum audisset de Iesu, venit in turba retro et tetigit vestimentum eius;

28 ἔλεγεν γὰρ ὅτι Ἐὰν ἅψωμαι κἂν τῶν ἱματίων αὐτοῦ σωθήσομαι.

For she said that, “If I might touch even his cloak I will be saved.”

Interesting. “She will be saved.” Not healed, but saved. And, in fact, this is the word Jairus used about his daughter, too. Now, obviously, there is the sense of “saving a life”, and that is certainly appropriate here, but there’s the other sense, too. And, it may just be me, but the idea of  “being saved” in the Christian sense of eternal life is my first reaction when I come across this word anywhere in the NT.

28 dicebat enim: “ Si vel vestimenta eius tetigero, salva ero ”.

29 καὶ εὐθὺς ἐξηράνθηἡ πηγὴ τοῦ αἵματος αὐτῆς, καὶ ἔγνω τῷ σώματι ὅτι ἴαται ἀπὸ τῆς μάστιγος.

And immediately the fountain of blood was dried up, ans she knew that  her body was healed from the disease.

29 Et confestim siccatus est fons sanguinis eius, et sensit corpore quod sanata esset a plaga.

30 καὶ εὐθὺς ὁ Ἰησοῦς ἐπιγνοὺς ἐν ἑαυτῷ τὴν ἐξ αὐτοῦ δύναμιν ἐξελθοῦσαν ἐπιστραφεὶς ἐν τῷ  ὄχλῳ ἔλεγεν, Τίς μου ἥψατο τῶν ἱματίων;

And immediately Jesus realizing in himself that the power having gone out of him, turning to the crowd he said, “Who has touched my garment.”

This is absolutely my favorite line in all the gospels, I think. In fact, if Chapter 5 also had the tale of Jesus’ family that we’ll see in early Chapter 6, then Mark Chapter 5 would be my favorite chapter in the whole NT.

Realizing that the power had gone out of him…Think about what that means for a second. First, that the power operated independently of Jesus. The woman was right: she only had to touch his cloak. Jesus did not have to command it; in fact, could he have stopped it? Think about the implications of that, for a moment.

One implication is that Jesus was just a conduit for the power; If we accept this, then we have to question very seriously whether Jesus was the author of the power, and the logical conclusion is “no”. That is, he was not the author of the power. This would imply that God was the author, of course. No great mystery. Then who, or what, was Jesus? That he was someone who did not act on his own authority, which would, or at least could, imply that he was not necessarily divine in and of himself. That, perhaps, he was born an ordinary mortal, but had been chosen–or adopted–by God at his baptism to act on God’s behalf. This would explain his use of “Son of Man” in this gospel. He was emphasizing that he wasn’t divine, per se, but was merely a man who had been selected to carry out God’s will.

That, IMO, is the most direct meaning of this passage. Now, sure, one can come up with a hundred reasons why I’m wrong, and that the passage doesn’t mean what I believe it does, that I’m drawing unwarranted and incorrect inferences from the words, etc. And any or all of these hundred reasons might well be right. But, none of them is the most simple, most direct reading of this passage.

In any case, whether I’m right or wrong doesn’t matter. There was an entire sect that did read Mark the way I’ve described. This sect has been labeled the Adoptionists, and they have been branded as heretics. I’m not saying that they were right; I’m just saying that they had a point.

30 Et statim Iesus cognoscens in semetipso virtutem, quae exierat de eo, conversus ad turbam aiebat: “ Quis tetigit vestimenta mea? ”.

31 καὶ ἔλεγον αὐτῷ οἱ μαθηταὶ αὐτοῦ, Βλέπεις τὸν ὄχλον συνθλίβοντά σε, καὶ λέγεις, Τίς μου ἥψατο;

And his disciples said to him, “Look at the crowd pressing you, and you ask ‘Who has touched me’?”

This, I believe, enhances my point that the power operated independently of Jesus. The point the disciples are trying to make is that the crowd is pressing ’round, that Jesus is probably being jostled–that is, touched–by any number of people. And yet, the power only goes out of him when this particular woman touched him. Which would indicate that the author of the power, rather than Jesus, made the decision to activate it in the case of the bleeding woman.

31 Et dicebant ei discipuli sui: “ Vides turbam comprimentem te et dicis: “Quis me tetigit?” ”.

32 καὶ περιεβλέπετο ἰδεῖν τὴν τοῦτο ποιήσασαν.

And looking around, he knew whom it was having done this.

32 Et circumspiciebat videre eam, quae hoc fecerat.

33 ἡ δὲ γυνὴ φοβηθεῖσα καὶ τρέμουσα, εἰδυῖα ὃ γέγονεν αὐτῇ, ἦλθεν καὶ προσέπεσεν αὐτῷ καὶ εἶπεν αὐτῷ πᾶσαν τὴν ἀλήθειαν.

But the woman was fearing and trembling, knowing what she had done, came and fell down before him and told to him the whole truth.

33 Mulier autem timens et tremens, sciens quod factum esset in se, venit et procidit ante eum et dixit ei omnem veritatem.

34 ὁ δὲ εἶπεν αὐτῇ, Θυγάτηρ, ἡ πίστις σου σέσωκέν σε: ὕπαγε εἰς εἰρήνην, καὶ ἴσθι ὑγιὴς ἀπὸ τῆς μάστιγός σου.

But he told her, “Daughter, your faith has saved you. Go in peace, and be healed from your disease.

34 Ille autem dixit ei: “ Filia, fides tua te salvam fecit. Vade in pace et esto sana a plaga tua ”.

This is the first time in Mark that Jesus has said this: “your faith has saved/healed you.” That is a significant addition to the message that we had gotten to this point. It’s especially salient if we take the word in its most literal sense, as ‘save’, rather than as ‘heal’. Oddly, my crib translations choose the latter. This latter, despite being less literal, does seem to be more natural at first glance. But, taking a look at the Liddell & Scott, the first meaning is, “of persons, to save from death.” So, perhaps “heal” is the better choice. But, I’m not quite convinced.

Mark, Q, and Narrative Gospels

Forgive me for a moment, but I want to strike while the iron is hot.

At the end of my last post, summing up the story of Legion, for We Are Many, I asked a rhetorical (or not) question about how much of this story came down to Mark, and how much of it was “his” creation.  (“His” because there is no certainty that this is the work of a single individual, let alone one man named “Mark”.) This ties in with what I said when we left Paul’s letters and started Mark.

In that introduction, I suggested that Mark’s genius was the tying together of the various strands of tradition that came down to him. These various traditions, perhaps, did not always fit together very well, which is why we run into what feel like seams; places where the different traditions don’t quite present the same story, so there is a rough spot where Mark had to add some plaster.

Now, I believe it may be more than that.

One of the staples of biblical scholarship for the past 100 (don’t hang me if that’s not quite right) is the belief in something called “Q”. It is to be noted that Matthew and Luke follow much of Mark’s narrative, but that they both have what seems like another layer. Mostly, these are things that Jesus said. The most famous example is the Sermon on the Mount, but that is only one of many. More, Matthew and Luke, when they differ from Mark, tend to differ in the same way. From these sorts of observations, scholars have suggested another source. Rather than a narrative, like the four canonical gospels, the idea was that this other gospel was actually a collection of Jesus’ sayings. So Matthew and Luke had another source than Mark. The German word for “source” is “Quelle”. This has been shortened to “Q”. So Q is this hypothetical second source of the sayings of Jesus.

The doctrine of Q has become one of those “everybody knows” facts that has never actually been proven to exist. Since starting this project, I’ve changed my mind several times about Q’s existence; I was really skeptical of it at the end of last year, but I’m sort of thinking that it’s likely to be true. One reason I think this is the existence of the so-called Gospel of Thomas. This document was found in the Nag Hammadi scrolls found in the middle of the last century. Long story short, the Gospel of Thomas is a collection of Jesus’ sayings, without any sort of narrative context. At the moment, I don’t want to get into either Q or the Gospel of Thomas; if I do, I will save these for another time and place when they seem more appropriate.

The reason I bring this up is the possible date for the Gospel of Thomas. It has been suggested that it was written anywhere from between 50 and 140 CE. The early date would make it contemporary to Paul, and the earliest “gospel” written. And here is the crux of my point: given Thomas, Q becomes much more likely. And, given the way things work, it makes a lot of sense that the earliest documents would have been collections of sayings. After all, if Jesus was a teacher, the important thing to remember would have been what he taught.

So my point is, not only did “Mark” weave together, very skillfully, all the diverse traditions–and the Gospel of Thomas is a very different tradition. My point is that the genius of Mark is that he created the narrative setting of the gospels.

That is a huge development. If it’s obvious to everyone but me, my apologies for being so slow on the uptake.

Mark Chapter 5:14-20

When last we saw our hero, he had just driven out two thousand demons from the tomb-dweller of the Gerasenes. The pigs had rushed headlong over the cliff and drowned. The story continues.

14 καὶ οἱ βόσκοντεςαὐτοὺς ἔφυγον καὶ ἀπήγγειλαν εἰς τὴν πόλιν καὶ εἰς τοὺς ἀγρούς: καὶ ἦλθον ἰδεῖντί ἐστιν τὸ γεγονός.

And the swineherds having fled and they announced in the city and to the fields. And they cam having been sent out to see the things having happened.

Standard operating procedure: send out a group of officials on a fact-finding mission.

14 Qui autem pascebant eos, fugerunt et nuntiaverunt in civitatem et in agros; et egressi sunt videre quid esset facti.

15 καὶ ἔρχονται πρὸς τὸν Ἰησοῦν, καὶ θεωροῦσιν τὸν δαιμονιζόμενον καθήμενον ἱματισμένον καὶ σωφρονοῦντα, τὸν ἐσχηκότα τὸν λεγιῶνα, καὶ ἐφοβήθησαν.

And coming towards Jesus, and they saw the man having a demon seated, dressed, and of sound mind, the one having had the legion, and they (the officials) were afraid.

Recall back to the beginning of the story: this man with the legion was truly uncontrollable, with superhuman strength and with no inclination to sit quietly. So the officials fear what they cannot understand; which is, after all, a pretty typical reaction.

15 Et veniunt ad Iesum; et vident illum, qui a daemonio vexabatur, sedentem, vestitum et sanae mentis, eum qui legionem habuerat, et timuerunt.

16 καὶ διηγήσαντο αὐτοῖς οἱ ἰδόντες πῶς ἐγένετο τῷ δαιμονιζομένῳ καὶ περὶ τῶν χοίρων.

And those having seen (= witnessed) told them ( the officials) how it went down regarding the demonaic and about the pigs.

16 Et qui viderant, narraverunt illis qualiter factum esset ei, qui daemonium habuerat, et de porcis.

17 καὶ ἤρξαντο παρακαλεῖν αὐτὸν ἀπελθεῖν ἀπὸ τῶν ὁρίων αὐτῶν.

And they began to call upon him (Jesus) to go out of their borders.

The people of the town are afraid of what has happened, so they want Jesus to leave. Realizing what I said about fearing what you don’t understand, there is a certain false note to this. As a story, something doesn’t quite add up. A man comes and does you a service, so you react by telling him to leave town? What’s wrong with this picture?

So far, I’ve suggested that Mark inserts these little…disclaimers to explain the lack of followers Jesus had in his native land. There may be a better explanation for this tendency, but, so far, what it could be escapes me. 

17 Et rogare eum coeperunt, ut discederet a finibus eorum.

18 καὶ ἐμβαίνοντος αὐτοῦ εἰς τὸ πλοῖον παρεκάλει αὐτὸν ὁδαιμονισθεὶς ἵνα μετ’ αὐτοῦ ᾖ.

And he having embarked into the boat, the no longer having had a demon called upon (Jesus) in order that he (the man) might be with him (Jesus).

18 Cumque ascenderet navem, qui daemonio vexatus fuerat, deprecabatur eum, ut esset cum illo.

19 καὶ οὐκ ἀφῆκεν αὐτόν, ἀλλὰ λέγει αὐτῷ, Υπαγεεἰς τὸν οἶκόν σου πρὸς τοὺς σούς, καὶ ἀπάγγειλον αὐτοῖς ὅσα ὁ κύριός σοι πεποίηκεν καὶ ἠλέησέν σε.

But he (Jesus) did not take him, but he (Jesus) said to him, “Take yourself to your home and to those of yours, and announce to them how much the lord has done for you and how he took mercy on you.”

I keep translating the << άγγειλ- >> root as ‘announce,’ which is, perhaps, needlessly stilted. However, that is the root meaning of the word. It’s also the root of “angel”, which are, thus, “announcers.”  The double-gamma << γγ  >> in Greek takes on an “-ng-” sound, which is why it gets transliterated the way it does.

On the one hand (in Greek,  μεν), we have seen Jesus telling those he healed, the leper in Mk 1.43, not to tell people what happened.

OTOH (more elegantly, in Greek δε) by not taking the man with him, isn’t doesn’t the man become something of an advertisement? “Hey, look, it’s the guy who used to be a demonaic, until he was healed by that Jesus dude.” 

So there’s a bit of a mixed message, here, don’t we think? 

19 Et non admisit eum, sed ait illi: “ Vade in domum tuam ad tuos et annuntia illis quanta tibi Dominus fecerit et misertus sit tui ”.

20 καὶ ἀπῆλθεν καὶ ἤρξατο κηρύσσειν ἐν τῇ Δεκαπόλειὅσα ἐποίησεν αὐτῷ ὁ Ἰησοῦς, καὶ πάντες ἐθαύμαζον.

And he (the former demonaic) went away, and he began to preach in the Decapolis, (saying) what Jesus had done for him, and all were amazed.

20 Et abiit et coepit praedicare in Decapoli quanta sibi fecisset Iesus, et omnes mirabantur.

OK, let me apologize. I think I get it. The idea of the apparent contradiction of don’t tell/but they tell anyway is most likely not about explaining Jesus’ lack of followers. Quite the contrary: it’s part of the repeated message Mark broadcasts about how the crowds gathered, and how big they were. Jesus admonishes silence, but these folk are not to be suppressed. No, they go and shout it from the rooftops, as we will hear in Matthew.

Sorry to be so dense on this.

Anyway, we’ve come to the end of the story. A very interesting piece, full of lots of quirky details. It has all these details, in part, due to the sheer length of it. How much of this is Mark, and how much is tradition? I think a lot of it should be credited to Mark. I think this was the genius of the author(s) of this gospel, to make the whole thing a narrative.

Mark Chapter 5:1-13

Chapter 5 starts with the story of the demonaic of the Gerasenes. This is my favorite section of Mark, and perhaps all of the gospels.

“My name is Legion, for we are many.”

The story is too long to put into one post. In fact, this is certainly the longest continuous narrative in this gospel, with the exception of the passion narrative. It’s another–perhaps the best–example of the set-piece story that I described at the end of the last chapter, the story of Jesus calming the storm. In fact, it’s so long that Matthew shortens in when he includes it in his gospel. He also refers to them as Gadarenes.

Again, we ask, did Mark write this? Did he compose all the details, filling in the gaps in a bare relation of the story: that Jesus drove out a demon in the land of the Gerasenes? Incidentally, the Gerasenes were not Jewish. The best proof of this may be the herd of pigs at the end. However, let’s note where this story falls in the overall narrative. At the end of Chapter 4, we saw that Mark apparently intended to make sure the audience was made keenly aware of who Jesus was. He had power over the storm. Now he comes up against a very powerful band of demons inhabiting a single man. The break between the two stories is wholly artificial; there is no break in the narrative. In fact, it almost seems that calming the storm is the prelude to what happens here at the beginning of Chapter 5. Note that they were sailing to the far shore when the storm came up; now, they are on the far shore.

Assuming this to be one story, the point becomes even more clear, IMO, that Mark’s purpose was to ensure that we know exactly who Jesus was.

1 Καὶ ἦλθον εἰς τὸ πέραν τῆς θαλάσσης εἰς τὴν χώραν τῶν Γερασηνῶν.

And they went to the far shore of the sea, to the country of the Gerasenes.

1 Et venerunt trans fretum maris in regionem Gerasenorum.

2 καὶ ἐξελθόντος αὐτοῦ ἐκ τοῦ πλοίου εὐθὺς ὑπήντησεν αὐτῷ ἐκ τῶν μνημείων ἄνθρωπος ἐν πνεύματι ἀκαθάρτῳ,

And he having gotten off the boat, immediately he met with the man from the tomb, the man with an unclean spirit,

<< ἐξελθόντος αὐτοῦ ἐκ τοῦ πλοίου >> is another example of a genitive absolute. This is not nearly as common in Greek as the ablative absolute is in Latin. It forms a subordinate clause, one with no grammatical connection to the main clause.

And, while we’re at it, a more precise translation of << μνημείων >> would be ‘memorials’. The root of the word is “to remember”, which is the root of our word “mnemonic”.

2 Et exeunte eo de navi, statim occurrit ei de monumentis homo in spiritu immundo,

3 ὃς τὴν κατοίκησιν εἶχεν ἐν τοῖς μνήμασιν: καὶ οὐδὲ ἁλύσει οὐκέτι οὐδεὶς ἐδύνατο αὐτὸν δῆσαι,

He had his home in the tombs, and no one was able any longer with a chain to bind him. 

A bit difficult to get the English to mirror the Greek; the latter has an extra ‘no one’ that I’m not clever enough to work into the English translation.

3 qui domicilium habebat in monumentis; et neque catenis iam quisquam eum poterat ligare,

4 διὰ τὸ αὐτὸν πολλάκις πέδαις καὶ ἁλύσεσιν δεδέσθαι καὶ διεσπάσθαι ὑπ’ αὐτοῦ τὰς ἁλύσεις καὶ τὰς πέδας συντετρῖφθαι, καὶ οὐδεὶς ἴσχυεν αὐτὸν δαμάσαι:

On account of he was fettered and given chains many times, and the chains had been torn apart by him and the fetters broken, and no one was strong enough to subdue him.

4 quoniam saepe compedibus et catenis vinctus dirupisset catenas et compedes comminuisset, et nemo poterat eum domare;

5 καὶ διὰ παντὸς νυκτὸς καὶ ἡμέρας ἐν τοῖς μνήμασιν καὶ ἐν τοῖς ὄρεσιν ἦν κράζων καὶ κατακόπτων ἑαυτὸν λίθοις.

And through all the nights and days he was among the tombs, and he was in the mountains, crying out and cutting himself with stones.

The ‘cutting himself with stones’ is a really interesting detail.

5 et semper nocte ac die in monumentis et in montibus erat clamans et concidens se lapidibus.

6 καὶ ἰδὼν τὸν Ἰησοῦν ἀπὸ μακρόθεν ἔδραμεν καὶ προσεκύνησεν αὐτῷ,

And seeing Jesus from afar, he ran and prostrated himself before him (Jesus).

 << προσεκύνησεν >> means, essentially, to fall on one’s face as a sign of deference. I notice that some of the translations render this as “worship”, but that adds an element that’s not necessarily in the word.  It literally means “to the dog”, in the sense of the way a dog lies down and exposes its belly in submission. This act was standard practice before Eastern kings, such as the King of Persia. The idea was that one was not worthy to gaze upon the face of the monarch. It became a raging controversy when Alexander began to demand that his generals perform this act when coming into the former’s presence. It was decidedly un-Greek, where Alexander was, in theory, primus inter pares, first among equals. By requiring that those equals fall on their face very much offended the generals, who saw Alexander as an equal, not as a king before whom one should grovel. Plus, most of these generals were his father’s contemporaries, and so were a generation older than Alexander, which made the act doubly offensive. There are theories that such actions on Alexander’s part led to him being poisoned.

All of that aside, prostrating oneself was an act of deference and submission, so the man is definitely acknowledging that Jesus is someone who should be treated with this kind of groveling.

6 Et videns Iesum a longe cucurrit et adoravit eum

7 καὶ κράξας φωνῇ μεγάλῃ λέγει, Τί ἐμοὶ καὶ σοί, Ἰησοῦ υἱὲ τοῦ θεοῦ τοῦ ὑψίστου; ὁρκίζω σε τὸν θεόν, μή με βασανίσῃς.

And crying out in a loud voice he said, “What do you and me have (i.e., in common), Jesus, son of the most high God? I adjure you, by God, do not torment me!”

<< Τί ἐμοὶ καὶ σοί >> We came across a very similar construction in Mk 1.24, when Jesus cleansed the first unclean spirit. The second and fourth words are the pronouns ‘me’ and ‘you’; in 1.24, it was ‘you’ and ‘us’.  In all four occurrences, the pronouns are dative. This is a great example of the dative of possession.  In French, this would be like the usage, ‘c’est a moi’; “it’s mine.”

Son of the most high God. Again, using the unclean spirit as a messenger, to tell us, explicitly, who Jesus is. This fits with what I said in c0mment to 4.35-41, that Mark is using this section to demonstrate that Jesus is divine.

7 et clamans voce magna dicit: “ Quid mihi et tibi, Iesu, fili Dei Altissimi? Adiuro te per Deum, ne me torqueas ”.

8 ἔλεγεν γὰρ αὐτῷ, Ἔξελθε τὸ πνεῦμα τὸἀκάθαρτον ἐκ τοῦ ἀνθρώπου.

For he (Jesus) said to him (the spirit), “Unclean spirit, come out of the man!”

It occurs to me that we should take a moment to consider “spirit” in this instance. In discussing the Holy (0r holy) Spirit, I said that “sacred breath” is a viable–perhaps even proper–translation, what about here? That is, what about in all instances of an unclean spirit. Does “unclean breath” make sense? Or does that sound too much like halitosis?

I find myself hoist upon my own petard, in a sense. Because during exorcisms, when he talks to the spirit, there really is a sense in which we are dealing with some sort of discreet entity, one that can communicate. While the word is the same, I’m not sure that we have that same feeling when we are told that the Spirit comes down in the shape of a dove.  The voice in 1.11 seems to emanate from an entity distinct from the dove. As for the spirit that drove Jesus into the wilderness in 1.12, one doesn’t get the sense of a discrete entity there, either. Or, that this spirit must necessarily be a discreet entity. Nor is it designated as ‘holy’; that designation occurs only four times in Mark, one of them being the unforgivable sin reference.

If Mark is using the same word in different ways, is this inconsistency on his part? Or on mine, for not getting it? The question is not only legitimate, but necessary. On my behalf, I refer back to Genesis 1.2, in which God’s spirit moved over the water. Whatever the underlying Hebrew word, the Greek is << πνεῦμα >>, just as it is here. I think this demonstrates quite clearly that the word has different implications. We just have to ask ourselves what the rules are for  their different usage. My belief is that it is quite clear here, and elsewhere, that the unclean spirits are conceived of as specific entities; the holy spirit, OTOH, is much more ambiguous. We have yet to encounter anything in Mark that gives the plain sense of a distinct entity.

8 Dicebat enim illi: “ Exi, spiritus immunde, ab homine ”.

9 καὶ ἐπηρώτα αὐτόν, Τί ὄνομά σοι; καὶ λέγει αὐτῷ, Λεγιὼν ὄνομά μοι, ὅτι πολλοί ἐσμεν.

And he (Jesus) asked him (the spirit, or the demonaic), “What is your name?” And he (the spirit, or the demonaic) said to him (Jesus), “My name is Legion, for we are many.”

First: is it just me, or does that send a shiver up your spine? Maybe I saw “The Exorcist” too many times, but I find that just absolutely chilling.

Second: is it just me, or is a really bizarre question? In no other exorcism–and there are a lot of them–does Jesus ask the name of the spirit. So why has this one been singled out? I have no clue. Because it fits so nicely with the denouement involving the herd of pigs? My best guess is that this detail has come down to Mark, and he felt the need, or the desire, to include it. The thing is, it’s bizarre because there seems to be no real explanation for it.

And, speaking of “The Exorcist”, there is a scene in which the young priest asks Linda Blair’s character “Quod nomen mihi est?” This is Latin, for “what is my name?” The idea was to test whether Linda Blair would understand an unfamiliar language, which would indicate possession rather than a psychological disorder. The point is, the question is identical to the Latin translation below, substituting “tibi”, “your”, for “mihi“, which is “my“. Or, rather, it’s ‘to you’ and ‘to me’. Both of these are dative again, so we’re back to the dative of possession. 

9 Et interrogabat eum: “ Quod tibi nomen est? ”. Et dicit ei: “ Legio nomen mihi est, quia multi sumus ”.

10 καὶ παρεκάλει αὐτὸν πολλὰ ἵνα μὴ αὐτὰ ἀποστείλῃ ἔξω τῆς χώρας.

And he (the spirit/demonaic) asked him (Jesus) much in order that he (Jesus) not send him (the spirit) out of the country.

First the Greek: despite being “many”, the verbs above are 3rd person singular, which would be appropriate for a single demon, or the man possessed. In V-9, the demon(s) respond in the first person plural, the royal “we” as it were. So did Mark drop the “we are many” thread? Or is he just referring to the possessed man, here? However, this latter suggestion doesn’t square with the request that Jesus not send him (singular pronoun) out of the country.

Second, is this even more bizarre than Jesus asking the demon’s name?  The spirit does not want to be sent out of the country? What does that mean? Why? Why is that in there?

10 Et deprecabatur eum multum, ne se expelleret extra regionem.

11 ην δὲ ἐκεῖ πρὸς τῷ ὄρει ἀγέλη χοίρων μεγάλη βοσκομένη:

And there was there by the mountain a large heard of pigs pasturing.

11 Erat autem ibi circa montem grex porcorum magnus pascens;

12 καὶ παρεκάλεσαν αὐτὸν λέγοντες, Πέμψον ἡμᾶς εἰς τοὺς χοίρους, ἵνα εἰς αὐτοὺς εἰσέλθωμεν.

And they asked him (Jesus), saying, “Send us towards those pigs, so that we may go in them.”

Note that here we have switched back to the plural form of the verb and pronoun.  “They asked…send us…we may…”

12 et deprecati sunt eum dicentes: “ Mitte nos in porcos, ut in eos introeamus ”.

13καὶ ἐπέτρεψεν αὐτοῖς. καὶ ἐξελθόντα τὰ πνεύματα τὰ ἀκάθαρτα εἰσῆλθον εἰς τοὺς χοίρους, καὶ ὥρμησεν ἡ ἀγέλη κατὰ τοῦ κρημνοῦ εἰς τὴν θάλασσαν, ὡς δισχίλιοι, καὶ ἐπνίγοντο ἐν τῇ θαλάσσῃ.

And he directed them. And coming out the unclean spirits went into the pigs, and the herd rushed down the cliff towards the sea, so that two thousand (i.e. there were 2,000 pigs) drowned (lit = choked) in the sea.

OK, there were two thousand pigs, apparently. And again, the verbs and pronouns used for the spirits are plural; in fact, they are called “unclean spirits” (plural) here. Per Wikipedia, a Roman legion was 5,000 soldiers.  Sorry, I did not have that number ad digitos  (at my fingers, as in, at my fingertips).

13 Et concessit eis. Et exeuntes spiritus immundi introierunt in porcos. Et magno impetu grex ruit per praecipitium in mare, ad duo milia, et suffocabantur in mari.

I am going to reserve overall comment until later.

Interlude: Savior and Son of God

Since, contrary to my best intentions, I’ve been reading secondary sources on Jesus and Christianity, I’ve run across a number of discussions on various topics. Many of these discussions deal with how Jesus fit into the context of the Jewish/Judean/Judaic milieu of the First Century CE. These are very important discussions, and very worthwhile. As someone with, I hope, an historian’s point-of-view, seeing Jesus in context is enormously important. To assess his career, it is of great help to see how he was the same as, and how he was different from, others of his time and background.

However, I started a book on Gnostic Philosophy. It’s a fairly general book, an overview taking us from Zororastrianism all the way to modern times. As such, it doesn’t delve deeply. Sometimes, that’s good. What it did was to refresh things that I am familiar with (at least) from the study and long-term reading of Greek and Roman history. From what I can see, most NT scholars, and Biblical scholars, and Historical Jesus questers come from a background of religious studies in some way,  shape, or form. They’ve studied scripture, or theology, or both. This is great, in that it provides an expert background for the discussion of the Bible/OT/NT. They know their text, inside and out, backwards and forward.

What they miss, unfortunately, is the bigger background. Judea and Galilee weren’t the world. There had been a Greek dynasty–whether Pt0lemaic or Seleucid–in Judea for three hundred years until it gave way to Roman dominion about 60 years before the transition to the Common Era. And the Romans were, largely by that point, the continuation of the Greek dynasties. Sure, Galilee was a backwater; but it wasn’t a vacuum. It wasn’t hermetically sealed. Herod the Great was a Hellenizer; there were Graeco-Roman influences throughout the region. In fact, Judea/Judaism were sort of a chip of wood tossed about on a great Graec0-Roman sea. Remember: the Romans called the Mediterranean Sea “Mare Nostra”. “Our Sea”. That give you a sense of the bigger cultural background into which Jesus was born.

Now, I realize that Classicists have long since assumed they held the intellectual high ground of the Ancient Mediterranean world; and that they often turned up their noses at anything that wasn’t Classically grounded. That attitude was wrong; but let’s not–in that great phrase of Classical scholarship–throw the baby out with the bathwater. No, Greek culture did not always penetrate into the hinterlands, areas outside the “poleis” like Tiberias, or Caeserea Philippi, or Antioch (after Antiochos, one of Alexander’s successors). But it was out there. Jesus went to Tyre and Sidon; they weren’t that far from Caphernaum. The Decapolis, the Ten Towns, ran hard up against Caphernaum and Bethsaida and many of the other towns where Jesus is said to have preached. Greek culture was there.

When I first started reading about Hellenistic culture and history, the history of the period after Alexander, when Greek culture and language spread east to India, and south to Egypt, I noticed something. There were a number of ways that Christianity and Stoicism were very similar. And my callow younger self developed a theory that a young Jesus ran into a Stoic philosopher and sort of picked up on the idea of a universal brotherhood, and so Jesus incorporated the idea into his world-view and his outlook.

Look, here’s the thing: Jesus was different. There was something out of the ordinary about him. That’s why we’re talking about him, and not John the Baptist. By normalizing Jesus into his Jewish background, we risk losing what was different about him. After all, why Jesus?

There are two terms that crop up in the NT that some of the scholars have a hard time explaining fully based on their Jewish context. From the title of this post, I’ll bet you can guess what they are: Savior, and Son of God.

“Savior” is not a Jewish word; nor is it a Jewish concept. It’s Greek. Several of the Seleucid kings, and at least one of the Ptolemaic kings incorporated the word “Σωτηρ”/Soter = Savior as part of their official title. Paul then uses the term for Jesus in Philippians 3.20. It occurs several other times in the NT. But the point is, the term was used first and most often as an honorific for Hellenistic kings. It’s possible that it became incorporated into the proto-Christian vocabulary as part of the political baggage of the concept of Messiah. That Paul used it indicates it was in some currency in the generation after Jesus’ death. That it did not become integrated until Luke and John

The second term is “Son of God.” Again, vast amounts of ink have been spilled trying to figure out what this term meant to a Jew of the 1 century CE. So this appears to be a highly debatable point. However, it was a completely ordinary, fully understandable concept to anyone with a Graeco-Roman cultural background. It’s so highly integrated there that its use would have been completely unremarkable. And yet it seems something of an unusual (radical?) notion for Jews. So maybe, rather than look for the meaning of this in the Jewish heritage, we should consider a pagan genesis? And recall, several times in Galatians Paul used the term “God the Father”, which implies that we are all children of God. Was this term used in the OT? Unfortunately, my research, to this point, was not able to turn up anything useful.

And, btw–From “Son of God” it’s a very short step to “Our Father”. There may be reason to believe that some of these Greek concepts had penetrated into the Jewish mindset. Perhaps Jesus’ contribution to the development may have been to incorporate them more forcefully. And perhaps this is why he, and not John the Baptist, became popular with the Gentiles.

Summary Mark Chapter 4

Most of Chapter 4 is filled with parables; in particular, the Parable of the Sower, which takes up well over half the chapter.

While the Sower is the medium, the real message is the Kingdom of God. We are told, in a number of different ways, what the Kingdom of God is, or at least what it’s like. But only to a degree, because what we are told is that the kingdom is growing. It’s like a seed, a mustard seed, that will grow to be a big, capacious shrub.

More, like a seed, the Kingdom of God grows on its own. It happens automatically.

What we are not told, is how this has happened. Or how the Kingdom of God has grown, or will grow. We are not told what we have to do, or if there is anything we should do to hasten, or at least abet the process. Nor are we told how we join, how we become God’s subjects. Are we to assume that we are automatically part of it?

Probably not, because we are told at Jesus deliberately spoke in parables so that people would not understand. What is the purpose behind this? You proclaim the Kingdom, and then don’t tell people about it? And you do this on purpose?

Here, perhaps, is where a couple of different interpretations of Jesus may have been stitched together. IOW, it’s another seam. The two ideas are not wholly compatible. One explanation is that Jesus is testing our faith, or our desire to understand. Perhaps. But, think back to Paul: faith, obviously, was a big issue for him. And he seems, genuinely, to bend over backwards to help people understand what they need to do. It’s simple for Paul: have faith. But here we get none of that.

Here, what we need is not faith, but understanding. Or–dare I say it?–knowledge. Gnosis.  In Chapter 4, the key to understanding what is going on is, well, knowledge. Not faith. So the material here, at least, seems to belong to a tradition, or an interpretation somewhat different from Paul’s. Here we seem to be on a path that intersects, at least once in a while, with the ideas of Gnosticism: knowledge, and especially secret knowledge, that has to be explained in private because it’s not always immediately understandable.

And then, the climax, is a revelation, so that we know. We get the act of a demi-god, calming the storm. This simply gives the game away: there can be no doubt, no lack of understanding for us, because it is completely clear.

To be clear, I do not think Mark was a Gnostic. In fact, I think he did not completely approve of the whole ‘secret knowledge’ that is the sine qua non of Gnosticism. However, this thread was in the stories that came down to him. He used these threads, but he found a way, here, to be sure to tell us who Jesus really was. He is, contrary to what became Gnostic practice, letting his entire audience in on the secret. He will do that from time to time. For example, the Transfiguration is nothing if not Mark telling us, in no uncertain terms, who Jesus really is.

Mark Chapter 4:35-41

We conclude chapter 4.

35 Καὶ λέγει αὐτοῖς ἐν ἐκείνῃ τῇ ἡμέρᾳ ὀψίας γενομένης, Διέλθωμεν εἰς τὸ πέραν.

And he said to them that day, when it had become evening, “Let us go to the opposite (shore)”.

Mark has a number of set-piece stories. We will encounter two in the next chapter. This, and most of the others, have the feel of something that either the tradition handed down to Mark, or they’re something that he created himself. I tend to suspect–based on no real evidence except a gut hunch–that Mark got the outline, and he crafted it into the piece that it has become. For example, in this piece, apropos of nothing Jesus decides to go across the lake (Technically, the “Sea” of Galilee is a lake. It’s fresh water). There’s no apparent reason for his doing this; rather, it seems like a literary device to get him in the boat.

35 Et ait illis illa die, cum sero esset factum: “ Transeamus contra ”.

36 καὶ ἀφέντες τὸν ὄχλον παραλαμβάνουσιν αὐτὸν ὡς ἦν ἐν τῷ πλοίῳ, καὶ ἄλλα πλοῖα ἦν μετ’ αὐτοῦ.

And leaving (behind) the crowd, they received him so that was in the boat, and there was another boat with him.

Another boat. This second vessel plays no subsequent role in this story. This is the one and only time we hear of it. My conclusion is that the outline of the story as Mark heard it included the second boat, and he decided to retain this detail, even though it really serves no function after this point. It could be argued that such a non-essential detail augurs in favor of the story being factually true.  You could argue this, but I don’t see how it increases the probability of truth. Details get added to eyewitness accounts all the time. Play “Telephone” with a group of people some time. See what gets added to the original narrative.

36 Et dimittentes turbam, assumunt eum, ut erat in navi; et aliae naves erant cum illo.

37 κ αὶ γίνεται λαῖλαψ μεγάλη ἀνέμου, καὶ τὰ κύματα ἐπέβαλλεν εἰς τὸ πλοῖον, ὥστε ἤδη γεμίζεσθαι τὸ πλοῖον.

And there happened a storm, with a great wind, and the waves cast into the boat, so that the boat was already being filled.

37 Et exoritur procella magna venti, et fluctus se mittebant in navem, ita ut iam impleretur navis.

38 καὶ αὐτὸς ἦν ἐν τῇ πρύμνῃ ἐπὶ τὸ προσκεφάλαιον καθεύδων: καὶ ἐγείρουσιν αὐτὸν καὶ λέγουσιν αὐτῷ, Διδάσκαλε, οὐ μέλει σοι ὅτι ἀπολλύμεθα;

And he was in the stern, upon some cushions sleeping; and they roused him, and they said to him, “Teacher, does it not concern you that we will be destroyed?”

I love this: he was sleeping on some cushions. And, the Greek for “cushion”, literally, is something like “at the head”, or “to the head”. 

38 Et erat ipse in puppi supra cervical dormiens; et excitant eum et dicunt ei: “ Magister, non ad te pertinet quia perimus? ”.

39 καὶ διεγερθεὶς ἐπετίμησεν τῷ ἀνέμῳ καὶ εἶπεν τῇ θαλάσσῃ, Σιώπα, πεφίμωσο. καὶ ἐκόπασεν ὁ ἄνεμος, καὶ ἐγένετο γαλήνη μεγάλη.

And rousing himself, he rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Be silent! Be still!” And the wind stopped, and there became a great calm.

39 Et exsurgens comminatus est vento et dixit mari: “ Tace, obmutesce! ”. Et cessavit ventus, et facta est tranquillitas magna.

40 καὶ εἶπεν αὐτοῖς, Τί δειλοί ἐστε; οὔπω ἔχετε πίστιν;

And he said to them, “Why are you afraid? Do you still not have faith?”

40 Et ait illis: “ Quid timidi estis? Necdum habetis fidem? ”.

41 καὶ ἐφοβήθησαν φόβον μέγαν, καὶ ἔλεγον πρὸς ἀλλήλους, Τίς ἄρα οὗτός ἐστιν ὅτι καὶ ὁ ἄνεμος καὶ ἡ θάλασσα ὑπακούει αὐτῷ;

And they feared a great fear, and they said amongst themselves, “Who is he, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” 

41 Et timuerunt magno timore et dicebant ad alterutrum: “ Quis putas est iste, quia et ventus et mare oboediunt ei? ”.

Who is he? This is another literary device that Mark uses. He has the disciples more or less play dumb so that they can ask the obvious questions like this. Offhand, I do not know to what extent Matthew and Luke do this; for John, Jesus is The Word right from the opening sentence.

It’s things like this that make me say that Jesus’ identity is a bit more ambiguous in Mark than in the other gospels, or is ambiguous, at least, to a greater degree than in Matthew and Luke. It’s not that Mark hasn’t answered this question for himself; he has. Rather, it’s that he is trying to re-create some of the suspense that must have accompanied the unfolding of Jesus’ career. He wants the revelation to come to us, while it is not very clear to those who were with him.

In a way, this is a gnostic (small-“g”) trait. We, the readers, get the nudge-wink because we’re on the inside; to us the truth has been revealed. Remember that in V-34 we were told how Jesus explained the parables to the disciples in private, bringing them into the inner circle. Here, Mark does the same with us. We see Jesus command the storm; we know who he is, even if those around him still had questions. And this obtuse trait of the disciples is a theme throughout; on a number of occasions, Jesus all-but calls them “Dullards!”; the exclamation point very much there.

So the point of this story is to reveal the true stature of Jesus. So far, he has cured people, and exorcised demons, but here, we see him commanding nature. This is truly the trait of someone divine. Now Mark has removed all doubt: Jesus is more than just a wonder-worker, for wonder-workers were not all that uncommon. No, Jesus transcends that. Wonder-workers are often considered conduits; stilling the wind and calming the sea, however, is the work of no mere conduit.


Mark Chapter 4:21-34

Chapter 4 moves on to more parables.

21 Καὶ ἔλεγεν αὐτοῖς, Μήτι ἔρχεται ὁ λύχνος ἵνα ὑπὸ τὸν μόδιον τεθῇ ἢ ὑπὸ τὴν κλίνην; οὐχ ἵνα ἐπὶ τὴν λυχνίαν τεθῇ;

And he said to them, “Does a lamp ever come that may be put under a measure (bushel basket), or under a bed? Is it not put on a lamp stand?”

21 Et dicebat illis: “ Numquid venit lucerna, ut sub modio ponatur aut sub lecto? Nonne ut super candelabrum ponatur?

22 οὐ γάρ ἐστιν κρυπτὸν ἐὰν μὴ ἵνα φανερωθῇ, οὐδὲ ἐγένετο ἀπόκρυφον ἀλλ’ ἵνα ἔλθῃ εἰς φανερόν.

“For is the thing not hidden unless in order to be made manifest/visible, nor does it become hidden but it will come to light.

The Greek is a bit…tricky here. It’s not that the meaning isn’t obvious as was sometimes the case in Paul; rather, it’s that it’s difficult to give a sense of the Greek in something at least resembling grammatical English. The problem is that, here, the basic rules of the two languages are conflicting, if not quite (but close) contradictory.

22 Non enim est aliquid absconditum, nisi ut manifestetur, nec factum est occultum, nisi ut in palam veniat.

23 εἴ τις ἔχει ὦταἀκούειν ἀκουέτω.

“If someone has ears, let him hear.”

A paraphrase of 4:9 above. Interesting: the first use of this circumlocution was in 4:9, and now we get it repeated a dozen verses later. In 4:9 I speculated that the oddness of the phrase, perhaps, implied that this was possibly an idiosyncratic expression of Jesus. Now, it comes twice in relation to a parable that also may be authentically Jesus, so maybe these all reinforce each other to make this all more likely to be authentic stuff? Now, technically, the use here is not in conjunction with the Parable of the Sower, but it follows hard on the heels. 

So, maybe?

I did some checking and found that the Parable of the Sower is in the Gospel of Thomas. It is not, however, in the Q document as reconstructed by Burton Mack in his book, “The Lost Gospel: The Book Of Q And Christian Origins”. However, the saying in V-22 about what is hidden being brought to light is in both, so there is some consensus that this, and several of the little pearls of wisdom that we will encounter in the following verses discussed in this post are also believed to trace back to Jesus himself.

But what does this say? Or what does it mean? What is hidden will become manifest? And what does this have to do with a lamp?  The lamp is an arresting image, and it has a lot of implications. Remember that the light/dark dichotomy was important for Paul, but this is the first time we’ve encountered any sort of “light” metaphor.

What I get when I read this particular section is that Mark had access to a collection of sayings of Jesus. (For the moment, I’m not talking about “Q”; but I will get to that at some point.) He then interwove them into his narrative as best as he could. This what what I meant when I said Mark was particularly skilled at piecing his disparate sources together; here, I think, the seams show, if just a bit.

The idea of hidden things would seem to be part of the transformation into an interior-focused values system. A lot of Judaism, as a lot of paganism, focused on the external actions: what you did is what counted. At some point in the last few centuries BCE, this began to give way to an inward-looking values system. This was one of the major contributions of what is subsumed under the rubric of “Hellenistic Philosophy”: given the dislocations brought about by large empires that spanned many ethnic groups was that an individual was left on her own as the familiar, cozy, insular world of one’s home town, or region became swallowed in the tide of foreign domination. The result were different philosophical schools, such as the Epicureans and the Stoics, and the growing popularity of what are vaguely called “Eastern Mystery Religions”, such as the cults (read that word w/o the negative connotations) of Isis, or Magna Mater.

The facile comparison is the distinction between a shame and a guilt culture, but that is really too crude, and too anachronistic for the First Century CE.

Both of these general movements, pagan philosophy and Eastern religion spoke to the individual as a member of a self-selected group rather than as part of a corporate whole. Judaism, in the sense of the covenant between YHWH and the Israelites, was–or, at least, had been–a corporate sensibility: what mattered was the group, and one demonstrated one’s identity with the group by participating in the outward ritual. This had begun to change in the last few centuries BCE, whether as a result of the alien Greek presence, or parallel to it. While the history of the ancient Near East is the tale of a succession of empires, the empire of Alexander and his successors–which, eventually included Rome–was a permanent fixture. By the time of Jesus, the Graeco-Roman presence in Judea was 300 years old–longer than the US has been a country.

23 Si quis habet aures audiendi, audiat ”.

24 Καὶ ἔλεγεν αὐτοῖς, Βλέπετε τί ἀκούετε. ἐν ᾧ μέτρῳ μετρεῖτε μετρηθήσεται ὑμῖν καὶ προστεθήσεται ὑμῖν.

And he said to them, “Watch what you hear. In the measure that you measure, you will be measured, and it will be increased.

Love this: watch what you hear. And that’s pretty much a literal translation. Rather a clever chap, that Jesus (or was it Mark?). A way with words.

The measure you use will be what you are measured with; paraphrase: live by the (metaphorical) sword, die by the sword. Or, judge not, or you will be judged. Kind of get a theme here, don’t we?

24 Et dicebat illis: “ Videte quid audiatis. In qua mensura mensi fueritis, remetietur vobis et adicietur vobis.

25 ὃς γὰρ ἔχει, δοθήσεται αὐτῷ: καὶ ὃς οὐκ ἔχει, καὶ ὃ ἔχει ἀρθήσεται ἀπ’ αὐτοῦ.

“He who has, it will be given to him, and he who does not have,  what he does have will be taken from him.”

This has always bothered me. But it’s one of those contra-positives, or has a Zen quality to it: the very offensiveness is what gets your attention and makes you think about what is said. Again, a clever turn of phrase. But it’s about faith: the people who have faith will be rewarded with more faith, while the people without faith will lose what little faith they have.  This is not about possessions, or social justice.

25 Qui enim habet, dabitur illi; et, qui non habet, etiam quod habet, auferetur ab illo ”.

26 Καὶ ἔλεγεν, Οὕτως ἐστὶν ἡ βασιλεία τοῦ θεοῦ ὡς ἄνθρωπος βάλῃ τὸν σπόρον ἐπὶ τῆς γῆς

And he said, “How is the kingdom of God, like a man who casts seed upon the ground.

Another sower? We’re in re-runs already?

26 Et dicebat: “ Sic est regnum Dei, quemadmodum si homo iaciat sementem in terram

27 καὶ καθεύδῃ καὶ ἐγείρηται νύκτα καὶ ἡμέραν, καὶ ὁ σπόρος βλαστᾷ καὶ μηκύνηται ὡς οὐκ οἶδεν αὐτός.

“And it sleeps and (then) wakes, night and day, and the seed springs up and and grows, how he does not know.

This is good: the seed sleeps, then it wakes. The temptation is to translate << βλαστᾷ >> as “germinate”, since that’s the Latin word, but it may not give the proper sense in English. At least, it wouldn’t connect in the same way that “grow” does. At least, not for me.

27 et dormiat et exsurgat nocte ac die, et semen germinet et increscat, dum nescit ille.

28 αὐτομάτη ἡ γῆ καρποφορεῖ, πρῶτον χόρτον, εἶτα στάχυν, εἶτα πλήρη[ς] σῖτον ἐν τῷ στάχυϊ.

“The earth bears fruit automatically, first the stalk, then the head (or the ear), then (it) fills with wheat in the head (or the ear).

<< αὐτομάτη >> would transliterate as “automate”, the second ‘a’ as short, and the terminal ‘e’ with a long ‘a’ sound.

28 Ultro terra fructificat primum herbam, deinde spicam, deinde plenum frumentum in spica.

29 ὅταν δὲ παραδοῖ ὁ καρπός, εὐθὺς ἀποστέλλει τὸ δρέπανον, ὅτι παρέστηκεν ὁ θερισμός.

“When the grain is given over, immediately he sends the sickle, then the the harvest is taken in.”

29 Et cum se produxerit fructus, statim mittit falcem, quoniam adest messis ”.

30 Καὶ ἔλεγεν, Πῶς ὁμοιώσωμεν τὴν βασιλείαν τοῦ θεοῦ, ἢ ἐν τίνι αὐτὴν παραβολῇ  θῶμεν;

And he said, “How shall we liken the kingdom of God other than we set it in this parable.”

The kingdom of God. This is, properly, only the second usage of this term in Mark.

30 Et dicebat: “ Quomodo assimilabimus regnum Dei aut in qua parabola ponemus illud?

31 ὡς κόκκῳ σινάπεως, ὃς ὅταν σπαρῇ ἐπὶ τῆς γῆς, μικρότερον ὂν πάντων τῶν σπερμάτων τῶν ἐπὶ τῆς γῆς,

“It is as the seed of the mustard, which (is) then planted in the earth, the smallest of all the seeds upon the earth.”

I came across a really tortured and convoluted attempt by a biblical literalist to explain away how the Greek did not really say ‘the smallest of all seeds.’  The gist and basis was that << μικρότερον >> didn’t mean ‘smallest.’  The problem is that, apparently, there are smaller seeds, and he couldn’t have Jesus saying something that wasn’t literally true. He admitted that it has the superlative form, but that the meaning here was merely comparative.    I won’t say the argument (sic!) is without merit, but it just runs 180 degrees against the what Greek really says. The clincher is the << πάντων >> “all”. One doesn’t say, “smaller of all seeds.  One could, but then the sense would become “smaller than all seeds, which comes back to the superlative. Rather than admit that Jesus may have been speaking poetically in calling it the smallest, he tied himself in a knot trying to deny the common sense reading of the text.

This was something of a textbook example of trying to make the text fit the belief, rather than drawing belief from the text. I don’t mean to disparage anyone’s beliefs, but the point of this exercise is to approach the text, as nearly as we can, without preconceived ideas of what ‘everyone knows’ it says.

31 Sicut granum sinapis, quod cum seminatum fuerit in terra, minus est omnibus seminibus, quae sunt in terra;

32 καὶ ὅταν σπαρῇ, ἀναβαίνει καὶ γίνεται μεῖζον πάντων τῶν λαχάνων καὶ ποιεῖ κλάδους μεγάλους, ὥστε δύνασθαι ὑπὸ τὴν σκιὰν αὐτοῦ τὰ πετεινὰ τοῦ οὐρανοῦ κατασκηνοῦν.

“But when it grows, it comes up and becomes the largest of the garden plants, and creates big branches, so that under its shadow the birds of the air are able to place their nests (rest).”

Again, this is an image, and a metaphor–or a parable–that really does require some contemplation. The poetry makes historical analysis a bit harder; what does Jesus mean? Obviously, that it starts small, and that it has–or will?–grow to be a large, accommodating and capacious. Are we to infer that we do not, or will not, know how it grows, just as we don’t know how the seed grows?

That’s the interesting point about this parable: we are told the kingdom is coming, or is here, but we are not told exactly how we become part of it. Will it happen automatically, as with the seed? Or do we need to do something to bring it about? Or to ensure our inclusion?

To this point, we have not really been told about this. We have not been told to repent, except by John. We have not been told to follow a moral code, unless you consider hanging out with tax collectors and sinners and not quite following the strictures about the Sabbath a moral code. That seems a stretch. There’s the implication that we should not love money, as this is part of the thorn patch that will choke off the germinating Word. This entire chapter, and pretty much the whole gospel so far has not really provided any clear delineation of how we are to behave, or what we must do to bring about the kingdom of God, or how we are to be members in good standing of this social order.

32 et cum seminatum fuerit, ascendit et fit maius omnibus holeribus et facit ramos magnos, ita ut possint sub umbra eius aves caeli habitare “.

33 Καὶ τοιαύταις παραβολαῖς πολλαῖς ἐλάλει αὐτοῖς τὸν λόγον, καθὼς ἠδύναντο ἀκούειν:

And with many parable such as these he spoke to them the word, accordingly as they were able to hear.

33 Et talibus multis parabolis loquebatur eis verbum, prout poterant audire;

34 χωρὶς δὲ παραβολῆς οὐκ ἐλάλει αὐτοῖς, κατ’ ἰδίαν δὲ τοῖς ἰδίοις μαθηταῖς ἐπέλυεν πάντα.

Aside from parables, he did not speak to them, (but) alone with his particular disciples he explained everything.

34 sine parabola autem non loquebatur eis. Seorsum autem discipulis suis disserebat omnia.

“His particular disciples” isn’t exactly the greatest translation. But it’s about the best I could do to render << τοῖς ἰδίοις μαθηταῖς >>. The << ἰδίοις  >> is the root of  ‘idiosyncrasy’, and also ‘idiot.’ In Athenian Greek, which became Greek, “idiot” referred to someone who did not take part in the assembly. The basic meaning is ‘private’; so an idiot was someone who kept to himself (alone, in private) rather than participating in the government by way of the assembly. So the sense here is that Jesus, in private, explained the parables to those that were his private disciples. 

Jesus only talked in parables. This hearkens back to 4.11, in which we discussed how Jesus seemed intent to obscure his message, so that they would not be able to understand, which might make them turn to God and be forgiven. But the other implication here is that Jesus reserved the meanings for his disciples; they alone got the whole story. And this sort of “secret” doctrine, doctrine that is reserved for the initiated few, is pretty much a hallmark of what came to be known as Gnosticism. There was one teaching for the public, and another for the select. Mind, I am not saying that Mark was a Gnostic; rather, I’m saying that some of what he said sounds like it has Gnostic implications.

And this occurs to me: is this why Mark has not told us what we must do to ensure our membership in the kingdom of God? Has he not told us because that knowledge is reserved for the chosen few, the Elect?