Mark Chapter 6:1-6

Chapter 6 begins with a fairly short piece about how one cannot go home again. Had this section been included in Chapter 5, then Chapter 5 would be my all-time favorite gospel chapter.

1 Καὶ ἐξῆλθεν ἐκεῖθεν, καὶ ἔρχεται εἰς τὴν πατρίδα αὐτοῦ, καὶ ἀκολουθοῦσιν αὐτῷοἱ μαθηταὶ αὐτοῦ.

And he went away from where he was and came to his home town, and his disciples followed him there.

I suppose that this puts a pretty good stake through the heart of my hypothesis that Jesus actually grew up in Caphernaum. This is an excellent example of why it’s a good idea to assemble all relevant facts before spouting off with a half-baked idea. The real clincher is that Mary and the rest of his family–brothers and sisters-without-names– still live there.

That being said, consider this: Mark does not specify that Jesus homeland is Nazareth. He does not name the town. And recall how, back at the end of Chapter 3, Mary and Jesus’ siblings came to retrieve Jesus when he was saying some outrageous stuff? At the time, I noted that Nazareth is a pretty good hike from Caphernaum; that it would take most of a day for news of Jesus’ activities to reach Mary in Nazareth, and then for the whole crew to (presumably) walk to Caphernaum. So, the point is, Jesus may not have lived in Caphernaum as I’ve suggested, but this in no way demonstrates that he grew up in Nazareth. Both Nazareth and Bethlehem could easily have been worked into the story so that certain OT prophecies could be shown to point to Jesus. I suspect that is what happened.

1 Et egressus est inde et venit in patriam suam, et sequuntur il lum discipuli sui.

2 καὶ γενομένου σαββάτου ἤρξατο διδάσκειν ἐν τῇ συναγωγῇ: καὶ πολλοὶ ἀκούοντες ἐξεπλήσσοντο λέγοντες, Πόθεν τούτῳ ταῦτα, καὶ τίς ἡ σοφία ἡ δοθεῖσα τούτῳ καὶ αἱ δυνάμεις τοιαῦται διὰ τῶν χειρῶν αὐτοῦ γινόμεναι;

And it having become the Sabbath, he began to teach in the synagogue; and many hearing were astonished, saying, “From where did these things come to him, and what is this wisdom having been given to him, and (whence) did such powerful  works happen through his hand?”

On the one hand: They are astonished, just as the folks in Caphernaum had been (Mk 1.27, using the same word for “astonish”); OTOH, they don’t believe him capable of such teaching, or such works of power; on the third hand, they are backhandedly acknowledging–to us as well as themselves–that he had performed wonders.

2 Et facto sabbato, coepit in synagoga docere; et multi audientes admirabantur dicentes: “ Unde huic haec, et quae est sapientia, quae data est illi, et virtutes tales, quae per manus eius efficiuntur?

3 οὐχ οὗτός ἐστιν ὁ τέκτων, ὁ υἱὸς τῆς Μαρίας καὶ ἀδελφὸς Ἰακώβου καὶ Ἰωσῆτος καὶ Ἰούδα καὶ  Σίμωνος; καὶ οὐκ εἰσὶν αἱ ἀδελφαὶ αὐτοῦ ὧδε πρὸς ἡμᾶς; καὶ ἐσκανδαλίζοντο ἐν αὐτῷ.

Is he not the the craftsman, the son of Mary, and the brother of James and Josetis and Judas and Simon? And are not his sisters not with us?”  And they were scandalized by him.

First, << τέκτων >> can mean carpenter, any worker in wood, and craftsman in general.  This refers to Jesus.  Then he is referred to as the “son of Mary”, which is highly unusual. Generally, a person, but especially a man, was known as the son of someone. This tendency transcends Semitic practice; at a basic level, it was a way to distinguish two men named William. One was “John’s son” and the other was “William’s son.” These patronymics eventually became surnames in the English world: Johnson, which got abbreviated as Jones; Williamson, which got shorted to Williams (or Stevens, or Davidson which became Davison and then Davis…The Mc/Mac and O’ prefixes served the same function in the Celtic world of the British Isles, as did the Fitz prefix which was a Norman import into Ireland.)

We do not have female equivalents. There is no “Maryson”, but there is “Josephson” in the English-speaking world.

The fact that Jesus here is identified as “son of Mary” has led some to conclude, or at least speculate, that he was illegitimate.  H.D. Kitto, in a wonderful (but dated) little book called “The Greeks” put it like this in the Greek world. You traced your father back as far as you could, at which point you posited descent from a divine father. “He was the son of a god” is just a more polite way of saying, “who his father was, god only knows.”

Of course, against this, one could argue that, perhaps, Joseph had been dead a long time, so that he was largely forgotton, and it became easier to refer to Jesus as the son of Mary because everyone knew who Mary was since she was alive and kicking. However: to make this argument viable, one would have to demonstrate that using a matronymic (to coin a phrase?) was a not uncommon practice. Proof would consist of other textual examples. Perhaps this has been done; perhaps it hasn’t.

Personally, I’m not inclined to consider this as necessarily indicating illegitimacy. It could be that Joseph was not Jesus’ father, despite being Mary’s husband. Think of the story in Matthew, in which Joseph found out she was already with child, even though he had not had marital relations with her. We will talk more about that when the time comes, but this sounds like a case of “who Jesus’ father was, god only knows”. One could argue that the designation of Jesus’ brothers here indicates full-brothers, but I’m not sure that such distinctions were made back in the day. That a brother was the product of a common parent, but not necessarily of two common parents. This would depend to a degree on when Hebrews gave up the practice of polygamy.

But then, why does Mark not mention Joseph? Was he not important to the story? And then, why did Matthew bring him in? Did Matthew have access to a more local source, that recalled Joseph’s name? Or did Matthew just create a lineage for Jesus, and invent the whole story of how Mary was pregnant before Joseph could possibly have been the faather?

What this does, is get us to the idea of the Virgin Birth. As we saw, Mark provides no birth narrative. There is no suggestion, anywhere in Mark, of the virgin birth. And yet, Matthew is very specific about this. Why the discrepancy? As I noted, Mark tells us that the Good News begins with the baptism by John. The implication is that whatever came before is not part of the Good News (= eu-angelion = evangelist = gospel). This would necessarily include any birth narrative, including the virgin birth. This leads us to the conclusion that Mark may not have considered Jesus to be of divine birth, but that he was adopted by God at the baptism. That the baptism amounted to the anointing of Jesus as the Messiah. As mentioned, there was a school of thought, later deemed heretical, that believed exactly that. They were, logically, called Adoptionists. In addition, there are additional ways in Mark in which he indicates that Jesus was not God’s son in the sense that he was “conceived by the Holy Spirit”.

 Note here that Jesus has siblings. And they are named, which adds a level of credibility to the story. And, despite the virgin birth, Matthew repeats the names of the siblings (Mt 13:54-58). But it is more appropriate to leave discussion of Matthew for when we get to Matthew. There are significant theological–and other–questions to be addressed there.

 3 Nonne iste est faber, filius Mariae et frater Iacobi et Iosetis et Iudae et Simonis? Et nonne sorores eius hic nobiscum sunt? ”. Et scandalizabantur in illo.

4 καὶ ἔλεγεν αὐτοῖς ὁ Ἰησοῦς ὅτι Οὐκ ἔστιν προφήτης ἄτιμος εἰ μὴ ἐν τῇ πατρίδι αὐτοῦ καὶ ἐν τοῖς συγγενεῦσιν αὐτοῦ καὶ ἐν τῇ οἰκίᾳαὐτοῦ.

And Jesus said to them that, “Is not a prophet without honor in his home land, and among his kinsmen, and in his own home.”

Sort of like saying ‘no man is a hero to his valet’. (I Googled this; the attribution is not entirely clear, but it seems to be traced to a certain Madame Cornuel. I had thought it was Wellington or Marlborough, or some other British general.)

4 Et dicebat eis Iesus: “ Non est propheta sine honore nisi in patria sua et in cognatione sua et in domo sua”.

5 καὶ οὐκ ἐδύνατο ἐκεῖ ποιῆσαι οὐδεμίαν δύναμιν, εἰ μὴ ὀλίγοις ἀρρώστοις ἐπιθεὶς τὰς χεῖρας ἐθεράπευσεν:

And he was not able to perform any wonder/miracle, except he healed a few diseased persons by laying hands upon them.

Whoa. Take a step back and think about that one. If 6:1-6 had been part of Chapter 5, all of my favorite bits of Mark–and possibly the NT–would have been contained in a single chapter. This is, perhaps, the pièce de résistance.

“He was not able”. What this says to me is that the power–which ‘went out of him’ to cure the bleeding woman in the last chapter–was not simply at his command. The implication of this, of course, is that Jesus, in some meaningful way,  is not fully God. There is nothing in the OT about God needing any sort of anything to, oh, let’s say, create the entire universe ex nihilo.

This is the sort of thing that bolsters the Adoptionist argument: Jesus was a man chosen by God to become the messiah. And, oddly enough, the term “messiah” (the Christ) does not occur in Mark until Chapter 8. Yes, it’s in 1.1, but those sorts of introductory sentences are easily tacked on at some later date. There is another instance at 1.34 that is not in all textual traditions; in fact, the KJV does not include the term “the Christ”.  After this, it occurs five more times, once each in chapters 8, 9, 12, 13, and 14. We will look at each instance in context when we get there, but this paucity of use sure seems to indicate that Jesus as the Christ was not a central concept in this gospel. In contrast, it occurs four times in the first chapter alone of Matthew.

Although, interestingly, after another occurrence in Chapter 2 of Matthew, the term disappears until Chapter 11. A similar pattern occurs in Luke; however, I don’t think Luke can be considered a source distinct from Matthew. What this “hollow center of the narrative” seems to indicate, IMO, is that there were two pieces of Jesus legend that sort of got pasted together. There was the earlier piece, of Jesus’ earlier ministry in which he was primarily portrayed as a wisdom teacher, and then another, in which he was the Messiah. The first part would have much of his teaching, including things like the Sermon on the Mount, while the second is the eschatology leading to his death and eventual resurrection. That is, from the beginning, there was a divided opinion about who, exactly, Jesus was.

Now here is where it’s very important to recall that Paul was written earlier than any of the gospels. Given the situation described above, my inclination as historian would be to see the earlier, more simple narrative as the base level: Jesus as wisdom teacher. Then, onto this, we got Jesus the Christ grafted on. But, Paul stresses the latter aspect and pretty much ignores the former. Now, given that Paul wrote a generation after Jesus, it would seem that the later part would have come first, and the earlier ministry would not have been recalled–or invented–until later.

This hits at the heart of the Quest for the Historical Jesus (QHJ): who did Jesus think he was? Did he see himself as a wisdom teacher? Or as a preacher of eschatology? Given Paul, the latter seems more likely. At first glance, it seems to makes sense that the simpler narrative of wisdom teacher would be the base, and the eschatology would be the graft. BUT: really, I would infer and argue that Jesus was a preacher of End Times; and that the End Times were upon us. Paul seems to expect the Second Coming momentarily. Then, when this didn’t happen, Jesus as the wisdom teacher was recalled, given emphasis, or invented.

This is something that has pretty much just occurred to me; I reserve the right to revise the hypothesis as more evidence comes forth. But, that’s how learning according to the scientific method is supposed to work. Evidence >>> hypothesis; new evidence >>> revised (or strengthened) hypothesis. Given that it’s history, we can never be sure we’ve ‘proven’ a position.

The Greek: << δύναμις >> is rendered in Latin as << virtus >>. The root meaning of the Greek word is “power”, in the sense of  “ability”. The first three letters << δύν- >> form the root of the basic word for “to be able”.  You can see this in << ἐδύνατο >>, “he was not able”. The Latin is obviously the root of our term “virtue”, but the stem << vir- >>, which is the Latin for “man”, specifically as in our concept of a “manly man” rather than the more generic idea of just some fellow. What these two concept have in common is the concept of ‘power’, as in ‘capability’. The root of our word for “miracle” is the Latin << miraculum >>, for which the German-based “wonder” is a good translation.

The point is that the concept as expressed in Greek and even in Latin, is very different from the concept of either “miracle” or “wonder”, which are essentially synonyms as far as the Latin and German roots are concerned. That << virtus >>later became “miraculum” >> “miracle” is a bit of a wonder. I’d be hard-pressed to explain this off the top of my head.

5 Et non poterat ibi virtutem ullam facere, nisi paucos infirmos impositis manibus curavit;

6 καὶ ἐθαύμαζεν διὰ τὴν ἀπιστίαν αὐτῶν. Καὶ περιῆγεν τὰς κώμας κύκλῳ διδάσκων.

And he was amazed, on account of their faithlessness. And he walked around the surrounding towns teaching.

Here we pretty much get back on track with the message of the bleeding woman and the daughter of Jairus. In both those cases, that they believed was critical; it was, in fact, necessary. And here it appears to be necessary again. IOW, wonders/miracles/power cannot be effected unless the recipient/beneficiary of the event believe.

And, as we noted before, this is fully consistent with what Paul told us in Galatians: faith is what matters.
6 et mirabatur propter incredulitatem eorum. Et circumibat castella in circuitu docens.


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

  1. It wasn’t until reading this that I remembered that in Arab culture, a man is referenced with his mother’s name when his father has had multiple wives, or when his mother is well-known. Additionally, the mother will carry the name “mother of …” when her son is well-known. In this similar culture, Jesus would be known as a “son of Mary” to distinguish him from a brother who has a different mother, or because Mary is well known among the participants. Once Jesus becomes well-known, Mary would then be called “mother of Jesus”.

  2. This is really interesting. To be honest, I’m not entirely sure what to make of this. Obviously, the name of Jesus’ father fell out of the tradition, and was likely unknown to Mark. I have extreme doubts that Matthew and Luke–but not John–knew about “Joseph” where Mark didn’t seems unlikely. Matthew had to come up with a name for the infancy story. Then, by the time of Mark, Jesus’ mother would have become ‘the mother of Jesus’.

    The question is why she stuck and “Joseph” didn’t. The simple answer is that she entered into the tradition because her name was Mary. I’m always hesitant to accept any one piece as authentic, because the probability is that any given bit of the story is not authentic. Some may be, some may have authentic kernels, but we can’t truly know which those are. OTOH, we have to ask if there is good reason to doubt the story, and there’s nothing inherently implausible. Arab nomenclature indicates that the use of a matronymic was not culturally out of the question, which lends to the plausibility. The idea of a famous son being scorned by those who knew him when is certainly credible enough.

    So the question becomes, if Mark (or his source tradition) invented the story, why invent only a mother? One answer could be that, given age disparities at marriage, a woman was probably going to outlive her husband. And, given the number of children, “Mary’s” marriage did run for a decade or so, which puts her husband even older, which increases the likelihood that he had died. So, overall, the details seem realistic. But then, why make up unrealistic details? These stories were transmitted orally for 40 years; there had been plenty of time to smooth out any rough edges the story may have had. Because it’s very important to remember that legends grow–or they don’t become legends.

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