Mark Chapter 6:30-44

This takes us to the story of the feeding of the 5,000.

30 Καὶ συνάγονται οἱ ἀπόστολοι πρὸς τὸν Ἰησοῦν, καὶ ἀπήγγειλαν αὐτῷ πάντα ὅσα ἐποίησαν καὶ ὅσα ἐδίδαξαν.

And the apostles gathered with Jesus, and they related to him all those things which they did and such things as they taught.

As mentioned, the 12 were sent out before the story of the Baptist, and they come back now, providing no sense of elapsed time. What this reminds me of is the band playing for an audience during a commercial break on live TV. Jesus is backstage, or whatever, and someone comes out and tells us about John. The thing is, the sending and the return is handled in pretty much two sentences. They went out; they came back and reported.

This is so brief as to enter the realm of  “why bother?” We are given no real information about how long they were gone, what they did or taught, or even who they were. 

That “the apostles” were those “those sent out” is a tautology; it’s the Greek vs. the literal English translation. So our tendency to see “apostles” as the inner circle is almost a contradiction of terms. They can’t be the inner circle because they’ve been sent out.

30 Et convenientes apostoli ad Iesum renuntiaverunt illi omnia, quae egerant et docuerant.

31 καὶ λέγει αὐτοῖς, Δεῦτε ὑμεῖς αὐτοὶ κατ’ἰδίαν εἰς ἔρημον τόπον καὶ ἀναπαύσασθε ὀλίγον. ἦσαν γὰρ οἱ ἐρχόμενοι καὶ οἱ ὑπάγοντες πολλοί, καὶ οὐδὲ φαγεῖν εὐκαίρουν.

And he said to them, “You follow by yourselves to a desert place and rest a little (literally: a little). For there were many coming and going, and there was no opportunity to eat.

Of some literary interest is the idea of not having time to eat. This was also used back in 3:20. There is no real significance to this, but it’s just to note that Mark uses this as a literary convention, as an indication of how hectic things were around Jesus.

31 Et ait illis: “ Venite vos ipsi seorsum in desertum locum et requiescite pusillum ”. Erant enim, qui veniebant et redibant, multi, et nec manducandi spatium habebant.

32 καὶ ἀπῆλθον ἐν τῷ πλοίῳ εἰς ἔρημον τόπον κατ’ ἰδίαν.

And they went away in the boat to a deserted place by themselves.

On one level, this almost doesn’t make sense: why does Jesus want to escape the crowd? Isn’t that the purpose of his mission? We are told it’s to give the apostles (unnamed and unnumbered) a bit of respite, which is plausible, but I suspect this has more of a literary role.

32 Et abierunt in navi in desertum locum seorsum.

33 καὶ εἶδον αὐτοὺς ὑπάγοντας καὶ ἐπέγνωσαν πολλοί, καὶ πεζῇ ἀπὸ πασῶν τῶν πόλεων συνέδραμον ἐκεῖ καὶ προῆλθοναὐτούς. And (people?) saw them going, and many recognized them, and by foot from all the towns ran with them there and came to them.

33 Et viderunt eos abeuntes et cognoverunt multi; et pedestre de omnibus civitatibus concurrerunt illuc et praevenerunt eos.

34 καὶ ἐξελθὼν εἶδεν πολὺν ὄχλον, καὶ ἐσπλαγχνίσθη ἐπ’ αὐτοὺς ὅτι ἦσαν ὡς πρόβατα μὴ ἔχοντα ποιμένα, καὶ ἤρξατο διδάσκειν αὐτοὺς πολλά.

And now the crowd follows him to a “desert place”; this is, I believe, a deliberate echo of how the crowds went out to John the Baptist from all over Judea. My suspicion, or my sense of the text, is that Mark used this literary ploy of escaping to the deserted spot as a means of consciously evoking the Baptist, thereby showing how Jesus was his spiritual heir and successor. This, especially given that the story of John’s execution concluded a few verses ago.

And coming out, they saw a large crowd, he took pity on them that they were as sheep not having a shepherd, and he began to teach them many things.

This is the first use of the shepherd metaphor. It does not come to full fruition as the parable of the Good Shepherd until we get to Luke. So there’s a good example of how a given theme developed. I will discuss this  more when I get to Luke [apt to be a while! : D ], but the story of Jesus was not at all static, nor was it coherent or consistent. It became static sometime in the third or early fourth century when the canon of the NT was set, but a glance at the Gospel of Thomas will give you a really good indication of the range of perspectives on Jesus.

34 Et exiens vidit multam turbam et misertus est super eos, quia erant sicut oves non habentes pastorem, et coepit docere illos multa.

35 Καὶ ἤδη ὥρας πολλῆς γενομένης προσελθόντες αὐτῷ οἱ μαθηταὶ αὐτοῦ ἔλεγον ὅτι Ἔρημός ἐστιν ὁ τόπος, καὶ ἤδη ὥρα πολλή:

And when it having become many hours (when it was late in the day), his disciples coming to him said that, “This is a desert(ed) place, and already there are many hours.” (= it’s late )

As you can perhaps tell from my translation, << ἤδη ὥρας πολλῆς >> literally means “when it was many hours.” This peculiar way of saying “it’s late” is a function of the way time was measured in the Roman world. You will note in other instances, we are told that “when it became evening…” which, IIRC, is more closely attuned to the Greek, or perhaps the Near Eastern sensibility. The Romans, however, had a different method. The Roman day started at 6:00 am. That was the first hour, Then, each subsequent hour was the second, third, fourth, etc. They had, essentially, a 24-hour day, so that it got late as the hours piled up and there were “many hours”, say, twelve of them, which would be 6:00 pm.

Also, note that this is the third time we are told that this is a desert/deserted place. Which = ‘wilderness’. In one one of my secondary sources, Christian Beginnings and the Dead Sea Scrolls, there is a rather lengthy discusus on the role of the wilderness in Hebrew/Judaic thought. John came from the wilderness; Jesus claimed John’s mantle by going into the wilderness, here we are in the wilderness…all of this hearkens back to the Israelites wandering in the wilderness for 40 years. Really, it goes back to Cain and Abel–the myth, not the actual duo. The Semites were, largely, nomadic herders; the Canaanites they despised and supposedly displaced were settled farmers. So, throughout the OT and the NT, there is the tension between the much more ascetic sensibility of the nomad as compared to the fleshpot cities of the farmers, with their orgies masquerading as fertility cults. So in Hebrew/Judaic myth, wilderness = good; cities = bad. A gross oversimplification, but this is a blog post and not an academic paper!

35 Et cum iam hora multa facta esset, accesserunt discipuli eius dicentes: “ Desertus est locus hic, et hora iam est multa;

36 ἀπόλυσον αὐτούς, ἵνα ἀπελθόντες εἰς τοὺς κύκλῳ ἀγροὺς καὶ κώμας ἀγοράσωσιν ἑαυτοῖς τί φάγωσιν.

Send them away, so that going away to the surrounding country ( lit = fields ) and villages they can buy themselves something they may eat.”

36 dimitte illos, ut euntes in villas et vicos in circuitu emant sibi, quod manducent ”.

37 ὁ δὲ ἀποκριθεὶς εἶπεν αὐτοῖς, Δότε αὐτοῖς ὑμεῖς φαγεῖν. καὶ λέγουσιν αὐτῷ, Ἀπελθόντες ἀγοράσωμεν δηναρίων διακοσίων ἄρτους καὶ δώσομεν αὐτοῖς φαγεῖν;

But he answering said to them, “You give them (something) to eat.” And they said to him, “Going out (how) will we buy two hundred denarii of bread and (how) will we give to them (this) to eat?”

As you can probably see, the Greek is just way more elegant than what I  can put into English w/0 doing serious harm to the original syntax. Recall, on of the the points of this exercise is to be something of a crib sheet for anyone wishing to work through NT Greek.

I’m sorry, but this is very obviously a literary ploy. We have the disciples–and note that they are now called ‘disciples’ again. There is no mention of ‘apostles’ any more–telling Jesus, then Jesus telling the disciples. It all seems like a dramatic (in the sense of stage-directions in a drama) set up for the climax.

37 Respondens autem ait illis: “ Date illis vos manducare ”. Et dicunt ei: “ Euntes emamus denariis ducentis panes et dabimus eis manducare? ”.

38 ὁ δὲ λέγει αὐτοῖς, Πόσους ἄρτους ἔχετε; ὑπάγετε ἴδετε. καὶ γνόντες λέγουσιν, Πέντε, καὶ δύο ἰχθύας.

And he said to them, “How many loaves of bread do you have? Go (and) see”. And, discovering, they said, “Five (loaves) and two fish.”

38 Et dicit eis: “ Quot panes habetis? Ite, videte ”. Et cum cognovissent, dicunt: “ Quinque et duos pisces ”.

39 καὶ ἐπέταξεν αὐτοῖς ἀνακλῖναι πάντας συμπόσια συμπόσια ἐπὶ τῷ χλωρῷ χόρτῳ.

And he told them to all recline group by group on the green grass.

“The green grass”…nice touch of detail.

39 Et praecepit illis, ut accumbere facerent omnes secundum contubernia super viride fenum.

40 καὶ ἀνέπεσαν πρασιαὶ πρασιαὶ κατὰ ἑκατὸν καὶ κατὰ πεντήκοντα.

And they sat down rank by rank, in ranks of one hundred and of  fifty.

Comments at the end.

40 Et discubuerunt secundum areas per centenos et per quinquagenos.

41 καὶ λαβὼν τοὺς πέντε ἄρτους καὶ τοὺς δύο ἰχθύας ἀναβλέψας εἰς τὸν οὐρανὸν εὐλόγησεν καὶ κατέκλασεν τοὺς ἄρτους καὶ ἐδίδου τοῖς μαθηταῖς [αὐτοῦ] ἵνα παρατιθῶσιν αὐτοῖς, καὶ τοὺς δύο ἰχθύας ἐμέρισεν πᾶσιν.

And receiving the five loaves and two fish, raising them to the sky he blessed (them) and he broke the loaves and he gave (them) to (his) disciples so that they might set (the food) before them (the people), and he divided the two fish among all.

41 Et acceptis quinque panibus et duobus piscibus, intuens in caelum benedixit et fregit panes et dabat discipulis suis, ut ponerent ante eos; et duos pisces divisit omnibus.

42 καὶ ἔφαγον πάντες καὶ ἐχορτάσθησαν:

And all ate and were satisfied.

42 Et manducaverunt omnes et saturati sunt;

43 καὶ ἦραν κλάσματα δώδεκα κοφίνων πληρώματα καὶ ἀπὸ τῶν ἰχθύων.

And there were twelve baskets of fragments full and (also) of the fish.

Not only was there enough, there was food left over.

43 et sustulerunt fragmenta duodecim cophinos plenos, et de piscibus.

44καὶ ἦσαν οἱ φαγόντες [τοὺς ἄρτους] πεντακισχίλιοι ἄνδρες.

And there were five thousand male bread-eaters.

44 Et erant, qui manducaverunt panes, quinque milia virorum.

OK. The people were fed in the wilderness by the actions of Jesus. The symbolism and the references are very clear. This is a re-enactment of the feeding of the Israelites by manna in the desert. The point of all of this is that Jesus is perfectly capable of caring for the entire group, numbering 5,000 men and additional women and children. This has only happened once before in Israel/Judah’s history: during the Exodus from Egypt. The implications of this story could not be more clear.

Compare this with the story at the beginning of the chapter, when Jesus was unable to work any miracles because of the lack of faith of those in his home town. This is most likely meant to be a compare and contrast situation, where here there is, seemingly, no limit on what Jesus can do. The people of his home town did not believe in him, but the expression of his power or his authority here are unmistakable. And note that there is no mention of faith, as was the prerequisite for the bleeding woman and Jairus. Or, is the reference and analogy to the sheep and shepherd sufficient to indicate the absolute faith they put in Jesus: like the faith the sheep have for the shepherd? This is, it seems. at best, implicit; however, IMO, we cannot discount that it may have been understood like this by Mark’s audience. 

But note how skillfully it was done: Jesus takes pity on them as sheep without a shepherd. Then he steps in and acts as shepherd. The subtlety of the storytelling is wonderful. We understand that Jesus is the shepherd without ever being told explicitly. Not until Luke would this have be made explicit.


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 10, 2013, in gospel commentary, gospels, mark's gospel and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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