Mark Chapter 6:45-55

And this brings us to the conclusion to Chapter 6. It was rather a long one, but nothing compared to the length of  some of the chapters in Matthew!

45 Καὶ εὐθὺς ἠνάγκασεν τοὺς μαθητὰς αὐτοῦ ἐμβῆναι εἰς τὸ πλοῖον καὶ προάγειν εἰς τὸ πέραν πρὸς Βηθσαϊδάν, ἕως αὐτὸς ἀπολύει τὸν ὄχλον.

And immediately, he ordered his disciples to embark on the boat, and to proceed to the shore near Bethsaida, while he himself dismissed the crowd.

First, note that it’s “immediately”. Something of a sense of urgency. Seems a bit overdone. Second, Jesus sent his disciples on ahead of him. Why would he do that? Seriously. Why? Perhaps I smell another literary device?

45 Et statim coegit discipulos suos ascendere navem, ut praecederent trans fretum ad Bethsaidam, dum ipse dimitteret populum.

46 καὶ ἀποταξάμενος αὐτοῖς ἀπῆλθεν εἰς τὸ ὄρος προσεύξασθαι.

And having abandoning (= leaving) them, he went to the mountain to pray.

Note on the Greek: In addition to the standard active and passive voices, Greek has something that’s sort of half-way in between, called, logically enough the Middle Voice. Perhaps the best sense of this is to relate it to the reflexive verbs that both French and Spanish (and other Romance languages?) have. Here, the “to pray” is the middle-voice infinitive, indicating not that Jesus prayed, or that he was prayed, but that his prayer reflected back on himself in some way. Perhaps, “he went to pray to soothe his soul”, or something such.

46 Et cum dimisisset eos, abiit in montem orare.

47 καὶ ὀψίας γενομένης ἦν τὸ πλοῖον ἐν μέσῳ τῆς θαλάσσης, καὶ αὐτὸς μόνος ἐπὶ τῆς γῆς.

And it having become evening, the boat was in the middle of the sea, and he was alone upon the land.

47 Et cum sero factum esset, erat navis in medio mari, et ipse solus in terra.

48 καὶ ἰδὼν αὐτοὺς βασανιζομένους ἐν τῷ ἐλαύνειν, ἦν γὰρ ὁ ἄνεμος ἐναντίος αὐτοῖς, περὶ τετάρτην φυλακὴν τῆς νυκτὸς ἔρχεται πρὸς αὐτοὺς περιπατῶν ἐπὶ τῆς θαλάσσης: καὶ ἤθελεν παρελθεῖν αὐτούς.

And he saw them being tortured in the propulsion (having difficulty with the rowing), for there was a wind against them, and around the third watch of the night he went to them walking upon the water; for he wished to approach them.

Here’s a situation in which it’s best not to examine this too closely, because there is no way I can make sense of all this. First, he sees them struggling with the oars, after it’s become evening. How far away was he?  Granted, he was on the mountain, so his range of sight would presumably be extended to some degree. But then, it had become evening, so how much light was there? Second, we are suddenly in the third watch of the night. Just as the day was divided into 12 hours, the night was divided into 4 watches; so each was about 3 hours long at the Equinox. (Note: the hours and watches expanded and contracted as the days got longer and shorter). So we’re coming into the fourth watch, which would take us to dawn. IOW, it’s the middle of the night. And now Jesus, walking, is able to overtake the boat.

Now, of course, if he were a divine being, none of this would be outside Jesus’ capability. Ergo, the implication to be drawn is that Jesus was a divine being.

Finally, note how the praying worked to keep him on shore,while everyone else was in the boat. Hence, I referred to the praying by himself as a literary/plot device.

48 Et videns eos laborantes in remigando, erat enim ventus contrarius eis, circa quartam vigiliam noctis venit ad eos ambulans super mare et volebat praeterire eos.

49 οἱ δὲ ἰδόντες αὐτὸν ἐπὶ τῆς θαλάσσης περιπατοῦντα ἔδοξαν ὅτι φάντασμά ἐστιν, καὶ ἀνέκραξαν:

They, seeing him walking on the sea, believed that he was a phantasm, and they cried out:

This is interesting: a phantasm, which is a directly transliteration of the Greek: the same sounds, but written in the English vs the Greek alphabet. Here, and in the corresponding version of Matthew, are the only instances of this in the NT. What does it mean here?

This is a good question. It’s not exactly a common word among classical writers,either. Spirit; apparition; phantasm = phantom…The idea is a non-corporeal figure. I mention this because our idea of ghosts is a fairly recent invention. I ran into some discussion about how the ghosts of  Banquo or Hamlet’s father would have been understood by the contemporary audience. The author was arguing that they would have been seen as demons by the Elizabethans, rather than as the spirits of the departed as we understand the term. Think of the incident of Saul and the Witch of Endor: was it Samuel? Or a demon in the form of Samuel? 

49 At illi, ut viderunt eum ambulantem super mare, putaverunt phantasma esse et exclamaverunt;

50 πάντες γὰρ αὐτὸν εἶδον καὶ ἐταράχθησαν. ὁ δὲ εὐθὺς ἐλάλησεν μετ’ αὐτῶν, καὶ λέγει αὐτοῖς, Θαρσεῖτε, ἐγώ εἰμι: μὴ φοβεῖσθε.

For they all saw him and they were disturbed. But he immediately spoke with them, and he said to them, “Take heart! It is I. Do not be afraid.”

Jesus calms the disciples; it is indeed he, and not something else. There are numerous points in mark where the disciples are unbelievably thick about figuring out what is going on, and this is one of the lesser ones. Here, in the middle of the night, fighting a storm, seeing something walking on the water, we can perhaps forgive them for being a bit obtuse.

50 omnes enim eum viderunt et conturbati sunt. Statim autem locutus est cum eis et dicit illis: “ Confidite, ego sum; nolite timere! ”.

51 καὶ ἀνέβη πρὸς αὐτοὺς εἰς τὸ πλοῖον, καὶ ἐκόπασεν ὁ ἄνεμος. καὶ λίαν [ἐκ περισσοῦ] ἐν ἑαυτοῖς ἐξίσταντο,

And he came up towards them in the boat, and the wind ceased and they were very much  [beyond measure ] astonished amongst themselves.

The KJV is the only one of my crib translations that includes the [ἐκ περισσοῦ]. This would seem to indicate that this is in older versions, but more recent scholarship has decided does not belong.

51 Et ascendit ad illos in navem, et cessavit ventus. Et valde nimis intra se stupebant;

52 οὐ γὰρ συνῆκαν ἐπὶ τοῖς ἄρτοις, ἀλλ’ ἦν αὐτῶν ἡ καρδία πεπωρωμένη.

For they had not understood about the bread, but the heart (singular) of them (plural; = their collective heart) had been hardened.

The whole hardened heart thing has always perplexed me. “Their collective heart had been hardened”. It’s in the passive in Greek, too, which means that someone or something was the agent, the one actually performing the action. Who? In Exodus, we are told that Pharaoh’s heart had been hardened as well, meaning that God was making Pharaoh do something, and then God would subsequently punish Pharaoh for what God had compelled him to do. That always struck me as rather unjust. I make you do something, then blame you for doing it.

So, here, how is it that the disciples are responsible for not understanding if some outside agent (God/Jesus, presumably) is responsible for the lack of understanding? Here, the disciples are, to some extent, held up to reproach for their lack of understanding. The dullards!

And the God/Jesus thing is interesting, too. Is Jesus responsible? If Jesus = God, as John says, then the answer is “yes”. But do we have the sense here that God and Jesus are the same entity? I would say we don’t. If so, how is it that Jesus is divine, and can feed in the wilderness, walk on water, and calm the storm? The first and third are clearly the province of divinity. But if he is not responsible for the hardened heart because Jesus <=> God, then how is Jesus divine? Was he adopted in some sense at the baptism? How does that work? How does he become divine, since he presumably becomes divine.

Saying this, I realize there is no necessary correlation between Jesus not being responsible, which means he is not the same as God (certainly not in the later sense of the Trinity), and so he became divine in some way. However, that is the most compact explanation. Otherwise, we’re off into whether Jesus was like an angel or some such tangent of speculation.

52 non enim intellexerant de panibus, sed erat cor illorum obcaecatum.

53 Καὶ διαπεράσαντες ἐπὶ τὴν γῆν ἦλθονεἰς Γεννησαρὲτ καὶ προσωρμίσθησαν.

And having passed over (the sea) it was in/to the land of Gennesaret and they drew up on shore.

Not entirely sure what, or how much, to make of this, but here goes. From Caphernaum, Bethsaida and Gennesaret are in opposite directions, and each is some distance from Caphernaum. In V-45, we were told that they were heading to the shore around Bethsaida. We do not know, exactly, from where they started, so it’s certainly possible that they went towards  Bethsaida and then went past, went past Caphernaum, and continued on to Gennesaret. The latter is on the east side of the lake, along with the land of the Gerasene demonaic, while Bethsaida is on the west shore. Jesus spent more time on this western shore; it’s the area of the Decapolis, of Tiberias, of Sidon & Tyre. Caphernaum is, more or less, at the northernmost point of the sea.

Yes, you can make it work out, but it’s not entirely obvious how it works. 

53 Et cum transfretassent in terram, pervenerunt Gennesaret et applicuerunt.

54 καὶ ἐξελθόντων αὐτῶν ἐκ τοῦ πλοίου εὐθὺς ἐπιγνόντες αὐτὸν

And they (=Jesus & co.) coming out of the boat immediately those recognizing him

This is kind of interesting: he’s recognised even over here. Word of him did travel.

54 Cumque egressi essent de navi, continuo cognoverunt eum

55 περιέδραμον ὅλην τὴν χώραν ἐκείνην καὶ ἤρξαντο ἐπὶ τοῖς κραβάττοις τοὺς κακῶς ἔχοντας περιφέρειν ὅπου ἤκουον ὅτι ἐστίν.

ran from all over that country and they began upon litters/mats (= stretchers) to bring those having evils (= diseases/illness) when they heard where he was.

55 et percurrentes universam regionem illam coeperunt in grabatis eos, qui se male habebant, circumferre, ubi audiebant eum esse.

56 καὶ ὅπου ἂν εἰσεπορεύετο εἰς κώμας ἢ εἰς πόλεις ἢ εἰς ἀγροὺς ἐν ταῖς ἀγοραῖς ἐτίθεσαν τοὺς ἀσθενοῦντας, καὶ παρεκάλουν αὐτὸν ἵνα κἂν τοῦ κρασπέδου τοῦ ἱματίου αὐτοῦ ἅψωνται: καὶ ὅσοι ἂν ἥψαντο αὐτοῦ ἐσῴζοντο.

And when he entered into villages or cities or the fields, in the marketplaces they placed those being sick (lit = ‘weak’, or ‘weakened’) and they called on (begged; beseeched) him in order that the hem of his cloak to touch; and whoever touched this (part) of him, they were saved.

56 Et quocumque introibat in vicos aut in civitates vel in villas, in plateis ponebant infirmos; et deprecabantur eum, ut vel fimbriam vestimenti eius tangerent; et, quotquot tangebant eum, salvi fiebant.

<< ἐσῴζοντο >> means ‘saved’. We discussed this word before, back in the story of the bleeding woman. The root or base meaning is to save, especially as in to save someone’s life. Here, where we are dealing with those made weak by disease, saving someone’s life in a literal, non-metaphorical sense is completely appropriate. Now, talking about ‘being saved’ in a Christian context, the world has an entirely other set of implications; however, in the situations where Mark has used this so far, we can take this to refer to our physical, temporal life. We have not quite loosened ourselves from the world.

More, checking back, I notice that we did not encounter the word in either of Paul’s letters. He did use it, in the more metaphorical sense, in 1 Corinthians. This means that, by the time Mark and the other evangelists wrote, the word had taken on the metaphorical, if not metaphysical dimensions that we understand when Christians speak of ‘being saved’. 

So the question becomes: why does Mark use the word in so mundane a fashion? Sure, we can read lots of stuff into ‘being saved’, but the point is that these implications do not exist in the words as we are reading them. Sure, you can argue this, but in any commonsense, face-value reading–which means not reading 2,000 years of Christian exegesis into the word whenever it occurs–it is apparent and even obvious that Mark does not mean ‘eternal life’ here. Perhaps it is present in the story of the bleeding woman; it is at least potentially appropriate in that story, and the story of Jairus, since both hinge upon the faith of the recipients of Jesus’ ministrations. In this story, OTOH, the latitude for interpretation isn’t nearly so wide.

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About James, brother of Jesus

I have a BA from the University of Toronto in Greek and Roman History. For this, I had to learn classical Greek and Latin. In seminar-style classes, we discussed both the meaning of the text and the language. U of T has a great Classics Dept. One of the professors I took a Senior Seminar with is now at Harvard. I started reading the New Testament as a way to brush up on my Greek, and the process grew into this. I plan to comment on as much of the NT as possible, starting with some of Paul's letters. After that, I'll start in on the Gospels, starting with Mark.

Posted on March 16, 2013, in gospel commentary, gospels, mark's gospel and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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