Mark Chapter 7:24-37

This will conclude Chapter 7.

24 Ἐκεῖθεν δὲ ἀναστὰς ἀπῆλθεν εἰς τὰ ὅρια Τύρου. καὶ εἰσελθὼν εἰς οἰκίαν οὐδένα ἤθελεν γνῶναι, καὶ οὐκ ἠδυνήθη λαθεῖν:

Then getting up he went to the territory of Tyre (Sidon is not in the Greek, but it is in the Latin). And they entering a house they did not wish anyone to know, and they were not able to escape notice.

Note that this is in the territory of Tyre. Sidon and Tyre were in the heart of Phoenicia; that is, they were not Hebrew/Jewish cities, but settled and populated largely by Gentiles; “Syro-Phoenician” (see below) is a common term for the population and the culture, which was an amalgam of 3,000 years of being an important commercial area.

24 Inde autem surgens abiit in fines Tyri et Sidonis. Et ingressus domum neminem voluit scire et non potuit latere.

25 ἀλλ’ εὐθὺς ἀκούσασα γυνὴ περὶ αὐτοῦ, ἧς εἶχεν τὸ θυγάτριον αὐτῆς πνεῦμα ἀκάθαρτον, ἐλθοῦσα προσέπεσεν πρὸς τοὺς πόδας αὐτοῦ:

But immediately a woman hearing about him, who had a daughter, her (the daughter) with an unclean spirit, coming (the woman) fell before his feet.

Two things: once again, Jesus’ reputation precedes him. Back in 1:45, we were told, he could not enter a town openly. Here, we are not told explicitly that he went into Tyre; in, fact, we are explicitly told that he only went into the territory of Tyre. Presumably this does not mean the city itself. But, regardless, people hear and they come, even when he tries to stay out of sight.

But doesn’t this make one ask: why does he want to stay hidden? Was not the point to spread the good news? Is he trying for some rest? If so, wouldn’t the wilderness be more effective? These are the sorts of details that, IMO, demonstrate pretty conclusively that we are not dealing with any sort of historical, or even journalistic account. This is hagiography, and the course of events is determined largely by what the narrator wishes to express.

25 Sed statim ut audivit de eo mulier, cuius habebat filia spiritum immundum, veniens procidit ad pedes eius.

26 ἡ δὲ γυνὴ ἦν Ἑλληνίς, Συροφοινίκισσα τῷ γένει: καὶ ἠρώτα αὐτὸν ἵνα τὸ δαιμόνιον ἐκβάλῃ ἐκ τῆς θυγατρὸς αὐτῆς.

The woman was Greek, Syro-Phoenician by birth. And she asked him in order that he might cast out the demon from her daughter.

Notice that we are told she was Greek, but also that she was Syro-Phoenician by birth. The latter was her ethnic background; she was Greek because she participated in the general Hellenistic practices of the times. The point is that “Greek” was a way of life, something not necessarily related to what your ethnic background was.

26 Erat autem mulier Graeca, Syrophoenissa genere. Et rogabat eum, ut daemonium eiceret de filia eius.

27 καὶ ἔλεγεν αὐτῇ, Ἄφες πρῶτον χορτασθῆναι τὰ τέκνα, οὐ γάρ ἐστιν καλὸν λαβεῖν τὸν ἄρτον τῶν τέκνων καὶ τοῖς κυναρίοις βαλεῖν.

And he said to her, “First allow the children to be satisfied, for it is not good to take the bread from the children and throw it to the dogs.”

This makes no sense. At least, it doesn’t, if you don’t know the slightly longer story in Matthew 15:27. There Jesus tells the woman that he was only sent to the children of Israel; as a Gentile, the implication is that she was the dog, and that he could not take the bread from the children of Israel and toss it before the likes of her.  Not a very nice analogy.

27 Et dicebat illi: “ Sine prius saturari filios; non est enim bonum sumere panem filiorum et mittere catellis ”.

28 ἡ δὲ ἀπεκρίθη καὶ λέγει αὐτῷ, Κύριε, καὶ τὰ κυνάρια ὑποκάτω τῆς τραπέζης ἐσθίουσιν ἀπὸ τῶν ψιχίων τῶν παιδίων.

But she answered and said to him, “Lord, even the dogs under the table (transliterated: trapezoid) eat the crumbs of the children.”

28 At illa respondit et dicit ei: “ Domine, etiam catelli sub mensa comedunt de micis puerorum ”.

29 καὶ εἶπεν αὐτῇ,  Διὰ τοῦτον τὸν λόγον ὕπαγε, ἐξελήλυθεν ἐκ τῆς θυγατρός σου τὸ δαιμόνιον.

And he said to her, “Because of this speech, go, the demon has gone from your daughter.”

This is one of the few times where ‘daimonion’ and ‘unclean spirit’ are equated this explicitly.

<< λόγον>> is a remarkably versatile word. It is, of course, the Logos, as in The Word, as in, “In the beginning was the Word…(Jn 1:1). But it can mean speech, as in ‘deliver a speech’; note that this is rendered in Latin as “sermon”. It can also mean something like ‘thought’ or ‘idea’, and that’s probably the nuance intended here.

One Sunday during a hot summer, we had a guest priest at our church because the rector was away. This–or, the version from Matthew–was the gospel text. I was very much excited that I would hear him speak on the text, because I found it…unsettling. Due to the heat, however, the priest chose not to deliver a sermon. But he did say, “Do you really think that Jesus was not going to do as the woman asked?” In Matthew’s version, he states that he is impressed by her faith. 

I found that a brilliant insight. On the surface, Jesus is being something very close to rude, if not exclusionary, or even bigoted. Underneath it, though, he had the intent of doing as asked. My question, though, is more…stylistic, I suppose. How are we to know why he’s talking about dogs? Can we assume it’s because she’s a Gentile? More, can we assume that the audience would pick up on this as a matter of course?

Maybe. But I sure didn’t. This makes me speculate: perhaps this is how the story came down to Mark; Matthew found it a bit hard to follow, so he added a couple of touches to make it more comprehensible.

29 Et ait illi: “ Propter hunc sermonem vade; exiit daemonium de filia tua ”.

30 καὶ ἀπελθοῦσα εἰς τὸν οἶκον αὐτῆς εὗρεν τὸ παιδίον βεβλημένον ἐπὶτὴν κλίνην καὶ τὸ δαιμόνιον ἐξεληλυθός.

30 Et cum abisset domum suam, invenit puellam iacentem supra lectum et daemonium exisse.

 31 Καὶ πάλιν ἐξελθὼν ἐκ τῶν ὁρίων Τύρου ἦλθεν διὰ Σιδῶνος εἰς τὴν θάλασσαν τῆς Γαλιλαίας ἀνὰ μέσον τῶν ὁρίων Δεκαπόλεως.

And again leaving the territory of Tyre he came through Sidon to the Sea of Galilee, in the middle of the territory of the Decapolis.

Travelogue note: Sidon is actually a fair distance to the north of Tyre, which is already north and west of the Sea of Galilee. Going through Sidon to get to the Decapolis means taking a long detour, probably a few day’s journey. To what end? What happened?

And the Decapolis was a group of ten towns (deca-polis) on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee. These were also “Greek” towns, at least by culture.

31 Et iterum exiens de finibus Tyri venit per Sidonem ad mare Galilaeae inter medios fines Decapoleos.

32 καὶ φέρουσιν αὐτῷ κωφὸν καὶ μογιλάλον, καὶ παρακαλοῦσιν αὐτὸν ἵνα ἐπιθῇ αὐτῷ τὴν χεῖρα.

And they brought to him a deaf man and unable to speak, and they beseeched him in order that he (Jesus) might lay (his) hands on him (the man).

Just to reinforce: these may well be Gentiles, pagans, rather than Jews; however, unless we’re told, we can’t know for sure. 

32 Et adducunt ei surdum et mutum et deprecantur eum, ut imponat illi manum.

33 καὶ ἀπολαβόμενος αὐτὸν ἀπὸ τοῦ ὄχλου κατ’ ἰδίαν ἔβαλεν τοὺς δακτύλους αὐτοῦ εἰς τὰ ὦτα αὐτοῦ καὶ πτύσας ἥψατο τῆς γλώσσης αὐτοῦ,

And taking him away from the crowd, in private he threw (note!) his fingers into the ears (of the man) and spitting he touched the tongue.

The Greek: the base/root meaning of << ἔβαλεν >> is ‘to throw’, so I have given it the literal translation here. However, this makes little sense here, and it is generally translated as “thrust”. I guess the thinking is that a spear can be thrown, or it can be thrust as it was very often in The Illiad.  In this case, I would generally agree that the consensus translation of ‘thrust’ (or ‘stuck’) is acceptable, since throwing fingers really doesn’t quite work.

Second point: << πτύσας >>   The transliteration would be “ptusas”.  Say this word aloud. then realize it means ‘to spit’ (here, ‘spitting’). I find it to be a real case of onomatopoeia, because if  ‘ptusas’ doesn’t sound like someone spitting, I don’t know what would.

Finally: ‘onomatopoeia’ is itself pretty much Greek. It means, ‘making (its) name’. That is, a word that makes the name of the word. This is a pretty good definition of the word.

Non-Greek: This is, I believe, the only instance of Jesus taking someone out, away from the crowd before performing the healing. Why the need for this? Secondly, its also the first time that Jesus performs any sort of ritual actions: sticking his fingers in the affected ears, spitting and touching the tongue. In other situations, this was not necessary at all. The bleeding woman only had to touch his garment. Why?

My first, but not necessarily the most correct, sense is that this has something to do with the man, and the crowd, being pagan. Robin Lane Fox, in Pagans and Christians, discusses the pagan wonder-workers of the first few centuries CE, that they were not at all uncommon, as even the Christian Apologist writers concede. Is this an instance where Jesus was playing to the expectation of the crowd? That the pagans would have expected some sort of display, so he gave it to them?

I really have no idea if this is anywhere near ‘correct’. First of all because it assumes that the event took place in anything like the form described, which is by no means a given. Or, it could be Mark who wanted to show how Jesus could work with pagans, too. It’s just this is the sort of anomalous situation that requires some explanation. Why is it here? What does it mean?

33 Et apprehendens eum de turba seorsum misit digitos suos in auriculas eius et exspuens tetigit linguam eius

34 καὶ ἀναβλέψας εἰς τὸν οὐρανὸν ἐστέναξεν, καὶ λέγει αὐτῷ, Εφφαθα, ὅ ἐστιν, Διανοίχθητι.

And looking towards the sky, he sighed, and he said, “Ephphatha”, which is “Open”.

Once again, Mark needs to translate. But: the looking towards the sky; do we take that as significant? Is he looking up for help? Or power? Or out of veneration?

A word about << τὸν οὐρανὸν >>. This is the word that, eventually, becomes ‘heaven’. As in Pearly Gates, harps, & the works. However, at its root, the word really only means ‘sky’. Here’s the other thing: sometimes, it’s the singular; other times it’s plural, as in ‘the heavens’. The point is that it does not mean ‘heaven’ as we have come to use the word. But modern English does maintain the sense of the plural, as in ‘the heavens’, which is  more or less synonymous with ‘the sky’. So the point is, Jesus was not necessarily looking to “heaven”, but more like to “the sky.” This is a situation similar to “Holy Spirit”, in which a word has become so fraught with implications that it’s hard to step back and see it for what it is. It’s like trying to hear a very old song, very familiar song, one that you’ve heard ten thousand times, with fresh ears.

34 et suspiciens in caelum ingemuit et ait illi: “ Effetha ”, quod est: “ Adaperire ”.

35 καὶ[εὐθέως] ἠνοίγησαν αὐτοῦ αἱ ἀκοαί, καὶ ἐλύθη ὁ δεσμὸς τῆς γλώσσης αὐτοῦ, καὶ ἐλάλει ὀρθῶς.

And immediately his ears opened, and the binding of his tongue was loosened, and he spoke correctly.

“And the binding of his tongue was loosened” is a very literal translation. I include this as commentary, rather than as notes on the Greek because it gives, IMO, an insight into the way people perceived the world back in the First Century CE. This indicates, IMO, that the problem was external, that there was some…thing that was interfering with the man’s tongue, effectively tying it down. This ties in well with the whole worldview that saw the world as full of external agents, spirits or demons or whatever. Not that his muteness was caused by a spirit necessarily, but that the cause was, to some degree and in some way, external to the person. This is the sort of worldview that has to be overcome in order to invent modern medicine.

35 Et statim apertae sunt aures eius, et solutum est vinculum linguae eius, et loquebatur recte.

36 καὶ διεστείλατο αὐτοῖς ἵνα μηδενὶ λέγωσιν: ὅσον δὲ αὐτοῖς διεστέλλετο, αὐτοὶ μᾶλλον περισσότερον ἐκήρυσσον.

And he commanded them in order that he not tell anyone; but, however much he commanded, so much more did they proclaim it.

Interesting point: back in V-33, we are told that Jesus took the man away from the crowd and spoke with him in private. Now, we have a plural subject proclaiming the news. Where did these others come from? Were they there all along? Was this the man’s retinue, the group of friends or relatives who brought him to Jesus? The Greek, <<κατ’ ἰδίαν>> could easily include them. It’s just that we have no idea they’re there until now.

36 Et praecepit illis, ne cui dicerent; quanto autem eis praecipiebat, tanto magis plus praedicabant.

37 καὶ ὑπερπερισσῶς ἐξεπλήσσοντο λέγοντες, Καλῶς πάντα πεποίηκεν: καὶ τοὺς κωφοὺς ποιεῖ ἀκούειν καὶ [τοὺς] ἀλάλους λαλεῖν.

And they were even more astonished, saying, “How well he has done all (this), and he makes the deaf to hear and the mute to speak.

Now the deaf hearing and the mute speaking is an echo of Isaiah. That it’s the crowd saying this sure seems like something a Jewish crowd would say; generally speaking, Gentiles were not all that familiar with Isaiah, or the Hebrew scriptures in general. This is the sort of internal inconsistency that makes it difficult to really weigh out who the audience is here. There were Jews living around the Decapolis, so it’s hardly out of the question that those citing Isaiah were Jewish. It’s just not what we would expect. 

37 Et eo amplius admirabantur dicentes: “ Bene omnia fecit, et surdos facit audire et mutos loqui! ”.


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 31, 2013, in gospel commentary, gospels, mark's gospel and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. With the Decapolis on the eastern side of Galilee, it is Syrian-Greek bordering Upper Mesopotamia. In a way, a trip to Phoenicia and then to Mesopotamia would repeat part of the story of Jonah, one of the few prophets of Galilee, born near Nazareth, who (traditionally) was the boy raised from the dead by Elijah, was told by God to go to Nineveh (upper Mesopotamia), instead sailed from southern Phoenicia, was swallowed by a fish for three days, and ended up in Nineveh. It is no wonder that Jesus was traditionally connected to Jonah in iconography, possibly including the fish? The Book of Jonah is also read on Yom Kippur, the day of atonement, whereas in Christian theology, Jesus died to atone for the sins of all mankind.

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