Monthly Archives: April 2013

Mark Chapter 9:1-13

The first section of Chapter 9 is the description of the Transfiguration.

1Καὶ ἔλεγεν αὐτοῖς, Ἀμὴν λέγω ὑμῖν ὅτι εἰσίν τινες ὧδε τῶν ἑστηκότων οἵτινες οὐμὴ γεύσωνται θανάτου ἕως ἂν ἴδωσιν τὴν βασιλείαν τοῦ θεοῦ ἐληλυθυῖαν ἐνδυνάμει.

And he said to them, “Amen I say to you that there are some of those standing here who will not taste death until seeing the kingdom of God coming in power.

First, I would argue that this should have been appended to the end of Chapter 8, rather than be the opening of Chapter 9. As such, it would follow directly upon Jesus’ warning that any who were ashamed of him would find themselves on the outside looking in when the son of man came back in the glory of the Father.

In effect. Jesus (or Mark, really) is doubling down on ‘the end is near’ prophecy. This strikes me as very odd, given that Mark is reporting a scene of forty years prior. Now, perhaps there were some who were still alive, but there couldn’t have been many; some who were children or young adults during Jesus’ ministry, but that would have been about all. So why does Mark include this? It seems almost a deliberate set-up.

My first instinct about this is to believe that this may be an actual, authentic statement of the historical Jesus. It simply makes no sense otherwise. One of the criteria–perhaps the most important–that the QHJ people use for determining an authentic statement of Jesus is if it’s embarrassing. They generally mean embarrassing to the church as it was coming to be, and this statement could certainly be considered embarrassing to those followers of Jesus, like Mark, who were repeating this statement. I would really like to have been around for the Q&A on this after the reading. How would Mark have responded to a question about this? What could he have said? What can we say?

Now, believing this to be authentic is my first reaction. Further thought, however, reflection brings up other possibilities. We saw that Paul seemed to believe in an immanent return. But Paul doesn’t quote Jesus, so, really, we have no way of knowing if this idea of an immanent return dated back to Jesus, or to something that Paul or other proselytizers had concocted, or concluded. Honestly, though, my money would be on this being authentic.

This leads us back to the idea that Jesus was an end-times prophet of Apocalypse. That he is predicting the coming of the son of man in glory (8:38), or power (as here), sure sounds like end-times stuff to me. Not sure how else to interpret that. However, this is only one piece of the puzzle, albeit one that seems rather pivotal.

The other thing, one that I should have addressed at the end of Chapter 8, is the whole ‘son of man’ thing. Who is the ‘son of man’? What, exactly, does this phrase exactly mean? Current scholarship traces this back to a line in Daniel (another apocalyptic work), in which the figure on the throne is ‘as a son of man’; i.e., human in form. Accordingly, this expression is simply another way of saying ‘a man’, as in, ‘a human’. That seems reasonable. But then, using substitution, let’s see how this reads: ‘until a man  comes in the glory of the father.’ It works; but it seems a bit vague. “Man” could be replaced by, ‘a guy’, or ‘some dude’ without re

One suspects that Jesus had someone more specific in mind. One of the QHJ people (my apologies; I cannot recall exactly which) has suggested that this is an orotund way of saying ‘yours truly.’ I didn’t much care for this suggestion until about three minutes ago. Now it seems to make a lot of sense. It has been suggested that this could be Jesus referring to someone other than himself. I have personally given that idea credence, especially given the other ambiguities about whether Mark considered Jesus to be divine. Now, though, my sense is that Jesus is talking about himself; however, that is a sense, little more than a gut feeling, which bears absolutely no resemblance to a real argument. As such, I reserve the right to reconsider.

1 Et dicebat illis: “Amen dico vobis: Sunt quidam de hic stantibus, qui non gustabunt mortem, donec videant regnum Dei venisse in virtute ”.

2 Καὶ μετὰ ἡμέρας ἓξ παραλαμβάνει ὁ Ἰησοῦς τὸν Πέτρον καὶ τὸν Ἰάκωβονκαὶ τὸν Ἰωάννην, καὶ ἀναφέρει αὐτοὺς εἰς ὄρος ὑψηλὸν κατ’ ἰδίαν μόνους. καὶ μετεμορφώθη ἔμπροσθεν αὐτῶν,

And after six days, Jesus taking Peter and James and John, and he led them up a high mountain by themselves alone. And he changed his form before them.

See, this seems like a much more logical break than the previous line. It would seem to me that Chapter 9 should start here. And I love the ‘six days’. Very specific. Gives a very authentic feel to the narrative. Is it accurate? One wonders how it could be. What sort of tradition would pass down this sort of detail? Something this specific should be automatically suspect.

2 Et post dies sex assumit Iesus Petrum et Iacobum et Ioannem, et ducit illos in montem excelsum seorsum solos. Et transfiguratus est coram ipsis;

3 καὶ τὰ ἱμάτια αὐτοῦ ἐγένετο στίλβοντα λευκὰλίαν οἷα γναφεὺς ἐπὶ τῆς γῆς οὐ δύναται οὕτως λευκᾶναι.

And his clothes became dazzling white, so much as the fullers of the earth would not be able to whiten.

This is probably a literary comment, rather than an historical one, but it’s interesting how Mark tries to express something beyond human in very human terms. Fullers were those textile workers who blanched, or bleached the cloth white so that the dye would be more true. I guess it works, since he’s effectively saying that this was beyond human capability.

3 et vestimenta eius facta sunt splendentia, candida nimis, qualia fullo super terram non potest tam candida facere.

4 καὶ ὤφθη αὐτοῖς Ἠλίας σὺν Μωϋσεῖ, καὶ ἦσαν συλλαλοῦντες τῷ Ἰησοῦ.

And were seen by them Elijah with Moses, and they were talking to Jesus.

There is an interesting difference between the Latin and the Greek here. Note the verb: “were seen by”. Elijah and Moses were seen by them. Not, ‘they were there’, but they were seen by the three disciples. Nor is it ‘they appeared’ as the Latin said. Not only that, the choice of words really hedges what was going on. It does not explicitly state  that either of these gentlemen were on the scene, but that ‘they were seen by’ the disciples. Why so coy? St Jerome had no such qualms; Moses and Elijah appeared.

And, again, note that it’s Elijah. He was the most important of the prophets in the Jewish tradition.

4 Et apparuit illis Elias cum Moyse, et erant loquentes cum Iesu.

5 καὶ ἀποκριθεὶς ὁ Πέτρος λέγει τῷ Ἰησοῦ, Ῥαββί, καλόν ἐστιν ἡμᾶς ὧδε εἶναι, καὶ ποιήσωμεν τρεῖς σκηνάς, σοὶ μίαν καὶ Μωϋσεῖ μίαν καὶ Ἠλίᾳ μίαν.

And answering, Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good (lit = beautiful) we are here now, and we will make three tents, for you alone, and for Moses alone, and for Elijah alone.”

Peter is simply babbling. Yes, it makes sense, but….

5 Et respondens Petrus ait Iesu: “ Rabbi, bonum est nos hic esse; et faciamus tria tabernacula: tibi unum et Moysi unum et Eliae unum ”.

6 οὐ γὰρ ᾔδει τί ἀποκριθῇ, ἔκφοβοι γὰρ ἐγένοντο.

For he did not know what he should answer, for they were frightened.

Mark agrees that Peter was babbling. This is an excellent, very humanizing detail.

6 Non enim sciebat quid responderet; erant enim exterriti.

7 καὶ ἐγένετο νεφέλη ἐπισκιάζουσα αὐτοῖς, καὶ ἐγένετο φωνὴ ἐκ τῆς νεφέλης, Οὗτός ἐστιν ὁ υἱός μου ὁ ἀγαπητός, ἀκούετε αὐτοῦ.

And there was a cloud enshadowing them, and there was a voice from the cloud, “This is my son, the beloved, listen to him.”

Of course this is similar to what happened at Jesus’ baptism. In both places are told that Jesus is the son of the speaker, who is presumed to be God. After that, the wording is slightly different than what the voice said at the baptism; here, we are instructed to listen to him.

The placement and purpose of this story are self-evident: Jesus is revealed fully, in his heavenly glory, and is to be fully identified with the ancient race of the Hebrews. Both are important. Of course, we need to know about Jesus’ identity, especially after some of the ambiguity of some parts of Chapter 8. Here, there can be no doubt: Jesus is a full partaker of the glory of the Father., which is the line used in the last verse of the previous chapter. The point, though, is not what I or we might think of this as historical incidents; the NT is not an historical document. What matters is what the author (or, I suspect, authors) wanted to tell us. Here, the message is very plain: Jesus was the son of God.

The question, however, is when was this story composed? Was this part of the narrative from the beginning? Possibly. But recall that what, apparently, circulated about Jesus up to the time of the destruction of the Temple were his sayings; the so-called ‘Q’ source. There is nothing in there that would imply an episode like this. If true, who composed this story? Was it part of the oral tradition that had grown up about and around Jesus? Or did Mark compose the story? Or a later editor who felt it necessary to enhance the identity of Jesus to bring it more into line with what the later gospels, Luke and especially John? Without being able (at the moment) to set out an argument that I find compelling, I suspect this latter. The fact that Mark is translation Greek makes it difficult–for me, anyway–to peel off layers. But I suspect there are a number of layers there.

But! There is another part to this. Jesus is paired with Moses and Elijah. As such, he is intimately entwined with the whole of Hebrew/Jewish history. This became extremely important, as I have indicated before. However, I just started reading the Ecclesiastical History of Eusebios of Caesarea. I’m barely inside the front cover, but very early he has a section intended to demonstrate that the message of Christianity is not some novel invention. Rather, it dates all the way back to Abraham, who was justified by his faith. The Christian faith, he emphasizes, is not some novel invention, but grows from the ancient root of Judaism. In fact, it’s said to be the true interpretation of Judaism. Having Jesus converse with Moses and Elijah proves this, beyond any possible doubt.

Adducing the pedigree of Christianity only became important when pagans became the primary audience for new converts. As such, that probably means a later genesis for this story. Jesus did not have to prove his Jewish bona fides, but later proto-Christian preachers did. These preachers were addressing crowds familiar with Homer, or some of the tales of ancient Mesopotamia and only an equally ancient origin would get–and keep–their attention.

7 Et facta est nubes obumbrans eos, et venit vox de nube: “ Hic est Filius meus dilectus; audite illum ”.

8 καὶ ἐξάπινα περιβλεψάμενοι οὐκέτι οὐδένα εἶδον ἀλλὰ τὸν Ἰησοῦν μόνον μεθ’ ἑαυτῶν.

And immediately looking about they no longer saw anyone except Jesus alone by himself.

And then, it’s over.

8 Et statim circumspicientes neminem amplius viderunt nisi Iesum tantum secum.

9 Καὶ καταβαινόντων αὐτῶν ἐκ τοῦ ὄρους διεστείλατο αὐτοῖς ἵνα μηδενὶ ἃ εἶδον διηγήσωνται, εἰ μὴ ὅταν ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου ἐκ νεκρῶν ἀναστῇ.

And them coming down from the mountain he commanded them in order that they not tell no one that which they saw until such time (when) the son of man should rise from the dead.

This is interesting. This is the first mention of rising, or being raised from the dead in Mark, with a single exception. That was back in Chapter 6:14 & 16, when Herod wondered if Jesus were John the Baptist, risen from the dead. So once again, we have another significant theme being introduced late in the chapter. Why is this happening now? Is it driven solely by the progression of the narrative? The end is drawing near, so Jesus needs to prepare his disciples. That would be the simplest explanation. Is it the right one?

And here, it is ‘rising’ from the dead. Jesus has cast himself as the actor, rather than projecting that he will be raised from the dead by God.

9 Et descendentibus illis de monte, praecepit illis, ne cui, quae vidissent, narrarent, nisi cum Filius hominis a mortuis resurrexerit.

10 καὶ τὸν λόγον ἐκράτησαν πρὸς ἑαυτοὺς συζητοῦντες τί ἐστιν τὸ ἐκ νεκρῶν ἀναστῆναι.

And this expression held them to themselves, seeking together what it is to rise from the dead.

The disciples don’t quite understand. This may be due, at least in part, to the fact that the Pharisees believed in the resurrection of the body. Josephus tells us as much. However, this was still a controversial and non-mainstream idea, so it may not have made immediate sense to persons raised as Jews. I can’t–simply don’t have the chops–get into a discussion on Jewish views of the afterlife. My limited understanding is that it was somewhat similar to the Greek belief in Hades, as displayed in The Odyssey: sort of a “shadowy half-life.”

A Jewish counterpart is perhaps the famous scene in which the Witch of Endor summons the ghost of King Saul. There was controversy about whether it was truly the spirit of Saul, but even this controversy admits, if begrudgingly, the possibility that the Witch theoretically could have the power to summon the spirit of someone who was dead.

So the point here, IMO, is that rising from the dead was not yet a mainstream idea. This would account for the disciples lack of understanding without making them “Dullards!”.

10 Et verbum continuerunt apud se, conquirentes quid esset illud: “ a mortuis resurgere ”.

11 καὶ ἐπηρώτων αὐτὸν λέγοντες, Οτι λέγουσιν οἱ γραμματεῖς ὅτι Ἠλίαν δεῖ ἐλθεῖν πρῶτον;

And they asked him, saying, “What do the scribes say that Elijah must come first?”

This is a reference to the prophet Malachi (4:5), a late and minor prophet. This book is something of a short apocalypse, promising the coming Day of the Lord. In the verse cited, we are told that the prophet Elijah will be sent before this Day of the Lord. Presumably, this means Elijah will have a second coming; I wish I’d known that before writing some of the things I have!

11 Et interrogabant eum dicentes: “ Quid ergo dicunt scribae quia Eliam oporteat venire primum?”.

12 ὁ δὲ ἔφη αὐτοῖς, Ἠλίας μὲν ἐλθὼν πρῶτον ἀποκαθιστάνει πάντα, καὶ πῶς γέγραπται ἐπὶ τὸν υἱὸν τοῦ ἀνθρώπου ἵνα πολλὰ πάθῃ καὶ ἐξουδενηθῇ;

But he said to them, “While Elijah coming first, restores everything, and as it is written about the Son of Man in order that he must suffer much and be despised.”

We come back to the Son of Man, and now we learn that it is written that he must suffer and be despised. Presumably, this is a reference to Isaiah. (The reference is specifically to Chapters 40-55, which is referred to as Deutero (second) Isaiah because it is believed to have been written later and then appended to the original. And Chapters 56-66 are called Trito (third) Isaiah, being an even later appendage.) I say the reference is ‘presumably’ to Isaiah because I am not entirely certain. Again, if anyone can, please, feel free to set the record straight.

Deutero-Isaiah, especially Chapter 53, talks of a ‘suffering servant’, a man despised and scorned, whom it seems God has smitten with affliction, but who actually suffers for all the people of Israel. This is similar to the idea of a scapegoat, and the exact meaning of Jesus’ suffering and death was the topic of an enormous debate into the early Mediaeval period. As time went on, followers of Jesus latched onto this text as the proof that the OT had prophesied the coming of Jesus as The Christ, and that the entire OT was simply the prelude that led up to the coming of The Christ. (It is the frequent use of this text that led me to believe that Isaiah was the most important of the Hebrew prophets.) By referring to this text, Mark can say that ‘it is written’ about the Son of Man.

Now, this text was no doubt added by the prot0-Christian community, if not by Mark himself. This idea does not date back to Jesus himself. The idea of the Suffering Servant was not a prominent part of mainstream Judaism in the First Century CE. It was not picked up by the works written in the last centuries BCE, usually referred to as the Apocrypha, or the Pseudographa. As such, this effectively demonstrates that early followers of Jesus included a lot of Jews, and devout Jews on top of that. These were people who knew their scriptures. Paul does not make reference to this theme, but then Paul seems quite unconcerned with Jesus the person, unlike the gospels in which Jesus the living person is the central theme. So Paul likely wouldn’t have been invested in this sort of thing. It may have been part of his preaching, but without new evidence, we’ll never know that.

12 Qui ait illis: “ Elias veniens primo, restituit omnia; et quomodo scriptum est super Filio hominis, ut multa patiatur et contemnatur?

13 ἀλλὰ λέγω ὑμῖν ὅτι καὶ Ἠλίας ἐλήλυθεν, καὶ ἐποίησαν αὐτῷ ὅσα ἤθελον, καθὼς γέγραπται ἐπ’ αὐτόν.

“But I say to you that Elijah has come, and they have done to him whatever they wished, according as it is written about him.”

Note what Jesus does here. Rather than take Malachi to imply a ‘second coming’ of Elijah, which is apparently how the disciples seemed to understand it, Jesus takes this literally. By Jesus’ standard, Elijah has come, so the prophecy has already been fulfilled, and should not be expected in the future. This is very adroit argumentation.

To be honest, I’m not familiar enough with the career of Elijah to understand the part about ‘having restored everything’. Anyone willing and able to fill us (me!) in? And, like most Jewish prophets, he preached a message that few wanted to hear. All of this would be familiar to any Jew who had received any sort of teaching in the OT. 

And the implication is clear: since Elijah must come before the Day of the Lord, and he has come, then the Day of the Lord is on its way. Aristotle couldn’t have crafted a better syllogism.

13 Sed dico vobis: Et Elias venit; et fecerunt illi, quaecumque volebant, sicut scriptum est de eo ”.

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Summary Mark Chapter 8

Chapter 8 was, I believe, a pivotal chapter.

We started with the (possibly twinned) feeding of the 4,000, in which Jesus once again demonstrates his ability to feed Israel in the Wilderness, as God did during the Exodus. Then we had the Pharisees looking for a sign, which will not be given to ‘this generation’. Then we talked about bread some more, and Jesus warned against the leaven of the Pharisees, which the disciples took literally, causing Jesus to regret their obtuseness. After that, a blind man is healed, so that the distinction between the disciples who ‘have eyes but do not see’ and some whose sight was restored and who does ‘see’, both literally and figuratively. In contrast to all the difficulty in understanding that the disciples have displayed, Peter was perceptive enough to realize that Jesus was The Christ, The Messiah.

After this, Jesus prophesies his eventual death, which causes Peter to get angry and rebuke Jesus. This leads to Jesus reciting several aphorisms that have become famous: one must deny oneself; one must take up one’s cross; there is no profit to gaining the world and losing one’s own life (or soul); and that whoever is ashamed of Jesus and his words will find himself disowned by the Son of Man when the latter is in the glory of the Father.

From an historical point of view, the most significant aspect of the chapter is the declaration of Peter that Jesus was the Christ. This is the first explicit statement to this effect in the gospels, excluding the opening line of Mark (which was, IMO, a later addition). In this chapter we get a lot of back-and-forth about who Jesus was and who he was thought to be. On the one hand, we saw the episode where Jesus had to try twice  to heal the blind man; it didn’t work fully the first time. Plus, for this healing, and the previous, Jesus is said to have used incantation-like acts and external “ingredients”–spitting–to effect the healing. There is a contrast between the scene with the bleeding woman where the power goes out of Jesus of its own accord, and she is fully healed. Plus, Jesus is suddenly doing the healing outside the town, for reasons which we are not told. Presumably, it’s not to attract undue attention from the secular authorities. This would be Herod, the man who executed John the Baptist a few chapters back.

This internal tension about Jesus’ identity, and a couple of stylistic points have led me to speculate that these last few chapters, or really almost the last half of the work, may have been heavily edited and added to by later writers/editors. Such was hardly unusual in the ancient world. Their idea of an ‘author’ was very different than ours. There was no sense of plagiarism, or deceit seen in writing something under someone else’s name. It’s not altogether different from Renaissance painters, whose students did most of the painting but the maestro’s name was signed at the bottom. I noted that the prophecies are ex-post, which very few biblical scholars would dispute, or even question. I also suggested that some of the statements seem to have been inserted to counter the ambiguity of the text. Why were these ‘offensive’ parts simply not left out, if a later writer thought that he was ‘correcting’, or at least ‘clarifying’ the text? Well, in some cases they were: Luke omitted the line in which Peter rebuked Jesus.

One thing that makes me very suspicious is that certain very key words do not show up until the second half of the gospel. Or, they become used more frequently in the second half of the gospel. “Christ” is one of them. So is “psyche”. These are words that grew heavy with the implications during subsequent developments in what had become “Christian” thought. As such, their sudden appearance later in the text is puzzling; if these were crucial to Jesus’ message, why did it take so long to bring them up? To this point, Jesus has primarily been a healer, who occasionally–but only occasionally–talks about the coming kingdom of God. This was Jesus’ mission statement back in Chapter 1, after he heard about John’s arrest. Nor has he talked much about repentance for the forgiveness of sins, despite the fact that he was supposed to be a disciple of John, or the fulfillment of John’s message. This lack of continuity makes me suspect that the link to John was something of a later invention.

This all leads to the issue of who or what the historical Jesus was. What, exactly, was he preaching? For most of Mark, it’s kind of hard to say. We get scattered references to a lot of things. In Chapter 8 we discussed the idea of Jesus as a preacher of apocalypse. But we’ve also had two episodes of mass feeding that are clearly designed to indicate that Jesus was at least the functional equivalent of God. The two are by no means mutually exclusive. But, looking back, what we have seen most are the healings: whether of physical problems–blindness, leprosy–or spiritual–driving out demons. In conjunction with the healings, we’ve been given several lessons about faith. Jesus could not perform any miracles in his (unnamed) home town because of lack of faith; the bleeding woman and Jairus’ daughter, and the Syro-Phonecian woman’s daughter and others were healed because of their faith. We have also seen Jesus defying the laws of nature by walking on water.

This is why the rather abrupt transition to more theological issues, like losing one’s life, is significant. My contention all along has been that Mark’s intent was to weave together the various strands of tradition that he had heard. Many people witnessed Jesus, but not all of them took away the same message. Indeed, Paul, an after-the-fact apostle, came up with a message that brought him into conflict with Jesus’ brother, who had not been a disciple. The gospel of Thomas represents another strand of the tradition. The sayings at the end of Chapter 8 do not feel like an organic part of the text. The context is odd; they don’t flow. They seem to be inserted.

Perhaps, and time will tell, the transition that I am positing–whether it actually exists or not–in this chapter was the beginning of Mark trying to start tying up these loose ends. In that way, examining the text is a bit of a voyage of discovery. I’m formulating my hypotheses; let’s see if the rest of the text bears them out or refutes them. I find this exciting; almost like a detective novel.

Still, I fully realize these are serious questions. I also realize that I am not an expert on this text. But that’s good as well as bad. The lack of expertise does, IMO, help us to see what is in the text, and what isn’t.

Mark Chapter 8:27-38

We conclude Chapter 8. This is a very long segment, but it’s mainly due to the length of the comments. There is a lot of very important information in this section.

27 Καὶ ἐξῆλθεν ὁ Ἰησοῦς καὶ οἱ μαθηταὶ αὐτοῦ εἰς τὰς κώμας Καισαρείας τῆς Φιλίππου: καὶ ἐν τῇ ὁδῷ ἐπηρώτα τοὺς μαθητὰς αὐτοῦ λέγων αὐτοῖς, Τίνα με λέγουσιν οἱ ἄνθρωποι εἶναι;

And Jesus and his disciples went out (of Bethsaida) to the villages of Caesarea Philippi. And upon the road he asked his disciples, saying to them, “Who do people say me to be?”

<< ἄνθρωποι>> = “anthropoi” (e.g., “anthropology) should literally be “men”; but really, the closer sense, both in Greek, and with the Latin “homo/homines” would be more closely rendered as “human” in English. The situation is analogous to proper grammar, which says “does everyone have his pencil?”. The masculine is the default setting in Greek, Latin, and traditionally in French and Spanish. I find that using “men” here, which would be more consistent with my principle of showing the Greek, is simply too anachronistic at this point.  My apologies for the inconsistency.

Note the placement of this: after the ambiguous story of Jesus needing two iterations to heal the blind man.

27 Et egressus est Iesus et discipuli eius in castella Caesareae Philippi; et in via interrogabat discipulos suos dicens eis: “ Quem me dicunt esse homines? ”.

28 οἱ δὲ εἶπαν αὐτῷ λέγοντες [ὅτι] Ἰωάννην τὸν βαπτιστήν, καὶ ἄλλοι, Ἠλίαν, ἄλλοι δὲ ὅτι εἷς τῶν προφητῶν.

They answered him saying that, “John the Baptist, and others Elijah, but other that (you are) one of the prophets.”

I pointed out once before that, for Jews, Elijah takes precedence over Isaiah. Christians tend to think the other way around because Isaiah was mined so heavily for quotes that could be taken to indicate the coming of the Messiah, and perhaps Jesus. Again, though, we get the connection with John the Baptist (the Dunker).

I find this a little interesting. Did people not know that John had been executed? That is entirely possible. It’s not like there were news agencies reporting on things. If Herod didn’t want word to get out, it would only come out gradually, in widening circles, starting as a rumor. And it’s not like everyone would have known what John looked like, exactly. So a man doing and saying similar things could have been seen as the same man. Or, was Mark simply putting words into people’s mouths to underline again that Jesus was connected to John.

Which leads us back to the relationship between Jesus and John. How close was it? What did it constitute? A similar message? We were told that John preached repentance and baptism for the forgiveness of sins; so far, we haven’t had a lot of that from Jesus. So who would be more likely to make the connection between Jesus and John: the ubiquitous “they” who “say”, as in “they say…”; or Mark, wishing again to show that Jesus had roots, which would impress an audience of pagans?

28 Qui responderunt illi dicentcs: “ Ioannem Baptistam, alii Eliam, alii vero unum de prophetis ”.

29 καὶ αὐτὸς ἐπηρώτα αὐτούς, Ὑμεῖς δὲ τίνα με λέγετε εἶναι; ἀποκριθεὶς ὁ Πέτρος λέγει αὐτῷ, Σὺ εἶ ὁ Χριστός.

And he asked them, “But who do you say me to be?” Answering, Peter said to him, “You are the Christ.”

And there it is. We finally get the declaration, more than half-way through the gospel. Why did this take so long? Since I don’t have an answer to this question, I suppose it becomes rhetorical.

Then compare this definitive statement with the ambiguity we discussed in the last post.

One thing occurs to me. In discussing the occurrence of certain words, I’ve noticed that some very charged words have not shown up in this gospel up until close to half-way through; even then most of the incidents occur in the final 2-3 chapters. Offhand, I can’t recall what the other words were for which I noted this phenomenon; however, I will try to look back and see what I can find. I’ve had a flash of insight on this. It’s long been known that Mark, as first written, did not have a Resurrection story. Mark originally ended at the end of Chapter 15. At some point, however, Chapter 16 was added to the text, which told of the Resurrection. What if some of the later chapters were either added, or heavily amended, in order to make sure that all the “proper” words and themes were included? Or sections that, as in the case of this verse, that clear up ambiguity by inserting a definitive statement?

As of this moment, I have not thought this through. More will follow.

29 Et ipse interrogabat eos: “ Vos vero quem me dicitis esse? ”. Respondens Petrus ait ei: “ Tu es Christus ”.

30 καὶ ἐπετίμησεν αὐτοῖς ἵνα μηδενὶ λέγωσιν περὶ αὐτοῦ.

And he rebuked them, so that they would tell no one about him.

Now that we have the declaration, we’re back to a policy of secrecy. Why? How does this make sense?

Well, it does make sense if Jesus were concerned to fly under the radar of the secular authorities. That is, if he wanted to spread the Good News without undue interference from said authorities. Or, if he wanted the Good News to be heard on its own merits, and not followed because he was the Messiah. Not that declaring himself the Messiah would have been immediately believed, or that the authorities would have arrested him for making the claim, but it may have garnered unwanted interference. He might have been scrutinised a bit more closely.

There had been uprisings after the death of Herod the Great in 4 BCE. These uprisings required Roman intervention, and resulted in the establishment of a Roman official–who would be Pilate, at the time of Jesus’ crucifixion. And certainly the period between Jesus and the writing of Mark saw the great rebellion of 66-67, which resulted in the total destruction of Jerusalem and the changing the name of the province from Judea to Palestine. So political considerations are not out of the question.

30 Et comminatus est eis, ne cui dicerent de illo.

31 Καὶ ἤρξατο διδάσκειν αὐτοὺς ὅτι δεῖ τὸν υἱὸν τοῦ ἀνθρώπου πολλὰ παθεῖν καὶ ἀποδοκιμασθῆναι ὑπὸ τῶν πρεσβυτέρων καὶ τῶν ἀρχιερέων καὶ τῶν γραμματέων καὶ ἀποκτανθῆναι καὶ μετὰ τρεῖς ἡμέρας ἀναστῆναι:

And he began to teach them that the son of man must suffer much and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed and after three days to rise.

δεῖ…παθεῖν καὶ ἀποδοκιμασθῆναι… καὶ ἀποκτανθῆναι καὶ…ἀναστῆναι: The initial word, <<δεῖ >> means ‘must’. In English, the best rendering would probably be ‘have to’ because that allows the remaining verbs, to suffer, to be rejected , to be killed, to rise to fall into the infinitive form, which all of these are in Greek.

Here are some more: elders and chief priests are words we have not encountered before in Mark. At least, we have not seen ‘elders’ in this sense, as in elders of the religion. We did see it back in 7:5, but there it was more in the sense of ‘ancestors’. It has a very different, much more specific sense here.

And honestly, this is ex-post prophecy. Mark’s grammar is generally pretty basic, so it would be difficult (for me, anyway) to say that this is stylistically different from what we have seen to this point. So it could easily be true that Mark wrote this. But I very much do think it’s significant that we are suddenly running into a bunch of new vocabulary, especially when it’s related to ex-post prophecy.

I do want to underscore that ‘to rise’ is in the active voice here. That Jesus would be rising, not that he would be raised (by God), as we saw in Galatians.

31 Et coepit docere illos: “ Oportet Filium hominis multa pati et reprobari a senioribus et a summis sacerdotibus et scribis et occidi et post tres dies resurgere ”;

32 καὶ παρρησίᾳ τὸν λόγον ἐλάλει. καὶ προσλαβόμενος ὁ Πέτρος αὐτὸν ἤρξατο ἐπιτιμᾶν αὐτῷ.

And in frankness he spoke this speech. And Peter taking hold of him began to rebuke him.

<< τὸν λόγον >> here translated as ‘this speech’.  “Logos” is one of those words that can mean so many different things. “In the beginning was the Logos…” as John says. Here, the meaning is much more prosaic. “This speech” is a bit awkward, but that’s because << τὸν λόγον >> is singular. I would prefer ‘these words’, but that throw this into the plural.

And there is a lot of rebuking going on. It’s all the same word, << ἐπιτιμάω >>. With the dative, as all these are, it means ‘rebuke’. 

32 et palam verbum loquebatur. Et apprehendens eum Petrus coepit increpare eum.

33 ὁ δὲ ἐπιστραφεὶς καὶ ἰδὼν τοὺς μαθητὰς αὐτοῦ ἐπετίμησεν Πέτρῳ καὶ λέγει, Υπαγε ὀπίσω μου, Σατανᾶ, ὅτι οὐ φρονεῖς τὰ τοῦ θεοῦ ἀλλὰ τὰ τῶν ἀνθρώπων.

He (Jesus) turning and seeing his disciples rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan because you are not considering the things of God, but the things of humans (lit = ‘men’).

Oddly, this little exchange has a very authentic feel to it. Peter rebuking Jesus, then Jesus rebuking Peter…That doesn’t mean it is authentic; it could just mean that Mark has a keen writer’s insight.

33 Qui conversus et videns discipulos suos comminatus est Petro et dicit: “ Vade retro me, Satana, quoniam non sapis, quae Dei sunt, sed quae sunt hominum ”.

34 Καὶ προσκαλεσάμενος τὸν ὄχλον σὺν τοῖς μαθηταῖς αὐτοῦ εἶπεν αὐτοῖς, Εἴ τις θέλει ὀπίσωμου ἀκολουθεῖν, ἀπαρνησάσθω ἑαυτὸν καὶ ἀράτω τὸν σταυρὸν αὐτοῦ καὶ ἀκολουθείτω μοι.

And calling the crowd with his disciples, he said to them, “If someone wishes to follow after me, he must deny himself and let him take up his cross and follow me.”

A couple of things here. First, where did the crowd come from? He was on the way to Caesaria Philippi with his disciples, and they were having what sounded like a private dialogue. Now, suddenly, we are told there is a crowd. It’s certainly not impossible that one accumulated, but it is rather jarring.

Second, where does this come from? I suppose it follows from Peter’s rebuking Jesus. Peter did not understand the divine plan, so he tried to tell Jesus that the latter should not accept death, and so, as a result, Jesus announces this bit about following him and taking up one’s cross. But does that mean that the crowd overheard Jesus and Peter? Or is Jesus just announcing this to the crowd, without introduction? The point is that Peter does not want Jesus to face death. That is certainly understandable. But Jesus uses this announcement to the crowd to tell Peter what must be done.

34 Et convocata turba cum discipulis suis, dixit eis: “ Si quis vult post me sequi, deneget semetipsum et tollat crucem suam et sequatur me.

35 ὃς γὰρ ἐὰν θέλῃ τὴν ψυχὴν αὐτοῦ σῶσαι ἀπολέσει αὐτήν: ὃς δ’ ἂν ἀπολέσει τὴν ψυχὴν αὐτοῦ ἕνεκεν ἐμοῦ καὶ τοῦ εὐαγγελίου σώσει αὐτήν.

“For he who may wish to save his life will lose it. But he who loses his life because of me and the Good News will save it.”

So yes, this all follows from Peter’s rebuking of Jesus. Matthew who tells us explicitly that Peter was perhaps more remonstrating than rebuking, denying that Jesus should, or had to, accept death. Mark does not give us that detail. Why not? Did he simply feel it was not necessary? That the context made clear that Peter was talking about Jesus accepting death? If it’s so clear, then why did Matthew have to put words in Peter’s mouth? Luke omits the scene.

But this is beside the point. What is the message: it sure seems to be an intimation of martyrdom. By the time Mark wrote, Peter and Paul and others had been executed because of Jesus and the good news. (Note: I’ve been capitalizing Good News, but that really isn’t appropriate. Or, rather, it’s only appropriate in hindsight. In short, it’s anachronistic  and exactly the sort of thing we’re trying to get past.) So again, this is ex-post prophecy. 

35 Qui enim voluerit animam suam salvam facere, perdet eam; qui autem perdiderit animam suam propter me et evangelium, salvam eam faciet.

36 τί γὰρ ὠφελεῖ  ἄνθρωπον κερδῆσαι τὸν κόσμον ὅλον καὶ ζημιωθῆναι τὴν ψυχὴν αὐτοῦ;

“For what will it profit a man to gain the entire world (lit = ‘cosmos’, but the idiomatic meaning in Greek is ‘the world’), but lose his own life?”

This is a big one. The standard–all four of my crib translations–translate this as “lose his own soul”. But note that the word  <<ψυχὴν >>, ‘psyche’, is used for ‘life’ in V-35.  Now, obviously, there is a very real sense in which ‘life’ and ‘soul’ are absolutely interchangeable. But there is also, in modern idiom, a very real sense in which they are, obviously, different. And using ‘life’ here in V-36 drastically changes the meaning of the sentence. For Christians, ‘losing the soul’ implies losing eternal life, the forfeiture of salvation. Losing one’s life, OTOH, simply means ‘to die’, without any implications for eternity. Even on a secular level, losing one’s soul has non-physical implications; it means selling out, often for material gain, and betraying one’s inner self and values. Plus, there’s the wonderful distinction between gaining the material (= bad) at the cost of one’s spiritual (= good) soul.

OTOH, this is the fourth time the word is used in Mark. In the previous three (3:4, and twice in 8:35 that we have just read). In these three (one? two at the most.) previous uses, the meaning is taken to be ‘life’. So why does it suddenly switch meanings here? Does it change meaning in this verse? From our point of view, the answer to the second question is ‘yes, of course’. But what about the ‘why does it change?’ Also: the next usage, in 10:45 is also most naturally translated as ‘life’.

It can be well argued that my translation here doesn’t really make sense. How can one gain the world, if one dies by doing it?  One has to be alive–but/if corrupted–for the gain to become malevolent, or at least tragic. 

Does it?

I grant that it has much more poetic resonance when translated as ‘soul’. But I’m not sure it’s what Mark was thinking. Because read my translation and interpretation of the translation again: what’s the profit if you gain the world but die trying? Obviously, and very explicitly, and very…well, obviously, there is no gain. One does not have to consider the secular implications of living in vast wealth but feeling all empty inside, nor the implications of eternity, gaining vast wealth but suffering damnation. Rather, gaining the world but to die trying is as obvious as a slap in the face. There is no gain.

Now here is where a discussion of what this word meant to contemporary audiences would be completely appropriate. It would also be very lengthy. Aristotle is the first to consider the concept of life from anything like scientific principles. The point is that ‘psyche’ was identified mainly with the breath of life, but was not necessarily considered the immortal part of a human. In the OT, ‘psyche’ is used to translate ‘nephesh’, which also means ‘breath of life’. In NT Greek, the word that most closely resembles our modern ‘soul’ is actually << πνεῦμα >>, ‘spirit’, which is why we have a ‘holy spirit’ and not a ‘holy psyche’. For classical-era Greeks, the immortal part of a human was often <<νοος>>, ‘mind’ or ‘intellect’. I’m not really competent to comment on the state of Jewish beliefs at the time, except to say that they seem to have been evolving, moving towards the Greek idea of a mind/soul/body/spirit split. Such a development is not surprising, given both the generally Hellenized milieu of the Near East at the time, and the ancient Iranian/dualist distinction between spirit and flesh.

So, what does Mark mean here? I believe that the proper translation here would be ‘life’. I base this on previous and subsequent usage, and the fact that dying in the attainment of a goal–especially something like wealth, which is what ‘gaining the world’ generally implies–is pretty much the definition of futility.

And trying to resolve so complex a question in so short a space is also an exercise in futility. I will revisit this in a longer post dedicated specifically to this topic.

36 Quid enim prodest homini, si lucretur mundum totum et detrimentum faciat animae suae?

37 τί γὰρ δοῖ ἄνθρωπος ἀντάλλαγμα τῆς ψυχῆς αὐτοῦ;

For what might a man give in exchange for his life?

Again, this is generally translated as ‘soul’. The question is: has the meaning shaded to the point that soul becomes the appropriate translation? If so, do we not have to ask whether this is truly a later insertion? ‘Psyche’ = ‘soul’ does not, generally, fit the way it is used in most of Mark. Indeed, it’s barely used in Mark, until this point. It’s used thrice more; as mentioned, = ‘life’ in 10:45, and two occurrences in consecutive verses where the formula, ‘with all your soul’ is repeated.

This would seem to imply one of two things: a) that the translation should be ‘life’, largely based on probability, given that Mark generally uses the word that way; 0r b) that this means ‘soul’ and was inserted later.

I believe I’ve mentioned Jaroslav Pelikan’s The Christian Tradition series, especially Volume 1, which deals with the years 100-600. The book is invaluable if only because it’s a really good description of the process by which most of the fundamental tenets of Christian belief developed, and how long some of these “fundamental” beliefs (like the Holy Spirit, and so the Trinity) took several centuries to evolve into their present state.

37 Quid enim dabit homo commutationem pro anima sua?

38 ὃς γὰρ ἐὰν ἐπαισχυνθῇ με καὶ τοὺς ἐμοὺς λόγους ἐν τῇ γενεᾷ ταύτῃ τῇ μοιχαλίδι καὶ ἁμαρτωλῷ, καὶ ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου ἐπαισχυνθήσεται αὐτὸν ὅταν ἔλθῃ ἐν τῇ δόξῃ τοῦ πατρὸς αὐτοῦ μετὰ τῶν ἀγγέλων τῶν ἁγίων.

For he who ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, so (lit = and) the son of man will be ashamed of him when he (son of man) may come into the glory of his father with the angels and the holy ones (= saints).

38 Qui enim me confusus fuerit et mea verba in generatione ista adultera et peccatrice, et Filius hominis confundetur eum, cum venerit in gloria Patris sui cum angelis sanctis ”.

We’re back to the present generation, and it’s a sinful and adulterous one! IMO, this is something stuck here that completely lacks any organic context. Now, whether it was Mark who stuck this here, or some later editor, is very difficult to say. My sense is that this represents an addition to the original text of Mark. Why? Because Mark is generally much better at weaving his disparate threads, where this looks and feels like something altogether different.

The sentiment expressed in this verse is very close to one of the verses of Q as reconstructed by Burton Mack in his Gospel of Q. Now, this is not to say that it was actually something Jesus said, but Mack (who is a participant in the QHJ) seems to believe it dates back to Jesus. If this is true, or if this were believed at the time, it would be a good explanation for why this has been added–assuming that this verse was not in the original gospel as written by Mark.

Just so there is no misunderstanding, this sort of speculation is exactly that. I do not have credentials in this, but I truly believe these are questions that need to be asked if the QHJ is to get anywhere. From what I’ve read about QHJ, and about a lot of the history of the events in the Bible, I’m not entirely impressed. The people writing much of the work in these disciplines are well versed in Scripture, or perhaps archaeology, but there aren’t many historians among them. Akenson is an historian, and his views, IMO, showed a keen historical insight, even if NT times are not his specialty.

My apologies if this offends anyone. 

Mark Chapter 8:22-26

This will be short and sweet, I believe.

22 Καὶ ἔρχονται εἰς Βηθσαϊδάν. καὶ φέρουσιν αὐτῷ τυφλὸν καὶ παρακαλοῦσιν αὐτὸν ἵνα αὐτοῦ ἅψηται.

And they came to Bethsaida. And they brought (really = ‘carried’) a blind (man) and asked him (Jesus) in order to touch him (the blind man).

<< φέρουσιν >> literally does mean ‘carry’. Interestingly, the Latin renders this as ‘led’. It’s certainly possible that he was physically carried, but St Jerome chose the more obvious method whereby a blind person is led.

First, note that we’re in Bethsaida, a Jewish town. IOW, we’ve returned from the land of the Gentiles. One thought I had was that perhaps the excursion into Gentile territories might be spurious. The idea was that they would be later insertions to justify the inclusion of Gentiles, first by Paul, but more generally by Mark, whose intended audience was probably predominantly Gentile. But thinking about it, the story of the Syro-Phoenician woman, largely because her ethnicity is a major part of the story. And the tale of the deaf man in the Decapolis has all the details of Jesus leading him away from the crowd, and spitting, which are not normally part of the healing process. The point of this is, these are the sorts of questions we have to ask, because they may provide insight into the message that Mark wants to get across to his audience..

22 Et veniunt Bethsaida. Et adducunt ei caecum et rogant eum, ut illum tangat.

23 καὶ ἐπιλαβόμενος τῆς χειρὸς τοῦ τυφλοῦ ἐξήνεγκεν αὐτὸν ἔξω τῆς κώμης, καὶ πτύσας εἰς τὰ ὄμματα αὐτοῦ, ἐπιθεὶς τὰς χεῖρας αὐτῷ, ἐπηρώτααὐτόν, Εἴ τι βλέπεις;

And taking up the hands of the blind man, he (Jesus) led him (the blind man) outside the village, and spitting into his (the blind man’s) eyes, he (Jesus) laid his hands on him (the blind man), asking if he saw.

Grammatical note: Greek is much more adept at handling pronouns than English. The subject of the verb is often not stated, but that  becomes one of the pronouns–the subject–while the word << αὐτος >> in its various case endings is the object. There really is no ambiguity at all in most cases.

Speaking of departure from the normal process, here we have something similar again. Jesus takes the man outside the village, again, and then spits, again. Given the way this short tale ends, it may be that the purpose of doing this outside is to minimise the publicity; validation of this will come as we progress, and whether Jesus continues the practice. The spitting is about as close to shaman-type behaviour as we can get. Belief in the magical properties of bodily secretions is pretty widespread; what is interesting is that Jesus has eschewed such behaviour until this point. Why does he start now? That seems a difficult question, and I’m not sure what sort of arguments one could construct to explain this sudden change. Does this continue as well? Are these the sorts of questions that an historian would ask, but perhaps would not so much bother a non-historian?

23 Et apprehendens manum caeci eduxit eum extra vicum; et exspuens in oculos eius, impositis manibus ei, interrogabat eum: “ Vides aliquid?”.

24 καὶ ἀναβλέψας ἔλεγεν, Βλέπω τοὺς ἀνθρώπους, ὅτι ὡς δένδρα ὁρῶ περιπατοῦντας.

And looking about, he said, “I see men, that like trees are walking about.”

This is utterly fascinating. The healing did not work fully the first time. This reminds me of the story of the bleeding woman where he felt the power go out of him (5:30) as well as the story of the deaf man at the end of Chapte 7.

IMO, these are not details of a truly divine individual, not one who is “of one substance with the Father”. Would not an omniscient being know ahead of time that the woman would touch him? And yet Mark indicates that Jesus felt it as it was happening and so became aware of the incident. Why does a truly divine being need to spit? And how could a truly divine being not get it right the first time, as seems to have happened here?

Again, the point is not to be sacrilegious, or to argue about the Nicene Creed or Adoptionism, but to look at what the text plainly tells us. Yes, we can ‘explain away’ some of these details, but why do we have to? We have to because Mark himself seems not altogether convinced that Jesus was the equal of the Father. That formulation, IIRC, is reserved for John, when the Christology had been developing for another generation. The point is, as of this writing, Jesus was not considered to be the equal of God the Father. Paul made no such claim. Indeed, there are those who argue, or point out, that Paul’s interest in Jesus only begins when he has been raised from the dead (the formulation in Galatians) and so has become The Christ.

The fact that Mark was uncertain, or ambiguous is of immense historical importance. This explains the variant traditions. It helps explain how sincere followers of Jesus could become Adoptionists, or how they could be Gnostics who wrote the Gospel of Thomas, how Arius could argue–convincingly, for he ended up with many followers, including the Visigothic Kingdom of Spain–that Jesus was less than the Father, that he was perhaps created later–which the Nicene Creed would have to deny explicitly.

This forces us to remember, that when Mark wrote, there was no religion called “Christianity”. There were numerous followers of Jesus, but there was not necessarily any consistency between the different groups. Indeed, that was the point of Galatians: Paul had a different interpretation than the James Gang, with Peter somewhere in the middle between the two. This may provide some support for my contention (which has not been fully thought out) that Mark chose the narrative format in order to avoid some of the pitfalls of a source like Q. Sayings are easy to manipulate, even to concoct, and some (at least) of what we have heard Jesus “say” are things Jesus most likely did not say.

24 Et aspiciens dicebat: “ Video homines, quia velut arbores video ambulantes “.

25 εἶτα πάλιν ἐπέθηκεν τὰς χεῖρας ἐπὶ τοὺς ὀφθαλμοὺς αὐτοῦ, καὶ διέβλεψεν, καὶ ἀπεκατέστη, καὶ ἐνέβλεπεν τηλαυγῶς ἅπαντα.

Then, again, he laid his hands on his (the blind man’s) eyes, and he (the blind man) looked about, and (his eyesight) was in its former state, and he (the blind man) saw all clearly.

He saw all clearly. Now think back to V-18, the disciples “who have eyes but do not see”. Now granted, <<Βλέπω>> is the standard, unremarkable word for ‘to see’, and it’s repetition in V-18 and here may simply reflect this fact. Sure, it may, but I don’t think it does. Rather, I believe Mark is deliberately using this literary device to make sure that the audience feels like they ‘get it’ while the disciples simply don’t.

Why? Why did the disciples not understand what was happening? Were they simply dullards? Or perhaps the question is, why did Mark chose to portray them this way?

25 Deinde iterum imposuit manus super oculos eius; et coepit videre et restitutus est et videbat clare omnia.

26 καὶ ἀπέστειλεν αὐτὸν εἰς οἶκον αὐτοῦ λέγων, Μηδὲ εἰς τὴν κώμην εἰσέλθῃς.

And he (Jesus) sent him (the formerly-blind man) to his (the latter’s) home, saying, “Do not go into the village.”

26 Et misit illum in domum suam dicens: “ Nec in vicum introieris ”.

It worked the second time, and Jesus didn’t have to spit again; laying on hands was enough. But still, he had to have a second go at it.

Then the injunction that the man not go into the village. This, I am beginning to think, is of a piece with Jesus taking the last two men he has healed outside the village to effect the cure. This could well be interpreted that Jesus may have been taking steps to avoid additional publicity. He may have done this because the crowds he attracted had attracted the notice of the Tetrarch Herod (son of Herod the Great, the villain of the nativity story), who had executed John the Baptist (the Dunker). And perhaps this might help explain why the story of the Baptist is inserted where it is: as sort of a cautionary tale to show that Jesus was not operating in a vacuum, that there were secular authorities who might not take kindly to a man who can attract crowds.

Now this goes directly to the question of: how popular was Jesus? Throughout, I have been suggesting that Mark may have been inflating the size and consistency of the crowds, then coming up with clever ways to explain why Jesus hadn’t become more popular in his home land. One section of the QHJ scholars is that Jesus always had an eye on what was happening with the secular authorities. Some have suggested that Jesus intended the eventual, and fatal, trip to Jerusalem to be a showdown between himself and the Jewish authorities. I’m not sure I buy that, but time will tell.

In addition, was the excursion through the territories of Sidon and Tyre and the Decapolis meant to be a way of getting out of town to let the heat die down (to use an old gangster-movie idiom)? Did he leave Jewish territory purposely because he had become too popular in the towns of Galilee? So he traveled into non-Jewish territory to let the fervor cool off a bit?

To me, the avoidance of additional attention is the most obvious explanation for going outside the town. But then, why didn’t the crowd just follow? Crowds hitherto have shown up at a moment’s notice. But notice that we are not told a crowd had gathered in Bethsaida; only that people brought the blind man. Has Mark just tired of repeating the formula?

Frankly, I don’t know at this point. There seems to be some internal inconsistency with the story as related. Was there a crowd? Then why not tell us? If there was no crowd, why go outside? Looking back, I notice that Mark doesn’t mention a crowd when the deaf man was brought to him outside Tyre.

But let’s revisit the question I asked at the end of the comment to V-24: why did Mark portray the disciples as dullards, who just didn’t see who Jesus was? Then let’s consider the crowds, in juxtaposition with the possible need for avoiding attention, all in the context of some uncertainty–or at least some ambiguity–about who, or what, Jesus was. Are you getting, perhaps, the sense that there was a certain amount of internal inconsistency within the stories? Are these the seams where Mark tried–with a great deal of success–to weave all of these traditions together?

Mark Chapter 8:11-21

The last installment ended with Jesus sailing away from the feeding of the 4,000 and embarking in the territory of Dalmanoutha.

11 Καὶ ἐξῆλθον οἱ Φαρισαῖοι καὶ ἤρξαντο συζητεῖν αὐτῷ, ζητοῦντες παρ’ αὐτοῦ σημεῖον ἀπὸ τοῦ οὐρανοῦ, πειράζοντες αὐτόν.

And the Pharisees came out and began to examine him, seeking from him a sign from the sky, testing him.

Here, << το οὐρανος >>, is singular. Does that mean it should be translated as ‘the sky’ or as ‘heaven’? We faced the same problem in 1 Thess, 4:16, in which the son of God will descend << ἀπ’ οὐρανοῦ >, and this is frequently, if not usually, translated as ‘heaven’ rather than ‘sky’. I would argue that, while there was a sense of God as living in the heavens, in the sky, that the concept of ‘heaven’, as we think of the term, did not truly begin to coalesce until Revelation, which was probably written at least another generation after Mark. As such, it can be deduced that translating this as ‘heaven’, without qualification, is anachronistic, largely because it is now so fraught with implications that it is difficult for someone of our era to see/hear the word and not think of Pearly Gates, harps, and streets paved with gold.

Having said that, it’s obvious that there was a general connexion between God and the sky. The Pharisees seek a sign from the sky because that is where God was, more or less, thought to live. For that matter, even Romans, or pagans in general were big on reading the flights of birds as indicative of the will of the gods. Birds, after all, flew through the sky, and so were closer to the gods. Olympus was a mountain, after all.

Beyond that, though, the Pharisees are up to their usual no-good. They are testing (the word can also be read as ‘tempting’) Jesus. Does he truly have God’s favor? The implication is that this was what popular opinion,  or perhaps conventional wisdom, was at least beginning to say about Jesus. At least, this is what Mark would have us believe that conventional wisdom thought of Jesus. Can we trust this?

The Quest for the Historical Jesus (QHJ) literature has a lot of discussion about Jesus as an end-times prophet, a preacher of apocalypse. Some in the QHJ argue that this is who the ‘real’ Jesus ‘really’ was, and that his message, at its core, was the coming of the end times. As such, a sign from heaven would be a reasonable expectation. So all of this makes sense; but the question is: does it only make sense in hindsight? Of course, let’s not forget that Paul seemed to be expecting the Second Coming soon. This would seem to support the contention that Jesus was indeed preaching apocalypse. Or was he? Or was that something that Paul and others read back, not so much from anything Jesus said or did, but from the fact that The Christ was raised from the dead? In this way, it wasn’t that Jesus preached apocalypse, but that later followers came to believe that the apocalypse was coming because of the Resurrection. As such, we cannot safely assume that Jesus was preaching apocalypse.

But more generally, if you want to read after-the-fact prophecy, Suetonius has a ton of it in his Lives of the Caesars. After the deaths of Julius and Augustus Caesar, people were falling all over themselves to read their eventual destiny of fame back into their lives. Things they said took on great import, there were all sorts of marvels seen, like the eagle flying up to “heaven” at Augustus’ funeral, which was taken to be the soul of Augustus joining the gods, etc. So we shouldn’t be at all surprised to see Jesus’ followers doing the same thing.

11 Et exierunt pharisaei et coeperunt conquirere cum eo quaerentes ab illo signum de caelo, tentantes eum.

12 καὶ ἀναστενάξας τῷ πνεύματι αὐτοῦ λέγει, Τί ἡ γενεὰ αὕτη ζητεῖ σημεῖον; ἀμὴν λέγω ὑμῖν, εἰ δοθήσεται τῇ γενεᾷ ταύτῃ σημεῖον.

And groaning in his spirit, he said, “Why does this generation seek a sign? Amen I say to you, no sign will be shown to this generation.”

<< τῷ πνεύματι >> is in the dative case. The dative can be the indirect object; it can mean with, in, by, to, from. So how do we take ‘groaning’ and ‘his spirit’? In his spirit? With his spirit (a loud exhalation of air, for example)? From his spirit–way down from what we would call the depths of his soul? The KJV, NASB, and ESV all choose ‘in his spirit’. That’s what I settled on, eventually as well.

Why?

Excellent question. In this case, I can only say it felt right, but ‘from his spirit’ is, I think, another strong contender. Writing this, I’m tempted to change my translation.  

As an aside, note that I really spend a lot less time talking about the Greek here than I did with Galatians. The Greek in Mark really is much more straightforward, which tells me it’s very much translation Greek. It’s the language of someone who learned Greek, rather than someone who grew up speaking it. Paul, I think, grew up speaking it to some extent. He seems to have known enough to get himself muddled. That’s generally not true in Mark. Although, in places like this, we still run across ambiguities for which there really is no answer.

BTW: the NIV takes the coward’s way out and renders this as ‘sighing deeply’. Sure, it works, it has a more natural feel in English, but it’s not what the Greek says.

12 Et ingemiscens spiritu suo ait: “ Quid generatio ista quaerit signum? Amen dico vobis: Non dabitur generationi isti signum ”.

13 καὶ ἀφεὶς αὐτοὺς πάλιν ἐμβὰς ἀπῆλθεν εἰς τὸ πέραν.

And dismissing them, embarking again they went across (back) to the other shore.

Note:Across to the other shore” is all included in the single word << πέραν >>

13 Et dimittens eos, iterum ascendens abiit trans fretum.

14 Καὶ ἐπελάθοντο λαβεῖν ἄρτους, καὶ εἰ μὴ ἕνα ἄρτον οὐκ εἶχον μεθ’ ἑαυτῶν ἐν τῷ πλοίῳ.

And they had forgotten to bring bread, and they had nothing but a single loaf with them in the boat.

Note that what I translate first as bread, then as loaf, is the same word, the concept of loaf being inseparable from the concept of bread.

Now to discuss the episode: it’s almost a throwaway sequence. It’s brief, doesn’t go very far, and makes one wonder why it was included here separately and not just worked into the text at another point. The Pharisees want a sign; this generation won’t see one. Jesus goes back across the lake.

Now, wanting a sign is not at all unusual as discussed above. We are told that the Pharisees were testing Jesus. I think the implication is that they did not expect him to deliver one because they did not believe he was truly a prophet, or a man of God as they would have (likely) understood the term. So it is rather a ‘bet you can’t’ sort of taunt.

What is most significant about this, passage, IMO, is the insistence on ‘this generation’. This phrase, with much the same tone and context, will occur four more times in Mark, and numerous times in Matthew. I think that this is something of a response to Paul, or to those of Paul’s generation. Paul expected to see The Christ, the Son of God, come down from the sky (1 Thess), and he didn’t. So the most logical reading of Jesus’ insistence on ‘this generation’ is to explain why nothing had happened. So far. Here it was, forty years or more after Jesus’ death, and still nothing had happened.

And that brings up a lot of other questions, especially for anyone concerned with QHJ. As mentioned, something like this statement occurs many times in the Synoptic Gospels, sort of culminating with the last of the three, Luke. Which makes sense; the more time that passed without a sign, the more an explanation was needed.

Does this have any implications for the idea that Jesus was a preacher of apocalypse? IMO it does. Jesus’ message of apocalypse must have been fairly well known, which meant that the evangelists had to explain why nothing had happened. Paul expected something, but many people who had seen Jesus were still alive: Peter, James brother of the lord, & c. So, for Paul, the sign was immanent, and not necessarily overdue. For Mark, this was a problem. For Luke, he really had to address this. By the time of John, maybe, the followers of Jesus had sort of come to grips with the delay, and to bake it into their expectations, as one would say in the corporate world.

So, I think this does strengthen the case for those who say that Jesus had a message of coming apocalypse.

14 Et obliti sunt sumere panes et nisi unum panem non habebant secum in navi.

15 καὶ διεστέλλετο αὐτοῖς λέγων, Ὁρᾶτε, βλέπετεἀπὸ τῆς ζύμης τῶν Φαρισαίων καὶ τῆς ζύμης Ἡρῴδου.

And he commanded them, saying “Look, beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod”.

This warning against the yeast of the Pharisees and Herod is perhaps an indication that Jesus did have a sense of humor, even if it was a bit wry. They are talking about bread, he brings up the leaven of the Pharisees, with whom he just had an encounter that wasn’t exactly pleasant.

15 Et praecipiebat eis dicens: “ Videte, cavete a fermento pharisaeorum et fermento Herodis! ”.

16καὶ διελογίζοντο πρὸς ἀλλήλους ὅτι Ἄρτους οὐκ ἔχουσιν.

And they dialogued among themselves that they did not have bread.

16 Et disputabant ad invicem, quia panes non haberent.

17 καὶ γνοὺς λέγει αὐτοῖς, Τί διαλογίζεσθε ὅτιἄρτους οὐκ ἔχετε; οὔπω νοεῖτε οὐδὲ συνίετε; πεπωρωμένην ἔχετε τὴν καρδίαν ὑμῶν;

And understanding (this) he asked them, “Why do you dialogue amongst yourselves (that) you do not have bread? Do you still not know, or understand? Do you have a heart that has been petrified?”

“Dialogued” is sort of a perverse translation of  << διελογίζοντο >> and << διαλογίζεσθε >>. In fact, it’s not really a translation at all, but a transliteration. However, I thought it might be useful from an etymological perspective to see how words come about and evolve. Perhaps I should ask for indulgence on this! 

Dullards! In the previous verse, Jesus was feeling a bit jocular, willing to make a bit of a joke, even if the joke did have a serious point. Here, however, he’s lost his patience. He warned them about the leaven of the Pharisees, and they continue to talk about physical bread.

I repeat: Dullards!

Which ought to make us ask ‘why?’. Why are the disciples so thick? Were they? Or is this a nice, neat way to get Jesus to explain himself? Is this gospel, in fact, an attempt to explain the hypothetical Book of Q?

Just to clarify my point here. The theory is that the sayings of Jesus had been transmitted, whether orally or in written form, or perhaps sequentially in that order, from the time of Jesus himself. Matthew had access to a copy, but Mark, supposedly, did not. Some of the QHJ people argue that these sayings represent an more authentic tradition. The existence of the Gospel of Thomas demonstrates that this is/was a definite possibility.  But I am not quite convinced.

Perhaps Mark did have access to Q. Perhaps he chose, deliberately, to put the oral sayings of Jesus into context. IOW, to explain–or interpret them. Here, Q said: “Jesus said, ‘Beware the leaven of the Pharisees!’ ” Mark read, or heard, this, and wondered what exactly it meant. Or, more likely, different people read/heard this and had different interpretations of what it meant.  Being aware of the differing interpretations, Mark decided to put the saying into a context, and then have Jesus himself explain what it meant. Remember my contention about Mark being a bit of weaver, who wove together different traditions with a great deal of skill, even if he couldn’t always hide the seam.

Of course, this suggestion raises other problems, like, why get rid of things like The Sermon on the Mount? Those will be addressed more fully, probably in the overall summary to Mark’s entire gospel. Stay tuned!

17 Quo cognito, ait illis: “ Quid disputatis, quia panes non habetis? Nondum cognoscitis nec intellegitis? Caecatum habetis cor vestrum?

18 ὀφθαλμοὺς ἔχοντες οὐ βλέπετε καὶ ὦτα ἔχοντες οὐκ ἀκούετε; καὶ οὐ μνημονεύετε,

“Having eyes, but you do not see, and having ears, you do not hear.  And you do not remember.”

Speaking of remembering, recall the use of the word << βλέπετε >> when we get to V-24. And recall that we recently heard the word << ἀκούετε >>back in 7:35-36, when Jesus did the spitting and cured the deaf man in the Decapolis. I will argue that the repetition goes beyond just using the same word, because the repetition seems to be thematic. Recall that the deaf man did hear, but the disciples, who have fully functioning ears, do not.

That makes them dullards.

18 Oculos habentes non videtis, et aures habentes non auditis? Nec recordamini,

19 ὅτε τοὺς πέντε ἄρτους ἔκλασα εἰς τοὺς πεντακισχιλίους, πόσους κοφίνους κλασμάτων πλήρεις ἤρατε; λέγουσιν αὐτῷ, Δώδεκα.

“When the five loaves having been broken into five thousand, how many baskets/measures of fragments were filled?” They said to him, “Twelve.”

19 quando quinque panes fregi in quinque milia, quot cophinos fragmentorum plenos sustulistis?”. Dicunt ei: “ Duodecim ”.

20 Οτε τοὺς ἑπτὰ εἰς τοὺς τετρακισχιλίους, πόσων σπυρίδων πληρώματα κλασμάτων ἤρατε; καὶλέγουσιν [αὐτῷ], Ἑπτά.

“When the seven (loaves were broken) into the four thousand, how many measures/baskets of fragments were filled?” They said to him “Seven.”

Quick note: both << κοφίνους >> and << σπυρίδων >> refer to a measure of something and the container into which it was put, like the bushel basket, or the peck basket used in the USA (and elsewhere? I doubt it…). The << σπυρίδων >> was larger than the other; so for the four thousand, there were fewer baskets leftovers, but the baskets were larger. My apologies, but I don’t happen to know the relation. But that’s the sort of technical question that does not truly pertain to our task here.

20 “Quando illos septem in quattuor milia, quot sportas plenas fragmentorum tulistis?”.  Et dicunt ei: “ Septem”.

 21 καὶ ἔλεγεν αὐτοῖς, Οὔπω συνίετε;

Then he said to them, “Do you still not understand?”

21 Et dicebat eis: “ Nondum intellegitis? ”.

All in all, a bit convoluted. The point is that Jesus is trying to get his message across to his disciples, but the disciples simply don’t get it. 

Now, this is why I suggest that Mark has chosen the narrative “biography” of Jesus in order to provide a dramatic context in which Jesus has the opportunity to explain his own sayings. These sayings had been transmitted for two generations as “Q”, but the level of ambiguity was such that many different interpretations had been put forward. This is not surprising; depending on the word emphasized, the simple sentence “I am going to the store” can have a number of different implications. “I am going to the store”– and not you.  “I am going to the store“–and not the theatre. Given the ambiguity possible when something is repeated over and over, or even (perhaps especially) when something is written down, different interpretations are more or less inevitable. Look at the arguments over exactly what Adam Smith said, what he intended, etc.

Mark’s purpose in writing, perhaps, was to solve some of this ambiguity. Of course, that meant that he would solve it as he understood it. Apparently, neither Matthew, Luke, nor John found Mark’s explanation wholly satisfactory.

Mark Chapter 8:1-10

Chapter 8 begins with another large miraculous feeding.

1 Ἐν ἐκείναις ταῖς ἡμέραις πάλιν πολλοῦ ὄχλου ὄντος καὶ μὴ ἐχόντων τί φάγωσιν,προσκαλεσάμενος τοὺς μαθητὰς λέγει αὐτοῖς,

In those days there being again a large crowd not having anything to eat, he (Jesus) calling together the disciples said to them,

1 In illis diebus iterum cum turba multa esset nec haberent, quod manducarent, convocatis discipulis, ait illis:

2 Σπλαγχνίζομαι ἐπὶ τὸν ὄχλον ὅτι ἤδη ἡμέραι τρεῖς προσμένουσίν μοι καὶ οὐκ ἔχουσιν τί φάγωσιν:

“I feel compassion upon the crowd  that now three days they have been remaining (abiding) with me and they don’t have anything to eat.”

There is a phenomenon in historical writing known as ‘twinning’, in which a single event is reported as two separate events that occurred at different times. For example, the first five or ten books of Livy, that deal with the first 200 years of the Republic are full of such ‘twinned’ events. Most often, they are battles.

So when we get another episode in which Jesus fed a large crowd with meagre resources, my first reaction is that a single event has been twinned into two separate occurrences. Why would this happen? Mark is very conscious that he is reporting a second similar incidence of feeding. He tells us this is happening ‘again’.  I also like the detail that the crowd has been following (remaining with/abiding) Jesus for three days. That is distinctly different from the first iteration.

The reason for the replication, IMO, is to drive home the point that Jesus = God. Just as YHWH was able to sustain the Israelites in the desert for forty years, so Jesus is able to sustain his following. 

2 “ Misereor super turbam, quia iam triduo sustinent me nec habent, quod manducent;

3 καὶ ἐὰν ἀπολύσω αὐτοὺς νήστεις εἰς οἶκον αὐτῶν, ἐκλυθήσονται ἐν τῇ ὁδῷ: καί τινες αὐτῶν ἀπὸ μακρόθεν ἥκασιν.

And if  I were to send them away fasting to their homes, they would be faint upon the road. And some of them have come from a long distance.

I checked: << ἀπὸ μακρόθεν >>  (far, here = from far/afar) is not the term Matthew uses to describe whence came the Magi. 

The image of fainting on the road is truly telling. I almost wonder if these are the details that went with the original version of the story, and if the first incidence of the 5,000 is not the twin.

 3 et si dimisero eos ieiunos in domum suam, deficient in via; et quidam ex eis de longe venerunt ”.

4 καὶ ἀπεκρίθησαν αὐτῷ οἱ μαθηταὶ αὐτοῦ ὅτι Πόθεν τούτους δυνήσεταί τις ὧδε χορτάσαι ἄρτων ἐπ’ ἐρημίας;

And his disciples responded that, “Whence is one able something to satisfy (i.e., as in satisfy hunger) of bread in the wilderness?”    

Quick note on English: “whence” = “from where”. It has the sense of motion, that something is coming from someplace else. OTOH “Where” can imply motion to or from, but it can also be passive in the sense of a general location. “Satisfy (hunger implied) of bread” is obviously awkward. But that’s pretty much how the Greek works.

But again, note that we are in the wilderness. This is important for the reasons discussed in the feeding of the 5,000. God provided manna in the wilderness; so Jesus provides here.

4 Et responderunt ei discipuli sui: “ Unde istos poterit quis hic saturare panibus in solitudine? ”.

5 καὶ ἠρώτα αὐτούς, Πόσους ἔχετε ἄρτους; οἱ δὲ εἶπαν, Ἑπτά.

And he asked them, “How many (loaves of) bread do you have?” They then said, “Seven.”

FYI: <<  ἄρτους >> contains the notion of both bread and the loaf. The concept is something like that the bread cannot be unless it”s in a loaf. Which, to some extent, is true. The bread (leavened with yeast) has to take on some form. The Latin is similar. Both essentially say “How many breads do you have?”

5 Et interrogabat eos: “ Quot panes habetis? ”. Qui dixerunt: “ Septem ”.

6 καὶ παραγγέλλει τῷ ὄχλῳ ἀναπεσεῖν ἐπὶ τῆς γῆς: καὶ λαβὼν τοὺς ἑπτὰ ἄρτους εὐχαριστήσας ἔκλασεν καὶ ἐδίδου τοῖς μαθηταῖς αὐτοῦ ἵνα παρατιθῶσιν καὶ παρέθηκαν τῷ ὄχλῳ.

And he commanded the crowd to sit upon the earth. And, taking the seven loaves having been blessed, he broke them and gave them to his disciples so that they would set them before, and they set them before the crowd.

Couple of interesting facets about the Greek.  In the second clause, starting with << τοὺς ἑπτὰ  ἄρτους… >>, “the seven loaves” serves as the direct object of all the six verbs in the clause.  This is one of the advantages of a case language like Greek or Latin. In contrast, I have to keep inserting a “them” with each of the last five verbs. And the final two verbs, << παρατιθῶσιν καὶ παρέθηκαν >> are different forms of the same word, “to set before/to serve.” So it’s not me being redundant, but the Greek. Stylistically, English would be better rendered by using both forms, but that would obscure the Greek a bit.

6 Et praecipit turbae discumbere supra terram; et accipiens septem panes, gratias agens fregit et dabat discipulis suis, ut apponerent; et apposuerunt turbae.

7 καὶ εἶχον ἰχθύδια ὀλίγα: καὶ εὐλογήσας αὐτὰ εἶπεν καὶ ταῦτα παρατιθέναι

And they had a little fish (small amount of, not a small fish); and, blessing them he told (them = the disciples) to distribute them (= the fish) and they served them (the fish).

The bits in parentheses are not in the original, but added to make the English comprehensible. The final verb, “to serve” is the same verb “to set before/serve” as in V-6

7 Et habebant pisciculos paucos; et benedicens eos, iussit hos quoque apponi.

8καὶ ἔφαγον καὶ ἐχορτάσθησαν, καὶ ἦραν περισσεύματα κλασμάτων ἑπτὰ σπυρίδας.

And they ate, and they were satiated, and there were seven baskets (measures) of fragments.

A note about << σπυρίδας >> will follow in the discussion of V-19 in the next installment.

8 Et manducaverunt et saturati sunt; et sustulerunt, quod superaverat de fragmentis, septem sportas.

ἦσαν δὲ ὡς τετρακισχίλιοι. καὶ ἀπέλυσεν αὐτούς.

There were four thousand. And he dismissed them.

9 Erant autem quasi quattuor milia. Et dimisit eos.

10 Καὶ εὐθὺς ἐμβὰς εἰς τὸ πλοῖον μετὰ τῶν μαθητῶν αὐτοῦ ἦλθεν εἰς τὰ μέρη Δαλμανουθά.

And immediately embarking onto the boat with his disciples they went to the territory of Dalmanoutha.

10 Et statim ascendens navem cum discipulis suis venit in partes Dalmanutha.

I am not entirely sure that I have much more to say about this. I do believe that this and the 5,000 recall a single event, and the story became garbled as it was transmitted through various sources. The result was, by the time it got to Mark, there seemed to be two separate incidents. Feel free to disagree.

Summary Mark Chapter 7

What happened in Chapter 7.

We started with a dispute with the Pharisees and some scribes.  The major point, I think, was the discussion/distinction Jesus drew between clean and unclean. What this represents is the continued tension between followers of Jesus who had been Jews, and those who came from the pagan population. We saw this start in Paul, and it apparently had not been settled by the time Mark wrote.  And I do want to reiterate, and to stress, that I do not believe that Jesus ever said anything like this.  That is, he never said that it’s not what goes in, but what comes out that defiles a person.

I said that at the time, but it bears repeating: Had Jesus actually said this, there would have been no controversy between Paul and the James Gang of the Jerusalem assembly. Paul could simply have referred back to the Christ’s words and that would have been the end of it. James would have not have had recourse, and Paul would not been compelled to come up with the brilliant argument that we saw in Galatians.

Mixed up with this we have the minor dispute between the Pharisees and Jesus regarding ritual washing.  If you have not seen it, there is a discussion in the comments to Chapter 7:1-13 about a couple of aspects of this. The first is that my translation of  the Pharisees “diligently washing” their hands is completely inadequate. This should be rendered more on the lines of “pugnaciously” if not “violently” washing, the point being that they had crossed the line into being ostentatious about it, where the act had taken on a life of its own, and the Pharisees took this to an extreme largely, if not solely, to show-up those with less religious zeal.

This leads to some context. From what I’ve read about the Essenes, and from the Book of Jubilees, an extra-canonical Jewish text of the First Century BCE ( a hundred years or so before Jesus), ritual washing had become a very big deal. It was a big deal for the Pharisees, as we see here, and for the Essenes as shown in the Dead Sea Scrolls, and it was important to the author(s) of Jubilees. Given this level of concern, it bears remembering that the Jews had defied and then expelled the Seleucid kings in the relatively recent past.  The flashpoint that led to revolt was the defilement of the Temple caused by placing of a statue of the Seleucid king Antiochus IV in the Holy of Holies. As such, it seems like the idea of “cleansing” had become a big deal in Jewish thought. Plus, there was a pervasive presence of  Greeks cultural practices, and a very active community among the upper echelons of Jewish society willing to participate in the Greek culture. The historian Flavius Josephus was such a Hellenizer, as was Herod the Great and his children. This zealous following of Jewish custom was, I suspect, at least in part conscious attempt by Jews to go out of their way to “be Jewish”, to show that they were not collaborators or Hellenizers. The roots of the Pharisaic and Essene traditions lie, to some extent, in this desire to show one’s faith by an active display of following Jewish custom. That this, at some point, went overboard, and became an end in itself, should not surprise us. People are people.

Then, I think, there is a deliberate contrast of these zealous Jews with a True Believer. In this case, the role is played by the “Greek” woman, who was Syro-Phonecian ethnically. It is she, not the Pharisees, who believes that Jesus can drive out the demon that plagues her daughter. Her faith is simple, direct, and strong, a marked contrast to the hypocrisy of those who are more concerned with the outside than they are with the inside.

This, too, is an explicit formulation of another cultural shift that had been occurring. During the classical period of Greece, to participate in the activity of one’s city, to go to the sacrifices, to attend the public rituals and games was how one expressed one’s “Greekness”, and how one kept himself right by the gods. The theory of this behaviour  is very similar to the ritual practices of the Jews: both were concerned, largely, with external acts. But with the absorption of the entire Eastern Mediterranean world into a superficial Greek culture, some of these old bonds were loosened, especially for Greeks. So what developed were philosophies and then religions that emphasized the internal self vs these external actions. That this shift from outside was occurring also in Judea should not be surprising. At root, this is to some extent the final transition from shame culture to guilt culture, but I think that’s a bit too basic to describe what was occurring in the two centuries around the transition to the Common Era. Jesus helped to usher in this transition, greatly abetted by Paul’s insistence on faith over Law.

As if to underline the contrast between overly zealous Jews and the believing pagans, the chapter ends with the healing of a man without hearing. The text is ambiguous, but it seems that the man was not a Jew. What is notable is that Jesus takes the man aside, and performs ritualistic actions to effect the healing, which are not things Jesus has ever done in previous healings.

Of course Jesus enjoins him to say nothing, and of course the man only shouts the louder. And of course there are crowds following Jesus everywhere.