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?


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 April 16, 2013, in gospel commentary, gospels, mark's gospel and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. Combining your observation of the discussion of John the Baptist and Herod Antipas, with the route of Jesus, along with Jesus’ evasion of crowds and private healing, might lead us to conclude that Jesus was trying to evade Herod Antipas. First, Jesus moves out of Herod Antipas’ district of Galilee into the Roman province of Syrian Phoenicia, then he circles Galilee on the North, around the Sea of Galilee into Gaulanitis, then into the Decapolis, then back to the east side at Bethsaida. All of this time he stays outside Antipas’ control, but he is also outside his own home area, so he is feeling vulnerable with the crowds, the Gentiles, and the Romans.

  2. This is an interesting observation; however, I don’t much like it. I don’t like it because it forces me to reconsider my line of thought on Jesus and his ministry and the attention (or lack thereof) the two of them drew. You present a good ‘prima facie’ case that he was trying to avoid the attention of the authorities, or of Antipas at least. And, given the latter’s arrest of the Baptist, and the likely connection between Jesus and the Baptist, Jesus could easily have had legitimate reason to be wary of that fox, as Jesus calls Antipas in Luke’s version of the story.

    That being said, in this particular instance, and in others, Mark is very cagey about the crowds, and very inconsistent, IMO. He continuously tells us how popular Jesus was, then seems to go out of his way to come up with reasons why Jesus wasn’t popular: that Jesus was deliberately hiding himself, or information about himself. Personally, I get the impression that Jesus wasn’t overwhelmingly popular in his lifetime. But, then why did he feel the need to avoid Antipas?

    Of course, avoiding the authorities was probably a good thing in its own right. I’m reminded of “Fiddler on the Roof”. When the rabbi is asked to say a prayer for the czar, the rabbi says, “God bless and keep the czar…far away from us”.

    This just occurred to me: Maybe Jesus left Galilee because he was not honored in his own land. Maybe the audience was more receptive as he got further away from home.

    And, finally, none of these possibilities necessarily exclude any of the others. He may have been fairly obscure, but still nervous about being identified as a follower of the Baptist, and found more willing listeners a little further afield.

  3. I agree with all of the points in your response. John the Baptist was the threat that worried Herod Antipas, not Jesus. Herod would have been worried about the reaction to the death of the Baptist, so he would have troops on the lookout for any crowds that might be possible supporters of the Baptist. This would have encouraged anyone to go for a little “holiday”.

    Additionally, it would make total sense about his popularity increasing outside the home area. Besides the natural tendency that your extended family would be more doubtful of your “extra” specialness, those who’ve heard about you but never met you would be more likely to travel to see you and to be enamored by small contacts with you.

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