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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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 27, 2013, in gospel commentary, gospels, mark's gospel and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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