Mark Chapter 11:1-11

Chapter 11 starts with the triumphal entry into Jerusalem, commemorated by Christians as Palm Sunday. I just realized there are a lot of ones (the numeral) in the title of the post. Significant? Probably not.

1 Καὶ ὅτε ἐγγίζουσιν εἰς Ἱεροσόλυμα εἰς Βηθφαγὴ καὶ Βηθανίαν πρὸς τὸ Ὄρος τῶνἘλαιῶν, ἀποστέλλει δύο τῶν μαθητῶν αὐτοῦ

And then they approached Jerusalem through Bethpage and Bethany, towards the Mount of Olives, he sent out two of his disciples, 

See next verse.

1 Et cum appropinquarent Hierosolymae, Bethphage et Bethaniae ad montem Olivarum, mittit duos ex discipulis suis

2 καὶ λέγει αὐτοῖς, Ὑπάγετε εἰς τὴν κώμην τὴν κατέναντι ὑμῶν, καὶ εὐθὺς εἰσπορευόμενοι εἰς αὐτὴν εὑρήσετε πῶλον δεδεμένον ἐφ’ ὃν οὐδεὶς οὔπω ἀνθρώπων ἐκάθισεν: λύσατε αὐτὸν καὶ φέρετε.

And he said to them, “Go up to the village that is before you, and immediately (upon) going into it you will find a colt tied, upon which no man yet has sat upon it. Release it and bring it.”

Here we have the prediction of how the immediate future is to play out. This is of a piece with his predictions of the coming tribulation that would be inflicted on the Son of Man. This is another thing that has become increasingly more frequent as we have moved along in the story. It began in 8:31, with Jesus’ first reference to the “suffering servant” motif, but this is the first time where Jesus describes the near future in such detail, and to such immediate effect. The next instance, IIRC, will be the instructions he gives for preparation of the Last Supper, which will be the coming Thursday.

Also note that it appears that the colt was tied up in one of the villages, either Bethany or Bethpage. My understanding is that they both lay hard up against the city of Jerusalem. Jesus sends them << εἰς τὴν κώμην >>, “to the village” and the final word is not generally used of a large city. That the colt was in a village and not Jerusalem s not a major revelation, or terribly significant, but it’s worth pointing out. We will come to Bethpage again later in this section.

2 et ait illis: “ Ite in castellum, quod est contra vos, et statim introeuntes illud invenietis pullum ligatum, super quem nemo adhuc hominum sedit; solvite illum et adducite.

3 καὶ ἐάν τις ὑμῖν εἴπῃ, Τί ποιεῖτε τοῦτο; εἴπατε, Ὁ κύριος αὐτοῦ χρείαν ἔχει, καὶ εὐθὺς αὐτὸν ἀποστέλλει πάλιν ὧδε.

“And if anyone says to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’, say, ‘The lord has need of it, and he will immediately send it back again.’ ” 

Also, there is some significance to the fact that the colt has never been ridden. I’m not entirely sure of what it might be. Now, as for the genus and species of this creature, that requires some sorting. In Homeric and Classical Greek, the term means ‘foal’, and then whether it’s masculine or feminine determines whether it’s a colt or a filly. Here, it’s masculine, so it would be a colt, a male.  Now, it is primarily used of horses; however, it can mean any young animal, much as in English a ‘cub’ could be a bear, or a lion, or a reporter (do they still make cub reporters?) 

I say this because, when I was growing up, Jesus rode a donkey, or an ass (is there a difference?) Now, all four of my crib translations, KJV included, render this as ‘colt’.  Now, I cannot say for sure about Greek, but the word ‘colt’ in English connotes a horse, unless otherwise specified. This matters, because it has been held, as per my Commentary on Mark, that the donkey/ass reference was specific to the Messiah, based on a cite of Zechariah 9:9, how the king/Messiah (I do not know the underlying Hebrew word) will come humbly, riding on a donkey. As such, I suspect there was some incentive to use the word donkey deliberately to evoke this message.

BTW: all the synoptics use the same Greek word: << πῶλον>>, so there is really no help. We have to decide what they word means. As I said, the Greek would imply a horse; but the usage in Judea may have been very different. Both Greek and Hebrew (OT) have separate words for horse and ass; that’s to be expected. But a ‘ d0nkey colt’ would be a meaningful term, if it’s not the term a breeder of donkeys would use.

[ If anyone is interested, I Googled “biblical references to horses” and came up with this: ]

http://www.equest4truth.com/EquineBibleReferences.html

Now, the interesting thing, as I see it, is that the author thought it more important to tell us that it was a young animal that had never been ridden, than it was to tell us the exact species of the animal. Greek has different words for horse and donkey, as does Hebrew, and I’m sure Aramaic did as well. But the author eschewed that sort of precision in order to stress the age of the creature. Why? The explanation for this would most likely be caught up in notions of status; that being the first to ride a colt was somehow…significant. Beyond that, I really can’t project.

3 Et si quis vobis dixerit: “Quid facitis hoc?”, dicite: “Domino necessarius est, et continuo illum remittit iterum huc”.

4 καὶ ἀπῆλθον καὶ εὗρον πῶλον δεδεμένον πρὸ ςθύραν ἔξω ἐπὶ τοῦ ἀμφόδου, καὶ λύουσιν αὐτόν.

And they came up and found the colt tied before the door outside a block of houses, and they loosed it (him).

4 Et abeuntes invenerunt pullum ligatum ante ianuam foris in bivio et solvunt eum.

5 καί τινες τῶν ἐκεῖ ἑστηκότων ἔλεγον αὐτοῖς, Τί ποιεῖτε λύοντες τὸν πῶλον;

And some of those bystanding there said to them, “Why do you make that colt loose?”

5 Et quidam de illic stantibus dicebant illis: “ Quid facitis solventes pullum?”.

6 οἱ δὲ εἶπαν αὐτοῖς καθὼς εἶπεν ὁ Ἰησοῦς: καὶ ἀφῆκαν αὐτούς.

And they spoke to them accordingly (as) Jesus said; and they left them (the bystanders).

6 Qui dixerunt eis, sicut dixerat Iesus; et dimiserunt eis.

7 καὶ φέρουσιν τὸν πῶλον πρὸς τὸν Ἰησοῦν, καὶ ἐπιβάλλουσιν αὐτῷ τὰ ἱμάτια αὐτῶν, καὶ ἐκάθισεν ἐπ’ αὐτόν.

Just a note; saddles at this time did not have stirrups; those were not introduced until sometime around the 8th Century CE. So a blanket on a horse/donkey’s back would confer most of the advantages of a saddle. 

Now, this occurs to me. I know just enough about horses to realize that sitting upon one for the first time is something of a big deal. But it seems not to be a big deal for Jesus. What does this imply? Or what was it meant to convey to a contemporary, for whom these sorts of details would be more obvious. This, perhaps, takes us back to the fact that Mark tells us it’s a young animal, that has never been ridden. Is the fact that Jesus can sit upon it and ride it without problem supposed to tell us that Jesus is something more than a human? Something akin to calming the storm, or walking on water, if to a lesser degree.

Or is being the first to ride a donkey no big deal? So does this fact tells us it was a donkey, and not a horse? 

And taking the colt to Jesus, and they threw over it (the colt) their cloaks, and (Jesus) sat upon it.

7 Et ducunt pullum ad Iesum et imponunt illi vestimenta sua; et sedit super eum.

8 καὶ πολλοὶ τὰ ἱμάτια αὐτῶν ἔστρωσαν εἰς τὴν ὁδόν, ἄλλοι δὲ στιβάδας κόψαντες ἐκ τῶν ἀγρῶν.

And many spread their cloaks upon the road, and others spread cuttings from the fields.

Note: cuttings from the fields in no way specifies that it was palm branches. The Latin is ‘frondeus‘, which is obviously the root of ‘frond’, as in ‘palm frond’, but this is a generic term for leaves, or leafy. I guess a clue would be what would be ‘in the fields’ at this time of year? It’s Passover, so it’s April-ish; what would be in the field outside Jerusalem in early April? And ‘field’ does not necessarily mean ‘planted field’, but could mean just open ground. Was there open ground outside Jerusalem? Or outside Bethany?  Perhaps we’ll discover that one of the other evangelists is more specific about the cuttings.

8 Et multi vestimenta sua straverunt in via, alii autem frondes, quas exciderant in agris.

9 καὶ οἱ προάγοντες καὶ οἱ ἀκολουθοῦντες ἔκραζον, Ὡσαννά: Εὐλογημένος ὁ ἐρχόμενος ἐν ὀνόματι κυρίου:

And those going before, and those following shouted, “Hosanna! Blessed is he coming in the name of the Lord!”

9 Et qui praeibant et qui sequebantur, clamabant: “ Hosanna! Benedictus, qui venit in nomine Domini!

10 Εὐλογημένη ἡ ἐρχομένη βασιλεία τοῦ πατρὸς ἡμῶνΔαυίδ: Ὡσαννὰ ἐν τοῖς ὑψίστοις.

“Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David! Hosanna in the highest!”

A few things. First, note that this is not a procession like a modern parade, where onlookers stand on both sides of the road and the participants walk down the middle. Rather, this is a crowd, or perhaps a group. There are those going before and those following. How many are there? We don’t know. But this is one instance where the word ‘crowd’ is not used. It rather sounds like it’s the group that came with Jesus to Jerusalem, plus perhaps those with whom he will stay (see comment to V-11). IOW, this may have been a fairly small-scale thing, with participants and persons cheering numbered in the low dozens, rather than in the hundreds.

And the other, more important thing is, we have to ask if this even happened.  Or, maybe it happened, but maybe it was nothing like the big deal it’s been made out to be in all the biblical movies and Jesus Christ Superstar (when Simon Zealotes sings “there must be over 50,000…). This does does not sound like a major parade. It sounds like a procession of Jesus and his followers.

And this matters. In the QHJ literature, perhaps especially the stuff more than 10 years old, Jesus’ coming to Jerusalem is a major item on Jesus’ agenda, in which he’s set to have a showdown with the religious authorities. This entrance is part of what set those authorities off, afraid as they were of anything that smelled too much like an uprising.  Had Jesus’ entry been anything like the scale it’s usually presented to have been, I seriously doubt the Romans would have turned a blind eye.

But that assumes this happened at all. Especially given the loaded symbolism of riding in on a donkey, coupled with the cries of “Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David,” this could easily be something that was added later. 

10 Benedictum, quod venit regnum patris nostri David! Hosanna in excelsis! ”.

11 Καὶ εἰσῆλθεν εἰς Ἱεροσόλυμα εἰς τὸ ἱερόν: καὶπεριβλεψάμενος πάντα, ὀψίας ἤδη οὔσης τῆς ὥρας, ἐξῆλθεν εἰς Βηθανίαν μετὰτῶν δώδεκα.

And this is something else that makes me a bit suspicious of the triumphal entry bit: Jesus comes in, gets to the Temple, looks around, and then leaves because it was already evening. What happened to the crowd? That would be hard to explain. Being accompanied by a group of followers, even 30-40 people, maybe not. From what I gather, the Temple complex was enormous, and a few dozen people could easily be swallowed up in the crowd. Now what does this mean? That Jesus, perhaps, was not so popular in Jerusalem as he had been in Galilee. No surprise, despite the couple of times when we’re told people, or Pharisees from Jerusalem came to listen to him.

This may tie in with what has been called Jesus’ messianic secret. We have seen him enjoin unclean spirits, or persons he has healed from talking about him, admonishing them to silence. I have suggested this was a literary device used by the author to explain why Jesus, seemingly at, or by, the time Mark wrote, had so few Jewish followers. Jesus simply wasn’t that well-known. That would explain why his entrance gained so little notice, why he was not thronged by those in the Temple as he supposedly was in other places. He was a provincial, after all, not up to the level of sophistication of the Jerusalem crowd. So here he comes to the Temple and leaves without attracting much, if any, attention.

11 Et introivit Hierosolymam in templum; et circumspectis omnibus, cum iam vespera esset hora, exivit in Bethaniam cum Duodecim.

As promised after verse 2, we’re back in Bethany. It seems Jesus will be staying here, rather than in Jerusalem itself. Now, I believe Bethany is where Mary and Martha and Lazarus live in John. And, if the colt was tied to a tree in Bethany, perhaps Jesus knew of the colt because he had contacts or followers or something such living there. This, perhaps, takes some of the lustre off the prediction of knowing that the colt had never been ridden. Perhaps he knew this because he knew the owners. And this might be why the passersby are so willing to let the disciples take the colt, because they know who “the lord” is.

Now, Jesus having contacts in Bethanypage may be an indication that this is not his first trip to Jerusalem. I am very skeptical about that; he had traveled there, according to Luke, as a child with his parents for Passover. This was a pretty standard custom for a lot of Jews, especially those within a few days’ journey from the city. It really would be strange if this was his first trip.  So once again, as with his relocation to Caphernaum, perhaps this was not terra incognita for Jesus, but places with which he was familiar, where he knew people, and where he had connections.

Advertisements

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 June 5, 2013, in gospel commentary, gospels, mark's gospel and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. Today we think of the horse as regal, and asses and donkeys as lower status animals, and that may have been true during the Roman era in Palestine, but prior to that period in Mesopotamia, the ass was the mount of the king, while the horse was considered too dangerous for the king to ride. One famous story tells of great resistance by the court and generals when the king wanted to ride a horse. This may be why the OT refers to a future leader riding an ass or donkey, but the context may have been forgotten by the time of Jesus.

  2. If I remember correctly, the rainy season in Palestine corresponds to our winter, and the harvest was in late spring or early summer, depending on the crop.

  3. Addressing the last comment first. If you think of it, harvest for wheat in the Midwest is the end of June to the middle of July. And yes, I believe that winter is the rainy season in the Mediterranean in general. And if the Passover is indeed approaching, this would put us in early Spring, so…maybe the time of wheat harvest? Or perhaps too early? Or perhaps the time has been all jumbled together, and the author uses such details as are expedient, whether accurate or not. We are seeking Truth here, after all.

    As for the ass/horse thing. Domesticating the horse and riding a horse are two different things. Horses had been used to pull chariots for centuries, but that didn’t mean they were being ridden as we think of it. One thing to bear in mind is that tradition, once set, is often difficult to undo. If it became traditional for the king to ride an ass, then that tradition could easily have been carried on long after all understanding of the reason why it was done had long been forgotten.

    For example, Livy (Titus Livius) tells a story of a Roman priest who was not allowed to use iron or ride a horse. The inference is that this was a very old office, one that predated the use of both horses and iron. The tradition that this priest did neither became fixed, and that was that. It stayed that way. So perhaps the king riding an ass?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: