Summary Mark Chapter 11

With Chapter 11, we revert to a more classic, or standard line of story telling. The narrative is pretty much straightforward, with a fair bit of reported speech. And the central event, or series of events, revolves around Jesus’ “triumphal entry” and then the “cleansing of the Temple” and its aftermath.

The quotation marks around those two terms are, IMO, justified. Here we have, it would seem, a particularly pointed example of how ‘what everyone knows’ may not actually be in the text. A lot of ‘what everyone knows’ may be in the other three gospels, but it is not here in so many words. First, let’s take the triumphal entry into…where? Is it into Jerusalem? If you will notice, that is not stated explicitly. I did not bring this out during the commentary, but this could be Jesus traveling between Bethany and Jerusalem. Granted, he ends up in the Temple, which is obviously in Jerusalem. But note the wording of 11:11:

                              and they came into Jerusalem, into the Temple.

This could easily be read as it has been read, that Jesus entered into Jerusalem and processed to the Temple as he was riding on the colt. Or, it could be read that he rode the colt, surrounded as in a procession of his followers, until they got to Jerusalem. At which point the colt was abandoned and Jesus and his entourage walked to the Temple like everyone else. Because the end of the sentence says he went back to Bethany with the Twelve, and this could easily be read that the rest of the crowd had dispersed. That may or may not be the natural sense of the text; really, it’s ambiguous, it’s hard to tease out what, exactly, Mark has said. The verb tenses are no particular help; they are simply aorist, which is the most common tense for past action.

One detail that got lost in the shuffle is what the crowd was saying:

blessed be the coming kingdom of our father David.

Why not “the kingdom of God?” I wish I had caught this in the original commentary, because this seems important. I suspect that Jesus riding on the colt (a donkey colt, perhaps) and the allusion to the kingdom of David are meant to reinforce each other. The collective message here, I think, is that this is the Messiah, the heir and successor of David. This could have serious political overtones. This makes me very much doubt that this part is genuine. Perhaps the procession took place, but I have grave doubts about the messianic elements because they are simply so overt. And do not forget about the way this is interlaced with Jesus cursing the fig tree. This sounds like Mark, underscoring the fact that Jesus is no mere mortal.

In any case, the point is that this does not sound like the usual depiction, in which Jesus is riding the colt, his progress being a parade between throngs of worshipful people who lined the streets, who numbered in the thousands. There were people in front of him and behind him, which is why this reads more like a procession. Also, since Jesus was staying in Bethany, it’s likely he had connections there, so these are likely to be the people who processed with him, and possibly it was to some of these persons that the colt belonged. So this is Jesus with a network of friends or disciples, who acted as his support staff while he’s on his journey to Jerusalem for the Passover.

More important are the events surrounding what happened when Jesus went back to the Temple the day after the procession. This is when he turned over the tables of the money changers, and the chairs of those selling doves, and prevented those carrying vessels from crossing the Temple. A legitimate question is how big an incident was this? Given the size of the Temple precinct, the idea that he ‘cleared the Temple’ (which is not what our text says in any case) with a force of less than 50 or 100 (guesses, really) armed men is probably ludicrous. Plus, the next day the authorities seem annoyed, but not exactly outraged. So I will agree with some of the QHJ folks that this was amounted to, at most, a couple of the tables in a small area.

That’s assuming that anything like the incident actually happened. IMO, I think we are well-advised to consider the occurrence as unlikely, especially the way it’s described, with Jesus going back the next day and having this calm discussion with the authorities who come out looking like nincompoops in the exchange. As mentioned, this is the act that a lot of QHJ people believe got Jesus arrested, but that’s obviously not the case if the event never happened. And Mark’s account undercuts this, anyway. This strikes me as a bit of anti-Jewish propaganda, put out there after the Temple had been destroyed: See! We followers of Jesus don’t agree with Jewish authorities! See what Jesus did!

That leaves us with Mark’s other explanation: that Jesus was arrested because the authorities were afraid of his popularity. Well, maybe Jesus was popular out in the hinterlands, but there is no mention in Chapter 11 of Jesus attracting any crowds. Mark has been quick to point out when Jesus did this, in Galilee, or even the Dekapolis, but he hasn’t mentioned this so far now that Jesus is in Jerusalem. And if we discount the ‘triumphal entry’ as a bit overstated, then we really have nothing of the kind.

So why was Jesus arrested and executed? I’m not sure we have any idea what the reason was at this point. And this assumes there was a reason that went beyond whatever occurred in the moment of arrest. It also depends on who actually made the arrest. But these are topics for the coming narrative.

Overall, this was not the subtle masterpiece of rhetoric and implication that we saw in Chapter 10. As stated, it was more of a reversion to straight narrative; in fact, it is perhaps the most coherent and integrated piece of narrative we have encountered so far.


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 14, 2013, in gospel commentary, mark's gospel, Summary and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. As you note, so many events in this story match prophecy that they could have been easily added or modified to fit the prophecies. On the other hand, Jesus could have tried to imitate the prophecies on purpose. On the third hand, enough coincidences may have happened that it did peak the interest of his followers, but as we know from the Lincoln-Kennedy coincidences, it would be more bizarre to not find any similarities in Jesus’ life to prophecy.

  2. I think the Lincoln/Kennedy coincidences are the best analogy here. If you read Suetonius life of Julius Caesar (Gaius Julius, whose family had been granted the cognomen “Ceasar”), you get a list of all the prodigies and signs that prophesied the coming death. Of course, most or all would have been overlooked had Caesar died a year later. I touched on this with Matthew: a lot of the mining of the HS (Hebrew Scriptures) in search of prophesies was the attempt of Jesus’ followers to tie Jesus to the ancient Judaic tradition. Having an ancient pedigree was very important to pagans as a whole. My speculation is that Matthew, by data mining the HS was not trying to convince Jews that Jesus was the fulfillment of the prophesies found there, but that Matthew was trying to convince pagans that Jesus was an integral part of this ancient tradition, that Jesus wasn’t an innovator. This goes back to my tipping point theory, that the gospels were aimed at a pagan audience.

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