Mark Chapter 12:28-34

Chapter 12 continues.

28 Καὶ προσελθὼν εἷς τῶν γραμματέων ἀκούσας αὐτῶν συζητούντων, ἰδὼν ὅτι καλῶς ἀπεκρίθη αὐτοῖς, ἐπηρώτησεν αὐτόν, Ποία ἐστὶν ἐντολὴ πρώτη πάντων;

And coming, one of the scribes having heard them discussing, seeing that he (Jesus) answered them well (lit = beautifully),  asked him, “Which of the commandments is first (i.e. most important, principal) of all?”

28 Et accessit unus de scribis, qui audierat illos conquirentes, videns quoniam bene illis responderit, interrogavit eum: “ Quod est primum omnium mandatum? ”.

29 ἀπεκρίθη ὁ Ἰησοῦς ὅτι Πρώτη ἐστίν, Ἄκουε, Ἰσραήλ, κύριος ὁ θεὸς ἡμῶν κύριος εἷς ἐστιν,

Answering, Jesus said that “The principal is, ‘Hear, Israel, the lord your God is one God,

29 Iesus respondit: “ Primum est: “Audi, Israel: Dominus Deus noster Dominus unus est,

30 καὶ ἀγαπήσεις κύριον τὸν θεόν σου ἐξ ὅλης τῆς καρδίας σου καὶ ἐξ ὅλης τῆς ψυχῆς σου καὶ ἐξ ὅλης τῆς διανοίας σου καὶ ἐξ ὅλης τῆς ἰσχύος σου.

“and love the lord your God out of your whole heart, and from your whole soul, and from your whole mind and from the whole of your strength’.

30 et diliges Dominum Deum tuum ex toto corde tuo et ex tota anima tua et ex tota mente tua et ex tota virtute tua”.

31 δευτέρα αὕτη, Ἀγαπήσεις τὸν πλησίον σου ὡς σεαυτόν. μείζων τούτων ἄλλη ἐντολὴ οὐκ ἔστιν.

“The second is this, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ Greater than these there is not another commandment.”

Jesus is citing Deuteronomy 6:4 in his response. This is interesting because growing up in the Roman Rite, and attending a parochial school operated by a Dominican priest and nuns, this was a citation was never really mentioned, let alone stressed. In fact, this whole formulation was presented as the difference between Jesus and Judaism. The expression used was spirit of the law represented by Jesus, vs. the letter of the law, represented by the hidebound Scribes and Pharisees. And I don’t mean to pick on one particular religious order, or even a single version of Christianity; from what I’ve been reading about QHJ, this was the predominant attitude of Christian scholars towards Jesus. One of the biggest developments of Jesus scholarship, IMO, over the past two or three decades is the growing involvement of Jews in the conversation. This new stream of thought has deeply enriched the scholarship, providing a perspective and a level of context that was sadly and sorely lacking. 

Now, given that this is a citation, it is impossible to maintain that Jesus was in full revolt from ‘mainstream Judaism’, that his interpretation was a novel, more enlightened religious experience, as opposed to a religious practice. Religion in the ancient world was seen by scholars as a formalized ritual, external, lacking emotional impact. This then explained the appeal of “Eastern Mystery Religions”, such as the cults of Isis, or Magna Mater, or the Eleusynian  Mysteries of Athens, or, ultimately, Christianity. This then explained the ‘clearing of the Temple’ in the last chapter. However, we now know that this is a grossly oversimplified view, that certainly Judaism, and even the supposedly “empty” pagan rituals had a lot of emotional appeal for a lot of people–which is why a lot of pagans were not all that eager to convert. 

31 Secundum est illud: “Diliges proximum tuum tamquam teipsum”. Maius horum aliud mandatum non est ”.

32 καὶ εἶπεν αὐτῷ ὁ γραμματεύς, Καλῶς, διδάσκαλε, ἐπ’ ἀληθείας εἶπες ὅτι εἷς ἐστιν καὶ οὐκ ἔστιν ἄλλος πλὴν αὐτοῦ:

And the scribe said, “That is well, Teacher, that you speak upon the truth that is one and that there is not another greater.”

32 Et ait illi scriba: “ Bene, Magister, in veritate dixisti: “Unus est, et non est alius praeter eum;

33 καὶ τὸ ἀγαπᾶν αὐτὸν ἐξ ὅλης τῆς καρδίας καὶ ἐξ ὅλης τῆς συνέσεως καὶ ἐξ ὅλης τῆς ἰσχύος καὶ τὸ ἀγαπᾶν τὸν πλησίον ὡς ἑαυτὸν περισσότερόν ἐστιν πάντων τῶν ὁλοκαυτωμάτων καὶ θυσιῶν.

“And the love out of the whole heart, and out of the whole of the mind, and out of the whole of the strength, and the love of the neighbor as oneself is the greater than of all of the burnt offerings and sacrifices.”

And right on cue: the scribe himself belittles the idea of burnt offerings and sacrifices. This is just what Jesus railed against when he ‘cleared the Temple’, and the implication of loving God and one’s neighbor as the most important commandments. Surely, this provides support for the idea that Jesus preached a religion of the heart, rather than a religion of external ritual?

Unfortunately, this little speech, I think, is a very late addition. With Mark, only Matthew tells this story; Luke and John omit it. More, only Mark has this little disclaimer about burnt offerings. As such, this could have been inserted a century or more after the first edition left the pen of Mark. This strikes me as belonging almost to the Third Century, when Christianity’s main opponents were pagans, rather than Jews.

And yes, I realize it’s terribly convenient to dismiss verses as ‘late additions’ when they don’t suit my purpose; my hope is that the reason for the rejection makes sense and carries weight. Part of the problem is that we are way too accustomed to the idea of a fixed book containing a fixed set of doctrines. This was not always the case. There is, for example, no real ‘official’ version of most Greek myths. The story may be told one way by Homer, somewhat differently by Theogenes, and differently again by one of the tragedians. So the idea that the words came off Mark’s pen, to be fixed indelibly thereafter is a fantasy; the textual notes on a decent Greek edition of the NT will disabuse anyone of that very quickly. These works were fluid for centuries; stuff got added in, or left out. For a scribe of the early First Century to downplay traditional Jewish sacrifice is possible, to be sure, but, on the whole, it feels anachronistic, which implies a later addition.

33 et diligere eum ex toto corde et ex toto intellectu et ex tota fortitudine” et: “Diligere proximum tamquam seipsum” maius est omnibus holocautomatibus et sacrificiis ”.

34 καὶ ὁ Ἰησοῦς ἰδὼν[αὐτὸν] ὅτι νουν εχῶς ἀπεκρίθη εἶπεν αὐτῷ, Οὐ μακρὰν εἶ ἀπὸ τῆς βασιλείας τοῦ θεοῦ. καὶ οὐδεὶς οὐκ έτι ἐτόλμα αὐτὸν ἐπερωτῆσαι.

And Jesus seeing (him) that he had sense (was sensible) said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” And now no one dared to ask him anything.

34 Et Iesus videns quod sapienter respondisset, dixit illi: “ Non es longe a regno Dei ”. Et nemo iam audebat eum interrogare.

Interesting: the scribe is ‘not far from the kingdom of God’. Here again we get something of a tantalizing glimpse of what that might mean without being sure exactly. What is it that qualifies the man? That he agrees with Jesus? That he believes in loving God and neighbor? That he understands that these are the most important aspects of living a good and virtuous life? That he sees the value of the internal outlook over the external form? Probably some part of all of these.

But one thing: he is not far from the kingdom; but where does he stand with regard to ‘The Life’, or ‘The Life Eternal’? Are the two terms, kingdom of God and the Life synonymous? Interchangeable? Do they at least overlap? I don’t think we know. And I think this is a crucial question to be asking, and I’m sorry I haven’t been asking it right along. It’s much easier to find something when you know what it is you’re looking for. At some point it will be interesting to look at the compare & contrast between the concepts of the Kingdom and the Life.


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 23, 2013, in gospels, mark's gospel, Paul's Letters, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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