Monthly Archives: July 2013

Mark Chapter 13:28-37

This will conclude Chapter 13, and the the Apocalypse of Mark.

28 Ἀπὸ δὲ τῆς συκῆς μάθετε τὴν παραβολήν: ὅταν  ἤδη ὁ κλάδος αὐτῆς ἁπαλὸς γένηται καὶ ἐκφύῃ τὰ φύλλα, γινώσκετε ὅτι ἐγγὺς τὸ θέρος ἐστίν.

“From the fig learn the (meaning of) the parable: when now the branches become tender (i,e., with new growth) and the leaves grow, you know that the summer is near.

Jesus is referring back to the fig tree that he cursed. If you recall, the tree was in leaf, but there were no figs. This would make sense; it was Passover, which is usually in April, so it was spring and the tree would be in leaf. Assuming the fruit does not form and ripen until autumn, this would explain the state of the tree when Jesus found it. Still, interesting that he grew angry and cursed the tree when he knew full well there would be no figs. 

28 A ficu autem discite parabolam: cum iam ramus eius tener fuerit et germinaverit folia, cognoscitis quia in proximo sit aestas.

29 οὕτως καὶ ὑμεῖς, ὅταν ἴδητε ταῦτα γινόμενα, γινώσκετε ὅτι ἐγγύς ἐστιν ἐπὶ θύραις.

“And so you, when you see these things happening (lit = ‘having become’), you will know it may be at the door.

Remember, back at the beginning of the chapter, the disciples (conveniently) asked Jesus what the sign would be that portended the destruction of the Temple. Jesus has given it to them.

29 Sic et vos, cum videritis haec fieri, scitote quod in proximo sit in ostiis.

30 ἀμὴν λέγω ὑμῖν ὅτι οὐ μὴ παρέλθῃ ἡ γενεὰ αὕτη μέχρις οὗ ταῦτα πάντα γένηται.

“Amen I say to you, that this generation not pass away until all of these things become.

This is fascinating. Here is the fundamental, the irreducible nub that prompts many to say that Jesus was, at his core, a preacher of apocalypse. By the time this sentence was written, much of “this generation” that saw the life of Jesus had already passed away. Per the legend, John lived until approx 100 CE, which would be another generation after Mark wrote, but most of the people who had seen Jesus were likely dead. We are, after all, talking about the passage of forty or more years, at a time when not many people lived past the biblical three-score years and ten. And yet, Mark faithfully records this prediction, in full knowledge that Jesus is pretty much wrong.

Or was he?

Jesus is wrong if we take him to mean the end of times. But that, at root, is not what he has been discussing. Rather, he’s been talking about the destruction of the Temple. Granted, that may still have been 40 years after the fact, but the point is, it had happened, and the audience knew it. So, Jesus, in fact, was right.

But this is more complicated than whether Jesus was talking about the end of times, or the end of the Temple. For let’s not forget that Paul was also expecting the return (the Parousia) of Jesus in the very near future. This expectation 20 years before Mark has to bestow a level of confidence that Jesus, at least, may have foretold apocalypse. Given this, what Mark says here is usually taken to reinforce this belief that this was at the core of Jesus’ message. However, I’m not sure this is accurate.

What we have here, IMO, is Mark actually walking back Jesus’ prediction to some degree. Or, at least, he is hedging the bet. Because if Mark is having Jesus talk in these terms about the destruction of the Temple, instead of about the End Times, then Jesus’ prediction has actually come true. How clever is that? seriously, that is brilliant!

But the bottom line remains that it seems to imply that Jesus did predict end times; or, at least, he predicted something.

30 Amen dico vobis: Non transiet generatio haec, donec omnia ista fiant.

31 ὁ οὐρανὸς καὶ ἡ γῆ παρελεύσονται, οἱδὲ λόγοι μου οὐ μὴ παρελεύσονται.

“The sky and the earth will pass away, but you see that my words will not pass away.

This is really interesting, mainly because I’m not entirely sure what it means. Not the words; that part is pretty straightforward. Rather, I’m trying to figure out who put this in here: Jesus or Mark? Or someone in between. And why did they put it in? It seems obvious, in its way, but is it? Shakespeare expressed a similar sentiment in one of his sonnets, that his words would outlive buildings of stone. Is that what Jesus is getting at? Or is this Mark, telling us that the world–as Jesus knew it–may pass away, because it did when the Romans destroyed Jerusalem. As for the sky, well, chalk that one off to poetic license. But Jesus’ words did not pass away, largely because Mark got hold of them and now has written them down.

Now, we could get seriously metaphysical here, and discuss what Jews or the pagans of the first century thought about eternity, but I’m not sure how much that would help. I think that sort of discussion is reading too much back into the words, because the idea of eternity was undeveloped at best. To the Greeks, the idea of eternal was sort of meaningless; they held, mostly, to a cyclical view of the cosmos, in which one age ended and another began. I do not pretend to understand how Jews saw eternity, but the ‘modern’ notion of linear history was invented largely by St. Augustine in response to the Incarnation of Jesus. Theologically, it was foolish to believe that Jesus would die again in the next cycle of time, so the Incarnation was a unique event, never to be repeated.

It was only when this concept of linear time had come to be that the words “will never pass away”  would come to mean something like we understand the concept. As such, Mark probably did not have this in mind when he wrote the words. Given how the concept developed, IMO, Mark’s meaning would, almost by necessity, be much more limited. Given this, I would have to suggest that Mark’s intention here was only that Jesus’ words had outlived the world in which he spoke them. I do not think this should be taken to signify anything like “end times”. Given this, we have to assess the level of apocalypse in Jesus’ message. 

31 Caelum et terra transibunt, verba autem mea non transibunt.

32 Περὶ δὲ τῆς ἡμέρας ἐκείνης ἢ τῆς ὥρας οὐδεὶς οἶδεν, οὐδὲ οἱ ἄγγελοιἐν οὐρανῷ οὐδὲ ὁ υἱός, εἰ μὴ ὁ πατήρ.

“About the day, or that hour, no one know, neither the angels in heaven, nor the son, (no one) except the father.

This has always puzzled me greatly. How can the son be the same (homo-ousias) as the father, and yet the father knows something that the son doesn’t? Yes, my good Roman-rite nuns (Dominicans, to be precise) would have said ‘it’s a mystery’ and that would have been the end of it. Perhaps it is; we’re not here to discuss theology, except in a developmental way. What this says to me is that we have another indication that, in the course of this narrative, Jesus is not seen as truly divine. He doesn’t know; and this pretty much necessarily entails that he is somehow, to some degree however small, less than the father, who knows all. Or perhaps saying that Jesus wasn’t ‘divine’ is too strong; this entails that he was not co-equal to the father, even if he were divine. After all, we don’t doubt that the angels are divine, and they don’t know, either.

One other thing. Notice what he doesn’t say. He says that neither the angels nor the son knows; what about the Holy Spirit (here capitalized deliberately)? Does the Holy Spirit know? Or not? Actually, that’s sort of asking someone in Jesus’ time whether cars can be red or green; they would not have known the answer because cars had not been invented. Here is a pretty clear instance of how the Holy Spirit had to be developed, that the idea is not truly biblical. If you had asked Mark or John the Evangelist about the Trinity, they would not have understood the question. In fact, the implication here is that we do not even have a duality, or whatever the proper word is for two that corresponds to ‘trinity’.

32 De die autem illo vel hora nemo scit, neque angeli in caelo neque Filius, nisi Pater.

33 βλέπετε ἀγρυπνεῖτε: οὐκ οἴδατε γὰρ πότε ὁ καιρός ἐστιν.

“Look out, be sleepless; for you do not know when the time (lit = ‘season’) is.

Interesting that there is no << δὲ  >>, or any other grammatical connection to the previous sentence in which Jesus tells us that the son does not know the hour. Offhand, I would have expected a ‘therefore’, or ‘so’, or just the << δὲ  >>. 

33 Videte, vigilate; nescitis enim, quando tempus sit.

34 ὡς ἄνθρωπος ἀπόδημος ἀφεὶς τὴν οἰκίαν αὐτοῦ καὶ δοὺς τοῖς δούλοις αὐτοῦ τὴν ἐξουσίαν, ἑκάστῳ τὸ ἔργον αὐτοῦ, καὶ τῷ θυρωρῷ ἐνετείλατο ἵνα γρηγορῇ.

“As a man journeying leaves behind his home and gives to his slaves the authority, to each his (assigned) task, and he commands to the doorkeeper in order to be watchful

34 Sicut homo, qui peregre profectus reliquit domum suam et dedit servis suis potestatem, unicuique opus suum, ianitori quoque praecepit, ut vigilaret.

35 γρηγορεῖτε οὖν, οὐκ οἴδατε γὰρ πότε ὁ κύριος τῆς οἰκίας ἔρχεται, ἢ ὀψὲ ἢ μεσονύκτιον ἢ ἀλεκτοροφωνίας ἢ πρωΐ,

“therefore be watchful, for you do not know when the lord of the house comes, whether in the evening, or in the middle of the night, or at cock-crow, or morning.

35 Vigilate ergo; nescitis enim quando dominus domus veniat, sero an media nocte an galli cantu an mane;

36 μὴ ἐλθὼν ἐξαίφνης εὕρῃ ὑμᾶς καθεύδοντας.

“lest he coming suddenly, he find you sleeping,  (i.e., since you don’t know the time he’s expected, be watchful so he doesn’t find you sleeping.)

About the Greek: splitting sentences into different verses can lose the grammatical thread, so I added the parenthetical insertion above as sort of an overview. 

36 ne, cum venerit repente, inveniat vos dormientes.

37 ὃ δὲ ὑμῖν λέγω, πᾶσιν λέγω, γρηγορεῖτε.

“Amen I say to you, be watchful.”

37 Quod autem vobis dico, omnibus dico: Vigilate! ”.

OK, think Jesus got the message across to be watchful?

Now all of this does have a strong implication of Parousia; the master returning is obviously a metaphor for the coming of…who? Who is “the lord” of the house that will return? Is it God the Father? The term ‘kurios’ can stand for ‘adonnai’, which is a parallel to YHWH in the Hebrew Scriptures. But Jesus is referred to as “the Lord” in Chapter 11; recall that “the lord needed the colt for the entrance into Jerusalem. That such a detail is left to be assumed usually implies that the author simply expects the audience simply to catch the reference, however oblique. Does Mark assume that Paul’s message about the return of Jesus from 1 Thess was so widely known that he could refer to it here like this and the audience would understand?

Or, if Mark was not assuming that Paul’s message was so widespread, then what?

I am not at all certain what the answer to that question is. The obvious, or the easy answer is that Mark was assuming that his audience would understand. But what? That the end was coming? Or that the destruction foretold had already occurred?  This is what I’ve been thinking this chapter means, but the fact that it ends with not one, but three admonitions to be vigilant, really does seem to undercut my idea to some degree.

My apologies, but I’ve been sitting on this post for a bit. The problem is trying to fit this chapter into the context of the rest of the gospel. So, I’m going to publish, but with the proviso, and the caveat, that whatever I may end up recanting things that have been said in this commentary. My apologies for the indecisiveness, but this is a deep an thorny problem.

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Mark Chapter 13:14-27

We left off with Jesus speaking. The speech continues here.

14 Οταν δὲ ἴδητε τὸ βδέλυγμα τῆς ἐρημώσεως ἑστηκότα ὅπου οὐ δεῖ, ὁ ἀναγινώσκων νοείτω, τότε οἱ ἐν τῇ Ἰουδαίᾳ φευγέτωσαν εἰς τὰ ὄρη,

“When you see the abomination of desolation standing where it ought not, let the one reading understand, then those in Judea will flee to the mountain,

“Let the reader understand.” Here it would seem that Mark definitely tips his hand. Jesus is not speaking to readers. So perhaps this is parenthetical. And, if parenthetical, it may easily be an interpolation.

As for “the abomination of the desolation”, this occurs in Daniel (12:11 & c), apparently in 1 Maccabees (1:57) and I won’t pretend to understand it. It is apocalyptic, sure, but what is the real meaning of the term? The Catholic Encyclopedia (where I got the cites/refs) pretty much says that there has never been a true consensus about what this refers to, or, apparently, exactly what the Hebrew text means, whether a reference to heathen worship, or even whether the word generally rendered ‘desolation’ is an abstract noun or whether it refers to a specific individual. If anyone reading this can enlighten, I’d be more than happy to listen.

[ Note: I just took a peak at the KJV, and it actually reads “…the abomination of the desolation, spoken of by the prophet Daniel…” The NIV, meanwhile, renders this as “the abomination that causes desolation…” As with some of the passages of Paul, this may be a possible translation, or it may be a poetic translation, but it’s certainly a translation that inserts a specific point of view.

In the meantime, we’ll settle that it’s a reference to a coming apocalypse, presumably the destruction of the temple, which would certainly leave desolation. And, as such, that seems not to be so difficult, to understand, either. Desolation on the Temple site would be an abomination.

In the end, perhaps the problem is the Hebrew, rather than the Greek.

14 Cum autem videritis abominationem desolationis stantem, ubi non debet, qui legit, intellegat: tunc, qui in Iudaea sunt, fugiant in montes;

15 ὁ [δὲ] ἐπὶ τοῦ δώματος μὴ καταβάτω μηδὲ εἰσελθάτω ἆραί τι ἐκ τῆς οἰκίας αὐτοῦ,

“And [= δὲ, in this case, rather than ‘but’]  he who is upon the house, let him not come down, nor let him not come inside, (nor) take up what is outside the house.

IOW, run! Literally, head for the hill(s), as he said in V-14 above.

15 qui autem super tectum, ne descendat nec introeat, ut tollat quid de domo sua;

16 καὶ ὁ εἰς τὸν ἀγρὸν μὴ ἐπιστρεψάτω εἰς τὰ ὀπίσω ἆραι τὸ ἱμάτιον αὐτοῦ.

“And he (who is) in the field, do not turn back towards the things to take up his cloak.

16 et, qui in agro erit, non revertatur retro tollere vestimentum suum.

17 οὐαὶ δὲ ταῖς ἐν γαστρὶ ἐχούσαις καὶ ταῖς θηλαζούσαις ἐν ἐκείναις ταῖς ἡδὲέραις.

“And woe to those having (a child) in the womb (lit = ‘stomach’; ‘gastris’) and those nursing in those days. 

As a parent, the idea of this makes my guts clench out of fear for the children–mine, or anyone’s.

17 Vae autem praegnantibus et nutrientibus in illis diebus!

18 προσεύχεσθε δὲ ἵνα μὴ γένηται χειμῶνος:

“And pray lest it be winter.

 In these past few verses, we can see the versatility of << δὲ >>. As I mentioned at least once before, the textbook use of this word is with << μὲν >> in the sense of …on the one hand (μὲν)…on the other (δὲ)However, the word is so much more than that. Think of it as an all-purpose conjunction. It can be translated as ‘and’, ‘but’, ‘in addition’, and, of course, ‘on the other hand’.

18 Orate vero, ut hieme non fiat:

19 ἔσονται γὰρ αἱ ἡμέραι ἐκεῖναι θλῖψις οἵα οὐ γέγονεντοιαύτη ἀπ’ ἀρχῆς κτίσεως ἣν ἔκτισεν ὁ θεὸς ἕως τοῦ νῦν καὶ οὐ μὴ γένηται.

19 erunt enim dies illi tribulatio talis, qualis non fuit ab initio creaturae, quam condidit Deus, usque nunc, neque fiet.

20 καὶ εἰ μὴ ἐκολόβωσεν κύριος τὰς ἡμέρας, οὐκ ἂν ἐσώθη πᾶσα σάρξ. ἀλλὰ διὰ τοὺς ἐκλεκτοὺς οὓς ἐξελέξατο ἐκολόβωσεν τὰς ἡμέρας.

“And if the Lord did not cut short those days, all flesh would not be. But on behalf of the elect whom he has chosen, he has cut short those days.

Now, this is interesting. Presumably, we are talking about something that has not yet happened. Yet, the verb tense is aorist, which is the mostly frequently used past tense. Again, has Mark slipped here and tipped his hand that this is a recollection rather than Jesus looking ahead? Or is there something rhetorical about this? Being the miserable literalist that I am, I tend to suspect the former.

And here’s a couple of interesting words: “the elect, whom he has chosen”. The concept of “the elect” will be huge when we get to Romans. That word, in that Epistle is the basis for the whole argument about Predestination that has never, ever been resolved logically and consistently within Christian thought. Now, saying that betrays my heritage as an adherent of the Roman Rite, with the whole Thomas Aquinas thing.

In Predestination thinking, the elect are chosen (that is what ‘electoi’ fundamentally means; the candidate chosen = the candidate elected; it’s a tautology) by God to be saved, not through any merit or action of their own, but solely by the mercy of God’s grace. That is how Augustine came to argue the position. We will talk about this more–much more–when we discuss Romans. For the moment, I hope it will suffice to say that it’s a real can of worms. Of course, what it means here is open to a lot of discussion.

“Elect”, as in “The Elect”, rather than just something chosen, is used three times in Mark, all of them in Chapter 13. The usage is similar in Matthew. What this tells me is that this section was embedded more or less as a unit into the  gospels. Assuming I’m correct, the question becomes, ’embedded from where?’

I think I will have more to say about this in the summary to the chapter.

20 Et nisi breviasset Dominus dies, non fuisset salva omnis caro. Sed propter electos, quos elegit, breviavit dies.

21 καὶ τότε ἐάν τις ὑμῖν εἴπῃ,Ἴδε ὧδε ὁ Χριστός, Ἴδε ἐκεῖ, μὴ πιστεύετε:

“And then if someone should say to you, ‘look, there is the Christ’. (0r) look there,’ do not believe (him).

Here we think back to V-6 above, and the ‘I am he’. The puzzling thing is that here the Christ is specified; before we were sort of left hanging. Given the use of the Christ here, I suppose there is no real reason that ‘I am he’ could not mean the Christ as well. It’s just that, in standard Jewish apocalyptic thought, the Christ was not really tied to the idea of the end of days.

But then, Jesus (so far) has not said anything about the end of time here, has he? This is a great example of reading stuff into the text when laboring under the curse of hindsight, of knowing how future generations would come to read this. So, really, if you read this afresh, then Jesus may actually be committing a novelty by combining the Christ with these times of stress. Let us read on.

21 Et tunc, si quis vobis dixerit: “Ecce hic est Christus, ecce illic”, ne credideritis.

22 ἐγερθήσονται γὰρ ψευδόχριστοι καὶ ψευδοπροφῆται καὶ δώσουσιν σημεῖα καὶ τέρατα πρὸς τὸ ἀποπλανᾶν, εἰ δυνατόν,τοὺς ἐκλεκτούς.

“For the false christs and the false prophets will arise and they will give signs and wonders (or portents, per the Latin), towards the seducing, if  it is able, of the elect.

Regarding the Greek: the verb in the last clause, << ἀποπλανᾶν >> is a very uncommon word. The root is ‘plano’, which earlier I mentioned was the root for ‘planet’. It means ‘to wander’, as the planets were seen to wander among the fixed stars. That is a very common word.

<< ἀποπλανᾶν >>, OTOH, is very uncommon. This is one of two uses in the NT. The few times it’s used by Classical Greek authors, it has more the sense of ‘to digress’, especially to digress from the topic, or the argument (logos). Liddell & Scott cite this as the only example where the word has a different meaning. Here, it’s said to be used metaphorically, as ‘to seduce’. IOW, we’ve come across another consensus translation, or the translation that the KJV settled upon. Interestingly (to me, anyway), the more modern versions of the NT have moved away from ‘seduced’, substituting ‘lead astray’. However, it’s like the use of the word at the beginning of Tacitus’ Annales. In speaking of Augustus, Tacitus says, “he seduced the military…” ‘To seduce’ simply has more emotive power than ‘lead astray’.

Secondly, ‘if possible’. Frankly, this puzzles me. Is it possible? Or isn’t it? Doesn’t Jesus know whether it’s possible? Isn’t this something that the omniscient deity should know? Or is this some sort of literary device used by Jesus that I’m too dense to see through. Wouldn’t be the first time. Or does this arise from that underlying layer where Jesus was not yet a divine entity?

Again here, I frankly don’t know enough to say anything insightful about this. I know, for example, that this warning about false messiahs, and false prophets ended up in the Apocalypse of John, so this is possibly a sort of standard warning that was part of the genre, like the gloating villain in a melodrama. One thing it does do, or should do, is to raise at least a pink flag that one could find the Christ on pretty much any street corner in Jerusalem, or Caphernaum, or wherever. This is the sort of throw-away line that should cause the historian to stop and ask why it’s there. It’s sort of like being able to deduce the presence of an undetectable disease by being able to identify the antibody. The fact that it was necessary to warn against false messiahs indicates that false messiahs were a problem.

And we get the second occurrence of ‘the elect’. It’s used exactly as the first occurrence a couple of verses ago. Again, note that there is no attempt to explain the term; as on the principle of false messiahs, an unexplained term should be seen as one that does not have to be explained. The author simply expects the audience to understand what this means.

22 Exsurgent enim pseudochristi et pseudoprophetae et dabunt signa et portenta ad seducendos, si potest fieri, electos.

23 ὑμεῖς δὲ βλέπετε: προείρηκα ὑμῖν πάντα.

“You must keep watch: I have foretold all to you.

No comment needed. The disciples were put on notice; so have we.

23 Vos autem videte; praedixi vobis omnia.

24 Ἀλλὰ ἐν ἐκείναις ταῖς ἡμέραις μετὰ τὴν θλῖψιν ἐκείνην ὁ ἥλιος σκοτισθήσεται, καὶ ἡ σελήνη οὐ δώσει τὸ φέγγος αὐτῆς,

“But in those days, after that trial, the sun will be shadowed, and the moon will no longer give its light

I had to look up << φέγγος >>. The standard word for ‘light’ is << φος >>, that is ‘phos’, hence ‘photon’. It does appear that this word became especially associated with ‘moonlight’ among some Classical authors.

Again, the sun and moon becoming darkened is another motif in the Apocalypse of John. It seems to have become an ‘end-of-days’ cliche, like the false christs. Sort of like the car chase in an action/adventure movie.

24 Sed in illis diebus post tribulationem illam sol contenebrabitur, et luna non dabit splendorem suum,

25 καὶ οἱ ἀστέρες ἔσονται ἐκ τοῦ οὐρανοῦ πίπτοντες, καὶ αἱ δυνάμεις αἱ ἐν τοῖς οὐρανοῖς σαλευθήσονται.

“And the stars will be fallen from the sky, and those powers, which (are) in the sky, shall be shaken.

The part after the stars falling (again, boiler plate stuff) is what is interesting. First, just the translation: <<δυνάμεις >> (rendered as << virtute>> in Latin) is the standard word for ‘miracle’. So that’s how I first read this, but that obviously makes no sense. I tried to bend it a bit to get to ‘wonders’ in the sky, but then how do wonders get shaken? Probably doesn’t happen.

So next we try the base meaning of  <<δυνάμεις >>, which is ‘powers’. And that is what 3 of 4 of my crib translations chose. The NIV went with ‘heavenly bodies’. Now, that may not be as ridiculous as it first seems. So let’s think about this: the powers in the sky. What powers are in the sky? Superhuman powers, to be sure, and probably supernatural as well. We have the sense–don’t we?–that God lives in the sky. Are we saying that God will be shaken? Probably not: note that <<δυνάμεις >> is plural, which means we are talking about plural powers. Now, in the ancient world, the sky was often conceived to be the home of spirits and such, whether malign or not.  So is this saying that these spirit-powers will be shaken?

I would never have thought of this on my own, but the NIV has translated “powers” as “planets”. My first reaction to this was not favourable, or even kind. On second thought, however, it occurred to me that the planets were seen as influencing human behaviour, which is more or less the point of astrology. And planets could certainly be shaken from their course, and such an event would be of tremendous eschatological significance, and it would certainly make sense with the stars falling from the sky. Of my 4 crib translations, the NIV is my least favourite, as it is the one least likely to maintain a sense of the original. However, in this instance, I have to acknowledge that by not sticking to the original, it may have hit on a really good reading of the passage.

25 et erunt stellae de caelo decidentes, et virtutes, quae sunt in caelis, movebuntur.

26 καὶ τότε ὄψονται τὸν υἱὸν τοῦ ἀνθρώπου ἐρχόμενον ἐν νεφέλαις μετὰ δυνάμεως πολλῆς καὶ δόξης.

“And then you will see the son of man coming 0n the clouds, with much power and glory.

Now here we’re back to << >> as “power” in the literal sense. So was the translation of ‘planets’ an aberration, or perhaps simply wrong? Maybe not. Rotating the meanings, or using the same word in two different senses in such close proximity is a literary device; as such, it requires a certain amount of deftness. Mark’s Greek is often described as ‘crude’, but here we might have to give some props to his chops.

Otherwise, this passage reads very much like 1 Thess 4:17, in which those who died in Christ, and those living in Christ will rise up to meet the Lord who is coming down on the clouds.  What does this mean? Well, it could mean that Mark was familiar with that passage of Paul. Or, it could mean that Mark and Paul got each got it from separate sources, in which case this would mean that the image was well-ensconced in the proto-Christian tradition. If so, this would further bolster the argument that Jesus was, to some large extent, a preacher of the coming apocalypse.

I will treat this topic more when we come to the summary of the chapter, and of Mark as a whole. To this point, honestly, there has not been great evidence to support the argument for Jesus as apocalyptist. He has been, primarily almost to the point of exclusively, a wonder-worker. This is not to say that the two are mutually exclusive, but they don’t necessarily fit together well.

“Fit together.” An interesting phrase, is it not? It could be substituted for ‘woven together’. And this latter phrase is what I have been saying Mark did with several different traditions that came down to him. Paul was the Christ (Messiah) strain. The story from after John’s baptism of Jesus to the Transfiguration was the Wonder-Worker strain, culminating in Jesus’ apotheosis. Now, we have come to the End-Times strain. And, behind the narrative–or all these narratives–we have Mark the Weaver. Am I on to something?

26 Et tunc videbunt Filium hominis venientem in nubibus cum virtute multa et gloria.

27 καὶ τότε ἀποστελεῖ τοὺς ἀγγέλους καὶ ἐπισυνάξει τοὺς ἐκλεκτοὺς [αὐτοῦ]ἐκ τῶν τεσσάρων ἀνέμων ἀπ’ ἄκρου γῆς ἕως ἄκρου οὐρανοῦ.

“And then he will send the angels and he will collect the [his] elect from the four winds, from the height of the world to the height of the sky.”

The third use of ‘elect’. This word is deeply buried in this chapter, and in the descriptions of the end-times. This is, on the surface, very strong evidence that this particular chapter came to Mark more or less intact. It has its own peculiar imagery, described in its own peculiar vocabulary. This seems to speak of it as a unit. Even the mention of the angels; two of the five uses of angels occur in this chapter; a third occurs in Chapter 12, the first in Chapter 1, which is looking more and more like a sort of preamble attached to the beginning, that perhaps links up to the themes that occur after the Transfiguration story. I will take a much closer look at that now that I have seen the possible connection. After all, it was in Chapter 1, after John was arrested, that Jesus said ‘the time is fulfilled’. That sounds like it has some eschatological overtones.

27 Et tunc mittet angelos et congregabit electos suos a quattuor ventis, a summo terrae usque ad summum caeli.

Mark Chapter 13:1-13

Chapter 13 is very short, but it’s also pretty much a unified topic. It will be difficult to break this into sections sections that have a meaningful division thematically. The break after V-13 is fairly arbitrary. I apologize, but the alternative seems to be a very long post.

1 Καὶ ἐκπορευομένου αὐτοῦ ἐκ τοῦ ἱεροῦ λέγει αὐτῷ εἷς τῶν μαθητῶν αὐτοῦ, Διδάσκαλε, ἴδε ποταποὶ λίθοι καὶ ποταπαὶ οἰκοδομαί.

And he coming out of the Temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Teacher, see the manner of the stones and the manner of the buildings.”

First, << ποταποὶ…ποταπαὶ >> doesn’t really occur in Lidell and Scott, so this is something of a neologism concocted  between the Classical period and the NT period. To translate, I used the << quales >>, which is a standard Latin word. I did this assuming that St Jerome forgot more about Greek than I’ll ever know. The Greek on << ποτε >>, or ‘how’; this is cored to the Latin, which more or less means something like ‘how much’, or ‘how good’, or ‘of such quality’. IOW, the translation of the Greek as found in English versions of the Bible is obviously a consensus translation, it’s well-founded and sensible, and really is just about the only meaning that fits the context.

But what’s more significant is, is this a straight-line or what? Talk about a set-up comment! It’s like he’s saying “Here you go, Teacher, here’s a softball. Knock it out of the park!” IOW, this should alert us that this is very likely to be non-historical. Notice that Mark does not even bother to tell us which of the disciples asked this question.

1 Et cum egrederetur de templo, ait illi unus ex discipulis suis: “ Magister, aspice quales lapides et quales structurae ”.

2 καὶ ὁ Ἰησοῦς εἶπεν αὐτῷ, Βλέπεις ταύτας τὰς μεγάλας οἰκοδομάς; οὐ μὴ ἀφεθῇ ὧδε λίθος ἐπὶ λίθον ὃς οὐ μὴ καταλυθῇ.

And Jesus said to him, “Do you see these great buildings? Not one will be left so that stone (is) upon stone, which is not destroyed.”

And there we go. Jesus puts it over the left-field fence (Americanism! Baseball metaphor! The equivalent of hitting the upper corner of the goal from 20 yards/meters out.)  I realize that it’s very easy simply to dismiss as ‘later additions’ anything that doesn’t fit my thesis, but this is, IMO, so obviously a later addition that I hope it’s not necessary to defend the point. He’s “predicting” the “coming” destruction of the Temple, and much of Jerusalem in the War described by Josephus, which included the mass-suicide at Masada as well as the destruction of the Temple.

2 Et Iesus ait illi: “ Vides has magnas aedificationes? Hic non relinquetur lapis super lapidem, qui non destruatur ”.

3 Καὶ καθημένου αὐτοῦ εἰς τὸ Ὄρος τῶν Ἐλαιῶν κατέναντι τοῦ ἱεροῦ ἐπηρώτα αὐτὸν κατ’ ἰδίαν Πέτρος καὶ Ἰάκωβος καὶ Ἰωάννης καὶ Ἀνδρέας,

And he being seated on the Mount of Olives opposite the Temple, they asked him, privately with Peter and James and John and Andrew, 

(Note, << καθημένου αὐτοῦ >> is a genitive absolute. This comprises a clause that is not grammatically dependent on the  main clause, that sort of sets up the mood, the action, etc. Latin does this with the ablative case.  << ἐκπορευομένου αὐτοῦ ἐκ τοῦ ἱ εροῦ >> from V-1 is another example.)

3 Et cum sederet in montem Olivarum contra templum, interrogabat eum separatim Petrus et Iacobus et Ioannes et Andreas:

4 Εἰπὸν ἡμῖν πότε ταῦτα ἔσται, καὶ τί τὸ σημεῖον ὅταν μέλλῃ ταῦτα συντελεῖσθαι πάντα.

“Tell us” (they said, continuing grammatically from the previous verse) “when will these things be, and what will be the sign when  all these things will be consumated?”

(Etymological note: the Latin << consumari>> = ‘consummated’ is a really interesting translation of the Greek <<συντελεῖσθαι>>. The Greek, literally, is ‘end together’. The Latin, literally, is ‘be together’, as in ‘come to be at the same time’.

Aside from that, again, a wonderfully scripted set-up line. Notice how we haven’t really discussed much more than the ‘no stone upon stone’, which I don’t think qualifies as ‘all these things’.

4 “Dic nobis: Quando ista erunt, et quod signum erit, quando haec omnia incipient consummari?”.

5 ὁ δὲ Ἰησοῦς ἤρξατο λέγειν αὐτοῖς, Βλέπετε μή τις ὑμᾶς πλανήσῃ:

And Jesus began to speak to them, “Look out, so that no one deceives you.”

5 Iesus autem coepit dicere illis: “ Videte, ne quis vos seducat.

6 πολλοὶ ἐλεύσονται ἐπὶ τῷ ὀνόματί μου λέγοντες ὅτι Ἐγώ εἰμι, καὶ πολλοὺς πλανήσουσιν.

“Many will come in my name saying that ‘it is I’, and many will be deceived.”

Here we are launching into a vision, or a tale of what we now call apocalyptic teaching. “Apocalypse” literally means “revelation”; in a sense, this is a revelation, but in English the word ‘apocalypse’ has end-of-world/end of time connotations lacking in ‘revelation’. So, perhaps, the better term would be teleology, ‘teleos’ meaning ‘end’. So this is a description of the End Times.

One thing that strikes me is the <<Ἐγώ εἰμι>>, or <<Ego sum>> in Latin. At base, both of these mean ‘I am’, with the expectation of some sort of predicate adjective to follow, as in, ‘I am hungry’. Or, as is, it becomes an existential statement, as in ‘I think, therefore I am’. In English, this is very different from “It is I”, or even “I am (the one)”, which is also a possible translation of the Greek and Latin. In a real sense, there is not much actual difference between these two renderings. “It is I” at least implies some sort of predicate noun, or clarifying clause (It is I who knocks at the door…)

Notice that I’ve chosen to rendered it as “It is I”. The problem with this rendering is that it may read too much of the subsequent  apocalyptic tradition back into this phrase. In fact, Matthew 24:6 actually renders this “I am the Christ”. My four crib translations (KJV; NIV; ESB;NASB) all add ‘the Christ’ in here, too, but it is very important to realize that this is not in the Greek.

So this becomes, I believe, the first time we have a true consensus translation of a passage of Mark. This occurred, if you’ll recall, several times in Paul, where the Greek was ‘clarified’, either by adding a word or two, or straightening out the grammar to come to a readable text in English. In this case, we have to ask ourselves if Mark was predicting that someone will make an existential statement: I am. Probably not. Excluding this possibility, one is more or less forced into a situation where there is a predicate complement to the “I” that is implied, but not stated. Which means we have to ask what is the implication?

Matthew decided that “the Christ” was the implication. Perhaps this is justified. But bear in mind tha, so far, Mark has only used the term three times (vs about a dozen in Matthew); moreover, the use in 1:1 could easily be an interpolation, that the second (8:29) is Peter’s avowal that Jesus was the Christ, and that all the rest come after the Transfiguration story, I’m not convinced that Matthew was wholly justified. By adding “the Christ”, Matthew was putting his thumb on the scale to weight the meaning of this passage with a very specific meaning.

Some of the QHJ scholars believe that Jesus was, at his fundamental level, a preacher of Apocalypse. But, according to my thesis, this second half of Mark represents a different tradition about Jesus than what we saw in Chapters 1-9, where Jesus was primarily a wonder-worker, healing and expelling unclean spirits. That is very different from preaching the coming End Times. And indeed, much of this identification of Jesus as an End-Times Preacher comes precisely from this Chapter, and its correlates in Matthew and Luke. IOW, this argument about how Jesus saw himself is based on a single chapter (with a few additional references), at least in Mark. If there are additional passages like this in the other two gospels, it could be taken to mean that this strain of the Jesus belief gained ground, whether after Mark, or in places where there were different traditions than what Mark encountered. So where the different gospels were written is still an important question that has not been completely settled.

So it’s very important to realize that we do not know, in any positivist sense, how “It is I” should be understood. Remember, in Jewish tradition, the Messiah was not necessarily–or even peripherally–associated with End Times. Quite the contrary: he was to lead Israel into a new Golden Age of sorts. Also remember that there was no real End Times literature in the Graeco-Roman thought-world. So filling in “the Christ” is a theological, or at least dogmatic decision, and not necessarily one supported by the text.

6 Multi venient in nomine meo dicentes: “Ego sum”, et multos seducent.

7 ὅταν δὲ ἀκούσητε πολέμους καὶ ἀκοὰς πολέμων, μὴ θροεῖσθε: δεῖ γενέσθαι, ἀλλ’οὔπω τὸ τέλος.

“When you hear (about) war, and rumours of  wars, do not shout (as in ‘give an alarm’). It must happen, but it is not the end.”

“Wars, and rumours of wars” is a spectacular turn of phrase. It really has an End-Times feel to it; however, it’s important to realize that these implications are in the English, and not necessarily in the Greek, or at least not in the text.

And the part about ‘it must be so’ is interesting. What, exactly, does it mean? ‘Must’ in the sense of ‘fated’, as in ‘divinely pre-ordained’? This is where you have to decide exactly how conversational, or exacting the author is being. Is this just a standard conversational phrase, such as when we (Americans, at least), say ‘how are you?’ when we simply mean ‘hello’? Or is the author stating that God has (or will) set these events in motion, and they are inexorable and completely predetermined. My first impulse is to the former, but, given that such dire warnings about wars and tribulations are staples of Apocalyptic literature, I’m rather leaning towards the latter.

Regardless, there is more–and worse–to come.

7 Cum audieritis autem bella et opiniones bellorum, ne timueritis; oportet fieri sed nondum finis.

8 ἐγερθήσεται γὰρ ἔθνος ἐπ’ ἔθνος καὶ βασιλεία ἐπὶ βασιλείαν, ἔσονται σεισμοὶ κατὰ τόπους, ἔσονται λιμοί: ἀρχὴ ὠδίνων ταῦτα.

“For peoples will rise against peoples, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be shakings (earthquakes), there will be famines in places. This is the beginning of travails (or birth-pangs).”

First, ‘nation rising against nation’ is completely anachronistic. “Nations” weren’t truly invented until the 19th Century. The term is ‘ethnos’, obviously the root of ‘ethnic’ as in nationality. Oops. For us, in the 21st Century, ‘ethnic background’ and ‘nationality’ are often synonymous; but they really are not the same thing, and they certainly weren’t in the ancient world. There, an ‘ethnos’ was a people, that spoke a common language, and shared a cultural heritage. There were Greeks all over the Mediterranean world; they considered them selves part of this ‘ethnos’, but the idea of a Greek ‘nation’ would have been a meaningless concept.

Second, ‘travail’ is a word that came to be associated specifically with the pain of giving birth. While, strictly speaking, the term is more general, in both Greek and in English, it was most often used of the pain of giving birth. And that is appropriate here, for the idea of the End Times was that the travail would result in the birth of a different world on the other side.

8 Exsurget enim gens super gentem, et regnum super regnum, erunt terrae motus per loca, erunt fames; initium dolorum haec.

9 βλέπετε δὲ ὑμεῖς ἑαυτούς: παραδώσουσιν ὑμᾶς εἰς συνέδρια καὶ εἰς συναγωγὰς δαρήσεσθε καὶ ἐπὶ ἡγεμόνων καὶ βασιλέων σταθήσεσθε ἕνεκεν ἐμοῦ εἰς μαρτύριον αὐτοῖς.

“Watch out for yourselves: they will hand you over to the councils and to the synagogues (and) you will be beaten, and before the leaders and the kings you will stand  because of me to give evidence to them (the kings/leaders).”

A quick note about the Greek. What I have translated as “council” often gets transliterated as “Sanhedrin”. This usage had led me to believe that the term was Hebrew, or Aramaic, and was something of a technical term. The standard word for “council” that I am most familiar with is “boule”. However, I was mistaken. The term “sanhedrin” is Greek, and it means “council”.  The word, though, is post-classical. I do not marvel at my ignorance, which is boundless, but at the convention whereby the word was transliterated, rather than translated. Note that the Latin is “conciliis“, which is obviously the root of “council”.

Here we have more ex-post prediction. This is a description of what in fact happened to Jesus’ followers as they spread the word. One of them, of course, was Saul of Tarsus, who became Paul the Apostle.  Now, this description matches, at a very high level, descriptions of what then happened to Paul as described in Acts. Since Acts was written after this, and since Paul tells us fairly little about his experiences as a ‘guest’ of either Jewish or Roman jailers, my sense would be that the author of Acts (traditionally Luke) used this outline of Mark and elaborated on it to get the scenes in Acts. I have said that I consider Mark as a journalist, Matthew as a rabbi, and Luke to be a novelist. This does not begin with me; I have read in numerous places that Luke/Acts–and especially Acts–reads like a Hellenistic novel. Luke has lots of stories that are not in the other gospels, which to me says that he invented episodes to flesh out the more skeletal narratives of Mark, and even Matthew. The birth story is from Luke, with the multitude of the heavenly host and the shepherds that were sore afraid.

Of course, this supposition I’m putting forward is hardly proven, but I throw these things out for discussion. I’m still a little appalled at the state of biblical scholarship; there is way, way too much assuming that we can take the words of both testaments as fundamentally factual, and then we can add the proof as we can make it fit. The article I cited above about Jews to Christians is such an example as the author simply reads off the text of Acts as if this were demonstrated history. It is not.

9 Videte autem vos metipsos. Tradent vos conciliis, et in synagogis vapulabitis et ante praesides et reges stabitis propter me in testimonium illis.

10 καὶ εἰς πάντα τὰ ἔθνη πρῶτον δεῖ κηρυχθῆναι τὸ εὐαγγέλιον.

“And to all the peoples first must be preached the good news.”

Here’s another one. Jesus is never shown as making any effort to address Gentiles of any sort. When the Syro-Phoenician approached him (7:26), he attempted to brush her off, stating that he had come for the children of Israel and no one else. The story of the centurion and his son/servant is not in Mark; I believe that, again. is only in Luke, which means it wasn’t incorporated for another generation or so after Mark, at a time when the ratio of Jews to Gentiles among Jesus’ followers had probably started to swing heavily towards the latter. So for Jesus to say in his lifetime that the good news (yes, that is the literal translation, but you knew that)must be preached to all the peoples (=euphemism for ‘Gentiles’) is simply not borne out by the facts of the rest of this narrative.

So again, additional evidence indicating that this part of Mark does not stretch back to the Historical Jesus.

10 Et in omnes gentes primum oportet praedicari evangelium.

11 καὶ ὅταν ἄγωσιν ὑμᾶς παραδιδόντες, μὴ προμεριμνᾶτε τί λαλήσητε, ἀλλ’ ὃ ἐὰν δοθῇ ὑμῖν ἐν ἐκείνῃ τῇ ὥρᾳ τοῦτο λαλεῖτε, οὐ γάρ ἐστε ὑμεῖς οἱ λαλοῦντες ἀλλὰ τὸ πνεῦμα τὸ ἅγιον.

“And when they lead you having been handed over, do not think out beforehand (all contained in <<  προμεριμνᾶτε >>)what you will say, but it will be given to you in that hour what to say; it will not be you (plural) who is speaking, but the holy spirit.”

This particular passage became a favourite of a lot of ‘heretical’ groups (at least, they were deemed heretical by The Church) in the later Middle Ages. When brought before the local bishop, they would often cite this verse, and the use of this verse became sort of an indication of a heretic. In many cases, these ‘heretics’ were guilty of the sin of expecting The Church to live up to the standard of Apostolic poverty, and Jesus admonished back in 6:8-9. The idea of Jesus in sending the 12 out with no extra food etc. was that “God will provide”. And so here, too. God, by way of the sacred breath, would blow the words (in-spiro) into you with which you are to address the council, or the ruling party before whom you are brought.

This is another case, I believe, that ‘sacred breath’ is actually more accurate than ‘holy spirit’, and certainly more accurate than “Holy Spirit”. However, one can see the way the term blurs from one to the other. Like most linguistic terms, it is a continuum, not a fixed point.

11 Et cum duxerint vos tradentes, nolite praecogitare quid loquamini, sed, quod datum vobis fuerit in illa hora, id loquimini: non enim estis vos loquentes sed Spiritus Sanctus.

12 καὶ παραδώσει ἀδελφὸς ἀδελφὸν εἰς θάνατον καὶ πατὴρ τέκνον, καὶ ἐπαναστήσονται τέκνα ἐπὶ γονεῖς καὶ θανατώσουσιν αὐτούς:

“And brother will hand over brother to death, and father (a) child, and children will stand up against their parents and they will kill them.”

This, really, is standard-issue apocalyptic boiler-plate: society will be rent along its most basic foundations, the strongest seams torn apart.

12 Et tradet frater fratrem in mortem, et pater filium; et consurgent filii in parentes et morte afficient eos;

13 καὶ ἔσεσθεμισούμενοι ὑπὸ πάντων διὰ τὸ ὄνομά μου. ὁ δὲ ὑπομείνας εἰς τέλος οὗτος σωθήσεται.

“And there will be great hating of all because of my name. The one standing to the end (is the) one (who is) saved.”

 13 et eritis odio omnibus propter nomen meum. Qui autem sustinuerit in finem, hic salvus erit.

This, however, is not standard apocalyptic boiler-plate. Now it is specifically about Jesus. Yes, God was always a big part of Jewish apocalyptic thought and literature, but we’re adding a whole new dimension. This, I believe, is an indication that this tradition Mark is recording here is a separate and distinct one from the tradition we saw in Chapters 1-8. There, Jesus was a wonder-worker; here, Jesus is part of the divine scheme. IOW, we have two very different and distinct interpretations and/or representations of who Jesus was. I believe that this rather fundamental dichotomy may carry forward for a significant period of time.

Finally, note the final sentence; it comes close to the last one standing, but it’s about persevering in the faith. Again, this seems very much like something written by someone who had experienced believers who lapsed when the pressure from the authorities became too intense.

I will stop here to switch to the next section. Again, I apologize for the artificial and completely arbitrary break-point.

Summary Mark Chapter 12

At first glance, Chapter 12 is hard to summarize thematically. It starts with the parable of the tenants and the metaphor of the cornerstone; then we get two episodes in which the powers that be try to entrap him, first with paying taxes to Caesar, then the story of the widow of the seven brothers which gives Jesus a chance to talk about the Resurrection; finally, we end with the widow’s gift. There is something of a unifying thematic thread: the apparent, or expected heirs of the kingdom of God might not be the ones who actually inherit it.

The parable of the tenants provides the most explicit statement of this. The tenants are the formerly Chosen People, to whom God sent prophets who were ignored, and finally a son who was killed. This is put under the form of a prediction, but it is pretty obviously an ex-post addition. The hidden meaning is that the Gentiles will supersede the Jews as the inheritors of the kingdom of God, because the Jews mistreated the prophets and–for the first time in what became a long and ugly tradition–are accused of being the Christ-killers. Such an accusation has to belong to a time when most followers of Jesus were no longer Jews, but Gentiles. Then, this idea of one group supplanting the other is reinforced by both the metaphor of the cornerstone; those formerly rejected (the Gentiles) become the new Chosen people. And the final reinforcement comes at the end, in the tale of what has traditionally been called The Widow’s Mite. She, the poor, beggarly, scorned and bereft old woman has outdone all the pomp and grandeur–and money–of the Jewish establishment.

And the Jewish establishment has been made to look foolish twice. Twice they tried to entrap Jesus; twice they failed, and then in the end we are told that their worldly glory and wealth are nothing compared to the simple faith and deep sacrifice of this lowly and despised outcast who lived at the fringe of respectable society. AND, we get the Scribe who is not far from the kingdom of God grasping that love of God and neighbor are worth more than all the burnt offerings in the world.

Do you think Jesus maybe has something against Judaism?

So maybe this is thematically more unified than we may have thought at first glance.

The point, though, IMO, is that this is of a piece with the stuff we’ve been reading since about Chapter 10, and certainly of a piece with the content of Chapter 11. These chapter divisions are unfortunate in some ways; they don’t always or effectively represent the true thematic divisions of the gospel. One thing to note: Jesus has been doing a lot more talking in the parts that have come after the Transfiguration. Before that, it was actions. Before the Transfiguration, Jesus was either healing or expelling a demon every time he turned around. The last healing mentioned was Chapter 10; the last exorcism was in Chapter 9; we’ve now completed Chapter 12, and Chapter 13 promises to be different.

Way back when I suggested the merging of two narratives, I wasn’t entirely sure what the second half would contain. It seems to contain the rationale and the program of what was becoming Christianity. It wasn’t there yet, but it was moving there. There was a review in the Nov/Dec 2012 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review of a book arguing that the division between Judaism and (proto-?) Christianity was complete by about 95 CE, and then an article about how the two aspects, or sects of one religion became two religions, more or less in the same time frame. Both are worth reading. But anyway, what I believe we are seeing in the second part of Mark is sort of the case presented by the earliest (proto-)Christians for why they split from Judaism. According to this case, the Jewish religious authorities were hopelessly hidebound in their formalism, still insisting on burnt offerings even though Jesus clearly showed that this was no longer the right thing to do. IOW, this is the basis for what became Christian religious instruction for the next two millennia.

Of course, it’s still an open question of whether this case was made by Mark, or by subsequent editors. Did Mark’s narrative end with the Transfiguration? At this point, I suspect not, but I’m still open on the question. The thing is, this chapter may not be the masterpiece that I found in Chapter 10, but it’s still an excellent piece of rhetoric. Naturally, I may be a bit thick about literary styles and how to interpret literary texts in a literary sense, but this does seem to be another good example of the skill of Mark. My first impression was one of several disparate threads, but a closer look shows, again, his talent in weaving these threads together into a cleverly-constructed narrative is impressive. Plus, it almost seems like it has to be the work of a single individual author.