Mark Chapter 14:1-11
With Chapter 14, we come to the story of the Passion.
1 ην δὲ τὸ πάσχα καὶ τὰ ἄζυμα μετὰ δύο ἡμέρας. καὶ ἐζήτουν οἱ ἀρχιερεῖς καὶ οἱ γραμματεῖς πῶς αὐτὸν ἐν δόλῳ κρατήσαντες ἀποκτείνωσιν:
It was the Passover, and the (celebration of the) unleavened (bread) after two days, and the high priests and the scribe were seeking how taking hold of him by craft they might kill him.
[ The Greek is a bit convoluted here, but the meaning is clear enough. So, while it’s a bit of a consensus translation, it does no real violence to the underlying meaning.] Note that we are now encountering the high priests as the antagonists. Until this point and for the most part, the group that was particularly opposed to Jesus was the scribes. Now, however, that the scene has moved to Jerusalem, we find that the high priests are involved. This implies that the highest religious authorities of the Jewish people were conspiring to kill Jesus. This is the second time that we are told that the authorities wanted to kill him; the first was back in 3:16, when it was the Pharisees and the Herodians. Now, it’s the high priests and scribes. What does this mean? Well, the obvious meaning is that these four groups wanted to kill Jesus. But should we believe that?
IMO, the level of credibility here is unclear. We were told the Pharisees and the Herodians wanted to kill Jesus after he healed the man with the withered hand on the sabbath. Why did that upset these two? Neither of these really had any religious authority. The Pharisees had no particular authority. OTOH, the Herodians, presumably, had secular authority, but would they be interested in killing Jesus over some perceived religious issue? Given the history of the Herodians, I think not, unless they were trying to ingratiate themselves with the religious community for whatever reason. However, given that they ruled based on Roman military power, maybe not so much.
As for the high priests and the scribes, what is their motive? The ‘cleansing of the Temple’? If what Jesus did was so terrible, why wasn’t he arrested on the spot?
This goes to the heart of the question of why Jesus was killed. It is impossible for our time to ascertain the real level of authority that the Jewish ‘authorities’ held. Josephus tells us that the Herodians often acted first and got Rome’s backing later. Can we believe this? Or were the Herodians acting with Roman agreement from the outset? The point is thrown out that the Jewish authorities were particularly concerned about the Roman attitude towards Jewish turbulence, with the understanding that the Jews had to walk on eggshells so that the Romans didn’t…what? Intervene? Depose them, and replace them with a new set of puppets? Yes, but who cares about what the Jewish authorities felt? They had very little real power, especially in Jerusalem. Herod, in Galilee, had more latitude of movement. If he was so concerned about Jesus and his preaching in Galilee, why not just arrest him then? He had no qualms about arresting and executing John the Baptist. Maybe Herod became slightly concerned about ‘public opinion’, but to the extent that he would risk alienating the Romans because he was afraid to squash a popular preacher? Something tells me no.
The thing is, the Romans, not to put too fine a point on it, didn’t give a rat’s ass about public opinion, or due process, or any sort of niceties when it came to possible sedition. If Herod, or the high priests, or any prominent group in the province had reason to want to eliminate a popular preacher, I see no reason why they could not simply tell the Romans that Jesus was an instigator bent on stirring up insurrection. That would have ended the matter with typical Roman efficiency and dispatch. Jesus would have been arrested and summarily executed without much ado or fanfare, and even less scruple on the Romans’ part. These guys were right bloody bastards who had no qualms about executing troublemakers. In fact, in Livy, we are told of the father who executed his son for disobeying an order, the consequences of which were fairly minimal. And this was seen as a good thing.
No. Had the Herodians actually wanted Jesus dead when he was in Galilee, Jesus would have been dead. If the high priests in Jerusalem wanted Jesus dead, a word to the leader of the Roman garrison probably would have sufficed. If the Romans were at all concerned about Jewish sensibilities in the arrest of Jesus–and that is a very big if–those sensibilities would have been more that assuaged by the fact that it was the Jewish authorities that were turning Jesus in. Remember: this was the time of Tiberius; if you read Tacitus’ Annales, you will find that Tiberius was executing Romans of fine senatorial families on trumped-up charges. If the Emperor didn’t scruple to kill perceived enemies of high rank, the idea that the Roman governor in Judea would be squeamish about killing some nobody Jew is borderline ludicrous.
So what is going on here? More to come.
1 Erat autem Pascha et Azyma post biduum. Et quaerebant summi sacerdotes et scribae, quomodo eum dolo tenerent et occiderent;
2 ἔλεγον γάρ, Μὴ ἐν τῇ ἑορτῇ, μή ποτε ἔσται θόρυβος τοῦ λαοῦ.
For they said, “Not in the festival, not when there will be an uproar of the people.”
What does this mean? “Uproar” has been translated as “riot”, but this is taking the word too far, IMO. It means, at base, “noise”, but particularly the noise of a crowded assembly. So it could be read as “outcry”, I suppose, but it could just as easily be read as “applause”. Now, the Latin << tumultus>>, can be read more easily as “disturbance”. which then can be stretched to “riot” I suppose. The second problem is the tense of the verb: it’s a future indicative, middle voice. Future indicative means that it’s a statement that something will occur, without any real sense of doubt. Not that it may occur, or could occur, which would be normally be subjunctive voice, but that it will occur. IOW, the high priests feel they know this for a fact.
Why would this happen? Presumably because the people would be upset about Jesus. But again, why? In the next verse we will be informed that he is staying in Bethany, which we more or less knew from Chapter 11. We are also told he’s staying in the house of Simon the Leper. IOW, he’s staying outside Jerusalem, with someone who (presumably) was a leper. IOW, he doesn’t have anyone more respectable to stay with inside the city walls. IOW, he doesn’t have much of a following inside Jerusalem. So why are the people going to riot? Because they would riot for Jesus? Not bloody likely, is it? Or because they would riot about anyone being arrested and killed. Possible, I suppose, but we don’t get the sense that Jerusalem was exactly a powder keg from Josephus’ description of the time, nor in his description of Jesus, which is very brief, if heavily doctored by subsequent Christian copyists.
So what’s the deal?
Ever since Albert Schweitzer (yes, that Albert Schweitzer) there has been an assumption, or even an insistence that Jesus’ death had to be related in some way to Jesus’ teaching or actions. The question is “why?” Why is this necessary? Frankly, from any historical point of view, it’s simply not necessary. The Romans executed people for all sorts of reasons, or sometimes for no good reason whatsoever. It was part of their charm. Given that they were extremely prone to this sort of brutal behaviour, why do we have to assume that Jesus was killed for something he did, or even something he said?
Here’s where we get to the crux of the matter. If Jesus was killed because of his ministry, the group most likely to be responsible would be the Jewish authorities, since they are the ones who would have had most reason to be offended, or threatened, or annoyed by Jesus. But, if he was killed for something unrelated to his ministry, the likely suspect shifts. Now, it is the Romans who were most likely to have killed Jesus. Indeed, we are given this amazing story of how the Jewish authorities tied themselves in knots to drum up some sort of charge so that they could beg and plead and cajole the Romans into executing Jesus. As we stated, the Romans really did not need much of a reason.
Given this proclivity, isn’t it most likely that Jesus was killed because of the Romans? And given this, why do we have to assume that they had any reason to kill Jesus that was related to his ministry? And if these two premises are true, should we not assume that the whole story of the high priests drumming up charges probably isn’t true? That, in fact, what Mark has done is set us off on the path towards Antisemitism by concocting more or less fictitious reasons for the Jewish authorities wanting to kill Jesus? Why? So that the blame would not be laid on the Romans.
Remember: the Jews have just been savagely crushed when Mark was writing. How better to show your bona fides with the oppressor than to blame the Jews, who just rebelled? And how better to separate yourself from the Jews, than by blaming them for the death of Jesus? Bear in mind, too, at the time Mark wrote, we have probably hit the tipping point at which most converts were now pagans, rather than Jews. The destruction of the Jewish Assembly, at one time led by James, brother of Jesus, would have gone a long way towards shifting the impetus to converting pagans rather than Jews. IOW, the assemblies started by Paul would have begun to supersede the older Jewish assemblies. So the idea of Jesus’ followers separating themselves from Jews would not have been just a reflexive and defensive reaction, but one that arose from the actual differences in the background, heritage, and ethnicity of the converts.
The result? I don’t particularly believe a lot of what is to follow.
2 dicebant enim: “ Non in die festo, ne forte tumultus fieret populi ”.
3 Καὶ ὄντος αὐτοῦ ἐν Βηθανίᾳ ἐν τῇ οἰκίᾳΣίμωνος τοῦ λεπροῦ κατακειμένου αὐτοῦ ἦλθεν γυνὴ ἔχουσα ἀλάβαστρον μύρου νάρδου πιστικῆς πολυτελοῦς: συντρίψασα τὴν ἀλάβαστρον κατέχεεν αὐτοῦ τῆς κεφαλῆς.
And he being in Bethany, and reclining (= eating dinner) in the house of Simon the Leper, a woman came to him having an alabaster jar of pure (lit = ‘faithful’) nard (that was) very expensive. She broke the alabaster, and poured it on his head.
I have to say, while I realize that having expensive perfume, or ointment poured on you was considered a good thing back then, can’t say as it sounds all that appealing.
In the previous comment I said that Jesus was staying in the house of Simon the Leper; I hadn’t read this closely enough. He was only eating dinner there; however, the point remains that he was apparently staying in Bethany. Chapter 11 tells us this pretty specifically; upon arriving, he went to the Temple, then retired to Bethany in the evening. Then he entered into Jerusalem on the donkey from Bethany, and he returned there after ‘clearing’ the Temple. And here he is again. Note that in John, we will be told that he was staying with Mary and Martha, whereas Mark leaves the host(ess) unknown. Why does Jesus stay in Bethany? Why doesn’t Mark name names, but later gospels do? These are questions that the historian has to ask, the implications of the text that need to be addressed.
Why does Jesus stay there? As I mentioned, likely that he wasn’t familiar enough with anyone in Jerusalem, but that he had a group of well-wishers in Bethany. The standard line of speculation is that these would be disciples, of a sort. People who had heard Jesus’ message and asked him to stay with them. That’s a very nice, and a very tidy supposition, but we have to realize it is based on absolutely no evidence. We have no reason to prefer this explanation over another, such as maybe they were family friends, or perhaps relatives, cousins, that sort of thing. Now, this has ramifications for exactly how popular, or how widely known Jesus was, whether he was sought after, or generally unknown outside Galilee. Mark has certainly made it sound like Jesus was popular, but we really have nothing but his word for it. Of course, having some woman anoint him may indicate that someone, at least, had reason to provide such an extravagant ministration.
Who were these people, both his hosts and the woman? That is impossible to say from what we have here; frankly, Mark doesn’t seem particularly concerned about this sort of detail, but then he tells us the name of Simon the Leper. Here, IMO, we may be justified to infer that Simon may have been one of the beneficiaries of Jesus’ wonder working? In a couple of different places, we are told Jesus “healed many”.
We also know that the story of the woman with the nard became attached to Mary Magdalene. It’s interesting to ask why Mark did not know her name. Here’s a thought: It has been suggested that Mary M, and some of the other women named in the gospels, were women of some substance, who were able to support Jesus and his followers financially. Perhaps Mary Magdalene lived after Jesus; that she was a supporter of the group that was becoming a ‘church’. Wouldn’t it be interesting if she had her name added to the later gospels, because, by the time Matthew wrote, she had been a significant supporter? Of course, this is pure speculation, but we have to ask why her name, and the names of Mary and Martha of Bethany were not recorded by Mark, but they were by later gospels. Usually, details get lost, not gained. Or do they? The simplest possibility is that later evangelists named names because they just made them up to make the whole thing sound more authentic. So, compared to that, isn’t it a nicer story to suppose that Magdalene was a real person, if later? (My apologies to Dan Brown here, but it’s not like he was the first to come up with that theory; The Last Temptation of Christ (by the author of Zorba The Greek) predated Brown’s work by a several decades.
3 Et cum esset Bethaniae in domo Simonis leprosi et recumberet, venit mulier habens alabastrum unguenti nardi puri pretiosi; fracto alabastro, effudit super caput eius.
4 ἦσαν δέ τινες ἀγανακτοῦντες πρὸς ἑαυτούς, Εἰς τί ἡ ἀπώλεια αὕτη τοῦ μύρου γέγονεν;
There were some complaining amongst themselves. “For what (reason) was this perfume wasted?”
4 Erant autem quidam indigne ferentes intra semetipsos: “ Ut quid perditio ista unguenti facta est?
5 ἠδύνατο γὰρ τοῦτο τὸ μύρον πραθῆναι ἐπάνω δηναρίων τριακοσίων καὶ δοθῆναι τοῖς πτωχοῖς: καὶ ἐνεβριμῶντο αὐτῇ.
“For this perfume could be sold more than three hundred denarii, and be given to the poor.” And they muttered against her.
5 Poterat enim unguentum istud veniri plus quam trecentis denariis et dari pauperibus ”. Et fremebant in eam.
6 ὁ δὲ Ἰησοῦς εἶπεν,Ἄφετε αὐτήν: τί αὐτῇ κόπους παρέχετε; καλὸν ἔργον ἠργάσατο ἐν ἐμοί.
But Jesus said, “Leave her. Why do you have upon her trouble? She has done (a) good thing for me.”
[Note: it is difficult to render the Greek verb tenses in English in a way that both preserves the tense of the original, and yet makes sense in English. The first word of V-5, “is able to” is past-tense in Greek; in English it has to be rendered as a subjunctive because what the perfume is able to fetch on the market is theoretical. ]
6 Iesus autem dixit: “ Sinite eam; quid illi molesti estis? Bonum opus operata est in me.
7 πάντοτε γὰρ τοὺς πτωχοὺς ἔχετε μεθ’ ἑαυτῶν, καὶ ὅταν θέλητε δύνασθε αὐτοῖς εὖ ποιῆσαι, ἐμὲ δὲ οὐ πάντοτε ἔχετε.
“For always the poor you have with you, and when you wish to give to them you can easily (lit = ‘well’) do (so). Me you will not always have.”
Here Jesus makes another allusion to his coming demise. I have noted that the number of such ‘predictions’ that he makes leaps upwards in these later chapters.
7 Semper enim pauperes habetis vobiscum et, cum volueritis, potestis illis bene facere; me autem non semper habetis.
8 ὃ ἔσχεν ἐποίησεν: προέλαβεν μυρίσαι τὸ σῶμά μου εἰς τὸν ἐν ταφιασμόν.
“What she has done is what she had (i.e., “what she had in her power to do”), to anoint me for the entombment.”
[ Both the Greek and Latin verbs refer to tombs, rather than internment, or burial. ]
8 Quod habuit, operata est: praevenit ungere corpus meum in sepulturam.
9 ἀμὴν δὲ λέγω ὑμῖν, ὅπου ἐὰν κηρυχθῇ τὸ εὐαγγέλιον εἰς ὅλον τὸν κόσμον, καὶ ὃ ἐποίησεν αὕτη λαληθήσεται εἰς μνημόσυνον αὐτῆς.
“Amen I say to you, when the good news (lit = ‘good news’) has been proclaimed to the whole world, and what she has done will be spoken to the memorializing of her.”
[ “memorializing” is a bit awkward, but it really captures the Greek. Also, ‘proclaim’ I think, neatly splits the difference between ‘announce’, which is what the Greek actually says, and ‘preach’, which is what is normally done to the gospel (lit=’good news’. ]
Odd: she will be memorialized, but we won’t tell you her name. The moral here is that, it was what she did, not who she was that’s the important thing here. In the corporate world, we’d call this the takeaway.
But here’s a more significant point: “when the good news has been proclaimed to the entire world”. This is the second mention of this idea; the first was in 13:10. IOW, very late in the gospel. Prior to Chapter 13, there is no indication of Jesus preaching to Gentiles, with the possible exception of the people of Geresene (5:3). We were never really told why Jesus went there; was it to exorcise Legion? The only other times when Gentiles are even mentioned is, obliquely, when they went to the territory of Sidon & Tyre (7:24), but we’re never told that they interacted with any Gentiles; and when Jesus is approached by the Syro-Phoenician woman (7:27), which is on this same trip.
Now, the immediate reaction may be to claim that these are interpolations; however, in this instance, it’s probably not that simple. Rather, I think it represents the ex-post justification of what had been happening anyway. We know for certain that, at some point, more converts came from pagan backgrounds than Jewish backgrounds. That is obvious from the demographics. The question is, when did that happen? It happened at some point before this verse, and probably after verse 13:10. So why aren’t these just interpolations? Well, a likely example of an interpolation is 1:1; the addition of ‘son of God’. or even, ‘Christ, son of God”. These are a few words added to the end of the sentence, They could just be marginal notes that were later incorporated to the body of the text via sloppy copying, or perhaps they were added to clarify, or reinforce the message. However, adding the preaching of to all the peoples is not just a few words, and it represents a major shift in the message of Jesus. To the point of 13:10, Jesus’ interest in Gentiles is limited, to be generous. Now, to have him require that the gospel has to be proclaimed to all the peoples is a serious shift in priorities. In all likelihood, this passage could not have come into being before Paul’s evangelical missions. In all likelihood, it came about rather later; a decade would be the bare minimum, IMO. To warrant inclusion in the gospels the number of non-Jewish had to grow to critical mass, to the point where it had long-since stopped being controversial. I think a decade is an absolute minimum, which puts us into the 60s, perhaps the mid-60s, which would be about +/-10 years before Mark wrote this.
And, there’s no reason it could not have been added after Mark wrote his gospel. Paul gives us what is called a terminus post-quem; it could not have happened before Paul, but there’s no real hard stop on the other end. It feels like something added after the destruction of the Temple.
Now, what does this do to 13:10? If the part about preaching to all the peoples was a later addition, is this entire chapter a later addition? Perhaps. but not necessarily. A sentence or two could have been added. But, at the very least, we have to ask that question. The story of the woman anointing Jesus could easily be the sort of thing that was invented later. And so could Jesus’ ‘prediction’ of the destruction of the Temple. To some degree, they both are intended to show us that Jesus knew what was going to happen. This has to make us even more suspicious of Jesus the Apocalyptic Preacher.
9 Amen autem dico vobis: Ubicumque praedicatum fuerit evangelium in universum mundum, et, quod fecit haec, narrabitur in memoriam eius ”.
10 Καὶ ἸούδαςἸσκαριὼθ ὁ εἷς τῶν δώδεκα ἀπῆλθεν πρὸς τοὺς ἀρχιερεῖς ἵνα αὐτὸν παραδοῖ αὐτοῖς.
And Judas Iscariot, one of the Twelve, went off towards the high priests in order to hand him (Jesus) over to them.
10 Et Iudas Iscarioth, unus de Duodecim, abiit ad summos sacerdotes, ut proderet eum illis.
11οἱ δὲ ἀκούσαντες ἐχάρησαν καὶ ἐπηγγείλαντο αὐτῷ ἀργύριον δοῦναι. καὶ ἐζήτει πῶς αὐτὸν εὐκαίρως παραδοῖ.
Hearing him, they rejoiced and promised to give him money (lit = ‘small pieces of silver’). And he sought how to hand him over opportunely.
11 Qui audientes gavisi sunt et promiserunt ei pecuniam se daturos. Et quaerebat quomodo illum opportune traderet.
First, ‘opportunely’ is a horrible choice of words, but it’s the best at capturing the Greek, which literally is ‘a good season’. So, an ‘opportunity’, but used as an adjective.
Secondly, very sudden change of topic, no? This is the second mention of Judas; the first being when he was named one of the Twelve, in 3:19, and we were told that he would be the one who handed Jesus over. And there was no spoiler alert! Do I believe that 1) Jesus was betrayed?; and 2) that, if so, was the betrayer’s name Judas, with the possible surname of Iscariot?
The site, Early Christian Writings http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/, indicates that there was a pre-Markan passion story, and it begins with the scene in Gethsemane, when the high priests came to arrest him. I really do recommend taking a look; http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/passion-young.html. The text is color-coded, indicating how many scholars agree that a particular passage is authentic. A high number believes that the part about Judas being the betrayer is authentic. For the moment, I’m going to declare myself agnostic on this topic, and save it for later, when we come to that in the narrative.
Finally, we are told that Judas was promised–but not given–‘money’, The literal meaning of the word is ‘little pieces of silver’. We don’t know how many. But silver was more valuable than bronze, which is what the denarius was made of (the root of the English ‘penny’. This is why, if you go to a hardware store for 16-penny nails, you will–at least, you may see–them labeled as “16d”. At least. I have seen such labels as a kid). But they are ‘little pieces’, as opposed to full-sized coins. Ancient monetary systems are not my specialty, so I do not feel qualified to estimate how much Jesus’ life was worth. I would be curious to know if these ‘little pieces of silver’ were worth more than the 300 denarii at which the jar of perfume was valued. I tend to suspect so, but I could be wrong.
Posted on August 7, 2013, in gospel commentary, gospels, mark's gospel and tagged Bible, Bible commentary, Bible scholarship, biblical scholarship, commenting, gospel commentary, Historical Jesus, mark's gospel, New Testament, New Testament Greek Translation, NT Greek, religion, St Mark, theology. Bookmark the permalink. 11 Comments.