Mark Chapter 14:22-31

We have now come to the Last Supper, and the Garden of Gethsemane, where the Pre-Markan Passion begins.

22 Καὶ ἐσθιόντων αὐτῶν λαβὼν ἄρτον εὐλογήσας ἔκλασεν καὶ ἔδωκεν αὐτοῖς καὶ εἶπεν, Λάβετε, τοῦτό ἐστιν τὸ σῶμά μου.

And they having eaten, taking the bread he blessed it, broke it, and gave it to them and said, ‘Take, this is my body.’

Here is the institution of what became the Eucharist. Since this has been a staple of many Christian forms of worship, this is obviously important. It is highly significant that Paul in 1 Corinthians 11:23-26. There, Paul claims that this tradition that he imparted to the Corinthians (and presumably his other groups) was handed down by the Lord himself.

Now, can we believe this? I think we can. Yes, it’s possible that Paul made this up, but we have to ask why he would have done so. Yes, it’s possible he did it to claim some kind of link directly to Jesus. Yes, it’s possible to make up plausible reasons why this can’t or doesn’t or shouldn’t trace back to Jesus, but IMO this passes the skepticism test. Or, at the very least, it’s likely that it became embedded in the proto-Christian tradition at a very early date, so that Paul believed it was authentic. We have to remember that Paul says almost nothing about Jesus before the Resurrection; when Paul tells us something about Jesus as a human, I think it behooves us to listen.

So, given that, the question becomes: where did Mark get this? Did he get it from Paul? Or independently? This matters. A lot. If he got it from Paul, that means that Mark was aware of Paul’s existence, probably his tradition, and perhaps his writings. In turn, this implies that the tradition was running in, more or less, a single thread: Jesus >> Paul >> Mark. However, we then have to ask why Mark’s version is so much shorter than Paul’s version. Yes, compression, or conservation of words and valuable parchment may have played a role, but Mark is capable of telling long tales. His version of the Gerasene demonaic is longer than Matthew’s version; so I think a case could be made that, had Mark been aware of Paul’s longer version, with its admonition that it came right from Jesus, this would mean Mark had what he felt like good reasons for editing The Lord. Yes, he could have chosen to do so, but what would those powerful reasons have been? Seriously. What would have caused Mark to leave Jesus’ words on the cutting room floor? Yes, they could exist, but I can’t think of what they might be. Yes, this could be just a failure of imagination on my part, but, sorry.

So, if Mark did not get this from Paul, he must have gotten it from somewhere else. Those are our choices: Paul, or not-Paul. If not Paul, then not-Paul. (Modus tollens)

The implication of this is that the line from Jesus, or his first followers, took a different course before getting to Mark, one that bypassed Paul. Which means that there was more than one Jesus-tradition. How many? Impossible to say, but more than one. And this goes back to my thesis of Mark the Weaver: weaving together the various traditions and sources that he had heard.

What this also means is that, in all likelihood, there were traditions that did not survive. That there were multiple strands of Jesus-tradition is not new information, since we saw the “council” of Jerusalem, held between Paul and James, brother of Jesus.

Either they died a natural death due to lack of interest, or they were snuffed out by those who became the “orthodox” tradition. The Ebionites are a very likely candidates for this category. James, brother of Jesus, has been associated with the Ebionites for a very long time. Recall back in Galatians 2:10, James enjoined Paul to “remember the poor”, which has been read as referring to James’ group, the Ebionites (which name is most likely derived from the Hebrew/Aramaic word for “the poor”.) 

So we have some indication, or at least a possibility of three different threads of the Jesus tradition: Paul, the Jewish Christians, and the Jewish Christians who became the Ebionites. Now, we are not going to solve the source problems here; what we can do, and what we will do is say that my thesis of “Mark the Weaver” has received some fairly powerful support.

22 Et manducantibus illis, accepit panem et benedicens fregit et dedit eis et ait: “ Sumite: hoc est corpus meum ”.

23 καὶ λαβὼν ποτήριον εὐχαριστήσας ἔδωκεν αὐτοῖς, καὶ ἔπιον ἐξ αὐτοῦ πάντες.

And taking the drinking vessel (and) blessing (it), he gave it to them, and all drank from it. 

This is kind of different. The language here is not something that has been repeated elsewhere. It certainly was not incorporated into the standard Roman Rite, nor the Anglican celebration of the Eucharist. (I cannot speak of other traditions from personal experience.)

23 Et accepto calice, gratias agens dedit eis; et biberunt ex illo omnes.

24 καὶ εἶπεν αὐτοῖς, Τοῦτό ἐστιν τὸ αἷμά μου τῆς διαθήκης τὸ ἐκχυννόμενον ὑπὲρ πολλῶν:

And he said to them, “This is my blood, of the covenant which has been poured out for (lit = ‘over’) many.”

After dispensing with the  source issues after V-22, we come now to the real point: what the heck does this mean? This is my body? This is my blood? Second question: where did this come from? Now, ritual cannibalism is hardly unknown in world history; however, to the best of my knowledge, there were no major groups practising  this in the Ancient Mediterranean world in the First Century. This is not Judaic; it’s not Hellenistic; it’s not Semitic. So what this means, IMO, is that this was a pretty serious and major theoretical innovation on the part of Jesus. And he obviously meant it as metaphorical from the beginning. Here, I think, rather than in the apocalyptic pseudo-predictions of Chapter 13, is where we should look for Jesus “true”, or his “fundamental” message, the real core of his teaching.

Jesus was trying to create something with this meal. If these words, and the words in 1 Corinthians are have any validity as originating with Jesus, the implication, IMO, is that he was trying to institute a New Thing with these words. Assuming that these words authentically originate with Jesus. I think that he was self-consciously doing something that he saw as novel. He was taking the Passover meal and changing the meaning, or at least re-interpreting the meaning. The meaning of ‘covenant’ to anyone Jewish was clear, certain, and fixed. So for Jesus to say ‘the blood of the covenant’, he would be deliberately invoking something that would resonate with Jews. This, I think, is a strong indication that Jesus saw himself as a Jew, speaking to Jews. The idea of the covenant would be meaningless to most pagans; this helps explain why the founders of the Christian Church felt compelled to adopt the Hebrew Scriptures as part of the canonical whole.

Along with this, the KJV adds the word ‘new’ to ‘covenant’. I don’t know if this was a manuscript problem or an editorial decision; several mss have come to light since the original translation of the KJV. ]

Now the words << ὑπὲρ πολλῶν >>, ‘over/for many’ are not in Paul’s account. This seems to indicate that they had been added to the tradition in the intervening years. At least, they had been added to one of the traditions of which Mark was aware. Again, this seems to show a broadening of the message; now, non-Jews are included, at least potentially. This represents a change since non-Jews hadn’t been included in the idea of the covenant. And note, Jesus speaks of ‘the covenant’, not a ‘new covenant’, again showing his Jewish focus.

“Many”, of course, could be taken as “many people”, or as “many peoples”. Purely from context, it is difficult to decide which is meant. However, given that this was added later, possibly by non-Jews, there is at least the possibility that it was meant to imply ‘many peoples’. This would connect with the ‘preaching the good news to all the peoples’ that we encountered in 13:10. But note the skill and deft touch here; a couple of non-controversial words could–and possibly did–change the whole meaning of the passage.

So what was Jesus trying to institute? The Kingdom of God? To say this was his intention is almost a tautology. The problem is that we (or at least I) have not pinned down exactly what “Kingdom of God” means. This is something with which I have to grapple in an attempt to try and decide what Jesus–or, more likely, what Mark–understood and intended when using the term.

24 Et ait illis: “ Hic est sanguis meus novi testamenti, qui pro multis effunditur.

25 ἀμὴν λέγω ὑμῖν ὅτι οὐκέτι οὐ μὴ πίω ἐκ τοῦ γενήματος τῆς ἀμπέλου ἕως τῆς ἡμέρας ἐκείνης ὅταν αὐτὸ πίνω καινὸν ἐν τῇ βασιλείᾳ τοῦ θεοῦ.

“Amen I say to you, that never more I drink from the produce of the vine until those days when when I might drink the new (wine) in the kingdom of God.”

And on cue, we get ‘Kingdom of God.” Here, the term obviously has a future tense, rather than something that is here-and-now. What it does not necessarily convey is a sense of ‘other-world’, or ‘beyond-time’, or ‘after-the-End-Times’. We assume this is what Jesus means in these words, but that’s exactly what it is: an assumption, an implication that we read into the words because of 2,000 years of subsequent history. Honestly, this again feels like something added after the Resurrection. We know how the story turns out, that Jesus is about to die, so we “know” what Jesus means. Therefore, any sense of ‘apocalyptic’ implication was a later addition, just like the ‘predictions’ in Chapter 13.

25 Amen dico vobis: Iam non bibam de genimine vitis usque in diem illum, cum illud bibam novum in regno Dei ”.

26 Καὶ ὑμνήσαντες ἐξῆλθον εἰς τὸ Ὄρος τῶν Ἐλαιῶν.

And having hymned (sung the hymn), they went out to the Mount of Olives.

Note what is not here: nothing about Peter’s upcoming denial, which happens at the Last Supper in the other gospels.

26 Et hymno dicto, exierunt in montem Olivarum.

27 Καὶ λέγει αὐτοῖς ὁ Ἰησοῦς ὅτι Πάντες σκανδαλισθήσεσθε, ὅτι γέγραπται, Πατάξω τὸν ποιμένα, καὶ τὰ πρόβατα διασκορπισθήσονται:

And Jesus said to them that, “You will all be made to stumble, that (as) it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.’ “

This is only one of two uses of the shepherd & sheep metaphor in Mark. This, I think, really indicates how the tradition grew over the years. It was used something like nine or ten times in Matthew and John, but only twice in Luke. This lack of comparability between Matthew and Luke, IMO, is significant, and I think this means we may want to ask some questions about whether this is part of the Q source material.     

27 Et ait eis Iesus: “ Omnes scandalizabimini, quia scriptum est: “Percutiam pastorem, et dispergentur oves”.

28 ἀλλὰ μετὰ τὸ ἐγερθῆναί με προάξω ὑμᾶς εἰς τὴν Γαλιλαίαν.

“But after me having been raised (from the dead, we presumably are to assume), I will go before you to Galilee.”

Two big things: Jesus will be the direct object, rather than the subject of the raising. He will be acted upon. This is not consistent with Jesus as the actor, the active, the acting divinity. So once again, Mark seems ambivalent–at best–about Jesus’ divinity. 

Second, he will go ahead of them to Galilee? What? He will go ahead to Galilee? This does not at all square with what the other gospels tell us, in which Jesus appears to the disciples in and around Jerusalem. And Emmaus, of Luke’s gospel, is west of Jerusalem, while Galilee is north, so Jesus would not have been going to Galilee by way of Emmaus. So what does this mean?  Note that we are told the same thing in 16:7, by the young man in white who is in the tomb. He told the two Marys and Salome that Jesus has gone ahead to Galilee.

Bart Ehrman had an incredibly clever idea about this. He has suggested that the chief priests and the religious hierarchy were responsible for the empty tomb. They feared Jesus’ tomb becoming a rallying point for Jesus’ followers, so they removed the body. Then, they left one of the young priests, who would have been dressed in dazzling white robes to tell Jesus followers that Jesus had gone to Galilee. The idea was to get Jesus’ followers out of Jerusalem, to get them back to Galilee where they would be Herod’s problem and not their own. However, this topic should probably be discussed relative to Chapter 16.

28 Sed posteaquam resurrexero, praecedam vos in Galilaeam ”.

29 ὁ δὲ Πέτρος ἔφη αὐτῷ, Εἰ καὶ πάντες σκανδαλισθήσονται, ἀλλ’ οὐκ ἐγώ.

Peter said to him, “Even (kai) if all stumble (upon themselves), but not I.”  (more poetically: “Everyone else may desert you, but I never will.”)

29 Petrus autem ait ei: “ Et si omnes scandalizati fuerint, sed non ego ”.

30 καὶ λέγει αὐτῷ ὁ Ἰησοῦς, Ἀμὴν λέγω σοι ὅτι σὺσήμερον ταύτῃ τῇ νυκτὶ πρὶν ἢ δὶς ἀλέκτορα φωνῆσαι τρίς με ἀπαρνήσῃ.

And Jesus said to him, “Amen I say to you that you this day, in this night, before twice the cock will sound, thrice you will deny me utterly.”

The ‘utterly’ is actually part of the verb. The intensification comes from the prefix, << ἀπ- >>. ]

In the other gospels, this prediction occurs while they are still at table. Here, they are already outside. Interestingly, my commentary to Mark notes that we could skip from V-26, the singing of the hymn, to V-32, the coming to Gethsemane and never suspect that anything had been left out. This seems to support the idea that the shepherd metaphor, and the going ahead to Galilee were added later. It also implies that this prediction of Peter’s denial was retro-fitted into the narrative. Mark chose to put it here, but the others decided to include it while still in the upper room. I presume Mark put it here; is this an instance where a later redactor decided that Mark’s narrative needed the prediction? 

One thing: in the allegedly pre-Markan Passion Narrative, scholarly support for Peter’s denials is fairly weak, meaning that many scholars do not think that it was part of the Passion story that came down to Mark. My commentary states that Mark inserted these verses; it need not be so. It could have been an even later addition.  Whether it was Mark or someone else who added these verses would be a difficult case to make in either direction, IMO.

30 Et ait illi Iesus: “ Amen dico tibi: Tu hodie, in nocte hac, priusquam bis gallus vocem dederit, ter me es negaturus ”.

31 ὁ δὲ ἐκπερισσῶς ἐλάλει, Ἐὰν δέῃ με συναποθανεῖν σοι, οὐ μή σε ἀπαρνήσομαι. ὡσαύτως δὲ καὶ πάντες ἔλεγον.

He (Peter) spoke more vehemently, “if it must be that they kill me with you, I will not utterly deny you.” In this way all (of them) spoke.

As with the comments about the beautiful architecture at the beginning of Chapter 13, so here we have a classic set-up line. What does Peter do? Profess his willingness to die before he denies Jesus. So what does the audience know Peter is going to do? Deny Jesus,  just as predicted. This part is transparently (IMO) a literary device, invented by Mark (or someone else) to set Peter up for the eventual fall, in a mini-morality play, or a mini-Greek tragedy.

31 At ille amplius loquebatur: “ Et si oportuerit me commori tibi, non te negabo ”. Similiter autem et omnes dicebant.

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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 August 18, 2013, in gospel commentary, gospels, mark's gospel and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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