Reading Justice – Mark 7.24-30 and Euripides’ Jocasta

Euripides (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A while ago, as my class was meandering through the Gospel According to St. Mark, I mentioned (again) that to read GMark properly, one must have a good grasp of allusions and external sources. I believe, and have stated before (my book, ]], that there exists a strong possibility the Syrophoenician woman has a strong allusion to Euripides’ Phoinissai.

There are thematic elements, to be sure:

Jocasta associates justice with the order of the universe. She personifies the idea of isotês (‘equity’), as Eteocles personified and deified the idea of tyranny/monarchy (506), and describes it as a cosmic principle of universal applicability (541-6), which has taken the form of cyclic change, succession of opposites or periodicity, as happens, for example, when day and night succeed each other in turn. The philosopher Heracleitus, who focused on the juxtaposition and unity of opposites, had remarked that ‘The Sun shall not outdo the day; otherwise, the Furies, helpers of Justice, shall find him’ (fr. 94 D-K). In the Euripidean passage, equality takes on a political resonance which evokes the ideal of the same political and legal rights as the prerequisite of democ­racy. This ideal informed the political discourse of the Athenians of the fifth century and is reflected for example both in Pericles’ discussion of the Athenian democracy in Thucydides (2.37.1) and in Theseus’ similar remarks in Euripides’ Suppliants (404). – Papadopolou, Euripides.

If Jesus in Mark is bringing about something radically new in the political realm (don’t separate church and state just yet), then we get the sense that the Syrophoenician woman is demanding equality for the Gentiles in the new kingdom inaugurated by Jesus (i.e., equality with the Jews).

There is more. In one scene, there is a near verbatim quote, paralleled between Creon and the Syrophoenician woman:

What? Isn’t it right for that other to be given to the dogs?

No, for the vengeance you are exacting is not a lawful one.

Yes, if he was his country’s enemy, when not born an enemy.

Well, he rendered up his destiny to fate.

Let him now pay the penalty in his burial too.

Read the scene. The entire scene. How does this shape your understanding of the death of Jesus?

Now, what about the entire idea of equality between Jew and Gentile?

Am I convinced GMark is trying to get you to hear something of Euripides? Yes, and notably because others have seen something of Euripides in other Gospel accounts (Origen, Contra Celisum 2.34). Does this make the accounts false or untrue? No, especially if you understand how ancient writers worked their magic.


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Jeremiah in Mark 1 and 2 — intertextuality and allusions as atmosphere

God reposing on Sabbath day. Illustration from...
God reposing on Sabbath day. Illustration from the first Russian engraved Bible. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One of the essential tools of mimetic criticism is the use of cues early in the text. We look for these as early as possible in the primary text so that as we read through, the secondary texts come through. This intertextuality is important — because it doesn’t just make cute allusions, but uses the previous text (preserving it, often times) to build an ideological (in our case, theological) aural atmosphere in which to read the text.

This is the case with the Gospel of Mark. If we miss these cues, we miss the points Mark is trying to make and make most often about Jesus. The entirety of the Gospel of Mark is a question — who is Jesus and what is Jesus doing? To get the audience to answer that, an answer Mark already knows, the author uses cues, tied to previous texts, to provide an interpretive framework.

Allusions do not mean Jesus is “fulfilling prophecy.” Mark is not proof-texting. Rather, these allusions and echoes point us to understanding Mark’s authorial intent — to understanding the early Markan message. He’s not writing biography, but rather, a memoir. 

One such cue I want to examine today is the use of Jeremiah in Mark 1 and 2 to further build up the high Christology in the Gospel of Mark, something many scholars fail to see in Mark’s Gospel.

The first cue is Jesus’s use of Jeremiah 16.16 when he calls Peter and Andrew. As I discussed in ]], Mark 1.16-17 is connected to Jeremiah 16.14-21, not in the least because of the various word-to-word connections. Rather, look at the entire scene. This is God coming back to Israel after a long absence to remove the idols (the demons, et al, Jesus has cast out) and free the people. The exile is no longer Egypt, but now a new land (the land of the North — sure, Babylon at the beginning, but now assuredly Rome).

There is a lot in this portion of Jeremiah we can discuss and apply to Mark’s context, but we won’t. That is for you to decide to do. The main thing, however, is to note Mark’s early use of Jeremiah.

The second blatant occurrence is in Mark 2.18-20 with the discussion of the bridegroom. This almost goes without saying, but Jeremiah is replete with references to God as the bridegroom. Just up from Jeremiah 16.16 is Jeremiah 16.6-10 in which God demands no one mourn or fast, etc… because the bridegroom will be removed.

Another one, in quick succession, occurs in Mark 2.21–22. Wineskins, I believe, point to Jeremiah 13.12-14.

And then, of course, we have the Sabbath day speech in Mark 2.23-28. While I believe there is an argument to be made that Mark is contrasting the Deuteronomic version of the Sabbath with the Exodus version of the Sabbath — and I do think that — we also find a reference to the Sabbath in Jeremiah 17.19-27.

I maintain the intertextuality shared between Jeremiah and Mark is meant to provide us a boundary for reading what Jesus is doing here. This atmosphere points us directly to a divine Jesus acting in the place of God, coming to Israel to not only end the Exile but to inaugurate something new. It presents a picture of a Jesus that cares very little for being perceived as angry but a Jesus that is dead-set to rid Israel of the collective oppression. And why? Because he is simply divine.

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(video) Was Jesus God in Mark’s Gospel

This is part of my CTP class, and… well, my book, and studies, etc… I know people will disagree, but I think Mark writes in such a way as to constantly question his audience — to drive them into self-realization.

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Mark 1.1-11 – Jesus v. The World

Sculpture of Julius Caesar by 17th century Fre...
Sculpture of Julius Caesar by 17th century French sculptor Nicolas Coustou. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

These are notes from my CTP Class – but I wanted to put them here for a few reasons. And look… I made a video:

Why Isaiah and not “the prophets” or at least Malachi? Why is Mark… wrong? He’s not. He’s trying to draw your mind into something. He wants his hearers to understand something profound about Jesus.

These are what I would call mimetic cues. 

He begins by calling it Isaiah…something clearly “wrong… but this is a way to draw your attention. I think it is meant to draw your attention to at least two levels of Old Testament interpretation.

See my posts on the Gospels as memoirs

On the level of Isaiah (see below), he’s calling your attention to Isaiah 60. This first part begins with Isaiah and ends with Isaiah.

On another level, he is pointing you to Malachi. It is not that he is wrong. It is that he is trying to draw you out. Look at Malachi 3. Look at the language of baptism to be drawn from there.

[tweetthis]The Gospels are a-historical, not a-historical. They tell you more than what is on the page.[/tweetthis]

The Baptism of John positions the movement of baptism against the Temple elite. There were a few reasons for baptism during this time.

  • Women after childbirth or menstruation
  • A bride before her wedding
  • Priests (in the Temple) before divine service
  • Men on the eve of Yom Kippur (also optionally, before Shabbat)
  • For converts to Judaism
  • In preparation of a dead person for burial
  • For new kitchen utensils

Well, we can rule out a few of them, can’t we?

I think John’s baptism was directed against the Temple priests. I’m trying to limit my observations solely to Mark, but Mark is knowledgeable of St. Paul’s writings — so we cannot dismiss statements the statements about the church being the temple and our reasonable, i.e., priestly, service. Nor can I equally dismiss the “kingdom of priests” language from 1 Peter 2.9 and Revelation 1.6 (cf. Exodus 19.6) .

[tweetthis]The Gospel of Mark is as complex as Jesus, with as many levels.[/tweetthis]

The Dove:

The Dove represents at least 3 simultaneous meanings. The New Creation, the return of the covenant, and an assault on Rome.

  • When the dove returned to him in the evening, there was a freshly plucked olive leaf in its beak! Noah knew that the waters had receded from the earth. – Genesis 8.11
  • Isaiah 60.1-22
  • As Julius Caesar was felling a wood near Munda in Spain to clear a site for his camp, he noticed a palm-tree and ordered it to be spared, as a presage of victory. The tree then suddenly put out a new shoot which, a few days later,had grown so tall as to over-shadow it. What was more, a flock of doves began to nest in the fronds, although doves notoriously dislike hard, spiny foliage. This prodigy was the immediate reason, they say, for Caesar’s desire that his grand-nephew, and no one else, should succeed him. (Suetonius Aug. 94.)


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Where does Mark 1.1 come from and what does it mean?

Torah inside of the former Glockengasse Synago...
Torah inside of the former Glockengasse Synagogue in Cologne (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There may be simply several sources for Mark 1.1. I tend to think it comes directly from the Priene Calendar inscription, setting GMark as the anti-Roman Gospel.

This is Mark 1.1 in the Greek:

Ἀρχὴ τοῦ εὐαγγελίου Ἰησοῦ χριστοῦ.

This is the calendar inscription:

ἦρξεν δὲ τῶι κὀσμωι τῶι δι᾽ αὐτὸν εὐαγγελίων ἡ γενέυλιος ἡμέρα τοῦ θεοῦ

But, what if it is pointing to Genesis 1.1?

ἐν ἀρχῇ ἐποίησεν ὁ θεὸς τὸν οὐρανὸν καὶ τὴν γῆν

Another possibility is that it comes from Greek Hosea, 1.2

Ἀρχὴ λόγου κυρίου πρὸς Ωσηε

What would Mark 1.1 mean depending on the source?

The Roman Anti-Imperial Gospel is a direct challenge to Vespasian and the Roman propaganda machine after the destruction of the Temple and the subjugation of the Jews. This sets up the Roman centurian to make a rather profound statement at the Cross. Further, this is a direct challenge to Caesar and the entire line of Caesars, making the entire story of Jesus a rather profound attack on imperialism.

[tweetthis]Mark is a direct challenge to Caesar and the entire line of Caesars[/tweetthis]

A connection to Genesis 1.1 would connect it to the entirety of the Old Testament, but more explicitly the Torah. Jesus is the Torah (Wisdom). Further, this is the new creation — like the old, but now to include the Gentiles. And it is truly new. This is, possibly, picked up in John with John’s rather flamboyant retelling of Genesis 1.1. Notably, Matthew begins with a direct reference to Genesis, something Jerome thought was the original title of Matthew.

If we looked at Hosea, then we could see that Jesus is immediately thrust into the role of prophet. Further, look at what Hosea says about Gentiles. Look at Hosea 2.23 and 8.8. St. Paul uses Hosea 2.23 in Romans 9.25. Jesus is coming to call a people who is not his people to be his people. And… Israel is among the Gentiles. This may be why Matthew picks up a rather weak “prophecy” in Hosea to tell of the travels of the Holy Family.

Do we have to pick? Maybe, maybe not. Each source gives Mark a grand strategy that must be explored independently and then together. Hosea and the anti-Roman strategy can be better combined in my opinion.

Wow. I love literary source criticism — because I believe the source is intentional and meant to help the audience understand the new work by the light of the old.

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A New Translation: Mark 1

the-gospel-of-mark1-300x225This was posted in 2009, but written some time before that. My Thursday Morning CTP class is going to study Mark’s Gospel next and I wanted to do something different. I maintained then and still do so today that Mark is meant to be read as mad-dash play-by-play commentary. This is an early work and I will be updating it over the coming weeks, adding to it, refining it. I have two more chapters to work on as well and then to finish the entire book. My goal is to make GMark readable, but rushed, and live-action.

I have left the intro to the old post pretty much intact. 

I admit, I am a beginner at translation – too technical for me, so, feel free to destroy it as you see fit. But, before you do, let me give you the reasons why this particular translation sounds odd. We know that the Gospel of Mark is unique among the Gospels for several reasons, and one of them being the use of the historical present tense of the verbs. While the historical present tense is often used as a literary device to reinforce the idea of urgency, to make past events more vivid, I hope that it served another purpose of the writer of this gospel. I note that while Matthew uses it 20 times and Luke uses it once, Mark uses it 151 times. Is this a personal writing style?

The Bishop Papias, a contemporary of Sts. Ignatius and Polycarp, whom Tradition reports as the scribe to the Apostle John awhile he wrote his Gospel, tells us that St Mark wrote as St Peter preached. Perhaps, then, the historical present tense as used by Mark is more than an antique literary device. Just perhaps, for the Apostle Peter, as he preached, the stories continued to happen presently, so that Christ never departed from him. Maybe Peter preached the stories as if they were really happening. And this hopeful theory is the basis of this translation. I tried to translate it as Papias said it was — a dictation of preaching.

This translation was done a few years ago, sitting in Indiana, following the TR MSS. I am posting it for feedback (kind, gentle, loving feedback).

I am reposting everything as it is and then will come back and variously update the translation. At the end, when I am finished with the entire Gospel, I will reproduce the final translation,  redo the intro, and add some other things — and maybe talk a friend into doing a dramatization of it.

The beginning of the good news concerning Jesus Christ…

As it stands written in the prophet Isaiah: “Behold! I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way before you! He is the voice crying in the wilderness: ‘Make ready the way of the LORD; clear the path for him!'”

The Baptizer John appears baptizing in the wilderness, preaching the baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. All people of Judea, and those who live in Jerusalem, keep coming, being baptized by him in the River Jordan, confessing their sins. John, who is dressed in camel hairs and a leather belt, eating locusts and the honey of the field, begins preaching:

“He who is mightier than I, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to bend down and untie, is coming after me. For now, I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit!”

During this, Jesus came from Nazareth (of Galilee) to be baptized by John in the Jordan. Immediately, after coming up from the water, Jesus sees the heavens rent asunder, and the Spirit, as a dove, descending upon himself.

And there comes a voice from within the heavens, saying: “You are my beloved son, in whom I delight.”

Then immediately the Spirit drives him out into the wasteland. As he remains there, in the barrenness for forty days, Satan tries to tempt him to evil. He is there with the wild beasts, with the angels constantly ministering to him.

Now that John had been arrested, Jesus comes to Galilee, preaching the good news of the kingdom of God, saying, “God’s time of preparation is here now and the kingdom of God is upon you! Turn to God and believe this good news!”

Now, walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he sees two fishermen, Simon and his brother Andrew, casting their nets into the sea. Jesus says to them, “Come with me, and I will make you to fishers of people.” Then immediately, forsaking their nets, they follow him.

Going on from there a little, they see James and his brother John, the sons of Zebedee, repairing their nets. Immediately Jesus calls them and they leave their father in the ship — with the hired workers — going after him, going into Capernaum.

And immediately, on the Sabbath, having gone into the synagogue, Jesus is teaching. They are absolutely amazed – overwhelmed and astonished — at his teaching, for he is teaching them as one who has the authority, unlike one of the scribal elite.

And in their synagogue  there is a man under the power of an unclean spirit. The spirit cries out, saying: “Leave us alone! What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Are you come to destroy us? I know you, who you are! You are the Holy One of God!”

Jesus rebukes him saying: “Silence! Come out of him!” Then the unclean spirit, throwing him into convulsions and crying out with a loud voice, comes out of him.

And they were all so shocked that they debated among themselves saying:

“What is this?”
“What new sort of teaching is this?”
“What is this new authority? How does he command even the unclean spirits that they obey him?”

(And immediately a report of him spreads abroad — throughout all the whole region of Galilee.)

Then immediately, coming out of the synagogue, they go into Simon and Andrew’s house, with James and John.  Now, Simon’s mother-in-law is in her bed, sick with a fever. Immediately, they tell him of her. He comes near, taking her hand and raising her up and immediately the fever leaves her! She welcomes and cares for them.

At evening, when the sun had set, they begin bringing to him all of those diseased and possessed of demons. The whole city gathers together near the door. And he heals many of the sick with different diseases. He casts out many demons, but does not allow them to speak, because they know him. And very early, deep into the night, he awakes and goes out and departs to a solitary place, and there he prays.

Simon, and those with him, search eagerly for him, and finding him, they say, “Everyone searches for you.” There he says to them, “We are going into the neighboring towns. I will preach there because this is the reason I have come.”

He comes and is preaching in their synagogues, in all of Galilee, and he is casting out demons. Then there comes to him a leper, calling on him and falling on his knees, saying: “If only you will, you could make me clean.”

Jesus is angry. He stretches out his hand and taking hold of the leper, says: “I am willing — be clean!” As soon as he speaks, the leprosy immediately departs him — he is clean!

He is sternly warning the man, immediately sending him away. He says to the man: “Say nothing to anyone, but go and show yourself to the priest, bringing an offering for your healing — bring those the things which Moses commanded. The priests will verify this cure.”

But he, as he goes out, begins proclaiming it greatly, and spreads the news around, so that Jesus was no more able to enter the city openly, but is in the deserted places, and they keep coming to him from all directions.

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Dammit Bultmann! Stop rationalizing the miracles! The Bread, Loaves, and Myth

the-officeRudolf Bultmann, the father of demythologization, urged people to get behind the text. On that, I agree. I also agree that sometimes the superstition of the age, or the need to see things in a miraculous way, can be passed down in an oral society much easier than it can today. But, I don’t think that is what is happening with the story of the fishes and the loaves.

At this point, I do not care if the event(s) actually happened. I don’t think that we can determine if Jesus set on a hilltop and fed even a single person, much less test the validity of the miracle. But, this doesn’t stop people from placing this story into two interpretative categories. One, it happened as the Gospels say it did. Twice. Or, we can demythologize it and suggest the real miracle is that people shared what they had. Perhaps, as the demyth camp suggests, this event tells us that when the one lone boy shared his meal, then the hearts of the others were opened.

Personally, I find it easier to believe that Jesus actually fed 5000 (Mark 6.30-44) and 4000 (mark 8.1-10) people via a miracle than it is to believe that the story is actually a mythologized account of a communal sharing of a meal because of the heart of a small child.

Rather, this section of Mark, as ]] has established, is based on the Elijah-Elisha narratives. You cannot — you should not — read Mark without reading 2 Kings several dozen times.

Let me give you an alternative to the dichotomy of the “it happened” camp.

Mark is using two feeding stories to show that 1.) Jesus is greater than Elijah-Elisha and 2.) Jesus’ bread is better than the Pharisees. If you’ll turn to 2 Kings 4, there are 2 feeding stories there.

2 Kings 4.1-7 is about the plentiful oil Elisha grants the widow.
2 Kings 4.38-44 details the story of Elisha recognizing the poisoned stew, fixes it with yeast or flour. Then, it feeds more than expected.

In Mark 8.14-21, the disciples are hungry and ask for bread. Look at the answer Jesus gives them. Not only does he compare the bread he has with those of the Herodians and the Pharisees but he then calls attention to the number of baskets, as if they were a sign!

If you seek to rationalize the miracle you will miss the theological significance of them. They are crafted in such a way as to put Jesus into a particular place in the story — not only Mark’s story, but Israel’s story as well. Jesus assumes the Elijah-Elisha mantle, does it better, and then does it in such a way as to counter the opposing religious viewpoints.

Stop rationalizing, accepting, or rejecting the miracles. Understand how they fit into the story.

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Mark 13 — Apocalypse Now, Twice

I had hoped to invest some time in exploring this subject, either for a chapter or a paper, but right now I am swamped. I was recently reminded of this, first in reading this book and second via an email. So, I wanted to take a quick second and sketch out an idea.

I think Mark 13 is something of a chaotic chiastic passage. By that, I mean Mark does not using a simple pattern like A B B C B B A, but rather, has a focal point from and to which all things flow, even if the pattern is “messed up.” It is the cosmic battle between the Abomination of Desolation and the Son of Man. Everything leads to that and from that. It is the center point of this chapter and is the historical event of the destruction of the Temple.

The cosmic battle is the counterpoint, or the mimetic refraction.

Mark 13, concurrent view
click the pic and it’ll open into a larger image. This is Mark 13 in the NASB

Further points of consideration:

  • Mark 13.19: “those days” – points both to the future (from Jesus’s standpoint) and to the days mentioned in 13.7–9, 12–13.
  • 13.5-6 is explained further in 13.21–22.
  • 13.18 founds a counter in 13.28.
  • The abomination of desolation is earthly, looking down but finds the opposite in the Son of Man descending whereby we are told to look up.

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