MARK page 4

rick pacific crop 3RICHARD McKIM   11/29/12
The Paralytic 2:12
They lower the paralytic through the roof & J is moved by their faith. “Child (τέκνον), your sins are forgiven.” Very tender. The philologists stew in their hearts that this is blasphemy; only God can forgive sins. J the mind-reader says in effect you ain’t seen nothin’ yet — watch THIS! He tells the paralytic to get up & walk away & he does. All are flabbergasted (ἐξίστασθαι) & praise God. But J’s motive is not to show that he can perform healing “miracles” but, says Mark, to show that the Son of Man has the power (ἐξουσία) “to forgive sins on earth” (ἀφιέναι ἁμαρτίας ἐπὶ τῆς γῆς).

Isn’t this a remarkable episode? First, it implies that all J’s physical healings, miraculous or not, are manifestations of the forgiveness of sins and that this is what’s most amazing & God-like about them. Second, it suggests that there IS something only God can do — namely, forgive sins beyond earth, whatever that means (Mark is remarkably silent so far on the possibility of life beyond earthly life). Third, this is one place where Son of Man seems plainly honorific. Jesus can’t mean that any average Joe can make paralytics walk. I could go on …

Fascinating that demons recognize J as the son of God (e.g. 3:11 — not to mention Mark himself if that opening υἱοῦ θεοῦ is for real) but he calls himself only son of man. Do they know something he doesn’t? After all, if God were to embody himself (or his son) as thoroughly human, to really experience what it’s like, his human self wouldn’t know who he really was, would he? If he did, he’d still be above it all — his suffering wouldn’t be true human suffering because he’d know he’s just visiting & can go back to being (at the right hand of) God again when it’s over.

So the mysterious “Son of Man” may be just as opaque to J as it is to us — he knows he’s someone special but he’s not sure who.

You can see I’m dragging my heels against Bill’s Even Simpler Great Simplification!

bill berg photo crop 1WILLIAM BERG
That’s OK, Rick, but I could go on and on about what James calls “the (Messiah) King’s law,” and cite passages in Matthew, Paul, James, Mark, etc., where only commandments regarding treatment of our neighbor are criteria for salvation.

About the paralytic healing, I’m thinking Rick is surely on the right track, with the pedantic quibble that ἐξουσία is “authority”, not just a synonym for δύναμις.  That is why Jesus is such a subversive. If Mark started off as a Herodian spy, would he waste time on afterlife stuff? No, he would focus on J’s challenge to existing authority.

Rick writes “This is one place where Son of Man seems plainly honorific. Jesus can’t mean that any average Joe can make paralytics walk.”
But they do. Mark, on enumerating the Twelve, mentions that Jesus sent them out to “preach and cast out demons” (3.14). Matthew expands hugely on this, giving them a lengthy mission away from Jesus, only to return with lavish descriptions of their triumphs in healing, etc.

And is it such a big deal to be a “son of God”?  Isn’t the bible replete with references to human “sons of God,” whether faithful Israelites or followers of Jesus?  Isn’t “my father in heaven” the same as “our father in heaven”?  The really big deal might be a fully realized “Son of Man,” with all the potential to command mountains to move that the Messiah King promises.

(1) “But they do.” But they, the disciples, aren’t average Joes, they’re sheriff’s deputies! They get their badges from him. The ἐξουσία they wield is his.

(2) “Is it such a big deal to be a son of God?” Well, we’re all children of God, sure. But to be THE son of God, per the demons? The Greek article has the same force as the English, I think. Ask John. And even if Mark’s opening “son of God” is an add-on, what would be the point of adding it if it weren’t a big deal?

(3) Re: loving your neighbor as the whole of the gospel. I’m skeptical of the whole idea that being a Christian is merely a matter of morality. Repenting & believing are what matters (I’m hopeless on both counts!). Behaving is a side-effect, and you can’t possiibly behave well enough to merit salvation. That’s Luther in a nutshell.

Thanks for straightening me out on (1) and (2), Rick.  We’ll watch for further developments on the “Son of Man” front. On (3), however, I may turn out to be an old stick-in-the-mud.  I think the Golden Rule goes beyond being “merely a matter of morality.”  For Paul (whom some would call the real founder and inventor of Christianity, and whose works occupy such a huge chunk of the NT), it’s the sine qua non.

Check out Galatians 5.13f.: “For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters – only not freedom to give free rein to the flesh, but you are enslaved to each other through love; For the whole law is fulfilled in one statement:  You will love your neighbor as yourself.”  And 6.2: “Bear each other’s burdens, and in that way fulfill the Messiah King’s Law.”

Sure, Paul’s not Mark.  But look what happens in Mark 10.17-22 (the encounter with the rich young man): As Jesus was setting out toward the main road, one fellow came running and knelt before him, asking him, “Good Rabbi, what shall I do to inherit life in the coming eon?” Jesus asked him, “Why do you call me good?  No one is good but one, God himself. You know the commandments: Do not commit adultery, Do not kill, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Defraud not, Honor thy father and mother.”

That’s it.  Nothing about duties to God, ritual or otherwise.  Nothing from the first tablet of the Decalogue.  Nothing about repenting and believing. Just the Golden Rule. Mark: Paul’s co-conspirator?

McKIM   12/2/12
Bill, you know Paul a lot better than I do, but I’m pretty sure he’s also the rock on which Augustine, Luther, Karl Barth etc build their darker, more theological, anti-“humanist” versions of Christianity. But we’re reading Mark, so best perhaps simply to note that this broader disagreement lies in the background & see if Mark weighs in one way or the other (willy-nilly) down the road. To me so far, though, he’s the plain man’s gospel, not in the same spiritual league as Paul or John.

Jesus & the rich man, King Gagik and Kars Gospel, 11thC, Armenia

Jesus & the rich man, King Gagik and Kars Gospel, 11thC, Armenia

I guess we shouldn’t be skipping ahead of ourselves, but I couldn’t help peeking at Mark 10.17-22 and think your excerpt from the rich man episode in is overly selective. Sure, J quotes the commandments as you point out, but to me it’s what follows that matters. Money guy says he’s kept all those commandments & J says oh, one other thing — give away all your riches! Money guy can’t bring himself to do that & slinks away downcast. There follows J’s camel/needle riff on how nigh impossible it is for rich folks to enter God’s kingdom.

My read of this (& similar passages) is that you can keep all the moral commandments you want, follow the Law for your whole life, & it’s STILL not good enough. He’ll always set some further, impossible standard of virtue — give away your possessions, cut off your right hand, disown your whole family — that you can never meet. He’ll even tailor the demand so it’s precisely the one that YOU can’t meet, as he does for the rich man. This is the point of saying only God is good. Not even Jesus can meet God’s standard! You’re NOT good, no matter how morally uplifting the Law you follow may be. The implication seems to me that your only hope of redemption is Luther’s unmerited grace.

So — Paul may say that the whole Law is love your neighbor, but that’s at least logically compatible with J’s view that keeping it is inadequate, & I suspect Paul’s in tune with its spirit as well. There’s also the question of how you get to the spiritual stage where loving your neighbor as yourself is even remotely possible. Could it be that repenting & believing are preconditions?

Rick, I’ll be glad to fill you in on Paul all you like, as long as you promise to fill me in on Luther.  It’s about time I got to know what that guy was up to!

CONNOR   12/3/12
No wonder Rick likes the rich man episode!  It’s nice when evidence behaves and fits a theory. A few other quirks:

The guy is focused on possessions — eternal life is to him like an inheritance to share in (kleronomein).  He “guards” the commandments as if they were something to “keep,” like a bank guard would.  If you lost one that might be a big debit in the cosmic ledger. So Jesus goes at the core of his value system. This guy has to give up all those nice possessions. and if he does, what? J. promises not eternal life but “treasure.”  So what’s the core of my value system? What do I have to give up?

J. slips him a mickey: Did you notice he adds a commandment that Moses forgot? “Thou shalt not defraud.” Does he know something about how this guy got rich?  Did  he keep all the Ten Commandments but feel a little fraud was OK?  Does he even notice that J is raising the stakes on him?

Still, Jesus loves the guy (ἠγάπησεν, unparalleled for J in Mark) — Ponzi scheme, confidence games and all. The Gospels don’t often say that Jesus  loved an individual. John monopolizes that for himself in his gospel, claiming to be “the [only?] disciple Jesus loved.” So what’s going on here? A lovable scoundrel?  I think I know the type and, yes, could love him too, — but not trust him with money!

Philological potpourri for today, as I wend my way through chapter 3:

Mark 3.5  πώρωσις only here in the gospels.  A medical term in a bone-healing context. And a process word in –σις. So “the ongoing  ossification of their hearts”.   In Mark (but not in Matthew) Jesus feels ὀργή against the hard-line sabbath-keepers. Why?  We expect it is simply because of his compassion for the man with the withered hand, but that does not get the whole picture.  Is it also for what these fine religiously-minded people are doing to themselves?

Mark 3.6 Again, who are these Herodians? I don’t even find the word in LSJ. Not good guys clearly, and of special interest to Mark. There’s no mention of them in Matthew’s parallel account. How would Mark have known about the Pharisees’ collaboration with them?  Neither party would want to advertise it.  So did Mark have some special access to what was going on chez Herod?

Mark 3. 21  Who are  οἱ παρ’ αὐτοῦ? The RSV says “his friends” but we’d expect μεθ’αὐτόν if not philoi, mathētai.  Παρά so often has the sense of something  askew.  And why would friends want to ”seize” him? He seems to have done nothing to require such extreme action. Can’t κρατῆσαι also mean “arrest”?  Did Mark then mean “people who were in the entourage but not convinced by him”, who’d decided he was crazy and ought to be locked up? The troublemaker!

“Who are oἱ παρ’ αὐτοῦ?” Literally, “those from his side.”  Seems natural to suppose that these are the relatives who eventually show up in 3.31, coming to “control” or “restrain” him (make sure he gets his meds? or maybe take him home with them?). Anyway, we never hear from Mother Mary again, and perhaps no wonder.

CONNOR   12/4/12
Mark 3:30 is the first time Jesus has been accused of possession by an unclean spirit (πνεῦμα ἀκάθαρτον). But the idea may be implied in 3.21, where those παρ‘ αυτοῦ say he’s out of his mind (ἐξέστη). Can we then infer that the same group says he has an unclean spirit? We can feel confident that the speakers are not his mother and siblings, who arrive only in the next verse.  So, Bill, I doubt that it was the family who in the earlier passage sought to seize him. Nor his disciples, just named, nor other ardent followers. Who then are those παρ‘ αυτοῦ?

Watch the sequence. The scene is in a house (3.20); this faction “goes out”.  Where do they go in their effort to get Jesus arrested?  The text lets us guess: in the next sentence (22) philologists arrive from Jerusalem.  It seems clear that the departing faction tipped the scribes off that Jesus was off his rocker and making trouble. The Jerusalem delegation then  talks about Beelzebub and other nasty powers, provoking Jesus’ rejoinder.  Not such an incoherent story after all?

But I have a residual question. How did Mark know this?  The other accounts are different. Matthew, for example, has the Pharisees as interlocutors, but would they have the authority to arrest Jesus? You need temple authorities, don’t you? And Mark claims to know it was the scribes. How?

In fact, J goes ballistic at the accusation. Roughly, “The sons of men will be forgiven all manner of blasphemies, but those who blaspheme against the Holy Spirit (τὸ πνεῦμα τὸ ἅγιον) will never be forgiven but be guilty of everlasting sin.” (3:28f) In other words, I’m possessed of the Holy Spirit, not an unclean one, damn you!

Not so incoherent at all, Bob — good stuff! And I’m keeping my eye on camera #1, the one that’s filming in present time: “Then he enters a house, and again so big a crowd gathers that they can’t even get a bite to eat.” Implying that they were invited into the house in the first place to have a meal.  That last detail, not getting a bite to eat: its addition is unnecessary to the narrative, so possibly real, and wouldn’t it take an eyewitness to report it?  If that’s Mark, then he can probably also notice who’s coming to and going from the house, and why.

Interesting. I thought it meant they couldn’t get their daily bread delivery through the crowd, but you may be right. Dining is a Big Deal in J’s circle, right down to Revelation: “Behold, I stand at the door and knock and whoever opens it I will dine with him and he with me.”

rossano mark 800px-Here’s the Rossano gospel illustration for Mark. Sixth century, I think. The earliest we have. Not, of course, based on “eyewitness”, but interesting to me for how an artist at that point imagined Mark at work –with the Virgin Mary telling him what to write (or correcting his composition book?). What do you make out of the way they portray Mark himself?

Beautiful. But no, Mary’s no fan of the eyewitness theory. Mark looks hard put to meet her exacting standards of accuracy. She’s the one who knows, not he. What’s that greyish thing projecting above his shoulder blade?

That vertical growth from his shoulder is just a stain, they say. No lion symbol there yet.  Surprising to see the Virgin Mary acting as what would be the Muse in non-Xian art.  She has no presence in Mark’s gospel at all, even at Calvary as in John etc.  Not that she doesn’t try to appear in Mark (3:31), but Jesus (rather callously IMHO) won’t even let her get her foot in the door. Five centuries later, she gets to dictate the story to Mark, who is shown bending to her orders, looking cowed and fearful.  By that time, I suppose Byzantine veneration of the Παναγία Θεοτόκος was in full swing.  Interesting and strange, because ecclesiastical tradition has Peter as Mark’s inspiration.

Found a blow-up that shows the inscription in the top two lines of the scroll.  In the main body of the scroll (the white space) appear the words (and only the words) υἱοῦ τοῦ θεοῦ (the last word in ligature), apparently confirming the authenticity of that reading, at least for the 6th cent.  In the margin above (the grey strip), I can with much effort convince myself that it’s the familiar opening of the gospel.

You’ve got me liking “son of God” as being authentic text. Much more arresting as an opening hook than just “JC” alone.

Connor Industries, LLC, unlike its competitors, indeed any other S&P 500 corporation, has on its staff a full time Chief Iconography Officer (CIO) [Carolyn L. Connor]. She informs me that the blue-clad figure is emphatically not the Virgin Maria but some “inspiring presence”, aka Bill’s Muse, like the personifications on other late antique representations of philosophers or poets writing.  She suggests “Metanoia”! The strange blur over Marco’s shoulder is, she says, exactly that, a stain. Think it away.

So, once again, I eat humble crow, but ever onward!

river god ravennaHere’s the baptism, from the 6th century baptistry at Ravenna. I am copying my ICO to confirm that the hoary gentleman on the left is indeed the river god. The blend of Christian and pagan seems a lot like Bill’s idea of Muse-like inspiration in the Rossano.

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