Monday, January 22, 2007

Mark 7, layer 2

(to be completed)

Mark 7, layer 1

This chapter begins with some discussion of ritual cleanliness. Jesus makes the radical assertion that all pollution arises from the heart. The implication is that the dietary laws, which place a heavy burden especially on the homemaker, are irrelevant.But rather than engage in that frontal assault, He harshly criticizes the Pharisees over their observance of the ritual washing of hands, a tradition but not a part of Mosaic Law.

Jesus points out that the Pharisees hold it acceptable for a man to devote his charity to the Temple and withhold it from his parents. Indeed, they prevent him from aiding his parents if he tells them that he is devoting his help to them as a gift to God. But in placing sacrifices to the Temple above caring for his parents, he has violated the more important parts of the Law.

The parable of the Syrophoenician woman is one of the oddest of the gospels. She comes to Jesus, prostrates herself before Him, and begs Him to cast a demon out of her daughter. He gives her a contemptuous response, to the effect that the Jews are God's children, and she is a dog. She captures the sense of God's grandeur by presenting the miracle of exorcism as merely a crumb that falls from the table. Jesus does not go to her house, but tells her that the demon is gone.

In the second miracle of the chapter, Jesus spits, touches the tongue of a deaf mute and, looking to heaven, sighs and commands "Be opened." The deaf mute can now hear and speak. Trying to do the miracle in reverse, Jesus tells the crowd to keep silence, but this He cannot achieve. They spread word of this miracle everywhere.

1. The practical consequences of denying the importance of cleanliness were not good. Western Europe lagged in sanitation, and even today many Christians are careless about passing illnesses around in the mistaken notion that bacteria and viruses are trumped by pleasant thoughts. This is an example of a teaching that illustrates Jesus's humanness and its inherent limitation.

2. In scolding the Pharisees for not understanding the scriptures, Jesus quotes an excellent chapter of Isaiah, chapter 29.

3. The place where Jesus speaks to the Pharisees and teachers of the law is not specified. However, the site for the first of the two miracles is specified as Tyre and the second as Decapolis (though manuscripts vary).

Monday, January 01, 2007

Mark 6, Layer 2

To be completed.

Mark 6, Layer 1

The centerpiece of this chapter is an explanation of how and why Herod Antipas (not the Herod featured in Matthew 2) murdered John the Baptist. But it also includes two major miracles, and opens with a story illustrating the tendency of people to ignore miracles before their eyes.

Jesus returns to (probably) Nazareth, and heals a few sick people. But the populace is offended by Him, because they know Him all too well. Jesus is amazed by their lack of faith. Jesus sends out the disciples in pairs, equipped with a staff, sandals, and a single tunic, ordering them to stay in one house only during their sojourn in a village, and telling them to testify against any town that does not welcome them. One wonders whether he shook the dust off his feet as he left Nazareth. We are told that He gave the disciples authority over evil spirits, so it would seem that only those who have been specifically granted the power can practice exorcism.

The execution of John the Baptist has many intriguing elements. First, it must be understood that Herod Antipas was the son of Herod the Great and a Samaritan woman; Herod the Great was accused (Matt. 2) of a massacre of infants in an attempt to eliminate Jesus. Both father and son were famed builders. Following his father's death in 4BCE, Antipas ruled Galillee and the Peraea, Philip ruled Gaulanitis area, while Archelaus got the big urban centers (HH Ben-Sasson, A History of the Jewish People).

The family was far too cosmopolitan and hellenistic for Jewish tastes. Herod had arrested John because John had claimed that it was not lawful for Herod to have married his sister-in-law Herodias. Herod's brother was still alive, so Jewish law did not sanction re-marriage. But, further, Herodias was Herod Antipas's niece through a half-brother. So, it is difficult to believe that any Jewish authority would sanction the marriage.

And yet, Herod liked John, feared him, and respected him. He had to be tricked into ordering his execution by Herodias's daughter, whose name is not given in the gospels, but is traditionally said to be Salome. Herodias got John's head, and John's disciples got his body.

The identification of Jesus with John was, in one sense, not very surprising. They were cousins and presumably resembled one another. Yet, Jesus was seen to be one of the ancient prophets, or Elijah, or a resurrected form of John. Herod believed the latter, perhaps because that interpretation would have absolved him of John's murder.

There are two miracles of feeding in Mark. In the first, five loaves and two fish feed five thousand men and leave twelve baskets of food. In the second (Mark 8), seven loaves and a few small fish feed four thousand men and leave seven baskets of leftovers.

The next miracle is of an outstanding kind. The disciples go ahead of Jesus by rowboat to Bethsaida. But the wind is against them, so they have to row very hard. Jesus completes His prayer, and walks out on the water. They land at Gennesaret and Jesus heals all the sick that are brought to Him.

1. What is Jesus's home town? Bethlehem (Matt. 2: 1) or Nazareth (Matt. 2: 23). Why doesn't Mark state the name of the town?
2. We learn the names of Jesus's brothers: James, Joses, Judah, and Simon.
3. Why does Jesus send the disciples out in pairs?
4. Is there a symbolism or a reason for the mutilation of John, by separating head and body?
5. The miracle of the loaves and fishes represents the breaking of the oldest curse on man, the curse of the soil in Genesis 3, by which man is obliged to earn his bread by labor. Yet the disciples's hearts have been so hardened that they don't recognize what Jesus has offered them.
6. See Bill Loader for numerological references.