In the last post about the upcoming carnival, I received a grand total of 0 suggestions This is another call that, if you want to pass on your own or other people’s posts to ensure they get in the carnival, you can either post the links in the comments below or send me an email if you prefer. If your comment does not immediately appear, it may be because it accidently ended up in my spam box because of multiple links but whenever I am logged on I will make sure to approve your comments. Also, I am a little busy this week as my birthday comes right in the middle and it is my last week of my 2nd year in Sheffield before I fly back to Canada for the summer at the start of July, so either if I can squeeze in some free time I will put out the carnival on June 30 or else it may be delayed to July 3 or 4 (it will be a surprise!). But for a trip down memory lane, here is the carnival I posted on my former blog almost 3 years ago (I can’t believe how long I have been doing this, let alone how those around at the beginning of biblioblogdom must feel).
Mark 7:24-30 may be one of the most troubling episodes in the NT. It begins in Tyre with Jesus in a “house” (Markan redactional setting?) in an attempt to stay out of the public eye, but as so often happens with Mark’s secrecy theme the word gets out. He is approached by a Greek woman, a Phoenician from Syria, who begs him to cast a demon from her daughter. Jesus replies that the children (i.e. Israel) should first be fed as it is not right to take their bread and toss it to the dogs (i.e. Gentiles), but in response to her witty retort that even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from the master’s table Jesus grants her request. Matthew’s version (15:21-28) drops the private house setting but notable changes include the woman is a Canaanite (a traditional enemy of Israel), the cry to the “Lord, Son of David,” the silent treatment she receives followed by a remark that Jesus was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel and Jesus explicitly commends her faith in the end. The scene is part of the great Lukan omission of Mk 6:45-8:26 so perhaps it was not in Luke’s manuscript of Mark or accidently skipped over, but I suspect Luke deliberately omitted the whole block, finding a story like this offensive and wrong in pre-dating a Gentile mission before Acts 10. There are many approaches one could take to Mark’s pericope: a historical-critical (does the story reflect the attitude of the historical Jesus or some early Jewish Jesus-followers), form-critical (a miracle tale? A Pronouncment Story that is unusual in the gospels for Jesus appears to be the opponent and the Syrophoenician woman the victor), narrative-critical (how does this fit larger narrative themes in Mark such as that Jesus’ presence or identity is unable to remain a secret, “outsiders” consistently have more perception about Jesus then the supposed “insider” disciples, the gospel will eventually go out to the nations after the mission to Israel [Mk 13:10]), ideological-critical (issues of gender, ethnicity, boundary-crossing and hybridity). To do full justice to it requires more than just this post, but my focus here will just be on the theological question of how to deal with the offensiveness of the story.
Over at the Text this Week, there a a number of resources listed at both the popular and the scholarly level and from google search I found some other scholarly or popular treatments available online (Great Shelford, “The Syrophoenician Woman and her Dogs” ExpTim; David Rhoads article reprinted in Reading Mark: Engaging the Gospel; Markus Schäfler, The Syrophoenician Woman; Alan H. Cadwallader, “When a woman is a dog: Ancient and modern ethology meet the Syrophoenician women” The Bible and Critical Theory and see also here; Surekha Nelavala “Smart Syrophoenician woman: A Dalit Feminist Reading of Mark 7:24-31” ExpTim; Brian Incigneri Jesus and the Dog; Holly J. Carey “Jesus and the Syrophoenician Woman: A Case Study in Inclusiveness” or Anna Butler “A Place at the Table” in Leaven 19; David D.M. King The Problem of the Syrophoenician Woman: A Reader Response Analysis of Mark 7:24-31). What brought this story again to my attention was at the recent conference on the Bible and Zionism at Sheffield (I discuss my paper here), one session featured the Palestinian Liberation theologian Naim Ateek leading a group discussion on the parallel passage in Matthew and I enjoyed getting to discuss it with professors from different disciplines, students and Jewish or Christian religious leaders who sat in on that particular session. Ateek rightly dismisses the reading revolving around the diminutive κυναρίοις as suggesting Jesus meant little puppies instead of scavenger dogs (yet the possibility that she had a different cultural attitude to dogs under the table came up in the discussion; cf. the article by Shelford above). Ateek wants to interpret Jesus’ treatment of the woman as really designed to bring to light and challenge the disciples own prejudices, though others were persuaded that the woman truly taught Jesus to move beyond his culturally inherited prejudices. The latter reading could work for systematic theologians who accept Jesus’ full humanity, but how do you deal with this difficult text?
In another post, I argued that Mark does not exactly predict the cosmic return of the Son of Man in a generation but that all the preliminary signs that immediately precede his coming would be fulfilled in a generation (Mark 13:30). Otherwise, it is difficult to reconcile with Mark 13:32 that concerning that eschatological day or hour no one knows (οὐδεὶς οἶδεν), not even the angels in heaven (οὐδὲ οἱ ἄγγελοι ἐν οὐρανῷ) nor the Son (οὐδὲ ὁ υἱός) but the Father alone (εἰ μὴ ὁ πατήρ). While this may seem to alleviate some theological concerns about why the end did not come exactly within his generation (but see my post addressing the problem of a 2000 year delay of the parousia!), it raises other problems for later systematic theologians on the nature of the Trinity. Checking out Wieland Wilker’s Textual Commentary on Mark, if you scroll down to Mark 13:32 one can see that a few Markan manuscripts and a lot more manuscripts of Matthew 24:36 omit the offending words οὐδὲ ὁ υἱός. I also found online an interesting article Francis Gumerlock, “Mark 13:32 and Christ’s Supposed Ignorance: Four Patristic Solutions” Trinity Journal 28 (2007): 205-13. Again, since Mark’s christology was not as developed as John I dont think the evangelist was too worried about this issue (rather it may serve a positive function in discouraging overly enthusiastic setting an exact date for the end) and I do not think it has to be a problem for those Incarnational theologians who accept Jesus’ full humanity, but if theology is your interest I want to ask how you deal with the passage?
To begin with a personal anecdote: when I graduated high school and embarked on a degree in Religion & Theology, my goal in part was to be an apologist. Among the popular apologetics I had readily consumed was Lee Strobel’s The Case for Christ (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1998) (my attitude to apologetics has since changed quite a bit as it seems to me more about reinforcing the worldview of insiders than an effective mode of persuasion for outsiders and I tend to think the best apologetic is how a tradition impacts one’s daily life and how one treats other people). Moving away from that personal tangent, Strobel’s chapter “The Profile Evidence: Did Jesus Fulfill the Attributes of God” interviews D.A. Carson and has the following conversation:
For example, in Mark 10 someone addresses Jesus as “good teacher,” promoting him to reply, “Why do you call me good? No one is good-except God alone.” “Wasn’t he denying his divinity by saying this?” I [Strobel] asked. “No, I think he was trying to get the fellow to stop and think about what he was saying,” Carson explained. “The parallel passage in Matthew is a little more expansive and does not find Jesus downplaying his deity at all. “I think all he’s saying is, ‘Wait a minute; why are you calling me good? Is this just a polite thing, like you say, “Good day”? What do you mean by good? You call me good master-is this because you’re trying to honey up to me?’ In a fundamental sense there’s only one who is good, and that’s God. But Jesus is not implicitly saying, ‘So don’t call me that.’ He’s saying Do you really understand what you’re saying when you say that? Are you really ascribing to me what should only be ascribed to God?’ That could be teased out to mean, ‘I really am what you say; you speak better than you know’ or ‘Don’t you dare call me that; next time call me “sinner Jesus” like everybody else does.’ In terms of all that Jesus says and does elsewhere, which way does it make sense to take it?” With so many verses that call Jesus “sinless,” “holy,” “righteous,” “innocent,” “undefiled,” and “separate from sinners,” the answer was pretty obvious (162)
It is hard to deny Mk 10:17-18 (cf. Luke 18:18-19) creates issues for Christology, so much that the parallel in Matthew 19:16-17a ”good” is no longer an adjective describing the teacher (διδάσκαλε ἀγαθέ) but ”what good thing I must do” (τί ἀγαθὸν ποιήσω) and ”why do you call me good? No one is good except one, God” (τί με λέγεις ἀγαθόν; οὐδεὶς ἀγαθὸς εἰ μὴ εἷς ὁ θεός) becomes “why do you ask me concerning the good? One is good” (τί με ἐρωτᾷς περὶ τοῦ ἀγαθοῦ; εἷς ἐστιν ὁ ἀγαθός). Yet Carson’s view of Mark as actually implicitly pointing to Jesus’ divinity is a traditional reading (cf. Thomas C. Oden and Christopher A. Halls, Mark for Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture series) and I came across online an extensive case that at the level of the evangelist (regardless of what the historical Jesus or the rich man thought) the intent was for the perceptive reader to reach this deeper understanding in Brian Han Gregg, “Why Do You Call Me Good: A Markan Riddle” Scripture and Interpretation 3:1 (2009): 68-78. Gregg’s case seems to hinge on whether one accepts that the words/deeds of the Markan Jesus go beyond the Jewish concept of agency (e.g., could the conflict in Mk 2:7f be about the source of Jesus’ authority, see the interpretive comment in Matt 9:8?) and whether the call to sell all & follow me supersedes Torah (might the man’s attachment to possessions be seen as breaking the first commandment which prevents him from Torah obedience as interpreted in the Jesus movement?). On the contrary, I don’t think Mark intended to discredit Jesus’ deity or goodness because I am not sure it is yet an issue in this particular gospel but was merely trying to make a point against flattery that should be reserved for God; however from a canonical or sytematic theological perspective I am not opposed to a Christian who wants to make the equation Jesus = good = equal with God even if not convinced that was how the first readers (or auditors) of Mark heard it. What do you think?
Anyone remember the 1999 tv special on Jesus that is now available on youtube – this clip combines Jesus and John as relatives (Lk 1:36, + childhood story from Lk 2:42-52), the public nature of the Spirit’s descent and divine voice (Matt 3:16-17/Lk 3:21-22) and “lamb of god” from John 1:36 (and the following temptation scene is pretty entertaining and a little bit of a confused take on what Christians have believed about the nature of the Incarnation and hypostatic union). Aside from the typical harmonzing of the movie, there is much to discuss about the episode in Mark and I have tried to go through some of the commentaries:
- John the Baptist appears on the scene as the “voice in the wilderness” (cf. 1QS 8.12-16 for the Qumran communities self-understanding of their role in the wilderness) and forerunner of the Lord. Mark later explicitly identifies him with Elijah (9:11-13), but there is already an echo in the choice of John’s attire (2 Kings 1:8; a full study of John’s diet has been done by James A. Kelhoffer, The Diet of John the Baptist). It is also worth comparing the similarities and differences from Josephus’ characterization of the Baptist (Ant. 8.5.2) and the continuities/discontinuities of John’s innovation of a single baptism with other ritual purification washings or the later practice of Gentile proselyte baptism and the meaning of John’s rite. The location in the wilderness and Jordan River evoke ideas of a new exodus and entry into the Promised Land and John may be calling for national repentance (see Brian S. suggestion in the comments that Jesus identifies with this project) before the coming eschatological agent who is likely a human figure (cf. John unworthy to untie his sandals).
- Notice the changes in the Synoptic parallels to Mark 1:10-11. Mark has a private vision that “he [Jesus?] saw” (εἶδεν) and describes it in violent imagery with the heavens being torn open (σχιζομένους) (cf. Isa 63:19LXX; see also Mk 1:13 the spirit “drives out” [ἐκβάλλει] Jesus into the wilderness) and the spirit descends as a dove (contrary to a gentle image see Maurice Casey’s analogy of a flapping pigeon) “into” (εἰς) Jesus followed by the divine voice. Mark’s scene is of a divine invasion! This is softened in Matt 3:16-17/Lk 3:21-22 as the heavens open (ἀνοίγω in different moods) and the spirit descends on (ἐπί ) him and Matthew also changes “you are” (σὺ εἶ ) to “this is” (οὗτός ἐστιν) my beloved son.
- Does Mark indicate that Jesus was adopted as son of god at the baptism (yet note the quotation of Ps 2:7 stops short of quoting the line “today I have begotten you”), reflecting an adoptionist christology that figures like Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Eusebius 3.27; 5.28, etc, opposed? If one goes through some of the more traditional commentaries one can find debates about whether Jesus became the Son at the baptism or if the voice rather declares what Jesus already was, but in my view I wonder if we ought to be cautious in reading later christological debates about divine sonship into Mark’s account here. What if the reference to “my son” is the Davidic king of the royal Psalm then the story can be read as his annointing for messianic office for which he was enthroned at his exaltation (cf. Mk 12:35-37) and possessed by the divine spirit (cf. 1 Sam 10:10-12; Isa 61:1, cf. the eschatological advent of the spirit)?
- As for the intertextual echoes in the divine voice, there is most likely an allusion to Psalm 2:7 on the Davidic king as god’s son, possibly to Isaiah 42:1 on the servant and a slight chance that there is an allusion to the Akedah or binding of Isaac is the reference to the “beloved” son (I am not so sure that we should read so much into a parallel based on a single word).
What do you think was the purpose of Mark’s account of the baptism by John?
Rod has posted a fun South Park themed biblical studies carnival, though this is not the first time that South Park has dived into the Bible (note: please don’t watch if you are easily offended):
(the added music and text at the end kind of spoil this clip)
South Park Peter Rabbit (funny clip I couldn’t find on youtube)
Anyways, I just thought I’d share. The next Biblical Studies Carnival will be at this blog so PLEASE submit any posts you have written or read from other blogs from June in the comments section below to ensure they get into the Carnival or if you know my email that works too.
Καθὼς γέγραπται ἐν τῷ Ἠσαΐᾳ τῷ προφήτῃ, Ἰδοὺ ἀποστέλλω τὸν ἄγγελόν μου πρὸ προσώπου σου, ὃς κατασκευάσει τὴν ὁδόν σου· φωνὴ βοῶντος ἐν τῇ ἐρήμῳ, Ἑτοιμάσατε τὴν ὁδὸν κυρίου, εὐθείας ποιεῖτε τὰς τρίβους αὐτοῦ
As it has been written in the prophet Isaiah, ‘Behold, I am sending my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way; a voice of (one) crying in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight’” (Mk 1:2-3).
Mk 1:2-3 quotes the Septuagint (LXX) (in English) Exodus 23:20; Malachi 3:1 (a good argument is made that Mark is working with the Hebrew text for this passage) and Isaiah 40:3. The messenger seems identified with John the Baptist (cf. 1:4) while interestingly the 1st person singular of Mal 3:1 is altered to the 2nd person singular ”of you” (σου) and Isa 40:3 paths “of God” (τοῦ θεοῦ) becomes “of him” (αὐτοῦ) meaning that the Lord (κύριος) is now identified with Jesus. This could be read as high christology but other passages we will wrestle with in this series seem to imply a low christology (“high” and “low” are problematic terms in that they apply a later theological standard by which to judge the varying christologies of the NT but I’m using them as shorthands) and Mark elsewhere distinguishes the “Lord” (God) from the “Lord” (Jesus) (12:36) so is it that Jesus’ way is being closely identified with God’s way or that Jesus acts on behalf of God as his representative and even bears the divine name (for varying viewpoints see here, here, here, here)?
Anyways, the problem I want to highlight is the attribution of the composite quotation to Isaiah: the parallel in Matthew 3:3/Luke 3:4-6 recognizes the issue by omitting Exod 23:20/Mal 3:1 (the conflated text appears in Matt 11:10/Lk 7:27 = Q?) and there is signs of scribal editing in the alternative reading “in the prophets” (Dan Wallace lays out the textual data and why the reading above is superior on text-critical grounds here). So one option is the evangelist just grabbed a conflated prooftext from a testimony collection and mistakenly attributed it to Isaiah or a later gloss (1:2) was interpolated into Mark’s quotation early enough to not leave a trace in the manuscript tradition, but I have issues with both solutions. I checked out two major works arguing for a great deal of influence of Deutero-Isaiah in Mark, Joel Marcus The Way of the Lord: Christological Exegesis of the Old Testament in the Gospel of Mark (ch 2) and Rikki Watts Isaiah’s New Exodus and Mark (ch 3, 4). There is other Jewish evidence of the conflation of Exod 23:20/Mal 3:1 (cf. Exodus Rabbah 32:9) and Mark deliberately conflated it with Isa 40:3 (saw links in the Hebrew/Aramaic expression for ”prepare the way” not observable in LXX Greek, other inter-textual connections with the Malachi passage sandwiched between the ascription and quotation of Isaiah to add a threat element if they are unprepared for the arrival of the forerunner and Yahweh) and the emphasis on Isaiah is because Isaianic themes are key to the gospel (announcing “good news”, wilderness as scene of new exodus, Yahweh as divine warrior with cosmic imagery and shepherd of Israel, return to Zion, the rule of God translated into eschatological expection, restoration of sight to the blind, the Servant of the Lord). I also read Morna D. Hooker, “Isaiah in Mark’s Gospel” in Isaiah in the New Testament who acknowledges Isaiah’s importance in the prologue in setting forth themes such as “good news” and eschatological salvation in Jesus but does not see the influence of Isaiah to the extent of Marcus or Watts (e.g., she has long been skeptical of a link between the ransom saying in Mk 10:45 and the suffering servant) and notes that explicit citations of Isaiah revolve around judgment (4:12; 7:6-7; 9:48; 12:1-12; 13:23-4; even 11:17 positive temple function becomes a judgment in light of Jer 7:11). What do you think about Mk 1:2-3?
Over the next month or two I want to take a closer look at various passages in Mark that cause scholars to scratch their heads and give theologians heartburn. Why does Mark assign the composite scriptural proof texts in 1:2-3 to Isaiah the prophet, was Jesus adopted as or declared to be son of God at his baptism (and why get baptized for the forgiveness of sins), why is Jesus with the wild animals in the wilderness after the baptism, what is the deal with the so-called messianic secret, why was Jesus “angry” at the leper (1:40-45), was Mark mistaken about the geography and customs of Israel, why did Jesus send the Gerasene demoniac back home and does he identify Jesus with the “Lord” of Israel (5:19), why was Jesus rude to the Syrophoenician woman (7:25-30), did Jesus deny he was good when he stated that there is only One who is good (10:18), why did Jesus curse the fig tree when it was not the season for figs (11:13), was Jesus forsaken by God on the cross (15:34), if the women said nothing to anyone (16:7) how did anyone know about the empty tomb or whatever else I can think of or suggestions you offer? I will look at commentaries, books or articles I have at the time to engage these tricky passages. I hope for a fun, open discussion and invite anyone interested whether your interest lies in trying to determine better readings of the passage in its literary context, how the passage has been reread in its history of reception or reading with a canonical hermeneutic and concern for sytematic theology.