by Neil Godfrey
Slightly revised 9th Feb. 2010, 3pm
John Spong finishes off his chapter (in Jesus for the Non-Religious) about healings by discussing the healing of blind Bartimaeus as found in the Gospel of Mark and healing of the man born blind in the Gospel of John. I’ll be sharing material from an old article by Vernon K. Robbins about Mark’s treatment of the Bartimaeus episode. Spong covers much the same theme but in less depth. (The article I use is The Healing of Blind Bartimaeus (10:46-52) in the Marcan Theology, published in the Journal of Biblical Literature, June 1973, Vol. 92, Issue 2, pp. 224-243.) Will also draw on Michael Turton’s Historical Commentary on the Gospel of Mark.
The story of Bartimaeus is constructed to inform readers that Jesus is greater than the traditional idea of the Son of David. The details of the story serve only to point out the identity of Jesus Christ and the meaning of discipleship. The healing of blindness is only the symbolic way in which these messages are conveyed. Take away the theological meanings of the story and it becomes a meaningless tale. There are no details left over that give us any reason to suppose that the story was ever anything more than a symbolic or parabolic fiction.
This is the story (Mark 10:46-52)
46 Now they came to Jericho. As He went out of Jericho with His disciples and a great multitude, blind Bartimaeus, the son of Timaeus, sat by the road begging. 47 And when he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to cry out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”
48 Then many warned him to be quiet; but he cried out all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”
49 So Jesus stood still and commanded him to be called.
Then they called the blind man, saying to him, “Be of good cheer. Rise, He is calling you.”
50 And throwing aside his garment, he rose and came to Jesus.
51 So Jesus answered and said to him, “What do you want Me to do for you?”
The blind man said to Him, “Rabboni, that I may receive my sight.”
52 Then Jesus said to him, “Go your way; your faith has made you well.” And immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus on the road.
Bartimaeus, a contrived name
The name itself is surely contrived. While Richard Bauckham (who has courageously argued that the names mentioned in the gospels are the sources of eyewitness accounts of the events we read in the gospels) does not doubt the authenticity of the name, he does inform us that
Timaeus is a Greek name occurring only in this case as a Palestinian Jewish name. (p. 79, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses)
While it is not unusual in our surviving records to find a Greek name occurring only once as the name of a Palestinian Jew, there are a number of other details that, when brought together, argue against the probability that this was a real name. The most significant of these is that Mark refers to him as “Bartimaeus son of Timaeus”. Yet Bartimaeus itself means “son of Timaeus”, with Bar itself meaning “son”. This is not the only artificial name concocted by Mark. We later read of Barrabas, meaning “son of the father”. Spong remarks upon this striking presentation of the name (Bartimaues bar Timaeus) and makes the point that the author is clearly signalling to readers to pay attention and hear what message is about to be delivered through this particular person. Bauckham does not see it this way, and simply exclaims that what is written in the Gospel is not what the author meant to convey:
He could never have been called “Bartimaeus son of Timaeus” (=Bar Timaeus bar Timaeus!) (p. 79)
Someone has claimed that I misrepresent Bauckham here. I took it for granted that what I do say here indicates that Bauckham argues that the name of the blind beggar really was Bartimaeus, and hence the “son of Timaeus” is a translation of that name — but I did not dwell on all of this here in this post in any depth because I have already posted dozens of posts on Bauckham’s Jesus and the Eyewitnesses, including several in which he addresses the name Bartimaeus. A simple word search will bring these up on my blog. — note added 10th Feb 2010, 9:30 pm.
Let’s agree with Bauckham on this point and accept, contrary to Bauckham, that the name itself is an artifice.
Spong calls in the testimony of Matthew and Luke to support our conclusion contra Bauckham.
This is a strange designation, since Bartimaeus literally means son (bar = “son”) of Timaeus, so one wonders what secret message is being sent to the first readers via these words. The story is repeated in Matthew (20:29-34) and in Luke (18:35-43), except that in Matthew no name is given, and thus the confusion avoided . . . . When Luke repeats this story, he also omits the name . . . . (p. 83)
There would, of course, have been no confusion had Matthew and Luke simply dropped the repetitious “son of Timaeus” and left the Bartimaeus as a standalone name. Bauckham says this itself is a rare enough name to be entirely sufficient for identifying the person:
[I]t is precisely the rarity of the name that makes the patronymic entirely sufficient for naming Timaeus’s son. (p. 79)
On the other hand, it seems that Matthew and Luke thought there was something “wrong enough” about the name for them to avoid repeating it when they wrote their versions of this Jericho healing (Matthew 20:29-34; Luke 18:35-43).
“Bartimaeus” the name itself means “son of Timaeus.” It is typical of the author of Mark to use this type of dual construction. “The two-step progression is one of the most pervasive patterns of repetition in Mark’s Gospel. It occurs in phrases, clauses, pairs of sentences, and the structure of episodes” (Rhoads et al 1999, p49). This redactive pattern suggests that the name itself is probably invention.
The meaning of Timaeus
If the name Bartimaeus is contrived for the narrative then what might it mean, and what might be its significance for the story?
Robert M. Price sees the name’s significance lying in the description of Bartimaeus as a beggar. He is sitting on the roadside begging when he hears that Jesus is approaching.
The Aramaic form of the name is Bar-teymah, “son of poverty,” which means he is a “narrative man” — his name is a fictional device. (p. 96, The Pre-Nicene New Testament)
Continuing with a citation from Turton’s Commentary:
The name Timaeus is most familiar to students of the ancient Greek philosophy as the title of one of the more influential dialogues of Plato. Again from Michael Turton’s Commentary:
Timaeus is the name of a well-known dialog of Plato. In this dialog, Socrates — who will be executed — sits down with three of his friends, Critias, Timaeus, and Hermocrates. The dialog involves a discussion of why and how the universe was created:
“When the father creator saw the creature which he had made moving and living, the created image of the eternal gods, he rejoiced…“(Jowett translation)
Plato’s Timaeus also contains a long discussion about the eye and vision:
“And of the organs they first contrived the eyes to give light, and the principle according to which they were inserted was as follows: So much of fire as would not burn, but gave a gentle light, they formed into a substance akin to the light of every-day life; and the pure fire which is within us and related thereto they made to flow through the eyes in a stream smooth and dense, compressing the whole eye, and especially the centre part, so that it kept out everything of a coarser nature, and allowed to pass only this pure element. When the light of day surrounds the stream of vision, then like falls upon like, and they coalesce, and one body is formed by natural affinity in the line of vision, wherever the light that falls from within meets with an external object. And the whole stream of vision, being similarly affected in virtue of similarity, diffuses the motions of what it touches or what touches it over the whole body, until they reach the soul, causing that perception which we call sight. But when night comes on and the external and kindred fire departs, then the stream of vision is cut off; for going forth to an unlike element it is changed and extinguished, being no longer of one nature with the surrounding atmosphere which is now deprived of fire: and so the eye no longer sees, and we feel disposed to sleep.” (Jowett translation)
It is not difficult to see the parallel between Jesus — about to be executed — and Socrates, as well as Peter, James, and John, and Socrates’ three friends. Socrates, like Jesus, is a tekton. Bar-Timaeus is blind, and Timaeus has a discussion of optics and the physics of the eye. Like Jesus, Socrates will enlighten his companions as to the truth. . . . .
I am looking forward to posting more on the ideal hero that Socrates represents, and how he is, strange as it sounds on the surface, an epitome of the heroic qualities of the great Homeric hero, Achilles. The same heroic qualities are also found in Jesus, but this is for another post.
So far this is addressing only the name of the one healed at Jericho. More significant is the way the name is used, and how this pericope sits within the immediate structural and thematic context within the Gospel of Mark. That discussion brings out even more starkly the symbolic nature of this healing narrative. It will be seen that the story is not about healing a blind man. The healing of a carefully structured means of conveying a clear message about the identity of Jesus and the true nature of discipleship.
Time prevents completing this post so soon, though. The remainder will have to wait for another day.