2014-07-27

“Arise to my talit” — Rethinking Aramaisms in Mark

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by Tim Widowfield

Jewish man, wearing a prayer shawl (talit), wrapping his arm in phylactery.

The presence of Aramaisms as a historical criterion

If you’ve been reading Vridar over the past few years, you’ll recall that we’ve tangled with the late Maurice Casey and his student, Stephanie Fisher, regarding the historicity of Jesus in general, and the Aramaic background of the New Testament in particular. In a nutshell, Casey (and others) believed that the language Jesus and his followers spoke — Aramaic — holds the key to understanding the gospel of Mark and the double-tradition material usually referred to as “Q.” Specifically, he argued that his “original” reconstructed Aramaic accounts provide a window into the authentic words and deeds of the historical Jesus.

“Why hast thou forsaken me?”

For a long time now I’ve been mulling over the counter-thesis that at least some of the Aramaic words extant in Mark’s gospel don’t go back to the historical Jesus, but rather indicate a patch that hides information the evangelist was trying to suppress. For example, Mark says that the Judean witnesses misheard the crucified Jesus’ cry of dereliction. They thought he was calling out for Elias (Elijah), but Mark explains that he was instead shouting:

“Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?”

Is that what the historical Jesus really said? It seems just as likely that Mark was trying to contradict a tradition that Jesus shouted for help from Elijah while on the cross. And that help never came.

Just as he explained how we “know” Jesus arose bodily from the dead by inventing Joseph of Arimathea and a (suspiciously convenient) nearby, unused rock-hewn tomb that was later found empty, Mark may have rationalized Jesus’ plaintive “Elias! Elias!” with a scriptural reference. He would thereby have deflected an embarrassing rumor with a quote from the Psalms that the reader could construe as a fulfilled prophecy.

“Be opened!”

Or take, for example, the idea that Jesus might have used magic words to effect his miraculous healings. Consider this verse from the prophet Micah:

But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days. (Micah 5:2, ESV)

Suppose Mark knew of reports that suggested Jesus and his early followers used certain magical words or incantations during their healing rituals. The obscure alternate name for Bethlehem — Ephrathah — has a nice, mysterious ring to it, and it just happens to be mentioned in a prophecy of the future king. But now further imagine that Mark and his community would prefer to downplay this practice, offering in its place a convincing counter-explanation.

And looking up to heaven, he sighed, and saith unto him, Ephphatha, that is, Be opened. (Mark 7:34, KJV)

So the magic word that refers to the prophetic origins (Ephrathah) of the messiah gets converted into a mundane command (Ephphatha) to open a deaf man’s ears. Changing the word to a simple, understandable imperative in Aramaic mitigates Mark’s problem.

I admit it’s just conjecture, but I would draw your attention to three corroborating bits of evidence. First, the healing begins with Jesus taking the man away privately, spitting and touching the man’s tongue, and sticking his fingers in the man’s ears. Second, Jesus groans loudly as he looks toward heaven. (The translation “he sighed” is insufficient.) Finally, Luke and Matthew copy most of Mark’s gospel, but omit this pericope. They no doubt found this story too strange to salvage; it sounds more like the work of a magician than of a messianic healer.

Most modern commentators note that “fact” that Jesus didn’t employ magic words. They insist, rather, that he simply spoke in his native tongue, and that while recounting the event, Mark, for some reason, decided to quote that one single word in Aramaic with an accompanying translation.

“Arise!”

Recently, while reading The Word Leaps the Gap: Essays on Scripture and Theology in Honor of Richard B. Hays, I happened upon an essay (“Healing in the Wings of His Garment: The Synoptics and Malachi 4:2”) by Dale Allison that questions the time-honored translation of “talitha kum(i)” in Mark 5:41. The evangelist translates the Aramaic words for us:

Taking the child by the hand, He said to her, “Talitha kum!” (which translated means, “Little girl, I say to you, get up!”). (NASB)

But what if the original saying referred not to a little girl, but to something else? I tracked down a more complete explanation of this idea in an odd little book called The Cure, by David Barsky. Rabbi Barsky, who writes that he “walked away from his business career to devote his life to serving Yeshua — the Jewish Messiah,” thinks Jesus was referring to his talit (or tallit), i.e. his prayer shawl.

The ruler of the synagogue had a sick daughter. Yeshua took her by the hand and said “Talita kumi” — some say this should be translated as damsel arise — but what it really says is arise to my Talit. Picture Yeshua lifting her up by one hand—and raising his Talit to heaven with the other. (p. 82)

At first this analysis seems far-fetched. Barsky tells us that “some say” it means “damsel arise,” but neglects to mention that the evangelist himself translated it that way. And so we’re apt to brush it aside, except for the fact that in the middle part of this Markan story-sandwich, the woman with the issue of blood reaches up to touch Jesus’ garment. Moreover, in Mark 6:56, we learn that people reached out to touch the “fringes” of Jesus’ clothes in order to be healed. Both the KJV and the NIV obscure the real meaning of the Greek with the words “border” and “edge,” respectively. The Greek word refers to ornate, conspicuously large tassels on the embroidered edge of a garment. When Matthew retells the story of the hemorrhaging woman he adds to Mark’s text:

Mark 5:27
. . . ἐλθοῦσα ἐν τῷ ὄχλῳ ὄπισθεν ἥψατο τοῦ ἱματίου αὐτοῦ.
. . . having come in the crowd behind, touched the garment of him.

Matt 9:20
. . . προσελθοῦσα ὄπισθεν ἥψατο τοῦ κρασπέδου τοῦ ἱματίου αὐτοῦ
. . . having come up behind, touched the fringe of the garment of him.

Matthew also writes in Matt. 23.5, when excoriating the scribes and pharisees:

“But they do all their deeds to be noticed by men; for they broaden their phylacteries and lengthen the tassels [κράσπεδα (kraspeda)] of their garments.” (NASB)

A very Jewish Jesus

Phylacteries (tefillin) are leather boxes containing parchment scrolls with scripture written on them. The tassels, prescribed in the book of Numbers, are composed of blue and white thread, attached to the four corners of one’s garment. Notice that Jesus doesn’t condemn the wearing of phylacteries and tassels; that would be against the Torah. He only condemns the wearing of larger-than-average religious paraphernalia, all for show.

The Synoptic testimony that Jesus had tassels on his garment has become the occasion, above all in modern times, to remark that he must have been “a pious Jew” [quoting Ulrich Luz]. He obediently displayed the tassels prescribed by Numbers 15:38-40 and Deuteronomy 22:12, so “in dress Jesus was not nonconformist.” [quoting Alexander Balmain Bruce] Perhaps this partly explains why some witnesses to the text of Luke 8:44 lack τοῦ κρασπέδου [tou kraspedou]: there were those who wished to avoid an unwanted inference about Jesus’ faithful Jewish observance. [Allison notes that according to Epiphanius, Marcion also removed the tassel reference from his gospel.] (Allison, p. 136)

Most Christians today would probably have a hard time picturing Jesus wearing tassels and scripture boxes like any other observant Jew. But the authors of the synoptic gospels evidently had no such qualms.

A minor agreement and some differences

Luke, by the way, also refers to the tassels on Jesus’ garment when telling the story of the woman with the hemorrhage problem. It’s one of those “minor agreements” Q scholars and Q skeptics talk about — a point at which Luke appears, however briefly, to be quoting Matthew verbatim. Assuming Markan priority, if Matthew copied Mark, but added or changed a bit here and there, then how do we explain Luke’s verbal agreement? Is it pure chance, or did the third evangelist actually know Matthew? I hope to return to this question in a later post.

Of particular interest is Matthew’s rewrite of the miracle’s sequence. In Mark, the healing force flows from Jesus to the woman like a static electric charge. The process does not require Jesus’ awareness; the power simply flows through him. But in Matthew, Jesus must train his attention upon her and intentionally heal her.

While Mark did not mention Jesus’ tassels in this story, he does talk about them at the end of chapter 6, wrapping up with:

And wherever he came, in villages, cities, or countryside, they laid the sick in the marketplaces and implored him that they might touch even the fringe* of his garment. And as many as touched it were made well. (Mark 6:56, ESV) *fringe = κρασπέδου (kraspedou) [Note once again that the NIV obscures this word by translating it as the “edge of his cloak.”]

A fulfillment of prophecy?

So why are the synoptic gospels relating this seemingly minor detail? Given the economy of words in all three gospels, especially in Matthew and Luke, and if we accept the idea that the later two evangelists tended to copy but shorten Mark’s pericopae, then we should rightly ask what purpose it served. We learn only the barest details concerning the people in these miracles. Matthew even omits the name of the little girl’s father, Jairus, from the story. Yet all three synoptics specifically mention tassels with respect to faith healings (Mark, albeit, in a later verse).

Allison suggests we may be dealing with a case of “exegetical amnesia”:

Too many of us today have a naïve faith that anything of real importance said once will be said again and so not forgotten. We presume that all the good interpretations and hypotheses have been passed down from book to book and from generation to generation and so on to us. But it is not so. (p. 133)

In this case, he’s talking about an interesting connection between Malachi 4:2 and the NT scripture about the “fringe” of Jesus’ clothing.

“But for you who fear My name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings; and you will go forth and skip about like calves from the stall. (NASB, emphasis mine)

(Yet again the NIV translators have taken it upon themselves to disregard the literal translation of “wings,” and replace it with “rays.”)

Allison describes a Greek text from around the fourth century CE, wrongly attributed to Epiphanius. We can see in this document that some Christians associated Malachi’s “sun of righteousness” with Jesus.

But there is almost certainly much more going on in Pseudo-Epiphanius. Matthew 9:20; 14:36; Mark 6:56; and Luke 8:44 recount that people touched precisely Jesus’ κράσπεδον [kraspedon]. As most exegetes now recognize, κράσπεδον [kraspedon] probably refers in these places precisely to one of the decorative fringes or tassels that, by edict of the Torah, Jews attached to the four corners of the rectangular outer cloaks they typically wore (Num. 15:37-41; Deut. 22:12). (p. 139, emphasis mine)

He then explains how the words in Hebrew, Greek, and Syriac became, apparently, interrelated and interchangeable. In fact, the Targum Onqelos even adopts the Greek word κράσπεδον [kraspedon], transliterated into Hebrew, for ציצת (tzitzit). And so the word for the extremity of a garment came to be associated with the edges of a bird’s wings.

Healing in his wings

Allison concludes:

With all of this in mind, we may return to the Testimony Book of Pseudo-Epiphanius. We are now in a position to understand why it connects Malachi’s prophecy about “wings” of “healing” with people touching Jesus’ tassels: those tassels were understood to be his “wings.” “The sun of righteousness” (= Jesus) literally had healing “in his wings,” that is, in his hanging fringes. (p. 140, emphasis mine)

We thus have a picture of Jesus with outstretched arms, tassels hanging from his cloak (perhaps his talit), healing the sick with the power emanating from them. Perhaps it’s a stretch to suppose that the author of Mark knew the tradition of Jesus’ talit and wished to deflect that tradition by inventing a plausible alternative. However, recall that Mark appears to have suppressed the reference to the fringe of Jesus’ garment in the complementary story.

So it’s possible Mark wished to place some distance between his Jesus and the traditional Jesus he inherited. His Jesus didn’t wail for Elijah. His messiah didn’t need magic words or special objects to heal people. If we’re correct, then we should view Mark’s gospel, with its “explanatory Aramaic” lightly sprinkled through the text, as a transition to Matthew and Luke. The later synoptic evangelists removed the Aramaic references, leaving only dim memories of a far more mystical Jewish Messiah.

22 Comments

  • Wentham
    2014-07-28 05:20:30 UTC - 05:20 | Permalink

    “Wings” might also have suggested an angel-like status to Jesus?

  • Neil Godfrey
    2014-07-28 10:53:51 UTC - 10:53 | Permalink

    I find this sort of post most fascinating, Tim. Opens so many potential avenues for exploration. There are potentially more things in the pages of the text than are dreamt of in Casey’s Aramaic philosophy.

    With respect to “Ephphatha”, “Be opened”, I am thinking of another possibility that looks at literary allusions. Mark’s Gospel makes heavy use of Isaiah and can even be called a gospel of the “Second Exodus” of Isaiah. God heals the blind and opens the ears of the deaf and tongues of the mute along the way. The Book of Micah appears to be a direct commentary on Isaiah echoing and slightly modifying many of its themes. The context of this “open” word is the saving appearance of the Messiah — Mark’s theme, too.

    In the same pericope in Mark 7 the author makes another allusion to the OT — Genesis 1:32 (LXX) — when the crowd admires this “opening” miracle of Jesus they echo the words of God when he admired his great work of creation: It was all most very wonderful!

    I’m also reminded of Mark’s penchant for ironical double meanings of motifs, words, biblical passages.

  • Wentham
    2014-07-28 19:53:24 UTC - 19:53 | Permalink

    Adding a somewhat related example: “Bethlehem” is said to mean “City or House of Bread.” So having come from Bethlehem is converted punningly into Jesus, giving us “bread.”

    Proper names and titles are often manipulated by biblical writers, editors. To suggest foundations for veiled and then sometimes overt theologies.

  • Kunigunde Kreuzerin
    2014-07-28 21:45:18 UTC - 21:45 | Permalink

    I have a question, Tim. What do you think: how good was Mark´s Aramaic or Hebrew? What is your impression? I do not know much about it. Some puns (names of people and places) seem to indicate that he at least could deal a little bit with Aramaic and Hebrew.

    • Tim Widowfield
      2014-07-29 01:15:04 UTC - 01:15 | Permalink

      Well, of course Casey’s view was that Mark was bilingual and that his secondary language, Aramaic, interfered with his primary language, Greek. For example, he might have written Greek using word order or word choice more appropriate to Aramaic than to Greek. In Aramaic Sources of Mark’s Gospel Casey surmised that the evangelist botched the rendition of “Boanerges,” because he’d forgotten the vowels that go along with the written consonants. “He will therefore have had to ask the vowels, and how to transliterate ע.”

      I think it’s just as likely that Mark’s grasp of Aramaic was even worse that Casey imagined. In fact, he may have known only the few words he sprinkled in his gospel.

      Consider for example, that Casey argues forcefully in Jesus of Nazareth that Mark transliterated the “koum” (without the final “i”) in “talitha koumi” because it was “exactly what Jesus said.” [Casey’s italics.] So we conveniently have some words that are incorrectly transliterated into Greek (or even mistranslated), because that’s just what Mark would do. But on the other hand we have the evangelist getting the vowels exactly right because that’s just what Mark would do.

      Mark’s Greek was precisely as good or as poor as it needed to be in order for Casey to support his arguments. In either case, good or bad, it always pointed back to the authentic words and deeds of Jesus. In Casey’s hands, the argument from Aramaic sources was like a divining rod — it looks as if the stick is moving of its own accord, but the dowser is always the one pointing it where he wants it to go.

      Oh, and Mark probably knew far less Hebrew than Aramaic.

      • Dale
        2014-08-01 19:59:57 UTC - 19:59 | Permalink

        Thanks for the great article, Tim.

        • Tim Widowfield
          2014-08-01 23:33:52 UTC - 23:33 | Permalink

          You’re welcome. It’s nice to know that people read and appreciate our stuff.

      • Kunigunde Kreuzerin
        2014-08-18 22:14:02 UTC - 22:14 | Permalink

        Hi Tim. I am currently working a bit about the problem of Abiathar in Mark 2.26. When reading the referenced text of LXX-1 Kings 21 I noticed some stylistic parallels to the Gospel of Mark, in particular the Greek reproduced Hebraisms “Φελλανι Αλεμωνι” and “νεεσσαρὰν”. To me it seems possible that Mark borrowed the insertion of Aramaisms as a stylistic device from the Septuagint.

        • Neil Godfrey
          2014-08-18 22:48:56 UTC - 22:48 | Permalink

          Just as an aside here, this is from Richard Carrier’s Proving History, p. 185:

          The first difficulty with this criterion is that it isn’t easy to discern an “underlying Aramaic origin” from an author or source who simply wrote or spoke in a Semitized Greek. The output of both often look identical. And yet we know the earliest Christians routinely wrote and spoke in a Semitized Greek, and regularly employed (and were heavily influenced by) the Septuagint, which was written in a Semitized Greek. This is most notably the case for the author of Luke-Acts, and is evident even in Paul. Many early Christians were also bilingual (as Paul outright says he was), and thus often spoke and thought in Aramaic, and thus could easily have composed tales in Aramaic (orally or in lost written form) that were just as fabricated as anything else, which could then have been translated into Greek, either by the Gospel authors themselves or their sources. Indeed, some material may have preceded Jesus in Aramaic form (such as sayings and teachings, as we find collected at Qumran) that was later attributed to him with suitable adaptation. So even if we can distinguish what is merely a Semitic Greek dialect from a Greek translation of an Aramaic source (and we rarely can), that still does not establish that the Aramaic source reported a historical fact.

        • Tim Widowfield
          2014-08-18 22:51:01 UTC - 22:51 | Permalink

          That’s really interesting. I need to read up more on “double translations” in the LXX. You could very well be right in thinking that the phenomenon in the LXX was something Mark consciously emulated.

          See for example: https://openaccess.leidenuniv.nl/bitstream/handle/1887/16135/2.%20DOUBLE%20TRANSLATION.pdf?sequence=7

          BTW, anyone who has even glanced the Septuagint should notice how often the translators faithfully represented the word “and” at the beginning of many sentences (hence, many verses). Take a look at 1 Kings 21 (1 Samuel 21) and you’ll see that every verse starts with καὶ except for the last one. Now consider how many times you’ve read some NT scholar discuss Mark’s “bad Greek,” citing as a perfect example the number of times the evangelist began his sentences with καὶ.

          • Neil Godfrey
            2014-08-18 22:55:49 UTC - 22:55 | Permalink

            Are you suggesting Maurice Casey wasted a major part of his scholarly career all because he never read the Septuagint?

          • Kunigunde Kreuzerin
            2014-08-19 08:41:56 UTC - 08:41 | Permalink

            Tim wrote: “Take a look at 1 Kings 21 (1 Samuel 21) and you’ll see that every verse starts with καὶ except for the last one. Now consider how many times you’ve read some NT scholar discuss Mark’s “bad Greek,” citing as a perfect example the number of times the evangelist began his sentences with καὶ.”

            Another interesting parallel is the description of local changes.
            In LXX-1 Kings 21,1 “David arose (“ἀνέστη”) and departed (“ἀπῆλθεν”), in 21,2 “comes (“ἔρχεται”) David to (“εἰς”) Nomba”. Significant parallels include Mark 7:24 and Mark 10.1.
            7,24 “having risen up (“ἀναστὰς”) he went away (“ἀπῆλθεν”) into (“εἰς”) the region of Tyre”
            10,1 “having risen up (“ἀναστὰς”) he comes (“ἔρχεται”) into (“εἰς”) the region of Judea”

  • Kunigunde Kreuzerin
    2014-07-29 07:46:51 UTC - 07:46 | Permalink

    Thanks

  • Wentham
    2014-07-29 10:24:36 UTC - 10:24 | Permalink

    Here’s another way that the presentation of Aramaic phrases in Mark, is still used as a cover-up, to this very day. This Aramaic phrase is usually presented even in English translations of the Bible: “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabach-thani?” But why wouldn’t the authors and even modern editors of Mark have just translated this phrase, along with all the rest? Probably the answer is that they didn’t quite want this phrase to be perfectly clear. Since it presented a very, very severe theological problem: it presents Jesus doubting himself. It presented Jesus assuming – and in effect telling us – that God had abandoned Jesus. Jesus telling us that God no longer supported Jesus.

    A translation of the offending phrase into English is only belated offered in some editions. And the fact that it is a “translation” is explicitly noted, in order to calling into question the accuracy of the offending phrase. But here’s the normal English meaning of it: Jesus is saying “”My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me”? (Mark 15.34).

    It is easy to see why the presenters, the editors of the Bible, would want to obscure and question this particular phrase: it presents a very, very crippling contradiction to accepted theology. Since, note, here either 1) Jesus is telling us that he has been abandoned by God. So that Jesus should have no authority, not being supported by God in the end. Or else 2) Jesus is wrong. Since God did not abandon him.

    But if Jesus was wrong? Then after all, Jesus is not really an authority after all, once again.

    So this particular phrase is a huge theological embarrassment to conventional Christianity. Therefore, it is easy to see why the many editors of the Bible would do anything they could to obscure this saying. So they set about “twist”ing it. First, 1) they present it at first, untranslated. Left in Aramaic, no less; a language not even as well known as Greek. So that the phrase was rendered impenetrable for the average reader.

    Then 2) if it is belated translated? It happens only after this mass of impenetrability has been thrown in our face. And 3) then? The Bible for once calls our attention to the inexactness of it, as “translation.” Translators all know this famous phrase: “Translators are traitors.” Translators, semanticists, all know that it is all but impossible to translate anything exactly, from one language to another. And here we are reminded of that. So even if translated? It is presented under a cloud of suspicion. As a perhaps unreliable witness, or angel, or translation.

    So as a matter of fact, Tim’s suspicions are well founded here. Leaving/putting phrases into Aramaic, was likely part of a systematic plan by biblical editors, to deliberate obscure or throw into doubt, the really devastating real theology that was finally presented by the text. Translators, editors, were trying to obscure the phrase that was trying to tell us that actually, shatteringly – Jesus did not really have the full approval of God. God did not guide and protect even Jesus from error. Not in the end.

    Either Jesus was right, and he was not disapproved of by God. Or Jesus was wrong about that. But even in the latter case, this would mean that Jesus for a moment, was wrong.

    It’s easy to see why pious translators and theologians of the Bible would desperately want to obscure this heaven-shattering side to the text. By leaving the text untranslated, in Aramaic. And therefore making it all but totally obscured, for the everyday believer.

  • 2014-07-29 17:07:22 UTC - 17:07 | Permalink

    Wentham, but a holy God has to abandon a son having sins imputed to himself. No problem after payment is made.

  • Wentham
    2014-07-29 18:28:33 UTC - 18:28 | Permalink

    Yet for a moment, God finds Jesus wrong? So Jesus sinned, made a mistake, for a moment.

    And if he sinned once, why not may times before, and thereafter?

    You might think that the Bible told us that words attributed to Jesus could not be wrong. But first there’s the above example. Then next: curiously in fact, God in the Bible often suggested that major holy men would sin and make major doctrinal errors. And apparently even the Holy Spirit would not prevent them (Paul noting that even those with the supernatural spirit in the wilderness, sinned and perished for example. Jesus then noting severe sins in Peter, (Mat. 16.23).

    Particularly, the Bible warned that many holy men would generate false words, falsely attributing them to the Lord. Therefore Jesus told us “do not believe” in even what is called “Jesus,” or a “Christ.” Not Unless and until we ourselves see concrete, physical material “fruits,” “works,” “miracles,” as “proof” of his divinity.

  • 2014-07-30 02:54:02 UTC - 02:54 | Permalink

    If Jesus could figuratively have borne human sins then God could figuratively have abandoned his son. Isaiah 53 shows an innocent servant who “bears our sins” (figuratively not literally) and thus dies for them, i.e. he is abandoned by God who would otherwise uphold his life. c.f. 2 Cor 5:21, “…him who knew no sin…” became a stand-in for sin so that killing him was ritually equivalent to killing sin.
    –from Carrier’s Historicity of Jesus p404,n39. c.f. p408 on Aramaic Targum of Ps 22:1

  • Wentham
    2014-07-30 09:54:45 UTC - 09:54 | Permalink

    If the Bible is only “figuratively” true, then it is only half true at best. It is at most an “allegory,” as Paul suggested at times; a “figure” of speech or metaphor or “parable,” Jesus confirmed.

    So let’s not take anything in the Bible too seriously or literally; or as completely true. Then next? Let’s look at the way the “fuller” truth might have suffered from this, after all.

    The Bible told us that many holy men were “false” and “deceit”ful “lying” persons. Even St. Peter was finally called “Satan” by Jesus himself (Mat. 16.23). James admitted “we all make many mistakes.” Paul allowed that even his own – “our” – “prophesy” and “knowledge” were often false.

    So following these warnings in the Bible itself, let’s look at the Bible critically. And “test the spirits” (1 John 4.1 ff). To see if and where, some of our own holy men might have made some mistakes.

    Here it begins to appear that our holy men were not entirely right or honest, specifically, about the status of Jesus. Here we see the Bible itself finally turning a bit self-critical. Showing us that even Jesus himself made mistakes.

    This is hard to face. But let’s face it. Look at the hundreds of warnings in the Bible itself, about false things in our holiest men, angels, prophets, apostles, saints.

    To be sure, the translators of our Bibles tried to cover this up partially; by leaving the particularly offending passage momentarily untranslated. But this is was a ruse that we can now begin to see through.

    This is hard to “face.” But the Bible told us that one heaven-shattering “day,” we are supposed to see a terrible, painful “face” or “appearance” of God. One in which he exposes huge sins in all of us; including “all the host of heaven” itself (Isa. 34.4, 51.6; 2 Peter 3.7-12; Rev. 21; etc.).

  • Dale
    2014-08-01 00:09:17 UTC - 00:09 | Permalink

    Neil, thanks for challenging the question of Mark’s use of Aramaic words in his gospel. Do you know if Morton Smith treats the grasping at Jesus’ fringe as a form of magic in Jesus the Magician? I haven’t gotten around to reading it yet, though its on my list.

    • 2014-08-01 03:45:27 UTC - 03:45 | Permalink

      This post was by Tim, not me. But I can say Morton Smith does not discuss this particular miracle specifically as an instance of magic, though he does point out that magical healings were known to be accomplished by touching.

  • Wentham
    2014-08-01 07:45:33 UTC - 07:45 | Permalink

    “Magician” is a word literally descended from “magi,” or Persian (/Farsi?) for “wise men.” Wise men in ancient Persia included early proto- “medical” persons/astronomers. But mixed up as they and early proto-science are, later we would think of magis as confused; sorcerers, more than scientists. Hence our modern “magician.”

    Such a group though of “Magi”s or wise men, was said in the New Testament to gave given Jesus “gifts” at the nativity. Suggesting that Jesus and Christianity owed something to eastern traditions, myths, of Magis, and magic. In spite of strong prohibitions on witches, magicians, sorcerers, necromancers, soothsayers, in much of Judeo-Christianity. Arguably in fact, Jesus himself was an alleged necromancer; raising the dead. or even a spirit himself at some point, raised from the dead. (Even kings like Saul illegally consulted witches, necromancers, dead spirits).

    But especially here, we might begin to see a medical magical Magi-like aspect to Jesus, and his clothes. Clothes were thought to be sacred by some. But one of my current naturalistic hypotheses, is that “touching” might, even laying-on-of-hands, might refer though in part, to bone-setting. And applying ointments and so forth. And finally, most relevant here, I speculate – applying bandages. Or “cloths.”

    Paul was said to have had magic-seeming “cloths” that worked miracles. Healing handkerchiefs. I hypothesize that this rumor might have been a confused oral-culture references to BANDAGES.

    All this among other things, would also fit the profile of Jesus as a member of the “Therapeutae.” (SP?); the Jewish healing/priestly community in Egypt. Possibly they were something like our medical missionaries in some ways; priests and healers. Rather like other African shamans. Jesus was said to have lived for a while in Egypt.

    Interestingly in fact, the risen Jesus invited Doubting Thomas to physically probe his wounds. Something that a physician might do. But that a lay person might find difficult.

    So in fact, out of all this and more, I’m currently interested in references to healing, by contacting cloths. I know perfectly well that “touching garments” was an ancient superstition. But it may be that there was a more medical practice behind some of this talk: early bandages is my current hypothesis.

    • Dale
      2014-08-01 19:58:10 UTC - 19:58 | Permalink

      I’ve always been intrigued by the appearance of the Magi in Matthew’s gospel. I’ve often wondered if it can help us identify the Jewish group Jesus and his family were part of. Whether the story is true of their visit or not, that Matthew was willing to make such a connection to the Zoroastrian priests is fascinating. Of course the Pharisees seem to delight in bragging about the connection in their very name, pointing to the Farsi influence. And you referred to the Egyptian Therapeutae healers who seem to be connected with the Essenes. Josephus says the Essenes were Pythagorian in their beliefs. This seems to show a Zoroastrian influence as well.

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