One can argue that the author took historical traditions and sayings and edited them to give them a theological spin, but this is to make two assumptions when it is much simpler to make but one: that the author created the stories and sayings as theological parables.
Just as the healing of the paralytic is told in the shadow of the death and resurrection of Jesus (both laid in dug-out places, both rise and go through a massive block that prevents others from entering), so the withered hand miracle is also told as a reverberation of the withered growth in the parable of the sower (Mark 4:6) and the withering of the fig tree to mark the end of Jesus.
Thus the story and words of Jesus make sense when and only when they are read as an allegory. To read the story as a literal healing is to ruin the story and to disconnect the sayings of Jesus from the story.
By insisting on taking both literally one might even be tempted to suspect the author is clumsily trying to weld a saying from one source with a healing tradition from another, as has widely been done by scholars. It is much more economical to read the story as allegory! The moment we try to detect “historical traditions” behind the stories and sayings we are no longer working with the story and sayings that we have.
The healing of the Syro-Phoenician’s daughter:
Few modern readers feel comfortable with the sayings of Jesus taken literally in this pericope:
Let the children be filled first, for it is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the little dogs (7:27)
The racism is too obvious for believers to accept this literally, and for critics of Jesus to overlook. In this case faithful readers are all too willing to accept the metaphoric nature of Jesus’ words and see a reference here to Jesus distinguishing between the primary mission to the Jews and the time of the Gentiles coming subsequently. And of course they are right, although in Mark’s gospel gentiles are fed or healed or saved as part of Jesus’ ministry to the Jews. He needs to escape from the Jewish side for a while and finds himself in gentile areas doing a similar work.
If this story is thus so clearly parabolic, as is its saying, then we surely have a strong clue that the other healings and sayings should be read likewise.
Not dead but sleeping
When Jesus says that Jairus’ daughter is sleeping and not dead he is mocked. That has led some who read the story literally to wonder if Jesus could recognize that the girl was merely in a coma. But surely it is obvious that Jesus is saying that to him death is but a sleep from which anyone he wills will awaken. The parabolic meaning of this story is cemented by the symbolic number and chiastic structure bindings to the story of the bleeding woman.
So much commentary has been written on the symbolic message in other miracles that it is superfluous to discuss them here. The two attempts to heal the blind man matching the gradual, two-step loss of understanding on the part of the disciples; the Bartimaeus healing with its focus on casting away his cloak, old life; the exorcism of Legion, with its conclusion of a man sitting clad and its many associations again with the scenes of the last scenarios of the gospel — we know the symbolic messages of these.
Now of course we can argue that the author took historical traditions and gave them a spin to convey theological messages, but why make it so complicated to save a literalism that has wreaked so much suffering on so many? Why not just accept the simplest explanation, that the whole gospel is a parable? — Mark 4:34.
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