2010-10-16

Art and Aramaic in the Gospel of Mark

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by Neil Godfrey

Lid with an Aramaic magical script. Earthenwar...
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Why does the Gospel of Mark occasionally portray Jesus saying something in a language other than the Greek in which it is written? I suggest here that there may be a very good literary-theological explanation. While I disagree with Dr Maurice Casey’s explanation, I am indebted to his discussion for drawing the question to my attention.

The passages in the Gospel of Mark, understood by probably most scholars to be the earliest of the canonical gospels, are usually  transliterated in the English Bibles along with the author’s translation:

And he took the damsel by the hand, and said unto her, Talitha cumi; which is, being interpreted, Damsel, I say unto thee, arise. (Mark 5:41)

Then, looking up to heaven, he sighed, and said to him, “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.” (Mark 7:34)

And he said, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Take this cup away from me . . . (Mark 14:36)

And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani? which is, being interpreted, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? (Mark 15:34)

According to Dr Maurice Casey, author of Aramaic Sources of Mark’s Gospel, the Gospel of Mark attributes the first and last of the above Aramaic sayings to Jesus because these were the literal words he historically used.

(The Wikipedia entry for Casey was created by someone using the name “Ari89”, whom I noticed up to earlier this year assumed an active task of editing Wikipedia articles dealing with Christ mythicism and some of its adherents in far from neutral manner: negative information allowed even if it violates Wikipedia policies, positive information routinely deleted.)

J. Quinton posted a most interesting observation explaining Mark’s attribution of Abba in Jesus’ prayer, linking it to the Barabbas scene, so I won’t repeat that here.

So I focus on the other phrases. Though two are commands in healing scenes and the other a cry of dereliction quoting a Psalm at death, I suspect the author was expecting his readers to draw links between them.

To begin, the trick of dropping strange words into a narrative was well known as far back as Aristotle (fourth century b.c.e) who explained its effect:

A diction that is made up of strange (or rare) terms is a jargon. A certain infusion, therefore, of these elements is necessary to style; for the strange (or rare) word, the metaphorical, the ornamental, and the other kinds above mentioned, will raise it above the commonplace and mean . . . (Poetics, XXII)

In the same passage Aristotle is also discussing the use of riddles and metaphors — something for which the author of the Gospel of Mark is well known. Some scholars think his entire gospel is written as a riddle or parable. Other literary qualities discussed by Aristotle similarly characterize Mark’s gospel. Joseph Wallack has listed many of these here.

Dr Maurice Casey acknowledges this literary reason for the inclusion of these Aramaic words:

It is much more likely that we have one of the many translators who leave occasional words in the original language for dramatic effect . . . . (p. 64 of Aramaic Sources of Mark’s Gospel)

Where I question Casey here is his adding addition of a more complex hypothesis to the literary explanation. If the author was wanting to create a rhetorical impact, then it is simpler to assume that he created the Aramaic expressions for that purpose, than to construct the scenario that he was copying from another text that was written in Aramaic (the existence for which we have no evidence) and that “Mark” opted to leave some words untranslated for effect. Casey faults what he sees as convoluted explanations of others, but I think here his own explanation is unnecessarily complex and convoluted.

Mark usually quotes words of Jesus when he performs a miracle or exorcism, but only twice in Aramaic:

Jesus rebuked him, saying, Come out of him! (1:25)

[Jesus] said to him, I am willing; be cleansed (1:41)

I say to you, arise, take up your bed, and go your way to your way to your house (2:11)

Then he arose and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace, be still!” (4:39)

And he took the damsel by the hand, and said unto her, Talitha cumi; which is, being interpreted, Damsel, I say unto thee, arise. (5:41)

Then, looking up to heaven, he sighed, and said to him, “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.” (7:34)

[Jesus] rebuked the unclean spirit, saying to him, “You deaf and dumb spirit, I command you, come out of him, and enter him no more.” (9:25)

Then Jesus said to him, “Go your way; your faith has made you well.” (10:52)

In response Jesus said to it, “Let no one ever eat fruit from you ever again.” (11:14)

I have read some suggestions that the Aramaic words used in connection with healing miracles is designed to add the sound of something of a magical or exotic formula that conveys the sorcerer’s or shaman’s powers. This explanation still leaves us with the question of why only we find such words in connection with only these two miracles.

Suggestion

How plausible is it to suggest that the foreign (non-Greek) words are there also to place special emphasis on the central theme of the Gospel itself?

Do not the words draw a hearer’s attention to mystery of Death of Resurrection and the need for Spiritual Understanding?

The first time an Aramaic phrase is used, no doubt with the intention of prompting the hearer/reader with a special and memorable sound, it is to command a resurrection from the dead. The father of the girl being resurrected is named “Enlightened” or “Awakened” — the meaning of the name Jairus. This has an obvious link with the idea of being awakened out of sleep, and Jesus had made a fool of himself in the eyes of onlookers when he declared that the girl they all knew was dead was only sleeping.

For Jesus, death is a sleep from which we only need to be awakened.

Mark regularly has Jesus speaking in parables (“But without a parable spake he not unto them” – Mark 4:34) and “enlightenment” is a spiritual insight that is necessary to understand them. The disciples in Mark are regularly depicted as having “hardened hearts” and “failing to understand”.

And he said unto them, “Do you not understand this parable? How then will you understand all the parables?” (4:13)

For they had not understood about the loaves, because their heart was hardened. (6:52)

And Jesus being aware of it, said to them, “Why do you reason because you have no bread? Do you not yet perceive nor understand? Is your heart still hardened?  Having eyes, do you not see? And having ears, do you not hear? And do you not remember? . . . “How is it you do not understand?” (8:17-18, 21)

Even when Peter understands Jesus is the Christ, he still fails to understand what that means and Jesus still calls him Satan (Mark 8:33)! The demons, after all, can even recognize that Jesus is the Christ.

Mark also uses a miracle of healing of a blind as a symbol of the increasing enlightenment (or redoubled vain efforts to initiate enlightenment) among the disciples. So after Jesus performed twice a miracle of feeding of thousands in a wilderness (first of 5000 – ch.6, then of 4000 – ch.8) with the disciples as uncomprehending at the end as at the beginning, Mark has Jesus tellingly heal a blind man in two stages:

And when he had spat on his eyes and put his hands on him, he asked him if he saw anything. And he looked up and said, “I see men like trees walking.”

Then he put his ands on his eyes again and made him look up. And he was restored and saw everyone clearly. (Mark 8:23-25)

The symbolic intent of this two-stage miracle, coming after the two miracles of the loaves that leave the disciples as blind as ever, seems to me so obvious that I cannot help but wonder why some scholars insist on speaking of this healing miracle as somehow belonging to a primitive tradition that preserved a memory of Jesus using magico-medical hocus pocus of the day (spitting and touching), and acknowledging the human limitations of his powers! Oh dear! As if modern scholars can really think that a bit of spit and touch really can restore eyesight! As if modern scholars cannot bring themselves to read the Gospel first and foremost for what it most obviously is: a piece of literature. If it’s literature, then look for the usual literary tricks that have been with us since the days of Aristotle and even earlier! Even anthropologists know that metaphor and double-meanings are universally inherent across the human species.

But rather than read Mark as literature and interpret it first and foremost as literature, some scholars insist on declaring any “literary interpretation” belongs in the classes on poetry or such, while historians need not trouble them with the actual (literary) nature of the evidence and rush headlong in assuming that the narrative is drawing on traditions passed down from a real historical eyewitness of a genuine event. There is no evidence to justify the addition of such imaginary scenarios, but the imagination is necessary to fill in the gaps left by faith that the text is based on history. I prefer to apply Occam’s razor where I can, and it is surely simplest to see a literary pattern as a conscious artistic creation of an author.

Anyone still not convinced that the miracles of Jesus – and the miracle of healing/raising of Jairus’ daughter in particular – are literary creations, might like to read Michael Turton’s commentary. His discussion of the raising of Jairus’ daughter is here.

If Jairus, the father of the girl raised from the dead, means “Enlightened/Awakened”, and a central theme of that miracle was the blindness of all who knew the one raised (apart from Jesus and his three inner disciples), then are we being overly observant to wonder if the next foreign word that is used means “Be Opened”, or “See” — Ephphatha?

Is not “Mark” or the author of the Gospel drawing special attention to the need for readers to Understand, See, Be Enlightened, Awakened — the very message that Jesus was at pains to try to teach repeatedly to his disciples?

But coming to the final Aramaic passage, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani? which is, being interpreted, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?”, we are at the point of Jesus’ death. Not only his death, but face to face with the meaning of his death: a desertion by God himself as he is left “hanging on a tree” to “be made sin” for us all.

It may be an entirely subjective judgement to interpret the three “Aristotelian jargon” terms, the three jarring Aramaic phrases in a Greek text, as pointing directly to three key concepts that are the entire point, the central message, of the Gospel itself:

Resurrection from Death, and Seeing or Understanding the meaning and reality of this.

But maybe not.

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Neil Godfrey

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13 thoughts on “Art and Aramaic in the Gospel of Mark”

  1. “Why does the Gospel of Mark occasionally portray Jesus saying something in a language other than the Greek in which it is written?”
    To attempt verisimilitude [I just love that word, its hard to type and even harder to speak].

    But he fails.

    For example “[Eloi, Eloi,] lama sabachthani” is a direct quote of Psalm 22.1.
    Just another example of the author pinching words from the Hebrew Bible in an attempt to create a theological and prophetic continuity. His true source, the words of Psalm 22, is showing, not the alleged source, the alleged spoken words of the alleged JC.

    The “Eloi, Eloi’ bit is also interesting.
    In the next verse 15.35, the author has the onlookers say “Behold, he is calling Elijah”.
    But according to Denis Nineham “Saint Mark” page 429 ” Such a misunderstanding – even if deliberate-would have been impossible unless the words in verse 34 had been spoken in Hebrew rather than Aramaic as Mark has it. [Cf Matthew’s hybrid version in which the vital words appear in Hebrew]. {“Matthew” 27.46}
    This shows that the author of “Mark” did not really understand what he was having his character JC say.
    He got his languages mixed up.
    He must have been misinformed as to the subtleties of the language[s] he was attempting to utilise so as to create the appearance of, wait for it, verisimilitude.
    His knowledge was faulty and had to be corrected by the author of “Matthew’ [or an even later redactor]. He appears to be unaware that Aramaic was ‘the language that was normally spoken in Jesus’s time” {Nineham’s words] and that Psalm 22 was written and would have been spoken in Hebrew and that the Elijah pun/confusion would not have been possible.

    Sloppy.

    1. I had deleted from my original draft a section where Maurice Casey challenges the argument that the cry from the cross (Ps.22:1) was in Hebrew, and thought it simpler to stick “foreign language” rather than insisting on Aramaic throughout.

      So your comment makes the perfect complement to my post. Thanks!

      It reminds me of all the ink spilled over the geographic errors (and even a doctoral dissertation on ancient concepts of geography) of Mark, when up waltzes Notley and simply points to the match between Mark’s itinerary and the prophecy in Isaiah!

      If one of the indicators of a good hypothesis is the simplicity of its explanations, then the Gospel of Mark originating in the creative mind of a literary author has to win hands down against convoluted struggles and the insertions of ptolemaic epicycles to make historical origins and oral traditions work.

  2. JW:
    My born again dragon, Barjoseph, said to tell you, another great post. I had already made the observation at ErrancyWiki that all of “Mark’s” uses of transliteration seem to be related to the resurrection. Very artistic and I agree that this is what A meant about GT making use of “pleasing language”. Another use of transliteration by “Mark” is:

    “Mark 10:45 For the Son of man also came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.
    Mark 10:46 And they come to Jericho: and as he went out from Jericho, with his disciples and a great multitude, the son of Timaeus, Bartimaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting by the way side.
    Mark 10:47 And when he heard that it was Jesus the Nazarene, he began to cry out, and say, Jesus, thou son of David, have mercy on me.
    Mark 10:48 And many rebuked him, that he should hold his peace: but he cried out the more a great deal, Thou son of David, have mercy on me.
    Mark 10:49 And Jesus stood still, and said, Call ye him. And they call the blind man, saying unto him, Be of good cheer: rise, he calleth thee.
    Mark 10:50 And he, casting away his garment, sprang up, and came to Jesus.
    Mark 10:51 And Jesus answered him, and said, What wilt thou that I should do unto thee? And the blind man said unto him, Rabboni, that I may receive my sight.
    Mark 10:52 And Jesus said unto him, Go thy way; thy faith hath made thee whole. And straightway he received his sight, and followed him in the way.”

    with “BarTimaeus” and “Rabboni”. I think that “Bartimaeus” is a nod to Plato’s famous work. Note that this story straightaway follows Jesus’ prediction of death. B righteously points out that since this story is in the Passion part of “Mark”, which Jesus tries to maximize as opposed to the Ministry part of “Mark” which Jesus tries to minimize, here the treatment of the miracle is backwards from the Ministry miracles:

    BT is already on The Way

    Jesus comes to BT

    The multitude is already with Jesus

    The Disciples try to prevent the healing

    BT takes his clothes off

    Jesus asks BT a question

    No prohibition on publication

    BT follows Jesus

    Joseph

    1. To explain Joe Wallack’s code for those not used to his writing:

      A = Aristotle
      GT = Greek Tragedy
      B = Bilezikian, Gilbert G., author of “The Liberated Gospel: A Comparison of the Gospel of Mark and Greek Tragedy” (a book which I will almost certainly discuss myself some time)

      Joe — I linked to the iidb/frdb page where you list GMark’s areas in common with GT. Do you have them anywhere else, or only on that discussion board?

      One more query: I have always wondered about the intended significance of an allusion to Plato’s Timaeus. The suggestion is raised often enough, but I am left wondering “What’s the point?” if that is so. Thoughts?

      1. Thoughts? Joe and others might have some gems.

        In the meantime, how about some Sunday evening flights of fancy?

        We are introduced to Bartimaeus, son of Timaeus. If this is a nod to Plato, consider:

        Here is Timaeus, of Locris in Italy, a city which has admirable laws, and who is himself in wealth and rank the equal of any of his fellow-citizens; he has held the most important and honourable offices in his own state, and, as I believe, has scaled the heights of all philosophy

        Timaeus describes the creation of this world through an artisan, a demiurge, who fashions our changing physical world in imitation of an unchanging eternal world. And his goal is to imitate the Good.

        In Mark, son of Timaeus takes on an Aramaic prefix and the mixture presents itself as a blind beggar, not a person of wealth and honorable rank. And the environment Jesus traverses is a rather hostile one.

        So, what happened? Well, much has been said by later philosophers and theologians, including the idea that the demiurge was at least capricious, blind, ignorant, and in some cases even evil. And there have been comparisons to the Old Testament god.

        Plato’s demiurge was benevolent, not wrathful. And humans were fashioned according to the good.

        Jesus’s healings in Mark generally required spitting or touching in some way. But Bartimaeus did not require that kind of sensate healing. Bartimaeus asks Jesus to let him see again. (Some translations ofMark 10:51 do say “see again” or “recover” or “regain” sight.) Regaining sight would mean that Bartimaeus remembers having “sight” at one time and he wants to return to that state (some influence here of Plato/Socrates theory of recollection?).

        Having already thrown off his garment or cloak (of ignorance?), Bartimaeus has already healed himself through faith and Jesus just serves to let Bartimaeus realize that as Bartimaeus regains his “sight”.

        Anyway, just a few disjointed thoughts off the top of my head, perhaps irrelevant…

        1. Thanks, Pearl. Maybe I’m looking for too much. I can acknowledge the sorts of details you advance here, and they do seem relevant for a number of issues in early Christianity, but what’s still missing for me is some explanation that advances our understanding of the plot or narrative. Dennis MacDonald’s explanation does that, and I’ve summarized this on vridar.info:

          Two blind seers
           
          Bartimaeus 
          1. Jesus in the presence of a large crowd
          2. meets blind Bartimaeus on his way to die
          3. B, though blind, recognized Jesus as the son of David
          4. Bartimaeus was healed then followed Jesus
          5. Bartimaeus cast off his cloak (symbolic of death). The cloak Mark speaks of was his “himation”.
          6. Bartimaeus, a symbolic name meaning son of prize or honour, was the only one healed who is named in the gospel.

          Tiresias
          1. Odysseus surrounded by many ghosts of the dead
          2. meets the blind seer Tiresias in Hades
          3. T, though blind, recognized Odysseus as the son of Laertes
          4. Odysseus left Tiresias behind unable to heal him
          5. Art shows T. with same distinctive himation, loose fitting and draped over his head like a woman.
          6. Tiresias is a symbolic name, meaning sign or portent, appropriate for a prophet at the centre of the Odyssey.

          Clement of Alexandria, an early Church Father, wrote of Christ calling on Tiresias to be healed of his blindness and to leave Hades and journey to heaven.
           

          But after reading MacDonald my perverse side emerges and I find myself missing Plato’s Timaeus.

          I may be overlooking the obvious, or simply not seeing what you and others are seeing. Will keep working on it, including thinking through the sorts of points you raise.

          1. Neil, understanding plot or narrative is important in literature, and Dennis MacDonald’s explanation advances that, as you say. But in spite of the parallels shown, I’m left with questions. These questions center on meaning. And I believe there can be more than one layer of meaning, as you point out in your post.

            Bartimaeus certainly serves to identify and make public Jesus as son of David, per your analysis, moving the plot right along. So, on one level his job is done. But your original post brings up theological meaning, not only literary concerns. And theological meaning has a philosophical component that could likely be known by readers of Mark. Maybe a possible nod to Plato is just a quick one of general recognition. Yet even if both of us are looking for too much in various ways, that doesn’t prevent bothersome details which persist in annoying me.

            Why did Bartimaeus throw off his cloak of death just upon notification from the crowd that Jesus called to speak to him? No saliva, no touch. Just Jesus telling him that he was already healed based on faith. Bilezikian might be right as far as narrative concerns to minimize a ministering Jesus in a Passion section, but in my mind, this healing by faith alone is so different from other healings that, for me at least, it has a reverse effect in that it serves to underline a question as to what Jesus’s role in regards to ministry really is. What is his role as Christ, for that matter? What does death signify? What does resurrection mean? What kind of faith and what is its role, its emphasis? All kinds of theological stuff that is approached gradually throughout Mark.

            The fact that Bartimaeus is named in Mark while others healed are not could be explained as a literary parallel to Tiresias by offering a symbolic name. But Tiresias is not healed. He does not throw off death. There are theological concerns in Mark related to death and resurrection and messiah, and possibly another nod pointing to Plato’s Timaeus would not be a stretch. Timaeus’s description speculates on the nature of our universe.

            At the very least, the use of the Aramaic prefix draws my attention to the juxtaposition of Bartimaeus, the blind beggar, against Timaeus, the rich, learned, honored, philosophical whiz kid. Does environment or belief system relate to symbolic status? What does it mean that Bartimaeus wants to see again? Simply regaining eyesight, or an eventual actual bodily revivification (based on a literal reading of death and resurrection), or a new, awakened moral life in Christ, or an enlightened understanding of god through Christ, or is Christ facilitating a return to a beginning of a recollected idealistic “fair” and “good”, where the resurrected end is the beginning, so to speak, or whatever else? Perhaps there is more than one intended layer of exegesis. Perhaps not. But I don’t view a historical Jesus in this gospel as a slam-dunk necessity.

            Anyway, just a few thoughts. I’ll stop here since I’ve gotta run for now. 🙂

            1. I used to wonder if Mark was using Bartimaeus to deny a Davidic link with Jesus: Bartimaeus was blind when he called him the Son of David, and Jesus subsequently cites a Psalm to imply that the Christ could not be the Son of David.

              There is another time when Jesus tells someone their faith made them whole. It was when the hemorrhaging woman touched him without Jesus knowing anything about it.

              Add to this Jesus’ habit of disappearing when people were out looking for him after he had performed a few miracles among them (Mark 1), and the “Little Apocalypse” that is preparing the church for a long absence from Jesus.

              Okay — your comment is leading me down other pathways now — what it brings to mind are the indications Mark’s Jesus is preparing “Christians” to be whole and capable apart from the ongoing need for his presence.

              Remember when he was walking on water he was about to pass them by until the disciples called out in fear. I have suggested in another post that Jesus was expecting them to get out of the boat and follow him. They don’t need him in the boat with them all the time.

              So when Bartimaeus casts off his cloak he is declaring himself now complete and whole by leaving all behind (including his “life”) and trusting in one who will tell him to go his “own way.” He chooses to follow Jesus, but it is by his choice, not a command to follow, as had been issued to the original disciples who by now are failing miserably to follow with any sort of understanding.

              If this is one of Mark’s themes, Matthew has overturned it by stressing that Jesus will be with them always. John has Jesus send them a comforter, and Luke gives them power from above.

              Mark strikes me as being in a radical “gnostic-like” camp (not saying he was gnostic), writing a metaphorical tale or parable, full of syzigies that we expect from gnostic writings, the only difference being that Mark has taken gnostic-like paradoxical sayings and turned them into narrative paradoxes.

              I can’t say Mark is gnostic (but it might originally have been, since it was attributed to the camp of Basilides at some point), but one of the themes of gospels such as that of Thomas the Twin was to teach the faithful to become one with Jesus, like Jesus, even above Jesus. Was Mark teaching something like that?

              Little things (including the one being discussed here) sometimes prompt me to wonder about this possibility again. (Maybe this is worth another post topic to try to find out what I’m thinking — I never quite know what’s on my mind till I write it down. 🙂

              1. Ah, but you’re fortunate that your ruminations end up so articulate and organized in written form.

                Yes, Jesus later says, regarding the Messiah, “David himself calls him Lord; so how can he be his son?” Bartimaeus seems to have been quoting popular belief of the scribes before his eyes were opened, but it did serve to make public Jesus at an earlier point in the narrative.

                Also, upon your mention of the disciples failing miserably in their understanding, I’m reminded of Jesus actually laughing at the disciples in the Sethian gnosticGospel of Judas for their ignorance, which included traditional apostolic authority and atonement theology.

                “Okay — your comment is leading me down other pathways now — what it brings to mind are the indications Mark’s Jesus is preparing “Christians” to be whole and capable apart from the ongoing need for his presence.”

                and

                “I can’t say Mark is gnostic (but it might originally have been, since it was attributed to the camp of Basilides at some point), but one of the themes of gospels such as that of Thomas the Twin was to teach the faithful to become one with Jesus, like Jesus, even above Jesus. Was Mark teaching something like that?”

                It’s times like this that I wonder about other possible versions of Mark, but we have to work with what we have and see what possibilities there are beyond the theological confines of a particular canon of literature. And you offer several excellent points that lead one to consider this possibility of at least hints of similar themes with some gnostics.

                Gnostics were very interested in cosmogony, where they were from, where they had been, and how they were to return to the Source. Jesus was a means to an end (beginning) on a person’s inner journey, recognition of an inner divine spark, while traversing back up through emanations.

                Jesus does tell Bartimaeus to “go”, that he is healed. Again, that nod to Plato might work here if awakening involved this kind of a soul’s ascent toward higher and higher abstractions.

                Also one might consider whether the various healings in Mark could represent different stages of this progress, as there becomes less and less reliance on direct intervention from Jesus.

                So, yes, I for one, would be very interested in another post topic of yours to see what’s on your mind.

              2. I have been overlooking the obvious that you and others have been trying to get through to me. It is the fact that Mark chooses to “translate” or explain the meaning of the name Bartimaeus that draws the reader’s attention to Timaeus. Is this son of Timaeus brought in to function as another herald for Jesus as he leaves on his final stage of his journey to Jerusalem. John the Baptist heralded Jesus at first to the multitudes, but now the multitudes are with Jesus, and Jesus is no longer ordering his identity to be suppressed as he had always done before. The moment has arrived and it is heralded by the son of Timaeus.

                (This is all hypothesis on hypothesis, but it’s only a “comment box” so indulge me.)

                But when the son of Timaeus (an echo of John the Baptist — another name mythologist Joseph Campbell found curiously coincidental with the water god Oannes) declares the identity of Jesus, it is the blind followers of Jesus who tell him to be quiet this time!

                If Mark is loaded with those “mystery” paradoxes and plays on double meanings (to live you must die; to be filled you must go without; to be clothed you must first become naked, etc) in narrative form, then is Jesus the Son of David yet not the Son of David — that is, Son of David in a mystic sense, not physical. Peter was called Satan and no different from the demons for finally recognizing Jesus to be the Christ. For Peter the Christ meant the physical world conquering Davidic like king; for Jesus he is the spirit king who is the lowest and despised in this world.

                He is the Christ but not the Christ according to the understanding of Peter; he has come to bring life but only to those who are prepared to lose it; he is the Son of David but not the physical descendant of an earthly king, but the pious one who is destined to cry out for deliverance from his enemies and death as in the Psalms, and who will thereby be exalted to sit beside God’s throne in heaven.

                We know Mark writes in doublets. Two wayside callings of disciples; two synagogue healings; two deaths (John’s and his own); two entries to Capernaum; two synagogue miracles; two feedings of multitudes; two men sitting clothed among tombs; two resurrections that no-one but an elect chosen was able to know – his own and the little girls . . .) so also we see here two heralds of Jesus as he is coming to/into Jerusalem: both hailing him for his Davidic connection. The irony is that it is only the elect (wink wink to the readers) who really understand what all this means.

                The overarching theme of Timaeus is the duality of the cosmos: there is the spirit eternal and “real” world beyond this degenerate physical copy of that higher plane. In this sense the name Timaeus might speculatively be seen as an apt choice for a blind herald to call out in the hearing of the spiritually blind the “real/higher” identity of Jesus.

                Am I sensing that I’m tilting a little closer to the views expressed in the comments here after all?

  3. Neil, I think you have a very workable exegesis here. 🙂 Good catch on the blind followers of Jesus telling the “blind” Bartimaeus to be quiet, and also on the heralds of Jesus as he comes into Jerusalem, “those who went ahead and those who followed.”

    But especially important —

    The overarching theme of Timaeus is the duality of the cosmos: there is the spirit eternal and “real” world beyond this degenerate physical copy of that higher plane. In this sense the name Timaeus might speculatively be seen as an apt choice for a blind herald to call out in the hearing of the spiritually blind the “real/higher” identity of Jesus.

    There are those who might argue Platonist monism vs. dualism, and that would give me a headache. But for practical purposes, yes, there is the incorruptible, unchanging spiritual realm and then our physical world as a corruptible, changing copy.

    Of course, Plato (through Timaeus) sees it as all good, even our imperfect world. Some later theologians would not see our physical world as good, and philosophers and theologians alike had variations on Plato’s theme.

    Neil, when it comes to what you describe as the “central message of the Gospel itself: Resurrection from Death, and Seeing or Understanding the meaning and reality of this,” there could be legitimate theological speculation as to whether death and resurrection refer to actual, physical occurrences or rather death to ignorance and resurrection or remembrance of spiritual origins during this lifetime, as understood through images of our world… or both or something else.

    When considering this extant version of Mark, how much can we read into it from these philosophical and theological variants on Plato, such as a later more distinctive One above the demiurge or a world that is evil and so on?

    If we can find a genuine influence of Plato within Mark, then we can get into the mindset of the intellectual idealist, thoughtfully explore possibilities, and not miss out on all the “wink wink”s in Mark.

    I’m looking at the introduction to Mark in an old copy of the NRSV Bible, which begins:

    The early church father agreed that Mark’s Gospel reproduces the preaching of Peter. Peter’s personality can be found on almost every page,…

    Do we agree with those church fathers? We need to ask.

    1. Regarding the message being more spiritual/subtle than physical healings and resurrections, my response would be Yes! Definitely! This is Mark’s manner throughout. Healing the physically blind is a sign of healing the soul so it can know Christ (become Christ’s brethren and equals?? but we can’t go that far from the text.)

      Mark gets close to spelling it all out explicitly in Mark 8, but not quite. He is still in control of his narrative:

      [15] And he charged them, saying, Take heed, beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, and of the leaven of Herod.
      [16] And they reasoned among themselves, saying, It is because we have no bread.
      [17] And when Jesus knew it, he saith unto them, Why reason ye, because ye have no bread? perceive ye not yet, neither understand? have ye your heart yet hardened?
      [18] Having eyes, see ye not? and having ears, hear ye not? and do ye not remember?

      But Matthew is ever the master of the blunt instrument, and he never lets go of a chance to spell out the distinction between the physical and the spiritual, as in the way he re-wrote the above of Mark in Matthew 16:

      [11] How is it that ye do not understand that I spake it not to you concerning bread, that ye should beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees?
      [12] Then understood they how that he bade them not beware of the leaven of bread, but of the doctrine of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees.

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