This post will be a companion piece to my earlier The Twelve Disciples: their names, name-meanings, associations, etc. That post was based on the thoughts of Dale and Patricia Miller, Robert M. Price and Albert Ehrman. This post draws on both the scholarship and imagination of Paul Nadim Tarazi in his book on Paul and Mark. (Some of his arguments or flights of fancy are, let’s say, “not strong”, and I have ignored the most obvious of those. Some readers may think most of the ones I have included are “not strong” either. I am not fighting to the death over them. I am presenting them as potentially thought-provoking.) Many of the place-name meanings are direct from standard reference works such as collated on NETBible’s Dictionary. I also include a throw-back to an argument by Roy Kotansky.
Peter and Andrew Casting a Net or Doubtful and Vacillating?
Jesus is walking along by the sea when he notices Simon Peter and Andrew “amphiballontas in the sea” (1:16).
The Greek word literally means “to throw around” and is frequently used in reference to nets. Here it is used in connection with the sea, so it is usually translated “casting a net”. But the word “net” does not appear in the text.
The omission of “net” is not to be ignored, for the verb amphiballo without an object also carries the meaning “to vacillate/to be doubtful,” which would make it a particularly apt allusion to the apostles’ behavior . . . .
Peter has become proverbial as the wavering disciple.
Simon and Judas Linked
The name Simon appears twice in the list of Twelve Disciples.
The second appearance of Simon is linked with Kananaios, “which means the zealot in Aramaic and alludes to the party of those who were stirring up Judea and Jerusalem to rise in armed revolt against Rome.” (p. 154)
Judah (Judas) “as directly as possible refers to the Jews of Judea.” His surname, Iskarioth, is “an Aramaic transliteration of the Latin sicarius, meaning one carrying a sica (sword), and thus corresponds to Kananaios.”
Tarazi thus sees the linking of Simon (Peter) and Judas as intentional, but his rationale is based on linking Peter’s activity as found in Paul’s letter to the Galatians, and I find this all too thin to hold.
But I note the bracketing of the list of Twelve with the names Simon and Judas, and their respective roles in the undoing of Jesus at the end. Simon Peter denies Jesus before men, thus earning the shame of Jesus when he returns, and deserts him; Judas betrays Jesus. Peter, the leader and first mentioned, is also like the “rocky soil” from which seed quickly sprouts but then withers when the going gets tough. I suspect that Mark has Simon and Judas as the first and last names in the Twelve to point to the culpability of all Twelve. Peter is no better than Judas. Some have argued he is worse for his outright denial of Jesus contrary to the explicit warning of Jesus.
I have also seen interesting discussions linking the Simon, John and Judah of the Gospels with their namesakes in Josephus, and their roles in the Jewish rebellion and war against Rome. Tarazi’s linking of Simon with Judah here in this way (Canaanite zealots and sword-assassins) takes on another interesting possibility in this context. But this is not something I can discuss in any orderly manner because the evidence is more suggestive and intriguing than definitive and cut and dried.
Mother-in-law with a fever
and the mother-in-law of Simon was lying fevered, and immediately they tell him about her, and having come near, he raised her up, having laid hold of her hand, and the fever left her immediately, and she was ministering to them.
Tarazi asks why it was “the mother in law” of Peter who was sick with a fever. He answers:
The reason is that in Aramaic as well as in Hebrew there is association between hamah (mother-in-law) and hommah (fever); this is a play on words suggesting that Simon’s household is not just coincidentally sick but fundamentally so . . . (p. 144)
I suspect Casey has overlooked this particular Aramaic-behind-the-Greek possibility because it testifies to literary fabrication and a characterization of Peter that is diametrically opposite of the pious one Casey ascribes him. The point of Casey’s Aramaic argument is to bring us closer to “the historical Jesus” – not a literary fabrication.
The Greek Iairos is a transliteration of the Hebrew verb ya’ir meaning “he enlightens/sheds light,” which is a reference to the mission of the Jews toward the Gentiles who are considered to abide in darkness . . . (p. 166)
It also means “he awakens” and has been associated with the metaphor of “sleep” for death that Jesus speaks of in connection with his miracle of raising Jairus’s daughter from the dead.
Joses, brother of Jesus
I have always assumed that Joses is a variant of Joseph. But Tarazi writes that it is not a name at all:
While the name is not attested to even in the LXX . . .
Ioseph is a very well known name; the hearer will immediately think of Joseph without the connotation of anything else. But when he hears an unusual name (actually, the name doesn’t exist as a name) his attention is drawn to something else. . . . (p. 168)
So what does the Greek hearer have his attention drawn to?
Ioseph is undeclinable, whereas Ioses is declined into iosetos, which draws the attention in the direction of a Greek word.
And what is that Greek word?
it is cast in a way that brings to mind the Greek noun ios meaning “poison/venom.”
Matthew thought it fit to change the name to Joseph.
We have seen negative associations with the other names of Jesus’ brothers — Simon (rocky soil, associations with Judas), Judas, James (associated with hirelings). If Joses reminds readers of poison, we can’t go much deeper into the pits of negativity.
Simon of Cyrene, father of Rufus and Alexander
Simon echoes Simon Peter not only in name but also in function as Jesus’ cross-carrier. Jesus had earlier admonished Peter to take up his cross and follow him. Peter failed, but another Simon was dragooned for the task.
As for “Cyrene”,
The Greek Kyrenaios resembles the Hebrew qeren (horn), a word that can connote “power” (in leadership), especially the power of the king as God’s messiah. . . . The play on the consonants k-r-n [the Hebrew has no consonants, and Greek uses “k” in place of “q”] is repeated in v.22 where Golgotha is explicitly translated as “the place of the skull” (kraniou topos) where the crucifixion takes place. (p. 227)
As for Simon’s sons, Tarazi writes:
The names of Simon’s sons, Alexander and Rufus (Rouphos), may also have symbolic significance. The first is the name of the founder of Hellenism and the second a rendering of the common Latin — and thus Roman — name Rufus. The choice of Rufus may have had to do with the fact that its Greek counterpart begins with Ro, the first two letters of Rome.
I have often wondered at the combination of a set of Jewish, Greek and Roman names here. Rufus also features as a military commander directly involved in the final destruction of Jerusalem and its temple. Is this some cipher for the gentiles being “fathered” by the Jewish religion? But I will not argue for anything like this unless and until I find some evidence to run with. Till then it is not much more than curious shapes in the clouds. They may break up completely at any time.
Joseph of Arimathea
It was Preparation Day (that is, the day before the Sabbath). So as evening approached, Joseph of Arimathea, a prominent member of the Council, who was himself waiting for the kingdom of God, went boldly to Pilate and asked for Jesus’ body.
Pilate was surprised to hear that he was already dead. Summoning the centurion, he asked him if Jesus had already died. When he learned from the centurion that it was so, he gave the body to Joseph.
So Joseph bought some linen cloth, took down the body, wrapped it in the linen, and placed it in a tomb cut out of rock. Then he rolled a stone against the entrance of the tomb. Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joseph saw where he was laid.
The surname, Harimathaia in Greek, offers few clues. It may have derived from the Hebrew har-rimmat(h)aimi (mount of decay), in which case it would prepare for the subsequent play on the words “corpse” (ptoma) and “body” (soma). (p. 230)
Tarazi does not see this Joseph as a positive character in the Gospel of Mark. His role is to “take Jesus down from the cross” and bury him. This is not the act of faith, but the act of ignorance of the teaching of Jesus who said that he would rise from the dead.
Tarazi argues that Salome represents Jerusalem, or more specifically Jerusalem’s Temple.
“[N]otice the similarity in consonants between this woman’s name on the one hand, and those of Salem, Jerusalem’s original appellation, and Solomon, the temple’s builder, on the other.” (p. 234)
Tarazi finds support for this conjecture in the dropping of Salome’s name when the women are placed against the setting of the rock tomb. This rock tomb “carries the same symbolic meaning.” (p. 234)
Larry Hurtado was the first, I think, to notice Mark’s “midrashic” association of the “hewn out rock tomb” of Jesus with the “tomb carved out of a rock” in Isaiah 22:16, which there stands as a metaphor for the doomed Temple of Jerusalem.
(I have suggested that Mark was hinting at the tomb and resurrection conclusion when he created the story of the healing of the paralytic — and one flag for this is the way the four friends of the paralytic “dug out” the roof in order to lower the paralytic into the house from which he would be “raised up”. See my notes on chapter 2 in the “bookends” table at vridar.info.)
Other names such as Bartimaeus and Barabbas have been covered in the earlier post.
Sea of Galilee
Galilee is not a “sea” and was known more accurately as a “lake”. But “sea” synchronizes with the other allusions in Mark’s Gospel to Isaiah and the image of the Gentiles being “by the sea”.
Not so much from Tarazi, but a few of many hits from a simple word search on the KJV of Isaiah:
Nevertheless the dimness shall not be such as was in her vexation, when at the first he lightly afflicted the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, and afterward did more grievously afflict her by the way of the sea, beyond Jordan, in Galilee of the nations. (Isa. 9:1) — is that Zebulun by the sea there? Does that bring to mind any name listed above?
Sing unto the LORD a new song, and his praise from the end of the earth, ye that go down to the sea . . . . (Isa. 42:10)
Thus saith the LORD, which maketh a way in the sea, and a path in the mighty waters (Isa. 43:16)
the abundance of the sea shall be converted unto thee, the forces of the Gentiles shall come unto thee. (Isa. 60:5)
Where Jesus has his house and where he works many of his miracles: means “village of grace” (Tarazi).
Also “village of comfort” — compare again the Isaiah references to God “comforting” his people, as in Isa. 40:1.
Bethany and Bethphage
One meaning listed for Bethany is “House of Misery”; Bethphage is “House of (Unripe) Figs”. These were associated with Jesus when he came to Jerusalem. It was in Bethany that he stayed, and where he was anointed for burial and where Judas resolved to betray him. Bethphage is also the area where Jesus cursed the unfruitful fig-tree.
House of Fish. This was the place to which Jesus had directed his disciples, whom he called to be fishers of men, to sail.
Gardarenes and Decapolis
This was where Jesus cast out “the demon” named Legion, so that 6000 demons leapt out and jumped into pigs to act like lemmings are said to do. The area was also a place of tombs. So we have a legion of pagan associations: Roman armies, unclean areas, pigs, — and Decapolis itself (ten defensive city-forts built by the Romans).
Kotansky gives us an additional significance — one for Gardarenes itself. See Jesus and Heracles for details. Gadeira represented the end of the world (Gibraltar region). Plato links the area to a place — Atlantis — divided into ten regions. (He was very likely drawing a comparison with the ten tribal districts of Athens, but is there significance that Mark has associated a similar sounding place with “Decapolis”?)
I have discussed the symbolic significance of this area around Mount Hermon in earlier posts beginning with this one on the Enoch tradition. It was the place where heaven and earth met, or at least where angels descended to earth.
Mount of Olives
“The place of God’s final appearance according to Zechariah (14:16-17) . . . “
Also the place of David’s “Passion” and prayer to God when fleeing for his life from Absalom.
32 And they come to a spot, the name of which [is] Gethsemane, and he saith to his disciples, `Sit ye here till I may pray;’
33 and he taketh Peter, and James, and John with him, and began to be amazed, and to be very heavy,
34 and he saith to them, `Exceeding sorrowful is my soul — to death; remain here, and watch.’
35 And having gone forward a little, he fell upon the earth, and was praying, that, if it be possible the hour may pass from him,
36 and he said, `Abba, Father; all things are possible to Thee; make this cup pass from me; but, not what I will, but what Thou.’
37 And he cometh, and findeth them sleeping, and saith to Peter, `Simon, thou dost sleep! thou wast not able to watch one hour!
38 Watch ye and pray, that ye may not enter into temptation; the spirit indeed is forward, but the flesh weak.’
39 And again having gone away, he prayed, the same word saying;
40 and having returned, he found them again sleeping, for their eyes were heavy, and they had not known what they might answer him.
41 And he cometh the third time, and saith to them, `Sleep on henceforth, and rest — it is over; the hour did come; lo, the Son of Man is delivered up to the hands of the sinful;
42 rise, we may go, lo, he who is delivering me up hath come nigh.’
Tarazi sees this as “another version of the parable of the vineyard and the tenants. Mark 12:1-12:
1 And he began to speak to them in similes: `A man planted a vineyard, and put a hedge around, and digged an under-winevat, and built a tower, and gave it out to husbandmen, and went abroad;
2 and he sent unto the husbandmen at the due time a servant, that from the husbandmen he may receive from the fruit of the vineyard,
3 and they, having taken him, did severely beat [him], and did send him away empty.
4 `And again he sent unto them another servant, and at that one having cast stones, they wounded [him] in the head, and sent away — dishonoured.
5 `And again he sent another, and that one they killed; and many others, some beating, and some killing.
6 `Having yet therefore one son — his beloved — he sent also him unto them last, saying — They will reverence my son;
7 and those husbandmen said among themselves — This is the heir, come, we may kill him, and ours shall be the inheritance;
8 and having taken him, they did kill, and cast [him] forth without the vineyard.
9 `What therefore shall the lord of the vineyard do? he will come and destroy the husbandmen, and will give the vineyard to others.
10 And this Writing did ye not read: A stone that the builders rejected, it did become the head of a corner:
11 from the Lord was this, and it is wonderful in our eyes.’
12 And they were seeking to lay hold on him, and they feared the multitude, for they knew that against them he spake the simile, and having left him, they went away;
The original version of the parable is in Isaiah 5:1-6
1 Let me sing, I pray you, for my beloved, A song of my beloved as to his vineyard: My beloved hath a vineyard in a fruitful hill [=šamen],
2 And he fenceth it, and casteth out its stones, And planteth it [with] a choice vine, And buildeth a tower in its midst, And also a wine press hath hewn out in it, And he waiteth for the yielding of grapes, And it yieldeth bad ones!
3 And now, O inhabitant of Jerusalem, and man of Judah, Judge, I pray you, between me and my vineyard.
4 What — to do still to my vineyard, That I have not done in it! Wherefore, I waited to the yielding of grapes, And it yieldeth bad ones!
5 And now, pray, let me cause you to know, That which I am doing to my vineyard, To turn aside its hedge, And it hath been for consumption, To break down its wall, And it hath been for a treading-place.
6 And I make it a waste, It is not pruned, nor arranged, And gone up have brier and thorn, And on the thick clouds I lay a charge, From raining upon it rain.
The name Gethsemane is a Hebrew/Aramaic combination of gat (winepress) and šamen (fat, plenteous, fertile). The latter appears in Isaiah 5, but gat is only found in Isaiah 63:2 and Joel 3:13 in connection with God’s final judgment on sinners before establishing his kingdom.
In Isaiah it is part of a long text (63:1-66:17) following a passage about the eschatological Jerusalem (ch.62) and the preceding one about God’s final kingdom (66:18-24). The middle section containing the word gat is similar to Mk 14:32-42 in two other ways: the speaker in it recounts his abandonment by those who should have been his friends, and the prayer in it addresses God as “Father” . . . (pp. 218-9)
To single out the key passages:
Wherefore art thou red in thine apparel, and thy garments like him that treadeth in the winefat? (= gat) (63:2)
I have trodden the winepress alone; and of the people there was none with me (63:3)
And I looked, and there was none to help; and I wondered that there was none to uphold: therefore mine own arm brought salvation unto me (63:5)
thou art our father, though Abraham be ignorant of us, and Israel acknowledge us not: thou, O LORD, art our father, our redeemer (63:16)
But now, O LORD, thou art our father; we are the clay, and thou our potter; and we all are the work of thy hand. (64:8)
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