Why Matthew changed the way Mark wrote about Jairus’ daughter and the hemorrhaging woman

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by Neil Godfrey

(Edited with additional headings and discussion of the different kinds of Jesus portrayed - an hour after original posting.)
(Again edited 8 Dec 2011)
Ressurection of Jairus' daughter
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As someone rightfully said in relation to my earlier post on this theme, Matthew’s “Misunderstanding” of Mark’s Miracle Stories,

It’s interesting what you can discover when you closely compare the two. Nothing beats a close reading of the texts.

In the discussion following a recent post the question was raised why Matthew lacks Mark’s reference to Jairus being a synagogue ruler. (He also omits the name Jairus).

I don’t know if I have a definitive answer to that particular question, but in searching for possible explanations I did notice a number of other interesting differences between the two miracle narratives that indicate quite different agendas of the two authors. One detects not an interest in recording historical detail but in creating a Jesus who fulfils certain quite different expectations and narrative functions. (This is a tendency well known to historical Jesus scholars. But the implication for historicism or mythicism is a separate question from what I am addressing here. I am interested in understanding the nature of the Gospels more fully, in this instance by comparing the way two of them treat a particular narrative.)

The first thing Matthew appears to do is remove all of Mark’s implicit ambiguity over whether Jairus’s daughter was really dead or had only just appeared to die and was still recoverable. Matthew removes all doubt. Jairus’s daughter was dead. So when Jesus performed a miracle there was no doubt it was a genuine miracle. When Matthew does fit in one reference to “sleeping” it is much more evident that Jesus is speaking metaphorically.

Further, when Jesus is on his way to raise the young girl, the two evangelists portray a very different Jesus. Mark’s Jesus is confused when he feels power drain from him as a woman touched his garment to be healed and has to ask who touched him. Matthew’s Jesus is in full control at all times.

A number of scholars have thought Mark’s attribution of Aramaic words to Jesus in order to command the girl to rise is consistent with popular storytelling techniques that include strange-sounding words to convey the impression of a special formula to perform miracles. If Matthew understood Mark’s Aramaic phrase in the same way then we may have a reason for him to omit it. Matthew’s Jesus is not to be associated with ritual formulas or anything approaching them because he heals with power in an instant.

As for the removal of the synagogue reference by Matthew, I have suggested some possible explanations in the table below. One difference between Mark’s and Matthew’s gospels is Mark’s emphasis on the distinction between the Jewish and Gentile regions that Jesus crisscrosses between, usually across the lake (or “sea”). But Matthew’s Jesus stresses to his disciples that they must confine their ministry to the land of Israel. In Mark, the synagogue reference appeared to have served to emphasize the Jewishness of the area where Jesus was after returning from a gentile area associated with things unclean: pigs and tombs. (The details are discussed in my post The Story of Jesus: History or Theology? Did Matthew wish to remove any suggestion that Jesus was alternating between the two peoples in his early ministry?

Even if so, that does not really seem adequate to me to explain a removal of the reference to the synagogue in this scene. Perhaps Matthew simply wanted to remove any association of uncleanness with synagogues. The synagogue ruler is housing a corpse, after all, and on his way Jesus and the crowd are interrupted by a bleeding woman.

In support of this latter suggestion is Matthew’s removal altogether of Mark’s story of the demon in the synagogue at Capernaum. (That this is a deliberate choice by Mathew and not an oversight is supported by Matthew’s maintaining the same number of total exorcisms as Mark by doubling the number of Gadarene demoniacs. See the miracle patterns set out at textexcavation.)

One consequence of this is that Matthew enhances the drama of the scene of the father of the young girl worshiping Jesus. The man is a “ruler” who worships Jesus, thus enhancing again the status of Jesus. Mark’s Jairus did not worship Jesus but fell at his feet begging instead.

Mark Matthew Comment
22And, behold, there cometh one of the rulers of the synagogue, 18While he spake these things unto them, behold, there came a certain ruler An anachronism is removed (Palestinian synagogues only had one rule); Mark’s ongoing demarcation between Jewish and Gentile areas of ministry (in this case the Jewish area is indicated by the synagogue) is removed; Matthew is consistent in removing references or scenes in Mark that associate synagogues with uncleanness, whether from demons, blood or a corpse.
Jairus by name; symbolic name (Jairus means “wakens”) related to sleep rather than death is removed
and when he saw him, he fell at his feet, 23And besought him greatly, saying, My little daughter lieth at the point of death: I pray thee, come and lay thy hands on her, that she may be healed; and she shall live. , and worshipped him, saying, My daughter is even now dead: but come and lay thy hand upon her, and she shall live. Falling at Jesus’ feet (begging) is replaced by worship, and the act is made more notable by a “ruler” worshiping Jesus; Near-death is replaced by death.
24And Jesus went with him; and much people followed him, and thronged him. 19And Jesus arose, and followed him, and so did his disciples.
25And a certain woman, which had an issue of blood twelve years, 26And had suffered many things of many physicians, and had spent all that she had, and was nothing bettered, but rather grew worse, 27When she had heard of Jesus, came in the press behind, and touched his garment. 20And, behold, a woman, which was diseased with an issue of blood twelve years, came behind him, and touched the hem of his garment: Mark’s superfluous rambling comments attacking the doctors are removed.
28For she said, If I may touch but his clothes, I shall be whole. 21For she said within herself, If I may but touch his garment, I shall be whole.
29And straightway the fountain of her blood was dried up; and she felt in her body that she was healed of that plague. The suggestion that the woman healed herself by touching Jesus who knew nothing of it is removed.
30And Jesus, immediately knowing in himself that virtue had gone out of him, turned him about in the press, and said, Who touched my clothes? Any suggestion that Jesus did not know what had happened to him is removed. Any suggestion that someone could manipulate the power of Jesus (unknowingly to Jesus) is removed.
31And his disciples said unto him, Thou seest the multitude thronging thee, and sayest thou, Who touched me?
32And he looked round about to see her that had done this thing. 33But the woman fearing and trembling, knowing what was done in her, came and fell down before him, and told him all the truth. 34And he said unto her, Daughter, thy faith hath made thee whole; go in peace, and be whole of thy plague. 22But Jesus turned him about, and when he saw her, he said, Daughter, be of good comfort; thy faith hath made thee whole. And the woman was made whole from that hour. The woman is only healed when Jesus himself declared her healed.
35While he yet spake, there came from the ruler of the synagogue’s house certain which said, Thy daughter is dead: why troublest thou the Master any further? Ambiguities about the dead status of the girl are removed. Mark was adhering closely to his source in 2 Kings that had this second message arriving to meet Elisha on his way to raise the boy, and Matthew is removed from that source and more able to streamline the narrative.
36As soon as Jesus heard the word that was spoken, he saith unto the ruler of the synagogue, Be not afraid, only believe. In Matthew Jesus’ ability to perform miracles does not depend (as in Mark) on the faith of others.
37And he suffered no man to follow him, save Peter, and James, and John the brother of James. Mark’s preparation to make the miracle a secret is removed.
38And he cometh to the house of the ruler of the synagogue, and seeth the tumult, and them that wept and wailed greatly. 23And when Jesus came into the ruler’s house, and saw the minstrels and the people making a noise,
39And when he was come in, he saith unto them, Why make ye this ado, and weep? the damsel is not dead, but sleepeth. 40And they laughed him to scorn . . . 24He said unto them, Give place: for the maid is not dead, but sleepeth. And they laughed him to scorn.
. . . But when he had put them all out, he taketh the father and the mother of the damsel, and them that were with him, and entereth in where the damsel was lying. 41And he took the damsel by the hand, and said unto her, Talitha cumi; which is, being interpreted, Damsel, I say unto thee, arise. 42And straightway the damsel arose, and walked; for she was of the age of twelve years. And they were astonished with a great astonishment. 25But when the people were put forth, he went in, and took her by the hand, and the maid arose. Any possible suggestion that Jesus’ used special words or chant to heal is removed. Jesus is all-powerful (without any effort or need for formulas) and merely touches one to raise her from the dead. The age of the daughter is also omitted thus removing an overkill on the symbolic use of this number — compare the removal of the symbolic name Jairus. (Added 8th Dec. 2011)
43And he charged them straitly that no man should know it; and commanded that something should be given her to eat. 26And the fame hereof went abroad into all that land. Mark’s secrecy theme is replaced by Jesus fame being declared openly far and wide.
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12 thoughts on “Why Matthew changed the way Mark wrote about Jairus’ daughter and the hemorrhaging woman”

  1. As (I think it was) Robert Price pointed out, Mark having Jesus charge the family that no one should know of the miraculous event could make for a pretty funny post-resurrection scene. Mum and dad are going to have to do some pretty fancy talking when the wailing tumult peek through the window and see the girl sitting up at the breakfast bar.

    1. What a hilarious observation by Prof. Price. (His webcast, the Bible Geek, is fantastic. Could it have been the source?) Less amusingly, he has also pointed out that the intent of feeding the girl might have been to prove she was not a ghost.

  2. So, Jesus was followed around in Galilee by Mary Magdalene, and then he fled across the Sea of Galilee in order to evade a family obligation to help bury his own father. Ironically, Jesus disembarked on the south-eastern shore at a place called Magdala Gadar (called Gadarenes by Matthew).

    Then out from the tomb area to greet Jesus came one male demoniac (according to Luke) or two gender-unspecified demoniacs (according to Matthew). (Matthew 8:28; Luke 8:27). I presume that the original story was that one male demoniac and one female demoniac came out to greet Jesus — and that the female demoniac was Mary Magdalene. The story had begun by identifying Mary Magdalene as a female demoniac from whom Jesus already had cast out seven demons, and the story had continued by bringing Jesus to a place called Magdala, which would be the hometown of a person named Mary Magdalene.

    Apparently, Mary Magdalene had sailed across the Sea of Galilee before Jesus had done so, or else they had sailed together and then Mary Magdalene had preceded Jesus to the tomb area. Now as Jesus approached the tomb area, Mary Magdale and her fellow demoniac came out from the tomb area to greet Jesus.

    We can deduce that the normal money-earning occupation of these two demoniacs — of the male demoniac and of Mary Magdalene — was to help people in the burial of corpses. The two demoniacs did any tasks that involved touching the corpses — tasks that made the touchers unclean. For example, the two demoniacs would smear spices and perfumed oils onto the corpses when the corpses were being placed into tombs. Since the tombs at Magdala were a major burial place, the two demoniacs remained chronically unclean.

    So, then Jesus cast the demons out of one or two of the demoniacs and into a herd of swine, which then jumped into the Sea of Galilee and drowned. If demons were cast out of two demoniacs (according to Matthew), then that meant that Mary Magdalene still was possessed by a few (five?) demons even after Jesus had cast seven demons out of her on a previous occasion. If, however, demons were cast out of only one demoniac (according to Luke), then that meant that Mary Magdalene was not freed from any demons on this occasion — perhaps because Jesus already had cast out all her demons in Galilee (but she was “once a demoniac, always a demoniac”) or perhaps because some demons remained in her even though all the man’s demons were cast out

    In any case, the cast-out demons flew into a herd of swine, which then ran down a steep bank into the Sea of Galilee, where they drowned. This swine element of the story resonates with the story of an annual harvest festival, called Thesmophoria, that the ancient Greeks celebrated every year, in about mid-October. This festival commemorated a mythical story in which the God Pluto abducted the Goddess Persephone down into the underworld. During this abduction, a swineherd named Eubouleus happened to be herding some swine nearby, and those swine fell down into the same crevice that Pluton used as his route to take Persephone down into the underworld.

    A major part of the Thesmophoria celebration was that a group of women would take a dead pig down into a crevice. They would leave their new dead pig at the crevice bottom, and then pick up the rotten carcass of last year’s pig and take that rotten carcass back up to the earth’s surface. There, the women would tear up the carcass and mix it with grain and burn the mixture in a fertility ritual.

    I speculate that Mary Magdalene was a Greek-culture native of Magdala Gadar who worked as a corpse-cleaner in her local tomb area and that perhaps she also during every year’s Thesmophoria festival did the “unclean” jobs of carrying the new dead pig down to the bottom of the crevice and also carrying the the old, rotted pig up from the bottom of the crevice.

    When Jesus cast the demons out of the two demoniacs at the tomb area, then perhaps at least one of those demons had possessed Mary Magdalene because of her annual carrying of dead pigs during the Thesmophoria festival. It would be a fitting fate if that demon, along with all the rest of the demons, were cast into a herd of swine that then ran down a steep bank into the Sea of Galilee, where they drowned.

    … to be continued …

  3. The raising of the dead girl is a double miracle, something most commentators seem to have missed,
    Jesus ,if he was merely an ordinary prophet, should not have been able to do second miracle cure, since he had been rendered unclean by known physical contact with woman in niddah when he did first cure.
    He should have undergone purification to regain clean status. By being able to do second miracle without first having purified himself, Jesus was demonstrating that he was not bound by usual rules of purity, making him above or beyond the Law.
    By rights , the ruler of synagogue should have shunned Jesus once Jesus had been de-purified by direct contact with unclean woman, rather than continuing to importune him for a cure for his daughter.
    Matthew made the man a “certain ruler” implying he could be a gentile ignorant of purity laws, and therefore not bothered by fact Jesus had been in contact with menstrual contamination. What is particularly bothersome is that Jesus spread the contamination through physical contact with the daughter.
    By not purifying himself after contact with the hemorrhaging woman, Jesus had become a vector of impurity was jeopardizing the ritual cleanliness and the spiritual health of an entire community…

  4. After Jesus spent some time on the Sea of Galilee’s east shore, at a place called Magdala Gadar (aka Gadarenes), where he cast out the demons from two demoniacs — from an unidentified man and from Mary Magdalene — and into a herd of swine, which ran down a steep bank and drowned in the Sea of Galilee, then Jesus sailed back across the Sea of Galilee to the western shore, to Galilee.

    Now let us recall that during the previous trip, from west shore to the east shore, there had been a sea storm that had terrified the disciples on the boat. The disciples feared that the Sea itself was rebuking Jesus for fleeing from a family obligation to help bury his father. Jesus had rebuked the disciples for their lack of faith in him, and Jesus had calmed the sea. In this situation, we might presume that perhaps Jesus had punished that stormy Sea by casting a lot of demons into a herd of swine and then drowning this big, unclean mess of demons and swine into the Sea of Galilee.

    Anyway, now Jesus has returned to Galilee, and the very next even (according to Luke) was that Jesus was approached by a synagogue official, Jairus, who reported that his twelve-year-old daughter was dying in another town. As Jesus began to walk toward that town, his garment was touched by a woman who had been suffering from chronic menstrual bleeding for twelve years, and this woman immediately was cured from that bleeding. Then immediately after that, without walking further, Jesus cured the girl in the other town. (Matthew 9:18-26; Luke 8:40-56).

    I speculate that the bleeding woman was Mary Magdalene, because she fits the circumstances again in this series of incidents that revolve around the theme of uncleanliness. Mary Magdalene was a caricature of an extremely unclean person — a Gentile woman who had been possessed by at least seven demons and who worked with corpses in a large, tomb area and who worked around a herd of swine and who had suffered from menstrual bleeding constantly for twelve years. Her uncleanliness was so extreme that it was ludicrous.

    When this super-unclean Mary Magdalene touched Jesus’ garment, then the automatic cleansing of her final uncleanliness was so powerful that the girl in the distant town was cleansed and healed simultaneously.

    And so, Jesus again was spared from the moral dilemma of having to contact any corpses. He had fled from his father’s burial, and then he had cast out demons in order to avoid contacting the corpse-cleaners at the tomb area, and now the touching of his garment had healed the distant, dying girl, before he had been able to walk to her home.

    I think that the original gospel story was perceived by its original audience as being humorous and even sacrilegious. The story has many over-the-top elements — Jesus being followed around persistently and over long distances by a super-unclean woman, Jesus avoiding his own father’s burial, the disciples fearing that Jesus was being threatened by the Sea of Galilee, the demoniacs at the tomb area, the demons being cast into a herd of swine that then ran down into the Sea of Galilee, where they drowned. It was a shaggy-dog story, and the final joke was that Jesus never did have to deal with the moral dilemma of whether he should touch a corpse — or even touch another person who had touched a corpse.

    To answer the initial question — why did Matthew not mention that Jairus worked as an official in a synagogue? — the answer was that the author of Matthew was very respectful to the Jewish religion, compared to the author of Luke. A major theme of Matthew is that Jesus fulfilled many Old Testament prophecies. Therefore Matthew softened the original story at various points. The idea that a synagogue official’s innocent, dying daughter was healed inadvertently when a super-unclean, rascal woman touched Jesus garment might have been perceived as disgusting or offensive to many Jews, and so Matthew omitted the superfluous detail that the dying girl’s father served as an official in a synagogue.

    Luke, because it was written essentially for Gentiles, was not motivated likewise to omit that detail.

  5. The New American Bible, the translation that I prefer, calls the father an “official”, not a “ruler”.

    I think Mark was written as a summary of Matthew and Luke, so I restate your question as “why does Luke identify the father as a ‘synagogue official’ and Matthew identify him only as an ‘official’?”

    My question assumes that Matthew and Luke based this Jairus story on a story in another common source (not on Mark). I think that the original story was primarily about Mary Magdalene and about the problem of uncleanliness being spread from one person to another by means of direct physical contact. This story was in the gospel genre, which was a story imagining what might happen if Jesus descended from the Firmament to Earth in order to console late converts who had not been able to experience personally a vision of Jesus on the Firmament.

    The original story began with Jesus traveling around in Galilee and being followed by Mary Magdalene and by several other women. All these women had been possessed by demons, but Jesus had cast the demons out. In particular, Jesus had cast seven demons out of Mary Magdalene. (Luke 8:1-3; Matthew 8:16-17)

    Then Jesus was informed that his father had died, and then Jesus avoided meeting with his own mother and brother because they wanted Jesus to help them bury his dead father’s body. (Matthew 8:21-22; Luke 8:19-21).

    Then Jesus and his disciples got into a boat and sailed from Galilee across the Sea of Galilee toward the eastern shore, which was an area populated and governed by Greek-speaking Gentiles. During this trip, a storm arises and terrifies the disciples in the boat. However, Jesus rebukes the disciples for their lack of faith in him, and he calms the storm. (Matthew 8:23-27; Luke 8:22-25).

    I speculate that the original story raised a dramatic situation, where it seemed that Jesus set sail across the Sea of Galilee in order to escape the moral dilemma of not helping to bury his dead father and that the disciples interpreted the storm as a divine rebuke against Jesus and his disciples for their failure to help bury the dead father.

    Then Jesus and his disciples disembarked on the eastern shore and went to a place called Gadarenes (or Gerasenes), where there were a lot of tombs. So, now the story surprises with the irony that Jesus has escaped from a burial obligation but has ended up at a burial place.

    There is a place on the south-east shore of the Sea of Galilee that is famous for its tombs, and that place in ancient times was called Magdala Gadar and at the present time is called Umm Qais. The Wikipedia article about Umm Qais
    remarks that Umm Quis is famous for its ancient tombs:

    The current and most widely-used name, Umm Qais, is Arabic for “Mother of Qais,” a modified pronunciation and spelling of the Roman name Caius. The ancient name Gadara appears to be Semitic. It is probably derived from the Hebrew gader (גדר), meaning “fence” or “border”. It is still heard in Jedūr, which is associated with the ancient rock tombs, with sarcophagi, to the east of the present ruins. These tombs are closed by carved stone doors, and are used as storehouses for grain, and also as dwellings by the inhabitants. The place is not mentioned till later times.

    The Catholic Encyclopedia‘s article about the location of Magdala, the hometown of Mary Magdalene,
    http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/09523a.htm ,
    remarks that the location well might be this same Magdala Gadar:

    The Talmud distinguishes between two Magdalas only. One was in the east, on the Yarmuk near Gadara (in the Middle Ages Jadar, now Mukes), thus acquiring the name of Magdala Gadar; as a much frequented watering place it was called Magdala Çeba ‘ayya (now El-Hammi, about two hours’ journey from the southern end of the lake to the east, near a railway station, Haifa-Dera‘a).

    … to be continued …

  6. I think that one of the two people who, on the day of Jesus’ resurrection, saw Jesus on the road to Emmaus was Mary Magdalene. One coherent story about Mary Magdalene on the day of the resurrection eventually was cut into fragments that were incorporated variously into three gospels — Matthew, Luke and John.

    According to The Gospel of Luke, Mary Magdalene and some other women came after the Sabbath, in the morning, to Jesus’ tomb in order to smear Jesus’ dead body with spices and perfumed oil. The women entered the tomb and found it empty, but two men dressed in dazzling garments appeared and told the women that Jesus had been raised from the dead.

    Then Mary Magdalene and the other women returned from the tomb “and announced all these things to the eleven and to all the others. The women were Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and Mary the mother of James” (24:9-10). The women’s story was not believed.

    “Now that very day, two of them were going to a village seven miles away from Jerusalem, called Emmaus, and they were conversing about all the things that had occurred” (24:13-14)

    In the context, the expression two of them might include Mary Magdalene, if the word them referred to all the people at the place where the women told their story. Furthermore, the expression might mean two of the women, and they were Mary Magdalene and Mary (the mother of James and the wife of Cleopas). Later in this story, the second Mary calls herself by her husband’s name, Cleopas.

    Mary Magdalene and the other Mary then met Jesus on the road to Emmaus and had a long conversation with him but did not recognize him until the very end of the conversation.

    According to The Gospel of Matthew, only two women went to the tomb — Mary Magdalene and “the other Mary” (28:1). In the context of the previous chapter, “the other Mary” seems to be “Mary the mother of James” (27:56).

    Anyway, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to the tomb, where they saw an angel in a white garment. This angel told them that Jesus had been raised from the dead. The two women went into the tomb and found it empty and then went to tell the disciples.

    After the two women ran to the disciples, “Jesus met them on their way and greeted them” (28:9). This nine-word sentence is Matthew‘s parallel story to Luke‘s story about the encounter on the road to Emmaus. Matthew tells the story in just nine words, and Luke tells the same story in 22 verses, in much more detail.

    According to The Gospel of John, Mary Magdalene found the tomb empty and rand and told the disciples. Then later hat same day, she had a conversation with Jesus but did not recognize him. This incident when Mary Magdalene had a long conversation with Jesus but did not recognize him is an element in the Emmaus story.

  7. “32And he looked round about to see her that had done this thing.”

    look at how nrsv translates verse 32

    30 Immediately aware that power had gone forth from him, Jesus turned about in the crowd and said, “Who touched my clothes?” 31 And his disciples said to him, “You see the crowd pressing in on you; how can you say, ‘Who touched me?’” 32 He looked all around to see who had done it.

    why has your translation IDENTIFIED who it was ? or is there a problem with my english?

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