An old (1973) article in the Journal of Biblical Literature by Robin Scroggs and Kent I. Groff make a case that the young man who fled naked from the scene of Jesus’ arrest in Gethsemane and the young man (reappearing?) in the tomb to announce Jesus’ resurrection were originally created as symbols of the baptism ritual for new converts to Christianity.
The young man having his linen cloak (σινδόν / sindon) snatched from him is substituted by Jesus who is entering into his “baptism” of suffering, death and burial — as depicted by Jesus himself being wrapped in a σινδόν/sindon for burial. The young man then reappears in the tomb, sitting on the right side, clothed in white like Jesus at the transfiguration. These narrative scenes find their meaning in the baptism ritual of early Christians: the initiate first removed his garment and entered the baptism naked and was then given a new robe to symbolize a new life in the resurrected Christ.
Scroggs and Groff dismiss the likelihood that the detail of the young man fleeing naked from Jesus’ arrest is a genuine historical report or an autobiographical detail by the author:
What is described makes no sense as an actual incident.
- Why were not others seized as well?
- Would it be likely that on an early spring night one would have on only one article of clothing?
- In and of itself it is a trivial scene, and the Marcan author clearly is not interested in reporting trivial scenes.
- It is incredible that the moment signaled by the narrative itself as most important, the loss of the garment, would have been considered an important historical fact by the framers of the tradition.
- No one today can take seriously the suggestion that the author of the Gospel was an eyewitness.
(p. 532, my formatting)
Nor do Scroggs and Groff see the interest in devising a scene to fulfil scripture in this instance as a sufficient explanation:
The possibility that Amos 2:16 and/or Gen 39:12 have contributed to Mark 14:51-52 cannot be denied. Even so, those passages cannot serve as sufficient explanations for the creation of the story. When Scripture is incorporated into the Marcan narrative, it usually serves to interpret an act of or about Jesus, on occasion the twelve disciples, but never an isolated instance about an unnamed person. In this interpretation, the pericope remains a trivial interruption of the Marcan narrative. (p. 532)
Scroggs and Groff begin their explanation of the young man fleeing naked with a study of the young man in the tomb at the end of the Gospel. Their intention is to demonstrate that the Gethsemane event is not so isolated from anything else in the narrative as is often thought.
The Youth (Νεανίσκος) as a representative of Christ
Though many readers assume the young man appearing in the tomb to announce Jesus’ resurrection to the women is an angel there is nothing in the Gospel to confirm this. Mark is quite capable of using the word “angel” when he speaks of angels. The authors of the article discuss other uses of νεανίσκος and conclude that it is never used to mean “angel” without some other explicitly clarifying statement.
Thus despite the nearly unanimous judgment of scholarship, there is absolutely nothing in the description of the one who announces the resurrection that compels the conclusion: he is an angelic being. Mark has, in effect, been interpreted out of Matthew and Luke. (p. 534)
So if the young man in white sitting in the tomb to greet the women is not an angel who else could he be? The most obvious answer is Jesus himself.
The only other white garments are those glorifying Jesus at his transfiguration (Mark 9:3). Was this transfiguration scene originally a depiction of the resurrection as many scholars have thought? (If so, that would explain the otherwise strange remark that the crowds who saw Jesus descending from that transfiguration mountain were “greatly amazed” (Mark 9:15).
It may be significant that the resurrected or heavenly Christ in other literature was sometimes imagined as a young man. E. Peterson’s has shown how frequent this youthful image of the exalted Jesus was:
- Acts of John 73, 76, 87, 88
- Acts of Thomas 27
- Acts of Andrew and Matthew 18, 33
- Acts of Paul 3:13, 28; 4:2
(I have been unable to locate translations — print or online — of the last two cited references to Jesus as a youth.)
Many no doubt will be surprised to find such late texts being used to interpret the Gospel of Mark. The authors of the article explain in a footnote:
The apocryphal acts are currently dated in the late second or early third century C.E. . . . Obviously great caution must be used in adducing evidence from these texts for first century materials. Nevertheless, in some instances, especially those connected with baptism, they may reflect much earlier tradition. In the present instance they at least show it was possible for Christians to use these words of the resurrected Jesus without embarrassment or any feeling that they did not show adequate respect for the Son of God. (p. 535)
Scroggs and Groff are using the above to soften up readers for their main argument, however.
What most directly suggests that the νεανίσκος has something to do with the resurrected Jesus, however, is the apparently most superfluous detail in the story. The young man is seen “sitting on the right side” . . . . As a topographical detail [and I would add body-posture detail] this is either meaningless or irrelevant. As a christological symbol, it would carry great significance, for it is the exalted Christ who is seated at the right side — in heaven before the Father. (p. 535)
Early Christianity was well acquainted with the opening line of Psalm 110 as a prophecy of Christ sitting at the right hand of God. More pertinently, the Gospel of Mark twice before this final scene depicts Jesus Christ sitting at the right hand. Mark 12:36 quotes the Psalm and Mark 14:62 portrays Jesus declaring that he will be the one sitting at the right hand of power.
This is very close to what the women in ch. 16 see. “They saw a young man sitting on the right side.” It is now widely held that many early Christians understood the resurrection of Jesus not in terms of appearance on earth, but rather as exaltation to heaven and enthronement there as the eschatological and cosmic ruler.
The authors of the article argue that the final scene is better described as a resurrection announcement scene than as an empty tomb scene. The resurrection meant the raising and exaltation of Jesus into heaven. Therefore,
If Mark is to portray the resurrection of Jesus, he must do it symbolically. (p. 536)
At the same time the young man is clearly not Jesus himself. He announces the resurrection of Jesus. There is no reason to think he is an angel, either.
To explain this ambiguity surrounding the young man in the tomb Scroggs and Groff explain early Christian baptismal imagery and practices.
Early Christian baptismal imagery and practices
A. Baptism as dying and rising with Christ.
Paul in Romans 6 shows us that there were early Christians who understood baptism’s immersion into water as symbolic of participating in the death of Jesus, and the emergence from the water as symbolic of participation (now or in the future) in the resurrected life of Christ.
The same symbolism is found in later epistles also: Colossians 2:11-12; Ephesians 2:5-6; 1 Peter 3:18-22. Only once does the same symbolism appear in the Synoptic Gospels and that is in Mark 10:38-39:
and Jesus said to them, `Ye have not known what ye ask; are ye able to drink of the cup that I drink of, and with the baptism that I am baptized with — to be baptized?’
And they said to him, `We are able;’ and Jesus said to them, `Of the cup indeed that I drink of, ye shall drink, and with the baptism that I am baptized with, ye shall be baptized
In Mark’s gospel it is clear that the “cup and baptism” that the disciples of Jesus must share with him is his suffering and death. (Cup is a well-recognized Old Testament symbol of suffering.)
Matthew 20:20-28 has significantly omitted Mark’s reference to baptism in the words of Jesus in this same episode. “Matthew seems to be opposed to this interpretation of baptism, perhaps as reflecting too much a pagan influence.” — footnote p. 537.
Thus there can scarcely be any doubt that Mark 10:38-39 makes oblique reference to the sacraments and that, furthermore, the baptism is seen as a dying in relation to the dying of Christ.
B. Baptism as a change of garments
The authors next argue that the composer of the Gospel of Mark knew of and was alluding to a practice of entering the baptismal water naked and being reclothed with new garments on rising out of the water.
For evidence of the early Christian practice of stripping off clothes to become ritually naked for baptism, and being reclothed afterwards, readers are directed to Jonathan Z. Smith’s article “The Garments of Shame” (History of Religions 5, 1966, 217-38). Smith cites literary and artistic evidence for this practice in pagan mystery religions, such as the Eleusinian mysteries and its early adoption by Christians.
Again Scroggs and Groff must refer to later patristic texts as evidence for the practice in early Christianity, but argue that these texts “all seem to assume the praxis as known and accepted by the church.” Early Christian texts that mention the removal of clothes are:
- Gospel of Philip 123. 21-25
- Gospel of Thomas 37
- Acts of Thomas 121, 133, 157
- Hippolytus, Apostolic Tradition, 21.3, 20
- Acts of Xanthippe 21
- Didascalia Apostolorum 16
- Testamentum Domini nostri, 2.8
- Egyptian Church Order 46
- (Possibly Tertullian in De res. carnis, 8)
- Odes of Solomon 11:9-10; 15:8; 21:2
- Testament of Levi 8:4-5 (said to be a Christian interpolation)
Early Christian paintings and reliefs of baptism also always show the initiate nude.
The conclusion to be drawn first is that we just have no way of demonstrating that the praxis was in effect in the first century; but, secondly, the widespread and non-controversial character of the references, plus the very common sense of the matter, suggest that one should hold as completely open the possibility that the practice dates back to the early decades of the church’s existence. It would seem that similar rites were practiced in some of the hellenistic cults of this period, and Smith argues that in Jewish proselyte baptism the candidate was nude. (p. 538)
Scroggs and Groff conclude that whatever the practice among earliest Christians the imagery of disrobing and re-dressing in connection with baptism “is primitive.”
Galatians 3:27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ did put on [ἐνδύω usually meaning “clothe”] Christ.
Colossians 3:9-10 lie not one to another; seeing that ye have put off [ἀπεκδυσάμενοι = stripped off] the old man with his doings, and have put on [ἐνδυσάμενοι = clothed] the new man, that is being renewed unto knowledge after the image of him that created him:
Colossians 2:11-13 in whom ye were also circumcised with a circumcision not made with hands, in the putting off [ἀπεκδύσει = putting off as of a garment] of the body of the flesh, in the circumcision of Christ; having been buried with him in baptism, wherein ye were also raised with him through faith
Scroggs and Groff ask:
Which comes first, the act or the metaphor?
The fact that the act of undressing is a practical necessity in any baptism by immersion, coupled with the rather unusual, if not awkward nature of the metaphor (there are surely easier linguistic ways of talking about new existence), suggests that the metaphor is probably derived from the praxis. . . .
And conclude for the author of Mark that:
Thus, despite the absence of explicit evidence, it must be considered possible, indeed probable, that the author of Mark was well aware of the change of garments both as actual event and as metaphor of baptism. (p. 539)
C. Relation of the baptized to the resurrected Christ
The idea that “being raised with Christ and “putting on Christ” implied the believer was in some sense now or destined to be living a new life identified with the exalted Christ himself was common across Christian sects. Baptism led to a new existence — a Christ-existence — for the believer.
Smith’s article mentioned above notes that ritual naked bathing was a feature of pre-Christian pagan mystery cults. Pagan mysteries were also considered to involve initiations into a divine world or existence. In the 11th book of The Golden Ass by Apuleius we read how the initiate, Lucius, is ritually bathed, descends to Hades, returns and is gloriously clothed in linen as the personification of the sun-god upon whom all onlookers gaze in wonder.
The Neaniskos as a symbol of the Christian initiate
Against the above ideas Scroggs and Groff argue that the youth fleeing naked in Mark 14:51-52 was composed to symbolize the baptismal initiate dying with Christ, and the young man in the tomb in Mark 16:5 to represent rising with Christ.
51 And a certain young man followed [συνηκολούθει] with him,
[This is an unnecessary and meaningless detail if meant literally; obviously he has followed Jesus to this point. But when “following” is taken in its usual symbolic sense as we find elsewhere in Mark, it highlights the youth being a disciple of Jesus. “He is the initiate.“]
having a linen cloth cast about [περιβεβλημένος] him,
[περιβεβλημένος = clothed, wrapped in. It is the same word and form used to describe the clothing of the young man in the tomb in 16:5. The reference to this garment and its fate “is the central moment of the story.” Here the garment is said to be linen (σινδών). Some scholars have interpreted this as a pointer to the young man’s wealth because of the expensiveness of linen in the ancient world. “But again it must be stressed that the synoptic tradition is not interested in such historical details. The meaning must rather be symbolic.”
To be noted is that at the burial of Jesus Joseph buys linen and wraps Jesus in it before burying him in the tomb. “Within the baptismal theology the meaning of this relationship is clear. The death facing the young man is taken up by Jesus himself. Jesus dies for him, i.e., in his stead, and the young man is rescued — he escapes — from his own death.“]
over his naked body: and they lay hold on him;
[The emphasis on the young man’s nakedness indicates the baptismal candidate stripped of his garments.]
52 but he left the linen cloth, and fled naked.
[In the narrative context the flight of the young man is part of the flight of the disciples. But more specifically, just as the garment and other features appear to have symbolic currents, we see here an indication of the image meaning that only Jesus can die the required death. “What is impossible for man, Jesus does for him. As a result the believer escapes the fate of death. . . . Only Christ really dies so that the believer may escape and be freed from death.” This interpretation of S&G is consistent with other ambiguous ironies in Mark: James and John seeking to be at the right and left of Jesus in his glory and being substituted by the two bandits; Peter promising to take up his cross and follow Jesus but being substituted by Simon of Cyrene.]
It is just possible, though the evidence is extremely tenuous as the authors note, that neaniskos (young man) is “a quasi-technical term denoting the class of initiates” — compare 1 John 2:12-14. Here this class of Christians are said to have overcome the evil one or Satan. Scroggs and Groff in a footnote remind us of Jesus’ own baptism being associated with the overcoming of Satan. Baptism elsewhere was also associated with the exorcism of the devil. S & G then ask in fine print:
Is the baptism of Jesus a prototype of that of the believer? (p. 542)
This deserves a fuller exploration in a follow-up article. Did the baptism of Jesus itself originate as a symbolic narrative?
Summary. At the last moment that it is possible within the structure of the passion narrative, Mark portrays the near arrest and escape of the follower. Through this means he points to the participation of the believer in the death of Jesus. The coherence of the story is strained to the limit because of the presence of the many symbols needed to communicate the significance of the story to his readers. The initiate is stripped of his garment and is now ready for baptism. He is baptized into the death, but only Jesus actually dies, and the substitution is symbolized by the linen which the young man leaves but with which Jesus is actually shrouded in burial. (p. 542)
And entering into the tomb, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, arrayed in a white robe; and they were amazed.
The language closely parallels the language of the first appearance of the young man, as noted above. Though S & G do not explicitly point it out, there is also inclusio structure of the two young man appearances: at the beginning of Jesus being “handed over to the hands of men” and his final victory over the suffering and death they have inflicted upon him. This, I believe, also is meant to underscore the symbolic message and points to the way the reader is expected to interpret the central story of Jesus’ suffering, death and resurrection. Compare other inclusio structures such as the fig-tree cursed either side of the temple cleansing and the raising of Jairus’ daughter either side of the healing of the bleeding woman.
We can now see how these various threads are to be woven together. The neaniskos is a representation of the exalted Christ because he symbolizes the believer who, now baptized, participates in the resurrection of Christ. (p. 543)
The garment and sitting at the right apply equally well to both the newly baptized and the exalted Christ Jesus.
(Again according to late evidence — Theodore of Mopsuestia, Jerome, John the Deacon, Zeno of Verona –) the white robe is the traditional garment worn by the person newly baptized.
It symbolizes the new existence of the believer, in effect, his resurrection.
Compare Revelation 7:9, 13 (and also 3:4-5, 18, 6:11) where white garments represent the faithful in Christ who have finally overcome and are now with the heavenly Christ.
Also in the Shepherd of Hermas (Vision 8:2, 3) all those entering the tower (=heaven) are wearing white garments. Men in heaven are dressed like the angels. (cf. 2 Enoch 22:8-10; 2 Apoc Baruch 51:10; Mark 12:25)
As for the heavenly exaltation of the believer this, too, is a very early Christian concept, as we read in Colossians 3:1-3 and Ephesians 2:4-6 — virtual commentaries on Mark 16:5 as S&C say.
Romans 6 shows Paul knew of these ideas. He is also found criticizing them in 1 Corinthians 4:8-9.
Some scholars (Lutger Schenke, G. Schille, W. Nauck) have also suggested that the reference to the early morning hour (at the rising of the sun) in Mark 16:1-8 derives from a dawn worship cult at a tomb in Jerusalem. Apocryphal acts literature also indicates that baptism ceremonies took place at night or sunrise. If the narrative does echo some cultic practice then the idea that the young man is an angel is almost certainly ruled out. He would have to be a person who declares the resurrection of Jesus after his baptism.
Summary. The cumulative evidence presented satisfactorily and coherently explains the details in both stories that have so long baffled scholars. In a cryptic yet clear fashion (to the readers of Mark who would have been familiar with such practices), the dying and rising of the believer is woven into a narrative which is ostensibly only about the dying and rising of Jesus. The initiate is stripped of his garments at the death of Jesus, and he appears in his white baptismal robe at the resurrection of Jesus. Thus robed he appropriately represents Jesus to the women. Jesus himself cannot appear, for he is already exalted to heaven and is already sitting at the right hand of God. (pp. 544-45)
It is interesting to compare Mark’s Gospel with Matthew’s here. Matthew avoids relating baptism to the metaphor of dying and rising with Jesus. Matthew’s Gospel also changes the young man at the tomb into an angel coming down from heaven. Matthew’s Jesus also promises his disciples power till the end of the age. Mark’s gospel, on the other hand, offers little in the way of power to the believer in this present age. All hope if to be found in the disciple’s ability to imitate and enter into the sufferings of the Son of Man now in order to receive the promise of exalted life in the future.
The implications of this article deserve to be thought through and studied along with other clearly symbolic details in the Gospel of Mark — such as the mysteries of the numbers of the left-over baskets of food that so befuddled the disciples when Jesus reminded them of these events, the symbolic ambiguities of James and John seeing bandits crucified in their place either side of Jesus, the puns on the names like Peter and Capernaum and Bethsaida (and on Jesus/Jason the healer himself), John the Baptist representing Elijah, etc. Is the entire Gospel itself a symbolic narrative?
The article discussed in the above post can be found at http://www.jstor.org/stable/3263122
Baptism in Mark: Dying and Rising with Christ
Robin Scroggs and Kent I. Groff
Journal of Biblical Literature
Vol. 92, No. 4 (Dec., 1973), pp. 531-548
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37 thoughts on “That Mysterious Young Man in the Gospel of Mark: Fleeing Naked and Sitting in the Tomb”
* The Acts of Paul in English:
* A web site devoted to the work:
A massive study of the work that, among other things, considers the relationship between the Acts of Paul and the Pastoral Epistles:
Have yet to catch up with the above links but meantime I have posted on the relationship of Acts of Paul and the Pastoral Epistles at http://vridar.wordpress.com/2007/02/15/pastoral-epistles-and-the-acts-of-paul-2/ and posted a comparative table at http://vridar.info/xorigins/actsofpaul_pastorals.htm
Acts of Andrew And Matthias (Matthew)
“18 Andrew rejoiced and prayed the Lord to show himself: and Jesus appeared in the form of a beautiful young child.”
Roger Parvus’s writing about Philumena’s visions of Jesus and/or Paul also comes to mind. For instance, in http://vridar.org/2012/08/23/is-paul-the-beloved-disciple/
“For Philumena claimed that the source of her information was a phantom (phantasma) who appeared to her ‘. . . dressed as a boy and sometimes stated he was Christ, sometimes Paul'”
Only quickly read you post, but I would suggest this passage is a subtle reference to Amos 2 (‘the naked shall flee away in that day, says the Lord’) and completes the allusion that is begun in Mark 14:10-11, about Judas betraying Jesus for money, which is also a reference to Amos 2, and which talks about the Jews betraying the righteous for silver. A reference that the author of the Gospel of Matthew did pickup on, evidenced by the fact that he changed the word “money” to “silver” when he copied from Mark to create his version of the story.
As with many of the more obscure references in the Gospel of Mark, however, the line about the man fleeing naked was dropped from the other Gospels because outside of serving as a literary allusion the passage seems to make no sense. It did, however, make sense to the author of Mark because as R.G Price has convincingly argued, his whole gospel is really a allegorical tale about how the Jews bought the detruction of Jerusalem on themselves (although he also weaves in Pauline theology/themes). Mark is constantly making references to OT books about destruction in the day of the Lord…Amos is one of them.
See here: http://web.archive.org/web/20150704163240/http://www.rationalrevolution.net/articles/gospel_mark.htm
Scroggs and Groff address this (I quote their conclusion from p.532 — you missed this in your “only quick read”) and don’t deny it, but argue why they believe this is not a sufficient explanation of itself.
Mark is renowned for multiple layers of references — that is the nature of Markan “irony”.
Thanks for your response. I think Scroggs and Groff are wrong about this. There are other examples where Mark alludes to scripture that do not involve Jesus. The one that instantly comes to mind is the description of John the Baptist in Mark 1:6 which is a reference to Elijah to 2 Kings 1:8. In my previous response I also gave another example; Mark 14:10-11, draws on Amos 2 and refers to Judas’s act of betrayal.
Of course, it’s true that most of the scriptural references do refer to Jesus, but this is no surprise as his wondrous actions are the main focus of the narrative. Also, as I said previously, when one understands the deeper meaning Mark is trying to convey, regarding the destruction of the temple, the seemingly ‘random’ nature of the reference in Mark 14: 51-52, makes a lot of sense.
Other texts with naked men with clothing:
Secret Mark, young man has linen over naked bosy
John’s Raising of Lazarus, Lazarus takes off grave clothes
Luke’s Demoniac wore no clothes and until his demons cast into swine, at which point her was clothed.
Note that tombs play a role in all of the above stories.
Marks naked man shed his linen garment and ran away naked.
The High Priest wore linen garments over his naked body (Levitus? Deuteronomy? verses are somewhere in the OT)
Jesus presumably naked on the cross with soldiers gambling for his clothing.
I think there is a garment metaphor in the recently restored Gospel of Judas.
And in the Gospel of Thomas:
“When you strip naked without being ashamed, and take your garments and put them under your feet like little children and tread upon them, then [you] will see the child of the living. And you will not be afraid.”
If I recall correctly, most scholars link “garments” to the flesh. But could that be because many scholars would prefer GT to be late and gnostic?
Thank you, Neil, for all the work you did on this post. I will have to read it several more times.
I have come to think that the early baptismal rituals were quite lengthy and elaborate and that they essentially served as initiation rituals, similar to those of mystery religions.
I started to develop this idea in my last comment on your recent (Sep 19) post titled “What Mark’s Episodes Do For Readers”.
One scholar, A. H. Couratin, has suggested that the baptism/initiation ritual was based on the ancient treatment for leprosy that is described in Leviticus 13-14.
The treatment for skin diseases included a series of seven-day quarantines, each of which ended with an inspection by a priest and then a washing of the person’s clothing. If the priest found that the symptoms had disappeared, then the person had to wash his clothes and then was free to go his way.
If, however, the priest determined that the skin disease was leprosy, then the person had to burn (not merely wash) his clothing. Therefore the leper became naked for a while and then (I presume) was given new clothing. Then (I presume) the leper was examined again by a priest every seven days.
If in some such examination the priest determined that the leprosy symptoms had disappeared, then followed an elaborate ritual (described in Leviticus 14) finishing the purification. This ritual included sprinkling of bird blood, washing of clothing, removal of body hair, bathing of the body, animal sacrifices, anointing the body with oil, and an offering of grain, fine flour and oil.
The book Christian Initiation: Confirmation Then and Now, written by J.D.C. Fischer, points out indications that the earliest baptismal (initiation/confirmation) rituals in Christianity included many of those other elements — a change of clothing, anointing the body with oil, consumption of baked flour dishes — in addition to a bathing of the body. (For more details, see my comment in the September 19 post titled “What Mark’s Episodes Do For Readers”.)
One element that was in the leprosy-treatment ritual but that seems to be missing from the early-Christian baptism/initiation/confirmation ritual was the animal sacrifices. The latter ritual does not seem to include any killing and grilling of lambs. However, I would suggest that this element was replaced in the earliest Christian ritual by a climb to the top of Mount Hermon to experience a mystical vision of Jesus Christ being hung from an erected pole — something like the lamb meat being grilled on an altar. So, the crucifixion of Jesus Christ was ultimately based on the sacrifice of a lamb in the ancient ritual for the purification of lepers.
The way I see the development of Christianity, the purification rituals (based on the ancient treatments for leprosy) came first, and the story about Jesus Christ descending to Earth and interacting with human beings came much later. There was an intermediate stage (before the proliferation of the Jesus-on-Earth stories) in this development when the purification ritual became quite lengthy and elaborate. Eventually (when the Jesus stories were canonized), however, much of this ritual withered away, leaving essentially only the bathing of the person’s body in one brief event — the simple baptism ritual that is familiar to all of us now.
I think that Mark was written after Matthew and Luke and that Mark was the text in an attempt to revive the the earlier, lengthy and elaborate ritual for Christian youths. Mark therefore added the incident about the scantily clothed youth who was almost arrested but who escaped when Jesus Christ was arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane. Supposedly, this youth was being put through the ritual by Jesus Christ, but the youth escaped and thus was able to pass along the ritual for future generations of Christian youth.
We who read this incident in Mark now do not perceive the indications that Jesus was arrested while he was putting this youth through the ritual. When Mark was written, however, the indications were blatantly obvious to all the readers or listeners.
Mark 14 begins with Jesus visiting a leper’s home. A woman pours expensive perfume over his head (the leper’s head? Jesus’s head?). So right away here, Mark puts the passion story into the context of a purification ritual for lepers.
Then after the leper is purified, the next event (on the first day of Passover, the day when the lambs were sacrificed, Mark 14:12), there is the Last Supper, with the consumption of the fine-flour bread and the blood (the wine), the singing of a hymn, the spending of a night in a garden, and then the presence of a naked youth dressed in scant clothing. When Mark was written, the initiates who read or listened to the story understood these various references to the very same ritual that they themselves were going through.
In fact, those initiates might have understood easily that “Simon the leper” whom Jesus visited in Mark 14:3 was the very same youth in scant clothing who ran away naked in Mark 14:52.
And, of course, if the baptism/initiation/confirmation ritual in earliest Christianity was based on the ancient ritual for treating lepers, then this basis would explain why the gospels include so many stories about Jesus treating and curing lepers.
Other proposed explanations for the young man fleeing naked address single facets of the scene and that is their weakness in comparison with the discussion of Scroggs and Groff that I have outlined. Reference to prophecy (Amos 2:16 etc) is not “wrong” but it is inadequate as an explanation. All other fulfilled prophecies in Mark relate directly to Jesus himself (with a very few exceptions for Jesus’ 12 disciples). A single incident that bears no such relationship is as out of place as a boil on the tip of one’s nose.
What it calls for is not just an explanation of any of its parts but an explanation that makes sense of its place in the whole. This is why I am attracted to the interpretation of Scroggs and Groff.
Here are a couple of links that might help you in your research.
1. Secret Gospel of Mark at W.O.E – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Secret_Gospel_of_Mark
2. The Secret Gospel of Mark: Genuine or Hoax? – http://michaelsheiser.com/PaleoBabble/2008/12/the-secret-gospel-of-mark-genuine-or-hoax/
So if the young man in white sitting in the tomb to greet the women is not an angel who else could he be? The most obvious answer is Jesus himself.
One problem with this “obvious” answer is that the three women followers of Jesus who saw the young man did not recognize the young man to be Jesus.
For me, the most obvious answer is that the young man is the same young man (or almost the same young man) who escaped when Jesus was arrested. On Thursday night Jesus was being followed by “a young man …. clothed only in a linen nightshirt” and on Sunday morning sitting in Jesus’ tomb was “a young man clothed in white” who was unknown to Jesus’ three women followers.
Also, there is reason to speculate that the tomb was in the Garden of Gethsemane and that the latter was owned by Joseph of Arimathea. On Thursday night Jesus went to a secret (until betrayed by Judas) meeting in this garden, and then on Friday night a secret follower (Joseph of Arimathea) buried Jesus in a tomb on his property. At the place of the secret meeting on Thursday night, there is a young man dressed in linen nightshirt, and in the place where Jesus was buried by a secret follower, there is a young man clothed in white on Monday morning. In other words, on both occasions, a young man dressed in particular clothing is (according to my speculation) in the same place — near or inside a tomb in the Garden of Gethsemane.
So, the Mark story of Jesus’ Passion includes two incidents involving obviously (to me) the same young man, who is identified remarkably on both occasions by his clothing.
Does the Mark story include any other incidents involving this same young man?
A few days before Jesus was arrested, as he was approaching Jerusalem, he visited the home of “Simon, a leper” in Bethany, a town in the country outside of Jerusalem. During the visit, a woman poured a flask of perfume on “his head”. On whose head? On the head of Jesus? On the head of Simon? On the head of some other male? Or some combination of those possibilities?
In the John story about the same Bethany incident, the woman pours the perfume on Jesus’ feet (not on Jesus’ head). This indicates she poured the perfume onto the head of some other male in the home.
And then it turns out that a male in this Bethany household, Lazarus, is lying in a tomb, seeming to be dead. And then this Lazarus comes to life, and he is described as wearing a gravecloth and standing at the tomb entrance.
It sure seems to me that the Mark incident about a woman pouring perfume onto a male’s head in Bethany is being told about this very same young man.
And there is one more possibly related incident in the Mark story of Jesus’ Passion. As Jesus is being led to the crucifixion site, his cross was carried by a man named Simon, “who was coming in from the country” and who is identified as “the father of Alexander and Rufus”.
So, at the beginning of the week Jesus was present when perfume was poured on a male’s head in the home of a man named Simon in Bethany, in the country outside of Jerusalem, and then on Thursday night Jesus is arrested in the presence of a young man wearing a linen cloth, and then then on Friday afternoon a man named Simon comes in from the country and carries Jesus’ cross, and this Simon has two sons named Alexander and Rufus, and then on Sunday morning there is a young man dressed in a white cloth in Jesus’ tomb.
Why did Mark mention that Simon’s two sons were named Alexander and Rufus? Maybe one of this Simon’s sons was the young man in the Garden of Gethsemane and the other son was the young man in the tomb.
Also, why was Simon coming into Jerusalem from the country? Had Simon been informed by someone who had been present at the arrest of Jesus? Did this someone run away from the arrest site and run to Bethany and tell Simon that Jesus had been arrested? Who might this someone be? When Simon was informed by this someone, then did Simon and this someone rush from their country location to Jerusalem and find Jesus being led to the crucifixion site?
Were Alexander and Rufus twins? In John’s version of the Bethany incident, when the news comes that Lazarus is in a tomb in Bethany, a disciple called Thomas (Aramaic for “the twin”) encourages the other disciples to go along with Jesus to Bethany. This twin said, “Let’s go too — and die with him”. (John 11:16). Was this disciple who was called “the twin” a twin son of Simon and the twin brother of Lazarus?
Mike, have you ever thought of posting your imaginative reconstructions on a blog of your own? Some of your comments are very lengthy and are not really addressing the the discussion or questions I raise except by way of elaborating on an alternative universe.
Your comments are very often alternative scenarios entirely from anything I am exploring. In such cases there is no common ground that really enables them to qualify as “Comments” on my own posts.
Neil, the last thing I want to do is to annoy you or to hijack the threads on your blog.
Yes, I did start a blog of my own, and I intend to develop it.
Maybe you will add it to your blog roll.
I will try to write a lot more on my own blog and to limit my comments on your blog, so that my comments are shorter and more responsive.
Reading your excellent blog gives me lots of ideas, and so I want to formulate them right away. But I will try to be more considerate about what you are trying to do with your own blog. I do not want to steal your show.
Thanks Mike — Have added your blog now to my list of blogs.
I don’t mind the occasional lengthy comment presenting an alternative perspective, but prefer most comments are kept to a closer engagement with issues specifically raised in the post.
Do feel free to link your posts to mine.
All the best,
Let me add one more thought that occurred to me this morning. In the above comment, I speculated that some of Mark’s characters initially seem to be different people but might be the same person (e.g. Simon the leper, Simon of Cyrene — or the young man in the Garden and the young man in the tomb). I can only speculate about such possibilities.
But imagine that Mark was the text for an initiation ritual that was illustrated by actors playing the scenes as the initiates watched. If the same actors obviously played the double roles (one actor is both Simons; one actor is both youths), then the initiates would have understood many such subtleties better than mere readers of the text understand. In general, a dramatization of the text for initiates might have employed costumes, props, etc. in order to provide many visual insights that are missing for mere readers.
Thus, an initiation ritual based on Mark might indeed have been a special teaching experience for young Christians, so that they did have some “secret knowledge” of their religion’s mysteries.
There are a string of Simons in Mark and I have also wondered — I’m sure others have too — that they may represent the same person, probably a parable-person, though.
Why probably a parable person? What is your evidence for this?
So if Simon means “he has heard,” then perhaps the origin of the character of Peter can be found in the Parable of the Sower. “He has heard” the gospel, but the seed fell upon “rocky” ground?
If I’m recalling Bauckham’s research correctly, he found that Simon was the most common name for men in Palestine in the time of the Gospels. And yet, there are so many Simons in Mark that they are still proportionately over-represented. However, he concluded that this over-representation was the just the sort of thing that could happen by random coincidence.
It strikes me that, unlike actual randomly selected people, an author making up names for unrelated characters would tend to give them different names. So, the high frequency of Simons in Mark best fits two hypotheses: a) these really were based on actual historical figures that the author of Mark knew of; or b) the author of Mark deliberately repeated the same name for some sort of literary effect.
I find it frustrating to read work by otherwise relatively learned scholars that never raises the question of the nature of the literature they are reading: is it a documentation of oral tradition, historical memory, or a theological-literary fiction? This is especially frustrating when one sees the clever use of naming puns, personal and geographical name puns, to reinforce the theological messages of the various anecdotes.
Reminded of the “young man” in the whodunnit “Who Moved the Stone?” (1930) by Frank Morison (pseud) that is Ann Widdecombe’s favorite “non-fiction” read.
Neil, I am neither a philosopher nor Biblical scholar wading in on the conversations/discussions. My interest is keen because I am a Believer who pays attention to what others have to say on the Word.
I have wondered about the ” certain young man” who followed from a distance; some interpretations say he was the “disciple whom Jesus loved”, which would make sense as John Mark was the youngest of the 12. But, why then, would the scripture (Mark 14:50) say that “and they all forsook him and fled”, only to find that in v. 51 “And there followed him a certain young man. . .” If ‘all’ is not figurative, every single one of the disciples had been with Him up to that point, ran away out of fear for his life/safety! On this ground I therefore rule out John as being the young man.
Note that this young man was either in the company of other young men, or was merely in a group of young men but was not part of the group. But, if this “certain young man were merely interested as a gawker, why would those other young men have “laid hold on him”, causing him such sense of terror that he extricated himself from the linen cloth and “fled”.
Think also, no time frame is offered from the actions of disciples in verse 50, to the presence and following of the young man in verse 51. John is coming back into focus as the young man of interest; John late to the scene, having hurriedly donned that linen garment, hence the nakedness revealed when he lost the garment? Literally and figuratively naked: he was not fully clothed because of haste, and , as follower of Christ he became naked;his weakness/shame and vulnerability revealed in that he was afraid to suffer with his master so he fled.
Why should the “young man dressed in “long white garment” and sitting in the tomb where Jesus had been laid, be thought of as the young man of chapter 14? Why should the linen cloth of 14:51,52 be interpreted as the “long white garment” of 16:5? The “figurative naked young man” now not naked, but once more dressed in the linen cloth?
PS/ Would you identify this “naked” as different than Peter’s “naked” in John 21:7? If ‘naked’ is figuratively used, that is.
Authors choose the words they use for particular reasons. We know both the Gospels of Mark and John are replete with symbolism, metaphors. I would not want to say much more than that now because it’s a while since I thought much about these scenes and to attempt to understand the authorial intent would involve an in-depth study not only of the gospels themselves but also the texts to which they so often allude — especially in the Old Testament writings.
I like your logical examination of the passages. I differ, however, in reading them as historical accounts and prefer to focus on what the author was doing with his literary narrative.
“If ‘all’ is not figurative, every single one of the disciples had been with Him up to that point, ran away out of fear for his life/safety!”
“and they all forsook him and fled” is the entirety of verse 50 and so it is followed immediately by verse 51. That being the case, it seems completely reasonable to assume, as I imagine most people do, that verses 51 and 52 are intended to be simultaneous with verse 50; that is, the account of the young man fleeing elaborates additional details of “they all .. fled”, rather than occurring afterward. This reading is slightly awkward, in a way that certainly could indicate interpolation. That said, in the absence of other evidence, I don’t suppose that it is in fact an interpolation (i.e. it was simply infelicitous turn of phrase in the original).
“Is the entire Gospel itself a symbolic narrative?”
In this connection, and if it’s the case that a metaphorical depiction of baptism is central to the this gospel, (I doubt very much that I’m the first person to notice that) it seems very significant that the Gospel of Mark begins with Jesus’ baptism by John (the appropriately named) the Baptist and ends (almost) with the announcement of Jesus’ rebirth from the dead.
Without the benefit of these connections, both the beginning and then end of Mark have often been described as quite abrupt.
The “youth sitting at the right and clothed in a white robe” symbolizes the restoration of our youthful, pre-fall innocence.
I see the story of the young man running away naked as offering a counter to Jesus accepting his martyrdom. The young man is willing to forgo his dignity in order to escape, Jesus is not.
Not everyone can know, so I say that Mark’s Gospel seems to have originally ended with chapter 16, verse 8, so Mark’s Gospel makes no reference to his bodily resurrection. The story seems to end when the discoverers of the empty tomb were so overcome with fear and delusion that they did not tell anyone about what they had experienced because of fear. And that’s where the gospel seems to end. But that’s not the case 🙂 The original and attentive readers had to realize that the gospel, that is, good news, cannot end with this ending. So the gospel is just beginning. The man dressed in white in the empty tomb actually sends the reader along with the characters to the beginning of the story, that is, to Galilee. The chiastic structure, which can be understood as an oval wheel, gives the story another push, and the gospel itself begins:-) The beginning of the gospel of Christ:-) Which can be read until and until and until the reader reaches faith in the Son of God .
For blog posts on the ending of Mark, see https://vridar.org/series-index/the-ending-of-mark-168/