Why Jesus healed the leper in anger — another explanation?

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by Neil Godfrey

The second healing miracle in the Gospel of Mark was that of the leper.

And there came a leper to him, beseeching him, and kneeling down to him, and saying unto him, If thou wilt, thou canst make me clean. And Jesus, moved with anger (orgistheis), put forth his hand, and touched him, and saith unto him, I will; be thou clean. (Mark 1:40-41)

Most Bible translations follow manuscripts that read splanchistheis, meaning compassion, in place of orgistheis (anger) for obvious reasons. But the authors of Matthew and Luke who copied Mark here omit this word, strongly suggesting that what they found in the original also sounded offensive to them.

And, behold, there came a leper and worshipped him, saying, Lord, if thou wilt, thou canst make me clean.  And Jesus put forth his hand, and touched him, saying, I will; be thou clean. And immediately his leprosy was cleansed. (Matthew 8:2-3)

I don’t think the Gospel of Mark was written in some sort of relationship with Marcionism.  But a comment about the motives for Jesus healing people that I came across in Sebastian Moll’s The Arch-Heretic Marcion cannot avoid opening up the question of what might have been behind Mark’s original text.

Moll writes that Jesus healed not so much to help mankind but in order to thumb his nose at the Creator God. (Marcion taught that Jesus came from an Alien God who was all good, a higher God than the Creator God.) He came to defy the creator God who owned mankind and to purchase humans from that god in order to belong to the Good God.

Many parts of Tertullian’s discussion of Marcion’s Gospel demonstrate this. When we consider Christ’s attitude towards the Sabbath for example (Lk. 6:1-11), Marcion believed that Christ attacked the Sabbath “out of hatred” (odio). We can detect a similar notion in the story of the healing of the leper (Lk. 5:12-14). Not with one word does Tertullian mention Christ’s healing of the leper as an act of love or goodness in Marcion’s view. The reason [Marcion] treated this matter “with special attention” (attentius) was rather his wish to emphasise that Christ performed this healing as someone who is “hostile to the Law” (aemulus legis). The term aemulus is particularly interesting in this context, for it is exactly the emotion of aeumulatio (jealousy/resentment) which the Marcionites attribute . . . to the Creator. (pp. 67-8)

As I said, I cannot find any reason to attribute Mark’s gospel to any sort of dialogue with Marcion, but the coincidence of Mark here attributing the attitude of Jesus toward healing as was taught by Marcion is interesting.




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5 thoughts on “Why Jesus healed the leper in anger — another explanation?”

  1. I’ve already explained this Neil:


    “Mark” frames his Jesus’ Galilean Ministry with the emotion of ANGER at the beginning and end of it. Following Paul, “Mark’s” Jesus than crucifies his Passion (emotions) in the Passion Ministry. Can’t do this unless you are first angry. As you confess, there is no explanation at the Text level for Jesus to be angry here. Look for the Sub-text reason. There is so much of this Type of style in “Mark” and combined with the extent of the Impossible/Improbable one should START looking for explanations in “Mark” based on Style. Otherwise, some idiot might actually think it’s true.

  2. Most scholars recognize that the Jesus figure regarded leprosy and other diseases and illnesses (e.g fever, epilepsy, madness, deafness, blindness) as the work of evil spirits. His healing of these belongs in the same category as his exorcisms. And as such, his anger exhibited in the healing of the leper becomes understandable.

    But while I too do not see the first edition of Mark’s Gospel as related in some way with Marcionism, I have suspicions that it may have started life as a Simonian allegory. Unlike Marcion, Simon was notorious for his love of allegorical interpretation. So I am open to the possibility that the Markan Jesus may be an allegorical tribute to Simon composed by one of his later followers (Basilides?). If so, the Jesus who goes about freeing people from the spirits who in various ways enslave them may be meant to represent Simon who, according to Irenaeus, “announced that the world would be destroyed and that those who were his would be freed from the rule of those who made the world” (“Against Heresies” 1,23,3).

    Viewing Mark’s Gospel as a Simonian allegory puts many of its items into new perspective. For example, I have always found it curious that one of the root meanings of Nazarene is a synonym of the root meaning of Samaritan: observer. Samaritans are not mentioned anywhere in Mark’s Gospel. But a new word pops up there: Nazarene. Simonians loved secrecy, so I wonder whether Nazarene, based on its root meaning, is the replacement word the author used to hide his meaning from “those on the outside.” The Markan Jesus was a Nazarene, i.e. a Samaritan.

    Another episode that is seen in a new light when viewed as a Simonian allegory is Mark 7:24-30. In the text as it presently stands the Markan Jesus goes to Tyre and drives an unclean spirit out of a Syro-Phoenician woman’s daughter. It may just be coincidence that Simon the Samaritan is said to have gone to Tyre where he drove out from a prostitute named Helen the spirits who were holding her captive… but I wonder. And even more curiously, Mark’s Gospel says the Syro-Phoenician woman “was Hellene.” Scholars always say this remark was added because Mark wanted to inform his readers that the Syro-Phoenician woman was of Greek background. But if this is Simonian allegory, the added tidbit may have a deeper purpose. It may have been the author’s way of cryptically identifying her as Helen; Simon’s Helen, His First Thought who – according to him—was ages ago Helen of Troy and after whom the Hellenic world was named.

  3. If my memory is correct, in the Homeric Epics and the Gospel of Mark, MacDonald suggests that Jesus’ anger has to do with a healed leper being an unwelcomed risk of uncovering his “secret” identity as the Son of God (since he would have to go to the priests to be made clean [1:43-44]), as part of of Mark’s motif of Jesus being an “update” of Odysseus, who kept his identity a secret from the suitors. Though Jesus relents, he orders the leper to “say nothing to anyone,” but the leper “went out and began to talk freely about it, and to spread the news, so that Jesus could no longer openly enter a town” (1:45).

  4. I can’t remember where I heard it (possibly on Robert M. Price’s ‘The Bible Geek’ show), but I have heard the suggestion that Jesus’ anger in this story is an indication that the story was previously one of the ‘healing on the Sabbath’ stories found in the chapters that follow, but that it has been paired down. The anger remains, but makes no sense with the story having been removed for its context.

    Of course, there’s no direct evidence this is the case but it would make sense of the puzzling detail. Compare Mark 3:5.

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