2022-07-16

The Message of the Feeding Miracles of Jesus — a review of Writing with Scripture, part 6

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by Neil Godfrey

Nathanael Vette (NV) establishes in detail how the miraculous feeding stories of Jesus borrow from the miracle of Elisha’s feeding of 100 men with twenty loaves. Many readers would no doubt assume that Mark’s source in 2 Kings 4 was obvious but NV takes the reader through each detail to leave nothing to assumption. Even though a reader of Mark’s gospel who is familiar with the Jewish Scriptures would inevitably recognize the relationship between the miracles of Elisha and Jesus, NV suggests that it was not Mark’s intention to demonstrate the superiority of Jesus over Elisha because Mark does not mention Elisha’s name. Interestingly, NV notes that,

More generally, scripturalized narratives tend to inflate the numbers of their scriptural source: whilst only a few guards are burnt in Dan. 3:22, Pseudo-Philo has 83,500 (LAB 6:17) and one thousand (LAB 38:4) burnt bystanders; whilst only Achan is uncovered in the lot of sin (Josh. 7:16-26), Kenaz uncovers 6,110 sinners (LAB 25:4). (NV, 141)

NV uses the two different occasions of Jesus’ miracle of feeding large numbers, each distinguished by differences in geographical setting, numbers of persons, loaves and baskets of leftover remains, to make a point that few readers would disagree with:

. . . the narrative setting of Mk 6:35-44 and 8:1-9 takes precedence over the scriptural model. In this way, the distinctive elements of the episodes – the circumstances leading to the miracles (6:35-37; 8:1-3), the geographical setting (6:35; 8:4). the inclusion of fish (6:38, 41; 8:7) and even the number of baskets (6:43; 8:8) – each reflect their respective Markan contexts. (NV, 142)

Marten van Valckenborch – Feeding the Five Thousand. Wikimedia Commons

NV’s main focus is on the particular ways Mark makes use of Scripture so when he refers to the common interpretation that the twin miracles events represent ministries to the Jews (5000 and twelve baskets leftover) and to the gentiles (4000 and seven baskets) he does so to make points about Mark adapting his use of Scripture to fit his narrative aims.

Secondary Scriptures are mingled with details from the primary source of 2 Kings so we find traces of Israel in the wilderness as well (e.g. “sheep without a shepherd”, “groups of hundreds and fifties”, the wilderness setting and the miracle of food being sent at evening time) and subsequent evangelists demonstrate their awareness of Mark’s primary and secondary sources.

One cannot make a consistent point-by-point comparison between Jesus and other figures from a single Scripture narrative, NV clarifies, simply because Jesus is modeled on multiple persons: not only Elisha but also Elijah, for example.

But once again NV speculates a “historical source” behind the scripturalized narrative:

The multiplication of food was a common feature of miracle-working traditions in antiquity and, at least in Jewish tradition, none was better known than the multiplication of loaves by Elisha.”’ In this sense, the author may have been led to the well-known miracle in 2 Kgs 4:42-44 by the reputation of Jesus as a miracle-worker. (NV, 146f)

I would rather think that it is more economical to speculate that the author was led to the Elisha miracle by the theological interest he had in demonstrating a particular role Jesus has in the gospel. NV includes another interesting set of citations and I’ll quote extracts from there that come to similar theological rationales for the presence of these feeding miracles. Again, as in an earlier post, I will go beyond what NV himself discusses and make a detour with a closer look at two of the works he cites and another work cited in one of those two. (And again, I am responsible for the bolded highlighting in all quotations.)

Analogous stories among other peoples

Outside Biblical and Jewish literature, too, we find many stories of food said to have been acquired or displayed in wonderful fashion. Origen quotes a pronouncement by Celsus in which this great opponent of the Christian faith ranks the miracles of Jesus with the works of the magicians: “and with those which are performed by them that have learned them from the Egyptians, who in the midst of the market places, for a few obols, disclose the venerable teachings, expel demons from men, blow away diseases, summon the souls of heroes, and display choice meals and tables and pastries and desserts which do not exist……..”  Gods and saints were credited with the power to produce or increase food. Bultmann points to Indian stories and the food miracles in the Mohammedan Hadith. A Finnish legend tells of a girl who prepared food for a whole army from three barleycorns. A German fairy-tale has for its subject a marvellous bread which filled an army. There is a wide selection of stories about goblets, bottles, baskets and tables that never empty. It is related that King Alexander had a goblet out of which his whole army could drink without the goblet having to be refilled.  A Celtic legend tells of the basket of Gwydnen Garanhir, in which nine men three times found the foods which they desired.  Ethiopia has a Sun Table which, according to the natives, is always supplied with food by the wish of the gods.  In Africa they tell of the wondrous speaking pot, which fills itself with the food desired. Many feeding miracles are attributed to saints: Francis of Assisi provided food for his fellow-passengers; André Corsini saw his bread increase in his bag; the basket full of fine cherries which the venerable Cottolengo, the “Intendant of Providence,” distributed to a large crowd of poor persons in Turin in 1883, did not become empty, and the abbess of Kildare caused cow’s milk to increase copiously. St. Nicholas fed 83 workmen who were building a new church on one loaf, and yet a large number of pieces were left, etc., etc. Saintyves, who collected a large number of stories and relates them with great verve, points to the literary dependence in the legends of the saints. He recalls the horn of plenty, the attribute of many old gods, and sees in it, as in the bottles, tables, etc., which never become empty, the idea of fertility and initiation rites. According to Saintyves we must therefore regard the loaves in the Gospels as “seasonal loaves the Biblical stories must be interpreted in the light of the pagan ones.

With such a wide variety of stories, it may be asked whether the New Testament accounts perhaps form part of this “pattern.” Did nothing happen? Or did something happen, and if so, what? (pp 625-627)

So what does the Markan scholar who wrote the above think is the motivation for the feeding miracles in the Gospel of Mark?

To sum up, we may say that Jesus did not perform a “Schauwunder,” that He did not want to work His way up to social reformer, king or champion of political liberty, see Jn. 6 : 15. In the meal the presence of the Messiah-King, whose Kingdom functions in the provision of food, is manifest; how this food was provided was a mystery to those then present, and it is still a mystery, since it was divine providence. (p 636)

Loos, Hendrik van der. The Miracles of Jesus. Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1965. http://archive.org/details/miraclesofjesus0000loos.

That is, according to Loos, what inspired Mark was the wish to present Jesus as a messianic king who satisfied the needs of his people.

The second work NV cites is Angela Standhartinger’s chapter ‘”And All Ate and Were Filled'”. Standhartinger’s focus is on the cultural meaning that was attached to a political or civic figure or deity feeding large numbers of people. In her discussion it is noted that the miracle itself is more of a subtext hidden beneath another more distinctive detail in the Markan narrative:

In Hellenistic-Roman antiquity, Jesus is certainly not the only one who feeds four to five thousand people all at the same time. . . . . After his victory over Darius, Alexander the Great is said to have invited his friends, officers and emissaries of the Greek cities to a banquet where he seated them at 100 dining couches in a tent. He was trumped by Ptolemy Philadelphus who put even 130 κλίναι (dining couches) into a tent; by Antiochus Epiphanes, who at times used 1,000 and sometimes 1,500 κλίναι during a banquet; and, finally, by Crassus who, after sacrificing to Hercules, treated 10,000 people to a meal, all at the same time? Caesar accomplished what had never been done before: after his triumph over Gaul, Egypt, Pontus and Africa, he fed the citizens of Rome (τον δήμον), again all at the same time, on 22,000 triklina (dining couches for three people) which corresponds to just under 200,000 guests. Not only Hellenistic kings and Roman emperors manifested their benevolence through such feedings; wealthy citizens in the provinces emulated them and sponsored a multiplicity of feedings in and for their cities. (pp 63f)

. . . .

Public feedings in Hellenistic-Roman Antiquity

Male and female benefactors of Hellenistic and Roman (provincial) cities sponsored public feedings rather frequently.” We know this primarily from inscriptions produced by the cities’ political authorities in gratitude for the benefit received. One example is the inscription honouring Cleanax of Cyme in Asia Minor (c. 2 BCE – 5 CE) . . . .

Because he did so in an exceptionally magnanimous and noteworthy manner, and with the consent of the city council, gratitude was owed him to which this inscription and the public crowning with a laurel wreath attest. (pp 64f)

. . . .

[T]he ideal of equality in common meals was not forgotten in Rome . . . . Belonging and being equal are, therefore, important aspects that the court-poet Statius emphasizes in his poem about one of Emperor Domitian’s mass-feedings. The luxuriance of the golden age displayed in this December Saturnalia is made visible at the beginning of the poem in the variety of exotic fruit that Domitian has rained down on the Coliseum in Rome where the feast is taking place (Silvae 1.6.9-27). This is followed by baskets of bread, side dishes and wine (28-34). Finally, the poet praises the giver and the gift:

(30-35) At one and the same time you satisfy the Circle where it is reformed and sobered together with the peoples of the gown: and since you feed so many folk, wealthy lord, haughty Annona knows not this day. Antiquity, compare if you will the ages of the ancient Jove and the golden time: not so freely did wine flow then, not thus would harvest forestall the tardy year. Every order eats at one table: children, women, populace, Knights, Senate. Freedom has relaxed reverence. Nay, you yourself (which the gods could thus invite, which accept invitation?) entered the feast along with us. Now everyone, be he rich or poor, boasts of dining with the leader. . . .

Statius wants to present the feast as the golden age not only returned but surpassed, in that equality and abundance for all had been achieved. That is why Domitian is acclaimed as God. Not only that, the figure portrayed at the end of the poem is quite comparable to Jupiter.

Should we, therefore, expect to find in the feasts for the gods equity in how food was distributed such that the ideals of equality have shaped the community at its meals? Dennis Smith believes that we may do so. He refers to a letter of invitation from a priest of Zeus Panamaros in Caria to the Rhodians:

Since the deity calls all human beings to the feast, allowing them to share a common table where all have equal rights (και κοινήν και ισότιμον παρέχι τράπεζαν), wherever they come from, and since I similarly believe that the city is worthy of this exceeding honour also on account of your reputation, oh Rhodians, and since our cities share a relationship and mutuality in things sacred, I call you to the deity and pray that the inhabitants of the city attend this joyous feast in his [the deity’s] presence because great honour is bestowed by the deity on the Rhodians in neighboring Caria if they receive my letter joyfully and make it known to the deity.

Here a god is said to invite people to come to a common table where all have equal rights. (pp 70f)

. . . .

But we can observe a tendency to invite broader levels of the population to religious feasts. If anywhere, those who had come to the temple or the sacred domain of the gods could expect to be given food in abundance without respect to their status.

It is not surprising then that with the gods and godesses [sic], food never runs out. Dionysos, the god of banquets par excellence, is most famous for this feat. The Bacchae describe a feast of the gods:

One of them took a θύρσος and struck it against a rock, from which a dewy stream of water leaped out. Another lowered her fennel-rod to the surface of the earth, and for her the god set up a stream of wine. Those who had a longing for the white drink scraped at the earth with their finger-tips and had streams of milk; and from the ivory θύρσοι dripped sweet flows of honey.

Other sources tell of a table that magically puts food on itself being prepared in the temple. . . .

What the Bible says about the jug of wine when Elijah visited the widow of Zarephath (1 Kgs 17.16) may also be said about Zeus’ visit to Philemon and Baucis. The jug never runs out; it refills itself on its own. (pp 72f)

Note the application of the above to the Markan narratives:

54. Celsus asserts that, according to Origen, there were professional magicians who ‘could conjure up costly meals and tables full of baked goods and condiments that in truth were never there and that what looked alive was not really alive but only seemed so to the imagination*. Origen, Contra Celsum. 1.68. Origen does not dispute the existence of such people but argues that Jesus cannot be compared with these ‘magicians’ because he wanted to move his onlookers by his miraculous deeds to moral betterment and the fear of God. Apolonius [sic] is supposed to have watched Indian savants ‘conjure up a delicious meal out of nothing and by a word alone’ (Philostratus. Vita Apollonius. 3.27). We are told in the Vita Prophetarum that Ezekiel provided his exiled compatriots with ‘an exceedingly rich fish meal miraculously by his prayer’. Vita Ezechiel 11. Cf. also Iamblich, Pythagoras 36

The feeding of the 4,000-5,000 (Mark 6.32-44 par.)

[M]ost of the New Testament’s miracle stories’ characteristics are missing in the feeding narratives, namely

  • the plea that hardship suffered be alleviated,
  • an account of the acts performed in the miracle itself, 
  • and the awe-struck response of the people present at the miracle.

Theißen gives only two additional examples of this genre: the miracle of the wine at Cana (Jn 2.1-10) and the widow of Zarephath’s inexhaustible jug of oil (1 Kgs 17.7-14). What is not taken into account is Bultmann’s note that the sudden multiplication of food or drink is, as has already been pointed out, a trans-cultural fairy-tale motif found in almost all religious contexts and cultures. In antiquity, people claiming to possess divine powers, theoi andropoi, can make such multiplication happen. 54

Whether the motif of inexhaustible sources of food makes this narrative a miracle story or not, the experience of 4-5,000 people being fed all at one time is not unusual in ancient times. . . . (pp. 73f – my formatting)

. . . .

Common meals, ‘picnics’ in nature, are spoken of especially in a religious context and in connection with military campaigns. . . .

The crowd is compared to a flock of sheep without a shepherd only in Mk 6.34. The citation from Num. 27.19 alludes to the political metaphor of the shepherd used throughout all of antiquity. Hence, right at the outset the expectation is raised that the ruling authorities, the kings and the emperors, cater to their people. (pp. 74f)

. . . .

Mark 6 is the only place that describes the seating order during the feeding. Whereas Mt. 14.19 says simply, ‘he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass’, and Luke has the 12 seat the people in groups of 50 persons each, Mk 6.39-40 says, ‘he ordered them to get all the people to recline symposion by symposion on the green grass. And they reclined garden-plot by garden-plot in groups of hundreds and fifties.’

Symposion (literally, drinking together) refers to a formal meal that is followed by a drinking session celebrated on dining couches (triciina). The social form of the symposium itself as well as ‘reclining-at-table’ (άνακλϊναι) is a status symbol as well as a sign of luxury. Thus, a symposium is a cena recta, a proper banquet, and not merely a distribution of sportulae, small bread baskets.

65. On Dionysos, see Dunbabin. Roman Banquet, pp. 50-2. On Anna Perenna. see Ovid. fasti, 3.523-542: ‘On the Ides is held the jovial feast of Anna Perenna not far from the banks. O Tiber, who comest from afar. The common folk come, and scattered here and there over the green grass, they drink …’ This reference is found also in Erich Kostermann. Das Markusevangelium (HNT 3, Tübingen: Mohr. 3rd edn.1936), p. 63, but later exegetes did not discuss it further.

The feeding takes place ‘on the green grass’, a place typical of Dionysos but also of some plebeian feasts in Rome, for example, the ancient Roman New Year’s feast Anna Perenna where the people drank on the grassy banks of the River Tiber. Even if the picnic in the open is nothing unusual, the expression πρασιά πρασιά, taking up the συμπόσια συμπόσια in v. 40, is puzzling. Πρασιά, in the strict sense of the word, means bed in a garden, garden-plot (cf. Eccl. 24.31) and in no hitherto known text does it describe a seating order at a meal. The general conclusion from the context is that it describes the seating order ‘in groups’. The group-sizes of 100 and 50 caused many interpreters to think of the assignment of the heads over the people of God spoken of in Exod. 18.21 and 25, and Deut. 1.15. According to 1 Macc. 3.55, this arrangement describes military units; according to IQSa 2.21-23 it is a group-organization; and according to IQSa 2.11-22, the order of Israel at its eschatological meeting with the Messiah which is followed by a festive meal. Reference to a banquet occurs only in the context of this last text; nowhere does the way people were arranged describe a seating order. Elsewhere groups of 100, 50 and ten arc mentioned, whereas Mk 6.40 speaks only of 100 and 50 and Lk. 9.14 only of 50. But in the context of mass-feedings in antiquity there are instructions specifying group-orders of fixed sizes. Epameinondas of Acraiphia writes, ‘after (a festive procession and offerings for the Emperor and different sponsored feedings), he invited to breakfast the sons of citizens and slaves of corresponding age in groups of twenty or thirty’. . . . The meal-order of groups of 100 and 50 persons given in the Gospel of Mark describes an orderly process. The reference to the desert-traditions is not persuasive here.

In the context of a miracle story, everything told to this point is to be seen as exposition. The miracle does not happen until Mk 6.41 in the sixth chapter of Mark (and par.), but the action proper to the miracle itself is missing in the narrative unless one takes Jesus’ looking up to heaven and his blessing to be magical acts. It might be that belief in the prophets’ power of prayer stands behind this. Otherwise, in the final analysis we have a miracle story without a miracle proper. (pp 76-78)

. . . .

While reclining is aristocratic, the meal itself consists of bread and fish. Bread is a basic nourishment of the elevated classes. Many of the poorer populace ate corn porridge above all. Bread is eaten when possible with side dishes (οψάριον). This could be fish. According to their size and where it was being consumed, fish could be both poor folk’s food and a luxury item depending on the context. It is worth noting that the meal in Mk 8.6-7 par. has fish as the second course on the menu, thus taking up a further characteristic of the aristocratic banquet which has several courses. But what is oddly missing altogether is wine which in most of the sponsored feedings is counted among the special highlights of the meal.

Mark 6.42 par. notes, ‘And all ate and were filled.’ This remark – which I have not found in any inscription – could have been inspired by Ps. 77.29 (LXX) and alludes to the miracle of the manna from heaven (Exod. 16; Ps. 77.23-29 (LXX)). There, in the context of the feeding with quails, we read, ‘And they ate and were very much filled’ (και εφάγοσαν και έσεττλάσθησαν σφοδρά). . . .

In inscriptions honouring sponsors of feedings, the number of people fed is one of the things almost always highlighted in first place. In such a position it demonstrates how magnanimous the benefactor is. . . .

What seems more important [in the Gospel of Mark] is not the great deed of the sponsor but that an initially uncounted crowd of people had enough to eat to be filled. (pp 79f)

. . . .

Feeding Narrative and Public Feeding: A Comparison

If there is any difference between civic banquets and religious ones, then there seems to have been a tendency, particularly in the context of feasts for the gods and temple-cults, to show consideration also to slaves, to ordinary people and to foreigners.

. . . .

It is in the details of the feeding narratives that we find what is unique to them. Ancient authors, especially in Roman times, rarely tell of 4-5,000 people reclining at table in the aristocratic position without any social differentiation, all having a two-course meal of bread and fish. The amount of money and/or food available to the disciples indicates that this is not the usual milieu of benefactors and those receiving their beneficence. On the contrary, the feeding narratives present a milieu that was excluded from most other feedings and corn-distributions elsewhere. When the wine which is elsewhere regularly part of the public banquet is missing here, it becomes clear that those people told this story are more used to food distributions than taking part in a symposium. Also missing is the emphasis on the donor’s generosity and how adequate the distribution was at the appropriate location in honour of a worthy cause. Instead, what is emphasized here is how necessary it was to feed the hungry people who were in danger of starving. Therefore the feeding could only with restriction be called spontaneous. The crowd needs food. And again, other than in the official presentations of mass-feedings at honorary inscriptions, attention is conspicuously directed to the problems of logistics and distribution. Nowhere else do these mention who is doing the distributing. And finally, nowhere else is any outcome of the feeding stated. The statement ‘… and all ate and were filled’ is unique in antiquity to the gospels.

The feeding narratives are, therefore, more than one type of miracle told about someone sent by God; they intend more than to tell how Jesus surpasses the miracles of Elijah and Moses or how in his lifetime an eschatological expectation was already realized. The narratives take up the political-religious praxis and ideals of public and civic banquets and mass-feedings. From here they developed the underlying expectation and hope that the common meal of all turns out to become really the (u)topia where indeed all become truly ‘filled’. (pp. 80-82)

Standhartinger, Angela. “‘And All Ate and Were Filled’ (Mark 6.42 Par.): The Feeding Narratives in the Context of Hellenistic-Roman Banquet Culture.” In Decisive Meals: Table Politics in Biblical Literature, edited by Nathan MacDonald, Luzia Sutter Rehmann, and Kathy Ehrensperger, translated by Martin Rumscheidt, 62–82. Library of New Testament Studies 449. London: T&T Clark, 2012.

Both of these works (each cited by NV) conclude by different routes that the primary impetus for these two feeding miracles is to present Jesus as a messianic king who satisfies the physical needs of all his people as one body. In other words, again recalling Occam’s principle, there is no need to speculate that the events were included on the basis of historical memory of Jesus being a miracle-worker: the message is theological, not Jesus as a wonder-worker.

The above extracts from Loos and Standhartinger deviate from the main point of NV’s discussion. They are an alternative response to what is only an incidental speculative point made by NV. But I have taken up the citations for further discussion here (the additional cited works of Dunbabin and Kostermann add nothing significant to what I have quoted) because I think the question is of interest and potential relevance to understanding a little more about the Gospel of Mark.

I find it much more interesting that Jesus should be portrayed as a messianic king who satisfies all the needs of his people than that he should be remembered as another miracle-worker.


Vette, Nathanael. Writing With Scripture: Scripturalized Narrative in the Gospel of Mark. London ; New York: T&T Clark, 2022.


 

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15 thoughts on “The Message of the Feeding Miracles of Jesus — a review of Writing with Scripture, part 6”

  1. The fact that there are two long feeding stories in Mark’s short Gospel is curious. Also odd is the fact that the second is less impressive than the first. You’d think with practice Jesus powers would be growing; or, stylisticlally at least, Mark should have put the bigger miracle second.

    Ched Myers in “Binding the Strongman” looks at the details of each story to uncover what he thinks is Mark’s purpose. The first story is set in Jewish territory; the second in Gentile territory. The word for “basket” changes from one familiar to Jews to one familiar to Gentiles. The numbers in the first story — 5, 5000, and 12 carry Jewish symbolism. The number symbolism in the second story is more universal. Later Jesus remonstrates with his disciples, repeating all these numbers, and says, “Do you still not understand?”

    Myers’ conclusion: Mark intends to say that Jesus opens the Kingdom of God to everyone, not just Jews. How do you evaluate this?

    1. Seems like Mark is obsessed with food analogies. In between the 5000 feeding (Israelites) and 4000 feeding (Gentiles), is the story of the Syrophoenician woman. “Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs”.

      My commentary of this implies 5000 (Israelites) 1st and more; 4000 (Gentiles) 2nd and less. Commentary says “Jesus’ insistence that the manifestation of the kingdom (food) is primarily for Israelites (children), she gives a reply that wins the debate.

      “Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs”.

      I would say the author of Mark had a sense of humor.

    2. The interpretation you refer to is common in the studies on the Gospel of Mark and I accept it. I thought I had included a reference to it in my post but I am horrified to see now that I didn’t. I will add a note now. I’m glad your comment has brought this serious lack to my attention!

    3. I have just now added a reference to the Jewish-gentile region of the two miracles. You will be interested in his footnote explaining some of the reasons the number seven is associated with gentiles. NV writes:

      He adds in a footnote the reasoning behind the symbolic interpretation of the number 7 that will be of interest to some of us:

      99. The seven ‘Hellenists’ of Acts 6:3 are often cited here, but the significance of the number is uncertain (cf. Acts 19:14; Jn 21:2). The number is associated with Gentiles in later Jewish literature: seven reflects the number of Noachide commandments (b. Avod. Zar. 22a), the seven Canaanite nations (who represent ‘all nations’ in b. lev. 23a; cf. b. Avod. Zar. 36b) and in Midr. Tanh. B Tzav 1:1 it reads that Balaam, ‘an advocate for the nations of the world’, offered seven altars to God in contrast to the twelve cakes of Israel. It is likely the number of baskets in the Markan feeding miracles reflects the same enumeration. (NV, 142 — And again, I am responsible for the bolded highlighting in all quotations.) (p. 142)

      I posted about the interpretation you mention in https://vridar.org/2011/06/02/the-story-of-jesus-history-or-theology/

      NV adds in another footnote,

      100. As the Lukan Jesus notes, the miracles of Elisha (and Elijah) also extended to gentiles (Lk. 4:27), see Jeffrey S. Siker, ‘“First to the Gentiles”: A Literary Analysis of Luke 4:16-30’, JBL 111 (1992): 73-90. The shift from predominantly Jewish regions to the mixed Decapolis, may also signal the movement’s early success in the region, in contrast to predominantly Jewish areas, or even the location of the Markan community. (p. 142)

      I was surprised to see that latter remark on the “Markan community” in that context. It’s surely entirely speculative, is at variance with more recent publications challenging the very notion of discrete communities behind the different gospels (though admittedly these new views don’t seem to have swept the field yet) and, as NV says of another viewpoint elsewhere, a “non sequitur”.

      1. I tend to think “He adds in a footnote the reasoning behind the symbolic interpretation of the number 7”…
        12 is for the 12 tribes, followed by 7, as “completion” of the process with the dog Gentiles. Much simpler than his explanations.

    4. I should clarify that I don’t see any contradiction between the interpretation that sees each mass feeding as symbolic of feeding Jews and gentiles on the one hand, and the interpretation of the meaning of those miracles that I post about above on the other hand. The two interpretations are hand in glove: Jesus is the providing king filling up the needs of Jews and gentiles. That is the message: it is not focusing on presenting Jesus as a miracle worker for the reasons stated — see the typical miracle tropes that are missing from both accounts. Jesus is performing a miracle, of course, but that is not the focus: the focus is on the theological meaning of mass feedings that only Jesus can accomplish.

  2. I think another possible connection to the miraculous feeding narratives (and the eucharist) would be the goddess Demeter. She was known as the provider of grains and eternal life while Dionysus was a provider of wine and eternal life.

    Dining with John: Communal Meals and Identity Formation in the Fourth Gospel and Its Historical and Cultural Context (Brill, 2011), Esther Kobel:
    “A comparison between the Gospel of John and the myth of Demeter according to the Homeric and the Orphic Hymns to Demeter reveals a number of parallels. Throughout the Homeric Hymn to Demeter, the goddess is praised as the provider of food and life… The motif of the goddess who has the power to feed humankind is heavily emphasized by virtually every word. Jesus’ feeding of the multitudes and the other Johannine feeding miracles parallel this godly power. The food that is multiplied in John 6 is in itself an allusion to the cult of Demeter. John repeatedly specifies that the bread multiplied in the feeding of the five thousand is barley bread. This is noteworthy because in all Synoptic accounts of the feedings of the multitude, the bread is simply called bread, and is not defined any further. Barley plays a distinct role in the myth of Demeter. The “kykeon”, a mixture of barley, water and herb, is the only drink that the grieving goddess accepts: “Metaneira offered a cup filled with honey-sweet wine, but Demeter refused it. It was not right, she said, for her to drink red wine; then she bid them mix barley and water with soft mint and give her to drink. Metaneira made and gave the drink to the goddess as she bid. Almighty Deo received it for the sake of the rite.” (Homeric Hymn to Demeter)

    The drinking of the kykeon is very likely part of an instituted rite in the mysteries at Eleusis, as is indicated by “for the sake of the rite”. The existing rite is legitimized by the goddess’s acts. She is the one who founded the rite and who enacted it first. The initiates then copied this act as well as the preceding fast by the goddess and her abstinence from wine. Whether or not the Johannine specification of the bread as being made of barley consciously intends to allude to the Demeter cult, in which barley plays a central role, cannot be determined. It is likely, however, that a Johannine audience familiar with mystery cults would have picked up on the allusion. The emphasis on the necessity to participate in the mystery of Demeter, obvious in the Homeric Hymn to Demeter, has a parallel in the Johannine Jesus’ stress on the necessity of eating the bread from heaven (Jn 6:50-51), chewing his flesh and drinking his blood (Jn 6:53-58), without which humankind cannot attain eternal life. According to the Homeric hymn to Demeter, initiation into the mystery clearly makes a difference for a mortal’s fate after life… It is noteworthy that initiation into the Demeter cult is indispensable for escaping darkness. Those who are not initiated remain in dreary darkness (482). This is strongly reminiscent of the language in John, who frequently uses the binary opposition of darkness and light, the former for the unbelievers, and the latter for believers. John 6:51–59 repeatedly speaks of the necessity to eat Jesus’ flesh and drink his blood in order to attain eternal life. Believing in Jesus is indispensable for having life. The parallels between John 6 and Demeter are striking, and it is likely that they would have been noticed by the original audience of the Gospel of John… Demeter is often closely related to Dionysus. In the Bacchae, the two are mentioned together as providers of food and drink… Dionysus not only offers a parallel to Demeter but also to Jesus as providers of food… This chapter has sought to explore John 6 particularly against the backdrops of the traditions of Demeter and Dionysus. Allusions inherent to John 6 were traced to these two cults. The exploration proceeded to undergird the likelihood that these allusions are not a fluke by extending the search for parallels between the Johannine and Dionysian traditions to the entire Gospel. Demeter and Jesus both appear prominently as food providers.”

    The Rhetorical Impact of the Semeia in the Gospel of John (Mohr Siebeck, 2004), Willis Hedley Salier:
    “The associations triggered by the feeding account are strong in the Jewish milieu. Echoes of the Elijah/Elisha narratives in the mention of barley make this connection. The connections with the Mosaic provision in the wilderness and the figure of ‘the prophet’ are clear as the crowd acknowledge. These echoes continue to establish the context for reading the signs within the history of God’s dealings with Israel… John helps the reader to see that Jesus is characterised by features of previous of God’s servants… Such benefactions, especially the distribution of grain, was also expected of the emperor. In the Res Gestae, Augustus speaks of his maintenance of the grain supply on several occasions as well as his general generosity in welfare matters… These are not strictly speaking parallels to the incident described in John 6. However, they do provide some context for their possible understanding as an act of generous benefaction. While the duties and benefactions of the benefactor were wider than bread, this action of Jesus would have been seen as the action of a generous and wealthy benefactor, if not a god. Perhaps the more so as he is depicted in the narrative as personally distributing the materials and also supplying fish which would have been seen in some areas of the empire as a generous and luxurious addition. The sign forms a pair with the wedding at Cana where again Jesus has been presented in terms reminiscent of a benefactor. He has now shown himself willing and able to supply an abundance of two of the three staples of the Mediterranean diet, two of the three products that signify the blessing of God (Deut. 7.13; 11:14; Ps. 4.8(LXX); Joel 2.19).

    Finally, a subtle polemic against one of the more popular deities of the day is hinted at in that the provision of grain was the special provenance of the goddess Demeter. The Eleusinian mysteries, with which the name Demeter was intimately connected was amongst the more popular of the cults that proliferated. While there remains little clear detail regarding the practices of this cult there are indications that the promise of life was on offer through participation in a manner similar to that in the Dionysiac mysteries. Certainly the name Demeter was synonymous with grain and its production (Diodorus Siculus, Hist. 2.36.2; Epictetus, Diatr. 2.20.32). Jesus feeds a massive crowd through the multiplication of loaves and fish. The correspondence is not exact and the polemic not sharp but in view of the pattern of subtle polemic observed thus far perhaps the incident might make this connection as well for many in the audience.”

    Mystery Cults, Theatre and Athenian Politics: A Reading of Euripides’ Bacchae and Aristophanes’ Frogs (Bloomsbury Academic, 2021), Luigi Barzini:
    “We now turn to the nature of the two Athenian mystery cults and their definition in ethnological terms. In many respects, the Athenian Eleusinian and Dionysiac mystery cults are very similar. The twin role of the deities as coming to the polis of Athens as foreigners, xenoi, and of their giving of gifts to mankind, the collective polis-wide mode of their festivals, their life-changing initiation rituals and their eschatological content are some of the shared elements of the two cults… A few lines later, Demeter is mentioned by Tiresias in a solemn context. Answering Pentheus’ accusations against Dionysus and his cult, Tiresias warns him that ‘there are two first things among humans: Demeter, who feeds the human race, and Dionysus, who introduced wine to mankind, the only remedy against human suffering’. The two deities are significantly coupled in their gift-giving nature, having given the legendary gifts that make life possible and bearable and freed mankind from the fear of death: food, wine and the (unmentioned, but well-known) initiation rituals…”

    1. Although those quotes compare Demeter to gJohn, in my opinion, the author of Mark would have also been aware of Demeter as a divine benefactor along with the Roman emperors.

  3. Mark 8:17-21 engages in an numerological puzzle in which Jesus asks the disciples to dicipher the meaning of it: (5,000 / 5 -> 12) || (4,000 / 7 -> 7). The loaves of bread refer to the 5 disciples of Yeshu in the Toledot, the 12 apostles, and the 7 Hellenistic Jews who were downgraded to tablewaiters in Acts 6. The bread is “broken” are the followers of Jesus who are martyred, the people who are “fed” receive the word, and the loaves left behind are the ones who are inspired to pick up where they left off. 5,000 is probably a reference to the 5,000 Jews who were converted by the 12 Apostles in Acts 4:4 and the 4,000 may be a reference to the 4,000 Jewish converts (“Grecian Jews”) who were drafted/banished by the Emperor Tiberius (Josephus 3.5; Seutonius, Tib. 36). The 5 identification of the 5 disciples from the Toledot gives credence to the Jewish anti-gospels are legitimate sources for a historical Jesus studies, added to the fact that the Toledot texts correctly identify Peter (and James, indirectly) as a later apostle who never knew Jesus in the flesh long before minimalists and mythicists gave that idea legitimacy again in the modern era.

  4. Joseph ben Matthew provisions 5000 fighters, divides them into smaller groups of 1000s and 100s. They declare him to be their benefactor and savior, after which, he delivers a sermon on the plain.

    From Flavius Josephus “Vita”:
    43. When I heard this, and saw what sorrow the people were in, I was moved with compassion to them, and thought it became me to undergo the most manifest hazards for the sake of so great a multitude; so I let them know I would stay with them. And when I had given order that five thousand off them should come to me armed, and with provisions for their maintenance, …
    47. When I had laid these commands upon them, I gave them orders, and bid them take their arms and bring three days’ provision with them, and be with me the next day. I also parted those that were about me into four parts, and ordained those of them that were most faithful to me to be a guard to my body. I also set over them centurions, and commanded them to take care that not a soldier which they did not know should mingle himself among them. Now, on the fifth day following, when I was at Gabaroth, I found the entire plain that was before the village full of armed men, who were come out of Galilee to assist me: many others of the multitude, also, out of the village, ran along with me. But as soon as I had taken my place, and began to speak to them, they all made an acclamation, and called me the benefactor and savior of the country. And when I had made them my acknowledgments, and thanked them [for their affection to me], I also advised them to fight with nobody, nor to spoil the country; but to pitch their tents in the plain, and be content with their sustenance they had brought with them; for I told them that I had a mind to compose these troubles without shedding any blood. ”

    Josephus’ lecture has points in common with the lecture of John the Baptist to his folllowers in Luke 3: 10-14;
    “10The crowds asked him, “What then should we do?”
    11John replied, “Whoever has two tunics should share with him who has none, and whoever has food should do the same.”
    12Even tax collectors came to be baptized. “Teacher,” they asked, “what should we do?”
    13“Collect no more than you are authorized,” he answered.
    14Then some soldiers asked him, “And what should we do?”
    “Do not take money by force or false accusation,” he said. “Be content with your wages.””

  5. The feeding miracles are the etiological tales for the institution of the eucharist before a further corruption of the synoptic stories shifted it to the cena. Especially the version of Mk8 is close to what happens in the Catholic mass.
    The bread in the synoptics is a midrash the manna in Exodus.

    In the short synoptic tales (absent in Luke’s source), the little fish have been added as a midrash on a passage in Numbers where the Israelites complain about missing the little fish they had in Egypt, so they were granted quails instead by God and Moses. Some come from afar and a delay of three days is employed as a midrash on a passage in the Book of Joshua where the Gibionites pretend to be from far away (showing their rotting bread) to escape from genocide, and their trickery is discovered after three days. The Gibbies are spared but reduced to slavery. Similarly, the pericope with the Samaritan woman, not far from the mass feeding, talks about bread crumbs which can be fed to the little dogs (heathens) while the good bread is reserved for the Jews.

    The two big fish in the long synoptic miracles are the two monsters slain by the Messiah (who will also repeat the miracle of the manna) in apocalyptic stories like Second Baruch for the eschatological banquet, which is thus anticipated by the Christian mass. The division of Israel into groups of 50 or 100 or so (absent in Matthew’s source) is a
    midrash on a division of the Israelites in Deuteronomy 1:15 and in Exodus 18.
    John’s story rejects the manna given by Moses and opposes it to the bread of life given by Jesus. Instead, a midrash on Elisha’s feeding miracle with barley bread and opsaria is employed.

    1. Equally unknown to Luke’s source is the theme of the good shepherd, a midrash on Psalm 23, Jeremiah 23, and Ezekiel 34.
      Mark pleonastically combines the themes of the Matthean and the Lukan source.

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