§ 54. The Crowds


§ 54.

The Crowds.

As Jesus, as reported by Mark (chapter 4, verses 1-2), had thwarted the plans of the scribes and his relatives, he went to the shore of the lake. A large crowd gathered, so that he was compelled to board a boat. From there, he delivered several parables to the people standing on the shore. Matthew also reports this (chapter 13, verses 1-13), and he was able to follow the parable discourse after the plans of the scribes and Jesus’ relatives, as Mark prescribes. However, Luke was not able to do so, as he did not want to include the parable of the sower in the abyss of his notes, where he had thrown the account of the Pharisees’ plans. Instead, he wanted to assign the context of that parable to the Galilean ministry of Jesus, and he wanted to bring the relatives only after the end of this discourse. Therefore, he had to create a new occasion. Thus, he reports that after Jesus received the message from John and had meanwhile been a guest at a Pharisee’s house, “he went through the cities and villages, preaching and proclaiming the kingdom of God, and with him were the twelve; and certain women who had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities, Mary Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, and Joanna, the wife of Chuza, Herod’s steward, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their resources; and as a great crowd gathered and people from the towns were coming to him, he told them the parable of the sower” (chapter 8, verses 1-4).


Schleiermacher says: “the intention of our narrative (C.8, 1-21.), if one holds the beginning and the end against each other, cannot be doubtful; it is the glorification of that company accompanying Jesus and serving him, and certainly also of the women mentioned by name, partly in comparison with his bodily relatives, to whom he preferred them as spiritual relatives, partly in the application of the parable of the sower, who found in them the good land, which keeps the word heard and bears fruit *)”. 

*) p. 116

It is very possible that Schleiermacher hit the meaning of the passage; a man, at least, who related Jesus’ word about his true relatives to the parable of the sower, was also able to relate the same parable to those women and, by means of this relationship, to contrast Jesus’ bodily relatives with that helpful company that served and cared for him. For this reason, however, Luke is far from deserving the praise that Schleiermacher bestows upon him; for this reason, it “must” be far from “obvious to everyone that we owe our (Luke’s) narrative with its strange note about the serving women to some private relationship that cannot be determined *)”. On the contrary: the worse, if Luke has looked at the matter in the indicated way, the worse that he has not better – if he once wanted to change it – reshaped the original report, which we must put in the place of that “private relationship”. It is purely his fault that he copied Jesus’ speech to the disciples (C. 8, 16-18.) from the writing of Mark and thereby separated the parable of the sower from the saying about the true relatives much too much. And why did he not better connect the parable, if it should glorify that serving retinue, with the entrance of the narration, why, on the contrary, did he completely divert the attention from those women, if he still lets the Lord interpret the parable? “Must it not be obvious to everyone that this interpretation is out of all proportion to that purpose? How precious, pretentious and attitudeless is it when the praise of those women is wrapped up in a parable whose meaning is hidden from the people and which only the more deeply observant are able to discover **)? How precious to carry this praise through the opposition to the seed which bears no fruit? Why tell the disciples: it is given to you to know the secrets of the “Kingdom of Heaven”, why ask them: see how you hear? Luke borrowed the parable, its interpretation, and Jesus’ statements that led to the disciples’ question about the meaning of the parable from the writings of Mark, and left everything as it is in the original Gospel, even though it is highly probable that he wanted to bring it into a new context.

*) op. cit. p. 117-119.

**) Wilke, p. 379.


Also the note of the women who followed and served the Lord, he took from the writing of Mark *); but that they were now just in the entourage of Jesus, that they felt urged to their service of love, because the Lord had healed them miraculously and delivered them from demons, that two of them were called Johanna and Susanna **), all this is solely his work. He has now summoned them, created two of them, and it is he who first explains their attachment out of gratitude for the miraculous healing of their diseases. What Jesus did only to Peter’s mother according to the Gospel, he has to do the same service to the other women in Luke’s scripture, so that they serve him again ***).

*) Mark 15, 40 γυναίκες: 23. 41 αι και, ότε ήν εν τη Γαλιλαία, ήκολούθουν και διηκόνουν αυτό.

**) In Mark 15, 40 Mary, the mother of Jacob and Joses, and Salome.

***) Mark 1, 31: και διηκόνει αυτούς.


Mark only mentions those women when he needs them, namely for some contrasts in his resurrection story. He does mention that they had always belonged to Jesus’ entourage and served him during his time in Galilee – but why didn’t he say it earlier? Why didn’t he give us any hint that would have enlightened us about this part of Jesus’ society? It would be insufficient to say that he didn’t need them before for his pragmatism or didn’t require their services. On the contrary, there was no place for these women before. Nowhere in Mark’s account of Jesus’ travels, or the depiction of his surroundings, can we think of these women. There is no pore to be found where we can place them. Only now, when Mark mentions them, they are assigned their service. The evangelist wants to explain how they came to Jerusalem – they were always part of his entourage! – he wants to explain why they took care of Jesus’ body and wanted to embalm him – they had always served the Lord during his lifetime!


When Luke later (chapter 23, verses 49-55) comes to the point in Mark’s account where he finds the mention of the women, he simply writes that they came with Jesus from Galilee and doesn’t even mention their names – he wants to prove that he faithfully followed Mark’s more detailed note in chapter 8, that Mark had changed the original report inappropriately, and that he himself created the characters of Joanna and Susanna. Just as an external need of pragmatism gave rise to the mention of that women’s entourage in Mark’s account, it was an even more external and narrowly limited need that prompted Luke to introduce the mention of that entourage before the parable of the sower; he needed a historical introduction and for this purpose he reached for that note to give a completely false connection to the parable of the sower.

*) Because later the remark that these same women had followed the Lord also otherwise and had served, could not be missing.

We say: an external need! The need! A limited material interest! After all, it would have been better if a more general aesthetic need had introduced that female retinue into the story of Jesus, and if the evangelists had worked out the situations in such a way that the good women could find a suitable place. The latter did not happen anywhere and the synoptics did not have that aesthetic need, although it would have been very good if they had felt it. Why? Because it is too monotonous and insubstantial, if we learn nothing more about the relationship of Jesus to the people, than always only the one thing, that everywhere, where Jesus exits, “crowds” flow together and surround him. Those women would not have helped much, especially if they were mentioned as regularly as the Synoptics never forget to report that the disciples were around Jesus and the crowds gathered around him; but at least some variety would have come into the meager picture, if that women’s retinue had been mentioned —- but it would not have helped either, since the whole layout of the evangelical historiography is so abstract that no means could have brought it to life. Let us dare to declare the habit of literal interpretation obsolete. Consider how the evangelists have nothing further to say than that the crowds flowed to the Lord from all ends of the land, followed him into the solitude of the desert, or came immediately when he arrived in any city. Observe this painting impartially and think only of the chorus of Greek tragedy, whose place the crowds occupy in the Gospel story!  The former is connected with the hero of the tragedy through a moral pathos, through pity, or contains in the universality of his self-awareness the reconciliation of the conflicting forces that collide in the tragedy. However, the crowds in the Gospel story are just crowds, a shapeless, indeterminate mass that is always and everywhere the same and is only tied to the Lord by external selfish necessity. “As soon as they learn that he has come, they will run about the whole country and take the sick to where they heard that he was. And whenever he came to a hamlet, town, or village, they would bring the sick to market, and besought him that he would only allow them to touch the hem of his garment” Mark 6:55, 56. That was the necessary consequence: if the One is everything and represents the pure universality of self-consciousness alone, then the others are left with only stupidity and at most wickedness – (as happened in the Fourth Gospel) – or natural selfishness and neediness, and that tension between the two sides rests either on the contrast of the sublime self-confidence and the narrowness of the crowd, or the crowds are driven towards the One by their sensual need. The crowds lack moral pathos, pity, they cannot be actively involved in the Lord’s struggle because he must stand isolated as the One, and the only universality left to them is the religious confidence that the One can help them with their natural need.


We have put the category of the “multitudes” so far into its true light that the theologian will lose all desire to appeal henceforth to the credibility of the reports; for if the way in which the Synoptics placed the multitudes to the Lord is repulsive, it would have done much less honor to Jesus if he had excited and moved the masses of the people only by the appearance which his miracle-working aroused. We have no dogmatic interest why we should call the evangelical view untrue in this respect; we have done enough when we have recognized it as meager and lifeless and have called it a necessary determinant of the religious view in general; but if the theologian should nevertheless be so foolhardy and fight for the historical existence of the “crowds,” the following critical reflection will suffice to send the crowds back to their home. We do not even want to mention that all previous reports and with them the miracles have dissolved and evaporated into the self-consciousness of the church, but as if the reports were still there in their first immediacy, we content ourselves with the demand that the evangelists explain to us how the multitudes could so suddenly gather together and be driven to the Lord. No sooner had Jesus arrived in Capernaum for the first time than all the sick and demoniacs were brought to him, and the whole city gathered at the door of the house where he had entered. In the morning, when Jesus had left quietly, Peter hurried after him to tell him that everyone was looking for him. On his return to Capernaum, many ran to the news of his arrival and as soon as he went to the lake, the whole crowd streamed out to him (Mark 1, 32. 37. 2, 2. 13.). Mark, however, says that Jesus, when he appeared for the first time in the synagogue of Capernaum, caused a sensation by the power of his teaching and astonished the people by healing the possessed man. In the real world, however, the crowd is never so easily aroused; rather, the man who wants to have an effect on his environment has to overcome with great difficulty the most simple resistance offered him by inertia, indolence and doubtfulness, as well as the envy of the crowd. A single deed – and be it even the healing of a man possessed – attracts at first only the attention of a few individuals and is either forgotten or at most and in the happiest case, when the tension is maintained and increased, is judged lukewarmly, doubtfully or with a shake of the head, until ever new, ever more decisive deeds and victories follow and general recognition is secured. So much even heroes have to let themselves become sour and only Jesus is supposed to have tied the mob to himself immediately by one doctrinal lecture and by the one healing of the possessed? So at that time the mob, also the spiritual mob was another than it always was, is and will be? Or the masses had no definiteness about them that had to be overcome before they surrendered to the new? Or did they immediately throw away the heavy burden of the old, which in real history they defended so stubbornly against innovators, in order to pay homage to the new? Before we believe the unbelievable, Mark would have to make us understand how the people from all places could find their way into the desert to Jesus or how it was possible that a few days after his first appearance the crowds from Galilee, Judea, Jerusalem, Idumaea, the country beyond the Jordan and from Tyre and Sidon flocked to him (C. 1, 45.3, 7. 8.). Mark says (C. 1, 28.), immediately as he appeared in the synagogue of Capernaum on the first day, the call of him spread throughout the whole region of Galilee, this alone, and especially with this “immediately,” says very little, if anything at all. 


The crowds” are a category of the Gospel worldview, the reflected image of the universality of the One in the empirical and sensual world, an image that is related to the One and the sublime only through finite need and necessity, and in this position serves as the historical backdrop to the glory of the One. Jesus did not know this category.


The wrathful shadow of the Twelve, who until now had rightfully complained that we had banished them alone to the realm of ideal contemplation, has now fallen on the crowds as a sacrificial offering of reconciliation, or rather, they have followed the Twelve into a better world where they will no longer be crushed and trampled, even if they gather in the tens of thousands (Luke 12:1). They now lead their true, ideal life.


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Neil Godfrey

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