HJ-2a: Sections 11 to 15
"Jesus' public life"
Jesus' "miraculous" Sabbath in Capernaum & subsequent credited healing, causing a short-lived hysteria & making him known among the Jews of Palestine
11. JESUS GOES TO CAPERNAUM
After John's arrest, Jesus did not stay in the Judean desert:
Mk1:14a "After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee ..."
But he did not go back to Nazareth where, as demonstrated by his later visit (Mk6:1-6), he was looked down. Instead, he went to Capernaum, a three days walk north from the bottom end of the Jordan river:
Mt4:13a "Leaving Nazareth, he went and lived in Capernaum ['kafarnaum'(Byzantine)/'kapernaum'(Alexandrine) according to the Greek Beta transliteration] ...
[why did "Matthew" write Jesus lived in Capernaum when, as in Mark's gospel, Jesus appears to spend a lot of time going on wandering trips with his disciples? Certainly, "Matthew" repeated from GMark most mentions of the alleged trips (Mt9:35,11:1,19:1), but he also did just that for 90% of Mark's material. Did "Matthew" and his community know Jesus spent most of his public life in and about Capernaum? See "The wandering journeys"]"
Capernaum, on the sea of Galilee, was a rather poor "stone age" village, as attested by archaeological excavations:
"Agriculture was highly developed. Excavations have brought to light olive presses, grinding stones for wheat and cereals, mortars, stone bowls and craters etc. These tools mostly of basalt stones were made in Capharnaum itself, as can be proved by several unfinished pieces; and they were considered as a precious family heritage. Another industrial activity of the village was the manufacture of glass vessels.
An appreciable portion of the ancient village has been excavated since 1968, providing an insight to the living quarters. The private houses so far excavated are rather unpretentious but by no means poor, at least according to the living standard of an ancient village. They also betray no sharp economic differentiation. Local volcanic basalt stones in their natural state were used to build walls and pavements. Walls were built without true foundations, and the one storey rooms could hardly reach more that 3 m in height, judging from several staircases leading to the roof. Fairly regular courses were levelled with small pebbles and soil, but with no help of strong mortar, at least in the Hellenistic and Roman periods; even in the Byzantine period mortar was employed only in some cases, and not as a rule. Light roofs made up of wooden beams and of beaten earth mixed with straw covered the squat rooms, and they were reached from open courtyards through a flight of stone steps. The private houses consisted of several units following a fairly standard pattern with minor differences; several roofed rooms clustered around a large open courtyard.
Actually the open courtyard was the focal point of a house. Its conspicuous size in comparison to the small roofed rooms was dictated by the climatic conditions of Capharnaum where in summertime the temperature lingers around 35 degrees. The squat roofed rooms received light from a series of windows facing the inner courtyard. They were used as shelters, for sleeping at least in the rainy season, and as a place where the inhabitants kept their belongings; whereas many daily life activities took place in the courtyard. Grinding stones and ovens for instance are always found in the courtyard. Here women fixed the meal; here the artisans worked and probably here too people used to sleep in the summertime on stretched mats on the floor.
Hygienic facilities, such as wash-rooms, drainage systems etc., did not exist. Neither can we find in Capharnaum water cisterns as in Korazin, or underground silos as in Nazareth. The proximity of the lake is responsible for this lack. A house of this kind with many roofed rooms around a common courtyard entered from the public street through a single doorway, most probably was shared by two or more kindred families living in a patriarchal fashion."
Source: Franciscan Cyberspot
Jesus went to Capernaum probably to visit some fishermen he could have met in the entourage of John the Baptist.
Josephus, who appears to have been there, "into a village named Cepharnome ['kefarnwkon' according to the Greek Beta transliteration]" (Life 72), described the area (somewhat idealistically) in Wars, III, X, 7 & 8. Here are some extracts:
"Now this lake of Genneraseth [sea of Galilee] is so called for the country adjoining it."
"its water are sweet, and very agreeable for drinking."
"There are different kinds of fish in it, different both to the taste and the sight of those elsewhere."
"its nature is wonderful as well as its beauty. Its soil is so fruitful that all sort of trees can grow upon it, and the inhabitants accordingly plant all sort of [fruit] trees there; for the temper of the air is so well mixed, that it agrees very well with those several sorts, particularly walnuts, which require the coldest air, flourish here in vast plenty; there are palm-trees also, which grow best in hot air; fig-trees also and olives grow near them, which yet require an air that is more temperate."
"for it not only nourishes different sorts of autumnal fruits beyond men's expectation, but preserves them a great while; it supplies men with the principal fruits, with grapes and figs continually, during ten months in the years, and the rest of the fruits as they become ripe together, through the whole year; for besides the good temperature of the air, it is also watered from a most fertile fountain [irrigation, summer crop].
The people of the country call it Capharnaum ['kafarnaoum' according to the Greek Beta transliteration]. Some have thought it to be a vein of the Nile, because it produces the Coracin fish ..."
Not a bad place to live! Even if this "garden of Eden" ("the best part of Galilee" according to Josephus' Ant., XVIII, II, 3) was one of the most crowded area in the Roman empire.
Capernaum population was then less than one and a half thousand people (according to the Franciscan Cyberspot). And within a seven miles range, there were many villages & towns like Bethsaida (3.5 miles NE) & Korazin (2 miles north) and cities like Taricheae (7 miles SW). Tiberias, the capital city of Galilee at the time, was eleven miles south.
Note: Jesus is not said to have visited the aforementioned cities, only Korazin (covering only 15 acres) and Bethsaida, then "a village" (Mk8:23). In 29-30C.E., Philip the Tetrach "advanced the village Bethsaida, situate at the lake of Gennesareth, unto the dignity of a city, both by the number of inhabitants it contained, and its other grandeur, and called it by the name of Julias, the same name with Ceasar's daughter." (Josephus' Ant., XVIII, II, 1)
Nazareth was a day walk away (22 miles).
And the particularity of the climate is due to the sea of Galilee (14 miles long & 8 miles wide) being 680 ft below sea level.
12. HOW IT ALL BEGINS
Then, as it seems, Jesus was a simple, good and not ambitious man (emanating "... meekness and gentleness ..." Paul in 2Co10:1a) with sincere and intense religious beliefs.
He came to Capernaum with some newly found self-assurance (Mk1:22 "... he taught them as one who has authority ..."), likely motivated by John's powerful sermons, still fresh in his memory. Quickly, within an area of northern Galilee and adjoining territories, Jesus became known as a "man of God" by the poor, hard working, uneducated and overtaxed Jewish villagers.
But how did it all begin?
We have to look at Mk1:21-45 to understand: on the Sabbath following his arrival (Mk1:21), Jesus talked (most likely about John the Baptist and the Kingdom) at the local synagogue.
a) "Today only a few ruins of the old town [Capernaum] remain, among them a synagogue built between the 2d and 4th centuries AD. Franciscan monks have restored part of the synagogue and built a monastery, which they still maintain. In 1981 the remains of a synagogue from the 1st century were uncovered." (Funk & Wagnall's Encyclopaedia)
For more information, consult the Fransciscan Cyberspot.
b) In those days, synagogues were not necessarily dedicated and ornate religious buildings, but at least large sheltered meeting places where Jews could gather for Sabbath.
In Josephus' Wars, II, XIV, 4-5, the Jews of Cesarea had a "synagogue":
"For the Jews that dwelt at Cesarea had a synagogue [in 65-66C.E.] near the place, whose owner was a certain Cesarean Greek: the Jews had endeavored frequently to have purchased the possession of the place, and had offered many times its value for its price; but as the owner overlooked their offers, so did he raise other buildings upon the place, in way of affront to them, and made working-shops of them, and left them but a narrow passage, and such as was very troublesome for them to go along to their synagogue ... Now on the next day, which was the seventh day of the week, when the Jews were crowding apace to their synagogue, a certain man of Cesarea, of a seditious temper, got an earthen vessel, and set it with the bottom upward, at the entrance of that synagogue, and sacrificed birds. This thing provoked the Jews to an incurable degree, because their laws were affronted, and the place was polluted [that "incident" was the start of the "Jewish War" (66-73)]"
Earlier on, Philo of Alexandria also mentioned synagogues:
"... introducing new regulations with respect to their synagogues and their national customs ... if they were deprived of their houses of prayer, would at the same time be deprived of all means of showing their piety ... if their synagogues were destroyed they would no longer have any sacred places in which they would declare their gratitude ..." (Flaccus, 47-49)
"[in Egypt, around 40C.E.] All the synagogues that they were unable to destroy by burning and razing them to the ground, because a large number of Jews lived in a dense mass in the neighbourhood, they injured and defaced in another manner." (On the embassy to Gaius, 133)
c) Nowhere in the earliest gospel (GMark), Jesus is said to preach or teach in (market-places or) cities (except for Jerusalem), but only villages (Mk1:38,6:6b). The other gospels say Jesus preached in (unnamed) cities, but let's not forget the Synoptics consider Capernaum as one of those!
d) Anyone could invite himself to speak to the congregation during the Sabbath service (Paul used often this privilege).
In the synagogue, an outspoken man interrupted Jesus, probably worried about the political implications of the Kingdom and possible retaliation by the authorities.
Mk1:24a "What do you want from us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? ..."
Jesus rebuked the heckler:
Mk1:25a ""Be quiet!" said Jesus sternly. ..."
The man was intimidated and he shut up. The people were most impressed by this unexpected display of authority, especially from someone who looked meek.
Let's imagine the same situation happening today, during a sermon, in church. Does exorcism have to be invoked to explain why a disturber would be persuaded to shut up, after the congregation (with disapproving looks) and the preacher react to him/her? And then, exorcism is supposed to be administered on an one to one basis, NOT incidentally with a few words to somebody among others!
A) Josephus related an exorcism he witnessed himself:
Ant., VIII, II, 5 "God also enabled him [Solomon] to learn that skill which expels demons, which is a science useful and sanative to men. ... And he left behind him the manner of using exorcisms, by which they drive away demons ...
for I have seen a certain man of my own country, whose name was Eleazar, releasing people that were demoniacal in the presence of Vespasian, and his sons, and his captains, and the whole multitude of his soldiers. The manner of the cure was this: He put a ring that had a root of one of those sorts mentioned by Solomon to the nostrils of the demoniac, after which he drew out the demon through his nostrils; and when the man fell down immediately, he abjured him to return into him no more, making still mention of Solomon, and reciting the incantations which he composed."
B) The gospel author was bent to invoke "evil spirit" and demon everywhere (seventeen times!). But in Mk9:17-27, it is clear that the boy had all the symptoms of a "grand mal" epilepsy:
"A seizure (convulsion) is uncontrolled muscle activity (stiffening and jerking) of the arms, legs, or face that usually lasts for more than 1 minute. The seizure is followed by a period of sleepiness and confusion." David A. Severance, MD
Let's compare this brief description with:
Mk9:18-27 ""Whenever it seizes him, it throws him to the ground. He foams at the mouth, gnashes his teeth and becomes rigid ..." ... the boy into a convulsion. He fell to the ground and rolled around, foaming at the mouth. Jesus asked the boy's father, "How long has he been like this?" "From childhood," he answered. ... [after the seizure] The boy looked so much like a corpse that many said, "He's dead." But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him to his feet [which is not medically advisable!] ..."
However an evil spirit is said to be the cause of the seizures. Also, there is no claim of permanent healing. And then, if the evil spirit is deaf, how could it hear (and obey) Jesus?
Mk9:25 "... Jesus ... rebuked the unclean spirit, saying to it, "Deaf and dumb spirit, I command you, come out of him and enter him no more!""
It looks that "Mark" made a mistake in "filling up the blanks" in an embellished way!
C) In those days, there were no medications, sedatives or pain killers. Persons in pain, with fever or seizure of epilepsy would act strangely (i.e. convulsions or/and abnormal utterances). Therefore ill-educated people would assume these persons (and the ones with mental, nervous disorder or just a fool mouth) were possessed:
DSS Tales of the Patriarchs (1QapGen):
"So I prayed for him, that blasphemer, and laid my hands upon his head. Thereupon the plague was removed from him, the evil spirit exorcised from him, and he was healed."
And then, any fever, illness and pain would be connected to demons or evil spirits:
DSS 4Q560 1:4 "[... I adjure you by the name of the Lord, 'He Who re] moves iniquity and transgression', O Fever demon and Chills-demon and Chest Pain-demon ..."
Ac19:12 "... even handkerchiefs and aprons that had touched him [Paul] were taken to the sick, and their illnesses were cured and the evil spirits left them."
D) "Exorcism" was commonly practiced as implied in:
Lk11:19a "Now if I drive out demons by Beelzebub, by whom do your followers drive them out?"
Ac19:13-14 "Some Jews [in Ephesus around 55C.E.] who went around driving out evil spirits tried to invoke the name of the Lord Jesus over those who were demon-possessed. They would say, "In the name of Jesus, whom Paul preaches, I command you to come out." Seven sons of Sceva, a Jewish chief priest, were doing this."
In conclusion, after looking at the suspicious descriptions of alleged exorcisms by Jesus in GMark (where they appear for the first time) and at what exorcism could mean then (healing or intimidation), it is most unlikely Jesus was a (true) exorcist. It seems "Mark" wanted to have Jesus be a better exorcist than the other known ones in the Jewish/Roman world!
Let's go back to the "miraculous Sabbath":
"As soon as they left the synagogue, they went with James and John [the fishermen] to the home ["house" according to the Greek] of Simon [Peter] and Andrew. Simon's mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told Jesus about her. So he went to her, took her hand and helped her up"
"and immediately the fever left her. And she served them."
Here, Jesus' deed was not to cure the lady but to get her up. Could it be possible the woman had already recovered and was overextending her rest in bed? Peter might have guessed it and used Jesus & the authority he just demonstrated to get his mother-in-law back to work.
a) Working on the same story, "Matthew" and "Luke" felt they had to remove any thought the woman was already cured when Jesus got her out of bed:
Mt8:15 "So He touched her hand, and the fever left her. And she arose [by herself!] and served them."
Now, the woman is touched only (not forcefully removed from bed!) and (apparently) cured then by Jesus, all of that before getting out of bed.
And "Luke" went even further:
Lk4:39 "So He stood over her and rebuked the fever, and it left her. And immediately she arose [by herself!] and served them."
Here, "Luke" removed any physical contact between Jesus and the woman. And she is cured because of the rebuttal (what else!).
b) Jesus had not previously visited Peter's house and consequently never met him (and his mother-in-law) before. We can infer that James & John introduced Peter to Jesus in the synagogue.
c) When presented with a sick (or dead) person lying on the floor or in bed, Jesus is shown attempting (with few words or any) to forcefully raise this individual:
Mk9:27 "But [after the seizure] Jesus took him [the "epilectic boy"] by the hand and lifted him to his feet and he stood up."
Mk5:41 "He took her by the hand and said to her, "Talitha koom! [Aramaic]" (which means, "Little girl, I say to you, get up")."Note: "Talitha koom" means only "Little girl get up" (and does not include "I say to you"). Even a translation is added on!
Anyway, that was enough to greatly excite the local people and the hysteria around Jesus had started:
Darby "But evening being come, when the sun had gone down, they brought to him all that were suffering, and those possessed by demons; and the whole city [this seems to be exaggerated, considering the next four words] was gathered together at the door. And he healed many suffering from various diseases; "
a) "Many" is very suggestive and can mean "some" (see also Mk3:10). Certainly, "many" is not "all".
b) "Sick and demon possessed" are the same ones who have "various diseases"!
"[next day] Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up [he could not sleep], left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.
[Jesus appears to be "shaken up" and stressed by the probable ugly "mob" scene of the day before (hundreds of people pushing and crushing each other in order to get at the door), which can affect someone greatly]
` Simon and his companions went to look for him and when they found him, they exclaimed: "Everyone is looking for you!"".
[these "everyone" were probably from Capernaum only and looking for Jesus for a first or second chance to be healed. It is clear, according to Mk1:45, that the people of the nearby villages had not gone "ballistic" yet]
` "Then, Jesus replied, "Let us go somewhere else - to the nearby villages - so I can preach here also ..."" (Mk1:35-38a)
Instead of meeting these "everyone", a rather impulsive Jesus went on some wandering, after spending only a few days in Capernaum!
"Mark" is pretending Jesus felt suddenly the urge to preach outside of Capernaum. This is highly unlikely, considering:
a) Jesus talked only once to the people of Capernaum when he was in the synagogue, the day before.
b) "So he travelled throughout Galilee, preaching in their synagogues ..." Mk1:39a
If Jesus did some preaching in the synagogues then (which is likely according to Mk1:21&6:2), it must have been only during the Sabbath day:
"When the Sabbath came, he began to teach in the synagogue [of Nazareth] ..." Mk6:2a
"... when the Sabbath came, Jesus went into the synagogue [of Capernaum] and began to teach." Mk1:21b
Why would Jesus hurry to go somewhere else when his next opportunity to preach was the next Sabbath, six days away?
And it is unlikely that some followers accompanied him:
a) "So he travelled through Galilee ..." Mk1:39a
b) There is no narration and names of places for this wandering (as for most of the alleged other ones Mk6:6b, Mk6:12-13, Mk6:56, Mk7:31 (here, Sidon, Sea of Galilee and Decapolis are mentioned but nothing else) and Mk10:1b. See The wandering journeys). Only the story of the "leper" is told. And that became known because the healed man went public and consequently crowds looked for Jesus (Mk1:45).
c) How could the fishermen, on such a short notice, abandon everything to follow him? Peter, for example, had a mother-in-law and most likely a wife to support.
Somewhere in these villages, possibly weeks later:
"A man with leprosy came to him and begged him on his knees, "if you are willing, you can make me clean"" (Mk1:41)
It is likely this man knew already about Jesus and the "miraculous Sabbath" in Capernaum.
As suggested by Mk1:44 (reference to Leviticus13-14), this leprosy could have been only a skin disease, anything from severe to benign.
"The Greek word [employed here for "leprosy"] was used for various diseases affecting the skin - not necessarily leprosy." (The NIV Study Bible text note on Mk1:40)
According to Lev13-14, this (and mildew problems!) was routinely taken care by priests.
Lev13:4-13 "If the spot on his skin is white but does not appear to be more than skin deep and the hair in it has not turned white, the priest is to put the infected person in isolation for seven days. On the seventh day the priest is to examine him, and if he sees that the sore is unchanged and has not spread in the skin, he is to keep him in isolation another seven days. On the seventh day the priest is to examine him again, and if the sore has faded and has not spread in the skin, the priest shall pronounce him clean; it is only a rash. The man must wash his clothes, and he will be clean."
Lev13:9-13 "When anyone has an infectious skin disease, he must be brought to the priest. The priest is to examine him, and if there is a white swelling in the skin that has turned the hair white and if there is raw flesh in the swelling, it is a chronic skin disease and the priest shall pronounce him unclean. He is not to put him in isolation, because he is already unclean. If the disease breaks out all over his skin ... the priest is to examine him, and if the disease has covered his whole body, he shall pronounce that person clean. Since it has all turned white, he is clean."
After healing, cleansing included animal offerings and:
Lev14:8-9 "The person to be cleansed must wash his clothes, shave off all his hair and bathe with water; then he will be ceremonially clean. After this he may come into the camp, but he must stay outside his tent for seven days. On the seventh day he must shave off all his hair; he must shave his head, his beard, his eyebrows and the rest of his hair. He must wash his clothes and bathe himself with water, and he will be clean."
Jesus then touched the hand of the sick man. The man recovered and:
Darby "... But he, having gone forth, began to proclaim [it] much, and to spread the matter abroad, so that he could no longer enter openly into the city [Capernaum, considering 1:33], but was without in desert places
[again and again, Jesus is seen doing his best in order to avoid the people seeking to be healed]
` and they came to him from every side." (Mk1:45)
Note: this is the last time in GMark when a healing/miracle credited to Jesus is described to provoke a local hysteria. Other public "miracles" narrated later draw, at best, some favorable comments from individuals (2:12 & 7:37).
13. JESUS, THE HEALER
After his arrival, Jesus spent only a few days in Capernaum before the Sabbath. It is likely the locals did not have time to know him as a man. They must have noticed mysterious things about him, such as his praying, his aloofness and his "essenish" ways. The people could not help wonder: who was he?
Then came, and within a short time, the "exorcism" in the synagogue and the mother-in-law back on her feet. Suddenly, the hysteria started in Capernaum (but then died quickly here because of Jesus' disappearing act). Later, it restarted over a large area, after the "leper" got clean and spread the news that Jesus healed him.
Jesus became the "man of God" who could heal you by touching you.
Another example of the reaction of people to a "miracle" is described in Ac14:11-12: after Paul enticed a man with "crippled" feet to get up and walk, in the city of Lystra, "southern" Galatia:
"Now when the people saw what Paul had done, they raised their voices, saying in the Lycaonian language,
[these people were likely from the countryside, city folks would have spoken in Greek]
` "The gods have come down to us in the likeness of men!" And Barnabas they called Zeus [Jupiter], and Paul, Hermes [Mercury] because he was the chief speaker."
Here we are: two Jewish/Christian missionaries elevated as incarnated Greek gods!
Note: "crippled feet" sounds suspicious, and possibly belonging to a beggar/impostor. Let's notice also Ac3:1-11 and its beggar, "miraculously" (with some physical coercion!) cured by Peter:
"Taking him by the right hand, he [Peter] helped him up [Peter learned that from Jesus!], and instantly the man's feet and ankles became strong."
Many hard working (and with little knowledge!) rural people were afflicted by stress and worrying about food, clothes, crop damage, no payment for work rendered, extortion, being dragged to court, dispossession, becoming slaves and illness, causing all kind of ailments & various mental disorder.
Also there, sanitation, personal hygiene (Mk7:2 "... disciples eating food with hands that were "unclean", that is, unwashed.") and living conditions were as bad then as in today poorest third world countries. This generated all kind of diseases. Any medicine was primitive and not effective. Doctors did not know (and could not do) much, and were expensive:
Mk5:25-26 "Now a certain woman had a flow of blood for twelve years, and had suffered many things from many physicians. She had spent all that she had and was no better, but rather grew worse"
In these conditions, anyone (or anything: see next note) known to heal people (and for free) was well worth a walk, even a long one. And let's not forget, it was a time of great expectations, when people were thinking the most extraordinary things could happen!
Jn5:2-4 "Now there is in Jerusalem near the Sheep Gate a pool, which in Aramaic is called Bethesda and which is surrounded by five covered colonnades. Here a great number of disabled people used to lie--the blind, the lame, the paralyzed."
As explained later, it was believed that, when the water was "disturbed", you could get cured if you go in the pool first!
Jn5:7 "... the invalid replied, "I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me.""
Also many families had someone incapacitated who had to be taken care of (although some of them became beggars). Some might have faked a disability (or exaggerated a handicap) in order to avoid hard work or to get more money by begging (i.e. the infamous "Court of Miracles" in medieval Paris).
Healing by a "man of God" can be explained by a variety of psychological processes (like stress relief) where faith in the healer is paramount (Mt13:58 "And he [Jesus] did not do many miracles there [Nazareth] because of their lack of faith"), by later natural recovery or by impostors taking the opportunity to go back to normal life (willingly or by fear of being exposed!).
If you did not please God or had enough faith (Lk12:28b), you were not healed. And for the unlucky ones, there was a stigma attached to it (a self-inflicted feeling of shame).
However, any success kept Jesus' reputation high: without the "man of God", it could not have been any healing! And also, being selected by God to be cured was a proof that you matter for him and deserve it! And many might have said Jesus healed them, with some justifications (like the perception of easing of pains) or not.
But there were probably many failures, some of them reported or alluded to in Mark's gospel:
a) In Nazareth: Mk6:5a "He could not do any miracles there ..."
b) The "epilectic boy" in Mk9:20-29. The ending (Mk9:28-29) suggests there was no permanent healing.
c) Jairus' daughter: Mk5:41a "He took her by the hand and said to her, "Talitha koom!" ..."
And what does happen next?
Mk5:42-43 "Immediately the girl stood up and walked around ... He gave strict orders
[to all the present eyewitnesses: Jesus' three disciples (Peter, John and James) and the child's father & mother (5:37,40)] not to let anyone know about this ..."
That does not make any sense: how could the parents hide it?
By arranging for a fake burial and keeping secret the aliveness of their child, for the rest of their days?
An absurd & unrealistic proposition and Jesus could not have said that. This can only indicate that nobody had been telling about any revival/resurrection (because it did not happen!). More so considering that, later in Mk9:10, the disciples are "questioning what the rising from the dead meant." (which they would not if they had witnessed Jairus' daughter alive again!).
The same artifice is used in:
Mk1:34b "... he would not let the demons speak because they knew who he was."
Mk3:11-12 "Whenever the evil spirits saw him, they fell down [the spirits have a body!] before him and cried out, "You are the Son of God." But
[a bit late! Obviously "Mark" wanted these demons to express themselves! See also Mk1:24b-25a]
` he gave them strict orders not to tell who he was.
[if those evil spirits were not under a gag order, everyone would know from them who is Jesus! In GMark, Jesus is not called "Son of God" by his disciples or the people (but the "silenced" demons did!)]"
In different parts of his gospel, "Mark" used this same stratagem:
The reason why some extraordinary events or exalted acknowledgments (of utmost theological significance) were never heard from eyewitness(es) is explained by Jesus' alleged commands for silence.
Mk8:29-30 ""But what about you [the disciples]?" he asked. "Who do you say I am?" Peter answered, "You are the Christ." Jesus warned them not to tell anyone about him."
Mk9:9 "As they were coming down the mountain [of the transfiguration], Jesus gave them [the disciples] orders not to tell anyone what they had seen ..."
I'll come back later on the two aforementioned quotes.
Also, other subterfuges were used by "Mark", for the same effect, such as the disciples having their "minds blinded", usually translated by "hearts hardened" (6:52, 8:17), preventing them to acknowledge the miraculous feedings
"they [the women who allegedly witnessed the empty tomb] said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid." (16:8). More explanations later ...
a) Some scholars argued all of these are parts of the so-called "messianic secret", which does make much sense because, in the same gospel, we read:
4:22 "[Jesus allegedly saying to his disciples] For whatever is hidden is meant to be disclosed, and whatever is concealed is meant to be brought out in the open."
b) There are two instances where the cured men (not disciples!) are given the gag order by Jesus, but, regardless, they tell it all (the "leper" 1:40-45, the deaf & mute 7:31-36). However, in other passages, Jesus is said to perform publicly spectacular miracles on individuals (the paralytic 2:3-12, blind Bartimaeus 10:46-52) or on crowds (the two miraculous feedings 6:30-44 & 8:1-9). It seems Jesus (or rather "Mark"!) was not consistent about keeping the "messianic secret" and, at times, revealed it very openly!
Now, going back to Jairus' daughter, this story was probably told in order to show that even an educated man "... pleaded earnestly with him, "My little daughter is dying. Please come and put your hand on her [also in Heb6:2] so that she will be healed and live." So Jesus went with him." (Mk5:23-24a)
Later on, we have:
"While Jesus was still speaking, some people came from the house of Jairus, the synagogue ruler. "Your daughter is dead," they said ..."" (Mk5:35)
and "Mark" certainly gave the impression the death was "official":
"When they came to the home of the synagogue ruler, Jesus saw a commotion, with people crying and wailing loudly." (Mk5:38)
The eyewitness must have told as far as Jesus saying "Talitha koom!" and raising the (inert) body. Then he probably became silent and troubled. "Mark" added the successful ending (Elijah did revive a boy in 1Ki17:22 and Elisha did the same in 2Ki4:32-35!) and the "strict orders not to let anyone know about this" to explain the well noticed silence.
a) Some observers reported a few similarities between 2Ki4:27-37 ('Elisha's revival of a boy') and Mk5:22-24a,35-43. But they are hard to discern (except for one: see later) and/or on details which are very plausible (as dictated by normal human behavior) & not peculiar. But "Mark" may have known about 2Kings4:27-37 and made some use of it, more so when we compare the expression "were astonished with great amazement" ('exestesan ekstasei megale') (Mk5:42) with "been astonished with all this amazement" ('exestesas... pasan ten ekstasin tauten') (LXX 2Kings4:13).
However, overall, the stories are quite different. And Jesus saying "Get up ... little girl" suggests he thought the girl was still conscious (therefore alive) despite the appearances. Furthermore, the same "technique" is used earlier for Peter's mother-in-law (& it worked, with the fever found to have left her!). Also, in the already mentioned epileptic boy's story (which, despite its location in the gospel, might have occurred before), "[after the seizure] the boy looked so much like a corpse that many said, "He's dead.""(Mk9:26b). "But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him to his feet and he stood up." (Mk9:27)
b) There is another 'Jairus' in Josephus' Wars: "Simon and Judas, the sons of Jairus"(VI, I, 8)
c) Only two "house calls" are reported in GMark: the mother-in-law at Peter's house and this one. When he was called, Jesus made an attempt for the daughter of the synagogue ruler: that does not show Jesus as being anti-establishment or snubbing any official!
d) Even emperor Vespasian indulged publicly in healing, as reported by Tacitus (55?-117?C.E.), the famous Roman historian, in 'Histories', Book IV, 81:
"During these months in which Vespasian continued at Alexandria [in 70C.E.], waiting for the usual set time of the summer-gales of wind, and stayed for settled fair weather at sea, many miraculous events happened:
[let's notice "many"; but Vespasian is described to cure only two persons, with no mention of other "miracles"]
` by which the good will of heaven, and a kind of inclination of the Deity in his favour, was declared.
[as it seems the Galileans believed Jesus had from God!]
` A certain man of the vulgar sort at Alexandria, well known for the decay of his eyes, kneeled down by him and groaned, and begged of him the cure of his blindness, as by the admonition of Serapis, the god which this superstitious nation worships above others. ... Another infirm man there, who was lame of his hand, prayed Caesar, as by the same god's suggestion, to treat upon him with his foot.
Vespasian at first began to laugh at them, and to reject them; ... he sometimes feared he should have the reputation of a vain person, ... At last he ordered his physicians to give their opinion, whether this sort of blindness and lameness were curable by the art of man or not? The physicians answered uncertainly, that the one had not the visual faculty utterly destroyed, and that he might be restored, if the obstacles were removed; that the other's limbs were disordered, but if a healing virtue were made use of, they were capable of being made whole. Perhaps they say, the gods are willing to assist, and that the emperor is chosen by divine interposition. However, they say at last, that if the cures succeeded, Caesar would have the glory; if not, the poor miserable objects would only be laughed at.
Whereupon Vespasian imagined that his good fortune would be universal, and that nothing on that account could be incredible; so he looked cheerfully, and in the sight of the multitude, who stood in great expectation, he did what they desired him; upon which the lame hand was recovered, and the blind man saw immediately. Both these cures are related to this day by those that were present, ..."
14. JESUS AND THE CROWDS
After the cured "leper" went public, Jesus could not hide in the nearby villages or in "desert places" (Mk1:45):
"And again He entered Capernaum after some days, and it was heard that He was in the house [of Peter, according to 1:29].
[the archaeological excavations in Capernaum show the houses (and more so their rooms) were very small]
` Immediately many [let's notice here the meaning of "many"] gathered together, so that there was no longer room to receive them, not even near the door
[probably no more than a few dozens of people welcomed back Jesus, a far cry from the many hundreds who mobbed him in the evening of the "miraculous Sabbath" (Mk1:32-33). Also, let's notice there is no mention of solicitation for healing. The previous hysteria around Jesus had time to die away since then, suggesting this return (from "desert places") happened after many weeks]." (Mk2:1-2a)
However, the relative calm of Jesus' return was to be broken: the crowds of sick people (Mk1:45) were quick to find him.
And from that point on, Jesus seems to spend time inside houses in company of followers and with people standing outside (Mk3:31-34). Even so, some tried to get in:
"Some men came, bringing to him a paralytic, carried by four of them. Since they could not get him to Jesus because of the crowd,
[presumably pressing toward the door, waiting and hoping to touch Jesus (when and if he should come out) in order to be healed. As a desperate measure, they climbed the outside stairway and]
` they made an opening in the roof above Jesus and after digging through it ..." (Mk2:3-4a)
"A typical Palestinian house had a flat roof accessible by means of an outside staircase. The roof was often made of a thick layer of clay [likely mixed with straw for strengthening] (packed with a stone roller), supported by mat of branches across wood beams." (The NIV Study Bible)
"Let no one on the roof of his house go down ..." (Mk13:15a)
Lk5:19 "When they could not find a way to do this because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and lowered him [the paralytic] on his mat through the [very large!] tiles into the middle of the crowd [in a very huge room!], right in front of Jesus."
Probably "Luke" never went into Palestine and saw its villages.
Aware of the magnitude of destructive effort in order to create a large hole in a Palestinian roof, "Matthew" (Mt9:2) mentioned nothing of that sort.
This experience must have traumatized Jesus and his followers (and upset the owner of the house!): imagine anyone digging through your roof in order to get in! And while you are in here, supposedly secure behind closed doors.
And if the doors were not shut tight:
"Then Jesus entered a house, and again a crowd gathered, so than he and his disciples were not even able to eat." (Mk3:20)
Another strategy used by Jesus in order to avoid the crowd was to board the boat of his followers:
"[in the evening] Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along,
[the fishermen were probably getting set to go fishing. This activity was done mostly at night. See Jn21:3 and "Nighttime was favored by fishermen in ancient times (as Aristotle, e.g., inform us)." The NIV Study Bible]
` just as he was, in the boat ... Jesus was on the stern, sleeping on a cushion ... " (Mk4:36-38a)
Sick and desperate people kept outside by a barricaded (therefore torrid) house, where he would try to sleep, could be the reason. Also, let's notice "just as he was", implying another quickly decided and unplanned outing to escape the crowd! (compare this with Mk1:38a quoted in Section 12).
However, going back to shore was not always easy:
Mk5:21 "When Jesus had again crossed over by boat to the other side of the lake, a large crowd gathered when he was by the lake"
Mk5:24b "A large crowd followed and pressed around him."
Because of that, another strategy was devised by Jesus, fearing to be trampled by the crowd:
"So he told his disciples that a small boat should be kept ready for him because of the multitude, lest they should crush him. For he healed many, so that as many as had afflictions pressed about him to touch him." (Mk3:9-10)
That was put in good use:
"... And a great multitude was gathered to him, so that he got into a boat and sat in it on the sea; and the whole multitude was on the land facing the sea." (Mk4:1)
Let's summarize the likely reasons why Jesus was avoiding the crowds (and going out of Capernaum):
a) Not to be trampled
b) Not to be trapped inside a house, day and night
c) To find quiet places to sleep, rest, pray and meditate, away from the "mob"
d) Not to be confronted again and again by the same people who expected healing
Jesus is shown avoiding contact with the people who wanted to be healed. As a result, he was besieged in houses and some went to great pains trying to get in. Later on, these desperate people did not wait to be touched by Jesus (he was reluctant to do it); instead, they would try to touch him, showing little respect in the process.
By making himself scarce, Jesus might have hoped that they would be discouraged to look for him and then go home.
Also, it is possible Jesus was facing a dilemma:
He knew probably that most of the sick persons (including the deserving ones), despite repeated touching, would not get any better, therefore tarnishing his reputation among his admirers.
On the other hand, avoiding constantly the crowd, not only was near impossible, but also would make the persistent ones go angry and desperate, with unpredictable consequences.
But why did Jesus stay in Capernaum rather than move to more peaceful places (such as Nazareth)?
The likely reasons would be:
A) The nuisance of the "mob" might have been tolerable, most of the time. Probably, the crowds were not always large: a few dozens of people were enough to fill up the main room of the local small house, block the entrance or be a trampling threat.
B) The hysteria seems to have been short-lived, probably lasting no more than a few weeks. The last mention of Jesus being mobbed by the crowds appears as early as:
Mk5:31 ""You see the people crowding around you," his disciples answered, "and yet you can ask, "Who touched my clothes?""
But what may have caused the ending of the hysteria?
a) As we saw already, Jesus doing his best to discourage the miracle seekers.
b) The aforementioned unsuccessful attempt at Jairus' house (Mk5:41,43).
c) And then right after that, when "Jesus left there and went to his hometown, accompanied by his disciples" (Mk6:1), in his own village "He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them.
[the last part of the sentence appears to conflict with the beginning. "Mark" was probably trying to soften the blow of "He could not do any miracles there"]" (Mk6:5)
d) The return of unhealed miracle seekers who came from far away places (Mk3:8).
a) Soon after the description of Jesus' visits to Jairus' house and to his own village, the death of John the Baptist is mentioned to have happened some unspecified time earlier (Mk6:14,16).
b) From Mk6:7, all healing attempts are said to be successful, but except for the rather phoney:
"People were overwhelmed with amazement. "He has done everything well," they said ..." (Mk7:37a)
no crowds' reaction is reported! And even if crowds are said to be close to him (Mk6:34,44-45,54-55,7:14,8:1,9,34,9:14,10:1,46) and with Jesus allegedly at times performing miracles (6:42-44,56,8:8,10:52), no "mobbing" or hindrance is mentioned! And there is not even a suggestion of Jesus trying to avoid anyone!
C) Jesus was "someone" in Capernaum and the area around it. He had followers. That was not true in places like Nazareth, among his own people and family. At the height of the hysteria:
"When his family heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, "He is out of his mind."" (Mk3:21 and only in this gospel!)
Certainly his own family was not holding Jesus in high esteem: his mother and brothers quickly assumed the normally ordinary Jesus had become "deranged", therefore causing a commotion in Capernaum, and went there in order to get him (Mk3:21,31-32)!
Could his blood family have reacted this way if they knew Jesus was the biological Son of God?
And later on, in his own village, when Jesus tried to preach during the Sabbath meeting, and despite his reputation as a miracle worker:
Mk6:3 ""Where did this man get these things? they asked. ... "Isn't this the carpenter? Isn't this Mary's son and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon? Aren't his sisters here with us?" And they took offense at him."
The unsuccessful ("against the grain") visit, witnessed and likely reported later by some of his disciples, prompted "Mark" to write:
"Jesus said to them, "Only in his hometown, among his relatives and in his own house is a prophet without honor."" (6:4)
Note: I do not see here any allusion about Christianity being subsequently rejected in Palestine: we are dealing with Jesus' village, relatives and his immediate family (mother and brothers & sisters). So please, NO homeland! And then, in this verse, Jesus is just a prophet, not the Christ.
No wonder Jesus stayed among his newly found family of followers (Mk3:33-34 already quoted in Section 8, "HJ-1b").
His status in Capernaum, not only gave him privileges (such as free food and lodging), but also the chance to be looked up.
15. FOUR "EXTRAORDINARY FEATS" EXPLAINED
Despite the gospel's author best efforts to embellish the story of Jesus as the extraordinary healer of Capernaum, there is enough factual, anecdotal and "against the grain" evidence, embedded in the same gospel, to show it wasn't so. Certainly, he did not appear to be the systematic healer eager to cure everybody (as the "Son of God" would), as he was described later in:
and subsequent gospels:
Mt8:16,9:35,14:14,15:30,20:34, Lk4:40,6:19,7:13-15,21,9:11,17:14, etc.
The reason of this healing "frenzy" might be "Mark" did not want Jesus to appear lesser than Paul (or others like Peter) in this department!
Paul himself was credited to be an extraordinary healer:
Ac19:11-12 "God did extraordinary miracles through Paul [in Ephesus], so that even handkerchiefs and aprons that had touched him were taken to the sick, and their illnesses were cured ..."
Ac20:9-10 "[in Troas, Asia Minor, 58C.E.] Seated in a window was a young man named Eutychus, who was sinking into a deep sleep as Paul talked on and on. When he was sound asleep, he fell to the ground from the third story and was picked up dead. Paul went down, threw himself on the young man and put his arms around him. "Don't be alarmed," he said. "He's alive!""
and curing a man with crippled feet:
Ac14:8-10 "In Lystra there sat a man crippled in his feet, who was lame from birth and had never walked. He listened to Paul as he was speaking. Paul looked directly at him, saw that he had faith to be healed and called out, "Stand up on your feet!" At that, the man jumped up and began to walk."
Certainly Paul did acknowledge his "gift":
Ro15:18b-19a "... what I [Paul] have said and done-- by the power of signs and miracles, through the power of the Spirit ..."
2Co12:11b-12 "... I [Paul] am not in the least inferior to the "super-apostles," even though I am nothing. The things that mark an apostle--signs, wonders and miracles --were done among you with great perseverance."
According to Paul:
a) other competiting (superlative) apostles were great miracle workers also.
b) miracle working and healing were considered separate "gifts", and not as important as others (such as being apostle, prophet or teacher):
1Co12:28-29 Darby "And God has set certain in the assembly: first, apostles; secondly, prophets; thirdly, teachers; then miraculous powers; then gifts of healings; helps; governments; kinds of tongues."
c) the Christians of Corinth were told to desire for him/her/self a particular "gift" (and only one!):
1Co12:30-31a Darby "[Are] all apostles? [are] all prophets? [are] all teachers? [are] all [in possession of] miraculous powers? have all gifts of healings? do all speak with tongues? do all interpret? But desire earnestly the greater gifts ..."
d) the "spiritual gifts" were used by individual Christians in the community:
1Co12:7-10 Darby "But to each the manifestation of the Spirit is given for profit. For to one, by the Spirit, is given [the] word of wisdom; and to another [the] word of knowledge, according to the same Spirit; and to a different one faith, in [the power of] the same Spirit; and to another gifts of healing in [the power of] the same Spirit; and to another operations of miracles; and to another prophecy; and to another discerning of spirits; and to a different one kinds of tongues; and to another interpretation of tongues."
General comments: miracle working and healing (which Paul differentiated) were commonly practiced among the Corinthians. But these "gifts" are considered inferior to the ones of prophecy and teaching! And one may wonder: what did the "operations of miracles" consist of? And could "Mark" have described Jesus inferior to Paul & others relative to these "gifts"? Very unlikely.
Another observation: the "gift" of healing was not important for Paul.
The fact Jesus was not a fabulous miracle worker seems to be confirmed by Paul, who wrote:
Php2:7-8a "but [Jesus] made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself"
Ro1:4 "... [Jesus] was declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead ..."
What's implied here is that (before the alleged resurrection) Jesus gave no sign he was the "Son of God". This fact seems to have been known in Mark's community and "Mark" had to acknowledge it:
Mk8:12 "He [Jesus] sighted deeply and said, "Why does this generation ask for a miraculous sign? I tell the truth, no sign will be given to it. [1Co1:22a "Jews demand miraculous signs ..."]"
That did not prevent "Mark" to work on the dilemma:
In Mark's gospel, Jesus becomes the "Son of God" right after his baptism:
Mk1:10-11 "As Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw
[apparently only Jesus sees and hears what follows!]
` heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: "You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.""
"Mark" had to "prove" it, which he did, soon after:
Mk2:4b-12 "[they] lowered the mat the paralyzed man was lying on. When Jesus saw their faith,
[which allegedly caused the men carrying the paralytic to destroy part of a roof!]
` he said to the paralytic, "Son, your sins are forgiven."
[unrealistic. The paralytic was not after forgiveness of sins but healing. This is meant to prepare the following theological discussion (and demonstration) with the teachers of the law who, conveniently, happen to be here]
` Now some teachers of the law were sitting there, thinking to themselves,
[how could an eyewitness report what went through their mind? However "Mark", "Matthew" (Mt9:3-4) and "Luke" (Lk5:21-22) knew what they think!]
` "Why does this fellow talk like that? He's blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?"
[here is the main point: only God (or his Son) can forgive sins, which Jesus just did. Now, what remains to be proven is that Jesus is God!]
` Immediately Jesus knew in his spirit that this was what they were thinking in their hearts, and he said to them, "Why are you thinking these things? Which is easier: to say to the paralytic, `Your sins are forgiven,' or to say, `Get up, take your mat and walk'?
[if Jesus can heal the paralytic, that would prove he is divine! Curing a paralyzed man was considered beyond the power of a "human" healer]
` But that you may know that the Son of Man [Jesus] has authority on earth to forgive sins ..."
He said to the paralytic, "I tell you, get up,
[no touching, as believed by the people to be the main requisite in order to be healed by Jesus. See also Mk7:29-30]
` take your mat and go home."He got up, took his mat and walked out in full view of them all. This amazed everyone
[only "amazed"? No uproar from the crowd? Earlier, the villagers went "ballistic" for a lot less than that]
` and they praised God, saying, "We have never seen anything like this!""
That definitely proves that Jesus is God and not out of line about forgiving sins! Certainly, he can guarantee:
"I [Jesus] tell you the truth, all the sins and blasphemies of men will be forgiven [to] them." (Mk3:28).
What a relief for the Christian sinners then! Certainly a good reason for them to stay in the faith!
So then, what happened?
The incident about the men digging through the roof was reported because it showed how much resolute some people were. End of story.
Note: there are some similarities with the account in 2Kings1:1-17. Here, king Ahaziah of Israel falls "through the lattice of his upper room", is injured and must stay in bed. He wants to consult with the "wrong" god (Baal-Zebub), and, as a consequence, dies. Of course, in GMark, Jesus is the true God and therefore able to get the paralytic on his feet!Let's also notice no disciples (who, in latter times, would have told what happened) are mentioned to be in the house.
Could "Mark" have invented the whole paralytic story from '2Kings'?
Likely not: if "Mark" was unaware of the paralytic & his four bearers on the roof, he would not have a Palestinian roof supporting the weight of five men, considering Ahaziah's accident!
Note: did the bearers truly intended to dig a very large hole in the roof (which is rather drastic!)?
Not necessarily so: their aim may have been to carve out a small opening so they could beg Jesus to touch the paralytic through the same hole, without him going outside and exposing himself to the crowd.
As documented earlier in this Section, "Mark" had to take in account that Jesus, during his "ministry", was not considered a "Son of God" or/and provided "proofs" in that regard. However, and at the same time, our author tried to stretch the envelop in that direction and consequently had Jesus being (rather secretly) the "Son" (and proving it!) during his earthly life. "Mark" was probably addressing disbeliefs among the local flock and, as we just saw, reassuring them about forgiveness of sins (the Christians of Corinth were great sinners, according to Paul's letters!).
The aforementioned "efforts" of "Mark" are evident in what follows:
The calming of the sea:
Mk:4:37-41 "A furious squall
["sudden gust of wind; short storm", according to my dictionary. Later, "Matthew" replaced "squall" by "storm" (Mt8:24)]
` came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, "Teacher, don't you care if we drown?"
[how could Jesus sleep through the squall on a small boat?]
` He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, "Quiet! Be still!"
[similar wording as "be quiet" (to the man in the synagogue, Mk1:25); the waves are being "exorcised"! Later, "Matthew" removed this exorcism]
` Then the wind died down and it was completely calm.
[most storms in the sea of Galilee are known to be very short (as just squalls)]
` He said to his disciples, "Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?" They were terrified and asked each other, "Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!"
[that "proves" that Jesus has powers which are not human!]"
First, let's consider this: "Mark" considerably borrowed from Jnh1:4-12: in it, Jonah is also sleeping during the storm, then also awakened and then also accused of indifference. And in Mk 4:41, the disciples "were terrified" ('feared with great fear': ephobethesan phobon megan). In Jnh1:10 (LXX), we have 'feared the men with great fear': ephobethesan hoi andres phobon megan.
Looking at the similarities, one may wonder: did "Mark" wholly invented 'Jesus calming the sea' from 'Jonah'?
What more did he use?
a) Likely a known fact, that Jesus occasionally slept on his friends' boat "in the stern, ... on a cushion" (not part of Jonah's story).
b) The knowledge of a particular "squall" (and not a long-lasting storm) vanishing after putting the boat in trouble.
c) Mark's patented exorcism, but here somewhat ridiculous, with Jesus rebuking the wind.
d) An alleged statement from the disciples implying Jesus is more than human (see the similarity with Mk1:27b!).
Note: in Jnh1:6b, Jonah is requested to contact his god in order to, possibly, avoid the catastrophy. But in Mk4:41, Jesus himself appears to be that god!
Consequently the original story might have been no more than just about a squall which almost sunk the followers' boat, with Jesus on board and possibly cursing (as in Mk11:21) at the weather event; but the little storm "miraculously" calmed down before it was too late. And this short story must have been told to anxious early Christians who wanted to see evidence of divinity in the earthly Jesus.
Walking on water:
"When evening came, the boat was in the middle of the lake;
["in the middle of" is also translated as "in the midst of [= surrounded by, among]" (DARBY) or simply "out on" (RSV). The two later translations appear more accurate, according to what follows]
` and he was alone on land. He saw the disciples straining at the oars,
[rather hard to see, if the boat was miles away from shore!]
` because the wind was against them.
About the fourth watch of the night [Roman division of time: 3 to 6 A.M.] he went out to them, walking on the lake.
[the Greek word used here for on is "epi", which can also mean by as in Jn21:1a "Afterward Jesus appeared again to his disciples by [Greek "epi", but here, according to the context, meaning 'on the shore of'] the sea of Tiberias."]
` He was about to pass by them,
[if Jesus sees his disciples from afar, how could he pass them by? However this comment is very realistic if Jesus (absorbed in his thoughts?) was walking by the lake (which is lined up with beaches), when the fishermen, slowed down by the wind, were rowing close to shore]
` but when they saw him walking on [epi] the lake, they thought he was a ghost.
[very unlikely to have been thought by rural non Hellenized Jews, even if (as in the NIV Study Bible footnote) they may have believed in water spirits]
They cried out; for they all saw him and were terrified
[because of the 'ghost' thing, not the 'walking on water', as shown next]
` Immediately he spoke to them and said, "Take courage, it is I. Don't be afraid."
Then he climbed into the boat with them, and the wind died down. They were completely amazed;
[because of the walking on water or the wind abatement? But if the disciples realized Jesus walked on water, they would be more than (only) astonished. "Matthew" "corrected" this as follows: "... those who were on the boat worshiped him, saying, "Truly you are the Son of God"" (Mt14:33)
Then "Mark" himself suggested the disciples were (only) greatly surprised because they were not "open"]
` for they had not understood about the loaves;
[the disciples (and the crowds) could not "see" and "understand" the miraculous feedings (Mk8:17-21: see later). Consequently, they are described as unable to acknowledge other extraordinary signs (explaining why they would not report them!), as confirmed next]
` their hearts were hardened.
[NASB alternative translation: "their mind was closed, made dull, or insensible". The disciples did not notice 'the walking on water': they had closed minds! (but they were chosen by Jesus!)
"Hardened" (Greek root 'poroo') can also be translated by "blinded" as in the KJV for Ro11:7 & 2Co3:14]"
An eyewitness (probably Peter) must have told an anecdote: when rowing against the wind (and close to shore), they were surprised to see Jesus walking by the lake (i.e. on the beach); he boarded the boat (no need to say they headed for shore first, it was obvious), and then the wind ceased, which could be interpreted as a miracle (as in Mk4:41 'the calming of the sea').
Also, the two occurrences of "walking on the lake" in Mk6:48-49 are very similar of:
Da12:6-7a "And one said to the man clothed in linen , who was above the waters of the river, "How long shall the fulfillment of these wonders be?" Then I heard the man clothed in linen, who was above the waters of the river"
Note: here are some of the remarks from John Dominic Crossan, The Historical Jesus (1992), Chapter 15, 'Walking on water':
"It is not even certain, as Julian Hills of Marquette University mentioned to me in conversation, that Jesus walked on the sea in this story. The Greek word is epi, and that is translated as "on the sea" in John 6:19 but "by the sea" in John 21:1."
"Thus John 6:16-21, apart from its parallel version in Mark 6:45-52, can be taken that they were forced along the shore by the contrary winds until they finally picked up Jesus ..."Comment:
On the contrary, "John" tried very hard to make sure that Jesus had to walk on water:
Jn6:17-21 "... they got into a boat and set off across the lake for Capernaum. By now it was dark, and Jesus had not yet join them.
[when the boat is still close to shore!]
` A strong wind was blowing and the waters grew rough. When they had rowed three or three and a half miles ["across the lake"], they saw Jesus approaching the boat [no mention of many elapsed hours here], walking on [epi] the water [and not "epi the lake"!]; and they were terrified [no mention of ghost here]. But he said to them, "It is I; don't be afraid." Then they were willing to take him into the boat, and immediately
[an embellishment above GMark! Definitively a much better sign than "the wind died down"!]
` the boat reached the shore where they were heading.
[Capernaum, "across the lake". Obviously, the disciples do not pick up Jesus on the shore!]"
"Mark" used eyewitness' anecdotal material (in order to provide an aura of authenticity) and then "suggested" within them wondrous signs, rather dubiously and tentatively, in order to elevate the stature of Jesus as an extraordinary entity. More to come ...
The miraculous feedings:
After the "exorcism" in the synagogue & the mother-in-law back on her feet and the "leper" being cured, the crowds went "ballistic". But let's observe the crowd's reaction after the alleged miraculous feeding of the five thousand:
"Immediately He made His disciples get into the boat and go before Him to the other side, to Bethsaida, while He sent the multitude away. And when He had sent them away, He departed to the mountain to pray." (Mk6:45-46)
It does not seem the crowd noticed anything special, nor his disciples, who the night after:
Mk6:52 "... they had not understood about the loaves; their hearts were hardened."
This "non-understanding" is confirmed later, when Jesus allegedly announced his intention to feed the four thousand:
"... [the disciples] answered, "But where in this remote place can anyone get enough bread to feed them?"" (Mk8:4)
"[Jesus] told the disciples to distribute them [seven loaves and a few fish]. The people ate and were satisfied. Afterward the disciples picked up seven basketfuls of broken pieces that was left over." (Mk8:7b-8)
the disciples could only remember the basketfuls of fragments of fish and bread they picked up:
"The disciples had forgotten to bring bread, except for one loaf they had with them in the boat. "Be careful," Jesus warned them. "Watch out for the yeast of the Pharisees and that of Herod." They discussed this with one another and said, "It is because we have no ['not enough', according to the context: they have one loaf!] bread."
Aware of their discussion they had,
[which indicates the disciples still do not know Jesus can multiply bread!]
` Jesus asked them: "Why are you talking about having no bread? Do you still not see or understand? Are your hearts hardened?
["minds closed (or blinded)". That would explain why the disciples did not report on the two miraculous feedings!]
` Do you have eyes but fail to see, and ears but fail to hear? And don't you remember [the two past miraculous feedings]?
When I broke
[let's notice "broke" (easy to do for anyone) and not "multiplied" (a miraculous and extraordinary/divine action)]
` the five loaves for the five thousand, how many basketfuls of pieces did you pick up?" "Twelve," they replied. "And when I broke the seven loaves for the four thousand, how many basketfuls of pieces did you pick up?" They answered, "Seven." He said to them, "Do you still not understand? [that miraculous multiplications of food happened!]"
[notice the present tense. And of course, what is not seen, understood and remembered is very unlikely to be told later!]" (Mk8:14-21)
a) Let's say that one basket could contain about ten meals. Then, a grand total of nineteen (12 + 7) basketfuls would represent less than two hundred meals. Therefore, why stress these few basketfuls if allegedly as many as nine thousand (5000 + 4000) men were miraculously fed?
b) In GMark, and unequivocally, what the disciples do not "understand" are the miraculous feedings. But "Matthew" did his best to correct the situation:
Mt16:11-12 "How is it you don't understand that I was not talking to you about bread? But be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees. Then they understood that he was not telling them to guard against the yeast used in bread, but against the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees."
Let's go back to the alleged miraculous feeding of the five thousand:
Mk6:41-43 "Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to his disciples to set before the people [5000 of them!]. He also divided the two fish among them all. They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces of bread and fish."
Any suggestion of "multiplication" is non-existent:
a) The broken loaves (and fish) are just set before the people: no distribution is mentioned.
b) The provenance of the food that the people ate is not specified.
The only allusion to miraculous feeding is from the preceding and highly unrealistic dialogue:
Mk6:35-37 "By this time it was late in the day, so his disciples came to him. "This is a remote place," they said, "and it's already very late. Send the people away so they can go to the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat." But he answered, "You give them something to eat." They said to him, "That would take eight months of a man's wages! Are we to go and spend that much on bread and give it to them to eat?""
a) How could Jesus be so disconnected with the realities of life, which include the price of food?
b) Even if enough grain, caught fish and paid help could be found nearby, the preparation of large quantity of bread would take many hours (from grinding the grain). And going to villages, making the arrangements and bringing back the food to the gathering would take more time!
c) Could the disciples have enough money on them in order to contemplate making such a large purchase? Could they even afford it? Very unlikely on both points.
Overall, the proposition in Mk6:35-37 is totally absurd and made up to give the impression a miracle occurs later.
So what happened?
A plausible and logical explanation is as follows:
a) Villagers would meet outside their dirty and cramped villages. But why?
b) The occasion was probably a festival, like the eight days autumnal one of the tabernacles & its associated feasts. But few Galilean peasants could afford to go to Jerusalem (3-4 days walk away) to celebrate it. Instead, they would go to a near ground outside their village/town.
c) These folks would bring with them more food than they could eat (as for any feast!). However it seems the occasion of the gatherings and the provenance of the food (naturally from the people there!) were never mentioned by the teller(s)!
d) Jesus' disciples picked up the scraps not eaten by the feasters, filling up baskets. And they were telling about it later, probably presenting these collections as a gift from God. According to the NIV Study Bible footnote on Mk6:43:
"... Bread was regarded by Jews as a gift of God, and it was required that scraps that fell on the ground during a meal be picked up. The fragments were collected in small wicker baskets that were carried as a part of daily attire."
a) No confirmation can be found about this practice (i.e. collective villagers' feast in the outdoors). But very little has been written about Judean and Galilean peasants (and more generally about lower class people, in the whole ancient literature). However, Philo of Alexandria wrote that during the festival of the tabernacles:
"the people are commanded to pass the whole period of the feast [festival] under tents [outside their home!] ... They honor God in songs and words ... [the eighth day] a kind of crowning feast, not only as it would seem to this festival, but also to all the feasts of the year ..." (The special laws, II, ch.XXXIII)
b) The five/four thousand men are mentioned at the end of each one of the two "miraculous feedings" stories, consequently appearing to be just addendum from "Mark", not an integral part of the main account. The number of gathered people was probably not estimated by the eyewitness(es).
c) The disciples picking up scraps from the meals of others would suggest they were (hungry) poor. And Jesus or disciples helping themselves on available food is not unique:
- The fig tree (Mk11:12-13)
- Heads of grain (Mk2:23)
Furthermore, the gathering of this left over food is very much in line with:
Lk11:9a "So I [Jesus] say to you: ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you..."
Lk11:3 "[God] Give us each day our daily bread"
"Mark" had evidently read:
2Ki4:42-44 "A man came from Baal Shalishah, bringing the man of God twenty loaves of barley bread baked from the first ripe grain, along with some heads of new grain. "Give it to the people to eat," Elisha said. "How can I set this before a hundred men?" his servant asked. But Elisha answered, "Give it to the people to eat. For this is what the LORD says: `They will eat and have some left over.' "Then he set it before them, and they ate and had some left over,
[no mention the left over were picked up by anyone. They are just the proof the men had enough to eat]
` according to the word of the LORD."
However, let's consider the following points:
a) "Mark" put a lot of importance on the fragments (bread, NOT specified from barley, and fish) that were picked up by the basketful (Mk6:43,8:8,19-20). This is emphatically acknowledged by the disciples (Mk6:19-20).
b) In contrast, "Mark" conceded the disciples never "understood" or "saw" the "miraculous feedings" (Mk6:52,8:4,17-18). And the reaction by the crowds is non-existent!
c) The gatherings of left over food fit well within the pattern of anecdotal material included (for credibility purpose) by "Mark" in the narration of alleged supernatural events (as shown already).
d) "Mark" related two different gatherings of left over. Only one would have been enough to "prove" Jesus' food multiplication ability.
Therefore, it is highly likely that collections by the basketful of "broken pieces" did occur indeed during two peasants' outdoor feasts. And "Mark" used 2Ki4:42-44 "set it before them", as also the custom of Jesus about breaking the bread (as practiced later by "Nazarenes" --Ac2:42-- and early Christians --1Co10:16, Ac20:7).
That's about it for the extraordinary signs in GMark. In the next gospels, the narration of these signs will be "corrected" and added on in order to remove any doubts:
Mt14:28-33 ""Lord, if it's you,
[Jesus, who "went out to them, walking on [epi] the lake. When the disciples saw him walking on [epi] the lake ..." Mt14:25b-26a]
` " Peter replied, "tell me to come to you on [epi] the water." "Come," he said. Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on [epi] the water and came toward Jesus.
[now Peter is doing the same thing as Jesus: walk 'epi' the water! But still no unequivocal confirmation if it is 'by' or 'above'. That will come next]
` But when he saw the wind,
[which Peter did "see" for many hours before! (Mt14:24,32)]
` he was afraid and, beginning to sink,
[here is the "proof" that Peter and Jesus are walking above the water!]
` cried out, "Lord, save me!" Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. "You of little faith," he said, "why did you doubt?" [likely addressed to early Christians]
` ... Then those who were in the boat worshiped him, saying, "Truly you are the Son of God.""
Jn6:14-15a "After the people saw the miraculous sign
[the feeding of the five thousand, finally "seen"!]
` that Jesus did, they began to say, "Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world." Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force ..."
And more signs will be added:
Jn20:30-31a "Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these [miraculous signs] are written that you may believe that Jesus is Christ, the Son of God ..."
=> Next: HJ-2b, Section 16 "Jesus' message"