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Last Week's Questions
My question pertains to Mark 9:4 where Peter, James and John recognize both Elijah and Moses. In what way would these men have been able to visually identify Moses and Elijah? WAS it a visual identification or a spiritual understanding? We’re there images of them that the disciples would’ve had for reference ahead of time? Okay, another two-parter this week. I did a quick search and it appears that the first depiction of Moses (painting) dates around 240 C.E., but I couldn’t find an early depiction of Elijah until the Italian artists got hold of him in the 14th century. This all makes sense and is in conjunction with the Jewish concept of no idols. As to how the inner circle (Peter, James & John) recognized Moses and Elijah I would believe that it was part of their culture that said they would re-appear at the End Times. The presence of Moses and Elijah also fits, not just Mark’s concept of an eschatological Messiah, but that of the messiah in general. Not to be flippant, but the inner circle would have thought, “Who else could those two guys be?”
In verse 8:10 it said Jesus went to the district of Dalmanutha. The footnotes say some ancient authorities read Mageda or Magdale. Was Magdale and Dalmanutha near each other? The location of the unknown place of Dalmanutha is up for debate. Much of the debate centers around where Mark or Matthew place Jesus just after the feeding of the 4000, etymology of possible Aramaic or Hebrew words (sometimes referencing the Hebrew Scriptures), ancient historical perspectives, possible chronological timeframes, and possible miscopied texts from the original.
There are archeologists who believe they have found Dalmanutha near Magdala (located on the Western shore of Sea of Galilee), because they have found a watch-tower. Tower is derivative of an etymological link between dalmanoutha and magdaloutha, which in turn was taken from the Hebrew, מגדלוט (magdalot), the plural of מיגדל (migdal), meaning tower. However, a dig based on dubious etymology and a presumption of where they should look based on two different gospel accounts is questionable. (e.g.Just because Mark mentions Dalmanutha after the feeding of the 4,000 and Matthew mentions Magdala after the story, doesn’t necessarily mean Dalmanutha=Magdala).
Another problem is that there is no particular time frame other than immediately. I could have left for Steuben, Maine (north of Bar Harbor) immediately after writing this, but that wouldn’t mean Litchfield and Steuben are close. Yet another factor is the difference between our perspective of history and that of ancient “historians”, who were not as concerned with a chronological order of events (e.g. Mark has Jesus travel to Jerusalem only once; other gospel authors have him in Jerusalem several times during his ministry).
Yet even other theories consider the option that Mark and Matthew were referring to non-existent places or places that had some historical event that their readers would have known, but the events were lost in obscurity (e.g. We might know of the battle at Newtown, but a British historian might not find it of any consequence, or think it was Elmira.).
Many biblical scholars simply believe that Mark didn’t know his Palestinian geography all that well.
The Rev. Benjamin Lee Lentz
So far in Mark’s Gospel account the redefining of the term Messiah has been fairly subtle, excepting when Jesus is speaking directly to the Pharisees. Upon entering Jerusalem the distinction between messiah and Messiah becomes less ambiguous. There are no miracles or healings in this section and the “Messianic Secret” appears no longer necessary.
In Jerusalem, the home court, as it were, of the Sanhedrin (Council of Sadducees & Pharisees), they begin to plot relentlessly to expose Jesus as no real messiah.
This week I would like to highlight the following passages: Messiah Enters Jerusalem (11:1—11); Expulsion of Dealers from Temple (11:12—19); Tribute to Caesar (12:13-17); Resurrection of the Dead (12:18—27); Greatest Commandment (12:28—34); Christ—Son & Lord of David (12:35—37); Eschatological Discourse (13:1—37).
Read Mark 11:1-12:44
Messiah Enters Jerusalem (11:1—11)
Mark’s understanding of the Messianic Secret is approaching its eye-opener. As the prelude to the passion begins with Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, the former perception of messiah is beginning to come together with the eschatological insight of Messiah.
Mark slowly builds on the revealing of Jesus. For Mark “many” are present to spread the garments (perhaps the immediate followers—Mk 11:8) compared to Matthew (throngs—Mt. 21:11) or even Luke’s version (multitude— Lk. 19:37). But, whatever the number actually present at his entry parade, it is all in compliance with the Prophet Zechariah’s prediction of the arrival of the messiah—Davidic King— in Jerusalem: Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on an ass, on a colt the foal of an ass. (Zech. 9:9).
Messiah or messiah (prior definition), it wouldn’t have been lost of Mark’s readership—something big is happening.
Expulsion of Dealers from Temple (11:12—19)
The temple in Jerusalem was the focus of worship for Judaism. The temple provided an avenue for atonement of the penitent Jew through ritual animal sacrifice. The Law required that the animals to be offered must be pure and unblemished—no seconds could be offered to God.
The animals were a necessity to which not all Jews would have access: travelers, non-agrarians. As a temple service, animals could be purchased or blemished ones could be exchanged, for a price. As in all cases of a supply and demand market, price-gouging and outright theft could come into play—ultimately corrupting the ritual. Jesus addresses the profanity. The religious hierarchy is threatened and they begin to plan their retaliation.
One interesting point is that Mark quotes Isaiah concerning “a house of prayer for all (11:17)”, which his synoptic friends omit. This is one of the few places that Mark opens up rather clearly the welcoming of gentiles. The quote is from the section of Isaiah where God welcomes converts from paganism: “And the foreigners who join themselves to the LORD, to minister to him, to love the name of the LORD, and to be his servants, every one who keeps the Sabbath, and does not profane it and holds fast my covenant—these I will bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer; their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.” (Is. 56:6-7)
Tribute to Caesar (12:13-17)
The chief priest and the scribes, those who were in charge of the temple, the same people, presumably who began plotting in verse 18, continue to try to entrap Jesus, thereby usurping his authority. The Herodians come into play once again. Remember them from Session 2?
The Herodians were despised by the Pharisees as well as by most of Judaism. The Herodians were sycophants of Herod—Roman toadies. Along with the Pharisees they are attempting to place Jesus in a ‘damned if you do and damned if you don’t’ situation. The Pharisees are attempting to make Jesus into a Herodian, if he says it’s okay to pay the taxes. If he says the taxes shouldn’t be paid, the Herodians would denounce him as a traitor to Caesar and Rome
An interesting point in this story is that it doesn’t say exactly who handed him the coin. In either, Herodian or Pharisee, they should not have technically had in their possession one of the coins because it was engraved with the image of Caesar. The possession of the coin would be a breach of the commandment against graven images.
Resurrection of the Dead (12:18—27)
I decided to include this story for two reasons: it introduces the Sadducees, and it really is just a funny story.
The Sadducees were the ultra-conservatives, those we might call the orthodox Jews—although both of those terms ring too much of our day and age. They were the party of Jews who believed that only the
first five books of the Hebrew scriptures (the Pentateuch) were the authoritative word of God. The other books, the prophets and writings, were beneficial in understanding God’s word, but did not carry the authority of the books of Moses.
The story itself is a reductio ad absurdum—how silly can they make the argument? However, this is the sort of debate in which they would engage. The scenario they envision, although absurd, would be technically within the keeping of the Law. The story is used to amplify that Moses never mentioned resurrection, so there can be no such thing.
Jesus teaches that heaven is not just a continuation of this life, but rather that it is a transforming experience. Oddly enough, I find that too many clergy overlook this passage when discussing heaven or the resurrection. Too many clergy paint heaven as simply an idealized current existence but with harps and wings. For me, this passage has Jesus describing the indescribable—a perfect union with God—an existence beyond anything we can imagine in this life.
He then rises to their game, and quotes the Second Book of Moses (Exodus) to illustrate that God is the God of the living. Ultimately, he gives greater insight to the passage concerning God’s name (Yahweh) and what that really means.
Greatest Commandment (12:28—34)
This section is interesting, first because it a scribe (an educated person) who questions Jesus—not a Pharisee or Sadducee; and secondly, others who hear Jesus’ reply realize that a war of ‘clever’ words with Jesus will be futile. In other words, the hierarchy will have to try to defeat Jesus another way.
A true seeker of wisdom, this unknown scribe, asks the question because neither a Pharisee nor a Sadducee would have ever asked Jesus such a question. For them, no commandment of God could be greater than another commandment of God. (e.g. How could keeping the Sabbath be more important than not murdering someone? Both are equally God’s command.) For them, such a question would be a non sequitur.
In respond to the scribes earnest question, Jesus quotes from the Fifth Book of Moses (Deut. 6:4), where Moses commands the people of Israel to acknowledge monotheism. This phrase was to be used in prayer the first thing in the morning and the last thing at night.
He then quotes from the Third Book of Moses, from the section on Moses’ teaching (God’s command) on worship practices (Lev. 18:19—18).
With these two quotes, Jesus demonstrates his knowledge of the Torah and in one fell-swoop puts the Sadducees and Pharisees on notice not to try anymore entrapments.
Christ—Son & Lord of David (12:35—37)
This passage is meant by Mark to be the coup de grace for those who would still contend that the messiah is merely another descendant of David—yet another Davidic king. Although this quote would not have impressed the Sadducees (it’s not from the Pentateuch), perhaps the Pharisees, and definitely other people are impressed and begin to see Jesus as greater than David.
Read Mark 13:1—37
If you are struggling with this chapter, you’re not alone! Aside from being able to say with confidence that this chapter fits well into Mark’s understanding of Jesus as the eschatological Messiah, I’m not sure how to present this chapter.
Although the 13th chapter occurs in Jerusalem, I’ve extracted it and wish to treat it separately. Before looking at this section, there are a few things we need to keep in mind concerning styles of literature and themes familiar to Mark’s readers. Two styles that would have been relevant and well-known to Mark’s readers were Apocalyptic Material and Farewell Discourses.
For us, the best known apocalyptic literature is the “Revelation of Jesus Christ to John”, but this would not have been known to Mark’s readership—Revelations wasn’t written for another two decades or more. Still, the “Book of Daniel” would have been well known, as well as other writings of the pseudepigrapha (e.g. Book of Enoch). Apocalyptic material is usually known for its fantastic imagery and slightly veiled references to political characters at the time of the author’s composition (e.g. in Daniel, the usurper called “the wretch” is clearly pointing to Antiochus IV Epiphanes—a nasty guy).
Apocalyptic material is not to be confused with prophesy. The warning of the prophets could always be heeded and the gloomy future could be altered through repentance. In apocalyptic writing, the future cannot be avoided. In other words, no matter how many people repent, the eschatological battle is inevitable.
I frequently refer to apocalyptic writing as ‘hang in there’ theology. No matter how bad things end up getting, it is all ultimately in God’s hands. However, unlike normal apocalyptic material, chapter 13 includes no grand vision nor fantastic imagery. In fact it incorporates a second literary style, that of a farewell discourse.
Mark’s readers would have also been familiar with the farewell discourses of Jacob, Moses, Joshua, Samuel, and even David. This section is also different in that throughout the gospel, Mark is piecing together stories, events, and teachings of Jesus. This is Jesus’ longest discourse in Mark’s gospel account. The 13th chapter needs to be taken as a whole.
Because these two genres coming together in Mark, some suggest that Jesus isn’t necessarily looking into the future further than the events of the passion and his call to faithfulness for the Twelve. Verses 5 through 13 seem to sustain this understanding or “future”.
Verses 14 through 20 create some problems for biblical scholars, depending upon the dating of Mark’s gospel. The issue for people (not just scholars) becomes that of Mark’s knowledge of the Great Revolt figures into his reporting of Jesus’ discourse. Is Mark using his knowledge to bolster the eschatological Messiah theme?
Nearly four decades after Jesus’ presence in Jerusalem, Mark most likely knew that in 40 C.E. Gaius Caligula—yes, that Caligula—then emperor of Rome, commanded that the temple in Jerusalem be turned into a shrine for the imperial cult. His statue was to be placed in the temple. This, perhaps is the “desolating sacrilege” mentioned in 13:14, although this event never occurred (Caligula died in 41 C.E. and his edict came to nothing).
Mark most likely knew that in 66 C.E., Florus, Roman Procurator of Jerusalem, pillaged the silver from the temple to create statues of himself and Emperor Nero.
Likewise, the description of the great tribulation of Jerusalem appears to describe what might very well have happened in the city during the Roman response to the Great Jewish Revolt (66—70 C.E.). For a fascinating read detailing the Great Revolt, check out this web site: Jewish Virtual Library. (For those receiving a printed copy of these session the web site can be found at https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/the-great-revolt-66-70-ce)
Some scholar also believe that because of a shift Mark’s writing style in some passages (or words), may have been inserted by later redactors, having experienced the persecutions of Nero, Domitian, et. al.
The base question in this chapter is whether you believe Jesus was predicting the future of Jerusalem (historically accurate concerning the Jewish Rebellion in 70 C.E.) but failed in accomplishing an immediate apocalyptic event (“Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away before all these things take place” 13:30). OR - Is Mark (or a later redactor) seeing more in Jesus’ words, because Mark sees him as the eschatological Messiah.
End Week IV
Please send your questions to Fr. Ben at email@example.com