The Riddle of the Loaves and Baskets 2
- In my last post I presented the connection of the
leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod with
the first feeding story. Five loaves divided by 5000
men resulted in twelve "kosher baskets" of fragment
leftovers, while 7 loaves divided by 4000 resulted in
7 baskets of "fulnesses" of leftovers. When we look at
the numbers we see that in the first feeding story the
ratio of leftovers to loaves is different from the
first feeding to the second.
The opening to the passage with the riddle tells us to
beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and of Herod.
Leaven in bread increases the size of the loaf and
would naturally increases the amount of the leftovers.
Metaphorically leaven in Mark represents false
teaching (accurately explained in the text of
Matthew). This metaphor was employed by Paul in his
epistle to the Galatians with respect to Jewish
teaching that had been imposed on the converts at
Galatia (Gal.5:1-10). In Mark the point is the two
feeding stories are parables not miracles and that
theY are parables about the distribution of the word
of God as in the teaching of Jesus.
I suggested that this warning refers to the increased
ratio of leftovers to loaves applied by Mark to the
first feeding story and the disobedience of the
disciples concerning the loaves and money. The
leftovers from the first feeding were described as
kosher baskets. No such designation is applied to the
baskets in the second feeding. In the first feeding
story according to the text of Mark, the
disciples had bread and money that they had previously
been forbidden to take into their missionary journey
(6:8). They had five loaves of bread and at least two
hundred denarii demonstrating their disobedience to
the commission given them by Jesus. This disobedience
of the disciples is emphasized again in that the
disciples are talking about the fact that they had
forgotten to take bread. Jesus question concerning why
they are talking about the forgotten bread higlights
the fact that they are still being disobedient to
their original commission. This comment only makes
sense in light of the fact that he had previously
commanded them not to take bread. The reader knows
that they were told not to take bread. One must
conclude that the disciples seem to have forgotten or
intentionally disobedy their original commission.
Another point Mark wants is that the feeding of the
crowds was not the giving of physical bread but
spiritual bread. Bread the disciples were unable to
provide when it was needed according to the first
story. The fact that they did not recognize Jesus as
the one loaf with them in the boat indicates that they
are still obtuse to the spiritual bread. The
bread in question is spiritual bread that is
distributed by Jesus. The leaven in question is false
teaching that is being intermingled with the spiritual
bread resulting in a disproportionate ratio of loaves
to kosher baskets of leftovers.
Now we, unlike disciples in the story who fail to
understand the riddle, have the advantage of turning
back the clock to reread Mark's text. And we are faced
with the all important question of how we are to tell
the false teaching from the true teaching. The key is
in the numbers.
As the math demonstrates in the second feeding story
(that showed no evidence of leaven) the number
of loaves should equal the number of baskets. When it
does not, we can be sure that we are the recipients
of false teaching mixed in with the bread. Mark's
point is really not unusual when we consider how many
times Paul had to refute what others had said with
respect to his teaching and his behavior as an
apostle. It is only logical that such attempts to
distort teaching should still be present at the time
Mark is writing.
Mark himself has anticipated that his document would
be tampered with in its distribution. His document is
Gospel and it is in his mind, Word of God from the
spirit of Jesus. The riddle of numbers that he
presents in this passage relate to his own document
and the means by which readers can discern if the copy
they have been reading has been tampered with. The
riddle of the loaves and baskets gives the reader the
method for determining whether or not the document he
has is original or one that has been altered. In
addition Mark makes the point that those doing the
tampering will be associated with Herod and or with
the Pharisees. (this point will eventually demonstrate
that there is a Herod still alive when Mark was
We should keep in mind that Pharisees can be Christian
as well as Jewish. Acts makes the point that many of
the Jews in Jerusalem had come to believe and
according to Acts some of the believing Jews were
Pharisees (Acts 15:5).
Marks method for providing a means to make judgment
as to the authenticity of a copy of his Gospel is done
with the counting of root words. If a given word is
suppose to appear in his document 4 times and it
appears 6 times one would know that the document has
been tampered with. That brings up the question: How
would Mark get word to his audience as to which words
were to be counted? I can only say that without any
pre-warning I myself have been able to recognize dozen
of these counted words and they have proved themselves
to be important to the Gospel as a whole. There is
also the possibility that the list of counted words
could have been sent ahead of the documents as it
would have been unintelligible to all but the ones
that knew the formula existed. Counting the words upon
the reception of the document could only be done
orally. The one reading aloud would have needed to
have someone catalog the words as they were read
aloud. The script would have been continuous making a
text-only search extremely difficult if not
This is an ingenious method of protecting an original
document in the first century and Mark has employed it
with perfection. The formula for detecting forgeries
of Marks text is hidden in this passage we are
considering. It is related to the Pharisees seeking a
sign and the reference to the leaven. Note that the
text of Mark does not actually say that no sign will
be given, It says Truly I tell you if a sign will be
given to this generation. It is Jesus himself that
provides the sign but it is not for the Pharisees it
is for the readers of Marks text.
When I first discovered this type of encryption in
Mark's text I was embarrassed at how naive I had been
to think that such measures would not have been taken
for a document that was as important as Marks text
was to him. The riddle in chapter eight holds the key
to Mark's copy protection scheme. The warning that
sets it up is Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees
and the leaven of Herod. The purpose of the riddle was
to see the leaven as the solution to the
disproportional ratio of loaves to leftovers, five
loaves should equal five baskets of leftovers. The
count at the beginning should equal the count
received "taken up". If a word sent was placed in the
text 7 times, like the word Christ for example, when
that document arrived it should still be there 7
times. If that is not the case the text has been
altered. Note that in the second feeding the resulting
number represents fullness. Seven occurrences of
Christ in the text of Mark is the completed count,
The controlling numbers of the count are 4, 5, 7 and
12. We get this from the root of the numbers 5
loaves,5000 men, 4000 people, 7 loaves and 7 baskets
of fulnesses and finally twelve kosher baskets of
leftovers. So we are looking for the roots of words
that are counted, to comply with the numbers 4, 5, 7,
I am sure that some people are laughing at this entire
proposition at this point. As a trained computer
technician, I can tell you that this method of
encryption employed by Mark is logical and well
thought out. It follows basic principals employed in
modern encryption and will stand the test of scrutiny.
I assure you it is no laughing matter. The first
number to look at is four, we can take them in order.
It stands to reason that if Mark is using this number
to count the roots of words the number itself should
comply with the count. We should expect to see the
number four exactly four times in the text provided it
has not been tampered with in a way that disturbs the
number of occurrences. The root for the number four
appears in the verses below.
Thanks to John Lupia's observations the number four
has been ruled out as a counted number. It does not
appear in the riddle as a primary number like 5, 7 ,
and 12 and it could not have been intended to appear
in the text four times as John pointed out.
Now lets take the number five and see how many times
the root appears within the text of Mark. Remember if
the number five has not been tampered with it should
appear five times.
RSV Mar 6:38 And he said to them, "How many loaves
have you? Go and see." And when they had found out,
they said, "Five, and two fish."
RSV Mar 6:41 And taking the five loaves and the two
fish he looked up to heaven, and blessed, and broke
the loaves, and gave them to the disciples to set
before the people; and he divided the two fish among
RSV Mar 6:44 And those who ate the loaves were five
RSV Mar 8:19 When I broke the five loaves for the five
thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did
you take up?" They said to him, "Twelve."
Again we see that five like four appears excacly the
correct number of times and in verse 8:19 it appears
two times to complete the requirement.
Again our search reveals the number five coincides
with the exact number of occurrences of the Greek
root for five.
Now we come to the number seven lets see what the
search for the Greek root of seven reveals:
RSV Mar 8:5 And he asked them, "How many loaves have
you?" They said, "Seven."
RSV Mar 8:6 And he commanded the crowd to sit down on
the ground; and he took the seven loaves, and having
given thanks he broke them and gave them to
his disciples to set before the people; and they set
them before the crowd.
RSV Mar 8:8 And they ate, and were satisfied; and they
took up the broken pieces left over, seven baskets
RSV Mar 8:20 "And the seven for the four thousand, how
many baskets full of broken pieces did you take up?"
And they said to him, "Seven."
RSV Mar 12:20 There were seven brothers; the first
took a wife, and when he died left no children;
RSV Mar 12:22 and the seven left no children. Last of
all the woman also died.
RSV Mar 12:23 In the resurrection whose wife will she
be? For the seven had her as wife."
RSV Mar 16:9 Now when he rose early on the first day
of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, from
whom he had cast out seven demons.
a count of the root reveals that we have a total of
nine occurrences of the root for the number seven.
Oneof those occurrences falls in the longer ending of
Mark which we know is not original to the text. An
examination of the variants of Mark indicates that the
number seven at 12:23 is redundant without purpose and
may be spurious, but not necessarily for any malicious
reason. It may simply have been added by looking at
the wrong line while making the copy from the
exemplar. Based on what we have seen with the numbers
four and five we can say that probability favors 7
occurrences for the root of the number seven. Now lets
look at the number twelve.
The next number for our consideration is perhaps the
most critical of all. It is the number that represents
the leaven or false teaching. It is also the number of
the disciples that is most important to Matthew and
Luke. It is prescribed number of men that will form
the New Israel according to document called "the
community rule" at Qumran. The root for the number 12
appears a total of 15 times in the text of Mark as
wehave it in our English bible translations. If you
recall, this number is of particular interest to
Matthew and Luke as it represents the leadership of
the community approved by Jesus. It is the twelve
disciples that are to rule over the twelve tribes of
Israel according to the texts of Matthew and Luke.
Mark on the other hand holds little respect for the
twelve and paints them as obtuse to the true identity
of Jesus and the manifestation of the spirit in Jesus.
Because of the space needed to deal with the number
twelve I have decided to make that a separate post to
Synoptic L. In the next post I will also demonstrate
how certain significant words demonstrate Mark's
scheme of encryption Christ would be an example of one
such word. I have cataloged dozens of words that are
controlled by the numbers 4, 5, 7, and 12.
The thrid post is number 13 on the new Synoptic List.
Rick Richmond rickr2889@...
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