RE: [Synoptic-L] Mk 8:11-12 plus Sywndz
- To: Synoptic (WSW)
Again In Response To: Dennis Goffin
On: The Lawfulness of Jesus
Dennis: . Jesus' attitude is consistently to emphasise the spirit of an
action over the empty observance and that is true of the Sabbath as well.
Bruce: Jesus's Sabbath actions in Mark are consistently to violate the
Sabbath as it was understood by other people in Mark's story. Jesus may
preach on the Sabbath, whether at Capernaum or at Nazareth (it was the
occasion when people were already gathered), but Jesus in Mark never, repeat
never, enjoins respect for the Sabbath as the Pharisees understood it or as
Moses had ordained it. Instead, he constantly violates it. Here are all,
repeat all, of the nontrivial occurrences of Sabbath in Mark:
1:21. Preaching at Capernaum. (There is an interpolation in which he
exorcises on that occasion, but as a matter of methodological scruple, I
ignore that as not part of the original story).
2:23-28. Going through the fields; the disciples pluck grain to eat.
Challenged for this Sabbath violation; defends the violation by citing
Scripture (a story about David; this is a Messianic passage, and Jesus
claims functional equality with David).
3:1-6. Healing on the Sabbath. Jesus takes time to argue, not that healing
is not "work," which was prohibited on the Sabbath, as a more conventional
person might have done, but that the doing of good supersedes anything else.
Here, as is not the case in 1:21, the healing and the Sabbath aspects of the
story are integral; there is no interpolation, and thus no way out of taking
the story as it stands. As it stands, it recognizes no value whatever in
Sabbath observance. More than this, it recognizes an opposition between
Sabbath observance and doing good. The ethical and the conventional cannot
That's the lot. I think it is suggestive. A parallel case can easily be made
for the food laws, which are Pharisaic rather than Mosaic, but which Jesus
with equal consistency regarded as worthless. Jesus in Mark never enjoins
respect for the Sabbath. Jesus in Mark never urges observance of the food
and other purity rules. On the contrary, his violation of those rules is the
basis for Pharisaic opposition, and as Mark chooses to interpret the story,
a root cause of Jesus's eventual death.
Of course there is a problem for modern persons in accepting this. Was Jesus
a lawbreaker? A person who would park in a no parking space if he was in a
hurry? Eek! The idea is somehow difficult; modern people, or anyway modern
Congregationalists, are themselves nice, and they would like more civic
nicety in their Jesus. The only sermons I have personally ever heard about
parking spaces (and in our shallow age, I have heard several of them) enjoin
respect for the parking rules. People go home comfortable from such a
sermon, serene in their own good citizenship. reinforced in their
respectability. For that sort of mindset, the Markan Jesus is a shock. But
modern persons and mindsets are not evidence, and I turn to ancient ones.
Matthew is Everybody's Jesus, and Matthew feels just as many moderns do
about the parking rules. He continually intervenes to show that Jesus did
not reject minor Pharisaic piety ("tithe mint and rue"), and much more
strongly, that Jesus upheld every "jot and title of the Law." He shows
Jesus, in a fit of hyperpiety, going *beyond* the Law, but in the same
direction. This is a revisionist picture. It is possible to say exactly
where Matthew was coming from, and in what year, but I leave that alone, and
take the book of Matthew simply as we find it. What we find in it is a
revisionist Jesus, whose lawlessness in the Markan Vorlage is often
ameliorated or eliminated or transcended. This is part of what I have called
the Nice Jesus image of the Second Generation Gospels.
But as historians, we have no business reading Matthew, save for
documentation about the *reception* of Jesus in later times (an important
subject in its own right, but surely a different subject). For the
historical Jesus, Mark is our only acceptable source. What Mark says on the
subject here in question - what he seems to go out of his way to say - I
have already recounted.
I point out, by way of perspective, the way in which, like Jesus in the
hands of Nice Matthew, the image of Paul after his death was altered and
adjusted to make it more conventional, and in fact, more Nice. There were
interpolations, like the beloved Love chapter of 1 Cor 13 (on its
interpolation status, see the careful study of Walker), in which Paul is
suddenly made to abandon his own central doctrinal concept (faith) for
something else (an amorphous "love"). There were also social adjustments
made to Paul, perhaps most obviously the bit about female equality. Female
equality certainly obtained in Paul's own churches, but the secondary
Pauline literature is actively and constantly concerned to subvert it and
get rid of it (in that literature, and in some interpolations in the genuine
Pauline literary leavings, women must be silent in church; their chief piety
is childbearing). Again, something socially and religiously radical in the
early church is being toned down and abandoned and moved back toward the
socially acceptable center. This happens at the same time, by which I mean
in the same year, the immediate post-Pauline couple of years, as the Gospel
of Matthew was being put together. The conventionalizing push is the same,
it is the same movement of the collective Church, in both cases.
The Pastorals are not an improved portrait of Paul, just as Matthew is not
an improved portrait of Jesus. In both cases what we have is a
*conventionalized* portrait. Christianity, as it came of age, wanted to be
more efficient, and also more acceptable to its pagan and indeed its Jewish
neighbors. Matthew and the Pastorals are one way they went about this.
Matthew and the Pastorals, among other things, represent the Organizational
Christianity of the 60's. Do you know what happens when a business-based and
not an academic-based president takes over some college? Well, Matthew and
the Pastorals (to mention only them) are the analogue of that process in
The job was well done, let me get that in. The PR (businesspeople are highly
aware of the importance of PR), the community relations work, was well done.
Matthew is the beloved Jesus, whereas nobody making up a lectionary ever
culled Mark for passages. Similarly, on the Pauline side, Ephesians (a
trito-Pauline document) has been called by commentators the most perfect
expression of Pauline Christianity. Well it might be; it had had practice.
Colossians had already tempered Paul to the shorn and conventional reader,
and with the advantage of that trial run, Ephesians came along and finished
All this comes down, does it not? to a simple matter of method. For any
historical question, the earliest evidence is the best evidence. I don't
need to mention the name of Leopold von Ranke; it is just common sense. The
guy who was there, or at least not far from there, is going to give a less
evolved account of things than the guy who was not there, or the guy who
comes along twenty-five years later. And evolution of historical image
constantly happens; traditions and cultures and perhaps especially
subcultures constantly adjust their past to conform to present needs. The
later sources we use, the more our picture is going to be compromised by the
workings of that constant tendency to adjustment.
Similarly, if I may move to the larger world for a moment, the clash between
Mencius and Sywndz is partly a generation clash. For Mencius, the question
of the people and the new army was still partly open; he could imagine
military force trumped by pure moral force. For Sywndz, born a few years
before Mencius died, the efficiency and functionality of the new army were a
given, one of the facts of life. He accepted the army, and its logistic and
economic support, not as some ideological decision, but simply as the air he
breathed. Mencius (and the more faithful of his followers, the people I have
called the northern Mencians) focused on the personal; Sywndz more on the
collective, on society as an entity to be philosophized about. The
difference between them is partly personal temperament, of course, but with
wide and deep roots in the fact that the new state was more fully realized
in Sywndz's time. Reading the works of either school, it helps, it is
illuminating, to keep in mind the difference in the societies they were
talking about. Sywndz is not a very likeable guy, and the age in which he
lived was not a very comfortable age, it was an age in which the scope of
individual effort had become markedly curtailed. These are not two
statements; they are one statement.
This is kindergarten-level stuff, isn't it. I grieve that it should be so
constantly ignored, not only in NT, where I am a sort of guest, but in my
home field of classical Sinology. I think we will do better not to ignore
it, which for Jesus questions (as distinct from reception-of-Jesus
questions), means reading Mark instead of Matthew.
E Bruce Brooks
Warring States Project
University of Massachusetts at Amherst