RE: [Synoptic-L] Mk 8:11-12
- The language of “sign”, σημεῖον, is interesting in Mark’s Gospel and might be more at home in John’s Gospel. If John is correct in associating this narrative with the story of Moses and the manna from heaven in the wilderness, the Pharisees’ request for a sign might simply be a request that the sign of the feeding continue day after day, as it did in Moses’ case. First century Jewish peasants may have had as much interest in daily food handouts as did starving people in the desert. If the traditional narrative could not be fully accommodated to Mark’s themes, it may stand out for that reason.
From: Synoptic@yahoogroups.com [mailto:Synoptic@yahoogroups.com] On Behalf Of Chuck Jones
Sent: Monday, 10 September 2012 10:42 PM
Subject: Re: [Synoptic-L] Mk 8:11-12
In Mark, Jesus' motive for healing is compassion. The reason there was a feeding of the 5,000 is that "[a]s [Jesus] went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things." He usually tells the healed not to tell anyone about what happened. All of this is consistent with Jesus refusing to produce a sign, seems to me.
Rev. Chuck Jones
From: E Bruce Brooks <brooks@... <mailto:brooks%40asianlan.umass.edu> >
To: Synoptic@yahoogroups.com <mailto:Synoptic%40yahoogroups.com>
Sent: Saturday, September 8, 2012 9:48 PM
Subject: RE: [Synoptic-L] Mk 8:11-12
In Response To: Jeffrey Gibson
On: Mk 8:11-12
First, let me be plain: I think Goguel is wrong. I think the passage in
question is late, not early, and that its understanding will best proceed
from that probability.
Jeffrey calls attention to his 1990 JSNT article, as a solution to the
problem of Mk 8:11f. The problem of Mk 8:11, as I see it, is that it refuses
a sign, not only to the Pharisees who ask one, but to the entire generation.
This seems to contradict the fact that in Mark, including the passage
immediately preceding, Jesus is continually doing things that would seem to
count as signs of his Divine power or approval, from healings to mass
feedings to walkings on water. His refusal in this case seems to contradict
his own practice, and in the case of the ban on the entire generation, to
exceed what is required. Therefore it attracts attention.
Jeffrey, as I understand it, distinguishes between two senses of "sign," and
on that basis finds consistency in Mark, and intelligibility in this one
passage. For reasons previously stated, I think that the goal of finding
consistency in Mark is illusory in the first place, but there is always room
for another view.
The specific word "sign" occurs in Mk in just three passages: (1) this one,
(2) the Mk 13 apocalypse, where the disciples ask what will be the sign of
the end, and Jesus answers, warning them at the same time that imposters
will also produce "signs and wonders" (13:22), and (3) the spurious ending,
which we need not further consider. It is interesting that both (1) and (2)
are "verily" passages, where Jesus seems to be giving extra assurance that
what he says is true. It is also interesting that the denial of a sign to
"this generation" in 8:11f directly contradicts Jesus' assurance in 13:30
that "this generation will not pass away" before these things, doubtless
including the signs that precede them, will occur (cf 9:1). The sign asked
by the Pharisees is specifically a "sign from Heaven," but so, one would
think, are the signs described in Mk 13 as preceding the end. If not from
Jeffrey argues (p43-45), with more use of Luke than I should have thought
advisable, since Luke may have his own idea of heavenly validation, that a
special sense attaches to "sign from heaven," namely "most likely a
phenomenon which embodied Salvation." I am not convinced that the Septuagint
examples prove this, or that the context of 8:11 suggests it. It seems to me
that all signs in Mk, whether or not called that, are events beyond the
ordinary, which prove that Jesus is speaking and acting with authority that
is more than human. The Healing of the Paralytic, cited by Jeffrey and
certainly relevant, is a passage which is more easily understood once it is
realized that the "forgiveness of sins" bit is interpolated into the rest,
an original story of healing. In any case, it is the healing, not the
forgiveness of sins whether or not interpolated, which provokes the
amazement of the crowd. They glorify God (who they seem to assume is the
source of this remarkable occurrence), and say, We never saw anything like
this. A deed of power that carries convincement.
Another relevant passage, since it brings together the several elements
already mentioned (including Jesus' impatience with this generation), is the
disciples' failure to heal the epileptic boy. It is typical of Mark that
Jesus only works wonders (the nature miracles, I think, alone excepted) in a
climate of belief that he can in fact do so; his failure at Nazareth is the
converse that demonstrates the rule, as Mark carefully explains (surely we
have here Mark's understanding of the miracle process). With the epileptic,
it is the father who insists that he believes (as the condition for the cure
of his son), and then says, rather remarkably, "Help thou mine unbelief."
Jesus proceeds to heal the boy. With what power? The story actually tells us
this, since the interns, the disciples, ask why they could not do so, and
Jesus says that this was a particularly tough demon, which could not be
expelled by anything save prayer. Prayer is Jesus's way of establishing
contact with God, and again, as with the paralytic, we have the God
connection made explicit, this time by Jesus and not by the crowd.
As for the anger against the sinful and adulterous generation (9:19), how is
that to be explained? I ask because I do not know, save for the sense (the
opposite of Goguel's sense) that it arises long after Jesus' death, in a
context of lessening communal belief. The third case of this motif in Mark
is 8:38 (Whoever is ashamed of Jesus in this adulterous and sinful
generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of in time to come). What links
the three seems to be lack of faith, whether of the Pharisees, the father of
the epileptic (who does his best, however), and the indeterminate faithless,
who have abandoned Jesus, in 8:38. It is the 8:38 case that perhaps most
strongly suggests a time well removed from the time of Jesus, when some had
fallen away, or succumbed to persecution. Mk 13 can also be read that way,
since its whole reason for being is disciple uncertainty about the date of
this much expected event. This gives, I like to think, the beginning of an
explanation, but to my mind it still leaves Mk 8:11f somewhat eccentric, a
little off the lines which Mark otherwise seems to follow. It is that
eccentricity which puzzles me, and which I don't find that Jeffrey's
explanation quite resolves.
The Pharisees are of course not merely an unbelieving, but a hostile,
public. The other miracle or sign or remarkable action demanded of Jesus by
such a public and not supplied by him, if I remember correctly, is the
demand of the hostile crowd that Jesus come down from the cross. That would
indeed be a supernatural feat. Jesus does not perform the feat, and it may
be relevant that not long afterward, Jesus laments that God has forsaken
him. The language in which Mark reports this is Psalmic, and he surely
intends a second message by phrasing it that way, but the event itself seems
to be consistent. Signs of power require not only the belief, as it were
the psychological cooperation of the beholders, but also the granting of
power by God. In the Crucifixion scene, both seem to be lacking.
Jeffrey comes out with "triumphalism" as the key to what Jesus will not do,
and will refuse to do when asked (p55). The final paragraph (p56) reads:
"It would seem, then, that the reason the Marcan Jesus refuses to produce a
'sign' when the Pharisees demand one of him is not because he is, according
to Mark, opposed to the enterprise of producing 'signs.' Rather, given
Mark's assumptions concerning the type of 'sign' demanded in this instance
and what this 'sign' would activate once manifested, it is because in
producing such a 'sign' Jesus would involve himself in the sort of
triumphalistic, imperious activities that throughout Mark's Gospel he
condemns and sets himself against."
That explanation reaches outside Mark for a definition of Mark's term. I
have already suggested why I think the distinction is too fine-drawn.
As for Jesus' dislike of triumphalism, what of his stilling of the storm,
which prompts the disciples (4:41) to ask what manner of man he may be? What
of his prediction of himself in Mk 13:26, coming on the clouds with much
power and splendor, to send out messengers to gather the elect from the four
corners of the earth? Or if this be thought a slip of the Markan pen, what
of Jesus' response to the High Priest, "I am, and you will see the Son of
Man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of Heaven
If this be modesty, scoop me a double helping of it. And I will be ready
when the call comes, however suddenly; I have my list of the Elect all
prepared. No scurrying around at the last moment.
E Bruce Brooks
Warring States Project
University of Massachusetts at Amherst
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- On 9/10/2012 9:01 AM, Greg Crawford wrote:
> The language of “sign”, σημεῖον, is interesting in Mark’s Gospel and might be more at home in John’s Gospel. If John is correct in associating this narrative with the story of Moses and the manna from heaven in the wilderness, the Pharisees’ request for a sign might simply be a request that the sign of the feeding continue day after day, as it did in Moses’ case. First century Jewish peasants may have had as much interest in daily food handouts as did starving people in the desert. If the traditional narrative could not be fully accommodated to Mark’s themes, it may stand out for that reason.If this is the case, and I an extremely doubtful that it is, why
would Jesus refuse the request? And how would such a request be
something that probes and examines Jesus' faithfulness as Mark says it
does? Why would Jesus label the request as something that exhibits the
faithlessness of the wilderness generation faithlessness, since a
request to keep on giving manna is the exact opposite of the grumbling
against manna that the wilderness generation engaged in?
Leaving aside the fact that the language of "sign" in Mark is not the
same as it is in John, I don't think you've thought your claim through.
Jeffrey B. Gibson D.Phil. (Oxon.)
1500 W. Pratt Blvd.
Chicago, Il 606s6