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2251Re: Mark 8:19-21

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    Sep 5, 1998
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      Jan Sammer writes:
      >>... the meaning of the [feeding] stories is derivable from a subset of the
      >> details, which are presented in the puzzle. The puzzle...['s] intent is
      >> extract the key elements of the feedings that demonstrate their meaning.
      >Thanks for sharpening the debate, Jan. I could hardly disagree more than I
      do with the above statement. I can understand your frustration at the
      seeming impossibility of judging between various sets of proposed symbolic
      meanings for the two feeding stories, and I take your point that we tend to
      find meaning when we look for it, yet I think that these considerations are
      not strong enough to deny altogether the rather obvious Jewish-Gentile
      contrast evident in the two stories.

      JAN: The element of Jewish-Gentile contrast may be there, but that does not
      imply that the Feedings are to be read as allegories of the mission to the
      Jews and the mission to the Gentiles. The Feedings are a most powerful
      prefiguration of the Kingdom of God, where the monarch of the new age
      provides for his flock (refer also to Plato's Politicus, or The Statesman).
      In GJohn the incident of the feeding is immediately followed by the crowds'
      attempt to make Jesus a king. In this prefiguration Jesus condemns those who
      try to rely on their own devices, and the pitiful amount of sustenance that
      they have brought along only signifies their dependence on divine grace.
      Mark portrays Jesus as being increasingly frustrated with the fact that the
      disciples do not grasp the simple fact that in the dawning kingdom the
      divine shepherd will provide for all their needs. Perhaps he's also
      suggesting that Jews and Gentiles alike will be provided for.

      >Take the matter of the "baskets" for example. Your position, as I take it,
      is that it's the _size_ of the "baskets" that's important. I would say that
      it's the _type_ of "basket" (i.e., Jewish vs Gentile). In defense of your
      proposition, you have put forward the following claim:
      >> [Mark's reader] must have known that a spyris is fashioned so as to
      >> carry a single loaf of bread, and that the volume of 5 spyrides is
      >> the same as that of 12 kophinoi.
      >Since much depends on whether this claim is true, I now want to ask for
      your source. My bet is that this is an "invented fact", which you (or
      someone else) thinks could be approximately true, and which provides a tidy
      way of resolving the puzzle.

      Congratulations! The fact that you have challenged me on this point means
      that (unlike others in the past) you have grasped the argument I tried to
      present. I freely admit that the 5:12 relation between kophinos and spyris
      is derived from the text of Mark 8:19-21. I have made some effort at
      determining whether it is in fact supported by independent evidence, thus
      far unsuccessfully. Please note, that your position that the TYPE of basket
      is important is perfectly compatible with my position that the SIZE of
      basket is important.

      But I cannot imagine any system of measurement wherein a specific number of
      Jewish kosher "knapsacks" is made to be equivalent to a specific number of
      market-baskets. In fact, on your own account (above), the numbers don't work
      out at all. Please explain.

      The kophinos and spyris were apparently units of measure, akin to our
      bushel, also originally a type of basket. Mark's readers would not have to
      be told how many kophinoi there are to a spyris, just as we do not have to
      be told how many quarts there are to a gallon, or how many inches to a foot.
      And why do you say the numbers don't work out? If seven loaves were broken
      into pieces and collected in seven spyrides, then five loaves would fill
      five spyrides. Since (ex hypothese) five spyrides equal 12 kophinoi, the
      mathematics works out
      perfectly. It may well be that the kophinos was a sexagesimal measure and
      the spyris a decimal one. Compare the story of Aqihar, which largely hinges
      on the relation of sexagesimal to decimal measures. I would like to stress
      that even if my specific solution is wrong, I am at least barking up the
      right tree, whereas attempts at allegorical solutions are sort of like
      baying at the moon.

      As I understand it, you suggest the following exegetical principle: any
      details of a story not mentioned in Yeshu's "follow-up" statement cannot be
      important to the meaning of the story.

      I do not suggest any exegetical principles. Where on earth did you get such
      an idea?

      This principle would result, for example, in saying that in the cursing of
      the fig tree, the fact that it is a _fig tree_ and that it is a _cursing_
      has no symbolic meaning, since Yeshu is not made to mention those "details"
      in his follow-up statement at 11:22-25. Is this really a result that you

      Your attempted reductio ad absurdum is invalid, since I have not suggested
      any exegetical principles. I merely tried to solve the question posed in Mk
      8:21 and my comments only apply to this passage. I would not dare to presume
      to generalize them into an exegetical principle.

      Let me also widen the scope of this discussion slightly, to include the
      mention of the "leaven" of the Pharisees and Herodians at 8:15. The
      intertwining of these passages indicates to me that Mark is contrasting
      their "leaven" with Yeshu's, and that indeed the symbolism of the feedings
      _does_ include the "multiplying" of loaves and fishes, which is something
      your analysis denies.

      On the contrary, it is left for you to explain why Jesus, who speaks against
      the leaven of the Pharisees and of the Herodians, would have used the same
      for his alleged multiplication miracles. Mark's point here is that the
      leaven of the Pharisees and of the Herodians is not the sustenance
      characteristic of the Kingdom of God. It is woefully inadequate for the job
      of sustaining the people in the wilderness, indicating the foolishness and
      false pride of the Pharisees and Herodians. Just when it looks that the
      crowds will starve Jesus assumes the role of the divine shepherd who feeds
      his flock without recourse to any of this leavened bread. This is made clear
      by the fact that even though it was offered to them, the crowds ate none of
      it, and let it be collected again in the spyrides and kophinoi. The
      disciples did not grasp this fact and later, in the boat, again worry about
      provisions. Jesus, now exasperated, forces them to repeat the numbers of
      spyrides and kophinoi and asks, "And you still don't understand?" Doesn't
      that suggest to you, Mike, that the point he is making has to do with these
      numbers as measures of bread, rather than as allegories of seven deacons or
      seven Noahic laws? Mark certainly implies that the disciples should be able
      to grasp some fact on the basis of the information given. The information
      given does not include deacons or Noahic laws. According to the structure of
      this chapter of Mark, what the disciples are expected to grasp should be
      both easy to figure out and surprising. That condition is satisfied by the
      hypothesis I have proposed, namely that the pieces of bread broken by Jesus
      are the very same ones that are later collected in the baskets. The
      disciples had not realized that up to this point. The questions that Jesus
      solicits from them virtually give the solution away. It would have been
      anticlimactic for Mark to spell out the solution, which should obvious to
      anyone whose brain hasn't turned to stone (paraphrasing the words Mark
      ascribes to Jesus in 8:17).

      >Finally (since I have little time to write this morning), I would like to
      put forward the proposition that a hypothesis cannot be adequate if it does
      not account for all the known facts. To deny that the specific mention of
      _males_ and kosher "knapsacks" in the story of the feeding of the 5000 is
      intended to point to a specifically Jewish event/mission seems to me to be

      As I mentioned above, the story may be indicating something about the
      position of Jews and Gentiles in the Kingdom of God, but it has nothing to
      do with missionary activities, as far as I can see.
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