2251Re: Mark 8:19-21
- Sep 5, 1998MIKE GRONDIN
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.do with the above statement. I can understand your frustration at the
>Thanks for sharpening the debate, Jan. I could hardly disagree more than I
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:
>your source. My bet is that this is an "invented fact", which you (or
>> [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
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
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 toput 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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