Re: [XTalk] Re: Jesus as Mathmetician
- --- Jan Sammer wrote:
> I did not discuss 8:11-13 (8B in your terminology), because theMike added:
> relationship of this passage with the subsequent verses was not
> obvious to me. Since you raise the issue, it strikes me as odd
> that the Pharisees would have asked for a sign from heaven
> immediately following the public performance of the amazing
> miracle of the second multiplication of the loaves. And Jesus,
> instead of referring to the miracle he had just performed, states
> that no sign would be given to this generation.
>But the larger question is how to account for J's "no signs" dictumYou both touch on an interesting issue. The response to this that follows is indebted to a chapter in the book ‘The Homeric Epics and the Gospel of Mark’ by Jesus Seminar Fellow Dennis MacDonald. The aspect of the Gospel of Mark known as messianic secret is a very controversial issue. Perhaps a more apt designation would be ‘Son-of-God secret’. Jesus avoids publicity, silences those He heals, and silences demons who recognize Him. Mark never stated in clear terms why his Jesus maintained secrecy, and this has led to a host of speculations. A feature of Mark’s Gospel is that it often uses irony: a number of things are known to the reader of the story but not to the participants. At the beginning of the Gospel the reader learns that Jesus is God’s Son, information not available to characters within the narrative apart from Jesus Himself and the demons. When the opponents of Jesus ridicule Jesus for claiming to be king of the Jews, the reader sees that the statements which they intend to be ironic sacrcasm are actually true: Jesus can prophesy; He really is king of the Jews; His death will secure the destruction of the temple; and He cannot save Himself except by losing His life. Identity is a major issue in Mark. As the Son of God, Jesus possesses superhuman powers that function as signs of His identity, but herein lies their danger. Throughout the Gospel, His miracles were signs that rendered Him vulnerable to discovery by enemies. The Jewish authorities would not accept any great claim for Him, and when He confirmed that He was the Messiah they immediately condemned Him to death. Jesus maintained secrecy throughout the Gospel by sheer necessity. His powers to exorcise and raise the dead were signs of His identity that He had to conceal from His foes. Only by prolonging the inevitable through secrecy would He be able to teach His followers about the kingdom of God. This understanding of secrecy deviates from most interpretations by proposing that the disclosure of the secret took place at the Sanhedrin trial, not at the empty tomb. Scholars generally maintain that Mark’s Jesus avoided the titles Messiah and Son of God because they were inappropriate prior to the resurrection, as Mark would seem to imply by having Jesus command Peter, James, and John to tell no one about the Transfiguration until He had risen from the dead. Of course when Jesus did reveal His identity He at the same time promised His return in victory. Note that Jesus commanded the three disciples to tell no one, which implies that Jesus wished to conceal His identity from all.
>(which Matt modifies by adding "except for the sign of Jonah").
>One thought that has occurred to me is that the stipulation that
>the sign should be _from Heaven_ may be important. The evangelists
>could hardly have been unaware that they were presenting Jesus as
>having given signs of his supernatural power, but whether that
>power was from Heaven or from Satan may have been in question. A
>second thought was that the anomaly may be an indication of two
>types of sources in conflict - a sayings-type source and a signs-
>type source - which the evangelists were struggling to combine
>without losing elements from either.
Mark’s Jesus does not guard His identity uniformly from everyone. When Jesus is among friends, He is least prone to secrecy. When He is among Gentiles, He shows somewhat more caution, yet seldom insists on silence. Jesus is most cautious about publicity in Jewish environments when the authorities themselves are absent. In passages where Jesus and the Jewish leaders appear together He never insists on secrecy. Instead, He cleverly clouds His identity in ambiguous titles, metaphors, allegories, and counterquestions and thus provides His opponents insufficient grounds for having Him killed. Jesus only reveals His true identity at His trial.
Among His closest associates, when the risk of attracting the attention of the Jewish leaders was low, Jesus rarely insisted on secrecy. One finds no such commands after Jesus healed Peter’s mother-in-law, after He stilled the storm, or after He withered the fig tree. Only the disciples had seen these miracles. Commands to secrecy also are lacking in the two stories of the feeding of multitudes, probably because only the disciples witnessed the miraculous multiplications. The only two instances of Jesus silencing disciples follow unambiguous identifications of Him as Messiah or Son of God, which greatly heighten the risk of disclosure. Midway through the narrative, Jesus asks the disciples who people thought He was. Their answer show that His attempts at remaining incognito successfully kept the masses baffled, as they suspected He might be John the Baptist, Elijah, or another prophet. Jesus then asks the disciples directly who they say that He is. Peter tells Jesus that He is the Messiah, which is followed by Jesus sternly ordering the disciples not to tell anyone this. The silencing was not because Peter answered wrongly, but because he answered correctly. This identification could come to the attention of the authorities. The other silencing of disciples is after the Transfiguration, where three disciples heard a voice from heaven declaring Jesus to be God’s Son. Jesus’ order for the disciples not to tell anyone about this until after the resurrection need not mean that the empty tomb was the revelation of Jesus’ secret. It could also mean that Easter morning was the first time that the disciples would have had opportunity to declare what they had seen on the mountain without endangering Jesus; the damage would have been done already. Furthermore, only after the resurrection would the disciples have understood the meaning of the Transfiguration, what the rising of the dead could mean.
Among Gentiles Jesus shows only mild anxiety about rumours of His miracle working. After exorcising the Gerasene demoniac, instead of a command to silence, one finds Jesus ordering the demoniac, "Go home to your friends, and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and what mercy he has shown you." In "the region of Tyre," a Gentile city, He did not want people to know He was there, but when He exorcised the daughter of the Syrophenecian He did not insist she keep silent. On the other hand, Jesus healed a deaf man in a Gentile area and commanded those who observed the healing to tell no one (Mark 7:36). This is the only place in Mark where Jesus silences a character in a predominantly Gentile environment.
In Jewish contexts where the religious authorities are absent, Jesus is most likely to insist silence. While teaching at a synagogue at Capernaum, a demoniac identified Him as "The Holy One of God.’" Jesus told the demoniac to be silent. He could not disguise His identity from the preternatural realm; the demons invariably recognized Him. The placement of this exorcism in a synagogue increases the danger; the religious authorities might learn from those in the synagogue that demons proclaimed Jesus as the Son of God. The leaders might then ask Him what He thought of the demon’s statement, and if so He would have to agree with it and thus risk the charge of blasphemy. In Jewish Capernaum, Jesus cast out many demons, and would not permit the demons to speak because they knew Him. Later, crowds thronged to Him, both Jews and Gentiles, and again He exorcised. Mark tells us that whenever the unclean spirits saw Him they would shout out "You are the Son of God." As could be expected, Jesus orders them not to make Him known (Mark 3:12). Mark’s use of "unclean spirits" in the plural and the verbs consistently in the imperfect sense imply that tattletale demons bedeviled Him constantly. Jesus cured a blind man and ordered him to go home: "Do not even go into the village," that is, Jewish Bethsaida. When Jesus healed Jairus’ daughter He took only His three closest disciples and on arriving commanded everyone to leaven except her parents. After He revived her He charged her parents strictly that no one should know about the miracle. These were extreme precautions, but then if a leader of a synagogue were to broadcast the miracle word might get to the Jewish authorities. Though Jesus does not always insist on secrecy in a Jewish environment, He does so more consistently than when among Gentiles. This interpretation of Jesus’ secrecy surely explains the exchange between Jesus and the leper in Mark 1:40-45. The preferable translation of this passage has Jesus infuriated at the request for healing by the leper. If Jesus were to heal the leper, He would necessarily expose the activity to the authorities, because it was the only cure that, according to Leviticus 14, required a demonstration of purity before a priest and the observance of an elaborate ritual. By healing a leper Jesus was risking exposing His powers to the authorities. Despite the risk and still mad, Jesus healed the man. Dennis MacDonald translates 1:43-44: "After growling at him, he thrust him out at once, saying to him, ‘See that you say nothing to anyone; but go, show yourself to the priest, and offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.’" Apparently the leper was not even to tell the priest who it was who had healed him but merely to demonstrate his clean condition, as required by the Torah. Unfortunately, he told a lot of people about it, so Jesus could no longer go into a town openly, presumably for safety.
When Jesus and the authorities come into direct confrontation, the danger of exposure is greatest. In these settings the demons fortunately keep silent, and Jesus keeps the authorities baffled concerning His identity by evasion, metaphors, and sheer wit. Even though His performance of miracles might blow His cover, He risked detection in order to help the needy. He healed a paralytic in the presence of some scribes, healed a man with a withered hand on the sabbath while the Pharisees were in the synagogue, and cast out a demon in the vicinity of some scribes. Regarding the latter, it is not at all certain that the scribes witnessed the exorcism. Mark 9:25 seems to indicate that Jesus sped up the exorcism to avoid detection. These are the only miracles performed in the presence of authorities, and predictably none of them ends with a command to silence. The people from whom Jesus wanted most to keep His identity a secret has themselves witnessed His feats of supernatural power. At other times, Jesus refused to produce miracles before His rivals. In Mark 8 Jesus refused a sign to the Pharisees. In the presence of enemies Jesus had to avoid all revealed utterances and acts. Jesus knew that the Pharisees were a wicked generation, and thus refused to perform the requested sign. This interpretation of Mark may explain Mark’s omission of the reference to Jonah in the version of the saying about signs known to Q. It was suggested recently on this list that Mark’s version is the more original, but I don’t think so. It is well established that Luke tends to more accurately represent Q traditions than Mark and Matthew, and I can’t imagine that he would change the audience from Pharisees to the crowds. If Mark could alter the tradition once then he could do it again, and he had a narrative reason to do so. Jesus gives no sign to His enemies in Mark because any sign to His enemies would be dangerous. Note that parallels with Q also illumine this hypothesis in connection with the Beelzebul controversy. In Q 11:20 Jesus claims, "[I]f it is by the finger of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you." This statement is missing in Mark, presumably because had Jesus made it to the religious authorities, he would have raised further suspicions regarding His identity: in Him God’s rule has arrived.
The authorities became increasingly suspicious of this stranger, and the authorities eventually asked Jesus His authority for His deeds, and who gave Him the authority. If Jesus were to answer correctly, He would have said that the temple was His house and that He thus had unequaled authority over it as God’s Son. Had he said this the authorities would have sought His death at once. Jesus avoided declaring the source of His authority by asking a counterquestion about the authority of John the Baptist, whom the crowds considered a true prophet. Jesus did not expose His identity when He healed the paralytic. Mark expected his readers to see that Jesus could forgive sins as God could also. Jesus couldn’t have said that God’s Son could forgive sins, as that would have shortened his career and the Gospel. Instead he asked the scribes a question and used the ambiguous title ‘Son of Man.’
At the trial of Jesus the authorities were assembled, looking for testimony to put Jesus to death, presumably something spoken against the temple or claiming to be the Messiah. They could find no such testimony, so Jesus’ secrecy had held. Once Jesus was cornered into admitting His identity the authorities immediately saw to His destruction.
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