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Re: [XTalk] Jesus the Mathematician

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  • Jan Sammer
    From: mwgrondin ... This is an important point to be kept in mind. Supernatural powers are not enough. I understand the episodes we
    Message 1 of 39 , Apr 3, 2002
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      From: "mwgrondin" <mwgrondin@...>

      > 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.

      This is an important point to be kept in mind. Supernatural powers are not
      I understand the episodes we have been discussing to be a part of a
      presentation of "credentials" of messiahship, which is revealed (though only
      to a select few) in the following chapter (9:27-30) at Caesarea Philippi.
      Thus the purpose of the request for a sign and its rejection would be to
      inform the reader of the ways that Jesus' identity as the messiah would be
      revealed. Those ways would be indirect and would be discernible only to the
      wise. Since one of the main purposes of Mark's gospel was presumably to
      prove that Jesus was indeed the Messiah, we can presume that one of his
      concerns was to respond to critics who denied Jesus' messiahship by arguing
      that a true Messiah would arrive with all sorts of heavenly signs that would
      make his identity undeniable. This criticism is personified in the Pharisees
      asking for a sign from heaven. Mark tried to address these skeptics in two
      ways. One was by explaining that "no sign would be given to this
      generation" -- although the evidence for Jesus' messiahship was there, it
      was concealed and was only evident to those with sufficient discernment. The
      other type of response was to refer the expectation to the future, as in
      Jesus' pronouncement before the Sanhedrin: "You will see the Son of Man
      seated at the right side of the Almighty and coming with the clouds of
      heaven!". That should satisfy the Pharisees asking for a sign. The sign
      would be given to the next generation.

      > I'm not saying that the numbers don't matter.

      Sorry, I didn't mean to misinterpret you.

      > Evidently, the point
      > of repeating them for the disciples in 8C is to remind them that
      > the amount of bread left over after the feedings was either equal
      > to (in your analysis) or greater than the amount distributed. This
      > would be evidence of a miracle, whereas if the amount left over was
      > _less than_ the amount distributed, it would not.

      It seems to me that even if no bread were left over, one would still have to
      conclude that a miracle or some sort had taken place, since 5000 people were
      fed on 5 loaves, and one thousandth of a loaf is clearly insufficient to
      feed an adult individual. The fact that there were leftovers indicates that
      each individual ate even less than one thousandth of a loaf of bread. Since
      the crowds ate and were satisfied, the disciples assumed that the loaves had
      somehow multiplied, so that each individual ate much more than his allotted
      1/1000. Mark's intent, I believe, was cause the reader to assume, along
      with the disciples, that bread had been multiplied, i.e., that a
      straighforward miracle had occurred. But Mark's purpose was not to prove
      that Jesus was capable of performing miracles, but rather that he was the
      Messiah. Performing miracles may be a necessary condition for Messiahship,
      but it is not a sufficient condition. Since a straightforward sign from
      heaven establishing Jesus' messiahship once and for all would not be
      forthcoming, it would be necessary, in order to determine whether Jesus was
      or was not the messiah, to consider to what extent his actions were
      consistent with this role. Among the most important aspects of the Messiah
      was his role as the divine shepherd capable of providing for his flock. This
      ability is demonstrated in the feedings. The divine shepherd feeds his flock
      with his own bounty. The disciples had naively assumed that Jesus had acted
      as a mere wonder worker in multiplying the loaves. By drawing attention to
      the leftovers, Jesus was demonstating numerically that each participant had
      eaten even less than 1/1000 of a loaf of bread--no bread at all in fact. He
      had not multiplied any loaves, but had fed the crowds completely on his own,
      thus showing himself to be no mere wonder worker, but rather the divine
      shepherd himself.
      > > Let me correct/clarify my position. I think the crowds were given
      > > a foretaste of the Kingdom, in which Jesus as the divine shepherd
      > > provides all sustenance, to the exclusion of any other form of
      > > sustenance. The Kingdom is dawning and for the duration of the
      > > feedings the crowds become a part of it. Mark nowhere explains
      > > the exact nature of the sustenance the crowds received.
      > I beg to differ. They were served food and they ate it. The fact
      > that none of the six gospel accounts of miraculous feedings says
      > that the folks put the food in their mouths is of no account. As
      > I pointed out in a note you may not have received, Mark doesn't
      > specify in his account of the last supper that the disciples ate
      > the bread that Jesus gave them either, but ate it they must have.

      I agree that the notion that no bread was consumed is somewhat
      counterintuitive; but that is part of Mark's plan. He leads the reader to
      accept the easiest, most intuitive interpretation of what had taken place,
      i.e., that the loaves had been multiplied, only to destroy this
      interpretation in 8:17-21, leaving the reader to grapple with a strange
      dilemma. The crowds were fed, but none of the bread offered them was
      consumed. What then were they fed on?
      > [Mike]:
      > > This is what Mark says at 6.52 that the disciples don't
      > > understand - that Jesus has supernatural powers.
      > [Jan]:
      > > Mk. 6:51-52: "The disciples were completely amazed and utterly
      > > confused. They had not understood what the loaves of bread meant;
      > > their minds could not grasp it."
      > >
      > > Jesus' walking on water, or his stilling of the wind are both
      > > unexpected events, but they do not cause amazement. But the
      > > discipoles are completely amazed and utterly confused "EPI TOIS
      > > ARTOIS." Elsewhere they are not amazed at his healings. It is the
      > > loaves and not his other miracles that they find mindboggling.
      > No, this is not correct. In the first place, I'm not sure where
      > you're getting 6.51 from, but in my book it reads:
      > "And he got into the boat with them, and the wind ceased, and
      > they were greatly astonished."
      > More importantly, it _is_ the walking on the water and the stilling
      > of the wind that cause astonishment. The text does _not_ say that
      > they were astonished "about the loaves", as you have it.

      We obviously have a translation problem here. In 6:51 the disciples were
      dumbfounded and in 6:52 it is explained why there were dumbfounded: for
      (GAR) they had not understood what the loaves of bread meant. The word GAR
      is used to introduce the reason for some occurrence: when the reason
      precedes that of which it is the reason , it may be rendered as "since" or
      "as". This explanation is cited verbatim from Liddell and Scott.

      > In fact,
      > that's precisely the point - or rather two points:
      > 1. The disciples weren't astonished about the feedings because
      > (according to Mark) they hadn't put two and two together.
      > 2. If they _had_ put two and two together (again, according to
      > Mark), they would not have been astonished by the walking on the
      > water and the stilling of the wind. Why not? Because the feeding
      > of the 5000 already indicated that J had supernatural powers. On
      > the other hand, if, as you suggest, the feeding of the 5000 only
      > indicated that J had the power to provide sustenance, but not that
      > he had any other supernatural powers, then Mark's explanation of
      > their astonishment at the walking on the water and the stilling
      > of the wind in 6.52 ("for they had not understood about the loaves")
      > wouldn't make any sense. Why not? Because they could have understood
      > J's ability to provide sustenance and _still_ been astonished by J's
      > other powers. So that must not be Mark's understanding of his own
      > material.

      In my view by indicating that it was the loaves that caused the disciples to
      be dumbfounded, Mark is focusing attention on these; after all , the loaves
      will play a key role in the feeding of the 4000 and again in the Rebuke of
      8:14-21, and they will be serve to demonstrate Jesus' true identity as the
      divine shepherd, rather than as merely someone with supernatural powers.
      > > Your solution is plausible on the face of it, but as said, it
      > > disregards the numbers and volumes, which are the very focus of
      > > the exchange. Any suggested solution should pass the simple test
      > > of compatibility with the question posed at 8:21. Let us try to
      > > continue the sentence with a HOTI, thusly: OUPW SYNIETE,
      > > HOTI... "And you still don't understand that...."
      > "... the amount of food left over after the feedings was greater
      > than (or the same as) what was distributed, ergo I could easily
      > take that one loaf you have and turn it into enough food for all,
      > ergo I'm obviously not talking about the amount of bread we have
      > on the ship!"

      Thank you for answering my question so directly. My solution is somewhat
      different as I have already stated. It is about Jesus' identity, not about
      his abilities.
      > > How does this relate to the Pharisees' request for a sign from
      > > heaven?
      > I'm not sure that it does. Like I say, Mark may have artificially
      > stitched together two separate sayings.

      The connection, in my view, could be paraphrased as follows: You will not
      get a sign from heaven telling you who I am; you will just have to figure it
      out for yourselves! All the the clues are all there for those with eyes to
      see and ears to hear.



      Jan Sammer
      Prague, Czech Republic
    • Jan Sammer
      From: ... ideas of ... Homer ... the ... Of course the imagery of a ruler as shepherd is one that could occur independently in any
      Message 39 of 39 , Apr 10, 2002
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        From: <LeeEdgarTyler@...>

        TonyBuglass@... writes:

        >> Jan - why is it so unlikely? Both ancient Greece and ancient Israel were
        > >agricultural societies; both had sheep; both had shepherds who care for
        > >their sheep. Is it impossible that both independently developed similar
        ideas of
        > pastoral care by the appropriate divinity from such an obvious everyday
        > >picture?
        > >The problem with sophistication - sometimes it obscures the simple and
        > >obvious! Or does that mean I'm being unsophisticated and thick, like the
        > >disciples Mark portrays...? <G>
        >> Cheers,
        >> Rev Tony Buglass
        > >Pickering Methodist Circuit

        >I meant to post this earlier, but it got lost in the midterm shuffle:
        >frequently calls Agamemnon the "shepherd" (poimĂȘn) of the Greeks, and
        >Sophocles uses the term "shepherd of the people" for several different
        >leaders. Pindar and Aeschylus use it to denote a master. And of course
        >term Jerome employs to translate poimĂȘn is "pastor."

        >So there's no doubt that the Greeks had, independently of the Hebrews,
        >developed this metaphorical use of the term "shepherd." I have found no
        >cases in which it is applied to a deity, however; although one of Pindar's
        >odes has a preternatural connotation to it in its use of "shepherds of the
        >Loves" for the sprites attending Aphrodite.


        >Ed Tyler

        Of course the imagery of a ruler as shepherd is one that could occur
        independently in any pastoral society. That is the imagery used by Homer and
        other poets; it is also imagery alluded to in Plato's dialogue, The
        Statesman; but there the imagery is developed in a peculiar way that goes
        way beyond a simple allegory of the ruler as the shepherd of his people.
        Plato indeed argues that the statesman should be the shepherd of his people,
        but to justify this proposition he refers back to a myth, narrated by the
        Eleatic Stranger, in which the rulers of the present age are but imperfect
        stand-ins for the true shepherd who had the human flock in his charge in a
        former age. In the present age the divine shepherd's role is emulated,
        albeit imperfectly, by human rulers. In a future age the divine shepherd
        will return to resume control over the human flock. It is this apocalyptic
        myth that I had in mind when I referred to the uncanny correspondence
        between the myth of the Statesman and Hebrew traditions and expectations.

        In the Hebrew tradition as it developed particularly in post-Exilic times,
        there was an age in which man, created out of the earth, lived in a garden,
        needing no clothes, feeding on the fruit that its trees produced by
        themselves. Only after being expelled from the garden did man start having
        to till the soil and produce his own sustenance. He also became mortal,
        began to marry and beget children.

        There was also an age to come, (according to the Markan Jesus) in which a
        men and women will not marry but will live like angels. They will be
        nurtured directly by their divine shepherd. This expectation goes back to
        Isaiah and Ezekiel ("I will set up one Shepherd over them, and He shall feed

        In the Statesman the Stranger from Elea describes the once and future age of
        divine control as follows: "Over every herd of living creatures throughout
        all their tribes was set a heavenly daemon to be its shepherd. Each of them
        was all in all ot his flock--providing for the needs of all his charges....
        a god was their shepherd and had charge of them and fed them.. When God was
        shepherd there were no political constitutions and no taking of wives and
        begetting of children. For all men rose up anew into life our of the
        earth...they had fruits without stint from trees and bushes; these needed no
        cultivation but sprang up of themselves out of the ground without man's
        toil. For the most part they disported themsleves in the open needing
        neither clothing nor couch, for the seasons were blended evenly so as to
        work them no hurt, and the grass which sprang out of the earth in abundance
        made a soft bed for them."

        In between the former and future age of divine control is the present age in
        which the divinity has left the world to its own devices. But there will
        come a day when the divine shepherd will once more take charge of his flock.

        The feedings of the multitudes are premonitions of this future age. Mark
        indicates this in 6:34: "... he saw this large crowd and his heart was
        filled with pity for them, because they looked like sheep without a
        shepherd." Jesus then proceeds to feed them, proving himself to be their
        shepherd, the sustainer of humanity in the age to come. It is this that the
        disciples are taken to task for failing to understand, though Peter's
        testimony on the road to Caesarea Philippi shows that he has figured it out.
        The ability of Jesus to feed the multitudes is the key to his true identity
        as the divine shepherd of the age to come.

        This idea is almost identical with the idea of the Statesman. It is the
        image of the shepherd as the divine sustainer of humanity in the age to come
        that is so distinctive of the Hebrew tradition and of the Statesman, and
        which raises questions as to whether such concepts could have arisen
        independently of one another. I am currently looking at the possibility that
        both concepts go back to Zoroastrian ideas.



        Jan Sammer
        Prague, Czech Republic
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