[XTalk] Re: The Four Feedings
- --- Jan Sammer wrote:
> If the Feeding of the 5000 were a parable, I would find suchOf course not, but it's not only parables that have symbolic
> interpretations [as you give] legitimate; but the Feeding of
> the 5000 is manifestly not a parable.
elements. Even assuming that such an impromptu event occurred
during the lifetime of Jesus, do you imagine that someone actually
counted the crowd, or that they went around with baskets afterward
to collect the leftovers? Typically, the numbers that came to be
associated in religious stories with events that were thought to be
miraculous were chosen for their symbolic value, and not because
they represented some real estimate of the numbers involved.
> If you wish to make it work at an allegorical level, you alsoI'm confused; you seem to be requesting something which you yourself
> have to show how the narrative can work on the superficial level,
> when read by a naive reader such as myself, who when he reads
> "loaf of bread' understands it to mean "loaf of bread" and
> not "one of the five original disciples".
provide - namely, a demonstration of "how the narrative can work on
the superficial level". But as for the allegorical level, the naive
Xian reader of the time could hardly have failed to remember from
Mark's earlier narrative that the number of original disciples was
five. In addition, the blessing and breaking of the loaves is given
in almost precisely the same language as the breaking of bread at
the last supper. I have no proof that "the 5000" and "the 4000"
would have had any meaning in the Xian communities, but if not, the
naive reader must have wondered why Jesus' popularity apparently
diminished over time. Which seems to be a good argument for the
symbolism of these numbers as well, since a writer concerned solely
with showing that Jesus was the Messiah would have been expected, I
think, to either leave out the second feeding as superfluous, or to
present the second crowd as being larger than the first.
> I think the burden of proof is on you to show that your suggestedAla Freud, I will admit that a Markan loaf is sometimes just a loaf.
> interpretation is the correct one, or indeed that there is a
> cogent reason why a straighforward reading of the text, in which
> bread is bread, ought to be rejected in favor of a speculative
> interpretation that has only very tenuous support in the text.
Nevertheless, we ought to be on the lookout for bread metaphors -
especially when Jesus himself is made to bless and break a loaf. I
also find it rather ironic that someone who claims that the crowds
didn't actually eat the supposed physical bread at the feedings
would be objecting to "a speculative interpretation that has only
very tenuous support in the text". Do you suppose that naive Xian
readers of various localities would have been aware of the
respective volumes of these two types of baskets?
> Real objects can be serve as metaphors without ceasing to beSure, but numbers in religious texts are rarely "real".
> real objects.
> The "Jesus" in these [miracle] stories was the spiritual Jesus[Jan]:
> guiding the movement after his death, not the historical Jesus.
> Mark evidently understood this; John evidently didn't.
> Evidently? The "evidence" is a hypothesis that seems plausibleThe historical tendency to move from a metaphorical understanding
> to you, but that makes the text of GMark unintelligible to its
> readers, including John.
of a religious story to a literal understanding is well-attested.
At the time Mark wrote, the historical events that might have
served as a basis for his stories (such as the first mission to
Rome) would presumably have been close to mind. Later, the memory
of those events would have faded, and the allegorical aspect thus
lost. Mark could not be expected to have anticipated this evolution
in the understanding of his writings, but in any case, the loss of
the allegorical aspect doesn't make the stories unintelligible. It
does, however, explain how John was able to claim that the feeding
of the 5000 was a sign for J's generation, in apparent direct
contradiction of Mark.
> [Peter] was the single loaf that was taken to Rome, and [on the[Jan]:
> way to] the Roman-named city of Caesarea Philippi he finally
> issues his declaration of agreement with the view of Mark and
> Paul that the Romans deserve to be fed with the same heavenly
> food with which the Jewish multitudes have been fed.
> How does that follow from his declaration that Jesus is theI think that's correct, but before answering your question directly,
> Messiah? Is it not rather that this conclusion is based on
> Peter's success in answering the numerical puzzle posed in
> 8:17-21? I.e., Peter's declaration is a consequence of his having
> risen to the challenge posed by Jesus' question: "And you still
> don't understand?"
please allow me to take a little side trip into textual structure.
To begin with, I would suggest that the anonymous blind man of
Bethsaida healed by Jesus in between the question in the boat and
the trip to Caesarea Philippi was supposed to represent Peter
himself. (John informs us at 1:44 that Philip, Peter, and Andrew
all came from Bethsaida.) Thus, I look at Mk8:1-30 as having a
five-part structure: (1) the feeding of the 4000, (2) the demand of
the Pharisees for a sign, (3) the trip in the boat to "the other
side", (4) the healing of the blind man of Bethsaida, and (5)
Peter's declaration on the way to Caesarea Philippi. If all these
elements are related, as I suppose, then it looks suspiciously like
two Markan "sandwiches" put together, with the boat trip serving
both as end-point of the first triad and starting-point of the
second. That may explain what I earlier called the 'schizophrenic'
nature of the discussion in the boat. It starts with a warning to
beware the leaven of the Pharisees (apparently referring back to
element (2), which has to do with whether element (1) is or is not
a "sign for this generation"), then ends with the question "Don't
you understand?" (apparently anticipating that Peter will come to
be brought to "see" in elements (4) and (5)).
Now what is that Peter comes to understand? That Jesus is "the
Christ". But what does that mean in terms of the two feedings? You
suggest, and I concur, that the feedings demonstrate that Jesus is
capable of feeding his "flock" with divine "food". But there are
_two_ feedings in question here. The first by itself would have
been sufficient to make the point you think is the sole point being
made - that the amount of bread left over is identical with the
amount of bread distributed. Why the second story? My explanation
is that the second feeding involves a _different flock_, and that
that is part of what Mark is implying that Peter came to understand.
To be "the Christ", on Mark's view, is not just to be the Messiah
of the Jews (and thus to sustain them), but to sustain _everyone_
who comes to the table. True, Romans are dogs possessed by demons
(kata Markon), but the job is to drive the demons out of them, not
to adopt a Pharisaic-like isolation from them.
In general, I'm envisioning that Mark took the elements at his
disposal, together with elements of his own device, to structure a
sequence of events in chapter 8 that would give Peter's declaration
a meaning beyond the superficial meaning that Jesus was the Jewish
Messiah. There are spots where the elements don't fit precisely
together, but that's to be expected from the complex task that I
think Mark set for himself.
> From the context [Mk8:11-13] it is evident that the sign fromWell, actually, there's a couple things wrong with this. First,
> heaven involved Jesus' identity as the Messiah and not the
> gentile mission. The expected sign then is something akin to
> what the Markan Jesus predicts before the Sanhedrin:
> "You will all see the Son of Man seated on the right of the
> Almighty and coming on the clouds of heaven." That is the sign
> that would be denied to the present generation (that of Jesus'
> contemporaries), but given to the following generation (that of
> Mark's contemporaries, as predicted by Jesus).
there _would_ be a "sign for this generation", namely the "sign of
Jonah" that Matt adds as an exception to the "no signs" declaration.
Secondly, if Jesus had said to the Sanhedrin that _they_ would see
these things, then that obviously would have been a second sign for
J's contemporaries, contrary to his earlier declaration. These
anomalies indicate, I think, that Mark was trying to make use of
inconsistent sayings that had been put in J's mouth at different
times and/or for different purposes. So it's not so much what the
saying means in isolation as where Mark put it. It comes immediately
after the feeding of the 4000, which to me is a Markan invention
symbolizing the spread of the gospel beyond the confines of Judaea.
On this view, the feeding of the 4000 is a sign for Mark's
generation that Jesus approves of its extension of his own mission.
> Mark's concern is to prove the Messiahship of Jesus despite theI agree that these are two distinct areas in which Peter might have
> absence of the type of outward signs that the skeptics expected
> to see in Jesus' lifetime. That is also the reason why Peter,
> although he is at last brought to the understanding who Jesus is,
> fails to understand that Jesus' messianic career would not
> initially involve a glorious arrival on the clouds of heaven,
> but rather suffering and death.
been said to have "denied Jesus". I would add that the third area
might have been his initial failure to fully support the mission to
the Gentiles/Romans, but rather to accede to the Pharisaic-like
purity demands of "the Judaizers", as reported by Paul.
Mt. Clemens, MI