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[XTalk] Re: The Four Feedings

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  • mwgrondin
    ... Of course not, but it s not only parables that have symbolic elements. Even assuming that such an impromptu event occurred during the lifetime of Jesus, do
    Message 1 of 2 , Apr 15, 2002
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      --- Jan Sammer wrote:
      > If the Feeding of the 5000 were a parable, I would find such
      > interpretations [as you give] legitimate; but the Feeding of
      > the 5000 is manifestly not a parable.

      Of course not, but it's not only parables that have symbolic
      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 also
      > 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".

      I'm confused; you seem to be requesting something which you yourself
      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 suggested
      > 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.

      Ala Freud, I will admit that a Markan loaf is sometimes just a loaf.
      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 be
      > real objects.

      Sure, but numbers in religious texts are rarely "real".

      > The "Jesus" in these [miracle] stories was the spiritual Jesus
      > 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 plausible
      > to you, but that makes the text of GMark unintelligible to its
      > readers, including John.

      The historical tendency to move from a metaphorical understanding
      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
      > 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 the
      > 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?"

      I think that's correct, but before answering your question directly,
      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 from
      > 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).

      Well, actually, there's a couple things wrong with this. First,
      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 the
      > 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.

      I agree that these are two distinct areas in which Peter might have
      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.

      Mike Grondin
      Mt. Clemens, MI
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