In Response To: Rick Richmond
On: Staff and Shepherd Questions
I'm still not convinced by Rick's scenario, and will say why. Those who know
their own minds in these matters are encouraged to skip this note, which
will doubtless be redundant for some, and wrong in a familiar way for
Rick's statement of the Mk/Mt travel advice was:
Mark 6:8 He charged them to take nothing for their journey except a staff;
no bread, no bag, no money in their belts; 9 but to wear sandals and not put
on two tunics.
Matt.10:10 no bag for your journey, nor two tunics, nor sandals, not a
staff; for the laborer
deserves his food.
The staff is respectively allowed and forbidden (forbidden and allowed, if I
had quoted them in the other order). The difference is our problem. Rick
says, of his preferred solution to the staff question: "My point here is
that making a negative point concerning an act is usually the outcome of
someone offending in that area. Like laws, it is not until they are issues
or judged as wrong that community sees the need of formalizing the rule
regarding such issues."
I quite agree, as a general principle, that prohibitions imply previous
practice of the thing prohibited. But it seems to me that the Markan version
of the travel instructions very easily comes under this general principle.
What GMk prohibited is likely to have been, not the prescription of a rival
gospel, but simply the normal standard practice of travelers at that period.
Only an idiot, so to speak, would leave home without a backpack, containing
some money, a bit of lunch, maybe a spare shirt, but it is precisely these
reasonable precautions that GMk forbids. The only difference (in GMk)
between someone just standing there and someone on a missionary journey is
the minimal equipment for the road: a staff and sandals. Those two and
nothing else. That is, from the standard traveler's outfit, two things are
allowed as necessary for coping with the roads, but the rest are forbidden,
since in the food, clothing, and lodging department, the missionaries are
expected to earn their keep, day by day.
Rick continues: "Since Mark's Jesus says that a shepherd's staff is in
order, it stands to reason that the ones forbidding the item have
encountered unauthorized shepherding and made their point of disapproval."
As I earlier said, I don't disagree that the difference is more easily
explained in terms of GMt/GLk verbal consistency in altering a GMk
reasonable rule, but I wouldn't want to build my Synoptic Theory book on
that. To me, it's suggestive rather than conclusive. If there were stronger
evidence for GMk > GMt, this passage, to me, would not be inconsistent with,
and to that degree would support, that evidence. Absent such stronger
points, I doubt it. We would be left with a conflict between more and less
plausible, where neither side can be fairly said to be utterly implausible.
In his comment, Rick equates "staff" with "shepherd's staff." Tilt. I
greatly doubt that a shepherd's staff was standard equipment for a traveler;
rather, the usual sort of long staff, on which to lean, and with which, now
and then, to beat off the occasional robber. A convenience and a sometime
weapon, not specifically a device of rescue or a symbol of salvation. A tool
of getting there. Note also: Nothing else in the kit invites interpretation
as symbolic of the mission. Nor does the staff, properly considered. The
Greek word for "staff" has default meanings like "rod, wand, measuring
stick, walking staff." Only in specific immediate context (that is, in the
propinquity of sheep) does the Greek reader seem to envision a shepherd's
What is the immediate context of "staff" in these passages? Answer, in
enumerating the items in a traveler's outfit, whether forbidden or allowed.
Then "staff" here means "traveler's staff."
There is a general question in GMk: what is the extent of the context, that
is, over how great a textual distance may Item A (here, sheep) influence the
interpretation of Word B (here, staff)? I would say, in general, not
outside the pericope. As for the Sending pericope in general, I can only
note that it is interruptive in context, and inconsistent in the sequel: the
disciples on return from their temporary competence as authorized preachers
of Jesus's gospel are just as stupid, just as incapable of understanding
Jesus's words or appreciating his own mission, as before. And this GMk is at
pains to point out to us specifically. I think we have here what is usually
called an interpolation, and the motive for the interpolation is easy enough
to see: it is to provide something that Jesus in his lifetime did not
provide: rules for travelling missionaries.
Where are the boundaries of the interpolation? The Aland Synopsis (#145)
ends the sequence at Mk 6:30-31, and commences the Feeding of the Five
Thousand (#146) at Mk 6:32. It is in the latter pericope that the "sheep
without a shepherd" remark occurs (6:34), and that remark has its own
immediate outcome, it is the reason why Jesus decides to "teach them many
things." In other words, it is Jesus's own teaching, not that of the
disciples, that is in immediate context with the "sheep without a shepherd"
motif. Further, that phrase comes in GMk after, not before, the dispatch of
the disciples as missionaries. I can't help concluding that the consecutive
reader or hearer of GMk was not influenced by the distant and indeed
subsequent "sheep" motif, and thus would have been unlikely to construe
"staff" as specifically a "shepherd's staff." The idea of the normal
traveler's staff seems to suffice handsomely for the passage in question.
We, coming later, and in some cases having memorized the whole text of GMk,
are on a different footing. To us, the whole text is in a sense immediately
present on the same footing. For a consecutive reader or hearer, a couple
thousand years earlier than us, the text is linear, and its effects, I have
to think, should be estimated in terms of linear information flow.
Lectionary situations are unreal; they are not discovery occasions, but
rather reminder occasions. Even as a kid, barely into two digits, I could
sit in church and know what the next seven words were going to be. If the
preacher had been struck down at the sixth word, only a becoming modesty
would have prevented my ascending the pulpit and delivering, from memory,
the seventh. I think this is light years removed from the function that the
Gospels had for their first intended audiences. Which is to say, I think
that the sequence of the information flow is interpretationally relevant.
To me, thus rules out the "shepherd's staff" reading in Mk 6:8.
RICK: "Taking bread (Eucharist) for the journey . . . "
The association of bread with the Eucharist is made later in the text, and
though we all know it is coming, the first audience of GMk didn't. For the
consecutive reader of this line of GMk, that connection didn't exist.
"Taking bread for the journey" is likely to have been construed by them as,
well, taking bread to be eaten on the journey, not carrying the wherewithal
to observe the Eucharist either on the journey, or at its end. The whole
tone of this passage is provision for the travelers' daily needs, not
preparation for ritual observances. For us, there are other resonances, but
our reactions are not evidence for the audience of GMk.
E Bruce Brooks
Warring States Project
University of Massachusetts at Amherst
Synoptic-L Homepage: http://www.bham.ac.uk/theology/synoptic-l
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