Thursday, April 9, 2015

New Testament Narrative as Old Testament Midrash: Mark Chapter 5

Continuing review - The Christ Myth Theory and its Problems by Robert M. Price
New Testament Narrative as Old Testament Midrash: Mark chapter 5
If you have no idea what this article is about - please read THIS.

Robert Price has published his article, New Testament Narrative as Old Testament Midrash on his website.  You can follow along HERE.  

OK, I continue with what Robert Price has to say about the Gospel of Mark chapter 5.  I have to confess that I was not particularly impressed with what Dr. Price had to offer for the first three chapters of the Gospel of Mark.  Some of the parallels that were being offered seemed to me too forced to be plausible.  But that tide turned in chapter 4 with some very intriguing Old Testament parallels, and I think chapter 5 continues that trend.  If we are interested in how the Evangelist Mark wrote his Gospel history, there are strong indicators in chapter 5 that demonstrate how he derived his history.

13. The Gerasene Demoniac -  Mark 5:1-20 ; Psalms 107:4-14  ; Odyssey 9:101-565

Sometimes, a movie will have minor characters that are not central to the main plot.  Those minor characters will not have fully developed personalities or backgrounds.  They are developed just enough to provide flesh and color to the film they are in.  But have you ever watched a movie or television show with minor characters who are intriguing enough that you want to know more of their story?  Maybe we found them even more fascinating than the lead characters?  We all have.  This is how television spin-offs are born.  How else do you explain something like Gomer Pyle?

Imagine a few generations of Hebrews g0ing to the Jerusalem Temple, where this song was regularly sung:
Psalms 107:4-14

They wandered in the wilderness in a desolate way;
They found no city to dwell in.
5 Hungry and thirsty,
Their soul fainted in them.
6 Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble,
And He delivered them out of their distresses.
7 And He led them forth by the right way,
That they might go to a city for a dwelling place.
8 Oh, that men would give thanks to the Lord for His goodness,
And for His wonderful works to the children of men!
9 For He satisfies the longing soul,
And fills the hungry soul with goodness.
10 Those who sat in darkness and in the shadow of death,
Bound in affliction and irons—
11 Because they rebelled against the words of God,
And despised the counsel of the Most High,
12 Therefore He brought down their heart with labor;
They fell down, and there was none to help.
13 Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble,
And He saved them out of their distresses.
14 He brought them out of darkness and the shadow of death,
And broke their chains in pieces.
Who are ‘those who sat in darkness’?  In the shadow of death?  Who rebelled against the words of God and sat bound in affliction and irons?  There was none to help, but when they cried out to Jehovah, He was there to save them from the darkness and break their chains.  

Who is this referring to?  The song never explicitly spells it out, and this ambiguity is what invites further story-telling and elaboration.  Who is this rebel who was tormented and punished for his sins?  Whoever he is, he has a story worth telling, for in the midst of his abandonment, he cries out to Jehovah!  The beneficent Jehovah is willing to save him from his torment!

Dr. Price offers this psalm as a motivation for the story of Jesus healing the demon possessed man, and even though I would never offer this Psalm as a direct inspiration for a New Testament story, it does make sense that Old Testament passages like this do offer holes that just ask to be filled.

Dr. Price suggests that the narrative hole left by Psalms 107:4-14 was filled by the next story in the Gospel of Mark.  We last left our hero Jesus stuck in boat during a storm, which He is able to miraculously calm.  Jesus and His disciples continue to the other side of the sea to the country of the Gerasenes.  From out of the tombs comes a wild and naked man, possessed by demons and with unnatural strength.  During the night, he hurls himself against the stones and howls in anguish.  What a pathetic creature!  When he sees Jesus step out of the boat he runs up to Him.  ‘What have You to do with me?”  Jesus asks the name of the demon, where he gives the famous and blood curdling reply, “My name is Legion”.  The demons beg to be given mercy, so Jesus commands them out of the man and into a nearby herd of 2000 pigs.  The pigs stampede over the cliff and in a demonic frenzy, they drown in the sea.  When Jesus sets to depart, the delivered man asks to join Him.  Jesus refuses the offer and instead commands the man to stay and preach among the Decapolis.  

Dr. Price suggests that this story of the Gerasene Demoniac comes, not from the Old Testament, but from a source that was hinted at before: Homer’s Odyssey.  And in this case it is from the famous story of the Greek hero Odysseus and his men sailing their boats onto the island of Polyphemus, the monstrous Cyclops!  This Grecian source for a (supposed) Jewish Gospel seems absurd on first glance, and I admit I still do not know what to do with this hypothesis.  Even if the Evangelist Mark was Jewish, the Jewish culture was Hellenized during this point in history, and just as modern Filipinos are undeniably influenced by their Spanish and American colonizers, evidence shows that Palestinian Jews were heavily influenced by Greek thought, culture and philosophy.  The Gospel Evangelists likely knew Homer, Aeschylus, and Plato just as much as they knew their own Scriptures.  Could the Greek epics have influenced their historical conception of Jesus as much as their own Hebrew epics?

Dr. Price spells out the details of the two stories in convincing detail.  The selection from Odyssey is too long to reproduce here, but Dr. Price gives many intriguing similarities between both stories.  It is enough to convince me that Mark 5:1-20 was most likely derived by the Homeric epic.  


14. Jairus’ Daughter and the Woman with the Issue of Blood -  Mark 5:21-43 ; 2 Kings 4:8-37

The idea that the first half of Mark 5 seems to be derived from a Homeric epic is fascinating enough, but I found Dr. Price’s argument for the second half of Mark 5 to be the most compelling yet.  The passage Mark 5:21-43 is really two stories combined into one.  After healing the Demoniac, Jesus gets back in His boat continues zig-zagging across the sea.  A ruler of the Synagogue named Jairus begs Jesus to visit his sick daughter, and raise her from the death bed.  

Just as Jesus head’s off to the house of Jairus, there is an interruption in the story.  A woman, sick with a continuous hemorrhage of menstrual blood, reaches her hand from the mob and touches the hem of Jesus’ clothing.  Jesus declares that her Faith has made her well.

The narrative switches back to the original story.  A messenger comes from the house of Jairus and gives the sad news that they are too late.  The daughter of Jairus is dead.  Jesus continued to the house where he saw a mob wailing in grief.  Jesus took the girl’s parents, along with only three of His disciple’s, and entered the room where the dead girl lay.  On the command of Jesus, the girl awoke from death!  Jesus then warned the girl’s parents not to tell anybody what had happened.  The Gospel does not go on to describe how the parents hid the news from the wailing mob that the girl was again alive.

Although the story of the woman with the hemorrhage of blood is inserted in the middle of the story of Jairus’ daughter, Dr. Price makes a convincing case that the Evangelist Mark intended for both stories to be related to each other.  The age of Jairus’ daughter and length of time the sick woman was hemorrhaging blood is each listed, and it is the same amount of time for each - twelve years (v25, v42).  I think the implication from the Evangelist is that the woman who grabbed the hem of Jesus’ garment in an act of healing Faith was the dead girl’s mother, and also implying that she began hemorrhaging blood when she was in labor with the girl.  Now there is a twist in the story for you!

Dr. Price argues that double story in the Gospel of Mark comes from another double story in 2 Kings 4:8-37.  That story goes like this.  Elisha the prophet occasionally passed through a town called Shunem.  A wealthy woman and her husband who lived there regularly provided Elisha hospitality with a room to sleep in and a bite to eat.  Elisha wanted to give her some kind of miraculous reward for all her generous hospitality, so one day he called for her and announced that she would soon have a son!  The woman was surprised at this announcement, but what do you know, she eventually conceived a son!  

Eventually the boy grew.  One day while working with his father out in the fields the boy had an aneurysm and died.  The mother placed the dead boy on the guest bed where the Prophet Elisha would stay during his visits.  Then she and a servant travelled to the regular home of the Prophet Elisha, and found him hanging around Mount Carmel.  The mother grabbed hold of Elisha’s feet and gave him the devastating news.  Elisha told his servant to travel back to the dead boy in Shunam and try reviving him by placing his staff on him.  So the servant travelled back to Shunam, and placed the staff on the dead boy, but alas! the body remained dead.  The servant returned to the home of Elisha on Mt. Carmel and told the prophet that bigger guns would be necessary if he was going to pull this trick off.  So Elisha himself travelled back to Shuman to see the dead boy lying in the guest bedroom.  By this time, I imagine the boy must have been dead several weeks!  But undaunted, the prophet Elisha lay down on the bed with the dead boy and stretched himself out on the decaying body.  It worked!  As Elisha lay on the boy, the boy sneezed a few times then lifted himself up - alive again!

There are numerous parallels between the stories of Jesus and Elisha.  But did the Evangelist Mark get his history of Jesus from the story of Elisha?  It looks like it to me, and what I find so compelling is that each story involves two separate but related miracles.  The Evangelist Mark has a dead child rise from the dead, but also includes a minor story of a mother who is healed from a sickness related to childbirth.  The story in 2 Kings also has a dead child rise from the dead, but also includes a minor story of a woman who is healed from a sickness related to childbirth.  The fact that not just one, but two related stories are found in both Jesus and Elisha narratives is the clincher for me.


Can't get enough?  Loads more of this kind of stuff coming soon.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

New Testament Narrative as Old Testament Midrash: Mark Chapter 4

Continuing review - The Christ Myth Theory and its Problems by Robert M. Price
New Testament Narrative as Old Testament Midrash: Mark Chapter 4
If you have no idea what this article is about - please read THIS.

Robert Price has published his article, New Testament Narrative as Old Testament Midrash on his website.  You can follow along HERE.  

OK, I continue with what Robert Price has to say about the Gospel of Mark chapter 4.  The story of Jesus continues in the Gospel of Mark.  After Jesus selects His disciples in chapter 3, He begins His instruction to them with a series of parables.  As the crowds gather in the shore of the lake, He instructs them from a boat.  After the crowds dispersed, His disciples were naturally puzzled as to the meaning of His stories.  Jesus explains that the mysteries of the Kingdom of God are hidden in parables so that those on the outside may not see or understand.  Jesus then secretly tells His disciples the meaning of the parable of the sower, along with a couple new parables.  The disciples are naturally puzzled with this style of instruction from their Master.   If the purpose of parables is to hide the hidden secrets of the Kingdom from those on the outside, I have to wonder why Jesus continued to teach His inner circle of disciples with more parables, even when no heathen from the outside was there to hear then.  

Well, whatever.  Neither these parables, nor His instructions concerning the hidden mysteries of the Kingdom of God are given any parallel from the Old Testament.  I am assuming that Dr. Price will not find Old Testament parallels for the parables and aphorisms of Jesus.  If we take Dr. Price’s working hypothesis that Jesus did not actually exist, that all history about Him was extrapolated by the Evangelists from Old Testament narratives, then I have to wonder what the source of these parables was.  Somebody had to say this stuff!

12. The Stilling of the Storm -  Mark 4:35-41 ; Psalms 107:23-29 ; Jonah 1:4,5,6,15,16

Let us again imagine this scene:  The Evangelist Mark is composing his history of Jesus, and he is scouring his version of the Scriptures looking for source material.  He comes upon this bit in the Prophet Jonah:

Jonah 1:4,5,6,14,15
4 But the Lord sent out a great wind on the sea, and there was a mighty tempest on the sea, so that the ship was about to be broken up.
5 Then the mariners were afraid; and every man cried out to his god, and threw the cargo that was in the ship into the sea, to lighten the load.  But Jonah had gone down into the lowest parts of the ship, had lain down, and was fast asleep.
6 So the captain came to him, and said to him, “What do you mean, sleeper? Arise, call on your God; perhaps your God will consider us, so that we may not perish.”
15 So they picked up Jonah and threw him into the sea, and the sea ceased from its raging. 16 Then the men feared the Lord exceedingly, and offered a sacrifice to the Lord and took vows.

Here is the scene of writing:  The Evangelist Mark is looking for history in types.  Models.  Allegories.  What story can the Evangelist derive from this exciting episode from Jonah?  he easily derives the story of Jesus stilling the storm.  It is an almost perfect match.  Jonah falls asleep during the raging storm, so the Evangelist decides Jesus must have done the same thing.  The only major difference is that Jonah was cast overboard to still the storm, and the Evangelist obviously does not want Jesus cast overboard by His disciples!  But not to worry.  The Evangelist uses this helpful tidbit from the Psalms to complete the story that he wants:

Psalms 107:23-29
Those who go down to the sea in ships,
Who do business on great waters,
24 They see the works of the Lord,
And His wonders in the deep.
25 For He commands and raises the stormy wind,
Which lifts up the waves of the sea.
26 They mount up to the heavens,
They go down again to the depths;
Their soul melts because of trouble.
27 They reel to and fro, and stagger like a drunken man,
And are at their wits’ end.
28 Then they cry out to the Lord in their trouble,
And He brings them out of their distresses.
29 He calms the storm,
So that its waves are still.

The Evangelist combines this to produce his story of Jesus calming the raging sea.

Mark 4:35-41
35 On the same day, when evening had come, He said to them, “Let us cross over to the other side.” 36 Now when they had left the multitude, they took Him along in the boat as He was. And other little boats were also with Him. 37 And a great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that it was already filling. 38 But He was in the stern, asleep on a pillow. And they awoke Him and said to Him, “Teacher, do You not care that we are perishing?”
39 Then He arose and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace, be still!” And the wind ceased and there was a great calm. 40 But He said to them, “Why are you so fearful? How is it that you have no faith?”  41 And they feared exceedingly, and said to one another, “Who can this be, that even the wind and the sea obey Him!”

This is an almost perfect match.  Almost all details from the Gospel are filled in by the Old Testament selections.  In my mind, this is the best case that Dr. Price has made so far that a story of Jesus was derived from Old Testament midrash.  It is so good, that Dr. Price offers almost no analysis.  It speaks for itself.


The one bit of analysis that Dr. Price does offer concerns the snippet in Mark 4:36, “And other little boats were also with Him”.  Also, why did Jesus scold His disciples in 4:40?  Dr. Price says that these small parts are not to be found in the Old Testament parallels, and are irrelevant details to the main story of Jesus calming the storm.  Dr. Price offers yet another story about a storm that he figures the Evangelist got these details from.  This one is the Odyssey from Homer.  I am not sure Dr. Price has to go this far afield when nearly everything he needs can be found in Jonah and Psalms.  If anything, it just shows that stories of surviving raging storms on the high seas was a popular story motif back then.  I am including the section of Odyssey here just for completeness, and highlighting some similarities.

[1] “Then to the Aeolian isle we came, where dwelt Aeolus, son of Hippotas, dear to the immortal gods, in a floating island, and all around it is a wall of unbreakable bronze, and the cliff runs up sheer. Twelve children of his, too, there are in the halls, six daughters and six sturdy sons, and he gave his daughters to his sons to wife. These, then, feast continually by their dear father and good mother, and before them lies boundless good cheer. And the house, filled with the savour of feasting, resounds all about even in the outer court by day, and by night again they sleep beside their chaste wives on blankets and on corded bedsteads.
[13] "To their city, then, and fair palace did we come, and for a full month he made me welcome and questioned me about each thing, about Ilios, and the ships of the Argives, and the return of the Achaeans. And I told him all the tale in due order. But when I, on my part, asked him that I might depart and bade him send me on my way, he, too, denied me nothing, but furthered my sending. He gave me a wallet, made of the hide of an ox nine years old, which he flayed, and therein he bound the paths of the blustering winds; for the son of Cronos had made him keeper of the winds, both to still and to rouse whatever one he will. And in my hollow ship he bound it fast with a bright cord of silver, that not a breath might escape, were it never so slight. But for my furtherance he sent forth the breath of the West Wind to blow, that it might bear on their way both ships and men. Yet this he was not to bring to pass, for we were lost through our own folly.
[28] “For nine days we sailed, night and day alike, and now on the tenth our native land came in sight, and lo, we were so near that we saw men tending the beacon fires. Then upon me came sweet sleep in my weariness, for I had ever kept in hand the sheet of the ship, and had yielded it to none other of my comrades, that we might the sooner come to our native land. But my comrades meanwhile began to speak one to another, and said that I was bringing home for myself gold and silver as gifts from Aeolus, the great-hearted son of Hippotas. And thus would one speak, with a glance at his neighbor: `Out on it, how beloved and honored this man is by all men, to whose city and land soever he comes! Much goodly treasure is he carrying with him from the land of Troy from out the spoil, while we, who have accomplished the same journey as he, are returning, bearing with us empty hands. And now Aeolus has given him these gifts, granting them freely of his love. Nay, come, let us quickly see what is here, what store of gold and silver is in the wallet.’
[46] “So they spoke, and the evil counsel of my comrades prevailed. They loosed the wallet, and all the winds leapt forth, and swiftly the storm-wind seized them and bore them weeping out to sea away from their native land; but as for me, I awoke, and pondered in my goodly heart whether I should fling myself from the ship and perish in the sea, or endure in silence and still remain among the living. However, I endured and abode, and covering my head lay down in the ship. But the ships were borne by an evil blast of wind back to the Aeolian isle; and my comrades groaned.
[56] “There we went ashore and drew water, and straightway my comrades took their meal by the swift ships. But when we had tasted of food and drink, I took with me a herald and one companion and went to the glorious palace of Aeolus, and I found him feasting beside his wife and his children. So we entered the house and sat down by the doorposts on the threshold, and they were amazed at heart, and questioned us: `How hast thou come hither, Odysseus? What cruel god assailed thee? Surely we sent thee forth with kindly care, that thou mightest reach thy native land and thy home, and whatever place thou wouldest.’
[66] “So said they, but I with a sorrowing heart spoke among them and said: `Bane did my evil comrades work me, and therewith sleep accursed; but bring ye healing, my friends, for with you is the power.’

That is from Homer’s Odyssey.  I do not think its placement here is very important, but Homer will be a major consideration for Mark chapter 5.  It leads me to wonder just how Jewish these Gospels really are if they are influenced from a variety Jewish and Greek sources!  We will see next time.  

Can't get enough?  Loads more of this kind of stuff coming soon.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Silence by Shusaku Endo

On a strong recommendation from author Lori McFarlane, I recently finished the novel Silence by Shusaku Endo.  The power behind this novel lies in its graphic depiction of the psychological experience that every devout Christian has felt in the times of their most desperate need.  Every Christian has experienced the inexplicable pain and suffering of those they love.  The fervent and faithful prayers and petitions to the Christian Deity are made with sincere, devotional selflessness.  Every Christian has experienced the inevitable stone silence of the all-beneficent Deity on whom they pour their continual devotion.  Every Christian must justify the inexplicable silence of the Deity who seems to stand by in amusement as His children are continually afflicted with the savage horrors of this profane world.  All Christians have had occasion to pray, “Dear God where are You?”  Some may have even dared to question the indifference of the Almighty.  At times we have all wondered, questioned, pleaded, bargained with or cried in desperation.  I know I did when I believed.  “Good God!  WHERE ARE YOU?!!?  Why aren’t You answering my prayers as You promise You will?!!?”

Shusaku Endo, the Catholic author of the novel Silence, answers this question in a manner that is typical of most Catholics who are confronted with silence in the face of suffering.  It is somewhat disappointing to read the obsequious justification that Silence ultimately makes to excuse the silent Deity at all costs, especially when it is through the powerful and sympathetic character that Mr. Endo has created.  

Sebastian Rodrigues is a Portuguese missionary, who is dispatched to the remote heathen islands of 17th century Japan.  Buddhist and otherwise Pagan Japan had shown great promise as a soil that would bear much Christian Fruit.  Catholic missionaries were welcome in Japan through the later portion of the 16th century, and many converts were made for the Catholic Faith.  But at some point early in the 17th century, the Japanese feudal lords grew more suspicious of the new Christian Faith, mostly due to news of the divisive and never-ending religious wars in Europe.  Their solution was simple: outlaw Christianity in Japan.  So while Catholicism flourished in other far-eastern outposts like Philippines, Japan demanded all Christian converts to apostatize.  Large monetary prizes were placed on the heads of Christians, with Catholic priests garnering the greatest reward.  Once fertile Japan had become a swamp.

Silence places the story in this environment.  To simply be a Christian meant torture or death administered from samurai authorities.  The young Catholic priest Sebastian Rodrigues and his retinue must brave the unforgiving ocean journey to Japan, then sneak onto the Japanese islands without being caught by the authorities.  Rodrigues is certain that he will be able to find Japanese Christians who hold onto their Catholic Faith in secrecy, and it is to these desperate believers that the Catholic priest must minister, dispense the elements of the Mass, and hear confession.  But Rodrigues has another official mission that he finds more personal.  Rumors persist that his old mentor, Father Christovao Ferreira, was not rewarded with a most glorious martyrdom.  The rumors that Rodrigues could not dare to believe were that his beloved mentor apostatized under torture by trampling on the image of the blessed Virgin and renouncing his faith.  As a priest, Rodrigues lived to serve his Catholic flock, but he also longed to find Ferreira and dispel the unbelievable rumors of his apostasy.

All Christians who take their Faith seriously can understand the terror that can accompany doubt and the absence of God.  Lori McFarlane read this book at a time when she struggled with her own Faith, and found that the graphic descriptions of doubt mirrored her own.  But even as a non-believer, I found it was easy to sympathize with the Christian missionaries in a foreign land.  Christians were on the receiving end of atrocities, and it would have been very easy for me to view the whole scenario as absurd.  I could easily just mock the superstition and folly of the characters.  “Just apostatize and be done with it!”  But the book is so well written, that such mockery on my part would have been irresponsible.  The characters may have been fictional, but they were based on real people.  The Portuguese missions to Japan and the torture of Christians were historical events.  I have to engage with the story and characters.  Why won’t the Japanese converts make even an outward showing of apostasy?  The novel offers grisly clues.  It involves promises of a glorious martyrdom, and the threat of being classed among the weak Christians.  The one weak Christian who is prominently featured is a constant torment to Rodrigues, and is considered no better than a dog by Christians strong enough for martyrdom.  Death cults have no room for such weaklings.      

The novel is full of shocking ironies.  Apostasy, torture and death follow Sebastian Rodrigues like a plague.  To Rodrigues’ surprise, martyrs are not killed as witnesses to Catholic glory.  They are instead slaughtered like dogs.  The young priest’s fervent prayers are answered in ways familiar to every Christian believer - the sounds of buzzing flies and the lonely wind.  Like every Christian believer, Rodrigues can not understand why God is persistently, incessantly silent in the face of such torture.  Rodrigues can only imagine the voice of his mocking God in the sound of the ocean waves.  He can only see the face of his Jesus in moonlit shadows, like deluded believers today who see the face of Jesus in the crust of a toasted tortilla.  There are several powerful sequences in Silence where Rodrigues privately questions the existence of his Deity.  I think I understand Rodrigues’ desperation to find his mentor Ferreira.  If his mentor has indeed apostatized, if he has renounced his Faith and trampled on the fumie, then there is nothing to reinforce his own wavering faith.  The most disturbing irony of all comes late in the book.  Rodrigues curses his ignorant and snoring prison guard while he is continually tormented by his absent and silent Deity.  As he curses his prison guard … well, you will just have to read the book to discover this terrible irony for yourself!

I definitely recommend this novel for any Christian or sympathetic non-believer.  I earlier wrote that I was disappointed a bit with how the Rodrigues must justify reasons for his silent, non-existent Deity.  But I think that is my rational mind interrupting, because such justifications are realistic.  What else can the devout Christian tormented by the silence of God do?

Thanks again to Lori McFarlane for introducing me to Shusaku Endo.  Read Lori’s review of Silence HERE.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

New Testament Narrative as Old Testament Midrash: Mark Chapter 3

Continuing review - The Christ Myth Theory and its Problems by Robert M. Price
New Testament Narrative as Old Testament Midrash: Mark chapter 3
If you have no idea what this article is about - please read THIS.

Robert Price has published his article, New Testament Narrative as Old Testament Midrash on his website.  You can follow along HERE.  

OK, I continue with what Robert Price has to say about the Gospel of Mark chapter 3.  I will again include the full text from the New King James version, and highlight what I see as common features:

10. The Withered Hand -  Mark 3:1-6 ; 1Kings 3:1-6

Mark 3:1-6
And He entered the synagogue again, and a man was there who had a withered hand. 2 So they watched Him closely, whether He would heal him on the Sabbath, so that they might accuse Him. 3 And He said to the man who had the withered hand, “Step forward.” 4 Then He said to them, “Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?” But they kept silent. 5 And when He had looked around at them with anger, being grieved by the hardness of their hearts, He said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” And he stretched it out, and his hand was restored as whole as the other.  6 Then the Pharisees went out and immediately plotted with the Herodians against Him, how they might destroy Him.

1Kings 13:1-6
And behold, a man of God went from Judah to Bethel by the word of the Lord, and Jeroboam stood by the altar to burn incense. 2 Then he cried out against the altar by the word of the Lord, and said, “O altar, altar! Thus says the Lord: ‘Behold, a child, Josiah by name, shall be born to the house of David; and on you he shall sacrifice the priests of the high places who burn incense on you, and men’s bones shall be burned on you.’” 3 And he gave a sign the same day, saying, “This is the sign which the Lord has spoken: Surely the altar shall split apart, and the ashes on it shall be poured out.”
4 So it came to pass when King Jeroboam heard the saying of the man of God, who cried out against the altar in Bethel, that he stretched out his hand from the altar, saying, “Arrest him!” Then his hand, which he stretched out toward him, withered, so that he could not pull it back to himself. 5 The altar also was split apart, and the ashes poured out from the altar, according to the sign which the man of God had given by the word of the Lord. 6 Then the king answered and said to the man of God, “Please entreat the favor of the Lord your God, and pray for me, that my hand may be restored to me.”
So the man of God entreated the Lord, and the king’s hand was restored to him, and became as before.

The common feature of both stories is the restoration of a  man’s dried and withered hand.  Dr. Price points out another common feature that is not readily apparent.  In the story from 1Kings 13, the authorities are present at the service of King Jeroboam, and on his command will arrest the unnamed Prophet of God.  In the more familiar story from the Gospel of Mark, the authorities are also present, waiting to condemn Jesus for healing the withered hand on the Sabbath.  Dr. Price explains the connecting link between the two stories: “Whereas the withering and healing were the aftermath of the villains’ attempt to arrest the prophet in 1 Kings,, in Mark it is the healing of the withered hand which makes the villains plot to arrest him: “The Pharisees went out and immediately took council with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him”. (Price p. 74)

I am trying to imagine how I would create a story based on Jesus from the story of King Jeroboam’s withered hand.  What elements would I keep, and what elements would I discard?  King Jeroboam was cursed by the Prophet of God, and caused the king’s hand to wither before he demonstrated God’s power by restoring it.  I cannot imagine Jesus a story of Jesus cursing a sinner with a withered hand would be very popular, so that part of the King Jeroboam story would not translate well.  King Jeroboam is cursed by the Prophet of God for essentially worshipping at foreign altars.  This probably would not translate to a story about Jesus either, so instead of that we get Jesus being accused of breaking Sabbath laws.  Both Jesus in the Gospel of Mark and the unnamed Prophet of God in 1Kings were innocent in the eyes of God, but they were both believed to be blasphemous by their sinful accusers.  There is a little more connecting tissue here than meets the eye, but there is too much juggling of story elements to be completely convincing.


11. Choosing the Twelve; Embassy of Relatives -  Mark 3:13-35 ; Exodus 18:1-27

Mark 3:13-35
13 And He went up on the mountain and called to Him those He Himself wanted. And they came to Him. 14 Then He appointed twelve, that they might be with Him and that He might send them out to preach, 15 and to have power to heal sicknesses and to cast out demons: 16 Simon, to whom He gave the name Peter; 17 James the son of Zebedee and John the brother of James, to whom He gave the name Boanerges, that is, “Sons of Thunder”; 18 Andrew, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James the son of Alphaeus, Thaddaeus, Simon the Cananite; 19 and Judas Iscariot, who also betrayed Him. And they went into a house.

20 Then the multitude came together again, so that they could not so much as eat bread. 21 But when His own people heard about this, they went out to lay hold of Him, for they said, “He is out of His mind.”
22 And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem said, “He has Beelzebub,” and, “By the ruler of the demons He casts out demons.”
23 So He called them to Himself and said to them in parables: “How can Satan cast out Satan? 24 If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. 25 And if a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand. 26 And if Satan has risen up against himself, and is divided, he cannot stand, but has an end. 27 No one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man. And then he will plunder his house.

28 “Assuredly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the sons of men, and whatever blasphemies they may utter; 29 but he who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is subject to eternal condemnation”— 30 because they said, “He has an unclean spirit.”

31 Then His brothers and His mother came, and standing outside they sent to Him, calling Him. 32 And a multitude was sitting around Him; and they said to Him, “Look, Your mother and Your brothers are outside seeking You.”
33 But He answered them, saying, “Who is My mother, or My brothers?” 34 And He looked around in a circle at those who sat about Him, and said, “Here are My mother and My brothers! 35 For whoever does the will of God is My brother and My sister and mother.”

Exodus 18:1-27
And Jethro, the priest of Midian, Moses’ father-in-law, heard of all that God had done for Moses and for Israel His people—that the Lord had brought Israel out of Egypt. 2 Then Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, took Zipporah, Moses’ wife, after he had sent her back, 3 with her two sons, of whom the name of one was Gershom (for he said, “I have been a stranger in a foreign land”) 4 and the name of the other was Eliezer (for he said, “The God of my father was my help, and delivered me from the sword of Pharaoh”); 5 and Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, came with his sons and his wife to Moses in the wilderness, where he was encamped at the mountain of God. 6 Now he had said to Moses, “I, your father-in-law Jethro, am coming to you with your wife and her two sons with her.”
7 So Moses went out to meet his father-in-law, bowed down, and kissed him. And they asked each other about their well-being, and they went into the tent. 8 And Moses told his father-in-law all that the Lord had done to Pharaoh and to the Egyptians for Israel’s sake, all the hardship that had come upon them on the way, and how the Lord had delivered them. 9 Then Jethro rejoiced for all the good which the Lord had done for Israel, whom He had delivered out of the hand of the Egyptians. 10 And Jethro said, “Blessed be the Lord, who has delivered you out of the hand of the Egyptians and out of the hand of Pharaoh, and who has delivered the people from under the hand of the Egyptians. 11 Now I know that the Lord is greater than all the gods; for in the very thing in which they behaved proudly, He was above them.” 12 Then Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, took a burnt offering and other sacrifices to offer to God. And Aaron came with all the elders of Israel to eat bread with Moses’ father-in-law before God.
13 And so it was, on the next day, that Moses sat to judge the people; and the people stood before Moses from morning until evening. 14 So when Moses’ father-in-law saw all that he did for the people, he said, “What is this thing that you are doing for the people? Why do you alone sit, and all the people stand before you from morning until evening?”
15 And Moses said to his father-in-law, “Because the people come to me to inquire of God. 16 When they have a difficulty, they come to me, and I judge between one and another; and I make known the statutes of God and His laws.”
17 So Moses’ father-in-law said to him, “The thing that you do is not good. 18 Both you and these people who are with you will surely wear yourselves out. For this thing is too much for you; you are not able to perform it by yourself. 19 Listen now to my voice; I will give you counsel, and God will be with you: Stand before God for the people, so that you may bring the difficulties to God. 20 And you shall teach them the statutes and the laws, and show them the way in which they must walk and the work they must do. 21 Moreover you shall select from all the people able men, such as fear God, men of truth, hating covetousness; and place such over them to be rulers of thousands, rulers of hundreds, rulers of fifties, and rulers of tens. 22 And let them judge the people at all times. Then it will be that every great matter they shall bring to you, but every small matter they themselves shall judge. So it will be easier for you, for they will bear the burden with you. 23 If you do this thing, and God so commands you, then you will be able to endure, and all this people will also go to their place in peace.”
24 So Moses heeded the voice of his father-in-law and did all that he had said. 25 And Moses chose able men out of all Israel, and made them heads over the people: rulers of thousands, rulers of hundreds, rulers of fifties, and rulers of tens. 26 So they judged the people at all times; the hard cases they brought to Moses, but they judged every small case themselves.
27 Then Moses let his father-in-law depart, and he went his way to his own land.

I think that a proper analysis of this parallel depends a lot on the exact meaning of Mark 3:21.  Why did ‘His own people’ think He was beside Himself, or out of His mind?  The Gospel of Mark never explicitly gives the reason, but since this accusation from ‘His own people’ comes immediately after Jesus’ appointment of twelve named disciples, Dr. Price figures that might have something to do with it.  “We must imagine that previous to Mark someone had rewritten the story of Moses heeding Jethro’s advice to name subordinates resulting in a scene in which choosing the twelve disciples was the idea of the Holy Family of Jesus” (Price p. 77).  

Uh-oh.  We are asked to imagine that this story found in the Gospel of Mark is actually a corrupted text, and that the Gospel originally described the concern of Jesus’ own people that He was overworking Himself and maybe going a little crazy, and that maybe He ought to consider appointing some Disciples to help out with all the healing and preaching.  When Dr. Price attempts to make a stronger case for midrash by asking us to imagine a hypothetical text that does not exist, then I think we are on pretty dangerous ground.  But if we do imagine this hypothetical original story from the Gospel of Mark, Dr. Price lays out some pretty interesting comparisons that can be made:

Both stories include relatives that journey to meet the hero after hearing reports of the hero’s successes (Exodus 18:1-5, Mark 3:21)
Both heros are surrounded by riff-raff (Exodus 18:13-18, Mark 3:20)
The arrival of relatives is announced to the heros. (Exodus 18:6, Mark 3:31-32)

These are interesting enough, but then Dr. Price creates more parallels with texts that do not exist, and makes his argument weaker.  Originally, Dr. Price contends, we would have read of Jesus welcoming His family, and we would have read of Mary or one of His brothers advising Jesus to appoint disciples to ease His burden - both of which happen in the story of Moses.  Dr. Price is weakening his own argument by fabricating evidence out of texts that do not exist!  

Even if these additions to the story did originally exist, they would eventually been edited out of the story.  Why would this be?  Dr. Price argues that it is to intentionally bring dishonor on the family of Jesus, who in this allegorical story represent rival political and religious factions to Jesus.  I am just not seeing any of this!  Even if this story (based partially on texts that do not exist) really is an allegory against a religious dispute, it assumes that there were people, claiming to be relatives of Jesus, who were involved in some kind of succession dispute.  But note that the Gospel of Mark is too vague about who these people are!  Nobody is named.  There is no Mary, no James, just ‘His Family’.  Who is this religious rival?  Even if this the intent of the story, nobody knows who they are.  There are just too many loose links and fabricated texts to make this convincing.


I hate to say it, but so far I am just not very impressed with New Testament Narrative as Old Testament Midrash.  I have only looked at three chapters from the Gospel of Mark.  Lots more to go. 

Can't get enough?  Loads more of this kind of stuff coming soon.