Wednesday, March 11, 2015

New Testament Narrative as Old Testament Midrash: Mark Chapter 1

Continuing review - The Christ Myth Theory and its Problems by Robert M. Price
New Testament Narrative as Old Testament Midrash: remainder of Mark 1
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.  

From here on, I will quote the Scripture passages from the New King James version (the version that I read the most as a believer and the one I am most familiar with), and highlight some of the major points of similarity and other interesting items.  To add a little structure to what will be a long slog, I will post one chapter at a time in this series.  This article will finish all of Mark chapter 1.

4. Commencement of the Ministry Mark 1:14-15

14 Now after John was put in prison, Jesus came to Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom[a] of God, 15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.”

No Old Testament citation is given by Dr. Price to coincide with this passage from the Gospel of Mark.  Instead we are given the general theme from the Torah “the parallel to Moses leaving the wilderness, with Aaron, to announce to the children of Israel in the house of bondage that liberation would soon be theirs.” (p. 66)  So I guess, according to this scenario, the arrest of John the Baptist is the midrashic interpretation of Israel in bondage.  But this connection has too many loose threads for my satisfaction.  the parallel would be stronger if John the Baptist was eventually set free - to represent the freedom promised to Israel with the announcement of the Kingdom of God  How do Moses and Aaron fit into this?  You got me.  I do not see any real connection here at all.

5. Recruitment of the First Disciples  Mark 1:16-20 ; Exodus 4:27-28 ; 1Kings 19:19-21

Jesus walked by the Sea of Galilee where He saw brothers Simon and Andrew casting nets into the sea.  They immediately dropped their nets at the call of Jesus to be fishers of men.  James and John, also brothers, received the sacred call next, and they dropped their nets and followed Jesus.  This story from the Gospel of Mark demonstrates the hypnotic power of Jesus over His chosen disciples.  Jesus calls them and they immediately abandon their earthly occupations and follow Him.  The fishermen seem mesmerized by the overwhelming power of His divine suggestion.  

Let’s take a look at the Old Testament parallels that Dr. Price proposes:  Here is the story from the Gospel of Mark:
Mark 1:16-20
16 And as He walked by the Sea of Galilee, He saw Simon and Andrew his brother casting a net into the sea; for they were fishermen. 17 Then Jesus said to them, “Follow Me, and I will make you become fishers of men.” 18 They immediately left their nets and followed Him.
19 When He had gone a little farther from there, He saw James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, who also were in the boat mending their nets. 20 And immediately He called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired servants, and went after Him.
Let’s compare this story with these from the Old Testament:
Exodus 4:27-28
27 And the Lord said to Aaron, “Go into the wilderness to meet Moses.” So he went and met him on the mountain of God, and kissed him. 28 So Moses told Aaron all the words of the Lord who had sent him, and all the signs which He had commanded him.
1Kings 19:19-21
19 So he departed from there, and found Elisha the son of Shaphat, who was plowing with twelve yoke of oxen before him, and he was with the twelfth. Then Elijah passed by him and threw his mantle on him. 20 And he left the oxen and ran after Elijah, and said, “Please let me kiss my father and my mother, and then I will follow you.”
And he said to him, “Go back again, for what have I done to you?”
21 So Elisha turned back from him, and took a yoke of oxen and slaughtered them and boiled their flesh, using the oxen’s equipment, and gave it to the people, and they ate. Then he arose and followed Elijah, and became his servant.
I do not find the Exodus passage very compelling.  It merely echoes the theme of brothers who are called into God’s service.  In contrast to the Gospel story, one brother calls the other, and there is no hint at the overwhelming, hypnotic power of the Divine call.  But contrast this with the story of the call of Elisha in 1Kings.  It is clear to me that many of the miraculous signs of Jesus were foreshadowed by the fantastic powers of the Prophet Elijah.  If Jesus did it, chances are Elijah did it first.  This is an example.  Jesus hypnotizes fishermen into service, just as Elijah before him called, seemingly at random, a plowman to forsake his earthly occupation for the service of God.  There is nothing normal about the call of either Jesus or Elijah.  There is no hesitation, no compromise, no debate.  The disciples of Jesus and Elijah immediately drop all their worldly affairs and follow their respective Masters.  If you will excuse me, it reminds me of an old Jedi trick.  If only Jesus’ disciples would have immediately given away their entire catch of fish to the poor we would have an almost perfect match.  I am much more impressed with the Elijah parallel than the Moses parallel.  

Exodus - GRADE: F
1 Kings - GRADE: B

6.  Exorcism at Capernaum  Mark 1:21-28; Nahum 1:15 ; 1Kings 17:18
This story from the Gospel of Mark features Jesus casting out an unclean spirit from a man in the Capernaum synagogue. 
21 Then they went into Capernaum, and immediately on the Sabbath He entered the synagogue and taught. 22 And they were astonished at His teaching, for He taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes.
23 Now there was a man in their synagogue with an unclean spirit. And he cried out, 24 saying, “Let us alone! What have we to do with You, Jesus of Nazareth? Did You come to destroy us? I know who You are—the Holy One of God!
25 But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be quiet, and come out of him!” 26 And when the unclean spirit had convulsed him and cried out with a loud voice, he came out of him. 27 Then they were all amazed, so that they questioned among themselves, saying, “What is this? What new doctrine is this? For with authority[a] He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey Him.” 28 And immediately His fame spread throughout all the region around Galilee.
So where did this story come from?  Dr. Price suggests that it is derived from a combination of Nahum 1:15 and 1 Kings 17:18.  I do not find the Nahum reference very convincing.  Nahum 1 is mostly a song about the power of Jehovah, which is capped off with:
Nahum 1:15
Behold, on the mountains
The feet of him who brings good tidings,
Who proclaims peace!
O Judah, keep your appointed feasts,
Perform your vows.
For the wicked one shall no more pass through you;
He is utterly cut off.
Dr. Price suggests that the Evangelist Mark must be imagining this passage from the prophet Nahum to be a foreshadow of Jesus Himself.  This is hinted at by setting the story in the town of Capernaum, which means Village of Nahum.  “...what better town for him to have begun bearing these gospel tidings than that of Nahum?” (p67)  My objection is that according to Mark 1:14, Jesus began His ministry in Galilee.  While Capernaum is a town located in the district of Galilee, it seems to me that if the Evangelist wanted to point to Nahum, he would have been explicit and mentioned Capernaum as the beginning of the ministry of Jesus, not Galilee.  Oh well.

Dr. Price next suggests 1Kings 17:17-18 as a possible source.  I will quote the previous verse also for a bit of context:
17 Now it happened after these things that the son of the woman who owned the house became sick. And his sickness was so serious that there was no breath left in him. 18 So she said to Elijah, “What have I to do with you, O man of God? Have you come to me to bring my sin to remembrance, and to kill my son?”
In this case the widow of Zarephath, who was saved by Elijah from a drought, accuses her savior of bringing sickness to her son through the conviction of her sin.  It is a sickness by supernatural means.  The accusation that she brings against Elijah is also the same accusation thrown from the unclean spirits to Jesus - only with Holy One of God elevated from Man of God.  It is a pretty interesting, though not thoroughly convincing, parallel.  I would be thoroughly convinced, and frankly astonished, if Jesus would have cast out the unclean spirit in the same manner that Elijah healed the widow’s son, that is, by straddling Himself over the sick man a total of three times, and praying for deliverance (1Kings  17:19-22).

Nahum - GRADE: F
1 Kings - GRADE: C

7. Peter’s Mother-in-Law - Mark 1:29-31 ; 1Kings 17:8-16

In the 1Kings story, Elijah the Tishbite saves the widow of Zarephath and her son from the starvation induced by Jehovah’s judgement of draught .  But Elijah has a command for the widow before he will perform the miracle of unending meal and oil.  She must first prepare a cake with for the prophet with her last scraps of food.  Is there anything in the career of Jesus that could have been created from this story of Elijah?  Dr. Price suggests that the story of Jesus healing Peter’s mother-in-law is a good candidate.  I personally do not see it.  The healing of Peter’s mother-in-law is not a rescue from a drought.  We are never told what the sickness is, other than a ‘fever’, and neither she nor Peter appear to make a show of faith or sacrifice to Jesus, in contrast to the widow preparing a cake of bread from her last scraps of food.  However, Dr. Price tries make the connection to the two stories stronger by interpreting the story from the Gospel of Mark as Jesus selfishly healing Peter’s mother-in-law so that she could prepare a meal for Him.  Just as Elijah asked for service before his miracle, Jesus expected service after His miracle.   But I just do not see this in the text.  “And she served them,” does not even imply that it is expected payment for the healing.  I will paste both passages and highlight the only phrase that the stories share in common:
Mark 1:29-31
29 Now as soon as they had come out of the synagogue, they entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. 30 But Simon’s wife’s mother lay sick with a fever, and they told Him about her at once. 31 So He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up, and immediately the fever left her. And she served them.
1Kings 17:8-16
8 Then the word of the Lord came to him, saying, 9 “Arise, go to Zarephath, which belongs to Sidon, and dwell there. See, I have commanded a widow there to provide for you.” 10 So he arose and went to Zarephath. And when he came to the gate of the city, indeed a widow was there gathering sticks. And he called to her and said, “Please bring me a little water in a cup, that I may drink.” 11 And as she was going to get it, he called to her and said, “Please bring me a morsel of bread in your hand.”
12 So she said, “As the Lord your God lives, I do not have bread, only a handful of flour in a bin, and a little oil in a jar; and see, I am gathering a couple of sticks that I may go in and prepare it for myself and my son, that we may eat it, and die.”
13 And Elijah said to her, “Do not fear; go and do as you have said, but make me a small cake from it first, and bring it to me; and afterward make some for yourself and your son. 14 For thus says the Lord God of Israel: ‘The bin of flour shall not be used up, nor shall the jar of oil run dry, until the day the Lord sends rain on the earth.’”
15 So she went away and did according to the word of Elijah; and she and he and her household ate for many days. 16 The bin of flour was not used up, nor did the jar of oil run dry, according to the word of the Lord which He spoke by Elijah.

So even if Mark 1:31 has service as the point of comparison, that is all these stories have in common.  What is even more unbelievable to me is that 1Kings 17 features the prophet Elijah raising the widow’s dead son to life again (1Kings 17:17-18).  The Evangelist Mark ignores this incredible story of healing from the revered Prophet, and instead builds a tepid story of Jesus healing a fever around the theme of service.  I am not buying it,


8. The healing of a Leper - Mark 1:40-45 ; Exodus 4:6-7

The Deity Jehovah made His credentials known to Moses through His power over leprosy.  The Deity has the power to inflict Moses with the skin blemish, and He has the power to remove it.  Dr. Price suggests that Jesus can establish His credentials early in the Gospel, and can even improve on the performance of Jehovah.  Jesus does not have to demonstrate His powers by inflicted illness on a skeptic.  Rather, He compassionately heals the disease of a beggar who is already inflicted.  Jesus can heal instantly, unlike Jehovah who chooses instead to hide Moses hand under his cloak during the miracle, and concealing the miracle like a stage magician pulling a rabbit out of a hat.  I am not completely convinced, but the parallel between the two passages is definitely compelling.
Mark 1:40-45
40 Now a leper came to Him, imploring Him, kneeling down to Him and saying to Him, “If You are willing, You can make me clean.”
41 Then Jesus, moved with compassion, stretched out His hand and touched him, and said to him, “I am willing; be cleansed.” 42 As soon as He had spoken, immediately the leprosy left him, and he was cleansed. 43 And He strictly warned him and sent him away at once, 44 and said to him, “See that you say nothing to anyone; but go your way, show yourself to the priest, and offer for your cleansing those things which Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.”
45 However, he went out and began to proclaim it freely, and to spread the matter, so that Jesus could no longer openly enter the city, but was outside in deserted places; and they came to Him from every direction. 
Exodus 4:6-7
6 Furthermore the Lord said to him, “Now put your hand in your bosom.” And he put his hand in his bosom, and when he took it out, behold, his hand was leprous, like snow. 7 And He said, “Put your hand in your bosom again.” So he put his hand in his bosom again, and drew it out of his bosom, and behold, it was restored like his other flesh.


That takes care of the Gospel of Mark chapter 1.  There are definitely some strong candidates for Old Testament midrash in here, but so far it is hit or miss for me.

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


Alice said...

I never really noticed the similarities between the calling of Elisha and the calling of the disciples before. Elisha even asks to go and kiss his father and mother goodbye. It's much like when a disciple asks Jesus if he can bury his father- I know that's not in this particular story or book, but a similar theme.

Thanks for these posts, they are very interesting.

HeIsSailing said...

Glad you noticed it, Alice. That theme between Elijah and Jesus will come up again and again. If Elijah did it, chances are Jesus did it one better.