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.

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