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.

1 comment:

Alice said...

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.

Me either?

The Jonah/Jesus parallels are spot on, aren't they. Some (me at one time) would point out the perfect "foreshadowing" of Christ in the OT, which I suppose is what midrash is essentially doing.