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.

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