We should maintain that if an interpretation of any word in any religion leads to disharmony and does not positively further the welfare of the many, then such an interpretation is to be regarded as wrong; that is, against the will of God, or as the working of Satan or Mara.

Buddhadasa Bikkhu, a Thai Buddhist Monk

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

The Empirical Jesus Revealed - Mark 3:1-6 (xxxii)

Lion of St. Mark, Piazza San Marco, Venice
This posting is the 32nd in a series (originally written in 1998) looking at the Gospel of Mark from the perspective of a historian. The first posting in this series is (here).

Interpreting events in Mark is complicated. This passage, Mark 3:1-6 for example, seems both contrived and real at one and the same time. On the one hand, it contains no specific little details. It follows very neatly on 2:23-28 and elaborates the subject in that passage. If Jesus, furthermore, had attended this synagogue previously, he'd done so without healing the paralytic's hand. What made his enemies think he'd do so this time? If he hadn't visited this synagogue, how did they know he would? Why, again, did they think he'd heal this man this time? Or, was there a "truth squad" following Jesus around to try to catch him doing something wrong? As it stands the event is too neat and doesn't quite ring true, historically. There's the added problem that Mark reports Jesus as feeling both angry and sorry for his enemies (3:5 TEV). Now, how would the author of Mark know what Jesus was feeling? Did Jesus say to the disciples, "Boy, did I have mixed emotions about those Pharisee guys"? And then the disciples remembered that and somehow the data got to Mark. Seems farfetched.

On the other hand, the event is vintage Jesus: His compassion for a member of the under class. His attack on the dehumanizing aspects of the Law. His open defiance of his enemies, which we can take as his attempt to communicate with them. The evolving plot to assassinate Jesus (a continuation of a theme in Mark 2). Even his reported mixed emotions, a very human response that still manages to convey Jesus' compassion for the over class, rings true. This story, in all probability, summarizes in gospel form important elements of the empirical Jesus' personality, behavior, and message. It probably recalls, stereotypically, things that happened in the empirical Jesus' life.