Monday, July 25, 2005

The Bethsaida Section in Mark

Introduction

Helmut Koester, one of the most important and influential New Testament scholars, has spent a career studying the Gospels. One of his most important arguments is that the so-called "Bethsaida Section" of Mark (Mark 6:45-8:26) is an interpolation by a later redactor. In 6:45 Jesus goes to Bethsaida, and again in 8:22 Jesus is reported as going to Bethsaida. After that Jesus makes his sole visit to Caesarea Philippi, and Bethsaida vanishes from Mark.

For Koester, the signal that something is amiss lies in the fact that nothing in this section is reproduced in Luke. Koester (1990) argues that although it is possible that Luke's copy of Mark was simply missing some pages, certain features of the Bethsaida Section differentiate it from the rest of the Gospel of Mark.

First, the Bethsaida section is characterized by doublets of material from elsewhere in the Gospel. The water walk in Mark 6:45-56 doubles the similar event in Mk 4:35-41. The second feeding miracle, Mark 8:1-13, is a manifest double of the first in Mark 6:30-44. There are two healings of a blind man in the Gospel, Mark 8:22-26 and Mk 10:46-52, and as Beavis has noted, Mk 8:22-26 is a structural double of Mk 8:27-33. Two of the healings, Mk 7:31-37 and Mk 8:22-26, are the only two in the Gospel where Jesus heals through manipulation (elsewhere he heals by word, gesture, simple touch, or taking of the hand). These two healings are missing in Matthew. Several peculiarities of the Greek may also indicate another writer's hand. For example, a Greek verb meaning "to understand" occurs four times in the Bethsaida but only once outside of it. Koester argues that Matthew knew an expanded version of Mark that had the Bethsaida section, while Luke did not.

In this essay I will use the structural features of Mark to analyze the Bethsaida section. Several important conclusions will emerge. First, the tampering in Mark is far more pervasive than is generally recognized by scholars, extending from 6:14 all the way to the end of Mark 10. Second, this section does not consist of material that is either Markan or not Markan in strictly dichotomous fashion, but in fact is a mix of genuine Mark imported whole from elsewhere, genuine Mark than has been redacted, and non-Markan pericopes inserted as a whole units. After the Bethsaida section has been analyzed, the larger structure of Mark will be explored.

Bethsaida by the Pericope: Analysis
  • Mark 6:45-56
The Bethsaida section is generally held to begin at 6:45, although Dart placed it a couple of verses earlier. For those who cannot instantly recall, including this writer, Mk 6:45-56 is the Water Walk by Jesus. The pericope is generally held to be a doublet of Mark 4:35-51 and appears to be a creation from the OT. It also contains parallels to similar pagan stories. Here is the structure (Mark text from RSV):

A..Immediately he made his disciples get into the boat
......and go before him to the other side, to Beth-sa'ida,
......while he dismissed the crowd. And after he had taken
......leave of them, he went up on the mountain to pray.

.....B..And when evening came, the boat was out on the sea,
..........and he was alone on the land.

...........C..And he saw that they were making headway
................painfully, for the wind was against them.

.................D..And about the fourth watch of the night
......................he came to them, walking on the sea.

........................E..He meant to pass by them, but when
.............................they saw him walking on the sea they
.............................thought it was a ghost, and cried out;

........................E..for they all saw him, and were terrified.

.................D..But immediately he spoke to them and said,
......................"Take heart, it is I; have no fear."

...........C..And he got into the boat with them
................and the wind ceased.

.....B..And they were utterly astounded,
..........for they did not understand about the loaves,
..........but their hearts were hardened.

A..And when they had crossed over,
.....they came to land at Gennes'aret,
.....and moored to the shore.


This pericope is originally from the hand of the writer of Mark, but it has been tampered with. The center (E/E') is very Markan -- it has the prolix/pithy rhythm of a true Markan center, and the second part is a summary of the first. In Markan centers one bracket typically summarizes and comments on or explains the other, with one bracket often much longer. For example:
D...That evening, at sundown, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons.

D'..And the whole city was gathered together about the door.
Note how the second sentence simply repeats the information given in the first, but in a way that stresses it. Such repetition is also common in the Old Testament. Another example:
F...And he began to teach them that the Son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.

F'..And he said this plainly.
Again, we have the pattern of long-short, with the second bracket not adding information to the first, but simply stressing it. Here's another with the doubled center pattern:
E.....A...And Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, "How hard it will be for those who have riches to enter the kingdom of God!"

.......B...And the disciples were amazed at his words.

E'....A...But Jesus said to them again, "Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.

.......B...And they were exceedingly astonished, and said to him, "Then who can be saved?"
Here we have the common long-short pattern, doubled. There are several pericopes with this pattern.

However, in Mark 6:45-56 tampering has occurred in the B' bracket:
.....B..And they were utterly astounded,
..........for they did not understand about the loaves,
..........but their hearts were hardened.
The opening phrase in blue is certainly Markan. Many of the writer's B' brackets contain similar expressions of awe at the power or wit of Jesus. Compare the B' bracket in Mk 2:1-12 (healing of the paralytic):

B'..so that they were all amazed and glorified God, saying,
......"We never saw anything like this!"

or Mk 12:13-17 (render unto Caesar)

B'..And they were amazed at him.

However, the verses in red are very unMarkan, spoiling the rhythm of the pericope, and containing the kind of explanation that the writer of Mark rarely engages in. The theme of hearts hardening occurs only in Mark 8:14-21 which is blatantly unMarkan, and is probably an insertion here by the redactor who also inserted that pericope. On the whole this section of Mark 6:45-56 is an original Markan creation.

The summary that follows has the following structure:

A..And when they had crossed over, they came to land at
.....Gennes'aret, and moored to the shore.

.....B..And when they got out of the boat, immediately
..........the people recognized him, and ran about the
..........whole neighborhood and began to bring sick people
..........on their pallets to any place where they heard he was.

.....B..And wherever he came, in villages, cities, or country,
..........they laid the sick in the market places, and besought him
..........that they might touch even the fringe of his garment;
...........and as many as touched it were made well.

A..Now when the Pharisees gathered together to him,
.....with some of the scribes, who had come from Jerusalem,
.....they saw that some of his disciples ate with hands defiled,
.....that is, unwashed.

This type of narrative summary has parallels elsewhere in the Gospel and is probably from the writer of Mark as well. However, the bracketing is not easy, because there is a verse that signals that the structure has been disrupted.
.....B..And wherever he came, in villages, cities, or country,
..........they laid the sick in the market places, and besought him
..........that they might touch even the fringe of his garment;
...........and as many as touched it were made well.
Typically in Mark text like that in red above, where "And...." begins a concluding summary of the previous action, signals the beginning of a new bracket. The original structure was probably ABCCBA, but Mk 7:1-23 has been interpolated at this point and at least one verse has gone AWOL here.
  • Mark 7:1-23
I recently blogged on this important pericope. The structure of it first.....

A..Now when the Pharisees gathered together to him, with some of the scribes,
....who had come from Jerusalem, they saw ..that some of his disciples ate
....with hands defiled, that is, unwashed.

........B..(For the Pharisees, and all the Jews, do not eat unless they wash their hands,
.............observing the tradition of the elders; and when they come from the market
.............place, they do not eat unless they purify themselves; and there are many
.............other traditions which they observe, the washing of cups and pots and
.............vessels of bronze.) And the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, "Why do
.............your disciples not live according to the tradition of the elders,
.............but eat with hands defiled?"

...............C..A And he said to them,"Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites,
........................as it is written,

........................B.. `This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far
...............................from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines
...............................the precepts of men.'

...................................C..You leave the commandment of God, and hold fast
........................................the tradition of men."

...............C..A..And he said to them, "You have a fine way of rejecting the
........................commandment of God, in order to keep your tradition!

........................B..For Moses said, `Honor your father and your mother';
.............................and, `He who speaks evil of father or mother, let him
.............................surely die';

...................................C..but you say, `If a man tells his father or his
........................................mother, What you would have gained from me is
........................................Corban' (that is, given to God) -- then you no longer
........................................permit him to do anything for his father or mother,
........................................thus making void the word of God through your
........................................tradition which you hand on. And many such things
........................................you do."

........B..And he called the people to him again, and said to them, "Hear me,
.............all of you, and understand: there is nothing outside a man which by
.............going into him can defile him; but the things which come out of a man
.............are what defile him."

A..And when he had entered the house, and left the people, his disciples
....asked him about the parable.


The center has a paired triplet structure seen elsewhere in Mark (the Calling of Peter, James and John, for example). If you unpack it, it looks like this

A ACCUSATION
B QUOTE OF SCRIPTURE
C EXPLANATION OF HOW TRADITION IS REJECTED BY PHARISEES

This is the signature of the true writer of Mark, and this entire pericope is from his hand. The pericope is followed by a discussion of the significance of the exchange.

A..And when he had entered the house, and left the people,
......his disciples asked him about the parable.

.....B..And he said to them, "Then are you also without
..........understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes
..........into a man from outside cannot defile him, since it
..........enters, not his heart but his stomach, and so passes
.........on?" (Thus he declared all foods clean.)

.....B..And he said, "What comes out of a man is what
..........defiles a man. For from within, out of the heart of
..........man, come evil thoughts, fornication, theft, murder,
..........adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness,
..........envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things
..........come from within, and they defile a man."

A..And from there he arose and went away to the region of
.....Tyre and Sidon.


This too is very Markan, with the explanation given in a separate structure, inside a house. Mk 7:1-23 is unquestionably from the hand of the writer of Mark in its entirety.
  • Mark 7:24-30
This pericope is non-Markan and has been created and inserted as unit. My rules for analyzing structures in Mark will create a chiastic structure for this pericope, but not a Markan one.

A..And from there he arose and went away
......to the region of Tyre and Sidon.

.....B..And he entered a house, and would not have
...........any one know it; yet he could not be hid.

..........C..But immediately a woman, whose little daughter
...............was possessed by an unclean spirit, heard of him,
...............and came and fell down at his feet.

................D..Now the woman was a Greek,
......................a Syrophoeni'cian by birth.

......................E..And she begged him to cast the
...........................demon out of her daughter.

......................E..And he said to her, "Let the children first
..........................be fed, for it is not right to take the children's
..........................bread and throw it to the dogs."

..............D..But she answered him, "Yes, Lord; yet even the
...................dogs under the table eat the children's crumbs."

.........C..And he said to her, "For this saying you may go
..............your way; the demon has left your daughter."

.....B..And she went home, and found the child lying in bed,
..........and the demon gone.

A..Then he returned from the region of Tyre, and went through
......Sidon to the Sea of Galilee, through the region of the Decap'olis.


The non-Markan nature of this pericope is signaled by several things, but for our purposes the central structure -- or lack thereof -- is the key:
......................E..And he said to her, "Let the children first
..........................be fed, for it is not right to take the children's
..........................bread and throw it to the dogs."

..............D..But she answered him, "Yes, Lord; yet even the
...................dogs under the table eat the children's crumbs."

.........C..And he said to her, "For this saying you may go
..............your way; the demon has left your daughter."
This is a triparte exchange, and there is nothing else like it in Mark. There is no way to bracket it to yield a proper Markan chiasm with a prolix/pithy center. Nor do ask/answered questions typically occur in Markan centers. The chiasm here is simply a pleasing ordering of the verses, but it is not a real Markan structure. Hence, this pericope is non-Markan. It should be noted that numerous exegetes have drawn attention to the fact that it seems to authorize a mission to the Gentiles, which makes it anachronistic. On the whole, the writer of Mark never wrote this.
  • Mark 7:31-37
This pericope is also non-Markan, although it has a superficially Markan feel that may indicate simply very heavy redaction.

A..Then he returned from the region of Tyre, and went through Sidon to
the Sea of Galilee, through the region of the Decap'olis.

.....B..And they brought to him a man who was deaf and had an impediment
..........in his speech; and they besought him to lay his hand upon him.

..........C..And taking him aside from the multitude privately, he put his
...............fingers into his ears, and he spat and touched his tongue;

................D..and looking up to heaven, he sighed, and said to him,
...................."Eph'phatha," that is, "Be opened."

................D..And his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and
.....................he spoke plainly.

..........C..And he charged them to tell no one; but the more he charged
...............them, the more zealously they proclaimed it.

.....B..And they were astonished beyond measure, saying, "He has done
..........all things well; he even makes the deaf hear and the dumb speak."

A..In those days, when again a great crowd had gathered, and they had
.....nothing to eat, he called his disciples to him, and said to them,


Note how each bracket consists of verses that are simple statements. The writer of Mark typically varies the length of his brackets, and the centers usually have a nice rhythm. Note also how the A' bracket does not signal a concrete change of location, but simply announces that the scene is over and has shifted. The writer of Mark likes to use concrete locations when he shifts to a new pericope. None of those is definite, but the non-Markan pattern and habits signal that this one is probably not from the writer of Mark either.

  • Mark 8:1-13

This pericope is a literary creation based on the tale of the miraculous feeding in Elijah that was already used in Mark 6. The question here is who bears responsibility for this.

Observe first how the A bracket is long, and contains a wordy explanation of Jesus' plans. In other words, the first verse sets up the action of the pericope in a very wordy way, which is highly unusual in Mark. This verse thus strikes me as having been extensively modified, if original to the writer of Mark. Note how the term "compassion" is used, which occurs also in another pericope I consider tampered with, as well as in Mk 1, where Jesus has compassion on the beggar, and which Bart Ehrman has argued persuasively is an insertion. "Compassion" here may well signal tampering.

A..In those days, when again a great crowd had gathered,
.....and they had nothing to eat, he called his disciples to
.....him, and said to them, "I have compassion on the crowd,
.....because they have been with me now three days, and
.....have nothing to eat; and if I send them away hungry to
.....their homes, they will faint on the way; and some of them
.....have come a long way."

.....B..And his disciples answered him, "How can one feed
...........these men with bread here in the desert?"

..........C..And he asked them, "How many loaves have you?"

...............D..They said, "Seven."

....................E..A..And he commanded the crowd to sit down
..............................on the ground; and he took the seven loaves,
..............................and having given thanks he broke them and
..............................gave them to his disciples to set before the
..............................people;

.........................B..and they set them before the crowd.

....................E..A..And they had a few small fish; and having
..............................blessed them, he commanded that these also
..............................should be set before them.

.........................B..And they ate, and were satisfied;

...............D..and they took up the broken pieces left over,
....................seven baskets full.

..........C..And there were about four thousand people.

.....B..And he sent them away;

A
..and immediately he got into the boat with his disciples,
.....and went to the district of Dalmanu'tha.


Here in the A' bracket we have returned to the usual pattern of the writer of Mark, a concrete location change. All in all, I suspect this one is originally from the writer of Mark, with modifications. The "sign" saying that caps it is most probably from the writer of Mark as well, since it appears to draw on Paul (1 Cor 1:22-3).

  • Mark 8:14-21

This hideous pericope was someone else's unclever design. It is possible to form a chiastic structure with my rules here, but it is merely an artistic arrangement of sentences and not a true Markan pericope (I'm not going to bother to block it out properly.

A And he left them, and getting into the boat again he departed to the other side.

B Now they had forgotten to bring bread; and they had only one loaf with them in the boat.

C And he cautioned them, saying, "Take heed, beware of the leaven of the Pharisees
and the leaven of Herod."

D And they discussed it with one another, saying, "We have no bread."

E And being aware of it, Jesus said to them, "Why do you discuss the fact that you
have no bread? Do you not yet perceive or understand? Are your hearts hardened?
Having eyes do you not see, and having ears do you not hear? And do you not remember?
When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many baskets
full of broken pieces did you take up?"

E They said to him, "Twelve."

D "And the seven for the four thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you take up?"

C And they said to him, "Seven."

B And he said to them, "Do you not yet understand?"

A And they came to Beth-sa'ida. And some people brought to him a blind man,
and begged him to touch him.

It is obvious that the set of questions in EEDC does not form a true Markan center, since the discourse is unbalanced between first and second half. Numerous exegetes have commented on the enigmatic nature of this discourse, and on Jesus' strange behavior. This pericope was never from the hand of the writer of Mark.

Next Post in this Series: Further Analysis of Related Pericopes in Mark



11 comments:

Loren Rosson III said...

When are you hoping to get some of this stuff published, Michael?

Michael Turton said...

Hmmm.....the structural stuff I want to submit this summer. My interpretation of Mark is almost done. I've submitted the manuscript to several publishing houses, but no bites yet.

Michael

Neil Godfrey said...

I am sure someone must have argued that the food and belly controversy in the Bethsaida section has been picked up and reworked in Acts. Can you tell me who and where -- or do I keep on with my own little argument for it as if something novel?

Neil Godfrey said...

While I see many meeting points between Mark and Paul one thing holds me back from accepting Mark is promoting Paul's theology. That is the role of Jesus in their own time (post easter - pre parousia). It seems pretty clear to me that Paul's Jesus is with him and his fellow Christians and is even identified with the Spirit. Mark's Jesus, on the other hand, is quite distinct from the Spirit and is completely absent until the parousia. This seems to come through throughout the gospel, not just from the 16:8 ending. Comments? Thanks.

Michael Turton said...

I haven't heard that anyone has done that....so I bet you can keep it. But not too tightly, Neil. You see deeply into Mark, and what you see needs to be published!! I can't keep citing you as "Godfrey, Neil. Private communication." LOL

Michael

Neil Godfrey said...

further on last comment ... i would have thought Paul fits into one of Mark's false prophets, identifying himself with Christ, Christ in him, his life is not his but Christ's, and he is a wonder worker by his own boasting, telling people they can see Christ in him ('here is Christ', he says) -- even though Paul attacks his rival "divine men" I am thinking of Ted Weeden's argument views of Mark's view of such and can't help suspecting Mark would have seen more in common between Paul and his rivals than between Paul and himself. No?

Neil Godfrey said...

my last comment was incomprehensible in part through sloppy lack of editing sorry -- is it too much trouble to delete it and replace it with this one?

further on last comment ... i would have thought Paul fits into one of Mark's false prophets, identifying himself with Christ, Christ in him, his life is not his but Christ's, and he is a wonder worker by his own boasting, telling people they can see Christ in him ('here is Christ', he says) -- even though Paul attacks his rival "divine men" I am thinking of Ted Weeden's argument concerning Mark's views of such divine men and can't help suspecting Mark would have seen more in common between Paul and his rivals than between Paul and himself. No?

Anonymous said...

Hmm...Is this stuff from an atheist's point of view?

Michael Turton said...

What does any of it have to do with atheism?

Anonymous said...

Well, I just wondered whether it was written from a point of view sympathetic to belief in God, or not.

Michael Turton said...

While I see many meeting points between Mark and Paul one thing holds me back from accepting Mark is promoting Paul's theology. That is the role of Jesus in their own time (post easter - pre parousia). It seems pretty clear to me that Paul's Jesus is with him and his fellow Christians and is even identified with the Spirit. Mark's Jesus, on the other hand, is quite distinct from the Spirit and is completely absent until the parousia. This seems to come through throughout the gospel, not just from the 16:8 ending. Comments? Thanks.

Hmmm....I think Mark is often critical of Paul, as in Mk 10 where it looks as though Jesus' indictment of James and John is really an indictment of Paul's belief that believers will be judges. Certainly Mark doesn't blindly use Paul.

Can't comment more now. Just home from party.

Michael