MARK 8-16

A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary

Yale University Press

Copyright © 2009 Yale University
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-300-14116-0

Chapter One



The first half of Mark has been dominated by Jesus' healing miracles, in the form of both individual narratives and summary passages. But in the present section, which begins the Gospel's second half, there are only three healing narratives, and in the remainder of the Gospel there are none-until the resurrection, which in a way is the biggest healing miracle of all. Perhaps Mark would have invoked the principle of 6:5-6 to explain this diminution: in the "mystery of the dominion of God" (cf. 4:11), the opposition to God increases as the time of eschatological tribulation draws near, and even Jesus' miraculous healing power is affected. As another Gospel puts it, the night is coming, when no one can work (John 9:4).

But the three miracles that are present in 8:22-10:52 are significant, and they somewhat offset this gloomy prospect. This section contains the only Markan stories of the healing of blind people (8:22-26; 10:46-52), and these two narratives frame the entire section, which is otherwise dominated by Jesus' teaching of the disciples. This is not a haphazard arrangement. Throughout the section, the Markan disciples show themselves to be "blind"-terribly imperceptive and in need of the illumination of Jesus' teaching. They ask inane questions (9:10-11; 10:10), make stupid remarks (9:5-6), grasp for personal power (9:33-34; 10:35-40), mistake the merciful nature of Jesus' mission (9:38), and otherwise show themselves deficient in appreciating the unique way in which God's dominion is manifesting itself through Jesus (8:31-33; 9:32; 10:13-14, 24, 26, 32). Yet they also, through their representative Peter, display an insight about Jesus that transcends human knowledge (8:28-29)-although Peter immediately, and almost predictably, falls into a Satanic delusion about it (8:33). Despite such stumbles, however, the Markan disciples are on the road to clear vision (cf. 16:7). In many ways they are like the blind man in the first story who, after Jesus' initial touch, sees indistinctly and must await Jesus' second touch in order to receive perfect sight (cf. Johnson, "Blind Man," and the COMMENT on 8:22-26).

Besides these two healings of blind men, which frame the section, there is one other miracle, the exorcism of an epileptic boy in 9:14-29. This is a dramatic tale that is intimately linked with the vital subject of faith and disbelief (see 9:19, 23-24, 28-29), and it has an important structural role in the overall outline of the Gospel (see the introduction to the COMMENT on 9:14-29). The importance of all three healing miracles, moreover, is reinforced by the fact that they are linked with two other structurally significant devices in our section, the three passion predictions and the references to "the way," which fall into three clusters (see figure 21 for the interrelation of these structural devices). These juxtapositions are, again, probably no accident: the "way" of Jesus and the disciples, which ultimately leads to death in Jerusalem, is the journey on which human blindness is healed, human subjection to demonic forces terminated, and the royal power of God experienced (cf. the section's frequent references to the dominion of God).

There is significant scriptural background to this theme of the royal way of Jesus, especially in Deutero-Isaiah (see Marcus, Way, 31-37, and Watts, New Exodus, 221-94). As pointed out in the COMMENT on 1:2-3, the opening of the Gospel has already established a strong connection between the "way" of Jesus and "the way of the Lord," which is spoken of in Isa 40:3 and other Deutero-Isaian passages (Isa 35:8-10; 43:16-21; 51:9-10; 52:1-12; 62:10-12). This dual "way" now becomes the dominant motif of the Gospel, and the Deutero-Isaian context remains in view. It is not accidental, for example, that various Isaian passages link the Lord's way both with the healing of the blind (Isa 35:1-7; 42:16) and with the revelation of the dominion of God (40:1-11, esp. in the Targum, and 52:1-12). Influencing the whole section, then, is the Deutero-Isaian conception of God's "way," his triumphal progress up to Jerusalem in a saving act of holy war that will liberate and enlighten his elect people and demonstrate his gracious sovereignty over the world.

But as I have pointed out elsewhere:

An ironic twist ... has inverted the normal way of painting the Deutero-Isaian picture of victorious holy war. Jesus announces to his companions that he is going up to Jerusalem not in order to triumph over his enemies in a conventional way but in order to be killed by them. Nothing could be more antithetical to conventional notions of victory than Jesus' long prophecy of his own betrayal, condemnation, mockery, physical abuse, and execution (10:33-34). Yet, it must be forcefully added, this prophecy is not a denial of the Deutero-Isaian hope for a holy war victory; it is, rather, a radical, cross-centered adaptation of it. For those with eyes to see (see 4:9, 23), the fearful trek of the befuddled, bedraggled little band of disciples is the return of Israel to Zion, and Jesus' suffering and death there are the prophesied apocalyptic victory of the divine warrior. The same spirit that will later shape the Markan passion narrative infuses Mark 8:22-10:52, a unitary redefinition of apocalyptic eschatology that paradoxically hears in Jesus' cry of dereliction the triumph song of Yahweh's return to Zion, that paradoxically sees in his anguished, solitary death the long-awaited advent of the kingdom of God. (Way, 36)

I would now add a point made by Watts (New Exodus, 115 n. 135): this Markan redefinition of apocalyptic triumph is prefigured in Deutero-Isaiah itself. The famous "Suffering Servant" song (Isa 52:13-53:12) is located between two depictions of the glorious new exodus that will manifest God's cosmic sovereignty (52:1-12; 54:1-17), and this context perhaps suggests that for Deutero-Isaiah, as later for Mark, the Servant's suffering is the divinely appointed means for the realization of the dominion of God.

Like Deutero-Isaiah, Mark ties together the themes of suffering and divine power. Indeed, with the exception of 10:1-12, all the passages in our section have to do either explicitly or implicitly with these two themes, which for the most part alternate throughout the section (see figure 22). Thus, Mark's audience is continually reminded not only of Jesus' suffering but also of the necessity that they should participate in it, picking up their crosses and following him to the death (cf. 8:34). But this suffering is not to be embraced for its own sake. Losing one's life also means saving it (8:35), not only as an individual but also as a member of the community that "follows the Lamb wherever he goes" (Rev 14:4) and whose members find support and empowerment within that fellowship on the move-new houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, along with all their persecutions (Mark 10:29-30). If, then, those who are healed of their blindness set out with Jesus on a journey that moves toward suffering and death in Jerusalem (cf. 10:52), they also join him on the way that leads to the resurrection (8:31; 9:31; 10:34).


8 22 And they came to Bethsaida. And people brought a blind man to him and pleaded with him to touch him. 23 And taking the blind man by the hand, he led him out of the village and spat on his eyes and laid his hands on him and asked him, "Do you see anything?" 24 And he, looking up and beginning to see again, said, "I see people ... because ... I see people like walking trees." 25 Then Jesus laid his hands on his eyes again, and his sight broke through, and he was restored, and he saw all things clearly from that moment on. 26 And he sent him home, saying, "Do not even go into the village."


8 22. Bethsaida. Gk Bethsaidan. On this locality, see the NOTE on "toward Bethsaida" in 6:45. In 8:23, 26 Mark calls it a kome, or village, though elsewhere in the NT (Luke 9:10; John 1:44) and in Josephus (War 3.515) it is referred to as a polis, or city (cf. Johnson, "Blind Man," 371). The latter designation reflects the work of Herod Philip, who according to Josephus (Ant. 18.28) increased the population of the kome, built up its fortifications, and advanced its status to that of a polis, which he called "Julias" after the Emperor Augustus's daughter Julia. But calling Bethsaida a kome is not necessarily an error or a sign of a redactional seam (against, e.g., Bultmann, 213; Johnson, ibid.; with Theissen, 127). Elsewhere (Against Apion 1.197) Josephus himself quotes without demurral the comment of Hecataeus of Abdera, "The Jews have many fortresses and villages in different parts of the country, but only one fortified city," that is, Jerusalem.

people brought. Gk pherousin, lit. "they brought," another instance of the impersonal use of the third person plural (see the NOTE on "the people were amazed" in 1:22).

23. spat on his eyes. Gk ptysas eis ta ommata, lit. "having spat on his eyes." On the use of spittle in ancient healings, see the NOTE on "spat" in 7:33; for its use as an eye salve in particular, see the stories about Vespasian cited in the COMMENT on 8:22-23, as well as Pliny, Natural History 28.37.86 and Jewish Sabbath ordinances such as b. Sabb. 108b ("[To put] tasteless saliva, even on the eye, is forbidden [on the Sabbath]"; cf. Kollmann, Jesus, 235).

As noted in the introduction to the COMMENT, ommata is a more poetic term than the more usual ophthalmoi, which is used in 8:25. It is frequently employed in philosophical contexts in which physical sight becomes an image for spiritual insight; see, for example, Plato's allegory of the cave and the three texts from Philo that are referred to in the COMMENT on 8:24.

laid his hands on him. Gk epitheis tas cheiras auto, lit. "having laid his hands on him"; from the context (8:25) it is clear that this means laying hands on his eyes. The phrase about laying on of hands also occurs in healing contexts in 5:23; 6:5; 7:32; 8:25; and elsewhere in the NT. Ancient healers frequently cured by means of a magical touch of the hand, which is often portrayed both in pictorial representations and in literature (see Lohse, "Cheir," 425; Theissen, 92-93). In an Egyptian magical spell for curing a child, for example, the magician says, "My hands lie on this child, and the hands of Isis lie on him, as she lays her hands on her son Horus" (Papyrus 3027 from the Berlin Museum, cited by Behm, Handauflegung, 104). Especially close to our story is the account in an inscription in which a blind man turns toward the statue of the healing god Asclepius, lays (epitheinai) his hand (singular) on his own eyes, and begins to see again (aneblepse; on this word see the NOTE on "looking up and beginning to see again" in 8:24; Dittenberger, Sylloge 3.1173; cf. Kollmann, Jesus, 235). Although the gesture of laying on of hands for healing is absent from the OT and rabbinic literature (see Davies and Allison, 2.126 n. 15), it is present in the exorcism described in 1QapGen 20:29 ("I ... laid my hands upon his [hea]d").

Note that Tobit 11:11 (S) describes a combination of magical actions in the healing of a blind man that are similar to those in our story: Tobias first breathes on his father's eyes, an action similar to spitting on them. He then smears medicine on them, presumably with his fingers, an action similar to laying hands on them.

Do you see anything? Gk ei ti blepeis, lit. "If you see anything?" As Taylor (370-71) notes, this usage of ei with a direct question is unclassical. Some important manuscripts (e.g., [TEXT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], A, [f.sup.1, 13], the Latin and most Syriac witnesses) consequently transform it into an indirect question by changing blepeis ("you see") to blepei ("he sees"). Ei is, however, used frequently with direct questions in the LXX (e.g., Gen 17:17; 43:7, 27; 1 Sam 15:32; cf. Conybeare and Stock, Grammar ��100), where it usually translates the Hebrew interrogative particle ha (see Lagrange, 212). It is also sometimes used for 'im (which, like ei, usually means "if") as the introduction to a direct question (see, e.g., 1 Kgs 1:27 and cf. Gesenius, 473-75). The phonological similarity of 'im to ei may help explain the frequency of the translation with ei. In dependence on the LXX, ei also introduces direct questions frequently in the NT (see MHT 4.54).

24. looking up and beginning to see again. Gk anablepsas can have either of these meanings, since the prefix ana- can signify either "up" or "again" (this ambiguity is the basis for the play on words between "born from above" and "born again" in John 3:1-9). Mark uses both nuances elsewhere ("look up" in 6:41; 7:34; 16:4; "see again" in 10:51-52), so context must be used in determining the sense here. Johnson ("Blind Man," 376-77) argues that, both in the NT and in nonbiblical Greek, anablepein always means "to regain sight" when it is used in the context of blindness. But the other nuance cannot be excluded from our passage; it corresponds to Mark's graphic method of storytelling, and what the man sees-namely, people with the appearance of trees-is presumably something that one would look upward to see. Moreover, given the symbolic dimension of the verse (see the COMMENT on 8:24), it is germane that, as Johnson himself notes, anablepein frequently means "to look up to God or to heaven," as earlier in Mark at 6:41 (see also Gen 15:5; Isa 40:26; Josephus, Ant. 11.64). Mark, then, may intend both nuances of anablepein, hence the translation "looking up and beginning to see again."

I see people ... because ... I see people like walking trees. Gk blepo tous anthropous hoti hos dendra horo peripatountas, lit. "I see people because as trees I see walking-around-ones." Blepo and horo are synonyms; the fact that two synonymous verbs are used is part of the passage's extraordinary richness of epistemological vocabulary (see the COMMENT on 8:25-26). The sentence, however, is awkward, and this awkwardness has caused manuscripts such as D to omit both hoti and horo, leaving "I see people as walking trees"; but on the principle that the more difficult text is usually original, this smoother reading is probably secondary.

Scholars have sometimes explained the awkwardness as the mistranslation of an Aramaic original. Allen ("Aramaic Element," 330), for example, thinks that hoti = "because" is a mistranslation of the Aramaic de, which can also mean "who"; the original, then, read "I see people whom I see as walking trees." Black (Aramaic Approach, 53-54) opines that the underlying Aramaic employed a construction in which the subject or object of a subordinate clause is displaced to become the subject or object of a main clause, thus giving it special emphasis; the Aramaic original read "I see people that like trees they are walking" and meant simply "I see that people are walking like trees" (cf. the similar constructions in Mark 7:2; 11:32; and 12:34). But both of these reconstructions leave unexplained the Markan repetition of verbs for seeing, and Allen's is implausible because almost any translator would know that Aramaic de can mean "who." While mistranslation of an Aramaic original may be a partial explanation for the disjointed Markan syntax, it is also possible that the grammar is meant to mirror the fractured perception being described.


Excerpted from MARK 8-16by JOEL MARCUS Copyright © 2009 by Yale University. Excerpted by permission.
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