Temptations in the wilderness (Mk 1:13-1:13)

“Jesus was

In the wilderness

Forty days.

He was

Tempted by Satan.

He was

With the wild beasts.

The angels

Ministered to him.”

 

καὶ ἦν ἐν τῇ ἐρήμῳ τεσσεράκοντα ἡμέρας πειραζόμενος ὑπὸ τοῦ Σατανᾶ, καὶ ἦν μετὰ τῶν θηρίων, καὶ οἱ ἄγγελοι διηκόνουν αὐτῷ.

 

Mark has an abbreviated description of the temptations of Jesus compared to Matthew, chapter 4:2-11, and Luke, chapter 4:2-13.  Jesus was in the wilderness 40 days (καὶ ἦν ἐν τῇ ἐρήμῳ τεσσεράκοντα ἡμέρας).  All 3 synoptics agree on the 40 days, since there was a symbolism to this number with the 40 years that the Israelites were in the wilderness during the Exodus.  All agree that Jesus was tempted by Satan or the devil (πειραζόμενος ὑπὸ τοῦ Σατανᾶ).  Satan was the adversary or the accuser after the Persian influence on the Israelites after the exile.  The older devil concept was considered a fallen angel without all the powers of God, but nevertheless very strong.  Sometimes the devil was referred to as the personification of evil.  Why was Jesus tempted?  God, the Father, Yahweh, often tested the righteous ones and the prophets in the Hebrew Bible.  Luke and Matthew are very similar with their detailed account of these 3 temptations.  Mark does not mention Jesus fasting or any of the 3 specific detailed temptations that are in Luke and Matthew.  Jesus was with the wild beasts (καὶ ἦν μετὰ τῶν θηρίων), but this remark was not found in the longer detailed descriptions of Matthew and Luke, only here.  Mark makes it seem like the temptation was physical or like the fear of wild animals.  Then the angels ministered to him (καὶ οἱ ἄγγελοι διηκόνουν αὐτῷ).  This is somewhat similar to Matthew, chapter 4:11, but there were no angels ministering to Jesus in Luke, chapter 4:13.  Here, a number of angels came, as in 1 Kings, chapter 19:4-8, where an angel came to help Elijah when he was in the desert, as the shadow of Elijah appeared in many of these gospel stories.  These angels came to wait on and care for Jesus.

They go the Mount of Olives (Mt 26:30-26:30)

“When they had sung

The hymns,

They went out

To the Mount of Olives.”

 

Καὶ ὑμνήσαντες ἐξῆλθον εἰς τὸ ὄρος τῶν Ἐλαιῶν.

 

This is exactly word for word in Mark, chapter 14:26, and similar in Luke, chapter 22:39.  Both Matthew and Mark agree that after they had sung the praise hymns (Καὶ ὑμνήσαντες), they went out to the hill or the Mount of Olives (ἐξῆλθον εἰς τὸ ὄρος τῶν Ἐλαιῶν).  The hymns that they would have sung would be the Hallel Psalms 115-118, that were usually associated with the Passover service.  The Mount of Olives was about 2 miles east of the old city of Jerusalem, where many people had been buried for thousands of years.  Thus, when Jesus and his 12 disciples had finished with their Passover hymn singing of the Hallel psalms, they went outside the city about 2 miles to this graveyard where there was a hill with a lot of olive trees on it.

Anointing for burial (Mt 26:11-26:12)

“You will always

Have the poor

With you.

But you will not always

Have me.

By pouring this ointment

On my body

She has prepared me

For burial.”

 

πάντοτε γὰρ τοὺς πτωχοὺς ἔχετε μεθ’ ἑαυτῶν, ἐμὲ δὲ οὐ πάντοτε ἔχετε·

βαλοῦσα γὰρ αὕτη τὸ μύρον τοῦτο ἐπὶ τοῦ σώματός μου πρὸς τὸ ἐνταφιάσαι με ἐποίησεν

 

This is almost word for word in Mark, chapter 14:7-8, and somewhat similar to John, chapter 12:7-8.  Jesus said that they would always have the poor with them (πάντοτε γὰρ τοὺς πτωχοὺς ἔχετε μεθ’ ἑαυτῶν).  In other words, there would be no immediate solution to the difficulties of poverty that has persisted for over 2,000 years.  However, they would not always have Jesus (ἐμὲ δὲ οὐ πάντοτε ἔχετε).  She had anointed his body with oil (βαλοῦσα γὰρ αὕτη τὸ μύρον τοῦτο ἐπὶ τοῦ σώματός μου) as a preparation for his burial (πρὸς τὸ ἐνταφιάσαι με ἐποίησεν).  Instead of a royal, prophetic, or priestly anointing, this was a burial anointing according to the Jewish customs at that time.

The woman with the hemorrhage (Mt 9:20-9:21)

“A woman,

Who had suffered

From hemorrhages

For twelve years,

Came up behind him.

She touched

The fringe

Of his cloak.

She said to herself.

‘If I only touch

His cloak,

I will be made well.’”

 

Καὶ ἰδοὺ γυνὴ αἱμορροοῦσα δώδεκα ἔτη προσελθοῦσα ὄπισθεν ἥψατο τοῦ κρασπέδου τοῦ ἱματίου αὐτοῦ·

ἔλεγεν γὰρ ἐν ἑαυτῇ Ἐὰν μόνον ἅψωμαι τοῦ ἱματίου αὐτοῦ σωθήσομαι.

 

This episode about the woman with hemorrhages interrupts the story about the leader and his dead daughter.  However, it can be found in Mark, chapter 5:25-29, and Luke, chapter 8:43-44, except that Mark and Luke have a more elaborate story, about her background.  Interesting enough, the word that Matthew uses for hemorrhages (αἱμορροοῦσα) is only found here, but nowhere else in the biblical literature.  Mark and Luke said that she had flowing blood.  All agree that she had been suffering for 12 years with this bleeding (Καὶ ἰδοὺ γυνὴ αἱμορροοῦσα δώδεκα ἔτη).  She came up behind Jesus (προσελθοῦσα ὄπισθεν).  She wanted to touch the fringe or the tassel edge of his cloak (ἥψατο τοῦ κρασπέδου τοῦ ἱματίου αὐτοῦ).  These fringes (κρασπέδου) or bottom tassels often reminded people about the 10 commandments.  She was thinking to herself (ἔλεγεν γὰρ ἐν ἑαυτῇ), that if she only touched his cloak or garment (Ἐὰν μόνον ἅψωμαι τοῦ ἱματίου αὐτοῦ), she would be healed or cured (σωθήσομαι).

Jesus fasted for 40 days and 40 nights (Mt 4:2-4:2)

“Jesus fasted

Forty days

And forty nights.

Afterwards,

He was hungry.”

 

καὶ νηστεύσας ἡμέρας τεσσεράκοντα καὶ τεσσεράκοντα νύκτας ὕστερον ἐπείνασεν.

 

Once again, this text is like Luke, chapter 4:2, word for word, indicating a common source, perhaps the Q source.  There was a symbolism in this fast of 40 days (ἡμέρας τεσσεράκοντα) and 40 nights (καὶ τεσσεράκοντα νύκτας).  Fasting (νηστεύσας) was a common Hebrew exercise, while 40 was the same number of years that the Israelites were in the wilderness during the Exodus.  This was a real fast, not one that ended when the sun went down, since it included a night fast also.  Jesus was really hungry of famished (ἐπείνασεν) at the end of this time. (ὕστερον).

Limitations of the Bible

The difficulty with all these interpretations hangs on the question whether this is the word of God or man’s word?  Every reading of the Bible is an interpretation.  Who decided which books belong in the bible?  This was not decided until over 300 hundred years after Christ.  Many of the Christian churches have different books in the Old Testament.  How can you have justification from the texts themselves?  There have many weird interpretations of the Bible.  The Bible has had a history under the influence of God’s Spirit.  The Bible should not be watered down.

Jesus Seminar failure

The Jesus Seminar was a group of about 150 critical Biblical scholars founded in 1985 by Robert Funk (1926-2005).  Although never formally disbanded, the seminar effectively ceased functioning in 2006.  Their goal was to reconstruct the historical Jesus and find out what exactly Jesus said.  The result was that they portrayed Jesus as an itinerant Hellenistic Jewish sage, a faith-healer, who preached a gospel of liberation from injustice.  However, they believed that Jesus did not hold an apocalyptic worldview, as indicated in the canonical writings.  The methods and conclusions of the Jesus Seminar came under very harsh criticism by some biblical scholars, historians, and clergy.  However, this Jesus Seminar produced a significant number of publications for over 20 years, especially articles about the Gospel of Thomas.

The common language at the time of Jesus

After the Babylonian captivity, Aramaic replaced Biblical Hebrew as the everyday language in Israel.  However, Biblical Hebrew was still used for religious purposes.  After Alexander the Great, the Ptolemies and the Seleucids ruled Israel for almost two hundred years.  Thus, the Jewish culture was heavily influenced by this Hellenistic culture.  Koine Greek was used not only for international communication, but also as the first language of some Jews.  This development was furthered complicated by the fact that the largest Jewish community in the world lived in Ptolemaic Alexandria, Egypt.  Many of these diaspora Jews would have Greek as their first language.  Thus, first the Torah, and then other Hebrew scriptures, were translated into standard Koine Greek, the Septuagint.

The Law

The Law, the Torah, or the Pentateuch, consisted of first five books that were developed over a number of years, but firmly established around 400 BCE.  The five books of the Pentateuch include Genesis, a 10th-5th century BCE writing about the pre-existence of the Israelites, and the particular stories of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph.  The Exodus, finished around 450 BCE, recalls the story of Moses and how he led the Israelites out of Egypt for years in the desert.  Leviticus and Numbers, worked on between 550-400 BCE, lay out the particular codes, rules and regulations for the Israelites, as well the numbers of people that were involved in the exodus from Egypt.  Deuteronomy, developed in the 7th-6th century BCE, told the story of Moses in the wilderness with emphasis on the laws of the heart.  This Law or Torah explained the early or pre-history of the Israelites before they entered the promised land.  These books also contained all the commands, statutes, or rules for the Israelites after they entered the promised land.  All further Jewish developments were based on the Torah or the Law.

The town of Byblos

Byblos was the Greek name for an important ancient Phoenician city sometimes called Gebal.  Today the town of Byblos is 25 miles north of Beirut, Lebanon, in the Mount Lebanon area on the Mediterranean seacoast.  There have been inhabitants in this town continuously for over 5,000 years.  Byblos had a major papyrus trade between Greece and Egypt.  Thus, the Greek name of Byblos came to dominate.  In fact, some Byblos written inscriptions that were discovered in the 20th century, date from around 1,700 to 1,400 BCE.