Sunday, January 21, 2018

Separating a Man from His Cage

Below is a rough translation and some initial comments regarding Mark 1:21-28, the Revised Common Lectionary reading for the fourth Sunday after Epiphany. My rough translation is in bold, my comments are in blue. There are occasional red letter texts, which are for the structural note that I have at the bottom. Feel free to ignore them. 


I’m really struck with the synthesis of identity and difference when it comes to this man, who is “in an unclean spirit.” The man and the unclean spirit are identical in some ways – one would encounter both at the same time, it would be the man’s mouth moving as the unclean spirit is talking, etc. And they are different in some ways – most clearly seen as the spirit comes out of the man. What I am calling “a man and his cage” is the synthesis of both the sameness between the two and the difference between the two. It seems to me that ignoring either the identity or the difference could be problematic. If we merely saw the unclean spirit as a different entity than the man, we would be ignoring the genuine tragedy of his life, the degree to which this unclean spirit has damaged his psyche, his body, his relationships, his ability to be productive or loving or happy. If we merely saw the sameness, we would be reducing his humanity to his situation. It seems to me that the full dimension of this man’s tragic situation is being honored by the way Mark is describing him in this story.

21 Καὶ εἰσπορεύονται εἰς Καφαρναούμ. καὶ εὐθὺς τοῖς σάββασιν εἰσελθὼν εἰς τὴν συναγωγὴν ἐδίδασκεν.
And they are entering into Capernaum. And immediately on the Sabbath having come into the synagogue he was teaching. 
εἰσπορεύονται: PMI 3p, εἰσπορεύομαι, 1) to go into, enter  1a) of persons  1b) of things  1b1) to be carried into or put into  
εἰσελθὼν: AAPart nms, εἰσέρχομαι, 1) to go out or come in: to enter  1a) of men or animals, as into a house or a city  \
ἐδίδασκεν: IAI 3s, διδάσκω, 1) to teach  1a) to hold discourse with others in order to instruct them
1. I am using ‘entering’ for εἰσπορεύονται because it is in the middle voice.
2. The subject is “they,” indicating that Jesus is accompanied by the four followers whom he has called.
3. There is some question about the meaning of Mark’s frequent use of “immediately.” In this case, it cannot mean that this encounter happened ‘immediately’ after the previous pericope, when Jesus calls the fishers, because they would not have been mending nets on the Sabbath. Likewise, ‘on the Sabbath’ seems to indicate a new time context for the story, so ‘immediately’ seems unnecessary as a referent to time.
4. The place context for this encounter is the synagogue, pointing to the irony of an unclean spirit in a holy place.

22 καὶ ἐξεπλήσσοντο ἐπὶ τῇ διδαχῇ αὐτοῦ, ἦν γὰρ διδάσκων αὐτοὺς ὡς ἐξουσίαν ἔχων καὶ οὐχ ὡς οἱ γραμματεῖς.
And they were astounded at his teaching, for he was teaching them as having authority and not as the Scribes.   
ἐξεπλήσσοντο: IPI 3p, ἐκπλήσσω amazed, to be exceedingly struck in mind (from ἐκ intensive, and πλήσσω to strike).
ἦν: IAI 3s, εἰμί, 1) to be, to exist, to happen, to be present
διδάσκων: PAPart nms, διδάσκω, 1) to teach  1a) to hold discourse with others in order to instruct them,
ἔχων: PAPart nms, ἔχω, 1) to have, i.e. to hold  1a) to have (hold) in the hand, in the sense of wearing, to have  (hold) possession of the mind (refers to alarm, agitating  emotions, etc.)
1.  Are the ‘they’ of v.22 and the ‘they’ of v.21 (both implied by the plural form of the verb) the same? I typically see this a referring to those who are gathered for teaching at the synagogue on the Sabbath, but could it mean the four new followers? I suspect it is a larger crowd, who come back into play in v.27.
2. The two options here are ‘teaching as having authority’ or ‘teaching as the scribes.’ I don’t take this to be a harsh criticism of the scribes, as if their teaching were boring, wrong, or weak. In fact, my suspicion is that “teaching as the scribes” is exactly what people expect in the synagogue – their teaching is a close adherence to the scripture, their authority is subordinated to the authority of Moses or the prophets, etc. The scribes’ teaching would be biblical teaching. For Jesus to be ‘teaching as having authority,’ might be something like the Matthean phrase, “You have heard it was said (in the scriptures) …, but I say to you ….”
3. If Jesus is teaching as if he, and not Moses, has authority, it is not unusual that the listeners would be ‘astounded,’ the root of which is ‘to strike.’ At this point, the astonishment may be an impressed, bewildered, or scandalized sort. 

23 καὶ εὐθὺς ἦν ἐν τῇ συναγωγῇ αὐτῶν ἄνθρωπος ἐν πνεύματι ἀκαθάρτῳ, καὶ ἀνέκραξεν
And immediately there was in their synagogue a man in an unclean spirit, and it squawked out. 
ἦν: IAI 3s, εἰμί, 1) to be, to exist, to happen, to be present
ἀνέκραξεν: AAI 3s, ἀνακράζω, 1) to raise a cry from the depth of the throat, to cry out
1. “A man in an unclean spirit,” what a powerful description. My spouse recently alerted me to an article, “The Likely Cause of Addiction Has Been Discovered, and It’s Not What You Think” (Johann Hari, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/johann-hari/the-real-cause-of-addicti_b_6506936.html), which separated persons with addiction from their addictions. The entire article is worth reading, but this comment is especially poignant with reference to this man: “It's not you. It's your cage.” I find the gospels to be very perceptive in their language about persons with demons, acknowledging that the demonization is part of the person’s reality, but not the person himself.
2. For that reason, I am translating the implied subject of “cried out” as “it” and not as “he.” I attribute the voice to the unclean spirit, in which the man is caged, as opposed to the man himself. (I will continue using ‘it,’ even when the gender of future references are male).
3. I have read that the verb ἀνακράζω is something like an onomatopoeia, to capture the loud croaking of a bird. Hence, “squawked,” which does the same.
4. We should notice that there is an unclean spirit in the sanctuary. I wonder if this is a criticism, as some commenters suggest, because the sanctuary is supposed to be holy and this one is defiled; or, if it is an apt description of human worship: The place where we encounter the holiness of God is always also a place where we encounter human uncleanliness.
5. This verse is awkwardly separated from the next verse, even though together they complies one single sentence. I will suggest below that whoever added verse separations to this text is trying to reflect Mark’s chiastic structure.

24 λέγων, Τί ἡμῖν καὶ σοί, Ἰησοῦ Ναζαρηνέ; ἦλθες ἀπολέσαι ἡμᾶς; οἶδά σε τίς εἶ, ὁ ἅγιος τοῦ θεοῦ.
Saying, “What to us and to you, Jesus Nazarean?  Have you come to destroy us?   I have seen who you are, the holy of the God.
λέγων: PAPart nsm, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak
ἦλθες: AAI 2s, ἔρχομαι, 1) to come  1a) of persons  1a1) to come from one place to another, and used both of  persons arriving and of those returning
ἀπολέσαι: AAInf, ἀπόλλυμι, 1) to destroy  1a) to put out of the way entirely, abolish, put an end to ruin
οἶδά: PerfAI 1s, εἴδω, ἴδω, an obsol. form of the present tense, the place of which is supplied by ὁράω. The tenses coming from εἴδω and retained by usage form two families, of which one signifies to see, the other to know.
1. The question – “What to you and us?” – is a curious one, but not without some precedent. II Kings 3:13a in the LXX reads, καὶ εἶπεν Ελισαιε πρὸς βασιλέα Ισραηλ Τί ἐμοὶ καὶ σοί; And Elisha said to a King of Israel, “What to you and to me?” According to John Donohue and Daniel Harrington (The Gospel of Mark, Sacra Pagina Series, Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press. 2002), this is a question of whether the speaker and listener share a common community.
2. “I have seen you who you are”: The unclean spirit's words could be “I have known you who you are,” since the word ἴδω, which means ‘see,’ can signify ‘knowing’ just like the English phrase, “Oh, I see.” Either way, it is in the perfect tense, even though most translations make it present tense.
3. There is a change of voice in the words of the unclean spirit. From “us and you … destroy us  to “I have seen.” Again, I see this as a way or recognizing the complexity of someone “in” an unclean spirit, where the man and the unclean spirit are one in some ways, and are not one in others.
4. I do not know what the title “Jesus Nazarene” implies. It puts me in mind of Nathanael’s question, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” in John 1 – not as an intertextual reference but to suggest that Nazareth might have carried a notably questionable reputation among some of the communities to whom the gospels were addressed.
5. “The holy one of God” could be translated “the saint of God” if one wants to stir things up a bit.

25 καὶ ἐπετίμησεν αὐτῷ ὁ Ἰησοῦς λέγων, Φιμώθητι καὶ ἔξελθε ἐξ αὐτοῦ.
And Jesus censured it saying, “Be silent and come out out of him.” 
ἐπετίμησεν: AAI 3s, ἐπιτιμάω, 1) to show honor to, to honor 2) to raise the price of  3) to adjudge, award, in the sense of merited penalty
λέγων: PAPart nsm, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak
Φιμώθητι: APImpv 2s, φιμόω, 1) to close the mouth with a muzzle, to muzzle   2) metaph.   2a) to stop the mouth, make speechless, reduce to silence
ἔξελθε: AAImpv 2s, ἐξέρχομαι, 1) to go or come forth of  1a) with mention of the place out of which one goes, or the  point from which he departs 
1. The verb ἐπιτιμάω, which I have translated as “censured,” is very curious because its primary meaning is “to honor” but a tertiary meaning is “to penalize.” The context here simply does not allow “honored.” However, I will be wondering this week about how a word can mean both “to honor” or “to censure.” For example, must Jesus recognize the unclean spirit as a genuine force and take it seriously before commanding it to be silent and to exit?
2. As the narrator, Mark is using the singular to refer to the unclean spirit. Jesus is not talking to “them” as the unclean spirit and the man, but is separating them.
3. The command to “be silent” is one of those moments in Mark’s gospel that is categorized as part of the “messianic secret.” Since Bible readers suppose that it is a good thing to tell the good news to everyone everywhere, Mark’s frequent commands to silence seem to show a very deliberate approach on Jesus’ part. What we don’t know is “Why?” Some of the answers I have heard are:
a. Jesus is trying to control the extent of the message. Mark makes several references to Jesus’ popularity and at times it seems to be getting out of control and interfering with his purposes of training the 12, going to Jerusalem, etc.
b. Jesus is trying to control the timing of the message. Based on Mark 9:9, where Jesus orders Peter, James, and John to tell no one about the transfiguration “until after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead,” some argue that the issue of the messianic secret is timing.
c.  Mark is trying to explain answer the question, “If this Jesus is so great, why have we not heard about him before?” Some of the folks in the Jesus Seminar seem to be moving in this direction, that the ‘messianic secret’ motif is basically an apologetic move on the narrator’s part.
d. My sentiments lie with a 4th possibility: Jesus is trying to control the shape of the message. In numerous places in Mark’s gospel – particularly Jesus’ rough exchange with Simon Peter in 8:31-38 and the entry into Jerusalem in 11:1-11, Jesus will not separate any notion of his messiahship, kingship, or lordship apart from his destiny to be rejected, suffer, die, and be raised on the 3rd day – all of which are things that happen to him, which he endures as the messiah.

e. Having said that, I have lately begun to favor a 5th possibility, which I have not read among scholars, so one ought to take it with two grains of salt. My sense is that the gospel of Mark is doing two things: 1) Heralding the good news about Jesus; and 2) Propagating the movement of the Reign of God. Obviously the two cannot be fully separated and each is interactively dependent on the other. But, my feeling is that Mark is not promoting a Jesus cult; where Jesus alone is the location of God and Jesus alone is the message itself. Jesus himself says, “If any will be my disciple, let them take up their cross ….” The way to follow Jesus is to participate, to be part of the movement that Jesus is announcing. The reign of God is realized in Jesus; and Jesus points beyond himself for his disciples to be a part of it. I see the occasional “tell no one” events less as a “secret” than a redirection, away from simply being amazed at and broadcasting how greatly Jesus is the embodiment of the reign of God toward participating in it oneself.

26 καὶ σπαράξαν αὐτὸν τὸ πνεῦμα τὸ ἀκάθαρτον καὶ φωνῆσαν φωνῇ μεγάλῃ ἐξῆλθεν ἐξ αὐτοῦ.
And having convulsed him and having cried out a great cry the unclean spirit went out of him. 
σπαράξαν: AAPart nns, σπαράσσω, 1) to convulse, tear 
φωνῆσαν: AAPart nns, φωνέω, 1) to sound, emit a sound, to speak   1a) of a cock: to crow   1b) of men: to cry, cry out, cry aloud, speak with a loud voice
ἐξῆλθεν: AAI 3s, ἐξέρχομαι, 1) to go or come forth of  1a) with mention of the place out of which one goes, or the  point from which he departs
1. “a great cry”: the noun φωνῇ is often translated “voice,” but I am trying to keep the etymological connection with the verb φωνέω that is paired with it.
2. In this verse, the identity of the unclean spirit and the man caged in that spirit is utterly broken and become thoroughly separated.
3. The verb “went out” is repeated in v.28 below. See the comment there.

27 καὶ ἐθαμβήθησαν ἅπαντες, ὥστε συζητεῖν πρὸς ἑαυτοὺς λέγοντας, Τί ἐστιν τοῦτο; διδαχὴ καινὴ κατ' ἐξουσίαν: καὶ τοῖς πνεύμασι τοῖς ἀκαθάρτοις ἐπιτάσσει, καὶ ὑπακούουσιν αὐτῷ.
And all were amazed, so that to ask to each other saying, “What is this?  This teaching with authority?  Even to the unclean spirits he commands, and they listen to him.” 
ἐθαμβήθησαν: API 3p, θαμβέω, 1) to be astonished
συζητεῖν: PAInf, συζητέω, 1) to seek or examine together 2) in the NT to discuss, dispute, question
λέγοντας: PAPart apm, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak
ἐστιν: PAI 3s, εἰμί, 1) to be, to exist, to happen, to be present
ἐπιτάσσει: PAI 3s, ἐπιτάσσω, 1) to enjoin upon, order, command, charge 
ὑπακούουσιν: PAI 3p, ὑπακούω, 1) to listen, to harken  1a) of one who on the knock at the door comes to listen who it is
1. The verb θαμβέω (amazed) here is different from the verb ἐκπλήσσω (astounded)  in v.22. Both are in regard to Jesus “teaching with authority.”

28 καὶ ἐξῆλθεν ἡ ἀκοὴ αὐτοῦ εὐθὺς πανταχοῦ εἰς ὅλην τὴν περίχωρον τῆς Γαλιλαίας.
And the report of him went out immediately all places in the whole region of Galilee. 
ἐξῆλθεν: AAI 3s, ἐξέρχομαι, 1) to go or come forth of  1a) with mention of the place out of which one goes, or the  point from which he departs
1. The verb ἐξέρχομαι (“went out”) appears again, as in v.26. The unclean spirit goes out; the report (or ‘the hearing’) about Jesus goes out. I’m not sure what to make of this observation.  

This text has a chiastic structure (from the Greek ‘chi’, which is shaped X). Chiasms appear fairly often in the NT, but this is one of the most obvious ones that I’ve ever seen. It is not alway clear what to do with a chiastic structure once one has identified it. I would suggest reading the comments below, where David Cox offers some great insights for us. Thanks to David for taking the time to share his thoughts. 

21. And he was coming into Capernaum.  And immediately on the Sabbath having come into the synagogue he was teaching. 
22. And they were amazed about the teaching of him, for he was teaching them as having authority and not as the Scribes.  
23. And immediately there was in their synagogue a man in an unclean spirit, and it squawked out 
24. saying, “What to us and to you, Jesus Nazarean?  Have you come to destroy us?  I have seen who you are, the holy of the God.
25. And Jesus censured him saying, “Be silent and come out of him.” 
26. And convulsing him the unclean spirit and crying out a great voice went out of him.  
27. And were amazed all, so that to ask to each other saying, “Who is this?  This teaching with authority?  And to the unclean spirits he commands, and they listen to him. 
28. And the report of him went out immediately all places into the whole region of Galilee. 


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