Historical Commentary on the Gospel of Mark
|1: They came to the other side of the sea, to the country of the Ger'asenes. 2: And when he had come out of the boat, there met him out of the tombs a man with an unclean spirit, 3: who lived among the tombs; and no one could bind him any more, even with a chain; 4: for he had often been bound with fetters and chains, but the chains he wrenched apart, and the fetters he broke in pieces; and no one had the strength to subdue him. 5: Night and day among the tombs and on the mountains he was always crying out, and bruising himself with stones. 6: And when he saw Jesus from afar, he ran and worshiped him; 7: and crying out with a loud voice, he said, "What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I adjure you by God, do not torment me." 8: For he had said to him, "Come out of the man, you unclean spirit!" 9: And Jesus asked him, "What is your name?" He replied, "My name is Legion; for we are many." 10: And he begged him eagerly not to send them out of the country. 11: Now a great herd of swine was feeding there on the hillside; 12: and they begged him, "Send us to||the swine, let us enter them." 13: So he gave them leave. And the unclean spirits came out, and entered the swine; and the herd, numbering about two thousand, rushed down the steep bank into the sea, and were drowned in the sea. 14: The herdsmen fled, and told it in the city and in the country. And people came to see what it was that had happened. 15: And they came to Jesus, and saw the demoniac sitting there, clothed and in his right mind, the man who had had the legion; and they were afraid. 16: And those who had seen it told what had happened to the demoniac and to the swine. 17: And they began to beg Jesus to depart from their neighborhood. 18: And as he was getting into the boat, the man who had been possessed with demons begged him that he might be with him. 19: But he refused, and said to him, "Go home to your friends, and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you." 20: And he went away and began to proclaim in the Decap'olis how much Jesus had done for him; and all men marveled.|
|1: They came to the other side of the sea, to the country of the Ger'asenes.|
Gerasenes. In some manuscripts Gadarenes,
and others Gergasenes. Gerasa
is thirty miles from the Sea of Galilee, and thus the idea of pigs
galloping all those miles to toss themselves into the water is a bit of
a stretch, even for a miracle. Consequently, this verse is "corrected"
in many manuscripts to cities closer to the Sea of Galilee. Ched Myers
Hedrick (1999), reviewing the story of Apollonius of Tyana by
|2: And when he had come out of the boat, there met him out of the tombs a man with an unclean spirit, 3: who lived among the tombs; and no one could bind him any more, even with a chain; 4: for he had often been bound with fetters and chains, but the chains he wrenched apart, and the fetters he broke in pieces; and no one had the strength to subdue him. 5: Night and day among the tombs and on the mountains he was always crying out, and bruising himself with stones.|
Gundry (1993, p258) also identifies a number of commonalities
with the LXX version of Isa 65:1-7, which includes pigs, demons, tombs,
mountains, and an attempt to keep others away. There are even
in the Greek. Our modern version, which is slightly different, runs:
|7: and crying out with a loud voice, he said, "What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I adjure you by God, do not torment me."|
Josephus reports in Book Eight of Antiquities of the Jews:
|8: For he had said to him, "Come out of the man, you unclean spirit!"|
|v8: the Greek is "difficult." The RSV has chosen the simplest version here, but it should read, more correctly, "for he had been about to say to the man," or something similar rather than "for he had said" (Donahue and Harrington 2002, p165). The RSV's approach is preferred by many pious translators because the Greek may make it appear that Jesus has hitherto been unsuccessful in getting the demon to leave, implying that there are limitations to Jesus' power.|
|9: And Jesus asked him, "What is your name?" He replied, "My name is Legion; for we are many."|
Jesus is presented in this pericope as a typical magic worker of
the day. Hoskyns and Davey (1931) note:
David Frankfurter (1987) writes:
|20: And he went away and began to proclaim in the Decap'olis how much Jesus had done for him; and all men marveled.|
|v20: Decapolis: a group of ten city states east of Samaria and Galilee: Damascus, Philadelphia, Raphana, Scythopolis, Gadara, Hippos, Dion, Pella, Gerasa, and Canatha, according to Pliny the Elder. This is probably the first time the word "Decapolis" occurs in ancient literature (Meier 1994, p653), depending on how the Gospel of Mark is dated.|
This pericope is obviously unhistorical, containing several miracles and certain geographic absurdities. "The country of the Gerasenes" is thirty miles from the Sea of Galilee, not directly adjacent. However, Gundry (1993, p256) suggests that this may refer to the modern town of Kursi, which sounds a bit like Gergasa. The miraculous aspects of this story rule it out as a historical event. It contains numerous Markan themes and motifs -- boats, the shore, crowds, and crowds amazed at Jesus' powers. And most miraculously, in v15 the demoniac shows up dressed and ready to go. Where did the clothing come from? Must be a miracle!
A number of other possible sources have been suggested. Macdonald (2000) argues that this scene is based on the story of Polyphemus the one-eyed giant from the Odyssey (summarized on this site) and the story of Circe, who turns Odysseus' men into pigs.
Many New Testament scholars see a reference to a Roman legion occupying Palestine, either Legio 1 Italica, which had as its legionary standard a boar and was in the east in around 67, or more likely Legio X Fretensis, which had among its standards a bull, a tireme, a dolphin, and a boar, and was responsible for occupying Jerusalem after the Jewish War (ended 70 CE), staying into the fourth century. After 70 it was stationed in Gerasa for a while (Winter 1974, p180-181). Against this interpretation is the fact that Gerasa is in Gentile rather than Jewish territory, where the legion would not have been viewed so negatively (Donahue and Harrington 2002, p166). However, in the second century Legio X was made the sole occupying legion of "Syria Palestina" (Hadrian's abusive name for the Jewish homeland), so a later date for Mark might be indicated. In addition to the symbol of the pig itself, Myers (1988, p191) points out that this pericope is saturated with military terminology. The term agele that the writer uses for a "herd" of pigs is often used to denote a gaggle of new recruits for the military, the Greek term epetrepsen ("he dismissed them") echoes a military command, and the pigs' charge (ormesen) into the lake sounds like a military attack.
Cliff Carrington in his Flavian
Testament has also pointed out some parallels between this and a
in Josephus, where Jewish rebels, led by a rebel named Jesus (son of
are chased into the nearby lake and killed by Titus' army. Myers (1988,
p191) also sees possible Josephean parallels, with both War 4.9.1, and Antiquities 14.15.10. Joseph Atwill
(2005) who in a forthcoming book uncovers
a number of resonances between the fighting around Gadara and this
general level, enemy soldiers killed by drowning recalls the fate of
Pharaoh's army in the Red Sea.
The structure of the pericope is laid out below:
Whatever its source, nothing in this pericope supports
|21: And when Jesus had crossed again in the boat to the other side, a great crowd gathered about him; and he was beside the sea. 22: Then came one of the rulers of the synagogue, Ja'irus by name; and seeing him, he fell at his feet, 23: and besought him, saying, "My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well, and live." 24: And he went with him. And a great crowd followed him and thronged about him. 25: And there was a woman who had had a flow of blood for twelve years, 26: and who had suffered much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had, and was no better but rather grew worse. 27: She had heard the reports about Jesus, and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his garment. 28: For she said, "If I touch even his garments, I shall be made well." 29: And immediately the hemorrhage ceased; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease. 30: And Jesus, perceiving in himself that power had gone forth from him, immediately turned about in the crowd, and said, "Who touched my garments?" 31: And his disciples said to him, "You see the crowd pressing around you, and yet you say, `Who touched me?'" 32: And he looked around to see who had done it.||33: But the woman, knowing what had been done to her, came in fear and trembling and fell down before him, and told him the whole truth. 34: And he said to her, "Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease." 35: While he was still speaking, there came from the ruler's house some who said, "Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the Teacher any further?" 36: But ignoring what they said, Jesus said to the ruler of the synagogue, "Do not fear, only believe." 37: And he allowed no one to follow him except Peter and James and John the brother of James. 38: When they came to the house of the ruler of the synagogue, he saw a tumult, and people weeping and wailing loudly. 39: And when he had entered, he said to them, "Why do you make a tumult and weep? The child is not dead but sleeping." 40: And they laughed at him. But he put them all outside, and took the child's father and mother and those who were with him, and went in where the child was. 41: Taking her by the hand he said to her, "Tal'itha cu'mi"; which means, "Little girl, I say to you, arise." 42: And immediately the girl got up and walked (she was twelve years of age), and they were immediately overcome with amazement. 43: And he strictly charged them that no one should know this, and told them to give her something to eat.|
|21: And when Jesus had crossed again in the boat to the other side, a great crowd gathered about him; and he was beside the sea.|
|v21: back on the other side, Jesus is now in Jewish territory again. In Mark the Sea of Galilee functions as a symbolic boundary between the Jews and the Gentiles in some interpretations of the gospel. In a classic study in 1963, Bornkamm argued that the boat in Mark represented the Church (the ship on the sea was a symbol of the Church among primitive Christians and is used even today in the logo of the World Council of Churches) (Myers 1988, p230). This bringing together of Gentiles and Jews under the dominion of Jesus is a strong Pauline theme refracted in Mark through the boat trips across the Sea of Galilee.|
|22: Then came one of the rulers of the synagogue, Ja'irus by name; and seeing him, he fell at his feet,|
|v22: Jairus' name means "He will awaken/enlighten," another clue as to the constructed nature of this miracle. Against this Meier (1994, p783, p847n44) argues that this name is well-attested in the OT, in Josephus, and elsewhere. Unfortunately the historical existence of the name "Jairus" is not an argument against the writer's construction of it here.|
Steve Carr (2004) points out:
|25: And there was a woman who had had a flow of blood for twelve years,|
Although the bleeding is traditionally seen as vaginal, the writer does
not explicitly say so.
flow of blood
recalls Lev 12:7
|v25: the writer increases the misery of the woman by noting that she has spent all her money, suffered under the care of many doctors, and yet has grown worse over the years.|
|v25: William Loader (2004) points out that the woman, in a state of permanent ritual uncleanness, is as dead socially as the young girl is physically.|
|27: She had heard the reports about Jesus, and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his garment. 28: For she said, "If I touch even his garments, I shall be made well.|
Crispin Fletcher-Louis (2003) notes that in recent years exegetes have
argued that the underlying concept here is still one of contagion, but
one that flows not from impurity to purity, but one in which Jesus
communicates purity the way an unclean person contaminates, through
contagious contact. Arguing that Jesus is being represented as a High
Priest in this way in Mark, Fletcher-Louis notes that there are several
biblical precedents for such an outflow of holiness, include some where
garments communicate holiness. These include Ezekiel 44:19, where,
speaking of the way the High Priests should behave, the text directs
Similarly, Leviticus 21:10-12 offers:
Here the priests are anointed with oil and consecrated to wear the priestly vestments. In Exodus 30:29, God instructs Moses that whatever is consecrated with the oil of holiness will communicate holiness to anything it touches. Clearly, Fletcher-Louis argues, there are biblical precedents for a belief that garments could communicate holiness like a contagion, if worn by a consecrated priest. Additionally, he observers, in the Wisdom of Solomon (which may also lie behind the Gospel of Mark), Aaron rushes out of the sanctuary to stop a plague of death on Israel that God has sent. The text makes clear that the Power lies on the word written on Aaron's robes (Fletcher-Louis 2003, p34-7). Recall that earlier in Mark 1:21-28, the demon addressed Jesus as "Holy One of God," a form of address used for Aaron. The writer of Mark is presenting Jesus as High priest here, in the way he does later in the work when he compares him to Simon Maccabaeus.
Jack Poirier (2005) writes:
|31: And his disciples said to him, "You see the crowd pressing around you, and yet you say, `Who touched me?'"|
|v31: Markan redaction containing the constant theme of disciples not really getting what is going on.|
|34: And he said to her, "Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease."|
|v34: Go in peace. Found in many places in the OT.|
|v34: while just a moment ago, in 4:40, Jesus has rebuked the disciples for their lack of faith, here the woman is applauded for her faith.|
|v34: Although the Markan Jesus is often
described by exegetes as annulling purity laws, Haber (2003) observes:
|37: And he allowed no one to follow him except Peter and James and John the brother of James.|
the reason these three in particular accompany Jesus will not
become apparent until Mark
|9: And when he had entered, he said to them, "Why do you make a tumult and weep? The child is not dead but sleeping."|
"sleeping" is common in the NT as a euphemism for death; for example, 1
|40: And they laughed at him. But he put them all outside, and took the child's father and mother and those who were with him, and went in where the child was.|
this is the only miracle story where Christ is portrayed "as
(Meier 1994, p787). Matthew and Luke both deleted that.
|41: Taking her by the hand he said to her, "Tal'itha cu'mi"; which means, "Little girl, I say to you, arise."|
"Arise." the Greek verb egeirein
is the verb typically used to depict resurrection from death (Mark
16; Matthew 11:5; Luke 7:14) and Jesus' own
resurrection (Mark 16:6; Matthew 28:6; Luke 24:6). See also the raising
Peter's mother-in-law in Mark 1.
"Talitha cumi." The phrase is Aramaic. It may well be simply a foreign
word of power, much like the way today's Harry Potter novels use Latin.
|42: And immediately the girl got up and walked (she was twelve years of age), and they were immediately overcome with amazement.|
The RSV does not do a good job capturing the exact wording of
verse, which is taken from the Septaugint version of a healing by
in 4 Kings, which the writer of Mark is paralleling. In the Elijah tale
the mother is "ecstatic with all this ecstasy" while similarly, in
the parents are "ecstatic with great ecstasy." The YLT captures the
more accurately in translation.
|v42: the girl's age and the woman's age, both twelve years, in some interpretive schemes represent the 12 Tribes of Israel, sick, near death, but ready to be re-energized by Jesus.|
|43: And he strictly charged them that no one should know this, and told them to give her something to eat.|
|v43: Markan redaction: motif of silence on Jesus' powers and identity. It may be that the command to give the child something to eat is a fairytale motif: it graphically demonstrates that Jesus has been successful in raising her back from the dead, and that she is not a ghost (ghosts cannot eat). Eating to prove one is not a ghost is a theme that recurs in John 21, which may be the missing ending of Mark. Gundry (1993, 276-7) who believes that this event actually occurred, argues that the command to eat was meant to buy time for Jesus to slip away. How? For he has already implied in v39 that he will wake the dead, so it is implausible that the mourners would simply let him slip out without questioning him.|
The structure of this pericope is classic Markan structure, with the story of the woman with bloody hemorrhage sandwiched between the account of Mark's raising of the daughter of Jairus. The writer of Mark has linked the two women by referring to both as "daughter," and by the woman's bleeding for twelve years connecting to the girl's age of 12 years. The girl has already died, while the woman is getting worse, with the implication that she will die.
Miracles do not occur; both stories are fictional. In addition
miraculous, evidence of OT creation abounds in the resurrection
Mark has created the raising of Jairus' daughter out of the
The final parallel, a direct citation of the OT, is the
writer's pointer to the source of the story. The healing of the
hemmorrhaging woman also contains typical
motifs, including information that the woman had been sick for a long
and that doctors could not help her. Such information is common in
tales of miraculous healings as well.
Funk et al (1997) point out that the words in the two pericopes here in Mk 5 are not sayings, are unmemorable, and probably would not have been preserved in any oral tradition of these stories. Hence, the words cannot be traced back to Jesus either.
From the literary point of view, the writer contrasts the
faith that brought about cures in Mark 5, with the faithlessness and
fear of the disciples in the boat in the last pericope in Mark 4.
Numbers 5:1-2 directs:
Note how in Mk 1:40-45 Jesus heals a "leper" (skin disease) and then in Mk 5:21-43 Jesus heals a woman with a discharge, followed by the raising of a dead girl (ceremonially unclean due to contact with a dead body). Robert Price (2004) observes of concordances between the Gospel narratives and the Old Testament like this:
The chiastic structure of this pericope is actually quite
Due to the presence of Markan invention, creation off of the
OT, and the supernatural, nothing in this pericope supports the
historicity of the story.
|Excursus: Literary Structures
The writer of Mark was a skilled literary artist who was capable of creating marvelously complex and beautiful literary structures that have delighted his readers for twenty centuries. Here are a few of the literary habits scholars have mapped out:
Fast Moving, Detailed Narratives
Many exegetes have noted the details in Mark that humanize its characters and actions, and that move scenes along with great rapidity and power. Consider the Gerasene Demoniac of Mark 5:1-20, who broke all chains, and cut himself with stones. Jesus is irritated, angered, and moved by compassion. Rulers are pictured as indecisive, suspicious, even wracked by uncertainty. The writer of Mark brings the reader right into a scene and then moves through the action with great speed and power.
One of the most distinctive features of Mark is the use of repetition at all levels. The writer repeats keywords, phrases, sentences, structures, even whole scenes. For example, in Mark 1:16-20 Jesus calls a pair of disciples, then calls another pair. In the next chapter the writer doubles this double call with the call of Levi in Mark 2:13-17, repeating the Greek of the previous disciple call. F. Neirynck has written an entire book, Duality, on this characteristic feature of the writer of Mark.
In addition to doublets, the writer is also fond of threefold patterns, and fivefold patterns. For example, Peter denies Jesus three times. Immediately after that, Pilate doubles this by offering Jesus to the crowd three times. Hanging on the cross, Jesus is mocked three times, by passers-by, the Temple authorities, and the robbers. Jesus makes three passion predictions, in chapters 8, 9, and 10. Three women watch Jesus from a distance. Fivefold patterns are also common. There are five conflict stories, doubled. There are five healings, also doubled. In Mark 15 Vernon Robbins has identified five different identifications or allusions to Jesus in his kingly role.
Throughout Mark events and stories are sandwiched inside other events and stories, a practice called "framing" or "intercalating." Another term often encountered is "chiasm." These techniques were common in antiquity and used by great writers from Homer on. Famous intercalations in Mark include the passage above, the Temple Cleansing (Mark 11:15-19), intercalated between the two ends of the Cursing of the Fig Tree (Mark 11:12-14), and the Healing of the Bleeding Woman, which is sandwiched between the two parts of the Raising of Jairus' Daughter (Mark 5:21-43). A number of scholars, such as Edwards (1999), argue that these framing or sandwich techniques exist to call attention to important theological themes in Mark.
Patterns of framing work in a similar way. The healing of the paralytic above begins a sequence of five conflict stories, that begins and ends with a healing based on a story from the Book of Kings (ending with the man with the withered arm, Mark 3:1-6).
These framing patterns, argues Tom Shepard (1995), are meant as a form of "dramatized irony."
As you read the Gospel of Mark, pay close attention to the way words and ideas are repeated and structured to shape the way the reader and listener experiences the Gospel of Mark.
Commentary on the Gospel of Mark
|Chapter 1||Chapter 9||Home|
|Chapter 3||Chapter 11||Topical Index|
|Chapter 4||Chapter 12|
|Chapter 5||Chapter 13||References
|Chapter 6||Chapter 14|
|Chapter 7||Chapter 15||Contact Author
|Chapter 8||Chapter 16|