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Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Mark 7.15

Following on from Michael Turton's comments on the Jesus Seminar and Mark 7.15, Mark Goodacre has suggested that Mark 7.15 does not necessarily abrogate standard Jewish traditions pointing to a parallel in Isa. 1.15 and noting that sayings removed from context can be taken to mean very different things. I think there is a very strong case to be made against the Jesus Seminar sort of along these lines. On Mark 7.15 the Jesus Seminar did not provide a genuine discussion of handwashing and the role of impurity in Jewish literature, despite Mark doing so. According to many early rabbinic views if hands were not washed impurity was transmitted from hands to food to eater if a liquid comes between hands and food and probably defiled the insides (cf. m. Ber. 8.2; m. Tebul Yom 4.1-3; m. Sotah 5.2; m. Yad. 3.1; m. Parah 8.7; m. Hullin 2.5; m. Maksh. 6.4; b. Ber. 28a). It is also worth pointing out that hands could become unclean even after bodily immersion (m. Tebul Yom 2.2).

Should it not be at least tested that Jesus was criticising this development of the purity laws rather than any biblical law?Given that Mark has already made mention of handwashing and related traditions, given that he has already set up a contrast between biblical laws and 'tradition', and given that Mark 7.15 concerns the purity of insides and outsides, this background should never have been ignored by the Jesus Seminar. If it could be shown that Jesus said Mark 7.15 (I think there is a good case) then this would be an internal Jewish debate and would make much better sense. As many, many people have now pointed out, if the historical Jesus abrogated the Law in such a significant way, how do we explain the fierce disputes in the early church of the validity of major commandments?


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