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Wednesday, July 20, 2005

More on Mark 7

Firstly, my apologies to Stephen Carlson. I knew he had written on the recent discussion of Mark 7.15 but earlier today I could not connect to his site for some reason. Now that I can I have found out that he has written stuff of some relevance for what I was arguing including some very important points on the dangers of anti-Judaism in scholarship.

Jim West makes the following comments on my referencing to rabbinic material on the previous post:

That's some pretty late evidence isn't it? I'm not suggesting that the Mishnah may not contain very early materials and embody very early ideas- but, documents written centuries after the fact may, or may not, be relevent. The question must be raised, it seems to me.So, what can the Mishnah and the Talmud (even later stuff!) really teach us about Jewish practice in the time of Jesus? It seems to me that we need first century evidence to make claims of precise aspects of practice- and the whole Jewish purity law and its actual influence on daily life in the time of Jesus seems generally unknown.

Jim West is quite right: the evidence I gave was late and it does need defending. That said, it can be supplemented by first century evidence. The Markan evidence itself ought to be regarded as important. The washing of cups, pots, kettles and beds are all paralleled precisely in the Mishnah. Handwashing before ordinary meals is too. It is significant that Matt. heightens the attack on handwashing (Mt. 15.20). Why would he do this if this practice did not exist? And if Mark and Matt. did invent such a tradition (and in Mark's case also the immersion of cups etc.) how would we explain it turning up in the earliest rabbinic collection? It would be a remarkable coincidence.

Some of the Mishnaic discussion is at least attributed to first century contexts. In addition, the famous 'mix the cup' passage (m. Ber. 8.2) discusses the details of hand-washing and simply assumes the practice of hand-washing and the particularly defiling function of liquids. The Talmudic source I mentioned (b. Ber. 28a) has a discussion of Rabban Gamaliel and the phrase 'insides not as their outsides'. John Poirier (JJS 47 [1996]) argues that that the ethical meaning of this saying was a development of the earlier use which concerned impurity. This, along with other reasons, points to a very early use of the saying, i.e. a pre-70 Pharisaic use.

Crucially there are also Jewish sources dating well before the Mishnah which reflect key concerns of the transmission of impurity. Lev 11 already discusses the particulary strong defiling function of liquids in precise contexts. The strong defiling function of liquids was expanded more broadly and is also found in the DSS, including oil as a liquid which is also mentioned in the Mishnah (CD 12.15-17; m. Maksh. 6.4; cf. 4QMMTa 8, 4.5-7). The use of liquids was crucial in transmitting impurity to food. If there were no liquid, impurity could not pass from hands to food.

Back to the similarities with Mark 7. Rabbinic literature talks of bodily immersion in the context of handwashing. A person can start to remove major impurities - such as those which might be contracted at the market place - through bodily immersion. Yet as hands were always liable to touch things AND could become impure apart from the body, hands too had to be washed. This is very precisely reflected in Mark who talks of immersion of body followed by other things which might contribute to impurity like cups etc. in the context of handwashing in addition to handwashing itself. This is the precise logic of handwashing in rabbinic literature and it is accurately reflected in Mark 7.1-23. Is this just pure coincidence?

While everyone should be extra cautious about using rabbinic material, in this case the argument is collective. I find it very difficult to explain Mark's details on purity and hand-washing otherwise. Furthermore it takes someone with serious knowledge of Judaism to know precisely reflect such complex Jewish practices in detail. I would say this points to a Jew or at least a very knowledgeable gentile.

Indcidentally, it is for these reasons (given in proper detail rather than the rambling incoherent form here) I argued in the Date of Mark (2004), ch. 7, that Mark 7.19 was a rejection of kosher foods (i.e. food made impure through not washing hands), a point raised on Stephen Carlson's page.

Michael Turton also makes some interesting remarks:

In my view the writer of Mark does not present Jesus as a Torah-observant Jew so much as creates him as an example of what a Torah-observant Jew looks like seen from the outside: Jesus is the writer's idea of what a Torah-observing Jew is. Mark's Jesus is about as much a Jew as the King of Persia in Chaereas and Callirhoe is a Persian. In Greek novelistic fiction it is a convention to act as a "guide to the exotic" for the reader, and here the writer is building his character of Jesus using items that someone on the outside would pick up. It is interesting that Steve mentions Crossley, because Crossley has written on another aspect of this pericope (Mark 7:1-23). Some early manuscripts have "pitchers, kettles and dining couches" in Mk 7:4.

There may be something in Turton's view that Mark's use of dining couches is to mock a Jewish practice, but it is not a practice of all Jews. It is perfectly possible that Mark could be invloved in an intra-Jewish debate here, rejecting a practice of many other Jews. There is after all a strong stress on tradition vs biblical commandments in Mark 7. Also, Mark's Jesus debates over the details of Sabbath law, agree with a scribe on the centre of the Law (Mk 12.28ff.), and fire at the Jewish leaders (Mk 12.1-12). Compare John's gospel where there are attacks on 'the Jews' and an outright rejection of Sabbath law (John 5). We don't get this degree of distancing of Jesus from Judaism in Mark. I have more to say on this (and have done) but I'm starting to flag right now!

UPDATE: Jim West has added some further comments on James as a near contemporary witness to the kinds of ideas expressed in Mk 7 (including a surprisingly early date for James). At the very least James must surely stand in this tradition. More is also promised by Loren Rossen.


Anonymous Pastor F said...

True that the Mishna was codified after the time of Jesus, but that does not mean it was developed at that later time. I would postulate that what we find written in the Mishna is the Rabbinic code that the Pharisees were already living under during the time of Jesus. Thus the Mishna can indeed be used as a source for understanding Rabbinic or Pharisaic Judaism in the early 1st century. Although the Rabbis that 'debated' likely lived after the days of Jesus (although if Gamaliel is the same as the one mentioned in Acts 5 then he was a contemporary of Jesus) according to Rabbinic custom, they would have preserved teaching of their own Rabbis, who would have therefore predated the events recorded in the Gospel. I refer to the Mishna in my preaching for just these reasons

October 01, 2011


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