Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Did Mark 10:17 - 31 Take Place on the First Day of the New Year?

I have been thinking about this problem for quite some time now. If we now accept the idea that the narrative from Secret Mark in the Letter to Theodore (= LGM 1) was originally fixed on the 10th of Nisan we can work backwards and see that the disciple comes to Jesus wearing a linen cloth just at or just before the sun goes down on the 9th of Nisan. If we backdate from there six days we arrive at the day Jesus arrives at the tomb with is the 3rd/4th of Nisan and since there are unmistakable parallels between this narrative and the raising of Lazarus in John chapter 11 we can assume that the youth was dead possibly three or four days.

What this means - at least theoretically - is that the original Question of the Rich Youth (Mark 10:17 - 31), the narrative which Morton Smith and many others have noted is certainly related to LGM 1, would have fallen on the first day of the first month. Why is this significant? Well, for one very few people seem to be bothered by the fact that the gospel narrative has no real sense of chronology. It is strange that a supposed 'eyewitness account' never so much as references what day of the week the various things took place. Yet more than this, the gospel narrative was certainly related to a 'liturgical year' which in the earliest Church was tied to a Jewish calendar.

Now some people may object that the first day of the first month isn't what we would call 'New Years Day' among the Jews. This however is a very weak objection insofar as it must certainly have been for the Samaritans, the Qumran sect and probably also the Sadducees. I also can't help noticing that the gospel narrative itself seems to be very effected by the arrival of Nisan. Jesus spends the first half of the gospel preaching the coming of the Jubilee which may well have been understood to have arrived with the coming of Nisan. Note also that as Nisan approaches Jesus announces his Passion (Mark 10:32 - 34).

As such I am starting to wonder whether all previous studies of the 'Question of the Rich Youth' might have underestimated the original importance of the liturgical context of the question. For the first day of Nisan is the day that Jews and Samaritans were obligated to pay a half-shekel to the Temple. Lawrence Schiffman notes in his discussion of the so-called Ordinances and Rules fragments (4Q159 = 4QOrda, 4Q513 = 4QOrdb) of the Qumran sect that the ancient Jewish attitude toward the payment was very different from what we know in the rabbinic tradition. He notes that:

In reviewing Exodus 30:11-16 the text requires that the half- shekel be paid as a one time payment upon reaching the age of religious majority of twenty years old. This age was the age of majority for the Qumran sect, but it is to be noted that in many respects it was also used by virtually all other Jewish groups at that time. In this case, 4QOrda would be opposing a presumed Pharisaic view considered this to be an annual tax. Evidence that this continued to be an issue is found in Matthew 17:24-27. [James Charlesworth The Dead Sea Scrolls Vol 1. p 145]

The fact that at least some of the gospels were still concerned with the payment demonstrates that there is a very real possibility that it might also have been in the background of Mark 10:17 - 31 given that our reconstruction of the dating of the narrative falls on or just before the date the tax was due.

It might also be worth citing what Philo says about the Alexandrian interest in the half shekel temple tax in Exodus 30:13. He clearly and unmistakably connects it not only with coming of age as a twenty year old but eternal life which of course is the starting point of the line of questions in Mark 10:17 - 31. Philo begins with a discussion of dividing the sacrificial animal in half in order to introduce the symbolic significance of the half shekel tax:

But the unmixed and unadulterated portion of the soul is the pure mind, which, being inspired by heaven from above, when it is preserved in a state free from all disease and from all mishap is very suitably all poured forth and resolved into the elements of a sacred libation, and so restored in a fitting manner to God, who inspired it and preserved it free from any infliction of evil; but the mixed portion is entirely that of the outward senses, and for this part nature has made suitable craters. Now, the craters of the sense of seeing are the eyes, those of hearing are the ears, those of smelling are the nostrils, and so on with the appropriate receptacles for each of the senses. On these craters the sacred word pours a portion of blood, thinking it right that the irrational part of us should become endowed with soul and vitality, and should in some manner become rational; following the guidance of admonition, and purifying itself from the deceitful alluring powers of the objects of the outward sense which aim to overcome it. Was it not in the same manner that the holy double-drachm was divided? (Ex 30:13} That we should purify the half of it, namely, a drachm, offering it as the ransom for our souls: which the only free, the only delivering God, when addressed in the voice of supplication, and sometimes even without any supplication, by force delivers from the cruel and bitter despotism of the passions and iniquities; but the other portion we may leave to the race which is never free, but which is of slavish disposition; of which class was the man who said, "I have loved my Lord;"{Ex. 21.5) that is to say, the mind which is the master in me; "and my wife," that is to say, the outward sense which is dear to him, and the housekeeper of his passions; "and my children," that is to say, the evils which are the offspring of them; "I will not depart free." For it is quite inevitable that such a description of persons as this must obtain a lot which is no lot, and that the scapegoat bought with the double drachm, must be given to them, which is just the opposite of the drachm and of unity which is offered up to God. And it is the nature of unity not to be capable of either addition or subtraction, inasmuch as it is the image of the only complete God; for all other things are intrinsically and by their own nature loose; and if there is any where any thing consolidated, that has been bound by the word of God, for this word is glue and a chain, filling all things with its essence. And the word, which connects together and fastens every thing, is peculiarly full itself of itself, having no need whatever of any thing beyond.

Very naturally therefore does Moses say, "He who is rich will not add anything, and he who is poor will not diminish anything of the half of the double Drachm," (Ex 30:15) which is, as I have said before, a drachm, and a unit; to which every member might quote that line of the poet: With thee I'll end, with thee I will begin. [Who is the Heir 186]

There is much that I want to discuss about Mark 10:17 - 31 especially since it serves as the introduction for LGM 1. Yet I think that for the moment it is enough to note that given that its original context had to have been related to the first of Nisan the original question “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” (Mark 10:17) must be related to the temple tax due on this day even if it isn't explicitly mentioned.

The original question of course in the context of the time of year must have been will paying the temple tax assure me life in the hereafter. Perhaps the youth was expecting something easier. Jesus surprises him in fact by saying instead of giving up a half-shekel I command you to give up all your wealth and then you will be perfect and have life in the hereafter. Indeed Clement seems to assume as much in his Homily on Mark 10:17 - 31 (Quis Dives Salvetur) where he references Peter's having already paid the the temple tax in Matthew 17.27:

Therefore on hearing those words (i.e. Mark 10:21 "If thou wouldest be perfect, sell what thou hast ...), the blessed Peter, the chosen, the pre-eminent, the first of the disciples, for whom alone and Himself the Saviour paid tribute (Matt 17:27), quickly seized and comprehended the saying. And what does he say? “Lo, we have left all and followed Thee.” Now if by all he means his own property, he boasts of leaving four oboli perhaps in all, and forgets to show the kingdom of heaven to be their recompense. But if, casting away what we were now speaking of, the old mental possessions and soul diseases, they follow in the Master’s footsteps, this now joins them to those who are to be enrolled in the heavens.[QDS 21]

Of course not only does Clement connect the temple tax question to the discussion he also makes clear that in paying the temple tax Peter had given up his last penny thus fulfilling the obligation.

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