Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Why Jesus and the Disciples Cross the Jordan Before the Jewish New Year

I have been looking at the narrative which precedes the additional material in the Gospel of Mark cited in the Letter to Theodore. I never actually realized how widely acknowledged the corruption is among scholars. We have already demonstrated here that Tjitze Baarda likely 'solved' one of the corruptions correcting 'salted' for 'baptized' by fire.

Yet if you look at the actual material between Mark 9:49 and Mark 10:34 the whole section is hopelessly corrupt. There can be no doubt that something is missing:

If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go into hell, where the fire never goes out. And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than to have two feet and be thrown into hell. And if your eye causes you to stumble, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell, where “‘the worms that eat them do not die, and the fire is not quenched.’

Everyone will be baptized with fire.

Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can you make it salty again? Have salt among yourselves, and be at peace with each other

Jesus then left that place and went into the region of Judea and across the Jordan. Again crowds of people came to him, and as was his custom, he taught them.

They asked him, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” “What did Moses command you?” he replied. They said, “Moses permitted a man to write a certificate of divorce and send her away.” “It was because your hearts were hard that Moses wrote you this law,” Jesus replied. “But at the beginning of creation he made them male and female." For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”

When they were in the house again, the disciples asked Jesus about this. He answered, “Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against her. And if she divorces her husband and marries another man, she commits adultery.”

People were bringing little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them, but the disciples rebuked them. When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” And he took the children in his arms, placed his hands on them and blessed them.

As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, you shall not defraud, honor your father and mother." “Teacher,” he declared, “all these I have kept since I was a boy.” Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth. Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!” The disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said again, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”

The disciples were even more amazed, and said to each other, “Who then can be saved?” Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.” Then Peter spoke up, “We have left everything to follow you!” “Truly I tell you,” Jesus replied, “no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age: homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields—along with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first.”

They were on their way up to Jerusalem, with Jesus leading the way, and the disciples were astonished, while those who followed were afraid. Again he took the Twelve aside and told them what was going to happen to him. “We are going up to Jerusalem,” he said, “and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will hand him over to the Gentiles, who will mock him and spit on him, flog him and kill him. Three days later he will rise.

If we avoid the question of linking the 'baptism of fire' and the 'mystery of the kingdom of God' referenced in the Letter to Theodore, it is enough to ask ourselves a much smaller question - why do Jesus and the disciples leave Judea to go "across the Jordan." [Mark 10:1] Of course in Secret Mark we see him (or some other 'he') return. Yet it is curious why it is that the narrative becomes so utterly corrupt in the material surrounding chapter 10. It all comes down to the question - why leave in 10:1 only to return a little over thirty four verses later?

I think the solution is found in the Diatessaron tradition which basically follows the order of Mark throughout, only 'adding' (or perhaps 'retaining' material which might have originally 'filled the holes' now in Mark). Most significantly the discussion of the half-shekel temple tax immediately before his flight to the other side of the Jordan:

After Jesus and his disciples arrived in Capernaum, the collectors of the two-drachma temple tax came to Peter and asked, “Doesn’t your teacher pay the temple tax?” “Yes, he does,” he replied. When Peter came into the house, Jesus was the first to speak. “What do you think, Simon?” he asked. “From whom do the kings of the earth collect duty and taxes—from their own children or from strangers?” “From strangers,” Peter answered. “Then the children are exempt,” Jesus said to him. “But so that we may not cause offense, go to the lake and throw out your line. Take the first fish you catch; open its mouth and you will find a four-drachma coin. Take it and give it to them for my tax and yours.”

Of course the version of this story which survives has the miraculous discovery of the money to reconcile Jesus's disciple with the laws of Judaism. Yet doesn't this seem a little contrived? I think the whole structure of the narrative points to Jesus and his disciples fleeing Palestine as a kind of 'tax revolt' - i.e. refusal to contribute the temple. This is why the very next line in Ephrem's Diatessaron is Mark 10:1 (i.e. Jesus crossing to the other side).

I have already argued that the Marcionite gospel begins like the Gospel of John with Jesus visit and condemnation of the Jewish temple. Even the addition to Luke's beginning of the revolt against the census may even be another attempt to obscure the original narrative of a revolt against the temple tax. I strongly suspect that Jesus took his neaniskos over to the side of the Jordan to free him from obligation from paying the tax. While it would be impossible for a Jew to avoid paying the tax in Judea as E P Sanders notes:

if one were thinking of Jews outside of Palestine whether in the rest of the Roman Empire or in Mesopotamia, the Temple tax, along with the observance of the Sabbath and food laws would be a major sign of Jewish identity. Paying it marked one as a Jew, not paying it would lead others to think one had apostatized ... We may safely say that all Jews who wanted to wished to be counted as such paid the tax. [E P Sanders Jewish Law 49]

Of course we see Jesus do all sorts of things to offend the Jews which the Marcionites take demonstrates that he was against the Law. Yet this is clearly the ultimate climax of that inner narrative. We can see that the Jewish New Year is approaching in chapter 10. It is not only the introduction of the temple tax narrative (the half shekel having to be collected before the end of the year). The material in chapter 10 is only days away from the Passion which occurs in the middle of the first month. In chapter 10 we are days if not minutes from the Jewish religious New Year on the first of the first month (= Rosh hashanah is the SECULAR New Year on first of the seventh month).

Email stephan.h.huller@gmail.com with comments or questions.

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