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Not Sure of which Shore

January 27, 2008

I’ve been reading and preparing a week of lectures on the gospel of Mark. Among the small rabbit trails that will undoubtedly not make it into class discussion is the issue of where the stories in Mark 5:21-43 take place.

Mark 5:21 states:

When Jesus had crossed again in the boat to the other side, a great crowd gathered round him; and he was by the lake (NRSV).

Mark usually uses the phrase “the other side” to mean the Transjordan ( e.g. 5:2; 6:45; cf. Deut among other books in the HB). However, most of the commentaries seem to assume that Mark holds the events in Capernaum.

So what? Well, at least there are at least three implications to seeing Mark 5:21-43 in the Transjordan: 1) It changes the nature of the interaction between the woman with the issue of blood and Jesus. Purity, while important, wouldn’t be quite the taboo as if the woman had been rubbing up against Jews in Palestine. It would keep the focus on faith rather on purity issues. 2) The story would point to interaction between Jesus and Jewish communities outside of Palestine (i.e. Jairus). 3) It would cloud the issue in regards to where Jesus is in Mark 6:1-6. UBS 4 and most commentators want to place Jesus’ rejection in Nazareth (c.f Luke 4). However, Mark has Jesus at home in Capernaum (Mark 2:1; 9:33). If 5:21-43 is in the Transjordan, it makes the case for 6:1-6 in Capernaum stronger.

This is definitely an unpopular interpretation and admittedly a rabbit trail, but I find it fascinating in its possible implications.

One Comment
  1. Naomisu permalink
    February 20, 2008 6:03 am

    Thanks for the thought on this verse. I will add it to my notes on the woman with the issue of blood. I think that purity issues are still important in the passage. If the woman herself was attempting to be righteous, she would still have had to make sure that she did not come into physical contact with any Jewish male. What if she was married? Twelve years of abstinence and physical separation from her husband! She could not have travelled to the temple as she would have had to cross water at some time and if she lived in the Transjordan then it was an impenetrable barrier. If she had been able to make it to Jerusalem she could not have gone into the temple anyway as she was perpetually unclean. No wonder she spent all her money on trying to be cured of the problem and no wonder she took the desparate step of coming close to but not into actual physical contact with Jesus. By touching the hem of his garment, she would definitely not come into contact with any part of his body.

    And so she took the slightly mad / trusting step of coming close enough to touch the hem of his garment in the press of the crowd.

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