Tuesday, June 22, 2010

290: Incantations

Mark 6-7
"After he took him aside, away from the crowd, Jesus put his fingers into the man's ears. Then he spit and touched the man's tongue. He looked up to heaven and with a deep sigh said to him, 'Ephphatha!' (which means, 'Be opened!' ). At this, the man's ears were opened, his tongue was loosened and he began to speak plainly." - Mark 7:33-35

Mark 6 largely just repeats the stories from the book of Matthew. This includes Jesus sending out the disciples, John the Baptist being beheaded, Jesus feeding 5000, and Jesus walking on water. We are still only given a vague description of how Jesus actually feeds the 5000 people with a few loaves of bread. You'd think witnesses to this miraculous event could give a more vivid description of how Jesus accomplished this multiplication of bread.

Mark 7 also repeats stories from Matthew (with some new strangeness added). This includes, Jesus's disciples not washing their hands, calling a woman a dog, and healing a deaf man. The new strangeness comes in when Mark describes exactly how Jesus heals the deaf man.

First, Jesus pulls the man away from the crowd. Then he plugs his ears with his fingers. Ok, getting a little creepy. The bible then says Jesus "spit and touched the man's tongue". He spit where? Did he spit on the ground? Did he spit in his hands (this is what some Christian websites claim, for some reason)? Did he spit in the guy's mouth? In any case, Jesus's creep factor just multiplied. Then Jesus touches the man's tongue (with his spit covered hands, if you believe the Christians). Not only is this creepy/unsanitary by itself, but Jesus has already told us that he doesn't wash his hands. No toilet paper, hands in mouth... Yeah, don't think that one over much.

Finally, Jesus shouts "Ephphatha" to the sky, and the man is healed. What happened to just touching the edge of Jesus's cloak and being healed? Now he has to plug your ears, spit in your mouth, and shout incantations for his power to work? This seems like bullshit more and more every day.

Many of you have probably heard about "touchdown Jesus" being struck by lightning, and being subsequently burnt down. There are some interesting new developments in this story.



Before I talk about the new developments, I want to just say a few things about the original story. This event seems to have revealed the Christian hypocrisy with respect to divine involvement. Most Christians I know tend to attribute almost everything to God. Accidental deaths ("God was calling them to heaven"), loss of property ("God is testing my faith", "God wouldn't give me more than I can handle"), even everyday things like winning sports events, or the answering of arbitrary small prayers. However, when a Jesus statue gets struck by lightning, it's all a big coincidence (which I would, of course, agree with). Why does coincidence suddenly exist?

From a biblical perspective (more specifically, an Old Testament biblical perspective) God striking down an "idol" isn't that ridiculous. These people have erected a giant image of the thing they worship. Why wouldn't the Old Testament God strike it down with a lightning bolt?

Surely these people will accept this divine message and not seek to rebuild this gaudy Jesus statue. Such naivety. Of course they're going to rebuild it. Here's the part you probably haven't heard: PETA will be funding the rebuilding. The new inscription will reportedly read "Blessed are the Merciful... Go Vegan". I guess a few more verses from Genesis are going on the "metaphor" list. Namely Genesis 9:2-3:
The fear and dread of you will fall upon all the beasts of the earth and all the birds of the air, upon every creature that moves along the ground, and upon all the fish of the sea; they are given into your hands. Everything that lives and moves will be food for you. Just as I gave you the green plants, I now give you everything.
This seems like a decidedly non-vegan message. But I guess the church listens to whoever's paying the bills.

(via USA Today)


  1. Mark 7:1. As I pointed out in Matthew, there's a reference here to "Pharisees and some of the teachers of the law who had come from Jerusalem," an allusion to the situation after the destruction of the temple in (and much of the city of) Jerusalem in 70 CE, when the Pharisees migrated north and established rabbinic Judaism in Galilee. Mark consistently makes the mistake of retrojecting the situation when he was writing in the latter part of the 1st century onto that in the first half. Moreover, they are only criticizing Jesus' disciples for not washing their hands, not Jesus himself.

    Mark 7:3-4. Mark is explaining Jewish customs to his audience, so he must've been writing for Gentiles. Moreover, Mark gets those same customs wrong, claiming that all Jews washed their hands before eating, when this was only practiced by Pharisees and priests, and the washing of cups and pots that he alludes to was the practice of diaspora Jews, not those in Palestine. Thus Mark wasn't a Jew either, and probably lived outside of Galilee (his knowledge of the geography is poor, too), perhaps in Syria. Matthew, the Judaizer, knew better than Mark.

    Mark 7:19.Mark's bit of editorializing ('In saying this, Jesus declared all foods "clean."') makes explicit what one can only guess at in Matthew, namely, Jesus is rejecting Jewish dietary laws. This is why Christians no longer follow these rules.

    But Matthew didn't want to go this far, so he deleted that line, disguising somewhat the full implication of what Jesus is saying.

    However, it is clear from the NT that Jesus never actually said anything about whether one should continue to follow the dietary laws or not. The proof of this in the fact that Paul witnesses in his letters (and Acts supports him on this) to a fierce debate on the matter in the early church, long before the Gospels were written. If Jesus had actually made any such pronouncement, the issue would've been settled. Instead, neither Paul nor his opponents ever appeal to Jesus' words or deeds in support of their position, and within the NT you have different Gospel authors with different opinions (and trying to promote their own opinions by placing them on Jesus' lips).

  2. BTW, this is rather late, but your quote of Gen 9:3 made me think of it: "Everything that lives and moves will be food for you." If God said this, why does the OT ban the eating of, among other things, pork?

  3. First of all, PETA is only offering to pay for the statue. It's a publicity stunt - if the church decides to take them up on it PETA will probably make more and more outrageous demands from them until the church backs down. I have no doubts that the church will refuse PETA's offer upfront anyway - the politics of that particular church won't allow them to associate with PETA's money.

    Second of all - some of the early stories about this event actually did have Christians wondering why God would do this. Especially since there's a Hustler store just the next exit up on the interstate that went untouched by lightning. They were shocked that God would do this, which is at least consistent if a bit wrongheaded. I'm more shocked that the designer didn't incorporate a lightning rod into the monstrosity and properly ground it - especially since it was made of styrafoam and fiberglass.

  4. From what I've read, the dietary laws of the OT mostly relate to the polytheism that monotheistic Yahweh worship grew out of. Different gods had different animals that were sacred to them, and in that part of the world at that time the eating of meat was always tied to a sacrifice to a god. So you never just slaughtered, for example, a pig and ate it, you always gave it as an offering to the god it was sacred to and then you ate it.

    In Greece at the time I know that bulls were sacred to Zeus, and they were also sacred to El, the Canaanite version of Zeus. I've read that in Greece that pigs were sacred to Persephone and I believe I've also read that they were sacred to Ishtar as well. There's a lot of stuff in the early OT about Yahweh priests pushing Asherah out of the temple, and Asherah was supposedly a Canaanite version of Ishtar. So if pigs were sacred to her their sacrifice would have been outlawed by the priests pushing Yahweh/El monotheism because any eating of pigs would be tied to a sacrifice to Asherah.

    I've read that this is also probably the origin of the law not to eat the flesh of a goat that has been boiled in its own mother's milk. In rabbinical Judaism this gets read as a cryptic order not to mix meat and milk at the same meal, but it was probably an order to Yahweh followers to not partake of some other god's sacrifice offering.

  5. The designer did incorporate a lightning rod into it. In fact, there were 2 of them.

  6. Bryan,
    I think you should consider the healings in general. First of all, we now know (Mark 7:25-30, Matt 8:5-13) that Jesus can heal st a distance. without even having to see his patient. So why does he bother going around touching people, spitting in their mouths, etc? Since he could heal everyone in the world just with a thought, all these healings must be just for show, to demonstrate to everyone what tremendous power he has and what a swell guy he is. If you had the power to heal people of any affliction with just a thought, how would you exercise this power?

    Or maybe this power only works if the patient has faith. In that case, is Jesus so limited that he can't operate without the patient's belief? Then why do we need him either? Why doesn't God just heal automatically everyone who has faith? Or maybe it only works on those who have faith because it is just at heart the power of suggestion.

  7. Just passing through - have read the bible three times so far in my life, and will probably re-read it again someday. It helps me to remember why I'm an atheist. I have done a fair amount of bible study. Noted your comment - Mark copies Matthew. AFAIK, most bible scholars are agreed that Mark was the source of much of Matthew and Luke.



Copyright © 2009, Page Info, Contact Me