Thursday, June 24, 2010

292: It's Not the Season for Figs

Mark 10-11
"Seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to find out if it had any fruit. When he reached it, he found nothing but leaves, because it was not the season for figs. Then he said to the tree, 'May no one ever eat fruit from you again.' And his disciples heard him say it." - Mark 11:13-14

The first part of chapter 10 is about divorce. Instead of the Pharisees bringing up that Moses talked about divorce (as they did in Matthew), Jesus is the one that asks the Pharisees what Moses said. This gives a completely different connotation. Namely, that Jesus is changing a law of Moses, otherwise why would he bring up the contradiction? As usual, I'll point you to Matthew 5:17-19 where Jesus explicitly says that he is not here to abolish a single law of the prophets.

Next is the paragraph about Jesus touching little children. This time, Mark says that Jesus is indignant when he hears that the disciples have told people to stop bringing him children. Jesus's explanation for this is that the kingdom of heaven belongs to children. That means you have to touch them why?

Next is the story about the mother asking for her sons to be at the right and the left of Jesus. Except this time it's the two sons (two of the disciples) who are asking, instead of their mother. Jesus says that they don't know what they're asking, then he asks them if they are willing to be "baptized with the baptism I am baptized with". Repetitive Jesus is repetitively repetitive. Jesus says that even if they can drink from the cup he drinks from, and be baptized with the baptism he is baptized with, it's still up to God to grant positions at Jesus's side.

Jesus, on the way to Jerusalem. Comes across yet another blind man (this was two blind men in Matthew). Jesus asks what the man wants from him. The man says "Rabbi, I want to see you". Jesus simply says "Go, your faith has healed you." What? You didn't have to plug his ears, or spit in his eyes, or lay your hands on him, or spin three and a quarter turns counterclockwise and clap twice? (Only the last one is not in the bible, for the record) I guess Jesus has regained his normal healing ability.

Before Jesus enters Jerusalem, he (just as in Matthew) sends his disciples ahead to steal a colt (no donkey this time). This time, some people (not the owners) ask the disciples what they are doing. They respond that Jesus told them to bring the colt (note: they are not saying "because God needs it" like Jesus told them to). The people, seemingly convinced, let the disciples go. Again, this meets any reasonable definition of stealing (i.e. taking without asking) that I can think of.

Finally, we again hear the story of the withering fig tree. This time we are let in on an important fact: it wasn't even the season for figs. Why would Jesus kill a fig tree for not having figs, especially if it wasn't the season for them? Shouldn't he know it's not the season for figs?

In Mark's account, it takes an entire night for the fig tree to whither. Unlike Matthew's claim that the tree died instantly. Just in case you thought that the tree just coincidentally died, Peter tells Jesus that the tree he "cursed" has died. Not only does Jesus kill randomly, but he is apparently capable of "cursing" living things. I guess it's a curse of love.

I've heard of praying for a lot of things. But praying for what kind of sex toys you should sell people is a new one.

Joy and Kevin Wilson have created a Christian sex toy website that caters exclusively to married couples (though they admit that it's unenforced). They were so offended by the nude images on the boxes of some of the sex toys they were (presumably) buying that they just had to start their own sex toy business. And as I alluded to, God has his hand in the toy's selection:
We have prayed every step of the way for guidance on what products to offer on this site.
Of course, you can only use your vibrator while thinking about your spouse. Otherwise you're committing adultery (according to Jesus).

Just let me get this straight. Looking at an image of a naked woman is gross and wrong (even adulterous). But putting your penis in a vagina shaped rubber sleeve is totally fine. Religion is great.

(via Gawker)


  1. First, some general comments about reading the NT (which I should've said a while ago).

    I know that the premise of this exercise is to follow the advice of Christians and read the (whole) Bible to see what kind of effect it has on you. Thus you are reading it light a novel, from beginning to end, assuming that later parts of the book are intended to follow on earlier ones, with earlier details filling in the gaps of later sections. But in fact the Bible was not written as a single book but rather as a collection of individual books, and thus one should not expect that any given author of one book necessarily agreed with, or was even aware of, any other particular book.

    I'd recommend 2 ways of reading these books. First, as individual units, evaluating each on its own merits, not assuming the content of any other unless the author explicitly refers to it. Second, since there is so much overlap among the books in the NT, it is good to put them side-by-side, seeing how they differ in point of view (and not just narrative), especially when discussing the same scene. Most Christians, when they read the NT, do neither of these 2 things - instead they (unconsciously) create a harmonization, reading each book individually (I was actually told by a pastor once not to compare Gospels to each other while reading them!) but assuming the content of all the other books, since they are generally familiar with the storyline before they ever crack open the book.

    Also, and this is especially true of Mark, when you read the Gospels, pay attention to the different levels on which they act. You have the story level, in which you can follow the plot and the characters behaviors, seeing how logical or consistent it is, and take Jesus' quotes at face value. Then there is the discourse level, where you think about the meaning behind the story, the message that the author was attempting to convey to the reader. Next, since it is claimed by Christians that these stories represent actual historical events, you can think about the plausibility of the various episodes and speeches - could these events really have occurred in this way (especially when different accounts appear to conflict)? Finally, and this really isn't necessary for your purpose, but it does give you a deeper appreciation of why the NT was written the way it is, you can consider the literary construction of the stories, namely, how each author went about piecing together their Gospels, pulling together material from different sources and redacting them to suit the author's particular point of view.

  2. Hmmm... I'll have the Petite Honey Dust. Jesus approved!

  3. Mark 11

    Here we begin what is generally considered the start of the Passion narrative. From here on out, the story is largely midrash of scripture.

    Mark 11:1-10. The idea of Jesus riding on the colt to enter Jerusalem obviously comes from Zech 9:9 (w/ maybe an assist from 1Sam 9:5-14), while that of the crowds greeting him at the entrance from Zeph 3:14 and Zech 2:10. The crowds shout the words to Psalm 118 (Septuagint version), but note that they do not call Jesus the Son of David, since in Mark's Gospel, unlike the others, the people do not know Jesus' real identity; instead, this is just a generic greeting shouted to visitors during Passover (although Psalm 118 was actually used at the Feast of Tabernacles, not Passover). Note also that the idea of branches being spread comes from Psalm 118:27 as well.

    Since Matthew does not have the Messianic Secret motif, he twists the words of the crowd so that they are acknowledging Jesus as the Son of David. Luke, in 19:39, has the crowd call him a king as well, as does John (in 12:12), even though he acknowledges that the disciples didn't realize the significance of the scene until after the resurrection.

    Mark 11:11-27 vs. Matt 21:10-23. Note that Matt has changed around Jesus' schedule, squeezing into 2 days events that take place over 3 days in Mark.

    Mark's chronology: Day 1. Jesus enters Jerusalem on a donkey. Goes to the temple, looks around, goes back to Bethany.
    Day 2. Jesus curses the fig tree on the way to Jerusalem. He then disrupts the temple and withdraws from the city again.
    Day 3. Jesus passed the now withered fig tree on the way back to Jerusalem for a debate with the priests on the source of his authority.

    Matthew's chronology: Day 1. Jesus enters Jerusalem on a donkey and a colt and causes a ruckus in the temple on the same day. In the evening he retires to Bethany.
    Day 2. Jesus withers the fig tree on the way to Jerusalem and debates the priests about the source of his authority when he gets there.

    Mark 11:12-14, 20-25. As you can see from the chronology I just gave, Mark has the cursing of the fig tree occur on one day while the observation that is has withered appears the next. One can't even be sure that it was Jesus' curse that caused it to wither. Matthew merges these 2 halves of the story into 1, so that it withers on the spot, leaving do doubt as to the cause. Note also that Mark states that the tree was withered from the roots. How did the disciples know this? Did they pull the tree out from the ground to check? (Matthew sensibly dropped this detail.) OTOH, saying that it was not the season for figs makes Jesus look even more like a petulant child, so Matthew omitted that, too (and Luke just dispensed with the whole story entirely, except for an oblique reference).

    But in Mark's Gospel the fig tree probably served as a metaphor for the temple, which is why the story of the cleansing of the temple was sandwiched between the withering of the fig tree. Mark likes to intercalate one story into another, as he does at least 7 times in his Gospel (3:20-35, 5:21-43, 6:7-44, 11:12-25, 14:1-11, 14:53-72, 15:6-32), and in every case the inner story is connected to the outer one. Matthew and Luke didn't pick up on this subtlety and instead took Mark too literally (as they often do), and so they removed yet another embarrassing Markan story. Ironically, despite Mark's Greek grammar and writing style being much poorer, he seems to have written a deeper and more symbolic Gospel.



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