In a quick overview of chapter six, Jesus is in a synagogue with his disciples, teaching; the people's reaction is the familiar one of astonishment at his wisdom; they identify him as "son of Mary" and name three of his brothers but not the sisters. The amazement of Jesus is directed at people's lack of belief. The chapter includes the official calling of the disciples, who are sent out on a mission to preach repentance, to heal, and to cast out demons. Herod learns of Jesus and that people have been saying he is Elijah or a prophet; the death of John is reported, and John's disciples claim the body and place it in a tomb. The disciples return from their mission and rejoin Jesus, and a first feeding occurs. Apparently not learning much from this act, the disciples become afraid of a storm at sea, which Jesus stills; the disciples here mistakenly think they are seeing a ghost in the Jesus who walks on water; the chapter ends with Jesus and his disciples traveling in villages, cities and marketplaces, and farms, the crowds struggling to get close.
Jesus is back in his hometown Nazareth, twenty miles from Capernaum, with his disciples; once again, he is in the synagogues teaching. The people's reaction is again astonishment, and they ask concerning his wisdom, recognizing Jesus as the son of Mary and brother of James, Jose, Simon, and Judas, and having sisters. For whatever reasons, these people take offense, and Jesus remarks that a prophet is without honor only in his own country, their own kin, and their own house. He is prevented from healing except for a few sick; Jesus himself is now the one who is amazed at the people's unbelief.
Jesus goes through the villages teaching, calls the twelve and sends them out two by two; they are instructed to take nothing for their journey except for staff, sandals, and two tunics--no money, no bag, and no bread. They are granted authority over unclean spirits and told to shake off the dust of their feet as a testimony against them at any place they are unwelcomed. They are to stay at the house they enter until they leave. The message proclaimed by the disciples is repentance; their work is that of healing by anointing with oil. They also cast out demons. The disciples have taken up the same mission as that of Jesus: proclaiming the kingdom.
We learn that Herod has learned of Jesus with some saying he is Elijah or a prophet. Herod is afraid he is John the Baptist whom he has beheaded returned from the dead. Herod, of course, is the one had John beheaded as a result of reprimand for Herod's having married Herodias, his brother Philip's wife. Herod recognized that John was a righteous man but relented to his wife's manipulations through his daughter who had pleased him by dancing and made the request inspired by her mother. John's head is presented to Herod's daughter on a platter who, in turn, presented it to her mother. John's disciples, upon hearing of the execution, claim the body and place it in a tomb.
The disciples returned to Jesus from their mission with stories of what they have done; like Jesus, they are beset by people's comings and goings, and Jesus recognizes they need to find a deserted place and rest. They are observed leaving by boat, and the people beat them to their destination. Coming ashore, Jesus sees the crowd and feels compassion for the bewildered and helpless people and begins to teach. At a late hour, the disciples wonder if they should send the people away; instead, they are instructed to take the five loaves and two fish they have and feed the people. They do so, and the people sitting in hundreds and fifties, eat and are full. Even after five thousand have eaten, twelve baskets of food remain.
The disciples leave before Jesus, going by boat to the other side of the lake Bethsaida. In the evening, the disciples are in a boat with a storm approaching; Jesus from the land sees them and is about to pass them, walking on the water, but gets into the boat and the winds abate. The disciples are terrified, thinking Jesus is a ghost, and are even more unsettled by the winds dying down; Jesus tells them to take heart and not be afraid.
The cross over to Gennasaret, south of Capernaum, where they are immediately recognized by the crowds. They continue rushing into the region and bringing the sick for healing. As Jesus travels in villages, cities and marketplaces, and farms, the crowds struggle to get close enough to touch his clothes, for in doing so, many are healed.
With respect to the above, it should be pointed out that "hometown" (6:1) may not, in fact, be Nazareth, a cue perhaps taken from a topical heading in the NISB. Turton, after discussing vagueness in the geography used by Mark, points to the use of symbolic language:
1. The writer of Mark does not live near the sea, nor does he live near the Sea of Galilee. He doesn't know anything about seas, and thus does not know that the Lake Gennesaret is really just a piddling little thing that no one would call a "sea."
2. The writer of Mark lives near a real sea, but has never been to the Sea of Galilee, and does not know that it is not a real sea. Thus he imputes sea-like behavior to the Sea of Galilee.
3. The writer of Mark just doesn't give a damn what the Sea of Galilee is like. He is writing a story in which the Sea is a body of water that plays a symbolic role and he uses it as he wills, and not as reality would have it.
Note that alternatives (1) and (2) also require the writer of Mark to be not only uninformed about the nature of seas, but also such a dullard as to never think to ask someone who did know about them. Judging from the structural and thematic complexity of Mark, however, the writer is probably not as stupid as Weeden's guidelines would make him out to be.
Of the three alternatives, the last is the most likely. This is indicated by the general unreality of the Sea of Galilee scenes – they are often created from the Elijah-Elisha Cycle, and use the Sea of Galilee as the site of miracles like water walks and feedings. Additionally, the narrative function of the Sea of Galilee in the Gospel of Mark is to act as a border between the Gentiles and the Jews. The reality is that the writer of Mark simply doesn’t give a damn what the reality of the Sea of Galilee is.
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In his commentary on chapter six, Turton notes the writer of Mark does not identify Jesus' hometown:
Although exegetes typically say this takes place in Nazareth, the writer of Mark does not even name what Jesus' home country is. While offering information on towns for which evidence is scanty or nonexistent, such as Nazareth, the author of Mark is silent on places such as Herod's new city of Tiberias or the bustling town of Sepphoris, just a few kilometers from Jesus' reputed home. Yet, the existence of these two Hellenized cities, one of which was offensively built on a cemetery, was a constant religious irritant to the local Jews (Theissen and Merz, 1998, p177-8), while both were important regional centers. Galilee is so small it can be crossed on foot in a couple of days, so their omission is difficult to explain. Exegetes have argued that Gospel silence on these two large cities can be explained by either Jesus' failure to gain adherents there, or by Jesus avoiding these cities because they were major centers of Herodian power. Yet according to the writer of Mark Jesus preached in Jerusalem, a major center of Roman power.
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Perhaps the important points of chapter six is that Jesus is further rejected by the religious and his own family. Structurally, the sending out of the disciples and their return is interrupted with the death of John the Baptist, perhaps foreshadowing the death of Jesus (NISB, Notes). Historically, Herod here reflects a belief in resurrection, thinking that Jesus is the raised John that he has beheaded (16).
Structurally, the first major section of Mark has 1:14 describes Jesus' teaching "the good news of God"; this segment runs through 3:6, with the Pharisees and Herodians plotting to kill Jesus after he has healed on the sabbath; a second major section includes 3;7-6:32, ending with Jesus' gathering his disciples around him, "apostle" being noted only in 6:30 and nowhere else in Mark, perhaps suggesting a redaction; a third major section is 6:33-8:21, which contrasts "the success of Jesus' healing ministry with his growing conflict with scribes and Pharisees… and with the increasing misunderstanding of the disciples" (NISB Notes). A final section of the Galilean ministry is found in 8:22-10:52, a segment organized into teaching and eight giving of sight stories, this "sight" ironically contrasted to the lack of sight of the religious and with his own "insider" disciples.
As part of preparatory instructions for carrying out the mission of teaching repentance, healing , and casting out demons, the disciples have been told shake off the dust that is on their feet as they leave any household that has not welcomed or been willing to hear the message; this is an interesting reversal of the normal Jewish ritual of shaking off the dust before entering a house to prevent contamination with what is outside; here, it is the "outside" that is likely to be contaminated by what is inside.
Michael Turton has explored at some length the redacted nature of Mark , sorting through 6:45 through 8:26, using for the support of redaction the argument of scholars, Koester's being that this section is not reproduced in Luke; the most useful insight may be Turton's understanding of doublet and his concluding summary:
First, the Bethsaida section is characterized by doublets of material from elsewhere in the Gospel. The water walk in Mark 6:45-56 doubles the similar event in Mk 4:35-41. The second feeding miracle, Mark 8:1-13, is a manifest double of the first in Mark 6:30-44. There are two healings of a blind man in the Gospel, Mark 8:22-26 and Mk 10:46-52, and as Beavis has noted, Mk 8:22-26 is a structural double of Mk 8:27-33. Two of the healings, Mk 7:31-37 and Mk 8:22-26, are the only two in the Gospel where Jesus heals through manipulation (elsewhere he heals by word, gesture, simple touch, or taking of the hand). These two healings are missing in Matthew. Several peculiarities of the Greek may also indicate another writer's hand. For example, a Greek verb meaning "to understand" occurs four times in the Bethsaida but only once outside of it. Koester argues that Matthew knew an expanded version of Mark that had the Bethsaida section, while Luke did not.
In this essay I will use the structural features of Mark to analyze the Bethsaida section. Several important conclusions will emerge. First, the tampering in Mark is far more pervasive than is generally recognized by scholars, extending from 6:14 all the way to the end of Mark 10. Second, this section does not consist of material that is either Markan or not Markan in strictly dichotomous fashion, but in fact is a mix of genuine Mark imported whole from elsewhere, genuine Mark that has been redacted, and non-Markan pericopes inserted as a whole units. After the Bethsaida section has been analyzed, the larger structure of Mark will be explored.
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Bruce N. Fisk, following reflections on the "walking on water" stories in Mark and Matthew concludes with a set of bullet points related to bringing together history and theology in interpreting stories in the Gospels; I find particularly interesting his comments that the Gospels are "interpreted histories, " that they provide portraits, that the writers "were free, within reasonable limits, to summarize, expand, rephrase and even compose words for their characters, including Jesus," that " It is both legitimate and responsible for historians to attempt to harmonize divergent testimonies," and his final statement that "It serves no useful purpose to pit an evangelist's theological agenda over against his concern for historical veracity, as if writers must choose between the two. The Gospels are thoroughly historical and thoroughly theological."
The authors of the Gospels really did want to get the story right; they understood their faith to rest upon events that occurred in history (and not upon stories about those events).
Fisk, in yet another lecture, describes Mark as organized about a theology of glory and a theology of suffering, writing to counter an over-exalted Christology by depicting Jesus' humiliation; the theology of glory passages read like other Jewish and Greco-Roman stories of holy men and wonder-workers of the day; theology of suffering, however, may have been written to counter claims of a defeat in the crucifixion:
"We know the shamefulness of crucifixion in the Greco-Roman world . . . We know the consequent folly and scandal of early Christian preaching of the Cross" (Gundry, Mark, 14; cf. 1 Cor. 1:18, 23).
"Mark wrote his gospel as an apology for the Cross. For he appeals to exactly those elements in the career of Jesus which for Greco-Roman readers would most likely suffuse the shame of crucifixion in a nimbus of glory" (Gundry, 15).
"[In] the passion narrative. . . , Mark chooses and shapes his materials and comments on them in ways that glorify the Passion, not in ways that passionize the earlier glory" (Gundry, 12).
"Mark does not pit the suffering and death of Jesus against his successes, but. . . pits the successes against the suffering and death, and then uses the passion predictions, writes up the passion narrative, and caps his gospel with a discovery of the empty tomb in ways that cohere with the success-stories, in ways that make the passion itself a success-story" (Gundry, 3).
As "interpreted history," the walking on water story should be understood in context of the previous miracle but also within the cultural context:
The feeding of the 5000 would have reminded the disciples of Moses and the Exodus. The miracle of the walking on water would have reminded them of the climax to the Exodus - Joshua and the conquest of the land of Canaan. After wandering for 40 years in the wilderness Moses led the Israelites to the eastern shores of the river Jordan to prepare for the conquest. But Moses died on Mt Nebo before he could begin the invasion. His mission was accomplished by his right man Joshua.
Jesus' miracle of the walking on water would have reminded the disciples of Joshua. Like Joshua, Jesus was crossing waters. Ahead of Joshua was the Ark of the Covenant with the Ten Commandments carried by twelve priests. That scene was inverted and echoed on the Sea of Galilee; ahead of Jesus was a different kind of ark - the wooden boat, carrying the twelve disciples. But the biggest similarity between the two was in their names: Jesus is the Latin for the Hebrew name Joshua.
In the Jewish mindset of the time, Joshua was another role model for the Messiah - the flipside of Moses. Whereas Moses had freed the Israelites from oppression, it was Joshua who had finished the job by conquering the Promised Land for them. At the time of Jesus, the Jews were looking for a Messiah would not only free them from foreign oppression (as Moses had done), but someone who would also reclaim Judea and Galilee and restore it to the rule of God. In both the miracles of the loaves and fishes and the walking on water, Jesus seemed to fit the bill perfectly.
But the miracle of the walking on water had many other meanings, especially in that difficult period from the middle of the first century onwards when early Christianity faced hostility and persecution from Imperial tyrants. The sea miracle functioned as a metaphor for the precarious situation in which Christian churches found themselves - especially in Rome. To many Christians the Church must have felt like the fishing boat on the sea of Galilee, buffeted by strong winds and rocked by the waves. They must also have felt that Jesus had left them alone on the boat to fend for themselves. At best he was a ghostly appearance. But the message of the miracle is that they should 'take heart' and not be 'afraid': Jesus had not abandoned them, he was with them. It was a message which helped Christians endure persecution through the centuries.
Theological structure suggests, perhaps, more coherency than the proposed redactions and choppy nature of this chapter and the following material; important themes include the continuing and intensifying rejection of Jesus and "the good news of God," emphasis upon the mission of the Twelve, the intercalation of the death of John the Baptist between the sending of Jesus' disciples and their return, the story of the feeding of the five thousand, perhaps emphasizing God's people as needing miraculous sustenance by God, and a walking on water episode. The editor (?) states clearly that the disciples have misunderstood the loaves (52) and that they have been more terrified in mistaking Jesus for a ghost. Ironically, in a certain kind of way, they have gotten it right in their misunderstanding of who it is that comes into their boat: it is Jesus fully embodying the "good news of God." The NISB Notes suggest the possibility of allusion to "God's veiled self-disclosure to Moses (Ex. 33.18-23) and Elijah 1 Kings 19:11-12)." NISV Notes also remark on Jesus' reply: "it is I; do not be afraid" (50) as "an expression of divine self-revelation." Not surprisingly, this self-disclosure is followed, not only by the disciples' misunderstanding, but the actual hardening of their hearts, recalling Mark 3:5 in the synagogue where Jesus grieves at the hardness of heart of the religious who use the Sabbath as an excuse not to do good. The chapter rounds out with the people of Gennesaret recognizing Jesus, here used perhaps ironically, since what they come to Jesus for is more healing. Chapter seven picks up with renewed controversy about keeping the traditions, a non-Jewish Syrophoenician Woman's faith, and the curing of a deaf man followed in chapter 8 with another feeding, the demand for "a sign," a warning about the Pharisees and of Herod, the cure of a blind man, and the first in a cycle of three predictions of Jesus' oncoming suffering and death.