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part 3: the Gender Inclusivity of Jesus in Mark

June 5, 2014

In this 3rd part of posting on the Gender Inclusivity of Jesus in Mark, I’m going to offer my own English translation of the Greek translation. What came out of the mouth of Jesus, in Greek, was this:

Τὸ σάββατον διὰ τὸν ἄνθρωπον ἐγένετο
καὶ οὐχ ὁ ἄνθρωπος διὰ τὸ σάββατον·
ὥστε κύριός ἐστιν ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου
καὶ τοῦ σαββάτου.

Shabbat was, for the Human Being, generated as in a breeding,
and the Human Being was not born and bred for Shabbat.
So he, the Human Male Offspring, is Master
and of Shabbat.

The Hellene takes readers back to Hesiod’s Theo-Gony, to the LXX’s Genesis, to Aristotle’s Generation of Animals. The gods are making the heavens and the earth and the sea. God is making Human Beings in His Likeness. This is the Nature of Procreation, with animal species like but certainly lower than the Human species.

The most Hebraic phrase of all, the Hellene-letters σάββατ*, takes readers back to Greek Exodus, to the Decalogue in the Pentateuch. Moses in Alexandria, Egypt among the Jewish community there speaks Greek and relays the Ten Commandments of Kurios, of Master. The one is that the variety of species, animals, and the Human in all its gendered diversity, must observe Shabbat. It was born and bred for them. It is the Nature of things. The Master himself observed Shabbat, is Master of all, and of Shabbat. (This most holy high Hebrew, this phrase of Moses, of G-d. In Alexandria, Egypt sometime around 260 BCE, the Jews living there rendered it into Hebraic Hellene. A century later, suggests historian Sylvie Honigman, this Greek version of Moses became “as sacred – at least as sacred as the Hebrew original.” The readers of the Greek gospel of Mark hear this, remember it, make it as holy.)

The frozen phrase υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου takes readers back to the wordplay of the “Psalmoi” in Greek and then the rest of the Scriptures for Greek reading. We speculate, with a certain plausibility, that the Alexandrian Jews knew their Greek. They seemed to enjoy wordplay in Hellene. Those translating the Psalms seem to have engaged in literary sparks as notes Albert Pietersma reading the Greek for the NETS Septuagint.

In one Psalm, what we refer to as Psalm 8, there’s the hierarchy of Master over all creation. It’s middle lines bring forth an anthropos (ἄνθρωπος) under heaven, out of earth, lower than an angel, above the animals of every species in every place. The LXX translator has Greek readers hearken back to the Hellene Genesis creation story again.

Once I tried to convey, to render, to translate, to bring across some of this Greek into some English. It goes like this:


The hierarchy constructed, and then deconstructed, by the movement of the Greek Psalm here is important. The classes of things in Nature, constructed and deconstructed, is important.

This sort of wordplay, the literary sparks and interpretive spins here, play against the tight classes of Aristotle. Aristotle keeps the various natural categories pure, separate, stratified.

Below is Aristotle writing his Eudemian Ethics. Towards the end of the excerpt, he quotes a playwright, Sophocles (whom Aristotle disparages for his confused rhetoric elsewhere); those who would make unequal classes equal are like the playwright who would have Zeus not just a master ruler but some sort of fathering father of all offspring, of everybody, as if everybody is equal with everybody else. As I did above with my English and the LXX Greek of the Psalm, I’ve highlighted the concordant phrases, putting the English on one side and the Greek on the other. The following fine English translation is by Brad Inwood and Raphael Woolf. Very clearly these translators show Aristotle’s attempt to work classes and categories in binary “either / or” pairs, the one over the other. A close reading of the phrases shows what Mark, the gospel writer, might have been working with. At the very least, I hope readers of this post will see the gender inclusivity of Jesus in Mark. Now here’s Aristotle:


11 Comments leave one →
  1. June 5, 2014 9:51 pm

    I’m really intrigued by the generative angle you reveal in the Greek verb. I have never, ever heard this brought out; I’ve always interpreted “humans were made for the Sabbath” in a very craftwork/artisan metaphor space; or perhaps in the key of telos — goal, purpose. The notion of birthing/breeding deepens what’s being said here.

    In a contemporary, pop-culture idiom, we might even say

    Humans were born for this!


  2. June 5, 2014 10:03 pm

    I realize I inverted what the passage actually says, but it feels to me like a faithful translation of the sense. The contemporary idiom is featured in, say, radio ads intended to depict a way of life that is so perfectly well suited to a person that we might say it was tailor-made for them. (See, that tailor is wielding the needle in the back of my mind when I think about this passage.) But because it not only suits them, but allows them to blossom and excel, the ad turns it around: You were born for this.

    And on a separate thought — the breeding angle, when combined with the corporate personality symbolism sometimes attributed to Son of Man, also helps explain the next bit. Suppose we think of the Son of Man as the ultimate product of humanity, like the perfect specimen that is the result of a long line of breeding, the Quintessential Human.

    If the sabbath was birthed/bred for human beings, that suggests (ever so slightly) that the sabbath and humans have some kinship to each other. Then it would make sense that the Quintessential Human would have the perfect/perfected/completed/mastered relationship with the sabbath.

  3. June 6, 2014 7:12 am

    the generative angle… the breeding angle

    Wow – I really like your various thoughts here! The inversion into our own English idiom really gets it. “were born for” And “the ultimate product of humanity… the Quintessential Human” is great insight; I tend not to be such an idealist and to find myself (for my own reasons) cringing at platonism, and yet when you put this in terms of breeding goals (“like the perfect specimen”) then I completely follow and appreciate what you’re getting at.

    For me, as much as Mark’s verb ἐγένετο (which is usually read in English translation as just a literary device to give breath to a narrative action – i.e., “And it came to pass”) compels me in this context to overhear procreative overtones (i.e., υἱὸς, The Son as Male Offspring), there’s actually something else more compelling:

    Mark’s readers (hearing Jesus speak this Greek) jump back to the Exodus LXX discussion of the Sabbath. This particular Commandment in the Ten Commandments has this reference

    σὺ καὶ ὁ υἱός σου καὶ ἡ θυγάτηρ σου / you and your male human offspring and your female human offspring).

    And that particular commandment is immediately followed by this one:

    τίμα τὸν πατέρα σου καὶ τὴν μητέρα,
    ἵνα εὖ σοι γένηται,
    καὶ ἵνα μακροχρόνιος γένῃ
    ἐπὶ τῆς γῆς
    τῆς ἀγαθῆς, ἧς κύριος ὁ θεός σου δίδωσίν σοι.

    I’ve bolded a few words that Mark’s Jesus’s (Hellene) words seem to play off of.

    And, in general, why does Moses (and God) in their Hebrew have the Command to honor Father-and-Mother-as-birth-parents come right after the Command suggesting Humans were born for Shabbat?

  4. krwordgazer permalink
    June 7, 2014 2:00 pm

    A question has come up on another forum I frequent. In many English translations the construction of “the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath” in this verse is very similar to the construction in 1 Cor. 11 of “woman was made for man, not man for woman.” In the Greek, is there such a similarity?

  5. June 8, 2014 8:05 am

    There are similarities but I’m not sure “very similar” is the best way to characterize the comparison of what Mark has Jesus saying and how he has him saying it with what Paul writes to Greek readers in Korinth. In the pauline letter also with it being subject to variant textual readings, there is a statement (in vv 8-9) and then its elaboration (v 1`) and perhaps a restatement in (v12). The first statement seems most clearly to get readers thinking of the Creation story of Genesis. But the verb Paul uses is one that is not used in the LXX until it has the conversation between Melchizedek king of Salem and Abram, who respectively say ἔκτισεν in reference to something G-d the Most High has done. Paul’s restatement in v 12 seems to me the most similar especially with the syntax and prepositions, which suggest more of a procreation than
    (as in vv 8-9) the mere creation event.

    What are the claims of the discussion? What are the purported implications of the Markan and Pauline constructions being “very similar”?

  6. krwordgazer permalink
    June 8, 2014 10:04 pm

    Here is the main idea being discussed over at the Equality Central Forum:

    “The point of Jesus in Mark is that people’s needs are more important than (that is, trump) the need for Jews to keep Sabbath restrictions. So it MIGHT be claimed that by a similar argument, man’s needs trump woman’s needs. I have NEVER seen this argument before, so I thought I would raise it and get feedback as to why it is wrong.”

  7. June 9, 2014 6:42 am

    Thanks for bringing to this blog that ECF question about a possible argument of men-over-women hierarchy based on a comparison of the passage in the gospel of Mark and the passage in I Corinthians.

    I don’t know the extent of the ECF discussion, or its direction. I do want to pick on one little thing in the quotation you give above here:

    “The point of Jesus” vs. “the need for Jews to keep Sabbath restrictions”?

    Isn’t this an unfortunate summary reading of the text of Mark 3? First, there’s no inkling of a suggestion that Mark’s gospel is anti-Semitic the way it’s been suggested that the gospel of John might be (with its “Ἰουδαῖοι” vs. Jesus). Does Marks’ Jesus really undo any Jewish requirement to keep the Ten Commandments even this particular one? And isn’t Mark’s Jesus Jewish enough? Second, many Christians observe the Sabbath. And many Christians call the decalogue a universal not a set of commandments restricting Jewish people.

  8. June 9, 2014 12:17 pm

    Kurk, I’m a little puzzled at your interpretation of the comment, because it was made by a guy who is very respectful of the Jewish faith and traditions, and that’s not at all what he meant! He wasn’t saying Jesus meant the Sabbath should be undone. He believes Jesus lived as a Torah-observant Jew. The point is that Jesus was saying that because the Sabbath was made for people and not people for the Sabbath, people’s needs can override strict Sabbath observance.

    So the question is whether anyone could claim that a man’s needs could override a woman’s needs using the same reasoning? Over at ECF we decided that the context of the man & woman verse in 1 Cor 11 negated the idea that that verse could be used that way– but proof-texters are very good at ignoring context, so I was wondering if there was anything in the Greek construction of the verse itself that makes it different?

  9. June 9, 2014 6:18 pm

    Forgive me, Kristen, for misunderstanding the intentions in this statement (or question).

    people’s needs can override strict Sabbath observance…. the question is whether anyone could claim that a man’s needs could override a woman’s needs using the same reasoning?… proof-texters are very good at ignoring context, so I was wondering if there was anything in the Greek construction of the verse itself that makes it different

    I suppose a proof texter may want to try to claim some sort of overriding. Here’s how I read the Greek to the Korinthians:

    οὐ γάρ ἐστιν ἀνὴρ ἐκ γυναικός
    ἀλλὰ γυνὴ ἐξ ἀνδρός·
    καὶ γὰρ οὐκ ἐκτίσθη ἀνὴρ διὰ τὴν γυναῖκα,
    ἀλλὰ γυνὴ διὰ τὸν ἄνδρα.

    It wasn’t, in fact, a man coming out of a wife
    but rather a wife out of a man
    and, in fact, it wasn’t a man created for the wife
    but rather a wife for the husband

    πλὴν οὔτε γυνὴ χωρὶς ἀνδρὸς
    οὔτε ἀνὴρ χωρὶς γυναικὸς ἐν Κυρίῳ·
    ὥσπερ γὰρ ἡ γυνὴ ἐκ τοῦ ἀνδρός,
    οὕτως καὶ ὁ ἀνὴρ διὰ τῆς γυναικός·
    τὰ δὲ πάντα ἐκ τοῦ Θεοῦ.

    however it’s neither a woman without a husband
    nor a man without a wife in Master
    since, in fact, the wife’s out of the man
    just as the man’s for the wife
    all, nonetheless, are out of God

    Is this proof of an overriding of a wife’s needs? It’s got to be one of the most difficult to understand passages of the New Testament. It doesn’t matter whether you’re egalitarian or hierarchical complementarian, you still have to admit you don’t know what this means:

    διὰ τοῦτο ὀφείλει ἡ γυνὴ ἐξουσίαν ἔχειν
    ἐπὶ τῆς κεφαλῆς
    διὰ τοὺς ἀγγέλους.

    What on earth could be meant by

    for the Angels?

    Doesn’t it seem that Mark’s Greek has Jesus taking readers back into the Septuagint as a really Jewish reading? His counterparts (i.e., the Pharisees, the purists, the separatists) were being, interestingly, rather goyish, like Aristotle and like Alexander and maybe even like Caesar.

    I can’t see this as so much an overriding of as much as a playful opening up of the interpretation. It hearkens back to Genesis and to the Psalms (in holy Hebraic Hellene).

    I guess I’d have to look closer at the letter to the Corinthian Greek readers to see if that’s what’s going on there. I think proof-texters are going to have to go a long way to make this argument that’s imagined. Is the gospel of Mark structuring its Sabbath account here after the Korinthian letter? Or is Paul using Mark’s structure? Of are they both commonly constructing this out of Genesis LXX perhaps somehow? I’m pretty open usually, but this seems a far stretch.

  10. krwordgazer permalink
    June 10, 2014 9:02 pm

    I appreciate your response, Kurk. I have been told that the “for” in “the woman was created for the man” is better translated “for the sake of.” That is, she isn’t for his use, but for his help– which seems to pick up the idea from Genesis. I do wonder if the words translated “for” in the two passages are the same word.

  11. June 11, 2014 6:40 am

    Kristen, it’s not a bad idea to give the supposed “for” or “for sake of” a little attention. The little highly ambiguous Greek word that gets turned into such English is just a preposition: διὰ. This is why I asked what could be meant by διὰ τοὺς ἀγγέλους. Different translators have it variously as “because of the angels” and “because the angels are watching” and “for the sake of the Angels” and “out of respect for the angels” and “on account of the angels” and “on account of the Messengers” and “because of the messengers” and “has to do with the angels” and “for all the angels to see” and “show reverence as do] the angels [and not displease them]” and “especially when gathering in the company of heavenly messengers.” I’m not sure my sampling of the translations in English here is exhaustive of the possibilities for rendering this prepositional phrase but I do hope it shows the problems with being doctrinally dogmatic in any case.

    This reminds me of Anne Carson’s advice:

    Think of the Greek preposition πρός.

    And she’s thought about it, explaining, and necessarily asking:

    When used with the accusative case, this preposition means “toward, upon, against, with, ready for, face to face, engaging, concerning, touching, in reply to, in respect of, compared with, according to, as accompaniment for.” It is the preposition chosen by John the Evangelist to describe the relationship between God and The Word in the first verse of the first chapter of his Revelation [i.e., John’s Gospel as revealing The Word with translation]:

    πρὸς θεόν

    “And The Word was with God” is how the usual translation goes. What kind of withness is it?

    Pardon me for linking elsewhere, but Anne Carson uses George Eliot in a couple of places elsewhere to describe such attempts at [exact and exacting] description as just, well, as “stupid.”

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