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Saturday, August 11, 2007

Exegesis


You have heard of the Battle of the Bands? This is the Battle of the Bible on Conversations with Bob! It isn't a battle. It is a conversation between colleagues and friends. Bob's turn!


John,

Interesting response. I agree that the Bible is a Family Saga. That’s what makes it so much fun and hilarious and sad. The Isaac/Rebekah cycle in Genesis is an illustration in how not to do family. “Isaac loved Esau . . . but Rebekah loved Jacob.” (Gen. 25:28) Talk about dysfunctional families!

Anyway, on to Mark 5. Let me respond to your comment on the text, starting backwards.

Why into the pigs? It’s a Jewish joke! Where would you put unclean spirits? In unclean animals of course! Why do the pigs run down to the water and drown? I suspect that the author wants us to think that the unclean spirits did it. My preferred although probably flawed interpretation is that pigs are smarter than humans. They would rather die than let unclean spirits stay in them. And where did the unclean spirits go after the pigs died? I suspect they didn’t want to go to hell. At least that is what I suspect is meant by their begging Jesus not to send them out of the area.

Okay. Why did the neighbors want Jesus to leave the neighborhood? I think you hit very close with your comments about Oak Ridge. If this Jesus stayed around he might really ruin the economy! After all, he’s been in the neighborhood, what, a few hours and already he’s killed off a whole herd of pigs. What might he do next? Notice that they don’t thank Jesus for kicking the demons out of their friend and neighbor. The economy is much more important than the health of a neighbor. (Hmm . . . maybe there is something about national health policy in this too)

Now to your exegesis and hermeneutic: I agree that some scholars would use the word “legend” to talk about this periscope. Again, I suspect I have more trust in the accuracy (meaning I think it happened) of Biblical material than you do. But you clearly have an underlying question that you didn’t state directly: why another casting out of demons story? After all Mark has already done this.

You don’t mention the territorial move. This is a move out of Jewish territory (to the extent that Galilee was Jewish territory, but Mark at least seems to see it as Jewish territory) into Gentile territory; thus the herd of pigs. We are still inside the Roman Empire. Does the move from Galilee to the Decapolis give any information about the author’s intent? I think it does for several reasons.

What concerns me most about your exegesis is that you have turned a rather straightforward story about a casting out of a demon, albeit with interesting highlights because it’s in Gentile territory, into a symbolic story. You take the word “Legion” and the pigs as references to Roman oppression and the tombs as a symbol for death that results from oppression. I wonder why.

One of the themes of Roger’s and McKim’s book, Authority and Interpretation of the Bible: An Historical Approach, is the need to seek the plain meaning of the text instead of “spiritualizing” or “moralizing” it. While I agree that there are themes of Empire/Freedom in Mark, I don’t think this is one of the places, at least not about Empire. The people of the time clearly believed in demon possession. You can see evidence of this in rabbinic sources as well. Part of the purpose of healing narratives in general and of the casting out of demons narratives is to show the power of Jesus. You can find the same emphasis in rabbinic literature. Why change the message of the story through the use of symbolism? There are plenty of Empire/Freedom Narratives in the gospels.

Even if you don’t want to emphasize the demonic aspects of the story there are the themes of the rejection of Jesus for economic reasons, the fact that the neighbors care more about the pigs than the healed man, and the very curious ending to the story. Jesus sends the man out to tell about his healing, something Jesus never did in Jewish territory. Why would he do this? I suspect it has something to do with the fact that the incident happens in Gentile territory and therefore would not cause the Messianic fervor that Jesus sought to avoid in Mark, also called the Messianic Secret.

Why the use of symbolism? Do you think that the writer of this passage in Mark intended to talk about Empire? If not why not take the text as it is? A question: does this grow out of an affinity for Liberation Theology? I know that some of the Latin American Liberationists use symbolism in their interpretation of Scripture. It is my suspicion that they inherited this from older Roman Catholic exegesis that sometimes spiritualized the text.

I would love to hear your responses to my comments before you move on to the next text.

Grace and Peace

Bob

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