Tuesday, September 07, 2004

Exegetical Moment: Mark 1:23-26,31

I am continuing my slow march through the Gospel of Mark, and I've got a couple of notes today about gender and identity issues.

The first is the story usually called "The Man with an Unclean Spirit," at Mark 1:21-28. I question, however, whether this person who was healed by Jesus was actually a man. The Greek word for "man" is aner (or andros is the genitive form). However, this is not the word that is used here to describe the person. The word used is anthropos, as in the English word anthropology. This is a much more general term that means "person" or "human being." It does not specify whether the person is male or female. It refers simply to a generic human.

Now, there is a little complication here. Mark follows up with referring to the human by the pronoun autos. This is the masculine pronoun, which in English usually gets translated "he." So, even if we were to translate anthropos as human or person, we would probably follow up by saying he.

However, this may not be the best choice. Unlike in English, Greek, like many other languages, assigns gender to all of its nouns. And, like in many other languages, the gender of the noun (the grammatical gender) does not always match up with the actual gender of the object. (For example, in German, a table is masculine, a door in feminine, and a girl is neuter). This is also true of anthropos. It is grammatically masculine, but it has a neuter meaning.

So, when we go to follow up anthropos with a pronoun, naturally we would use the grammatically masculine pronoun, but it would have a neuter meaning, since it still refers back to anthropos, which has a neuter meaning. This does present a problem for translation, though, because we don't have a neuter pronoun that we can use for people. 'It" just doesn't work for a person.

However, the fact remains that the person referred to in this story is just that: a person. Not necessarily a man or woman, but a person, universal. Jesus is healing a person who is a representative of all people.

-------Mark 1:31-------
Now for the second point, and this one is a question. Jesus has just finished healing Simon's mother-in-law. The fever she had has left her. Then we get this text: kai diekonei autois, which means "and he/she/it was serving/ministering to them." There is no absolute evidence telling us who the subject of this phrase is. We don't know for sure who the he/she/it is. The last thing to be a subject of a sentence was "the fever" and before that it was Jesus. However, this phrase always seems get translated "and she began to serve them." So she gets healed and then immediately gets up and starts waiting on people.

Now, that would certainly be proof that she had been healed. However, it isn't the only or even necessarily the most likely meaning. Jesus could just as easily be the subject of this sentence. "And he began ministering to them." (the same verb is used for both ministering and serving). In fact, that was my first choice when I was translating this on my own.

What do you think? Do you agree that Jesus could just as easily be the subject of this sentence? Can you find any evidence to pin down who the subject is? How would this alternate translation affect the meaning of the passage?

3 Comments:

Blogger Rick said...

How 'bout the text referring to the healing as serving/ministering to them? The rality is though, that because she was a woman 2,000 years ago, she waited on them. What did the healing represent? A return to wholeness? Giving back her dignity as a woman? Just thinking out loud.

Rick, my second or third visit here.

4:34 PM  
Blogger Jenell said...

Hey...a guy who does exegesis... if you ever have the time, I'd love to know what you think of the story of Jesus and the Canaanite woman. Why did he ignore her, then call her a dog, and then heal her? I explored this passage yesterday in my race and ethnic relations class. Why would Jesus use ethnic slurs toward a member of a despised minority group? I sort of got myself stuck and just said I didn't know. But hey, I'm just an anthropologist - you're the Bible guy!

No big deal if you don't have time or interest, but I'll check back here to see if you ever take up the question.

Great exegetical post!

7:57 AM  
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