Below is a rough translation and some preliminary notes about Mark 7:24-31, the first part of the Revised Common Lectionary’s gospel reading for the 16thSunday of Pentecost. You can read my translation and comment about the second part of that text here.
24 Ἐκεῖθεν δὲ ἀναστὰς ἀπῆλθεν εἰς τὰ ὅρια Τύρου. καὶ εἰσελθὼν εἰς οἰκίαν
οὐδέν αἤθελεν γνῶναι, καὶ οὐκ ἠδυνήθη λαθεῖν:
Yet going up from there he went into the region of Tyre. And having entered into a house he did not wish nobody to know, and he was not able to be hidden;
ἀναστὰς: AAPart nsm, ἀνίστημι, 1) to cause to rise up, raise up 1a) raise up from laying down 1b) to raise up from the dead … 2c) of those who leave a place to go elsewhere
ἀπῆλθεν: AAI 3s, ἀπέρχομαι, 1) to go away, depart
εἰσελθὼν: AAPart nsm, εἰσέρχομαι, 1) to go out or come in: to enter
αἤθελεν: IAI 3s, θέλω, 1) to will, have in mind, intend
γνῶναι: AAInf, γινώσκω,1) to learn to know, come to know, get a knowledge of perceive, feel
ἠδυνήθη: API 3s, δύναμαι, 1) to be able, have power whether by virtue of one's own ability and resources, or of a state of mind, or through favourable circumstances, or by permission of law or custom
λαθεῖν: AAInf, λανθάνω, 1) to be hidden, to be hidden from one, secretly, unawares, without knowing
1. Jesus has entered Gentile territory and seeks anonymity, but doesn’t get it. During the time that Mark was supposedly written, during the Jewish rebellion against Rome in 66-70, Josephus describes the Tyrians as enemies of the Jews.
2. Both this story (vv.24-31) and the next (vv.31-37) are in Gentile territory.
3. There is no mention of the disciples in this story and, perhaps, in the next.
25 ἀλλ' εὐθὺς ἀκούσασα γυνὴ περὶ αὐτοῦ, ἧς εἶχεν τὸ θυγάτριον αὐτῆς
πνεῦμα ἀκάθαρτον, ἐλθοῦσα προσέπεσεν πρὸς τοὺς πόδας αὐτοῦ:
But immediately a woman having heard about him, whose little daughter was having an unclean spirit, having come fell down at his feet;
ἀκούσασα: AAPart nsf, ἀκούω, 1) to be endowed with the faculty of hearing, not deaf 2) to hear
εἶχεν: IAI 3s, ἔχω, 1) to have, i.e. to hold
ἐλθοῦσα: AAPart nsf, ἔρχομαι, 1) to come 1a) of persons
προσέπεσεν: AAI 3s,προσπίπτω, 1) to fall forwards, fall down, prostrate one's self before, in homage or supplication: at one's feet
26 ἡ δὲ γυνὴ ἦν Ἑλληνίς, Συροφοινίκισσα τῷ γένει: καὶ ἠρώτα αὐτὸν ἵνα τὸ
δαιμόνιον ἐκβάλῃ ἐκ τῆς θυγατρὸς αὐτῆς.
Yet the woman was a Greek, being a Syrophoenician by birth; and was begging him in order that he might cast the demon out of her daughter.
ἦν: IAI 3s, εἰμί, 1) to be, to exist, to happen, to be present
ἠρώτα: IAI 3s, ἐρωτάω, 1) to question 2) to ask 2a) to request, entreat, beg, beseech
ἐκβάλῃ: AASubj 3s, ἐκβάλλω, 1) to cast out, drive out, to send out
1. Between vv.25-26, Mark uses “unclean spirit” (πνεῦμα ἀκάθαρτον) and “demon” (δαιμόνιον) interchangeably.
2. My dictionary is showing a difference between “little daughter” (θυγάτριον) in v.25 and “daughter” (θυγατρὸς) in v.26.
3. There is a parallel between this woman’s approach and request and the similar approach and request in 5:22-24 by a ruler of the synagogue. The differences are also stark between the stories. The ruler has a name and is not challenged at all: “Then one of the leaders of the synagogue named Jairus came and, when he saw him, fell at his feet and begged him repeatedly, ‘My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well, and live.’ So he went with him.”
4. The story of Jairus, however, is a bracketing story. Within it is a story of an unnamed woman who touches Jesus to be healed of her constant hemorrhaging. In the end, Jesus calls her “Daughter” (θυγατρὸς, 5:34).
27 καὶ ἔλεγεν αὐτῇ, Ἄφες πρῶτον χορτασθῆναι τὰ τέκνα, οὐ γάρ ἐστιν
καλὸν λαβεῖν τὸν ἄρτον τῶν τέκνων καὶ τοῖς κυναρίοις βαλεῖν.
And he was saying to her, “Allow first the children to be fed, for it is not good to take the bread of the children and to cast to the little dogs.”
ἔλεγεν: IAI 3s, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak 1a) affirm over, maintain
Ἄφες: AAImpv 2s, ἀφίημι, 1) to send away 1a) to bid going away or depart … 2) to permit, allow, not to hinder, to give up a thing to a person
χορτασθῆναι: APInf, χορτάζω, 1) to feed with herbs, grass, hay, to fill, satisfy with food, to fatten 1a) of animals 2) to fill or satisfy men
ἐστιν: PAI 3s, εἰμί, 1) to be, to exist, to happen, to be present
λαβεῖν: AAInf, λαμβάνω, 1) to take
βαλεῖν: AAInf, βάλλω, 1) to throw or let go of a thing without caring where it falls
1. It is an absolutely horrible thing to say, to compare another person to a dog. It is horrible to say to anyone, much less a mother, who has fallen down at one’s feet begging mercy for her little child. Certainly, one can point out that the woman’s daughter is eventually healed. One can show that Mark is using this challenge by Jesus as a way for the woman to parry the remark and say something wonderful, to which Jesus relents. One can and should contextualize the comment within whatever prejudices and real enmity was at play in the 1stcentury between Jews and their Gentile neighbors to the north. One can say “All’s well that ends well.” But, it is still a horrible thing to say. One must start with that.
2. In those parts of the world where dogs are not house pets, they have a complex interaction with humans. Here is my impression of the relationship between humans and canines in El Salvador: Dogs alongside humans as scavengers, constantly on the prowl for food. They are often inbred, mangy, and accompanied by flies. Nonetheless, they walk right into a group of people and lay down to nap or stand under a table or beside the kitchen waiting for a scrap, cooked or raw. They bark incessantly at night and claim first dibs on anything dead. They are shameless in defecating and procreating. They are tolerated, but when company comes they are often driven away with a switch or a rock and tend to settle again once the imminent danger is out of reach.
3. The temptation for the preacher is to act as though Jesus didn’t really speak of this woman’s little girl as a dog. Some commentators even go beyond the story to say that Jesus was feinting in order to show that he didn’t really mean it. To me, that may be true of Mark as the author, but within the story it is not true of Jesus. Even if, in the end, he changes his perspective, in the beginning his perspective is troubling. Will the preacher have the courage to be troubled aloud by it?
4. Speaking of being fed, this story takes place in between the feeding of the 5,000 in Mk. 6:30-44 and the feeding of the 4,000 in Mark 8:1-9.
5. As “little daughter” (θυγάτριον)is a diminutive form of “daughter” (θυγατρὸς), so “little dog” (κυνάριον) is a diminutive form of “dog” (κύων).
28 ἡ δὲ ἀπεκρίθη καὶ λέγει αὐτῷ, Κύριε, καὶ τὰ κυνάρια ὑποκάτω τῆς
τραπέζης ἐσθίουσιν ἀπὸ τῶν ψιχίων τῶν παιδίων.
Yet she answered and says to him, “Lord*, even the little dogs underneath the table eat from the crumbs of the children.”
[*Other manuscripts have Ναί, κύριε, “Yes, Lord…”]
ἀπεκρίθη: API 3s, ἀποκρίνομαι, 1) to give an answer to a question proposed, to answer
λέγει: PAI 3s, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak 1a) affirm over, maintain
ἐσθίουσιν: PAI 3p, ἐσθίω, 1) to eat
1. I did not note where I got this following comment back when studying this text before, but no doubt it was from one of the sites in Jenee Woodward’s wonderful textweek.com resource. I suspect I cut and pasted it, but I’ll accept responsibility if it is mis-worded:
“Camery-Hoggat (1992, p150-1) explains the exchange in v. 27-28 as an example of peirastic irony, in which the speaker (Jesus) challenges the listener to come up with a riposte that confirms the speaker's own position by declaring the opposite of what one means or wants. Camery-Hoggat points to Genesis 19:2, where the angels test whether Lot is serious about his hospitality by stating the opposite of their real desire: "No, we will spend the night in the street." Camery-Hoggat argues that the vocabulary of the story, which opposes "children" (the Jews) to "dogs" (Gentiles) in the context of "bread" (with its overtones of Jesus' teachings and the Eucharist) shows that the writer has created a scene filled with wordplay which invites the speakers to engage in verbal joust and riposte, thus justifying his position.”
In my mind, this kind of comment may explain what Mark is doing as the author of this text. It does not explain what Jesus says as the character in the story. The challenge of this text is that it seems unthinkable that Jesus would actually have such an ugly prejudice toward others. Certainly Camery-Hoggat’s explanation does not address Jesus’ words asJesus’ words. Does one engage in peirastic irony, verbal joust and riposte, with a woman whose little daughter is demonized?
29καὶ εἶπεν αὐτῇ, Διὰ τοῦτον τὸν λόγον ὕπαγε, ἐξελήλυθεν ἐκ τῆς θυγατρός
σου τὸ δαιμόνιον.
And he said to her, “Because of this word go, the demon has gone out of your daughter.”
εἶπεν: AAI 3s, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak 1a) affirm over, maintain
ὕπαγε: PAImpv 2s, ὑπάγω, 1) to lead under, bring under 2) to withdraw one's self, to go away, depart
ἐξελήλυθεν: PerfAI 3s, ἐξέρχομαι, 1) to go or come forth of … 1a1) of those who leave a place of their own accord 1a2) of those who are expelled or cast
30καὶ ἀπελθοῦσα εἰς τὸν οἶκον αὐτῆς εὗρεν τὸ παιδίον βεβλημένον ἐπὶ τὴν
κλίνην καὶ τὸ δαιμόνιον ἐξεληλυθός.
And having gone away into her house she found the child who had been thrown on the bed and the demon which had departed.
ἀπελθοῦσα: AAPart, nsf, ἀπέρχομαι, 1) to go away, depart
εὗρεν: AAI 3s, εὑρίσκω, 1) to come upon, hit upon, to meet with 1a) after searching, to find a thing sought
βεβλημένον: PerfPPart asn, βάλλω, 1) to throw or let go of a thing without caring where it falls
ἐξεληλυθός: PerfAPart asn, ἐξέρχομαι, 1) to go or come forth of … 1a1) of those who leave a place of their own accord 1a2) of those who are expelled or cast
1. Most translations say the little girl ‘was laid’ on the bed or ‘lying in the bed.’ The verb is passive, so of those two options ‘was laid’ is better. However, the verb is βάλλω, which is often used to describe the act of ‘casting’ out a demon. It often has violent connotations, although it can also be simply ‘throwing’ or something less violent. I have kept the strength of the verb to show that what Mark might be indicating is that when the demon departed it threw the girl onto the bed. Both the demon’s departing and the girl’s having been cast onto the bed happened by the time the mother entered the house.
31Καὶ πάλιν ἐξελθὼν ἐκ τῶν ὁρίων Τύρου ἦλθεν διὰ Σιδῶνος εἰς τὴν
θάλασσαν τῆς Γαλιλαίας ἀνὰ μέσον τῶν ὁρίων Δεκαπόλεως.
And again having gone out of the regions of Tyre he went through Sidon to the sea of Galilee along the middle of the Decapolis regions.
ἐξελθὼν: AAPart nsm, ἐξέρχομαι, 1) to go or come forth of 1a) with mention of the place out of which one goes, or the point from which he departs
ἦλθεν: AAI 3s, ἔρχομαι, 1) to come 1a) of persons 1a1) to come from one place to another, and used both of persons arriving and of those returning
1. Jesus goes even farther into Gentile region, moving from Tyre to Sidon, and then closer to Jewish areas by going through the Decapolis (“10 cities”). As the Latinate name suggests, the Decapolis was considered a Romanist area. The next story, then, continues to be a Gentile area story.
2. The word “regions” (ὁρίων) means borderlines. For Tyre and Sidon, being coastal cities, it could mean “coasts” or “coastlines.”
A final word: It may be uncomfortable to confront how horrible Jesus’ primary response is to this distressed mother. But it is awful to compare a human to a dog, particularly when dogs are considered unclean pests. And to do so with a sick child, who is already reduced to being needy; and to her mother, who is already begging – I can only embrace this story as a conversion story where Jesus is converted out of cultural prejudice.