Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Comparing Humans to Dogs


Mark 7:24-31

Below is a rough translation and some preliminary notes about Mark 7:24-31, the first part of the gospel reading for Sunday, September 9. My notes are in blue and your responses are welcomed. 

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  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 
Between vv.25-26, Mark uses “unclean spirit” (πνεῦμα ἀκάθαρτον) and “demon” (δαιμόνιον) interchangeably.
My dictionary is showing a difference between “little daughter” (θυγάτριον) in v.25 and “daughter” (θυγατρὸς) in v.26.
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.”
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 1st century 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  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 
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 as Jesus’ 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  1a) with mention of the place out of which one goes, or the  point from which he departs  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  1a) with mention of the place out of which one goes, or the  point from which he departs  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.

13 comments:

  1. Thanks, Mark. This helps a lot

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  2. Thanks Denise. Blessings on your study.

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  3. Mark...

    A diminutive word for both the little one girl and the little one dog (puppies)... As horrible as the image truly is, there is a moment here where Jesus is in process... the puppies comment has just the slightest mischief in it... and coming on with the feeding of the 4,000 for the Gentiles, and the opening of the one who is deaf and dumb creates quite the play on what will be considered "Beautiful" (kalws). The old ways of exclusivity are processing out... and the new ways of the beauty of inclusiveness are moving in. The beauty of making all things (with poiew)for the mother, the girl, the one whose ears are opened and tongue released shows the God who comes into a broken, divided world and beautifully makes all things... even the feeding of the Gentiles (4000) and the Judeans (5000) with the bread that makes us one. Just a thought. Like your work!
    David Cox... Sioux City, Iowa

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  4. David, Thanks for the response. Your comment drawing all of the Gentile openings together is very helpful. I wish there were a clear, textual reason for me to see Jesus' statement as mischief. Perhaps the 'little girl/little puppy' connection is one, but that could also be snarky rather than mischievous.
    I have to wonder if this conversation does not uncover some deeply hidden bigotry in Jesus, which he - to his enormous credit - recognizes and changes.
    Such a claim has enormous implications for Christology, so I have trouble declaring it without some reservation. But, imagine how easily Mark could have had the disciples come along on this trip and make a blundering statement about Gentiles, only to have Jesus bewilder them by healing the little girl. That's what I would expect from Mark. Instead, ... Jesus says something that I think is almost unthinkable.

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  5. I've always understood the "dog" insult to be Jesus reiterating within earshot of His disciples the very sort of nasty impression they had of foreigners such as the Syrophoenecians or the folks around Tyre. He makes this terrible comment in order to have them figuratively sitting on the edge of their seats, egging Him on, saying in effect, "Yeah, yeah, these dirty foreigners are all DOGS!"

    Mark, your perspective on dogs is spot on for this context--exegeting Paul's use of "dogs" in Philippians, and the OT implications about dogs, to the Jews dogs were at best unclean scavengers, and at worst were weapons of oppression (in the Roman army in that day and age, one century in ten was a canine unit, "armed" with Mastiff-like dogs who could either tear their opponents apart or be fitted with long blades on stout leather collars to run amok among the enemy cavalry, slicing the tendons of the horses as they went). I don't think that Jesus changed His perspective at all here, but rather sucked in His listeners so that He could flip the tables on them...a preaching technique at which He was particularly effective!

    PS: I couldn't make the "name/URL" function work, so I'll just sign my name...Rev. Heidi

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  6. Hello Heidi,
    Thanks for persevering. I don't know what gives with the name/URL function. Sorry.

    In Matthew's version of this story (c.15), the disciples urge Jesus to get rid of the woman, and then it takes the shape that we see in Mark. In Mark's version, however, the disciples are nowhere to be found. One commentator says that it is one of the few stories where Jesus is alone, apart from the disciples.
    I want very badly to believe that this is a rhetorical ploy of some sort by Jesus, but I really think that is the desire to keep Christology beautiful more than the text that makes that a possibility.
    I'm more inclined to think that Jesus is reflecting the kind of bigotry toward others that he learned and is transformed out of it in the course of this story.

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  7. Thank you, Mark. Your exegesis gives me more courage to express my belief that this incident might be the closest Jesus ever gets to sinning - if one considers bigotry and slander a sin, which I do. Many consider my hypothesis sacrilegious - the VERY IDEA of Jesus even coming CLOSE so sinning! However, if Jesus was sent to live among us as 'fully human,' both to try to get through to us, but also because God wanted to be more intimately acquainted with the complexities of the human condition, then experiencing the shame of having said something hurtful to another out of prejudice, which may not have ever been challenged is key! I think this may have been a very important experience for Jesus: how it feels not only to have "foot in mouth" disease, but the overwhelming urge to then right the wrong we've committed. Like most other "new converts" to issues like challenging bigotry in ourselves and others, Jesus then feels the consuming desire to continue his own 'spiritual growth' after his epiphany brought about by the tenacity of a desperate mother. Perhaps I'm taking more from your study to support my own brazen interpretation of this text than you had ever intended, but I've prayed about this unconventional take on the passage, and I'm going to test it from the pulpit tomorrow. (Don't worry, I won't use your name in an attempt to legitimize my own theory!) Peace to you! Pastor Laura

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  8. Here is my comment three years later, so I don't know if you'll even see it... The point about peirastic irony is a good one, but needs to be pressed further. One of the major issues in dealing with racism (and yes, Jesus' remark is racist) is to figure who gets to name the racism. We already know by chapter 7 that Jesus has healed very many Gentiles, so his statement to her is doubly shocking. But it does express the standard racist attitude of some Jews of the time. Part of the miracle here is that the woman does not respond with an equally or more racist retort, which were again readily available to Gentiles. In making such a vicious statement, Jesus creates a moral debt on his part. Having spoken evil (even if it's the socially-acceptable evil), he is now in her moral debt. But the woman, instead of responding evilly in kind, responds cleverly and overcomes Jesus. This is the one instance in the gospels where Jesus is beaten or overpowered, and it happens with a Gentile woman with an unclean daughter. The point I'm getting to is this: Jesus' address to her allows her the opportunity to claim her place within God's house (the puppies under the table) rather than Jesus paternalistically bestowing it upon her. She is able to include herself, to claim her right to her own place within the house, rather than waiting for Jesus to bestow it upon her. Jesus points specifically to her achievement when he says "Because of this saying". For this rhetorical/political move to work, it is also crucial that Jesus' original statement to her turns upon puppies rather than dogs. My experience is from Madagascar, where puppies might be kept inside the house to protect them from being eaten by the other dogs. Adult dogs never get into the house.

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    1. Hi Mark, I see your comment and thank you for it. I've not been updating the exegesis because I've been working on other projects, but I still read the comments and continue to learn from them. Thanks.

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  9. Every time I encounter this text I seem to find that the most troubling aspect of the story is also the most powerful for opening me up to learning. Partly because it challenges "our" cherished Christology with a Jesus who is more fully human, and more mysterious, than our comfort zone allows... with a Jesus who shares with us a humanity formed and informed by a specific historical and cultural context; rich with the possibilities of listening, learning, and change; and capable of humility, compassion, and humor when confronted with the "other " who poses a challenge. This glimpse into a strangely troubling Jesus challenges me to continually learn new things about how to be a human being; and it reveals a glimpse into the astounding commitment of a God who would so thoroughly embrace the limitations and messiness of incarnation-- becoming a truly human being-- as to risk even appearing to fail, if not actually fail, in that enterprise. Also, I really like the stories that feature women with heart, spunk, desperation, love, intelligence,and courage... and faith.
    Since I don't have a blog I have no URL; so I'm signed in as "anonymous." But my name is Rev. Rhonda J. Cushman. I'm an American Baptist Minister and Chaplain. Your blog has informed many a sermon and bible study for me

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    1. Thanks for the reply, Rhonda. I wonder if some degree of bigotry is more expected than not among humans as an expression of our finitude, rather than our sinfulness. If my first exposure to "normal life" is within the context of my family, perhaps it is only natural to encounter others - other family configurations, other colors of skin, other languages or dialects - as being "not my norm/not the norm." Maturation, it seems to me, is partly developing the capacity to see the "I" in others, to develop empathy, which includes the possibility that "my norm" is not "the norm" and could be strange from another's perspective. Maybe that is the ultimate way to understand spiritual maturity as well - the capacity to love the other as we love ourselves.
      Thanks for your note.

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  10. Thank you, commentors, named and un-named! I very often find this blog helpful, and have enjoyed many comments on it, but I think this is the first time that the comments have rivalled the posting in insight and helpfulness. You probably won't see this, but thank you all for increasing my (and my Bible study group's) understanding of this passage.

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    1. I fully agree, Caryn. It's great to see the comments section swell with words and wisdom.

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