Sunday, January 4, 2015

The Sky Tearing and a Voice Crying

Below is a rough translation and some initial comments regarding Mark 1:4-11, the Revised Common Lectionary gospel reading for Sunday, January 11.

4  ἐγένετο Ἰωάννης [ὁ] βαπτίζων ἐν τῇἐρήμῳ καὶ κηρύσσων βάπτισμα 
μετανοίας εἰς ἄφεσιν ἁμαρτιῶν. 
John arrived baptizing in the wilderness and preaching a baptism of repentance to forgiveness of sins.
ἐγένετο  AMI 3s, γίνομαι, 1) to become, i.e. to come into existence, begin to be, receive being  2) to become, i.e. to come to pass, happen 
βαπτίζων  PAPart nms: βαπτίζω, 1) to dip repeatedly, to immerse, to submerge
κηρύσσων  PAPart nms: κηρύσσω, 1) to be a herald, to officiate as a herald  1a) to proclaim after the manner of a herald
1. John “arrived”:  ἐγένετο can be translated ‘John came,’ but I think ‘arrived’ captures the reflexivity of the middle voice better. However, regarding ἐγένετο see the notes for vv. 9 and 11 below.

5 καὶ ἐξεπορεύετο πρὸς αὐτὸν πᾶσα  Ἰουδαία χώρα καὶ οἱ Ἱεροσολυμῖται πάντες, καὶ ἐβαπτίζοντο ὑπ' αὐτοῦ ἐν τῷ Ἰορδάνῃ ποταμῷ ἐξομολογούμενοι τὰς ἁμαρτίας αὐτῶν. 
And all the Judean region and all the Jerusalemites were going out to him, and were being baptized by him in the Jordan River confessing their sins. 
ἐξεπορεύετο: IMI 3s, ἐκπορεύομαι, 1) to go forth, go out, depart  2) metaph. 
ἐβαπτίζοντο: IPI 3p, βαπτίζω, 1) to dip repeatedly, to immerse, to submerge
ἐξομολογούμενοι: PMPart npm, ἐξομολογέω, 1) to confess 2) to profess 2a) acknowledge openly and joyfully
1. The parallels between vv.4 and 5 are striking:
- John arrived; the people were going out
- John is baptizing and preaching baptism; they were being baptized by him
- John is preaching repentance to forgive sins; they are confessing their sins

6 καὶ ἦν  Ἰωάννης ἐνδεδυμένος τρίχας καμήλου καὶ ζώνην δερματίνην περὶ τὴν ὀσφὺν αὐτοῦ, καὶ ἐσθίων ἀκρίδας καὶ μέλι ἄγριον. 
And John was having been clothed with hair of camel and leavened skin around his hips, and eating locusts and wild honey. 
ἦν: IAI 3s, εἰμί, 1) to be, to exist, to happen, to be present
ἐνδεδυμένος: PerfMPart nms, ἐνδύω, 1) to sink into, put on, clothe one's self 
ἐσθίων: PAPart nms, ἐσθίω, 1) to eat  2) to eat (consume) a thing  2a) to take food,
1. I don’t know if the verb ‘to be’ generally serves as a linking verb in Greek, but here it seems to. The verb John ‘was’ is linked with the participle ‘having been clothed’ and seems to mean simply “John was clothed.” Or, perhaps ‘was’ is linked to “eating” to say “And John, having been clothed with hair of camel and leavened skin around his hips, was also eating locust and wild honey.”

7 καὶ ἐκήρυσσεν λέγων, Ἔρχεται  ἰσχυρότερός μου ὀπίσω μου, οὗ οὐκ εἰμὶ 
ἱκανὸς κύψας λῦσαι τὸν ἱμάντα τῶν ὑποδημάτων αὐτοῦ: 
And was preaching saying, “One who is stronger than me is coming after/behind me, for whom I am not worthy having stooped to loosen the laces of his sandals;
ἐκήρυσσεν: IAI 3s, κηρύσσω, 1) to be a herald, to officiate as a herald  1a) to proclaim after the manner of a herald 
λέγων: PAPart nsm, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak 
Ἔρχεται: PMI 3s, ἔρχομαι, 1) to come
εἰμὶ: PAI 1s, εἰμί, 1) to be, to exist, to happen, to be present
κύψας: AAPart nsm, κύπτω, 1) to stoop down, bend forward, to bow the head
λῦσαι: AAInf, λύω, 1) to loose any person (or thing) tied or fastened 

8 ἐγὼ ἐβάπτισα ὑμᾶς ὕδατι, αὐτὸς δὲ βαπτίσει ὑμᾶς ἐν πνεύματι ἁγίῳ. 
I baptized you with water, but he will baptize you in a holy spirit.”
ἐβάπτισα: AAI 1s, βαπτίζω, 1) to dip repeatedly, to immerse, to submerge
βαπτίσει: FAI 3s, βαπτίζω, 1) to dip repeatedly, to immerse, to submerge
1. πνεύματι (spirit) and ἁγίῳ (holy) are both dative here.

9 καὶ ἐγένετο ἐν ἐκείναις ταῖς ἡμέραις ἦλθεν ἰησοῦς ἀπὸ ναζαρὲτ τῆς γαλιλαίας καὶ ἐβαπτίσθη εἰς τὸν ἰορδάνην ὑπὸ ἰωάννου.
And it came to pass in those days Jesus went from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized in the Jordan by John.
ἐγένετο: AMI 3s, γίνομαι, 1) to become, i.e. to come into existence, begin to be, receive being  2) to become, i.e. to come to pass, happen 
ἦλθεν: AAI 3s, ἔρχομαι, 1) to come
ἐβαπτίσθη: API 3s, βαπτίζω, 1) to dip repeatedly, to immerse, to submerge
1. The verb ἐγένετο, translated as “arrived” in v.4, plays a different role here because there is only an implied subject. Similar to the phrase “it happens” in English or “es regnet” (it rains) in German, the subject is just what is, as opposed to being an identifiable particular subject. Translators will say that the implied subject is God, but few would translate it that way. This is where I think the King James phrase “it came to pass” works very well.

10 καὶ εὐθὺς ἀναβαίνων ἐκ τοῦ ὕδατος εἶδεν σχιζομένους τοὺς οὐρανοὺς καὶ τὸ πνεῦμα ὡς περιστερὰν καταβαῖνον εἰς αὐτόν·
And immediately coming up out of the water he saw the heavens being torn open and the spirit as a dove coming down into him;
ἀναβαίνων: PAPart nsm, ἀναβαίνω to cause to ascend, to go up, climb up, mount,
εἶδεν: AAI 3s, ὁράω, 1) to see with the eyes  2) to see with the mind, to perceive, know
σχιζομένους: PPPart apm, σχίζω, 1) to cleave, cleave asunder, rend  2) to divide by rending  3) to split into factions, be divided
καταβαῖνον: καταβαίνω 1. come down, 2. descend to go or come down,
1. ἀναβαίνω and καταβαίνω have the same stem, βαίνω, which refers to all kinds of motion on the ground, as go, walk, step, etc. With the prefixes, Jesus is ‘coming up’ and the spirit-dove is ‘coming down.’
2. The implied 3rd person singular subject of the verb ‘saw’ has Jesus as the antecedent. It is only Jesus, apparently, who sees the tearing of the heavens and perhaps the descending dove, but others may have heard the voice of the next verse.
3. I translate the participle σχιζομένους as “being torn open” because I want to maintain the parallel between this verse and and the only other use of σχίζω in Mark’s gospel, 15:38: Καὶ τὸ καταπέτασμα τοῦ ναοῦ ἐσχίσθη εἰς δύο ἀπ' ἄνωθεν ἕως κάτω “And the veil of the temple was torn into two from top to bottom.” I think both uses indicate a breach in the separation between heaven and earth. When the temple veil is torn, a Roman Centurion then proclaims Jesus as God’s son.

11 καὶ φωνὴ ἐγένετο ἐκ τῶν οὐρανῶν, σὺ εἶ ὁ υἱός μου ὁ ἀγαπητός, ἐν σοὶ εὐδόκησα.
And a voice came out of the heavens, “You are the son of me the beloved, in you I am well pleased.”
ἐγένετο  AMI 3s, γίνομαι, 1) to become, i.e. to come into existence, begin to be, receive being  2) to become, i.e. to come to pass, happen 
εἶ: PAI 2s, εἰμί, 1) to be, to exist, to happen, to be present
εὐδόκησα: AAI 1s, εὐδοκέω, 1) it seems good to one, is one's good pleasure 
1. Again, the verb ἐγένετο appears, as in vv. 4 and 9. Certainly one has to say that God is the implied agent this time.
2. The term φωνὴ (voice) is used in Mark to indicate a loud voice, a crying out. Here are the other uses in Mark.
Mk. 1:3 – John is described with reference to Isaiah’s words “The voice of one crying out in the wilderness.” The verb used for “cry” there (βοάω) is an onomatopoeia, like ‘roared’ for making loud noises.
Mk. 1:26 – An unclean spirit cries out as Jesus is casting him out of a man.
Mk. 5:7 – Again the voice of an unclean spirit striving against Jesus.
Mk. 9:7 – A parallel to our verse, of the voice coming out of the heavens on the mountain of transfiguration. καὶ ἐγένετο νεφέλη ἐπισκιάζουσα αὐτοῖς, καὶ ἐγένετο φωνὴ ἐκ τῆς νεφέλης, Οὗτός ἐστιν ὁ υἱός μου ὁ ἀγαπητός, ἀκούετε αὐτοῦ “And a cloud came (ἐγένετο!) overshadowing them, and a voice came (ἐγένετο!) out of the cloud, “This is the beloved son of me, listen to him.”
Mk. 15:34 – Jesus cries out from the cross, “Eloi, Eloi …”
Mk. 15:37 – Jesus’ last cry before dying. 

Putting the strength of the tearing (σχιζομένους) and Mark’s other uses of the voice (φωνὴ), I hear this moment as a dramatic moment, loud and drastic. Rather than a gentle moment of a dove cascading down in circles, I think this is more reminiscent of the fiery mountain where God met Moses. There may even be more than meets the eye in the dove imagery. Remember, this dove turns harpy-like and immediately throws Jesus into the wilderness in the very next verse.

7 comments:

  1. Hello Mark, big blessings for your blog title; and many thanks for your translation and comment. I absolutely agree with your summing up. This is no more gentle that the notorious still small voice in Kings!

    I'm also blogging on Mark presently in tandem with Genesis. You can find this on: emmock.com/ bible blog 1611 forward.

    My email is: mvamair@gmail.com

    All good wishes,

    Mike Mair (Dundee, Scotland)

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    Replies
    1. Mike, Thanks for your comment. I look forward to exploring your blog as well.
      MD

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  2. Hey Mark. Will Sparks here from Surrey BC. We were in Cuba together some years ago.
    Thanks for your work here, and I agree- great title.
    I have been playing around with the "tearing" of the heavens and your connecting it with the tearing of the temple curtain. Although it is a bit of an exegetical stretch I think, at least there is a sense in which these two tearings book-end the gospel. The first tearing is the heavenly veil allowing Jesus (at least) to experience Spirit un-veiled. This tearing open shows that there is more going on than even Jesus knew up til then. The second tearing is in Jerusalem, tearing the curtain that separates the holy stuff from the commonplace stuff at the Temple.
    Two ways I am playing with this. Religion often seeks to hold power by setting up a kind of a magical curtain. We are the keepers of the holy stuff behind the curtain, be it knowledge, sacred blessing, access to God... In Jesus, God is tearing the curtain. The second way to play with this is to talk about the human condition, seeing through a glass dimly. All of life is infused with the sacred but we can't often see it. In these weeks after Epiphany, we celebrate the revelation of the sacred in our midst. The January fog lifts, the scales fall away, the holy one calls us, and the veil is torn. Sometimes that tearing is painful, (as in tragedy hits and we suddenly see what things really mean), and sometimes it is more blessing ("you are my beloved").
    Thoughts?
    Will Sparks (Surrey, BC)

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    1. Hi Will!
      Great to hear from you again.
      I'm especially drawn toward your first interpretation, particularly when it comes to the temple veil as a humanly-made construct. It was intended (with great intentions) to protect ... what? If it is to protect the holy from the people, then it may be ill-considered. If it is to protect the people from the holy (after all, the holy is incredibly powerful!), then it is in line with the command (for example) that God gave the Israelites not to approach the mountain when God was meeting with Moses. God is just too darned powerful for human perception. I also expect that is why the adage "No one can see God and live" had so much power in the Jewish imagination.
      The veil of the sky that tears may suggest that the temple veil is not simply a human construct, but is something much more germane to how the world is. There is God; there is us. There is heaven; there is earth. One is reminded of Barth's warning not to reduce God to 'man with a loud voice.' The distance and difference between us and God is grounded in reality - and not simply a human construct.
      But, with the tearing, that essential reality is transformed. In Christ, it is broken down. So, so powerful.
      Again, great to hear from you. It's been a while since our trip to Cuba, but I think of it often and hope to return one day.
      Mark

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  3. I'm so glad to see you back, Mark! My Bible study group asked what you had to say, since I so often take your insights to them. As usual, you're thoughtful and thought-provoking. And, Will, great comment! I passed most of it on to my group, too.

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  4. Hi Caryn,

    Thanks for the note. And please tell your Bible study group that I said "Hello!"

    MD

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