Saturday, February 10, 2018

Bedazzled and Blurting

Below is a rough translation and some initial comments regarding Mark 9:2-9, the Revised Common Lectionary reading for Transfiguration Sunday. The “transfiguration” story always precedes the season of Lent. I like that story, since in Mark’s gospel this story is put at the forefront of Jesus’ journey toward Jerusalem. As always, your comments are welcomed!

2 Καὶ μετὰ ἡμέρας ἓξ παραλαμβάνει  Ἰησοῦς τὸν Πέτρον καὶ τὸν Ἰάκωβονκαὶ τὸν Ἰωάννην, καὶ ἀναφέρει αὐτοὺς εἰς ὄρος ὑψηλὸν κατ' ἰδίαν μόνους. καὶ μετεμορφώθη ἔμπροσθεν αὐτῶν, 
And after six days Jesus takes Peter and James John, and leads them up into a high mountain by themselves alone. And he was transformed before them.
παραλαμβάνει: PAI 3s, παραλαμβάνω, 1) to take to, to take with one's self, to join to one's self 
ἀναφέρει: PAI 3s, ἀναφέρω, 1) to carry or bring up, to lead up
μετεμορφώθη: API 3s, μεταμορφόω, to transform, transfigure.
1. “after six days” – Since this text comes out of sequence in the lectionary, we should point out that this means six days after the events of c.8, where Jesus has just disclosed to his disciples for the first time that he must go to Jerusalem to be betrayed, rejected, suffer, die, and be raised. Then, he issues the call, If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.”
2. μετεμορφώθη appears 4X in the NT: here and in Mt. 17:2 in the parallel ‘transfiguration story.’ Then, in Rom. 12:2 (Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.) and II Cor.3:18 (And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit.). Why it is typically translated as “transfigured” in this story instead of “transformed” is not clear to me.

3 καὶ τὰ ἱμάτια αὐτοῦ ἐγένετο στίλβοντα λευκὰ λίαν οἷα γναφεὺς ἐπὶ τῆς γῆς οὐ δύναται οὕτως λευκᾶναι. 
And his clothes began shining exceedingly white as no fuller on the earth is able this to whiten.
ἐγένετο: AMI 3s, γίνομαι, 1) to become, i.e. to come into existence, begin to be, receive being
στίλβοντα: PAPart npn, στίλβω, 1) to shine, glisten  1a) of garments 
δύναται: PMI 3s, δύναμαι, 1) to be able, have power
λευκᾶναι: AAInf, λευκαίνω, 1) to whiten, make white 
1. This is such a great manner of describing the brilliance of Jesus’ clothing. It almost sounds like a commercial for bleach.
2. Notice that while v.2 says that Jesus was transformed before them, we have no idea what that means. V.3 only makes reference to his clothing. Matthew and Luke make reference to Jesus’ facial appearance.

4 καὶ ὤφθη αὐτοῖς Ἠλίας σὺν Μωϋσεῖ, καὶ ἦσαν συλλαλοῦντες τῷ Ἰησοῦ. 
And there appeared to them Elias with Moses, and they were, speaking together with Jesus.
ὤφθη: API 3s, ὁράω, 1) to see with the eyes  2) to see with the mind,
ἦσαν: IAI 3p, εἰμί, 1) to be, to exist, to happen, to be present
συλλαλοῦντες: PAPart npm, συλλαλέω, 1) to talk with
1. There are few details in Mark’s account of this event, such as no indication what the topic of the conversation between Jesus, Elijah and Moses was. Luke says they were talking about his upcoming “departure” in Jerusalem (Lk.9:31)
2. My guess is that the presence of 2 or 3 witnesses means that this event is not just the imaginative creation of an individual. In the old days, the word of 2 or 3 witnesses was legally binding.
3. I added a comma to the second clause, because the main verb of that clause is “were.” It could be that this form of the verb ‘to be’ is functioning as a linking verb, “they were speaking,” but it might also have fuller meaning. They were. Elias and Moses were. They were and the manner in which they were is that “they were, speaking together with Jesus.” Less awkwardly, but still a but awkward, could be, “and they existed, speaking together with Jesus.” I only bring this up because of an argument that Jesus will make in c.12:24-27, about the critical importance of the verb “to be” and its relationship to God’s non-binding relationship to time. The fact that Elijah and Moses existed, right there on that day on that mountain, is a breakthrough vision of God’s own timelessness and humanity’s participation in that timelessness through God. 

5 καὶ ἀποκριθεὶς  Πέτρος λέγει τῷ Ἰησοῦ, Ῥαββί, καλόν ἐστιν ἡμᾶς ὧδε εἶναι, καὶ ποιήσωμεν τρεῖς σκηνάς, σοὶ μίαν καὶ Μωϋσεῖ μίαν καὶ Ἠλίᾳ μίαν. 
And having responded Peter says to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here, and let us make three tents, one for you, one for Moses and one for Elias.
ἀποκριθεὶς: APPart nsm, ἀποκρίνομαι, 1) to give an answer to a question proposed, to answer
λέγει: PAI 3s, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak
ἐστιν: PAI 3s, εἰμί, 1) to be, to exist, to happen, to be present 
εἶναι: PAInf, εἰμί, 1) to be, to exist, to happen, to be present 
ποιήσωμεν: AASubj 1p, ποιέω, 1) to make  1a) with the names of things made, to produce, construct
1. I am translating ἀποκριθεὶς as "having responded" because that is how I translate aorist participles at this stage of the process. A refined translation might read, "In response." In other words, Peter is trying to find a way to respond to this vision, the description of which suggests that it lies beyond comprehension.  
2. I don’t know what, exactly, Peter’s offer implies, but it sounds inspired by the festival of booths to me.
3. notes that σκηνάς (tents) harkens back to “that well known movable temple of God after the pattern of which the temple at Jerusalem was subsequently built.” 

6 οὐ γὰρ ᾔδει τί ἀποκριθῇ, ἔκφοβοι γὰρ ἐγένοντο. 
For he did not know how he might respond, for they became freaked out.
ᾔδει: PluperfectAI, 3s, εἴδω/ὁράω, 1) to see, 2)to know.
ἀποκριθῇ: APSubj 3s, ἀποκρίνομαι, 1) to give an answer to a question proposed, to answer
ἐγένοντο: AMI 3p, γίνομαι, 1) to become, i.e. to come into existence, begin to be, receive being
1. The verb of the second clause is “became.” What they became is captured in the adjective, ἔκφοβοι, which I’ve translated “freaked out.” Perhaps “they became freaked out” is too colloquial, but the adjective is comprised of the root φοβοι (fear) and the prefix ἔκ (out). I honestly think that whatever “freaked out” is intended to mean is close to what the adjective ἔκφοβοι is intended to mean.
2. It is curious that the fear began before the cloud and the voice out of the cloud. The fear of the sight of a long-dead man and a man whose fiery chariot ride left this earth centuries before existing with Jesus is what led Peter to speak impetuously, not the voice out of the clouds.

7 καὶ ἐγένετο νεφέλη ἐπισκιάζουσα αὐτοῖς, καὶ ἐγένετο φωνὴ ἐκ τῆς νεφέλης, Οὗτός ἐστιν  υἱός μου  ἀγαπητός, ἀκούετε αὐτοῦ. 
And a cloud formed overshadowing them, and a voice began out of the cloud, “This is my beloved son, listen to him.”
ἐγένετο: AMI 3s, γίνομαι, 1) to become, i.e. to come into existence, begin to be, receive being
ἐπισκιάζουσα: PAPart nsf, ἐπισκιάζω, 1) to throw a shadow upon, to envelop in a shadow, to overshadow
ἐγένετο: AMI 3s, γίνομαι, 1) to become, i.e. to come into existence, begin to be, receive being
ἐστιν: PAI 3s, εἰμί, 1) to be, to exist, to happen, to be present 
ἀκούετε: PAImpv 2p, ἀκούω, 1) to be endowed with the faculty of hearing, 2) to hear 2b) to attend to
1. It bears pointing out that Jesus hasn’t said anything and does not say anything while they are on the mountain. The command to listen, then, would have to mean something larger than this particular mountain top experience.

8 καὶ ἐξάπινα περιβλεψάμενοι οὐκέτι οὐδένα εἶδον ἀλλὰ τὸν Ἰησοῦν μόνον μεθ' ἑαυτῶν. 
And suddenly having looked around they did not see nobody but Jesus alone with them.
περιβλεψάμενοι: AMPart npm, 1) to look round about, on, or upon
εἶδον: AAI 3p, ὁράω, 1) to see with the eyes, 2) to know
1. I don’t mean to sound hillbilly by saying “they did not see nobody.” I’m just reflecting the double negative that is in the Greek.

9 Καὶ καταβαινόντων αὐτῶν ἐκ τοῦ ὄρους διεστείλατο αὐτοῖς ἵνα μηδενὶ  εἶδον διηγήσωνται, εἰ μὴ ὅταν  υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου ἐκ νεκρῶν ἀναστῇ. 
And in their going down off of the mountain he charged them in order that they might recount nothing that they saw, until after the son of man would be raised out of the dead.
καταβαινόντων: PAPart gpm, καταβαίνω, 1) to go down, come down, descend
διεστείλατο: AMI 3s, διαστέλλομαι, 1) to draw asunder, divide, distinguish, dispose, order  2) to open one's self i.e. one's mind, to set forth distinctly  3) to admonish, order, charge 
εἶδον: AAI 3p, ὁράω, 1) to see with the eyes
διηγήσωνται: AMSubj 3p, διηγέομαι, 1) to lead or carry a narration through to the end  2) set forth, recount, relate in full, describe
ἀναστῇ: AASubj 3s, ἀνίστημι, 1) to cause to rise up, raise up  1a) raise up from laying down  1b) to raise up from the dead
1. By saying, “in their going down” I am trying to capture the genitival structure of the prepositional phrase, καταβαινόντων αὐτῶν.
2. Young’s Literal Translation tries to capture the subjective voice of ἀναστῇ by saying “when the Son of Man may rise out of the dead.” I believe that is misleading, since the rising is not a mere possibility for Mark’s gospel. I think the conditionality of the subjective mood is captured by the condition of time, as in the word “until.” 

10 καὶ τὸν λόγον ἐκράτησαν πρὸς ἑαυτοὺς συζητοῦντες τί ἐστιν τὸ ἐκ νεκρῶν ἀναστῆναι.
And they confined the word to themselves discussing what the rising out of the dead is.
ἐκράτησαν: AAI 3p, κρατέω, 1) to have power, be powerful  1a) to be chief, be master of, to rule
συζητοῦντες: PAPart npm, συζητέω, 1) to seek or examine together  2) in the NT to discuss, dispute, question
ἐστιν: PAI 3s, εἰμί, 1) to be, to exist, to happen, to be present 
ἀναστῆναι: AAInf, ἀνίστημι, 1) to cause to rise up, raise up  1a) raise up from laying down  1b) to raise up from the dead
1. I’m curious as to why many translations make this “what rising out of the dead might mean” or something similar. The verb ἐστιν is the present form of ‘to be’ and the verse works just as effectively if it is translated closely.   

Whether Peter's suggestion to build three tents echoes the festival of booths or the moveable tabernacle or both, it seems obvious that he blurts out in order to respond to overwhelming nature of this moment. The response from the voice in the cloud does not respond to what Peter says as much as that Peter says anything. And yet, I find this to be the human dilemma. How can we say nothing in the face of such wonder? But, if we say anything, it is bound to be inadequate and to be amiss. Hence, "Bedazzled and Blurting" may be as good as it gets for us, unless we cultivate a way of being fully receptive. Maybe there are moments that do not invite 'interactive learning,' but need us to sit on our hands and sew shut our mouths in order to open our ears, eyes, and hearts to something beyond our categories and comments. 

For more reflection on this text, I have an essay entitled “The Politics of Bedazzlement” on the blog, “The Politics of Scripture,”


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