Sunday, March 6, 2016

Judas and Mary in Contrast

Below is a rough translation and some preliminary comments regarding John 12:1-8, the reading for the fifth Sunday of Lent. Your comments are welcomed!

1 Ὁ οὖν Ἰησοῦς πρὸ ἓξ ἡμερῶν τοῦ πάσχα ἦλθεν εἰς Βηθανίαν, ὅπου ἦν Λάζαρος, ὃν ἤγειρεν ἐκ νεκρῶν Ἰησοῦς.
Therefore, six days before the Passover Jesus came into Bethany, where Lazarus was whom Jesus raised out of the dead.
ἦλθεν: AAI 3s, ἔρχομαι, 1) to come
ἦν: IAI 3s, εἰμί, 1) to be, to exist, to happen, to be present 
ἤγειρεν: AAI 3s, ἐγείρω, 1) to arouse, cause to rise  1a) to arouse from sleep, to awake 
1. The conjunction, οὖν, typically translated as “therefore,” does not show up in many translations. (It appears in the second position in the sentence but gets translated in the first, hence it is called a ‘post-positive’ word.) It is often smoother to ignore it in a finished translation and the interpreter is always faced with wondering whether it signifies something important or is just the narrator’s way of moving the story along. It could raise the question of the connection between the dramatic resurrection story of c.11 and this story. A strict use of this conjunction might suggest that the story of c.11 actually leads to this story, which is the whole point.
I should point out, however, that verses 2, 3, and 7 also begin with the conjunction οὖν. So, “therefore” may be too strong in each case and John may be using the term to move the narrative along.
2. I realize that people like to refer to Lazarus’ raising as a resuscitation, not a resurrection, since, presumably, Lazarus’ body was merely restored and was not renewed as an incorruptible body that would never die again. The point is well taken, but the language that John uses to speak of Lazarus seems to me to be the same language that he uses to speak of Jesus.

2 ἐποίησαν οὖν αὐτῷ δεῖπνον ἐκεῖ, καὶ ἡ Μάρθα διηκόνει, ὁ δὲ Λάζαρος εἷς ἦν ἐκ τῶν ἀνακειμένων σὺν αὐτῷ.
Therefore they made for him a supper there, and Martha was serving, but Lazarus was one of the ones reclining at the table with him.
ἐποίησαν: AAI 3p, ποιέω, 1) to make  1a) with the names of things made, to produce, construct,  form, fashion, etc. 
διηκόνει: IAI 3s, διακονέω, 1) to be a servant, attendant, domestic, to serve, wait upon
ἦν: IAI 3s, εἰμί, 1) to be, to exist, to happen, to be present 
ἀνακειμένων: PMPart gpm, ἀνάκειμαι, 1) to lie at a table, eat together, dine 
1. The conjunction ‘δὲ’ can show contrast, so I’ve made it “but.” In this case, I see it as showing the contrast between Martha acting as a servant and Lazarus acting as a guest. Gender roles aside, I would probably have expected the dead/alive guy to take a load off and have a seat also. We’ll see this conjunction often in this story and each time it requires an interpretation of whether it indicates contrast or connection. It could be “but,” “and,” or “then,” etc. 
2. I have added the words ‘at the table’ to flesh out what the ‘reclining’ is all about. Low table, sitting on the floor (perhaps on cushions of some sort), feet off to the side, is probably the typical way meals were taken. Unless Leonardo da Vinci was correct and they were all on chairs or benches on one side of the table.

3 ἡ οὖν Μαριὰμ λαβοῦσα λίτραν μύρου νάρδου πιστικῆς πολυτίμου ἤλειψεν τοὺς πόδας τοῦ Ἰησοῦ καὶ ἐξέμαξεν ταῖς θριξὶν αὐτῆς τοὺς πόδας αὐτοῦ: ἡ δὲ οἰκία ἐπληρώθη ἐκ τῆς ὀσμῆς τοῦ μύρου.
Therefore Mary having taken a pound of expensive ointment of pure nard anointed Jesus’ feet and wiped with her hair his feet; and the house was filled with the fragrance of the ointment.
λαβοῦσα: AAPart nsf, λαμβάνω, 1) to take  1a) to take with the hand, lay hold of,
ἤλειψεν: AAI 3s, ἀλείφω, 1) to anoint
ἐξέμαξεν: AAI 3s, ἐκμάσσω, 1) to wipe off, to wipe away
ἐπληρώθη: API 3s, πληρόω, 1) to make full, to fill up, i.e. to fill to the full  1a) to cause to abound, to furnish or supply liberally
1. John gives a string of nouns and adjectives to describe this ointment. Judas will appraise the value of the ointment in v.5.
2. In this case, the conjunction ‘δὲ’ does not seem to indicate contrast, but connects the act of Mary’s devotion to the fragrance filling the house.

4 λέγει δὲ Ἰούδας ὁ Ἰσκαριώτης εἷς [ἐκ] τῶν μαθητῶν αὐτοῦ, ὁ μέλλων αὐτὸν παραδιδόναι,
But says Judas Iscariot one of his disciples, who later handed him over,
λέγει: PAI 3s, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak
παραδιδόναι: PAInf, παραδίδωμι, 1) to give into the hands (of another)
1. In a refined translation it would be smoother to move the verb ‘says’ (λέγει) from the first word to the last.  
2. Here the conjunction δὲ does seem to introduce a contrast of views from Mary’s act to Judas’ response.
3. I believe the narrator, by foreshadowing Judas’ act of betrayal, is being deliberate in showing that what Judas is about to say is untrustworthy. That will be even more evident in v.6.

5 Διὰ τί τοῦτο τὸ μύρον οὐκ ἐπράθη τριακοσίων δηναρίων καὶ ἐδόθη πτωχοῖς;
“Why wasn’t this ointment sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?”
ἐπράθη: API 3s, πιπράσκω, 1) to sell 
ἐδόθη: API 3s, δίδωμι, 1) to give 
1. Sources everywhere say that three hundred denarii is equivalent to a year’s worth of wages, presumably for the average laborer. The NIV, in fact, simply translates τριακοσίων δηναρίων as “a year’s wages.” Such a value could indicate several things: It could show Mary’s utter devotion and thankfulness to Jesus, who had just raised out of death the brother whom she loved. It could show that Lazarus and his sisters were fairly well off. It could just be a figure of speech for something that is simply overly expensive.
2. It’s not time to sermonize, but this would not be the first or the last time that someone disingenuously represented concern for the poor in order to attain another agenda. Just sayin’.

6 εἶπεν δὲ τοῦτο οὐχ ὅτι περὶ τῶν πτωχῶν ἔμελεν αὐτῷ ἀλλ' ὅτι κλέπτης ἦν καὶ τὸ γλωσσόκομον ἔχων τὰ βαλλόμενα ἐβάσταζεν.
But he said this not because he was caring about the poor, but because he was a thief and keeping the bag he was taking up the things that were thrown in there.
εἶπεν: AAI 3s, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak
ἔμελεν: IAI 3s, μελετάω, 1) to care for, attend to carefully
ἦν: IAI 3s, εἰμί, 1) to be, to exist, to happen, to be present
ἔχων: PAPart nsm, ἔχω, 1) to have, i.e. to hold 
βαλλόμενα: PPPart apn, βάλλω  1) to throw or let go of a thing without caring where it falls 
ἐβάσταζεν: IAI 3s, βαστάζω, 1) to take up with the hands 
1. The anti-Judasfication process continues. It is an interesting study to see how Judas is variously evaluated in the gospels, from one who is playing his destined role in the crucifixion story to one who was a lying, scheming piece of nothing all along. John is clearly in the latter camp. Speculations for why abound.
2. It is not clear, exactly, what the narrator means by saying that Judas was taking up (ἐβάσταζεν) what was thrown in (βαλλόμενα) the bag. It could simply mean that his role was to “carry” the bag (YLT). Or, it could mean that he was taking things from the bag, so “steal” (NRSV) or “help himself” (ESV, NIV). The narrator is clear that he is a thief, so the harsher interpretation seems warranted.
3. The word γλωσσόκομον is curious, since the word for “tongue” (γλωσσό) is clearly part of it. I wondered, were bags made from animal tongues, like water skins were often made from animal bladders? Thank goodness no, according to greattreasures.org: “A case to keep the tongues of wind instruments in, then used for any small case, purse or bag.” Later, it clarifies that by ‘tongues’ it means ‘mouthpieces.’

7 εἶπεν οὖν ὁ Ἰησοῦς, Ἄφες αὐτήν, ἵνα εἰς τὴν ἡμέραν τοῦ ἐνταφιασμοῦ μου τηρήσῃ αὐτό:
Therefore Jesus said, “Leave her alone, in order that into the day of my burying she has kept it.
εἶπεν: AAI 3s, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak
Ἄφες: AAImpv 2s, ἀφίημι, 1) to send away 
τηρήσῃ: AASubj 3s, τηρέω, 1) to attend to carefully, take care of 
1. I suppose I couldn’t have translated this any more awkwardly, but I am aiming for the most literal word-by-word translation, no matter how wooden it is. Get thee to a good Bible for a smoother rendition.
2. One interesting question is what to do with the verb τηρήσῃ. It is aorist, so one could interpret it in the past tense, like “she kept this” (KJV) or “she hath kept it” (YLT). But, it is also subjunctive, so one could say it conditionally, like “she may keep it” (ESV) or “she should save it” (NIV) or “she might keep it” (NRSV).

8 τοὺς πτωχοὺς γὰρ πάντοτε ἔχετε μεθ' ἑαυτῶν, ἐμὲ δὲ οὐ πάντοτε ἔχετε.
For the poor you always have with you, but me you do not always have.
ἔχετε: PAI 2p, ἔχω, 1) to have, i.e. to hold (2x in this verse.)
1. I don’t know many verses in the Scriptures that are more blatantly quoted out of context and our of its meaning than this short verse.  These words also appear in Mark 14:7 and Matthew 26:11, the parallel accounts of this story.  In each case it is an echo of Deuteronomy 15:11, “Since there will never cease to be some in need on the earth, I therefore command you, ‘Open your hand to the poor and needy neighbor in your land.’” Remembering particularly in this version of the story that the narrator utterly dismisses Judas’ feigned concern for the poor, it would simply be ludicrous to posit these words as some kind of takedown of generosity over and against the oft-repeated commands in the Scriptures to give liberally to the poor.




2 comments:

  1. I thought the alternative translation for what you are using as 'therefore,' could also be 'then.' This would follow how we construct a narrative form showing consecutive actions moving forward in time. Such as "Then we we arrived we made dinner. Then after dinner we talked....Then we went to the yard."

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    1. Yes, that is what I meant by John using it to "move the narrative along." I never quite know how much to read into it.

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