Monday, March 19, 2018

Coming on a Clothes-Covered Colt

Below is a rough translation and some preliminary notes regarding Mark 11:1-11, the story of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem and one of the traditional readings for Palm Sunday. One of the realities of the church today is that Palm Sunday and Passion Sunday often need to share the same space. That is unfortunate in some respects, since the stories of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem deserve a lot of attention.

In Mark’s gospel, for example, this is the beginning of the last week of Jesus’ life as well as the beginning of the fulfillment of his three disclosures that he must go to Jerusalem, be rejected, suffer, die, and be raised. Chapters 1-10 of Mark are in the northern, Galilean and surrounding regions – in contrast to John’s gospel where Jesus goes in and out of Jerusalem several times.

One could also spend a lot of time apprising whether the term “Triumphal Entry” is well-selected or not. Particularly with the anticlimactic ending of Mark’s story, one might find that title to be misleading.

On the other hand, moving from the Entry procession to the Passion story in one fell swoop might bring out the best of each. Left on its own, the story of the Entry – particularly if one explores the Zechariah allusion in this story – might lead one to define “triumphal” in the manner of a Roman Imperial leader. When paired with the crucifixion story, especially the irony of Jesus’ crown of thorns and a scepter of a reed, the Entry story takes a different tone. In honor of Walter Wink’s poignant phrases, the Crucifixion story enables us to read the Entry story as a “myth of redemptive suffering” rather than a “myth of redemptive violence.”

On with the text.

1 Καὶ ὅτε ἐγγίζουσιν εἰς Ἱεροσόλυμα εἰς Βηθφαγὴ καὶ Βηθανίαν πρὸς τὸ Ὄρος τῶν Ἐλαιῶν, ἀποστέλλει δύο τῶν μαθητῶν αὐτοῦ 
And when they come near Jerusalem into Bethphage and Bethany to the Mount of Olives, he sends two of his disciples
ἐγγίζουσιν: PAI 3p, ἐγγίζω, 1) to bring near, to join one thing to another 2) to draw or come near to, to approach 
ἀποστέλλει: PAI 3s, ἀποστέλλω, 1) to order (one) to go to a place appointed 2) to send away, dismiss  2a) to allow one to depart, that he may be in a state of  liberty  2b) to order one to depart, send off  2c) to drive away
1. Both of these verbs are present tense.
2. This is the one and only time Mark mentions Bethphage.
3. This is the first time Mark mentions Bethany. The second is v.11, the end of this pericope, and v.12, the beginning of the next day and next story. In Mark 14, Jesus will be in Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, when a woman will anoint his head with an expensive oil.
4. Matthew agrees that Jesus was near Bethphage when he sent the two persons to fetch a ride, but only mentions Bethany in relation to v.11 of this story, as where Jesus went after the entry into Jerusalem (Mt. 21:17). Luke agrees with Mark that Jesus was near Bethphage and Bethany when he sent the two (Lk. 19:29), but does not mention anywhere that Jesus went after the event. For Luke, Bethany is also the place where Jesus ascends from the disciples (Lk. 24:50).
5. For John, Bethany is where Lazarus and his sisters lived.
6. Jesus will sit on the Mount of Olives in Mark 13:3 and then will go out to the same after the last Supper.

2καὶ λέγει αὐτοῖς, Ὑπάγετε εἰς τὴν κώμην τὴν κατέναντι ὑμῶν, καὶ εὐθὺς εἰσπορευόμενοι εἰς αὐτὴν εὑρήσετε πῶλον δεδεμένον ἐφ' ὃν οὐδεὶς οὔπω ἀνθρώπων ἐκάθισενλύσατε αὐτὸν καὶ φέρετε
And he says to them, Go into the village over/against you, and immediately while entering into it you will find a colt bound on which no one of people sat; loose it and bring.
λέγει: PAI 3s, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak
Ὑπάγετε: PAImpv 2p, ὑπάγω, 1) to lead under, bring under  2) to withdraw one's self, to go away, depart 
εἰσπορευόμενοι: PMPart npm, εἰσπορεύομαι, 1) to go into, enter  1a) of persons  1b) of things  1b1) to be carried into or put into  1b2) as food into a mouth  2) metaph. of affections entering the soul 
εὑρήσετε: FAI 2p, εὑρίσκω, 1) to come upon, hit upon, to meet with  1a) after searching, to find a thing sought
δεδεμένον: PPPart asm, δέω, 1) to bind tie, fasten  1a) to bind, fasten with chains, to throw into chains 
ἐκάθισεν: AAI 3s, καθίζω, 1) to make to sit down  
λύσατε: AAImpv 2p, λύω, 1) to loose any person (or thing) tied or fastened 
φέρετε: PAImpv 2p, φέρω, 1) to carry   1a) to carry some burden … 3) to bring, bring to, bring forward
1. The preposition κατέν/αντι is interesting, meaning something like over/against. Mark uses it here, in 12:41 as Jesus say ‘over/against the treasury, and in Mark 13:3, as Jesus sits on the Mount of Olives over/against the temple.
2. Zechariah 9:9 reads, “Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem! Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”
3. I do not know the significance of the colt not having been sat on before.
4. I would smooth out the last phrase in a refined translation.

3καὶ ἐάν τις ὑμῖν εἴπῃ, Τί ποιεῖτε τοῦτο; εἴπατε, Ὁ κύριος αὐτοῦ χρείαν ἔχει, καὶ εὐθὺς αὐτὸν ἀποστέλλει πάλιν ὧδε.
And if anyone should say to you, “Why are you doing this?” Say, “The Lord has need of it, and immediately he will send it here again.”
εἴπῃ: AASubj 3s, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak
ποιεῖτε: PAI 2p, ποιέω, 1) to make 2) to do 
εἴπατε: AAImpv 2p, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak
ἔχει: PAI 3s, ἔχω, 1) to have, i.e. to hold  
ἀποστέλλει: PAI 3s, ἀποστέλλω, 1) to order (one) to go to a place appointed  2) to send away, dismiss  2a) to allow one to depart,
1. I have always imagined (perhaps dues to the NRSV translation of Matthew 21:3 or Luke 19:31) that the quote here ends with “The Lord has need of it,” and the final phrase is part of Jesus’ description. But, the πάλιν indicates a return, so the quote seems to go all the way to the end of the sentence.

4καὶ ἀπῆλθον καὶ εὗρον πῶλον δεδεμένον πρὸς θύραν ἔξω ἐπὶ τοῦ ἀμφόδου, καὶ λύουσιν αὐτόν. 
And they went and found a colt bound to a door out by the crossroad, and they loose it. 
ἀπῆλθον: AAI 3p, ἀπέρχομαι, 1) to go away, depart
εὗρον: AAI 3p, εὑρίσκω, 1) to come upon, hit upon, to meet with  1a) after searching, to find a thing sought
δεδεμένον: PPPart asm, δέω, 1) to bind tie, fasten  1a) to bind, fasten with chains, to throw into chains 
λύουσιν: PAI 3p, λύω, 1) to loose any person (or thing) tied or fastened 
1. The word ἀμφόδου appears here for the one and only time in the NT. It is translated as “street” by the NIV, ESV, and NRSV, but as “two ways” by KJV and YLT. The word όδου by itself would suffice for “road” and the prefix ἀμφό seems to point in the direction of the KJV and YLT.

5καί τινες τῶν ἐκεῖ ἑστηκότων ἔλεγον αὐτοῖς, Τί ποιεῖτε λύοντες τὸν πῶλον; 
And some of the ones who were standing there were saying to them, “What are you doing loosing the colt?”
ἑστηκότων: PerfAPart gpm, ἵστημι, 1) to cause or make to stand, to place, put, set 
ἔλεγον: IAI 3p, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak
ποιεῖτε: PAI 2p, ποιέω, 1) to make 2) to do 
λύοντες: PAPart npm, λύω, 1) to loose any person (or thing) tied or fastened 

6οἱ δὲ εἶπαν αὐτοῖς καθὼς εἶπεν ὁ Ἰησοῦς: καὶ ἀφῆκαν αὐτούς. 
Yet they said to them just as Jesus said; and they permitted them.
εἶπαν: AAI 3p, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak
εἶπεν: AAI 3s, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak
ἀφῆκαν: AAI 3p, 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
1. This is an interesting and longish description of the act of fetching a colt. I think it can be read in a number of ways. First, I suppose it was fairly common to tie up a colt on a post of some sort when one has to take it into town and it is not in use at the moment. And, it seems like a common neighborly act to be suspicious if someone not known to be from the area were to walk up and to start loosing a colt. So, at minimum this is a glimpse into neighborliness and common care about an animal – which could be both expensive and precious to a poor person.
2. The explanation “the Lord has need of it,” might point to a habit that a Roman official or some other high person could appropriate one’s colt if necessary. (I’m remembering that a Roman soldier could compel someone to carry a burden for a mile. Perhaps this is part of the habit of living in a vassal state.) 
3. One reason why Mark offers such detail to this part of the story could be that Jesus has pre-arranged it all. “The Lord has need of it” might serve as a password, so to speak. That would make the entry into Jerusalem less of a spontaneous expression of people’s expectations about Jesus and more of a statement by Jesus. I’ve run across the phrase “political theater” several times in reference to this story. (I think that is an apt description, but given the current state of politics in the US I’m afraid someone might hear that phrase and assume it’s a theater of the absurd.)
4. Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan, in The Last Week, describe this procession as a counter procession to Pilate’s entry into Jerusalem for the high holy days.

7καὶ φέρουσιν τὸν πῶλον πρὸς τὸν Ἰησοῦν, καὶ ἐπιβάλλουσιν αὐτῷ τὰ ἱμάτια αὐτῶν, καὶ ἐκάθισεν ἐπ' αὐτόν. 
And they brought the colt to Jesus, and threw their clothing on it, and he sat on it.
φέρουσιν: PAI 3p, φέρω, 1) to carry   1a) to carry some burden … 3) to bring, bring to, bring forward
ἐπιβάλλουσιν: PAI 3p, ἐπιβάλλω, 1) to cast upon, to lay upon
ἐκάθισεν: AAI 3s, καθίζω, 1) to make to sit down  

8καὶ πολλοὶ τὰ ἱμάτια αὐτῶν ἔστρωσαν εἰς τὴν ὁδόν, ἄλλοι δὲ στιβάδας κόψαντες ἐκτῶν ἀγρῶν. 
And many spread their clothing in the road, yet others having cut branches out of the fields.
ἔστρωσαν: AAI 3p, στρώννυμι, 1) to spread  2) furnish  3) to spread with couches or divans 
κόψαντες: AAPart npm, κόπτω, 1) to cut, strike, smite  2) to cut from, cut off  3) to beat one's breast for grief
1. One would assume that the verb ἔστρωσαν  (spread) is implied in the last portion of this verse also.
2. I’m wondering about the significance of casting clothing on the colt and then on the road. For the colt, I can see how this would be a makeshift saddle. So, perhaps there is a practical reason for it. But, to strew clothing on the road seems to be a different matter. Does it have the meaning of the (apparently untrue) story of Sir Walter Raleigh casting his cloak over a mud puddle so Queen Elizabeth would not get her feet muddy? It would seem that garments would pose more of a nuisance than a help, so it seems to have more of a symbolic function.
3. Michal Beth Dinkler, addressing Luke’s version of this story, says the following: Many commentators have argued that Luke’s audience would have noted parallels between Jesus’ Triumphal Entry and traditional Greco-Roman entrance processions of important Roman leaders. The structure of such celebratory welcomes, well-attested in ancient literature, typically includes the following characteristic elements:
(i) The citizenry or the army of the conqueror escorts the conqueror/ruler into the city.
(ii) Hymns and/or acclamations accompany the procession.
(iii) Various elements in the procession symbolically depict the authority of the ruler.
(iv) The entrance is followed by a ritual of appropriation, such as sacrifice, which takes place in the temple, whereby the ruler symbolically appropriates the city.
(“Reading the Potentials of Jesus ‘Triumphal Entry,’” Review and Expositor 2015, Vol. 112(4), pp. 525-541. Accessed March, 2018 via ATLASerials.) 

9καὶ οἱ προάγοντες καὶ οἱ ἀκολουθοῦντες ἔκραζον, Ὡσαννά: Εὐλογημένος ἐρχόμενος ἐν ὀνόματι κυρίου: 
And those who were going before and those who were following cried, “Hosanna! Blessed the one who comes in the name of the Lord;
προάγοντες: PAPart npm, προάγω, 1) to lead forward, lead forth
ἀκολουθοῦντες: PAPart npm, ἀκολουθέω, 1) to follow one who precedes,
ἔκραζον: IAI 3p, κράζω, 1) to croak  1a) of the cry of a raven 
Εὐλογημένος: PerfPPart nsm, εὐλογέω, 1) to praise, celebrate with praises  2) to invoke blessings
ἐρχόμενος: PMPart nsm, ἔρχομαι, 1) to come 
1. The crowd’s shouts reflect Psalm 118:25-26, especially if “Hosanna” is some sort of cry for salvation.  

10 Εὐλογημένη ἡ ἐρχομένη βασιλεία τοῦ πατρὸς ἡμῶν Δαυίδ: Ὡσαννὰ ἐν τοῖς ὑψίστοις. 
Blessed is the coming reign of our father David; Hosanna in the highest!”
Εὐλογημένη: PerfPPart nsf, εὐλογέω, 1) to praise, celebrate with praises  2) to invoke blessings
ἐρχομένη: PMPart nsf, ἔρχομαι, 1) to come 
1. I wonder whether the crowd is on point or spilling off point by following the praise of Jesus in v.9 with the praise of the “coming reign of our father David” in this verse. Can they be saying the right thing but expecting the wrong expression of it? Or, are they embracing the colt, as opposed to a fine warhorse, and welcoming a reign far different than what Pilate, Herod, or Caesar might represent?
2. Given the nature of the next verse, this moment may be the climax or the point of the whole story.

11Καὶ εἰσῆλθεν εἰς Ἱεροσόλυμα εἰς τὸ ἱερόν: καὶ περιβλεψάμενος πάντα, ὀψίας ἤδη οὔσης τῆς ὥρας, ἐξῆλθεν εἰς Βηθανίαν μετὰ τῶν δώδεκα. 
And he entered into Jerusalem into the temple. And having looked around all things, it now being evening, he went out into Bethany with the twelve.
εἰσῆλθεν: AAI 3s, εἰσέρχομαι, 1) to go out or come in: to enter 
περιβλεψάμενος: AMPart nsm, περιβλέπω1) to look around
οὔσης: PAPart gsf, εἰμί, 1) to be, to exist, to happen, to be present 
ἐξῆλθεν: AAI 3s, ἐξέρχομαι, 1) to go or come forth of 
1. Worst. Movie. Ending. Ever.
2. Okay, maybe the ending of “Lost in Translation” – when Bill Murray mutters something that seems important but nobody knows what it is – was worse. But, still.
3. (I’m just going to amend Mark’s text a smidge and mollify my OCD tendencies by adding: “In the morning, Jesus made sure that someone returned the colt.”)


  1. Maybe they dropped off the colt on their way back to Bethany. And an un-ridden colt might be like a never yoked red heifer (Numbers 19): purer and a really humble beast of burden...and maybe the folks did give the colt to Jesus because they thought 'Lord' meant Pilot. Do like the longer quote about bringing the colt back...You ROCK!

    1. Thanks, BCP. I'm hearing that Jim Sanders relates this to a practice that kings would often do, but I'm not sure what the source of that explanation is.


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