Sunday, August 29, 2021

Steadfast Mother and Stammering Friend

Below is a rough translation and some preliminary comments regarding Mark 7:24-37, the Revised Common Lectionary’s gospels reading for the 16thSunday after Pentecost. There are two stories within this pericope, and I am not trying to relate them at this point. 

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 ἡ 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 
1. Between vv.25-26, Mark uses “unclean spirit” (πνεῦμα ἀκάθαρτον) and “demon” (δαιμόνιον) interchangeably. 
2. My dictionary is showing a difference between “little daughter” (θυγάτριον) in v.25 and “daughter” (θυγατρὸς) in v.26. 
3. 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.” 
4. 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 exist 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 ἡ 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 
1. 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 resource. I suspect I cut and pasted it, but I’ll accept responsibility if it is mis-worded: 
“Camery-Hoggatt (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-Hoggatt 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.” Camery-Hoggatt’s position reflects a long tradition that one finds in Thomas Aquinas among others. (Per Martha Moore-Keish, Feasting on the Gospels Commentary on Mark, p.208). 
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  …  1a1) of those who leave a place of their own accord  1a2) of those who are expelled or cast 

30 καὶ 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 having been thrown on the bed and the demon having 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  …  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.
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. 

The second story in this pericope is a story that is unique to Mark’s gospel. If you follow the hypothesis that Mark preceded Matthew and Luke, a question might be why Matthew and Luke did not pick this story up. If you follow the Griesbach hypothesis that Mark was written after Matthew and Luke, this would be a unique source story. Hmm… I don’t really know which direction to lean because I wasn’t around when these books were being written. Ah well, we have what we have, so let’s get to it. 

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 borders of Tyre he went through Sidon to the sea of Galilee along the middle of the Decapolis borders. 
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. The previous pericope began “And from there he arose and went away to the border of Tyre and Sidon” (v.24). 
2. Now Jesus returns toward the Sea of Galilee by going through the Decapolis (“10 cities”). As the Latinate name suggests, the Decapolis was considered a Romanist area. This story, then, continues to be a Gentile area story. 
3. The word “borders” (ὁρίων), for coastal cities like Tyre and Sidon, could mean “coasts” (KJV, YLT) or “coastlines.” 

32καὶ φέρουσιν αὐτῷ κωφὸν καὶ μογιλάλον, καὶ παρακαλοῦσιναὐτὸν ἵνα 
ἐπιθῇ αὐτῷ τὴν χεῖρα. 
And they carry to him a deaf and stammering one, and begged him in order that he might lay the hand on him.
φέρουσιν: PAI 3p, φέρω, 1) to carry   1a) to carry some burden
παρακαλοῦσιν: PAI 3p, παρακαλέω, 1) to call to one's side, call for, summon
ἐπιθῇ: AASubj 3s, ἐπιτίθημι, 1) in the active voice  1a) to put or lay upon  1b) to add to 
1. The adjective 'stammerer' (μογιλάλον)occurs only here in the New Testament, and only once in the Septuagint, in Isaiah 35:3-6: Strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees. Say to those who are of a fearful heart, ‘Be strong, do not fear! Here is your God. He will come with vengeance, with terrible recompense. He will come and save you.’ Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then the lame shall leap like a deer, and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy. For waters shall break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert. (NRSV) 
2. The “they” here seems important to me. More later … (that’s a teaser, folks!) 
3. Mark uses the verb παρακαλέω a lot (1:40; 5:10, 12, 17, 18, 23;6:56, here, and 8:22), at least in the first half of the gospel. It usually indicates someone asking Jesus for healing or relief. The KJV uses “besought” (past tense of beseech) quite often, and “prayed” at other times, which I think is helpfully suggestive. 

33καὶ ἀπολαβόμενος αὐτὸν ἀπὸ τοῦ ὄχλου κατ' ἰδίαν ἔβαλεν τοὺς δακτύλους 
αὐτοῦ εἰς τὰ ὦτα αὐτοῦ καὶ πτύσας ἥψατο τῆς γλώσσης αὐτοῦ, 
And having removed him from the crowd with his own put his fingers into his ears and having spit he touched his tongue,  
ἀπολαβόμενος: AMPart nsm, ἀπολαμβάνω, 1) to receive 1a) of what is due or promised 
ἔβαλεν: AAI 3s, βάλλω, 1) to throw or let go of a thing without caring where it falls  1a) to scatter, to throw, cast into  
πτύσας: AAPart nsm, πτύω, 1) to spit 
ἥψατο: AMI 3s, ἅπτω, 1) to fasten to, adhere to  1a) to fasten fire to a thing, kindle, set of fire 
1. This verse is full of uncommon or uncommonly used words for a novice translator like me, so I am heavily reliant on comparing other translations to make it meaningful. This is a good occasion for me to give a shout out to as an excellent online tool. 
2. For example, when Jesus removesthe man from the crowd, the verb ἀπολαμβάνω primarily means “to receive” and only the tertiary meaning is “to take aside,” because the prefix ἀπο intensifies the root λαμβάνω to mean something like “receive completely.” This is the only time Mark uses that verb.  
3. The comment that Jesus removed him from the crowd seems important. Remembering that Jesus began this journey to get away from the crowd in the first place (v.24), this passage seems to play into the narrative of what many call “the messianic secret.” More about that below (another teaser!)   
4. Jesus actions – to remove him from the crowd, put his fingers into his ears, spit, then touch his tongue – almost look like magical rituals, don’t they? 

34καὶ ἀναβλέψαςεἰς τὸν οὐρανὸν ἐστέναξεν, καὶ λέγει αὐτῷ, Εφφαθα,  
ἐστιν, Διανοίχθητι. 
And looking up into the heaven he sighed, and says to him, “Ephphatha,” which is “Be opened.” 
ἀναβλέψας: AAPart nsm, ἀναβλέπω, 1) to look up  2) to recover (lost) sight 
ἐστέναξεν: AAI 3s, στενάζω, 1) a sigh, to groan 
λέγει: PAI 3s, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak  1a) affirm over, maintain
ἐστιν: PAI 3s, εἰμί, 1) to be, to exist, to happen, to be present 
Διανοίχθητι:  APImpv 2s, διανοίγω, 1) to open by dividing or drawing asunder, to open thoroughly  (what had been closed)
1. “looking up to heaven, he sighed …?” What kind of statement is that? It could also be “he groaned.” Does that help? Is it a prayer of the weary, like when Anne Lamott would begin each day with the prayer “here goes” and end with “oh well”? Is it a frustrated moment, such as “How long must I suffer with this generation?” Is it weary Jesus, whose intent for this retreat was to get away from the crowds, simply not being able to get away from the crowd? Why is he looking toward the heaven? Is this a moment between Jesus and God? Or, is it, along with the groan, a few more steps in the rituals that began in v.33? 
2. Since this story is unique to Mark, this is the only use of “sigh” (στενάζω) in the gospels. The most popular use of this word is possibly Paul’s use in Romans 8:23. 

35καὶ [εὐθέως] ἠνοίγησαν αὐτοῦ αἱ ἀκοαί, καὶ ἐλύθη  δεσμὸς τῆς γλώσσης 
αὐτοῦ, καὶ ἐλάλει ὀρθῶς. 
And [immediately] his ears opened, and the band of his tongue was loosed, and he spoke plainly. 
ἠνοίγησαν: API 3p, ἀνοίγω, 1) to open
ἐλύθη: API 3s, λύω, 1) to loose any person (or thing) tied or fastened  1a) bandages of the feet, the shoes,
ἐλάλει: IPI 3s, λαλέω, 1) to utter a voice or emit a sound  2) to speak 
1. (I have a feeling that if this story were in Luke, a lot of commentators would use it to prove that Luke was a physician “because he provides so much insight and detail.” Don’t tell anyone that I said that, but we know it’s true.)  

36καὶ διεστείλατο αὐτοῖς ἵνα μηδενὶ λέγωσιν: ὅσον δὲ αὐτοῖς διεστέλλετο, 
αὐτοὶ μᾶλλον περισσότερον ἐκήρυσσον. 
And he ordered them that they should say nothing; yet the more he was ordering them, the more they were proclaiming all the more.
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
λέγωσιν: PASubj 3p, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak  1a) affirm over, maintain
διεστέλλετο: IMI 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
ἐκήρυσσον: IAI 3p, κηρύσσω, 1) to be a herald, to officiate as a herald  1a) to proclaim after the manner of a herald 
1. The “they” of v.32 returns. This is not a case where Jesus tells the sick or demonized person who has been healed or liberated to keep it quiet and that person cannot not talk about it. Jesus tells “them,” the petitioners, to either say nothing or not to speak to anyone, depending on how one translates it. And Mark says the degree to which they disobey seems to crank up with the more he tells them not to broadcast it. 
2. Mark uses two terms which could both be translated “more” - μᾶλλον and περισσότερον. When I make them, “all the more,” is my southern showing?  
3. This would, then, be another one of those stories that seems to fit within what is meant by the phrase, “the messianic secret.” At the risk of sounding redundant and not-as-informed-as-I-like-to-imagine, I think these repeated attempts to quiet the message are less about keeping Jesus a secret and more about Jesus’ hope that others would join him in his work, not just marvel and tell about his work. 

37καὶ ὑπερπερισσῶς ἐξεπλήσσοντο λέγοντες, Καλῶς πάντα πεποίηκεν: καὶ 
τοὺς κωφοὺς ποιεῖ ἀκούειν καὶ [τοὺς] ἀλάλους λαλεῖν.
And exceedingly astonished they were saying, “He has done all things well; and the deaf are able to hear and [the] non-speakers to speak.” 
ἐξεπλήσσοντο: IPI 3p, 
λέγοντες: PAPart npm, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak  1a) affirm over, maintain
πεποίηκεν: PerfAI 3s, ποιέω, 1) to make  1a) with the names of things made, to produce, construct,  form, fashion, etc
ποιεῖ: PAI 3s, ποιέω, 1) to make  1a) with the names of things made, to produce, construct,  form, fashion, etc
ἀκούειν: PAInf, ἀκούω, 1) to be endowed with the faculty of hearing, not deaf  2) to hear
λαλεῖν: PAInf, λαλέω, 1) to utter a voice or emit a sound  2) to speak 
1. It is not tremendously clear whether the “they” signifies the ones who brought the man in v.32 and are told to keep quiet in v.36, or whether it now refers to those who are responding to the news that is being broadcast. 

Note this: Lamar Williamson, a wonderful man and careful interpreter (Mark, Interpretation Commentary series) connected these texts with verses 1-23 saying, “If in the preceding passage Jesus ‘declared all foods clean’ (v.19), in these stories he declares all persons clean, whether a Gentile woman in a pagan city or a man of indeterminate race in the unclean territory of the Decapolis. The stories are two examples of the sample principle: Both advance Jesus' repudiation of traditional taboos (p. 137).”


  1. In many of the healing stories, it seems that those who need healing must overcome some sort of "barrier" to receive it. Friends must carry the person, i.e. the paralytic lowered through the roof and the deaf and stuttering man; the woman with the hemorrhage (an outcast) must get through a crowd, and Bartimaeus, although blind, must also get through a crowd to Jesus. I wonder if the remark about the dogs was the barrier here (way harsh!), but because the mother was a Gentile? Jesus seems to have thought the better of it though. I'd like to think he apologized.

  2. I think maybe we often focus too much on the woman and not enough on her daughter. The latter is the subject of the whole episode and headings in our Bibles should say as much. She is the one Jesus refers to as a puppy dog, not her mother. She is the one with the 'unclean' spirit, not the mother. The little daughter is silent and is not even seen. How many 'little daughters' aren't there in the church! The classy woman asks (not begs) that Jesus treats her little daughter like he treated the 5000 (curious that Mark does not include 'the women and the children' - Who has the problem, really? Jesus or Mark??). Jesus fed the 5000 (the children to be fed 'first') so generously that 'all ate and were satisfied' and there was more food that fell as left-overs than there was to begin with etc. Not by chance then that Jesus turns the subject around to eating and food and away from the girl's unclean state per se (it certainly is not forgotten at all); nor by chance does Mark follow this story with the feeding of 4000 (not as many as the first children!) on 'the other side' of the lake with equal generosity. Jesus talks of what is proper etiquette (not throwing food on the floor for the dogs) but the woman challenges him for his theologically and socially inappropriate etiquette. In the end, the 'your daughter' (v 29) becomes 'the child'(v 30); and not surprisingly, the child 'has been thrown down on the sofa' (eucharist here?) and as such the demon is gone. (No faith-saving-healing words at all!) Like so many of Mark's stories, this too is so simply told but wow, it packs some punch.

  3. These are both helpful and thought-provoking observations. Thanks Bex and Rick for your thoughts.


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