Sunday, July 04, 2010

Liveblogging the Gospel of Mark VI: Approaching the Main Event

Well, you don't have to wait for this one: here in Chapter 14 of the Gospel of Mark, we begin the narrative of the main event--preparation for crucifixion, to be followed by the deed itself, and resurrection. The story is familiar enough that the Greek is even easier to guess than before, but there are still parts that seem unfamiliar. I don't remember, for example, the woman who poured a bottle of ointment over his head. The text presents a challenge to the translator: for the ointment, the text says " nardou;" footnotes translate "oil of nard;" many translations say "spikenard," which leaves me none the wiser. Wiki identifies "Spikenard" as a flowering plant, "used as a perfume, an incense, a sedative, and an herbal medicine said to fight insomnia, birth difficulties, and other minor ailments."

In any event, the unnamed pourer finds herself in trouble with her mates who complain that the ointment was worth "epano denarion triakosion,"--more than 300 something, but what? The Greek "denairon" suggests Roman "denarii;" a number of translations do indeed say "denarii." King James and others say "pence." The American (sic) standard says "shillings." Weymouth sys "fifteen pounds." One is tempted to say that the effective sum is anybody's guess, but the New Living Translation says "a year's wages" which is functional but not literal (the New International Version says more than a year's wages"), so even functionality does not settle matters.

What we do know is that it is enough for the observers to complain about, leading to an oddly dismissive response from the man (sic?) at the center of the portentous drama:
And Jesus said, Let her alone; why trouble ye her? she hath wrought a good work on me.

For ye have the poor with you always, and whensoever ye will ye may do them good: but me ye have not always.
By the end of Chapter 14, it is pretty clear who the instigators are in this plot: scribes, Pharisees and elders -- "grammateis, "Pharisaioi" and "presbyteroi." Why they should want to make such a big deal out of what appears to be no more than routine sectarian rancor is not (at least so far) explained; and if they did, it is equally unclear why they didn't just have a couple of toughs take him out in the alley.

It is a matter of interest, surely, where the whole story, particularly the edifying detail, all comes from. If you are a believer, the answer is that it is in Holy Scripture and that is it. Even if you are a skeptic, you may believe: Bart Ehrman, a leading critic of Biblical inerrancy, argues that the very fact that the story runs so contrary to a standard mythology--that fact alone, he contends, argues for its authenticity. Others--Burton Mack?--note that 40-odd years have passed since the apparent moment, long enough to leave the truth so shrouded in legend that one may despair of ever reaching through to it. But this brings us full circle: if it really is a fiction--if Mark did make it up--than you have to want to know more about just how he did it.

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