About a year or so ago, I was having a wonderful conversation with a lovely Christian lady. The conversation came around to the miracles of Jesus, as this is often used as some type of rationalization that Jesus was divine, or God, or what have you. My response was that the miracle stories of Jesus, not unlike the miracle stories of other folks of the past, are doing much more than relaying historical facts that we should simply take at face value. She asked me to Xplain. That attempt, however feeble it may have been, became “Jairus and the Bleeding Woman”. I made it a point not to draw conclusions in that conversation because the intent was to generate thought. Here is how I closed:
Now if one wants to believe that the great miracles of Jesus are historical events, that is no business of mine. The important thing to note is that the unknown author of GoMark was telling a specific story, for a specific reason, to a specific group of people, to relay a specific message at a specific time in history.
In the combined stories of the resurrection from the dead, or mostly dead, of Jairus’ daughter and the healing of a nameless woman with an unnatural menstrual flow, there is a LOT more going on than just a story about the supernatural ability of the christian icon, Jesus Christ.
Following the majority opinion Two-Source Theory, Mark first told this dual-story. GoMatthew borrowed and modified the story for his community. GoLuke also borrowed the story from GoMark for his/her own community. Therefore I used only the earliest Markan source, which was possibly the original. There are themes that run through GoMark that are not carried over into the later canonical Gospels. One of those is understanding/misunderstanding, which is I suppose, a sub-theme supporting the theme of the Messianic Secret. I was pleased to see Mike White discuss this in his most recent book. Naturally, he says it better than I ever could.
“One narrative device in the Markan Gospel that speaks directly to the audience, but without a narrator’s aside or editorial comment, comes by allowing the stories within the narrative to serve as commentary on the narrative, or more precisely on characters and events within the narrative. At this moment, the narrator and audience are engaged in a performative act of storytelling that also stands outside the story in a conscious way by dramatizing things in certain ways. In fact, a number of the miracle stories in Mark do just this… In particular the miracle doublets, and especially the three central miracles in 4:35-5:43, characterize this dynamic of the story looking inward at itself.
“For example, the double miracle of Jairus’s daughter and the hemorrhaging woman (5:21-43) clearly intertexts these two stories by virtue of intercalation as well as the girl’s age and the duration of the woman’s ailment (twelve years). These two characters are thereby set in dramatic opposition to one another: one is the “pure,” virginal daughter of a synagogue official; the other, an “impure” woman with a menstrual disorder. Even more to the point, however, is the action of the respective characters within the story as they react to Jesus. The impure woman believes in Jesus and thus touches him, even when it is unthinkable to do so. She is healed instantly through her own faith and initiative even before Jesus takes any miraculous action. The synagogue official and his household believe in Jesus initially, so long as his daughter is still alive, but then consider him powerless after she dies. Jesus raises her from the dead anyway, despite their lack of proper faith. As we see, this juxtaposition of faith is precisely where the theme of misunderstanding shows through most clearly. The characters in the story are thus caricatures from the perspective of the audience, but also serve as exemplars. That one is a nameless and impure woman, and thus a marginal character from social perspective, while the other is a named and socially prominent man, further heightens the polarities associated with proper belief and understanding.”
From: SCRIPTING JESUS: The Gospels in Rewrite, 2010, L. Michael White, HarperOne, p.273
According to the author of GoMark, the majority of the characters never do understand the significance of Jesus. There is no question by John the Baptist asking who Jesus truly was. That comes from Q. The masses never really understand. The religious leaders certainly did not understand. Even the disciples remained clueless regarding what Jesus was all about. They remain ignorant and confused throughout the Gospel. The only time that they finally do figure it all out is in the last 12 verses of GoMark, known as the Markan Appendix, which is absent from all the oldest manuscripts, present only in later manuscripts, generally agreed to be a later addition. The last time we see Peter is in another one of those intercalations around a camp-fire when the cock crows the second time. He has denied any association with Jesus and is never again seen in GoMark. “And Peter called to mind the word, how that Jesus said unto him, Before the cock crow twice, thou shalt deny me thrice. And when he thought thereon, he wept.” ( 14:72)
Even the women followers who came to anoint the body of Jesus at the tomb had not understood. If they had, as did another unnamed woman who had already anointed Jesus’ body for burial in 14:8, they would not have made the trip. The oldest manuscripts of GoMark end like this:
And they went out, and fled from the tomb; for trembling and astonishment had come upon them: and they said nothing to any one; for they were afraid.
No post-resurrection appearance by Jesus, no snake handling, no poison drinking, and no Great Commission. It is an appropriate ending for the recurring themes that flow through the earliest Gospel of Mark.
From: What the Gospels Meant, 2008, Gary Wills, pp. 11-12
Chapter I: Mark – Report from the Suffering Body of Jesus
“Mark’s is the shortest Gospel, and it was for centuries the most neglected of the four. It is one of the three Gospels that resemble one another – those called Synoptic because they have a “common view” (Greek synopsis). Of the three, Matthew was placed first in the traditional order. Since Matthew has more material than Mark, and the material is better organized than either Mark or Luke managed, Matthew was for a long time considered the foundational Synoptic Gospel. Augustine called Mark simply “the drudge and condenser” (pedisequus et breviator) of Matthew. The humble station of Mark as a kind of biblical Cinderella was stressed by her shabby garb – Mark’s Greek is clumsier and more awkward than that used by the other evangelists. No wonder his was the least cited Gospel in the early Christian period. As if to add insult to injury, one of the most quoted parts of the Gospel was a later addition to it (the so-called Markan Appendix – twelve verses added to its ending).
“But this Cinderella got her glass slipper in the nineteenth century, when it was finally noticed that the other Synoptics, Matthew and Luke, cite and use (and correct) Mark, but he does not do the same for them. This obviously meant that he preceded them – his is the first Gospel, setting the pattern for the others. Since that discovery, his has become the most studied and influential Gospel. It is also the Synoptic Gospel that most shows the signs of a particular community as its source and audience – a persecuted community with internal divisions and conflict. This brings it together with the only other New Testament documents written before the destruction of the Temple in 70 CE, Paul’s letters to five troubled gatherings.
“This may help us understand why the first Gospel was written at all. Paul’s normal dealings with the hundreds of gatherings he must have known in his thousands of miles of travel were oral, the expected form of communication in an oral culture. Writing was a difficult and rare act – so difficult that “writers” dictated to scribes, who did this laborious inditing on papyrus rolls. That is why Paul “wrote” to only five communities under two conditions – that he had to be away from the community, and that the community needed his intervention in its internal conflicts. In a somewhat similar way, Mark set down the oral teachings that were important to his own community as part of a concerted effort to remind and strengthen and console them in their discord under persecution. The repetition of his message in the liturgies and debates of his fellows was a way of keeping Jesus present through the storm.”