Introduction (EDIT: revised 05 January 2017)
Chapter 1: A kingdom ruled by reason.
Chapter 2: Tax on work is sin.
Chapter 3: Helping people back to work.
Chapter 4: Jesus' message in a nutshell: economic efficiency.
Chapter 5: Getting the message to the ruling class.
Chapter 6: Herod's land dispute, and the alternative to tax: cooperation.
Chapter 7: Your money should go to your family.
Chapter 8: For the highest profit, do not try to control others.
Chapter 9: Plan for the long term.
Chapter 10: The Ten Commandments
Chapter 11: Property, yes. Capitalism or socialism, no.
Chapter 12: You own what you create: Jesus on land rent.
Chapter 13: Tax destroys the nation again.
Chapter 14: The ideal ruler and the new contract (rule by mutual benefit, not force)
Chapter 15: Crucified because of his views on tax.
Chapter 16: You can't keep the common man down.
An-archism and hierarchies
Bad luck, debt, and interest
Capitalism and trade
Clean: what "healed" often means
King of the Jews: why enemies called him that
Kingdom of God
Land: how to gain territory
Logic: Jesus' teaching method
Logos: references in Mark
"Miracle": what does the word mean?
Miracles: how many were there?
Names and titles: what Jesus said about himself?
Revelation, the book of
Riches (1) (2)
Son of God
Son of Man
Miracle 1 - the voice from heaven
Miracle 2 - angels
Miracle 3 - removing an unclean spirit
Miracle 4 - healing Simon's wife's mother
Miracle 5 - healing many people
Miracle 6 - more casting out of devils
Miracle 7 - cleansing the leper
Miracle 8 - the man lowered through the roof
Miracle 9 - a man is declared fit for work
Miracle 10 - more healing
Miracle 11 - calming the disciples
Miracle 12 - pigs chased off a cliff
Miracle 13 - the issue of blood
Miracle 14 - raising from the dead?
Miracle 15 - casting out unclean spirits
Miracle 16 - anointing with oil to heal
Miracle 17 - feeding the five thousand
Miracle 18 - walking by the sea
Miracle 19 - general healing
Miracle 20 - healing at a distance
Miracle 21 - healing a deaf and dumb man?
Miracle 22 - feeding the four thousand
Miracle 23 - two attempts to heal a man
Miracle 24 - the future messengers of logic
Miracle 25 - the transfiguration
Miracle 26 - the role of belief
Miracle 27 - "he shall rise the third day"
Miracle 28 - rewards after death
Miracle 29 - helping the blind man
Miracle 30 - cursing the fig tree
Miracle 31 - moving a mountain, in theory
Here I will argue that Jesus had a simple way to solve all our problems: replace all taxation with land rent. This is a bold claim, so I present the entire gospel of Mark as evidence.
For why Mark is the best guide to Jesus, see this essay. Mark was written six years after the events it describes, and based on notes that were written at the time. Mark does not rely on the supernatural everything can be easily explained by natural means.
Other gospels (with the possible exception of Thomas) are much later, and rely on the supernatural, so are not reliable.
(1:1) The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God;
Here I will argue that Jesus used words in their normal meaning. E.g. anointed meant anointed (oil or water used in ritual), kingdom meant kingdom (a geographical area), gospel meant gospel (just "good news"), and so on. Therefore Jesus was talking about economics. So you see that I am not making any wild claims. The wild claims come from Paul and traditional Christianity: they did not understand economics (it was not a common topic of study until the 1700s) so they assume Jesus was magical. They are the ones making fantastic claims. I am simply arguing that Jesus used words with their normal meanings.
"Gospel" just means "good news". In verses 14-15 Jesus defines the good news as this: the time has come for the kingdom of God. A kingdom is an economic unit..
"Christ" is the Greek word for the Hebrew word "messiah", or in English "anointed". It was not a word that Jesus cared for much: he only used it twice (in Mark). the first time (Mark 9:41) is positive, the other time (in mark 13) is negative. In both uses it is a general term that can apply to many people, as I will show.
Messiah ("Mashiyach") appears 39 times in the Hebrew scriptures, and all but two times refer to patriarchs, priests, regular kings (including Cyrus or Persia) etc. The two exceptions are in Daniel, where it's translated "messiah". But even here Daniel refers to "messiah the prince", who fights against another prince and initially loses, apparently in the second century BC. So the word "messiah" refers to many different people.
Jesus uses the word in the same way as in the Old Testament. Probably his most famous use is in Mark 13, is the warning against false messiahs. As usual it could mean any anointed person. His other use of the word is in Mark 9:41:
"For whosoever shall give you a cup of water to drink in my name, because ye belong to Christ, verily I say unto you, he shall not lose his reward."
The key phrase is translated "ye belong to Christ". The literal Greek translation is "hoti Christou este", or, crudely, "because / of the anointed / you be". "Christou" is, to this day, a Greek surname, meaning "son of Christ". A son grows up to become like the father. That is Jesus' message throughout: his followers can be like him by following his example.
The alternative explanation (that we can never be like Jesus) relies on the supernatural, not on logic. So it can be ignored.
How was Jesus anointed? When was special oil or water placed on him? Mark chapter 1 gives the obvious answer: Jesus was anointed at his baptism, where both John and a "voice from heaven" announced that God accepted Jesus. Baptism is a form of anointing because it where someone of significance uses specially chosen or prepared water (or oil) to publicly give significance to someone else. Everything said of Jesus (anointed, approved by God, ready to teach others) would also be true of others who were baptized. So while Jesus may be the most striking example of an anointed person, he is far from the only one.
As for the phrase "son of God", I think this is a general term that can apply to many people. That should become clearer when we get to other verses that reveal the nature of God, spirits, inheritance, etc. This phrase may not have been in the original text: it is "omitted by some ancient authorities. " (Pulpit Commentary). Either way, it just means somebody who follows God.
"The term by no means carries the idea of physical descent from, and essential unity with, God the Father. The Hebrew idiom conveys nothing further than a simple expression of godlikeness. In fact, the term 'son of God' is rarely used in Jewish literature in the sense of 'Messiah. ' Though in Sukkah 52a the words of Ps. ii. 7, 8 are put into the mouth of Messiah, son of David, he himself is not called 'son of God. ' [...] The Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha contain a few passages in which the title 'son of God' is given to the Messiah (see Enoch, cv. 2; IV Esdras vii. 28-29; xiii. 32, 37, 52; xiv. 9); but the title belongs also to any one whose piety has placed him in a filial relation to God (see Wisdom ii. 13, 16, 18; v. 5, where 'the sons of God' are identical with 'the saints'; comp. Ecclus. [Sirach] iv. 10). It is through such personal relations that the individual becomes conscious of God's fatherhood, and gradually in Hellenistic and rabbinical literature 'sonship to God' was ascribed first to every Israelite and then to every member of the human race (Abot iii. 15, v. 20; Ber. v. 1; see Abba). " (From the Jewish Encyclopedia. )
(1:2) As it is written in the prophets, Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, which shall prepare thy way before thee.
'As it is written': The reader is assumed to be familiar with the Old Testament. So Mark does not have to explain the teachings of Jesus or John: we can be assured that they teach the Old Testament teachings, unless Mark says otherwise.
The quote is from Isaiah 40:3. Isaiah speaks to the Israelites in Babylon, promising them a straight path back to their homeland. The Jews returned after the decree of Cyrus in 539 BC, and the most prominent leader was Ezra, who reformed Israel in an attempt to return it to Moses' original plan, and avoid the problems that led to captivity.
So this verse makes Jesus into another Ezra. (The verse could also refer to John the Baptist, who will be compared to Elijah, but we haven't been introduced to John yet. Multiple fulfilments of prophecy are normal, as I will discuss when we come to verse 3.) Ezra's reforms can be summarised as follows:
The above will raise a number of questions (many of which are covered in previous chapters of this book):
As we progress through Mark, we will see the logic of the economic rules clarified as follows:
(1:3) The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.
In Mark 1:3 we are still quoting Isaiah, talking about Ezra and company. Visualize what Isaiah describes: your nation was enslaved, in a foreign land. Ezra looks over the desert to his own land, and at last has the chance to go back. Instead of settling in Babylon, he urges people to make a straight line for Israel.
But Mark is about to apply this verse to John the Baptist (and also to Jesus). And they are already in Israel. So it must be a reminder of Ezra's reforms, not Ezra's journey.
Here are Ezra's reforms (and those of Nehemiah, the other main leader in the return from Babylon):
Let's look in more detail at what they meant by the law. The book of Nehemiah simply says that he read the law (of Moses). But he adds these details which give us an idea of his thinking:
How could Ezra's plan work? How could "righteousness" save a nation? There are two opposing theories:
Mark presents both sides. The Pharisees (or at least the ones who opposed Jesus) have the magic view: just obey the rules, that's all that matters. But Jesus always applies logic: he shows the contradictions in the Pharisees' words. Instead of obedience, Jesus demands results: again and again he says that the kingdom of God is like something that grows. No growth means no kingdom.
When we demand reason and evidence from the law of Moses, we find two very interesting results:
(1:4) John did baptize in the wilderness, and preach the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins.
The word "sin" is the Greek 'hamartia' meaning "to be without a share in". From "a-meros" meaning without a part or lot that was assigned. I think this supports my argument that Moses' law is purely about nation building. If you don't keep the rules, you can't expect your share in the community. So that's sin. Sin is about community rules. Sin is not about belief, or arbitrary commandments from an unknowable deity.
(1:5) And there went out unto him all the land of Judaea, and they of Jerusalem, and were all baptized of him in the river of Jordan, confessing their sins.
This puts Jesus in a historical context. John was popular in the capital and throughout the nation, so he warrants mention by Josephus. Jesus was only popular in Galilee, and only for a year. To outsiders he was merely a follower of John, so he was not worth mentioning in the Roman histories. As for baptism (the Mikvah ), that's just a symbol of washing off sin: getting rid of behaviors that harm the community (see commentary on the previous verse).
(1:6) And John was clothed with camel's hair, and with a girdle of a skin about his loins; and he did eat locusts and wild honey;
This is another verse that, I think, shows John and Jesus were interested in social justice, not the supernatural. The clothing shows that John is copying Elijah: As far as I can see, Elijah was the James Rhandi of his day, exposing supernatual nonsense through his superior science-based tricks. In particular, Elijah opposed Ahab, who was famous for trampling on Moses' land laws (the story of Naboth's vineyard). John's position on a land dispute will soon lead to his death (I'll discuss that when we come to Mark 6).
I think the point of the locusts and honey is that these are natural resources, provided directly by God: they were not farmed. This fits John's message: God (i.e. nature) will provide, if we acknowledge that he owns the natural resources, not us. (This verse is nothing to do with being ascetic: the law of Moses lists locusts as a normal food, and camel hair was expensive.)
(1:7) And preached, saying, There cometh one mightier than I after me, the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to stoop down and unloose.
So it's OK to have different churches! John praises Jesus but politely chooses not to join his group. John continues preaching independently until his death.
Untying someone's sandals shows you are a servant (see "The Symbolism of the Shoe with Special Reference to Jewish Sources" by Jacob Nacht). But John says (very politely) that he will not be Jesus' servant. This is confirmed when we later see that John was still preaching and still had followers.
The word translated "worthy" is the Greek word "hikanos" meaning "sufficient". Mark used the word in two other places, meaning "enough" (Mark 10:46) or "satisfactory" (Mark 15:15). So John said he was not enough/worthy/satisfactory to be a servant of Jesus. Clearly he was being polite, as he had a bigger following than Jesus, and Jesus came to *him". And that was OK. Both men showed great respect, and neither tried to convert the other.
(1:8) I indeed have baptized you with water: but he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost.
"Spirit" simply means "breath": it's the same word in both Hebrew ("ruwach") and Greek ("pneuma") and is used in the same contexts. The ancients saw breath as the source of life (see comemntary on verse 12). The word translated as "holy" seems to mean "from God". So "holy spirit" means "breath from God".
It's like the Latin term "inspire" which meant God's breath was in you (compare "respire" and "expire"), meaning you had good ideas. It is also similar to "enthusiasm", from the Greek "en-theos" meaning "god inside you". So wherever we see "holy ghost" we can read it as "ideas and enthusiasm".
Later verses will confirm that, yes, Jesus was full of ideas and enthusiasm. So whereas John motivated through guilt (he dressed as Elijah and told people to stop being so bad) Jesus motivated through intellect ("inspiration") and excitement ("enthusiasm").
Some churches are about guilt and criticism (just as John criticized Herod). But Jesus was more about ideas and a positive message (he spent time with sinners and refused to criticize Rome).
(1:9) And it came to pass in those days, that Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee, and was baptized of John in Jordan.
A Galilean origin for Jesus explains why he had such interesting ideas. Galilee was the northern border of Israel, and home to two major Phoenician ports. So this is where travelers and traders would enter from the fertile crescent, or from Greece, Rome, etc. Galilee means "district of nations" and was always a melting pot. So Jesus would be well aware of other religions, other nations, other points of view. He would be used to negotiation and trade as a way to solve problems, going beyond "I am right and you are wrong".
Of course, some Galileans reacted to outsiders in the opposite way: Galilee was also home to the Zealots! But I think it is clear from Mark that Jesus' policy was to make friends with enemies, not kill them.
(1:10) And straightway coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens opened, and the Spirit like a dove descending upon him:
Notice this is spirit, not spirit of God: so it is literally "breath" descending. Imagine the scene: John is the famous preacher, and he tells his followers that the new guy will bring the breath of God (that is, inspiration, enthusiasm). The heavens are "torn open": presumably scudding clouds reveal the sun? The people must expect a mighty wind (an Old Testament sign of God). But instead? A breath, gently descending like a dove.
Astute readers will recognize the allusion to Elijah (John is like Elijah, remember?) Specifically 1 Kings 19:11-13: God was not in fire, not in the whirlwind, but instead in a "still small voice".
This is how truth comes. Not through booming commands from on high, not from violent displays of power, but through quiet thought and hesitant suggestions.
(1:11) And there came a voice from heaven, saying, Thou art my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.
The first voice spontaneously heard is called a voice from heaven.
"The Hebrew term "bath kol", literally "daughter of a voice", concerns a heavenly or divine voice which proclaims God's will or judgment. " (Jewish Encyclopedia)
"The kind of divination among the Jews, termed by them Bath Kol, or the daughter of the voice, was not very dissimilar to the 'Sortes Sanctorum' of the Christians [where the first words you hear when entering church are taken as a special message from God]. The mode of practicing it was by appealing to the first words accidentally heard from any one speaking or reading. The following is an instance from the Talmud:--Rabbi Jochanau and Rabbi Simeon. Ben Lachish, desiring to see the face of R. Samuel, a Babylonish doctor: 'Let us follow, ' said they, 'the hearing of Bath Kol. ' Travelling, therefore, near a school, they heard the voice of a boy: reading these words out of the First Book of Samuel, 'And Samuel died. ' They observed this, and inferred from hence that their friend Samuel was dead, and so they found it. Some of the ancient Christians too, it seems, used to go to church with a purpose of receiving as the will of heaven the words of scripture that were singing at their entrance. " (from The Mirror of Literature September 15, 1827, preserved by Project Gutenberg)
This is a form of democracy. Because anyone can speak, but social pressure means they had better say something the crowd agrees with. Who was it spoke in this case? The person called Jesus "my son who I love" So the obvious candidate is Jesus' mother, who followed him as he preached. So the "daughter of a voice" was in this case literally female, a still, small voice in the hushed crowd. She spontaneously said what they all felt, so her voice came from God. 'Beloved son': Son of God simply means God-like person: see commentary to Mark 1:1.
(1:12) And immediately the spirit driveth him into the wilderness.
In ancient thought, the breath (pneuma, here translated "spirit") caused all living processes. In this case, it drives Jesus' actions. The Greeks made this theory explicit, but the idea is common in other cultures. For example, in Genesis, God made Adam think and move by breathing into him.
"Pneuma" was a scientific idea, not a supernatural one. That is, it was a conclusion drawn from evidence and reason. The reasoning is as follows: All living things breathe. When breath stops, life stops. But if breath can be restarted then life restarts. So breath is the cause of life. Also, in dead bodies, the arteries are empty. So it was reasoned that the arteries take pneuma around the body: pneuma was a medical idea based on observation. Further, breath is the same stuff as the invisible wind that causes movement, so it was natural to see this as the invisible hand behind all kinds of natural phenomena.
It might sound wrong, but it's basically correct. Except, we now know that the key element is not air in general, but oxygen in particular. The blood carries oxygen to the body, and oxygen allows chemical reactions that give cells energy. Oxygen is also a major part of the outside world: much of the Earth's crust is compounds involving oxygen, and oxygen is the easiest way to get energy from matter (it allows fire). So the ancients were on the right track, and over the centuries we simply refined the idea.
My point is that Mark is talking about science, not the supernatural. There is no need to think of this as supernatural, so Occams razor says the supernatural explanation is not needed. This is all part of my argument that the later, supernatural explanation of Jesus (as taught by Paul, Luke, etc.) should be rejected.
(1:13) And he was there in the wilderness forty days, tempted of Satan; and was with the wild beasts; and the angels ministered unto him.
"Satan" (or in the Greek text, "the satan") just means "the accuser". It's a Persian word for the accuser in a legal setting. Anybody who accuses you of something is a satan. For example, in Mark 8:33, Peter is a satan. And the word "tempted" just means "tested", again as in a court case.
Who is "the accuser" here? There are two likely possibilities. First, Jesus' own conscience. The idea of an inner adversary is common among thinkers of all ages: it's how we try difficult ideas in our minds. For example, Plato writes about Socrates having an inner demon who warns him against mistakes. This is not a supernatural thing, but a description of rational thought processes.
The second possibility is that the accuser was a person. Consider the narrative so far: John presented Jesus as a great hope, to bring excitement to the message. But then Jesus just had a quiet baptism then ran off to be alone. Jesus did not start preaching until John was put in prison for offending Herod. Surely some of John's followers must have accused Jesus: "He said you would bring excitement. But instead you run away, while the rest of us follow John and stand up against Herod!"
The Greek "angelos" just means "messengers". Since Jesus just left John, these messengers are presumably from John. As in the next verse Jesus knows that John has been put on prison. Another possibility is that these were messengers from his home in Galilee, or perhaps even the Essenes who lived in the desert.
(1:14) Now after that John was put in prison, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God,
So Jesus ran back home and stayed in Galilee. This dates the event to AD 36. Combining other evidence in Mark, Jesus' entire ministry must have been less than a year, and in a small geographical area (until the final week when he entered Jerusalem). Contrast this with John, whose preaching lasted many years and stirred up the whole country.
By waiting until John was gone, then preaching somewhere else (rather than competing for followers, creating conflict and confusion), I think Jesus illustrates shows acceptance of and respect for other religious points of view. Jesus is ecumenical.
'Preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God': This is the first we hear of Jesus' message: it is the gospel (good news) of the kingdom of God. A kingdom is an economic unit. So the kingdom of God is a kingdom based on abstract reason, not any human king.
(1:15) And saying, The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the gospel.
Here is Jesus' good news: that the time has come for the kingdom of God.
A kingdom is a political, geographical entity. God is the personification of truth and power. Moses describes the ideal kingdom rules not by man but by principles of truth and power. It was to be the land of Israel, ruled by judges, not kings. In Moses' plan nobody could own more land than anybody else, and the community was funded by a ten percent ground rent, not taxes. The result would be freedom and prosperity, an example for other nations to follow.
Jesus' teachings are the focus of the second half of Mark. Jesus updated Moses for the economically more complex Roman era. His secret is to allow unequal ownership of land as long as the owner pays a full ground rent to the community. The first half of Mark is the story of how Jesus first gained an audience: through his compassion for the victims of the human political system.
Why did he say "the time has come"? Because the imprisonment of John illustrated a wider and urgent problem: confrontation with the authorities (of the kind encouraged by John) would soon lead to the destruction of the temple. Jesus saw a short window where the nation could be saved by returning to Moses' original plan, making a deal with Rome in the same way that Moses made a deal with Shechem (see chapters four and five of this book).
Jesus' plan relied on having people who would listen to him for long enough to grasp its subtlety. So we now return to Mark's account of how Jesus first built his audience.
'Believe': Greek "pisteuo" from the word "pistis" which means "I am persuaded" and is the passive form of "I persuade". Persuasion implies either physical evidence or pure logic.
Later Christians called pistis faith and said it could mean belief without evidence. But originally it meant to be persuaded by evidence or logic. Hence in Aristotle:
"The opening [of Aristotle's Rhetoric] defines rhetoric as the 'counterpart of dialectic [argument of opposing opinions], ' which seeks not to persuade but to find the appropriate means of persuasion in any given situation. These means are to be found in various kinds of proof or conviction (pistis). . . . Proofs are of two kinds:
"You have to be persuaded to have pistis, and persuasion requires logos [logic]. "
(Anthony Preus, "Notes on Greek Philosophy from Thales to Aristotle" p. 157)
Every use of believe or faith in Mark is in the context of evidence or logic. For details of each case see the commentary in the relevant chapter:
Mark 2:5 - people were persuaded by seeing examples of Jesus healing people.
Mark 5:34 - a woman was convinced by seeing Jesus heal others
Mark 5:36 - there is persuasive evidence that Jesus can provide real comfort.
Mark 9:23 - there is persuasive evidence that Jesus can calm down distressed people.
Mark 9:42 - do not speak lightly of somebody who has performed a miracle.
Mark 10:52 - the blind man was convinced by what he had heard of other healings.
Mark 11:22 - there was plenty of evidence that people do what Jesus says
Mark 11:23-24 - Roman legions have shown that tons of rock can be cast into the sea.
Mark 11:31 - a certain claim logically implies belief.
Mark 13:21 - do not believe without strong evidence.
Mark 15:32 - the people demand evidence to believe.
Mark 16:13 - people did not believe without evidence.
Mark 16:14 - disciples were told to believe a credible eyewitness
(Mark 16:16-17 was not in the original. )
(1:16) Now as he walked by the sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and Andrew his brother casting a net into the sea: for they were fishers.
This is typical of Mark's eye witness details (the kind of details missing in other gospels). And it is a reminder that Mark relied on Simon's account (Simon was also called Peter, and Mark was his scribe). It is also one more reminder that Jesus was a local preacher in Galilee, not a national phenomenon like his mentor John.
(1:17) And Jesus said unto them, Come ye after me, and I will make you to become fishers of men.
Jesus said 'Come after me': not come follow me. This is an example of why Mark is the most reliable gospel. Later gospels brought subtle changes that reversed the meaning of what Jesus said, contradicting his other teachings.
"Come" is not in the Greek. After is not a command, but perhaps a suggestion. The Greek word is "opiso" meaning back, behind, after, afterwards; of place: things that are behind; of time: after. Jesus is not commanding, he is not placing himself above them, he is simply inviting them to do what he did first, no they can do it after. He came to teach and now they can as well.
Matthew, however, changes the word to a command, follow me. The Greek word "deute", a command to "come hither, come here, come; interjection, come!, come now!" (Interjection, in grammar, is a word to express emotion. )
The change is subtle, but major. Jesus saw himself as a teacher, a servant, an ordinary man who invites. But within a few decades his followers decided he was a king, to command. For how this contradicts Jesus' message, see the commentary to Mark 10:44 (not having kings), Mark 15:2 (who called Jesus a king) and Mark 8:30 (what Jesus said about himself).
This verse contains not one, but two examples of later Pauline theology twisting the words. While most translations follows the Greek text for "I will make you fishers of men", the NIV changes it to "I will send you out to fish for men". The difference is very subtle. In the Greek text, Jesus makes them like himself. But in the NIV change, Jesus is master and they are obedient servants. That is Paul's theology, not Jesus' theology.
(1:18) And straightway they forsook their nets, and followed him.
This illustrates why an economic approach to religion is best. We can endlessly speculate on what happened, and people do. What is it that persuaded Simon to leave his nets? We do not know what was inside his head. But how did he eat if he gave up work? That is something where we can speak with certainty. he had to eat or else he would die. That is measurable.
Jesus came to bring a better kingdom. Kingdoms are based on economics; who owns land? Who controls resources? Without clear, measurable economics, a kingdom is just empty words.
(1:19) And when he had gone a little farther thence, he saw James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, who also were in the ship mending their nets.
'When he had gone a little farther': so they are close by. What are the odds that four people you ask in quick succession would follow you, and be the right men for the job? Clearly he knew them beforehand. For added evidence, while we can't always rely on other gospels, they do imply that Jesus was closely related to James and John. (They imply that Zebedee's mother was Salome, who was sister to Mary). So they already knew Jesus well.
My point is that again this is not supernatural. A superficial reading makes it look like Jesus mysteriously knows who to choose, and they mysteriously feel the urge to obey. But a rational explanation is far more likely: they already knew him well. And they knew that the famous John the Baptist had praised Jesus. So they knew Jesus was going places. So following him was a considered, reasonable decision.
(1:20) And straightway he called them: and they left their father Zebedee in the ship with the hired servants, and went after him.
'Left their father Zebedee in the ship with the hired servants': Zebedee had enough money to hire servants. He had more to lose by following an unknown preacher. It was an economic choice. Later, when Jesus' reputation grew, richer people began to follow him (e.g. the centurion, Joseph of Arimathera, etc).
(1:21) And they went into Capernaum; and straightway on the Sabbath day he entered into the synagogue, and taught.
'Went into Capernaum': ' 'And they went into Capernaum; literally, 'they go into' Capernaum . St. Mark is fond of the historical 'present' tense, which often adds life and energy to his narrative. (Pulpit Commentary). This is a method used by some modern historians: it helps them to imagine being there. So they can focus on what actually happened and not what later commentators said.
'Straightway': after becoming anointed, spending forty days thinking, and choosing his assistants, he first begins teaching. Luke (4:18) says he announced himself in the synagogue by reading Isaiah 61:1. See commentary to Mark 1:2.
'Capernaum... synagogue': the synagogue at Capernaum was built by a Roman centurion who loved the nation and believed Jesus (Luke 7:1-5). Jesus chose to begin his ministry at a synagogue built by a friendly Roman. Jesus was a friend of Rome (e.g. see render to Caesar), in contrast to the later Christians. See commentary on Mark 12:14: his friendship could have saved the nation from later destruction.
(1:22) And they were astonished at his doctrine: for he taught them as one that had authority, and not as the scribes.
The scribes relied on quoting others for their authority, but Jesus did not. Jesus did not say God says this - that would be an appeal to an outside authority. Jesus' authority was his own logic.
Jesus did not say "thus saith God" or "thus saith this verse", he instead compared two ideas and applied logic. His authority is logic, because logic is God.
Mark 2:7-11, the inconsistency of criticizing a trivial thing when ignoring the much bigger issue:
"Why reason ye these things in your hearts? Whether is it easier to say to the sick of the palsy, Thy sins be forgiven thee; or to say, Arise, and take up thy bed, and walk?"
Mark 2:16-17, on the inconsistency of only preaching to good people:
"They that are whole have no need of the physician, but they that are sick. "
Mark 2:23-28, on the inconsistency of using one scripture and ignoring a contradictory one:
"The Pharisees said unto him, Behold, why do they on the Sabbath day that which is not lawful [eating wheat from the fields]? And he said unto them, Have ye never read what David did , when he had need, and was an hungered , he, and they that were with him? How he went into the house of God in the days of Abiathar the high priest, and did eat the shewbread, which is not lawful to eat but for the priests, and gave also to them which were with him? And he said unto them, The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath"
Mark 3:4, on being called evil for doing good on the Sabbath:
"Is it lawful to do good on the Sabbath days, or to do evil ? to save life, or to kill?"
Mark 3:23, when he was accused of using Satan's power:
"How can Satan cast out Satan?"
Mark 7:8-13, the inconsistency of claiming to follow God, but finding loopholes:
"Moses said, Honour thy father and thy mother; and, Whoso curseth father or mother, let him die the death: But ye say , If a man shall say to his father or mother, It is Corban, that is to say, a gift, by whatsoever thou mightest be profited by me; he shall be free. And ye suffer him no more to do ought for his father or his mother; Making the word of God of none effect through your tradition. "
Mark 7:14-15, 21 when people said physical food can create moral weakness:
"There is nothing from without a man, that entering into him can defile him: but the things which come out of him, those are they that defile the man. [...] For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders"
Mark 12:37, analyzing the logical inconsistency in their interpretation of Psalm 110:
"David therefore himself calleth him Lord; and whence is he then his son?"
Mark 12:43-44, on the economic value to an individual:
"This poor widow hath cast more in, than all they which have cast into the treasury: For all they did cast in of their abundance; but she of her want did cast in all that she had, even all her living. "
For whether Jesus had any other kind of authority, e.g. to send out apostles, see commentary to Mark 6:8
(1:23) And there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit; and he cried out,
The introduction is over. We are now onto the detail.
"Thus far St. Mark's narrative bears the character of brevity and conciseness, suitable to an introduction. From this point his record is rich in detail and in graphic description. " (Pulpit Commentary, on verse 22)
'He cried out': The man called, Jesus did not. In every case it is the other person who presses Jesus to do something. Jesus says he came to preach, not to physically heal. He just quoted Isaiah (61:1 in Luke 4:18) suggesting that his preaching would help the brokenhearted, but he never said he came to heal. That was thrust upon him by others: the best Greek texts of Mark have straightway in here (see the Pulpit Commentary): as soon as Jesus finished preaching his first public sermon a man leapt up and demanded help.
Jesus clearly had a strong spirit, so those with unclean spirits thought he could help them. When Jesus found that he had a very good influence on unclean spirits he made it part of his daily routine. This led to others with physical problems asking for help, but he discouraged that second group, as we shall see.
'Spirit': breath (Greek "pneuma") in the sense of words, or words in the body: i.e. thoughts.
'Unclean': Greek "akathartos", from the root "kathairo" meaning having bad parts removed: e.g. a tree being pruned of useless branches.
So 'an unclean spirit' is a set of damaging thoughts. Mark uses the phrase unclean spirit more than anyone else in the New Testament, so we get a good idea of what he meant:
In this example (Mark 1:23) a spirit is afraid that Jesus will destroy him. So he must feel be weak and vulnerable.
In Mark 3:11: these are spirits that want to be led: they are looking for somebody to follow.
In Mark 5 ( legion and the pigs) has a man who self-harmed, and felt tormented by Jesus.
Mark 9:20-30 is a similar case: a child who self-harmed, and seemed scared of Jesus (he collapsed motionless when rebuked).
There is one other example: Mark 7:25 has a woman who thought her daughter had a demon. This seems to be a problem with the mother, not the daughter: when the mother was reassured then she no longer saw her daughter as possessed. So if we ignore the last case (the daughter was probably just badly behaved) we see that the people with unclean spirits have these things in common:
In effect, they just want the unconscious excuse to change, and are primed to follow a sufficiently powerful religious leader, such as Jesus.
Was there a particular problem with helplessness and fear in Jesus' time? Probably. Judaea was a theocracy, the chosen people, and every day they were told that they had God on their side. Yet the Gentiles (Rome) were in control. The people were poor and weak and their faith did not work. No wonder this led many to despair and a downward spiral of superstition.
(1:24) Saying, Let us alone; what have we to do with thee, thou Jesus of Nazareth? art thou come to destroy us? I know thee who thou art, the Holy One of God.
'Let us alone': This seems to be a bad translation. The man merely cried out ah . The expression, incorrectly rendered Let us alone, has not sufficient authority to be retained here, though it is rightly retained in the parallel passage in St. Luke (Luke 4:34), where it is rendered in the Revised Version 'Ah!' or 'ha!' This is important because, while the man clearly had mixed up ideas, i.e. several sets of competing ideas (different spirits) we should not overemphasize us or we might imagine multiple human bodies when in fact it is just conflicting ideas.
'The Holy One': Greek "hagios" meaning a saint. Hagios comes from the word "hagos" meaning an awful thing, in the sense of demanding respect.
'Us... I': the person had multiple spirits. A spirit is a set of ideas: consciousness, individual personality (see chapter 2 of this book). If you had many conflicting ideas in your head you could be said to have many spirits. However, the translator still adds I because it is still one person really.
(1:25) And Jesus rebuked him, saying, Hold thy peace, and come out of him.
(1:26) And when the unclean spirit had torn him, and cried with a loud voice, he came out of him.
'Torn him': This seems to be a bad translation. The man convulsed, but was not physically harmed. The only way a person can be hurt by spirits (ideas) is if he falls over, cuts himself, or some other not-supernatural thing.
"The Greek word may be rendered in the passive to be convulsed. It is so used by medical writers, as Galen. It could hardly here mean physically 'laceration, ' for St. Luke (Luke 4:35) is careful to say that 'when the devil had thrown him down in the midst, he came out of him, having done him no hurt. '" (Pulpit Commentary)
(1:27) And they were all amazed, insomuch that they questioned among themselves, saying, What thing is this? what new doctrine is this? for with authority commandeth he even the unclean spirits, and they do obey him.
'Authority': Greek "Exousia" - "power of choice, liberty of doing as one pleases ... physical and mental power". Jesus had set himself up as the alpha in society, and many, people felt predisposed to follow him. Those who are socially at the bottom, rejected by society and self hating, feel the pull the strongest. This is probably a good time to discuss alphas and dominance.
All social animals live together, and disagreements naturally arise. Disagreements can lead to endless conflict, which is bad for everyone. So every social group creates hierarchies: the ones at the top are followed without needing to use violence. Sometimes this is because they threaten violence, but for long term stability they must offer advantages like protection and stability to those lower down the hierarchy.
Hierarchies are so useful that most societies have elites, those who exercise power due to social cues (like wealth or position in a formal group) and not due to any obvious immediate threat or bribe. The person at the top of the hierarchy is called the alpha. (For more details, see Dario Maestripieri, Games Primates Play, or any books on social dominance. )
Ancient Israel was a theocracy, where church and state were combined. So the greatest alpha, the ideal for the whole nation would be a king and prophet combined, like Moses or David. Jesus filled that role. He acted as a prophet, giving the word of God, and his message was of a coming kingdom with (by implication) himself as king of the Jews - the sign placed over his head when he was crucified for setting himself up as king.
Ironically Jesus taught the opposite: the kingdom of God is not a hierarchy:
"But Jesus called them to him, and saith unto them, Ye know that they which are accounted to rule over the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and their great ones exercise authority upon them. But so shall it not be among you: but whosoever will be great among you, shall be your minister: And whosoever of you will be the chiefest, shall be servant of all. " (Mark 10:42-44)
But his message was lost on his followers, who insisted on seeing Jesus as most important and wondering who was next in line.
"They had disputed among themselves, who should be the greatest. " (Mark 9:34)
After the crucifixion, church leaders (and especially Paul)emphasized Jesus' exalted position, and Jesus was counted as the alpha, the top man, by more people than any other in the history of the world.
Jesus earned his position by his intelligence and skill: he easily defeated his critics' arguments, he seemed to fulfil prophecy, he made people want to follow him, and he seemed to perform miracles. This seemed magical to others, so they assumed he had supernatural powers.
All of this explains why Jesus inspired such deep unconscious confidence, allowing him to not only attract wealthy people as admirers, but also to heal emotionally damaged people on a subconscious level (see commentary on Mark 1:23). Such people felt Jesus could keep their inner demons away. Jesus also provided a physical infrastructure, his growing band of followers who looked after each other, and this provided long term support and retraining. So the mentally sick felt safe and healthy and often saw a major improvement.
(1:28) And immediately his fame spread abroad throughout all the region round about Galilee.
This was the first miracle (in Mark) caused by Jesus, as opposed to just happening to Jesus. So this is a good time to discuss miracles.
Jesus' ministry lasted three years. Jesus was followed every day by hundreds of people, and many of them wanted to be healed. That's over a thousand days of crowds of healing opportunities, from dawn until dusk: about ten thousand intense hours (Jesus complained that he never had any privacy (Luke 9:58). But the best list I could find only has thirty seven miracles. That's one miracle per month. One miracle per three hundred hours' work. Even allowing for the many healings - which were not miraculous enough to be recorded in detail - that is no more than we might expect from chance, given that sick people often get better anyway, and stories tend to be exaggerated as they are told and retold.
How dramatic were the miracles really? Michael Symmons Roberts (in "The Miracles of Jesus" points out that the miracle stories use language from Old Testament miracles. So if the miracles are remembered in a very dramatic form it's probably because the followers wanted to see them that way.
(1:29) And forthwith, when they were come out of the synagogue, they entered into the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John.
(1:30) But Simon's wife's mother lay sick of a fever, and anon they tell him of her.
'Wife's mother': This illustrates the economic realities of life. A fisherman like Simon Peter could not simply walk way from his house to follow a preacher: he had responsibilities. For example, he had to support his wife and her mother. These women in turn supported Peter.
"We may infer, from the fact that his wish's mother lived with him, that he was the head of the family. St. Paul (1 Corinthians 9:5) intimates that he was a married man, and that his wife accompanied him on his missionary tours. According to the testimony of Clement of Alexandria, and of Eusebius (3:30), she suffered martyrdom, and was led away to death in the sight of her husband, whose last words to her were, 'Remember thou the Lord. '" (Pulpit Commentary)
"There were marshes in that district; hence the prevalence of fevers of a malignant character. " (Pulpit Commentary).
If this was malaria then it could have been treated with skillful use of the plant artemisia annua (sweet wormwood).
"As early as the second century BC, the Qinghao plant (sweet wormwood) had appeared as an anti-fever medicine in the Fifty-two remedies, a medical treatise. In 340 BC, the Artemisia annua plants were first described as having antimalarial properties by Ge Hong, an alchemist and medical expert of the East Jin Dynasty. (World Health Organization)
Jesus lived in Galilee, close to the trading ports of Tyre and Sidon. According to Matthew, Jesus spent his earliest years in Egypt. Later he had access to spikenard, an expensive ointment from the Himalayas (Mark 14:3). So Jesus had plenty of opportunity to gain medical ideas from the far east. However, the text suggests a more mundane explanations for the healing that followed: see next verse.
(1:31) And he came and took her by the hand, and lifted her up; and immediately the fever left her, and she ministered unto them.
'Immediately': The word immediately may have been added later: The word 'immediately', familiar as it is to St. Mark, is here omitted by the best authorities. ( Pulpit Commentary). She was not healed immediately, but felt the need to get off her sick bed to serve this famous man.
We were just told (in verse 28) that Jesus was now very famous in that region. Here we see that Simon's wife's mother feels obliged to get up off her sick bed and stop complaining and serve him drinks. This is the cultural norm, not the supernatural.
It is also possible that she had a genuine illness, and its cause was linked to her mental state, and Jesus cured that by changing how she thought.
"Psychogenic fever is one of the most common psychosomatic diseases and usually occurs during a psychopathologic process. " (Wikipedia)
(1:32) And at even, when the sun did set, they brought unto him all that were diseased, and them that were possessed with devils.
'At even, when the sun did set':
"It was the Sabbath day; and, therefore, the sick were not brought to our Lord until six o'clock, when the Sabbath ended. " (Pulpit Commentary)
So Jesus had most of the day to prepare.
(1:33) And all the city was gathered together at the door.
(1:34) And he healed many that were sick of divers diseases, and cast out many devils; and suffered not the devils to speak, because they knew him.
It was dark, when the sun did set, All the city was crowded around this one small house. Cities back then were much smaller than today, but you can imagine the shouting and the crush in the darkness. Somebody would be pushed through the crowd to him in the darkness and noise, then Jesus would say something, then the next person would be pushed in, and so on. These are ideal conditions for misunderstanding and social pressure to say I am cured and then no long term follow up.
Jesus mostly cast out spirits - that is, helped scared people who strongly believed he could give them mental peace (see commentary to Mark 1:23). Heal the physically sick was far les common, and often accompanied by the command to tell nobody.
Most healing was declaring somebody ritually clean: see chapter 3 for a details. The law of Moses declared people unclean for various reasons. For example, a woman's private bleeding made her ritually unclean, even if she learned to manage it (see Mark chapter 5, the woman with the issue of blood). By declaring her ritually clean Jesus saved her and enabled herto make a living.
Being ritually unclean due to illness etc. was not a real problem when most people were farmers. It was jut a reminder to wash more, which helped prevent further disease. But as the economy diversified and religion became more rigid, uncleanness became a problem, resulting in numerous people being economically unproductive. Worse, Moses' laws were being ignored in other ways (e.g. by having kings and taxes on work) so there was great inequality: therefore the unclean, being at the bottom of the pile, suffered hunger and poverty. By declaring them fit for work Jesus helped them and also helped the economy.
Being declared clean could also create a physical health improvement. This improvement could come from a number of directions:
Adrenaline: A surge of adrenaline can cause a temporary improvement.
Long term health improvement was also possible, for these reasons:
The body heals itself: At any point a large percentage of sick people were randomly getting better anyway. They got an adrenylin rush at the time, and were later completely well, so told everybody it was Jesus.
(1:35) And in the morning, rising up a great while before day, he went out, and departed into a solitary place, and there prayed.
He was healing through much of the night, and would only have time for a couple of hours' sleep. So in other words he got away as quickly as he could, after just a couple of hours' sleep. This is a repeated theme: Jesus does not like being mobbed with people, and tries to get away (Mathew 8:19-20, Mark 7:24, etc. ). Prayer is a way to think objectively, without interruption: see commentary by Mark 14:36.
(1:36) And Simon and they that were with him followed after him.
(1:37) And when they had found him, they said unto him, All men seek for thee.
(1:38) And he said unto them, Let us go into the next towns, that I may preach there also: for therefore came I forth.
For therefore came I forth: Jesus came to teach, not heal. But he will constantly be approached by people with unclean spirits (see commentary to Mark 1:23)
(1:39) And he preached in their synagogues throughout all Galilee, and cast out devils.
There is no mention here of other kinds of healing. Casting out devils (calming people with troubling ideas) was what Jesus normally did. The occasional physical healing was the exception, and notable enough to be recorded. This is consistent with the earlier conclusion, that yes, Jesus could occasionally heal a genuine physical problem, but most were mental in origin, and cured by his great skill.
(1:40) And there came a leper to him, beseeching him, and kneeling down to him, and saying unto him, If thou wilt, thou canst make me clean.
We will see that the text does not say "healed", but rather "cleansed". Made clean. Occam's razor says do not add the supernatural if you don't need it: so Occam's razor favors a non-supernatural explanation: this is a ritual cleansing, not a healing.
'Leper': The medical profession was not very advanced 2000 years ago. If he did not have leprosy but some other scaly skin condition how would they know?
'Thou canst make me clean': at this point Jesus had only healed those with mental problems The private case of Simon's wife's mother must have been kept quiet, as despite preaching throughout Galilee he only cast out devils, he was not approached to heal the sick. So presumably the leper's main problem was not physical: he could have needed a different kind of cleansing.
'Clean': Greek "Katharizo" as in the modern word "catharsis". It means:
"to make clean, cleanse from physical stains and dirt; utensils, food; a leper, to cleanse by curing; to remove by cleansing; in a moral sense; to free from defilement of sin and from faults; to purify from wickedness; to free from guilt of sin, to purify; to consecrate by cleansing or purifying; to consecrate, dedicate; to pronounce clean in a levitical sense"
Although the definition does include "leper", that interpretation could have been added after this event. The versions in Matthew and Luke make the leprosy sound more serious, but those accounts were written many years later. People wanted to believe that Jesus could miraculously heal anybody, so the mention of leprously would naturally grow as each person passed the story on. But Occam's Razor demands that we take the simplest explanation which is that the man was ritually cleansed. The law of Moses said that leprosy is unclean (the law of Moses, devised in the desert, has strict hygiene laws to prevent the spread of disease. ) The man could therefor be made ritually clean by declaring the person's skin problem to be a different type, or not sufficiently bad to be unclean. This mean's leprosy was clearly only borderline unclean, and not very contagious, or else he would not be allowed in the synagogue.
(1:41) And Jesus, moved with compassion, put forth his hand, and touched him, and saith unto him, I will; be thou clean.
(1:42) And as soon as he had spoken, immediately the leprosy departed from him, and he was cleansed.
'Immediately the leprosy departed': departed is Greek "apo" meaning separation. If the man was ritually declared clean then the label of uncleanness would immediately be separated from the man and he could go about his business.
Matthew 8:3 says his leprosy "was cleansed" and not he was cleansed "from" his leprosy (see the Pulpit Commentary). The man was not cleansed, the leprosy was cleansed: the leprosy was still there, but was now ritually clean.
(1:43) And he straitly charged him, and forthwith sent him away;
"The Greek verb here has a tinge of severity in it, 'he strictly [or sternly] charged him. ' Both word and action are severe. " (Pulpit Commentary).
Why be so severe? If he spoke openly then a lot of people would think that Jesus could cure leprosy.
(1:44) And saith unto him, See thou say nothing to any man: but go thy way, shew thyself to the priest, and offer for thy cleansing those things which Moses commanded, for a testimony unto them.
'Offer for thy cleansing those things which Moses commanded, for a testimony unto them': the testimony, the evidence, was not any change in his skin, but that the priest accepted the ritual offerings.
'Say nothing': Jesus did not want people to think he could cure physical illnesses: the proof of cleansing was ritual, that he had offerings accepted by the priest.
Note that, at this point, Jesus is popular with the local priests. They are impressed with his preaching, and if he says a borderline case is cleansed then they will agree. It is not until later that they see him as a threat. But by that point he is so popular that people will not care what the priests say, if Jesus says people are clean then they will not care what any priest says. Which is why the priests will see Jesus as a threat.
(1:45) But he went out, and began to publish it much, and to blaze abroad the matter, insomuch that Jesus could no more openly enter into the city, but was without in desert places: and they came to him from every quarter.
'But': Greek "de" which can also be translated "and", "moreover", etc. The word "but" suggests that the leper did the opposite of what Jesus asked. However, "but" is not implied by the context.
'Publish it': The word "it" was not in the Greek. The Greek word is "kerusso" meaning "a herald": the leper acted as a herald for Jesus. And what did he teach?
'The matter': This is "logos", the same Greek word used 2 verses later. In Mark 2:2 Jesus preached "logos". The leper preached the same thing as Jesus.
The word 'logos' in used in these other places in Mark:
Mark 4:15-20 (seed on stony ground) why would some people immediately recognize the word? Only logic is its own proof.
Mark 4:33 - why teach the word with parables? Because logic is hard. You can't teach it any other way.
Mark 4:36 - the word that was spoken refers to the man's logic that the girl is dead therefore Jesus cannot help.
Mark 7:13 - how can tradition make the word of God of no effect? They kept strictly to the literal words, to the very letter of the words so the phrase word makes no sense. They never broke the word. Nobody was ever stricter ! but they broke the underlying logic of it.
Mark 7:29 - he praises a woman for her logic. Jesus quoted a saying that you cannot give children's food to dogs, and she showed the error in the logic of the quote: the dogs to get the crumbs) NB is this an insult? No, a test. Jesus washed his disciples' feet, he put himself at the lowest. He is friend with the dogs. But why not help her? His strategy is to focus on the Jews he knows them best. He needs a strong base to spread his word after he is gone. Without that strong base the message would be forgotten.
Mark 8:32 - he taught the logical conclusion that the chief priests would eventually kill him, but that he had prepared for that. /
Mark 8:38 (see commentary elsewhere)
Mark 9:10 refers to his plans to survive death (the 'transfiguration' - see notes)
Mark 10:22 and 24 refers to the rich man needing to give away his goods. how is this logic? See Jesus' teaching: we only own the wealth we create. Jesus told him not to steal (amongst other things). Logically he must have gained gods that he did not create, so this is theft. Logically he must give it away. Note trust in riches - trust is peitho and means to persuade, i.e. to induce one by words to believe - in order to own riches we must somehow persuade ourselves and others that we have earned them.
Mark 13:31 - heaven and earth shall pass away but logic cannot pass away. This is only true of logic: all other statements (e.g. the sky is blue, apples fall downwards ) may be proven false when heaven a and earth pass away (after the planet is destroyed and eventually the universe ends)
Mark 16:20 - the last word, added later. But the word confirmed by signs is only true of logic: only logic has reliable results.