This blog provides a commentary on Genesis and the Gospel of Mark, which has been continuous since 1st January 2015, and can be followed in my archive. I’m using the Schocken Bible for Genesis and te Darby Bible for Mark, both literal translations.
My headline always notes something important in world news.
This chapter sets out the descendants of Noah as nations known to Israel. There are seventy noted here, many of which are known to history, and some like Egypt (Mizraim) still nations states today. The are “split up” (verse 25) but not divided yet by language. The author wants to record that the beginnings of the world as he knew it are to be found in Noah and God’s plan to resettle the earth. It also leads immediately to the story of the Tower.
Now the earth was all of one language and one set – of – words.
And it was when they migrated to the east that they found a valley in the land of Shinar and settled there.
Then said each man to his neighbour:
Come now! Let us bake bricks and let us burn them well-burnt!
So for them brick-stone was like building stone and raw bitumen was for them like red mortar.
And they said:
Come now! Let us build ourselves a city and a tower, its top in the heavens
and let us make ourselves a name,
lest we be scattered over the face of all the earth!
But YHWH came down to look over the city and the tower that the humans were building.
Here they are one people with one language for them all, and this is merely the first of their doings;
Now there will be no barrier for them in all that they scheme to do!
Come now! Let us go down and there let us baffle their language,
so that no man will understand the language of his neighbour.
So YHWH scattered them from there over the face of all the earth
and they had to stop building the city.
Therefore its name was called Bavel / Babble
for there YHWH baffled the language of all the earth folk,
and from there YHWH scattered them over the face of all the earth.
This story is inserted here, to show that the scattering of nations mentioned in chapter 10 took place as a result of human arrogance. It is meant to parallel the Adam and Eve story in Genesis 3, only this time with a special reference to technology. Again the folly of human beings is their arrogance, their desire to concentrate power in one place, to build into the heavens and to gain glory (a name) for themselves. Although God cannot overrule their desire, he can frustrate their purpose. The story is full of little ironies. The human gathering word, “Come now!! is echoed by YHWH God to rouse his power against them. The human beings act to avoid being scattered but their actions achieve exactly that. They want to make a name meaning glory and they succeed in getting a name which announces their defeat. The name itself is so near that of Babylon that it clearly mocks the great empire as a place of arrogant stupidity. The search for power means that “no man understands the language of his neighbour” – an accurate description of international relations to this day.
This parable emphasises that human knowledge – as – power, including technological expertise, is dangerous because it gives human beings opportunities which they cannot use wisely. Given the arrogance of human beings it’s not good for too much power to be concentrated in one place. The dispersion of human beings is an aspect of God’s mercy, which provides a check on absolute power.
The present gathering of humanity which we describe as globalisation, contains within it all the elements of danger noted in this ancient story, and there is no evidence that human beings are any more aware of them or able to deal with them, than are the actors in this story. It may be that the victory of an anti-power, anti-globalisation party in Greece is a tiny beginning of wisdom which refuses to bow to the “Bavels” of our time. Nevertheless, there remains a question: how can societies of sinful people understand each other well enough to live in peace, while avoiding the dangerous accumulation of power symbolised by our high towers?
And Jesus having passed over in the ship again to the other side, a great crowd gathered to him; and he was by the sea.
22 And there comes one of the rulers of the synagogue, by name Jairus, and seeing him, falls down at his feet;
23 and he pleaded with him, saying, My little daughter is at extremity; I pray that you you should come and lay your hands upon her so that she may be healed, and may live.
24 And he went with him, and a large crowd followed him and pressed on him.
25 And a certain woman who had had a flow of blood for twelve years,
26 and had suffered much under many physicians, and had spent everything she had and had found no advantage from it, but had rather got worse,
27 having heard concerning Jesus, came in the crowd behind and touched his clothes;
28 for she said, If I shall touch but his clothes I shall be healed.
29 And immediately her fountain of blood was dried up, and she knew in her body that she was cured from the scourge.
30 And immediately Jesus, knowing in himself the power that had gone out of him, turning round in the crowd said, Who has touched my clothes?
31 And his disciples said to him, You see the crowd pressing on you, and you say, Who touched me?
32 And he looked round about to see who had done this.
33 But the woman, frightened and trembling, knowing what had taken place in her, came and fell down before him, and told him all the truth.
34 And he said to her, Daughter, your faith has healed you; go in peace, and be well of your scourge.
35 While he was yet speaking, they come from the ruler of the synagogue’s house, saying, Your daughter has died, why trouble the teacher any further?
36 But Jesus immediately, having heard the word spoken, says to the ruler of the synagogue, Fear not; only believe.
37 And he allowed no one to accompany him save Peter and James, and John the brother of James.
38 And he comes to the house of the ruler of the synagogue, and sees the tumult, and people weeping and wailing greatly.
39 And entering in he says to them, Why do you make a tumult and weep? the child has not died, but sleeps.
40 And they derided him. But he, having put them all out, takes with him the father of the child, and the mother, and those that were with him, and enters in where the child was lying.
41 And having laid hold of the hand of the child, he says to her, Talitha koumi, which is, interpreted, Lassie, I say to you, Arise.
42 And immediately the girl arose and walked, for she was twelve years old. And they were astonished with great astonishment.
43 And he instructed them firmly that no one should know this; and he desired that something should be given her to eat.
These linked stories show Mark’s narrative art at its subtle best. Nesting one story within another is an ancient device of story-telling which allows one story to reflect on the other. Here both stories involve woman, one older, one on the threshold of womanhood. Both ailments derive from the reproductive power of the women, one in continual menstruation, the other in a pubertal fit. Both of these are taboo conditions, especially for males.
The story of the older woman guides the hearer’s interpretation of the story of the younger. The Jews knew that menstruation was linked to fertility, but it was also a flow of blood, that is, of “life”. As such it was sacred and taboo. In this case the woman would have been treated as perpetually unclean. In her the power of life leads to her social death; she would not have been able to mingle freely. The story shows her doing something terrible. In her uncleanness she deliberately reaches out and touches a man. Jesus scandalously approves her action. She has broken through the prison of social taboo to touch God’s goodness. He makes her identify herself so that he can affirm her faith and comfirm her healing. He calls her “daughter”, perhaps because she is younger, perhaps because she is a “daughter of Abraham.” Jesus’ words tear down the socially constructed barriers that prevent men from recognising the power and the need of women.
In the case of the younger woman, there is an additional barrier: that of death. No stranger, especially not a male stranger, should be anywhere near the body of a dead girl. Jesus had a precedent in the stories of Elijah and Elisha raising dead children to life. Mark carefully tells of the clamour of mourners, so that Jesus’ refusal to acknowledge death can be seen as risky and offensive. A child is in the place of death and Jesus enters it also, so that he may bring her out. Here in this action Mark sums up his theology of Jesus, the Son of God who willingly goes into the place of death to rescue humanity. Jesus takes hold of the child’s hand, and speaks tenderly. The Aramaic word talitha means “little dove”. The other word, koumi, in a domestic context, means “get up,” or maybe “time to get up.”. In Scots it might be translated, “Time to get up, my wee dove.” In the profound theology of Mark, this is what Jesus says to every person in his death and resurrection. It is the most powerful and gentlest of wake-up calls.
Am I inventing most of us this? No, I’m responding as imaginatively as I can to what Mark gives us. Did these events really happen? I’ve said before that I think the picture of Jesus as a healer is historically credible. Mark has taken stories from the traditions he received, re-telling them to carry his message of God’s goodness battling against evil.