Friday, January 27, 2006

Did Jesus "declare all foods clean"?

There's an interesting blog thread at the moment surrounding James G. Crossley's The Date of Mark's Gospel: Insight from the Law in Earliest Christianity (JSNTSS 266; London: T & T Clark, 2004), the catalyst for which was the most recent edition of the SBL's Review of Biblical Literature, which featured reviews of James's book by John Painter and David du Toit. James Crossley responds on his Earliest Christian History blog (one of the joys of academic blogging is that you can respond publicly to reviews of your work; our forefathers just had to grumble in the senior common room) and Stephen Carlson follows up with a characteristically thoughtful post on Hypotyposeis. One element in the discussion is what the apparently editorial comment in Mark 7.19c, "Thus he declared all foods clean" implies about Mark's view of the law and Jesus' attitude to it. I don't have James's book to hand, having lent it to someone (see how popular it is?), but what I want to add is at a slight tangent and relates to the translation of Mark 7.19c.

I have long been bothered by the unnecessarily robust verb "declare" here, and the unduly forthright "Thus he declared all foods clean." This very common translation gives the impression that Mark is flagging up his comments here far more blatantly than he is. The translation is based on a reading of Mark 7.18-19 that construes καθαρίζων πάντα τὰ βρώματα at the end of Jesus' speech of 7.19 with καὶ λέγει αὐτοῖς at the beginning of 7.18, thus "Jesus says to them . . . cleansing all foods," or "Jesus says, cleansing all foods, 'Are you too without understanding . . .'" The reason that "Thus he declared . . . " comes in is that translators are anxious about bringing forward the end of one verse (19) to the beginning of another (18) -- it breaks the verse-by-verse rule of Bible translation, without which people would not be able to look up the verses they wanted in the right place. And given the necessity to keep words in sequence, the decision is made to translate this participle phrase by adapting the force of λέγει and turning the whole into a fresh, interpretative clause. But that move, from a clarificatory parenthesis to a stand-alone statement, and the use of the word "declare", alters the force of the original.

Now it may be that the standard translation picks up the sense of this interpretative clause, even if it overstates it, but even there I am not sure. Could the person orally delivering Mark 7.18-19 have made this intelligible?:
He says to them, "Then do you also fail to understand? Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile, since it enters, not the heart but the stomach, and goes out into the sewer?", cleansing all foods.
I am not convinced that we are reading Mark right here.

4 comments:

Michael Turton said...

The writer of Mark composed the gospel in sets of chiastic structures that form linked chains, in which the A' bracket of the preceding pericope forms the A bracket of the next one.

The center of the structures are all doubled, and quite often consist of the same number of statements. I have the following worked out for this passage (RSV):


A And when he had entered the house, and left the people, his disciples asked him about the parable.

B And he said to them, "Then are you also without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into a man from outside cannot defile him, since it enters, not his heart but his stomach, and so passes on?" (Thus he declared all foods clean.)

B' And he said, "What comes out of a man is what defiles a man. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, fornication, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a man."

A' And from there he arose and went away to the region of Tyre and Sidon.

Note that the B' bracket contains three statements:

a - And he said, "What comes out of a man is what defiles a man.

b- For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, fornication, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, foolishness.

c- All these evil things come from within, and they defile a man."

This suggests that the B bracket should be some kind of stand-alone statement for "thus he declared all foods clean):

a- And he said to them, "Then are you also without understanding?

b- Do you not see that whatever goes into a man from outside cannot defile him, since it enters, not his heart but his stomach, and so passes on?"

c- TRANS???(Thus he declared all foods clean.)???

Hope this helps.

Michael

steph said...

Hi Michael! But isn't it the point that those four Greek words don't constitute a stand alone statement?

I'm only interested in Mark bringing this up because I have worried about this very translation in the past but haven't seen it discussed before.

Michael Turton said...

Yes, those four words DON'T constitute a statement. But the way the structure of Mark works they probably should, which means that translations that make them constitute a meaningful statement are correct. I suspect tampering here -- some words have been lost. This verse varies some in the manuscript tradition, of course.

Michael

steph said...

What verse doesn't vary in the manuscript tradition? I'll keep working on a possible very very very early Aramaic origin for the gospel. I don't like appealing to tampering when it doesn't fit the theory.