Sunday, June 28, 2015

Did the Three Stooges Write the Story of Jairus' Daughter?

At church this morning, someone from the congregation gave the sermon.  She was preaching about the story in Mark 9:22-43 about Jesus’ healing of Jairus’ daughter and the woman with the issue of blood.

When Jesus arrives at Jairus’ home, there are people who are weeping for Jairus’ daughter.  Jesus tells them that she is not dead, but is asleep, and the weepers laugh him to scorn.  Jesus has them put out of the house, so that it is only Jesus, three of his disciples (Peter, James, and John), the girl’s parents, and the girl inside the room.  Jesus tells the girl to rise, and she rises.  Jesus charges them not to tell anyone about this, and he commands that the girl be given some food.

This passage has been on my mind since I read atheist biblical scholar Robert Price’s The Incredible Shrinking Son of Man.  Price did not deem this passage to be historically plausible, and one reason was that he believed that the story had a bit of an incongruity.  Jesus charges the parents not to tell anyone about his healing of the girl, but Price wonders how exactly they could keep that a secret.  After all, a bunch of people were just in the house, weeping over the little girl because they thought she was dead.  Certainly they would think something strange was going on when they later see her alive, after she had been with Jesus.

The lady preaching this morning addressed these features of the story.  She wasn’t responding to Price’s argument, but she was offering an explanation for these details, perhaps because they puzzled her, too.  She said that perhaps the people, after seeing that the girl was alive, simply concluded that Jesus had been right: that the girl was not dead but really had been asleep.  She also provided a reason that Jesus charged the parents to keep the healing a secret: because Jesus realized that people were not ready to hear that he could raise the dead back to life.

Do I think that these explanations are plausible?  On the first one—-that the people after the girl rose concluded that she must have been asleep, not dead—-that depends.  How did people back then determine that people were dead?  Would the weepers have known for sure that the girl was dead, and thus they would have concluded that Jesus must have raised her when they later saw her alive?  Or would they have found room to doubt their original diagnosis?

On the second point—-that Jesus realized people were not ready to hear that he was raising the dead and thus decided to keep it a secret—-she may have a point.  On the one hand, in John 11-12, people in the religious establishment want to put Jesus to death after Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead and gains a larger following as a result.  Maybe Jesus in Mark 9 didn’t want something like that to happen before the right time.  On the other hand, Jesus in Luke 7:12-16 raises a widow woman’s son from the dead, leading observers to marvel that a great prophet was among them and that God had visited his people.  In Matthew 11:5-6, the disciples of John the Baptist are aware that Jesus has raised the dead.  Trying to explain the Messianic Secret—-Jesus’ practice in the synoptic Gospels of wanting to keep his Messianic identity a secret—-is difficult because there appear to be tensions within the text: Jesus wants to keep who he is a secret, yet he is performing miracles in public and proclaiming the coming of the Kingdom of God.  The lady who preached to us this morning acknowledged that there were times when Jesus performed miracles in public, and times when he wanted to keep his miracles a secret.

Overall, I liked the lady’s explanations because they were pretty common-sense.  A lot of times, I read liberal biblical scholars’ treatment of the biblical text, and it’s almost like they think that the Three Stooges wrote the Bible—-that the biblical authors were bumbling the story they were trying to tell and were looking foolish in the process.  I do not go to the opposite extreme and assume that the Bible is pristine perfect and has no incongruities at all, but I sometimes wonder when I read liberal scholars: Even if I were merely to see the Bible as a human document, shouldn’t I assume that the human authors at least would be reasonable, that they would have some common sense?

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