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Michael A. Turton's Historical Commentary on Mark 13:28-37

Michael A. Turton's Historical Commentary on the Gospel of Mark

Chapter 13

Mark 13:28-31

28: "From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. 29: So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates. 30: Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away before all these things take place. 31: Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.

NOTES:

v28: note the allusion to the fig tree of Mark 11. The writer has reversed the image of a leaf-dropping fig tree taken from Isaiah 34:

4 All the stars of the heavens will be dissolved and the sky rolled up like a scroll; all the starry host will fall like withered leaves from the vine, like shriveled figs from the fig tree. (NIV)

30: Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away before all these things take place.

v30: recalls Mark 9:1. It offers an apparent contradiction with v32, as Meier (1994, p347) points out. Thus, some exegetes conclude that one or the other must be an interpolation.

31: Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.

v31: combines Isaiah 51:6 and 40:8. Donahue and Harrington (2002) write:

"This saying constitutes the center of a carefully constructed unit: A -- parable (13:28-29), B -- time saying (13:30), C -- saying about Jesus' authority (13:31), B' -- time saying (13:32), A' -- parable (13:33-37)(p376). Myers (1988, p331) reconstructs this as an ABCC'B'A' chiasm sandwiched between the two injunctions to Watch!
 

Historical Commentary:

Although this is typically labeled an "apocalypse," Bruce Malina (2002) has argued that this is not, in fact, an apocalypse:

"What is distinctive of final words before death in the Mediterranean (and elsewhere) is that the person about to die is believed capable of knowing what is going to happen to persons near and dear to him or her. Dying persons are prescient because they are closer to the realm of God (or gods) who knows all things than to the realm of humans whose knowledge is limited to human experience. The dying process puts a person into specific type of Altered State of Consciousness, a special way of knowing from the viewpoint of God (or gods), as it were. There is ample evidence of this type of Altered State of Consciousness in antiquity (see Pilch 1993; 1995; 1998; Malina 1999). Consider these instances, collected by Gaster (1974 vol. 1: 214; 378). Xenophon tells us: "At the advent of death, men become more divine, and hence can foresee the forthcoming" (CYROP. 7.7.21). In the ILIAD (16.849-50) the dying Patroclus tells of the coming death of Hector at the hands of Achilles, and the dying Hector predicts the death of Achilles himself (22.325). Similarly, in Sophocles' play, "The Women of Trachis," the dying Heracles summons Alcmene so that she may learn from his last words "the things I now know by divine inspiration" (TRACHINIAE 1148 ff.). Vergil finds it normal to have the dying Orodes predict that his slayer will soon meet retribution (AENEID 10.729-41). Plato too reports that Socrates made predictions during his last moments, realizing that "on the point of death, I am now in that condition in which men are most wont to prophesy" (APOL 39c; cf. Xenophon, ANAB. APOL. 30). Cicero reports concerning Callanus of India: "As he was about to die and was ascending his funeral pyre, he said: `What a glorious death! The fate of Hercules is mine. For when this mortal frame is burned the soul will find the light.' When Alexander directed him to speak if he wished to say anything to him, he answered: `Thank you, nothing, except that I shall see you very soon.' So it turned out, for Alexander died in Babylon a few days later" (DE DIVINATIONE 1.47).

The Israelite tradition equally shared this belief, as is clear from the final words of Jacob (Gen. 49) and Moses (Deut 31-34); see also 1 Sam 12; 1 Kgs 2:1-17; Josh 23-24. The well-known documents called "Testaments," written around the time of Jesus, offer further witness to this belief (e.g. Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs, Testament of Moses; see also Jubilees 22:10-30, 1 Macc. 2:47-70; Josephus, ANTIQUITIES 12.279-84).

In the U.S., with economics as the focal social institution, last words and testaments will deal with the disposition of goods. However in Mediterranean antiquity, with the kinship institution being focal, final words will deal with concern for the tear in the social fabric resulting from the dying person's departure. Hence the dying person will be deeply concerned about what will happen to his/her kin group. As the examples just cited indicate, toward the close of the dying process, the person soon to expire will impart significant information about what is soon to befall the group in general and individuals in the group. This includes who will hold it together (successor), and advice to kin group members on how to keep the group together. Of course, before passing on the dying person tries to assure the kin group of its well-being, offering abiding good wishes and expressing concern for the well-being of the group. It is within this cultural framework that Jesus' final words and actions need to be understood."

The Markan polemic against the Chief priests and scribes is here heightened, for the writer has again implied that they are the priests of Ba'al and their temple will be destroyed. There are many other OT elements in this section, where the content is controlled partly by the book of Daniel. Note also that this functions as a Passion prediction, for Jesus himself will undergo many of the things laid out here, such as being condemned in a synagogue (Sanhedrin) and dragged before a governor. The Parable of the Watcher below will be reflected in the Gethsemane scene to come.

Ludemann has pointed out that this section may be based on a Jewish source overlaid by Christian reworking. He sees it as descending from a polemic against the erection by Emperor Caligula of statues of himself in the Jerusalem Temple (Ludemann 2001, p87-8), a position also held by Nick Taylor (2003b). Given the extensive references to the Old Testament as well as its composition in a future time where Christians suffer persecution and encounter false Christs, it is not necessary to posit an earlier source. In any case the statue was never actually erected as Caligula was assassinated in 41. The writer of Mark is referring to some later event.

This section has traditionally been used to date the Gospel to either during or just after the Roman war against the Jews and the destruction of the Temple. The extensive use of OT creation, and its literary features make dating problematical. It may refer to that war. It may also refer to the rebellion of Bar Kochba, which ended in 135. It may represent some other conflict. it could even have been written long before 70, for the details of the predictions are drawn from the OT and could have been written anytime in the first or second century. On the basis of this passage, the writer is often held to have known that the Temple in Jerusalem has been destroyed and thus, that the Gospel dates from after 70.

The numerous references to the future of persecution and false Christs (v9), as well as lavish quoting of the OT, and supernatural prophecy of Jesus own death, all indicate that nothing in this pericope can support historicity.

Mark 13:32-37

32: "But of that day or that hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 33: Take heed, watch; for you do not know when the time will come. 34: It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his servants in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on
the watch. 35: Watch therefore -- for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or in the morning -- 36: lest he come suddenly and find you asleep. 37: And what I say to you I say to all: Watch."

NOTES

33: Take heed, watch; for you do not know when the time will come.

v32: Some exegetes (Evans 1998, p381) have seen Zech 14:7 behind this verse:

And there shall be continuous day (it is known to the LORD), not day and not night, for at evening time there shall be light.

33: Take heed, watch; for you do not know when the time will come.

v33: some manuscripts add "and pray" after "watch."

35: Watch therefore -- for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or in the morning --

v35-37: Some scholars, including Perrin (1963), argue that v5-37 are not from Mark, based on the the variations in style and usage in the Greek. However, Dyer (1998) showed that the stylistic variations appear to fall within the range of other longer Markan passages, such as Mark 4.

v35-37: A century ago Lightfoot first observed that the times named here correspond to the times in the Passion Narrative -- Jesus is arrested in the evening at Gethsemane, tried at midnight by the Sanhedrin, betrayed at cockcrow by Peter, and handed over again and tried again in the morning by Pilate.

v35-37: Watch!: In 1 Enoch, the Watchers are the priests who have intermarried with those forbidden to them. Perhaps the writer of Mark is making an analogy with the priests of the Roman-era Temple who collaborated with the foreign ruler.


Historical Commentary

This pericope is entirely a redactional creation of Mark or another author (evidence is ambiguous), full of doublets. v32 packs them in thickly -- "that day" doubled by "that hour," "the angels of heaven" doubled by "the Son." v34 continues this pattern. The man "goes on a journey" and "leaves home." "In charge" is doubled in "with work." v33 is doubles v 35. And so on. The density of literary creation here shows this pericope is unhistorical. The Parable is a literary creation that will be reflected in the events of Gethsemane, where the disciples will fail to "watch." Much of the vocabulary, such as watch, asleep, hour, and come, is shared between the two passages. The literary origin of this pericope is obvious, and nothing in it supports historicity.

The pericoping of Mark 13 varies from interpreter to interpreter. The chiastic structure breaks out by Jesus' warnings to heed, and shifts in the target of his speech:

A
And as he came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, "Look, Teacher, what wonderful stones and what wonderful buildings!"

B
And Jesus said to him, "Do you see these great buildings? There will not be left here one stone upon another, that will not be thrown down."

C
And as he sat on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter and James and John and Andrew asked him privately, "Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign when these things are all to be accomplished?"

D
And Jesus began to say to them, "Take heed that no one leads you astray. Many will come in my name, saying, `I am he!' and they will lead many astray. And when you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed; this must take place, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places, there will be famines; this is but the beginning of the birth-pangs.

E
"But take heed to yourselves; for they will deliver you up to councils; and you will be beaten in synagogues; and you will stand before governors and kings for my sake, to bear testimony before them. And the gospel must first be preached to all nations. And when they bring you to trial and deliver you up, do not be anxious beforehand what you are to say; but say whatever is given you in that hour, for it is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit. And brother will deliver up brother to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death; and you will be hated by all for my name's sake. But he who endures to the end will be saved. "But when you see the desolating sacrilege set up where it ought not to be (let the reader understand), then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains; let him who is on the housetop not go down, nor enter his house, to take anything away; and let him who is in the field not turn back to take his mantle. And alas for those who are with child and for those who give suck in those days! Pray that it may not happen in winter. For in those days there will be such tribulation as has not been from the beginning of the creation which God created until now, and never will be. And if the Lord had not shortened the days, no human being would be saved; but for the sake of the elect, whom he chose, he shortened the days. And then if any one says to you, `Look, here is the Christ!' or `Look, there he is!' do not believe it. False Christs and false prophets will arise and show signs and wonders, to lead astray, if possible, the elect.

E
But take heed; I have told you all things beforehand. "But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. And then they will see the Son of man coming in clouds with great power and glory. And then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven. "From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates.

D
Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away before all these things take place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. "But of that day or that hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.

C
Take heed, watch; for you do not know when the time will come. It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his servants in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch. Watch therefore -- for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or in the morning -- lest he come suddenly and find you asleep.

B
And what I say to you I say to all: Watch."

A
It was now two days before the Passover and the feast of Unleavened Bread. And the chief priests and the scribes were seeking how to arrest him by stealth, and kill him;

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