Mark 1

Mark begins with the story of John the Baptist, designating him as the messenger of God prophesied in Isaiah. This is not quite right, since the quote he provides begins with Malachi 3:1 and segues into Isaiah 40:3. This has an unfortunate literary effect, since Malachi 3:1 refers to The Day of Judgment, and the messenger is therefore a harbinger of distress, whereas Isaiah 40:3 is a chapter of comfort, promising that Jerusalem’s sin has been paid for.

At any rate, John the Baptist is out in the desert regions by the Jordan (traditionally believed to be near Bethany), wearing a camel hair coat and a leather belt, preaching repentance. He lives on locusts and wild honey. John defines two separate baptisms, one by water, and one by the Holy Spirit to be administered by one greater than him.

Jesus is baptized by John and has an enlightenment experience in which he sees Heaven opened to release the Spirit in the form of a dove, and he hears the voice of God naming him as His Son and expressing high satisfaction with Jesus. As phrased, it’s unlikely that anyone else, even John, knew that this experience was going on.

The Spirit directs Jesus into the wilderness to live among the wild animals and be tempted by Satan, while having His needs tended to by angels.

At some indefinite future time, John is imprisoned. So, Jesus takes up preaching John’s message of repentance, but with a new twist: he tells people to rejoice because the Kingdom of God is near. Beginning ca. 60 miles north of the site of His baptism, He recruits Simon, Andrew, and James and John Zebedee from the fishing trade in Galilee.

In Capernaum, He preaches with a confidence and familiarity of material that amazes people, who are used to having the scriptures delivered as rote recitation. A man possessed by an evil spirit identifies Jesus as the Holy One of God. Jesus silences the spirit, and commands it to leave a possessed man. The spirit convulses the man and emerges from him with a shriek.

Jesus then heals Simon’s mother-in-law of a fever and then heals all of the sick and demon-possessed in the town. He repeats this throughout Galilee. His most outstanding miracle is the curing of a case of a skin ailment, generally rendered as “leprosy.”  .

He commands the man to speak to no one, but to go to the priests to make the sacrifices prescribed by Moses. This is presumably what is commanded in Leviticus 14: one bird is killed and exsanguinated, and a second bird is dipped into the blood along with cedar, hyssop, and a scarlet thread, then released.  Eight days later, he must bring three lambs, flour, and oil, to provide a wave offering, a sin offering, and a guilt offering.

There are many elements of interest.  First is the question of why Mark does not tell us that John is Jesus’s cousin. Also, there’s the question of John’s habiliment and diet. A camel’s hair coat would seem to be unpleasant attire for the desert. John has chosen a purely vegetarian diet despite the proximity of the Jordan and its fish. Why does Jesus begin preaching so far from Judea and the site of His baptism?  Why does He recruit among fishermen? What is the symbolism of the elements of the cleansing from skin disease?

Throughout the Old Testament, the Spirit has been portrayed as a wind, formless. In this gospel, it takes on a concrete form. Also, interestingly, Jesus repeatedly commands that all who recognize Him as the Son of God to be silent. All of these are worthwhile exploring in layer 2 of analysis.

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