This story is a myth on the face of it, because there are no
such things as "devils" which can inhabit a person and make them mad,
and the idea of Jesus "talking" with those "devils" is mythical.
Whatever it was that happened, that explanation is not acceptable.
I suspect that the herd of swine may indeed have panicked at the
shrieking and screaming of the madman, and plunged down the hillside
on their own, not because they were inhabited by some "devils".
After Jesus returned from the eastern shore of the Sea of
Galilee, he was met by a large crowd and a ruler of the synagogue
named Jairus. Jairus explained that his daughter was ill and near
death, and asked Jesus to come and save her. They went back to
Jairus' house, including the crowd.
On the way, however, a woman who had been ill with an "issue
of blood" for twelve years came behind Jesus and touched him, or
his garment as the gospels all say. And the gospels all say that
she immediately was healed of her condition. Jesus somehow was
aware that he had been touched, and turned around and asked:
Mark reports that he asks "Who touched my garment", but Luke reports
that he twice said, "touched ME", so "my garment" looks like a later
elaboration. Matthew says nothing about touching, but that the
woman tells herself that, and Jesus turns around and tells her
that her faith has healed her, in effect denying that touching him
had anything to do with it.
So this is one healing where the person did not ask Jesus to be
cured nor did Jesus say or do anything to her, and where Jesus does
not tell her to tell no one. Even if it really happened, it does
not tell us anything more about the kingdom of God or what Jesus
was trying to teach. But of course we don't know how Jesus actually
performed his cures. I feel certain it was not any magical
But now they were at Jairus' home, and the servants told them
that the daughter was dead. However, Jesus took James and John
and told no one else to come in, and went into the girl's room with
her parents. He took her by the hand, the story says, and said to
her, "Talitha cumi", which is Aramaic for "Damsel, get up." And the
girl got up, and everyone was amazed; but Jesus told them to tell
no one, and ordered her parents to give the girl something to eat.
This repeated emphasis on "telling no one" is one of the beacon
lights in our efforts to understand the life of Jesus. It proves
that whatever it was that happened to sick people and lame people
and mentally ill folks in Jesus' presence, he attached no importance
to it and did not want it to be noised about. This also proves that
it was just John the evangelist's fancy when he tells us that Jesus
claimed that his cures were signs.
JESUS VISITS NAZARETH
Mark and Matthew at this point tell the story about how Jesus
visited Nazareth, his home town. Luke tells a different version of
the story, and places it as the first event after Jesus returns to
Galilee; but that placement is unconvincing because it reports that
"he went into the synagogue, as his custom was", which
proves that he had been in other synagogues before that. Further,
as Luke tells it, when Jesus has been sneered at by his home
townsfolk, Luke tells us that he refers to "whatsoever they have
heard done at Capernaum, do here also", so again the story itself
proves that it was not the first event in Jesus' career after his
Mark's and Matthew's report is much simpler than Luke's. After
his arrival in Nazareth, on the sabbath he went into the synagogue
to teach. Then Mark says they were astonished, and started booing
TOWNSFOLK: Who do you think you are? Are you trying to be a
wise guy? What's all these tricks you've been performing on
the crowds? Aren't you just the son of Joseph, the carpenter?
Isn't Mary your mother? Aren't you the brother of James, and
Joses, and Judas, and Simon, and of your sisters, whom
And Mark and Matthew report that "they were offended in him." Luke
reports that "they were filled with wrath" and "cast him forth"
from the city, and were even about to roll him over a cliff. Jesus
sadly makes his comment:
(Mark 6:4;Matt.13:57;Luke 4:23-24)
JESUS: A prophet is without honor in his own country, and
among his own kin, and in his own house.
Luke states it more succinctly: No prophet is acceptable in his
own country. We wish we had a report of what he actually said
on this and many other occasions; but we can see from the fact
that Luke reports that the people said, Is not this JOSEPH's son?
that the idea of Mary being impregnated with the "holy ghost" is
a myth. Even the gospel of John reports the people as saying,
Is not this the son of Joseph, whose mother and father we know
Mark and Matthew also tell us that on this occasion, Jesus
"could do there no mighty work, except to cure a few people".
And again Matthew modifies this to say, "he DID NOT many mighty
works there", once again showing Matthew's unwillingness to say
anything critical or limiting of Jesus.
THE MISSION OF THE DISCIPLES
After his visit to Nazareth, according to Mark and copied by
Luke verbatim and by Matthew with additions and abridgements, Jesus
organizes the disciples and sends them on a mission throughout
Galilee, although no place names are given. Matthew appears to
have taken Mark's report and inserted passages from a similar story
in document P where Jesus is also reported as sending the disciples
on a mission. Here are the passages containing the instructions which
are attributed to Jesus:
And he said, The harvest is plenteous,
but the laborers are few; pray therefore that the lord of the
harvest send forth laborers to work the harvest.
(Mark 6:7;Luke 9:1;Matt.10:1)
And he called to him the twelve,
and began to send them out in pairs;
and he gave them authority over the
Go not into any city of the Gentiles,
and enter not into any city of the Samaritans,
but go rather to the lost sheep of the house
And as ye go, preach, saying,
the kingdom of God is at hand. Heal the sick,
raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, and cast out devils;
freely ye have received, freely give.
(Mark 6:8-9;Luke 9:3;Matt.10:9-10a)
And he charged them to take nothing
for their journey, save a staff only; no bread, no wallet,
no money in their purse; and to wear sandals only;
and he said, Put not on two coats.
for the laborer is worthy of his hire.
(Mark 6:10;Luke 9:4;Matt.10:11)
And he told them, when you go into a house,
stay there until you leave that village.
And whatever house you shall enter,
you shall say, Peace be unto this house. And if a man of peace
be there, good; but if not, you have not wasted your peace.
(Mark 10:11;Luke 9:5;Matt.10:14)
And if a place will not receive you,
nor listen to you, then when you go on
your way, shake off the dust of your
feet, as a testimony to them.
Matthew inserts a verse which is a curse on cities that won't
receive them; but we can't be sure that that is from Jesus, even
though it's also found in Document P. He then gives his final
Behold, I send you forth as sheep
in the midst of wolves; be ye therefore
wise as serpents and harmess as doves.
Matthew inserts here many quotations from elsewhere in Mark and
from document Q (or P), and I shall discuss these in the order in
which Mark and Luke present them. Mark continues:
(Mark 6:12-13;Luke 9:6;Matt.11:1)
And they went out, and preached that
people should repent. And they cast out many devils, and
healed many that were sick by anointing them with oil.
Luke has apparently copied this mission of the disciples from Mark,
and later included also the subsequent mission found later in
document P. Perhaps there were two missions sent out by Jesus; we
cannot tell. Luke's report and what Jesus says about them I will
discuss later in this booklet.
Mark reports the tale of the death of John the Baptizer next,
but i shall not discuss it since it does not bear on the question
of what Jesus said and what he did. We will just note that Jesus
once more shows his affection for John by retreating into the
desert for solitude and to pray (Mark 6:32; Matt.14:13),
even though all three gospels attach the feeding of the five
thousand to his sojourn in the desert.
FEEDING THE FIVE THOUSAND
(Mark 6:32-46;Luke 9:10b-17;Matt.14:13-23a)
The next event reported by the Synoptic gospels is the feeding
of the five thousand persons. They had retreated into the desert,
to mourn for John the Baptizer, but the crowds followed him there,
and when he saw them, he preached for a long while, although Mark
does not give the content. But when the evening was coming on, the
disciples said to him, How shall we feed all this multitude? And
Jesus answered, Bid them to sit down, and get out whatever you have.
Then we are told that Jesus blessed the bread and fish they had, and
the disciples passed it out among the people. And somehow, as if by
a miracle, there was enough for all of them, with twelve baskets of
leftovers. The number of the crowd was estimated at about 5,000.
After dinner Jesus spoke to them all and told them to go home, and
told the disciples to go in the boat back to Bethsaida, and then
went himself up into the mountain, presumably to grieve over the
death of John.
Did Jesus really do magic? Those who deny miracles prefer to
believe that when people saw him handing out the little that the
disciples had, they unpacked their own food that they had brought
with them, and shared it around also, so that there seemed to be
more than enough for all of them. In any case there are no words
ascribed to Jesus on this occasion, and both this and the following
event are found in the gospel of John as well (though not in Luke),
and we might wonder whether the event was copied into Mark from
John or vice versa. But I can't believe that Jesus used magic to
increase the amount of food they had, certainly not after he has
refused to turn stones into bread while he was alone in the desert.
WALKING ON THE WATER
The next event reported by Mark, and copied by Matthew and
also found in John, is one of the best known but probably fictional
events in Jesus' life: the walking on the water. Matthew fluffs
it up with a tale of how Peter tries to emulate him, but sinks
into the water and Jesus has to pull him out. This is certainly
a mythical story, conceived to impress the newcomer to the religion
of Jesus with the supernatural nature of its founder. The most
probable explanation, it seems to me, is that the disciples were
on the boat on their way to Bethsaida, and they saw Jesus returning
from the mountain after grieving over John, walking along the shore,
and in the dim morning light they saw only the water between
themselves and Jesus, and they imagined that they saw him walking
on the water. But again, trying to walk on water would be just as
idiotic as jumping off the roof of the temple, which Jesus refused
to do in the 2nd temptation. The bit about Peter is probably pious
invention by Matthew.
This event is followed by their arrival at Bethsaida (Mark says
Gennesaret, but it must have been where Jesus told them to go), and
the thronging of the crowd around Jesus where, it is reported, many
were healed, even if they only touched the edge of his garment.
Lacking details about who was cured of what, we can surely ignore
this singular event told pompously by Mark and Matthew. It seems
to have been missing from Luke's copy of Mark, as also is the
report of his walking on the water; why else would Luke have
DISPUTES WITH PHARISEES
Mark next reports another dispute with the Pharisees, copied
by Luke and Matthew. This is worth looking at in some detail. We
are told that there were gathered together some Pharisees, and
certain scribes, who had come down from Jerusalem; and had seen
that the disciples ate with unwashed hands.
PHARISEES: Why do your disciples break the law of
Moses, and eat their food with unwashed hands?
JESUS: Well did Isaiah prophecy of you hypocrites,
as it is written in the book of Isaiah:
This people honors me with their lips,
but their heart is far from me; they
vainly worship me, teaching as their
commandment the precepts of men.
You ignore the commandment of God, and hang onto
the tradition of men. For Moses said, Honor your
father and mother; and he that speaks ill of his
parents, let him die the death. But you say, If
a man tell his mother and father, I can't support
you in your old age because all my wealth I have
given to the temple. Thus you violate with a
sophistry the commandment of the law. And many
suchlike things you do.
JESUS (turning to the crowds): Hear me, all of you,
and understand: There is nothing which goes into
you that can defile you; but the things which come
out of you can defile you.
PETER (puzzled): Please explain this saying to us.
JESUS: Are you also without understanding? don't
you realize that what you eat goes into your belly,
not your heart, and is excreted later; but what
comes out of your heart can defile you? For what comes
from men's hearts? evil thoughts, fornications,
thefts, murders, adulteries, coveting, wickedness,
deceit, lasciviousness, railing, pride, foolishness.
All these things can come out of a man, and they
are what will defile you.
Matthew copies this report, and rearranges it somewhat, but the
content is the same. Matthew also inserts two sayings, one from
document M and one from document P:
JESUS: Every plant which does not come from God shall
be rooted up. Let them alone; they are blind guides.
Can the blind lead the blind?
shall they not both fall into the pit?
Luke is missing all of the events from Mark 6:45 through 8:26, as
shown at the head of this chapter. This section therefore is
known as "Luke's Great Omission."
THE FLIGHT TO PHOENICIA AND THE FIRST LAMENTATION
At this point in his career Jesus makes a trip into Phoenicia
to the northwest of Galilee. Why he did this, Mark doesn't say,
but we can guess that it was because of a statement reported later
in Luke (document P), when the Pharisees come to him and tell him
to get out of Galilee, because Herod wants to kill him. I have
taken that statement out of order to show it here as a probable
reason for his flight to Phoenicia. The dialogue goes:
PHARISEES: Get going, and get out of Galilee; for
Herod is seeking to kill you.
JESUS: Go and tell that fox, I will cast out devils and
perform cures today and tomorrow[, and the third day I am
perfected]; but I will continue on my way today and
tomorrow and the day following; for no prophet perishes
unless he has been to Jerusalem.
The first sentence of this audacious response appears to have been
tinkered with; the phrase "and the third day I am perfected" can
only be an interpolation. The repetition of "today and tomorrow"
with "perfected on the third day" instead of "the day following"
looks plainly like a clumsy bit of duplication of the second
sentence. What Jesus probably said was: "Go and tell that fox,
that I will continue on my way today and tomorrow and the day
following, for no prophet perishes outside of Jerusalem." Whether
he spoke of "casting out devils and performing cures" is doubtful
at best, since he has so frequently told people not to tell anyone
about being cured. I will explain in the next chapter how the
references to "being perfected" and "rising" on the third day
cannot come from Jesus. He continues, or Luke does, anyway,
copied by Matthew:
JESUS (sorrowfully): O Jerusalem, Jerusalem! which
kills the prophets, and stones them which are sent unto you!
how often would I have gathered your children together,
as a mother hen gathers her brood under her wings, and
you would not let me! But now your house is left unto
you desolate, and I tell you, You will not see me, until
in the day you say, Blessed is he that cometh in the
name of God.
This is the first of his poignant laments over the coming fate of
Jerusalem and the Jews, found in both Luke and Matthew. How his
love for the people shows through this lament! but again, note
that here he calls himself a "prophet", not a messiah. Matthew
also takes this statement from document P and inserts it into the
final discourse by Jesus on events of the future, rather than
reporting it before his journey into Phoenicia.
But about this trip to Phoenicia, it is reported that he came
into Tyre and Sidon and entered into a house, and would have no
man know of it. This proves that he was fleeing out of Galilee,
probably not so much out of fear but because he wanted to go to
Jerusalem before he was killed. Later on we will hear his three
predictions of his coming death.
But he could not be hid. A woman whose daughter was sick found
him, and they had this little dialogue:
WOMAN: Please, I beg you, come and cure my daughter.
JESUS (wanting to be alone): Let the children first
be filled, because it is not meet to take the
children's bread and throw it to the dogs.
WOMAN (undaunted): Yes, Rabbi; but even the dogs eat
of the crumbs that fall from the children's table.
JESUS (moved by her repartee): O woman, great is your
faith. Go your way; your child will be healed.
His first reply seems uncharacteristic of him; did Jesus really call
the Phoenicians "dogs"? It's hard to believe, considering all the
other occasions that people from all over Galilee and from Tyre and
Sidon had come to hear him preach. The report does not say that
Jesus visited the woman's home, so we have no way of knowing how
the cure was done. But then, we don't know how any of the cures
Mark reports that Jesus returned to Galilee after his visit to
Phoenicia, and includes a brief report of the healing of a deaf and
dumb man which is not reported in either Luke or Matthew. It is
notable because Jesus is reported as having used saliva to effect
the cure. And once again, Jesus tells the man to tell no one, which
shows again that he did not want to be known as a wonder-worker.
Mark also tells another tale at this point about how Jesus fed
4,000 people, in the same manner as earlier when he fed 5,000 people.
We don't know if this is just a re-telling of the first story with
different numbers or not; but it doesn't improve our understanding
of his teaching, so we will let it go by.
JESUS REFUSES TO PERFORM A SIGN
Following this Mark gives a report of how the Pharisees came to
Jesus and asked him to give a sign as evidence that his message was
from God. He refuses, in one of the most important statements
found in the gospels, in Mark, in Matthew, and in Thomas. It is
important because it proves that Jesus did not consider himself a
wonder-worker, and confirms that he felt his mission was teaching
PHARISEES (challengingly): Show us a sign from heaven.
JESUS (sighing deeply): There shall no sign
be given to this generation.
He says, There shall NO sign be given unto this generation, period.
Not all of the gospel of John's proclamations of this sign and that
sign performed by Jesus, nor similar strains in the other three
gospels, can refute this absolute statement by Jesus that he would
perform no sign. Matthew appends to this clear statement, "except for
the sign of Jonah", probably copied from document P which also
contains a passage where Jesus compares himself to the prophet Jonah.
But the comparison is based on Jonah's preaching to the people of
Nineveh about the coming destruction of THEIR city, not to the
fanciful story about being swallowed by a whale.
REMARKS ABOUT LEAVEN
After he refuses to give a sign, he gets into a boat and sails
on to Bethsaida. On the way he utters a famous statement, warning
them against the teaching of the Pharisees:
JESUS: Take heed, and beware of the leaven of the
Pharisees, and the leaven of Herod.
DISCIPLES (puzzled again): What's he talking about?
Is it because we brought no bread with us?
Jesus' statement here seems clear enough; and it doesn't take much
imagination to realize that Jesus meant the teachings and example
of the Pharisees. Jesus was probably frustrated but went on:
This doesn't seem to clarify what he meant, but rather to make it
more mysterious. Why is he talking about the numbers of baskets of
leftovers? What's that got to do with leaven, Pharisees, or Herod,
or anything else? It must be the most puzzling remark attributed
to Jesus in the gospels, but we will not dwell on it further,
moreover because there is no answer given.