By Ardel Caneday–
The last contribution to this series (Part 7) is incomplete apart from this entry because that installment considers Old Testament allusions within only the outer episode of Mark’s literary sandwich in Mark 6:6b-44 which consists of three segments: (1) Jesus sends out the Twelve in pairs; his reputation greatly increases (6:6b-13); (2) King Herod hears of Jesus’ burgeoning fame and is haunted with fear that John, whom he beheaded, has been resurrected (6:14-29); and (3) when the Twelve return from their apostolic mission Jesus takes them to the wilderness for rest (6:30-44).[i] As demonstrated, the episode of Jesus’ sending the Twelve on a mission to multiply with six teams his own proclamation of God’s reign accompanied by healings and his welcoming them upon their return, which wraps around the episode concerning King Herod’s haunted fear concerning his execution of John the Baptist, oozes with numerous OT allusions fulfilled by Jesus as he presents himself as Israel’s true shepherd-king. What remains to be shown is how Mark 6:14-29—the episode concerning King Herod, Herodias, and John the Baptist—relates literarily and theologically to the episode that frames it (6:6b-13; 30-44).
Mark’s penchant for framing one episode with another signals readers that he intends that the accounts are not to be disconnected from one another but read together because the two episodes, inseparably conjoined, mutually explain each other. Wherever he sandwiches two episodes together, surely his method is literary in that he exploits verbal connections. Yet, his objective is theological.[ii] Therefore, readers are obliged to tease out Mark’s literary hints from each episode that link the sandwiched accounts theologically. Of course, given the evocative nature of Mark’s Gospel, no informed reader expects that the theological interrelationship between Mark’s two intertwined episodes should lie limpidly on the surface to be easily perceived with the eyes, even though the evangelist even goes out of his way to make his literary links heard.
In response to Morna Hooker’s stymied puzzlement concerning the theological point of the sandwich in 6:6b-44, nowhere does Mark offer his readers a literary sandwich in which the inset episode simply establishes for hearers or readers the sense of the passage of time.[iii] Indeed, sometimes his literary sandwiches may prominently provide the effect of time’s passing as when Mark recounts the episode concerning Jairus’s dying daughter (5:21-24a; 35-43) wrapped around that of the dying “daughter” whose faith in Jesus brought her healing that reversed her hemorrhaging with which she would otherwise die (5:24b-34). Yet, even here the interlude does not merely signal Jesus’ delay that results in the girl’s death before he arrives at Jairus’s home. Jesus’ delayed arrival could have been signaled easily enough as in the case of Lazarus (see John 11:1-6). Instead, while Mark’s literary sandwich provides for time lapse, it also signals many verbal interconnections that inseparably conjoin the two episodes as mutually elucidating theologically.[iv]
Mark’s verbal and literary linkages that tie his sandwiched episodes together should be fairly evident. Yet, while pondering Mark’s literary genius, which has been gravely devalued historically but significantly recovered during the past few decades, readers must remember that the purpose of the evangelist’s sandwiches is not to display his literary genius but to evoke worthy theological connections. The verbal brilliance and literary genius of Mark’s story telling always serve his theological purpose which is to present Jesus Christ who is God’s Son and do so as he meditates upon the beginning of the good news as it is presented in advance particularly in Isaiah the prophet.
Within the sandwich inset of 6:14-29, among his literary and verbal hints juxtaposed with clues garnered from the outer episode (6:6b-13; 30-44), most noteworthy is the designation Mark gives to Herod. Unlike the parallel accounts where both Matthew (14:1) and Luke (9:7) refer to Herod with his official title, “tetrarch” (of Galilee, Luke 23:6-7), Mark calls him “King Herod” (6:14) followed by no fewer than four more uses of the designation “king” (ὁ βασιλεύς; 6:22, 25, 26, 27) within the episode and one use of “my kingdom” (ἡ βασιλεία μου; 6:23) spoken by King Herod to Herodias’s daughter whose sensual dancing overpowered the king’s lust, just as Herodias schemed in order to have the king execute her revenge against John.[v] Given Mark’s designation, it seems fully reasonable to infer that he designs his literary sandwich principally to contrast two kingdoms or dominions. God’s reign, shadowed and prefigured by the long succession of kings including wicked kings and promised to Israel as revealed in the Shepherd-King who miraculously feeds the multitude in the wilderness, stands in sharp contrast with Herod’s reign. King Herod, a poseur who was neither an Israelite nor of David’s lineage, reigned over Israelites in the same manner as a long succession of wicked kings did. As with their kingdoms, so King Herod distinguished his reign with opulence, moral depravity, extravagant banquets, excessive boasts, raw power, and murder, for like Israel’s kings of old Herod also murdered the Lord’s prophet and subsequently became haunted with paranoia at the burgeoning popularity of another prophet whom he mistakenly thought was the return of John whom he beheaded. Yet, it seems rather evident that the juxtaposition of God’s reign through the Shepherd-King and of King Herod’s reign by way of Mark’s literary sandwich entails much more than a simple contrast between God’s kingdom, characterized by humble simplicity with miraculous provisions, and Herod’s kingdom, marked by extravagant opulence with abuse of power. This is so because allusions to the OT that reverberate throughout the framed episode evoke strong resemblances between this narrative concerning King Herod, Herodias, and John the Baptist and the narratives concerning King Ahab, Jezebel, and Elijah (1 Kings 16:29-19:3 and 21:1-29).[vi]
Mark’s literary and theological interests which inseparably bind the two episodes together for readers are complex, not simplistic. Certainly his account features Jesus Christ as the Shepherd-King who stands in antipodal contrast to the line of Israel’s kings, especially vile kings climaxing with non-Israelite Herod, even as Jesus, not Joshua nor even David, fulfills Moses’ petition for God to “appoint a man over the congregation who shall go out before them and come in before them, who shall lead them out and bring them in, that the congregation of the Lord may not be as sheep that have no shepherd” (Num. 27:16-17), a petition that becomes a lament because, with occasional exceptions, Israel’s shepherd-kings fed themselves as they devoured the flock (e.g., 1 Kings 22:17; Ezek. 34:5-10; see Part 7).
So, the inset of Mark 6:14-29 serves many literary and theological functions. It clarifies the true and proper identity of Jesus by distinguishing him from John who was the Christ’s forerunning herald and whose murder by order of King Herod puts John in the stream of martyred prophets before him, foreshadowing Jesus’ impending passion and death.[vii] The preaching mission of the Twelve, which included exorcisms of demons and healings, exponentially increases Jesus’ renown and prompts a variety of misconstrued identifications. Chief among these is the circulating rumor that apparently reaches the King’s palace: “John the Baptist has been raised from the dead. That is why these miraculous powers are at work in him” (6:14). While Jesus’ burgeoning popularity generates other rumors also, including that he is Elijah or a prophet like those of old, one morsel of hearsay seems particularly persistent, for the Twelve mention it first when Jesus asks, “Who do people say that I am?” (8:28). This rumor captures King Herod’s imagination and does not relent but torments him with the thought, “John, whom I beheaded, has been raised” (6:16). Mark explains, “For it was Herod who had sent and seized John and bound him in prison for the sake of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, because he had married her. For John had been saying to Herod, ‘It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife’” (6:17-18).
The sandwich inset now resumes where the brief account of John the Baptist’s ministry abruptly ended with the comment—“Now after John was arrested . . .”—at which point Jesus began his public preaching of the good news of God: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel” (1:14). Until chapter 6 Mark’s Gospel suspends further mention of John whose message Jesus takes as his own as he sustains the call for repentance. There is only one brief mention of John to indicate that his disciples fast, associating them with the Pharisees in distinction from Jesus and his disciples who are not fasting (2:18). Given the point he makes with his three parables—Fasting and the Bridegroom, Unshrunk Cloth on an Old Garment, and New Wine in Old Wineskins—Jesus is not severing ties with either John or his disciples any more than he is severing his continuity with the law covenant, for even his own disciples who follow his lead by not fasting act significantly better than their understanding of Jesus’ identity. Because it seems that it was a time for fasting in keeping with the law covenant, Jesus does not respond to the question with a rebuke. Rather, he presents himself parabolically as the one to whom the law covenant points, as the one in whom the law covenant terminates, for he is the one who supersedes the law covenant, a point he makes clear when he says, “So the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath” (2:28).
Now that the evangelist resumes, by way of the sandwich inset, his account concerning John who “was arrested,” Mark is making the crucial theological point that unites the preaching done by the Twelve with John’s preaching. As John preached a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins (1:4) and Jesus preached the gospel that requires repentance (1:14-15), so Jesus sent the Twelve so “they went out and proclaimed that people should repent” (6:12). Thus, Jesus does not break with his forerunning herald but preaches a message in continuity with John’s, even though he does not have his disciples fast while he, the bridegroom is with them, when the law covenant (old cloth, old wineskins) calls for fasting, because the one “mightier” than John has such authority for he brings about the time of fulfillment (1:15). Mark makes the point that John fulfilled his role in preparing for “one who is mightier than” he and that his arrest, which terminated his prophetic ministry and eventuated in his execution carried out by King Herod, signals at least three significant aspects concerning the relationship between John and Jesus.
First, John’s execution unmistakably links him with the Lord’s “servants, the prophets” (2 Kings 17:13; Jer. 26:5; 44:4). While descending the Mount of Transfiguration with Peter, James, and John, Jesus obliquely confirms John the Baptist as Israel’s most recent prophet who had been subjected to unrestrained tyranny when he said, “But I tell you Elijah has come, and they did to him whatever they pleased, as it is written of him” (Mark 9:13). Again, Jesus confirms the same first when he poses his question to the religious rulers in Jerusalem who refuse to answer—“Was the baptism of John from heaven or from man? Answer me” (11:30)—and then he designs his Parable of the Tenants to provoke them to understand that he spoke of them as beating, abusing, and murdering the vineyard master’s servants sent to harvest the vineyard’s fruit (Mark 12:2-5; cf. the cursing of the fig tree, 11:12-25).
Second, if one has ears to hear evocative allusions to 1 Kings 16:29-19:3 and 21:1-29 in Mark 6:14-29, then John’s identity, hinted at early in the Gospel where Mark describes him—“clothed with camel’s hair and wore a leather belt around his waist” (1:6) echo the description of Elijah (2 Kings 1:8)—now becomes even clearer as the latter day Elijah.[viii] In keeping with his provocative literary manner and his allusive uses of the Old Testament, at the outset Mark’s Gospel (1:2-3) melds Malachi’s more oblique promise of the latter day Elijah (Mal. 3:1) as fully integrated with Isaiah’s prophecy (Isa. 40:3) rather than incorporate the explicit, “Behold, I will send Elijah the prophet” (Mal. 4:5). By doing so, Mark’s evocative literary approach educes but shrouds John’s identity as Elijah until he provides additional hints now in the account concerning John’s execution. Yet, even here, as already noted, the allusive use of extended OT narratives concerning Elijah with wicked King Ahab and his vile wife Jezebel calls for unimpaired hearing. For then the narratives concerning Elijah’s abuse at the hands of Ahab and Jezebel and the account of John as the latter day Elijah whose message receives rejection from the king who does the bidding of his unlawful wife rather than of God find recurrence that links Elijah, the remarkable early prophet in Israel, with John, the last of the prophets who is the herald of the Christ. Thus, when Moses and Elijah meet with Jesus in the cloud on the Mount of Transfiguration they respectively signal that the Law and the Prophets reach their culmination in Christ Jesus. Hence, once again, Jesus’ response to the query of his three disciples on the descent from the Mount of Transfiguration evocatively identifies John as the last of the great prophets, as the promised Elijah, who precedes and shares in the sufferings of the coming Son of Man: “Elijah does come first to restore all things. And how is it written of the Son of Man that he should suffer many things and be treated with contempt? But I tell you Elijah has come, and they did to him whatever they pleased, as it is written of him” (Mark 9:12-13).
Third, John’s execution by King Herod followed by his disciples’ retrieval of the body for burial (6:29) foreshadows Jesus’ own death by execution at the hands of the Sanhedrin, of King Herod, of Pilate, and of the Roman soldiers led by the centurion followed by burial of his body by Joseph of Arimathea (15:42-47). This role of John’s passion as a foreshadow of Jesus’ own passion finds reinforcement in portions of Mark’s Gospel already mentioned. Jesus purposefully requires the chief priests, the scribes, and the elders to ponder his relationship with John when he poses his question concerning the source of John’s baptism after they inquire, “By what authority are you doing these things, or who gave you authority to do them?” (11:28). Like Herod who grasped power even as he was manipulated by the wiles of Herodias and her daughter’s seductive dance to do their bidding, these religious rulers cling to their positions of power defiant against the Lord’s prophets even as they refuse to declare their rejection of John because the crowds which have no official authority intimidate them. To his query that unmasks the religious rulers’ imitation of weak-willed but power craving King Herod, Jesus adds further provocation as he tells his Parable of the Tenants, constructed on the song of Isaiah 5:1-7, to expose their murderous intentions to preserve their positions of power in Jerusalem by putting him to death in keeping with the nefarious tradition of their forebears who held positions of power as they also murdered the prophets. Again, as noted earlier, while Jesus descends the Mount of Transfiguration, he conjoins John’s suffering and death with his impending passion when he responds to his three disciples whose minds fasten upon time relationships rather than the promised one who brings salvation when they inquire, “Why do the scribes say that first Elijah must come?” (9:11). To this Jesus responds, “Elijah does come first to restore all things. And how is it written of the Son of Man that he should suffer many things and be treated with contempt? But I tell you that Elijah has come, and they did to him whatever they pleased, as it is written of him” (9:12-13).
Now, after taking up two installments to ponder OT allusions throughout the literary sandwich of Mark 6:6b-44, I am prepared to return in the next entry with consideration of OT allusions in Mark 6:45-52 as promised in an earlier posting. By way of anticipation, the reason I took what may seem to be a detour, is that the evangelist inextricably ties the episode of Jesus’ Walking on the Sea with the account concerning the Feeding of the Multitude (6:52). Given this plainly stated continuity, it was rather presumptuous to suppose that I could address the OT allusions of the latter episode without doing so for the former. And once I committed attention to the former, I would have done violence to Mark’s literary and theological sandwich if I had not also addressed the sandwich inset. Hence, my delay.
Ardel Caneday (Ph.D., Trinity Evangelical Divinity School) is Professor of New Testament Studies and Biblical Studies at Northwestern College in St. Paul, Minnesota. He has served churches in various pastoral roles, including senior pastor. He has authored numerous journal articles, many essays in books, and has co-authored with Thomas Schreiner the book The Race Set Before Us: A Biblical Theology of Perseverance and Assurance (Inter-Varsity, 2001).
1 On Mark 6:14-29 as the middle portion of a Markan literary sandwich, see James R. Edwards, The Gospel according to Mark, PNTC (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002), 183. See also Larry W. Hurtado, Mark, NIBC (Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson, 1983, 1989), 94. On the pervasiveness of literary sandwiches throughout Mark’s Gospel see James R. Edwards, “Markan Sandwiches: The Significance of Interpolations in Markan Narratives,” Novum Testamentum 31.3 (1989): 193-216; and Tom Shepherd, Markan Sandwich Stories: Narration, Definition, and Function, AUSDDS 18 (Berrien Springs, Mich.: Andrews University Press, 1983).
2 See James R. Edwards, “Markan Sandwiches: The Significance of Interpolations in Markan Narratives,” Novum Testamentum 31.3 (1989): 196. Concerning the sandwich in Mark 5:21-43 Edwards observes, The insertion of the woman with the hemorrhage into the Jairus story is thus not an editorial strategem [sic] whose primary purpose is to create suspense or ‘to give time for the situation in the main incident to develop’. The woman’s faith forms the center of the sandwich and is the key to its interpretation. Through her Mark shows how faith in Jesus can transform fear and despair into hope and salvation. It is a powerful lesson for Jairus, as well as for Mark’s readers” (p. 205).
3 Even though she acknowledges that the episode concerning Herod’s reaction to rumors about Jesus along with the story concerning John’s beheading (Mark 6:14-29) is an inset episode sandwiched between Jesus’ sending out of the Twelve (6:6b-13) and their return (6:30), Morna Hooker complains, “There seems no logical connection between the two themes, but the somewhat artificial insertion provides an interlude for the disciples to complete their mission” (The Gospel according to St. Mark, BNTC [London: A. & C. Black; Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson, 1991], 158).
4 Besides the expectation that Jesus’ touch would bring healing (Mark 5:23, 28) and other conjoining features, two noteworthy verbal linkages are (1) use of “daughter” to describe the girl (5:23) and to address the woman (5:34) and (2) Mark’s notation of the girl’s age as “twelve years” by way of parenthetical insertion which corresponds to the “twelve years” the woman suffered from her hemorrhage.
5 It is also worthy of note that elsewhere both Matthew and Luke refer to Herod as “king” (2:1, 3; and 1:5 respectively; see also Acts 12:1 and 20). In fact, after designating him “Herod the tetrarch” in 14:1, Matthew refers to him as “king” in 14:9.
Some think that Mark’s designation, “King Herod,” entails irony, even mockery of Herod’s vain craving for the royal title which he thought should be rightly his. See, e.g., Hurtado, Mark, 97; and William L. Lane, The Gospel according to Mark, NICNT (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1974), 211.
If Mark’s designation does entail mockery or irony, its full sardonic measure does not emerge until the Sanhedrin finally contrives the formal charge of treason against Jesus which Pilate orders to be inscribed on the placard bearing the charge: “The King of the Jews.” Certainly, the crucifixion narrative itself entails profound irony by all who exploited the criminal charge that Pilate had inscribed. First, in their sporting fun Roman soldiers heaped mockery upon Jesus as they hosted a mock coronation and saluted him, “Hail, King of the Jews!” (Mark 15:18). Then as Jesus hung upon the cross passersby but especially the chief priests and the scribes inadvertently spoke profound truth as they viciously mocked him, “He saved others; he cannot save himself. Let the Christ, the King of Israel, come down now from the cross that we may see and believe” (15:31-32). For, as Mark narrates Jesus’ crucifixion, it becomes evident that the cross entails his enthronement as “King of the Jews” following his impromptu coronation sportingly put on by the soldiers.
So then, the full sardonic measure of Mark’s deliberate designation “King Herod” in 6:14 begins to emerge when juxtaposed with the crucifixion narrative. Who, upon a first hearing or reading of the Gospel would catch Mark’s mocking irony, except those with exceptionally perceptive hearing coupled with a keen memory and with incisive literary and theological instincts? Others, such as myself, require many readings of the Gospel to ferret out the literary and theological subtleties of Mark’s masterpiece. If I am correct to follow the lead of Hurtado and Lane, then, it seems that Mark’s crucifixion account underscores that the Jews in general but the Jewish religious rulers of Jerusalem in particular indulgently endured the Roman appointed Herod, the pretentious King of the Jews, but in sharp contrast impatiently connived how to seize by stealth and to kill Heaven appointed Jesus, the rightful King of the Jews.
6 The OT allusions within this inner episode of Mark’s literary sandwich that concerns John the Baptist, Herod, and Herodias as linked back to Elijah, Ahab, and Jezebel in 1 Kings 16:29-19:3 and 21:1-29 receive helpful exposure by David M. Hoffeditz and Gary E. Yates, “Femme Fatal Redux: Intertextual Connection to the Elijah/Jezebel Narratives in Mark 6:14-29,” Bulletin for Biblical Research 15.2 (2005): 199-221.
Despite what seems obvious to many, some are not convinced that Mark’s account in 6:14-29 alludes to the narratives in 1 Kings. For example, see Robert A. Guelich, Mark 1-8:26, WBC 34A (Dallas: Word, 1989), 331; Robert Gundry, Mark: A Commentary on His Apology for the Cross (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1993), 313. Others suppose that the principal OT backdrop for Mark’s episode is the story of Esther. See R. Aus, Water into Wine and the Beheading of John the Baptist (Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1988), 39-74; and A. Bach, “Calling the Shots: Directing Salome’s Dance of Death,” Semeia 74 (1996): 110-113.
Contrast Hurtado’s observations: “The similarities between John the Baptist and Elijah help to explain the way John’s death is narrated in Mark. Herod, who both fears John and resents him, is made to resemble Ahab, the king of Israel, in his attitude toward Elijah; Herodias, who schemes to kill John, resembles Jezebel, Ahab’s wife, who had a special hatred for Elijah (see 1 Kings 16:29-19:3; 21:1-29 . . .). Thus, several characteristics of Mark’s account help the reader see that John is the prophet like Elijah predicted in Malachi 4:5” (Mark, 95).
7 Lane observes, “The Gospel of Mark contains two ‘passion narratives,’ the first of which reports the imprisonment and death of John the Baptist. The detailed narration of the circumstances resulting in the death of John stands in sharp contrast to the brief description of his mission in Ch. 1:4-8. It is probably that the present narrative reflects a special source which circulated among the disciples of John. It is included here by Mark both to clarify the statements in Ch. 6:14, 16 and to point forward to the suffering and death of Jesus” (Mark, 215).
8 The wording of Mark 1:6—“he wore a leather belt around his waist” (ζώνην δερματίνην περὶ τὴν ὀσφὺν αὐτοῦ)—is almost identical to that of 2 Kings 1:8—“he wore a belt of leather around his waist” (ζώνην δερματίνην περιεζωσμένος τὴν ὀσφὺν αὐτοῦ, NIV).