Mark 8:12

Jeffrey B. Gibson jgibson000 at
Thu Jan 24 23:29:48 EST 2002

Steven Lo Vullo wrote:

> On Thursday, January 24, 2002, at 04:49  AM, Michael Haggett wrote:
> > MH: I would like to offer a slightly different view of the
> > intended meaning which might make it a little easier to
> > understand. Yes, I agree that it is an emphatic negation, but
> > the missing apodosis can also (and sometimes better) be
> > understood as illustrating the absurdity of the proposition,
> > rather than as a self-malediction.  We do the same sort of thing
> > in English (at least here in Britain we do):
> >
> > "If this is a fresh apple pie, I'm a Dutchman!"
> > "If he's a musician, I'm the Queen of Sheba!"
> >
> > Which, with the right tone of voice, can very often be reduced
> > to,
> >
> > "If he's a musician ... "
> >
> > meaning that the pie is obviously not fresh, and that the
> > performer could by no stretch of the imagination be called a
> > musician!
> >
> > Of course, it would be a very uninhibited translator that would
> > put this into Jesus' mouth:
> >
> >
> > "Yes! and I say to you: If a sign is given to this generation,
> > I'm the Queen of Sheba!"
> >
> > And I certainly wouldn't ... but to my way of thinking it
> > captures the tone of Mark 8:12 quite well.
> The main problem with this is that it has no parallel in the Hebrew
> Bible or LXX, whereas the self-maledictory oath and the full conditional
> sentence expressing the self-maledictory oath (in LXX) are attested, and
> we must choose the most probable rather then the merely possible. The
> above suggestion seems to be a case of reading modern idiom into an
> ancient text. Besides, in the contexts in which we find this
> construction, the tone is one of extreme gravity, not levity.

I heartily second Steven's judgment here, and add that the details that Mark gives in
his portrayal of

(a) how Jesus saw the demand to which his oath  EI DOQHSETAI TH GENEA TAUTH SHMEION is
the verbal response, namely, as an experience of PEIRASMOS, that is to say, an
experience in which he in which his faithfulness to God is being put to the test,

(b) the emotional reaction that the demand elicits from Jesus, namely, one of
horrified dismay at being placed in a position where his devotion to God may prove
foolish of wanting (on this, see my articles "Mk. 8:12a. Why Does Jesus 'Sigh
Deeply'?" [_Technical Papers for  the Bible Translator_  38 (1987) pp. 122-125]
and     "Another Look at Why Jesus `Sighs Deeply': ANASTENAZW in Mk. 8:12a" [Journal
of  Theological Studies 47 (1996) 1-10), and

(c) the way Jesus prefaces his response with the solemnizing AMHN

all contribute to show that Mark meant Jesus' response to be seen as one in which
something of ultimate importance was at stake.

And if I may engage in a shameless plug, let me point List Members who are interested
in seeing what it is that Mark is intent to present about the nature of the demand,
the meaning of the term SHMEION APO TOU OURANOU, and why, in his eyes, Jesus refuses
to produce what is sought from him, to my 1990 article "Jesus' Refusal to Produce a
'Sign' (Mk. 8:11-13)" which appeared in Vol. 38 of the _Journal for the Study of the
New  Testament_ (pp. 37-66) and to a slightly expanded version of the article in my
_The Temptations of Jesus in Early Christianity_ (Sheffield, 1995).

You may also be interested in seeing the discussion of the form and function of the
oath of which Mk. 8:12 is one example in  G.W. Buchanan, `Some Vow and Oath Formulas
in the New Testament', HTR 58 (1965), pp. 319-26, esp. pp. 324-25, where you will find
it concluded that besides being a way of saying "no" forecfully,  such oaths were
primarily an expression of extreme revulsion, specifically the revulsion one feels at
being asked to engage in activity that cuts against the grain of one's integrity and
that one utters  an oath of this kind to indicate abhorrence, to demonstrate how
absolutely imperative one feels is the necessity of avoiding the course of action
which the oath disavows.


Jeffrey Gibson
Jeffrey B. Gibson, D.Phil. (Oxon.)
1500 W. Pratt Blvd.
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Chicago, Illinois 60626
e-mail jgibson000 at
          jgibson000 at

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