Mark's flags for interpreting Mark?

The final days and hours of Jesus as told by Mark contain many allusions to earlier stories in his narration. The point of these allusions would appear to be to alert the audience to read the stories together thus allowing the linking allusions to frame the interpretation of the whole. We can see this intent clearly on a smaller scale within story-doublets such as the story of the healing of woman with a 12 year illness being bracketed by another story of the healing of the12 year old girl (5:21-43), and in the story of the cursing of the fig tree surrounding the story of the condemnation of the temple (11:12-24). The following table is a list (no doubt incomplete) of many of the linkages between the last days of Jesus and the stories of his earlier activities. Occasionally I have included comments suggesting what such echoes mean for our interpretation of the text. Feel free to advise me of any others I may have overlooked. However I have deliberately omitted most obvious allusions such as Jesus’ direct prophecies that he was to be killed and resurrected and several of the healings that had the appearance of being raisings from the dead. I have also deliberately omitted the role of Mark 13 here choosing rather to save this for another table.

Neil Godfrey.
neilgodfrey[AT SIGN]dodo[dot]com[dot]au


early stories

later echoes



Jesus coming to Galilee foretold by the prophets

Jesus coming to Galilee foretold by Jesus



John appears as Elijah

Jesus appears to be calling for Elijah



John in the wilderness clothed roughly announces Jesus to come to Galilee

Young man in the tomb clothed in white announces Jesus to appear in Galilee



Jesus was baptized

Crucifixion is a baptism

10.38 15.25


He saw the heavens parting

Then the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom



Then a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son

“Truly this man was the son of God



Disciples follow Jesus immediately

Disciples flee from Jesus or follow at a distance

14.50, 54


They came to Capernaum and Jesus entered the synagogue

They came to Jerusalem and Jesus entered the temple



The people were astonished at his teaching

The people were astonished at his teaching



Jesus cast out the unclean spirit from the man in the temple – with violence (the unclean spirit convulsed the man) – demonstrating his authority

Jesus cast out the thieves from the temple – with violence (overturning tables and seats and preventing entry) – demonstrating his authority



The unclean spirit came out with the cry of a loud voice

Jesus breathed his last (ex-spirited) with a loud shout



The demons feared Jesus and believed he had come to destroy them

The scribes and priests feared Jesus and plotted to destroy him



The fame of Jesus spread throughout Galilee

Jesus was respected by “all the people” of Jerusalem



Jesus enters the house of Simon and Andrew with James and John where attention is drawn immediately to an unnamed woman

Jesus is in the house of Simon the leper with his disciples where attention is drawn immediately to an unnamed woman



Jesus heals the woman and she serves them

The woman does a good work for Jesus by preparing his body for his death



At evening the sick and demon-possessed and whole city come to Jesus at “the door” of the house

At evening two women come to “the door” of the tomb to see where Jesus is laid



Jesus does not allow the unclean spirits to speak

The women fear to speak (Commentators often express bemusement at this ending. If we read the ending in conjunction with the author’s signals from the earlier stories instead of with theological preconceptions we see that like the other disciples the women followers, even Jesus’ own mother, have become one with the unclean spirits and failed totally. Mark’s Jesus began his ministry with a show of power over the demons by ordering them not to speak and to depart. The gospel fittingly concludes with those who belonged to Jesus only in the material realm doing just that.)



Very early in the morning Jesus leaves the house – disciples and “everyone” were looking for him

Early in the morning the women come to the tomb to find Jesus but he had already left it



Jesus does not show himself but departs with his disciples for other towns in Galilee as purposed

Jesus is not to be found there but is to meet his disciples in Galilee as planned



A leper came to Jesus in faith to be cleansed of leprosy

Jesus entered the house of a leper (apparently never healed)



Jesus strictly warns the man healed of leprosy to be silent, to go his way, and testify to the priests – but he is unafraid of the warning and disobeys, speaking openly to all

The young man instructs the women to go and tell the disciples the news – but they are afraid (c.f. the unclean spirits) and fear to speak a word to anyone



Jesus is in a house where the door is sealed by a massive crowd

Jesus is placed in a tomb with a stone, too large for a few women to move, sealing the door

15.46, 16.3


The four came bringing one in need of healing

The women came bringing spices for anointing the dead



The four, not the paralytic, have faith (the paralytic is as good as a cadaver)

The women lack faith in his resurrection (they are coming to anoint a body that had already been anointed) (It seems odd for Jesus to have been anointed “before” his death but Mark may well have “oddly” moved a whole series of events one would normally expect to happen after his death to before it, thus confusing his story characters and modern readers alike. Some critics see the transfiguration (ch.9) as originally a post-resurrection appearance; there is some evidence (e.g. Justin Martyr, other canonical gospel accounts of Jesus post-resurrection appearances and Gospel of the Hebrews) that the earliest stories of Jesus spoke of a communion meal “after” the resurrection, something revealed by the heavenly Jesus (c.f. 1 Cor.11.23); when Jesus says at the end of the gospel that he will see his disciples again in Galilee it may even be postulated that he intends the reader to read afresh the beginning of the gospel where Jesus appears “again” to Peter and the disciples! (Compare 1.16-20 with Luke 5.1-11 and John 21). Such a literary rearrangement would be consistent with Mark’s penchant for dramatically reversing reader expectations.)



The house where the faithful wanted to place a paralytic had to be dug out

The tomb where the faithful Joseph placed Jesus had been hewn out of the rock (Karel Hanhart has argued that this reference is a flag for the reader to recall Isa.22:15-16 (LXX) where God pronounces judgment on the Temple (c.f. Mark 11.13-20, 13.2 and 14.58) declaring it to be a “tomb dug out of rock”.)


2.9, 11

The paralytic “arose” (and left via the hitherto blocked door of the house)

The body of Jesus “arose” (and left via the hitherto blocked door of the tomb)



The paralytic was sent on his way to his house

Jesus went on his way back to Galilee



Everyone was amazed to have seen this unique event

The women were amazed at their encounter with an angelic figure in the tomb



Other verbal echoes and inversed images:

People came immediately to see Jesus in the house

4 men come to the house

scribes were sitting in house

reasoning within themselves

Jesus by divine power knew their thoughts

Paralytic immediately left the house

Other verbal echoes and inversed images:

Women came very early (first thing first day) to see Jesus

4 names deliberately listed

a youth sitting in tomb

speaking among themselves

youth by divine power knew their thoughts

Women quickly fled from the tomb


2.16, 17

Jesus ate and drank with tax collectors and sinners, and spoke of saving them when criticized by scribes and Pharisees.

Jesus was crucified with robbers (‘numbered with the transgressors’), and could not save himself according to scribes and chief priests. (Is “eating and drinking” (2.16) also a cipher for the suffering of the crucifixion? Compare 10.38.)

15.27-28, 31

1.16, 19-20 2.14

Two disciples (James and John) are identified by their father (Zededee). Levi is identified by his father, Alphaeus. This is all very normal.

A Simon going with Jesus to his execution is identified by the names of his two sons (Alexander and Rufus). Mary is identified by her two sons together, then again separately by one son a turn. This is all most unusual and the fact that such an identification is noted four times in all, the last two times in a most curious way, seems to be an attempt by the author to impress upon his audience some sort of deliberate reversal going on here. Attempts to explain this by thinking the sons are unusually prominent in the view of the audience fail on the historical grounds that their parents names are more well known by far in early Christian tradition, and on the grounds of the literary observation that the named parents are portrayed here as failures (Simon is forced to partake in the execution of Jesus; Mary had not believed in the resurrection and fearfully tells no-one what she has seen) and thus would shame any real living children. If real children were known is Mark essentially calling them “sons of Belial”? The attempt by some to say Alexander and Rufus were only known to a small local area is a model of an ad hoc argument. Is it plausible to assume that the sons of a name as well known and controversial in the Christian world as Simon a Cyrenian (he was believed by some Christians to have actually died in place of Jesus!) would be ignored by all but one small local church?

15.21, 40, 47 16.1


Jesus’ disciples are hungry so pluck corn on the Sabbath, an act justified by David unlawfully eating showbread when he was hungry – thus establishing Jesus authority over the Sabbath. (Attempts to explain this by saying it was not unlawful for the disciples to pluck corn on the Sabbath may be correct historically but fail to agree with the story itself. Jesus plainly compares his disciples’ action with one of David’s that he calls ‘unlawful’.)

Jesus is hungry but finds no food at all out of season but establishes his authority over the Temple. (The ‘being hungry’ echo is just one of the alerts given us to read these two stories together. Another is the inability of Jesus to find food “out of season” compared with the illegality of his disciples plucking corn on the Sabbath. It is a story about who has authority over the sacred and natural laws on earth. The synagogue has become the Temple and the Sabbath has become “the season” and enemies in both plot to kill Jesus. Jesus heals at first but pronounces judgment at the end.)




Jesus restores a “withered” hand in a synagogue on the Sabbath and the Pharisees plot to destroy him

Jesus “withered” a fig tree outside the temple and the chief priests plotted to destroy him.



The list of 12 apostles begins with Simon who left the sea to follow Jesus (and who undergoes a name change and is the first apostle we meet in Mark) and concludes (barring Judas Iscariot who separated himself from the 12 at the end) with another Simon who is identified by a geographic label, the Canaanite

The final days of Jesus alive begin in a house of Simon (compare Jesus’ first healing in the house of a Simon), but this time a leper, and end with another Simon, also identified by a geographic label, a Cyrenian, and who left the country rather than the sea. The leper label is not encouraging (if he was healed how could he still be known as a leper?) and his house is the scene of “some” of the disciples turning against Jesus and the departure of Judas Iscariot, presumably encouraged to carry out his plan by the general feeling of the whole group. The final hours of Jesus see him with the last Simon mentioned, a Cyrenian, being compelled to assist with Jesus’ execution. One wonders if the author intended the Simon sobriquet to be representative of all 12. They all begin so well, but like the seed that fell in the rocky soil (c.f. Peter meaning rock), withered away when the heat came. (Mary Ann Tolbert)

14.3 15.21

1.19-20 2.14 3.18

Conventional for children to be identified by their parents. Compare the mirror-like reflection of the unusual parent-child identity structure (2 parents and 4 children expressed 3-fold) in the latter part of the gospel.

James and John, sons of Zebedee
Levi, son of Alphaeus
James, son of Alphaeus

Not once but twice convention is broken with parents being identified by their children – in a similar odd pattern structure (2 parents and 4 children expressed 3-fold) as found in the early part of the gospel:

Simon, father of Alexander and Rufus
Mary, mother of Joses
Mary, mother of James (the Younger)

15.21, 47 16.1


Jesus is so pressed by the multitudes he cannot even eat, implying hunger. His family try to take him away believing him to be out of his mind.

There is an exchange with the scribes over Satan and the demons and their powers.

Then there is a return to the family with a call for him to Look at them! But he gives a spiritual lesson instead.

Again Jesus is hungry but cannot eat from the fig tree since it is not the right season. His followers hear him curse it.

There is an exchange with the merchants, scribes and chief priests in the Temple over who has the authority over it.

Then there is a return to the disciples and the fig tree with a call for him to Look at it! But he gives a spiritual lesson instead.



No one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man, and then he will plunder his house.

Jesus is bound and his disciples scatter, deny and bury him, and the faithless women flee in fear and total silence.



Jesus’ brothers and mother are outside the house seeking him but Jesus disowns them by implying they are not his real family.

Jesus’ mother’s namesake (she is no longer called his mother and his erstwhile brothers are not even there) vainly seeks Jesus in the tomb and flees in fear.

15.40, 47 16.1


A man with an unclean spirit lives among tombs and cannot be bound. After Jesus he is found sitting and clothed and even then causes fear. He is told to go home to tell others what has happened.

Jesus could not be bound in the tomb. Found in his place was a young man sitting and clothed in white, and who caused fear in the women. He tells them to go back to Galilee and tell the others what has happened.


5.22-23, 35-40

Jairus a ruler of the synagogue approached Jesus to beg earnestly and confidently for the life of his daughter. Others came to confirm – unexpectedly - that the daughter was really dead. Jesus is taken inside the room of the daughter with a few close disciples.

Joseph a prominent council member approached Pilate boldly for the body of Jesus. A centurion is sent to confirm – unexpectedly – that Jesus was already dead. Jesus was taken into the tomb by Joseph with a just two women followers. (Michael Turton)

(I had suspected every named character in Mark proves to be a failure in the end but Jairus was impossible to fault. But if, as Michael Turton points out, Jairus is transformed into Joseph by a literary sleight of hand (as Simon Peter is transformed into Simon the Leper and Simon a Cyrenian) then he, too, is doomed by the author to the hall of failures too. “I come not to praise Caesar but to bury him.” Or is he? Is Mark’s Jesus the Messiah ben Joseph as opposed to the Messiah ben David, as some traditions anticipated? (The OT Jair was a descendant of Joseph) Or is the burial of Jesus meant to compare (unfavourably) with the burial of John the Baptist by disciples who surely had no thought of any imminent resurrection?



Jesus is known as the son of Mary and brother of James, Joses, Judas and Simeon.

Mary the mother of James and Joses is no longer called Jesus’ mother and she cannot even find Jesus’ corpse. (Commentators have expressed puzzlement over why Mark would mention Mary the mother of Jesus in such an oblique way at his burial. There is no cause for puzzlement if one jettisons theological interests in defending the status of Mary and reads the text as the author appears to have directed us.)

15.40, 47 16.1

6.29, 14

The disciples of John the Baptist came and took away his corpse and laid it in a tomb. He was subsequently believed to have been resurrected.

The disciples of Jesus fled and left it to a council member to lay his body in a tomb. He was subsequently believed to have been resurrected.


6.31-44, 8.1-9, 15-21

Twice those following Jesus are hungry and there is virtually nothing to feed them. But though there are only 12 loaves (compare the showbread forbidden to but eaten by David 2.26) and a few fish to feed over 9000 Jesus can satisfy them all with 19 baskets of leftovers. There is a meaning here that the disciples do not understand (beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and of Herod).

The disciples do not understand the meaning of the figless fig tree being cursed and when the 12 eat the Passover with Jesus they do so without comprehension so that they criticize, betray, forsake, disbelieve, help execute, bury, and remain silent about Jesus thus becoming one with the Pharisees and Herod who had plotted his death from the beginning as well as with the unclean spirits who were ordered to depart from him and forbidden to speak. It’s a savage gospel that remained hidden from (or by) ‘orthodoxy’ until it could finally be safely re-read through the eyes of Matthew, John and Luke.

11.12-24 14.5, 12-27


Jesus transfigured, white clothes, with Moses and Elijah, a cloud, “This is my beloved Son”.

Jesus to come in the clouds (14.62), the young man in white (16.5), Elijah mistakenly called to mind on the cross (15.35), This was the Son of God (15.39).



James and John ask to be granted to sit on the right and left of Jesus in his glory but Jesus says this is not his to grant and is only for those appointed, but that James and John would indeed drink the cup of Jesus and be baptized with his baptism.

Jesus is crucified between two robbers, one on his right and the other on his left. (Another authorial hint that Christ crucified is indeed Christ in his glory.)