Friday, October 29, 2010

The Friday Figure

This week's Friday Figure comes from the Gospel of Mark.

In Mark 8 there is an interesting, if not perplexing interchange between Jesus and his disciples. 

The Narrator sets the scene as follows:

Mark 8:14 Καὶ ἐπελάθοντο λαβεῖν ἄρτους καὶ εἰ μὴ ἕνα ἄρτον οὐκ εἶχον μεθ᾿ ἑαυτῶν ἐν τῷ πλοίῳ.
And the disciples forgot to bring any bread with them except for one bread which they had with them in the boat. 
 This is an interesting sentence. I have translated the second term as bread, whereas it is usually translated as loaf, because in Greek the word is the same, and it is precisely this play on words that forms the figure of speech. The question, did they have any bread or not?  It appears from just this sentence that they had bread.  Yet, if one skips down in the exchange, the disciples discuss among themselves, and say "it is because we have no bread."  Now it seems like the disciples do not have bread at all. 

In the context of Mark, this passage about bread and yeast is the last of several stories that have to do with bread.  Jesus feeds the five thousand Jews with five loaves of bread and two fish, and he takes up twelve baskets of leftovers.  Jesus has an interchange about bread with a syrophoenecian woman.  Then he feeds four thousand gentiles with seven loaves and a few fish and takes up seven baskets of leftovers.  If one looks at these stories for their greater symbolism, Jesus is seen as the one who feeds the Jews and takes up twelve baskets from them, a number of completeness for the Jews.  Then he feeds the Gentiles and takes up seven baskets, a number of completeness for the Gentiles.  Jesus feeds the complete number of Jews and the complete number of Gentiles.  Jesus is the bread.  So, what is the one loaf that the disciples have in the boat?  It is Jesus.  Curiously, the term bread will not be used again in Mark until the last supper where Jesus says that bread is his body.  Therefore, there are a couple of figures of speech going on here.  The first is a play on words.  The second use of bread in 8:14 is referring to Jesus.  This is an example of paronomasia: using the same word in different ways.  This is also a use of the trope metaphor, in which Jesus is described as bread.

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