Does ‘The man with the withered hand’ (Mk 3:1-6) discuss the issue of warfare on the Sabbath?

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FransJVermeiren
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Does ‘The man with the withered hand’ (Mk 3:1-6) discuss the issue of warfare on the Sabbath?

Post by FransJVermeiren » Wed Oct 17, 2018 12:08 pm

Over the centuries the issue of warfare on the Sabbath has been important in ancient Judaism. After a major carnage of non-resisting Jews on a Sabbath during the Maccabean revolt, Mattathias and his companions decided to avoid similar major bloodshed in the future. 1 Maccabees 2:41 describes this resolution: “If anyone attacks us on the Sabbath day, whoever he may be, we shall resist him; we must not all be killed, as our brothers were in the hiding places.”

In Contra Apionem I:209 Josephus quotes Agatharchides who writes the following: “The people known as Jews, who inhabit the most strongly fortified of cities, called by the natives Jerusalem, have a custom of abstaining from work every seventh day; on these occasions they neither bear arms nor take any agricultural operations in hand nor engage in any other form of public service, but pray with outstretched hands in the temples until the evening.”
In verse Contra Apionem I:212 Josephus confirms Agatharchides’s statement, speaking of his Jewish compatriots as ‘men who consistently care more for the observance of their laws and for their religion than for their own lives and their country’s fate’.

I believe there is a story in the Synoptic gospels that – in its clearest form in Mark – discusses this subject at the beginning of the rebellion against the Romans in 66 CE. It is the story of the man with the withered hand, Mark 3:1-6, Matthew 12:9-14, Luke 6:6-11.

Mark 3:1-6 goes as follows:
(1) Again he went into the synagogue, and a man was there who had a dry hand. [(2) And they watched him, to see whether he would heal him on the Sabbath, so that they might accuse him.] (3) And he said to the man with the dry hand, “Come into the middle.” (4) And he said to them, “Is it permitted on the Sabbath to do good or to injure, to save life or to kill?” But they kept silent. (5) And he looked around at them with anger, grieved at the inflexibility of their heart, and said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was restored. (6) The Pharisees went out, and immediately held counsel with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him.

This translation is based on Nestle-Aland, with some slight changes, for example ‘dry’ instead of ‘withered’. I will discuss below why I have put verse two between square brackets.

At first sight this is a miraculous healing study, but at closer view the central element of the story is the fundamental Sabbath question raised in verse 4: Is it permitted on the Sabbath to do good things or to injure, to save life or to kill? We can reformulate the question as follows: Are we allowed to wound and kill on the Sabbath? Or: Are we allowed to take part in military activity on the Sabbath? These questions necessarily belong to an era with military activity, which in this age is inevitably the war against the Romans (66-70 CE). In contrast to the Maccabean story, this time the issue was raised and settled timely, not after a major bloodshed.

In these circumstances it is not difficult to recognize the man with the withered hand. This man doesn’t have a physical problem, but his hand remains dry because it doesn’t want to spill blood with the sword it holds – at least not during the Sabbath. This makes Jesus, one of the most prominent rebellion leaders in Galilee, angry because this opinion jeopardizes the military ambitions of the revolutionaries. The ‘hardness of heart’ of verse 5 in this context is probably better translated as ‘inflexibility of heart’, because the persons concerned can’t give up their Sabbath principles in a war situation of life or death. If the hand was restored to its ‘humid’ condition after stretching it out, this is simply because the person involved was given a sword again. That the ‘hand’ problem disappeared at once means that the person involved accepted the sword, that way solving the ‘war on Sabbath’ problem amongst the Galilean revolutionaries at the beginning of the war against the Romans. This dryness problem was not the problem of a single man but of one of the revolutionary factions, as the plurals (αὐτοῖς/οἱ/αὐτοὺς/αὐτῶν) in verse 3 to 5 indicate. Maybe this story describes the confrontation of Jesus, the most prominent leader of the Galilean rebels, with a strict revolutionary faction that had a negative view on Sabbath warfare. It is their leader whom Jesus urges to come forward to the center of the synagogue (verse 3).

Verse 6 supports this thesis. Would the Pharisees and the Herodians look for a way to destroy Jesus if he had wrought a healing miracle to one pitiable disabled person? I don’t think so. The reaction of both groups is political. The Herodian party surely was opposed to the rebellion, and here the Pharisees are mentioned as anti-war in the same breath. The ‘7/7-war’ decision of the revolutionaries was bad news for the anti-war parties and an element of further political polarization. This is why the other parties wanted to eliminate Jesus.

Without verse 2 this pericope is a consistent rebellion story. Verse 2 tries to distract attention away from the original war content of this passage. It changes the political ‘warfare on the Sabbath and subsequent deadly opposition’ focus to a ‘Jesus healing on the Sabbath and his subsequent accusation’ focus, putting aside the political/military subject of the story. The accusation theme is introduced prematurely in verse 2, while in my military interpretation (without verse 2) the murderous intentions of the opposing parties naturally appear at the end. The flow of the text is also more natural without verse 2.

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Ben C. Smith
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Re: Does ‘The man with the withered hand’ (Mk 3:1-6) discuss the issue of warfare on the Sabbath?

Post by Ben C. Smith » Wed Oct 17, 2018 12:49 pm

To my eye, the clearest back reference is found in the Hebrew scriptures:

Mark 3.1-6: 1 He entered again into a synagogue; and a man was there whose hand was withered [ἐξηραμμένην]. 2 They were watching Him to see if He would heal him on the Sabbath, so that they might accuse Him. 3 He says to the man with the withered hand, “Get up and come forward!” 4 And He says to them, “Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the Sabbath, to save a life or to kill?” But they kept silent. 5 After looking around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart, He says to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” And he stretched it out, and his hand was restored. 6 The Pharisees went out and immediately began conspiring with the Herodians against Him, as to how they might destroy Him.

1 Kings 13.1-10: 1 Now behold, there came a man of God from Judah to Bethel by the word of Yahweh, while Jeroboam was standing by the altar to burn incense. 2 He cried against the altar by the word of Yahweh, and said, “O altar, altar, thus says Yahweh, ‘Behold, a son shall be born to the house of David, Josiah by name; and on you he shall sacrifice the priests of the high places who burn incense on you, and human bones shall be burned on you.’” 3 Then he gave a sign the same day, saying, “This is the sign which Yahweh has spoken, ‘Behold, the altar shall be split apart and the ashes which are on it shall be poured out.’” 4 Now when the king heard the saying of the man of God, which he cried against the altar in Bethel, Jeroboam stretched out his hand from the altar, saying, “Seize him.” But his hand which he stretched out against him withered up [ἐξηράνθη], so that he could not draw it back to himself. 5 The altar also was split apart and the ashes were poured out from the altar, according to the sign which the man of God had given by the word of Yahweh. 6 The king said to the man of God, “Please entreat Yahweh your God, and pray for me, that my hand may be restored to me.” So the man of God entreated Yahweh, and the king’s hand was restored to him, and it became as it was before. 7 Then the king said to the man of God, “Come home with me and refresh yourself, and I will give you a reward.” 8 But the man of God said to the king, “If you were to give me half your house I would not go with you, nor would I eat bread or drink water in this place. 9 For so it was commanded me by the word of Yahweh, saying, ‘You shall eat no bread, nor drink water, nor return by the way which you came.’” 10 So he went another way and did not return by the way which he came to Bethel.

How does this possible link play into your idea, if at all?
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FransJVermeiren
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Re: Does ‘The man with the withered hand’ (Mk 3:1-6) discuss the issue of warfare on the Sabbath?

Post by FransJVermeiren » Thu Oct 18, 2018 8:08 am

I see a similar incapacity of the hand in an atmosphere of violence.

I don’t believe that the ‘withered hand’ pericope in the synoptics is a fulfillment story of 1 Kings 1-10. The elements of the two stories are too different.

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