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Mark 9. 42–10. 12, Matthew 5. 27–32, and B. Nid. 13b: A First Century Discussion of Male Sexuality

  • Will Deming


Matt 5. 27–32, from the Sermon on the Mount, and Mark 9. 42–10.12 are passages that contain similar material, although neither is directly dependent on the other. Both have sayings that deal with ‘offences’ caused by certain body members (the verb used is σκανδαλίζω), and both contain a version of Jesus' prohibition of divorce. Between these two passages and a third, b. Nid. 13b, from the Babylonian Talmud, there also exist several similarities. Despite this intriguing configuration of materials, which might indicate that all three passages are dependent on a common set of traditions, scholars have approached these texts from a very different perspective. Those who posit a connection between the synoptic and the rabbinic materials do so only with respect to Matt 5, never Mark 9; and several scholars have instead sought parallels to the synoptic passages in Hellenistic gnomic literature, disregarding or ignoring the rabbinic material altogether. In the present study I intend to challenge the validity of these approaches and propose that there is indeed a common set of traditions to which all three of these texts are indebted. I will begin my investigation by highlighting three peculiarities of Mark 9. 42–48, and then posit a relation between this passage and b. Nid. 13b. Following this I will bring the material from Matt 5. 27–32 and Mark 9. 49–10. 12 into consideration. One of the results of this study, as I shall explain more thoroughly in the conclusion, will be the identification of a discussion on male sexuality that took place in Jewish and Christian circles sometime in the middle of the first century C.E



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1 Moore, George Foot, Judaism in the First Centuries of the Christian Era (Cambridge: Harvard Univerity Press, 1950) 2: 268–9;Braun, Herbert, Spätjüdisch-häretischer und frühchristlicher Radikalismus (Tübingen: J. C. B. Mohr, 1967) 2: 110, n. 7;Lohmeyer, Ernst, Das Evangelium des Markus (MeyerK; Göttingen: Vandenhoeck und Ruprecht, 1957) 196. cf. idem, Das Evangelium des Matthäus (MeyerK; Göttingen: Vandenhoeck und Ruprecht, 1956) 127.

2 Hommel, Hildebrecht, ‘Herrnworte im Lichte sokratischer Überlieferung’, in his Sebasmata; Studien zur antiken Religionsgeschichte und zum frühen Christentum (WUNT; Tübingen: J. C. B. Mohr, 1984) 2: 56–8, 63–73;Schattenmann, Johannes, ‘Jesus und Pythagoras’, Kairos 21 (1979) 215–20;Koester, Helmut, ‘Mark 9. 43–47 and Quintilian 8.3.75’, HTR 71 (1978) 151–3.

3 See, e.g., Pesch, Rudolph, Das Markusevangelium (HTKNT; Freiburg: Herder, 1977) 2: 112–13.

4 In addition Pesch, , Markusevangelium, 2:113 contrasts the present tense apodosis of v. 42 to the imperative apodosis of w. 4347.

5 See, e.g., Mann, C. S., Mark (ABC; Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1986) 380–1.

6 See, e.g., Bultmann, Rudolf, The History of the Synoptic Tradition (New York: Harper and Row, 1963) 144–5, 148;Michel, O., ‘μικρός (έλάττω έλάχιστος)’, TDNT 4: 650–4;and Légasse, S., ‘μικρός, 3’, Exegetisches Wörterbuch zum Neuen Testament 2:1051–2.

7 Pesch, , Markusevangelium, 115; see, e.g., Prov 6. 16–18 and b. Tan. 21a (Nahum of Gimzo, fl. 100 C.E.).

8 See Kloppenborg, John S., Q Parallels (Sonoma: Polebridge, 1988) 182.

9 The reference is unclear.

10 On the use of καλόν … ή in translations see Beyer, Klaus, Semitische Syntax im Neuen Testament (SUNT; Göttingen: Vandenhoeck und Ruprecht, 1962) vol. 1, pt. 1: 7881, n. 1 (esp. 80). Cf. R. Tarfon's words as preserved in the Jerusalem Talmud (j. Nid. 2:1): ‘Of such a one, his destruction is pretty [i.e., prettier] to him than his life’ .

11 Stählin, Gustav, ‘σκάνδλον, σκανδαλίξω’, TDNT 7: 340–4.

12 E.g., Is 7. 20. See also: Exod 4. 25; Deut 28. 57; Judg 3. 24; 1 Sam 24. 4 (ET = 24. 3); 2 Kgs 18. 27 (Qr); Isa 6. 2; 36. 12 (Qr); Ezek 16. 25; and perhaps Ruth 3. 4, 7, 8, 14; cf. Deut 25. 9–10. The euphemism in these passages is always the plural . The singular in the Niddah passage seems to be accounted for by the fact that it stands parallel to the singular ‘hand’ in the expression ‘adultery with the hand or with the foot’. It is this pair ‘hand/foot’ which supplies the essential hermeneutical bridge that allows the rabbinic exegesis to appeal to Exod 20.14//Deut 5. 18 as a prohibition against masturbation.

13 See, e.g., the material cited in Moore, , Judaism, 2: 267–8;Michaelis, Wilhelm, ‘όϕθαλμός’, TDNT 5: 376; and Str-B 1:298–301.

14 Cf. Beyer, , Syntax, cited above in n. 10.

15 See n. 1 above.

16 E.g., Bultmann, , Synoptic Tradition, 26.

17 Cf. n. 28 below.

18 Cited above in n. 2.

19 On the idea that the right hand is the more important of the two hands see Lohmeyer, Matthäus, 128 n. 1. The first century Latin epigrammatist Martial, in any case, speaks of masturbation as done with the left hand: Martial, Epigrams, 9. 41; 11. 73.

20 Hommel, , ‘Herrnworte’ 57; similarly Koester, ‘Quintilian’ 151–2, 153.

21 Koester, , ‘Quintilian’ 152.

22 See ibid., 152–3.

23 Ibid. It is true that Koester also appeals to the Markan context itself, maintaining that ‘Mark 9. 42, the command not to offend the little ones, is a rule for the community’ (153). But since his purpose is to establish the original meaning of Mark 9. 43–47, and since he began his investigation by stating that ‘the context in Mark does not give any clue, because the connection with the preceding saying about “not offending little ones” (Mark 9. 42) is secondary’ (151), this is a non sequitur.

24 von Wahlde, Urban C., ‘Mark 9. 33–50: Discipleship: The Authority that Serves’, BZ 29 (1985) 59.

25 For the concept, ‘adultery with the eye’, cf. Sir 9. 8, 2 Pet 2. 14, Str-B 1:299, and the next note.

26 Cf. the Mekhilta of R. Simeon ben Yohai on Exod 20. 14 (5th cent. C.E.): ‘“Thou shalt not commit adultery.” Neither with hand nor foot nor eye nor mind …’ (cited and trans, in Moore, , Judaism, 2: 268, n. 1).The text is somewhat problematic, however, being reconstructed by David Hoffmann from later medieval sources (Hoffmann, D., Mechilta de-Rabbi Simon b. Jochai: Ein halachischer und haggadischer Midrasch zu Exodus [Frankfort: J. Kauffmann, 1950] 111).These words are not found on any of the actual fragments of the Mekhilta from the Cairo Geniza, although these fragments are incomplete — see Epstein, J. N. and Melamed, E. Z., eds., Mekhilta d'Rabbi Šim b. Jochai (Jerusalem: Sumptibus Hillel Press [1955]) 1534.On the linguistic aspects of associating divorce and remarriage with adultery, see Schaller, J. B., ‘Die Sprüche über Ehescheidung und Wiederheirat in der synoptischen Überlieferung’, in Der Ruf Jesu und die Antwort der Gemeinde, ed. Lohse, Eduard (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck und Ruprecht, 1970) 226–46.

27 For an example of this idea among contemporary Greco-Roman authors, see Musonius Rufus frag. 12, ‘On Sexual Relations’.

28 The only reference to female sexual ethics in these passages is Mark 10. 12. Here I am in agreement with the usual opinion that this verse is a later development of the prohibition in 10.11;see, e.g., Bultmann, , Synoptic Tradition, 132.


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