Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Mark 7:27-Greek people are as lowly as Dogs so I won't heal your sick Syrophenician Daughter

25For a certain woman, whose young daughter had an unclean spirit, heard of him, and came and fell at his feet: 26The woman was a Greek, a Syrophenician by nation; and she besought him that he would cast forth the devil out of her daughter. 27But Jesus said unto her, Let the children first be filled: for it is not meet to take the children's bread, and to cast it unto the dogs. 28And she answered and said unto him, Yes, Lord: yet the dogs under the table eat of the children's crumbs. 29And he said unto her, For this saying go thy way; the devil is gone out of thy daughter.

It's easy to look past this fact, but the synoptic gospels pretty much make Jesus out as a bigot. Or at least as a nationalist, or a Jewish separatist. Now when you look at it, Jesus doesn't say he won't help the woman, just that she's low on his priority list apparently ("the Children" here are the nation of Israel, meaning both the Judeans in the south and anyone the disciples might find of the "lost tribes" of the North.) It's only when the woman says "You're right, I'm a dog," that Jesus relents and heals the little girl.

In any case, he wasn't a big fan of "greeks." Matt 15:21 says the woman is a Canaanite (which means if you insist on infallible Biblical literalism that this was a separate incident and that Jesus pulled this insult out of his bag of tricks at least twice.) He wasn't big on Samaritans (a group of Jews that broke away from the Jerusalem Temple in a disagreement over where sacrifices were supposed to take place, at least one of whom was decent in a parable of Jesus') or Gentiles either (Matt 10:5):

5 These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: “Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans. 6 Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel. 7

Now in context, let's say you're a Jew of that era. Your people have spent the last 300 years under the thumb of the Greeks (since Alexander's conquest of the world) and now the Romans have pretty much bought out that franchise. In recent memory was the reign of Antiochus Epiphanes, who tried to hellenize the Jewish people by outlawing the practice of circumcision. Currently, the Romans keep centurions stationed at the Antonia next to the temple (within mooning distance, anyway, according to Josephus.) Chances are, you aren't going to be too fond of these folks, so maybe we can understand Jesus as a human being here. Still, it's not hard to see why this incident doesn't get a lot of mention in the pulpits on Sunday morning.

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