Mark and Mission

The Wirkungsgeschichte of Mk 7:1-23

In Jewish and Christian Discourse


Dr. Jesper Svartvik

Lund University



Paper to be read at the Studiorum Novi Testamenti Societas

57th General Meeting Durham University, UK, August 6-10, 2002



“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times”

Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities



Introductory Remarks

It is often said that we live in a  “Dickensian era”.[1] The twentieth century held both the worst and the best moments in interfaith relations. On the one hand, the Shoah besmears not only the European continent and modernity, but also Christendom. On the other hand, the post-war inter-religious colloquies—characterised by an hitherto unsurpassed mutual respect and candour—belong to the most promising phases ever in the history of inter-religious relations.

       Needless to say, the growing awareness of the need for a theology of religions—i.e. the articulation of how other religious traditions are to be approached and described in the nomenclature of one’s own religion— influences one’s understanding of the abstruse concept of “mission.” Much ink and a great deal of effort has been devoted to the efforts to provide the word “mission” with new and contemporary definitions. A major obstacle for the inter-religious discussions to take place and for the results of them to be implemented in the wide variety of denominations is the practice of defining oneself and one’s own conviction over against the Other: “We do what they ignore”, “we ignore what they do”. Nowhere is this more obvious than in Jewish-Christian relations. The problem of the vis-à-vis theology is, of course, not restricted to the Jewish-Christian encounter, but it is certainly nowhere as firmly cemented as in this area.

Coming from a European-Lutheran context, I feel a need to mention that Lutheran theology in particular has to consider carefully the implications of the binary pair of opposition: Law vs. Gospel. A vulgarisation of this theological language has had a profound and negative impact upon Christians’ understanding of Judaism; in the words of Fjärstedt: “The law, if not bad, is at least dangerous, because it may tempt you to think that by obeying it you may earn merit in the eyes of God.”[2] Thus, according to this line of thought, Judaism ceases to be an independent religion per se, and becomes a Christian heresy. I am inclined to suggest that the antithesis between Law and Gospel, which has governed so much of Lutheran thinking, in fact, distorts both Judaism and Christianity.

       This paper will focus one specific NT pericope, which has played a significant rôle in the anti-nomistic presentation of Christianity. As a matter of fact, few pericopæ in the NT Gospels can compete with Mk 7:1-23 when it comes to the history of influence in biblical scholarship. Generations of scholars have turned to these twenty-three verses in order to find the message of the historical Jesus and the theology of early Christianity. Indeed, quite a few have even argued that, within these lines, das Wesen des Christentums stands out in its right light; hence this text is often a litmus test not only of how scholars understand the Markan text, but also of how they reconstruct the message of the historical Jesus.

A. Christian Discourse

Since Mk 7:1-23 has played such an extremely influential rôle it is only natural to presume that the pericope played a similar rôle in early Christian writings. However, even a rapid run-through gives a completely different result. As Heikki Räisänen has pointed out, it is remarkable that Mk 7:1-23 on the whole lacks Wirkungsgeschichte.[3] 

       Before listing relevant passages in early Christian texts, it is necessary to consider the importance of food laws in second-temple Judaism. To be sure, not only Judaism had regulations, which governed meals, but Jews were notorious for their persistence in keeping their ancestral food laws, and the prime symbol for their religiously motivated abstinence was pork. John M.G. Barclay argues that, in general, the dietary laws were kept in the Diaspora, at least in what he calls “key respects,” to which pork belonged.[4] The revulsion in second-temple Judaism against forbidden foods, primarily pork, is manifest in the stories of Eleazar, one of the leading teachers of the Law, and of the seven boys and their mother who, rather than transgressing the commandment to abstain from pork, let themselves be executed (2 Macc 6:18-7:42). The earlier version in the Maccabean literature has been elaborated in a later version found in the Babylonian Talmud (b.Git. 57b). In this text the seven boys are tempted to blaspheme by words, rather than by eating pork. Thus, we see here a remarkable development of this moving narrative—while the Maccabean text focuses on what goes into the mouth (i.e. forbidden foods), the talmudic text focuses on what goes out of the mouth (i.e. blasphemy). Hence, both versions of the tradition, in a way, may be understood in relation to the NT saying. While Christians themselves soon had to suffer martyrdom when refusing to make solemn vows to the Roman emperors with words going out of their mouths, church history shows no abundance of Christians who suffer the death of martyrs rather than taking part of forbidden things going into their mouths. For Jews in late antiquity, however, such a distinction cannot be maintained. Therefore, latter-day students should not reduce Jewish food laws to minutæ trivialities of no spiritual meaning whatsoever.

       The Maccabean literature thus testifies to the willingness of contemporary fellow Jews to become martyrs over the food laws. It is no exaggeration to say that the food laws were sealed by the blood of innumerable such martyrs.[5] To bring matters to a head in one sentence: such a bold statement as Mk 7:15 in combination with v. 19b would have put an indelible mark on early Christian literature, were it an original saying of Jesus.[6]

1.  The New Testament

A survey of the earliest history of influence shows a remarkable lack of interpretations of the saying in Mk 7:15. With Räisänen it may be argued that Paul did not refer to an authoritative saying in Rom 14:14. First, nothing in that verse suggests that Paul quotes Jesus and, secondly, Paul’s principal theological source of inspiration is not the teaching of Jesus, but the soteriological implications of his death and resurrection. The Matthean redaction of the Markan pericope is so thorough that not a trace of a Markan anti-nomism can be detected in it. Indeed, the Matthean conclusion in 15:20 emphasises the validity of purity laws.

       In the discussion of the Wirkungsgeschichte of the saying in the Lukan writings a number of questions has to be considered. While Jesus nowhere in the Gospel gives a general statement on food laws, several texts, which have implications for the discussion of food laws, are found in Acts. Peter’s vision-audition in Acts 10, in order to make sense, implies that the Lukan Jesus did not abrogate the food laws. Indeed, the narrative flow in the Lukan presentation makes it impossible for the protagonist in the Gospel to declare all foods clean. We argue that the common denominator in the Apostolic Decree is that all four prohibitions refer to actions which ritually defile and that Luke therefore not only acknowledges purity and impurity categories, but even affirms their remaining validity.

       Finally, it is likely that the discussion of foods in the Pastoral Epistles must be understood in relation to sexual matters and early Christian asceticism. A simplistic word-to word comparison between Mk 7:1-23 and a number of verses in the Pastoral Epistles does justice neither to the width of early Christianity nor to the particular context of the Pastoral Epistles. The Pastoral Epistles mirror an evolving domestication in Christianity withdrawing from the ascetic way of life which partly appears not only in the Synoptic tradition but also in the Thomas tradition to which we now turn.

2.  The Gospel of Thomas

We would like to suggest that logia 6a and 14 should be understood together: It does full justice to the ethical imperative in logion 6b, the questions in logion 6a receives the necessary answers and, similarly, the answers in logion 14 do not hover in the air, but are answers to specific questions. Furthermore, the last part of logion 14 is thus an answer to the fourth question in logion 6a. Thus, all four questions posed in the former logion are answered in the latter logion.

       What are the overarching theological justifications for the attitude to ritual laws in the Thomas tradition? The saying in log. 14 is neither Markan, since it is not related to purity rules per se, nor Matthean, since it is clearly anti-nomistic, nor Lukan, since it is on the lips of Jesus, not Peter or any other representative of the post-resurrection church. log. 14 represents a distinct and separate line of interpretation of this saying.

While many scholars today tend to regard Th as an early para-synoptic—perhaps even pre-synoptic—text, not all scholars are convinced. If Th were a post-synoptic text, which knows and uses the synoptic tradition, we must recognise that—while close to Mt in form—it is tremendously anti-nomistic, far more than is Mk. On the other hand, if Th actually represents a para- or pre-synoptic tradition, we must consider the suggestion that the Th-Mt version—having the wording into and out of the mouth (stovma, tapro)—may well be more original. In both cases the Thomas tradition has proven to be of utmost importance and must not be ignored by the student of the NT.

3.  The Apostolic Fathers

Confining ourselves to merely two of the Apostolic fathers—the First Epistle of Clement and the Epistle of Barnabas—we see that earliest Christianity outside the NT presents two profoundly different applications of the Sinai pericopæ. While Clement prizes Moses for refusing to take part in the creation of a New Israel, Barnabas twists the text in order to prove his point that the New Israel—to which he himself belonged— is a worthy successor to the old and obsolete Israel.

       We suggest that 1 Clem. 15 should be understood as part of the Wirkungsgeschichte of Mk 7:1-23. If this be the case, it is striking that Clement avoids both the anti-nomism of the Markan parallel and the anti-Pharisaic touch of Matthew. Clement’s epistle shows us that Isa 29:13 may be used not only in inter-religious polemics, but also in intra-religious parænesis.

       Barnabas was spurred by a burning desire to convince the readers that the covenant could not possibly enclose both “them” and “us.” There is no hint in Barn. that the author knew the tradition that Jesus declared the food laws void and null, but, on the other hand, such a text would not appeal to him since, according to his theology, the food laws were actually never in force. Instead Barnabas argues that there never was a divine intention that the laws be interpreted literally.

       In sum, the two texts, which both were part of the Christian canon for a period, are amazingly different in theology and tone and may well make up the very edges of the debate in early Christianity on these matters. In neither text do we find a theology in which Jesus declared all foods clean. Thus, there is no Wirkungsgeschichte of Mk 7:15 (as understood in 19b) in the writings of the Apostolic fathers.

4.  The Early Church Fathers

While in no way exhaustive, this paper endeavours to highlight the broad variety of principal theological interpretations of the enigmatic statement from Justin to John Chrysostom, i.e. during c. 250 years.[7]

4.1.  Justin (c. 100-c. 165) [8]

The literature on Justin from Neapolis—Nablus of today—is vast and we need not go into a thorough discussion of settled as well as yet unsettled questions concerning Justin of history or intended readership of his Dialogus cum Tryphone.[9] Nor is it necessary to treat Trypho as an historical figure. As we see it, he is primarily a literary character in the hands of Justin, the almighty author.[10] Trypho of the dialogue is a Jew who has fled from the second revolt against the Romans (132-135) and Justin composed the text presumably in the mid-second century (c. 155-160).[11]

       One of the chief purposes of Iustini Martyris Dialogus cum Tryphone is to present Jesus as the new lawgiver, who is not only predicted in the Scriptures, but also in a certain sense makes void the parts of Scriptures which Jewish tradition has understood as binding halakhah. According to Justin, the grace has been transferred to the Christians—the New Israel—and imperfect signs, e.g. circumcision, have been replaced by perfect ones, e.g. baptism. Although it seems reasonable to assume that Justin was acquainted with at least parts of the Markan-Matthean tradition, there is nowhere in the Dialogue a hint of the parabolic saying, the subject of this investigation. The shift from Vetus Israel to Novus Israel and the abolishment of Jewish halakhah are not the results of the teachings of Jesus—in a sentence, there is no Wirkungsgeschichte of Mk 7:15 in Justin’s Dialogue with Trypho.

4.2.  Clement of Alexandria (died no later than c. 215) [12]

In the texts handed down to posterity, Clement of Alexandria refers to the Markan-Matthean saying in two ways.[13] In the first context, he connects the statement with quotations from both Pauline and Lukan texts. The consequence of these combinations is that the Lukan understanding overshadows the Markan. When the official cleansing is postponed until apostolic times (see Acts 10), the Markan conclusion in Mk 7:19b is severely weakened. Thus, we fail to see that Clement uses the statement as the decisive dominical saying which once and for all settled the issue. Rather, the statement is used merely as support of the more weighty reasons.

       The second application of the saying is undoubtedly even less Markan in nature. In the warnings against evil speech in both Pædagogus and Stromata, Clement uses the latter half of the saying; i.e. he stresses that what goes out of the mouth defiles a person. Hence, we fail to see that the writings of Clement of Alexandria constitute a vehicle for the typical Markan accent of the saying—there is no Wirkungsgeschichte of Mk 7:15.

4.3.  Tertullian (died after 220) [14] 

Tertullian applies the saying to two different contexts. In De patientia he emphasises the second part in the saying (“what goes out of the mouth”) when giving a word of caution of the dangers of evil speech. In the other text, De jejunio adversus psychicos, composed during the period of transition to Montanism, he lays stress on the first part of the saying (“not what goes into the mouth”) in order to distinguish between, on the one hand, his own reasons for abstaining from certain foods and, on the other hand, those who advocate perpetual abstinence. He is eager to emphasise that it is not contempt of the world which motivates his fasting.[15]

       None of the two works we have discussed belongs to his famous apologetic and dogmatic corpora. Instead, both are examples of his corpus of disciplinary texts on moral and ascetical topics. Eric Osborn has pointed out that the tone and style became more strident in Tertullian’s later writings.[16] In a way, Tertullian’s interpretation of the saying may be seen as a litmus paper displaying this development from patientia to the adversus psychicos.

4.4.  Origen (185-253) [17]

There are evidently two separate lines of thought in Origen’s texts on Mk 7:1-23/Mt 15:1-20. On the one hand, Jesus does not oppose the Law, only the traditions of the elders. Indeed, the antagonists could not bring a charge against him in regard to the Law. Origen explicitly states that both Jesus and his disciples kept the commandments as long as Jesus lived. Instead the observant Jesus accuses the Pharisees and the scribes of transgressing the commandments of God, which he himself obeys. According to the other line of thought, the Jews misinterpret the Scriptures. The true interpretation of the food laws is not literal, but spiritual. Do these two lines of thought ever cross? No, one relates to the behaviour of Jesus, the other to the Jews’ intellectual understanding of the Scriptures. Origen states that it would be wrong to accuse Jesus of transgressing the Law—neither he nor his disciples ever transgressed it—but after the sufferings of Jesus, the Jews are ridiculed—being in bondage to the Law—for doing exactly what Jesus did. In sum, there is a fundamental inconsistency in Origen’s evaluation of (a) Jesus’ observance of the Law and (b) Jewish observance of it after his death. We see the discrepancy between, on the one hand, Contra Celsum and, on the other hand, Comm. in Matthæum. As a matter of fact, the inconsistency is met in the commentary itself as we have attempted to point out. He tries to have it both ways, but can one have one’s cake and eat it? An answer to this question in conformity with theological conventions would be that the Law had its time of authorisation until the cross was raised on Calvary. Thus, there are two aeons: while in the first Jesus accuses his adversaries for not keeping the commandments, in the second the Jews are blamed for observing the Law. Be it as it may, the important thing is to establish that the shift of paradigms took place not when Jesus uttered the cardinal saying, but when he was nailed to the cross. Origen proved to be the church father who hitherto more than any one else quoted Mk 7 and Mt 15 as proof-texts for a non-observance of the Jewish food laws. We may, thus, for the first time speak of a Wirkungsgeschichte of the Matthean statement and of Mk 7:19b, but we have also seen that the picture, which emerges from Origen’s writings, is more complex than one may think at a first glance. For not withstanding his use of the cardinal saying, the event which for him cancelled the food laws was not that saying but the cross. In a sentence, there is a Wirkungsgeschichte, but not the Wirkungsgeschichte one might expect.

4.5.  Novatian (died c. 258) [18]

On the whole, it is striking how seldom Novatian forwards quotations from the Gospels and how obvious is his preference for corpus paulinum. There is, however, one sentence in De cibis Judaicis which is of particular interest for this investigation:


Deus uentre non colitur nec cibis, quos Dominus dicit perire et in secessu naturali lege purgari.


God is worshipped by neither belly nor foods, which the Lord says [will] perish and are purged by natural law in the privy.[19]


It is the latter half of the sentence in which we take an interest. The expression is similar to Mt 15:17 (“… et in secessum emittitur?”) and even more so to Mk 7:19 (“… et in secessum exit, purgans omnes escas?”). One may certainly call this a reference to—maybe even a vague quotation of—a part of Mk 7/Mt 15, but we do need to point out that it is all the more striking that the parabolic saying of Jesus (Mk 7:15/Mt 15:11) is proposed nowhere in the entire treatise in favour of the author’s understanding of the Jewish food laws.

       Novatian argues that the scriptural food laws must be understood spiritually rather than literally. He puts forward a series of arguments: it is pure blasphemy to suggest that parts of God’s creation be impure, the manners of the animals constitute a mirror of human life in order to exhort us to a moral conduct, spiritually understood the food laws may function as means of moderation for Christians and—finally—since Christ is the end of the Law, he has disclosed all the obscurities in it. We suggest that the motif for his writing the treatise is not Jewish halakhah, but rather contemporary Christian deprecation of the creation. We may detect a possible allusion to Mk 7:19 and/or Mt 15:17, but there is not even a hint to the saying of Jesus in Mk 7:15/Mt 15:11—thus, there is no Wirkungsgeschichte of the parabolic statement in Novatian’s De cibis Judaicis.

4.6.  Gregory Thaumaturgus (died c. 270 ) [20]

In a canonical epistle to an unknown bishop, Gregory quotes Mt 15:11 in the first paragraph. The reason for his writing the epistle was the invasion of Pontus by Goths and Borades between the years 254 and 258. The question was whether it was permissible for Christians who had been taken prisoner to eat whatever the conquerors set before them. Some feared that the foods might have been sacrificed to idols. Gregory opens his letter by stating that foods are no burden for us (sc. Christians) and refers to 1 Cor 6:13 and Mt 15:11. The Matthean saying is introduced by a Markan statement:  jAlla; kai; oJ Swth;r oJ pavnta kaqarivzwn ta; brwvmata (the Saviour also…). Thus, this letter constitutes an exception from the practice reported in early Christian literature on this topic, because, generally there is one exception from the rule of Christian freedom, i.e. they are not allowed to eat foods which has previously been offered to idols. We cannot be sure that this actually is Gregory’s interpretation of the saying, however, since one of his arguments is that the conquerors are not known for sacrificing to idols and that, in consequence, one may presume that the food ration to the prisoners had not been exposed to such behaviour. Thus, in the final analysis we must state that it is more a matter of the rare occurrence of sacrificial customs of the Goths and Borades than of a new interpretation of the writings of Paul and Matthew.

       In the same canon Gregory also writes concerning those women who have had sexual intercourse with the occupiers. Whereas he states that some women would have lived a wanton life also when not imprisoned, he argues that those who have previously lived in the utmost chastity can in no way be blamed for having been raped and adduces Deut 22:26f. as a proof-text for exculpating them.

       In his canonical epistle Gregory does see the Matthean saying as an act of cleansing. He first quotes Paul (ÔO de; ∆Apovstolo" fhsi) and then draws attention to the fact that the Saviour also had cleansed all foods (kai; oJ Swthvr)—thus, a Markan interpretation of the Matthean version of the saying. In the end, however, Gregory Thaumaturgus did not to prove to be as radical in relation to scriptural legislation as one may suspect. He argues that Deuteronomistic laws are applicable in times of war and that prison food may be eaten not because absolutely all foods are clean, but rather because the risk that they had been subject to improper actions was minimal.

4.7.  Athanasius (295-373) [21]

Since our chief concern in this paper is to illuminate the influence a particular NT saying has exerted upon the early church fathers, the following survey will be restricted to the single most relevant text of the famous Alexandrian bishop and leave aside his highly influential Orationes as well as his festal epistles.[22] 

       Athanasius refers to the saying in the short, yet significant letter to Ammoun, written in the early three hundred and fifties. It is fascinating to note that the letter gives us not one but, in fact, two interpretations of the saying. From the content of the letter we may conclude that the topic on the agenda was not whether the food laws in the Scripture should be observed, but whether natural excretions render a man unclean.[23] An unknown number of Egyptian ascetics, well-versed in the Scriptures, evidently interpreted the saying not as an exhortation to lenience concerning food laws (“what goes in”), but to austerity concerning nocturnal emissions (“what goes out”), and one must admit that they did have something of a biblicist case there. If celibacy were preferred to marriage and if sensuous dreams were understood as coming from the heart, one may very well draw the conclusion that nocturnal emissions—proceeding as they do from the heart and going out of man—may render a person unclean.[24] Hence, we have come across proof that a group of Christians at the time of Athanasius (i.e. fourth century) argued that the saying, actually, reinforced Levitical purity laws—in Lev 15:16 words for “going out” are actually being used: tmh (MT) and ejxevrcesqai (LXX). Jewish tradition has understood this verse as referring to involuntary emission of semen.[25] 

       How does Athanasius respond to this line of thought? His counter-argument is threefold: in the first place, he asserts that those who argue that the statement may be used as a justification for upholding purity categories have twisted the saying. We cannot know which version of the saying the opponents of Athanasius used—the only thing we do know is that the version in the letter to Ammoun is less Matthean than usual. In our survey we have already seen that the early church fathers often quote the verse with the distinctive Matthean word stovma, but this word is actually absent in the letter to Ammoun. It goes without saying that the Matthean expression ejk tou' stovmato" would render their interpretation invalid. Thus, the opponents seem to have used a more Markan version than we are used to, but they interpreted the verse in a distinctly non-Markan way. Athanasius counters by stating that they actually distort the Gospel (parafevrousi kai; rJhto;n eujaggelikovn). He explains that the divine intention ( “Ecei de; to; qei'on ou{tw lovgion) is that it refers to foods (peri; brwmavtwn). Then he quotes the saying a second time—once again without the word stovma which, indeed, would have strengthened his case. The statement was uttered in order to dispel their ignorance, that is to say, sequester deceitfulness (… luvwn aujtw'n th;n a[gnoi>an, h] g∆ ou\n th;n ajpavthn dhmosieuvwn). Thus, in contrast to his opponents, Athanasius understands the saying as an annulment of food laws. His second argument is that Paul teaches the same thing as did Jesus before him, however more concisely (Suntomwvteron). Does he actually mean that the saying of Jesus is obscure and that Paul is more to the point? Yes, so its seems. After all, we must remember that it is the dominical saying which, according to Athanasius, is misunderstood by his opponents. He goes on to quote 1 Cor 8:8—food will not commend Christians to God—and transfers the sense into his own context when stating that a natural emission (fusikhv ti" e[kkrisi") will not bring anyone closer to punishment (pro;" timwrivan). Thirdly, Athanasius pins his hopes on medical experts (pai'de" ijatrw'n) who hopefully (Tavca dev…) will support his assertion that it is necessary and natural to secrete superfluity from e.g. hair, head, belly and seminative channels.

       We find in Athanasius’ letter to Ammoun two irreconcilable examples of a Wirkungsgeschichte of Mk 7/Mt 15. This doubleness in itself indicates that there was no one interpretation of the enigmatic saying. We cannot say how many held the opinion of the opponents, but we do know that the adherents were sufficiently numerous and sufficiently influential to compel Athanasius to write an entire letter because of their interpretation of the dominical saying.

4.8.  Basil of Cæsarea (c. 330-379) [26] 

Although Basil of Cæsarea wrote a considerable number of books on a variety of topics, it is only in Ta; hjqikav that he makes extensive use of the saying. In the thirty-third rule Basil seems to use the saying in relation to an on-going discussion whether Christians should abstain from the Eucharist. This is also the primary application of the saying in the perhaps pseudepigraphical Peri; baptivsmato". In the twelfth rule Basil refers to Mk 7 when briefly commenting on the necessity to give up human traditions in order to obey God’s commandments, but he never interacts with e.g. food laws, so we may conclude that on the agenda was an intra-Christian discussion about Christian traditions vs. God’s commandments. In Peri; nhsteiva" a Matthean-like version of the saying is used in order to warn against evil speech. In a sentence, we failed to see in the writings of Basil a clear-cut application of the saying as a total invalidation of the biblical food laws.

4.9.  Gregory of Nyssa (c. 335-c. 394) [27]

Gregory of Nyssa uses a Matthean-like version of the saying twice in his homilies on the Song of Songs. While the quotation in the prologue obviously serves the purpose of advancing the allegorical method, the same saying in the fifth homily is more specifically directed against interpreters of the Bible who practise circumcision and observe the laws of the Sabbath and foods. Thus, Gregory’s very dispatching of literal hermeneutics proves that the issue was not yet settled—not everyone was convinced that allegory was the best way to understand the biblical texts, nor that allegorical interpretation of the Scripture necessarily invalidated a literal one. But Gregory himself in his fifth homily on the Song of Songs, composed c. 390 C.E. applies the Matthean version of the saying in a clearly Christian context as a proof-text for a non-observance of the biblical commandments.

4.10.  Amphilochius of Iconium (died after 394) [28]

Unfortunately many of the writings of Amphilochius of Iconium are lost and the one which we will examine below—Contra hæreticos has been handed down to posterity with neither beginning nor end. It was probably composed during the period 373-381. Since it seems likely that Amphilochius in the lost introduction presented the heretics he opposed, we do well not to try to establish exactly which were these groups, but we do know that he turns upon ascetics who repudiated marriage, wine, certain foods—inter alia egg—and the Eucharist.[29]

       Amphilochius states that neither of the two testaments (palaia; diaqhvkh and kainh; diaqhvkh) presents evidence prohibiting indulgence in these respects. Of his LXX quotations from the Pentateuch, fifteen are from Gen, one, respectively, from Ex (21:17) and Lev (2:11) and none from neither Num nor Deut. Hence, since Amphilochius does not comment upon the lists on forbidden foods in the Pentateuch, we may conclude that his antagonists did not draw upon Scriptural texts in favour of their position. In other words, the groups which abstained from marriage, wine, certain foods and the Eucharist should be understood as neither Jews nor Judaizers, but as Christian ascetics. The NT texts advanced by Amphilochius in relevant paragraphs are mainly from the Pastoral Epistles and Acts 15. In the twenty-third chapter, he quotes the saying with a strikingly Markan touch:


Kai; ejn eJtevrw/ aujto;" oJ kuvrio": Ouj ta; eijsporeuovmena koinoi' to;n a[nqrwpon, ajlla; ta; ejk th'" kardiva" ejkporeuovmena, tau'ta miaivnei to;n a[nqrwpon.


From considerations of space we are unfortunately prevented from giving a detailed description of all the NT passages Amphilochius uses in this paragraph—thirteen in sum. Suffice it to mention that he combines Synoptic and Pauline material in order to show that Christ and the Apostles both by words and deeds invalidated the position of Amphilochius’ opponents—and with such a company, Amphilochius argues that if they persevere in their heresy, they will fight against God and oppose the truth (Tiv" tolmhvsei e[ti qeomach'sai kai; th'/ ajlhqeiva/ ajntisth'nai;).

       Amphilochius takes pains to demonstrate that the asceticism of his opponents is unfounded and the saying from Mk 7/Mt 15 is but a brick in this building. He obviously sees no reason to enter into a discussion whether the LXX food laws are in force. While we acknowledge that only few of Amphilochius’ writings have been handed down to posterity, we must, nevertheless, draw the conclusion that the saying from Mk 7/Mt 15 does not play a rôle of importance in his argumentation. He never states that the saying per se is an invalidation of the biblical food laws, since neither he nor his opponents ever saw them as valid.

4.11.  John Chrysostom (died 407) [30]

Chrysostom quotes the Matthean form of the saying once in the famous course of sermons, De statuis ad populum Antiochenum. A riot had risen in Antioch in 387, whereby the citizens had treated statues of the emperor and his family disrespectfully and were facing the most severe imperial retaliation one can possibly imagine—total extinction.[31] In the third homily Chrysostom expands on true fasting. It is not so much a matter of abstaining from food, as withdrawing from sinful practices (aJmarthmavtwn ajnacwvrhsi").[32] Not only should one fast with one’s stomach, but also the ears and the mouth should fast. Such a fasting consists in refusing to receive evil speakings and calumnies and abstaining from disgraceful speeches and railing:


Nhsteuevtw kai; ajkohv: nhsteiva de; ajkoh'" mh; devcesqai kakhgoriva" kai; diabolav": ∆Akoh;n ga;r mataivan mh; paradevxh/, fhsiv. Nhsteuevtw kai; stovma ajpo; rJhmavtwn aijscrw'n kai; loidoriva".


Let the ear fast also. The fasting of the ear [consists in] refusing to receive evil speakings and calumnies. It says: you shall not receive an idle report (Ex 23:1). Let the mouth fast also from disgraceful words and railing.[33]


Thus, he exhorts his contemporary listeners and readers to expel from their mouth all slander and refers a few paragraphs below to the cardinal saying: Ouj ga;r ta; eijsercovmena koinoi' to;n a[nqrwpon, ajlla; ta; ejxercovmena ajpo; tou' stovmato".[34] It is noteworthy that Chrysostom, by using the word stovma only in the second part, emphasises the parænetic aspect of the saying. As he presents the statement its main purpose is to dissuade listeners and readers from evil speech. In other words, Chrysostom uses the Matthean version of the saying in a very Matthean and, indeed, rabbinical way (cf. the terminus technicus [rh    ˆwçl).

Chrysostom uses the saying in several ways. In polemical contexts against Jews and Judaizers—but not in the texts which deal with those questions exclusively—he interprets the saying as an annulment of the biblical food laws. In the heat of the debate he emphasises the first part of the saying—nothing which goes into the mouth makes a person impure. In other contexts, he stresses the second part instead—it is what goes out of the mouth which makes a person impure. Thus, in parænetical congregational life the saying becomes a warning against deadly and hurtful evil speech. In other words, in this case he drops the Markan hypertext and interprets the Matthean text more on its own terms.

4.12.  Conclusions: The Early Church Fathers

Texts written by a dozen authors during a period of some 250 years have been analysed above. Considering the vastness of the corpus patristicum it is quite remarkable that it has been possible to present this summary in a few pages, in itself an indication of the comparatively insignificant rôle the church fathers gave this saying. When they did discuss it they often emphasised its relative sense; i.e. they interpreted not only the first part, but also the second part. Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian and John Chrysostom saw in the latter part of the saying a critique of evil speakers.

       Another observation from the previous discussion is that the range of interpretations constitutes a striking reminder of the enigmatic character of the saying. The best example of its vagueness is, no doubt, the correspondence between Athanasius and Ammoun as late as the fourth century.   

A third remark is related to Origen’s discussion of the saying. We saw that he emphasised that while the historical Jesus did not oppose the Law, post-Golgatha Christians, nevertheless, need not keep the Jewish Law, since Jesus, through his sufferings on the cross (and not through the cardinal saying! ), liberated his disciples from the curse of the Law. Thus, in a fascinating way he outlines a Law-abiding Jesus within the boundaries of first-century Judaism, but also a justification for Christians’ not observing Jewish halakhah. He tried to have it both ways, but can one?

B. Jewish Discourse

When the saying is understood in a relative sense, both parts of the sayings are interesting and need a thorough investigation. With such an emphasis, the essence of the saying is that it serves as a warning against evil speech. The sages were certainly aware of the prevalence of evil speech:


         grv iuakc kfvu ,uhrgc yughnu kzdc cur cr rnt vsuvh cr rnt


R. Judah said in the name of Rav: Most [people are guilty] of robbery, a minority of unchastity and all of evil speech (grv  iuak).[35]


Our aim is to trace, from the biblical epoch to the rabbinical period, the development of an aggadic figure, the metaphor of grv  iuak  (“the evil tongue,” “evil language” or “evil speech”)[36] in order to determine whether this and related aggadic teachings constitute a not only possible but also plausible ipsissima structura Jesu for the cardinal saying in Mk 7:15.[37]

1.  The Hebrew Bible

There are in the Hebrew Bible a large number of admonitions and prohibitions of evil speech. The most common expression in biblical times was “a lying tongue” (rEa iuak).[38] Probably the most outright ban on evil speech is found only two verses above the great commandment in Lev (19:16: lhngc khfr lk, tk).[39] 

2.  The Septuagint

In Sirach it becomes obvious that eventually religious writers found it necessary to extend the warnings of perilous speech. They wanted to dissociate themselves not only from untruthful speech, but also utterances which may be true, but are uttered in order to hurt other persons. Sirach 19 deals with gossiping in general—it admonishes the readers not to repeat a conversation (19:7a: mhdevpote deuterwvsh/" lovgon) but rather to let it die within oneself (19:10: ajkhvkoa" lovgon sunapoqanevtw soi qavrsei ouj mhv se rJhvxei). Rabbinic Judaism chose another expression for such discourse, i.e. “the evil tongue” (grv iuak) which speaks (a) what is not true and (b) true things which ought not to be said due to consideration for the one whom the speech concerns. In a word, grv iuak is the usage of language in a damaging way.[40] This conclusion is supported by the absence of the expression rEa iuak—being only (a) above—in the tannaitic corpus.

       Whereas numerous verses in the Hebrew Bible and the LXX do discuss the topic of evil speech, most of these are to be found in the wisdom literature but, as is well-known, rabbinic Judaism takes as a starting-point verses in the Torah, not the prophets or the writings. Therefore, these admonitions against evil speech in the wisdom literature have not played a decisive rôle in the rabbinic corpus. Instead, rabbinical literature sorted out a few master-stories in the Pentateuch in order to support their discourses against evil speech.

3.  Tannaitic Literature

2.1. General Admonitions

A group of pericopæ which narrates the failure of the spies sent into the Land (Num 13f.) became one of the most important master-stories in the Torah. The spies decided to bring an unfavourable report of the Land which they had spied out (Num 13:32: ktrah hbc kt v,t ur, rat .rtv ,cs uthmuhu). This results in God’s wishing to terminate the covenant and start all over again with Moses alone by making him the leader of a nation greater and mightier than Israel. Once more, however, Moses’ intercession on behalf of Israel saves his people, but no one, except Caleb, who had seen the glory of God and the signs in Egypt and the wilderness, shall enter the land. The rabbis saw in these two chapters an incitement to discourse against unfavourable speech.[41]

        Thus, grv iuak ultimately causes the Heavenly Presence (vbhfa) to depart. It must also be noted that evil speech in this pisqa is mentioned together with the three cardinal sins, a fact which brings us to the fifth text, yet another passage in the Tosefta. The paragraph from t.Peah 1:2 is highly relevant since it contains the perhaps most amazing statement about evil speech in the whole tannaitic corpus:[42]


vsucg kg tcv okugc uk ,nhhe irevu vzv okugc ostv in ihgrpb ohrcs ukt kg

:okuf sdbf grr iuak kgu ohns ,ufhpa kgu ,uhrg hukd kgu vrz


For these things they punish a person in this world, while the main [punishment] remains for the world to come: idolatry, incest, murder and evil speech, [which is] accounted equal to all of them together (okuf sdbf).[43]


Thus, grv  iuak is a well-established terminus technicus as early as in tannaitic times and that it was considered to be a most serious transgression. In some of these tannaitic texts grv  iuak is compared to idolatry, bloodshed and incest and actually considered as appalling as the three cardinal sins together—sins which cause the Heavenly Presence to depart! We now turn to what is undoubtedly the most important master-text in rabbinic discourse on evil speech.

2.2. Impure Speech

In Num 12 Miriam, assisted by Aaron, spoke against Moses on account of the Cushite woman whom he had married. As a punishment for this behaviour Miriam was struck by a scale disease (,Grm) usually translated as “leprosy.”[44] It is, however, inappropriate to choose the word “leprosy” when translating ,Grm into Modern English.[45] It is better either to keep the Hebrew word and simply transliterate it (tsara‘at) or to choose a descriptive expression: “scale disease” (Milgrom), “defiling afflictions” (Klawans) or “repulsive scaly skin disease” (Hulse).[46] From considerations of space we choose the shortest translation and will in the following either use the Hebrew word (,Grm) or Milgrom’s term “scale disease.”

The rabbis had here a text which clearly stated that, as a result of evil speech, Miriam was struck by the disease, Aaron lost his prophetic gift and Israel’s arrival in the Land was delayed. Even the Torah itself indicated that this pericope has a paradigmatic function. Although the original meaning of the hypertextual comment in Deut 24:9—requesting the readers not to forget what God did to Miriam in the wilderness on the way out of Egypt (ohrmnn of,tmc lrsc ohrnk lhvkt vuvh vag rat ,t rufz)—may not have been that one should avoid evil speech, eventually it nevertheless was interpreted in this way. Thus, the interplay between Num 12:1-16 and Deut 24:9 led to Miriam’s being the warning example par excellence of what may happen due to evil speech. As early as in tannaitic times, Miriam is the prototype of malicious gossip.

       It does seem that the real disease at an early stage was moved to the periphery while the rabbis in general, and R. Jochanan in particular, kept in focus only the symbolic function of the scale disease. The term ,Grm was put on an abstract, theological and pedagogic level.

In my book Mark and Mission I have listed and discussed eleven tannaitic texts all dealing with the perils of evil speech. I suggest that three Torah texts in particular stood out in the rabbinic references to the Bible: Num 12, Num 13f. and Deut 22. Much can be said about the benefits and the detriments of the metaphors being used—especially when we consider the tragic sense of guilt among the afflicted—but let it suffice now to sum up in three points what we have seen. First, there can be no doubt that the exhortations against evil speech in tannaitic times had called forth a specific terminus technicus, i.e. grv iuak, which is wider in definition than the biblical expression rea iuak since it comprises both true and untrue gossip. Secondly, it was seen that the rabbis were of the opinion that grv iuak was one of the most grave sins with lethal consequences. Indeed, they did not hesitate to compare it to the three cardinal sins (i.e. idolatry, incest and bloodshed) which cause the Heavenly Presence to depart and even state that evil speech is as appalling as the three other sins together. Thirdly, as early as in tannaitic literature, distinct proofs were found of a special connection between malicious speech and an impure scale malady. In the aggadic realm, some rabbis said that the plagues which make a person ritually impure come only because of evil speech. In one sentence, tannaitic aggadic texts teach that sinful speech renders a person impure. Now we must stress that this is not an halakhic saying—there are in the rabbinic corpus no purification ceremonies for evil speakers.[47]

C.  General Conclusions

In this paper it has been argued that the saying is best understood in a relative sense (not so much… as) rather than in an absolute sense (nothing…). Those looking for a credible ipsissima structura Jesu in pre-Markan times must investigate the world of ideas in first-century Judaism in order to find relevant motifs also for the second part of the saying.[48] We have taken pains to demonstrate that the concept of evil speech (grv  iuak) furthers our understanding of the cardinal saying in Mk 7:15.

       In our condensed survey of the trajectory from Scriptura to Rabbinica of the aggadic concept of evil speech it was found that this extraordinarily significant and essential concept can be related to the cardinal saying in Mk 7:15. As early as in tannaitic times, the biblical figure of Miriam was understood as the prototype of the gossip.

       Characters from the Hebrew Bible are often referred to in the Gospels:[49] e.g. Adam,[50] Jonah,[51] Abraham,[52] Isaac,[53] Jacob,[54] Rachel,[55] Joseph,[56] Moses,[57] David[58] and Solomon.[59] In one of the Lukan pericopæ about the coming of the Kingdom readers and listeners are asked to remember the fate of Lot’s wife: mnhmoneuvete th'" gunaiko;" Lwvt.[60] In other words, the Lukan Jesus refers to a scriptural passage in order to highlight the importance and correctness of his statement: — Behold, what I am saying is vital. Remember what happened to Lot’s wife!

       What happens if we connect the cardinal saying in 7:15 with the figure of Miriam, the biblical arch-slanderer? We may—tentatively—insert Deut 24:9 (“Remember what the Lord your God did to Miriam on your journey out of Egypt.”) after the saying, for the purpose of testing a new intertextuality.

The issue at stake is the “re-contexting” which Daniel Boyarin et alii have pointed out to be so characteristic of ancient Jewish discourse. Indeed, Boyarin defines midrash as “reading by ‘re-contexting’.”[61] By associating scriptural verses with other scriptural verses proof-texts are rewoven into new intertexts.[62] In other words, what may seem to some readers to be nothing but a playful fantasy is, as a matter of fact, one of the most ancient Jewish interpretative modes that we know. Hence, Jewish hermeneutics actually calls for this approach of combining texts:


Then he called the crowd again and said to them: “Listen to me, all of

you and understand: it is not so much what goes into a person [or the

mouth] which defiles, but what comes out of the person [or the mouth]

Cf. Mk 7:14f. and

Mt 15:10f.

which defiles. Remember what the Lord your God did to Miriam on your journey

 out of Egypt.”

Deut 24:9


When the saying is understood in this way, the Nazarene calls the crowds to him, gives them a comparative saying, in which both parts of the saying are valid and in which emphasis is put not on the first part only, but on the second part as well. The real danger is what goes out of a person—or, as Matthew (and Thomas) more precisely put it, out of the mouth. In this intertextual re-reading Jesus confirms his teaching by quoting a proof-text from Scripture: Deut 24:9 which refers to Num 12 and, in turn, to contemporary discourse on the perils of evil speech: Remember what happened to Miriam when she gossiped!

       Another important issue is that if only one of the parts is valid, a convincing comparison cannot take place. It is pointless to compare something important to something utterly meaningless. In contrast, to state that something is even more important than something which definitely is important is a more striking—and, therefore, all the more convincing— manner of speaking (The members of a Christian community, in which the Eucharist is central, would not understand the “not in, but out“-saying as an abrogation of the Eucharist, but as an ethical intensification!).

It might interest the present reader that there is an allusion to the cardinal saying at a Jewish orthodox web-site. The purpose is to remind those who visit the site to be careful about what they say, i.e. since the saying is referred to in a parænetic context the second part is emphasised:


… R’ Simchah Bunim … gathered a few of the chasidim as traveling companions, and set out on his way. They reached a small wayside inn run by a Jew. Here they stopped. Not knowing the owner, the chasidim asked for a dairy supper. “I am terribly sorry,” the innkeeper apologized, “but I have nothing dairy to serve you. I can only offer meat.” The chasidim began cross-examining him. “Who is your shochet?” “Who certified him to slaughter?” “Does anyone inspect his knives periodically?” “Who kashered the meat?” “Were the animal’s lungs carefully checked “Was the meat properly rinsed after the salting “Is it considered glatt, mehadrin min hamehadrin?” Suddenly, a voice was heard from the corner. Everyone looked and saw a shabbily dressed man sitting behind the stove. “Chasidim!” he said. “You have no end to your questions. You wish to make sure that every single particular is perfectly kosher. You are so careful and meticulous about what goes into your mouths. Tell me, are you also as careful about what comes out of your mouths?”…[63]


This interpretation of the parabolic saying is wholly within the boundaries of Judaism. Certainly the idea that the purpose of the saying was to declare null and void the food laws, is quite alien both to the characters in the narrative and to the person who posted the story on the Internet. Indeed, such an interpretation would destroy the point, i.e. that one should be even more careful about what leaves the mouth than what enters it. This text certainly demonstrates that there is nothing necessarily or intrinsically anti-nomistic in the statement.

Sooner or later, students of the cardinal saying stand at the crossroads: they have to decide whether the parabolic saying is an awkward halakhic statement (cleansing all foods) or a credible aggadic instruction (a warning of the perils of evil speech). The principal purpose of this paper has been to expose the numerous shortcomings of the first alternative and to demonstrate the force of the arguments in favour of the latter.

[1]       E.g. Witte 1999: xi.

[2]       Fjärstedt 2001: 61.

[3]       Räisänen 1986b:209; 1992a:147 and 1992b:59. He is not alone in pointing this out. See e.g. E.P. Sanders 1990a:96: “The subsequent debate on that issue [sc. the Law] in the early church, however (Gal. 2; Rom. 14; Acts 10; 15), makes this the point which may be denied to the historical Jesus with most confidence.” and Davies & Allison 1991: II.528: “...the heated debates in the early church on that very issue just do not make sense.”

[4]       Barclay 1996:436.

[5]       See Marcus 1997:190.

[6]       There is no reason to call into doubt E.P. Sanders’s conclusion that the biblical food laws in general were kept very strictly at the time of Jesus. If the food laws were observed in the Diaspora, how much more in the Land. He writes that such a statement “falls completely outside the limits of debate about the law in first-century Judaism” (E.P. Sanders 1990a:28).

[7]       The following survey will be confined to the church fathers writing in Greek and Latin. We hope that before long we will have the opportunity to carry out an extensive survey of the patristic Wirkungsgeschichte of the cardinal saying in Mk 7:15.

[8]       Altaner & Stuiber 1980:65 and Shotwell 1998:47.

[9]       For lists of references, see Remus 1986:58, n. 1, Trakatellis 1986:287, n. 1, MacLennan 1990:49f., nn. 1-4,  and—more exhaustively—Skarsaune 1996:389f. For a text-critical edition with an introduction, see Marcovich 1997. On Justin’s birth-town Nablus, see Dial. 120:6 and MacLennan 1990:56-69.

[10]      On the literary and/or historical figure of Trypho, see Trakatellis 1986.

[11]      For a discussion of these matters, see e.g. Marcovich 1997:1.

[12]      Altaner & Stuiber 1980:190.

[13]      For a list of lost works, see Altaner & Stuiber 1980:194 and W. Wilson 1989:169.

[14]      Altaner & Stuiber 1980:148.

[15]      For considerations of space we can not enter into the intriguing discussion whether such a distinction actually can be maintained between, on the one hand, depreciators of the worldly sphere and, on the other hand, the author of De spectaculis, De cultu feminarum and De virginibus velandis.

[16]      Osborn 1997:177.

[17]      Crouzel 1989:xi, 2 and Altaner & Stuiber 1980:197.

[18]      On the inscription found in 1932 in San Lorenzo, Romenovatiano beatissimo martyri gaudentius diaconus fecit”), see Vogt 1968:24-27.

[19]      De cibis Jud. 5:9.

[20]      Altaner & Stuiber 1980:211.

[21]      Altaner & Stuiber 1980:271.

[22]      For an introduction to the troublesome and roving life of Athanasius, and to his writings, see e.g. Altaner & Stuiber 1980:271-279, Pettersen 1990 and 1995 (for a bibliography, see pp. xi-xii), Barnes 1993, Brakke 1995 and Carleton Paget 1996c:536-538.

[23]      For once, “man” actually has reference to only half of humankind.

[24]      See Brakke 1995:90-95 for an interesting discussion of early church orders prohibiting the group at issue from receiving the sacrament.

[25]      Cf. Milgrom 1991a:926f. and Levine 1989:96.

[26]      Altaner & Stuiber 1980:290.

[27]      Altaner & Stuiber 1980:303.

[28]      Altaner & Stuiber 1980:308.

[29]      For further discussion about Contra hæreticos, see e.g. Quasten 1997:III.297f. and Datema 1978:xxi-xxiii.

[30]      Altaner & Stuiber 1980:322.

[31]      On these riots, see Baur 1959:I.259-283 and Quasten 1997:III.457.

[32]      De stat., hom. 3 (PG 49f.:53).

[33]      De stat., hom. 3 (PG 49f.:53).

[34]      De stat., hom. 3 (PG 49f.:55).

[35]      b.B.B. 165a.

[36]      While the grammatically correct pronounciation of the terminus technicus ought to be l e shon hara‘, it is not unusual to see the transliteration lashon hara‘. Ashkenazi parænetic literature transliterates loshon hora, e.g. the sub-heading (“A practical guide to the laws of loshon hora”) of Pliskin’s adaption of Chofetz Chayim’s classic grn lbuak rumb (Guard Your Tongue from Evil ), see Pliskin 1975.

[37]      The reconstruction of the trajectory of the metaphor of the “evil tongue” from Scripture to contemporary parænesis is, in itself, the topic for an entire monograph. We hope to return to its both fascinating and pithy imagery in another context. For a concise account, see Larsson 1999:152-154. Cf. the line R.P. Booth 1986:210f. takes in his remark: “… we are aware of no authority in Biblical or Talmudic law for the proposition that evil words defile in a cultic sense.” The following investigation seeks to delineate the connection between evil words and cultic impurity in first-century Judaism.

[38]      See Is 57:4; 59:3; Jer 9:3, 5; Mic 6:12; Ps 109:2; 120:2; Prov 6:17; 12:19; 17:4; 21:6; and 26:28. This expression occurs at least once in the Dead Sea Scrolls, see 4Q381, fragm. 45:5:

 … r]ea iak …

[39]      For a rabbinic application of the text, see m.Sanh. 3:7.

[40]      We owe this definition to Marc Bregman (private correspondence).

[41]      For a fascinating latter-day, yet rabbinic exposition of Num 13f. and b.Sot. 34b-35a relating the biblical and rabbinical texts to leftish intelligentsia, Zionism and the state of Israel, see Levinas 1994:51-69.

[42]      Ed. Zuckermandel.

[43]      Cf. m.Peah 1:1.

[44]      For an analysis of the etymology of the word ,Grm, see Sawyer 1976, who argues that it probably originally was a neutral medical term (p. 245).

[45]      In the first place, the diagnoses presented in the Levitical texts make it obvious that ,Grm cannot possibly be identified with what we call “leprosy,” i.e. Hansen’s disease. It is true that the translators of the LXX did choose the word levpra when translating the Levitical texts into Greek, but it must be pointed out that Greek writers did not apply levpra to Hansens’ disease, but to e.g. “an itchy or powdery thickening of the skin most prevalent in the spring.” (Hulse 1975:88) When discussing Hansen’s disease, the Greek writers used e[lefa" or ejlefantivasi". Thus, the identification of levpra and leprosy is the result of biblical impact, not the postulation of the LXX translators. Indeed, it has even been argued that Hansen’s disease was not even prevalent until the soldiers of Alexander the Great brought the disease to Near East when returning from India (Hulse 1975:88 and Milgrom 1991a:816f.). Secondly, the fact that not only human beings, but also houses and fabrics could contract ,Grm, make it necessary for translators to use several words in order not to let the Bible texts have a ridiculous effect on modern readers. Furthermore, according to some sources, only Israelites—not Gentiles—could suffer this condition. There are, however, other sources which do not limit ,Grm to Israelites only (e.g. Lev.R. 16:1 where the fact is discussed that Pharao was smitten by ,Grm). Taking all these circumstances into account, it is doubtful whether ,Grm should be called a “disease” at all. Thirdly, it is an undisputable fact that lepers throughout history have suffered due to some derogatory testimonies in the Bible. Now if the accounts in the biblical texts do not even fit the medical definitions of Hansen’s disease, it is difficult to see why we should perpetuate such a misnomer. It is worth remembering that leprologists and dermatologists in Israel today, considering it too non-specific, do not use the word ,Grm for Hansen’s disease (Hulse 1975:90, n. 4).

[46]      Milgrom 1991a:775 and 817, Klawans 1997:211, n. 104 and Hulse 1975:104.

[47]      Certainly there is the aggadic suggestion in e.g. b.Arakh. 16a (that the bells on the hem of the high priest’s robe atone for the slanderer), but this is not halakhic purification jurisdiction, but aggadic atonement discourse.

[48]      Cf. E.P. Sanders 1990a:28: “If, of course, we provide a new context for the saying, it can be saved as an authentic logion” (our italics).

[49]      The most comprehensive lists are, of course, the genealogies in Mt 1:1-17 and Lk 3:23-38. An important figure outside the Gospels, but within the NT, is Cain. See 1 Joh 3:12; Jud 1:11; and perhaps also Jh 8:44. For a short discussion of the figure of Cain in theology and literature, see Svartvik 2000. For an exhaustive treatment of how various biblical figures were transformed outside the Bible, see Stone & Bergren 1998.

[50]      Lk 3:38.

[51]      The biblical figure of Joseph is mentioned nine times. See Mt 12:39 and Lk 11:29 for the expression to; shmei'on ∆Iwna' ªtou' profhvtouº.

[52]      His name occurs 30 times in the Gospels, seven times in a triad together with Isaac and Jacob. See esp. the rôle the biblical character of Abraham plays in the polemical discourse in Jh 8 (the only chapter in the entire Gospel where Abraham is mentioned).

[53]      His name occurs eight times.

[54]      His name occurs thirteen times.

[55]      See how elegantly Matthew in 2:18 connects the motif from the Hebrew Bible with his own narrative by quoting a verse in which the name of Rachel occurs.

[56]      Apart from the NT characters by name Joseph (24 occurences), there is only one reference to the biblical figure in Gen, Jh 4:5.

[57]      His name occurs 38 times in the Gospels. See esp. at transfiguration (Mk 9:4f. par.) and in the divorce discussion (Mk 10:3f. par.)

[58]      His name occurs 38 times in the Gospels (only once in Jh).

[59]      He is mentioned six times, for three different reasons: twice in genealogies (Mt 1:6f.), twice for his wisdom (Mt 12:42 and Lk 11:31) and twice for the glory of his days (Mt 6:29 and Lk 12:27).

[60]      Lk 17:31f. referring to Gen 19:26. Cf. 9:62 where the scriptural allusion is absent.

[61]      Boyarin 1986:594f., n. 32.

[62]      Boyarin 1986:596.

[63] (Jan.31,2000).