A Symbolic Approach to Mark 7

Jerome H. Neyrey, S.J.

    1.0. Situating Mark 7
    2.0. Symbolic Anthropological Models.
      2.1. Model One: Purity and Pollution
        2.1.1. Purity Defined
      2.1.2. Purity "Maps"
      2.1.3. Boundaries
      2.1.4. Structures
      2.1.5. Margins
    2.2. Model Two: The Body
      2.2.1. Boundaries
      2.2.2. Structures
      2.2.3. Margins
    3.0. Pharisees, the Jesus Group and Purity Systems
      3.1. The Pharisees and Purity
      3.2. Jesus Groups and Purity
      3.3. Jesus and Israel's Traditions
    4.0. Pharisees, Jesus Groups and Body Symbolism
      4.1. Pharisees and Body Surfaces/Orifices
      4.2. The Jesus Movement and the Heart
    5.0. Purity and the Body: Replication in the Model
    6.0. Works Consulted

1.0. Situating Mark 7

From a literary point of view, Mark 7 is part of a parallel chain of events in chapters 6-8:

1) Feeding of the 5000 Feeding of the 4000

(6:31-44) (8:1-9)

2) Crossing the lake Crossing the lake

(6:45-52) (8:10a)

3) Landing at Gennesaret Landing at Dalmanutha

(6:53-56) (8:10b)

4) Controversy with Pharisees Controversy with Pharisees

(7:1-23) (8:11-13)

5) Dialogue with Syro- Dialogue with the disciples

Phoenician woman about about the bread miracle

bread (7:24-30) (8:14-21)

6) Cure of a deaf-mute Cure of a blind man

(7:31-37) (8:22-26) (Mally 42:38)

Going over the same ground from a slightly different perspective, one scholar argued that behind Mark 6 -- 8 stood a primitive catena of miracle stories arranged in parallel series (Achtemeier 1970). Our interest is in Mark 7, in the material labelled "controversy" (7:1-23). Yet the critical question here is not that of Mally or Achtemeier who focused on issues of redaction and form criticism in their analysis of the origin and development of Mark 6 -- 8. Other questions have been asked of Mark 6 -- 8, such as a question of literary motifs. It is often noted how frequently Mark refers to "breads" in these chapters.

Multiplication of BREADS for 5000 (6:38-44)

Non-understanding of BREADS (6:52)

Eating BREADS with unwashed hands (7:2-5)

Children's BREAD and the dogs (7:27-28)

Multiplication of BREADS for 4000 (8:4-10)

Multiplication of BREADS recalled (8:16-21)

In Jewish wisdom literature, eating BREAD is linked with understanding (6:52; 8:18-21), just as food is linked with Torah (Feuillet 1965: 76-101).

There is another feature of Mark 7, however, which deserves attention. Bodily parts are frequently mentioned in Mark 7, and mentioned in contrasting pairs:

1. hands (washed/unwashed), the occasion of the controversy (7:1-5)

2. in Jesus' response to the Pharisees' challenge, lips are contrasted with heart (7:6-13),

3. under the rubric of "things from without which enter and things from within which go out," bodily surface is contrasted with bodily interior (7:14-16),

4. food is described as not entering the interior of the body, but only the bowels (7:19),

5. things outside the body which enter it are contrasted with things within which come from the heart (7:20-23).

Lips and mouth versus heart, outside of the body versus inside of the body, and surface of the body versus core of the body are images central to the argument of Mark 7. Inasmuch as 7:1-23 is a challenge-riposte exchange between Pharisees and Jesus and his group, the body language symbolizes the differences between the two groups.



1. Pharisees wash hands as well as cups, pots and bowls.

1. Jesus' disciples do not wash their hands or vessels.

2. Pharisees guard the tradition of the elders.

2. Jesus' disciples espouse the Ten Commandments ("Honor thy father and thy mother").

3. Pharisees honor God only with their lips, while their heart is far from God.

3. Jesus' group members honor God from the heart.

4. Pharisees are "surface people," worrying about surfaces only, hence are superficial, hypocrites.

4. Jesus' group members are "core" people, concerned about what is within, hence authentic God-fearers.

5. Pharisees guard their lips against non-kosher foods.

5. Jesus' disciples do not guard their lips against foods.

In some ways, Mark associates Pharisees with lips, mouth, bodily surface, and things outside the body, but Jesus group members with heart, bodily core, and things within. The association of certain people with specific parts of the body is an ancient tradition even in New Testament times; for the physical body has frequently been taken as a metaphor for the social body. Paul's distinction between head/foot, eye/hand, and more important/less important members of the group (1 Cor 12:15-16, 21) was a commonplace in classical rhetoric (Nestle 1927: 350-360).

The issue in Mark 7, however, is not politics but "purity and pollution." Jesus group members are said to eat with polluted hands ("common...that is, unwashed hands," 7:2), while the Pharisees purify hands as well as vessels for food and drink (7:3-4). According to Mark, Jesus obviously differed from the Pharisees over what constitutes a pollution: what comes out of a man versus what goes into him (7:15,18). Piggybacking on his statement that nothing which comes into a man from outside can make him polluted (7:18), Jesus "cleansed all foods" (7:19), that is, made unclean foods non-polluting. Finally, Jesus stated that what truly pollutes is that which comes out of man's heart (7:21-23), not what crosses his lips.

Different questions and viewpoints focus on specific data or aspects of those data. Besides questions of form (miracle catenae) or redaction (parallel sequences) and besides literary questions (cf. "bread" motif) or background issues (bread=torah; eating=understanding), there is the question of body imagery and the issue of purity and pollution. Why is this controversy between Pharisees and Jesus group members localized on bodily parts (lips versus heart) and concerned with purity and pollution? Why is attention focused on the distinctions of lips/heart, surface/interior, and outside the body/inside the body?

2.0. Symbolic Anthropological Models.

This set of questions calls for an investigation of Mark 7 from a new point of view. I propose to study Mark 7:1-23 from the perspective of symbolic or interpretive anthropology, using the works of Mary Douglas to suggest why and how body issues serve to mediate meaning. For a basic question here is why and how body issues are operative in the debate over purity and pollution between Pharisees and Jesus group members. To understand this, we need cross-cultural models to help us appreciate the symbolism of the body, in the context of purity and pollution.

2.1. Model One: Purity and Pollution. The works of Mary Douglas offer a way to understand the references in Mark 7 to clean/unclean through her model of purity and pollution. The New Testament, of course, is not the first culture to concern itself with issues of clean/unclean, sacred/profane, and pure/polluted. In conceptualizing what underlies these cross-cultural distinctions, Douglas starts with an analysis of pollution, which is summarily discussed as "dirt." The key observation is that "dirt" is "matter out of place"; but this implies that there is first a set of ordered relations and then a contravention of that order.

"The idea of dirt implies a structure of idea. For us dirt is a kind of compendium category for all events which blur, smudge, contradict, or otherwise confuse accepted classifications. The underlying feeling is that a system of values which is habitually express in a given arrangement of things has been violated." (Douglas 1975:51).

The labelling of something as "dirty" or polluted, then, implies that there is a system whereby people classify, situate, or organize their world. "Purity" and "pollution" are but the code names for system and its contravention.

2.1.1. Purity Defined. What is a purity system? Cultures embody and express core values, such as "democracy" in the USA, which are structured in the cultural life of group. The core value influences how things are classified and where they are located. It is the overarching rationale for behavior, the principal justification for the shape of the system. The core value, moreover, is replicated throughout the system, giving it direction, clarity, and consistency. What accords with this value and its structural expressions is "pure"; what contravenes it in any way is "polluted."

The core value of Judaism was God's "holiness": "Ye shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy" (Lev 19:2). This phrase, ". . .for I am holy," becomes a refrain echoing through the bible (Lev 11:44,45; 19:2; 20:7,26; 21:28; see 1 Peter 1:16). Douglas sees God's holiness as God's power to bless and to curse, that is, to classify the world: "God's work through the blessing is essentially to create order, through which men's affairs prosper" (1966: 50). When the blessing is withdrawn, confusion occurs, along with barrenness and pestilence (see Deut 28:15-24). God's prime act of blessing occurred in the ordering of the world at its creation:

(1) when time was structured into work days and sabbath rest,

(2) when animals, birds, and fish were created in their pure form (no hybrids, no unclean creatures) and situated in their proper locale (fish: water; birds: air; animals: land),

(3) when the proper diet was assigned each creature,

(4) when the hierarchy of creation was established, with Adam at the top.

Creation, the premier act of ordering and classifying the world, constitutes the original map of holiness; the holy God expressed His holiness through this arrangement. And so subsequent holiness among God's creatures involves "keeping distinct the categories of creation." Holiness, then, expresses God's act of definition, discrimination, and order (Soler 1976: 24-30).

"Be ye holy, as I am holy" becomes the norm which indicates how things in creation should replicate and express the divine order of classification, discrimination, and order. This "holiness" was embodied especially in the central symbol of Israel's culture, the temple system, where specific maps were made to indicate:

1. what animals may be offered: only "holy" animals, viz., those which accord with the definition of a clean animals and which are physically perfect;

2. who may offer them: a "holy" priest, who has the right blood lines, who is in perfect physical condition, and who is in a state of purity;

3. where the offering should be made: in Jerusalem's temple, which is a microcosm of creation;

4. when the offering is to be made: what offering is appropriate for what occasion;

5. who may participate in the sacrifice: only Israelites and only those with whole bodies (Fennelly 1983: 274-75).

The Temple and its sacrificial system became the concrete expression of ordering and so of holiness; after the monarchy was abolished, it became the central and dominant symbol of Israel's culture, religion, and politics.

2.1.2. Purity "Maps". The order of creation served as a blueprint not only for the shape of the temple system, but led to maps for structuring most aspects of Jewish life apart from the Temple. It becomes the task of the observer to search out the structural expressions of this core value in the "maps" which the Jews of Jesus' time made to give shape and clarity to their world. By "map" we mean the concrete and systematic patterns of organizing, locating, and classifying persons, places, times, actions, etc. Turning to first-century Judaism, we are aided in our task of investigating its maps by Douglas's discussion of the map of dietary rules (1966: 41-57) and by Malina's description of purity in the Judaism of Jesus' time (1981: 131-137).

We can recover specific maps which illustrate how Jews in Jesus' time had "a place for everything and everything in its place." For example, there are maps of places:

"There are ten degrees of holiness:

1. The Land of Israel is holier than any other land...

2. The walled cities (of the land of Israel) are still more holy...

3. Within the walls (of Jerusalem) is still more holy...

4. The Temple Mount is still more holy...

5. The Rampart is still more holy...

6. The Court of the Women is still more holy...

7. The Court of the Israelites is still more holy...

8. The Court of the Priests is still more holy...

9. Between the Porch and the Altar is still more holy...

10. The Sanctuary is still more holy...

The Holy of Holies is still more holy..." (m. Kelim I.6-9).

Since Gentiles are not God's people, they are not on the map at all. Yet Israel is "holy," separated from the nations as God's own people. The map of places reflects a classifying hierarchy. There are ten progressive degrees of "holiness": one moves upward and inward to the center, from non-Temple to Temple, from outer courts to the Holy of Holies where God is enthroned on the cherubim. The principle of classification (and hence, of "holiness") is proximity to the center of the Temple.

People can also be mapped, as the following list indicates. A list of people who may be present for the reading of the Scroll of Esther is given, which list ranks them in a certain hierarchical order:

1. Priests

2. Levites

3. Israelites

4. Converts

5. Freed Slaves

6. Disqualified priests

7. Netzins (temple slaves)

8. Mamzers (bastards)

9. Those with damaged testicles

10. Those without a penis (t. Meg. 2.7).

Two principles of classification are operative here.

(a) "Holiness" means wholeness, and so people with damaged bodies are ranked last, and people with damaged family lines (slaves, bastards) are ranked second to last.

(b) The ranking of people on this map replicates the map of places, for one's rank corresponds to one's proximity to the center of the Temple, with Priests first because they enter the Holy of Holies, Levites next because they enter the sanctuary, Israelites next because they stand in the Courts, and so forth.

The map of places and the map of people contain a hierarchical ranking of one's purity standing. It is not only possible, but necessary to know exactly where people stand, which is expressed in clear and easily recognized external criteria. As holiness can be externally gauged, so can pollution, and so we find maps of uncleanness which indicate a corresponding hierarchy of pollution.

1. There are things which convey uncleanness by contact

(e.g. a dead creeping thing, male semen).

2. They are exceeded by carrion...

3. They are exceeded by him that has connection with a menstruant...

4. They are exceeded by the issue of him that has a flux, by his

spittle, his semen, and his urine...

5. They are exceeded by <the uncleanness of> what is ridden upon

<by him that has a flux>...

6. <The uncleanness of> what is ridden upon <by him that has a flux>

is exceeded by what he lies upon...

7. <The uncleanness of> what he lies upon is exceeded by the

uncleanness of him that has a flux...(m. Kelim I,3)

Such a map indicates how unclean some person or thing is, suggesting a corresponding strategy for dealing with it.

Times may be mapped as well. The Mishnah tractate, Moed,

contains an index of special, classified times, with list of appropriate

rules for observing these times:

m. Moed......................Special Times

1. Shabbat & Erubin..........(Sabbath)

2. Pesahim...................(Feast of Passover)

3. Yoma......................(Day of Atonement)

4. Sukkoth...................(Feast of Tabernacles)

5. Yom Tob...................(Festival Days)

6. Rosh ha-Shana.............(Feast of New Years)

7. Taanith...................(Days of Fasting)

8. Megillah..................(Feast of Purim)

9. Moed Katan................(Mid-Festival Days)

Persons, places, things, and times, then, can all be classified and ranked in some order or hierarchy. A person, place, thing, or time is "pure" insofar as it has a specific place and stays in that place. These are but four examples of the kind of maps one finds structuring Jewish life in Jesus' time. but these suffice to illustrate the basic working of a purity system.

Where purity concerns are strong, one would expect a proliferation of maps. And this seems to be the case in the Judaism of Jesus' time. There is a celebrated text which speaks of "fences" around the Law:

"The tradition is a fence around the Law; tithes are a fence around riches; vows are a fence around abstinence; a fence around wisdom is silence" (m. Aboth III,14).

"Fences" might be called "the tradition of the elders" (Mark 7:4,5), for they are the continued mapping of life, the extended impulse to order, classify and define. New "fences" are either new maps or further refinement of old maps.

These maps, moreover, express the principle of "a place for everything and everything in its place." It follows, according to Douglas, that there will be considerable attention paid by a purity-conscious group to its lines, boundaries, and structure, which indicate just where each thing belongs. "The image of society," Douglas says," has form; it has external boundaries, margins, internal lines" (Douglas 1966:114).

2.1.3. Boundaries. Boundary lines indicate who's "in" and who's "out," or what belongs and what doesn't. For example, there are clear and specific boundary lines separating members and non-members of God's covenant people (Lev 20:26); the practice of circumcision, kosher diet, and Sabbath observance indicate that one is an insider to the covenant (Smallwood 1976:123), just as uniforms and id badges separate soldiers from civilians and doctors from patients.

2.1.4. Structures. The very maps we studied earlier are Jewish attempts to classify and locate all times, places, persons, etc. As they classify, they indicate the hierarchical structure of Jewish culture, just as religious and military hierarchy of officers structures church and army.

2.1.5. Margins. Since "purity" means exact classification of persons, places, things, etc., there is great concern over things which do not fit the definition or find an exact place on the map. Something too much or too little creates a problem. Things, persons, places, etc are "pure" when fully within their allotted category or location; but when they straddle a line or blur a definition, they are moving out of place, and so are "impure."

"Pollution," the opposite of purity, refers to what is out of place, what does not belong, what crosses lines, what is defective, or what is marginal. 1. Consecrated covenant people belong in the realm of God's holy land. Gentiles, Romans especially, are not covenant members and so are out of place in the holy land of Israel, especially in its sacred city and more so in its Temple (see Acts 21:28). 2. The dead do not belong in the realm of the living but in their own realm of graveyards. The worst aspect of the possessed man in Mark 5:5 was the fact that he left the realm of the living to dwell among tombs; his cure permitted him to leave the realm of the dead and to be properly dressed and seated again among the living (5:15). 3. The sick do not belong in the realm of the healthy; lepers should dwell apart and cry "Unclean!" (1:40-45). To a certain extent, so should paralytics, and so what a surprise to hear of a paralytic being lowered through the roof into Jesus' "home" (2:1-4). It is not incidental that Jesus tends to encounter the sick out of doors (see 1:33). 4. Inasmuch as wholeness is related to holiness (one must be completely what one is), people with defective bodies (e.g. eunuchs) are unclean; a man with crushed testicles, for example, may not enter the Temple area to offer sacrifice (Lev 21:20). 5. Sinners, likewise, do not belong in the same space as observant Jews, which occasions criticism when Jesus eats at the table of Levi, a tax collector (2:15). 6. Certain foods do not fit the full definition of what it means to be a sky, earth, or sea creature (Douglas 1966:51-57), and so they are marginal, unclean, and polluting. 7. Since there is a specific time for everything, especially a time for "work" and a time for "rest," if "work" is done at the wrong time, that is, on the Sabbath, it is out of place. 8. There is a general prohibition against mixing kinds:

a) in clothing, wool and linen should never be mixed,

b) in agriculture, plowing should be done by either ox or ass,

but never by the two yolked together,

c) in terms of crops sown, only one kind of seed should be sown

in a given field at any one time,

d) in husbandry, cattle should not be bred with that of another

kind (Lev 19:19; Deut 22:9-11).

Since each thing has its proper place, the mixing of two kinds blurs distinctions and creates hybrids, and so is unclean.

"Purity," then, has to do with system, order, and classification. It attends to correct labels and accurate definitions; it assigns appropriate physical space to things and people as well as their proper social location; it is concerned with completeness and wholeness. The prerequisite of such a system is clarity, the ability to know exactly what something is and where it belongs. This need for clarity requires precise criteria which can be easily observed, and so expresses itself in a concern for external and observable phenomena.

This first model serves two important functions. It gives some framework in which to evaluate the language of clean/unclean in the conflict in Mark 7, for clean/unclean express the same sense of system as do pure/polluted and sacred/profane. Second we are informed that, while the surface issue of contention is washed/unwashed hands, the controversy in Mark 7 is possibly a clash of two definitions of purity. The issue of washed/unwashed hands is by synecdoche a sign for the thing signified, viz. the purity system.

2.2. Model Two: The Body

Besides issues of clean/unclean, Mark 7 contains a controversy over the body, viz. hands and hearts. Douglas offers us another model for assessing this material in her remarks on the relationship of the physical and social body. We are all familiar with the classical comparisons of the social body-politic with the physical human body (Conzelmann 1975: 211). From her own studies, Douglas takes up this comparison in a more thorough and inductive way. The human body is a replica of the social body, a symbol of it:

"The body is a model which can stand for any bounded

system. Its boundaries can represent any boundaries

which are threatened or precarious" (Douglas 1966:115).

There is, then, a map of the body, which replicates the map of society. The same norms which govern the "purity" of the social body are applicable to the physical body as well. Just as the social body draws boundary lines around itself, restricts admission (e.g. passports), expels foreign or unclean objects, guards its gates and entrances, so this tendency to order, classify, and locate is replicated in the physical body. "Body control is an expression of social control," says Douglas; conversely, "abandonment of bodily control in ritual responds to the requirements of a social experience which is being expressed" (Douglas 1982a:70-71). "The physical experience of body...sustains a particular view of society" (Douglas 1982a:65).

This means that in a given culture with a strong classification system and with high "purity" concerns, we would expect there to be clear rules for the map of the body concerning: 1) boundaries, 2) structure, and 3) margins.

2.2.1. Boundaries. Boundaries include bodily surfaces as well as the orifices of the body. As society is ordered and guarded, so is the physical body. The boundary of the physical body is its skin, and by synecdoche clothing, which replicates that boundary. Since clothing denotes gender classification, women should wear women's clothing and men men's (Deut 22:5). Certain clothing, moreover, indicates social location, such as priestly garments (Ex 28), which must be made of one kind of stuff, not a mixture of wool and linen (Lev 19:19). Observant people, for example, wear clothing which tells of this concern for observance, phylacteries (Matt 23:5). Nudity--the absence of clothing--removes the classification system and blurs the map and all lines on it. Nudity, then, is pollution and shame (see Gen 3:10-11; Ezek 16:39).

The true boundary of the body, its skin, is punctuated by certain orifices which are gateways to the body interior, just as walled cities have gates, and countries have ports of entry and customs checkpoints. These orifices are the object of great scrutiny; for, since they are the gates to the interior, they must screen out what does not belong and guard against a pollutant entering within. The guarded orifices tend to be the eyes, mouth, ears, genitals, and anus. The eye, for example, is the "lamp of the body"; if your eye is sound, your whole body will be sound; if it is not, your whole body will be filled with darkness (Matt 6:22-23). The mouth is guarded against unkosher foods enter into the body; for unclean foods will pollute a pure body (Acts 10:14). As regards the sexual orifices, we find rules for intermarriage which prescribe who may cross the sexual orifice and marry whom. There are rules prohibiting exogamous marriages (Neh 13:23-28). And there are rules even for Israelites regulating who may marry whom:

"The priestly, levitic and Israelitish stocks may intermarry; impaired priestly stocks, proselyte and freedman stocks may intermarry; the proselyte, freedman, bastard, Nathin, sketuki, and asufi stocks may intermarry" (m. Kid. IV,1).

It follows that where classification systems are strong and purity concerns are high, there will be considerably more attention given to bodily surfaces and orifices than to bodily interior. When maps are drawn and lines are clear, one knows exactly where things belong.

The reader is reminded of the earlier remark about "fences" around the Law. This, too, is a concern for boundaries. For "fences" not only map territory, but serve also as a defense for what is hedged in. Making a fence around the Law means setting up a perimeter which guards selected aspects of the Law; if the fence holds, the Law is safe. Of course, this translates into intense concern for surfaces and boundaries, which such "fences" symbolize. The bodily equivalent of "fences" is the surface of the body and its orifices. If one can guard these adequately according to clear and precise criteria, then there will be little danger of pollutants entering the body. If the fence holds, the interior is safe.

2.2.2. Structures. In a well-regulated society, where roles and classifications are clear, there will be a corresponding replication of this in the physical body. A hierarchy of social roles is mirrored in the hierarchy of bodily organs: eyes over hands, head over feet (1 Cor 12); right is preferred to left (Needham 1973); higher is preferred to lower (Schwartz 1981). As well as there is a structural hierarchy of bodily parts, there is a corresponding concern to supervise the parts of the body which are in dangerous contact with the outside world. Hands, feet, eyes, which are the external provinces of the body, are singled out for special scrutiny (Mark 9:42-48).

2.2.3. Margins. Since lines should be clear and things, persons, places, and times should be fully in their right place, there should not be too much or too little. "Too much" means that something spills over into other areas

where it does not belong; "too little" suggests that something is incompletely in its place or unsettled in it. As regards the body, "too

much" is polluting, as in the case of a hermaphrodite which is both male and female. In this vein effeminate males and masculine females are "too much," being both male and female (Murphy-O'Connor 1980: 482-500).

Bodies might have "too little" and so be defective and unclean. Eunuch, those with damaged testicles, and those without a penis lack adequate sexual organs; they are deficient in what it means to be male (see map of people, t. Meg. 2:7 above). Those with bodily defects such as the lame, the blind, and the deaf are lacking something according to Lev 21:16-20. Lacking bodily wholeness, they lack holiness; such may not be priests nor may they bring offerings into the holy temple. As we can see, the concern is with externals, the surface of the body, and areas which are easily observed.

3.0. Pharisees, the Jesus Group and Purity Systems

3.1. The Pharisees and Purity. Turning back to Mark 7, we now want to apply Douglas' models of "purity" and "body" to the conflict expressed in that text-segment. As a starting point, we recall that the controversy in Mark 7 is between Pharisees and followers of Jesus; on this point, Douglas' model of "purity" is most helpful in assessing the symbolic world of these two groups.

The writings of Jacob Neusner are of considerable help in understanding the Pharisees and their concerns, especially the pre-70 Pharisees who are the referent of the statements in Mark 7. Neusner's remarks on these Pharisees may be summarized as follows:

1. The Pharisees were a sect of pious laymen who nevertheless sought to extend into the day-to-day living of ordinary Jews the concerns of ritual purity usually associated only with priests and Temple.

2. Pharisees were especially known for their ritual purity rules which organized and classified times, persons, and things. It was integral to their sense of separateness to know or determine what was permissible or proscribed, clean or unclean.

3. Pharisaic purity concerns were especially focused on agricultural rules, which specified not only what one may eat, but out of which dish or vessel, and with whom one might eat.

4. Pharisees developed traditions which either clarified and specified the Old Testament laws or which amplified the law's principles, making them applicable to new situations. Their tradition extended a hedge around the Law.

Neusner's remarks are important. In describing the first-century Pharisees, he concentrated most of his efforts on Jewish traditions about them, not the New Testament. He sees, moreover, a coherence in the traditions

attributed to the early Pharisees:

"The Houses' rulings pertaining either immediately or ultimately to table-fellowship involve preparation of food, ritual purity relating directly to food or indirectly to the need to keep food ritually clean, and agricultural rules concerning the proper growing, tithing, and preparation of agricultural produce for table use. The agricultural laws relate to producing or preparing food for consumption, assuring either that tithes and offerings have been set aside as the law requires, or that conditions for the nurture of crops have conformed to biblical taboos. Of the 341 individual Houses' legal pericopae, no fewer than 229, approximately 67 per cent of the whole, directly or indirectly concern table-fellowship. . . The Houses' laws of ritual cleanness apply in the main to the ritual cleanness of foods, and of people, dishes, and implements involved in its preparation. Pharisaic laws regarding Sabbath and festivals, moreover, involve in large measure the preparation and preservation of food" (Neusner 1973a: 86).

Neusner's profile takes on specificity when placed alongside remarks about the Pharisees in the Synoptic Gospels.

A. Mark

1. 2:16-17 Pharisees object to Jesus' eating with sinners.

2. 2:18-20 Pharisees object to Jesus' non-eating (not fasting).

3. 2:23-24 Pharisees object to Jesus' disciples husking grain

and eating on the Sabbath

4. 7:1-5 Pharisees object to Jesus' disciples eating without

washing. They are criticized for preferring traditions

to the commandments of God.

5. 10:2-9 Pharisees and the Jesus groups divide over divorce rules.

6. 12:13-14 Pharisees test Jesus over taxes to Caesar.

B. Matthew

7. 23:13,15 Jesus criticizes Pharisees as "hypocrites."

8. 23:16-22 Jesus criticizes Pharisees for their oaths.

9. 23:23-24 Jesus criticizes Pharisees for their concern over

agricultural tithes.

10. 23:25-26 Jesus criticizes Pharisees for concern for surfaces

and exteriors.

Neusner indicated that, according to Jewish sources, the focus of the

Pharisaic system of ordering and classifying was on foods and their

consumption. This is confirmed in Christian sources, where Pharisees are

noted for their controversy with Jesus and/or his followers over foods and eating (#s 1,2,3,4,9), over surfaces, whether of vessels (#s 4,10) or external activity (# 9) or "hypocrisy" (# 7). Their hedge about the law may be reflected in their concern over traditions (# 4). As I hope to show, all of these items are closely related. The Pharisees, then, had a strong and comprehensive set of purity rules, which is what Mary Douglas would call a strong purity system.

The model of purity from Mary Douglas offers considerable help in

understanding these remarks about the Pharisees, and so understanding them

in the controversy of Mark 7. Without forcing the evidence, we could easily say that the Pharisees showed strong purity concerns in the sense that express a comprehensive classification system which sought to order and label all the aspects of their world. Even from the restricted data which we are using, we know of many maps which they made to order their world. (1) There were maps of time which laid down rules for keeping the Sabbath holy, when to say the Shema in the course of the day, whether circumcision could be performed on the Sabbath, whether children should observe Sukkoth and the Day of Atonement. (2) Their maps of persons concerned who may marry whom, what constitutes ground for divorce, as well as who may eat together, touch, and enjoy social commerce. (3) Maps of things involved them in settling the cleanness of Heave offerings, when a fleece is due as an offering, whether locusts, certain liquids, and fish are unclean, whether glass can contract uncleanness, etc. (4) Yet from our data on Pharisees' concern for food and agriculture, perhaps it is fair to say that their primary map was a map of meals. They specified what may be eaten, how it is grown, how it is prepared, in what vessels it is served, when and where it is eaten, and with whom it may be consumed. As Neusner observed, we know about Pharisees primarily as they are engaged in laying down laws of classification or as these laws of theirs are criticized by others. But make clear, firm, comprehensive laws they did! Such is the nature of strong purity concerns.

Within the general purity framework of classifying a place for every-

thing and everything in its place, we can discern the more specific norm of purity of the Pharisees. As they sought to extend the priestly and Temple system beyond that place, the Pharisees evaluated and classified things as clean/unclean according to what befits priest and Temple. The Old Testament with its ritual purity rules provided the specific basis for Pharisaic evaluation of clean/unclean. Hence things relating to the Temple are normative for daily living, such as tithes on agriculture (what makes an offering acceptable in the Temple), cleanness of vessels and animals (appropriate for Temple use), the priority of Temple support over parental support (Mark 7:11).

The Pharisees, who classify so extensively and who norm the world in terms of temple appropriateness, engaged in a process of making a "fence" around the Law, extending a perimeter around the Law and guarding that outer fence zealously. This means an interest in boundaries and surfaces, for this is what a "fence" means. They are, then, expected to be concerned with the washing of pots, vessels, hands, etc.; for if the outside is kept clean, nothing unclean can enter. Surfaces are important; it matters what surfaces can contract uncleanness (glass, pottery, etc). The "externals" of the law as regards tithes are understandably important, for if the proper offerings are made, purity is maintained (Matt 23:23-24). Concern with tradition (a "fence" around the Law) replicates concern for externals and surfaces, and suggests a strong importance given to activity over attitude, to performance over intention. The Pharisaic purity system, then, gave special attention to surfaces, exteriors, and observable actions. The concern is with the lines and boundaries of the map. This is replicated in extensive fence building and the development of traditions which extended and defended the perimeter of the system.

Yet we should not simply equate Pharisaism with the Jewish purity system, for the system as explained earlier is not exclusively theirs. They are but one voice, one interpretation of the general system in the first century. The fact of the matter is that Judaism consisted of many sects and many voices (Simon 1967). For example, Josephus frequently discourses on three "sects" in his exposition of Judaism in his time (B.J. II.119-66; Ant. XIII.297-98; XVIII.14-25). He accentuates their differences, presenting them as Jewish counterparts to the competing philosophies of the Graeco-Roman world: Essenes = Pythagorians, Sadducees = Epicureans, and Pharisees = Stoics. Each "sect" claimed to have the truth about Israel's traditional religion, and so we hear divergent voices competing for leadership. From historical studies, however, we know that these groups had much in common, for they were basically in competition for control of the priesthood and the Temple, and so for power to govern the central symbol of Israel's life. The rivalry between these three groups was based also on differing social standing. The Sadducees belonged to the priestly families, the urban, wealthy group which controlled the Temple. The Essenes were also of priestly stock, but apparently withdrew from the city and its temple to their own desert community. Yet they claimed to be the only pure priestly clan as to blood lines; they alone had correct knowledge of the temple calendar and other issues pertinent to the Temple. The Pharisees were not from priestly families; inasmuch as the New Testament speaks of Pharisees in Galilee, they appear to be non-urban people, perhaps the village elite. Tannaitic literature presents the Pharisees distinguished from the priests but also from the am ha-aretz (Rivkin 1970: 206-207). The critical posture of the Pharisees toward Christian practices suggests that this group was already asserting its claim to articulate the shape of the purity system of Israel even in the first century, especially in the non-urban areas of Galilee, where their competition for leadership would not be the Sadducees or priests, but Jesus and his followers.

The Pharisees in the first century could not control the Temple or its priesthood, but not for want of trying (see Josephus, Ant. XIII.289-296). They did not speak for the central symbol of Israel's religion, the Temple, at least before the war of 70 A.D. Rivkin (1970:205-49) noted the numerous bitter conflicts between Pharisees and Sadducees over temple matters in the second-century tannaitic literature, which material indicates that the true battles over leadership took place later than the conflicts recorded in the New Testament. Yet according to the Gospels, Pharisees are claiming to speak for the replication of holiness: (1) in non-temple situations, (2) for ordinary (non-priestly) people, (3) who live apart from the sacred place. Tactically they claimed influence over other territory. As we saw, their focus came to rest on the ordinary, but necessary daily activity of eating. And so, in speaking about meals they claimed authority over a highly visible, external activity, around which they built many hedges from the tradition of the elders.

Several conclusions can be drawn from this material. (1) The situation in Mark 7 reflects a typical conflict of competing claims to speak for the system. (2) The parties in conflict are both rural non-elites, the Pharisees and Jesus; they are not competing over Temple procedure but over how the basic system should be interpreted in terms of ordinary living. (3) It is by no means clear that the Pharisees spoke for all the Jews in Galilee, although they would like to. Yet Pharisees might be perceived as championing the main values of Jewish culture; they seem to stand closer to the mainstream of Jewish life than Jesus and his followers do. It is a question of point of view. In conflicts with Jesus, they claim to represent the established system. (4) They would label the behavior of Jesus and his followers as unclean and polluted, according to their perspective of what purity means. Yet their label did not necessarily stick, nor could they evidently mobilize public opinion against Jesus and his followers. They are but one among many competing voices in a conflict which spans several centuries.

3.2. Jesus Groups and Purity. The Pharisees observed Jesus and his followers through their lens of what constitutes the purity system of Israel. They look to boundaries and surfaces to see if things fit or if they are in place. They perceive in the behavior of Jesus' followers a total violation of the system which they equate with Judaism. Jesus group members do not observe the map of times, violating the Sabbath (2:23) and not fasting (2:18-20). Nor do they observe the map of people, as Jesus chooses sinners for his intimates (2:13-14), eats with tax collectors (2:16-17), touches lepers (1:41), menstruating women (5:24-28), and even corpses (5:41); he had regular commerce with unclean Gentiles (3:7-8; 7:31). Jesus group members do not observe the map of places, as Jesus profanes the Temple (11:15-16; 13:2), nor the map of things as they do not wash hands or vessels before eating (7:1-5). Finally, Jesus and his followers do not observe the Pharisees' special map, the map of meals, as the conflict in Mark 7 indicates.

According to this logic, the Pharisees would conclude that Jesus and his followers purposely rejected the God-given maps and lines that structured their worship and life. The followers of Jesus made no attempt to respect the accepted structures or classifications, nor do they build or guard fences around the system. In doing "what is not lawful" (2:24; 3:4; 12:15; see 2:7), Jesus faction members were perceived by the Pharisees as sinning. The Pharisees, then, saw them (1) as becoming "unclean" and sinful in God's sight, and so (2) as abandoning the purity system of classification and order. The whole system seems threatened when one aspect of it is disregarded.

3.3. Jesus and Israel's Traditions. The gospel of Mark is by and large an apologetic response to charges that Jesus and his followers are not observing the traditional purity system. The shape of the apology is mixed, for it stresses at times Jesus' observance of the rules of the system, but celebrates at other times his departure from them, even his abrogation of them. At times Mark suggests great continuity between Jesus and traditions of Israel's religion, but at other times discontinuity.

Let us examine first Mark's sense of Jesus' difference from the traditional system. We do this by comparing and contrasting the core values of the Pharisees and Jesus, the structures which flow from them, and the strategy in which they issue. First, as regards the core value of their respective systems, the Pharisees promote God's holiness, especially as this is encoded in the theologoumenon: "Be ye holy, as I am holy" (Lev 11:44). I suggest that Mark sees the core value more as God's mercy, that is, God's forgiveness of sinners (see 1:4-5; 2:5-10) and God's concern for outcasts (hybrids as well as Gentiles). Second, instead of Lev 11:44, the slogan best expressing this core value might be "I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion" (Ex 33:19; see Rom 9:15) or "I desire mercy and not sacrifice" (Hos 6:6; see Matt 9:13 & 12:7). Third, the core value of holiness was expressed in God's creation-as-ordering, whereas mercy would be linked with God's election of a covenant group and with God's unpredictable grace (Deut 7:7-8).



Core Value

God's Holiness (Lev 11:44)

God's Mercy (Exod 33:19; Hos 6:6)

Symbolized in


Election and Grace



Strong Purity System

Exclusivist Tendency

Weaker Purity System

Inclusivist Tendency



Mission, Hospitality

Legitimation in Scripture

Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy

Genesis and Prophets

Fourth, the respective core values suggest different structures for society. Creation suggests an orderly system of exact definitions and discriminations; it suggests a certain exclusivity as to what belongs and does not belong and where each object is to be located. But election suggests a more fluid view of boundaries and classifications; it suggests a certain inclusivity where labels are less precise and boundary lines are less clear (Donahue 1982). Fifth, the respective strategies flowing from the two core values will differ considerably. If holiness is replicated in order and exact classification, then a defensive strategy seems appropriate to guard the lines and definitions. Yet a strategy of mission and hospitality (Senior 1984) seems to follow where mercy means inclusive election. Finally, Mark's gospel indicates that different parts of the Old Testament Scriptures might be appealed to as the justification for these two views of the system. Holiness as order, especially as this is structured in the Temple, is found primarily in Moses' books, Exodus, Leviticus, and Deuteronomy. According to Mark, however, Jesus seems to favor pre-Mosaic traditions such as the Genesis version of marriage (10:6-9) as well as prophetic traditions which embody criticism of the system. Christians and Pharisees, then, would both claim to be faithful to Israel's God; they both appeal to the Scriptures for validation of their viewpoint; they both proclaim concern for holiness, forgiveness of sin, etc. But they are construing their systems on different core values, which imply different structures, and which prompt different strategies.

Mark, moreover, is conscious of the differences between Jesus and other exponents of Israel's religion. He records Jesus speaking about a radical newness which prohibits the kind of mixing of old and new practices, which the kashrut laws of Lev 19:19 and Deut 22:9-11 proscribe. A new patch is not put on old cloth; nor is new wine put in old skins (2:21-22). According to Mark, two different articulations of the purity system are present, and should not be mixed, but kept separate and distinct.

Yet according to Mark, Jesus worships the God of Israel, accepts God's word in the Scriptures, and observes many traditions stemming from those Scriptures. Mark is at pains that Jesus avoid the label of an am ha-aretz who neither knows nor observes the faith of Israel (see Acts 4:13). Let us look more closely at the shape of Mark's argument about Jesus' continuity with Israel's faith.

To the charge that they do "what is not lawful," they respond that they indeed know and respect the basic maps. But they debate over where the lines should be drawn, over the right classification, and over the correct interpretation. For example, as regards the map of times, Jesus does not simply abolish the Sabbath observance, but contests how it is to be understood and kept. He enunciates principles for his actions which affirm the map of time in principle, but classify certain acts as permissible and hence clean.

"The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath" (2:27).

"Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?" (3:4)

Sabbath rest stems from creation, but Jesus does not claim to see in it so much a principle for ordering times of work and rest as a principle of mercy, viz. "doing good," "saving life," and giving "rest" even on that day. Concerning maps of places, Jesus objects to the Temple becoming "a den of thieves" (11:17), while he affirms it as "house of prayer" and as an inclusive place "for all the nations." Concerning maps of people, Jesus declares that he was formally authorized by God to treat with people whom others should shun. God gave him "authority" (exousia) to heal (1:22,27) and to forgive sins (2:10); God sent him precisely as "physician to those in need" (2:17). As regards maps of things, while Christians do not wash cups, vessels, or hands, they are deeply concerned with cleanness and uncleanness in terms of virtue and vice (Mark 7:15-20).

In regard to the map of meals, however, Jesus and his followers in Mark are consistent with the general thrust of the New Testament which presents (1) Christian abrogation of dietary rules (Mark 7:19; Acts 10-11), (2) an open table for Jews and Gentiles alike (Mark 6:35-44; 8:1-10; Gal 2:12), (3) table fellowship with the "unclean" (Mark 2:15; Luke 15:1-2), and with the lame, blind, and maimed (Luke 14:13). By denying that there is a map of meals, Christians are challenging an essential part of the tradition. In this regard they were clearly in discontinuity with the established traditions.

A useful way of grasping the Christian attitude to the principle of a purity system is to observe how Jesus and his followers appealed to the Old Testament as a guide to where lines really should be drawn and to how things truly should be classified. The Old Testament, of course, is the eternally valid expression of the holiness of Israel's God; but what do the Scriptures say? As regards the Sabbath, appeal is made to the scriptural example of David, the great saint and king. David, a non-priest, entered priestly space and ate food reserved exclusively for priests (1 Sam 21:1-6). The interest here is in David's motive, not his actions ("he was in need and was hungry"). His example is precedent that certain behavior on the Sabbath is non-polluting, according to the core reason for the Sabbath: "The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath" (2:27). The issue as formulated centers around motive and principle, not external action or traditional norm. Concerning the Temple, Jesus' attitude and actions are in accord with traditional prophetic criticism of Israel's cult, in this case citations from Isa 56:7 and Jer 7:11 about the true purpose of the Temple as a place of "prayer," not sacrifice, which is "for all the nations," not just Jews. About specific purity rules, appeal is made to the Ten Commandments, as they constitute the substance of the list of vices censured in Mark 7:21-23.


Do not kill........................murder,

Do not commit adultery.............fornication, adultery,


Do not steal.......................theft,

Do not bear false witness..........envy, slander,

Do not defraud.....................coveting,

Honor your father & mother.........see Mark 7:9-13

Christians know and appeal to the Old Testament Scriptures as evidence of their acceptance of a Jewish purity system, yet debate with the Pharisees and others about which text was normative.

On this point, it is useful to recall that Mark portrays the Christians as concerned with the Old Testament law -- they are not "lawless". Jesus proclaims the Ten Commandments as the way "to inherit eternal life" (Mark 10:19); when asked about the greatest law, Jesus responds with the Shema (Mark 12:29-30/Deut 6:4-5), a sacred text which distinguishes Jews from all other peoples in the ancient world. When asked about the legality of divorce laws, he cites Gen 1:27 and 2:24 (Mark 10:6-7). Neither knowledge nor acceptance of the Old Testament law as foundation for a system is lacking in Mark's presentation of Jesus. But in each case, Mark establishes a priority in the Christian choice of laws for structuring their system, promoting one text over another according to different core values. When asked about the greatest law, Jesus rightly promotes the Shema (Deut 6:4-5) and love of neighbor (Lev 19:18). According to the text, Mark indicates that these "are worth more than all whole-burnt offerings and sacrifices" (12:33). A core or primary law (the Shema) is promoted over Temple and cultic laws. When the Temple is cleansed, it is proclaimed not as a place of sacrifice for Jews only, but as 1) "a house of prayer," 2) "for all the nations." Isa 56:7 is promoted over the cultic legislation of Exodus and Leviticus. When divorce is discussed, the original law of God in Gen 1-2 is preferred to the law of Moses which this mere man wrote "because of the hardness of your hearts" (Mark 10:4-5/Deut 24:1,3). The direction of these priorities regarding Old Testament texts coincides with the thrust of the motives and principles which governed the discussion of Sabbath observance. In his selection of relevant texts, Jesus can be said to have a "canon within a canon"; he attends to interior issues: (1) motives for actions, (2) principles, not norms, of law, (3) core over peripheral issues, and (4) original laws over later traditions.

The Pharisees are not entirely correct when they say that Christians are unlawful and reject the traditional system. Rather, their criticism is indicative of conflicts in determining who draws what lines and who selects which text of Scripture as normative. Mark, moreover, has presented Jesus' doctrine as both different and similar to the traditional system. Jesus articulates a different purity system than the Pharisees, yet in many ways one which is in continuity with the Old Testament--at least according to his "canon within a canon." sacred text.

We turn now to Mark 7 and note that the focus of the conflict there is over clean/unclean. The Pharisees wash hands as well as foods and vessels before eating; Jesus and his followers eat with common, unwashed hands. The issue is purity and pollution, but it is hotly contested what constitutes purity and pollution. As we noted earlier, the conflict spreads out to embrace issues about (1) norms (tradition of the elders about korban versus the Commandment to "Honor father and mother"), (2) principles of pollution (what goes into a man versus what comes out of him), and (3) polluted actions (eating non-kosher foods versus vices from the heart).

The differences in Mark 7 lie in the conflicting approaches of the Pharisees and Jesus to purity. The Pharisees may be said to have a stronger sense of order and classification than Christians; they label more things more strictly than Christians. Correspondingly they have more and higher fences around objects of concern than Christians. Such a strong sense of order and such an urge to erect hedges around the law would lead Pharisees to attend to specific, observable actions and criteria to determine the purity rating of persons, places, things, etc. As regards Mark 7, concern for clean hands is a symbol of concern for a strong purity system. Concern for external boundaries requires concern for observable criteria, such as washing of hands and vessels. Concern for the washing of hands, moreover, is but one of the "traditions of the elders" which form a hedge around the Torah. Such "traditions" serve to continue the correct mapping of life according to the purity system.

On the other hand, Jesus and his followers in Mark's gospel have a weaker purity system than the Pharisees. It is incorrect to say that they have no purity concerns or that they stand apart from the Old Testament Scriptures. Purity for Christians is a matter of debate and re-definition. It has less to do with external actions and more to do with internal issues, such as mercy, faith, and right confession. People with weaker purity concerns will make fewer maps, build fewer fences, and dispute the ones that exist. Christians will label the "traditions of the elders" as distortions of the true, ancient law; that original law was modest in size but sufficient, and so the proliferation of fences is unnecessary and even wrong. Since the purpose of God's law was not to separate covenant from non-covenant members but to gather all peoples in God's mysterious election, the particularistic kosher laws are judged abrogated. And so the issue of clean/unclean in Mark 7 may be focused on the question of washing hands and vessels, but these are but symbols of the larger discussion of purity and pollution. The issue of clean hands, then, symbolizes the issue of purity systems. A lot rides on a little.

4.0. Pharisees, Jesus Groups and Body Symbolism.

As Douglas suggests, the physical body can serve as a symbol of society. We would expect that where there is a purity system structuring the larger social body, this would be replicated in the way the physical body is treated. Inasmuch as the Pharisees are in substantial agreement with the accepted symbol of Israel's culture, they would be concerned with numerous and high fences around objects to be kept pure for Temple-standard purity and with traditions to guard the basic rules. As this is replicated in the physical body, Pharisees may be said to exercise strong control over the physical body with concern over the exterior of the body, its surfaces and orifices.

4.1. Pharisees and Body Surfaces/Orifices. We recall that Pharisaic concern with the washing of pots, dishes, and vessels and with the porosity of surfaces of vessels. If porosity of surfaces is important, then orifices on the surface of the body should receive comparable attention. They are the weak link in the chain: the place where unclean things might enter. The orifice that received most attention was the mouth, especially in regard to eating: attention to kosher foods, whether they are properly tithed, and correctly prepared for eating. The "washing of hands" in Mark 7 is but an extension of this concern with orifices; hands must be washed before meals, indicating a concern that the organs for preparing food and for putting it in the mouth must be clean (recall Mark 9:43 and concern for a scandalizing hand). Concern for hands is a "fence" around the mouth.

Other examples of Pharisaic concern with bodily orifices come readily to mind. For example, Mark 10:2-9 indicates another Pharisaic concern with orifices, viz. the genitals. The issue debated is divorce, but the guarding of the sexual orifice is the bodily focus. Divorce rules permit the crossing of a sexual orifice after legitimate divorce proceedings, a crossing which would otherwise be unlawful and polluting. Confirmation of Pharisaic concerns for bodily orifices comes from synoptic remarks about the Pharisees. 1. They are accused of concern over surfaces in Matt 23 -- they cleanse "the outside of the cup and of the plate" (23:25); they "outwardly appear beautiful" (23:27). 2. They are accused of misguided rules for the orifice of the mouth, as regards oaths (23:16-22).

Turning to Jesus and his followers, we recall that their purity system is considerably less strict and extensive than that of the Pharisees. According to Douglas' hypothesis, where there is a weaker classification system and less pressure to conform, the physical body will correspondingly be less controlled. This lack of control of the body can be readily observed from several examples in Mark's narrative. (1) Jesus puts his spit on the tongue of a dumb man (7:33b) and on the eyes of a blind man (8:23). He puts his fingers in a man's ears (7:33a). (2) Jesus regularly eats at the table of sinners (2:15). (3) He is credited with abolishing dietary laws (7:19), indicating that the mouth is not an area of purity concern and so of control. (4) His followers do not wash their hands before eating, further indicating a weak concern for bodily control and purity. In all of these instances, bodily orifices are expressly not the object of control.

4.2. The Jesus Movement and the Heart. If the body's surface and its orifices are not the object of Christian control in the gospel of Mark, the body's heart most emphatically is, as the following list indicates:

1. As regards forgiveness of sins, Jesus perceived the Scribes' interior (their heart), that they were not thinking correctly: "...questioning in their hearts" (2:6), "Why do you question in your hearts?" (2:8).

2. When criticizing his own disciples, Jesus accuses them of hardness of heart: "...they did not understand, their hearts were hardened" (6:52); "Do you not perceive or understand are your hearts hardened?" (8:17).

3. Concerning prayer, Jesus indicates that a correct heart is of paramount importance: "Whoever says to this mountain...and does not doubt in his heart but believes..." (11:23).

4. Love of God is located in interior human sites: "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength" (12:30,33).

5. Membership does not seem to depend on external criteria such as blood lines or circumcision. A distinction is made between Jesus' physical family and his real family which is made up of believers (3:31-35).

In this context we can more readily appreciate the basis for Jesus' criticism of the Pharisees as "honoring God with their lips but their heart is far from me" (7:6/Isa 29:13LXX), for heart is more important than bodily surface or orifices. Again, in regard to foods, Christians assert that "there is nothing outside a man which by going into him can defile him; but the things which come out of a man are what defile him" (7:15). This is so because "whatever goes into a man from outside cannot defile him, since it enters, not his heart but his stomach and so passes on" (7:18-19). As regards purity norms, then, it is not what goes into a man that can defile him, but what comes "from within, from the heart" (7:21)..."they defile a man" (7:23). Not foods, but vices such as evil thoughts, fornications, adultery, coveting, etc.--"all these evil things come from within, and they defile a man" (7:23). Jesus' concern, therefore, lies not with bodily surfaces and orifices, but with bodily interior and heart. Hence, lips and mouth do not need to be guarded, but the heart should be constantly examined.

5.0. Purity and the Body: Replication in the Model.

We can now note two sets of correlations. First, as regards the Pharisees, strong purity concerns imply strong bodily control, which is expressed in scrutiny of bodily surfaces and orifices. Second, as regards Jesus and his followers, weaker purity concerns imply weaker bodily control, which shows itself in concern for the body's heart, rather than its orifices and surface.

Strong purity concerns Weaker purity concerns

Strong bodily control Weaker bodily control

Actions, surfaces, and Motives, principles,

orifices the heart

As Jesus and his followers found themselves challenging the established system, part of their strategy was a process of self-definition in which they took positions which were dialectically opposite those of the exponents of the traditional system. In a state of constant controversy with the local exponents of the Jewish system, the Christian position is one of dialectical contrast, viz., the grid factor is rather low. Whereas the Pharisees (et al.) maintain a proliferation of fences and rules, Christians argue for a restricted core of key rules. Whereas the Pharisees concern themselves with surfaces, Christians assert that interiors are the places deserving attention. Whereas bodily surfaces and orifices become the focus of Pharisees' attention, Christians concern themselves with bodily interiors, the heart, not the lips. Whereas Pharisees worry over what goes into the body from the outside, Christians worry over what comes out of the heart or interior of the body. As disputants, Christians will tend to couch their positions in antithetical language: not lips, but heart; not exteriors, but interiors; not surface but heart. This structuralist explanation is of some help, but it does not address the question of a nexus between strong purity concerns and strong bodily control.

Douglas provides the basis of an explanation for this in her exposition of the variables of group and grid (1982b:182-254) in locating and describing social groups. Pressure to conform to the norms of a social body is called group, which may be strong group when pressure is great or weak group when pressure is weak. Yet there may be conflict in the social body, for while some may agree with the norms and classifications of the group and find a match between them and their own experience (= high grid), others may contest the norms and classifications and feel a lack of fit between the group's explanation of reality and their own experience (= low grid). Needless to say, there was very strong pressure (strong group) in the Judaism of Jesus' time to accept the classifications and norms of the traditional religion as it was expressed in the Temple system. As we noted, however, the plethora of competing sects manifest disagreement over certain classifications and norms, as well as a lack of fit between the stated aims of Jewish faith and personal experience, and so the grid factor of the groups not in control was either falling or low. It is not clear that the Sadducees experienced a conflict with the system or a misfit between expectations and experience. Their grid factor was very high. But such was not the case with Essenes, Pharisees, and the rest. The Pharisees seem more to the center of Jewish social and religious life than Jesus and his followers; their grid can be said to be higher than that of the Christians yet somewhat lower than that of the Sadducees. Jesus and his followers, on the contrary, experienced a constant, deep disagreement with the system. They challenged its core value, structures and strategy. Their grid was very low at times.


. Sadducees


. Pharisees





. Christians




It belongs, moreover, to strong group/high grid to be clear, precise, and concerned with externals, for strong purity systems require such criteria to determine with exactness where persons, places, things, etc. belong. Where classification is strong, boundaries are the focus of attention, to determine who is in/out and what is fully according to its definition. It follows that there will be a proliferation of fences or traditions guarding these boundaries and definitions. On the level of the physical body, strong group/high grid would necessarily be concerned with: (1) bodily surface and bodily orifices, (2) with bodily actions which can be observed, and (3) with bodily wholeness which is judged by external criteria.


Strong purity concerns :: Strong bodily control

Exact classification :: Bodily wholeness

& definition

Precise boundaries :: Bodily surface, orifices

Clear criteria :: External bodily actions

But where the grid factor drops, clarity is harder to determine, precision gives way to debate, and external criteria are challenged as the classification system and its norms become the object of dispute. Strong group/low grid is the place of competition and rivalry, where the clarity and external precision of the strong group/high grid situation are challenged. As regards the physical body, it follows that there will be less attention given to surfaces and orifices, for their function in determining classification is disputed and their role in guarding purity is contested. External actions and observable phenomena likewise are not judged to determine value or social location, and so appeal is made to new definitions and principles, which means concern for heart or core. Motivation, a matter of the heart, counts more than objective actions. And so bodily wholeness, an external phenomenon, is less important than the body's heart, which is the new locus of definition and classification.


Weaker purity concerns :: Weaker bodily control

Classifications disputed :: Bodily wholeness no longer

& definitions contested an issue

Boundaries porous :: Not orifices, surfaces,

but bodily heart

Less exacting criteria :: Interior attitudes, motives

and operations.

* * * * *

6.0. Works Consulted

Achtemeier, Paul

1970 "Toward the Isolation of Pre-Markan Miracle Catenae," Journal of Biblical Literature 89: 265-291.

Alter, Robert

1979 "A New Theory of Kashrut," Commentary 68: 46-52.

Barkan, Leonard

1975 Nature's Work of Art. The Human Body as Image of the World. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Berger, Klaus

1972 Die Gesetzauslegung Jesu. I. Markus und Parallelen. Neukirchen.

Bossmann, David

1979 "Ezra's Marriage Reform: Israel Redefined," Biblical Theology Bulletin 9: 32-38.

Bowker, John

1973 Jesus and the Pharisees. Cambridge: University Press.

Buchanan, George W.

1963 "The Role of Purity in the Structure of the Essene Sect," Revue de Qumran 4: 397-406.

Carlston, Charles

1968 "Things That Defile (Mark vii.14) and the Law in Matthew and Mark," New Testament Studies 15: 75-96.

Conzelmann, Hans

1975 1 Corinthians. Philadelphia: Fortress.

Cook, Michael J.

1978 "Jesus and the Pharisees--The Problem as It Stands Today," Journal of Ecumenical Studies 15: 441-460.

Donahue, John R.

1982 "A Neglected Factor in the Theology of Mark," Journal of Biblical Literature 101: 563-594.

Douglas, Mary T.

1966 Purity and Danger. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.

1968 "Pollution," International Encyclopedia of Social Sciences 12: 336-342.

1975 Implicit Meanings. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.

1982a Natural Symbols. New York: Pantheon.

1982b In the Active Voice. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.

Feeley-Harnik, Gillian

1981 The Lord's Supper. Philadelphia: University Press.

Feuillet, André

1965 Johannine Studies. Staten Island: Alba House.

Fitzmyer, Joseph A.

1971 "The Aramaic qorban Inscription form Jebel Halletet-Turi and Mark 7:11/Matt 15:5," Essays on the Semitic Background of the New Testament. London: Geoffrey Chapman, 93-100.

Frymer-Kensky, Tikva

1983 "Pollution, Purification and Purgation in Biblical Israel," The Word of the Lord Shall Go Forth. Carol Meyers and M. O'Connor, eds., Winona Lake, IN: published for the American Schools of Oriental Research by Eisenbrauns, 399-414.

Hubner, H.

1976 "Mark 7:1-23 und das 'judisch-hellenistiche' Gesetz-verstandnis," New Testament Studies 22: 319-45.

Lambrecht, Jan

1977 "Jesus and the Law: an Interpretation of Mk 7,1-23," Ephemerides Theologicae Lovaniensis 53: 24-82.

Leach, Edmund

1976 Culture and Communication. The Logic by Which Symbols are Connected. Cambridge: University Press.

Malina, Bruce

1978 "The Social World Implied in the Letters of the Christian Bishop-Martyr (named Ignatius of Antioch)," Society of Biblical Literature Seminar Papers 1978, II, 71-119.

1981 The New Testament World. Insights from Cultural Anthropology. Atlanta: John Knox.

Mally, Edward

1968 "The Gospel according to Mark," Jerome Biblical Commentary, Englewood Cliffs: Prentice Hall, 42:1-100.

Murphy-O'Connor, Jerome

1980 "Sex and Logic in 1 Cor 11:2-16," Catholic Biblical Quarterly 42: 482-500.

Needham, Rodney (ed.)

1973 Right and Left. Essays on Dual Symbolic Classification. Chicago: University Press.

Nestle, W.

1927 "Die Fabel des Menenius Agrippa," Klio 21: 350-360.

Neusner, Jacob

1971 The Rabbinic Traditions About the Pharisees before 70. 3 volumes; Leiden: Brill.

1973a From Politics to Piety. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice Hall.

1973b The Idea of Purity in Ancient Judaism. Leiden: Brill.

1975 "The Idea of Purity in Ancient Judaism," Journal of the American Academy of Religion 43: 15-26.

1976 "'First Cleanse the Inside' The 'Halakhic' Background of a Controversy Saying," New Testament Studies 22: 486-95.

1978 "History and Purity in First-Century Judaism," History of Religions 18: 1-17.

1979 "Map Without Territory: Mishnah's System of Sacrifice and Sanctuary," History of Religions 19: 103-127.

Pilch, John

1981 "Biblical Leprosy and Body Symbolism," Biblical Theology Bulletin 11: 108-113.

Polhemus, T. (ed.)

1978 The Body Reader. Social Aspects of the Human Body. New York: Pantheon.

Quesnell, Quentin

1969 The Mind of Mark. Rome: Biblical Institute Press.

Raisanen, Heikki

1982 "Jesus and Food Laws: Reflections on Mark 7:15," Journal for the Study of the New Testament 16: 79-100.

Rivkin, Ellis,

1970 "Defining the Pharisees: The Tannaitic Sources," Hebrew Union College Annual 41: 205-249.

1978 A Hidden Revolution. Nashville: Abingdon.

Sanders, E.P.

1983 "Jesus and the Sinners," Journal for the Study of the New Testament 19: 5-36.

Schwartz, Barry

1981 Vertical Classification. A Study in Structuralism and the Sociology of Knowledge. Chicago: University Press.

Senior, Donald

1984 "The Struggle to Be Universal: Mission as Vantage Point for New Testament Investigation," Catholic Biblical Quarterly 46: 63-81.

Simon, Marcel

1967 Jewish Sects at the Time of Jesus. Philadelphia: Fortress.

Smallwood, Mary

1976 The Jews Under Roman Rule. Leiden: Brill.

Soler, Jean

1979 "The Dietary Prohibitions of the Hebrews," New York Review of Books June 14, 24-30.

Stern, M.

1976 "Aspects of Jewish Society: The Priesthood and Other Classes," The Jewish People in the First Century. Philadelphia: Fortress, II, 561-612.

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