There are actually other statements in Mark's Gospel that strike me as odd (that is: peculiar, strange, or unexpected), but these two locutions are markedly so. We have come to rely on Mark as the earliest gospel—at least Matthew and Luke wrote their gospels relying on Mark as a source. Luke even noted there were many who had tried their hand at "compiling a narrative" of the doings and sayings of Jesus, so s/he apparently accepted Mark's narrative as the most acceptable of the "many" who wrote (Luke 1:1)—and yet Luke frequently edits out and changes much of Mark's narrative.
FIRST LOCUTION is Mark's obvious exaggeration about John the Baptizer's success with the population of Judea. An exaggeration is a political statement; it is not a historical statement:
And there were going out to him all the region of Judea, and all the people of Jerusalem; and they were being baptized by him in the river Jordan confessing their sins (1:5, Hedrick; see also 1:28, 33).
In the time of Jesus the "region/country" of Judea incorporated the area around Jerusalem extending northward to about the valley of Aijalon and southward to Masada, and included eight to ten villages. The population of the city of Jerusalem during the time of Jesus has been estimated at an upper limit of around 25,000 to 30,000.1 If the population of Jerusalem was only half this number, the idea that every single person in the city and all the villages in the region of Judea were going out, and eventually being baptized by John, is simply not credible. Luke eliminates this verse, but Matthew (3:5) repeats the exaggeration with a slight modification.
Mark borders on another unfortunate exaggeration when he writes: "And [Jesus] could do no mighty work there"; Mark avoids the exaggeration by adding: "except that he laid his hands upon a few sick people and healed them (6:5; see Matthew 13:58 for a more carefully worded statement).
Several translators have completely removed Mark's exaggeration (1:5) in their translations:
From all Judea and Jerusalem crowds of people went to John (TEV)
And they flocked to him from the whole Judean country-side and the city of Jerusalem (NEB)
People from Jerusalem and from all over Judea traveled out into the Judean waste-lands to see and hear John (Living New Testament).
SECOND LOCUTION is found in Mark 4:36. The sentence is ambiguous rendering it difficult to translate. To illustrate the problem here is my literal translation, which follows the Greek word order, with the unclear statement in italics; it is followed by several other translations:
And leaving the crowd they take him as he was in the boat (Hedrick)
And leaving the crowd, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was (RSV)
So leaving the crowd, they took him (just as he was) in the boat (Moffatt)
Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat (NIV)
So they left the crowd and took him with them in the boat where he had been sitting (NEB)
So they left the crowd and took him away in the boat in which he was sitting (Goodspeed)
And when they had sent away the multitude, they took Him along in the boat as He was (NKJ)
And sending away the multitude, they take him even as he was in the ship (Douay)
So they left the crowd, and his disciples started across the lake with him in the boat (TEV)
Translators have taken the odd locution to refer either to Jesus already being in the boat (see Mark 4:2), or to the appearance or condition of Jesus (as he was, NKJ, or just/even as he was: NIV, Moffatt, Douay). Goodspeed and NEB use words other than Mark's in their translation. And TEV simply eliminates the obscure phrase. Both Luke and Matthew, resolve Mark's lack of clarity by having Jesus get into the boat with the disciples when they leave, and thus eliminate the obscure phrase as he was (Luke 8:22; Matthew 8:23).
The larger issue raised by these two odd locutions is the ethics of Bible translation.2 Does the interpreter/translator allow Mark's problematic locutions to remain, or does the interpreter/translator change Mark's text in order to resolve the ambiguity in the interests of maintaining a text suitable for worship, since public reading of the Bible should not raise questions in the minds of the worshippers? To put the matter differently, does the interpreter/translator serve the interests of the church, or serve a historical sense that always demands complete transparency?
What are your thoughts?
Charles W. Hedrick
Missouri State University
1J. Jeremias, Jerusalem in the time of Jesus (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1968), 84.
2C. W. Hedrick, "Satyrs or Wild Goats. The Politics of Translating the Bible," The Fourth R 24.5 (November –December 2012):21-22, 24.