Why is that, do you suppose? I am not sure the question can be answered, but characters do not smile (meidiaō) in the New Testament and the word smile never appears. A relaxed smile is seen as an expression of inner contentment, happiness, and emotional calmness. A smile, however, can be used in numerous ways. For example, to put others at ease, or it can be used, deceitfully, to fool someone into thinking that all is well, but that is because people generally understand a smile to reflect a contented inner being and friendliness. The absence of smiling in the gospels, for example, is a bit perplexing, for other emotionally related attitudes do appear. In Mark, for example, Jesus is moved with pity (1:41); he is angry (3:5), greatly surprised (6:6), exasperated (8:12), indignant (10:14), hungry (11:12), sorrowful (14:31), and feels forsaken by God (15:34)—but never smiles.
Mark has missed many opportunities to tell the reader that Jesus or some another person smiles. Here are two examples where Mark misses a chance to show Jesus' humanity: Mark 7:29, Jesus replies to the Syrophoenician woman's retort: "and he [smiling] said to her..." Mark 14:45, Judas's deceitful kiss: "and [he smiled] and kissed him…" (compare also:1:41; 2:5; 5:19; 5:24; 6:34; 5:36; 6:31; 8:21; 9:23; 10:21; 12:34; 16:6). Or should one assume that Mark wants his readers to think that Jesus never smiled? The author of the Gospel of John does tell the reader that "Jesus wept" (John 11:35); so why not at some point portray Jesus smiling?1
The absence of smiles in Mark is all the more perplexing when one realizes that characters are made to smile in other ancient literature. For example, smiles are mentioned in the Septuagint (Sir 21:20) and the New Testament Apocrypha (Acts of Paul 3:4, where Paul smiles). And smiles appear in classical literature: in the Illiad 1.595, where the Goddess Here smiles; in the Illiad 5.426, where Zeus smiles, and in the Odyssey 4.609, where Menelaus smiles.
The author of the Gospel of Mark, as a rule, does not encourage the reader's imagination with visually descriptive language.2 I have argued that whenever Mark occasionally does use language that titillates a reader's visual imagination it appears to be due to inadvertence.3 The most glaring exception to Mark's lack of visually descriptive language is the Anointing at Bethany (Mark 14:3-9), which is quite descriptive. It is, however, possible that Mark wants to cast Jesus as a clever man4 and has been influenced by Sirach 21:20, which has this to say about smiling:
A fool raises his voice when he laughs, but a clever man only rarely smiles.
How do you see it?
Missouri State University
1A related attitude, laughter (gelōs), only appears once in the New Testament in a positive sense (James 4:9). Other uses of laughter in the New Testament occur as scornful laughter (katagelaō: Matt 9:24, Mark 5:40, Luke 8:53). Did Jesus ever laugh, do you suppose? While Mark does not specifically rule it out, s/he does not encourage the reader to think of Jesus as laughing.
2See Hedrick, "Conceiving the Narrative: Colors in Achilles Tatius and the Gospel of Mark," pp. 177-97 in R. Hock, J. B. Chance, J. Perkins, eds. Ancient Fiction and Early Christian Narrative (Scholars Press, 1998).
3Hedrick, "Conceiving the Narrative," 186-97.
4Note Jesus' clever response to the question of the Pharisees and Herodians about paying taxes to Caesar, Mark 12:17.