Category Archives: aramaism

Mark Implicitly Teaching His Readers Aramaic for Narrative Purpose

Mark 10:46

Then they came to Jericho. As Jesus and his disciples, together with a large crowd, were leaving the city, a blind man, the Son of Timaeus [that is] Bartimaeus (ο υιος τιμαιου βαρτιμαιος), was sitting by the roadside begging.

Mark 14:35-36

Going a little farther, he fell to the ground and prayed that if possible the hour might pass from him. And he said, ““Abba, Father, (αββα ο πατηρ) everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.”

Mark 15:7, 11

A man called Barabbas (ο λεγομενος βαραββας) was in prison with the insurrectionists who had committed murder in the uprising
But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have Pilate release Barabbas (βαραββαν) instead.

I think it’s pretty obvious what’s going on here. Reading Mark from beginning to end, the reader is presented first with a guy who is the son of Timaeos, Bartimaeos. It can be inferred that “bar” means “son of”.

Next, Jesus has a redundant prayer, where he says “Abba, father…”. This is a bit more of a stretch, but it seems as though Mark is going out of his way to mention that “Abba” means “father” since Jesus would presumably be praying originally in Aramaic. This pericope implies that Jesus is praying in Greek. The redundancy of Jesus’ prayer is removed in Matt’s and Luke’s rendition of this pericope.

Following this, the astute reader will notice that we have encountered a character called “bar” (the son of) “abba” (father). I thought Jesus was the son of the father? Here we have some of the strongest irony in Mark. A character called son of the father who was a murderer and insurrectionist – who rightly deserves crucifixion – is released and the Jews hand Jesus (the real son of the father) over to be unjustly crucified. I included the Greek to show the grammatical forms that “Barabbas” takes. One is accusative (which means it ends in Nu [ν]) and one is nominative (ends in Sigma [ς]). This means that the “s” at the end of “Barabbas” the English translations I’ve read isn’t necessarly part of the name. So it should be “Barabba”. In some manuscripts of Matthew, Barabba’s first name is “Jesus”. So again we have a Jesus who is only son of the father in name unjustly released, and a Jesus who is the real son of the father unjustly crucified.

How ironic!

On the flip side of things, a character named “Peter” (Πετρος) first appears in Mark’s gospel. In Greek, the word for stone or rock is πετρα, so that is what “Peter” is – a rock or stone. This is what the Aramaic name Cephas (and Caiaphas) means. Cephas is one of the “pillars” that Paul writes about in his letter to the Galatians. Now why would Mark translate Cephas’ Aramaic name literally into Greek? Well, Mark is writing in Greek so there must have been some reason he wanted his readers to know that Cephas meant “rock”.

Here is the Parable of the Sower:

Mark 4:1-12
Again Jesus began to teach by the lake. The crowd that gathered around him was so large that he got into a boat and sat in it out on the lake, while all the people were along the shore at the water’s edge. He taught them many things by parables, and in his teaching said: “Listen! A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants, so that they did not bear grain. Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up, grew and produced a crop, multiplying thirty, sixty, or even a hundred times.”


“The farmer sows the word. Some people are like seed along the path, where the word is sown. As soon as they hear it, Satan comes and takes away the word that was sown in them. Others, like seed sown on rocky [πετρωδες] places, hear the word and at once receive it with joy. But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away.

Peter, the Rock, receives the Word with joy. But once trouble comes around, he flees (Mark 14:66-72). Mark is pretty hostile to the disciples, calling them dull and such. This fits with Mark’s overall theme of disciple-dissing. I don’t think that this parable is a coincidence. I think that Mark translated Cephas’ name into Greek so that Greek readers of his Greek narrative would get the parable of Peter’s fickleness. Of course, Matthew turned this literalization of Cephas’ name into a positive: “I say you are Peter. And on this rock I will build my church” (Matt 16:18).

I think the other Aramaism in Mark are a smokescreen (or verisimilitude) to prevent the reader with less gnosis from understanding:

When he was alone, the Twelve and the others around him asked him about the parables. He told them, “The secret of the kingdom of God has been given to you. But to those on the outside everything is said in parables


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Posted by on November 2, 2010 in aramaic, aramaism, gospel of mark

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