Does the Gospel of Mark Reveal Jesus’ Anger or His Compassion?

What the Codex Bezae reveals about Jesus’ temperament

This Bible History Daily feature was originally published in 2012.—Ed.


 
Codex Bezae

In the fifth-century C.E. Codex Bezae, an early edition of the New Testament written in Greek, the Gospel of Mark describes Jesus’ anger before healing a leper (Mark 1:41). While later scribes changed Jesus’ anger to compassion, it is likely that Codex Bezae preserves the original reading. Image: Cambridge University Library/ff.288v & 289r from Nn.2.41.

Textual variants among ancient manuscripts aren’t usually as controversial as chapter 1, verse 41 of the Gospel of Mark. Sometimes one scribe spelled a word differently on his manuscript, while another might have accidentally skipped or repeated some of the text he was copying. These cases are minor variants and don’t really change the meaning of the text. Other times, however, scribes added to or even changed text to clarify a passage or suit the theological preferences of their communities. That’s when things get interesting, and this passage in the Gospel of Mark offers an especially intriguing example.

In Mark 1:41, a leper has approached Jesus seeking to be healed. Most Greek manuscripts (the New Testament was originally written in Greek), as well as later translations, say that Jesus was moved with compassion and healed the man. A few manuscripts, however, say that Jesus’ anger was kindled before he healed him. So did the verse mean to convey Jesus’ anger or his compassion? If this were a popularity contest, the “compassion” reading would surely win. In 1998, the authoritative book Text und Textwert recorded only two Greek manuscripts (and a few early Latin ones) that contained the reading expressing Jesus’ anger. But, as Dr. Jeff Cate announced in The Folio,* the bulletin of the Ancient Biblical Manuscript Center at the Claremont School of Theology, close examination of one of those two Greek manuscripts has shown that it does not contain the word for either anger or compassion. Just as Matthew and Luke did when retelling Mark’s story in their gospels (cf. Matthew 8:2–4; Luke 5:12–16), the scribe of this Markan manuscript simply left it out.

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Mark

Mark composes his account of the life of Jesus in this scene from a 12th-century manuscript from Constantinople.

This now leaves the other Greek manuscript, the fifth-century C.E. Codex Bezae, as the sole Greek witness to the reading expressing Jesus’ “anger.” Much like the cheese in “The Farmer in the Dell,” Codex Bezae stands alone.

But most interesting of all, the Codex Bezae may in fact have the better (i.e., original) reading. As New Testament scholar Bart Ehrman pointed out in a 2005 article in Bible Review, “one factor in favor of the ‘angry’ reading is that it sounds wrong.”** It is much easier to believe that early scribes were troubled by Jesus’ anger and changed it to his feeling compassion, rather than the other way around. Later scribes also would have preferred the easier “compassion” reading and copied it until it became the more popular reading. (As Ehrman explains, there are other passages in the Gospel of Mark that seem to support the reading conveying Jesus’ anger.) Thus does Codex Bezae now stand as a lonely witness to what is very likely the original Greek text of Mark 1:41.

——————

Based on Strata, “Jesus’ Anger Rewritten as Compassion,” Biblical Archaeology Review, May/June 2012.
 


 
This Bible History Daily feature was originally published on May 24, 2012.
 

 

Notes:

* Jeff Cate, “The Unemotional Jesus in Manuscript 1358,” The Folio 28, no 2 (2011), p.1.
** Bart D. Ehrman, “Did Jesus Get Angry or Agonize?” Bible Review, Winter 2005.
 


 

Related reading in Bible History Daily:

The “Strange” Ending of the Gospel of Mark and Why It Makes All the Difference by James Tabor

Mark and John: A Wedding at Cana—Whose and Where? by James Tabor

What’s Funny About the Gospel of Mark? by Robin Gallaher Branch

The Secret Gospel of Mark in Debate
James D.G. Dunn reviews Ancient Gospel or Modern Forgery by Tony Burke
 


 

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  • Alec says

    If “anger” is the correct term, it hardly allows for the assumption that Jesus was angry *at* the man. I have no authority, but to me, it reads clearly: Jesus is angered at the evil manifest in illness, especially such a terrible illness upon a man who is clearly full of faith! Remember, the body is the temple, and Jesus has zeal for his temple and great anger for what demeans the temple. He hates to see bodies that ought to be a house of prayer be marred into a house of pain!

  • Tom says

    If Jesus ever said anything like

    “Unless you be like little children [- shameless, presumably], you shall not enter the Kingdom;”

    “Which is easier to say, “Your sins are forgiven you! [or, perhaps, “Your ‘sins’ are fore-given you”? – in either case, have no shame, and so no fear, and so no pain] or “take up your pallet and walk!’?”

    “Love one another as I have loved you [as presumably, we all can – but only IF we are all as fully divine as Jesus was/is];”

    “Such things you will do, AND greater, too;”

    “The Kingdom is within you [to some Pharisees];”

    “You are the Light of the World [to some ordinary men who would later let him down];”

    “Go and sin no more [to an ordinary woman who, presumably, he believed fully capable of living sinlessly];”

    “When you pray, pray ‘OUR Father….'[to ordinary folk who, presumably, Jesus believed shared the same Heavenly Parent he did];”

    “Is it not written in your Law, ‘I said, you are gods’?;”

    and

    “Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended
    to my Father; but go to my brothers, and say to them,
    I ascend to my Father and your Father, and to my God and your God;”

    then could he possibly have been indicating anything other than the fact that all human beings are just that, fully Human and fully Being, fully flesh and fully spirit, fully body and fully soul, fully ego and fully higher self, fully mortal and fully immortal, fully human and fully divine, fully Child of God, just like every soul who has ever incarnated as human….and fully capable of momentarily, at least, forgetting this and becoming overwhelmed by ego, by Fear, by Satan, by Forgetfulness, by indignation, however “righteous” – in other words, by ANGER?!

    If we are indeed all destined to do such things as Jesus Christ did, AND greater, too, should we strive to walk farther on water, or to ask to quickly advance to that state of development, of self-control, of equanimity, of evolution, of self-awareness, of Consciousness, of self-realization, of re-integration, of redemption, of atonement, of enlightenment, of Grace, of Gnosticism, of Love where we no longer experience even the slightest urge to rebuke one another, as Jesus reportedly repeatedly did not only money-changers and Pharisees, but also his own disciples…and as continued to rebuke his Apostles, according to certain canonical gospels, even following his resurrection?

    Or are we to continue to allow ourselves to feel set up to fail, doomed to endlessly try to love one another as he did us, even while believing that Jesus of Nazareth was superhuman, and we are not?

  • Herman says

    Mark had written either “compassion” or “anger”. Only one could be the very word the Holy Spirit inspired him to write down. Some scribe altered what was in his source manuscript, causing the variation. But to come to the conclusion that this only Greek version, the much later than other manuscripts has the original rendering just on grounds that it sounds incorrect, is not only unfounded, it is absurd! And Codex Bezae is filled with many deviations, making it a very unreliable manuscript! One cannot go about with the Word of God in this way.Jesus was filed with compassion, period

  • Sue says

    Perhaps both renderings are accurate. Jesus may have been both angry at the havoc Satan was wreaking in this man’s life through the curse that is sickness, and moved with love and compassion to free the man from his curse.

  • alberto says

    As usual, when there is something strange in Mark, Luke provides a useful hint, that had been overlooked. The healing took place in a village/town (Lk 5:12) and the man was blatantly violating the Torah (Lv 13:46). It cannot be excluded that he had been purposefully sent by the scribes to trial Jesus. The story proves that Jesus, who didn’t refrain from healing during the sabbath, did also heal a man while he was sinning, because his pity could not be arrested by sin. The anger of Jesus (Mk 1:41) was well motivated and in agreement with Mk 1:43.

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