The Feeding Of The Five Thousand Religion Essay


23 Mar 2015

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Meier believes the version of the feeding of the five thousand story from Mark 8: 14-21, when compared to the second feeding miracle, is a redaction; that is being reworded. This comment is loosely based on the fact that the disciples did not experience the miracle face to face (vis-à-vis). The version of John has similarities from the one in Mark 8: 1-10, said while the same cannot be said about the one found in Mark 6:32-44; it cannot be found. For example, the question of "whence" occurs in both Mark 8: 4 and John 6:5. The main difficulty that Meir has is the John story of the feed story is independent on the version found in the book of Mark. He feels it does not make sense that the version found in Mark 8 is considered the redaction of Mark 6, if the one found in John 8 share much similarities with that of Mark 6, instead of version in Mark 8. He is aware that many people run into problems when trying to explain such a thing. Meier questions how is it that Mark creates a rewording of the story, that shares many key points with John 6 and not Mark 8; Mark 6 and John 6 share the feeding story with the five thousand people fed with five loaves of bread and two fishes, while the Mark version feeds four thousand people with seven loaves and a few fishes. On the other note, they both share the Greek name for "baskets" (two hundred pennyworth of bread), as opposed to Mark 8. According to Meier, Mark 6:32-44 has the greatest numbers of parallels with the independent version of John 6: 1 - 15. The theory that Mark 6 is a Marcan redaction based solely on Mark 8 is unsustainable. Not only is John 6 is the independent version of the feeding, but also that Mark 6 and Mark 8 represent two different versions of the feeding miracle; both were spread in the pre-Marcan tradition of the first Christian generation.

There has been great debates on which elements should be assigned to tradition or redaction in the feeding stories based in Mark 6, Mark 8 and John 6. Meier believes some redaction traits are more in the open. The Johnanne version takes great care in letting the reader know that Jesus already knows what Philip is going to do, even as Philip ask John for information. Another redaction intervention can be found in John 6:4, with the mention of Passover; which is more debatable. The best way in indicating the essential elements of the primitive feeding story is to list the elements most prevalent in at least two out of the three stories, or even from the three. Since John has the independent version of the feeding story, it makes sense for the John version and one of the Marcan versions to be used. According to Meier, the way to tell which version of the feeding of the multitude is primitive it would have to contain the following elements: The Setup (which is the temporal and geographical setting, the introduction of the characters, and the need to be met). The setting is on the shores of the Sea of Galilee, which is an uninhabited, desolate place. The actors include Jesus, his disciples and a large crowd that had followed due to the miracles performed by Christ. The dialogue in presenting the problem, Jesus and his disciples discuss on the subject about the lack of food for the multitude; there are only five loaves and two fishes. The lack of supplies is pretty obvious. The command in which Jesus tells the crowd to relax on the grass brings the setup to an end and provides the connection to the miracle proper (which is the words and deeds that affect the miracle and the awareness of the miracle taking place). Jesus takes the five loaves, give thanks, he breaks them and gives it to his disciples to distribute, same thing with the fish. Everyone is filled. The Conclusion is the confirmation that the miracle actually happened: There are twelve baskets full of leftover bread, as the multitude have become full. Other possible conclusions are that Jesus dismisses the crowd, found in the Mark versions, or the crowd acclaims Jesus, found in John's version.

During Jesus pubic ministries, many have believed he performed miracles of exorcism and doubt that the feeding of the multitude goes back to any event in his lifetime. One of the reasons is that many commentators believe the feeding story was strongly influenced by old testament stories, particularly the story of Elisha feeding one hundred people with twenty barley loaves found in 2 Kings 4:42 - 44, the accounts of Jesus actions over the bread and wine at the Last Supper, and from the regular repetition of the words and actions of Jesus in early Christian worship. It is from these stories that many critics believe the feeding of the multitude arose in the early church. In Meiers view, each sources have left their individual mark on the various versions of the story; some versions more than others. It still remains to be proven if Jewish and Christian influences had any part with creating the Gospel miracle story. The Old Testament story that has the most in common of the feeding of the multitude is the miracle of feeding by the prophet Elisha. In 2 Kings 4:42-44, a man comes from Baalshalisha, brings Elisha an offering of twenty loaves of barley bread. Elisha orders his servant to give the bread to the people to eat. The servant questions how this amount of bread can satisfy them. Elisha repeats his command with a small prophecy from Yahweh "They shall eat and there will be some left over" (v 43). The servant obeys and the prophecy is fulfilled (v 44). The parallels of the both feeding of the multitude stories are obvious: (1) The prophet's apparent impossible order: a prophets orders his servant to feed a large group of people with a known small amount of bread (20 loaves to hundred men, 5 loaves for five thousand), (2) Bread with some other foodstuff , (3) The objection from his servant: the servant does not understand what is to happen, so he protests and stresses the impossibility of satisfying one hundred people with twenty loaves, (4) The prophet's insistent command: overriding his servant's objection, insisting the order be carried out as planned, (5) The miracle and its confirmation by way of surplus: when the order is obeyed, the people are fed and there is leftover bread present. In order for another miracle to seem even greater, the number of people fed would naturally be increased in the Gospel story (from one hundred to four or five thousand), and the number of loaves on hand would naturally be decreased (from twenty to seven thousand or five thousand).

At the same time, there are apparent differences between the Elisha and the Gospel feeding miracles. (1) There is no exact geographical or temporal setting to the Elisha story, unlike the feeding of the multitude (ex by the Sea of Galilee, near Passover, in the late afternoon), (2) In 2 Kings, there is nothing said of a crowd following Elisha. (3) There is no description to who the hundred people are and it is unclear where they came from in this concise story. (4) There is no indication that the hundred people were suffering from great hunger, lack of food or are unable to get any food by normal means. (5) The miracle story in 2 Kings begins with the surprising command of Elisha, with no preparation, background, or motivation in the narrative. When compared, the conversation between Jesus and his disciples "setup" the problem of the people's lack of food before any food is present on site. (6) In the Gospels, the disciples are the ones that supply and locate the little food, and they do so only after the story is under way. (7) Jesus first commands the crowd to sit on the grass, performing the Jewish household ritual for beginning a formal meal, which does not happen in the Elisha story; including the fish. (8) The questions and objections of the disciples precede his actual order, thus introducing the miracle proper. (9) The amount of leftovers in the Elisha's story is unknown, compared to the twelve or seven baskets of bread left over in the Gospel narratives. (10) The basic structure of the concise Elisha story is based on prophecy and fulfillment, not so much the Gospel story.

There are many other parallels that some versions of the Gospel story have with the Elisha story; but the parallels are not necessarily part of the most primitive form of the Gospel miracle of feeding. For example, the notion that the bread is barley is found only in John's version (6:9, 13) of the Gospel story; the same adjective used in the Elisha story. While the mention of barley might be a relic from the primitive form of the Gospel story preserved in John, it is also possible that John's version is late and secondary. Another possible explanation of the specification of barley loaves, John mentions that the miracle takes place near Passover (which is the time of the barley harvest). In other words, John's notion that the bread was barley might simply be his way of emphasizing his beloved Passover symbolism. That goes to show that every parallel found between the present Gospel versions of Jesus' feeding of the multitude and the Elisha story does not go back to the primitive form of the Gospel story. Even though the Elisha story shares a number of basic elements with the primitive version of the Gospel story, there is much in the Gospel miracle not found in 2 Kings 4:42-44.

The other major text suggested as sources for the feeding miracle are the various forms of Jesus' words and actions over the bread and wine at the Last Supper. According to Meier, not all commentators agree that the feeding miracle was affected by the Last Supper. Among the two Marcan and the one Johanne versions, the overtones of the Last Supper seem more evident in the structure of the second Marcan story. In Mark 8: 6-7, it says (over the bread) "And taking the seven loaves of bread, giving thanks, he broke them and gave them to his disciples… (Over the fish) and pronouncing a blessing over them, he commanded them also to be set out, and they ate. At the Last Supper, Jesus said "And taking the loaf of bread, giving thanks, he broke it and gave it to the disciples… (Over the cup) giving thanks or pronouncing a blessing, he gave it to them and they all drank. It is obvious that they share similarities in words. In the second Marcan version, there is a delay in the mentioning of the fish. This causes the bread to dominate the story from the beginning to the end. In the Marcan version of the Last Supper (Mark 14:22 -23), Jesus first "pronounces a blessing" over the bread and then "gives thanks" over the wine, with the same participles, in reverse order, that are used in Mark 8:6-7.

The parallel with the Last Supper narrative is not quite clear in the first version of the feeding miracle, and less clear in John 6. The commentators that reject the Last Supper as a parallel stress the actions of Jesus over the bread and wine was merely the thanksgiving to God, as done by the head of a Jewish household over the bread that is broken to begin a formal meal. While there is some truth to this claim, it does not take into account a number of factors. (1) Mark 8:1-10 is so significant in the debate is because the tradition has evidently been carefully altered to provide a balanced pattern of "giving thanks" and then "pronouncing a blessing" over the dishes of food. The parallel of "thanksgiving" or "blessings" over the bread first and then over the side dish (fish) does not match the original Jewish ritual of thanksgiving; but matches the narrative of Jesus' parallel "thanksgiving" or "blessing" over the bread and wine. (2) Within the context of the Synoptic Gospels, it really misses the point to say that the actions of Jesus over the bread and fish are similar to ones of a Jewish host at a formal meal; the actions of Jesus over the bread do not echo with those of the Synoptic Jesus at the Last Supper. (3) The isolated version of the feeding miracle found in Mark 8:6-7 are mostly likely later developments in the tradition of the Gospel story. Neither the Last Supper nor the Elisha story can prove the presence of fish alongside the bread. The fish tends to be increasingly downplayed in most of the Gospel versions of the feeding story; they are a primitive element rather than a later development in the tradition. In Meier's opinion, there is no explanation for their presence in all the versions of the story of some originating event in the life of Jesus. The earliest form of the feeding miracle available to us does not seem to have crossed with Elisha or Last Supper motifs and some of the elements of the earliest form (notably the fish are not explainable on the grounds of the Elisha and Last Supper traditions. Rather, the account of Jesus feeding the multitude was defected. The stories of Elisha and the Last Supper do not seem to have created the Gospel feeding miracle. (4) Although the feeding miracle concerns the multiplication of loaves and fish, in every version of the feeding miracle the fish falls into the background. The subject is kept mostly on the bread, probably because the bread offers a direct cross-reference to the Last Supper. As seen in the second Marcan version of the feeding miracle (Mark 8:1-10), the story speaks almost entirely of loaves of bread or leftover pieces of bread. "A few fish" is only mentioned in one verse (8:7). Meier takes an unbiased position. On one hand, he rejects the views of the commentators that the Elisha story or the Last Supper had any influence on the feeding miracle. The parallels are so clear. On the other hand, the parallels are not much that the origin of the feeding miracle narrative can be entirely explained merely by application to the Elisha story or the Last Supper tradition.

The Elisha story and Last Supper tradition cannot completely explain the origin of the story of Jesus feeding the multitude. The question that comes into place is whether there are indications that some historical event in Jesus' ministry may be behind the early Christian narrative? The answer comes from two criteria of historicity. (1) When compared to most Gospel miracle stories, the feeding miracle is supported by an unusually strong verification of multiple sources. It is not only verified independently in both Mark and John, but also two variant forms (cycles) of the tradition lying behind Mark's Gospel; each one begins with one version of the feeding miracle (Mark 6:32-44 and Mark 8:1-10). Before the cycles were created, the two versions of the feeding miracle would have spread as independent units, the first version attracting itself to the story of Jesus' walking on the water (a development that can be witnessed in John 6), while the second version did not receive much detail. Behind all the versions of the miracle story, it would have had some primitive form.

(2) Jesus normally spoke of the coming kingdom of God under the image of a banquet. The emphasis of a banquet or festival meal as an image of the kingdom were not just words spoken; it played an important role in Jesus' actions as well. Jesus has been known for his presence at festival banquets (Mark 2:15-17; Matthew 11:18-19; Luke 7:33-34). Based on Meier's opinion, in comparison to the various celebrations of table fellowship hosted by Jesus, the most memorable one was the feeding of the multitude; due to the unusual number of participants; also this one was held at the Sea of Galilee, rather than in a town or village.

Some have suggested that Jesus and his disciples shared what little food they had with others, which influenced the rest of the crowd (especially the rich people present in the crowd) by their good example to share their supplies until all were fed. Other critics came up with the assumption that Jesus hid supplies of food in a cave and made his disciples distribute it to the crowd. Albert Schweitzer gave his own twist; Jesus gave everyone in the crowd a piece of bread as a symbol of the heavenly banquet to come; the meal was thus "the antitype of the messianic feast…a sacrament of redemption.

Meier believes the sources do not allow us to specify the details of the event, especially since the influence of both the Elisha miracle story and the Last Supper tradition on the retelling of the story in Christian decades. Whether something actually miraculous happened is not open to verification by the means of a historian; it ultimately depends on a person's worldview, not what historical investigation can tell us about the event. In the last analysis, nothing connects these widely different stories together. For some time, it has seemed that at least one link, non-historically, would connect all the "natural miracles" together. But now the common link has been broken by the story of Jesus feeding the multitude, in Meier's view, that goes back to some memorable meal of the public ministry. Once again, the common category called "nature miracles" is viewed to be an illusion.

According to Daniel Harrington, the story of the miracle feeding is the only miracle of Jesus proved in all four Gopsels, and the only one that is recounted in two forms. The feedings occur "in the wilderness" or desolate places and are "gift miracles" similar to the water from the rock (Exod 17:1-7) and the miraculous feeding of the Israelites through manna in the wilderness (Exod 16:1-36). Daniel says the Wisdom tradition feeding is linked with teaching and bread is linked with knowledge. Harrington states the closest the story in the Old Testament that parallels the miracle story found in Mark is the feeding story of Elisha; he agrees with Meier. In both stories, the main characters (Jesus, Elisha) give an impossible order involving a small amount of food and a large crowd to feed. In both cases, there is food left over even though there are more people than there is food.

The narrative follows the general structure of a miracle story with a setting that describes a situation of need, a request, the mighty work itself, and some demonstration of the action. There are a number of elements that brings up the question of relations between the two Marcian feedings. They have similarity in setting, content, and structure but also, significant differeneces. The differences are the number of individuals in the crowd (5000 vs. 4000), the amount of food originally available, and the disclosure between Jesus and the disciples. Harrington points out that in Mark 8:1-10, the disciples give no indication of knowing that Jesus will perform his mighty work, even after the participating in the feeding of Mark 6:30-44. There have been various proposals to help relate the narratives: (1) there was a single early narrative that took different forms in the tradition, (2) Mark 8: 1-10 is an early pre-Markan narrative that Mark uses to compose the one found in Mark 6:30-44 (which can detested by Meier, himself); and (3) there were two different pre-Marcian versions of the story and both were edited by Mark. There is a belief by the majority of interpreters that there was an early narrative that the individual evangelists reworked and adapted to their theological perspectives.

Harrington agrees with Meier on the thought that all the feeding stories and the Last Supp narrative, despite the significant differences, describe Jesus saying a blessing or a prayer of thanksgiving; "taking" bread, "breaking" it, and "giving" it to disciples or crowds to eat. The similarities outweigh the differences. One option that should be avoided is the belief that the people were so moved by the words of Jesus that they divided their food with others, as Meier also stated. The narrative rather gives a picture of Jesus as compassionate toward the hungry people and concerned about their physical hunger. Harrington believed a church that invokes the name of Jesus must be concerned about the spiritual and physical hungers of people today.

According to William Lane, the account of the feeding of the multitude has a particular significance in the framework of Mark's Gospel. The elaborate introduction (Mark 6:30-34), the extended dialogue with the disciples (Mark 6:35-38) , the frequent references to this occasion (Mark 6: 52; 8:17-21) and the sequel in the feeding of the four thousand (Mark 8:1-10), shows that the evangelist regarded this event as crucial for understanding the dignity of Jesus. The book of Mark shows the glory of God unveiled through the abundant provision of bread in the wilderness where Jesus is Israel's faithful shepherd. The extended conversation of Jesus with his disciples concerning bread is the distinctive element in the Marcan account of the feeding of the multitude, as Meier would agree with.

Overall, I do believe the feeding of the five thousand found in Mark 8 is the redaction of Mark 6. It only makes sense, because the version of the story in Mark 6 and John 6 share many similiarities , compared to the version in Mark 8; Mark 6 and John 6 share the feeding the story with the five thousand people fed with five loaves of bread and two fishes, while the Mark 8 version feeds four thousand people with seven loaves of bread and two fishes. It goes to show that the feeding story found in John 6 is the independent version of the feeding miracle and that Mark versions represent two different versions of the feeding miracle.

Growing up in the church, I would say that I strongly disagree with Meir's belief that Jesus performed miracles of exorcism, during his public ministries. I was taught that Jesus performed miraculous works because he had compassion and love for his people, and wanted his disciples and follows to witness the good works of the Lord, his Father. I do agree that the Old Testaments stories (particularly the story of the Elisha feeding) and the Last Supper do share many similarities, but I do not see substantial evidence to say that these two stories influenced the miracle feeding of the five thousand. As Meier said it, I also believe it still remains to be proven if Jewish and Christian influences had any part with creating the Gospel miracle story. Even though the Last Supper has parallels with the miracle feeding story found in Mark 8, the parallel in Mark 6 is not quite clear and less clear in John 6. Like Meier, I believe the actions of Jesus over the bread and wine was him giving thanksgiving to God, also done by the head of a Jewish household over the bread that is broken to begin a formal meal and sometime he acts out constantly. The parallel of "thanksgiving" or "blessings" over the bread first and then over the fish does not resemble the original Jewish ritual of Thanksgiving; only the narrative of Jesus parallel over the bread and wine. I also agree with Meier that the Elisha Story and the Last Supper tradition cannot completely explain the origin of the story of Jesus feeding the multitude. It is debatable as to whether there are any indications that some historical event in Jesus' ministry may be behind the early Christian miracle stories.

I do believe the emphasis of a banquet or festival meal as a image of the kingdom were not words spoken, but played an important role in Jesus' actions; he was known for his presence at festival banquets. I strongly agree with Meier that the most memorable banquet or festival meal is the feeding of the multitude. Growing up, I always knew and was aware of the feeding miracle; I knew a little bit of the Last Supper and knew nothing of the Elisha story. Personally, the feeding story was one of the stories that always stuck to me. I believe that whether something miraculous happening in the feeding miracle depends on a person's worldview, not from the results of the historical investigation of an event. It is up to everyone to do their own result and have their own beliefs.


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