Sunday, October 30, 2022

On Mark's Writing Style (with a Nod to Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet)

Today's morning devotions? Mark 5:25-28. And here I found something I wasn't expecting. It's the story of the healing of the woman who touched Jesus' clothing. Now, here's what is so different about this passage. Every Greek student knows that Mark loves to use a simple kai ("and") as a conjunction in his Gospel. A full 64 percent of sentences in Mark begin with kai. That's 376 sentences out of a total of 583. Of the 38 sentences in Mark 1, for instance, 33 of them begin with this simple conjunction. We might say that kai is the unmarked connector in this Gospel. This is one reason why some claim that Mark, as a writer, was incapable of forming complicated sentences like we find in Paul's writings. 

So what do we do when we come to Mark 5:25-28, as I did today? 

Here Mark uses 7 -- count them, seven-- dependent clauses (underlined below) before introducing his main verb (circled). These dependent clauses are all comprised of participles in the Greek. 

Here's my slavishly literal rendering of these verses (with the Greek participles underlined):

And a woman, being in an issue of blood twelve years, and many things having suffered under many physicians, and having spent all that she had, and having profited nothing, but rather having come to the worse, having heard about Jesus, having come in the multitude behind, she touched his garment." 

What do y'all think of this? Pretty amazing if you ask me. I call this a writer's "tone" in writing. All writers have their own points of view and feelings toward the subject they are writing about. Through word usage and syntactical choice, they can convey that tone precisely to the receptor audience. In fact, the same writer can adapt his writing style even in the same work. Shakespeare is famous for his poetic writing style, including both blank verse and iambic pentameter. But he could also use simple prose without any attention to meter and rhyme, especially for everyday conversations. In Romeo and Juliet, for example, we hear Tybalt say to Benvolio:

What, art thou drawn among these heartless hinds?

Turn thee, Benvolio; look upon thy death.

Here we see 10-syllable lines but they don't rhyme -- hence, "blank verse." But Shakespeare can also use iambic pentameter (10 rhyming syllables) when it suits his purposes. Later in the story, Romeo is talking about a woman for whom he is love sick but who does not return his love. Romeo is depressed, he is grieving, he is sad -- lots and lots of emotion here. So we're not surprised to see iambic pentameter:

Griefs of mine own lie heavy in my breast,

Which thou wilt propagate to have it pressed

With more of thine. This love that thou hast shown

Doth add more grief to too much of mine own.

Here we see "breasts" and "pressed," "shown" and "own," "sighs" and "eyes," causing these lines to rhyme and adding to the pathos of the plot line. 

Back to Mark 5:25-28. What pathos! A woman in great distress is suffering from hemorrhages for a period of 12 years. The drain of blood is apparently without any intermission. It is impossible for her to ever feel healthy. She cannot be healed by any physician. Her sickness is -- incurable! All of this is background information that Mark nicely highlights by his use of participles. The greatness of the woman's faith in the healing of power of Jesus, however, overcomes all of her reservations and she TOUCHES his garment. And in that one brief moment her bleeding stops. Health now surges through every part of her body.

Takeaways for me: 

1) Not only does Jesus by means of miracles display his power but also his infinite love. He carries our diseases by taking our infirmities upon himself. His sympathy overleaps the boundaries of race, gender, and nationality. "Hallelujah, what a Savior," as the old hymn puts it. 

2) There's nothing like studying a passage from the New Testament in the original language. (You knew I had to add that, right?)