Did Mark write a scene set in Jericho, now missing (Mk 10:46)? In my book, The Two Gospels of Mark: Performance and Text, I assumed that he did. I’ve changed my mind. There was never a scene set in Jericho in the Gospel of Mark. The audience saw a large crowd (the Chorus) carrying branches enter the wing. The branches were date palm leaves, agricultural waste from the date palm plantations in Jericho. The Chorus’s costumes may have revealed them to be staff of the Herodian winter palace just outside Jericho. They participate in the triumphal entry to Jerusalem, indicating they have transferred their loyalty from the Herodian dynasty to Jesus as the new king of Israel. The intervening scene, the healing of Blind Bartimaeus, is by an editor, but could have replaced a scene or lines that more directly revealed the identity of the large crowd.
“Jericho” in the Gospel of Mark doesn’t point to Scripture
10:46 They came to Jericho. As he and his disciples and a large crowd were leaving Jericho, Bartimaeus son of Timaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting by the roadside.(Mk 10:46 NRSV)
The only substantive story about Jericho in Judean Scripture appears in the Book of Joshua. Hebrew spies enter Jericho, where the harlot Rahab assists them. Joshua and his army besiege Jericho. After seven trumpet blasts and a mighty shout, the city’s walls fall down. The Hebrews kill the inhabitants, except for Rahab and her kin, and take their possessions for the God of Israel.
It was not possible for Mark to stage an emulation of these scenes. There was no place in Mark’s theater that could have served as “Jericho”: The orchestra was already the Way to Jerusalem. Stage right held the mountain, tomb, and grove. There was no place to install walls that could fall down. No actor later discards trumpets.
Furthermore, emulation of the Joshua scenes adds nothing to the play. Jesus has already dined with social outcasts. The destruction of a city, the use of trumpets, the shattering of walls, though highly theatrical, are irrelevant to Jesus’s goal in the play of being killed by the Council of Judea. And furthermore, if the city is destroyed, there are no inhabitants left alive to participate (as they do) in the upcoming triumph of Jesus!
Let’s reconstruct the stage action
To return to Mark’s narrative text, he writes 10:46 “They came to Jericho. As he and his disciples and a large crowd were leaving Jericho…”
Let us step back to the previous scene (assuming that the original order is intact). Jesus and the disciples are centered in the orchestra, in front of the stage, disputing about “who is the greatest.” There is no stage direction for them to leave this location. They do not exit the theater and then re-enter with the “large crowd” from the parodos.
Rather, a large crowd/the Chorus enters the theater from the parodos (side entrance) Stage Right, that is, “from the country.”
The next scene is the healing of Blind Bartimaeus, who is sitting by the roadside. The large crowd is not necessary for this scene, in fact, their presence is not even mentioned. Here I affirm what I said in the book, that this scene is very likely by an editor.
So if we omit the Bartimaeus scene (or whatever it replaced), the next scene is preparation for the triumphal parade: Jesus sends two disciples to obtain a colt. The Chorus remains in the parodos. Once the disciples have returned and Jesus seats himself on the colt, only then does the large crowd leave the parodos and participate in the parade.
During the parade, the crowd lay down cloaks and branches: “Many people spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut in the fields.” (Mk 11:8) They must have brought the cloaks and branches with them when they entered the parodos from Jericho at 10:46.
The Chorus never has dialogue
Would the Chorus, while waiting or during the parade, have spoken the word “Jericho”? I don’t think so. In my examination of the rest of the Gospel of Mark, the Chorus as a group never speaks precise dialogue. If a minor character says something, his role is identified. The Chorus indicates their emotions, approval, questions, desires, etc., but with gestures and sounds, or group speech, not with specific words.
Furthermore, the Chorus is offstage in the parodos prior to the triumph. They are, literally, waiting in the wing of the theater. They can’t speak dialogue from there to the audience while Jesus and the disciples remain the center of attention.
And, if the Chorus is in the wing, the actors onstage don’t know they exist. There is no interaction with Jesus and the disciples, and no opportunity to communicate “we’ve come from Jericho.”
So the only way the audience can know that the large crowd has come from Jericho is their appearance, behavior, and/or their props of cloaks and branches.
Jericho in the world of the audience: The king’s winter palace
I suggest that “Jericho” did have meaning in the world of the audience.
Before 70 CE, the Herodian family had used the winter palace just outside Jericho. The play takes place in the 30s, while the palace was still in use. (It was destroyed in the Jewish War.)
In Mark’s time, Herod Agrippa II and his sister Princess Berenice were in Rome. I have suggested that at some point, Princess Berenice attended services in Mark’s congregation. A mention of Jericho or a pointer to a Herodian palace was meaningful to the congregants who knew/had known her.
Costumes existed that indicated “Jericho”
In real life, the palace near Jericho had included a bathhouse—a luxury found only in large cities. If some of the Chorus in the parodos were costumed as bathhouse attendants, that would be sufficient, in the context of the play which was “on the way to Jerusalem,” to characterize the Chorus as associated with the Herodian palace.
Another costume that would indicate the palace is that of the king’s household staff. Perhaps in real life these people wore distinctive fabrics, hats, or badges. In addition, the king’s official messenger(s) must have been visually distinctive on first glance.
These are only suggestions. Perhaps there are others. I think it is plausible that costume was able to convey nonverbally to the audience, the crowd’s origin in the Herodian palace near Jericho.
Cloaks and branches: Clues to location?
During the triumph, the crowd spreads cloaks (himatia) and branches. They must have brought them when they entered the parodos at 10:46. As these props won’t be used right away, this is another reason to think that the Chorus in the parodos did not draw attention to itself and its props until it was needed in the triumph.
Himatia, rectangles of moderately heavy cloth worn wrapped over the tunic, were standard clothing throughout the Mediterranean world. Nothing there to indicate Jericho.
Branches are a different story. The word is στιβάδας (stibadas) “cut down from the fields”. In other words, these are agricultural waste. Jericho had long been known as “the city of the palms” (Deuteronomy 34:3). It was an agricultural center producing crops of the semi-desert.
I suggest that the Chorus members carried leaves of the date palm. Although date palms were not exclusive to Jericho, in the context of “the way to Jerusalem” their leaves pointed the audience’s attention to Jericho and therefore to the Herodian palace nearby.
Mark does two things at once
Why would Mark have used people associated with the palace as participants in the triumph? Why not use the Chorus costumed as ordinary Judeans or Galileans, as they were before?
Because by participating in Jesus’s triumph, the palace workers are supporting Jesus’s identity as the king of the Judean nation. They even cry out “Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David!” They have given up on the Herodian family.
Given the obvious implications of the Chorus’s support, I think it likely that Mark wrote after the deaths of both Herod Agrippa II (likely in 93/94) and Berenice.
Mark’s narrative text
When Mark wrote his narrative text that preserved the play, he mentioned Jericho. We do not know the original exact wording because the editor who added the healing of Blind Bartimaeus, folded “Jericho” into the beginning of the Bartimaeus scene “As he and his disciples were going out of Jericho…”
The location “Jericho” is not important to the play. As I have stated, the word was probably never uttered. Rather, it is a clue that Mark left for the readers of his narrative text—to point them to the origin of the large crowd. “Jericho” had to be combined with the clue of the crowd’s possession of “branches” that are agricultural waste—in the context of the stage action’s location “on the road, going up to Jerusalem” (10:32). Only the reader who knows that a play existed, and imagines its action, can understand the purpose of “Jericho” in the Gospel of Mark narrative text.
To conclude, I have been led by the logic of dramaturgy (the craft of play composition) to conclude that the word “Jericho” was not spoken in the play. It was a phenomenon of the narrative text. It was a clue that helped the reader infer information that was communicated visually during the performance.
The Blind Bartimaeus scene is, in my opinion, not original. I can no longer, as I did in the book, infer that it replaced another scene where “Jericho” was spoken. The original play, I think, probably slid seamlessly from 10:46 to 11:1 (with appropriate grammatical adjustments).
The origin of the Chorus as (former) supporters of the Herodian family was communicated by the palm branches they carried, and possibly also their costumes. Their participation in the triumph told the audience that, as the royal family was defunct, ordinary patriotic Judeans now supported Jesus as King of Judea.
Note: The way I thought through the staging of this scene is the way I thought through and reconstructed many of the scenes in Mark’s play. I present my conclusions about them in Chapter 4 of the book, The Two Gospels of Mark: Performance and Text.
Note: I was no longer surprised to discover that Mark had written a scene (the triumph) that required the reader of his narrative text to know the world of his original audience. I was surprised and pleased, however, to find that once I had cantilevered out the assumption “the large crowd is associated with the Herodian palace near Jericho”, the seemingly trivial description of the branches as “cut from the fields” was revealed as a deliberate and essential part of the narrative. It told the reader what had revealed, visually, the only possible origin of the large crowd to the audience: Jericho.
3 thoughts on ““Jericho” in the Gospel of Mark: A new explanation”
Would they have scented the air with Balsam at any point during the play? In that period it mostly came from Ein Gedi and to a lesser extent Jericho: https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=2ahUKEwisnrrikpr2AhWwkYkEHZiTBb0QFnoECBYQAQ&url=https%3A%2F%2Fscriptaclassica.org%2Findex.php%2Fsci%2Farticle%2Fdownload%2F3925%2F3423&usg=AOvVaw1edc2Ing2aWi85p1ohmJWH
Ein Gedi is an oasis and a nature reserve in Israel, located west of the Dead Sea, near Masada and the Qumran Caves. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ein_Gedi
I think you’re likely right. The resin labdanum was used in incense and medicine. Labdanum may have been part of the Jerusalem Temple incense. If that is true, and it was burned during the triumph scene of Mark’s play, the scent would have underlined Jesus’s status as a consecrated sacrifice-in-waiting.
On the other hand, we can’t assume that any of the audience members could recognize the scent as specific to the Jerusalem Temple. But yet on the other hand, the scent would have indicated “religious ceremony of some kind.” The audience would have inferred “Jerusalem Temple” from the context of the play.
In the book, I propose that the anointing at Bethany used real nard. The Jesus actor remained aromatic for the rest of the play, reminding the audience of his sacred status. So if Mark used scent there, he certainly could have used it for the triumph. In the book, I reference the use of “scented saffron spray” on the audiences in Roman theaters of the first century. So everyone at the play was familiar with scent as an element of theatrical presentation.
Maybe there were others?
Re: During the triumph, the crowd spreads cloaks (himatia) and branches.
“The notice that Pilate had affixed to the cross, “Jesus of Nazareth the King of the Jews” (John 19:19), can only mean “Jesus the Nazarene” in Greek. What a Nazarene means here has been a matter of contention, but the best answer would seem to lie in Isaiah 11:1, an Old Testament verse frequently read at Christmas: “And there shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a branch (neṣer) shall grow out of his roots”—a verse that in Jewish circles has a long tradition of Messianic interpretation. Neṣer here means “branch,” from which root the Davidic Messiah shall come forth (hence the infamous Branch Davidians of recent memory).”