Today’s translated Passage: Mark 2:18-20 is complete.
18 John’s disciples and the Pharisees were fasting, and they came and asked him,
L’mah talmidey Yohanan w-thalmidey Prisha’a çaiymin,
“Why do John’s disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees fast,
bram talmideik la çaiymin?
but your disciples don’t fast?”
19 Jesus said to them,
Mah mashkah beney ganuna’ kad hathna’ `emhon l’miçum?
“Can the groomsmen fast while the bridegroom is with them?
K’mah d-hathna’ `emhon, la mashkah l’miçum.
As long as they have the bridegroom with them, they can’t fast.
Bram yithun yomaiya’ kad hathna’ yithn’seb minhon,
20 But the days will come when the bridegroom will be taken away from them, 1
w-yiçmun b-‘ileyk yomaiya’.
and then will they fast in that day.
This is a passage that tends to be overlooked by some, but does have some interesting tidbits about the culture and times of Jesus and his early followers: Mainly fasting. Fasting is the practice of abstaining from food for a determined period of time, and due to the body’s natural responses it (among other things) heightens the senses, and is believed to allow one to be more aware of themselves and their spiritual pursuits.
In modern days, a number of different fasting traditions are observed within the greater body of Christian tradition, and a lot of benefits of regular fasting have been uncovered by scientists, but since these are not within the scope of this article, I recommend that you research those on your own. 🙂
In any case, we first see that the disciples of John the Baptist and the Pharisees are put in contrast with Jesus’ disciples over the fact that they fast where Jesus’ disciples do not. Fasting was a common facet of certain sects of first century Judaism, with particular days of the week dedicated to this practice in addition to fasting on particular holidays and before certain rituals. Where the fasting habits of the early Baptists are not very well known, we do know that various sects of Judaism fasted twice a week on Mondays and Thursdays.
So, this particular passage in Mark tells us two interesting things:
1) This shows that the author of this pericope where Jesus is confronted was probably aware of the practice of fasting and the controversy surrounding it, and Jesus’ response serves as an explanation for differing practices on fasting. From sources outside the Bible we find that some early Christians also fasted twice a week like the Pharisees, only they did so on Wednesdays and Fridays. The Didache (an early collection of post-Biblical Christian observances) mentions this change of schedule due to a contention between early Christians and some Jewish movements. Given the language employed (the Didache refers to “not fasting like the hypocrites,” presumably certain sects of Pharisees) this was apparently a sticking point between them.
2) The discussion of the bridegroom being “taken away” gives us a hint towards this story’s origins in Aramaic. “To take” in the Greek of the New Testament is represented by the word ἀπαίρω /apaírô/ which means “to be taken away” or “carried off” and is found here in the Aorist Passive. This use and placement of the Aorist Passive is a perfect grammatical fit for the use of the Imperfect tense of the Aramaic word /n’sab/, which not only means “to take” but “to marry.” This meshes completely with the discussion of the bridegroom and early wedding customs. Furthermore, no such additional meaning inherently exists in Greek.
In essence, this is evidence of this passage being an early tradition within the New Testament narrative.
PS: Good luck to everyone who is in the middle observing St. Martin’s Lent, one of the many fasting observances within the greater body of Christian traditions.
- “To take” in Aramaic is also a common word for “to marry.” ↩