Lectionary Year B
July 16, 2000
Mark 6:14-29

Step II: Disposition


Some scholars want to refer to Mk 6:14-16 as "Public Ministry Story." Most of these stories focus on Jesus' identity. In this pericope, Herod hears about Jesus and thinks that this man is the resurrected John the Baptist, whom he had beheaded. A series of questions precludes his conclusion: Some say this man is Elijah, some say it is John the Baptist, others that he is one of the prophets. [Bailey/Vander Broek. Literary Forms in the New Testament. p. 148.]

The remaining verses of 6:17-29 depict a puzzle as to their function, genre, etc. Vincent Taylor calls this section an "interlude, [which] fills the gap between the Mission of the Twelve (6:6b-13) and the Return of the Disciples (6:30-ff.). Where Jesus was and what he was doing during this interlude seems to be unknown. Mark appears to tell or re-tell a popular story about the death of John the Baptist. This is the only story in Mark's gospel which does not deal directly in some sense or other with Jesus. The German scholar Holtzmann calls this interlude "das Muster einer Legende," the exemplary type of a legend. Bultmann favors the reading that Mark derived this story from Hellenistic-Jewish tradition. Perhaps, this story can be read as a "psychological profile" of king Herod (without wanting to psychologize the Gospel).

One difficulty is raised by the fact that the Jewish historian Josephus and the writer of Mark differ in referring to various details in the story (place of John's imprisonment; Mark attributes John's death to Herodias' intrigues, Josephus to political motives; etc.). Furthermore, there are various OT motifs in this story that remind the reader of the stories of Jezreel and Esther.

Thus, it remains extremely difficult to pin down the genre of this pericope, and even more difficult to determine the sources behind Mark's account of the death of John.

[Vincent Taylor. The Gospel According to St. Mark. 2nd ed. Thornapple Commentaries. p. 307-317.]


- Is the resurrection from the dead combined with supernatural powers that were not at work before? (v. 14)
- Why does nobody know who Jesus is, but Herod seems to be convinced that Jesus is John the Baptizer (or perhaps John's ghost?)?
- Why is this a story that does not seem to have anything to do with Jesus?
- What is it doing at this point in Mark's gospel?
- Although Herod throws John into prison, he seems to have great respect for this holy and righteous man. Why John? Were there not other holy and righteous men around?
- Who are "his disciples," John's or Jesus'?
- Was John's body free to be picked up by anybody?
- How did the disciples hear about his death?

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