|Mark 16 and Genesis 29|
|Genesis 29 takes on some extra layers of meaning if we know that Rachel’s name in Hebrew means “female sheep”. We are told that Jacob removed the stone from the well, watered his uncle Laban’s sheep, and then kissed Rachel. (Rachel is his uncle Laban’s daughter). Also the words for “kissed” and “watered” are very similar in Hebrew. The author is having a bit of word fun here, and this same device is used in Song of Songs. This much is in the existing literature on Gen. 29. The following may or may not be.
Question – Could the author be giving us a “wink, wink” here that Jacob did more than kiss Rachel? The word for “water” according to one on-line Hebrew dictionary can be used euphemistically to refer to bodily fluids. And looking forward to song of songs 4:15, “living water” is probably used in multiple senses, one of them being a bodily fluid. (In a section filled with body parts described by metaphors, a "well" or "fountain" of living water is found in a garden). And whether the original author intended it or not, a Freudian reading would certainly say something about that uncovered well. Are we to understand that Jacob “watered” his uncle Laban’s “Sheep”?
Jacob labors for 7 years for his uncle in order to marry Rachel, but on the wedding night Leah sneaks into his bed instead. His uncle says that eldest daughters should marry first, and thus Jacob needs to labor an additional 7 years. There is some symmetry here if he sleeps with both women prior to working the 7 years for them. Would working the 7 years in chastity while the couple was in love have been plausible to the original audience? Would they have recognized the possible wink, that is visible to us 3000 years removed? It seems quite likely to me.
Fast forward about a millennium to the ending of the gospel of Mark. Karel Hanhart has pointed out that the phase used to describe the removal of the large stone “roll away the stone” occurs only once in the OT. In both cases, Mark and Genesis, the stone is large, and in both cases there are women present. He argues the author of Mark wants to call to mind Genesis 29. So far so good.
But what if Genesis 29 would have called to mind the reading I have suggested in the mind of the author of Mark and his intended first audience? What would this mean for our interpretation? I would suggest that the “rolled away stone” is then symbolic for the consummation of a marriage. The bridegroom of Mark 2:20 (Jesus) has consummated the relationship. And, we could continue – forged a new and wider covenant. If this was indeed the author’s intent, then we have an explanation for why the author ended his gospel here. He had made his final point. (We might even want to argue that some of 16:5-16:8 is a late addition). Later authors then, including Matthew and Luke, added other endings missing some of the subtlety of the original ending of Mark.
This reference to a consummated marriage would be rendered even more probable if we think there is anything to the idea that an ancestor text of our current gospel of Mark might have made connections between “becoming one flesh” in marriage, and the practice of the Eucharist. (See http://www.davegentile.com/synoptics/Mark.html near the bottom of the page.)
Continuing forward, if the author of the gospel of John understood this as the intent of the text of Mark, we have a motivation for the story at the well, where the woman is offered living water, making this metaphor more explicit. By the combination of the archetypical man-meets-bride-at-well scene, the reference to living water, and the reference to the woman’s husband, the original author may have intended his audience to get a small chuckle. But the author of the gospel of John then makes clear that living water should be understood as a spiritual gift.
The whole idea of this metaphor may strike some as offensive today, but perhaps that would not have been the case with the original audience. Could this be the explanation for the ending of Mark that has seemed to be missing an ending to so many? Does the gospel of Mark end with the new covenant of a consummated marriage?
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