Discussions of Book of Mormon issues and evidences, plus other topics related to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Sunday, July 09, 2017

The Miraculous Feeding in 3 Nephi 20: Intensified Over Mark, Who Intensifies an Elisha Theme

In preparing my recent paper on the longer ending of Mark and its implications for the Book of Mormon (see Part 1 and the newly published Part 2), one of the sources I turned to was Adam Winn, Mark and the Elijah-Elisha Narrative: Considering the Practice of Greco-Roman Imitation in the Search for Markan Source Material (Eugene, OR: Pickwick Publications, 2010), Kindle edition. Winn finds that Mark has deftly applied themes from Elijah and Elisha in describing the ministry of Christ, and Mark's use of Elijah and Elisha themes is one of the unifying thematic elements that Nicholas Lunn points to in support of Markan authorship of the disputed longer ending (Mark 16:9-20; see Nicholas P. Lunn, The Original Ending of Mark: A New Case for the Authenticity of Mark 16:9–20 (Eugene, OR: Pickwick Publications, 2014)).

One aspect of Mark's narrative, according to Winn, is showing Christ's superiority to or transcendence of both of those ancient prophets by "intensifying" Elisha-Elijah themes in Mark's account. For example, the miraculous feeding of two crowds by Christ is seen as an intensified parallel to 2 Kings 4:42–44 where, during a time of famine, Elisha takes 20 barley rolls and fees 100 people with them.

Interestingly, the Book of Mormon account of Christ's ministry among the Nephites offers interesting parallels to Mark and the Elijah-Elisha accounts, sometimes with clear intensification beyond Mark. The table below compares common elements in the miraculous feedings in Mark and in the Elisha account, adapted from a table by Winn (p. 82), and compared with 3 Nephi 20.

Elisha (2 Kings 4:42-44)Christ in Mark 6:30–44 and 8:1–103 Nephi 20
Hunger/famine in land (38)Hunger implied: day or days without food (6:31, 8:1–2)Implicit since those present on first day labored through night to bring a larger crowd. Hunger and thirst mentioned also in v. 8
Small amount of food: 20 barley loaves and fig cakes (42)Small amount of food: 5 loaves + 2 fish (6:38), 7 loaves and a few fish (8:5, 7)The miracle begins with no food or wine present (vv. 6–7)
Command to pass out food: “Give to the men so they may eat” (42)Command to provide food: explicit (6:37) and implied (8:2–3)Christ commands the disciples to give bread and wine to the multitude (vv. 4–5)
Servant responds with doubt/hesitation (43)Disciples respond with doubt/hesitation (6:37, 8:4)Doubt is absent. The disciples and multitude respond with faith and unity (vv. 1, 9–10)
Command is repeated (43)Command to the disciples to sit the people down (6:39, 8:6)The command to give to the people is repeated: once for bread, once for wine (vv. 4–5)
Food distributed by a servant (44)Food distributed by disciples (6:41, 8:6)Food distributed the disciples (vv. 4–5)
A large number of people eat : 100 (44)A large number of people eat: 5,000 (6:42) and 4,000 (8:8)Multitude is several times larger than the 2,500 of the previous day (3 Nephi 17:25, 19:2–5)
Extra food remainsExtra food remains: 12 baskets full (6:43) and 7 baskets full (8:8)Remnants of food not mentioned, but remnants of Israel are cited immediately after the miraculous feeding (vv. 10, 13)

Interestingly, of the eight elements in the story of Christ’s miraculous feedings that Winn lists as having parallels with the 2 Kings 4 account of Elisha, seven of these are also found in 3 Nephi 20, sometimes with logical further intensification. What is missing is the parallel element of doubt expressed by Elisha’s servant and Christ’s apostles (2 Kings 4:43, Mark 6:37 and 8:4). This absence, though, is consistent with the emphasis on the greater faith of the Nephites at this stage. Among this tried and faithful people, Christ is able to work greater miracles, as Christ tells them in 3 Nephi 19:25. The absence of doubt as a parallel is a reasonable and appropriate reversal of the pattern apparently being alluded to in 2 Kings 4. Winn observes that reversals of themes are often used in ancient literature when building on a previous text (Winn, pp. 13–14, 29, 79–81, and 112). Thus, one can argue that Mark’s use of Elisha’s miraculous feeding in the account of two of Christ’s miracles is used with equal detail and resonance in 3 Nephi 20, while differing from Mark in some significant and appropriate ways rather than being a clumsy copy.

Other Elijah and Elisha themes used subtly by Mark are even more interesting in the Book of Mormon, in my opinion. I treat them in detail in "The Book of Mormon Versus the Consensus of Scholars: Surprises from the Disputed Longer Ending of Mark, Part 2" at MormonInterpreter.com.

As with all discussions of miracles involving food, I welcome feedback.


Ramer said...

Not a food-related comment I'm afraid. :)

So let me get this straight - the proposal here is that Christ's feeding of the 5000 in Mark, as well as the story in 3 Nephi 20, were both written to parallel the story of Elisha in 2 Kings 4?

Didn't Joseph Smith essentially do something similar in his 1832 account of the First Vision, which (if I remember right) was written to parallel Paul's vision on the road to Damascus?

Mormography said...

Ramer –

As did Nostradamus when he imitated Isaiah, similar to Mormanity’s claim against James Stange.

One man’s prophet is another’s imitator, a conundrum of appealing to authority and stories.

Ramer said...


I'm not talking about imitators like James Strang (whose name you misspelled, FYI). I'm talking about writing an experience in such a way that it parallels another. There is a difference.

Mormography said...

Ramer -

Nick picker.

Do you mean like, wandering Israelites in the New World paralleling wandering Romans in the New World, Mormon Endowment ceremony paralleling Masonic rituals, or the Book of Nephi paralleling the Book of Lehi, or the Jaredite/Mulekite story paralleling the Nephite Story, or Lehi's Dream paralleling JS Sr's dream?

Nearly all Shakespeare's stories paralleled existing plot lines.

Ramer said...

Mormography -

Nick picker.
Yeah... that is a bad habit I have at times.

Do you mean like, wandering Israelites in the New World paralleling wandering Romans in the New World...

...Mormon Endowment ceremony paralleling Masonic rituals...
Not quite, although it's close. If they were familiar to him and seemed like a good starting point, and God didn't specifically tell him not to, I have no problems with Joseph Smith including some Masonic elements in the endowment ceremony.

...or the Book of Nephi paralleling the Book of Lehi...

...or the Jaredite/Mulekite story paralleling the Nephite Story...
I think this one might just be a case of history repeating itself, honestly. Who knows, though - maybe Moroni did write it in a way to parallel the story of the Nephites.

or Lehi's Dream paralleling JS Sr's dream?
Well, why wouldn't God be able to give the same dream to multiple people? Other commenters on this blog have said that they went on a mission to (I think) South America, and they meet people who claim to have had similar dreams - before reading about them in the Book of Mormon.

Nearly all Shakespeare's stories paralleled existing plot lines.
Sure. It's not quite the same kind of parallelism I'm taking about, although it is closer.

Anonymous said...

Jeff, you're in over your head here. You aren't qualified as a historian, literary expert, or theologian to comment on any of this. I know how much authority matters to Mormons. You have none. I know you're presumed direct connection to god through your so-called priesthood authority tells you otherwise, but we all know your work in this field is laughable nonsense.
Sorry, but someone had to tell you.

Mormography said...

Anon 10:21 PM - Unless we are in Communist China, let the man have a hobby.

Jeff Lindsay said...

Anonymous, thanks for the input. It's easy to say someone's analysis or commentary doesn't count because they lack whatever adequate degrees, training, or background you want to demand. It's quite another thing to respond meaningfully and point out specific flaws. Have I misread Lunn? Misapplied Winn? Overlooked key refutations in the literature? Do you feel they overreach in the first place? Or is the treatment of the Mormon 9 issue and the longer ending of Mark that you object to most, and if so, why? You can tell me your specific reasons -- and I'll honestly try not to dismiss them with nothing more than a smug putdown based on your lack of the credentials I want to see. No guarantees, though.

Anonymous said...

I think this one might just be a case of history repeating itself, honestly. Who knows, though - maybe Moroni did write it in a way to parallel the story of the Nephites.

With the suggestion that an ancient writer or writers composed the Book of Mormon with literary rather than (just) historical concerns in mind, Ramer is on to something, namely, the fact that even if the Book of Mormon is an ancient text, that does not by itself justify the many additional claims that the LDS Church has made for it.

As I see it, there are three basic possibilities:

(1) Joseph Smith composed the BoM in the 19th century. This is basically the "anti" position. It's also the question (ancient or modern?) that seems to take up most of the oxygen in LDS apologetics.

(2) The BoM was written by one or more ancient authors, and is to varying degrees fictional. This is the possibility that the BoM is an ancient text rather like contemporary scholarship holds the Bible to be: a collection of myths, stories, and other non-expository forms of writing, etc., but not history in the modern sense of that term. LDS apologetics seems to be much less invested in this question.

(3) The BoM was written by one or more ancient authors, and is an accurate history. This is the default position of traditional Mormonism. But why should it be? Why are traditional Mormons so reluctant to consider (2) as a possibility? It seems to me that this reluctance puts them on the same shaky ground that is occupied by other biblical literalists.

-- OK

Ramer said...

...even if the Book of Mormon is an ancient text, that does not by itself justify the many additional claims that the LDS Church has made for it.

Conversely, the mere fact that a story was written to parallel another doesn't inherently mean that the story is fictional.

And yes, I do think (at least to some degree) that some of the ancient BoM writers did have some literary concerns when they wrote. Take the chiasmus in Alma 36, for example. This isn't the simple chiasmus that just about anyone can produce without much thought (like some have on this blog's comments); this is a bigger, deeper one that takes some time to plan and think about. Obviously not all of the writers had this intent in mind (remember Omni 1:9?), but I'm sure some did.