#475: The Mother of Jairus’ Daughter

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #475, on the subject of The Mother of Jairus’ Daughter.

Our Christian Gamers Guild Bible study recently reached Mark 5:22ff, a peculiar passage which begins with Jesus agreeing to go with someone to perform one miracle, healing a dying daughter, and on the way being interrupted to perform another, healing a bleeding woman.  I proposed that the two miracles were more than simply together, that they were connected, and the connection appeared to be that the woman was the mother of the girl.  Someone rightly asked what evidence there was for this, and I realized that would require pulling together a lot of little bits and pieces that might not be significant in themselves but which seem to point to something.

The Raising of Jairus’ Daughter exhibited 1820 Henry Thomson 1773-1843 Presented anonymously 2012 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/T13558

In this, it also happened by one of those intriguing coincidences that while I was posting the Mark passage I was simultaneously studying the Luke passage which should post in a couple years; the Matthew passage has already been outlined for posting, so I have been to some degree comparing that in the process.  I thus decided that I ought to put it all together and offer it to you.

I’ll also mention that I did not notice this myself.  One of the most intelligent people I know, the Reverend (now undoubtedly Doctor) David D. Oldham (whom I have known since high school) pointed it out to me.  However, our discussion of it was considerably less detailed, and he left it to me to examine those details.

  1. The fact that we have nested miracles at all is itself unique.  This is the only place in the New Testament where one miracle occurs inside the other.  We might write that off to narrative style, but that all three Synoptic Gospels include the account nested like this–not one of them separates this into two distinct events.
  2. The two miracles are connected by the statement of twelve years.  We are told that the girl was twelve years old in Mark 5:42 and in Luke 8:42; we are similarly told that the woman had been having this flow of blood for twelve years in Mark 5:25, Matthew 9:20, and Luke 8:43.  The juxtaposition in Luke of the two statements being in consecutive verses suggests that he recognized the significance.  Matthew omits the age of the girl, but he truncates the story significantly so although his omission weakens the case, it doesn’t negate it.
  3. The presence of this number is the more significant when you recognize that this story of the dying girl is the only occasion on which we are told the age of the person afflicted.  There were other occasions on which Jesus healed or delivered children, but their age was never given.  That it is given here suggests that it matters.  Yet the only obvious way in which it matters is that it matches the other number.
  4. It is also made more significant in that we are never otherwise told how long someone was afflicted, except in cases in which it was from birth.  Our woman has had this problem for the same length of time that the child has been alive–that is, she has had it since the birth of the child.
  5. The affliction itself probably escapes our attention, because when we, particularly we gentile men, read that she has had a flow of blood for an extended time we don’t immediately connect that to continual vaginal bleeding–yet that must be what it was.  Further, it is not at all uncommon for women to develop extended vaginal bleeding post-partum, and so if she had given birth twelve years ago and was still bleeding, that would be an ailment that would totally disrupt her life but would not be rapidly fatal.
  6. It is also noteworthy that we are told that the man is a principle leader of the synagogue, in Mark 5:22 and Luke 8:41 both of which give his name; the truncated Matthew account says only that he is a leader in 9:18.  However, the fact that he is named–another very unusual feature of the miracle accounts–suggests that the writers expect at least some of the readers to recognize his name.
  7. This fact that he was such a leader would mean that if this is his wife and the mother of his daughter she would have to have been put out of the house–contact with a woman with continual vaginal bleeding would make him continually unclean and unable to perform his duties at the synagogue.  Thus we find her living on the street, even though she once had the means to pay doctors in an effort to solve the problem.  The family has been separated for most of twelve years, the daughter growing up without her mother.
  8. On that, the story of the girl is split in two parts by the story of the woman, and in the first part only her father Jairus is mentioned.  The mother joins the story only after the healing of the woman when Jesus takes her inside with Him in Luke 8:51 and in Mark 5:40.  Luke 8:56 repeats the recognition of the presence of the mother by saying He gave the girl to her parents.
  9. Both of those accounts tell us that when Jesus arrived at the house and went in to see the girl, the mother entered the house with Him.  Why was she not already in the house, at the bedside of her dying daughter?  We might suppose that she had been waiting outside for her husband to return with news about the healer, but it’s a better fit if we see her coming to the house with Jesus and the others because she is the mother who has been excluded from the home for all these years due to her ailment.
  10. It is a very minor point, but all three accounts initially identify the woman with the greek word γυνὴ, which is a tricky word in Greek because of the culture of the time.  It literally means a “woman”.  However, it was the word automatically used to identify a “wife”.  Thus each time the word “woman” appears in the passage it could mean “wife”, that on the way Jesus met a wife, and healed the wife, and the wife told of her affliction and her healing.  It is not conclusive, but it is noteworthy.
  11. It might be argued that after the healing of the woman Jesus told her to leave–but the text does not say that.  In Mark 8:34 he tells her to “retire into peace”, which might mean that she should leave but might rather mean that she should leave her fears behind because she is now healed.  Similarly in Luke 8:48 the statement is “travel into peace”, which could have that meaning, or could mean that she should continue her journey without fear.  That journey might reasonably be taking her home.  Matthew has no statement telling her to leave, only reassurance of her healing.
  12. In all three accounts Jesus makes a point of identifying the woman who was healed.  It is very dramatic covering several verses in both Mark and Luke, but even Matthew makes the point that He found her in the crowd and identified her.  That might have been solely for her benefit, but it makes sense for Him to identify the woman if indeed she is the mother of the girl and her husband has to be aware that she has now been healed and can return to the home.
  13. The fact that Matthew 9:22 tells us that the cure was permanent strongly suggests that the woman did not vanish into the crowd, but that someone was still in contact with her over the years to come.  We aren’t told who she was specifically, but this detail suggests that she must have been someone known within the community, and someone for whom if the condition returned the community would know, which would apply to the wife of the synagogue leader.
  14. On the whole, if the woman is the wife of the synagogue leader and mother of the girl, then this is not one story tucked inside an unrelated other, but the story of Jesus restoring a family, bringing the mother back into the home and saving the life of the daughter.  It is a theory that gives us a whole picture here.

Thus I contend that the woman healed of her bleeding in the middle of the story of the healing of the daughter of the synagogue leader is the mother of the child, the estranged wife of the synagogue leader, being restored to her place in the home as the life of her daughter is saved.

There is a second issue in this passage worth comment (also pointed out to me by the aforementioned David Oldham).  All three accounts tell us that the people at the house believed the girl had died.  Interpreters generally conclude that they were right, that the girl had died and Jesus here restores her to life.  The problem is that Jesus insists that the girl is not dead but sleeping.  He is reported to have said this in Matthew 9:24, Mark 5:39, and Luke 8:52.  We, though, ignore what Jesus said and assume that He was being metaphorical.

Does the context otherwise support this?  It does not say that Jesus restored her to life.  In Matthew 9:25 the verb is that He lifted her, sometimes rendered raised but meaning no more than that He helped her to her feet.  In Mark 5:41 the statement is given in Aramaic but then translated to Greek, the verb here meaning to raise yourself, often used of awakening.  That same Greek verb is used in Luke 8:54.  Both of these verbs are sometimes used metaphorically for awakening the dead, and might be being so used here, but they do not prove the girl was dead rather than comatose.  It is also significant that the Aramaic verb used by Mark does not mean to awaken but to stand, which might again indicate that Jesus believed her to be alive.

Luke 8:55 uses the idiomatic phrase “her spirit returned”, which might be taken to mean that her spirit had left and she was dead.  However, Greek usage suggested that when someone slept their spirit went on a brief trip elsewhere, and that it returned when they awoke, so again we have something inconclusive.

Thus we cannot genuinely prove whether the girl was alive or dead when Jesus reached her, but as my friend suggests on this point we should probably believe what Jesus says.  After all, He seems quite adamant about it.

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