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Did Jesus Curse Himself in Mark 8:12?

In my reading today I was surprised to come across this

“Jesus hat nach Mk 8 diese Forderung scharf abgelehnt mit einer damals üblichen Formel, die eigentlich bedingt eine Selbstverfluchung enthält: „(Verflucht will ich sein,) wenn dieses Geschlecht ein Zeichen bekommt!“ D. h. positiv ausgedrückt: „Dieses Geschlecht wird sicherlich kein Zeichen erhalten!“ (Haenchen, Ernst. Der Weg Jesu: Eine Erklärung des Markus-Evangeliums und der kanonischen Parallelen. 2nd ed. dGl. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 1968, p284)

Haenchen states that in Mark 8:12 Jesus self-curses and states "I'll be damned if this generation gets a sign!" This seems shocking on several levels. Firstly, that is not how we would expect Jesus to speak. Secondly, why hadn't I noticed this before - having read Mark through in Greek several times? Thirdly, why is there no trace of this in our English translations?

A quick check of the commentaries reveals that Haenchen is not being controversial to suggest that Jesus self-curses here. The Greek reads:

ἀμὴν λέγω ὑμῖν, εἰ δοθήσεται τῇ γενεᾷ ταύτῃ σημεῖον

Which could be woodenly rendered

"Amen I say to you, if this generation will be given a sign . . . "

The commentators see this as an implicit oath, in the form of an OT expression, e.g. 2 Kgs 6:31,  "So may God do to me, and more, if the head of Elisha son of Shaphat stays on his shoulders today." (NRSV)

What's missing from Mark 8:12 is the "so may God" clause (in technical terms the apodosis to the protasis). Thus Stein calls this a "self-imposed curse" and France a "self-execration." But importantly the curse is not in the text it is only implied by the apparent idiom.

It surely doesn't seem right for the Son of God to talk like this. Mark's Jesus is more human, and portrays him as more subject to to anger and other emotions in comparison to Matthew and Luke. In fact the synoptic versions of this incident (the request for a sign) completely change Jesus' response, Matt 12:39; 16:1; Luke 11:16. This editing, among other things, suggests that Matthew and Luke were not comfortable with this sort of talk on the lips of the saviour.

The English translations we are used to bring out Jesus' negative response to the request for a sign, but completely hide the element of self-execration. Does this matter?

Well, Haenchen's shocking translation "I'll be damned" (Verflucht will ich sein) is probably going too far. It implies Jesus wishing damnation upon himself, something hard to imagine no matter the circumstances. But it raise the question, what curse is implied by Jesus' words?  The construction in 2 Kgs 6:31 only makes sense because the "if" clause (protasis) contains a threat. There is no threat contained in the "if" clause of 8:12. There is no clue as to what Jesus is supposed to be cursing himself with.

In fact, does it have to be read as a negative expression or is it a genuine condition? Instead of Jesus using an idiom to express an emphatic negative, what if we should read this phrase literally as a condition?

Let me try to explain. One of the difficulties with this passage (Mark 8:11-13) is that Jesus has been doing many "signs"  which prove his authority and the coming kingdom. Furthermore he will go on to perform other signs, in particular the clearing of the temple (Mark 11) where the response to Jesus' signs is for the religious authorities to plot his death (Mark 3:6; 12:12; 14:1.).

Could we not read this implied curse as something like: "if this generation gets a sign - it will be the end of me." Which of course would be true, something terrible did happen to Jesus as a result of the signs he performed (it just wasn't the end-end).

Idioms sometimes should be read literally. If I shoot myself in the foot whilst in a job interview, you know it is likely to be an idiom saying I somehow sabotaged myself. But if I shot myself in the foot while duck hunting you know a more literal reading is more likely.

Is it possible that instead of cursing himself Jesus is in fact making a prediction as to what will happen to him when the religious authorities see the signs he does for them, and it wont be pretty?

Just a thought, let me know what you think :-)


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