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Obadiah and the Feeding of the Five Thousand

One of the things I am finding incredibly fruitful in my research is reading the OT in the Septuagint (Old Greek version) which, at least as far as Mark goes, is key to understanding many of the OT allusions and word-plays with which Mark peppers his Gospel.

However, this morning I was translating 1 Kings 18:1-6 and the discovery was not so much to do with reading the OT in Greek as just reading it slowly. In the Feeding of the Five Thousand (Mark 6:30-45), most commentators find the “groups of hundreds and fifties” of Mark 6:40 reflects Moses’ arrangement of the people of Israel in Ex 18:21, 25; Deut 1:15. And this coheres with the Mosaic and New Exodus Typology found throughout the Gospel (See Marcus, Watts, etc).

However, a closer parallel (as the Israelites are also organised into thousands and tens) is Obadiah's (Abdiou in the Greek) rescue of 100 prophets in groups of 50 in 1 Kings 18:4. Is it really that much closer? I hear you cry. Yes, because the immediate narrative context for Obadiah's act is Jezebel smiting the prophets of the Lord. Whereas the immediate context for the Five Thousand is Herod's smiting of John the Baptist (Mark 6:14-29). And once he has put them in groups Obadiah then sustains them with bread and water, whereas Jesus sustains the crowd with bread and fish (but there is another reason for the fish - see Garland on that). Finally, in Greek, the groups are specifically men just as in Mark (ἀνήρ, 1 Kings 18:4; Mark 6:44)

So 1 Kings 18:4 contains a smiting of prophets and a saviour who groups men in fifties and gives them bread so they don't perish. This seems like a significant parallel to Mark 6:30-45 me and I nearly missed it because it doesn't contain a miracle! 

Anyway, last thing. Immediately following, in 1 Kings 18:5-6 Ahab, who is unaware that Obadiah is really playing for the good guys, divides up the land between his self and Obadiah so that they can find grazing for the animals. Thus Obadiah is a shepherd (well, the animals in question are horses and mules - but it's not a million miles off) who finds a different way (ὁδός - yes as in Exodus). As shepherding (as in Ps 23) and the Exodus are two significant Biblical themes recognised as present in Mark 6:30-45 this allusion to Obadiah (and by extension Ahab) is doubly apposite and serves to reinforce the contrast between Jesus and Herod, already implied by the juxtaposition of the murder of John at Herod's banquet and Jesus' feeding miracle. Lastly, because John the Baptist is an Elijah figure (see especially Mark 1:6) at the account of his death the reader could be expected to be alert to allusions to the Elijah narrative in 1 Kings.

Let me know what you think :-)


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