Study Guide

Gospel of Mark Women and Femininity

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Women and Femininity

Now Simon's mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told him about her at once. He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them. (NRSV 1:30-31)

But Simon's wife's mother lay sick of a fever, and anon they tell him of her. And he came and took her by the hand, and lifted her up; and immediately the fever left her, and she ministered unto them. (KJV 1:30-31)

We're supposed to understand that Simon (a.k.a. Peter) was married, right? Paul seems to think so, too (check out 1 Corinthian 9:5; note that Paul calls Simon-Peter "Cephas"). The detail that his mother-in-law "serves" Jesus proves just how healthy she is—that makes Jesus quite a wonderworker. But it also reveals something about ancient attitudes toward women for us moderns who are so removed from it.

Now there was a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years. She had endured much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had; and she was no better, but rather grew worse. (NRSV 5:25-26)

And a certain woman, which had an issue of blood twelve years, And had suffered many things of many physicians, and had spent all that she had, and was nothing bettered, but rather grew worse […]. (KJV 5:25-26)

Want to get a better sense of the marginalization this kind of woman may have experienced because of her "issue of blood"? Go read Leviticus 15:19-31, where she and everything she touches is deemed unclean. Yikes. Despite what amounts to a serious case of cooties, this woman is healed when she touches Jesus, who then applauds her faith.

And Herodias had a grudge against him, and wanted to kill him. But she could not, for Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and he protected him. When he heard him, he was greatly perplexed; and yet he liked to listen to him. (NRSV 6:19-20)

Therefore Herodias had a quarrel against him, and would have killed him; but she could not: For Herod feared John, knowing that he was a just man and an holy, and observed him; and when he heard him, he did many things, and heard him gladly. (KJV 6:19-20)

Herodias wants John's head—literally. How does this woman, who is portrayed as vindictive and kind of ruthless, accomplish her goal in what is supposed to be a man-powered world?

When his daughter Herodias came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his guests; and the king said to the girl, "Ask me for whatever you wish, and I will give it." (NRSV 6:22)

And when the daughter of the said Herodias came in, and danced, and pleased Herod and them that sat with him, the king said unto the damsel, Ask of me whatsoever thou wilt, and I will give it thee. (KJV 6:22)

Just how erotic is Herod's pleasure at the dance? A female dancing at a banquet full of men is already suggestive. Add to that the other ancient literary sources with erotic dinners, and we have ourselves an R-rated Bible verse.

Then he called his disciples and said to them, "Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on." (NRSV 12:43-44)

And he called unto him his disciples, and saith unto them, Verily I say unto you, That this poor widow hath cast more in, than all they which have cast into the treasury: For all they did cast in of their abundance; but she of her want did cast in all that she had, even all her living. (KJV 12:43-44)

Major props to the widow here, for giving what little she had. But why is she poor in the first place? She's a widow—that is, a woman with no husband to protect and to provide. Ah, ancient world.

Truly I tell you, wherever the good news is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in remembrance of her. (NRSV 14:9)

Verily I say unto you, Wheresoever this gospel shall be preached throughout the whole world, this also that she hath done shall be spoken of for a memorial of her. (KJV 14:9)

This is one prophecy of Jesus that is fulfilled by the very act of reading it. Check it out: Jesus applauds a woman for anointing his head with high-end perfume (14:3-4), saying that we'll be reading about it forever. And here we are, reading it thousands of years later. Pretty cool, but it's not quite up to snuff as far as Women's Lib is concerned. She is after all fawning all over him while he reclines and dines, right?

There were also women looking on from a distance; among them were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome. These used to follow him and provided for him when he was in Galilee; and there were many other women who had come up with him to Jerusalem. (NRSV 15:40-41)

There were also women looking on afar off: among whom was Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the less and of Joses, and Salome; (Who also, when he was in Galilee, followed him, and ministered unto him;) and many other women which came up with him unto Jerusalem. (KJV 15:40-41)

We learn here for the first time that there were many women among Jesus's followers. Their job? "To provide for" Jesus—that is, make his food, wash his clothes, and other things. Hmmm. Sounds fishy to us, but what do we 21st-century people know? Jesus upholds such service as the true work of discipleship (10:41-45).

When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. (NRSV 16:1)

And when the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome, had bought sweet spices, that they might come and anoint him. (KJV 16:1)

These women definitely have more pluck than the male disciples, who are long gone at this point.

So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid. (NRSV 16:8)

And they went out quickly, and fled from the sepulcher; for they trembled and were amazed: neither said they any thing to any man; for they were afraid. (KJV 16:8)

The whole story ends with women so afraid that they are unable to tell anyone what they saw. Of course, we have to remember that fear, miscomprehension, and failure are by no means gender-exclusive in Mark's story. That's just what happens when you attempt to follow Jesus, apparently.

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