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Did Jews Rinse their Hands ‘with a Fist’ (Mark 7.3)?

  • Delbert Burkett (a1)

Abstract

According to UBS5 and NA28, Mark 7.3 says that Pharisees and other Jews do not eat unless they rinse their hands ‘with a fist’ (πυγμῇ). This notorious crux interpretum has resisted all efforts to give it a plausible meaning. The present article reviews these efforts and suggests that it is time to abandon this reading in favour of the variant reading πυκνά in the sense ‘repeatedly’. This translation best fits the practice described in the Mishnah and other rabbinic literature, in which devout Jews rinsed their hands twice before the meal, twice after, and often twice or more during.

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1 πυγμη A B G L N Θ Σ Φ 0131 0274 0292 f 1,13 33 565 700 892 1071 1241 1243 1342 1424 1506 2542 Byz Lect (pugillo itc ff2 i q r1) syrhmg  arm geo slav Origen Epiphanius // πυγμην 59 179 273 544 792 1555 l387 l773 // πυκμη D // πυκνα א W (subinde itb) (crebro itf g2 l r2 vg) (= ‘many times, repeatedly’ bo) // crebro pugillo itaur // momento ita // primo itd // = ‘carefully’ syrp h eth // omit Δ 427 732 2106 syrs sa.

2 Swete, H. B., The Gospel according to St Mark: The Greek Text with Introduction, Notes and Indices (London: Macmillan, 1908 2) 144; Taylor, V., The Gospel according to St. Mark: The Greek Text with Introduction, Notes, and Indexes (London: Macmillan, 1966 2) 335.

3 Hengel, M., ‘Mc 73 πυγμῇ: Die Geschichte einer exegetischen Aporie und der Versuch ihrer Lösung’, ZNW 60 (1969) 182–98, at 188.

4 The term πυγμή occurs twice in the LXX (Exod 21.18; Isa 58.4), both times in the instrumental dative (‘with a fist’ or ‘with fists’).

5 m. Yad. 1.1–2; Str-B, i.695, 698–700.

6 Str-B, ii.13–14.

7 m. Yad. 2.3.

8 Swete, Gospel according to St Mark, 143–4; Taylor, Gospel according to St. Mark, 335.

9 Reynolds, S. M., ‘ΠΥΓΜΗΙ (Mark 7 3) as “Cupped Hand”’, JBL 85 (1966) 87–8, at 88; cited with approval by Marcus, J., Mark 1–8: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary (AB; New York: Doubleday, 2000) 441; Boyarin, D., The Jewish Gospels: The Story of the Jewish Christ (New York: New Press, 2012) 116–17, 181–2 n. 12.

10 On the dative of respect, see, for example, BDF 105–6 §197; Wallace, D. B., Greek Grammar beyond the Basics (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996) 144–6.

11 LSJ s.v. πυγμή i.2.

12 Lucian, Dialogi mortuorum 7.1.

13 Beckby, H., ed., Anthologia Graeca, vol. iv (Munich: Heimeran, 1968 2) 12.212.

14 Crossley, J. G., ‘Halakah and Mark 7.3: “with the hand in the shape of a fist”’, NTS 58 (2012) 5768, at 58; cf. Gundry, R. H., Mark: A Commentary on his Apology for the Cross (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1993) 360.

15 Congourdeau, M.-H., ed., Nicolas Cabasilas: La vie en Christ (2 vols.; SC 355, 361; Paris: Cerf, 1989–90) ii.98, line 11.

16 Schulthess, F., ‘Zur Sprache der Evangelien’, ZNW 21 (1922) 232–3; Grundmann, W., Das Evangelium nach Markus (THKNT ii; Berlin: Evangelische Verlaganstalt, 1962 2) 148–9.

17 Hengel, ‘Geschichte einer exegetischen Aporie’, 190.

18 Ibid., 193–5.

19 Reynolds, S. M., ‘A Note on Dr. Hengel's Interpretation of πυγμῇ in Mark 7 3’, ZNW 62 (1971) 295–6, at 295.

20 m. Yad. 1.1; 2.1. ‘A quarter-log is equal in bulk to an egg and a half’ (Danby, H., The Mishnah: Translated from the Hebrew with Introduction and Brief Explanatory Notes (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1933) 778 n. 9).

21 Booth, R. P., Contrasts: Gospel Evidence and Christian Beliefs (Aldwick, Bognor Regis: Paget, 1990) 201–6, at 204.

22 LSJ s.v. πυγμή ii.

23 Torrey, C. C., ‘Studies in the Aramaic of the First Century ad’, ZAW 65 (1953) 228–47, at 233–4.

24 Theophylact and Euthymius Zigabenus, cited by Swete, Gospel according to St Mark, 143; Turner, C. H., ‘Marcan Usage: Notes, Critical and Exegetical, on the Second Gospel’, JTS 29 (1928) 275–89, at 278–9; reprinted in Elliott, J. K., The Language and Style of the Gospel of Mark (NovTSup 71; Leiden: Brill, 1993) 107; Collins, A. Y., Mark: A Commentary (Hermeneia; Minneapolis: Fortress, 2007) 339, 347.

25 Hengel pointed to the accusative πυγμήν in minuscule 59 as an effort to correct this problem (‘Geschichte einer exegetischen Aporie’, 185).

26 Hippocrates, De morbis popularibus 5.1.36, line 2.

27 m. Yad. 2.3; Str-B, i.699, 701–2.

28 Edersheim, A., The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah (2 vols.; New York: Longmans, Green, and Company, 1896 8) ii.11; Cranfield, C. E. B., The Gospel according to St Mark (CGTC; Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1963 2) 233; Black, M., An Aramaic Approach to the Gospels and Acts (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1967 3) 9.

29 Hengel, ‘Geschichte einer exegetischen Aporie’, 189.

30 Swete, Gospel according to St Mark, 143; Hengel, ‘Geschichte einer exegetischen Aporie’, 189.

31 LSJ s.v. καρπός B.

32 Bidez, J. and Hansen, G. C., eds., Sozomenus: Kirchengeschichte (Die griechischen christlichen Schriftsteller 50; Berlin: Akademie, 1960) 6.29.11, line 8.

33 Torrey, ‘Studies in the Aramaic’, 233–4.

34 Weis, P. R., ‘A Note on ΠΥΓΜΗΙ’, NTS 3 (1956/7) 233–6; followed by K. L. Schmidt, ‘πυγμῇ, πυκτεύω’, TDNT vi.915–17, at 916.

35 For critiques, see Black, Aramaic Approach, 8–9; Reynolds, ‘Cupped Hand’, 87.

36 Skeat, T. C., ‘A Note on πυγμῇ in Mark 7:3’, JTS 41 (1990) 525–7.

37 McHardy, W. D., ‘Mark 73: A Reference to the Old Testament?’, ExpT 87.4 (1976) 119.

38 Ross, J. M., ‘With the Fist’, ExpT 87.12 (1976) 374–5.

39 Wellhausen, J., Das Evangelium Marci: Übersetzt und erklart (Berlin: Reimer, 1909 2) 54.

40 Boring, M. E., Mark: A Commentary (NTL; Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox, 2006) 199.

41 Swete, Gospel according to St Mark, 114; Taylor, Gospel according to St. Mark, 335; Marcus, Mark 1–8, 441.

42 Metzger, B. M., A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament (Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 1994 2) 80.

43 Westcott, B. F. and Hort, F. J. A., Introduction to the New Testament in the Original Greek: With Notes on Selected Readings (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1882; repr. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1988) Appendix (numbered separately) 25.

44 ‘But the vl., which means “frequently”, … is obviously an easier reading and thus no help’ (Schmidt, TDNT vi.916 n. 5).

45 Shin, H. W., Textual Criticism and the Synoptic Problem in Historical Jesus Research: The Search for Valid Criteria (CBET 36; Leuven: Peeters, 2004) 46.

46 Rawlinson, A. E. J., St Mark: With Introduction, Commentary and Additional Notes (WC; London: Methuen, 1925) 94.

47 Tischendorf, C., Novum Testamentum Graece (2 vols.; Leipzig: Giesecke & Devrient, 1869 8).

48 Str-B, ii.13–14.

49 Schlatter, A., Die Evangelien nach Markus und Lukas (Schlatters Erläuterungen zum Neuen Testament 2; Stuttgart: Calwer, 1947) 69 n.

50 Jülicher, A., Itala: Das Neue Testament in altlateinischer Überlieferung, vol. ii: Marcus-Evangelium (Berlin: de Gruyter, 1940).

51 Horner, G., The Coptic Version of the New Testament in the Northern Dialect Otherwise Called Memphitic and Bohairic (4 vols.; Oxford, 1898–1905).

52 Goodspeed, E. J., Problems of New Testament Translation (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1945) 5960, at 59.

53 Gwilliam, G. H., Pinkerton, J. and Kilgour, R., The New Testament in Syriac (London: British and Foreign Bible Society, 1920); White, J., Sacrorum Evangeliorum versio Syriaca Philoxeniana (2 vols.; Oxford: Clarendon, 1778); Zuurmond, R., Novum Testamentum Aethiopice: The Synoptic Gospels. General Introduction. The Gospel of Mark (Stuttgart: Steiner, 1989); Marmardji, A.-S., Diatessaron de Tätien (Beirut: Imprimerie Catholique, 1935); cf. Hengel, ‘Geschichte einer exegetischen Aporie’, 184–5. My thanks go to Francis Watson for providing these transliterations.

54 LSJ s.v. πυγμή i.3; Lagrange, M.-J., Évangile selon Saint Marc (Paris: Gabalda, 1929 4; repr. 1966) 181.

55 Ross, ‘With the Fist’.

56 Goodspeed, Problems of New Testament Translation, 60.

57 LSJ s.v. πυκνός B.ii; BAGD s.v. πυκνός.

58 Apollonius Rhodius, Argonautica 3.822.

59 Joseph and Asenath 10.1. Greek text from Fink, U. B., Joseph und Aseneth: Revision des griechischen Textes und Edition der zweiten lateinischen Übersetzung (Fontes et Subsidia ad Bibliam Pertinentes 5; Berlin/New York: de Gruyter, 2008).

60 E.g. Lewis, C. T., A Latin Dictionary (Oxford: Clarendon, 1879; repr. 1980) s.v. subinde ii; s.v. creber ii.1 crebro.

61 Str-B, i.695–6, 697.

62 m. Yad. 1.1; 2.2, 3; Str-B, i.698–9; Danby, Mishnah, 778 n. 10.

63 So Schlatter, Evangelien nach Markus und Lukas, 69 n. (‘wiederholt’).

64 Crossley, ‘Halakah and Mark 7.3’, 64, 65–6.

65 On errors of the mind among copyists, see Metzger, B. M. and Ehrman, B. D., The Text of the New Testament: Its Transmission, Corruption, and Restoration (New York/Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005 4) 257–8.

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Did Jews Rinse their Hands ‘with a Fist’ (Mark 7.3)?

  • Delbert Burkett (a1)

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