Academic journal article Journal of Biblical Literature

The Man with the Flow of Power: Porous Bodies in Mark 5:25-34

Academic journal article Journal of Biblical Literature

The Man with the Flow of Power: Porous Bodies in Mark 5:25-34

Article excerpt

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In the history of scholarship, the story of the healing of the woman with the flow of blood has been treated as just one of many miracle stories that amplify the mysterious powers of the Markan protagonist and underscore the importance of faithfulness. Whether Jesus is viewed as a Hellenistic divine man (...), a prophet styled in the fashion of Elisha, or some combination of the two, this passage- like so many other healing stories-serves to demonstrate his ....1 Scholarly interpretations of the passage have therefore focused on fleshing out the specific details of the woman's ailment, magical or prophetic parallels to the account, and the relationship of this story to the surrounding narrative concerning Jairus's daughter.

This article takes its rise from the intriguing suggestion in Mark 5:28-30 that the touch of the woman instigates an unconscious flow of power from the body of Jesus. I will argue that the bodies of the woman and Jesus parallel each other in the sense that both are porous and leak uncontrollably. When viewed in the context of Greco-Roman models of the body, both the woman and Jesus appear weak, sickly, feminine, and porous. In the case of Jesus, this presentation subverts the dominant medical practices that have failed the woman with the flow of blood. Furthermore, it reverses the traditional association of porosity and weakness, both because Jesus leaks a positive, healing power and because this leakage of power points toward his concealed identity.

I. Scholarly Interpretations of Mark 5:25-34

In Mark 5:25-34, a woman who has suffered from a flow of blood for twelve years comes to Jesus in the crowd. Traditional medical solutions have failed, leading her only to grow worse.2 Being unable to reach Jesus she clutches the hem of his garment. Power flows out from Jesus and she is healed. In the history of scholarship, this pericope has attracted the attention particularly of scholars interested in the woman's gynecological ailment and its relationship to purity.3 These interpretations have centered on the woman's femininity, anonymity, and ritual impurity to fascinating effect. The placement of the narrative at the center of the story of Jairus's daughter (5:21-24, 35-43), in which a young woman twelve years old-the age of childbearing-is raised from the dead, only reinforces the theme of female reproductive abilities. But the specifically gynecological nature of her medical condition and the contrast with Jairus's daughter have led scholars to focus on her identity as a woman to the neglect of her disability.4We have received this account as a story about women but have allowed her femininity to wash over her infirmity. Her condition is specifically gynecological, but the focus on the flow of blood causes us to overlook the broader perception of bodies in the ancient world.5

Other interpretations of this pericope have focused on analogous practices in Hellenistic magic.6 The practice of healing via physical touch is not unprecedented. Gerd Theissen draws attention to an anecdote in Plutarch's Life of Sulla in which a woman, Velaria Mesalla, extracts a thread from Sulla's garment in the hope of securing a portion of his luck (35.4).7 David E. Aune likewise notes that, in the ancient world, healings could take place by coming into contact with the clothing of a charismatic healer or magician.8 He cites examples in which the sick are healed of disease by touching the possessions or garments of powerful magicians and healers. The statue of a hero, for example, was believed to have the same healing powers as the person it represented.

In the canonical NT the closest unrelated analogy for this kind of magical healing via osmosis is found in the summary of Paul's healings in Acts 19:11-12: "God did extraordinary miracles by the hands of Paul, so that handkerchiefs or aprons were carried away from his body to the sick, and diseases left them and the evil spirits came out of them. …

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