The crowds who came to see Jesus.

by K.W. Leslie, 17 August

Having fans isn’t always a great thing.

Mark 3.7-12 • Matthew 4.24 - 5.1 • Luke 6.17-19

Despite the Pharisees’ frustration with Jesus curing people on Sabbath, word about Jesus spread all over the province—and to the provinces nearby. Jesus gradually found himself with loads of followers. Impractically large loads of followers. From all over.

These passages aren’t all that parallel, but they roughly cover the same ground, so you get the idea.

Mark 3.7-12 KWL
7 Jesus went back over the lake, with his students and many groups:
People from the Galilee, Judea, 8 Jerusalem, Idumea, beyond-Jordan, Tyre, and Sidon.
Hearing about whatever Jesus was doing, many groups came to him.
9 Jesus spoke to his students so they’d have a boat nearby, because of the crowds.
Thus they wouldn’t crush him. 10 Jesus had cured many.
So the many plague-sufferers could touch him, they resorted to jumping him.
11 Whenever unclean spirits saw Jesus, they fell down before him,
shouting out, “You’re the son of God!”— 12 and Jesus silenced them, lest they expose him.
Matthew 4.24 - 5.1 KWL
24 The rumor of Jesus went out to all Syria.
People brought him everyone who had all sorts of evil diseases,
those crushed by torments, demoniacs, lunatics, the paralyzed,
and he cured them.
25 Many crowds followed Jesus:
People from the Galilee, Dekapolis, Jerusalem, Judea, and beyond-Jordan.
1 Seeing the crowds, Jesus went up a hill.
As he seated himself, his students came to him.
Luke 6.17-19 KWL
17 Coming down with them, Jesus stood on level ground,
with many crowds of his students, a plethora of people
from all Judea, Jerusalem, the coastline of Tyre and Sidon.
18 They came to hear Jesus—and be cured from their diseases.
Those tormented by unclean spirits were dealt with,
19 and all the crowd sought to touch Jesus, for his power came out and cured everyone.

People from everywhere were coming to Jesus. Not just fellow Jews who lived in the Galilee, Judea, and Jerusalem. Time for a mini-geography lesson.

Idumea. This wasn’t a separate province, but the southern part of Judea, land which used to belong to the tribes of Judah, Benjamin, and Simeon—but now was populated by Edomites. (The “Idum” part of the name is your clue there.)

Edomites were also Hebrews, descendants of Israel’s brother Esau. They had their own covenant with the LORD, and also worshiped him—but just as poorly as the Israelis had, so that’s not saying much. King David ben Jesse conquered Edom in the 10th century BC and made it a vassal state. 2Sa 8.13-14 From time to time it rebelled—and rejoiced when the Babylonians invaded and carried off southern Israel. Ps 137.7 The prophets declared God would judge them for their rancor, Lm 4.21-22, Ob 1.10-21 and that’s precisely what happened: The Nabateans conquered Edom in the 400s BC, and drove the Edomites out of their own land in the 200s BC.

But back while the Jews had been dragged off into Babylonian captivity, some of the Edomites took advantage of the vacant land, and moved in. They populated the area south of Judah, extending as far north as Hebron. And when the Nabateans drove out the Edomites, that’s where they went. (Those folks who claim the Jordanians are the descendants of the Edomites: Nope. That land’s been predominantly Saudi since the 600s.)

Judas Maccabaeus conquered Idumea in 163BC, 1Mc 5.65 NRSV and in 126BC King John Hyrcanus forced them to be circumcised and integrated with the Jews, over the objections of the Pharisees. (Who grew to relent, after the Edomites became good Pharisees.) John’s governor over Idumea, Antipas, was the grandfather of Herod 1—who included Idumea in his kingdom. The Romans likewise considered it part of Judea, and over time, the Edomites completely blended in with the Jews.

Beyond-Jordan. Remember those Nabateans who conquered Edom? This’d be their territory. Technically it was the kingdom of Nabatea, but the New Testament only calls it “beyond-Jordan.”

Nabateans were originally a northern Arabian tribe, who took advantage of the Babylonian captivity of Israel to take over Edom, and create an “empire”—really just a network of Nabatean cities, headquartered in Raqmu (today’s Petra, Jordan), spread all over Arabia. Their land wasn’t part of the Roman Empire till Emperor Trajan conquered it around the year 107. So in Jesus’s day, beyond the Jordan meant outside Israel—and outside the Roman Empire.

Dekapolis (or Decapolis). The word is Greek for “ten cities,” but really it was 19 cities: These were Syrian Greek cities located all over northern Israel, Syria, and Nabatea. Included among them were Damascus (now the capital of Syria), Philadelphia (now Amman, Jordan), and Gadara (whose territory was where Jesus threw a legion of demons into pigs, Mk 5.1-20). They were city-states and independent, yet once the Romans built roads connecting them, they began referring to themselves as a union.

Yep, they were gentiles. Yeah, there were actual Zeus-worshiping gentile cities in Israel. Made the Judeans nuts, but once the Romans moved in, the cities of the Dekapolis had freedom to worship those gods. So the Jews tended to stay away from them and leave them to do their own thing.

Tyre and Sidon. Now cities in Lebanon, they were originally Phoenician, both found on the Mediterranean coast. Sidon is further north, and Sidonians probably founded Tyre. Both cities were actually within the territory of the tribe of Asher, Jg 1.31 but the Israelis never conquered ’em.

Tyre was originally an island city, which ruled the town of Ushu on the mainland (which became also known as Tyre). King David was allied with its King Hiram. 2Sa 5.11 Originally an island city which ruled the land near it, Alexander of Macedon built a causeway to it in 332BC. His generals tied it together with Syria, but in 126BC it became an independent city-state and Roman province.

Sidon’s more known as a city which pestered Israel, Jg 10.12 and where Queen Jezebel came from. 1Ki 1631 Elijah hid out there during the drought. 1Ki 17.9 And Jesus visited both Tyre and Sidon. Mk 7.24

So really, we’re talking about the Gailiee’s neighbors. They’d heard rumors of Jesus, and left their homelands to see him. Hey, Jesus could cure illness, and they had illnesses. They had no other hope. So they sought him.

All sorts of evil diseases.

Mark mentioned the people were suffering from mástigas/“whips,” which the KJV correctly translates “plagues.” Other translations try to water this down as something more generic, like “diseases” or “afflictions.”

Largely that’s because we don’t suffer from plagues like the ancients did. (Or, for that matter, the folks who translated the King James Version.) Plagues were terrifying. Imagine a disease which killed just about everybody, and since scientific medicine didn’t exist yet, no treatment worked. Bubonic or pneumonic plague, smallpox or any other wide-spreading virus: An outbreak of these diseases would wipe out entire villages.

Hence people were convinced plague was the wrath of God, meant to whip the sin out of them. The only treatments they knew were folk medicine, which largely did nothing. Pagan yatrói/“physicians”—really witch doctors—were no real help. I ranted about them a bit elsewhere. But Jesus could cure plague.

And anything else! Thus far Mark described Jesus curing illness, injury, paraplegia, and “leprosy”; later blindness, even death. Mark also described Jesus performing exorcisms, throwing out unclean spirits and false gods (i.e. “demons”). Picture a country with absolutely no healthcare to speak of, and a doctor shows up. If you’ve ever seen medical missionaries, the locals just swarm them. Well, that’d be what Jesus experienced. A swarm.

The KJV describes says “they pressed upon him to touch him,” Mk 3.10 KJV which sounds like they just crowded him. People don’t realize just how violent the idea of epipíptin/“tackling” is. I went with “jumping.” Jesus might be trying to teach a class, eat breakfast, sleep… and suddenly some grief-stricken father, out of his mind with fear over his plague-stricken children, would bust into the room, willing to knock down every student who got in his way, because he had to get to Jesus. Missionaries, back me up here.

Likewise people with unclean spirits—some of which were put into people because the yatrói tried to cure ’em with “helper spirits” which turned out to be unclean. As a result, demoniacs were everywhere. And they freaked out when they saw Jesus: They knew exactly who he was. He’s the son of God. Mk 3.11 As far as they knew, he wasn’t coming till the End; what was he doing there? Scared the hell out of them, which likely was some of the reason they made so much noise coming out.

Matthew mentioned lunatics. Mt 4.24 Literally it’s selinia-zoménus/“moonstruck”—but our word luna-tic also makes a reference to the moon. Some bibles translate it “epileptics,” because Matthew also relates a story of a lunatic boy who actually had a demon triggering his seizures. Mt 17.14-20 Too many interpreters leapt to the conclusion this was epilepsy—a diagnosis which has done epileptics a world of hurt. Lunacy is usually a mental illness, and means you need a doctor, not an exorcist. Thankfully Jesus is both, and diagnoses better than bible interpreters.

Anyway, because of all this popularity, Mark mentioned Jesus had his students keep a boat on hand.

The getaway boat.

People miss the point of the boat. They remember Jesus used it as a clever way to give his lectures, Lk 5.3 and presume Jesus kept a boat available so he could pull this stunt again. They imagine the beach might serve as a natural amphitheater, with his voice bouncing off the calm water while the crowd stood on the shore and listened. That’s how the movies show it.

Except I’ve been to that beach. Lake Tiberias isn’t a small pond. It’s a lake large enough to not see the other side; it’s why the locals legitimately call it a sea. It regularly produces waves, crashing all the time I’ve lived near the Pacific Ocean for years, and attended more than one beachfront wedding. A beach is a really lousy place for public speaking. The sound of the waves is the very same sound as white noise. It kills sound. You don’t wanna preach from a boat if you can help it; I suspect the first time Jesus tried it, he decided he wasn’t doing that again.

So no, Jesus didn’t have the boat because it was such a great way to address crowds. It was the only way he could keep people from imposing on him while he tried to teach them. It was for crowd control. When he couldn’t keep their hands off him, he got in the boat. And sometimes left.

Some folks honestly don’t understand the problem popularity can be. They assume when you have a lot of fans, when a lot of people want to be around you, it’s wonderful. They don’t realize some of this so-called “love” ain’t so loving. Some of it is awfully stalker-like. Stalkers don’t recognize the difference: Breaking into a house and filling it with flowers sounds totally romantic to them, whereas their victim finds it quite frightening. Stalkers think they’re showing love; what they really show is a total disregard for a person’s space, property, peace, well-being, or wishes. And unlike Paul’s description of love, this behavior does act with strong emotion, go on about itself, exaggerate, is rude, and only looks out for itself. When denied, it turns to hate, plots evil, and delights in spite and vengeance and other forms of wickedness. It ain’t love.

No, Jesus’s fans didn’t love him. They wanted something from him. They wanted a piece of him. They wanted to feel better about themselves by virtue of making contact with him. They wanted him to overthrow the Romans. And when he didn’t, they were perfectly okay with the Romans crucifying him.