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The Gospel of Mark's Sources - The Raising of Jairus' Daughter

Neil Godfrey
Original Date
3 March 2007


The Gospel of Mark's Sources

The raising of Jairus' daughter

Is this story a unique historical event that was related by eyewitnesses or do we have evidence that the author was basing this narrative on a similar story or stories well known to him? What is the more rational belief: that the dead rise or that authors imitate and adapt stories well known to them?

2 Kings 4:8-37


Mark 5:21-43

The woman grasps Elisha by the feet


Jairus falls at the feet of Jesus

Her daughter has just died


His son is at the point of death

The mother has faith all will be well


The father has faith all will be well

While Elisha and the mother are travelling to the child Elisha's servant brings news that the child is dead.


While Jesus and the father are walking to the child Jairus' servants bring news that the child is dead.

Elisha makes himself alone in the room with the child.


Jesus puts all the others out of the room so only he and his closest associates are with the child.

Elisha makes physical contacts with the child and he is restored to life


Jesus takes the child by the hand and she is restored to life

The woman responds with worship


The parents are amazed.

Uncharacteristic control over crowds

While imitating the Elisha story the author of Mark's gospel has found it necessary to break his habit of showing Jesus at the mercy of crowds. Until now Jesus has been forced out into the wilderness or into a boat because of crowds flocking to see him (1:45; 3:9). But with the Elisha story as his template he now has Jesus quite capably commanding the crowds not to follow him on his way to Jairus' house (5:37) and once there he even “puts” others out of a room (5:40) so he and his closest can be alone with the child.


Awakenings from “sleep”

Jairus means “he enlightens/sees” or “he awakens”. “Coincidentally” the Elisha story twice uses “awakening” imagery in relation to the resurrection of the Shunammite's son:

Now Gehazi went on ahead of them, and laid the staff on the face of the child; but there was neither voice nor hearing. Therefore he . . . told him, saying, “The child has not awakened.” And when Elisha came into the house, there was the child, lying dead on his bed. . . . then the child opened his eyes.(2 Kings 4.31-35)

Mark has employed the same image not only by his choice of the name “Jairus” but explicitly in the narrative itself:

When he [Jesus] came in he said to them, “ . . . The child is not dead, but sleeping.(5:39)



The story concerns the ruler of a synagogue. Archaeologists have uncovered no remains of synagogues in Galilee from the mid first century c.e. For recent research on the famous Capernaum synagogue see S. Loffreda's article Coins from the Synagogue of Capharnaum.


Purpose of the story

Is there any evidence that Mark is “recording” this story because he wants to inform readers of what “really happened”? There is so much “craft and artifice” to the story (cf also the note on the “uncharacteristic control of crowds” above) that this seems highly unlikely:

  • although Jairus was a well known name it's meaning and use in this context seems too convenient;

  • symbolic meanings and artificial presentation dominate the story: the story is about a 12 year old girl and carefully brackets another story of a woman haemorrhaging for 12 years;

  • since the author is writing in Greek all that Jesus said it is surely “quaint” that in this instance he chooses to include the Aramaic words used by Jesus to perform the miracle of raising the child from the dead: “Talitha cumi”. This surely smacks of the introduction of a kind of “magic words” for literary effect;

  • the story of a healing of a Jewish girl and woman is paired with a story of a healing of the demoniac in a gentile area (5:1-20) – a coupling device regularly used by Mark to illustrate that Jesus' message is for both Jew and Gentile (cf 5:30-44 with 8:1-10), as pointed out by Kelber (1979). Compare Matthew and Luke who place Jesus' miracles among the Jews only, reserving miracles among gentiles to the time of the church;

  • the story is one of a chain that are part of Mark's plan to portray Jesus' intent to hide his identity (5:43) until the time for his death (14:62).

Purpose does not in itself mean the story is not historical. But when we see other evidence for the origins of the story, seeing indications of purposes other than “simple reporting” helps us understand the larger picture of what the author was doing when he constructed his narratives.


Posted 3rd March 2007 from the Vridar blog by Neil Godfrey.


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