Posted by: mattcolvin | January 27, 2019

Jesus Snorted? On Aramaic behind Mark 1:40-45


Above: Jesus Heals the Leper, 12th-13th century mosaic, Cathedral of the Assumption, Monreale, Sicily.

I have been enjoying Maurice Casey’s insights in his Aramaic Sources of Mark’s Gospel and An Aramaic Approach to Q. In this post, I want to share his solution to a puzzle, and then offer my own solution to a second puzzle, both in the same passage.

In Mark 1:40-45, Jesus heals a man suffering from the skin disease which the NT authors refer to as ἡ λεπρά:

And there came to him a leper beseeching him and falling to his knees, saying to him, “If you are willing, you can make me clean.” And Jesus, being angered (ὀργισθεὶς), stretched out his hand and touched him and said to him, “I am willing, be cleansed.” And immediately the leprosy left him and he was clean. And snorting (ἐμβριμησάμενος) at him, he sent him away immediately and said to him, “See that you tell nothing to anyone, but go and show yourself to the priest and offer concerning your purification the things which Moses commanded, as a testimony to them. But he, going out, began to proclaim it much and spread the word abroad, so that he [Jesus] was no longer able to go into the city openly, but was outside in deserted places. (My translation.)

Mark’s version exhibits two puzzles. First is why Mark says that Jesus was angered. The second is why the text says that Jesus “snorted” at the man.

First, regarding ὀργισθεὶς: this is the reading of Codex Bezae (D), which very frequently preserves Aramaisms and original readings that have been smoothed out or emended in other manuscripts.[1] The vast majority of manuscripts have a different word here: σπλαγχνίσθεις, “moved with compassion.” The UBS editors had a hard time deciding between the two, since σπλαγχνίσθεις has far more support in the manuscripts, but it is apparent that ὀργισθεὶς is the lectio difficilior: it is easy to see why a scribe would change “being angered” to “being moved with compassion”; it is inconceivable that anyone would change the text in the opposite direction. To Casey’s mind (and I agree with him), this is dispositive. Matthew 8:3 and Luke 5:13 smooth out the problem by omitting this verb entirely. Says Casey,

Mark’s Greek is perfectly comprehensible as a literal and unrevised translation of an Aramaic source which gave a perfectly accurate albeit very brief account of an incident which really took place. The Aramaic source will have read regaz. This word often does mean ‘be angry’, which is why Mark translated it with orgistheis. But the Aramaic regaz has a wider range of meaning than ‘be angry’, including ‘tremble’ and ‘be deeply moved’. Accordingly, Mark did not mean that Jesus was angry. He was suffering from interference, the influence of one of his langauges on another. All bilinguals suffer from interference, especially when they are translating, because the word which causes the interference is in the text which they are translating. In Mark’s mind, the Greek word for being angry (orgistheis) also meant ‘tremble’ or ‘be deeply moved’, because this was the range of meaning of the normally equivalent Aramaic word in front of him.[2]

My friend John Barach objects to this explanation on the grounds that ὀργισθεὶς is consistent with the later participle ἐμβριμησάμενος. This verb ἐμβριμάομαι has a semantic range that includes “to be deeply moved” (John 11:33, 38), but it is most often used of horses snorting (Aristophanes Themophoriazusai 461, Luc. Nec. 20). It is, in any event a rather odd verb, and no more consistent with anything Jesus says or does in the passage: the leper in question has done nothing to earn Jesus’ anger, if that is how we take the verb, and for Jesus to snort at him is even more absurd. Matthew’s gospel, evidently trying to avoid the difficulty, drops ἐμβριμησάμενος in favour of the plain vanilla καὶ λέγει αὐτῷ ὁ Ἰησοῦς. Luke’s gospel replaces it with the more straightforward παρήγγειλεν, “he ordered him” (Luke 5:14).

Far from refuting Casey’s explanation, the word ἐμβριμησάμενος serves to confirm it. So odd a Greek word looks suspiciously like an attempt to translate an Aramaic word with a different semantic range, and — sure enough! — there is indeed an Aramaic verb that means both “snort” and “rebuke”: nḥr. (See the CAL entry here.) The evidence for this verb is mostly later than the NT, in the Talmud and Targums (e.g. b.Kidd. 81b, “they rebuked him [for his misbehaviour]” and b.Sabb. 152b, “R. A. snorted at them”, b.Gittin 68a, “Rav Hisda…snorted to him from behind in order to signal to him.”). Given how scanty the remains of Aramaic literature are from the 2nd Temple period (basically just Qumran), we have no right to demand contemporaneous parallels, and should be content with later ones.

Thus, we have two Aramaic verbs, regaz and nāḥar, which nicely account for the oddities of Mark’s Greek. Jesus was not angry, and he did not snort. He was “deeply moved” — coming to the same thing as σπλαγχνίσθεις —  and he “straightly warned” the newly healed leper. Both of these verbs are smoothed over by Matthew’s and Luke’s versions of the same episode, but Mark, our earliest gospel, preserves traces of an Aramaic account behind his Greek.


[1] For instances of D preserving semitisms that have been edited out of other manuscripts of Mark, cf. Casey, Aramaic Sources of Mark‘s Gospel 26, 69, and especially 226 and 239.

[2] Maurice Casey, Jesus of Nazareth: An Independent Historian’s Account of His Life and Teaching (London: T&T Clark, 2010), 63.


  1. […] with a form of ὀργίζομαι. (Jesus would not have been “angry” in the context. See here for discussion of that […]

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