The Pivotal Role of the Fig-Tree Story in the Gospel of Mark 11

by Yil Song (Author)
©2018 Monographs XII, 186 Pages
Series: Studies in Biblical Literature, Volume 169


This book pays special attention to the hermeneutical location where the fig-tree story appears in Mark 11; it is situated between Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem and his "Temple incident" in Mark 11. The fig-tree story plays a pivotal role in understanding the stories immediatlely preceding and following it. It reverses the mode of Jesus’ entry from being triumphal to untriumphal, and convinces the first Markan readers to feel at ease in confronting Jesus’ outrage in the Temple. The way in which Jesus entered Jerusalem contradicts the common description of the entry as a triumphant one. Additionally, the story finds a proper solution to the problem of Jesus’ actions in the Temple being shockingly in contrast to his overall character as revealed through the Markan Gospel.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • Acknowledgments
  • Abbreviations
  • Introduction
  • I. Statement of Purpose
  • II. Thesis
  • III. Methodology of Study
  • A. Credibility of Methodology
  • 1. Critiques and defense
  • Notes
  • Works Cited
  • Chapter 1: History of Interpretations and Problems
  • I. Triumphal Entry?
  • A. Biblical Reading
  • 1. Allusions: The Mount of Olives and an ass
  • 2. Citations: “Hosanna and Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!”
  • B. Historical Reading
  • 1. Not a Triumphal Entry
  • 1.1. Counterargument 1: Shortsighted application of the Hebrew Bible
  • 1.2. Counterargument 2: Shortsighted application of Greco-Roman Entry
  • C. Problem Unsolved
  • II. Jesus’ “Vindictive Fury” on the Fig Tree?
  • A. Symbolic Reading
  • B. Problem Unsolved
  • III. The Temple Story: Its Purification
  • A. The Intercalated Temple Story
  • B. Biblical Reading
  • 1. Isa 56:7c and Jer 7:11
  • C. Symbolic Reading
  • D. Problem Unsolved
  • IV. Summary
  • Notes
  • Works Cited
  • Chapter 2: The First Markan Readers
  • I. Implied Author and Reader
  • A. Significance of the Markan Gospel as Literature
  • 1. The written Gospel in the oral world
  • 1.1. Suggested sources for the Gospel of Mark
  • B. Conclusion
  • II. The Markan Community: Readers and Audience
  • A. The Time of Existence
  • 1. Pre 70 C.E.
  • 1.1. Adela Y. Collins
  • 1.2. John S. Kloppenborg
  • 2. Post 70 C.E.
  • 2.1. S. G. F. Brandon
  • 2.2. Werner Kelber
  • 2.3. Gerd Theissen
  • 2.4. Brian Incigneri
  • B. Conclusion
  • III. The Provenance
  • A. Rome
  • 1. Evidence 1: Latinism
  • 1.1. Insufficiency of evidence 1
  • 2. Evidence 2: Topographical errors
  • 2.1. Insufficiency of Evidence 2
  • 3. Evidence 3: Jewish customs and Aramaic words
  • 3.1. Insufficiency of evidence 3
  • 4. Evidence 4: Persecution of Mark 13:9–13
  • 4.1. Insufficiency of evidence 4
  • 5. Conclusion
  • B. Syria
  • 1. Evidence 1: Palestinian-Syrian village lifestyle
  • 1.1. Agriculture
  • 1.2. Housing
  • 1.3. Land-Ownership
  • 2. Evidence 2: Mark 7:31
  • 3. Evidence 3: Semitic expression Graecized
  • 4. Critique of evidence of Syria
  • C. Galilee
  • 1. Evidence 1: Interests in Galilee
  • 1.1. Critique of evidence 1
  • 2. Evidence 2: Exact geographical description of Galilean vicinities
  • 2.1. Critique of evidence 2
  • D. Syria or Galilee?
  • E. Conclusion
  • IV. The Readership of the Gospel
  • A. For all Christians?
  • B. Critique of Richard Bauckham’s Hypothesis
  • 1. Joel Marcus
  • 2. David Sim
  • 3. Philip F. Esler
  • 4. Margaret Mitchell
  • 5. Ernest Van Eck
  • C. Conclusion
  • Notes
  • Works Cited
  • Chapter 3: Homeric Influence on the Greco-Roman World
  • I. Greco-Roman Education
  • A. Enkyklios Paideia
  • B. Use of Homeric Texts
  • II. Conclusion
  • Notes
  • Works Cited
  • Chapter 4: Two-Fold Roles of The Fig-Tree Story
  • I. The First Role
  • A. Analysis of Mark 11:1–14
  • 1. The English translation
  • 2. Structure of the passage
  • B. Mimetic Reading of Jesus’ Entry
  • C. Justifying Jesus’ Act
  • D. The Fig-Tree Story and Jesus’ Untriumphal Entry
  • E. The Untriumphal Messiah
  • F. Summary
  • II. The Second Role
  • A. Analysis of Mark 11:12–20
  • 1. The English translation
  • 2. The structure
  • B. Understanding Jesus’ Act
  • 1. Interpretation 1: The fig-tree story (11:12–14, 20)
  • 1.1. Symbolic Fig Free: The Temple
  • 1.2. Jesus, the Messiah with God’s authority
  • 2. Interpretation 2: The Temple story (11:15–19)
  • 2.1. Defensible violence of Jesus
  • 2.2. Actual target of Jesus’ violence
  • C. Significance of Mimetic Reading
  • III. Summary
  • Notes
  • Works Cited
  • Conclusion
  • Index
  • Series index

| ix →


Since this work is a modified version of my doctoral dissertation, it is appropriate to start by extending gratitude to the team of the professors consisting of my dissertation committee. First of all, Dr. Dennis R. MacDonald, my academic advisor and friend, has been the source of inspiration for my study. I must also mention Dr. Karen Jo Torjesen, who is a good example of how to be gentle while clearly delivering a powerful speech, and I know that her outward tenderness is a token of her inward sturdiness. I am glad to have had Dr. Christopher Chinn as one of the committee members, whose swift and appropriate response to me on the questions related to the dissertation contributed, I believe, to the better quality of the dissertation.

Next, I would like to express indebtedness to those who are in Korea. Dr. Ky-Chun So is the first one who occurs to me. It is he who stirred up my interest in studying the New Testament in more depth when I was one of his students at Presbyterian University and Theological Seminary in Seoul, Korea. I also give thanks to the congregation of Ok-Dong church in Inchon, Korea for their unceasing prayers and financial support through which the survival of my family in the U.S. so far has been possible.

Now, I direct my gratitude toward my family. First of all, it is my parents, Rev. In-Sub Song and Bok-Nam Lee, who always support and trust me with ← ix | x → everything they have. Thinking of their prayers and love for me reminds me of how I am much blessed. I do wish I will be a parent like them. I am also grateful to my parents-in-law, Seung-Ho Namkung and Ok-Koo Yeo, for keeping me in their prayers every day and for their steady trust in me. Furthermore, my sister, Jin Song, is another blessing that I have. I do not know what to say whenever I feel her lavishing love for me, which makes my heart warm. Then, I cannot help confessing how much I am grateful and delighted to have Victoria, my little daughter. She is the invaluable present to me from God. The days that I have spent with her so far are consecutive moments of wonder of the mystery of life. The fact that there lies before Victoria and me many more days to come makes me look forward to seeing how she will grow up and deal with her special gift. Finally, very special thanks to Sujin, my better half. Even though there are numerous things that I need to be thankful for to her, I just want to say this succinctly: She is the perfect one for me. She does not have to do anything in particular to make me happy or smile since she herself is already my happy smile. I feel so blessed to have her as a loving and reliable partner in my life journey.

Ultimately, I am humbly grateful to God for what He has done through my life so far and am eagerly anticipating the next phase of my life that He will lead me to.

Μόνῳ Θεῷ Δόξα

| xi →


AB Anchor Bible

AncSoc Ancient Society

APB Acta Patristica et Byzantina

BDAG A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature

BibInt Biblical Interpretation

BNTC Black’s New Testament Commentary

BTB Biblical Theological Review

BZ Biblische Zeitschrift

BZNW Beihefte zur Zeitschrif für die Zeitschrift für die neutestamentliche Wissenschaft und die Kunde und die Kunde der ältern Kirche

CBQ Catholic Biblical Quarterly

CCS Cambridge Classical Studies

CW The Classical World

DBI Dictionary of Biblical Interpretation

ETL Ephemerides Theologicae Lovanienses

EuroJTh European Journal of Theology

ExpTim Expository Times

Int Interpretation ← xi | xii →

JAAR Journal of the American Academy of Religion

JBL Journal of Biblical Literature

JJS Journal of Jewish Studies

JR Journal of Religion

JSNT Journal for the Study of the New Testament

JTS Journal of Theological Studies

NovT Novum Testamentum

NTS New Testament Studies

RevExp Review & Expositor

SBLSP Society of Biblical Literature Seminar Papers

SCJR Studies in Christian-Jewish Relations

SJT Scottish Journal of Theology

TynBul Tyndale Bulletin

ZNW Zeitschrift für die neutestamentliche Wissenschaft und die Kunde

| 1 →


I. Statement of Purpose

Who would not be surprised with the description of Jesus who curses and kills the barren fig tree being out of season simply for his unsatisfied hunger? Such bewildering descriptions are found in Mark 11:12–13 and 20. Of course, there have been attempts to justify Jesus’ unusual act regardless of its historicity. However, they do not seem that satisfying. Thus, this study first seeks to comprehend the fig-tree story to find a more convincing way to salvage Jesus from the accusation of being absurd.

However, the investigation of the meaning of the fig-tree story is not the end, but rather leads to the main arguments of this study. In other words, the understanding of this story serves as the key factor to interpret its two adjacent stories which are Jesus’ entry (11:1–11) and the Temple incident (11:15–20).

These two stories contain issues debatable in Markan scholarship: First, concerning Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem of Mark 11:1–11, its most popular title might be “the Triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem.” However, is it not strange to call Jesus’ approach to Jerusalem as triumphal or victorious while he is apparently aware of the awaiting suffering and death that is about to happen to him in that city? Is it not too contradictory to both regard Jesus of the entry story as victor and see this victor suffer to death wretchedly? The term ← 1 | 2 → “triumphal” that designates the nature of Jesus’ entry does not seem harmonious with the description of Jesus in the passion narrative of Mark 14–16. Thus, for the thematic consistency in presenting Jesus, the need for another interpretational approach to the Markan entry story which replaces the so-called “Triumphal Entry” ensues; Second, even though it is widely admitted that Jesus’ act in the Temple has symbolic meanings, a few arguments provide the obvious need or the convincing reason for its symbolic interpretation. This study aims to correctly understand the two stories of Jesus’ entry and the Temple incident of Mark 11 by dint of the legitimate interpretation of their adjacent story of the fig tree.

II. Thesis

The following is the central thesis of this study: a proper understanding of the Markan fig-tree story serves as two hermeneutical grounds to better understand the other two Markan stories of Jesus’ entry and the Temple incident by solving their interpretational problems noted above. What is more, the demonstration of the thesis will be done from the perspective of the first Markan readers. Their right understanding of anything in the Gospel must have been the primary concern to the Evangelist. Thus, the approach to the Markan issues of this study through the eyes of his pristine readers will provide his modern readers with the two benefits: (1) more fundamental and thus reliable answers to the relevant issues; (2) a better way to grasp the dynamic interaction between Mark and his original readers, which was mediated by the written Gospel.

Therefore, this study is an effort to answer the question of how the understanding of the first Markan readers on the fig-tree story would have helped with the comprehension of its two neighboring, but esoteric stories.

III. Methodology of Study

Mimesis Criticism, pioneered by Dennis R. MacDonald, is the methodological tool that regulates the relationship between two texts in which one serves as the literary model for the other by becoming the antetext. Concerning the Gospel of Mark, Mimesis Criticism suggests the Homeric epics as Mark’s primary literary models over the Hebrew Bible,1 which, however, does not mean to downplay the role of the latter in Mark’s creation. ← 2 | 3 →

MacDonald suggests six criteria of Mimesis Criticism, which function as theoretical grounds that make this methodology valid. The followings are such criteria:

Application of mimesis criticism to the Gospel of Mark (hypertext) and the Homeric epics (hypotexts) led MacDonald to detect many cases where the two texts are mimetically associated with each other.3 This Mimesis Criticism is the methodology used for the task of this study, that how the interpretation of the fig-tree story of Mark 11 attributes to the understanding of its two adjacent stories, Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem and cleansing of the Temple. Thus, the way this methodology practically works will be demonstrated later in this study.

However, no matter how Mimesis Criticism may seem to work well, the outcomes resulting from its engagement would not be convincing unless this criticism can stand attacks on its value as a methodology for criticism. Of course, the credibility of mimesis criticism does not go without being questioned. Thus, the question of how it is tested and defended is an outstanding issue to answer before closing this chapter.

A. Credibility of Methodology

This section first looks into the arguments against mimesis criticism, and then the response to them by MacDonald. After all, the validity of mimesis criticism as a methodology is dependent on how convincingly MacDonald disproves such arguments against it.

1. Critiques and defense

There are two primary attacks on mimesis criticism: one by Margaret M. Mitchell4 and the other by Karl Olav Sandnes.5 This section will analyze ← 3 | 4 → what they advertise as the weak aspects of this methodology and demonstrate how successfully MacDonald disarms these claims.

Mitchell and Sandnes raise questions about mimesis criticism proposed by MacDonald; they can be summarized as follows:


XII, 186
ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2018 (October)
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Oxford, Wien, 2018. XII, 186 pp.

Biographical notes

Yil Song (Author)

Yil Song is Professor of New Testament at Bethesda University, Anaheim, CA. He received his Ph.D. in Religion (New Testament) from Claremont Graduate University, Claremont, CA. He currently serves as lead pastor at Shepherd Christian Church in Cypress, CA.


Title: The Pivotal Role of the Fig-Tree Story in the Gospel of Mark 11
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