Bartimaeus: another thought

This coming Sunday is the 30th Sunday in lectionary cycle B. The gospel is the story of Bartimaeus, a blind man, who cries out to Jesus for pity – or as pointed out in a recent post – for compassion or mercy. This is the last of the miracles recorded in the Gospel of Mark. It is a bookend to Mark 8 healing of the man born blind. It stands in contrast to the rich man who asks Jesus what he must do to inherit the kingdom. It stands in contrast to Peter and the disciples who are having their own problems. The commentaries of this week only began to plum the riches of this gospel. Here is an interesting bit of background come from Dan Clendenin at Journey with Jesus

If “Timaeus” sounds vaguely familiar, you might be channeling your college introduction to philosophy class.  Timaeus is the title of Plato’s most famous dialogue and the name of its narrator.  In the Timaeus and elsewhere, Plato famously contrasts “seeing” the mere physical world while being “blind” to Eternal Truths.

And so Bartimaeus begs Jesus, “Rabbi, I want to see!”

In his book Philo of Alexandria and the Timaeus of Plato (1983), the classicist David Runia argues that “the Timaeuswas the only Greek prose work that up to the third century A.D. every educated man could be presumed to have read.”  Would that include Mark?

Is Mark contrasting Greek philosophy with the Jewish Jesus for his Gentile audience?  It’s such a tantalizing suggestion.  But as the British like to say, for me, it’s too clever by half.  In my view, this interpretation is at best a “definite maybe.”

The name Bartimaeus suggests other linguistic possibilities.  In simplest terms, the name combines the Aramaic “bar” (son) with the Greek “timaios” (honorable).  So, Bartimaeus is a family name.  He’s just the son of a father named Timaeus.

More subtly and allegorically, he’s the “son of honor” or an honored person.

Still others point to the Aramaic or Hebrew word for “unclean” (br tm‘), suggesting that Bartimaeus is the “son of the unclean.”

I like to combine these ideas.  Bartimaeus, a down and out blind man, a poor person who begs for money, might be dishonored and marginalized by Greeks, he might be unclean to ritually clean Jews, but in Mark’s telling he’s a person we should honor.

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