In the most recent edition of the Journal of Biblical Literature (v. 129, no. 3, pp. 507-19) published by the Society of Biblical Literature, Candida R. Moss has put forth an intriguing reading of the Markan account of the woman who had a 12-year struggle with a discharge of blood. In the article, she briefly surveys scholarly interpretations of the pericope, and she demonstrates that many have observed a magic motif (such as in Acts 19:11-12) as a required framework for understanding the narrative. Moss then proceeds to discuss “Ancient Medical Models of the Body.” Of particular interest to her re-interpretation of the pericope is the ancient idea that the body, especially a feminine body, is porous. Ancient medics and philosophers had competing opinions about the positive and/or negative aspects about the human body’s porousness. Positively, porosity allowed for unhealthy things to leave and healthy things to enter; negatively, porosity allowed for unhealthy things to enter the body and expose a person to attack. The latter seems to be the more dominant view.
After surveying the ancient understanding of the porosity of the human body, Moss returns to the pericope of the woman with the discharge of blood. It is clear that the porous body of the woman has made her weak, unhealthy and even unfit for public life. Doctors have been unable to cause her body to “harden” up, that is to prevent the porous nature of her feminine and thin-skinned body. The blood continued to flow no matter what she tried; that is, until Jesus passed by. She had faith that if she touched even his garment that she would be made well. Mark states that when she touched his garment two things happened: (1) her discharge “dried up,” which to the ancients was a sign of a healthy body, a non-porous, not leaking body; and (2) Jesus knew that power had flowed out from his body. The latter point is most fascinating. Just as the woman could not control the flow of blood discharging from her body, neither could Jesus prevent the flow of power coming from his body! The nature of the cause of the woman’s ailment is paralleled in the nature of her healing – two porous bodies: one issuing blood causing harm; one issuing power causing healing.
A number of things could be communicated about Jesus himself from such a re-interpretation. First, Jesus is viewed as a weak, porous, leaking man. His physiology is sickly and unhealthy. Second, the porous nature of his body is unable to fully contain or veil the deity that lies behind it. Therefore third, in the case of Jesus, the nature of his porous body works to the advantage of those around him.
Moss has produced a very interesting use of NT background material. Such work is appreciated as it helps today’s Christian to understand better the 1st century mind and therefore make appropriate applications. Power flows from Jesus to the person who has faith. Are you tapping into this flow today?