Mark 2:1-12 by Elizabeth Evans Shively

Transcript

Q. Is there any cultural precedent for coming in through the roof as in Mark 2:1-12? It makes for a great, dramatic story and I wonder if there is any logical reason for it in the first century.

A. Hi, my name is Elizabeth Shively, and I teach New Testament at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland. Today’s question comes from a Bible Odyssey website user who wants to know if there is any logical reason or cultural precedent in the first century for coming in through the roof in Mark 2:1-12.

The thought of digging up a roof or climbing through it may seem impossible to us, because we’re used to houses with pitched roofs that have been made resistant to the weather.

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And that wasn’t the case in the ancient world. Archaeology tells us that the typical house in ancient Galilee had a flat roof made of wood and mud. The roof would have been soluble and people would have had to maintain their roofs constantly so they didn’t collapse due to rainwater. A roof like that would not have been hard to dig through.

It’s one thing to dig through a roof; it’s another thing to get up on top of it with a friend on a mat. Archaeology also tells us that some houses had outside stairways built into the fieldstone to provide access to the roof. Mark doesn’t say how the men get up to the roof with their paralytic friend; he just says that they were there. It may be that Mark is assuming one of these outside stairways.

In any case, the historical and cultural context makes it absolutely feasible to imagine people getting up onto a roof, digging through it, and lowering their friend to Jesus; but it doesn’t make it normal. In fact, it’s not normal at all to come into a house through a roof, and it wouldn’t have been normal to destroy a roof; it would have been normal to preserve one. But the logic of the story demands uncommon behavior, even extraordinary behavior: when Jesus sees the extraordinary actions of these friends, he commends their faith. Their extraordinary behavior highlights Jesus’ growing popularity (Mark 1:28, Mark 1:45) and their tenacity on behalf of their friend.

So why do they come in through the roof? The precedent is in the culture; but the logic is in the story.

Thank you for your question and for your interest in Bible Odyssey.

Contributors

Elizabeth Shively

Elizabeth Evans Shively
Lecturer, University of St. Andrews

Elizabeth Evans Shively is a lecturer in New Testament at the University of St. Andrews’ School of Divinity. She is also a Bible Odyssey editorial board member. Her research interests include the Synoptic Gospels and New Testament apocalyptic thought.

A collection of first-century Jewish and early Christian writings that, along with the Old Testament, makes up the Christian Bible.

Mark 2:1-12

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1When he returned to Capernaum after some days, it was reported that he was at home.2So many gathered around that there was no longer ro ... View more

Mark 2:1-12

Jesus Heals a Paralytic
1When he returned to Capernaum after some days, it was reported that he was at home.2So many gathered around that there was no longer ro ... View more

Mark 1:28

28At once his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee.

Mark 1:45

45But he went out and began to proclaim it freely, and to spread the word, so that Jesus could no longer go into a town openly, but stayed out in the country; a ... View more

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