The Nudist in Mark 14


#1

No, I kid you not.

After Jesus is arrested in Gethsemane, "everyone deserted him and fled" -- except, apparently, a naked young man:

A young man, wearing nothing but a linen garment, was following Jesus. When they seized him, he fled naked, leaving his garment behind.

(Mark 14:51-52)

By far this is the most bizarre detail in the New Testament I've read.

Who is he? Why is he there? Why is he naked? And why did Mark feel he was worthy of mention?


#2

I can try to answer your questions to the best of my understanding:

  1. Who is he? - He is probably unknown; I know that the tradition (whether ancient or not) circulates that this was the Evangelist Mark himself, but in my opinion that's not the case, nor would any historian accept this.

  2. Why is he there? - He's a disciple, one of the many who followed Jesus. We know that the Twelve weren't the only ones who went with Jesus everywhere, but including a group of women and probably others outside of the Twelve.

  3. Why is he naked? - In my opinion there must have been a scuffle in trying to arrest not only Jesus but all the disciples. This is abundantly clear from the fact that Peter denies being Christ's disciple in the famous denial which shows that the Pharisees were out to get the Disciples too. In the scuffle, it is not at all impossible for someone's garment to get torn so that he is left with nothing, running away.

  4. Why did Mark think he was worthy of mentioning? - This has to be the hardest question along with how did Mark know about this incident. What would have made this worth mentioning imho is that everyone was so desparate to run away from Jesus, that there was a young man who fled naked - disregarding and not caring about the shame so long as he could get away. Without a doubt the Apostles would have remembered this and the early Church and those who spoke with the Apostles could have easily known this minor (but memorable) detail!

Of course, I cannot presume to judge these people. Putting myself in their shoes I can only say that it is a difficult situation they faced.


#3

There was this idea that this is an authorial self-insertion: people thought that since Mark is the only evangelist to mention this, hey, it must be Mark himself! Other candidates proposed include John son of Zebedee, James ‘brother’ of Jesus, the owner of the ‘oil press’ (= Gethsemane), or just a random person who actually got caught in the scuffle. (Note that scene in The Passion of the Christ - where it is John - or in Roberto Rossellini’s Il Messia - where it is Mark. :p)

I think, however, that whoever this guy is is less important than his function within the story. The funny thing is, you have here a “young man” wearing a “linen cloth” (sindōn). Guess what? Jesus gets buried in “a linen cloth” (15:46), and a “young man” at the tomb announces that Jesus has been raised up (16:5). What you have here is a reversal: just as a young man is the last one to abandon Jesus, a young man (an angel) is the first to bear the good news of the Resurrection. We could also note that the guards tried to “seize” (kratousin) the young man as they had “seized” (ektratēsan) Jesus (14:46).

In fact, Mark violates proper narrative syntax at this point. For instance, he writes that the young man “was following” (synēkolouthei, in the imperfect tense) Jesus, and thus was not fleeing with the Eleven. We might think on the contrary that he had been following to Gethsemane rather than now following from Gethsemane; for even though the crowd have already seized Jesus in verse 46, their leading Him away has yet to be mentioned in verse 53. But they appear to seize the young man as he is following, whereas Jesus has been in Gethsemane for some time before they even arrive; and the prefix syn- (“with”) prepares for a contrast with Peter’s following “from afar” (14:54) as Jesus is led away. This contrast works better if the young man and Peter are following more or less concurrently. In other words, he mentions the young man’s following with Jesus before it is said that the crowd led Jesus away. Also, normally narrative syntax requires that the “they” who seize the young man be the disciples mentioned in 14:50, but narrative sense requires that it refer instead and in fact to the penultimately mentioned crowd who have seized Jesus. This violation of syntax shows us that Mark is very eager to establish a parallel here that will anticipate the resurrection.

This anticipation of the Passion and Resurrection may be highlighted with the fact that the young man wears “a linen cloth,” the same type of cloth that Jesus will be buried in. If the young man is indeed naked (epi gymnou “over [his] naked [body]” is absent from many manuscripts, although most scholars today argue for its inclusion into the text), it may anticipate the soldiers’ dividing of Jesus’ clothing for themselves (15:24) as well as being a reference to the belief of nakedness being a precursor to resurrection (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:37; 2 Corinthians 5:3; 1 Clement 24:1-5). Although the young man’s fleeing comes close to the disciples’ fleeing they left Jesus, while the young leaves behind his linen cloth, prefiguring how Jesus will also leave behind His linen cloth. The “young man” at Gethsemane “wears” (peribeblēmenos) a linen cloth, while the “young man” at the tomb “wears” (peribeblēmenon) a brilliant white robe. Is Mark providing here a subtle hint of resurrection? (Whiteness, after all, suits resurrected life: Revelation 7:14-17; 21:1-4; cf. also 19:14) Finally, just as the young man flees (ephygen) the scene of Jesus’ arrest, so the women who discover Jesus’ tomb empty will flee (ephygon) the scene of His resurrection.

On the other hand, the young man could also be symbolic of the person who chooses his life over the gospel (cf. 8:34-38). The young man chooses to run away instead of continuing to “follow” Jesus - leading to loss of his garment. Nakedness, of course, was a sign of shame (cf. Amos 2:16; Revelation 16:15): the young man had chosen shame over fidelity to Jesus. In this case, the young man is but one of many in the gospel of Mark who disowns Jesus.

Mark’s Jesus is a lonely man: He draws crowds to Him, but He runs away and hides from them - at times He even tries to shut them up. Other times, He just repels those around Him. Jesus had called people to follow Him, but as the story progresses, they increasing leave Him behind. First, His family disowns Him (3:20-30), then Judas (14:1-2, 10-11), then the faceless “crowd” that supported Him (14:43; 15:8-15), then Peter and the others (14:27-31, 50, 54, 66-72). The women who had followed Jesus, who have been more faithful than others, will also finally fail (15:40-41; 16:1-8). This abandonment reaches its head as Jesus hangs dying on the cross, when He shouts out Psalm 22: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (15:34) So yeah, with his running away, the young man has joined the club.


#4

Let's have some fun here.

Mark was supposedly written by a follower of Peter, whose account this really is.

The young man could have been the same man who let Peter into the courtyard of Caiaphas, after following the mob to Caiaphas' compound. Peter came later, word got to the young man on the inside, and so he let Peter in to warm himself.

He could have been the young and wealthy aristocrat/priest who secured the apartment for the Last Supper, and maintained it for the months that the Disciples and their folk spent in Jerusalem after the crucifixion.

He could have been the same young man who was with Nicodemus when, earlier, Nicodemus talked with John the Baptist, and later with Jesus.

He could have seen the crucifixion himself, and later wrote a gospel about it.

The linen-clad young man could have been.......(drum roll)........

John the Evangelist!!


#5

Most translations disagree that the man was entirely naked to begin with.

**Now a young man followed him wearing nothing but a linen cloth about his body*. They seized him, but he left the cloth behind and ran off naked. (Mark 14:51-52 NAB)

And a young man followed him, with nothing but a linen cloth about his body; and they seized him, but he left the linen cloth and ran away naked. (Mark 14:51-52 RSV)

And a certain young man followed him, having a linen cloth cast about his naked body; and they laid hold on him. But he, casting off the linen cloth, fled from them naked. (Mark 14:51-52 Douay-Rheims)*

-Tim-


#6

Patricks post (#3) is awswome.

-Tim-


#7

Thank you all for the fascinating analyses -- your close-reading especially, Patrick!


#8

The idea behind it being Mark -and a self reference- , I have heard that the Garden was behind the house where Mark's family lived and he may have come out of the house to see what was going on, throwing on a linen cloth to cover himself. When they grabbed for him, he left the cloth and went back inside.


#9

Just to extend on what I said earlier:

A) (14:51a) And a young man followed him, wearing
[INDENT]B) (14:51b) a linen cloth [over his naked body.]
B) (15:46) And Joseph bought a linen cloth, and taking him down, wrapped him in the linen cloth
A) (16:5) And entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, wearing a white robe …[/INDENT]
A rather nice chiasmus, no?

There is a comprehensive article on this: The Naked Runaway and the Enrobed Reporter of Mark 14 and 16: What is the Author Doing With What He is Saying?


#10

[quote="Evan, post:8, topic:315918"]
The idea behind it being Mark -and a self reference- , I have heard that the Garden was behind the house where Mark's family lived and he may have come out of the house to see what was going on, throwing on a linen cloth to cover himself. When they grabbed for him, he left the cloth and went back inside.

[/quote]

This isn't entirely impossible, although Papias in the 2nd century did assert that Mark "neither heard the Lord nor followed him, but afterward ... followed Peter." (Eusebius, Church History 3.39.15)


#11

[quote="patrick457, post:9, topic:315918"]
There is a comprehensive article on this: The Naked Runaway and the Enrobed Reporter of Mark 14 and 16: What is the Author Doing With What He is Saying?

[/quote]

Bookmarked.

Thanks again.

-Tim-


#12

Exodus 28:42, with its description of garments of the priests, and the sons of Aaron, hints at a priestly theme being played out here.
Linen itself was the garb of priest rather than common folk.

Make them linen undergarments to cover their naked bodies; they must extend from the waist to the thighs.

Like the linen veil in the Temple, that was torn in two as the Passion of Christ reaches the climax, the separation between the priesthood and the holy of holies that the linen clothing and the linen veil represents is being cast aside now, through the violence of human hands even.
It is a return to nakedness, and the time of sinlessness before mankind found it necessary to hide their nakedness.


#13

[quote="Darryl1958, post:12, topic:315918"]
Like the linen veil in the Temple, that was torn in two as the Passion of Christ reaches the climax, the separation between the priesthood and the holy of holies that the linen clothing and the linen veil represents is being cast aside now, through the violence of human hands even.
It is a return to nakedness, and the time of sinlessness before mankind found it necessary to hide their nakedness.

[/quote]

Speaking of which, there's also a connection right there between the beginning and the end.

The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
As it is written in the prophet Isaiah,

“See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way;
the voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight,’”

John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.

===

Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them. And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus. Then Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” He did not know what to say, for they were terrified. Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more, but only Jesus.

===

When it was noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. At three o’clock Jesus cried out with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” When some of the bystanders heard it, they said, “Listen, he is calling for Elijah.” And someone ran, filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on a stick, and gave it to him to drink, saying, “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to take him down.” Then Jesus gave a loud cry and breathed his last. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. Now when the centurion, who stood facing him, saw that in this way he breathed his last, he said, “Truly this man was God’s Son!”

There were also women looking on from a distance; among them were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome. These used to follow him and provided for him when he was in Galilee; and there were many other women who had come up with him to Jerusalem.

...] When the sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. They had been saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?” When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. But he said to them, “Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.” So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.


#14

The Gospel of John certainly is rich in this respect. John the Baptist, with his clothing of camel hair, self-exiled to the wilderness, reminds us of Adam and Eve, once naked and unashamed in Eden, then driven to the wilderness and covered with animal skins to hide their nakedness and all that it implies.
Satan likewise is in hot pursuit in these wildernesses, crouching at Cain's door, pursuing Jesus into the desert with his temptation, offering John's head on the plate for those in the lap of luxury who hate the message of self-denial.
Carrying on with the priestly theme, we can see the young disciple likewise driven into the wilderness, as all the disciples were driven from Christ, stripped even of their priestly garb as the nation of priests that Jesus and John were baptising them into.
There is a Levitican theme here perhaps too, with our 'lamb' being led to death as a sin offering, and the escape goat being driven away and released in the desert.

b. Then Aaron shall cast lots for the two goats: one lot for the LORD and the other lot for the scapegoat: One goat was for the LORD and would be sacrificed as a sin offering and one goat would be the scapegoat and would be released to the wilderness. Each goat had an important role on the Day of Atonement.

i. The scapegoat was literally the "escape goat." It escaped death and went into the wilderness. Scapegoat translates the Hebrew word azazel. “The meaning of this word is far from certain . . . The word may perhaps signify ‘removal’ or ‘dismissal’ . . . Probably the best explanation is that the word was a rare technical term describing ‘complete removal.’” (Harrison)

ii. There were elaborate Jewish traditions about Azazel, saying he was a demonic being that the Messiah would defeat. More likely, azazel simply refered to this goat’s function of symbolically removing sin from Israel.


#15

[quote="Darryl1958, post:12, topic:315918"]
Exodus 28:42, with its description of garments of the priests, and the sons of Aaron, hints at a priestly theme being played out here.
Linen itself was the garb of priest rather than common folk.

Like the linen veil in the Temple, that was torn in two as the Passion of Christ reaches the climax, the separation between the priesthood and the holy of holies that the linen clothing and the linen veil represents is being cast aside now, through the violence of human hands even.
It is a return to nakedness, and the time of sinlessness before mankind found it necessary to hide their nakedness./QUOTE

The linen covered up tall gold0sheathed doors 80 feet tall.
Your analogy doesn't hold.

[/quote]


#16

[quote="Bezant, post:1, topic:315918"]
No, I kid you not.

After Jesus is arrested in Gethsemane, "everyone deserted him and fled" -- except, apparently, a naked young man:

(Mark 14:51-52)

By far this is the most bizarre detail in the New Testament I've read.

Who is he? Why is he there? Why is he naked? And why did Mark feel he was worthy of mention?

[/quote]

I wonder if it has anything to do with Amos 2:16 at the end of his prophecy against Israel.
"And the most stouthearted of warriors
shall flee naked on that day, says the LORD."


#17

Yes, there’s a possible connection there. Some also see a connection here with Genesis 39:11-12, where Joseph runs away from Potiphar’s wife, leaving his clothes.


#18

I should say that the controversial Mar Saba letter (which contains the alleged fragment of the Secret Gospel of Mark) also has a linen-wearing young man in it.

To explain a bit, this letter - which is copied on the back of a 17th-century book - claims itself to be written by Clement of Alexandria to someone named Theodoros. Clement begins by commending Theodoros' actions against the gnostic sect known as the Carpocratians, after which he then turns to address questions posed by Theodoros regarding the Gospel of Mark, a secret variant of which the Carpocratians claim to have. The author admits to knowledge of a second, "more spiritual" version of the gospel, written by Mark for "those being perfected," which was carefully guarded by the Alexandrian church after his (Mark's) death to the point that it is "read only to those who are being initiated into the great mysteries." He then asserts that the version promoted by the Carpocratians is not an accurate representation of this 'mystical' version of Mark, since they have corrupted the original with their own false additions (such as "naked man with naked man!"), which Clements claims is the source of Carpocratian teachings, and to illustrate this, Clement supplies two ostensibly genuine excerpts from the 'real' secret Gospel. The letter then ends abruptly as Clement begins to explain these passages. One excerpt - which is supposed to come between verses 34 and 35 of canonical Mark 10 - goes thus:

And they come to Bethany, and a woman, whose brother had died, was there (cf. John 11:1). And coming, she fell down before Jesus and says to him, "Son of David, have mercy on me!" but the disciples rebuked her. And becoming angry (orgistheis; cf. Mark 1:41 in some MSS, John 11:33), Jesus went with her to the garden where the tomb was. And immediately from the tomb was heard a great voice, and going near, Jesus rolled away the stone from the door of the tomb.

And going in immediately where the young man was, he stretched out a hand and raised him up, holding his hand. The young man looked at him and loved (egapēsen) him, and began to beseech him that he might be with him. And going out of the tomb they came into the house of the young man (for he was rich), and after six days Jesus instructed him. And in the evening the youth comes to him, having a linen cloth (sindōn; cf. Mark 14:51-52) thrown around his naked body; and he remained with him that night, for Jesus taught him the mystery of the kingdom of God (cf. Mark 4:11). And arising from there, he returned to the other side of the Jordan.


#19

patrick457

which contains the alleged fragment of the Secret Gospel of Mark)

I love reading your posts - I always learn something.

I can also hardly believe how polite you are about the Secret Gospel of Mark.

God bless, Annem


#20

As Darryl pointed out, the linen cloth was the garb of a temple priest. Apparently, temple priests who fell asleep while guarding or ministering in the temple, were publically stripped naked of their linen garment as a demonstration of shame, set upon and beaten and then sent home naked through the streets. One theologian, whose name escapes me now, opined that this young man in Mark symbolises the disciples who failed to guard the temple (Christ) because they fell asleep, and are therefore fleeing naked in shame. This view would certainly cohere with the negative portrayal of the disciples at this point in the Gospel.


DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit www.catholic.com.