Why are there so many irrelevancies in The Bible?

I don’t mean in the “The Bible has no relevance today” kind of way… let me explain.

I’ve been reading my way through The Brick Testament (I mean, it’s The Bible illustrated with Lego! I don’t think it gets much cooler than that…) Anyhoo, there’s a lot of irrelevant or trivial information contained within The Bible

To give an example: In the book of Mark, which describes Judas’ betrayl of Jesus at the Mount of Olives, there’s a passage which mentions that after Jesus was arrested, the mob was followed by some guy in a linen cloth. The mob takes his cloth and he runs away. Great, but what on earth does that have to do with anything?

Another example: In the initial confrontation between Jesus & Co and the Angry Mob, Simon cuts off someone’s ear with a sword- and the now earless person is specifically named, despite only being in the story for a few moments. Again, interesting, but why name the person? The way it’s done makes out he’s important in some way, but he’s not- he’s just someone who got his ear cut off by one of Jesus’ mates.

The whole Bible is full of this sort of thing- trivial irrelevancies regarding people who waved hello to Moses as he went for a swim in the Nile, the colour of the ground or rocks in places where it serves no useful purpose to mention it, the number of Camels in a trading caravan, and so on- yet I really can’t understand why.

I realise The Bible was written by many people at different periods (all long after Jesus and everyone else concerned with the events therein had died), but it just seems odd that no-one said “Look, all this ‘so and so was the brother in law of Mathias the Horse Trader’ is fascinating, but really, the guy just sold Jesus an amphora of wine… do we really need to name him and give his complete geneology as well?” when they were doing it.

I’m not going into all the contradictions therein (this sort of thing has been covered over and over and over again for the last 2000 years or so), but since I’m obviously I’m no Biblical Scholar, perhaps someone here might be able to come up with some ideas or an elaboration…

First, nobody intentionally set out with the idea, “I’m going to write a book of the Bible.” Often what happened was that someone produced a specific narrative with a particular purpose, and in the course of time it became hallowed and included in the canon of Scripture. In your example from Mark, for example, John Mark is writing an account of the life and times of Jesus Son of God, for the purpose of preserving the accounts told by eyewitnesses as they were passing from the scene. It’s generally held that he got much of his story from Simon Peter. But that particular item about the youth running away without the robe which the crowd has grabbed, is thought by many to be the young Mark noting the one occasion in which he enters into Jesus’s story – he was the young man who ran. Other things are there for personal reasons: it’s generally thought that the author of Chronicles, for example, is a member of a Levite choir family, because he’s very much focused on the ancestry of their families.

Most of the stuff is only irrelevant if you’re seeing it as written with a particular purpose, and anything not structured to conform to that purpose as being irrelevant. Instead, figure out what the relevance of the detail is to the author’s purpose, which may not be self-evident at first.

Also, some of what looks like irrelevancies to us now may have been significant (or at least familiar allusions) to the society of the people who wrote those books. In 2000 years, nobody is going to know who Charles Manson was, but if a character in a current novel is described as being like Manson, we know exactly what that means.

I’ve no clue, but I just wanted to say that this is an interesting question, and more importantly an original one (by comparison with all our recurent debates about the bible).

Relevant to whom and to what?

Incidents and details which to a 21st century eye seem totally irrelevant may have been charged with deep significance to the original readers.

It’s also a blessing that the writers included details which seem inconsequential and petty. They are often major clues to the original intent of the authors and to the background and date of the work.

Could I get a bit more about the linen? IIRC the priests of the Temple wore robes of white linen. So, it could be saying either that a priest stirred up the mob and it got beyond his control, or it could be saying a priest was trying to stop the mob and suffered for it.

Is there any basis for this, or is it just speculation. You’d think if Mark wanted to tell us he was there, he would’ve done so explicitly, after all I imagine a 1st century reader would be just as clueless to the “secret identity” of the naked guy as would a 21st century reader. We could just as well say “townsperson#3” was really ment to be Mark, or Mark’s brother, etc.

Makes sense. Many classical stories (Illiad, etc.) have long geneologies for the same reason, the original audience liked to trace their decendents back to the people described in the tales.

Perhaps a lot of the things in the New Testament that seem irrelavant are references to the old testamant prophacies regarding the return of the Messiah? I’ve heard that the percise amount Judas betrayed Jesus for was mentioned because it fulfilled an old testament verse.

Yeah, that makes me wonder how much of an “irrelevancy” is actually a shorthand. I can’t find it, but I think there’s a mention somewhere that an invading army had iron, or something like that. It means that they’d have a technological advantage but a modern reader can miss it and the implications entirely.

Yeah, but it wouldn’t be irrelevant to someone listening to Mark tell the story, if Mark were then to add “And that boy with the linen cloth…was me!” The Bible is not a perfect copy of the original oral stories that made parts of the New Testament.

“And now you know the rest of the story.”

In any case, I thought that though Mark was dated to a period where the author could reasonably have been present the text suggested that it originated outside Palestine.

True, but the material the text is based on could well include memories of the original participants. Wasn’t there A Gospel of the Hebrews, ie a gospel written in Aramaic which may have been used by the Jerusalem Church? (It’s fascinating to wonder what might have survived if the Romans hadn’t sacked Jerusalem and expelled its inhabitants after the Jewish Revolt. Pauline Christianity may not have been so all-pervasive if Jerusalem had remained the centre and authority for Christians).

Happy Clam mentioned the oral tradition. Originally the Torah consisted of writings and an oral tradition that expanded and explained the writings. Certain passages are very unclear without the oral tradition. The Apostles, haveing been raised Jewish, would probably not write down the entire story. The ‘irrelevancies’ in the New Testament may have been explained and expanded by an oral tradition that was lost.

Polycarp’s explanation of the naked youth in Mark as being an oblique reference to the author is an accurate as far as to how the passage is traditionally explained, but it lacks either internal or external evidence to support it. The tradition that the Gospel of Mark was written by a secretatry of Peter’s originated in the 2nd Century and is not generally accepted as authentic by NT scholars. It’s very unlikely that the fleeing youth in Mark 14 was supposed to be self-referential for the simple fact that it’s beleived to be extremely unlikely (for a myriad of reasons) that the author of Mark was an eyewitness of Jesus or that he knew any disciples. It should also be said that these are not any claims that the author ever makes for himself.

The meaning of Mark 14:51 is still very much uncertain and greatly debated. The author probably had some literary purpose and much speculation tends towards an intention to show a fulfilled prophecy (Amos 2:16 is often suggested).

My understanding is that Mark (who may or may not have actually been named “Mark”) is supposed to be the author, in the sense of having actually writen down in Greek the original Gospel of Mark. If the boy with the linen cloth was one of Mark’s oral sources, then he still is not Mark.

Here’s the text, by the way:

Also bizarre is that the young man is apparently following Jesus, but only the disciples are mentioned as having gone with jesus to Gesthamne, if Jesus was being followed by others you would think it would’ve been mentioned. So where did he come from?

To me, that reads as a kohane who’d come along for the arrest. He touches Jesus and realizes he’s holding the Son Of Man. Unable to continue his role in the Temple, but ashamed and feeling unworthy to remain with Jesus, the kohane strips off his ceremonial garb and runs.

Maybe, but the other translation of the Bible (International Version?) I checked had “followed Jesus” instead of “followed him”, making it less likely that the young man came in with the authorities. Anyone know how the original text reads?

Also would a priest be called a “young man”.

A kohane who had become bar mitzvah could be a priest. So, the priest could be as young as 13.

It would seem strange to me to call a priest, even a 13 year old one, “a young man”. Especially if one is a relgious person, as Mark presumably was. Same reason I call a young Catholic priest “father” (granted I rarely meet 13 year-old priests). But, I know nothing about terms of address for Jewish figures circa 60 AD.

Also wasn’t Mark writing for a international audience? Would it be that clear to the average Epeshian that “white linen”=Priest.

Both the Received and the Alexandrian manuscripts say auto – “him.” Interestingly enough, though, the verb for followed is different. The Textus Receptus says ekolouthai (“followed”), while the Alexandrian text (which is older and considered to be more reliable) says sunekolouthei which means literally “followed with,” “accompanied.”

It’s probably not that much of a difference, though since even the TR’s ekolouthei can still commonly mean “follow” as in the sense of following a leader. Liddell and Scott says it was commonly used in relationship to soldiers and slaves and lists “follow [one]” “accompany” and “go with” among its definitions so it appears to be pretty much synonomous with sunekolouthei (kind of like “flammable” and “inflammable” ;)) and both have a strong sense of accompanying or going WITH someone rather than simply trailing them.

I realise some of the stuff in The Bible is just shorthand- “The Army came from the North, where there was Iron” is obviously shorthand, explaining that the army that came from the north had better weapons and armour as a result of having iron etc, but there’s still a LOT of stuff in there that just makes the unacquainted reader say “What the…?”

I question how relevant some of the content was seen at the time. I really can’t imagine a Roman Christian saying “My Great Uncle Malthias got his ear cut off by one of Jesus’ mates once!” (“a Møøse bit my sister once…”) - even at the time, I imagine people said “Great, but what does this have to do with anything?”

Surely, if Mark wanted it known that he was the young man following Jesus (or the Angry Mob) who got his loincloth stolen and ran away, then surely the passage could begin something like “They were followed by a young man called Mark…”? (or even “A young man called Mark followed Jesus”, depending on interpretations)

The Old Testament especially seems to be full of a great deal more things that appear completely irrelevant to modern readers, presumably as a legacy from the days when people really didn’t have anything better to do and wanted to hear pedantic trivia regarding the names of every single city or tribe the Israelites argued with at one time or another.

In fact, I’d say that all the irrelevant trivia in the Bible is exactly what’s allowed so many different, competing views of Christianity to spread up- because it can all be interpreted so many ways. Was the de-loinclothed young man following the Angry Mob? Jesus? Was he Mark? Was he just some bloke added in for comedic effect at an otherwise dramatic moment?

Kind of makes you wonder what they left out… (“No-one wants to hear the Gospel Of Bung Who Was Always Drunk!”)