In preparing my recent paper on the longer ending of Mark and its implications for the Book of Mormon (see Part 1 and the newly published Part 2), one of the sources I turned to was Adam Winn, Mark and the Elijah-Elisha Narrative: Considering the Practice of Greco-Roman Imitation in the Search for Markan Source Material (Eugene, OR: Pickwick Publications, 2010), Kindle edition. Winn finds that Mark has deftly applied themes from Elijah and Elisha in describing the ministry of Christ, and Mark’s use of Elijah and Elisha themes is one of the unifying thematic elements that Nicholas Lunn points to in support of Markan authorship of the disputed longer ending (Mark 16:9-20; see Nicholas P. Lunn, The Original Ending of Mark: A New Case for the Authenticity of Mark 16:9–20 (Eugene, OR: Pickwick Publications, 2014)).
One aspect of Mark’s narrative, according to Winn, is showing Christ’s superiority to or transcendence of both of those ancient prophets by “intensifying” Elisha-Elijah themes in Mark’s account. For example, the miraculous feeding of two crowds by Christ is seen as an intensified parallel to 2 Kings 4:42–44 where, during a time of famine, Elisha takes 20 barley rolls and fees 100 people with them.
Interestingly, the Book of Mormon account of Christ’s ministry among the Nephites offers interesting parallels to Mark and the Elijah-Elisha accounts, sometimes with clear intensification beyond Mark. The table below compares common elements in the miraculous feedings in Mark and in the Elisha account, adapted from a table by Winn (p. 82), and compared with 3 Nephi 20.
|Elisha (2 Kings 4:42-44)||Christ in Mark 6:30–44 and 8:1–10||3 Nephi 20|
|Hunger/famine in land (38)||Hunger implied: day or days without food (6:31, 8:1–2)||Implicit since those present on first day labored through night to bring a larger crowd. Hunger and thirst mentioned also in v. 8|
|Small amount of food: 20 barley loaves and fig cakes (42)||Small amount of food: 5 loaves + 2 fish (6:38), 7 loaves and a few fish (8:5, 7)||The miracle begins with no food or wine present (vv. 6–7)|
|Command to pass out food: “Give to the men so they may eat” (42)||Command to provide food: explicit (6:37) and implied (8:2–3)||Christ commands the disciples to give bread and wine to the multitude (vv. 4–5)|
|Servant responds with doubt/hesitation (43)||Disciples respond with doubt/hesitation (6:37, 8:4)||Doubt is absent. The disciples and multitude respond with faith and unity (vv. 1, 9–10)|
|Command is repeated (43)||Command to the disciples to sit the people down (6:39, 8:6)||The command to give to the people is repeated: once for bread, once for wine (vv. 4–5)|
|Food distributed by a servant (44)||Food distributed by disciples (6:41, 8:6)||Food distributed the disciples (vv. 4–5)|
|A large number of people eat : 100 (44)||A large number of people eat: 5,000 (6:42) and 4,000 (8:8)||Multitude is several times larger than the 2,500 of the previous day (3 Nephi 17:25, 19:2–5)|
|Extra food remains||Extra food remains: 12 baskets full (6:43) and 7 baskets full (8:8)||Remnants of food not mentioned, but remnants of Israel are cited immediately after the miraculous feeding (vv. 10, 13)|
Interestingly, of the eight elements in the story of Christ’s miraculous feedings that Winn lists as having parallels with the 2 Kings 4 account of Elisha, seven of these are also found in 3 Nephi 20, sometimes with logical further intensification. What is missing is the parallel element of doubt expressed by Elisha’s servant and Christ’s apostles (2 Kings 4:43, Mark 6:37 and 8:4). This absence, though, is consistent with the emphasis on the greater faith of the Nephites at this stage. Among this tried and faithful people, Christ is able to work greater miracles, as Christ tells them in 3 Nephi 19:25. The absence of doubt as a parallel is a reasonable and appropriate reversal of the pattern apparently being alluded to in 2 Kings 4. Winn observes that reversals of themes are often used in ancient literature when building on a previous text (Winn, pp. 13–14, 29, 79–81, and 112). Thus, one can argue that Mark’s use of Elisha’s miraculous feeding in the account of two of Christ’s miracles is used with equal detail and resonance in 3 Nephi 20, while differing from Mark in some significant and appropriate ways rather than being a clumsy copy.
Other Elijah and Elisha themes used subtly by Mark are even more interesting in the Book of Mormon, in my opinion. I treat them in detail in “The Book of Mormon Versus the Consensus of Scholars: Surprises from the Disputed Longer Ending of Mark, Part 2” at MormonInterpreter.com.
As with all discussions of miracles involving food, I welcome feedback.