Mark 12:28-34

Commentary Excerpt by Tom Boomershine

The story of Jesus and the scribe is the one unequivocally positive interactions betweenJesus and a representative of the Jewish establishment in Mark. It is a legal discussionand needs to be told in the style of rabbinic arguments and discussions. The scribe'squestion is a question that was frequently asked in rabbinic discussions. There were 613 commandments in the Torah: 248 that were positive, 365 that were negative. There wereextensive discussions among the rabbis about which were heavy and light; that is, whichwere of greater and lesser importance. These debates were an effort to sort through themultitude of laws and commandments and identify which ones were most important.

The character of this kind of discussion is reflected in a story that was told about Hilleland Shammia in the Babylonian Talmud. John Donohue tells it in his commentary onMark. A Gentile came to Shammia, a conservative rabbi, and said to him, "I will becomea proselyte if you can tell me the whole of the Torah while I stand on one foot." Shammiagot a wood stick and chased him away. The Gentile went to Hillel and asked him thesame question. Hillel said, "Whatever you find hateful, do not do to your neighbor. Thisis the whole of the law. Everything else is commentary. Go and learn this." Hillelresponds in a way that is like the way in which Jesus responds. What Jesus cites as thecenter of the Torah is the golden rule, or what was called the "Silver Commandment."

Jesus' answer to this question is different than Hillel's. Jesus cites the most central tradition of Israel, the Shema, from Deuteronomy 6:4. "Hear O Israel, the Lord our God,the Lord is one; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength." Even with the Shema, Jesus adds to the tradition.Jesus adds the phrase, "with all your mind." In the context of the Greco-Roman world,this addition was probably needed because Gentiles and others did not assume, as was the case in the ancient world when Deuteronomy was originally composed, that the heart was the center of understanding. For the ancient Hebrews, to love God with all your mind was included in the phrase "all your heart." But that was no longer the case in Jesus' day. To add "with all your mind" was also to focus on the intellectual love of God.

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