Commentary Excerpt by Tom Boomershine
The implication of the beginning of the story of the Syro-Phoenician woman and the deaf and dumb man is that Jesus got fed up with his arguments with the Pharisees and decided to go off into the country of the Gentiles and get some rest from all this conflictual debate. So he set out and went away to the region of Tyre. When he was there, he entered a house and he wanted to maintain his privacy, but he couldn't because the word got around that he was there. A woman who had a little daughter with an unclean spirit heard about him and came and bowed down at his feet.
The storyteller’s tone implies that it was shocking that this woman would come in and fall at Jesus' feet. In the comment that follows, Mark explains why: the woman was a Gentile. She was a Syro-Phoenician by birth. As you know, the country on the coast of the eastern Mediterranean north of modern Israel is Lebanon. In the ancient world it was Syria and Phoenicia. Jews and Syro-Phoenicians were enemies. The Syro-Phoenicians at the time of Antiochus IV Epiphanies in the second century B.C. carried out the most brutal persecutions of Jews that had happened throughout the entire history of Israel.Many Jewish children who were killed by the Phoenicians.
The story of the mother and her seven sons who were tortured to death by Antiochus IV Epiphanies in II Maccabees 7 is the most horrific martyr story in the entire history of Israelite literature. Therefore, for this Syro-Phoenician woman to beg Jesus to cast the demon out of her daughter is, in the context of Jewish memory and experience, an utter scandal. It is very important to recognize that Mark and his listeners were predominantly Jews, and the memories of the persecution of Jews by Syrians would have been very present in Jesus' day. This is what explains Jesus' hostile response.
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