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Why Did the “Leper” Get Under Jesus’ Skin? Emotion Theory and Angry Reaction in Mark 1:40-45

In: Horizons in Biblical Theology
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  • 1 Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond, 8040 Villa Park Drive, Suite 250, Richmond, VA 23228, USAsspencer@btsr.edu
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Accepting the more difficult reading in Mark 1:41 that Jesus was “moved with anger” (ὀργισθείς) in response to a leper’s request for healing, this article investigates the motives behind this vehement response, which persists after Jesus cures the man (1:43). A close analysis of Mark 1:40-45, in conjunction with key Markan co-texts (6:14-29; 10:35-52; 14:32-36; 15:6-15) and ancient and modern theories of emotion, demonstrates that the leper chiefly provokes Jesus’ ire by belittling his deep desire or will to heal (ἐὰν θέλῃς). Discussions of anger (ὀργή/ira) by Aristotle and Seneca serve as primary resources from Greco-Roman antiquity. In contemporary thought, the study of emotion has recently surged in various disciplines, not least in philosophy, psychology, and literary criticism. Biblical scholarship has just begun to engage with this material in examining characters’ emotions. This article sets forth an example and framework for further exploration of the passionate Markan Jesus.

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