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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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.

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

in Horizons in Biblical Theology




Sharon H. Ringe“A Gentile Woman’s Story,” in Feminist Interpretation of the Bible (ed. Letty A. Russell; Philadelphia: Westminster1985) 69.


William V. HarrisRestraining Rage: The Ideology of Anger Control in Classical Antiquity (Cambridge: Harvard University Press2001) 401-02; cf. pp. 50-70.


Richard S. LazarusEmotion and Adaptation (New York: Oxford University Press1991) 115; cf. Part 2 pp. 87-213; Richard S. Lazarus and Bernice N. Lazarus Passion and Reason: Making Sense of our Emotions (New York: Oxford University Press 1994) 139-51.


Martha C. NussbaumThe Therapy of Desire: Theory and Practice in Hellenistic Ethics (2nd ed.; Princeton: Princeton University Press1994); Upheavals of Thought: The Intelligence of Emotions (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 2001); Hiding from Humanity: Disgust Shame and the Law (Princeton: Princeton University Press 2004); and “Emotions as Judgments of Value and Importance” in Thinking about Feeling (ed. Solomon) 183-99. Robert C. Roberts Spiritual Emotions: A Psychology of Christian Virtues (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans 2007); Emotions: An Essay in Aid of Moral Psychology (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 2003); and “Emotions and the Canons of Evaluation” in The Oxford Handbook of Philosophy of Emotion (ed. Peter Goldie; Oxford: Oxford University Press 2010) 561-83. Philip Fisher The Vehement Passions (Princeton: Princeton University Press 2002). Daniel M. Gross The Secret History of Emotion From Aristotle’s Rhetoric to Modern Brain Science (Chicago: University of Chicago Press 2006).


See William James“What Is an Emotion?” Mind 9 (1884): 188-205; excerpted in What Is an Emotion? Classic and Contemporary Readings (2nd ed.; ed. Robert C. Solomon; New York: Oxford University Press 2003) 65-76.


Cf. CiceroNat. d. 2.22. See Michael LeBuffe From Bondage to Freedom: Spinoza onHuman Excellence (Oxford: Oxford University Press 2010) 101-03; idem “Spinoza’s Psychological Theory” in The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (ed. Edward N. Zalta; url = http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/fall2010/entries/spinoza-psychological/); and Antonio Damasio Looking for Spinoza; Joy Sorrow and the Feeling Brain (Orlando: Harcourt 2003) 36-37 79-80 131-32 138-39 170-75.


LazarusEmotion and Adaptation222-23.


FisherVehement Emotions187.


GrossSecret History of Emotion67 174.


LazarusEmotion and Adaptation222; Nussbaum Hiding from Humanity 13.


FranceGospel of Mark117.


See Abraham Smith“[T]he repetition of the will/wish/want language in Greek produces a thematic echo that links Herod Antipas and Pilate together. Both men submit their wills to human beings whose desires lead respectively to the deaths of John and Jesus” (“Cultural Studies: Making Mark,” in Mark and Method [ed. Anderson and Moore] 202); cf. idem “Tyranny Exposed: Mark’s Typological Characterization of Herod Antipas (Mark 6:14-29)” BibInt 14 (2006): 279 282-86.

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