From: Carl W. Conrad (
Date: Thu Sep 03 1998 - 08:57:11 EDT

At 6:44 AM -0500 9/3/98, Jonathan Robie wrote:
>To me, the English phrase "their heart was hardened" implies a wilful
>steeling of the heart to avoid being open to receiving something, but in
>Mark 6:52, it seems to mean only that "they didn't get it".
>Various sources I look at disagree whether this "hardening of the heart"
>involves wilful refusal; i.e. is it a wilful blindness, or just a blindness?
>In Job 17:7, Job says PEPWRONTAI GAR APO ORGHS hOI OFQALMOI MOU, his eyes
>have grown dim because of grief. In context, I don't think this implies any
>wilfulness on Job's part.
>Now I know that "there are none so blind as those who will not see", but
>does the phrase ALL HN AUTWN hH KARDIA PEPWRWMENH itself imply wilful
>blindness, or just blindness?

I hate to suggest this, but it seems to me that there a number of
possibilities, including a deterministic reading, as in the Exodus account,
where we are told that "God hardened Pharaoh's heart"--wherefore someone
(not I) might want to suggest that HN PEPWRWMENH is to be understood as a
"divine passive."

On the other hand, one could conceivably read it as a middle: "their heart
had hardened itself"--this is, after all, a periphrastic pluperfect, unless
one prefers to read the participle as functioning simply as a predicate
adjective. I'm not really serious about this.

On the third hand (you do have three hands, don't you?), I rather like what
Stephen Carlson said about another middle-passive form where it was
uncertain whether God or some specific agent was implied: that what we are
given is simply the fact about a condition, not an explanation of why that
condition exists or existed at the time in question. I think that's the
best option here.

HOWEVER, the pericope in question is one of the most striking incidents in
the catena of Marcan "stupid disciples" narrative thread. And it raises an
issue that is close to the heart of understanding Mark's gospel at the most
profound level: we are told at Mk 4:11-12 that the disciples are "insiders"
upon whom has been bestowed the understanding of parables, while the
"outsiders" have that understanding withheld form them, hINA BLEPONTES
EPISTRECWSIN KAI AFEQHi AUTOIS. This is an awesome passage to contemplate,
and what makes it the more awesome is that Mark makes it abundantly evident
in chapter 4 that the ones who have sight but don't see, who hear but don't
understand, are precisely Jesus' disciples. There is at best an intense
irony here that goes to the core of the problem of what Mark is trying to
say about Jesus' disciples (whether historically or Mark's contemporary
followers of Jesus--perhaps even ourselves). The best discussion in the
sense of "shaking out" of this whole question that I've ever seen is in
Frank Kermode's _The Genesis of Secrecy_. Whatever the reason, then,
whether it be some inadequacy in the mentality of these CHOSEN disciples or
some destiny that has been laid upon them, or simply that nothing ever is
going to come into focus for them until after Jesus' resurrection, they
are, in the course of Mark's gospels, what we can only call "intellectually

Now let me throw this whole business into a different light that I think
must strike a chord of stinging pain and recollection into any real
teacher: I began teaching back in 1958 with a wondrous naive notion that
everybody could learn anything and that people were different only in how
long it takes them to learn. I found myself that first year face to face
with a young man who was incapable, after weeks of tutoring by me, of
understanding the conjugation of the present active tense of the French
verb 'parler.' Are there really unteachable people? And why are they
unteachable? Is it the fault of the student? of the teacher? of heredity or
environment? Is God somehow to blame? Why is that "heart hardened?" It is
an awesome and terrifying mystery that will bring a teacher to his knees in
prayer, but no answer comes very readily, and one confronts the dreadful
peril of making up a fake explanation when one just doesn't have one.

And that, I fear, is a long non-answer to a short question.

Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics/Washington University
One Brookings Drive/St. Louis, MO, USA 63130/(314) 935-4018
Home: 7222 Colgate Ave./St. Louis, MO 63130/(314) 726-5649 OR

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