“Did John Mark actually amputate his thumb?” chased all the other thoughts out of Hugh’s mind.
At work Hugh captured himself pondering on what such a statement might mean.” Later, sitting in his recliner trying to watch a movie with his wife and children, Hugh’s couldn’t focus on anything except, “Did John Mark cut his thumb off?” “If Mark did amputate his thumb, what was Mark’s intention and when did he cut the thumb off?” “How did Mark cut it off? Did Mark do it alone or did he obtain help amputating this thumb?”
Hugh wondered where did that idea originate? Who initially said John Mark willfully removed his thumb? When was this idea even considered and why would someone consider such an idea? Hugh knew he needed answers to this dilemma. He desired to explain that idea to Pastor John when they met on Thursday.
Hugh discovered a few references to John Mark and his missing thumb or short fingers.
First was a comment by Hippolytus in his Refutation of Heresies 7.28. Hippolytus described the origin of Marcionism. He asserted that Empedocles suggested the heresy. In his refutation of Marcion’s heresy, he simply states that Mark possessed a maimed finger.
Hugh asked himself, “I wonder what Hippolytus’ adjective in Greek, kolobodaktulos, might mean?”
Hippolytus’ use of the word, kolobadaktulos is so casual that his readers must have been familiar with its intended meaning. Kolobos suggests something that is maimed or stunted. Daktulos refers to a finger.
Hugh decided to look at these words in a Greek/English lexicon or dictionary.
His quietly voiced his thoughts aloud, “The only place where this kolobos is used in the New Testament is in Luke 11:20 where Jesus professes that he drives out demons with the daktolos theou (the finger of God). The verbal form of kolobos is kolobow and is used in Mark 13:20 and Matthew 24:22 where Jesus says that God will ‘shorten or maim” the time of the tribulation.”
Hugh thought to himself, “This suggests that Hippolytus knew Mark had fingers that were naturally short or maimed or malformed in some manner. Perhaps Mark experienced an injury or accident that mutilated his hand?”
As Hugh continued his research he discovered some scholars feel this term, kolobodaktulos, describes Mark’s gospel. Hugh wrote on his note pad as he pondered what this statement might imply, “Since the style of the gospel is unpolished and rough, the term more readily applies to the gospel. And if the Gospel lost its original ending, then the gospel could be correctly described as mutilated.”
Hugh’s search led him to read the notes about the Codex Toletanus, a 10th century Vulgate manuscript. He penned the note, “The Codex Toletanus . . .signifies that Mark’s fingers were undersized when compared to the rest of his body. Thus, kolobodaktulos could be simply a physical description.”
Hugh highlighted that the Codex Toletanus supported the theory stated in the Anti-Marcionite Prologue as well: the Codex manuscript made this assertion, who was also named stubby-fingers, on account that he had in comparison to the length of the rest of his body shorter fingers.
Hugh found one other reference to Mark’s thumb quite interesting. He read from the Monarchian Prologue, “Furthermore, he (Mark) is said to have amputated his thumb after faith in Jesus so that he might be seen as unfit for the priesthood.”
Hugh pondered, “Since Mark was probably a Levite, seeing his uncle Barnabas, was a Levite, there is good chance that Mark would have to serve in the temple. After coming to faith, Mark lopped off his thumb in some manner so that he would not be fit to serve.”
Hugh did a quick check of the Old Testament laws related to the priestly service. Leviticus 21:15-23 clearly delineates the physical mutilation of a man makes him unworthy to serve as priest.
Hugh discovered Psalm 137 where it mentions the impossibility of singing a new song in a strange land. Interesting enough, Hugh found a reference to a rabbinic commentary on Psalm 137 on the internet. He read, “The Levites who had been transported to Babylon deliberately bit off their thumbs with their teeth, so that they would never again be able to play the harp, and thus accompany the singing of the Lord’s songs, as it was the duty of the Levites to do.”
Hugh continued reading, “Ammonius, a monk, deliberately severed his left ear with the sole intention of making himself unfit to serve as a priest.”
When Hugh discovered the next explanation, he thought, “I wonder what Pastor John will think of this final idea related to Mark’s thumb? Tregelles, the English textual critic, suggested the word kolobodaktulos refers to soldiers who purpose injured themselves to be eliminated from a special service – a method of deserting military duty. For Tragelles the word implies someone who sought the coward’s way out of duty. He imposes this idea on John Mark when he left Paul and Barnabas on the first missionary journey. Thus, the term became a term or nickname which Mark could not escape.”
Hugh thought to himself, “Tragelles’ theory seems to fall short when Mark managed to redeem himself to Paul and others in the Christian community.
Hugh told his wife, “I am ready to meet with Pastor John tomorrow. I have some great information for us to discuss related to John Mark’s thumb.”
Do you feel that John Mark purposely amputated his thumb in order to avoid serving as a priest or do you believe it is more a nickname for him as Tragelles suggests? Do you have other ideas? Let me know. Is it thumbs up or thumbs down?
William Barclay, Introduction to the First Three Gospels: A Revised Edition of the First Three Gospels, (Philadephia: Westminster Press, 1975), 118.