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Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible

Marks

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MARKS

1. The mark of circumcision . This is an instance (among many) of the taking-over of a preexisting rite, and adapting it to Jahweh-worship; whatever it may have meant in its origin and opinions differ very widely on this point it became among the Israelites the mark par excellence of a Jahweh-worshipper (cf. Genesis 17:14 ), the symbol of the covenant between Him and His people (see, further, Circumcision).

2. The mark of Cain ( Genesis 4:15 ). In seeking to discover the character of this sign or mark, the first question that obviously suggests itself is, why should there be any protective efficacy in such a sign? On the assumption of its being a tribal mark (so Robertson Smith, Gunkel, and others), men would know that any Injury done to its bearer would be avenged by the other members of the tribe (see art. Cain). But this answer is unsatisfactory, because, if it was a tribal mark, it would be common to all the members of the tribe, whereas this one is spoken of as being specifically for Cain’s benefit, and as having been given to protect him qua manslayer; a tribal mark would have been on him before the murder of Abel. But then again, any mark designed to protect him on account of his being a murderer, would, as proclaiming his guilt, rather have the opposite effect. Another point to hear in mind is that from the writer’s point of view (if the narrative is a unity) there really was nobody to hurt Cain except his parents. It is clear, therefore, that the contradictory elements in the narrative show that it has no basis in fact; it is more reasonable to regard it as one of the ‘ætiological’ stories with which the Book of Genesis abounds, i.e . it purports to give the cause of some custom the real reason for which had long been forgotten. One can, of course, only conjecture what custom it was of which this story gave the supposed origin; but, taking all its elements into consideration, it was very probably the answer to the inquiry: ‘Why do man-slayers within the tribe bear a special mark, even after the blood-wit has been furnished?’ The reason given was quite wrong, but it accounted satisfactorily for a custom of which the origin had been forgotten, and that was sufficient.

3. The mark of the prophet . In 1 Kings 20:35-43 there is the account of how one of the prophets ‘disguised himself with a headband over his eyes’; the king does not recognize the man as a prophet until the latter takes away this covering from his face, whereupon the king ‘discovered him as one of the prophets.’ Clearly there must have been some distinguishing mark on the forehead of the man whereby he was recognized as belonging to the prophetic order. This conclusion is strengthened by several other considerations. (1) It is a fact that among other races the class of men corresponding to the prophetic order of the Israelites are distinguished by incisions made on their persons. (2) There is the analogy of circumcision; just as among the Israelites this was the distinguishing mark of the people of Jahweh, so those who, like the prophets, were more especially His close followers also had a special mark, a distinctive sign, which differentiated them from other men. (3) The custom of putting a mark upon cattle to denote ownership, and for the purpose of differentiating from other herds, was evidently well known in early Israel. When one remembers how rife anthropomorphisms were among the Israelites, it is perhaps not fanciful to see here an analogy: just as the owners of herds marked their own property, so Jahweh marked His own people; and as the prophets were differentiated from the ordinary people, so they would have their special mark. (4) There is the passage Zechariah 13:4-6 . These considerations point distinctly to marks of some kind or other which, either on the forehead or on the hand possibly on both were distinctive characteristics of a prophet among the Israelites.

4. Cuttings for the dead . The custom of making cuttings in the flesh and other marks upon the body for the dead ( Leviticus 19:28 ; cf. Leviticus 21:5 , Deuteronomy 14:1 ) was practised by the Israelites, but forbidden on account of its being a heathen rite. This was not a sign of mourning, as is often, but erroneously, supposed; it was an act of homage done to the departed, with the object of inducing the spirit not to molest those left behind. In Deuteronomy 14:1 the prohibition runs, ‘Ye shall not cut yourselves, nor make any baldness (the cognate Arabic root means ‘wound’) between your eyes for the dead.’ This was done in order the more easily to be seen by the spirit.

5. Marks connected with Jahweh-worship . There can be little doubt that originally the signs on the hand and the memorial between the eyes ( Exodus 13:9 ; Exodus 13:16 ) were marks cut into hand and forehead ; this custom was taken over by the Israelites from non-Jahweh-worshipping ancestors, and was regarded as effectual against demoniacal onslaughts; hence in later days the use and name of ‘phylacteries,’ which took the place of the actual cuttings in hand and forehead ( Deuteronomy 6:8 ; Deuteronomy 11:18 etc.). Reference to an early custom is perhaps (but cf. RV [Note: Revised Version.] ) contained in the words: ‘Lo, here is my mark, let the Almighty answer me’; the word used for ‘mark’ comes from a root meaning ‘to wound,’ and it is the same as that used in Ezekiel 9:4 ; Ezekiel 9:6 ; the reference is to those who are true to God.

W. O. E. Oesterley.

6. ‘Stigmata.’ The rendering of St. Paul’s strongly figurative words in Galatians 6:17 adopted by RV [Note: Revised Version.] reads thus: ‘From henceforth let no man trouble me: for I bear branded on my body the marks ( stigmata ) of Jesus.’ This rendering accords with the Interpretation of this difficult passage adopted by most recent scholars. The Apostle warns his Galatian converts against further attempts to ‘trouble’ him, for he is under the special protection of Jesus, whose ‘marks’ he bears in the scars and other evidence of the scourgings and other ills he has borne for His sake (see 2 Corinthians 11:23 ff.). St. Paul here emphasizes his consecration of himself to his Lord by using a figure, familiar to his readers, taken from the practice of branding a slave with the name or symbol of the deity to whose service he was devoted. Thus Herodotus (ii. 113) tells of a temple of Heracles, ‘in which if any man’s slave take refuge and have the sacred marks ( stigmata as here) set upon him, giving himself over to the god , it is not lawful to lay bands upon him.’ A still more apposite illustration is afforded by the branding of certain Jews of Alexandria with an ivy leaf the symbol of Dionysus by Ptolemy Philopator ( 3Ma 2:29 ).

A. R. S. Kennedy.


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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Marks'. Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/hdb/m/marks.html. 1909.

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