Mark 7:24-30 The Greek Woman


Mark 7:24-30


Jesus engages in a contest of honor with a Greek woman whose persistence leads to the healing of her daughter.


This episode takes the form of a supplication, a traditional scene from the ancient Mediterranean world in which someone begs another person for help. Because it comes from a different cultural background, the scene is often misinterpreted through modern Western biases. A few details in particular bear mentioning.

First, there is often the unspoken assumption that Jesus and the woman are alone; however, we know at the very least that Jesus was traveling with his disciples and that he was staying in a house that was not his own, so presumably the family that was hosting him was present as well. In other words, the exchange between the woman and Jesus takes place in front of an audience.

Second, commentators often misrepresent the woman by referring to her as the “Syrophoenician woman.” While Mark does note that she is a Syrophoenician, he first informs his readers that she is a “Greek” (often mistranslated as Gentile). By highlighting her as a Greek, Mark is informing his readers of her upper class status. To use the technical term, she is a Hellenized person, that is someone who had access to a Greek education and the upper levels of the society of the city of Tyre.

Third, commentators often exaggerate the Greek woman’s helplessness. In fact, because this is a supplication scene, she is in control. As noted, she is upper class, whereas Jesus is a carpenter. She has intruded upon Jesus’ space and challenged him to demonstrate his abilities as a healer. By challenging him so boldly, she puts Jesus in a bind. He must respond or he risks losing face.

The woman’s high status and her challenge to Jesus is what provokes his response in the form of an aphorism. Jesus makes a special point in this aphorism to highlight little dogs, which is probably a reference to both the woman’s embrace of Greek culture and her wealth; Jews did not keep dogs, whereas Greeks and Romans were known for indulging lap dogs. The woman, however, is ready with a retort; she acknowledges Jesus’ critique, but maintains that it does not excuse him from demonstrating his authority. Jesus, having made his point, bows to her request and exorcizes the demon.