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Encyclopedia > Feeding the multitude
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Feeding the multitude (also known as The miracle of the loaves and fishes) is the name of two miracles attributed to Jesus, the first of which is reported by all four of the canonical Gospels of the Christian religion (Matthew 14:13–21, Mark 6:31-44, Luke 9:10-17 and John 6:5-15), while the second is reported by Mark and Matthew but neither Luke nor John. The first is the only miracle present in both the narrative of the Gospel of John and that of the Synoptic Gospels. For information about the anarchist writer see Chris Crass Crass was an influential English anarchist punk rock band. ... The Feeding of the 5000 is the first album by Crass, released in 1978 (see 1978 in music). ... According to many religions, a miracle, derived from the old Latin word miraculum meaning something wonderful, is a striking interposition of divine intervention by God in the universe by which the ordinary course and operation of Nature is overruled, suspended, or modified. ... Jesus (8–2 BC/BCE to 29–36 AD/CE),[1] also known as Jesus of Nazareth, is the central figure of Christianity. ... The biblical canon is a list of books written during the formative periods of the Jewish or Christian faiths. ... Gospel means good news deriving from the Old English god-spell translated from Greek (euangelion) used in the New Testament (see Etymology below). ... It has been suggested that this article or section be merged into Christianity. ... The Gospel of Mark, ascribed to Mark the Evangelist, is traditionally the second Gospel of the New Testament. ... The Gospel of Luke is the third and longest of the four canonical Gospels of the New Testament, which tell the story of Jesus life, death, and resurrection. ... The Gospel of John is the fourth gospel in the canon of the New Testament, traditionally ascribed to John the Evangelist. ... The Synoptic Gospels is a term used by modern New Testament scholars for the Gospels according to Matthew, Mark, and Luke of the New Testament in the Bible. ...


First event

According to the narrative of the Gospels, the first event happened after Jesus had been teaching in an area away from the towns, and insists that the people be fed where they are, rather than sending them to the nearest towns. The Synoptics state that the location was a "desert place" near Bethsaida, while John does not state a specific location, only specifying that it was very grassy. Bethsaida (beth-sā´i-da; Βηθσαΐδά, Bēthsaidá, “house of fishing”) // Bethsaida Julias A city east of the Jordan River, in a “desert place” (that is, uncultivated ground used for grazing) at which Jesus miraculously fed the multitude with five loaves and two fishes (Mark 6:32; Luke 9:10). ... An area of grass-like plants Grass generally describes a monocotyledonous green plant in the family Poaceae, botanically regarded as true grasses. ...

The canonical Gospels all report that, upon investigating the provisions of the crowd, the disciples were only able to find 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish, and the Gospel of John adds that these came from a single boy in the crowd. The Gospels state that Jesus blessed the food, broke it, and gave it to the disciples, who distributed it to the people present - 5000 not counting women and children - all of them being fed. The Gospels also state that after the meal was over, the disciples collected the scraps, filling 12 baskets. For other uses, see Bread (disambiguation). ... A giant grouper at the Georgia Aquarium Fish are aquatic vertebrates that are typically cold-blooded; covered with scales, and equipped with two sets of paired fins and several unpaired fins. ...


The town of Tabgha is traditionally identified as the location of the first event. Tabgha, an Arabic corruption of the Greek name Heptapegon (Seven Springs), is the traditional site of the Miracle of the Multiplication of the Loaves and the Fishes. ...

Second event

The second event, according to Mark and Matthew, occurred when Jesus was teaching a crowd of about 4000, not including women and children, in a remote location. Like before, Jesus is described as taking the few provisions available, and giving grace, before distributing them amongst the crowd. In this event there are 7 loaves and an unspecified number of fish, and 7 baskets of scraps are collected. Look up Grace in Wiktionary, the free dictionary. ...

Explanations in the New Testament

In the Gospel of John, Jesus is described as using the first event to illustrate a lesson to his disciples, arguing that the disciples look for him not because of the miracles, but because they ate the loaves and were filled up, and then instructing the disciples not to seek the meat which perishes but that which endures to everlasting life. This has often been interpreted as a veiled criticism by the author of the Gospel of John, of people who consumed the teachings of Jesus (ate the loaves) but did not value a miraculous nature of Jesus himself.

Mark, however, presents a much more esoteric explanation, implying by emphasis in the text that there is something significant about the numbers involved. After the second event, modern texts of Mark state that the disciples left in a boat for Dalmanutha, but some early texts of Mark state that it was Magdala, home of Mary Magdalene, that they went to, and Matthew states that they went to the similarly named Magadan. Once there, the Pharisees are described as requesting a miracle from Jesus, but Jesus criticises the request, and states that no miraculous sign will be given to that generation. The ancient Gnostics argued that this implied that the resurrection of Jesus was not an actual physical event, since it would otherwise clearly be a miraculous sign, but that it should instead be understood as allegory or doceticly. Dalmanutha is the unknown destination of Jesus after he feed the four thousand. ... Magdala (tower) was a small village in Galilee, which seems to have been the birthplace of Mary Magdalene, or Mary of Magdala, in the Christian New Testament. ... The penitent Mary Magdalen, a much reproduced composition by Titian. ... Magadan vicinity from the US Defense Mapping Agency (1978) Orthographic projection centred over Magadan Magadan, Russia city flag. ... The word Pharisees comes from the Hebrew perushim, from parash, meaning to separate, from a root related to the Aramaic wordas upharsin (and divided) in the writing on the wall in Daniel 5:25. ... This article or section is in need of attention from an expert on the subject. ... The Death of Jesus and the Resurrection of Jesus are two events in the New Testament in which Jesus is crucified on one day (the Day of Preparation, i. ... An allegory (from Greek αλλος, allos, other, and αγορευειν, agoreuein, to speak in public) is a figurative mode of representation conveying a meaning other than (and in addition to) the literal. ... In Christianity, Docetism is the belief, regarded by most theologians as heretical, that Jesus did not have a physical body; rather, that his body was an illusion, as was his crucifixion. ...

Mark goes on to state that, after this response, Jesus and the disciples leave in a boat and at the other side of the lake discover they have only one loaf of bread with them, to which Jesus responds watch out for the yeast of the Pharisees and that of Herod (Mark 8:15). Mark states that the disciples interpret this as criticism of them for not bringing enough bread, but Jesus soon corrects them, and criticises their lack of understanding. Jesus is then described as giving a rather cryptic explanation of the food miracles, by asking the disciples how many baskets of scraps were collected at each event, and then questioning do you still not understand?. Herod Antipas (short for Antipatros) was an ancient leader (tetrarch, meaning ruler of a quarter) of Galilee and Perea. ...


The two stories of the feeding of the multitude have long been thought to have hidden meaning, particularly due to Mark's later cryptic reference to them. In early times the feeding of the 5000 with 5 loaves was interpreted as being a reference to the five books of the Torah feeding the Jews, with the 12 scraps being the 12 tribes of Israel, or more usually the 12 disciples who, after Judaism, were left over. Torah () is a Hebrew word meaning teaching, instruction, or law. It is the central and most important document of Judaism revered by Jews through the ages. ... This is a list of the Tribes of Israel. ... The Twelve Apostles (, apostolos, Liddell & Scott, Strongs G652, someone sent forth/sent out) were men that according to the Synoptic Gospels and Christian tradition, were chosen from among the disciples (students) of Jesus for a mission. ...

In view of the context of Mark's account of the first miracle, it is also possible that there is an implicit comparison with King David. David, when he first ran from King Saul, fed his small group of followers, those who acknowledged him as the rightful king, with the priest's bread, asking the priest "Give me 5 loaves, or whatever you have" (I Samuel 21:3). In Mark 6, Jesus "saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd" (Mark 6:34), and he seated them on the "green grass" (Mark 6:39) in the middle of the wilderness. Under this interpretation, Jesus would be feeding those who wanted to hear his teaching, as the new David, and yet still having enough left over for all Israel besides (12 baskets of fragments/ 12 tribes of Israel in the Old Testament/ 12 apostles as the leaders of the "New Israel" in the New Testament). This page is about the Biblical king David. ... Saul or Shaul (שָׁאוּל Demanded, Standard Hebrew Šaʾul, Tiberian Hebrew Šāʾûl) was the first king of Israel according to the Old Testament of the Bible, as taught in Judaism. ...

The feeding of the 4000 was historically regarded as far more cryptic, and though there was generally an agreement that the 4000 probably would represent the gentiles, since their feeding followed after the one that had strong Jewish themes, there were various different interpretations of the 7s in the narrative; for example, one interpretation had the 7 leftovers being the 7 early major Christian geographic divisions and the 7 loaves as the Jewish menorah, representing the Temple, and so the temple being superseded by the Christian Churches. What is certain, however, is that Jesus placed some significance on the number of baskets of leftovers from both miracles (the feeding of the 4000 and 5000): "'Having eyes, see ye not? and having ears, hear ye not? and do ye not remember? When I break the five loaves among five thousand, how many baskets full of fragments took ye up?' They said unto him, 'Twelve.' 'And when the seven among four thousand, how many baskets full of fragments took ye up?' And they said, 'Seven.' 'And He said unto them, 'How is it that ye do not understand?'" He never explicitly states the interpretation of the numbers, but it is clear from this passage that he attaches some importance to them. When taken along with the Israelite connections of the first miracle, the 4000 could be taken to signify people from all over the earth (the earth, in a Jewish conceptual cosmology, has 4 corners). The number 7 often bears the significance of wholeness, completeness in the Old Testament. A full week has 7 days; on the 7th day, God rests because his work is finished. Then there are 7 baskets left over, because Jesus can meet the needs not only those who have come to him here, but the whole, complete earth besides. The word Gentile from the Latin gentilis, can either be a translation of the Hebrew Goy/גוי or of the Hebrew word Nochri/נכרי. In the most common modern use it refers to the former being derived from the Latin term gens (meaning clan or a group of families) and it is... A coin issued by Mattathias Antigonus, c. ...

However, some of these interpretations were often arbitrary, and many would not be plausible at the time the Gospels were written; the Torah, for example, was at that time considered only 1 book, and was not divided into 5 until later. In consequence, there has been much speculation that the correct interpretation might be along lines similar to cryptic writings of Greek mysticism, such as Platonism. For example, there have been several attempts throughout history to regard the numbers as an instruction set for creating a mystic diagram, taking the gematria of the text into account. Platonic idealism is the theory that the substantive reality around us is only a reflection of a higher truth. ... Gematria (Heb. ...

More cynical and critical interpretations point out that the exact literal Greek text states only that Jesus displayed the loaves and fish, and did not give them out, suggesting that the text is a sleight of hand - that the scraps were donations for the meal of the disciples themselves, and the multitude fed themselves by some other means.

The very few scholars who interpret the episode as neither allegory, nor miraculous, nor as having encoded meaning, occasionally see the second story as simply being a doubling of the first, with only a few numbers changed.

In Mark chapter 8, in the passage that describes Jesus warning his disciples to "beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, and of the leaven of Herod" (v.15), it is significant that in the course of the ensuing conversation, Jesus refers retrospectively to both the feeding of the 5000 (v.19) and the feeding of the 4000 (v.20). This creates a difficulty for those who interpret the two passages as if they described the same event twice.

Theological motifs

The initial misunderstanding of the disciples can be taken as a misunderstanding of the power of Jesus; however, there is no previous food miracle in any of the gospels, and therefore it is unnecessary to conclude at least for the first feeding in Mark-Matthew that the disciples should have known that Jesus had the power.

The account of the miracle in John 6 is followed later in the same chapter by the conversation Jesus has with the crowds who had followed him to Capernaum. The main motif in the passage (v.26-59) centres on Jesus saying, "I am that bread of life" (v.48). Though there is no previous food miracle in John, this section of Jesus' teaching might allude to a much earlier food miracle, that of the manna that was provided as food to the children of Israel in the wilderness at the time of Moses. The feeding of the multitude therefore may be seen as a demonstrative prelude to Jesus words, "I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger: and he that believeth on me shall never thirst." (v.35). Manna (sometimes or archaically spelled mana) is the name of the food miraculously produced for the Israelites in the desert in the book of Exodus. ... Moses with the Tablets, 1659, by Rembrandt Moses or Mosheh (Hebrew: מֹשֶׁה Standard Tiberian ; Arabic: موسى, ; Geez: ሙሴ Musse) was an early Biblical Hebrew religious leader, lawgiver, prophet, and historian. ...


  • HarperCollins Bible Commentary, 2000
  • Brown, Raymond E. An Introduction to the New Testament Doubleday 1997 ISBN 0-385-24767-2
  • Kilgallen, John J. A Brief Commentary on the Gospel of Mark Paulist Press 1989 ISBN 0-8091-3059-9

External links

  • An attempt at interpreting the feeding of the multitude as sacred geometry



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