Phoenicians: Gospel of Mark on Jesus and a Syro-Phoenician woman (late first century CE)

Citation with stable link: Maia Kotrosits, 'Phoenicians: Gospel of Mark on Jesus and a Syro-Phoenician woman (late first century CE),' Ethnic Relations and Migration in the Ancient World, last modified January 14, 2023,

Ancient author: Anonymous author, Gospel of Mark 7:24-29 (link to Greek text and full LEB translation).

Comments (by Maia Kotrosits): This episode in a biography of Jesus presents an encounter between people of two different ethnic groups. A woman in the narrative finds Jesus and asks him to cast an unclean spirit out of her daughter. Jesus rebuffs her, insulting her by calling her a dog. The woman presses and offers a smart retort to his insult, and finally gets from Jesus what she needs. The content of Jesus’ rejection and barb revolves around her identification as Greek, Syro-Phoenician (northern Phoenician), and not included among the “children of Israel.” “Greek” here  means generally “not Judean,” although she is also located in the geography of Israel. This places the woman ambiguously both inside and outside the larger geography and understanding of Israel. This question of who belongs to Israel is a consistent theme in the so-called Gospel of Mark. The anonymous author of the Gospel of Matthew (15:22-28) re-writes Mark’s story, turning the woman into a “Canaanite,” and thus evoking the earlier history of this same geographical landscape.

Source of the translation: Translation by Maia Kotrosits


From there Jesus got up and went away to the region of Tyre and Sidon [both now in Lebanon]. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know he was there. But he could not hide, and immediately a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit heard about him, and she came and fell at his feet. Now the woman was Greek, Syro-Phoenician by descent (genos) and she kept asking him to cast the demon out of her daughter. Jesus said to her, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” But she answered and says [historical present] to him, “Yes, lord, but even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” And he said to her, “Because of your words, you may go: the demon has gone out of your daughter.”

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