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In Mark 7:3, what is the function of πυγμή?:

WH Mark 7:3 οἱ γὰρ Φαρισαῖοι καὶ πάντες οἱ Ἰουδαῖοι ἐὰν μὴ πυγμῇ νίψωνται τὰς χεῖρας οὐκ ἐσθίουσιν, κρατοῦντες τὴν παράδοσιν τῶν πρεσβυτέρων,

The translations vary greatly:

http://biblehub.com/mark/7-3.htm

I notice that in the Matthew parallel the disciples skipped washing altogether:

Mat 15:2 "Why do your disciples disregard the tradition of the elders? They don't wash their hands when they eat."

NOTES:

πυγμή, ῆς, ἡ ① fist (so Eur., Hippocr. et al.; PPetr III, 22 (e) 2 [III B.C.]; LXX) in a difficult pass. ἐὰν μὴ πυγμῇ νίψωνται τὰς χεῖρας lit. unless they wash their hands with (the) fist Mk 7:3 (where the v.l. πυκνά [s. πυκνός] is substituted for π. [Vulgate crebro], thus alleviating the difficulty by focusing on the vigor of the action. Itala codex d has ‘primo’ [on this and other Itala readings s. AJülicher, Itala II ’40, p. 59]). The procedure is variously described and interpreted as a washing: ‘in which one clenched fist is turned about in the hollow of the other hand’, or ‘up to the elbow’ or ‘the wrist’, or ‘with a handful’ of water. FSchulthess, ZNW 21, 1922, 232f thinks of it simply as a rubbing w. the dry hand. Whatever the actual motion may have been, the emphasis is on the cultic devotion of those who engage in the lustral act.—Palladius, Hist. Laus. 55 νίψασθαι τὰς χεῖρας καὶ τοὺς πόδας πυγμῇ ὕδατι ψυχροτάτῳ. CTorrey, ZAW 65, ’53, 233f.—For lit. s. βαπτίζω 1.—Field, Notes 30f; Goodsp., Probs. 59f; MBlack, Aramaic Approach2, ’53, 8f; PWeis, NTS 3, ’56/57, 233–36 (Aramaic); SReynolds, JBL 85, ’66, 87f (with cupped hands; against him MHengel, ZNW 60, ’69, 182–98; reply by Reynolds ibid. 62, ’71, 295f). ② fist-fight, boxing (Hom. et al.; ins; Tat. 4, 1; 26, 3) more generally (Jos., Ant. 14, 210) ἐν μέσῳ τῆς πυγμῆς in the midst of the fight B 12:2.—DELG s.v. πύξ I. M-M. TW. Arndt, W., Danker, F. W., & Bauer, W. (2000). A Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament and other early Christian literature (3rd ed., p. 896). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Was it the "lack of cultic devotion" to the act or the failure to wash at all that the Pharisees objected to?

In Matthew 15 and Mark 7:18-19 Jesus seems to be saying that washing one's hands is pointless.

I guess what I'm asking is whether πυγμή make any difference to the actual point being made or not.

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The passage begins when the scribes arrive and see the disciples eating with impure hands, using the Greek word κοιναῖς ('common') - in other words, without having followed the proper ritual of washing. When we look at verse 5, we again see that the Pharisees are concerned with ritual, not hygiene, then Jesus' response in verses 6-9 shows that Jesus is fully aware of their meaning.

At verse 7:7, the words “in vain do they worship me” are quoted from the Septuagint version of Isaiah 29:13, suggesting that this is not a literal transcript of Jesus' words.

Mark 7:1-9: Then came together unto him the Pharisees, and certain of the scribes, which came from Jerusalem. 2 And when they saw some of his disciples eat bread with defiled, that is to say, with unwashen, hands, they found fault. 3 For the Pharisees, and all the Jews, except they wash their hands oft, eat not, holding the tradition of the elders. 4 And when they come from the market, except they wash, they eat not. And many other things there be, which they have received to hold, as the washing of cups, and pots, brasen vessels, and of tables. 5 Then the Pharisees and scribes asked him, Why walk not thy disciples according to the tradition of the elders, but eat bread with unwashen hands? 6 He answered and said unto them, Well hath Esaias prophesied of you hypocrites, as it is written, This people honoureth me with their lips, but their heart is far from me. 7 Howbeit in vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men. 8 For laying aside the commandment of God, ye hold the tradition of men, as the washing of pots and cups: and many other such like things ye do. 9 And he said unto them, Full well ye reject the commandment of God, that ye may keep your own tradition.

As shown here, πυγμή literally means 'with the fist', but this obviously is not the meaning intended here. The The Pulpit Commentary, Volume 7 says the difficulty of explaining the usage in Mark has led to the adoption of a conjectural reading as 'often', but that the Syriac Peshito renders the Greek word by a word meaning 'diligently'. It would seem from this that πυγμή makes little difference to the actual point being made.

Mark 7:9-23 is a different, although related discourse, so that Mark 7:18-19 is not really about washing one's hands. Verses 6:33-8:21 form a series of ten events and discourses with allusions to food.

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The term " πυγμῇ " is used in Antiquities of the Jews - Book XIV, Chapter 10.6 with similar construction in Phi 1:7; Act 10:39. In the context of Flavius Josephus, " πυγμῇ " means “single” gladiators, then we can argue that would be an extensive cleaning, one hand at a time, in different waters.

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  • Hello Betho and welcome to the site. I see the English. Can you provide the Greek for closer inspection?: "...It is also granted to Hyrcanus, and to his sons, and to the ambassadors by them sent to us, that in the fights between single gladiators, and in those with beasts, they shall sit among the senators to see those shows;..." Thanks. – user10231 Jul 31 '16 at 14:40
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While speculation abounds there does not seem to be a consensus on what the idiomatic usage of πυγμῇ might be. Suggestions include textual issues, "carefully", "often", "by the fist", "to the fist", etc. Personally, I find none convincing except possibly the last, which would need a tweak to "unless they wash the hand - past the fist" or something like that. Perhaps some new ancient text will be located with a clearer utilization of the word.

My own speculation at this point is that "hand" is a Hebraism for "strength". The godly one must scrub.

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At the beginning of my "Proof that the gospel of Mark was written in Latin" (which is on the internet) I give as one of the most striking proofs this passage at Mark 7.3: The Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they have washed their hands for a short time (pusillo). The best Latin manuscripts 1 (k) and 2 (e) are missing here, so Mark's text is lost, but it can be restored from manuscript a, which has replaced pusillo with the synonym momento, also "for a short time". In my note on Mark 7.3 in my "Reconstruction of the original Latin of the gospel of Mark, with a translation and textual commentary" (also on the internet) I write: a's momento gives the right sense. Pugillo (with their fist) of c ff2 i q r1 shows that it comes from pusillo (which Mark uses in 7 other places) which I have accordingly restored. "Washed for a short time" well describes Jewish ritual washing.They need only wash quickly because the object is not to clean the hands but to fulfill the ritual. Thus the Mishnah under Tohoroth (cleanness of) Yadaim (the hands) 1.1 states that a quarter of a log of water (the amount that is contained in one and a half egg shells) is sufficient for ritual washing of the hands. Pugillo (with their fist) is clearly corrupt. No one in his right mind could have believed that all Jews always wash their hands with their fist. The translator correctly translated pugillo with pugmh, the reading of almost all the Greek. Aleph W + have pykna (often), a poor conjecture (the tradition is only fulfilled by doing it always, not merely sometimes), whence b subinde. a primo (first) also gives poor sense. The objection is not to washing hands before eating, but to doing it in a perfunctory way merely to fulfill a ritual. Delta ss sa omit. A scribe skipped the brackets in (mh pug)mh.

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  • I'm just sitting here wondering my Vulg. Clementina has "nisi crebro láverint manus non mandúcant"—that is, '[they] eat not without frequently washing their hands.' – Sola Gratia Jul 15 '18 at 22:13

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