by John DelHousaye
After Jesus’s baptism, Mark writes:
And suddenly the Spirit casts him into the wilderness. And he was in the wilderness forty days to be tempted by the Satan, and he was among the wild animals; and the angels were serving him. (1:12-13)
The Satan is a transliteration of the Hebrew word meaning “enemy.” The article probably identifies him as the ultimate adversary. If we look to Mark’s characterization, Satan aims to pluck God’s word out of human hearts (4:15). The Father has validated the Son’s sacrificial calling (v. 11), and the tempter wants to distract him from this goal (8:33).
The setting echoes Job’s introduction of “the Satan,” who goes “to and fro on the earth” wanting people to curse God (1:7) In the heavenly throne room, God praises Job, but Satan challenges his evaluation, a popular exchange in Jewish literature.
Mark uniquely includes “wild animals” (Gr. thērion) in the scene (Matthew and Luke do not mention them in their presentations of Jesus’s temptations). Foundational stories—what gives a community an identity—often go in two opposing directions: the city is a refuge from the chaos of nature (civilization stories) or a place of pollution, spoiling ecological harmony (degradation stories). The Fourfold Gospel is a kind of foundation story, but does not easily fall into either type.
On the one hand, Jesus may be facing a menacing wilderness. In The Life of Adam and Eve, Seth attempts to collect some “oil of life” from Paradise, but “a serpent, a beast”—the language echoes the biblical account of the Fall—“attacked and bit” him. The wilderness could be understood as the space between cities (like a dark sea before a harbor). This is a common, urban viewpoint. I used to encounter snakes and scorpions in the suburbs of Phoenix; not in the heart of the city.
Jesus’s safety, then, represents God’s protection (Ezek 34:25; Dan 6:22). If we follow this negative interpretation, Jesus may evoke Psalm 91: “You will tread on the lion and the adder; the young lion and the serpent you will trample underfoot” (v. 13). Matthew (4:6) and Luke (4:10-11) have Satan recite this Psalm. Luke records a related saying: “I have given you authority to tread upon serpents and scorpions and over all the power of the Enemy” (10:19). Some Jews believed the Messiah would kill Leviathan, a hope appropriated in Revelation and by the monks: “Christ, the Son of the living God, who is destined to destroy the great sea-monster, will destroy you too,” said Amoun to a serpent.
On the other hand, his relationship to the wild animals may be a vision (or prefiguring) of the Kingdom. When cast into the wilderness, Jesus neither kills nor takes from animals for his own sustenance; the angels serve food, like manna for the exodus generation. The gospel brings healing to the world (Heb. tikkun olam) or, in today’s language, ecological flourishing when violence between predator and prey will cease (Isa 11:6-9; 65:25). Survival of the fittest—creation “red in tooth and claw”—ends (Tennyson, In Memoriam LVI 15). Harmony with creation evidences the fulfillment of Isaiah’s vision, concerning which John was to serve as precursor.
Jesus, then, is the new (or last) Adam. Mark uses the same word from the Greek translation of the creation story: “God made the wild animals (τὰ θηρία, to thēria) of the earth . . . and God saw that it was good” (Gen 1:25). He exorcises the devil from Paradise. The devil complains to Antony about the crowds of monks invading his domain (Athanasius, Life of Antony 41). “Why do you persecute me?,” he complains to Benedict (Gregory, Dial. 2.8).
Yet the fulfillment of the vision requires a physiological transformation of predators and other flesh-eaters, which has yet to happen. Animals still eat animals, and, more importantly, some animals must eat animals to thrive—obligate carnivores, such as lions. Many impoverished human beings must eat fish to live.
This tension continues in the Christian tradition. During the Neronian Persecution (64), Christians “were clad in the hides of beasts and torn to death by dogs” (Tacitus, Annals 15.44). A generation later Ignatius of Antioch (c. 50 - c. 110) was probably fed to lions in the Coliseum. The Historia Monachorum in Aegypto describes monks slaying wild beasts.
Yet the gospel can also bring peace to the human-creature relationship. When the wild beasts were brought to devour Alexander of Jerusalem (d. 251), some, according to his Vita, licked his feet. Jerome (c. 347 – 420) notes that when Paulus, the “founder of the monastic life,” died, two lions “came straight to the corpse of the blessed old man and there stopped, fawned upon it and lay down at its feet, roaring aloud as if to make it known that they were mourning in the only way possible to them.” Before that, a raven had fed him bread. Amoun “summoned two large serpents” and “ordered them to remain in front of the hermitage and guard the door” of his home against thieves. Abba Bes calmed a hippopotamus. Theon kept “company with wild beasts” and shared his water with them. Anthony of Pedua preached to fish; Francis, to birds as brothers and sisters.
The two interpretations of the wilderness (which also read the city), are not mutually exclusive in the Christian tradition. Monks invaded the wilderness to exorcise demons from Eden, or as Milton’s famous works are titled, Paradise Lost and Regained. After spiritual conflict, the monk enjoys peace (quietness).
Our Bible ends in a city and garden.
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 In Jubilees, Mastema (Satan) encourages God to test Abraham’s faith through Isaac’s sacrifice (17.16).
 John Paul Heil, “Jesus with the Wild Animals in Mark 1:13.” CBQ 68 (2006): 63-78. The expression thēria agria is used for dangerous animals in the wilderness, which fits the present context (Xenophan, An. 1, 2, 7; T. Sol 10, 3 C; PsSol. 13.3-4; 1 Clem. 56:12. Habakkuk mentions “panthers” and “wolves at night” (1:8; cited in 1QpHab III.6-7). The unit may be chiastic: (A) The Spirit (of God), (B) The Satan, (B’) animals, (A’) angels. If so, there is a kinship between The Satan and animals (just as there is between the spirit and angels). In light of the allusions to Eden, the Satan may mediate his temptations through the animals, like the Serpent (just as the Spirit mediates provisions through the angels). But there is no direct evidence for this.
 37.1, Latin; tr. Johnson; Gen 3:1.
 Russell and Ward, Lives of the Desert Fathers, 81.
 We find this reading in Christian literature, like The Acts of Philip.
 See 4:19, 38; 9:17; 12:12. The Greek may be translated: “And he was with the animals, but the angels were serving him [meals].”
 Some would date his birth to around 35.
 Russell and Ward, Lives of the Desert Fathers, 50.
 The first quote, auctor vitae monasticae, is taken from Epistle 22; the second, Life of Paulus. He is also know as Paul of Thebes or St. Paul the First Hermit.
 Russell and Ward, Lives of the Desert Fathers, 80.
 Russell and Ward, Lives of the Desert Fathers, 66.
 Russell and Ward, Lives of the Desert Fathers, 68.