Kyle Keefer, The New Testament as Literature: A Very Short Introduction (OUP, 2008), 25-26.
The characterization of the disciples in Mark’s gospel is shocking in its condescension; the disciples are complete and utter dullards. One scene in particular makes this point. Mark narrates two stories of Jesus’ miraculously feeding a crowd of thousands. The first, in Mark 6:30-44, includes 5,000 men (plus presumably, commensurate numbers of women and children), and they all get their fill from five loaves and two fish. After the meal, the disciples gather up twelve baskets of leftovers. In 8:1-10, presumably a short time later, Jesus does it again. This time he feeds 4,000 people with seven loaves and “a few” small fish (whatever “few” means, there must be more than two). This seemingly repetitive story serves primarily to point to the disciples’ woeful comprehension. Three times in the first story, the place where the crowd gathers is described as deserted. In the second story, Jesus subtly urges the disciples to remember the previous feeding: “I have compassion for the crowd, because they have been with me now for three days and have nothing to eat. If I send them away hungry to their homes, they will faint on the way” (8:2-3). This statement cries out for the disciples to say, “Why don’t you feed them the way that you did that other crowd.” But instead they say “How can one feed these people with bread here in the desert?” (8:4). The syntax of their question amply demonstrates their cloddishness. A reader of the text wants to say in response, “The same way that one fed those people back in chapter six with the other bread in the other deserted place!”