Historical Commentary on the Gospel of Mark
|1: And as soon as it was morning the chief priests, with the elders and scribes, and the whole council held a consultation; and they bound Jesus and led him away and delivered him to Pilate. 2: And Pilate asked him, "Are you the King of the Jews?" And he answered him, "You have said so." 3: And the chief priests accused him of many things. 4: And Pilate again asked him, "Have you no answer to make? See how many charges they bring against you." 5: But Jesus made no further answer, so that Pilate wondered. 6: Now at the feast he used to release for them one prisoner for whom they asked. 7: And among the rebels in prison, who had committed murder in the insurrection, there was a man called Barab'bas.||8: And the crowd came up and began to ask Pilate to do as he was wont to do for them. 9: And he answered them, "Do you want me to release for you the King of the Jews?" 10: For he perceived that it was out of envy that the chief priests had delivered him up. 11: But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have him release for them Barab'bas instead. 12: And Pilate again said to them, "Then what shall I do with the man whom you call the King of the Jews?" 13: And they cried out again, "Crucify him." 14: And Pilate said to them, "Why, what evil has he done?" But they shouted all the more, "Crucify him." 15: So Pilate, wishing to satisfy the crowd, released for them Barab'bas; and having scourged Jesus, he delivered him to be crucified.|
|1: And as soon as it was morning the chief priests, with the elders and scribes, and the whole council held a consultation; and they bound Jesus and led him away and delivered him to Pilate.|
|v1: The Greek "symboulian" may be read as "convened a council" or "prepared a plan" (Brown 1994, p.630-32). The manuscript tradition also contains another Greek phrase that means "prepared a plan," strengthening the latter reading (Donahue and Harrington 2002, p430). The writer's meaning here is not clear.|
|v1: contains the usual Markan redaction "as soon as" implying rapidly moving events. The chief priests, elders and scribes appear as a Markan plot device to drive the action. They crop up in v1 to take Jesus to Pilate; v3, to accuse Jesus before Pilate; v11 to stir up the crowd, and finally in v31 to mock Jesus in his death throes.|
|v1: Although some exegetes have attempted to argue that this consultation represented a second meeting to pass judgment in a capital case as required under Jewish law, recall that the Jewish day begins at sunset, so it is still the same day of the first trial.|
Jesus is bound for the first time here. Isaiah 3:10 (LXX), where
the Just One is bound, and of course Isaiah 53:6, 12 (LXX), as well as
Psalm 27:12 (LXX) are all sources for this scene.
Pilate. Roman administration is generally divided into two
for analysis. In the first, from 6 CE to 41 CE, seven Roman governors
"prefects") ruled Judea. From 41-44 Agrippa, a Jewish king and
of Herod the Great, ruled Judea. After 44 the province reverted to
Roman rule under 7 Roman governors, (titled "procurators") terminating
in the inept Florus whose clumsiness provoked the Jewish War of 67-70.
The second half of the period was one of seething revolt and unrest. It
would be an error, however, to project this back into the period 6-41.
Judea there are no surviving records of an armed revolt or of Roman
of notorious bandits, failed messiahs, or revolutionaries (Brown 1994,
p677-679). As Tacitus tersely put it: "Under Tiberius all was quiet" in
|2: And Pilate asked him, "Are you the King of the Jews?" And he answered him, "You have said so."|
|v2: The Gospel of Mark does not contain enough evidence to warrant any conclusion about the legality of Pilate's trial under Roman law and custom. As Brown (1994, p726) points out, the account of the trial of Jesus ben Ananus (see below) in Josephus would probably look fairly implausible if anyone cared to make a case like that brought against the trial of Jesus under Pilate, but no scholar has ever challenged it.|
|v2: Pilate asks if Jesus is the King of the Jews, although that term has never been used in the Gospel, including during the Sanhedrin trial. Since the writer does not say that the Jewish leaders gave Pilate any information, why didn't Pilate start out with more basic questions of the "where are you from?/what is your name?" variety?|
|v2: As with the Sanhedrin, the accuser asks after Jesus' true identity, but in the Trial before Pilate the order is reversed; Jesus' silence follows rather than precedes the question.|
|v2: Historically, the first use of the title "King of the Jews" was by the Hasmonean high priests when they established an independent Jewish state in Palestine a century or so before this time. Herod the Great also styled himself "King of the Jews." (Brown 1994, p731).|
|v2: in a rare instance of agreement, in all four canonical gospels the Greek of this line is exactly the same.|
Recall that Greek had no punctuation. Hence, in Greek this exchange is
marvelously ambiguous, as either figure speaking could be asking a
question or making a statement. It could read as Pilate saying "You are
the king of the Jews" and Jesus replying "Are you saying so?" The
narrator has clarified this by defining Pilate's comment as a question,
leaving the ostensible ambiguity in Jesus' answer.(Fowler 1996, p198)
|5: But Jesus made no further answer, so that Pilate wondered.|
Jesus' silence recalls Isaiah 53:7:
Note also that in the discourse in Mark 13, Jesus told his followers not to be anxious about what to say, but that the Holy Spirit would speak for them. Another fulfillment of Mark 13 as a Passion prediction.
Y. Collins (1994) has also identified Psalm 38 in the background here:
Psalm 38 has also been identified with 15:40-1, the watching women, as well.
Pilate functions as an effective double of King Herod in Mark 6:14-29)
in the this scene. As Mary Ann Tolbert(1989) points out, Pilate:
|6: Now at the feast he used to release for them one prisoner for whom they asked. 7: And among the rebels in prison, who had committed murder in the insurrection, there was a man called Barab'bas.|
v6-7: Barabbas, literally "son of the father" is a probable doublet for Jesus himself (the Son of the Father). Indeed, there are manuscripts of Matthew that have "Jesus Barabbas" in this passage, and this must have been the case in the early days of Christianity, for Origen defensively insists that many manuscripts of Matthew in his time did not contain the offensive "Jesus" before "Barabbas." As a consequence some scholars have argued that this was the original usage in Mark (which Matthew copied) although this is a minority view. "Abba" was also a personal name in ancient Judaism, so the name may simply mean "Son of Abba."
The custom of releasing prisoners for feasts is not known anywhere in the Roman empire; occasionally prisoners were released on feast days as a specific act of clemency, but, as Crossan argues (1991, p390-1), Roman governors were more likely to postpone the execution or allow the family to bury the body, if they were inclined to clemency. Indeed, Origen, writing two hundred years later in the same part of the world, was surprised to find such a custom claimed in the Gospels. Pilate was not known for his mercy (see accounts in Philo or Josephus) but it is true that our only accounts of his governship come from his enemies. Pilate releasing Barabbas to a Jewish crowd is unlikely (Barabbas could hardly have been the only prisoner in Pilate's hands, so why release a bandit and murderer?), and further, it seems incredible that Pilate would release someone the crowd demanded, who is a known anti-Roman rebel and murderer. Finally, Barabbas himself appears to be fictional. The historical plausibility of this aspect of the scene is low.
Some exegetes have argued that this scene is based on Esther. Tim
Callahan (2004) notes:
Theissen and Merz (1998) note a possible criticism:
|v7: "who had committed murder in the insurrection." What
murder? What insurrection? Some exegetes have argued that Mark hides a
story about an insurgency against Rome, seeing Jesus' disciples as
advocating violence against Rome, and Jesus himself staying aloof from
such an affray. Knowing which insurrection the writer referred to would
also enable exegetes to refine their estimates of the dating of these
|8: And the crowd came up and began to ask Pilate to do as he was wont to do for them.|
Note that Mark indicates the trial before Pilate is outdoors,
a "crowd came up." In Josephus' Wars of the Jews Jewish
are brought before the procurator Florus, scourged and crucified in the
|v8: Though some have argued that the crowd could not have known about Barabbas, in fact the writer only has them ask Pilate to perform his usual custom of releasing a prisoner ("as was his wont").|
|10: For he perceived that it was out of envy that the chief priests had delivered him up.|
Looking at the larger literary structure of Mark, Jerome Neyrey
(1998) has argued that the behavior of Jesus' enemies in Mark
is driven by the social relations of the honor-shame culture of
Donald Senior (1987) notes:
|12: And Pilate again said to them, "Then what shall I do with the man whom you call the King of the Jews?"|
v12: And Pilate again said to them, "Then what shall I do with [the man whom you call] the King of the Jews?"The material in brackets appears to be a longer addition found in many manuscripts.
|4: And Pilate said to them, "Why, what evil has he done?" But they shouted all the more, "Crucify him."|
v14: Echoing Isaiah 53:9
Other parts of this verse show up elsewhere in the story.
Tolbert (1989, p273n2) points out that Pilate makes three attempts to
release Jesus, just as Peter makes three denials of Jesus. In the
typology of the gospel as delineated back in Mark 4 in the Parable of
the Sower, Peter is rocky ground, while Pilate represents thorny
ground. Both fail to recognize and respond to Jesus, but whereas Peter
makes a comprehensive threefold failure, Pilate nearly succeeds in
releasing Jesus, a partial success. This, Tolbert avers, shows the
difference between the infertility of rocky ground and the stunted
fertility of thorny ground. Dart (2003) links the three offerings of
Jesus by Pilate to the three times times that the disciples fell
asleep in the Garden, chiastically.
|15: So Pilate, wishing to satisfy the crowd, released for them Barab'bas; and having scourged Jesus, he delivered him to be crucified.|
|v15: The verb here, paradidonai, is the same one used elsewhere when Jesus says he will be "given over" or "delivered over."|
Several scholars (Helms 1997, p37, Evans 1995, Sanders 1995,
have observed that this scene has strong similarities with, and may be
related to, a passage in Josephus, from Book VI of Wars:
Craig Evans (1995:108) analyzed Josephus's account of Jesus ben Ananias. Like Jesus, he predicted doom on Jerusalem and the Temple, even referring to Jeremiah's prophecy of judgment against the temple (Jer 7:34), just as Mark did in Mk 11:17. Note that the Jewish authorities arrest and beat Jesus ben Ananias and hand him over to the Roman governor, who interrogates him. He refuses to answer the governor, was scourged and then released. Although Jesus was not released, Pilate asks the crowd in 15:9 whether they want Jesus released, and eventually does release Barabbas, who, though Evans does not make the connection, is a double of Jesus. Lawrence Wills (1997, p160) further fleshes out the parallels:
One should add, of course, that his name was "Jesus."
This scene also represents supernatural fulfillment of Jesus' prophecies from earlier in Mark. In Mark 12:7 the Wicked Tenants conspire to kill the vineyard owner's son, Jesus. That has now come true.The basic frame is a doublet of the previous pericope (Ludemann, 2001):
Finally, the overall frame of this chapter and the next is Daniel 6:
The chiastic structure of this pericope is very complex and looks something like this:
Mack (1988) argues:
The various literary and supernatural elements in this scene, the presence of OT construction at every level, the extremely complex literary structure, along with its low historical plausibility and a certain probability of creation out of non-Christian sources, indicate that there is no support for historicity in this pericope. Based on Mark, there is no way to know whether there was ever a trial before Pilate, whether Pilate was actually involved, or whether the Romans executed Jesus. As the writer of Mark presents it, this trial is most probably a fiction.
|16: And the soldiers led him away
the palace (that is, the praetorium); and they called together the
battalion. 17: And they clothed him in a purple cloak, and plaiting a
of thorns they put it on him. 18: And they began to salute him, "Hail,
King of the
||Jews!" 19: And they struck his head with a reed, and spat upon him, and they knelt down in homage to him. 20: And when they had mocked him, they stripped him of the purple cloak, and put his own clothes on him. And they led him out to crucify him.|
|16: And the soldiers led him away inside the palace (that is, the praetorium); and they called together the whole battalion.|
|v16: the soldiers are not legionnary troops from Rome, but local auxiliaries, Greek speakers, recruited from neighboring provinces.|
|v16: After a trial outdoors, the soldiers now lead Jesus into the praetorium. Traditionally the praetorium has been identified with the Fortress Antonia in Jerusalem. However, no surviving historian identifies what building in Jerusalem was called the "praetorium." The praetorium was originally the seat of the Roman army leader which, when such individuals evolved into administrators of occupied territories, later became the term for the Roman governor's adminstrative center. Raymond Brown (1994, p706-10) identifies two possible candidates, the Fortress Antonia and the Herodian Palace in Jerusalem. However, the writer indicates neither and it is highly likely that we are looking at historians imputing knowledge to the writer of Mark he neither had nor needed. For all the author of Mark would have had to know was that Judea was Roman-occupied territory, so naturally it would have had to possess a praetorium, just as one can be sure that a given town in the United States has a City Hall even though one has never been there. Pilate's administrative seat was on the coast in the Roman city of Caesarea. He came up to Jerusalem only for festivals and such adminstrative duties as might take him there.|
E. Schmidt (1995) reads this as the beginning of a triumphal
procession. The writer of Mark specifically states that they call
together the whole cohort, difficult to believe for the mockery of a
single prisoner. The use of the term praetorium
may signify the local seat of power, but to a Roman reader it would
recall the headquarters of the Praetorian guard in Rome, which always
accompanied the triumphant leader. He concludes:
|17: And they clothed him in a purple cloak, and plaiting a crown of thorns they put it on him.|
T.E. Schmidt (1995) focuses attention on the purple coak and the crown
Schmidt notes that Matthew, recognizing the problem, changes the robe's color to scarlet.
|19: And they struck his head with a reed, and spat upon him, and they knelt down in homage to him.|
This pericope is the fulfillment of the supernatural prophecy
in Mark 10:33-4. The various parts of it all represent creation off the
OT, controlled by Isaiah 50:6
v19: Price (2003, p312) contends that context is also provided by Micah in 1 Kings 22:24-27. In Mark the elements of Micah are found in Mark both Mark 14 and 15 (see 14:65).
compare Micah 5:1b
|20: And when they had mocked him, they stripped him of the purple cloak, and put his own clothes on him. And they led him out to crucify him.|
v20: perhaps an allusion to the eschatological vision of Zechariah 3:1-5 in which a high priest receives sacerdotal garments in exchange for filthy robes (Crossan 1988, p128). Note that the high priest's name is Joshua, Hebrew for Jesus:
Note that Jesus is led out through the streets of Jerusalem. The verb
is used only here in Mark (Schmidt 1995, p8)
Another possible source, mentioned as a parallel in Crossan
adduced as a possible source by others such as Price (2003) is a
passage from Philo's Flaccus,
Book VI. As Herod Agrippa I is visiting Alexandria, the crowd there
to play a prank on him.
The name "Barabbas" may also have been suggested by "Carabbas;" the first letters differ by one stroke. It might also be noted that the two men in these back-to-back pericopes, Jesus ben Ananus and Carabbas, were considered both mad and harmless. Markan irony at work?
Raymond Brown (1994, p874-877) lists numerous possible sources, including the Carrabas story, games of mockery involving the appointment of a mock king, theatrical plays and mimes, and carnival festivals.
Vernon K. Robbins (1992) observes a widespread eastern
tradition of such mockery, finding similarities to Mark's account in
mocking of a mock King at the Sacian feast of the Persians. Ranging
widely, he also notes that both among both pagans and early Christians
it was was considered traditional for kings to give themselves up for
people, citing both 1 Clement 55 and the legend of Codrus, the last
of Athens, who went out to meet his enemies in slave's clothing and was
killed by them, unrecognized, and so saved his people.
T.E. Schmidt (1995) has also related this to a widespread
tradition of triumphs in antiquity. Here the Roman soldiers clothe
Jesus in royal robes, just as the king or general entering the city.
This tradition of triumphs originated as a celebration of the king's
entrance into the city, after which he would appear as a god. Schmidt
also notes that in Roman culture such anti-triumphs as depicted here in
Mark were known. After his fall from power (31 CE) Sejanus was dragged
before the Senate dressed in royal power, mocked and struck about the
face. Similarly Vitellius, fallen from the position of Emperor, was led
along the Sacred Way to the new Caesar, mocked and insulted by those
lining the path. In many Roman triumphal processions human sacrifice,
generally of captives, was practiced.
Paul in 2 Corinthians 2:14-15 writes;
Schmidt (1995) observes that the reference to Christ as a
leader in a triumph appears followed by the strange metaphor of
fragrance. However, he points out that Suetonius records that as Nero
entered the city of Rome after his accession, many were slain along the
route, and perfume sprinkled over the area. Perhaps fragrance was part
of the procession; indeed, some imagery suggests that incense was
carried with the procession.
John Dart (2003, p71) has worked out a chiasm for this
pericope and the adjoining one based on keyword structures:
The E/E' brackets have been compressed, but they also form a
chiasm of actions with the line Hail,
King of the Jews! in the center.
Dart's chiasm is not correct; certain elements are out of
order. I have reconstructed it in the order that has come down to us to
yield a chiasm with an alternating center, seen elsewhere in Mark.
The brackets here are quite simple. The A brackets contain geographic movement with the usual repetitions of vocabulary. The other brackets should be clear from the vocabulary and thematic parallels.
The various elements of OT creation and traditions common around the Mediterranean and Ancient Near East, as well as its complex literary structure, indicate that there is nothing to support historicity in this pericope.
|21: And they compelled a passer-by, Simon of Cyre'ne, who was coming in from the country, the father of Alexander and Rufus, to carry his cross. 22: And they brought him to the place called Gol'gotha (which means the place of a skull). 23: And they offered him wine mingled with myrrh; but he did not take it. 24: And they crucified him, and divided his garments among them, casting lots for them, to decide what each should take. 25: And it was the third hour, when they crucified him. 26: And the inscription of the charge against him read, "The King of the Jews."||27: And with him they crucified two robbers, one on his right and one on his left. 29: And those who passed by derided him, wagging their heads, and saying, "Aha! You who would destroy the temple and build it in three days, 30: save yourself, and come down from the cross!" 31: So also the chief priests mocked him to one another with the scribes, saying, "He saved others; he cannot save himself. 32: Let the Christ, the King of Israel, come down now from the cross, that we may see and believe." Those who were crucified with him also reviled him.|
|21: And they compelled a passer-by, Simon of Cyre'ne, who was coming in from the country, the father of Alexander and Rufus, to carry his cross.|
v21: Simon of Cyrene. There are a number of proposals for who he was. Brown (1994, p913-916) reviews some of the points. Simon is absent from the Gospel of Peter and from the Gospel of John. Roman practice, as described by ancient sources, was to force the prisoner to carry his own cross. Further, the writer presents Simon as "compelled" but it is unlikely, given Roman policy for respecting local law, that the Roman soldiers would have forced a Jew to work on a major holiday like Passover. Yet we are never told Simon was Jew. Simon is a Greek name, along with Alexander, while Rufus is a Roman one. Nor would the soldiers have ordered Simon to help out of pity, since they had just abused and mocked Jesus. Brown's position is that perhaps Simon was ordered to help because Jesus was so weak the soldiers feared he might die before he arrived at the execution site. This position is viable whether one views the narrative as history or fiction.
Price (2003, 319-20), argues that Simon of Cyrene is a double
Magus, from the Philistine town of Gitta, who according to Epiphanius
to have undergone a passion as the Son of God. "Gitta" is easily
with "Kittim," a term for Cyrene (Cyrenaica is in what is now Libya).
Cyrene was a Gentile town, but a Jewish colony had been established
there (Blount 1993, p179).
Helms (1988, p121-2) along with other scholars (Reinach, for example)
argued that Simon is the ideal apostle who is doing exactly what Jesus
said a disciple must do in order to imitate him: take up his cross.
Blount (1993) argues this same position from the point of view of
Against this interpretation, however, it must be noted that
Simon is compelled, and does not choose freely.
Helms also observes
8:34 follows on 8:33, in which Jesus famously calls Simon Peter
"Satan." Donald Senior (1987,p116) points out that the phrase "take up
the cross" is the same in both passages. Is Simon of Cyrene a double
for Simon Peter? Jesus says that
would follow him must first deny himself; Peter instead denies Jesus.
the writer of Mark piled up irony here, showing a Simon denying himself
to take up his cross, even as another Simon denies Jesus? Has he
a historical figure into the passage? Or did these events occur as
There's no way to know. One connection between 8:34 and 15:21 is that
the mention of "cross" in 15:21 is the first time in the Gospel since
8:34. Jesus has managed to make 3 Passion predictions without
mentioning the term even once.
Another way to look at the names mentioned in 15:21 is to
that as tradition develops, names are generally given to unnamed
Thus the high priest's servant who loses an ear in Gethsemane is
in Mark, but in John becomes Malchus. Similarly, the unnamed bandits
with Jesus are given a variety of names in later Christian literature.
If Mark is working off a source, perhaps he is merely giving a name to
a character that has no name in his source.
T.E. Schmidt (1995) argues that Simon represents the person
who accompanied the sacrificial bull in the processions, carrying an
enormous double-bladed ax, the instrument of the victim's death.
Mary Ann Tolbert (1989), observing Mark's many affinities with
ancient popular literature, writes:
|v21: Many exegetes have taken the phrase "coming in from the country" -- often translated as "returning from the fields" as a point against historicity, since work on a feast day was forbidden. But the writer of Mark does not give enough information about Simon to permit a sure judgment on the matter.|
|v21: Romans 16:13 refers to a Rufus.|
|v21: Interestingly, in chapter 7 of Josephus' The Jewish War there is a scene in which a man named Rufus seizes a man named Eleazar and carries him off to the Roman camp to be whipped and crucified, which he survives.|
|v21: Margaret Barker (Temple) points out;
|22: And they brought him to the place called Gol'gotha (which means the place of a skull).|
Golgotha is another place-name with no known referent. Simon of
Cyrene disappears as quickly as he came, one verse later. Burrows
T.E. Schmidt (1995) suggests that Golgotha may also be translated
as head as well as skull. That would make Golgotha the
Place of the Head. A Roman legend records that in Rome when a temple
was being built on a hill, a human head was found with its features
still intact. According to the legend, the soothsayers then said this
meant the hill would be the head of all Italy. The hill was thus named
Capitoline Hill. The significance of this should not be missed: the
Temple of Jupiter Capitolinus on Capitoline Hill, the Capitolium, the
placed named after the Death's Head, was the terminus of every Roman
|v22: The RSV smoothes out awkwardness here; the verse should more correctly read: "And they brought him to the Golgotha place, which is interpreted Skull-Place (Brown 1994, p933). Brown (1994, 936-7) observes that the Greek of "place of a skull" is also ambiguous. While in Mark and Matt it appears to be a direct translation of "Golgotha," in Luke "place" is not part of the designation, while in John the phrase is ambiguous and ancient scribes were divided on what is meant. Some manuscripts of John even read "He came out to a place called Skull." The Golgotha tradition also varies among manuscripts of Mark; some do not have the "the" before the place names. The idea that the narrative in Mark reflects tradition is obviously impaired by such confusion. The confusion over a simple place name should also reflect on the historicity of characters like Simon of Cyrene. And of course, while later tradition implies that Golgotha was a hill, the writer of Mark did not specify that.|
|v22: the verb "bring" here is unclear in its meaning. Does it imply that Jesus was physically carried, or just that he was compelled? Schmidt (1995) observes that the verb bring may be translated as bear, implying that Jesus was carried in mock triumph in a portable chair, as a king enjoying a triumph.|
|v22: If the site of execution is a Markan fiction, why did the author invent a place, rather than simply using the Mt. of Olives, a mountain already located outside of Jerusalem, which the author was familiar with, and from which the Messiah was expected to begin his activities?|
|23: And they offered him wine mingled with myrrh; but he did not take it|
Jesus has just said in 14:25 that he would not taste wine until
he dies. According to Brown (1994, p941), wine mixed with myrrh was
in antiquity. Perhaps from Proverbs 31:6-7:
Raymond Brown (1994) writes:
|24: And they crucified him, and divided his garments among them, casting lots for them, to decide what each should take.|
|v24: Joe Zias has a good overview of Roman crucifixion practices online here.|
"casting lots" from Psalm 22:
Berlin (2001), discussing the attempt of Haman to usurp the Kingship in
the Book of Esther, notes the importance of garments in the Bible:
does not tell us how they crucified him. Victims could be
nailed or tied to a cross, in various positions and ways, involving
but also sometimes impaling. The "cross" could be a stake or plank, or
crossed wood in many different shapes. The author of Mark may be
nailing, since throughout this scene he is tracking Psalm 22, whose
Zech 12:10 may also be playing a role:
Psalm 119:120 (118 in the Septuagint) states:
This verse is cited by the Epistle of Barnabas (5:14) as a prophecy.
|v24: Although skeptics have long pointed to tradition of dying and rising Gods around the Mediterranean, much of the research they rely on is antiquated, incorrect, or useless. Richard Carrier (2003) outlines the issues here. Bruce Metzger's (1968) discussion, though dated and somewhat polemical, looks at some of the problems here.|
Although commentators rarely point it out, there is a certain savage
irony in having a carpenter die affixed to a piece of wood.
Mahlon Smith (1998) has pointed out,
in 14:1 the chief priests fear that his execution during a feast will
cause a riot, but then they go ahead and have Jesus executed during a
|25: And it was the third hour, when they crucified him.|
|v25: The "third hour" was dropped by both Matthew and Luke.|
Jesus is executed on Passover, according to Mark. In the context of
Jesus' role as High Priest, recall that Passover is the only sacrifice
not offered by a priest.
Paul in 1 Cor 5:7 notes:
|26: And the inscription of the charge against him read, "The King of the Jews."|
|v26: The RSV once again smoothes out the writer's awkward doublets, for in Mark's Greek the "inscription" is "inscribed." Note that the placement of the inscription was not described, although the fact that passers-by could see it indicates that the writer was probably thinking of it as being above Jesus' head. There is no evidence from antiquity for the practice of placing an inscription with the charge above the condemned. The inscription is different in each of the canonical gospels and in the Gospel of Peter. The writer once again leaves out an important detail, not saying who did the inscribing.|
|v26: Ludemann speaks for many when he argues that this could not have been invented, as it would have caused "serious political difficulties" for the Church (2001, p108), and so, under the criterion of difference, must be authentic. This another misapplication of the embarrassment criterion. There was no Church in the time when the Gospel of Mark was written, and further, Mark was written by an individual, not an institution, whose attitude toward the inscription is unknown. This detail is utterly consistent with the writer's practices throughout the Gospel, in which Jesus' enemies ironically correctly identify him when they intend to mock him. Numerous scholars have dismissed the inscription as an invention of the writer of Mark.|
T.E. Schmidt (1995) points out that it was common for those suffering a
Roman judgment to be forced to wear a sign proclaiming his crime for
all to see. In a Roman triumph, he notes, the lictors in the procession
carried signs announcing the territories taken by the general. Schmidt
also observes that the writer of Mark may have had in mind the moment
at the end of the triumphant procession when an accolade is given to
king or general.
|27: And with him they crucified two robbers, one on his right and one on his left.|
|v27: Two other bandits (or perhaps 'insurrectionists'; Greek: lestai) are crucified with Jesus.|
Mary Ann Tolbert points out (1989), exegetes have
argued that these two thieves, one on each side of Jesus, must be
historical. However, she observes, where James and John ask if they can
sit at Jesus'
side in Heaven, Jesus replies in Mark 10:40, saying:
Tolbert analyzes this:
It should be added that the portrayal of those sitting at Jesus' left and right hand as thieves/insurrectionists may well be yet another of the writer's endless attacks on the disciples.
Schmidt (1995) aso notes that this echoes several practices associated
with triumphant emperors. The image of three raised about the crowd
recalls the Emperor flanked by his two consuls. It also recalls
Vespasian celebrating his triumph over the Jews in 71 with his sons
Domitian and Titus riding beside him.
Jesus was transfigured with Moses and Elijah; he is crucified with two
|28 "and the scripture was fulfilled which says, "He was counted with the lawless ones"|
Some manuscripts of Mark have a v28 "and the scripture was
which says, "He was counted with the lawless ones" (Isaiah 53:12)" but
most authorities consider this a spurious addition. It has no opposite
in the chiastic structure of this passage, another point against it.
|29: And those who passed by derided him, wagging their heads, and saying, "Aha! You who would destroy the temple and build it in three days, 30: save yourself, and come down from the cross!" 31: So also the chief priests mocked him to one another with the scribes, saying, "He saved others; he cannot save himself. 32: Let the Christ, the King of Israel, come down now from the cross, that we may see and believe." Those who were crucified with him also reviled him.|
from Psalm 22:
Markan irony, of course, since Jesus will rescue himself by living again.
|9: And those who passed by derided him, wagging their heads, and saying, "Aha! You who would destroy the temple and build it in three days,|
|v29: the Greek of "wagging" (kinein) is the same as is used in the Septuagint version of Psalm 22.|
|v29: Brown (1994, p446) points out that passers-by would not be likely to know that Jesus had been accused of this falsely, for which of them would have been at the trial of Jesus by the Sanhedrin? Therefore, he concludes, it is most likely that the author wants the reader to believe that Jesus had actually made such a claim where it had been heard by the public.|
|v29: The word "passers-by" indicates the writer is thinking of a place along a road. This is buttressed by the writer's description of Simon of Cyrene as 'coming in from the fields' which would seem to imply he is walking on a path or road.|
|v29: passers-by, priests, and scribes: another Markan group of three, common in the Passion Narrative.|
|30: save yourself, and come down from the cross!"|
|v30: Compare Mark 8:34, where Jesus specifically states that to be saved, one must accept the cross.|
|v30: Ched Myers (1988, p356), observes that this mockery completes a tryptich in which Jesus is mocked by Jewish guards as a prophet (14:65), Roman guards as a King (15:16-20), and Jewish onlookers as Messiah.|
|32: Let the Christ, the King of Israel, come down now from the cross, that we may see and believe." Those who were crucified with him also reviled him.|
v32: note that the writer refers to Jesus as "King of Israel" here. Once again Psalm 22 is the source:
This scene is filled with elements of OT creation, based above
Psalm 22. Psalm 22 is a lament, not a prophecy. Sanders (1995)
See discussion of the pericope below for further comments.
|33: And when the sixth hour had come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour. 34: And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, "E'lo-i, E'lo-i, la'ma sabach-tha'ni?" which means, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" 35: And some of the bystanders hearing it said, "Behold, he is calling Eli'jah." 36: And one|| ran and, filling a sponge
full of vinegar, put it on a reed and
gave it to him to drink, saying, "Wait, let us see whether Eli'jah will
come to take him down." 37: And Jesus uttered a
loud cry, and breathed
his last. 38: And the curtain of the temple
in two, from top to bottom. 39: And when the centurion, who stood
him, saw that he thus breathed his last, he said, "Truly this man was
Son of God!"
|33: And when the sixth hour had come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour.|
Compare to Amos 8:9:
Dominic Rudman (2003, p104) notes that this text contains two elements found here: the darkness at noon (the sixth hour), and "mourning for an only son." One might add a third element, that Jesus was executed during a religious feast. Darkness over all the land is also found in Exodus 10:21-23, and in Jeremiah 15:9, where it appears as a punishment from God. Similarly in Wisdom 5:6 the sun does not rise on those who strayed from justice. There are many similar OT parallels.
Darkness is frequently associated with the deaths of heroes in
antiquity. Gundry gives a long list (1993, p963) that includes both
and Jewish exemplars. Even certain famous rabbis had their deaths
in this way (Rosse 1987, p15). Adelle Yarbro Collins (2000) writes:
|v33: since the Greek ge can mean either "earth" or "land" the text is ambiguous as to whether the writer means the darkness to have covered the whole planet or merely Judea. The Gospel of Peter interprets the darkness to be only over Judea, while in Luke the darkness covers the whole earth. In the Septuagint OT ge typically means the whole world in similar situations (for example, in Exodus 10:22, which may lie behind this verse). Ancient records do not record a darkness over the earth at this time. Judea or the world, as a supernatural event this is obviously unhistorical.|
Goodacre (2004b) establishes the time framework used by the
He then goes on to explain, citing Mark 13:35-37, which shows
Acts supports this by noting Christian prayer hours, in 3:1 and 10:9.
Mary Ann Tolbert (1989, p74-76), notes that the Gospel of Mark
resembles Greek popular literature. In such literature, it was common
for the sections prior to the ending to have a loose, episodic
chronology. However, such literature frequently ended with a series of
recognition scenes in which "the heart....is the question of identity"
and of course, the Passion Narrative of the Gospel of Mark is
pre-eminently concerned with the question of Jesus' true identity. In
the recognition scenes of Greek popular literature time is strictly
controlled, just as it is in the Gospel of Mark. Tolbert concludes:
Note that Tolbert's observation does not conflict with Goodacre's argument above. Rather, it provides a broad background of literary convention which serves as a foundation for the particular timing choices of the author of Mark.
|34: And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, "E'lo-i, E'lo-i, la'ma sabach-tha'ni?" which means, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?"|
taken from Psalm 22:1 (22:2 in some Bibles):
|v34: The writer's rendering of "E'lo-i, E'lo-i, la'ma sabach-tha'ni?" most closely resembles Aramaic, but appears to be a mixture or perhaps a non-standard transliteration, a common problem when languages do not have standard transcription methods (see Brown 1994, p1051-1053 for discussion). The wording also varies in certain manuscripts. For example, Codex Bezae has Elei, Elei, lama zaphthani, while Codex Vaticanus omits the second "my god." Bezae also has the unusual "why have you reviled me?" instead of "Why have you forsaken me?" found in Western manuscripts. It is not easy to settle which tradition is correct. Brown (1994, p1055) also notes that Mark may have been interpreted in some western Latin traditions to be rebuking the sun for leaving him in darkness, seeing the Greek "helion, helias" for Eli as referring to the sun.|
Whitters (2002) observes:
Goodacre (2004b) responding to exegetes invoking the
|v34: what did Jesus really say? None of the four canonical gospels or the Gospel of Peter has the same words.|
Fowler (1996, p109) points out that only to the reader is it given to
understand Jesus' dying words, for the narrator takes a moment to
explain what they mean. Those present, according to the writer, do not
understand what Jesus said, instead mistaking them for a cry to Elijah
|35: And some of the bystanders hearing it said, "Behold, he is calling Eli'jah." 36: And one ran and, filling a sponge full of vinegar, put it on a reed and gave it to him to drink, saying, "Wait, let us see whether Eli'jah will come to take him down."|
Psalm 69:21 (69:22 in some Bibles):
|v36: "And one ran...." The writer does not tell us who, Roman soldier or Jewish onlooker, ran for the wine.|
It would have been extremely difficult for bystanders who knew
Aramaic and Hebrew to confuse the terms the writer uses here. Elijah
is Eliyahu in Aramaic, sometimes abbreviated to Eliya,
the term "my God" is Elahi, represented by Eloi in
Brown (1994), discussing this problem, observes:
Donald Senior (1987) observes:
|37: And Jesus uttered a loud cry, and breathed his last.|
Vernon K. Robbins (1992), points out that Mark has inverted the
parallels with Psalm 22:
|v37: almost certainly physically impossible, since Crucifixion killed by suffocation, and was undoubtedly preceded by unconsciousness. Further, how would the onlookers have known he breathed his last at that precise moment? This verse is most probably theological in origin, since breath and spirit were associated across the ancient world, and represents Jesus' spirit leaving his body.|
Y. Collins (1994) has argued that Psalm 18 may lie behind the cry of
Jesus. The LXX of Psalm 18 (Psalm 17 LXX) has:
Collins then goes on to observe that the curtain tearing in the Temple may be a signal of God's divine power issuing forth from the Temple. Psalm 18 is a Psalm of messianic thanksgiving, or a royal victory song.
|v37: the canonical Gospels all give extremely brief accounts of Jesus' moment of death.|
|38: And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom.|
The tearing of the Temple curtain recalls the sky ripping open
and the spirit of God descending on Jesus in Mark 1. Frank Zindler
p70) has argued that this dates the Gospel of Mark after 75, when the
of the Temple was on display in Rome, and treats this pasage in Mark as
an aetiological myth. However, there is no need to see the passage in
manner. David Ulansey (1991) points out that Josephus described
curtain in the Temple as having a picture of the heavens on it. With
in mind, he argues:
Josephus makes it clear that the Temple was a microcosm of creation, in which the outer parts represented the sea and the land, but the interior, where even the priests were highly restricted from, was heaven where God resided. The veil of the Temple, which screened the Holy of Holies, was thus a barrier between heaven and earth. (Barker 1988).
Despite the fact that the tearing of the Temple Veil would have been an
extraordinary event, Josephus does not record it.
|39: And when the centurion, who stood facing him, saw that he thus breathed his last, he said, "Truly this man was the Son of God!"|
This is often seen as the climax of the Gospel of Mark,
some have argued this view is false. See Johnson (1987, 2000), who
out that while exegetes tend to link the "Son of God" in v39 with the
expression in Mark 1:1, text-critical evidence strongly suggests that
earlier occurrence is an insertion. Additionally, though translators
KJV, ASV, YLT, NIV -- with a note, YLT with no article) usually gloss
Johnson (2000) writes:
However, a point in favor of "the Son of God" is the context,
emphasizes the death of someone divine with mighty portents of
darkness. Furthermore, the writer of Mark has the narrator say "he thus breathed his last ("in this
way he breathed his last" in some translations), indicating that the
Centurion had taken note of the way Jesus had died.
Donahue (1995) says in a footnote:
While nearly all exegetes read this as a straight comment,
MacDonald (2000) has argued that the centurion's confession is
following traditions in Greek dramatic style: "This man is truly the
of God! (And I'm Julius Caesar!)."
Some might be tempted to argue that the Centurion knows that Jesus is the Son of God because of the darkness at noon, but of course, any real person standing at the execution of a convicted rabble-rouser would have no reason to connect the dying man to the darkness (in fact, there are three possible candidates on that hill, never mind a thousand other possibilities).
Robert Fowler (1996) also makes a similar argument, pointing out that the Roman soldiers have just mocked and abused Jesus, so a sincere declaration by the Centurion would deviate from this pattern. Further, the Centurion's position in Mark is ambiguous is he standing "opposite" Jesus or the Temple (recall the other times in Mark where Jesus is positioned "opposite" the Temple). This ambiguity is not clarified until 15:44, when the Centurion reports Jesus' death (if indeed it is the same Centurion). Fowler points out that regardless of which reading of the Centurion's Confession we choose, we cannot escape irony -- either the Centurion is ironically correct in mocking Jesus as "son of God" or the Centurion has sincerely acclaimed the man he has just killed as son of god, a bit of dramatic irony.
|v39: In the Gospel of Mark no human calls Jesus "Son of God" during his own lifetime (Brown 1994, p482).|
|v39: In several of the ancient Codexes the Centurion "sees" Jesus cry out and then expire (Brown 1994, p1144)|
Whether one end is inserted or not, this recognition is most
fictional, for it completes a doublet that may well be the highest
framework for the Gospel of Mark:
Margaret Barker (Temple)
Burton Mack (1988) writes:
Mary Ann Tolbert (1989) lays out the basic chiastic structure of the Crucifixion scene. This structure, common in the Gospel of Mark, contains an A-B-C-B'-A' format as shown below. Note how the events of B and B' parallel each other. First, someone is called on for help, then something to drink is offered, then a terrible, painful event occurs, and then a cloth is torn. Within the C structure the events are paralleled, recognition of Kingship by the Roman soldiers paralleled by darkness in which Jesus' Divine Kingship is recognized by nature itself, and ironic mocking of the guards is paralleled by Jesus' cry that God has given up on him. Finally, A and A' open and close with the Romans recognizing the status of Jesus, once satirically, once seriously (or perhaps sarcastically). This is not a portrayal of historic events, but a literary creation by a writer of genius working at the top of his game.
However, Tolbert's chiasm does not quite capture the complex structure of the Crucifixion scene that runs from 15:20 to 15:39. Here is my expanded version of it that captures more of its complex structure with greater clarity.
However, this structure is, I now believe, wrong. The original Markan structure has been corrupted. Here is my final revision of this very complex chiastic structure:
Within this structure the writer builds the details out of the Old Testament, including the citations of Psalm 22.
Looking at the structure as a whole, much becomes clear. The three women in the A' brackets are there to balance the three men in the A bracket. In all likelihood neither was present at this scene; at least some individuals are inventions of the writer.
There is something wrong with the B bracket; either 15:39 is interpolated, or a verse was removed. Matthew 27:36 also offers: "then they sat down and kept watch over him there" which may have been moved in Matthew, and constituted the original B bracket, opposed to the Centurion's B' bracket. However, the most likely solution is that Matthew has faithfully followed Mark here, and the original C bracket looked like this:
Over time one element has become lost in Mark; that would not be unprecedented, as a similar situation obtains in Mark 14:47-48. There is a manuscript that has "And they were guarding him" at 15:25, so perhaps that was originally part of the text. Or else 15:39 is interpolated. Take your pick.
We can now reconstruct the A bracket properly to show the nifty parallels that the writer has placed there:
This offers us three men as opposed to three women, 2 sons of one mother as opposed to 2 sons of one father, "Galilee" opposed to "coming in from the country", "taking up the cross" opposed to "following and ministering", "they" who bring opposed to "many other women", and finally, "Golgotha" opposed to "Jerusalem."
Paula Fredriksen (2002) meditates on some of the historical problems caused by Jesus' crucifixion:
Mainstream scholarship is almost entirely unanimous in accepting that Jesus died by Crucifixion, though now and then a voice outside the mainstream disputes this. In a discussion of the possibility that the Crucifixion was not historical, Patrick Narkinsky (2004) speaks for many exegetes when he observes
Whether and how this event occurred is difficult to say. Certainly Paul speaks of the Crucifixion, but he knows nothing about it -- date, timing, location, and details all appear to be an invention of the writer of Mark working off the OT. The Death of Jesus is a supreme literary creation, and there is no support for historicity in this pericope, save for the bare fact of Jesus' crucifixion.
|40: There were also women
on from afar, among whom
were Mary Mag'dalene, and Mary the mother of James the younger and of
||41: who, when he was in Galilee, followed him, and ministered to him; and also many other women who came up with him to Jerusalem.|
|40: There were also women looking on from afar, among whom were Mary Mag'dalene, and Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salo'me,|
in Tolbert's (1989) reading of Mark, the Markan epilogue begins here. I
have followed this in pericoping Chapter 15. Based on the chiastic
structure of this passage, broken out in detail above, I believe
Tolbert is wrong.
v40: here, for the first time in the gospel, women followers of Jesus are made known. Note that in v41 Mark emphasizes that there were "many". Goodacre (2004) writes "The note that they were watching [greek deleted] echoes the wording of Psalm 38.11 LXX." (38:11 says: "those who were close to me stood from a distance" (Brown 1994, p1158)) Goodacre adds that:
|v40: Salome was a common name in Palestine of that time (Brown 1994, p1154).|
|v40: Crossan (1998, 571-2) points out that the three women looking on from afar links them to Peter, who followed Jesus after his arrest "at a distance."|
|41: who, when he was in Galilee, followed him, and ministered to him; and also many other women who came up with him to Jerusalem|
|v41: Joan Mitchell (2001) notes that with this line the writer of Mark has retrojected the women back throughout his gospel. To see what that does, try imagining the women present, but silent, at major events in the gospel, such as Peter's identification of Jesus as the Messiah in Mark 8.|
|v41: "followed him." When the writer set this down, did he mean that the women were "disciples?" Difficult to answer, and scholars go both ways on the question. Tolbert (1989, p292) offers the most decisive reading: the women are much better than the Twelve. This follows naturally from her reading of the Twelve as the rocky ground of the Parable of the Sower.|
|v41: Ched Myers (1988, p280-1) that women in Mark are always pictured as unmarried. He notes that married women in antiquity were second-class citizens, so unmarried women were the lowest of the low.|
The sudden appearance of the women here, watching from afar, makes historical assessment difficult. There is some suggestion that the writer is fulfilling the "prophecies" of the OT, as well as programs that he laid out earlier in the Gospel. Note that in Mark 13 the reader is advised to Watch! and here we find the women doing just that, buttressed by a citation of the OT. There has been no mention of them anywhere prior to this point in the Gospel, nor is there any support in any earlier tradition for these names. The writer has opposed this group of women to the disciples who also followed all the way from Galilee, but failed and fled when pressed, the "rocky ground" of Tolbert's reading of the Gospels.
Dennis MacDonald (2000, p185) has drawn attention to numerous parallels between the Homeric Epics and the New Testament. In The Iliad three women lament from the walls of Troy as Hector is slain, watching from afar. However, the writer may have assigned the women to the role of witnesses to the Crucifiction and Resurrection because he had already had the men flee.
Perhaps the names of the women watching are from tradition, perhaps the writer of Mark made them up. In either case, given the presence of the OT in this verse, it does not seem that there is any support for the historicity of this event.
|42: And when evening had come, since it was the day of Preparation, that is, the day before the sabbath, 43: Joseph of Arimathe'a, a respected member of the council, who was also himself looking for the kingdom of God, took courage and went to Pilate, and asked for the body of Jesus. 44: And Pilate wondered if he were already dead; and summoning the centurion, he asked him whether he was already dead.||45: And when he learned from the centurion that he was dead, he granted the body to Joseph.46: And he bought a linen shroud, and taking him down, wrapped him in the linen shroud, and laid him in a tomb which had been hewn out of the rock; and he rolled a stone against the door of the tomb. 47: Mary Mag'dalene and Mary the mother of Joses saw where he was laid.|
|42: And when evening had come, since it was the day of Preparation, that is, the day before the sabbath,|
writer makes a basic error of Jewish tradition at this point. Steven
Carr (2004) writes:
|43: Joseph of Arimathe'a, a respected member of the council, who was also himself looking for the kingdom of God, took courage and went to Pilate, and asked for the body of Jesus.|
|v43: The Greek is full of the writer's typical awkwardness. It may also be read that "Joseph, having come from Arimathea...came in before Pilate. That Greek is generally seen by the author of Mark to identify Arimathea as Joseph's hometown, but it does not have to be read that way (Brown 1994, p1213n19).|
|v43: The Greek for "respected" (euschemon), occurs in Acts 17, twice in 1 Corinthians, and then only in the LXX of Proverbs 11:25 (Brown 1994, p1213).|
|v43: Here the writer shifts from using synedrion, a Jewish technical term for Sanhedrin rendered in Greek, to the more common bouleutes ("council member"), from the Greek word boule, which any Greek-speaker would recognize as a ruling council. The terms are used more or less interchangeably in Josephus (Brown 1994, p1214).|
Byron McCane (1998), after noting that Roman prefects usually left the
body to rot on the cross, argues:
|v43: Raymond Brown (1994, p1207-9), observes that Roman practice toward the bodies of the dead was generally to permit them to be buried, unless the individual executed had been convicted of treason. Then, as Augustus had said of the traitor Brutus, "That matter must be settled with the carrion-birds." Similarly, those killed during the reign of terror after the death of Sejanus in AD 31 had their property confiscated and their bodies were forbidden burial, reported Tacitus. In fiction, including Petronius and Horace, it is generally assumed that those hung on a cross were left there to rot. Like McCane, Brown argues that it is unlikely that Pilate would have permitted the body to be taken down and buried, since Roman governors handling a charge of treason in an occupied province would want to ensure that the victim's death was as humiliating as possible to prevent them from becoming a martyr.|
v43: "..and asked for the body of Jesus." Prompt burial, before sundown on the day of death, was a Jewish religious duty; in fact the rabbinical writings contain stories of persons buried before being entirely dead (Carrier 2004b, McCane 1998). Both tradition and the rabbinical writings mandate that certain criminals condemned by a Jewish court were buried separately from others in dishonor (Carrier 2004b, McCane 1998). Brown (1994, p1210), points out that just because the Roman authorities had considered Jesus a criminal does not mean that he would have been considered a criminal in the eyes of Jewish authorities.
McCane (1998), asking what history is recoverable despite the
of Jesus' death and burial, observes:
The problem with this observation should be obvious: according to the writer of Mark, Jesus' family was from Galilee and lacked the means to maintain a tomb in Jerusalem. It is thus not surprising that he was not buried in the family tomb. In Mark no one from Jesus' family is present when he died. Further, as the writer notes, Jesus' disciples had all fled, leaving just a handful of women followers behind.
"..took courage..." Carrier (2004b) writes:
"Arimathea" is another place name with no known referent,
it is often assigned to the Ramathaim of 1 Sam 1:1. The phrase "Joseph
of Arimathea" has been variously interpreted. Richard Carrier (2004)
Carrier cautions that though such a name sounds artificial, it
be a real place, or created out of one. However use of a name to define
the role of a character or a place is found elsewhere in Mark, for
as in Jairus -- "he will awaken" for the father of the girl raised from
the dead. Dennis MacDonald (2000) has argued that Mark based him on
Priam, who goes to beg the body of his son Hector from Agamemnon. Some
have also seen a similarity to the story of Josephus in his
Note that this narrative contains the skeleton of the Joseph
story: a man named Joseph goes to beg the Roman commander for the
of three crucifixion victims, one of whom survives. Interestingly,
father was named Matthias. Is "Arimathea" a corruption of 'bar
son of Matthias? In a couple of manuscripts of Matthew it is "bar
matthias," as in the medieval Gospel of Barnabas.
Whoever Joseph was, he is probably invented. Note the fact that although he is a "secret" admirer of Jesus, he goes to beg only Jesus' body, though three men have been crucified that day (Kirby 2002). Three men means either three men in one tomb, or three tombs, neither of which we see. Kirby also makes a case for historical implausibility, pointing out that Jewish veneration of holy sites was on the rise at the time:
Crossan (1998) has a pithy summary of the logical problems caused by Mark's story of Josephy of Arimathea:
the shame of the failure of Jesus' disciples is increased. The
disciples of John buried their leader, but the disciples of Jesus left
it to his enemies to take care of his body.
Vernon K. Robbins (1992, p1192) summarizes Mark 15 as a
act story driven by an ironic comment on kingship -- with Jesus as the
king who is recognized ironically by Pilate, mocked as king, nailed to
the cross as king, recognized by the centurion as a son of God (a True
King), and then buried by someone who was awaiting the kingdom, capping
a gospel whose major message is that the kingdom of God has come. The
passage is literary construction. Additionally, the presentation of
Jesus as True King in the trial and death of Jesus at Roman hands is a
doublet of the presentation of Jesus as True High Priest before
Caiaphas and the Sanhedrin.
Joseph of Arimathea also presents an interesting but little-realized
structural parallel with the women in 15:40-1. Just as they have been
present, but did not appear in the text, throughout Jesus' campaign in
Galilee, so Joseph was present, but did not appear in the text, at
Jesus trial before the Sanhedrin and presumably, the trial before
Pilate as well.
Weeden (1971) observes that the detailed explication of the burial
procedure serves notice that the interment was both complete and in
accordance with Jewish rules for wrapping and burying corpses.
|44: And Pilate wondered if he were already dead; and summoning the centurion, he asked him whether he was already dead.|
|v44-45: are redactional. The writer of Mark has the centurion report in 15:39 that Jesus is God's son, now he has him report that Jesus is dead. Roman, not Jewish, testimony to Jesus' life and death is thus created. Because this event (Pilate's surprise) is not found in either Luke or Matthew at this point, some commentators have surmised that these are later additions from the hand of another redactor. The verse contain both Markan and non-Markan style, but on the whole the thesis has not found widespread support.|
Bruce Chilton (2005) observes:
|v44: it is implausible, but not unbelievably so, that Jesus died so quickly. Ancient sources suggest that the few hours Jesus lived on the cross were regularly exceeded. Plausibility would be easier to judge if the writer had informed us of exactly how Jesus' execution had proceeded.|
|v44: As Tolbert (1989, p285) points out, modern audiences often view Jesus' sufferings as fearsome and terrible, but in the ancient world the kind of physical suffering inflicted on Jesus was common and unremarkable. Indeed, she observes, the writer's audience would probably not have been very impressed by six hours on the cross, as surivival for days on a cross was not unheard of. I might add that brutal physical cruelty is commonplace in our world as well, but it is one of the triumphs of our culture is that inhabitants of modern industrial states rarely encounter it anymore, heightening the experience of Jesus' suffering for moderns. For Tolbert, it is the alienation from the humans around him -- family, friends, disciples, community, authorities -- that constitutes the deepest dimension of suffering in Mark (p286).|
|46: And he bought a linen shroud, and taking him down, wrapped him in the linen shroud, and laid him in a tomb which had been hewn out of the rock; and he rolled a stone against the door of the tomb.|
|v46: redactional, and anticipates the scene in Chapter 16. Richard Carrier (1999) and other scholars have been wont to argue that the stone "rolled" in front of the tomb is an anachronism dating Mark to after 70, since round stones were not used prior to that time. However, a square stone may also be "rolled" in some sense, so the wording, while suggestive, is not conclusive.|
|v46: Some commentators have argued that Joseph would not have been able to purchase a linen shroud on a high feast day, for what merchant would have sold it to him? However, humans are not culturebots. Such stereotyping of all Jews as pious feast-observers has no place in a serious analysis of human behavior. No doubt just as everywhere else in the world, there were plenty of merchants willing to make a quick buck selling needed goods at a premium on a high feast day. For that matter, not all the merchants in Jerusalem were Jews.|
Hanhart has argued, based on the work of Claude Montefiore, that
is taken from Isaiah 22:16:
|47: Mary Mag'dalene and Mary the mother of Joses saw where he was laid.|
|v47: The Greek actually says "they were observing" not "saw."|
redactional, since it is necessary for the women to know where
Jesus is laid so they can visit him to annoint him.
|v47: The current site of the Tomb, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, is built on a Roman Temple to Aphrodite (or Jupiter). Eusebius reported that a cave tomb was found underneath the Church in his time, and modern archaeology has also reported finding traces of a cave tomb there. The tradition that Jesus was buried there is a later development.|
OT creation is a possibility. Isaiah 53:9 says:
The chiastic structure here crosses a chapter boundary, showing how badly Mark has been cut up by traditional interpreters. The chiasm runs:
Note that the last two verses of this chiasm are actually Mark 16:1-2.
The scene as presented here presents a number of historical implausibilities, as identified above, as well as traces of creation from the OT. There is no support for historicity in this pericope.
Soldiers mock Jesus as King
compel passerby to help carry cross to golgotha
divide his garments
Title on Cross: King of the Jews
Robbers are crucified
Passers-by mock Jesus
Chief priests and teachers of the law mock Jesus
Robbers mock Jesus
6th - 9th hour darkness
Jesus cries that God has forsaken him
bystanders think Jesus calls Elijah for help
dies with great cry
temple curtain torn
centurion says Jesus is "Son of God"
three women watch
many women, from Jerusalem
As we have seen, these elements form a neat chiastic structure whose parts are internally parallel and center on an A-B-B'-A' chiasm:
Now, the same scene in Matthew 27:31-54 copies virtually every
Now we have problems. The neat chiastic structure of Mark has
here in several ways.
The writer of Mark has provided the timetable for the arrest, trial, denial, and trial of Jesus, setting up careful three hour intervals that are finished up in the 3-6-9 structure of the Crucifixion. This passage is not in Matthew 24-5, which parallels Mark 13. Instead, there is a whole slew of parables. In other words, in Mark 14-15 we see a carefully wrought structure that extends back through the Gospel to Mark 13; while in Matthew we have his usual dull didacticism. Why does Matthew preserve the reference to the 6th hour? In Mark it relates to a time scheme that does not exist in Matthew. Looking at the time reference, the reader is invited to consider which of these two came first.
2. The second problem is that there are two elements in Matthew that spoil the chiasm "earth did quake, and the rocks were rent, tombs were opened, and saints walk." Matthew-firsters would have us argue that the writer of Mark has extracted that chiasm above from Matthew. Does that make sense? In other words, Matthew-firsters argue that Matt wrote what would have been a neat chiasm if Matt hadn't screwed it up by adding elements and deleting two. Then the writer of Mark came along and said to himself: "Hey! This is almost a chiasm! Now if I just add another parable to Mark 13 to signal the time, pop in the third hour there, delete the quake, the dawn of the dead, and VOILA! It's poetry!"
The question is clear: did Matt write an almost-chiasm adjusted by the writer of Mark, or did Matt delete and interpolate a beautiful Markan chiasm?
*See commentary on 15:21-39.
Commentary on the Gospel of Mark
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|Chapter 3||Chapter 11||Topical Index|
|Chapter 4||Chapter 12|
|Chapter 5||Chapter 13||References
|Chapter 6||Chapter 14|
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