Dale Allison on the Passion Narrative

Individual or collective memory is all the rage in gospel studies, but is debate over how much memory is retentive versus reconstructive to suit present needs similar to form critical debates over how much of the tradition goes back to Jesus versus how much reflects the Sitz im Leben (situation in life) of post-Easter congregations (compare the skeptical Bultmann, the moderate Dibelius or the conservative Taylor)?  Second, while open to differences based on different oral or written traditions (e.g., perhaps Matt/Luke didn’t just take the Lord’s prayer from “Q” but cited the form most prevalent in their communities; cf. the relationship of Didache 8 to Matthew), I am not sure we can just bypass the literary relationship of the Synoptics and that Matt/Luke sometimes deliberately redact Mark (and Q?) as “Mark” likely did his/her sources. However, I appreciate the nuanced approach of Dale Allison’s Constructing Jesus as he notes both the limitations of memory (1. it is reconstructive, 2. it is post-event , 3. it projects present circumstances/biases, 4. it becomes less distinct as past recedes, 5. it is sequential, 6. it forms meaningful patterns to advance agendas, 7. groups rehearse memories hold dear, 8. the recording of it is shaped by narrative conventions, 9. vivid subjective compelling memory may be no more accurate) (pp 2-10) and its ability to capture the gist or general outline (pp. 10-14).   That is, I accept the redaction/literary critics emphasis on the evangelists as creative theologians yet also think if multiple early texts or hypothetical  sources (Q, M, L, Mk 2:1-3:6, signs source?) widely remember Jesus as wisdom teacher, apocalytic seer, halakhic debater, or exalted self-understanding then it may be reliable.

Lets focus on Allison’s contribution on the Passion Narrative (ch 5: Death and Memory).  First, he agrees with Goodacre’s critique of Crossan (388-91).  Second, he tests how much of the passion we can reconstruct just from Paul such as 1) the crucifixion, 2) Jesus’ shed blood and “marks” (stigmata) (i.e., flogging, nails rather than ropes), 3) condemned by the rulers of this age, 4) Jesus as messianic figure (Christ, descent from David), 5) & 6) rejected by Judaeans (1 Thess 2:14-16), 7) on the “night” he was handed over (paradidōmi – some try to read a stronger sense of betrayed), 8) willingly surrendered his life, 9) words of last supper institution, and 10) burial (392-403).  He lists out in a chart (pg. 404) the parallels between Paul and the passion narrative underlying Mark/John (he accepts John knew Mark yet still sees it largely independent) and the best evidence that Paul knows a Passion Narrative is 1 Cor 11:23-25 put in a narrative context (405).  Allison butresses his case with several more correlations from Paul’s letters including 1) Jesus’ humble character, 2) Psalm 69 as prooftext (Rom 15:3 [cf. Rom 11:9-10]; Matt 27:34 [gall added to Mk 15:23]; Mk 15:36 par; Mk 15:32/Mt 27:44; John 2:17; 15:25; 19:28-29; Acts 1:20), 3) Rom 15 and gospels have Jesus’ recite Psalms as fulfilled in his person, 4) rare verb “to crucifiy with” (sustauroō) and the two crucified with Jesus, 5) 1 Cor 5:7 Christ as paschal lamb, 6) Col 2:13-14 “nailing it [the record against us] to the cross and the notice on the cross, 7) (para)didōmi in Paul and Mark as the subject may be God, Jesus or perhaps Jesus’ betrayer, and 8) knowledge of Gethsemane tradition (cf. Lk 22:29-46; Jn 12:27; 13:21; 18:11; Heb 5:7-11) (Paul’s thrice prayer for his thorn in the flesh given to torment him to be removed, Christians to “cry” Abba [Rom 8:15; Gal 4:6], “in prayer continue, watching” [Col 4:2], Christ not pleasing himself and imitatio Christi) (406-421).  Last, he adds that Paul spent time in Jerusalem, some scholars date a passion narrative to the 30s/40s (e.g., R. Pesch) and Paul does not directly contradict Mark’s account (422-23).

Again, whether John was completely independent of Mark, familiar with Mark yet chose to utilize his own sources (e.g., the very different versions of the trial before the high priest) or completely dependent on Mark and made big redactional changes is a major issue for the existence of a pre-Markan Passion Narrative.  But the biggest part of Allison’s case rests on that Paul exhibits familiarity with some sort of narrative account of the Passion that also underlies Mark/John, so what are the strengths and weaknesses of the parallels Allison adduces? Ken Schenck also reviews this section of the book (here, here, here, here, here, here, here) and finds Paul’s familiarity with the basic contours of the passion story from oral tradition persuasive but is less impressed with Allison’s correlations that demand this to be a written account (he considers one “jumping the shark” :) ).  What do you think?

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3 Responses to Dale Allison on the Passion Narrative

  1. Ron Price says:

    Thanks for the summary of Dale Allison’s list of the passion links between Paul and Mark. They do look impressive at first sight.

    Setting aside the reference to 1 Thess 2:14-16, which I take as a non-pauline anti-Jewish interpolation, I would divide Allison’s primary connections into three categories.
    Firstly Jesus was a messianic figure. This is true, and his dramatic entry into Jerusalem, among other things, convinces me that he was perceived to be the Messiah shortly before his death.
    Secondly the crucifixion, together with its inevitable associations: bleeding, marks on the body, condemned by the rulers of this age (i.e. the Romans).
    Thirdly, elements of the Pauline gospel which Mark may well have learned directly from the imaginative Paul: Jesus as willing to surrender his life, the ‘night on which he was handed over’, the words of the last supper institution, and the burial (a prerequisite for the bodily resurrection).
    Allison’s supplementary evidence is less significant and more dubious, but I’m not sure this is the place to get into a string of detailed arguments.

    To sum up, as I see it Paul and the Markan passion story are linked by a few basic facts which were probably transmitted directly from Peter to Paul (c.f. Gal 1:18), then to Mark (c.f. Phm 24), e.g. Jesus as Messiah, Jesus’ crucifixion. They were also linked by various elements of Paul’s gospel, transmitted directly from Paul to Mark. The transfer of these two sets of information, supplemented by some knowledge of the scriptures, especially the psalms, could have provided Mark with enough material from which to create a passion narrative. This would help to explain the many weak links and absurdities in Mark’s account, as pointed out in S.G.F.Brandon’s “The Trial of Jesus of Nazareth” (1968).

    • Mike K. says:

      Thanks Ron, I recognize the debate about the Thessalonians passage though I found a useful article by Bockmuehl online (http://www.tyndalehouse.com/tynbul/library/TynBull_2001_52_1_01_Bockmuehl_1Thess2.pdf). The larger debate may lie in whether one accepts that the evangelist was in fact Mark (Phlm 24; cf. Col 4:10; 2 Tim 4:1) who intended to put the Pauline kerygma in narrative form OR alternatively that the anonymous evangelist and Paul were largely independent so whatever overlapping similarities there may be may be mostly from shared oral/written traditions. So, for instance, perhaps Mark took the Last Supper tradition and the burial directly from Paul (one may find support in this from the Didache which mentions the Supper but does not quote the words about Jesus’ body and blood) OR both have access to earlier traditions (e.g., both 1 Cor 11:23-25 and 15:3-5 seem to use technical terms for Paul receiving and passing on earlier traditions and there are differences between the Markan/Matthean and the Pauline/longer Lukan account as the former has Jesus reinterprets the symbols of a single Passover meal while the latter adds “new” to covenant and treats it as a more regular cultic meal done “in remembrance of me”). I lean towards the second option of some common oral/written traditions, though I wouldn’t rule out some indirect Pauline influence on some aspects of Mark’s Gospel.

  2. [...] review of Richard Carrier’s new book on historical methodology and Bayes’ Theorem, and Mike Kok’s post on Dale Allison’s treatment of the passion narratives, and how Paul&#821…. Tags: Bart D. Ehrman, Bart Ehrman, Christianity, Did Jesus Exist?, evolution, historical, Jesus, [...]

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