A Pre-Markan Passion Narrative from Jerusalem?

I have concentrated on scholarship on a pre-Markan Passion Narrative without yet dealing with the other side which argues it is a product of the literary creativity of “Mark” (Kelber et al, Mack, Arnal, etc).  I want to take one last look at a couple scholars who find signs of an extensive Passion Narrative originating in the early Jerusalem church in the 30s/40s CE.   This position was strongly defended by the late Rudolf Pesch (Jim West comments that he wrote the finest commentary bar none) in Das Markusevangelium: Teil 2, Einleitung und Kommentar zu Kap. 8,27 – 16,20 (HTKNT; Freiburg: Herder, 1977) pp 1-25 and English readers can get a glimpse into the critical debate that followed and Pesch’s further work and responses to criticism in his “The Gospel in Jerusalem: Mark 14:12-26 as the Oldest Tradition of the Early Church,” pages 106-148 in The Gospel and the Gospels (edited by Peter Stuhlmacher; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1991).  Pesch discerns an extended, interconnected narrative source beginning at 8:27 -33 (Peter’s messianic confession) and consisting of 9:2-13, 30-35; 10:1, 32-34, 46-52; 11:1-23, 27-33; 12:1-12, 13-17, 34c, 35-37, 41-44; 13:1-2; 14:1-16:8 in an organized outline of 13 parts with 3 subsections each (see his outline charted out in his commentary on pp 15-16).  It would be a much longer post to scrutinize the details of each individual judgment in weeding out tradition and redaction and Pesch exibits the thoroughness characteristic of German scholarship, but since reading  C. Clifton Black on redaction criticism I find myself more skeptical not that Mark used sources but about how much we can know their precise nature/extent and ability to distinguish Mark’s editorial hand (as opposed to the redactional work of Matthew/Luke when we can observe how they treat their source Mark).  Anyways, he locates the source in Jerusalem (familiarity with topography of Jerusalem & surrounding areas, named individuals in the Jerusalem church, the Semitisms and knowledge of Hebrew Bible [15:34]) and dates it pre-37 CE based on Paul’s knowledge of the Supper in its narrative context in 1 Cor 11:23-25 and the fact that the high priest is not named (contra Matt 26:3, 57; Lk 3:2) presupposes familiarity with him and that he may be the current high priest at the time of the Passion Narrative (he later adds the familiarity by naming Pilate but without including the title ἡγεμών [govenor], cf. Matt 27:2, 11; Lk 3:3).

Another arguing for the Jerusalem origins of this source is Gerd Theissen, a scholar who has significantly contributed in advancing social-scientific criticism in the field of Christian origins against the historical-critical hegemony, in his The Gospels in Context (London and New York: T&T Clark, 1992), chapter 6: “A Major Narrative Unit (the Passion Story) and the Jerusalem Community in the Years 40-50 CE” (pp 166-99).  Starting with the well-known scholarly disagreement between Markan and Johannine chronology on when Jesus died (this deserves a separate post), one of Theissen’s main arguments for a Passion source is that he believes Mark’s source agreed with John that Jesus died on the day of preparation before Passover (this is why there was a rush to arrest and dispose of Jesus quickly as there could be no judicial proceedings on the Passover, why Simon of Cyrene came from the field where he worked as work was not permitted during the Passover and both Mk 15:42/Jn 19:42 have the “day of preparation” but Mark redactionally adds a relative clause to link it with preparation for the Sabbath) (166-68).  I have noted Adela Collins criticisms and Theissen contradicts one of Pesch’s major planks (cf. “The Gospel in Jerusalem,” pp 117-39) that the Last Supper was a Passover meal that was fully integretated into a pre-Markan Passion Narrative from Jerusalem that was taken over by the evangelist.  Theissen accepts John’s relative independence but is much more reluctant than Pesch to state the exact length of the Passion source as the correspondences of Mark 14:1 onward with Jn 11:43-47 onward may signal it started here or one could imagine a shorter source starting at the arrest (Bultmann) or a longer source (Mohr, Pesch) (168-69).  In the rest Theissen builds off Pesch’s case about “indications of familiarity.”  Not naming the high priest does not necessarily demand he was the current office holder (Exodus does not name the Pharaoh!) but, as someone from the family of Caiaphas was firmly in power between 30 and 70 CE, naming names within their sphere of influence could be dangerous.  Another explanation for why Pilate is named may be that it was easier to blame the individual (disposed in 37 CE) than risk directly attacking the Roman office itself while they were embittered towards the Jewish priestly institution itself.  As for the names in the gospel, characters are not usually identified through their fathers (Theissen suggests that some Christians who broke with their families to follow Jesus may be less inclined to identify themselves by their fathers) but through their sons (e.g., identifying Simon from Cyrene was sufficient but naming his sons indicates they may have been known members of the community; the Greek in Mk 15:41 about the familial relationship of Mary to James & Joses is not entirely clear so may presuppose some knowledge of them and identifying James “the younger/the less” may be to distinguish him from James the son of Zebedee so before 44 CE).  Or characters are named based on their places of origin but place names such as Nazareth, Magdala or Arimathea as distinguishing marks would mean little to those outside Palestine and there are other mentions of individuals from Cyrene in Jerusalem (cf. Acts 6:9; note other Christ followers from the diaspora in the early chapters of Acts).  With regards to Barabbas, his introduction in 15:7 implies he is well known (Matt 27:16 is explicit that he was a notorious prisoner), is only described “with” (μετὰ) the rebels so it leaves it unclear what was his level of involvement in their activities (Lk 23:19 is more explicit) and Mark’s account speaks of the insurrection without differentiating it from later clashes in Pilate’s reign.  Finally, to explain why the bystander who cuts off the ear of the high priest’s slave (Mk 14:47) and the young man who resisted arrest by fleeing naken from the Garden (Mk 14:51-52) are not named, Theissen proposes the theory of protective anonymity to protect those individuals who were still alive at the time and had run afoul of the authorities (Bauckham makes much of this in his Jesus and the Eyewitnesses).  What do you think – does the Passion Narrative presuppose a kind of familiarity with people or places that was only available to individuals in Jerusalem in the early decades of the movement?

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One Response to A Pre-Markan Passion Narrative from Jerusalem?

  1. […] Jeremy Cushmann, Tim Henderson, Larry Hurtado, Jonathan Clatworthy, Diglotting, Matt J. Rossano, Michael Kok, Tanner Gish, Michael Kruger, Neil Godfrey, Michael Barber, Nijay […]

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