The Passion Narrative: Prophecy Historicized or History Scripturalized?

April 6, 2012

Once Jesus is in Jerusalem there is a more interconnected account than what precedes it in Mark’s Gospel.  One event leads logically after another.  Jesus enters Jerusalem to the crowd’s acclaim as a potential messianic deliverer (Mark 11:1-11), causes a disturbance in the Temple courts the following day before slipping out of the city (11:15-18), debates religious authorities in the temple courts the next day before predicting the temple’s doom (11:27-13:37:), has a plot hatched against his life two days before Passover (14:1-2), is anointed by a woman beforehand as he will be dishonorably buried (14:3-9), after the Passover Lamb is sacrificed on the 14th of Nisan his disciples prepare a room to eat the Passover meal for the 15th of Nisan (14:12-31), is abandoned and betrayed by his disciples in Gethsemane before his trials and execution (14:43-15:41), and his tomb is found empty (16:1-8).

Yet the Passion Narrative conforms to the Scriptures such as the laments of the suffering righteous one (Psalms 22, 40, 41, 42, etc), the Son of Man who represents Israel in both its suffering under the beasts and vindication on the clouds (Dan 7), the vicarious suffering of the Maccabean martyrs (2 Macc 7; cf. 4 Macc 6:29; 17:20-22), and the testing of the righteous one who claims to be a child/son of God with torture by the wicked (Wis. of Sol. 2:12-20).  Jesus’ triumphal entry fulfills Zechariah 9:9 (only Matthew 21:4-5 makes the link explicit), his disciples scatter as foretold in Zechariah 13:7, the sun darkens in mourning for a son (Amos 8:9-10), and details of the crucifixion echo the fate of the sufferer of Psalm 22.  In his article “Polemics as a Case for Dissent: A Response to Richard Bauckham’s Jesus and the EyewitnessesJSHJ 6 (2008): 211-22, Theodore J. Weeden stretches the parallels in noting correspondences with the Davidic saga (pp. 221-23):  (a) conspiracy against David (2 Sam.15:1-12) and Jesus (14:1, 10-11); (b) Ahithophel’s betrayal of David (2 Sam.15:31;16:20-17:3) and Judas’ betrayal of Jesus (Mk.14:10f.); (c) Ittai’s vow of loyality to David (2 Sam.15:21) and Peter’s vow of loyalty to Jesus (Mk. 14:29); (d) David’s flight to the Mount of Olives (2 Sam.15:30) and Jesus’ at the Mount of Olives (Mk. 14:26); (e) three commanders accompany David ( 2 Sam.15:19-24) and Jesus takes three confidants (14:33); (f) David’s distress (2 Sam. 15:30b) and Jesus’ distress (Mk. 14:33-35a); (g) David resigning to God’s will (2 Sam.15:25f.) and Jesus resigning to God’s will (Mk.14:36); (h) the army plans to attack David (2 Sam.17:1-3) and the crowd with swords/clubs arrest Jesus (14:43); (i) Joab’s deceitful kiss of Amasa (2 Sam. 20:1-10) and Judas’ betrayal with a kiss (Mk. 14:44f.).  Weeden adds the altered citation of LXX Zech 13:7 in Mk 14:27 conforms closer to Ahithophel’s hope in his attack of David (2 Sam 17:2) that “all the people with him [David] will flee”; striking the shepherd so the sheep scatter may be a metaphor for ruler and people.  Below is a video of John Dominic Crossan on the Passion Narrative as “prophecy historicized” (Via).  For Crossan’s theory, see The Historical Jesus: The Life of a Mediterranean Jewish Peasant (New York: Harper Collins, 1992, Ch. 14), The Cross that Spoke: The Origins of the Passion Narrative, Who Killed Jesus: Exposing the Roots of Anti-Semitism in the Gospel Story of the Death of Jesus.

Crossan was reacting to Raymond Brown’s magisterial The Death of the Messiah: Volume 1 and Volume 2, which allows for a more complex interplay of history and theologizing than Crossan’s model.  Of course, Crossan’s theory has provoked a number of responses, including Mark Goodacre’s podcast “Are the Passion Narratives ‘Prophecy Historicized’?” or his “Scripturalization in Mark’s Crucifixion Narrative” in Geert van Oyen and Tom Shepherd (eds.), The Trial and Death of Jesus: Essays on the Passion Narrative in Mark (Leuven: Peeters, 2006): 33-47.  Among Goodacre’s points is that Crossan accepts the historicity of the disciples’ flight which is why no one was around to document Jesus’ final hours, yet to be consistent Crossan should have also disregarded the scattering of the flock as “prophecy historicized,” and Mark names individuals like Simon of Cyrene and his sons Alexander and Rufus suggesting that they were present at the crucifixion.  Goodacre prefers to refer to the Passion as “history scripturalized” and there was further discussion of this issue at Crosstalk Historical Jesus & Xtian Origins.