Was Jesus’ Final Meal a Passover Seder?

April 18, 2014

This is a fitting topic for Good Friday.  An old quagmire is whether Jesus’ last meal was a Passover Seder.  In Mark the Passover lamb was sacrificed on the 14th of Nisan in 14:12 and Jesus made arrangements to eat the Passover in Jerusalem in 14:14, so he was crucified the next day on the 15th of Nisan, while it seems that Jesus is put on trial to be crucified before the Passover meal was eaten and on the day of Preparation on the 14th of Nisan in John (18:38; 19:14).  On the one hand, some scholars favour John’s chronology in that they question whether the activity of the characters is realistic during the Passover festival (e.g., would the Jewish authorities convene a trial, would Simon of Cyrene come from the fields, would Joseph of Arimathea bury Jesus), Mark’s last supper does not feature a passover lamb, and neither the Pauline nor Johannine tradition seem to relate the Eucharist words to Passover (cf. 1 Cor 11:23-26; John 6:53-58).  On the other hand, many details in Mark correlate with a Seder from the dipping of the bitter herbs in the common dish (14:20) to the unleavened bread and wine (14:22-3) to the singing of a Hallel Psalm (14:26) (cf. Luke 22:15 may make the Passover lamb explicit), Paul may be the one who transforms the last supper into a regular memorial meal to correct the abuses of the Corinthians when they had shared meals, and John has a theological reason to move the date to identify Jesus with the Passover lamb which was sacrificed without breaking its bones (see John 1:29; 19:36; cf. 1 Cor 5:7).  Regardless whether Jesus reinterpreted the symbols of the bread and wine at a Passover meal or died when the Passover lambs were sacrificed, the theological import of the Passover symbolism is that Jesus’ blood protects the congregation from divine wrath in the same way the blood of the lamb protected the Israelites from the angel of death and leads to a new exodus out of slavery.  The Markan and Pauline wording of the tradition also go on to allude to the distinct theme of the blood that binds the covenant agreement between the people and their God, though the Pauline/Lukan wording speaks of a “new covenant.”  If you are further interested in this topic, see the learned posts by Jonathan Klawans, Michael Cook, James D. Tabor, Helen K. Bond, James F. Strange, and J. Garcia.  For another view regarding a possible resolution to this discrepancy, check out the classic podcast by Michael Barber and Brant Pitre.  Have a blessed Good Friday and Easter.

Podcast on Mark’s “Fishers of People”

February 24, 2014

To interrupt the regular scheduled “Q” programming, Matthew Ryan Hauge and Craig Evan Anderson put up the next installment of their podcast series called Mark – 07: The Fishermen (Mark 1:16-20).  They make interesting connections with the “Sea” of Galilee, look at how the disciples drop everything to follow a person they never met (perhaps why Lk 5:1-11 places the calling of the first disciples later and has them won over by a miraculous catch of fish or Jn 1:35-42 has two disciples in John the Baptist’s company where they heard his words about Jesus) and explore the shocking imagery of fishers of people (it may also evoke imagery of getting taken into judgment by fishhooks [Amos 4:2; cf. Ezek 29:4] or restoration from exile [Jer 16:16]).  Enjoy.

Did Mark Suppress a Prediction of an Eschatological Temple?

January 31, 2014

I want to continue with the last post about whether Mark wrote with the events of 70 CE in hindsight with a question.  In E.P. Sanders classic study Jesus and Judaism (Fortress, 1985), he makes a strong case that Jesus predicted the destruction and restoration of the Temple as part of his eschatological scenario.  This may align with the expectation of a new restored temple after the previous one is folded up in 1 Enoch 90:28-30 or the Qumran community who saw themselves embodying the ideal temple function before the Jerusalem temple gets restored from its corrupt occupiers.  While Mark has Jesus predict the total devastation of the temple (13:1-2), the prediction “I will destroy this temple made with hands, and in three days I will build another made without hands” is put on the lips of false witnesses who want to pin a charge of Jesus (Mk 14:56-59).  Yet John 2:19-21 puts it on the lips of Jesus, with the exception that Jesus does not say that he himself will destroy the temple, and allegorizes the saying to refer to the resurrection.  Thomas 71 has Jesus say that he will destroy this house and no one will be able to rebuild it.  Beginning with Mark, are they all suppressing or reinterpreting the prediction of an eschatological temple and why would Mark do this?

  • The historical reality was that the Romans destroyed the temple, but this was not immediately followed by the eschaton and a new temple.  Mark would have adjusted the prediction accordingly, but this explanation demands that Mark was written post-70 (or a pre-70 author with enough foresight in how the Jewish War would turn out)
  • Mark does not reject the prediction but the witnesses’ false interpretation.
  1. Perhaps the false accusation lies in the political charge that Jesus threatened to destroy the temple himself rather than judgment by divine or human (i.e. Romans) agents.
  2. Perhaps they take the temple without human hands too literally, for the Jesus community itself was the new temple.  Some scholars argue that Jesus himself replaces the functions of the temple (e.g., pronounces forgiveness, makes clean, offers atoning sacrifice) and explains Mk 11:24-25 where the mountain (Temple Mount?) is thrown into the sea is followed by a discussion of the forgiveness of sins among the disciples or 12:10 about how Jesus is the chief cornerstone (of a new temple?).  On the other hand, Mark does not seem to have a priestly Christology like Hebrews, stories of charismatic healers (e.g., Elijah, Elisha) or atoning deaths (e.g., Maccabean martyrs) did not have to be seen in opposition to the temple by first century Jews, Jesus advises the leper to observe the cleansing requirements (Mk 1:44), and sins could be forgiven through repentance outside the temple cult (Mk 11:25 may be an echo that one needs to forgive others to be in a right relationship with God; cf. Matt 6:14-15/Lk 6:37).
  • Mark’s own eschatological vision makes no room for a new temple following the destruction of the old.  An analogy might be in Rev 21:22 where there is no temple in the heavenly Jerusalem.

Is there an explanation I may be missing?  The solution to this may be one of the keys to a pre or post-70 CE dating of Mark.

New Gospel Podcasts

January 22, 2014

Here are a few podcasts to call to your attention.  Craig Evan Anderson and Matthew Ryan Hauge continue with their podcast series on Mark with “Mark-06: The Kingdom of God (Mark 1:14-15).”  The Eerdmans blog has also posted interviews with two first-rate scholars – Francis Watson and James D.G. Dunn – on their work on the Gospels reception history and the oral Jesus tradition respectively.

Podcast on the Testing in the Wilderness in Mark

January 9, 2014

*Update: Hmmm I forgot to include the video and cannot seem to get access to the clip in the 1999 Jesus special where Satan tempts Jesus in a business suit :)  Therefore, here is the scene from the History channel Bible series that sticks closer to the text and is well done:


This had to have been one of my favourite scenes from the 90s Jesus special on television, regardless of all the artistic license with the story.  However, this popular temptation narrative is based on Matthew 4:1-11 and Luke 4:1-13 rather than Mark 1:12-13 and constitutes a major agreement of Matthew/Luke against Mark.  Either on the Two-Documentary Hypothesis we have a situation where the temptation narrative was also present in the hypothetical Q source as an example of a “Mark-Q overlap” OR on the Farrer Hypothesis (or some versions of Griesbach) Luke has taken over Matthew’s account yet flipped the second & third temptations due to Luke’s interest in the Temple.  Now, there is lots to say about the enlarged account in Matthew/Luke about how the temptations seem to entice Jesus to show off his power and glory versus the kind of mission he came to accomplish or the prominent use of scriptural quotations especially from Deuteronomy, but what can we say about Mark’s terse account?

On Mark’s account, see Craig Evan Anderson’s and Matthew Ryan Hauge’s podcast Mark – 05: The Temptation of Jesus (Mark 1:12-13).  They mainly highlight the ambiguity of Mark’s account compared to its parallels in Matthew/Luke and the extent to which this trial sets the stage for the whole cosmic conflict between Jesus and Satan in the rest of the narrative plus the allusion to Israel’s salvation in the Exodus (i.e. wilderness, 40 days). A couple other resources: on Facebook I saw references to Jeffrey B. Gibson’s “Jesus’ Wilderness Temptation According to Mark” JSNT 53 (1994) 3–34 and The Temptations of Jesus in Early Christianity (JSNTSup 112; Sheffield Academic Press, 1995) (RBL review) and, via a quick Google search, I found Ernest Best’s The Temptation and the Passion: The Markan Soteriology (Cambridge University Press, 2005), Susan R. Garrett’s The Temptations of Jesus in Mark’s Gospel (Eerdmans, 1998) and a blog post by Michael Halcomb (interacts with this article).

From my reading, there are a few ways Mark’s account can be read.  On the one hand, Jesus and the angels may be in mortal combat with Satan and the wild beasts in a conflict of cosmic and apocalyptic proportions.  In addition to the Exodus imagery, there may be allusions to Psalm 91 where the righteous one who trusts in the Most High will be guarded by the angels and not harmed by dangerous creatures (see also T. Naph. 8:4; T. Iss. 7.7; T. Benj. 5:2).  It is also important to note how often the foreign ruling powers are depicted as beasts in apocalyptic literature.  The other option has been to read Mark as presenting Jesus as a new Adam restoring the lost paradise of Eden and living at peace “with” (meta) the wild animals (compare Gen 2:19-20 with Isa 11:6-9).  I favour the former reading.

Can Jesus Traditions be Extracted from their Gospel Contexts?

December 29, 2013

Judy has another helpful post about oral transmission and memory, partly in response to my question on a previous post.  Since my impression of one major point that emerged from the “blowup in Baltimore” as well as reading Jesus, Criteria and the Demise of Authenticity (eds. Anthony Le Donne & Chris Keith) is that it is mistaken to rip words/actions out of the narrative context in which the Gospel writers give them meaning, I rather wondered if the Gospel contexts for some sayings or deeds of Jesus could be shown to be secondary.  I brought up how Paul draws on Jesus sayings to back up an argument (on the rights of an apostle, marriage, the practice of the Lord’s Supper in Corinth, eschatology, paraenesis) or sayings collections with little narrative (Q as it has been hypothetically reconstructed has somewhat of a narrative shape beginning with the Baptist, but Thomas is a loose arrangement of sayings prefaced by “Jesus says” – though the arrangement of certain sayings together may have provided a context for interpretation and aided memory).  I think I would agree with her assesment:

I think that Rafael is right that trying to separate Jesus’ words from their contexts is unhelpful, but the contexts in which we find them reported in the gospels is not necessarily the contexts in which Jesus said them because I think that the gospel writers are trying to tell us who Jesus was for them (and perhaps for their communities) rather than trying to produce either verbatim reproductions of his words or blow by blow accounts of his actions. Further, while I don’t think that the gospel writers were deliberately trying to alter the facts, what they genuinely believed to be the facts may well have been altered in the course of their remembering them over time.

In the book above, some contributors seem to argue that it is wrong to atomize our sources and the way forward is to start with why the Gospel writers remembered Jesus in certain ways, though this data only becomes our sources when we ask our questions and make our own historical reconstructions on what may have led to these diverse memories of Jesus (Anthony or Chris, correct me if badly misreading or conflating different views).  On the one hand, I agree that we should start with reading the Gospels as literary wholes to understand how Jesus was remembered from 60s CE onward.

But can we discern earlier hypothetical sources in the Gospels and ask how Jesus is remembered in them too?  We know some sayings included in the Gospels date earlier because they are mentioned by Paul or may be found in a form in a later text (Catholic epistles, Apostolic Fathers) showing no signs of influence from Gospel texts.  A key argument for the independence of Matthew and Luke that necessitates a “Q” sayings source is that they put their shared “double tradition” in different contexts (e.g., Matthew places the sayings in five main discourses in ch. 5-7, 10, 13, 18, 24-25 as well as within other Markan contexts, while Luke mostly has them in two blocks in 6:2o-8:3 and 9:51-18:14).  On the Farrer Hypothesis, Luke placed sayings Matthew added to Mark in new contexts and, even still, there is evidence that some sayings likely predate both Gospels (e.g., Goodacre affirms that Luke sometimes had access to a more primitive version).  Or, as the form critics rightly pointed out, before the coherent story of Jesus’ final days in Jerusalem (Passion Narrative) episodes about Jesus in Mark are loosely connected (e.g., new episodes linked by “and immediately” did x, one Sabbath, then Jesus entered a house, as Jesus walked along the Sea, etc) and arranged by themes like conflict stories (2:1-3:6), parables (4) , sea/feeding miracles (4:35-41/6:30-44, 6:45-56/8:1-13) or eschatological sayings (13).  Mark grouped them together or inherited this arrangement from an earlier (oral?) source, but again we see Mark incorporating earlier material into a new overarching framework and whatever context they may have once had in the memories of earlier Christ followers is lost to us.  I wonder if the “Criteria” still have a role in showing what traditions might predate their inclusion in the Gospels but save that for next post.

So my question:  should historians not take into account both the memories of the evangelists, including how the Jesus tradition develops from Mark to the later Synoptic Gospels and to the Gospels John/Thomas/Peter and so on, and the earlier memories that may be enshrined in our earliest hypothetical sources?  I would not necessarily privilege earlier over later as we see major theological innovation in our earliest source (i.e. Paul) and an antique saying of Jesus may be found in a late Gospel or Patristic source, but then at least we can ask what historical reconstruction makes the best sense of the full range of memories and trace some lines of development, right?

Mark’s Martyrdom Rhetoric in Light of Candida Moss’s Critique

December 28, 2013

Yesterday I listed to a podcast with Dr. Candida Moss on Christian martyrdom rhetoric and mixed reactions to her book The Myth of Persecution: How Early Christians Invented a Story of Martyrdom (HT Jim West).  Since I have not read her work and was unable to catch the SBL session “Inventing Christianity” that featured her and others on the Martyrdom of Polycarp (though I caught Paul Middleton’s paper “Confessing Christ, Denying Caesar: Imperial Ideology in Early Christian Martyr Acts”), I cannot weigh in on whether I would agree with her historical judgments or with some of her critics.  There is no question that she is more than qualified to write a popular book as a recognized authority of the subject and, further, I agree with her push-back against the persecution rhetoric that pops up in the “culture wars” in North America.  I can give an example from my upbringing in the evangelical subculture.  As a teen, I remember the book Jesus Freaks and its sequel which popularly retold martyrdom stories without distinguishing real accounts of persecution from clearly hagiographical ones.  The books were meant to inspire the reader to be more passionate about the faith… or at least feel guilty about not doing so.  However, it also had the effect of fostering a monolithic image of the Other, substituting political analysis and activism on behalf of the oppressed with an “us vrs them” mentality (“Christ Against Culture”).  And, yes, the title is based on a Christian rock song which I post for some nostalgic 90s fun :) :

Moss’s talk leads to a question of what to do with Mark’s martyrdom rhetoric.  Mark places the cross front and center, with early hints that the bridegroom will be removed (2:20) or the collusion of religious/political parties against Jesus (3:6), and which becomes clear after Peter’s confession of Jesus’ messianic identity and “satanic” resistance to the redefinition of the messianic task around suffering (8:27-33).  Moreover, Jesus’ interpretation of the sower parable spends the most time explaining the seed on rocky soil as symbolizing disciples whose faith is shallow and cannot survive the pressure of persecution (4:16-17), demands would-be followers to deny themselves and pick up their crosses (8:34-38), exclaims that persecutions accompany membership in the new kinship network around Jesus (10:30), and predicts the trials of his disciples in synagogues and before rulers/governors (13:9-13).  Scholars debate the historical referent:  the Neronian pogroms against Christians after the fire in 64 CE (cf. Tacitus, Annals 15.44), the threat that Jewish religious leaders might hand over Christ followers to Roman authorities in a post-war Galilee, the attacks on Jews/Christ followers by non-Jewish mobs in the Hellenistic cities of Syria-Palestine during or after the Revolt, the persecution of Christ followers by revolutionaries who took over the Temple in 67-68 CE, the real or perceived alienation of the Christ community from the dominant socio-religious institutions of the Judaean Temple-state, or an apocalyptic motif in which the elect undergo tribution in a hostile society before divine intervention.  Some options are not mutually exclusive.  So what should modern Christians do with this?  On the one hand, Burton Mack condemns Mark’s foundational “myth of innocence”, us against the world, as the root problem in the history of Christendom.  On the other hand, perhaps it is too easy from our comfortable position to criticize an author and readers facing social marginalization if not serious political consequences for following a crucified king.  We should criticize any Western Christian martyrdom complexes, but Mark (and other apocalyptic texts) may give voice to the feelings of real oppressed religious/cultural minorities.  Perhaps another positive is that Mark’s way of the cross advocates non-violent resistance against oppressors, at least leaving retributive violence out of human hands (with the exception of the eschatological Son of Man).  What do you think – how ought Christians ethically interpret Mark?

Does Mark Imply Anything Unusual about Jesus’ Birth

December 21, 2013

It is almost Christmas but, as a blog primarily on Mark, I do not really have Christmas posts because stories of the virginal conception and birth of Jesus are in Matthew 1-2 and Luke 1-2.  Nevertheless, there is one passage in Mark 6:3 that a few scholars think may imply something unusual about Jesus’ parentage.  In response to Jesus’ teaching in the synagogue in his hometown of Nazareth, the people react:

Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?”

Note that the parallels in Matthew 13:55 asks if this is “the carpenter’s son” and Luke 4:22 refers to Jesus as “Joseph’s son.”  Does the question of Jesus’ neighbours in Mark imply that they were suspicious about the circumstances of Jesus’ birth and whether Joseph was really the father?  Or is the answer simply that Joseph had died by this point so that he goes unmentioned and that “son of Mary” implies no more than Paul does in Galatians 4:4 when he refers to Jesus as “born of woman, born under the Law” (= a human being)?  Please discuss in the comments.  And Merry Christmas or happy holidays!

Craig and Matt’s Fourth Podcast on Mark

December 17, 2013

Craig Evan Anderson and Matthew Ryan Hauge continue their podcast journey through Mark with “Mark – 04: The Baptism of Jesus (Mark 1:9-11).”  This episode touches on the old question of why Jesus is undergoing John’s baptism for the “forgiveness of sins,” the possible echoes of the Old Testament in the imagery, and the messianic secret (the narrator and divine voice tell the reader about Jesus’ identity but the characters in the drama are clueless or told to keep it quiet).

Craig and Matt’s Third Podcast on Mark

December 2, 2013

Craig Evan Anderson and Matthew Ryan Hauge continue their podcast journey through Mark with “Mark – 03: The Wild (Mark 1:2-8)” and I have to thank these guys for the free drink at the SBL bloggers gathering!  They discuss whether Mark’s readers would have caught the end of exile context of Mark’s citation of Isaiah, the Elijah imagery, the wilderness setting, and the offense of John’s baptism.  All good stuff.  Just a couple things I might contribute.  Since I heard John’s diet pop up briefly, I thought I would mention James A Kelhoffer has the most thorough review of this that I have seen in The Diet of John the Baptist (I have not read it yet so don’t ask me).  Second, Matthew has an excellent discussion contrasting the civilized polis with the liminal wilderness; I would also recommend Eric C. Stewart’s study of space in Mark and how Mark redefines the “centre” around the person of Jesus in Gathered Around Jesus: An Alternative Spatial Practice in the Gospel of Mark (PhD thesis).  Finally, since forgiveness was not only available through the Temple cult (I know James Crossley has made this critique when other scholars see Jesus taking the role of the priests in declaring sins loosed or forgiven), I am not sure if I would read John’s ritual as directly anti-Temple though it may well be.  Have a listen and let me know what you think.


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