30-60 AD - Pre-Markan Passion Narrative

The Passion Narrative

   The idea of a pre-Markan passion narrative continues to seem probable to a majority of scholars. One study observes that there lies behind Mark a narrative that presupposes a chronology that corresponds to the one found in John, in which Jesus dies on the preparation day before the Passover. According to Mark, Jesus died on the day of Passover, but the tradition supposes it was the preparation day before Passover - in 14:1-2 the Sanhedrin decided to kill Jesus before the feast in order to prevent unrest among the people on the day of the feast. This fits with the circumstance that in 15:21 Simon of Cyrene is coming in from the fields, which can be understood to mean he was coming from his work. It would be hard to imagine any author's using a formulation so subject to misunderstanding in an account that describes events on the day of Passover, since no work was done on that day. Moreover, in 15:42 Jesus' burial is said to be on the "preparation day," but a relative clause is added to make it the preparation day for the Sabbath. Originally, it was probably the preparation day for the Passover (John 19:42). The motive for removing Jesus from the cross and burying him before sundown would probably have been to have this work done before the beginning of the feast day, which would not make sense if it were already the day of Passover. Finally, the "trial" before the Sanhedrin presupposes that this was not a feast day, since no judicial proceedings could be held on that day. It would have been a breach of the legal code that the narrator could scarcely have ignored, because the point of the narrative is to represent the proceeding against Jesus as an unfair trial with contradictory witnesses and a verdict decided in advance by the high priests.

   Some also suggest that the passion narrative must have been written before 37 CE because "the high priest" is mentioned without any name - it was not necessarily for the reason that during the period between 30 and 70 CE, there was no time when Caiaphas and his family were not powerful. Traditions circulating in their sphere of influence were well advised not to mention their names in a negative context. By contrast, as shown by Philo and Josephus, Pilate was the subject of more negative tradition than many other prefects and procurators, and so the creators of the original passion narrative had no reason not to mention Pilate by name and to place blame upon him. This situation is changed in the period after the First Jewish Revolt in the writings of Matthew and Luke, in which Pilate is exonerated and the high priest is named without hesitation.

There are two anonymous people in the story: the bystander who cuts off the ear of the high priest's slave with a sword (Mark 14:47) and a young man who escapes arrest by running away (Mark 14:51-52). The narrative motive for this anonymity is not hard to guess: both of them run afoul of the "police." The one who draws his sword commits no minor offense when he cuts off someone's ear. Had the blow fallen only slightly awry, he could have wounded the man in the head or throat. This blow with a sword is violence with possibly mortal consequences. The anonymous young man has also offered resistance. In the struggle, his clothes are torn off, so that he has to run away naked. Both these people were in danger in the aftermath. As long as the high priest's slave was alive (and as long as the scar from the sword cut was visible) it would have been inopportune to mention their names; it would not even have been wise to identify them as members of the early Christian community. Their anonymity is for their protection, and the obscuring of their positive relationship to Jesus is a strategy of caution. Both the teller and the hearers know more about these two people. Only they could tell us who they were, whether Peter was the one with the sword, whether both are the same person, and whether reference was made to them in order to make the story of Jesus' end more credible. All that will have to remain closed to us.

   If we are correct in our hypothesis of protective anonymity, the location of the Passion tradition would be unmistakable. Only in Jerusalem was there reason to draw a cloak of anonymity over followers of Jesus who had endangered themselves by their actions. The date could also be pinpointed: parts of the Passion account would have to have been composed within the generation of the eyewitnesses and their contemporaries, that is, somewhere between 30 and 60 C.E.

   We will use the Gospel of Mark 14:32-15:47 from the NA27/USB4 Greek and the ESV translation. The data concerning the number of scholars favoring authenticity for each verse is taken from appendix IX of The Death of the Messiah compiled by Marion L. Soards. He provides data by thirty-four scholars and provides a table that shows the opinion of each scholar on each verse in the passion narrative. Each verse shows the number of scholars who believe that the verse (or part of that verse) belongs to the pre-Markan passion narrative.

   Below are the verses agreed upon by 20 or more of those scholars to give us an idea of their relative chance of authenticity to the pre-Markan passion narrative.


Betrayal and Arrest of Jesus

Mark 14:43 [24]

Καὶ εὐθὺς ἔτι αὐτοῦ λαλοῦντος παραγίνεται Ἰούδας εἷς τῶν δώδεκα καὶ μετ᾽ αὐτοῦ ὄχλος μετὰ μαχαιρῶν καὶ ξύλων παρὰ τῶν ἀρχιερέων καὶ τῶν γραμματέων καὶ τῶν πρεσβυτέρων

And immediately, while he was still speaking, Judas came, one of the twelve, and with him a crowd with swords and clubs, from the chief priests and the scribes and the elders.


44 [21]

δεδώκει δὲ παραδιδοὺς αὐτὸν σύσσημον αὐτοῖς λέγων· ὃν ἂν φιλήσω αὐτός ἐστιν, κρατήσατε αὐτὸν καὶ ἀπάγετε ἀσφαλῶς

Now the betrayer had given them a sign, saying, "The one I will kiss is the man. Seize him and lead him away under guard."


45 [24]

καὶ ἐλθὼν εὐθὺς προσελθὼν αὐτῷ λέγει· ῥαββί, καὶ κατεφίλησεν αὐτόν· 

And when he came, he went up to him at once and said, "Rabbi!" And he kissed him.


46 [25]

οἱ δὲ ἐπέβαλον τὰς χεῖρας αὐτῷ καὶ ἐκράτησαν αὐτόν

And they laid hands on him and seized him.


47 [20]

εἷς δέ [τις] τῶν παρεστηκότων σπασάμενος τὴν μάχαιραν ἔπαισεν τὸν δοῦλον τοῦ ἀρχιερέως καὶ ἀφεῖλεν αὐτοῦ τὸ ὠτάριον

But one of those who stood by drew his sword and struck the servant of the high priest and cut off his ear.


50 [22]

Καὶ ἀφέντες αὐτὸν ἔφυγον πάντες

And they all left him and fled.


Jesus Before the Council

53 [24]

Καὶ ἀπήγαγον τὸν Ἰησοῦν πρὸς τὸν ἀρχιερέα, καὶ συνέρχονται πάντες οἱ ἀρχιερεῖς καὶ οἱ πρεσβύτεροι καὶ οἱ γραμματεῖς

And they led Jesus to the high priest. And all the chief priests and the elders and the scribes came together.


Jesus Delivered to Pilate

Mark 15:3 [21]

καὶ κατηγόρουν αὐτοῦ οἱ ἀρχιερεῖς πολλά

And the chief priests accused him of many things.


5 [20]

δὲ Ἰησοῦς οὐκέτι οὐδὲν ἀπεκρίθη, ὥστε θαυμάζειν τὸν Πιλᾶτον

But Jesus made no further answer, so that Pilate was amazed.


Pilate Delivers Jesus to Be Crucified

15 [21]

δὲ Πιλᾶτος βουλόμενος τῷ ὄχλῳ τὸ ἱκανὸν ποιῆσαι ἀπέλυσεν αὐτοῖς τὸν Βαραββᾶν, καὶ παρέδωκεν τὸν Ἰησοῦν φραγελλώσας ἵνα σταυρωθῇ

So Pilate, wishing to satisfy the crowd, released for them Barabbas, and having scourged Jesus, he delivered him to be crucified.


Jesus Is Mocked

20 [22]

καὶ ὅτε ἐνέπαιξαν αὐτῷ, ἐξέδυσαν αὐτὸν τὴν πορφύραν καὶ ἐνέδυσαν αὐτὸν τὰ ἱμάτια αὐτοῦ. Καὶ ἐξάγουσιν αὐτὸν ἵνα σταυρώσωσιν αὐτόν

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.


The Crucifixion

21 [24]

καὶ ἀγγαρεύουσιν παράγοντά τινα Σίμωνα Κυρηναῖον ἐρχόμενον ἀπ᾽ ἀγροῦ, τὸν πατέρα Ἀλεξάνδρου καὶ Ῥούφου, ἵνα ἄρῃ τὸν σταυρὸν αὐτοῦ

And they compelled a passerby, Simon of Cyrene, who was coming in from the country, the father of Alexander and Rufus, to carry his cross.


22 [24]

Καὶ φέρουσιν αὐτὸν ἐπὶ τὸν Γολγοθᾶν τόπον, ἐστιν μεθερμηνευόμενον Κρανίου Τόπος

And they brought him to the place called Golgotha (which means Place of a Skull).


23 [23]

καὶ ἐδίδουν αὐτῷ ἐσμυρνισμένον οἶνον· ὃς δὲ οὐκ ἔλαβεν

And they offered him wine mixed with myrrh, but he did not take it.


24 [26]

Καὶ σταυροῦσιν αὐτὸν καὶ διαμερίζονται τὰ ἱμάτια αὐτοῦ βάλλοντες κλῆρον ἐπ᾽ αὐτὰ τίς τί ἄρῃ

And they crucified him and divided his garments among them, casting lots for them, to decide what each should take.


27 [23]

Καὶ σὺν αὐτῷ σταυροῦσιν δύο λῃστάς, ἕνα ἐκ δεξιῶν καὶ ἕνα ἐξ εὐωνύμων αὐτοῦ

And with him they crucified two robbers, one on his right and one on his left.


29 [20]

Καὶ οἱ παραπορευόμενοι ἐβλασφήμουν αὐτὸν κινοῦντες τὰς κεφαλὰς αὐτῶν καὶ λέγοντες, Οὐὰ ὁ καταλύων τὸν ναὸν καὶ οἰκοδομῶν ἐν τρισὶν ἡμέραις,

And those who passed by derided him, wagging their heads and saying, "Aha! You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days,


32 [20]

χριστὸς βασιλεὺς Ἰσραὴλ καταβάτω νῦν ἀπὸ τοῦ σταυροῦ, ἵνα ἴδωμεν καὶ πιστεύσωμεν. καὶ οἱ συνεσταυρωμένοι σὺν αὐτῷ ὠνείδιζον αὐτόν

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.


The Death of Jesus

36 [21]

δραμὼν δέ τις [καὶ] γεμίσας σπόγγον ὄξους περιθεὶς καλάμῳ ἐπότιζεν αὐτὸν λέγων· ἄφετε ἴδωμεν εἰ ἔρχεται Ἠλίας καθελεῖν αὐτόν

And someone ran and filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on a reed and gave it to him to drink, saying, "Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to take him down."


37 [22]

δὲ Ἰησοῦς ἀφεὶς φωνὴν μεγάλην ἐξέπνευσεν

And Jesus uttered a loud cry and breathed his last. 

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