Archive for December 2007

Mark 15

December 28, 2007

Early in the morning, the trial ends. The accusers of Jesus before Pilate are the chief priests, the elders, the teachers of the law, and the whole Sanhedrin. They accuse Him of “many things,” but Jesus refuses to answer these accusations. Pilate’s first question to Jesus is whether He is the king of the Jews, to which Jesus agrees. To accord with custom at the Feast, Pilate offers to release either Jesus or Barrabas, who is said to have been “in prison with the insurrectionists who had committed murder in the uprising,” a sketchy charge. At the instigation of the chief priests (not the elders, the teachers of the law, or the Sanhedrin), the crowd asks for Barrabas to be released and Jesus to be crucified.

Pilate is said to have known that the chief priests asked for Barrabas to be released out of envy for Jesus. Pilate also asks the crowd to name Jesus’s crime, which they decline to do. But Pilate obligingly hands Jesus over to be flogged and crucified. The soldiers take Jesus to the Praetorium and, before the whole company of soldiers, dress Jesus in purple, crown Him with thorns, and call out “Hail, king of the Jews.” They strike him on the head with a staff and spit on Him. They kneel before Him. Then they remove the purple robe, dress Him in His own clothes, and lead Him to be crucified.

A random traveler to Jerusalem, Simon the Cyrene, father of Alexander and Rufus, is forced to carry Jesus’s cross. Arriving at The Place of the Skull, Golgotha, the soldiers strip Jesus and draw lots for His clothes, offer Him wine mixed with myrrh as an anesthetic, which He declines, and then crucify Him in the Third Hour [9 AM]. The official charge against Him is written as “The King of the Jews,” and He is crucified between two robbers. Passersby accuse Him of claiming to plan to “destroy the temple and build it in three days,” and tell Him to come down off the cross. The chief priests and teachers of the law (but not the elders or the Sanhedrin) similarly mock His helplessness, saying that He cannot save Himself, though He claimed to save others. Watching from a distance are Jesus’s mother, Salome, and Mary Magdalene.

In the sixth hour [noon], darkness falls across the land. In the ninth hour [3PM], Jesus cries out “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?”, the Aramaic of Psalm 22 in which David asks God why He has forsaken him. For reasons that are completely unclear, people think that Jesus is calling Elijah. One offers Him wine vinegar. Just before Jesus dies, that man wonders whether Elijah will come to remove Him from the cross. At Jesus’s death cry, the curtain in the Temple splits and a watching centurion is sure that Jesus is the Son of God.

Since this was a Friday and the restrictions of the Sabbath would descend, Joseph of Arimathea asks Pilate for Jesus’s body. Joseph bought linen, wrapped the body with it, placed the body in a tomb cut from rock, and rolled a stone before the entrance. The chapter closes with, “Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses saw where he was laid.”

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Notes

1.  Matthew Henry notes that Jesus is bound as an animal sacrifice would be bound.

2.  Jesus’s precise answer to Pilate’s question as to whether He is king of the Jews is “su lego,” literally “Thou sayest.”   When it says Pilate is “amazed,” the Greek is “thaumazo,” and is often translated “marvelled at.” Presumably, Pilate expected prisoners to be frightened and attempting to talk their way out of punishment, and so Jesus’s refusal to challenge the accusations against Himself and His polite but indifferent answer to Pilate’s question was amazing.

3. The Praetorium is translated various as “palace” or “hall of judgment.” This is the place Paul is held in Acts 23, and it is the “palace” where Paul says his bond to Christ shines clearly in Philippians 1: 13.

4. In Mark, Jesus is dressed by the soldiers in a purple (porphura, probably Heb. tekhelet, a dye extracted from the purpura mollusc and hence not unclean) robe, then stripped and placed in his own clothes. In Matthew, they dressed Him in a scarlet (kokkinos; Heb. shaniy, cochineal or carmine, extracted from a beetle and therefore unclean) robe. Purple and scarlet are mentioned in Rev. 18:11 as the precious cargoes of Babylon. Scarlet is also the color of the thread of sacrifice (Lev. 14:4, Heb. 9:19). 

5. In other accounts, Joseph of Arimathea is assisted in preparing the body. 

6. Joseph of Arimathea, though a secret follower of Jesus, was also a member of the Sanhedrin. He might therefore might have been involved in the condemnation of Jesus or in avoiding the meeting in which Jesus was condemned. Yet he did not seem to be afraid to ask Pilate for the body.

7.  Notice that Joseph of Arimathea rolled the stone before the tomb. This conflicts with our mental image of the stone as too large for a man to have moved it.

8.  One Mary is specified to be the mother of Joses (i.e., Joseph) and, separately as the mother of James the younger and Joses. Salome is the mother of the sons of Zebedee, James and John. Joses only appears five times in the gospels and is distinct from Joses Barnabas, mentioned in Acts 4:36.

9. The chapter says that a multitude of women who had come up with Jesus to Jerusalem watched His crucifixion. This is notable because women were generally regarded as property and were not permitted to travel without an escort from the family. So, the women traveling with Jesus probably included many who had been cast off. Mary of Magdala (the Magdalene) is elsewhere described as having been demon-possessed. She is often associated with Mary of Bethany and with the two nameless women who anointed Jesus’s head and, separately, feet. More can be learned about the traditions surrounding Mary Magdalene here.
 

Mark 14

December 1, 2007

The chief priests and the teachers of the law conspire to arrest Jesus, but are afraid that if He is arrested during the Feast of the Unleavened Bread, the people will riot. While Jesus was in Bethany, reclining (presumably eating) at the home of Simon the Leper, a woman carrying an alabaster jar of nard, valued at a year’s wages, broke the jar and poured the perfume over Jesus’s head. People saw this as a waste of something that could have been sold to feed the poor, but Jesus said that she was anointing Him for burial and that we would always have the poor to assist.

Judas was apparently among those who was incensed at the waste of pouring expensive perfume on Jesus, because he went to the chief priests to offer to betray Jesus. They agreed to pay Judas for the betrayal.

On the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, Jesus sent two disciples ahead to make the preparations for the eating of the Passover dinner with the Twelve. There was apparently some secrecy, because first a man with a jar of water led them to the house with an upper room, and then they would ask the owner of the house to show them the guest room.

At the Passover meal, Jesus says that one of the Twelve will betray Him. Each of them, including Judas–who has already offered to betray Jesus– ask, “Surely not I?” Jesus warns that for His betrayer, it will be better if he had not been born. Then He offers up the bread as His body and the wine as the blood of the covenant. Jesus predicts they will all abandon Him. Against Peter’s protestations, Jesus predicts that he will deny Jesus three times. Jesus also prophesies that he will rise and lead them back to Galillee. Then they sing a hymn and go to the Mount of Olives, where Peter, James and John repeatedly fall asleep as Jesus prays to be spared His ordeal.

Judas arrives, leading an armed crowd sent by the chief priests, teachers of the law, and elders. He kisses Jesus as the signal of whom the crowd is to arrest, at which point someone strikes off the ear of the servant of the chief priest. All of Jesus’s followers flee, including a young man who abandons his clothing to escape arrest. Peter doubled back and followed Jesus’s jailers, even warming himself at the fire with the guards.

The chief priests, elders and teachers of the law, indeed the whole Sanhedrin served as Jesus’s tribunal. Jesus is silent until they ask Him if He is the Christ, the son of the Blessed One. Jesus asserts that He is, and that they will see the Son of Man seated by the Blessed One. This statement is condemned as blasphemy. Jesus is then spit upon, blindfolded, beaten, and ordered to prophesy.

Meanwhile Peter is meeting his own fate. A servant girl twice says that he was with Jesus. At first, he simply denies it, saying he doesn’t know what they are talking about. But then a stranger says that Peter must have been with Jesus, since Peter is a Galillean. At this point, Peter calls down curses upon himself and swears he doesn’t know Jesus. The cock crows, and Jesus’s prophecy about Peter is fulfilled.

Notes
1. Passover falls on the 14th day of Nisan, beginning the evening before the sunrise, and the Feast of the Unleavened Bread begins on Nisan 15 and runs for seven days. Passover, of course, celebrates the night when the Israelites marked the lintels of their doors with the blood of a freshly slain lamb so that the Angel of Death with pass over them and take only the firstborn children of the Egyptians. The Feast of Unleavened Bread represents the time of flight from the Egyptians, using bread baked without time for it to rise.
2.  Why would the Feast be a time when people might riot? It may be that this would have violated the prohibition against work.
3.  Why were the chief priests and the teachers of the law the primary conspirators against Jesus? Is this because this is a religious trial rather than a political event? 
4.  Alabaster is probably calcite. It can be deposited from stalagmites or from springs of calcium-rich water. Flawless calcite costs about $10/carat, with a carat equal to 2 grams. So the jar would presumably have cost at least a thousand dollars, and probably much more in modern terms.
5. Why did the woman break the jar, rather than simply opening it? The Greek for “break” is suntribo, and can mean “trample” or “crush.”
6.  Nard, or spikenard is derived from a plant of the valerian family found in Tibet, India, and China. It can be used as a sedative, particularly for insomnia or in childbirth.
7. Why will we always have the poor to assist? This seems to be a statement that the world will not covert to Christianity, because it would not take a very large number of people behaving as Jesus would have them behave to eliminate poverty.
8.  The Greek for Blessed One is eulogetos, which might be translated “the one well spoken of” or “the praised one.” It is only used eight times in the New Testament (Mark 14, Luke 1:68, Romans 1:25, Romans 9:5, 2 Cor. 1:3, 2 Cor. 11:31, Eph. 1:3, 1 Peter 1:3). There is another word used for blessed, makarios, which is about three times more common. Makarios, which might be translated “happy” or “fortunate” is used repeatedly in the Beatitudes, which word literally means “happiness” (Matthew 5, Luke 6)
9.  Note that the tribunal judging Jesus does not condemn Him to death. They only condemn Him as worthy of death. The Romans are the ones who have the actual power to order an execution.