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The Passion Narrative: Prophecy Historicized or History Scripturalized?

On the one hand, there were eyewitnesses to the crucifixion of Jesus. All of the Gospels mention the handful of women huddled near the cross, though there are some variations in the exact names, and the individual who carried Jesus’s cross (i.e. Simon of Cyrene) seemed to have had two sons who were familiar to Mark’s audience in Mark 15:21. On the other hand, the narrative has been shaped through the lens of scriptural traditions such as the laments of the suffering righteous (Psalms 22, 40, 41, 42, etc.), the Son of Man embodying Israel in his oppression under the beasts and vindication on the clouds (Daniel 7), the vicarious martyrdoms of the Maccabean martyrs (2 Maccabees 7; cf. 4 Maccabees 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 (Wisdom of Solomon 2:12-20). Even the darkening of the sky at the death of Jesus has scriptural precedent (see Amos 8:9).

John Dominic Crossan coined the catchy phrase “prophecy historicized” in debate with Raymond Brown’s magisterial The Death of the Messiah: Volume 1 and Volume 2. Crossan explains what he means by this phrase in this YouTube video here and in more detail in his books 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. Mark Goodacre has responded to Crossan’s theory in his podcast “Are the Passion Narratives ‘Prophecy Historicized’?” and his chapter “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. Goodacre notes an inconsistency in Crossan’s method – Crossan argues that the lack of knowledge of what exactly happened in Jesus’s final hours was due to the disciples having fled even though the Gospels present this as a fulfillment of biblical prophecy too –  and Goodacre coins the phrase “history scripturalized.” This means that the early Christ followers interpreted their social memories of Jesus’s suffering and death through the lens of earlier scriptural precedents. I lean more towards Goodacre’s position.


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