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The Passion Narrative: Tentative Conclusions

I have been reproducing some of the notes from my past blog (here, here, here, here, here, here, herehere, here, here) about whether the Gospels of Mark and John were indebted to an older Passion Narrative. The Latin word passio refers to “suffering” and came to denote the story of Jesus’ sufferings. If there was an interconnected account of what lead to Jesus’ sufferings that preceded our extant written Gospels, it may have extended from the arrangements that Jesus was making for the Passover meal in Jerusalem or at least from his agony in the Garden of Gethsemane to his crucifixion and post-mortem vindication. I continue to be convinced that there was such a source, regardless of whether it was oral or written, but am skeptical about our ability to reconstruct it for the following reasons:

  1. There were eyewitnesses to the crucifixion and burial of Jesus including Simon of Cyrene, whose sons were known to Mark’s readers (Mark 15:21), and the named women who went to anoint Jesus’s corpse when they found the tomb empty.
  2. Whether Jesus was remembered as a wise-sage, a prophet like Moses, a miracle worker like Elijah, or a messianic deliverer as held by the Jerusalem Pillars (i.e. Jesus’ brother James, Peter, the Twelve), there would have been a necessity to rationalize why God allowed Jesus to undergo such an ignoble death.
  3. Social memories of Jesus’s final hours were intertwined with scriptural reflections on the meaning of Jesus’s death at the outset. Jesus’s real experiences were interpreted through the lens of the biblical laments, the experiences of the prophets or king David, the suffering servant songs in deutero-Isaiah, the son of man figure who is oppressed yet vindicated over the beasts in Daniel 7, the trials of Wisdom’s child in the Wisdom of Solomon, and the Maccabean martyrs.
  4. Since I have argued that Mark and Paul were independent theological thinkers in the Journal for the Study of the New Testament, they presuppose a common memory of Jesus’s self-sacrificial disposition and the basic events from the collusion of the imperial Roman and Jewish priestly leadership in the trail, the Roman method of execution, the burial, and the resurrection of Jesus. My leaning is that Mark and Paul preserve two different interpretations of the Last Supper, in one instance as a historical Passover meal that Jesus had with his disciples and the other as a regular cultic meal in commemoration of Jesus in Corinth, and I believe that the wording in 2 Corinthians and Luke is secondary to the one in Mark and Matthew.
  5. The much smoother, interconnected Passion Narrative with precise time indications does stand out from Mark’s literary style elsewhere.
  6. My leaning is that, while John may be influenced by one or more of the Synoptic Gospels (e.g. Mark), John also draws on other independent traditions. However, since John’s literary dependence or independence from Mark is a debated subject, there are no controls for delineating the extent or precise contents of a hypothetical Passion source. For instance, the Passion source may have contained the story about Jesus’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem or John may have retold the story after reading it out of Mark’s Gospel.
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