Mark Chapter 15:1-10

The problem here is that the real break doesn’t come until verse 20. In fact, it comes right smack in the middle of verse 20. Ergo, any break I make is going to be arbitrary. Since the break has to be arbitrary, I’ll put it right in the middle of the section.

1 Καὶ εὐθὺς πρωῒ συμβούλιον ποιήσαντες οἱ ἀρχιερεῖς μετὰ τῶν πρεσβυτέρων καὶ γραμματέων καὶ ὅλον τὸ συνέδριον δήσαντες τὸν Ἰησοῦν ἀπήνεγκαν καὶ παρέδωκαν Πιλάτῳ.

And as soon as it was morning, having called together the council, the high priests with the elders and scribes and all the Sanhedrin carried off Jesus having been bound and handed him over to Pilate.

Who the heck is Pilate? I mean, we know, but it’s kind of interesting that Mark feels no compunction to inform the reader. Was Pilate that well known? This would argue for a pre-Markan narrative, composed when Pilate would have been very well known. He was the prefect of Judea for about ten years.

1 Et confestim mane consilium facientes summi sacerdotes cum senioribus et scribis, id est universum concilium, vincientes Iesum duxerunt et tradiderunt Pilato.

2 καὶ ἐπηρώτησεν αὐτὸν ὁ Πιλᾶτος, Σὺ εἶ ὁ βασιλεὺς τῶν Ἰουδαίων; ὁ δὲ ἀποκριθεὶς αὐτῷ λέγει, Σὺ λέγεις.

And Pilate asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus, answering him said, “You say so.”

OK, in the last chapter, we got the high priests asking Jesus if he was the Christ. Now Pilate is asking him if he’s the King of the Jews.  This title has come out of nowhere. It appears only in Chapter 15. What does it mean?

The political implications of the title are obvious. It could be seen as an affront, or even a threat to the Romans, or to the political peace & stability of the area. The question is: who came up with the title? Is this something that the religious authorities invented, or reported to the Romans? Or does it reflect something the Romans…heard, or suspected? Now, I recognize the connection, or at least the potential connection between Messiah and King in Judaic thought. So, it’s not inconceivable that the high priest asked Jesus if he was the Christ, and then used the term King when reporting this to the Romans. After all, ‘Christ’ was problably not a term that was terribly meaningful to the Romans, but ‘king’ certainly was.

Here’s a possibility: Jesus attracted a crowd. Some soldiers asked what the big deal was. Someone said that he was claiming to be the Messiah. The soldiers ask ‘what’s a messiah?’ The explanation includes the word ‘king’. That’s all the soldiers need, so they haul Jesus off to Pilate for summary judgement. Short, sweet, simple, and wholly within the way the Romans operated.

This is why I think this whole episode makes a lot more sense if Jesus was simply arrested by the Romans. Remember: by the time this was written, almost two generations had passed and the location of the events had been destroyed. Plus, this was very likely a minor incident in the history of the region. As such, there is very little chance that anyone would be able to contradict the account presented, even if they remembered it. By the time of the sack of Jerusalem, the death of a rabble-rouser forty years before would have seemed pretty insignificant. As such, there was likely no collective memory that would have been able to gainsay whatever account the followers of Jesus decided to put forward.

2 Et interrogavit eum Pilatus: “ Tu es rex Iudaeorum? ”. At ille respondens ait illi: “ Tu dicis ”.

3 καὶ κατηγόρουν αὐτοῦ οἱ ἀρχιερεῖς πολλά.

And the high priests accused him much.

Of what did they accuse him? That is not a rhetorical question. What was it? Why are there no specifics? If the high priests instigated all of this, why are the charges coming from Pilate, and not from them? That seems to be a significant detail. It’s not a smoking gun by any stretch–there isn’t one–but I think the question needs to be asked and and addressed. I want to hear an inference, or at least a conjecture.

3 Et accusabant eum summi sacerdotes in multis.

4 ὁ δὲ Πιλᾶτος πάλιν ἐπηρώτα αὐτὸν λέγων, Οὐκ ἀποκρίνῃ οὐδέν; ἴδε πόσα σου κατηγοροῦσιν.

Pilate again asked him, saying, “Why do you not answer anything (lit = ‘nothing’). Do you not see all they accuse you (of)?”

4 Pilatus autem rursum interrogabat eum dicens: “ Non respondes quidquam? Vide in quantis te accusant ”.

5 ὁ δὲ Ἰησοῦς οὐκέτι οὐδὲν ἀπεκρίθη, ὥστε θαυμάζειν τὸν Πιλᾶτον.

But Jesus said nothing more. As a result, Pilate was amazed.

For those keeping score at home, this the first time someone has been amazed at Jesus since Chapter 9. It happened five times in Chapters 1-7, once in 8-10, and once in 11-15. (I don’t necessarily count Chapter 16, because there are legitimate questions about whether this was part of the original “Gospel of Mark”.  I will discuss these counts of thematic elements, probably in the overall summary to the gospel. Suffice it to say, I find the thematic counts…interesting, to say the least.

5 Iesus autem amplius nihil respondit, ita ut miraretur Pilatus.

6 Κατὰ δὲ ἑορτὴν  ἀπέλυεν αὐτοῖς ἕνα δέσμιον ὃν παρῃτοῦντο.

By reason of (it) being the festival, he releases to them one of those bound (prisoners) whom they wished.

[ I kept the verb tense of ‘he releases’. Nothing horribly significant, but just another hint about how much interpretation goes into translation. It’s not a situation such as we saw with some of the passages of Paul, where there were significant doctrinal implications for the words chosen, but it’s just a small reminder of the ‘slippage’, of what does get, if not lost, then maybe elided, in translation. ]

Is there any external corroboration for this custom? But then, how would this get made up? Who would think of making it up? Although it does serve the purpose of demonstrating that the crowd had turned on Jesus, and very quickly.

6 Per diem autem festum dimittere solebat illis unum ex vinctis, quem peterent.

7 ἦν δὲ ὁ λεγόμενος Βαραββᾶς μετὰ τῶν στασιαστῶν δεδεμένος οἵτινες ἐν τῇ στάσει φόνον πεποιήκεισαν.

There was he they were called Barabbas, captured with the authors of the insurrection who in the sedition had committed murder.

As far as I can tell from Liddell and Scott, Mark may have coined the word << στασιαστης >>. This is formed from the word <<στασις>> which is the standard Greek term for ‘revolution’. Generally, in Classical times, the word referred to factional strife within a city, in which the pro-democracy faction rose against the pro-oligarch faction (or vice-versa). But then, in Classical times there wasn’t a lot of anti-empire rebellions. So the term here is one who commits <<στασις>> (translit = ‘stasis’). So there apparently had been a recent attempt at rebellion, which would, I believe, bolster my case that the Romans were on edge and not exactly willing to tolerate anyone calling himself “the Christ” because of the word’s latent (at least) political implications. 

One thing I did find interesting based on my lack of knowledge is the name of the insurrectionist: Barabbas. This means ‘son of the father’. A very cursory check verifies this and tells me that ‘Abba’ was a fairly common name at the time, so the name could easily be legitimate. So the name is not as interesting as I first thought. This same cursory look did not tell me if there were any specific incidents around this time which may have been fomented by Barabbas. Overall, Judea in the First Century was a troublesome place; there had been attempts at insurrection after the death of Herod the Great just before the beginning of the Common Era, and there would, of course, be the First Rebellion two generations after Jesus’ death. 

Barabbas was a murderer. Now, Jesus was seeming arrested late Thursday, or early Friday. And he was executed Friday afternoon. IOW, the Romans did not keep him on ice. Barabbas, however, despite being a murderer who had fomented an uprising, or at least a riot, had been in Roman custody for some time. Why the differential? Did the Romans generally keep capital felons in prison for a period before execution? Or did they pretty much execute them on the spot? Now, there may have been efficiency issues; perhaps they waited until they’d accumulated a few prisoners before dispatching a squadron to carry out the execution. The Romans were efficient, after all. And since there were two others executed with Jesus, perhaps the execution had been scheduled for Friday afternoon anyway, since three prisoners had been accumulated. So maybe that’s why there was differential treatment for Jesus and Barabbas. 

Because the other possibility is that there was no Barabbas; it struck me as possible that the episode was invented, again to show how the crowd preferred the release of a murderer over Jesus, whom we were told repeatedly the crowd revered. But, that may not be necessary; after all, perhaps the crowd preferred the release of Barabbas because he was sort of a hero among the anti-Roman faction, while Jesus was a nobody. So again, we are presented with details that perhaps raise more questions than they answer.

Finally, it appears that the evidence for the release of a prisoner at the festival is pretty much the four canonical gospels, and the later Gospel of Peter.

7 Erat autem qui dicebatur Barabbas, vinctus cum seditiosis, qui in seditione fecerant homicidium.

8 καὶ ἀναβὰς ὁ ὄχλος ἤρξατο αἰτεῖσθαι καθὼς ἐποίει αὐτοῖς.

And the crowd standing began to request that he do for them as such (as he was accustomed).

I guess we’re supposed to understand that..what? The crowd suddenly files in? Where? In later gospels, we are given a much better sense of the scene; here, we really don’t get that. Again, does this indicate that the audience would just know how the process worked? Honestly, do we know how the process worked? I know what I’ve seen in any number of movies about this episode, but how would this have worked normally? 

Or are the details sketchy because the person composing the tale didn’t really understand how it all happened? This has to be considered, I believe. Just as we are told that Mark gets some of the geography wrong, so perhaps he gets some of the procedural details wrong. Or maybe the details became garbled via verbal transmission. While stories do tend to grow, the separation from reality also grows with time. Events, actions, are misunderstood so the description gets scrambled, so it makes even less sense, so the description gets even more abstract.

Or, maybe I’m just ignorant?

8 Et cum ascendisset turba, coepit rogare, sicut faciebat illis.

9 ὁ δὲ Πιλᾶτος ἀπεκρίθη αὐτοῖς λέγων, Θέλετε ἀπολύσω ὑμῖν τὸν βασιλέα τῶν Ἰουδαίων;

But Pilate answered them saying, “Do you wish (that) I release to you the King of the Jews?”

In one of the blurbs for the book Zealot, or perhaps it was Aslan himself, the comment was made that the inscription “INRI” was not meant ironically. That the Romans were not, generally, acting ironically when they carried out a death sentence. Maybe. Sure sounds ironic here, though, doesn’t it?

9 Pilatus autem respondit eis et dixit: “ Vultis dimittam vobis regem Iudaeorum? ”.

10 ἐγίνωσκεν γὰρ ὅτι διὰ φθόνον παραδεδώκεισαν αὐτὸν οἱἀρχιερεῖς.

For he knew that because of jealousy the high priests handed him over.

Pilate is here conveniently being excused for what is to follow.

10 Sciebat enim quod per invidiam tradidissent eum summi sacerdotes.

Not the worst place for an arbitrary break. And the next section will be published almost simultaneously with this one, so there won’t be a wait to see how this continues.

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About James, brother of Jesus

I have a BA from the University of Toronto in Greek and Roman History. For this, I had to learn classical Greek and Latin. In seminar-style classes, we discussed both the meaning of the text and the language. U of T has a great Classics Dept. One of the professors I took a Senior Seminar with is now at Harvard. I started reading the New Testament as a way to brush up on my Greek, and the process grew into this. I plan to comment on as much of the NT as possible, starting with some of Paul's letters. After that, I'll start in on the Gospels, starting with Mark.

Posted on September 1, 2013, in gospel commentary, gospels, mark's gospel and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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