Mark Chapter 15:11-20

Please note that I published the section on 15:1-10 just before publishing this one. Given the nature of blogs, the newer material ends up on top of the older material. So you may need to scroll down to the first section of Chapter 15. The thing was, given the lack of a natural break, I didn’t want a lag time between the first section of 15:1-10 and this one dealing with 15:11-20.

Recall, we were just told that Pilate knew that the high priests had handed Jesus over out of jealousy.

11οἱ δὲ ἀρχιερεῖς ἀνέσεισαν τὸν ὄχλον ἵνα μᾶλλον τὸν Βαραββᾶν ἀπολύσῃ αὐτοῖς.

The high priests stirred up the crowd in order that more he would release Barabbas to them.

Again, getting Pilate off the hook.

11 Pontifices autem concitaverunt turbam, ut magis Barabbam dimitteret eis.

12 ὁ δὲ Πιλᾶτος πάλιν ἀποκριθεὶς ἔλεγεν αὐτοῖς, Τί οὖν [θέλετε]ποιήσω [ὃν λέγετε] τὸν βασιλέα τῶν Ἰουδαίων;

But Pilate again asking, said to them, “Why thus [do you wish] that I will do this [to the one you call] the king of the Jews?”

Is this significant? To the one you call the King of the Jews? IOW, I don’t call him that. You do. Recall, that we did not hear the term before he used it. Or am I just starting to pick up at all the minor and not-signficant points?

12 Pilatus autem iterum respondens aiebat illis: “ Quid ergo vultis faciam regi Iudaeorum? ”.

13 οἱ δὲ πάλιν ἔκραξαν, Σταύρωσον αὐτόν.

And again, they cried, “Crucify him?”

Again? When did they say this before? Did something get cut out?

13 At illi iterum clamaverunt: “ Crucifige eum! ”.

14 ὁ δὲ Πιλᾶτος ἔλεγεν αὐτοῖς, Τί γὰρ ἐποίησεν κακόν; οἱ δὲ περισσῶς ἔκραξαν, Σταύρωσον αὐτόν.

But Pilate he said to them, “Why, for what has he done bad?” They shouted harder, “Crucify him.”

Pilate is absolving Jesus of any crime. He didn’t think Jesus should be killed. The crowd, however, whipped up by the chief priests, apparently feels differently.

14 Pilatus vero dicebat eis: “ Quid enim mali fecit? ”. At illi magis clamaverunt: “ Crucifige eum! ”.

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

But Pilate wishing to make it sufficient (to satisfy) the crowd released to them Barabbas. And he handed Jesus having been scourged over to be crucified.

So, just so we’re clear, Pilate is only doing this to satisfy the crowd. Just to remember, Pilate did not have to keep the religious authorities happy; they had to keep him happy. He could have them replaced. He could have them sent to Rome for trial and execution. Yes, there is a lot about how the religious authorities were keenly aware of all this, which is why they moved heaven and earth to get Jesus executed. But Pilate–the Romans in general–would probably have been happy to execute anyone the local authorities said was a problem. That we are told the locals had to move heaven and earth, to whip up the crowd artificially, in order to get him to execute a troublemaker seems very suspicious. Yes, both the locals and the Romans managed better if they worked together; so if the locals said someone was a troublemaker and should be executed, then the Romans would, normally, be happy to comply. Hey–it kept the local authorities happy and made the Romans’ job easier.

So all of this appears to be constructed solely to exculpate the Romans. Is there another possibility? No doubt, but I have not been able to think of what it might be. I am willing to listen to suggestions.

15 Pilatus autem, volens populo satisfacere, dimisit illis Barabbam et tradidit Iesum flagellis caesum, ut crucifigeretur.

16 Οἱ δὲ στρατιῶται ἀπήγαγον αὐτὸν ἔσω τῆς αὐλῆς, ὅ ἐστιν πραιτώριον, καὶ συγκαλοῦσιν ὅλην τὴν σπεῖραν.

And the soldiers led him out into the courtyard, that which was the Praetorium, and they called together the entire maniple.

We have a bit of a conflict here. Per Liddell and Scott, the last word in the verse was used as the translation of the Roman maniple, which was a tactical unit of the legion. But the Latin says ‘cohort’, which was an organizational unit of the legion. The maniple consisted of 120 men; the cohort of 480. In this instance, I would suspect the smaller number was probably the unit to be used for execution duty. I doubt that a cohort of 480 men would have been dispatched for an execution.

16 Milites autem duxerunt eum intro in atrium, quod est praetorium, et convocant totam cohortem.

17 καὶ ἐνδιδύσκουσιν αὐτὸν πορφύραν καὶ περιτιθέασιν αὐτῷ πλέξαντες ἀκάνθινον στέφανον:

And him having been dressed in purple and placed around his head a crown woven of thorns.

17 Et induunt eum purpuram et imponunt ei plectentes spineam coronam;

18 καὶ ἤρξαντο ἀσπάζεσθαι αὐτόν, Χαῖρε, βασιλεῦ τῶν Ἰουδαίων:

And they began to salute him, “Hail, king of the Jews.”

Given this level of detail about the purple robe, the crown, and the mocking homage, I sort of get the sense that the charge written above him, (Rex Iudaeorum) may actually be historical. I’m not sold, but it seems entirely possible.  That this was the charge against Jesus is the simplest explanation that would account for all of these details. Otherwise, this all becomes a very elaborate…hoax? That’s not the right word. Theme? But, given the charge, then the rest of this follows easily; it makes sense, it fits the theme, even if it’s not exactly historically accurate. How could it be? Who was inside the Praetorium that would have acted as a source for the story? Yes, it’s possible that there were later followers who had known someone on the inside, but it’s much more credible that all of these details are a very elaborate fiction.

Now, always, always, bear in mind that the person creating this story would have been horrified at being called a liar.  The people who created these stories were interested in capital-T Truth, and not in historical accuracy. I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating. Even the ‘scientific’ historian Thucydides had no qualms about passing off ‘the sort of thing that would have been said’ when he reports speeches for which he was not personally present. Had Jesus been charged with being “King of the Jews”, then the rest of these details would easily have followed.

18 et coeperunt salutare eum: “ Ave, rex Iudaeorum! ”,

19 καὶ ἔτυπτον αὐτοῦ τὴν κεφαλὴν καλάμῳ καὶ ἐνέπτυον αὐτῷ, καὶ τιθέντες τὰ γόνατα προσεκύνουν αὐτῷ.

And they struck his head with a staff and spat upon him, and getting on their knees (genuflecting) they paid him homage.

19 et percutiebant caput eius arundine et conspuebant eum et ponentes genua adorabant eum.

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

And they mocked him, removing the purple (robe) and dressing him with his own robe. And they led him out in order to crucify him.

20 Et postquam illuserunt ei, exuerunt illum purpuram et induerunt eum vestimentis suis. Et educunt illum, ut crucifigerent eum.

This section went much more quickly than 1-10. The narrative, in this case, was fairly straightforward. The big questions is the genesis of the ‘king of the Jews’ title. 

Honestly,  this title–or this charge–lends a lot of prima facie weight to contention that Jesus was a patriot, of some sort or another, an advocate for independence from Rome. There is one thing that troubles me: we are told that Jesus was crucified with two others, and that the term for them was the word that Aslan claims was reserved for insurrectionists. So let’s say that is correct. Is it that these two were arrested with Jesus? That all three of them were picked up in the same group? Now, I don’t imagine Romans doing sting operations; generally, their method was to smash their way into a crowd, round up all those who seemed to be up to no good, and hauling them away. Was Jesus part of a crowd that got too raucous? Did he try to preach the coming kingdom of God, and then his act got stolen when a couple of insurrectionists used the gathered crowd to shout anti-Roman slogans? Which then got the crowd riled to the point where the Romans came in, grabbed the ringleaders, and hauled them away.

Another possibility is that Jesus was arrested when he attempted to ‘clear the Temple’ of the moneychangers. He threw over a table, the authorities reacted by calling in the Romans, and Jesus got hauled away.  Now this doesn’t square with the narrative, in which Jesus goes back to the Temple the following day, but a rearrangement of the chronology is certainly well within the realm of possibility. 

The problem is that there is very little in what we have read so far to indicate that Jesus had any real sort of political agenda. Granted, this may reflect a ‘scrubbing’ of the story. The ideas of a kingdom of God and the Christ are not without political implications.  I do believe (at/for the moment, anyway) that Jesus was executed for political crimes. What I’m not sure about is the extent to which he was actually guilty. The fact that Mark goes out of his way to insist that this was not the case, that he was executed at the behest of the religious authorities, for religious reasons, that the trial before Pilate is structured as it is, and that the words put into Pilate’s mouth, all seem to indicate a degree of cover-up. But what degree? Was Jesus executed because ‘Christ’ had overtones that the Romans didn’t like? Or they didn’t like the sound of a ‘kingdom of God’, even though Jesus meant these terms in a non-political sense?  Or was he executed exactly because he did have a political agenda? Because he considered the Christ, and the idea of a Kingdom of God to be overtly political matters?

I’m honestly not sure. My training has been that he was non-political, but my training isn’t necessarily correct.


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. 2 Comments.

  1. I was a linguistic major and classics minor at Univ of PA (waaay back), and my boy just started first grade in the classical Christian homeschool model. Actually, I mention the Classical virtues and arts in my latest post. I would love your input.

  2. I took some linguistics classes and found them absolutely fascinating, In fact, I have found myself referring back to what I learned in them many, many times. I’ll definitely stop by your site. Sounds like you have a very interesting combination of background influences, and that makes for some interesting perspectives.

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