Mark Chapter 15:21-32

We proceed to the crucifixion.

21 Καὶ ἀγγαρεύουσιν παράγοντά τινα Σίμωνα Κυρηναῖον ἐρχόμενον ἀπ’ ἀγροῦ, τὸν πατέρα Ἀλεξάνδρου καὶ Ῥούφου, ἵνα ἄρῃ τὸν σταυρὸν αὐτοῦ.

And they pressed into service a certain passerby Simon of Cyrene coming from the country (he was the father of Alexander and Rufus) in order that he carry his (Jesus’) cross.

[ <<  ἀπ’ ἀγροῦ >> most literally means ‘from the field(s)’, but it also can be more generic: the place where the fields are; i.e. ‘the country’. Also, recall that the punctuation you see in the Greek is wholly of modern provenance, so it is a convention. As such, I found the parenthetical insert more appropriate than sentence divisions. ]

One reason I chose ‘from the country’ is that I am unsure how to take the ‘of Cyrene’, To the best of my knowledge, the reference is to the city/state in North Africa, sort of on the border between modern Libya and Egypt. Are we to take this that he was originally from Cyrene, but was now living in Judea? Otherwise, he wouldn’t have had fields in the vicinity, and he wouldn’t have been a ‘passerby’, but someone perhaps in Jerusalem for the Passover.

Second, I believe this very much supports what I’ve been saying about Roman lack of concern for things like civil rights. They basically grab someone walking by, minding their own business, and compel him to help in the nasty work of crucifixion. This illustrates my point that they would not have had much compunction about arresting Jesus on any pretext whatsoever.

Third, what are the chances that we know not only the guy’s name, but also his sons’ names? How did this particular bit of information end up in the source material? Did someone interview him afterwards, get his statement? One possible scenario is that he ended up as part of the Jesus Assembly that came to be led by James, brother of Jesus. Outside of that, the likelihood that we actually know the man’s name is pretty slim.

21 Et angariant praetereuntem quempiam Simonem Cyrenaeum venientem de villa, patrem Alexandri et Rufi, ut tolleret crucem eius.

22 καὶ φέρουσιν αὐτὸν ἐπὶ τὸν Γολγοθᾶν τόπον, ὅ ἐστιν μεθερμηνευόμενον Κρανίου Τόπος.

And they bore him up to the place Golgotha, which is translated: the place of the skull. 

Here is how it became known as ‘Calvary’. As a kid, always sort of assumed that it had this grim name–place of the skull–because it was an execution ground. However, note that Golgotha is translated into Latin as ‘calvaria’. The Latin word ‘calvus’ means ‘bald’, as in ‘hairless’. So Golgotha was so-named because it was bare ground in the general shape of a cranium. A good analogy, I think is the estate of the Bolkonskys in War and Peace;  sometimes the name is rendered as “Bare Hills”, and by others as “Bald Hills”.

22 Et perducunt illum in Golgotha locum, quod est interpretatum Calvariae locus.

23 καὶ ἐδίδουν αὐτῷ ἐσμυρνισμένον οἶνον, ὃς δὲ οὐκ ἔλαβεν.

And they gave him wine mingled with myrrh, which he did not take.

There was, apparenly, a practice of mixing wine and myrrh (as in, gold, frankincense, and … ). Now, per the gifts of the Magi, we are to assume this was an expensive commodity; why it was mixed with wine and given to a common criminal about to be executed seems a bit…extravagant. So bottom line is I’m not competent to comment on this. Apologies.

23 Et dabant ei myrrhatum vinum; ille autem non accepit.

24 καὶ σταυροῦσιν αὐτὸν καὶ διαμερίζονται τὰ ἱμάτια αὐτοῦ, βάλλοντες κλῆρον ἐπ’ αὐτὰ τίς τί ἄρῃ.

And they crucified him and divided his garment, throwing lots upon it for whom would carry it (as in, ‘carry it off as a possession’).

I always found this another odd comment. It’s just odd enough to be authentic. But then again, it was probably not an unusual practice. Assuming that Jesus was of some means, his clothes may have been of a superior grade to those worn by most of the common criminals, or brigands, or whatever that the soldiers crucified, so maybe there was particular interest in them.

24 Et crucifigunt eum et dividunt eius, mittentes sortem super eis, quis quid tolleret.

25 ἦν δὲ ὥρα τρίτη καὶ ἐσταύρωσαν αὐτόν.

It was the third hour and they crucified him.

Recall we had a discussion about the Roman system of time; the day started at 6:00 am. The ‘third hour’ therefore is about 9 in the morning. This is another indication that they wasted no time on this. The process began first thing in the morning. Now, crucifixion was a long, slow, painful process, so it was best to get it going early. Even so, it sometimes took a day or two before the victim died of asphyxiation as the rib cage moved up and choked off the windpipe.

25 Erat autem hora tertia, et crucifixerunt eum.

26 καὶ ἦν ἡ ἐπιγραφὴ τῆς αἰτίας αὐτοῦ ἐπιγεγραμμένη, Ὁ βασιλεὺς τῶν Ἰουδαίων.

And there was the epigraph (a direct transliteration, minus a final vowel) of the cause written above him, “The King of the Jews”.

The Greek does not hesitate to be redundant: “the epigraph written above (epigram-mene)”, Even the Latin shies away from this, calling the epigraph (lit = ‘the thing written above’) a ‘titulus’, a ‘title’.

Other gospels say that it was “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews”; and this is usually depicted as “INRI” in Christian artwork. That is, the art depicts the inscription in Latin, rather than Greek. But then, up until a certain point in art history, depictions of Jesus–or of Alexander the Great, for that matter–showed the ancients dressed the way that the artists painting the scene would have been dressed. Michaelangelo took the easy way out and sculpted his David in the nude.

Is this an ironic inscription? Here, I think that I agree with Aslan: the Romans generally were not ironic about the charges they made. Not overly concerned about accuracy, or careless would probably fit, as would ‘ready to crucify ten innocent subjects to get the one guilty party’, But ironic? Not so much, I think. What this then means is that Jesus was, most likely, arrested and crucified as a rabble-rouser, or an insurrectionist; however, what the actual charge was, and whether he was guilty–or exactly how guilty–are another matter altogether. We have no way of making anything like an accurate assessment of how guilty Jesus might have been. The gospels or Paul’s letters simply are not reliable source material for making this kind of judgement, and there is no extra-biblical evidence to speak of. The passage of Josephus is borderline unreliable; this passage, in my opinion, may indicate that Jesus was an historical person, but anything beyond that is highly speculative. There is, again in my opinion, every reason to believe that this passage has been heavily doctored by Christian copyists to make it conform to Christian doctrine.

So, what to make of this? It’s very hard to say. Read Aslan’s book and see if he’s convincing. No, I’m not a paid shill.

26 Et erat titulus causae eius inscriptus: “ Rex Iudaeorum ”.

27 Καὶ σὺν αὐτῷ σταυροῦσιν δύο λῃστάς, ἕνα ἐκ δεξιῶν καὶ ἕνα ἐξ εὐωνύμων αὐτοῦ.

And with him they crucified two brigands, one on the right, and one on the left of him.

Here’s that word: << λῃστάς >>. We spoke about it earlier; in Chapter 1, Aslan claims it was reserved for insurrectionists; apparently, this is how Josephus used it. I can say that the Latin translation, << latrones >> decidedly does not have this implication. Indeed, per Liddell and Scott, the Classical uses are for other things than insurrectionist. Now, one interesting thought is that these two were arrested with Jesus; perhaps they were guilty, and Jesus just got caught up in the crossfire, but this is pure speculation on my part. And if Barabbas was factual, it would be more likely that they were arrested with him. And we cannot take the conversation between the three at all seriously; one jeers at Jesus, the other proclaims Jesus’ innocence. This is the story of the followers of Jesus, and not likely to be a reflection of anything that happened.

And it is significant, IMO, that Barabbas was not called << λῃστὴρ >>.

27 Et cum eo crucifigunt duos latrones, unum a dextris et alium a sinistris eius.

28 Καὶ 29 οἱ παραπορευόμενοι ἐβλασφήμουν αὐτὸν κινοῦντες τὰς κεφαλὰς αὐτῶν καὶ λέγοντες, Οὐὰ ὁ καταλύωντὸν ναὸν καὶ οἰκοδομῶν ἐν τρισὶν ἡμέραις,

(Two verses combined)

And those walking about blasphemed him, moving (i.e., shaking) their heads and saying, “Bah, the one destroying the temple and building it in three days, (cont’d in next verse)

(28) 29 Et praetereuntes blasphemabant eum moventes capita sua et dicentes: “ Vah, qui destruit templum et in tribus diebus aedificat;

30 σῶσον σεαυτὸν καταβὰς ἀπὸ τοῦ σταυροῦ.

“Save yourself coming down from the cross”.

Note the use of ‘blaspheme’. So far, this word has only been used as a charge against Jesus; here, it’s being leveled in Jesus’ behalf. This, I think, pretty clearly represents a much later layer of comment, one added well after the identity of Jesus as the Divine Son had long-since been established. I do not believe it fits with the rest of the way Jesus is portrayed by Mark. Nor do I believe it is something that Mark found in the sources/tradition. 

30 salvum fac temet ipsum descendens de cruce! ”.

31 ὁμοίως καὶ οἱ ἀρχιερεῖς ἐμπαίζοντες πρὸς ἀλλήλους μετὰ τῶν γραμματέων ἔλεγον, Ἄλλους ἔσωσεν, ἑαυτὸν οὐ δύναται σῶσαι:

In the same way the high priests joking amongst themselves with the scribes said, “He saved others, himself he is unable to save.”

We talked about ‘saved’ back in Chapter 10, during the discussion about ‘saving one’s life’, etc. At the time, we discussed how, to latter-day Christians, it is impossible to read ‘saved’ and not think about the eternal life aspect. Even as a kid, that was how I heard the term ‘saved’ as used here (maybe I was just a dullard?) OTOH, here, I think, it is very, very clearly a matter of Jesus saving his physical, corporeal, earthly existence. As such, I do believe Mark may have found this in the sources that he used. There is a definite step involved, to go from ‘physical life’ to ‘eternal life’, and it has not been taken here. That, I believe, puts it squarely into the ‘before Mark’ source material.

The word is used in 10-12 instances (depending on how you define ‘instance’) in Mark. In close to half of them, it is essentially a synonym for ‘healed’. It is used this way of the bleeding woman and bar Timaios. In three more instances, it is used as in, ‘to save a life’ as we would use the term. This is obviously one of them. This leaves three others in which there is at least the implicit implication (redundant!) of something beyond the physical life. These include the question about ‘who can be saved’ in 10:26; the idea that those holding out to the end will be saved in 13:13; and one to come in 16:16, which, technically. probably does not belong to Mark.

31 Similiter et summi sacerdotes ludentes ad alterutrum cum scribis dicebant: “ Alios salvos fecit, seipsum non potest salvum facere.

32 ὁ Χριστὸς ὁ βασιλεὺς Ἰσραὴλ καταβάτω νῦν ἀπὸ τοῦ σταυροῦ, ἵνα ἴδωμεν καὶ πιστεύσωμεν. καὶ οἱ συνεσταυρωμένοι σὺν αὐτῷ ὠνείδιζον αὐτόν.

“Oh, you the Christ, the King of Israel, come down not from the cross, so that we will know and we will believe.” And those crucified with him reproached him.

32 Christus rex Israel descendat nunc de cruce, ut videamus et credamus ”. Etiam qui cum eo crucifixi erant, conviciabantur ei.

Oops. I sort of assumed (bad idea!) that we would have the conflict between the other two being crucified, one jeering and one asking to be remembered.  I guess not. Interesting how that is not embedded in the lower stratum of the story. They all jeer Jesus. This is of a piece with my suggestions that Mark, having built up Jesus’ popularity, had to tear it down in a big hurry at the end. It happens here, too.


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 8, 2013, in gospel commentary, gospels, mark's gospel and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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