Mark Chapter 15:33-47 (conclusion)

This will end Chapter 15. Technically, it is probably the end of the gospel as Mark wrote it. Early versions of Mark do not have a Chapter 16, which means that they do not have a resurrection story. Now, given that Paul was talking about the resurrected Christ, this makes for a very interesting dynamic. That discussion will have to wait until we get to Chapter 16.

33 Καὶ γενομένης ὥρας ἕκτης σκότος ἐγένετο ἐφ’ ὅλην τὴν γῆν ἕως ὥρας ἐνάτης.

And having become the sixth hour. darkness fell upon the entire land until the ninth hour.

Per what we were told before in verse 25, Jesus was crucified at nine am; it’s now noon, so Jesus has been on the cross for three hours when darkness spreads over all the land until three in the afternoon.

33 Et, facta hora sexta, tenebrae factae sunt per totam terram usque in horam nonam.

34 καὶ τῇ ἐνάτῃ ὥρᾳ ἐβόησεν ὁ Ἰησοῦς φωνῇ μεγάλῃ, Ελωι ελωι λεμα σαβαχθανι; ὅ ἐστιν μεθερμηνευόμενον Ὁ θεός μου ὁ θεός μου, εἰς τί ἐγκατέλιπές με;

And at the ninth hour Jesus shouted in a loud voice. “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabnachthani.”  Which is translated, “O God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

Once again Mark translated the Aramaic. Now, it’s occurred to me to wonder if these translations of Aramaic were original Mark, or if they were added by later redactors. A chunk of the argument that Mark wrote outside of Judea/Palestine is based on these translations, the assumption being that the audience did not know Aramaic. But what if Mark’s audience did know it, and that later editors put in the translations when a wider didn’t know. Because we have to ask why Mark included the Aramaic? The most obvious reason (to my mind, anyway) is that he was simply have been trying to quote Jesus as accurately as possible, so he was using the original. Of course, this leads to the question of whether Mark had any idea of Jesus’ actual words, either here, or when he healed Jairus’ daughter, or whenever else Mark has Jesus speaking in Aramaic. 

This of course is simply the question of the reliability of the sources available to Mark. 

One final thing. If Mark included the Aramaic, but not the translation, this seriously undercuts the idea that Mark wrote in Rome, or elsewhere, somewhere that Aramaic was not understood. Now, the theory that Mark wrote in Rome has come into question; some now see Syria as a likely origen.

34 Et hora nona exclamavit Iesus voce magna: “ Heloi, Heloi, lema sabacthani? ”, quod est interpretatum: “ Deus meus, Deus meus, ut quid dereliquisti me? ”.

35 καί τινες τῶν παρεστηκότων ἀκούσαντες ἔλεγον, Ἴδε Ἠλίαν φωνεῖ.

And some of those standing around, hearing (him) said, “Behold, he is calling Elijah.”

Now this is where the question of language becomes really important. Why didn’t the bystanders understand Jesus? If  Aramaic was the spoken language of the time (it was), then we would presume those hearing the words would speak the language, too. And no, this wasn’t the Romans or Greek speakers saying this; as pagans, they would have no clue about who Elijah was, so those uttering these words must have been Jewish. What makes this even more complicated is that this is not a random utterance that was perhaps misunderstood; Jesus is quoting from Psalm 22. So, most Jews could be expected to know this (? I’m really not sure about that, but Jews, as a whole, were well-versed in their scripture.) It is, of course, possible that those at the base of the cross were not particularly knowledgeable, or maybe they were from out-of-town, say from Cappadocia, so they didn’t understand Aramaic, and they heard “Eloi” as sounding more or less like “Elijah”.

My personal sense here is that none of this is authentic. Mark–or his source–thought the citation of the Psalm would be good drama, and so he quoted it–in the Aramaic text that was in common use at the time. Then, for additional drama, Mark put these words into the mouths of the bystanders to demonstrate even more how clueless they were. The whole idea of people not understanding Jesus is a theme for Mark; several times he is said to be exasperated by the lack of understanding of his followers, or those listening to him.

35 Et quidam de circumstantibus audientes dicebant: “ Ecce, Eliam vocat ”.

36 δραμὼν δέ τις [καὶ] γεμίσας σπόγγον ὄξους περιθεὶς καλάμῳἐπότιζεν αὐτόν, λέγων, Ἄφετε ἴδωμεν εἰ ἔρχεται Ἠλίας καθελεῖν αὐτόν.

36 Currens autem unus et implens spongiam aceto circumponensque calamo potum dabat ei dicens: “ Sinite, videamus, si veniat Elias ad deponendum eum ”.

37 ὁ δὲ Ἰησοῦς ἀφεὶς φωνὴν μεγάλην ἐξέπνευσεν.

And Jesus, sighing in a loud voice, breathed his last (lit = ‘despirited’. Latin translates this, quite literally as ‘expired’).

The last word is interesting. It means that his spirit went out of him. “Spirit” here, as in “breath”. That is, his breath went out of him. So, here we have something running contrary to the idea of a ‘holy spirit’ as an entity separate from either God the Father or Jesus. At least, it should caution us to read the word “spirit” without too many assumptions, or reading too much into it from our 2,000 years of tradition.

37 Iesus autem, emissa voce magna, exspiravit.

38 Καὶ τὸ καταπέτασμα τοῦ ναοῦ ἐσχίσθη εἰς δύο ἀπ’ ἄνωθεν ἕως κάτω.

And the curtain of the temple was ripped in two from the top to the bottom.

This is one of the supernatural events, intended, no doubt, to demonstrate the supernatural status of Jesus. But why this?  Why the temple veil? Is this to indicate that the secrets of Judaism had been revealed? And that they were shown to be empty? There is some deep symbolism here. What it is can be debated.

38 Et velum templi scissum est in duo a sursum usque deorsum.

39 Ἰδὼν δὲ ὁ κεντυρίων ὁ παρεστηκὼς ἐξ ἐναντίας αὐτοῦ ὅτι οὕτως ἐξέπνευσεν εἶπεν, Ἀληθῶς οὗτος ὁ ἄνθρωπος υἱὸςθεοῦ ἦν.

But seeing the centurion standing around opposite  him that expiring in this way he said, “Truly, this man was the son of God.”

And another piece of testimony to Jesus’ identity. Here is where I really feel a seam in the source  material. Throughout much of this gospel, I’ve noted a number of places where Mark is ambiguous–at best–about Jesus’ divinity. I’ve noted other places–the Transfiguration, and Peter’s proclamation that Jesus is the Christ–when it’s like another layer has been grafted on with the specific purpose of telling the audience that, yes, Jesus was divine. Another reason to suggest that this section was grafted onto a different tradition is the use of the term ‘son of God’. This is the term Matthew uses most often; as such, I believe it represents either a later, or just a different (or both) tradition from Mark’s primary source, which uses the more ambiguous term ‘son of man’. 

But ‘son of God’, IMO, is not necessarily the same as ‘God’, or even ‘god’, let alone ‘co-equal, co-eternal, of the same substance, etc’. Remember: Jesus told us to pray to “Our Father”. And Paul used the same expression: God the Father. This necessarily implies that we are all ‘sons and daughters of God’. While throwing around a word like ‘necessarily’ implies a level of philosophical rigour, that Jesus sat down and reasoned this all out ahead of time–which is doubtless not the case–it is another instance of a term that should give us pause before we interpret this as if the centurion said, “Truly, this was God the Son, second person of the Trinity’. The centurion said no such thing. This, plus the fact that this is Matthew’s preferred term should alert us that this part, at least, of the narrative came from a different source as much of the other gospel. It may even be the case that this little exchange was added by a later redactor of the gospel.

39 Videns autem centurio, qui ex adverso stabat, quia sic clamans exspirasset, ait: “ Vere homo hic Filius Dei erat ”.

40 ησαν δὲ καὶ γυναῖκες ἀπὸ μακρόθεν θεωροῦσαι, ἐν αἷς καὶ Μαρία ἡ Μαγδαληνὴ καὶ Μαρίαἡ Ἰακώβου τοῦ μικροῦ καὶ Ἰωσῆτος μήτηρ καὶ Σαλώμη,

There were some women looking on from a distance. Among them was Mary Magdelene and Mary the mother of James the lesser and Josetos and Salome.

Now this is really interesting. It seems we’ve run into another consensus opinion on who these people were. First, note who’s not present: Mary, the mother of Jesus. Or is she? Back in 6:3, we were told that Jesus had a brothers named James and Joses; here we’re told that the mother of James and Joses was present. Matthew, Luke, and John all ‘clarify’ the identity of these women by adding additional information, but why are we to suppose that they had better–as in, more accurate–information than Mark who was a decade or two closer to the event?

Personally, my sense is that the other three evangelists took some pains to straighten out the record, to add, to explain, to clarify, but who’s to say they weren’t making it up? From the historical point of view, I am extremely reluctant to take anything the others say as historically accurate. I would need a really good reason to do so. Rather than expanding on the record, and clarifying the facts, what the other three evangelists do is document how the beliefs of the early Jesus-followers evolved and developed over time.

Why is James the Lesser (younger) not James, brother of Jesus? Mark is completely silent on this. As of this writing, I suspect that James the Lesser and James the brother of Jesus are the same person. It only makes sense. Paul doesn’t tell us a lot, just that James, brother of the Lord was running the show in Jerusalem. It seems a bit odd that someone not associated with the Jesus group during the latter’s lifetime would swoop in and take charge of the group after Jesus died. James the brother is not mentioned in any of the gospels, and that seems borderline bizarre if he was the person who became the leader of the group after Jesus’ death.

Bear in mind that, per Josephus, James the brother was killed sometime in the early 60s, before the outbreak of the Jewish War. That would have been a good ten years before Mark wrote. And, if Mark wrote somewhere other than Jerusalem, as seems likely, then there were two reasons to downplay the role of brother James: he was dead and his assembly no longer existed.

So, personally, I believe that this Mary is, indeed, the mother not only of James and Joses and Salome, but of Jesus, too. By the time Mark wrote, this tradition still existed, but the role of James–the lesser–was being downplayed, so Mary’s relationship to Jesus is not even mentioned here. Later, Matthew would revive Mary’s role, while completely expunging the record of any trace of Jesus’ brothers being present at the crucifixion.

And, as relatives of the condemned man, it’s no wonder that they watched ‘from a distance’. This detail seems quite believable.

40 Erant autem et mulieres de longe aspicientes, inter quas et Maria Magdalene et Maria Iacobi minoris et Iosetis mater et Salome,

41αἳ ὅτε ἦν ἐν τῇ Γαλιλαίᾳ ἠκολούθουν αὐτῷ καὶ διηκόνουν αὐτῷ, καὶ ἄλλαι πολλαὶ αἱ συναναβᾶσαι αὐτῷ εἰς Ἱεροσόλυμα.

In Galilee, they followed him and ministered to him, and many other women went up to Jerusalem with him.

Mary of Magdala deserves some mention. There is absolutely no reason to believe she was the woman who anointed Jesus with the nard back in Chapter 11. In fact, this sentence pretty much directly refutes the possibility. That woman was unnamed, and the sense is that she was a stranger. OTOH, we are told here that Mary M was a long-time adherent of Jesus. And who would have been more natural to ‘minister’ to Jesus than his own mother? And the chances of Mary M having been a prostitute are about nil as well. If we can draw from the situation we encounter in Paul, women of some substance were in many ways the backbone of the early Jesus movement.

Likely widows of means, they provided food and shelter and a place for the assembly to meet. Despite being widows, they would not necessarily have been very old, since it was not unusual for an older, established man to marry a young girl, probably just after she hit puberty. As RL Fox points out, as time went on, it became common for the new Christian presbyters to enjoin these women not to remarry, but to remain celibate for the rest of their lives. Some of this may have been due to a sincere belief that celibacy was somehow a superior state, but some of it may have been with an eye to seeing that these widows, unmarried at death, would pass their property on to the fledgling church. Had they remarried, their means would have become the property of the new husband. In fact, this was a large part of the impetus to maintain priestly celibacy; not because Jesus wasn’t married, but to try to prevent the priests from passing their property to their heirs, rather than having it revert to the church.

So there are two points here: the first is that these two verses about the women have a ring of real plausibility about them. The second is that a consensus understanding of who these women were has been reached, and it has been maintained somewhat contrary to what the text is saying.

41 quae, cum esset in Galilaea, sequebantur eum et ministrabant ei, et aliae multae, quae simul cum eo ascenderant Hierosolymam.

42 Καὶ ἤδη ὀψίας γενομένης, ἐπεὶ ἦν παρασκευή, ὅ ἐστιν προσάββατον,

And it then it was becoming evening, which was the day of preparation, that is the day before the Sabbath, 

42 Et cum iam sero esset factum, quia erat Parasceve, quod est ante sabbatum,

43 ἐλθὼν Ἰωσὴφ [ὁ] ἀπὸ Ἁριμαθαίας εὐσχήμων βουλευτής, ὃς καὶ αὐτὸς ἦν προσδεχόμενος τὴν βασιλείαν τοῦ θεοῦ, τολμήσας εἰσῆλθεν πρὸς τὸν Πιλᾶτον καὶ ᾐτήσατοτὸ σῶμα τοῦ Ἰησοῦ.

Joseph of Arimathea, an esteemed (member) of the council, who himself also expected the kingdom of God, being daring, came in to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus.

43 venit Ioseph ab Arimathaea nobilis decurio, qui et ipse erat exspectans regnum Dei, et audacter introivit ad Pilatum et petiit corpus Iesu.

44 ὁ δὲ Πιλᾶτος ἐθαύμασεν εἰ ἤδη τέθνηκεν, καὶ προσκαλεσάμενος τὸν κεντυρίωνα ἐπηρώτησεν αὐτὸν εἰ πάλαι ἀπέθανεν:

And Pilate marveled if he had already died, and calling the centurion asked him of he had already died.

One wonders if this was the centurion who proclaimed Jesus to be the son of God? Not necessarily; if the cohort had been sent out, it’s possible there would have been two centurions present. The best way to think of a centurion, I suppose, is as a senior non-commissioned officer; a sergeant, and specifically a sergeant-major is probably the best equivalent. And while he originally commanded a hundred men (a ‘century’, hence the name), as time went on the unit he commanded had shrunk to 60-80 men. This slightly smaller unit was tactically more versatile. So if a cohort of 120 or so had been sent out, it’s likely that two centurions would have been in charge. But it’s moot; Pilate would have sent a messenger to check with the centurion in charge, who would then haver returned with the report. So some time would have elapsed.

44 Pilatus autem miratus est si iam obisset, et, accersito centurione, interrogavit eum si iam mortuus esset,

45 καὶ γνοὺς ἀπὸ τοῦ κεντυρίωνος ἐδωρήσατο τὸ πτῶμα τῷ Ἰωσήφ.

And having learned from the centurion he gave the corpse to Joseph.

I should be saying something about Joseph of Arimathea, but I don’t think there’s really anything to say. These few verses represent the sum-total of our knowledge of him.  Legends and stories grew up about him, but most of them are apocryphal. For example, in the Arthur legend as told by Malory, he was the one who brought the Holy Grail (Sangraal) to England, and he was a relative of Jesus. But there is no real basis for believing most of these stories. I suppose there’s no reason why he couldn’t have been a member of the Council, and no reason that he couldn’t have been the one who had the body taken down. 

Personally, I’m a bit skeptical about the whole Preparation Day bit. Standard Roman practice was to leave the bodies on the cross for days. In the Roman mind, the more gruesome the spectacle of the decomposing body, being picked at by scavengers, the better the lesson in civic obedience they were trying to teach. And this would explain why Pilate would have been surprised to hear that Jesus was already dead; crucifixion was a slow, agonizing process.

Here’s an idea. There is a discrepancy between John and the other evangelists as to whether Jesus was arrested on the night of Passover, or the day before. What if John was correct, but that Jesus hung on the cross for an entire 24-hour span, stretching to the day before the Passover? This is speculation on my part, but it would solve the problem of the discrepancy. Of course, the issue with this is, why would John be correct on the day of the arrest, writing a full generation after Luke? That, frankly, seems unlikely.

45 et, cum cognovisset a centurione, donavit corpus Ioseph.

46 καὶ ἀγοράσας σινδόνα καθελὼν αὐτὸν ἐνείλησεν τῇ σινδόνι καὶ ἔθηκεν αὐτὸν ἐν μνημείῳ ὃ ἦν λελατομημένον ἐκ πέτρας, καὶ προσεκύλισεν λίθον ἐπὶ τὴν θύραν τοῦ μνημείου.

And having purchased linen took him down, wrapped (him) in the linen) and placed him in a tomb which was hewn from the rock, and he rolled a stone upon the door of the tomb.

Interesting detail about the stone: it was, apparently, circular. Note that Mark does not call it a ‘large’ stone as Matthew does. This question is perhaps more appropriate for Matthew, but, then again, maybe not. 

46 Is autem mercatus sindonem et deponens eum involvit sindone et posuit eum in monumento, quod erat excisum de petra, et advolvit lapidem ad ostium monumenti.

47 ἡ δὲ Μαρία ἡ Μαγδαληνὴ καὶ Μαρία ἡ Ἰωσῆτος ἐθεώρουν ποῦ τέθειται.

Then Mary the Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses observed where he was placed. 

47 Maria autem Magdalene et Maria Iosetis aspiciebant, ubi positus esset.

That, technically, is the end of Mark’s gospel. Chapter 16, that I will begin shortly, does not seem to have been part of the original text. Perhaps as we read through it, we can get a better sense of whether this truly seems to belong to Mark or not.

I have to say, though, that this is rather an abrupt ending. Or, rather, leaving off verse 47 really makes for a more logical break-point, with Jesus in the tomb. Having the two Marys watching where Jesus was buried is a bit of a cliff-hanger, or it at least anticipates something more to come. Perhaps this was a later addition? Along with the rest of Chapter 16?

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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 14, 2013, in gospel commentary, gospels, mark's gospel and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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