Friday, 22 April 2011

The historical Jesus reconstructed - Part 5: The passion

Predictions of the Passion

‘This man will be given over to men, and they will kill him.’ (Mk. 8.31 etc.)

The original form of this saying may have been ‘This man must be given over to the chief priests and the lawyers, and…’. In the gospels, it is followed by a prediction of the resurrection which scholars have thought to be a later addition.

‘There was a man who owned a vineyard. He let it out to tenant farmers and went to another country. When the time came, he sent his servant to collect the produce of the vineyard from the tenants. They seized the servant and beat him, all but killing him. The servant went back and told his master what had happened. The master said, “Perhaps they did not recognise him”, and sent another servant. The tenants beat this one too. Then the owner sent his son, saying, “They will respect my son”. But the tenants said to each other, “This is the heir: let’s kill him, and his inheritance will be ours”. And they took him and killed him.’ (Mk. 12.1-8 etc.)

This is the nearest that Jesus gets to applying to himself the title of Son of God that would become so important in the early Christian community. As usual, he defines his own identity only indirectly and allusively.

‘This man goes on, but woe to that man who has betrayed him. It would be better for that man if he had not been born.’ (Mk. 14.21 etc.)

Yeshua said to his disciples, ‘Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptised with the baptism with which I am baptised?’. They replied, ‘Yes’. And Yeshua said to them, ‘You will drink the cup that I drink, and you will be baptised with the baptism with which I am baptised’. (Mk. 10.38 etc.)

At Lk. 12.50, we find Jesus quoted as saying ‘I have a baptism to be baptised with; and how I am constrained until it is accomplished!’. It is possible that Jesus in fact referred only to his own ‘baptism’ rather than promising it to his disciples as well.

‘Today and tomorrow I am casting out demons and healing the sick, and on the third day I will finish my course.’ (Lk. 13.32)

‘A prophet cannot die outside Jerusalem.’ (Lk. 13.33)

By Jesus’ day, the legend had grown up that all the prophets had been killed by the religious authorities in Jerusalem.

Jesus’ final days

Yeshua went on his way through the towns and villages with his disciples, teaching and journeying toward Jerusalem. When they drew near to Jerusalem, to Bethphage and Bethany, at the Mount of Olives, he sent off two of his disciples, and said to them, ‘Go into the next village, and immediately as you enter it you will find a colt which no one has ever mounted tied up: untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks you why you are doing this, say, “Our master has need of it and will send it back here soon”’. They went off and found a colt tied at a door out in the open street, and they untied it. The people standing there said to them, ‘What are you doing, untying the colt?’. They told them what Yeshua had said, and they let them go. They brought the colt to Yeshua, and threw their garments on it, and he sat upon it. Many people spread their garments on the road, and others spread leafy branches which they had cut from the fields, and those who went in front of Yeshua and those who followed him cried out, ‘Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the kingdom of our father David that is coming! Hosanna in the highest heaven!’.

So it was that Yeshua entered Jerusalem. He went into the temple; and when he had looked round at everything, since it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the Twelve. The next day, they returned from Bethany. Yeshua entered the temple and began to drive out those who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of the men who were selling pigeons, and he would not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple. And he said to them, ‘Is it not written, “My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations”? You have made it a den of robbers!’. The chief priests and the lawyers heard about this, and began to look for a way to destroy Yeshua.

When evening came, Yeshua and his disciples went out of the city, but they returned to Jerusalem in the morning. As Yeshua was walking in the temple, the chief priests and the lawyers and the elders came to him, and they said to him, ‘By what authority are you doing these things?’. Yeshua said to them, ‘I will ask you a question: answer me, and I will tell you by what authority I do these things. Was the baptism of Yohanan from heaven or from man? Answer me.’ And they argued with one another: ‘If we say, “From heaven”, he will say to us, “So why did you not believe him?”. But if we say, “From man”, the people will stone us, since they all believe that Yohanan was a prophet.’ So they answered Yeshua, ‘We do not know’. Yeshua replied, ‘Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things’.

It was now six days before the Passover, and the lawyers and chief priests were seeking some means to arrest Yeshua by stealth and kill him. Yehuda of Qeriyot, who was one of the Twelve, went to the chief priests to betray him to them. They were glad, and promised to pay him; and he looked for an opportunity to betray Yeshua.

The day before the feast of the Passover, Yeshua said, ‘Go into the city, to a certain man, and say to him, “The Teacher says, ‘I will dine at your house with my disciples’”’. The disciples did as Yeshua told them; and, when the hour came, he sat down to dine with them in a large upper room. As they were eating, Yeshua said, ‘One of you will betray me’. And they were very sorrowful, and began to say to him one after another, ‘Is it I, Lord?’ He answered, ‘Someone who has dipped his hand in the dish with me will betray me’. Later in the meal, Yeshua took some bread, blessed it, broke it, and gave it to the others. ‘Take this’, he said. ‘This is my body.’ And he took a cup; and, when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, and they all drank from it. He said to them, ‘This is my blood. Truly, I say to you, I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until the day when I drink it new in the Kingdom of Heaven.’

When they had finished their meal, they went out to a place called Gethsemane. Yeshua said to his disciples, ‘Sit here while I pray’. He began to suffer great distress and sorrow, and prayed to the Father to take from him the cup that he had given to him. While he was still praying, Yehuda arrived, and with him a crowd sent by the chief priests and the elders, armed with swords and clubs. The traitor had given them a sign, saying, ‘The one I shall kiss is the man’. When Yehuda arrived, he immediately went up to Yeshua and said, ‘Master!’, and kissed him. The others laid hands on him and seized him, but one of the disciples who was standing nearby drew his sword, struck a slave of the high priest called Malkhos and wounded him in the ear. Yeshua said to the crowd, ‘Have you come out to arrest me with swords and clubs, as if you were facing a robber? Day after day I was with you, teaching in the temple, and you did not arrest me then.’ Yeshua’s disciples all fled.

They led Yeshua to the house of Hananya, the father-in-law of Kayyapa, the high priest; some of the chief priests and the elders had assembled there. They produced testimony against Yeshua and said, ‘We heard him say, “I will destroy this temple which has been made by hands, and in three days I will build another, not made by hands.”’ They decreed that he deserved to be put to death. The guards spat on him, and covered his face and struck him, saying to him, ‘Prophesy!’.

As soon as it was morning, the chief priests consulted with the elders, the lawyers and the whole of the Sanhedrin. They bound Yeshua, led him away and delivered him to Pilatus. They made their accusations against him, and Pilatus asked him, ‘Are you the King of the Jews?’. Yeshua answered, ‘Those are your words’. Pilatus again asked him, ‘Have you no answer to make? See what they are accusing you of.’ But Yeshua, to Pilatus’ great surprise, made no further reply.

Pilatus had Yeshua scourged, and handed him over to be crucified. The soldiers led him away inside the palace, and called together the whole battalion. They clothed him in a purple cloak, plaited a crown of thorns and put it on his head, and placed a reed in his hand. They began to salute him, ‘Hail, King of the Jews!’, and struck his head with the reed, and spat upon him, and knelt down in homage to him. When they had mocked him, they stripped him of the purple cloak, and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him out to crucify him.

They brought him to the place called Golgotha and crucified him. It was around the sixth hour; and the inscription of the charge against him read, ‘The King of the Jews’. They crucified two criminals with him, one on his right and one on his left. Some of the women who had followed him and ministered to him when he was in Galil were looking on. At the ninth hour, Yeshua uttered a loud cry and breathed his last.

When evening came, Yosef of Rametha, a respected member of the Sanhedrin, took courage and went to Pilatus, and asked for the body of Yeshua. Pilatus was very surprised that he was already dead, and summoned a centurion to ask him if it was so. When he learned from the centurion that Yeshua was dead, he granted the body to Yosef. Yosef bought a linen shroud, took Yeshua down from the cross and wrapped him in it. He laid him in a tomb hewn out of rock and rolled a stone against its door. Miryam of Magdala and Miryam the mother of Yosef saw where he was laid.