Did the curtain in the temple really rip in half when Jesus died?  That’s what the Gospels say.  But can it be true?

[[RECALL, in case you haven’t been reading each of the posts in this thread: I’ve been trying to show how experts in the phenomenon of “memory” can help us reflect on the Gospel traditions about Jesus.  Memory is a much wider and more expansive phenomenon than most people imagine.  Memories involve what we’ve done, what we’ve experienced, what we’ve learned, what we’ve heard, and what we simply recall about the past whether we ourselves experienced it and whether our recollections are just personal or collectively shared by a broader swath of our community (e.g., our “memories” of the Clinton presidency or of the Civil War)  .

When seen in this broader sense, the Gospels contain some “historically true” memories of Jesus but also some distorted or fake memories.  In the current thread of posts I’ve been discussing key passages of the Passion narratives of the Gospels.  All these are taken from my book that discusses such things in large, Jesus Before the Gospels (HarperOne, 2016).]]


The Ripping of the Curtain in the Temple

I will end this chapter by giving just one final example of what appears to be a distorted memory from the Passion narratives.  Again, I have not intended to give an exhaustive account but simply to point out some of the striking instances.

In the Synoptic Gospels, though not in John, when Jesus dies, the curtain in the temple is ripped in half, from top to bottom.  There are some differences between the three recollections of this event.  One of them appears to be irreconcilable.  In our earliest account, Mark, the curtain rips the moment after Jesus dies (Mark 15:38); in Luke’s version it rips while he is still living (Luke 23:45).   They both obviously can’t be right.

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