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Jesus’ Death and Resurrection in Mark: Another Blast from the Past

I have been talking about how no one in Mark’s Gospel (as opposed to the other Gospels) knows who Jesus is — not his family, his townsfolk, the Jewish leaders, not even his disciples.  But the reader knows.  Yet  even the reader is not given the full scoop until the end.  Here is how I explain the matter, in a post from years ago.

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Jesus’ Death as the Son of God

It is clear from Mark’s Gospel that Jesus’ disciples never do come to understand who he is. As we have seen, he is betrayed to the Jewish authorities by one of them, Judas Iscariot. On the night of his arrest, he is denied three times by another, his closest disciple, Peter. All the others scatter, unwilling to stand up for him in the hour of his distress. Perhaps Mark wants his readers to understand that the disciples were shocked when their hopes concerning Jesus as messiah were thoroughly dashed: Jesus did not bring victory over the Romans or restore the kingdom to Israel. For Mark, of course, these hopes were misplaced. Jesus was the Son of God; but he was the Son of God who had to suffer. Until the very end, when Jesus was actually crucified, there was nobody who fully understood.

 

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Arguments for Markan Priority (that Mark was the first Gospel written)
Mark’s Suffering Son of God: A Blast From the Past

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Comments

  1. Avatar
    godspell  November 27, 2017

    Again, I think Mark is trusting his readers to know (as Paul Harvey might have put it) The Rest of the Story. The later ending that was tacked on is there in place of a second gospel he never wrote, perhaps never intended to, but we can hardly be sure of that.

    Nor is Mark being entirely innovative here, since Greek dramatists often wrote play cycles enacting stories well known to their audiences, and some plays would end abruptly, on a bleak note, without any resolution of some major plot threads–only to resume with the next play in the cycle. It’s that sense of foreknowledge that these playwrights shared with their audience that make Greek tragedy so powerful. We know what will happen to these people, but they don’t. They’re still in the dark. In a sense, this is the writer sharing with his readers that Godlike knowledge any great storyteller may possess when his or her muse is speaking. And Mark is writing in Greek.

    And just as Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides shaped stories composed of fact and fiction that were famous long before their birth to their own ends, Mark is shaping to his ends a story he is far closer to than any of those dramatists were to the Trojan War.

    They found Troy. It wasn’t all a story.

    • Avatar
      Jim Cherry  November 29, 2017

      Great observation. Thank you for making a very plausible explanation for the ending of Mark.

    • Avatar
      Andrew  November 29, 2017

      I’ve always thought the ending of Mark has some similarities to the ending of Medea,where the gods swoop down in a chariot and rescue Medea.

      • Avatar
        godspell  December 1, 2017

        Mark is part of the larger Greek world, wherever he came from, whatever religion he was raised in. He can’t help but be influenced by its mode of storytelling. I doubt he was much influenced by Herodotus and Thucydides (though he would certainly know of them), because he’s not interested in being seen as objective. It’s not that kind of history.

  2. Avatar
    fishician  November 27, 2017

    I think one reason for Mark’s silence of the women and sending the disciples to Galilee was to explain why the people of Jerusalem didn’t know about this amazing resurrection that supposedly happened right outside their city. But Luke brings the resurrection appearances into Jerusalem. Perhaps to (over)emphasize the importance of the early Jerusalem church? Or to create the illusion that the church got its start in Jerusalem? Do you have another reason why Luke contradicted Mark on this point?

    • Bart
      Bart  November 28, 2017

      Luke has a theological reason for focusing on Jerusalem. Note the birth narratives (magi come to Jerusalem; Jesus as twelve year old in temple), temptation (the order is switched so the last one is in Jerusalem), long travel narrative (before Passion: all about Jesus en route to Jerusalem), commission in Acts 1:8 (mission starts in Jerusalem). Luke’s point: the message of salvation comes to Jerusalem, and when then it proceeds from there. The Gospel comes to the heart of Judaism and then to the rest of the world.

      • Avatar
        jmmarine1  November 29, 2017

        Magi in Luke?

        • Bart
          Bart  November 29, 2017

          Good grief. What was I thinking? (Probably thinking about typing quickly….)

    • Avatar
      godspell  December 1, 2017

      If you were in a very small and somewhat controversial Jewish-derived cult that to some extent questioned the authority of both the Temple and the Romans, and your leader took you from Galilee into the center of the two authority systems you were challenging, and then he behaved in a provocative manner, and as a result was crucified as some kind of insurrectionist (even if no actual uprising was planned), what would you do?

      Me, I’d hightail it to Galilee, and hope the Romans forgot all about me.

      If I was a woman, and I lived around there, I might stick it out, because neither the Temple authorities nor the Romans had much respect for women (far less than Jesus did, certainly), so would not feel threatened by them.

      So that all tracks with what we know. I agree Mark is using it dramatically, but I think in this case he’s working with the materials at hand.

  3. Avatar
    ardeare  November 27, 2017

    Personally, I think the most plausible explanation is that the gospel ended with 16:8. However, I’ve always been troubled by this, because it too, is problematic. Why were the women afraid? Perhaps their fear was actually anxiety and misinterpreted by a witness? Why did they refuse to share their story? This one is particularly puzzling because if they refused to tell the story, how did anyone know what they witnessed inside the tomb? I have reconciled this by reasoning that the person inside the tomb was either the author of Mark or a source for Mark.

    Of course, there are other explanations such as the “tomb story” was a later invention. Then, there are those who would say that the women did tell their stories at a later date but Mark was unaware of this at the time of his biography of Jesus. Still, many others maintain the last page of the codex was damaged or lost, or in the case of a scroll, was simply destroyed due to exposure and careless handling.

    A quick shout-out to say “Thank You” for having a freedom of speech blog. I occasionally comment on another blog of a well known, prominent Christian Scholar who will absolutely tear you to shreds if you disagree with him, or in his words, offer “non-scholarly pie-in-the-sky theories. If you dare submit a rebuttal, he won’t publish it and readily acknowledges that these types of exchanges may affect his ability to get his books published! To each their own, but again, thanks!

    • Bart
      Bart  November 28, 2017

      Ah, do you care to name names? 🙂 I publish all comments unless they are insulting or political or … both.

      • Avatar
        Scorpiored48  November 28, 2017

        The reason I read the comments after your blog within the blog itself rather than outside, in the Facebook comments, is that I believe you regulate the content to be more informed and less a war between competing beliefs. Additionally the responses you give to comments and questions are invaluable knowledge.

      • Avatar
        llamensdor  December 25, 2017

        Well, the point is the Gospels, all of them, are political. The writers are not counselors around the campfire, telling scary tales; they politicians, trying to sell something. The reason the writer of “Mark” has the followers run away is to discredit the Jewish followers. Only the gentiles were brave enough to acknowledge Jesus and be martyred. Peter doesn’t deny his association with Jesus because he’s a coward; he does it because he doesn’t want to be sent away. He’s trying to be as close to Jesus as he can. The Centurion claiming Jesus was the Son of God is the single greatest non sequitur in the gospels. He makes this statement out of the blue (the black?), again because he’s a gentile. The most famous nonsense is the “Judas kiss.” As if the Romans and the Temple Guards couldn’t recognize Jesus without help—they’d been following his movements for days, maybe weeks, maybe months. The gospel writer is creating something we now call “historical fiction.” There are some elements of truth, but they have been enhanced, re-shaped, re-created, in order to propound the writer’s message. The Roman Catholic Church has always been suspicious of Paul—and rightly so. That’s why the Vatican Cathedral is Saint Peters. There is a Church of St. Paul in Rome. It’s known as “St. Paul outside the Walls,’ which seems to have a literal and perhaps a metaphorical/theological meaning.

  4. Avatar
    JoshuaJ  November 27, 2017

    You write: “Jesus is buried by a respected leader among the Jews, Joseph of Arimathea (indicating, perhaps, that not all Jews, or even all prominent Jews, were bound to reject him…”

    Why do you think that Mark’s version of the “Joseph of Arimathea” character is meant to be taken as sympathetic to or accepting of Jesus? Couldn’t Mark’s Joseph be understood simply as a pious member of the council who condemned Jesus to death for the crime of blasphemy (Mark 14:63-65) and who wanted to ensure the body of an executed criminal (Jesus) was buried in shame in accordance with Jewish law (Deuteronomy 21:22-23)? Couldn’t the significance of Mark’s Joseph be to introduce yet another point of irony into the narrative? e.g. instead of the disciples going “boldly” before Pilate to request the body for honorable burial, it is the enemies of Jesus who request the body and administer a dishonorable burial.

    • Bart
      Bart  November 28, 2017

      I think if a pious Jew wanted to follow the traditions of Judaism he would provide the body with an *honorable* burial.

      • Avatar
        JoshuaJ  November 28, 2017

        Bart, it seems to me that a truly pious member of the council would have followed customary burial practices for an executed criminal (Jesus in this case), which means Mark’s Joseph would have intended to give Jesus a dishonorable burial, not an honorable one. Raymond Brown writes: “From the prophets through to the Mishna there is an insistence that one sentenced according to Jewish law or by Jewish courts should not receive an honorable burial. An honorable burial would scarcely have been given by a Sanhedrist who voted for Jesus to be condemned to death on the grounds of blasphemy… nothing in the Marcan account suggests an honorable burial rendered to Jesus by Joseph.

        So again, I think Mark’s strategy, at least in part, is to introduce another point of irony; e.g. a contrast between the dishonorable burial that Jesus actually receives at the hands of a Sanhedrist (Jesus is placed in a random unmarked tomb, the body was not washed or anointed, none of Jesus’ followers or family participated, no one publicly mourned, etc.), and the proper, honorable burial one would expect the “King of the Jews” to have received (which the later evangelists attempt to portray).

      • Avatar
        dragonfly  November 29, 2017

        You weren’t the author though… 🙂

      • Avatar
        JoshuaJ  November 29, 2017

        I just want to clarify that I’m not arguing the historicity of the burial scene in Mark. I am not arguing for historicity of Jesus’ burial at all. What I’m talking about specifically is how that narrative could have been interpreted by Mark’s readers, and what I’m saying is that the burial of Jesus in Mark was likely interpreted as a dishonorable one.

        I’d also like to point out that a “decent” burial is not necessarily the same thing as an “honorable” burial. Even executed criminals received a “decent” burial, as their bodies were properly interred whenever possible as opposed to being left out in the open exposed and uncovered. But these “decent” burials were also considered “dishonorable” in that they took place in the criminals’ graveyard. An honorable burial would include an initial burial in a family tomb/grave, but this was strictly prohibited in the case of executed criminals. In Mark, Jesus is simply buried in a seemingly random, unnamed/unmarked tomb (likely interpreted as being located in the criminals’ graveyard), not in a family tomb (cf. Matthew).

        Moreover, washing and anointing/spicing a corpse almost certainly featured in honorable burials. However, Mark’s Joseph makes no such preparations for Jesus, though Mark certainly could have written it that way had he wanted to portray an honorable burial (cf. John). The Gospel of Peter makes explicit what Mark implies by stating it was the Jews who had prevented Mary from making these customary preparations and from publicly mourning (also prohibited in the case of executed criminals) on the day of Jesus’ death, i.e., the Sanhedrin made sure the burial was not an honorable one.

        Could the Marcan account be read not as a burial without honor, but as an honorable burial in desperate haste? Perhaps. However, as Raymond Brown explains: “We do not know the customs in Jesus’ time, but the later law would not require such an abridgment of honorable burial. As for sunset, the Mishna specifies that if one suffers a corpse to remain overnight because of the honor due to it (to bring for it a coffin or shrouds), that does not transgress the law. As for the Sabbath, the Mishna permits on that day much that was required for burial, e.g., anointing and washing the corpse. Nothing, then, in the later law would force us to interpret the Marcan account as a hasty honorable burial. It is hasty, but scarcely honorable.

        All of this seems to suggest that Mark’s version of the burial, though a “decent” one, would not have been considered an “honorable” one. This would seem to represent another point of irony employed by Mark. The reader, who knows the “truth” about Jesus, recognizes the irony in the “King of the Jews” receiving a dishonorable burial at the hands of his own people, an irony apparently lost on the later evangelists whose embellishments are clearly aimed at removing the shame from the burial narrative.

        I am probably waaaayyyyyy out of my depth, here. I’m not a bible scholar, obviously. I just don’t see why Mark’s Joseph needs to be read as a Jesus sympathizer, though I am always open to being convinced.

        Do you think any of this is at least plausible?

        • Bart
          Bart  December 1, 2017

          I don’t think I’ve ever heard of a burial that was “decent” but not “honorable.” I wonder what the evidence would be.

          • Avatar
            JoshuaJ  December 1, 2017

            I would think that a “decent” burial simply implies that the body was not left out exposed and uncovered for a prolonged period before being dumped in a common grave, but was promptly buried. If the corpse was interred in some way on the day of death, you had yourself a “decent” burial. Even if you weren’t buried in a family tomb/grave, even if your corpse was not cleansed and anointed, even if no one publicly mourned your death, at least your body wasn’t left out for scavenging animals to tear apart. In essence, I’m using “decent” interchangeably with the idea of a “prompt” interment, which could be either “honorable” or “dishonorable” depending on the location, preparations, etc. Perhaps my thinking is not right here. In truth, I think the distinction between “decent” and “honorable” (if there is one at all) is not really germane to my larger argument anyway, and I fear further analysis of the semantics on this particular point may ultimately get us sidetracked.

            What I’m really trying to emphasize (and have been all along) is the distinction between “honorable” and “dishonorable” burials, for which there is substantial evidence. Clearly Raymond Brown, for example, accepted that Jesus was buried on the day of his death, and yet he nevertheless describes the burial as “dishonorable”. So does Craig Evans. So do many, many other scholars. And I don’t mean that to be taken as some kind of backhanded “appeal to authority”, I’m just trying to demonstrate that I’m not the only person out there with this view–that there is a clear difference between an “honorable” burial and a “dishonorable” one. Just because a corpse was placed in a tomb on the day of death doesn’t necessarily mean that an “honorable” burial has taken place. That’s what I’m getting at. All of the common features one would expect in an “honorable” burial are missing from Mark’s narrative, which he could have easily included had he wanted to (as the later evangelists do). And I’m saying I believe Mark intended his burial account to be interpreted as a “dishonorable” burial administered by a pious, respected member of the council who, as a pious Jew, would have wanted to follow the strict “letter of the law” with respect to customary burial requirements for executed criminals, e.g. “dishonorable” burial, not “honorable” as you stated above.

            You, of course, don’t agree with that. Based on the commentary in your initial blog post above, you seem to view Mark’s Joseph as sympathetic to and even accepting of Jesus (as the Messiah?), and that’s fine. No biggie. You might be right. What do I know? But do you at least acknowledge there is a difference between an “honorable” burial and a “dishonorable” one as outlined in the literature, and that there is really nothing in Mark’s account that would make us think an honorable burial is implied? (I wouldn’t think that this is all that controversial. From the Hebrew bible through to the rabbinic literature, two prominent features of “dishonorable” burial are made explicit: burial away from the family tomb/grave, and burial without rites of mourning; cf. 1 Kings 13:21-22, Jeremiah 22:18-19, Antiquities of the Jews: book 5, ch.1:14, Mishnah Sanhedrin 6:6, etc. This appears to be consistent with Mark’s account.) And if you do agree that there is a clear distinction between “honorable” and “dishonorable” burial, do you think it’s at least plausible that Mark’s burial account could be read as “dishonorable” as countless other scholars conclude? If not, can you explain why it should only be interpreted as an honorable burial (which might also support your assessment of Mark’s Joseph as being a Jesus sympathizer)?

            Thanks for taking the time, Bart. Have a great weekend

          • Bart
            Bart  December 4, 2017

            Yes, burial on the day of death is precisely what the Romans did not allow with crucifixion victims. If Jews had executed Jesus instead of Romans, it would have been a different story. And no, I would say Mark does not record a dishonorable burial but a temporary one.

          • Avatar
            JoshuaJ  December 4, 2017

            I’m talking about the proper way to interpret Joseph’s motivation in Mark’s burial account. The Joseph character is obviously motivated, otherwise he wouldn’t have requested the body. So in what sense do you mean the burial was temporary? Do you mean Joseph intended to administer a temporary burial? Do you mean temporary in the sense that Mark’s Joseph ran out of time but expected Jesus’ followers to complete an honorable burial after the Sabbath? Temporary in the sense that Mark’s Joseph expected the body to be moved again to a different site soon after the Sabbath? Temporary in the sense that Mark’s Joseph was expecting the resurrection? Temporary in the sense that all initial burials would have technically been considered “temporary” until the bones were collected and moved to an ossuary? And I wonder what the evidence would be.

          • Bart
            Bart  December 5, 2017

            OK, got it. I think it would be a mistake to think that Mark or his audience knew about Jewish burial customs in Palestine. Mark 7:1-3 shows that the readers don’t really know anything about Judaism, and more revealing, shows that Mark himself has some rather basic things he doesn’t know about it. By “temporary” I simply mean that there was not time for a formal burial and so Joseph put him temporarily in a tomb, with the appropriate burial rites to be performed later.

    • Avatar
      llamensdor  December 25, 2017

      Jesus wasn’t guilty of blasphemy and the Jewish authorities didn’t condemn him to death–they didn’t have that authority under the Roman occupation. They did tell the Romans that Jesus was guilty of sedition and they knew what the consequences would be if the Romans agreed. I believe I know why, but that’s another matter

  5. Avatar
    gavriel  November 27, 2017

    Is it possible to conclude, from Matthew’s and Luke’s use of Mark, that they too were facing the same abrupt ending in their copies of Mark?

    • Bart
      Bart  November 28, 2017

      Yes, I think that’s probably right, although according to strict logic the vast differences that begin in Matthew and Luke after the burial (but not before it) could be due to *one* of them following the (hypothetical) longer ending of Mark and the other not having it.

  6. Avatar
    Pattylt  November 27, 2017

    I hope my question isn’t taken as derogatory to Catholicism as I was raised Jewish and am often perplexed with the various denominations and their differences. My question is: If Mark is trying to show that God is now accessible to everyone and not just the high priest, why did orthodox Christianity go with Priests that still seem to control access to God. Only Priests can baptize, hear confession and decide doctrine. What really changed? Thanks for any insight you can give!

    • Bart
      Bart  November 28, 2017

      On one level, what changed was that hte charismatic communities of earliest Christianity, where everyone had an endowment of the Spirit and used the resultant gifts for the benefit of the community (see 1 Cor. 12-14) led to chaos and leaders emerged to take charge in order to solve problems the community was facing — and it went from there.

    • Avatar
      llamensdor  December 25, 2017

      According to the Jews, God was (and is) accessible to everyone. If you read Jewish scripture you’ll see that all kinds of people had access to God, and not many of them were priests. Limiting access to the Holy of Holies to the High Priest only gave him the ability to atone on behalf of the nation on one day a year.

  7. Avatar
    Tony  November 27, 2017

    After reading your post I read my copy of “Jesus, Interrupted”, (you’re welcome), to see what you said on the subject of Jesus quoting Psalm 22:1 on the cross in 2009. On pg 66 you wrote: “He genuinely wants to know why God has left him like this”. My interpretation is that in “Interrupted” you believed these to be the actual last words of the “historical” Jesus. In “Interrupted” you go on to state: “The point is that Jesus has been rejected by everyone….”. Followed by a list of personal woes that befell the historical Jesus.

    Compare that to today’s post: “Is this a genuine question of the dying Jesus? Does he in fact feel forsaken in the end even by God? Does he not fully understand the reason for his death? These are questions on which readers of the account may disagree.”

    No kidding. A completely different, and much more sceptical/critical approach to the text! Did you soft paddle you scepticism in Interrupted as to not offend your reading audience, or did you genuinely change your mind in the intervening years?

    • Bart
      Bart  November 28, 2017

      No, you’re completely misreading me. On p. 66 I was referring to Jesus within the narrative world of Mark, not to the historical Jesus. I don’t think we have any idea what Jesus’ actual final words were.

      • Avatar
        Tony  November 28, 2017

        Your writings in “Interrupted” are not nearly as strongly stated as your response to me. I actually left out the sentence before page 66 and I’ll re-quote it for context.

        Pg 65/66: “I take his question to God to be a genuine one. He genuinely wants to know why God has left him like this”.

        For most readers that would come across as your opinion – and not a narrative observation. Also, on pg 68 you quote Jesus’ last words in Luke, but you do not link those to Psalm 31:5. Generally, I see very little commentary by you on the strong connection between Jesus’ words and situations and the direct links to LXX content.

        • Bart
          Bart  November 29, 2017

          When literary scholars discuss the texts they are interested in, they almost always take the position of the narrative world of the text. That’s just how it works — not just in biblical studies but in literary criticism generally.

  8. talmoore
    talmoore  November 27, 2017

    Dr. Ehrman, I’ve noticed that mythicists like to point out that Paul almost never gives Jesus’ biography — that is, apart from the crucifixion itself. So I have to assume that the readers of Paul’s letters already knew these details of Jesus’ life, and if they didn’t, they would inquire as to such details. After enough time had passed, I can imagine that some Christians would get frustrated that they had Paul’s written words to firmly establish the post-crucifixion tenets of the faith, but they lacked an established written record of the pre-crucifixion period. Hence, someone created what we today call the Gospel of Mark. I mean, it seems rather suspicious that the original version of Mark (sans the post-resurrection apparitions) appears to fill in almost all the necessary details that Paul seems to leave out. Read Paul’s letters while trying to pretend that the Gospels don’t exist, and you’ll find yourself asking the very questions that the Gospels — particularly that of Mark — appear to be answering. For instance, someone reading Paul for the first time might rightly ask, “What is the Christ? And what made Jesus the Christ?” Well, Mark answers that question immediately. As Jesus is baptized God himself calls down to him, saying, “You are my son.” Bingo! There you go. Jesus is God’s son. Next you might ask yourself why it was necessary for the Christ to be crucified. Well, the entire narrative of Mark is essentially a build up (and explanation for) his inexorable betrayal and death. It’s like Mark is the footnotes to Paul. Every question you might have reading Paul, Mark seems to be answering it.

    Now, I don’t think that Mark was written as a direct series of footnotes specifically to Paul. But I do think that it’s not a coincidence that the Gospels and Paul are each filling in different areas of the picture. Mark conspicuously recounts (almost) everything Paul does not.

  9. Avatar
    Jim Cherry  November 28, 2017

    Hi Bart,
    In reference to the hypothesis that the last page of Mark was “lost,” Is there any consensus among Biblical scholars of when codices with pages replaced scrolls? I assume a gradual non-uniform transition?

    • Bart
      Bart  November 28, 2017

      No consensus, but it was early on. Even if Mark was written on a roll, though, the same argument could be made, since the end of the roll would be the one most subject to wear and tear as the outside bit. Still, seems implausible to me.

  10. Avatar
    nbraith1975  November 28, 2017

    The resurrection story, if true, leads to a very perplexing question. If Jesus was the risen Messiah, why would he only stick around for forty days after his resurrection? After all, the gospels declare that the risen Jesus showed himself to his closest followers and Paul indicates that he showed himself to five-hundred others.

    If Jesus’ death was the final sacrifice and his resurrection was the proof that he was the true Messiah, it would seem to be of utmost importance that Jesus go back to the Temple and show himself to those leaders who not only refused to believe but essentially had him killed.

    In light of Mark’s gospel story that Jesus’ closest followers never seemed to understand his message or who he truly was; this ending would seem more logical for several reasons.

    First, the Jews were God’s chosen people and over the course of Jewish history, God had always allowed them the benefit of the doubt by providing a way for them to return to his sanctuary as his chosen people. So why on earth did God not give them the benefit of the doubt when it mattered most? If Jesus had returned to teaching in the Temple after his resurrection and showed himself to every Jewish leader who had rejected him, wouldn’t that have been more effective in proving his Messiahship – not only to the Jews, but to all people?

    And second, wouldn’t Jesus’ return to the Temple after his resurrection have provided a more effective historical reference to who he truly was? It can be logically assumed that had a resurrected Jesus returned to the Temple and remained there to teach, that his message would have probably been more clear and effective – not only to the Jews, but to all people to this day.

    And what’s the problem if Jesus had stayed in Jerusalem for several years. After all, he was now an immortal who possessed all the authority and power of Yahweh.

    Because it didn’t happen this way lends to the evidence that the Bible is nothing more that a story concocted and written by men.

    • Bart
      Bart  November 29, 2017

      It’s only in Acts that he stays around for 40 days. And there, oddly enough, it is to “prove with many proofs” to the apostles that he had been raised from the dead (Acts 1:3). Very strange. How many proofs were needed??

    • Avatar
      llamensdor  December 26, 2017

      You’re making precisely the same argument that I’ve been making for over 30 years. There are tens of thousands–possibly hundreds of thousands–of people from all over the Empire in Jerusalem for the Passover. Most are Jews from the diaspora, but there are also many non-Jews, merchants and tourists. Pontius Pilate has brought extra troops to the city, fearing (or perhaps hoping for) an uprising. The resurrected Jesus strolls into Court of the Nations. We could have been saved a couple of thousand years of misery if Jesus had revealed himself as the Son of God at that moment. But no, he is seen by a couple of people here and there, and then some 500. Big deal; this is the greatest moment in human history and God (and his only Son) fritter it away. The truth is that Jesus never claimed to be God or his only Son. This was the invention of others after his death. Jesus would have been embarrassed and/or infuriated by this nonsense.
      However, there is also the subsequent history of Christianity (or Judeo-Christianity, because most of the best ideas came from the Jews) in Western Civilization. Along with wars and genocides, we also have culture, morality science, democracy and many other positive developments attributable to this religious heritage. Would it all have happened without the Jesus myth?

  11. Avatar
    ddorner  November 28, 2017

    It begs the question, if the women said nothing to anyone and the disciples never do get it, then how’d Mark hear about it? Who in Mark’s view would have started the oral tradition he’s writing about?

    • Bart
      Bart  November 29, 2017

      Yup, that’s one of the delicious ironies of the story! How could you have the story if what the story says is true?!

      • Avatar
        SidDhartha1953  November 29, 2017

        None of Jesus’ followers in Mark understood him before he was crucified. Maybe he is suggesting that many still don’t truly understand Jesus even when they are told that he was raised from the dead.

  12. Avatar
    Leovigild  November 28, 2017

    “Mark indicates that when Jesus died, the curtain separating this holiest of places from the outside world was torn in half. This appears to mean that God is no longer removed from his people; his holiness is now available to all.”

    This may seem a stupid question, but is it clear (to you) _how_ the curtain was torn in half? I.e., was it a vertical tear or a horizontal tear? I always understood it to be a vertical tear, but then a curtain with a vertical tear still functions as a curtain, so perhaps I am imagining it wrong?

    • Bart
      Bart  November 29, 2017

      Not a dumb question at all. It was “from top to bottom,” i.e. vertically. I think the assumption then is that it is no longer a solid obstacle into the holy of holies.

  13. Avatar
    scroffler  November 28, 2017

    Dr. Ehrman,

    I’m wondering what you might make of the (hypothetical) notion that Mark’s ending involves something like a “retcon”. This is a term used often in the geek community to which I belong, in the context of long-running story formats (say a serial television show or a comic book) that inevitably develop inconsistencies in the narrative as time goes on. A retcon is a form of revisionism: negating an inconsistency in the present by redefining what happened in the past (a series of flashbacks showing that the butler had the knife ALL ALONG!). A cheeky example, I admit. But the way Mark ends does make me wonder if the oral or written sources from which its author was working may have included a retcon aimed at the matter of the resurrection. If (per the story) only a small group of women had seen evidence for the resurrection, and because of their intense fear they “said nothing to anyone”, that could provide an explanatory (and defensive) ward for the story, if the historical reality was that nobody had any recollection of Jesus being declared raised from the dead in the *immediate* aftermath of his execution. I’m wondering what you would make of that as a historical possibility.

    • Bart
      Bart  November 29, 2017

      Interesting idea. I would be *like* what scholars have argued about the messianic secret, that it was a literary device to explain why no one considered Jesus the messiah during his public ministry.

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    AggieGnostic  November 29, 2017

    Here’s an interesting thought I always get when reading Mark’s account of the crucifixion and his obvious suffering – If a modern Christian would suddenly be transported to the foot of the cross with an ability to stop the crucifixion, and knowing full well the theological ramifications, how many would do so? And what does that say about the person who would leave him to die?

    I would’ve gotten him down.

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    Andrew  November 29, 2017

    I was very interested in your observation that the start of Mark shows Jesus’ recognition in heaven and the finish is his recognition on Earth, by the centurion. It occurs to me that one could also extend this by saying that the centurion represents Mark having Jesus recognised by the Roman Empire, which, in the context of a post-Jewish War world is quite astounding.

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    Ryan  November 30, 2017

    Somewhat related to this, I was hoping you, Dr. Ehrman, could answer a question for me, one that I have never been able to make sense of. And that is, how is it that Mary could not recognize the ressurected Jesus? New haircut? Some plastic surgery? J/K, but seriously, how could people not recognize him?

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      Ryan  December 1, 2017

      Not allowing it through? OK, cheers.

      • Bart
        Bart  December 1, 2017

        Sorry — I’m not sure what you’re saying.

        • Avatar
          Ryan  December 2, 2017

          John 20:14

          “When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. “

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            Ryan  December 2, 2017

            Sorry, I did not see your reply below so that is why I specified what I was referring to.

          • Bart
            Bart  December 4, 2017

            Ha! Now I’m not sure what you’re using this verse to refer to! (I don’t have your original question available to me!)

      • Avatar
        Ryan  December 2, 2017

        Ugh. Please disregard that post of mine.

    • Bart
      Bart  December 1, 2017

      It is a real puzzle. Doesn’t make sense to me either. I guess the idea is that he had become glorified and so looked different. But the oddest verse of the NT is Acts 1:3 — that Jesus spent 40 days proving to his disciples “with many proofs” that he had been raised. How many proofs were needed???

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        Ryan  December 2, 2017

        Thanks for the reply. I guess it is just another one of those items that one must wrestle with to make sense of (or not!).

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    ErikdenTuinder  April 11, 2018

    I’ve been looking all over this blog for an answer to this question, without any luck. It’s probably been asked a gazillion times before, but I guess my searching skills are inadequate :/. In Mark 14:64 Jesus gets accused of blasphemy. Why is that exactly? In the preceding passages I don’t find anything that would be considered blasphemous, or am I missing something here?

    As always, thank you!

    • Bart
      Bart  April 11, 2018

      It’s debated. Usually it is interpreted as his claim that the son of man will be seen coming on the clouds of heaven, with the assumption (shared by Mark and his readers, though certainly not historically the view of the Sanhedrin!) that Jesus was the son of man. I.e., the blasphemy would be the claim (assumption?) that Jesus is a divine being.

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    crt112@gmail.com  October 8, 2019

    I heard a theory that the passion narrative in Mark depicts Jesus as feeling helpless and abandoned by God partly in response to the situation of the Jewish/Christian community at the time. They had just seen the Temple destroyed, without God stepping in to save his people, plus they were being persecuted, so Mark deliberately shows how Jesus was persecuted and felt abandoned. Mark wanted his audience to understand that feeling that way was consistent with what Jesus felt – and they needed to stay faithful to the end.

    Is that a view commonly held by scholars ?

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