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Jesus’ Death and Resurrection in Mark

Here is my final post on Mark, following a literary-historical method. After this post I’ll have a reflection or two on the method, and then talk in much briefer fashion about other methods one might use to study the Gospels.


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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The Literary-Historical Method and History
Mark’s Suffering Son of God



  1. Avatar
    SJB  February 24, 2014

    Prof Ehrman

    It occurs to me that if some film maker made a film of the Gospel of Mark and filmed it just as it’s written it might be the most controversial Jesus movie ever made simply because for many Christians it would be unrecognizable. Mark does seem to be frequently treated as a “lesser” Matthew/Luke and triumphalism trumps fear and confusion every time.

    Speaking of confusion, are we intended by the writer to interpret Mark 4:11&12 to mean that Jesus intended to deliberately obscure his message in some sense?


    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  February 25, 2014

      Yes, I think so! It’s all part of the messianic secret in Mark. (Virtually) No one gets it.

  2. Avatar
    ktn3654  February 24, 2014

    What do you think of the theory that early copyists deliberately omitted the original ending of Mark, leaving that abrupt ending of “for they were afraid”? Maybe the original ending made clear that Jesus’ appearances after the Resurrection were in the nature of spiritual visions, and the copyists didn’t want to transmit anything contradictory to the stories that were already spreading about him having been resurrected in full material form.

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  February 25, 2014

      I don’t think there’s anyway copyists intentionally deleted it. The early Christians were invested in Jesus’ appearances to the disciples after the resurrection — not in him *not* appearing to them!

  3. Avatar
    gavriel  February 24, 2014

    Has the story of Peter’s denial in the High Priest’s court any historical value? If so, what kind of knowledge did Peter (and the apostles) possess that prevented him from giving more decent support, given that the arrest came as a complete surprise?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  February 25, 2014

      I doubt if the three denials is historical, but that some of the disciples denied him under pressure — that makes historical sense.

      • Avatar
        gavriel  February 25, 2014

        I see. But the question is then about the reason they had to deny him. Why did they think they would put themselves in peril by not “denying”?

        • Bart Ehrman
          Bart Ehrman  February 25, 2014

          Probably because if they were known to be his associates, and he was found guilty of insurrection, they too would be suspect.

  4. Avatar
    Kabir Mahe  February 24, 2014

    If Mark ends his gospel at 16:8, what then is the motivation for the scribes to really add an ending which does not happen. Can we then trust the rest of the gospel of Mark since it contains false additions to its end and how much is addition withing the gospel?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  February 25, 2014

      They wanted to show that Jesus appeared to the disciples afterward. The fact that scribes added an ending doesn’t make the original author’s account untrustworthy though.

  5. Avatar
    GokuEn  February 24, 2014

    Could the women’s silence mean that, according to Mark, Jesus’ apparition in Galilee was a surprise to his disciples? Could this be an indication that the historical post-Resurrection experiences weren’t “on the third day” but at some unspecified time later in Galilee and came as a total shock to the followers of Jesus?

    If this were the case would it mean the empty tomb story is trying to get across the point that Jesus’s resurrection was indeed bodily and not a spirit?

  6. Avatar
    FrankofBoulder  February 24, 2014

    Prof. Ehrman, I hope you don’t believe that any of these things actually happened. No, Jesus in Gethsemane didn’t pray “three times not to have to undergo his fate.” According to Mark’s gospel, Jesus prayed alone while his disciples were sleeping. There were no witnesses to Jesus praying. So, how could anyone know how he prayed when he was by himself and his disciples were asleep? Obviously, this is a made up story. It didn’t happen.

    No, Jesus wasn’t “in doubt” before his arrest. Jesus didn’t have ESP. He didn’t know he was going to be arrested. No one would voluntarily allow himself to be crucified. Jesus didn’t anticipate or accept his crucifixion. This is Christian mythology.

    None of Mark’s details about Jesus’ crucifixion are credible:
    1.) Mark had no way of knowing whether Jesus was mocked and whipped. It wasn’t a public event. None of Jesus’ followers were present when he was allegedly flogged, so where did this information come from? It’s just another made up story.
    2.) Jesus’ followers didn’t witness his alleged trial and meeting with Pontius Pilate. Mark couldn’t have known whether Jesus was tried or whether he talked with Pilate, much less what was said. These are made up stories.
    3.) No one would know what, if anything, Jesus said on the cross. His followers weren’t there. His disciples had deserted him. Only the women “watched from a distance.” So, they weren’t within earshot to hear his last words. Besides, a crucified man would be in horrible agony and struggling for breath. I doubt that he would be thinking about making the kinds of thoughtful statements recounted in the gospels.
    4.) The Romans didn’t remove bodies from crosses after the crucified persons died. The dead bodies were left on display to rot. So, it’s doubtful that Jesus’ body would have been taken down, especially by a Jew (such as Joseph of Arimathea) since he would have become ritually unclean by handling a dead body before Passover.
    5.) It’s ridiculous to suppose that a Roman soldier (who didn’t believe in Jesus) suddenly proclaimed ‘“Surely this man was God’s Son” when Jesus died.
    6.) No, the curtain in the Temple wasn’t torn. Mark couldn’t have known about that even if it did happen. Another fable.
    7.) Who was the mysterious man in a white robe at the tomb? Where did he come from? Another questionable episode.

    And so and so on, just a lot improbable story-telling. Jesus didn’t make a triumphal entry into Jerusalem. He was from Galilee. He rarely if ever entered Judea, so he would have been unknown in Jerusalem. Even if some people in Jerusalem had heard of him, they wouldn’t have recognized him — so they wouldn’t have hailed him on sight as he entered the city. Another phony story.

    When the Gospel of Mark is deconstructed — when all the far-fetched miracles and other improbable events are analyzed and discounted — there is nothing left of any historical value in Mark. I challenge anyone to find anything credible in Mark’s gospel. It seems to be almost entirely fictitious, the work of a fabulist.

    • Avatar
      willow  February 25, 2014

      Frank, how anyone knew what it was Jesus prayed, since all were supposedly sleeping, has always bugged me. Not even apologists have a sound explanation for that one. It’s just one of things Christian’s are expected to accept. Aside from that, and forgive me for not quoting Scripture here – as time is not my friend, today:

      1. The flogging. Certainly Jesus was flogged, following his arrest. The Roman authorities were near famous for the cruelty involved in the flogging of their prisoners. Look up “Roman flagrum”. It was customary. Break the law, get flogged. I’ve no doubt but that this happened.

      2. There might be a source for this, lost to us now. Perhaps there was a witness, such as one of the Sanhedrin?

      3. “The disciple Jesus loved” was supposedly there, or nearby. Or so it is written.

      4. Might you not consider the devotion of JoA to Jesus, that might have been such that he willingly forfeited the law and ritual purity out of his love for Jesus? Nothing’s been said of JoA being without sin. I believe that in this instance, he made an exception and wantonly defiled himself. Is it not possible?

      5. It seems to me that had he made such a pronouncement, he too would have run the risk of being flogged; but then, who heard it? Might Paul have been anywhere about? Where was Paul while all of this was happening?

      6. Indeed. There’s something about an earthquake too, isn’t there? No matter. Had the curtain torn I can well imagine that the Temple itself would have become the first Church of Christ.

      7. Who was the mysterious man in the white robe at the tomb? ???

      When the Book of Mark is deconstructed …. Have you ever read Jefferson’s Bible?

    • Avatar
      Chris Roberts  February 26, 2014

      If the women knew there was a large stone in front of the tomb that they couldn’t move by themselves, why would they bother to get ointment and travel there to anoint Jesus’ body?

  7. Avatar
    willow  February 24, 2014

    The Holy Bible (King James Version)
    Authorized Version
    Reproduction of 1917 Scofield Reference Bible
    Edited by Rev. C.I. Scofield, D.D.
    Stonehaven Press – no publication date given, contains a footnote at the end of the book of Mark, which reads:

    1. The passage from verse 9 to the end IS NOT FOUND (emphasis, mine) in the two most ancient manuscripts, the Sinaitic and Vatican, and others have it with partial omissions and variations. Bit it is quoted by Ireneus and Hippolytus in the 2nd or 3rd century.

    The late 2nd or 3rd century? Partial omissions and variations? (the inspired and inerrant word of God?) “IS NOT FOUND”? Re”mark”able.

  8. Avatar
    RonaldTaska  February 24, 2014

    Great series of posts. The part about separate pages vs. a scroll is especially interesting as I have heard the argument that the original ending was lost before.

  9. Robertus
    Robertus  February 24, 2014

    There’s little or no indication in Mark that he ascribed to this later theological interpretation of the tearing of the temple curtain. I think it should be understood more simply as a portent of the destruction of the temple, which Jesus prophesied in a climatic final discourse just prior to his crucifixion and which actually just took place at the time Mark’s gospel was written.

  10. Avatar
    fishician  February 24, 2014

    I have wondered if the sudden ending of Mark was also intended to explain why there was no uproar in Jerusalem when Jesus rose from the dead, and why the story of his resurrection took a while to get out – the women didn’t tell anybody! And as in Matthew Jesus was to meet up with the disciples in Galilee, not Jerusalem. Of course, Acts portrays the message getting out quickly and mass conversions in Jerusalem, but is there any evidence of this outside the book of Acts? (Sounds to me like the Luke/Acts author was trying to reconcile Jewish and Gentile Christians, and that’s why he keeps the disciples in Jerusalem so the church gets its start there.)

  11. Avatar
    mary  February 24, 2014

    So I am sure that I understand, are you saying that the oldest and most probably, the truest gospel of Mark that is available at this time is the one that ends at 16:8?

  12. Avatar
    Kempster  February 24, 2014

    Is there any reason to believe there’s a connection between the young man in the tomb and the young man in 14:51-52 whose white robe is pulled off as he runs away unclothed after the arrest of Jesus? Do you have any ideas on why Mark included that very strange story about the fleeing young man?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  February 25, 2014

      Some have thought so. But if so, he found some clothes somewhere. I’ve thought about that streaker for years, and still don’t know what I think.

      • Avatar
        Rosekeister  February 25, 2014

        Do you have strong feelings for or against the idea that the fleeing young man is a baptismal candidate and the young man in the empty tomb is that same young man now proclaiming the risen Lord while the women flee in fear? To the listeners of the gospel, the young man would have been representative of the Markan community and their beliefs in contrast to the disciples’ Prophet Christology.

        • Bart Ehrman
          Bart Ehrman  February 25, 2014

          It’s one of the options. But neither Jesus nor anyone else is practicing Christian baptism in Mark, so it is not clear where this fellow would be going to be baptized. He may be the same guy as at the tomb; but if so he stopped at the local clothing shop first….

          • Avatar
            Rosekeister  February 26, 2014

            I didn’t explain myself very clearly which isn’t unusual. The baptismal candidate is the reader/listener of the Gospel of Mark in the 70s. Do you think the fleeing young man and the young man in the empty tomb could be literary devices and that both the Markan author and his listeners/readers were all aware that these stories were not meant to be historic but instead symbolic of the higher resurrected Son of God Christology of the gentile believers in contrast to the lower prophet like Moses (and Elijah) beliefs of the disciples?

          • Bart Ehrman
            Bart Ehrman  February 27, 2014

            I doubt it myself; I think the early readers took the account as a description of what happened. But if the *reader* is the baptismal candidate, I don’t understand who the fleeing man is in your opinion.

  13. Avatar
    EricBrown  February 24, 2014

    I always wondered about that holy of holies. After a couple of centuries, the dust build up must have been significant, unless on of the High Priest’s duties on Yom Kippur was to sweep it out?

  14. Avatar
    FrankofBoulder  February 24, 2014

    It’s unlikely that Joseph of Arimathea took down Jesus’ body from the cross because if Joseph touched a dead body, he would have become “ritually impure for seven days (Num 19:11) and thus unable to celebrate the Passover feast.” There’s no way that a Jew would have handled Jesus’ corpse just before Passover.

    According to the gospels, Jesus’ body wasn’t found in the tomb where the women claim that Joseph put it. So the story doesn’t add up. Jesus’ disciples never saw Jesus on the cross, nor did they find his corpse afterwards. So, how can we be sure that Jesus was crucified? His disciples supposedly didn’t witness his crucifixion, nor did they discover his dead body, according to the gospels.

    Jesus’ crucifixion (which supposedly lasted only six hours) was reportedly observed by the women who “watched from a distance.” It would be difficult to identify a man on a cross from a distance. The women are unreliable witnesses, especially in view of their dubious report about Joseph of Arimathea and their failure to locate Jesus’ body where they said it was entombed (assuming that any of this story is true).

    It’s possible that Jesus wasn’t crucified (his disciples couldn’t vouch for it), but rather, he was killed in another way and then his body was dumped, perhaps in a pit. This would explain Jesus’ missing body. Paul said that Jesus was “buried.” (Cor. 15:4) Evidently, the entombment of Jesus’ corpse was unknown to Paul in the 50s AD. The legend of Joseph of Arimathea and the empty tomb may have developed later. Or perhaps, it was concocted by the author of Mark’s gospel.

  15. Avatar
    gabilaranjeira  February 25, 2014

    If Jesus’ death had taken place in a city other than Jerusalem, do you think the outcome of the Christian movement would have been different? Would there be a Christian movement?

    Thanks a lot.

  16. Avatar
    dikelmm  February 25, 2014

    Perhaps you have mentioned this before, but is there any influence of Paul’s writings in Mark’s Gospel?

  17. Avatar
    Kabir Mahe  February 25, 2014

    How does one then reconcile the Historicity of Jesus withing the four gospels (including Acts) if all the authors are claiming “inspiration” from God?

    It will be a good idea if Prof. Will give us same expositions on The Gospel of John. I admit this has really been of great help to me (i believe also to most of us here if not all).

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  February 25, 2014

      None of the authors claimed to be divinely inspired!

      • Avatar
        Kabir Mahe  February 26, 2014

        Yeah it is clear from reading the gospels that none of their respective authors claimed inspiration.

        When is the idea (by the Fundamentalist) of the gospels and other writings of Paul came to be consider “inspired”?

        Is there a definitive answer to who actually wrote these gospels, can they really be Jesus’ decipels?

        • Bart Ehrman
          Bart Ehrman  February 27, 2014

          Christian leaders were saying this by the mid to late second century. I discuss authorship issues in a number of my books, such as Forged.

  18. gmatthews
    gmatthews  February 25, 2014

    Did the allegorical intent of the ending of Mark over ride the illogical description of the women fleeing and telling no one? How would the author have known they fled if they didn’t ever tell anyone? Your interpretation of the ending of Mark makes sense to me ever since I first read about it, but the fact that they never told anyone has always made me wonder about it. Of course there are a number of head-scratchers in the NT so maybe I’m just thinking too much!

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  February 27, 2014

      Yes, the reader of course knows that Jesus has been raised. But there are all sorts of ways to explain how they know if the women didn’t tell. E.g., what if Jesus appeared to others and *they* told….

  19. Avatar
    FrankofBoulder  February 25, 2014

    How did the women who observed the crucifixion know that the man who entombed Jesus’ body was Joseph of Arimathea? These women were from Galilee. They wouldn’t have recognized him. They wouldn’t know a member of the Sanhedrin, so how could they know his name and status by merely watching him? Where could Mark or anyone have gotten information that Joseph of Arimathea put Jesus’ body in a tomb? It doesn’t add up.

    How would Mark know what Joseph of Arimathea and Pontius Pilate said to each other in private? How would Mark know that Pilate summoned a centurion who told Pilate that Jesus was dead? Mark wasn’t there. Obviously, an outsider couldn’t possibly know about Pilate’s conversations with Joseph and the centurion. This is made up. It’s story telling.

    Why would Joseph Arimathea have allowed himself to become ritually impure before Passover by handling a dead body? According to Jewish law, Joseph would have become ritually impure for seven days after touching a dead body. A devout Jew wouldn’t have touched Jesus’ corpse just before Passover. And yet Mark says that Joseph of Arimathea took down Jesus’ body from the cross, “wrapped it in linen and placed it in a tomb.” This isn’t a credible story. It’s clear that none of these things happened.

    Mark’s story of Jesus’ crucifixion is full of improbable and impossible details, such as a mysterious man in a white robe appearing at the tomb. Who was he? Mark pretends to know what Jesus told Pilate and how Jesus was abused by Roman soldiers, even though there were no outside witnesses to tell what occurred. It’s all fiction. Mark doesn’t tell the true story of Jesus’ death. It can’t have happened the way that Mark told it. With the gospel of Mark, we are dealing with a fable.

    • Avatar
      Xeronimo74  February 28, 2014

      There’s the theory (by James Tabor, for example) that, based on careful analysis of the passage in the Gospel of John, Jesus’ corpse was first laid into an empty tomb that happened to be nearby because there was not much time for a decent burial with Passover approaching fast. Joseph of Arimathea then sent his people to that temporary tomb as soon as Passover was over (Saturday evening). That’s why the tomb was empty on Sunday morning when Mary and/or the women came. And since they were low-class peasant people from Galilee they had no way to find out who had moved the corpse where. Details here: http://jamestabor.com/2012/07/17/reading-mark-and-john-the-first-burial-of-jesus/

  20. Avatar
    FrankofBoulder  February 26, 2014

    The notion that Joseph of Arimathea went to Pontius Pilate in the middle of the night to ask for Jesus’ body is ridiculous. Then, Joseph supposedly trooped over to Golgotha in the middle of the night to take down Jesus’ body from the cross. How did Joseph manage that? Did he carry Jesus’ 150 lbs. body over his shoulder? Impossible. So, was Joseph strong enough to drag the body over rocky ground until he reached a tomb? How bizarre. Was the tomb conveniently located nearby? That seems unlikely. The whole scenario is unrealistic.

    Why would Joseph of Arimathea perform such a strange task in the middle of the night? Because he didn’t want a crucified Jew to remain on the cross during Passover? Well, what about the two other crucified men on crosses? Did Joseph neglect them? Were they still alive? Or, did Joseph also haul their dead bodies to a tomb? The story is farcical. How would Joseph have been so motivated to go to Pilate to get permission to carry out such an arduous task in the middle of the night — a task that would violate his ritual purity? It’s absurd nonsense. It didn’t happen.

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