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The Calm and Collected Jesus

I was just browsing through old posts and came across this one that appeared eight years ago tomorrow – a circumstance I thought was remarkable, since the very topic I cover in it is what I’ll be talking  about with my undergraduate class tomorrow, in my course on Jesus in Scholarship and Film.  At this stage of the semester we are learning about the various Gospels, and one of the BIG points I’m trying to make in the class — one that is extremely hard for anyone raised with a traditional view of the Bible to get their mind around — is that each of the Gospels has its *own* story to tell about Jesus:  the portrayal of Matthew is not the same as that in John; that Mark’s is not Luke’s; that none of them is like the Gospel of Peter; or of Thomas; or of Mary; etc….  Each is different – sometimes in contradictory ways and more often in emphasis (which is just as important).  And you can’t just assume they all are saying the same thing, or you misunderstand each one.

I will be illustrating the point by examining something that is not a contradiction, but a completely different view of things.  The question: How does Jesus approach his own coming death?  Is he troubled, disturbed, and seemingly confused?  That is indeed what you find in Mark’s account (if you simply read what he has to say and don’t import the views of other Gospels into it).  Or is he calm and in control, not at all ruffled or upset?  That’s what you find in Luke.

That’s remarkable — especially given the fact that Luke inherited his account from Mark, and had to *change* it to make it say what he wanted it to.  But why wasn’t he satisfied with Mark’s version?   In this post I’ll try to show the differences between the accounts; in the next one I’ll try to explain it.  So, this is how I put it eight years ago (just about the same as I’ll put it in my class tomorrow!).

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Consider, for example, the crucifixion itself.  In Mark, Jesus is silent the entire way carrying his cross to the place of execution.  One has the impression that …

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Jesus’ Death in Mark and Luke: Why Don’t They Agree?
Two More Answers from My Pop Quiz

37

Comments

  1. Avatar
    Maracus  September 7, 2020

    Dr Ehrman, on an unrealted subject, I would like to ask you about Jesus’ words to Peter in Matthew 16:16-19. As I read them, and I’ve noticed that some scholars think along similar lines, It seems that the author of this gospel is somewhat polemizicing against some forms of Pauline Christianity. By stablishing Peter and the apostles as the rock of the Church (a comment itself anachronistic in Jesus’ lips) he seems to suggest that other churches that do not follow the apostolic pillars might not be the real thing. After all, this author seems to be aligned with a reading of Jesus that is both positive towards the inclusion of gentiles into God’s kingdom and at the same time critical of those who refuse to follow the law, even perhaps gentiles who join the Christian communities but who refuse to observe the law.
    What is your take on this? Do you agree with such a view?

    • Bart
      Bart  September 9, 2020

      Weird: someone else just asked about this very verse (whether it’s historical or not): here’s what I replied to him.

      Your view is the one almost all critical scholars take. It does not make much sense to see the statement as historical — going back to jesus. As you probably know, the passaeg (Matthew 16) involves a word play with Peter’s name (Petros); before teh NT it is not attested as a name. I think Jesus actually did give it as Simon’s nickname. But only later, with matthew, does someone try to explain why But the explanation makes sense only in a post-crucifixion context.

      Interesting idea that it is anti-Pauline. I’m not sure how we would establish that; even Paul realized there were apostles before him. You’re right, he doesn’t yield to their authority and he does have a conflict with Peter. But he too knew that the church started with them before he converted. So, I’m not sure one way or the other.

    • Avatar
      truechild  September 10, 2020

      This is my very first reply or written involvement in this BLOG. I am here to study with my long term goal, like so many other people, to grow in my relationship with Christ by knowing “HIM” better. So, thank you, Dr. Ehrman, for your work and to the other readers and participants, for providing and promoting the very thing that any seeker of knowledge longs for: discussion of the subject in view, in this case, Jesus Christ.

  2. Avatar
    anthonygale  September 7, 2020

    An exception to the calm Jesus in Luke is him sweating blood in the Garden, which I know is suspected to be a textual corruption. If that is indeed the case, why do you think someone would add this to Luke’s account?

    • Bart
      Bart  September 9, 2020

      Yes, my first academic article was written to show that the verses were not original to Luke (I wrote it in graduate school with another student friend of mine). I talk about the issue on the blog; just do a word search for “sweating” or “sweaty” and you’ll find it.

  3. Avatar
    RICHWEN90  September 7, 2020

    Luke’s changes create a few problems that don’t seem to be addressed. First,is it possible for someone undergoing this sort of torment to have a conversation? Examinations of the scenario from a medical standpoint indicate that it would take massive effort even to breath, much less talk. I suppose it might have been possible to gasp out a few words but whether they would have been loud enough or distinct enough to be intelligible is questionable. If we take Luke’s account as accurate, it follows that Jesus was not really suffering as an ordinary human would suffer, or experiencing what an ordinary human would experience, which takes a bit of the meat out of the supposed sacrifice and suffering of Jesus. If, because, he was a godman, the experience was really not much worse than having an ingrown toenail corrected, under local anesthetic, where’s the merit? Apart from that, if you are quite sure you will be resurrected and glorified, that the ordeal will be temporary and followed by an ascent into heaven, If you are GOD and aware of it– where’s the merit? Jesus would still not have suffered as a human would have– if at all.

    • Avatar
      truechild  September 10, 2020

      The Bible gives us sufficient information for making accurate assumptions concerning our Lord’s suffering. For example, and in response to the “calm and collected Jesus” discussion, Isaiah 53; 7, “He was oppressed and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he opened not his mouth”. For any man to exercise such self-restraint (that is my interpretation of the words here in light of the writer’s own cultural experience and knowledge) would, indeed, be miraculous. I have noticed how Jesus’ behavior is noted and written about by men who, at best, were watching Jesus at a distance and amid a chaotic, angry mob, quite likely still yelling, “crucify him” and all kinds of insults and bashing remarks, so naturally their reports of what Jesus did and said would vary. And listen to us, with a very limited knowledge of this historical episode still searching for understanding. This is what we should do. And then, how can we ever comprehend how anyone could be human yet God in the flesh? Impossible for human brains.

  4. Avatar
    nichael  September 7, 2020

    This is a question related to the class:

    I see that Netflix Streaming is offering four movies “The Gospel of Matthew/Mark/Luke/John” directed by David Batty and released in 2014/15.

    Each claims to be “The First Ever Word-For-Word Film Adaptation”. (As nearly as I can tell the narration is read from the NIV, with the actors “speaking Aramaic”.)

    Anyway, I was just wondering if you were aware of these or had seen them? Any thoughts?

    I wouldn’t mind seeing a good adaptation that actually followed the gospel text. Alas, I’ve never been able to track down a copy of Passolini’s “Matthew”; and virtually all of the films that claimed to be “accurate” that I have seen have been pretty disappointing (think “Passion of the Christ”).

    • Bart
      Bart  September 9, 2020

      No, I haven’t seen them. But yes, we do watch Passolini,and it is taken straight from Matthew. Though peopel were offended, since Passolini was a Marxist and they didn’t like how he shot it!

      • Avatar
        nichael  September 9, 2020

        A small update:
        I’ve started watching these and actually they’re not bad.

        I mean, they are what they are: A narrator reading the NT (in this case the NIV) with actors playing the parts underneath the narration (and speaking what the film claims is Aramaic). But the actors are pretty good, and it’s not a real “Sunday-Schoolish” production. And I think I’ve found my new favorite “movie Jesus” (which, to be fair, compared to most of what’s out there is not really saying a lot).

        But all told, it does really stick to the text (which, as these things go, is itself quite an accomplishment). So, I’d never suggest this to anyone interested in watching something “scholarly”; but watching one of these might be worth a try.

  5. Avatar
    danieljcathers  September 7, 2020

    I feel like Jesus’ sweating blood in Luke is a clear counterexample to this theory.

    • Bart
      Bart  September 9, 2020

      Yup. That’s one reason scholars have long argued those verses (not in a number of our manuscripts) were later added to the text. Look up “sweaty” and you’ll see my discussions of it on the blog.

  6. Avatar
    brenmcg  September 7, 2020

    I think everything that is said of Mark here can also be said of Matthew, and that it is really Matthew’s account that Luke is changing. The real progression with superfluous details being added each time is

    Matthew “they met a man from Cyrene, named Simon and forced him to carry the cross”
    Luke “they forced Simon of Cyrene, on his way in from the country, to carry the cross”
    Mark “they forced Simon of Cyrene, on his way in from the country, the father of Alexander and Rufus, to carry the cross”.

  7. Avatar
    fishician  September 7, 2020

    “Luke” expresses at the beginning of his gospel some dissatisfaction with previous ones, hence his version (“that you may know the EXACT truth…”). So, do you think Luke’s calm Jesus is his own invention, or is he selecting a story from another tradition, or is there any way to know?

    • Bart
      Bart  September 9, 2020

      No way to know, but it’s one or the other. Still, it is definitely a Lukan theme that all things are “going accoding to plan.” (Not just Jesus’ death, but the beginnings of the church, the persecution of Christians, the delay of the end, etc.)

  8. Avatar
    Poohbear  September 7, 2020

    My mother is loving. She could hit pretty hard when I was a delinquent. She is smart. She is kinda dumb. There are FOUR mothers here? Maybe she is fictional.
    I sometimes think of death as something troubling and uncertain. Sometimes I feel a sense of resignation at my late stage of life. Often I fear the ‘how’ of my death. Sometimes I feel glad that my journey is over and I didn’t die young. You could report my four feelings about death and wonder – do I exist?
    Same with Jesus. Was He the teacher? Was He the older brother? Was he the Son of God? Yes, all these and more. It’s called complexity.

  9. Avatar
    rivercrowman  September 7, 2020

    I have a head start on your next post. By coincidence, I read Chapter 9 of your New Testament textbook (seventh edition) today.

  10. Avatar
    JoeWallack  September 7, 2020

    “Jesus calmly prays”

    Not quite (I know it’s a different prayer but still part of the supposed Passion):

    http://sites.utoronto.ca/religion/synopsis/meta-5g.htm

    “22.42 Father, if thou art willing, remove this cup from me”

    This is the entire point of “Mark’s” Jesus praying (the original Gethsemane story), to exorcise the Passion from Jesus’ itinerary. Subsequent Gospellers like “Luke” try to reduce/hide the point (as you have pointed out). Personally, I think Gethsemane as well as GMark in total is more about Peter than Jesus, as the main point of “Mark’s” story here is that Peter failed to prepare for his upcoming test just a few pericopes later. In any Greek case my one allotted question is:

    Why do you think “Luke” retained the above?

    • Bart
      Bart  September 9, 2020

      He added, “if you are willing”, to show that he was calmly submissive to God’s will.

  11. Avatar
    tskorick  September 8, 2020

    I’ve often wondered about this. It seems that Mark was written when the First Jewish War was in full swing, and perhaps the attitude of Jesus was meant as advice to Christians cautioning them that suffering was inevitable but they should accept it in silence and with grace. Conversely, Luke was written after the war had ended and seems to add dialogue and actions of Jesus that both seem to predict the misery produce by Roman wrath and also explain why things are going to be okay.

    • Bart
      Bart  September 9, 2020

      Yeah, that was teh view I held for years. About 10-15 years ago I became convinced (by other scholars) that Mark was probably written after the war was (recently) over.

      • Avatar
        tskorick  September 9, 2020

        Nod. My assumptions also only make sense if we think that the Jewish-Roman war was of major concern to Mark and Luke’s audiences. If they were Greek-speaking former-pagan Christians in the diaspora, I’m not sure this would be the case.

  12. Avatar
    janmaru  September 8, 2020

    Do you think that many readers have gone too far in their contemplation of Gospels, thereby destroying objectivity and cutting out the basis for any communication?
    What’s your Model Reader?

    • Bart
      Bart  September 9, 2020

      My sense is that a lot of readers have tossed aside any “objective” approach before coming to the task. My viwe is that we should try to understand what authors are trying to say, instead of assuming they (or making them) mean what we want them to.

  13. Avatar
    longdistancerunner  September 8, 2020

    The Mark/Luke differences … I never understood where that came from when Vladimir and Estragon in conversation mention it “ the two just don’t agree and that’s all there is to it”! In Beckett’s Waiting for Godot” …. Or something near that. Very interesting thanks

  14. kt@rg.no
    kt@rg.no  September 9, 2020

    Claiming bible inerrancy (literal!!) from an external perspective is for me an impossibility, without having to crash into a wast amount of compromises and presumptions.

    I can easily agree with one of my favorit scholars, the late (devoted Gnostic) Carl Gustav Jung, a Swiss psychiatrist and psychoanalyst who founded analytical psychology, (who also purchased the Jung Codex scriptures from Nag Hammadi, ) when he said:

    “The religious interest, which ought normally to be the greatest and most decisive factor, turned away from the inner world, and great figures of dogma dwindled to strange and incomprehensible vestiges, a prey to every sort of criticism. ”

    Sounds pretty right for me!

  15. Avatar
    clerrance2005  September 9, 2020

    Prof Ehrman,

    What sense are we to make in Jesus’s response when he assures the other thief that he will be with him in paradise vis-à-vis the Hebrew concept of paradise. If paradise was to be established here on earth and not in a heavenly realm (ref Heaven and Hell); where did Jesus have in mind from his words ‘today, you will be with me in paradise’.

    Where was this paradise?

    How do we reconcile this with the traditional Jewish view of paradise?

    • Bart
      Bart  September 10, 2020

      I deal with this in my book, of course; I show there that it is a saying distinctive to Luke and is not the kind of thing Jesus himself ever said. And yes, it is not the traditional Jewish view. For Luke, paradise is apparently up in heaven.

  16. Avatar
    clerrance2005  September 9, 2020

    Prof Ehrman,

    Listened to your brief session with Sultan and Sneakers Podcast. I was really inspired and I want you to know that you have been a personal, yet distant mentor to me. You should share the link on the blog. I am sure that it will be of great interest as well to blog members.

    You are a kind man. Your autodidact student here hopes to meet you someday in person.

  17. Avatar
    Neurotheologian  September 9, 2020

    and….. you’ve left me on tender hooks! I am not a compulsive Gospel-harmonizer, but I do think Jesus on the cross can be harmonized across the Gospels without stretching the facts too much and without denying some ‘journalistic flexibility’ in ‘reporting’ the event to suit the various Gospel-writers’ repective purposes! I have thought for a long time that Jesus recited the *whole* of Psalm 22 on the Cross, perhaps partly mumbled and muffled with his agony. John’s source was perhaps near enough at the end of the long period of agony, to not only have heard the “woman, here is you son” line, but also the last word of Psalm 22: “Assahhhh” (Psalm 22:31 ) which can be translated ‘it is done’ which fits with the *telelesti* John 19:30 – ‘it is completed’ (which I gather can also be used in the context of a debt being paid in full – but I’m open to challenge on this last point, which I heard made some years ago). To be continued…..

  18. Avatar
    Neurotheologian  September 9, 2020

    …continued ‘He gave up his spirit’ (John 19:30) fits with into thy hand I commend my spirit (Luke 23:46). “I thirst” (John 19:28 ) fits with Mark 15;36 and with Psalm 22:15. The dividing up of his clothes (Mark 15:24) fits with Psalm 22:8. Mark 15:30-31 “he saved others….” fits with Psalm 22:8.

    The Eloi Eloi narative of Mark 15:34; Matthew 27:46 and of Psalm 22:1 (yes missed by Luke), does not come at the end of the proceedings in either the Mark or Matthew narrative and he cries out in a loud voice twice in both Matthew and Mark – once for the Eloi Eloi line and once for at the end as he dies (Mark 15:37; Matthew 27:50 ) which could aslo fit with the “asssaah” of Psalm 22:31 and John 19:30 .

    However, even if the ‘forsaken cry’ had been at the end in Matthew and Mark, for me, that that would not have taken away the notion of the ‘*yet* it was the will of YHVH to bruise him; and put him to grief to make his soul an offering for sin’ (Isaiah 53:10 ).

  19. Avatar
    clerrance2005  September 10, 2020

    Prof Ehrman,
    In your view, is this piece most likely historical and why does Jesus pray this prayer: ‘Take this cup from me’. as found in Mark 14:36 and the rest of the Gospels. What’s the motive behind this text in all the Gospels?

    • Bart
      Bart  September 10, 2020

      It’s showing that he is doing this because he is fulfilling God’s will, not because he wants to. He definitely does not want to.

  20. Avatar
    clerrance2005  September 10, 2020

    Prof Ehrman,

    Q1. Why does the Christian Bible (NT) alter the arrangement of the books of the Jewish Scriptures. The Jews have TANAK whereas the Christians place the Writings intermediate and the Prophets last. Listening to Rabbi Tovia Singer, he points that the order of arrangement even informs in some ways how the text is to be understood. According to him, ending the text with the Prophets leaves one to desire and question where Salvation lies after going wayward. It leaves open how to return to Yahuah after the Prophets have pointed the wrongs of the children of Israel. Whiles in the traditional Jewish order of arrangement, this question is answered with the Writings.

    Otherwise, ending with the Prophets makes the NT appear to be the answer to ‘how to return to God’.

    Please what is your take on this?

    • Bart
      Bart  September 11, 2020

      The Christian Bible is orgnaized with the “historical” books first (from creation to the restoration from exile); then the poetic books; then the prophets, organized as major and minor. For Christianity the virtue of ending with prophets is that, in the Xn interpretation, te prophets predicted the coming of Jesus, and so provide a lead up to the Gospels

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