Part 1: Turning Mark Inside Out
In a comment to Neil’s post, Discovering the Sources for the First Gospel, 3 — Criteria, from way back in May of 2012, I introduced a way to explain how the Fourth Evangelist may have used the Gospel of Mark. It might not be a novel approach — there is no new thing under the sun — and I certainly don’t have access to all the commentaries and exegeses on John. However, it’s new to me.
For simplicity’s sake, here’s my comment, with some minor edits:
In Mark 15:37, Jesus “breathes his last.” In the following verse the temple curtain is torn from top to bottom. And in verse 39, the centurion declares him to be the Son of God.
Key words to notice in verse 15:36 are (1) ἐσχίσθη (eschisthē) — “was torn” and (2) ἄνωθεν (anōthen) — “from [the] top.” A close, literal translation of the verse might be: “And the veil of the temple was torn in two from the top to the bottom.”
In John, conversely, at the beginning of the crucifixion (19:23) the soldiers take Jesus’ belongings and split them among themselves. They divide his garments into four equal piles, but they notice that Jesus’ tunic is formed of a single piece of woven fabric without seams. John says that the tunic was “seamless from the top (anōthen), woven throughout all.” And in the next verse, they decide not to tear (σχίσωμεν (schisōmen)) the tunic, but cast lots for it instead. It was not torn.
The garment John describes has reminded several commentators of the priestly vestment described by Josephus: “Now this vesture was not composed of two pieces, nor was it sewed together upon the shoulders and the sides, but it was one long vestment so woven as to have an aperture for the neck; not an oblique one, but parted all along the breast and the back.” (http://www.ccel.org/j/josephus/works/ant-3.htm)
So John has taken a story about the rending of the temple veil that occurs at the end of the crucifixion and created a new story about a special garment taken from Jesus (with allusions to the vestment of high priest), which is not torn. John’s curious detail about division into four parts could be another allusion to the veil of the temple, which was said to have been woven from four different colors, each symbolizing one of the four elements that make up the world. (See http://www.margaretbarker.com/Papers/BeyondtheVeil.pdf)
Margaret Barker says that the the high priest would take off the vestment (which was also woven from the same four colors as the veil) before entering the Holy of Holies, passing through the veil. In the ritual, the priest bore the name of YHWH and in a sense became the Lord. Barker writes: “He took off this robe when he entered the holy of holies because the robe was the visible form of one who entered the holy of holies. In the Epistle to the Hebrews, which explores the theme of Jesus as the high priest, there is the otherwise enigmatic line: his flesh was the veil of the temple (Heb.10.20). In other words, the veil was matter which made visible whatever passed through it from the world beyond the veil. Those who shed the earthly garments, on the other side of the veil, were robed in garments of glory. In other words, they became divine.” (See http://www.marquette.edu/maqom/veil.html)
We can imagine why John didn’t like the story of the rending of the curtain. As Barker explains, the veil separated the terrestrial from the celestial realm. John also ignores the crack in the firmament that Mark says appeared at the Baptism. In both cases we have portents of the eschaton. If John was promoting a gospel of realized eschatology, then stories about the inbreaking of the supernatural world (including exorcisms) had to be deleted or re-imagined.
In a nutshell, I suggest that a key to understanding John’s rewrite of Mark is to find similar passages in which the Fourth Evangelist took an idea from his predecessor and turned it on its head.
Ashes! Ashes! We all fall down.
Can we find other similar instances of John’s upside-down, inside-out rewriting of Mark in the Passion narrative? I believe so. As you no doubt recall, John omits the scene of the agony in Gethsemane. But is it possible John found building blocks lying within that unused material? Let’s take a closer look.
Below, I’ve lined up the two gospels with John’s narrative in chapter 18, running from verse 1 through 8. The corresponding verses in Mark mostly run in reverse order touching on 14:32, then 14:43, 36, 35, and 34. (Note: All quoted scripture in this post comes from the NASB.)
|14:32a They came to a place named Gethsemane;||18:1 When Jesus had spoken these words, He went forth with His disciples over the ravine of the Kidron, where there was a garden, in which He entered with His disciples.|
|14:32b and He said to His disciples, “Sit here until I have prayed.”||(The NIV tells translates John 18:1 as they wished it were written: “When he had finished praying . . .” Of course, John’s gospel never uses the noun for prayer or the verb to pray.)|
|18:2 Now Judas also, who was betraying Him, knew the place, for Jesus had often met there with His disciples.|
|Agony in the Garden – 14:33-42||[Agony Omitted]|
|14:43a And immediately, while he was still speaking,|
|14:43b Judas came, one of the twelve, and with him a crowd with swords and clubs, from the chief priests and the scribes and the elders.||18:3 Judas then, having received the Roman cohort and officers from the chief priests and the Pharisees, came there with lanterns and torches and weapons.|
|Judas’ Kiss of Betrayal – 14:44-45||[Kiss Omitted]|
|14:36 And he said, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.”
||18:4 So Jesus, knowing all the things that were coming upon Him, went forth and said to them, “Whom do you seek?”|
|(The will of Jesus is not to “take the cup.”)||(Jesus does not ask to be relieved of his awful burden, but meets his fate head on. Here the will of Jesus and the will of God are in concert.)|
|18:5 They answered Him, “Jesus the Nazarene.” He said to them, “I am He.” And Judas also, who was betraying Him, was standing with them.|
|14:35a And going a little farther,||18:6a So when He said to them, “I am He,” they drew back
|14:35b he fell on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him.||18:6b and fell to the ground.|
|18:7 Therefore He again asked them, “Whom do you seek?” And they said, “Jesus the Nazarene.”|
|14:34a And he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death.||18:8a Jesus answered, “I told you that I am He;
(Jesus stands before the soldiers and speaks boldly)
|14:34b Remain here and watch.”||18:8b so if you seek Me, let these go their way,”|
|(Mark’s Jesus asks his favorite disciples to stay and watch. John’s Jesus demands that the soldiers let all of his disciples go. This is the center of a sort of “trans-gospel reverse chiastic structure.”)|
More graphically, we can show the relationship between the two texts like this:
|18:4a Jesus, knowing all that would happen to him|
|18:6 they drew back and fell to the ground|
|18:8a I told you that I am he|
|18:8b let these men go|
|14:34b Remain here|
|14:34a My soul is very sorrowful, even to death.|
|14:35 going a little farther, he fell on the ground|
|14:36 Yet not what I will, but what you will.|
|Foreknowledge and consent vs. grim acquiescence||Who fell down?||Defiance or Sorrow?||Stay or go?|
A. Foreknowledge and consent vs. grim acquiescence
In Mark, Jesus clearly does not desire to go through with the plan, but accedes to God’s will. Mark stresses the idea that Jesus obeys God, even though it will lead to torture and death. Jesus’ internal struggle portrayed in Gethsemane has no corollary in John, because his Jesus has known and accepted the plan from the beginning. Jesus’ oneness with the Father explains his foreknowledge.
For John, the Son and the Father are both committed to the plan, while for Mark, Jesus is the obedient, albeit reluctant, sacrifice. Mark’s Jesus pushes away the cup. Conversely, John’s Jesus accepts it gladly — was there ever any doubt?
B. Who fell down?
John, as we have seen, has no use for the Agony in the Garden scene. However, he did find a use for some of its constituent parts. Instead of Jesus walking forward and falling on the ground (earth, γῆς (gēs)), John invents a story of the armed cohort stumbling backward and falling to the ground (ground, χαμαὶ (chamai)). [Note: Only John uses the word chamai (and only twice) in the NT.]
C. Defiance or sorrow?
Christians often describe the scene in the garden with the word “agony.” Mark uses the word περίλυπος/perilupos, or “engulfed in sorrow,” to the point of death. John’s gospel, on the other hand, is fully invested in the idea that Jesus knows the future and is a willing participant in the Passion.
D. Should I stay or should I go?
Mark has Jesus ask his disciples to stay and pray. John’s Jesus demands that the cohort let his disciples go. In the fourth gospel, Jesus remains in control of the situation. Unlike Mark’s disciples who flee the scene (either clothed or naked), the disciples in John owe their freedom to an assertive Jesus. So what if Peter drew his sword? Let them go!
Shall I not drink it?
Besides reusing the falling down motif (in a scene reminiscent of The Benny Hill Show), John also reuses the allusion to the cup, but directly contradicts Mark.
|Jesus Declines the Cup (at Gethsemane)||Jesus Accepts the Cup (at the Arrest)|
|14:36 And he said, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.”||18:11 So Jesus said to Peter, “Put the sword into the sheath; the cup which the Father has given Me, shall I not drink it?“|
|(In Mark, Jesus subordinates his own will to the will of God. Jesus is obedient.)||(In John, Jesus does not push away the cup, but instead accepts it willingly.)|
John’s Jesus is thus a full participant in the plan, not a submissive servant doing something he would rather not do. Jesus’ explicit reference to taking the cup and drinking from it demonstrates John’s familiarity with and rejection of the Markan account.
The narrative purpose of Judas Iscariot
In the Fourth Gospel, Judas the Betrayer leads the cohort to the garden. In the Synoptics, Judas points out who Jesus is by planting a kiss. However, in John, Jesus takes command of the situation, announcing his identity. This difference, incidentally, will greatly affect John’s narrative of the trial before the Sanhedrin.
In both narrative alternatives, Judas has special knowledge. In Mark, he is able to identify Jesus (signified by his kiss), while in John he knows where the teacher and his disciples meet at night and can thus lead the cohort to him. Mark’s narrative implies that the authorities wish to single out the leader, Jesus, and arrest him. We understand and accept that the disciples run away without being followed. The target is Jesus. Strike the shepherd and the sheep shall flee.
In John, by contrast, the target of the arrest is arguably the whole crew: the rabble-rouser and his followers. Jesus clearly shares that notion, because he petitions for their release. “[I]f you seek Me,” he demands, “let these go their way.”
John has no use for the Judas Kiss, because for him, Jesus has taken control of the situation. He draws attention to his own presence. As in the whole of the Fourth Gospel, Jesus is the proclaimer and the proclaimed.
John frequently contradicts Mark’s account of the arrest, trial, and crucifixion. His references to specific events, which he turns inside out, and to specific words and concepts, which he reuses in order to make specific theological points, indicate a familiarity with and rejection of the synoptic passion account, not the possession of an independent source.
In the next post, we’ll look at how John reused a Markan sandwich to tell a different story in the trial of Jesus.