Surely you have taken leave of your senses, you men of Galatia! Who has cast this spell over you, before whose very eyes Jesus Christ has been exposed to view as nailed on a cross? — Galatians 3:1, Cassirer’s translation.
Recent comments on Vridar prompted me to recheck what we know about this odd-sounding verse. Here I’ll quote the ancient sources that provide an explanatory context but I’ll also go one step further and (in debt to Thomas Brodie) look at a plausible inspiration for this expression and how it relates to the Gospel of Mark’s Passion Narrative. When we put this together and embrace the possibility of the Gospel’s debt to Paul’s letters then an interesting relationship between the two emerges over this very verse — of the Galatians apparently seeing Jesus Christ crucified before their very eyes.
But let’s begin with how Jesus was crucified “before their eyes”.
Hans Dieter Betz explains:
One of the goals of the ancient orator was to deliver his speech so vividly and impressively that his listeners imagined the matter to have happened right before their eyes. (Galatians, p. 131)
The evidence for this claim?
Aristotle for one, Rhetoric, 3.11. I quote the passage at some length because Aristotle includes in his discussion a particular feature that we find in abundance throughout the Gospel of Mark — puns and other forms of wordplay .
It has already been mentioned that liveliness is got by using the proportional type of metaphor and being making (ie. making your hearers see things). We have still to explain what we mean by their ‘seeing things’, and what must be done to effect this. By ‘making them see things’ I mean using expressions that represent things as in a state of activity. Thus, to say that a good man is ‘four-square’ is certainly a metaphor; both the good man and the square are perfect; but the metaphor does not suggest activity. On the other hand, in the expression ‘with his vigour in full bloom’ there is a notion of activity; and so in ‘But you must roam as free as a sacred victim’; and in
“Thereas up sprang the Hellenes to their feet, “
where ‘up sprang’ gives us activity as well as metaphor, for it at once suggests swiftness. So with Homer’s common practice of giving metaphorical life to lifeless things: all such passages are distinguished by the effect of activity they convey. Thus,
“Downward anon to the valley rebounded the boulder remorseless; and “
“The (bitter) arrow flew; “
“Flying on eagerly; and “
Stuck in the earth, still panting to feed on the flesh of the heroes; and
“And the point of the spear in its fury drove
“full through his breastbone. “
In all these examples the things have the effect of being active because they are made into living beings; shameless behaviour and fury and so on are all forms of activity. And the poet has attached these ideas to the things by means of proportional metaphors: as the stone is to Sisyphus, so is the shameless man to his victim. In his famous similes, too, he treats inanimate things in the same way:
“Curving and crested with white, host following
“host without ceasing. “
Here he represents everything as moving and living; and activity is movement.
Metaphors must be drawn, as has been said already, from things that are related to the original thing, and yet not obviously so related-just as in philosophy also an acute mind will perceive resemblances even in things far apart. Thus Archytas said that an arbitrator and an altar were the same, since the injured fly to both for refuge. Or you might say that an anchor and an overhead hook were the same, since both are in a way the same, only the one secures things from below and the other from above. And to speak of states as ‘levelled’ is to identify two widely different things, the equality of a physical surface and the equality of political powers.
Liveliness is specially conveyed by metaphor, and by the further power of surprising the hearer; because the hearer expected something different, his acquisition of the new idea impresses him all the more. His mind seems to say, ‘Yes, to be sure; I never thought of that’. The liveliness of epigrammatic remarks is due to the meaning not being just what the words say: as in the saying of Stesichorus that ‘the cicalas will chirp to themselves on the ground’. Well-constructed riddles are attractive for the same reason; a new idea is conveyed, and there is metaphorical expression. So with the ‘novelties’ of Theodorus. In these the thought is startling, and, as Theodorus puts it, does not fit in with the ideas you already have. They are like the burlesque words that one finds in the comic writers. The effect is produced even by jokes depending upon changes of the letters of a word; this too is a surprise. You find this in verse as well as in prose. The word which comes is not what the hearer imagined: thus
“Onward he came, and his feet were shod with his-chilblains, “
where one imagined the word would be ‘sandals’. But the point should be clear the moment the words are uttered. . . . This is also true of such lively remarks as the one to the effect that to the Athenians their empire (arche) of the sea was not the beginning (arche) of their troubles, since they gained by it. Or the opposite one of Isocrates, that their empire (arche) was the beginning (arche) of their troubles. Either way, the speaker says something unexpected, the soundness of which is thereupon recognized. There would be nothing clever in saying ’empire is empire’. Isocrates means more than that, and uses the word with a new meaning. So too with the former saying, which denies that arche in one sense was arche in another sense. . . .
. . . . The more a saying has these qualities, the livelier it appears: if, for instance, its wording is metaphorical, metaphorical in the right way, antithetical, and balanced, and at the same time it gives an idea of activity.
Successful similes also, as has been said above, are in a sense metaphors, since they always involve two relations like the proportional metaphor. . . .
Then there is Cicero’s On the Orator (De Oratore), 3.40
Here almost every thing is expressed in words metaphorically adapted from something similar, that the description may be heightened. . . .
but, even in the greatest abundance of proper words, men are much more charmed with such as are uncommon, if they are used metaphorically with judgment. This happens, I imagine, either because it is some manifestation of wit to jump over such expressions as lie before you, and catch at others from a greater distance ; or be cause he who listens is led another way in thought, and yet does not wander from the subject, which is a very great pleasure ; or because a subject, and entire comparison, is dispatched in a single word ; or because every metaphor that is adopted with judgment, is directed immediately to our senses, and principally to the sense of sight, which is the keenest of them all. For such expressions as the odor of urbanity, the softness of humanity, the murmur of the sea, and sweetness of
language, are derived from the other senses ; but those which relate to the sight are much more striking, for they place almost in the eye of the mind such objects as we can not see and discern by the natural eyes.
Quintillian informs us that some orators held up graphic images of their message to move audiences. Quintillian does not personally approve of going so far in court trials but he does argue strongly for props to bring the subject of the speech vividly before the eyes of his audience. From Institutio Oratoria, Book 6.30-33
 We must not, therefore, allow the effect which we have produced to fall flat, and must consequently abandon our appeal to the emotion just when that emotion is at its height, nor must we expect anyone to weep for long over another’s ills. For this reason our eloquence ought to be pitched higher in this portion of our speech than in any other, since, wherever it fails to add something to what has preceded, it seems even to diminish its previous effect, while a diminuendo is merely a step towards the rapid disappearance of the emotion.
 Actions as well as words may be employed to move the court to tears. Hence the custom of bringing accused persons into court wearing squalid and unkempt attire, and of introducing their children and parents, and it is with this in view that we see blood-stained swords, fragments of bone taken from the wound, and garments spotted with blood, displayed by the accusers, wounds stripped of their dressings, and scourged bodies bared to view.
 The impression produced by such exhibitions is generally enormous, since they seem to bring the spectators face to face with the cruel facts. For example, the sight of the bloodstains on the purple-bordered toga of Gaius Caesar, which was carried at the head of his funeral procession, aroused the Roman people to fury. They knew that he had been killed; they had even seen his body stretched upon the bier: but his garment, still wet with his blood, brought such a vivid image of the crime before their minds, that Caesar seemed not to have been murdered, but to be being murdered before their very eyes.
 Still I would not for this reason go so far as to approve a practice of which I have read, and which indeed I have occasionally witnessed, of bringing into court a picture of the crime painted on wood or canvas, that the judge might be stirred to fury by the horror of the sight. For the pleader who prefers a voiceless picture to speak for him in place of his own eloquence must be singularly incompetent.
 On the other hand, I know that the wearing of mourning and the presentation of an unkempt appearance, and the introduction of relatives similarly arrayed, has proved of value, and that entreaties have been of great service to save the accused from condemnation. The practice therefore of appealing to the judges by all that is near and dear to them will be of great service to the accused, especially if he, too, has children, a wife and parents.
Source of the passage?
Now look at what Thomas Brodie suspects is the origin of this Galatians passage. The table is adapted from page 591 of The Birthing of the New Testament:
See the comment below for Brodie’s rationale for each of the parallels. The numbers correspond to the points in that comment.
The link between Galatians and Jeremiah is found at the beginnings of both writings (Brodie 2004: 590)
|Jeremiah 1:4-5||Galatians 1:14-15|
|* The word of the Lord came to me, saying,||* But when it pleased God|
|Before I found you in the womb I knew you, before you came from your mother||who chose me from my mother’s womb|
|I consecrated you,||and called me by his grace|
|.||* to reveal his Son to me|
|I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.||that I might evangelize among the nations…|
“The account of Paul’s confrontation with Peter (Gal. 2:11-14) is a further example of an apparently spontaneous text which turns out to be ‘saturated with scriptural echoes, allusions and concepts’, and an analysis of the surrounding text — all of Galatians 1-2 — shows a pervasive presence of Scripture (Ciampa 1998: especially 157-78, 296) . . .” p. 591
|Jeremiah 5:21-25||Galatians 3:1-5||#|
|Now listen to this,||O||1|
|stupid and thoughtless (a-kardios) people||mindless (a-noetos) Galatians.||2|
|… they have eyes and do not see,
they have ears and do not hear…
|Who has put a spell on you?
… before whose eyes
|* Jesus Christ was depicted as crucified.||4|
Do you not fear me, says the Lord,
|This alone I wish to learn from you:
Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law
|or tremble before me?||or by the hearing with faith?||5|
|* I placed the sand as limit to the sea
* an everlasting barrier which it cannot pass
* it storms but cannot prevail
* the waves roar but cannot pass beyond.
|But this people has a hearingless senseless heart (kardia an-ekoos a-peithes)||Are you so mindless? (a-noetos)||6|
|They have turned aside
and gone away.
|Having begun with the Spirit
are you now ending with the flesh?
|They do not say in their hearts,
Let us fear the Lord our God
|Did you experience so many things in vain?
… if it really is in vain.
|* who gives the rain in his season, autumn rain, spring rain,||* Does he who supplies the Spirit to you,||9|
|* and keeps for us the weeks appointed for the harvest.||* and works miracles among you||9|
|Your lawlessness (a-nomiai) have turned those away,||do so by the works of the law (nomos)||10|
|and your sins have kept the good things from you.||or by hearing with faith?||10|
From Paul to the Gospel of Mark
In this context (or rather, recalling those suggestions that the Gospel of Mark is derived from Paul’s letters) Betz’s further comment about the Gospel of Mark takes on special interest:
It should be noted that the motif [of seeing] is also part of the NT miracle-stories; see e.g. Mark 2:12; cf. 4:12, 8:18. (p. 131)
Have a look at those references:
And immediately he arose, took up the bed, and went forth before them all, insomuch that they all were amazed and glorified God, saying, “We never saw it in this fashion!”
that, ‘seeing they may see, and not perceive, and hearing they may hear, and not understand; lest at any time they should be converted and their sins should be forgiven them.’
Having eyes, see ye not? And having ears, hear ye not? And do ye not remember?
Notice that the motif is not simply a quotidian act of seeing. It is of seeing something unprecedented, something life-saving, something only God could reveal.
We now more readily hear the echoes of Jeremiah in these passages.
What about the crucifixion, though? That’s the scene that was set before the “very eyes” of the Galatians.
Mark 15:15-41 (KJ21)
15 And so Pilate, willing to content the people, released Barabbas unto them and delivered Jesus, when he had scourged Him, to be crucified.
16 And the soldiers led Him away into the hall called the Praetorium, and they called together the whole detachment.
17 And they clothed Him with purple, and they platted a crown of thorns and put it about His head,
18 and began to salute Him, “Hail, King of the Jews!”
19 And they smote Him on the head with a reed and spat upon Him and, bowing their knees, worshiped Him.
20 And when they had mocked Him, they took off the purple from Him, and put His own clothes on Him, and led Him out to crucify Him.
21 And they compelled one Simon, a Cyrenian, the father of Alexander and Rufus, who was passing by, coming from the country, to bear His cross.
22 And they brought Him unto the place called Golgotha (which is, being interpreted, The Place of a Skull).
23 And they gave Him to drink wine mingled with myrrh, but He received it not.
24 And when they had crucified Him, they parted His garments, casting lots for them to see what every man should take.
25 And it was the third hour when they crucified Him.
26 And the superscription of His accusation was written above: The King Of The Jews.
27 And with Him they crucified two thieves, the one on His right hand and the other on His left.
28 . . . . [omitting probable gloss]
29 And those who passed by railed at Him, wagging their heads and saying, “Ah, thou that destroyest the temple and buildest it in three days,
30 save thyself and come down from the cross!”
31 Likewise also the chief priests, mocking, said among themselves with the scribes, “He saved others; himself he cannot save!
32 Let Christ, the King of Israel, descend now from the cross, that we may see and believe.” And those who were crucified with Him reviled Him.
33 And when the sixth hour had come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour.
34 And at the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?” which is, being interpreted, “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?”
35 And some of those who stood by, when they heard it, said, “Behold, he calleth Elijah.”
36 And one ran and filled a sponge full of vinegar, and put it on a reed and gave it to Him to drink, saying, “Let him alone. Let us see whether Elijah will come to take him down.”
37 And Jesus cried out with a loud voice, and gave up the ghost.
38 And the veil of the temple was rent in two from the top to the bottom.
39 And when the centurion who stood opposite Him saw that He so cried out and gave up the ghost, he said, “Truly, this Man was the Son of God!”
40 There were also women looking on afar off, among whom were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the Less and of Joses, and Salome
41 (who also, when He was in Galilee, had followed Him and ministered unto Him), and many other women who came up with Him unto Jerusalem.
Explicit references to seeing and hearing are sparse: the centurion sees and the people hear Jesus cry out. Whether the centurion truly “sees” is debatable. Some say he is the only one to recognise the identity of Jesus while others that he is as blind as the others and is in fact throwing out a sarcastic barb. Those who hear, note, also “hear not”, confusing the call to God for a call to Elijah.
Women (the only representatives of the disciples attendant) are looking “from afar off” so presumably can only “see” indistinctly.
The whole scene is a graphic depiction of actants seeing but really failing to see who Jesus is.
Back to Galatians
We read a graphic account of Jesus’ crucifixion in the Gospel of Mark, so is this the sort of narrative Paul might have delivered to the Galatians?
I doubt it for several reasons. Firstly, Mark’s narrative actually has very little vivid detail of the crucifixion itself. The account is really depicting the failure of onlookers to see and hear. The most vivid sections are the mock robing and mock worship of Jesus as king and the cynical onlookers mocking the figure on the cross. We see none of the “crucified Christ”, or at least precious little, that so inspired many later artists.
Now to the Gospel of Mark again
Recall that the Gospel’s major motif is that of parable. We might even say “metaphor”. A central message conveyed by the parables is seeing but not seeing, hearing but not hearing. Nothing is spoken without a parable.
Mark 4:11-12, 33-34
11 And He said unto them, “Unto you it is given to know the mystery of the Kingdom of God; but unto them that are without, all these things are done in parables,
12 that, ‘seeing they may see, and not perceive, and hearing they may hear, and not understand; lest at any time they should be converted and their sins should be forgiven them.’”
. . . .
33 And with many such parables He spoke the Word unto them, as they were able to hear it;
34 but without a parable spoke He not unto them.
So Paul meant…?
The Gospel of Mark’s narrative is not a graphic description of Christ crucified but it is a graphic depiction of seeing but failing to see Christ crucified. So it is not likely that Paul rhetorically presented the Galatians with what we read in Mark 15.
That starts us wondering. If Paul did indeed present a vivid picture of Jesus Christ on the cross then would not we expect to find some such image turning up in the later Gospel, especially in a Gospel that appears in other respects to owe so much to Paul?
We are not told, at least not directly. What we read is a parable subsequently written by an evangelist — a parable about those unseeing witnesses before whose eyes Jesus was publicly crucified.