2011-12-01

Jesus with Isaac in Gethsemane: And How Historical Inquiry Trumps Christian Exegesis

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by Neil Godfrey

Other uses for clubs and knives: Flickr photo by Meyer Potashman

Edited with explanatory note on Jesus not struggling with his sacrificial vocation — Dec 2, 2011, 08:10 am

This post concludes the series outlining Huizenga‘s thesis that Matthew created his Jesus as an antitype of Isaac. The earlier posts are:

  1. Isaac Bound: template for Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew — this examines the Jewish beliefs about the Isaac offering narrative before the Christian era;
  2. Isaac Bound & Jesus: first century evidence — this surveys Jewish and some Christian beliefs about Abraham’s offering of Isaac in the early Christian era;
  3. Matthew’s Jesus crafted from the story of Isaac — a synopsis of the Isaac allusions to Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew up to the Gethsemane scene.

This post concludes my presentation of Huizenga’s chapter The Matthean Jesus and Isaac  in Reading the Bible Intertextually. It first addresses verbal allusions and thematic correspondences between Genesis 22 and the Gethsemane and arrest scenes in the Gospel of Matthew; it concludes with a consideration of the reasons the Gospel author may have used Isaac in this way and the significance of his having done so. I also draw attention to Huizenga’s argument that while we have historical evidence for the likelihood of Isaac being used as a recognizable model for Jesus we have only later Christian exegesis to support the more widely held current view that Isaiah’s Suffering Servant was used as Matthew’s template.

What follows assumes some knowledge of the posts that have preceded.

Gethesemane

In Matthew 26:36 Jesus tells his companions:

Sit here [Καθίσατε αὐτοῦ] while I go over there and pray.

In Genesis 22:5 (LXX) Abraham says to his servants:

Sit here [Καθίσατε αὐτοῦ] . . . [we] will go over there and worship.

The above comparison takes on a little more interest when we learn that the adverbial αὐτοῦ occurs only 3 times in the New Testament: Luke 9:27; Acts 18:19, 21:4.

Jesus adjures his inner three disciples to watch and pray “that you may not come into testing” — Matt. 26:41.

Compare Genesis 22:1 where God “tested” Abraham.

The Arrest

Compare Matthew 26 verses 47 & 55 with Genesis 22 verses 6 & 10 / 3, 6, 7, 9:

μετὰ μαχαιρῶν καὶ ξύλων = “with swords and clubs

μάχαιρα = “knife” / ξύλα= “wood

Huizenga comments: Only Genesis 22 and the synoptic accounts present these nouns in such close collocation as instruments of violent death.

Perhaps conceiving thematic coherence here depends on an awareness of the Gospel’s thoroughgoing apocalypticism, particularly the idea that all events, even those done by God’s human and satanic enemies, are ultimately under God’s control, serving God’s purposes.  (p. 78)

I return to this thematic coherence below.

Compare also Matthew 26:50 with Genesis 22:12

ἐπέβαλον τὰς χεῖρας ἐπ τὸν Ἰησον  — That is, after Judas kissed Jesus the crowd “laid hands on Jesus

Μὴ ἐπιβάλῃς τὴν χεῖρά σου ἐπὶ τὸ παιδάριον — The angel ordered Abraham “do not lay your hand on the boy [i.e. Isaac]

And Matthew 26:51 with Genesis 22:10

ἐκτείνας τὴν χεῖρα ἀπέσπασεν τὴν μάχαιραν αὐτοῦ  — A nameless disciple . . .“stretched forth his hand to draw his sword

ἐξέτεινεν Αβρααμ τὴν χεῖρα αὐτοῦ λαβεῖν τὴν μάχαιραν  —  “Abraham stretched forth his hand to take the knife” to slay Isaac

These intriguing verbal parallels are too strong to be fortuitous. We encounter a high degree of explicit verbal correspondence, Genesis 22 is a prominent precursor text within Israel’s scripture, the Akedah was a prominent precursor tradition in the Jewish cultural encyclopedia, and the Gospel has already presented several allusions to Isaac.

As the theoretically savvy routinely point out, however, simply identifying and cataloging parallels, merely hunting for sources and influences, will not do. How might the reader make coherent sense of these data?

Aware of the picture of the Isaac of extrabiblical tradition, the Matthean emphasis on obedience, and the Matthean apocalyptic outlook, the reader perceives suggestive, creative, and ironic thematic parallels between Abraham, his sacrificial implements of the knife and wood, and Isaac, on the one hand; and God, the crowd with its deadly implements of swords and clubs, and Jesus on the other. (p. 76, my formatting)

The sustained theme of Jesus’ obedience was addressed in the previous post in this series. Jesus experiences no struggle in order to go to the cross: he is unflinchingly resolute from the outset. There is no hint of a struggle with his sacrificial vocation in the face of death. Huizenga  quotes Davies and Allison here, “[Jesus’] course is fixed by the will of God, and this overrides whatever beliefs or feelings he has about death, so there is no real resistance. For Jesus the issue is not death but submission to the divine will: ‘Thy will be done.'” He adds, “There is no profession in the Matthean Jesus’ payers; he resolves no existential struggle.” So Jesus even goes out to meet Judas himself. There is only steadfast submission to his Father’s will.

Others (Davies and Allison) have published their observations of this textual relationship and suggested the possibility that Matthew was paralleling the faiths of Abraham and Jesus or the sacrifices of Isaac and Jesus:

  1. In addition to the parallels of wording and content noted above
  2. Abraham and Jesus take along 3 people with them
  3. Abraham/Isaac and Jesus separate themselves from the others for worship or prayer
  4. Both episodes are set on a mountain
  5. Both involve trials

Huizenga does not concur with the Abraham-Jesus parallel suggested here. Rather, he believes Matthew is matching God with Abraham and Jesus with Isaac:

  1. The Gospel has twice designated Jesus “the beloved son” (i.e. the one to be sacrificed — see previous posts) as well as “son and “my beloved” thus equating him with Isaac;
  2. Gethsemane concerns Jesus’ death as the Akedah concern’s Isaac’s death;
  3. In Gethsemane God is silently with Jesus (note the prayer to the Father) as Abraham is with Isaac;
  4. Both Gethsemane and the Akedah concern the sons’ willingness to obey their respective fathers  and endure sacrifice;
  5. Since Jewish tradition understood Isaac’s willingness and obedience as identical to Abraham’s, Jesus can speak Abraham’s words here in Gethsemane as a new Isaac:
    • — thus Jesus’ words “Sit here” allude to Genesis 22:5 and produce an echo of a willing Isaac;
    • — and both Gethsemane and the Akedah are a “test” even though Genesis 22 says God tested Abraham.

So,

At the arrest, Jesus obeys his Father’s will and voluntarily proceeds with the passion, eschewing the angelic aid and mortal might that would save him from death (Matt 26:52-53).

Judas and a large crowd approach, armed with swords and clubs, μετὰ μαχαιρῶν καὶ ξύλων, or, perhaps better, with knives and pieces of wood for their unwitting sacrificial offering of Jesus (26:47).

The reader is informed that Judas had told the crowd, “The one I shall kiss is the man; arrest him” (26:48); Judas’ plan is that the kiss should immediately precipitate Jesus’ arrest. Judas addresses Jesus as “Rabbi” (a negative term in the Gospel; c.f. 23:7-8, 26:25) and kisses him (26:40). Before the crowd can act on the signal and arrest Jesus, however, Jesus interjects and addresses Judas as ἑταῖρε (“friend,” also a negative term; cf. 20:13, 22:12), saying to him, ἐφ’ ὃ πάρει [=”for what purpose are you come?] (26:50a). Given Jesus’ control of events throughout the Passion Narrative, the phrase likely possesses the import of “Friend, now do that for which you are here.”

In so responding, Jesus has interrupted Judas’ proposed pattern of kiss-arrest. Jesus has seized control of events. Only “then” — τότε, as in 26:3 — after Jesus gives the go-ahead, as it were, can the crowd lay hands upon Jesus and arrest him . . . . as Abraham would have laid hands on his son Isaac (Gen 22:12) . . . (p. 77, my formatting and emphasis)

That “then” (τότε) is thus significant (c.f. Matt 26:1-5). Jesus is actively contributing to the working out of the divine will for his own sacrificial death.

Above I drew attention to Huizenga’s suggestion that the thematic coherence of some of the parallels relies on a reader understanding the “thoroughgoing apocalpticism, particularly the idea that all events . . . are ultimately under God’s control, serving God’s purposes.”

Within this perspective the actions of the crowd are (ultimately) God’s act or doing.

God as Father of Jesus the beloved Son in effect wields with its μαχαιραι and ξύλα (“swords and clubs”) to bring about Jesus’ sacrificial death in the same way Abraham the father of Isaac the beloved son wielded the μαχαιρα and ξύλα (“kine” and “wood”) to bring about Isaac’s sacrificial death.

 Genesis 22 / Akedah  Matthean Gethsemane—Arrest Sequence
 Abraham  God
 Knife and wood  Crowd with swords and clubs
 Isaac  Jesus

The final proof

A nameless disciple threatens to derail the plan at the last moment when he “stretched forth his hand” and “took his sword” to attack the servant of the high priest. By contrast Abraham had obediently taken the knife and stretched for his hand to obey God. It is important to note that there are far more characters in the wings of this narrative than modern audiences sometimes recognize. Twelve legions of angels were at the disposal of Jesus. He only had to ask and they would have delivered him.

So Jesus must remind this disciple of the will of God as he had prophesied time and again earlier, and as had been set out in the scriptures. The disciple’s action and Jesus’ response dramatically serve to highlight Jesus’ voluntary obedience to be made a sacrifice according to God’s will.

Thus far Huizenga has addressed verbal parallels and thematic correspondence. He concludes with some additional reflections.

1. Why? What is the reason for an Isaac typology?

One possibility is that the typology functions in service of the Matthean motif of Jesus as a new temple.

Jesus in Matthew’s Gospel is shown to be the new place of God’s presence:

  • He is called “God with us” — Immanuel — in 1:23
  • He himself is quoted as saying he is greater than the Temple — in 12:6
  • He announces that he himself is in the midst of any two or three who gather in his name — in 18:20
  • In his final commission to his disciples he declares he will always be with them — 28:20

Jesus is a new dwelling place of God. He is a new temple.

Jesus is also the ultimate sacrifice. Recall the Akedah was associated with the Temple Mount and that it functioned as the paradigm of all later sacrifice. Jesus replaces this and so becomes the new sacrifice that represents that temple.

2. What this means for how Jesus saves (according to Matthew)

Huizenga observes that Matthean soteriology has been addressed very little by scholars and that those who do tend to dress it up in “desacralized Protestantism.” But if Matthew is thinking of his Jesus as a new Isaac then this question deserves to be faced head on.

Its [Matthew’s soteriology] shape would likely resemble the model of the meritorious, vicarious atonement of 4 Maccabees or, given the Gospel’s apocalypticism, a Christus Victor model of atonement, or both. The two are not exclusive.

3. Let the “Suffering Servant” of Isaiah take a back seat

Huizenga argues that the role of the Isaianic Suffering Servant has been overemphasized in interpretations of Matthew and Matthew’s Christology. Quoting Alan Segal Huizenga notes

in spite of the common assumption, Isaiah 53 is rarely quoted in the N. T. and rarer yet is any use of it to show vicarious atonement.

Further, in his own words,

There was no discrete, identifiable servant figure in the first-century Jewish encyclopedia for the author of the Gospel to employ or his readers and hearers to perceive . . .

By recognizing the Isaac typology in Matthew we tie Jesus more firmly to Israel itself, and not just Israel’s scriptures. The suffering servant motif is extracted by exegesis from the scriptures and has no historical presence in the cultural mindset of Matthew’s earliest readers. Exegesis along cannot be used to establish our historical understanding of the first readers.

So the regular scholarly mantra that Matthew models Jesus on a putative notion of Isaiah’s Suffering Servant is without historical evidence.

This is not historical investigation of the Gospel, strictly speaking, but rather creative Christian canonical exegesis. (p. 81)

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Neil Godfrey

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22 Comments

  • 2011-12-01 23:16:32 GMT+0000 - 23:16 | Permalink

    “There is no hint of a struggle in the face of death.”

    Wow:

    “Matthew 26:36 Then cometh Jesus with them unto a place called Gethsemane, and saith unto his disciples, Sit ye here, while I go yonder and pray.

    Matthew 26:37 And he took with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be sorrowful and sore troubled.

    Matthew 26:38 Then saith he unto them, My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death: abide ye here, and watch with me.

    Matthew 26:39 And he went forward a little, and fell on his face, and prayed, saying, My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass away from me: nevertheless, not as I will, but as thou wilt.

    Matthew 26:40 And he cometh unto the disciples, and findeth them sleeping, and saith unto Peter, What, could ye not watch with me one hour?

    Matthew 26:41 Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation: the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.

    Matthew 26:42 Again a second time he went away, and prayed, saying, My Father, if this cannot pass away, except I drink it, thy will be done.

    Matthew 26:43 And he came again and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy.

    Matthew 26:44 And he left them again, and went away, and prayed a third time, saying again the same words.”

    I can hardly understand you missing this but all your sources here did as well?

    I agree that “Matthew” is Typing Isaac here but you also fail to mention above that “Matthew” has inherited a base from “Mark”. Again, “Mark” has a primary theme of his Jesus crucifying his Passions, and that is what is done above. Editing is exponentially more likely to contain additions than deletions. “Matthew” added the Isaac type but was stuck with the Gethsemane scene because of the scope (too much to exorcise). Your analysis above is anachronistic trying to attribute a modern type credit to “Matthew” here for consistency. This type of blatant contradiction was standard for the Gospellers due to inherited themes that contradicted.

    • 2011-12-01 23:41:00 GMT+0000 - 23:41 | Permalink

      In my previous post I did make clearer what I should have repeated here — I do not include all the nuances of the arguments. There was no struggle, and I should have been clearer to do Huizenga justice, over whether or not Jesus was absolutely fixed on going to his death in obedience to God’s will. His mind was made up to go — there was no thought as to not submitting to the will of God even as a sacrifice. That is what becomes clear in the prayer.

      There are twelve legions of angels waiting there, we soon learn, that Jesus could at any time call upon to deliver him. But he has no thought to do that.

      I did not mention Mark. I tried to keep as close as possilble to a presentation of Huizenga’s argument. And even this argument is a mere chapter summary of a thesis.

    • 2011-12-02 00:03:01 GMT+0000 - 00:03 | Permalink

      Let’s not forget either that Isaac is only one half of the Matthew’s “Christology” — as we are informed in the opening verse he is the Son of David as well as the Son of Abraham. The Gethsemane scene strikes me as derived from motifs of David’s flight to the Mount of Olives and even Odysseus’s stepping aside (from a meeting place of “angelic” beings — nymphs) awag from his crew to pray when faced with mortal threat — only himself to fall asleep while his crew yielded to temptation and failed their test.

      Jesus in his prayer is saying he does not like the prospect of pain, but there is no question in his mind over his resolve to submit to God’s will. The “sorrow unto death” is what dramatizes the grandeur of Jesus’s resolution to go to his death if it is the will of God.

      Matthew is quite capable of cutting bits out of his sources if and when it suits him. Note his treatment of Mark’s scene of the exorcism of Legion, as one example.

    • 2011-12-02 08:13:42 GMT+0000 - 08:13 | Permalink

      I have added a clarifying note to my originally poorly expressed representation of Huizenga’s argument in the above post. What I added was:

      Huizenga quotes Davies and Allison here, “[Jesus’] course is fixed by the will of God, and this overrides whatever beliefs or feelings he has about death, so there is no real resistance. For Jesus the issue is not death but submission to the divine will: ‘Thy will be done.'” He adds, “There is no profession in the Matthean Jesus’ payers; he resolves no existential struggle.”

  • 2011-12-01 23:53:57 GMT+0000 - 23:53 | Permalink

    The similarity of these two stories is that they both take place in a culture governed by the concept that God is pleased when a human being sacrifices another living being in a worshipful ritual. This concept started with the story of Cain and Abel, and this concept was developed over many centuries by the routine sacrifices of animals at the Jerusalem Temple.

    In this culture, people ritually sacrificed first fruits and first-born livestock. It is fitting that such a culture might include a story of a patriarch considering the next logical step of sacrificing his own first-born human son. If a devout man would sacrifice his first-born lamb, then might not a super-devout man sacrifice his first-born son? Why should there be a moral boundary between the two kinds of sacrifice? In such a culture, there should be a teaching or a story to explain the boundary.

    Other possible developments in such a culture might be stories that gods have children and that there have been inter-generational killings among gods and that some such killings have been sacrificial. There might have been a God the Father who killed his God the Son, and this killing had a sacrificial purpose.

    Does the latter story necessarily proceed directly from the previous story? In particular, does the Jesus story necessarily proceed directly from the Isaac story?

    Or might the two stories be essentially independent? Their only common feature might be a culture governed by the concept that God might be pleased by a sacrifice of a living being? Such a culture is likely to spontaneously generate various stories about sacrifices for divine purposes. There might be stories about two brothers sacrificing grain and animals, about the creation of a golden calf, about competitive sacrifices to the Jewish God and to Baal — various stories involving sacrifices, in a culture where sacrifices are a central ritual.

    So, I am not convinced by your arguments that the story of the arrest of Jesus in the Garden of Gesthemane was written directly on the model of the story of the sacrifice of Isaac.

    Knife/wood = crowd/swords/clubs? Both episodes on a mountain? Both involve a trial? These “similarities” might astound you, but they sure do not astound me.

  • Evan
    2011-12-02 05:02:33 GMT+0000 - 05:02 | Permalink

    Off topic, but Neil, did you see that 17% of Aussies do not believe in the historicity of Jesus in a recent poll?

  • 2011-12-02 09:35:38 GMT+0000 - 09:35 | Permalink

    Is there actually anything uniquely Matthean in the Gethsemane narrative? From start to finish, it seems Matthew is copying Mark, with very minor variations. If he had a specific fetish for the Akedah, you’d think there’d be some redactional evidence. Did I miss something?

    • 2011-12-02 10:05:06 GMT+0000 - 10:05 | Permalink

      Huizenga probably subscribes to the Neo-Griesbach hypothesis (see Huizenga, The New Isaac, p. 6, n. 15). However, given that the Akedah belongs to the five most popular motifs of third-century Christian artists, Matthew was hardly alone among the early Christians to have a “specific fetish for the Akedah.”

      Some scholars have disallowed any Christological significance of the scene of Abraham offering Isaac in the pre-Constantine era. Instead, they argue that Isaac was seen as a character “at risk” who was delivered from danger (see Robin Margaret Jensen, Understanding Early Christian Art, p. 27), but this argument is based on pure speculation.

  • 2011-12-02 11:05:55 GMT+0000 - 11:05 | Permalink

    This is a problem with the literary narrative analysis. Interpretations of the narrative whole make beautiful sense but then we have to stop and wonder what has gone on when we see very similar passages in another narrative with different connotations and that was supposed to be earlier.

    It is easy to raise all sorts of scenarios to explain this, but they are without any evidence. I simply don’t know. What are the chances of discovering human faces on Mars or in human testicles? Are we seeing patterns generated in a similar way?

    The most annoying thing is we don’t know Mark’s background. There is a huge gap — a huge missing link — between the epistles and gospels. Whatever there used to be was not deemed worthy of preservation by the factional winners.

  • 2011-12-02 16:04:57 GMT+0000 - 16:04 | Permalink

    Isaac’s substantive role in Matthew is, in my opinion, one of two very exciting aspects of Huizenga’s work, with the second aspect being his examination of the Isaianic Servant material in Matthew. “Rumors of the Servant’s demise have been greatly exaggerated,” Huizenga wittily remarks, when reviewing recent studies on the role played by the Servant figure in New Testament Christology.

    Huizenga accuses modern interpreters of performing a largely Protestant canonical reading of Matthew, while attempting to do historical-critical exegesis. Huizenga argues that, given what is known about ancient Jewish interpretive practices, it is implausible that the Servant Songs of the Masoretic text would have been seen as a block that identified a special individual. (I wonder whether parts of Dr. Carrier’s recent post, “The Dying Messiah,” would qualify for such criticism.)

    Even in Second Isaiah, the Servant is in many places identified as Israel. The Greek translator of Isaiah neither perceives nor presents a Suffering Servant figure. Admittedly, the Targum does link a Servant Song with the Messiah, but removes almost all references to the suffering of the Servant and applies them to the enemies of Israel. “The best judgment would be an attitude of suspicion towards the role of any sort of Servant figure for the [Matthean] Gospel.”

    • 2011-12-02 16:39:52 GMT+0000 - 16:39 | Permalink

      I posted various interpretations of the Servant in Isaiah and their implications for how we read the N.T. a little while ago: http://vridar.wordpress.com/2011/07/08/the-servant-in-isaiah-40-55-scholarly-interpretations-individual-andor-collective-identities/

      Another common modern idea is that there was a general expectation of a messianic advent around the time of Jesus and I suspect that notion is another product of an anomalous interpretation of OT passages, too.

      The main reason I think I am very partial to the role of Isaac in the gospels is Jon Levenson’s “Death and Resurrection of the Beloved Son”. I am sure there are similar works that I am unaware of. His work persuaded me that both Isaac as a willing and atoning sacrifice for the Jewish nation as a whole, and the concept of the Beloved or Beloved Son or Only Son being a near technical term for one destined to be sacrificed, were part and parcel of a significant corner of “Judaism” in the first centuries b.c.e and c.e. That, to me, opens up so many plausible possibilities for the generation of Christianity.

      I wonder if there is anything in Mark that points to his use of the Isaac model, too. We have other cases where Matthew has expanded on some of Mark’s motifs. Was he doing something similar with the Isaac theme? Will have to have a re-think of Mark.

    • 2011-12-02 19:09:28 GMT+0000 - 19:09 | Permalink

      How steady does Huizenga’s thesis look if we only have the first 25 chapters of Matthew?

      • 2011-12-03 11:52:51 GMT+0000 - 11:52 | Permalink

        “How steady does Huizenga’s thesis look if we only have the first 25 chapters of Matthew?”

        The question seems well worth investigating. For instance, in the transfiguration scene (Matt. 17:1-8), the presence of a Moses-Jesus typology is intuitively far more appealing than Huizenga’s interpretation, according to which the “ominous note of the Akedah should be heard as a death omen in the divine voice of Matt. 17:5.”

        Thus, Robert M. Price, along with other scholars, believes that Jesus’ ascent of the unnamed mountain and his transfiguration there corresponds to Moses’ ascent of Mount Sinai to receive the tablets of the covenant and his shining visage in Exodus 24 and 34:29. “Matthew and Luke depict Jesus as the Prophet like unto Moses, and each has him promulgating a new Torah.” Apparently, there would be no need to introduce Isaac into this scenario; cf. Dale C. Allison, Jr., The New Moses, pp. 243-248. (Huizenga does however say that “one typology need not exclude another.”)

        Similarly, it is hard to resist the idea that, at both the baptism (3:17) and the transfiguration (17:3), the heavenly voice conflates words from Ps 2:7 and Isa 42:1, the latter a text about the Servant. A good deal more persuasion is needed to convince the reader that, as Huizenga states, “the simplest solution for the allusive riddle of Matt. 3:17 is Gen. 22:2, 11-12, and 15-16.”

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  • John MacDonald
    2016-06-06 14:08:22 GMT+0000 - 14:08 | Permalink

    What does it mean that a comment is in moderation?

    • Neil Godfrey
      2016-06-06 20:44:24 GMT+0000 - 20:44 | Permalink

      I removed the comment from public view because it is an unreadable wall of text. You can still see it so it is not lost. Feel free to re-write it.

      • John MacDonald
        2016-06-06 21:07:18 GMT+0000 - 21:07 | Permalink

        Hi Neil. I’m sorry my original post was so cluttered. I have changed a few things and broke it up into readable paragraphs. I hope you can let this one stay.

        THE HUMANITY OF JESUS AND THE GARDEN OF GETHSEMANE:

        I think a important aspect of recent Jesus research is the emphasizing of Jesus’ humanity over him being a God (Kirk, McGrath, etc.). For instance, In Mark Jesus shows himself to be a fallible human prophet, not a God, when he is unable to do miracles in his home town:

        “Then Jesus told them, ‘A prophet is without honor only in his hometown, among his relatives, and in his own household.’ So He could not perform any miracles there, except to lay His hands on a few of the sick and heal them (Mark 6:5).”

        This “humanity of Jesus” is no where more evident than in Jesus’ atoning death in Mark, where Jesus is a human in agony and terror before God. Mark’s portrayal of the death of Jesus was one of reconciling humanity to God through atonement. Upon Jesus’ death, the tearing of the veil of the temple symbolized the removing of the barrier between people and God. The words of the Roman soldier that “Jesus was truly the son of God” symbolized the reconciling of the differences between Jews and Gentiles. The women being the witnesses to the empty tomb reflected the eroding of the inferior place of women and the unreliability of the testimony of women in the eyes of God. Hence, on this point, Paul also said “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus (Gal 3:28).”

        How Jesus got to his atoning death reveals his humanity. Jesus’ prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane shows him to be a person in agony and terror about his fate, terrified of his place in God’s plan, and petitioning God to change His plan! You would need to go through complicated mental gymnastics to explain the prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane from a Trinitarian point of view. In fact, it doesn’t make sense to see Jesus as any kind of God here, since it seems silly that a God would be terrified of his atoning death, because that is the only reason he would be on earth in the first place.

        Does it make sense that in a story about a God who came to earth to die to wipe out the sin debt of mankind, that this God would beg to abandon his post? After all, Jesus knows he has nothing to fear because he will just suffer for a few hours and eventually be resurrected: Jesus says:

        “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men. They will kill him, and after three days he will rise (Mark 9:31).”

        Jesus is not portrayed by Mark as a God, but just a terrified human. Probably what we see in Jesus’ prayer in The Garden of Gethsemane is the intrusion of doubts in Jesus’ mind about whether God will resurrect him or not (something that wouldn’t have happened if Jesus was a God, since as a God Jesus could have been in direct communication with God The Father). Or maybe Jesus had originally “discovered” that he was to be raised on the third day because he interpreted the story of Jonah in such a way that he believed it was to be fulfilled by him (by Jesus). We see this in the gospel of Matthew when Matthew writes:

        “38Then some of the scribes and Pharisees said to Him, ‘Teacher, we want to see a sign from You.’ 39But He answered and said to them, ‘An evil and adulterous generation craves for a sign; and yet no sign will be given to it but the sign of Jonah the prophet; 40for just as JONAH WAS THREE DAYS AND THREE NIGHTS IN THE BELLY OF THE SEA MONSTER, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth (Matthew 12:38-40).”

        Maybe Jesus was losing faith in this hermeneutic (that maybe this prophesy wasn’t to be fulfilled by him), and so was afraid his atoning death wouldn’t end in resurrection.

        In any case, whatever Jesus thought God said in response to his desperate prayer in Gesthemane, Jesus comes out of it with renewed vigor and purpose: spouting blasphemy to the Jewish high council and telling Pilate he was the king of the Jews. So what had happened? Maybe Jesus thought God told him he would now be a traditional messiah, and that God would intervene in human history and help Jesus to defeat his enemies (The Romans and the Jewish Elite).

        When this doesn’t come to pass and Jesus goes to the cross, Jesus can’t understand it and Cries out for God to intervene in history and send a divine being to come and help him escape and bring him victory: Mark records that:

        “At the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, ‘ELOI, ELOI, LAMA SABACHTHANI?’ which is translated, ‘MY GOD, MY GOD, WHY HAVE YOU FORSAKEN ME?’ When some of the bystanders heard it, they began saying, ‘Behold, He is calling for Elijah.’ 36Someone ran and filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on a reed, and gave Him a drink, saying, ‘Let us see whether Elijah will come to take Him down’ (Mark 15:34-36).”

        And so maybe Jesus’ fear and wanting to opt out of God’s plan was, in fact, all a part of God’s plan. Maybe Jesus as a “willing sacrifice” could not pay the sin debt for the world, but maybe Jesus as an “unwilling sacrifice” could. If it would have been meaningful to God if Jesus wanted to offer up himself willingly, imagine how much more it would have meant to God if Jesus was sacrificed unwillingly and in terror!

        Luke evidently had a problem with the portrayal of Jesus’ death and last words in Mark, so Luke changed Mark’s portrayal of Jesus’ last words from a terrified ” “MY GOD, MY GOD, WHY HAVE YOU FORSAKEN ME? (Mark 15:34-36),” to the resolute “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit (Luke 23:46).”

        An important new book about the humanity of Jesus by Dr. Daniel Kirk is coming out soon. The book is “A Man Attested by God: The Human Jesus of the Synoptic Gospels” see here: http://www.amazon.com/Man-Attested-God-Synoptic-Gospels/dp/0802867952/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1465245452&sr=1-1&keywords=a+man+attested+by+god .

        About this book, Dr. James McGrath says:

        “I cannot emphasize enough what an important study this is. I am hopeful that it will radically shift the direction of the field, and put an end to facile and unpersuasive claims that this or that in the Synoptic Gospels reflects the depiction of Jesus as himself in some sense the one God of Israel. Here is what I wrote by way of endorsement: This may be the most important book in Christology to appear in recent years. Written in an era when it has become increasingly popular to insist that Jesus is already depicted as a pre-existent figure in the Synoptic Gospels, one who is absorbed into the “divine identity,” Daniel Kirk makes a persuasive case for viewing the depiction of Jesus in Matthew, Mark, and Luke as one of idealized humanity. Unlike many other proposals, this category, and this volume in which it is proposed, does good justice to the evidence, and is likely to stand the test of time.”

        Here is Dr. McGrath’s blog page on the book: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/2016/04/a-man-attested-by-god-daniel-kirk-on-the-human-jesus-of-the-synoptic-gospels.html

        Here is Dr. Kirk’s blog page about the book: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/storiedtheology/2016/03/18/revelation-of-jesus/

        It’s definitely one to look forward to!

  • John MacDonald
    2016-06-08 01:16:01 GMT+0000 - 01:16 | Permalink

    Although Jesus is usually assumed to be a God, it’s sometimes hard to know, when reading the New Testament, whether the authors thought Jesus was a man or a God. For instance, Mark portrays Jesus as a fallible prophet, not an almighty God, who is unable to perform miracles in his home town (see Mark 6:5). The prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane is another example of this. In the prayer, Jesus is a man in agony and terror about his fate, terrified of his place in God’s plan, and petitioning God to change His plan! You would need to go through complicated mental gymnastics to explain the prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane from a Trinitarian point of view. In fact, it doesn’t really make sense to see Jesus as any kind of God here, since it seems silly that a God would be terrified of his atoning death, because that is the only reason he would be on earth in the first place. Does it make sense that in a story about a God who came to earth to die to wipe out the sin debt of mankind, that this God would beg to abandon his post? After all, Jesus knows he has nothing to fear because he will just suffer for a few hours and eventually be resurrected: Jesus says “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men. They will kill him, and after three days he will rise (Mark 9:31).” You can picture a human Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, doubting that he will be resurrected (and terrified by that) – doubts that Jesus would not have if he was a God.

    • Neil Godfrey
      2016-06-08 01:26:43 GMT+0000 - 01:26 | Permalink

      The questions you raise are for Christian believers. My interest (and the argument of the post) lies elsewhere.

      • John MacDonald
        2016-06-08 01:37:18 GMT+0000 - 01:37 | Permalink

        The questions I raise have to do with whether the authors of the New Testament were portraying Jesus as a God or a man. This is relevant for the mythicism discussion because Doherty and Carrier think Jesus was being portrayed as a dying/rising God, while Ehrman and McGrath think Jesus is being portrayed as a failed apocalyptic prophet man.

        • Neil Godfrey
          2016-06-08 03:23:11 GMT+0000 - 03:23 | Permalink

          My post might be used by mythicists but it is not about mythicism. It comes from the research of mainstream scholarship where mythicism is clearly not the issue at all. The post is about the influence of the Isaac motifs on Matthew’s Passion Narrative.

          My interest is in understanding the sources of our Christian documents. Mythicism is another question that needs an entirely separate treatment. I am not arguing mythicism here. I am exploring the origins of Christianity and its earliest documents.

          I know some people refer to Vridar as a mythicist blog but it is not. It is open to discussing and exploring mythicism (which I am not doing in this post), but much more it is interested in understanding the nature of the Biblical literature.

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