2014-09-22

The Deep Mystery of Peter Cutting Off the Ear of Malchus

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by Neil Godfrey

Updated 3 hours after original posting.

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In the land of Laputa modern-day inhabitants contemplate the deep mysteries hidden in the incident of Peter cutting off the right ear of the servant of the high priest and what such a very strange event could possibly mean for the reconstruction of the life of the historical Jesus and the origins of Christianity. Indeed, this scene is so mysterious that professors fervently desire more minds would deeply reflect upon it and share their discoveries in serious peer-reviewed research publications.

The story in the Gospels is puzzling enough that it ought to be the focus of far more attention than it has been. Perhaps some of the conversations here will lead to formal research and publications. One can hope! (comment by JFM)

Should we believe such an event to be historical? Why, of course:

[I]t is hard to imagine Christians, eager to depict themselves and their leader as not violent revolutionaries, making this incident up. Why would they have done so? Is it not more likely that the incident reflects something that actually happened, and the oddities of the story reflect an attempt to reinterpret the event? (Case of the Severed Ear)

And it contains deep meaning and significance, too:

It has long seemed to me that this incident might have had a significant impact on the way things unfolded for Jesus. If the arresting party was hoping to reason with Jesus and get him to avoid causing a stir during the feast that might draw in Roman troops, or if they were hoping at worst to lock him away until after Passover, they may well have been trying to avoid an eruption of violence, even when provoked. Moreover, for all we know, they may have subdued, or even killed, the person who sliced off the ear (assuming it wasn’t Peter), after which Jesus prevented his followers from doing anything further. Perhaps none or very few of the rest of them were armed. And perhaps this incident was a major reason why the authorities persecuted the subsequent Christian movement, more than anything they believed about Jesus. (Case of the Severed Ear)

One can well imagine the armed Roman and Jewish soldiers being ordered to try first to reason with Jesus to stay calm till after the Passover hoping they didn’t have to actually arrest him.

Here is the scene from the Gospel of John chapter 18 (NIV):

So Judas came to the garden, guiding a detachment of soldiers and some officials from the chief priests and the Pharisees. They were carrying torches, lanterns and weapons.

Jesus, knowing all that was going to happen to him, went out and asked them, “Who is it you want?”

“Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied.

“I am he,” Jesus said. (And Judas the traitor was standing there with them.) When Jesus said, “I am he,” they drew back and fell to the ground.

Again he asked them, “Who is it you want?”

“Jesus of Nazareth,” they said.

Jesus answered, “I told you that I am he. If you are looking for me, then let these men go.” This happened so that the words he had spoken would be fulfilled: “I have not lost one of those you gave me.”

10 Then Simon Peter, who had a sword, drew it and struck the high priest’s servant, cutting off his right ear. (The servant’s name was Malchus.)

11 Jesus commanded Peter, “Put your sword away! Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?”

12 Then the detachment of soldiers with its commander and the Jewish officials arrested Jesus. They bound him 13 and brought him first to Annas, who was the father-in-law of Caiaphas, the high priest that year.

The above ruminations from the planet of biblical studies are a classic nonsense and are one more example of the farce when scholars completely ignore the reality of the texts they are studying. By reality I mean the nature of the texts. What they actually are. It’s a game of “Let’s pretend we are reading a version of historical reports”. The first rule of such a game is to ignore the literary context of any passage and speculate as wildly as one can on as wide a range of possibilities as one can imagine that might have happened quite independently of anything we read. Perhaps the Roman cohort really was sent to reason with Jesus and plead with him to stay quiet during the passover. Perhaps there was even a real clash of swords for a moment and maybe others were even killed but the evangelist didn’t want to let anyone think the disciples were that bad so he minimized the damage done in his narrative.

Meanwhile, others who have read ahead just a little, even as far as verse 36, have found this:

36 Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.”

Now that makes it look to me very much as if the incident of Malchus’s ear has the literary function of demonstrating Jesus’ message before Pilate: Jesus has commanded his disciples NOT to fight. Jesus has commanded them to refrain from violence as a demonstration that his kingdom is not of this world. Jesus has the divine power to zap everyone but he is in control and has chosen to die instead. Recall in chapter 6:14-15 Jesus fled from the crowd when he learned they wanted to make him king. (And Malchus is a name meaning “king”, which is interesting.)

Belated note: For the meaning of the lost ear itself see my comment below.

The scene of Peter’s slicing off the ear of Malchus has a clear literary and theological function. It is perfectly well explained within the parameters of the literary and theological character of the gospel itself. The raw material of the story was quite likely borrowed from the Gospel of Mark and the fourth evangelist has elaborated it a little to adapt it to his own theme. Hence the name Malchus and the allusion to “king” appears.

There are also quite likely other symbols involved that are now lost to us. John specifies it was the “right” ear that was cut off. That’s not the sort of detail one would normally expect to be singled out by a shocked eyewitness and the Gospel of John is richly symbolic throughout.

The scene is as much a literary symbol as is Mark’s young man fleeing naked at the arrest of Jesus. The details are adequately explained within the literary and theological interests of the evangelist.

It is a breach of sound method to seek to multiply additional hypothetical possibilities where they are not necessary.

But they are necessary, aren’t they, for the believer who demands the story to be real history.

38 Comments

  • Kris Rhodes
    2014-09-23 00:36:13 UTC - 00:36 | Permalink

    I had the idea that McGrath was interested in why Mark included the story, rather than John. Do you have any thoughts about that?

    • Neil Godfrey
      2014-09-23 01:31:24 UTC - 01:31 | Permalink

      Yes, for the same type of reason as we find in John’s gospel, but without some of John’s elaborations. Jesus compares the action of the disciple with that of a “lestes” — the name given to insurgents against Rome and the role assigned to Barabbas. Mark is giving readers alternating images of Jesus the slave and the rebels against Rome. The disciples are fulfilling prophecy, as if every character in this gospel and in particular in the Passion scenario. Jesus must be “numbered with the transgressors”. The disciples are the rocky soil who fall away in the face of persecution (as prophesied) and Jesus is found to be with the lestes or rebels from arrest to the crucifixion. The reason is theological, not historical.

      Note that in Mark the action is coupled (as in John) with the matching saying of Jesus directing readers to the theological meaning.

      There is no “historical embarrassment”. It is necessary to establish the theological message. I’d make a better theologian than some of the theologians who try to do “history”.

      (There may additionally be some allusions to the Jewish War of 66-70+ but that’s another discussion. And again Mark is highly symbolic so there was also probably some symbolism involving the ear, too. I can hazard guesses like anyone else but that’s all they’ll be.)

      • rob
        2014-09-23 10:42:46 UTC - 10:42 | Permalink

        “36 Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.”

        this is not what mark’s jesus is saying , right?

        • Neil Godfrey
          2014-09-23 12:24:05 UTC - 12:24 | Permalink

          Right. At the moment of the disciple cutting off the ear in Mark’s gospel Jesus says:

          14:48 “Am I leading a rebellion,” said Jesus, “that you have come out with swords and clubs to capture me? 49 Every day I was with you, teaching in the temple courts, and you did not arrest me. But the Scriptures must be fulfilled.”

          Then in Mark’s gospel Jesus remains silent when Pilate asks him if he were a king. Pilate then addressed the crowd to ask if he should release “their king”! to them.

          • Addie
            2015-06-29 11:57:12 UTC - 11:57 | Permalink

            There is a significance of specifying the “right” ear. Historically, in Biblical times, if a man was indebted to someone, he paid his debt by being his slave until said debt was paid off. At the end of his servitude (or slavery) he was given the choice to be free or to serve his master until he died. Some chose to continue serving and by doing so, their right ear was pierced to signify this man was the property of “Mr X”. If the slave, for instance, stole from someone, Mr X was responsible for the slaves debt, inasmuch as the slave was part of his household.

            By specifying the right ear, there is a larger meaning than simply another miracle Jesus performed. Once the ear was cut off, Jesus healed it . . . with no piercing. This parable had a two fold meaning (which most do) . . . first, he was healed, second, he was healed/free from his master.

            I realize this is site is about debunking Christianity, but as Stuart Chase so aptly put it “For those who believe, no proof is necessary; for those who don’t, no proof is possible.”

            • Neil Godfrey
              2015-06-29 17:52:28 UTC - 17:52 | Permalink

              Interesting. Thanks. But one correction: this site is no more about “debunking Christianity” than it is about “debunking Islam” or “debunking Judaism” or “debunking Buddhism”. . . What this site is about is set out in the “About Vridar” page. (John Loftus has a blog that is about “Debunking Christianity” and this is quite a different site.) If it is about debunking anything it is about debunking shoddy scholarship among academics who are betraying their responsibilities to the wider public. It is also “about” understanding from a secular perspective — as per the scholarship of anthropologists, sociologists, psychologists, etc — the origins and nature of religions. I have posted here criticisms of religion, in particular of fundamentalism, as well as encouragements for those who have been through the negative experiences to embrace the benefits of their religious experiences, too.

              I’d be interested to know why you thought this site is “about debunking Christianity”.

              • Addie
                2015-06-30 11:11:58 UTC - 11:11 | Permalink

                I think it was the word “musings” on Biblical studies, etc. that caught my eye. From most posts, it was obvious this was not a religious site, per se. My apologies if I assumed incorrectly.

            • Giuseppe
              2015-06-30 06:27:44 UTC - 06:27 | Permalink

              …he was healed/free from his master.

              Curious to remember who was to cut his right ear.

              Just the pro-Torah Peter.

              • David Ashton
                2015-06-30 09:13:41 UTC - 09:13 | Permalink

                Robert Eisenman thinks Peter was “antisemitic”.

              • Giuseppe
                2015-06-30 09:26:25 UTC - 09:26 | Permalink

                David, I think there is a sense where are true both the sentences:
                1) Peter is pro-Torah.
                2) Peter is ”antisemitic”.

                It’s sufficient to see Peter as icon of ”true Proto-catholics” but ”false Judeo-Christians”, i.e. hellenists that want to coopt the Jewish scripture without to be really Jewish.

              • Addie
                2015-06-30 11:14:54 UTC - 11:14 | Permalink

                …he was healed/free from his master.

                Curious to remember who was to cut his right ear.<<Giuseppe

                Peter was the apostle of Jesus Christ

              • David Ashton
                2015-06-30 13:12:36 UTC - 13:12 | Permalink

                Fact or fiction, the personal prominence and apostolic leadership of Peter runs through the first five books of the NT.

              • Giuseppe
                2015-06-30 16:41:25 UTC - 16:41 | Permalink

                Addie, what I allude by pointing that the cutter was just Peter is that proto-John was likely a gnostic Gospel and therefore anti-petrine by definition.

                see this:

                http://vridar.org/2013/12/11/the-devils-father-and-gnostic-hints-in-the-gospel-of-john/

  • Neil Godfrey
    2014-09-23 01:47:54 UTC - 01:47 | Permalink

    As for symbolism: I have just remembered the passage in Josephus War where

    Antigonus himself also bit off Hyrcanus’s ears with his own teeth, as he fell down upon his knees to him, that so he might never be able upon any mutation of affairs to take the high priesthood again, for the high priests that officiated were to be complete, and without blemish.” (War, 1.13.9)

    — Of course, I’ve read something along these lines before. . . .

    The attack on the high priest’s servant was a vicarious attack on the high priest, rendering him unfit for the office. Compare the later scene where he breaks the commandment by tearing his robes (Leviticus 21).

    Now that makes excellent poetic sense to me. Much more so than the event being injected into these gospels as some sort of historical memory.

  • Mark Erickson
    2014-09-23 03:41:03 UTC - 03:41 | Permalink

    I got banned at exploding our cakemix by the good doctor the other day. Oh well.
    http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/2014/09/an-interpolation-in-1-thessalonians.html#comment-1598470837

    • Neil Godfrey
      2014-09-23 07:27:59 UTC - 07:27 | Permalink

      Now that’s not McGrath’s style! Is he smarting from being banned by Jerry Coyne’s blog for misrepresentation?

      I can’t figure out what you were supposedly misrepresenting over there. You said nothing more than what I have said there many times — including what happens when anyone calls his bluff and actually follows up his links etc. I seem to recall running into a bit of trouble with Joel Watts when I showed all of his links pointed to claims that actually contradicted his point. And we have the same lies from Jim West and Bart Ehrman and others.

      Is McGrath boasting that he has an environment in which no-one, not even mythicists, feel victimized or insulted or misrepresented?

      I thought you were the one occasional voice of sanity on his blog. Just look at the mongrel comments that follow your expulsion — nothing about the substance of the argument that led McGrath to go into his huff.

      I’m sorry I posted something there that led to your dismissal. I expect McGrath will be looking for an excuse to ban me, too, now.

      • Mark Erickson
        2014-09-23 14:26:18 UTC - 14:26 | Permalink

        Thanks and no worries. It was fun while it lasted.

      • Vinny
        2014-09-24 00:37:39 UTC - 00:37 | Permalink

        The one occasional voice of sanity? I resemble that remark.u

    • Tim Widowfield
      2014-09-23 13:47:29 UTC - 13:47 | Permalink

      See what you get for being “mean”?

    • Neil Godfrey
      2014-09-29 09:36:14 UTC - 09:36 | Permalink

      Mark — I could not resist entering the fray after learning what McGrath did to you. Can’t let nonsense rule in the cakemix.

      The good doctor has now threatened to ban me. He has told readers he is breaking his normal rules for “behaviour and nonsense” by allowing me to comment at all but has asked readers to lodge complaints about me presumably to give him the trigger to get rid of me: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/2014/09/defining-pseudoscholarship.html#comment-1609316537

      The funny part is that this has come just after two other commenters, Paul Regnier and “Jonathan Bernier” were laughing at me for being paranoid for even thinking there was any pressure on me to leave the blog. 🙂

  • pete
    2014-09-23 04:20:18 UTC - 04:20 | Permalink

    In verse 36 Jesus refers to his “servants” as a warrior band with the potential
    to protect him from “Jewish” leaders. I think it is odd that someone who is made
    out to be a “true Hebrew”, would classify his culture’s theocratic leadership in a
    way which creates a boundary; to me, that is a sign of allegorical framing by a
    writer who wants his character to fit a background ideology.

    If the Gospels are generally supposed as history, then one would think that a
    reader would be able to harmonize their content with known historical facts.

    Presupposing a strong oral tradition which gives firm basis for atleast veridical
    paraphrases, if not transmission of quasi-verbatim statements by Jesus himself,
    (presupposing a lost source text), then it seems to me that “the Jewish leaders”
    should be written as: “our Temple priests” or another phrase which clearly puts
    a historical figure in their cultural habitat in terms of societal relationships.

    I could go on and on about how the Gospels seem un-historical to me, but you
    yourself have a strong idea of what I am talking about.

    • Neil Godfrey
      2014-09-23 07:42:46 UTC - 07:42 | Permalink

      Good points. Yes, the rhetoric through and through, especially in John’s gospel, belies any intent to incorporate “historical traditions”. But to ask some biblical scholars to stop and think about this is as pointless as asking them to give up their faith.

      • pete
        2014-09-24 01:14:58 UTC - 01:14 | Permalink

        I know there is much scholarship about why the NT was originally
        written in Greek, but that is another suspicious fact which has not
        been explored in a way which incorporates Hellenism as a strong
        component of 2nd Temple Judaism; the religion, and source of
        identity for Judeans.

        Why were essential cult texts not written in Aramaic, preserved
        as strong documentation of apostolic witness, and continually
        promoted over any subsequent copies in koine Greek?

        I think it is justified to consider the NT a Hellenistic anthology.

        Instead of focusing on the “Jewishness” of early Christianity, it
        makes more sense (to me atleast) to use Hellenism as a guiding
        “rubric” for interpreting the NT, as well as apocryphal texts.

        If “Paul” is essentially a Hellenized Jew, or de-facto Greek, and we
        find better evidence that he absorbed the religious climate of his
        alleged birthplace,Tarsus, then we can see his letters for what
        they are; in my mind, early Christianity should be categorized as
        a Greco-Roman mystery cult/school.

        Also, if the early dating of Paul’s epistles are an indication of very
        early Christian theology, and later NT texts are relatively influenced
        by the accepted 6/7 letters, then Mark as the seed of the other 3
        canonical Gospels, as well as it’s genre (literary didactic fiction), if
        rooted in Paul’s Christology, is Greco-Roman cultic documentation.

        To paraphrase, Paul is a Hellenistic mystery initiate, he is the center
        of the NT’s overall ideology, and Judea is already receptive to cultic
        syncretism, so the NT is utterly embedded in a pervasive exchange
        of spiritualities, mutating each other into new forms which creates
        a dynamic background.

        I did not intend to write such a long comment, but I think I can reel
        myself into the original post by saying that any supposed dialogue
        attributed to Jesus might make more sense if interpreted as a
        product of syncretic exchange.

        Of course I am not the 1st to think such a “wild” thought.

        • 2014-09-24 01:33:02 UTC - 01:33 | Permalink

          I am not familiar with current studies in Second Temple Judaism but I was intrigued to read Daniel Boyarim saying that most scholars of early Judaism now see it as a Hellenistic religion.

        • Michael T
          2014-09-24 13:59:42 UTC - 13:59 | Permalink

          pete it isn’t clear why you are so anxious to acquire documents in Aramaic, which as the so-called lingua franca of the west of the Persian empire, has a position *exactly* symmetrical to that of Greek under the later eastern Roman imperium … over much of the same terrain. There is exactly nothing ‘Jewish’ about the Aramaic language, it is a language of imperial domination. Why would letters and Gospels in an increasingly out of date koinē of a forgotten empire be somehow more valid? The later rabbinical preference for using Aramaic, and learning Hebrew, is just that: a later rabbinical preference, alien to the first centurt — it has a highly ideological quality that is part of their special genius; it belongs in any case to a world in which ‘Christianity’ is basically a finished result. There seems also to be a strange idea present in your remarks: that ‘hellenistic’ means something like ‘Greek pure and simple’; it is clearer to say that ‘hellenistic’ means precisely ‘not Greek but under Greek (later Roman) domination’. There is for sure nothing hellenistic about the Acropolis! To say that Paul was advancing a ‘hellenistic mystery cult’ is basically saying he was advancing an oriental or semitic mystery cult, in other words, that he was advancing some form of Judaism. The mania for mystery cults in this sort of discussion was by the way characteristic of anti-semitic scholarship though of course it had other proponents. Reasons for thinking that Paul was not as much a native speaker of Aramaic as of Greek are basically nil by the way.

          • pete
            2014-09-25 01:58:10 UTC - 01:58 | Permalink

            @Michael T.

            Your clarification of Aramaic as a consequence of the exile
            for Judaites, rather than a dialect which originated in the
            southern kingdom, is valuable to me.

            Documents written by a historical Jesus, as leader of a
            movement that spoke Aramaic, clearly purposed for the
            long term instruction and cohesion of his sect, would be
            much more valuable than what is actually present to us.

            I will have to learn some more data about which language
            or dialect would be optimal for my scenario.

            I appreciate your viewpoint on Hellenism as a mistaken
            qualifier for classical Greek culture. Do you think that
            “Hellenism” is the proper term for how various cultures
            specific to this discussion are interwoven with each other?

            Yes, I need deeper understanding of “semitic/oriental”
            mystery schools and cults; it is fair to poke at my thoughts
            as clearly revisable. However, I am not defending a PhD.

            Are you referring to “anti-semitic scholarship” in the sense
            of ancient semetic languages, or the current meaning which
            is applied in a political context?

            I have enough grasp of Paul to take seriously the idea that
            he was not a “pious Jew” like the standards we know in the
            modern age, what is reported in the time periods of 2nd
            Temple Judaism, and later arguments of rabbinical sects.

            Data speaks, and gives us observations. Paul’s raw data is
            telling me he was a Hellenized Jew, which in context to the
            clarification you have offered, reveals to me that his letters
            are sourced in a cross pollination of ideology. No one should
            place me in the “mythicist” category, let alone the type of
            amateur research enthusiast who publishes discourse that
            is founded on biased, weak analysis of comparative religion.

            • Michael T
              2014-09-25 04:17:43 UTC - 04:17 | Permalink

              As far as I know the only reason for thinking that Paul was not just another Palestinian Jew characteristic of the period — someone to be ranged alongside, say, Josephus — comes from Acts 9:11 21:39 22:3 where Tarsus is mentioned.

              What you make of those passages will depend on your view of Acts. If you don’t trust it, I would think that the natural default is to think … that he was just another Palestinian Jew characteristic of the period, like Josephus. Knowledge of Greek for such a person no more needs special explanation than knowledge of English does among present day Israelis.

              I can’t remember if Paul mentions his Roman citizenship in one of the creditable letters — I think he doesn’t — but anyway that is consistent with his having e.g. been born and raised in Jerusalem; if Acts is right, he had citizenship from birth, perhaps as a descendent of a manumitted slave — maybe from a Judean taken captive in a previous generation, like the members of the synagogue of the ‘Libertinoi’ (Acts again, alas) whose children would presumably have been brought up in Jerusalem speaking both Aramaic and Greek. (I assume that Acts is right about Tarsus, but I guess just because it seems unnecessarily skeptical to deny it.)

              I think it is only with hindsight — projecting the developments that were only finished in the 3rd or 4th century onto his text — that we would think he is not just another ultra-devout ‘Jew’ of the period, characterized by one among the available sectarian (messianic) tendencies, which he maybe carried to a certain fanatical extreme, or if you prefer, to its logical conclusion… But I don’t see why we need any influence of Greekness to explain this sectarianism, messianism and extremism; on the contrary, they are sort of a Judean speciality of the period to judge from e.g. Josephus and other data. … Not that I pretending to know any of this, of course.

              • pete
                2014-09-25 06:22:13 UTC - 06:22 | Permalink

                Considering the difficulty of making indisputable
                models for even recent history, I would say that
                anyone who is in some way curious about history
                might be “pretending to know” it. 😉

                Your rendering of Paul through Acts is hard for
                me to accept as a definitive correction; I think
                Luke’s supposed “5th” gospel is less history, and
                more a polemical attack. If it is a historical fact
                that Paul is a Roman citizen, then in my mind it
                creates a paradox in regards to supposedly
                intense animosity towards Rome by what is seen
                as a distinctly impermeable ruling class.

                Based on Paul’s epistles, I don’t see an obedient,
                Torah carrying Jew, but someone who may have
                been influenced by Philo, or another public writer
                who is considered Hellenized.

                You are right to say that Paul’s personality cannot
                be pinned down to strains of Gentile ideology. I fear
                we don’t have a solid model of how many sects
                existed in the period from the execution of the last
                Maccabean, the Roman conquest, then to bar Kochba’s
                time.

                I used to think that 2nd Temple Judaism, as well as
                pre-exilic “Davidic” forms derived from a Mosaic base,
                offered a monotypical vision of the Messiah, but if I
                think about the equivocation of “anointed one”, as
                a role which is not exclusive to only one person, then
                I can’t imagine a univocalized meaning of the term
                existing later.

                As you point out, “hindsight” is prone to fallacious
                propositions; Ancient history to me is like tarot cards
                or iChing sticks, casting them does not bring up the
                same result.

              • Michael T
                2014-09-25 16:26:43 UTC - 16:26 | Permalink

                Pete, I’m not sure I follow you. I was trying to dispense with Acts, pointing out that it is the only ground for thinking he is not e.g. a Jerusalemite. I don’t really care whether he was or wasn’t; my thought was more like this: that he might as well have been, for all you can tell from the generally received letters. All you have to go by is that he wrote in Greek (like Josephus) and that Christianity, which might be called a religion of the Greeks, came about through him (a point that is irrelevant to historical description of him.)

                Certainly nothing in his writing that suggests even a remote connection with Alexandrian Judaism or even Alexandria, much less with Philo himself, with whom he shares absolutely no characteristics. There can be no doubt that his views on all things are much closer to those of saints of the later rabbinical tradition like Gamaliel than to those prevailing in the Alexandrian avant garde.

                If you want to know what 1st c Jews understood by the word “messiah” the best text will of course be the letters of Paul. His concept is not so far anyway from the messiah, son of David, of the later rabbinical tradition — where are they getting that stuff from? Indeed, even Paul’s ‘dangerous un-Jewish excesses’ in connection with his messianic enthusiasm are not so unlike those found among the followers of Sabbatai or Schneerson, though perhaps not too much should be made of this; these ‘excesses’ are latent in messianic ideas, which will inevitably look different before and after they are attached to individuals and events. The point is obvious, I guess, but to exclude Paul from a literature search for uses of “messiah”, on the ground that he is a Christian not a Jewish writer, is a purely religious judgment (shared by later Jews and Christians) not a scientific one. There is nothing specifically “Christian” about him, if words are taken with their actual English meanings.

  • RoHa
    2014-09-24 04:48:15 UTC - 04:48 | Permalink

    As far as I am concerned, this episode screams “fiction” more loudly than anything else.
    Jesus had started a riot in the Temple, so the authorities set out to arrest him straight away.
    (Except in John, which has the riot in the wrong place. Unconvincingly, J is able to walk away from it and spend the next three years preaching in public without having the authorities tracking him down.)

    They sent a large force (probably Temple guards, not Romans) of at least 500 men. (In John the word used is “σπεῖρα” (speira), which is Greek for “cohort”. A cohort was a minimum of 500. The synoptics say ” ὄχλος”(okhlos) – multitude.) They find Jesus and his disciples at the perfume garden. (The Garden of Gethsemane grew flowers for perfume production.)

    They arrest Jesus. One disciple (John says Peter) pulls a sword and cuts off the ear of one of the guards.

    Now anyone with any knowledge of the real world knows what happens next.

    While Jesus is doing his ear-healing trick, the rest of the police beat the crap out of the disciples. Then they arrest them all on charges of

    • conspiracy,
    • assaulting a police officer
    • breach of the peace
    • causing an affray
    • possession of a deadly weapon
    • grievous bodily harm

    and, of course, (you should imagine a chorus of policemen saying this )

    • resisting arrest.

    They cart the lot down to the nick. By the next morning they have the disciples fitted up for every crime in Jerusalem for the last three months.

    A Temple Guard gives evidence to the magistrate:

    “While I was escorting the aforementioned James the son of Zebedee down to the cells, he said to me [consulting notebook] ‘It’s a fair cop, guv. You got me bang to rights. It was me wot done the purse snatching in the Kwik-E-Mart near the East Gate. It was me wot sold the pork sausages to the High Priest’s cook. It was me wot…’”

    That’s what would happen now.

    That’s what would have happened then.

    That’s not what the Gospels say.

    They say that only Jesus was arrested, because he asked the police to let the rest go. The rest of the disciples (including the sword swinger) got away from 500 soldiers. According to John, one disciple is able to slip into the High Priest’s house because the HP knows him! (A follower of Jesus is pally with the HP!?!?)

    This story just doesn’t hold water.

    Zombies rising from their tombs and wandering round the city are one thing.

    Most of us don’t know much about Zombies.

    Maybe it could happen that way.

    But we do know about police.

    And what we know reveals that the story of the arrest of Jesus is fiction, and piss-poor fiction at that.

    • Nikos Apostolakis
      2014-10-04 13:08:52 UTC - 13:08 | Permalink

      🙂

      Loved the piece about selling pork sausages to the High Priest cook.

  • pete
    2014-09-26 00:31:34 UTC - 00:31 | Permalink

    @Michael T.

    Ok I see your points.

    Thanks for the dialogue. 🙂

  • Aaron Jones
    2016-08-20 06:23:17 UTC - 06:23 | Permalink

    Jesus is the ear. God is the head. The Holy Spirit perhapthe toungue. Imo.

  • Naví
    2017-01-01 21:24:12 UTC - 21:24 | Permalink

    So, I have a couple comments / questions…

    @RoHa that kind of makes sense that Peter would be allowed to watch his ‘Master’s’ humiliation. That guy could then ‘retweet’ it and tell the other apostles. Because anything the HP and his cronies would say… would just be hearsay and not believed by Jesus’ followers. But one of them actually seeing it; That’s different.

    Why the right ear? Just because of the symbol of servitude? The servant wasn’t asking to be freed, was he?

    And isn’t there some more meaning that can be looked into? Such as the servant representing the HP or his authority?

    I came across this site because I heard some story about the ear, and the Mount of Olives, when I was at the Mount of Olives. I couldn’t remember what that tour guide’s interpretation of it was….

  • 2017-03-14 12:15:04 UTC - 12:15 | Permalink

    I’ve always wondered if it was really Simon the Zealot who cut off the ear rather than Simon Peter. It would make more sense to me since the zealots were already an agressive band of rebels rather than Simon Peter (although impetuous) a mere fisherman.

    • Neil Godfrey
      2017-03-15 02:03:36 UTC - 02:03 | Permalink

      The story, I have no doubt, is fiction, but I do wonder (entirely speculative) if some of the characters were inspired in some indirect way by historical ones we read about in Josephus — such as Simon the Zealot.

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