God reflects: “Oh dear, I didn’t mean for that bit to go into the Bible”

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by Neil Godfrey

44 Now the betrayer had arranged a signal with them: “The one I kiss is the man; arrest him and lead him away under guard.” 45 Going at once to Jesus, Judas said, “Rabbi!” and kissed him. 46 The men seized Jesus and arrested him. 47 Then one of those standing near drew his sword and struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his ear. — Mark 14
A depiction of Peter striking Malchus (c. 1520, Musée des Beaux-Arts de Dijon)

I came across a thought-provoking questioning of the authenticity of that Gospel detail describing the disciples carrying swords as they accompanied Jesus into Gethsemane while translating a famous nineteenth century work by Christian Gottlob Wilke. (“Famous” because it was in Der Urevangelist that Wilke established the case for the priority of the Gospel of Mark.) Wilke was unable to accept this scene of the sword wielding disciple (the Gospel of John attributes the action to the typically impulsive Peter) formed part of the original narrative. Here are his reasons:

Jesus expected that night, as the common account of Matthew 26:31 and Mark 14:27 tells us, only acts of cowardice from the disciples, and the same account follows through on this explicit expectation when it depicts all the disciples fleeing (Matt 26:56, Mark 14:50.) – evidence that the narrator had only planned to carry out the word of the prediction, and that therefore there was no question of an attempted resistance.

The sword is introduced to portray the disciples as resisting the arrest of Jesus — a detail that stands at odds with the theme of prophetic fulfilment that the author has been establishing.

Notice, too, how more naturally the narrative flows once this detail is removed. We begin with Jesus returning from his prayer and speaking to his disciples:

42 Rise! Let us go! Here comes my betrayer!”

43 Just as he was speaking, Judas, one of the Twelve, appeared. With him was a crowd armed with swords and clubs, sent from the chief priests, the teachers of the law, and the elders.

44 Now the betrayer had arranged a signal with them: “The one I kiss is the man; arrest him and lead him away under guard.” 45 Going at once to Jesus, Judas said, “Rabbi!” and kissed him. 46 The men seized Jesus and arrested him. 47 Then one of those standing near drew his sword and struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his ear.

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.” 50 Then everyone deserted him and fled.

Is it not strange that the author has Jesus addressing those who have arrested him while making no mention at all of the act that actually belies his words. Jesus implies that his own followers have not come “with swords and clubs” and have not performed any act of rebellion. So how could the author have managed to introduce this episode without any rebuke or explanation from Jesus?

The Jesus we find in the Gospel of Mark, Wilke points out, otherwise consistently addresses any specific act of his disciples. But here he seems not to have noticed what they have just done. Rather, his words indicate that his disciples have fearfully stood by before running to avoid the same fate as Jesus.

If a subsequent curator of the Gospel did add such a detail, one does wonder about the circumstances of their time. Were some Christians justifying armed resistance?

(Wilke makes his case with somewhat more technical detail by pointing to various emphases in the Greek words relating to the disciples fleeing and a more detailed discussion of the sequence of the phrases.)

Wilke, Christian Gottlob. Der Urevangelist oder exegetisch kritische Untersuchung über das Verwandtschaftsverhältniss der drei ersten Evangelien. Dresden ; Leipzig : Gerhard Fleischer, 1838. http://archive.org/details/derurevangelisto0000wilk. p. 495


§ 86. The struggle of Jesus’ soul in Gethsemane

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by Neil Godfrey

Critique of the Gospel History of the Synoptics
by Bruno Bauer

Volume 3



§ 86.

The struggle of Jesus’ soul in Gethsemane.


1. The report of the synoptics.

After finishing the meal, Jesus went with the disciples to the Mount of Olives, and when they arrived at the Garden of Gethsemane, he told them to sit and wait while he went a little further to pray. He took only three with him, Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and told them that his soul was deeply grieved, even unto death. He asked them to stay and watch while he prayed, and he fell on his face and prayed to the Father, asking if it was possible to take the cup from him, but added that he would do the Father’s will, not his own. When he returned to the disciples, he found them sleeping, woke them up, rebuked them, and urged them to stay awake. He went away a second time to pray the same prayer, and upon returning, found the disciples sleeping again. He went away a third time to pray, and finally, upon returning and finding the disciples still sleeping, he said to them: — but of these words later!


Thus, in essence, Matthew and Mark tell the same story in the same words, except that the originality of the latter’s account, apart from a few more appropriate and precise phrases, is revealed first of all in the fact that it says of the second prayer only that Jesus prayed again with the same words as before, while Matthew turns the words of the first prayer to the effect that Jesus now already – why the third prayer? – Jesus had already said, presupposing the impossibility of what he asked for in the depths of his soul (C. 26, 42): if it is not possible, Father, that this cup pass over me, then let your will be done. Then the prayer in Mark is more urgent, the struggle of Jesus is more serious and the condition under which this struggle alone is possible is really pronounced: Father, says Jesus 14: 36, everything is possible for you, take this cup from me. Only narratively and in the indirect manner of speaking Mark had previously determined the content of the prayer to the effect that Jesus had prayed that this hour, if it were possible, would pass him by: Matthew formed the first prayer from this: 26: 39, Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me!

It is unlikely that Matthew changed his account with the intention of softening the matter, but even if it happened against his knowledge and will, he already represents the transition to the position of those who took offense at Jesus’ struggle in the garden. He may have left the account in its positive form simply because it was given that way, but eventually he could have decided to remove it or at least not take it in the serious form that Mark presented it.


Beside this direction, which has always asserted itself in the church, even among those who did not understand the suffering of Jesus’ soul as a purely personal, but as a vicarious one, but even in the circle of the latter view, another direction asserted itself, which was pleased to consider and to depict the struggle of Jesus’ soul as a rather gruesome, terrible and lacerating one. Luke has already taken this latter direction, although he still largely agrees with Mark’s interpretation that Jesus’ struggle was an inner spiritual struggle, namely the struggle in which he had to decide whether or not to accept the destiny assigned to him.

Luke has so little desire to take up the details of the original report that he does not even tell us where the struggle of Jesus’ soul and the imprisonment took place. He simply states (in chapter 22, verses 39-40) that Jesus went out to the Mount of Olives as was his custom, and “when he arrived at the place” – it is clear that this presupposes a specific location, which is only mentioned in another account – he told the disciples – but Luke does not say that Jesus took only three of the disciples with him, leaving the others behind. He also does not say that Jesus told these three to stay behind while he went further away to pray. Nor does he say that Jesus told the disciples to wait and only later, when he found them sleeping upon his return, urged them to be watchful and pray. Rather, by combining all the details, he presents the matter in such a way that Jesus advised all the disciples to pray from the beginning. Of course, Jesus could not have told them to stay behind, but he also could not have urged them to pray if it happened involuntarily and without his will that he was separated from the disciples and compelled to pray. He was carried away from them about a stone’s throw, thus being forced by external circumstances into the situation in which he felt compelled to pray, and he offered a prayer that was essentially the same as the one reported by Mark.


The confusion is therefore very great. Just as great at the end of the report.

Having risen from prayer, Jesus goes to the disciples and finds them asleep with grief. But – not to ask whether sorrow should not have kept them awake, as it usually does, not to notice that Mark knows how to explain their sleep quite differently, namely from the weakness of the flesh, which does not always obey the spom of the spirit – why from sorrow? Jesus had not even told them that his soul was deeply grieved, even unto death, and they had no idea what was happening when their master was forcibly taken away from them. Then Jesus says to them, as before, pray! but now – since immediately, while he is still speaking in this way, the betrayer comes with the crowd – the necessary part is missing, that Jesus calls them to endure, because now the betrayer is near – – thus a word, which could not be missing, so that it would be certain, that Jesus had foreseen the destinies of his last hours also up to the point, that the betrayer would come just now. Luke has taken up the points of incidence of the original report by chance and has cancelled the rhythm that brought them about.

But would he really have had the writing of Mark in mind? We have proved it! But is his report, since he only knows about a continuing fight, not about a threefold beginning of it, not significantly different from that of Mark? Is it not something quite different when it is said that an angel appeared and strengthened Jesus, and that the Lord’s struggle was so violent that his sweat became like drops of blood falling from the earth?


Answer: if Luke wanted to let the angel intervene for the strengthening of Jesus, then he had to let it be with a single, or in one process continuing fight, because he would have been very embarrassed, if he would have wanted to bring the angel also with the condition of a threefold beginning of the fight. If the angel would have intervened immediately at the first approach, the two following approaches would have been incomprehensible and one would have to ask, where the power remained, which the angel had brought from heaven; or if the angel should come only at the third approach, then the question arises, why he did not come earlier, why rather only in the moment, where according to Mark the fight is already decided also without heavenly miracle power. So the angel and One fight, or three times fight and No angel!

However, although Luke chose the first assumption to make the matter more wonderful and transcendent, he cannot deny that he copied a report that shows the struggle unfolding in several stages. After reporting that an angel appeared and strengthened Jesus, he tells us that Jesus prayed with even greater effort, and finally that drops of blood dripped from his forehead. Here are the traces of the triple approach, but now it is also clear that the angel was summoned by Luke at a very inappropriate time, since despite his heavenly encouragement, he could not prevent Jesus’ inner struggle from becoming even more intense and eventually becoming bloody. Not only is the angel unnecessary, but he is also highly disruptive, as his intervention turns the matter in such a way that Jesus no longer decided his struggle with the divine will by his own resolution and dissolved it in complete surrender to his destiny.


Luke’s account is resolved on all sides. Now another look at Mark!

At first we must be astonished how only the three chosen ones of the remaining disciples are initiated into the secret of the following battle, even if only in a distant way, as if it were a sublime mystery or a pompous spectacle. It may be pompous with this threefold approach, at least it should become pompous; but in what the sublime and great should lie, we would not know how to find, since, on the contrary, we call the martyrs of history great and worthy of our esteem only when they endure their sufferings calmly by virtue of the self-assurance of their principle and their justification, and thus prove that they stood just as much above the external power and force of the principle they fought as they knew how to overcome it spiritually in their higher self-awareness.

What is the use of this threefold approach to the struggle? We would not know, if it should matter, how it is founded in the nature of the thing. If Jesus has already confessed once: not my will, but yours be done, then this confession is not only weakened, but downright annulled, if a second, even a third beginning of the struggle follows, and it is still always only about the same confession. But it is known that everything great and significant in sacred history must happen three times if it is to prove itself great.

The resolution of the original report will be completed if we listen even more closely to the words of Jesus to the disciples. They are to watch while Jesus walks apart! In what way? Afterwards, indeed, but – we must say at once – only afterward, when Jesus finds them asleep on his first return to them, is it said: watch and pray! Why was this not said earlier? Because Mark did not always want to write the same words, because he wanted to increase the number of words, because he believes that every reader of his writing would be reminded by the keyword: watch! of the admonition in Jesus’ speech about the last things (13: 33. 37): watch and pray! But the disciples had not yet read the Gospel.


What kind of sentence is it finally, when Jesus finds the disciples sleeping for the “second time” and says: “Sleep the rest of the time and rest – as if they had not slept before! – the hour has come – well, then they may and can sleep even less! – The Son of Man will be delivered into the hands of sinners. Arise, let us go! – but in the same breath Jesus had told them to sleep! How do they have time to do so, when the Lord says at the same moment: “Behold, my betrayer draws near!

Mark considered it necessary that the Lord, at the moment when the last battle and the catastrophe broke out, showed factually, seriously, that he went to meet his fate with free will, but the original evangelist could not depict this moment in any other way than that he first put Jesus with his destiny – compare Ps. 39, 10 – into battle and discord, before he showed how the tolerator voluntarily submitted to his fate.

This was the necessary consequence of pragmatism, that Mark had let Jesus prophesy his end already beforehand and in the most definite way. If it was now important that Jesus in the end should once again and quite reliably express his surrender, then he was not only allowed to speak, no longer only to speak and prophesy; he now had to feel, to mourn, to be afraid, to faint, in order to regain his strength through his inner struggle. This was also the necessary consequence of the lack of artistic composition in the Gospels, of the lack of a clear depiction of the historical struggles of their hero, in general of the complete lack of human, great, dignified struggles – we mean: such struggles in which also the opponent is held great and important – that now finally the struggle of Jesus against the opposing powers collapses into such a suffering of the soul. Other historical or epic heroes do not need such a struggle with their weakness, because they have proved themselves until death, if death is their lot, in the struggle with great and important historical powers.


We have now to see how the Fourth has reproduced the report of Mark.

2. The report of the fourth.

On the contrary, he did not reproduce it at all for his readers. After the dogmatic lecture, in which he had long since risen above all historical collisions and had given the disciples all possible information about the purpose, success and necessity of his death, as well as about everything that could only somehow be related to this dogmatic
locus, he was not allowed to present his Lord again as hesitating or even as despairing. The Jesus who, in the long speech that he gives to the disciples after the last meal, speaks as if he already saw himself reinstated in the glory that he possessed before the creation of the world, which he had left only for a moment and to which he returns again to send the Paraclete to his own, the Jesus to whom eternity belongs, could not be troubled by the imminent death that paved the way for him to the seat of his glory.

The fourth was not allowed to take up the report of his predecessor, because his Jesus had become another than that of Mark. Probably now, in order to fill the gap, so that the traitor would not appear immediately, as Jesus goes out – for the space that the evangelists use for writing and fill with their notes turns into time for them – perhaps also merely because he always introduces the scenes ponderously and laboriously and has to prove the cleverness of his pragmatism, he has explained very precisely (C. 18, 1. 2), where Jesus went with the disciples after the last meal, where that garden was located – the name of which, however, he is very careful not to mention in the writing of Mark – and how it happened that Judas went there with the band of the henchmen -!! he knew that Jesus often met there with the disciples!! – These are all things which Mark was justly indifferent to, and which are most indifferent to us also, because they explain nothing, for that a certain garden, called Gethsemane, had been a common place of abode, is a novelty which is much too unexpected for us, that it was Jesus’ custom, that it was Jesus’ custom to stay here in the open so long into the night is too improbable, and this clever pragmatism is also useless, because Judas, if he should find Jesus, could and should have found his victim in that well-known illumination of the ideal world, where everything is bright or somnambulistic, even in the greatest darkness. Mark has placed the whole in this illumination.


But if the fourth once saw that he had to omit the report, then he should have omitted it only completely and not in another form and not nevertheless in such a way that it takes up all essential elements of the same, in another place.

During the last Passover feast some Greeks, who had come because of the feast – thus incongruously enough proselytes, not pure Gentiles are, like the Canaanite woman of Mark, the centurion of Matthew – had become attentive to Jesus. They wished to see him. As if they could not see him daily, hourly, now, instantly, as if it were a closed, mysterious thing, a hidden sanctuary, an Oriental despot hidden in the innermost part of his palace, they turn to Philip; the latter, as if he were not close enough to the person of the prince or was not allowed to come alone and directly to the terrible despot, presents – how vividly! – the matter to Andrew, and only now do they tell it to the Lord. The latter, who considers and uses everything only as an occasion to speak of his person, immediately exclaims: “The hour has come when the Son of Man will be glorified. Verily, verily I say unto you – (the reader of the Gospel adds to himself beforehand the intermediate thought, which however the present listeners should probably have heard, that death is the way to glorification) – the wheat seed, if it does not die in the earth, remains lonely and does not bear fruit. “But what is the meaning of the saying that was originally intended (Mark 8, 35) to call to follow Christ, the saying: “whoever loves his soul will lose it, etc., a saying that the fourth then continues to comment on in his laborious manner: “whoever serves me, etc., etc.?


Immediately after this, here completely inappropriate, at least not motivated and properly guided saying, Jesus returns to his true subject, his own person, and since he had previously aroused the thought of death, he cries out: now my soul is troubled, as in Mark: my soul is deeply grieved to the point of death; and what shall I say? as he is really tortured by the possible choice between two decisions in Mark; Father, save me from this hour! as in Mark: Father, take this cup from me! But for this reason I have come to this hour! as in Mark: yet not what I will, but what you will! John 12, 20 – 27.

That Jesus, in one breath after those words of resignation, forces the Father to glorify him, cannot surprise us anymore, considering the well-known manner of the fourth: he has taken what is connected but also separated in Mark, the talk of Jesus about his sufferings and the glorification that followed it, directly together, and he has taken a core saying from Jesus’ talk about the duty of his followers to deny themselves and squeezed it between the two pieces of the Primal Gospel that he presses together here, or rather he has taken these three members of the Primal Gospel: Mark 8, 31-38, the disclosure that he must suffer, the admonition to his followers brought about by Peter’s foolishness, and the transfiguration, partly reworked into an abstract, partly roughly excerpted again in individual key words, and threw everything together in a chaos. In this chaos, of course, he could now also throw in all the elements of the original report of the battle of souls without further ado, since there was once talk of death. The matter is clarified. We therefore only briefly note that if the thunder of glorification takes the place of the heavenly voice that was heard after the transfiguration, the same thunder that some thought to be the voice of an angel (John 12:29) must also be the ministry of the angel who, according to Luke’s account, strengthened the Lord in his anguish. It is not worth the effort, however small, to resolve the following report up to the end, where Jesus, although he has withdrawn (C. 12, 36), nevertheless suddenly stands there again and cries out and, since he from now on no longer speaks before the people, recites the sum of his dogmatics *). We return to the Greeks.

*) Just as little it is worth the effort to expose the speeches, which Jesus holds after the last meal, in their lack of content, in their tautologies, inconveniences, to prove the misunderstandings, which help the halting speech, as groundless and to dissolve this whole creation – all turns, which would have to be considered here, we have already dissolved in the criticism of the fourth gospel. Only the dogmatic content as such is to be considered, when the time is to be determined, in which this gospel was written.


But we can’t find them again! Despite the effort they made to register, they do not appear and Jesus gets lost in reflections, to which they could only give rise in a very remote way or at least only indirectly: but once those reflections are initiated, the poor strangers are forgotten, because the Fourth [Gospel writer] was only interested in putting his Lord in a mood that, according to his presuppositions, he should have kept him away from, and lending him thoughts and words that should have remained foreign to him.


The Fourth [Gospel writer] brings strangers, Greeks, onto the stage because the Lord had previously connected the necessity of his death with the necessity that he must lead the foreign sheep to the fold of his own. But if this connection had already been portrayed extremely unsuccessfully and the composition completely failed *), then, if it were possible (but everything is possible for the Fourth), the confusion had to become even greater when the Greeks were already standing there in the flesh, the messengers of the pagan world had already personally announced themselves, and the joy should have been even greater. Mark, Luke, and Matthew knew how to welcome such messengers.

*) John 10, 16 – 18. See Critique of the Gospel History of John p. 383 – 388.

In a gospel that never lets us come to our senses, we cannot be surprised when the author of it uses the words that Jesus speaks to the disciples in the garden at the approaching arrival of the betrayer: “Come, let us go! – because he has no place for them afterwards; as if they should not be missing at all; as if they were magic words! – The Lord speaks after the conversations at the end of the last supper **) – and still lets him stand there afterwards and give a long speech, so that we have to think that he has delivered the sayings of three chapters (15. 16. 17.), this extensive Christology and dogmatics – roughly the fourth part of the entire content of the Gospel – between the door and the threshold! —

**) John 14, 31 : εγειρεσθε αγωμεν εντευθεν Mark 14, 42 : εγειρεσθε αγωμεν




Jesus’ Unheroic Moment in Gethsemane – and a return to Vridar/Vardis Fisher

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

by Neil Godfrey

Some regular readers will know that I am in the process of translating Bruno Bauer’s criticism of the gospels (scandalous in his time!) into English. I recently completed his discussion of Jesus “soul struggle” in Gethsemane and thought one of his observations worth bringing to more general notice here.

In sum, Bauer notes that heroic figures face their decisive challenges with resolve. They do not collapse into a struggle over whether they have what it takes to endure the fate that awaits them.

The Agony in the Garden, by George Richmond (Wikimedia)

Here is his gist:

Bruno Bauer begins by noting that the author of the Gospel of Luke made a few clumsy adjustments as he attempted to introduce an angel to stand beside Jesus to the scene he was borrowing from Mark and Matthew. In the earlier gospels Jesus prayed three times but how could that happen if an angel — taken, Bauer suggests, from the original temptation scenes where angels in Mark and Matthew came to assist Jesus (but not in Luke’s temptation scene) — came to give him the power and assurance to go through with the coming torment? If the angel appeared at the time of Jesus’ first prayer, then there would be no need for any more prayers, or else the angel’s presence had not been effective.

or should the angel come only at the third attempt, it would be too late, namely, arriving at the moment when the struggle, according to the original account [in Mark and Matthew], was already decided without the intervention of heavenly miraculous power. (Bauer, 214/215)

No, so Luke had Jesus pray just the once. And that once was with the angel so once was enough.

But then Luke ran into other difficulties. He had to find a way, following his earlier gospel narratives, to have Jesus reprimand the disciples for sleeping while he prayed. The trouble Luke failed to notice — at least till after the ink was dried — was that in the earlier gospels Jesus had instructed the disciples to watch with him but they fell asleep on that watch, and hence deserved a rebuke, while Luke had left out that command of Jesus and so there was no justification for his rebuke to the disciples for sleeping. Indeed, Luke even says the disciples fell asleep “because of their sorrow”, but as Bruno Bauer rightly remarks, sorrow keeps one awake; it does not induce sleep. (In the other gospels I notice that it is Jesus who is said to be full of sorrow.)

Further, one little detail I had failed to notice after all these years: BB points out that in Luke Jesus “is taken” to a remote place to pray. In Mark and Matthew he walks off to a secluded spot but in Luke, no, rather…

And he came out, and went, as he was wont, to the mount of Olives; and his disciples also followed him.
And when he was at the place, he said unto them [not only to three of them as in Mark and Matthew], Pray that ye enter not into temptation.
And he was withdrawn from them about a stone’s cast, and kneeled down, and prayed (Luke 22:39-41)

I am reminded of Mark’s introduction where after the baptism of Jesus he writes,

And immediately the Spirit driveth him into the wilderness . . . (Mark 1:12)

Image from A Theology in Tension

But let’s cut to the chase, to the point that pulled me up enough to make me rethink everything. BB notices Mark harking back to the prayer of the righteous one in the Psalms:

 I am overcome by the blow of your hand. (Ps. 39:10)

Like all great and sublime moments, it is made up of three parts:

like everything great and sublime, was divided in its course and development by the number three (Bauer, 216/217)

But heroes, as we know from all our other stories, are not like that . . .

on the contrary, we only consider historical fighters great and worthy of respect when they endure their sufferings with calmness due to the self-assurance of their new content and legitimacy, thereby proving that they stand over the external power and authority of the worldly state they fight against, just as they know they have overcome it in the content of their self-consciousness. (Bauer, 216/217)

Why yes, I thought. I have had my moments of despair, my gethsemanes, as have we all. But gasping and crying for help to do what we want is not like simply standing up, taking courage, and going out and facing what we have to face.

I thought of other heroes surely known to any ancient writer of Greek. Hector in the Iliad. He knew he was doomed to die, and others pleaded with him not to go out and face Achilles. They were like Peter imploring Jesus at Mount Hermon not to go to Jerusalem. Jesus then was like the heroic Hector and said, Stand aside, Satan! I must go!

Achilles defeats Hector, Rubens (Wikimedia)

‘Hector!’ the old man called, stretching out his arms to him in piteous appeal. I beg you, my dear son, not to stand up to that man alone and unsupported. You are courting defeat and death at his hands. He is far stronger than you, and he is savage. . . . So come inside the walls, my child, to be the saviour of Troy and the Trojans; and do not throw away your own dear life to give a triumph to the son of Peleus. Have pity too on me, your poor father, who is still able to feel. . . .

As he came to an end, Priam plucked at his grey locks and tore the hair from his head; but he failed to shake Hector’s resolution. And now his mother in her turn began to wail and weep. Thrusting her dress aside, she exposed one of her breasts in her other hand and implored him, with the tears running down her cheeks. ‘Hector, my child,’ she cried, ‘have some regard for this, and pity me. How often have I given you this breast and soothed you with its milk! Bear in mind those days, dear child. Deal with your enemy from within the walls, and do not go out to meet that man in single combat. He is a savage; and you need not think that, if he kills you, I shall lay you on a bier and weep for you, my own, my darling boy; nor will your richly dowered wife . . . .

Thus they appealed in tears to their dear son. But all their entreaties were wasted on Hector, who stuck to his post and let the monstrous Achilles approach him. As a mountain snake, who is maddened by the poisonous herbs he has swallowed, allows a man to come up to the lair where he lies coiled, and watches him with a baleful glitter in his eye, Hector stood firm and unflinching, with his glittering shield supported by an outwork of the wall. But he was none the less appalled, and groaning at his plight he took counsel with his indomitable soul. He thought: ‘If I retire behind the gate and wall, Polydamas will be the first to cast it in my teeth that, in this last night of disaster when the great Achilles came to life, I did not take his advice and order a withdrawal into the city, as I certainly ought to have done. . . . But it will be said, and then I shall know that it would have been a far better thing for me to stand up to Achilles, and either kill him and come home alive or myself die gloriously in front of Troy. (Iliad, XXII)

Hector actually did run from Achilles at first, but finally found his resolve and when he saw he was about to die, said:

Alas! So the gods did beckon me to my death! . . . Death is no longer far away; he is staring me in the face and there is no escaping him. Zeus and his Archer Son must long have been resolved on this, for-all their goodwill and the help they gave me. So now I meet my doom. Let me at least sell my life dearly and have a not inglorious end, after some feat of arms that shall come to the ears of generations still unborn.’ (Iliad, XXII)

We have other instances of steel resolve: Socrates does not weep and plead for strength to drink the hemlock. Rather, he consoles his weeping friends. Antigone stood hard as iron against Creon and it is impossible to imagine her weeping for strength and courage to endure her fate.

When I think back on the references to Jesus outside the gospels I don’t recall any notion of “soul struggle”. Paul simply says that Jesus took on a lowly position to die. That was his purpose for taking on flesh. Soul-struggle is completely alien to this biblical concept.

The gospels changed all that.

Jesus had long since predicted his end, and now it was necessary for him, once and for all and perfectly beyond doubt, to express his submission. He could no longer just speak, prophesy, he had to feel, mourn, be anxious, become powerless, in order to reconcile himself with his task through his inner struggle. Precisely the religious interest that determined the initial structure and the enduring foundation of the gospel story, and which made a great and dignified struggle, that is, a struggle in which the opposing forces also appear great and significant, impossible, had to result in the end in the fact that Jesus’ struggle against the opposing powers coincides with his inner soul-suffering. Other historical or epic heroes do not need such a struggle with their weakness, nor can they even collapse in themselves when the tragic conclusion arrives, because they have proven themselves in the struggle with great and significant historical powers and have worked through the shortcomings of their personal one-sidedness even in this struggle. (Bauer, 217)

Jesus’ struggle in Gethsemane is not heroic. It is a struggle to obliterate his own self before an idea of a god who demands his non-existence.

As Eric Fromm wrote long back:

[Man] projects the best he has_onto God and impoverishes himself. . . . The more he praises God the emptier he becomes. The emptier he becomes the more sinful he feels. The more sinful he feels the more he praises God — and the less he is able to regain himself. (quoted by Fisher, Orphans of Gethsemane II, 432)

Vardis Fisher spoke of a “lunacy of prayer and tears and pleading” which makes one feel emptier and more sinful, and the more sinful and empty one feels, the harder one prays!

Volume 2 of Orphans of Gethsemane — the biography that led me to name this blog Vridar, the central figure of Vardis Fisher’s “autobiographical” novel.

Jesus had knelt alone to pray: . . . in all the gethsemanes in myth and legend, where all the father-fearing and father-hating Jewish.and Christian sons had knelt in supplication, and were still kneeling, and would kneel, as long as the Desert-Yahweh was driven into their child-souls. (Fisher, Orphans of Gethsemane II, 479)

Think of this:

The pathetic wretched lonely orphan, going off alone into his gethsemane (gath shēmāni, the oil press) to pray, knowing it to be the will of his father that he should die! In his death he would appease the father’s wrath, who was on the point of killing all his children!(Fisher, Orphans of Gethsemane II, 480)

Vridar spent hours talking aloud to himself about “Jesus,” . . . saying, “He was the immolated son — this is the myth of the complete submission of the son to the father with the son-symbol standing for all Christians who submit. He was the orphan: this is the myth of the one who had no love, and went alone into his gethsemane to pray, and prepare to die, because his father willed it. This is the myth of the lonely lost man naked before the universe, and before death and time and all his enemies. (Fisher, Orphans of Gethsemane II, 482)

Bruno Bauer: Book 6, Ch 4 – Jesus’ Soul Struggle in Gethsemane

Fisher, Vardis. The Great Confession: Orphans of Gethsemane, V2. Testament of Man 13. New York: Pyramid, 1960.

Homer. The Iliad. Translated by Émile Victor Rieu. Harmondsworth, Middlesex: Penguin, 1950.


How John Used Mark: Investigating the Methods of the Fourth Evangelist (Part 1)

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by Tim Widowfield

Part 1: Turning Mark Inside Out

In a comment to Neil’s post, Discovering the Sources for the First Gospel, 3 — Criteria, from way back in May of 2012, I introduced a way to explain how the Fourth Evangelist may have used the Gospel of Mark. It might not be a novel approach — there is no new thing under the sun — and I certainly don’t have access to all the commentaries and exegeses on John. However, it’s new to me.

English: John the Evangelist, miniature, Gospe...
English: John the Evangelist, miniature, Gospel Book, Vatopedi monastery, cod. 16 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For simplicity’s sake, here’s my comment, with some minor edits:

In Mark 15:37, Jesus “breathes his last.” In the following verse the temple curtain is torn from top to bottom. And in verse 39, the centurion declares him to be the Son of God.

Key words to notice in verse 15:36 are (1) ἐσχίσθη (eschisthē) — “was torn” and (2) ἄνωθεν (anōthen) — “from [the] top.” A close, literal translation of the verse might be: “And the veil of the temple was torn in two from the top to the bottom.”

In John, conversely, at the beginning of the crucifixion (19:23) the soldiers take Jesus’ belongings and split them among themselves. They divide his garments into four equal piles, but they notice that Jesus’ tunic is formed of a single piece of woven fabric without seams. John says that the tunic was “seamless from the top (anōthen), woven throughout all.” And in the next verse, they decide not to tear (σχίσωμεν (schisōmen)) the tunic, but cast lots for it instead. It was not torn.

The garment John describes has reminded several commentators of the priestly vestment described by Josephus: “Now this vesture was not composed of two pieces, nor was it sewed together upon the shoulders and the sides, but it was one long vestment so woven as to have an aperture for the neck; not an oblique one, but parted all along the breast and the back.” (http://www.ccel.org/j/josephus/works/ant-3.htm)

Continue reading “How John Used Mark: Investigating the Methods of the Fourth Evangelist (Part 1)”


“It Is Hard to Imagine” — How Scholars Invent History

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by Tim Widowfield

Why would anybody make it up? (And other dead horses.)

In a recent post over on Exploring our Matrix, James McGrath wrote:

The depiction of Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane, in great distress and praying that the cup pass from him, is one that it is hard to imagine being invented by the later church, after they had made sense of the cross as the decisive salvific event in human history. Would they invent Jesus asking for that not to occur? It seems unlikely. But the scene makes no sense if Jesus does not believe that he must under go [sic] something traumatic. (emphasis mine)

Giorgio Vasari: An angel strengthens Jesus pra...
Giorgio Vasari: An angel strengthens Jesus praying in agony in Gethsemane. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

That’s quite a bit of “logic” packed into a single paragraph. Somehow we started out with a narrative event in the synoptic gospels and we ended up with a supposed “authentic” historical event simply by applying a thought experiment.

Why does McGrath think it is hard to imagine the “later church” inventing a scene in which Jesus asked for the cup to pass? Because the cross is necessary for salvation. How could the Son of God try to wriggle out of the crucifixion when that’s the whole plan? Why is the Messiah under such distress?

Uncomfortable Christians

And indeed, the later church, even as early as the gospel of John, did seem uncomfortable with Jesus agonizing over his fate in Gethsemane. In the Fourth Gospel, Jesus knows his part in the plan and meets the arresting party head-on:

Then Jesus, knowing all that would happen to him, came forward and said to them, “Whom do you seek?” (John 18:4, ESV)

So McGrath could be correct in saying that the later church would be unlikely to create the garden scene with Jesus apparently trying to avoid death. But what about the early church?

The importance of being obedient

We prove our obedience not by doing things we want to do, but by doing things we would prefer not to do.

Two early documents (which predate our narrative gospels) in the New Testament give evidence of a belief in a Savior who demonstrated total obedience. In the Philippian Hymn we find this line:

Continue reading ““It Is Hard to Imagine” — How Scholars Invent History”


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. Continue reading “Jesus with Isaac in Gethsemane: And How Historical Inquiry Trumps Christian Exegesis”


Odysseus, Moses and Jesus in Gethsemane

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by Neil Godfrey

The Jesus in Gethsemane story has always been one of the most moving episodes in religious movies. It is also a literary motif that has a long pedigree and would have been well known to any author who had learned to read and write Greek and who knew Jewish writings.

The basic structure and thematic units of the story are prominent in both “classical” Greek and Hebrew literature. It is quite likely one of those stories that may have fallen easily into place in an author’s mind without necessarily consciously imitating another — like a modern superhero drama can be unconsciously built on the motif of a Jesus-like saviour figure.

There are approx ten or more significant sequential parts that make up this motif: Continue reading “Odysseus, Moses and Jesus in Gethsemane”