Showing posts with label #Stations. Show all posts
Showing posts with label #Stations. Show all posts

08 April 2020

The crowd shouts for Barabbas.

Mark 15.6-11, Matthew 27.15-21, Luke 23.17-25, John 18.39-40.

We actually have nothing in the Roman records about this custom the Roman governors had of releasing a prisoner every Passover. Doesn’t mean they didn’t do it; just means they kept it off the books. Which is understandable. Fleshly people tend to think of mercy and forgiveness as weakness, not strength; of compassion and generosity as something that other people will take advantage of, not benevolence. “If you give a mouse a cookie” and all that.

Anyway we have four historical records which indicate the Romans totally did free a prisoner every Passover: The gospels. Apparently Pontius Pilate had on hand an guy named Jesus bar Avvá, who’d been arrested during “the riot.” We don’t know which riot, and Christians like to speculate it was one of the more famous ones, but it had to have been fairly recent: Romans didn’t keep people in prison for long. They either held them for trial, flogged and released them, or crucified them.

Pontius wanted to free Jesus. But, probably ’cause Jesus is totally guilty of calling himself Messiah, Pontius didn’t wanna free him on his own authority. It might get back to Caesar Tiberius that he freed a self-proclaimed king. So he wanted an excuse, or to pass the buck to Herod. Likely that’s why he went with the whole free-a-convict-for-Passover thing: “Hey, why not Jesus?”

Well because they didn’t want Jesus; or at least that was the sentiment of the crowd the head priests brought in. Pontius gave them the option of Jesus the Nazarene, or Jesus bar Avvá. They went with bar-Avvá.

Mark 15.6-11 KWL
6 During the feast Pilatus would release one prisoner to them; whomever they asked.
7 There was one called bar-Avvá among the insurrectionists, imprisoned during the riot for committing murder.
8 Rising up, the crowd began to ask, as usual, for Pilatus to do for them.
9 In reply Pilatus told them, “You want me to free for you ‘the Judean king’?”
10 —knowing the head priests turned Jesus in out of envy.
11 The head priests incited the crowd to instead ask that bar-Avvá might be released to them.
Matthew 27.15-21 KWL
15 During the feast the prefect was accustomed to release one prisoner to them; whomever they wanted.
16 He then had a famous prisoner, called Jesus bar Avvá.
17 So Pilatus told the people who’d gathered for him, “Whom do you want me to release to you?—Jesus bar Avvá, or Jesus called Messiah?”
18 —knowing the head priests turned Jesus in out of envy.
19 (As he was sitting on the dais, his wife sent him a message:
“Keep away from that righteous man, for I saw many things in a dream about him.”)
20 The head priests and elders convinced the crowd to ask for bar-Avvá, and for Jesus’s destruction.
21 In reply the prefect told them, “Whom of the two do you want me to release to you?” They said, “Bar-Avvá.”
Luke 23.17-25 KWL
17 [He had to release one prisoner to them during the feast.]
18 The Judeans shouted out together, “Take this man away and release bar-Avvá to us!”
19 Bar-Avvá was thrown into prison because of a certain riot in the city, and murder.
20 Pilatus addressed them again, wanting to release Jesus,
21 and the crowd shouted back, saying, “Crucify! Crucify him!”
22 Pilatus told them thrice, “Why? Did this man do evil?
Nothing worth death was done by him. So I will punish and release him.”
23 The crowd insisted with loud voices, calling for Jesus to be crucified, and their voices prevailed.
24 Pilatus sentenced Jesus to have done as the crowd requested.
25 He released the one they requested, who was thrown into prison for riot and murder,
and Jesus was surrendered to the people’s will.
John 18.39-40 KWL
39 It’s your custom that one prisoner might be released to you on Passover,
so do you want me to release to you ‘the Judean king’?”
40 So they shouted again, saying, “Not him, but bar-Avvá!” (Bar-Avvá was a looter.)

Who’s bar-Avvá?

The gospels don’t give us much on who bar-Avvá is, mainly because they don’t really care.

The word in our bibles is Βαραββᾶς/Varavvás (KJV “Barabbas”), which is a transliteration of the Aramaic בַּר אַבה/bar Avvá, “son of Avvá.” Yes, Avvá was a proper Hebrew name back then, but loads of Christians like to make much of the fact the word also means “father,” and therefore “bar-Avvá” literally means “son of a father.” And hey, isn’t Jesus’s dad our heavenly Father? What an interesting contrast! But nah, it’s not all that interesting.

In some copies of Matthew, bar-Avvá’s given name is Jesus. Mt 16.18 NIV True, “Jesus” isn’t in the earliest copies of Matthew, and the earliest reference is the Codex Vaticanus, written in the early 300s. The reason it was probably dropped from those early copies is because the New Testament copyists tried to avoid referring to anybody other than Christ Jesus as “Jesus.” But tradition preserved bar-Avvá’s given name—and again there’s that interesting contrast between the two Jesuses. One’s a murderer; the other offers to save everyone from death. Jn 3.16

Bar-Avvá was arrested during a recent riot, for murder Mk 15.7 and looting. Jn 18.40 He was imprisoned among the insurrectionists, and that’s led various people to jump to the conclusion he was an insurrectionist; possibly one of the nativists who called themselves “Canaanites,” Mk 3.18, Mt 10.4 KJV or in Greek ζηλωτής/zilotís, “Zealots,” Lk 6.15, Ac 1.13 who wanted the Romans gone, and were willing to kill to get it. Bar-Avvá did commit murder after all; maybe he murdered a Roman.

But likely not. Pontius wouldn’t have suggested his name, or even considered him a possibility, if bar-Avvá murdered a Roman. He’d have been crucified the same day. More likely bar-Avvá took advantage of a riot and confusion to murder someone, and probably someone prominent, which is why he was now famous. Or maybe he was already prominent—a celebrity’s kid, or otherwise had prominent connections, which might explain why the Romans hadn’t yet crucified him.

Of course the Jesus movies like to depict him as a hardened criminal, a highwayman and bandit, a tough guy who was thrilled the crowd was shouting for him instead of that pacifist Nazarene sissy. Or maybe he took a look at Jesus and was magically struck with conviction—“why, this man is clearly innocent, even though I’ve never met him before and someone beat the tar out of him and all my cultural biases should be telling me the universe is punishing him”—or however the screenwriters like to play with the character. Me, I’m more interested in historical accuracy. Human nature dictates bar-Avvá really didn’t wanna get crucified, and didn’t care who took his place so long that he got to live. Beyond this story, we never hear of him again.

Jesus’s suffering.

Now of course Jesus didn’t wanna get crucified either. But he had accepted his coming death as an inevitability. The chance he might be pardoned, only existed in Pontius’s mind—and in the worries of the senators who wanted Jesus dead. Didn’t exist in Jesus’s. So really all this free-a-convict-for-Passover thingy did was delay the inevitable.

But you know Satan would’ve used it as a temptation: “Look, there’s a chance you might get freed! You won’t have to go through crucifixion! You’ll only get off with a flogging; shouldn’t that be enough?” Assuming the devil understood Jesus was trying to achieve atonement though his death; I don’t know what it knew or didn’t know, but it’s a good bet the devil wanted to frustrate anything Jesus was up to, or at least prolong the misery. If Jesus was determined to die, may as well dangle the possibility he might not.

And no, it’s not fun to hear a crowd reject you in favor of a really undeserving, truly bad guy. No matter the situation.

07 April 2020

The crowd shouts for crucifixion.

Mark 15.8-14, Matthew 27.20-23, Luke 23.18-25, John 18.38-40.

When Jesus stood trial before Pontius Pilate, the Roman prefect quickly realized Jesus was no insurrectionist. Jesus’s claim of being Judea’s king was no political threat to the Roman senate and emperor. Case dismissed.

Except it wasn’t, because the Judean senators had somehow got a crowd together which was calling for Jesus’s death. And the easiest way to get Romans in a murdery mood is to disturb their peace. That’s the one thing Romans valued most: Social stability. Not actual peace, like Jesus gives us; just the appearance of peace, where nobody grumbles too loud, would do for them. And if they didn’t get it, they’d crucify everybody till they did.

The head priests knew this, so of course they got a crowd together, and made sure they were good and noisy.

Mark 15.8-14 KWL
8 Rising up, the crowd began to ask, as usual, for Pilatus to do for them.
9 In reply Pilatus told them, “You want me to free for you ‘the Judean king’?”
10 —knowing the head priests turned Jesus in out of spite.
11 The head priests incited the crowd to instead ask that bar-Avvá might be released to them.
12 In reply Pilatus again told them, “So what ought I do with the one called ‘the Judean king’?
13 The crowd shouted again, “Crucify him.”
14 Pilatus told them, “Why? Did he do evil?” But they shouted “Crucify him” all the more.
Matthew 27.20-23 KWL
20 The head priests and elders convinced the crowd to ask for bar-Avvá, and for Jesus’s destruction.
21 In reply the prefect told them, “Whom of the two do you want me to release to you?” They said, “Bar-Avvá.”
22 Pilatus told them, “So what will I do with Jesus called Messiah?” All said, “Crucify.”
23 Pilatus said, “Why? Did he do evil?” But they shouted “Crucify!” all the more.
Luke 23.18-25 KWL
18 The Judeans shouted out together, “Take this man away and release bar-Avvá to us!”
19 Bar-Avvá was thrown into prison because of a certain riot in the city, and murder.
20 Pilatus addressed them again, wanting to release Jesus,
21 and the crowd shouted back, saying, “Crucify! Crucify him!”
22 Pilatus told them thrice, “Why? Did this man do evil?
Nothing worth death was done by him. So I will punish and release him.”
23 The crowd insisted with loud voices, calling for Jesus to be crucified, and their voices prevailed.
24 Pilatus sentenced Jesus to have done as the crowd requested.
25 He released the one they requested, who was thrown into prison for riot and murder,
and Jesus was surrendered to the people’s will.
John 18.38-40 KWL
38 Pilatus told Jesus, “What’s ‘truth’?”
This said, he went out again to the Judeans and told them, “I find nothing in him of cause.
39 It’s your custom that one prisoner might be released to you on Passover,
so do you want me to release to you ‘the Judean king’?”
40 So they shouted again, saying, “Not him, but bar-Avvá!” (Bar-Avvá was a looter.)
41 So then Pilatus took Jesus and flogged him.

More about bar-Avvá another time.

The crowd’s constitution.

Preachers are mighty fond of claiming the crowd which asked for bar-Avvá to be freed, and for Jesus to be crucified, was the very same crowd which hailed Jesus on Palm Sunday. We have no evidence of that whatsoever, but these preachers love the idea of the crowd turning on Jesus; praising him one day, rejecting him the next, much like the students who rejected him after he told them to eat him. Denouncing hypocrites is fun, so this old claim manages to worm its way into every Holy Week message. But it’s likely rubbish.

Ancient Jerusalem was a big city. Ordinarily 40,000 people lived there, which means you could put together a dozen massive Jesus-denying crowds with entirely different people in ’em, same as such a population nowadays can easily host a dozen Jesus-affirming churches. But y’might remember Passover was going on, which every adult male Israelite was commanded to attend. Ex 23.17 During the Jewish War, which started during one of the mandatory festivals, Josephus stated the city physically held more than 125,000 people. Granted some people might’ve been in both crowds, but certainly not all. And if the head priests gathered this crowd, these definitely wouldn’t be Jesus fans.

Also bear in mind the Romans’ fort, Antonia, couldn’t hold a crowd of thousands. The temple, which Antonia overlooked, could; but no matter how much the head priests wanted Jesus dead, it’s extremely unlikely they’d have used the temple courts to host a crowd shouting “Crucify him!” So the size of this crowd wasn’t as vast as the Jesus movies make it look; we’re only talking 300 people at the very most. Even without shouting they’d make a lot of noise, but they only needed to be just noisy enough to sway Pontius. Which they did.

The other consideration is this was Friday, 3 April 33, the day before Passover and the day before Sabbath, and therefore a day you were super busy getting ready. You had to get your lamb killed and skinned and roasted; you had to go to temple for your ritual sacrifices (and get in line, ’cause there were tons of other Israelite families with Passover sacrifices, but only so many priests, and just the one altar); and if you had to go to temple it meant you had to get ritually clean the day before, and stay ritually clean till you got to temple, and couldn’t risk becoming ritually unclean by gathering in a crowded Roman fortress where there’d be a bunch of uncircumcised pork-eating soldiers who touched dead things and blood and didn’t wash their hands. So the crowd had to consist of people who finished their temple rituals first thing in the morning… and who wouldn’t mind getting ritually unclean for a little while, and do the head priests a favor.

Likewise people who didn’t have a problem getting one of their fellow Israelites crucified by the Romans. Who didn’t really have a problem with the Roman occupation period; who might’ve even profited off it. Who didn’t just reject the idea of Jesus as Messiah, but may not have even believed any Messiah was coming, like Sadducees. And since the head priests were Sadducees themselves, maybe they handpicked a crowd of fellow Sadducees. The gospels don’t say… but if the entire crowd would Sadducee, they absolutely wouldn’t have among the crowd cheering Jesus at Palm Sunday, ’cause shouting Hosanna to an incoming Messiah is way more of a Pharisee thing.

Jesus represents a total overhaul of the status quo. (Including our own.) If the crowd had more to lose by such changes, they’d shout all the more for Jesus’s destruction. And so it appears they did.

Jesus’s suffering.

In these stations of the cross articles we’re looking particularly at how Jesus suffered. And of course he suffered in hearing the crowds call for his death. He didn’t wanna die. Definitely didn’t wanna be crucified. But this was the sort of death he knew was coming; it was part of the Father’s plan, and the Father’s plan is his plan too.

And he came to save this crowd too. He wants everybody to be saved, 1Ti 2.4 even the ones who wanted him dead, even the people today who want him and Christianity gone, and would crucify him again if they could get their hands on him. It’s a pity they resisted his grace; it’s a pity people still resist it. It just goes to demonstrate how messed up humanity is. Obviously we need a savior—who isn’t gonna let us, killing him, stop him from saving us regardless.

16 March 2020

Jesus’s crucifixion.

Ever bang your funny bone? That’s the ulnar nerve. The equivalent in the leg is the tibial nerve.

About 26 to 24 centuries ago, humans in the middle east figured out the most painful way to kill someone: Take four nails. Put one through each of these nerves. Then hang a victim, by these nails, from whatever—a wall, a tree, a pole, a cross.

If you stretch out their limbs, it’ll squeeze their lungs. They’ll find it extremely hard to breathe. Can’t inhale unless they actually push themselves up by their pierced ankles, and pull themselves up by their pierced wrists. And each pull feels like they’ve taken these nerves and crushed them with a hammer, all over again.

Leave ’em like that, to die slowly, by asphyxiation. It might take all day. Multiple days, if the person has a strong enough will to live. But they’ll die eventually, in agony. There’s no real way to stop the constant pain. It’s so intense, Latin-speakers had invented a new word to describe it: Excruciare, from which we get our word excruciating.

Crucifixion (Распятие), by Nikolai Ge, 1892. Note the victims on either side of the center guy, pulling themselves up to breathe. Pretty nasty. Gallerix

The earliest records we have of crucifixion, Persians were doing it. Haman in Esther, fr’instance: He built a 50-cubit עֵץ֮/ech, “wood” or “tree,” probably a pole, to crucify Mordecai upon. Es 7.9 The KJV calls it a gallows, but that’s ’cause its translators thought crucifixion was a Roman thing. Nope. In fact crucifixion probably predates even the Persians.

But Romans were definitely known for crucifixion. Not just because of Jesus: The Romans made crucifixion their thing. It’s so nasty, Romans forbade it to be used on their own citizens—but exactly like Americans’ attitudes about torture, the Romans figured foreigners were fair game: Mess with the Roman Empire and you’ll suffer the very worst form of death possible. But as usual, terrifying people doesn’t actually deter insurrection and crime, ’cause insurgents and criminals never expect to get caught. All crucifixion actually did was horrify the law-abiding subjects under Roman rule—“What kind of sick animals do this kind of thing to other people?”—and make ’em hate Romans all the more. (Americans, pay attention.)

Christian art has stylized and toned down crucifixion a lot. The average crucifix isn’t historically accurate at all, and not just ’cause Jesus isn’t white. Because present-day people have never seen an actual Roman-style crucifixion; they’ve seen Jesus movies and passion plays. (Maybe they’ve seen terrorists on the news crucify Christians, but the terrorists do it wrong too.) So Jesus is depicted with nails through the palms of his hands, with one nail spiking through the top of both feet, usually into a little platform.

“But wait, isn’t that how Luke describes Jesus—with nail-scars in his hands and feet?” Lk 24.39-40 Yeah, when you interpret Luke too literally. Jesus’s χεῖράς/heirás, “hands,” and πόδας/pódas, “feet,” refer to the general areas of his hands and feet, which include his wrists and ankles.

Because had they nailed Jesus by his hands and feet, the nails wouldn’t have held up a body. The weight of the body would rip right through his hands and feet. That’s why so many Jesus movies add ropes; the thinking is the ropes held him up while the nails were there for extra torment. Sometimes the thieves crucified with Jesus are depicted as only tied by ropes—no nails for them—so Jesus suffers worse than they. But ropes would defeat the purpose of crucifixion: Now the victim’s weight would rest on the ropes, not the nails, and they’d suffer less, and wouldn’t struggle to breathe. Archaeology doesn’t match the ropes idea either.

Likewise Christian art tends to put Jesus in a loincloth, for modesty’s sake. But loincloths were impractical: Victims would soil themselves quickly. Crucifixion hurts so bad, you don’t care about other bodily functions. Even if you did, they weren’t taking you down for bathroom breaks. So for practical reasons, victims were crucified buck naked. Not to humiliate them; Romans, and most pagans, didn’t mind nudity. You’ve seen their statues.

A horrible way to go.

Since God has ultimate control of history—including the place, time, and death of the Son—you gotta wonder why he was willing to involve crucifixion. Of all the ways to go, it’s the worst we humans have ever invented. Why was Jesus willing to die that way?

Most of us Christians figure God chose crucifixion because it’s so awful. Sin and death needed to be destroyed, and deserved to be destroyed in the worst way possible. Well, that’d be crucifixion.

It also makes a big statement of how much grace God offers the world. We killed Jesus in the nastiest way, yet he forgives us. If God’s grace can overcome such an unjust, horrible death, surely it can overcome anything.

More than that: Because Jesus died by crucifixion, it spurred us humans to finally stop crucifying one another. (Well, not finally. Antichrists, when they wanna terrorize Christians, find it amusing to crucify us. But other than making sick statements against our religion, other societies don’t use it.) We finally saw how terrible it is, by virtue of our Lord, his apostles, and many of his followers dying that way. We realized we mustn’t do that to one another, no matter how much a person might deserve death.

And loads of us have also applied that to the death penalty in general. Many Christian countries got rid of it altogether (though it sure took ’em long enough). In countries which still permit it, like the United States, we try to make our executions humane, as painless as possible. Despite all the vengeance-minded folks outside who’d love to watch the convicts suffer, and who wouldn’t mind at all if we brought crucifixion back.

Lastly, in dying a slow death, Jesus had time to demonstrate for us how to die as a martyr. Not passively: Jesus actively refused the nasty stuff they offered him to drink. (Mark calls it wine and myrrh, meant to be medicinal; Matthew wine and bile, meant to make you puke; Luke and John wine vinegar, or really old wine.) But the gospels describe him speaking to various people from the cross, to offer them grace, forgiveness, and comfort. Not wrath, not cursing and damning his killers and persecutors, threatening them with destruction as soon as he was back from the dead, or took possession of his kingdom. We’d do that. Jesus wouldn’t, and didn’t.

Regardless of the circumstances, regardless of the torture, Jesus bore it with as much peace and self-control as he could muster. His was a noble death. And if we must ever go through anything like it—’cause you never know—may we be Christlike.

19 April 2019

Jesus is put in his sepulcher.

Mark 15.42-47, Matthew 27.57-61, Luke 23.50-56, John 19.38-42.

On the afternoon of Good Friday, after a flogging and crucifixion, Jesus died. Roman custom was to just leave the corpse on the cross for the birds to pick at, but Jewish custom was to bury people immediately. On the very same day they died, if possible. And since the next day was Sabbath—and in the year 33, also Passover—they especially needed to get everybody off the crosses and buried posthaste.

Now in previous generations, “buried” means buried: Dig a hole in the ground deep enough for animals to not get at the corpse, put the body in, fill the hole back in. In Jesus’s day, Jewish custom had changed. Now what they did was wrap the body in moist linen strips, and put it on a stone slab in a sepulcher. This way the body would rot quickly—and after a year or so, there’d be nothing left but bones, which were then collected and put into an ossuary. (They figured in the resurrection, all God needed was the bones—same as in Ezekiel’s vision.)

So whenever people make a big deal about Jesus’s empty tomb… well frankly, at one point or another, every Judean sepulcher would be empty. ’Cause they’d take the bones away.

So that’s what happened after Jesus died. Joseph of Ramah (Greek Ἀριμαθαίας/Arimathaías, Hebrew רָמָתַ֛יִם צוֹפִ֖ים/Ramataym-Chofím, KJV Ramathaimzophim), a senator who hadn’t agreed with the vote to condemn Jesus, Lk 23.51 took it upon himself to take care of Jesus’s body. All the gospels give him his due credit.

Mark 15.42-47 KWL
42 When evening came—because it was Preparation, the day before Sabbath—
43 respected senator Joseph from Ramah, who was also awaiting God’s kingdom, came.
Daring to enter Pontius Pilate’s house, he asked for Jesus’s body.
44 Pilate was surprised Jesus was already dead.
Calling the centurion, he asked him if Jesus was already dead,
45 and learning it from the centurion, Pilate gave the corpse to Joseph.
46 Buying linen, taking Jesus down, Joseph wrapped him in linen.
He put the corpse in a sepulcher hewn from rock, and rolled a stone over the sepulcher’s door.
47 Mary the Magdalene and Mary mother of Joses saw where the corpse was put.
Matthew 27.57-61 KWL
57 Come evening came a wealthy man from Ramah named Joseph, who himself was a student of Jesus.
58 This Joseph went to Pontius Pilate to ask for Jesus’s body. Then Pilate commanded it be given.
59 Taking Jesus’s body, Joseph wrapped it in pure linen
60 and put it in Joseph’s own new sepulcher, cut from rock,
rolled a large stone against the sepucher’s door, and went away.
61 Mary the Magdalene and another Mary were there, sitting opposite the tomb.
Luke 23.50-56 KWL
50 Look, a man named Joseph, using his position as a senator—
a good and righteous man; 51 this Joseph hadn’t agreed with the senate and its action—
from Ramah, Judea, who awaited God’s kingdom—
52 this Joseph went to Pontius Pilate to ask for Jesus’s body.
53 Taking the corpse down, he wrapped it in linen
and put it in a stonecut sepulcher in which no one had yet laid.
54 It was Preparation Day, and Sabbath was beginning.
55 The women who had come together with Jesus from the Galilee, followed Joseph.
They saw the sepulcher and how Joseph arranged Jesus’s body.
56 On returning, they prepared spices and myrrh,
and once it was actually Sabbath, rested according to the command.
John 19.38-42 KWL
38 After these things Joseph from Ramah, who was Jesus’s student (secretly, for fear of the Judeans),
asked Pontius Pilate that he might take Jesus’s body.
Pilate allowed it, so Joseph came and took Jesus’s body.
39 Nikodemus, who had first come to Jesus at night, also came
bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloe vera weighing 100 Roman pounds [72.5 English pounds, 32.9 kilos].
40 So they took Jesus’s body and tied the spices to it with strips, as is the Judean burial custom.
41 A garden was in the place where Jesus was crucified,
and in the garden, a new sepulcher in which no one had yet laid.
42 So there, on the Judean Preparation Day,
because it was near the sepulcher, they arranged Jesus’s body.

18 April 2019

“My God, why have you forsaken me?”

Mark 15.33-36, Matthew 27.45-49.

Before he died, Jesus shouted out something in a language his bystanders didn’t recognize. And a lot of present-day commentators don’t recognize it either. We know it was Psalm 22.1, but some of us say Jesus quoted it in Aramaic; some say Hebrew. Which was it?

The reason for the confusion is that Mark and Matthew don’t match. Both of ’em recorded Jesus’s words as best they could—but they did so in the Greek alphabet, which doesn’t correspond neatly to Hebrew and Aramaic sounds. So here’s what we got. (And if your web browser reads Unicode, you might actually see the original-language characters.)

Ps 22.1, Hebrew אֵלִ֣י אֵלִ֣י לָמָ֣ה עֲזַבְתָּ֑נִי Elí Elí, lamá azavettáni?
Ps 22.1, Aramaic (Syriac) ܐܠܗ ܐܠܗܝ ܠܡܢܐ ܫܒܩܬܢ Elahí Elahí, lamaná šavaqtaní?
Mk 15.34, Greekἐλωΐ ἐλωΐ, λεμᾶ σαβαχθανί;Elo’í Elo’í, lemá savahthaní?
(or σαβακτανεί/savaktaneí in the Codex Sinaiticus.)
Mt 27.46, Greekἠλί ἠλί, λεμὰ σαβαχθανί;Ilí ilí, lemá savahthaní?

Just based on how the gospels’ authors wrote the word for “my God,” Elí in Hebrew or Elahí in Aramaic, it kinda looks like Mark was quoting an Aramaic translation of the psalms, and Matthew the Hebrew original.

But it seems to me the most likely Jesus would quote bible in Hebrew. For three reasons:

  1. That is the language King David wrote his psalm in.
  2. It’d explain why the people who heard Jesus quote it, didn’t understand him. Judeans and Galileans spoke Aramaic; that’s what the New Testament meant by Ἑβραϊστί/Evrahistí and Ἑβραΐδι/Evra’ídi, “Hebraic.” Jn 5.2, Ac 22.2, 26.14, Rv 9.11 In the first century Hebrew was a dead language, only spoken by scribes like Jesus.
  3. It’s way easier to confuse Elí with Ἡλίας/Ilías, the Greek version of אֵלִיָּה/Eliyyáhu, “Elijah,” than it is Elahí.

Regardless, in my translation the words in Jesus’s mouth are Aramaic in Mark, and Hebrew in Matthew. ’Cause that’s what the authors were apparently going for.

Mark 15.33-36 KWL
33 When the sixth hour since sunrise—noon—came,
darkness came over all the land till the ninth hour.
34 At the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, Elahí Elahí, lamaná šavaqtáni?
which is translated, “My God my God, for what reason have you left me behind?” Ps 22.1
35 Some of the bystanders who heard it said, “Look: He calls Elijah.”
36 One of the runners, filling a sponge of vinegar, putting it on a reed, gave Jesus a drink,
saying, “Let’s see if Elijah comes to take him.”
Matthew 27.45-49 KWL
45 From the sixth hour since sunrise—noon—
darkness came over all the land until the ninth hour.
46 Around the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, Elí Elí, lamáh azavettáni?
That is, “My God my God, why did you leave me behind?” Ps 22.1
47 Some of the bystanders who heard it said this: “This man calls Elijah.”
48 One runner quickly left them: Taking a sponge full of vinegar, putting it on a reed, he gave Jesus a drink.
49 The others said, “Let’s see if Elijah comes, and will save him.”

Awright, now that we have the language sorta squared away, let’s get to what was going on here.

17 April 2019

When Jesus made John responsible for his mother.

John 19.25-27.

Only John has this story. Which has caused no end of speculation about Jesus’s family situation.

John 19.25-27 KWL
25 Standing by Jesus’s cross were his mother, his mother’s sister Salomé,
Mary wife of Clopas, and Mary the Magdalene.
26 So Jesus, seeing his mother and the student he loved standing by,
told his mother, “Ma’am, look: Your son.”
27 Then Jesus told the student, “Look: Your mother.”
From that hour on, Jesus’s student took her as his own.

John’s list of the women who watched Jesus die is the same as the other gospels, with the addition of Jesus’s mom and himself. He never referred to Jesus’s mom as “Mary,” because he was trying to refer to as few Marys as possible, so as not to confuse everybody with how common the name “Mary” was. (Same as his own name; notice in his gospel the only “John” in it is John the baptist.)

Anyway. All these people at the cross, save Mary the Magdalene, were family. Salomé was Mary the Nazarene’s sister; Mary “of Clopas” was Joseph the Nazarene’s sister-in-law; John himself was Salomé’s son and Jesus’s first cousin. For various reasons Christian figure John was the youngest of Jesus’s students—maybe 16 or even younger at the time of Jesus’s death—and his youth might’ve been why he was able to get to the places he did, and be a firsthand witness to Jesus’s trial and death. Who’d suspect a kid?

But y’notice despite all this family around, Jesus’s siblings weren’t there.

And there’s no reason they wouldn’t be. Jesus was killed the day before Passover. Jn 19.30-31 We know Jesus’s siblings regularly went to Jerusalem for the feasts, Jn 7.1-10 as required by the Law. Dt 16.16 So they weren’t all the way back in Nazareth; they were in Jerusalem. In fact Luke notes they were still in Jerusalem 50 days later. Ac 1.14 No doubt they knew the Romans were killing their brother. And they weren’t there.

Only their mother, their aunts, and their cousin John had the guts to be there for Jesus. They did not.

So as the only male family member present, who was there for Jesus to call upon? Right: His beloved student.

16 April 2019

The “unbelieving” thief.

Mark 15.27, 32, Matthew 27.38, 44, Luke 23.32-33, 39.

Okay. Did the believing thief, now the unbelieving thief.

The gospels state two thieves were crucified with Jesus—

Mark 15.27 KWL
They crucified two thieves with Jesus: One on the right, one at his left.
Matthew 27.38 KWL
38 Then two thieves were crucified with Jesus, one at right and one at left.
Luke 23.32-33 KWL
32 They brought two others with Jesus, evildoers to be done away with.
33 When they came to the place called Skull, there they crucified Jesus and the evildoers,
who were at right and at left.

—but they never did identify them, so Christian tradition named ’em Dismas and Gesmas. Never did say which one was on the right, and which was on the left. All we know was at first, both were railing at Jesus—

Mark 15.32 KWL
“Messiah, king of Israel, has to come down from the cross now, so we can see and believe him.”
And those crucified with Jesus insulted him.
Matthew 27.44 KWL
Likewise the thieves crucified with Jesus insulted him.

—and then Dismas had a change of heart, asked Jesus to remember him, and Jesus offered him paradise.

Whereas all Gestas has gone down in history for doing is saying this:

Luke 23.39 KWL
One of the hanging evildoers was slandering Jesus, saying,
“Aren’t you Messiah? Save yourself and us!”

Popularly this is interpreted as Gestas’s unbelief. Because he was slandering Jesus: He was calling him things he’s not. Most folks misinterpret ἐβλασφήμει/evlasfímei as “hurled insults,” like the NIV has it. (It’s similar to the KJV’s “railed.”) But the proper translation is to blaspheme, or slander. Gestas wasn’t simply cussing Jesus out. He was saying stuff he deep-down knew wasn’t so. He knew Jesus is Messiah—but was too angry, too much in pain, to confess it.

Same as a lot of antichrists. They know who Jesus is. They realize he’s not exaggerating; his followers haven’t just taken an obscure Galilean rabbi and made up stuff about him; Jesus is on the level, and he’s Lord. But they don’t wanna follow him. Don’t wanna repent. Don’t wanna submit. Don’t wanna let go of their rage and bitterness. They’d rather die first. As Gestas literally did.

“Why isn’t God granting my wishes?”

Part of the reason Gestas was furious with Jesus is in his demand, “Save yourself and us!” He was nailed to a cross, same as Jesus. Not just tied to it, like the movies and art depict, as if only Jesus got the worst of it; nailed. Four spikes through the wrists and ankles, through the most sensitive nerves in the body, guaranteed to be non-stop agony till he died—sometimes days later. (Although because Sabbath was at sundown, the Romans “mercifully” killed the victims later that day—by breaking their legs so they could no longer pull themselves up to breathe.) Every minute was suffering.

Gestas didn’t want to end his suffering by dying, but by getting rescued. And here right next to him… was Messiah! The anointed king of Israel. The guy who’d rescue Israel from Rome, if Pharisees were to be believed. So if he’s really Messiah, shouldn’t his followers come rescue him so he could achieve the Pharisee End Times prophecies? Since Jesus was widely known for his miracles—curing the sick, multiplying food, throwing out devils—shouldn’t he have access to God’s supernatural might in this situation too? Why on earth was he permitting the Romans to kill him?—he should be able to speak a word and end his own pain! What was wrong with him?

See, very few of us have the patience to tolerate a moment of what Jesus did. If we could put a stop to it, we absolutely would. If we could put a stop to others’ pain, we absolutely will. We’ll give them the very best painkillers there are. We’ll give ’em morphine, heroin, whatever. We’ll even kill them, and justify it by saying it was out of mercy.

So Gestas was in agony—and wanted to know why Jesus, who had the power to immediately stop it, wouldn’t. It’s basic theodicy: Why does a good God put up with such evil things in his universe?

But when people are in great pain, they don’t truly want an explanation. They only want the pain to stop. Gestas didn’t care what Jesus’s thinking or plan was. Didn’t care that, as the thief on the other cross pointed out, they totally deserved crucifixion. He wanted off the cross. Jesus could get him off the cross, but wouldn’t. So to Gestas’s mind, Jesus sucked.

And how often do other people, Christians included, think the very same way? When we’re suffering—even when the suffering is our own fault, the natural or legal consequence of our own sin or stupidity—we don’t care God tried to warn us away from it, never promised us a suffering-free life, frequently lets things naturally unfold, or is even gonna make something redemptive out of what we’re going through. We don’t care about God’s will. We want our will to be done.

Gestas isn’t any different than most of humanity. Let’s not judge him as if we’re any better than he. If we were in his shoes—or on his cross—we’d likewise be screaming for Jesus to get us out of there. Really, we’d be nuts if we didn’t.

But the fact we’d even be screaming at Jesus means, to some tiny degree, we do believe. Otherwise we wouldn’t waste our breath. (Especially considering how painful it was to even get a breath when you’re being crucified!) We believe enough… to be majorly disappointed in God.

Of course we oughta have more faith than that. Enough to trust God regardless. So we’d better pray. Because, God forbid, we may one day find ourselves in Gestas’s type of situation, where things look terrible and we’re furious at God for not giving us an obvious escape. We’d better pray for the faith strong enough to overcome even that. ’Cause we never do know when we’ll need it.

15 April 2019

Jesus comforts the believing thief.

Mark 15.27, 32, Matthew 27.38, 44, Luke 23.32-33, 39-43.

Jesus was crucified at about “the third hour [after sunrise],” Mk 15.25 and died at the ninth. Mk 15.34-37 Sunrise on 3 April 33, in that latitude (and before daylight-saving time was implemented), is at 5:24 AM. But “third hour” and “ninth hour” are hardly exact times; figure roughly from 8:30 AM to 2:30 PM he was on that cross. Six hours, slowly suffocating.

His cross was in between that of two evildoers Lk 23.33 or thieves. Mk 15.27 Christians like to imagine these guys were worse, like insurrectionists, or highwaymen who murdered their victims. ’Cause karma: If you’re getting crucified, it’d better be for murder or something just as awful. One of these guys implied they were getting their just desserts, Lk 23.41 so shouldn’t that make ’em murderers? Death by crucifixion sounds like way too extreme a penalty for mere thieves.

But we have to remember we’re dealing with Romans here. For them, everything merited death. They didn’t care the penalty didn’t fit the crime: They just wanted thievery to stop. So, one strike and you’re out. Thieves knew this was the risks of the job. But like all criminals, they figured they were smarter than the authorities, and they, unlike their dumber colleagues, would get away with it. These guys didn’t: The Romans caught ’em and crucified ’em. And that’s the way the game is played.

We don’t have their names. But you gotta call ’em something, so Christian tradition calls these guys Gestas and Dismas. Meh; whatever. Since Dismas was the guy who turned to Jesus and got into paradise, he’s now St. Dismas. (And 25 March is even St. Dismas’s Day. How ’bout that.) Whatever his actual name is, that idea isn’t wrong: He’s in the kingdom now.

Two of the gospels make it sound like they neither thief had any love for Jesus. They joined right in with all the non-crucified folks mocking Jesus.

Mark 15.27 KWL
They crucified two thieves with Jesus: One on the right, one at his left.
Matthew 27.38 KWL
38 Then two thieves were crucified with Jesus, one at right and one at left.
Luke 23.32-33 KWL
32 They brought two others with Jesus, evildoers to be done away with.
33 When they came to the place called Skull, there they crucified Jesus and the evildoers,
who were at right and at left.
Mark 15.32 KWL
“Messiah, king of Israel, has to come down from the cross now, so we can see and believe him.”
And those crucified with Jesus insulted him.
Matthew 27.44 KWL
Likewise the thieves crucified with Jesus insulted him.

But at some point during those six hours, Dismas had a change of heart, and when Gesmas was sniping at Jesus, Dismas decided to stand up for him.

Luke 23.39-43 KWL
39 One of the hanging evildoers was slandering Jesus, saying,
“Aren’t you Messiah? Save yourself and us!”
40 In rebuking reply, the other said, “Have you no respect for God? We’re under his judgment!
41 And we rightly so, for we got the consequence for what we practiced.
But this man did nothing wrong.”
42 He said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
43 Jesus said, “Amen! I promise you’ll be with me in paradise today.”

Paradise? What about heaven?

Popular culture insists when we die, we go to heaven. Popular Christianity tends to do likewise. And it’s sorta true… but it skips an awful lot of stuff which happens inbetween now and heaven.

See, heaven isn’t the place of the dead, but the living. There are no dead people in heaven. Jesus is there—but as you recall, he’s not dead. He got resurrected. The Father is there; angels of various species are there; plus people whom God decided to take to heaven early. Like Elijah. And, according to some traditions, Jesus’s mom.

When we die, we go to the afterlife. Which gets called by various things in the bible. Usually ἅδης/ádis, “hades,” or as the KJV confusingly and inaccurately puts it, “hell.” It’s what the Apostles’ Creed means when it states Jesus “descended into hell”: He went to the afterlife. Not the burning pool of fire and sulfur; that doesn’t exist yet. Hades isn’t necessarily a place of torment. For those who reject God, yes it’s gonna suck. For those who trust God, it’s gonna be peace and comfort as we await our resurrection. It’s going to be, to use Jesus’s word, παραδείσῳ/paradeíso, “paradise.”

But paradise is gonna be temporary. ’Cause once Jesus returns, he’s raising all us Christians from the dead. 1Th 4.16 And at the very End, he’s raising everyone else from the dead. Rv 20.12 Those who reject God are going into the fire, Rv 20.15 and those who don’t will live forever with God in New Heaven. Rv 21.1-4 That’s when we go to heaven. Not right away. But eventually.

People don’t always wanna hear that. They much prefer the pop culture idea: “We’re going to heaven! To be with Jesus forever!” And maybe even become angels, like the pagans believe; and watch over our loved ones, and listen to them whenever they talk at our graves. Unless they’re boring and ramble on and on and on, ’cause I’ve been to the cemetery and heard people talk to dead spouses; if they’re listening to that day in and day out, they’re clearly not in any good part of the afterlife. Egad.

Most of us figure when people are in mourning, now is not the time to correct their theology. Problem is, they never correct it any other time, and let ’em keep on believing heaven is the afterlife. And that we never leave this afterlife.

Well. The Pharisees taught there is an afterlife, and paradise within it. They even located it in the “third heaven,” 2Co 12.2 seven heavens below the place where God dwells (and five below the stars in the seventh heaven), so technically it’s not the heaven, God’s heaven. But it’s not on earth either.

This is the paradise Jesus spoke of. He and Dismas would die that day: Jesus from running out of strength due to his flogging and blood loss and sleep deprivation, and Dismas from the Romans breaking his legs Jn 19.32 so it’d be impossible to pull himself up to breathe, and he’d suffocate quicker, and be dead before sundown. But they’d be in the afterlife together—in the good part of the afterlife, in paradise.

I know; plenty of Christians have explained paradise away as a “spiritual paradise,” as Thomas Aquinas put it: He meant heaven, right? ’Cause everybody knows when people die they go to heaven. And thus we embrace our favorite beliefs instead of what Jesus likely meant. As usual.

Was this the answer the thief wanted?

Realistically, I doubt Dismas ever heard Jesus’s statements to his students that he was gonna die yet rise on the third day. So if he knew anything at all about the resurrection—that Jesus would die that day, but rise once Sabbath was over and take possession of his kingdom—this info had to have come directly from the Holy Spirit. There’s no possible way Dismas could’ve deduced it.

But if the Spirit had told Dismas no such thing, what could we reasonably expect him to think? Two possibilities.

  • He imagined Jesus was gonna get rescued (miraculously or not), survive crucifixion, and see his kingdom come.
  • He was delirious from pain, and didn’t know what Jesus’s condition was—but deep down believed Jesus is Messiah, so it was only a matter of time before he took possession of his kingdom.

Either way we’ve got faith there. Wrong or wack, but still faith.

But Jesus’s response referred to paradise, not the kingdom. The afterlife, not the present, nor even the age to come. Death, not life. He and Dismas were gonna die; he to come back in a few days, and Dismas to come back once Jesus takes his kingdom. Either way, it’s not a timeline Dismas expected. Heck, even Jesus’s students had it wrong, and he’d told them how many times he was gonna die and come back?

So Dismas may not have expected to hear this response from Jesus. But I believe Jesus meant it as comfort, and I expect it was comforting. Dismas had every reason to assume he’d never make it to a good afterlife. More likely something hotter, something which stank more than crucifixion. But instead, thanks to God’s grace, he was gonna be with Jesus, and receive comfort instead of torment. So there’s that.

It probably bugged Jesus that he couldn’t offer Dismas anything more at that time. Usually Jesus didn’t just offer kind words and nothing more, like some pathetic chaplain who doesn’t really believe in miracles (and frankly, won’t always mean it when they offer stale platitudes): Jesus cured the suffering. But at the time, the healer couldn’t heal. Just like his enemies taunted.

11 April 2019

The women who watched Jesus die.

Mark 15.40-41, Matthew 27.55-56, Luke 23.49, John 19.25.

Various Christians like to point out, “There were actually two groups of people following Jesus: There were the disciples, and there were the women.” Though y’notice they seldom bring up the women till we get to one of the stories in the gospels about the women.

With some due respect to these Christians, there were not two groups following Jesus; there was one. His students. The people who supported him, served him, and listened to his teachings. The Twelve were a special group of students whom Jesus singled out, and of course there were plenty of students who didn’t stick around after Jesus taught something too hardcore for them. But everyone who followed him, he considered a student. That includes the women.

Yes, history describes Pharisee rabbis as only instructing young men—and I remind you in Jesus’s culture you were “a man” at age 13, which is why I keep referring to his students as kids. That was their expectation, anyway: If men were gonna live under the Law, they needed to be trained, while still young, how Pharisees interpret the finer points of the Law. But let’s be blunt: The rabbis taught ’em all the Pharisee loopholes. This way they could appear religious, but not have to struggle all that hard when it comes to the things which really tempt people. It’s what Jesus called straining out the gnats, but swallowing camels. Mt 23.24 Basically lessons in hypocrisy. And as we know, Jesus taught no such thing; he totally expected his students to be authentic God-followers. Still does.

But rabbis didn’t just get teenage students. Friday nights, when they held Sabbath synagogue, people of any age showed up. And sometimes throughout the week, these same people might show up and listen to a lesson. And bring questions.

Synagogues segregated women in the back, and in open-air classes like Jesus taught, they’d still customarily sit in the back or on the sidelines. Ostensibly they were waiting for their brothers or spouses or kids, or were only there to tend to the rabbi’s needs. In reality they were also getting an education. They weren’t permitted to ask questions, and in so doing spoil the cultural illusion. They weren’t allowed to sit up front with the boys, like Mary of Bethany totally did, Lk 10.39 and be overt students. But Jesus was totally fine with Mary’s behavior. Lk 10.42 And most rabbis approved of the women listening in. (After all, mothers were expected to raise good Pharisee kids, and how’re you gonna do that if you don’t know what Pharisees teach?)

So the women were Jesus’s students too. Same as the boys. So they weren’t among the Twelve; why should this stop anyone from likewise sharing Jesus with the world? Or stop Jesus from sending ’em on their own missions?

Okay. This said, I oughta point out the women who were at Jesus’s cross, the women who watched him die, were not necessarily students. One certainly was: Mary the Magdalene. But the others who were listed by name, were actually Jesus’s family members: His mother and aunts.

Mark 15.40-41 KWL
40 There were women watching from far away,
among them Mary the Magdalene, Mary mother of little James and Joses, and Salomé.
41 When in the Galilee, these women followed Jesus and served him.
Many other women had traveled with Jesus to Jerusalem.
Matthew 27.55-26 KWL
55 There were many women there, watching from far away,
who followed Jesus from the Galilee, who served him.
56 Among them was Mary the Magdalene, Mary mother of James and Joses,
and Salomé mother of Zebedee’s children.
Luke 23.49 KWL
Everyone who knew Jesus were standing far away, watching this,
including the women who followed him from the Galilee.
John 19.25 KWL
Standing by Jesus’s cross were his mother, his mother’s sister Salomé,
Mary wife of Clopas, and Mary the Magdalene.

So according to John, Jesus’s mother was there. And according to all the gospels, so was Mary, the wife of Joseph’s brother Clopas, the mother of his apostle James “the less”; and Salomé (some ancients called her “Mary Salomé,” maybe mixing the aunts together), Jesus’s mother’s sister, the wife of Zebedee and mother of his apostles James and John.

Yep, family. Now you see why they stuck around.

Watching from afar.

Since various Christians don’t recognize the family connections, they make various other assumptions as to why the women stuck around but the men didn’t. And maybe—maybe—there’s some legitimacy to some of them. But probably they’re just reading their own cultural assumptions into things.

Fr’instance cracks about their level of commitment. Because the boys all fled, or pretended not to even know him, but the women stuck around. So people like to make statements about the women’s loyalty, devotion, boldness, fearlessness… traits we do honestly see more often among female Christians than male Christians. But this casual observation misses and ignores several things in the gospels. First of all Jesus wanted the kids to get away, Jn 18.8 and not be arrested and crucified with him. Second, some of the boys did stick around to see what happened, like Simon Peter, John, and Judas Iscariot; and possibly others. And third, the women’s loyalty wasn’t based on what they believed; they were family. They didn’t have to believe in Jesus (though they did); they’d be there for him regardless, because that’s what family does. Should do, anyway.

I’ve heard people claim the men had to go into hiding lest the Romans suspect them of being fellow revolutionaries; but the women could be out in the open because the Romans would never suspect them. It’s a profoundly naïve statement. Have none of them read about Yaél?

Judges 4.17-22 KWL
17 Siserá fled by foot to the tent of Yaél, Khevér the Qeyni’s woman.
(There was peace between king Yavín of Khachór, and Khevér the Qeyni’s house.)
18 Yaél went out to meet Siserá, and told him, “Master, come in; don’t fear.”
He went inside her tent. She covered him with a rug.
19 Siserá told Yaél, “Please give me a little water to drink; I’m thirsty.”
She opened a skin of milk, gave him a drink, and covered him again.
20 Siserá told Yaél, “Stand at the tent door.
If a man happens to come and ask you—to say, ‘Is there a man here?’ you say no.”
21 Then Yaél, Khevér’s woman, took a tentpeg, and put a hammer in her hand.
She came to Siserá quietly, and pounded the peg through his temple into the ground.
He was sleeping soundly, and weary. He died.
22 Look, as Barák pursued Siserá, Yaél came out to meet him,
and told him, “Come. I’ll show you the man you’re seeking.”
He came into her tent, and look: Siserá lay dead, the peg in his temple.

If you’ve never read the apocrypha, it’s understandable if you’ve never heard of Judith, who likewise killed an enemy general. Women make some of the fiercest insurgents. The Romans had plenty such women in their own history, and would’ve been stupid to disregard them. That’s why the women wisely kept their distance. Frankly those people who think the women were beneath noticing, are letting their own sexism distort their interpretation.

The women wisely stayed back, not just ’cause of the Romans, but because they likely knew themselves: They‘d want to intervene, interfere, and get killed for their efforts. All they could really do was stand back and watch the horrifying spectacle.

It had to be hard for Jesus to know they were watching. He knew the end of the story—and really so should they, ’cause he foretold it more than once. But like his other students, the women likely didn’t believe it. And either way, watching Jesus die had to be awful. Christians who watch Jesus movies are fully aware how the story ends, but watching movie-Jesus die still makes us weep. ’Cause that’s someone we love getting beaten to death. So how much worse was it for the women who knew Jesus best?

27 March 2018

Falling down—and other false memories of Jesus’s passion.

One of the odd things you’ll notice about the traditional 14 stations of the cross, is how often Jesus falls down. He does it thrice.

  1. Gets condemned, is given his cross, falls down.
  2. Encounters his mom, Simon of Cyrene, and St. Veronica; falls down.
  3. Encounters the daughters of Jerusalem, falls down.

Then he’s stripped and nailed to the cross, so he’s not gonna fall down anymore—unless we count when he’s taken down from the cross, and likely they didn’t drop him in so doing. Still: Three of the stations of the cross involve Jesus falling down. And in St. Francis of Assisi’s original list of seven stations, Jesus falls in the second and fifth stations, so when Christians expanded it to 14, they added a fall.

Yet in the gospels, he doesn’t fall down. Although we can certainly imagine he did, what with being weak from sleep deprivation and blood loss, and the fact he clearly wasn’t up to carrying his own cross. But the gospels don’t say he fell down. He might’ve, but the authors never said so.

So what’s with all the falling down?

Simple: A popular medieval tradition borrowed this verse from Proverbs, and claimed it was a prophecy about Jesus:

Proverbs 24.15-16 KWL
15 Don’t plan a wicked ambush at the home of a righteous person. Don’t ruin his resting place.
16 A righteous person might fall and rise seven times. A wicked person falls into evil.

The medievals claimed Jesus was this righteous person who fell seven times, and he did it in the course of his passion. So only falling three times in the stations of the cross was actually underdoing it. He should’ve been keeling over more often than a Pentecostal during a revival. Every other station should’ve been another fall.

Of course you know actors in the passion plays will fall down every chance they’re given. It’s an easy way to show weakness and suffering. So it stands to reason Francis and the Christians thereafter would make sure it got into the stations of the cross. But nope, doesn’t happen in the gospels.

I know; it regularly surprises Roman Catholics when they look for the falls in the gospels, and find nothing. But it doesn’t come from the gospels. Comes from Proverbs.

Filling in “blanks” with Old Testament “prophecies.”

This is hardly the only time the traditional sufferings of Jesus don’t actually come from the gospels. Here’s another: Ever hear about people pulling out bits of Jesus’s beard? I’ve seen it happen more than once in a Jesus movie. I’ve also heard Christians use this story to argue Jesus had a beard, in case anyone speculates he might’ve been too young to grow one, or might’ve been uncharacteristically clean-shaven: “No, Jesus totally had a beard. ’Cause when they were beating him, they pulled out some of his beard, remember?”

Yeah, I remember the movies, but when I went looking for that bit in the gospels, ’tain’t there. Because it doesn’t come from the gospels either. Comes from Isaiah.

Isaiah 50.6-7 KWL
6 I gave my body to those who hit me, my cheeks to those who shaved my face.
I didn’t cower from shame and from their spitting.
7 My master LORD will help me, so I’m not ashamed,
so I steady my face like a flint, knowing I will not be embarrassed.

Traditionally “shaved my face” (Hebrew u-lekhayey l’mirtim/“and my cheeks to the scrapers”) gets translated “plucked off the hair.” Is 50.6 KJV But yep, it’s about Isaiah suffering, not Jesus. Yet plenty of Christians assume all these parts of Isaiah are messianic prophecies, and borrow this verse, among others, and claim they’re specifics about Jesus’s suffering. Provided a few centuries in advance, but hey, we want details.

Likewise the bit about Jesus being beaten till unrecognizable: Also from Isaiah.

Isaiah 52.14 KWL
Many were horrified by you: His appearance was ruined more than any man;
his shape more ruined than any of Adam’s children.

The bit about Jesus not crying out while he was flogged? Again Isaiah.

Isaiah 53.7 KWL
He was abused and humiliated, and didn’t open his mouth,
like a sheep to slaughter, or an ewe to her shearers, is silent, he didn’t open his mouth.

Okay, he didn’t open his mouth to defend himself in trial, Mk 14.61 and maybe he decided to be a badass when he was getting beaten, and made no sound as they wailed on him. But the Isaiah passage doesn’t necessarily refer to making no sound when he was beaten. There’s no shame in crying in pain, and it’s neither unrealistic nor unbiblical for an actor portraying Jesus to make such sounds. In fact, making no sound implies it didn’t hurt—that Jesus didn’t truly suffer—which creates all sorts of theological problems that it’s best to steer clear of.

The gospels and history provide us a whole lot of details about what Jesus went through. But this simply wasn’t enough for us Christians, who had to pull stuff out of the Old Testament, whether it was suitable or not, and tack it into the passion stories. All the more reason, when we talk about Jesus’s suffering, we need to crack open that bible and see for ourselves whether stuff went down that way. Because, as you can see, there are a few things we’re misremembering.

20 March 2018

The mourning of Jerusalem’s daughters.

Luke 23.26-31.

Only Luke tells this part of the story.

Luke 23.26-31 KWL
26 As the Romans led Jesus away, they grabbed Simon, a certain Cyrenian coming from the fields,
and they put the crossbeam on him to carry behind Jesus.
27 Many crowds of people followed Jesus.
The mourning women among them were also lamenting him.
28 Turning to the women, Jesus said, “Jerusalem’s daughters, don’t weep for me.
But weep for your own. For your children. 29 Look, the time’s coming when they’ll say,
‘The sterile, wombs which never begat children, breasts which never fed, are awesome!’
30 Then they’ll start ‘to tell the mountains, “Fall on us!” and the hills, “Bury us!” ’ Ho 18.1
31 For if they do this when the wood is moist, what’ll happen when it’s dry?”

Some teachers never can stop teaching. Even when they’re being dragged off to be crucified.

Various Christians don’t know what to make of this passage, so they skip it. Which is easy to do when there are so many other horrors to focus on when it comes to Jesus’s death. Skip the message to Jerusalem’s daughters and focus on Simon having to carry Jesus’s crossbeam, or Jesus getting nailed up between two insurgents. Lessons can easily get lost in the shuffle.

But St. John Paul made this lesson its own station of the cross, probably ’cause he figured it was worth zooming in on this particular event. Meditating on what the women were feeling. Meditating on how Jesus felt about that. Meditating on what he told them, and why he said it.

So let’s get into why he said it.

Great tribulation in less than 40 years.

Jesus was crucified in the year 33 of our era. In the year 66, the Romans finally had enough of Judean insurrection and sent in the army to put a stop to it, once and for all.

The cause of the insurrection? Judeans who wouldn’t recognize Jesus is their Messiah and join the Christians. Instead they kept waiting for some other king to save them from the Romans and lead their people to greatness. Someone violent and wrathful—kinda like they were!—and eager to call down legions of angels to smite the Romans in precisely the way Jesus wouldn’t. Mt 26.53 They kept embracing fake Messiahs, kept irritating the Romans, and kept presuming God was gonna send him some other savior… ’cause they didn’t really care for the Nazarene. Too much grace. Not enough rage.

So what d’you think would happen? Right: First the Jerusalem prefect started arresting senior Judean leaders. This turned into full-on revolt. The legate of Syria sent in his army; the Judeans defeated ’em. Emperor Nero sent in his top general, Titus Flavius Vespasianus, and over the course of four years, Vespasianus (later known as Emperor Vespasian) and his son (later Emperor Titus) defeated the rebels, laid siege to Jerusalem, and destroyed the temple. Judea was flattened, Jerusalem laid waste, hundreds of thousands crucified, the Sadducees dead, and the Jews scattered round the world yet again.

Jesus not only knew this was coming, Mk 13.1-2 but warned his followers to watch out, then run for the hills. Mk 10.14-20 And not to confuse it with his second coming, Mk 10.21-23 for that comes later. Mk 10.24-27 Not that plenty of Christians don’t still confuse this period of great tribulation with his second coming, or imagine Jesus’s prophecy hasn’t happened yet, but has yet to happen in our own future. But that’s only because they’re following certain self-proclaimed “prophecy scholars” instead of Jesus. He did warn us about false teachers, y’know.

So that’s what this was. Jesus was prophesying, yet again, that terrible stuff was ahead. Jerusalem’s daughters shouldn’t be weeping for him, but weeping for the future that their leaders were dragging them into. It was gonna be awful.

Mark 13.17-20 KWL
17 “How sad for pregnant women and nursing mothers, in those days!
18 Pray it doesn’t happen during winter.
19 Those days will be tribulation like it’s never been.
From the first thing God created, to now, it’s never been this bad.
20 If the Lord didn’t cut off the days, no flesh would survive.
But he chose to cut off the days because of his chosen people.”

Some of the reason “prophecy scholars” claim Jesus has to be talking about events in our future, is because they can’t imagine the events of the Jewish-Roman War were the worst suffering that’s ever been. But you notice Jesus didn’t say that it’s the worst suffering ever—only the worst it’s been from creation till his day. It’s fair to say humanity’s committed much worse atrocities since, but Jesus wasn’t talking about since.

And Jesus didn’t want this.

Matthew 23.37-38 KWL
37 “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, slayer of prophets, stoner of those I sent you.
So many times I’ve wanted to gather your children together, like a hen gathers her chicks under her wings.
You didn’t. 38 Look, your nest is left empty.”

He wanted what he’s always wanted: For them to be his people, and for him to be their God. Ex 6.7, Lv 26.12, Jr 30.22 Well, their king, walking among them in a way they never imagined he would. Still, he wanted a relationship, and they rejected him. So their rejection would bring them destruction. He didn’t have to lift a finger to judge them; disaster would come on its own.

But it wasn’t any of these people—the crowds who grieved for him, the women who lamented for him—who were complicit in his death and Judea’s destruction. They weren’t in leadership. They had no power to change anything. Judea wasn’t a democracy, y’know. Still, when the great tribulation came, if they didn’t flee for the hills along with the Christians, they were doomed along with the rest. So as they lamented for Jesus, he lamented for them.

Like Hosea: History repeating itself.

A number of bibles utterly miss the fact Jesus quoted Hosea in verse 30. They notice people in Revelation likewise call the mountains to foll on them, Rv 6.16 but—largely because people really need to read the Prophets and don’t—they don’t catch that both Jesus and John were referring to a 7-century-old prophecy about the coming destruction of Ephraim, the land of northern Israel, ruled by the king of Samaria.

Hosea 10.1-8 KWL
1 Israel’s a premium vine. Its fruit is just like it—it’s abundant fruit.
It has many good altars in the land. Good watchtowers.
2 Nowadays its minds are full of themselves. They’re guilty.
God breaks their altars’ necks. He lays the watchtowers waste.
3 For now they say, “We’ve no king. We don’t respect the LORD. What would a king do for us?
4 They speak words, swear empty oaths, cut covenants. They sprout judgment like weeds in a field’s furrows.
5 For the cows of Beth Aven, they fear their neighbor Samaria, as they mourn for it and its people,
and its priests rejoice over it, over the glory which was removed from it.
6 As for its people, they’re carried to Assyria as an offering to Assyria’s king.
Ephraim is taken. Israel is ashamed of its counsel. 7 Samaria’s king is ruined like a stick left in the water.
8 Aven’s high worship sites—Israel’s sins—are destroyed. Thorns and thistles grow on their altars.
They say to the mountains, “Hide us,” and to the hills, “Fall on us.”

Like the people of Jesus’s day, the Ephraimites and Samarians presumed they were wealthy and safe, ’cause they followed their gods and had strong fortifications. Didn’t follow the LORD any. Didn’t really follow their king either. Sound familiar?

What happened next? The cycle reached the point where their enemies invaded. Israel’s foes, in this case the Assyrian Empire, got to be successful against ’em: They wouldn’t turn to the LORD when times were good, so he’d sit on the sidelines when times got very, very bad. The Assyrians invaded Ephraim, captured the king, rounded up the inhabitants of the major cities, and scattered ’em all over the empire.

Nowadays we call ’em “the 10 lost tribes,” although the only actual lost Israelis were the deported city dwellers. The survivors either fled to southern Israel, i.e. Judah/Judea; or they intermarried with the people the Assyrians relocated to Israel, and became the Samaritans; or they rejoined their fellow Israelis when the Babylonians conquered and scattered Judah two centuries later.

It’s the survivors of whom Hosea made the comment, “They say to the mountains, ‘Hide us,’ and to the hills, ‘Fall on us.’ ” Ho 10.8 They were running for their lives—running for the hills, to hide in them, same as David ben Jesse and various other fugitives had done throughout Israeli history. But they were also in despair. Hence they really wouldn’t mind if the caves they were hiding in, just happened to cave in on ’em.

’Cause tribulation’s gonna get bad. If the Romans were crucifying peaceful Nazarene prophets during the relatively good times, imagine what they’d do during the bad times. Or as Jesus put it, “If they do this when the wood is moist, what’ll happen when it’s dry?” Lk 23.31

It’s not a happy message Jesus had for the women. But be fair; he was having just the worst day.

06 March 2018

The St. Veronica story.

One of St. Francis’s original stations of the cross was when St. Veronica let Jesus wipe off his bloody face on her veil. Some of you have already heard this story, or bits of it.

And others of you are going, “Where’s that found in the bible?” Well, it’s not found in the bible at all. It comes from Christian tradition. It’s a really old tradition, and a really popular story. So popular, it’s still in the traditional stations of the cross. And while I’m trying to discuss the biblical stations of the cross, I feel I still need to give a mention to St. Veronica… ’cause a number of Christians aren’t entirely aware this story’s not in the bible. Some of ’em even remember seeing it in a bible somewhere. But that’s a false memory. It’s really not there. I’m not kidding.

As for whether St. Veronica herself is in the bible… she actually is. She’s traditionally identified as the woman in this story:

Mark 5.25-34 KWL
25 For 12 years, a woman had a bloodflow, 26 and had suffered greatly under many witch-doctors,
spending everything she had, and never improving. Instead she was much worse.
27 Hearing of Jesus, joining the crowd behind him, she grabbed his robe,
28 saying this: “When I grab him—even his robe—I’ll be cured.”
29 Instantly her bloodflow dried up, and she knew her body was cured of its suffering.
30 And instantly Jesus recognized power had gone out from him.
Turning round to the crowd, he said, “Who grabbed my robe?”
31 His students told him, “You see this crowd swarming you, and you say, ‘Who touched me’?”
32 Jesus was looking round to see who’d done it,
33 and the woman, in fear and trembling, knowing what was done to her,
came and fell down before Jesus, and told him the whole truth.
34 Jesus told her, “Daughter, your faith saved you.
Go in peace. Be free from your suffering.”

Christian tradition named this woman Vereníki/“victory-bearer,” which in English becomes Bernice, but in Latin becomes Veronica.

01 March 2018

Jesus confuses Antipas Herod.

Luke 23.4-12

All the gospels tell of Jesus’s suffering, but only in Luke do we find this bit about Jesus being sent to Antipas Herod. The other gospel authors skipped it ’cause it didn’t add anything to their accounts. Doesn’t add much to Luke either. But it’s interesting.

It begins right after Pontius Pilatus, at the time Judea’s Roman prefect, was presented with Jesus for crucifixion. Pilatus didn’t see any reason to crucify him, ’cause as John related, he figured Jesus’s kingdom wasn’t any political threat to Rome. (But it did take over Rome all the same.) So he didn’t feel like crucifying Jesus… and a loose comment the Judeans made, gave Pilatus the idea to hand off the problem to Herod.

Luke 23.4-7 KWL
4 Pilatus told the head priests and the crowd, “I find nothing of guilt in this person.”
5 The crowd prevailed over Pilatus, saying this: “He riles up the people,
teaching throughout Judea—having begun such behavior in the Galilee.”
6 On hearing this, Pilatus asked whether Jesus was Galilean,
7 and realizing Jesus was under Antipas Herod’s authority, sent him to Herod,
Herod himself being in Jerusalem on that day.

Now let’s be clear. There was no rule in the Roman Empire which said if you had the subject of another province under arrest, you had to extradite him to that province’s ruler. No custom either. In fact, knowing Romans, they wouldn’t wanna extradite their prisoners, lest it be considered a sign of weakness. So there were only two possible reasons for Pilatus to send Jesus to Herod:

  1. Passing the buck.
  2. Making nice with Herod.

Because they hated one another, Lk 23.12 and we’re not told why. Possibly because Herod figured he oughta be Judea’s king; possibly because Pilatus treated him less than royal, because Herod’s official title tetra-árhis/“tetrarch” Mt 14.1 doesn’t mean “king,” but “ruler of a fourth,” namely a quarter of Israel. Or maybe it was some other silly reason. Whatever; they didn’t get along. But Herod had always wanted to meet Jesus, Lk 23.8 and if Pilatus knew this, it was a significant gesture on his part. More likely, I’m guessing, Pilatus stumbled into this gesture by a combination of dumb luck and procrastination.

27 February 2018

Jesus gets flogged.

Mark 15.15 • Matthew 27.26 • Luke 23.16 • John 19.1

Jesus’s flogging was definitely part of his suffering. But it’s actually not one of the traditional the stations of the cross. I know; you’d think it was, considering how much time Mel Gibson spent on it in The Passion of the Christ, where they beat the hell out of Jesus—as if there was anything of hell in him. But nope; traditionally the stations of the cross began with Jesus getting his cross, ’cause they’re the stations of the cross, not Jesus’s pre-cross sufferings. They’re part of St. John Paul’s list though.

And no, there’s no historical evidence that the Romans beat Jesus more than usual. The only details we have about his flogging is that he had a flogging. Takes up only a sentence in all four gospels.

Mark 15.15 KWL
Pilate, wanting the crowd to stop it, released bar-Abba to them.
He handed over Jesus, who’d been flogged, so he could be crucified.
Matthew 27.26 KWL
Then Pilate released bar-Abba to them.
He handed over Jesus, who’d been flogged, so he could be crucified.
John 19.1 KWL
So then Pilate also had Jesus flogged.

Fraghellósas/“who’d been flogged” Mk 15.15, Mt 27.26 is in a verb tense called aorist: It happened, but it’s not past tense, so we don’t know when it happened. It didn’t necessarily happen after Judea’s prefect Pontius Pilate sent Jesus to his death; it might’ve happened before. Probably did, considering John records Jesus getting flogged and crowned with thorns before he was sent to be crucified, not after.

Jesus doesn’t actually get flogged in Luke, but Pilate implied that was the plan:

Luke 23.16 KWL
“So, once punished, I will release him.”

’Cause flogging was how Romans “punished” criminals… unless their crime was considered so grievous, the Romans would just crucify them. And they were pretty quick to crucify people too. Yep, flogging was the lenient punishment. Whereas in our culture, flogging is illegal, for obvious reasons.