September 25, 2007

Mark 15.6-15

At the festival season the Governor used to release one prisoner at the people's request. As it happened, the man known as Barabbas was then in custody with the rebels who had committed murder in the rising. When the crowd appeared asking for the usual favor, Pilate replied, "Do you wish for me to release for you the King of the Jews?" For he knew it was out of spite that they had brought Jesus before him.

But the chief priests incited the crowd to ask him to release Barabbas rather than Jesus.

Pilate spoke to them again: "Then what shall I do with the King of the Jews?"

They shouted back "Crucify him!"

"Why? What harm has he done?" Pilate asked.

They shouted all the louder, "Crucify him!" So Pilate, in his desire to satisfy the mob, released Barabbas to them, and had Jesus flogged and handed over to be crucified.


At 6:08 p.m., Blogger forrest said...

For one thing, no empire at any time--and particularly not the Roman Empire--ever followed any such custom. Let's see... "How about we release one of those rebels to make our subjects happy? They'll think twice about THAT, next time they want to try an uprising!" This is the same nation that crucified some 2000 Jews along the road in the last big revolt, near the commonly-conjectured date of Jesus' birth; and they have not relaxed their grip on the country since then. It's questionable the crucifixion really took around the time of the Passover celebration, but if it is, Jerusalem would have been filled with Jews from all over the Empire, celebrating their national day of independence and release from slavery... Is this, of all times, an occasion when the occupation forces would show weakness?

But what, then, was the seed of this story? And why does "Barabbas" have a name that means "son of the father"? Doesn't that sound like a name that might be applied to Jesus?

Wherever this story originated, it is obviously being milked to make the whole nation of Jews take the rap for the crucifixion--whereas at worst, we have here a mob of one local group affiliated with the collaborators who administer the Temple cult for the Romans. So there must have been seriously bad blood between Jews & Christians whenever this story took its final form.

But I can't see some early Christian sitting down & telling himself, "Hey, it sure would be nice to have a story that would let me blame the Jews for Jesus' death! Let's see, now, why don't I imagine the Romans letting a rebel go, and giving the Jews a choice of whom they'd like best?..." There had to be some existing story that some Christian then took up and filtered through his anti-Jewish goggles... but what kind of story?! Help?!!!

At 10:40 a.m., Anonymous Anonymous said...

This passage and some of the earlier bits of Mark do seem like they were writen specifically to condemn one group of people.

I don't know much about the history and authorship of the gospels but I do know that some scholars believe Mark to have been writen by someone who listened to the Appostle Peter. From other bits in the gospels I get the impression that Peter was often hot-headed, maybe this is why the gospel seems so agressive in condeming.

Also I usually have a few issues with the idea that the gospels are divinely inspired. Sorry Folks! While I find them an important resource I am constantly aware that they were writen for very specific audiences and have been edited and added to by many people, many times. I also get the feeling that sometimes the gospels were writen as answers to books of the Old Testament, writen with the specific intention of showing fulfilment of earlier prophesies. So again the authors have agendas.

Perhaps I'm just in a cynical mood today, I suppose it is near the end of the day.


At 1:56 p.m., Blogger forrest said...

That's the trouble; I can't imagine anyone making up a story simply for the purpose of condemning some group--especially the very group that WAS the church in its early days...

Rather than "Jews" as we would read this, it may be safer to think "Judeans" in this kind of passage. In other words, rather than hatred of "Jews" as an ethnic group, you would have started with conflict between peasants in Galilee, whose version of Judaism had worked just fine without High Priests or a Temple for long periods, and an elite group of authorities now trying to centralize the national worship (sacrifices, tithes, pilgramages)in Jerusalem.

Jerusalem was off the main trade routes, not particularly suited to agriculture--& really didn't have much else going to support an urban-sized population; so some of the locals may well have resented any leader seen as hostile to the city's chief industry.

On the other side, this industry seems to have laid crushing burdens (together with Roman-style commercial land-use & taxation for Roman tribute) on the subsistence farmers of Galilee. When the big revolt came, one of the first things the rebels did was to burn tax & debt records...

"Inspiration." Not the same thing as being "infallible;" you have to consider where that inspiration has been. If inspiration passes through a bear, does it come out smelling like roses? But perhaps roses will grow in it over time?

So was a local Jewish mob welcomed into Pilate's court to advise him on routine criminal cases? Or even to watch his conduct of them? This sounds unlikely. And I keep getting back to wondering: Who is this evil twin of Jesus, called Barabbas? How did he get into the story? A purely fictitious character, symbolic of the sort of Messiah many Jews might have preferred--a rumor who, once he'd appeared in the story, was too good to edit out? (One likely feature of the gospels we have is some long period of circulating in oral form, probably as supplements to the normal synagogue liturgy. An oral story is likely to be much wigglier than a written version, a new & slightly different performance on each occasion.)

At 7:55 a.m., Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks Forrest, you've given me some good new avenues to mull over.

I didn't know about the Judean thing, that is interesting. I tutor once told me that some scholars think the Romans ran Palestine at a loss, but continued to occupy it because it was a good geographic barrier to non-Roman lands. I thought that was quite interesting.

I like what you're saying about inspiration. I've just noticed the bit at the bottom of the page which says 'in the begining was the word'. I know the Gospel of John was writen very late but I've always found the prologue amazing. Accademicly it's rather clever, poeticly it'sublime and it's also inspiring (there's that word again). So maybe I should look again at M,M & L with a less historical, less political eye.

With regards to Barabbus he sounds like one of those mysteries that while very interesting and fun to play with, we'll never know the intended, dare I say, "true", meaning.


At 1:25 p.m., Blogger forrest said...

"Look at this with a less historical, less political eye"? Whatever happened to "All your heart & all your mind etc?"

Dash out now to your nearest library & get JD Crossan's _God and Empire_. (If they don't have it, demand to know why not!) All right, you don't have to do that, but I've been reading it and finding much of value there... including a rephrase of his old statement that Jesus was "100% religious and 100% political." (For one thing, the idea that these were separate categories wouldn't have occured to anyone at the time.)

If there were, in fact, an actual insurrection at the time (not just a little riot)... That would suggest that Jesus came to Jerusalem and was crucified at some date outside the range people have generally assumed. Should someone (not me!) try reading Josephus with that question in mind?


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