Saturday, September 12, 2020

Mark 14 53-72

and they led Jesus away to the high priest
and with him were assembled all the chief priests
and the elders and the scribes.

and Peter followed him afar off
even into the palace of the high priest
and he sat with the servants
and warmed himself at the fire

and the chief priests and all the council
sought for witness against Jesus to put him to death and found none
for many bare false witness against him
but their witness agreed not together
and there arose certain
and bare false witness against him, saying,
"we heard him say
I will destroy this temple that is made with hands
and within three days I will build another made without hands: 
but neither so did their witness agree together. 

and the high priest stood up in the midst 
and asked Jesus, saying,  
“answerest thou nothing?  
what is it which these witness against thee?” 
but he held his peace, and answered nothing.  
again the high priest asked him, and said unto him,  
“art thou the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?” 
and Jesus said, “I am:  
and ye shall see the son of man sitting on the right hand of power,  
and coming in the clouds of heaven.” 

then the high priest rent his clothes, and saith 
“what need we any further witnesses? 
ye have heard the blasphemy: what think ye?”  
and they all condemned him to be guilty of death 
and some began to spit on him, and to cover his face, and to buffet him, and to say unto him, “Prophesy” 
and the servants did strike him with the palms of their hands 

and as Peter was beneath in the palace, 
there cometh one of the maids of the high priest: 
and when she saw Peter warming himself, 
she looked upon him, and said,  
"and thou also wast with Jesus of Nazareth" 
but he denied, saying, I know not, neither understand I what thou sayest.  
and he went out into the porch; and the cock crew. 
and a maid saw him again,  
and began to say to them that stood by,  
"this is one of them"
and he denied it again.  
and a little after, they that stood by said again to Peter,  
"surely thou art one of them: for thou art a Galilaean, and thy speech agreeth thereto" 
but he began to curse and to swear, saying,  
"I know not this man of whom ye speak"
and the second time the cock crew.  
and Peter called to mind the word that Jesus said unto him,  
before the cock crow twice, thou shalt deny me thrice.  
and when he thought thereon, he wept. 

The final confrontation. Jesus versus the Priesthood. Jesus versus the Temple. 

That is the charge the Priests bring against Jesus: he said he would destroy the temple. 

It’s an oddly specific charge. Jesus has told his disciples in private that the temple is going to be destroyed. He has preached a public parable that very strongly suggests that the Priesthood is going to come to an end. And I suppose that if a terrorist had said “That skyscraper is going to be destroyed” the authorities might well take him to mean “I am going to destroy that skyscraper”. But the comment about pulling down a temple “made with hands” and putting up another “not made with hands” corresponds to nothing that Mark says that Jesus said. 

The thugs take Jesus to the high priest: the high priest assembles the senior clergy and lawyers. The council is the synehedrion: presumably the Sanhedrin, the Jewish supreme court. The thugs in the garden could have strung him up on the spot. But the Priests don’t want a murder or an assassination. They need there to be due process; or at least the semblance of due process. 

But they have no reliable evidence to base a conviction on. They need a confession. 

At first Jesus' identity was a secret. But the secret got out. Since he arrived in town, people have been openly calling him Son of David. So the High Priest asks him directly. And it turns out that only the true Messiah affirms his divinity. 

“Are you the One Who Has Been Anointed? Are you the Son of the One Who Is Worthy of Adoration?” 

There are three other versions of this story and they all diverge at this point. But we are trying to read Mark’s version. And Mark’s version is astonishingly simple. 

The Priest asks Jesus if he is the Messiah. 

Jesus replies “Yes, I am”. 

And everyone present says “In that case, let’s kill him.” 

I don’t think that the Priest has asked Jesus if he is the Second Person of the Holy Trinity. I think that the Priest takes Son of the Most High as a title that you would expect a Messianic claimant to use. It may be hubristic for Jesus to agree with the Priest’s definition: but I don’t think that would necessarily make the entire council decide to kill him on the spot. 

To be sure, Jesus goes beyond the High Priest’s question. He agrees that he is the Messiah; and he agrees that the Messiah can be called the Son of God: but then he says, unprompted, that the High Priest will live to see the fulfilment of Daniel’s prophesy. Jesus will go into the presence of God and be granted supreme power over the universe. But is even this sufficient to incur a unanimous death sentence? What freaks the High Priest out? Isn’t it obvious? 

“Are you the Anointed and therefore the Son of the Most Worship-able?” 

“I AM”. 

The Priest gets it. By “I am” Jesus doesn’t simply mean “Yes”. He is using the personal name of God. Yahweh, Jehovah, I-AM. 

And so the Priest pounces. Nothing else matters now. Jesus has blasphemously applied the Divine Name to himself. Jesus has directly claimed to be the God of Israel. 

Matthew and Luke soften the passage. They say that when the Priest asked if he was the Son of God, Jesus replied “That is what you say” or “Even if I told you you wouldn't believe me". It is not hard to see why. If Jesus answered the Priest’s questions obliquely and evasively, then the Priest has no grounds to kill him. But if Jesus really spoke the name of God in the presence of the priest then he was — in a sense — guilty as charged. 


Back in the Garden, Jesus said to Peter:  “Before the cock crows twice, you will deny me three times.” Matthew, Luke and John all tell the same story: but they all have Jesus say simply  “Before the cock crows”. I prefer Mark: it’s the very specific detail which gives the prophecy its force. Not “before the night is out” or “by tomorrow morning”. Before second cock-crow. Peter hears the crowing of the cock and remembers what Jesus said. 

Some people see this story as a very strong hint that Peter is the real author of Mark’s Gospel. Who but Peter would know what transpired outside the Priest’s house during Jesus’ trial? And who but Peter would dare to bad-mouth the first bishop of Rome? 

Others say that this story is fairly strong evidence against Peter’s authorship. The story shows Peter in such a bad light that it must have been written by one of his enemies. 

Mark consistently portrays the disciples as point-missing dunderheads. And we know that in the very early church there was a division — geographically if not philosophically — between Paul, who never knew the human Jesus but became pre-eminent in spreading his message, and the original disciples, who knew Jesus in the flesh but drop out of the story with indecent haste. Paul himself says that he and Peter didn’t see eye-to-eye — Paul directly accuses Peter of hypocrisy over the question of the kosher food. So isn’t it plausible that someone writing under the influence of Paul at the end of the first century might have deliberately depicted conflict and misunderstanding between Jesus and the disciples? “Yes, we Paulists don’t agree with you Peterists about everything. But you Peterists didn’t understand much of what Jesus said when he was with you. You ran away from Jesus. Peter disowned him. Naturally the Risen Lord has entrusted his message to some better followers.” 

Yes, but. 

The most consistent single teaching of Jesus in Mark is “good people are bad; bad people are good; rich people are poor; poor people are rich”. Jesus demonstrates that he is Daniel’s Son of Man by being executed like a bad slave: he has the highest status in the universe because he has the lowest. So wouldn’t it be completely plausible for Mark to be saying, in effect “Peter is top apostle. And how do we know that? We know that because he is the one who messed up the most badly.” 

But Andrew — by the same argument, wouldn’t it follow that Judas — if Judas had….? 

Yes. Yes it would. 

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g said...

I always wondered about the "I AM" thing. I mean, on the face of it "I am" is a perfectly normal way to respond to a question "are you X?" where you are (or claim to be) X. Is there really something Jesus could have said in Aramaic or Hebrew (I don't know which they'd have been using; do you? I guess Hebrew) that (1) could reasonably be translated just as "ego eimi" and (2) could reasonably be taken as Speaking The Name Of God?

Compare e.g. Mark 13:6. "Many will come in my name, saying 'I am he', ..." -- the "I am" there is the same Greek as in 14:62. Or Luke 1:19 "I am Gabriel". Presumably Jesus wasn't saying that lots of people would come in his name and claim to be God; you'd think the disciples would have freaked out a bit at that suggestion. And presumably Luke isn't representing the angel Gabriel as making such a claim. So it can't be the case that anyone familiar with Hebrew would see "ego eimi" and understand it as clearly corresponding to something super-blasphemous in Hebrew.

So wouldn't you think that if what Jesus did in Mark 14:62 was to speak the Name of He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, Mark would have said something like "For he had spoken the Name of God"? He explains Aramaic phrases in chapters 5, 7, 15. He explains who the Sadducees are in chapter 12.

The Hebrew word "'ehyeh" (the "I am" in "I am who I am" or whatever exactly that mysterious phrase in Exodus means) occurs several times in the OT. Sometimes it's put into (as it were) the mouth of God, though generally not in a way that makes it obviously a reference to Exodus 3:14. But it's also quite often spoken by someone else, with no implication of divinity that I can see. E.g., Ruth 2:13 "I am not one of your maidservants". Is it really credible that merely speaking that word would have been taken as blasphemy? (Maybe it is. Languages and traditions evolve, and maybe by 30-ish AD the word was more restricted than when Ruth was written.)

I dunno. I may well be missing something. What, specifically, do you think Mark is saying that Jesus said in 14:62, and how clearly blasphemous do you think it was?

Andrew Rilstone said...

Thank you for that. This is a very good point which I will respond to properly when I have time to respond to it properly...if you see what I mean.