A What Triggered Jesus Arrest

The historical value of the Fourth Evangelist's account of Lazarus has always been problematical. Not simply because it narrates a very striking raising from the dead. Jesus had a reputation as one who had raised the (prematurely reckoned?) dead (Matt. 7.22).24 and the memory of an event which gave rise to this repu tation may be discerned behind the Johannine account. Nor simply because John has made the narrative the basis for one of his characteristic christological elaborations (John 11.25: 'I am the resurrection and the life'). It is John's style to weave such meditations round typical 'signs' that Jesus did and traditional epigrams that epitomized his teaching.26 The historical question arises rather and precisely from the clash between the Synoptics and John on the events leading up to Jesus' arrest.

The implication of the Synoptics is pretty clear that if there was any single incident which triggered the move to arrest Jesus it was his 'prophetic sign' in the Temple. That is at best an implication. but the inference does lie close to the surface. Mark indicates that what Jesus said in regard to the Temple provoked the high priests and scribes to seek his destruction (Mark though the con nection is looser in Luke (Luke 19.46-47) and lacking in Matthew. But all three agree that a direct challenge to the authority claimed by Jesus soon followed (Mark 11,27-33 pars.) and indicate a steady deepening of antagonism between Jesus and the scribes (12.1-40 pars.) prior to Judas's decision to hand Jesus over to the high priests (14.10-11 pars.). The sense of a situation sliding towards tragic climax is clear and probably did not need to be much elaborated in the telling. The Temple incident marked the beginning of the slide.

24. See above. and chapter 15 n. 275.

25. So Meier concluded: 'I think it likely that John 11:1 -45 goes back ultimately to some event involving Lazarus. a disciple of Jesus. and that this event was believed by Jesus' disciples even during his lifetime to be a miracle of raising the dead' {Marginal Jew 2.831).

The Fourth Evangelist, however, evidently chose to move the Temple incident to serve as the frontispiece of his account of Jesus' Jerusalem ministry (John Though, perhaps mindful of the episode's actual historical role, John is the only one to include Jesus' word about the destruction of the Temple (John the word which seems to have formed the primary accusation against Jesus (Mark 14.58).28 But having removed the 'trigger' event from the last week of Jesus' mission, he had to provide another plausible 'trigger'. On a Johannine schema, the choice of the raising of Lazarus, with its message of life-giving power overcoming death, made it a similarly suitable frontispiece to the Johannine account of the final days.29 Given John's freedom in rescheduling important episodes and in elaborating earlier tradition, his version of a 'trigger' event has much less claim on the attention of those engaged in 'the quest of the historical Jesus' than do the Synoptics.

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