The Tradition of Jesus Last Week

A glance at a Synopsis is sufficient to show that the Gospels all work with a common framework for that final period, starting with the entry into Jerusalem (Mark 11.1-10 pars.) and building through various teachings and a final meal together, to Jesus' arrest, trial, and execution (Mark 14-15 pars.). The most obvious explanation of this feature is that the framework was early on fixed within the traditioning process and remained so throughout the transition to written Gos-

1. On the chronology of Jesus' mission see above, §9.9a.

pels. This suggests in turn a tradition rooted in the memory of the participants and put into that framework by them.

That this was likely to have been the case has been long recognized in the case of 'the Passion narrative' (Mark 14-15).2 It is inherently probable that its two principal features (the 'last supper' and the story of Jesus' arrest, condemnation, execution, and burial) would have been important for the identity of each new group or church from the day of its establishment.3 The a priori probability is borne out by the already traditional formulations cited or alluded to by Paul. The Lord's Supper was clearly a central identifying and bonding feature of his churches (1 Cor. 10.14-22; 11.17-22) and was based entirely on the memory of the last supper and what happened there as already sacred tradition (11.23-26).4 Various formulae had quickly become established and are often echoed: that he had been 'handed over (paradidomi)'%nd 'died'.6 'The cross' and the memory of Jesus' shameful death by crucifixion are already established features in early preaching.7 The memory of his suffering quickly became a powerful factor in Christian spirituality.8 And the Apostles' Creed's commemoration of Pontius Pilate is already foreshadowed in 1 Tim. 6.13. In other words, here we have an extended example of the pattern of oral tradition in its stability of structure and theme and in the focus on core elements.9

2. Scholarship on this subject is heavily in debt to the massive and magisterial treatment of Raymond Brown, The Death of the Messiah, here on the interrelation of the Gospel narratives 36-93, with full bibliographies 94-106. See also particularly J. B. Green, The Death of Jesus: Tradition and Interpretation in the Passion Narrative (WUNT 2.23; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 1988); W. Reinbold, Der älteste Bericht über den Tod Jesu. Literarische Analyse und historische Kritik derPassionsdarstellungen der Evangelien (BZNW 69; Berlin: de Gruyter, 1994). Pesch, Markusevangelium 2.1-27, argued for a much more extended pre-Markan Passion narrative, running from Mark 8.27, which he hypothesizes emerged in the Aramaic-speaking Jerusalem community before 37 CE (21); but a firmer 'starting point' across the Gospels is the entry into Jerusalem. See also A. Yarbro Collins, The Beginning ofthe Gospel: Problems of Mark in Context (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1992).

3. Put like that it becomes immediately obvious why Q does not have a Passion narrative, since Q itself is not structured as a narrative but as a collection of Jesus' teaching, and why also it is unlikely that Q was the only teaching or liturgical material possessed by most churches.

5. Rom. 4.25; 8.32; 1 Cor. 11.23; Gal. 1.4; 2.20; Eph. 5.2, 25; 1 Tim. 2.6; Tit. 2.14; 1 Clem. 16.7.

6. Rom. 5.6, 8; 14.15; 1 Cor. 8.11; 15.3; 2 Cor. 5.14-15; 1 Thess. 5.10; Ign. Trail. 2.1; see further my Theology of Paul 175.

7. Particularly 1 Cor. 1.17-18,23;2.2, 8; 2 Cor. 13.4; Gal. 3.1; 5.11; 6.12, 14;Heb. 12.2.

8. Rom. 8.17; 2 Cor. 1.5; Phil. 3.10; Heb. 5.7-8; 1 Pet. 2.19-23.

9. Typical is the variability of the episode of Peter's denials within the structure (tabulated by Brown, Death 418-19).

Within the larger framework (Mark 11—15 pars.) there was plenty of room for significant performance variants. The likelihood that the eschatological discourse in Mark 13 is the product of significant elaboration has already been noted.10 Matthew includes several parables, some of which Luke has in his much longer journey to Jerusalem.11 And John ventures substantial variation, not least in adding a whole raft of teaching to the sequence, the 'farewell discourses' (John 14-17).

As usual, the attempt to explain the more detailed variations has focused on the possibility of detectable (written) sources. The debate has centred particularly on the questions of a pre-Markan Passion narrative and a Lukan special source.12 But no consensus has been achieved, or is achievable, since the criteria for distinguishing Markan and Lukan redaction from putative literary sources are at best indecisive.13 The hypotheses both of recoverable written sources and of a narrative wholly created by Mark14 are incapable of substantive demonstration.15 Here again we need to be more open to the reality of oral tradition, including the use of written sources in oral mode.16 That is to say, the reality of Mark 11—15

11. Particularly Matt. 22.1-14/Luke 14.15-24; Matt. 24.45-51/Luke 12.41-46; Matt. 25.14-30/Luke 19.11-27; also Matt. 23.37-39/Luke 13.34-35; Matt. 24.37-42/Luke 17.26-35. Had there been a more extensive pre-Markan Passion narrative (n. 2 above), then Luke's extended journey to Jerusalem (Luke 9.51-18.14) has cut right across it.

12. Discussion in Brown, Death 53-57, 64-75. Other bibliography in J. T. Carroll and J. B. Green, 'The Gospels and the Death of Jesus in Recent Study', The Death ofJesus in Early Christianity (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1995) 5-9, 17-19, who reflect also the recent trend to concentrate more on the function of the Passion narrative within each Gospel (7-16 and chs. 2-5).

M. L. Soards has provided a thorough analysis of the attempts to reconstruct a pre-Markan Passion narrative (in Brown, Death 1492-1524, tabulation 1502-17); Brown notes in reference to the thirty-four scholars' views surveyed, that 'there is scarcely one verse that all would assign to the same kind of source or tradition' (55). On the question of a special Lukan source, scholars are more or less equally divided {Death 66-67 nn. 70,72); Brown notes that he, like Hawkins and G. Schneider, began with the hypothesis of a special Lukan Passion narrative, but subsequently abandoned the hypothesis (67).

14. The case that Mark edited and unified individual traditions, composed new material and thus created the Passion narrative sequence as a narrative has been argued particularly by the contributors to W. H. Kelber, ed., The Passion in Mark (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1976); see also Funk, Acts ofJesus 23.

15. Brown observes that some of the episodes in Mark's narrative 'cannot have circulated independently without a connection to the passion' (Death 54) and goes on to summarize the inadequacy of the criteria for discerning redaction in a case like the Markan Passion narrative (55-57).

16. Crossan (Birth 562-63) notes that Koester has moved from the assumption of a single written source for the Passion narrative to the recognition of 'different versions of the passion narrative . . . owing to the oral performances of the story in ritual celebrations, ever enriched by new references to the scriptures of Israel' (citing 'The Historical Jesus and the Cult of pars, is of a story, stable in overall structure, with closer agreement at specific points signalling the core elements for the tradents.17 That each performer of the tradition, including the Evangelists, should be free with less consequential details or should elaborate matters of greater consequence, is no surprise.18 Their respect for the tradition, which is also evident, was manifestly not expressed in slavish 'copying'. Even with the most sacred tradition, the degree of fixity was still only relative and subject to individual elaboration — as the traditions of the last supper clearly indicate.19

Of course, with this body of tradition in particular, we can have no doubt that it was first formulated after the events of Good Friday and Easter. So, more clearly than with most of the tradition of Jesus' earlier doings and teachings, we can be sure that its initial telling was from a post-Easter perspective. That perspective is apparent at various places, as we shall see. But even so, there is little cause to doubt the historical character of the broad structure and sequence of the narrative or of its principal elements as initially formulated, presumably, by witness participants. Without such continuity it would be difficult to explain how the 'gospel', which focused on the significance of the events narrated, became so quickly established as the foundation of all the churches known to Paul.

Turning to that detail, we have already covered most of the key elements and can refer simply to the earlier discussion20 — particularly the entry into Jerusalem (Mark 11.1-10 pars.), the symbolical protest in the Temple (Mark 11.1517 pars.), the various disputations thereafter (Mark 11.27-12.37),21 the eschato-logical discourse and parables (Mark 13 pars.),22 the Gethsemane prayer (Mark the Kyrios Christos',Harvard Divinity Bulletin24 [19951 13-18 [here 18]). Funk disagrees: the Passion narrative 'cannot be based on the oral transmission of discrete scenes loosely connected. ... It was probably a written narrative from its inception' whose 'full development... may not have begun until after the fall of Jerusalem' {Honest 238). But his inability to envisage how Koester's 'hypothetical [oral] narrative was transmitted during the oral period' (239) simply attests how limited is his own conception of the oral Jesus tradition.

17. Brown's own conclusion is that at the pre-Gospel level 'there existed at least a sequence of the principal stages in the death of Jesus, along with some stories about episodes or figures in that death. There may have been one or more preGospel narratives of the passion composed from this material, but neither the fact nor the wording of the contents of such a narrative can be established persuasively' {Death 92). The conclusion still works too much with the model of a literary narrative.

18. See further Dschulnigg's discussion of Pesch's argument for an extended pre-Markan Passion narrative {Sprache 323-31) and Brown's discussion of the special features of Matthew's and John's Passion narratives {Death 59-63, 75-92).

20. Apart from those indicated, reference is all to §15.3a.

14.36).23 the hearing before the high priest and the trial before Pilate (Mark 14.53-65; 15.1-5). and the crucifixion titulus (Mark 15.26 pars.). But there are a number of other issues of some significance which require at least brief discussion: John's attribution of the primary trigger for Jesus' arrest to Jesus' raising of Lazarus (John 11.45-53), Judas's motivation in 'handing over' Jesus (Mark 14,10-11 pars.). the character of the 'last supper' (14.22-25 pars.). the arrest of Jesus and flight of the disciples (14.43-52 pars.). the role of Pilate (15.1-15 pars.). the influence of the OT on the description of Jesus' death (15.22-38 pars.). and Jesus' burial (15.42-47 pars.).

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