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“Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

A common theme among the gospels is to cloak their narrative in Hebrew bible narrative. There is good reason for this as we shall see. But first let us look at one of the greatest examples this, and it comes from Mark and Matthew:

After Pilate handed Jesus over to be crucified, Jesus is treated reprehensibly. He’s spat on, and he’s naked since people were casting lots for his clothing, his disciples flee and he’s dying in loneliness. Mark especially, is not shy about showing these details. And as the story progresses, climaxing at Jesus’ death, his isolation grows. By the time he reaches the cross, he has been abandoned by all his friends, condemned by all human agencies, and now he feels himself abandoned even by God himself and then he utters his only words from the cross in Mark and Matthew; the opening phrase from Psalms 22:1 “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani” and the author translates that for us as, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” As it turns out, this is not the only phrase borrowed from the Hebrew bible… Note how many times Jesus’ Passion narrative overlaps with what we find in the Psalms, Isaiah etc.:

34, wine mingled with gall: allusion to Ps 69:21
35, division of garments: borrowing from Ps 22:18
38, death between robbers: possible allusion to Isa 53:12
39, passers-by wag their heads: cf. Ps 22:7; Lam 2:15
39-40, mockery: borrowing from Ps 22:7 (cf. 109:25)
43, mockery: borrowing from Ps 22:9
44, mockery: possible borrowing from Ps 22:7 or 69:9
45, darkness at noon: allusion to Am 8:9
46, cry from the cross: borrowing from Ps 22:1
48, vinegar to drink: allusion to Ps 69:21
51—3, earthquake and resurrection: use of Ezek 37; Zech 14:4-5

Go ahead, read it for yourself (Mark 15; Matthew 27) and you will see just how cleverly they have woven Hebrew bible narrative into their telling of the Passion of Jesus. This almost certainly casts doubt on the historicity of the account; the authors are just retelling the stories in Psalms only about Jesus as the protagonist! But why would they do such a thing?

The solution is simple—and like the truncated result of derivative mathematics—simply beautiful. Mark also has to deal with the fact that Jews were never expecting, or going to accept, a suffering messiah (especially one who was mocked, spat on etc.). Paul tells us that a suffering messiah was a σκανδαλον (skandalon) or stumbling block for the Jews (1 Corinthians 1:23). And so, by weaving in Hebrew bible narrative, Mark seems to be trying to show that God intended these things to befall Jesus after all. A Christ crucified was the plan all along!


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Was Jesus a Pacifist?

Martin Luther King leaning on a lectern. Deuts...

Martin Luther King

We are all familiar with the maxim Christian pacifists wield like a… well, plastic butter knife, “Jesus said turn the other cheek…”, but does this make Jesus a pacifist? This is a point of exegesis, so what is Jesus’ point in Matthew 5:38—42? Given that the context of the passage is dealing with one’s nations enemies, I cannot imagine Jesus being in favour of offensive war. On the other hand, I do think a biblical case can be made for defensive war. Would Jesus have condemned the actions of Judah Maccabee when he waged war to stop the massacre of Jews by Antiochus Epiphanes? Around 165 years before Jesus’ time a Judean rebel group, led by Judah Maccabee, overthrew this king of the Seleucid Empire. In John, Jesus is depicted attending the Jewish feast of Hanukkah, a celebration commemorating this very victory! Surely then, he was for it! Continue reading

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