Passion-Resurrection Narrative

IV. Conclusion

The hypothetical reconstruction highlighted two tensions that support its oral origins: 1) a set narrative (six scenes) vs. the flexibility of sub-scenes and 2) a desire to memorize key phrases accurately vs. the urge to expand the narrative. These tensions argue against either a fully formed narrative (beginning with Mark) or strictly historical account overlaid with Scriptural references. Instead, they viewed the events through the lens of pesher interpretation, remembering their leader's death and resurrection in terms of Scriptural images, thus bolstering the claim that Jesus of Nazareth was the Christ. Missionaries like St. Paul used details of the narrative to evangelize (1 Cor 15:3-8) and to celebrate the faith (the Lord's Supper in 1 Cor 11:23-36); in other words, the narrative bridged the gap between kerygma and liturgy. Proclamation of the Word and celebration of the Eucharist, along with the tensions listed above, revealed a dynamism of narrative development that indicated an ongoing oral tradition.

The reconstruction showed growth in the narrative between Mark and John. But can we put back the veil of time before 70 CE and look into the oral tradition? I've argued that the six scenes in some form were set by the late 40's CE. I speculate that some sort of transition between the scenes were in place (the arrest, the priests taking Jesus to Pilate, the way of the Cross). I also believe a few sub-scenes had a place based upon the historical realities of Roman executions (whipping and mocking of Jesus).

To my way of thinking, the criteria of embarrassment carried the greatest weight in the pre-Marcan tradition. It allowed social shame to highlight themes of faith. The betrayal of Judas, the denials of Peter, the charge "He will destroy the Temple..." belonged in the oral tradition simply because of the outside ridicule these stories brought upon the Nazarene movement. Critics pointed to the figures of Judas and Peter with scorn. What sort of close friends would betray and abandon their leader in his moment of crisis? Yet, this embarrassment highlighted the solitary nature of Jesus' salvific sacrifice on the cross and his mercy even on those who abandoned him.

The charge made against Jesus ("He will destroy the Temple...") pointed to an early Christian message that the house of YHWH would fall only to reveal the presence of God at the end of time. While that prediction faced opposition from Sadducees and Pharisees before the fall of Jerusalem in 70 CE, it highlighted the belief that the locus of the divine lie within the eschatological community (1 Cor 6:19; Rev 21:1-7). But the greatest social embarrassment, as we have noted, was the Crucifixion itself. How could a condemned man executed in shame (Deu 21:22-23) become the Savior of the world? Yet, that tension became a hallmark of early Christianity, the primary reason for the existence of the narrative. In the words of St. Paul himself:

Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom. But, we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a scandal and to the Gentiles foolishness. To those called, Jews and Greeks alike, Christ is the power and the wisdom of God.

1 Corinthians 1:22-24


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Reiling, J., and J. L. Swellengrebel. A Handbook on the Gospel of Luke. United Bible Societies, 1993.

Newman, Barclay Moon, and Philip C. Stine. A Handbook on the Gospel of Matthew. United Bible Societies, 1992.

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