[EDITED WITH NEW MATERIAL ADDED] My 2 Favorite New Testament Bible Reading Tips
The ESV translation provides the following helpful chart about Jesus predicting his death in Mark.
The Three Major Passion Predictions in Mark
Three times in Mark 8–10 Jesus predicts his death, the disciples fail to understand or to respond appropriately, and he then teaches them about discipleship.
|Announcement of Jesus’ Death||Failure on the Part of the Disciples||Jesus Teaches on Discipleship|
|Jesus will suffer, be rejected, killed, and will rise after three days (8:31)||Peter rebukes Jesus (8:32–33)||Jesus commands them to deny themselves, take up their cross, and follow him (8:33–9:1)|
|Jesus will be delivered, killed, and will rise after three days (9:30–31)||The disciples do not understand the saying and are afraid to ask him about it (9:32)||Jesus teaches that the first must be last and that those who receive children in his name receive him (9:33–50)|
|Jesus will be delivered, condemned, mocked, flogged, killed, and will rise after three days (10:33–34)||James and John ask that they may sit next to Jesus in his glory (10:35–37)||Jesus teaches that, to be great, they must become servants; to be first, they must become slaves; and that he came to serve by giving his life as a ransom for many (10:38–45)|
TIP (1) It almost seems as if Mark was embarrassed that the historical Jesus never predicted his own death, but this prediction was just later added by Mark for theological reasons. There is a textual-critical technique that is kind of similar to what is going on here: Lectio difficilior potior (Latin for “the more difficult reading is the stronger”). Why? Because Mark includes the detail that the disciples got violent and attacked the arresting party. This violence seems baffling under the supposition that the disciples knew Jesus was supposed to die. So, what are we to do with the story elements with Jesus predicting his death. Does the last supper/Eucharist not suggest the death was known as imminent? This brings us to a second New Testament reading tip.
TIP (2) Good historical reading means we initially bracket or “put out of play” the historicity of textual pieces that have an obvious theological scent to them, because the early church would have had reason to invent/forge them. To allow such material as historical needs to be argued on other grounds. Price gives the example of the lord’s supper in Mark:
Jesus Dionysus (Mark 14:12-25)
- The Christian Eucharist, or Lord’s Supper, introduced here, is in no sense represented as a reinterpretation of the Jewish Passover. Its major features, symbolically eating human flesh and drinking blood, are abominable in Judaism but fit perfectly into the contexts of other ancient religions with which we know Jews had long been familiar. The juice of the grape was the blood of Dionysus, beer that of Osiris. Bread was the body of the grain gods Dionysus and Osiris. Osiris offered his disciples a sacramental meal of bread and beer. Traditional conservatives see the problem; they just don’t like the solution: early Christianity was syncretistic, drawing upon various ancient religions. Scriptural references garnish the story in order to graft it into a Jewish, biblical context. Chief among them is Psalm 41:9, “Even my bosom friend, in whom I trusted, who ate my bread, has lifted his heel against me.” Frank Kermode traces the process of transformation of an original, entirely and abstractly theological claim that Jesus had been “delivered up” (paradothē, Romans 4:25) into a narrative of betrayal. God having “handed over” his son for our sins grew into the idea of a human agent “betraying” him (same Greek word). This character needed a name, so, in accordance with anti-Jewish polemic, he was named “Judas.” His epithet “Iscariot” seems to denote either Ish-karya (Aramaic for “the false one)” or a pun on Issachar, “hireling,” the one paid to hand Jesus over to the authorities. So much of the Last Supper story is taken up with this matter because of the mention of the betrayer eating with his victim in Psalm 41. All this almost renders the bread and cup secondary. They have been heavily reinterpreted in scriptural disguise as a covenant renewal. The connection with Exodus 24:8, “Behold the blood of the covenant which [Yahweh] has made with you in accordance with these words” is hard to miss. Verse 27’s quotation of Zechariah 13:7, “I will strike down the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered,” looks like it has simply been rewritten into the following scene where Jesus’ disciples flee from the arresting party. But Peter swears up and down that, danger be damned, he will not forsake Jesus. This feature likely comes from Elisha’s three avowals that he will not leave Elijah’s side, in 2 Kings 2:2, 4, 6: “As [Yahweh] lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.” Roth ventures that Mark has given Peter one such pledge and three betrayals of it. On the other hand, Mark may have been thinking of Ittai’s pledge of loyalty to David, “Wherever my lord the king shall be, whether for death or for life, there also will your servant be” (1 Sam. 15:21). (Price, Robert M.. Holy Fable Volume 2: The Gospels and Acts Undistorted by Faith (p. 83-84). Mindvendor. Kindle Edition.)
What seems to have happened is Paul thought he received a ritual revealed to him by the heavenly Jesus about a theophagy (God-eating) and Mark has Judaized Paul’s pagan-infused account of consuming blood and body. If the Didache is right, Jesus may have been known for having simple Jewish meals of thanksgiving with his followers, and out of this bedrock grew the legend of the eucharist. Given the theologizing of the last supper, there is no reason to think the blood/body Eucharist material it’s historical. Prof Tabor comments:
- The precise verbal similarities between these two accounts are quite remarkable considering that Paul’s version was written at least twenty years earlier than Mark’s. Where would Paul have gotten such a detailed description of what Jesus had said on the night he was betrayed? The common assumption has been that this core tradition, so central to the original Jesus movement, had circulated orally for decades in the various Christian communities. Paul could have received it directly from Peter or James, on his first visit to Jerusalem around A.D. 40, or learned it from the Christian congregation in Antioch, where, according to the book of Acts, he first established himself (Acts 11:25). What Paul plainly says is easy to overlook: “For I received from the Lord what I handed on to you.” His language is clear and unequivocal. He is not saying, “I received it from one of the apostles, and thus indirectly it came from the Lord,” or “I learned it in Antioch, but they had gotten it by tradition from the Lord.” Paul uses precisely the same language to defend the revelation of his Gospel and how it came to him. He says he did not receive it from any man, nor was he taught it, but swears with an oath, “I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ” (Galatians 1:11-12). This means that what Paul passes on here regarding the Lord’s Supper, including the words of Jesus over the bread and the wine, comes to us from Paul and Paul alone! We have every reason to take him at his word. Though it might sound strange to us that anyone would claim to have received by revelation a narrative of Jesus’ last meal with his disciples, years after the event, Paul considered that sort of thing a normal manifestation of his prophetic connection with the Spirit of Christ. One of the gifts of the spirit was a “word of knowledge,” and such a revelation could apply to the past, the present, or the future. In the same way Paul claims to have received a detailed scenario of precisely what will happen in the future when Jesus returns. He prefaces his revelation with the claim, “For this I declare to you by the word of the Lord” (1 Thessalonians 4:15). Paul says that he hears from Jesus. To speculate as to where Paul derived the ideas he claims were given to him by revelation is to enter into his personal psychology to a degree to which we have no access. The task of a historian is to analyze what one might claim, but any attempt to rationally account for what a visionary claims to “see” is outside the realm of historical inquiry. see https://jamestabor.com/eat-my-body-drink-my-blood-did-jesus-ever-really-say-this/
As Heidegger points out for the ancients regarding visions, they are not just premonitions of the future, but also insights into the present and past of things which were initially missed. Homer declares that Calchas was the wisest of all seers because he knew what is, was and will be. Calchas the seer has the view of everything as coming into presence, which means that his view is not restricted to what presently comes into presence. He is “out of himself.’ So, it might be revealed to a seer that a past event has been fulfilled or filled full of meaning in the present in a way that was not realized as having been pregnant in the past time, but only retroactively realized in the present. For the seer, the connection between past and present is there as acorn becoming oak, just the acorn just wasn’t “seen” at the time by the people living it. This is how Paul could retrodict the pagan theophagy meaning of blood and body onto the simple meals of thanksgiving Jesus was holding, which (the theophagy) was not realized at the time. Similarly, Paul retrodicted the mission to the gentile onto Jesus’s message even though the historical Jesus never intimated what Paul would transform his message into. These were all Paul’s visions/hallucinations, if you suppose him to be an honest source.
I think prof Tabor is on to something finding a faction of the Jesus faith who adhered to Jesus’s teaching from before he died and was not about his death and resurrection, I just disagree this is what we see from James and Peter, as James only seems to have become a follower after Jesus died following James’s Jesus-appearance experience, and so we get from the Jerusalem bunch the salvific death pre-Pauline Corinthian Creed and the pre-Pauline Philippian Christ Hymn. We need to look to those who Paul calls the “False Brethren” and the “Q” source and the forged epistle of James and the certain aspects of the Didache for the earlier non-death/resurrection faith. But perhaps then we’ve misunderstood Paul and the Jerusalem bunch and the death/resurrection, and so we need to rethink the penal substitution interpretation of the cross …
Anyway, those are two of my favorite New Testament reading strategies:
- THE STRONGER READING: The report violence of the disciples at the arrest trumps/overrides the report of Jesus having taught he was supposed to die
- HAGGADIC MIDRASH: Theologically charged text elements often need to be bracketed as to their historicity.
For more of my analysis on the Eucharist see