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Crimes of Passion

imageSo what’s the Passion story, really? It’s difficult to peel the historical layers back to Jesus because the closer you read the scant source material (four Gospels, a few letters of Paul) the more, um, different they seem.

Luckily, smarter people than I got here first. For example, there’s this reconstruction, helpfully color-coded in the style of the Jesus Seminar, based on a tabulation of the work of thirty-four scholars done by Marion Soards. Colors represent “heat” — i.e., a greater number of scholars believing it to be authentic, the redder the words.

There’s also this “tentative reconstruction” by Yarbro Collins (2007). 

Paraphrasing, the “original” probably went something like this:

Jesus goes to Gethsemane and is upset. He can’t sleep and prays while his posse sleeps.

While he’s speaking, Judas comes up and kisses him. Jewish leaders take Jesus away, even as one of his followers (unnamed) cuts off the ear of the chief priest’s servant.

Jesus’ followers all flee, including a naked young man.

There may have been an appearance of some sort in front of Jewish authorities. (The charge isn’t clear: What did Jesus do?) They turn him over to the Roman leader Pilate.

Pilate asks Jesus if he is “King of the Jews,” and Jesus neither confirms nor denies.

Pilate releases a criminal named Barabbas and delivers Jesus to guards to be crucified.

Jesus is mocked by the crowd and brought to Golgotha, where he is given tainted wine and crucified between two other convicts.

On the cross, he is taunted by those who say, “If you’re King of the Jews, come down here.”

It gets eerily dark. Jesus cries out and dies. The curtain of the sanctuary is split.


WWJD #1: The Passion Narrative


Note: We are going through the earliest Christian documents, one by one, to find out for ourselves what they actually say about Jesus. Today we look at the earliest one, which doesn’t exist as a separate doc anymore.

The so-called “Passion Narrative” is a scholarly reconstruction of a hypothetical early document that almost certainly did pre-exist the Gospels, at least in oral form, but has been lost. Like “Q” and the “Sayings Gospel” (both of which we’ll get to), the PN is a ghost doc, a reasonable guess based on the existing Gospel texts. In fact, it represents almost the only episode in Jesus’ life on which all four Gospels agree — or almost agree.

As Mel Gibson told us, Jesus’ “Passion” is the story of his accusation, hearing, sentence and execution. Ouch!

Now it’s worthwhile to remind ourselves of the scholarly consensus that Mark was probably written first, around 65 CE, that Matthew and Luke had Mark in front of them when they wrote, and that John did not use Mark directly — although he obviously had access to some similar oral or written traditions, one of which was . . . the Passion Narrative.

So in reading the Gospels, we don’t really have four independent sources, do we? It’s not like there were four bloggers at the site and we can triangulate (or quadrangulate) the real story from their separate accounts. As scholarly consensus has it, there is only one source — this long-lost so-called “Pre-Markan Passion Narrative.” (BTW the Gospels were almost certainly not written by men or women who knew Jesus personally. Now you know.)

What’s exciting about this earliest story-snippet, though, is precisely how early it would have to have been solidified in the Christian tradition to appear in roughly similar outline in both Mark and John. Because otherwise, Mark/Matthew/Luke (the so-called Synoptic Gospels) and John look like biographies of different people.

So what does this early-early PN tell us about traditions about Jesus? The four accounts have been laid out side by side here. The story has four parts:

(1) The Arrest

(2) Jesus Before the Temple Priests

(3) Jesus Before Pilate

(4) The Cross

To be continued . . .


What Would Jesus Do? Well, friends, it’s been a while and I’m here to report that I still have no idea. As a former history major, however, I can say that for events in the distant past, we are left with our sources — sources, alone. Anything that is not in the plain text of the earliest documents and archaeology is conjecture, speculation, hoo-haw, bunkum, hocus-pocus and legerdemain.

A wonderful site called has a helpful list of all the extant sources for information about/by the early Christian movement with scholars’ best guess at dates written. Since I’ve got a former monk guiding me spiritually these days (don’t ask), and I’m supposed to be reading something like every day — they call this Lectio Divina — it occurred to me to start at the beginning and move on.

What was the very first source? What did it tell us about the human Jesus? What was the second source? What did it say? Perhaps this will get us close to WWJD . . . we’ll see.

So, according to the best scholarly guess, here are the earliest 10 Christian docs and the approximate dates of their “publication”/writing:

45 – Passion Narrative
55 – 1 Thessalonians
55 – Philippians
55 – Galatians
55 – 1 Corinthians
55 – 2 Corinthians
55 – Romans
55 – Philemon
60 – Lost Sayings Gospel Q
65 – Colossians


The God Project Dot Net is on summer vacation … see you in The Fall … 😉

God Spelled Backward

What Child Is This?

Did you ever wonder what a word cloud of all 3,800 words of the Jesus birth stories in chapters 1 and 2 of the Gospels of Matthew and Luke would look like, with the words “Father,” “Lord” and “God” removed? You did?!

Merry Christmas!

Welcome to the Working Weak

Here’s what I’m saying:

  • Robert Langdon is a great symbologist. This is a field that doesn’t actually exist, so perhaps his ascent wasn’t as competitive as it could have been, but never mind. He’s at Harvard, lecturing to a bevy of nubile strippers, I mean, co-eds, and he gets a call from the CIA: “We need you in Paris.” He doesn’t want to go.
  • Augustine drops into a church in a North African town called Hippo to attend mass. He’s a good Christian by now, planning a life in his hometown of Thagaste, 45 miles away, as a monk and freelance writer. Being realistic about the writing career, he’s taken a vow of poverty. But the bishop in the region has heard of Augustine: he starts a movement, during the mass, to get him to stay in Hippo as a priest. He doesn’t want to do it.
  • Indiana Jones is a great something. He’s also at Harvard, although he doesn’t know Robert Langdon, because Indy lives 60 years earlier, and they are both fictional. The U.S. government conscripts him to go find the Ark of the Covenant before the Nazis. He doesn’t want to go.
  • Karl Barth is pastor of a small parish in Safenwil, Switzerland. World War I has ended and the crushing treaty of Versailles makes German-speaking Europe gloomy. Barth has a reputation based on a few books and lectures, and he’s offered a honking post as Professor of Reformed Theology at the University of Gottingen, Germany. This is kind of like some bitter management consultant getting a TV series made out of his pain. He’s reluctant.
  • Gideon is some kind of poor farmer in the time of the Judges, before 1000 BCE, and he’s hiding some snacks in a wine press when an angel appears, calls him a “mighty warrior,” and tells him to lead the people of Israel in battle against the Midianites.

Gideon’s response is kind of funny. It can stand for all these examples: unlikely, talented people forced to do extraordinary things against their will. Gideon says:

“Please, sir, how should I be the one to save Israel? My clan is the poorest in Manassah, and I am the least in my family.” (Judg. 6:11-15)

We’re talking about themes of It: what God, if It exists, seems to want. One is for us to live in the Now! Another seems to be to do things we don’t want to do.

But why?