Disputing Points With: Ron
At: Mk 11:15-17 and related
THE JUDAS BETRAYAL
BRUCE: ..... the Temple authorities had to find someone to rat [Jesus] out,
before they could send a mob to arrest him. Does anyone doubt the story of
the betrayal? . . . I didn't think so.
RON: You are wrong. For instance, Hyam Maccoby and Aaron Saari doubted it,
and so do I. The story of the betrayal is part of Mark's fictional
BRUCE: Well, that would still seem to add up to an overwhelming majority
against the idea that Judas was wholly an invention of Mark, but my civics
teacher warned me that the majority are always wrong, so let's consider it.
I would propose to undertake the consideration by asking these questions:
(1) Does the detail of Judas really play into a supposed Anti-Jewish agenda
of Mark, and (2) is there any outside evidence for its reality, as against
its invention by Mark? I would think, No and Yes, respectively.
Judas. I can see Mark inventing a Jewish arrest of Jesus, as a way of
incriminating the Jews and exonerating the Romans in the death of Jesus. So
the Gethsemane arrest scene, minus Judas (Mark doesn't need to tell us how
the mob found Jesus), would fit the supposed Mark agenda. It makes Jesus
look innocent, and it makes the Jews look hostile. But what about the Judas
detail? Does it speak ill for the Temple Jews? I would think it rather puts
Jesus in a very bad light. Here is a guy who Jesus chose to be his apostle,
and sent out and welcomed back in that role, but also WHO WAS GOING TO
BETRAY HIM, but Jesus at that time had not the slightest clue about it. It
is only moments before the betrayal that Jesus begins to sense something
wrong. How prescient is Jesus anyway? Does his late prediction of betrayal
really redeem his earlier ignorance of that same betrayal? Not to my eye. If
I were Mark, and some scriptwriter in the Anti-Jewish section came to me
with a proposal to invent a disciple betrayal, I would say, It adds drama
but it also casts Jesus in a very bad light, as not only passive, but
stupid. , I think you guys need to get back to the drawing board with this.
Reality. If Judas were simply Mark's invention, we would expect him to be
confined to Mark, or at most to those unimaginative imitators, the later
Gospel writers, who were (let's generously assume) slavishly indebted to
Mark and never used their own minds, or accessed other information sources.
OK, I am willing to think that of Matthew, Luke, and John, who progressively
strengthen the awfulness of the betrayal story, and think up new and
gruesome ways for Judas to die. But as an independent test of that
hypothesis, does Judas exist outside the Mark-defined Gospel tradition, or
is he more widely recognized? Answer: He is more widely recognized. Among
the Apostolic writings, we find Judas tending to figure in the Harrowing of
Hell narratives, as the only (or one of two or three) unredeemable souls
left in Hell forever, after everyone else is freed. That's one strike
against the Mark invention theory, and the strike consists in the fact that
everyone out there in noncanonical waters, who takes any stand at all,
agrees with Mark. Closer in to the Orthdoxy wharf, we have Paul, and does
Paul refer, a propos Eucharist, to the "night on which Jesus was arrested?
No, he refers, and I quote, to the "night on which he was betrayed." Sic.
Third. To return to the first point, and reconsider the assumption there
made, I don't find that the later Gospelers were in fact utterly confined to
Mark. Luke, for example, feels perfectly free to drop the passages in which
Mark flirts with the Atonement doctrine (a tenet which Luke obviously would
not accept), he leaves out some Mark stories, including Jesus preaching
segments (which one might think obsequious piety would compel him to
retain), and he heavily rewrites others. If Mark were merely inventing, and
if Luke, who was working not as a tourist but from within Christian
tradition, and so may have had his own impressions of Christian tradition,
had construed something in Mark as a mere invention, it was in principle
open to him (and in his own practice, evidently available to him) to leave
that unsound detail out, while keeping other things in. This is not how he
treats the Judas betrayal. That he not only keeps it, but literarily
elaborates it, would seem to be evidence for something more than a passive
or perfunctory or sullen acceptance.
All together, the tests that we can practicably apply to the Judas betrayal
seem to suggest that it rested on ground outside Mark, and thus was not
merely a Markan figment.
THE MONEY CHANGERS
BRUCE (before): ..... just how would Mark's "clear incentive" (in favor of
the Gentiles) lead him to invent the Money Changers story? How do we get
from the one place to the other?
RON: Mark's primary aim was to further the gospel to the Gentiles.
BRUCE: I don't know about primary. How much of Mark can fairly be assigned,
on its own showing, to this purpose? I have noted that there are passages
that have the Gentiles in mind, but I have also noted that they tend to be
interpolations. (The same is true of Luke, by the way). I think we need to
judge between stuff and other stuff in these texts. It is not all equally up
for grabs by the modern investigator.
RON: . . . Jews were especially despised after the fall of Jerusalem and the
public parading of the temple treasures.
BRUCE: By whom more than before? The parading was in Rome. The loss of the
Temple vessels would have been disabling for the Temple proprietors, back in
Jerusalem, and of course it made a drastic change in the place of sacrifice
in Jewish religious life generally (it reduced it to zero). But "despised?"
RON: . . . Therefore Mark wanted the ruling authorities in the empire to
make a clear distinction between Jews and Christians.
BRUCE: Yes and no. All the NT texts go to extreme lengths, including
narrative distortions (in case the other side, the Roman side, was
listening, and for those writing in Greek, that was surely a consideration)
to show that Romans always judged the Christians to be without fault,
whether theological (that they left to the Jews to arbitrate) or civil (the
key issue). No "despising of Jews" is logically involved, nor is it
narratively linked in any NT text that I can think of offhand. As for
distinction, is not the opposite the case? Rather, one desideratum for any
early Christian author was to secure for Christians a protected status as
Jews under Roman rule. Making a distinction between Jews and Christians
would have entailed serious legal disabilities, no?
The wish of Christians to appear harmless to Romans is conspicuously
manifest as late as Acts (post-70). The freeing of Pilate from guilt for
Jesus' death (presumed by Christians to be an injustice) is something that
is continually developed in later texts, up to the point of giving Pilate
saintly status within Christianity. The reciprocal of that development is to
dump the guilt for the whole proceeding increasingly on the Jews, a ready
target because (as Mark makes endlessly plain) they had long been hostile to
Jesus, and were already involved in the Jerusalem arrest and execution. That
does not mean that the Jews in real life had had no complicity in Jesus's
arrest and death; it merely means that such real life beginning as that
motif had, was subject to further hostile elaboration in successive Gospels
(and for that matter, in later layers of Mark himself). If we trace this
stream of anti-Temple propaganda back to its source, do we get nothing at
all, or do we get a more modest historical fact? I think we get the latter.
Note, in any case, that the Temple Establishment are not equivalent to
"Jews." The latter term is far wider. Jesus, at most points in Mark
including his preaching in the Temple vicinity, seems to have been on terms
of acceptance and even enthusiasm with the Jewish populace at large. Or if
not, Mark is surely behaving very irrationally in his supposed attempt to
show the opposite.
RON: What better way to do this in his new gospel than to paint the 'Jews'
as enemies of Jesus? Just one minor problem: Jesus had been a loyal Jew.
BRUCE: I can only call this another illusion. Mark makes it plain that
Jesus, both ritually and politically, was a divergent Jew and also a
politically dangerous Jew, since his teaching threatened the Quisling
Jerusalem establishment Jews with loss of their safe and profitable status
quo, the status in which they had the most interest. To what was Jesus (in
Mark) loyal? To Moses? He disputes divorce law with Moses. To John the B?
His own preaching takes a different tack, including the abandonment of
baptism as a ritual. To the Pharisee elaborations of the Mosaic Law? A dozen
or so confrontations in Mark say the opposite. I don't find a footing
anywhere in Mark for the "loyal Jew" position. (Matthew offers some crumbs
in this direction, but we are not now discussing Matthew). Jesus, on Mark's
showing, was dedicated to a certain version of the Davidic vision for
Israel. Both his enemies and his enthusiastic hearers characterize him as
new, startling, and either convincing or upsetting, depending on previous
condition of servitude. I sense a salient rather than a conventional
persona. The opposite of blah.
RON: Consequently the enterprise required an elaborate plot. Mark would
prepare for the passion story by composing an incident in which Jesus
antagonizes the temple authorities. This would lead to his arrest, then
trial and condemnation by chief priests. So the priests (Jews!) can be
blamed for his death.
BRUCE: Again, I think the guys in the PR division, the Markan Lie Staff,
need to rethink this. If Jesus (as would be nice, if true) was in fact
innocent of political intentions, a kindly rural preacher of Qwisdom, and if
the whole arrest and execution story in Mark is one vast bad rap, invented
in its entirety by Mark, it would seem that Mark's best strategy for that
invention was to portray a Jesus innocent of Messianic pretensions (he does
the opposite) and one whose own civil behavior is exemplary (instead, he
shows Jesus upsetting things in the Temple precincts). Try as I can (and I
have repeatedly revisited these parts of Mark), there does not seem to be a
case of mistaken identity here, no bad rap, no slanderous defamation of a
loyal Roman subject and conventionally pious Jew. Mark says otherwise. Mark
is at pains to tell a story which does not make sense as merely an attempt
to blame Jews for Jesus's death. On the contrary, he gives ample reasons,
from the beginning of his story to the end, and not only in the final
chapters, why both Romans and Jews would have wanted to put Jesus to death.
Over the whole of his text, Mark provides a consistent and coherent scenario
for why Jesus died. (James Hardy Ropes and I think that this was the
original reason for Mark's writing a Gospel at all).
In short, I cannot but think that this whole series of assumptions is weak
at the joints, and questionable at the nodes, and needs general rethinking.
E Bruce Brooks
University of Massachusetts at Amherst