My analysis of the Passion Narrative (Mark 14:1-15:39*) finds it to be, on
form-critical grounds, a perfect Aristotelian tragedy as described in his
Poetics." I mean perfect in terms of realistic portrayal ("imitation),
characterization of the tragic hero with a fatal hamartia, the importance of
plot, appropriate diction, down to the proper use of vowels, a final
epiphany, a heavy sense of dramatic irony (surprising outcomes) the hero's
anagnorisis, peripetia (reversal of fortune) and more. Also, there is much
to argue that 'eloi 'eloi lama sabachthani is an authentic saying of Jesus,
in spite of two other places where Mark has added "fulfillment's" of Psalm
22. I would so far as to argue that the pre-Markan PN is not only realistic
it is based upon an eye-witness account that was collected by the author of
PN. Here is a summary of the traits of Aristotle's tragic hero from my
With the original PN isolated (argued elsewhere), especially that it ended
in Mark 15:39, we may then ask the form-critical question regarding its
literary genre. My contention is that it is a tragedy, and more specifically
an Aristotelian tragedy. Evidence for this genre designation is drawn first
of all from Aristotle's Poetics:
Here again I do need to go into some quite detailed arguments to show that
original PN does indeed conform to Aristotle's ideal tragedy. They may be
summarized as parallel in terms of plot, characterization of the tragic hero
motifs and diction. Here is a summary of the literary features of a
An Aristotelian tragic hero must have four characteristics:
- Nobleness (of a noble birth) or wisdom (by virtue of birth).
- Hamartia (translated as tragic flaw, somewhat related to hubris, but
denoting excess in behavior or mistakes).
- A reversal of fortune (peripetia) brought about because of the hero's
- The discovery or recognition that the reversal was brought about by the
hero's own actions (anagnorisis).
As I have said, I can go into much greater detail to show that the PN is to
be generically classified as an (Aristotelian) tragedy. Your denial that
this is not so needs to engage what arguments I have just advanced.
Note also that Aristotle's tragic hero was developed in the history of the
genre. Here is a list of certain refinements and additions to Aristotle's
original definition of the tragic hero:
Other common traits as developed in later tragedies:
Hero must suffer more than he deserves.
Hero must be doomed from the start, but bear no responsibility for
possessing his flaw.
Hero must be noble in nature, but imperfect so that the audience can see
themselves in him.
Hero must have discovered his fate by his own actions, not by things
happening to him.
Hero must see and understand his doom, as well as the fact that his fate was
discovered by his own actions.
Hero's story should arouse fear and empathy.
Hero must be physically or spiritually wounded by his experiences, often
resulting in his death.
Ideally, the hero should be a king or leader of men, so that his people
experience his fall with him.
The hero must be intelligent so he may learn from his mistakes.
Conclusion: The genre of the original PN is a tragedy as defined by
Aristotle in his Poetics and as later expounded in other tragedies
descending from an Aristotelian origin.
I submit that I have offered detailed arguments regarding the
literary-critical isolation of an original PN and correctly identified its
genre as (Aristotelian) tragedy.
With this definition, I have a basis to argue that the PN is based upon an
eye-witness account. I go further to argue that the eye-witness was a
historical centurion who served as the source of factual information. Let me
be quick to say that I am not here "cherry-picking" the centurion as the
probable witness that the author of PN used to compose his tragedy. That we
may rationally determine that the centurion's account is the basis of the PN
should not be dismissed because it is often the case that we cannot usually
make such a specific determination of a literary source. Let me also clear
the air that I am not compelled by any ideology which "need" to have an
eye-witness report regarding the historical Jesus. I very much argue to this
remarkable and unprecedented conclusion and I am fully aware of its radical
claim. It seem most grandiose that I should claim that I have concluded the
quest for the essential historical Jesus! I cannot put enough exclamation
points behind this allegation.
That the PN is based upon an eye-witness account is argued upon two bases:
- the probable conclusion that eloi eloi lama sabachthani is an authentic
saying of Jesus.
- that the genre of a Aristotelian tragedy aims at above all "imitation" or
what we call "realism."
While the traditional criteria for isolating authentic sayings of Jesus has
been critiqued in scholarly literature, I would argue that the following
criteria are, with noted qualification, yet valid:
- diction (Aramaic)
It should be noted that the lama sabachthani is good Aramaic and is
expressed Jesus' vernacular.
I have also argued to the conclusion that the above saying is authentic
That the genre of Aristotlelian tragedy that aims to be "realistic" is
stated in the Poetics. Indeed, this is a major characteristic of his ideal
tragedy--"imitation." What it imitates is the actual phenomenon of a tragic
dimension of human existence. This is the basis of his argument that it
should inspire not only pity but also "fear." That fear is to be inspired
among the audience is based the real threat that they may experience a
possible tragic situation. The "catharsis" consists of the enlightenment
that a seemingly senseless tragedy has a most profound and most positive
As for the meaning of the centurion's epiphany, uios theou is not the Markan
notion of the "Son of God" (1:1) but is rather a Roman, gentile formulation,
literarily rendered as "a son of a god," otherwise known as a theios aner,
the Hellenistic concept of the "divine man." The debate whether Mark
portrays Jesus in terms of Hellenistic notions or one based on Old Testament
characters is both right when we realize that we are dealing with two
versions of the Gospel. Mark redacted the theios aner presentation into one
that was more from a Jewish perspective.
From: Ronald Price
Date: 1/2/2013 11:38:23 AM
Subject: Re: [Synoptic-L] A case for pMark
Chuck Jones wrote:
> Are you saying that Mark free-composed everything in his gospel except for
> (handful of) aphorisms?
> I'd appreciate hearing more about your thoughts on this.
Not quite. Mark would have picked up a few simple facts from Paul (if, as I
believe, the author can be equated with the Mark of Phm 24), and perhaps by
conversation with others in the church at Rome, e.g. that Peter was a
prominent apostle, that Jesus was crucified in or near Jerusalem, that
Pilate was the governor at the time.
> He composed the parables, for example?
Not the aphoristic (short) parables: Lamp, Mustard Seed, Salt, Eye of
Needle, but most of the others, and certainly the two long parables: the
parable of the Sower and the parable of the Vineyard, both of which seem to
have been composed specifically with the Christian mission in mind.
> And all of the scenes, characters and dialogue in the passion narrative?
The dialogue, yes, apart from the Last Supper dialogue which I think is
close to what Mark got from Paul. The scenes as presented, yes. But 14:3-9
was probably based on an actual anointing of Jesus as Messiah, and the trial
by Pilate and the crucifixion may include a few genuine details (e.g. the
inscription on the cross?). Also at least two of the characters, namely
Judas the betrayer (here I follow Hyam Maccoby), and Joseph of 'Arimathea'.
Of course the existence of Jesus, Peter and Pilate does not depend solely on
the testimony of Mark's gospel. They are historical characters.
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