Re: [XTalk] Ancient narratives of crucifixion
- On Thu, 9 Sep 2004 16:24:19 -0700, Peter Kirby <kirby@...> wrote:
> Although it isn't exactly "crucifixion," the punishment of PrometheusThe parallel between Prometheus Bound and the Markan narrative has been
> comes to my mind easily as a hero chained/nailed by the powers that be.
> (Metal bonds are agreed by all accounts, yet "nailed" is the verb used
> in the English of Aeschylus, and besides many crucifixions involved
> tying. The Catholic Encyclopedia, in "Archaeology of the Cross and
> Crucifix," says, "On an ancient vase we see Prometheus bound to a beam
> which serves the purpose of a cross." Normally the chains are attached
> to the Caucasus mountainside.)
> Hesiod. Works and Days 50ff., Theogony 507ff.
> Aeschylus. Prometheus Bound
> Plato. Protagoras 320C-322A
> Diodorus Siculus 4.15.2, 17.83.1
> Hyginus. Fabulae 144, De Astronomia ii.15
> Apollodorus, Library and Epitome 1.7.1
> Yet, of the form of the references to Prometheus, nothing resembles "a
> passion narrative with an extended introduction," to borrow the phrase
> of Martin Kahler on the Gospel (of Mark).
published some time ago and is available online at
The author, Livio Stecchini, presents there a further parallel, the
mocking of the "crucified" Prometheus which bears an uncanny resemblance
to the mocking of the crucified Jesus. Here is the relevant excerpt (bear
in mind that the thesis of the work is Senecan authorship of a lost play
on the passion, entitled Nazarenus):
In introducing their accounts of the mockery of the crucified Jesus, Mark
and Matthew undoubtedly had in mind the words of Psalm 22; but in
substance they followed the development of Seneca?s tragic plot. In the
Prologue, Seneca?s portrayal of the agony in the garden was influenced by
Aeschylus? Prometheus Bound, the only ancient tragedy known to us that
deals with the subject of crucifixion. After Prometheus, who had saved
mankind from death, is attached to the cliff where he is to suffer his
unjust and cruel punishment, he is mocked by a vindictive character named
How are your mortals going to cut this knot for you? ...
You lack wisdom if you think you can wriggle your way out...
But a sympathetic chorus intones:
Having helped men to your own hurt,
do not neglect to save yourself from torment.
The suggestion is a rhetorical one because the audience knows that
Prometheus is quite powerless to extricate himself from his bonds. In a
later play of Aeschylus Prometheus is released by Heracles, a mortal.
Likewise in Seneca?s Nazarenus the challenge issued by the chorus when
Jesus? fortunes were at their lowest ebb will be redeemed in the final
act. Aeschylus and Seneca use the mockery to which their crucified heroes
are subjected in order to paint a picture of utter hopelessness--to make
more appalling the injustice of the punishment, and more astounding the
reversal of fortune when at last it comes.
- Peter Kirby asked on Monday, September 13, 2004 5:20 AM
<When you say Christian logic, is this equivalent to "the study of
Please excuse the ambiguity of my expression. Thank you for taking the
time to ask for a clarification.
I do not recall how the thread "Ancient narratives of crucifixion"
turned into a discussion of the way psychologists have studied the birth
of Christianity. But it seems to me that, the publication of _When
Prophecy Fails_ did not remain an isolated event as far as
pshychological research in the field of religion is concerned.
I have read this book long time ago. I do not have access to it now. But
as far as I recall, it was centered on the study of a very specific case
and had nothing to do with the study of the "Christian phenomenon". (I
use this expression as Teilhard de Chardin uses the expression: "human
phenomenon". The appearance of man). The book shows the psychological
consequences of faith and commitment. When the prediction of a specific
event does not materialize at the specified time and in the specified
form, the logical conclusion should be that the prediction was wrong.
But faith and commitment do not easily accept error and failure. So the
stronger they are, the stronger the refusal to admit error and defeat.
No attempt is made in this book to extrapolate what concerns the birth
and death of a short-lived sect into what pertains to the birth of
Christianity. This sort of extrapolation seems to have been attempted
Unfortunately the knowledge I have of these extrapolations is limited to
what transpired in our XTalk exchanges. I felt the need to go back to
square one and study what has been attempted in the psychological field
on this point.
It appeared to me that the psychologists have been working alone on a
difficult question, the study of which requires not only a certain
familiarity with religious questions, but also an in-depth understanding
of the Christian faith. By this I mean not only, as you put it
correctly, "the study of Christianity", but also a feel for the problems
with which we are entangled in the field of gospel scholarship. In the
same way as we are faced with serious difficulties, so also the
psychologists. Whence my idea: instead of working independently of one
another, we would gain to work together.
So I go back today to this simple proposition. Instead of criticizing
what the psychologists have done so far, as Wright does in his book (and
I am not saying that his criticism is not well-founded), I think that an
intelligent collaboration between us can be useful. I am still waiting
for someone else to second this proposition.
I know that the mere fact of getting together and exchanging ideas will
not be enough to entirely change the picture on both sides of the
divide. In order for a real breakthrough to become possible, we must
adopt a totally new approach to the Christian phenomenon. This is
perhaps what makes the listers suspicious and not knowing what to think.
You cannot judge the new approach I am advocating without knowing it.
I admit, on the other hand, that rejection is what I fear. My
proposition is likely to look preposterous to many of you. I fear to be
treated as Paul was treated when he mentioned the word "resurrection" in
his speech to the Athenians. So I am working on a "captatio
benevolientiae" before I dare speak openly. If nobody is really
interested to hear what I have to say, it makes no sense to say it. But
I am counting on a curious mind to start a new thread.
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