The Scholarly Nutshell, #1
"Death With Honor: The Mediterranean Style Death of Jesus in Mark"
by John Pilch
This is the introductory entry in a new series I've called "The Scholarly Nutshell", which will be my summaries and thoughts about scholarly articles I come across.
This first entry will cover Dr. Pilch's "Death With Honor: The Mediterranean Style Death of Jesus in Mark" published in The Biblical Theology Bulletin.
Pilch's article is concerned with interpreting the remarkable silence and endurance of Jesus towards his accusers and his crucifixion through the lens of the social sciences. Why is it that Jesus, who all throughout his ministry showed great skill in rhetoric and insulting riposte, barely opened his mouth in the events immediately prior to his death? And why does His remarkable silence induce the centurion at the foot of the cross to proclaim, "Surely this man was the Son of God!"
Pilch takes us through the Gospel of Mark, pinpointing the versus pertaining to Jesus' meek acceptance to extreme pain and torture. It begins with His acceptance of what is to come:
Then, to Jesus' scourging, where there is no record of any comment or cry of pain:Mark 14:36“Abba, Father,” he said, “everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.”
Mark 15:16-2016 The soldiers led Jesus away into the palace (that is, the Praetorium) and called together the whole company of soldiers. 17 They put a purple robe on him, then twisted together a crown of thorns and set it on him. 18 And they began to call out to him, “Hail, king of the Jews!” 19 Again and again they struck him on the head with a staff and spit on him. Falling on their knees, they paid homage to him. 20 And when they had mocked him, they took off the purple robe and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him out to crucify him.
Then, to Jesus' actual crucifixion, wherein presumably Jesus made no remarks about his torture for a full six hours:
Pilch believes that the famous "last words" of Jesus where only introduced into the account by the Christian community at a later time. It is only at the very end that Jesus lets out a loud scream before breathing His last, whereat the centurion proclaims "surely this man was the Son of God!".Mark 15:25-3625 It was nine in the morning when they crucified him. 26 The written notice of the charge against him read: the king of the jews.
27 They crucified two rebels with him, one on his right and one on his left. 29 Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads and saying, “So! You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, 30 come down from the cross and save yourself!” 31 In the same way the chief priests and the teachers of the law mocked him among themselves. “He saved others,” they said, “but he can’t save himself! 32 Let this Messiah, this king of Israel, come down now from the cross, that we may see and believe.” Those crucified with him also heaped insults on him. 33 At noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon.
Accepting punishment or suffering without complaint is extolled throughout the Bible. The only two socially acceptable exceptions to this rule of silence is either boasting about the suffering experienced or public prayers to God in the midst of it. See the following examples:
Isaiah 50: 6-76 I offered my back to those who beat me, my cheeks to those who pulled out my beard; I did not hide my face from mocking and spitting. 7 Because the Sovereign Lord helps me, I will not be disgraced. Therefore have I set my face like flint, and I know I will not be put to shame.
Isaiah 53: 3-123 He was despised and rejected by mankind,
a man of suffering, and familiar with pain.
Like one from whom people hide their faces
he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.4 Surely he took up our pain
and bore our suffering,
yet we considered him punished by God,
stricken by him, and afflicted.
5 But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
and by his wounds we are healed.
6 We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
each of us has turned to our own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.7 He was oppressed and afflicted,
yet he did not open his mouth;
he was led like a lamb to the slaughter,
and as a sheep before its shearers is silent,
so he did not open his mouth.
8 By oppression and judgment he was taken away.
Yet who of his generation protested?
For he was cut off from the land of the living;
for the transgression of my people he was punished.
9 He was assigned a grave with the wicked,
and with the rich in his death,
though he had done no violence,
nor was any deceit in his mouth.
10 Yet it was the Lord’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer,
and though the Lord makes his life an offering for sin,
he will see his offspring and prolong his days,
and the will of the Lord will prosper in his hand.
11 After he has suffered,
he will see the light of life and be satisfied;
by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many,
and he will bear their iniquities.
12 Therefore I will give him a portion among the great,
and he will divide the spoils with the strong,
because he poured out his life unto death,
and was numbered with the transgressors.
For he bore the sin of many,
and made intercession for the transgressors.
Lamentations 1:12Is it nothing to you, all you who pass by? Look around and see. Is any suffering like my suffering that was inflicted on me, that the Lord brought on me in the day of his fierce anger?
Pilch draws upon the word of Peter Cook1 and David McClelland2 to help explain what's going on here. Cook's "Basic Personality Structure Model" attempts to explain the personality of an adult by how he is raised. In the Biblical world, fathers toughened their sons for the brutal and harsh world of antiquity by swaddling the infant in restrictive cloths (which Pilch says prepares the child "for a lifetime of constraint and subjection to others"), raising the child to obey orders immediately and without complaint, reinforced by frequent beatings ("If he is willing, he obeys, but if not, they straighten him, just like a bent and twisted piece of wood, with threats and blows." Plato, Prt. 325d).2nd Corinthians 11:24-3024 Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, 26 I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. 27 I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. 28 Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches. 29 Who is weak, and I do not feel weak? Who is led into sin, and I do not inwardly burn? 30 If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness.
If Cook's model explains the machismo of the Mediterranean male through the constant training undergone in childhood, McClelland explains it by the constant reinforcement of cultural ideology. McClelland's approach, called the "Cultural Ideology Model", asserts that merely examining the childrearing tactics utilized by the parents of a child isn't enough to predict what personality the child will have in adulthood. After all, while it isn't unheard of for an abused child to become an abusive father himself, it isn't guaranteed. McClelland instead believes that "child-rearing does not occupy center stage in the formation of adult personality by way of its influence on infant personality except to the extent that child-rearing reflects the general norms or social structures that exert an influence upon an individual throughout a lifetime from womb to tomb." As applied to the culture of Jesus, the omnipresence of honor and shame fits in nicely with McClelland's model. The constant pursuit of and the preservation of one's honor in an agonistic culture will ensure one's endurance (Romans 12:12, 1 Cor 13:7, 2 Timothy 2:10, Hebrews 10:32-39, et al), obedience (John 10:18, 3:49, 14:31, Phil 2:8) and suffering without complaint (Acts 8:32-35, Psalm 38:13-14, 39:9-11, Lam 3:28-30).
Thus, even enduring the shameful death of crucifixion, Jesus retains his honor by dying manfully - that is, he obeyed His Father's order to go to the cross, endured the pain of it, and suffered without complaint. His honorable death was noticed by the centurion, who proclaims that this man has some godlike aspect to him. Far from being passive, Jesus was being courageous and set an example to his followers for how they should deal with the suffering.
1. "Child Rearing versus Ideology and Social Structure as Factors in Personality Development"
2. "Childrearing, Culture, and Mental Health: Exploring an Ethological-Evolutionary Perspective in Child Psychiatry and Preventive Mental Health with Particular Reference to Two Contrasting Approaches to Early Childrearing"
, "Death with Honor: The Mediterranean Style Death of Jesus in Mark." The Biblical Theology Bulletin: A Journal of Bible and Theology 25.2 (1995): 65-70.