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April 14, 2006

The Crucifixion

Were you to subtract the supernatural from the events at the end of Jesus' life, one Passover week in Jerusalem, you would be left with a popular Jewish religious figure experiencing the most brutal of executions -- one intended, by the Romans, primarily for political rebels. That this actually happened does not seem in much doubt. (Jesus lived perhaps thirteen centuries before Moses was supposed to have lived and perhaps nine centuries before the also questionable Solomon; and he lived in a literate outpost of the sophisticated Roman Empire.)

crucifixion.jpgWe see in the four Gospels, written of course generations after the fact, a man, presumably in unimaginable pain, nailed to a cross. Jesus had by the time of his execution numerous followers, so his last words (forgetting dreams and visions of reappearances after death) might well have been remembered. In John those words are "It is finished." In Luke: "Father, 'into Your hands I commend My spirit.'" Mark and Matthew, however, likely the two oldest of the Gospels, have a question, the same question, coming out of Jesus' mouth right before he dies. That question -- given, remarkably, in the original Aramaic before being translated -- is: "Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?" or "My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?"

In her fascinating attempt to get at the historical Jesus, Paula Fredriksen notes that passages in these probably heavily worked over texts that do not seem to further their purposes in rallying the faithful seem more likely to be authentic. This seems such a passage. Yes, Jesus is repeating the first line of the controversial Psalm 22, which describes the tribulations of David or, in the Christian interpretation, the Messiah. But might not a man, dying with the belief that a glorious plan has been fulfilled, quote a line from the positive second half of the Psalm?

The case could be made that this man, Jesus, died not only in terrible pain but in doubt.

Posted by Mitchell Stephens at April 14, 2006 12:33 PM


I just watched "The God Who Wasn't There".
Paul's letters were the only writings about Christ before the Gospels which were at least 70 years AD (Mathew). Paul treats Jesus The Christ as a spirit and says nothing about the events later told of in the Gospels.
Most all the miraculous things that are the Jesus story were in stories of earlier heroes.

Why do we spend so much time disproving the obvious? Only Chance the Gardner really walked on water! :)

Posted by: Jay Saul at April 15, 2006 1:38 AM

"The God Who Wasn't There" included several scenes from "The Passion of the Christ". Jesus Christ was that the bloodiest movie ever; much like a gory horror flick. Evangelicals really have a blood lust.

I was raised a Methodist and did not realize that in two of the Gospels Jesus says that to disavow the Holy Sprit is the one sin that God will never forgive. Murder--yes. Rape--yes.
Deny the existence of the Holy Spirit--you are a goner for eternity.

That takes a load off my mind. I am already damned with no hope of salvation--it's Party Time!

Posted by: Jay Saul at April 15, 2006 1:46 AM

I felt the same about "The Passion of the Christ". I felt uncomfortable with all the blood and violence. It was amazing to see Christians that preach against violence in movies and television queuing up to see the Passion, and raving about it afterwards.

All the best

Posted by: Kevin at April 15, 2006 3:07 PM

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