06 September 2008

Open question for NT scholars #2 ...

Posted by at 10:12 AM Read our previous post

The passion narratives contain a little detail which I'd like to focus on: the high priest tears his own garments upon hearing Jesus blaspheme.

GMatt's version (26:62–65 . . . c.f. GMark 14: 60–62)
"And the high priest stood up and said, "Have you no answer to make? What is it that these men testify against you?"
But Jesus was silent.
And the high priest said to him, "I adjure you by the living God, tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God."
Jesus said to him, "You have said so. But I tell you, hereafter you will see the Son of man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming on the clouds of heaven."
Then the high priest tore his robes, and said, "He has uttered blasphemy. Why do we still need witnesses? You have now heard his blasphemy."

I first heard this story as a child and have always thought that this was an expression of righteous indignation on the part of the high priest, that it was a response to Jesus' blasphemy, and indeed, it is just that in the gospel narrative. However, I recently searched the Hebrew scriptures for instances where this symbolic gesture appears. It turns out that in the Tanach there are many places where people tear their garments, but in every single case this act is an expression of deep sorrow—(1 Samuel 15:22–23, and 1 Kings 11:29–35 for a couple of examples). Never is it an expression of anger or indignation.

So I come to yet another crossroad:

  • Either the author of GMark was completely uninformed (or misinformed) about the meaning of this symbol in the scriptures . . . . . or
  • He is deliberately coopting the symbol to add drama to the narrative (incorrectly though it may be)—to add injury to insult, so to speak.
The former shows a lack of understanding of the written traditions. The latter reveals a bit of guile.
Coincidentally, these were the same conclusions I came to in my previous open question #1. As in that post, the "question" is not really technically a question. The question mark lies instead in the anomalies involved in each. The question, in effect, is a general, "what gives?"



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