by miriam berg
Chapter XIX

(John 19:1-11)
Howbeit, John goes on to report a confrontation between Pilate and the Jews, Pilate being apparently perfectly willing to release Jesus, and the Jews finally bringing up a formal accusation against him: "He made himself the Son of God, and therefore he ought to die". Again this conflicts with the report in Luke of political accusations being made against him. John reports that Pilate was then afraid; but can we believe that the Roman governor would have let himself be pushed around by the chief priests or the mob, or that he would have cared if Jesus had made any kind of claim to divinity? But anyway Jesus continues to make pontifical statements to Pilate, according to John; but we are inclined to doubt this, in view of Mark's report that he said nothing. This must simply be author's continuing to put his own words into Jesus' mouth.

(John 19:12-24)
We are then told how it was the sixth hour, that is, noon, of the day before the Passover Sabbath, and that Jesus carried his own cross to Golgotha, and was crucified between two others (John does not say they were thieves) with the words JESUS OF NAZARETH THE KING OF THE JEWS over him, and the soldiers cast lots for his coat but not his other garments. But each one of these details is different from the report in the Synoptics: there Jesus is already on the cross at the sixth hour, a man named Simon the Cyrenian was compelled to carry the cross, the words over Jesus are different, but do not agree in any two of the gospels, and the soldiers cast lots for his clothes but no distinction is made between his seamless coat and the other garments. This looks like a deliberate addition to the story just to make it agree with the quotation from Psalms 22:18. It is all perfectly consistent with the evolution of a tale told from one person to another; each one unconsciously tells it in a slightly different style, remembers certain details, forgets some, modifies others in order to produce an effect on his hearers or make it more vivid and real. The Synoptics report darkness until the ninth hour, and that the veil of the temple was rent; Matthew adds that there was an earthquake, and many dead persons got up and walked the streets, but John knows nothing of these omens. But apart from its unbelievability this last detail is contradicted by Matthew himself, when he says that this did not happen until "after his resurrection".

(John 19:25-30)
Here John inserts an incident not recorded in Matthew, Mark, or Luke: Jesus declares from the cross that from henceforth the unnamed disciple "whom he loved" is to regard Mary as his own mother and she him as her own son. This shadowy figure! never once named, at best doubtful as the author of this gospel, all these incidents totally unknown to the writers of Matthew, Mark, and Luke! Oh, well, we suspect the author of John wanted to create the impression of having been an eyewitness, but we doubt it; there are too many details inconsistent with the Synoptics and within John itself.

John as well as the Synoptics reports that Jesus was given vinegar to drink, but this is an obvious parody on verses from the Psalms:
They gave me gall for my meat; and in my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink (Psalms 69:21).
But these words are clearly the Psalmist speaking of his own life, and can in no sense be understood as a prediction. And whether Jesus actually said he was thirsty or not is of little relevance to any meaningful understanding of his message.

But it is his final words on the cross which raise the most questions about the accuracy of any of these reports. John reports that Jesus said, "It is finished"; the play is over, his preordained part has been acted out. None of the Synoptics report these words; and although Luke reports something different from Mark and Matthew they are both more realistic and more compelling. Luke reports that he said,
Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do. (Luke 23:34)
and while this is certainly consistent with his teachings of forever forgiving, and loving enemies, and praying for those who persecute you, and we would not want the reputed founder of Christianity to die with hatred or anger on his lips, still it is only the third time in the Synoptics that Jesus has been reported as addressing God as Father. But the words reported in Mark and Matthew are the most realistic:
My God, why hast thou forsaken me? (Ps.22:1)
also from the 22nd Psalm, indicative perhaps of his pain and suffering on the cross. Perhaps, as some exegetes have suggested, Jesus actually meant to recite the entire 22nd Psalm, which ends with complete trust and faith in the ways of God. So we have three different accounts of Jesus' last words on the cross. Which did he utter? or did he utter all of them? even though each represents a different attitude: bored resignation, loving if desperate forgiveness, desolation and abandonment. Perhaps he actually said none of them. But anyway, could anyone have actually heard them? since presumably the execution was in a place where Jews were excluded; the soldiers would not have taken the chance on anyone cutting him down.

(John 19:31-37)
Jesus was nailed up, according to John, at noon on Friday, and was taken down already dead before sunset, the beginning of the Passover Sabbath, no more than six hours later. This is in itself evidence of the legendary nature of the story that he rose again after three days, since if he rose on Sunday morning there was less than 48 hours inbetween. The soldiers considerately did not break his legs (for otherwise the apostles would have had difficulty explaining how he walked when he appeared to them; although if he could raise himself from the dead he should have had no difficulty healing a broken bone) and John cites this as a fulfillment of the "prophecy" found in the Old Testament on how to prepare a lamb for the Passover meal (Ex. 12:43-46), and of a line in one of the Psalms on how God cares for the righteous:
Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivereth him out of them all. He keepeth his bones; not one of them is broken. (Ps. 34:19-20)
The early Christians were so fond of yanking quotations out of context and making them apply to Jesus! But anyway Matthew, Mark, and Luke do not mention the breaking or not breaking of the legs, and again it plays little part in understanding the life and teachings of Jesus.

(John 19:38-42)
Suddenly a new personage, Joseph of Arimathea, reported by all four gospels, but never heard of again, in Acts of the Apostles, or in any other where, begs Jesus' body from Pilate, and buries it in his own newly made tomb. John fails to mention that the tomb was Joseph's, but says that it was in a garden near the place of the crucifixion. But now the impossible timetable, found in all four gospels, becomes too apparent: the wrapping of the body, and laying it in the tomb, are all accomplished before sundown, after which the Sabbath had begun and such labor could not be performed, least of all by someone who was a "councillor", that is, a member of the Sanhedrin. (I hope that he voted against the execution of Jesus!) According to this impossible timetable, Jesus was arrested on the night before Passover, and tried before the Jewish authorities at night in violation of Jewish law; no two witnesses agreed, so that no sentence could have been valid; then he was tried before Pilate the next morning (I guess). Luke inserts a visit to Herod, and return, although no possible schedule for that can be conceived; he was flogged and carried his cross to Golgotha (or Simon did) by noon (according to the Synoptics) or starting at noon (according to John); and he was dead and buried by sundown. Now I don't know about you; but it is hard for me to believe that all of this happened in less than 24 hours, so that the legendary, fragmentary, and almost imagined nature of these reports is all too evident. So 1 don't trust John's account, and I don't trust the Synoptics either; but the latter have proven themselves to be more reliable in general regarding Jesus' words and actions. That Jesus was executed for opposing the establishment, by crucifixion which was usual for political criminals, is more than probable; but how much is truth and how much is legend and fancy is impossible to sort out, although it is surely based on some fact. Pilate in his own reports makes no mention of either the trial or the execution.

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