Friday, September 10, 2004

Ancient Narratives of Crucifixion

It is encouraging that the E-Lists still have the ability to generate lively and intelligent discussion and so to help out with one's research. I've been working on the crucifixion narrative in Mark for the short term goal of an SBL Mark Group paper in November and the longer term goal of my book on the Passion Narrative. I began wondering when re-reading Mark's Passion Narrative recently whether this might be not only the first extant ancient narrative of the crucifixion of Jesus but also the first extant ancient narrative of any crucified hero. Members of the Xtalk list have provided many useful thoughts, references and further avenues to chase down, and the thread was generating responses last night at an enjoyably rapid rate.

The gist of my query is that we do not think enough about the challenge that Mark was facing in his attempt to construct the first narrative a crucified hero. How does one turn the instinctive shame and revulsion that the ancients felt concerning the very idea to a proclamation of good news? We have some idea of what might have been considered an honourable death, e.g. that which Florus (Epitome 2.8) reports for Spartacus, "Spartacus himself fell, as became a general, fighting most bravely in the front rank". Likewise, Spartacus gets depicted as dying fighting with his army. Jesus, on the other hand, dies abandoned and alone, his followers having fled. Now there are only some women watching from afar off. It is this utterly abject, lonely, shameful death, characterised by an eery silence, which provides the invitation to Mark to scripturalize the tradition, and thus to construct the first narrative of crucifixion by subverting the readers' expectations, to say that here, where you would least expect it, honour, glory and vindication are found.

The thread has thrown up several interesting thoughts and suggestions, Peter Kirby notes that though not exactly "crucifixion", the binding of Prometheus comes to mind.

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