History Prophesied or Prophecy Historicized?

We’ve just seen one story of Jesus’ crucifixion, together with a psalm which seems to parallel it. Indeed, Jesus is evidently refering to that very psalm from the cross. (Quoting the first line of a familiar passage often means that the speaker recited the entire text.)

The other two synoptic gospels (Matthew, Luke) seem to have taken their story either directly from here or from the same source. And John, often differing wildly from the synoptics, is very close in this passage.

Was there in fact any of Jesus’ followers at hand to witness the crucifixion? Showing a sympathetic interest in someone being executed as a rebel against Roman authority could be hazardous to one’s immediate survival. The male disciples are supposed to be generally in hiding about now, even according to the gospels, and this is certainly no safe place for a woman. Possible, but not likely.

Would they be close enough to hear a man, exhausted and struggling for each breath, recite a psalm?

It seems very likely here that one of Jesus’ followers remembered/found that psalm, saw things in the closing lines very close to the significance of Jesus’ death as they understood it–and concluded that the psalm must be about Jesus. And therefore they took their account of the event from the psalm.

The dividing & casting lots for his clothes is the clearest example. For people to divide the wardrobe and cast lots for the garments of a warrior-chieftain like David on one of those bad days when he was on the run–that sounds very likely. To divide the one suit of clothes that a man had on his back while he was arrested, manhandled and beaten?

The other details are more plausible, if only Romans and Jews friendly to Rome were likely to be around. But the language is awfully close…

Did the gospel writers really work this way? Certainly, at least once. Where Zechariah has the King enter Jerusalem, “humble and riding on an ass, on a colt the foal of an ass.”

“Matthew,” apparently unaware that this is a poetic repetition, has Jesus enter Jerusalem riding two animals, sitting on a cloth draped between them. It sounds extremely awkward.

A fraudulent procedure? No, merely the result of a strong belief that whatever really happened must have matched scripture as they understood it.

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2 responses

  1. On his blog, Brent Bill just quoted from the 1959 edition of Christian Faith and Practice: “that God is not alone the God of things as they are but the God of things as they are meant to be.”Karen Armstrong calls the imagination the religious faculty. I like that. If so, does that make God our imaginary Friend? No, it implies we can only imagine what and who God is, and what it will be like when we really understand and live in (and also die into?) the Kingdom of Heaven.Which is what Matthew was writing about.– Chris M.

  2. Shelly called imagination ~ “the great instrument of the moral good,” but he wasn’t talking about making up whatever we’d like to throw together, ie sloppy art. He was talking about the accurate imagination, the ability to construct a true picture of how things which we’ve never experienced would be in actuality.If God is God at all, he is the God who is–and hence the God of things as they precisely are. “How they are meant to be” may be a goal, but the tension between that ‘meant to be’ event and the one that ‘is’… is like the difference between conceptual art & the actual messy, difficult, stubborn object an artist struggles to make.As ancient Greek astronomers believed that planets could only move in ideal circles, “Matthew” believed that whatever God was doing, had done, or would do was necessarily in accord with his scriptures as Matthew understood them. Most people don’t think that way anymore.People read these stories and reason intricately from their details, attempting to work out what really happened. It matters to us. Knowing does not evidently make any difference to “our Salvation” but there was a message to us in that life, and we’d like to get it right!I don’t expect to completely “understand” God but I am certainly not limited to “imagining” him, in either sense of the word. We have intuitions, of what fits and what does not. & Himself is available for further information.

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