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A Rational Look at Christianity; Basing Reason in Truth

Please see here for Round Three material (and links tracing all the way back to Round One).


We’re now down three out of five pieces of speculative innuendo (or as Bishop Spong calls them, “easily identifiable, documentable facts”); we’re at the next to last one now.

“The fourth reason for my suspicion is that the story of the act of betrayal is set very dramatically at midnight.”

And there’s number four.


I’ll try to make it better by quoting the full extent of his argument on this point.

“It is just too neat a detail to have what the gospel writers believed was the darkest deed in human history occur at the darkest moment of the night. That looks more like a liturgical drama than it does a fact of history.”

That’s it. The end.


Apparently he thinks we won’t remember (or maybe he himself doesn’t remember) what he himself stated, not three minutes ago (when he was desperately trying to make GosLuke details look like legendary accretion): that the Sanhedrin could have followed Jesus back to homebase and snapped Him up then “apart from the crowds”. Well, not really apart from the crowds (although Bishop Spong thought so), but the point was that this could have plausibly happened anytime (he thought)--so long as it was at night. Why? Because crowds wouldn’t be around then (in the limited way Bishop Spong is thinking about.)

So the first (too overly) simple detail in favor of a plausible arrest scenario, was an arrest at night--back when this looked like a way to make an explanation supposedly introduced in GosLuke (except it had been used in both the other Synoptics, too) look “weak” as an “excuse”. But now an arrest at night is too neat a dramatic detail to be historically plausible.


But what about at mid-night? Isn’t that “too dramatic”? Wouldn’t any other time of night be less dramatic and more plausibly historical?

Well, the later it gets the less plausibly historical it’s going to be--if mere timing is the only cultural consideration in view. (Which obviously it is for Bishop Spong here.) But maybe midnight is also the earliest time that people would be off the streets in bed and also not so late that an arresting mob would be too sleepy to be effective.

But this is still ignoring story contexts, as well as cultural contexts. The story is being presented in the texts as a historical event. (And not in the form of liturgical drama or doctrinal kerygma, by the way.) So, what could we be expecting to be happening the night before Passover? And does that fit the data stereoscopically?

As it happens, at midnight the crowds would be rocking at a major celebration at the Temple as the culmination of the evening’s festivities, where the chief priests and religious authorities (or most of them) would have to be in attendance. After this, everyone would be going to bed. Until then, they’re up late partying in the streets (or in the case of the chief priests, preparing for the midnight ceremony.)

Remember, this isn’t the night that the quiet and private seder services would normally be done. Which is why Jesus, holding such a service one night early, would look super-scary weird to people who are worried about this guy starting a rebellion against Rome after all: rabbis are allowed to do that in an emergency situation when they think they won’t be able to do it the following day, such as when they’re expecting a major battle. A precedent most popularly known, and praised and appreciated, from the Maccabean rebellion.

Any relatively quiet arrest, in other words, not to say an ad hoc preliminary inquiry (before a formal trial at dawn the next morning), would have to wait until after midnight--or until a little before midnight (for reasons that should already be obvious but which I’ll explain presently.)


Ah ha! So the texts are inaccurate after all! Because they say it happened at midnight, which would be--!

Which would be pretty danged overpicky if the arresting party was dispatched just after midnight to bring Jesus to a compound. Or if the arresting party was dispatched just after the final ceremonies that night had started (i.e. the time when they could be sure most people were distracted) and the ad hoc inquiry didn’t get started until a little after midnight (when the priests were free to move around). These people don’t have clocks, and even roosters have to guess.

In point of fact, the arrest and informal inquiry time happens more-or-less when it makes the most sense for people in a rush to catch Jesus, but who are worried about riots (and worried Jesus already is gathering troops), to snag Him--keeping in mind what would historically be happening that night in other regards. Caiaphas can’t come himself, so he sends his servant as authoritative representative (a detail of all four texts); but some of the chiefs could plausibly slip away to keep tabs on the arrest (as mentioned in some of the texts). Annas and Caiaphas live in the same compound (Caiaphas is his son-in-law, and Annas is the reason Cai has the chief priest position at all); it isn’t implausible for Annas to have a preliminary meeting with Jesus while waiting for enough other leaders to arrive to have fair representation, pro and con, in an informal hearing. A rooster would have crowed the first time that night, sometime during all this.

(As a sidenote: roosters, at least in the Middle East, have a habit of crowing twice during the night, once near midnight. The detail of a rooster crowing first at the end of Mark 14:68 is a late textual addition, but it’s accurate to the setting: the inquiry would most plausibly start around midnight; and they would be taking Jesus to the Temple for the formal trial and sentencing at the earliest possible legal moment, dawn--when the rooster crows again. While the first crowing is a late textual addition, the prediction of two crowings is a stable and uniquely Markan detail; also uniquely accurate to the setting in an understated way. The other three Gospels only mention the rooster that dramatically matters the most, in prediction and in fulfillment: the one at dawn, at the completion of the denials.)

The background, which anyone seriously looking into the matter ought to be able to find details on, makes sense of the odd details of the textual characteristics; which, in turn, aren’t going out of their way to spell out why the details are happening this way. That kind of unstated background interlocking is a good mark of underlying historicity in the source material for the disparate texts.


All of which is aside from the fact that not even one text says the act of betrayal happened AT MIDNIGHT!!

Where is Bishop Spong getting that detail from? He doesn’t bother to say. It can be kind of roughly guessed from the details of the texts, true; but “very dramatic” “liturgical dramas” don’t typically leave such a mythopoeic detail, if it’s supposed to be so thematically important, to kind-of-roughly-guessing. Heck, GosJohn, supposedly the latest and most ‘developed’ of the stories (on Bishop Spong’s legendary development theory), doesn’t even mention Jesus waiting in Gethsemene for some protracted period of time before the arresting party shows up! As far as it’s concerned, the arrest might have happened at 8:00!


But doesn’t Jesus Himself call this the hour of the power of darkness?

Not in GosJohn: there’s nothing even remotely like that there. Not in GosMark: ditto. Not in GosMatt: ditto. (Quite a lot of legendary development not going on again here, hm?)

GosLuke 22:53b is the only place this concept comes from; and it reads “but this hour and the power of darkness are yours.” Or more literally “this is your hour and power of darkness.” Either way, the hour belongs to the arrestors; and the power of darkness belongs to the arrestors.

It’s certainly a dramatic statement; one similar to Matt 26:45 and Mark 14:41. “Behold, the hour is at hand”; “The hour has come”. The hour of midnight? No, Jesus is talking in a generally dramatic way about the event of the betrayal and arrest occurring, not in a literal way about the timing of the event. One of the authors could have similarly said (though they didn’t), “in that very hour, Jesus was arrested and given up into the hands of sinners”. (GosMatt’s statement from Jesus is closest to this form of description.) True, as a historical plausibility this is most likely happening around midnight; but Jesus isn't presented in any Gospel (even GosLuke) as making any big deal about the importance of that specific hour.

(Granted, later liturgical dramas etc. may make a big deal out of it. But Bishop Spong is supposed to be assessing the textual data, not later liturgical dramas or 20th century Southern Baptist Passion musicals or whatever.)


Moreover, who does Jesus say this to, in GosLuke? Surely, it must have been to Judas Iscariot, right? I mean, that’s Bishop Spong’s whole point: he’s suspicious of the man’s entire existence, much moreso his role as a traitor, based on what this detail says about Iscariot, right?

Uh, no. GosLuke has Jesus saying this specifically to the chief priests and officers of the Temple and elders who had come out against Him. Not at all to Judas. Iscariot’s last contribution to the story in Lukan material (until the Petrine/Lukan hindsight recap of till-then-unheard-of-material, near the beginning of Acts--which doesn't mention the hour of the betrayal, by the way) happened a few verses previously when he tried to kiss Jesus.

(And GosLuke isn’t overly clear whether he even succeeded in that! And in GosJohn, supposedly the next ‘stage’ of ‘development’ of Iscariot, Judas doesn’t even get to do that much!)


So, to recap: the “easily identifiable, documentable fact” is that all four texts say the arrest happened at night sometime. Three of the texts very roughly and far from specifically indicate it happened around midnight, maybe: Jesus is in Gethsemene for several hours at night, and there’s still time for a protracted informal hearing before dawn. The fourth text (the latest one on Bishop Spong’s reckoning) doesn’t even give that much of a clue, other than it was night and the arresting party needed torches. If someone really digs into the historical contexts, and dovetails those with various story details and character motivations, the arrest makes the most historical sense as having happened shortly before midnight. But, while this might be a good historical inference, it’s far from being an easily identifiable, documentable fact. Nor does the timing of the arrest have anything at all to do with Judas Iscariot per se. (Other than he was with the arresting party. At night. Sometime. Sometime around midnight as a historically most plausible guess.)

The suspicious innuendo, on the other hand, is that the (supposed) textual detail of an arrest “at midnight” feels too strongly and dramatically perfect for Judas Iscariot to be a traitor or even a real person. (Yes, read that sentence again. This is what Bishop Spong wants his readers to consider for rational acceptance. I have reprinted the total extent of his commentary on this point, above, for comparison.) It feels more like liturgical drama instead. Doesn’t it? Doesn’t it!!? Right, so, moving quickly along then, now that that “easily documentable fact” is established...


[Next time, the beginning of Round Five: wasn’t this evidential set and argument supposed to be establishing Iscariot as a fictional invention for the purpose of creating and developing “anti-Semitic” bias among Jewish Christians? Oh, right... better include something about “anti-Semitism” somewhere then...]

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Just for the record Jason, Matthew's Gospel presents Jesus as speaking five great discourses on five mountains. This fits the theme of Jesus being the new Moses in that gospel. Do you actually think Jesus spoke these five discourses on five mountains? Few scholars do. These details are dramatic effects related to the theme. So I share Spong's suspicions here.

I'm a little fuzzy on why this observation, even if true in regard to one text, is supposed to be grounds for ignoring the actual textual details (and sometimes the lack thereof even though claimed by Bishop Spong), plus the tacit interlocking with unstated background information, in the timing of Jesus' arrest across all the texts--which is the point under examination here.

JRP

Meanwhile, in case readers don't know: the five great discourses on five mountains presented in GosMatt are

1.) The Sermon on the Mount (5:1-8:1); which by the way I agree (from comparison with other texts) probably didn't happen on the mount but was conveniently positioned there by the author (though I wouldn't otherwise have reason for a mount sermon per se being historically implausible in itself);

2.) The Signs of Christ’s Return, and Warnings Against Christian Laziness and Uncharity (24:3-25:46); presented in GosMatt as one continuous discourse, takes place on the Mount of Olives the night after Christ leaves the Temple for the final time.

and... um... hm.

I’ll have to get back with you on the other three.

JRP

Options for the other three “great discourses on a mountain” scenes in GosMatt.

Satan tempting Jesus on a high mountain? (4:1-11) A great scene, but hardly a "great discourse"--more like one brief exchange of dialogue--and only one part of the overall scene takes place on that “high mountain”. And not even the climactic part, in GosMatt!

The calling and instruction of the apostles? (10:1-42) Based on comparison with the other Synoptics, I’d say this happens on a mountain or hill (instead of the Sermon on the Mount, which as far as I can tell happens afterward down on the beach at the fisher-ton port near Capernaum the next day), and would certainly count as a “great discourse”. But GosMatt doesn’t say it happens on a mount.

The reassurance of John the Baptist (through his disciples) and Jesus’ rebuke and exhortation of the crowds afterward? (11:1-30) This is a more-or-less continuous discourse in GosMatt, but there is no indication it takes place on a mount.

The Unpardonable Sin and the Desire for Signs? (12:22-45)
The Teaching of Parables and Explanations? (13:1-53) One or (especially) both of these two blocks could be considered great discourses; but GosMatt doesn’t indicate either of them happened on a mount, and indeed explicitly says the second set happens on a beach.

The Feeding of the 5000? (14:14-23) It’s on a mountain, but GosMatt doesn’t even mention teaching there, much less report any. (Unlike in GosMark, which at least mentions teaching!)

The Feeding of the 4000? (15:29-39) Again, on a mountain; but again GosMatt doesn’t even mention teaching there, much less report any. (Though unlike GosMark he does call it a mountain.)

The Transfiguration? (17:1-13) Happens on a “high mountain”, but there is no great discourse (unless one counts Jesus saying “Arise and do not be afraid.” Or some brief comments from Him about them not telling anyone about this, as they’re coming down the mountain. An otherwise unreported discussion between Jesus and Moses and Elijah is mentioned, though.)

The Triumphant Entry? (21:1-11) Arrangements are made for this on the Mount of Olives, but the scene itself takes place in the valley leading up to Jerusalem, which isn’t described as being on a mount. Nor is there any teaching or great discourse done in either place.

The Final Teaching in the Temple? (21:23-39) Technically might be considered to take place on a mountain or hill (the Temple Mount), but GosMatt doesn’t make a point of saying so.

The Garden of Gethsemene? (26:36-46) Happens on the Mount of Olives, but there’s no great discourse (unless one counts Jesus briefly upbraiding His disciples for falling asleep as a “great discourse”).

The Arrest in Gethsemene? (26:47-56) Happens on the Mount of Olives, but there’s no great discourse (unless one counts Jesus briefly rebuking both His disciples and His arrestors.)

The Great Commission? (28:16-20) Happens on a Galilee mountain, but there’s no great discourse (unless one counts Jesus briefly giving the Great Commission). Nor is otherwise unreported teaching mentioned in GosMatt there.


So, which of these other Mount scenes (with little or no discourse) and/or teaching/discourse scenes (with no mentioned mountain or hill as the setting) was Bishop Spong including in his “five great discourses on five mountains” list? Or did he have one of the other smaller Matthean discourse blocks in mind that also aren't presented on a mountain?


(I’m going to hazard a guess that he’s including the brief exchange with Satan on a mountain, the unreported discussion between Jesus and the prophets during the Transfiguration, and the Great Commission’s brief instruction, as the other three “great discourse” scenes. The Transfiguration scene even has the advantage of having Moses himself on the scene, whereas Jesus quotes Moses from Deuteronomy in the bracketing scenes of the temptation, if not actually during the exchange with Satan on the mountain. Am I close?)


JRP

Opps! My mistake: GosMatt is indeed the version of the temptation that ends on the mountain; and Jesus does indeed quote Deuteronomy there.

So that brief exchange with Satan on a mountain at the end of a scene might count as a "Great Discourse", I suppose. (By someone really stretching to get set of Great Discourses On Mountains out of GosMatt. {g})

JRP

Jason: Have you never learned not to discourse with Loftus?

As he so often seems to work by trusting others conclusions when it suits him or jumping to his own, it tends to end with others having to do the homework.

In short a constant source of amusement and anoyment.

But I enjoy your homework!

I was bored working on a statistical analysis project. {g} (For which I still have probably another month to go... sigh...)

Plus, I like odd theories. This one was small enough that I could spend time on it without having to write a whole book.


Amusing sidenote: I always mix up which Gospel ends with the mount scene and which with the temple-wing scene. Never fails. I was pondering yesterday why, after all these years, I still always mix those two up.

Eventually, I figured out why: I had been taught since I was very young that GosLuke follows GosMatt and builds from GosMatt in a developing way; and the mount temptation makes the most dramatic oomph, since it's for the "whole enchilada" (plus Jesus, in many translations, looks like He's telling Satan to go away--so why is Satan still around afterward in the other temptation account?)

So, since the temptation couldn't have happened in both orders (or twice, in two different orders--the scenes are very obviously the same scenes in different orders), one author had to have switched the received version around for some purpose. Dramatic purpose makes the most immediately intuitive sense. And GosLuke follows GosMatt, right? RIGHT!!? So, obviously, the version that ends on the mountain must be in GosLuke. QED.

{lol!}

From checking around in my head, I guarantee this is why I always mix the two up. Ironically, it's another case where the popular idea of 'developmental' construction of the Gospels falls apart under close scrutiny. But the concept is still so wired into my head, that I still get it messed up, even after having worked on a technical harmonization, where you'd've thought that I would have flushed that concept from my system (at least in regard to the two Temptation narratives) once and for all. Nope: obviously, it's still there. Yeesh... {hugely amused self-critical g}

It's the one place I didn't bother to directly look up when writing that comment, too. Why should I? I 'remembered' the correct data so clearly, so why bother? Yeah, so clearly that it continues to blot out the actual textual facts of the situation after all these years. sigh.


If readers don't learn any caution from the numerous and manifest follies of Bishop Spong, here, at least learn caution from my own example--providentially provided. {s!}

JRP

I will add, that completely aside from which Gospel came first or was using the other as source material, since there was clearly some alteration by one of them in the received order of events, from a text-critical standpoint the alteration is probably GosMatt's (putting the whole enchilada temptation last) not GosLuke's: it makes the most obvious sense, so the other order was (as the more difficult order) probably the original order.

(Which is how I put it in my harmonization here. With an educated guess as to why and how this would make more sense than the more simplistically obvious "dramatic" ending.)

JRP

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