The Last Week: Chapter 7, Saturday

After detailing every day from Sunday through Friday of Holy Week, Mark says nothing at all about the sabbath (Saturday).

He notes that Jesus was crucified and buried on “the day of Preparation, that is, the day before the sabbath.” (15:42) Then he picks up the story on Easter Sunday with the finding of the empty tomb.

The event — “he descended into hell” — mentioned in the Apostle’s Creed but omitted in the Nicene Creed is known as the “descent into hell” or the “harrowing of hell.” (page 127)

“Harrowing” is an Old English word for “robbing” and “hell” is not the later Christian place of eternal punishment, but the Jewish Sheol or the Greek Hades, the afterlife place of nonexistence.

God’s Justice And The Vindication Of The Persecuted Ones

  • Mark and the other evangelists were working within a Jewish tradition that had always emphasized how God vindicated those righteous Jews who remained faithful under persecution and were ready, if necessary, to die as martyrs for their faith in God. (page 128)
  • Two models of divine vindication: before or after their death.
  • The classic example of the first model of divine vindication, or salvation at the last minute before death under persecution, is the story of Daniel in the lion’s den. (Daniel 5:1-6:28)
  • The first model is helpful for faithful Jews facing ridicule or discrimination, but how would they help them in situations of lethal persecution when God did not intervene and they died as martyrs? (page 129)
  • The second model of divine vindication, or salvation but only after death, appears in Wisdom 2-5, a book written shortly before the time of Jesus and now part of the Apocrypha of the Christian Bible. (page 129)
  • It is, of course, that second model that is presumed behind the gospel stories of Jesus’s execution and vindication. That is quite clear in Mark’s account.
  • Jesus’s vindication was “in accordance with the scriptures” for all those who knew their tradition’s second model.

God’s Justice And The Bodily Resurrection Of The Dead

  • If, as in the biblical tradition, your faith tells you that this world belongs to and is ruled by a just divinity and your experience tells you that the world belongs to and is ruled by an unjust humanity, utopia or eschatology becomes almost inevitable as the reconciliation of faith and experience. (page 130)
  • “Eschatology is absolutely not about the end of this time-space world, but rather about the end of this time-place world’s subjection to evil and impurity, injustice, violence, and oppression. It is not about the evacuation of earth for God’s heaven, but about the divine transfiguration of God’s earth. It is not about the destruction, but about the transfiguration of God’s world here below.” (page 131)
  • How did the claim of a general bodily resurrection, surely the most counter intuitive idea imaginable, become part of that utopian scenario of cosmic transfiguration at least within some — for example, Pharisaic — strands of Judaism?
  • The general reason was because the renewal of an all-good creation here below upon this earth demanded it. How could you have a renewed creation without renewed bodies? (page 132)
  • The specific reason bodily-resurrection became part of the utopian scenario was the problem of martyrdom during the Seleucid persecution of homeland Jews in the 160s BCE. The question was not about their survival, but about God’s justice when faced specifically with the battered, tortured, and executed bodies of martyrs. (page 132) See Daniel 12:2-3 and 2 Maccabees 7:9-11
  • If you believed, as Jesus said and Mark wrote, that the kingdom of God was already here upon the earth, you were claiming that God’s Great Cleanup had already started. And if you believed that the first act of God’s Great Cleanup of the earth was the general bodily resurrection and the vindication of all the persecuted and righteous ones, then for Christian Jews, the general resurrection could indeed begin with Jesus, but Jesus’s resurrection would only be along with and at the head of those other Jews who had died unjustly or at least righteously before him.

Jesus’s Resurrection And The Resurrection Of The Righteous Ones

  • Jesus descended into hell, or Hades or Sheol, to liberate all the righteous ones who had lived for justice and died from injustice before he himself had lived and died a similar destiny. (page 133)
  • Borg and Crossan look at this tradition in story, hymn, image, and finally silence.
  • In Story
    • Compare Mark 15:37-39 with Matthew 27:50-54 (page 134)
    • Why did Matthew add those portions to Mark and what do they mean?
    • Matthew uses a very significant term. He describes the resurrection of the saints “who had fallen asleep” (Greek kekoime-meno-n). And that is the standard way of describing the righteous ones who died before Jesus — they are not so much dead as sleeping and awaiting resurrection for their suffering and tortured or executed bodies. See 1 Corinthians 15:20
    • Gospel of Peter. It’s account of the resurrection is unique in that it actually describes the event itself as actually seen by Jewish authorities and Roman guards at the tomb. (page 136)
  • In Hymn
    • If the harrowing of hell fits with great difficulty into a narrative sequence, it fits with moving beauty into the poetic language of hymn and chant.
    • 1 Peter 3:18-19; 4:6
    • The Odes of Solomon, a collection of Christian hymns from the end of the first century. (page 137)
  • In Image
    • It is standard in the iconography of Greek Orthodox Christianity to depict the resurrection of Jesus not as that of an isolated individual but as that of a group in which Jesus is the liberator and leader of the holy ones who slept in Hades awaiting his advent.
    • St. Sargius Church in Old Cairo (page 138)
    • Chora Church in Istanbul (page 139)
  • In Silence
    • Jesus’s harrowing of hell may be present in some other places in the New Testament, but those possibilities are very much debated. It is sometimes asserted that it is a late and post-New Testament piece of theology.
    • Borg and Crossan say that Matthew 27:51-53 is less an example than an epitaph for the harrowing of hell tradition.
    • It seems rather that it was early and leaving as the New Testament was being written rather than late and arriving after its creation. (page 140)
    • First, the harrowing of hell is an intensely Jewish Christian tradition.
    • Second, the harrowing of hell is also intensely mythological.
    • Third, the harrowing of hell could not fit easily into any sequence as the ending of a gospel narrative. How could Jesus arise at the head of the martyred and righteous ones and then appear to his disciples to give them their apostolic mandate?
    • Fourth, there is a somewhat complicated dogmatic problem. If Christians had to be baptized in order to enter heaven, did those holy ones who Jesus liberated from Hades enter heaven without baptism?
    • “For those four reasons and especially in view of dogmatic problems like the last one, the harrowing of hell tradition was necessarily lost to the gospel story, but not of course to the wider Christian tradition, especially to Christian poetry and art, hymn and image.” (page 141)

Kingdom of God, Son of Man, And Bodily Resurrection

  • For Mark the kingdom of God is already here because the Son of Man is already present. (page 142)
  • Recall was said about Jesus as the Son of Man in Mark when discussing the trial of Jesus on Thursday, in Chapter 5. Mark insists that Jesus is the Son of Man from Daniel 7:13-14
  • For Mark, therefore, Jesus as Son of Man has been given the anti-imperial kingdom of God to bring to earth for God’s people, for all those willing to enter it or take it upon themselves. (page 143)
  • The three claims, about the kingdom of God as already begun through Jesus, the Son of Man as already arrived in Jesus, and the general bodily resurrection as already started with Jesus, intertwine with one another, serve to interpret one another, and, taken together, reveal the heart of Mark’s theology.
  • If God’s Great Cleanup, God’s Eastertide Spring Cleaning of the world, had already begun, then it was a collaborative effort.
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