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formerly the joumdl for the Study of the New Tf·stnmem Supplement serit>s

Mark Goodacre

Editorial Board
John 1\,t. G. Bard a)•, Craig Blomberg, R. Alan Culpepper. j aml'S D. G. Dunn,
CraiB A. Evans. Slephc n Fowl. Robert Fowler, Simon J. Gathcrcolc.
Jo h n S. Kloppcnborg, Michael Labahn, Robcn \.Vall, Stcvt" Walton.
Robcn L. Webb, Catrin H. Williams
This page intemiollai(J' hifi bla11k

Ritual Elements in Mark's Passion Narrative


1&. I clark
Copyright 1\:) Nicole Wilkinson Duran, 2008

Published by T&T Ciarlt

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Nicole Wilkinson Duran has asserted her right under the Copyright, Designs
and Patents Act. 1988, to be identified as the Author or this work

British Library Cataloguing-in-Publication Data

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ISBN-10: HB: 0-567.03306-6

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A.bbrel iations
1 VI


CJ.JAJ~rt:R 2 0 Jf'H! REN1'1Ai'tON: M ARKt No Rn·uAL. SeEJNo SACftl f"JCE 24

CJ.JAJ"'I'tiR 3 Ret•errnoN 1N U NlfEJ•SATt.u TIME 55

CHAI>l't:R 4 SmtS'J"I1 u·rtoN t N Fe:,1'1VAL, SAcRJf' JC£ ANU S·roRY 77

CJ.JAJ~rt:R 5 ' Lr:.T nu: 0:-m \VHo UNOERS"'.ANOs. UNOERS'l'ANu· 99

Bib/iogniphy 124

Index 131

<:c Common Era

JAAR Journal of the Amcrit'llll Amdemy of Religion
JBL Joumal of Biblic-al Literature
NRSV New Revised Standard Ve.rsion
SBL Society of Bibli~-11 Literature
SNTSMS Society for New T tosta menl Studies Monogra ph Series
Chapter I


Mouk's gospel is notoriously d ifficult to make sense o f. Students in

church a nd academic contexts o fte n find this gospel's brevity} its abrupt
ending, its rapid-fire. episodic pace. its thick-as-a-brick disciples and its
unexplained secrets s ufftcient reason to more o r less reject it. \\1hen the
more substantial. spacio us, and aesthetically pleasing houses that
Mallhew, Luke and John built are so close at hand. they a rgue, why
stay in Mark's cramped and ill<onstructed shed'! Fo rtunately for those
o f us who appreciate und advocate Murk's mysteries, scholarship has
long since declared Mark t he earliest o f t he fou r. and a source for
Matthew and Luke, if not for John as wel1. 1 Serious study of the fi rst
three g_ospels. at le.a st, will always po int us in M ~uk 's d irectio n, toward
the attempt to read its message for what it meant before Mollthew nnd
Luke rewro te it.
My own nttempt, t hen, sees Mark's most intractab le pro blems as
created by the contemporary western re.ade.r 's resista nce and inse.n sitiv-
ity to ritual. Dorninated and driven by a Protestant ~wersion to all things
sensory a nd scripted - an aversion that o ut-reforms even t he reformers
themselves - contempo ra ry schola rly a nd ecclesinl readings have ignored
o r rejected Mark's use of ritual elements a nd fa iled to see that this
a uthor constructs a story that p ulls towards lived expe rience, away from
ils own existence in words.
Since the 1980s. inte rest in the symbo lism oft he body has bee-n on the
rise. As feminist c ritics examined the constructions of gender in the
biblical texts. t hey inspired furt her work on the signiticance of the body,
a nd of what the texts express in their differing representation o f ma le
a nd fema le bodies. Postmodemism's critique that western culture had
been entirely too focuSt."d o n words to the exclusio n of experience brings
the biblical body to light as a conveyer o f meaning. Anthropologist

I am in !he: sC'ho1arly minority in hdicving thai John nlso edits Mnrk. only more fm:ly.
But that is the: subject for another book.
2 The Poll'er of Disorder

Mary Douglas's s tudy of the Hebrew purity system noted the links there
between t he social and the individual body and changed the way t hat
ma ny o f us understood biblical lnws.2 Recogn iz ing. that the biblical body
is often defined <llld shaped by ritual, Hebrew Bible scho la rs hip
produced several ground-breaking s tud ies t hat linked ritual practice to
the biblit'.al texts.3
Howard Eilberg--Schwa rtz. in particular, has a rgued with t remendous
clarity in Tlu: Sa1•age in Judaism that t he re-luctance to see rittwl t hinking
in the texts o f Judaism had been s haped by two main cultura l fo rces.
First of all._Pro testant, anti-Ca tholic prejudices ra n ag-.-inst rit ua l o f a ll
kinds. Secondly. Christian scholars often used Judaism as a his torical
buffer between C hristia nity and what t hey saw as primitive religio n.
Thus, scholarship had tended to e levate Judaism as e.thically oriented as
opposed to the primitive and rit ualistic character o f other religions~
while ma intaining that Christianity had gone beyond Judaism in ethic.s
and t heology.4 E.ilberg-Schwa.rtz went on in the same book to look at
circumcisio n with tools of analysis fro m anthropology; nssuming t hat
the ritual had the same kh1ds of co nnectio ns of body to kins hip a nd
patriliny that simih•r rituals had been shown to have in other c ultures.
Eilberg-Schwartz's \vork has found ma ny conversation p~utners
among Hebrew Bible sc.holars. Amo ng some very recent works in t he
Hebrew Bible, the re.a der inte rested in rituo:al ca n find Comrolliug
Corponmlity : The Bod)-' and the Household in Am·iem l.vrnel by Jon
Be.r quis t: Blood R itual in tlte Hltbrew Bib/~: .Meaning and Power by
William Gilders: Biblical lvloumiug: Ritual ami S ocial Dimensions by
Saul Olyan, a nd even an overview of the emerging discipline: Bridgtit~
the Gltp: Ritual and Ritual Texts in the Bible by Gera ld A. Klingbeil.
Truly. scho la rs hip involving ritua l a nd the body is some o f the most
e ng:ag;ing and rapid-fire co nversatio n in the field o f religious s tudies in
general, as church historians and Christian theologians join comparative
religion. history of religions. and anthropolosy of religion scho lurs in
explo ring the wealth of soc.ia l meaning in t he nets o f the humnn body.
This rus h o f interest in rit ual, however. has le ft New Testament

2 Mary Douglas. Purily tmd Dtmgt'•· (l ondon: Ark Pnpt:otbacks.. 1966}.

3 Jon 0. lc:\'COSOil. ne Demir Ulld Rt>.:JIIrrt'rl iml i!l thr Belcnwf Sfln (New Ha\'en: Yale
Uni\'trsity Press. 1993).
4 Howard Eilbcrg-Schwnrtz. ne Sarttgi' in Judaism (Bloomington and Indianapolis:
Indiana Uni''ersity Press. 1990).
5 Jon L Berquist. Cm11rolli11g C'orpoJWIIity (New Brunswid:. NJ: Rutg~·rs University
Pre~ 2002): Saul M. Ol~n. Bibliml Mm.~mil~~ (New York Oxford Univtrsity Press. 2004):
William K . Gilders.. Blootl Riwal ilt tile 1/ebrt'lr Bib!t' (Bahimorc:: Johns Hopkins Uni\'Crsity
Press.. 200-4-); Gcmld A. Klingbeil. Brkfgi11g the?GaJ' (Winonn l uke. IN: Eisc:nbrauns. 2007).
Imagining tlu: Passion as Riwal 3

studies virtually untouched. Jon D. Le\renson's Tltr Demh am/

Resurrection of the Belo~·t•d Son goes so fa r as to mention t he relevance
o f his insights for inte rp retation o f t he New Te-swment, a nd his
exploroltion of the ritual themes wit hin the He brew narrative to
have been tremendously suggestive for students o f New Testament
narrative; but in the fifteen years since its publication. analogous stud ies
o f the gospels have not been forthcoming. Despite the prominence o f
sacrificio-11 themes in nearly every book o f t he New Testament. critics
dealing with ritual elements of t he text have limited t hemselves to
historical inquiry into the earliest pmctices of baptism or eucha rist.
A lthough Nancy hy's book o n sacrifice and inheritance dealt with both
the sacrificial system of Leviticus and that o f the Roman Catholic
C hurch, she d id not allempt to apply her insights to New Testament
materials, nor have others taken her methods to t he gospels.6
There are. o f course. good reasons why New Testament scholars have
avoided looking at issues of ritual, sacrifice. and body in the gospels.
This kind of inquiry would req uire at least implied comparison with the
ritual. sacrificial practices o f other cu ltures a nd religions - modern or
a ncient o r both. But such compa rison is seen as dangero us. In the
history o f t he discip line. there have been in Nev..• Testament cdticism two
kinds o f comparative study o f t he gospels' Pas..~; i on stories. First o f all.
the Ancien t Eastern festivals o f t he New Yea r, seen as a far-
reaching pattern by hislory-of-religion schola rs. from time to time
emerg.ed in the \vorks o f those scho la rs as a nalo,gous to the Passion
story, in particular aspects or as a whole. Secondly, vnrious acts o f
sacrificial ritual remain a source o f comparison and struggle for
interpreters who fig ht o r follow the t remendously inltuential sacrificial
c.hristology of the Epistle to t he Hebrews. These lWO sets o f compar.itive
studies were no t unrelated - t he fac t that the fes tivals were seen as
involving sacrifice already connects the two - but they constitute d iverse
impulses within comparative interpretation of the Passion.
The first group of c.omparisons were bo rn a nd bred. lived and d ied
wit hin the ac-.tdemy. Involving t he study o f obsc.ure and defunct
languages and relig,ious traditions. the province o f Faustian schola rs,
such comparisons \vere largely understood by the laily only as
threatening to the sovereig.nty o f C hristian doctrine. But if the
comparisons of the Passion to ancient fes tivals threatened Ch ristian
doctrine, the comparisons lo ancient sacrifice were Christian doctrine.
That is. t he strictest Christian orthodoxy in the modern world has

6 Nancy Jay. n/((JUghmu Yilll~' GenrrtJiimiS Forew.r (Chicago: Univcrsily of Chicago

Press. 1991).
4 The Poll'er of Disorder

understood Jesus• death as a holy sa crifice. at o nce compam ble a nd

superior to o the r s.acrifices. particularly Jev.rish sacrifices. 1n short. there
is fo r Ch ristia n theology no mo re weigh ted moment in the g.ospels than
the death and resurrection o f Jesus. Comparison o f t his event to other
storied de-.aths, ritual or o therwise, has been treacherous g ro und for
scho lars. who risk accusntio ns of he resy o n t he o ne hand and of
dogmatism o n t he o ther.
In t he eo:arly years o f the tv.rentieth century. as I will d iscuss rno re fully
in Chapte r 4. scho la rs d id pick up on rit ua l <1spects o f the Passion sto ry
in Mark . o fte n relating it to the Roman festival o f the Satu rnalia o r t he
Ba bylonian festivals of Akitu and Zagmuk. Bo ldest of them a iL J. G .
Frazer no ted the similarities be tween these festivals and others.
including the Jewish festival o f Purim a nd o the rs througho ut the Near
East. Frazer postulates a genetic relationship between the festivals t hat
is impossible to prove a nd sometimes d ifticult to believe. But Frazer's
analysis. tlawed in te rms o f historica l method. is nevertheless intriguing.
as we will see in C hapter 4 of this book.
Tha t Frazer's e labo rate theories have holes has become a truism to
any who still remember him. Like many scho lars o f his era, Frazer
~1ccepted the undocume-nted accounts o f travellers and missio naries as
his raw mate rial, and these were as like ly to be fictio n as fact. He never to doubt any of the info rmatio n he receives from these sources~
but. as Mic.ltel Trouillo t notes o f the West in general, is ha ppy to accept
' the most fantastic-a l accounts' as fac t. \Vha t is mo re inte resting here is
tha t Frazer's ideas. together with the work of scholars like Alfred Loisy
and Paul \Vendland. rather than being revised in light o f ethnographica l
evidence a nd theoretical developments. have been more or less a ban-
doned. New Testament scholars rarely connect na rrative episodes fro m
the gospels to ritual in a ny way, certainly no t in so subtle a nd inte resting
a way as schola rs o f the Hebre\'l Bible have recently done with He brew
n~umtive. Although histo rically oriented gospe l scho l<us occasio nally
note the relevance of a ncient ritual practices to a particula r text. 7 a sense
that there are known rituals or fes tivals with rele\•ance for the Passion as
a who le has mo re or less d isappeared wit h the (in part well-deserved)
d iscred iting of the history o f religio n school. Indeed . as Gera ld Klingbeil
points out, 'there appears to be a disti nct bias in NT studie.s against
ritual. Rjt ua l is viewed as ·•dead," " legalistic." and connected to a type

7 Sc:c for c:xampk. Jennifer Maclean. 'Barnbb:t.S. the Scapegoat Ritu!1l. :111d the
Dc:\·dopml'll! of the: Passion N:trrtlli\'C.. 1/an-cwd Theologircli &ri£rtl' 100 (2007). pp. J.OC)-
34: On\·id Miller. ·em{'ilitl:ein: Playing the Mock G~•mc: Luke 22.6.~-64·. JBL 90 ( 1971).
p. 309.
Imagining tlu: Passion as Riwal 5

o f Judaism that was always confro nting t he. earthly ministry of Jesus
. .s
In fact. the most significant forays into the 1ittwl dimensions of the
New Testamen t in recent years have been from Rene Gir.t rd. o r those
who accept his p remises and expand on his arguments. But G irard is a
strang.e ally for New Testament readers interested in ritual, since Girard
views ritual sacrifice (the only kind of ritual that interests him) as
subterfuge. t he product of what he terms the ·scapegoating mechun-
ism'.9 Thus the vengeful a nd violent impulses of a given society are
projected upon a victim who is in fact arbitr~ry and d isposable: the
victim is destroyed and fu rther vio lence is averted. Those who have read
Shirley Jnckson's sho rt story, 'The Lottery'. will recognize t he theme: a
civilization's appa rent peace and order built upon a socially acceptable
murder. 10
There is plenty of truth in G irard's analysis. Certainly Americ-ans can
recognize in our nation's readiness to execute criminals and torture
supposed terro rists the kind o f expiatory sacrifice that Girard describes.
in which our society visualizes its sins embodied in d isposable peop le:
African Americ.~m men of little mea ns or Middle Eastern Muslims. at the
moment. The victim is seen as guihy nnd deserving death. Girard
ma intains. even though the group in fact has chosen the victim mo re or
Jess at r.tndom. The society must believe in t he victim's guilt in o rder for
the sacrifice of the scapegoat to do its magic. If t he society recognized
the victim as a scapegoat. the victim's death would more likely produce
sympathy and o utrage t ha n catharsis. Jesus' death in the gospels, then,
become.~ the unmasking o f an nncient, foundatjonal mecha nism, since it
is clear to readers of the g.ospels that Jesus has done no thing to deserve
death. He d ies - no t unlike the character Constance in the tilm The L({e
<~{ Dm1id Gate - precisely to expose t he injustice o f the scapegoating
Recognizing t hat the gospels do not una nimously or consistently see
the cross ns primarily an injustice, G ira rd ian Ro be rt Hamerton-Kelly
analyses Mar k for contrasting: strands of the text. His book. The Gospel
and tile Sal'l'cd. pits the liberating. gospel against what he c.a lls the

8 Klingbeil Bridgi11g tltt' GaJ•. p. 53.

9 RenC Girard. Vio!eJtN! ami tlu!' Strcrerl. trnns. Pauid: Greg.ory {lk•ltimore: Johns
Hopkins Uniwrs:ity Press. 1977).
10 The theme of primordial murder appears with such (ttqucncy in western scholarship
that it a mounts ton cuhuml my1h of origins. Cf. Sigmund Freud's TtJit>m a11d T(rboo. 1mns.
Jumcs Sl rachcy (~\-w York: W . W. Norton and Comp:1ny. 1950): and Emile Durkhcint's Tht?
Elt>J11-t!Jtlar.r Fonns of the Rt•ligitJIIS L]t>. trans. Knren Fidds (N~o"\V York: Free. Press. 1995).
6 The Poll'er of Disorder

sac-red. in a fascinatingly negative use o f t he term. 11 The sacred, by

Ha me.rton-Ke lly's definition. is made up of the ritual elemen ts t hat
constit ute G irard 's scapeg.oating mech<mism, elements that try to hide
or justify the violence of t he c ross, while t he gospel seeks to expose and
oppose t his vio lence as unnecesso.u y. Alo ng the way. Jesus is seen as
completely opposed to the temple by virt ue o f the te mple's programme
of sacrifice. This seems to be a fairly adept appropriation of G irard's
assumptio ns, since Girard's e ntire thesis moves towards the fina l
exposition of violence. an expositio n that he sees occurring. in
Chris tianity.
Raymund Schwager, on t he other hand . a lso a pplies G irard's
framework to the biblical text. but d itTe rs fro m Gira rd (perhaps not
intentionally) in seeing Jes us as actually an effective ato nement sacrifice,
a s opposed to a fa iled attempt to bring o tT a murder as such a sacrifice. 12
Ha merton-Ke lly. Schwager, and o ther G irard ian biblical S(.~h olars all
pnrtake , however. of the o tTe nsiveness of Girard 's ethnocentric a nd
triumpha list unders tanding of religion.u G irard sees the hislory of
relig;ion progressing. fro m ignora nce and c ruelty towards the ethica l
e nlightenment o f C hristian be.lief. For Hamerton-Kelly. moments of
rit ua l in Mark's gospel a re the unfortunately barba ric views o f t he
onllho r seeping into the gospel's greater truth. Although the gospel is
interpreted in rit ua l terms, rit ua l i L~ I f is seen as primitive. bnrba ric.
bloodthirsty - a nd as something ' the gospel' expressly despises. even
when t he gospels embrace it. As De He usch has no ted , G irard's theories
do no t gibe \\'ell with either the historical phe.n omena of religion o r with
the chronicles of his to ry itself. 14 For those who wish to see sacrifice as
bad and retrograde, Hyam Maccoby's idea that Judaism develo ped
from the materia l to the ethical unders tanding o f sacrifice and t hat
Ch ri s t i ~m i ty \Vas a throwback to the more primitive. material view
ma kes n great deo:tl mo re sense. •s It is sim ply d ifficult to understand a

II Robe-rt G. Homerton-Kd ly. The GoJpi!l und 1/le Sacrnl (Minn~a poli s.: Fartrcss Press.
12 Raymund Schwager. Must Tllert' Bot Scapeg«IIJ~ (Sa n Frnncisco: Harper and Row.
1987). p. 205: d . RcnC Gimrd. Sra;ll'g«ll (Baltimort": Johns Hopkjns Univcrsily Press. 1986).
p. 101.
13 cr. Jomcs G . Williams. Tirt> Biblt>. JlitJ!erlt'e tmd 1/Je Saan/(San Francisoo: Horpc-r.
14 Luc [)(' Hcus..-h. Sauijiri! in AjNm (Mancheste-r. UK: Manchester University I'T~'SS.
1985). 1). 16.
15 Hyom J..·lacooby, TlteSucrf'd £xerllli(llh~I· ( Ncw York: Thomes and Hudson. 1982).
Imagining tlu: Passion as Riwal 7

relig ion so wrapped up with an imag.e o f sal vi fie viole.nce. as condemning

the idea that violence c-.m be salvific. 16
G irard's ideas pa rtake of ninetee-n t h-century attempts to disconnect
true (ethical, rational) Ch ristianity from the uninformed , supe rstitious
practice o f Christianity or any other religio n; both the nineteenth -
c.entury theories o f J. G. Frazer a nd those of G irard suffer fro m the late
twentieth-centu ry's disembO\velment of the idea o f progr ess. a ca sualty
o f the \vorld wars for most weste rners. t ho ugh clearly not fo r G irard. 17
Rela ted to the prior fa it h in progress is the understand ing: o f rit ua l as a
syrnpto m o f ignor;m ce and a legitimatio n of violence. Ritual and myth
fo r Frazer were simply evidence of the lack that modern science came to
fill; they were early attempts to gra pple ''~th issues too big fo r the
intellectua l tools o f primitive times, the trial and erro r by which science
gnldua lly. thankfully, came to be.
For G irard rit ua l prac tices have been superseded by the advances o f
civilization. althoug h in his case it is no t scientific understa nding, but the
development of j urisprudence that constitutes this forwo.trd movement .
Sacrificial rillHll. according to Girard, was a c rude effo rt to curta il the
cycle o f vengeance and accompanying socia l chaos set off by murder, a n
effo rt made o bsolete by the ad\'ent of j udicial systems. T hus, he is led to
s uch no nsensical conclusio ns as that t he practice o f sactifice 'languished '
in the Greek a nd Roman empires - news to most scholars - because
systems o f justice stole its thunder. 1s Ancient Israel, which had a leg<ll
a nd judici~ll system and a n e laborate syste m of sacri11ce. is never
mentio ned by Girard in this connection. Historical and religious d ata
rarely interrupt the smooth How from G ir.trd's preco nceptio ns abo ut
cultural progress to his conclusions.
Both Frazer and G imrd see myths as related to ritual in t ha t the
former often reveals the ea rly. histo rical practice o f t he latter. Girard
follows nineteenth-century thoug_ht on this as so many o ther issues,
ma intaining in fact that a story like that o f Oedipus Rex hides and
just ifies a histo rica l sa crilk ia l p ractice. 19 Thus Frazer sees the Passion
story (apparently ha rmonized from all four gospels), as reve-<-lling a

16 On the centrality of redemptive violence to the New Test:um~nt. sec sp.xitic-ully su(.·h
affirmations :Ls Puu1's resolve ' to know no1hing among you cxttpl Jesus Christ. and him
crucilled' ( I Cor. 2.2) and The Epis1k to the Hebrews· plain nsscnion thnt •withoul the
shedding of blood !hcn:- is no forgiveness of sins· (Hcb. 9.21). tunong many others.
17 0 1her parts of the worid never had an opportunity to doob1 thtll the West continued
to be cap<1blc of ignomnoc. cruelty. a nd bloodthirst. among ot h~~r supposedly primiti\'e
qualities. If Nazism proved to the West th<~ t tcdmol ogicnl sophistication wus compatible with
raw c\·il. it wns a lesson we taught ourscl\'es lust.
IS Girard. Violmre mulllut Sacred. p. 18.
19 Girurd. Smpego((t. p. 25.
8 The Poll'er of Disorder

historical celebration o f Purim (one thnt involved huma n sacrifice)~

while Girard and his followe rs in biblicnl scholarship are concerned with
sift ing. out the real. historic-a l execution of Je-sus behind the Passion
accounts. as distinct fro m a ll atte mpts to port ray the event as a sacrifice.
Frazer's ideas \\•ere d ro pped abrupt ly whe n the history-of-religion
school came to seem too broad in its conclusions and too d ilettante in its
research. Girard's work, o n t he o ther hand. emerging a century later
with a psychologic-.tlflite rary bent, lives on, perhaps Jarg.ely because.
where ritual c riticism of the New Testament is concerned. it has so few
competi to rs.

Mark's Passion as HistOI'Y mul Literature: C/wos and Cohe,.ence

If schola rs hip, with t he exceptio n of the Girardinns. has not seen fit to
examine the rit ua l elements o f ~'l a rk 's Passion narrative. hmv ho1s t he
Pas..~; i on narrative been e xamined? Until recent l y~ a n attraction to t he
historicity of the events that Mark describes shaped scholarship on t he
Passion. Since Mark has been accepted <l S the ea rliest gospel. scholars
hungry for a glimpse of t he life a nd times of the historical Jesus have
made Mark. together with the e lusive Q~ their focus. This is especially
true of t he Passion narmtive, where both the religious and the political
conce rns of the gospel come to the fore, and whic.h consequent ly holds
for scho lars t he promise o f revealing: the particular religio n a nd politics
of Jesus. Redaction c1iticism. while it still an important part of its
task as the separation o f Mark's perspective from his sources. began to
see that perspective as something: more than a sort of disposable
wrapper fo r t he sources.10 This interest in Mark's shaping o f t he sto ry
ho1s developed with t he growth o f literary met hods of a nalysis.
Rec.o gnitio n that Ma rk is not merely a collector o r a reporter of events
has been ma ndato ry for c riticism of the gospel since William \Vrede
noted Mark's interest in the secret o f Jesus' messia hship . lnt~reasi ng:l y ~
the author is seen as a creator and the gospel as a work of the
imaginatio n.
Yet biblic--'1 scho la rs hip's sus picion of the imagi na tive. a rtistic facets
of writing persists. If Mark uses creative powers. he does so in t he
service of a t heological point: if the gospel is a mbiguous and o bscure.
there is a point to t hat as well. If the d isciples never see the risen Jes us.
never really understand his dea th or his mission. their incomp rehe nsion
is fo r the purpose..~ of o ur understanding. Still effectively defending: t he

20 Janie.: Capel Anderson and Stephen D. Moore {cds). Murk and M••lh&d (~·~l inncapol i s:
Forlrcss Press. 1992). pp. 7- 14.
Imagining tlu: Passion as Riwal 9

gospel against c harges t ha t it is a n irrelevant fa iry-tale. scholarship has

been loathe to consider the possibility that incompre hensio n means
incomp rehension; that neither the d isciples. no r !\·la rk, no r the reader
ever really gets the point: that no ne of us. includ ing Mark, ever rea lly
understand the purpose and necessity of Jesus' dea t h, and that it is
possible to ma intain in the face of s uch incomp rehension. as Monk does.
the urgent belief that t here was a purpose and a necessity.

Literary Cl'iticism: Comem with Co/terence

Because a literary understanding allows for ambiguity a nd paradox.
recent literary interpretations make room fo r more o f the myste rious
elements in t he Passion. Robert Fowler's e mphasis o n the irony tha t
culminates in t he trial narratives and Jerry Camery-Hogatt's de~~ription
o f the workings of irony in Mark nre both q uite compatible with my
read ing. in part becnuse pnradox seems to be <1 fundamental element in
ritua l. as certainly a re the symbolism and rnetaphor t ha t make. a literary
read ing interesti ng.2 1 A major difference between these read ings a nd my
own is the sou rce of the irony nnd paradox - a nd even more so o f the
a rnbig uity and choppy qua lity of t he text.22 T he q uestion is \Vhether
these fentures are t he evidenc.e of Mark's conscio us lite rary technique or
o f his grappling wit h an unwieldy reality. ery-Hogatt goes ns far as
to sny that lang uage is an effo rt to humanize experience. and tha t it is
thus that the Passio n a ttempts to understand the incomprehensible
lhrou,gh its narrative.21 T hat Mark ho.ts more to express t ha n o rd innry
langu<lge is capable of expressing: is a point I would press further - it is
no t simply exposito ry prose that Mark fi nds inadequa te but language
itself. In this text what is said - that is, t he text itself - vies in importance
wit h what is no t said a nd with what is done . If literary ana lysis nd mits
more a rnbiguity a nd chaos into t he discussio n - like a life-gjving. d o ud-
burst after the precise, a rid d iscussio ns of histo ric-.-1 criticism - it
nevertheless keeps the text in control by assigning even this limited
chaos to literary technique: a conscious, planned. a ppnrent ly unc.hao tic
Biblical criticism from its inception has been driven by a desire to

21 Robert Fowi~r. Uttbe Rrmler Undt•rsltmd(Minocapolis: Fortress Pr~ss. 1991): J~rry

Camcry· H~"'gn tt. Irony ill Murk's GoJJit!l. SNTSMS 72 (Cambridge: Cambridge University
Pn:ss. 1992).
22 Cf. John C. M~:tghcr. Clumsy G:mJtruclirm i11 Mark ·s Go.~pe.l. Toronto Studies in
Thoology 3 (Toronto: Th<: Edwin M dl~n l,css.. 1979). who ~•ttribu tc:s these qualities to poor
writing on Mark's pan.
2:0 Camery-H og~1 U. Irony. pp. 17- 19. citing Gudnmc:-r.
10 The Poll'er of Disorder

ma ke the Bible acceptable to reo.1sonable, rational people. to converse

with, if not to evangelize. 'the educated unbeliever'?J The investigation
of Mark's Passio n is no exception. As it \~t'as impo rta nt fo r the gospel
writers to ma intain that the apparent senselessness o f a crucified
Messia h re\•ealed a deepe r meaning, so it has been vital for C hristian
scho larship to defend t he obscurity and ambiguity of Mark's gospel - its
mystified disciples. the fits and starts o f its theology, its a brupt and scary
e nding - as revealing a deeper cohe rence of intent. It is irnportant, in a
social world where he \~t' ho hesitates is lost. that Mark be read as moving
decisively towa rds a unifying point. Fo r t his gospel to be valuable for
western intellectua ls it must no t only result in some kind of coherent
me.~sag.e but be consciously designed to do so: a lmost without exception.
despite a ll evide.nce to the contrary. Mark has been read as beg.inning
with a clear message and setting nbout to communic-dte it. Mary Ann
Tolbert. in he.r volume o n Mark. puts fo rt h coherenc.e as a criterion for
adjud ic-ating. interp retations. The more t he c ritic can claim to have
d iscovered a cohere nc.e intended by the author. the more persuasive t he
c ritic's work . ' \Vhether ontologically gro unded in the text or in t he
reader, the presumption o f intentionality, organization, coherence. a nd
unity in a text underlies the who le proc.ess o f read ing a nd interpret-
<Hion.'25 Referring to Fra nk Ke rmode's work, Tolbe rt concludes with
him that. ·so dominant is this convention that it requires .. a rno re
strenuous effort to believe that a narra ti ve lacks coherence than to
believe that somehow. if we could o nly find out how, it doe..">n't" '. 26
Tolbert's discussion acknowledges t he possibility that the search fo r a n
intended cohe rence is a cultural product. rather than something
emerging fro m the text itself. Indeed, as she a lso acknowledges, it is a
c ultuml assumptio n she claims fo r her own reading: o f Mark's gospel.
which perc.eives a unity more p recise and symmetrical than most. 27
Tolbert differs from earlier read ings of Marie in the deg_ree to which she
is c.onscious o f c hoosing to see a coherent and intended message in t he
The p reva lent assumption of such a me.~ag.e. however, can a lmost
purposefull y limit the meaning fro m the text. As Kennode

24 Gusta\'O Gutierrez. ·Two 11tcologic.:al Pl'1Spoctivt$' , in Tile £mt'rgt'JII GO.\]It'l INcw

York: Orbis Hooks. 197&). p. 243.
25 ~:l ary Ann Tolbert. So~ri11g tht> Go.~pel !Minneapolis: Fortn:-ss Press. 1989). p. II.
26 T olhcrl (p. II). citing Fmnl: Kcrmode. Tlut Gt'tli!Sis rif St>cr« .r (Cambridge: Hnrv~ard
Uni\-crsit)' Press. 19i9). p. SJ.
27 Sec especially her di~tgr.un of the rhetorical structure or Mark. in Appendix A:
Tolbert. Sowing the GtJSpel. pp. 311- 15.
Imagining tlu: Passion as Riwal II

In establishing coherence we redu~ the text to codes implanted in our

minds by the arbitrary fiat of <1 culture or an institution. and are
therefore the unconscious victims of ideological oppression. Freedom.
the freedom to produce meaning. rests in fortuity. in the removal of
constmints on sense.~s
The limitations of insistjng upon a n intentional coherence are demo n-
strated in a commentary from the 1950s, \'.:hich describes the gospel
thus: 'Mark's little volume wns like a letter - penned to fill an immediate
need . . . It was Mark's epistle to his dearest friends, the membe rs of the
little congregation of \vhich he was a part. when they were in desperate
straits.' 29 Not only is the gospel manageable a nd o rderly in such a vie\v.
it has become. along with its author and his community. so t ho ro ughly
domesticated as to be almost cme - quaint in the specificity of its
(entirely speculative) origins. intimate. endearing. and ' little' . Mark has.
this same account concludes. ·but o ne message to tell (that Jesus will
come again to save his faithful followers), one exhortation to make (that
Christians must be loyal to him)'.30 The re is a moral to the story, in
o ther words. a point that can finally be separated fro m the narrative like
the contents of a cup from the cup itself. To maintain t hat Mark is t his
kind of message merely dressed in the clothes of a narrative is a way o f
insisting upon the fundamentally reasonable nature of t he gospel. a nd a
way of asserting: control over its import. Mark is not to be seen as a
writer taken over by his story, much less as a fanatic torme nted by
\•isions of the end time. but as somet hing like a country pastor, a
makeshift t heologian. an uneducated man with a basic grasp o f the
kerygma a nd a compo.tssionate. sane desire to convey t hat grasp in
language that his community will understand. Despite the claims o f
narrative biblic-al critics that their a pproach does not~ as redaclion
criticism did. nttempt to disti l a theology from t he story, narra.tive
criticism with few exceptions separates d iscourse from story. technique
front content. in such a way as to facilitate theolog.ical condusions.J 1
The critic still sees a message distinct from the
But the fact is that attempts to see Mark's Passio n as having a n

28 Kc-rmode. Gerwsis. p. 54.

29 Curtis lkaeh. 111e Gospt'l of .\fttrk (New Vorl:: Harper :md Brothers. 1959). p. 63.
30 lkacb. Mm-k. pp. 120- 21.
31 Soc:. for example. Elizab~·th Stnuhcrs tl.·lalbon·s chap-ter on narrative criticism in
Anderson and Moore (J1fm·k as M1!tl101l. pp. 13-49). in which she- takes the question of the <:ritic to be ·how does the story mc:an·. a ques tion quite distinct for her from that of
what thc: s tory mc-.:ms. Ye-t it is clc:;.u that s he reads M:trk as ha,·ing a su.xinct m~g.c: i.e ..
' Ihe goal of 1hc journey is for all - disciples and implied rtaders - to·· ns Bartimacus do~·s
and to follow "on the way" · (35).
12 The Poll'er of Disorder

e ntirely reasonable conte nt ultimately frustrate the c ritic and ntuzzle t he.
text. The appare ntly purposeful obscurity o f t he parables, the violence
of the apocalypse, the inexorable agony o f the cross~ the emptiness of
the empty tomb, the silences and t he. subverted declara tions - it is a
terrific strain to fit a ll o f t his into o ne sensible d iscourse. More than any
other New Testament writer, wit h the possible exception of Jo hn of
Patmos. Mark has what John Keats called ·negative capability' : 1:: That
is. the author has a n a ttraction to a nd a tolerance fo r that which he does
not full y understand. a lovefhate relationship with the means of
expression - the means fo r expressing and fo r trunc-.ating t he richness of
perceived meaning..33 Matthew and Luke each make it very clear t hat
they know what t he story they a re te lling mea ns and t hat they intend to
fell you what it means~ whatever else these two gospels muy be. they a re
noumtive theology in t he sense of theology made clear and palatuble as
narmtive. But Mark's n ~umtive does not make his t heology clear.
because Mark's theology is no t clea r - he is not a the.ologia n, but a
writer. The c rea tive writer does no t begin with a fully articulated
messag.e. \\1hat such writing atte mpts to convey happens to the \vriter in
the p rocess of writing and to t he render in the process of read ing. a nd is
in neither case sepa rable from the flo w of the writing, itself.
If t heology c re<Hes a nd maintains systems o f beliefs in coherent
structures. Mark's writing is in fact no t theological. but religious.
Religjous belief an d practice have no compulsion to be logically
consistent. Religion is not an affair o f logic but of the o ther aspects of
the humnn being - drive, emotio n, physica lity. aesthetic impulse a nd
response. a nd an attention to precisely that in human experience t hat
esc.apes the grasp o f logic. o f social structu re> of cohe rence and order.
The reluctance to see ritual in this text is first o f all a reluctance to admit
religion - as opposed to either disembodied spirituality o r intellectuul
theology - into the life and dea th o f Jesus. But certainly in bo th t he
history and the text. religion is there.

32 John K<:ats. ' l etter to George ttnd Thomas Keats. I:Xc. 2 1. 18 17'. in Tiut Nomm
hwwft((tion to Lift'rttltlfe. cd. Cmi E. Bain. Jerome:- Ekaty :tnd J. Pnul Huntl·r. Jrd cd. (New
York: W .\V. Nonon and Company. 198 1). p. 753.
33 Foucault's a nalysis of the works of the:- Marquis de Sade tc:s.tifi.c:s to the:- lo\'t/hatc
relationship with language I h~H·e in mind: 'The totality of language fi nds itse-lf by
the single:- and identical mowmc:nt of two in.scpar.tb1t ligures.: the strict in\'ertcd rcpctition of
what htts ttlm tdy been said and the simple nttming of that whieh lies a! the limit of what we
cnn say. The prttisc object of "sadism"' is not the other .. . it is everything th~ll might hnve
bl-en said: "langu:tge to lnlinity". in Lmtgllugt!, Counter-AhrmtJry, mul Practice, ed. Donald
F. Bood1nrd. tr;ms. Donald F. Boochard und Shc:-rry Simon {llhttca: Corndl Uni\-crsity
Press.. 1977), p. 62.
Imagining tlu: Passion as Riwal 13

The Passion as Riw al

Perhaps not coincidentally. most of t he expressly po read ings o f
Mouk's Passion e mphasize the idea that Murk 's choice of a medium o f
expressio n - na rrative - has t he ability to affirm the aocepted world view
o r to assert a n altemative in its place.l 4 Herman C. \Vaetjen. in fact.
claims tha t Mark is not describing distant events or their import,
but by way of n<Hrati ve attempting to put the reader t hro ugh a se.ries o f
experiences in order to instruct him o r her \~t'ith the understand ing that
those experiences confe r .15 This is in fac t o ne understand ing of what
ritua l does: it leads the participant throug h experiences progra mmed to
affirm the desired understanding o f society. 36 If narrative teaches
throug h t he et~hoes o f experience, rit ua l teach es thro ugh experience
ilse-lf, socia lizing the ind ividual through the specific actions of the
ritua l.37 It would seem that a text invoking ritual would do so to gain
some of ritual's access to the richness o f bodily experience.
Victor Turner's insighL taken up by Richard Sc hechner and o thers,
was to s uggest t ha t rit ua l is not conservative. but has creative
capabilities. In moments of social crisis ritual can criticize the society as
il is. T he s pect<lcle be a c ritique on the stat us quo and participation
may be om o rdering o f the individual's experience into a n innovati ve.
even revolutionary, socialization.38 This kind of reorientation has
repeatedly been noted by Mar k's litera ry c ritics. who usua lly pe.rceive it
as an e ne ct o f meta phor and iro ny.J'l)
In o rder to make a case that ritual is implica ted in Murk·s Passion , I
will deal wit h the question o f whut rit ua l is. a nd. given the history o f
scholarship, to place it in relation to na rrative nnd myt h. As \\~t h true
Jove or a good joke, we have far less trouble recognizing rit ua l tha n we
do in listing its defining c haracte ristics. J understa nd ritual as one

34 Whil-e thc.!lt' reading,~ retain a great deal from the historic:•Icritical modC'I. they may be
seen as posunockrn to the cxtC'nt thnt they make th<ir subjectivity - at lens! with regard to
politicnl commitments - dc.n from the outsC't. Chcd Myers is espec-ially cxpiK:it about those
(or whom he reads and why (Ri11ding 1/te Smn~g_ Mun )Maryknoll. NY: Orbis Books. 198SI).
35 Herman C. WaeljC'n. A Rt>tmfering ofP<m,·!r (Minncapolis: Fortress Press, 1984}. p. 2.
36 Vakrio Valcri. Kingsllip und S.trrrifict'. trnns. Pnula Wis:'>ing (Ch i~'<'go and London:
Uni ~r-si ty of Chicngo Pres.<;. 1985). p. 344.
J.7 Catherine Bd l. Rituuf Theor.r, Riuraf Pruc·tice (New York: Oxford Uniwrsity Press.
1992). p. 98.
38 Victor Turner. Tlu! Fore.,·t rifSymbols Hthnc.n: Cornell Uni\'crsity Press. 1967). p. 97:
Dmmas. Fii!/(l,._ tmd Mt'lttpflors ~ Jthnca: Comet! Uni\'<.nity Press., 1974), p. 284: 011 1be Etlgl!
rifllle Bush. cd. Edith L 8 . TumcrtT ocson: U ni v~rsity of Arizona l>ress. 1985). pp. 163. 171:
cf. Jomllhan Z. Smith. fm(lgillillg Rcligioll (Chicago: Uni,•crsity of Press. 1982).
p. 63.
39 Fowicr. Let tlu~ Reatler. p. 12: Camc.ry-Hogatt. /roll}'. pp. 4. 10.
14 The Poll'er of Disorder

attempt. a mo ng the vast array o f such attempts that constitutes huma n

c ulture, to control and express t he meaning of expe rience.
The trouble with defining ritual has been amply noted and still mo re
amply demonstrated. \Vhether habits like brushing our teeth, or
spectacles such as pro fessional sports o r theatre constitute tituals
often consumed rit ua l theorists, who attempted either to include or
exclude the more mundane examples of habitual. scripted, socially
circumscribed beha\~ our. Catherine Bell, in particular. has convincingly
arg.ued that attempts to defi ne ritual necessarily distort the ritua ls we
examine. Our definitions set rituals up as objects with particular
c haracte ristics. when in fact rituals are processes always in flux. Been use
rituals a re p ractices, no two will be the snme, and yet becnuse rituals den I
with the meaning o f huma n experience. a nd a re not unprogrammed
experience itself, they must have structure - aspects und fra meworks
that repeat and can be defined . Be ll sees ritual as uniquely positio ned to
frouble western scho larship. ever torn between theory and practice. since
rit ua ls are in a sense a c ulture's own t heory of experience. a t heory to be
known only in practice. In order not to fo.1 lsely limit or blind ourselves to
what might fruitfully be seen as a rit ua l, Bell speaks instead of
rit ualization. the proc~ss by which otherwise mundane actions take on a
meaning beyond themselves. This process te nds. she no tes. to show
some cornmon characteristics; namely, a focus on the body. repetition,
and d ifferentiation or periodicity. a way of doing t hings that sets them
apart fro m the ordina ry. Other c ritics note an int~reased sense of focus
on place a nd a slO\\ting down om d demarc-dtion of time (J. Z. Smith) nnd,
in rit ua l sacrifice. the presence of substitutio n, the sense t ha t a person or
animnl o r object stands in fo r. o r swnds fo r, a nother person o r persons.
The following c hap ters will look at each of these aspects as they a re
found in Mark's narrative o f Jesus' death.
Human beings strive to kno\v life's meaning.. a lthough, as Ecclesiastes
la ments. we can never grasp it fro m beginning; to e nd (Ecd . 3.1 1). The
individual human existe nce is c haotic. linear. unfathomnble, a nd
unpred ictable. Any understanding we develop o f it is structured.
sensicaL It will have a beginn ing a nd an end, thing..~ our experience
lacks entirely - t he one lying in a n inaccessible preconscio us past. t he
other in the unreachable, unthinknble fu ture. Our trouble \•.:ith
attempting to make sense o f experience is this: t he more sense our
cuJtural produce makes, the Jess it resembles lived experience. Artists~
theologians. and o thers who contempla te existe nce and express their
contemplalions must continually c hoose be tween. o n t he o ne hand .
ma ki ng. their work come to neat and tidy conclusions that may seem
Imagining tlu: Passion as Riwal 15

wholly a rti ficial a nd. o n the other hand~ producing work that has
immed iacy bm is nearly as d ifficult to comprehend as life iL~If.
Victor Turner's understand ing o f t he sensory and ideological poles o f
meaning is helpful on t his point. He describes t he significata o f the
sensory pole as · " gross"; that is. bo th overly general a nd fra nk l y~ even
flagrantly~'. Turner emphasizes t he power of sensory
symbo ls. as •social facts, collective representations, even t ho ugh their
a ppeal is to the lowest commo n deno minator o f human feeling'.4 • The
ideological pole, then. o perates on a more abstract level a nd fits more
neatly the mindset of t he particular soc.iety. Together. the body a nd the
mind participate in interpreting. meaning: the se.nsory a nd the ideologic.a l
poles describe a continuum n·o m bod ily experience to conscious
understanding, and back - not <1 progress, but a bipo lar integrity. I
would argue that all huma n effort to express mea ning - the plural, wild,
contrary me.aning inherent in life itself - f~1lls along a continuum
between these two po les. On the one end of the continuum is structure,
logic. sense, the sign. the ability to speak. On the o ther end is the thing
signified . the untamed truth in unprogrammed experience.
Ritual. t hen, along \\~th ils secular co unte rpart theatre. lingers near
the sensory pole. comme-nting o n life experience by echo ing. framing.
and designing a stretch of it. Myth (and the secular story \\~th which it
blends almosl impe rceptib ly) steps free of actio n. No longer p rogram-
ming bodily experience. it only summons to mind a designed, inte nded,
framed experience, so that one feels to a certain exte nt as if one has seen
o r participated in the story rek1ted . \Vords. despite t heir p lurality o f
meaning, serve nonetheless to limit the menning. o f perfonned ex perien<.~
by describing it in a particular way, so as to make t he experience
amenable to consciousness. Thus myth na rrows a nd defines. some
substantial degrees further than does rit ual. t he surp lus o f meaning
inherent in experienc-e.
Expository analysis. such as that o f theology and secular philosophy.
and o f the criticism t hat constit utes this book, likewise attempts
to explain nnd d istil the essence o f experience. but is at home at the
ideological end o f this same continuum. Given the c-ho ice to make
logical sense o r to evo ke the puzzle o f lived experience, academic
language must choose the logical path or fall o ut o f the genre. Although
all lang uage is meta p ho rical. a nd theology often resorts to overt

40 Turner. ne of Symbols. p. 28.

41 Turner. nt' of S.rmbtiiS. p. 23.
42 On this subject sec especially Jacque.s Derridu. ·white Mythology·. in .\fargins of
Philosophy. trans... Abn Bass (dlicago: University Chiengo PrtSS-. 1982). pp. 107- 71.
16 The Poll'er of Disorder

metapho rs in a struggle to grasp its sli ppery subject matter, its push is
outwards from the c haotic sensory data of bodily experience towards
their o rganized. logjcal expression and the conscious o:assimilutio n of
their meaning. In \Ve.stern culture the push is so great, in fac t, as to
facilitate a purposeful d istancing of philosophical contempla tion from
the physical rea lm. as if there were something. to contemplnte aside fro m
. 43
h uma n exper1ence.
Experience teaches, but huma n society's organization depends upon
our being a ble to learn the lessons of experience without always having
to endure the experience itself. Ritual is an effo rt to g lean both t he
lessons and t he meaning o f experience by creating a particular
experience for the participants. ll reto1ins the impact of Jived experience
because, like experience. it consists of action performed bodily. As in
lived experience, so in ritual, the body's movements, tria ls, a nd pleasures
convey a meaning which need not be assimilated consciously. bm which
has t he capacity to profoundly shape both the in dh~dual and the socia l
relationships involved .

Tlu• Passion's R iwa/ as au £.001'1 Jo tl1ake St·•nsr

Fo r Mark , meaning. is not separable from the story itself; it seems to
reside in and be inextricable fro m the events us he im~1gi nes them, a nd
c ritics ha ve noted the penchant in Ma rk's na rra tive style fo r showing
rather than te lling. This close link between experience a nd meaning is
suggestive of rit ua l as I have defined it. But in the most obvious sense.
fv1ark is no1 doing: ritual o r even prescribing it: he is writing narrative.
Wo rds may seem to show to a certain exte nt, but in the end even their
showing is u kind of te lling ; words may evoke images o r even physica l
sensatio ns. b ut they do not in themselves wield t he power o f sensory
experience. And Mark's gospel is words. afie r all. Bul my argument is
tha t Mark fights the medium o f words that he inhabits. using 1ittwl
mo tifs and producing a rit ual ambiance in a n effo rt to go beyond
invoking experience. into ritual's realm of recreating and even consti-
tuting experience. To this end he draws his message out in bodies, ~md in
the clothing that socializes them.
Aside from Lhe cent rality of Passover. the ritual space o f t he temple
and of Jerusa lem in t his gospel. t here are also questions of substitutio n,

43 I do not mean to exclude-bcli~·r in t r<ulsc~·nden t m •liti<:s .:1s a subj«t matter ror
thought. <:crt:•inly not rrom theology. Uul cv<:n when we s-ec:k to oontc:mpl<•tc God. we hnvc
only human ex pc:ril~<:e or God - whether in rc:,•ek•tion. S~;:rip tur<, sacrnmcnt. or mundane
cxistcn~ - with whic::h to hc:gin.
Imagining tlu: Passion as Riwal 17

momen ts of c.arnivalesque reversal, costumes. masks, and t he overriding

sense that the c har<lcters are be having according to a script. their actions
strangely c ho reog.raphed: there is finally the sheer weight t his otherwise
d ime-a-dozen injustice takes o n in Mark's telling.. I will examine these
elements and others as ritualizing the plot o f the story. I understnnd the
ritual in Mark's g.ospel not as unmediated historical event or as decadent
religious corruption. but as t he strain of human cognitio n's o rderly
categories to take in an experience of social und religious tunnoiL if no t
t~h aos .

Det1ning ritual's rea l impo rt as residing in the events o r situations

(causa) it addresses. Martin Modeus asserts: 'The ritual makes the causa.
wit h all its social implications, expedentially real to those affected .·.u The
heilviest and most shocking experiences of life - birt h, death.
trophe, liberation - ofte n seem (o us unreal precisely becnuse of their
terrific immediacy.45 Rit ual repetitio n d iminishes the shocking event's
unrenl qua lity, allows it to become, as Modeus says, •experientia lly renr.
Simila rly, Americans in the rno nths after September I I, 200 1 were
sickened, horrified, and still endlessly fascinated by the te levised spectacle
o f twin towers falling into dust. The repetition made t he unthinkable
collapse grudually thinkable, something that could be analysed and
commented upon. something. amenable to language and In just
this way, Mark's sense that the life and times of his story are terrifyingly
unprecedented leads his story into the familiar patterns of ultimate
me~ming t hat constitute ritual~ in an effort to process nnd tame wha t
seems untameable, to derive meaning from the seemingly meaningless.
Mark is working with histo ry. tho ugh what history exactly we have no
way o f kno v.ring. Something has happened. a nd he (that is to say,
someone, no t only the presumably singula r and masculine a ut ho r, but
the o bviously plum) readers as well, including this one) is trying to
convey \llhat it was. Like most efforts to convey an experience. the story
is a t the same time struggling to understand it. What has been Jacking
fro m much rec.e-nt literary biblical criticism is a n attention to the
o ngoing ;;ambiguity in t he write r's inte ntio ns. Critics presume that the
a xe Mark has to grind is prefabricated und to the work. But the
insights of deconstruction would sugg.est that the write r's Jang.uag.e is
shaping a nd turning. his o r her thinki ng; that what is conveyed then is
no t the result of clear. preset intentions. but t he impressio n o f a moment

44 ~brtin Modcus. S(la(/itv! a11d Symbol: Rib/ira/ SC.Itimiiu in a Ritual Perspeclire

(Stockholm: Almqvist nnd Wiksdl lnt('rnational. 1005).
-15 Poet Lmuie Anderson summarizes: ' You know. I'd rather soc this on TV. Tones it
clown.' 'Sharkcy·s Dny·. from MiJieJ· Hi'anbre(lk (\Varner Brothers. 1984).
18 The Poll'er of Disorder

in t he ongoing. process o f a human consciousness t hat is a mixture of

conscio us inte nt, subconscious desire and delight. a nd the kinks.
pleasures und losses evoked in the process o f writing by the words
themselves. A good writer does not a lways insist on maste ring the
words, nnd Mark is. at least in this sense, a good write r. Ritunl. in ways
thnt I hope to po int o ut. helps in the writing and the reading of Mark by
providing room fo r that which is uncategorized and undecided. room
that histo criticism never sough t and traditiona l na rrative c riticism
cannot seem to make large e no ugh.

The connection between the experience wit hin a nd outside o f ritual is at

the heart o f my understanding of Mark's use of ritual in his description
of Jesus' dea th . I a m willing to give up o n detuiling. t he specific- events
behind the Passion sto ry. As far as t he evidence tha t has come down to
us knows, it is Mark who makes this a story, who gives it a beg.inning
and an end, who takes fro m some c haotic assortment of events a nd
selects und shapes a nd makes them mean ....a This remains a bit o f <1 shock
for most readers. Christia n or o the rwise. Both fait h and academic
contexts ha ve taught us to focus on the pre-existing event of Jesus'
rninistry and crucifixion, seen t hro ugh each gospel or through a ll t he
gospels c.o mbined. Bm though there wns surely such ~111 event. we do not
hold it in our hands. Instead, we have a story - a story constructed as far
as we know by o ne author. from sources that no lo nger exist o r from
scra tc h. Other than the crucifixio n itself, there is no solid reason to claim
any event in the gospel us historic.a l fact. On the o ther hand . Mark
himself stakes a c laim on history. a fact t ha t ma kes it impossible to
d ispense with historical issues entirely. That is to sa y. what Mark makes
meom ing of is the appa rent meaninglessness o f lived experience - which
has po litical and social dimensions - and where he must choose either to
leave the experienc-e o r loosen his grip on meaning. he c hooses the latter.
The critic is thus never freed to enter the story-world entirely apart fro m
history: the history of Jesus. of Mark. a nd o f the c ritic.47

46 Each gospd writer makes his own s tory. of course: each is in a scns.: the story's
c:rcator. But while the others make their s tory in pan by intcrpn:ting Mark. we ha\•e no
indeprndcnt access (in effect. no aoccss al all) to whatewr it is that Mnrk himself is
inte-rprtting. Sec Austin,..t.
Ft1rrer. A Swdy in S1 Mm·k (New York: Oxford Uni\'Crsity l'n's.<;.
1951). p. 9.
47 As Said and others point out. e\'<.'0 work:; purposcl)' presented as fiction can nc\'Ct be
\\'holly scpz1ratc from the h~tOt)' that produced them. Edward W. Said, C.tltun· mul
/mpe-ri11liJm (New York Vintage Books. 1993). p. 47.
Imagining tlu: Passion as Riwal 19

The fact that Mark does not provide historically accurate film footage
o f the events he describes is not to say that t he gospel is without any
contacts in historical experience. As ma ny have noted, even Mark's
apocalypse is not a fan tastic vision but the p ro phetic omd largely
practical description of an imminent (and future. To describe as
Mark does the c.areer, execution., omd resurrection o f a man c.ondemned
as King o f the Jews is to deal in political history, as well as religious
truth. The question of Mark's attitude towards Jews and Romans. while
it need not be pushed back to the actions and attitudes o f the historit'-<tl
Jesus. remains of the e-ssenc.e for an interpretation of t he Passion story.
The issues o f Ro man occupation arc implicitly vital to Mark's story; in
facl. it seems to me that Mark is inte rested in Jewish destiny and
sovereignty to t he extent t hat the Roma ns themselves are relatively
unimportant to the plot. The story reveals, on the o ther hand, extreme
resentment of t hose among the occupied who a ppear to be collaborating
with Rome.
That there is an important socio-political context to t he gospel seems
to me indisputable: Mark is d issatisfied enough with life in the soc.iety as
it is that he looks fo rward to the terro rs of the apocalypse. The juncture
o f historical experience meomingful belief is where Mark lives; it is
that aspect of the Passion that I se.e as best explored by rit ual criticism.
since ritual itself negotiates that junct ure.

Sacrificing tlw 01!Jer: Scholars, Practitioners, Viclims , Ethics

The study of a killing has ethical implications. In o rder to examine the
death of Jesus us in some way a ritual and if a rituaL a sacrifice. J need
first to address. or at least to ncknowledg:e, ethical problems that arise.
First of all . the study of sacrifice, poised between biblic--'1, religious and
anthropological d isc.iplines. and in fact predating: the firm establishment
o f those disciplines, has a chequered ethical history. As other cu l ture..~;
have maintained elaborate systems o f ritual in order to make sense o f
existence, so weste rn schola rship has writte.n e ncyclopedias of analysis
o n ritual and sacrifice. in order to make sense of its own existence. Most
impo rtant in the early years o f schola rship on sacrifice was t he school
known as the history of religjon. The history of religion defined itse.lf as
a n academic movement that laboured in sea rt~h o f the singular
beginnings o f all diverse religious phenomena, present and past. and
attempted to chart the course o f t he religious impulse fro m day o ne to
its own day. The intention . implied in the discipline's name, was to place
vmious religious practices o n one evolmionary timeline. The very word
20 The Poll'er of Disorder

'p rimiti ve', still unfo rtunately in use,4~ conveys t he outlines of this
project: the relig·ions of the colonized were ·primitive·, that is early. a nd
revealing. often in corrupted fo rm. t he fi rst a nd natural relig.ion of
huma nity.49 The assumption was that these non-weste rn traditio ns had
remained static in a n ea rlier stng:e o ut o f wh it~h Judaism and then
Christianity had develo ped . Thnt there was no evidence to support this
assumptio n has not. to t his day. made a full impact on reli.giou.s stud ies.
The idea t ha t religio n progresses, and that we can see its progression in
the co m p~uison of the rnodern \Vest to every o ther place and time.
persists. because it is a fo rmative. defining myth o f weste rn c ulture.
The histo ry o f re ligio n had two major interests, bo th o f which J share:
the agricultu ral festi vals o f New Year, which Fraze r sa w as occurring
almost universally, and sacrifice. The two overlap in t hat examples of
the pattern of festivnls Frazer a nd others identi fied often were said to
have included, origina lly, a human sacrifice. Perhaps because it makes a
primary sign of c.haos - murder - into a primary sign of o rder, t he
human sacrifice t hat \vas embedded, according. to history of relig.ions
scholarship, in the festivals and in o ther kinds of sacrifice continues to
fascinate. In Violc-•ut Origins. J. Z. Smit h doubts in passing whet her
hurna n sacrifice has ever occurred. noting that the practice is a lways
<Htribtned to the exotic o ther a nd seems to be more o f a polemical
accusatio n than an actual o bservation.50 Although J do not do ubt t ha t
huma nkind has killed individuals for some perce-ived benefi t to the socia l
whole. it seems to me that the a rray o f reasons we have to discuss human
sac.ritice, a nd to invent it when we do not find i4 are very similar to t he
army o f reasons people generally have to perform human sacrifice.
G ir.\rd's idea that redemptive violence in myth is vestigial evidence of
previous sacrificial p rnctice is. J believe. mistaken. 5 1 Ruthe r t he myths
and the practice, together \vit h western scholarship on and accounts of
human sac.r ific.e. a re all atte mpts to understand, to c.ont ro l. to huma nize,
or to socialize death. 52
Having written on t he subject o f biblic--<.t l torture as well us sncrifice. I
confess that I nm not o nly exposing the draw t hat social killing has for
scho larship, l am also evidence of it. Perhaps it is t he. e ncounter with

48 Bruce Chihon. for <:);ample-. defe-nds. without answtting objections. t h~· continued use
of the word and the category in The Temple (Uni\-crsity llatk. PA: The- Pcnnsylvnnia
State University Press. 1991). p. 5.
49 Durkhcim. 1-Jemtm/ur.r FtJmu·. pp. 1- 7.
50 Rober1 Hamerton·Kdly (cd.). Via/em Or~~ill.\" (Stanford: SLnnford University l~s.....
1987). p. 197. cr. W. Burl:crt"s comme-nts in the same volume::. p. 175.
51 Girard. Violo>IU't' u11d Jhe Scmwl. p. S.
52 Richnrd Schochn~·r. 'The: Future of Ritual·. Journal of Ritufll Studies I (1987). p. 10.
Imagining tlu: Passion as Riwal 21

something fi na lly c.o ncrete and relevant to expe rience, amid t he sea o f
a mo rphous words and abstract concepts that comprises biblic.a l
sch olarship a nd the Bible itself. Among adolescent American girls the
phenomeno n o f c utting - making tiny cuts with a mzor on t heir own
bodies. usually in places o thers \\~II no t see - is often explained by the
girls themselves as a n e ffort to feel something. in the midst of numbing
depression. The drama. t he reality. t he po te ncy of blood has undeniable
appeal. whether t ha t blood is one's own or ano ther's, whether I intlict it.
watch it spilled o n my TV screen. or imagine it while reading abo ut
o thers' practic-es of sacrifice. Mury Keller urges an a pproach to s pirit
possessio n that does no t assurne the s uperiority o f the scholar's
interpretation and that ad mits to being a t least part ly moti vated by a
simple desire to be near the possessed body.53 Exactly so. I admit -
confess might be a better word in this c.ase - thnt on some level I want to
be near the killing. to see the bo rder between life a nd deat h that is the
s pilled blood , in much the sa me way that J s uppose momy d id who
performed and o bserved sacrifices a nd executions from ancient times
until today. I hope that it is possible to shape t hat attractio n into
something e thically positive. but denying t he attraction will no t s uffice.
Striking in this connectio n is G irard's more salient point ~1bo ut the
necessa ry otherness and sameness of the sacrifk iaJ victim. T he victim
must be. ;:accord ing to Girard. similar eno ugh to be effective in negotinting
the dilemmas of t hose who sac.rifice, but d itTerent enough not to inspire
empathy or fears that they t hemselves might assume t he victim's place.S4
The fuct that those who, we believe, perform human sa crifice are a lways,
as Smit h no tes, o ther tha n us - t he Htct, indeed. that t heir exclusion as
o ther is o fte n supported by cla ims that they perform s uch sacrifice - is
very much in keeping with Girard 's understa nding.55 Fro m t he Jews to
the Native Americans, and on to various ups in Afric.a. the O thers that
Europe encounte red, it regularly pe rceived as prac titioners of huma n
sacrifice. The very like a nd unlike people who, accord ing. to Gir.,rd. might
be sacrificial victims in a society that pe rfo rmed human sacrifice become
in t he mind o f o ur society t he performers of h uman sacrifice - which
estimatio n accords them the very inhuman, unnat ura l, unlike q uality
that. coupled with t heir obvious sameness, qualifies them as (our)

53 ~br)· Keller. The Hummer u11d tile Flute (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.
2002). p. 10.
54 Girard. Violmre mulllut Sacred. p. 39.
55 Smith in Hamcrton·Kdly. Violml OrigillJ. p. 175.
22 The Poll'er of Disorder

sacrificia l victims. 56 )f a nimals are ·good to think', on acc.o un t of their

resemblance to an d d ifference from humanity.57 how much better to
think a re o ther people, people who are outside of the society we a re
thinking. about (henc.e their diiTe rence). yet who surprise us by remaining
identifiable as people (their obvious resembla nce).
The abiding interest in the Near Easte rn fes tivals of New Year
likewise has functioned fo r scho larship in much t he same way t hat
scho lars believe the festivals functioned fo r practitioners. These spring-
time festivals commemorating the rotation o f seasons and the emergence
of life fro m death. a lso had t he c-apacity to negotiate. cdtlcize. a nd
perpetua te t he social order. 5$ In these festiva ls. key to my own research. is a revisiting o f the otllPr time, a time before social o rder. Since
social order has its good a nd bad side. t he Jac.k of it likewise results at
once in wild, delightful revelry a nd in outbursts of grim \'io lenc.e. T he
fes tival time. in fact, looks a g reat like the picture western scholars
painted of no n-western religion. particularly of those supposedly
c haracte rized by the Oriental d isposition: sensual. self-indulgent, pas-
sionate, uninhibited in pleo.tsure a nd in violence5 'll' - a n image later
extended most notably to African religio ns.
Recognizing this history o f the study of sacrifice, I pursue the study
myself us a critical heir to the histo ry o f religion. I do no t believe in
progress, and \vhile I am shaped by my O\Vll cult ure, I a lso recognize its
weaknesses. its great historic crimes. and some of its relevant tendencies.
I may not avoid or escape them, but at least I begin wit h a knowledge
tha t they exist. The study o f sacrifice is fo r me not e ntirely a study of
others a nd their oddities: I want to understand redemptive viole.nce
bette r because my religion swe~1rs by its existe nce a nd my nation c laims
to practise it continually. a nd bec-.mse against my better judgement I
sometimes believe in it myself. Fina lly, my reading may turn out to be
prone to the anti-semitism t hat plagues New Testament scho larship. but
<lt least it does not make t he Jewish people o r leadership a sc.ape_goat by
reading. them as hm~ng.scapeg.oated Jesus, as G irard ian read ing.s te nd to

56 The distioe1ion lxtwttn execution and sacrifice being a fragile. semi-permeable one. it
is not entirdr dear h l me that my own society refrains f rom the JWJ:C1ioc of human sa~'Tificc.
like most societies. however. it considers its..-lf abo\'C s.och barbarily. Thnt is to say. we tend
to dcllnc human sacrifice in such a way ti S to scp:ar.:11e it from our own social pr.u:tioc.
51 Adum Kuper. Thr l11remio11 of Primitiri' Sodl!ly (londoniNcw York: Rouded!.'<·.
I<JSZ). p. 9.
58 For a comp.:1rison of T urkish and Kurdish New Yrnr·s festi\•als ns sites of nation·
produ'"tion. sec Yflccl De-mircr. Tradition tmd Politics. PhD thesis at Ohio State Unive-rsity.
59 Edwurd W. Said. Orii'llf(f/i:;m (New York: Vintage Books. 1979). p. 49.
Imagining tlu: Passion as Riwal 23

The questio n of redemptive vio lence brings me to the second ethic.a l

is..~tu e tang.led up wit h the study of Jesus· death as a sacrifice. Many
scholars have avoided using ritual concepts o r sacrificial vocnbulary for
the study o f t he Passion. it seems. beca use they do no t want to find
themselves propound ing atonement theology. This early a nd ubiquitous
understanding of Jesus· death as assuaging God's a nger at human
sin is essentially what G irard argues ag.ainst whenever he discusses
Christianity. Belief in atonement sees Jesus taking on the sins o f
humanity. consciously making himself. o r letting. God make him, a
scapegoat. in o rder to d ispense \\rit h and overcome fo r all time those sins
in Jesus' death and resurrection. How Jesus comes to bear our sins, how
the guilt is transferred to him, a nd how it dies wit h him remo1ins
mysterious to me. How t he additional death by torture of an innocent
person, even if t hat person is God's son sent fo r this purpose, how t his
death could offset all the evil humankind continues to do mystifies me
utterly. But as a scho lar I remain o pen to the possibility that Mark's
amhor advocates exactly t hat understand ing. If he d id . t hen perhaps the
study of Mark's firs t--century version of atone.ment would shed some lig_ht
on the doctrine's logic. If he d id not. then we may find other ways o f
looking at Jesus' death as redemptive. necessary. and meaningful, ways
that make more sense to those of us who find atonement inconceivable.
The language o f sacrifice pervades Christian liturgy: belief that Je."~tus
d ied as a sacrifice to ato ne for human sin is seen us part of the definition
o f being a Christian. Yet few Christians could ar ticulate what that
me~ms: or how it works, a nd many Protestants who affirm the <llonement
simultaneously rejoct the efficacy of all ritual. In the world of the New
Testament, sacrifice wns commonplace; virtually all known religions
practised it in some fo rm. In t he contem por~ry weste rn world. however,
ritual sacrifices a re few and fa r between; where they exist. the \Vest and
the westernized tend to view t hese rituals as barbo;ric and cruel.60 The
sacrificial language of the gospels therefore. t hough it is familiar from
centuries o f repetition. is nonetheless a foreign language for contem-
porary readers, one that we must put some effort into hearing and
understanding:. If in this chap ter I have managed to problematize the
gospel's lnnguuge of sacrifice fo r my readers - to raise an awareness that
it is a fo reign language - J will in subsequent chapters offer some. dues
concerning what Mark might be saying. in that language.

60 In Turkey. for e:t:unplc. Abraham·s ncar-s:•crificc of lshmad is still celebnttcd with

the S<lcriflce of a sheep. but in the current gcncrntion many urtxm Turks. offcnd~d by what
they Stt as th~ barbarity of th~ pmctic.:t'. opt to make monetary offerings in plucc of the
Chapter 2


Cathe rine Be ll notes tha t while defining rit ua l is d ifficult. t he process of

rit ua lizatio n is c haracte rized by what she ca lls 'diffe rentiation' . 1 That is
to say~ the ritua lization process as a whole and t he actors. time. place
and events that constitute it a re set apa rt from the ordinary. It may seem
ta utological to say that what d istinguishes ritual from unprogrammed
experience is t hat it is distinguished. But indeed rit ua lizatio n is the
process of distinguishing some expanse of experience from the constant
How o f life. If humun existe nce as we know it is a steady, often
bewildering stream o f events. ·o ne da mn t hing after anothe r', t hen
rit ua lization is a slowing down o f t hat frighte ning stream. a n o rches-
tration of it. a nd a na ming and framing o f its o therwise und istinguished
e lements. Ritualized experience is set a part from o rd innry expe rience in
va rious wa ys. most of which seem designed to encourage the focus a nd
atte ntion o f t he participa nts. This differentia tio n happens in the Passion
through a d istinct treatment of time, the defined space o f Jerusalem. a nd
the sense t ha t t he events within the Passio n are those to which the gospel
has been necessarily leading:. Jesus· and to some exte nt the reader's
rit ua l-like focus on the meaning of wha t is ha ppening is underlined , a nd
indeed made visible itself, by the lack of focus shown by the disciples.
But before no ting the d istinct, unordinary na ture of t hese elements
withi n the Pnssion, it is importa nt to no tice in this connectio n t he
d iffe rentiation o f the Passion itself from t he rest of the gospel.

Tlw Passion's Boundal'y: Los1 in Time

Mark's gospel is usually described as episodic - stories of Je-s us' power
and teachings linked together simply by a n 'and ', nnd arra nged with a
logic t ha t does not always leap out at the reader. But the Passion. on t he

I 0 1thcrinc Bd l. Riuur/ Tl:ef1ry, Ritual Prttrlkt> (New York: 0:\ford Uni\•crsil y Pres.-;.
1991). p. :no.
Diffi!t eflli(lliou: 1\<farking Ritl{(t/, Seeing Sacrijitl' 25

contrary, is a nticipated as the event toward which all other events are
leading. Its relationship to a ll the o the r stories in the gospel may be
mysterious. but the narrative repeatedly asserts ;:a relations hip. Se tting
the Passio n apart from t he rest of the gospel, and also fo rming a sort o f
ha llowed entryway to it> is chapter 13.
Sometimes called •the- little apoculypse', these verses are less a
description o f a finn! confro ntation between good a nd evil than t hey are
a frightening musing on signs that the end is a ppro;1ching. Hearing
Jesus' predictio n that the temple will fall (itself p rovoked by the
disciples' admiration of t he temple as architecture), t he d isciples ask
Jesus how t hey \\~II know th;-H this cutastro phe is about to happen.
Jesus' a nswer goes o n longer t ha n any o the-r single s peech in this gospel.
The d iscourse addresses t he d isciples' questions of time - ·when will t his
be'!' - by bo th lifting up and pro blematizing possible indicators o f time.
Even in refusing to place the coming events in time, Jesus nevertheless
continually refe rs to time murke rs - the se~1so n of winter (v. 18), the
change o f se-asons (v. 28). a nd the timing. o f events s uch as 'the
desolating sacrilege' (v. 14). The darkening. of the sun. t hat primary
marker of time, indicates the extraord ina ry a nd iime--out-o f-time nature
o f t he apocalypse itself(v. 24). Although t here will be ma ny warnings o f
its coming:, we are repeatedly told that most of them will be fo.tlse (vv. 5-
6, 22). Despite or perhaps because o f the prevalence of false signs a nd
false prophets. the d isciples are urged to be alert to all indications. The
urgency is s uch. in fac t, t ha t t he narrator. or (strictly in the logic o f the
story) Jesus. emphasizes here the importance of d iscernment, o r read ing.
Often read by c ritics as brenking. down t he story's wa ll to s pe-ak directly
o f (if not to) the reader, verse 14 is us ually t ranslated 'let the reader
understand'. In fact. the participle Ctvaylv<~OK<tJV could as easily mean
'the o ne who knows well . the one who d iscerns', which, not coinciden-
tally, maintains t he logic o f Jesus' discourse. Jesus would the-n be
s peaking no t to or .-bout the reader o f the gospeL but to (or about) the
o ne who carefully reads the signs o f the e nd time - which could be the
d isciples or the reader o r someone in between. Discernrnent is. after all,
the subject of this s peech, and the questio n for the reo.1der becomes
whether o r no t we are the discerning. o ne. whether o r no t we ure t he ones
who can read and understand .
In particula r. we a re to discern that time is moving: in new and
seemingly incomprehensible ways. Jesus warns t hat t he d isciple-s must
Jearn to rend the mysterious signs, as a fa nner reads t he signs o f the
change o f seasons (v. 28). But he g,oes on to say that time will not be
counted in that o rdinary way - by the rise and set o f the s un, moon, or
stars (v. 24). Time. we a re told . is short and extreme ly important. yet
26 The Poll'er of Disorder

also c.o mplete ly unknown, as •no one. not even t he Son, knows t hat
hour, but only t he Father' (v. 32). As the anticipated apocalypse iL«elf is
the border in lime between the old world nnd t he ne\v (though in itself it
is neit her here no r there. occupying a frighteningly limina l place in time).
so t he literary segment tha t is this apocalyptic chapte r is a bounda ry
between what has come before what comes next. Disconnected fro m
the. time of the prior gospe l na rra tive, t he apoca lypse makes a po int of
refusing to na me its own fut ure time (vv. 31- 32, 35), and thus remains
in-between one story a nd a no ther. one time a nd ano ther. and even o ne
<ntdienoe and another.
The apocalypse's insistence on discernment for its own obscure
la nguage e nds \\~t h what is perhaps the best advice Mark's Jesus can
offer - ·watch!' If we canno t completely read the signs o r anticipa te t he.
fut ure. then t he best we can do is simply pa y attention. This command,
thought by some to be the originally intended end ing. fo r the gospel,
bet~omes an introduction to, o r a hera ld o f. the Passion story.2 \Ve are to
watch for signs of the e nd time, but a lso to watc.h for what is about to
unfold in the conclud ing events of the gospeL events that require our
specia l a nd specially focused atten tion.

Fe.w ival Tim e

When the gospel ta kes up its story-line again and the Passio n begins. we
fi nd ourselves in an explicitly rit ua l context - the festivals of Passover
and Unleavened Bread. The two festivals are related here by carefully
ma rked time - two days ( 14.1). T he increased attentio n and focus they
e licit from t he people is a lso immedio.lle ly noted us dangerous to those in
•) v be t O nCcvxa a,v,..u:t ).lt:tCt bVo l){Ja:~ •<ai i~l)'TOl!V ol
II!Cti tA
ti.QXltQti~ ~at ol yQu~t~ta-ul~ m~ al,tOv f \' ~)At~• ~<Qettr)vtt\'tt~
&no"'t dvc"'Ql\' 1 Meyov y&Q p i) tv ·n j toQtrj pt)Tiote t\ ttcu
BOQv~o:; 'toO ,\aov.

And it was the Passover and the fc<\St after two days. And the chief
priests and the.scribes were ~--eki ng how to arrest him in secret and kill
him. Fo1· they ,,,..ere saying, ·Not during the t.--stival, lest there be a
tumult or the people.' ( 14.1-2)

2 Etienne TrocrnC. Tht> Fomwlicn of thf' Gospd Ac't'O((Iil•g ro Mruk. trans. P{1mdu
G:tughun (Philnddphia: Westminster Press. t975). pp. !24--25.
Diffi!teflli(lliou: 1\<farking Ritl{(t/, Seeing Sacrijitl' 21

I will argue below tha t Jerusalem itself is a rit ual space in this gospel. but
while the ritual inherent in t he city must be inferred , the rit uals o f
Passover a nd the Feast o f Unleavened Bread a re quite plainly stated in
these verses as t he framework wit hin which Lhe Passion events take
place. Furthermore, the c hief priests a nd scribes fear some power that
the festjval seems to unlensh in the people - pe rha ps simply the power in
numbers. as pilgrims migr ate to the d ty. The very d iffe rentiation o f the
festival, it.s sense o f being not like ordinary life a nd therefore not subject
to its rules. may make t he crowds a da nger to t he high priests and
scribes. \Vha t the people o rdinarily aocept as a necessary evil could
provoke a riot during: the festival's intense commrmitas. In fact. thoug h.
by the end o f this sto ry. both the festival and t he mob mentality tha t
comes wit h it \viii work in the interests o f those who seek to kill Jesus.
These two verses at t he o nse( o f the Passion immedia tely d isting uish it
fro m what has come before. .simply by noting: (for the first time. in t his
gospel) what time of the calendar year it is. Ancho red in time. the action
o f the story that remained only vaguely connected to the passage o f
time, no w begins to moYe in measured and smaller segments - first in
days. then hour by ho ur.
Ritual. accord ing to J. Z. Smith a nd o thers. slows down nnd
delineates the events within its frame. 3 In the ritual a slow motion
a pplies that calls atte.n tion to every t hing that happe ns as po te ntially
significam: the ritual participant acts fro m a heig hte ned a wareness o f
time. Consider a traditional weste rn wedd ing:: in addition to he r clothi ng
a nd ~1ppea rance. \Vhat d is ti ng:uishe..~; t he bride's walk down the aisle from
her movements outside o f the ritual is that \\~t h i n the wedding. she walks
so much more slowly. Her slowed , o fte n ritually halting walk at'c entu-
ates her transition from o ne social identity to a no ther. If she o r a nyone
in t he ceremony walks too quickly. they no longer seem to be taking pout
in a ritual: their actions begin to look sta rtlingly munda ne a nd thus
meaningless. The ritual requires movements that a re not o nly slow. but
slowed. That is. the rit ual pa rticipants a re no t simply moving: slowly in
the way that a person might do under mundane circumstances: rather.
they are seen to be purposefull y slowing their movements, in order to
m~l ke the actions mo re deliberate and thus call attention to their
mean mg.
In the gospel as a whole, time has been vague and merely relati ve.
There a re Sabbaths, there a re mornings and evenings, und there are

3 Jonnthan Z. Smith. To T<ikt> Plact' (Ch i~o-..g<>: University of Chicago Press. 19S7). p. 2S.
28 The Poll'er of Disorder

intervals - 'after some days' (2.1 ). ·after six days' (9.2}.4 From the o utset.
the focal po int in time is the time of the kingdom's arrival, which
constit utes the substa nce of Je-sus' preaching. The content of 'the gospel
of God' is that 'the time is fulfilled a nd the kingdo m of God has come
near ( 1. 15). Of the perhaps 70 references to time in th is gospel. 23 of
them are to t he endtime. 15 o f those in the a pocalypse of chapter 13.5
Among the 48 references to t he time o f t he story's own events. 24 occur
within the Passion. and three more in t he Passion predictions. In
c hapters I to 12. in o ther words. the time o f the story itself goes by as a
mo re o r less undifferentia ted la ndscape. given shape only by the sharp
horizon o f t he end time a nd the la ndmark time o f Jesus· humilia tio n.
death and resurrection . Once we are within t his landmark chronology.
time is well defined; both days and hours are numbered and noted. At
le-ast, t hey are noted by the narra to r and by Jesus. t hough t hey te nd to
Hy righ t past the d isciples and. occasionally, the reader.

Pctcr•s Denial: The Slwrp Edge of Riwal Ttine

When Jesus g.oes before t he Sanhedrin. Pe te r goes with him - almost.
Jesus• interrogation within the court is inte rcalated in the narrative with
Peter's inte rrogation by bystanders in t he yard ouL~tide. \Vhile Jesus'
every word a nd silence before the council seems designed to condemn
himself. Peter's every word outs-ide the council's deliberations is clearly
designed to exonerate him. The two scenes arc. as has been amply noted.
an exercise in iro nic counterpoint. 6 Bo th men are, in a sense, on t rial.
but only one makes an effort to ;:avoid condemnation. and it is he whom
the narra tive (but not t he authority wit hin it) condemns. But t he scene
of Pe te r's denial acqui res its tension and po ignancy not only fro m its
j uxtaposition with the Sanhedrin scene, but from its having been
explicitly fore told \\~thin the story. Before Peter fe rvently. with c.urses

4 Norman Pe.rrin. Thr Rr.s11rrecli0fl A rcordi11,~ 10 Mtml!ew. Mark tmd Luke (Philadelphia:
Fortress Pr<ss. 1977). p. 24.
5 I tim counting any mention of time metLSUr<:mcnts or markers: day. night. evening.
morning. hour. sc:-nson. ham:sl. winter. Subtler refc:n:nccs. to time:. which S«tn to rcfc:r to or
contain the question •wh<:nT without n«<:ssnrily induding words of mc:tsurc:tnent. I have also
included. These lallc:r arc somewhat subjcct:ivdy sorted. however. ns I uic:d to include only
th09: phrases thnl seemed more urgent!)· time-conscious. For ext•mpl<. ' \Vatch for you do
not know when· ( 13.33. 35) \'ttlS oountcd. but ·when they lmd sung a hymn'114.26) was not.
6 Robert Fowler. Lettlte Retttft>.r Ur~d.'!'rslami(Min ncapolis : Fortress Press. 1991). p. 159:
Jerry Cnmtr)··Hognu. lro11.r in M(ltk's Gtupel. SNTSMS 72 (Ct1mbridge: Cnmbrillgc
Uni\-crsity Press. 1992). p. 171.
Diffi!t eflli(lliou: 1\<farking Ritl{(t/, Seeing Sacrijitl' 29

a nd o at hs. denies Jesus. he has with equal fe rvour denied that he would
do so.
Refusing: first of all to be lieve that he deserves to be lumped with the
o thers in Jesus' prediction, ·you will all fall away', Pe ter's vehemence
increnses when Jesus specifically o:aims at him the predict ion of denial:
' Before the cock crows t\\~ C'e . you will deny me three times' ( 14.30). is a folk-story quality to t his prediction. It is not n general
knowledge o f Pete r's unrelinbility. but a clairvoynnt glimpse o f Pete r's
immed iate fu ture . Not only does Jesus tell Peter that he will deny. he
a lso tells hint when and how much. The s pecificity o f the p rediction
makes it nllthe more impossible a nd terrible that Pete r nevertheless does
what he is so precisely told t hat he will do. ' If I must d ie with you. I will
no t deny you,' Peter adamantly, exce.o;sively (ite1i£Ql<TO'<~) declares,
den)~ng his impending de.nia l ( 14.3 1). Indeed. it is hard to imagine, or
would be if we did not know the sto ry o f time, t hat Pe ter be
so out of control of his own actions as to do this t hing t hat he would
rather d ie than do. that he has been warned he \\>"ill do, that he has sworn
never to do.
Ocdtfms Rex, the classic example o f tragic irony, likewise invo lves
pa inful fulfilment o f a predicted fu ture. But Sophocles' Oedip us meets
his fn te in an effort to esc.ape it: he is warned that he will kill his father
a nd marry his mothe-r and the very warning. sets him off o n a c.ourse that
ends in t he warning's fulfi lment. Peter. on the o ther hand, is not caught
in an effort to avoid his fmure. The t ragic iro ny is in a sense missing
here, because unlike Oedipus, Peter does not do eve.r ything he c.a n to
a void his predicted and unwanted misdeeds - instead he simply seems,
lemporou ily a nd completely. to forget what he has been to ld of them. It
is neither hubris nor a surplus of sight t hat ma kes Pe ter blind . It is
simply human frailty: it is simply blindness.
In t his prediction a nd fulfilment o f Peter's denial, time rises to a new
a nd eerie impo rtance. The future reality of the denial itself is perceived
by fo reknowledge from the story's present. But within that future we
mark t he passage of time by the cock's cro\v. In t he present tense of the
prediction's fu lfil ment. Pete r tragically beats t he clock, rnanagjng. to get
in t hree deniotls in o nly the time it takes the rooster to c row twice. The
tro uble is that Pe te r doe.s: not hear t he cock crow t he first time: he does
no t perceive the time o f the denial itself going by, although it is preset,
awnited, and mo.uked . The rooste r's crow, marking off the time. gains
delineation by h;.wing. been predicted as such a markc.r. As the audience
to this tragedy, the reader is aware that the prediction is being fulfilled ,
while Peter is o blivio us. \Ve might thus achieve some ironic d istance -
except that \Ve never henrd the rooster crow the first time either. In
30 The Poll'er of Disorder

e fTect, the rooste r never c.rows for t he first time within the s tory. The first
time it crows is the second time.
1\!Cti ei>ail~ i •-: bt ttTfQol! M tt.."'tC"Q tc.tx~''l)ot\' ~L'li ave~tvr)v9r) 0
n ftQo.:; 'TO {n)~lCt (~~ dnev etVt{;l 6 l •)...•ot)~ O·n rtQi\' (l,\tK't'oQO
<jxo)VI)uo::u bit; tQi~ tJf tint\Qvr)v•) i1lL~w\<~w fKAcuev.

And immediately the rooster crowed a second time. And Peter

reme-mbered the word. just as Jesus had said to him, 'Before the
rooster crows twic.e. you ''~II deny me three times: (14.72)
When the rooster crowed the first time we do no t knO\v. but when we
hear it crow, we knO\v t ha t we have heard it before. A textual variant
corrects this odd lapse on the reader's part by inserting ·and the rooster
c rowed' just after Peter denies knowing Jesus t he fi rs t time. and after he.
goe.o; out into t he outer court (v. 68). W it h that a ddition. the reader
achieves t he looked-for ironic distance. hearing and understanding what
Peter does not. But the desire for that d istanc.e s urely m otivated the
textua l addition: accepting the text without it plac-es the reader
uncomfo rtably close to Pe ter's lack of awareness. The p redicted time
for denia ls has not gone unnoted, by the rooster, by Jesus, but as it we-nt
both Pete r a nd t he reader remained o blivio us to its no ted a nd
noteworthy passage. In effect. Peter weeps for exactly this renson,
bct~ause he was deaf to the cock crowing the first time. which would have
been a rem inder. a warning, a nd now he hea rs it crowing too late, no
lo nger a warning. but a condemnatio n.
\Vithi n Pe ter's sto ry. it seems na tura l that Jesus should measure o ut
the time that we and Pete r let pass unno ticed - t hat it is Jesus only who
hears. in advance. the cock's fi rs t c row for the warning that it is. G iven
the general dullness of the disciples' understanding: in Ma rk, a nd given
the reader's identifica tion \'lith t hem as we a lso fa il to unders tand t he
mysti fying pa rables a nd the num bers of the loaves of bread left over
(4.13: 8.1 9-21). it does not surprise us tha t Jesus has an awareness of
time (as of everything e lse) t ha t we and Peter Jack. But within t he
context of ritual. the significance of Pe te r's and the reader's inattention
is mo re than a n cmpholsis o n Jesus' s uperiority. Only for Jesus does
Peter's fa ilure become a kind of ritual as it happens - scripted, repeated
in t he ful filling of its p rediction - because o nly Jesus has the heighte ned
awarene.o;s of tim e that ritual demands.
The reader a nd Pe te r hear t he rooste r's crO\ving and undersla nd t he
s ig.nific-.mce o f Pete r's thoughtless denials only when both happen in
memo ry - not in Pete r's or the reader's memo ry o f the event. but in
Peter's (and the reader's) m em ory of Jesus ' prediction. This is in effect
Diffi!t eflli(lliou: 1\<farking Ritl{(t/, Seeing Sacrijitl' 31

the third time t he event of Peter's denial wkes place - it is first p redicted
in the future, t hen happens: in the story's: present, and t hen the futu re
prediction is remembered as a past event. Only this third time, the
overlay of Jesus' remembered pred iction upo n Pete r's experience, brings
te rrible meaning. to Pe te r's otherwise mindless speech. As is: so o ften true
o f ritualized actio ns, repetitio n adds weight and meaning to otherwise
meaningless actions.
There is more t ha n the literary accomplishme.n t of irony and a tiny
sub-tr<1gedy at stake here. and more than the d iscip leship that Peter
represents fo r C hristia n readers:. Jesus' scene before the Sanhedrin is
compared in the telling to Pe ter's scene in t he court o uL<iide. As Eduard
Schweizer notes: 'The visible parallel between Jesus and Peter makes the
fundamental d itTe rence between t hem all the more prorninent.' 7 The. two
alternute. a nd, as has been noted. comment upon o ne another. In t his
scene. then, Pe ter's story appea rs comparable to Jesus' story. But while
Peter's slory is complete in t his passnge. Jesus' story constitutes the
gospel. As do o ther portions of this gospeL Pe te r's story has in fac t a
crucial synecdochal quality.s ll encapsula tes the la rger story. rec.asts it in
miniature, retells it eve.n as it is being told. and comments upon it in a n
effo rt to c h1rify and make sense o f it, the same effo rt th<H the story as a
whole is e ng;ag_ed upo n.

The Time of the Cross

Time-. we ha ve noted. tends to be slower and better plotted \'lithin rit ual.
It is significant then that t he slowest time in the gospel is the several
hours o f the death itself. Here time is explicitly marked in th ree-hour
intervals, the o nly instance in t he g_ospel o f time counted out in hours.9
Inte restingly, the verbs in 15.24 ('they crucify\ 'they d ivide') are in the
present te nse. This use of the historic present \\till return in ve.rse 27
(again fo r the verb ' they c rucify'). But in verse 25, the t hird hour is
related us having_ already passed . Where t ime itself is the subject. the

7 Eduard Schweize-r. Tlu~ G(}(J(/ Ne1rs Aaordi1~~ to Mark (AIInnta: John Knox Press.
1970). p. J28.
S M ary Ann Tolbert. Solfillg tlur GlJSpel (Minneapolis: Forlre!'S Press. 1989). Tol bl~rt hns
noted thai key p."trablcs in JC$us· teaching actually summuri1.1: the story of this gospd; this
kind of gmnd .~l'll1'!<r/odu~ happens repeatedly in Mnrk. Other c~ampl es. in my \"i<:w. arc the
story of John the Uaptisl's demise (M k 6.14·19~ sec bc:low) and !he-story of the Gcmscne
demoniac (Mk 5.1·20).
9 Eti<:nnc TrocmC notes thai lime is marked in three-hour intcm•ls and rda!cs th<:se to
the-1mdition:1l times for Jewish prayer ('flu! Pa.fsion os Liturgy (London: SCM Press.. 1983).
p. i9).
32 The Poll'er of Disorder

narmtive insists that we recognize the time as already gone. Thus t he.
knowledge o f the hours passing. comes to the reader only after the f~lct ­
we do not experience the passing of time. but only note that it has
passed, in retrospect. Again, as in Pete r's denia l. t he measured nature of
rit ua l time is present in the gospel, but the reader does not experience it.
Again the a tte ntion to time seems to heighten as we near the mome.nt
of Jesus' death in verse 33: 'And when it became t he sixth hour. there
was darkness upon the whole ea rth un til the ninth hour.' But now not
only is the narrative slowing d0\\>'11. but the sun seems to stop - not
standing still. bu t d isappearing comp letely. Time moves. but its
movement is not. fo r these three hours. marked by its primary marker
- the movement (in t he a ncient view) of t he sun across the sky. It is
me.olsured o nly by the narrative itself, fo r in the world where t he.
c rucifixio n takes place the normal means of telling time, o r even
asserting that there is s uc h a thins. has ceased to be. Only the na rrator
and the reader, and perhaps the eart h itself. can measure th is darkness
while it is p~tssing:. Recall that the darkening. o f the sun was prophesied
back in chapte r 13 as a n indication of the beginning of the e nd .
something fo r which the d isciples were told to watch (13.24).
In t his moment of mo:arked time lessness. however. Jesus himself shows
no watchfulness; rather it is t he fading o f his consciousness - his dying -
that brings on t he d arkness. \Ve might expect a frighte ned reaction. a
search fo r explanations, fro m the o ther characters in t he story. Surely
the s un's refusing to shine would, if nothing else would, mvaken t he
attention of even the oblivious d isciples. Ye( no huma n reaction. with
the possible exception o f the centurio n's, occurs in the gospel. Instead,
the reader alone, . . .~th the narrator, stands in <-lWe of t he sudden d isplay
of primordial chaos. Fo r once. we are permitted. as readers, truly to see
what no charncter in the nnrrative does - a classic exa mple of irony. The
reader .gains no sense o f privilege from t his view, though, since what we
are pri \~leg,ed to see is complete darkness. \\'hat we are to understand is,
precisely~ the incomprehensible. The cosmic o rder has completely. if
momentarily. failed in its task to constrain a nd give sha pe to t he
se nseles..~ness o f t he universe; c haos reigns while Jesus dies.

R itual Spm·e: Jerusalem a1 Passover

Looking backward fro m the prediction a nd C\'ent of Pete r's there
h<lS been a sense o f events falling: into their predicted place in this gospel
since Jesus set off fo r Jerusalem. The first mention of the fac t that Jesus
Diffi!teflli(lliou: 1\<farking Ritl{(t/, Seeing Sacrijitl' 33

and the d isciples are he.aded for Jerusalem has the air of something
i)vav t>e i:v 1:1) 05<i• iwa~~lvovn~ t:lz; 1iQCH.,(w\u~ta Ktd ))v
1tQO£\y<.Jv a t'>toUz; 6 11}oo~ •.:al f(:)ap~-l.oO\"to oi be
Cu.:oAovr:loVvre~ i:<tJo~oUvto •.:ai nccQW\urx;.,v na.Atv 'lot'~ 6<~:i)€Ka
i)Q~ato aOtol.; Atyetv 'tb ptlv\ovta aUt<;> vUiJ~alvet\' 33 &tt lboV
c.'tVt.ltxdvopev etc; 1eQov6AOJ.U~ ~ai 6 uio.; toU dv€1Q(~nov
naQCti)otl·•)vtttu toi:; ciQXteQeVvtv 1<ttl 'tole; YQrafipttteVvtv r.:ai
fU)'l(~KQt\'OUliiV aUt6V €1ava ·u~, ~Uti naQatx~uot.'otV aGt(W 'lol~
t G\'ivtV 3.J IO:Cti e~Ul(..)i.~lJutV at'>l(fl Kat i~tntVuollvl\' t:tU"C(;) teal
~tav'tl)'<~uoUvtV aUt6V •.:ai dnot~.·•uvot'vtV •<1.:d'Tt\ tQe~ r)~tiQCt~

And they were going up on the road into Jerusalem. and Jesus was
going before them. and they marvelled. and those following were
afraid. And taking the twelve aside. ag<)in he began to tell them the
things about to take place: ·Look. we are going up into Jerusalem, and
the Son of Moln will tx: handed over to the chief priests and the
scribes. and they will condemn him to death, and they will hand htm
O\'er to the nations and mock him and spit on him and beat him and
kill him, and after three days he will rise.' ( 10.32-34)
They are o n their way into Jerusalem when Jesus inforrns them that they
are, in fact, on their way into Jerusalem. The ignorance of their
destination that has gr ipped them until this moment has not p revented
them from being frightened: guessing their destination apparently was as
fl·ighteningas knowing it. Alberto de Mingo Kaminotwhi notes that t his
gospel ha..~ kept the destination o f Jesus· joumey 'carefully concealed
fro m t he reader'. until this point. 10 As readers. we have also been
following Jesus in a kind of technical ignorance of our destination. Any
re.ader fa miliar with any o f the gospels certainly knows that the story
must lead to Jerusalem. just as we know from t he outset that Jesus will
be crucified. But fo r us:. as fo r the d isciples, knowing and being. to ld are
two d ifferen t things. and which one is more frightening_ may be up for
debate. In the previous chapter, Jesus has predicted his own suffering
and death. but in t hat prediction there was no mention of, or even
allusion to. Jerusnlem. So in chapter 10 the d isciples seem to have heard
what Jesus says befo re he says it - t hey are going to Jerusalem fea rfully
before he tells t hem that they are going: to Jerus..1lem. and fo r a fearsome

10 Albl•rto de Min,go Kaminoochi. ·Bw It !J Nol So Among l'ou· (New York: T&T
Clark. 2003). p. 109.
34 The Poll'er of Disorder

For t he humiliatio n and death of Jesus are the purpose o f t he. journey.
as fa r as we know. The first mention o f the journey is. in fact, a
predictio n of the Passion. There is no m entio n of going: to t he city in
order to celebrate Passover there, or in order to preach or m iniste r there
- all of these things are apparently byproducts. Jesus is going to
Jerusalem to d ie; as Elizabeth St ruthers Malbon puts it. 'the threat of
Jerusalem is the threa t o f death' . 11 Luke notes this ee1ie itinerary in
Mark's s-to ry a nd comments rathe r sardo nically upon it: ·for how can a
prophet be killed outside o f Jerusalem?' (Lk. 13.33). In John. t he
d isciples' fear o f Jerusalem is a mp lified: ·Let us a lso go.' Tho mas says.
'that we may die wit h him · (J n 11 . 16). Both Luke and John only
~lccentuate the sense that em erges in Mark. that Jerusalem is a fitting
place for Jesus' dea th. If he goes to this place. t hen he rnus t be killed~
and if he is to be killed. the n it is to this pia<.~ he must g.o. 11
In Je rusa lem . as in a ritual space such as the temple. space is focused,
deline-ated, and na med. \Vhile until this point t here have been al best
wildem ess. sea. shore, and sornetimes a named town, \Ve now have s uch
specific places o1s hills and courtyards noted and named wit hin the city.
Fo r Mark, the c ity is a s pace mapped o ut for Jesus' death. but t he power
of this demarc-.}tion comes from the temp le. \Ve rner Ke lber describes
Jerusalem in Mark ns a 'place of double trauma·. that is. the trauma of
Jesus' death and that of the temple's demise.u But the temple nnd t he
city in Mark a re inextricably connected. It is no t that Jesus and t he.
temple are in t ro uble in Jerusalem, but that Jesus is in trouble in t he
temple. which is Jerusalem. Three of the four times that Jesus e nters
Je.rusalem, he does .so in o rder to enter t he temple ( 11.1 1, 15, 27). Only
upon his last entrance does he do anything not eit her within o r d irectly
in relation to the temple. a nd t hat i.s to sacrifice the Passover. Jerusalem.
for Mark. i.s a ritual place, and Jesus goes there in t his gospel fo r 1itual
It is not surprising, then that Je rusa lem is a lso in this gospel the centre
of t he huma n world. The d isciples, country bumpkins as they are.
comment on the great building.s, the huge stones, the impressive
evidence o f human e ndea vour in the city ( 13. 1). T o say, as Jesus does.
thnt nol one of these will be left s tanding, is to predict a bad e-n d for
huma n endeavour itself ( 13.2). And the npoc~alypse for Mark is indeed a
huma n event. Not concerned \'lith the machinations o f the cosmos. or

II Elizabeth Strulhcrs .Malbon. Narralire SpttCt! and Mpfu·c Mtumillg in Mml;. (Sa n
Fram:isro: Harper and Row. 198-6). p. 4S.
12 Malb<m. Nurmti~'tt Sp((ce ((lUI Mythic M ea11i11g. p. 32.
U Werner Kdbl·-r. Murk"s S1oq q{Je.uu (Philoddphin: Fortress Press. 1979 ). p. 70.
Diffi!t eflli(lliou: 1\<farking R itl{(t/, Seeing Sacrijitl' 35

rather d \velling himself in a very limited cosmos, Mark's Jesus does no t

say that there will be no place in the galaxy to hide fro m God's wrath .
but rather, 'Let those who a re in Judea ftee to the hills' ( 13. 14). Whether
a ny area other thun J udea is in Htct in da nger, we never hear; at t his
point in the gospel. there does not seem to be any o ther a rea . As the
centre of Judea a nd t he place where these dire predictions take place
(why were t he Galileans never warned o f the coming destruction?),
Jerusalem a ppears to be G ro und Zero.
In Mark's gospel. despite the text's lack o f geogrnphical savvy. plnce
is never u nimportant. From t he story's beginnings in John the Baptist's
wilderness ways. across the wild waters of the sea. to the lonely places
apart. the untamed and uncivilized places <He places o f revela tio n and
mi racle. 'Thnt which is o pen; notes J. Z. Smith, 'that which is boundless
is seen as the c ha otic. the dem onic. the threatening. The desert and the
sea are the nil but intercha ngeable concrete symbo ls o f the terrible.
chao tic o penness.' 14 Power seems to come precisely from th is dangerous
chaos in Mark's gospel; it is the re thut bot h the s tory a nd Jesus' m inist ry
begin . But the place o f the Passion is not chao tic. For Mark. indeed.
Jerusalem is the a ntit hesis o f the wilderness; it is the o rdered . regula ted
world . The structures of Jerusalem are those tha t have mndc it necessary
for Jo hn nnd Jesus to seek o ut the chaotic wilderness.
Smith distinguishes between ·space' a nd ·place•. If s pace is m ovement.
the unordered world t hro ugh which we travel, then p lace is pause. the
mapped-o ut space that has been given meaning by dem oucation. 15 Jesus
has bee.n wa ndering t hro ughout Galilee, t he Dec-apolis, J udea. for the
most part a ppearing in j us t t hose spaces Sm it h c ha racte rizes as ·sym bols
o f the terrible. cho10tic openness' - the sea a nd the wilderness. 16 Now he
s tops travelling and e nte rs a place. a humanized. ritualized s pace. For
not o nly does the c ity hold t he centre of ritual activity in the tern pie, but
whe n Jesus e nters it. it is taken over by the rit ua l activities of the festival.
As a nyone who has been to New O rleans at Mardi Gras will attest. to
enter a c ity at festival time is to enter the fes tival. T here is a sense in
which Jerusalem is in space what the festivnl is in time - both indicate
the he-ighte ning of o rdinary experience. a time and place of meta-life, at
o nce u reflection of and a commentnry on a ll things human. 17 Smith

14 Smith. To T(tkP Pluet!. p. 25.

15 Smith, To T(tkl! fluce. p. 28.
16 l nd~cd thc:r<: h11s been scholnrly speculation (sec- Perrin. Res1wrection. p. 24) thai
Gl.lliloc reprcsc:.nts the C~lrl y church's misiion to the Gentiles. thus m:1king thc Jewish spaces
through which Jesus hns moved as unso~ializc:d as is the re-gion of Gcrasu (5.1 -20).
17 Richard Schc:chner. 'The Future of Ritual'. Jo.mwl q{ Rit1ml Studies I ( 1987). pp. 5-
36 The Poll'er of Disorder

defines ritual as •ordinary activities placed within a n extraordina ry

seui ng'. 18 This making: the o rdinary extraordinary can be accomplis hed
by siO\ving down the ord inony actions to a sna il's pace or simply by
placing them within a fra me knO\Illl to house meaning. ' \Vhen one e nters
a te mple,' Smit h maintains. ·one enters marked off space . . . in which. at
least in princip le , nothing is accidental; everything, at lens t potentially~
demands a ttention.' 19 But during the festiv;.t) within Mark's gospe l, it is
not o nly the te mple. but the city itself that constit utes the frame a nd
generates t he meaning. The city in t his gospel is perfo nnative space.
s pace that dtualizes. \Vol lls a nd streets and courtyards are meant to
s hape not on ly space but t he socia l interactions that take place t here.
and ultimately the people who take pa rt in them:20 Jesus' entry into t he.
city is the occasion fo r his cle.arest prophecy o f the temple's. o r perhaps
the city's, destruction: ·oo you see these. great buildings? There will not
be left o ne s tone upo n ano ther stone . . .' (13.2). It is precisely the
rit ualizing, power of the city's struct ures that must fall when
the kingdom comes.
Like the time of this gospel. t he place becomes more specified a nd
ma rked as the Passion prog.resses. Throu,gho ut t he gospel until this
point \Ve have had o nly towns or even regions numed, but wit hin
Jerusalem, the mo untains. hills. a nd gardens have names a.~ well - The
:Mo unt o f Olives. Gethsemane, Golgotha. The only specific. na med
buildings in Mark are found in Jerusulem. a nd the m<1jority o f all
references to a rchitectural structures are also here: 21 The open. unna med
spaces o f Galilee a re left behind fo r these named , delineated places
within a nd around Jerusalem. The distances in space and time have
s hrunk and come into focus; everything, as Smit h says. demands
;H te ntion.
Until now, Jesus has gone fro m the privacy and potenti~al clandt-stiny
of the homes that seem unable to hold him. to lo nely plo1ces, wilderness.
the sea. and a series o f mountains. He travels by boa t continu~1lly.
sometimes no t bothering to d isemba rk. but teaching from t he sea itself.
He seems at home a nd in charge o n the unpredictnble water, s peaking its
la nguage with authority (4.38-41). In chapter I we are to ld t ha t alreildy
Jesus• fa me has s pread so that 'he could no lo nger o penly en ter a town.

18 Smith. T(} Takt' Plact'. p. 109.

19 Smith. TtJ Take Plact>. p. 104.
20 See D.tJVid Cnmsco. Cil}' tJj Saaific(' (Bos.ton: Beacon Press. 1999). p. 14. for a
discussion of the ritunl mlture of the c-ity.
21 &c Malbon. N(frralir~· S('(tce and Mythic Mt>(ming. pp. 107- 40. Much of ~falbon ·s
discussion of <•r~hitttlUrtll sp<1tt in Mark necessarily foL"!USCS on the 1ltSt two chapters of the
Diffi!t efll i(ll iou: 1\<farking Ritl{(t/, Seeing Sacrijitl' 37

but was outside, in the wilderness plac-es. and people came lo him from
everywhere' ( 1.45). It sho uld not surprise us then thal his entry into the
capital city o f Jerusnlem c-onstitutes a raucous quasi-royal par<lde.
·To have been in the margins is to have been in co ntact with d <mg:er,
to have been at a source o f power.' Mary Douglas has said.12 Society
loves order and hates chaos, yet it recognizes chaos as powerful. The
festival itself works on t his principle - that social order can be no urished
by sod a! chaos, as long as t hat chaos does not overwhelm the o rder
completely.23 John the Bo.tptist's unsoci<1lized ways remain in the
wilderness in Mark. and Jerusalem comes o ut to him t here: Jo hn's
ent ry into the court. the seat of civiliz.a.tion. is disastrous (f\.·lk 6.1 4-29).
Jesus also has had little luc-k in towns, preferring fo r safety's sake to stay
in the lonely, wild places or near the shores o f the ch;.to tic sea. But in the
Passion. Jesus comes in fro m t he wilderness to the society - no\v no t
bringing Jerusalem o ut to see t he chao tic- power of the wilderness, but
bringing thnt power into the midst o f Jerusalem's order. He brings the
dangerous chaos o f the wilderness with him, disrupting t he pro per o rder
o f things and threatening the established pO\vers. The potential for
d isruption is amplified by t he timing of his visit to coincide wit h the
festival. It is this d ouble unleashing of the po wer of chaos that t he chief
p riests fear when they fear the renction o f the crowds: €Aeyov yaQ ~nl
t v T~ foQt r) J.ttinot € Ecn cu 66Qt$o:; 'lOU AaoU- ·for they were saying.
no t during the festival. lest there be a tumult o f t he people' (14.2).

Rilllal S pace tmd Political Sovereigm y

Intertwined with Mark's presentatio n o f Jerusalem and his understand-
ing of Jesus' relationship to the ritual space of the c.ity, the reader
necessarily finds t he politics o f this gospel. Ritual. after all, does not deal
entirely in o therwo rldly affairs. It d ictates and shapes behavio ur,
responds to and t ransforms social interactions o f all kinds. If Mark
understands Jerusalem us a ritual spare, that understanding has
everything to do with t he city's position within the structures of po litic.a l
authority. The margins and open. unsocialized spaces where Jesus has
been workh1g are not o nly symbolic of a pO\verful chaos antithetical to
the social o rder. t hey also represent an alternative social order, that of the
periphery~ as o pposed to the centre. David Carrasco. in a study of the
Aztec empire, suggests that where the city is t he cen tre of imperial power.

22 Mnry Do ugl:..s, Purity a11cf Da11gedLondon: Ark Paperbacks. 1966). p. 97.

23 Richa rd Schcd mcr. Tht> Futun• (}! Ritllftl ( New Yo rk: Routk-dge. 1993). p. 86.
2.$ lkiL Ritual VteoJJ-. Riural Pnmicc>. p. 97.
38 The Poll'er of Disorder

that centre is cons tantly engased in a n effo rt to c.o ntinue expansion. a nd

cons tantly encounte ring, in that e tTort alternate world views a nd
resistance fro m the periphery. Agains t these alternatives it employs
vnrious methods of re-asserting its own domina nce and re-establishing its
own world view as inevitable.~ Jesus comes to Jerusalem fro m Galilee,
thus bringing: t he clashing. concerns and world view of the periphery to
the centre o f Pa lestine. At the same time . Jerusalem a nd all of Palestine is
at t he extrem e perip hery of the Roman Empire, quite far removed fro m
its c.cntre and correspondingly resistant to the empire's dominant
fram ework. Jesus is thus doubly marginnl when confronted with
Ro me·s auth orit y~ a representative of the periphery's perip hery. a
s pace so far removed from the s tructures of power t hat even the gospel
fends to see it as lying on the brink of total chaos.
\Vithin this gospe l Jerusalem and the temple th~at is its centre are not
sim ply the focus of the Jewish priesthood; t hey are also the centre of
Romnn power over Palestine. It is in Jerusa lem that the critical question
is asked. whether Jewish Jaw allows t he Jews to pay taxes to Caesar
( 12. 15). The question. mo re so since it is described as a trap. indicates a
level o f tension between Jewish practice a nd Roma n rule t hat was absent
in Galilee. Mo reover. Jesus' entry into the c ity is understood to
anno unc-e the return of David 's kingdom ( 11. 10), ~md it is t he Romans
who refer to him as King o r the Jews. The fact t hat a Jewish kingdom
and Caesar's province cannot coexist means surely that Jesus' kingship
constit utes a t hrea t to Rom e.
Until this poim in the gospel, there has been little suggestion t hat
Jes us evoked David or t he kingship. Lacking a birth narmtive to
connect Jesus to Davidic a ncestry, Murk does no t immed iately set om a
royal destiny for Jesus. His messiahs hip, which certainly would ha ve ha d
kingly overtones. is fa mously silenced throug,hout his ministry in this
gospel,26 until Jerusale m. where suddenly it emerges in fu ll royal
colours. in a procession t hat Myers has called, "the po litical t heater of
imperial triumph'.27 The public prominence of the kingship in these fina l
c hapters o f Mark has most frequently been attributed to t he unique
nature of Jesus' kingship. He c-. m procla im himself to the high priest in
the language of d ivine revelatio n - ty(_~ r ip1 (1 4.62) - because "t he
d istinctive ch~uacter of his kingship will .soon be manifested·.'2~ "The

25 Carrasco. City of Surr{/it't'. p. 65.

26 &e. of coum•. Wilhelm Wrede. The .\fe.uianic Serri't. arans.. J. C. G . Greig
(Cambridge: J. darke. 197 1).
27 Chcd Myl' ts. Binding 1be Smmg Ma11 (Muryknoll. NY: Orbis Books. 1988). p. 389.
l8 Herman C. Wactjcn. A Reorderi11g of PoM~r (Minnc:apolis.: Fon rcss Prcsi. 1984).
p. 221.
Diffi!t eflli(lliou: 1\<farking Ritl{(t/, Seeing Sacrijitl' 39

deepe r me-a ning of Jesus' kingship', becomes clear in his resurrection for
some. b ut for others in his suftb ring.29 For Kelber, •he will not be king
until he is nailed to the c ross'.30 He cannot be revealed as a king~ the
re--asoning goes, until it is clear t ha t he is no t a king who rules. but one
who suffers a nd is humiliated.
But crucifixion c.;.Hmot constitute coronation exce pt within the
d ogmas of Christianity itself - dogmas Mark d id not know. A
powe rless, beaten. and executed king: is not an oxymoron, a n evocative
ironic d issonance: it is a contradiction in terms. a complete impossibil-
ity. \Vhere he is made to e nd ure public humiliation nnd powerle-ssness.
even a king unointed with d ue. pomp und ceremony must cease to be
king; it is no t a process by which a commoner becomes king. 1t is no t the
humiliation of t he cross that crowns Jesus king, and the re is no time in
Mark for the resurrection to be Jesus' coro nation. It is upon Jesus' entry
into Jerusalem that he is clothed in royal conno tations - the sirnplest
explanation fo r this is t ha t Jerusalem itself brings on the shift in
Impe rial powers te nd to reside in. and sometimes to create. the cities
o f the territories t hey conquer. From there the political officials govern
a nd there the expatriate citizens of the imperia l power c.;.m gather in
large enough nurnbers to maintain their own Janguag,e, religion and
social customs, and to impose these upon the native population.:! 1
Resentment against the imperia l power a lso focus-es o n t he cities. which
are seen (more o r Jess accurately) as mdiat ing the fo rce of colonization
in(o the rest o f the occupied t~ountry . Thus. the Khmer Rouge emptied
o ut Cambod ia's capital city of Phnom Penh. in a bruta l e iTort to cleanse
the nation o f ...\meric.;.m impe rialist influences. Adhering to th is pa ttern
o f e mpires. Jerusalem is in t his gospel the centre no t only of Palestine 's
own c ulture a nd religio us life. but o f its conflict wit h the occupying
forces o f Rome. Indeed. the power o f Jerusalem as rit ua l space in t his
gospel emerges from the contmst between t he te mple's historit'.<tl
irnplications o f Davidic sovereignty. which Jesus' e ntry into t he c ity
seems to revive, a nd its c urrent state of corruption nnd occupation.
Jesus' kingship. where it emerges. must operate in full awa reness o f the
d iscrepancy between the uto pic socia l world of the rit ual and the
tormented state of mundane society.
Jesus' ent~oun ter with Jerusalem, then, is fraught wit h tensions -

29 Fmnl: M:uer<L PcrJ.~ion Nnmrlires am/ Gospel TIIW ogks (New York: Paulist Press.
1986). p. 39.
30 Kelber. Ma,.k 's Story. p. 58.
31 Edw-ard W. Said. Culture am/ lm{IC'ri(f/i.wr (N1."\V York: Vin!t1gc Books. 1993). p. 272.
40 The Poll'er of Disorder

between centre and perip hery, o rder a nd chaos. ritua l a nd rea l. Like t he.
fes tival itself, the kingship o f Jesus that emerges in the city is fleeting,
ma rked by violence, powerful as commentary but powerless in practicnl
terms. Jn a world that seems to have become a ritual, also seems to
be thrust into a ritll<ll role - King o f the Jews.

Jesus tts Sacrificitt! Victim: Willinguess and Resiswnct!

Jerusalem's sacred and futal presenc.e in the Passio n evokes not only
ritual in general. but sacrifice in particular. The ritual syste m of the
temple is a sacrificial system, a ritual grammar whose every phrase a nd
statement is punctuated with g.rain and animnl o ffe rings, t he giving over
of life that is designed to make life who le. In part o n t his account. t he
question o f ritual in Mark is tied to t he particular ritual demands of
The idea that in Mark Jesus is executed in some sense as a sacrifice
raises questio ns at several po ints about his resistance or willingness to be
sacrificed. If Mark means to present a sacrifice. t hen we would expect to
see Jesus proceeding. willingly. even passively, to the c ross. as Burkert
has noted is the expectntio n o f a G reco-Roman sacrificial vi<.~tim.32 But
Jesus' willingness or lack t hereof is a troubled issue for Mark. The
victim's s upposed \\~lling:ness to d ie is meant in part to preclude any
bloodguilt falling on those who do the killing. In the case o f Jesus this
would amount to an exonera tio n of Ro me - inte restingly. t he sense t hat
the cross is all part o f God's plan never seems to exo nerate t he
Sanhedrin or Judas. Bm exonerati ng a nyone involved would be a
political statement about which Mark appears to have mixed teelings.
Nevertheless, there a re several indicators of sac.r illce in t he a ir in this
gospel. They begin, not surp1isingly, with Jesus' entry into Jerusalem.
The procession into the city is itself a sa crificial motif. The victim in
ma ny festival sacrifices was paraded t hrough t he city. a midst celebra-
tion. Jts willingness to be sacrificed \'las evinced by its walking..
apparently on its own volition. to the a ltar. Similarly> midrash
e mphasizes t he repetition in Genesis 22 o f Abra.ham and Isaac \Valking
together up Mount Moriah. where ls1.1ac is to be offered as a holocaust
(vv. 6, 8). Isaac's walking beside his fa ther is understood lo menn t hat
Isaac. no infant. g.oes to die both knowingly and willingly, t hus making
Abraham's willingness to kill seem less cruel. In G reco-Roma n fes ti val.
the populace was bro ught into contact with the victim during its

32 Waller Burkert. Gr~k Religion. 1rnns. John Raff:1n (Cambrid£~·: Harvard Uni\-crsity
Press.. 19S5'). p. 83.
Diffi!t eflli(lliou: 1\<farking Ritl{(t/, Seeing Sacrijitl' 41

procession thro ugh the city, so as to ta ke owners hip o f its sacrifice. Only
after such contact could the slaughter be efficacio us for the city as a
whole - the city. then. becomes in the processio n the force behind the
sacrifice a nd its ma in be neficiary.
Jesus does indeed proceed willingly into and through Jerusalem, d uly
heralded, on a fo ray \vhich, aside from bringing him into contact with
Jerusalem's populace. seems to have litt le purpose. Indeed, not only
does Jesus go along with the proceed ings, he a rranges the details o f the
procession himself, te lling his d isciples where and how to get hold of the
colt he will sit upo n - we can o nly assume t he purpose of the colt is to
make Jesus more visible be fo re the people ( 11.2-4).
But Jesus· coming to Jerusalem of his own free will. knowing tha t he
will d ie there. is perhaps ins ufficient evidence that he o ffe rs his life up
voluntarily. In Gethsemane. in fac t, a cloud of ambivalence gathers that
never does dissipate. Unlike its parallels in the o ther gospels. in Mark
Jesus' prayer in Gethsemome is q uite clea rly fo r the suffering ahead to be
averted. It is equally cle~1r that. aU pred ictions and scripture fulfi hnent to
the cont rary. it is possible fo r God to stop this tra in. 'Abba , Fa ther.'
Jesus prays. ·au things are possible fo r you: take this cup away from me'
(1 4.36a). Jesus is on t he one hand nol willing. to die; he does not want to.
Yel - ·yet not what I want. but what you want' ( 14.36b). He is no t
willing. but he is willing. It is not his own will that takes him t hro ugh to
the c ruc.ifixion. but the obscurely motivated will of God . Yet Jesus
panicipates. s ubmits, as o ne submits to the inevitable. but wit h the
knowledge that in God's terms at least this s uffering is not inevitable. In
G ethsemane-particularly. Jesus' very reluctance may be read as serving
to emphasize his ultimate-willingness. But it is o n this po int that t"1ark
s tands om fro m t he ot her gospels: for in Murk Jesus' s ubmissio n is
emphatically despite his resistance.
When the party from t he chief priests comes to a rrest him, the
a mbivalence continues. On the one hand. when his followers take up
arms against the a rresters, Jesus does not rebu ke them. This is a rnoment
o f Mark's decided diffe rence from t he other gospels that o ften goes
unread .
oi be tniJ3aAov tl~~ XiiQCI~ a'lvc(!• Ktd t "Qdt •)v"'" ath6v "'7 eft; bf
tu; 't(~)V 11CtQfvT'li\6T<I.lV (;.-flUvtiVf\'0<; t r)v Vt\XG\tQ«\' t 'llG\tvt\' T(IV
boVAov toO liQXttQi<~o;; ~;:ai a cptiA(V aVroU T(> c~•t6.{>tov "'a teai
&11o•~Q1Gei.; 0 l •)uoCN; eint:v at'rtoi~ <~~ t-n i AIJv'ti)v t~•)A9ate ~M&
t'G\XatQ<;:,V Ka! tVA<''" vVAAa~eiv ~( .J.9 me• 1)~(€QcW 1)~H)V rtQ6i;
i1pci.; i v t(i• le()(;' btM u KC..JV ~>:ai oV~>: tKQan)oa:rt ~f c.'cAA' iva
n.M)(X.;(-}c~lV al yQaq>r:tL
42 The Poll'er of Disorder

And they laid hands on him and seiZt.'<l him. But one of those standing
by, dn.lwin~. his sword. struck the servant of the high priest and he
took his eM off. And Jesus answered and said to him, ·Did you come
out as ag<linst a thief. with swords and clubs to seize me'! Day after
di.l)' I was near you in the temple teaching and you did not seize me.
But that the scriptul'es might be fulfilled.' (14.46-49)
Matthew, Luke . and John are unanimous in spe lling out Jesus' negative
judgement o f the bystander's violence. Matthew has Jesus instruct t he
ma n to put his sword away. asking,, ·Do you think that I cannot appea l
to my Fat her, a nd he \\>'ill at o nce send me mo re t ha n twelve legions of
angels? But how t hen sho uld the scriptures be fulfilled. lh<H it must be
so?' (Mt. 26.52-54). John. with unus ual simil<uity, also includes a n
instruc1ion fro m Je.~us to put the swo rd away. nnd t he like-minded
question. 's hall J not drink the cup that t he Fathe r has given me?' (John
18.1 1). Memorably, Luke goes beyond rebuk ing. t his particular instance
of violence and has Jesus o rdering: a general morato rium - ·no mo re of
this!' before actually healing the sliced ear (Lk. 22.51). Then and only
then, in Moll thew a nd Luke (never in John), is Jesus heard to admonish
the chief p riests' met hods of arrest.
The unanimity of the other gospels on this po int has meant that t he
admonition o f the chief priests' party here in Mark is most often read as
a chnstisement o f the bystander's sword as well. ll is something of a
shock to realize that Jesus could reasonably be speaking in fa vour o f t he
bystander's sword-blow. Jesus never c hastises the bearer of the s word in
Mark. Rather, he follows the bystander's act o f vio lence a.gainst t he.
c hief priests wit h an admo nition of the c hief priests' methods. It is not
impossib le to read <1 struggle being: played o ut>in which a b low is struck
that c uts ofT an ear, omd Jesus demands to know why he must be arrested
in this momner, a midst mom y blows und words from both sides. The very
fact that Jesus does no t a dmonish t he act o f violence committed o n his
beha lf signifies sorne amount o f resistance o n his part, which is a mplified
by the fac.t that he admonishes instead t he underha nded a nd viole-nt
methods o f t he a rresting officials.
Yet there com be no denying the fo rce of the phrase that concludes his
s peech and his struggle: 'But that the scriptures might be fulfilled '
( 14.49). The resignation and accepta nce in this phras-e provide a place
for the interp reti.ltions of Matthew> Luke a nd John to stand. Jesus in no
way acoepts the human actions o f the arreste rs, a ny more than he
accepts the crucifixion. But he does accept t hem as fulfilment of
scripture. Re maining human injustice. the condemnation nnd c.r ucifixion
are also divine providence.
There is resistanc.e, in Mark's gospel. Jesus prays fe rvently fo r t he
Diffi!t eflli(lliou: 1\<farking R itl{(t/, Seeing Sacrijitl' 43

looming c ru(.~i fi xio n lo be removed fro m his future; it is t he o nly thing in

this gospel for which we hear Jesus pray. He does no t welco me the
coming o f the arresting p<lrty. as is virtually t he case in t he other gospels,
no r does he rebuke those who attempt unsuccessfully to defe nd him and
prevent the arrest. Yet. he does walk towards his o rdeal knowingly, he
comes to Jerusalem o n tr<mspo rtation he himself procures, a nd he seems
to see some pro fo und purpose in doing so, if it is o nly that to do so is his
d ivinely o rdajned and pro phesied destiny. \Vhat Jesus submits to is no t
the Romans. no r t he Jews. but the phm o f God t ha t myste riously
requires his death.

I·V/10 Sacrifices Jesus?

From earliest times in the history o f C hristian inte rprc(atio n, where the
ritual aspects o f Jesus· deat h a re highlighted , the po nspects ha ve
faded proportionally:13 Girard seems determined to take the Passion o ut
o f the realm o f ritual for just this reason: he \vould like to see t he story o f
the c ross as injustic-e exposed and not as sacrifice: 14 If Jesus' de-a th is a
ritual with religious meaning. ns it is for the Epistle to t he Hebrews and
to a lesser extent the Jo ha nnine le tte rs, then it is not. it seems. the
executio n of a political prisoner. Ye t to read Jesus' executio n in Mar k as
to some extent a sacri1icial ritual does not in a ny way p reclude the
reading of a political conte nt t here as \veil. In tact. rit ual is intimately,
inextricably connected to sod a! and po litical realitie-S. The e(..-c les i~ts tic.a l
reading. o f Jesus as a sacrifice that follows Hebrews manages to erase
politics o nly by d ivorcing the sacrifice from all reality. by
ma king. of it an event that no lo nger happens in human time an d space,
but o nly on the level of spiritual abst raction. \Vit hin Ma rk·s presenta-

33 Soc: H. Clay Trumbull ( Tire BlotJd C'tJrenunt (Philadelphia: John 0. Waules. 1893J.
p. 214). for whom Jesus· death is the supreme sacrilicc that makes Christianity the supreme
rdigion. Cf. RenC Girmd. ( fliolenct> ami the Sacred )Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University
Press. 1977]). in which he says that to sec a killing as sacrificial is to mystify and hide the \ 'Cry
practical social benefits it com~ys. which for him include p:u:i6cation of the- society's violc-nt
urges (pp. 2- 17). Girard upplics this view of sacrifice as mystifi.c:ation to the: ~:ruc:ifi xion of
Jesus. whKh he sccs as simple injustic:c (Things J/idrkr1 Si11c~ tht> Fowulalirm qf tit~ World. in
ooll~1bomtion with Jcnn-Michd Oug)1ourlian and Guy l e Fort. trans. Stephen B.'lnn nnd
l\· Mc:uc:cr fStanford: Stanford Uni .,~rsi ty Press. 1987]. pp. 182- 83).
34 Girard. Tiling:; 1/iddl!n Sine~ 1be FmmdaJim• of llut World. pp. 182- 83. Although he
purports to de-mystify the s:.crili<:inl c:lcrncnts of the-gospd. for Girard himscM d~C injustice:
hidden lxhind the sacrificial myth has slr<mgdy little connection to the: socio-politicnl world.
People controlled by primiti"c impulses kill Jesus and the-n hide: d10sc wry impulses bc:hind n
myth of sacrifice. The: lcs:wn one ultimately draws from Gimrd·s reading has more-to do with
doctrines of hum:m sin th"n with sociul structures.
44 The Poll'er of Disorder

tion of Jesus' death . t here is no such spirit ualization. If Mark presents

the events o f t he Passio n as at once history and also in some sense a
rit ual, he necessarily involves himself in political and socia l issues - for
these are what rit ua ls act to negotiate.
Because Mark's gospel deals to a grent exte nt in Jewish ritual~
sacrificial read ings have the troubling tendency to read t he Jewish
authorities. if no t the Je\vs as a whole. as the force behind t he sacrifice.
Clea rly the te mple a ut ho rities - the hi£h p riests nnd scribes in Ma rk's
terms - a re Jesus' e nemies in t his gospel. A variety o f factors. no t a ll of
them \vholesome. have led many scho l;.us to conclude t ha t Mark is
intent on blaming the Jews a nd exo ne ra ting Rome fo r Jesus' death. If is sacrifice invo lved in the Passion story. it must be a Jewish
sacrifice. If Jesus is 'the lamb t hat was slain' {Rev. 5. 12). then t he.
presider, t he sacrificing agent. is naturally the high priest himself: for
such is his job, after a l1.35 Thus a sacrificia l read ing o f Mark o fie n serves
to condemn the e ntire system of temple sacrifice by accusing it o f having
killed Jesus, even while such a read ing mysteriously lifts Jesus' execution
out o f Roma n hands altogether.
Histo ric-al and literary st~holarship's underswnd ing of t he attit ude
towa rds Rome po rtrayed in Mark's gospel has varied within a
somewhut limited range. For the most po.ut. scho la rs agree t ha t Mark
begins the effort to a meliorate the evidence against Ro me t ha t Matthew,
Luke and Jo hn continue. For scholars like Paul \Vinte r a nd S. G. F.
Bmndon. Mark's e iTort to exonerate Rome nevertheless reveals the t rue
nature o f the conflict bet\veen Jesus a nd the Ro man uuthorities.
However Mark may tr y to uccentuate the conflict between Jesus a nd t he
temple authorities, runs this argumem, the historic.a l facts that can be
gleaned fro m the gospel point to Jesus' struggle with Rome as t hat
which got him executed.l6
Others ag_ree that Ro me does not appear to be to bla me in Mark. but
see this cha racte ristic o f t he gospel as reflecting the histo rical reality.
Van lersel maintains that, 'Jesus' adversaries are not foreign tymnts who
want to pe-rsuade people to despise Torah or renounce JH\VH '. On t he
contrary, he claims. they are rather t he Jewish religio us leadership
themselves. 37 \Vithout commenting o n the story's histo ricity} Jack

35 In R<:\•datjon itsdr. however. sz•crilicial n~fcr<:n<:es tend to represent the sulrering of and Christ ians under Roman. not Jewish, authorities.
36 Pa ul Winter, Tile Triul tJ/ i l'JIIS. Studi•~ Judaica. B<md I (Berlin: Walter de Gruytcr.
1961). p. 24: S. G. F. Brandon. Tht' Tri((/ of J eJU.'i of N( (New York: Stein and Day.
1%8). pp. 8 1.88.
31 Bastian M. F. Van lcrsd. Re((dillg Mtltk. trans.. W. H. Bisschcroux (Colk.gcville. MN:
Liturgjca1 Press. 1988). p. 192.
Diffi!t eflli(lliou: 1\<farking Ritl{(t/, Seeing Sacrijitl' 45

Kingsbury also concludes that Mark is <l •story of conflict between Jesus
a nd lsraef.3s Similarly. \Verner Kc.lber reads the coin controversy -
which clenrly says something about Ro man-Jewish relations - as
teaching that 'one may serve God as well us Caesar'; that is, that for
Jesus there is no conflict between t hese t\VO Joyalties.39 The "den o f
o utlaws' description of t he temple means lo Ke lber that the temple. far
fro m being a centre for Roman impedal power. was a "howen for
revolut ionaries': it is t heir militancy that Jesus means to c leanse in
t~hupter 11.40
Indeed , t here is in Ke lber a nd others. no tably Oscar Cullma nn. a
decided effort to distance Jesus from the revolutionaries of his er<L
\Vhile Brando n sees Mark as trying to d isting.uish Jesus from the rebe ls
o f 66 CE, Kelber and C ullmann see the historical Jesus, not Mark's
redaction, as providing the necessary d istance.·" Fo r Cullmann, it is
Jesus' ·radical obed ience lo t he will of God' t hat sets him apart from
both suppo rte rs of the status quo a nd advoc.a tes o f vio lent revollllitm .'12
Such a conclusio n. however intriguing: for Christian believers. makes
little sense in a critical context - the claim that Jesus was extmord ino:ui ly
o bed ient to God's will is a statement of faith immune to textual evidence
a nd schola rly argument.
Often even readings starting out fro m claims thnt Molrk is o pposing
Rome. along the way become bogged d own in Jesus· conflict with the
temple a uthorities, at times as though there we re no d istinction between
the two sets o f a uthorities.'u Ched Myers is a goo-d e xample of t his
pattern: ' Politically,' he begins. "the Temple served as a constnnt
reminder of the Davidic. kingship and an independent Israel, for which
re.nson it natur~1 lly lay at the heart o f dreams o f libemtio n from Rome. >44
But the dreams are wrongheaded. it t urns out. as wort hy o f Jesus'
rejection as the oppression lhat they mean to era dicate. Jesus' major
rebellions. in Myers' read ing. huve little to do with Ro me. Rnther, they
consist of a repudiation of the temple. a subversion o f t he purity system.

38 Jack Dean King.~bUI")'. Conjlkl in Mo,-k (Minneapolis: Fortress Press. 1?92), p. 56.
39 Kdbcr. Murk's Story. p. 64 •
.JO Kelber. Ma,-k's Story. p. 6 1.
41 Cf. Winter. Trial. pp. 23. 59. who sees Murk ns distan<:ing Jesus from the
revolutionaries. and bdin't's Jesus was mistakenly crucifirc:d as a revolutionary.
-12 Oscar C\lllmnnn. Tlle C/Jrisrology of tile .lti ew TtJiamellf. trans. Shirley C. Gu!hric: nnd
Charles A. ~'1. Hall (Philaddphiu: Westminster 1>-tc:ss. 1963). p. ''ii. Cf. J i"SIJJ a11d tile
RewJ{IIIimwries. trans. G:trc:th Putnam (New York: Harpe-r nnd Row. 1970).
.J3 Bruce Chilton. Tire Temple of Jesus (Uni\'crsity Park. PA: Pl·nnsylvanin State
Uni ~r.s:i ty Pl't'SS. 199'2).
H "'ly<:rs. Binding. p. 79.
46 The Poll'er of Disorder

and a shak ing o f t he fo undations of ·Jewish state powe r', a n entity

Mye rs serio usly overestimates:=~s
The exte-nt to which the Jewish state act ually wielded power.
independent of Rom;m a ut ho rities, seerns to have been fai rly small;
this is. after a ll, t he definition of an imperial occupation.46 Under t he
Ro mnn occupat ion. the high priest's robes were kept by the Roman
procurator . and given to the high priest o nly when t he latter's request to
conduct the business o f t he temple was granted. The priesthood, in other
words. which consti tuted the only semblance of Jev.rish political power._
operated only under t he close o bserva tion of the Romans.
Jt is not necessary to have even this very fundamental historical
info rmatio n to see that neit her the view that the Ro mans: are being
exonerated for their ac.tual crimes. nor the view that they ha d no ac.t ual
c rimes, no r the idea t hat in <lny case Jesus' major conflict was not with
the Romans, truly takes into account the degree to which . in fact. the
Ro mans a re held respo nsible fo r Jesus' death a nd s uffering in Mark. As
cannot be repeated enough, crucifixion was a Ro man form of execution.
Mo reover, in Ma rk we see t he Ro man governor rather carelessly
condemning Jesus to die ( I 5.1 5) and the Ro man sold iers mocking: him.
beating him, leading him to the cross. and gambling. fo r the clo thes they
have stripped fro m his body ( 15. 17. 19, 20. 24). If t his is an exoneration.
the-n t he scope o f a condemnation is difficult to imagine.
In fact, Mark appears to be exonerating the Romans only under a
pouticui<H source-critical assumptio n. If we assume thnt t here was no
denying the fact of t he crucifixion, then the push of Mark's rhetoric
seems to be against t he Jewish hierarchy, as if Mar k were S<-l)~ng.. 'All, yes, t he Roma ns technically condemned and c ruci fied him, but it
was really Je\llS manipulating t hings behind t he scenes who made it
ho1ppen.' Thus Pilate condemns Jes us ·wishing to sa tisfy the c rowd'
( 15.1 5). a nd t he Ro man centurion recognizes Jes us as God's son (albeit
only afte r Jesus has died) - these are. in such a read ing, attempts to take
the edge off of the facts o f Ro ma n responsibility as t hey stand. But if we
assume no thing <lbout the tl1ets o f Jesus' death, if - as in a purely lite rary
reading. or an unus ually sceptica l historical one - we attribute all o f t he.
story's major events to t he imagination of the a utho r, then t he
c rucifixio n looks very d iftCrent. If this is not an <lrg,ument against

45 Myers. Rindir1g. pp. 306.314. 321. 363.

46 Winter. Triul. p. 16. See also Richard A. Horsley and JohnS. Hanson on the extent to
whieb the pri~thood colbborutc.-d with Roman authorities in order to nltlintain the liulc-
pow~r they had (flam/its. f»rophets. ((JU/ Mwiahs(Minnc:apolis.: \Vinston Press. 1985]. p. II 0).
nnd John Dominie Cmssan on Roman authority to nppoint the high prics.ts ('n1e Cross llmt
Spoke (St1n Francisco: Harper and Row. 1988). p. 35).
Diffi!t eflli(lliou: 1\<farking Ritl{(t/, Seeing Sacrijitl' 41

historical sources that held the Romans responsible, then it is Mark

himself who holds them responsible. Indeed. it would be historically
unrea listic to expect Mark, clearly a Jewish write r of the fi rst t~entury,
not to have anything to say against the Roma n occupatio n. The
religious content of the gospe l o r of Jesus' ministry therein doc-s no t
signify a n apo litical stance for either. As Culhnann has said, 'T he
rebellion against t he Roman occupation force presented a lready in the
lime of Jesus the problem of Pa lestine, and it was simultaneously a
religious and political pro blem .' 47
Bm to explore these issues._ we need to look a t t he gospel as a whole,
and ho\v it deals with t he tensions between Rome, Jerusalem. and
Palestine. For t his is. I want to argue, a tripartite relationship - no t
simply between co lonizer and colonized , but between colonizer, collab-
o ra(or, and colonized.:!$ Palestine in the firs t century was in a sit ualion
a nalogous to Algeria during, t he French occupation. Bo th were in fac t
occupied by a deeply resented fo reign power, but as in nearly every
occupation. ag.ents o f the loc-al populace were regularly used to make the
foreign power's job easier. The n~sentment of t he occupied was d irected
not only to the intrud ing fo reign power, but to the coope rative e lements
wit hin t he populace itself - Muslims working for t he French colonial
government were o ften targets o f assassina tio n by the rebel forces in
Algeriu. This kind of t hree-part relatio nship is typical of colonial
rea lities. Tho ugh a n individual's identity may in fact cross categories,
the t heoretical catego ri c..~; o f colonizer, t~ollaborators and colonized
rema in. Perhaps bec-.tuse t he collaborator is more acces..~;ib le. a nd
certainly because the collaborator's c rime smac ks o f betrayal as we ll as
o ppression, resent ment and violence often burn ho ttest against these
local ag.ents o f t he oocupylng: fo rce.
In this light. consider Jesus' a rgument wit h the scribes over Beelzebub,
m Mark 3:
t«.tl ~QXt'tat ft~ oit<o\' ..:ai uvvioxncu nMtv 6 OxAo-; C~\lti ~'''
bVvaoeat a\Jtol'.;: f•.u)t>t d.Qtov (j>ayrtv 'lt ""i <iKo6uavuc; ol naQ·
cnhov t~r)Aeov KQtttt)o « t aVt6v ~Atyov yilQ O-tt N;.to'ttl 22 Kai oi
YQU~tfJUHi~ ol thtO 1tQ0<.1oAU~u..>v ~tar:sa-vu.; l:Atyov Ott
BeeA~e~VA l Xit O-tt i.v t (;, dQXoVtt 't(~W bcupovlwv f-•(~..\r\et
tit bettf.t0Vta 23
t(eti nQootatAttlt~~ttvo-;: a\){oU~ tv nccQ«.~oAal~

-H Cullmann. ChrisltJ!ogy of llli! New Testttmel11, p. ~: sec also Horsley and Honson.
Btmdit:i. pp. 30- 37. on the cycle or prot~! culminating in the rebellion or 66 c:f... and on the-
tension or the colonial sihmtion of fi rst·ttntury Pales.tin< in gcncrnl.
.;s Rich;.ud A. Horsley. l i!sus uml 1/Je Spiral of lliolt>.tlt't! (Minneapolis: Fortress Press.
1993). p. 9: Edward W. Said. Culturi! and lm{N'rialism (New York: Vintage Books. 1993).
p. 262.
48 The Poll'er of Disorder
Meyt\' t.u '>toi-:; m~~ t>Uvata• Eatc.wa.; !:atavtiv t~&AAeL\' •<(.\l
it't v rJ«vlAtla i'cj>' tavtt)v ~ttQ1vf:hj ol! bVvo:uu utath) V«L •l
f3a o 11\tk-t h:dVIl 25 ~<«i tO.v oit<i« etjl' lau·n)v ~tiQtofhj oU
bt>VI)Ut 'tCU 1) OiKia i!l(dVI) Q"[(.\(:.h)VU:I 26 IO:Cti t l 6 L.a-tawi:C dvtutJ)
e<f>' fetvt6v tW:t':Qiuf:JI) oU ~Vvt.\'l'L'tl o tll Vt"\ l &AAh 'tt Ao; t xet. '.!1
tt.\A" oi~ 60vcrn:u oUi>ei.; t't~ t i)V oix:lav 'tou ivXllQoU eioeA96.,v til
v Kei>tl ati'Toi~ bu.tQ1tt.\ocu Utv pt) 1tQ<;.,tov t Ov ivX\..'Q(.V tll)u1J t<t:d
t 6te ·n)v oltdcw aUtoV 6t.aQ1lc.ivet

A nd he comes into a house and the crowd comes together as:-din so

that they were not a ble C\'Cil to cat bread. And those wilh him, hearing
it, went out to seize him, for they were saying that he was beside
himself. And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem were sa}ring.
'He has Bcelzebul. and by the ruler of demons he casts out the
demons.' And calling them, he was saying to them in parables, ·How
(."',m Satan cast out Sata n? And if a kingdom is divided against itself.
thai kingdom cannot stand. And if ~\ household is divided against
itself. that household will not be able to swnd. And if Satan has risen
up a~ainst himself and is dtvided. he cannot srand, but is coming to an
end. But no one (."'Jn enter a strong man's household and plunder his
goods. unless he first binds the strong man; then indeed he will
plunder his house.' (3.20-27)
The discussion was o f Jesus' sanity a nd spirit ua l wholesomeness~ but
now it is s uddenly abo ut nations nnd ho uses - that is. political e ntities.
Demon posse.o;;sion has often in history been a metaphor for, o r rather a
way of understanding. colonization. How the n can Sata n cast o lll
Sata n? That is. how can those who h;we become aligned with. and in
some sense equivalent (o. the colonizer get rid o f t he colo nizer? How can
the scribes t hemselves be expected to rid the nation of its e\•il influences.
when they are infected with those influences'! If the te mple a nd the
nation are being plundered , it can o nly be because its rightful owners~
those who might otherwise prevent such an act. ~tre immobilized, bound
and gagsed.
This parnble. which must otherwise seem a rathe r facile defen~ of
Jesus' mental he-.alth. is in fac t a bitter c ritique o f the colonial sit uation.
Interestingly, the person robbing the house - alleg:oric.~tlly t he Romans -
does not actually emerge in the rnetapho r. The point is no t to criticize
the robbery itself, nlthough a c.o ndemnntio n is implicit. but to wonder
wh~tt hns hap pe-n ed to the s trong. ma n t hat he allows the ro bbe ry to tnke
place. Like most o f Jesus' pambles. t his o ne is lllUitivalent. Is t he s tro ng

49 Honky. Jesur am/ 1he Spiml of Viole11ce. p. 187: Mary Keller. Tlw J/ammenmd the
Flute (Bahimort': Johns Hopkins Uni\'Crsity Press. 2001). p. 63.
Diffi!t eflli(lliou: 1\<farking Ritl{(t/, Seeing Sacrijitl' 49

man to represent the te mple. bound by a wrongful priesthood? O r is the

man the Jews as a whole, bound by colluborators s uch as the scribes? In
the latter cuse the question ' How can Sutan cast out Satan?' can also be
read as as king the sc.ribes how they. demonic themselves. c~an presume to
s peak against the demons s upposedly possessing Jesus. \Vhat emerges is
Jesus' reversa l of the demo n-possession accusation. The scribes accuse
him of being. possessed. but his response implies that the nation is
possessed : it is a house turned against itself, as evident in the scribes'
very nntagonism towards Jesus.
This is Murk's take on the Roman-Jewish relationship. The gospel's
a nger with Jewish a ut ho rities springs from their willingness to collab-
o rate with Ro me, to conduct the affairs of a n occupied te rritory as
though it were a sovereign state. Rome itself rarely enters the d iscussion .
no t becnuse it is not bitterly resented, but because the betm yal that
m~1kes the Ro mnn o ppressio n possible is bitte rer a nd closer to hand.50
The robber is a robber, granted . The robber does what o ne expects from
a robber. The s trange and irksome part of the robbery underway is how
the ro bbe r has got into the house in t he first place.
The scribes a nd t he p riests in this gospe l wnnt Jesus dend: Jesus'
ministry c learly angers them. a nd t he hostility is mmual. But the conte nt
o f the conflict between Jesus and t hese Jewish a uthorities is their
respective attit udes towards Rome. T he Sanhedrin turns Jesus over to
the Roma n a uthorities precisely because Jesus has accused them o f
being in t he baC'k pocket of t hose a ut ho rities. a n accusatio n t ha t prove..;
itself in the co urse of his trial und death.
\Vhen the Messia h comes into contact with Rome. it is natural for t his
gospel that conflict results - the sovereignty t ha t the Messia h represents
is exaC'tly what Roman authorities o:are s(atio ned in Palestine to prevent.
\\'hat is unnatural is that t he Messiah should be handed over to Ro me
by collaborators from within t he Jewish nation itself. The priesthood
arrests Jesus in this gospel. and hands him over to Rome because he has
daimed to be the Christ. that is. God's a nointed one, the rightful,
resto rative king (.1 4.62: 15.2). That someone s hould claim to initiate
s uch <1 restora tio n has becom e a c rime in their eyes, as it is a crime in
Roman eyes. 51 In fact, Ro me mus t convict Jesus of the charge the
Sanhedrin brings ag-.tinst him precisely because Jesus' daim is not a
c rime against them , but agains t Rome.

50 Myers. BindiHg. p. 310.

51 Leaders d aiming mc:ssiuhship did not bcx:omc: martyrs until and unless t hey wen:
l'!lught. as Mark·s Jesus is. btt w~c-n the- Roman authorities and Jtws who (wilh good reason)
feared lhtm. For the: opposite: view. tha t Je-sus· dujm to mcssiahs.hip threatened only the
Jews. set E.. P. S:andcts. J eJIIS und Judoiwr ( Philadelphia: Fortn:ss 1~ . 1985).
50 The Poll'er of Disorder

Rome mocks J e\\~Sh sovereignty by o f Jesus' execut ion. In t he.

mockery thnt follows Jesus' condemnatio n, the Ro mans pretend to
accept Jesus as a king - in their minds he is the perfect king for t he Jews~
a loser, beaten crimina l king to embody a loser, beaten people. T he fact
is that the Jewish amhorities hand Jesus over to their own shame: they
facilitate t heir own mockery at Ro man hands.

Sacrifice, Comrol, ~Vomen and Blood

The d ichotomy o f control versus chaos, or perhaps a kind o f yin and
yang continuity between them, is o ne o f the primary subjects that bo th
rit ual and this gospel med itate upon. and bo th do so at times in gender
terms. Like most texts in the \vestern literary and biblical canons,
Mark's gospel sees women as mo re e mbodied and nat ura l, less c ultura l
and c ultured than rnen. Not only a re women seen in much of our
lite ra ture as less controlled. but they are o n en ~1llied with what must be
controlled. En route to a n examination o f the issue of control. gender
and sacrifice in Mark's Passion, we should perhaps begin with much
mo re recent history.
The ability of a woma n's body to nurture during pregnnncy, to give
birt h a nd then to provide for ~111 infnnt (or two) has been o bscured and
suppressed in western c ulture. Med ic-al science effectively d id what
ancient Greek culture wanted to do - it mnrgina lized women's
reproductive powers a nd refused those powers la nguage until they
became virtually invisible. Many women in t he \Vest a nd under t he
West's influence came to believe that pregnancy. childbirth and nurture
of infa nts simply could not be done, or could not be do ne well, without
the instructions. tools. methods and s upervisio n o f rnen. The history of
c hildbirth. o f breastfeeding. and o f caesou sectio ns (now again rising
in po pula rity) in the \Vest a re amo ng the ma ny examples o f •his rather
amazing development. The biological provision o f a woman's body for
herself and her offSpring wns devalued in favour of the imitation o f t hat
provision - such as fo rmula o r caesareo.m section - c reated by medica l
science. The advantage o f both fo rmula a nd c-sec-tions has been seen as
the mo the r's and moreover the doc.tor·s ability to measure. observe. and .
above all. to contro l that both provide, and t hat breastfeeding a nd
c hildbirth do not.
Thus is the female bod y e ntangled with the nat ura l world in the eyes
of a society that seeks to c.ontro l both. To s uppress and control t he
female body's functions is to s uppress and control t he natural world : to
imitate the female body"s produc tio n o f milk. to circ.u mvent its processes
Diffi!t eflli(lliou: 1\<farking Ritl{(t/, Seeing Sacrijitl' 51

o f c hild birth, is to recreate nature under socially prescribe-d c.o nditions,

conditions that t he. female body itself is seen as failing to meet.
A similar dynamic may be said to underlie the Levitica l purity
system's approach to menstrual blood . Mary D ougla..~·s insight. that the
purity laws' concern over the boundaries of the body re flected the
society's desire to pro tect the bounda ries of the social body, still bears
fruit. But Howard Eilberg-Schwartz notes that while a ll bod ily fluids
cross the body's boundaries. they are not all considered equa lly impure
o r contaminating. Urine is no t considered impure. no r is saliva . nnd
semen is much less contamina ti ng than menstrual blood .52 Not
s urprisingly. the d iffere nce in relative imp urity be twee.n semen and
menstrual blood is parHy t he fluid's gender. But even wit hin the
g_endering p rocess is the issue o f how nmenable the fluid is to person;.ll
a nd therefore social control. Urine is see-n as something that C-<l n be a nd
is routinely controlled a nd there-fore as lacking: t he po te ntia l to bring
chaos into t he social system. Semen may be c-ontrolled to some extent,
a nd therefore poses Jess of a threat than the inexorable. unstoppa ble
flow of menstrual blood .53 A woman's inte ntion has no po\ver over
when and \vhere and how she menstruates. Menstruation happe ns to us;
like t he weather o r the rotations o ft he cosmos. Thus we come to be seen
as in leag,ue ,.,rith that which must be contro lled. ra the r than with that
which controls. as of a piece with the nat ural c haos that culture and the
social o rder must define. sort out, rein in and recreate.
Impurity is associnted wit h denth - what contaminates o ften does so
by association with death - t hus menstrual blood and spilled semen,
both ind icatio ns o f missed o pportunity fo r conception, contaminate.54
In the priestly tradition. menstrual blood is closely associated with de.ath
a nd its power to contaminate is second o nly to contact with death itself
in the form of a corpse. Society's effort to humanize death. to bring it
under human control, o llen involves kill ing: if one can produce death
intention;.1lly. socia lly. t he illusio n is c reated thnt nil death - and thus all
o f life - is under socio:al control. ln the priestly system. t he controlled
death o f the sacrificial a nimal harnesses the powers of physical death in
the interests of soda! life.
This same logic applies to blood. Blood s pilled unintentionally
contaminates. Thus menstrual blood contaminates most pa rticularly -
its predictability making it all the more madde-ningly outside of soci<ll

51 Howard Ellbcrg-Schwlarll. The Sm'<tgt> ii1 Jut!.ui.wu (Bloomington a nd Indianapolis:

Indiana Uni\-crsity Press. 1990), p. 182.
53 Eilbcrg·S<:hwaro:. Tht> Sawtgt>. p. 187.
5-f Eilhcrg·Schwaru:. The Sawtgt>. pp. 183-8-4.
52 The Poll'er of Disorder

contro l. Unintentional blood separates those who bleed fro m society. By

the-ir blatant involveme nt in t he. natural cycle that includes death, they
a re te mporarily exiled fro m t he socia l \\,.orld. But t he blood of
circumcisio n and sacrifice. both s hed within ritual boundaries, produced
and d isplayed with intention, putify, and as contamination separates~
purific..-ttion unites. Thus the baby boy is cleansed from the blood o f his
mo ther's womb and broug,ht into pro per with his male a ncestors
by the blood of circum cision. He is thus huma nized. initiated into t he
patri~uchal human community. Similarly, t he blood of sacrifice con-
s truc ts the lineag,e o f the community as a social phenomeno n, as
women's blood cons tructs it as a natural phenomenon.55
Nancy Jay notes that purific.ation from contact with a corpse is
~lccomplish ed through a sacrifice. one that seems to be socially
reproducing: menstrual blood a t men's hands. The instruction that t he
sacrificia l victim be a red heifer ensures that it will be fe ma le, <llld the
symbolism of the colour red is emphasized by the fact that wit h t he
heifer (<l female cow tha t has not yet given birt h, for those of us
unfamiliar with livestock terminology) is to be burned a red cloth. Jay
takes t he red cloth to be a e uphemism for a ·menstruous rag·. in \vhich
case the sacrificer \llould seem to be producing a cleansing substance
from the as hes o f a contaminating one. us ing t he power o f t he
uncontrolled, contaminating blood. the power of the contaminating,
uncontrolled female. as raw mate rial for a controlled, purifying~ male
substance.56 Again, when m en by a rtifice and intention do \Vhat women
do as a biologica l funct ion, that \'ery j uxtaposition in one movement
socially excludes the fe male, natura l version. and ho lds the m~ll e,
cuJtural version up as socially constructive.
Jfthese issues are involved with the purity system and its coordinating
system of sacrifice. t hen how do they play into Mark's presentatio n of
Jesus· death? The space o f the temple and even o f the city is a sacred
s pace in t his gospel, a space set aside for t he sacrifice o f P~lssover nnd for
Jesus· dent h. \Ve ought in that <.oase to ask o ursel\'es whether Jesus' death
is seen as mundane a nd therefore om intrus io n of contaminating c haos
into the course of life, or intentio na l, controlled~ a nd the refore purifying
- o r pe rhaps we to ask if the gospel accepts those categories.
As Richard Swanson notes, Jesus is never said to bleed in this

55 N:mcy Jay. 171rrmglww }'our Gemrralimu Fom't'r (C'hic.ago: University of Chicago

P~.~ 1992). p. 26.
56 Jay. Tlarouglwu1 Your GtTnemtimu·. p. 29.
Diffi!t eflli(lliou: 1\<farking Ritl{(t/, Seeing Sacrijitl' 53

gospel.57 He is beaten ";u, slaps or punc hes ( I4.65). wit h a reed ( I 5. I 9)

a nd with a whip; he is c.rowned with tho rns ( 15. 17), he is crucified and
d ies quickly ( 15.44-4 5), but he does not explicitly bleed. John's gospe l
corrects Lhis absence: Lhere the soldier stabs Jesus afte.r his death,
producing a ftow o f blood and water. But in Ma rk's gospel, Pilate takes
the centurion's word tha t Jesus has indeed died . and no blood flows.
before o r after dea th. As Swanson notes. there are. o nly two explicit
mentio ns of blood in Mark's gospel: t he long-te rm uncontro lled gus h o f
the haemorrhaging woman in Mark 5 and the controlled a nd purposeful
pouring. of the wine-become-b lood a t Jesus' final meal in chap ter 14.
Jesus may be in a sense pouring out his own blood in advance a t the
Passover. which wo uld expluin the lack of blood on the cross later. In
that case, he would be dmining his own bod y o r blood, so tha t it
becomes horrify edible accord ing to t he laws o f kas!Jmt. Like the
a nonymous woma n a nointing, his body fo r burial a head of time, Jesus
does seem to be d istributing his body a nd blood beforehand , as though
to leave the Sanhedrin, Pila te and the Roman soldiers a n empty hus k to
play with. He pours out his blood in c hapter 14 in a rit ua l fra me, for a n
intentional purpose. a nd tha t same blood is notably absent from the
descr iption o f what happens later, when it would have been spilled
mundanely. a po we rful souroe of contamination.
The difference between two ins ta nces o f blood thut occur in t his
gospel is s triking in this rega rd. The haemorrhaging woman's blood is
no table fo r its ubsolutely uncontro lled q u<llity. Despite the efforts o f
doctors a nd the fervent desire o f the woma n herself, lt contin ues in a
torrent fo r twelve years - not only uncontrolled , but uncontroll<1ble.
despite a ll huma n e fforts. In s ho rt. like the legion of demo ns whose story
immed ia te ly precedes this o ne. no human power has been able to subdue
it (M k 5.4). Jesus' blood. o n t he contrary. not only does not gush
uncontro llably. it is no t eve.n bled . This blood o nly exists bec-attse he
wills it into being. Jt was wine. in some sense a t least it s till is wine . and
wine that has alrea.dy been d runk, but Jesus makes it his blood, a nd in
the same brea th he rnakes his blood to have been poured out for ma ny.
In fact, the pa rticiple t ra nsla ted 'poured out' here - fKxuvv6~ttvov ­
can a lso mean ' being shed•, or even ·gushing'. The a ut ho r of Acts use..~;
the aorist passive of t his same verb to describe the spontaneous spilling
out o f Judas' insides onto the Field o f Blood (Acts 1.18). No one
translates Judas· guts as having been poured o ut; t hey a re said rather to

57 Richard Swanson. •This is My Blood: Socittl Mm1or)· of Boundmy Crossing· (Paper

dd ivcrcd al 1hc Annual Meeting of the Sociely for Biblical litcnllurc. Washington. DC'. 1992
in the Synoptic Gospels Soction).
54 The Poll'er of Disorder

'gush' (N RSV). Perhaps the translation 'poured out' fo r what happens:

to the wine become blood in Mark 14 is suggested by the fact that Jesus
has just poured the stun~ o ut, into a cup, fo r the benefit o f his followers.
T he issue I a m gelling a t is contro l - Jesus cont ro ls his blood to the
extent that he does not even bleed it. His body. having been the agc.nt
thnt stopped a torrent of a woma n's blood in ch"pter 5, 110\\' do les o ut
its own blood neatly into a cup a nd gives it a way, spilling. not a drop.
Strikingly. in this gospel, t he woman's blood that is so surprisingly
present does no t nurture a nything. T he blood o f the bleeding \voma n is
e mphatically unable to feed a ny potential o tTspring. It requires Jesus to
take up that blood and give it back out again before it can feed anyone.
and when the disciples drink. they drink Jesus' own blood - male blood~
and the blood o f sacrifice, the inte ntional blood that cleanses. and not
the natural blood that contaminates. Yet the pro foundly physicnl
connectio n bel\veen Jesus and the bleeding woma n a nd the fact that she
is t he first to be healed by touching his garments seems to imply t hat
Je-sus' body is made yet mo re potent by t his contact (5.29-30). Her blood
spilled on the pages o f t he gospel seems to become his power, a nd
perhaps. the power of his blood.
Chapter 3


Repel ilion
One o f the mo re o bvious identif)~ng as pects o f ritual, setting: it off from
unprogro1mmed experience. is that o f repetition. /'\ ritual is repeated in a
way that experience cun never be. A lthough t he acto rs. the results and
the context o f a ritual m<l}' - to some extent they must - vary fro m one
enuctment to another. neverthe less, there is enough consiste ncy in the
ritua l fmmewo rk for the pa rticipa nts to understand themselves as
repeating act ions that ha ve long been estnblished as meaningful,
effic.a cio us, and appro priate. Through such repetitio n the participants
may ucquire what Bell c.alls a sense o f 'rit ua l maste ry', t hat, unlike the
experiences of unprogra mmed life, those o f ritual may be mastered s uccessive e nactments. practised until t hey are perfect . 1
Recent films, s uch as Groundhog Day and Ff{t)'' First Dates highlig;h t
the unrepeatability of everyday experience by imagining an opportunity
to do the snme day. o r the same dnte . over, ma ny times. The c haracters
in both movies make various mistakes. which they can then correct the
next time around, and even tually this process. though frustra ting, leads
the way out of the e ndless repetitio n and learning a nd into ro muntic
s uccess.2 If only. both fil ms imply} we could hnve enough c hances,
perhaps we could finall y get it righ t.
The implicit iro ny in choosing t his s ubject matter for a n art form like
film is t ha t such art itself o ften seerns generated fro m t he basic impulse
to control and re.peal some seg.ment of life, in order to make it the way it
o ught to ha\'e been. as o ppo sed to the way it was. So the protagonist o f
Annie Hall. a playwrig)lt thinly d isguising the film"s c.reator, Woody
A llen. recrea tes his real. fa iled relationship on stage, \vhere it ends in

1 Cathr.rine Bell. RittJul17u!ory. Riural Pnrclict' (NC'Iv York: Oxford Uniwrsity Press.
19•)2). p. 120.
2 Hollywood·s i<k.t~ of repeating life until we- get it right or transcend it is reminiscent of.
and possibly influenced by. Hindu nnd Buddhist understandings of rcina 1rnatio-n. In these
films.. though. Ihe p<Lins of cxistr nre arc trtlnsposcd into the pains of roman lie love.
56 The Poll'er of Disorder

fulfilmen t. Likewise. Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald in the film Last of the Belles
~lccuses her husband (the novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald) of writing their
relationship's sto ry om repeatedly in his fk.tio n, drlven by the impulse to
get it right at last. .1
RituaL similarly. maintains n utopic qua lity through repetition. J. Z.
Smith sa ys, ' Rit ual is a means of performing things the wa y things o ught
to be in conscious tensio n to the way things are.'" By the very fact of
being planned and repe~atable, ritual s moo thes t he rough edges o f lived
experienc.e. This process of meaning-mak ing through repe tition emerges
within Mark's story o.1s seemingly unscripted. one-time events within t he
noumtive take on the sense o f eithe r having: been repeated or o f being
repetitio ns the fi rst time they occur.
Jesus' death clearly is an event t hat o nly oc.cur once: its grounding
in linear histo ry prevents it from being in this sense a repeated ritual.
The book of He brews raises the unrepeaiable quality o f Jesus' death to
the status of a virtue . There Jesus' death (on an unmentioned cross)
bet~omes u kind o f sacrifice, played out in a hea venly reality
'once and for all'. thus putting an end to the need fo r what t he author
sees as t he tire-some daily sacrifices of the temple. But fo r Mark Jesus'
death is no t a myt h and t he c ross c.;mnot go unmentioned. If this death is
to be in a ny way efficacious as a ritU<ll. o r even meaningful in its horro r.
the-re mus t be a sense o f preparedness fo r it. the kind o f prepared
framewo rk that repeti tion p rovides for religjous ritual. Indeed, by t he.
time it oc.curs in Mark's gospel t he reader is so prepared for it that we~
unlike the cho.uacte rs in the s(ory, move through this o ne-time event with
the attentio n it is due~ a nd wit h the sense that although traumatic and
s hocking, the killing of Jesus feels a t the same time und in a s tra ng.esense
ap propriate. comprehensible and efficacious.
In the previous chapter, we have already no ted this phenomenon
occurring in the narr.ttion of Pete r's denia l. \\'hen Peter and the reader
miss the rooster's fi rs t warning crow. the reader c-an only hea r t he
rooster c rowing o nce. but wit h the kee.n sense thut t his one time is a
repetitio n. In t his c hapter I will explore other moments when events guin
the weig,ht of repetitio n, despite their ostensib le o ne-time nature.

Pra)'f!l' at Ge1llsemane

Like the rooster c rowing at Pe te r's denial, Jesus· prayer at Gelhsemane

emerges t hro ugh repeti tion. eve.n while the reader and t he disciples hear

3 Last of lite Jklles. George Schaffer. dirc:clOr. 1974.

4 Jonathnn Z. Smith. To T<ike P/(IC'C' (Chicago: Univcrsily of Chicago Pres..;). p. 109.
Repetition in Unreptullc<l Time 57

it only once. Jes us first prays, a lo ne a nd o ut o f anyone's hea ring. but the
reader's: ·Abba, Father. take t his c up awny from me. Yet no t what I
want, but what you \Vant.' He returns to the d isciples to find them
sleeping, fo r which he reprimands them. Then he g.oes o fT to pray ag,a in.
This second time~ the prayer itself is repe<lted, not simply in essence, but
appa rently verbatim: 'And again going: away he prayed. saying the same
word' ( 14.39). Although the reader does no t hea r the prayer's
reiteratio n. we a re to ld that it is s uch.
Prayer. o f course. is a rit ua l. a nd Jesus does it by stand;ud ritual
means. He goes away from the a;roup nnd falls to the ground in the ritual
posture of the grieved penitent.) The pra yer he prays is a very particular
o ne. not prescribed by rit ua l form. Ye t he repeats it mo re or Jess word
for word . three times. Not only the act of prayer. but t he idiosyncratic
words o f this prayer, become the repeated rit ua l act. But a Jouger ritl l<ll
appears to grow from t he. seeds o f the repeated prayer, fo r t he discip les'
sleepy lack of awareness is also repeated. While Mark relates the fact o f
Jesus' pra)~ng. only twice. he tells us of the disciples' failure to ·watch
a nd pray' three times. Jesus returns from prayer the third time
immediate ly after returning t he second time:
Kt:ti. mLhv tAec;.,v tVQtV at'n-oi~ t.:aGei~vtttt; l)vc.:w yt\Q al•t<~IV oi
O¥'~J:oi ~'ta~f,QtJv6_tttV«.?t "ai ~UK .•}t>e•o~\\1 .tt t\no~tec~l~'
CWT(~l 1 K(U eQXtTCU 'tO 't(>l TO\' Kt'll At)-'lt Ullto v; IO:Cd3tvbtTf to
i\omov K-ai'leuet:;

And coming a~ain he fou nd them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy.
and they did not know what to a nswer him. And he comes the third
time and says to them, · you still lying down and resting:'?' (14.40-
Jesus ·came for the third time'. \\rit hout. as far as we've read. having
gone fo r the third time. His second repetition of t he praye r is
s ummarized : his third g.oes without saying. In fact, the d isciples· failure
to watc h has eclipsed Jesus· prayer as t he repeated acl. as tho ugh their
failure to pmy~ or even to stay awake. with him has itself become ::a pa rt
o f Jesus' praye r ritual - more important thnn the prayer itself. \Vhat is the interplay between the no rmally unrepealable particulnr·
ities of ritual - those experiential aspects that <"'.mnot be prog.rammed -
a nd ritual's repeatable frame\vork. The boundary, that is. be t\veen ritual
a nd unprogrammed experience is blurred. even \vhile it is highlighted.

5 Cf. Dnvid in 1 Samuel 12.16-1 7.

58 The Poll'er of Disorder

Victor Turner has said that ritual's repe titive c.haracter represents
continuity and fixity. as o pposed to mutability.
By dint of repetition, (ritual participants}deny the passa~ of time, the
nawre of ch;.mge and the implicit extent of potential indeterminacy in
social relations ... the attempt is made to fix social life. to keep it from
slipping into the sea of indete-rminac.y.6
Thus. when within the narrative world of t he gospel, experience
spontaneously falls into repetitive patterns. we may read an effort to
fores t<tll indeterminacy. The repetitio n in t he gospel, like ot her ritunl
e lements, speaks in favour of the meaning and ngainst the meaning-
lessness o f expe1ience. Yet its very presence in a narrative t hat might
assume, rather t han assert, such a s tan~ indicates how near Mark
stands to the boundary be tween sense and senselessness.
In the scene in Gethsemane, the reader misses the moment when Jesus
goes away fo r the third time. as t ho ugh we also ha ve been asleep fo r t he
interim. Our awareness, which the disciples did not share, of t he.
substance of Jesus• prayer has a t t his point d issolved, so that we now no
lo nger hear that he prayed t he same thing. o r even that he prayed at all.
We o nly assume so fro m hea ring that he now returns again to
il\Vaken the disciples. a nd o urselves. This Jack o f awareness is shared
between the reader a nd the d isciples aga in in Pete r's denia l. as we saw in
Chupte r 2. Taken together. the two incidents ac~ntuate t he disciples'
and possibly the reader's inattention. the very opposite of the hyper-
~1\vareness that usually characterizes ritual. Yet it is exactly this
unawareness th<-11 becomes the substance of ritual repetition. in bo th
cases. Peter denies as predicted , following: his ritual script>only becnuse
he does not pa y a dequate attention: he forgets in a ritual fashio n. Peter,
Ja mes a nd John nt Gethsemou1e sleep omd ure reprimnnded likewise in a
ritualized way: <1 lack of awn reness in bo th cnses ironically constitutes
the ritualization.
In both c.ases as well, Pe te r and friends fail to pay attention exactly
while Jesus is engaged in moving fo rward tO\vards his own death. The
repeated prayer a t Gethsemane signifies Jesus' decision to obey God's
will a nd submit to crucifixion - a key moment after \Vhich the crucifixion
approaches with speed. Likewise. while Pe ter is busy failing to pay
attention or to remember, Jesus g.ets himself condemned by t he
Sanhedrin, a b rief and essential step in the process that for this gospel to c rucifixion. The message seems to be t ha t if the events leading

6 Viclor Turner. 0J1tlu~ £;/ge of tht> RuJII. cd. Edith L. It Turner (Toc.son: Uni,·crsity of
Aril.ona Press. 1985). p. 1&.4.
Repetition in Unreptullc<l Time 59

up to Jesus' death make up a ritual proc.ess. thnt process involves the

ritualizing of what is least like ritual - an inattention. forgetfulness and
sleepiness to which the huma n being. is continunlly prone.7

PrediCFions <ts Ritual ScnJn

Perhaps what rnos1 gives t he Pussion its sense o f scrip tedness. o f being
the unfo lding of an already written plot, are Je.!ms' predictions -
including bot h sets of clairvoyant instructio ns to the disciples a nd the
three explicit p redidions o f his own death. Predictions by their nature
break the ru les of ordinary time: one sees the othen\~Se obscure future
a nd t hen experiences the fulfi lling: present as a kind of memory.
Certainly when a prediction comes true. in a na rrative or in real li fe,
those who know about t he prediction pay an unusual a mo unt o f
attention to t he events thnt fulfil it. To decla re t ha t nn event was
predicted. us Mark's gospel does, is to give that event cosmic
significance. to see it as important e no ugh to have been planned, by
God in this case. in advance. Conversely. wit hin the narrative
framework. a prediction, prophecy, o r o men acts as 1.1 kind o f
prepuralion fo r the event. 1f generally speaking, ·tife is ;:a d ress rehears.<ll
for which there is no performance'. then predictio ns act as a kind o f
rehearsa l (in its doub le sense of ~practice' and ·oral recital') and thus
lend the events mo re of an air of n rehearsed perfo nnance - something
ultimately intentional and full o f meaning.s
Students of o ral tmdition note that orality necessarily involves no t
o nly repetitio n - which gives the audience time a nd oppo rtunity to
process t he story - blll also what is sometimes called 'the echo effect·.
Eric Havelock c.oined the te rm in his study o f Sophocles' Oc<hJms Rex,
as a mnemonic device involving items in a series. These items, which
may be a motif in the story~ n kind of scene. o r an element o f d ialosue,
occur in such a way that the later items will remind the hearer of the
ea rlier o nes. 'The fut ure.' Havelock notes o f Greek tmgedy, ' is e ncoded
in the present'. so t hat the sto ry becomes ·bo th prophetic a nd
retrospective'. The narrative as a whole ·turns back on itself in o rder

7 lntcrc:stingly. both Buddhism nnd lsf.!1m highlight for!.~l fulnc~ as humanity's essc:ntinl
weakness. whic-h the: pructi.x of cnch rd igion addresses.
8 Milan Kundcm. Tht> Unlwtmble Light11ess of Being tNI:'v Yor~ : HorpcrCollins. 1984).
p. 8. 'If we hn\~ only one life lo live; Tomas muses. ·we might :Ls wdl no! have lived nt nil:
60 The Poll'er of Disorder

to assis t t he. memo ry to reach t he end by ha,~ng it a nticipated somehow

in the beginning'."
Jesus' predictions, containing elements o f the future , encoded indeed
in the story's present, assist the reader to process the story's events as
they a re to ld. by making their occurre.nce in the story's present a
repetitio n. The fulfilment of t he prediction rem inds t he reader, in
Havelock's echo eiTec.t . of t he earlier moment when the event was
predicted. The overo11l e tTect is perform~ative - a quality shared by o ral
tradition and ritual - in which the story's present te nse takes o n meaning
by having been presaged. ;nvaited a nd fo retold.

'Just as he had told them': Pri•tlicting the Colt and rlw Room
Jesus' mo re mundane predictions a re instructions fo r the disciples t hat
antic ipate not o nly what t hey must do. bm o bs tacles they will e ncounter
and ho\ll they ought to respond. These two sets of ins tructions bo th
require some of the disciple..~ to precede Jes us into the city o f Jerusalem.
in order to make things ready for his subsequen t entry. Indeed, the first
such set of ins tructions occurs in chapter I I. j us t before Jesus e nters
Jerusa lem fo r the fi rst tirne.
Kat Ott tyyt~V(H\' d:; 'ltQou&\vpa d:; B•)GfJ>ayi} ~<al BI}Getvlav
1tQO.; 1'6 ~ 'TC~)V 'E,\at<~V, anov'TiAAet bOo 'TC~)V p at) •)t<~v aVtoV
2 Kt:ti Atye1ft.lhol~, lnt~yett e~ 't'r~v •..:<;,~trlV 'ti}v •<a'Ti vaVT• ti~U~\'?
~..:al eOai'-; ei.vnoQU.'' Vo• ei.; al,t r)v t'0Qr)ot'tf m~)Aov bebeplvov
t:q> &v oUbet~ olJm,> Ctv€1Q<~mo.N tt~t\Ehvi\'. Aivau et&t6v Kt:ti
q:.i:Qett.. ..:ai M.v t1~ tlf.t iV et'niJ, Tf noa~lte tot)to; c'ini.tte? '0 •..:i'QtCI';
alrtoi~ XQtlav l'Xtt, •..:ai tOO\~ al"t6V tinout b\.Aer nCtAw c~e." ao..:ai
am)Aeov •<cd tl'QoV m~ov bet)i~tivov :rcQO:; 9l~Qoav ~~c-.~ tnt -coV
at.tct>Obov, •..:etl AtioU<.HV al,'C6\I. s .:«l 't'IVf~ '((~)\1 t..:et ~v'Ttl•<6'C6N
{,\eyov al1tol;;, Tl nou:i.te ADovtt~ tQv 7t<~Aov; 6 ot be dnav al,t o«;
..:at)(~'.; ti.ntv 6 l l}voil\';· ~<etl aq,l)...:av al•to\·~.

When they were approaching Jerusalem, at Bethpha~.e and Bethany,

near the Mount of Olives, he sends two of his disciples and says to
them. 'Go into the village opposite you. and immediately going into it.
you will find a tied c,olt upon '"'hich no human being has ever sat; free
it and brin~. it. And if anyone says to you. "Why are you doin~ this?"
S<l)1: . .The Lord has need of it and will send it here- again
immediately." · And they went away and found a colt tied near a
door. outside in the street, and they are freeing it. And some of those

9 Eric Ha\'dock. ·oral composition in the Oedipus Tymnnus of Sophocles·. Nl'w

Litemr.r f.liJtorJ· 16 (19S.J). p. U!J.
Repetition in Unreptullc<l Time 61

standing there were saying to them, ·What are you doing, fl\.>eing the
colt'?' But they said to them just as Jesus had said: and they allowed
them. (1 1.1- 6)
Jesus' advance knowledge that t he colt that has never known a rider will
be found a long. their path. pa rticuhuly \vhen their pa th into the village
has not been s pecified, apparently ind icates s upernatural fo reknowledge.
It has almost t he air. however. of a prearra nged signal, as t hough the
scene had been carefully choreographed by Jesus (ra ther than God)
beforehand. In particular. the s ugg.estion t ha t if anyone questio ns their
taking the colt. they should in effect respond that Jesus sent them
sounds like clairvoyance t ha n it does like Jesus wield ing his
influence. \Vhen t he d isciples find the colt, they have no d e.c.1r indication
that it has never been ridden, but seem to assume that since it is a colt,
s uch must be the case. The re is no demonstrative pronoun or other
underlining of this pa rticula r colt being. the one t hat Jesus inte nded, no
statement that t he colt is fo und just where Jesus said it would be: we o1re
o nly told that t hey found a colt. The only as pect of the story that
s uggests dairvoyanc.e is the fact that t he colt's owners agree to this loan,
a nd even then. t heir agreement and Jesus' fore knowledge of il can be
read as functio ns of his fmne and popularity at this point. No doubt the
Philndelphia Eagles star quarte rback Donovan McNabb could com-
mandeer a vehicle in t he sante way (in Philadelphia). if his friends could
only convince the owner that it was indeed McNabb who wanted it.
Neve rtheless, the disciples' following: his instructions to t he letter.
encountering precisely the question that Jesus has nnticipated and
responding as they were told to do gives a n overa ll sense of right ness to
the scene. The s upernatura.l scripte.d ness of t he d isciples' missio n nnd its
fulfilment precise-ly according: to script loads the simp le task of finding
Jes us a don key with meaning. Clenrly, whet her or no t the inst ructions
are un exnmple of clairvoyance. Jesus' arrival into Jerusalem has been
a nticipated . People around Je rusnlem are ready to receive him - they
will even send t heir own t ransportatio n to b ring him in to t he city.
Simihuly. Jes us' inst ructions to his disciples to p repare the Pas..~ovcr
lie ambiguously between clairvoyant predictio n a nd display of \\:ide-
sp read po pula r s uppo rt. though in this case le.-m ing slightly mo re toward
the fo rme r. Jesus tells t he d isciples that they will meet 'a man carrying a
jar o f wate r' - again. is the man carrying the water in order to be
identified. by prior nrra ngeme.n t, or does Jesus know by s upernatural
means that this man carrying wate r will be there? Carrying wate r is
a lmost universnlly considered women's work, which perhaps makes t his
m<tn easier to identify. In this case at least. the disciples seem to find the
62 The Poll'er of Disorder

pnrticular man whom Jesus described. and the re is in fact t he emphasis

on their d iscovery having been fo retold - emphas is that we were missing
in the discO\•ery o f the colt: 'The disdples went oul, a nd they wem into
the c ity, a nd t hey fo und it j ust as he h"d told them' ( 14. 16).
There is a fo lkloric quality a bout these specific. somewhat c lairvoyant
instructions fro m Jesus to his d isciples. So in the story of 'The Tinder
Box'. a witc h ins tructs a soldier \vho has met her on the road to descend
into the hollow of a t ree, tells him wha t treasure and dansers he \\~II
e ncounter there. and lets him in o n the secret of how to nemraJize t he
dangers. 10 Like the witch, Jesus acts wit h these predictions as a guide
with s upernatural knowledge o f the territory into which the m ere
mo rta ls will go. In folk-s tories this kind o f guide is necessa ry when t he.
protagonist e nters a pnrticularly a nd mysteriously da ngerous place or
e ncounters an otherwise insurmountable o bstacle. The presence o f s uch
a motif here underlines the city of Je rusalem as a d ifficult and dangerous
place, one that the average human being will require s upernatura l
assistance to navigate.

The Presence of Passm•er

If there is ritual repetition nowhere e lse in Mark's gospel, we can surely
look for such repetition in the celebratio n of the Passover. The m eal is
introduced by placing it fi rs t within the time fra me of the festiva l: 'on t he
first day of the fes tival'. and then specifically within the ritual conte-xt of
sac1ifice: 'when they were sacrificing t he Passover' (14. 12). Although. as
we will see be low. t he rinwl p ractices of the Passover m eal are a bsent or
at least invisible here. the festival nevertheless makes its presence felt.
Given the vagueness of t his gospel's references to time up to t his po int.
the prominence of Passover's tirne here becomes emphatic. We be.gjn t he.
Passion thus o riented in narralive tim e, as readers. so thnt everything
that happens in the gospel's last chapters does so against the b;1ckdrop
of the myth and rit ua l o f Passover.
The Exo-dus s to ry o f Passover - with its liberation through viole nce~
s laughter e ndured and escaped - fonns a founda tio na l myth within t he
biblic-al tradition. That this story expresses somehow the prima ry
essence of Is rael's relatio nship to God is a matter o f utmost relevance
for t he inte rpretatio n o f the Passover in Mark's gospel. Fo r although t he
rit ua l performed by Jesus and his d isciples varies drastically fro m t he
Passover in its symbolism of a hurnan body and more so of huma n

10 Paul Ham1yn (00.). ·The Tinder Box' in H1w5 Chrisrian Andcn:-nS F:ti1y Tulr:.-;
(Middlt$c:.x. UK: Hamlyn. 1959. 196SJ. pp. 7- 14.
Repetition in Unreptullc<l Time 63

blood being. cons umed by pnrticipants~ yet the Pussover story makes
itself felt even through t his aberrm ive interpretation. The death thut
calls o n every household a nd spares only t he ritually prepared is ~at the
door in Ma rk 14, where Jesus and his d isciples reside on the brink no t
only of his death . but, as we have le.arned in cha pter 13, of the
destruction of all b ut the elect ( 13.20, 27).

TIJ ~ Absence of Pas.\·o~;•er· and the L(lck of Eucharist

In Jesus' ins tructions concerning t he upper room there is. us we ha ve
seen. a kind of scrip t for the pre paration of t he Passover. But the story
o f the actual 11:1eal does not revea l <111)' prescribed titua l acts. Ruther,
Jesus departs fro m Passover traditions to s uch an extent that despite the
text's explicit mention of the festiva L readers sometimes wonder whether
this meal is to be understood as the Passover al a ll. There is no mention
o f the foods or d ialogue prescribed in Exodus. nor any of the traditions
that have accrued to the ho liday in the intervening t ho usand years.
Jes us' declaration t hat t he wine is his blood, in particular, has been
a mply no ted as s triking a jouring, o ffe ns ive note in the context o f
Passover, whose temple sacrifices, ho me celebrations, and s urrounding
s tory-line give blood such extraordinary power. It seems clear in t he text
that this is a Passover nevertheless, t here is stmngely little to it as such.
If the choreographed actions o f Passover are m issing here. neither are
Lhey replaced by a lit urgy of eucharist. Un like Luke's gospel, there is no
indicollio n here in Mark that J e..~us institutes a new ritual in his words
about the bread and wine. The phrase 'do this in memo ry o f me' (Lie
22.1 9) is ubsent in Mark: Jesus does nol seem concerned nbout any
fu ture repetition of this meal Rather, he emphasizes t hat he him self will
never drink wine again - there will be in this sense a d istinct lack o f
repetition - until the kingdom comes ( 14.2~).
This unconcern fOr t he reader's est<lhlished rituals o f Passover undfor
eucharist finds com pensation in the story's and Jes us' inte nse concern
for what is becoming the ritual o f his death. From t his point o n, in fact,
Jes us speaks of almost nothing else but his own approaching death.
Framing t he meal like bookends arc. again, predictions o f events that
will immedi<Hely follow. again loading t he events themselves - even
before they occur - with the rneaning that aocrues with repetitio n. Jesus'
dairvoyant commissioning o f the d isciples to acquire fi rst the colt and
then the upper room may e mphasize the d isciples' willing service to their
64 The Poll'er of Disorder

maste r. 11 but t he clairvoyance emerging d uring. and after t he meal

emphasizes prec.isely the opposite.. The utter fa ilure o f the d isciples
becomes. in fact. the favourite subject o f repetitio n from this meal
through the end ing. of the gospel.
Jesus· prediction of his betrayal by Judas comes closely c.onnected
with the men I itself. as though brought o n somehO\\' by the act of eating..
h is t he first s peech we hear after Jesus comes to the upper room with
the twelve, nnd occurs pointedly. ·while they were reclining and e~ating'
(v. 18). Jesus somewhat vaguely tells t hem t ha t 'one of you will betray
me'. \Vhen the disciples· reaction mixes d iscomfort with curiosity. Jesus
will no t ide-ntify t he betrayer further t ha n to say that he is ·one d ipping
with me into t he bowl' (v. 20). 12 This seems then to constitute. t he.
betrayal: that o ne of those with whom Jesus ents in the presem will turn
on him in t he immed iate fmure.
Every meal is a n act o f community cons truction. Those who eat
tog.ether share t he material that becomes t he human body; their bodies
thereby become made of the same materia l. 13 T hose who sh;.u e a men I
are constit uted in a very physical sense as family - their bodies a re
connected by the meal as a family's bod ies a re connected by g.enetics. A
rit ua l m eal highlights and intensifies t his connection. The Passover meal,
with its s pecial dishes and specia l depdvations shared, with its
bnckground of the common bloodshed o f sacrifice. constitutes t he
community that celebrates it through ritunl practice as well as mythica l
idea. The betraya l thnt seems to fo rm such an integrul part o f this meal
in Mark·s gospel is doubly bitter for its p resence in whut s hould be a
unifying communal act.
As Belo no tes, every meal confirms for the participants tha t 'to live
me.ans to feed upo n dea th'. 14 As o rder depends upo n chaos for its ve.ry
substance, so life depends upon death. Every meal presents t he
nourishm ent that life derives from death, so to make of a a
is to emphasize a nd navigate t his paradox. In the context of Mark's
gospel. where chaos looms a lways a nd threatens to ovenvhelm o rder

II Albeno de Mingo KaminooC'hi. ·o ur It Is Nor So Amollg You"(New York: T&T

Ckuk. 2003). p. 50.
12 Compare John (13.26) who nutkts of Je~u s· reference to dipping bn·ad a signal
bl'!WeCl! J c~u s and the beloved disciple. indicating Judas a.s the betrayer.
13 Emile Durkhcim. The Elcnt<.'tlt:uy Forms of1hc Rdigious Life. trans. Karen E. Fidds
{New York: The Free Press. 1995). p. 318: John E. Burkh<u1. Worship (Philadelphia:
Wesuninstc-r Pre~s. 1982). pp. 75-7.
14 Fermmdo Bdo, A lll llh:rilllisl Rc:tding of tlk: Gospel of M:trk. 1mns. Mauhew J.
O'Connell (Muryknoll. NY: Orbis. 191! 1). p. 40.
Repetition in Unreptullc<l Time 65

utterly. the possibility of drawing. life-giving sustenance from death

becomes t he gospel's o nly hope.
It is this context of betrayal. t he breaking: of t he commensal circle, and
the (betraying) connections between death a nd life t hat Jesus' disturbing
saying arises, that the bread should be eate n because it is his body (v.
22). This oddly self-conscious institution o f a metaphor - bread is body
- t he intentio nal assignment o f a deeper meaning to an o rd inary act,
suggests ritualization. a process through which o therwise o rdinury
actio ns ta ke on symbolic meaning,. Ye t the saying, here deals far more
directly with Jesus' impending deat h than it does with t he Ch ristiun
practice o f eucharist. The fa.ct that the d isciples share bread with Jesus is
at once the heart o f his ministry and t he source and cause of his
crucifixion. The d isciples. us becomes clear through Jesus' predictions,
constitute his weakness, the opening through which the high priests gain
access to him, as the high priests in t urn a re the o pening through which
the Romans gain access to him. If t he group of disciples, represented
here in Judas a nd Pete r, brings on Jesus' death, and the bread eaten
together sustains the life of the group. t hen there is indeed a very real
connection between the bread and the bro ken body of Jesus. In breaking
bread with them a nd fo r t hem. establishing. and sustaining their group
identity. he has set the conditions for his own death. so t ha t now as his
death approaches, the group seems to draw life fro m its role in his death.
But while the equation of bread and body draws us into issues of life
a nd death, the equation of wine and blood pulls us more d irectly into a
sacrificial reading o f t hose issues. There is no verse in Murk's gospel
more conducive to reading Jesus' de.ath as a sacrifice tha n this: 'And he
said to them: this is my blood of the covenant. spilled out o n behalf o f
many' ( 14.24). The most o bvio us connection between covenant and
blood is sacrifice. Together with Jesus' statement in 10.45 t hat 'the So n
o f Man came ... to g.ive his life as a ransom fo r ma ny' . the saying a bo ut
the wine pushes t he reader to the conclusion that Jesus' death is
somehow life-giving. o.1 substjt ute fo r ot her lives ~ in what seems a very
sacrificial sense. Sharon Dowd a nd Elizabeth Malbon emphasize
correctly that there is no mention in either verse of Jesus' death as a
payment for sin. Rather, they maintain. "The ··cup saying" in 14:24
alludes to Exod . 24:8. where the blood is that o f a covena nt-sea ling
sacrifice. not that o f a sin or guilt o 1Tering.' 15Again unlike the Gospel o f
Luke, Mark remembers Jesus sa ying: not hing a bout n new covenant, to
replace o r supplement o r supersede the old (Lk. 22.20). Ra ther, the wine

15 Sharon Dowd and Elizabeth ~b l bon. 'The Signific~1nc:e of Jesus' Death in ~i:t rk :
Narrati,·e Context and Authorial Audicnoc·. JBL 115/ 2. (1006). p. 171.
66 The Poll'er of Disorder

is ·my blood of t he covenan t' (v. 24). There is. it seems. only o ne
covena nt, t ha t between God a nd Israel. But Jesus• spilled blood
somehow takes part in t he performance of that covenant, as ot henvise
blood s pilled in sacrifice could. His blood confirms or reiterates - repeats
- the established covenant and appnrent ly in that sense is spilled 'on
behalf of many'- the many, it seems, who share in this d ivine-human
Richard Swanson and o thers have noted that t he d isciples consume
the wine that is Jesus· blood before they know what they have do ne. Ito
The idea of ingesting blood . even sym bolically. must be recognized as
constit uting om horrific contrast to the t rad itions o f the Passover. and to
first-century Judaism in general. Interestingly, Jesus talks about t he.
blood as though it \\'ere not d runk, but o nly spilled. 'This is my blood of
the t~ovenomL poured out on behalf of many' (1 4.24). His blood is
analog.ous. apparently, to t he blood of the sacrificial animals. po ured
out on t he temple altar to confirm the people's covenant with God. Yet,
although it is sa id to be poured om as sacrificinl blood, we do no t see Hte
wine-becorne-blood poured o m. but only drunk. Though he breaks t he
bread. Jesus is never said to pour the wine into the cup, but only to take
the cup and give it to the disciples. who d rink it (v. 23). The disciples'
drinking o f t he wine seen1s to constitute its pouring o ut. 17
On t he one hand, t his consumptio n of the body and blood must be
read as a condemnatio n, an underlining o f the tragedy o f the death
itself. (t hearke-ns back to the execution of John the Baptist. a Jewish
prophet scn'cd o n a platter in the co urt of a supposed ly Jewish king. By
identifying t he meal as his body and blood, Jesus in one. sense is visibly
portmying: the nation in the same kind of cannibalistic act. The
betraying Judas. is, d isturbingly. ll<lmed after the s..m1e ancestor for
whom the Jews are named. In Judas' emphatic presence at the table,
Judea is seen eating itself, devouring its own rather thun turning to face
the Rornan oppresso r.
On the other hand. t he eating o f the body is an act o f hope, the sort of
grim ho pe in which this gospel believes. John's head feeds t he ro ttenness
of Herod 's court, but Jesus gives his body - beforehand - to his d isciples
for food und drink. His death is terrible, but it serves to nourish his

16 Riehf1rd Swuo!(on. 'This is My Blood: Sociul Memory of Boundary Cros!(ing' (Paper

ddivercd at the Annu!1l M..-cting of the Society for Biblical Litcrntun:. Washington, DC. I ?92
in the Synoptic Gospds Section).
17 The participle~ i KX'"""-o,_I( \(J\1. here translated ' pouted oul'. is from the same \'c-rb
used in Acts to deseribe how Judas' guts '!(pill out' or •gush' onto the ground nt his. death
{Ac:ts 1.1 8). The word can mean some-thing loess intentional and conu ollcd. it seems. th~m
'pour oul'.
Repetition in Unreptullc<l Time 67

followers, rather than to destroy t hem. As John's ghost is seen

empowering)esus' ministry. so Jesus· death feeds the life of his d iscip les.
\Ve may, the n, take Jesus at his wo rd when he says that the broken
bread o f t his Passover mea l is his body. But it is not o nly in its
broken ness that the a nalogy lies, but in the disciples' consumption of it.
Because it is his body, they a re instructed to eat it. The body is the very
food that knits togethe r their physical beings. the food t hey share in
common th ~at constitutes t heir physical commonality. Jesus• body is
bro ken in t his gospel. as the nation is broken, but while the breaking is a
horro r a nd a tragedy. it is not mterly pointless. The po int o f the lust
s upper seems to be that t he d isciples at least must derive nourishment
fro m Jes us' death.
However d ifficult it may be for the Christian reader (at least for t his
C hristian reader), it is neverthe less useful to put aside connections
between these sayings and t he rit ua l of eucharist, at least temporarily.
Seen wit hout the lens of contempor.\ry Ch ristia n worship. Jesus·
affirmations in this gospe l that the bread is his body a nd the wine his
blood o f the covena nt do not constitute a eucharistic rit uaL Rat her, they
again serve to predict Jesus' death a nd to frame t he way in which the
reader s hould understand it when it comes. It is not then the actions o f
eating and drink ing. that, according to Mark. are to be ritually repeated .
The repe tition o f this meal takes place in the event and aftermath of the

John the Baptist as Ritual Pa l/ern

In C hapter 4. 1 will examine several figures that seem to be offered as
failed substitute-$ fo r Jesus, ra ising the issue of substitution in the
interpretation of his death. But while those who fa il to stand in fo r Jesus
- Peter among. them - appear a nalogous to him o nly by avoid ing the fate
that Jesus endure-s, John t he Baptist dies as a forerunner o f Jesus
himself. John's execution in chupte r 6 sounds t he first clear no te o f
fore bod ing fo r the gospel as a whole. The Baptist's p resence and his
many similarities to Jesus, together with John's death. set out ~1 pattern
o r script t hat Jes us' ministry a nd death repents.
John a ppears in the story wit hout his social skin. C lothed in camel's
ha ir a nd a leather belt. John has clearly opted o ut of socia l niceties ( 1.6).
His clothing is apparently not wove.n or knitted by human hands - it is
no t manufactured - but taken whole from the a nimal t hat grew and
formerly wore it. Like the camel itself, John is covered by camel's hair
that is fastened with a nimal skin (his lenther belt), as though John too
68 The Poll'er of Disorder

were a sort of semi-domesticated anima l - at once within and outside of

society. His food of locusts and wild honey is simila rly uncivilized - it is
not t~ook ed or pre pared but simply gathered in its nat ura l state. Like
domesticated animals. he is in these respects both like nnd unlike a
huma n being.. This status o f nearness to and d ista nce from the human~
according to Girard~ makes John a good c.a ndidate for sacrificial victim.
He is dose enough to o ther human beings to be understood as an
e ffective substitute fo r them, but far e.n oug.h away fro m socialized
people that his death does no t make them fear that t hey are next. 1s
John's remarkable clothing, his location in the wilderness. a nd his d iet
of locusts and wild ho ney all signify t he life o f a n intentional wild man.
The weo.uing of skins recognizo1ble as such appears in mo1ny places a nd
times as symbolic of a n alternative reality - fro m hermits in Ind ia to
pou ticip<l nts in the ancient Ro man Bacchanalia. 19 On o ne leveL t he
wearing of skins is t he antithesis of artifidal costuming:, as eatins locusts
and wild honey is the antithesis o f the social acts o f slaughter, cooking.
and the civilized communal meal. Yet John's garb is in ;.mother sense a
costume itself, not accidental or entirely free from the socially contro lled
la ngtwge of dres..~>. It is, in that social language of clothing, not
unintelligible gibberish. but roHhe r plainly a curse. an act socially
excluded and comprehended at on~.--e.
John has wa lked o ut to the margins of the soc ial world. a bounda ry
ma rked by wa te r. and he draws all o f Jerusalem and Judea out there
with him ( 1.5). Jesus mo1y spend a great deal of time in the wilderness in
this gospel, but he remains always a visitor. John lives t here. He is native
to the place. indeed he appears to have been born there, o r sprung up
from its untamed expnnse fully grown:
fycvtto 1(l)avvqr; (0] pant~(I)V t v n,l tpfUi(l) KCI.i Kf1p6aarov
~ann<lJIU IJ&tavolc«; t u; &•}eaw Ctpapn<~lv.

John was [or "became· or "happened'J. in the \\~lder n ess, baptizing and
preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. {1.4)
As t he wilderness's one human representative, he is the tour guide for
the Judeans who lenve the city's order behind to come o ut to him. In
baptism he drags t hem through the wildness o f wate r. with its own
symbo lism o f deat h and c haos. into some unknown o ther li fe o n t he

IS Rc:ni: Gir.mL Viokmx· :md !lie- S!1m'-d (Baltimore:: Johns Hopkins Uni\"crs:ity J'n's.o;.
1977). p. 39.
19 Erncsl Cmwlcy. 'Sacrl-d Dn:ss·. in Roach and Bubolz E ic:·h~"f. Dn-ss. pp. 138- 39.
Abddluh H<munoudi. The Vidim and its Mash. trnns. Paula Wissing (Chirngo: Uni\-crsity
of Chicago PKSS. 1993). p. 94.
Repetition in Unreptullc<l Time 69

o ther side. John does not tell the c rowd how to c.o rrect their lives
(contmst Lk . 3.1 0-14). John's message in this gospel is only 'a baptism
o f repentance fo r the forgiveness o f sins' : i.e.. he is here to wash away~ to
pro mote a turning_ from what the people have done or been. There is no
constructive aspect to Jo hn's ministry: no outline fo r a new social o rder
to follow the baptism.
John's sto ry remains on t he borders o f Mark's gospel. He continues to
be identified as "the Ba ptist' t hroughout. thus maimaining the liminal
a ura o f the rit ual he conducts in this brief initial descrip tion. \Vit h the
exceptio n of this first appearance. the time in which John moves and
through which his plot progresses is notably no t the time flow of the
gospel story itself. Jo hn's wilderness preilching and baptizing a re the
first t hing that happe ns - bo th chronologically and in t he. telling - but
his arrest is to ld not as it happens. but some time later. 'After Jo hn was
arrested' . is the phrase casually setting_ Jesus' movement into Gali lee in
time, altho ugh we o the rwise at this po int know nothing of Jo hn's a rrest.
when o r how it occurred ( 1.14). Note t hat ha\'ing begun his ministry in
the gospel's second verse, Jo hn is virt ually finished twelve verses h1te r.
The Ba ptist is no thing if not short-lived. Then. when in the story some
time has passed since Jo hn was killed. we hea r t he relatively exte nsive
account of his execution . at \vhich po int narrative time contorts beyond
recognitio n.
Sandwiched between the d isciples' commissioning a nd their return.
the story of John's execution provides the se.nse o f time elapsed \llhile the
d isciples are about their mission. Yet rather thnn taking. place within
that narmtive time interval, the sto ry is a flashback. introduced , as Jo hn
Drury has noted. by 'an almost Pro ustian tempo ral complexity' . in
which Mark steps backwa rd through the events o f Jo hn's a rrest.
imprisonment. execution, and possible resurrection in Jesus (vv. 14-
20).2(1 Jn verse 21. Drury no tes, narrative time meets real time again; that
is. narrative time begins again to flow forward. But t his backwards
motion has take n us to a time that precedes the d isciples' already
accomplished departure. (f Mark is using this story simply to c reate the
illusio n of time elapsed be.tween the disciples' departure and return, why
does he choose to recount an event t hat ho.tppened before they left? The
intercala tio n of t his story between the disciples' g.oing and coming,
whatever its e tTet~ts o n that oute r sto ry. has t he eiTect on the inserted
passag_e of increasing its isolation from the gospel. not unlike t he way
that t he apocalyptic d iscourse in chapter 13 works both to sever the

20 John Drury. 'Mark'. in T11e Lilemry GuitlP w Jlle Bibl~. cd.. Robcn Aher and Frank
Kcrmodc (Cambridge. MA: Hommi Univcrsily Press.. 19S7). p. 407.
70 The Poll'er of Disorder

Passion narrative from and connect it to the rest o f t he gospel. In

c hapter 6, we are out of sync from verse 14 until verse 29 - out of t he.
How of time a nd events t ha t t he g.ospel recounts, and removed fro m its
ma in characters. most especially fro m its central characte r. Jesus. The
passage begins with a rumour, and we move from it through n world of
rurnours. into a world in the past that rumours have not yet reached~
where we remain until Jo hn's body is buried a nd Jesus' disciples come
back from t heir sojourn awny from us.
In t his backwater world , He rod is king. As many commentators have
noted. Herod was not a king but a tetr~uch, the ternt by which ~'lalthcw
refers to him in the parallel and t ha t by which Luke a lso knows him. The
word fla(Tt.AfU~ appears twelve times in Mark, five times in this passage.
Other than these five times. it a ppears only once o utside of t he passion
noumtive, na mely in Mark 13.9, where Jesus• fo llowers a re to ld t hat
among t he many t ribula tio ns they will e nd ure before the end. ·You will
stand before governors and kings fo r my sake.' Jo hn is standing: before a
king, though not for the sake of Jesu s. Is his story t hen an initial spnsm
of the coming e nd?
Herod is not in fhct a king. Historic--'lly, this He rod did not daim t hat
title. nor did his limited . Roman-backed sovereignty evoke it from t he
people. Robert Fowler maintains that we are invited by the roya l tit le to
compare Jesus to Herod, as we are urged to compa re Jesus to Jo hn.
Elijah, and the fo nne.r prophets by the speculatio ns o f 6.14-15.1 1 The.
story t hen - the only one in which Jesus does no t figure - is fra med a nd
interpreted by questions o f Jesus' identity. The questio n of whether a nd
in what sense Jesus is king is tied to the questio n of whether a nd in what
sense He rod is king. \Vit11in the story, Herod's kingly ~authority emerges
only in his ha ving plentiful resources al his disposal. including t he
authority to promise the world to his wife's daughter.
Readers ha ve lo ng recognized echoes of the book o f Esther in this
~1ccount of Herod's royal party. Esther similarly e licits wit h sexually
tinged e ntertainment blind p romises and blank cheques from King
Ahasue-rus. and in the e nd her king:S decrees, like Herod's. make some
safe by killing o thers. The king's promise to give ·an}1hing:, even up to
hnlf of my kingdom' is virtually identical be twee-n t he two stories.
Both kings make gmnd promises to a pleasing. fema le subject in the
midst of a royal pa rty. without realizing. what loyalties lie in the subject's
heart. Josephus tells a similar story o f Agrippa, that he firs t \vi ned a nd
d ined Calig.ula and then. having been repeatedly urged to name

21 Robl'11 Fowler. L tJdl't'S mul Fi.~l:t':i. SBL Disscr1ation Series. no. 54 (Chico. CA:
Scltolars· Press. 198 1). pp. 120-11.
Repetition in Unreptullc<l Time 71

a nything. even up to half of the empire-, Agrippa asked that the emperor
remove his statue fro m t he. temple. Josephus reports that Calig.ula
as..c;umed Agrippa would ask fo r land or other profits fo r himself; again
the ruler failed to see t he real loy~1lties that lay in the heart o f the
pleasing subject.22
Indeed, t he strangely formulaic story o f John's executio n up to a
certain po int fits t he genre t hat Lawrence \Vilis identifies as •The Jew in
the Court of t he Foreign King'.2 l Herod beh;wes t he way t he fo reign
king is expected to in this genre - he is swayed by sensory pleasures and
the subtle cleverness o f t he subject. easily manipulated . not purely evil.
but foolishly pro ne to bad council a nd susceptible to flattery, food. and
d rink.2J
Unfort unately, unl ike the foreign kings in the standard examples o f
the genre - \vhere the clever subject is Joseph, Esther, Daniel - Herod is
no t swayed by a virtuous voice in his court. He is not swayed by John,
but by Herodias. He do-es no t listen to bad council temporarily. only to
be corrected by the \~rtuous Jew in his court. but quite the reverse. ll is
Joh n's council to which Herod listens gladly but briefly. and the loyalties
o f his daughter or step-daughter to which he is blind until too late.25
In fac t. the reversal o f time th~H began the story may indicate a more
general reversal. \Vilis noles that part o f the tho ught wo rld of the
biblical court storie-$ is a belief that t he royal court is t he final a rbiter o f
justice. These leg.ends often assurne that 'it is in the court where all moral
conflicts have their j ust resolutio n' .26 Justice happens in the court no t
bec-.tuse the king. is so wise. says \Vilis, but been use of the power a nd
centrality of the ro,xal court, which qualities it was assumed to derive
fro nt d ivine j ustice.- 7 The fac t that Mark's story most emp hatically does
not end with the court's vindicntio n of t he protagonist's virtue does no t
mean that the fo rm of court legend has no relevance here; it means
rather that Mark is using: the fo rm to say that he no longer shares its
assumptions about d ivine j ustice o n earth.
What seems to lie behind the stories of Jose ph ~ Daniel, a nd E.c;ther is a
sense that t he life of Jews in the diaspor<l was plag.ued by danger, even

22 A11tiquiiit..s. XVHI. 289- 303.

23 Lawrence M. Wills. Tlu! J1•w in till' Court lJ/ thco i''im•ign King. Harvnrd Oism"lnlion
Series. no. 26 (Minneapolis: Fortress Press. 1990). p. 10.
24 Fora fuller discussion of how Mork 6.1 4- .~0 rdntc:s to Hebrc:w Bible texts with similnr
themes. sot my HUl'illg Men /(If" Ditmer (Cievcbnd: Pilgrim Press. 2006).
25 Textual variants al this point lcn\"C the quc:stion open :Ls to wht'thcr this is Hcrod·s
own daughter or the duughtc:r or Herodias by ht'r pre,·ious (illicit) marriage.
26 Wills. Tile Jmr. p. 21.
27 Wills. 17•e Jt!ll'. p. 21.
72 The Poll'er of Disorder

for t he \~rtuous. But if one was f~lithful to o ne's people and to God~
these dangers c.ould be outlived. The virtue of the faithful Jew was so
great that even foreigners would see iL in the end. and rewnrd it. It is not
simply that we can o bserve in this story t hat Mark no longer believes
this. It is rather tha t the function o f this story in t he gospel is to mnke a
gmphic contrast wit h t his myth. Look, Ma rk is saying. virtue is not
rewarded: it is met with fea r and violence. The court does not dispense
d ivine justice; its judgements are absurd and evil. \Vhat should be. in
short. is no t: the pro per o rder - ofwhic.h t he royal court is the emblem -
is upside down.
The story's placement between t he sending o ut and returning of t he
d isciples has been taken as permission fro m the evangelist to tre::at it as a
bizarre aside. tangential at best to t he. gospel. But t his story is no
tangent. but a brutal. slightly tilted encapsulation o f the gospel - it is
itself a gospel, in which John stands in for Jesus. to the bitter end . Like
Je-sus' d isciples, He rod hears God's messenger without understanding
him. like them~ he hears the message gladly, but his gladness does not
prevent him from betraying t he messenger and participa ting in his
execution. This gospel is mo re frightening: and less hopeful than t he
Christian reader expects fro m a gos pel~ but perha ps not rno re so than
the whole gospel o f Mark will turn o ut to be. \Vhen we hear the story of
Je-sus· death and that of his empty tomb nnd mysterio us rising. we a re
bette r able to grasp it fo r having fi rst seen John d ie.
John is God's messenger, but. by his own admission, not fit to loosen
Je-sus• s hoe. He bn rely lights up o ne verse before he is overcome by t he
gloom of his world , a nd his rumoured resurrection is more spooky than
wondrous. But he has preached as Jesus p reached, a nd like Je-sus he has
made d isciples and g.athered c rowds. Now he has been arrested.
executed a nd. as far o.1s his executioner is concerned. raised from t he
dead. John's J.ob was to prepare t he way - Jesus' way if not the way of
God ( 1.3.8).-• This he has done. John's death. like his life. is as a
fore runner o f Jesus; it cuts a grim> determined path which Jesus. t he
gospel. and the reader then fo llow.
Yet if John's sto ry acts as a pn tte rn fo r Jesus to fo llow, it a lso
constit utes in itself a repetitio n. Like Jesus, John is doomed fro m early
on in his sto ry, and from very early o n in the overarching story; we
know John's death in the brief past tense before we know the events that
led up to it. This reverse o rder of its telling ma kes a kind o f reite ration of
the sordid and otherwise nrbitrary story of the death. That a story or

2S Mary Ann Tolbert. Smri11g rh~ Gos{lt'f (Minneapolis.: Fon~ss Press. 1989). pp. 2J9-
Repetition in Unrept!mc<l Time 73

s tory part is repeated m eans that the audience can now process its
beginning: in light of its middle and e nd. The story bec.omes no n-linear
by being repeated, in that the nud ience is no long_e r limited to
understanding the performance in the order in which it is suppoSt."d to
have ha ppened . So, in whnt is otherwise a n odd lite rary flou rish. the
s tory of Jo hn's death is to ld in non-linear fashion and becomes a kind o f
repetition of itself. fulfilling its own sorry destiny. as Jesus will fulfil his,
Further. Jes us late r explains himself a nd his own death to his d isciples
by referring back to John as t he Elijah fig,ure of messia nic expectations:
i n t)QC;,tc.:l' ' ai1t(W Atyovtec;, 'Ot• Ai yot•u•V oi YQGt~t~U'tti~ &t•
'HAtav bei b\eth' 11Q<~ltow 11 6 bl eq,'l uU'tol;, '1-L\l().; f.-ltV i Afk;_,v
nQ<~ov dnoKU:Eho1'CtVtt 11Uvta. 1<:eti m~ yf yQ<Ut'tetl ini tOv viov
1oU <i-vGQc;mov lvtt 1t01\ACt ndthJ •mi i [oubiVt)6t) ; 13 MAt\: Af yc....,
Vpiv 61'1 t.:al HAia.; t A')I\vtJiv, Kat f noh)uav a(,t<;, &•a •)ee,\ov,
tU\9(~ )-'fyQ«rt't'CU fn' at'l't6V.

And they were questioning him. saying. ·Why do the scribes sa)' that it
is necessary lOr Elijah to come first?' But he said to them. 'Elijah
commg first restores all things. and how is it written concerning the
Son of l\,fan Lhat he must suO"'e r many things and be despised? But I
s.ay to you. that Elijah indeed has come and they did to him whate.ver
they wished, just ;.lS it is written concerning him.' (9.11-13)
He re Jesus refe rs to o r predicts his own s uffering. am idst an affirmation
that Jo hn·s death was indeed the fu lfil ment o f scrip ture. and a replaying
o f the pro phet Elijah. In a rather puzzling sequence of t hought , Je.~us
seems initially to criticize those who expect that Elijah will come 'and
restore a ll things'. If t hat were the case. t hen how and why would the
Son o f Man be destined to suffer'! It follows that the fact that neither
a ny drama tic appea ra nce of Elijah nor any noticeable restoratjo n has
occurred does not m ean t ha t Elijah has not in fact a lready come.
Unnoticed and unrestoring, Jesus says. 'Elijah indeed has come. a nd
they d id with him whatever they wished .' In the same way that Jesus'
s uffering is written out ahead of time in scripture - y f yQarrT<Xt €11t tOv
ui6v TOV Ctve Q<:,nou (v. 12) - John's s uffering. a nd death a lso occurred
Ktx8c~c y€yQU7nat f TI' aUt 6v (v. 13). 'just as it was written about him·.
Joh n has been used a nd abused at the whim o f an anonymous ·they·, a n
o bject of play a nd cruelty. just as Jesus himself will be. In the reading: o f
Mark's Jesus, Jo hn follows the pattern made by Elijah, a pattern that
highlights a nd frames Jo hn's own suffering and that of Jesus.
At the slory's end, which is its beginning,. John is bac k in Herod's life .
ra ised in Jesus. John's death - a nd this story - is connected to the story
74 The Poll'er of Disorder

of Jesus by He rod's belief t hat it is on <lccount of Jo hn's execution t hat

Jesus displays such powers (6.1 4). For the story. t here is a sense in which
wh~at Herod believes is true. John's story is Jesus' story; the two share
one identity as they share o ne fate. The power of Jesus' min istry, and
even more so the power o f his movement towo:ards execution, derive fro m
an understand ing of where the road goes, an understanding Jo hn's
death does pe rhaps even more t ha n the Passion predictions to convey.
When Jes us d ies a t t he hands of the aut horities, it is o f course the first
and last time he suffers execution. But to the extent t ha t Jes us and John
are o ne. the fi rst time Jesus suffers execution is inde.e d the second time.

Bound mul ( Over) determinNI

Intimately co nnected with the sense of destiny and scrip tedness in this
gospel is t he cryptic expression so beloved o f Molrkan scho lars - bt l.
Altho ugh t he word is used only once in d irect reference to Jes us'
s uffering (.8.3 1). its neat. impersonal (gramrnatic.o:ally a bsolute) quali ty
seems to s um up Mar k's sense of the c.rucifixion: i.e., ' it is necessa ry'. As
a grammatically absolute expression, referring to necessity without
indicating who or what nece-ssitates. the verb oocurs five times in Mark.
Most often, noce.o;sary events in t his gospel a re the coming signs o f t he
e nd. O thers howe told the d isciples that Elijah must necessarily precede
the me.ssiah (9.11 ). Jesus. on t he other hand. te lls t hem that wars a nd
rumours of wars are necessnry signs ( 13 .7) and t ha t the g.ospel must
necessarily be preached to a ll natio ns ( 13. 10). He also warns them a bout
the sacrileg,e t hat will appear 'where it must not be'. using the negative of
the same word . The myste ry of why Jesus must d ie seems then to be
linked to a larger q uestion of the known world's destiny. all the scripted
events thnt are bound to happen.
For the impe rsona l verbal form bt:i derives frorn a word meaning
lite rally ·to bind', and the lite ral sense o f the wo rd a ppears to be very
much on the a uthor's mind . Outside of the five appearances o f btl. other
forms of the verb bf<.:J appear nine times in t his gospel, time in
reference to act ua l bind ing. Amo ng those bound with ro pe o r chains in
this g.ospel a re: t he strong man whose house is plundered (3.27). t he
Gerasene demoniac (who ca nnot be bound. though many have t1ied .
5.3-4). Jo hn the Ba ptist (6.17). the colt that Jesus rides (which is loosed.
un-bound, by the disciples. 11.4). and Jesus himself ( l5.1 ). Binding, for
the gospel at le.ast. seems a sign o f powerlessness. a prelude to robbery or
death. Yet, the Ger.\sene demoniac cannot be bound because his
demons are too many o r too strong_: the lack o f restraint o nly serves to
Repetition in Unreptullc<l Time 75

harm the possessed ma n; bec-duse he is not chained, he is free to bruise

himself wit h stones. If freedom has fewer positive conno tations than we
post-Enlightenment readers might e xpect, binding seems to have fewer
negative ones.
Students o f Torah \\~II already be thinking. o f Genesis 22, a story
known in Jewish tradition as the :-lknlah, The Bind ing. (of Isaac].
Through the history o f interpreting: this theologically c ha llenging story.
in which God requires Abraham to a t least be willing to kill his own and
o nly (recognized) son. inte rpreters focused on Isaac's binding as an
exceptionally d ifficult moment for the reader. Inte rpretatio n preferred to
see Isaac as obedient rathe r than ignorant before his father a nd his God.
The fact that Isaac walks up !\'fo unt Moriah beside Abraham was seen
as ind icating a \\~ll ingness on the part o f the boy (or better. the young
mout). Isaac's pointed question ' \Vhere is t he ram'!' seemed the son's
understated way of telling. his father that he sees where this journey is
heading.. Rabbinic interpre ters the n we re a t pnins to expla in why Isaac
had to be bound, assuming t hat he s ubmitted to the sacrifice willingly.
Midrash had Isaac requesting to be bound, lest by uncontro llable
instinc t he kick the knife away. Isaac's having bee.n bound. in the history
o f interpre tation. has hinted disturbingly at the near-victim's unwilling-
ness to die.29
No o ne a rgues that John the Bnptjst died w i llin gl y~ so the fact that
He rod's men bind him in prison comes as no s urprise. Bm Jesus'
seeming resignation makes the detnil of his binding, and his association
wit h the robbed and invaded stro ng man us well as the imprisoned a nd
beheaded John, something of a shock. \Vhat is bound to hap pen in t his
gospel is indeed that Jesus will be bo und; like the events of the
impending apoca lypse. he is tied to the scrip t a nd the script demands
that he be tied . Like t he colt. led away wit h the rope that had bound it.
Joh n a nd t hen Jesus a re led to t heir destinies. following an established ,
repeated path .
The events that the Passion describes. in t hat t hey are presented as
life. as histo ry. are unrepeatable. It is this expe.r iential singularity. what
Kundera has c.alled t he unbearable lightness o f being., that seems to
d ist inguish t he events described so sharply from ritual. Ritual is
repeated. by definition. while Jesus' death by crucifixion cannot be
repeated. But like the crowing o f Pete r's timely rooster. when t his death
occurs the first time, it is alread y <l repetition . Jf the events of t he Polssion

29 Soc Yvonne Sherwood's fascinating urtid<:. ' Binding-Unbinding: Divided Responses

of Judaism. Christianity. tuld l sl <~m to the " Sacrifioc" of Abruham·s Bdo,•ed Son'. JAAR 12/
.J (Dec. 2004). p. 848.
76 The Poll'er of Disorder

cannot be repeated after they occur the first time, t hey c.a n be presaged
repe-atedly, so that when they at las t occur, t here is alrendy a fra mework
of expectation and meaning in plac.e to rec.eive them - the kind of
framewo rk that repetition sets up for ritual. In e tTect, the fi rs t and only
time t he c rucifixio n happens becomes a familiar, though painfully a nd
extraordinarily meaningful, repetition. Like the cock's c rowing. we have
never heard it befo re, but \vhen we hear it, \VC know what it means.
Chapter 4


From Cha rles Dickens· A Tale. ofTn·o Cities. to the recent film Prestige.
doubling. the idea that one being's fate could be split into two, by an
association of name. role or appearance is a concept that still exerts a
powerful influence on western s to ry-telling in film and literature. 1 In o ur
films and fiction. a t~onfusion o r purposeful exch<m ge o ften takes place
between two pt."<>ple's lives, o ne that is both de.a dly and life-giving. This
idea o f doubling and exchange seems determined to pursue us. If o nly,
some voice repeats, we could be two people. one who dies fo r the good
a nd one who lives as a reward fo r that sacrifice. If only life. a nd death
could be exchanged between good and bad people. so that t he worthless
one's death e nab led t he virtuous a nd worthy to live. If life could be
d ivided into l\llO, t hen life. a nd death could be united into o ne - the same
person dies in o rder to Jive, a nd lives in o rder to die. Jon Levenson has
convincingly argued t hat even societies that do not practise human
sacrifice may still d raw power from this kind of substitutionary logic in
s tory a nd ritual.
Levenson's multi-fac.eted argument that sacrificio.t l logic runs t hro ugh
much of Hebrew narrative deserves <lttention here~ since it provides both
a useful method and also a literary background fo r our analysis of the
gospel. Levenson ar,gues that the sacrifice o f the fi rs t-born son
prescribed in Exo<L 22.28b wns in fac t practised - not redeemed with
a n animal sacrific.e as Exod. 34 s pedfies - at times in Israel's distant
pa..~t. This offering of lhe humo:an son. himself a subs tit ute for the
sacrificing father. would have been performed not regularly but in
extrem e circumstances o nly, since it was understood to be the most

I Other no\'ds featu ring doubles and/or life exchnngcs include: Anthony Ho1>e·s Tlu~
Prisrmi!r of z~rula (Henry Holt :md Co.. 189-1). Alexander Dumas's ·nw flicomte d.-r
Rmgt>fcmne (New York: O:"<ford University Prc-;s. 1998.) - first published in 184S. the finnl
chapter of which tells the story of •The Man in the Iron M:1sl:·. nnd (more TC\."Cnllyj John
EhJc·s Winter Peoplt> (New York: John F. Blair. 1999) - nil of which ha\'C film \"Crsions us
well. The fi lm Smmner:;by (dir.. Jon Amid. 1993). likewise featuring one man taking on
anoth~~r·s destiny. was''" American rtnutkc of an earlier French film. U Retour de M(trtin
Guerre (dir. Dt~nid Vigne. 1983).
78 The Poll'er of Disorder

valuable and thus the most e tTective of a ll possible offerings.2 \Vit11in t he.
narmtives. t hen. t he sacrifice o f the first-bo rn, beloved son continually
emerges as a feared, trauma tic, a nd critical turning po int of t he inte nsely
patrilineal plot. Jn Gen. 22 particularly. God unequivocally demands
thnt Abraham otTer )sane as a sacrifice. nnd richly rewards Abraha m for
being willing to do so.
In Gen. 22 and elsewhere in the narratives. however. the sense t ha t t he
father's son is t he u ltimate sacrifice emerges a longside a
substitution of animal offerings fo r t he human . Thus Isaac initially
stands in fo r the ram (as when he asks his foHher '\Vhere is the r;.lm for
the ho locaust?') and then the ra nt stands in for the spared Isaac. In t he
Joseph saga. a goat's blood smeared o n Joseph's coat is taken for
Joseph's blood, so t hat Joseph effectively d ies (Gen. 37.32-35). The.
smeared b lood o f the He brew people's lambs in the Exodus sto ry sta nds
in for t he blood of their first-born sons as t he cost o f t heir own
libe ra tio n.J Slaughte r is the price exacted by the ang_el~ whe re t here is no
rit ual a nimal slaugh ter, as in the Egyp tian ho mes, the slaughter will be
profane and human (Exod . 12.23). To gain t he be nefits of huma n death
without ils cost is continually the objective of the narr~at i ve
elements Levenson highlights: to cheat the half-blind progress of t he
The half-blindness o f the Lord, o r o f lhe Lord's destroyer - one of
whom apparently does no t disting,uish between animal and huma n
slaughter - evokes t he continual half-blindness of the patriouchs. )sane
accepts Jacob as Esau (Gen. 27.23); Jacob accepts Leah as Rachael
(Gen. 29.23-24): Judah lakes Tamar as a prostit ute (Gen. 38.15). The
results a re in every c-.-se irrevocable. The mistake may be, a nd is~
d iscovered. bm t he eiTects of the substitution hold: the benefits of t he
one life are impo rted into the life o f the other. To control one's own
destiny by a d isguise that fools destiny itself, to cheat t he game, becomes
in these stories a definiti\'ely human act.
It is not o nly life t ha t is gained o r sa ved in t hese substit utions. but
destiny. Joseph's brothers ne-arly kill him. then decide to sell him. a nd
e nd by killing <l goat in Joseph's stead, feigning the beloved son's death
r.-ther than causing. it. The goat acquires t he desti ny th~at would have
been Joseph's, making space fo r a n entirely new destiny fo r Joseph.
Joseph no t o nly li\'es, but becomes prime minister in Egypt. saving his
brothers' lives and allowing: t he story to continue into future gener-

2 Jon lc:vcnson. Till' Druth alltf Resurrl!ctiun of the &lovt'tl Son tNcw Han:n: Yale
U ni\~rsi ty
Press. 1993). pp. 3- 12.
3 Levenson. Deutfl ami & Jurr«tilHI. p~l. 34-5.
Subslitution in Festiml. Sacrifice am/ Story 79

ations. His destiny. revealed from t he beginning in his dre.a ms. o pens up
throug h the door o f t his substitutionary death. As Thomas Mann noted,
Joseph the brother. the Hebrew shepherd's son, d ies in his descent into
the pit. and Joseph the Egyptia n slave, prisone r. a nd minister emerges
It was a deep d ecwage a nd abyss that divided his present from his
past: it was the gra,·e ... Jacob, he knew. could not fail to take the
blood of the kid for his son's blood; a nd that this must be so worked
upon Joseph until it practic-.tlly oblitera ted the distinction between
·This is my blood' and 'Tl1is represents my blood.' Jacob held him for a nd since he did so irrevocably, unalterably - then was Joseph, or was he not'?"
In the Hebrew narratives, the protagonists repeatedly acquire the
benefits of the death - the cent rnl benefit of which is life itself, in some
new. mo re nbundant and often libera.ted fo rm - without paying the steep
price o f a human life tOr them. Yet Levenson im plies. and I would agree,
that wit hin the stories· econorny. a humnn life is technicnlly what those
benefits cost. and to acquire them o therwise is to o utsmart t he equation.
In this chapte r we ''~II look a t t his substitution o f life for life in
Mouk's Passion. Levenson himself notes the presence of the ·death o f the
beloved son' patte rn in the mythology of Christianity. If in t his gospe l
Jes us• death is in a ny sense a sacrifice. then it is so beca use Jesus in some
way substitmes fo r others who might suffer a nd d ie. because his life is
offered ' as a ransom fo r many' ( 10.45). This sense o f Jesus' life as
equivalent to or in p lace of o thers· lives is embedded in the story o f the
Passion in se\'eml \vays. moving. outwa rd from the Barabbas scene and
the mockeries until its influence is felt througho ut t he Passion and the

Anciem Festimls: A1ock Kings. Substillltion and Sttcr{fice

Both s ubstit ution and sacrifice held a prominent place in a ncient
festivals that may have~ by being part of t he c ultuml m<Hrix from which
the gospel drew. influenced its composition. Scholars have. over t he htst
two centuries. noted sepa rately severa l elements o f Jesus' tdal before
Pilate and his appeara nce before the Sanhedrin as worth comparing to,
o r derived from. a ncient ritual nnd fes tival. In particular, the Saturnalia.
o r the cognate G reek festival know11 us the C hronia, have been noted as

4 Thomas Mann. Joseph in £gyp1. trans. H. T. Lowe-l,onc:r. Vol. ( ( New York: Alfred A.
Knopf. 1938). pp. 6- 7. Note the echoc!1 of eucharist. or of M:uk 14.2_., in Monn·s bnguti,S.C:.
so The Poll'er of Disorder

compa ra ble to scenes fro m Jes us· trials <Htd ries. In these festivals.
a king. wns appointed, ro bed a nd worship ped as t he festiva l
ruler. and as the embodiment of the reversal that marked the festi \•ities.
This mock king represented So.ttum or Ch ronos, in either case the
deposed former ruler of the gods and earth, t he god \vho gave
agriculture to humnnity. The god thus represented bo th t he orderly cycle
of the agricultural year (Chronos meaning 'time', as in the passing o f t he
seasons) and the freedom and license o f t he time before humanity had to
work fo r their food.5 At t he festival's end the play ruler would be of
course stripped o f his regalia . There were occasions on \vhich the festiva l
king. a condemned c riminal to with, wus the-n executed as the fina l
~let restoring the social and natura l o rder.6 Mark's story o f t he Roman
sold iers ro bing. mocking and disrobing Jesus between his condemnation
and execution has no t only evoked the Saturnalia fo r scho lars as
recently as Paul \Vinter. but has seemed to many to be an act~oun t o f a
historically saturnulian event. 7
A tuntalizing. p~1ssage from Philo fu rther enco uraged a cornparison
between t he festivals and the Passion along t hese lines. Returning fro m
hnving been c rO\vned king: over portions o f Herod the Grea t's former
territory. He rod Agrippa was. the passage recounts. o rdered by t he
empero r Gaius to take the short ro ute back from Rome - thro ugh
Alexandria. According: to Philo, Ag.rippa went modestly a nd wished to
be unobserved, but his presence in Alexandria was d iscovered~ and t he.
fuct o f his recent coronatio n was pro tested .$; But it is the fo rm of their
protest t hat interested history-o f-religion scho lnrs:
There was a c.ertain lunatic named Carabas, whose m;Jdness was not
of the fierce and sewage kind ... but of the easy-~oing. g:entler style.
He spent day and night in the streets naked. shunning neither heat nor
c-old. made game of by the childl'en and the lads who wel'e idling
about. The rioters drove the poor lt!llow into the gymnasium and set
him up on high to be seen of all and put on his head a sheet of bybtus
spread out wide f'or a diadem. clothed the rest of his body with a rug
for a royal robe. while someone who had noticed a piece of the native
papyrus thrown away in the I'Oad gave it to him for his sceptre. And
when as in some theatric-".tl l11rce he had received the insignia of
kin~ship and had been tricked out as a king. young men c-..uryin~, rods

5 Luciun. Summulia. VI. 7.

6 Franz Cumont. ' lc Roi de Snlumnlcs·. Rerue d.- Pllilologie XXI ( tS97). pp. 143- 53.
7 \Villiam Arthur Hcidd. The Day of Yull~reh (New York: Thl· Ce-ntury Co.. 1920).
p. 389: P:aul Wimer. nu~ Tritt! uf Jesu.~. Studiu Judai<:a, B<md I (Ekrlio: Walter de Gruyter.
1961). p. 102.
S Philo. /11 Flamrm. IX. vi. 28.
Subslitution in Festiml. Sacrifice am/ Story 81

on their shoulders as spearmen stood on either side of him in imitation

of a bodyguard. Then others approached him, some pretending to
salute him. others to sue for justice, others to consult him on state
affai rs. Then from the multhudes standin~. round him there 1·ang. out a
tremendous shom hailing him as Marin. which is said lO be the name
fo r ·tord' in Syria. F'or they knew Agrippa was both a Syrian by birth
and had a great pie<:e of Syria over which he was king.9 a re first of all striking similarities between this mockery a nd that
o f Jesus: a makeshift ro be and sceptre. the mocking obeisance; in both
c.ases the mock king is notably powerless. t he antithesis of a king - one
a n idio t... the other a condemned criminal. Paul \Vendland. in some brief
remarks published in 1898. wus int rigued by the comparison. He
s uggests t hat both the mocke ry in the gospels and the Carabas s tory in
Philo must be considered in light o f t he Sa turnalia, of which mock
king;:hip \Vas s uch il pro minent element. nnd whic.h was known to have
been celebrated among Roman troops such as t hose w ho here harass
Jes us. \Vhether the connectio n \Vith the Satumalia is historical or poetic.
says \Vc.nd land :
In any c.ase the idea that the king of the festival represents the god
himself and his f..-.te was long associated "~th such celebrcujons and
becomes the etiological explanation. If the Roman legionnaires set up
Christ as a Saturnalian king. then the thought could not be far away
1hat he would share in the fa te of this king: for after the masquerade.
he is immediately led to the cn1c.ifixio n ... The Jewish King Agrippa
and the Jewish kins. Jesus appeared. the one to the Alexandrians. the
other ro the legionnaires. similarly laughable. On that accoum they
afforded comparison with the well-known carnival king and evoked
1he particula r memory of the belo\•00 folk and soldiers ft.--...stival. 111
A lfred Lo isy pressed the comparison further to s uggest that ·car-'bas' is
a corrup tion of ·Ba rabbas· a nd as s uch is in neither case a n individual's
name b ut the name of a ritual festival role. of the s ubs tit ute king (or
god) who is executed in place of the senuine article. 11
The mock king representing Saturn in t he festival was at times a sort
o f anti-ki ng. an emblem of social disorder as the real king was an
emblem of social order. During his reign. t he poor were feasted at the
expense o f the rit~h a nd servants were served by t heir masters: men were
known to dress ~111d behave as \vomen and women as men. Vices such as

9 Philo. /11 Flaa um. IX. \'i. J6-40.

10 Paul \Vendland. 'Jesus nls S.1tum:dil·n-Kocnig'. Hem1e5 33 (1898). pp. 178- 79 (my
II Alfred l oisy. L'£r(mgile Jelo11 M(trc (P;.uis. 1912). p. 454.
82 The Poll'er of Disorder

drunkenness and sexual license bec.ame virtues a nd virtues vices. 12 In t he.

Ba bylonian festival of Zagmuk, which some history-of-religion scholars
described as nna logous to the Saturnalia and Chronia. t he mock king
was actually a condemned criminal. He took the place of t he real king..
accepting his robes, sceptre. thro ne. a nd concubines for a n a llotted
period: 'he was a llowed to give o rders. drink and reveL h;we intercourse
with the king's wives: no one might hinder him in doing whatever he
pleased. But in the end t he garments were to rn from him a nd he was
hanged.'u \Vhile the real king is - at least in theory - abused. beaten.
and humiliated. doing penance for his c rimes against the state. the mock
king/criminal issues all sorts o f ludicrous and a rbitrary comma nds. In
the end, however, the socia l o rder repre-sented by t he real king, must be
restored: the socia l reversal must be reversed again. At t he festival's
conclusion. the criminal is executed as p la nned, a nd the real king: is
rethroned .
The Ba bylonian festival o f Akit u enacted the imprisonment o f the god
Marduk. whose release o1ccompa nied the renewal of the ag:Jicultural
year. A rit ual text prescribes t ha t o n the fift h day of t he Akitu, the king
should ente r the temple and give over his ring. sceptre. sickle and l~rown
to the priest. The priest then slapped the monarch's face and caused him
to kneel a nd procla im his innocence; ha \'ing: done so. the king received
<lbsolution and had his insignia restored to hirn. Finally, the prie.~t
slapped the king asain , in an eiT ort to bring. tears. which were to be
considered a good omen from t he god Marduk. 15 Jonathan Z. Smith
doubts thut such a ritunl cou ld possibly have occurred: po.uticula rly t hat
the king. would have had to do penance in effect for aiiO\ving the
Assyrians to overtake t he Bnbyloninn empire, since the Assyrian
occupation ended t he Babylonian kin.gship. Smit h suggests that t he
text describing t hese rit uals is rather socia l commentnry than actunl
rit ual prcscription. 11~ In that case, the description is even more valuable
for o ur purposes. t hough. since the rit ua l in Murk appears simila rly to
be more the a mhor's interpretation of his own situation than it
is the record of a ritual's particular enactment in the time of Jes us.
Many scholars saw the Easte rn festiva ls o f t he. New Yea r as

12 C f. Lucian. Sawnw!itt. 13.

13 A. J. Wcnsind:. "The Semitic New Yc<1r and the Orig-in of Eschatology". At•ftl
Orinualitt (Hovni: Mun ksg.t~nrd. 1923). p. 185.
14 \Vcnsind. "The Semitic New·. p. 185.
15 S. E. Hooke. Cilri.ftiim Mytil und Riura/(Cicvdand: The World Publisl1ing Co.. 1965).
p. 12.
16 Jon:1thun Z.. Smith. lmugini11g Riwal !Chicag-o: Uni"crsily of Chicago Press. t982).
p. 91.
Subslitution in Festiml. Sacrifice am/ Story 83

arising from primitive attempts to understand o r control the ro tation o f

the seasons. The ide-a o f eosmog:ony was snid to a rise fro nt contempla-
tion o f the ne\1.: year: the c reatio n of cosmic order from c haos was
s uggested to a ncient Near Easte rn societies by the a nnual re-creation o f
the agricultura l year. 17 This in turn was analogous if no t identic-al to the
recreatio n o f the social order, e mbo-died in the king. ' In the person o f the
king ... a t each New Year the state o rder. which is the \vorld order. is
confirmed afresh. ' 1 ~
A close association between kingship and the order it represents also
appears in descriptio ns of the Saturnalia's mockery. Jn Lucian's satiric
ess.ay on the festival, Ch ronos explains.
I take O\'er the- sovereignty again [during the festival) to remind
mankind whc.H life was like under me. when everything, grew for them
without SO\\~ n g and without ploughing: - not ears of wheat. but loaves
ready-baked and meats ready-cooked. Wine flowed like a rh•er. and
there were springs of honey and milk , for everyone was good, pure
gold ... Tltere was no slavery. you see. in my time. 19
Lucinn encourages t he practice of the Saturnalia as good, d ean. socinlly
meaningless fun, a sort o f nostalg;ia for an immemorial p ast when such
things as pove rty d id not obstruct a good time. The tich he a dmonishes
for not being good s po rts: the poor for taking t he g-.tme too n,r and
acting; as though t he social reversa l were perma nent rathe r than fleeting .
If they want a redist ribution o f property~ Chronos complains. they
should petition Zeus. not him. He has no power over money. but can
only grant wins at dic.e. bet ter singing voices. o r a nother bottle of wine.-
things that make poverty mo re to lerable. but c.annot make it vanish.20
The elements of substitution, mockery, beating. execution and
resurrection here are striking in their reminiscence of Mark's Passion.
The temporary soc-ic:d reversal in the festivals invites comparison with
Jes us' predictions of a pe.rmanent social reversal. The fact t hat the
soldiers in Mark press Jesus into service as a mock king ,gibes well with
accoun ts o f t he Saturnalia a nd the Chro nia. The king was often fo rc.ed
to be s uch. in a few insta nces at least at t he risk of his life.2 1
Furt hermo re, Paul Winter notes that in Mark·s gospel the soldiers who
ro be a nd mock Jesus ' act as if they were somehow following a
predete rmined pi::an . . . (They] strike s pontaneously as if rehearsing well-

17 Wcnsind:. •The-Semitic New Year·. p. 158.

IS Wcnsind:. •The Semitic New Year·. p. 176.
19 Lucian. S(lwrnulia. 7.
20 Lucian. S<ltflrnulia. 95.
21 Cumont. · tc Roi'. p. 145.
84 The Poll'er of Disorder

known lines from a convcntionul play.'22 This sense o f t he soldiers'

coordinated, as though choreograp hed, e iTorl. led history-of-religion
scho lars to speculate as to the events' historical roots in the Saturna lia
and festivals that were seen as cognate.
J. G . pointed o ut the parallels between t he story o f Esther - a
self-proclaimed e tiology o f Purim - and the practices o f t he new year's
fes tivals.::-' Mordecai is nlso, like the mock king of the Zagmuk, t he
Saturnalia, and the Sacaea. d ressed in the king:'s robes and paid homage
as though he \Vere the king (Est. 6.7- 11). Furthennore. this is a destiny
designed for (nnd by) Hamo.m, who instead meets t he destiny he himself
designed fo r Mo rdec-.ti: death by hanging. The fa te o f t he o ne is tied in a
reverse correlation to the fate o ft he other in the story. just as the fates of
the c riminal a nd king a re intert~hanged and interchanged <lg,ain in t he.
Sac.aea. The death of Ha ma n means Mordecai's vindicutio n in t he same
way that t he death o f t he criminal meant the restoration of the king,.
Fmzer notes also the pmctices of Purim that resembled Saturna lian
practices: among them cross-dressing between t he genders and custom-
ary drunke nness. Interestingly. t he t raditional instructio ns are to d rink
until one canno t d istinguish between t he c ursing of Mordeca i and t he
blessing of Ha mnn: that is. until the two names become perfectly
equiva lent. Frazer goes o n to point out the medieval practice of
hanging or crucifying: Haman in effigy during Purim. a nd to note t hat
Christians sometimes mistook the effigie-s fo r a moc kery o f t he.
c rucifixio n o f Jesus.25
In fac t. Frazer's theory about Purim is that. like the Saturnalia a nd
Chronia in his estimation. the festiva l once included the sacrifice o f its
ap pointed mock king. The hanging o f Haman in ef'figy is fo r Frazer a
vestige o f this fo rmer practice. in keeping with his understanding of
'survivals' from one age to ano ther. From t here, Frazer goes o n to
theorize concerning the crucifixion of Jesus. In a move thnt could not be
called timid . a lthough it could be called anti-semitic. he argues that Jesus
was c rucified in t he rit ua l role of Haman during a celebration of Purim.

22 Winter. Trial. p. 102.

23 J. G. Fralcr. Till! SraJxtgoat. Vol. IX of 71ut Golrk11 Boug!J ( London: Macrnilbn.
19 14). p. 364. C(. E. 0 . James. St~asont~l Fe((JI.fttlltl FeJtimls (New York: Bnrnl'S and Noble.
1961). p. 112. to the effect thut bcl1ind the Esther ~tory is •a Mesopotamian Satumulian cu l t u~
!llld its lcgc:nd in whi<:h Morduk and tshtar we~ the princip.1lligurc.s·. Elymol ogie~ tracing
Mordecai and Esther's names to the name:~ of these: Babylonian gods an: central to the
24 Rava. Megillull 7b. t iS cited in Ph i li~l Goodman. 71u! Purim Antlwlugy i Philaddphia:
Jewi~h Publication Society of America. 194(}). p. 141.
25 Frazer. The?S.rupegoot. p. 394.
Subslitution in Festiml. Sacrifice am/ Story 85

while t he man called Barabbas had the g(){)d fo rtune to be assigned the
ro le of Mordecai in t he s to ry.26

Barabbas mul Literary-culwra! Cornpttrison

For the most pa rt schola rs who noted the po in ts of s im ilarity between
the Passion narratives and these ancient fes tivals d id so, like Frazer.
Wendland, Loisy and o thers. in o rder to make a his torical argument.
Thnt is. they argued t hat events described in the Passio n narratives were
historical enactments of an a ncient fes tival o r ritual practice, whethe r it
be the Saturna lia (\ Vendland), Purim (Frazer), o r the Levitic.a l scape-
goat sacrifice (Heidel). More recently, however, scholars like Je nnifer
Maclean. while s till focusi ng somewhat narrowly on one scene o r motif
in the Passion narratives. ha ve shifted the fra mework of comparison
fro m a historical reconstruction of events be hind Mark's narrative to a
recognition o r cultural and literary on its composition.
Macle.a n zeros in on the appeara n<.-e o f Barabbas in Mark. comparing:
it to t he. communal sin sacrifice in Leviticus 16. · tn brief,' Maclean
among other a nimals. two goats are selcc.ted through the use of lots:
One. referred to ~·s the ·immolated goat.' is chosen to be sacrificed as
part of t he purgation n tual; the other, designated the 'scapegoat.' is to
bear the sins of Israel into the wilderness. At first glanct. the 1>amllets
to the Barabbas narrative tu·e obvious: Two goats (men) are broug!H
befOre the people: one is killed. the other is released. Tllis con nee( ion
would be obvious wel'e it not for the assumption. in concert whh long-
standing Christian tradition, that Jesus was the sc-.tpegoat.17
Mac.Iean maintains that the earliest Christian traditions saw Jesus as the
inunolated g,oat. and notes that Barabbas' release seems threatening to
him, as thOU£ h he will, like the scapegoat o r the Greek pharmakos, be
ins ulted, beaten, a nd sent off into the wilderness once the crowd gets
ho ld o f him. The Leviticus rite, she holds, inHuenced by G reek rites o f
pharmakoi. is t he rit ual source fo r the invention o r at least pre.sentation
o f Barabbas as a literary foi l fo r Jesus.
In the study o f Mark's Passion narrative. the aspect that has
provoked most discussion of s ubs tit utio n is the ro le of Barabbas a nd his
relationship to Jesus. Barabbus is a n especia l point o f inte rest for
scholars with ritual in mind, since Mark's gospel itself connects the

26 Frll7.ef. Thr- Sm('t'gtKII. pp. ·H2- 23.

27 Jcnnircr K. 8C'rtnson Maclean. · s arabb:•s. the scapcg.oill ri1oal. and !he dc,•d opment
or !he passion nanati,·e·. Harmrd ThL'tJiogi<al Ref ie11· t00/3 (July 2007). p. 309.
86 The Poll'er of Disorder

excha nge of Jesus fo r Bnrabbas with a ri1Ual practice by introducing it as

a customary pnrt of ' the fes tival', presumably Passover.
!\!etta bt t oQt t) V antAvev atltoi; l va bi:uttt0'\1 ()v TlUQI)toVvto 7 1)V
bi 6 AeyOpevo~ Baea#~-1~ ~tt't'it t<~v v'l«v u~vt<ll-v bebe~u~vo-;
oi'IWt::; i:v t~l v1'cioil q>Ovov n enou)Kftc.l«V I! t«li dva~<\:; 6 OXAO<;
•)~to Altelv€tcu t>:atk~~ tnoiet a \J'l'oi; 9 6 bt' n1.1\ci-t<>; U1ltKQ(th}
al,toi.; A tyc~v etAt'Tf &noAi't,(oJ Vp\v 't6\' r.lauv\la 't(~\' 1oubal6.lV
I<J tyiv<o;oKev yi'tQ &rt bu\. <f>e6vov naoabebc:~Ketoav aVtov ol
«QXLt Qei; I I oi bi dQXttQtlz; a v t uetvCt\1 't6V OxAov tva ~tAMo\1 'T6V
BaQCt~~v dnoAl1(.U) atitoiz; 0 bt OaAtito:; n«iAt\1 tinOKQaf:Jell;
Meyt\' etirfoi.; t f oliv €1iAett nou)u<" &v Atyeu -rOv ~vtAta t<~
'lot~b(\lwv 13 oi bi nMev e.•.:Q«tav utU(!Qt\luOV al,T6v 14 0 bt
nlAdtot; b\eytv aUtoi'~ Ti yi'tQ f noiq(.)t \' ~«!':6V oi 6i' ntQlvu<~
h~Qrc:l~CtV v'tUUQ(t~uoV ctlrfOv IS 0 be nlt\tlto~ f3ouA6pt\l~ T(;' OxAc,l
TO lM):\IOV nou}uat Mt b\ovtv «lrroi:; tOv BccQ«~~O.v •a.:d
1tt'.\QtbCo)K'(\' TO\! 'lq vo\) V ~Qt~yeM<~'O«~ rva v't«LIQ<~(:h).

And according to the festival. he used to rele-.tse to them one pl'isone1'

for whom they asked. And there was one called Barabbas with those
insurrectionists bound in the insurrection for committing murder.
And rising up, the crowd beg; to ask for that whic.h he would usually
do fo r them. And Pilate a nswered them sayin~, ·oo you wish that I
should free the King: of the Jews for you'?' fo r he knew that the high
priests had handed him over because of envy. But the high priests
stined up the crowd th.u they should ask tOr Barabbas But
Pilate again a nswering was saying to them. ·What do you want me to
do with the one you call King of the Jews?' And ag:<lin they cried out.
' Crucif)• him!' .A.nd Pilate was saying to them. ·What evil has he done?'
But they cried out repeatedly. ·c rucify him!' And Pilate. wishing to do
enough for the crowd, freed Barabb<lSfor them and handed Jesus over
to be tlo~ged and crucified. ( 15.6-15)
The crowd is offered a prisoner, but - although o ther prisoners are
explicitly mentioned (\'. 7) - the crowd's choice must be one of these
particular two. One prisoner's freedom \viii mean the o ther's de.ath.
thoug.h why this should be so remains mysterious. Pilate's response to
the crowd's request of Barabbas is to questio n the fate o f Jesus - the two
are fatally linked, in his mind and thal of the crowd.
Pilate refers to Jesus as ' the one you call ·•King of the Jews" ' (v. 12).
although no Jews have been heard to call him such. Likewise, the.
noumtor introduces Barabbas as an insurrectionist and murderer "who
was c-alled Barabbas' (v. 7). Thal is. 'B;.u abbas' is perhaps no mo re the
man's name than ·King. of the Je\vs' is the name of Jesus. ·Barabbas' is
what people call him - significantly. since the word means ·so n o f the
Subslitution in Festiml. Sacrifice am/ Story 87

Father' in Ammaic. The name, then. evokes the pattern o f beloved sons
pote ntially paying with their lives for benefits accruing to the fathe r.
whose p lace on the altar they took. The crowd c-.-Us out for the release o f
·Son of the Father', a nd the crucifixion o f ' the King of the Jews'. The
fact that both titles might be applied to Jesus - the first by his followers.
the second mockingly by his detractors - s ure ly indicates that Barabbas
is in some strange way Jesus' do uble.
\Villiam Heidel saw this doubling: as having ritual significance and
noted that ·1he release o f Barabbas and the sac.rificial death of Jesus
duplicate t he p ractice of releasing, one \'ic.tim a nd offering up the
o ther' ,25 that is. the sacritkial temple practice described in Le\'iticus 16. I
would argue. with Maclean but more broadly, that sacrificial thinking.
wit h its involvement in the langu<lg.e of s ubstitution, info rms the
Barabbas scene - its composition and its meaning:. There being no
historica l evidence t hat such a release of prisoners ever occurred at
Passover, the gospel's author o ught perhaps to be given proper credit for
inventing the e ntire brief a nd gripping: drama of Barabbas, including, the
man's ominous name. •son of the Father' may mean. in f<lCt, nothing
more than ·substitute' - one \llho resembles, stands in fo r. bu t is not, the
real thing. At t he moment in Mark's story when Jesus is to be
condemned to die. then. the author imroduces this alternative Jesus - an
increasingly well-accepted text o f Matthew's gospe l, in fact. calls him
·Jesus Bnrabbas'. Matthew. perhaps. saw the figure as Jesus' doub le, his
alter ego. his potential substit ute. Jn Mark, this fa ther's son could serve
to deflect the death sentence, bm goes free instead - a rather t ro ubling
freedom, given the crowd's mood a nd the echoes o f t he Levitic.a l
sc.a pegoaL Barabbas seems to appear like the ram in Gen. 22 - a
miraculous substitute whose deat h will achieve the same effects as the
pro posed sacrifice, but at far less cost. But o f course. Ba rabbas is a
narrative road not taken. Jesus d ies. thanks to B;:u·abbas' int roduction at
this moment. in place o f this would-be substitme.

Die or Deny: Jesus' Followers as Fttiled Substitutes

The insight t hat Barabbas· story partake....; of ritual s ubstitution o ught to
be our indicator that this kind of s ubs tit utional sacrifice constitutes a
main ingredient of the story thnt Mark cooks. Once substitution is noted
in the text. the possible a lternatives to Jesus multiply. Jesus is notably
deserted in the Passion story: that is to say that others pointedly avoid
joining him in his doom. To some extent. then. a ll of his followers a llow

28 Heidel. /)try uf Ytrlu ~-elr. p. 298.

88 The Poll'er of Disorder

him to d ie in order to save their own lives: his deat h in e tTect avens
Moreover. there is a sense in which he is killed because he is thus
deserted. \Vhen the c rowds call for his death, no one is there to s peak for
his life. Jt is t he una nim ity of t he crowd t hat convinces Pilate, who -
ready to sentence someone to <l torturous death - chooses Jesus to
satisfy t hem (15. 15). Mark further emphasizes the impo rtance of t he
foiiO\vers· desertion in reading it as k nown beforeh and a nd predicted by
scripture: 'You will all become deserte rs. for it is written. ' ') will s trike
the s hepherd . and the s heep will be scattered'" ( 15.27. N RSV). This
desertion, the refusa l o f Jesus' foiiO\vers to die with him. the fa.ct. as t he
reference to Zechariah implies. that the disciples arc as useful to him as
frightened s heep, makes it easier fo r Jesus to be killed. Their refusal to
d ie with him, then. constitutes a refusal to risk their own Jives in a n
c fTort to save his. They do not thrO\Il their lives up as a barrier to his
death; in this sense they refuse to give their lives in exchange for his.
Ba rabbas' story sets up an eq ua tion in which one mnn must die: t he
decision is only which one. This mysterio us econom y is rctrojected t hen
into o ur unders tanding of others fo r whose life Jesus' death seems to be
the price. When Jesus' followers appear in d anger of dea th. in danger of
a death very muc h like the o ne that Jesus d ies. the possibility is thus
raised that they rnigh t have - as Bam bbas m ight have - d ied in his s tead .
The sense t hat the evasion o f t he disciples sorneho\v causes or worsens
Jesus' s uffering is heightened by the otherwise odd and s udden presence
of Simon of Cyrene in the story. Simon e merges fro m the a nonymity of
the c rowd and re{;edes as q uickly back into it. His identification by name
(Peter's na me. perhaps no t coincidentally), place o f o rigin . a nd as t he
father of Alexander and Rufus fun ctio ns only to point out the a rbitrary
nature of his selection as the bearer of Jesus' cross - here is a particular
individual grabbed from among t hose passing by and fo rced into this
service. Yet he is the only person who rna nagcs to act us a n effective
substitute fo r Jesus. He takes over part of Jesus' o rdenl and t hus takes it
o1way from Jesus himself. His acting as a partial but effective substitute
in this way s penks <lgainst the disciples' betrayaL For what Simo n of
Cyrene does by force is what Simo n Peter a nd t he o ther d isciples have
been told they must do voluntarily: 'Whoever would come after me. Jet
him deny himself, a nd take up his eros..~> and follow m e' (8.34). The fact
thnt this Simon's own ordeal lessens Jesus' ordeal reinfo rces a n
equation: t he greater t he suffering of t he fo llower. the Jess the suffering
of Jesus. and conversely Jesus suffers more for the disciples' refusal to
suffer as he does.
Peter himself frames the options t hat he and Jesus face separately a nd
Subslitution in Festiml. Sacrifice am/ Story 89

simultaneously: d ie o r deny ( 14.3 1). Presented as an alternative to the

proceedings within the Sanhedrin. Peter's denial is in effect a refusa l no t
o nly to d ie with Jesus, but to d ie instead of him - a \\~llingness to Jet
Jesus die in Peter's stead . \Vhile Jesus p rocl~1ims his self-identity and
thus condemns himself to death. Pe ter a verts the danger to his own life
before it can materialize. Jesus asserts his knowledge of his o wn identity
at the risk o f death ( 14.62). while Pe te r denies his knowledge of that
same (Jesus') identity. to avoid the same risk. The two are opposite sides
o f the same coin . linked in a converse equivalence similnr to thut o f
Barabbas a nd Jesus at t he trial before Pila te . Pe te r a llows Jesus to be the
sacrifice - t he de.a th t hat must be accepted~ facilitated. a nd cut loose if
his own life is to be preserved. In this as in so m om y ways. Pete r is no t
extraordina ry among t he d iscip les. but rather a synet·doche fo r them -
through t he specifics of Peter's desertion, we see the desertion o f a ll
Jesus' fo llowers, all o f whom choose rather to deny t ha n to d ie.
like Peter, the ano nymous young mom in Gethsemune and a t the
to mb emerges fro m the cloud o f betrayal surrounding Jesus as an a nti-
s ubs tit ute. Both resemble Barabbas in that they might. but do not. die in
Jesus' s tead. Bo th are endangered by the dangers that lead to Jesus'
death and both are seen in efforts to esc-.-pe the d angers that Jesus
endures. The young man is described almost exdusively in te rms of his
clothing (o r lack thereon~ leading us to explore the symbolism o f
clothing as an expressio n o f substitution .

The Young .~ftm: .Nudi1y , Clothing and ldem il)•

There are in Mark two places where a n a nonymous •young man '
(vt avlaKo:;) s hows up: in Gethsemane , he esc:.1pes by leaving his clothes
in the hands o f his pursuers {14.51-52). and at the tomb. he is there to
meet the women ( 16.5). The fact that the word vt a.viaKc>:; appears
nowhere e lse in Mark has Jed literary critics to both instances as
appearances o f one c hara.cter, or nt leas t to explore the possibilities for
m eaning in seeing t hem as s uch. T he e.nigmatic scene in Gethsemane is
not made Jess enigmatic by seeing it as tied to the scene in the tomb, but
it is given a somewha t more fruit fu l complexity.29 In a reading with
ritua l in m ind, these l\vo appea ra nces ta ke.n as o ne character read as one
o f t he substitute.s o r a lternulives to Jesus.
Like Barab bas and like Pete r, t he young m an escapes what Je."'tus

29 M)' awarcn-c:ss of the- young ma n as t1 complex point of meaning - and :1s a unity
bctwoc:n his two appc:aranc~-s - is indebted to St~·phcn D. Moore, Mtrrk (111<1 Lukl! ill
Poststrurturalist Perspc>t'til'~ (1\'<::w Ha\-cn: Ya1t Uniw-rsity Pn:ss. 1991). pp. 30-38.
90 The Poll'er of Disorder

e ndures - in t his case arrest. He is able to leave his go.ument behind a nd

take his nude body away from the danger, unlike Je.n1s, whose garments
suffer t he same fate as his body - abuse a t t he hands of the a uthorities.30
In this moment o ur attention is. however briefly. on the young man's
naked. escaping body - thus the huma n body is running in the reader's
rnind as t he o rdeals o f Jesus· body be,gin. Nor are we Jed astray by this
alte ntion to t he body, for in t he Passion t he body rises (so to speak) to a
new centrality. This focus on t he body, which accord ing to Bell is
c haracte ristic o f rituaL may be traced in pa rt t hro ugh t he image of
\Vhen Jesus is tried. he is d isrobed. costumed nnd reclothed. o nly to
have his clothes removed from him again at t he crucifixion. where they
are dispersed by lot as his body is being likewise split a nd bro ken o n t he.
c ross. To understand the sig.nific-.mce of the young man's clothing in
terms of his substit utio n fo r Jesus. we need first to see how the story of
what h<lppens to Jesus may be traced through his clothes.
There is an inordina te amount o f attention in Mark to Jesus' clothing..
Not o nly do Jesus' garments sutTe r t he same fate as his body; they seem
at times to be a n extensio n of his body. Although one of the major tasks
of clothing. one ilSsumes. is to cover t he humo:an body. in ~'lark's Gospel
Jesus' clothing often functio ns to call a ttention to the body, in a sense to
underline it. The healing o f the hilemorrhaging woman in c.hapter 5 is
one of t he more d ramatic uses o f Jesus' clothing. a nd leads us into issue.s
of gender t hal cannot fail to arise where the bod y is concerned.
The healing of the haemorrhagjng is apparently conducted by t he
woman herself. Unlike other healings, where Jesus' words alone, o r his
words accompanied by touch, serve as the healing agent, what sig:nities
in the bleeding woman's encounter with Jesus is not words, but o nly t he
physical contact. The haemo rrhaging woman in fact does he r best to
avoid a ny verbal excha nge wit h Jesus. believing th<ll she can heal herself
by physical conto.1ct wit h his body. or rather. with his clothes.
The p resence of the haemorrhaging woman in Mark's gospel is
remarka ble in a nd of itself. Here is il woman apparently suffering from a
woman's ailrnent, 32 one that renders her unclean, unfit for huma n

30 C f. Herman C. Waetjen (A Rr()(dering of Po~rer IMi nnc~•pol is: Fortress Press. 1984j.
p. 217). who sees the young m:m as a posi ti ~ figure for Jous. Unfortunately. Wac:'ljcn's
a nalogy of t he young man lcn,·ing his clothes as Jesus leaves his body fails to take note of the
fact that Jesus docs nol Jc:avc his bod)· at aU~ the tomb is c.mpty.
31 Catherine Bdl. Riwa/1'1/oory. Rit1wl Practirf' lNew York: O:tford Uni\ocrsity l~s.....
1992). p. 220.
32 Tc:chnicaiJy the: story does not mention any soun:c for her blood: we are not aciUnlly
told thut this is mcnstrunl blood. But as diffkult as il is to imagine: menstrual bh.:oding thnt
Subslitution in Festiml. Sacrifice am/ Story 91

contact. and one in most societies surro unded by verbal a nd other

taboos. Furthe rmore, whatever this gospel lacks in a discussio n of Jesus'
blood, it more t ha n makes good with t he shee.r qua ntity of blood in t his
story. Her blood is ·a fo untain' . the text tells us. a nd it is a fountain that
has been flowing for twelve yea rs. He re the NRSV misleads us.
translating: that 'she had been suffering. from haemo rrhages fo r twelve
years' (5.25). I assume the translators meant to guide the te-xt in the
d irection of realism. but the G reek does not sny that the bleeding. has
been intermittenl. Rmher this woman has been 'in a How o f blood for
t\velve years' (5.25). However d ifficult it may be fo r us to believe. t his
woman is said to have bee.n living: in t his flow. t his fountain, hipdeep in
blood . conti nuously for every minute of t hose years.
The woman comes to Jesus to have he r bleeding stop ped. She believes,
and she is correct. that if she only touches his garment. she can be
healed. Her be-lief seems an extraordin<ny leap at this point in the gospel.
late r in the sto ry we are to ld that whoever touched Jesus' garments. in
any crowd , was healed. But has this always been true. o r does the
bleed ing woman's initiative start a trend. open up his garment as a
conduit o f power for herself a nd everyone. else?
\\1hen t he wo man touches the g.arment. two things happen: Jesus feels
' in himselr the power going out of him. and the woman feels ' in her
body' that the foun tain o f blood has dried up. Power flows out from him
to her: blood censcs to flow om from her. and bo th she and he are
strangely. instantaneously} aware of t he exchange of blood for power.
\Vo me n a re permeable \'.:ithin a system t hat values boundaries.
Menstrll<-11 blood transgresses bo undaries between life a nd death,
between inner and outer, and between o ne person and ;mo ther. The
bleed ing woman, with her twelve-year. uncontrollab le flow is te rr ibly
permea ble. Her touch of Je..~tus' garment is meant perhaps to pre\'ent
Jesus fro m knowing he has been touched. But in that respect. it fails,
since Jesus immed iately knows. bod ily. that power has gone o ut o f him.
Noting t his excha nge Richard Swanson has suggested that Jesus in t his
exchange soaks up the impure blood , to pour it into the cups of the
unsuspecting d isciples later. Certainly there is a body-to-body commu-
nication. but in Jesus' case the sensatio n is c.;uried to his pe rson by his
clothing, ~1s though his clothes themselves had nerve end ings tr~msmit­
ting, messages to his bro1in.

continues for twd~ rears. il is C\-cn more difflC-uh lo imagine :my other kind of bleeding
lasting so long. Whnte\'t'r th~· source, the lenglh of time this wonwn lws bled without dying
seems a kind of miracle in itself - like the mirror im.:1gc of Elisha's jug of oil. she bleeds and
blocds und the source is never deple-ted (2 Kings ·U-7).
92 The Poll'er of Disorder

Similarly. at the moment of transfiguration, it is rather Jesus' clothing

than his actual fo rm that tnkes o n an unworldly appeara nce. \Ve a re told
that he was ' tra nsformed before them' (puqtoQ<,p<-~,€Jq, 9.2). presum-
ably in his body. But the wording o f \\•hat follows is so focused on his
clothing as to resemble an advertisement for laund ry a ids: ·and his
g~arments became s hining: exceedingly white, s uch t ha t no fuller on earth
could whiten t hem' (9.3). 3 .".\
Clothing easily represents t he body - it has the body's general s hape.
and it acts in ma ny ways as a second skin. a pro tective bonrier
impervious to pain. like ha ir or toena ils, a helpful reinforcement o f t he
body's boundaries. More than t his. t he clot hed body is the socia l body.
In the a ncient world as now, clothing. classifies the clothed body
~lccording to social a nd economic status, cultura l and religious:
aftiliations: 14 To be nude, then. is to be unclassified \vithln the society's:
structures, particula rly within its hierarchy. • fo r a Roman o fte n, if
not primarily. signified rank. status~ o ffice, o r o.mthority.'H Clothing is
huma n a nd c ultured: nudity is unima l and wild. At the same time, what
is human and civilized is defined socially and constjt utes the individual's
identity as a member of that pnrlic.ular society. The young, man leaving
his garment behind in his night leaves a ll o f his social moorings: t he <-l Ct
is one o f abandonment. in every sense. As is usually the c.ase wit h t he
mo tif of na kedness in t he ancient Mediterra nean. the young man's
naked ness indicates that he has 'lost all possessions a nd his last
dignity'. 3~ He no t only leaves Jesus to d ie alone, but, leaving his clothes~
opts out of the social s tructure altogether, to reappenr o nly at the very
edge of human existence. as a resident in the tomb.
In Genesis 39, Joseph a lso leaves his clothing in the grasp o f one who
threatens his safe ty. In both cases, the s ha me of public nudity, s tripped
of all a ut ho rity or even identity, is overcome by the sha rne o f remuining
clothed in the intolerable threat of the situntio n at hand. In Joseph's
case. the fear o f the sin he is being implored to comm it compels his
Hight: his fear is virtue. as is his nudity. The young man flees not to
;woid sin, but to a void the sort o f trial and torture that Jesus e.ndures.

:U Fermmdo Bdo. A MarnitlliJI Rrmlit1g qf tile Gol]!i!l of Mark. trtllls. Ma llhcw J.

O'Connell {Muryknoll. NY: Orbis. 198.1). p. 162.
34 Mary Ellen R0<1ch and Joanne: Bubolt. Eicher (cds). Adommrm. tmd thr Social
On/er{Nc:w York: John Wiley and Sons. 1965). p. 6.
35 Judith Lynn Scbasta and Larissa Bonfantc: (cds). The World of Roman Co.~tumt>
(Mndison: Uni,>crsity of Wisconsin Press. 1994). p. 5.
36 M. E. Vogdzang and W. J. \·an lkkkum. ' Meaning tmd Symbolism of Clothjng in
Atl(:icnt Ncar Ens tern Texts·. in Scripftl Sigrw VtJcis. cd. H . L J. \'unstiphout. K. Jongding.
F. Lcc:mhuis and G. J. Reinink (Groningcn: Egbert Fors.tcn. 19S6). p. 267.
Subslitution in Festiml. Sacrifice am/ Story 93

Yet in both cases, to act in a socially acceptable wa y would be to incur

social shame: t he nud ity is a \\'ay out. averting: danger by a sort of social
e.u tha nasla.
That the re is something a kin to death in the young man's nude ftig_ht
is reinfo rced by the fact t ha t we next see him in the gr;w e. If the young
man has lcfl Jesus behind in Gethsemnne. Jesus has in t urn left the
young man behind here in the tomb. The man's absence marks Jesus'
presence a nd \~ce versa~ where the young man is is where Jesus is not.
Like Superman a nd Clark Ke nt, they never a ppear together. perhaps
because, like Superman nnd Clark Kent. they are act ually aspects of the
sarne person. \\' hat the young ma n escapes is wh;.lt Jesus wants to
escape-. as \vitness the latter's prayer in Gethsema ne. If the young. ma n
a nd Jesus are aspects o f the same person. the young ma n is a Jesus who
does nol go through with t he Passion. As Jesus wants to do. as so ma ny
generations o f Christians ha ve wanted to do ever sinc-e, the young ma n
skips over the trial and crucifixion>and flies d irectly to the resurrection.
The young. ma n is left behind in the tomb like a trace o f Jesus, as in
Gethsemane the young ma n has left his clothes behind as a t race o f
himself. In Matthew the nng:el in the tomb points o ut •the place where
they laid him' . and in John the d iscip les see the g.raveclothes lying: e mpty
a nd in disa rray (J n 20.5-7). But in Ma rk Jesus leaves no special "plac.e' in
the tomb, no c.halk out line, no clothes~ no bodily trace. The only
evidence remaining, is the young ma n himself, left behind like a no te. to
tell the women o f Jesus· departure for G alilee.
Having. removed his body from its social clo thes in the garden. the
young. mnn now reap pears outside of the huma n and social world, in the
to mb. in other clothes. clothes fro m an other than h umom existence. He
is d ressed in the style of lhe transfigured Jesus (and of Emily Dickinson)
- in white (16.5: cf. 9.3). His glorified d ress is his only supe rna tural
quality. t ho ugh other gospels remember in the same role an a ngel, or
perhaps l\VO a ngels, or the risen Jesus himself.
It is. o f course, q uite natural to confuse the young. man with the risen
Jesus, since the young rna n appears where Jesus oug ht to be. in the
to mb. A further connection between the two is t he. cloth tha t one loses
a nd the other ta kes on. The young man escaping from the authorities in
Gethsemane left behind a (Jlv<x::.v, a c.loth, when he ran away nude.
Joseph o f Arirna thea pointedly goes to the market and buys a clo th
(cnvbc~v) in which to wrap und bury Jesus· na ked corpse.
The repetitio n o f t he wo rd points out a detail that western readers
ha ve been tr.tined to miss: Jesus d ies comp le tely and obscenely na ked ,
94 The Poll'er of Disorder

ha,~ns been stripped by the soldiers before he was c.rucified:n \\'estern

art consistently p re.-coents images o f the crucified Christ wearin~ a kind of
line n loinc.lo th. o ne t hat never appears in a ny gospel text. Rather. *
Mark's description repeatedly emphasizes Jesus' complete and shameful
nakedness. David T ombs summarizes:
B<.lsed on what the Gospel texts themselves indicate. the sexual
element in the abuse is unavoidable. An adult man was stripped naked
for flogging. then dressed in an insulting way to be mocked. struck,
and spat at by a multitude of soldiers befo re being stripped again .. .
and reclothed fo1· his joutney through the city - already too '"·eak to
carry his own cross - only to be stripped ag-.ain (a third time) and
displayed to die whilst naked to a mocking c.rowd.J9
Luke no tab ly softens t his as pect o f t he crucifixion, but Matthew follows
Mark in presenting. Jesus' humilia tio n as sexual. among. its other
properties. The naked departure of t he young: man from the arresting:
c rowd becomes in this light a kind o f alterna tive to Jesus' own naked
The young. man chooses to lea ve his garment behind and risk t he
shame of nudity rathe r than lose his life in Gethsemane. But Jesus loses
his clothes in the shamefu l process o f losing his life. and only gnins t he
gnrment the young mom left behind afte-r death. a covering that comes -
like Joseph of A rirnathea himself - too late to save him fro m pain a nd
d isgrace.

The J\1ockeries: Costwm•s, ldemi1ies and SubstiFwiou

Because clothing embraces and expresses social identity, like rit ual itself.
clothing connects the body o f t he individual to the social body in which
he or she dwells. •A g.lrment is that object o f materia] culture which
takes the nearest position between man and his environment': condudes
a study o f dress in the Ancient Near East. 'it has therefore a n
i nform~1tive ftmction.' 40 Wherever they a ppear in Mar k's gospel. body
coverings associate with issues o f social identity and ritual substitution.

37 Dt~ vid Tombs. 'Crucifixion. Stat.: Terror. and Sexual Abuse·. U11itJn Semi11ury
Quurler/.r Rt·rinr 53{1- 2 (1999), p. 10 1.
38 In lhe lim st\'Cr<t1 centuries <-:e. C hristians shied awny from depictions of lhc
crucifixion a l tog~"f hcr. mosllikdy bee" usc: they wen: all too familior with its most shameful
aspec:-IS. Eli:t.:lbl'1 h A. Dreyer. Tile Cro.u i11 Chris/ian TnrdilitJII: Fmm Paul to Brmm't!IIIUI't'
(Mah.,.,<ah. NJ: l'aulist Pn:~ 2001). pp. 21- 3.
39 Tombs. 'Crucifixion'. p. 104.
40 Vogdzang and van lkHum. · M ~<tming and Symbolism·. p. 266.
Subslitution in Festiml. Sacrifice am/ Story 95

The blindfolding a nd costuming in the mockeries t hat follow Jesus'

e.xamination by the Sanhedrin a nd before Pilute must also be explored in
this: regard.
In the mockery before t he Sa nhedrin. \\•hen Jesus' bodily suffering
a nd humilia tion begins. he is blindfolded - a sort of a nti-rnask, intended
no t to prevent o thers: from recognizing. him~ but to prevent him from
recognizing o the rs. The Greek o f this verse actually reads:
AAi i}Q~avtO 1we.; i'pn<tVetv etir"c(;) Kt.U rtfQtt«:tJ\irn·tt•tv alrtov 10

And some began to spil on him and to cover his face. ( 14.65a)
Although in what follows the intention to blind him becomes ma nifest,
the descriptio n here is not of cJosing his eyes. but o f hiding his face. as a
mask would do.
As: a mask, t he blindfold acts to conceal his face. his identifying
features. As: a blindfold it works: to conceal the faces of his: abusers:. so
that he is fo rced to guess. to pro phesy. whose ha nd now sla ps him. Jesus
has just been q uestioned as to his identity and has decloned who he is to
the high priest. to whom this identification constitutes not truth but
blasphemy (1 4.64). Now Jesus' face is covered a nd his identity is hidden
fro nt the Sanhed rin in t his much simp ler sense. At the same time, he is
asked to identify his persecutors in a game o f b lindman's blutT.
Jesus is no t act ually expected to be able to ma ke the identification
implied in the comma nd to prophesy: it would require a second sight
that his persecutors do not believe he has. The purpose of the ga me is
no t to test Jesus' powers o f perception. but to mock them - and to
provide an excuse to strike him. He is as blind to his persecutors'
identity now as they are to his, a nd it is this blindness that breeds the
vio lenc.e. They hit Jesus wit ho ut fear o f reprisal, in part because he is ;:at
their mercy. in purl because he cannot see which of them is doing: the
striking:. Because he does: not know t hem they feel free to strike, und
beca use they do not know him, they have t he impulse to do so.
Later, in the hands o f the Romans. Jesus is dre.~ed up as a king, a
costume designed to c reate a n artificial identity t hat by contrast points
o ut t he humility o f his act ual identity. He is robed in o rder to show how
ill the ro be becomes him: he is made a king, in order to parody the idea
that he could be made a king.. C lothing acts both to reveal and to
conceal the identity of the wearer; it covers the body, but reveals the

41 Da,•id C. Miller. •empaid.:ei11: Pbying the tt.·lock Game: Lukc 11.6 3-64·. JBL 90
( 19 71). p. 310.
96 The Poll'er of Disorder

social status. t he vocation. the religious beliefs that cons tit ute that body
socially. Jesus· clothing does its job wit h an intensity worthy of ritual~
conc.ealing. his swtus as condemned c riminal only to reveal it , revealing
his status as king: onl}' to repudiate it - or perha ps, fo r t he reader, to
conc.eal it. Jesus· earlier. mysterious saying "Nothing. is hidden except in
order to be made mnnifest' (M<lrk 4.22) echoes t hro ughout this pnssage.
If the manifestation of Jesus' identity before the Sanhedrin precipitates
the hiding of it in a kind of mask, t he Roman hiding o f Jesus· identity in
costume makes that identity ma nifest.
At the same time. the truth is hidden now in order to be mo:ade
ma nifest Inter. as Jesus seems to have bee-n covered in t he robe only so
that he can be s tripped ago1in. The remova l o f the mock insig.nia IS
perhaps t he. whole point.
1\!Cti on~ tvi:nattav ath(;l t~eh\Jt.l\1 alnov tt)v noQ(j>(!QU\' l<t:d
t vlbt'<-.l(:W aUtOv 'lt't ipCtna ail'toV .uti t~youuw ai,tOv lva
utatiQ{~'\,(t'ulV c..\ Ut6v.

And when they had mocked him. they took the robe oil of him and
put his own clothes back on him, a nd led him off so that they might
crut·ify him. (I 5.20)
We had not in fact heard that Jesus· own garments were removed in
order fo r him to be clothed in the mock finery. until now when t he
soldiers s trip off the finery and dress him up again. like a n infa nt o r a
doll. in his own clo thes. In retrospect, it seems cleilr that Jesus \\'as
wearing only the purple ro be. The possibility thut the makeshift robe
around his s ho ulders left his genitals expoSt."d ~1dd s a whole new note of
shame to t he spectacle.
Now the ro be- and crown, h<wing. purposefull y created shame with
the-ir presence, leave a nother d o ud of s hame behind them when they g.o.
The removill o f the royal symbols, however iro nic they were meant to
be, surely evokes Near Eastern rituals in which t he king: was tempo rarily
s trippe.d of insignia , beginning t he period of reversal celebrated in t he
fes ti val. ·For the godjking. he is most vulnerable when he has taken ofT
his tiara and robe. sym bols o f his d ivinity. Js htar descending to t he.
nethe rworld is s tripped o f her jewelry and clothes little by little, arriving:
n~1ked as the dead.'"l Jesus is likewise s tripped o f t he syrnbo ls o f royalty
and d ivinity, in a direct descen t to death . us he is promptly led out to be
c rucified . Though t he symbo ls were a joke. their removnl seems to

42 R1X1ch und Bubolt Eich('r. Dri'.\'.f. p. 6.

43 Vogd:tang and van lkHum. · M ~<tming and Symbolism·. p. 268.
Subslitution in Festiml. Sacrifice am/ Story 97

remove any last obstacle to Jesus' de-ath: only his own garments remain
to be take n from him. a nd those o nly for t he momenl.
In the atte ntion to clothing a nd costume in Mark. there is a
purposeful obfusc<llion or transformation of identity. In the young
man's appearances> in the mockeries, and in t he transfiguratio n. the
change in clothing indicntes movement into a differen t reality
altogether: the changed persons are no longer \vho they were. so life is
no longer \vhat it was. Or rather they are no Jon£er who they are: life is
no longer what it is. It and they become fictio nal, alternative. other than
real. Their very living nov..• becomes commentary upon life.
In the ne\v year~s festivals t he costuming is o f a piece with the
substit ution - the criminal is d res..o;ed as a king temporarily in o rder to
e.xchange te mpora rily the desti nies o f criminal and king.. On two
conflicting. levels. each receives the just dues of the other. For the
moment, t he king is punished as u criminal and the criminal exalted as
befits a king: more enduringly, the crimina l endures t he death that the
king's exaltntion demands. and the king receives again the throne for
which the c riminal has puid. The mo.tsking and t he costuming share with
the motif of substitution a n interest in identities., both are
attempts to d islodge the fixity of identity. and wit h identity. destiny.
Ritual itself is concerned with identity. Identity is fo rmed by und
forms experience. If we are to create an experience that does not
spontaneously occur. then we must in the process create other people, to
whom such an expe rience can oe<.·ur.44 The actors in a ritual are not
bound to this reality - they ure in t his sense not real people. As actors in
the ritual they operate in another realm. and to do so they must be other
than themselves, not who they were~ o r not who they are. Yet in Mark's
text. despite the costuming, despite the several failed substjt utes for
Jesus, no identities are truly c ha nged: no substit ution t ruly occurs.
Because it is not the description o f a historically enacted ritual. but a
narrative inHuenced by ritual thinking. the story must let Jesus remain
Jesus - the inexombility of his death only emphasized by the would-be
substitutes and identity play. Other narratives less tied to realism (of a
sort), t he humanity of Jesus. o r the rea lity of the physical world. \\'ere
free to pull Jesus out of his own suffering by providing a real a nd
effective substitute. So the Gnostic writer Basilides, no doubt inspired
by the effective (but pnrtial) substitution of Simon of Cyrene in Mark's
text. wrote t ha t Jesus
did not himself suffer death. but Simon. a certmn man of Cyrene .

.J4 Bell. Ritlml11umry. p. 110: Rich~~rd Schc~·hncr. Tile Fllltrri! of Rit1ml (N.::w York:
Routkd!,te. 1993). p. 39.
98 The Poll'er of Disorder

being compelled. bore the cross in his stead; so that this latter being
transfi~;ured by him {that is., by Jesus), that he might be thous,ht to be
Jesus, was crucified. throus.h ignorance and error. while Jesus himself
received the fo rm of Simon. and. standing by. laughed at them. 45
This kind of narrative a nd ethical freedom is absent in :Mark. who
struggles continua lly a nd throughout the ,gospel against the reality of
Jesus' real suffering a nd deo.lth. And in a kind of rnultiple iro ny, t he.
presence of ritual elements like substitution both seems suggested by a nd
also underlines the sense tha t Jesus' death is inexplicably necessary.

45 hu p:/{www.carly~:hrist ianwri ti ngs.cont/lxlsil idcs. htm1

Chapter 5


Scriptetl and Spouuuwous: The Passion as Ritual

Richard Schechner notes that in an unscripted festival such as a political
demonstrollion, some scripted and predictable e lements, such as
m;.u ches. banners a nd guerrilla theatre. a re included, and t hat these
ritualized details 'give to d irect theate r a ritual quality, the feel of a
·'destiny" being. played out'. 1 Such is the effect of t he ri1ua l elements in
Mark's Passio n: the repeated su.ggestion that Jesus substitutes for
o thers, t he c.arniva lesque quality of the mockeries, the quality o f ritl l<ll
repetition lent by t he p redictions a nd by the offering of John the Baptist
as a pattern, as \\•ell ns the rcconfiguratio n o f the Passover ritual. They
do not bet~ome an explicit programme for the even ts: they do not make
it an inte ntio na l. programmed ritunl. \tVit hin the na rrative fra mework,
the Passion remains part of the realm of unprogra rnmed experience. Jts
actors decide for themselves what they will do next. in unholy ignornnce
o f the significance of t heir actions. But t he e lements of ritual ''~t hin the
Passion - most impo rtantly Jesus' attitude towards it as a ritual - give it
the we.ight t hat unprogra mmed e-Xperience lacks. Experience may be. as
Milnn Kundera ma intains. unbearably light. 2 Certainly there is u terrific
me~minglessness, u weight lessness in the ongoing experience of po litical
a nd soci<ll oppression - which is~ <lfte r all. wha t Kundera describes in
coming. to his supposedly a conclusio n. Mark's sto ry weighs
down events wit h its ritual elements. in an effort to make meaning o f
various kinds of destructio n and oppression, and to wrest semantic
contro l o f them fro m the hands o f oppressors.
Robert Fowler has described the struggle between destiny nnd
freedom in Mark's gospe l as the presence o f two plot lines. Jn one,
the events are predestined and inevitable. to the exte nt t ha t little room
rema ins fOr human responsibility. In the o the r. events are connected to

I Richard Schtthner. Tilt> Fullwl! of Rit1mi (New York: Routledge. 1993). p. 86.
2 ~·~t ilan Kundcm. Tht> Unllt'(IJ"Oble Ligh111ess of /Jei11g (New Yor~ : HorperCollins. 1984).
p. J I.
100 The Poll'er of Disorder

one a not her in c.ausal relationship~ human beings a re free to ~let

~lccording to t heir own good or ill will, a nd are thus responsible fo r their
misdeeds. most promine ntly for the crucifixion of Jesus. 3 But t he
presence of two plot Jine-s implies a d is<:o nnection between the two. as
though the gospel presents now the c.ase for predestination and now t he
case for accountability. Predestinntio n and responsibility, however, a re
asserted simulta neously in Mark - they can appear to be qualities o f t he
same fo rc.e. a fo rce that cont ro ls the gospel's story. Jesus te lls t he
disciples. as they a re each busy denying th<H t hey are capable of
O·n 0 ~t~V uiOt; -roO &v€JQ(;,1lOL' imt\yet "aEk~.~ yiyQan'tcu neQi
a(,toV oU(\i bt t(~l dv€1Q(~1t(~' tKeiW~' i)l' oU 6 vl~ 1oU Jvf:)QC~ov
1W.QCtbl~·uu KetAOv aVt(;) ti o (lK i-ytVVI}Eh} 0 &v(\x..m<>; iKeivO<;.

For the Son of the Human Being goes as it is written of him. but woe
to that human bein~ by whom the Son of the Human Being is
betrayed! It would be bener for that human being if he had never b...~n
born.' ( 14.21)

The p r v-br construction makes t he two state ments halves of a single

reality. On the one hand. t he Son of the Huma n Being's death is
scripted, writte n o ut fo r him to follo\ll like a part inn play. At t he same
time. t hat pa rticulnr human being who hands him over is held
responsible and will s ufler fo r the misdeed , appa rently because t he.
betrayer has freely c hosen his actio ns. Michael V. Fox's description of
the book o f Esther rings t rue fo r Mark's Passion: ·free humnn c hoices
somehow issue in a conclusion scripted in advance.' 5 Thnt is, the same
event is both scripted and freely chosen: to state the one without stating
the other \vould contradict t he sense o f t he compound t hough t.
In this gospel, Jesus seems to submit to his divinely planned fa te. to
c hoose it in this limited sense. by perceiving it to be inevitable. As we
have seen with Pe ter's denial, all the c har;.lcters seem to be a t once
follO\ving a preset script. while at the snme time t hey a re not ncting
~l cco rding to anyone's will b ut their own .

3 Rober! Fowler. Let tit~ Re((der Umlers/alld(Minncapolis: Fortress P~ 1991). p. 138.

Cf. John Donahue. Am You 1ile Christ? (SBL Oisscl1tllion Series. no. I 0. Missoula: Scholars
Press.. 1973. pp. 229-30) to the ~·ffcct thM {>(i in Mart signifies u stmin of trugic:- nocc:s.o;ily.
whi<:h is nol. howcvc:r. in oonlliet with Mark's emphasis on the charac-ters· free wilt
4 Though I generally. reluctantly. t•cccpt ·son of Man'. us t he <:onvc:nlionultranslntion
for l'loc tO& .w6Q<~mov. in this cusc I trunslatc 'Son of the Humtm Being· in order to
mtLintain the eonnc:ction. d eur in the Gretk. lxt\'IIXn the messianic figure <md his lxu aycr.
5 Michnd V. Fox. C'hllmcler mul Ideology itt lfle Book of Esrhu (Gmnd Rapids. M 1:
Emlmans. 2001). p. 250.
'Let 1he One Who Undnstamls. Undcrswnd' 101

This is, in fo1cl. the very te nsion between limited role a nd n·ee action
that characte rize-s ritua l a nd distinguishes it from theatre . ln a d rama the
actors pretend personalities other than their own: they put on other
desires, circumsta nces, a nd weaknesses wit h their costumes. But in a
ritua l, the actors, a lthough they a re in one sense constrained by a script
a nd transfonned by their roles within it} nevert heless are not p lay-
acting. They continue to be themselves. even \vhile laking on ritual
ro les.6 \Vha t they do is what t hey decide to do: a t the same time it is
wh<H the ritual sc1i pt demands. In a rituaL the acto rs take t heir assigned
ro le into themselves. perma nently stre tching. rather t ha n te mpora1i ly
replacing. the limits o f their own identities. Often, if not o:alwnys. the
identity of the ritual actor during the course of the rit ua l. so
that his o r he r li fe therea fte r is o the r than it had been before.'
Just as Pe ter acts o m exactly the denial t hat has been predicted o f
him, Jesus also fulfils a role that h a.~ been set out fo r him. Unl ike Pe te r,
though, Jesus complies with the ro le conscio usly. purposely. He does no t
make the mistake o f d isbelieving the na ture of his role~ his fe rvent belief
in the future he sees is rather one o f his strongest characteristics. Unlike
the disciples, he knows where he is headed a nd goes there knowingly. at
o nce by c ho ice a nd by necessity. Sophocles' Oedipus mee ts his fate in an
effo rt to avoid it. Pete r meets his throug.h blindness and amnesia; he
forgets to avoid it. But Jesus meets his fate as t hough a nswe1i ng the
s ummo ns o f his d raft board - with heavy relucwnce and yet wilfull y,
wit h s uch free will as c-. m emerge from what is pe rceived as a te rrible
Mark is not trying to present t he Passion events as ~111 actual, scripted
ritua l. Rather it seems of ultimate importance that the events ho1ppened
na turally. spontaneously, and fell o f themselves into a n (almost)
discernable pattern. Jn its attachment to the uncontrolled aspects o f
experience. the gospe l may in fnct Hy in the face of controlled sacrificial
systems. including the purely theologjcal o nes that view Jesus as the
ultimate sacrifice. Saclifice controls precisely those most uncont ro lla ble
experiences that o th e n,~ se tea r a t the organization of society. Sacrificinl
sys(ems, emerging in tandem \\~th patrilineal syste ms o f land and
Ji\•estock inherita nce, c reate in an orderly prescribed way their own
contro lled, a rtificinl versions o f the te rrible, and terribly s po nta neous
phenomena o f deat h, blood and. perhaps most especially> birt h from

6 J•c1. E. Combs~·Schllling. Sacred PeJfurmnllces (New York: Columbia U ni\~ n:it)· Press.
1989). pp. 30-31.
7 Arnold Van Gennup. 711e RitesofPtls.wtge. 1rans. Monika B. Vizedom and Gabridlc L
Caffee (dticago: University of Chit~:~go Pros. 1960). pp. lt- 13.
102 The Poll'er of Disorder

women. These phenomena are what patrilineal society is buill up to

constra in and configure: their c.o ntinued spontaneous presence th reatens
wh~at is understood as not only t he social o rder, but as order itself. Jt is
possible to read Mark as simply one mo re e tTort to force something
tenibly spo ntaneous into controlled categories; Jesus may be coopting
women's chaotic a nd impure blood - taking its power from them a nd
pouring il out as a controlled. masculine-. purifying substance. But it
may be t hat Mark's .grip o n spontaneous and chaotic events seeks a
mo re d irect link to the power of disorder that sacrificial systems seek to
h<Hness. The ritual in this gospel emerges as though it were prescribed
witho ut having: been prescribed. In t he same way anthropologists
sometimes cite the greater predominance o f rites of passa ge fo r boys as a
result o f what is for girls a kind o f natural. biological rite - the onse.t of
menstruatio n. Sacrifice seeks to make holy what is most unho ly - sin.
menstrual and o the r blood. death. But Mark seems to see t he unholy
spnces, people. events. as falling. spo ntnneously. chao, into t he
sacred .

Jesus as Sacrifice
It cannot be denied. much as I would like to deny it. t hat Jesus appears
to be participating in his own executio n. Indeed the willingness of t he
sacrificial victim genera lly (at any rate when t he victim is human a nd
capable of such willingness) may be read not simply as an elision of t he
sac1i fice r's gui lt, but as the victim's acce pta nce that its own death.
however terrible and frightening:. is nevertheless necessary. is not
random slaughter but in f1.1ct the redemptive sacrifice that the ritua l
understands it to be. In Jesus' case ~ however, t hose doing the sacrifice.
whether Jew o r Roman, are doing. so o nly in eiTecl. not by inte nt Only
Jesus sees his own death as redemptive. The victim in t his sacrifice goes
to die believing: there is some etlicacy to his death. while those who kill
him see the death us simple and secular slnughter - a n execution. The
victim may understand himself as a rituo1l victim, but t he killers see
themselves o nly as executioners: if they conduct a ritual they do so
In a G irardian reading.. to say that Jesus is sacrificed is to s.ay t hat his
executione rs are disguising. murder as sacrifice.$ It is my contentio n t hat
the opposite is happening in Mark's text - t he executioners are not

8 Rcn<: G irard. Scupegoaf. trans. Yvun FrcocNo (Baltimore:-: Johns Hopkins Uni\-crsity
P~-~ 1986). p. 101: Robc:n Hamctton-Kd ly. Tht> Grupe/ (tnt/ 1lle Soan/ (Minneapolis:
Fortress Pr<ss. 1994). p. 43.
'Let 1he One Who Undnstamls. Undcrswnd' 103

covering up murder with the guise of sacrifice . but perfo rming sacrifice
believing it to be murder. Although it is Jewish a uthorities who hand
Jesus over and Ro mun authorities who crucify him. neither can funclion
as the o fficiant o f a sacrifice. since neither see the death as in a ny way
meaningful o r productive.9 For Jewish crowds a nd Ro mun authoritie-s
a like this is an execution; fo r Ma rk, fo r Jesus. a nd, ultimate ly in t his
text. for God it is a sacrific.e. Only for Jesus a nd t he nurrator. as we have
noted . is t he event weighted by p redid ion and patte rn, so that whe-n it
happens it s hares in a fra mework o f meaning a lready established . Only
for Jes us und the nou ra tor does Jesus· deat h ha ve meaning: only for
them is it, then. a ritua l.

The Powcl' of Disorder

' Rit ual.' Douglas has .said. "recognizes the potency of disorder.' 10 It is
d isorder t ha t Mark faces in the fact of Jesus' crucifixio n, in the fact tha t
the Messiah who was to come has been crucified and in the destruction
o f the temple tha t for Mark so closely follows iL It is o nly through
ritua l's c-apacity to find a power in t his d isorder t hat Mark can llnd a
reason to te ll t he story at a ll. (f t he c rucifixio n t~onfirms fo r Mark his
sense that t he socia l world has imploded and co llapses a round him. he
te lls the story not fo r that reason, but to say that om o f the ushes o f that
world a nothe.r will arise. For Mark t he wo rld's destruction becomes its
last best hope.
\Ve see this in Jo hn the Buptist's d eath. As brutal as Jo hn's dea t h is. as
terrible a state ment as it ma kes about human justice. still it is that very
death that empowers Jes us a nd worries He rod (6.1 6). It is because John
d ies as he does - vio le ntly, senselessly, unj ustly - that he ha unts Herod.
The collapsing cou rt lege nd \Ve saw in John's story o nly manages to be
told al a ll by virtue of the ha unting that concludes and precedes it. A
pov..•er is unleashed through the very senselessness o f Jo hn's death,
which. unlike the power o f John's life, is immune to He rod 's power to
Mark's story is about the potency o f disorder. If the story set o ut
Jesus' death plainly as a ritual sacrifice. the n it would lose touch with
that d isorder on which ils apoc-alyptic power relies. Rather, it must
present Jesus' death ns terrible, a wrong. ending to the story o f a man
who has God's power to restore life. wholeness and sanity to individuo:als

9 Cf. John's gospel. in which lhc high pries.! 01iaphas doclnrcs. ' II is bl~tter for you to
h:1 ~
one man die for the people !han lo h11vc the whole nation des!royc:d· (I 1.50).
10 Mary Dougl:ts. Purity a11d Dtmgr.r {London: Ark Paperbacks. 1966). p. 94.
104 The Poll'er of Disorder

and to the n~tlio n. For Mark t his wrongness. this d isorder - the reversnl
of what should be that we see in Jo hn's executio n. in the o1ccusatio n of
blasphemy from the Sanhedrin. in the cro\vd 's c hoice of Barabbas. a nd
in Jesus' mock kingship - is <1 given. The author Jives, as few wo uld
deny, in a world where Romans and their collaborators rule in the place
of God's anointed. The gospel p roceeds from this state of affairs to
aft1rm t hat a ll t his c haos is not a n end in itself b ut leads somewhere.
Mark presenls Jesus' death as a ritunl, a n event d rawing powe r fro m
its very powerlessness, extracting meaning from its very meaningless-
ness. \Ve see Mark . t hen. struggling ag_a inst the lightness of being he
indeed finds unbearable, and in the end mnking it weig:h mightily,
ma king, t he bro ken pieces o f t he social a nd relig.ious o rder reform into
some other o rder, the shape of which yet remains unknown.
Thus Mark's presentation of the Passio n as ritual is a strenuous effort
to clnim. against ~111 evidence to the contrary. that neither the destruction
of the te mple- nor the crucifixion is utterly senseless. Ye t there is no
q uestion tOr this gospel o f denying t he world-shatte ring_ nature of bo th
events. For the other g.ospel write rs, t he idea that Jesus' death is
redemptive fails to c.ome as a surp rise. They work within trad itions in
which the Christian myt h has already taken hold. a nd their wo rk is to
interpret that myth. rather than to construc t it. But Mark's reader has
the impressio n that t he messag:e identified by scholars as kerygma takes
shape only in t his writi ng.. 11 The chaos a rou nd every corner in Mark
bears testimony that his work resides on t he bo undary between t he
destruction o f o ne system of ordering t he world und the construction of
ano ther. The destructio n of the o ld is far plainer. fnr more real th<m is
the construction o f the new. which is as yet o nly believed in ag.ainst all
e\•idence. 12 Mark•s account of the resurrection is not of lengthy
conversatio ns with Jes us. but of a Jesus unseen who escapes the g.r.ive
- not so very diffe rent from the rumours of Jo hn's resurrection. His
~1ccount o f the apocalypse is likewise that altho ugh no stone will be. left
upon another} yet through t he mercy o f God who sho rte ns the days~
something will ma nage to survive ( 13.20). The de-a th and dest ruction nre
not ameliorated by this hope: rather they <He presented in their full
colours. to show that it is o nly from t he ashes o f t his ag:e that the new

II C f. Dan 0 . Via. Jr. Kt~rygma ((lUI C'tJtllt'dy in the Nf'lr TtJiamelll i Philaddphia:
Fom css. 1915). p. 93. Via daims th111 the g.ospd resulted from t he pr<:·t:tistnnt kerygma.
which ' rc\~rbcritl cd in the mind of Mark :111d nc-tiv:.,led the comic genre'.
12 C f. again Vio. who sees the diiTen·nee bttwocn Mark and Groc:k tragedy ' the joyful
outcome of t he Gospcr (p. 98). To ttad a joyful oute<., mc in Mark. it SL-cms to me. it is
nro:ss:try to read Mnrk through M:tHhcw or Luke.
'Let 1he One Who Undnstamls. Undcrswnd' 105

o ne will <Hise. in some as yel unimaginable shape. The death and

destruction in this sense constitute Mark's best hope.
For in this gospel the world's being ripped apa rt ultimately lets in the
king_d om o f God. At Jesus:' baptism. the holy spiril descends through the
splitting o f the he.avens (...:ai £UeUc ilva~c:dv<-.YV fK t oO UbaTo:; tibrv
OXICO~lfvov:; 'TOO; oVQavoV; ...:tli 'TO nvtU~H~ <~:; nEQl<.Hi'Qt\v
...:a-ra~aivov ti.; a0t 6v 1.10), the same \vord used to describe the
splitting: o f the temple curtain (...:a i >r6 ~..:a'tan~'tC\O'jJC\ TOV vtloV
toxlo0f) ri~ bVo tht' iiv<-.Y6n: f<vc ~..:Ct<tw, 15.38). The old fa bric cannot
be patched: it must be replaced (2.21). \Vhnt \Ve see in this gospel is at
o nce the bursting: o f the o ld nnd inoldequate wineskins which ha ve tried
to accommodate the. new wine (2.22) - the ho ly spirit tearing the heavens
apart in its: descent - a nd the simply tragic tearing of the o ld garment
that ma kes a n entirely new o ne necessary.

Noticing lnmtemiou
The sense o f t he events as: weighted, predicted. scripted a nd repeated
belongs: only to Jesus in Mark - it is a knowledge kept bet\\teen himself
a nd God, to which the narrator and the reader have some, limited
Robert Fowler notes: that the d ivine voice a t Jesus' baptism ( 1. 11) und
Jesus' prayer in Gethsemome (1 4.35-36) nre he.ond and apparently
directed to the reader alone: c haracters within the narrative apparently
d o not hear them. 13 In t hese two key mo ments and in the cry o f
dereliction ( 15.34). t he moment shnre.d o nly by the nonroHor and reader
is o therwise strictly between Jesus a nd God. The subject of both the
prayer and t he c ry is: whether a nd why it is necessary for Jesus to die. a
question God never answers as fa r <l S we know. There appears to be
something between God and Jesus of which the reader and narrator
share u limited ~\\va reness. and of which the other characters remain
o blivio us.
Other t ha n Jesus, t he characters' inattentio n precludes them from
being conscious ritual partic·ipants. since ritual. as Smith says. ·is ~~ mode
o f paying attention' . Other than Jesus. no o ne in this gospel sees
themselves as participating in a rihwl - at least. not in a ritual that
culminates in Jesus' death. But here is the juncture o f chaotic expedence
a nd o rdered ritual in Mark's gospel. The characte rs' very ina ttention

13 Fowie:r. Utili~ Rradl!r UnderJiaml. pp. 16. 21.217.

14 Jona than Z. Smilh. To Takl! PI(IN> (dlicago: Uniwlsity of Chicago P~~ 1987).
p. 10.1.
106 The Poll'er of Disorder

constit utes the ritll<ll. Their inattention becomes the action upon which
Jesus. the narrator, and t he reader focus so attentively, a lert for
me.-m ing. It is precisely the mindlessness, t he meaningless. t he
unintentionality o f unprogrammed experience that falls into some
kind of terrible~ ultimate 1neaning in Jesus' death.
Here t he single G reek word from Mark 13.14, C<vayLv(~CTK(-..'V -
normally tra nslated. •ret the reader understand ' - must be heard
differently. This is not, as the usual translation suggests. the sole.
~1\vkward moment in which lv1ark o r the Markan Jesus breaks down t he
nouro:ative wall to address the reader directly - and clumsily. It is not 'the
reader' who must understand, but, in a n alternative, more lite ral
meaning of the Greek. "the one who knows well'. Rather than being. a n
anomaly in !\•lark's gospel, the verse t hen becomes something very
typical of t his writer~ akin to t he repeated sa ying:, ·whoever has ea rs to
hear, le1 t hem hea r'. The word 111<1)' indeed mean •reader', but pro bably
does not menn ·reader of this gospel'. Rather. Mark's Jesus advises
those who read the signs to do so conscientio usly - those who can
read sho uld read closely. The d isciples, and oocasionally the g,o spel's
reader, fail to exhibit this necessary. precise interpretjve a ttention.
Throughout the gospel. tragedy and injustice occur from a complex
combination o f ba d intent a nd a simple f;.1ilure to read the signs. Herod
fails to see what t he dancing g.irl will ask fo r, a nd so John the Baptist
d ies. The disciples. as Fowler notes, fail to, or to register. Jesus
predicting his O\Vll sutTering, death a nd resurrection. Peter does not see
that he is acting out the prediction that he so emphatic-.tlly fo reswore.
Peter. James, a nd John repeatedly. ritually sleep at Gethsemane. The
result o f these many instances of inattention. together with the bad
intentions of Judas a nd the high priests and the carelessness a nd
incomprehension o f Pilate. is the crucifixion.
The c hoice of Jesus as today's vidim is in a sense an accident. a
perverse coming together of c ircumstances a nd people. Ro me's machin-
e ry killed thousands this way~ a nd it never seems particularly aimed at
Jesus. Rather, t he high priests in this g.ospel offer Jesus up to t he Roma n
killing machine. knowing t hat Rome would just as soon kill one Jewish
upstart as another. that Pilate will not d istinguish an assassin from a
mir.tcle worker. This ' handing over' o f Jesus by the hig.h priests
constit utes such a profound source o f bitterness in Mark precisely
because t hese officials are technica lly Jesus' own leaders, just as He rod is
technically Jo hn the Baptist's own king. Jn bo th cases. the rnnrriage, as
we see vividly pe rsonified in Herod's court, of t he desire to kill wit h t he
power to kill produces as its illegjtimate child the execution. That Pilate
kills Jesus without really wanting to do so does not in nny way exonerate
'Let 1he One Who Undnstamls. Undcrswnd' 107

him. nor does it make him seem merely wea k . Pilate's cruelty consists
precisely of the fact that he is ready to kill a ny ano nymous Jew at all,
a nd that he can be counted on to kill any Jew who has the misfort une to
fall into his hands. This is the double bitterness o f a colonial situation .
The gospel desp ises the Ro omd sees them as a n unclean invading
force; therefore, any Jews who cooperate with o r benefit from the
Ro man presence are portmyed as entirely evil. The priests do no t
represent the Jewish people here: they appear to have sold t he Jewish
people down the river.
Christian st~holars tend to see t he reader in Mark's d isciples. and tend
to see a n ultimate a bility to follow somehow implied in the discip les'
repeated failures. 15 It must be admitted that the reader does no t
understand muc.h of what Jesus says and does in this gospel. In this we
do identify \Vith the d iscip les. who spend muc-h of time wondering
what he means and who he is (4.10,41 ; 5.3 1: 6.52:8.4. 19- 21:9.6,9-10:
10.26: 14.19; etc..). Perhaps t he most prominent condemnation of the
d isciples· density is in chapte r 8, when Jesus summarizes t he results o f
the feeding miracles to his d isciples. and asks them to draw the
appropriate conclusion from t he numbers of baskets left over (8.1 7-21).
Despite rna ny scholarly attempts to pretend othen\•ise. t he reader and
even the critic. is as much at a loss as t hey to a r Jesus' question, ·Do
you not yet understand?' in the affirmative. The reader is no t. at least
no t in this case, ·the o ne who knows well". \Ve have not understood the
same par~1bles that t he d isciples f<1 iled to understnnd (4.4 1), and
a ltho in a sense we know what t he disciples do not, nevertheless we
a lso a rc askin.g ourselves at the stilling o f the sto nn. 'Who then is this?'
Our inability to understand Jesus· words ac.tions is. in sho rt. no t far
fro m their infamous incompre hension.
Central to their incomprehension and ours is a failu re lo underswnd
the necessity fo r Jesus· death. As readers privy to the narrator's
translation. we understand Jesus' question from the c.ross. but \Ve wait in
va in to hear o.lll answer. Why~ indeed , has God fo rsaken him? No rna tter
how many times Jesus reiterates that all o f t his suffering is ·necessary'.
we are at a loss to understand why it should be so. and , as wit h the
meaning of t he bread und for the most part the parables. no etTort is
m~1de to expl<1in it to us. 10 \Vit h Pe ter we are drawn into urgin.g Jesus to

15 Theodore J. Weedon. Sr. M(IJ-k: Traditions in Conflicl (Philadelphia: Fon.~ Press.

1971). is an c:t:unple or the converse. or the view or 1hc disciples as modds. Wttdon does not
deny th:11 th<:y tll't' failurc:'5. but cbims they arc thus ttllli-modds. the enemies of 1he gosJXI.
16 Wilhdm Wrede. Tile J1 hsJi(mic SeeM. trnns. J. C. G. Greig (Cm1bridge: J. Clarke.
108 The Poll'er of Disorder

stop predicting, his own death, fo r we canno t help b ut read according to

the things o f huma n beings, no t of God (8.3 1-33).
Since the knowledge o f what comes next is so much o f what
d istinguishes ritll<-11 from experience. whether or not the re.ader experi-
e nces t he text as a rilunl can be a nswered o nly when we have asked
ourselves to \vhat exte nt we see the e nd o f t he gospe l coming. In t he
most obvious sense. we do. Fo\l.:ler's atte mpt to read the gospel
d iachronically is perhaps doomed: if it was not fo r the firs t-century
readers. it is certainly so fo r us. \Ve know how this story ends. The
contro l over time so necessary fo r rit ual is fo r us achieved rat her
through narrative. Although we do not understa nd. any more than do
the d isciples. what t he meaning o f Jesus' dea th might be, yet we do read
it as ha,~ng: meaning - that is to say. we re(l(/ it. \Ve knO\v is a point
to Jesus' death. but, as Joel Green observes. we do not know what t hat
point migh t be. 17
\Ve hear the Passion predictions to which t he d isciples are virtually
deaf: they affect our expectations in a way t hat they do not affect t hose
of the disciples. 1$ Yet we ha ve already sa id that the reader does not
understand, is not given to understand. what the predictions mean.
Their essence is to assert that the Passion is nece.s:s.ary; t ha t is how they
are introduced by Jesus. a nd that is why they are introduced by t he
noumtor. But as readers that is exactly whoH we do not get. \Ve hea r t he
predictio ns and we be lieve them: we understa nd them to th is exten t.
Jesus• humilintion, suffering: and death approowhes. 19 \Vhat we do not
understand is the predictions' ;;assertion t hat this approaching trauma
has apprehensible meaning. For Jesus it does, nnd as such constitutes a
rit ual. But the meaning: is a secre t that Jesus does not. o r c.a nnot. sha re
with t he reader.

Nal'rciliw:. Pelformance mul Riwal

For many scholars from various perspecti ves. t he performative aspects
of 1\.'lnrk emerge ~~s prominent in t he reader's experience.2(> In a

17 Jod B. Green. Tht> Death ofJt'Sll.r (Tubingcn: J. C. B. Mohr )Pt1ul Sicbcd:.J. 1988).
p. 320.
18 Fowler. Let llw Retldt'.r Ull(/t>rswnd. p. 21.
19 Fowler. Let 1/le Readt~.r Umlnstmul. p. 21.
20 John R. Donahue. Are You ;l!e Cl!risl?. S BL Disscrlation Series. no. 10 (Missouls:
Sd1olars Press. 1973). p. 229: Hl·nmm C. Wacticn. A Rl'tml-rring of Power (t•c1inncapolis:
Fon rcss P~ 1984). p. 1: Chcd M y~rs.. Bi11ding tile Srro11g Mtm (Maryknoll. NY: Orbis.
1988). p. 98: Fernando Bdo. A Malt>rialist &ailing q{ll:t~ Gru{lt'l of Mark. lrans. Mallhcw J.
O'Connell {Muryknoll. NY: Orbis. 191! 1). pp. J2- J.
'Let 1he One Who Undnstamls. Undcrswnd' 109

description that resounds with connota tions: o f ritual. Fowle.r no tes that
'the Gospel is: designed no t so rnuc.h to say as to do something to its
reader .. . Even Mnrk's direction is perfo rmulive and rhetorical. ' 2 1
Commenti ng o n Mark. Jo hn Donnhue asserts: similarly tha t the goal o f
narrative is 'to so engage the reader o r hea rer that he experiences himself
a n expe rience simila r to the o ne narmted and that he identifies with the
characte rs:'.:t:! From a very different angle. both Etienne Trocme a nd
Joel G reen have daimed that Mark 's Passio n shows sig ns o f having been
used as a dtual script before being integrated into the gospe J. 2 l That is.
critics from bo th lite rary and historical perspectives have come to the
conclusion t ha t Mark's gospel invites: t he reader to do something.
The power to construct a community - a perfo nnative quality
associated wit h rit ual since Durkheim - also has: been a ttributed to
Murk's: gospel by its literary re.aders. The iro ny \Vhich is so consistent a n
element of Mark's narrative, accord ing to bo th Camery-Hogatt a nd
Fowle r, works to engender community a mo ng the readers: a nd between
the reader und narrato r, all o f whom sh"re an underst:md ing denied to
' those outside· (4.11 )?4 The readers have t he e-xperience of reading in
commo n, as: ritual participants have the rit ual e xperience in commo n;
since experiences: fo rm li\'es. a community life e merges.
In emphasizing Mark's performative power.. the sense that it is what
Norman Perrin te rmed a primordial myth - a story meant to order its
re-aders:' world - scho la rs o ften emphasize the power o f na rrative itself. 15
C hed Myers q uotes litem ry a nd c ultural c ritic Fredric Ja meson lo the
effecl t hat, 'The production of nnrrative form is to be seen as a n
ideologicalolct in its own right, with the fu nc.tio n of inventinfi imaginary
o r fo rmal "solmions" to unresolvable social contradiction.•_a Fernando
Belo like\\~se sees Murk's: c hoice of narra tive as: a subversive one.27 But
these re-ad ings do no t fully explain how Mark manages to reach t his
fundamental level of experience, the level a t which o rder is made from
t~h aos . If reading makes a community. if narrative is subversive. why

21 Fow'lcr. LN tilt? &:adl!r U11denHmd. p. 211.

22 Do nahue. Are You rki' Chrisr?. p. '"'9.
23 Grccn. Detfllr ofJe5JtS. p. 19 1; E:til~llle Troc:mC. The Pt~ssion tl.f l.iuugy(london: SCM
Press. 1983). p. 87.
24 Fowic:r. Let tht> Rt>uder Undl!r,\·tcmd. p. 12; Jerry Cnm<:ry-Hogau. lro11y in Mark's
Gosprl. SNTSMS 11 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Pn:ss. 1992). pp. 4, 10.
25 Norman Perrin. Tire Re.rwuclion According to MattiU!If. Mt~rk, tuul L11k~
(Philaddphi:1: Forlrcss Press. 1977).
26 Mytrs. Bimh·,g. p. 98: Tht> Political UlltVHU¥'ious (Jthuca: Cornell Uni''ersily Press.
1981). p. 79.
27 Bdo. Mml!doli.~t Rr<ulitlg. pp. 32- 3.
110 The Poll'er of Disorder

does this s ubversive community-construc tion seem less crucial in Luke.

Mauhew. or John'!
Narra tive has a frer all many o f the s.onne qualities as ritual. Like
ritual, narrative builds a world in which the reader lives. a model of the
real world t hat interprets a nd affects it. The choice of narr.ttive, says
Do nahue, makes sense o f time and existe nce> and emp hasizes that there
may be 'meaningfulness against reason' . Donah ue quotes Leo Brandy to
the e flect that ·Both novelist and historian . . . tried to present a plnusible
world , complete in itself. yet d irectly relevant to the reader's actual
life:28 It is t his direct relevance to the reader's life t ha t I ma intain Mark
emph.-1sizes. In order to maintain the relevance to what he sees as a
c haotic world, he leaves puzzles unsolved, a nd questions unanswered.
To t his extent his narra tive takes on the qua lities o f ritua L and it is
becnuse his use of the narra ti ve fo rm pushes tO\\tard the chao tic edge of
order through its rit ua l qualities that .M ark's choice of n~urati ve seems
so particula rly meaningful to his readers.
In the first chapte r of this book, I identified ritunl as one point o n a
continuum of e fforts to d igest and make sense of lived expe rience. These
e fl'orts move. in Victor Turner's terminology. between sensory a nd
ideological poles in t heir effo rts to (on t he sensory e nd) keep cont~1ct
with the wealth of meaning in experience. and (on the ideological e nd) to
organize that meaning into categories accessible to consciousness?)~
Rit ua l. composed by framing bodily experience. maintains a position on
this continuum close (o the sensory pole~ it chooses to resemble
unprogrammed life ra ther t ha n to be more fully a menable to conscious-
Narra tive a lso occupies a s pace on t his continuum, fu rther towards
the ideological po le t ha n is ritual by virtue of the former's dependence
on the limiting a nd defining power of words. The reader of narrative,
like the purticipant in ritual. is indoctrinated into a made-up world.
organized by hurna n hands. But narrative takes the experience t hat
rit ua l has framed and selected o ut of t he realm of experience itself. into a
realm over which the aut hor has greater control. as creator o f this
huma n reflectio n of the world no t made by human ha nds. Into t he.
noumtive \'.:orld. as o pposed to t he ritual o ne, no unprogrammed
experience can now e nte r. except the experience of the reader herself.
However much Mark's gospe l may d isplay and evoke ritual's position
on the continuum I ha ve described, it is of course fa r more d irectly
occupying t he position of narrative t here. J do not ha ve to prove t hat

2S Dotwhuc. Arf" J'o u tile Chri.f t:'. p. !29.

29 Viclor Turn<r. TI~t! Fort•JI q{ Symbo!J i hhaca: Comctl Un iv~'niily Press. 1967). p. 28.
'Let 1he One Who Undnstamls. Undcrswnd' I II

Mark is narrative, in the \\'ay that I must prove that it is also rit ual. In
telling his story as he does. however, in presenting t he events as
assembling themselves into a ritual. Mark gives t he reade.r t he se-nse that
the story is closer to experience than narra ti ve normally stands. Indeed.
the impression the reader has is thnt. while the chaos of experience may
be ordered into sense. it is so only in the event o f the gospel itself and no t
before, only t hro ugh visible effort on the part of the narrative. In Mark,
Jesus himself wonders in t he e nd why he must suffe r and d ie fo rsaken -
this central question of the nourative remains an open wound at the
narrative's e.nd. There is no pre-existing concept o f the world t hat must
be put across t hro ugh Mark's d iscourse. Ra ther t he discourse is the
story: the story's world happens in t he telling of it, as a ritual happens in
the pe rfo rmance.
This p roximity to the perfo rmuti ve power of ritual thnt resides in
Mark is, I would maintain, whut pushes Marka n scho la rs to their
freq uent c mphnsis o n the pe rfOrmative power of t he nonrative genre.
Rhoads a nd Mitchie ma int:.1in thut Mark's choice o fnarr.Hive reassures
the reader t ha t the relevant chaos is unde.r control. in Murk's case that
the destruction o f t he te-rnple has an explanation. 3<1 But how reassuring is
Mouk. really? How clear is his explnnation of the temple's dernise and to
wh<H exten t does he offer solutions to the social contr<.1d ictions he
presents? Fro m a reader's perspective} a narrative should be more
re-assuring than Mark i.s. in fact ll should have a n ending:; it should
present a fully formed world o f the imngination. Mark's pe.rformative
quality does not reside in his choioe o f t he narrative forrn, but in his
resistance to that form. The perfo nnative aspects of the Passion arc not,
as Camery-Hogatt and Fowler maintain, simply a maHer of literary
style. The d itTe rence between Mark a nd the other (also narrative)
gospels is a funda mental d ifference in world view, in the way in which
the text understa nds its relationship to the world from which it emerges.
Mark sees whatever historical events he has experienced nnd heard
about as hi.story-become-ritu;:d> in the same way that founders of the
Cargo Cults of Ne\v Guinea saw the d isorder nnd discontinuity o f their
own times as history-bccome-rit uul. Jn both cnscs. te rrific cracks in the
traditio nal culture under t he pressures of impe.rialism, a perceived
in<lbility o f t he society's members to control t heir own lives and des-tinies
by nonnal me-a ns and according to what had been culturo1l values,
together with the app;.uent insurmountability of econo mic und po liLic.a l
inj ustices gave the social o rder t he appearance of perpetmting chaos. It

30 Da,•id Rh011ds and Donald Mit<:hie. Mark tts Story (Philadelphia: Fonrcss Prc!(s.
1982). p. 141.
112 The Poll'er of Disorder

is t he effort to tame such c haos in which we see Ma rk engaged: he is

trying to face t he disorder of the current soci;:al o rder. and to imagine its
breaking apart to reveal something: other.
T he question then is, to what exte nt does the reader participate in the
experience to which t he text clings? It would a ppear fro m descrip tions
such as Fowler's t hat like Mark's Jesus. his render experiences t he events
and therefore the s tory as a ritual. Mark's Jesus would then. in following
his ritual script to the tomb. produce a ritual scrip t for t he reader to
follo\v. Yet we should not jump to an equation of the reader's experience
as a nalogous in its rit ual feel to t he experience o f Jesus in Ma rk. Again a
s trictly litera ry reading o f Mark's Passion dilutes the empho1sis on
experience itself. We do not follow Jesus to the cross a nd through t he.
tomb by merely reading the gospel. There remains a d istance be tween
Jesus a nd t he reader - perhaps even Jesus and the nonra tor - of which
the gospel is painfull y aware. Although ritua l pushes us towa rds the
experiential edge of narrative, s till to read and to experience are not 1he
same thing. particularly when the experience is torture.
The prominence of ritual elements in Mark's Passion place a premium
on experience as a requisite for understand ing. The repea ted question as
to whether t he d iscip les endure whut Jesus endures ('Can you d rink
the cup I drink'?' 10.38). whether they can understand his motivations
and re.a dy t hemselves for t he future he sees ( 13.20. 33). underline t he
point that truth fo r Mark is an act, no t a t ho ught o r belief: it is found in
bodies, not in words. \Vhat it means is thus not amenable to conscious
thought - it must be experienced, and it is o nly to t he limited exte nt t hat
we experience by read ing tha t we understa nd the point.

Pttin tmd J·Vords: Jesus' Speech, t\tlttrk 's Tc:,.:t aud the Cros:-.·
Mark's leaning towa rds the experiential aspects o f lituul results in o r is
a ccompomied by a n e mphns is on bodily experience ns more me-aningful
than words. Jesus' teaching in Ma rk is rare ly related in words. even
rno re mrely in expository \\•o rds. There is no Sermon on the Mount or
on the Pla in: there is no Farewell Discourse. What Jesus means comes to
us ;:as miraculous acts omd vivid. enigmatic parables, in his eating and his
being eo:ate n. and finally in tracing his path throug)1 the c ross to t he tom b
and into the o bscurity beyond. Mark's presentation o f Jesus' m inistry
s hows a mistrust of words. It is no t what goes into a person's mouth t ha(
renders that person unclean> but what comes out of that mo uth - not
food, then. but words (7. 14). A nd indeed, Jesus speaks less in this gospel
thnn in a ny other. The g.ospel itself is shorter thnn a ny othe.r . us t hough
'Let 1he One Who Undnstamls. Undcrswnd' 113

the author also were a person o f few words. Mark's e nding~ fnmously
abrupt, leaves: us: \\~t h the impression that t he author, having lost his
grip on Jesus' signifying. body. has. like Jesus himself, aba ndoned
For in t his gospel Jesus docs seem. as he moves towards the cross, to
give up on humo.m language. He consistently answers his interrogators
wit h silence. The high priests remark on it. "Have you no answer?' a nd
the narrato r reasserts it, turning Jesus' silence into the words of the
gospel: •sut he was silent and d id not a nswer.' At the next questio n. ·Are
you the ?v1es:sia hT Jesus b ursts o ut with more than a nyo ne wanted to
hear (" I am: and you will see t he Son of Man seated nt t he right hand o f
the Power, and coming with the clouds o f henven!' 14.62), a nd the.n
lapses into t he silence that continues up to and includ ing the tomb.
Before Pilate, Jesus' o nly answer to the political charge t hat he is King
o f t he Jews is t he ambiguous, a& Atycu::~ ·you say it' (other possible
translations include: ·you a re speaking', ·you speak', and 'are you sa r ing
it?'). Pilate is waiting for Jesus to say it, b ut Jesus speaks o nly o f the
speech of his interrogator. The t ruth t hat emerges in \vords befOre the
priestly council cannot be spoke.n before t he Romans, whom Jesus
acknowledges wield t he pO\\>'er of language - "you speak' - with their
power over his body. And fro m this moment. when he throws the act o f
speak ing to Pilate like yesterday's newspaper, Jesus does not again
speak to human beings. His o nly remnining words - incomprehensible
to the people who hea r them - are the last desperate prayer fro m the
c.ross, spoken to a n absent God a nd itself a ritual recitntion o f Psalm 22:
·My God, my God , why have you forsa ken meT Since we never see the
risen Jesus in t his gospel o r hea r his voice, these a re the words left
ringin.g in o ur ea rs when lhe gospel closes in silence.
Elaine Scarry in her book, Tlw Body in Pain. writes that the pain o f
torture destroys language. \Vhat the tortured says under duress is not a
betrayal in any real sense. but simply a n indication thnt the torturer has
succeeded in ro bbing the victim's former world of all me.aning. 31 The
victim is no t weighing his cause o r comrades against t he prospect o f
pain: the pnin has simply grown so la rge as to blot out everything but
itself. There is nothing to betrny~ since there is nothing beyond the
i mm~d i ate experience o f the torture. Peter's denial interestingly follows
lhis pattern. t hough Pete r is being tormented o nly by questions and fear
- he simply does not know Jesus until it is over. Thus t he torturers
become world-creato rs. all pO\verful. destroying everything that the

31 Elaine Scarry. Thf' Bm~r ill Puin (New York/O:tforti: Oxford Uni,•usity Press. 1985).
p. 35.
114 The Poll'er of Disorder

VICtim has known as real and replacing it as they choose. In t he new

world t hat the to rture constructs, in t he new lang.uage. t he power of t he.
torture.r and of the regime t hat the torturer represents looms la rge,
reaching d ivine proportions.
Jesus· silence in the face of his interrogators' desire that he speak
seems to indicate not a refusal, but an inability. h is us though t he
la nguage Jesus would have used wit h his t~ap t ors has given o ut. or been
beate-n out o f him. He becomes incapable of putting t ho ught into words.
speaking only in quotatio ns. a nd o nly to God. The Sanhedrin and t he
Ro mans a like insist upon a n answer a nd are amazed that he does not
speak. but they a re a t t he same time thoroughly uninterested in anything
he might ha ve to say. Scarry concludes about interrogative torture tha t.
'while the con tent o f the prisoner's a nswer is only sometimes important
to t he re~ime. the fo rm of the a nswer, the fact o f his a nswering, is a lways
c ruc.ial':b. The interrogations in the gospel nre appropriately void of
conte nt; the point is simply to prod him to speak . Despite their surprise
at Jesus' silence, both t he Sanhedrin a nd t he Romoms seem satisfied to
let his body do the talking..

The Language of Women

As I ha ve <tlready no ted, \\•o men in this gospel are mo re remembered for
what they do o r what happens to t hem bodily than they are fo r \Vhat
they say. Although this is true o f much of narrative in both a ncient a nd
modern times. in this gospel the women share this characte ristic with
Jesus. a nd t ha t fact c ha nges t he gender picture somewhat. Fo r if this
gospel is typical in seeing women as mostly bodies. it is unusual \\~thin
the New Testament for valuing bodies and bodily expe rience over a nd
above words. The binary oppositions o f man/ woman. mindjbody.
reason/e motion a nd order/c haos still come into play in Mark's story~
but t he fo rmer is not necessarily vnlued above the latter. \Vhere the body
is valued as meaningful and words a re suspect. women may ha ve some
room to exist.
The Syro-Phonecian woman (Mark 7) is a notable exception to t he
rule o f embodied a nd more o r less word less women. The Syro-
Phonecian woman gets the be tte r of Jesus with her words. winning
her daughter's exorcism from him wit h what she says. No o ne else ever
bests Jesus with words in this gospe-l, nor is a nyone else ever healed on
the basis o f any words but Jesus' O\Vll. Jesus' emolio nal reaction to t he
woman's saying is unstated - we do nol hear thnt he was impressed or

32 Scarry. Bady in Pai11. p. 29.

'Let 1he One Who Undnstamls. Undcrswnd' 115

brought to sympathy by her words. Ra ther. her words seem to have

acted upon her child, with Jesus as only a kind of intermediary. When he
te lls her, ·on account of t his saying., go; t he demon has left your
da ughte r'. he seems to be info rming her o f what her words have a lre.ady
accomplished . Her words were desi.gned to solicit his - to convince him
to exo rcise the c hild's demon. But his response says tha t her solic.iting
words have in a sense held the power for which they were be.gging, so
that Jesus· o nly exhibition of power in the story bec-omes his reco.gnition
o f t his: he knows that t he demon has gone and he knows why.
At the other end o f t he s pectrum, in some ways, is the haemorrhaging
woman ~ who as we have seen writes her story in her own menstrual
blood a nd her bod y-to-body communiC".ttion with Jesus. But still more
wordless a nd myste rious is the woman who anoints Jesus in c hapter 14.
At the very brink of the Passion, just following Jesus' lo ngest speech in
the gospel. this anonymous and obscure ly mo tivated woman comes to
pour aromatic oil onto Jesus· head . No gospel fails to record this story,
perhaps bec.a use. it seems such a fitting. beginnin.g to t he wordless.
embodied experiences tha t follow in this first gospel. Luke t ra nsforms it
into a mo rality sto ry, in which the woman is a 'sinner'. repen ting. for
wh<H the reader consiste ntly assumes are se.x ual sins by the somewha t
sexual. o bsequious act of wiping: Jesus' feet \Vith her tea rs nnd her
(unbound) hair (Lk. 7.37-50). But in Mark the woman is no t c rying. nor
is she a sinner. She anoints not Jesus' fee t. but his head. thus making her
actio n Jess one of subservience to him a nd mo re of recognition of his
claims to a Lhrone. or nt least, his being: chosen by God for leadership. In
a gospel whose most consistent title for Jesus is ·a nointed one' (Christ
fro nt t he G reek. Messiah from Lhe Hebrew), the fact thnt he is
o nly ever ano inted by this passin.g fe ma le stra n.ger signifies somethin.g.
The woman does not speak, as fa r as we know, but Jesus tells the gJiping
bystanders that 'what she did will be said'. He r actions will become
words. us indeed in this g,ospel. t hey have. a nd as indeed the actions o f
Jesus hol\'e as well.
The women who see Jesus' crucified. find o ut where he is laid, and
d iscover the e mpty tomb, understand. a fter a ll, t ha t Jesus' body has
si.gnificance, something t hat this gospel has taken care to po int out. If
they a re afraid , it may be that fea r is a mo re appropria te reactio n to the
empty to mb t ha n the other gospels ha ve led us to believe. If they are
silent, refusing to do as the a nonymous young: mom tells them, their
silence must nlso be understood in the context of Jesus' repeated nnd
final silence. a nd even o f God's sile nce at Gethsemane a nd Golgotha.
Some experiences lie in a realrn beyond \'lords, o r ritual would not be
necessa ry. Mar k has been at \va r wit h t he medium of words from the
116 The Poll'er of Disorder

gospel's be.g inning. If Mark cannot be silent and still write his sospel~ he.
ends t he gospel wit h women. They are associated wit h bodies entering
and leaving. the living world. t hey are conversant with t he body's power.
and they a re fa miliar wit h silence - t hat o f Jesus a nd t heir own.
At the act ua l burial, fe male followers a re t he- only followers who
watch and no te where the body is laid and come to c.are fo r it. us they
were the only followers to witness the body's to rturous death. While
Jesus s to ps talking at his trial before Pilate. Peter is a t that morne-nt
talking rattling: o ut th ree denia ls in the time it takes t he
rooster to crow twice. saying what he swore he would rather d ie than
say. At this moment. then - when Pe te r proves aga in how dangerous
s peech can be and Jesus gives up o n human language a ltogether - at this
moment. Jes us' o nly followers become women. \\'omen, it seems, a re
equipped by their very s uppression to belle r understand the g_ospel's
focal point: Jesus' death and the empty tomb.

Through the medium o f words and the rules o f ritual, Mark \'<Tites out
his m essage on Jesus' body. 1f this is a ritunl, then Jesus• body represents
the social body o f which he is a member. His mockery a nd beating, his
being tossed around like a toy between t he a m horities on all s ides, his
betrayal .
. from wit hin the d rcle of commensnlitv, his cruel death and t he
fact t ha t it is produced by collaboration between t he c hief priesL1i a nd
Ro me. are all stntements about his society. The Jewis h s tate is a lso being
beaten a nd mocked. it is a lso being betrayed from \\~thin to Rome, it
also has its boundaries tra nsgressed. its integrity desecrated. In part this
is a func tion of what happens to Jesus' body - Jewish sovereignty is
mocked in the mocki ng o f Jesus. t he high priest in t urning over Jesus
aftirms the handover of sovereignty to Ro me. Jn part Jes us simply
e mbodies what is happening a nd will happen to t he nution; its betraynl
and destruction is acted out in him.
Mary Douglas hus observed that the social und rit ua l treatment o f t he
body reflects t he society's understanding o f itself: 'The rituals work
upon the body po litic through the symbolic m edium o f the physical
body.'.\J Be ll s im ila rly holds tha t o ne characteris tic. of rit ua lizatio n is a
focus o n t he human body. Jt is thus th<H Jesus' body becomes c.cntral in
a ritunl reading o f the P<lssion.
\Ve perhaps do not need to read Jesus' death us a ritual to see his body
as symbo lic o f the body of his society. But from the standpoint of a

33 Douglas. PuriiJ· tmd /)tmger. pp. 11 1. 1'28.

'Let 1he One Who Undnstamls. Undcrswnd' 117

ritua l read ing, t he symbolism of what happens to Je.!ms' body stands o ut

in bold colours. In rit uaL the indi vidua l's body becomes socialized
through p rescribed physical experience; it Jeams the socia l boundaries
a nd emphases and t hus becomes a social synec<lm:he. <1 reflection o f the
society in miniature.34 If Jesus' dea th is a ritual, the n into what kind o f
society is he ritualized'! If his body is a meto:tphor, whut does the sodety
it represents look like'?
Clearly. it does no t look good . Jesus' body is spat upon. be-aten,
mocked. stripped, and nailed to a c ross. to d ie painfully in public view.
In t he e nd, it is aband oned by his very breath. and left fo r dead ( 15.37).
It has had power. pO\ver that radiates to o ther bodies, power that heals.
feeds, restores. The powe r o f Jesus• body hus in fac t a ddressed and
worked to heal the social integrity. It has reclaimed the social body's
ragged boundaries - the leper. prostitute, bleeding: woman. and tax
collector - as well as its embattled heart in the te mple and the c ity o f
Jerusalem. In t he tra nsfiguration, the body has a ppeared by virtue o f its
powe r chung.ed, radiant. communicant with other than physica l realities.
But in the Passio n Jesus' body is powerless. itself pierced a nd
penetrated , its boundaries transgressed . assailed by t hirst and pa in.
abandoned by God a nd h uman being: both. The sexua l a buse evident
when t he Ro muns strip. rnock . strike and crucify him. together with the
o bjectification a nd fe minization o f his body in the process suggests
rape.35 Jesus becomes, as we have no ted. a toy for c-ro\vds and Ro ma n
soldiers, so Jacking in sovereignty that the \re ry idea o f Je.sus as sovereign
becomes a joke. Beyond the nnrrative prominence of this abuse, the
narrative's recurrent analogy between Jesus' body and the temple urges
the reader to see Jesus' body us a sign o f the society.
Jesus' body does not become associated with lhe temple in t his gospe l
until he has a lready been arrested a nd stands before the Sanhedrin.
There it is a fa lse accusation. which a fter some thought the bystanders
concoct, a nd which they c.annot agree upo n.
ol bt apxlei~ ..:at OAo\• t 6 avvt bploV t~1}'tov y lU\'li\ 'toO l i')OoV
papwplav ei.; t O f':Jt:wa't"c~a( a0t6v, "'"i
oVx qi.'ptcrJ<o\,56 11'olv\oi
yi'IQ bJ'tt'bopatyti\)Ovv ~ear' a OtoU "'ai loetl ai t-taQ'TVQlal oO~
•luet\,.57 Kt."t( 'liVt'.; it.w.'tot&vn~ e~le\X)o..-aQR•QoU\1 ...:a't"' atYtoV
Aiyovre;; On •)pet~ fj..:ol•uapev ttVtoU Atyovt~Sil &rt tyc~
KC\"t(tr\6uCt) t O\! vaov tothov 'T()\1 XftQo1iol•)TOVSY bu'.t 'TQIC~V

3'* Catherine Bd l. Ritual Theory, Riural Praclict' (New York: Oxford University Press.
1992). p. 98.
35 Sec my artidc: on the western Jesus in the Globtrl Biblt> Commt:nwry (cd. Danid Platte:
Nashville: Abingdon Press. 2004). pp. 346-49.
118 The Poll'er of Disorder

•)f.ttQ<~\' &AAov "'Xt:•Qronoi•)tov oi•..;obo~nlv<,~ I(Cti, ol':i>t' oVnv.; lu') r)v

•) J.taQTL'Qla aVt(~)v.

And the chief priests and the whole Sanhedrin was seeking testimony
against Jesus. in order to put him to death. and they were not llnding
any. For all were testif}~ng against him and the testimonies were not
the same. And some standing were t31sely lt.>stifying against him.
Si.l}~ ng ·we heard him sayi n~ .. , will destroy this temple m;Jde with
hands and aner three days I will build anothe-r not made with
h;.utds."' And not even thus was their testimony the same. (14.55-59)
In John's gospel. Jesus act ually does say somet hing very similar to what
he is accused of saying here; na mely. •o estroy t his temple and in three
days I will raise it up• (upon which John carefully informs us t ha t Jesus
was talking about t he te mple of his body [Jn 2.19-21 )). But in Mark, we
never hear Jesus say what he is aocused o f saying. ~111d given the repeated
e mphasis that the testirnony is both false and inconsistent, we c-.m
assume he never did. John's reading, however, is not unwarranted. The
vita lly significant ·t hree days'. which do o the nvise pertain to Jesus'
body. do not seem to fit in a completely fnlse accusation. Given their
disagreement among themselves, their searching fruit lessly fo r some-
thing of which to accuse Jesus, it almost seems as t ho ugh t he witnesses
ag,a inst Jc..~tus are misunderstanding: o r d istorting. things that he ;:act ually
said. rather than completely fa bric-ating a n acc-usation. 36
\Vha t he h~as said, upon leaving the temple. is •o o you see these great
buildings? There will not be lefl here one stone upo n another that is not
thrown dO\vn' ( 13.2). Jfhe has threatened to destroy the temple in this
prophecy and in his violent pro test within it, he has not offered to
replace it wit h one no t made by hands or \\~ t h his own body. Ye t this is
not the last time the fa te of Jesus' body and that o f t he temple will be
associated . Observing his death, the bystnnders mock, ' A h. t he one who
will destroy t he temple and build it again in three days - Save yourself
and come down fro m the cross!' (1 4.29-30). If you can do so much with
the temple. the mockers seem to be saying. why are you powerless to do
anything fo r your own person? The false accusation has in at least o ne
sense become true; the mockers appear to believe that Jesus act ually said
thnt he would destroy a nd rebuild t he temple.
\Ve might ignore t his much of an equntio n between Jesus' body a nd
the te mple. Both may be attributable to false testimony a nd
misundersta nding: of Jesus' protest against t he temple, a weird combin-

36 Note lht-contmsl here with Luke 23.1. in which the acrusaaions broughl against Jesus
nre {XIICntly ralsc.
'Let 1he One Who Undnstamls. Undcrswnd' 119

ation of this protest a nd his predictions of his own death. But the fact
that Jesus is describe-d as breathing his last at the very moment when the
temple curtain is torn in two brings t he conne.ctio n between body a nd
te mple out o f t he realm of unreliable clutr.tcte rs' opinions. Jesus' death
an'ec.ts the temp le; the esc.ape o f brea th fro m his body is coincident with
a breach in the temple's integrity.H As twins are- said to do, o r as in
populur understand ing a voodoo d oll affects the person o f whom it is
the image, the temple suffers emp athetically what the Romans do to
\Ve have investigated in t he last c hapter some o f the many adventures
in clothing this gospel offers. but among all these, there is only one other
case of doth being ripped, and t ha t is the high priest's rending of his
gou ments when Jesus freely admits himself to be the Son of the Blessed.
Since the hig,h priest to a very great extent is the temple (at least the
te mple as it o perates at the moment). this act is in a sense synonymous
wit h the tearing o f t he temple curtain. In bot h cases the torn fabric is no t
perpetrated by ;mother, but self--destructs. The hig)l priest tea rs his own
ro bes. t he symbol of his ofl1ce; he may thus be understood to tear apnrt
his own a mhority - or to express (unintentio nally) the fac.t tha t his
a uthority is thus to rn apart:~8 Likewise the temple curtain is not torn by
a nyone, it is simply to rn. spontaneously. a t the instant Jesus d ies. If the
high priest's re nding of his garment is a n act of grief. t hen the ripping o f
the temple c urtain may also be grief, especially as it comes at a moment
o f de-ath. But if the te~uing of cloth is un acl of mourning. it is so in part
by its c-apacity. again, to represent the body. The mo urner tears his or
her own clothes in part in imita tion of death - fo r the mo urner ns for the
dead, death's chaos has ripped the t~'bric of life's organiz.ation.3 o;. De.ath
threate ns no t o nly the ind ividuals in contact with it but the society in
which it moves, all wit h the t hreat o f a return to primordial chaos. The
ripping o f such prominent sod al fabric as t hat which constit utes the
ro bes o f the high priest and t he curtain of the temple is t he shredding o f

37 Hutton Mt1ck a lso notes that the d~-structi on of the bod)· and that of the temple ar~·
rdat.:d. Tl:t~ Mylll tJf!nnocnu•e (Philadelphia: Fortn:ss Pr~s. 1981). p. 9. Frank Matcru. on
t he other hand, holds that the tearing of the temple curtain ut this point signilies the
obsolcsoc:nce of the temple that is. he believes. accomplished with Jesus' death (Frank
Matera . Passi011 Narralil't'S (lfld Gospt•! Thttqfogies [New York: Paulist Press.. 1986). p. 79).
38 Cf. Myers (Rindi11g. p. 374). who socs the high pric:s!'s rending of clothes tiS the
pronouncing of a formal judgcml' OL
39 Maurice l nmm. instructing on correct mo<krn Jewish practicc:, viC'\vs the-rending of
t he garml· m as in part representing the ten ring of onc:·s own llcsh in .sympathy with the dead
(citing Joc11.1 3. ·rend your hearts nnd not your g.am1cnts'). He- nlso soes it as un ~!.X pression
of t he anger appropriate to grief. and a e.onfrontntion with the fi nality of death. Tht> J~rwis/;
Wuy ofDnu!t ((!IJ ,\/oumillg (New York: Jonathan Da,·id Publishe-rs. 1969). p. 38.
120 The Poll'er of Disorder

what holds the society together. Things are literally coming npart at t he.
Inte re-stingly. t he word used for 'temple' in the G reek o f Mark 14.58.
15.29 and 15.38 is not i£Q6:; as it is everywhere else the temple appea rs in
this sospel, but vee():;. The former. o ften nssodated with t he outer court
of the temple, seems to connote mo re the actual b uild ings of the temple
comple-x. The latte r. on the ot her hand . from the root vaLw, •to dwell',
has the connotation of the di,~ne dwelling place. and may have been
associated mo re with the te mple's inner sanct uary.4 1 It appears to be t he
temple in its aspect of God's dwelling place. then. that is especially
compnra ble to Jesus' body, as it is in t he three uses o fvt"t6.:; that such a
comparison is d rawn. The borders of the dwelling place a re t hreilte ned
and destroyed - not simply t he building, but the building as border
between the organized place o f dwelling wit hin a nd the unordered s pace
witho ut. The question o f inner and o uter spaces raised by t he terms
themselves returns us to the time-worn scho huly question of whether t he
torn curtain is the bo rder between the inner and omer rooms of t he
temple. o r that between the omer court and t he outside. But t he
question is no t a nswerable. \Vhat we know is that a major boundary of
the dwelling p lace o f God has ripped in two and thus ceased to serve as a
boundary, at t he \'e ry moment that Jesus· bodily boundaries a re li kewise
rendered defunct. his breath - their definitive indweller - escaping them
for good.
To see t he lipping o f t he te mple curtain as a helpful, ega litarian
breaking do\l.:n o f religious hierarchy. or of barriers between the believer
and God, is to see the c rucifixio n of Jesus as likewise helpful. But Jesus'
death is not helpfu l from a ritual reading of this gospe l: rather the gospel
s truggles against a fenr that Jesus' death s ign ifies the death of a ll hope.
The tearing of the temple curtain is no t a matter for rejoicing. a kin to
the storm ing o f the Bastille. as it so often is presented in traditiona l
scho larship. It is no t a ma tter fo r rejo ic ing any mo re t ha n Jesus' death is
a matter for rejoicing: both in t his gospel leave the s tory poised on t he
brink o f utte r despair.
Like the high priest's garment. the temple curtain self-destructs. The.

40 All or this is in oontmst to the triumphalist r<ading much or Christian theology hos or
this passage~ i.e. that th<: lemi ng or the cunuin opens up aoccss to God. For an cs plociully
prominent exampk . sec the: Epistle to the Hebrews (Hcb. 10. 19-20).
41 Eliznbcth Struthers Malbon. Narralb't! Spa<i! and MpMc Me((ning in Mm-lo. (San
Francisco: Harper and Row. 1986). p. 108.
42 Sec Walter Bauer. A Gret'k-J..i~glhh LexittnJ uf lite> Neh· TesWmt•nl. tr.lns. and 00.
William F. Arndt and F. Wilbur Gingrich. 2nd cd. (Chicago: University or Chicago Press.
t979). p. 4t 6.
'Let 1he One Who Undnstamls. Undcrswnd' 121

a mbiguity of the curtain's placement as an inner or outer bounda ry gjves

us a sense, bome out metaphorically in the larger story. that the temple
is destroyed from within a nd wit ho ut its borders. Jesus' death - brought
o n by forces \•.:ithin and wit ho ut the Je\1.:ish natio n, within and wit ho ut
even his c.ircle of followers - symbo lizes the temple's destruction. The
Ro man destruction o f the temple <lnd the conflict s urro unding it colours
a nd shapes Mark's gospel t hro ughout. \Ve are headed towards t his
bitter endln.g o f bo th t he te mple a nd Jesus from t he beginning."3 in a ll
pro bability because. Murk is living, with the snme ending. still raw nnd
smouting. as he writes. Bo th Jesus a nd t he temple ha ve bred hopes o f
returned Jewish sovereignty: bo th are now dead, a nd the hopes they
bred die with them. The socia l fabric. the fabric of the myth that held the
society together, has torn. irreparably.
The damage is indeed irrepa rable in o ne sense. Ye t we have a lready
seen in the last s upper that this death must somehow turn to
nourishment. that Jesus· blood is po ured out no t pointlessly. but ·on
behalf of lll<lny'. Mary Ann Tolbert has characterized Jesus• crucifixion
as the final act that condemns humankind to the a pocalypse - the
humnn world shows itself in t he crucifixion to be too rotten to fix and
must now be destroyed and beg;un a new.44 If Jesus' body represents the
Jewis h nation. then Jesus' ha lf-willing progress to his own death tells the
story o f betrayal and destruction that must precede a ny hope the
resurrection offe rs.
Jesus is, in Mark. the very King o f the Je\VS (or o f t he Judeans) t hat he
is acc.used o f being. t he precise counterpart of the mock king he is fo rced
to pla y. As a king. he embodies the people: his pe rsonal body is their
social body. His bodily po\ller is the power of the coming Je\l,.·ish
king.dom: the vision of his body tra nsfigured is a vision o f the nation
restored to the righteous status represented in Moses and Elijah . The
bro kenness o f Jesus· body on the cross. t hen. is the broke-nness of the
Jewis h nation: in the breaking o f it we see Judea lite rally divided against
In a rituaL it is no t only, or eve.n primaril}\ the body acted upon by
the ritual practice that is affected. The point o f ritual slaughter o f
a nimals is not to ritualize t he body o f t he slaughtered. but to involve a nd
implicate the bodies of t he pa rticipa nts and even those o f the pnssive
o bservers. Rituals ritualize; they act upon the ritual speci~1list a nd the
laity a like. The cynica l observer who sees the ac.t as ineffectua l may (or
may not) be himself unaffected. but among. t hose for whom the ritual

43 Werner H. Kdber. Mt~rk :., Story ofJnu.r tPhil:uldphia: Fortress Press. 1979). p. 70.
H Mary Ann Tolbcn. Sowi11g lhl' GoJJiei (Minneapolis: Fortress Press. 1989). p. 302.
122 The Poll'er of Disorder

has meaning. to observe it is to experience it. Similarly. to read is to read

for meaning.: t hus the reader can never be a n e ntirely a nd
un<liTected participa nt in t he ritual of the text. Jesus' body is a statemenl
to those who read it, a s tatement a bo ut the very fo undations of huma n
society, about the reig:n of God and whnt it costs.
The ritual in Mark's gospel has to do not o nly with living readers in
the l\venty-fi rs t century, but nlso with the readers Mark must to some
degree have imag,ined. Before Jes us' execution was a story. it must have
been o nly a pa inful expe rience fo r t he movemen t Jesus led. In this sense
it is important not to let go entirely o f the historical g,rounding. of t he
s tory. Mark's task is. so fa r as we know~ to rnake a s tory - to gather
meaning - o ut o f events experienc-ed as meaningless trauma. Like other
attempts to make sense of espec.ially chaotic moments in existe nce, his
gospel mus t rema in close to his inte.nded readers' experience of trauma
and senselessness, o r it will be dis missed as incredible. Any attempt to
rna ke order from what has been as chaos - to literally bring
some- kind of life out o f the to mb. as Mark does - must retain a
proximity to the chaos that is its raw ma tetial. 4 s Ritual. largely through
its groundedness in bodily experience, \vorks in Mark's Passion to keep
us d ose to the process o f making: o rder fro m chaos. a process that is not
complete before the story beg_ins. bm occurs within t he course o f its
telling_. It seems to me that Mark imagines readers who would have no
way of understanding Matthew's church-building or t he. reassuring calm
of Luke, much less t he philosophical musings o f John - for s uc.h
attit udes require a degree of confidence in a normal, continuous fut ure
that Mark's gospel lacks.
Firs t and fore most, Mark's Passion is, as Kelber no tes. •the story of
an exocution '.46 It is no t a story o f the glo rious defeat o f evil by g_ood.
Rather it is the story o f God's reig_n a mo ng huma nity, narrowly a nd by
eerie a nd terrible p~aths. esc-aping complete destructio n. The message is
not that everything: is going to be alright, but t hat e\'erything is not
going to be utterly c-orrupted and destroyed. Something s urvives.
For Matthe\v and Luke. the fun damental o rder of t he universe is not
at is..~tue; it is assumed. But fo r Mark. order o nly emerges from chaos
within his tale itself. It is not assumed that o rder trumps c haos in this
gospel: it is certainly no t p retended that t he narrative's o rder has a )\\:ays
been, that it is natural order. Rather we see chaos made into some kind

45 cr. Bc-11. Ritu(l/ Theory. p. 112. whe-re she c-ites Valeri to the c:n·c:cl thai ritual must be
,.uthcnticaacd by those wJ10-m it affects. This n:q uin-s. •a sati.srying udh<:n'tlc<: to pn:cedcnt in
t~ddit ion to t1 dose resonance with lived <::'l:pcricncc·.
46 Kdbl';f. Murk's S1ory. p. 11.
'Let 1he One Who Undnstamls. Undcrswnd' 123

o f order in the narrative itself - we see Jesus' broken body become food,
death becorne life, and the splitting o f the heavens become t he. door
throug h which God's kingdom enters. Christians hnve fou nd Mark's
gospel wanting in its lack of affirmatio n fo r t he post-resurrection
C hristian experience. Bm the gre.a test hope on Mark's horizon is the
bare statement o f the empty tomb: that the final destruction is not the
final event.

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Anuie Hall. Woody Allen, d irector, 1977.
Fijiy First Dates. Peter Segal, directo r. 2004.
Groundhog Day. Ha rold Ramis. directo r, 1993.
Lau ~(the Belles. George Sch<iiTer, director, 1974.
Le Retour de iltlartin Guerre, Daniel Vigne. director, 1983.
Lift' of D"'-id Gale, Alan Parker. director. 2003.
Sommersby, Jo n Arnie!, d irector, 1993.
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Agrippa 70 d ulln<.-ss. inallention 30. 32. SH. )()6

Akitu 4. 82 fai lure, betrayal o r 64. 88
a nti-sc.:mitic H4 doubling 77, 87
apocalypse. ap<x:alyptic 19, 25. 26. Dou£1as. Mttry 37
34. 103. 12 1
atonement theology 23 Eillx:rg-Schwartz. Hownrd 2
Elij ah (biblical fi gure) 73, 121
Barabbas ~ 5--7 Esthe r (biblical book} 70, 7 1, 100
Bell. Cath~ri nc 14. 24, 55. 90. 116 E u<.~huri st 63- 7
binding. bound 74-6 execu tio n 22. 43
Binding of Isaac 75. 7H exo rcism 114 set' ul:m demon
b lood 50-4. 65. 66. 78 :.·pe also hae.- posseSSIOil
morrhaging woma n experience. experiential 13- 19 . 58.
body. bodily. bodies I. 15. 16. 67. 8?- 112
body or Je-sus 116-13 female body 50. 51
Bra ndon. S . G . F. 44 fe minist 1
fest ival 3. 22. 27. 36. 37. 40. 7?- 85
Culigula 70 folk stories 62
Carubas 80 Fowle r, Robert ?9. 106. 108. 111.112
chaos 50. 52. 83. 122- 3 Pm:t~: r. J. G . 4, 84
C hronia 79. 84
cilv. cilics 36. 39. 41 Gethscmane 4 1. 56-9. 106. 115
ci01h . dothing 16. 67. 89- ?8. 110 Girurd. Rene 5-8. 2 1
colo nizalion 48 Girardian 102
c<mtro l, controlled 52. 54. 101 Greek tragedy 2?. 5?
costumes 94-8
cross 5. 6. 8-9. 12. 39, 40. 43. 46. 53, haemorrhaging wo man ?0. ? I
56. 8.8. 90. 94. ?8. I 07. 112. 113. 117. H H mc.~rton -K dly, Robert 5
118. 12 1 Havelock. Eric 59
C ullma nn. Oscar 47 Hebrews. Epistle to 3. 56
Heidel. William 87
Dtlnid (biblical chamctcr) 7 1 Herod 70-4. SO
David (biblical king) 38 high priest. high priests 106. 116. 121
deconstruction 17 history. histo rical 17- 19
demon posscssi<.' n 48- 9 see ul.m exor- history of religion 3, 19. 20. 82

destiny 99 idenlity 94-8

diffC-rentiation 14. 24 ideological 15, 110
diS'--crnmc:nt 24 .w-e also watchfulness. imperial occupation 46
attentio n inhcrit;mce 10 I
disciples 24. 34. 63. 65. 67. 72. 106 1rony 13
134 Tile Pown of Disorder
Juy. Nancy 3 prcdictjo n. predictions 33- 4. 60- 2. 63
Jerusalem 16. 24. 17. 32-41. 6 1 p rot:c.ssio n 38. 40
John the Baptist 35. 37. 68-74, 103. Purim 8. 84
104. 106
Joseph (bibticul Jigure) 7 1. 78. 92 rape 117
Josephus 70 reader 9. 12. 13. 25. 32. 33, 56. 5~, 60,
J udas 53. 106 67. i2. 96. 105-12, 115. 122
Jud ea 35 religion 12
repetition (and rit ua l_) 17. 55- 9
Kt.~lls. John 12 Resurn:-<:tion .19
Kdbcr. Werner 45. f 22 Ritua l Spare 16. 32-40
K ermodc.• ~ra n k 10--1I Rit ua l1.ime 24. 25. 28. 32
king 70, 96 ritualized e xpe-rience 24
foreign 71 ritualizing 17
mock 79- 85 Rome. Ro ma ns 43- 50. 107
King o f the Jews 40. 12 1
kingship 38-40 sacrifice 14. I 0. 20-3. 40- 54. 52. i9-
Klingbeil. Gerald 4 85. 101- 3
Kundcra. Mila n (_)C) Sanhed rin 18. 117
Sata n 49
Levenson. Jon 77- 9 Saturnalia 79-84
Lucian 83 sc~1pegoa l. scapcg,oating 6. 85
Scurry. Elaine 113-14
Maclean, Jennifer 85. 87 Schcch ncr. Richurd 99
meanin£ 15.1 7. 27. 3 1. 58. 61 S<:hwagcr. Raym ond 6
metaphor. metupho rs. metaphorical scribes 49
9.13. 15. 16. 48. 65, 117. 12 1 script 60- 2
mockeries 94-8 sensory 15. 110
Modcus. Martin 17 sjJcnce 11. 114
M oses (biblicnl fi gure) 121 Simon of Cyrcne 88
f\·1ycrs. Cl ~t--d 38. 45 Smith. J. Z. 14, 21. 27. 35. 56. 81. 105
myth l3. 15. 20 social order 80
socialization. socialize 13. 16
na rrative, narrative style 11 - 13. 16. sovereignly 37--40
18. 98 substitutes, substitu tion 14. 16, 79-
na rra tive criticism 11 85. 94-8
na rrative theo logy 12
na tural order 80. 123 temple 16. 35. 36. 39, 118- 2 1
necessary. necessity 74-6 temple curta in 120
neg.uti\'c c-a pabililty 12 T olbert. Mury Ann 10. 12 1
New Year 3. 20. 22. 83. 84. 97 tomb t2
nudity 89-98. Tombs. David 94
T urner. Victor 15. 58, flO
Oedipus Rex 29
oral tmdition. orality 59 Van lc:rscl, rvl. F. 44
order 83. 122- 3
watchfulness. a th:ntion 31. 56, 105
parable. parable-s 30. 48 Wendland . Pa ul 4. 8 1
Pussovcr 16. 2i, 32-40. 62- 7, 87 Wills. Lawren(;e 71
pa trilineal I01 Winter. Pa ul 44. 80
Peter 28- 32. 26. 2~. 88, 106 women 50-4, 102. 114- 16
Philo ~0 words 12. 112- 16
Pilate 46. 49, 53. 79. 86- 9. ?5. 106.
107, 1J3.116 Zagmuk 4. 82. 1'14
polil i(.-.s, politic-a l 13. 37. 43