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Posted February 7, 2004

One of many meditations that should be had before going to see the latest movie on the Passion of Christ.

Also see -- The Jewish Abuse and Mockery of Jesus, The Marcan Account, taken from The Death of the Messiah, by Raymond Brown

Book: The Death of the Messiah
Author: Raymond Brown
Doubleday, New York, Volume Two

An excerpt from the Book:

Jesus’ Death Cry; Elijah; Offering of Vinegary Wine (Mark 15:34-36; Matt 27:46-49; Gpet 5: 19,16)

Meaning of Jesus’ Death Cry. At 3 p.m., after three hours of darkness over the whole earth, the crucified Jesus speaks for the first and only time. (Although it is often said that Mark has Jesus die at this hour, the “ninth hour” is affixed to Jesus’ scream with aloud cry, not to his death, even if we may assume that he expired shortly thereafter — especially the “loud cry” is simply a presumption of the “loud cry” of v. 34.) “Speaks” is not precise, for Mark uses the verb boan and Matt uses anaboan; moreover, they both refer to what emerges from his mouth as phone megale (“a loud cry,” which will be repeated two or three verses later as Jesus dies). The range of boan and anaboan includes solemn proclamation, the acclamation or shout of a crowd, and a desperate cry for help. In Luke 9:38; 18:38 boan is used to describe a man crying out loudly or insistently to Jesus, and in 18:7 for voices crying out to God for help. In Mark/Matt Jesus speaks in Semetic the words of Ps 22:2a, “My God, my God, for what reason have you forsaken me?” The second part of that verse (22:2b) in Hebrew refers to God being far from “the words of my cry.” Clearly, then, the scream and loud cry lend desperate urgency to Jesus’ petition. Moreover, to those familiar with crucifixion, such a cry would not have seemed unusual. Blinzler (Trial 261) describes as part of what made crucifixions particularly gruesome “the screams of rage and pain, the wild curses and the outbreaks of nameless despair of unhappy victims.” Yet it was not in rage but in prayer that Jesus screamed his loud cry, even as the martyrs in Rev 6:10 shouted with a loud cry their prayer for God to intervene. Indeed, prayers made with a loud cry are relatively frequent in the biblical story.

In the Gospels, however, there is still another dimension. The scream, crying out, and loud cry of Mark, as well as the loud cry, shouting and letting go of the breath/spirit constitute an apocalyptic sign similar to the eschatological elements of darkness, rent sanctuary veil, earthquake, and risen dead that accompany the death of Jesus in the various Gospels. In John the cry of the Son of Man causes all those who are in the tombs to hear; and in 11:43 the clamor and loud cry of Jesus help to call forth Lazarus from the tomb. In 1 Thess 4:16 the cry of the archangel accompanies the coming of the Lord to raise the dead, while in IV Ezra 13:12-13 the Man from the Sea calls the multitude to him. In judgment the Lord speaks, roars, and cries out, at times producing earthquakes, in Amos 1:2 ; Joel 4:16; Jer. 25:30, and Ps 46:7, even as in Rev 10:3 the angel shouts with a loud voice as he reveals the seven thunders.

A particular eschatological aspect is the final battle with evil. In language echoing Isaiah, according to II Thess 2:8 the Lord Jesus slays the Lawless One with the breath/spirit of his mouth. Acts 8:7 employs boan and phone megale to describe the shriek of unclean spirits as in defeat they come out of the possessed. Does the violent description of Jesus’ outcry suggest that in his death struggle with evil he feels himself on the brink of defeat so that he must ask why God is not helping him? In any good drama the last words of the main character are especially significant. It is important for us, then, to ask how literally we should take, “My God, my God, for what reason have you forsaken me?”

There is much to encourage us to take it literally on the level of the evangelists’ portrayal of Jesus. . . .In the tragic drama of the Mark/Matt PN Jesus has been abandoned by his disciples and mocked by all who have come to the cross. Darkness has covered the earth; there is nothing that shows God acting on Jesus’ side. How appropriate that Jesus feel forsaken! His “Why?” is that of someone who has plumbed the depths of the abyss, and feels enveloped by the power of darkness. Jesus is not questioning the existence of God or the power of God to do something about what is happening; he is questioning the silence of the one whom he calls “My God.” If we pay attention to the overall structure of the Mark/Matt PN, that form of addressing the deity is itself significant, for nowhere previously has Jesus ever prayed to God as “God.” Mark/Matt began the PN with a prayer in which the deity was addressed by Jesus as “Father,” the common form of address used by Jesus and one that captured his familial confidence that God would not make the Son go through the “hour” or drink the cup. Yet that filial prayer, reiterated three times, was not visibly or audibly answered; and now having endured the seemingly endless agony of the “hour” and having drunk the dregs of the cup, Jesus screams out a final prayer that is an inclusion with the first prayer. Feeling forsaken as if he were not being heard, he no longer presumes to speak intimately to the All-Powerful as “Father” but employs the address common to all human beings, “My God.” Mark calls our attention to this contrast between the two prayers and makes it more poignant by reporting the address in each prayer in Jesus’ own tongue: “Abba” and “Eloi,” thus giving the impression of words coming genuinely from Jesus’ heart, as distinct from the rest of his words that have been preserved in a foreign language. As he faces the agony of death, the Marcan Jesus is portrayed as resorting to his mother tongue.

There is an external indication that also favors taking literally the pessimistic pathos of Jesus’ last words. In discussing the opening “Abba” prayer of the Marcan PN, I called attention to a parallel description in the Epistle to the Hebrews of Jesus’ prayer to the One who had the power to save him from death. While many aspects of the Hebrew passage had echoes in the Mark/Matt Gethsemane prayer, there are other aspects that have resemblances to the prayer on the cross. It is on the cross that Jesus has learned even more fully “obedience from the things he suffered.” It is here that he has made “strong clamor,” and it is here that he will be “heard from [anxious] fear” and made perfect. These parallels in Hebrews encourage us to take literally the psalm in which Mark/Matt vocalize Jesus’ desperation.

. . . Applied here, it would mean that Mark expected his readers to recognize that a psalm was being cited, to know the whole psalm, and to detect from a reference to the agonized opening verse the triumphant fate of the one who prays – in short, to take almost the opposite meaning of what Jesus portrayed as saying!

. . . .For the positive ending of the psalm helps to show that in attributing to Jesus such a sentiment of abandonment Mark did not think that Jesus was guilty of despair or had lost hope. Mark knew that the passion culminated in victory even if it plumbed the depths of lonely suffering; for that reason it was appropriate for him to portray Jesus at his lowest moment in the passion uttering the most tragic verse of a psalm that ends on a triumphant note.

. . . If one accepts literally that anguish at the opening moment when Jesus could still call God “Abba, Father,’ one should accept equally literally this screamed protest against abandonment wrenched from an utterly forlorn Jesus who now is so isolated and estranged that he no longer uses “Father” language, but speaks as the humblest servant.