Saturday, March 23, 2019

Pilate in Mark and King Ahasuerus in the Book of Esther

In the last few posts

https://palpatinesway.blogspot.com/2019/03/the-death-of-jesus-and-haman.html
https://palpatinesway.blogspot.com/2019/03/final-draft-death-of-jesus-socrates-and.html

I've been talking about the possible theme of the wise, just criminal Jesus suffering the same (actually worse with the scourging) crucifixion penalty as the arch criminal Haman.

I would like to suggest that perhaps Pilate's apathetic approach in Mark to the problem of Jesus is modeled after King Ahasuerus in the Book of Esther.  Consider the similarities when Leonard Greenspoon comments that:

But there is more. King Ahasuerus is portrayed as indifferent and indolent rather than treacherous and tyrannical. When, for example, Haman proposes that “a certain people” within the king’s empire were not following established laws and customs, the incurious monarch gives Haman the power to destroy them—without even asking who they are (Esth 3:1-11).
In Mark, Pilate interrogated Jesus, but Jesus did not claim that he was King of the Jews, but sarcastically said "You says so,"  Pilate then, apparently unsure about what to do, simply petitions the crowd (What evil has he done?), and so simply agrees with the crowd's cries for execution.

The Death of Jesus and Haman


In a previous post I talked about the execution of the just, criminal Jesus as perhaps containing an allusion to the execution of the arch-anti Jewish criminal Haman.  Dr. Henry Abramson comments that:

The biblical passage that literally describes Haman’s “hanging on a tree” (Esther 7:10) was rendered as “crucified” in the ancient works of the Jewish historian Josephus, the early translations of the book of Esther into Greek (Septuagint) and Latin (Vulgate), and all through the Middle Ages in literary classics like Dante’s “Purgatory.” Artistic representations also depicted Haman on the cross, such as the 15th-century Azor Masters and even by Michelangelo, who painted a muscular Haman on a cross on the Sistine Chapel. The irony is that the great wise and just hero would suffer the same fate as the great villain Haman. 
 In Rabbinical tradition, Haman is considered to be an archetype of evil and persecutor of the Jews. Having attempted to exterminate the Jews of Persia, and rendering himself thereby their worst enemy, Haman naturally became the center of many Talmudic legends.

Regarding the humor/irony in the depiction of the death of Haman, Leonard Greenspoon comments that:

Very briefly, the biblical book of Esther narrates the marriage of Esther, a Jew, to the Persian king Ahasuerus. This monarch learns of Esther’s Jewish identity only after Haman, the story’s villain, plots to annihilate the Jews, including Esther and her guardian Mordecai, who (like Haman) serves the king. Among the numerous subplots is the personal hatred that Haman bears for Mordecai, whom Haman conspires to hang on “a gallows fifty cubits high” (Esth 5:9-14). Although little humor is evident in this summary, astute readers quickly appreciate the fact that everything Haman plans against his enemies ultimately befalls him ..  But there is more. King Ahasuerus is portrayed as indifferent and indolent rather than treacherous and tyrannical. When, for example, Haman proposes that “a certain people” within the king’s empire were not following established laws and customs, the incurious monarch gives Haman the power to destroy them—without even asking who they are (Esth 3:1-11).  Thus it is supremely ironic that a misperception on the king’s part brings Haman down. After Esther reveals that she herself would be a victim of Haman’s plot, along with all the rest of her people (until this moment, Haman does not realize she is Jewish), the king momentarily leaves the room in a fury. In a last-ditch attempt to save his life, Haman as supplicant throws himself “on the couch where Esther was reclining” (Esth 7:8). When he returns, Ahasuerus, mistakes this action for sexual assault and is furious at Haman, whose fate is now sealed. Thus the king judges Haman worthy of execution for the one crime he does not commit. How the mighty have fallen!

So, like Haman, Jesus is crucified in Mark due to a misperception.  When Pilate asks Jesus if he is King of the Jews, Jesus does not say yes, but sarcastically remarks: "You says so."  So, Jesus gets executed even though the interrogation by Pilate fails to bring out that Jesus thinks he is King of the Jews!

Friday, March 22, 2019

Executed Just Criminal IQ Test

Question: Is this quote being said of the just, executed criminal Jesus, or the just, executed criminal Socrates?  The line is:

"Such was the end, Echecrates, of our friend; concerning whom I may truly say, that of all the men of his time whom I have known, he was the wisest and justest and best."

Thursday, March 21, 2019

An Introduction To The Tragic Ancient Greeks

The ancient Greeks are fascinating when it comes to the topic of Greek religion and Greek life, because trying to figure out a way to fix their religion was of paramount importance to the Greeks. Homer taught an entire culture that the gods were basically a bunch of horny, bratty teenagers. Plato advocated omitting the material that portrayed the gods as immoral.
But the real problem was Homer's conception of the afterlife. For instance, consider how the way the Greeks viewed the afterlife would have cast a pall over their existence: Homer says the great Achilles would rather “live working as a wage-labourer for hire by some other man, one who had no land and not much in the way of livelihood, than lord it over all the wasted dead.” For Homer's understanding of the afterlife, the entire point of the account is that all the other shades are neither rewarded nor punished: they just exist forever in a kind of bodiless, uneventful, and unbelievably boring eternity. Imagine what a pall this understanding would have cast on Greek life! There would be no hope, and this cause would manifest itself in Greek life.
In the famous 1966-7 lecture course on Heraclitus, Heidegger and Fink quote Holderlin as saying about the Greeks:
Radiant the gods' mild breezes/Gently play on you/As the girl artist's fingers/On holy strings. - Fateless the Heavanly breathe/Like an unweaned infant asleep;/Chastely preserved/In modest bud/For even their minds/Are in flower/And their blissful eyes/Eternally tranquil gaze/ Etemally clear. - But we are fated/to find no foothold, no rest,/ And suffering mortals/ Dwindle and fall/ Headlong from one/ Hour to the next / Hurled like water/From ledge to ledge/Downward for years to the vague abyss. (HS, 101)
Fink comments that " "the gods wander without destiny, their spirit eternally in bloom, while humans lead a restless life and fall into the cataract of time and disappear." (HS, 101)
It basically means people wander aimlessly from thing to thing, never satisfied. This is exacerbated in the modern age, where we are addicted to novelty, and so when we are separated from novelty (such as when we are stuck in a cabin in the woods with no books or TV or music on a rainy day), we manifest withdrawal symptoms of cabin fever.
This is reminiscent of a famous passage from Homer, which is usually translated so as to suggest mortals are wretched because they die. Krell translates more literally: Apollo says '"Why should I do battle for the sake of mere mortals!' exclaims the sun god, 'mortals, who are as wretched as the leaves on the trees, flourishing at first, enjoying the fruits of the earth, but then, deprived of heart (akerioi), vanishing (1, 21, 464-66) ... Vanishing how? Akerioi, as ... those who are deprived of [heart] (Krell, PAH, Kalypso, 105)." This certainly seems to suggest a tragic understanding of the Greeks: going from the “being absorbed and liveliness of youth,” which translates to the tedium of old age.
Homer tells the story of Odysseus who leaves his home on a quest, and ends up on the island of Calypso, the deine theos, the uncanny goddess. The incredible point to the Greek ear is that Odysseus is in the presence of a goddess, but is nonetheless miserable and homesick for his home, wants to be parestios, the one in the warmth of the hearth fire. When Sophocles takes this one step further in the Antigone he calls man homeless, saying we are essentially like Odysseus, surrounded by the uncanny with no satiety, but with no home to pine for. It is like we are miserably stuck on the Island of Calypso, but with no home (parestion) to pine for. There is powerful emptiness precisely where we most need there to be the homely. Hence, the tragedy of polis / parestios. / apolis hupsipolis/ deinon.
The tragic interpretation of the Greeks is enacted by casting the dark light of deinon, the uncanny/unhomely as the hidden core behind all of Greek existence.

Final Draft: The Death Of Jesus, Socrates, and The Impaled Just Man of Book 2 of Plato's Republic

Thanks To Those Reader Who Have Followed Along Over The Last Few Posts As I Have Sorted Out My Ideas On This Matter!

Jesus's noble, criminal death may have been intentional, like that of Socrates, and the fictional one of the Impaled, Just man of book 2 of Plato's Republic.

Jesus, as best as we can tell, was an apocalyptic prophet.  And, from the desperate prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus seemed to think that he needed to suffer, and perhaps die, to fulfill God's plan.

The incident at the temple was a critique of the corrupt temple cult.  Mark folded it between the fig tree story, the point being that just as it was no longer the season for figs, it was no longer the season for the temple.  Perhaps Jesus also intended his exemplary ethical suffering (and perhaps death) as a critique of a corrupt leadership in society that killed a just man like Jesus for silly reasons.  Perhaps Jesus thought this noble suffering/death would be the catalyst that would cause God to intervene in history and bring about the end of the current age and the coming of the Kingdom of God.

Plato records Socrates's last words as "let us offer a rooster to Asclepius" indicating Socrates was giving thanks for the poison he was receiving (pharmakon - both poison and drug/cure). 

How do we explain this?  Xenophon suggested Socrates thought it was better to die than experience the senility/suffering of old age.  Plato had a somewhat different view.  Plato's Republic Book 2 presents the impaled just man/criminal as the ethical ideal.  How could this be applied to the death of Socrates?  Socrates was condemned as a criminal and executed by his society for unjust reasons.  His death as a noble/just criminal served to show that his society was fundamentally unjust, and so Socrates is remembered as an ethical martyr who died in the service of exposing the injustice/corruption of his society, to the point that the corrupt society would take a noble/just man's life for unjust/silly reasons.

We see the same thing with the criminal Jesus.  Jesus in his death as a condemned criminal by society exposed the unjust nature of his society, even to the point of that unjust society executing a just man such as Jesus for silly/unjust reasons.

 Jesus, as a crucified criminal, seems to embody the Platonic ideal of the impaled just man from book 2 of Plato's Republic, either because Jesus was trying to direct his life events to emulate that ethical ideal from antiquity's most famous book, The Republic, or else because the New Testament writers were using Plato's ethical ideal of the impaled just man as a model to shape the Jesus narrative, in the way Matthew's Jesus infancy narrative recapitulates the story of Moses, or Mark's crucifixion narrative is patterned after Psalm 22 (there is a debate whether the crucifixion narrative is also patterned after Isaiah 53).

I wanted to share an excerpt from Clement of Alexandria's The Stromata to show how he thought Plato's ethical ideal of the impaled just man is reflected in apostolic Christian life:

Does not the apostle then plainly add the following, to show the contempt for faith in the case of the multitude? “For I think that God hath set forth us the apostles last, as appointed to death: we are made a spectacle to the world, and to angels, and to men. Up to this present hour we both hunger, and thirst, and are naked, and are beaten, and are feeble, and labour, working with our hands. Being reviled, we bless; being persecuted, we endure; being defamed, we entreat; we are become as it were the offscourings of the world.” Such also are the words of Plato in the Republic: “The just man, though stretched on the rack, though his eyes are dug out, will be happy.”  
Clement of Alexandria (153-217)The Stromata Book IV Chapter 7
Jesus may have been trying to approximate the ethical standard/paradigm of the impaled, just man in book 2 of Plato's Republic, or else there is exegetical work going on in the New Testament to model Jesus on Plato's impaled, just man.  This makes sense of such themes in Mark as the messianic secret, since such a Jesus would have to avoid even the appearance of reward for being just, such as wealth, fame, honor, etc.

Given this framework, let me suggest two ideas:

(1) Perhaps while Jesus thought he had to suffer to fulfill God's plan (see the desperate prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane), perhaps he didn't think he would actually die to fulfill it (the irony of Plato's impaled just man is that no living person could meet the ethical paradigm, only approximate it). The desperate prayer in Gethsemane may have originally been envisioned as being granted (compare Heb. 5:7).  Jesus may have thought/been portrayed as thinking the willingness of Jesus to die, like Isaac’s, is what answers future Israel’s sins, not the actual death.  

(2)  As Jesus is dying, he calls out in desperate questioning to God as to why He has abandoned him, hoping  God will send Elijah to rescue him.  We read in Mark:

When it was noon, darkness came over the whole land[e] until three in the afternoon. 34 At three o’clock Jesus cried out with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”[f] 35 When some of the bystanders heard it, they said, “Listen, he is calling for Elijah.” 36 And someone ran, filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on a stick, and gave it to him to drink, saying, “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to take him down.”
So, what we seem to see in Mark is a exemplary case of the impaled/crucified just man, abandoned not only by his followers at the arrest, but even by his God who he trusted to answer the Gethsemane prayer and ultimately save him.

The VMNT blog provides a useful unpacking of Ratzinger's views regarding the relationship between Jesus and the impaled, just man of book 2 of Plato's Republic.  They write that:

In his masterwork Introduction to Christianity, Joseph Ratzinger reminds us of the connection, once readily apparent to our Greek-speaking Church Fathers, between Plato’s fate of the just man and the fate of Jesus of Nazareth:

The Cross is revelation. It reveals, not any particular thing, but God and man. It reveals who God is and in what way man is. There is a curious presentiment of this situation in Greek philosophy: Plato’s image of the crucified ‘just man.’ In Republic the great philosopher asks what is likely to be the position of a completely just man in this world. He comes to the conclusion that a man’s righteousness is only complete and guaranteed when he takes on the appearance of unrighteousness, for only then is it clear that he does not follow the opinion of men but pursues justice only for its own sake. So according to Plato the truly just man must be misunderstood and persecuted in this world; indeed Plato goes so far as to write: “They will say that our just man will be scourged, racked, fettered, will have his eyes burned out, and at last, after all manner of suffering, will be crucified.” This passage, written four hundred years before Christ, is always bound to move a Christian deeply. (Ratzinger, Introdruction to Christianity p. 292; cf. Plato, Republic, II.362a)
Certainly, the translation Ratzinger uses lends itself to an obvious Christian connection, although the original Greek is not so explicit. The Greek term we find in Plato’s text, ἀνασκολοπίζω (anaskolopizo), is not so much “crucify” as “impale” or “pierce”. And yet, even Greek has several other words for the same idea. In John 19, for “pierce” we find both the verb νύσσω in verse 34 (ἀλλ’ εἷς τῶν στρατιωτῶν λόγχῃ αὐτοῦ τὴν πλευρὰν ἔνυξεν; “but the soldiers took a spear and pierced his side”) and, when referring to the prophecy of Zechariah, we find the verb ἐκκεντέω (ekkenteo) in verse 37 (καὶ πάλιν ἑτέρα γραφὴ λέγει, Ὄψονται εἰς ὃν ἐξεκέντησαν; “and another that says, “they will look upon him whom they have pierced.'”) When we examine the Old Testament, the verb κρεμαννυμι (kremmannumi) comes up most often for “impale”. By contrast, the Gospels quite singularly uses the verb σταυρόω (stauroo) to denote the act of crucifixion.
Is all this enough to prove the idea, so often raised by detractors of Christianity, that Ratzinger, like the Fathers before him, did violence to Plato’s text in order to prove a Christian point? Perhaps an investigation into the nature of the two punishments (ἀνασκολοπίζω and σταυρόω) will help shed some light.
To impale a man is to impose a particularly gruesome punishment on him. The point is not to kill him immediately, but to wound him in such a manner that he dies a slow, painful death. The stake, if it does not puncture the chest cavity (thus leaving the heart and lungs intact), allows the victim to breathe only with the greatest pain while denying him the mercy of a quick suffocation. Furthermore, impalement is often a public punishment, used as an effective deterrent to would be-criminals, for the skewered body remains in plain sight for all to see. Often, such executions occurred not upon freestanding stakes, but upon poles placed perpendicularly into city walls, such that the body, often still alive and screaming, remains pinned high on the parapets, visible to passers-by and visitors to the city, open to the wiles of wild animals and birds of prey.
When we compare this kind of impalement to crucifixion, we realize that the differences are not so great after all. Crucifixion is nothing but the most sinister form of impalement. It is, in fact, a relatively late development in the history of executions, a development wrought as a way to extend the tortures of impalement. No wonder, therefore, that the word or even the idea of stauros did not exist in Plato’s time.
Instead of a large pike piercing the torso, smaller nails pierce the limbs, which are too weak to effectively hold the body’s weight for prolonged periods. The bloodletting is too minimal to offer a swift demise. As strength leaves the arms, the victim must painfully stand up upon his nailed feet to relieve the pressure on his chest cavity in order to breathe. This painful alternation of hanging from one’s arms and standing on one’s nailed feet repeats viciously until the victim loses consciousness. Often, crucifixion prolonged the already-fierce suffering of impalement not by hours but by days or even weeks. And like its ancient parent punishment, crucifixion is by nature a public sentence meant to strike the fear of the State into the heart of each witness. For example, after Spartacus’ slave rebellion was finally crushed, the surviving rebels, numbering in the thousands, were hoisted upon crosses along the Via Appia, the “queen of Roman highways”, stretching from Rome to Capua– the Republic’s unequivocal admonition against those who would dare defy the Senatus Popolusque Romanus.
Back to Plato: his text affirms that the just man is a meek and humble one, who bears his burdens patiently (NB: Latin patiens means “suffering”!), and who endures even the humiliating, public spectacle of death by impalement, all because of his unshakable commitment to truth and justice. Plato’s man is reviled and rejected by society and accordingly executed, for his ways are “not of this world”.
Do we not, therefore, find echoes of the Suffering Servant of Isaiah 52-53? Is not Plato’s man “spurned and avoided by men,” with “no stately bearing or appearance to make us look at him”? Is he not also “crushed” and “pierced”, “a man of suffering, accustomed to infirmity”?
Of course, since New Testament times, Christians have universally read this passage from Isaiah as a prophecy of the Passion and Cross. Is it therefore any wonder that our Greek-speaking Church Fathers, steeped in the Graeco-Jewish cultural and intellectual cross-fertilization epitomized by the Septuagint, seized upon the similarities between Plato’s just man and the servant foretold by Isaiah’s oracle?
Against this backdrop, the apparent linguistic gulf between ἀνασκολοπίζω and σταυρόω diminishes greatly. For if crucifixion is indeed impalement taken to its most extreme incarnation, then Christ too, enemy of the SPQR, was executed by impalement, and in his Passion, he too was “scourged, fettered, and racked”. In all, the similarities are too great for a man of faith to ignore, and indeed the Fathers and Ratzinger did not make a merely facile comparison, but were right to say that our passage from the Republic, “written four hundred years before Christ, is always bound to move a Christian deeply.”
So, the VMNT blog provides a useful overview as to the relation between Plato's just, impaled man, and the crucified Jesus.  But perhaps this is also a window into why Jesus may have thought he needed to suffer to fulfill God's plan.
It has long been noted that Jesus believed he needed to suffer to fulfill God's plan, such as demonstrated with the desperate Gethsemane prayer, or Jesus rebuking his followers for not thinking he had to suffer.  This has sometimes been thought to be due to an exegetical coloring of the gospels with Isaiah 53, although there is disagreement on this issue.

Here is another avenue that might prove more fruitful as an explanation.  In Book 2 of Plato's Republic, Plato gives the example of the lowly impaled just man as a condition to determine whether one was truly just and whether this is preferable to being a happy unjust ruler.  Sachs comments that:
If Socrates were to succeed in proving that justice by itself cannot but be good for the soul of its possessor, and injustice evil, he still would not be meeting Glaucon's and Adeimantus' challenge; for they ask him to show that justice is the greatest good of the soul, injustice its greatest evil. Further, showing this will not be sufficient unless Socrates thereby shows that the life of the man whose soul possesses justice is happier than the life of anyone whose soul is unjust. The latter is required of Socrates when Glaucon asks him to compare certain lives in terms of happiness.  Glaucon envisages a just man's life "bare of everything but justice. . . . Though doing no injustice he must have the repute of the greatest injustice . . . let him on to his course unchangeable even unto death . . . the just man will have to endure the lash, the rack, chains, the branding-iron in his eyes, and finally, after every extremity of suffering, he will be [impaled]." On the other hand, the unjust man pictured by Glaucon enjoys a position of "rule in the city, a wife from any family he chooses, and the giving of his children in marriage to whomsoever he pleases, dealings and partnerships with whom he will, and in all these transactions advantage and profit for himself," and so forth, including a not unreasonable expectation of divine favor. Socrates has to prove that a just man whose condition is that described by Glaucon will still lead a happier life than anyone who is unjust if he is to show that, in terms of happiness, which is the Platonic criterion for the choice among lives, one ought to choose the just life. Again, if Socrates is able to show that an unjust man who enjoys the existence depicted by Glaucon is more wretched than any just man, that will suffice for choosing to reject any unjust life. As Prichard remarked, "Plato certainly did not underrate his task. Indeed, in reading his statement of it, we wonder how he ever came to think that he could execute it.

So, Plato proposes a sort of test for how to measure whether one is truly just, and whether such an individual would be "happier" in the technical Platonic sense.

Plato's Republic was the most famous book in the ancient world, so it is not unreasonable to suppose some of its themes may have influenced Jesus and his followers, or his biographers, even if none of them ever read The Republic.  Perhaps Jesus thought it was God's plan for him to nobly suffer as a criminal in society's eyes like Plato's impaled just man, because this would demonstrate him to be truly just and thus worthy of being the Son of Man/Judge of people in the new age following what Jesus viewed as the imminent apocalypse.  In being reviled and executed, Jesus would present the leaders of his society for what they were, just as Socrates's execution presented his society for what they were: willing to condemn a just, good man for silly, unjust reasons.  Would it be lost on Jewish eyes the irony that the great hero Jesus faced the same crucifixion death and revile as one of the great villains in Jewish history, Haman (Esther, 7:10), as though Jesus deserved to be punished as the arch-criminal Haman was?  Perhaps Jesus felt he needed to face such a criminal death ... 
It's interesting how Mark shows the death of Jesus to be unjust, like that of Socrates or the impaled, just man of book 2 of Plato's Republic. Mark has Pilate question the Jews as to: Pilate asked them, “Why, what evil has he done?” , because they wanted to crucify him even though Pilate didn't know of any wrongdoing Jesus did. Jesus was a just man.  But the funny part is Jesus tricked Pilate into executing him without cause. Jesus doesn't claim to Pilate to be King of the Jews when Pilate interrogates him. Rather, Jesus says sarcastically in Mark 15:2 “You say so.” So Jesus is executed for being King of the Jews even though He doesn't claim that position in front of Pilate. Like Socrates and Plato's impaled just man before him, Jesus remains un-guilty and receives the death sentence anyway.  And, Jesus would have been vindicated according to Jewish tradition. If Jesus had claimed to be king, there is Deuteronomy 17:15 which states "You shall surely set a king over you whom the LORD your God chooses, one from among your countrymen you shall set as king over yourselves; you may not put a foreigner over yourselves who is not your countryman." And a violation of Exodus 23:2 which states "Do not follow the crowd in doing wrong. When you give testimony in a lawsuit, do not pervert justice by siding with the crowd."

* NB If you enjoyed that blog post, check out my other two posts on Christian Orgins:
1.  Postmodernism and Christianity:  http://palpatinesway.blogspot.com/2018/10/postmodernism-and-biblical-hermeneutics.html

2. The Noble Lie Theory of Christian Origins:  http://palpatinesway.blogspot.com/2018/03/examining-easter-peering-behind-veil-of.html

Monday, March 18, 2019

Summary of the argument for the relationship between the death of Jesus, Socrates, and the impaled, just man in Book 2 of Plato's Republic

Jesus's noble, criminal death may have been intentional, like that of Socrates, and the fictional one of the Impaled, Just man of book 2 of Plato's Republic.

Jesus, as best as we can tell, was an apocalyptic prophet.  And, from the desperate prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus seemed to think that he needed to suffer, and perhaps die, to fulfill God's plan.

The incident at the temple was a critique of the corrupt temple cult.  Mark folded it between the fig tree story, the point being that just as it was no longer the season for figs, it was no longer the season for the temple.  Perhaps Jesus also intended his exemplary ethical suffering (and perhaps death) as a critique of a corrupt leadership in society that killed a just man like Jesus for silly reasons.  Perhaps Jesus thought this noble suffering/death would be the catalyst that would cause God to intervene in history and bring about the end of the current age and the coming of the Kingdom of God.

Plato records Socrates's last words as "let us offer a rooster to Asclepius" indicating Socrates was giving thanks for the poison he was receiving (pharmakon - both poison and drug/cure). 

How do we explain this?  Xenophon suggested Socrates thought it was better to die than experience the senility/suffering of old age.  Plato had a somewhat different view.  Plato's Republic Book 2 presents the impaled just man/criminal as the ethical ideal.  How could this be applied to the death of Socrates?  Socrates was condemned as a criminal and executed by his society for unjust reasons.  His death as a noble/just criminal served to show that his society was fundamentally unjust, and so Socrates is remembered as an ethical martyr who died in the service of exposing the injustice/corruption of his society, to the point that the corrupt society would take a noble/just man's life for unjust/silly reasons.

We see the same thing with the criminal Jesus.  Jesus in his death as a condemned criminal by society exposed the unjust nature of his society, even to the point of that unjust society executing a just man such as Jesus for silly/unjust reasons.

 Jesus, as a crucified criminal, seems to embody the Platonic ideal of the impaled just man from book 2 of Plato's Republic, either because Jesus was trying to direct his life events to emulate that ethical ideal from antiquity's most famous book, The Republic, or else because the New Testament writers were using Plato's ethical ideal of the impaled just man as a model to shape the Jesus narrative, in the way Matthew's Jesus infancy narrative recapitulates the story of Moses, or Mark's crucifixion narrative is patterned after Psalm 22 (there is a debate whether the crucifixion narrative is also patterned after Isaiah 53).

I wanted to share an excerpt from Clement of Alexandria's The Stromata to show how he thought Plato's ethical ideal of the impaled just man is reflected in apostolic Christian life:

Does not the apostle then plainly add the following, to show the contempt for faith in the case of the multitude? “For I think that God hath set forth us the apostles last, as appointed to death: we are made a spectacle to the world, and to angels, and to men. Up to this present hour we both hunger, and thirst, and are naked, and are beaten, and are feeble, and labour, working with our hands. Being reviled, we bless; being persecuted, we endure; being defamed, we entreat; we are become as it were the offscourings of the world.” Such also are the words of Plato in the Republic: “The just man, though stretched on the rack, though his eyes are dug out, will be happy.”  
Clement of Alexandria (153-217)The Stromata Book IV Chapter 7
Jesus may have been trying to approximate the ethical standard/paradigm of the impaled, just man in book 2 of Plato's Republic, or else there is exegetical work going on in the New Testament to model Jesus on Plato's impaled, just man.  This makes sense of such themes in Mark as the messianic secret, since such a Jesus would have to avoid even the appearance of reward for being just, such as wealth, fame, honor, etc.

Given this framework, let me suggest two ideas:

(1) Perhaps while Jesus thought he had to suffer to fulfill God's plan (see the desperate prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane), perhaps he didn't think he would actually die to fulfill it (the irony of Plato's impaled just man is that no living person could meet the ethical paradigm, only approximate it). The desperate prayer in Gethsemane may have originally been envisioned as being granted (compare Heb. 5:7).  Jesus may have thought/been portrayed as thinking the willingness of Jesus to die, like Isaac’s, is what answers future Israel’s sins, not the actual death.  

(2)  As Jesus is dying, he calls out in desperate questioning to God as to why He has abandoned him, hoping  God will send Elijah to rescue him.  We read in Mark:


When it was noon, darkness came over the whole land[e] until three in the afternoon. 34 At three o’clock Jesus cried out with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”[f] 35 When some of the bystanders heard it, they said, “Listen, he is calling for Elijah.” 36 And someone ran, filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on a stick, and gave it to him to drink, saying, “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to take him down.”
So, what we seem to see in Mark is a exemplary case of the impaled/crucified just man, abandoned not only by his followers at the arrest, but even by his God who he trusted to answer the Gethsemane prayer and ultimately save him.

The VMNT blog provides a useful unpacking of Ratzinger's views regarding the relationship between Jesus and the impaled, just man of book 2 of Plato's Republic.  They write that:


In his masterwork Introduction to Christianity, Joseph Ratzinger reminds us of the connection, once readily apparent to our Greek-speaking Church Fathers, between Plato’s fate of the just man and the fate of Jesus of Nazareth:

The Cross is revelation. It reveals, not any particular thing, but God and man. It reveals who God is and in what way man is. There is a curious presentiment of this situation in Greek philosophy: Plato’s image of the crucified ‘just man.’ In Republic the great philosopher asks what is likely to be the position of a completely just man in this world. He comes to the conclusion that a man’s righteousness is only complete and guaranteed when he takes on the appearance of unrighteousness, for only then is it clear that he does not follow the opinion of men but pursues justice only for its own sake. So according to Plato the truly just man must be misunderstood and persecuted in this world; indeed Plato goes so far as to write: “They will say that our just man will be scourged, racked, fettered, will have his eyes burned out, and at last, after all manner of suffering, will be crucified.” This passage, written four hundred years before Christ, is always bound to move a Christian deeply. (Ratzinger, Introdruction to Christianity p. 292; cf. Plato, Republic, II.362a)
Certainly, the translation Ratzinger uses lends itself to an obvious Christian connection, although the original Greek is not so explicit. The Greek term we find in Plato’s text, ἀνασκολοπίζω (anaskolopizo), is not so much “crucify” as “impale” or “pierce”. And yet, even Greek has several other words for the same idea. In John 19, for “pierce” we find both the verb νύσσω in verse 34 (ἀλλ’ εἷς τῶν στρατιωτῶν λόγχῃ αὐτοῦ τὴν πλευρὰν ἔνυξεν; “but the soldiers took a spear and pierced his side”) and, when referring to the prophecy of Zechariah, we find the verb ἐκκεντέω (ekkenteo) in verse 37 (καὶ πάλιν ἑτέρα γραφὴ λέγει, Ὄψονται εἰς ὃν ἐξεκέντησαν; “and another that says, “they will look upon him whom they have pierced.'”) When we examine the Old Testament, the verb κρεμαννυμι (kremmannumi) comes up most often for “impale”. By contrast, the Gospels quite singularly uses the verb σταυρόω (stauroo) to denote the act of crucifixion.
Is all this enough to prove the idea, so often raised by detractors of Christianity, that Ratzinger, like the Fathers before him, did violence to Plato’s text in order to prove a Christian point? Perhaps an investigation into the nature of the two punishments (ἀνασκολοπίζω and σταυρόω) will help shed some light.
To impale a man is to impose a particularly gruesome punishment on him. The point is not to kill him immediately, but to wound him in such a manner that he dies a slow, painful death. The stake, if it does not puncture the chest cavity (thus leaving the heart and lungs intact), allows the victim to breathe only with the greatest pain while denying him the mercy of a quick suffocation. Furthermore, impalement is often a public punishment, used as an effective deterrent to would be-criminals, for the skewered body remains in plain sight for all to see. Often, such executions occurred not upon freestanding stakes, but upon poles placed perpendicularly into city walls, such that the body, often still alive and screaming, remains pinned high on the parapets, visible to passers-by and visitors to the city, open to the wiles of wild animals and birds of prey.
When we compare this kind of impalement to crucifixion, we realize that the differences are not so great after all. Crucifixion is nothing but the most sinister form of impalement. It is, in fact, a relatively late development in the history of executions, a development wrought as a way to extend the tortures of impalement. No wonder, therefore, that the word or even the idea of stauros did not exist in Plato’s time.
Instead of a large pike piercing the torso, smaller nails pierce the limbs, which are too weak to effectively hold the body’s weight for prolonged periods. The bloodletting is too minimal to offer a swift demise. As strength leaves the arms, the victim must painfully stand up upon his nailed feet to relieve the pressure on his chest cavity in order to breathe. This painful alternation of hanging from one’s arms and standing on one’s nailed feet repeats viciously until the victim loses consciousness. Often, crucifixion prolonged the already-fierce suffering of impalement not by hours but by days or even weeks. And like its ancient parent punishment, crucifixion is by nature a public sentence meant to strike the fear of the State into the heart of each witness. For example, after Spartacus’ slave rebellion was finally crushed, the surviving rebels, numbering in the thousands, were hoisted upon crosses along the Via Appia, the “queen of Roman highways”, stretching from Rome to Capua– the Republic’s unequivocal admonition against those who would dare defy the Senatus Popolusque Romanus.
Back to Plato: his text affirms that the just man is a meek and humble one, who bears his burdens patiently (NB: Latin patiens means “suffering”!), and who endures even the humiliating, public spectacle of death by impalement, all because of his unshakable commitment to truth and justice. Plato’s man is reviled and rejected by society and accordingly executed, for his ways are “not of this world”.
Do we not, therefore, find echoes of the Suffering Servant of Isaiah 52-53? Is not Plato’s man “spurned and avoided by men,” with “no stately bearing or appearance to make us look at him”? Is he not also “crushed” and “pierced”, “a man of suffering, accustomed to infirmity”?
Of course, since New Testament times, Christians have universally read this passage from Isaiah as a prophecy of the Passion and Cross. Is it therefore any wonder that our Greek-speaking Church Fathers, steeped in the Graeco-Jewish cultural and intellectual cross-fertilization epitomized by the Septuagint, seized upon the similarities between Plato’s just man and the servant foretold by Isaiah’s oracle?
Against this backdrop, the apparent linguistic gulf between ἀνασκολοπίζω and σταυρόω diminishes greatly. For if crucifixion is indeed impalement taken to its most extreme incarnation, then Christ too, enemy of the SPQR, was executed by impalement, and in his Passion, he too was “scourged, fettered, and racked”. In all, the similarities are too great for a man of faith to ignore, and indeed the Fathers and Ratzinger did not make a merely facile comparison, but were right to say that our passage from the Republic, “written four hundred years before Christ, is always bound to move a Christian deeply.”
So, the VMNT blog provides a useful overview as to the relation between Plato's just, impaled man, and the crucified Jesus.  But perhaps this is also a window into why Jesus may have thought he needed to suffer to fulfill God's plan.
It has long been noted that Jesus believed he needed to suffer to fulfill God's plan, such as demonstrated with the desperate Gethsemane prayer, or Jesus rebuking his followers for not thinking he had to suffer.  This has sometimes been thought to be due to an exegetical coloring of the gospels with Isaiah 53, although there is disagreement on this issue.

Here is another avenue that might prove more fruitful as an explanation.  In Book 2 of Plato's Republic, Plato gives the example of the lowly impaled just man as a condition to determine whether one was truly just and whether this is preferable to being a happy unjust ruler.  Sachs comments that:
If Socrates were to succeed in proving that justice by itself cannot but be good for the soul of its possessor, and injustice evil, he still would not be meeting Glaucon's and Adeimantus' challenge; for they ask him to show that justice is the greatest good of the soul, injustice its greatest evil. Further, showing this will not be sufficient unless Socrates thereby shows that the life of the man whose soul possesses justice is happier than the life of anyone whose soul is unjust. The latter is required of Socrates when Glaucon asks him to compare certain lives in terms of happiness.  Glaucon envisages a just man's life "bare of everything but justice. . . . Though doing no injustice he must have the repute of the greatest injustice . . . let him on to his course unchangeable even unto death . . . the just man will have to endure the lash, the rack, chains, the branding-iron in his eyes, and finally, after every extremity of suffering, he will be [impaled]." On the other hand, the unjust man pictured by Glaucon enjoys a position of "rule in the city, a wife from any family he chooses, and the giving of his children in marriage to whomsoever he pleases, dealings and partnerships with whom he will, and in all these transactions advantage and profit for himself," and so forth, including a not unreasonable expectation of divine favor. Socrates has to prove that a just man whose condition is that described by Glaucon will still lead a happier life than anyone who is unjust if he is to show that, in terms of happiness, which is the Platonic criterion for the choice among lives, one ought to choose the just life. Again, if Socrates is able to show that an unjust man who enjoys the existence depicted by Glaucon is more wretched than any just man, that will suffice for choosing to reject any unjust life. As Prichard remarked, "Plato certainly did not underrate his task. Indeed, in reading his statement of it, we wonder how he ever came to think that he could execute it.
So, Plato proposes a sort of test for how to measure whether one is truly just, and whether such an individual would be "happier" in the technical Platonic sense.

Plato's Republic was the most famous book in the ancient world, so it is not unreasonable to suppose some of its themes may have influenced Jesus and his followers, or his biographers, even if none of them ever read The Republic.  Perhaps Jesus thought it was God's plan for him to nobly suffer as a criminal in society's eyes like Plato's impaled just man, because this would demonstrate him to be truly just and thus worthy of being the Son of Man/Judge of people in the new age following what Jesus viewed as the imminent apocalypse.  In being reviled and executed, Jesus would present the leaders of his society for what they were, just as Socrates's execution presented his society for what they were: willing to condemn a just, good man for silly, unjust reasons.  Would it be lost on Jewish eyes the irony that the great hero Jesus faced the same crucifixion death and revile as one of the great villains in Jewish history, Haman (Esther, 7:10), as though Jesus deserved to be punished as the arch-criminal Haman was?  Perhaps Jesus felt he needed to face such a criminal death ... 

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Jesus, the Temple, the Garden, The Cross

For the last few posts I've been talking about how Jesus's noble death may have been intentional, like that of Socrates, and the fictional one of the Impaled, Just man of book 2 of Plato's Republic.

Jesus, as best as we can tell, was an apocalyptic prophet.  And, from the desperate prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus seemed to think that he needed to suffer, and perhaps die, to fulfill God's plan.

The incident at the temple was a critique of the corrupt temple cult.  Mark folded it between the fig tree story, the point being that just as it was no longer the season for figs, it was no longer the season for the temple.  Perhaps Jesus also intended his exemplary ethical suffering (and perhaps death) as a critique of a corrupt leadership in society that killed a just man like Jesus for silly reasons.  Perhaps Jesus thought this noble suffering/death would be the catalyst that would cause God to intervene in history and bring about the end of the age.