The pre-Markan Passion Narrative.
Despite a few dissenters, the pre-Markan Passion Narrative it is a widely accepted theory. It remains plausible to most scholars: “The idea of a pre-Markan passion narrative continues to seem probable to a majority of scholars” (1). Prominent Philosopher and exegete William Craig provides the following analysis:
“Most scholars today agree with this [that Mark had a source he used]. Any reconstruction of this source is controversial, and not widely accepted. That is to say, did verse 5 of chapter 15 belong to the pre contents of the pre-Markan passion source may be in debate, the actual existence of this source is readily accepted… That Mark was using and relied upon a pre-Markan passion story is one that is widely accepted by most scholars today, and because it goes back so early it is probably based upon eyewitness testimony” (2).
Here historian Gerd Theissen proves informative:
“In my opinion, in Mark we can discern behind the text as we now have it a connected narrative that presupposes a certain chronology. According to Mark, Jesus died on the day of Passover, but the tradition supposes it was the preparation day before Passover: in 14:1-2 the Sanhedrin decided to kill Jesus before the feast in order to prevent unrest among the people on the day of the feast. This fits with the circumstance that in 15:21 Simon of Cyrene is coming in from the fields, which can be understood to mean he was coming from his work. It would be hard to imagine any author’s using a formulation so subject to misunderstanding in an account that describes events on the day of Passover, since no work was done on that day. Moreover, in 15:42 Jesus’ burial is said to be on the “preparation day,” but a relative clause is added to make it the preparation day for the Sabbath. Originally, it was probably the preparation day for the Passover (cf. Jn 19:42). The motive for removing Jesus from the cross and burying him before sundown would probably have been to have this work done before the beginning of the feast day, which would not make sense if it were already the day of Passover. Finally, the “trial” before the Sanhedrin presupposes that this was not a feast day, since no judicial proceedings could be held on that day. It would have been a breach of the legal code that the narrator could scarcely have ignored, because the point of the narrative is to represent the proceeding against Jesus as an unfair trial with contradictory witnesses and a verdict decided in advance by the high priests” (3).
The pre-Markan passion narrative is believed be early as it never refers to the high priest who is mentioned by name. It is as if one were to say “The President is hosting a dinner at the White House.” Everyone knows who the president is, and who I am speaking of because he the man currently in office. Similarly the pre-Markan passion narrative refers to the “high priest” as if he were still in power. Since Caiaphas held office from AD 18-37, this means at the latest the pre-Markan source must come from within seven years after Jesus’ death (30 AD). This source thus goes back to within the first few years of the Jerusalem fellowship and therefore proves to be an authoritative source of historical information, as the scholar Thiessen notes: “The date could also be pinpointed: parts of the Passion account would have to have been composed within the generation of the eyewitnesses and their contemporaries, that is, somewhere between 30 and 60 C.E.” (4).
Because the Passion Narrative goes back so early, within several years of Jesus’ death, it is believed to be based upon eyewitness testimony. As Craig says in the same interview: “That Mark was using and relied upon a pre-Markan passion story is one that is widely accepted by most scholars today, and because it goes back so early it is probably based upon eyewitness testimony” (5).
We also find that the empty tomb is attested in pre-Mark since “The empty tomb story is syntactically tied to the burial story; indeed, they are just one story. E.g., the antecedent of “him” (Jesus) in Mk. 16:1 is in the burial account (15:43); the women’s discussion of the stone presupposes the stone’s being rolled over the tomb’s entrance; their visiting the tomb presupposes their noting its location in 15.47; the words of the angel “see the place where they laid him” refer back to Joseph’s laying body in the tomb” (6).
Craig doesn’t stop there saying that the burial “was, indeed, part of the pre-Markan Passion Story. Thus, we have independent attestation of the burial from two of the oldest sources in the New Testament: the pre-Pauline tradition quoted in 1 Corinthians 15 and the pre-Markan Passion Story used by Mark in writing his Gospel. This is one of the most important criteria of historicity that historians use. When you have early, independent attestation of the same event, then you are likely on historical bedrock”(7).
But beyond the burial, according to historian Paul Meier, we can learn about Jesus’ miracles. Meier writes that “There are “individual miracles embedded in the pre-Marcan passion narrative (10:46-52)… when one looks at this vast array of disparate streams of miracle traditions in the first Christian generation, some already grouped in collections, some still stray bits of material, Mark alone – writing as he does at the end of the first Christian generation – constitutes a fair refutation of the idea that the miracle traditions were totally the creation of the early church after Jesus’ death” (8).
We therefore have an independent attestation of Jesus’ passion and burial that goes back much earlier than our other New Testament literature. Because this goes back so early, possibly several years after Jesus’ death (30 AD), it is arguably based on eyewitness testimony.
1. Early Christian Writings. The Passion Narrative. Available.
2. Craig, W. 2011. Pre-Markan Source and the Resurrection of Jesus. Available.
3. Theissen, C. 1992. The Gospels in Context. p. 166-167.
4. Theissen, G. 1992. Ibid. p. 186-187.
5. Craig, W. 2011. Ibid.
6. Craig, W. 2009. Independent Sources For Jesus Burial and Empty Tomb. Available.
7. Craig, W. Doctrine of Christ (part 18). Available.
8. Meier, P. 1991. A Marginal Jew. p. 620.