Raymond E. Brown, The Death of the Messiah,
v.2, Act 4, scene 1 - #35. Jesus Crucified, Part Three: Last Events, Death, pp 1031-1096

(detailed summary)

Jesus Crucified, Part Three: Last Events, Death
(Mk 15: 33-37; Mt 27: 45-50; Lk 23: 44-46; Jn 19: 28-30)


The synoptic Gospels and the apocryphal Gospel of Peter agree that darkness came about noon, until the death of Jesus. This is a theological statement that refers to several passages of Scripture: it is a sign of God's eschatological judgment. For Luke, speaking to a Greco-Roman audience, the sun was appropriately eclipsed at the death of an important person.

At the moment of death, according to Mark, followed by Matthew, Jesus screamed in a loud voice and quotes Psalm 22:2: "My God, my God, for what reason have you forsaken me?". The loud cry must be associated with a typical apocalyptic scene. And the prayer expresses Jesus' deep sense of having been abandoned by God at a time when no one is with him to support him. In an effort to mend together the tradition about Jesus' last words and the story about the prophet Elijah returning at the end of time, Mark quotes in Aramaic v. 2 of Psalm 22 which begins with Elōi (my God), which is similar to Ēlias, the name of the prophet Elijah in Greek, and thus allows him to explain the gesture of mockery, inspired by Psalm 69:22, to offer vinegary wine to Jesus to calm his pain and prolong his life, and thus give Elijah time to arrive. Luke refuses this dark vision of Mark, replaces Psalm 22:2 with 31:6 ("Into your hands I shall place my spirit") by which Jesus expresses his trust in his Father, and eliminates the incomprehensible scene about Elijah. As for John, even though he probably knows the tradition on Psalm 22, he goes further in this psalm to look for the theme of thirst, which allows him not only to logically introduce the scene where Jesus is given a drink, but also to present a Jesus in full control who fulfills Scripture in order to complete what the Father has asked him to do.

The death of Jesus is described in a sober and neutral way by the Synoptics and Peter's Gospel, using euphemisms rather than ordinary technical terms. Only John detaches himself from it by presenting it in the form of the gift of the Holy Spirit to the nascent Johannine community, represented by the mother of Jesus and the beloved disciple.

What can be said about the historicity of Jesus' last words? The presence of the words of Psalm 22:2 in the mouth of Jesus is most probably the work of the Christian community reflecting on his last moments. But it is possible that Jesus may have simply said "You are my God", present in several psalms and in Isaiah, or even simply "My God" (Ēlî), which would later have been a source of confusion with Ēlias, the name of the prophet Elijah in Greek.

  1. Translation
  2. Comment
    1. Darkness at the Sixth Hour (Mark 15: 33; Matthew 27: 45; Luke 23: 44-45a; GPet 5: 15.18)
      1. Darkness in Mark/Matthew
      2. Darkness in Gospel of Peter (GPet)
      3. Darkness in Luke
    2. Jesus' Death Cry; Elijah; Offering of Vinegary Wine (Mark 15: 34-35; Matthew 27: 46-49; GPet 5: 19.16)
      1. Meaning of Jesus' Death Cry
      2. Wording of Jesus' Death Cry
      3. Rendition in GPet 5:19
      4. Elijah and the Offering of Vinegary Wine
    3. Jesus' Death Cry in Luke 23: 46
    4. Jesus' Last Words and the Wine Offering in John 19: 28-30a
      1. "After this, Jesus having known that already all was finished" (19: 28a)
      2. "In order that the Scripture be completed, (he) says, 'I thirst,'" (19: 28b)
      3. Offering of Vinegary Wine on Hyssop (19: 29)
      4. "So when he took the vinegary wine, Jesus said, 'It is finished'" (19: 30a)
    5. The Death of Jesus in All the Gospels
      1. The Introductory Clause
      2. Description of the Death
  3. Analysis
    1. Theories of How Mark Mark 15: 33-37 Was Composed
    2. The Last Words of Jesus: Oldest Tradition and/or Historicity
    3. The Physiological Cause of the Death of Jesus
    4. Imaginative Rewriting That Nullifies the Crucifixion

  1. Translation

    Words of Mark shared by the other evangelists are underlined. Words in blue indicate what is common to Luke and Mattew, in red words of John shared by other evangelists, in green words from Gospel of Peter found elsewhere.

    Mark 15Matthew 27Luke 23John 19Gospel of Peter 4
    [36 Moreover, also the soldiers mocked, coming forward, bringing forward to him vinegary wine.]
    33 And the sixth hour having come, darkness came over the whole earth until the ninth hour.45 But from the sixth hour darkness came over all the earth until the ninth hour.44 And it was already about the sixth hour, and darkness came over the whole earth until the ninth hour,15a But it was midday, and darkness held fast all Judea;
    45 the sun having been eclipsed. The veil of the sanctuary was rent in the middle.15b and they were distressed and anxious lest the sun had set, since he was still living. [For] it is written for them: "Let not the sun set on one put to death."
    34 And at the ninth hour Jesus screamed with a loud cry, "Elōi, Elōi, lama sabachthani?" which is interpreted, "My God, my God, for what reason have you forsaken me?"46 But about the ninth hour Jesus screamed out with a loud cry, saying, "Ēli, Ēli, lema sabachthani?" – that is, "My God, my God, to what purpose have you forsaken me?"
    35 And some of the bystanders, having heard, were saying, "Look, he is crying to Elijah."47 But some of those standing there, having heard, were saying that "This fellow is crying to Elijah."
    28 After this, Jesus having known that already all was finished, in order that the Scripture be completed, says, "I thirst."
    36a But someone, running, having filled a sponge with vinegary wine, having put it on a reed, was giving him to drink, 48 And immediately one of them, running and taking a sponge full of vinegary wine and having put it on a reed, was giving him to drink.29 A jar was there laden with vinegary wine. So, putting on hyssop a sponge laden with the vinegary wine, they brought it forward to his mouth.16 And someone of them said, "Give him to drink gall with vinegary wine." And having made a mixture, they gave to drink. 17 And they fulfilled all things and completed the(ir) sins on their own head. 18 But many went around with lamps, thinking that it was night, and they fell.
    36b saying, "Leave (be). Let us see if Elijah comes to take him down."49 But the rest said, "Leave (be). Let us see if Elijah comes saving him."
    37 But Jesus, having let go a loud cry, expired.50 But Jesus, again having shouted with a loud cry, let go the spirit.46 And having cried out with a loud cry, Jesus said, "Father into your hands I place my spirit." But having said this, he expired.30 So when he took the vinegary wine, Jesus said, "It is finished"; and having bowed his head, he gave over the spirit.19 And the Lord screamed out, saying, "My power, O power, you have forsaken me." And having said this, he was taken up.

  2. Comment

    1. Darkness at the Sixth Hour (Mark 15: 33; Matthew 27: 45; Luke 23: 44-45a; GPet 5: 15.18)

      It is impossible to have confirmation that the evangelists referred to a physical darkness on the noon hour, but it is likely that this was so, since they mention a specific time. That said, their interest is primarily symbolic and theological.

      1. Darkness in Mark/Matthew

        1. For Mark, Jesus is the righteous one ridiculed by all, and behold, the earth is shrouded in darkness until his death. Several passages from the Old Testament provide a context for this whole scene.
          • First of all there is Psalm 69:22 ("For food they gave me poison, in my thirst they gave me vinegar") which inspired the scene of the vinegary wine.
          • Exodus 10:22 ("Moses stretched out his hand toward heaven and there was thick darkness over all the land of Egypt for three days") is a translation of God's punitive intervention.
          • Jeremiah 15:9 ("Her sun sets at midday; she is shamed and disgraced") expresses God's wrath as follows
          • Wisdom 5:6 ("We have strayed from the way of truth, and the light of justice did not shine for us, and the sun did not rise upon us") condemns those who have failed to recognize the truth.
          • Jeremiah 33:29 ("Thus saith the Lord. If you can break my covenant with the day and my covenant with the night, so that the day and the night shall not come at the appointed time") sees in the upheaval of the day and the night the sign that the covenant is broken
          • Joel 3:4 ("The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the great day comes, the bright day of the Lord") and Amos 8, 9 ("It shall come to pass in that day, saith the Lord God, that I will cause the sun to go down at noon, and I will darken the earth in a day of light") warn us that when the day is darkened is a sign of God's judgment.

          Thus, darkness has a high theological value and it is in this sense that we must read Mark: People mocked Jesus, asking for a sign from God, and behold, the sign came, a sign that judged them all.

        2. Matthew only reinforces the symbolism of Mark and emphasizes the idea of the eschatological judgment, a judgment that is addressed to all the Jewish people who took responsibility for the death of Jesus. Later on, he will multiply the eschatological signs: the earthquake, the tombs opening and the dead rising.

      2. Darkness in in Gospel of Peter (GPet)

        • We've already pointed out that we have anti-Semitic literature here. And as a matter of fact, it is over all Judea, and not over all the earth, that darkness is spreading. The reference to Amos 8:9 ("It shall come to pass in that day, says the Lord God, that I will cause the sun to set at noon and darken the earth in a day of light") is more explicit, as is the reference to Deuteronomy 21:22 ("His (the condemned man's) dead body shall not be left on the tree by night; you shall bury him the same day") which calls for burial before sunset. The text is very ironic: the Jews are very meticulous about the law, but they did not hesitate to attack the Son of God. The language of this apocryphal writing follows a popular style: the way of describing darkness is very colorful, so to speak, because it presents people walking with torches and yet stumbling (4:17-18), realizing Deuteronomy 28:28-29 : "Yahweh will smite you with delirium, blindness and delusion of the senses, so that you will grope at noon as the blind grope in darkness"; God's judgment has the last word.

      3. Darkness in Luke

        • We have already underlined Luke's propensity to take up Mark's text in a more logical way. This is what he does by grouping together here two passages from Mark, the darkness before Jesus' death and the rending of the veil of the sanctuary after his death: thus Luke puts negative elements together, to concentrate on the positive elements after Jesus' death. Then he uses the expression "about" the sixth hour, because an eschatological sign cannot have a precise hour.

        • Nevertheless, v. 45 presents a problem: how to interpret the phrase where the sun "has been eclipsed" (eklipontos); is it really an eclipse of the sun? Many copyists have seen the difficulty and write instead that the sun "has darkened" (eskotistē): this is the version of the codices Alexandrinus, Bezae, Koridethi, as well as Marcion, the old Latin and Syriac, and the koinē. On the other hand, the best versions write eklipontos, such as Papyrus 75, codices Vaticanus , Sinaiticus, Ephraem rescriptus, and some Sahidic translations; this is the most difficult version and should be preferred. So why would Luke tell us about an eclipse of the sun when we are at the time of the full moon of the Jewish Passover, where an eclipse of the sun is physically impossible? And why talk about an eclipse that lasts from noon to three hours, when it can only last a maximum of seven minutes and forty-eight seconds? The biblical scholars, who have lived in Palestine, have tried to imagine all kinds of known meteorological phenomena: sunspots, solar storm, sandstorm, electric storm, the aftermath of a volcanic eruption. It is forgetting that Luke did not live in Palestine and his text does not suggest any of this.

        • We would therefore be faced with a scientific and historical inaccuracy of Luke. And it's not the first time. For example, Luke 2:2 explains the departure of Joseph and Mary pregnant from Galilee to Bethlehem by the requirement of the first census under Quirinius as governor of Syria; historically, we know that Quirinius took a census, but only of Judea, not of Galilee, and about ten years later. Luke probably knew about this event, and confusingly associated it with the birth of Jesus. He probably did the same thing with the eclipse of the sun, while exaggerating the phenomenon, in the manner of the authors of his time: Plutarch (Pelopidas 31:2) writes about the eclipse of 364 BC: "Darkness overshadowed the city during the day". And to which eclipse would he refer? There would have been an eclipse of the sun on November 24, 29 AD, a few months before Jesus' death (if placed in April 30 AD), and there would have been another, if we rely on Eusebius of Caesarea, during the period from July 1, 32 AD to June 30, 33 AD. In short, Luke would have associated this natural phenomenon with Mark's account with a certain vagueness.

        • Why is such an association so important? First of all, let us not forget that Luke probably assumes that the solar eclipse is controlled by God to signal the death of the Son of God (see Lk 22:53: "This is your time and the power of darkness"), just as the Old Testament mentions eschatological signs of the end times. But there is more. Luke's interest is to show the universal impact of Jesus' death, just as he did for his birth by associating it with an edict of Caesar Augustus (2:1). Let us remember that he is addressing a Greco-Roman audience who commonly imagined that signs accompanied the death of great men (see for example Plutarch, Romulus 27:6, on the departure of Romulus: "the light of the sun was eclipsed", or Caesar 69:4, where at Caesar's death the sun became dark).

    2. Jesus' Death Cry; Elijah; Offering of Vinegary Wine (Mark 15: 34-35; Mt 27, 46-49; GPet 5: 19.16)

      1. Meaning of Jesus' Death Cry

        • "And at the ninth hour Jesus (Mk: "screamed" (boan); Mt: "screamed out" (anaboan) with a loud (megalē) cry (phonē)". These are the first and last words of Jesus on the cross at Mark/Matthew. The verbs boan/anaboan refer to a solemn proclamation, an acclamation, or the cry of a crowd and a desperate cry for help. Here, given the words spoken (Ps 22:2), one would be faced with an urgent and desperate request. In a crucifixion scene, it was normal to hear cries of rage and suffering, howls of desperation and wild swearing. But this is a psalm, a prayer that comes from the mouth of Jesus, as Revelation 6:10 notes, typical of biblical martyr stories. And so the scene would have another dimension that places us in an apocalyptic context, especially if we refer to the darkness, the veil of the sanctuary being torn, the earthquake and the dead being raised. Paul warns us that a cry (phonē) of the archangels will accompany the coming of the Lord (1 Thess 4:16). The eschatological moment is accompanied by a final battle against evil, as Paul also writes: "Then the ungodly one will be revealed, and the Lord will make him disappear by the breath of his mouth" (2 Thess 2:8). The same words boan and phonē megalē appear in Acts 8:7 when Luke tells of Philip's action in which the unclean spirit comes out of the possessed with a loud cry.

        • "My God, my God, for what reason have you forsaken me?". In any well-constructed drama, the last words of the central character are of supreme importance. All the arguments favour a literal interpretation, if we place ourselves on the level of the portrait painted by the evangelist. As already mentioned, Mark emphasizes the fact that his disciples have abandoned him and all mock him, so that Jesus finds himself alone and isolated on the cross. The "why" does not introduce a doubt about the existence of God into Jesus' mouth, but a question about his silence. And if we consider the way Mark constructed the evolution of Jesus' prayer in the passion narrative, the contrast is striking. In Gethsemane Jesus repeats three times this prayer in which we feel his intimacy with God: "Abba (Father), everything is possible for you: take this cup away from me" (Mk 14:35-36). Now this cup has not been taken away, and Jesus must drink it to the dregs, and in his prayer he no longer expresses this former intimacy with the word: Father, but simply says : God, in the manner of all human beings. The fact that we see a reference to Psalm 22:2 is not to explain the use of the word God here, because the evangelist does not introduce this word as a citation. To add to the drama of this word, Mark first presents it in Aramaic, the very language of Jesus: Elōi, lama sabachthani, thus giving the impression of an authentic word. This extremely pessimistic pathos of Jesus' prayer is supported by the epistle to the Hebrews (4:14-16; 5:7-10): "It was he who in the days of his flesh, with loud cries and tears, made supplications and pleas to Him who could save him from death" (5:7).

        • To be transparent, it should be noted that such an interpretation has received much opposition from the Fathers of the Church, contemporary biblical scholars and preachers. This opposition stems from a confusion between what the evangelist proposes and what the historical Jesus may have experienced. Let us summarize these different points of view.

          • First resistance to this interpretation comes from the refusal of the obviousness of the meaning of the words, so that Jesus would identify himself here with sinners and express their point of view, and in this sense we would be faced with the explosion of a suffering love. Another way of refusing the plain meaning of words is to try to harmonise this sentence with Luke's one in which Jesus places his spirit into the hands of his father, relying on the fact that the Semitic verb šbq or ’zb, which usually means to forsake, can also mean to leave a legacy, to hand over.

          • Others reject this interpretation on the grounds that it would be tantamount to denying the divinity of Jesus: for Jesus would be expressing despair at God's salvation, which is considered a major sin, and thus in contraction to the assertion in several New Testament passages that Jesus committed no sin. All this shows a misunderstanding of Mark, for there is nothing in him to suggest that Jesus despaired of God's intervention; on the contrary, the scene ends with the centurion's confession. The point is rather that Jesus is deeply discouraged at the end of this great battle he is waging against evil, for in spite of his complete submission to God's will, he finds himself without support and alienated from everyone.

          • Some biblical scholars find that such an interpretation contrasts with Jesus' unfailing communion with God expressed, among other things, in John: "But I am not alone: the Father is with me.... I have overcome the world" (16:32-33). In Luke, Jesus announces to the wrongdoer that he will be in paradise with him today. But these biblical scholars make the mistake of confusing the portrait of Mark, followed by Matthew, with that of the other evangelists. They also make the mistake of imagining that the seven words attributed to Christ on the cross are historical, and therefore, of course, Jesus cannot contradict himself. But if we read Mark's Gospel as he wrote it, at the cross Jesus' soul is low, in a deep sense of despondency, and if God exercises his power, it is only after his death. This interpretation is confirmed by the very fact that Luke refuses to take up this scene he receives from Mark as it is.

          • The most frequent objection to this interpretation rests on the presence here of Psalm 22, whose first verses are an almost desperate appeal to God, but ends with these words: "You who fear the Lord, praise him! All you offspring of Jacob, glorify him; stand in awe of him, all you offspring of Israel! For he did not despise or abhor the affliction of the afflicted; he did not hide his face from me, but heard when I cried to him. " (25-26). According to some biblical scholars, these words of Jesus must be interpreted in the context of the whole psalm, and thus include the joyful end. While this principle may be valid on some occasions, it is not always valid. And applied here, it would make us say the exact opposite of the portrait the evangelist proposes to us. But Mark has accustomed us to introduce biblical references limited only to the points under consideration, especially with Psalm 22 (see Ps 15: If one wanted to use the whole psalm and its happy ending, one could only say that on the one hand, despite his despondency, Mark's Jesus did not completely lose hope in God, and on the other hand, having relied on God all his life, Jesus experiences for the first time a lack of response from God.

            In conclusion, there is no decisive argument for refusing a literal interpretation of Jesus' sense of abandonment. The Jesus who began his prayer with Abba "daddy" in Gethsemane now begins it with "God", as the most humble of servants, in a cry of protest at being abandoned, isolated and lonely.

      2. Wording of Jesus' Death Cry

        • Mark and Matthew first present us with a Greek transliteration of Semitic words, followed by a Greek translation. Let us compare what these words are in Hebrew, then in Aramaic, with the Semitic transliteration in Mark and Matthew, and finally with the version of codex Bezae.
          Hebrew (MT)′Ēlî, ′Ēlî, lāmâ ’ăzabtānî
          Aramaic′ Ělāhî, ′ Ělāhî, lěmâ′ šěbaqtanî
          MarkElōi, Elōi, lama sabachthani
          MatthewĒli, Ēli, lema sabachthani
          Codex BezaeĒlei, Ēlei, lama zaphthani

          A few remarks are in order:

          1. Clearly, the sabachthani of Mark and Matthew resembles the Aramaic šěbaqtanî rather than the Hebrew ’ăzabtānî
          2. Mark's Elōi is close to Aramaic ′Ělāhî, while Matthew's Ēli is more of an echo of Hebrew ′Ēlî.
          3. The lama of Mark looks like Hebrew lāmâ, while the lema of Matthew looks like Aramaic lěmâ′.

          What can we conclude? Do we have in Mark and Matthew a Hebrew-Aramaic mixture? It is necessary to know two things.

          1. As in any language, there was a dialect of Hebrew and Aramaic that diverged from the standard language. For example, Jesus probably spoke the Galilean Aramaic dialect. Thus it is quite possible that Matthew's Ēli was a form of spoken Aramaic, as attested by some Aramaic documents (′Ēl and ′Ělāh both referred to God).
          2. Transliteration of vowels and consonants was not an exact science. For example, the Hebrew shewa (the equivalent of our vowel "e") in lěmâ′ could be transliterated by the letter "e" or "a".

          In this context, Mark's text probably represents, not an Aramaic-Hebrew mixture, but a purely Aramaic text. And this would be in harmony with what he did throughout his Gospel, transliterating Aramaic words (talitha koum, ephphatha, hōsanna, abba, Golgotha, korban). As for Matthew, who was much more book-centred, it is more likely that he preferred the sacred language of Hebrew, as he did for the "Our Father" with the expression "Our Father (who is) in heaven", a traditional form in the synagogues. Finally, a word on the codex Bezae: the copyist tried to conform totally to Hebrew.

        • Let us now examine the Greek translation proposed for this transliteration.
          Septuagintho theos ho theos mou, prosches moi hina ti enkatelipes me
          Markho theos mou ho theos mou, eis ti enkatelipes me
          Matthewthee mou thee mou, hinati me enkatelipes
          Codex Bezaeho theos mou, ho theos mou, eis ti ōneidisas me
          GPethē dynamis mou, hē dynamis, kateleipsas me

          • The need to translate the Semitic expression meant that the audience no longer understood it. In analyzing Mark 14:36 ("Abba, Father"), we stated that this prayer may have been originally recited in Aramaic, then in Aramaic and Greek in mixed communities, and finally in Greek only. It is possible that we are facing the same phenomenon with Psalm 22.

          • The version of the Septuagint ("God, My God, attend to me, to what purpose have you forsaken me") represents a literal translation of the Hebrew text, except that it dropped the first pronoun (my) and inserted prosches moi (attend to me), to make it an insistent prayer.

          • Mark stays close to the Hebrew avoiding the peculiarities of the Septuagint.

          • Matthew follows Mark, but prefers the hina ti (for what purpose) of the Septuagint to the eis ti (to what reason) of Mark.

          • The Codex Bezae, for Mark's version only, has replaced enkatelipes (to forsake) with ōneidisas (to revile). Why did this happen? We know that Symmmachus the Ebionite (2nd c.) and Lucian of Samosate (2nd c.) translated the Semitic term ‛zb (abandon) by ōneidizein. On the theological level, the copyist was no doubt used to seeing Jesus presented as the one who was outraged (Rm 15:3, Heb 13:13), an image that was part of the collective Christian memory and that Mark has just used in 15:32b ("Even those who had been crucified together with him were reviling him"). In this perspectivie the copyist would understand Jesus to be asking: "My God, my God, why have you (allowed their having) mocked me?". And this would explain why he allowed Matthew to read, "Why have you forsaken me", as both questions are centered on why God allows these things.

      3. Rendition in GPet 5: 19

        • "My power, O power, you have forsaken me". This is how this non-canonical writing reports the last words of Jesus. When we try to understand the relationship of the Gospel of Peter with Mark/Matthew, three possibilities arise:
          1. GPet represents an original tradition that Mark/Matthew subsequently modified
          2. GPet is secondary and its author would have modified Mark/Matthew known as an oral tradition.
          3. GPet and Mark/Matthew are all based on a common primitive tradition.

        • Let's take a look at each of these possibilities in turn.
          1. There is nothing to support the hypothesis that GPet is an original tradition, later modified by Mark; on the contrary, we come up against insoluble questions: how can we explain that it is only with time that an Aramaic sentence was added, and that Jesus was presented within the framework of a low theology, i.e. a diminished man, whereas in the beginning he was presented as the Lord?

          2. With this hypothesis, without having in his hands the texts themselves of Mark and Matthew, the author of GPet would know this tradition, as the sequence of events which largely follows that of Mark testifies. Even if he uses the word kataleipein (to forsake) rather than egkataleipei, this word has the same meaning. However, he disagrees on two points: instead of a question, it is a statement: "You have forsaken me!" and, above all, instead of "My God, my God", it is "My power, O my power". The first discrepancy is not significant, and only shows a less strict attitude in quoting Scripture. The second discrepancy can be explained within the framework of the high theology of this Gospel, where Jesus is called Lord, and therefore would be an initiative of the author to recognize that the power that enabled Jesus to perform miracles has simply deserted him.

          3. As Psalm 22 has been associated with Jesus' death, it is possible that several traditions may have developed around this psalm. In particular, the Hebrew word for God: ′Ēl, is derived from the root ′wl (′yl) which is the source of many words around the notion of strength (Proverbs 3:27: "Do not withhold a blessing from those who are entitled to it when it is in your power to do so"; Micah 2:1: "As soon as it shines in the morning, they will do it, for it is in the power of their hands". Thus the word ′ēlî in Psalm 22:2 could have been read to mean "My strong one" or "My strength". Then the power of Jesus that would have accompanied him all his life would have finally deserted him. And so we would have an echo of how Jesus' last words were understood in popular circles in the second century.

      4. Elijah and the Offering of Vinegary Wine

        • Mark and Matthew are the only ones to introduce here a reference to Elijah in the context of Jesus' last words and where Jesus is given to drink. Let us first recall that the offer of vinegary wine is a reference to Psalm 69:22
          And they gave for my bread gall,
          and for my thirst they gave me to drink vinegar
          John 19:28-30 probably has in mind this psalm with Jesus' "I thirst" and, after drinking, his "All things are finished", fulfilling Scripture. This is less clear in Luke, as it is the Roman soldiers who offer him a drink. In any case, offering this cheap wine was a form of mockery (this aspect is less clear in John).

        • From these observations, we can try to reconstruct the evolution of the tradition about the crucifixion of Jesus. Very early on, a reference to the offering of vinegary wine was preserved, as it showed that Jesus, shortly before dying, was mocked as the suffering righteous man in Ps 69:22. This account may have had an independent course, as is shown in this excerpt from the Hymns of Qumran where liars, after persecuting the righteous man, drink vinegary wine (1QH 4:10-11). Strangely enough, this account was later associated with an eschatological reference to Elijah, an association that Mark himself may not have fully understood. While Matthew follows Mark in this way, Luke for his part eliminated this Elijah-related component and set the scene earlier. The author of GPet did the same thing. As for John, he does not seem to know this tradition about Elijah (unless he too has eliminated it).

        • The scene where someone hastens to give Jesus a drink would not be a problem, if Mark had not associated it with the words of Jesus: "Elōi, Elōi, lama sabachthani...". First of all, what is the connection between Elijah and Elōi? Second, why does a reference to Elijah cause someone to run for vinegary wine?

          1. Three names are present: Mark's Elōi (God), Matthew's Ēli (God), and Ēlias, the name of the prophet Elijah in Greek. Some biblical scholars have wondered how listeners whose language is Aramaic could react to Mark's Elōi, when they knew that the name for God should have been ′Ělāhî, and how could they understand that it is confused with the name Elijah, which in Aramaic is ′Ělîyāhû (or ′Ělîyâ for short)? But this is a false problem, because Mark's audience did not know the Semitic languages. For someone who spoke only Greek, it was plausible that the Semitic name for the prophet Elijah could be confused with the exotic word: Elōi. Matthew, on the other hand, who probably knew both Aramaic and Hebrew, saw the problem, and therefore hastened to change Elōi to Ēli, a traditional Hebrew word for God, and more likely to be confused with ′Ělîyâ, the short name of the prophet Elijah.

            But the question remains: why this reference to the Prophet Elijah? Remember that the theme of the return of the prophet Elijah is part of the Gospel of Mark. First of all, in popular tradition, the return of Elijah was expected at the end of time, he who had flown to heaven on a chariot and was to return: "Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and dreadful Day of the Lord comes" (Malachi 3:23). Now Mark presents the last moments of Jesus as an apocalyptic period with the sun darkening, the loud cry and the veil of the sanctuary being torn. Of course, the reference to Elijah appears here as a misunderstanding. But it is exactly a similar context of misunderstanding about Elijah that Mark presented to us earlier, in the context of the transfiguration account (9:9-13) which refers to the last moments of Jesus, when Peter says, "Why do the scribes say that Elijah must come first?" and Jesus replies, "Elijah has already come and they have treated him as they pleased," referring to John the Baptist; thus the misunderstanding will continue until the end, and will become a scene of mockery.

          2. How can we associate the offer of vinegary wine with Elijah? We have already shown that the offering of vinegary wine is an echo of Ps 69:22 and is presented as a gesture of the enemies to the righteous. For Mark, it is a gesture of mockery. But the description of Mark presents enormous difficulties. First of all, vinegary wine was the drink of soldiers (in Lk 23:36, a soldier offers this drink), but Mark simply says: someone, without him being a soldier. But above all, this person, arriving at the cross with the drink, says: "Aphete (leave), let us see if Elijah comes to take him down". So it seems to offer a reason to give Jesus a drink. Technically, aphete means: let him be (leave him alone). But whom is the "someone" addressing, asking not to intervene, since he seems to be the only actor in the scene? Are we to assume that the crowd of onlookers wanted Jesus to die as soon as possible, and that the gesture of offering him vinegary wine to prolong his life and give Elijah time to come was perceived as a hostile gesture? Or should aphete rather be translated as : "let us see", and express the embarrassment of someone who, wanting to avoid being seen as a gesture of compassion, would hasten to point out that he is as sceptical as all the onlookers and only wants to prolong the mockery?

            As usual, Matthew saw the problem and hastened to clarify Mark's sentence. As we saw earlier, he replaced Elōi by Ēli to make the confusion with the prophet Elijah more plausible. Then he clarifies that this "someone" who runs around looking for vinegary wine comes from the crowd of onlookers (and therefore is not a Roman soldier). Finally, those who speak are the "others" who clearly refuse the initiative of the one who went to fetch the vinegary wine. In this context, aphete means: leave him (Jesus) alone, because we want him to die as soon as possible.

    3. Jesus' Death Cry in Luke 23: 46

      • "And having cried out (phōnein) with a loud cry, Jesus said: 'Father, into your hands I place my spirit'". Luke introduces two major modifications to the text of Mark.
        1. For Luke, Mark's word, boan (to scream), is too violent, and he prefers phōnein (to cry out, make his voice heard, call). And to Psalm 22:2, which appears as a cry of despair, he prefers Psalm 31:6 (LXX "Into your hands I shall place (paratithenai) my spirit; you have redeemed me, O Lord, God of truth"). It is almost literally that he quotes the Septuagint version of Psalm 31, except that Luke changes the future of paratithenai (I shall place) to the present (I place), and he replaces "Lord, God of truth" with "Father". Thus Luke replaces the desperate cry of Psalm 22 with the trusting attitude of Psalm 31. As for the spirit, for Luke it is not simply a component of the human being, it is the whole being, and not only the whole being, but also what he received at his baptism, the Holy Spirit, so that his whole life and his whole mission return to their point of origin.

        2. Moreover, by putting the word "Father" in Jesus' prayer, Luke not only departs from the alienation of Mark's Jesus who only says "God" in his prayer, but he makes an inclusion with the child Jesus who says, "Did you not know that I must be in my Father's house" (2:49), with Jesus in Gethsemane who says, "Father, if you desire, take away this cup from me" (22:42). Throughout the Passion, Jesus addresses God as a father. For Luke, Jesus is a model for all those who must face death, as he will demonstrate through the martyrdom of Stephen who will say: "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit" (Acts 7:59).

    4. Jesus' Last Words and the Wine Offering in John 19: 28-30a

      1. "After this, Jesus having known that already all was finished" (19: 28a)

        • "having known". The expression is curious, as if there had been an event that brought Jesus to the awareness of something. But John's Jesus does not have to learn from events, for he learned everything from his Father. The expression "having known" also appears in 13:1 ("Jesus, having known that his hour had come to pass from this world to the Father"): knowledge is forward-looking, and therefore refers to the fact that Jesus is able to situate what he is experiencing in the whole context of his mission. The expression "having known" was also present at the time of the arrest in Gethsemane (18:4). Thus, at the crucial moments of Jesus' life, the evangelist wants to assure his audience that Jesus was in full control of the situation.

        • "all (panta) was finished". Panta is here a plural and neutral word, and refers to all that God gave to Jesus (3:35: "The Father loves the Son and has given all (panta) into his hand"). Here, in the context of the preceding scene, i.e., the mother of Jesus and the beloved disciple who begins the new community of faith, the "all" is this new community.

        • "was finished (telein)". This is the first time this verb appears in John, and it will only appear once more at the end of the verse. Nevertheless, we can attribute to it the same meaning it has in the other Gospels, that of fulfilling the Scriptures. John gives us several examples: "As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up" (3:14); "the good shepherd lays down his life for his sheep" (10:11), which is an echo of Isaiah 53:10 ("if he lays down his life as an atoning sacrifice"). In short, the "all was finished" refers to the above when the new community begins, as well as to what is about to happen, the gift of one's life.

      2. "In order that (hina) the Scripture be completed (teleioun), (he) says, 'I thirst,'" (19: 28b)

        • Even if the verb teleioun is applied here for the first time by John to Scripture (previously he preferred plēroun, "to bring to its fullness"), it would nevertheless come from his pen, and not from an earlier tradition, for the following reasons.
          1. Teleioun expresses the idea of reaching a target, and thus the fact that fulfilling Scripture is part of the completion of the mission that was entrusted to Jesus
          2. Teleioun was used earlier by John to describe Jesus' mission to complete the Christological task entrusted to him by the Father (4:34; 5:36; 17:4)
          3. Teleioun is here more appropriate than plēroun in the context of this particular reference to Scripture, as it is about the final completion, term or end of the mission.

        • "In order that (hina)". Grammatically, we have here an example where the final proposition precedes the main proposition, i.e. the completion of Scripture is related to Jesus' "I thirst". Because of the scene that follows where Jesus is given a drink, some have seen it as a reference to Psalm 69:22, as in Mark/Matthew or Luke. But we forget that in John it is not a scene of mockery. On the other hand, the ancient tradition he shares with Mark probably contained a reference to Psalm 22:2 ("My God, my God, for what reason have you forsaken me?"): while Mark makes him play a central role, John cannot accept it as such in the name of a Christology where Jesus remains in control and has already said: "I am never alone, the Father is with me" (16:32). While keeping the reference to Psalm 22, it is possible that John preferred another verse: "Dried up like baked clay is my strength (or throat); my tongue cleaves to my jaws; You have brought me down to the dust of death" (v. 16). Thus, by saying "I thirst", Jesus would deliberately accomplish the situation envisaged by the psalm. And so it is he who provokes the action of giving him something to drink. And in a symbolic way, Jesus accomplishes what he has already said: "The cup which the Father has given me, shall I not drink it?" (18: 11).

      3. Offering of Vinegary Wine on Hyssop (19: 29)

        • "A jar was there laden with vinegary wine. So, putting on hyssop a sponge laden with the vinegary wine, they brought it forward to his mouth". This scene is different from that of Mark, followed by Matthew, where the vinegary wine, obtained somehow, is put by an onlooker on a sponge at the end of a reed, found somehow, in the context of mocking to see if Elijah will come. This scene is also different from the one in Luke where it is the Roman soldiers who give Jesus a drink: it was normal for Roman soldiers to have vinegary wine with them, and without Luke specifying it, we can imagine that they used one of their spears to hold the sponge towards Jesus' mouth. John clearly specifies that there was a jar full of vinegary wine there. The word "they" refers to who? The context points to the Roman soldiers. Note that there is no reference to Elijah, and therefore no reference to mockery of any kind: if they give a drink, it is because Jesus asked for it.

        • But one thing is surprising: it is no longer a reed that bears the sponge, but a hyssop. How can we explain this? Hyssop is a perennial shrub of the Lamiaceae (Labiaceae) family, like mint and thyme. But the European hyssop (Hyssopus officinalis L.) does not grow in Palestine. Biblical hyssop (in Hebrew ′ēzob, in Greek hyssōpos) does not always refer to the same plant: it can describe a bushy plant that grows in the cracks of stone walls (1 Kings 4:33), or this plant associated with the Jewish Passover and which can reach a yard in height, with very wide, absorbent stems and branches that were used for sprinkling rites (Leviticus 14:4-7). No biblical account suggests that this hyssop could support the weight of a soaked sponge. Several biblical scholars have proposed various hypotheses to solve this difficulty.

        • On balance, the best solution is to accept that John is really referring to hyssop despite the fragility of the plant. For Exodus 12:22 mentions that it is hyssop that is to be used to sprinkle the uprights of the houses with the blood of the paschal lamb. The Letter to the Hebrews (9:18-20) echoes this to describe how the death of Jesus ratified the New Covenant, just as Moses used hyssop soaked in the blood of animals to seal the first covenant. It is probably in this direction that we must look to understand John's use of hyssop. Moreover, he mentions that it was at noon hour that Jesus was judged, when they began to sacrifice the lambs in the temple for the Passover, just as he mentions that Jesus' legs were not broken, just as the bones of the Passover lamb were not to be broken (Exodus 12:10), just as John the Baptist introduced him : "Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world" (1:29).

      4. "So when he took the vinegary wine, Jesus said, 'It is finished'" (19: 30a)

        • Those are Jesus' last words in John. To highlight this passage, let us compare it with the Synoptics. In Mark, followed by Matthew, the last words come from Ps 22:2: "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?". They express the deep feeling of abandonment, even if this saga ends with the triumph expressed by the centurion's confession. Luke prefers to resort to Ps 31:6 ("Father, into your hands I place my spirit"), in line with his presentation of Jesus as a compassionate and indulgent being, who was surprised that his parents did not understand that he should be in his Father's house (2:49), constantly in prayer and who now entrusts himself to the Father. In John, it is a Jesus who deliberately drinks the cup given to him by the Father, assuming the role of the paschal lamb, sprinkled with hyssop. When he says: "It is finished", it is after having said: "I thirst", so that the act of drinking and saying: "It is finished", together form a single affirmation: having drunk the cup, he has just finished his mission.

    5. The Death of Jesus in All the Gospels

      The accounts of the Gospels are very laconic.

      Mark 15: 37But Jesus, having let go (aphienai) a loud cry, expired (ekpnein)
      Matthew 27: 50But Jesus, again having shouted (krazein) with a loud cry, let go(aphienai) the spirit
      Luke 23: 46bBut having said this, he expired
      John 19: 30bAnd having bowed his head, he gave over the spirit
      GPet 5: 19bAnd having said this, he was taken up (analambanein).

      The sentence consists of two parts: an introductory proposition in the form of a past participle, followed by a verb that describes death.

      1. The Introductory Clause

        • According to Mark, Jesus screamed with a loud cry. It is above all a description of an eschatological moment, and not simply the memory of a fact. This loud cry appears twice ("he screamed with a loud cry" v. 34 and "having let go a loud cry" v. 37), a doublet that the evangelist is fond of: but when we look closely, we have the impression that the second cry only repeats and ends the first cry, interrupted by the reference to Psalm 22 and the scene of mockery, so that v. 37 could be translated: having let go this loud cry, expired; there would have been only one loud cry in Jesus in Mark's Gospel.

        • Matthew adds "again" (palin). So, for him, there really is a second cry. His verb "to shout" (krazein) is probably taken from Ps 22:3 ("My God, by day I shout (krazein) to you and you do not answer, by night there is no silence for me"). We find ourselves in the same abyss of feeling abandoned that we find in Mark.

        • It is not clear to Luke whether he considers one or two cries in Mark's Gospel. In any case, in his desire to avoid any doublet and to clarify things, he simply refers to the first cry by writing: "having said this".

        • John is unique in writing: "and having bowed his head". Spontaneously, one would think that he intended to express Jesus' exhaustion in this way. But that would be to ignore the dynamic of John's Jesus who does not need help to carry his cross. Let us remember that he is surrounded by his mother and the beloved disciple. Since Jesus "transmits the spirit" by dying, does not the gesture of bowing his head mean to give direction to what he is giving to those around him?

      2. Description of the Death

        • In the Greek language, the usual verbs to describe the act of dying are: apothnēskein and teleutan. However, no evangelist uses them. Mark and Luke write: ekpnein (to breathe out). We note that this verb is a euphemism for "to die" in Sophocles, Plutarch and Josephus, as it is in the literal English rendition "expire", with the idea of giving up one's last breath. It would therefore be a rather neutral description of Jesus' death in Mark and Luke.

        • Matthew, with his "let go (aphienai) the spirit", could give the impression of saying much more than Mark does by alluding to the Holy Spirit. However, the verb aphienai followed by psychē (soul, spirit, life) appears in the Septuagint (see Genesis 35:18; 1 Ezra 4:21; Sirach 38:23; Wisdom 16:14) to describe the act of dying in a neutral way. Therefore, all Matthew hears is that Jesus let go his life force or his last breath, a resigned act in which he ceased to resist.

        • With its "he was taken up (analambanein)", the apocryphal Gospel of Peter departs from the canonical Gospels. There are two ways of interpreting this sentence. The first is to see it as primitive theology where Jesus would have ascended to heaven directly from the cross; this does not prevent faith in the resurrection and the ascension, for in dying Jesus is out of time. But it would be surprising if this apocryphal Gospel were so subtle. The second interpretation is simply to see it as a euphemism for the act of dying, as today we can say to a child about death: "your grandmother went to heaven". In this case, the Gospel of Peter, like that of Matthew, has simply found a graceful way to describe the death of Jesus.

        • In John we have: "he gave over (paradidonai) the spirit". In order to understand this phrase, we must keep in mind the whole of his Gospel, especially 7:39: "Jesus spoke of the Spirit which was to be given to those who believed in him". Now around him on the cross stands the embryo of the believing community with his mother and the beloved disciple. Would it not be normal, then, that they should be the first to receive the Holy Spirit? Some biblical scholars have objected to this interpretation on the grounds that everywhere else in the New Testament it is only the risen Jesus who gives the Holy Spirit. The other objection that has been raised relates to the fact that John himself places the gift of the Holy Spirit on Easter Sunday. To these two objections, the answer must be given as follows:

          1. For John, at the cross, Jesus is already lifted up from the earth and is already glorified by passing from this world to his Father (see 13:1; 17:11); he already enjoys the status that the other Gospels attribute to the risen Jesus.

          2. John made a habit of mixing what he receives from tradition and the great Church around the Twelve with the particular tradition of his community around the beloved disciple. Thus, in 20:19-23 he presents us with the tradition of Easter shared by the other Gospels, but here around the cross, he puts forward his own tradition on the first fruits of the Johannine community, his mother and the beloved disciple, who were the first to receive the Holy Spirit (just as the beloved disciple was the first to believe, long before Peter).

          In short, John hears us say that when Jesus bowed his head to those who were with him around the cross, i.e. the believers who were considered the ancestors of the Johannine community, he imparted the Holy Spirit to them.

  3. Analysis

    1. Theories of How Mark Mark 15: 33-37 Was Composed

      • Well before Mark wrote his Gospel around year 67, there would have been two independent traditions
        1. A tradition about the cry of Jesus combined with the offering of vinegary wine, a tradition full of scriptural references: Ps 22:2 where the righteous man brings up his complaint to God, Ps 69:22 where the righteous man is mocked by offering him vinegary wine.
        2. A tradition of mockery around the figure of Elijah who, according to Malachi 3:23, was to return at the end of time.

        It was Mark himself, or perhaps a tradition before him, who somehow combined these two traditions into one story, so that the offering of wine became a scene of mockery.

      • The apocryphal Gospel of Peter is not a correction of Mark, but rather seems to draw on a tradition that Mark also knew. Luke, on the other hand, tries to improve Mark's account by eliminating the bizarre reference to Elijah and by grouping the mocking scenes earlier, while at the same time modifying Jesus' cry to make it conform to his theology of the passion, a great prayer of trust in God. Finally, John seems to completely ignore the tradition on Elijah and uses the tradition on Ps 22 in a different way to pick up the theme of thirst, which gives full meaning to the offer of vinegary wine, before ending with a scene where Jesus, in full control, signals that his mission is over and that Scripture has been completed.

    2. The Last Words of Jesus: Oldest Tradition and/or Historicity

      • The citation of Ps 22:2 in the form of "Elōi, Elōi, lama sabachthani" could appear to be the oldest tradition on the last words of Jesus. In itself it is not historically inconceivable that a Jesus tortured by his sufferings would use this psalm to express his condition of despondency as a righteous sufferer. But what are the chances that it is historical?

        1. The fact that it is in Aramaic is not a guarantee of historicity, because the first Christian communities, who spoke Aramaic, composed many prayers in Aramaic (see the Maranatha of 1 Cor 16:22) and also used to put certain prayers in the mouth of Jesus, as Acts 2:27 shows.

        2. The fact that Ps 22:2 would express well a situation Jesus' went through is not an argument, as evangelists rarely enter into the world of Jesus' personal feelings.

        3. The observation that Luke and John felt free not to use Ps 22:2 gives us an indication that it did not represent the very words of Jesus.

        4. The argument that Christians would never have dared to put an expression of despair in Jesus' mouth does not hold water, for on the one hand it is not an expression of despair in the strict sense, and on the other hand no Christian would have considered it blasphemous to put a psalm in Jesus' mouth.

      • If the original tradition on the last words of Jesus did not contain Ps 22:2, what led Mark, or the tradition he uses, to insert the reference to this psalm? When we examine the earliest formulations of the Christian faith, we note that Jesus' death was understood very early in reference to Scripture ("Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures", 1 Cor 15:3), and this Scripture certainly includes Ps 22. The latter was also suitable for Mark to translate his dark vision of the passion. But having said that, can we say anything about Jesus' last moments? There are three possibilities.

        1. The first possibility is that of silence: from his crucifixion until his death, Jesus would not have said a single word. This in itself is not inconceivable and would reflect the image of the suffering servant of Is 53:7 who did not open his mouth while being taken to the slaughterhouse. But this would run counter to what the four Gospels affirm without exception.

        2. The second possibility is that of a cry without words. That Jesus uttered a loud cry is attested by the Synoptics and the Gospel of Peter. And Mark/Matthew speak of the last cry as being without words. Would we not have here the oldest echo of Christian memory before later reflection on Psalm 22? This is what the letter to Hebrews 5:7 seems to propose ("It is he who in the days of his flesh, having presented, with violent clamor and tears..."). However, it is not because someone is weakened and suffering that he cannot say something, if only in the form of an exclamation.

        3. A third possibility would be that of a simple word or rudimentary words. One hypothesis proposed by biblical scholars is that Jesus would have said in Hebrew: ′Ēlî ′attā’ (You are my God), found four times in the Psalter (22:11; 63:2; 118:28; 140:7) and in Is 44:17. In this case, onlookers around the cross would have thought he was speaking Aramaic: ′Ēlîyā′ tā′ (Elijah, come). Subsequently, the words for transliterating the Hebrew words into Greek would have caused confusion, leading to the quotation from Ps 22:2. This would explain why Mark uses a psalm where precisely ′Ēlî (v. 2) and ′attā’ (v. 3) appear. Other biblical scholars have proposed the shorter form ′Ēlî (my God), which could also explain the confusion with Elijah. Either form has the advantage of providing a basis for an ancient tradition, while at the same time agreeing with the Gospels where Jesus said something before he died.

    3. The Physiological Cause of the Death of Jesus

      • If no vital organs were pierced at the crucifixion, how did Jesus die? Too brief a description of the Gospels is of no use. Many medical specialists have gone into the Gospels with their explanations. Their great mistake is to assume that the Gospel description tries to stick to what exactly happened, and to forget their catechetical and theological purpose. Nevertheless, let us summarize two great theories of these medical specialists.

        1. The first theory comes from Doctor J.C. Stroud (The Physical Cause of the Death of Christ, 1871). According to him, Jesus died from a violent rupture of the heart. After the hemorrhage spread into the pericardial sac, clots formed, separating the blood from the serum. As the spear pierced the pericardial sac, it released two substances that appeared as blood and water. This hypothesis has been invalidated by medical advances which have shown that a pericardial rupture does not occur due to mental agony, but presupposes certain conditions of the heart muscle. In addition, blood clotting takes longer to clot.

        2. The second theory proposes death by suffocation. Its most illustrious advocate is the French surgeon Pierre Barbet (1884-1961), a Catholic physician, who devoted much of his career to trying to explain the causes of death by crucifixion and to demonstrate the authenticity of the Shroud of Turin (A Doctor at Calvary). Based on the testimony of World War I soldiers who were tied alive to a pole, he notes that the crucified man had to transfer his weight from one leg to the other, before collapsing completely exhausted, as the muscles of the rib cage became too weak to function, causing the lungs to fill with carbon dioxide. The result was asphyxiation. As for the spear that John talks about, it would have entered at the top of the 5th rib, piercing the right little auricle of the heart (which still contains blood) and the pericardium (whose serum appears as water).

      • Unfortunately, both theories use elements of the story offered by the evangelists, whereas the evangelists probably knew nothing about this type of death. It would be better to study how, in general, a crucified person dies. This is what F. T. Zugibe did (Two Questions About Crucifision. Does the Victim Die of Asphyxia? Would Nails in the Hand Hold the Weight of the Body?). From his experiments, he concluded that it is only the shock of dehydration and blood loss that can cause the death of a crucified person.

    4. Imaginative Rewriting That Nullifies the Crucifixion

      In closing, we could go through some of the denial theories that simply deny that the crucifixion took place.

      1. Confusion theory.

        There are several variations.

        • In the second century, in the Gnostic circles where Basilides was circulating, it was believed that Jesus had not suffered, but it was Simon of Cyrene who would have been crucified in his place.

        • In the same vein, in the Syriac communities of the region of Edessa, Thomas, called twin (Jn 11:16; 20:24; 21:2), was identified with Jude, the brother of Jesus (Mk 6:3; Mt 13:55). And so it is the twin who would have been crucified in Jesus' place, in a moment of confusion.

        • In Gnostic circles, Cerinth (1st c.) would have made a distinction between the earthly Jesus and the heavenly Christ, in such a way that the Christ would have entered into Jesus at baptism, and would have left him at the end.

        • The Koran (4.156-157) criticizes the Jews for saying that they crucified the Messiah, because Mohammed, who probably knew Christianity through the heterodox currents of Syria, adhered to the theory that someone else would have died in Jesus' place.

        In short, according to this theory Jesus did not experience the sufferings of the crucifixion, and it is another who suffered in his place.

      2. Conspiracy Theory

        There would be two major variations around this theory.

        • The first variation is transmitted by Abdel al Jabbar Ibn Ahmad, a Muslim theologian (935 - 1025) who defended Islam against Christianity, drawing on the ideas of a fifth-century Judeo-Christian sect for whom Judas, in embracing the man he was handing over to the authorities, deliberately pointed to the wrong person, demonstrating that Muhammad was right to maintain that Jesus had not known the sufferings of crucifixion.

        • The second variation puts the blame on Jesus himself for deceiving everyone. By agreeing to drink the vinegary wine that was offered to him (John 19:30), Jesus would have taken a narcotic that would have allowed him to be considered dead, and then to come back to life after his executioners had left. Various versions of this drink have been proposed, one based on mōrion, a plant for making magic potions from mandrake, another based on a poison that Jesus vomited in time in the tomb, with the help of Simon the Magician who poured a juice made of aloe and myrrh down his throat.

      All this is the pure product of the imagination.

Next chapter: Jesus Crucified, Part Four: Happenings after Jesus' Death: a. External Effects

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