Previously, I’ve written about the historicity of Jesus, and mentioned how the most recent analysis, in Richard Carrier’s On the Historicity of Jesus (the first comprehensive, academically published, and formally peer-reviewed book written on the subject), showed that it was in fact very unlikely that Jesus Christ ever existed as a historical person, but rather likely began as a celestial deity who was later euhemerized, that is, placed into history as if he were a real person. As a part of Carrier’s comprehensive analysis, he analyzed the Gospels, and thoroughly demonstrated (as many other scholars have before him, though to varying degrees) that the Gospels are quite obviously mythical allegorical fictions, and thus can not be used as evidence to support the historicity of Jesus. As a former Christian, I never analyzed the Gospels from a literary or historical-critical perspective, as this wasn’t particularly relevant nor entirely feasible with my faith-based assumption that I was reading an “inerrant book inspired by God” supposedly based on nothing but true history. As a result, I never gave it much thought, nor realized just how much literary invention there was. In some cases, the care and thought taken to write these narratives is nothing short of brilliant. I wanted to share some of the content and literary devices discovered not only to illustrate that the Gospels are demonstrably mythical allegorical fictions, but also because I thought some of the literary devices used were impressive feats in themselves which I believe deserve recognition. I’ll be discussing a few of these elements found within the Gospels, as mentioned (though in greater detail) by Carrier in his comprehensive analysis. I’ve decided to split this into a series of four posts, one for each Gospel.
First of all, before even identifying or examining these literary constructs, allegories, and prospective elements of myth, we can already see by reading the Gospels that they fail to show any substantive content of being actual researched histories. Nowhere in the Gospels do they ever name their sources of information, nor do they read as eye witness testimonies (nor do they identify themselves as such), nor is it mentioned why any sources used would be accurate to rely upon. The authors never discuss any historical method used, nor do they acknowledge how some contents may be less accurate than others, nor do they mention alternate possibilities of the events given the limited information they had from their sources. They never express amazement or any degree of rational skepticism no matter how implausible an event within the story may be — something we would expect from any rational historian (even one living in antiquity). The authors never explain why they changed what their sources said, nor do they even acknowledge that they did such a thing in the first place — despite the fact that Matthew and Luke clearly relied on Mark as a source (as did John, though less obviously so), for example, and then they all redacted Mark’s version as needed to serve their own literary and theological purposes (which explains some of the contradictions found between one Gospel and another). Instead, the Gospels appear to be fictional historical biographies, likely written by specially interested Christians whose intent was to edify Jesus, just like many other fictional historical biographies that were made for various heroes and sages in antiquity. In fact, all students of literary Greek (the authors of the Gospels wrote their manuscripts in literary Greek), commonly used this fictional biographical technique as a popular rhetorical device — where they were taught to invent narratives about famous and legendary people, as well as to build a symbolic or moral message within it, and where they were taught to make changes to traditional stories in order to make whatever point they desired within their own stories.
So we already have a bit of contemporary background information showing us that fictional biographies were commonplace at the time, and thus warrant caution when examining writings that may look like histories upon first glance. However, there are also certain things we should expect to find in writings that are laden with myth and allegory as opposed to history. We can’t simply try to categorize the writings as fitting within some particular genre, as myths have been written in any and all genres, even as historical biographies (as was just mentioned), for example Plutarch’s Life of Romulus. In fact, quite a large amount of ancient biography, even of real people, was composed of myth and fiction, and thus we are forced to actually examine the content in detail to determine whether or not it is more likely to be myth or history. Some characteristics of myth include (but are not necessarily limited to): potent and meaningful emulation of previous myths, or potent emulation of real events in some cases; the presence of historical improbabilities — which is not only limited to magic or miracles, but also natural events and human behaviors that are unrealistic as well as the presence of amazing coincidences; and also the absence of external corroboration of key (rather than peripheral) elements, since a myth often incorporates some real historical people and places that surround a central mythical character and story (just as we see in most fiction, e.g., though Dorothy’s home-state of Kansas is a real place, the primary setting, main characters, and story in The Wizard of Oz, including the Wizard of Oz himself, are fictional constructs). It should be noted that not all of these characteristics need be present simultaneously for a story to be myth, but the more that are, or the more instances of each type found, only increases the likelihood that what one is reading is in fact myth rather than history.
From a historical-critical perspective, the most important thing to note is that whenever there are elements of myth found in a story, the rest of the story can no longer be used as reliable historical evidence (concerning any of the more plausible events found within the same story), due to the principle of contamination — just as a court of law assumes that a personal testimony that contains claims of magic, miracles, amazing coincidences or other implausibilities occurring is highly suspect, unreliable, and therefore must be dismissed from the pool of evidence under consideration. So in the context of the Gospels, if they are in fact demonstrated to be filled with highly devised literary structures constituting elements of allegory and myth, though that fact isn’t in itself evidence against a historical Jesus, it means that the Gospels can no longer be used as evidence for a historical Jesus. Furthermore, if any mythic content found in the Gospels can be cross-examined with other examples of myth found in history, for example, if one demonstrates that there is a historically high probability that any person claimed to possess certain attributes (e.g. being born of a virgin) are usually non-historical people, then the Gospels can in fact be used as evidence against the historicity of Jesus (as opposed to them merely being unusable to support historicity). Before I begin, I want to mention that although the Gospels in the New Testament (NT) had anonymous authors, for the sake of simplicity, I will refer to the authors as Mark, Matthew, Luke, and John.
Beginning with the later story of Barabbas in Mark’s crucifixion narrative (Mark 15.6-15), Mark tells us:
“At the feast, Pilate used to release to them one prisoner of their choice. And there was one called Barabbas, chained up with those who’d engaged in rebellion, who in the insurrection had committed murder. The mob went up and began to ask him to do what he usually did for them. And Pilate answered them saying, ‘Do you want me to release to you the King of the Jews?’ For he realized the chief priests had seized [Jesus] out of jealousy. But the chief priests stirred up the mob, so he would release Barabbas to them instead. And Pilate again answered and said to them, ‘So what should I do about the one you call the King of the Jews?’ And they cried out again, ‘Crucify him!’ And Pilate, wishing to satisfy the mob, released to them Barabbas, and sent Jesus to be whipped and crucified.”
There are several elements in this passage alone that suggest it is surely myth, and not historical fact. For one, no Roman magistrate, let alone the infamously ruthless Pontius Pilate, would let a violent and murderous rebel go free, and most importantly, no such Roman ceremony (i.e. letting the mob choose to free a particular prisoner) is attested as ever having taken place, as we simply don’t have any Roman documentation or archeological artifact found thus far to support such a claim. Even more telling though, is the fact that this ceremony quite obviously emulates the Jewish Yom Kippur ritual, namely the scapegoat and atonement, and this apparent allegory takes place in a story that is itself about atonement (Jesus’ fundamental role as portrayed in Mark’s Gospel). Since there is quite a bit of evidence that the earliest Christians believed that Jesus’ death served to merge the sacrifices of the Passover and Yom Kippur, it is surely no coincidence that Mark appears to have done just that, by having Jesus be a Yom Kippur sacrifice during Passover.
Another interesting coincidence is the name Barabbas itself, an unusual name that means ‘Son of the Father’ in Aramaic, and Jesus is often portrayed as the ‘Son of the Father’ as well. So in this story we have two sons of the father; one released into the wild mob carrying the sins of Israel (such as murder and rebellion), effectively serving as an allegorical scapegoat (Barabbas), and the other sacrificed so his blood may atone for the sins of Israel (Jesus) — and we have one bearing the sins literally, and the other bearing the sins figuratively (just as we find in the Yom Kippur ceremony of Leviticus 16 in the Old Testament). We get further confirmation of this belief in the Epistle to the Hebrews (9-10), where we hear Jesus’ death described as the ultimate Yom Kippur atonement sacrifice. Interestingly enough, it is also implied in this part of Hebrews that Jesus’ death and resurrection would have taken place in the heavens, as that was where the most perfect atonement sacrifice would be made and where the most perfect holy temple would be for which to pour the blood of that sacrifice (another element supporting the contention that Jesus was initially believed to be a celestial deity rather than a historical person). So Mark here appears to be telling us through his own parable, to reject the sins of the Jews (notably violence and rebellion) and instead embrace the eternal salvation offered through the atonement sacrifice of Jesus Christ.
Additionally, in this story, Mark seems to be pointing out how the Jews are erroneously viewing Jesus as the scapegoat, where Jesus is scorned, beaten, spat upon, crowned and pierced, and dressed in scarlet, and though Barabbas is the actual scapegoat, the Jews mistakenly embrace him instead. So Mark seems to be portraying the Jews as acting completely blind to the situation and choosing their sins (i.e. Barabbas) rather than their salvation (i.e. Jesus). Finally, this story seems to suggest that the Jews have also chosen the wrong model for the expected messiah. Whereas Barabbas could be seen as the murderous revolutionary, in line with the common Jewish belief that the messiah was expected to be a kind of revolutionary military leader, Jesus on the other hand, exemplified the suffering servant model of the messiah (another Jewish messianic model, though arguably less popular than the former), and one that would circumvent any need for a military revolution by enacting a spiritual victory through his death instead. So the Jews appear to have chosen the type of messiah they want, rather than the type of messiah that God wants instead (or so Mark believes anyway). Furthermore, rather than using a random lottery (i.e. God) to choose which “goat” would serve as the scapegoat, and which would serve as the atonement, the Jews removed God from the equation and made the choice themselves. If one looks at all of these elements together, we can see just how brilliant Mark’s story is, having multiple allegorical layers weaved into one.
Only a few verses later, we read about the rest of the crucifixion narrative and find a link (a literary source) with the Book of Psalms in the Old Testament (OT):
Mark 15.24: “They part his garments among them, casting lots upon them.”
Psalm 22:18: “They part my garments among them, and cast lots upon them.”
Mark 15.29-31: “And those who passed by blasphemed him, shaking their heads and saying, ‘…Save yourself…’ and mocked him, saying ‘He who saved others cannot save himself!’ ”
Psalm 22.7-8: “All those who see me mock me and give me lip, shaking their head, saying ‘He expected the lord to protect him, so let the lord save him if he likes.’ ”
Mark 15.34: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
Psalm 22.1: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
On top of these links, Mark also appears to have used Psalm 69, Amos 8.9, and some elements of Isaiah 53, Zechariah 9-14, and Wisdom 2 as sources for his narratives. So we can see yet a few more elements of myth in the latter part of this Gospel, with Mark using other scriptural sources as needed for his story, whether to “fulfill” what he believed to be prophecy or for some other reason.
Earlier in Mark (chapter 5), we hear about another obviously fictional story about Jesus resurrecting a girl (the daughter of a man named Jairus) from the dead, this miracle serving as another obvious marker of myth, but adding to that implausibility is the fact that the tale is actually a rewrite of another mythical story, told of Elisha in 2 Kings 4.17-37 as found in the OT, and also the fact that there are a number of very improbable coincidences found within the story itself. In the story with Elisha, we hear of a woman from Shunem who seeks out the miracle-working Elisha, finds him, falls to his feet and begs him to help her son who had recently fallen gravely ill. Someone checks on her son and confirms that he is now dead, but Elisha doesn’t fret about this, and he goes into her house, works his miraculous magic, and raises him from the dead. In Mark’s version of the story (Mark 5.22-43), the same things occur. We hear about Jairus coming to look for Jesus, finds him, falls to his feet and begs him to help him with his daughter. Someone then comes to confirm that she is now dead, but Jesus (as Elisha) doesn’t fret, and he goes into his house, works his miraculous magic, and raises her from the dead.
As for some other notable coincidences, we see Mark reversing a few details in his version of the story. Instead of a woman begging for her son, it is a man begging for his daughter. While in 2 Kings, an unnamed woman comes from a named town (Shunem) which means “rest”, in Mark we have a named man coming from an unnamed town, and the man’s name (Jairus) means “awaken”. In Mark’s conclusion to this story (5.42), he mentions that “immediately they were amazed with great amazement”, and he appears to have borrowed this line from 2 Kings as well (4.13 as found in the Greek Septuagint version of 2 Kings), which says “You have been amazed by all this amazement for us”. It’s important to note that this verse from 2 Kings (as found in the Greek Septuagint), refers to an earlier encounter between the unnamed woman and Elisha where he was previously a guest in her home and this verse was what the woman had said to Elisha on that occasion. Then Elisha blesses her with a miraculous conception (as she was said to be a barren woman in 2 Kings). In fact, this miraculous conception was of the very son that Elisha would later resurrect from the dead. So to add to this use of 2 Kings we also have another reversal from Mark, reversing the placement of this reaction (double amazement) from the child’s miraculous conception (in 2 Kings) to the child’s miraculous resurrection (in Mark 5.42).
Another hint that Mark is writing historical fiction in his Gospel is the way he structures his narrative such that he can successfully accomplish certain literary goals rather than historical plausibility. One primary example of this is the ceaseless incomprehension of the disciples to what Jesus is saying and doing, where they are quite honestly dumber than can be reasonably believed. This archetype of the “dense lackeys” appears to be adapted either from Homer’s similarly unrealistic portrayal of Odysseus’ fickle and clueless crew, or the portrayal of the Jews in Exodus. Mark’s use of this type of literary device, requiring the invention of narrative material to make the structure work, thus allows him to accomplish a certain literary theme that wouldn’t have been possible otherwise.
The disciples also behave unrealistically in other ways, such as being gullible beyond belief. For example, in Mark 1.16-20, we read:
“As Jesus walked along the shore of Lake Galilee, he saw two fishermen, Simon and his brother Andrew, catching fish with a net. Jesus said to them, “Come with me, and I will teach you to catch people.” At once they left their nets and went with him. He went a little farther on and saw two other brothers, James and John, the sons of Zebedee. They were in their boat getting their nets ready. As soon as Jesus saw them, he called them; they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men and went with Jesus.”
So after one brief statement from Jesus, without even a second thought, these random fishermen simply dropped what they were doing and followed him? These fisherman didn’t have to be persuaded at all, even though they know nothing about this man, who Jesus is, or his reputation. They don’t bother making sure that their means of income and food (including their boat) are taken care of as they leave? Instead, they simply drop it all, leave it all, and go without question. This kind of behavior is incredibly improbable in real life, as people simply don’t act like this. However, in myth and (unrealist) fiction, it happens all the time.
Another way Mark develops this theme is through an elegant ring composition, another common literary device popular at the time (used in myth as well as in history). In the central part of Mark’s narrative (revolving around Jesus’ travel by sea), Mark carefully crafted nested cycles of themes specifically to convey an underlying message about faith and one’s ability (or lack thereof) to understand the gospel. Here is what the ring structure looks like:
Phase 1 (4.1-34) — Jesus with crowds by the sea (preaching from a boat)
Phase 2 (4.35-41) — Eventful crossing of the sea
Phase 3 (5.1-20) — Landing with healings/exorcisms
Interval 1: Step 1 (5.21-43) — First stop (after an uneventful boating)
Step 2 (6.1-6) — Second stop
Step 3 (6.6-29) — Going around
Phase 1 (6.30-44) — Jesus with crowds by the sea (with an uneventful boating)
Phase 2 (6.45-52) — Eventful crossing of the sea
Phase 3 (6.53-55) — Landing with healings/exorcisms
Interval 2: Step 1 (6.56-7.23) — Going around
Step 2 (7.24-30) — First stop
Step 3 (7.31-37) — Second stop
Phase 1 (8.1-12) — Jesus with crowds by the sea (with an uneventful boating)
Phase 2 (8.13-21) — Eventful crossing of the sea
Phase 3 (8.22-26) — Landing with healings/exorcisms
It’s really quite brilliantly crafted when you look at it: three triadically composed intervals, each of which contains one triadically composite minimal unit. Furthermore, every “Phase 1” in all cycles, takes place during the day and describes Jesus’ actions with crowds on one side of the sea. Every “Phase 2” occurs on the evening of that same day (though not stated explicitly in Cycle 3’s “Phase 2”, it is implied by what would have been a long sea crossing), and also describes actions between Jesus and the twelve disciples in the boat while in transit across the sea. Each “Phase 3” represents Jesus’ healing (and/or exorcising) of people who either come to him or that are brought to him following his arrival on the other side of the sea. Then there are other healings or exorcisms that are interspersed among the intervals that follow each “Phase 3”. Each cycle of this triad occupies one day, so the whole ring structure represents three days, ending with a resolution on the third day — all of which concludes by transitioning into a debate regarding who Jesus really is and what the gospel really is (Mark 8.27-9.1, which is the first time we hear Jesus speak about any of this himself).
Prior to this triad, Jesus had also journeyed to the sea and taught by the sea three times without embarking on a boat (Mark 1.16, 2.13, and 3.7), and then he embarks on a boat (Mark 4.1, and 3.9), and makes six journeys by boat, three eventful ones (each being a part of a three-phase cycle repeated three times) and three uneventful ones that constitute a looser pattern (Mark 5.21, 6.32, and 8.10). In between the three eventful sea journey cycles, we find two intervals where Jesus travels inland away from the sea of Galilee and back again, and these two journeys also share another triadic pattern: three land journeys in chiastic arrangement. The first one, from the shore to the house of Jairus (Mark 5.22), then another from the house of Jairus to the hometown of Jesus (Mark 6.1), and finally from the hometown of Jesus to circulating around the towns (Mark 6.6), thus completing “Interval 1”. Then the sequence is reversed, first circulating around the towns (Mark 6.56), followed by stopping at Tyre (Mark 7.24), and finally back to the shore (Mark 7.31), thus completing “Interval 2”. So the arrangement appears to be ABC : CBA.
In both intervals, the first stop is always at a house, and in each case involves women and children. Each circulating phase involves both the disciples and the authorities (Herod or the Pharisees). The second stop in each interval is also an inversion of the other. In the first case, in his hometown (a metaphor for Israel), “Those hearing him” are “astonished” and don’t believe in him (a metaphor for the Jews rejecting the gospel), while in the second case, in a foreign country among the gentiles, where he miraculously makes a man “hear” and the people are “astonished” in the exact opposite sense, saying he does everything well and proclaiming and spreading his fame everywhere. So in both cases, “they were amazed”, yet the first was negative amazement, and the second, positive amazement. As we can see, every unit of this narrative appears to serve the same purpose, a particular message about faith and the gospel, with the incomprehension of the disciples and rejection of Jesus by his neighbors and kin on the one hand, and the near instant faith of outsiders on the other hand, despite the fact that they don’t even understand it. We even see this cyclic triad beginning and ending with the theme of “seeing, hearing, understanding” (Mark 4.12 versus Mark 8.17-21), and it continually contrasts human expectations with the actual realities that Mark explains of the gospel.
Adding to this already brilliant triadic ring structure is another one interwoven within it: two matching sequences of five miracles each, interspersed with parables, preaching, and some general references to miracles. All of the narrated miracles in the triad form a well crafted sequential structure:
“Mastery of the Waters” (Stilling of the Storm) 4.35-41
“Exorcism of a Gentile Man” (The Gerasene Demoniac) 5.1-20
“Curing an Older Woman” (The Woman with a Hemorrhage) 5.25-34
“Curing of a Younger Woman” (Jairus’ Daughter) 5.21-23, 35-43
“Miraculous Feeding” (Feeding of the 5,000) 6.34-44, 53
“Mastery of the Waters” (Jesus Walks on the Sea) 6.45-51
“Exorcism of a Gentile Woman” (The Syrophoenician Woman) 7.24-30
“Curing of a Deaf Man with Spit” (The Deaf Mute) 7.32-37
“Miraculous Feeding” (Feeding of the 4,000) 8.1-10
“Curing a Blind Man with Spit” (The Blind Man of Bethsaida) 8.22-26
It should be noted that many miracle narratives of Jewish holy men, including Moses, exhibit a sequence of five miracles, and in fact the two sequences that Mark uses have notable correlations with the wilderness narrative of Moses (Exodus 13-17), thus suggesting another likely source that Mark used for his miracle sequences.
Another literary construct that Mark employs involves the way he structured the entire Gospel, basically into four different parts: The Discipling Narrative (Chapters 1-3), The Sea Narrative (as described before, chapters 4.1-8.26), The Road Narrative (Chapters 8.27-10), and The Passover Narrative (Chapters 11-16). While there is already a brilliant internal several-layer triadic ring structure in the Sea Narrative, there is yet another chiastic ring structure surrounding it, where the Discipling Narrative and Road Narrative mirror each other around the central Sea Narrative as follows:
A – Peripheral ministry begins (1.14-34)
B – People looking for Jesus to be healed (1.35-38), but Jesus says he needs to teach more people.
C – Jesus ventures out (“throughout all Galilee”; 1.39-45)
D – Jesus stops at Capernaum (2.1-12), and explains that he can forgive sins.
E – Problems and controversies (2.13-3.12)
F – An important gathering on a mountain (3.13-19)
G – Jesus is accused of being in league with Baalzebul (3.20-35), and preaches that those who reject Jesus are damned.
— The Sea Narrative (Chapters 4-8) —
G – Jesus accuses Peter of being in league with Satan (8.27-9.1), and preaches those who blaspheme the Holy Spirit are damned.
F – An important gathering on a mountain (9.2-13)
E – Problems and controversies (9.14-32)
D – Jesus stops at Capernaum (9.33-50)
C – Jesus ventures out (expands his ministry beyond Galilee; 10.1-6)
B – People looking to Jesus for boons (10.17-45)
A – Peripheral ministry ends (10.46-52)
Just as was most typical in the myths and legends of counter-cultural sages, Jesus’ ministry has two phases, the central one (in Jerusalem) and the peripheral one (outside Jerusalem). In Mark’s Gospel, Jesus’ central ministry doesn’t begin until the last narrative, that of the Passover. In the Passover narrative we see a few more ways where Mark employs triads, having three women who appear three times, touching each of the three days of Jesus’ death and resurrection (and at three stages: his death, his burial, and his resurrection). Another notable finding within the Passover Narrative are parallels to Jesus’ Baptism mentioned earlier in Mark. For example:
A- John cries with a loud voice (1.3)
A – Jesus cries with a loud voice (15.34)
B – An allusion is made to Elijah (Mark 1.6; 2 Kings 1.8)
B – An allusion is made to Elijah (15.34-36)
C – The heavens are torn (1.10)
C – The temple curtain is torn (15.38), which is a symbol of the barrier between earth and heaven.
D – Holy Spirit descends upon Jesus (1.10)
D – Holy Spirit departs from Jesus (15.37)
E – God calls Jesus his son (1.11)
E – The centurion calls Jesus God’s son (15.19)
The final parallel that I wanted to mention was that found between the Passover Narrative and the story of a different Jesus, named Jesus ben Ananias. This was a man who was known as an insane prophet that was active in the 60s CE who was then killed in the siege of Jerusalem (around 70 CE). His story was told in Josephus’ Jewish War, and thus Mark was likely to have known about it, and the number of parallels between what Josephus wrote and that of Mark’s Passover Narrative are far too numerous to be a mere coincidence. Clearly Mark either wrote his narrative based off of what Josephus wrote, or based on the same tale known to Josephus. Here are the parallels between Mark’s Jesus and that of Jesus ben Ananias as found in Josephus’ writings:
1 – Both are named Jesus. (Mark 14.2 = JW 6.301)
2 – Both come to Jerusalem during a major religious festival. (Mark 11.15-17 = JW 6.301)
3 -Both entered the temple area to rant against the temple. (Mark 14.2 = JW 6.301)
4 – During which both quote the same chapter of Jeremiah. (Jer. 7.11 in Mk, Jer. 7.34 in JW)
5 – Both then preach daily in the temple. (Mark 14.49 = JW 6.306)
6 – Both declared “woe” unto Judea or the Jews. (Mark 13.17 = JW 6.304, 306, 309)
7 – Both predict the temple will be destroyed. (Mark 13.2 = JW 6.300, 309)
8 – Both are for this reason arrested by the Jews. (Mark 14.43 = JW 6.302)
9 – Both are accused of speaking against the temple. (Mark 14.58 = JW 6.302)
10 – Neither makes any defense of himself against the charges. (Mark 14.60 = JW 6.302)
11 – Both are beaten by the Jews. (Mark 14.65 = JW 6.302)
12 – Then both are taken to the Roman governor. (Pilate in Mark 15.1 = Albinus in JW 6.302)
13 – Both are interrogated by the Roman governor. (Mark 15.2-4 = JW 6.305)
14 – During which both are asked to identify themselves. (Mark 15.2 = JW 6.305)
15 – And yet again neither says anything in his defense. (Mark 15.3-5 = JW 6.305)
16 – Both are then beaten by the Romans. (Mark 15.15 = JW 6.304)
17 – In both cases the Roman governor decides he should release him. (Mark 14.2 = JW 6.301)
18 – But doesn’t (Mark)…but does (JW) — (Mark 15.6-15 = JW 6.305)
19 – Both are finally killed by the Romans: in Mark, by execution; in the JW, by artillery. (Mark 15.34 = JW 6.308-9)
20 – Both utter a lament for themselves immediately before they die. (Mark 15.34 = JW 6.309)
21 – Both die with a loud cry. (Mark 15.37 = JW 6.309)
The odds of these coincidences arising by chance is quite small to say the least, so it appears Mark used this Jesus as a model for his own to serve some particular literary or theological purpose. In any case, we can see that Mark is writing fiction here, through and through.
The last scene in Mark’s Gospel that I’d like to mention is that of Jesus clearing the temple (11.18). This is another unbelievable claim, especially since the temple grounds were enormous, occupying many acres (the temple as a whole occupied nearly forty acres, and a large portion of that, more than ten acres, was devoted to public space), and they were extensively populated. In fact, there would have been hundreds of merchants and moneychangers there, and the temple would have been heavily guarded by an armed force deployed specifically to prevent this sort of thing from happening. Jesus would have been killed on the spot had this actually occurred. It appears that Mark added this scene for another literary purpose, namely the parallel between Jesus and Jeremiah. When Jesus clears the temple he quotes Jeremiah 7.11 (in Mark 11.17). Jeremiah and Jesus both enter the temple (Jer. 7.1-2; Mark 11.15), they both make the same accusation against the corruption of the temple cult (Jeremiah quoting a revelation from the Lord, Jesus quoting Jeremiah), and they both predict the destruction of the temple (Jer. 7.12-14; Mark 14.57-58; 15.29). Mark thus appears to be exhibiting knowledge that the Romans would destroy the temple, further illustrating that he was writing this Gospel after 70 CE, and so he composed a fictional story to suit the fulfillment of that “prediction”.
So we can see a large number of literary sources that Mark merely re-wrote for his fiction, a large number of parallels with other sources, many strange coincidences and other implausibilities, and most impressively several intricately crafted literary structures (some interwoven into others and/or several layers in complexity) and other literary devices that obviously served some overall literary purpose that Mark was trying to accomplish. It’s easy to see why Mark would have to invent the various narrative materials that he did (hence the numerous historical implausibilities) in order to get the literary structure he wanted to work successfully. There were indeed more elements of myth than those listed in this post, but I think these were the most telling and some of the most impressive ones found within Mark’s Gospel. In the next part of this series, I will be discussing some of the elements of the Gospel According to Matthew as mentioned in Carrier’s analysis.