The forum featured a Friday night exchange between and Bart Ehrman and Michael Bird, followed by an extremely stimulating series of Saturday lectures by Simon Gathercole, Dale Martin, Larry Hurtado, and Jennifer Knust. It was a fantastic weekend.
Given the conversation we’ve been having for the last few weeks here at the Jesus blog about the identity of Jesus in the Gospel of Mark, this year’s debate was particularly timely. Although much could be said about it, I’d just like to make two brief points:
First, you should watch the entire Friday night session with Ehrman and Bird online.
Second, during the Q&A, I was fortunate to be able to ask the final question of the night about the charge of blasphemy in Mark 14. My question was basically as follows:
Pitre: “Is Jesus claiming to be divine in his response to Caiaphas in Mark 14? And if he’s not, then why does Caiaphas charge him with blasphemy in the context of a question about his identity?”
You can view Bart’s entire answer here (at 2:36:08-2:40:00). It’s worth watching.
For our purposes, given the discussion we’ve been having about the question of whether Jesus is more than a “merely human messiah” in Mark, I was struck by the fact that Ehrman agrees that Jesus is making some kind of divine claim in Mark 14. Of course, Bart also rightly points out that it is not as explicit as the kind we find in the Gospel of John. As Bart put it in response to my question:
Ehrman: “So, is it a divine claim? Well, yeah, kind of, I mean it is, yeah kind of, but it’s not like Jesus saying ‘I and the Father are one’.” (2:39:23)
Now, if Ehrman is right here—and I think he is—then Mark’s Gospel climaxes with Jesus making a divine claim in response to a question about his identity. To be sure, it is not as explicit as some of the claims in the Gospel of John—to say nothing of later christological formulations in the New Testament and beyond.
Nevertheless, however one interprets the exact meaning of the allusions to Daniel 7 and Psalm 110, and whatever one makes of the question of historicity, on the level of the Gospel narrative, what is clear is that Caiaphas and the Sanhedrin regard Jesus’ answer to the question about his identity as so blasphemous that it is deserving of death (Mark 14:64). One thinks here of the words of Philo, who decries any “man” who “has dared to compare himself to the all-blessed God” (On Dreams 2.130), or of Josephus’ statement that anyone who “blasphemes God” should “be stoned, then hung for a day…” (Antiquities 4.202).
In short, the best explanation for the Sanhedrin’s reaction is that Jesus is making some kind of divine claim. In the words of Adela Yarbro Collins:
Yarbro Collins: “In this saying [Mark 14:62] Jesus claims to be a messiah of the heavenly type, who will be exalted to the right hand of God (Ps 110:1). Being seated at the right hand of God implies being equal to God, at least in terms of authority and power. The allusion to Dan 7:13 reinforces the heavenly messianic claim.” (Adela Yarbro Collins, Mark [Hermeneia; Minneapolis: Fortress, 2007], 706 [emphasis mine])
As I point out in The Case for Jesus, this is one of the main problems with the oft-repeated assertion that Jesus only makes divine claims in the Gospel of John. To the contrary, in the Gospel of Mark, the controversy about Jesus begins with accusations of “blasphemy” against him for doing something that only “the one God” (εἷς ὁ θεός) can do when he declares the sins of the paralytic forgiven (Mark 2:3-12). [Notice here that the expression “the one God” is often obscured by English translations (cf. Deut 6:4; see Yarbro Collins, Mark, 185).] Moreover, the public ministry in Mark climaxes with a formal charge of “blasphemy” when Jesus answers Caiaphas’ question about his identity (Mark 14:53-65).
So, what are your thoughts? Is Jesus claiming to be divine in his response to Caiaphas in Mark 14? And if he’s not, then why does Caiaphas charge him with blasphemy in the context of a question about his identity?