Note: We are going through the earliest Christian documents, one by one, to find out for ourselves what they actually say about Jesus. Today we look at the earliest one, which doesn’t exist as a separate doc anymore.
The so-called “Passion Narrative” is a scholarly reconstruction of a hypothetical early document that almost certainly did pre-exist the Gospels, at least in oral form, but has been lost. Like “Q” and the “Sayings Gospel” (both of which we’ll get to), the PN is a ghost doc, a reasonable guess based on the existing Gospel texts. In fact, it represents almost the only episode in Jesus’ life on which all four Gospels agree — or almost agree.
As Mel Gibson told us, Jesus’ “Passion” is the story of his accusation, hearing, sentence and execution. Ouch!
Now it’s worthwhile to remind ourselves of the scholarly consensus that Mark was probably written first, around 65 CE, that Matthew and Luke had Mark in front of them when they wrote, and that John did not use Mark directly — although he obviously had access to some similar oral or written traditions, one of which was . . . the Passion Narrative.
So in reading the Gospels, we don’t really have four independent sources, do we? It’s not like there were four bloggers at the site and we can triangulate (or quadrangulate) the real story from their separate accounts. As scholarly consensus has it, there is only one source — this long-lost so-called “Pre-Markan Passion Narrative.” (BTW the Gospels were almost certainly not written by men or women who knew Jesus personally. Now you know.)
What’s exciting about this earliest story-snippet, though, is precisely how early it would have to have been solidified in the Christian tradition to appear in roughly similar outline in both Mark and John. Because otherwise, Mark/Matthew/Luke (the so-called Synoptic Gospels) and John look like biographies of different people.
So what does this early-early PN tell us about traditions about Jesus? The four accounts have been laid out side by side here. The story has four parts:
(1) The Arrest
(2) Jesus Before the Temple Priests
(3) Jesus Before Pilate
(4) The Cross
To be continued . . .