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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

Passion Week

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PASSION WEEK.—What origin can we assign to the sacred institution known variously as Holy Week, Passion Week, or the Silent Week? What documentary evidence have we for the belief that the Triumphal Entry took place on a Sunday, so that exactly a week elapsed between that event and the discovery of the empty tomb?

1. Investigators of the Life of Jesus find a fulcrum in John 12:1. Even Keim, who puts no faith in the narratives of the Fourth Gospel, least of all in its chronology, accepts its testimony in this particular passage (see Jesus of Nazara, v. 274). It is there stated that Jesus ‘six days before the Passover (πρὸ ἒξ ἡμερῶν τοῦ πάσχα) came to Bethany’; and (John 12:12 f.) that He went to Jerusalem next day. But it is a little difficult to understand what the narrator means by the ‘six days’ in question. The idiom of πρὸ ἒξ ἡμερῶν τοῦ πάσχα (cf. LXX Septuagint , Amos 1 :1 πρὸ δύο ἐτῶν τοῦ σεισμοῦ), which bears a resemblance to the Latin formula ante diem tertium kalendas (cf. Inscr. Insularum Mar. aeg. iii. 325, πρὸ ῑε καλανδῶν Αὐγούστων), is genuine primitive Greek (Moulton, Gram, of NT Greek, i. 100 f.). The question is, then, whether the Passover day, the 14th Nisan, on which the Passover was eaten, is or is not included in the number ‘six.’ If it is included, Jesus must have arrived in Bethany on the 9th Nisan; if not, then on the 8th. The latter alternative is the more natural, since the six days are spoken of as coming before the Passover; and on this assumption Jesus must have entered Jerusalem on the 9th Nisan. Now, since according to John 19:31 the 15th Nisan was a Sabbath, the 8th must likewise have been a Sabbath, and the day of the Triumphal Entry a Sunday. It is to these Johannine data that we trace our Passion Week.

2. Now the Johannine reckoning appears to be corroborated by at least one of the Synoptics, viz. Mk. For one thing, Mk. assigns the death of Jesus to the παρασκευή (Mark 15:42, cf. Matthew 27:62, Luke 23:54), His repose in the sepulchre to the Sabbath, and the finding of the empty tomb to the Sunday (Mark 16:2, cf. Luke 24:1, Matthew 28:1), and consequently the Last Supper to the Thursday evening. Further, it is obviously the design of our Mk. to number the days in proper order, as may be seen in its striking succession of morning and evening, thus:

Mark 11:11 Evening of 1st day (the Triumphal Entry): καὶ πιριβλεψάμενος πάντα, ὀψὲ ἤδη οὔσης τῆς ὤρας, ἐξῆλθενν εἰς Βηθανίαν.

Mark 11:12 Morning of 2nd day: χαὶ τῇ ἐπαύριον ἐξιλθόντων αὐτῶν ἀπὸ Βηθανίας.

Mark 11:19 Evening of 2nd day: χαὶ ὅταν ὀψὶ ἐγένετο, ἐξεπορεύετο ἔξω τῆς πόλεως.

Mark 11:20 Morning of 3rd day: χαὶ παραπορευόμενοι πρωΐ

Mark 13:1 Evening of 3rd day (?): χαὶ ἐχπορευομένου αὐτοῦ ἐχ τοῦ ἱεροῦ

To this point the enumeration is quite clear. We may ask, indeed, whether the various colloquies of Mark 11:27 to Mark 12:44 all took place on a single day. But in view of the care with which Mk. distinguishes the previous days, we can only infer that the absence of time references in the disputations is likewise a matter of design.

We must now inquire, however, how Mark 14:1 is connected with what precedes. Are the words ἦν δὲ τὸ πάσχα καὶ τὰ ἄζυμα μετὰ δύο ἡμέρας meant to imply that the foregoing discourse of Jesus on the Mt. of Olives was spoken two days before the Passover, i.e. on the very day the religious authorities held their conference? And must we suppose the Anointing at Bethany (Mark 14:3 καὶ ὄντος αὐτοῦ ἐν Βηθανίᾳ) to have taken place that day also, i.e. on the evening of the third day, and after the Parousia discourse? Again, on what day does Mk. place the betrayal by Judas (Mark 14:10 f. καὶἀπῆλθενκαἰ ἐξήτει …)? On the day following, i.e. the fourth? In truth, the Evangelist’s chronology in these passages is as vague as in Mark 11:11-12; Mark 11:19-20 it was unmistakable.

Nor is Mk.’s enumeration of the days between the decision of the Sanhedrin and the Last Supper quite explicit. If we regard Mark 14:12 καὶ τῇ πρώτῃ ἡμέρᾳ τῶν ἀζύμων, ὅτε τὸ πάσχα ἔθυον as referring to the 14th Nisan, then in all probability Mark 14:1 synchronizes with the 12th Nisan, and Mark 14:10 f. with, say, Mark 14:13. But this is not said in so many words. Nevertheless, the writer possibly had in his mind some such synopsis as follows:

1st day, Mark 11:1-11 : Sunday, 10th Nisan.

2nd day, Mark 11:12-19 : Monday, 11th Nisan.

3rd day, Mark 11:20 to Mark 14:9 : Tuesday, 12th Nisan.

4th day, Mark 14:10 f.: Wednesday, 13th Nisan.

5th day, Mark 14:12-72 : Thursday, 14th Nisan.

6th day, Mark 15:1-47 : Friday, 15th Nisan.

7th day, Mark 16:1 a διαγενομενου τοῦ σαββατου, Saturday, 16th Nisan.

8th day, Mark 16:1 b: Sunday, 17th Nisan.

It is also possible, however, that there is an interval between Mark 13:1 to Mark 14:1, so that the Anointing would fall on the day after the Parousia speech. This would so far dislocate the above scheme by making the first day coincide with Saturday, 9th Nisan (as probably in Jn.), the second day with Sunday, the third with Monday, and the anointing with Tuesday. If this be so, we must allow for a period of nine days between the Entry and the Resurrection. In point of fact, we cannot solve the difficulty from Mk.’s data; its mode of reckoning still leaves a residuum of doubt. In particular, we are at a loss regarding what Jesus does and where He is during the day previous to the Anointing. But, notwithstanding these obscurities, it is an unmistakable fact that Mk. makes an attempt—though by no means an entirely effective one—to distinguish and enumerate the days between the Triumphal Entry and the Resurrection. Especially does the sequence of chronological references seem to postulate a definite calendar of the interval in question.

3. We turn now to Mt. and Lk. Mt. indicates a clear break only at the close of the Triumphal Entry day (Matthew 21:17 καὶ καταλιπὼν αὐτοὺς ἐξῆλθεν ἔξω τῆς πόλεως εἰς Βηθανίαν καὶ ηὐλίσθη ἐκεῖ). The second day runs without interruption from Matthew 21:18 to the end of Matthew 21:25. In passing to the narrative of the Passion proper, Mt. exhibits the same ambiguity as we found in Mk. We cannot decide whether the words of Jesus in Matthew 26:1 f. were spoken on the second day, or whether we must assume an interval between chs. 25 and 26.

Possibly, however, we err in looking for chronology at all in this section of Mt. We can understand the narrative quite as well on the hypothesis that the writer was not in the least concerned to tabulate the days, but simply joined incident to incident without regard to time. We find a similar uncertainty in Lk.: the writer’s own words in Luke 20:1 ἐν μιᾷ τῶν ἡμερῶν clearly imply that he had no distinct idea of the number of days between the Triumphal Entry and the Passover (cf. also Luke 21:37 ἦν δὲ τὰς ἡμέρας ἐν τῳ ἱερῷ διδάσκων). This lack of precision admittedly extends also to the story of the actual Passion. Instead of the ‘two days’ (Mark 14:1, Matthew 26:2), Lk. says only ἤγγιζεν δὲ ἡ ἑορτὴ τῶν ἀζύμων (Luke 22:1), and in place of the precise reference of Mark 14:12 τῇ πρώτῃ ἡμέρᾳ τῶν ἀζύμων, ὅτε τὸ πάσχα ἔθυον, Lk. simply has it that the day of unleavened bread ‘came’ (Luke 22:7). This loose way of indicating time in Mt. and Lk. strikes us as strange in view of the generally accepted theory of their common dependence upon Mk., which designedly and explicitly gives an all but complete diary of the time. How are we to explain the fact that the two Evangelists who make use of the oldest Gospel are here less precise in details than their common source?

4. The recognized explanation, viz., that the later writers did not trouble about such matters of detail, is most unsatisfactory, as all investigation of the growth and progress of the Evangelical record goes to show a constantly increasing interest in such minutiae as time and hour, place and number, name and personality; witness, e.g., the NT Apocrypha. In fact, had we not other grounds for deeming Mk. the oldest of the Gospels, its ostensible precision in such things would lead us to regard it as the latest.—The present writer is of opinion that we can best explain Mt.’s and Lk.’s omission of the time references of Passion Week, by the hypothesis that the recension of Mk. used by them did not itself contain these references (Ur-Markus Hypothesis). Or, in other words, our Mk.’s enumeration of the days is the work of a later hand, a redactor, the Deutero-Mark. This view is so far confirmed by the presence of a certain artificiality in the arrangement. It would seem as if a definite scheme had been forcibly stamped upon the material. The first trace of this appears in Mark 11:11. While Mt. and Lk. quite simply and naturally make the Cleansing of the Temple succeed the Triumphal Entry, upon the same day, Mk. has it that Jesus, having come to the city, spent the rest of the day in seeing the sights (as if He had not been often enough in Jerusalem during His thirty years), and that then, as it was late in the day (too late, i.e., to begin His great work), He went out to Bethany with His disciples. This apparently so exact piece of information really strikes us as utterly trivial and pedantic. What interest could Mark suppose his readers to have in such a petty detail? or what concern had he himself, so indifferent, in general, to all chronology, in such exactitude at that particular point? There is, as it seems to us, but one explanation of the anomaly, viz., that the writer of Mark 11:11 was anxious to intercalate one day more than the facts naturally allowed; that is to say, he figured to himself a delinite number of days, and must distribute them somehow in the material before him. A second trace is found in the circumstance that Mk. divides the incident of the Barren Fig-tree between two days (Mark 11:13 f., Mark 11:20 f.). Here, too, Mt. gives the more natural account. For, granting the miracle of judgment upon the ill-starred tree, it is much more in harmony with popular views that the blight should instantly follow the curse (Matthew 21:18 f.). In Mark’s report, according to which the word of Jesus takes a day to work its effect, we seem to discern a rationalizing tendency. The Evangelist, with all his belief in the miraculous, can more easily grasp the phenomenon by allowing for some sort of natural process.* [Note: A similar tendency emerges in the two miracles of healing reported by Mk. alone, in which the spittle of Jesus comes to the aid of His omnipotence (Mark 7:33, Mark 8:23); in the healing of the blind, the narrator pictures to himself a gradual advance towards perfect vision (Mark 8:24-25).] Further, the partition of the Fig-tree incident enables the redactor of Mk. to give a sharper distinction to the two days (Mark 11:12-19 and Mark 11:20 to Mark 13:1) by means of the two morning walks from Bethany to Jerusalem (Mark 11:12; Mark 11:20). A third indication of the artificiality of Mk.’s arrangement is seen in Mark 14:49, where Jesus speaks in such a manner as to imply that He had taught in the Temple for several days. But according to the said scheme, again, the whole of the teaching at this time occupies but a single day (Mark 11:20 to Mark 12:44), or, at most, two days if we include also the day of the Cleansing. Hence we are justified in inferring that the diary is not only not organic to the events, but actually at variance with them. In fact, the sayings and discourses at Jerusalem, as set down in Mk., give no hint whatever of a chronological order. They are as exempt from time references as are the five controversies of Mark 2:1 to Mark 3:6. The true design of either series is to illustrate the antagonism between Jesus and the hierarchy, and they may have been uttered either on one day or on several successive days.

We would therefore hazard the suggestion that our Mk.’s tabulation of the interval under consideration, and notably the passage Mark 11:11-12, is due to the redactor, and that the latter was imbued with the Johannine tradition. For our own part, indeed, we have been able to collate a mass of evidence in support of the theory that the text of Mk. has been very thoroughly revised from the Johannine standpoint, that a host of Johannine characteristics were inserted into it at some period subsequent to its use by Matthew and Luke. It is, of course, impossible here to submit the detailed proof of such a theory, and we can but invite the reader to test it for himself. The design of the present article does not carry us beyond the advocacy and proof of the thesis: As originally the Synoptic tradition neither contained a complete diary of our Lord’s last visit to Jerusalem, nor implied that His stay covered exactly one week, it is in the last resort to Jn. that we must trace the order of our Passion Week. See also art. Dates.

Literature.—J. Weiss, Das älteste Evangelium, 1903; C. A. Briggs, New Light on the Life of Jesus (1904), 101 ff.; A. G. Mortimer, Meditations on the Passion (1903); R. Winterbotham, Sermons in Holy Trinity Church (1900), 140–184.

J. Weiss.


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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Passion Week'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/hdn/p/passion-week.html. 1906-1918.

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Wednesday, June 3rd, 2020
the Week of Proper 4 / Ordinary 9
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