This is an ongoing review of New Testament scholar Raymond Brown’s book, in two volumes, The Death of the Messiah (copyright, 1994). In the introduction, Brown states that the primary aim of the book is: to explain in detail what the evangelists intended and conveyed to their audiences by their narratives of the passion and death of Jesus. Brown states he intends to do this by examining the four gospels in parallel rather than vertically, the historically preferred pattern of study.
Most scholars (liberal and conservative) consider Brown a moderate. He was a Roman Catholic. His views were considered compatible with the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church, an institution not known for a liberal bias under Pope John Paul II, the time period in which this book was written. I find Raymond Brown’s work to be refreshingly honest. Devoid of bias. In my view, Brown has only one agenda: the truth. He does not attempt to proselytize the reader to his point of view. If the evidence supports the traditional Christian position, fine. If the evidence does not support the traditional Christian position, that is fine too. As a devout Catholic, Brown most definitely believed in the supernatural. Therefore, the popular apologist charge that the majority of NT scholars are biased against the supernatural cannot be made against the work of Raymond Brown.
The major Matthean difference from Mark is the introduction into the Passion Narrative (PN) of a haunting issue of responsibility, graphically portrayed in the OT language of being guilty of the blood of the innocent who is wrongly condemned to death. In scenes peculiar to Matthew, Judas, who gave Jesus over, tries to shake responsibility for that deed by bringing back the thirty pieces of silver; the chief priests do not want to be contaminated by the price for blood and try to free themselves by buying with it the “Field of Blood”; Pilate’s wife, moved by a dream, warns her husband not to have anything to do with the just Jesus who is standing before him, and so Pilate declares his innocence of the blood of this man by washing his hands. While none of these attempts at escape is successful and all the characters involved are marked by their part in shedding blood, clearly Matthew thinks divine retribution falls most clearly on “all the people” who volunteer: “his blood on us and on our children.”
We shall see from Josephus how the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD caused self-examination among God’s people [the Jews] as to what they had done that could have caused God to punish them thus. Matthew writing after 70 AD (discussed in chapter 2 below), vocalizes a causal judgment that arose among Jewish [Christian] believers in Jesus, namely, that the decisive factor contributing to the catastrophe was the giving over of the innocent Son of God to crucifixion by the Romans.
In other words, Matthew’s Passion Narrative, composed later than Mark’s, responds to the theological (and apologetical) concerns of a later era. That response is also apparent in the peculiarly Matthean account of the guard at the sepulcher, which serves to refute a false story that “has been spread about among the Jews until this day” [that the body of Jesus was removed/stolen from the tomb by his own disciples].
Gary: As a Christian I always wondered why the author of the Gospel of Mark never mentioned Matthew’s guards at the tomb (or that the Jews cried out for the blood of Jesus to be upon them and upon their children). Why would “Mark” leave out such critical information???
Answer: Mark was writing in an earlier time than Matthew, possibly writing even before 70 CE. The issue of responsibility for the destruction of the temple and Jerusalem was not present within the Church when Mark was writing.
Mark didn’t leave these details out.
Matthew invented them!