The Agony of Resurrection in John 11-12 (draft)
by Bill Berg
My thoughts on this issue were set in motion by a recent post from Bob Connor showing how readily the resurrection of Lazarus can be superimposed on the resurrection of Jesus, and pointing to some remarkable details like Jesus’ “snorting” in John 11:33 (with this unusual verb repeated in verse 38). LSJ‘s citation from Aeschylus’ Seven against Thebes 461 (ἵππους ἐν ἀμπυκτῆρσιν ἐμβριμωμένας) shows that the verb ἐμβριμάομαι in its original sense appropriately depicts the initial reaction of a horse to its bridle — a sharp, audible intake of breath, a “snort.” Jesus, in other words, gasps and recoils inwardly (33 ἐνεβριμήσατο τῷ πνεύματι), then shudders (ἐτάραξεν ἑαυτόν) and finally bursts into tears (35 ἐδάκρυσεν) when directed to proceed to the tomb.
Those sudden outbursts of emotion are not, I suggest, mere sympathetic reactions to the tears of the bereaved. Jesus’ reactions betray the most profound fear and loathing that only one who clearly foresees what lies ahead can experience.
The composer of John has drummed into us that his Jesus, unlike Mark’s Jesus, knows from the beginning exactly who he is, what he’ll do, and what’s going to happen to him because of it. Early in this chapter, Jesus announces that Lazarus’ illness is “not an illness that leads to death.” — and here he, perhaps together with his commentator, steps up to the microphone — “It’s for the glory of God, so that through it God’s son may be glorified “: 4 ὑπὲρ τῆς δόξης τοῦ θεοῦ, ἵνα δοξασθῇ ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ θεοῦ δι᾽ αὐτῆς — where δοξασθῇ is the catchword for Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection (cf. John 7:39 οὔπω γὰρ ἦν πνεῦμα, ὅτι Ἰησοῦς οὐδέπω ἐδοξάσθη, 12:16 ὅτε ἐδοξάσθη Ἰησοῦς, 12:23 Ἐλήλυθεν ἡ ὥρα ἵνα δοξασθῇ ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου, etc.). In other words, this will be no ordinary illness leading to a cure, say, that will win new followers; this will be the illness that leads to Jesus’ own ultimate enthronement, his destiny to be raised up like the serpent in the wilderness.
John’s Jesus knows, therefore, that the action he’s about to take — his final miracle, the raising of the dead — will have consequences. It will trip the lever, throw the switch that puts the Great Event in motion. Indeed, the machinery of his death is already grinding, for Jesus and potentially even for Lazarus, before the end of this chapter (47-53). Jesus gasps and recoils a second time when the tomb — a cave, a rock — comes into view (38), requiring him to perform the action that is both benevolent and suicidal. So Lazarus’ resurrection does not only prefigure for us the resurrection of Jesus. It foreshadows, for Jesus, all the hideous pain and anguish that will necessarily precede his own resurrection.
So much for what I think Jesus is experiencing in that moment. Meanwhile, our reporter takes another opportunity to show how little, as usual, the crowd understands the source of Jesus’ emotion: “That’s how much he loved him,” they think, with some even wondering cruelly why Jesus couldn’t have done better by his own friend (36f.).
Those tears of Jesus, that recoiling and shuddering with all-too-human emotion, may be the tears that Louis Ruprecht so sorely misses in John’s Garden of Gethsemane. He’ll find them here, I believe, and in the next chapter, in great quantities.
Since his words have long been featured on our home page, our readers are already familiar to some extent with Ruprecht’s work on John (This Tragic Gospel: How John Corrupted the Heart of Christianity, Josey-Bass [Wiley] 2008). “My essential point,” he tells us Renegades, “was that John mocks the Gethsemane prayer.” A few brief quotations from Ruprecht’s book will help to clarify his position:
P. 9: “The evangel of John shows us a Jesus who actually makes fun of the Gethsemane prayer. And that is how Mark’s tragedy was slowly turned into a comedy of Christian error.”
P. 117: “John’s Jesus actually makes fun of what is arguably the most poignant moment in Mark’s gospel, Jesus’ anguished prayer in Gethsemane: ‘Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? “Father, save me from this hour”? No, for this purpose I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name’ (John 12:27-28).”
Pp. 185f.: “[Mark] modeled this gospel on Greek tragedy, and he understood the anguished prayer in Gethsemane to be its tragic heartbeat … The crux of what John did to Mark’s tragic gospel (and to the other Synoptic versions as well) was to deny that Jesus ever prayed this way, in a garden or anywhere else. John’s Jesus lacks all doubt and all fear, and for this very reason, he is terrifying to those around him. He simply is not human.”
Many, of course, would dispute the notion that there is mockery in John 12:27 (Νῦν ἡ ψυχή μου τετάρακται. καὶ τί εἴπω; Πάτερ, σῶσόν με ἐκ τῆς ὥρας ταύτης [;] ἀλλὰ διὰ τοῦτο ἦλθον εἰς τὴν ὥραν ταύτην). More interesting, perhaps, is the fact that Ruprecht must base the notion of “mockery” on the assumption of a question mark that was only introduced into the text in the nineteenth century.
Nowadays almost all, like Ruprecht, unswervingly follow the emendation supported by Tischendorf and take the question mark after Πάτερ, σῶσόν με ἐκ τῆς ὥρας ταύτης as a given. Nowadays no one mentions that not a single manuscript displays that question mark, although the Greek mark of interrogation had been in common use since at least the ninth century (cf. E. M. Thompson, A Handbook of Greek and Latin Palaeography 70; http://www.translatum.gr/forum/index.php?topic=477.msg1436#msg1436).
True, the Tischendorf-sanctioned question mark seems to make John 12:27 easier to read, a lectio facilior. But before accepting his or comparable emendations, I’d rather face the challenge of interpreting what’s really going on in the speech that Jesus makes in response to a simple request for an audience — a request not from Judaeans, but from worshippers from afar, pilgrims from the wider “Greek” world.
I’ve already suggested that the “Passion According to John” begins much earlier than the Synoptic Passions. The composer of John starts his Passion not with Gethsemane, but with the sickness and death of Lazarus — an episode completely ignored in the Synoptics — so that in John Jesus’ ordeal is prolonged by at least a week.
It is in Bethany, in the shadow of Jerusalem, in the moments before Lazarus’ resurrection, that the agony begins — 11:33 ἐνεβριμήσατο τῷ πνεύματι καὶ ἐτάραξεν ἑαυτόν — and the tears start to flow — 11:35 ἐδάκρυσεν ὁ Ἰησοῦς. Despite the celebration of Lazarus’ recovery, the narrative acquires thenceforth a decidedly dark tone. Mary’s gift of exotic oil is called by Jesus his anointment for burial (12:7). Offstage, we eavesdrop as the high priests plot the deaths not only of Jesus, but of Lazarus as well (12:10f.). And John’s Jesus, of course, sees it all before him, clearly and painfully.
Enter the Greeks — foreigners from the great outside world, religious tourists with the expansive liberal outlook of those times (“Here these things are held sacred; let us venerate them as well.” “And could you possibly let us in to see this Jesus of Nazareth?”) When he hears of them, Jesus breaks into what I take to be a monologue, or perhaps in part an interior dialogue with himself — the composer of John leaves us, perhaps intentionally, in the dark as to whom Jesus is addressing (23), who the ὄχλος ὁ ἑστὼς καὶ ἀκούσας — “the crowd in attendance” — is (29), or how much (apart from the thunder) they have heard.
Jesus begins his monologue by pronouncing the Greek presence to be yet another sign of his coming doxa (23 Ἐλήλυθεν ἡ ὥρα ἵνα δοξασθῇ ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου — “The time has come for the Son of Man to be glorified”) and of his responsibility not just to his own people but to all peoples. Presumably, this is not only a great burden to shoulder; it is also a further reminder of the enormity of pain and death necessary to provide salvation for these vast populations — 12:32 κἀγὼ ἐὰν ὑψωθῶ ἐκ τῆς γῆς, πάντας ἑλκύσω πρὸς ἐμαυτόν, “As for me, if I’m to be raised up from the earth, I’ll be drawing (literally ‘dragging’) everyone to myself.”
In the midst of this monologue, which may or may not be heard by others (or by the foreigners), Jesus cries out in desperation, “Now my soul is shaken to pieces! What am I to say?” (compare Matthew/Mark’s Gethsemane scene: “My soul is full of pain, enough to die!”). What follows seems clearly to be a prayer, “Father, save me from this hour!” — the “hour” being exactly parallel to the “cup” (ποτήριον) in Matthew/Mark’s Gethsemane scene. There really is no justification for a question mark here, as Alford (ad loc.) points out with his usual eloquence: “The … words must not be taken interrogatively (as by Theophyl., Grot., Tholuck, al.) as if our Lord were doubting whether to say them or not: for thus the whole sense is destroyed, besides the sentiment being most unworthy of Him who uttered it.” Alford goes on to point out that Jesus’ prayer here derives from traditional “prophetic Messianic prayers in the Psalms, which thus run — ‘My soul is troubled ; Lord, help me’ (Ps. lxix. 1; xl. 12, 13 ; xxv. 17 ; vi. 3, 4 al.).”
The sentence that follows — ἀλλὰ διὰ τοῦτο ἦλθον εἰς τὴν ὥραν ταύτην — is difficult to construe, especially in view of what the commentators have made of it. For one thing, ἀλλὰ is always taken by them in an adversative sense, negating the prayer just uttered (with the invariably assumed question mark at the end), and yielding the following sentiment: And what shall I say? “Father, save me from this hour”? No, for this purpose [?] I have come to this hour (Ruprecht’s translation).
Secondly, none of the commentators, including Ruprecht, seem willing to take διὰ τοῦτο in its usual sense in John, as referring forward to something about to be explained or clarified (normally a ὅτι-clause; a typical example lies close at hand, in verse 39: διὰ τοῦτο οὐκ ἠδύναντο πιστεύειν, ὅτι πάλιν εἶπεν Ἠσαΐας κτλ.). But of course there is no ὅτι-clause here in verse 27.
Allow me to propose a new way of reading, or rather of punctuating, this text so as to restore the anticipatory function of διὰ τοῦτο and to incorporate the first words of the verse that follows (28) into the sense of Jesus’ entire prayer:
27 Νῦν ἡ ψυχή μου τετάρακται, καὶ τί εἴπω; Πάτερ, σῶσόν με ἐκ τῆς ὥρας ταύτης. ἀλλά— διὰ τοῦτο ἦλθον εἰς τὴν ὥραν ταύτην —,
28 πάτερ, δόξασόν σου τὸ ὄνομα.
— “Now my soul is shattered; what am I to say? Father, save me from this hour; but whatever you do [or but above all], — and this is why I came to this hour — father, glorify your name!” Jesus’ sole “purpose” then becomes not “this hour” of crucifixion and death, nor his humble acceptance of it, but the glorification of his father’s name.
In reading διὰ τοῦτο ἦλθον εἰς τὴν ὥραν ταύτην as a parenthetical expression, one misses, I readily admit, an explanatory γὰρ after διὰ τοῦτο: it would certainly be there in any good Greek, let alone classical Greek. But John is not good Greek, and Blass reminds us that of all the evangelists, John is least likely to use γάρ (Blass/Thackeray, New Testament Greek 274). Moreover, John’s idiosyncratic Greek tends to avoid connectives of any sort; οὖν, for example, is often the most we can expect, even when good Greek would use at least a δέ. More frequently, there is no connective at all.
If we read the prayer as I’ve suggested, it more closely parallels the sentiments reported in Matthew/Mark’s Gethsemane scene: we find that Jesus’ cry in John is, after all, one of both agony and commitment to the father’s purpose. It’s a cry that’s fully human, unlike the voice of confirmation (29) that rolls out from the thunder, as the sky grows darker still.