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Under the Darkness of Exodus: The Apocalypse of the Cross: Part 11

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Apocaylpse of the Cross

Essay PostsIntertextual Allusions

As I laid out in my previous post, in the upcoming posts I will begin by looking at the viable intertextual allusions and references, that is references to texts outside of Matthew’s gospel. I will first examine the Old Testament texts standing behind Matthew and then moving to consider some of the secondary pseudepigraphic and Roman texts, which cast light on the meaning of the darkness.

Old Testament Allusions

Intertext 1 Old Testament

In examining allusions to darkness in the Old Testament scriptures, it is important to note how the earliest records of Jesus crucifixion present the death of Jesus being, as it were, “in accordance with the scriptures.”[1] The first questions that pops into most readers minds, either with a feeling of anticipatory excitement or reserve incredulity, is, “Which verses?” But Paul, the earliest to write on this tradition, does not cite which particular Old Testament passages gave meaning to Jesus’ death.[2] While lacking a cut and dry chapter and verse reference, the accounts of Jesus’ death still bear signs that very quickly within the formation of the passion account the Old Testament scriptures were being employed to demonstrate Jesus’ death in relation to the Jewish scriptures and to fill the crucifixion with the theological meaning the first Christians found there.[3]

While examining the Old Testament texts alluded to by the darkness it is important to remember this stands within a broad tradition of seeing the death of Jesus in accordance with the Old Testament scriptures, as well as to bear in mind these references fit within a larger framework of several forms of allusion, most notably to the Isaianic Servant Songs, Zechariah 9-14, the Lament Psalms, and sacrificial imagery,[4] all of which are at work in the crucifixion narrative.

Allusion to Exodus 10:22

Moses The Ten Commandments

The first Old Testament allusion I will explore is that to the darkness in the Exodus account. I have already touched on this use of darkness in brief in my post on the extend/historicity of the darkness. Here than I will look more closely at the viability of this allusion caring a heavier exegetical weight for how the darkness of Matthew should be interpreted.

Then the Lord said to Moyses, “Stretch out the hand towards heaven, and let there be darkness over the land of Egypt, palpable darkness.” So Moyses stretched out the hand toward heaven, and there was darkness (ἐγένετο σκότος, egeneto skotos), gloom, hurricane, on all the land (ἐπὶ πᾶσαν γῆν, epi pasan geœn) of Egypt for three days. And no one saw his brother, and no one rose up from his bed for three days. But for all the sons of Israel there was light in all places where they were dwelling.[5]

Matthew’s texts bears two similarities to the Exodus reading: first the use of “there ἐγένετο σκότος (egeneto skotos, was darkness)” and second the phrase “ἐπὶ πᾶσαν γῆν (epi pasan geœn, on all the land)” asncompared to Matthew’s “σκότος ἐγένετο (skotos egeneto, darkness came)”  and his “ἐπὶ πᾶσαν τὴν γῆν (epi pasan teœn geœn, over all the land).” Arguably more significant, as I discussed previously, is Matthew’s change to ἐπὶ πᾶσαν (epi pasan, over all) from Mark’s ἐφ᾿ ὅλην (eph’ holeœn, over the whole). This gives Matthew’s text a greater similarity to the Septuagint reading of Exodus than Mark’s text.[6] Donald Senior sees this change as possibly inspired by the existing similarity of the Markan text to Ex. 10.22 suggesting to the evangelist behind Matthew to further edit toward that text by including a standard LXX phrase, ἐπὶ πᾶσαν τὴν γῆν (epi pasan teœn geœn, over all the land).[7] Kelli O’Brien, on the other hand, does not see this change as a move toward the Exodus text, and, given its lack of reference elsewhere in the New Testament, does not find it a defensible allusion.[8]

The viability of the allusion to the plague of darkness in Exodus finds its strength in sharing a similar Passover context with the crucifixion.[9] Connection has been made between the exodus of Israel and the crucifixion as Jesus’ exodus, though Moo challenges the close connection between the darkness and the exodus, stating they are not synonymous and the darkness at the cross serves a different purpose than the sign of darkness over Egypt.[10] While Senior argues the possible allusion to the Exodus text calls to mind the activity of YHWH and is an indication of the “tension and judgment that the death scene certainly includes,” he is quick to add this does not mitigate against a more eschatological reading.[11]

Given the ambiguity inherent to the text:

(a) it is unclear how closely the darkness of the Exodus account is associated with Passover

(b) there is disagreement about whether Matthew is editing toward the text of Exodus

the Exodus citation is most likely not the primary referent of Matthew’s meaning. While it adds to the overarching judgment imagery and the inclusion of the standard ἐπὶ πᾶσαν τὴν γῆν (epi pasan teœn geœn, over all the land) phraseology elevates the Old Testament imagery of the text,[12] it is best not to lean too heavily on this passage for understanding of the darkness at the cross.


[1] 1 Cor 15.3; Mark 9:12; 14.49; Matt 26.54, 56

[2] J. Marcus, “The Old Testament and the Death of Jesus: The Role of Scripture in the Gospel Passion Narratives,” in The Death of Jesus in Early Christianity, ed. John T Carroll and Joel B Green (Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson Publishers, 1995). 205-206.

[3] Ibid. 206.

[4] Moo, The Old.

[5] Ex. 10.21-23 NETS; Gk. LXX

[6] Brown, Death. 1036.

[7] Senior, The Passion. 293.

[8] Kelli S O’ Brien, The Use of Scripture in the Markan Passion Narrative (London: T & T Clark, 2010). 282.

[9] Brown, Death. 1035.

[10] Moo, The Old. 343.

[11] Senior, The Passion. 294.

[12] Brown, Death. 1036.

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Author: Kendall Beachey

I am an aspiring Biblical Studies and Theology student living in Kansas City. My goal is to attend seminary and give myself to Christian teaching and Ministry.

2 thoughts on “Under the Darkness of Exodus: The Apocalypse of the Cross: Part 11

  1. Pingback: The Day of Darkness: The Apocalypse of the Cross: Part 12 | The Cosmic Cathedral

  2. Pingback: Darkness in the Old Testament: The Apocalypse of the Cross: Part 12 | The Cosmic Cathedral

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