The Cosmic Cathedral

Understanding God in the Word and the World


Leave a comment

Pseudepigraphical Darkness: The Apocalypse of the Cross: Part 14

Apocaylpse of the Cross

Essay Posts

In the last few post I have examined the way the Old Testament stands behind Matthew’s crucifixion narrative and gives a contextual lens through which to understand the use of darkness within the Gospel. The Old Testament stands as the primary source outside of the Gospel from which the Evangelist drew, most notably Exodus and Amos. Yet there is a gulf of time and interpretive distance that lies between the writer of Matthew and the Old Testament texts from which he drew. It is important then to examine those texts which served as closer contemporaries to Matthew’s gospel — texts from the Old Testament Pseudepigrapha and from Roman histories.

In this post I am going to focus on the Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, a loose collection of Jewish texts written between roughly 200 B.C.E. and 200 C.E.. While these texts span a wide range of subjects, genres, and theologies, they help us to understand the way in which the Old Testament functioned in the thought-world of Second Temple Judaism. It is important to see how the same imagery which is used in Matthew was used within the broader Jewish writings of the time. In examining these texts we will see how they draw on the Old Testament text while shaping its imagery in unique ways. Important to this investigation is noting the way in which the Pseudepigraphal texts develop the Old Testament imagery in ways similar to that of Matthew’s Gospel. These texts will give us important insight into seeing the hermeneutical possibilities of Matthew’s darkness.

Pseudepigraphic Allusions

Pseudepigraphic texts frequently feature darkness in relation to divine judgment,[1] as in the case of the Sibylline Oracles where:

There will be dark night in the mid-hour of day;
the stars and the circles of the moon will disappear from heaven;
The earth, shaken by the turmoil of a great earthquake.[2]

Even more commonly, darkness occurs within the context of eschatological judgment. Since there is a wide range of texts, I will only survey some of the most common ones, acknowledging that they all draw from a similar pool of Old Testament imagery which was widely in use during this period. Most notable is T. Moses:

and the earth will tremble, even to its ends shall it be shaken…
The sun will not give light
And in darkness the horns of the moon will flee.
Yea, the will be broken in pieces.[3]

and the passage in 4 Ezra:

and the sun shall suddenly shine forth at night,
and the moon during the day.[4]

Similar expressions can be found in Sib. Orc. III, 801-802; V, 344-50; T. Levi 4.1; 2 Bar. 10.12; 18.2; 46.2; 77.14; 2 En. 34.3.[5] In all these instances darkness and cosmic upheaval accompanies a time of distress and tribulation within an eschatological context.

In somewhat different usage, Davies and Allison mention both Liv. Pro. Hab. 14 and 4 Ezra 7:50 in reference to a connection between the darkness at the creation paralleling the darkness of close of the eschaton. As stated previously, some connection existed between the darkness of the end of the age and that of creation, as seen here in Liv. Pro. Hab. “they will illuminate those who are being pursued by the serpent in the darkness as from the beginning.”[6] and 4 Ezra where at the end:

…the world shall be turned back to primeval silence for seven days, as it was at the beginnings; so that no one shall be left

Also worth comment is Allison’s mention that “the sun and moon were darkened, and there was thick darkness for seven days”[7] upon the death of Adam recorded in T. Adam, a 4th or 6th century CE text of Christian redaction. Interestingly though, the tradition appears also within Adam and Eve, an earlier text of the first century CE which is free from Christian influence.[8] Only moderately related, darkness also accompanies the ascent of Enoch to the highest heavens in 2 Enoch 67.[9]

These mentions of darkness serve to illuminate the wide usage of cosmic upheaval, in particular darkening of the sun and moon, within texts at the time of Matthew’s composition. This pervasive use of darkness throughout eschatological texts, many featuring the type of eschatological tribulation previously discussed, strengthens the eschatological context for the darkness at the cross. While there is no dependence of Matthew’s Gospel on these texts, it shows that the darkness, in an eschatological sense, was a common theme within the writings of this period.


[1] Keener, Matthew. 685.

[2] Sib. Or. 4.56-58 OTP

[3] T. Mos. 10.4-5

[4] 4 Ezra 5.4-5

[5] Allison Jr., End. 29.

[6] Liv. Pro. Hab. 14

[7] T. Adam 3.6

[8] Ibid. 28.

[9] Ibid. 28.


Leave a comment

Darkness in the Old Testament: The Apocalypse of the Cross: Part 13

Apocaylpse of the Cross

Essay Posts

In my previous two post, I discussed the Old Testament allusions present within Matthew’s crucifixion narrative as it relates to the darkness at the cross. I have looked at the Exodus account and Amos 9:1 as the primary Old Testament passages being alluded to in Matthew’s crucifixion narrative. I concluded that due to its linguistic and textual parallels, Amos 9:1 is the most convincing Old Testament allusion for the Gospel writer to be drawing upon. Having examined those texts it is still important to look at those other Old Testament passages that many have given shape to the imagery of darkness in Jewish apocalyptic thought.

Intertext 1 Old Testament

There is a wide spectrum of secondary Old Testament texts which give further context to the darkness at the cross. I will here only look at those which are most pertinent or which will not receive treatment elsewhere, since a variety of these will be looked at within the context of innertextual parallels and they lack a linguistic relation as strong as Amos 8:9-10.

Deuteronomy 28.29, “you shall be groping about at μεσημβρίας (mesēmbrias, midday) as a blind person would grope in τῷ σκότει (tō̧ skotei, the darkness),” is significant as it may stand behind the Amos passage, as well as being in the context of Deuteronomic curses.[1] Less credible is the connection to the LXX of Zech 14.6-7, even though Zech 14.5 forms the basis of 27.51-3.[2] Similar prophetic texts of darkness in the context of judgment include Jer 13.16, 15.9, where “the sun set for her while it was yet midday;” Zeph 1:15, “a day of darkness and gloom;” Amos 5.18, 20, where the Day of YHWH is “darkness, not light;” and, as will be looked at in a different context, Joel 2.2, 10; 4.15 (LXX); and Isa 13.9-16.[3]

Requiring only brief mention is the reference in Davies and Allison to Genesis 1.2, “σκότος (skotos, darkness) was over the abyss,” and the connection they make between creation and eschatology,[4] a theme which will be noted again briefly in the discussion of pseudepigraphic texts. While this theme is not pertinent to this study here, it is significant to note that Judaism saw the eschatological deliverance in terms of a new beginning or new creation, and as such the allusion to creation in an eschatological context would not be out of place.[5]

Having looked at the Old Testament sources Matthew’s author may have been drawing upon, I will now be able to turn to those texts that made up the world of second temple Judaism, Jewish Apocalyptic Literature, and see how their use of darkness functions and makes up the world in which Matthew was writing.


[1] Stuart, Hosea. 385.

[2] Davies and Allison Jr., Matthew XIX-XXVIII. 622.

[3] Allison Jr., End. 28.

[4] Davies and Allison Jr., Matthew XIX-XXVIII. 621.

[5] W. D. Davies and Dale C Allison Jr., A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Gospel According to Saint Matthew Vol. 1, Introduction and Commentary on Matthew I-VII (Edinburgh: Clark, 1988). 153.


1 Comment

The Day of Darkness: The Apocalypse of the Cross: Part 12

Apocaylpse of the Cross

Essay Posts

In my last post I laid out the context within which I would begin to look at the Old Testament allusions within Matthew’s crucifixion narrative. Then I  looked at the relationship between the use of darkness in the book of Exodus and the death of Jesus. While I agreed the Exodus text provides some background for the judgment language of the darkness and adds to the over all Old Testament context of the crucifixion narrative I argued there was enough ambiguity within the allusion that the Exodus account most likely is not the primary allusion standing behind Matthew’s meaning of the darkness. In this post then I will look at another Old Testament text, found in Amos, upon which Matthew may be more heavily drawing.

Intertext 1 Old Testament

Allusion to Amos 8:9-10

Most scholars comment upon Amos 8.9-10’s relation to Matt 27.45 due to linguistic and thematic similarities. Moo cites the particular significance of Amos 8:9 as an indication of the darkness’ meaning related to the eschatological Day of YHWH.[1] Brown similarly cites the significance of this reference for understanding the verse through the lens of “Day of YHWH” imagery regarding judgment and punishment.[2]

And it will come to pass on that day, says the Lord,
and ὁ ἥλιος (ho heœlios, the sun) will go down at μεσημβρίας (meseœmbrias, noon),
And τὸ φῶς (to phoœs, the light) συσκοτάσει (syskotasei, will become dark) ἐπὶ τῆς γῆς (epi teœs geœs, upon the earth) in the daytime.
And I will turn your τὰς ἑορτὰς (tas heortas, feasts) into mourning
and all your songs into lamentation.
And I will bring sackcloth on every loin
and baldness on every head.
And I will make him like the mourning for a ἀγαπητοῦ (agapeœtou, loved one)
and those with him like a day of suffering.[3]

136.The_Prophet_AmosThe main linguistic parallels are Amos’ συσκοτάσει (syskotasei, will become dark) to Matthew’s σκότος (skotos, darkness) and the use of ἐπὶ…γῆν (epi… geœn, over… land). The verbal overlap is only moderate. The connection is weakened by the inexact noun/verb correspondence and though συσκοτάζω (syskotazoœ, to darken) is relatively rare, being used only 11 times in the Septuagint, σκότος (skotos, darkness) is much more common, appearing 31 times in the New Testament.[4]

This allusion gains greater strength by the larger context of the passage. Though not a linguistic tie, both Amos’ μεσημβρίας (meseœmbrias, noon) and Matthew’s ἕκτης ὥρας (hekteœs hoœras, the sixth hour) refer to the same time of the day.[5] Similarly Amos refers to the turning of their τὰς ἑορτὰς (tas heortas, feasts) into mourning, and the crucifixion account is also during a festival (ἑορτἠ, heortê; cf. Matt 26.5; 27.15).[6] Moo mentions the parallel of Amos’ “mourning for an only son” which could very well have been seen as a reference to Jesus.[7]  Matthew has already used the word ἀγαπητοῦ (agapeœtou, beloved) previously to refer to Jesus in both occasions of the voice from heaven (Matt 3.17; 17.5), as well as within his quotation of Isaiah 42 (Matt 12:18).[8]

O’Brien goes on to identify the further connection between Mark and the Hebrew of Amos, noting that Mark’s σκότος ἐγένετο ἐφ᾿ ὅλην τὴν γῆν (skotos egeneto eph’ holeœn teœn geœn, darkness over the whole land) is a faithful literal translation of the Hebrew וְהַחֳשַׁכְתִּ֥י לָאָ֭דֶץ (wᵉhaḥᵃšaḵtı̂ lāʾāreṣ, darken the earth).[9] Given this, as Matthew does not deviate except to change ὅλην` (holeœn, the whole) to πᾶσαν (pasan, all), the connection to the Hebrew text remains. In Hebrew the contextual parallel to feasts (֝חַגֵּיכֶם ḥaggêḵem) remains, as does the reference to the only son with יָחִ֔יר (yāḥı̂ḏ, only son), which is always translated ἀγαπητός (agapētos, beloved) in the LXX.[10] These linguistic and contextual parallels make a strong case for Amos 8.9-10 being the intended allusion behind Matthew’s text.[11]

Accepting this, how this allusion casts light on the meaning of the darkness can now be seen. Amos 8:9-10 is in the context of the Day of YHWH, a technical term for the transition between the present age and the age to come, the messianic age.[12]  The passage begins with the linguistic marker בַּיּ֣וֹם הַה֗וּא (bayyôm hahûʾ, on that day), referencing a time in the indefinite, yet certain, future, setting the verse within the context of eschatological activity.[13] Amos 8:2 states “The end has come upon my people Israel,” setting the context as judgment, with 8:8-10 featuring the darkness, earthquake, and divine punishment characteristic of eschatological tribulation and the inauguration of the new age.[14]

Amos 9.1 features the destruction of the temple and the taking of the dead out of Sheol, both events at least alluded to by the crucifixion passage’s tearing of the temple veil (Matt 27.51), and resurrection of the righteous dead (Matt 27.52-3).[15] The allusion to Amos 8.9-10 is supported both linguistically and contextually and gives significant support to the hypothesis of eschatological tribulation being in view for the evangelist’s portrayal of the darkness of the crucifixion, adding to Matthew’s narrative the broader context of eschatological judgment and the Day of YHWH motif which was so prevalent within apocalypticism of the day.


[1] Moo, The Old. 343-344.

[2] Brown, Death. 1035.

[3] Amos 8.9-10

[4] O’ Brien, Scripture. 110.

[5] Ibid. 111.

[6] Ibid. 111.

[7] Moo, The Old. 343.

[8] O’ Brien, Scripture. 111.

[9] Ibid. 111.

[10] Ibid. 111.

[11] Gos. Pet. 5.15 seems to have picked up on this allusion, using both “midday” and “sun.” Davies and Allison Jr., Matthew XIX-XXVIII. 622.

[12] Allison Jr., End. 29.

[13] Douglas K Stuart, Hosea-Jonah, Word Biblical Commentary (Waco, Tex.: Word Books, 1987). 385.

[14] Allison Jr., End. 29.

[15] Moo, The Old. 343.


2 Comments

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

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.


1 Comment

Possibilities in the Darkness: The Apocalypse of the Cross: Part 10

Apocaylpse of the CrossEssay Posts

In my last two posts I looked at the text in Matthew’s crucifixion narrative where account of the darkness accompanying Jesus’ death is found. As I have stated previously, these three posts serve as a transition from the introductory material about the apocalyptic framework which was contemporary to the time the gospel’s writing to a more detailed look at the intertextual and innertextual allusions which the darkness evokes. These three post have looked at the exegetical perplexities and historical issues of the text itself; its relation to its Markan source, the extent of the darkness, and finally, here, the various interpretations of the darkness which scholar have proposed.

As stated previously, the darkness has been variously interpreted, each position having greater or lesser degree of validity. Having discussed in the pervious two posts the significant textual issues Matthew’s account of the darkness presents for us, I will here overview the possible interpretations that have been suggested. It is important to note that not all of these interpretations are mutually exclusive.

Douglas Moo summarizes what he sees as eight distinct interpretations that have been proposed for the darkness:

(a) portents accompanying the death of extraordinary men,

(b) a generic apocalyptic sign,

(c) the activity of Satan or demons,

(d) the beginning of a new era of salvation history,

(e) God’s intervention,

(f) God’s wrath,

(j) the Day of YHWH containing themes of both divine judgment and redemption

(k) an allusion to the chaotic darkness at creation.[1]

For my purposes it is enough to mention the diversity of opinion without examining the arguments for each. Rather, I will highlight those interpretations relating particularly to textual allusions.

W. D. Davies and Dale Allison Jr. mention the possibility, to be examined more closely in subsequent posts, of the use of the darkness to cause Jesus’ death to resemble the death of other great men, most notably Julius Caesar in 44 BCE, whose death many sources recorded as occasioned by an eclipse.[2] Outside the scope of this series, though still worth noting, is Nolland’s suggestion that the darkness is a signal of Satan’s activity or points to the moment of evil’s triumph.[3] What is most significant for my series are the various Old Testament usages of darkness, of which Amos 8.9-10 and Exodus 10.21-23[4] are primarily offered as the strongest sources of textual allusion. In the coming posts I will take a close look at these texts and how they inform a reading of the darkness.


[1] Douglas J Moo, The Old Testament in the Gospel Passion Narratives (Sheffield, England: Almond Press, 1983). 342-343.

[2] Davies and Allison Jr., Matthew XIX-XXVIII. 622-623.

[3] Nolland, Matthew. 1205.

[4] Donald Senior, The Passion Narrative According to Matthew: A Redactional Study (Louvain: Leuven University Press, 1982). 293-294. Brown, Death. 1037. Luz and others, Matthew. 544. Davies and Allison Jr., Matthew XIX-XXVIII. 622. Moo, The Old. 343. Robert Horton Gundry, Matthew: A Commentary on His Literary and Theological Art (Grand Rapids, Mich.: W.B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1982). 572. Keener, Matthew. 685. France, Matthew. 1075.


2 Comments

How Dark?: The Apocalypse of the Cross: Part 9

Apocaylpse of the CrossEssay Posts

In my post from last week, I began to look at the text of Matthew’s crucifixion narrative as the first step in beginning to look at the allusions and imagery that lies behind Matthew’s telling of Jesus’ death. In my post last week I began to look at they ways in which Matthew’s text differs from the text of Mark upon which is was based. I noted grammatical changes that were implicated because of specific choices Matthew in his presentation of the text. In this post I will take a closer look at the specific presentation of the darkness within the historic context of Jesus’ death. Specifically we will look at the extent of the darkness and whether it was meant to be understood as a global darkness or only a regional one.

Three crosses Rembrandt In my post from last week, I began to look at the text of Matthew’s crucifixion narrative as the first step in beginning to look at the allusions and imagery that lies behind Matthew’s telling of Jesus’ death. In my post last week I began to look at they ways in which Matthew’s text differs from the text of Mark upon which is was based. I noted grammatical changes that were implicated because of specific choices Matthew in his presentation of the text. In this post I will take a closer look at the specific presentation of the darkness within the historic context of Jesus’ death. Specifically we will look at the extent of the darkness and whether it was meant to be understood as a global darkness or only a regional one. Since γῆν (geœn, land) can mean either a region (in this case Judea) or the earth, there is some debate over the extent of the darkness Matthew the evangelist intended. Donald Hagner, referencing the citation in Gos. Pet. 5.15, argues ἐπὶ πᾶσαν τὴν γῆν (epi pasan teœn geœn, over all the land) most likely means “the land of Judea” instead of referencing the whole earth.  Agreeing, John Nolland states the regional interpretation of γῆν (geœn, land) as “Judea” better fits with the centrality of Jerusalem within the Passion Narrative and what he sees as the verse’s rather rudimentary eschatological language.   Conversely, Raymond Brown and Ulrich Luz argue for an interpretation of "all the earth."  Even Hagner posits regardless of the phrase’s actual referent, this may be closer to the evangelist's intended meaning.  Brown argues while the regional interpretation is favored for its historical plausibility; this should not overly sway the interpretation, as the evangelist's meaning is primarily theological. Brown notes the common LXX phrase "over all the γῆν (geœn, land)” and argues Matthew's usage strengthens the Old Testament context of the verse.  Luz, likewise, cites the cosmic nature of the darkness, to be discussed in my upcoming post, in favor of a global interpretation.    Regardless of the historical nature of the darkness, the evangelist’s meaning supersedes history and instead focuses of the theological meaning which lies behind his presentation of the darkness. Matthew is not so much interested in specifically detailing the historical extent of the darkness but rather in assigning theological meaning to this darkness. Given the linguistic parallels with the Old Testament it is probable that regardless of the historical extent of the darkness, the evangelist is meaning to evoke in the minds of his hearers a universal and global darkness of theological significance. As such, more important for my purposes is the theological meaning rather than the historical.  While the darkness at the cross may only have occurred in the region of Judea, the ambiguity of Matthew's language occasions for examining the theological meaning of the text, likely intending to extend the darkness to a global scale. It is this theological mean to which we will turn in the next post in this series as we examine the possible theological interpretations which have been proposed for the darkness at the cross.

Since the greek word γῆν (geœn, land) in Matthew’s “darkness came ἐπὶ πᾶσαν τὴν γῆν (epi pasan teœn geœnover all the land)…” can mean either a region (in this case Judea) or the earth, there is some debate over the extent of the darkness Matthew the evangelist intended. Donald Hagner, referencing the citation in Gos. Pet. 5.15, argues ἐπὶ πᾶσαν τὴν γῆν (epi pasan teœn geœn, over all the land) most likely means “the land of Judea” instead of referencing the whole earth.[1] Agreeing, John Nolland states the regional interpretation of γῆν (geœn, land) as “Judea” better fits with the centrality of Jerusalem within the Passion Narrative and what he sees as the verse’s rather rudimentary eschatological language.[2]

Conversely, Raymond Brown and Ulrich Luz argue for an interpretation of “all the earth.”[3] Even Hagner posits that regardless of the phrase’s actual referent, this may be closer to the evangelist’s intended meaning.[4] Brown argues while the regional interpretation is favored for its historical plausibility this should not overly sway the interpretation, as the evangelist’s meaning is primarily theological. Brown notes the common LXX phrase “over all the γῆν (geœn, land)” and argues Matthew’s usage strengthens the Old Testament context of the verse.[5] Luz, likewise, cites the cosmic nature of the darkness, to be discussed in my upcoming post, in favor of a global interpretation.[6]

Regardless of the historical nature of the darkness, the evangelist’s meaning supersedes history and instead focuses of the theological meaning which lies behind his presentation of the darkness. Matthew is not so much interested in specifically detailing the historical extent of the darkness but rather in assigning theological meaning to this darkness. Given the linguistic parallels with the Old Testament, which will become significant as we move forward, it is probable that regardless of the historical extent of the darkness, the evangelist is attempting to evoke in the minds of his hearers a universal and global darkness of theological significance.

As such, more important for my purposes is the theological meaning rather than the historical.[7] While the darkness at the cross may only have occurred in the region of Judea, the ambiguity of Matthew’s language occasions for examining the theological meaning of the text, likely intending to extend the darkness to a global scale. It is this theological mean  which we will outline in the next post in this series as we examine the possible theological interpretations which have been proposed for the darkness at the cross.


[1] Donald A Hagner, Matthew 14-28, Word Biblical Commentary 33b (Dallas: Word Books, 1995). 845.

[2] Nolland, Matthew. 1205.

[3] Raymond Edward Brown, The Death of the Messiah : From Gethsemane to the Grave: A Commentary on the Passion Narratives in the Four Gospels (Garden City: Doubleday, 1994). 1036. Luz and others, Matthew. 543.

[4] Hagner, Matthew 14-28. 845.

[5] Brown, Death. 1036.

[6] Luz and others, Matthew. 543.

[7] I will not give full discussion to the prospect of eclipse. France dismisses it out of hand, as the Passover occurred at a full moon (Richard Thomas France, The Gospel of Matthew (Grand Rapids, Mich.: William B. Eerdmans Pub., 2007). 1075). Likewise, Keener notes it is improbable a three hour eclipse was unrecorded by all Mediterranean antiquity, and just as impractical for Christians to be unchallenged in fabricating one (Craig S Keener, A Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew (Grand Rapids, Mich.: W.B. Eerdmans Pub., 1999). 685). Davies and Allison discuss the possibilities of ‘dark days’ and the moving of a remembered eclipse to coincide with Jesus’ death (Davies and Allison Jr., Matthew XIX-XXVIII. 623).


2 Comments

Starry Text: The Apocalypse of the Cross: Part 8

Apocaylpse of the CrossEssay Posts

From providing a brief introduction to the apocalyptic in my previous post I will now turn in the up coming posts to my main discussion of the darkness at the cross. Having seen the way in which apocalyptic language, eschatological tribulation, and representative woes functioned within the context of Second Temple Judaism, it is now time to look at how these concepts may be applied to the death of Jesus. In my first post I suggested the darkness at the cross will function as a case study for a larger hypothesis that linguistic and typographical parallels between Matthew’s crucifixion account and the Old Testament scriptures and apocalyptic literature generally, parallels between Matthew’s crucifixion and Matthew’s own apocalyptic material specifically, are used to frame the crucifixion of Jesus in the apocalyptic context of eschatological tribulation and representative woes.

Recall the diagram from the first post to visualize this process.

Intertextual and innertextual Allusions

In order to substantiate this hypothesis I will begin by examining the exegetical particulars of the text within which the darkness is found, after which I will begin by looking at those intertextual parallels with exterior sources, both Jewish and Roman, that may provide the background for Matthew’s usage of darkness at the cross. This will be followed by looking at the innertextual parallels with Matthew’s own apocalyptic discourse. Examining the relevant data will allow conclusions to be drawn about the meaning of the darkness at the cross and how these conclusions impact my larger thesis, and suggest what further veins of study may prove fruitful.

191-Van-Gogh-Starry-Nights-1

Yet any discussion of symbolism, imagery, and allusion must first begin with looking at the basic structures and meaning of the narrative itself. Like examining Van Gogh’s Starry Night, any discussions of the subtle colors, swirling brush strokes, deeper meaning, techniques, and styles must first begin by acknowledging that is in fact a tree, those are meant to be stars, and that is indeed a sleepy hamlet nestled in the valley below. Looking at the actual subject of the painting is needed before a more sophisticated discussion of its contents can begin. As such, here it is necessary to first look at the unique exegetical features of the text of Matthew’s crucifixion within which the darkness is found.

Exegesis of the Text

From noon on, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. And about three o’clock Jesus cried with a loud voice, ‘Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?’ that is, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’When some of the bystanders heard it, they said, ‘This man is calling for Elijah.’ At once one of them ran and got a sponge, filled it with sour wine, put it on a stick, and gave it to him to drink. But the others said, ‘Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to save him.’ Then Jesus cried again with a loud voice and breathed his last. At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. The earth shook, and the rocks were split. The tombs also were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised. After his resurrection they came out of the tombs and entered the holy city and appeared to many. Now when the centurion and those with him, who were keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were terrified and said, ‘Truly this man was God’s Son!’

Matthew 27:45-54 is the central unit of Matthew’s last subsection of his crucifixion account.[1] Verse 45 marks the transition in Matthew’s crucifixion narrative to Jesus’ final hours on the cross, being the ominous prologue to Jesus’ death.[2] Matthew continues to follow the text of Mark’s passion narrative closely, giving no indication of a source other than the Mark 15.33-39 text.[3] It begins with the onset of darkness, followed by Jesus’ cry of dereliction, the mocking concerning Elijah and the offering of sour wine, Jesus’ last breath, the rending of the temple veil, earthquake and resurrection of the righteous dead, and closes with the “son of god” proclamation of the centurion.

But from the sixth hour σκότος ἐγένετο (skotos egeneto, darkness came) ἐπὶ πᾶσαν τὴν γῆν (epi pasan teœn geœn, over all the land) until the ninth hour.[4]

Matthew’s text of the darkness deviates from the Markan text in replacing καὶ γενομένης (kai genomeneœs, and being) with ἀπὸ δὲ (apo de, from but), inverting ὥρας ἕκτης (hoœras hekteœs, hour sixth), and changing ἐφ᾿ ὅλην (eph’ holeœn, over the whole) to ἐπὶ πᾶσαν (epi pasan, over all).[5] While the verses are otherwise identical, these differences will be examined in an attempt to understand what allusions and influences undergird the text.

Matthew’s change of Mark’s καὶ γενομένης (kai genomeneœs, and being) to ἀπὸ δὲ (apo de, from but) results from other changes within Matthew’s crucifixion narrative. Mark’s usage links back to his time reference in 15.25. Since Matthew drops this expression, his construction must be modified to introduce this first mention of timing within the narrative.[6] While throughout his gospel Matthew has large periods of time passing, with little concern for chronology, beginning in 21.1 the narrative slows to recount events taking place over the course of only a few days and here the evangelist checks the pace again, bringing the account to a matter of hours.[7]

This post serves as an introduction to the next major section of this series. I will now be looking much more directly at the text of Matthew’s crucifixion and the sources it may be drawing allusions from. From this post’s examination of the linguistics distinctions of Matthew 27:45-53 I will turn in my next post to the meaning of the phrase “over all the land.”


[1] John Nolland, The Gospel of Matthew : A Commentary on the Greek Text (Grand Rapids, Mich.: W.B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 2005). 1203.

[2] Ulrich Luz and others, Matthew : A Commentary (Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1989). 541.

[3] Nolland, Matthew.1203.

[4] Matt 27.45, my translation; Gk. NA27

[5] W. D. Davies and Dale C Allison Jr., A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Gospel According to Saint Matthew: Commentary on Matthew XIX-XXVIII (T & T Clark International, 1997). 621.

[6] Nolland, Matthew. 1204.

[7] Davies and Allison Jr., Matthew XIX-XXVIII. 621.


1 Comment

Who Did He Die For?: The Apocalypse of the Cross: Part 7

Apocaylpse of the CrossEssay Posts

At the end of The Tale of Two Cities Darnay lies in prison awaiting the guillotine. Death seems immanent for our protagonist. At the last though the day is saved though an act of selfish courage and a clever turn of doppelgängry. Lucy’s true love is rescued by the selfless act of the cynic drunkard Carton who, despite his own love for Lucy, gives himself in the place of Darnay. This theme of one going in the place of another, or even more importantly, one going in the place of many, as in the climax of Harry Potter (a book I love far too much to ruin here), is one which has resonated through the ages. There is something about that story — self-sacrifice, selflessness, courage under fire — which makes for narratival gold.

How might this theme of giving of oneself for another or a group function within the accounts of Jesus’ death. Many of us have heard a preacher say “Jesus died for me.” And while this is a nice sentiment, it is also significantly non-descript. Why exactly did Jesus die and how might that death have been for me? Sometimes it is worded “Jesus died, paying the debt for my sin, so I don’t have to.” While this is perhaps more descriptive, how does it align with the way in which the themes of this kind of death on  behalf of another (or a whole group) was thought about within first century Jewish culture?

Having looked  in my last two posts generally at the theme of eschatological tribulation, I will now look more specifically at the concept of tribulation in relation to the messiah, what I am here calling representative woes. Here my thesis owes a debt to a long line of Historical Jesus research which has sought to understand Jesus as an apocalyptic prophet and his death in the terms of an eschatological event.[1] Albert Schweitzer, in The Quest of the Historical Jesus, presented Jesus, convinced that in order for the kingdom to come it must be proceeded by eschatological distress. Schweitzer sees Jesus going to Jerusalem with the belief that he “must suffer for others… that the Kingdom might come.”[2] It was, in Schweitzer’s view, Jesus’ belief that he himself must bear this distress in order to bring about the kingdom.[3]

While Schweitzer’s view is lacking in many respects, not least of which is his failure to understand apocalyptic language,[4] he sufficiently laid the groundwork for subsequent development of the theme of Jesus’ death and the eschatological tribulation. Significant in this regard are Allison, Wright, and Pitre’s work. In The End of the Ages Has Come, Allison argues that in his ministry Jesus announced the eschatological tribulation had now begun, and as such his suffering and death is rightly understood as having taken place within the eschatological tribulation.[5] It is this pattern of sufferingvindication which lies behind Jesus’ predictions of both his death, which is a result of the tribulation, and his resurrection, which is YHWH’s vindication of his mission.[6]

This belief of Jesus’ is based on the idea that those who suffer in the tribulation somehow preserve the nation as a whole. Wright argues Second Temple Judaism held a belief that the experience of tribulation, both by the community and their leader in particular, was a sign of coming liberation and redemption.[7] He cites 4 Maccabees:

“Those who gave over their bodies in suffering for the sake of the religion…were deemed worthy to share in a divine inheritance. Because of them the nation gained peace…”[8]

as an example that the suffering of a few martyrs functioned representatively for the whole nation and served a redemptive function in bringing peace to Israel.[9]

This use of representation is found throughout the language of the apocalypse. In this schema, a group is seen as being represented by another person or sub-group who bears their fate or fortune on their behalf.[10] Drawing on a wide range of Old Testament influences:

 (a) Daniel’s mention of the “wise” who will ”fall, so they may be refined, purified, and cleansed, until the time of the end.”[11]

(b) The Levitical code.

(c) The suffering righteous in the lament psalms who trusts in YHWH and is delivered.

(d) The book of Zechariah.

(e) Ezekiel’s prophetic symbolism in acting out Israel going into exile.[12]

(f) The Servant of YHWH from Isaiah 40-55.

Wright traces the belief — combined, modified, and reworked by Second Temple Judaism and Jesus himself — that the current suffering of Israel was in step with the YHWH’s divine purpose and that this period of tribulation, which was caused by Israel’s sin, would come to an end by means of either the suffering of the nation, or by a righteous representative suffering on her behalf, which would somehow quicken the tribulation’s completion.[13]

Representative woes

Stated more concisely, in the concept of representative woes those events which were traditionally expected to be experienced by the nation or world as a whole during a time of eschatological tribulation — suffering, celestial signs, interpersonal and familial betrayal, and increased violence and wickedness — are instead experienced by a representative on behalf of the whole nation. This representative’s suffering would not only end the tribulation but also bring about the redemption the nation awaited. These insights from Schweitzer, Allison, Wright, and Pitre lay the groundwork of the following posts in this series. Having covered all the necessary preparation and supplying an apocalyptic framework within which to work, I will now finally be able to turn to the main heart of this series, the apocalyptic nature of darkness at the cross and the theology of Jesus’ death in Matthew’s gospel. These themes will become important in drawing conclusions concerning the meaning of the darkness at the cross.


[1] Ibid. 382.

[2] Albert Schweitzer, The Quest of the Historical Jesus: A Critical Study of Its Progress From Reimarus to Wrede, trans. W Montgomery (Great Britain: A. & C. Black ltd., 1926). 389.

[3] Ibid. 387-389. cf. Pitre, Jesus. 10-12.

[4] cf. N. T Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1996). 578.

[5] Allison Jr., End. 3.

[6] Ibid. 141.

[7] Wright, People. 581.

[8] 4 Macc 18.3-4.

[9] Ibid. 583.

[10] Wright, People. 290.

[11] Dan 11.35 NRSV

[12] Ezek 4.1-6

[13] Wright, People. 595-591.


2 Comments

A Malleable Tribulation: The Apocalypse of the Cross: Part 6

Apocaylpse of the CrossEssay Posts

In my last post I talked about the idea of the Great Tribulation, a time of hardship, cosmic disturbance, and devastation proceeding the time of Israel’s God vindicating the suffering of his people and acting to establish his promises. This idea of Great Tribulation has been a populate on within the Evangelical church for the last decades, with the concept of the immanent unfolding of these events being prevalent in the minds of many factions of the Protestant Church. With a cursory glance it would seem the ancient Jewish texts from which this concept of Great Tribulation is drawn are in keeping with much of the end times fever of the American Church today.

Closer examination of the theme of Great Tribulation within these sources is therefore in order as to see if our contemporary understanding of these texts squares up with the way in which the writers who developed this concept understood it to function. It is important to keep in mind, as I discussed in my previous posts, the often multi-layered nature of the apocalyptic language used within these texts, often using symbol and metaphor and adding theological weight to otherwise historical events via cosmic imagery.

In attempting to understand the features and breadth of the Great Tribulation concept, I will summarize the work of Dale Allison Jr. and Brant Pitre in order to set the stage for the examination of the crucifixion account. In order to understand the flexibility of the eschatological tribulation motif, Allison asks three main questions of the relevant texts;

1. When will the eschatological tribulation come?
2. Who will suffer?
3. How long will it last?[1]

His conclusions serve to show the considerable diversity which can be found within these writings. To answer the first question, Allison’s analysis of the texts finds the tribulation may be present now, coming in the future, or, in one instance, having already occurred.[2] As to the second question, in some cases the righteous suffer, in some the wicked do, and in others it is ambiguous who suffers.[3] As to the third question, in Daniel the tribulation lasts seven years, in other texts forty[4] or more, yet most text do no attempt to state a length.[5] This diversity within the Great Tribulation motif is important to help us see that a simplistic one-size-fits-all approach to these texts will not do, rather each must be examined within their own context and the malleability of the motif be considered as we examine how the concept may be applied within other texts and traditions. Significant for my purposes is the adaptability of the eschatological tribulation motif to refer to an event present or even past and stretching over a period of many years.[6]

In addition to Allison’s findings, Pitre summarizes his detailed investigation of Second Temple Jewish literature with a set of conclusions concerning the features of eschatological tribulation.[7] For the sake of brevity I will state those pertaining to my particular focus, owing a great debt to his thorough examination of the subject. He concludes:

(a) The tribulation is described using the typographical language of the Old Testament.

(b) It is connected to the coming of a messianic figure, sometimes called the “son of man.”

(c) During the tribulation the righteous will suffer and die, including reference to the suffering and death of a messianic figure.

(d) It serves as the eschatological crescendo of Israel’s suffering in exile,

(e) It has some redemptive or atoning function.

(f) A righteous remnant will emerge.

(g) The tribulation precedes the final judgment.

(h) It precedes the coming of an eschatological kingdom.

(i) It is connected to the end of Israel’s exile and their restoration.

(j) It precedes the resurrection of the dead and the new creation.[8]

From Pitre’s conclusions, the sufferingvindication motif I expressed in my last post can be seen, both generally for Israel as a whole, and sometimes specifically for a person or group representing the whole nation.

2013-09-19 12.37.44 am It is both this thematic commonality present within Second Temple Jewish texts concerning the eschatological tribulation and the diversity and malleability of the motif which serves as the background to understand how Jesus’ death may function within an apocalyptic framework:  That a time of intensified hardship and tribulation, earmarked by celestial signs, earthquakes, interpersonal and familial distress, violence, increased wickedness, and the suffering of the righteous, must necessarily precede the advent of Israel’s redemption and the eschatological kingdom is significant for investigation of Jesus’ own tribulation and ultimate death.

In my next posts we will look more closely at this theme of representation which functions with apocalyptic literature and the motif of eschatological tribulation


[1] Allison Jr., End. 5.

[2] Ibid. 6-19.

[3] Ibid. 19-22.

[4] 1QM

[5] Ibid. 22-25.

[6] Ibid. 25.

[7] Pitre, Jesus. 41-130.

[8] While Pitre arranged his conclusions by prevalence within Second Temple texts, I have ordered the list topically. Ibid. 128-129.


3 Comments

Destruction at the End: The Apocalypse of the Cross: Part 5

Apocaylpse of the Cross

Essay Posts

At the end of 1999, as the secular cyberpocalypse of Y2K sent survivalists and suburbanites alike scrambling to stockpile supplies, in churches across America preachers prepared their congregants for another form of disaster. Convinced by some unofficial timeline of the end the close of a millennium (only the second to occur since the life of Christ) must mean the return of Jesus to the earth, preachers and sunday school teachers warned their parishioners of the destruction and disaster about to visit the plant earth before the ultimate end. Never mind most taught the saints would be raptured away, the fear of impending judgment through fire and earthquake on the whole earth hung heavy. Many an evangelical can tell tale from childhood of coming home to find the house empty and fearing the worse: the rapture had come and, to quote Larry Norman, “you’ve been left behind.” The Great Tribulation. Judgement Day. The End Times. Only destruction awaited as the earth approached the closing of the world order. Regardless of the specifics of the timeline, evangelical eschatology has told us the end of the world and the return of Jesus, or the new world order, or some other plan of existence will be preluded by a time of global disaster, destruction, and death.

Yet how does this time of coming judgment function within the first century Jewish expectations of the end. In my previous two posts I looked at the role of apocalyptic literature in the last two centuries BCE and the first century CE. Within these next two posts I am going to examine the theme of Eschatological Tribulation in these writings.  This post will look at the evidence for the presence of Eschatological Tribulation within these writings while in the following post we will look at the diversity and adaptablity of this theme within apocalyptic texts.

Much like the pop-eschatology of the turn of the second millennium, within the framework of apocalyptic thought many writings speak of the closing of the present world order in terms of a coming time of eschatological tribulation marked by a wide array of disturbances; earthquakes, famine, war, betrayal between friends, and cosmic portents.[1] This belief in a final time of tribulation and wickedness before the inauguration of the new age can be seen throughout the pseudepigraphic writings of Second Temple Judaism and features:

(a) an eschatology drawn from the Old Testament scriptures.

(b) a “periodization of history,” dividing both past and future into distinct ages.

(c) future apostasy.

(d) a time of increased violence, wickedness, and deceit.

(e) the coming forth of a righteous remnant, rejuvenation of the Davidic kingdom and end of Israel’s exile.[2]

Given the volume of significant material, a short overview of the motif of eschatological tribulation during this period will have to suffice. By way of introduction, I will cite a sampling of the relevant Old Testament and pseudepigraphic texts.

At that time Michael, the great prince, the protector of your people, shall arise. There shall be a time of anguish, such as has never occurred since nations first came into existence. But at that time your people shall be delivered, everyone who is found written in the book. Many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. [3]

So, when there shall appear in the world earthquakes, tumult of peoples, intrigues of nations, wavering of leaders, confusion of princes, then you will know it was these things that the Most High spoke from the days that were of old, from the beginning.[4]

That time will be divided into twelve parts…the beginning of commotions…the slaughtering of the great…the fall of many into death… the drawing of the sword… famine and withholding of rain… earthquakes and terrors…multitude of ghosts and the appearances of demons… the fall of fire… rape and much violence… injustice and unchastity…disorder and a mixture of all that has been before.[5]

With only a cursory look one can see the motif of tribulation preceding a time of redemption being established. Central here is the belief that this period of intense suffering and upheaval must take place prior to Israel’s redemption and forgiveness. There was, within apocalypticism, a belief that corporate suffering and tribulation must be undergone to pay for the sins of the nation.[6]

2013-09-05 05.56.25 pm

As a collective entity they must undergo this time of eschatological tribulation so the new age of God’s reign might begin.[7] This model, suffering/tribulationvindication/restoration, stands at the center of eschatological tribulation and will be significant in moving forward to look at the death of Jesus.

It might seem from this overview that the preachers at the millennium’s turn might have gotten it right. Maybe they were wrong that when the clock struck midnight and the ball dropped the end would come in a flash but about the whole tribulation, disaster, and destruction they seem right on spec with the writers of Second Temple Judaism. In my next post we will look at just how uniform the idea of eschatological tribulation was and perhaps more importantly how much it could change, adapt and even be subverted.


[1] Dale C Allison Jr., The End of the Ages Has Come: An Early Interpretation of the Passion and Resurrection of Jesus (Fortress Press, 1985). 5.

[2] Brant J Pitre, Jesus, the Tribulation, and the End of the Exile: Restoration Eschatology and the Origin of the Atonement (Baker Academic, 2005). 47.

[3] Dan 12.1-2 NRSV

[4] 4 Ezra 9.3-4 OTP

[5] 2 Bar. 27.1-13

[6] T. Rajak, Josephus: The Historian and His Society (London: Duckworth, 1983). 97.

[7] Wright, People. 277-278.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,449 other followers