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Jesus and His Death

Historiography, the Historical Jesus, and Atonement Theory

Scot McKnight

Publication Year: 2005

Recent scholarship on the historical Jesus has rightly focused upon how Jesus understood his own mission. But no scholarly effort to understand the mission of Jesus can rest content without exploring the historical possibility that Jesus envisioned his own death. In this careful and far-reaching study, Scot McKnight contends that Jesus did in fact anticipate his own death, that Jesus understood his death as an atoning sacrifice, and that his death as an atoning sacrifice stood at the heart of Jesus' own mission to protect his own followers from the judgment of God.

Published by: Baylor University Press


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p. ix-ix

This book began when N.T. Wright asked me, as a member of the steering committee for the Historical Jesus Section at the Society of Biblical Literature meeting in Nashville, to prepare a five minute introduction to the topic of that session: the death of Jesus. When the program appeared, I discovered that I was (a providential accident, so I believe) scheduled for a full paper...


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Chapter 1. The Historical Jesus, the Death of Jesus, Historiography, and Theology

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pp. 3-46

When academics stand before an audience and explain a view of the historical Jesus—in this case how Jesus understood his own death—and when the historical Jesus case is made in the context of a theological discipline and education, the scholar may think he or she is walking on water, but the voices of truth are calling out to the scholar to watch each step...

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Chapter 2. Jesus’ Death in Scholarship

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pp. 47-76

If Homer scholars never find Achilles’ immortal shield and see firsthand the dance floor depicted by Hephaistos, the lame craftsman among Zeus’s gods, it would not affect Homer’s depiction of the cosmic dimensions of life, or his insight into the tragic flaws of human character, or his impact on the image of the heroic. If Achilles never fought Hector...

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Chapter 3. Re-enter Jesus’ Death

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pp. 77-102

It is not yet my intention to adjudicate between these scholars, resolve all the issues, or expound a consensus on how Jesus viewed his death. The evidence and contexts for the evidence are so complex that a consensus may never be reached. However, several foundational issues need to be brought to the surface and examined more completely than was possible in chapter...


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Chapter 4. The Leading Foot in the Dance of Atonement

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pp. 105-120

Historical Jesus scholarship of the second half of the twentieth century has avoided a question to which C.H. Dodd thought there was a firm answer. In Dodd’s influential book, The Parables of the Kingdom, he discussed the predictions of Jesus that do not mention the kingdom of God,1...

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Chapter 5. A Temporary Presence in God’s Providence

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pp. 121-138

If Jesus saw his death as a possibility and could see his death in connection to the arrival of the Final Ordeal, the great tribulation, the next step in our study is to determine if his thoughts moved beyond possibility to probability. Did Jesus, in other words, not only comprehend that the eschatological coursing...

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Chapter 6. Jesus and the Prophetic Fate

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pp. 139-156

Approximately three miles northeast of Nazareth, off the left shoulder of the path toward Tiberias as the hawk flies, lay a village traditionally connected to Jonah, son of Amittai. The village was called Gath-Hepher (2 Kgs 14:25; later called Gobebatha and under Sepphoris’ direction; now called el-Meshhed). Jerome informs us that there was a sacred tomb...


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Chapter 7. The Authenticity of the Ransom Saying

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pp. 159-176

Apart from the words reported of Jesus in the last supper, no statement attributed by the Evangelists to Jesus is more significant for the debate over how Jesus understood his death than the following words: “For the Son of man came not to be served but to serve...

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Chapter 8. Jesus and the Scripture Prophets

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pp. 177-188

We have established that Jesus thought he would die prematurely, in the providence of God, and would probably die at the hands of those who rejected his mission as a potential source of rebellion. It only makes sense that one who thought he would die, who on other grounds considered himself a prophet, also tried to make sense of that death...

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Chapter 9. The Script for Jesus

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pp. 189-206

We enter here into a “mindfield.” Buried under the mental surface of our concern is the following set of issues: Jesus’ intentions, Jesus’ vision for a restored Israel, and Jesus’ use of the Old Testament as a source for finding a script for his life. That Jesus searched the Tanakh to understand his mission...

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Chapter 10. Jesus and the Servant

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pp. 207-224

It has been established that Jesus thought he would die prematurely, that it was part of God’s providence, that he was like other prophets who met a similar fate, that this death was part of the Final Ordeal. And, we have also discovered that Jesus found his life and his patterns in various heroic figures of the Tanakh. We have argued also that from the time of John’s death forward...

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Chapter 11. The Passion Predictions

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pp. 225-240

Standing tall among the press of evidence for Jesus and how he understood his death, and whether or not that understanding moved into the realm of the Servant of Isaiah, are the passion predictions. In the passion predictions it is made clear that death for Jesus is not a tragedy...


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Chapter 12. Pesah in Jewish History

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pp. 243-258

The Eucharist is one of the elements of church life which moderns may well like or dislike, but no intelligent person dare ignore it in seeking to understand Jesus. The elements served at Eucharist are the most stable dimension of Christendom. Questions abound, and the answers to those questions provide interpretations that shape the worshiper...

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Chapter 13. Pesah and the Last Supper

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pp. 259-274

To understand how Jesus divined his own death we have come to the conclusion that a variety of texts indicated he expected to die prematurely and that he sought for meaning in that death by exploring figures and texts in the Tanakh. But those gospel texts, including Mark 10:45 (at least as far as we have studied it), are not firm enough historically or not expressive enough of a theory...

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Chapter 14. This Bread and This Cup

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pp. 275-292

We have concluded that the last supper was probably, or perhaps only possibly, not technically the Pesah. But the view concluded in chapter 13 does not imply that the meal was an ordinary Jewish meal, with a skin or two of vino tinto, vegetables, grains, herbs, a stew, and an assortment of dips...

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Chapter 15. Jesus and the Covenant

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pp. 293-322

Nearly every theological interpretation of the Lord’s Supper concerns itself with the last supper as somehow expressing the “covenant theology” of Jesus. The question we ask in this chapter is whether or not, and if so in what way, Jesus thought of the last supper and his death as covenant-establishing. Which means that we are also concerned here with the origins...

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Chapter 16. “Poured Out” and Eschatology

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pp. 323-334

We have now nearly come to the end of the meal, but there remain two other traditions in the Jesus material of the last supper that potentially shed light on how Jesus understood his death. We have argued that the last supper was not, technically speaking, the Pesah. It was a meal during the week of Pesah, a meal eaten in Jerusalem the night...

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Chapter 17. Conclusions

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pp. 335-374

It matters to some historians of the development of earliest Christianity and to the Christian faith both if Jesus thought about his own death and, even more importantly, how or what he thought of his death. Robert W. Funk, for instance, contends that Jesus is not “the proper object of faith,” that moderns ought to “give Jesus a demotion,” that moderns...

Works Cited

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pp. 375-410

Scripture Index

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pp. 411-438

Author Index

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pp. 439-448

Subject Index

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pp. 449-451

E-ISBN-13: 9781602581203
E-ISBN-10: 1602581207
Print-ISBN-13: 9781932792799
Print-ISBN-10: 1932792791

Page Count: 590
Publication Year: 2005

Edition: 1st