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Chapter 7 The Authenticity of the Ransom Sayings 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, and to give his life a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). And neither is there a logion of more disputed authenticity than this “Son of man” ransom saying.1 But, as Barnabas Lindars observed in his contribution to Expository Times’ well-received pieces on texts about salvation, “Few people are likely to be satisfied with relegating this idea to the creative reflection of the church . . . [as it] lies close to the heart of the gospel. There is bound to be a strong desire to retain it as genuinely the word of Jesus.”2 Desires, however, don’t always make for good history. We immediately confront a serious methodological factor. Two contradictory claims have been made. First, the claim has been made that the saying is inauthentic because it has the flavor of the Hellenistic churches. Second, as if mining a different quarry, some scholars have argued vehemently for the authenticity of this logion because it has a Jewish background. As a point-d’ appui, we note that Bernd Janowski and Peter Stuhlmacher find a plausible Jewish background for the ransom saying in various texts.3 Thus, Psalm 49:7 (Heb 49:8): Truly, no ransom avails for one’s life, there is no price one can give to God for it. 1 On Son of man, see the excursus at the end of this chapter. That bibliography is assumed from this point on. 2 B. Lindars, “Salvation Proclaimed,” ExpTim 93 (1981–1982): 292–95, here p. 292. 3 See P. Stuhlmacher, Biblische Theologie des Neuen Testaments (vol. 1 of Grundlegung von Jesus zu Paulus; Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1997), 128–29, referring to the work of Janowski. 159 160 Jesus and His Death Isaiah 43:3-4: For I am the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior. I give Egypt as your ransom, Ethiopia and Seba in exchange for you. Because you are precious in my sight, and honored, and I love you, I give people in return for you, nations in exchange for your life (cf. also Isa 45:14-17; Sipre Deut. 333 on 32:43 [Neusner, 382]). 4Q508, 3.I, 5-6: Of the wicked you shall make our ransom, while for the upright [you will bring about] the destruction of all our enemies. This evidence permits them a connection also to Isaiah 52:13–53:12. But there is a methodological issue involved, even if we for now suspend judgment on the issue of whether this view can be justified at the level of historiography. Here is the tendency in their procedure: the evidence is completely sorted on the table; the logion is compared to Jewish and Greek sources; when it is discovered that the “ransom for many” element of the saying is Jewish, rather than Greek, the conclusion occurs: it is from Jesus. The leap is made. It remains, however, a leap and not a simple short step.4 This methodological tendency to equate what is Jewish with what is Jesus is frequently observed in the conservative reaction to Bultmann, who argued that atonement sayings like this are not Jewish but emerged instead from the Hellenistic churches. To be sure, for a saying to be assigned to Jesus there needs to be evidence that the saying is plausible in a Jewish context, as Gerd Theissen and Dagmar Winter have argued.5 But establishing something as Jewish is not the same as establishing it as from Jesus. The argument is messier than it looks. Thanks to the pioneering reminders of Martin Hengel,6 few today accept the simple bifurcation of Jewish and Hellenistic Christianity. Rendering judgment on Jewish vs. Hellenistic simply is no longer an option. Many, however, retain Bultmann’s negative judgment on the authenticity of Mark 10:45 that emerged from his bifurcation of Hellenistic and Jewish Christianity. Bultmann’s opponents, like the spies of the clan of Joseph (Judg 1:22-26), scouted Judaism to find sacrificial and atoning and vicarious perceptions of death—and then, once those texts were discovered, the case about a text like Mark 10:45 was considered closed. The mistake can be stated simply: just because something...


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