Is this indeed so, that Mark reports Jesus remained silent while other
gospel writers portray him as saying, for instance, "I thirst"
(John 19:28)? Does Mark ever say, 'Jesus remained silent?' Of course not.
Rather, he does not quote other utterances, such as "I thirst."
This is the Rule of Exhaustive Utterance: If Mark quotes Jesus as saying
'Eloi, eloi,' then Mark is affirming that Jesus did NOT say anything else.
Any quotation must follow the rule: 'He say thus-and-so, [AND NOTHING ELSE].'
Do we ever apply this Rule of Exhaustive Utterance in daily life? For instance, if the Reuters news article on Yahoo quotes an Australian fire-fighting hero as saying, 'The flames were fifty feet high,' and the AP article quotes the same man as saying, 'It was touch-and-go for a while,' do we say, 'the two accounts contradict one another'? Rather, does it not strike us that the man probably said BOTH things? That is the normal protocol readers follow when differing accounts offer complementary information. We allow the accounts to supplement each other. That is the best way to garner information about the world. Why is it not followed here?
Mark's gospel is the shortest of the gospels and would consequently be
expected to report the fewest incidents. What is so incredible about a
man dying on the cross saying "I thirst"? We do a two-step shuffle
with Dr. Ehrman: first we pretend that the gospel authors are writing fiction,
purportedly to allow them to speak for themselves, though they did not
think they were writing fiction and were indeed even liable to challenge
from surviving witnesses. Were we not pretending that the gospel authors
were writing fiction, we would not have said that Mark describes Jesus
as silent except for "My God, my God, etc.," since there are
very plainly recorded six other utterances from the cross in the other
evangelists. Then, having created a 'Bible contradiction' through the pretense
that the gospel authors are writing fiction, we suddenly recall that they
are not writing fiction but history. After all Jesus cannot both have said
nothing except "My God, my God, etc.," and also have said the
six other utterances recorded elsewhere. Thus, we simultaneously rediscover
that the evangelists are writing history...and that it's error-ridden history!
This methodology leaves one wondering: why did we pretend these authors
were writing fiction, when we knew all along that they were not?
Does the pretended courtesy of allowing the evangelists to speak with their own voice accomplish its stated aim? To the contrary, the evangelists assert that they are writing history, incorporating eye-witness testimony into their accounts: "Forasmuch as many have taken in hand to set forth in order a declaration of those things which are most surely believed among us, even as they delivered them unto us, which from the beginning were eyewitnesses, and ministers of the word..." (Luke 1:1-2). How then does it show respect to these authors to treat them as if they were writing fiction? A fiction writer is a god making his own universe; if he does not recount an event, then it never happened, not in his universe. Do the evangelists want this protocol applied to their writings? To the contrary, they specifically disavow any intent to deny events they do not describe: "And there are also many other things which Jesus did, the which, if they should be written every one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written." (John 21:25). To read them with Dr. Ehrman's protocol is to deny their expressed wish. John does not want to be understood to deny those "many other things" he has
omitted to mention.
The pretended courtesy of allowing these authors to speak for themselves
amounts in the end to accusing them of fraud. They say they are historians,
Dr. Ehrman says they are fiction-writers. He accuses them of fraud...because
he is so concerned to maintain their integrity!: "To approach the
stories in this way is to rob each author of his own integrity..."
(Bart Ehrman, 'Jesus, Interrupted,' p. 70). Why not accuse them of absconding
with the funds as well? And he will treat them as historians in the end...but
only after he has destroyed their credibility by first pretending they
Dr. Ehrman is at least theoretically aware that those people who concern
themselves with the formal validity of arguments do not consider the argument
from silence as valid; he notes that this criticism was levied against
Walter Bauer: "Bauer was attacked for making too many arguments from
silence..." (Bart D. Ehrman, 'The Lost Gospel of Judas Iscariot,'
p. 177). In fact one argument from silence is one too many; it is not a
valid argument. Dr. Ehrman evidently thinks it is not really so bad; he
goes on breezily to bolster the argument from silence with his customary
argument from authority: "...the general perspective offered by Bauer
has become a dominant view among scholars of early Christianity today."
(Bart D. Ehrman, 'The Lost Gospel of Judas Iscariot,' p. 178), as if two
bad arguments combined might make one good. The fact remains it is not
a valid argument. The reader is not entitled to infer Jesus' silence from
Mark's silence about what Jesus said.
Dr. Ehrman elevates his claim about Jesus' reputed "silence"
in Mark to the point where he is not only denying what the other evangelists
say, he must deny what Mark himself says. He requires the reader to isolate
the crucifixion passage and to find in it evidence that Jesus ended His
life in shock, not comprehending why this was happening to Him. If that
is what Mark wishes to communicate, why does he report Jesus saying about
the woman who anointed Him: "She has come beforehand to anoint My
body for burial." (Mark 14:8)? Dr. Ehrman claims to find a difference
between Mark's account and Luke's in that in Luke, "He is in charge
of his own destiny, knowing what he must do and what will happen to him
once he does it." (Bart Ehrman, 'Misquoting Jesus,' pp. 143-144).
But Mark reports Jesus answering the high priest, “Jesus said, 'I am. And
you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Power, and
coming with the clouds of heaven.'” (Mark 14:62). Is it not evident that
Jesus did not have to claim openly to be Daniel's Son of Man as he here
does, and that the outcome of the trial might have been different had He
instead made mild and conciliatory statements? Why would One who does not
know what He must do and does not realize what will happen to Him once
He does it make such a deliberately inflammatory statement?
Mark and his Bible-believing readers know that Jesus was quoting Psalm
22, a Psalm whose initial cry of distress gives way to the shout of triumph,
"For He has not despised nor abhorred the affliction of the afflicted;
Nor has He hidden His face from Him;
But when He cried to Him, He heard." (Psalm 22:24).
If the author Mark had had any such intentions as Dr. Ehrman ascribes to
him, would he have reminded his readers that Jesus was quoting a Messianic
psalm, or refrained from mentioning it, which was certainly within his
power? He goes out of his way to remind them, reporting that some by-standers
waited to see whether Elijah would come. They thought that, in quoting
a Messianic Psalm, the Lord was setting in motion a train of events. The
expectation that Elijah would return to clear the way for the Messiah comes
from Malachi 4:5-6:
"Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the
great and dreadful day of the LORD: And he shall turn the heart of the
fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers,
lest I come and smite the earth with a curse."
An American who paid attention in elementary school, hearing 'Four score
and seven years ago..." cannot help but think, '...our fathers brought
forth upon this continent...' If you try not to think 'our fathers brought
forth,' you will think of it anyway. Memorized material makes our minds
run on rails. For a reader, accustomed to hearing the psalms sung, to hear
the cry of dereliction without any penumbra surrounding it, without the
sense that 'there's more,' requires a feat of mental gymnastics of which
few are capable. To hear something that you're used to hearing as if you've
never heard it before is difficult. But Bart Ehrman demands no less. And
this is where we came in; this is where the 'quest for the historical Jesus'
started, with the demand for a decontextualized, dejudaized understanding
of the cry of dereliction, breaking its connection with Psalm 22:
"Reimarus (1694-1768) was the great iconoclast.. [...] Jesus was a
Jewish reformer who became increasingly fanatical and politicized; and
he failed. His cry of dereliction on the cross signalled the end of his
expectation that his god would act to support him. [...] Go back to the
beginning, and you will find your faith...resting on a failed Messiah and
a fraudulent gospel." (N. T. Wright, 'Jesus and the Victory of God,'
The dramatic difference it makes is underscored by those newspaper accounts
of Bart Ehrman's triumphs written by people who appear not to know the
Lord is quoting Psalm 22 in saying, "My God, My God, why hast thou
forsaken me." Here's the psalm in its entirety:
"My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? why art thou so far from
helping me, and from the words of my roaring? O my God, I cry in the daytime,
but thou hearest not; and in the night season, and am not silent. But thou
art holy, O thou that inhabitest the praises of Israel. Our fathers trusted
in thee: they trusted, and thou didst deliver them. They cried unto thee,
and were delivered: they trusted in thee, and were not confounded. But
I am a worm, and no man; a reproach of men, and despised of the people.
All they that see me laugh me to scorn: they shoot out the lip, they shake
the head, saying, He trusted on the LORD that he would deliver him: let
him deliver him, seeing he delighted in him. But thou art he that took
me out of the womb: thou didst make me hope when I was upon my mother’s
breasts. I was cast upon thee from the womb: thou art my God from my mother’s
"Be not far from me; for trouble is near; for there is none to help. Many bulls have compassed me: strong bulls of Bashan have beset me round. They gaped upon me with their mouths, as a ravening and a roaring lion. I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint: my heart is like wax; it is melted in the midst of my bowels. My strength is dried up like a potsherd; and my tongue cleaveth to my jaws; and thou hast brought me into the dust of death. For dogs have compassed me: the assembly of the wicked have enclosed me: they pierced my hands and my feet. I may tell all my bones: they look and stare upon me. They part my garments among them, and cast lots upon my vesture. But be not thou far from me, O LORD: O my strength, haste thee to help me. Deliver my soul from the sword; my darling from the power of the dog. Save me from the lion’s mouth: for thou hast heard me from the horns of the unicorns.
"I will declare thy name unto my brethren: in the midst of the congregation
will I praise thee. Ye that fear the LORD, praise him; all ye the seed
of Jacob, glorify him; and fear him, all ye the seed of Israel. For he
hath not despised nor abhorred the affliction of the afflicted; neither
hath he hid his face from him; but when he cried unto him, he heard. My
praise shall be of thee in the great congregation: I will pay my vows before
them that fear him. The meek shall eat and be satisfied: they shall praise
the LORD that seek him: your heart shall live for ever. All the ends of
the world shall remember and turn unto the LORD: and all the kindreds of
the nations shall worship before thee. For the kingdom is the LORD’S: and
he is the governor among the nations. All they that be fat upon earth shall
eat and worship: all they that go down to the dust shall bow before him:
and none can keep alive his own soul. A seed shall serve him; it shall
be accounted to the Lord for a generation. They shall come, and shall declare
his righteousness unto a people that shall be born, that he hath done this."
The reader will notice that what happened to the Lord is just what the
Psalm says will happen to the Messiah, a point which certainly hadn't escaped
Mark's attention. A narrator who wishes to evoke a certain response on
the part of his audience may find it helpful to draw attention to other
spectators who are displaying just that response. Given humanity's natural
tendency toward imitation, this is a non-obtrusive and non-coercive way
to make a point. The spectators to whom Mark draws our attention thought
that Jesus was calling on Elijah; they thought He was, or that He thought
He was, the Messiah. So should we. This is one point Mark is making, not
that Jesus was confused or defeated or any of the other things Dr. Ehrman
wills into the passage.
One irony here is that the Christian believer understands the cry of dereliction
as dark and disturbing precisely because the one crying was no mere man
as Dr. Ehrman imagines. What is so remarkable about a man who feels estranged
from God? Dr. Ehrman's reading of scripture gives new luster to the phrase
"one-dimensional." What offends Bible believers about this shell
game: that Dr. Ehrman accuses Matthew, Luke and John of making up bogus
utterances from the cross,-- is the only way he can hold onto "My
God, my God, etc." Why? Replace for the moment your understanding
of the world and the actors in it with all their complexity by a bare kitchen
table with little cardboard figures strewn across it. The little cardboard
man who has the slogan scribbled across his chest of 'compassion' must
be pulled up to leave room for the little cardboard figure with the slogan
reading 'pain' or 'estrangement.' You see, 'compassion' is not the same
thing as 'pain' or 'estrangement,' and the little cardboard man cannot
wear both slogans at once. So the other six utterances must be discarded
to make way for this one. Bible-believers, of course, cannot tolerate those
other six utterances being discarded, nor is there any reason they should
have to. Mark does not say, 'He said this and no more.' And what is so unlikely about a man dying
on the cross saying "I thirst"? Let us sweep our little cardboard
men off the table; there is no plumbing the depths of a human heart, much
less a divine heart. The Lord can certainly really feel 'compassion' as
well as 'estrangement.'
Dr. Ehrman's response to "My God, my God, etc.:" 'Too bad, sucker,'--
is not the right one. We should fall down on our knees and thank Him: