The Garden/Gethsemane Episode
The next (third) episode of the Passion Narrative is the scene in Gethsemane, so identified as the location in the Synoptic tradition (Mark/Matthew). In this episode, Jesus’ suffering (his Passion) truly begins, climaxing in his arrest. For the basic outline and treatment of the Synoptic tradition, we begin with the Gospel of Mark.
The outline of this episode is quite simple, being comprised of two scenes:
The declaration of Jesus in vv. 41b-42 is at the center of the episode, joining both scenes and effectively announcing the beginning of his Passion:
“…the hour came—see, the Son of Man is (being) given along into the hands of sinful (men)! Rise (up)! we should lead (ourselves) away—see, the (one) giving me along has come near!”
With the aorist form of h@lqen (“came”) Jesus may be telling his disciples “the hour came i.e. while you were sleeping” (cf. verses 37, 40-41a).
The arrest of Jesus itself can be divided into two portions:
- The arrival of Judas and his kiss identifying Jesus (vv. 43-45)
- The seizure (arrest) of Jesus (vv. 46-52), which contains two traditions:
Neither Matthew nor Luke records the tradition in vv. 51-52, and it may be a local detail unique to Mark’s Gospel. However, it seems clear that both traditions, in different ways, are meant to reflect Jesus’ prophetic prediction in verse 27 (citing Zech 13:7). In between these two traditions, a saying (declaration) by Jesus is recorded (vv. 48-49):
“Did you come out as (you would) upon a (violent) robber, with swords and sticks, to take me (in) together? (Day) by day I was (facing) toward you in the sacred place [i.e. Temple] and you did not take (firm) hold of me (then), but (only now so) that the Writings [i.e. Scriptures] might be fulfilled!”
When we turn to the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, we can see that, while the basic Synoptic (Markan) outline is followed, there are certain signs of development in the Tradition.
The main differences in Matthew (compared with Mark) are:
- The form and presentation of Jesus’ words during the Prayer scene (vv. 36-42, cf. below)
- An expansion of the Judas tradition in vv. 49-50
- The additional saying of Jesus in vv. 52-54
- There is no reference to the disciple (young man) of Mk 14:51-52
The differences which appear to be unique to Matthew are in verses 49-50, 52-54:
The Judas tradition—This will be discussed further in a separate note on Judas, but Matthew has ‘expanded’ this scene with additional details not found in Mark:
- The crowd with Judas is described as a throng/crowd of many [polu/$] people
- The Chief Priests and Elders are identified as being “of the people” [tou= laou=]
- Judas’ greeting to Jesus includes the salutation xai=re
- Jesus’ words to Judas (v. 50a), which could be read either as (a) a statement or (b) a question:
“(My) companion, (act) upon that which you are along (to do)”
“(My) companion, upon what [i.e. for what purpose] are you along (here)?”
The Saying of Jesus—Following the violent act of Jesus’ disciple (who is not identified) with the sword (v. 51), Matthew records an extensive saying by Jesus which clearly reflects ethical teaching—not only for Jesus’ disciples, but for believers in general:
“Turn away your sword (back) into its place! for all the (one)s taking sword (in hand) in [i.e. by] (the) sword (they) will destroy (themselves). Or do you consider that I am not able to call my Father alongside and will he (not) stand more than twelve legions of Messengers alongside of me? (But) then how would the Writings be fulfilled (which declare) that it is necessary (for things) to come to be this (way)?”
In some ways, Luke’s account is simpler and shorter, and yet includes a considerable number of details not found in the other Synoptics. These include:
- The prediction of Peter’s denial (vv. 31-34) is made part of the Last Supper scene, so the reference to their journey to the Mount of Olives (v. 39) becomes part of the Gethsemane/Garden episode (Luke does not mention the place name “Gethsemane”).
- The Prayer scene is greatly abridged, especially if one omits the disputed verses 43-44 for which there is considerable uncertainty in the textual tradition (addressed in a supplemental note).
- Luke, like Matthew, has developed the arrest scene, further expanding and emphasizing the role of Judas and eliminating any mention of the disciples’ flight.
Generally, the arrest scene in Luke is narrated in a simpler fashion, but there are a number of added details unique to Luke:
- The kiss (lit. “[mark of] affection”) by Judas is not actually mentioned (only “he came near to give Yeshua the mark of affection”). Apparently before Judas kisses him, Jesus, in Luke’s version, says to him: “Yehudah, you give along [i.e. betray] the Son of Man with a mark of affection?” (v. 48)
- Before the actual seizure of Jesus, some of the disciples ask him: “Lord, shall we strike (them) in [i.e. with] (the) sword?” (v. 49). This refers to one of the two swords mentioned earlier in v. 38—a violent and improper application of Jesus’ teaching, to be sure!
- Luke records (a) Jesus’ response to his disciples, and (b) his act of healing the ear that was severed (v. 51), identified specifically as the man’s right ear. Jesus’ words of rebuke are difficult to interpret and translate precisely. It may be understood as a sharp rebuke (i.e. “No more of this!”), or in terms of an explanation as to why they must not act—”Let (things) be (even) until this [i.e. my arrest]!” The tenor of the tradition overall would favor the latter, but the specific teaching in vv. 24-27ff may indicate that Luke has something like the former in mind.
- Jesus’ address to Judas and the crowd (vv. 52-53) follows the Synoptic tradition in Mark 14:48-49, except for the concluding statement, which is quite different:
“but (it is so) that the Writings [i.e. Scriptures] might be fulfilled” (Mk 14:49)
“but this is your hour and the authority [e)cousi/a] of darkness!” (Lk 22:53)
The word “hour” (w%ra) refers to the time of Jesus’ Passion and links back to the start of the Last Supper scene in Luke (v. 14). This time of darkness also reflects the opening of the Passion narrative, in which Luke records that Satan entered Judas (v. 3). For similar associations with the Devil and darkness, cf. John 13:2, 30b. The Gospel of John also uses the word “hour” in a similar way, to introduction the Passion narrative (13:1).
In the next note, I will examine the differences in the Prayer scene between the Synoptic versions, and also look briefly at the unique tradition presented in John’s Gospel.