Monday, January 21, 2013



This is the forty-eighth installment, comprising Act 6, Scene 11, chapter 15:40-47, in the online commentary on the Gospel of Mark, which I am blogging on throughout the liturgical year. Please see the forty-seventh installment here. Links to the entire series are available in one spot at The Complete Gospel of Mark Online Commentary.

This is my division of the Gospel:


Prologue,  1:1-13;
Act  1, 1:14-3:6;
Act 2, 3:7-6:6;
Act 3, 6:7-8:26;
Act 4, 8:27-10:52;
Act 5, 11:1-13:37;
Act 6, 14:1-16:8(20).

Scene 11: 15:40-47

40 There were also women looking on from a distance; among them were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome. 41 These used to follow him and provided for him when he was in Galilee; and there were many other women who had come up with him to Jerusalem. 42 When evening had come, and since it was the day of Preparation, that is, the day before the sabbath, 43 Joseph of Arimathea, a respected member of the council, who was also himself waiting expectantly for the kingdom of God, went boldly to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. 44 Then Pilate wondered if he were already dead; and summoning the centurion, he asked him whether he had been dead for some time. 45 When he learned from the centurion that he was dead, he granted the body to Joseph. 46 Then Joseph bought a linen cloth, and taking down the body, wrapped it in the linen cloth, and laid it in a tomb that had been hewn out of the rock. He then rolled a stone against the door of the tomb. 47 Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses saw where the body was laid. (NRSV)


A sharp focus on the Centurion, who only came into view in the previous scene, now gives way to a group of women and a man, previously unmentioned[1], as Mark employs  a panoramic  view to draw them into Jesus’ death. Though we are at a climactic point in the story, none of Jesus’ apostles will be noted in this scene. Pointing to the documentary style of these last scenes, however, Mark will give us four personal names in this pivotal section, lending it authenticity. Mark mentions that these women were “looking on from a distance,” similar to Peter who “had followed him at a distance” (14:54) before being scared away. Mark gives us the names only of some of the women, for he states that “among them were Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome” (15:40). They have refused to abandon Jesus, but who are they? Mark now tells us that apart from the apostles to whom we have been introduced regularly, a number of women “used to follow him and provided for him when he was in Galilee; and there were many other women who had come up with him to Jerusalem” (15:41). Mark has let them lurk in the shadows, perhaps even beyond the shadows, amongst unnamed “crowds,” but now he gives us the names of three of them. The mentions of the two Marys and Salome humanize them, but also lend a sense of realism and truth to the scene which Mark describes.

After introducing them, though, Mark moves beyond them, panning the scene for “Joseph of Arimathea, a respected member of the council, who was also himself waiting expectantly for the kingdom of God” (15:43). Not only do the “crowds” get names with Mary Magdalene, Mary and Salome, but now the “council,” the group which condemned Jesus, gets a name. Joseph was concerned that Jesus be taken from the cross prior to the Sabbath, so he “went boldly to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus” (15:43).  Mark adds a small detail that adds to the realism of this scene. In response to Joseph’ request, Pilate asks the centurion if Jesus was dead and when he answered Pilate affirmatively, Pilate granted the body of Jesus to Joseph of Arimathea (15:44-45). The scene is now filled only with people who have witnessed Jesus’ death or, in the case of Pilate, the man who was responsible for it. Yet not one of them was an apostle of Jesus. 

Mark might, of course, simply be passing on the simple truth of the matter, yet it also resonates with listeners that those who followed him closely are not present. Those who testify to Jesus’ death are mentioned by name not to buttress the testimony of the apostles, but to supply it since there is no apostolic witness. If the witnesses are less believable at some level because they are women, a Roman centurion, a leader of the soldiers who had a part in Jesus’ death, and Joseph of Arimathea, a member of the council which also had a hand in Jesus’ death, they become more believable by virtue of these same realities. Mark relies on them because they are witnesses, but he also relies on them because they are the only witnesses which he knows. That there is a representative from each group of those who conspired against Jesus is also telling regarding casting judgment on any group, even perhaps Jesus’ missing apostles.

According to Mark, “Joseph bought a linen cloth, and taking down the body, wrapped it in the linen cloth, and laid it in a tomb that had been hewn out of the rock. He then rolled a stone against the door of the tomb” (15:46). Joseph of Arimathea has cared for Jesus’ body in a rudimentary way, by removing his body from the cross before decay set in or before animals might have started to eat it. More than that, he wrapped his body in linen and insured that Jesus’ body was laid in a tomb. The scene stands in stark contrast to that of John the Baptist, whose own disciples came and got his dead body from Herod and laid it in a tomb. In this case, only two of Jesus’ disciples, unnamed until this scene and so unknown prior to this scene, watch from a distance again: “Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses saw where the body was laid” (15:47). No longer anonymous, they are the bearers of the tradition of Jesus’ death and burial.


John W. Martens
Follow me on Twitter @BibleJunkies


[1] The only reference to a woman prior to this scene is in Mark 6:3, “Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?”