Ps 22.1 in Mark’s Passion

Designating Psalm 22 messianic on the basis of links with Psalm 89 (Juel) is creative and almost convincing.  It certainly  provides a scriptural framework not only to Mark’s passion narrative, but to the other Gospels as well , as references to this psalm in all four of them attest.  More importantly, it provides a scriptural rationale for the death of Jesus Messiah.  Still the opening verse of the psalm on the lips of Jesus in Mark is difficult.  How is it that God’s Messiah cries out that he is abandoned by the very God who sent him?   For Luke, where Jesus is Spirit filled and Spirit led since conception, words from another messianically interpreted psalm, 31:5, are much more appropriate.  In the fourth Gospel, where Jesus’ “lifting up” expresses his complete unity with the Father’s will and purpose, the words of Psalm 22:1 would be ludicrous.  So why does Mark include this verse?  To flag the psalm for the reader? -already done in 15:24.  To cite another case where Jesus is misunderstood? – already clear from the surrounding narrative.  Because this was the the only verse that fit the scene to show that the Messiah must truly suffer? – several verses or fragments from Psalm 89 – where the anointed king feels scorned and hidden from God, but not completely abandoned – would accomplish the same purpose and be hermeneutically less harsh.

I offer another proposal, which I don’t believe detracts from a messianic understanding of Psalm 22, but is not dependent on it either.  This focuses not primarily on the suffering of Jesus Messiah, but precisely on his abandonment, which is a key theme in Mark and Matthew, less so in Luke and John.  Jesus is successively abandoned by religious authorities, family, and finally in Gethsemane by his own disciples (All forsook and fled).  Now the use of Psalm 22:1 makes sense not simply from a messianic perspective, but to carry that theme to its climax:  “Even you…?”

Incidentally, the picture of a suffering anointed king has an OT precedent, not simply in the defeated rulers of Judah, who may have echoed the words of Psalm 89 in their own prayers or in the Temple liturgy, but in David himself, anointed by Samuel (1 Sam 16:6-13) and recipient of the promise in 2 Sam 7.  In the Davidic throne narrative, an independent historical writing within the Deuteromomic history, David is forced to flee Jerusalem because of a coup at the hands of his son Absalom.  While one can argue that David’s suffering is self-inflicted because of his inability to deal with the conflicts within his own family, the King nevertheless is an abject figure as he is abandoned by all but his most loyal supporters.  Just when all seems lost, David throws himself on God’s mercy in prayer.  Hardly any basis for OT-NT connection in that, except the place of his prayer (2 Sam 15:30): the Mount of Olives.

Published on September 20, 2007 at 10:05 pm  Comments (1)  

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  1. Thanks, Dave. Don Juel was my teacher, and I would like to think that I have largely answered the question he leaves hanging on p116 of his book (“…the derivation of this royal exegesis remains elusive.”) in my dissertation. I did do a summary overview in class the other day (check
    ). My argument is that Ps 22 is NOT messianic, but it has messianic/son of God potential. The only innovative thing the early Xns did was claim that this psalm which was about A davidic heir/son of God was actually about THE davidic heir/Son of God/Messiah.
    That still doesn’t answer why they used this psalm when so many others could have served more easily, but I’m basically thinking that they were ‘stuck’ with it. Whether Jesus historically said these words (or someone said he did) or whether it was the other elements of the psalm that seemed so appropriate to what had occurred at the crucifixion (parting of garments, mocking), the early Xns explored the potential meanings of this psalm in order to better understand the significance of Jesus’ death.
    With this perspective, I think the argument you make is accurate. Once they have to deal with the psalm, it becomes very helpful for coming to grips with the kind of abandonment and suffering you describe.

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