8. Anonymous Persons in Mark’s Passion Narrative
In this chapter Richard Bauckham argues that certain anonymous individuals in Mark’s passion narrative remain anonymous because they needed to be protected from the authorities in the decades following Jesus’ ministry.
Theissen on Protective Anonymity
In Mark’s account of Jesus’ arrest (14:43-52) two anonymous persons appear: the man who cut of the ear of the servant of the high priest and the young man who fled naked. Were these two men disciples of Jesus? It is unlikely that Mark would record a story of a member of the arresting party accidentally cutting off the ear of another member of the party. Yet, referring to a member of the Twelve, who accompanied Jesus from the last supper to Gethsemane, as “one of those who stood near” is strange (cf. 14:69-70; 15:35) and it is difficult to explain why a passerby would cut off the ear of the servant of the high priest. Matthew (26:51) and Luke (22:49) clarify the reference so that it unambiguously refers to a disciple of Jesus. Matthew and Luke do not mention the young man who fled naked. Mark says he “followed” but it is unclear whether this means he was a disciple (but not a member of the Twelve) or a curious outsider.
Gerd Theissen offers an explanation for why these two men are anonymous and why their relationship to Jesus is ambiguous. He proposes that since both individuals had resisted the arrest of Jesus it would not have been wise to mention them by name or to identify them as Christians. If correct, this would mean that Mark used an earlier Passion tradition that was written in Jerusalem between 30 and 60 CE, the only time and place where protective anonymity would have been necessary.
The family of the high priest Annas persecuted the Jerusalem Christian community until at least 62 CE when James, the brother of Jesus, was executed by Ananus II. Unlike the three other evangelists (Matthew 26:57; Luke 3:2; John 18:13-14, 24), Mark (14:53) does not mention the high priest Caiaphas, the son-in-law of Annas, by name. This may be for diplomatic reasons.
Anonymous Supporters of Jesus
In Mark 11:1-7 Jesus sends his disciples to acquire a colt for him to ride into Jerusalem. Jesus must have made some kind of prior arrangement to borrow the colt since the bystanders in verses 5 and 6 allow the disciples to take the colt after they say “The Lord needs it and will send it back here shortly” (verse 3). No reference to the owner of the colt is made which raises two questions: (1) how did bystanders know to allow the disciples to take the colt? and (2) why did Jesus not send the disciples to the house of a named person? The strangeness of the passage is confirmed by how Matthew and Luke treat the passage. Matthew 21:1-11 abbreviates the account and does not narrate the story of the disciples borrowing the colt. Luke 19:33 substitutes “the owners” for Mark’s “some of the bystanders.” Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem was a declaration of his messianic role and would have led the temple authorities to see him as a dangerous troublemaker. Therefore the owner of the colt could be viewed as complicit in a politically subversive act. Bauckham suggests that Jesus made arrangements so that the owner of the colt “need not be directly implicated by loaning the colt” (p. 188).
In Mark 14:12-16 Jesus sends a couple disciples to prepare the Passover meal. Jesus instructs them to: “Go into the city, and a man carrying a jar of water will meet you. Follow him. Say to the owner of the house he enters, ‘The Teacher asks: Where is my guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?’ He will show you a large upper room, furnished and ready. Make preparations for us there” (verses 13-15). The man with a water jar is a prearranged sign since women usually carried water jars. Why does Jesus employ this elaborate procedure instead of telling the disciples to go to a specific man’s house (as he does in Matthew 26:18)?
Probably because Jesus already knows that Judas is going to deliver him to the chief priests, but the other members of the Twelve do not know this. In order to keep the place where they will eat the Passover secret from Judas, Jesus must keep it secret from the Twelve. So the stratagem insures that even the two disciples sent to prepare the room do not know where it is until they get to it. Once again Mark’s narrative conjures the atmosphere of danger and the consequent need for secrecy, now heightened since the plot to kill Jesus has been made and Judas has offered to make his arrest possible. Of course, Jesus already expects to be arrested, but he does not wish this to happen until he has shared the Passover meal with his disciples. So the location must be very carefully kept secret. (p. 189)
Bauckham mentions these two stories to highlight the danger to those who belonged to the early Christian community. Whether or not the owner of the colt and the owner of the house were members of the early Christian community is uncertain.
The Woman Who Anointed the Messiah
In Mark 14:3-9 Jesus is anointed by an anonymous woman. Her relationship to Jesus and the house of Simon the Leper is unclear. Her anonymity is quite extraordinary given the fact that her story would be told wherever the Gospel is preached “in memory of her” and thus requires an explanation. Bauckham believes the woman’s act would have been perceived in a messianic sense and that Mark protected her by not mentioning her name.
The Anonymous in Mark Are Named in John
Three individuals who are anonymous in Mark are identified in John: (1) the woman who anoints Jesus is Mary, sister of Martha (12:3); (2) the man who wields the sword is Simon Peter (18:10); and (3) the servant of the high priest is Malchus (18:10). As noted in chapter 3, there is little evidence for a tendency to add names to the tradition so such an explanation does not suffice.
The identification of the man who wields the sword with Simon Peter fits Peter’s character as one who is devoted to Jesus but does not fully understand Jesus’ motivations and intentions (John 13:36-38). This identification also explains why Peter could be so quick to deny Jesus when confronted in the courtyard. If he admitted to being with Jesus he was liable to be punished for cutting off Malchus’ ear. John wrote after Peter’s death and so Peter no longer needed protecting. The identification of Malchus is more difficult to understand. Bauckham notes that John was very familiar with Jerusalem and would have known the servant’s name. He suggests John may have recorded the name to highlight the danger Peter was in.
John’s familiarity with Jerusalem allowed him to also know that Mary, the sister of Martha and Lazarus, anointed Jesus. If John’s identification is correct there is an interesting consequence. John 12:10 states that the chief priests wanted to put Lazarus to death as well as Jesus. The only way for Mark to provide any protective anonymity to such a well-known figure would be to not recount his story at all.
Once Again: The Naked Youth
The naked youth is mentioned only in Mark. If the story is historical it almost certainly has to have come from the naked youth himself, for the disciples were fleeing and the arresting party would have little interest in telling such a story. This individual needed “protective anonymity” for he had resisted during the arrest of Jesus. Bauckham thinks this account may have been recorded to show that a disciple did put up some resistance to Jesus’ arrest and that not all immediately fled.