Saturday, April 1, 2023

Did the 'Same Crowd' that Waved Palms Later Condemn Jesus? (1)

As Lent begins, the chant heard from Christian pulpits and chancels will grow until it becomes one of the overriding themes of Holy Week, the week before Easter. But what in text of the Gospels suggests that this is really the case? What in the text contradicts this refrain? Instead of consulting commentaries old and new, the actual biblical text should supply the answer, shouldn't it?

First, the story of Palm Sunday is told, also known as Jesus' Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem. (Luke 19: 28-40, Mark 11:1-10, and Matthew 21:1-9, and John 12:12-19) Mark writes, "And many spread their garments on the road, and others spread leafy branches which they had cut from the fields. And those who went before and those who followed cried out, "Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the kingdom of our father David that is coming! Hosanna in the highest!" Matthew describes the group and its actions thusly: "Most of the crowd spread their garments on the road..." Matthew's account also has those in the city asking, apparently in ignorance, "Who is this?" Luke defines the group that is present as "the whole multitude of the disciples" Luke also places some of the Pharisees in the "multitude" telling Jesus, "rebuke your disciples."

Importantly, the narrative is included in the Fourth Gospel. John identifies the group as "the great crowd that had come to the festival," that is, those in Jerusalem. It is this crowd that "went out to meet him." NRSV John adds into the mix those people who had "been with" Jesus when he had raised Lazarus from the dead. They continued to testify to the raising of Lazarus. The Pharisees in John say with resignation to one another: "You see, you can do nothing. Look, the world has gone after him." 12:19

So far, it doesn't even look like the "same crowd" for first event of Holy Week, the Triumphal Entry. The group declaring their praise and waving palms is an admixture of:
  • many who were present with no Pharisees (Mark)
  • most of the crowd with no Pharisees, but those in the city asking, "Who is this?" (Matthew)
  • a whole multitude disciples (of Jesus), with perturbed Pharisees in the multitude (Luke)
  • people running out from Jerusalem to meet Jesus because they heard of Lazarus' raising, and people who had been with Jesus at Lazarus' resurrection, and resigned Pharisees (John)
Again, the idea of one crowd so far is just that, a notion. But it is a thought not justified by reading the only sources we have for the event, the Four Gospels. As you can see, generalizations that this crowd was monolithic are not warranted, even when we limit ourselves to Palm Sunday. Next we'll take a look at the composition of the group gathered before Pilate. We'll look at consistencies in each account and among all the witnesses to see if the Palm Sunday group could be the same people Pilate addresses, "Here is the man!" John 19:5

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