This is the first in a series of posts regarding my researches into the history of early ancient Christanity.
I think that the passion narrative should be treated as a different source than the rest of the gospels. Nowhere are the gospels in agreement about events as they are in the passion narrative. The plot, characters, times and places are largely in agreement in all four gospels (with somewhat significant exceptions). This should lead us to treat it as coming from a single source text.
This does not necessarily mean that the passion material is historical whereas the rest of the gospel material is fictional. I would compare it to the 1907 film by Edwin S. Porter “The Teddy Bears”
Mama, Papa and Baby Bear in the movie “The Teddy Bears”
The plot begins with a retelling of the “Goldilocks and the Three Bears” fairy tale which was first published in 1837 in a volume of writings by English author and poet Robert Southey.
|Mary I. Shamburger and Vera R. Lachmann put forth the suggestion in the Journal of American Folklore in 1946 that the poet conflated a Norwegian tale about three bears with the scene from “Snow White” in which the heroine enters the dwarves’ house, tastes their food, and falls asleep in one of their beds. In a manner similar to Southey’s bears, the dwarves cry, “Who’s been sitting on my stool?”, “Who’s been eating off my plate?”, “Who’s been drinking my wine?”, and “Who’s been lying in my bed?”. (Three Bears, Wikipedia)|
The little girl in the story went from being called Silver Hair (1853) to Silver Locks (1858), Golden Hair (1868) Little Golden-Hair (1889) and finally Goldilocks in Old Nursery Stories and Rhymes in 1904.
The 13 minute 1907 film called “The Teddy Bears,” is the first filmed version of the story. It follows the well known fairy tale to a certain extent, but suddenly, near the end, while the bears are chasing Goldilocks, President Theodore Roosevelt shows up and shoots the “Mama” and “Papa” Bears. He spares the “Baby” bear, but turns him into a pet for Goldilocks.
This ending is based on an historical event (Wikipedia):
|The name Teddy Bear comes from former United States President Theodore Roosevelt, whose nickname was “Teddy”. The name originated from an incident on a bear-hunting trip in Mississippi in November 1902, to which Roosevelt was invited by Mississippi Governor Andrew H. Longino. There were several other hunters competing, and most of them had already killed an animal. A suite of Roosevelt’s attendants, led by Holt Collier, cornered, clubbed, and tied an American Black Bear to a willow tree after a long exhausting chase with hounds. They called Roosevelt to the site and suggested that he should shoot it. He refused to shoot the bear himself, deeming this unsportsmanlike, but instructed that the bear be killed to put it out of its misery, and it became the topic of a political cartoon by Clifford Berryman in The Washington Post on November 16, 1902. While the initial cartoon of an adult black bear lassoed by a white handler and a disgusted Roosevelt had symbolic overtones, later issues of that and other Berryman cartoons made the bear smaller and cuter.
Morris Michtom saw the drawing of Roosevelt and the bear cub and was inspired to create a new toy. He created a little stuffed bear cub and put it in his shop window with a sign that read “Teddy’s bear,” after sending a bear to Roosevelt and receiving permission to use his name. The toys were an immediate success and Michtom founded the Ideal Novelty a
Cartoons that popularized and associated Roosevelt with the bear
and Toy company.
By 1906 manufacturers other than Michtom and Steiff had joined in and the craze for “Roosevelt Bears” was such that ladies carried them everywhere, children were photographed with them, and Roosevelt used one as a mascot in his bid for re-election
In the film, “The Teddy Bears,” we have material that is obviously fictional with an ending that has an historical person and event attached. However note the differences. In the historical event, Roosevelt did not kill any bear. In the movie, he killed two bears. In the movie he saved the Baby bear and gave it as a pet to Goldlocks. In the real event, he ordered the bear cub killed.
Thus in the historical event:
1. Roosevelt killed no bear
2. Ordered cub killed to put it out of its misery
While In the movie:
1. Roosevelt killed two bears
2. Captured and gave the Baby bear to Goldilocks.
While we can say that the movie references an historical event, it is more difficult to say that the movie portrays an historical event. One might say that the movie falsifies an historical event for its own purposes. We cannot deny that there is some history in the movie, but it is only incidentally and “trivially historical”
It is quite possible that the gospels follow the same pattern. The story is a retelling of the typical prophet warns Israel to repent story (the fairy tale part) and a falsification of an historical event (the passion part). The exact relationship between Pontius Pilate and the crucified man cannot be known from the story. Neither can the personalities, actions, or beliefs of either Pilate or the crucified man. Our historical records of the Pontius Pilate period are too sparse to confirm or deny any significant question we may ask about them.
In this case I would label the passion narrative as “Trivially historical,” a “reference” to an historical event, rather than a recitation of historical facts. The material for the passion narrative might have come from a Mime play or even a Jewish attempt at an ancient Novel like Daphnis and Cloe.