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Problems with Mark’s Crucifixion Death and Atonement

Problems with Mark’s Crucifixion Death and Atonement October 19, 2021

This question was given to me as a “Superchat” on my most recent YouTube appearance by SCHOLARvid, and was then refined and sent to me personally. it’s worth looking at:

My understanding is that in Mark 15:34 God abandons Jesus before he dies on the cross.

“At three o’clock Jesus cried out with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Mark 15:34 NRSV

If Christian atonement theology relies on the fact that only the death of the divine nature of Jesus would be powerful enough to atone for the sins of humankind originated with Adam and Eve, how can the mere death of “human Jesus” fulfill that requirement?

The first thing to say is that the Atonement doesn’t make sense. I lay this out in my book The Resurrection: A Critical Examination of the Easter Story [UK] because the whole Resurrection narrative supervenes on the idea of the Atonement, and it making sense. If you get no payment of sins, you get no reason for Jesus dying other than our secular ones: he annoyed the Jews or he annoyed the Romans.

This is important stuff.

What theologians and apologists do, then, is to try to invent some manner in which the Atonement makes sense. This has been a 2000-year process that has turned out a whole array of different, often mutually exclusive theories.

Still, no one agrees.

What I am getting at here is that it doesn’t matter when Jesus was abandoned, the whole thing is nonsensical. Jesus might have appeared to have died merely as a human at this point and Christians could simply invent how this still constitutes Atonement. There is not enough clarity to dictate what one must believe either from this Markan account or from all the Gospels together, hence why theologians infer and deduce what they think might be the case.

Or, the point here is that the Atonement is made up. It’s a made-up thing to explain something that does not need explaining and, indeed, cannot reasonably be explained. How an OmniGod, who designed humanity (with all our flaws) and knew everything that would come to pass – all the hypotheticals and future events of any given potential creation – and created us anyway, would somehow require payment for the outcome of the faulty design that he knew would come to pass but decided to bring to existence, is beyond me.

So whether this payment makes sense of a human sacrifice of Jesus or a divine sacrifice of Jesus is neither here nor there – it makes no sense either way. Perhaps it makes slightly less sense in Jesus as a man dying. The thing is, I think Mark saw him as a Messiah. So, the Messiah dies, as an (albeit exalted) human, and some kind of Messianic Atonement comes about.

I mean, Jews believe(d) that Atonement took place in the sacrifice of a goat at Yom Kippur, so a human/exalted Messiah-figure being sacrificed should do the trick.

The whole nature of the phrase Jesus used here is interesting and problematic. It is using Old Testament scripture (Psalm 22 here) perhaps to validate or prophesy Jesus’ death in some way (even though the Psalm is taken way out of context and is nigh on impossible to attach to Jesus in any prophetic sort of manner). I discuss this in the book, but also in this previous video:

It makes absolutely no sense of the Holy Trinity – why would God be talking to himself and claiming he had forsaken himself? Nothing is coherent here unless we understand that the Gospel writer actually believes Jesus is the Messiah, and not God himself, as I think the Synoptic (Mark, Matthew, Luke) Gospels do. It is only John who makes a stab at a higher Christology.

To conclude, I think the problem evinced in the question emerges from applying a later Christological framework and understanding to a scenario in which that framework didn’t exist.

Also, none of it makes sense anyway.

Thanks for the question, though! Really appreciated.


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