by James Tabor
Lori Woodall, my wife, has been reading my blog posts and the papers and articles I have been posting. This pleases me immensely of course and as one “out of the field,” as we academics say, she often sees things that I have missed. Sometimes we who are the so-called “experts” in our fields are too close and miss the forest for the trees.
This morning she was reading the paper I posted yesterday, on “One, Two, or Three Messiahs,” and she made a most interesting observation. Given the notion of the three figures–with Jesus’ disciples asking about sitting at his “right and left hand” in his glorious kingdom, isn’t it likely that the Romans intended the two others crucified with Jesus, one on the right, the other on the left, to be a way of mocking him as “King of the Jews”?
And with him they crucified two brigands, one on his right and one on his left. (Mark 15:27)
And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” (Mark 10:37)
It is hard to miss the parallel between these verses in Mark. It was as if the Romans would be saying, Behold your King! He is “reigning” on a cross, with his vice-regents at his right and left hand in his “glory.” Although these two men are commonly described as “thieves” in our English translations that is most misleading. The Greek word, lestes (ληστης), is regularly used by Josephus, a contemporary historian, to mean a “brigand” or revolutionary, so it is particularly fitting given this parody of a “royal” court. I found Lori’s idea immediately compelling. Someone might have suggested this idea before but I know I have not come across it. So thanks Lori.
If you couple this with the view, which I hold, that the place of crucifixion was the Mt. of Olives, to the east of the Old City, the mockery becomes all the more poignant. The Mt. of Olives is the place of “triumph,” from which conquerers and kings for centuries have viewed the city of Jerusalem. How ironic to see Jesus and his kingly “entourage,” dying on crosses right in front of the eastern Golden Gate of the City through which the Messiah and his supporters were to enter in triumph.