Other articles from this issue | Version in English | Version in French
Translating and Excerpting the Johannine Passion Narrative for Liturgical Proclamation
Cunningham, Philip A.
On March 12, 2000 Pope John Paul II prayed for God’s forgiveness for Christian behaviors that “in the course of history have caused [“the People of Israel”] to suffer.”(1) As the pope had earlier observed, “In the Christian world . . . erroneous and unjust interpretations of the New Testament regarding the Jewish people and their alleged culpability have circulated for too long, engendering feelings of hostility towards this people.” (2)
This destructive capacity of certain New Testament texts is evident in the long history of Christian attacks on Jews on Good Friday. The Johannine passion narrative, proclaimed on that day, poses particular difficulties. As one pastor recently wrote, “The insistence on reading St. John’s Gospel with its many pejorative references to ‘the Jews’ diminishes the Church’s credibility when it claims it is not antisemitic. . . . The fact that there have to be explanations in the missalette (which not everyone reads), shows that the reading is confusing and capable of misinterpretation.”(3)
At the 2000 and 2001 annual meetings of the Catholic Biblical Association of America, this issue was studied in great detail by the Continuing Seminar on Biblical Issues in Jewish-Christian Relations that is co-convened by John Clabeaux and myself.(4) Our work produced several strategies that future editions of the lectionary might offer as options for the Gospel Reading on Good Friday:
Option 1: Proclaim a short form of the Johannine passion narrative thereby avoiding the most problematic passages. E.g., 19:16b (“So they took Jesus . . .”) to 19:30 (“… he handed over his spirit”).
Option 2: Proclaim a thematically constructed Johannine catena as a lection that draws together Johannine soteriological perspectives from throughout the Gospel; for instance, John 10:11,15b,18; 15:12-13; 3:16-17; 11:51b; 19:16-30. (5)
Option 3: Proclaim a synoptic passion narrative in either a short or long form. Although none of them have the same difficulties with the term hoi Ioudaioi as the Gospel of John, their own anti-Jewish polemical features would need consideration.
Option 4: Proclaim a carefully excerpted lection that presents the Johannine passion narrative almost in its entirety but omits certain polemical elements. This essay will offer a sample of such a lectionary reading for Good Friday, maintaining the tradition of reading the Johannine narrative more or less in its entirety. It was developed in the course of the Seminar’s work over 2000-2001.
It must be stressed at the outset that there are more than exegetical or translational issues involved. The proclamation of excerpted biblical texts during the liturgy is a part of the process of actualizing the scriptures in the particularly defining setting of worship. Therefore, an axiom put forth in 1993 by the Pontifical Biblical Commission is very pertinent:
Particular attention is necessary, according to the spirit of the Second Vatican Council (Nostra Aetate, 4), to avoid absolutely any actualization of certain texts of the New Testament which could provoke or reinforce unfavorable attitudes to the Jewish people. The tragic events of the past must, on the contrary, impel all to keep unceasingly in mind that, according to the New Testament, the Jews remain ‘beloved’ of God, ‘since the gifts and calling of God are irrevocable’ (Rom. 11:28-29).(6)
1. Instructions from Catholic Documents
The 1965 Vatican II Declaration on the Relationship of the Church to Non-Christian Religions, Nostra Aetate, was truly revolutionary. Its comments on the alleged “Jewish” responsibility for the death of Jesus reversed standard Christian thinking that had held sway for eighteen centuries:
Even though the Jewish authorities and those who followed their lead pressed for the death of Christ (see Jn 19:6), neither all Jews indiscriminately at that time, nor Jews today, can be charged with the crimes committed during his passion. It is true that the church is the new people of God, yet the Jews should not be spoken of as rejected or accursed as if this followed from holy scripture. Consequently, all must take care, lest in catechizing or in preaching the word of God, they teach anything which is not in accord with the truth of the Gospel message or the spirit of Christ.(7)
Such a reorientation of longstanding Christian assumptions inevitably has implications that take time to be appreciated fully. A 1974 document issued by the Pontifical Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews to implement Nostra Aetate made explicit reference to the Johannine passion narrative:
Commissions entrusted with the task of liturgical translation will pay particular attention to the way in which they express those phrases and passages which Christians, if not well informed, might misunderstand because of prejudice. Obviously, one cannot alter the text of the Bible. The point is that, with a version destined for liturgical use, there should be an overriding preoccupation to bring out explicitly the meaning of a text,* while taking scriptural studies into account.
* Thus the formula “the Jews,” in St. John, sometimes according to the context means “the leaders of the Jews,” or “the adversaries of Jesus,” terms which express better the thought of the evangelist and avoid appearing to arraign the Jewish people as such. (8)
The Commission here states that biblical texts cannot be “altered” in the process of translation. Judging by the footnote this means that paraphrases or the substitution of terms foreign to the text are to be avoided when rendering a biblical translation. This translational point should be carefully distinguished from how biblical texts are excerpted for lectionary use, which is a different process than preparing a new biblical translation.
2. How the Current Roman Lectionary Excerpts Biblical Texts
This brings us to the distinct question of the methods used by the lectionary to excerpt biblical texts for liturgical proclamation. The organizers of the Roman lectionary in the mid-1960s aimed to present “the mystery of Christ and the history of salvation,”(9)but they omitted passages “that require a complex exegetical or literal explanation before any spiritual application is possible.”(10) For very long readings, the lectionary was to “indicate how the passage [might] be shortened in a way that retains the essential parts of the pericope.”(11) Not surprisingly, since the wider implications of Nostra Aetate would take time to emerge, there is no evidence that the lectionary planners reckoned much with certain potentially “anti-Jewish” polemical texts.
As eventually promulgated, the lectionary sometimes begins or ends a lection at points other than at the biblical text’s natural limits. For example, the first reading for the Fourth Sunday of Advent in Cycle A ends the lection at Isaiah 7:14, “the virgin shall be with child, and bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel,” even though the Isaian text more naturally continues until at least vs. 16. The reason for this is to pair this reading more closely with the Gospel portion from Matthew 1:18-24.
The lectionary also does not always present continuous verses. Sometimes verses are skipped to have a shorter reading, as is the case on the 2nd Sunday of Lent in Cycle B when the first reading extracts Genesis 22:1-2,9-13,15-18. Elsewhere verses are skipped to focus on a certain theological point or out of pastoral concerns, as on the 7th Sunday of Easter in Cycle C whose second reading is Revelation 22:12-14,16-17,20. The omitted verses are not Jesus-centered and condemn outsiders and (ironically!) those who add to or delete from the “words in this book” (22:18-19). Sometimes large portions of a biblical book can be elided, as on Saturday of the 20th Week in Ordinary Time that offers Ruth 2:1-3,8-11; 4:13-17 as the first reading.
Finally, the lectionary occasionally inserts verses from earlier in the biblical book to help situate or shed light on the main portion of the lection. For instance, the first reading for Cycle A on the 4th Sunday of Easter begins with Acts 2:14, depicting Peter’s rising to give a speech, but then leaps over twenty verses to the speech’s conclusion and aftermath in verses 36-41.
Thus, there are lectionary precedents to deal with the pastoral issue of the anti-Jewish potential of the passion narratives by the strategic beginning or ending of a lection, by omitting problematic verses, and by incorporating relevant verses from earlier in the biblical book to situate the lection.Although the late Raymond Brown objected in principle to removing anti-Jewish passages from lectionary readings lest a fundamentalist attitude toward the scriptures be encouraged,(12) he also warned that “to include the passages that have an anti-Jewish import and not to comment on them is irresponsible proclamation that will detract from a mature understanding of our Lord’s death." (13)
However, is it realistic to expect that every year preachers will deal with the problems of anti-Judaism after the lengthy passion narrative has been proclaimed or even enacted? Would this not divert their limited preaching time from the soteriological themes that should be the primary Good Friday topic? An excerpted lection would free the preacher from an annual duty to deal with the texts’ potential for being actualized antisemitically. (14)
Furthermore, since in many churches the congregation would be reading along with the excerpted lection, a note at the beginning of the text would be helpful. For those congregants concerned about the precise biblical text, this note would explain that the reading has been excerpted in order to focus more intensely on the spiritual or theological significance of the death of Jesus. (15)
Such an approach seems especially necessary for twenty-first century western congregations. Since our culture tends to equate historicity with truth, typical congregants hear the theologically-driven biblical narratives as historical facts. Given the antisemitic dangers that arise from hearing the passion narratives as “histories,” it seems incumbent on the Church to reckon with this reality. Moreover, western preoccupation with history can inhibit the perception of the sacred writers’ theological insights. The prudent removal of distracting polemical phrases can actually serve to make the evangelists’ religious message more accessible. Therefore, lectionary excerptions of apologetic or polemical “anti-Jewish” passages should be done so as to free the evangelists’ theological perspectives from potentially misleading disputatious trappings.
3. Issues Specific to the Johannine Passion Narrative
The most problematic aspect of the Johannine passion narrative is its frequent use of the phrase hoi Ioudaioi, which the revised New Testament N.A.B. uniformly translates as “the Jews.”
While hoi Ioudaioi can be used in a neutral manner (as in John 2:6), it is often used polemically to refer to the forces opposed to Jesus in the Fourth Gospel’s dualistic cosmic drama of light vs. darkness, truth vs. falsehood. As George Smiga explains, this polemical sense:
occurs in at least 31 of the 71 instances of hoi Ioudaioi within the gospel. The polemical use is characterized by a hostility towards Jesus. Those who are described in this sense try to slander, attack, and kill Jesus. Sometimes the stance is lessened to only skepticism or disagreement. But those who are described by the polemical usage are clearly Jesus’ opponents. They are never portrayed in a positive light. Moreover, within the text of John the polemical sense can suddenly emerge as a replacement for another more traditional Jewish group. The Pharisees can find themselves abruptly dismissed from a particular story and replaced by hoi Ioudaioi (8:22; 9:18). This same unexpected exchange occurs with the crowd in 6:41. Throughout the passion narrative, roles which within the synoptic gospels are played by the chief priests, elders and scribes are filled in John by hoi Ioudaioi. They are the ones who send their police to arrest Jesus (18:12), who call for his death (19:7, 12, 14) and into whose hands Jesus says he will be handed over (18:36)
Therefore, in scenes throughout the gospel when there is opposition to Jesus, the evangelist shows remarkable freedom in inserting hoi Ioudaioi as a replacement for opposition groups which are described with much more specificity in the synoptics and even in other places in John’s own gospel.(16)
In a recent literary-critical study of the Fourth Gospel, Adele Reinhartz offers what she terms compliant, resistant, sympathetic, and engaged readings of the text. Her comments about the compliant approach are especially pertinent to the liturgical focus of this paper because “when the sacred scriptures are read in church, God himself is speaking to his people, and Christ, present in his word, is proclaiming his Gospel.”(17)Obviously, in the context of worship the congregation is meant to “comply with the directions that the implied author [of the Gospel reading] provides.”(18)By its very nature liturgy expects congregations to be “compliant” in their encounter with the lectionary readings. Reinhartz explains the significance of a compliant stance toward the Fourth Gospel:
The Beloved Disciple defines “good” as accepting the gift of eternal life and, through a rhetoric of binary opposition, labels as “bad” all those who refuse the gift. A compliant reader, by the very fact of his or her compliance with the Beloved Disciple’s perspective and acceptance of the gift, will take on this assessment as well. Within the narrative and discourse of the Gospel, those who refuse, and therefore are “bad,” are also labeled as “Jews.” . . . Even if the content of the label “the Jews” in the Gospel is deemed to be ahistorical, idiosyncratic, and even incorrect, the identification of the Jews with the negative pole of the Gospel’s rhetoric of binary opposition is dangerous precisely because there exists a “real” group that shares the same “Jewish” label. A compliant reader is not at all unlikely to transfer the negative assessment and hostility that he or she would absorb toward the Gospel’s Jews to that group in his or her own world that shares this label.(19)
This leads Reinhartz to make the literary observation that “It is difficult to imagine that these words and, indeed the manifold repetition of the term Ioudaios itself are not calculated to breed not only distance but also hatred, just as the words of rival political and religious groups do today.”(20)
The possibility that the Johannine text may intend to promote hostility toward hoi Ioudaioi in the hearts of its readers or hearers poses vexing pastoral and liturgical problems for a Church that teaches its members “to avoid absolutely any actualization of certain texts of the New Testament which could provoke or reinforce unfavorable attitudes to the Jewish people.” (21)
More specifically, if the author(s) of the Fourth Gospel intended to encourage antagonism for Jews by using hoi Ioudaioi so often and so sweepingly, then a lectionary rendering of the phrase today in the sweeping manner of “the Jews” would, by its efforts to be faithful to the text, actually abet a purpose the Catholic Church has condemned as “a sin against God and humanity.”(22) The more than a dozen polemical appearances of hoi Ioudaioi (not including its six additional mentions in the phrase “king of the Jews”) in the Good Friday lection has demonstrably generated antisemitism in Christian history. It would appear to be an inescapable conclusion that we have no choice today but to translate hoi Ioudaioi in ways that reduce its sweeping and universalizing polemic, at least if we are to be faithful to official commitments to deplore “all hatreds, persecutions, displays of antisemitism directed against the Jews at any time and from any source.”(23)
Therefore, in the model lection that appears below, hoi Ioudaioi has either been elided or rendered as “the chief priests” throughout. This is in keeping with the Johannine passion narrative itself, which occasionally almost alternates hoi Ioudaioi and chief priests in successive sentences (19:6,7; 14,15) and is consistent with the role these characters play in the synoptic narratives. Rendering hoi Ioudaioi in the Johannine passion narrative as “the chief priests” in no way compromises the text’s soteriology. It simply defangs its universalizing polemic.
Anti-Jewish polemic manifests itself in other ways in the Johannine passion narrative. These manifestations include the teaming of Pharisees with the chief priests (18:3); negative characterizations of Jewish figures in the third person plural (18:28,35,36,38,40; 19:16,18); references to Jesus being handed over by his own “nation” (18:35); and Pilate’s determination to release Jesus (18:38-40; 19:4,6,8,12). The 1988 NCCB document Criteria for the Evaluation of Dramatizations of the Passion cited the 1974 Pontifical Commission Guidelines when it advised:
The greatest caution is advised in all cases where “it is a question of passages that seem to show the Jewish people as such in an unfavorable light” (Guidelines II). A general principle might, therefore, be suggested that if one cannot show beyond reasonable doubt that the particular gospel element selected or paraphrased will not be offensive or have the potential for negative influence on the audience for whom the presentation is intended, that element cannot, in good conscience, be used. (24)
Now, while this admonition appears in an instruction devoted to passion plays, “The principles [it] invoked are applicable as the Guidelines suggest (ch. III) to ‘all levels of Christian instruction and education,’ whether written (textbooks, teachers manuals, etc.) or oral (preaching, the mass media).”(25) The liturgical proclamation of the Johannine passion narrative would reasonably be included as one “level of Christian instruction.”
Therefore, since the above Johannine features are polemical moves of dubious historicity that do not advance Johannine theology, and since they risk perpetuating hostility to Jews by being heard as “history” by today’s congregations, they have been partially elided in the following lection. As noted above, the existing lectionary omits certain verses from lections for pastoral and theological reasons, so this procedure has ample precedent.
John 19:7 presents particular challenges. The 1986 New Testament NAB renders it as follows. “The Jews answered, ‘We have a law, and according to that law he ought to die, because he made himself the Son of God.’” In addition to the sweeping use of hoi Ioudaioi, the verse can be readily understood to legitimate the ancient but now condemned deicide charge because it portrays Jews asserting that one claiming divine sonship should be executed.
The thorny problem is that the Johannine passion narrative is in reality a cosmic drama, but today’s congregations inevitably hear it as a historical chronicle. This verse anachronistically portrays people prior to the resurrection debating Jesus’ status as a divine being. Such disputes, however, really have their “historical context in conflicts between the nascent Church and the Jewish community”(26) in “Stage 3”, and could not have contributed to Jesus’ death in “Stage 1”. (27)
Perhaps more importantly, the passage portrays “the Jews” as motivated by a law to kill Jesus. Without careful explanation, the liturgical proclamation of this verse risks perpetuating Christian caricatures of Jewish fidelity to the Torah as well as casting Jews as murderous because of this fidelity. Therefore, following the admonition of the U.S. Bishops’ Committee on the Liturgy cited above, this verse has been elided from the exemplar lection that follows.
John 19:15 [“They cried out, ‘Take him away, take him away! Crucify him!’ Pilate said to them, ‘Shall I crucify your king?’ The chief priests answered, ‘We have no king but Caesar,’”] stimulated intense discussion during the Seminar’s deliberations. Some members pointed out that the text here depicts the leaders of Israel renouncing God as their king, thereby annulling Israel’s covenant with God. This narrative theological assertion is directly contradicted by numerous recent official Catholic statements, such as the papal description of Jews today as “partners in a covenant of eternal love which was never revoked.” (28) The verse was seen as an instance in which slavish adherence to the text could promote theological intentions that today’s Church has renounced. Therefore, it ought to be omitted from lectionary proclamation. On the other hand, the dramatic climax to the narrative’s structure that the verse represents, together with the powerful pastoral challenge for contemporary congregations as to whether they worship other “gods,” were potent arguments for its retention. Given the focus of the text on the chief priests and not on hoi Ioudaioi, it was decided by the Seminar to retain the passage in the exemplar lection.
Finally, it should be noted that the lectionary’s method of incorporating into a lection a passage from elsewhere in the same biblical book in order to establish the background is employed below in John 18:14. A phrase from John 11:48, “lest the Romans come and take away both the land and the nation” augments the already present Johannine reference back to Caiaphas’ counsel in the earlier passage. The expansion of the existing cross-reference provides the stated reason why Caiaphas thinks “it is better that one man should die rather than the people.”
As stated above, it is hoped that the following lection will be of service to the competent ecclesiastical authorities when the lectionary is next revised. To summarize the procedures used below:
1. The lection offers the full passion narrative from the Gospel of John according to its traditional use during the Good Friday liturgy.
2. The lection has been designed to present and respect the text’s theological characteristics and insights and the dramatic structure and interactions within the text without the distractions of anti-Jewish or potentially anti-Jewish phrases that do not add to its theological import.
3. Anti-Jewish or potentially anti-Jewish phrases are addressed as follows:
A. The recurring polemical expression hoi Ioudaioi has been rendered in the passion narrative lection as “the chief priests” or elided.
B. Polemical or ambiguous use of the third person plural pronoun “they” has been made specific according to context.
C. Certain polemical or apologetic passages of dubious historicity have been elided. These include explicit declarations of Pilate’s determination to free Jesus and Jesus described as “handed over by his own nation.”
D. In one case a phrase from elsewhere in the Gospel of John has been added to provide
additional Johannine background.
A Suggested Good Friday Lectionary Reading of the Passion Narrative of the Gospel of John
[Based on the work of the Continuing Seminar on Biblical Issues in Jewish-Christian Relations of the Catholic Biblical Association of America. Text follows the 1986 NAB New Testament]
Symbol key: . . . = elisions * = translational change < = text changed from
1. Jesus went out with his disciples across the Kidron Valley to where there was a garden, into which he and his disciple entered.
2. Judas his betrayer also knew the place, because Jesus had often met there with his disciples.
3. So Judas got a band of soldiers and from the chief priests guards. . .[maintains Greek order literally; elides “and the Pharisees”] and went there with lanterns, torches, and weapons nd went there with lanterns, torches, and weapons
4. Jesus, knowing everything that was going to happen to him, went out and said to them, “Whom are you looking for?”
5. They answered him, “Jesus of Nazareth.” He said to them, “I AM.” Judas his betrayer was also with them.
6. When he said to them, “I AM,” they turned away and fell to the ground.
7. So he again asked them, “Whom are you looking for?” They said, “Jesus the Nazorean.”
8. Jesus answered, “I told you that I AM. So if you are looking for me, let these men go.”
9. This was to fulfill what he had said, “I have not lost any of those you gave me.”
10. Then Simon Peter, who had a sword, drew it, struck the high priest’s slave, and cut off his right ear. The slave’s name was Malchus.
11. Jesus said to Peter, “Put your sword into its scabbard. Shall I not drink the cup that the Father gave me?”
12. So the band of soldiers, the Roman tribune, [ better renders chiliarchos] and the Temple* guards [<"Jewish"] seized Jesus, bound him,
13. and brought him to Annas first. He was the father-in-law of Caiaphas, who was high priest that year.
14. It was Caiaphas who had counseled . . . that it was better that one man should die rather than the people, lest the Romans come and take away both the land and the nation. [elides “the Jews" adds phrase from 11:48]
15. Simon Peter and another disciple followed Jesus. Now the other disciple was known to the high priest, and he entered the high priest’s courtyard with Jesus.
16. But Peter stood at the gate outside. So the other disciple, the acquaintance of the high priest, went out and spoke to the gatekeeper and brought Peter in.
17. Then the maid who was the gatekeeper said to Peter, “You are not one of this man’s disciples, are you?” He said, “I am not.”
18. Now the slaves and the guards were standing around a charcoal fire that they had made, because it was cold, and were warming themselves. Peter was also standing there keeping warm
19. The high priest questioned Jesus about his disciples and about his doctrine.
20. Jesus answered him, “I have spoken publicly to the world. I always taught in a synagogue or in the temple area where all Jews* [drops definite article] gather and in secret I have said nothing.
21. Why ask me? Ask those who heard me what I said to them. They know what I said.”
22. When he had said this, one of the temple guards standing there struck Jesus and said, “Is this the way you answer the high priest?”
23. Jesus answered him, “If I have spoken wrongly, testify to the wrong; but if I have spoken rightly why do you strike me?”
24. Then Annas sent him bound to Caiaphas the high priest.
25. Now Simon Peter was standing there keeping warm. And they said to him, “You are not one of his disciples, are you?” He denied it and said, “I am not.”
26. One of the slaves of the high priest, a relative of the one whose ear Peter had cut off, said, “Didn’t I see you in the garden with him?”
27. Again Peter denied it. And immediately the cock crowed.
28. Then they brought Jesus from Caiaphas to the praetorium. It was morning. . . . [elides defiling Passover]
29. So Pilate came out to them and said, “What charge do you bring [against] this man?”
30. They answered and said to him, “If he were not a criminal, we would not have handed him over to you.”
31. At this, Pilate said to them, “Take him yourselves, and judge him according to your law.” The chief priests* [< “The Jews ] answered him, “We do not have the right to execute anyone,”
32. in order that the word of Jesus might be fulfilled that he said indicating the kind of death he would die.
33. Pilate went back into the praetorium and summoned Jesus and said to him, “Are you the King of the Jews?”
36. Jesus answered, “My kingdom does not belong to this world. If my kingdom did belong to this world, my attendants [would] be fighting to keep me from being handed over . . . . But as it is, my kingdom is not here.” [elides Jesus being handed over by his own nation]
37. So Pilate said to him, “Then you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say I am a king. For this I was born and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”
38. Pilate said to him, “What is truth?” When he had said this, he again went out to the chief priests* [ elides “to the Jews” < “the Jews” ] and said to them, . . .[ elides “I find no guilt in him.”
39. “You have a custom that I release one prisoner to you at Passover. Do you want me to release to you the King of the Jews?”
40. They cried out again, “Not this one but Barabbas!” Now Barabbas was a revolutionary.
1. Then Pilate took Jesus and had him scourged.
2. And the soldiers wove a crown out of thorns and placed it on his head, and clothed him in a purple cloak,
3. and they came to him and said, “Hail, King of the Jews!” And they struck him repeatedly.
4. Once more Pilate went out and said to the chief priests,* [< “to them”] “Look, I am bringing him out to you . . .” [elides Pilate’s claim of Jesus’ innocence]
5. So Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple cloak. And he said to them, “Behold, the man!”
6. When the chief priests and the guards saw him they cried out, “Crucify him, crucify him!” [elides “I find no guilt in him” and law demanding Jesus’ death; elides Pilate’s fear]
7. . . .
9. [Pilate] went back into the praetorium and said to Jesus, “Where are you from?” Jesus did not answer him.
10. So Pilate said to him, “Do you not speak to me? Do you not know that I have power to release you and I have power to crucify you?”
11. Jesus answered [him], “You would have no power over me if it had not been given to you from above. For this reason the one who handed me over to you has the greater sin.”
12. [elides “Pilate tried to release him”] . . . but the chief priests* [< “the Jews” ] cried out, “If you release him, you are not a Friend of Caesar. Everyone who makes himself a king opposes Caesar.”
13. When Pilate heard these words he brought Jesus out and seated him on the judge’s bench in the place called Stone Pavement, in Hebrew, Gabbatha.
14. It was preparation day for Passover, and it was about noon. And he said to the chief priests,* “Behold, your king!”
15. They cried out, “Take him away, take him away! Crucify him!” Pilate said to them, “Shall I crucify your king?” The chief priests answered, “We have no king but Caesar.”
16. Then he handed him over [elides “to them”]. … to be crucified.
So they took Jesus,
17. and carrying the cross himself he went out to what is called the Place of the Skull, in Hebrew, Golgotha.
18. There they crucified him, and with him two others, one on either side, with Jesus in the middle.
19. Pilate also had an inscription written and put on the cross. It read, “Jesus the Nazorean, the King of the Jews.”
20. Now many of the Jews read this inscription, because the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city; and it was written in Hebrew, Latin, and Greek.
21. So the chief priests [ . elides “of the Jews” ] . . said to Pilate, “Do not write ‘The King of the Jews,’ but that he said, ‘I am the King of the Jews.’”
22. Pilate answered, “What I have written, I have written.”
23. When the soldiers had crucified Jesus, they took his clothes and divided them into four shares, a share for each soldier. They also took his tunic, but the tunic was seamless, woven in one piece from the top down.
24. So they said to one another, “Let’s not tear it, but cast lots for it to see whose it will be,” in order that the passage of scripture might be fulfilled [that says]: “They divided my garments among them, and for my vesture they cast lots.” This is what the soldiers did.
25. Standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary of Magdala.
26. When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple there whom he loved, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son.”
27. Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother.” And from that hour the disciple took her into his home.
28. After this, aware that everything was now finished, in order that the scripture might be fulfilled, Jesus said, “I thirst.”
29. There was a vessel filled with common wine. So they put a sponge soaked in wine on a sprig of hyssop and put it up to his mouth.
30. When Jesus had taken the wine, he said, “It is finished.” And bowing his head, he handed over the spirit.
31. Now since it was preparation day, in order that the bodies might not remain on the cross on the sabbath, for the sabbath day of that week was a solemn one, the chief priests* [< “the Jews”] asked Pilate that their legs be broken and they be taken down.
32. So the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first and then of the other one who was crucified with Jesus.
33. But when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs,
34. but one soldier thrust his lance into his side, and immediately blood and water flowed out.
35. An eyewitness has testified, and his testimony is true; he knows that he is speaking the truth, so that you also may [come to] believe.
36. For this happened so that the scripture passage might be fulfilled: “Not a bone of it will be broken.”
37. And again another passage says: “They will look upon him whom they have pierced.”
38. After this, Joseph of Arimathea, secretly a disciple of Jesus . . . [elides “for fear of the Jews”], asked Pilate if he could remove the body of Jesus. And Pilate permitted it. So he came and took his body.
39. Nicodemus, the one who had first come to him at night, also came bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes weighing about one hundred pounds.
40. They took the body of Jesus and bound it with burial cloths along with the spices, according to the Jewish burial custom.
41. Now in the place where he had been crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb, in which no one had yet been buried.
42. So they laid Jesus there because of the Jewish preparation day; for the tomb was close by.
* Dr. Philip A. Cunningham is Director of the Center for Christian-Jewish Learning at Boston College. With Prof. John Clabeaux of St. John’s Seminary in Boston, he is co-convener of the Catholic Biblical Association’s Continuing Seminar on Biblical Issues in Jewish-Christian Relations.
1. “Service Requesting Pardon,” in Origins 29/40, March 23, 2000: 647.
2. Pope John Paul II, “Speech to Symposium on the Roots of Anti-Judaism,” 31 Oct 1997, 1: L’Osservatore Romano, 1 Nov 1997, p. 6.
3. Private correspondence to Eugene J. Fisher, Secretariat for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, NCCB, dated May 29, 2001.
4. For details visit the seminar’s website at: www.bc. edu/cjlearning > Partnerships > CBA Seminar. My thanks to John Clabeaux for his aid with this paper. The following seminar members contributed to this project: Regina Boisclair, Patrick Castles, John Clabeaux, Robert Connolly, Philip A. Cunningham, David P. Efroymson, Lawrence Frizzell, John Gilchrist, Marie Goldstein, Dennis Hamm, Judith Kolasny, Amy-Jill Levine, Kenneth Morman, Brian M. Nolan, James Polich, Gilbert Romero, Richard J. Sklba, Gerard Sloyan, George Smiga, Linda Taggart, and Anthony Tambasco.
5. David P. Efroymson devised the example for this option.
6. Pontifical Biblical Commission, The Interpretation of the Bible in the Church, 1993, IV, A, 3.
7. Second Vatican Council, Nostra Aetate (1965), 4.
8. Pontifical Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews, Guidelines and Suggestions for Implementing the Conciliar Declaration Nostra Aetate, No.4 (1974), III.
9. Annibale Bugnini, The Reform of the Liturgy, 1948-1975 (Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 1990), 410.
10. Ibid., 418.
11. Ibid., 419.
12. Raymond E. Brown, A Crucified Christ in Holy Week: Essays on the Four Gospel Passion Narratives (Collegeville, The Liturgical Press, 1986), 15-16. It might be wondered if Brown’s critique would also apply to the lectionary’s excerptions of “Old Testament” passages that sometimes reduce those texts to a univocal prediction-fulfillment pattern. Such a practice would also seem to promote an uncritical fundamentalist mentality.
13. Brown, 16.
14. The U.S. bishops have stressed this obligation: “A full and precise explanation of the use of the expression ‘the Jews’ by St. John and other New Testament references which appear to place all Jews in a negative light [is needed]. (These expressions and references should be fully and precisely clarified in accordance with the intent of the Statement that Jews are not to be ‘presented as rejected or accursed by God as if this followed from holy scripture’)” [Secretariat for Catholic-Jewish Relations, Guidelines on Catholic-Jewish Relations, 1967, Recommended Programs, 10g].
15. I might note in passing the positive wording used here. Framing it negatively, as in trying to avoid texts that historically have fostered anti-Jewish attitudes and actions, runs the risk of suggesting that the editing has been done simply to placate Jews. It must be stressed instead that these suggestions in lectionary preparation are motivated by a concern to be faithful to the Christian message as understood in the Catholic community today.
16. George Smiga, unpublished manuscript offered for the August 6-8, 2000 meeting of the Continuing Seminar on Biblical Issues in Jewish-Christian Relations, the Catholic Biblical Association of America.
17. General Instruction on the Roman Missal, II, 9.
18. Adele Reinhartz, Befriending the Beloved Disciple: A Jewish Reading of the Gospel of John (New York: Continuum, 2001), 54.
19. Reinhartz, 79-80.
20. Reinhartz, 78.
21. Pontifical Biblical Commission, Interpretation of the Bible in the Church, IV, A, 3.
22. E.g., John Paul II, “Address to the British Council for Christians and Jews,” November 16, 1990.
23. Nostra Aetate, 4. These words were reiterated by John Paul II during his historic visit to the chief synagogue of Rome on April 13, 1986.
24. Bishops’ Committee for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, National Conference of Catholic Bishops, Criteria for the Evaluation of Dramatizations of the Passion (Washington, D.C.: United States Catholic Conference, 1988), C,1,d.
25. Ibid., Preliminary Considerations.
26. Pontifical Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews, Notes on the Correct Way to Present Jews and Judaism in Preaching and Catechesis in the Roman Catholic Church (1985), 21, A.
27. The language of “stages” of Gospel development comes from the 1964 Pontifical Biblical Commission, Instruction on the Historical Truth of the Gospels.
28. John Paul II, “Address to Jewish Leaders in Miami” (September 11, 1987) in Fisher and Klenicki, Spiritual Pilgrimage, 105-109.