Dominic Rudman, «The Crucifixion as Chaoskampf: A New Reading of the Passion Narrative in the Synoptic Gospels», Vol. 84 (2003) 102-107
The depiction of the events surrounding the crucifixion in the Synoptic Gospels (particularly the darkness and the tearing of the temple curtain) have provoked widely varying responses from New Testament scholars. This article argues that the inclusion of these details in the narrative can be understood by reference to the chaoskampf typology of the Old Testament. Here, as elsewhere in the gospels (e.g. Matt 8,23-27; Mark 4,35-41; Luke 8,22-25), Jesus is presented as a creator figure who confronts the powers of chaos. In this instance however, the powers of chaos emerge temporarily triumphant. The old creation is destroyed, paving the way for a renewal of creation with Jesus’s resurrection.
Among those who take a more literary-oriented approach is Nickelsburg, who sees the darkness and tearing of the temple curtain (and, in the Matthean text, the shaking of the earth and splitting of the rocks) as "the visible phenomena that vindicate Jesus’ status as God’s son" to which the centurion (a gentile) responds, but which Jesus’ own people ignore2. While there is some validity to this position, particularly in the comparison of the reactions of Gentile and Jew, the centurion and people outside Jerusalem could not have witnessed the events at the temple described in the crucifixion narrative. Accordingly, there must be some other significance to these events additional to their role as a catalyst for the gentile acknowledgement of Christ.
Another view is advanced by Gundry, who argues that the darkness is a response by God to the jeering of the group witnessing Jesus’ execution, an attempt to shield his son from the humiliation of the people’s mockery3. On the face of it, this also seems a reasonable position. If one reads the passion narratives in a linear fashion, the three synoptic gospels all place specific examples of the mockery endured by Jesus (from the people, priests and a fellow-victim) before their accounts of the darkness. Yet the essential point of the passion narratives seems to be to demonstrate the ultimate sacrifice made by Jesus: he suffers a painful and humiliating death and gives utterance to the idea that he has been abandoned by God (Matt 27,46; Mark 15,34). The darkness by this reading would seem to be a pointless and very partial mitigation of Jesus’ plight (though one could take it as a sign that Jesus has not truly been "forsaken" by God). Perhaps more seriously, it divorces the portent of the darkness from that of the tearing of the temple curtain, when their association in the synoptic gospels suggest that they are connected.
However, the most common interpretation of the darkness is that expressed by Hooker and others, who understand it as a symbol of judgement on Israel for the death of Israel’s king4. Almost all commentators make reference to Amos 8,9-10 in their discussion of this part of the narrative. The text in question states:
On that day, declares Lord Yahweh,
I will make the sun go down at noon
and darken the earth in broad daylight.
I will turn your religious feasts into mourning
and all your singing into weeping.
I will make all of you wear sackcloth
and shave your heads.
I will make that time like mourning for an only son
and the end of it like a bitter day