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.
The giving of the passage in full is not a frivolous exercise, although no commentator of whom I am aware has hitherto done so in their discussion. Instead, two statements in the text are generally emphasised: the darkness at noon and the "mourning for an only son." Now, it is indeed the case that the darkness appears at noon ("the sixth hour") in the crucifixion narratives, but other than that the similarities between the text and the crucifixion are notable for their absence (especially since it is the people who are supposed to be mourning in the Amos text). However, one could see the text as obliquely predicting Jesus’ death (with its associated manifestation of darkness), and the consequent punishment of Israel as expressed in the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Temple in 70 CE (the last couplet would mean that Israel is to mourn as God had once mourned his only son).
At the same time, however, it is well on a number of counts to urge caution regarding the acceptance of the link between the crucifixion narrative and Amos 8 as cut-and-dried. Firstly, there is the statement in Amos 8 that all of the events described are part of the Day of Yahweh ("on that day"), whereas the reading discussed here separates events in Amos 8,9-10 by nearly forty years. This by itself, however, would not present an insurmountable difficulty to a contemporary interpreter sweeping the scriptures for references to his own time (judging at least from some of the exegetical gymnastics evident in texts such as the Habakkuk Commentary from Qumran [1QpHab]). A more serious argument is that the reader would be expected to come away from the text having spotted a single, and by no means obvious, allusion to Amos 8 and realise that this is also an omen of the destruction of the second Temple. Even when it is expressed alongside the portent of the tearing of the temple curtain, the realization that such a demand is being made of the audience ought to give commentators some pause for thought.
A new perspective on this problem may be helpful. Biblical texts strongly associate darkness or night with the forces of chaos. Darkness is synonymous with chaos in the form of non-existence (Job 3,3-6) or crime (Prov 2,13), and is therefore particularly associated with Sheol — the place where the human essence resides after death (Job 10,21; 17,11-16; Eccl 11,8). Night is a time of lawlessness, when thieves or the wicked play out their schemes (Job 24,14; Obad 5; Matt 24,43; 1 Thess 5,2). Associations of darkness with the forces of chaos led OT authors to speculate that with God’s final victory over the forces of chaos, night would cease to exist (Isa 60,18-20 cf. Zech 14,7). This theme is adapted by the author of Revelation (22,5 cf. 21,25) in his vision of the new creation, one unmarred by the presence of chaos within cosmic boundaries. As well as the destruction of darkness, two other exemplars of chaos, death and the sea, are also destroyed (Rev 21,1.4).
Of more immediate import, however, is the way that darkness is portrayed within the gospels. John, for example, describes how Satan entered into Judas after the Last Supper when "it was night" (John 13,27.30). More significant still, however, is Jesus’ arrest at night when "the power of darkness" reigned (Luke 22,53)5 From this remark, it is clear that Jesus perceived this arresting him not as representing the forces of law and order but as being in league with,