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.
Again, precisely because death could be seen as a victory for chaos over God’s creatures, later apocalyptic texts which envisioned the perfection or renewal of creation believed that God would ultimately overcome chaos in the form of death. An excellent example of this in the OT occurs in the Isaiah Apocalypse (Isaiah 24–27) which stated that Yahweh "will swallow up death forever ... he will wipe away the tears from all faces" (Isa 25,8 cf. 26,19), a promise that was taken up enthusiastically by the author of Revelation (Rev 21,4).
It is against this background that the death of Jesus on the cross should be understood. Elsewhere, the resurrection is aptly characterised a victory over death (cf. 1 Cor 15,55.57), a view that presupposes a theology of chaoskampf. As such, Jesus’ death and resurrection serve as the firstfruits of the eschaton and herald not just the defeat of death but its ultimate destruction. The same theology informs the report in Matthew of the resurrection of the saints following Jesus’ own raising from the dead (Matt 27,52-53).
3.The Temple Curtain
Finally, the evidence of the tearing of the temple curtain should be considered. In line with the interpretation of the darkness at the crucifixion as indicative of divine judgement on Israel, this is often taken to be a portent of the eventual destruction of the temple itself8. As noted, however, this would mean that the gospel authors were relating Amos 8 not only to the events of the crucifixion but also the eventual destruction of the Temple several decades later. It is perhaps for this reason that there has been a tendency to see the destruction presaged by the tearing of the curtain as figurative (and usually positive) in nature. For example, Schweizer argues that the vignette of the torn curtain originated with the early church which regarded Jesus’ death as portending the end of all temple ritual9. Likewise, Carrington takes the position that the rending of the curtain represents the destruction of the old barrier separating God and his people (since the curtain in the Temple’s "holy of holies" where Yahweh resided could be passed only once a year, and then only by the High Priest)10.
Carrington’s unusual argument deserves closer scrutiny. According to the Antiquities of Josephus, himself a priest (Life 1), the tabernacle was effectively understood to be microcosm of the creation. Divided into three, the outer parts represented the sea and the land, while "the third part thereof ... to which the priests were not admitted is, as it were, a heaven peculiar to God" (Ant. 3.181). This suggests that the temple curtain formed the boundary between earth and heaven: its destruction could be taken to signify the irruption of the heavenly world onto the earth (i.e. the arrival of the kingdom of heaven as Carrington suggests). However, it could equally be taken to