You may be aware that I have been reading/blogging through Michael R. Licona’s The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach. One section that I found very interesting was his discussion on martyrdom (pp. 286-289). He compares stories of other Jewish martyrs with those of Jesus in order to display how authentically the gospels display Jesus in this regard.
For instance, in Gethsemane (Mk. 14.31-41; Mt. 26.36-45; Lk 22.39-46) Jesus is seen weeping and asking the Father to take the cup of suffering from him. He does not come across as bold. Once he knows it is the Father’s will he is firm until the end, but his weakness in Gethsemane is (1) something you wouldn’t invent about your hero and (2) unlike other martyrs.
Licona discusses 2 Macc. 7 where the Jewish martyrs stand firm and defiant while being tortured. In 4 Macc. 6.1-30 “Eleazar is whipped until his flesh is stripped and his sides pierced”. He is burned at the stake and through it all he says a final prayer. In Acts 6.8-7.60 Stephen stands defiantly against the Jewish leaders before being stoned to death. In the second century Rabbi Akibai is tortured to death and he recites the Shema and laughs at the Roman rulers. Even Polycarp’s martyrdom depicts him as almost desiring it.
Yet Jesus didn’t want it. Isn’t it funny how the one who is worshiped as divine is displayed as the most human of all?