Thursday, April 15, 2010
The Ol’ Zeigarnik Effect
Matthew Baldwin, PhD to Ben Mack
If I understand you correctly, then the point is actually brilliant (and remember, I am a NT scholar with a Ph.D. in biblical literature, so I want to be taken seriously on this point). Maybe it’s brilliant whether you know why or not… but the story of Jesus as presented in the gospels and acts is fundamentally unfinished; and yes, it does have to do with the question “is he here yet.”
The final scene in Jesus’ “life” is scripted by Luke, the author of Acts, as follows:
Acts 1:6 So when they had come together, they asked [the resurrected Jesus], “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” 7 He replied, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” 9 When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. 10 While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. 11 They said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”
The final scene of Jesus’ life as originally scripted by Mark is as follows:
Mark 16:1 When the sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. 2 And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. 3 They had been saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?” 4 When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back. 5 As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. 6 But he said to them, “Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. 7 But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.” 8 So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.
In fact, the ending of the story comes so abruptly (ending with the anticipatory Greek word gar, meaning “for,” which is nowhere else used as the final word in a text in all of Greek literature) that several different manuscript traditions append other, artificially lengthened versions of the end of the story. But the fact is that the original Mark ended not with the resurrected Jesus but with the “empty” tomb and a couple of scared women! Similarly, Luke “finished” the story by removing Jesus from sight and promising only the indefinite future of an uncertain time of the end.