David and Jesus 




         Joseph Francis Alward  
            © Copyright 2001 


In this analysis I describe Mark’s story of Judas’ betrayal of Jesus and show its extensive and very tight connections to the stories of David’s betrayals by his counselor and the men among whom he dwelled.


I’ll also briefly address a suggestion that Mark may have had Judas imitate Homer’s Melanthius in the Odyssey.




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The Bible tells us that the spirit of the Lord was in David, and from the seed of King David will arise a savior of Judea who will rule the earth:


 So Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the presence of his brothers, and from that day on the Spirit of the LORD came upon David in power
(1 Samuel 16:13)

 The LORD hath sworn in truth unto David; he will not turn from it; Of the fruit of thy body will I set upon thy throne (Psalms 132:11)

 I will raise unto David a righteous Branch, and a King shall reign and prosper, and shall execute judgment and justice in the earth. In his days Judah shall be saved, and Israel shall dwell safely. (Jeremiah 23:5-6)

 Concerning his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, which was made of the seed of David according to the flesh (Romans 1:3)  


To sell Jesus to the Hebrews as the rightful heir to the throne of the house of David, Mark apparently decided to show them that events in the life of David prefigured those in Jesus’ life.  In what follows I show how Mark may have used the holy scripture as a blueprint in constructing the story of Jesus’ betrayal and arrest. 


The column on the left shows the Old Testament verses which correlate with the actions and words of the main characters in Mark’s story.  Jesus is David;  David’s counselor, Ahithophel, is Judas; the high priests, elders, and teachers of the law are Saul and Absalom; Jesus’ disciples are David’s followers, and Jesus’ Peter is David’s Ittai and Elijah's Elisha. And, of course, the Lord is the Lord. 




Old Testament Antecedents


Mark’s Story of Jesus’ Betrayal

David’s counselor, Ahithophel, deserted David and went over to the side of his enemy, Absalom.

Absalom…sent for Ahithophel…David's counselor …"Ahithophel is among the conspirators with Absalom."
2 Samuel 15:12, 31) 


Mark models Judas in part after Ahithophel, David's counselor, who went over to the enemy's side.  Mark will later have Jesus refer to the psalm in which David laments his betrayal.

Then Judas Iscariot, one of the Twelve, went to the chief priests to betray Jesus to them.  (Mark 14:10)

Ahithophel was not the first to betray David.  Saul happily listens to the plan for David’s capture offered by the men among whom David camps.

The Ziphites went up to Saul at Gibeah and said, "Is not David hiding among us… we will be responsible for handing him over to the king." Saul replied, "The Lord bless you for your concern for me.” (1 Samuel 23:19-21)

He who walks righteously and…keeps his hand from accepting bribes, who stops his ears against plots of murder and shuts his eyes against contemplating evil--this is the man who will dwell on the heights, whose refuge will be the mountain fortress.. 
(Isaiah 33:15-16)


Samuel spoke of David being handed over to his enemy, just as Mark spoke of Jesus. Mark may have had in mind Isaiah’s warning about those who plot murder and accept bribes when he spoke of Judas handing Jesus over for money.


They were delighted to hear this and promised to give him money. So he watched for an opportunity to hand him over. (Mark 14:10-11)

The psalms below are David's laments over his betrayal by Ahithophel.


"Even my close friend, whom I trusted, he who shared my bread, has lifted up his heel against me." (Psalm 41:9) 

If an enemy were insulting me, I could endure it…But it is you, a man like myself, my companion, my close friend." (Psalm 55:12-21)

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.  (Psalm 23:5)

Mark has Jesus lament his coming betrayal in words which mirror those uttered by David in one of his psalms.


When evening came, Jesus arrived with the Twelve. While they were reclining at the table eating, he said, "I tell you the truth, one of you will betray me--one who is eating with me…one who dips bread into the bowl with me."  (14:17-20)


Yet it was the LORD's will to crush him and cause him to suffer…the LORD makes his life a guilt offering…(Isaiah 53:10)


The Son of Man will go just as it is written about him. (14:21a)

Woe to you, O destroyer, you who have not been destroyed! Woe to you, O traitor, you who have not been betrayed! When you stop destroying, you will be destroyed; when you stop betraying, you will be betrayed. 
(Isaiah 33:1)


Mark has Jesus share Isaiah’s sentiments about the fate of betrayers.


But woe to that man who betrays the Son of Man! It would be better for him if he had not been born."  (14:21b)

After learning of his betrayal by Ahithophel, David goes to Mt. of Olives to pray.


Then David said to all his officials who were with him in Jerusalem, "Come! We must flee..”  (2 Samuel 15:14)…David continued up the Mount of Olives… (2 Samuel 15:30)


After Jesus speaks of his betrayal, he goes to Mt. of Olives to pray, just as did David after his betrayal.



When they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.  (14:26)


"Awake, O sword, against my shepherd, against the man who is close to me!" declares the LORD Almighty. "Strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered…”
(Zechariah 13:6-8)

Mark lets Zechariah prophesy the flight of Jesus’ disciples.


"You will all fall away," Jesus told them, "for it is written: "`I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.' “ (Mark 14:27)


The king's officials answered him, "Your servants are ready to do whatever our lord the king chooses." (2 Samuel 15:15)


But Ittai replied to the king, "As surely as the LORD lives, and as my lord the king lives, wherever my lord the king may be, whether it means life or death, there will your servant be." (2 Samuel 15:25)


When the LORD was about to take Elijah up to heaven…Elisha said, "As surely as the LORD lives and as you live, I will not leave you."  (2 Kings 2:1)


Mark uses Elisha and David’s followers as models for Peter and the disciples.  Peter's actions here are also modeled in part after those of Elisha, who was Elijah’s disciple, and Ittai, a follower of David.


Peter declared, "Even if all fall away, I will not”… "Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you." And all the others said the same.  (14:29, 31)




David grieves about his counselor’s betrayal.


But David continued up the Mount of Olives, weeping as he went (up Mt. of Olives); his head was covered and he was barefoot.
(2 Samuel 15:30)

(Note:  this is an attitude of sorrowful prayer.)


Jesus’ betrayal and his coming death weigh heavily on him.



They went to a place called Gethsemane, and Jesus said to his disciples, "Sit here while I pray.”…"My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death," he said to them…" (14:32-34)

David expresses hope that he will prevail, but recognizes it's the Lord's decision to make.

Then the king said…”If I find favor in the LORD's eyes, he will bring me back and let me see...his dwelling place again. But if he says, `I am not pleased with you,' then I am ready; let him do to me whatever seems good to him." (2 Samuel 15:25-26)


Mark patterns Jesus’ prayer after David’s acceptance of God’s will.

Abba, Father," he said, "…Take this cup from me (remove my suffering). Yet not what I will, but what you will." (14:36)

"I rise before dawn and cry for help; I have put my hope in your word. My eyes stay open through the watches of the night, that I may meditate on your promises…Those who devise wicked schemes are near, but they are far from your law." (Psalm 119: 147-150)

Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me. (Psalm 51:10-12)


Mark uses the psalmists' pleas to create his story of Jesus and his disciples' keeping their eyes open, watching with a willing spirit, and waiting for the betrayer who devised the wicked scheme.


Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. "Simon," he said to Peter, "are you asleep? Could you not keep watch for one hour? Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the body is weak." …[H]e again found them sleeping, because their eyes were heavy. (Mark 14:37-40 )

Look, the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Rise! Let us go! Here comes my betrayer!"  (14:41-42)


Ahithophel, the betrayer of David, wants to attack David and scatter his people. 



Ahithophel said to Absalom, "I would choose twelve thousand men and set out tonight in pursuit of David. I would attack him while he is weary and weak. I would strike him with terror, and then all the people with him will flee…" (2 Samuel 17:1-2)



Mark has Judas, the betrayer of Jesus, attack Jesus, and his people scatter.



Just as he was speaking, Judas, one of the Twelve, appeared. With him was a crowd armed with swords and clubs, sent from the chief priests, the teachers of the law, and the elders.  (14:43)

The Lord says: "These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. 
(Isaiah 29:13)


Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses. (Proverbs 27:6)

Mark has Judas “honor” Jesus with the word “Rabbi," then kiss him, thus fulfilling the prophecy in Isaiah.


Now the betrayer had arranged a signal with them: "The one I kiss is the man; arrest him and lead him away under guard." Going at once to Jesus, Judas said, "Rabbi!" (“my master”) and kissed him. (14:44-45)


I will direct my jealous anger against you…they will cut off your noses and your ears…(Ezekiel 23:25)

The crowd of men angered God, so the ear of one of them was cut off.


The men seized Jesus and arrested him. Then one of those standing near drew his sword and struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his ear. 


David rebukes Saul for thinking he was a threat to him.


“Now understand and recognize that I am not guilty of wrongdoing or rebellion. I have not wronged you, but you are hunting me down to take my life.”  (1 Samuel 24:11)

"Against whom has the king of Israel come out? Whom are you pursuing? A dead dog? A flea?  (1 Samuel 24:14)


Jesus rebukes high priests for thinking he was a threat to them.


"Am I leading a rebellion," said Jesus, "that you have come out with swords and clubs to capture me? (14:48)



The high priests didn’t arrest Jesus before now because the Lord had preordained that betrayal by a friend would come first, only then would come the strike and the scattering of sheep.


Every day I was with you, teaching in the temple courts, and you did not arrest me. But the Scriptures must be fulfilled.”  Then everyone deserted him and fled.   (14:49-50)


”Your nakedness will be exposed and your shame uncovered."  (Isaiah 47:3 )

Jerusalem has sinned greatly and so has become unclean. All who honored her  despise her, for they have seen her nakedness. (Lamentations 1:8)

This is your lot, the portion I have decreed for you," declares the LORD, "because you have forgotten me and trusted in false gods.

I will pull up your skirts over your face that your shame may be seen”  (Jeremiah 13:25-16)


The flight of the naked man symbolically exposes the uncleanliness and shame of those in Jerusalem who receive the word with joy, but run at the first sign of trouble because of the word. (Mark 4:16-17)



A young man, wearing nothing but a linen garment, was following Jesus.  When they seized him, he fled naked, leaving his garment behind.  (14:51-52)







Searching for a Homeric Connection

Dennis R. MacDonald, in his book, The Homeric Epics and the Gospel of Mark,1 advances the argument that Mark borrowed many of the elements of the tales in the Iliad and Odyssey to create stories about Jesus. He suggests that parts of Mark’s story about Jesus’ betrayal may be connected to the betrayal of Odysseus by his servant. 


In Homer’s Odyssey,2 Odysseus’s keeper of the goats, Melanthius, switches his loyalty from his absent master to the suitors occupying his estate.  As an apparent reward for his loyalty, Melanthius was allowed to dine at the occupiers’ table: 


[H]e entered and sat down among the suitors…and the revered housekeeper brought and set before him bread, for him to eat. 3


Meanwhile, Odysseus learns of the occupation and returns home in disguise, planning to slay the suitors.  Melanthius comes close to recognizing and identifying him--something the suitors could not have done because they’d never met him: 


Hear me now, suitors of the glorious queen, regarding this stranger, for in truth I have seen him before. 4 



Later, Melanthius helps arm the occupiers with “twelve shields…many helmets and spears, and brought them back as fast as he could to…the suitors.” 5


MacDonald notes that Judas, too, switched his loyalty, was at a meal to which he had no right as a traitor, and was associated with an armed crowd in conflict with the hero. He further suggests that Melanthius's near-identification of Odysseus may explain the seemingly inexplicable need for the authorities--who well knew Jesus--to have Judas identify him before he was arrested.6


MacDonald asks us to consider possibilities that are far, far too remote, in my opinion.  It seems almost one hundred percent certain that Judas was at the meal having bread with Jesus because Mark wanted Jesus to repeat David’s lament in Psalm 41 about the betrayer who shared his bread and lifted up his heel against him, and to remind his readers about the table set by the Lord for enemies in Psalm 23, not because Melanthius, who betrayed Odysseus, ate bread at a table with Odysseus’ enemies. 



MacDonald also suggests that the reason Mark had Judas identify Jesus to the arresting crowd, even though they should have known what he looked like, was that Mark wanted his readers to compare Jesus favorably to Odysseus, who was nearly identified by his servant. Odysseus had returned home in disguise and was plotting to kill the suitors; Melanthius almost recognized him, and would have told Odysseus’s enemy if he had.  But, Melanthius did not identify Odysseus, so it’s hard to see how Mark could have believed that his readers would connect Judas--who did identify Jesus--with Melanthius. 



The simpler explanation is the one that should prevail, in my opinion: Mark had Judas betray Jesus with honoring words ( “Rabbi”, my master ) and a kiss not because Melanthius almost recognized Odysseus and Mark’s readers might remember this, but because scripture spoke of betrayers who “come near…with their mouth and honor… with their lips” and “multiply kisses.”  Mark went to great lengths, it seems, to create events in the life of Jesus which paralleled those in David’s life; he would not have wished his readers to simultaneously have an alternative, Odyssean, view of Jesus. 





Virtually every verse in Chapter 14 of Mark’s gospel can be effortlessly connected to an Old Testament passage.  Either God prearranged events in the life of the messiah, and prefigured them in the acts of David, or else Mark’s story about Jesus’ betrayal and arrest are fiction.  I prefer the simpler explanation, one that is not based on the supernatural.

Late note:  I’ve argued here that the flight of the naked young man at Jesus’ arrest represents Jerusalem in her shame.  An article in Biblica7 expresses other viewpoints.



[1]  The Homeric Epics and the Gospel of Mark, Dennis R. MacDonald, Yale University Press, 2000.

[2]  Samuel Butler’s 1898 translation of the
Odyssey is available online.

[3]  Odyssey, Book 22


[4]  Odyssey, Book 17.

[5]  Odyssey, Book 22.

[6]  MacDonald, p. 39.

[7]  The Naked Young Man: A Historian's Hypothesis on Mark 14:51-52


     Notes added 02-4-02:


If the infinitely wise and all-knowing god of the Bible exists, then that god obviously would have been smart enough to know that Bible readers would understand that Jesus was completely alone as he prayed at Gethsemane, so no one could have overhead his prayer.

Thus, God would know that readers would conclude that Mark's story was at least part fiction. Now, if the words in Mark are from God, then we may presume that God did not want readers to think Mark just made them up, so God would have instructed Mark to explain to his readers that God told him what words Jesus used in his prayer. Since Mark did not do this, we may conclude that God did not help Mark write his gospel.

If God didn't tell him, then how did Mark decide what words to have Jesus say in his prayer? The answer to this question is found in the accounts of the life of King David, who was said to be the spiritual ancestor of the coming savior. Mark believed that some of the events in the life of David were foreshadowings of events in the life of the coming savior, so Mark made sure that Jesus' life mirrored in part the life of David. Thus, when Mark read David's lament about an enemies at his supper table,  "You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies," (Psalm 23:5) he made sure that Jesus likewise had an enemy sit at his last supper:

When evening came, Jesus arrived with the Twelve. While they were reclining at the table eating, he said, "I tell you the truth, one of you will betray me (Mark 14:17-20)


The parallel Mark constructed between David and Jesus doesn't end there. Mark also saw in the Scriptures that David was betrayed by someone close to him, someone who dipped his bread in the bowl with David:

David's counselor…is among the conspirators… (2 Samuel 15:12, 31)…. Even my close friend, whom I trusted, he who shared my bread, has lifted up his heel against me." (Psalm 41:9)

Since Mark felt sure that it was preordained that someone close to Jesus-- someone who shared bread with Jesus--would conspire against him, he made sure it happened:

I tell you the truth, one of you will betray me--one who is eating with me…one who dips bread into the bowl with me. (Mark 14:17-20)


After learning of his betrayal by his counselor, David goes to the Mount of Olives and expresses his feeling that God's will for him will be done, so Mark has Jesus do and say the same thing:

let him [God] do to me whatever seems good to him." (2 Samuel 15:25-26)… David continued up the Mount of Olives (2 Samuel 15:30)

After Jesus speaks of his betrayal, he goes to Mt. of Olives to pray, just as did David after his betrayal.

they went out to the Mount of Olives. (Mark 14:26)…[and Jesus told God,] "Yet [do] not what I will, but what you will." (14:36)


Thus, nobody heard Jesus' prayer--if there was a prayer, and God did not tell Mark what Jesus said in the prayer. What actually happened, the evidence shows, is that Mark just assumed that the events following David's betrayal would have to be echoed a thousand years later in the Jesus life. Thus, following the betrayal by a friend that Mark manufactured for Jesus, he had Jesus travel up to the Mount of Olives, just as David did, and express the view that God would do with him what it was God's will to do, just as did David.

The words of Jesus' Gethsemane prayer were put there by Mark, and are complete fiction.



Other articles about Mark’s gospel:

  David and Jesus
Jesus Walks on Water
Loaves and Fishes
  Wicked Tenants Parables

  Mark's Wicked Tenants Parable