Mark's Gospel makes frequent use of chiastic and parallel structures, and there appears to be an important structure in chapters 14 and 15, marking off time intervals in the 24 hours from the Last Supper to Jesus' burial by Joseph of Arimathea.

How are those time intervals defined in Mark?

  • This is really interesting, but I think it would be better at Biblical Hermeneutics...
    – curiousdannii
    Apr 2, 2015 at 7:38
  • @curiousdannii I am happy for it to be moved if someone wants to do that. The reason I asked/answered it on Christianity was that I mentioned the 8 X 3 hours in an answer to another question on this site, then thought that sooner or later someone would ask me to explain it. So I wrote this Q&A in preparation should a reader on this site ask for the detail I give here. Apr 2, 2015 at 9:06

1 Answer 1


John Shelby Spong describes the structure quite succinctly in Jesus for the NonReligious, pages 101-4. He says Mark organised the first narrative account of the death of Jesus in a twenty-four hour cycle, neatly divided into eight three-hour segments. A summary of Bishop Spong's explanation follows:

  • Mark started the story "when it was evening" (Mark 14:17). In this ancient world, that would mean when the sun went down at 6 pm. [The ancients divided the daylight hours into exactly 12 hours of variable length, instead of a variable number of hours of fixed length.]
  • Mark knew that the duration of the Passover meal was three hours and that it concluded with the singing of a hymn. So at the end of his segment he noted, "And when they had sung a hymn they went out to the Mount of Olives" (14:26). It was obviously about 9 p.m.
  • Mark then has Jesus and the disciples go to the Garden of Gethsemane, where his closest disciples, Peter, James and John, were not able to remain awake. "Could you not watch one hour?” (14:77) Jesus asked. The process was repeated two more times. The disciples could not watch one, two or three hours. It was now midnight.
  • The act of betrayal, the darkest deed in human history, came next, occurring at the stroke of midnight.
  • Jesus was led away for a trial before the high priest and other senior priests and elders. They then judged him, on the basis of his messianic claim, to be worthy of death. It was 3:00 a.m.
  • The watch of the night between 3 am and 6 am was called cockcrow. Mark now inserted his account of Peter's threefold denial of Jesus (14:66-72), once each hour until the cock crowed, marking the end of that phase of the night. It was 6 a.m.
  • "As soon as it was morning" (15:1), which would be 6 am, Jesus was led by the chief priests, scribes and elders to Pontius Pilate for judgement.
  • Mark told his readers, " It was the third hour" or 9 am “when they crucified him" (15:25).
  • When "the sixth hour had come" (15:33) – 12 noon – darkness covered the whole earth for 3 hours, at which time Jesus said "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" (15:34).
  • Jesus was buried in the final period from 3 to 6 pm, before the sun went down and the Sabbath began.
  • I don't see an indication in Mark's text that the threefold denial was "once each hour", nor that the trial lasted for 3 hours. And I think your statement about the 3 AM - 6 AM period of time being called "cockcrow" needs support. Apr 2, 2015 at 15:08
  • @MattGutting The trial by the priests ends at Mark 14:68, "and the cock crew," which means the end of the 3rd watch. See agapebiblestudy.com/charts/jewishtimedivision.htm and go to heading the bottom of the page, 'THE NIGHT WATCH IN THE 1ST CENTURY AD'. A trumpet call, known as the cockcrow signaled the end of the 3rd and beginning of the 4th watch. This symbolises what we heard in Mark 14:68. And so the from the arrest to the end of the trial was three hours. Apr 2, 2015 at 20:36
  • @MattGutting Spong sees Peter's denials as taking 1 hour each and as stated in my answer I summarised his words, but like you I find this detail unclear unless the clue is again in the cock crowing. However the important thing is that the denials occupied the fourth watch from the sounding of the 'cockcrow' (see above) until morning, when the cocks crow. This gives us the 3 hours Mark needed for his literary pattern. Apr 2, 2015 at 20:49

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