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In the gospels of Matthew and Mark in the Bible, Jesus says

My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?

Is this a sign that Jesus is upset with God?

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    It's not clear if you're asking why (as in the title) or whether (as in the body) Jesus is upset with God. Also you might replace "upset" with something more precise. Anyway, I think there are better Stack Exchange sites for this question, i.e., sites dealing specifically with the Bible or religion.
    – user14111
    Jul 2 '19 at 3:45
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    @Randal'Thor If so, I think we might need to revisit what's on-topic. Jul 2 '19 at 9:39
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    @Randal'Thor from the meta: "Questions about such texts but not dealing with literary analysis of them should be directed to the appropriate site." - that would seem to cover my issue with this question. It is not literary analysis, and I feel it should be closed. Jul 2 '19 at 10:00
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    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because it is not about the literary aspects of the Bible; see Should we allow questions about religious texts?. (By the way, the question has been answered on Biblical Hermeneutics SE.)
    – Tsundoku
    Jul 2 '19 at 10:13
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    @MattThrower I don't agree. We ask questions about the motivations of characters in books all the time; why should this be different just because it's historical narrative/religious text? I don't see why you can't use literary analysis to understand what the text is trying to communicate (as long as the question is focused on what can be understood from analysis of the text itself, which this is). Jul 3 '19 at 20:44
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Someone in the comments gave this interpretation:

There's not much confusion if you look at the quotes in context. This quote comes after he has been nailed to the cross and has spent several hours being tortured. Passersby are insulting him and saying "If you're really the son of God, get down off the cross yourself! Perform a miracle!" He can't. So he's shouting "God, why can't I perform a miracle and save myself? Why did you abandon me?" Seems pretty straightforward why he's "upset."
Matthew 27 (NIV)

I'm not a big fan of this interpretation. I think it leaves a lot to be desired in terms of understanding the text. In particular, I wouldn't agree that Jesus is trying to say "God, why can't I perform a miracle and save myself? Why did you abandon me?", and I certainly would disagree that any of this is "straightforward".

Any analysis of this line needs to begin with the understanding that "My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?" is a direct quotation of (and thus a reference to) Psalms 22. Psalm 22 begins by expressing doubt in god, but it ends with a renewed faith in God (e.g. "For he has not despised or scorned the suffering of the afflicted one; he has not hidden his face from him but has listened to his cry for help."). So it's at the very least possible to read "My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?" as an expression of faith in God even during tough times, as opposed to expressing doubt or anger in God.

(Some Christians would point to similarities between Psalm 22 and Jesus' crucifixion as evidence that the old testament contains prophecies of the new testament; needless to say other religions would have a different view on this. However, the question of the prophetic relationship between Psalm 22 and Jesus' crucifixion is an example of a question where literary analysis probably doesn't have a lot to offer.)

As for what emotion Jesus was feeling at this time: my limited understanding of the history of emotion makes me wary of assigning specific emotions in this way. But I think it's worth doing a comparative analysis between Mark and Matthew (where Jesus says "My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?") and Luke and John where Jesus says other things. In Mark and Matthew, Jesus is described as being silent until referencing Psalm 22, after which Jesus dies.

The chief priests accused him of many things. So again Pilate asked him, “Aren’t you going to answer? See how many things they are accusing you of.”

But Jesus still made no reply, and Pilate was amazed.

Contrast that with Luke, where Jesus responds to many of the people talking to him during his crucifixion:

But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.”

Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”

I think it's fair to say that Mark's narrative, compared to Luke's narrative, allow a much more robust argument that Jesus felt abandoned. I don't think any text supports an interpretation that Jesus was angry during his crucifixion. For example, Jesus isn't lashing out at anyone.

You might be interested in the article ‘My God, My God’: When Jesus felt abandoned. At the very least there are Christians who do feel that Jesus expressed abandonment in Mark, although not everyone would agree with this.

It's worth mentioning that I doubt this short answer has done justice to this complicated moment in a complicated work, but I doubt any answer could do this line justice.


In the comments it seems people are debating whether or not this question constitutes a "literary" question. For example:

It is not literary analysis, and I feel it should be closed

I can't really comment on whether the question should be "closed", but this question can be answered through an analysis of the text, which is without a doubt something within the bailiwick of literary analysis. There undoubtedly are elements of the text that are outside the realm of literary analysis, and I think most of the interesting commentary on the bible would be from a theologian rather than a literature professor, but that doesn't mean that scholars of literature can't engage in questions about the bible.

Since the question of what constitutes "literature" or "literary analysis" seems to be what people find interesting about this question, I'll try to address it in more detail.

  • Definitions of literature run the gamut from "literature is artistic works of superior artistic quality" to "literature is written text." I think most scholars of literature would consider the bible to be literature.
  • Questions about what constitutes "literary analysis" are really questions about the appropriateness of various methodological approaches. There are schools of thought, such as the new critics, who hold that an analysis of a "text" should be limited to the text itself. But while I think New Criticism is useful as a pedagogical teaching tool, I would also caution that there's a lot of innovative scholarship that goes beyond merely looking at a single text, and that New Criticism is by no means accepted dogmatically by the literary community (although there certainly are individuals who are dogmatic about new criticism).
  • Personally, while I think it's useful to be able to identify methods of analysis and definitions of literature, I don't think debating definitions is conducive to teaching or conducting research. There are certainly limits in terms of questions that can be answered by literature as a field: if someone asked me "how can I live as a good Christian" I would tell them they needed to speak to a priest. But this is more an issue of being humble about what we don't know rather than defending the borders of a discipline that, quite frankly, is dying in large part because of attempts to define and defend its borders.
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  • Your last section, about how "literary" this question is, makes some interesting points but doesn't really belong in an answer. I realise you don't have enough reputation to comment on the question, but discussion about how well a question or topic fits within the scope of literature really belongs on Literature Meta.
    – Rand al'Thor
    Jul 4 '19 at 15:53
  • I'm not really sure what you're asking me to do. And quite frankly, I'm increasingly reluctant to jump through the hoops that people think constitutes a healthy discourse about literature. For example, one comment reads "I will vote to reopen if/when the OP clarifies that the intent of the question is literary, not theological." Are the big bold letters spelling "literature" at the top of every page not enough to clarify the topic of the site? Jul 4 '19 at 18:50

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