Lend Me Your Ear: Malchus and “The Bible” on the History Channel (Skinner)

MalchusOn Easter afternoon I was flipping through the channels and came across the series “The Bible” on the History Channel. I had watched the first few episodes when they aired last year, but never actually watched the episode in which Jesus is arrested, tried, and crucified. I was interested to see that Malchus–a character who appears by name only in John 18:10, had a recurring role as the trusted servant of the high priest. The one thing Malchus is known for is being on the receiving end of a sword wielded by one of Jesus’ disciples. He never even speaks. As happens in much of the series, the character called “Malchus” is a conflation of the various accounts that speak of a “servant of the high priest” who is struck on the ear by a disciple in the garden of Gethsemane (along with some additional screenwritten material that doesn’t appear in the NT). I was paying close attention to how this would be treated because I recently wrote a brief chapter on the character Malchus for this book.

The story of the high priest’s servant having his ear severed appears, with minor variations in all four canonical gospels. In Mark 14 we read, “Then one of those standing near drew his sword and struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his ear.” The account in Matthew 26 departs little from Mark. Luke alone tells us that Jesus paused to heal the man’s ear (cf. Luke 22:51)–a detail the episode made sure to include. Only in John’s account is Malchus given a name and Peter identified as the perpetrator. One interesting detail that Mark and John share is the use of the double diminutive ὠτάριον (outer ear) rather than the typical οὖϛ (ear) or simple diminutive, ὠτίον (which also refers to the outer ear and is shared by Matthew and Luke). Some have argued that the choice to use this term is intentional, and refers to a portion of the outer ear or possibly the earlobe, though BDAG notes that it was used interchangeably with οὖϛ (ear) in later Greek.

So….armed with this (admittedly) extraneous information, I was watching closely to see how this would be depicted. I must say that I was surprised (and a little pleased) to see Peter slash Malchus across the ear, leaving a large wound on the outer part of the ear rather than having his ear hanging by a thread.