Summary Matthew Chapter 26

As I see it, the main issues of this chapter involve credibility and the date. What part, if any, of this story can we believe? When was it written? What are the internal clues for either of these? To some degree, of course, these questions are pertinent for almost any chapter in any part of the NT taken at random. And the answers could almost always be “little to none”, “at least forty years after the fact”, and “maybe a few”. It’s just that, with so few theological or doctrinal issues to be discussed, these questions take on outsized proportions in this chapter. There are a few theological aspects to be considered: the symbolism of Jesus as the Pascal Lamb, the idea that Jesus prayed–fervently-that he not have to die, and the question asked by the high priests if he was the anointed. Let’s start with these; perhaps we’ll find that these aren’t so incidental after all.

The first two are already well-established in Mark. This connexion holds even though John felt it necessary to mess with the timeline so that Jesus died on the Day of Preparation–when the lambs would be killed–rather than on the first full day of Passover, after the Seder had been held. My suspicion is that this connexion can be traced back to Paul, at the very least, if not further. Paul was quite explicit about the sacrifice of Jesus. Perhaps he did not situate Jesus’ death as coincidental with the Passover festival, but from the idea of sacrifice to the idea of the Paschal Lamb is a fairly short step. This also takes us back to the question of whether Paul knew, or whether he thought it irrelevant, but that question will remain barring the discovery of some further evidence of unimpeachable provenance. That John chose to move the crucifixion forward by a day speaks to his theological outlook, and provides even more proof that the evangelists overall, and perhaps John in particular, were more concerned with Eternal Truth than they were with mere factual accuracy. In any case, the connexion between Jesus’ crucifixion and Passover was set at some point after Paul.

But when? And when were the outlines of the Passion Narrative as we have it set? My belief is that the motivation ascribing the role of Prime Movers to the high priests only makes sense after 70. We know that there was a story of Jesus being arrested after dining with his disciples; this is what Paul says, after all. Even if he did receive the story through inspiration–another term for “made it up”–he still put it out there into circulation. As an aside, we always, always have to be very conscious about this aspect of Paul’s writing. After all, he claims that Jesus appeared to him in the same way that he appeared to the others. That is pure inspiration. Paul also had a vision of being taken to the third heaven, so the man was not a stranger to the ecstatic vision, or at least flashes of insight in which the Truth conveyed was so powerful that he took it as True in a way that may have included being factually accurate.

It is, of course, possible that the last layer of causality that pointed out the high priests was added to an existing narrative, but that almost creates more problems than it solves. If not the high priests, then why was Jesus executed? That the question becomes almost impossible to answer in any meaningful way should not be surprising; it is, after all, the question we’ve been grappling with for most of this discussion. But even without historical probability, what did a narrative about the passion give as the reason before the Destruction of the Temple? If a Passion Narrative did exist before Mark, but the blame-the-high priests motive was most appropriate before 70, then what?  Who would have been first atop the list of villains from the perspective of the nascent church?

It’s a serious question, and the answer may have something to do with the “tipping point” that I’ve mentioned any number of times. If the tipping point had come, and if the authorities in the synagogues did engage in some form of systemic harassment of the communities of Jesus as Paul indicates, then it’s entirely possible that Jewish authority figures may have been the ones blamed even before Mark wrote his gospel, and even before the Jewish War. This is a major piece of conjecture, however, and it really deserves a lot of scrutiny before it can even make it to the realm of hypothesis. For the moment, let’s leave it at conjecture until we’ve had time to digest this, and to re-evaluate the preceding narrative in terms of this possibility. Does the narrative support it? Is this, for example, why we have all the stories of Jesus annoying the Pharisees? That would make sense, but we need to go a bit beyond that in our examination.

I don’t want to spend a lot of time on this, but I do want to remind everyone. This chapter contains the story of the woman anointing Jesus’ feet with the expensive unguent. The point is that she is not identified as Mary Magdalene, neither here nor in any of the gospels. In fact, John is the only one to name the woman, and he identifies her as Mary, the sister of Martha and Lazarus, with whom Jesus has several interactions. And yet, despite her anonymity in the synoptic gospels, “everyone knows” that this anointing was done by Mary Magdalene. In the same way, “everyone knows” that she was a prostitute, even though this is nowhere stated. It’s just a great example of the substitution of later tradition for scriptural evidence. This is why it’s so very important to recognize this when we see it. This was the sort of analysis that the Protestants insisted upon, and why they got rid of the idea of Purgatory; it makes sense–why else do we need to pray for the dead?–but there’s nothing in scripture to support it. I do not know whether any Protestant churches identify the woman in this story as Mary Magdalene, or whether she is considered a prostitute in non-Catholic sermons. Or is it the Protestants who consider her a prostitute?

This story of the woman anointing Jesus has one ring of truth to it. As he often is in Mark, Jesus is a bit surly with his followers, and Matthew continues with that. Of course, this assumes that an angry Jesus is a factually-accurate Jesus. The idea is that this is “embarrassing”, because the “authentic” Jesus is the kind, gentle Jesus of the Beatitudes. And honestly, I think there is something to that. Jesus the Wonder-Worker is not necessarily the magnanimous and sweet-natured individual envisioned as the Lamb of God. This is a rare instance in Matthew where that older, less pleasant Jesus with the sharper edges breaks through. Then we should ask why this was retained, since it portrays Jesus in a not-entirely-favourable light. But this could be said about many of the stories that Matthew carries over from Mark. Offhand, the most likely reason that Matthew retained so much, and changed so little is that Mark’s outline and narrative were too firmly entrenched in the tradition to be ignored. Think about it; Matthew belongs to a community, and Matthew has a copy of Mark. Doesn’t this imply that he and his community were pretty familiar with Mark? So when Matthew set about to expand the narrative of Mark with new teachings of Jesus, one has to imagine the difficulty to be encountered by trying to make wholesale changes to what Mark said. Additions would be fine, and even expected; why else does one write a new gospel? But alterations that transform the previous narrative too much would likely cause a bit too much discomfort among the community.

The other issue is Judas. Did he exist? I tend to suspect not, and largely for the reasons I doubt the existence of the Twelve in Jesus’ lifetime: aside from Peter, James, John, and possibly Andrew, they do not figure at all in the narrative of the gospels. Any gospels. Andrew has a cameo when he is called, and the others are nonexistent except for when they are sent out, an activity that is highly dubious. And so with Judas: he is named when the others are, then he disappears completely until called upon to betray Jesus. That’s it. This sort of episodic appearance isn’t conducive to establishing historical credibility; rather, it makes him appear to be much more of a literary convention than anything. And too, Paul says that the words of the Last Supper were spoken on the night before Jesus was arrested, not on the night before he was betrayed, as many forms of the Consecration (Catholic and Episcopalian, at least) say. Again, Paul’s words do not conclusively prove anything, but they support the contention that the theme of Judas-as-betrayer may have, and probably did, come into being after Paul.

There is one other bit about the story of Judas and the high priests. At several points in the narrative, the high priests say that they must not act against Jesus for fear of the crowd. And the same caveat was given about John, that Herod was afraid of the crowd’s reaction if John were arrested. And with Jesus, the priests specifically warn themselves that they must not act during the festival. But that is precisely when they acted, and according to the story, not only did the crowd not protest, but they shouted for Jesus’ death. So there was no rioting. Nor was there any when John was executed. Josephus tells us that there was a certain level of schadenfreude among the populace when Herod was defeated in battle, the populace seeing this as something Herod brought upon himself because he killed John, but there were no disturbances. The implication is that, once again, this represents a literary convention rather than something historically accurate.

Finally, there is the role of Judas and its theological implications. In The Inferno, Judas sits in the bottom-most circle of Hell, along with Brutus, the assassin of Julius Caesar, and Satan himself. But what would have happened if Judas, of his free will, had chosen not to betray Jesus? Would the Divine Plan have fulfilled itself? No doubt, the immediate reaction is “of course”. God’s Will is not to be thwarted. But the implication of this is that Judas was not a necessary agent if it could have happened without him. If that is true, then why was Judas damned? This gets into all sorts of sticky wickets about Predestination & c. I don’t propose to go into that again. But the question, IMO, is valid, and carries a lot of theological consequences. We’ll leave it at that.

Matthew Chapter 26:59-68

This very long chapter concludes. We left Jesus in the hands of sinners, being taken to Caiaphas.

59 οἱ δὲ ἀρχιερεῖς καὶ τὸ συνέδριον ὅλον ἐζήτουν ψευδομαρτυρίαν κατὰ τοῦ Ἰησοῦ ὅπως αὐτὸν θανατώσωσιν,

60 καὶ οὐχ εὗρον πολλῶν προσελθόντων ψευδομαρτύρων. ὕστερον δὲ προσελθόντες δύο

61 εἶπαν, Οὗτος ἔφη, Δύναμαι καταλῦσαι τὸν ναὸν τοῦ θεοῦ καὶ διὰ τριῶν ἡμερῶν οἰκοδομῆσαι.

The high priest and the whole Sanhedrin sought false witness against Jesus in such manner as they were able to put him to death, (60) and they did not find many coming forward bearing false witness. Finally coming forward two (61) said, “He said, ‘I am able to destroy the Temple of God and through three days to build it’.”

First of all, I’ve read a number of not terribly consistent accounts of this “trial”. Some have stated that it could not have happened; for some reason or another, having this trial at night would have contravened some aspect of Jewish law. I am not competent to comment on that. Others, however, have focused on the kangaroo court aspect, that we are immediately told that they wanted false testimony–perjury. The implication is that there was no legitimate foundation for Jesus’ execution.

And certainly we have to ask if this whole affair ever did occur. Josephus seems to believe it did, for he says something about the leading men among us putting Jesus to death. Maybe. The thing is, even if he did actually say that, and it wasn’t interpolated by Christian copyists, he was writing in the 90s. By that point the Christian story had pretty well been finalized; it had acquired its outlines and taken on the certainty of doctrine. It was the story everyone told, and the story everyone believed. By the sheer weight of repetition it became accepted as accurate. So any reference to the Passion story after a certain point cannot be taken as independent evidence, but is rather a demonstration of the tradition that had become accepted. I would suggest that this point is at least as early as Matthew, and possibly even before that. As a postlude, apparently there exists a Jewish tradition from the 2/3 Century claiming that the Council here spent three days looking for people to bear witness in favour of Jesus. This is a great example of something that is dependent on the tradition–factual or not–of the story presented here in the gospels. The gospel narrative has been swallowed and digested and become the accepted story. Jewish thinkers, whom I would guess were under mounting pressure as Christians multiplied while they remained more or less static, rather defensively came up with their own tradition that they had tried to exonerate Jesus. That they failed was due to lack of people willing to speak for him rather than to their overwhelming desire to railroad Jesus into execution. This is a great example how even a false account can spur its own corroborations at a later time.

Some, or even much, of this question depends on whether one believes that the Temple authorities really wanted Jesus dead, and whether they were willing to go to the lengths described to see that he got there. The only evidence we have for this is contained in the gospels; as such, the entire case for this rests on whether one believes that the story presented in the gospels makes sense on its own terms. That is, is the story internally consistent? No surprise, but I do not believe it is. The story presented tries to tie together a number of separate power groups into a single, malevolent whole, and I don’t believe that the case makes sense on these terms. For example, we have the Herodians plotting with the Scribes and/or Pharisees against Jesus earlier, but when Jesus is sent to Herod, the latter seems more amused than angry or frightened.

The point here, of course, is to emphasize the need for false testimony. Of course Jesus was blameless, so it could only be by way of perjury that any sort of charges could be made to stick, or even to seem plausible. Then too, the need to trump up some sort of charge is back-handed evidence that the trial simply didn’t take place at all; or, at least, it didn’t take place in front of the Sanhedrin. Why were there no charges? Because no such trial ever took place. Of course it’s possible that the trial did take place and the gospel writers simply don’t want to provide the real reason for Jesus’ arrest and execution; however, given Paul’s attitude towards the reason for the crucifixion, I find this less than convincing. Paul not only neglects to tell us; he also demonstrates a complete lack of interest in the reason, at least the earthly reason. It’s all about the expiation and/or the sacrifice.

There are two possibilities: either Paul knew, or did not know what the charge was. If he did not know, I would suggest it’s because the charge was trivial. This does not indicate the threat of revolution, or of overturning the Jewish authorities. Those are not trivial charges, and would have been readily remembered. Then, there’s the possibility that Paul knew and chose not to tell us. Why not? Because the charge was embarrassing, and a trivial charge as suggested above could very easily be seen as embarrassing. So if you follow the logic of the binary choices, Knew/~Knew; Significant/Trivial, most of the branches lead to a reason that was trivial or irrelevant, or at least deemed so by Paul. Based on this, an elaborate trial of the nature shown here, is highly unlikely.

59 Principes autem sacerdotum et omne concilium quaerebant falsum testimonium contra Iesum, ut eum morti traderent,

60 et non invenerunt, cum multi falsi testes accessissent. Novissime autem venientes duo

61 dixerunt: “Hic dixit: ‘Possum destruere templum Dei et post triduum aedificare illud’.”

62 καὶ ἀναστὰς ὁ ἀρχιερεὺς εἶπεν αὐτῷ, Οὐδὲν ἀποκρίνῃ; τί οὗτοί σου καταμαρτυροῦσιν;

63 ὁ δὲ Ἰησοῦς ἐσιώπα. καὶ ὁ ἀρχιερεὺς εἶπεν αὐτῷ, Ἐξορκίζω σε κατὰ τοῦ θεοῦ τοῦ ζῶντος ἵνα ἡμῖν εἴπῃς εἰ σὺ εἶ ὁ Χριστὸς ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ θεοῦ.

64 λέγει αὐτῷ ὁ Ἰησοῦς, Σὺ εἶπας: πλὴν λέγω ὑμῖν, ἀπ’ἄρτι ὄψεσθε τὸν υἱὸν τοῦ ἀνθρώπου καθήμενον ἐκ δεξιῶν τῆς δυνάμεως καὶ ἐρχόμενον ἐπὶ τῶν νεφελῶν τοῦ οὐρανοῦ.

And standing up, the high priest said to him, “Do you not answer? To what they testify against you?” (63) But Jesus was silent. And the high priest said to him, “I charge you under oath, according to the living God in order that you should tell us if you are the the anointed, the son of God”. (64) Said to him Jesus, “You say it, except I say to you, from just now you will see the son of man seated at the right of the power and coming upon the clouds of the sky”.

“I charge you under oath” often gets translated as “I adjure you”. The thing is, “ad-jure” means to put under law, as in taking an oath under penalty of perjury. And the Latin in this case is a pretty good one-to-one translation of the Greek. Both have the sense of a legal action, with perjury as the result for not speaking the truth. In English usage, this legal aspect has been blunted, or even lost. I had a Classics prof say, “I adjure you…” before giving me advice. He wasn’t making me swear; he was urging me strongly. So I put back the legal sense of the word. It fits the setting of a trial, even if the trial only occurred in the land of make-believe.

The other thing is the time aspect of “from just now”. The Greek is a combination of a preposition (apo) and a word meaning “just now”. The NT lexicon gives this <<ἀπ’ἄρτι>> construction the meaning of “presently”, or “henceforth”, the implication being that it will happen at some point. “From just now”, technically, carries that meaning. At some point from this moment forward; that rather sums it up without being too liberal with the exact meaning of the Greek.

Oddly, Matthew tones down what Mark has Jesus say about being the anointed. In Mark, Jesus flatly says “I am” when asked if he’s the messiah. Matthew waffles with the “you say it” construction. This less-definitive attitude by Matthew is interesting, given that he has been more insistent on Jesus’ identity as the anointed right from the start. Other than that we notice that Jesus refers to himself as the son of man; hardly unusual, even for Matthew. The point to remark is that the chief priests automatically take this to mean that Jesus is talking about himself. I believe it’s Erhman (or Mack) who claims that “son of man” is a vernacular for “yours truly”. The way it’s used here that would seem to be plausible if this scene had ever truly been carried out in reality. But it’s not reality. That anyone would have had knowledge of what was said in this trial is beyond belief. So it’s a fictional account, even if  it were (which I doubt) based on a true story. 

62 Et surgens princeps sacerdotum ait illi: “Nihil respondes? Quid isti adversum te testificantur?”.

63 Iesus autem tacebat. Et princeps sacerdotum ait illi: “Adiuro te per Deum vivum, ut dicas nobis, si tu es Christus Filius Dei”.

64 Dicit illi Iesus: “Tu dixisti. Verumtamen dico vobis: Amodo videbitis Filium hominis sedentem a dextris Virtutis et venientem in nubibus caeli”.

65 τότε ὁ ἀρχιερεὺς διέρρηξεν τὰ ἱμάτια αὐτοῦ λέγων, Ἐβλασφήμησεν: τί ἔτι χρείαν ἔχομεν μαρτύρων; ἴδε νῦν ἠκούσατε τὴν βλασφημίαν:

66 τί ὑμῖν δοκεῖ; οἱ δὲ ἀποκριθέντες εἶπαν, Ἔνοχος θανάτου ἐστίν.

67 Τότε ἐνέπτυσαν εἰς τὸ πρόσωπον αὐτοῦ καὶ ἐκολάφισαν αὐτόν, οἱ δὲ ἐράπισαν

68 λέγοντες, Προφήτευσον ἡμῖν, Χριστέ, τίς ἐστιν ὁπαίσας σε;

Then the chief priest tore his garment, saying, “He blasphemed! What yet need have we of witnesses? Behold, now you heard the blasphemy! (66) “How does it seem to you?” The chief priests said, “It is sufficient of death.” (67) Then they spat on his face and struck him, the ones striking saying, “Prophesy to us, Christ, who is it striking you?”   

I’ve mentioned–more than once, IIRC–that Josephus tells us that the Romans allowed the Temple authorities to execute anyone who violated the space of the Holy of Holies in the Temple. I suppose this would be on a par with that? Is that why it’s worthy of death? This is what I mean about internal consistency of the story; it seems to be lacking to some (large) degree. Things don’t quite fit, don’t connect, don’t work together. This offense is worthy of death, and yet they have to go convince the Romans to perform the execution, even though Josephus says they actually had the authority to do it themselves. It’s tempting to mention Josephus’ story of the killing of James, brother of Jesus, who was…stoned? Or thrown off the cliff? Something like that, and for religious reasons. However, there is a lot of contention about whether that story is authentic, or a later Christian interpolation. Regardless, the point remains that certain significant elements of the story do not hang together very well. 

The last two verses are especially peculiar. They just simply don’t seem to fit at all. We are told in one of the gospel accounts that this sort of behaviour was the work of soldiers, but here it seems to imply that it’s the chief priests, or members of the Sanhedrin that are doing the spitting and the striking? Does that make sense? Perhaps it does. 

65 Tunc princeps sacerdotum scidit vestimenta sua dicens: “ Blasphemavit! Quid adhuc egemus testibus? Ecce nunc audistis blasphemiam.

66 Quid vobis videtur? ”. Illi autem respondentes dixerunt: “ Reus est mortis! ”.

67 Tunc exspuerunt in faciem eius et colaphis eum ceciderunt; alii autem palmas in faciem ei dederunt

68 dicentes: “ Prophetiza nobis, Christe: Quis est, qui te percussit?”.

Matthew Chapter 26:55-58

This section is very short, because it comes directly before the questioning of Jesus by the Council. That section is long enough on its own; adding this to it would make it impossible. So we have one that’s a bit of a filler and little more.

55 Ἐν ἐκείνῃ τῇ ὥρᾳ εἶπεν ὁ Ἰησοῦς τοῖς ὄχλοις, Ὡς ἐπὶ λῃστὴν ἐξήλθατε μετὰ μαχαιρῶν καὶ ξύλων συλλαβεῖν με; καθ’ ἡμέραν ἐν τῷ ἱερῷ ἐκαθεζόμην διδάσκων καὶ οὐκ ἐκρατήσατέ με.

In that hour Jesus said to the crowd, “How as a thief have you come with swords and clubs to capture me? Each day in the Temple I sat teaching and you did not arrest me”. 

I have to stop for a comment about a particular word, the one I translated as “thief”. Perhaps “robber” would have been better, but it doesn’t matter. Reza Aslan in Zealot has argued, very unpersuasively, that we are to see this word as the equivalent of something like revolutionary. Or insurrectionist. His point is that the Romans only crucified rebels, and since Jesus was crucified, he was a zealot–or Zealot–intent on raising a rebellion against Rome. This is all fine and good, and had the book been allowed to come and go as it should have–very quietly and without much notice, largely because it didn’t particularly deserve any–there would have been no problem. Unfortunately, the FOX News people got ahold of it, taking umbrage that a Muslim should have the temerity to write a book on Jesus. This caused an uproar, and the book lodged in the popular imagination. This is a pity.

Having studied First Century Rome in some detail, I was very surprised to see him suggest that crucifixion was reserved for rebels. It was used on rebels, Spartacus and a few thousand of his henchmen being a perfect example; however, I have never, ever encountered any suggestion in any Roman source that crucifixion was the sole prerogative of rebels. The Romans were much more equal opportunity than that; they crucified people without regard for race, colour, creed, national origin, or offense. This being the case, the attempt to classify this word as having connotations of revolutionary fall rather flat. In fact, this word is more usually used to refer to pirates than to rebels. Nor does the Latin support the case. It’s the word used for the bandits in The Golden Ass. Aslan does make an attempt to argue that bandits were somehow the equivalent of revolutionaries, in that both disturb the peace, but this connexion is weak in the extreme.

As such, among scholars, the book would have died a natural death, mostly ignored. This would be due in part to the fact that he made no attempt to prove this connexion with actual evidence from sources, showing that it was indeed used in this sense. Plus the book has no footnotes, so the combination of these two means that there is no basis for assessing his argument on why he believes this was true. This is the functional equivalent of not having an argument, which he doesn’t.  

Unfortunately, the damage has been done, and an association of crucifixion with rebels has lodged itself in the popular mind. I was on a FaceBook group arguing for the existence of Jesus as a man, and someone brought up the point that only rebels were crucified. More’s the pity. So the next time you hear anyone saying this about crucifixion, tell them that this is completely and categorically incorrect. If they don’t believe you, refer them to me.

55 In illa hora dixit Iesus turbis: “Tamquam ad latronem existis cum gladiis et fustibus comprehendere me? Cotidie sedebam docens in templo, et non me tenuistis”.

56 τοῦτο δὲ ὅλον γέγονεν ἵνα πληρωθῶσιν αἱ γραφαὶ τῶν προφητῶν. Τότε οἱ μαθηταὶ πάντες ἀφέντες αὐτὸν ἔφυγον.

57 Οἱ δὲ κρατήσαντες τὸν Ἰησοῦν ἀπήγαγον πρὸς Καϊάφαν τὸν ἀρχιερέα, ὅπου οἱ γραμματεῖς καὶ οἱ πρεσβύτεροι συνήχθησαν.

58 ὁ δὲ Πέτρος ἠκολούθει αὐτῷ ἀπὸ μακρόθεν ἕως τῆς αὐλῆς τοῦ ἀρχιερέως, καὶ εἰσελθὼν ἔσω ἐκάθητο μετὰ τῶν ὑπηρετῶν ἰδεῖν τὸ τέλος.

“This has all come to be in order that the scriptures be fulfilled.” Then leaving him, all his disciples fled. (57) Those having overpowered Jesus led him to Caiaphas the high priest, where the Scribes and the elders were gathered. (58) And Peter followed him from a distance until the courtyard of the high priest, and going in he say with those serving to see the end. 

I suppose the main point here is that Jesus once again says that this all must happen so that the scriptures can be fulfilled. Once again, no references or citations to specific writings are made. Why not? This led to centuries of Christian scholars scouring the HS looking for connexions, or any sort of vague allusions that could be interpreted so that the possibly referred to Jesus. As mentioned above, the best match was the Suffering Servant of Deutero-Isaiah.

Regardless, it is important to recognize that this insistence on a scriptural prophecy, or a scriptural basis for the execution serves two purposes. First and most obviously, it’s an assurance that the universe is unfolding as it should, so there is no need or reason to be concerned that the Messiah, the Christ was crucified like a common criminal. It is all part of The Plan. There is another aspect to this, however, one that gets lost to us moderns. In the days of Jesus, novelty was not a good thing, especially if the topic was wisdom. In Latin, the term for revolution is res novae, literally “new things”. If you wanted to be taken seriously, especially when it came to religion, you wanted to be old, or even ancient. The Egyptians garnered no end of respect because of the generally acknowledged age of their civilisation. It was the acknowledged (if slightly fudged, or overstated by five or six centuries) antiquity of Judaism that led so many pagans to become “God-fearers”, acolytes of a synagogue where they learned about the ancient wisdom of Moses and Solomon. 

This, IMO, is one of the best arguments that Jesus actually lived. If I were alive in the First Century and wanted to create a new religion, I would most assuredly not invent a founder who had died a decade or two before; rather, I would have claimed to have found wisdom scrolls that were a thousand years old. That would have given them much more credibility, more gravitas, as the Romans called it, more substance and the density that comes with venerable tradition. Of course, this argument is lost on most moderns; the times I’ve used it, my interlocutors have dismissed it out of hand as unimportant. Au contraire! It matters. A lot. So by claiming–without evidence–the scriptural basis of Jesus, from works (supposedly*) written many centuries earlier, Matthew is giving Jesus a respectable pedigree. He is saying that Jesus is the culmination of a thousand years of writings, of predictions and prophecy. He is giving Jesus substance, gravitas.

As mentioned, Luke carries on this tradition with the road to Emmaus. It would be interesting to look back at Mark to see how forcefully he stresses this ancient connexion to a group that had just rebelled against Rome. Mark had reason and incentive to play down the association; by Matthew’s time, this need to dissociate from Jews had passed; plenty of people still remembered it, but plenty more didn’t. Its relevance had faded.

Oh, and let’s not forget that we’ve left Peter in the courtyard of the high priest’s house.

56 Hoc autem totum factum est, ut implerentur scripturae Prophetarum. Tunc discipuli omnes, relicto eo, fugerunt.

57 Illi autem tenentes Iesum duxerunt ad Caipham principem sacerdotum, ubi scribae et seniores convenerant.

58 Petrus autem sequebatur eum a longe usque in aulam principis sacerdotum; et ingressus intro sede bat cum ministris, ut videret finem.

Matthew Chapter 26:46-54

Judas has just appeared on the scene.

46 ἐγείρεσθε, ἄγωμεν: ἰδοὺ ἤγγικεν ὁ παραδιδούς με.

47 Καὶ ἔτι αὐτοῦ λαλοῦντος ἰδοὺ Ἰούδας εἷς τῶν δώδεκα ἦλθεν καὶ μετ’ αὐτοῦ ὄχλος πολὺς μετὰ μαχαιρῶν καὶ ξύλων ἀπὸ τῶν ἀρχιερέων καὶ πρεσβυτέρων τοῦ λαοῦ.

48 ὁ δὲ παραδιδοὺς αὐτὸν ἔδωκεν αὐτοῖς σημεῖον λέγων, Ὃν ἂν φιλήσω αὐτός ἐστιν: κρατήσατεαὐτόν.

49 καὶ εὐθέως προσελθὼν τῷ Ἰησοῦ εἶπεν, Χαῖρε, ῥαββί: καὶ κατεφίλησεν αὐτόν.

50 ὁ δὲ Ἰησοῦς εἶπεν αὐτῷ, Ἑταῖρε, ἐφ’ ὃ πάρει. τότε προσελθόντες ἐπέβαλον τὰς χεῖρας ἐπὶ τὸν Ἰησοῦν καὶ ἐκράτησαν αὐτόν.

“Get up, let’s go. Look, my betrayer approaches”. (47) And while was yet speaking, behold, Judas to the Twelve came, and with him a great crowd with swords and pieces of wood from the high priests and the elders of the people. (48) The one betraying him (Jesus) showed to them (the crowd) the sign, saying, “The one I kiss is the one. Seize him”. (49) And immediately coming to Jesus he said, “Hail, rabbi,” and he planted some love on him. (50) And Jesus said to him, “Companion, upon which you are here (do what you’re here to do)”. Then coming forward they laid hands upon Jesus and overpowered (arrested) him.

As a grammar note, “pieces of wood” usually gets translated as “clubs”, and that’s probably as good as anything. However, just wanted to get across the generic nature of the term.

Other than that, I’m not sure there’s much comment required here. This is very similar to Mark’s version. The most noteworthy detail is the kiss. First, the Greek for this is fairly generic as well. The Latin, however, is much more specific, ‘osculum’ carrying through for centuries as “kiss”. In fact, the “osculum infame” shows up in the witch-hunting manuals and descriptions of the 15-17th centuries. This was the ‘obscene kiss’ demanded by Satan to seal the pact he had made with witches who (purportedly) had sold their souls to the Devil for magical powers. That the action was a fact only in the overwrought imaginations of later churchmen isn’t the point; it’s the verification of the vocabulary word. And, truth be told, had I read more Greek poetry, I might have come across the word once in a while. It doesn’t, IIRC, show up in The Symposium, Plato’s dialogue about erotic love.

But to return to the kiss itself, once again, the detail carries a lot of dramatic impact. Does it represent something that happened? Probably not.

46 Surgite, eamus; ecce appropinquavit, qui me tradit ”.

47 Et adhuc ipso loquente, ecce Iudas, unus de Duodecim, venit, et cum eo turba multa cum gladiis et fustibus, missi a principibus sacerdotum et senioribus populi.

48 Qui autem tradidit eum, dedit illis signum dicens: “Quemcumque osculatus fuero, ipse est; tenete eum!”.

49 Et confestim accedens ad Iesum dixit: “Ave, Rabbi!” et osculatus est eum.

50 Iesus autem dixit illi: “Amice, ad quod venisti!”. Tunc accesserunt et manus iniecerunt in Iesum et tenuerunt eum.

51 καὶ ἰδοὺ εἷς τῶν μετὰ Ἰησοῦ ἐκτείνας τὴν χεῖρα ἀπέσπασεν τὴν μάχαιραν αὐτοῦ καὶ πατάξας τὸν δοῦλον τοῦ ἀρχιερέως ἀφεῖλεν αὐτοῦ τὸ ὠτίον.

And, behold, one of those with Jesus stretching out his hand drew his sword , and, having struck the slave of the high priest, cut off his ear.

This is worthy of note. First, what is meant by “one of those with Jesus”? This would almost have to be one of the disciples, no? We are not told of any followers of Jesus other than the disciples. Second, Mark describes the sword-wielder as “a bystander”. Once again, a minor detail that Matthew chooses to alter. Why? Especially since there is almost zero chance that one of the disciples would have been carrying a sword. I am not certain of the severity of the offense, but this would be seriously frowned upon by the Romans. Civilians in Jerusalem, especially during the festival, when tensions were high, were not likely to be allowed to carry weapons. Since the crowd came “armed swords and clubs”, it would seem more likely that it was a bystander who used the weapon. Of course, it could be a bystander who “was (secretly) with Jesus”, one who tipped his hand at this crucial moment. This sort of thing would actually lend credence to the likelihood of it reporting–in some form–an event somehow based on something almost like an actual event.

Unfortunately, this event suffers from the flaw–a fatal flaw, IMO–that runs through the whole notion of Jesus being arrested and executed on a charge of insurrection. There is no follow-up on the part of the authorities. We know from Paul that Peter and James lived and worked in Jerusalem for decades after Jesus’ death. That is, they were not arrested and executed with Jesus. And I find this leniency on the part of the Romans incredulous. If they thought Jesus was a revolutionary, there is a very high chance that they would have arrested and executed the whole lot–and a few extra, just to make sure. More, there was no Roman suppression of  Jesus’ followers afterwards. Had Jews been gathered in the name of a Revolutionary, there would have been Roman repercussions. In the same way, the crowd has come to arrest Jesus, someone resists, and nothing happens to that resister. Yes, it’s possible that the mob let it slide, but that seems much less likely than the anecdote was fabricated.

That brings up what should be the major question: does the arrest in Gethsemane have any sort of founding on historical events? Which, of course, circles back to the truly fundamental question of why, and at whose instigation, Jesus was executed in the first place. If the Romans did it on their own initiative, for reasons short of insurrection, this whole cloak-and-dagger, middle-of-the-night intruguey sort of thing seems a bit overblown. It’s possible. Perhaps a Roman patrol grabbed Jesus for breaking curfew. That is plausible, and under proper circumstances could be considered a capital crime by the Romans–who had a very broad definition of what constituted a capital crime. But again, if this were the case, any who were with Jesus would have been arrested as well. Paul never mentions the why, and he wrote decades before the Jewish War. So my suggestion is that, since we don’t really know why Jesus was executed, the reason wasn’t considered relevant.

Spoiler alert! The creators of the Passion narrative were fully capable of inventing the entire Barabbas episode. Not only did they invent the man, they invented the custom of releasing a prisoner at the time of the Festival. There is no historical corroboration for this whatsoever. So, if that episode was invented, so too could all of this in the Garden of Gethsemane.

51 Et ecce unus ex his, qui erant cum Iesu, extendens manum exemit gladium suum et percutiens servum principis sacerdotum amputavit auriculam eius.

52 τότε λέγει αὐτῷ ὁ Ἰησοῦς, Ἀπόστρεψον τὴν μάχαιράν σου εἰς τὸν τόπον αὐτῆς, πάντες γὰρ οἱ λαβόντες μάχαιραν ἐν μαχαίρῃ ἀπολοῦνται.

53 ἢ δοκεῖς ὅτι οὐ δύναμαι παρακαλέσαι τὸν πατέρα μου, καὶ παραστήσει μοι ἄρτι πλείω δώδεκα λεγιῶνας ἀγγέλων;

54 πῶς οὖν πληρωθῶσιν αἱ γραφαὶ ὅτι οὕτως δεῖ γενέσθαι;

Then Jesus said, “Put away the sword of yours into its place, for all those carrying swords on the sword will perish. (53) Or think you that my father is unable to order, and to have stand by me now full twelve legions of angels? How then will the writings be fulfilled that in this way it must be?” 

This is full of some very rich theological ideas. Let’s start with the fact that nothing in these three verses is in Mark. The bit about the sword was not necessary for Mark because it was a bystander who did the striking. So Mark’s Jesus need show no concern about general principles in this case. The phrase “live by the sword, die by the sword” has become an aphorism in English.

Here, though, it serves another purpose. This isn’t just some pearl of wisdom–which it is–tossed out by Jesus in some off-hand manner. Rather, it leads into the next verse about the legions of angels. In Mark, Jesus wasn’t necessarily divine. Perhaps his version of the Passion Narrative persists in this belief, whereas for Matthew, the reason that God did not intervene to rescue Jesus must be explained. In fact, this becomes one of the central tenets of post-apostolic Christianity, the idea that Jesus was a king, but not of this world. Paul blazed the trail, creating the idea of Jesus the Anointed, Jesus the Messiah, Jesus the Christos, and he took the novel tack of identifying Jesus the Christ as only the post-resurrection Jesus. Given this, I think what Matthew here is fighting is the reaction of Jews who wanted to know how the warrior scion of David went so meekly to his death at the hands of the very people the true messiah was supposed to overthrow, leading the reborn Israel to a new Golden Age. Recall that the Christ aspect of Jesus was not a major theme in most of Mark, implying that it was a late addition, probably coming about only after the influence of Paul, indirectly, started to permeate the thought-world of the young proto-church.   This indirect influence was still incomplete when Mark wrote, but was the “orthodoxy”* for Matthew. It’s important to recognize that the idea of the Messiah had to undergo this sort of development, that it was not “baked in” from the start. 

*(“Orthodoxy” in quotes because the word is anachronistic, and would remain so for several decades. My suggestion is that the Valentinian controversy would be the point at which the idea of a generally accepted set of beliefs became itself generally accepted. It was after this that the idea of orthodoxy took hold.)

So Jesus here foreswears, as it were, the idea of being rescued, so that the writings could be fulfilled. Which is our last point. The writings, I believe, are usually taken to mean the Suffering Servant of Deutero-Isaiah, with some references to the Psalms as well (My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?). The point, of course, is to assure everyone that the crucifixion had always and forever been part of The Plan. In turn, The Plan had to be fulfilled, or God’s will would have been thwarted. As such, this is all awfully close to flat-out pagan Fatalism, in which a only a single course of action, with a single outcome, is possible. All is ordained, and has been so since the foundation of the universe. That being said, it should be noted that the idea of Free Will is not terribly well-founded on biblical evidence. Rather, like Original Sin, this was something derived on an as-needed basis by later Church fathers. As such, we should not be surprised to see such sentiments expressed.

We should especially not be surprised to hear such a pagan sentiment spoken (written) by a former pagan. Notice the non-specific nature of this “it is written”. There is no real cross reference, no text cited. Just that it has to be fulfilled. This reminds me of the story of the road to Emmaus as told by Luke. There we are told that the “stranger” explained all the texts in the HS that pointed to the coming of Jesus, but we are never told what these texts might be. And, an admittedly cursory skim of commentaries does not specify what texts Matthew might have in mind here. Meyer refers to texts in Acts and Luke–the road to Emmaus, as it happens. It has generally been conceded that Luke was a pagan; odd, then, that Matthew demonstrates the same sort of attitude, despite the “fact” that Matthew is supposedly Jewish. As always, this is hardly conclusive, but it does constitute another small stone on that side of the scale, I believe. 

I’m not sure if this is the point to talk about Judas or not. My question about him is, if the scripture has to be fulfilled, then Judas is God’s chosen instrument to effect this necessary event. How then can we say Judas is damned? We are put on earth to do God’s will, and this is precisely what Judas did. Yes, it led to the arrest and execution of Jesus, but this was not a bad thing, except for the man Jesus. For the Divine Will, and for the rest of humanity, this was an event of cosmic benefit. How can it be that what Judas did was evil, if this was God’s will?

Of course, that question is unanswerable.

52 Tunc ait illi Iesus: “Converte gladium tuum in locum suum. Omnes enim, qui acceperint gladium, gladio peribunt.

53 An putas quia non possum rogare Patrem meum, et exhibebit mihi modo plus quam duodecim legiones angelorum?

54 Quomodo ergo implebuntur Scripturae quia sic oportet fieri?”.

Matthew Chapter 26:36-45

Here is the final update. Once again, apologies for the confusion!

We have left the Last Supper and come into the Garden of Gethsemane. My suspicion is that there won’t be a lot of long theological discussions, but I’ve been wrong about stuff like that before.

36 Τότε ἔρχεται μετ’ αὐτῶν ὁ Ἰησοῦς εἰς χωρίον λεγόμενον Γεθσημανί, καὶ λέγει τοῖς μαθηταῖς, Καθίσατε αὐτοῦ ἕως [οὗ] ἀπελθὼν ἐκεῖ προσεύξωμαι.

37 καὶ παραλαβὼν τὸν Πέτρον καὶ τοὺς δύο υἱοὺς Ζεβεδαίου ἤρξατο λυπεῖσθαι καὶ ἀδημονεῖν.

38τότε λέγει αὐτοῖς, Περίλυπός ἐστιν ἡ ψυχή μου ἕως θανάτου: μείνατε ὧδε καὶ γρηγορεῖτε μετ’ ἐμοῦ.

Then they came with Jesus to the Garden called Gethsemane, and he said to his disciples, “Sit yourself while I going away over there will pray”. (37) And taking Peter and the two sons of Zebedee he began to be anguished and grieved. (38) Then he sad to the, “Surrounded is my soul with grief unto death. Remain here and keep watch with me”. 

Of course, this is setting the mood of the scene; Jesus knows what is coming, and he is deeply distraught by its occurrence. For this particular moment, I believe the most significant aspect of these three verses are the way, once again, Jesus is made to manage the situation so that only the three main disciples are with him. The others, now eight in number with the exit of Judas, are conveniently removed from the scene and the narrative. This has happened a number of times–the Transfiguration being the most salient–and it seems to be a plot device. It’s a way of maintaining the existence of Twelve, without ever actually involving them, or even including them, in any of the action. And naturally they weren’t involved in any of the action: they didn’t exist at the time.

I’m struck that Jesus asks the Three to “keep watch”; is this a reference back to the previous chapter, in which Jesus tells parables about being watchful? As such, this would be a true literary device.

36 Tunc venit Iesus cum illis in praedium, quod dicitur Gethsemani. Et dicit discipulis: “ Sedete hic, donec vadam illuc et orem ”.

37 Et assumpto Petro et duobus filiis Zebedaei, coepit contristari et maestus esse.

38 Tunc ait illis: “Tristis est anima mea usque ad mortem; sustinete hic et vigilate mecum”.

39 καὶ προελθὼν μικρὸν ἔπεσεν ἐπὶ πρόσωπον αὐτοῦ προσευχόμενος καὶ λέγων, Πάτερ μου, εἰ δυνατόν ἐστιν, παρελθάτω ἀπ’ ἐμοῦ τὸ ποτήριον τοῦτο: πλὴν οὐχ ὡς ἐγὼ θέλω ἀλλ’ ὡς σύ.

40 καὶ ἔρχεται πρὸς τοὺς μαθητὰς καὶ εὑρίσκει αὐτοὺς καθεύδοντας, καὶ λέγει τῷ Πέτρῳ, Οὕτως οὐκ ἰσχύσατε μίαν ὥραν γρηγορῆσαι μετ’ ἐμοῦ;

41 γρηγορεῖτε καὶ προσεύχεσθε, ἵνα μὴ εἰσέλθητε εἰς πειρασμόν: τὸ μὲν πνεῦμα πρόθυμον ἡ δὲ σὰρξ ἀσθενής.

And going off a little way, he fell on his face, praying and saying, “My father, if it is possible, take away from me this cup. But be (ful)filled not as I wish, but as you”. (40) And he came to the disciples ad found them sleeping, and he said to Peter, “In this way you are not strong (enough) a single hour to be watchful with me? (41) Be watchful and pray so that you may not come into the test. While the spirit is eager, the flesh OTOH is weak.”

The spirit is eager, but the flesh…not so much. This was also in Mark, and it was said pretty much in these words. This is, of course, a very insightful observation: eagerness to succeed often–much too often–outstrips the body’s ability to perform. As such, it’s more or less a truism. Back when we read this in Mark, I may have alluded to the latent dualism in this expression: the spirit is superior to corrupt, corruptible matter, and this may be true. Mark has some interesting tendencies in that direction. But now I can see how this reinforces one aspect of the Parable of the Sower. Think about the seed that falls in shallow soil; it springs up, but lacking roots, it withers and dies. Such is what we have here.

Then we have Jesus’ prayer. Now that the moment has come for the trial, he really is reluctant to face the agony this will entail. And here we have a great juxtaposition of Jesus nature, or possibly his two natures. On one hand, we have the foreknowledge of what is going to happen. This is not a human trait, but it’s not necessarily a divine trait; that is, it’s not something one must be divine to have. Paul talks about those who have the gift of prophecy, and like it’s not that unusual nor at the apex of divine gifts; prophets may be in contact with the divine, but they can be prophets and remain fully human. So what may seem to be an expression of Jesus’ divinity may not have been so perceived by ancient audiences. With that, we have Jesus’ trepidation–fear–of the coming suffering. This is fully human. Humans experience a sense of dread when going to the dentist, so why shouldn’t–why wouldn’t–Jesus feel this sense, increased by several orders of magnitude? This is so very human, so much a literary device to show Jesus as human that, perhaps, it obscures something else.

There is a school of thought that wants to believe in the existence of a Passion Narrative prior to Mark. For the most part, I’m skeptical, largely because the whole idea of excusing the Romans does not fit into the 50s, or even 60s. To read Josephus is to see this exoneration performed by a master. The whitewash of Rome’s role in the execution of Jesus is just so much of a piece with the way Josephus treats Rome that it’s extremely difficult not to see the same impetus at work. In addition, the throwing of guilt onto the Jews also fits in with a period when most converts were no longer Jewish, but pagan. Why blame the pagans if they are your target audience? So the date of that tipping point, as I’ve been calling it, should provide clues about the time of composition of the Passion Story as we have it. On this point, the conventional wisdom actually works in my favour. By tradition, Matthew has been considered Jewish. As such, the date of that tipping point could be pushed into the 80s, well after the destruction of Jerusalem. This date, plus the need to absolve Rome easily argues against the Passion Narrative predating Mark.   

But what if different parts of the Passion Narrative were composed at different times? Perhaps a Passion Narrative did predate Mark, but Mark then reworked it to put the blame on the Jews rather than the Romans. And why not? The Jews of that era were dead, so who would be able to gainsay Mark, especially if he were writing primarily for pagans at that point? In this case, it would be very easy to see this very human Jesus as part of Mark’s narrative. Maybe Mark found it; maybe he created it, but the Jesus portrayed here fits very nicely with the very human Jesus in much of Mark, the one who was sarcastic, got angry, and had brothers. We’ll see a bit of this side of Jesus shortly.

42 πάλιν ἐκ δευτέρου ἀπελθὼν προσηύξατο λέγων, Πάτερ μου, εἰ οὐ δύναται τοῦτο παρελθεῖν ἐὰν μὴ αὐτὸ πίω, γενηθήτω τὸ θέλημά σου.

43 καὶ ἐλθὼν πάλιν εὗρεν αὐτοὺς καθεύδοντας, ἦσαν γὰρ αὐτῶν οἱ ὀφθαλμοὶ βεβαρημένοι.

44 καὶ ἀφεὶς αὐτοὺς πάλιν ἀπελθὼν προσηύξατο ἐκ τρίτου τὸν αὐτὸν λόγον εἰπὼν πάλιν.

45 τότε ἔρχεται πρὸς τοὺς μαθητὰς καὶ λέγει αὐτοῖς, Καθεύδετε [τὸ] λοιπὸν καὶ ἀναπαύεσθε; ἰδοὺ ἤγγικεν ἡ ὥρα καὶ ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου παραδίδοται εἰς χεῖρας ἁμαρτωλῶν.

Again a second time going away he prayed, saying, “My Father, if it is not possible that this go away that I need not drink this, let your will be done”. (43) And coming again he found them sleeping, for their eyes were weighted. (44) And he left from them, going away he prayed for the third time the same speech again. (45) Then he came to his disciples and said to them, “Sleep, the remaining (time) and rest. Look, the hour approaches and the son of man is given over into the hands of sinners.”

One thing that did not get mentioned in the first iteration of Jesus praying is the form, “my father”. This replaces the use of the Aramaic “Abba” that we found in Mark.  I’d like to say this means that Matthew was a pagan, but it doesn’t. It probably means he was in a Greek-speaking milieu, but so were a lot of Jews, like Philo of Alexandria. I’m reasonably certain that we have not seen this formulation before, “my father”. The purpose here, I believe, is to attempt to capture the sense of Mark’s use of “abba”, to put across the intimacy of the address. I am tempted to say that the idea of God as father is actually pagan in derivation; in Jewish custom YHWH was addressed as “lord”, whereas Zeus was the Sky-Father, or the All-Father. But, if someone with half a clue contradicts that, I won’t argue. It’s an impression rather than something based on real knowledge.

The only other thing that strikes me here is the idea that the son of man is given over to sinners. That’s rather an odd way of putting it; true, but still rather odd. To “wicked men”, or to “evildoers” or something such would be what I would expect, but that’s probably due to the much more secular notion of society that we have in this 21st century. Evil and wickedness (allowing that the term is a bit archaic) exist, and are traits we ascribe to people. “Sinners”…not so much, unless the idea is to be a bit facetious. That, however, is more of a comment on us than on Matthew. The formulation was likely a commonplace for him.

Just to be clear, the idea of “sin” is not a terribly Greek idea, but it has precedents in Greek usage. To start with, this is not a common word in Greek, but it does show up in both Plato and Aristotle, so it does exist, and it exists as sin at a fairly high level. But there is no doubt that it’s used more in the NT than in the entire Classical/Hellenistic Greek corpus. The transgression in Greek thought was lack of showing proper respect or reverence, “dissing” in modern parlance. 


39 Et progressus pusillum, procidit in faciem suam orans et dicens: “ Pater mi, si possibile est, transeat a me calix iste; verumtamen non sicut ego volo, sed sicut tu ”.

40 Et venit ad discipulos et invenit eos dormientes; et dicit Petro: “ Sic non potuistis una hora vigilare mecum?

41 Vigilate et orate, ut non intretis in tentationem; spiritus quidem promptus est, caro autem infirma ”.

42 Iterum secundo abiit et oravit dicens: “ Pater mi, si non potest hoc transire, nisi bibam illud, fiat voluntas tua ”.

43 Et venit iterum et invenit eos dormientes: erant enim oculi eorum gravati.

44 Et relictis illis, iterum abiit et oravit tertio, eundem sermonem iterum dicens.

45 Tunc venit ad discipulos et dicit illis: “Dormite iam et requiescite; ecce appropinquavit hora, et Filius hominis traditur in manus peccatorum”.

Matthew Chapter 26:26-35

These sections had been moving quickly. Being able to focus almost exclusively on the narrative helps with this. In this section, we come to the Last Supper itself; or, rather, we come to the part afterwards, “when the supper was ended” as the words of the Consecration say, whether in the Roman or the Anglican rite. As such, this section raises some really significant theological issues that require a certain amount of investigation.

26 Ἐσθιόντων δὲ αὐτῶν λαβὼν ὁ Ἰησοῦς ἄρτον καὶ εὐλογήσας ἔκλασεν καὶ δοὺς τοῖς μαθηταῖς εἶπεν, Λάβετε φάγετε, τοῦτό ἐστιν τὸ σῶμά μου.

27 καὶ λαβὼν ποτήριον καὶ εὐχαριστήσας ἔδωκεν αὐτοῖς λέγων, Πίετε ἐξ αὐτοῦ πάντες,

28 τοῦτο γάρ ἐστιν τὸ αἷμά μου τῆς διαθήκης τὸ περὶ πολλῶν ἐκχυννόμενον εἰς ἄφεσιν ἁμαρτιῶν.

They having eaten, Jesus taking bread blessed it and broke and giving it to his disciples said, “Take, eat, this is my body. (27) And taking the cup and having blessed it he gave it to them saying, “Drink from this all, for this is my blood of the covenant which for many is having been poured out for the forgiveness of sins.”

This passage presents some difficulty for me. To clarify, it’s not actually passage per se, but this passage in relation to Paul’s description of the Last Supper as provided in 1 Corinthians 11. First of all, Paul also says that this supper took place on the night before he was arrested. That corroborates the setting provided by Mark and Matthew to some extent. It is incumbent on me to explain these common details. The easiest would be to say that this is an accurate description of what happened, and I think that point has to be conceded. Paul does not say that Jesus was arrested at the opening of Passover, but Mark indicates a tradition making this connexion. That Matthew and Luke got the story from Mark can go without saying, but where did Mark get it? Did he get it from Paul, in which case we are dealing with a single, linear progression? This, of course, hinges on the question of whether Mark was aware of Paul. If so, the problem is solved.

To judge this, we have to weigh a couple of different things. First, the language of Paul and the Synoptics is pretty close. What is the likelihood that two independent traditions got it so close? Pretty slim. This should be balanced against how much other evidence there is for Mark being aware of Paul. How many other places in Mark seem to be an echo of something from Paul? The answer: very few. So if Mark was not aware of Paul, how to explain the similarity of the wording? And it is similar; in fact, the differences between Mark and Matthew are more significant than between Mark and Paul.

So we have the fact that this was done on the night he was betrayed, and we have the similarity of words. The combination may present a case that this tradition was very strong and carried through to various groups, those of Paul, and that of Mark, independently of each other. In this sense there is probably a decent case that the institution of a communal meal went very far back in the tradition. This should not surprise us. If this was the Seder, then of course it started with a communal meal. That’s what a Seder is. The problem is that Paul does not corroborate this. Having this communal meal attach itself to the Passover Seder is something we would expect as time passed. It wasn’t enough to be a meal; it had to be a special meal. In this way many of the significant events in Malory’s telling of the Arthur legend occur on Pentecost. And it would make most sense if the attachment to the Seder came about after the identification of Jesus with the Paschal lamb.  

So how far back does this tradition of the communal meal go? Seder or not, communal meals were a very large part of pagan religious practice, too. A communal meal, in fact, is a central focus in a lot of cultures, religions, and in the mythical family life of (at least) Americans. So there is really nothing special about a communal meal per se, except that communal meals are special in & of themselves. In the case of the Last Supper, the specialness comes from the symbolism of the bread and wine.

As many later critics of Christianity would say, it sounds an awful lot like cannibalism. That’s pretty special. It’s also very ancient, and very specific to certain cultures. It would be good to see some studies on this, on the existence of ritual cannibalism in the ancient Near East. We won’t see them, of course, because no one is willing to go there. However, there is another possible interpretation of this: grapes. The body of the grape is eaten; the ‘blood’ produces wine. So rather than cannibalism of flesh, perhaps this is an echo of the “cannibalism” of a vegetative god; naturally, Dionysios comes first to mind. This is the story of a god who died and was reborn, whose body was cut to pieces and eaten, but also one who produced grapes that provided the blood of wine. This seems to be an interesting possibility since the vegetation god was a central figure in a lot of Near Eastern religion and culture.

This is all directed at the deep background of this institution, the why. What about the when? When was this instituted? Does it date back to Jesus? It’s tempting to say so.In fact, on one reading, it almost has to date back to Jesus. It’s a question of whether Paul originated this, or whether he took over an existing practice. If the latter, the question becomes where did he get it? Per his own story in Galatians, he got his revelation directly from God, and spent almost no time learning anything from any human being. Paul pretty much brags about this. Did he get this directly from God? If so, then we can definitively say that Paul didn’t get this from a living tradition, but as something he dreamed up in a moment of inspiration. Of course, we can’t know if Paul got this via inspiration, so we have to ask if he got it from a living tradition. The answer is, “it’s possible”. He did talk to Peter on his first trip to Jerusalem, and he knew about Peter living (and eating) like a pagan when he was out from under James’ watchful eye. From these, we can assume that Paul had a certain amount of interaction with Peter over time. And what Jesus said on that last night would certainly be a topic that Peter would pass along. So, the chances are, Paul did get this from a living tradition.

But wait, there’s more. If Peter and James told the story of Jesus’ last night on earth, then there is reason to believe that the story of the Last Supper could easily have entered the tradition through multiple streams. Given this, there is no reason this could not have gotten to Mark without the intermediacy of Paul. So the grand prize here is that this could, pretty easily, trace to Jesus. First of all, this is not exactly mainstream Jewish thought here; as I have discussed, it seems much more pagan than Jewish, a reference to Dionysios and the other dying & resurrection vegetation gods of the Near East. This fact makes it less likely that it came from James. And since Paul knew of it, this is obviously pretty old. Perhaps the clincher is that this is a truly odd thing to say. “This is my body” and “this is my blood” are not really part of normal religious discourse, at least not in the Semitic/Western tradition. It’s pretty much original, or at least it’s a very ancient tradition. Together, all of these things (there are probably more if I stopped to think a bit), I believe, point to a provenance with Jesus.

There is one last point. Matthew adds that this was done, “for the forgiveness of sins”. Why does he add that? Where did that come from? I want to stress that this is not a pagan sort of thing, so it’s not likely something Matthew got from his pagan background. It’s not really even implicit in Paul or Mark, either. It’s new with Matthew. It’s interesting to note that the idea of forgiving sins, or sins in general, is, if not a foundation, then a key element for Paul. Already in Galatians he tells us that Jesus gave himself for our sins; in 1 Corinthians 15 he tells us that Jesus died for our sins. The them is very prominent in Romans, surfacing only in the first two chapters of Mark, becoming more popular in Matthew, and then flourishing in Luke and John. So Matthew is re-awakening Paul’s focus on the topic.

Which should pique our interest. With the words of institution, we discussed whether we should consider if Matthew was aware of Paul, landing in the negative; but now, with the second coming of sins and their forgiveness, we have, perhaps, two major thematic connexions between Matthew and Paul. Do we have to reconsider that negative opinion?

It’s not necessary. The idea should be considered, by all means, but it’s not necessary to posit an awareness of Paul. There is, however, a very real connexion. I think what we’re witnessing is the diffusion of Paul’s teachings to an ever-wider audience. Let’s remember that Luke definitely becomes aware of Paul, so the message of the earlier apostle was permeating the thought-world of proto-Christianity, and was becoming poised for a breakthrough in the next decade or so. What this does do, perhaps, is provide yet another indication that Matthew may have been a pagan. Reading the LXII instead of the HS is hardly startling; the LXII was created because ever-larger numbers of Jews could read Greek but not Hebrew. But now we have Matthew encountering significant pieces of Paul’s message, albeit (most likely) divorced from a direct connexion to Paul’s name. And whom did Paul evangelize? Jews? No, pagans. In addition, the idea of Jesus’ blood being spilled for the forgiveness of sins really reinforces the idea of the sacrifice, of Jesus as the Paschal Lamb. It would be very nice if Paul had made the identification of Jesus with the lamb of Passover explicit; but he was preaching to pagans, for whom the idea of Passover may not have carried much resonance. But the connexion of blood sacrifice and forgiveness is not at all the sole possession of Jews; this was a standard means of expiation for pagans–Greeks–as well. So, while tantalizing, the direct affiliation to Paul’s teaching is far from proven, and its probability is certainly less than 50/50, and probably less than a third.

One thing that does get omitted from all the gospel accounts is Paul’s injunction of Jesus that the disciples continue to perform the act in his memory. The omission is curious. For that reason, I think the message of Paul arrived at Matthew’s awareness piecemeal, and without Paul’s name attached. This is where we have to evaluate this omission in terms of the argument from silence. It seems like this should/would be something that the evangelists would mention if they were aware of it. But that is not a certainty. But still, I would say that the lack of this injunction pretty firmly tips the balance against the idea of an explicit knowledge of Paul and any of his writings, even if the message did come down to the evangelists. 

26 Cenantibus autem eis, accepit Iesus panem et benedixit ac fregit deditque discipulis et ait: “ Accipite, comedite: hoc est corpus meum ”.

27 Et accipiens calicem, gratias egit et dedit illis dicens: “ Bibite ex hoc omnes:

28 hic est enim sanguis meus novi testamenti, qui pro multis effunditur in remissionem peccatorum.

29 λέγω δὲ ὑμῖν, οὐ μὴ πίω ἀπ’ ἄρτι ἐκ τούτου τοῦ γενήματος τῆς ἀμπέλου ἕως τῆς ἡμέρας ἐκείνης ὅταν αὐτὸ πίνω μεθ’ ὑμῶν καινὸν ἐν τῇ βασιλείᾳ τοῦ πατρός μου.

30Καὶ ὑμνήσαντες ἐξῆλθον εἰς τὸ Ὄρος τῶν Ἐλαιῶν.

“I say to you, I will not drink the produce of the vine until those days when I drink with you anon in the kingdom of my father.” (30) And hymnizing, they went out to the Mount of Olives.

I believe I used “hymnizing”, or something similar, translating Mark’s version of this. It’s a verb in Greek, so “singing a hymn”, while correct, doesn’t quite get to the true sense of the Greek. Unlike the words about the bread and the wine, I’m highly suspicious of the veracity of these words. This strikes me as some unadulterated dramatic innovation.

29 Dico autem vobis: Non bibam amodo de hoc genimine vitis usque in diem illum, cum illud bibam vobiscum novum in regno Patris mei”.

30 Et hymno dicto, exierunt in montem Oliveti.

31 Τότε λέγει αὐτοῖς ὁ Ἰησοῦς, Πάντες ὑμεῖς σκανδαλισθήσεσθε ἐν ἐμοὶ ἐν τῇ νυκτὶ ταύτῃ, γέγραπται γάρ, Πατάξω τὸν ποιμένα, καὶ διασκορπισθήσονται τὰ πρόβατα τῆς ποίμνης:

32 μετὰ δὲ τὸ ἐγερθῆναί με προάξω ὑμᾶς εἰς τὴν Γαλιλαίαν.

Then Jesus said to them, “All you will be caused to stumble on me in this night, for it is written, ‘I will smite the shepherd and the sheep of the shepherd will be scattered’. (32) After the to have been risen, I will go before you to Galilee”.

This last part has some interesting implications. Jesus is saying that he will proceed the disciples–all of them–to Galilee, after he has been raised. This is unique to Matthew. Mark really didn’t have a resurrection story, so there really isn’t a whole lot of point in comparing the two. It is entirely possible that Matthew provides us with the earliest of the resurrection stories. I think I will save what I have to say about that for when we get to that point in the text. But this bit about going ahead of them to Galilee will play a significant role in that story.

31 Tunc dicit illis Iesus: “Omnes vos scandalum patiemini in me in ista nocte. Scriptum est enim: “Percutiam pastorem, et dispergentur oves gregis”.

32 Postquam autem resurrexero, praecedam vos in Galilaeam”.

33 ἀποκριθεὶς δὲ ὁ Πέτρος εἶπεν αὐτῷ, Εἰ πάντες σκανδαλισθήσονται ἐν σοί, ἐγὼ οὐδέποτε σκανδαλισθήσομαι.

34 ἔφη αὐτῷ ὁ Ἰησοῦς, Ἀμὴν λέγω σοι ὅτι ἐν ταύτῃ τῇ νυκτὶ πρὶν ἀλέκτορα φωνῆσαι τρὶς ἀπαρνήσῃ με.

35 λέγει αὐτῷ ὁ Πέτρος, Κἂν δέῃ με σὺν σοὶ ἀποθανεῖν, οὐ μή σε ἀπαρνήσομαι. ὁμοίως καὶ πάντες οἱ μαθηταὶ εἶπαν.

Answering, Peter said to him, “If all are caused to stumble over you, I will never be caused to stumble”. (34) Jesus said to him, “Amen I say to you that this very night, before the cock crows three time you will deny me”. (35) Peter said to him, “And even if it be necessary that with you to die, I will not disown you.” In the same way all the disciples spoke.

This, too, strikes me as a piece of dramatic invention, created at a time when Peter had become a well-known figure. Then it would have meant much what it does today: even Peter fell away. Now, the question becomes whether this invention is more or less likely given the variant traditions of this particular episode: that Peter would deny three times, or that he would deny before the cock crowed three times, or before the cock crowed twice, or whatever else. It occurs to me that “solving” the reason behind the variant stories would probably tell us a great deal about how the gospels were written. After all, if  Matthew is writing with a copy of Mark, why not just repeat what Mark said about the denial? To us it seems a simple matter of getting one’s facts–or story–straight. In our world of factual accuracy, this seems both easy enough to do, and important enough to want to do.

The key phrases in that last sentence are to us, and in our world. Why? Because we always, constantly have to remember that they did not perceive the world in the same way that we do. Our insistence on getting the details correct and the story straight would have seemed…odd to Matthew. His attitude would have been something like why sweat the small stuff? Who cares how it actually happened, or even if it actually happened. Focusing on that stuff just misses the point. The point is that even Peter had his lapses. That is what matters here. How can this be? we ask.

Understanding this carries an entire host of implications. We so blithely go on about how “Matthew knew about”, or “used” Mark’s gospel, but what do we mean by that? I have seen this discussed at least once, where a modern scholar was speculating about whether Matthew had a written copy of Mark in front of him as he wrote. Given the almost dead equivalence of language in a dozen (at least) places, the answer has to be unequivocally “yes”. There are too many almost-verbatim quotes that Matthew must have had a written copy, one that was open in front of him. So then, if that’s true, as it must be, then how to explain the factual discrepancies except in terms of this not being important. In fact, it almost seems that Matthew deliberately change the circumstances of Jesus’ prediction. Peter’s asseveration that he will die is much too close in vocabulary for Matthew not to be reading it as he wrote. So what other conclusion is there? Seriously. What other explanation can there be, aside from Matthew making a deliberate decision to change the “factual” circumstances of Jesus’ prediction?

I have no answer to that. What is worse, is that I’ve never seen the question asked. Never. Rather than being faced directly and answered–or having a theory or hypothesis about them–these sorts of discrepancies are swept under the rug. Or, at best, they are acknowledged with a nervous titter, and then swept under the rug. They are trotted out by those who argue against biblical inerrancy, but they are trotted out and left to stand in the ring by themselves. And even biblical scholars like Ehrman who don’t insist on inerrancy–and who rather celebrate the errors–don’t do much with them, either. Here is a clear case where, in one sentence Matthew seems to change, deliberately, a minor factual bit of information, and in the very next copies out Mark’s wording of Peter’s response almost verbatim. Why?

Make that, why?

I have no answer, but I truly feel that I’ve moved the ball just by asking the question.

33 Respondens autem Petrus ait illi: “Et si omnes scandalizati fuerint in te, ego numquam scandalizabor”.

34 Ait illi Iesus: “Amen dico tibi: In hac nocte, antequam gallus cantet, ter me negabis”.

35 Ait illi Petrus: “Etiam si oportuerit me mori tecum, non te negabo”. Similiter et omnes discipuli dixerunt.

Matthew Chapter 26:14-25

The chapter continues, and now we will be reading about the events of Thursday night, which have become known as the Last Supper. We know that it was a Thursday since Jesus was crucified on the day before the Sabbath. Of course, the day wasn’t named after Thor; in fact, per my understanding (corroborated by Wikipedia), the Romans did not designate a 7-day week, each day having a name repeated every seven days. Rather, they simply designated the date of the month. Jews of course reckoned a week in seven days so that they could track the Sabbath, and the 7-day week became the standard under the Christians who needed to keep track of their Sabbath, on the first, rather than the last, day of the week. The Germanic names came via Anglo-Saxon England.

14 Τότε πορευθεὶς εἷς τῶν δώδεκα, ὁ λεγόμενος Ἰούδας Ἰσκαριώτης, πρὸς τοὺς ἀρχιερεῖς

15 εἶπεν, Τί θέλετέ μοι δοῦναι κἀγὼ ὑμῖν παραδώσω αὐτόν; οἱ δὲ ἔστησαν αὐτῷ τριάκοντα ἀργύρια.

16 καὶ ἀπὸ τότε ἐζήτει εὐκαιρίαν ἵνα αὐτὸν παραδῷ.

Then coming one of the Twelve, he called Judas Iscariot, to the high priests. (15) He said, “What do you wish to give me, and I will hand him over to you”. They weighed out for him thirty pieces of silver. (16) And from then he sought an auspicious time in order to hand him over.

Does the fact that Judas makes no appearance prior to this make anyone else suspicious? If not, it should. One can argue by analogy that the man who betrayed the Greeks at Thermopylae is nowhere mentioned aside from this act of treachery; and Herodotus is loath to name this man, exactly for the reason that this vile creature does not deserve to have his name preserved. But, name him he does. That is a very different set of circumstances; there, he played no role in the story before that moment, whereas Judas, one of the Twelve, seemingly should have been around a bit before this entry onto the stage of history. In fact, the only previous mention of him is when Jesus names the Twelve; however, that naming is the only time many of this group are mentioned. Judas at least plays this additional role.

This is not the time nor place to discuss the Twelve, so we will turn to Judas. I am not competent to provide an informed judgement on this, but I have read the suggestion that “Iscariot” is derived from sicarii, the notorious assassins who caused havoc in Jerusalem up through the destruction of the city. In fact Josephus says that the groups that resisted the Romans in Jerusalem and in Masada were sicarii. This, of course, is by way of discrediting the leaders of the rebellion, those who resisted Rome till the bitter end, separating the “loyal” Jews who desperately wanted to surrender Jerusalem and swear their undying fealty to Rome. The attachment of “Iscariot” as a surname seems possibly to be an effort to discredit Judas by tarring him with the brush of the sicarii. The biggest problem with this theory is that it depends on a change in language. Sicarii is Latin; the initial “I” would have been added when it was translated out of Latin, but a transition from Latin to Greek would probably not have been sufficient. Latin to Aramaic? I can’t say.

The problem is that much of this depends on when the Passion Narrative was originally composed. One school of thought believes that the passion story circulated as an independent narrative even before Mark was written. There is a certain logic to this; after all, followers of Jesus would likely want to know why he was crucified, it only makes sense. The problem with this is that there is no reason to produce this particular narrative if it was created prior to the rebellion of 66-70. Assuming that the story took the form, and provided the causation it did to exculpate the Romans and lay the blame on the Jews really makes sense in the period immediately following the rebellion. It has been noted just how much further Josephus goes to do exactly that; however, he was writing explicitly for a Roman–even an imperial–audience. In reading De Bello Judaica, one comes away with a strong sense of similarity between the way Josephus and Mark excuse the Romans.

The point here is that the whole affair of Judas, and even the person himself, should be viewed with great suspicion. There is, of course, a wonderful dramatic element to Judas’ role, which is no doubt intended. Is it too convenient? Making that judgement in the affirmative requires leaving the realm of historical analysis. This is not to say it’s not a valid question; it certainly is. But any such judgement is literary or stylistic, both of which are very different from historical judgements. A true historical judgement would be to affirm that the evidence for Judas is pretty thin. I say this because the NT is, by and large, not a terribly reliable historical source, except when it’s not trying to be. It tells us how the beliefs changed over time even if it can’t support the reported actions that are designed to convey the message of Jesus.

The other thing to bear in mind is the motivation of the high priests. On one hand, it started in Galilee, but this group was not in Galilee, had no responsibility for Galilee. We are supposed to believe that the combination of the triumphal entry into Jerusalem and the cleansing of the Temple were enough to make the authorities afraid of Jesus. As we have seen, however, the entry into Jerusalem was more of a procession of a group of followers than a parade passing between throngs of onlookers. Mark’s description is very plain, and fairly clear, and plainly and clearly describes a procession of a group. Matthew felt the lack of the potential to menace the authorities, so he amplified how the entry attracted onlookers–in itself a clear indication of the nature of the event as a procession–and the children shouting “Hosanna” in the Temple precincts. Then the cleansing of the Temple is obviously a fiction, or a very small event that grew to mammoth proportions in the subsequent re-tellings. As Josephus makes incredibly clear, the Temple was enormous. The idea that a single man could clear out all the commerce is simply preposterous. And the resultant disruption would have led to Jesus’ arrest on the spot. He would not then have returned the next day and had an exchange with the same threatened authorities that, while tense, did not display any real signs of animosity. So if the two main causes for the authorities’ malign intent are shown to be grossly exaggerated or simply fictional, what is left? 

14 Tunc abiit unus de Duodecim, qui dicebatur Iudas Iscariotes, ad principes sacerdotum

15 et ait: “ Quid vultis mihi dare, et ego vobis eum tradam? ”. At illi constituerunt ei triginta argenteos.

16 Et exinde quaerebat opportunitatem, ut eum traderet.

17 Τῇ δὲ πρώτῃ τῶν ἀζύμων προσῆλθον οἱ μαθηταὶ τῷ Ἰησοῦ λέγοντες, Ποῦ θέλεις ἑτοιμάσωμέν σοι φαγεῖν τὸ πάσχα;

18 ὁ δὲ εἶπεν, Ὑπάγετε εἰς τὴν πόλιν πρὸς τὸν δεῖνα καὶ εἴπατε αὐτῷ, Ὁ διδάσκαλος λέγει, Ὁ καιρός μου ἐγγύς ἐστιν: πρὸς σὲ ποιῶ τὸ πάσχα μετὰ τῶν μαθητῶν μου.

19 καὶ ἐποίησαν οἱ μαθηταὶ ὡς συνέταξεν αὐτοῖς ὁ Ἰησοῦς, καὶ ἡτοίμασαν τὸ πάσχα.

20 Ὀψίας δὲ γενομένης ἀνέκειτο μετὰ τῶν δώδεκα.

On the (day) before the unleavened (bread) came the disciples to Jesus saying, “Where do you wish we will prepare for you the Pesach eating?” (18) He then said, “Go up to the city towards the such a one (some guy) and say to him, ‘The teacher said, “My season is nigh. With you I will make the Paschal (meal) with my disciples”.’.” (19) And the disciples did in this way that Jesus arranged for them, and they prepared the Pesach (meal). (20) Having become evening, he reclined with the Twelve. 

This method of arranging matters is, of course, and echo of how Jesus told the disciples to find the donkey he would ride into Jerusalem the previous Sunday. The only real differences is that the man that they are to meet, or find, is not described in the least. Jesus had instructed his followers fairly clearly on where to find the donkey, but here it’s just “such a man”. Second, we are told that Jesus arranged things for them. This has a slightly difference implication than the arrangements for Palm Sunday. There, it was more or less left that Jesus had predicted how they would find things, but that the events and their sequence were to play out on their own. Here, OTOH, Jesus moves the pieces around himself.

Update: When writing the paragraph above, I hadn’t looked at Mark’s version. There, Jesus says that they will find a man carrying a pitcher of water. And, since drawing water was woman’s work, this would truly be a distinguishing feature. Given this, the “such a man” makes much more sense. But what this means is that Matthew assumed that the audience would be familiar with Mark’s account, so they would know “such a man” indicated a man carrying water. Or, the other possibility is that a copyist shortened this, abbreviating the ms knowing that other readers or copyists were familiar with Mark. Either way, Matthew cuts this section to about half of what Mark had. Matthew does this on several occasions, leaving out what he doubtless considered “unnecessary” details. Here, however, the editing is a bit too severe, I think. 

Upon reading this, it seemed that the expression “my season is nigh” was an echo of what Jesus said when he was setting out on his ministry, that the kingdom is nigh. Actually looking for the word usage, this turns out not to be true. In both Mark and Matthew Jesus says that “the kingdom has drawn near”.

Finally, this seems clearly to be Jesus and the disciples making preparation for the Passover Seder. This makes Thursday the Day of Preparation, the day the seder is prepared. I mention this because all three Synoptic Gospels seem to make this quite clear. This would mean that Jesus was executed the first day of Passover. In John, however, the day is moved back one, so that Jesus was killed on the Day of Preparation. Supposedly John is making the connexion between Jesus and the Paschal Lamb stronger. On the Day of Preparation, Jews all over the world would have been killing lambs while Jesus was on the cross.* If nothing else, this should be a cautionary tale that, in writing gospels, the Truth to be conveyed took precedence over mere factual accuracy.

*[ Please note a total ignorance on my part regarding the killing of animals in preparation for eating. It is my understanding that it is possible to kill the animal and eat it on the same day. This, after all, was the process in pagan sacrifices. If I’m wrong, well then I’m wrong. ]

21 καὶ ἐσθιόντων αὐτῶν εἶπεν, Ἀμὴν λέγω ὑμῖν ὅτι εἷς ἐξ ὑμῶν παραδώσει με.

22 καὶ λυπούμενοι σφόδρα ἤρξαντο λέγειν αὐτῷ εἷς ἕκαστος, Μήτι ἐγώ εἰμι,κύριε;

23 ὁ δὲ ἀποκριθεὶς εἶπεν, Ὁ ἐμβάψας μετ’ ἐμοῦ τὴν χεῖρα ἐν τῷ τρυβλίῳ οὗτός με παραδώσει.

24 ὁ μὲν υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου ὑπάγει καθὼς γέγραπται περὶ αὐτοῦ, οὐαὶ δὲ τῷ ἀνθρώπῳ ἐκείνῳ δι’ οὗ ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου παραδίδοται: καλὸν ἦν αὐτῷ εἰ οὐκ ἐγεννήθη ὁ ἄνθρωπος ἐκεῖνος.

25 ἀποκριθεὶς δὲ Ἰούδας ὁ παραδιδοὺς αὐτὸν εἶπεν, Μήτι ἐγώ εἰμι, ῥαββί; λέγει αὐτῷ, Σὺ εἶπας.

And they having eaten, he said, “Amen I say to you, that one of you will betray me.” (22) And they began sorrowing exceedingly, saying to him each, “Surely, not I, lord.” (23) And he, answering, said, “One dipping with me his hand in the cup, he will betray me. (24) For the son of man will raise up accordingly as it is written about him, ‘Woe to that man through whom the son of man is handed over. Better for him if not having been born that man’.” (25) And answering, Judas the betrayer said to him, “Surely I am not (he)?” (Jesus) said to him, “You say it.”

The first point I’m itching to make is the root of the word for “dip”, as in, “dipping in the cup”. The word is “em-bapto”. Perhaps the root is recognizable as the root of “baptize”.  The point here is the so very ordinary meaning and usage of that word. There is nothing special about it. In Greek, the doughnut chain could be “Baptizin’ Donuts”.

[ Note: there is an American chain of doughnut shops known as “Dunkin’ Donuts”. This chain is especially popular in Rhode Island, where I happen to live. Here in RI, it approaches something not dissimilar to a mania. ]

The second point is a question: do you notice the elements of drama here? And let’s note that the whole idea of fiction as an art form was a whole lot less well-developed when this was written than it is now. Reading this now seems hackneyed to the point of trite, but what was there in the ancient world to compare to this? The HS has moments of intensity, to be sure, but drama? I suppose there’s the will-he-or-won’t-he story of Abraham sacrificing Isaac, but the audience knew going in that it wasn’t going to happen. Back when I was in HS, there was an annual state-wide competition for dramatic readings, and I had always thought that the passion would be a good choice due to the level of dramatic tension present.

Now, drama does not preclude reality; in fact, real-life history provides episodes of extremely high drama, which is why historical novels/movies never go out of fashion. The problem here, however, is the lack of ascribed motive. Why did Judas betray Jesus? Even John felt this lack, so he was sure to add that Judas kept the common purse and stole from it; from there his betrayal of Jesus could be seen as simply greed. Jesus Christ Superstar does a better job, portraying Judas as afraid that Jesus would touch off a rebellion, bringing about the events of the Jewish War two generations earlier. What we have is the high priests lacking a motive, and Judas lacking a motive. As I see it, this double lack of ascribed–and plausible–motive really undercuts the credibility of the account. Without a motive, we are left with Judas betraying Jesus because the course of events requires that this happen. Fictional accounts that don’t provide sufficient explanation for an action always ring false; and so does this. 

To be clear, nothing I have said provides a terribly strong argument against the betrayal by Judas, or anything else contained in the Passion Story. It cannot really be proven false by any standard method available to historians. But as with so many things, it’s not the big gaping hole that sinks the account as we have it. There is no collision with an iceberg, but a series of small nicks, a dozen, or two dozen or more, that, while inconsequential by themselves, add up to an accumulation of water that does, eventually, drag the whole ship down to the depths.

17 Prima autem Azymorum accesserunt discipuli ad Iesum dicentes: “ Ubi vis paremus tibi comedere Pascha? ”.

18 Ille autem dixit: “ Ite in civitatem ad quendam et dicite ei: “Magister dicit: Tempus meum prope est; apud te facio Pascha cum discipulis meis” ”.

19 Et fecerunt discipuli, sicut constituit illis Iesus, et paraverunt Pascha.

20 Vespere autem facto, discumbebat cum Duodecim.

21 Et edentibus illis, dixit: “ Amen dico vobis: Unus vestrum me traditurus est ”.

22 Et contristati valde, coeperunt singuli dicere ei: “ Numquid ego sum, Domine? ”.

23 At ipse respondens ait: “ Qui intingit mecum manum in paropside, hic me tradet.

24 Filius quidem hominis vadit, sicut scriptum est de illo; vae autem homini illi, per quem Filius hominis traditur! Bonum erat ei, si natus non fuisset homo ille ”.

25 Respondens autem Iudas, qui tradidit eum, dixit: “ Numquid ego sum, Rabbi? ”. Ait illi: “ Tu dixisti ”.

Matthew Chapter 26:1-13

Based on what was said in the commentary at the beginning of the last chapter, you’d realize that we should be at the penultimate chapter of Matthew that there remains but this one and another. Well, I was wrong! There are 28 Chapters in Matthew, not 27. As such, this is the penultimate. This is what happens to show-offs and braggarts. I was hoist on my own petard, as it were. Regardless, this current chapter is the passion narrative, which likely won’t require too much comment. It’s largely a straightforward narrative account of action, so it is much more plot driven than the material we’ve been considering.

1 Καὶ ἐγένετο ὅτε ἐτέλεσεν ὁ Ἰησοῦς πάντας τοὺς λόγους τούτους, εἶπεν τοῖς μαθηταῖς αὐτοῦ,

2 Οἴδατε ὅτι μετὰ δύο ἡμέρας τὸ πάσχα γίνεται, καὶ ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου παραδίδοται εἰς τὸ σταυρωθῆναι.

When it became that Jesus finished all these words, he said to his disciples, (2) “Know that after two days it becomes Pesach (Passover), and the son of man is given over to be crucified.” 

Just a couple of things quickly. “Pesach” is not actually Hebrew, apparently, so perhaps it’s Aramaic? In either case, I put it in to show the derivation of “pascha”, which is the root of “paschal”. Note that when Jesus is referred to as the “Paschal Lamb”, this is a direct comparison of Jesus to the lamb that was sacrificed by the Hebrews on the night before the Angel of Death camp to Egypt. The Hebrews used the blood of the lamb to mark their doorposts so that the Angel of Death passed over the houses of the Hebrews, and went on to kill the first born of all Egyptians. Now there are some fine theological points in here, and the nickel version I just gave is oversimplified by a lot. As with so many things biblical, there are arguments about some of the points, but they need not detain us here. Mainly because I don’t know them. The second point I was going to make concerns the timing of all of this, but I will save that for a bit later.

1 Et factum est, cum consum masset Iesus sermones hos omnes, dixit discipulis suis:

2 “ Scitis quia post biduum Pascha fiet, et Filius hominis traditur, ut crucifigatur”.

3 Τότε συνήχθησαν οἱ ἀρχιερεῖς καὶ οἱ πρεσβύτεροι τοῦ λαοῦ εἰς τὴν αὐλὴν τοῦ ἀρχιερέως τοῦ λεγομένου Καϊάφα,

4 καὶ συνεβουλεύσαντο ἵνα τὸν Ἰησοῦν δόλῳ κρατήσωσιν καὶ ἀποκτείνωσιν:

5 ἔλεγον δέ, Μὴ ἐν τῇ ἑορτῇ, ἵνα μὴ θόρυβος γένηται ἐν τῷ λαῷ.

Then the high priests and the elders of the people congregated to the palace of the High Priest, whose name was Caiaphas. (4) And taking counsel together in order secretly they should seize Jesus and kill him. (5) But he (Caiaphas) said, “Not in the festival, lest turbulence comes in the people.”

Several things here. First, the transition is very abrupt, even if it follows from the narrative. Jesus predicts his handing over, cut to high priests plotting to kill him. Fade to black, cut back to Jesus having dinner. It’s a bit rough, the sort of thing that most first-year film students would know to avoid, I suspect.

Joseph Caiaphas is attested by Josephus, so Caiaphas is probably an actual historical person, like Pilate. Josephus says he was the son-in-law of Ananas, the Annas of the NT and Jesus Christ Superstar. Again per Josephus, Caiaphas had been appointed by Pilate’s predecessor; all the Jewish high priests were appointed by the Romans because they had a role in maintaining peace among the populace. This was more about influence than about actual power. However, Josephus does say that the Temple authorities–presumably the High Priest–were given the power to execute anyone who ventured too far into the Temple, and not necessarily all the way to the Holy of Holies where only the High Priest was allowed. Josephus says that the High Priest could even execute a Roman who had desecrated the Temple in this way. This puts an interesting twist on the Passion Story.

Finally, it just seems very, very odd that the assembled group should express such qualms about executing Jesus during the festival. Again per Josephus, the festival times were very rocky. The population of the city was swollen with people coming in from all over. Tempers frayed, talk got out of control, there were robberies and murders. So, while it does make sense in a larger context for them to feel these qualms, this does not at all square with what happens: They arrest Jesus and then beg the Romans to execute him, during the Festival. They caution against it, then do exactly that.

When I learned about the power given to the High Priests to execute defilers of the Temple, it set me off thinking about whether this might be the reason Jesus was executed: he went too far into the Temple. The problem is, this does not fit with the rest of the story. If the point was to exonerate the Romans, this power of execution provides a perfect way to do just that. By claiming this as the cause, then the Romans are completely off the hook. There is no need to come up with this elaborate story of how the high priests & elders had to plead with Pilate to crucify Jesus. So this tells me that the Romans were the ones behind the crucifixion, for reasons unknown–to us, anyway. In any case, this reluctance to arrest Jesus during the festival rings hollow.

3 Tunc congregati sunt principes sacerdotum et seniores populi in aulam principis sacerdotum, qui dicebatur Caiphas,

4 et consilium fecerunt, ut Iesum dolo tenerent et occiderent;

5 dicebant autem: “Non in die festo, ne tumultus fiat in populo”.

6 Τοῦ δὲ Ἰησοῦ γενομένου ἐν Βηθανίᾳ ἐν οἰκίᾳ Σίμωνος τοῦ λεπροῦ,

7 προσῆλθεν αὐτῷ γυνὴ ἔχουσα ἀλάβαστρον μύρου βαρυτίμου καὶ κατέχεεν ἐπὶ τῆς κεφαλῆς αὐτοῦ ἀνακειμένου.

Jesus was in Bethany, in the house of Simon the Leper. (7) There approached him a woman having an alabaster of very expensive myrrh and poured it over his head as he was seated.

First, we are in Bethany. Mark told us explicitly that, after the triumphal procession into Jerusalem, Jesus went to the Temple, looked around, and left to spend the night in Bethany. Matthew doesn’t mention Bethany by name, but his narrative agrees that Jesus spend Sunday night outside Jerusalem, because the next morning, Matthew tells us, Jesus returned to the city. So we can, I believe, assume that this is the house where Jesus was staying while he was sojourning in the Greater Metropolitan Jerusalem area. The identity of the homeowner is interesting, and he is named by Mark as well. Was Simon a former leper who had been cured by Jesus? That would make sense, explaining how he had come to be a follower of Jesus. Because, if Simon were still a leper, why didn’t Jesus cure him while staying at his house?

Then the big one. Nowhere, in none of the gospels, is this woman ever, ever identified as Mary Magdalene. Nor is Mary M ever referred to as a prostitute. Magdalene usually only comes into the picture around the time of the crucifixion, and we will discuss her further there. This story is not found in Luke, but it is in the other three. Neither Mark nor Matthew identify the woman by name; John, however, says this was Mary, the sister of Martha and Lazarus. So how this woman came to be identified as Magdalene is an interesting exercise in popular culture. The crowd often gets it wrong. This is an excellent cautionary tale to bear in mind when arguing that the story that exists in the popular mind is accurate. 

6 Cum autem esset Iesus in Bethania, in domo Simonis leprosi,

7 accessit ad eum mulier habens alabastrum unguenti pretiosi et effudit super caput ipsius recumbentis.

ἰδόντες δὲ οἱ μαθηταὶ ἠγανάκτησαν λέγοντες, Εἰς τί ἡ ἀπώλεια αὕτη;

9 ἐδύνατο γὰρ τοῦτο πραθῆναι πολλοῦ καὶ δοθῆναι πτωχοῖς.

10 γνοὺς δὲ ὁ Ἰησοῦς εἶπεν αὐτοῖς, Τί κόπους παρέχετε τῇ γυναικί; ἔργον γὰρ καλὸν ἠργάσατο εἰς ἐμέ:

11 πάντοτε γὰρ τοὺς πτωχοὺς ἔχετε μεθ’ ἑαυτῶν, ἐμὲ δὲ οὐπάντοτε ἔχετε:

12 βαλοῦσα γὰρ αὕτη τὸ μύρον τοῦτο ἐπὶ τοῦ σώματός μου πρὸς τὸ ἐνταφιάσαι με ἐποίησεν.

13 ἀμὴν λέγω ὑμῖν, ὅπου ἐὰν κηρυχθῇ τὸ εὐαγγέλιον τοῦτο ἐν ὅλῳ τῷ κόσμῳ, λαληθήσεται καὶ ὃ ἐποίησεν αὕτη εἰς μνημόσυνον αὐτῆς.

Seeing, the disciples waxed indignant, saying, “To what (end) was this destroyed? For this could have been sold for much and given to the poor.” (10) Knowing, Jesus said to them, “Why do you browbeat the woman? For a good deed she has performed towards me. (11) For always you will have the poor with yourselves, me you will not always have. (12) For she has thrown this myrrh upon my body towards when my burial is done. (13) Amen, I say to you, when the good news has been announced to all the world, they will speak of what she has done in her memory”.

Such an unfortunate thing Jesus said here. “The poor you will always have with you”. While true, it has been used over and over again, countless times, to justify not making attempts to help the unfortunate. It’s easier, it seems, to remember this lesson than the lesson of the “least of my siblings” that we read scarcely ten verses ago in the last chapter.

Myrrh has an association with burial. As such, it was very appropriate in this context as the coming crucifixion looms large as it approaches in the story. This is the sort of story that would be very easy to brush off as apocryphal, an invention of an event that never occurred. However, there is, in my opinion, one problem with this: the very utterance of Jesus that I just described as “unfortunate”. This line expresses a thought, or a way of thinking that we do not usually associate with Jesus. There is almost a callousness involved. This comes to one of those situations in which the story is believable because no one would make it up.

Then too, the idea that he was anointed with myrrh shortly before his execution would be one of those portents that lodged in popular memory as a foreshadow of what was to come. In all twelve lives that he wrote about the Caesars, Suetonius includes portents that presaged the death of the emperor being discussed; many of them are things like two-headed calves being born. They are the sorts of things that happen and are mostly forgotten until something else happens, and the “connexion” is seen as a portent in retrospect. A thousand things like this occur to each of us every day and are forgotten until, by sheer coincidence, one of them connects to a subsequent event.

So, skeptic that I am, I suspect that this story may have some element, a kernel of truth at its core for these two reasons. Plus, it doesn’t hurt that the story is in Mark, indicating that it was an early story that caught on because it was “authentic” in some degree.

Now, here we go on a flight of fancy. I haven’t gone off on one of these for some time, so perhaps it’s forgivable. I said that the sentiment expressed does not sound like authentic Jesus, that it sounds too callous and dismissive. What if this was how the authentic Jesus sounded? Recall that Mark very often describes Jesus as angry, fed up, short-tempered. In fact, “the poor you will always have with you” is very consistent with a Jesus like the one described in Mark. This would add weight to my growing belief that much of what we attribute to Jesus, should be attributed to those who came later. Some, but very little, would trace to Paul; more to Mark, a lot to Matthew and probably a lot can be traced to James, brother of Jesus. This would very neatly explain the very large amount of material found in Matthew, but not in Mark. There is much more than can be easily written off as derived from some fictional Q. 

8 Videntes autem discipuli, indignati sunt dicentes: “ Ut quid perditio haec?

9 Potuit enim istud venumdari multo et dari pauperibus ”.

10 Sciens autem Iesus ait illis: “ Quid molesti estis mulieri? Opus enim bonum operata est in me;

11 nam semper pauperes habetis vobiscum, me autem non semper habetis.

12 Mittens enim haec unguentum hoc supra corpus meum, ad sepeliendum me fecit.

13 Amen dico vobis: Ubicumque praedicatum fuerit hoc evangelium in toto mundo, dicetur et quod haec fecit in memoriam eius”.

Summary Matthew Chapter 25

The chapter is basically a series of parables: the faithful slave who is ready for the master’s return vs the slave who’s not paying attention. The Ten Virgins with their oil lamps, some of whom may or may not have extra oil. The big one is the Parable of the Talents, meant to promote an active ethos of spiritual capitalism. There are two important points to note about this series of parables. First, all of them deal with the theme of being ready when the master or lord returns. That is to say, they are all about the expected coming of the son of man; in Matthew, that is explicitly Jesus. These stories are meant to allay concern that the expected coming of the son of man, of the lord, as Paul said, had not happened yet. We’ve discussed this before, and more than once, so there is probably no point in going through it again. What we need to takeaway from this is Matthew very insistent that this event will happen, and it may happen soon, or it may happen a bit later. Either way, it is incumbent on us as followers of Jesus to be sure that we are ready when it does happen. A bit later in the narrative Matthew will tell us what happens to those who are caught unawares, but that will be dealt with in time.

The second point about these parables is that they are all unique to Matthew. I was not aware of that as I went through the commentary; in particular, I thought that the Parable of the Talents was certainly to be found in Luke. According to my Harmony of the Gospels, this is not true. Of course, none of them are in Mark, either, but that’s to be expected. Ergo, all of these are M material, stories that are unique to Matthew. That they are not in Mark should not surprise us, especially since these are dealing with the expected coming of the lord/son of man. That theme barely surfaces in Mark; he tells us it will happen, but not often and not very specifically. What is more significant, I believe, is that they are not in Luke. The theme of what has become known as the Second Coming (a great poem by WB Yeats, btw) is wholly absent from John. Does Luke’s omission of these parables indicate a diminished emphasis on the Parousia? Perhaps, or perhaps not. We will examine that more fully when we get to Luke.

Also missing from all the other gospels is the “least of my siblings” story. This is one of the most Christian of Christian ideas in my mind, to be ranked with the Beatitudes as fundamental Christian tenets. Yet, the Beatitudes are only in half the gospels, and the least of my brothers in only one. How is that possible? What does this tell us? The implication, it seems, is that there were many different sets of beliefs among the various communities, each with its own particular emphasis, perhaps. I think that Matthew and Luke having so much in common indicates not a common source, but that Luke had actually read Matthew, and John felt the need to put the finishing touches on the theology by fully elevating Jesus into an equality with God the Father. This touches on Q, of course, and I am still of the opinion that Q never existed. That being the case, the fruition of all these basic Christian ideas in Matthew indicate that there was a fluorescence of teachings attributed to Jesus that Matthew was the first to record. This, in turn, implies that many of these very Christian teachings–the Beatitudes, the Least of my Siblings–did not originate with Jesus, but were developed later. Perhaps James is responsible for some of them, or perhaps James only provided the themes, the actual stories then being created by people like Matthew. We are so used to the idea of the evangelists recording, but the idea of them creating makes us very uncomfortable. This is, however, a very real possibility–even a probability, I might add–and it must be faced and it must be considered.

The major lessons, or the most consequential theological points, or whatever they should be called, all arose in the very last verses of the chapter. Many of these points are also novel with Matthew, with one salient exception. Matthew repeats Mark’s prophecy about the coming of the son of man. And “repeats” is particularly noteworthy here because Matthew said much the same thing back in Chapter 24, where it correlated most closely to the context of the corresponding passage in Mark; this time, however, he goes a little further. The son of man will come in his glory, again with the angels, and will sit upon his throne. In this way, Matthew’s description more closely approaches the conception expressed by Paul, wherein it’s the lord (or Lord; upper vs. lower case L makes a big difference) who is coming. Of course the word Paul uses is Greek, but it would be really interesting to note whether it sits upon something in Hebrew. Is it a translation for Adonai? This was a word often used in Judaism as a surrogate for “God”, the replacement due to the Judaic aversion to using the name of God. If this is what Paul has in mind when he said the “lord” will come, that really puts a very different reading on this.

Beyond all that, however, we should note that, in all cases, it is never sad that the lord or the son of man will “return”; that word is never used in this context by Paul, Mark, or Matthew. It is always said that he will “come”, generally using the most generic, most vanilla verb possible for this. This should be noted. Of course, with Paul, Jesus was only the Lord after the resurrection; as such, he never came in the first place since his incarnation presence didn’t constitute the coming of the Lord. Jesus, at birth and right through his death on the cross, was a man. Only after being raised did he become the Lord. That Mark says that the son of man will come–not return–truly must make us consider that Jesus was not the son of man in the eyes of the early communities of Jesus. This distinction does not hold in or for Matthew. Nowhere in Matthew does Jesus unequivocally say “I am the son of man”, but the aggregation of the small clues, or hints makes this seem like the only way to understand Matthew’s conception of Jesus. This, in turn, suggests that the matter had not been entirely settled when Matthew wrote. He danced around the issue to the extent he does because he didn’t want to alienate that group of followers who saw Jesus and the son of man as separate individuals. But not even Matthew says that “the son of man will return”.

As for the status of the son of man, Matthew has made Jesus divine, but he does not make Jesus the equal of God the Father. In the passage under discussion, the son of man will come in his glory and sit upon his throne, but the kingdom was prepared by the father, said as if this is someone other than the son of man. The latter has become a king, but the king is not the equal of the father. After all, it was the latter who prepared the kingdom, from the foundations of the cosmos. On one hand, Matthew can seem very cagey, telling us things, but never quite committing himself to a particular point of view or factual reality. In such circumstances, one feels that he has chosen his words so very carefully, weighing each one out in its meaning and implications. Then there are times when he almost seems sloppy in his thinking, unable to put two and two together to tease out the implications of what he is saying. This is one of these latter instances. Does he not see that he’s making Jesus the lesser deity? Does he see this and not care? Does he see this and agree with it? I suspect Mark was deliberately straddling the fence; he had his two different traditions and really wasn’t about to get in the middle and craft a consistent theology.

As for Matthew, my suspicion is that he saw that he was making Jesus the lesser deity, but that he was OK with that because that fit his own world-view. Now, this comes dangerously close to begging the question: why did Matthew make Jesus the lesser? Because he was a pagan and this was normal. How do we know Matthew was a pagan? Because he made Jesus the lesser deity. At least, this would be circular if it were the only potential clue that we had, but it’s not. As such, I believe we are justified to infer that Matthew saw the distinction and agreed with it. And really, by doing this, he was really only following Mark’s lead. Mark saw Jesus as adopted at baptism. This is the Adoptionist heresy. Matthew saw Jesus as divine from birth, but not the equal of God. This is Arianism. Both were later to be judged heretical, but only after the writing of John’s gospel, which made the equation of the two. And while both were later considered heresies, note how Jesus is moving up in the scale: from purely human at birth, adopted by God, to divine from birth, a literal son of God much as Herakles was the son of Zeus (minus the actual physical contact present in the Greek myth). The process will continue until it concludes with John’s “in the beginning was the Logos…” (I refuse to translate that as “Word”, no matter what St Jerome thought. And even in Latin, “verbum” is much too limiting. The semantic field of “verbum” is much closer to “word” than it is to “logos”.)

The conclusion we need to draw, I believe, is that Matthew and his contemporaries were, more or less, Arians. But this is true only because the full Truth had not yet been revealed. That is, potentially at least, an explanation that could meet criteria of orthodoxy. Or maybe not.

In one notable passage, Matthew does actually make a definitive statement. This comes in the “least of my brothers” story. Those who did do for the least of the king’s (Jesus’) brothers will enter the kingdom that has been prepared for them, from the foundations of the world. Those who don’t will be consigned to the eternal fire created for the devil and his angels. There you are: specific behaviour will yield specific results. And your reward, or punishment, will be eternal. That is very clear. Also, and I totally missed this in the commentary, we are definitively told that the kingdom is something that “will come”. It has not arrived, and it won’t arrive until the End Times. This rather forces us to ask if this is entirely consistent with Jesus beginning his ministry by preaching that “the kingdom is nigh”. The two interpretations are not really mutually exclusive in any logical sense; Jesus could be teaching that the End Times are nigh, and these will soon be followed by the coming of the kingdom. Logically, this works. But does it feel right? Do we get the sense back in the early part of Mark that Jesus is preaching about the End Times? One could interpret in this way, but that’s my point: it requires an interpretation because that is not exactly what the words feel like. That isn’t entirely their natural meaning, because it requires that the kingdom be understood in a very specific way. For the coming of the one “like a son of man” in Daniel is not a foretelling of End Times, or the kingdom of God.

There are some additional implications to this, of course. That the kingdom has been prepared from the beginning of the universe implies that God foresaw that there would be people, that some of them would be righteous, and that these righteous would inherit the kingdom. That’s all fine and good. But then God also made the eternal fire for the devil and his angels. We are not told, however, that this was made from the beginning of the universe, and the normal sense of this is that it was not. Which means God didn’t foresee the fall of the angels, and he didn’t foresee that some of his human creation would not be righteous enough to inherit the kingdom. So God, apparently, is not omniscient. This works well as a story with the inherent drama of a rebellion and a War in Heaven, the angelic host led by Michael defeating the horde of Lucifer/Satan. It doesn’t work very well as theology, especially once we start to introduce the idea of absolutes into the definition of God. The problem is that the Hebrew God and the Greek concept of the ultimate god as The One, perfect in every way, don’t really mix all that well. The fact is, the Hebrew God was, and at heart always remained, a tribal god, one of many, powerful, but not omnipotent or omniscient. The Greeks, however, determined that God/The One had to be Perfect, which meant all the omnis and a few more things, too. When the later theologians tried to reconcile the two, they found the task impossible unless certain situations and biblical passages were overlooked or conveniently forgotten. This would be one of those. But, for our purposes, none of this really matters. What does matter is that we get the definitive association of behaviour in this world and reward or punishment when the son of man finally does come. For the first time.

One last bit on the Final Days. Since Mark was written shortly after the Destruction, there could easily have been the sense that the Destruction had begun the End Times, and that the time until the coming of the son of man was not long. That would explain the “some standing here shall not taste death” until the son of man arrives. Now, this becomes rather more problematic by the time of Matthew, when the Jewish War was half-a-generation removed. Does this explain the inclusion of the parables of watchfulness we find in this chapter? And why they are included in this chapter, which follows hard on the heels of Matthew’s telling of Mark 13? And why Matthew repeats the prophecy of the coming of the son of man, after he’s already told us that he would come in the clouds back in Chapter 24? Of course, these questions cannot be answered, but I have my suspicions that the answers are affirmative. Which leads to a final question: Is this how Matthew was trying soften the implications of Mark’s prophecy?


Postscript: Double Predestination

I have to walk some things back that I said about Double Predestination in the commentary. As stated above, the implication of the fires for the devil seem to be more about the Hebrew God not being omniscient than about an actual formulation of Double Predestination. As such, some of the statements I made in the commentary are probably insupportable. In particular, this passage does not imply Double Predestination. God did create the kingdom ab origine. But the fire came later. This implies that God was surprised at the rebellion of the devil, not that he foresaw it and created the future rebels anyway.


Matthew Chapter 25:31-46

So far in the chapter, we’ve had the parable of the Ten Maidens and the Parable of the Talents. Jesus is still talking, but he shifts gears and goes into more or less a straight narrative about the coming of the son of man. I don’t think a lot of intermediate commentary will be necessary.

31 Οταν δὲ ἔλθῃ ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου ἐν τῇ δόξῃ αὐτοῦ καὶ πάντες οἱ ἄγγελοι μετ’ αὐτοῦ, τότε καθίσει ἐπὶ θρόνου δόξης αὐτοῦ:

32 καὶ συναχθήσονται ἔμπροσθεν αὐτοῦ πάντα τὰ ἔθνη, καὶ ἀφορίσει αὐτοὺς ἀπ’ἀλλήλων, ὥσπερ ὁ ποιμὴν ἀφορίζει τὰ πρόβατα ἀπὸ τῶν ἐρίφων,

33 καὶ στήσει τὰ μὲν πρόβατα ἐκ δεξιῶν αὐτοῦ τὰ δὲ ἐρίφια ἐξ εὐωνύμων.

“And when the son of man comes in his glory and all the angels with him, then he will sit upon the throne of his glory. (32) And then will be gathered before him all the peoples, and he will separate them one from another, just as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. (33) And the sheep will stand on his right and the goats on the left.

The son of man comes in his glory, and sits on the throne of his glory. This is not the reflected glory of God, but that belonged to the son of man alone. This is a marked departure from the verbiage in Mark, in which the son of man would come in great glory. Yes, it’s great, but it’s not his and his alone. Rather, he’s likely to be partaking in the glory of the father. In fact, that is how I would think that Mark should be understood, which would be of a piece with the son of man not being divine in his own right. As such, Matthew here takes us further along the track to a divine Jesus. There is also the mention of his throne, he being the son of man. That I find to be less decisive. After all, Jesus says that the disciples will have thrones to judge the twelve tribes. A throne can be given. Or taken. But then, I suppose the same can be said about glory.

31 Cum autem venerit Filius hominis in gloria sua, et omnes angeli cum eo, tunc sedebit super thronum gloriae suae.

32 Et congregabuntur ante eum omnes gentes; et separabit eos ab invicem, sicut pastor segregat oves ab haedis,

33 et statuet oves quidem a dextris suis, haedos autem a sinistris.

34 τότε ἐρεῖ ὁ βασιλεὺς τοῖς ἐκ δεξιῶν αὐτοῦ, Δεῦτε, οἱ εὐλογημένοι τοῦ πατρός μου, κληρονομήσατε τὴν ἡτοιμασμένην ὑμῖν βασιλείαν ἀπὸ καταβολῆς κόσμου:

35 ἐπείνασα γὰρ καὶ ἐδώκατέ μοι φαγεῖν, ἐδίψησα καὶ ἐποτίσατέ με, ξένος ἤμην καὶ συνηγάγετέ με,

36 γυμνὸς καὶπεριεβάλετέ με, ἠσθένησα καὶ ἐπεσκέψασθέ με, ἐν φυλακῇ ἤμην καὶ ἤλθατε πρός με.

“Then the king will say to those on his right, ‘Follow, ones blessed of my father. You will inherit the kingdom having been prepared for your from the foundation of the cosmos. (35) For I hungered and you gave me to eat, I thirsted and you gave me to drink, a stranger and you led me together, naked, you clothed me, sick and you visited me, in prison and you came to me. 

The first thing to note is that the king is not the father. Now, the idea that a son should succeed to the kingdom of his father is hardly unusual; quite the opposite, in fact. But it shows, once again, a gradation in the relative powers of the two. The kingdom is of the father, not the son, regardless of who happens to be sitting on the throne at a particular moment. For example, it’s never referred to as “Solomon’s Kingdom”, but as that of David. The latter founded it, the former inherited it. Just so is the implication here. This is another indication of the gradation of the deity; Jesus is in some way inferior to the father. This is a holdover from Mark, and it’s also part of the original Jewish conception of the messiah: in Jewish tradition, the messiah was human. So we’re on the road to the apotheosis of Jesus, but the record still contains traces of the earlier attitudes.

Second, we have ordination from the foundation of the cosmos/universe; the word is also frequently translated as “world”. This is no more inaccurate than universe. In Greek, “kosmos” means “order”, or “organized”. So the kingdom has been set aside for those on the right from the time that the foundation of the current order was laid; this current order is opposed to the chaos that had come before. In some ways, this idea is more Greek than Hebrew; however, I don’t want to push this too hard because I don’t read Hebrew, so I can’t really say what the story of Genesis tells us. But this idea of creating an order from chaos is very Greek; while this idea is arguably implicit in Genesis, it’s very explicit in Greek myth.

Finally, just a couple of vocabulary notes. These are mostly fun facts to know & tell rather than anything really important for understanding the text. The word for naked is “gymnos”. You will recognize this as the root of “gym/gymnasium”. This is because the Greeks exercised naked. So, you went to the “place you get naked” to do your exercise. Second, the word that usually gets translated as “visited”, in “I was sick, and you visited me” is derived from the same root whence we get “bishop”. The idea is one of oversight, and not so much the sense of visiting the sick from compassion. Again, hardly a game-changer, but this is another one of those places where a particular translation has become standard, even if it isn’t really all that exact. But, it gets the point across. 

34 Tunc dicet Rex his, qui a dextris eius erunt: “Venite, benedicti Patris mei; possidete paratum vobis regnum a constitutione mundi.

35 Esurivi enim, et dedistis mihi manducare; sitivi, et dedistis mihi bibere; hospes eram, et collegistis me;

36 nudus, et operuistis me; infirmus, et visitastis me; in carcere eram, et venistis ad me”.

37 τότε ἀποκριθήσονται αὐτῷ οἱ δίκαιοι λέγοντες, Κύριε, πότε σε εἴδομεν πεινῶντα καὶ ἐθρέψαμεν, ἢ διψῶντα καὶ ἐποτίσαμεν;

38 πότε δέ σε εἴδομεν ξένον καὶ συνηγάγομεν, ἢ γυμνὸν καὶ περιεβάλομεν;

39 πότε δέ σε εἴδομεν ἀσθενοῦντα ἢ ἐν φυλακῇ καὶ ἤλθομεν πρός σε;

40 καὶ ἀποκριθεὶς ὁ βασιλεὺς ἐρεῖ αὐτοῖς, Ἀμὴν λέγω ὑμῖν, ἐφ’ ὅσον ἐποιήσατε ἑνὶ τούτων τῶν ἀδελφῶν μου τῶν ἐλαχίστων, ἐμοὶ ἐποιήσατε.

“Then the just will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungering and feed you, or thirsting and giving you drink? (38) When did we see you sick, or in prison, and come to you?’ (40) And answering the king will say to then, ‘Amen I say to you, upon whenever one of the least of my brothers you did (it) for me’.

Along with the Beatitudes and Paul’s description of love, this story is justifiably one of the most beautiful and meaningful stories in the NT. It also, I believe, demonstrates an attitude markedly different from what had come before. This attitude is not exactly novel; it builds upon the Jewish tradition of social responsibility for the lesser of society, and maybe borrows a bit from the Stoic idea of universal siblinghood. (Thought perhaps I’d coined that term, but it’s in Google.) Now that I’ve had a chance to think about it, perhaps it’s not the thought or the idea that’s so novel, but it’s the level of emphasis this attitude receives with the NT. It’s been very interesting to note how vague the NT writers are with ideas like salvation, the soul, and eternal life. Of course the big one here is whether–and in what way–Jesus was divine.

In the same way, thinking about the Hebrew Scriptures, the message of social justice is not the one that comes to mind first and foremost. I mean, there’s not much about social justice when Moses is parting the Red Sea, or Joshua is bringing down the walls of Jericho, or Daniel is in the lion’s den. But this is the problem with only really being familiar with the highlights of HS. One misses the message of Ezra and some of the others (which I cannot name off the top of my head). The point is that the innovation of Jesus and his followers was the emphasis put on social justice, and I think the emphasis point on social justice towards individuals. I really hate getting all general here, but there is a sense in which Judaism is more about the collective than the individual; they are the Chosen People, but Jesus talks about chosen individuals. Honestly, though, I don’t think this was a big part of Jesus’ message; rather, I would suggest that it’s something that came about later, as the number of pagans grew in the various communities. There had to be a de-emphasis on the collective idea of a chosen people in favour of a creed that embraces individuals regardless of national or religious origin since this was the direction the proto-church was heading. Paul led the way, with there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave or free, etc. Here, I think we’re seeing the full assimilation of that attitude into the “mainstream” of the Christian communities. At least one of them, that of Matthew, anyway.

One implication of this, of course, is that this was not necessarily part of Jesus’ original message. That thought is probably disconcerting to a lot of Christians; and it should be. In support of this, it needs to be pointed out that this “for the least of my brothers” is not in Mark; nor is it in Luke. This latter means that it cannot have been part of Q, even if this unicorn of a document had ever actually existed. So it comes down to Matthew, and Matthew alone. Of course it’s possible that Matthew had a source that traced to Jesus on this while bypassing Mark. There is nothing remarkable about this, because that’s the definition of Q, except that Q managed to survive to reach Luke before disappearing without a trace. Really, it comes down to deciding whether this source of M material is a more likely explanation than the possibility that Matthew invented material on his own. That it bypassed Mark isn’t too hard to get around; in fact, the existence of separate threads of tradition, mutually unknown to each other in the early days, is more likely than not, IMO.

But the fact remains that this is the sort of idea that probably makes more sense in the post-diaspora world than it does in the days of Jesus. After all, Jesus did not spend a lot of time worrying about non-Jews. Of course, evaluating this perspective depends on the degree to which you see this as directed to non-Jews. There is no reason it has to be, but I believe it makes more sense in that context. As the horizons of the new movement expanded to include more non-Jews, eventually becoming a movement of mostly non-Jews, breaking down the connection to Israel while building up the connection to preferred behaviours–peacemakers, the meek–emphasizing the least of my siblings–makes an increasing amount of sense. The message becomes more tailored to an unspecific audience, people who act a certain way, rather than people united only by common descent.

37 Tunc respondebunt ei iusti dicentes: “Domine, quando te vidimus esurientem et pavimus, aut sitientem et dedimus tibi potum?

38 Quando autem te vidimus hospitem et collegimus, aut nudum et cooperuimus?

39 Quando autem te vidimus infirmum aut in carcere et venimus ad te?”.

40 Et respondens Rex dicet illis: “Amen dico vobis: Quamdiu fecistis uni de his fratribus meis minimis, mihi fecistis”.

41 Τότε ἐρεῖ καὶ τοῖς ἐξ εὐωνύμων, Πορεύεσθε ἀπ’ ἐμοῦ [οἱ] κατηραμένοι εἰς τὸ πῦρ τὸ αἰώνιον τὸ ἡτοιμασμένον τῷ διαβόλῳκαὶ τοῖς ἀγγέλοις αὐτοῦ:

42 ἐπείνασα γὰρ καὶ οὐκ ἐδώκατέ μοι φαγεῖν, ἐδίψησα καὶ οὐκ ἐποτίσατέ με,

43 ξένος ἤμην καὶ οὐ συνηγάγετέ με, γυμνὸς καὶ οὐ περιεβάλετέ με, ἀσθενὴς καὶ ἐν φυλακῇ καὶ οὐκ ἐπεσκέψασθέ με.

44 τότε ἀποκριθήσονται καὶ αὐτοὶ λέγοντες, Κύριε, πότε σε εἴδομεν πεινῶντα ἢ διψῶντα ἢ ξένον ἢ γυμνὸν ἢ ἀσθενῆ ἢ ἐν φυλακῇ καὶ οὐ διηκονήσαμέν σοι;

45 τότε ἀποκριθήσεται αὐτοῖς λέγων, Ἀμὴν λέγω ὑμῖν, ἐφ’ ὅσον οὐκ ἐποιήσατε ἑνὶ τούτων τῶν ἐλαχίστων, οὐδὲ ἐμοὶ ἐποιήσατε.

46 καὶ ἀπελεύσονται οὗτοι εἰς κόλασιν αἰώνιον, οἱ δὲ δίκαιοι εἰς ζωὴν αἰώνιον.

“And then to those on the left, ‘Go away from me, those having been accursed, to the eternal fire that has been prepared for the devil and his angels. (42) For I hungered, and you did not give me to eat, I thirsted and you did not give me to drink. (43) I was a stranger among you and you did not gather me in, naked and you did not clothe me, sick or in prison and you did not come to look in upon me’. (44) Then they will answer saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungering or thirsting or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison and we did not minister to you?’ (45) Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Amen I say to you, upon so much you did not do for one of the least, you did not do for me’. And they will be destroyed in the eternal punishment, but the just (will go) to life eternal.”  

Well, if the kingdom has been prepared for the just since the foundation of the universe, then it stands to reason that the fire has been as well. Or has it? This was prepared, supposedly, for the devil and his angels, but that rebellion did not take place until…when?

This is what happens when stories grow. They start to lost internal consistency. This is exactly what happens when people lie to cover up either a high crime or a misdemeanor: if the lie can be a one-and-done, then it’s easy enough. Yes, I took out the garbage. But in the case of a complex situation, the lie often has to be elaborated. Then what happens is that the liar has to create other lies to explain the first, and then additional ones to bridge the gaps, until he or she creates a flat contradiction. This is the stuff of detective fiction. And, after all, what is a lie but a piece of fiction, or a story. The first story, “let there be light” is simple enough. But where in there is the rebellion of Lucifer? If Lucifer = Satan, then he existed prior to creation, because he was there to tempt Adam & Eve. But when? Before the creation, or just before the creation of the world? But–never mind. The point is that, if God created the kingdom for the just, that was because God realized that this kingdom would be necessary, because there would be people, and some of them would be just, and so they would need to be rewarded. So, if God understood that, surely God also knew that there would be unjust, and would have known that some of the angels would rebel, which means that both the kingdom and the eternal fire were created from before the beginning. Since God created these creatures knowing that they would warrant damnation, we have a perfect case for Double Predestination: creatures created knowing that they would be damned. It took until the time of Calvin for his interpretation to be widely accepted.

But that’s all very fine and theological. The important part of this, the lesson that needs to be learned here is that we have a very explicit statement of the reward and punishment theme that is so very central to Christian belief. Is it the central tenet? Or would that be the Resurrection? Probably the latter, because the reward and punishment depends to some degree on the Resurrection having occurred, since this was the event that ended death, and made life eternal both possible and real. You may recall from the essay on Josephus, that this idea of reward and punishment was not exactly Jewish; rather, Josephus–who, recall, was Jewish–credited this belief to the Greeks, that they were the ones who conceived this idea. This makes sense since the idea of an immortal soul is Greek rather than Jewish. 

Given this, it is sorely tempting to seize on this as an “aha!” moment. As in, “I told that Matthew was a pagan, and Aha!, it is he who makes the most explicit case for the binary choice of reward and punishment. This would be to overstate the case. The truth of the matter is that, as I write this, I’m not at all certain that neither Paul nor Mark said something just as definitive. This is the sort of thing that requires a bunch of textual comparison, to see when ideas appear and how they develop over time. This may be no more than a terminus ante quem, the stake in the ground showing that the idea of reward and punishment has been established at this point, and that the reading of anything written after this has to be done with the reward/punishment motif as a datum, a given, something that has to be read into whatever else Luke or John or the later writers of epistles will say. In and of itself, that is important. Such markers are necessary if we’re really going to analyze this text in the way it needs to be done: as a progression, rather than as a number of different writers all explaining the same set of ideas, a set that was fixed before any of them started to write. One hopes that, by now, we all realize that we simply cannot read the NT like that. It was not, or it did not start as a set of fixed ideas, but ideas that were in flux, and that only became settled as time progressed, said progression continuing to occur for several centuries–or more–after the last bit of the NT was written.

The proof of that is the idea of Double Predestination. It’s pretty much here, if you have any feel for, or sense of how theological or philosophical argumentation and interpretation operate. The logic of this passage is pretty much inescapable, no less so for not being completely explicit. But a millennium and a half would elapse before Calvin made it stick. There were trial runs before Calvin, but The Church was, prior to that, always able to squelch them. Even now, I have a sense that this idea of Double Predestination is not exactly the central theme of any denomination descended from Calvinism. It doesn’t suit us, it undermines free will, it is remarkably similar to the pagan idea of ineluctable fate. Is that another clue that Matthew was a pagan, someone who had grown up with this idea in his mind, a buried assumption? Perhaps. But in the realm of argument for and against Predestination, Romans looms large. No real conversation on this topic can be held until we have considered Romans in detail and in its entirety. 

41 Tunc dicet et his, qui a sinistris erunt: “Discedite a me, maledicti, in ignem aeternum, qui praeparatus est Diabolo et angelis eius.

42 Esurivi enim, et non dedistis mihi manducare; sitivi, et non dedistis mihi potum;

43 hospes eram, et non collegistis me; nudus, et non operuistis me; infirmus et in carcere, et non visitastis me”.

44 Tunc respondebunt et ipsi dicentes: “Domine, quando te vidimus esurientem aut sitientem aut hospitem aut nudum aut infirmum vel in carcere et non ministravimus tibi?”.

45 Tunc respondebit illis dicens: “Amen dico vobis: Quamdiu non fecistis uni de minimis his, nec mihi fecistis”.

46 Et ibunt hi in supplicium aeternum, iusti autem in vitam aeternam ”.