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 ”.

 

Ch 24

 

1 Et egressus Iesus de templo ibat, et accesserunt discipuli eius, ut ostenderent ei aedificationes templi;

2 ipse autem respondens dixit eis: “ Non videtis haec omnia? Amen dico vobis: Non relinquetur hic lapis super lapidem, qui non destruetur ”.

 

Matthew Chapter 25:14-30

Here we have the famous Parable of the Talents. This was not in Mark, but it is in Luke, but I’m not sure it was supposedly in Q. The section before and this next section are still actually the continuation of Chapter 24. Jesus is talking about the coming judgement. There are aspects to the composition (no doubt the “masterful” composition) that are interesting about this, but they are best left to the summary. Once again the message is fairly plain, and the text is very known. I expect a minimum of comment on this.

14 Ὥσπερ γὰρ ἄνθρωπος ἀποδημῶν ἐκάλεσεν τοὺς ἰδίους δούλους καὶ παρέδωκεν αὐτοῖς τὰ ὑπάρχοντα αὐτοῦ,

15 καὶ ᾧ μὲν ἔδωκεν πέντε τάλαντα, ᾧ δὲ δύο, ᾧ δὲ ἕν, ἑκάστῳ κατὰ τὴν ἰδίαν δύναμιν, καὶ ἀπεδήμησεν. εὐθέως

16 πορευθεὶς ὁ τὰ πέντε τάλαντα λαβὼν ἠργάσατο ἐν αὐτοῖς καὶ ἐκέρδησεν ἄλλα πέντε:

17 ὡσαύτως ὁ τὰ δύο ἐκέρδησεν ἄλλα δύο.

18 ὁ δὲ τὸ ἓν λαβὼν ἀπελθὼν ὤρυξεν γῆν καὶ ἔκρυψεν τὸ ἀργύριον τοῦ κυρίου αὐτοῦ.

“For {the kingdom} even as a man journeying away from home called his private slaves and gave to them the goods of him. (15) And to one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one, each according to his particular ability, and he went away. In the meantime, (16) the one with five talents, going out, working among them (putting them to work), and he earned five more. (17) And in the same way the he {with two} earned two more. But he with one, taking it (and) going away he dug the earth and hid the silver of his lord.

To me, the most striking aspect of this is the capitalistic sensibility displayed. The verb used of the first is that he put the talents “to work”. If that’s not capitalism, I don’t know what is, or what it is. Very enterprising slaves, these.

A word on ancient slavery. By no means do I want to soft-peddle it. Slavery is slavery, but the application of it can be very different. A certain number were given virtual death sentences by sending them to work in mines. OTOH, a certain number of slaves were very much part of the grand scheme of the master’s house. So the notion that these slaves should be so diligent about the master’s property need not be surprising. After all, the master entrusted a lot of money to his slaves.

Finally, there is the theological import. Perhaps we usually hear Luke’s version of this, for two reasons. I am used to hearing that the distribution was 10/5/1. And I am not used to hearing the line about “each according to his abilities”. That radically changes the whole sense of the story. Revelation: I pulled out my trusty Harmony of the Bible and was presented with a mild shock. Unless I’m totally misusing that volume–which is far from impossible–there is no corresponding version of this story in Luke; rather this is a “Matthew only” story. So the “to each per his/her own abilities” is integral to the story, which effectively reinforces the idea of the kingdom being a reward, while punishment is earned  & deserved.

14 Sicut enim homo peregre proficiscens vocavit servos suos et tradidit illis bona sua.

15 Et uni dedit quinque talenta, alii autem duo, alii vero unum, unicuique secundum propriam virtutem, et profectus est. Statim

16 abiit, qui quinque talenta acceperat, et operatus est in eis et lucratus est alia quinque;

17 similiter qui duo acceperat, lucratus est alia duo.

19 μετὰ δὲ πολὺν χρόνον ἔρχεται ὁ κύριος τῶν δούλων ἐκείνων καὶ συναίρει λόγον μετ’ αὐτῶν.

20 καὶ προσελθὼν ὁ τὰ πέντε τάλαντα λαβὼν προσήνεγκεν ἄλλα πέντε τάλαντα λέγων, Κύριε, πέντε τάλαντά μοι παρέδωκας: ἴδε ἄλλα πέντε τάλαντα ἐκέρδησα.

21 ἔφη αὐτῷ ὁ κύριος αὐτοῦ, Εὖ, δοῦλε ἀγαθὲ καὶ πιστέ, ἐπὶ ὀλίγα ἦς πιστός, ἐπὶ πολλῶν σε καταστήσω: εἴσελθε εἰς τὴν χαρὰν τοῦ κυρίου σου.

22 προσελθὼν [δὲ] καὶ ὁ τὰ δύο τάλαντα εἶπεν, Κύριε, δύο τάλαντά μοι παρέδωκας: ἴδε ἄλλα δύο τάλαντα ἐκέρδησα.

23ἔφη αὐτῷ ὁ κύριος αὐτοῦ, Εὖ, δοῦλε ἀγαθὲ καὶ πιστέ, ἐπὶ ὀλίγα ἦς πιστός, ἐπὶ πολλῶν σε καταστήσω: εἴσελθε εἰς τὴν χαρὰν τοῦ κυρίου σου.

“After much time the master of those slaves came {back} and took up speech with them. (20) And coming forward the one receiving five talents brought forth the other five talents saying, ‘Lord, you handed over five talents to me. Behold another five talents that I have earned’. (21) And his master said to him, ‘Well {done}, good slave and faithful. Upon a little {you were} faithful, upon much I will place you. Therefore come into the delight of your lord’. (22)  And also coming forward he {given} the two said, ‘Lord, two talents you have given me. Behold the other two talents I have earned’. (23) He said to him [the slave], ‘Well done good and faithful servant, upon little faithful, upon much I will stand you. Therefore come into the delight of your lord’.

Just a few minor matters. I had been translating “kyrios” as “master”. That works, but “lord” is better. Not that it’s any more accurate, but because it has the double implication of an earthly AND a heavenly lord. The Jews often referred to God as “lord” (Adonnai, IIRC?) in order to circumvent the need to use the word “God” or YHWH.

Second, the expression<<δοῦλε ἀγαθὲ καὶ πιστέ >> is in the vocative case. This is reserved for direct address, when speaking directly to someone. As such, it does not get a lot of use in historical, or expository writing; it’s much more common in poetry (O Nightingale) or prayer (O Zeus), or even drama. In works such as the NT, where there is no direct dialogue. Pater Noster, and its Greek equivalent are technically in the vocative, but for the word “father” in both languages the vocative and the nominative case have the same ending. Words ending in -us (Latin) or -os (Greek) generally have a distinctive ending for the vocative.

“Come into the delight of your lord” is rather an interesting phrase, and concept. The KJV and others give this as “enter into the joy of your lord”, and that may have a more natural sense in English. The NIV provides “come share in the joy”, which sort of gets the message across, but is dead wrong as far as the Greek goes. Regardless, the implication is pretty straightforward, that the servants are to be rewarded. More, the proper inference is that they will be rewarded eternally, in the joy of the kingdom.

18 Qui autem unum acceperat, abiens fodit in terra et abscondit pecuniam domini sui.

19 Post multum vero temporis venit dominus servorum illorum et ponit rationem cum eis.

20 Et accedens, qui quinque talenta acceperat, obtulit alia quinque talenta dicens: “Domine, quinque talenta tradidisti mihi; ecce alia quinque superlucratus sum”.

21 Ait illi dominus eius: “Euge, serve bone et fidelis. Super pauca fuisti fidelis; supra multa te constituam: intra in gaudium domini tui”.

22 Accessit autem et qui duo talenta acceperat, et ait: “Domine, duo talenta tradidisti mihi; ecce alia duo lucratus sum”.

23 Ait illi dominus eius: “Euge, serve bone et fidelis. Super pauca fuisti fidelis; supra multa te constituam: intra in gaudium domini tui”.

24 προσελθὼν δὲ καὶ ὁ τὸ ἓν τάλαντον εἰληφὼς εἶπεν, Κύριε, ἔγνων σε ὅτι σκληρὸς εἶ ἄνθρωπος, θερίζων ὅπου οὐκ ἔσπειρας καὶ συνάγων ὅθεν οὐ διεσκόρπισας:

25 καὶ φοβηθεὶς ἀπελθὼν ἔκρυψα τὸ τάλαντόν σου ἐν τῇ γῇ: ἴδε ἔχεις τὸ σόν.

26 ἀποκριθεὶς δὲ ὁ κύριος αὐτοῦ εἶπεν αὐτῷ, Πονηρὲ δοῦλε καὶ ὀκνηρέ, ᾔδεις ὅτι θερίζω ὅπου οὐκ ἔσπειρα καὶ συνάγω ὅθεν οὐ διεσκόρπισα;

27 ἔδει σε οὖν βαλεῖν τὰ ἀργύριά μου τοῖς τραπεζίταις, καὶ ἐλθὼν ἐγὼ ἐκομισάμην ἂν τὸ ἐμὸν σὺν τόκῳ.

28 ἄρατε οὖν ἀπ’ αὐτοῦ τὸ τάλαντον καὶ δότε τῷ ἔχοντι τὰ δέκα τάλαντα:  

29 τῷ γὰρ ἔχοντι παντὶ δοθήσεται καὶ περισσευθήσεται: τοῦ δὲ μὴ ἔχοντος καὶ ὃ ἔχει ἀρθήσεται ἀπ’ αὐτοῦ.

30 καὶ τὸν ἀχρεῖον δοῦλον ἐκβάλετε εἰς τὸ σκότος τὸ ἐξώτερον: ἐκεῖ ἔσται ὁ κλαυθμὸς καὶ ὁ βρυγμὸς τῶν ὀδόντων.

Coming forward, also he having received one talent said,  ‘Lord, I know that you are a hard man, reaping where  you do not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter. (25) And I being afraid went out and hid your talent in the ground. Look, you have what is yours’. (26) Answering the lord said to him, ‘Wicked slave and slothful, you knew that I reap where I do not sow, and gather where I do not reap. (27) So you ought have thrown my money to the exchangers (money changers), and coming I carried off what was mine plus growth (i.e., usury = interest; lit =  birth). (28) Take from him the talent and give it to the one having ten talents. (29) For to him has all been given and he has reproduced abundance. From him not having and what he has will be taken. (30) And the useless slave throw him into the darkness outside. There will be the wailing and gnashing of teeth’.”

What was I saying about capitalism? There is something extremely harsh about all of this. Yes, it’s metaphorical, and yes, it’s meant to instill a bit of fear, but this sounds so much like the modern business world that it’s a bit scary. The slave with one talent did nothing wrong; he did not squander the money, nor lose it, nor do anything disreputable with the money. He kept it safe. No more, but no less. But this was not enough for the greedy lord. He wanted return, and not only a return, but a doubling of his money. That is a pretty harsh demand, and a very high expectation. And it’s not simply that the slothful slave is not rewarded; he’s actively punished. This feels like Jack Welch’s “Up or Out” system of review during his tenure at GE. An employee was either worthy of advancement (up), or he was fired (out). And they were pretty much always a ‘he’. Now, this was only for higher-level executives, but still, talk about a cutthroat atmosphere! So here it wasn’t that the slothful slave was able to work out his tenure doing his job; rather, he was fired. Think about this, and then think about the message of the Prodigal Son. Could they be more diametrically opposed? There the son did squander the money and engage in riotous living. 

But the truly grinding part of this is the message: he who has nothing/little, even that will be taken away. Wow. At least the contrapositive of this is not added: that to him who has, even more will be given. Of course, that is exactly what happened. The one with the most got more. And it’s not like the second didn’t provide an equal return; he did. Both earned a gain of 100%. And it’s arguable that the second had to work harder, because the more you have in principle to start with, usually you can earn a higher return. So I would have given it to the one who started with two. Regardless, the message here is that the rich get richer, even if it’s not stated explicitly. Of course, the “gains” being discussed are meant to be spiritual, but that is not what is said. I don’t honestly know if this happened, but I can certainly imagine the good Puritans using this story to justify a lot of sharp business practices, to justify chasing after money and serving Mammon rather than God. I know there was a long-lived debate about whether it was acceptable to lend money at interest, the Church being generally opposed. The solution was for Jews to act as money lenders, then bankers. Neither side was terribly concerned about the prospects for eternity of the other, so it was not considered sinful. IIRC, the Rothschilds originally made their money as bankers.

Yes, again I understand that there is a didactic point being made here: make use of your talents. (BTW: the word in Greek transliterates to ‘talenta’.) If you do not, you will be punished. Presumably the “return” you are to make is to bring others into the community? That is not completely clear, but it seems a reasonable inference. Regardless, the real and true purpose of this story is to light a fire under believers, to get them to appreciate the need to get up and hustle for your salvation, that you cannot be complacent or just nurture what you have. Rather, you have to be active in seeking your salvation. So I think the existence of this story indicates a situation in which the literal coming of the kingdom was seeming a bit less likely, leading to a “why bother” sort of mentality. Hence the reference to Noah.

So I think it’s safe to infer that, with this gospel, we are at a point when the Parousia seems a little less imminent, the kingdom perhaps seems a little less nigh. I don’t think we’ve quite turned the corner into John, when the idea of the Second Coming has truly receded, but the first steps along that path have been taken. Indeed, perhaps we’ve taken the second and third sets of steps on that path. It is interesting to not that the concept of a “Parousia” (which should be ‘parousia’) has been coined, leading to it being referred to as a noun unto itself. It is the parousia now, even if the word is never used by Luke, and only shows up in some of the epistles. That Matthew labels it as a something, I believe, tells us that he saw it as necessary, or at least important, to establish–or re-emphasize, perhaps–this as an idea, to remind the community of the faithful that it was going to happen. the next step on this process, I believe, will be to equate one’s personal death with Judgement Day. That will not happen within the context of the NT.

24 Accedens autem et qui unum talentum acceperat, ait: “Domine, novi te quia homo durus es: metis, ubi non seminasti, et congregas, ubi non sparsisti;

25 et timens abii et abscondi talentum tuum in terra. Ecce habes, quod tuum est”.

26 Respondens autem dominus eius dixit ei: “Serve male et piger! Sciebas quia meto, ubi non seminavi, et congrego, ubi non sparsi?

27 Oportuit ergo te mittere pecuniam meam nummulariis, et veniens ego recepissem, quod meum est cum usura.

28 Tollite itaque ab eo talentum et date ei, qui habet decem talenta:

29 omni enim habenti dabitur, et abundabit; ei autem, qui non habet, et quod habet, auferetur ab eo.

30 Et inutilem servum eicite in tenebras exteriores: illic erit fletus et stridor dentium”.

Matthew Chapter 25:1-13

We have reached the antepenultimate chapter of the gospel. The term is used most frequently to describe the sequence of syllables in a word, starting with the last, the ultimate. This is preceded by the penultimate, the last but one; this is preceded by the antepenultimate, or last but two. For example, in French, the accent of a word often falls on the ultimate syllable; in Spanish, on the penultimate. Latin is the same (mostly), so long as the penultimate syllable has a long vowel; otherwise, the accent migrates back to the antepenultimate. Of course these words are a bit, oh, pretentious, but I find them very useful.

This first section is the parable of the Ten Virgins. As such, there may not be much comment required in the body of the parable; indeed, there may not be much to say about the whole thing. This section is actually a continuation of Chapter 24, following the wicked slave being cast out to a place where there is wailing and gnashing of teeth. Jesus is still speaking.

Τότε ὁμοιωθήσεται ἡ βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν δέκα παρθένοις, αἵτινες λαβοῦσαι τὰς λαμπάδας ἑαυτῶν ἐξῆλθον εἰς ὑπάντησιν τοῦ νυμφίου.

πέντε δὲ ἐξ αὐτῶν ἦσαν μωραὶ καὶ πέντε φρόνιμοι.

αἱ γὰρ μωραὶ λαβοῦσαι τὰς λαμπάδας αὐτῶν οὐκ ἔλαβον μεθ’ ἑαυτῶν ἔλαιον:

αἱ δὲ φρόνιμοι ἔλαβον ἔλαιον ἐν τοῖς ἀγγείοις μετὰ τῶν λαμπάδων ἑαυτῶν.

“Then the kingdom of the heavens is likened to ten virgins, who taking their lamps go out to meet the bridegroom. (2) Five of them were foolish and five were thoughtful. (3) For the foolish ones brought their lamps but did not take with them oil. (4) But the thoughtful ones tool oil in their vessels with their lamps.

This pretty much speaks for itself. There is no deep, hidden meaning. Recall that it comes on the heels of the precautionary tale to be like the faithful servant and to be watchful. So we have the ready-made comparison between the foolish and the thoughtful. Honestly, the most remarkable thing about this is that they were virgins. However, that is really a bit of an over-translation. It catches our eye because it has some titillating connotations in English. Were we to render this as “ten maidens”, it wouldn’t quite give us the same pause, despite the fact that they have the same implication. After all, one’s “maiden name” is the name one had before getting married; that is, when one is a virgin. I just wonder how differently Christian theology would have developed had that line in Isaiah been translated as “and the young girl shall give birth…”

My suspicion is that this term is used to signify that these were genuinely the lower tier of slaves. They were simply young girls, perhaps what we now call tweens, girls who have not quite hit puberty. It would be before that because puberty is when girls usually got married. The point being, this task of going out to meet the bridegroom was given to them as a very straightforward task, one that a junior member of the household staff could be expected to carry out. The other point is that, even at this young age, we already have a division taking place: already some have the perspicacity and the foresight to plan ahead, to be prepared, just in case. The others…not so much.

1 Tunc simile erit regnum cae lorum decem virginibus, quae accipientes lampades suas exierunt obviam sponso.

2 Quinque autem ex eis erant fatuae, et quinque prudentes.

3 Fatuae enim, acceptis lampadibus suis, non sumpserunt oleum secum;

4 prudentes vero acceperunt oleum in vasis cum lampadibus suis.

χρονίζοντος δὲ τοῦ νυμφίου ἐνύσταξαν πᾶσαι καὶ ἐκάθευδον.

μέσης δὲ νυκτὸς κραυγὴ γέγονεν, Ἰδοὺ ὁ νυμφίος, ἐξέρχεσθε εἰς ἀπάντησιν [αὐτοῦ].

“The bridegroom having been delayed, it became night and all fell asleep. (6) In the middle of the night the cry went up, ‘There is the bridegroom, let us go to him all [of his {slaves, understood}] 

One quick note: the first word, rendered as “delayed” was also used in the story of the faithful & wicked slave. This is not a terribly common word, so its repetition in such quick succession would very effectively tie the two stories together. Of course, “falling asleep” is the metaphor for the times in which Matthew was writing; no doubt the idea of the coming of the son of man had lost some of its fervor over the past few years, and may have been less than zealous among pagans from the start. So it became necessary to come up with allegorical warnings like these two stories like the two presented here to create a sense of urgency among the faithful.

5 Moram autem faciente sponso, dormitaverunt omnes et dormierunt.

6 Media autem nocte clamor factus est: “Ecce sponsus! Exite obviam ei”.

τότε ἠγέρθησαν πᾶσαι αἱ παρθένοι ἐκεῖναι καὶ ἐκόσμησαν τὰς λαμπάδας ἑαυτῶν.

αἱ δὲ μωραὶ ταῖς φρονίμοις εἶπαν, Δότε ἡμῖν ἐκ τοῦ ἐλαίου ὑμῶν, ὅτι αἱ λαμπάδες ἡμῶν σβέννυνται.

9 ἀπεκρίθησαν δὲ αἱ φρόνιμοι λέγουσαι, Μήποτε οὐ μὴ ἀρκέσῃ ἡμῖν καὶ ὑμῖν: πορεύεσθε μᾶλλον πρὸς τοὺς πωλοῦντας καὶ ἀγοράσατε ἑαυταῖς.

“Then all the maidens rose and made ready their lamps. (8) The foolish ones said to the thoughtful ones, ‘Give us from your oil, that our lamps are going out’. (9) Answering the thoughtful ones said, ‘Never will there suffice for us and you. Better you go to the sellers and buy your own’.

I always wondered how many lamp-oil emporia were open at midnight in First Century Galilee. Maybe that’s when they did most of their trade, at night, when people realized they were running low.

Aside from that rather trivial notion, there is a level of apparent selfishness here that has also always bothered me. Now I get that it’s an analogy, or a parable, or whatever, that’s meant to convey a lesson, but the “I got mine, you get yours” aspect is there and it’s pretty sharp.

7 Tunc surrexerunt omnes virgines illae et ornaverunt lampades suas.

8 Fatuae autem sapientibus dixerunt: “Date nobis de oleo vestro, quia lampades nostrae exstinguuntur”.

9 Responderunt prudentes dicentes: “Ne forte non sufficiat nobis et vobis, ite potius ad vendentes et emite vobis”.

10 ἀπερχομένων δὲ αὐτῶν ἀγοράσαι ἦλθεν ὁ νυμφίος, καὶ αἱ ἕτοιμοι εἰσῆλθον μετ’ αὐτοῦ εἰς τοὺς γάμους, καὶ ἐκλείσθη ἡ θύρα.

11 ὕστερον δὲ ἔρχονται καὶ αἱ λοιπαὶ παρθένοι λέγουσαι, Κύριε κύριε, ἄνοιξον ἡμῖν.

12 ὁ δὲ ἀποκριθεὶς εἶπεν, Ἀμὴν λέγω ὑμῖν, οὐκ οἶδα ὑμᾶς.

13 Γρηγορεῖτε οὖν, ὅτι οὐκ οἴδατε τὴν ἡμέραν οὐδὲ τὴν ὥραν.

“They having gone out to purchase the bridegroom arrived, and those ready went out with him to the marriage, and the door was closed. (11) Later the rest of the maidens came and said, ‘Lord, lord, open for us.’ (12) He, answering, said ‘Amen I say to you, I do not know you’. So be watchful, since you do not know the day nor the hour”.

Again, this doesn’t need a whole lot of exposition. It’s all pretty straightforward. It’s a parable to illustrate the need to be prepared, to keep yourself prepared because it could be any day, or any moment. Back in Grade 4 or 5, one of the nuns told us that, when we die individually, since our souls are eternal, we are no longer bound by time. As such, the day we die we join in the overall Judgement Day, the time of final judgement foretold in Revelations. So, while I’m sure that these early Christians meant “day of the lord” in its very literal sense, it could also be taken as a metaphor for our own individual death. At this point in the history of the church I don’t think that was how it was intended, but it’s an example of how Christianity works very well on a symbolic level as well.

10 Dum autem irent emere, venit sponsus, et quae paratae erant, intraverunt cum eo ad nuptias; et clausa est ianua.

11 Novissime autem veniunt et reliquae virgines dicentes: “Domine, domine, aperi nobis”.

12 At ille respondens ait: “Amen dico vobis: Nescio vos”.

13 Vigilate itaque, quia nescitis diem neque horam.

Summary Matthew Chapter 24

The intent was to compare and contrast Matthew 24 with Mark 13 in order to see what had changed in the interim. Then, we’d examine the changes for a theme, and develop a theory for why the changes had occurred, and then use this to explain developments in the beliefs of the followers of Jesus. One problem: the two chapters are virtually identical. I could copy & paste the Summary of Mark 13, make some very minor changes, and then call it a day. Tempted as I might be, we’ll try a different approach.

There are some minor differences. In Mark, Jesus explains the signs to Peter, James, and John; in Matthew, he tells all the disciples. Speaking of temptation, it is very tempting to see this as perhaps more significant than it may be. One of my contentions is that Jesus did not have an inner circle of Twelve; I suspect that was implemented by James, on very little evidence whatsoever. In Mark, Jesus seems to have five chief followers: the three just named, Peter’s brother Andrew, and Judas who betrayed him. And note that Judas is not mentioned until the very end, and the rest of the Twelve, Matthias and Phillip and whatever the rest of them were named are exactly that: named. The term is more common in Matthew, but written later we would expect that. In Mark, the term really does not become lodged in the vocabulary until the Passion story, when it’s used instead of disciples. There is a body of opinion that believes the Passion story had a separate genesis from the gospel itself. It’s possible that the creators of this narrative were familiar with a tradition of the Twelve, where the rest of the stories Mark accumulated were from a different (set of) tradition(s).

This has an interesting implication. If the Twelve are in the Passion narrative, and the Twelve are part of the James tradition, does that mean, or possibly imply, that the Passion narrative came from James and his group? It’s possible, but not necessary. James is considered to represent the Jewish roots of Jesus’ teaching; that is certainly the impression Paul provides. As such, it seems unlikely that James would be the one to come up with the idea of blaming the Jewish authorities. With this, we have acknowledge that there is an opinion that the Passion narrative predates the rest of the gospel. It appears, however, that this opinion is under fire and does not command the respect that perhaps it once did. The other consideration is that it is, above all, the Passion story that attempts–almost desperately–to exonerate the Romans and place blame for Jesus’ execution on the Jews. As I have seen, this very, very clearly of a piece with Josephus’ attitudes in The Jewish War. This puts the composition of the Passion story after 70, after the destruction of the Temple, at the same time that Chapter 13 was composed.

Lately I have been toying with the idea that perhaps Mark was written both before and after 70. That is to say, Mark composed up to, say, Chapter 9 prior to the War, and then adding 10-15 after. The thing with this theory is that it’s entirely unnecessary. If you’ll recall, my analogy for Mark was that of a weaver, weaving the strands of different traditions into a single, unitary narrative. He would have, or could have done this starting in 67 (e.g.) and then completing it all after 70. Or, he could have written the whole thing after 70. I will maintain that the War and its consequent destruction of the Jerusalem assembly left a bit of a hole in the fabric of the Christian assemblies, which the composition of a written “good news” was intended to fill. The Jerusalem assembly may have been moribund in a real sense prior to the war, but the loss could still have had serious psychological impact. And it would have particularly benefitted any surviving members of the Jerusalem assembly to come up with a story that put distance between them and the rebel Jews. This could put Mark into the category of a refugee from the war; it’s an interesting theory, but there are apparently a few geographical mistakes which make it seem that Mark was not familiar with either Galilee or Judea or both. More likely, he got his story from a refugee. Perhaps even more likely is that he got the story from someone on the Roman side: the outline, but lacking in details. But then, Mark didn’t really need details; he only needed the outline. One thing I do find hard to credit is that Mark was a companion of Peter. How was it that Peter did not tell Mark about Jesus’ teachings? How did those end up in Q and not in Mark. Yes, explanations can be provided; the problem is, this requires further elaboration on the story. And, somewhat counterintuitively, the more complex the story, the less likely it is to be true. This is especially true for stories told a distance in either place or time. Here we have both.

One other minor difference between the two versions is that Matthew has the non-specific disciples specifically asking Jesus for the signs of his Parousia. Interesting to note that Matthew is the only evangelist to use this word; all other occurrences are in epistles, mostly in the three letters of Paul that we’ve read: 1 Thessalonians, Galatians, and 1 Corinthians. Matthew only uses the word four times, and they are all in this chapter. The first is in Verse 3, when the disciples ask for the signs; the other are in Verses 27, 37, and 39. All pertain to the Parousia of the son of man. Now, the significance of this is blunted to some extent. Mark certainly connects the horrors of those times with the coming of the son of man; it’s just that Mark does not use the term “parousia”. But he talks about the sun being blackened, the moon not giving light, & c. These two couplets are both from Isaiah, but they are from different parts of Isaiah, Chapters 13 & 34; however both are talking about the day of the lord, when he comes in anger, so the reference is appropriate.

Just a word about “parousia”. It’s another of those Greek words (like baptize) that has a special meaning in English that is completely absent in Greek. It simply means “presence”, or “arrival”, which we is probably how we should take it when used of the son of man. Now note that: it does not mean return. If Jesus is going to make a second coming, is going to arrive a second time, would it not be more appropriate to talk about his return? Is there a very subtle linguistic clue here? Of course, I just said that Mark does not use the word, even though Matthew does. Mark simply says the son of man is coming; again, a very neutral, ordinary verb. But he does not say that the son of man is returning, so I don’t think the use or non-use of this particular word is all that significant; it’s the idea of what it means that matters. There is nothing special about the word; in 1 Corinthians 16, Paul talks about the parousia, the arrival, of three assistants in Corinth, and there are a few other neutral uses of the word in the NT–almost all of them in epistles.

Rather, I would suspect that the non-use of the term is compatible with Paul’s non-use of the term “son of man”. Paul talks about the arrival of the lord; he does not talk about the return of Jesus. For, to Paul, Jesus the man was not returning; rather, the apotheosis of Jesus, as the lord, was to arrive. This could, perhaps, provide a clue about the son of man. If Mark is still reflecting the earlier belief that Jesus the man was not entirely divine, then this would explain why Mark has Jesus talk about the son of man in more-or-less third-person terms. Jesus is effectively saying that the son of man will come as prophesied in Daniel, with the implication that he is to be the son of man. In this way, the son of man both is and is not Jesus. Of course, this runs the risk of being overly complex, but it does provide some rationale for the ambivalence and ambiguity about Jesus’ divinity found in Mark.

Matthew, of course, has no such ambivalence. Jesus was divine from birth. That event was proclaimed even in the stars as seen by the magoi. This means Jesus was a figure of cosmic significance right from the start. And since Matthew alternates son of man with son of God, the identity of the two becomes clear.

One interesting omission from Mark involves the intimate nature of the coming tribulation. Matthew does not tell us that brother will betray brother, or that a father will betray his child. Rather, he adds the analogy to Noah, and tells us that of two women or two men, one will be taken and the other will not. This, I think, reflects the added distance from the war that Matthew had. Some of the grim details of civil war that were so important, perhaps because they were so fresh, to Mark have faded into the background for Matthew. So the latter omits the references to civil war, and adds references to an earlier apocalypse, that of Noah, and the more supernatural element of one being taken while the other is left.

Looking at the big picture, the changes from Mark are fairly minor, and largely can be described as tinkering about the edges. Matthew retains the main outline and major themes; he adjusts the focus a bit, making this a little less about an actual physical event and more about a cosmic event, but there is nothing terribly startling. This similarity indicates that the thought-world of the church had not moved too far between the times of the writings of these too gospels, but it had moved. The most telling difference, I think, is the addition of the parable of the faithful and wicked slaves. The time is still coming, the day of the lord approaches, but the exact timing is uncertain. Therefore, we need to be like the faithful servant: be ready, be watchful. Do not suppose like the wicked servant that the time has been delayed. Most likely this directly addressed a real situation among Christian communities. Paul expected it momentarily; but two generations have come and gone since then and there has been no coming. It is easy to see where this would make the followers of Jesus a bit concerned, leaving them perhaps a bit demoralized. To paraphrase Cicero, how long, o lord, must we endure? No doubt that was a difficult question for leaders of the various assemblies. This parable was added to address exactly this question.

Josephus: De Bello Judaico; On The War With The Jews

By delightful happenstance, my completion of reading On The Jewish War coincides very nicely with the completion of Matthew 24, which is the latter’s version of Mark 13. Both of these are apocalyptic writings; they talk about a period of enormous tribulation, followed by the coming of the son of man, and the establishment of the kingdom of God. For the most part, the chapters describe the end of human history. Maybe. Like so many other things in the NT and elsewhere, there is a wonderful miasma of ambiguity about what exactly is to happen, leaving many things open to interpretation. And this interpretation has been going on for the past 2,000 years.

Why is the happenstance so fortuitous? De Bello Judaico is the only surviving account of the revolt and war that ended with the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple. The latter was complete; the absolute destruction of Jerusalem would not occur until 132, when it was razed to the ground, a polis, a city on the Greek model, was planted there, and the name was changed. However, the destruction of both Jerusalem and the Temple that occurred in 70 CE was total enough. It was a cataclysmic event in Jewish history, but one not quite on the scale of the destruction of the first Temple, which resulted in the Babylonian captivity. That was the event that forged the national identity of the Jews, and saw the revision of any of the existing texts in the Hebrew Scriptures, and the writing of most of the rest of that book. The destruction in 70 was more dire than the final destruction in 132; the latter merely finished the job, as the Third Punic War removed Carthage from the map, but Carthage had been thoroughly destroyed, and had ceased to matter, at the conclusion of the Second Punic War in 202 BCE. Carthago delenda est.

Note the date: 70 CE. The destruction of the Temple, and the dispersal of the Assembly of Jesus in Jerusalem were the direct causes, I would argue, of Mark deciding to write a gospel. We have discussed Paul’s evidence that the proto-church was run by James, brother of Jesus. There is, IMO, no good reason, no reason with historical validity, to doubt this evidence. There is no reason for Paul to have invented this, and the method in which he conveys the information–in a letter to another assembly–is too casual to be the result of an effort to alter the record. This is not to say that Paul didn’t put his own slant on the events described; of course he did. Rather, it’s to say that the events described actually did happen, albeit perhaps not exactly as Paul tells us. All primary historical documents from the ancient world are like this.

James, the leader of the Jerusalem Assembly, reportedly died in the mid-60s CE. In another work of Josephus, The Antiquities of the Jews, we are told that James was executed ca 64 CE. There is reason not to take this completely at the word of the author. Unlike Galatians, there is reason to believe that the text of Josephus may have been doctored by later Christian copyists or editors. Regardless, by the mid-60s, most of the generation that had known Jesus personally would not have been young any longer. Even if Jesus were the older brother, there’s no reason James had to be much younger; a series of children a year or two apart was the norm for the time and place. So James would likely have been 60 at the very least, especially if Jesus had been born in the time of Herod the Great (d. 4 BCE) as Matthew tells us. Regardless, the historical record of the bulk of the NT gives the impression that the shift in emphasis from being a sect of Judaism to being a separate entity was more or less complete by the mid-60s. The sense is that the Assembly of Jerusalem was largely a moribund institution, and that the torch had been passed, perhaps to Rome. The death of James could easily have been a factor in this transition; the likelihood is that the various assemblies of former pagans–such as, but not limited to–those founded by Paul had shifted the weight of the movement out of Judea and Galilee. Thinking about it, I suspect that the transfer from Jerusalem had happened by the the time Mark wrote, but that Rome would be the eventual centre of the Church may not have become obvious until Luke wrote; and that may very well have been why Luke wrote his gospel, but more particularly Acts.

None of this, however, explains the connection between The Jewish War and Mark 13/Matthew 24. The Penguin edition I read was first published in 1959. In the Introduction, the translator goes out of his way to comment on whether Mk13/Mt24 recorded an actual prophecy, or if it were an after the fact description of what would happen based on what did happen. The translator favors the former; he is sure that it was a genuine prediction, contra what scholars of “the previous generation”–as he puts it–believed. For it has become standard scholarship to accept the predictions of Mk13/Mt24 as after the fact descriptions. I believe that, firmly. Some of that, of course, is the approach taken here: that, in historical writing, miracles and prophecies cannot be taken at face value; the former is a certainty, but the latter can bend because there are times when people predict things that do happen. Jeanne Dixon, the astrologer, made her name and fortune by correctly predicting the assassination of JFK. Whether the stars accurately told her this, or whether it was a lucky guess, or inference, doesn’t matter. She did it.

There are many aspects of standard scholarship that I do not accept. The existence of Q is believed by most people, most scholars, but I certainly don’t accept that. Why do I accept this and not that? It’s largely a matter of the detail involved. The words of Mk13/Mt24 are very specific, and very detailed. They do not sound like a prophecy. And now that I’ve read The Jewish War, I’m even more convinced of this than I was before. The horrors that Josephus describes are very similar to much of the content of the two chapters of the NT in question. In fact, some of the details are so close that I’m toying with a theory that Josephus read Mark. TJW was published in 75, so it’s not out of the question based on chronology. This would require that I posit the chain by which I explain how Josephus got the copy of Mark, and within the few years between the “publication” of Mark and the publication of TJW.

And honestly, just as it is not necessary for Q to exist, there is no reason to require that the similarities between Mark and TJW be based on direct textual dependency. Both Mark and Josephus wrote within a few years of the destruction of the Temple. This was an event of world-renowned proportions, something like the events of 9/11, but increased by several orders of magnitude. And Josephus did not need Mark; he was a direct participant in the events described, first on the side of the Jews, then, after turning traitor, on the side of the Romans. If there is any textual dependency, I would suspect it ran in the other direction: that Mark was aware of Josephus. However, that would push the writing of Mark after 75, and that just seems to be too late. It is possible, however, that Mark was revised after the publication of TJW, but that is creating bodies unnecessarily.

Rather, I suspect that the basic outline of the events of the War were simply very well known in the Eastern Mediterranean–or even beyond–within a very short period. The war lasted 3-4 years; the Jews held out for a good long time, much longer than the Gauls or Buodica. So there had been time enough for the situation to sink in to the consciousness of the Empire as a whole. By the time of the Destruction, knowledge, perhaps lacking in detail, of the war probably extended throughout the Western Empire as well. The point is that there would have been many people aware of the events, and from direct experience. Four legions participated, plus numerous Arab and Syrian auxiliaries, plus slaves, camp-followers, those who sold provisions, and so on; there were easily 10,000, if not 15,000 individuals who had first-hand accounts to tell. The general outline, as a result, was likely to be widely known by many, many people. And Mark could have been one of them. Tradition has him writing in Rome as an associate of Peter, but I doubt Peter made it to Rome, so it seems more likely that Mark was likely writing in the Eastern Mediterranean.

The descriptions of Josephus are horrible. They describe, sometimes in very graphic detail, the horrors of faction and famine that the Jews suffered, and they apparently suffered terribly. There is likely a degree of exaggeration in the descriptions, but even cutting by half would still provide an experience that was extremely horrific. (I can’t stop using variations of “horror” because nothing else seems close to adequate. Conrad put that particular word in Kurtz’ mouth for a reason.) I’ve used this before, but it bears repeating: the descriptions of Mk13/Mt24 truly seem to be blurbs written for the cover of TJW.

Perhaps the most devastating aspect of the war wasn’t what the Romans did to the Jews. Rather, it was what the Jews did to themselves. While the Romans were outside the walls, there were three factions inside that were fighting it out amongst themselves. Or, rather, there were two bandit groups duking it out between themselves, and the mass of the townspeople were victims of both. Again, if half of what Josephus is even anywhere close to true, the levels of murder and plunder and rapine inflicted on the townspeople were staggering. This is where, I suspect, some of the dire warnings were born: that there would be betrayal, and families set against each other, and lawlessness. These all happened, according to Josephus. Jesus warns of love growing cold; Josephus describes how the effects of hunger within the walls led to families turning on each other for scraps of food, not caring when a loved one died. And this could easily be what is meant by the one standing at the end will be saved; if you were able to weather all these tribulations, and only if, would your life be saved. This is not about eternal salvation in this use of “save”, but of simple physical survival. The verb “to save” in the NT, perhaps more often than not, refers to physical, rather than spiritual or eternal salvation. It’s all been spiritualized over the millennia, but erroneously so IMO.

Another interesting find in TJW is an echo of Jesus’ lamentation over Jerusalem. When the bandit leader John enters the city, exhorting all to put up resistance to Rome, the older, more sensible men begin to mourn the passing of Jerusalem as if it had already happened. This is an exact correlation to what we are told Jesus did. What this would indicate is that the theme of the lamentation entered popular consciousness to be picked up independently by Mark and by Josephus at different times. We also have the story of Niger, one of the respectable Jewish leaders. When the bandits took control of the city, they began to execute the reputable, the respected, the solid leaders of society. Niger had been more than a competent leader in the war so far, so he was targeted by the bandits. As he was being dragged off to execution, he laid a curse on the city of Jerusalem that included battle and slaughter and famine and disease and, ultimately the fight to the death among the Jews themselves. All of these, of course, happened, as Josephus points out. This is very similar in theme and content to Jesus’ prophecies.

So, in short, reading Josephus has left me more convinced than ever that the warnings of Jesus are descriptions of past events. The similarities are too clear.

Aside from that, there are several other aspects of the book that are worth noting. First and foremost, this is one of the most extreme examples of blaming the victim I have ever encountered. Especially after he changes sides, Josephus twists himself into very complex knots to paint the Jews as the real villains of this affair. In particular, Titus, the son of the new emperor Vespasian who had begun the war as the Roman general, is the model of perfection. Brave, effective, an unstoppable fighter, but above all compassionate, he and the bulk of the Roman army are disgusted by the fighting inside the walls, at the butchery of innocent people by the two groups of bandits, despairing that these bandits will not allow the city to surrender, thereby allowing the Romans to spare the mass of the citizenry. It’s those darn bandits! Compared to this, the way Mark was able to excuse the Romans and blame the Jews for the death of Jesus is the work of an amateur. Josephus was such an effective traitor that he was given an imperial pension and lived out his days in the good graces of the successive emperors.

One thing worth noting is that there is not a single reference to Christians, to Jesus or James, or anything vaguely related to the followers of Jesus. And recall that this was at a time when the Christian community in Rome was large enough, and well-known enough, for Nero to blame them for the fire in 64. It is easy enough to dismiss this; after all, that was not Josephus’ purpose. Such a dismissal, however, neglects to note that Josephus mentions other groups within Judaism; in particular, he goes on for several pages about the Essenes. Of course, he tells us in the later Antiquities, that he was member of this sect for two or three years, so of course it held a special place in his affections.

So yes, it is possible that he ignored the Assembly because it didn’t serve his purpose to do so. It just didn’t come up. But it’s also possible to read this as an indication that the Jerusalem Assembly had indeed drifted into insignificance at this point. If so, then this should, or could indicate that my supposition that the tipping point between Jews and pagans had already arrived by the time of the war. It’s hardly proof, but it doesn’t contradict the notion.

As for the title, it was pointed out in the Introduction that it very much fit in with other such books, especially in Latin. For example, the De Bello Gallico of Julius Caesar. The purpose is to emphasize that the book is to be taken from the Roman, and not the Jewish perspective. IOW, it’s another way Josephus sought to curry favor with, and show his sympathies towards the Romans rather than those pesky Jews.

That being said, I have to say that the Romans do not necessarily come off all that well in some ways. At one point, Josephus goes to great lengths to tell us about the famous discipline of Rome’s army; but, during the final siege, before the city is taken, the Romans fall for a half-dozen ruses (at least; I lost count) perpetrated by the Jews. These are effective in getting a lot of Romans killed or wounded exactly because the Jews lure the Romans into breaking that discipline. One means of capturing a city was to build siege towers that allowed the attackers to overtop the walls. Since they were made of wood, the defenders tried to set them on fire. In one incident, after making these enormous towers, it appears that three Jews are able, on their own, to sally out of the walls with torches in hand and set the towers on fire without any real trouble. It seems hard to credit that the Romans were quite this stupid, but perhaps they were. Jerusalem was a strongly fortified city; it should have been difficult to capture. But this story makes the Romans look more or less incompetent.

The final topic I want to mention is the belief in the soul, or perhaps beliefs about the soul. These come twice. The first is during the discussion of the Essenes. According to Josephus, the Essenes held that, while the body was corruptible and temporary, the soul was immortal. In addition, they believed in the differential treatment of the souls of the good and the souls of the wicked. After death, the souls of the good are rewarded, going either to a place beyond the ocean, or perhaps taking their place among the stars. In contrast, souls of the wicked are consigned to a dark, stormy pit, a place of eternal punishment. Both of these, he explicitly tells us, are the same doctrine as the Greeks. This provenance is reinforced later when Titus exhorts his men into the danger of battle. The brave, he says, will be rewarded with a pleasant afterlife.

The significance of this is to demonstrate two things. First, that the idea of the immortal soul, and by extension, an afterlife, were not of Jewish origin, but pagan, specifically Greek. The second is that the idea of a soul and an afterlife were now fairly well entrenched in the cultures of the Eastern Mediterranean. It was becoming, or had become, a common heritage for peoples of many different backgrounds. The Jews, some of them anyway, had assimilated the idea and accepted it as part of their religious beliefs. As such, assuming Jesus taught such a doctrine, this teaching did not originate with Jesus. He may have helped spread it among Jews, but it found particular resonance among pagans. And this may have been one of the major pivot points that separated who converted and who didn’t. Even today, Jews are decidedly ambivalent about the idea of an immortal soul, as I understand their beliefs. Again, as I understand it, they may not deny the immortal soul, but it is not a central tenet in their belief system. This is quite in contrast to Christians, for whom it’s pretty much the starting point.

There are numerous other points in TJW that offer the opportunity for compare & contrast with the NT. The other night at Evensong I heard about Joseph of Arimathea, of how he risked his status, and perhaps his life, by taking down the body of Jesus. Well, Josephus says that Jewish custom was to remove the bodies from the crosses before sundown. So maybe that wasn’t so daring after all? We’ll revisit this at the appropriate point in the narrative,

Here is an interesting tidbit. Per Josephus, the Jews were given leave by the Romans to execute anyone, including Romans, who went too far into the Temple. There were inscriptions–in Greek–warning folk to come no nearer. Could this possibly have been the reason Jesus was executed? Food for thought, anyway.

Matthew Chapter 24:40-51

This will conclude a very long Chapter 24. To set the scene, we’re at the end of the apocalypse of the Synoptic Gospels. Specifically, Jesus is describing the circumstances of what will happen when the son of man comes. Or returns.

40 τότε δύο ἔσονται ἐν τῷ ἀγρῷ, εἷς παραλαμβάνεται καὶ εἷς ἀφίεται:

41 δύο ἀλήθουσαι ἐν τῷ μύλῳ, μία παραλαμβάνεται καὶ μία ἀφίεται.

42 γρηγορεῖτε οὖν, ὅτι οὐκ οἴδατε ποίᾳ ἡμέρᾳ ὁ κύριος ὑμῶν ἔρχεται.

“Then (when the son of man comes), two will be in the field, one is taken up and the other will be left. (41) Two hand-grinding with the hand-grinder, one is taken up and one is left. (42) Therefore be watchful, because (lit = ‘that‘) you do not know when the day of your lord comes.

This, of course, is a description, or partial description, of the Rapture. One is taken, one is left. What is interesting is not what is here, but what is not: the reason why one is taken and the other isn’t.

40 Tunc duo erunt in agro: unus assumitur, et unus relinquitur;

41 duae molentes in mola: una assumitur, et una relinquitur.

42 Vigilate ergo, quia nescitis qua die Dominus vester venturus sit.

43 ἐκεῖνο δὲ γινώσκετε ὅτι εἰ ᾔδει ὁ οἰκοδεσπότης ποίᾳ φυλακῇ ὁ κλέπτης ἔρχεται, ἐγρηγόρησεν ἂν καὶ οὐκ ἂν εἴασεν διορυχθῆναι τὴν οἰκίαν αὐτοῦ.

44 διὰ τοῦτο καὶ ὑμεῖς γίνεσθε ἕτοιμοι, ὅτι ἧ οὐ δοκεῖτε ὥρᾳ ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου ἔρχεται.

45 Τίς ἄρα ἐστὶν ὁ πιστὸς δοῦλος καὶ φρόνιμος ὃν κατέστησεν ὁ κύριος ἐπὶ τῆς οἰκετείας αὐτοῦ τοῦ δοῦναι αὐτοῖς τὴν τροφὴν ἐν καιρῷ;

“That one you will know that if the master had known in which watch (the time) the thief comes, he was watchful and did not allow the breaking up (= breaking int0) of his house.  (44) Because of this you should be ready, that (since) you do not know the hour the son of man comes. (45) For who is the faithful slave and sensible whom the lord sets down upon his household of his giving to them the food in its season (= when it’s time)?   

One of the things that has constantly struck me about examining these books of the NT is just how oblique so much of the teaching is. Up above we are not told why the one is taken and the other is left. Here we need to be watchful, but how? By doing what? If you recall Paul gave us a laundry list of things we must not do–the chief of which was always, always, fornication–in order to be ready for the day of the Lord. So we have to piece this together, spread over a lot of different places and books. Matthew here uses the term “day of your lord”, but that’s close enough, I think. That should be close enough for us to take it as the same term. Because one thing we cannot–we absolutely cannot–do here is assume that what is said in one book can be taken to illuminate something said in another. [Note: this is a fundamental technique of Jewish scriptural interpretation; it has a name, a very common name, that I cannot for the life of me remember at this moment. I do remember that we discussed it before, but where or when or why is lost to me at the moment. ] We cannot assume this because we do not know how widely, and how quickly the various books were disseminated. This is particularly true with Paul. Of course we know that Matthew and Luke knew of Mark, and Luke knew of Matthew, but how and when did the evangelists become aware of Paul’s writings? We can assume, of course, that Luke was aware of Paul since the former made the latter the star of Acts, but we do not know, for certain, that Matthew was aware of Paul. Almost certainly Mark was not.

Now, just because we cannot assume, does not mean we cannot infer. Within Matthew we have encountered a number of different passages of oblique references to the kingdom, to the life, to those who will inherit the kingdom; these passages are enough and sufficiently varied for us to infer that the Christian belief of being rewarded post-mortem was pretty much established in the minds of most. And given Paul’s laundry lists, it seems reasonable that this belief in a reward dates back at least that far; however, with Paul, the reward was not necessarily post-mortem; 1 Thessalonians is explicit that he expected living persons to enter the kingdom; in fact, he was trying to allay the fears of some that the dead would not be included in the eternal reward. 

This, I believe sufficiently answers the question: we are ready for the day of the lord by living moral lives. Just like the nuns told me all those years ago.

Now, the next question is whether we can infer from “day of your lord” (V 42) that Matthew was directly referencing Paul’s “day of the lord”. The answer, of course, is that we don’t know. If forced to guess, or estimate, I would have to say probably not. It’s difficult to feel too much confidence when extrapolating from a single phrase. More, this is the sort of thing that could have been in common currency among a number of assemblies. There is just not enough there.

43 Illud autem scitote quoniam si sciret pater familias qua hora fur venturus esset, vigilaret utique et non sineret perfodi domum suam.

44 Ideo et vos estote parati, quia, qua nescitis hora, Filius hominis venturus est.

45 Quis putas est fidelis servus et prudens, quem constituit dominus supra familiam suam, ut det illis cibum in tempore?

46 μακάριος ὁ δοῦλος ἐκεῖνος ὃν ἐλθὼν ὁ κύριος αὐτοῦ εὑρήσει οὕτως ποιοῦντα:

47 ἀμὴν λέγω ὑμῖν ὅτι ἐπὶ πᾶσιν τοῖς ὑπάρχουσιν αὐτοῦ καταστήσει αὐτόν.

“Blessed is that slave who the lord coming finds the former doing in this way. (47) Amen I say to you that upon all those devoted of him he will establish him.  or

Amen I say to you that [the lord] will put [the faithful slave] in charge of all the lord’s possessions.*

This second verse is perplexing me. The standard translation is “and over all his (the lord’s) possessions, he (the lord) will set him (the faithful servant). OK, that is absolutely what the Latin says. The problem is that, as far as I can see, << ὑπάρχουσιν >> does not mean “possessions” (lit = good things, in the Latin). And the grammar is off. The Greek word is a participle; it’s a verb, describing a current action. The word mean, per Liddell & Scott, “to begin”, or “to undertake”, or “to establish”, or “be devoted to”, which is how I’ve rendered it. The problem is that such a usage requires the dative, whereas here we have a genitive; this explains the really awkward translation as “devoted of him”.

Well, it appears that had I scrolled down to the very bottom,<< ὑπάρχουσιν >> can be translated as “possessions”; but only in the NT. This makes me wonder if this shading (definition #15 or so down the list) is not taken from the Vulgate. And that still doesn’t explain the participle form; not really. Let’s bear in mind that when those Renaissance/Reformation scholars went back to the original Greek texts to create new translations of the NT, they did not have a Liddell & Scott as reference material. They had to call upon their own memories of other Greek texts that they had read, to remember if they’d ever encountered a particular word before; and, if they had, they had to piece out what the word meant in its given context. These 16th Century translations are often described described in terms of heroic effort, and they certainly were; however, we also need to recall that, for these scholars, the Vulgate Bible was as familiar to them as the  KJV or other English-language NT is to us. If they had a problem, if they ran into a situation where the could simply not make sense of the Greek, do we not think that they maybe took a peek at the Latin? Isn’t that exactly what we’re doing here? And you know what? It works.

So it more or less comes down to this: do I trust St Jerome’s understanding of the Greek, or do I suppose that I understand it better than he did? Of course St Jerome forgot more about Greek than I can ever hope to learn, so I think we know the wind is blowing here. The Latin makes sense. Everyone agrees to that. So being a good scholar (I make no claim to that title. Ahem.) it is necessary to know when to stand one’s ground, and when to concede and follow the crowd. This, I think, is an instance of the latter. (*see secondary translation)

46 Beatus ille servus, quem cum venerit dominus eius, invenerit sic facientem.

47 Amen dico vobis quoniam super omnia bona sua constituet eum.

48 ἐὰν δὲ εἴπῃ ὁ κακὸς δοῦλος ἐκεῖνος ἐν τῇ καρδίᾳ αὐτοῦ, Χρονίζει μου ὁ κύριος,

49 καὶ ἄρξηται τύπτειν τοὺς συνδούλους αὐτοῦ, ἐσθίῃ δὲ καὶ πίνῃ μετὰ τῶν μεθυόντων,

50 ἥξει ὁ κύριος τοῦ δούλου ἐκείνου ἐν ἡμέρᾳ ἧ οὐ προσδοκᾷ καὶ ἐν ὥρᾳ ἧ οὐ γινώσκει,

51 καὶ διχοτομήσει αὐτὸν καὶ τὸ μέρος αὐτοῦ μετὰ τῶν ὑποκριτῶν θήσει: ἐκεῖ ἔσται ὁ κλαυθμὸς καὶ ὁ βρυγμὸς τῶν ὀδόντων.

“If that bad slave should say in his heart, ‘My lord tarries’, (49) and he will begin to smite his fellow slaves, he will eat and he will drink with the drunkards, (50) the lord of that slave will come on a day not expected and at an hour which he does not know, (51) and he will cut him in half, and his portion will be places with the hypocrites. There will be wailing and gnashing of teeth.”

Nope. Not going to update “wailing and gnashing of teeth”.

Nothing really surprising here. It is, however, the epilogue for, or explanation of the bit about the generation will not pass away before this happens. With this, we have traveled rhetorically from the “no one knows, but soon” of 1 Thessalonians to “no one knows. Could be sooner, could be later”.

I’m nearly finished with Josephus. This is fortuitous because it ties in very nicely with this chapter. I will summarise and compare, but there will be a separate post on Josephus before that.

48 Si autem dixerit malus servus ille in corde suo: “Moram facit dominus meus venire”,

49 et coeperit percutere conservos suos, manducet autem et bibat cum ebriis,

50 veniet dominus servi illius in die, qua non sperat, et in hora, qua ignorat,

51 et dividet eum partemque eius ponet cum hypocritis; illic erit fletus et stridor dentium.

Matthew Chapter 24:29-39

We left off with the eagles of Rome gathered ’round the fallen Jerusalem. I still wonder how this got changed to “vultures”. Actually, that’s not true at all. The reasoning is pretty clear, about as subtle as a slap in the face. This is why the whole field of Biblical scholarship seems a bit dodgy at times. Harsh, over-generalized comment, no doubt, but that is the appearance it has at times. Anyway, we’re coming to the close of Mark’s apocalypse. This section and another should do it.

29 Εὐθέως δὲ μετὰ τὴν θλῖψιν τῶν ἡμερῶν ἐκείνων, ὁ ἥλιος σκοτισθήσεται, καὶ ἡ σελήνη οὐ δώσει τὸ φέγγος αὐτῆς, καὶ οἱ ἀστέρες πεσοῦνται ἀπὸ τοῦ οὐρανοῦ, καὶ αἱ δυνάμεις τῶν οὐρανῶν σαλευθήσονται.

“Immediately after the pressures of those days, the sun will become darkened, and the moon will not give its lustre (also, lit = moonlight) and the stars will fall from the sky ( = heaven, singular) and the powers of the heavens will be roiled.

Whole bunch of stuff in a single sentence. First, the word for the “light” that the moon will not give can specifically mean “moonlight”, or even the light of torches. At base, however, it’s “lustre” rather than “light”, the base of which is “phos/photos”. Second this could be rendered “the stars will fall from heaven”, with the lower-case “h”. In Greek and Latin, the same word (different in each language) can mean either “sky” or “heaven”. In English, of course, no one would say, “Our Father, who art in the Sky”, even though that is a perfectly acceptable translation of the Greek. It’s just that “sky” is wholly secular, “heaven” is ambiguous but leaning secular, and “Heaven” is wholly religious. This is probably a good time to note that Mark talked about the kingdom of God; Matthew, however, talks about the kingdom of the heavens, and the latter is (almost) always plural. [Aside: Matthew does use kingdom of God, at least once; perhaps one of those cases of editorial fatigue?]

I have no plausible explanation for why Matthew uses “heavens”. I have never seen one offered–but that may be entirely my fault; I may just need to get out more. The theory is that he was too devout a Jew to use “God”; to this day many orthodox Jews will not write the word in full. But, as mentioned, there are one or two occasions where he does use kingdom of God. Of course, those could easily have been introduced by a later copyist who was accustomed to that formulation. As for why Matthew uses it in the plural rather than the singular is an entirely different question. In Classical Greek usage, the plural was used largely in a philosophical sense for the universe, or the non-terrestrial domain. IOW, the heavens. So, there is one of those reasons that I’ve never seen, and it’s a pretty good one. A quick and completely non-thorough check of Strong’s Words indicates that upwards of 80% of the plural “heavens” are in Matthew, and virtually all are “kingdom of __”. When Matthew uses the singular form, it’s for quotidian stuff, like “birds of the air”.

Now, let’s think about what this for a moment in terms of how this relates to my thesis of Matthew-as-pagan. On one hand, we have the Jewish reluctance to use “God”; OTOH, we have the use of heavens as found in Greek philosophy. Once again, with a quick glance through Strong and we see that Matthew is pretty consistent in his non-use of God as well as accounting for most of the uses of heavens in the plural. The thing is, Mark and Paul don’t shy away from “God”; some form of the word occurs about a dozen times in the 5 chapters of 1 Thessalonians. And Paul was more zealous than most of his generation. As such, I don’t know how much weight we can put on the first one. And besides, this is something a convert to Judaism could pick up, and behaviour he could easily emulate. Knowing the Greek philosophical usage of the heavens is not something you just pick up. Or, maybe it is.

Something else that stands out, however, is the last bit: the powers of the heavens will be roiled. What are these “powers?” We are so accustomed to the idea that Hell is underground, that we forget (or never realised) that in Antiquity this was not necessarily true. The air was full of all sorts of semi-divine powers that Christians would later call demons; however, I want to avoid that term because it’s anachronistic to the period we’re discussing. I’ve also come across those who claim that this is a reference to astrology, that the powers of the sky are the planets, moon, etc. I don’t necessarily disagree with that assessment, but I don’t think it’s necessary to take it that far. 

But the truly astonishing aspect of this verse is the very first word. For the sun will be darkened, the moon will lose its lustre immediately after the events that preceded. If this is a “prediction” based on a past event, then surely Matthew knows that the sun did not become darkened, etc. immediately after the fall of Jerusalem. Not immediately, not ten years, nor twenty…So why is this word in here? It more or less sets the text up as wrong. (And, incidentally, it certainly undercuts my reading of this as a retrospective of the fall of Jerusalem.) Honestly, there is no truly satisfying answer to that question. However, it is very significant to note that this “immediately” does not occur in Mark’s version of this apocalypse. So the word could be an interpolation, like the change to Kingdom of God in Mt 12:28. BBut that’s not really a satisfying explanation, is it? Perhaps not, but it does get me off the hook as far as this being a description of what happened; if Mark didn’t use the term immediately, then this could still be a remembrance. That the term slipped in can be attributed to the intent to create narrative drama–hold on a second.

One question that, I think, is rarely asked about this passage, or this chapter in general, is how those hearing or reading it would have perceived it. Were they all aware of the destruction of Jerusalem? In Mark’s case, it’s very likely. But what about 15 years later, in a place outside of Judea or Galilee? How would they have taken this? Would they have understood it as a reflection backwards, or would they have taken it as a true prophecy? If the latter, then immediately makes sense. In a way, my asking this question is a bit ironic; the prophecy-as-memory has again become a prophecy of the future. I don’t have an answer for this, or not a convincing one, anyway. I do have a gut feeling that those hearing the story may not have seen the reference to the destruction of Jerusalem, or seen the reference as oblique at best. Otherwise, I’m not sure this can be made to make sense. It’s bad scholarship to write off every inconvenient word as an interpolation; it happened, and it happened a lot. At the bottom of nearly every page of my hard-copy Greek NT is a section of notes providing alternate readings for given words; sometimes they take up about a third of the page, sometimes there are only two or three suggested changes. 

A lot of questions remain unresolved.

29 Statim autem post tribulationem dierum illorum, sol obscurabitur, et luna non dabit lumen suum, et stellae cadent de caelo, et virtutes caelorum commovebuntur.

30 καὶ τότε φανήσεται τὸ σημεῖον τοῦ υἱοῦ τοῦ ἀνθρώπου ἐν οὐρανῷ, καὶ τότε κόψονται πᾶσαι αἱ φυλαὶ τῆς γῆς καὶ ὄψονται τὸν υἱὸν τοῦ ἀνθρώπου ἐρχόμενον ἐπὶ τῶν νεφελῶν τοῦ οὐρανοῦ μετὰ δυνάμεως καὶ δόξης πολλῆς:

31 καὶ ἀποστελεῖ τοὺς ἀγγέλους αὐτοῦ μετὰ σάλπιγγος μεγάλης, καὶ ἐπισυνάξουσιν τοὺς ἐκλεκτοὺς αὐτοῦ ἐκ τῶν τεσσάρων ἀνέμων ἀπ’ ἄκρων οὐρανῶν ἕως[τῶν] ἄκρων αὐτῶν.

“And then will appear the sign of the son of man in the sky, and then all the tribes of the world will smite their breasts (i.e., mourn) and they will see the son of man coming upon the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory. (31) And he will send out his angels with large trumpets, and they will collect those having been chosen (elect) from the four winds to the highest heavens until the highest of themselves. 

The last part of this, << ἀπ’ ἄκρων οὐρανῶν ἕως[τῶν] ἄκρων αὐτῶν >>, does not entirely make sense, at least not in its literal sense. However, it’s a reference to Deuteronomy 30:4; in the LXX it literally reads “from the highest of the sky to the highest of the sky”. In both places, it gets translated as “from one end of heaven to the other (end of heaven)”. I suppose. There’s no real harm here; it’s meant to imply thoroughness, so it can work well enough. This is probably more a comment on my low level of comprehension of Greek. Or, it’s a consensus translation. Either way it works. It’s poetic license. As I’m reading a widening circle of Classical Greek, I’m realizing that the NT is not all that special in its consensus translations. Aristotle is much worse, but what Aristotle is trying to describe is much more complex.

More important is the description of the coming son of man. Or Son of Man. I prefer the former because there is no real indication that the title referred to anyone in particular. Nor is there any real evidence that this is a title. It probably is, but we do not know that, and that bears keeping in mind. (If there is evidence for this, please let me know. The only thing worse than ignorance is willful ignorance. Well, there are, of course, a lot of things worse, but take that statement in this context.) With time, it has become Obvious to Everyone that it refers to Jesus. This is certainly not a given. It too, comes from Daniel, where, in a dream, Daniel sees “…one like a son of man coming with the clouds…” (Daniel 7:13) All it really means is an anthropomorphic figure; however, this passage is the obvious precursor, or antecedent, or inspiration for Matthew’s passage here, and Paul in 1 Thessalonians 4. In Daniel, he is an end-times figure; whether he is the Anointed is a subject of much debate. Given that the similarity of wording (in translation, at least; cannot vouch for how this reads in Hebrew), it seems fairly safe to conclude that this iteration of the passage (and in Mark) was meant to evoke the symbolism of Daniel. Now, how that would play for non-Jews is an interesting question. Let’s recall that Paul used the imagery in 1 Thessalonians, who, he tells us explicitly, were former pagans. As such, we cannot assume that they would have understood the reference to Daniel. If they were God-fearers, pagans who were practicing Judaism–to some extent, at least–at the local synagogue, then they may have been aware of Daniel. We don’t know; so it’s a question of whether they were more likely than not to be God-fearers, and if so, were they aware of Daniel? Given the contingency of the latter condition on the former, there is probably less than an even chance that they were aware of the passage in Daniel. One could suppose that Paul used this image specifically because he knew they had heard it, and that would be a very reasonable suggestion. So, if it’s something less than 50/50, it’s probably not much less, in whichever direction.

Now what about Mark? Was his congregation composed mostly of former Jews? or former pagans? Standard NT scholarship would say they were former Jews, and I would say there is a decent chance that this is correct. So they would have gotten–some of them anyway, and to some degree–the reference, and understood that the figure was the coming of the end times. But was it the Anointed? We don’t know, with real certainty, that the one like a human in Daniel was intended to represent the Anointed.

The situation has evolved here in Matthew. Matthew’s audience has been told that Jesus is the Christ from the beginning of the gospel. And, contrary to what I had thought, Matthew has Jesus use the phrase “son of man” quite frequently. I was under the mistaken impression that Matthew didn’t do this, that he almost always used “son of God” whereas Matthew used “son of man”. Sort of like the way Matthew prefers “kingdom of the heavens” over “kingdom of God”. So I started to count up the number of times that Matthew used “son of man”; I quit once I hit a dozen, with twenty or so references remaining. The upshot is that Matthew is not at all averse to using son of man. But, he is just as cagey as Mark in leaving the actual identity of the son of man unexplained. However, while there is no explicit confirmation that the expression refers to Jesus, I would suggest that the cumulative weight of all of them taken together provide a fairly solid confirmation that Jesus is meant. Indeed, when you come down to it, that is why we identify the son of man with Jesus. That being the case, it seems a reasonable conclusion that Matthew’s audience would have understood this passage to refer to the return of Jesus. After all, this had been part of (proto-)Christian belief since Paul. 

30 Et tunc parebit signum Filii hominis in caelo, et tunc plangent omnes tribus terrae et videbunt Filium hominis venientem in nubibus caeli cum virtute et gloria multa;

31 et mittet angelos suos cum tuba magna, et congregabunt electos eius a quattuor ventis, a summis caelorum usque ad terminos eorum.

32 Ἀπὸ δὲ τῆς συκῆς μάθετε τὴν παραβολήν: ὅταν ἤδη ὁ κλάδος αὐτῆς γένηται ἁπαλὸς καὶ τὰ φύλλα ἐκφύῃ, γινώσκετε ὅτι ἐγγὺς τὸ θέρος:

33 οὕτως καὶ ὑμεῖς, ὅταν ἴδητε πάντα ταῦτα, γινώσκετε ὅτι ἐγγύς ἐστιν ἐπὶ θύραις.

34 ἀμὴν λέγω ὑμῖν ὅτι οὐ μὴ παρέλθῃ ἡ γενεὰ αὕτη ἕως ἂν πάντα ταῦτα γένηται.

35 ὁ οὐρανὸς καὶ ἡ γῆ παρελεύσεται, οἱ δὲ λόγοι μου οὐ μὴ παρέλθωσιν.

“From the fig learn the comparison. When the shoot of it becomes tender, and the the leaves have grown, you know that summer is nigh. (33) Also in this way you, when you see these things, you know that the door is nigh. (34) Amen I say to you, that this generation will not pass away until all these things become. (35) The sky and the earth will pass away, but the words of mine will not pass away.

Just a quick note on the Greek. The word that I’ve rendered as “comparison” is “parabolay” (spelling it phonetically). This is the root of both “parabola” and “parable”. The former has a technical meaning in math, but it’s based on the root of the word meaning “comparison” or “juxtaposition”. I note that in some translations–the KJV–this is rendered as “lesson”, but more modern translations leave it as “parable”.  The word we’re most likely looking for is “analogy”. In English that can sort of encompass both senses of the word as translated.

The problem here of course is that Jesus is saying that these times of horror will indicate the coming of the end. Now, when Mark wrote these words, it was a problem. For Matthew writing 1-2 decades later, it should be even more of a problem. This is especially a problem if these words are an after-the-fact prophecy. If it was known that they referred to the destruction of Jerusalem, and this event has receded into the past, then it truly becomes a problem. Unless one defines “generation” in a special way; for example, “this generation” refers to the people born at the current time. So, for Mark, this would mean the people born 70-75 CE. Ergo, when Matthew repeated the words, the generation was now in full adulthood. It had not “passed away”. That, however, strikes me a bit too clever, and it does not really capture the meaning of what is usually meant by “this generation”. Usually, that refers to those who are adults at the time of writing.

But let’s think about this for a moment. I’ve skimmed through a number of commentaries at biblehub.com. What I’m about to suggest is perhaps not entirely novel, but I did not see this exact suggestion made; I will assume that my ignorance is exactly that: my ignorance. This may be very well known, but it’s new to me. What is Jesus saying? He’s saying that the generation alive, those who were adults at the time of the horrible occurrences he describes will not pass away before the son of man comes. That is, the clock did not start ticking until the destruction of Jerusalem. As such, for Mark to write these words when the ruins of Jerusalem were (figuratively, at least) still smoldering was not in the least a problem. The people who had seen the times predicted were still very much in their prime. And even when Matthew wrote, 15-20 years later, those who had been in the prime age of their adult years were still only 40-50 years old. Not young, by ancient standards, but they had not lived out their three-score years and ten. And even when Luke repeated them a generation (give or take) later than Matthew, there would still easily have been people alive when Jerusalem was destroyed.

This is important because it means that these words are not an embarrassment to the earliest assemblies of Jesus. Far from it. At some point, however, they did become problematic, which is why the whole idea of the Parousia and even the kingdom sort of fade into the deep background in John’s gospel. By the end of, say, the first quarter of the Second Century, they had become problematic. But their problems need not concern us here. 

I do believe this may be an important point to make. And I am not sure that I have seen it made elsewhere. In fact, I know I have not seen it made elsewhere. However, that does not mean it’s never been made.

What about the last line? Off-hand, it seems to be connected to the whole after-the-fact situation. The horrors described had come to pass; Jerusalem had been destroyed. And Jesus’ words were still around, even if the earth and sky had not–yet–passed away. This is a level of assurance, I think. Letting the audience know that, despite it all, the word of Jesus was eternal.

32 Ab arbore autem fici discite parabolam: cum iam ramus eius tener fuerit, et folia nata, scitis quia prope est aestas.

33 Ita et vos, cum videritis haec omnia, scitote quia prope est in ianuis.

34 Amen dico vobis: Non praeteribit haec generatio, donec omnia haec fiant.

35 Caelum et terra transibunt, verba vero mea non praeteribunt.

36 Περὶ δὲ τῆς ἡμέρας ἐκείνης καὶ ὥρας οὐδεὶς οἶδεν, οὐδὲ οἱ ἄγγελοι τῶν οὐρανῶν οὐδὲ ὁ υἱός, εἰ μὴ ὁ πατὴρ μόνος.

37 ὥσπερ γὰρ αἱ ἡμέραι τοῦ Νῶε, οὕτως ἔσται ἡ παρουσία τοῦ υἱοῦ τοῦ ἀνθρώπου.

38 ὡς γὰρ ἦσαν ἐν ταῖς ἡμέραις [ἐκείναις] ταῖς πρὸ τοῦ κατακλυσμοῦ τρώγοντες καὶ πίνοντες, γαμοῦντες καὶ γαμίζοντες, ἄχρι ἧς ἡμέρας εἰσῆλθεν Νῶε εἰς τὴν κιβωτόν,

39 καὶ οὐκ ἔγνωσαν ἕως ἦλθεν ὁ κατακλυσμὸς καὶ ἦρεν ἅπαντας, οὕτως ἔσται [καὶ] ἡ παρουσία τοῦ υἱοῦ τοῦἀνθρώπου.

“Regarding those days and hours, no one knows, neither the angels of the heavens nor the son, but only the father alone. (37) For in this way in the days of Noah, thus will be the arrival of the son of man. (38) For as it was in [those] days, those before the cataclysm {they were} eating and drinking, marrying and being married, until the day came {when} Noah {went into} the chest (= ark). (39) And no one knew until the cataclysm came, and took everyone, in this way will be the arrival of the son of man.

On one hand, Jesus is telling them to watch for the signs that the seasons are turning; OTOH, he’s saying here that no one knows when this will happen. So I guess he’s covered either way.

Also, “cataclysm” is a pure transliteration, but substituting the Latin “C” for the Greek kappa. The Vulgate renders it << ante diluvium >>, literally “before the flood”.

Finally, we discussed this when reading Mark, but it bears repeating. When he says that no one knows except the father, not the angels, nor even the son, Jesus is very clearly telling us that he and the father are not one, John’s later protestation to the contrary. There are a number of fairly inept attempts to soft-pedal this, to deny that the words don’t mean what they say, or they only mean what they say in some very special, super-secret sort of way. My apologies. They mean what they mean. 

Interestingly, the commentator Ellicott agrees with this. He says that the plain meaning is how this should be taken. However, he leaves it at that. He does not go into the implications of this statement. Then the commentator Benson has some more interesting bits to add. He says that the bit about the the son not knowing is omitted in some mss of Mark, and that it’s inserted in some mss traditions of Matthew. Now isn’t that interesting. The omission he credits to later churchmen who wished to remove ammunition from the Arians, who claimed just such a graduated progression of/to the deity. Even more, St Ambrose and other fathers claimed that this line had been inserted by the Arians. I doubt that. There is enough equivocation in Mark that we don’t need to write something off as an interpolation. It is possible, of course; it’s also possible that I doubt this because I want it to be authentic, because it supports one/some of my theories. Contra, I would point to the baptism, and argue that the son not knowing is fully of a piece with the Adoptionist implications of that scene. Was that added by the Adoptionists? Just to clear this up, Benson concludes there is sufficient evidence for the words in Mark that they need to be taken as authentic.

Addendum: One thing I would like to make very clear is the meaning of “Parousia”. This means “coming”, or “arrival”. It is used to described Paul’s coming to the Philippians, so it’s another of these terms, like baptism, that are very neutral in Greek, but have taken on special significance in Christian usage. The thing it does not mean is “return”. As such, the son of man is coming; he is not returning. The implication of this would be that he is not present, nor has ever been present.

This is significant, I think. It requires additional thought, and perhaps a post dedicated to the idea.

36 De die autem illa et hora nemo scit, neque angeli caelorum neque Filius, nisi Pater solus.

37 Sicut enim dies Noe, ita erit adventus Filii hominis.

38 Sicut enim erant in diebus ante diluvium comedentes et bibentes, nubentes et nuptum tradentes, usque ad eum diem, quo introivit in arcam Noe,

39 et non cognoverunt, donec venit diluvium et tulit omnes, ita erit et adventus Filii hominis.

 

Matthew Chapter 24:15-28

Welcome back. Time to start getting back into the swing of this. However, a fallow period now and again is not such a bad thing. It helps fertilize the soil and, one hopes, promotes new growth. Plus, reading Josephus and doing some more work with Strong’s Words, compiling key terms and seeing how they are used in similar fashion and differently in different passages and authors have both been very helpful. So thank you for your patience. I’m not the best typist on a good day; with a wrist that’s still a bit stiff, well, not having too many good days. But let’s have at it. We are in the midst of what was Mark Chapter 13, the predictions of the coming apocalypse.

15 Οταν οὖν ἴδητε τὸ βδέλυγμα τῆς ἐρημώσεως τὸ ῥηθὲν διὰ Δανιὴλ τοῦ προφήτου ἑστὸς ἐν τόπῳ ἁγίῳ, ὁ ἀναγινώσκων νοείτω,

16 τότε οἱ ἐν τῇ Ἰουδαίᾳ φευγέτωσαν εἰς τὰ ὄρη,

17 ὁ ἐπὶ τοῦ δώματος μὴ καταβάτω ἆραι τὰ ἐκ τῆς οἰκίας αὐτοῦ,

18 καὶ ὁ ἐν τῷ ἀγρῷ μὴ ἐπιστρεψάτω ὀπίσω ἆραι τὸ ἱμάτιον αὐτοῦ.

“So when you see the abomination of the solitude written in Daniel the prophet, standing in a holy place, let the one recognising (it) understand, (16) then those in Judea will flee towards the mountain, (17) the one upon the house (presumably on the roof?) should not come down to take anything from the house, (18) and the one in the field should not turn back even to take his cloak.  

First, this is almost always translated as “abomination of the desolation.” This is a perfectly fine translation, and I do not want to call it into question. However, groups of words constitute a spectrum of meanings. The word translated as “desolation” is also the root of our word “hermit”. Now this is a close paraphrase of Daniel 9:26-27; it uses the same words for “abomination” and “desolation”. And the Vulgate below uses << abominationem desolationis >>, which I suspect doesn’t need to be translated. So why am I bringing this up? Just to point out that the standard translation of “desolation” is a very conscious choice when bringing it into English. The KJV used this choice of word, for both Daniel and the gospels, and it’s never really been changed. Even the much hipper, more modern versions retain this rather archaic language, even though they jettison “sore afraid”. I suppose it doesn’t matter; desolation is merely solitude taken to the extreme, and I suppose if you’re going to use “abomination”, then extremes are called for.

Since we brought up Daniel, it is worth worth pointing out that the Book of Daniel offers another interesting parallel. The story is set in the time of the Exile, when the Jews–Daniel among them–are still in Babylon. It is the early part of the reign of Cyrus the Great, the Persian king who conquered Babylon and pretty much the entire Near East, so that the Persian Empire eventually extended from Egypt to the Eastern shores of the Aegean Sea and to the edge of Afghanistan. But in the book Daniel offers prophesy about the restoration of the Temple and the coming of the christ. So there is a parallel structure between Daniel and this chapter of the gospels. Daniel is generally considered to have been written late; well after the establishment of the kingdoms of the Diadochoi, so the reign of Cyrus is a setting, just as the French Revolution was a setting for A Tale Of Two Cities. And so, having Jesus prophesy here about events that, for those hearing the words, were already in the past. At least, they were in the past in the real sense that the Jewish War was already over.

As far as that goes. reading Josephus is providing some definite insight into the words here. Especially at the outset of the war, things often happened very quickly, without much warning. Cities were suddenly engulfed by the war, attacked, captured, and burnt to the ground–whether by Romans or Jews–within days. And there was enormous internal strife within cities, with pro- and anti-Roman parties among the Jews, or the Jewish minorities within cities like Damascus were rounded up and massacred. Or the Jews massacred the pro-Roman party of fellow Jews within Jewish cities. So things happened very quickly. As such, taking the time to pick up your cloak, or to come down from the roof to get something from the house could instead of fleeing immediately very well could have meant the difference between life and death for an individual.

15 Cum ergo videritis abominationem desolationis, quae dicta est a Daniele propheta, stantem in loco sancto, qui legit, intellegat:

16 tunc qui in Iudaea sunt, fugiant ad montes;

17 qui in tecto, non descendat tollere aliquid de domo sua;

18 et, qui in agro, non revertatur tollere pallium suum.

19 οὐαὶ δὲ ταῖς ἐν γαστρὶ ἐχούσαις καὶ ταῖς θηλαζούσαις ἐν ἐκείναις ταῖς ἡμέραις.

20 προσεύχεσθε δὲ ἵνα μὴ γένηται ἡ φυγὴ ὑμῶν χειμῶνος μηδὲ σαββάτῳ:

21 ἔσται γὰρ τότε θλῖψις μεγάλη οἵα οὐ γέγονεν ἀπ’ ἀρχῆς κόσμου ἕως τοῦ νῦν οὐδ’ οὐ μὴ γένηται.

22 καὶ εἰ μὴ ἐκολοβώθησαν αἱ ἡμέραι ἐκεῖναι, οὐ κἂν ἐσώθη πᾶσα σάρξ: διὰ δὲ τοὺς ἐκλεκτοὺς κολοβωθήσονται αἱ ἡμέραι ἐκεῖναι.

“Woe to those who are pregnant, and those who are nursing in those days. (20) Pray that the flight of you is not in winter nor on the Sabbath. (21) For there will be then great trials such as not have happened since the beginning of the world until now, nor will they be. (22) And if those days were not cut short, nor would any flesh be saved. But because of the elect those days will be cut short.

The word that stands out here is << ἐκλεκτοὺς >>, which comes into the Latin as <<electos >>, which is pretty obviously “elect”. Now, this word has a certain meaning in modern democratic societies, and this meaning tends to obscure the base meaning. We say that a candidate is “elected”, meaning s/he got the most votes and won. What we tend to forget is that what has happened is that we have chosen that particular candidate. And that’s what it means here: some of those alive at the time of tribulation were chosen by God. But what does that mean?

In grad school I spent a semester reading about Predestination. This idea of being chosen by God is central to that. The idea is that, if God chooses us, then we can’t be saved on our own. We are only saved because we are chosen. Hence, “amazing Grace, that saved a wretch like me”. I am a wretch because we are all wretches, but God saves some of us anyway through his Grace, coming from the Latin ‘gratia’, which also has the idea of ‘free’, as in having no cost attached. Hence, ‘gratis’. Is that what it means here?

Hard to say. Skimming some of the commentaries, I found some (one, anyway) attempts to identify the elect with the remnant of the true believers. This would make sense, and it would explain the casual use of the term here. And we have to keep in mind the status of the Jews as the chosen people.  So the identity of the two is not difficult to accept. The idea of Predestination is particularly tied to Romans, which means Paul. And Paul told us in Galatians that God set Paul apart ( the functional equivalent of chosen) while the latter was yet in the womb. So there is the sense that the choosing happened before the deserving, or the effort to deserve. That is the fundamental point of Predestination. Again, is that what it means here?

It could, and perhaps should, but I don’t think it does, with apologies to M Calvin. Even in Romans, Paul comes very close to contradicting himself about being elect. It’s one of those terms that gets tossed out without the full implications being thought through in a theological sense. That task was left to the later Patristic thinkers, who had to make sense of what is something of a jumble of ideas. In particular, the idea of being chosen was sorted out by St Augustine, who used the idea of God choosing us to counter the Pelagian doctrine that we as humans could win salvation on merit. Because of Augustine’s argument, Pelagius was condemned as a heretic. And so the idea of being chosen by God, despite our utter lack of deserving to be chosen–in a word, Predestination–entered into Christian orthodoxy. However, it was downplayed for a millennium or more, because it skirted very close to pagan fatalism, and sort of undercut the idea that Christians needed to live a good life. And really, that message is much more deeply ingrained in the narrative of the NT than the idea of being chosen, merits aside.

There is actually another point that nearly slipped by. This is the idea of <<θλῖψις >>, specifically << θλῖψις μεγάλη >>. Coming to grips with this word is very important. At one end of the spectrum and in Classical terms, it simply means ‘pressure’. It’s not a very common word, and it’s most commonly used in medical context, such as ‘pressure on the stomach”. It can also mean “castration”. But it is only in Christian usage that it comes to mean “oppression”, and it will be frequently translated as “persecution” (although there is another word fitting that translation better. More on that later.) Jesus is very clear to say a great pressure, such as has never been seen since the beginning of the world. This leaves little doubt that he’s not talking about pressure in the stomach.

Paul uses the word in 1 Thessalonians. Unfortunately, that was the first book translated, so I was not paying close enough attention to the individual uses of a given word at that point in my career. Understanding the word is important for understanding, as far as we can, the level of persecution suffered by the early Church. We all know the stories, but there is pretty much no evidence for any sort of persecution, and certainly not systemic persecution, of Christians by Romans. There were periods of it later–or, at least, so I’ve been led to believe. I am not familiar enough with the primary sources for the period after the turn of the Second Century to be able to make any sort of fact-based statement. However, for the First Century, there is pretty much nothing, except that Nero blamed the fire in Rome on the followers of Jesus. And even then, we are not told of anything that really resembles persecution, at least as carried out by the Romans. Our real–and pretty much only–source for persecution of the followers of Jesus comes from Paul. So far, aside from the one highly contentious passage about Jesus and another about his brother James, I have come across no mention of his followers in Josephus. But perhaps more on that later.

19 Vae autem praegnantibus et nutrientibus in illis diebus!

20 Orate autem, ut non fiat fuga vestra hieme vel sabbato:

21 erit enim tunc tribulatio magna, qualis non fuit ab initio mundi usque modo neque fiet.

22 Et nisi breviati fuissent dies illi, non fieret salva omnis caro; sed propter electos breviabuntur dies illi.

23 τότε ἐάν τις ὑμῖν εἴπῃ, Ἰδοὺ ὧδε ὁ Χριστός, ἤ, ωδε,μὴ πιστεύσητε:

24 ἐγερθήσονται γὰρ ψευδόχριστοι καὶ ψευδοπροφῆται, καὶ δώσουσιν σημεῖα μεγάλα καὶ τέρατα ὥστε πλανῆσαι, εἰ δυνατόν, καὶ τοὺς ἐκλεκτούς:

25 ἰδοὺ προείρηκα ὑμῖν.

“Then someone may say, ‘Look, there is the Christ’, but don’t believe him. (24) For false-christs and false prophets will be raised, and they will give great signs and wonders so that they will make err, if they are able, even the elect. (25) Look, I have spoken to you before (i.e., warned)

The point that leaps out from this passage is “there is the Christ”. Why? Matthew has told us, from the very beginning, that Jesus is the Christ. And yet, people in a later time will say, “there is the Christ”. On the one hand, this could be ascribed to the people who were not Jesus’ followers did not believe Jesus was the anointed, so of course they were still looking for him. This is certainly a fair point. But who is looking for the anointed? Pagans? No, Jews. As such, this passage describes the reactions of Jews to these times of tribulations. When did Jews suffer such a great affliction? During the Jewish rebellion. When did people proclaim themselves to be the anointed? Especially during the rebellion. This is what is known as internal evidence: almost all writing contains certain assumptions and relates to certain circumstances that are peculiar to a particular period of time. The internal evidence of this whole chapter points to the period of the rebellion.

23 Tunc si quis vobis dixerit: “Ecce hic Christus” aut: “Hic”, nolite credere.

24 Surgent enim pseudochristi et pseudoprophetae et dabunt signa magna et prodigia, ita ut in errorem inducantur, si fieri potest, etiam electi.

25 Ecce praedixi vobis.

26 ἐὰν οὖν εἴπωσιν ὑμῖν, Ἰδοὺ ἐν τῇ ἐρήμῳ ἐστίν, μὴ ἐξέλθητε: Ἰδοὺ ἐν τοῖς ταμείοις, μὴ πιστεύσητε:

27 ὥσπερ γὰρ ἡ ἀστραπὴ ἐξέρχεται ἀπὸ ἀνατολῶν καὶ φαίνεται ἕως δυσμῶν, οὕτως ἔσται ἡ παρουσία τοῦ υἱοῦ τοῦ ἀνθρώπου.

28 ὅπου ἐὰν ᾖ τὸ πτῶμα, ἐκεῖ συναχθήσονται οἱ ἀετοί.

“So if they say to you, ‘Look, he is in the desert’, don’t go there; (if they say) ‘Look, he is in the storeroom’, do not believe. (27) For even as the lightening comes from the east and appears until setting of the sun (probably = the west), in this way will be the coming of the son of man. (28) Where may be the corpse/ruin, there will be gathered eagles.

The last bit is rather odd. << οἱ ἀετοί >> means ‘the eagles’; but this verse is almost universally translated as “where the corpse is, there the vultures will be gathered”. The Latin is also very clearly “eagles”. This is such an important symbol of Rome, that there is no way the word was ever used to mean vulture.

Hold on: Flash of Insight! Each Roman legion carried a standard that had the figure of an eagle on it. In fact, the standard was referred to as “the eagle”. When Marcus Crassus and his army were annihilated by the Parthians, they lost their eagles, the standards of the three legions that were destroyed; the loss of a legionary eagle (standard) was considered a horrible point of shame. Now, we all know that vultures congregate at a corpse, so the idea translating this as “vultures” makes sense. But I think it’s dead wrong. The evangelist is not saying that vultures will gather; he is specifically saying that it will be eagles, as in the standards of Roman legions.

Well, it turns out I’m not exactly the first to make the connexion with eagles and legions, to infer that this refers to Roman armies. I’m probably not as high as the thousandth, but at least my instincts are clear and accurate. There is a lot of speculation that the corpse, or carcass, was meant to imply Jerusalem. A number of people don’t like this, but I think it’s hard to avoid. The eagles (Roman legions) did indeed gather around the ruins of Jerusalem. Because note that the word translated as “carcass” by most modern editions, at root simply means “fall”. Hence, we have a fallen body, which is a corpse, which, if left unburied, becomes a carcass. But it can also mean a ruin, as in a fallen city. I chose ruin in the initial translation to indicate the range of the word, but it turns out to be a good choice. The eagles did gather around the ruin. And once again, we find the pernicious “consensus” translation, where the meaning is chosen, to some extent, by what the translators want the passage to mean.

In the half-dozen commentaries I skimmed, this reading of the eagles around the ruin (of Jerusalem) is offered as the “other” interpretation, with the understanding this “other” interpretation is decidedly inferior. This is inferior because it pretty much–and very clearly–indicates that this section was written with full knowledge of the destruction of Jerusalem as a past event. That is, this is not prophecy, but memory.

26 Si ergo dixerint vobis: “Ecce in deserto est”, nolite exire; “Ecce in penetralibus”, nolite credere;

27 sicut enim fulgur exit ab oriente et paret usque in occidentem, ita erit adventus Filii hominis.

28 Ubicumque fuerit corpus, illuc congregabuntur aquilae.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch…

During the hiatus, I’m doing a couple of things to keep occupied. First, I’m reading the Penguin translation of Josephus’ The Jewish War. Technically, I’m re-reading it, but the first time was so long ago that I don’t think it counts. At the outset, I must note that the translation is pretty bad; it’s sort of like watching a movie from the 40s, with all the out-of-date colloquialisms. One of my profs once described the Penguin of Herodotus as “slap-happy”; I get that now.  The content is good; sort of. One point in its favour is that it’s not the Antiquities of the Jews. This latter is a much-longer reworking of the same period of history. Much longer. Much of this added length comes from long speeches by the principle characters. These speeches are bad enough here, but they can be very tedious in the Antiquities. I’ve just gotten through the reign of Herod the Great (died 4 BCE). According to Matthew, Jesus was born during Herod’s reign; Luke says it was while Quirinius was governor. The problem is that these two did not overlap. Quirinius held the position he did largely as the result of what happened after Herod died. Matthew also says Herod perpetrated the Massacre of the Innocents; Josephus does not mention this heinous act, nor does any other source. The upshot is that we do not know when Jesus was born, exactly. Maybe if you split the difference between the time of Herod’s death and that of Quirinius’ accession, the Year 1 may not be that far off. Regardless, this inconsistency is a pretty good indication that Jesus’ followers didn’t know when he was born either; it also presents a pretty good argument that the birth narratives were created later.

But back to Josephus. It’s interesting to note that the two works sometimes contradict each other. And when you stop to ask “how could Josephus have known some of this stuff?”, it starts to make a sharp historian wonder about Josephus’ overall reliability. Now, he lived through and participated in the events of the Jewish War, so some of that goes away. Perhaps more unsettling, if more subtle, is his penchant for the lurid details. Anyway, I’m finding it a bit of a slog.

The other thing I’m doing is reading Aristotle’s On The Soul in Greek. I started to just read the English, but it’s gotten to the point that I don’t trust translations. For history, it doesn’t matter so much. For theology and philosophy, it matters a lot. And funny thing about that: I bought the Loeb, so there is a built-in translation. But I was having such a hard time reconciling what I was getting with what the Loeb translation said that I found another translation on-line, this one from MIT. That was better, but both really stretched things regarding the Greek. And this is what made me realize why reading Aristotle in English can be so strained. The Greek allows grammatical connexions that require verbal gymnastics to get across in English. This usually means nested subordinate clauses. I won’t go so far as to say it’s easier to understand in Greek–at least, not yet. But I will say that, once you get past the Greek, the concepts are probably easier to grasp in the original. And the Greek isn’t that hard; however, there are a number of words that Aristotle uses in a technical sense. Once I found that list, (helps to read the Introduction sometimes), the sailing got a lot smoother. But, I’m not very far in, so I haven’t gotten to the meat of the argument yet. The purpose of reading this is to get some insight on what Paul, Mark, and Matthew may mean when they use the word “psyche”. For the title of the work in Greek (transliterated) is “Peri Psyche”. That becomes “De Anima” in Latin. And the standard translation of “psyche” in the Vulgate is “anima”. Once you notice that this is the root of “animal”, perhaps you begin to see the problem. After all, most Western Christian theology is based on Latin translations. And just to confuse matters even more, “soul” is a German root, coming in with its own linguistic field.

Still typing with one finger, so this took a lot longer to write than anticipated. It was supposed to be much shorter, but I do tend to run on.

Apologies

Sorry for not producing anything new for a while, but I’m experiencing technical difficulty. Through a stellar act of clumsiness, I broke my right arm. I am left-handed, so it’s not horrible, but I’m reduced to one-finger typing. I could do the translation, but typing the commentary is beyond me at the moment.

So, my apologies. Please stand by.

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