Matthew Chapter 26:36-45

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Matthew Chapter 26:26-35

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

30Καὶ ὑμνήσαντες ἐξῆλθον εἰς τὸ Ὄρος τῶν Ἐλαιῶν.

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

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

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

30 Et hymno dicto, exierunt in montem Oliveti.

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

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

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

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

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

32 Postquam autem resurrexero, praecedam vos in Galilaeam”.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Make that, why?

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

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

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

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

Matthew Chapter 26:14-25

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

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

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

16 καὶ ἀπὸ τότε ἐζήτει εὐκαιρίαν ἵνα αὐτὸν παραδῷ.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

16 Et exinde quaerebat opportunitatem, ut eum traderet.

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

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

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

20 Ὀψίας δὲ γενομένης ἀνέκειτο μετὰ τῶν δώδεκα.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

20 Vespere autem facto, discumbebat cum Duodecim.

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

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

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

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

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

Matthew Chapter 26:1-13

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4 καὶ συνεβουλεύσαντο ἵνα τὸν Ἰησοῦν δόλῳ κρατήσωσιν καὶ ἀποκτείνωσιν:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

9 ἐδύνατο γὰρ τοῦτο πραθῆναι πολλοῦ καὶ δοθῆναι πτωχοῖς.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

9 Potuit enim istud venumdari multo et dari pauperibus ”.

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

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

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

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

Summary Matthew Chapter 25

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Postscript: Double Predestination

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

 

Matthew Chapter 25:31-46

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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.