Monthly Archives: October 2014

Matthew Chapter 4:1-11

I could not find a logical place to break in Chapter 3 that didn’t leave one very short post and one much longer post. It appears Chapter 4 will be more amenable. Chapter 5 will take us to the Sermon on the Mount, and that will afford more convenient break points.

1 Τότε ὁ Ἰησοῦς ἀνήχθη εἰς τὴν ἔρημον ὑπὸ τοῦ πνεύματος, πειρασθῆναι ὑπὸ τοῦ διαβόλου.

Then Jesus was led to the desert by the spirit; he was tempted by the enemy.

The Greek term is << diabolos >>, which gets transliterated directly into Latin without any intervening change of form, means something like “slanderer”. And since those who slander us are our enemies, the term has that more general meaning as well. “Enemy” translates into Hebrew as << satan >> (in some form). Our word ‘devil’ derives from the Latin <<diabolos>>, by way of the German <<Teufel>>. Naturally, our word “devil” carries enormous implications, most of which are completely absent from the Greek word Matthew uses. Mark, meanwhile, prefers “satan”, which raises questions about who his audience was, as opposed to Matthew. Given that Matthew read the Hebrew scriptures in the Greek LXX translation, it’s not unreasonable to suppose that Matthew was a Greek-speaker who was likely writing for other Greek speakers. Mark, OTOH, was possibly writing for people who had some knowledge of Hebrew, however minimal that might have been. So which of these had both–or either–the more Jewish background and/or audience?

Tradition had Mark writing in Rome, but Bart Ehrman says that no one takes this seriously any longer. Matthew, from what I recall, was supposedly writing in Antioch, which was a Greek city, named after Antiochos, one of the successors of Alexander. This could explain Matthew’s linguistic heritage without necessarily impugning his Jewish heritage. But–make that BUT–this all assumes that the text we have resembles in any significant way the text as it was originally written. No doubt some of the quirky idiosyncracies of the originals remain, but we don’t know that. In reading Mack and some of the other authors, I am amazed at the level of positivism, the certainty, that I find expressed about the level of knowledge that we have, or that we can infer. These were not the texts of Classical authors; they were the creation  and possession of an underground press that passed them on without the usual quality review program that truly scholarly authors had.

Really, all we can say is that the Satan–or probably satan–of the Hebrew scriptures probably bore little, if any, resemblance to the Devil. Once again, I refer to JB Russell’s magnificent series on the development of the concept of The Devil. These are not simple words that have anything close to a one-to-one correlation to each other. So to see this translated as “the devil” is very misleading, even when put in lower case.

There is one interesting difference between Matthew and Mark. In the latter, the spirit drove Jesus; here, Jesus ws led. The verb is passive, so the sense is much less insistent than it was for Mark. And as before, we have to ask what was meant by the spirit? The spirit that conceived Jesus was holy; the spirit that descended when Jesus was baptized was the spirit of God. This is just the spirit, with no qualification. Are we to assume that all three of these spirits refer to the same thing? That the spirit of God is meant, which automatically means that the spirit doing this is holy? The NASB, ESV, and NIV all capitalize “spirit”; the KJV does not. They pretty much take this as the Third Person of the Trinity; to do so is wildly anachronistic. 

1 Tunc Iesus ductus est in de sertum a Spiritu, ut tentaretur a Diabolo.

2 καὶ νηστεύσας ἡμέρας τεσσεράκοντα καὶ νύκτας τεσσεράκοντα ὕστερον ἐπείνασεν.

And having fasted for forty days and forty nights, at the end he was hungry.    

No doubt. Given this, how much of what follows was a hallucination? Of course, that’s a ridiculous question given that the story is fictitious. But how would this have been imagined by the audience? They would understand the physical implications of such a rigourous fast; heck, that was the point. One endured such depravations precisely to hallucinate. In cultures the world over, shamans put themselves through things like this to attain exactly this result. Of course, the would not refer to to it as “hallucinating”; in their terms, this would have been described as “coming into contact with the spirit world, or the divine realm, or some such similar term. The idea was to push the body past its limits so that it didn’t get in the way of such contact with the other side of the physical world, whatever that was termed in a given culture.

The forty days and nights probably doesn’t require comment. Think of the forty days and nights of rain, the forty years in the desert…Forty was a significant number. The ancient Hebrews were believers in what we would call numerology, just as most of the cultures of the ancient Near East were. We commented on this for Mark, too: the forty days in the wilderness is a direct reference to the forty years post the exodus. 

2 Et cum ieiunasset quadraginta diebus et quadraginta noctibus, postea esuriit.

3 Καὶ προσελθὼν ὁ πειράζων εἶπεν αὐτῷ, Εἰ υἱὸς εἶ τοῦ θεοῦ, εἰπὲ ἵνα οἱ λίθοι οὗτοι ἄρτοι γένωνται.

4 ὁ δὲ ἀποκριθεὶς εἶπεν, Γέγραπται, Οὐκ ἐπ’ἄρτῳ μόνῳ ζήσεται ὁ ἄνθρωπος, ἀλλ’ ἐπὶ παντὶ ῥήματι ἐκπορευομένῳ διὰστόματος θεοῦ.

And the tempter having come, he spoke to him (Jesus), “If you are the son of God, speak so these stones become bread.

(4) Answering, he said “It is written, ‘not by bread along lives man, but by the words having come from the speech of God’.”

First and foremost, the descriptions of the three temptations that follows was not in Mark. It is found here and in Luke. So the standard inference would be that this was in Q, since it’s common to Matthew and Luke and not in Mark. However, I see huge problems with this.

To begin, this “was written” in Deuteronomy 8:3. Now, here I think is a great example of how Mack goes off the tracks. In his book The Lost Gospel (Q), he includes this in the complete version of Q. And yet, this is a direct reference to the Torah. It’s been a while since I read The Lost Gospel, but in Who Wrote The New Testament he is pretty clear that the Q People (his term, honest!) did not really see themselves as Jews. And yet we’re referring to Deuteronomy. Now I could easily just be taking all of this way too literally, trying to force a degree of consistency that is unrealistic on Mack, but it truly does seem to be a problem to me. Given his level of certainty about Q, I don’t believe that I’m being unreasonable.

And the bread referred to is the manna in the wilderness. So this is sort of doubly referential to Hebrew history; or perhaps I should say the epic of Israel. The question becomes, would the audience be familiar with the reference? Or maybe the question would be, does it matter? I’ve been hearing this story since elementary school (which was at least a few years ago…), and I was completely unaware that this was a reference to the Pentateuch. Did I lose something by not knowing? Of course. Was the point completely lost because of this? Absolutely not, When Jesus said “it is written” I pretty well knew it meant the Hebrew scripture someplace. The exact place didn’t matter all that much. So why wouldn’t this be true of Matthew’s audience as well?

This is where it comes back to Q. Coming up with this quote took some doing. It required doing some homework, and then having the literary chops to put the two aspects together. Now Mack does say that the Q People continued to add new sayings that the attributed to Jesus in the best Hellenistic fashion, so the fact that this came later than the original stratum of Q is not a problem per se. The problem comes from how likely it is that the Q People, as he outlines them, would have had such a depth of knowledge about Hebrew scripture. No, it’s not impossible. It fits with Matthew being a “rabbi”, or even a God-fearer, but maybe not so much with a Q Person.

3 Et accedens tentator dixit ei: “ Si Filius Dei es, dic, ut lapides isti panes fiant ”.

4 Qui respondens dixit: “Scriptum est: ‘”Non in pane solo vivet homo, / sed in omni verbo, quod procedit de ore Dei’”.

5 Τότε παραλαμβάνει αὐτὸν ὁ διάβολος εἰς τὴν ἁγίαν πόλιν, καὶ ἔστησεν αὐτὸν ἐπὶ τὸ πτερύγιον τοῦ ἱεροῦ,

6 καὶ λέγει αὐτῷ, Εἰ υἱὸς εἶ τοῦ θεοῦ, βάλε σεαυτὸν κάτω: γέγραπται γὰρ ὅτι Τοῖς ἀγγέλοις αὐτοῦ ἐντελεῖται περὶ σοῦ καὶ ἐπὶ χειρῶν ἀροῦσίν σε, μήποτε προσκόψῃς πρὸς λίθον τὸν πόδα σου.

7 ἔφη αὐτῷὁ Ἰησοῦς, Πάλιν γέγραπται, Οὐκ ἐκπειράσεις κύριον τὸν θεόν σου.

Then the enemy took him him (Jesus) to the holy city, and stood him on the pinnacle of the temple. (6) And he said to him, “If you are the son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written that ‘He commands the angels on your behalf, and they will lift you by their hands so that never you will strike your foot against a stone’.”

This time the quote is from Psalms. Now, I would have to imagine that while Deuteronomy wasn’t exactly well-known outside the Jewish culture, Psalms would be even less so. As such, I believe the likelihood that this was written by Matthew, rather than the Q People, goes up significantly. Really, bear in mind that in Mack’s view, Jesus was a Cynic sage interested in living a counter-cultural lifestyle. Matthew and his community were Jewish. Which of the two groups would be more likely to be familiar with Torah and the Psalms?

Now, even if I could prove that this came from Matthew and not Q–and I cannot come close to doing this–even so, that would not prove that Q did not exist in any form. It would exclude this particular bit, but that would not affect the rest of the Q material.

BTW: “he stood Jesus on…” Think of standing up a chess piece. That’s pretty much the implication.

5 Tunc assumit eum Diabolus in sanctam civitatem et statuit eum supra pinnaculum templi

6 et dicit ei: “ Si Filius Dei es, mitte te deorsum. Scriptum est enim: “Angelis suis mandabit de te, / et in manibus tollent te, / ne forte offendas ad lapidem pedem tuum” ”.

7 Ait illi Iesus: “ Rursum scriptum est: “Non tentabis Dominum Deum tuum” ”.

8 Πάλιν παραλαμβάνει αὐτὸν ὁ διάβολος εἰς ὄρος ὑψηλὸν λίαν, καὶ δείκνυσιν αὐτῷ πάσας τὰς βασιλείας τοῦ κόσμου καὶ τὴν δόξαν αὐτῶν,

9 καὶ εἶπεν αὐτῷ, Ταῦτά σοι πάντα δώσω ἐὰν πεσὼν προσκυνήσῃς μοι.

10 τότε λέγει αὐτῷ ὁ Ἰησοῦς, Υπαγε, Σατανᾶ: γέγραπται γάρ, Κύριον τὸν θεόν σου προσκυνήσεις καὶ αὐτῷ μόνῳ λατρεύσεις.

Again, the enemy stood him (Jesus) on a mountain exceeding high, and showed to him all the kingdoms of the earth and their glory. (9) And he said to him (Jesus), “All this I will give to you if falling (on your face) you worship me”. (10) Then Jesus said to him, “Away, Satan! For it is written, ‘The lord your God you shall worship. and to him alone you shall serve’.”

The bit about “falling on your face” is brought out by the combination of the verb, <<to fall>> in conjunction with the idea of “proskynesis”. The latter means, “to worship” or perhaps “to grovel on your belly with your face in the dirt”. As such, it’s a strong word, with all sots of implications of abasement. This was the standard practice for Asia kings up to and including the Persians. The idea was that “the king was so high and mighty, and you were nought but a dog, fit only to lie on your belly and grovel at the king’s feet, the way a dog would”.  Because the term “proskynesis” contains the word for “dog” (“kyne”, which is also the root of “cynic”).

When Alexander had conquered Persia and become the monarch of Assyria and Babylon and all the storied places of Near Eastern history, becoming the successor of all those Asian monarchs who had demanded proskynesis of their subjects, he began to demand that even his generals should perform this act of homage. The free-born Greeks in the army, and especially the generals who had been companions of Alexander’s father, found this incredibly offensive. This opened a major rift in the high command, and has led to speculation that these generals poisoned Alexander because he had become too arrogant to be tolerated. Of course, when these generals became the Pharaohs of Egypt, and the kings of the Near East, their descendants required their subjects to perform this ritual to them. Ah, historical irony.

Here in the closing of this story we see that Matthew switches to “Satan”. Perhaps this was more in line with addressing him, as opposed to speaking about him? 

8 Iterum assumit eum Diabolus in montem excelsum valde et ostendit ei omnia regna mundi et gloriam eorum

9 et dicit illi: “ Haec tibi omnia dabo, si cadens adoraveris me”. 10 Tunc dicit ei Iesus: “Vade, Satanas! Scriptum est enim: ‘Dominum Deum tuum adorabis et illi soli servies’”.

11 Τότε ἀφίησιν αὐτὸν ὁ διάβολος, καὶ ἰδοὺ ἄγγελοι προσῆλθον καi διηκόνουν αὐτῷ.

11 Tunc reliquit eum Diabolus, et ecce angeli accesserunt et ministrabant ei.

 Then the devil left him, and, lo! angels came and ministered to him. 

The word I rendered as “ministered to” is “diakonos”, which is the root of “deacon”. We’ve run across this before in Mark. In fact, Mark uses the same word in this same place in the story. OTOH, the word is only used a couple of time in the authentic letters of Paul. Luke doesn’t use it here, and I’m sure this is considered evidence that Luke used Q and not Matthew. Perhaps. Or perhaps it indicates that, as an author, Luke decided not to follow his two predecessors, using different words instead. 

What to make of this story? In Mark, I think the whole wilderness theme comes across more directly, unclouded by all the additional rhetoric between Jesus and Satan. But really the addition of the dialogue between Jesus and Satan completely changes the entire sense of the story. In Mark, the tale is simple and direct; here, there are several layers of complexity added. due to the specific and graphic nature of the temptations. Essentially, Satan offers power in various forms: over nature, by turning stones to bread; dominion over nature in a larger sense, over gravity–and death–by throwing himself from the pinnacle of the Temple; finally. political dominion over the kingdoms of the earth.  The first speaks to the immediately physical realm: Jesus was hungry after 40 days of fasting. But one gets the feeling that Satan didn’t expect Jesus to fall for such a grossly physical ploy, so it’s perhaps sort of a warm-up for the others. 

In a way, however, the third temptation is, in a way, just as grossly physical. As the third, we expect that Matthew intended this as the most alluring, and the allure is obvious to most anyone, but especially to anyone who seeks power. And here we have a bit of a play on the idea of Jesus as a king; Satan is offering kingdoms, but once again in the physical realm. This is a foreshadow of what is to come: that Jesus’ kingdom is not one of this earth, and so is unlike what Satan is offering.

IMO, however, the second temptation is the most subtle, and so perhaps the most appealing. The others are blatant and  physical; in the second, Jesus is offered dominion over nature itself. He will fall, but not die, for the angels will come to rescue him. IOW, Satan is tempting Jesus to tip his hand and show us who he is. Satan knows, and Jesus knows, and the reader knows, so it’s pretty much an open secret, but Jesus will not succumb to such a vulgar display of power. And I believe Luke recognized this subtlety as well, because he put it third, as the culmination.

Mack attributes the dialogue to Q, but there is no way in…well, there is no way that this was not composed by Matthew. Mark knew the story in its outline, but we’re expected to believe that there was an alternative story floating around that had all this dialogue of which Mark was not aware? It just seems very unlikely. Mack gets sucked into the internal logic of Q, and fails to ask if this logic is consistent with the workings of the outside world. IMO, the answer is “no”. The story does not require the dialogue, but the dialogue requires the story. So this implies that the story of Jesus’ temptation was older, that it came first and the dialogue was added afterward. Mack more or less acknowledges this, but attributes the dialogue to Q, when the much–very much–simpler explanation is that Matthew wrote it to give the story a level of completeness, and complexity, that the bare-bones narrative in Mark lacks. This is exactly the sort of elaboration that we expect as legends grow. I guess my beef is, why attribute this to some nameless, unidentified, completely unproven source, some Quelle, when we have a perfectly competent author to whom we can ascribe it? Just to be clear: there is no reason why this couldn’t have come from Q. It is perfectly possible that the Q people heard the story of the temptation and then added the dialogue to their manuscripts (none of which have ever been found), and Matthew got hold of one of these mss and incorporated the material. This is eminently possible. But it adds a layer of complexity. And we have to keep in mind that there is no direct evidence indicating that anything like Q ever existed as a document. As such, the less complex, and so more plausible explanation is that Matthew wrote the dialogue.

We will get to Matthew and Luke and Q–two sources or three? Or one?–at some point when we’re not in the middle of textual comment.

The next question is what does it say about the status of belief about Satan? This is, I believe, the only time in the gospels when Satan appears as a character. He is referred to by Mark, we are told that Jesus called Peter “Satan”, but nowhere else does he himself appear to the point where he engages in dialogue. My first sense is that this bit was composed more or less to mimic the opening of Job, where God and Satan have a conversation. As such, I would say that Matthew is a good candidate for having composed the dialogue, steeped in the Hebrew Bible (HB) as he was. Given this, I’m not sure how much this adds to the development of the concept of Satan, as JB Russell calls it. Still, it does contribute to the sense of Satan as an entity, as a power, as something that intervened in the world. More, he was a cosmic power; he could converse with the son of God as an equal. One does wonder if Satan expected that Jesus could be induced to take the bait.

And then there’s the son of God. What does that mean in this context? I’ve started reading Bart Ehrman’s How Jesus Became God. The opening chapter sets the tone by surveying previous Jewish belief about the divide/distinction between human and divine. It’s great, and I highly recommend it. But I need to absorb a little more, so I will probably have more to say about this in the chapter summary.

Summary Matthew Chapter 3

The whole chapter reads like a single piece which is why I couldn’t find a reasonable place to break.

This could be called the “Chapter of John the Dunker”. This chapter contains his story, and he is the main character in the piece, despite Jesus’ eventual appearance.  In many ways, the story is very similar to that told by Mark, including the quote from Isaiah, the call to repent, and the the camel-skin clothes; I just realized the diet of locusts and wild honey was omitted. Why? And the call to repent was significant because of the way it was mistranslated by St Jerome, with enormous consequences for the development of the western church.

But the big thing I noticed was that the story was considerably longer than in Mark. The reason for the added length is John’s railing at the Pharisees and the new villain, the Sadducees.  Where did this come from? Burton Mack says it came from Q. Never mind that Q was supposedly the sayings of Jesus. This is part of Q. And, even more, Mack can detect that this is from a later stratum of Q; it’s not part of the original material. He probably explained all of this in The Lost Gospel of Q, but I read that a number of years ago, long before I had enough background for it to make sense. Or to be able to explain why it did not make sense. As for why this is part of Q, well, the main reason is that it wasn’t in Mark. So it had to be Q.

Right.

There is an enormous circularity about the Q argument. How do we know it’s Q? Because it wasn’t in Mark. Why wasn’t it in Mark? Because it was part of Q. I can think of almost no reason to suppose that the Q people (as he calls them) added a saying of John the Baptist. That does not make sense from an historical point of view. Per Mack, the Q people are the true heirs of the historical Jesus, who was a sort of counter-cultural sage, on the model of Diogenes the Cynic (the guy with the lantern and staff looking for an honest man on the inside of the Led Zeppelin IV album cover, among other places). This being the case, why would they be interested in the doings of the Baptist, who was firmly in the Jewish tradition, which the Q people rejected. Rather, this is a great example of how Matthew expanded the role of John; he flat-out makes John the herald of the mightier one. Mark implied this, but Matthew makes it explicit. If I were to do Mark again, knowing what I know now, I would have spent a lot more time on this.

But the story was in Mark; that Matthew found it there and took it from Mark is made very clear by the camel-skin clothes and leather belt and the quote from Isaiah.  The details are too exact to be the result of tapping into the same oral tradition. Matthew then puts words into John’s mouth to make sure that we are well aware that John was Jesus’ herald, and that John was well aware of his role, that he accepted it, and that he was pleased to fill that role.  That is a clear example of Matthew tying Jesus into the ancient Jewish tradition. Now, Matthew may have done this because he was a Jew himself, and he wanted to feel that he was fulfilling his ancestral destiny, and not abrogating it.  I have often thought of Mark as a journalist, Luke as a novelist, John as a theologian, and Matthew as a rabbi (an anachronism for the first century, but you get the idea). As such, I believe it would have been important for Matthew to make the connection more explicit, and he does exactly that.

And let’s face it: “Brood of vipers” is a great line. It’s high drama, pungent, and nasty in a good way.  And here we have a bit of a contradiction: if Matthew wants to affirm his Jewish roots, why condemn these exemplars of that tradition? This leads us through a very sticky wicket. Since I’ve been reading Mack’s book, I’ve been thinking about this whole thing a lot. Part of it, I believe, has a lot to do with the timing. Both Mark and, to a lesser extent, Matthew portray an idea that had areas of contention with the established Judaism of the day. However, both of these men wrote after the fall of Jerusalem, when the world of Jesus no longer existed. I think, to no small extent, the “anti-establishment” aspects of Jesus, or here John, are a function of the fact that the tipping point had been reached and more new converts were pagans, so there was a conscious distancing of the Jesus movement from at least the Jewish establishment that had gone into open revolt from Rome. We talked about this in Mark: he did everything he could to cover up the fact that Jesus was executed by the Romans. And so here John, as a proxy for Jesus, has to have his shot at the establishment figures.

I’m going to toss something out here. I said I’ve often thought of Matthew as a rabbi; Mack, and others, also stress Matthew’s Jewish roots, his care to insist that not one iota (jot) of the Law had been abrogated. What if Matthew wasn’t a Jew by birth, but one of the God-fearers, the pagans who congregated in synagogues to learn about Judaism. What we could be seeing is the enthusiasm of a convert as Matthew became fascinated with the Jewish tradition as encapsulated in the Torah and the Prophets. We need to keep in mind that there is what Mack calls the Christ cult, of which Paul is the best example. As a pagan, Matthew would have been comfortable with a lot of the pagan ideas we discussed while reading 1 Corinthians; as a God-fearer, the joining of the two traditions could easily have been exciting for him. Recall my suggestion that it was the idea that the Law had been superseded by faith that may have been Paul’s “road to Damascus” moment. Perhaps something similar was true for Matthew.

Because let’s be absolutely clear about this: by the time we get to Matthew’s gospel, the Christ myth, the Christ cult–as opposed to Jesus followers–has won out.  The joining of the two was Mark’s goal; he was, perhaps, only partly successful in his day. For Matthew, OTOH, the question has been answered: Jesus was the Christ, from the moment–or even before the moment–of his birth. Think about Paul claiming that God had chosen him from the time he was in his mother’s womb (Gal 1:15).  So, too, was Jesus, having been conceived by the sacred breath entering into Mary. So the divine is at work, as we noted in Chapters 1 & 2. I suppose the similarity between Paul and Jesus in this case is most likely coincidental; however, we will be wise to keep it in mind as we go forward.

Have we gone far enough? One theme that needs to be mentioned is the idea of the “destined wrath”. The interesting thing is that this was not mentioned in Mark, with all his apocalyptic premonitions. He did not talk about a day of wrath, or a coming wrath. But Paul did. He brought it up in Thessalonians 2:16, and the word appears frequently in Romans, which we have not read. So, we get two semi-Pauline references in the first three chapters. The one about the mother’s womb is admittedly tenuous; the idea of coming wrath is pretty clear. Now, this shows up in Luke, and so Mack includes it in “The Complete Book of Q”. My apologies, but I find it very hard to accept that this was in Q. The theme is simply used too frequently in Paul; as such, the likelihood is much greater that Matthew would have encountered it via the Christ cult than from the Q people. And this latter assumes that both Q and Q people–as Mack calls them–existed, neither of which are in any sense proven. Mack seems prone to these sorts of conjectures-taken-as-fact.

IMO, the existence of Q is highly suspect, which means that there were no Q people, either. At some point in the fairly near future, I am going to have to stop and assess possible progression sequences that will take us from Jesus to Matthew. A big part of this will be related to Q.  For now, let’s register my skepticism that the idea of a coming wrath came from Q and leave it at that. And let’s move on to Chapter 4.

Matthew Chapter 3 in toto

We start Chapter 3. This offers the choice of one post that’s too long, or two that are too short. I’m also going to try doing two verses together when they’re very short and/or have an awkward break in the middle of the sentence.

1 Ἐν δὲ ταῖς ἡμέραις ἐκείναις παραγίνεται Ἰωάννης ὁ βαπτιστὴς κηρύσσων ἐν τῇ ἐρήμῳ τῆς Ἰουδαίας

2 [καὶ] λέγων, Μετανοεῖτε, ἤγγικεν γὰρ ἡ βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν.

In those days, there appeared John the Baptist preaching in the wilderness of Judea, [and] saying, “Repent, the kingdom of heaven approaches”.

Right off the bat there’s a lot to get us started. Working in reverse order, we have “Repent…” In Greek, this is an intransitive verb, used as it is here. However, the Vulgate below us renders this as “Do penance”. The verb is transitive; so John is actually telling us to change our outlook and be pentitent; however, the western church, working from the Latin version, invented the sacrament of Reconciliation, better known as Confession. The rediscovery of the original Greek meaning of this sentence in the 15th Century sent a shock wave through the western church. Had it been misinterpreting the NT for 1,500 years? Seems like it. What else, people began to wonder, had it gotten wrong? [Note: papal infallibility did not become official doctrine until the 19th Century. But still…] I won’t say this re-translation caused the Reformation, but it was an important part of the process that did lead to the Reformation.

In all of the QHJ material, and the discussions of Q, and all the other scholarship, a great deal is made of the order in which things are placed. The sequence of the events described is a great clue to deciphering the mysteries of the text, that then help us determine the more primitive readings, and a host of other arcane topics. Sorry, don’t buy it. Take a look back at how Mark arranged this, vs how Matthew does here. Mark starts with the quote from Isaiah; Matthew gets right to the Baptist. Is this significant? No. Matthew was re-writing Mark; he wasn’t copying Mark. Matthew made different editorial choices. He moved things around. There is no deep significance. Now, I realize that the different order in these first few verses is different from a change in the sequence in which episodes are placed. Like, whether Jesus healed the leper before or after he told the parable of the mustard seed [I made that up]. We have to stop thinking about the traditions coming down to the evangelists as if the evangelists were given stone tablets that came down from Mt Sinai. The stories were told in chunks. One at a time. In no particular order, but according to the need of the moment. Then, as time went on, when the story became more fully fleshed out, then perhaps a certain sequence appeared, or was settled upon.

It is important–crucial–to understand that another order would have been possible (to an extent, of course), and this different order would not have mattered. These stories evolved. They changed. Words were substituted for other words. Sentences changed structure. Some stories were dropped completely. Others were added, made up at later dates. It was only after Mark wrote that a certain sequence was settled, but this sequence was, to some degree, arbitrary. It has been noted that Mark is written in discreet chunks, bridged, barely, by sequence words like “and then”. Or even just “and”.  I noted that at some point. What this (over)use of “and” as a bridge between stories indicates is that many–most?–of these stories existed as quasi-independent blocks that could be told in any order whatever, because they were just stories, not a continuous narrative that was intended to follow a particular order.

I am currently reading Who Wrote The New Testament? by Burton Mack. He is so certain that Q existed, and as a document, and as a document that was written very early that his whole understanding of the situation is warped. I’ll talk about the book more as I read more (about 100 pages in at the moment), but he takes the Q document as an absolute given. This means that the stories of Jesus have a fixed and specific and meaningful order for him. He is so set on seeing Q as a document–of the sort he is accustomed to reading–that he doesn’t understand the nature of Q as a collection of stories. And that many–most?–of these stories had existed semi-independently of each other for decades.

So no, there is no significance to the fact that Matthew changes the order here. Perhaps he felt that leading with the Baptist instead of Isaiah had more of the feel of ‘in medias res’, in the middle of things, which is how a good novel is supposed to start because that makes it more interesting and lively. 

Now, what does matter is that here, John says “the kingdom of heaven is nigh”. In Mark, it is Jesus who says, “The kingdom of God is nigh”.  It does not matter that this pronouncement is made before Jesus is baptised here, and after Jesus is baptised in Mark. First why the change from “God” to “heaven”? Does it matter? I don’t think so. Rather, I suspect the choice of words was artistic, and not theological. But why did Matthew put the words into John’s mouth? Would there not have been more dramatic impact to leave them for Jesus?

While the answer to that last question is probably affirmative, I think the reason for the change has to do with the expanding role of John. I have suggested, many times, that the later followers of Jesus were eager to strengthen the ties of Jesus to the Baptist, and were not at all interested in playing this connection down. Here is a great example. By having John announce the coming kingdom, the recognition of this cosmic event is pushed back more firmly into the Jewish tradition, thereby lengthening the pedigree of the Jesus movement by several hundred years. As I have argued, John stayed within the boundaries of traditional Judaism, thereby diminishing his potential as an emissary to non-Jews. But his deep roots still mattered. By having John say this, Jesus was no longer an innovator, but the fulfillment of something that even John had recognized and understood. Jesus, thus, became the completion of the story of Israel, and not someone knocking over the house of Judah. Thus the cosmic scale is shifted, the rift between Jesus and the Jews becomes less abrupt, is more a continuation rather than a disruption. And remember: if the intended audience for this is pagans, rather than Jews, there would be less chance that the degree of disruption would be noticed; a Jew who was versed in his or her tradition would have felt the change; a pagan, perhaps not so much. And if that pagan were told that John saw the kingdom coming, he or she would have been more easily convinced of the continuity.

1 In diebus autem illis venit Ioannes Baptista praedicans in deserto Iudaeae

2 et dicens: “ Paenitentiam agite; appropinquavit enim regnum caelorum ”.

3 οὗτος γάρ ἐστιν ὁ ῥηθεὶς διὰ Ἠσαΐου τοῦ προφήτου λέγοντος, Φωνὴ βοῶντος ἐν τῇ ἐρήμῳ, Ἑτοιμάσατε τὴν ὁδὸν κυρίου, εὐθείας ποιεῖτε τὰς τρίβους αὐτοῦ.

For this was what was spoken through the prophet Isaiah, saying, “A voice (is) crying in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths’.”

The quote from Isaiah is verbatim. Now, if you want proof that Matthew was copying from Mark, and not directly from the LXX, this seems pretty conclusive. Instead of just “make straight his paths”, the LXX adds “of our God”. It’s kind of an odd thing; why did both Mark and Matthew leave it off? Matthew, presumably, because Mark did, but why didn’t Mark add the three extra words << του θεου ημων >>? I’m not sure there is a real, or a good answer to that. As for why Matthew did, it’s likely because he’s taking it from Mark. The question in this case is, “why”? Again, the answer is mostly likely stylistic, so we could argue our way around the cobbler’s bench and never catch the weasel.   

3 Hic est enim, qui dictus est per Isaiam prophetam dicentem:

“ Vox clamantis in deserto: / “Parate viam Domini, / rectas facite semitas eius!” ”.

4 Αὐτὸς δὲ ὁ Ἰωάννης εἶχεν τὸ ἔνδυμα αὐτοῦ ἀπὸ τριχῶν καμήλου καὶ ζώνην δερματίνην περὶ τὴν ὀσφὺν αὐτοῦ, ἡ δὲ τροφὴ ἦν αὐτοῦ ἀκρίδες καὶ μέλι ἄγριον.

For John had (as) his clothing the skin of a camel and a leather belt around his waist, his food was locusts and wild honey.

Again, the part about the camel-skin clothes, leather belt, and John’s diet is pretty much verbatim from Mark. 

4 Ipse autem Ioannes habebat vestimentum de pilis cameli et zonam pelliceam circa lumbos suos; esca autem eius erat locustae et mel silvestre.

5 τότε ἐξεπορεύετο πρὸς αὐτὸν Ἱεροσόλυμα καὶ πᾶσα ἡ Ἰουδαία καὶ πᾶσα ἡπερίχωρος τοῦ Ἰορδάνου,

6 καὶ ἐβαπτίζοντο ἐν τῷ Ἰορδάνῃ ποταμῷ ὑπ’ αὐτοῦ ἐξομολογούμενοι τὰς ἁμαρτίας αὐτῶν.

And Jerusalem came out to him, and all Judea, and all the land surrounding the Jordan, and they were dunked in the River Jordan by him for the forgiveness of their sins.

Once again, still following Mark basically word-for-word. But what about the implications. Recall, Josephus tells us that John did the submersion for the cleansing of the actual physical body, and specifically says that the immersion was not for the removal of sins. The repentance had occurred before the submersion. This means that the baptism was pretty much what gets called a ritual lustration. Pilate washing his hands, literally, was meant to symbolise something very similar. And given First Century religious practice, both Jewish, pagan, and other, such washing of the exterior was a pretty standard feature of religious practice. Some of this was practical. Remember, washing one’s hands before eating was not necessarily common practice in a world without running water. As such, washing one’s outer body before participating in a religious ritual meant that one was going off the normal path to mark the occasion. But both Mark and Matthew (the latter in the words of the former) specify that this immersion was done for the forgiveness of sins. 

Now, what did they mean by “sins”? The Greek word, at root, means “fault”, or failing, which is more or less the meaning of the term used in Latin, “peccatus“. Interestingly, the Latin root for our word “sin” means “guilt”, in the sense of “criminal”. OK, that’s all great, but what did this mean to the people who wrote it? In Jewish terms, Mack says that a sinner was one who did not live according to Torah. And that will actually do, for the Greek and Latin have a similar implication, that of “failure to meet a standard”. Having been raised in a Christian culture, the idea of everyone being a sinner is pretty much part of the wallpaper. I don’t get the impression that this was a deeply-held attitude before the advent of Christiandom as a geo-political/religious concept. But still, it was there. People fell short, expiation was needed, the wrong had to be set right. But what we need to do is get a better handle on what the authors of the works that became the Christian NT. After three of Paul’s letters and a previous gospel, I still don’t feel like this has been set out all that clearly. What that means, of course, is that the Christianity I was taught by the Dominican sisters may not have exactly been what was in the NT. No wonder the Roman tradition doesn’t place a lot of emphasis on laypersons actually reading the Bible.

5 Tunc exibat ad eum Hierosolyma et omnis Iudaea et omnis regio circa Iordanem,

6 et baptizabantur in Iordane flumine ab eo, confitentes peccata sua.

7  Ἰδὼν δὲ πολλοὺς τῶν Φαρισαίων καὶ Σαδδουκαίων ἐρχομένους ἐπὶ τὸ βάπτισμα αὐτοῦ εἶπεν αὐτοῖς, Γεννήματα ἐχιδνῶν, τίς ὑπέδειξεν ὑμῖν φυγεῖν ἀπὸ τῆς μελλούσης ὀργῆς;

8 ποιήσατε οὖν καρπὸν ἄξιον τῆς μετανοίας:

Seeing many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming for the baptism by him, (John) said to them “Brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the intended wrath? Therefore make fruit worthy of repentance.

Generally, it’s rendered as the “coming wrath”, and that is a perfectly suitable translation. However, it misses the implication of being willed, or of intention. Even more, the base meaning of the word in Greek has the sense of “being destined”, per Liddell & Scott. Now, I don’t know about you, but I think that sort of changes things a bit. “Destined” is a word with lots of conflicting implications. One one hand, it suggests pagan ideas of fixed outcomes that can be predicted by astrology. OTOH, it can refer to divine intention. Jews, and especially later Christians had a real problem with the idea of astrology, especially with the idea that the future was knowable. But then, what is a prophet? Someone who can foretell events to come. Here, I suspect, it refers to divine intention. As such, this should be related to the idea of the coming kingdom, no? If it’s approaching (as per above in 3:2), then wouldn’t we expect the destined wrath to be part of the deal? This is, of course, related to whether Jesus had a message about End Times, whether he was a preacher of apocalypse, as JD Crossan believes. And this is the problem. There are a number of little clues like this that seem to indicate one thing or another, but they don’t seem to be consistent throughout the gospel, so that we can still be arguing about this fifty or a hundred or five hundred years later. 

Now, this is not in Mark. This is one of the “sayings” that was supposed to be in Q. Frankly, I find that hard to swallow. First, it’s not something Jesus said. Second, it’s something the Baptist said, and I do not believe that the earlier traditions were all that keen on the Baptist. For notice how John’s role has been expanded here. Yes, it could be due to Mark’s ignorance of Q, but that’s one thing that has never been explained. It is just assumed that Mark was ignorant of Q. How do we know this? Because the “Q material” (which we know for a fact was in the document that we know existed that we have chosen to call Q) is not in Mark. Why wasn’t it in Mark? Because Mark didn’t know about it. Personally, I’m beginning to suspect that some of these bits and pieces, these scattered clues got inserted after the fact, that they don’t date back to Jesus at all. As such, they couldn’t have been part of Q, even if such a document ever existed. So tracing something like this to Q because it’s in Matthew and Luke, but not Mark is a bit…how to put this? Well, wrong.

You see, if you google the term “begging the question” (petitio principii), you will find an example like that which I just presented. This book is popular because it’s good. How do we know it’s good? Because it’s popular. This is also called a circular argument, and it’s the proper use of the term “begging the question”. Because the Q proponents–like Mack–find the argument and/or evidence for Q to be entirely self-evident, I have never really seen a good case presented for why Mark was unaware of Q. On one hand, it was, according to Mack, an incredibly early document, probably composed by about 40 CE, and it was so widespread that both Matthew and Luke used it, but Mark somehow missed it. Because he lived in Rome. (I guess). And Paul makes not even the vaguest allusion to anything that could possibly have begun to be taken as a document like Q. This is why the issues of Markan priority is usually bound up with the case for/against Q. If Mark is held to be a later summary of Matthew, the problem of Mark’s ignorance of Q simply goes away: he didn’t include the Q material because he chose not to. Because he wanted to tell the story of Jesus, but didn’t want to include much that Jesus actually said. And he was less convincing, and less convinced that Jesus was divine and was the Christ than previous gospels because…well, just because. 

No. This wording about the brood of vipers was the invention of Matthew. Why? Because Matthew shows himself capable of introducing other issues as well. Like what? Like the Sadducees. Mark makes reference to this group exactly once, in Chapter 12, to tell us that they did not believe in the resurrection of the body. Matthew introduces them here (and forgets about them until Chapter 16). Why did Mark ignore them, but Matthew didn’t? Is it because this group became more prominent in the minds of the Jesus communities between the time Mark wrote and the time Matthew wrote? Unlike the Pharisees, the Sadducees did not believe in the resurrection of the body. As the story of Jesus’ being raised from the dead took hold among more of the Jesus communities, did they increasingly invoke the scorn of the Sadducees? That is an interesting thought. Can’t be proven, but interesting. But then, it’s as likely as a lot of other things suggested. 

 7 Videns autem multos pharisaeorum et sadducaeorum venientes ad baptismum suum, dixit eis: “ Progenies viperarum, quis demonstravit vobis fugere a futura ira?

8 Facite ergo fructum dignum paenitentiae.

9 καὶ μὴ δόξητε λέγειν ἐν ἑαυτοῖς, Πατέρα ἔχομεν τὸνἈβραάμ, λέγω γὰρ ὑμῖν ὅτι δύναται ὁ θεὸς ἐκ τῶν λίθων τούτων ἐγεῖραι τέκνα τῷ Ἀβραάμ.

“And do not say amongst yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as a father’. For I tell you that God is able from these stones to raise up children of Abraham.

Let’s see: this bit about children of Abraham is in Matthew, it is in Luke, it is not in Mark. Are we to take it that it’s part of Q? As it turns out, Mack, in his The Lost Gospel of Q does not put this in the lowest, earliest stratum of the Q document. He does, however, put it in the second layer, which means that it existed before Matthew. However, based on content,  I feel pretty confident to say that this is a later addition to the corpus. The point here is that Jews have lost their position of preference amongst God’s creation. They are no longer the Chosen People. Now, children of Abraham could just as easily be rocks that get turned into people. From what I have read so far in Who Wrote The New Testament. I believe he would suggest that this sentiment developed early; indeed, it was part of Jesus’ message of the kingdom. In contrast, it seems much more likely to me that this was added at that point when most new followers of Jesus, and probably most followers of Jesus were of pagan, rather than Jewish heritage. This sentence, and this sentiment were meant to express that the Jews had been superseded by pagans, by Gentiles who had thereby become the “True Israel”. A lot of this is tied in with his interpretation of the Jerusalem Community. I will probably have more to say on this as we go along, but, for now, let me leave it at that. I believe that the sentiment expressed here was a new one, and that Matthew was the first to put it so definitively in writing.

9 et ne velitis dicere intra vos: “Patrem habemus Abraham”; dico enim vobis quoniam potest Deus de lapidibus istis suscitare Abrahae filios.

10 ἤδη δὲ ἡ ἀξίνη πρὸς τὴν ῥίζαν τῶν δένδρων κεῖται: πᾶν οὖν δένδρον μὴ ποιοῦν καρπὸν καλὸν ἐκκόπτεται καὶ εἰς πῦρ βάλλεται.

Already the axe lies at the root of the tree. So all trees not producing good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.

Is this a reference to the “coming” destruction of Jerusalem? Seems like it, especially when coupled with the idea from the last verse about rocks becoming the children of Abraham. In these two verses Matthew is telling us that the Jews have been supplanted and their claim to primacy is about to be destroyed. The Jews rejected Jesus, so they did not bear good fruit, so they were cut down and thrown into the fiery destruction of the Roman crucible. Now Matthew was most likely a Jew by heritage, but I don’t think this exempted him from feeling a certain…self-righteousness given what had happened to the city and its Temple. As such, he could say that the axe was already at the root. And note, this was image was also missing from Mark. I believe that the ideas expressed in this verse and the previous reflect developments that occurred long after Q, with all its strata, had been “written”.

10 Iam enim securis ad radicem arborum posita est; omnis ergo arbor, quae non facit fructum bonum, exciditur et in ignem mittitur.

11 ἐγὼ μὲν ὑμᾶς βαπτίζωἐν ὕδατι εἰς μετάνοιαν: ὁ δὲ ὀπίσω μου ἐρχόμενος ἰσχυρότερός μού ἐστιν, οὗ οὐκ εἰμὶ ἱκανὸς τὰ ὑποδήματα βαστάσαι: αὐτὸς ὑμᾶς βαπτίσει ἐν πνεύματι ἁγίῳ καὶ πυρί:

I immerse you with water towards repentance. The one coming after me is mightier than I am; I am not worthy to carry his sandal. He will immerse you in the sacred breath and fire.

Here’s a thought: the reference to fire, I think, may be the source of Luke’s tongues of fire that appeared on  Pentecost. Think about it: the combination of the sacred breath and fire…I think that Luke took some of the images and suggestions of Matthew and re-interpreted them in a more poetic fashion.

But, for Matthew, I suspect that the fire is another reference to the “coming” destruction of Jerusalem. Mark also referred to the mightier one; but note how Matthew has changed the description of John’s unworthiness. In Mark, John was not worthy to loosen the strap of Jesus’ sandal; here, John is not worthy to carry Jesus’ sandal. Why the change? Because Matthew is re-working Mark, not making a new copy. Because Mark says that the mightier one will baptise with the sacred breath; Matthew adds the “and with fire”. Luke follows Matthew and adds the fire. So was this in Q? Which? The holy spirit, or the holy spirit and fire? If the first, why is it in Mark? If the second, why is the part about the holy spirit in Mark? Does it not make more sense that Matthew added the part about the fire, and then Luke copied Matthew, because Luke used Matthew as well as Mark? This completely eliminates the need for Q altogether. Matthew and Luke agree on stuff that’s not in Mark because Luke used Matthew, rather than using Mark and some hypothetical Q.

This is the crux of the debate: were there three sources, or only two? I’ve been doing some research on this, but I’m still not entirely sure why Q is necessary. Now, it may be that I’m obtuse (highly possible), or it may be that the “argument” for Q simply doesn’t carry much water. I can’t figure it out because there’s really nothing there to grasp. It’s a tough call. Either scenario (obtuse or obscure?) is very possible.

11 Ego quidem vos baptizo in aqua in paenitentiam; qui autem post me venturus est, fortior me est, cuius non sum dignus calceamenta portare; ipse vos baptizabit in Spiritu Sancto et igni,

12 οὗ τὸ πτύον ἐν τῇ χειρὶ αὐτοῦ, καὶ διακαθαριεῖ τὴν ἅλωνα αὐτοῦ, καὶ συνάξει τὸν σῖτον αὐτοῦ εἰς τὴν ἀποθήκην, τὸ δὲ ἄχυρον κατακαύσει πυρὶ ἀσβέστῳ.

“Whose fan is in his hand, and he will thoroughly purge his floor, and he will gather together his grain in his barn, but the chaff will be tossed in the unquenchable fire.”

The fact that Matthew and Luke don’t always follow the order of Mark, IIRC, is supposed to be proof for the existence of Q. The thinking goes something like this: if Matthew or Luke doesn’t follow the order of Mark, then the one deviating from Mark’s order is following Q. Mark, of course, can’t follow Q because he’s not aware of it. So the fact that he, apparently, does follow the order of Q most of the time is just one of those things. It’s never really discussed. I bring this up at this point because of the term “unquenchable fire”. Matthew and Luke both use the term once, and in the context of reporting the speech of the Baptist to the Pharisees and/or Sadducees. Mark uses the term twice, both of them in Chapter 9, in conjunction with the lesson on cutting off your hand if it causes you to sin. So, the question is, if changing the order of events is significant, what about taking a very specific phrase like “unquenchable fire”, one that is used exactly four times in the NT, out of the context in which Mark used it? What, if anything, does this signify? Or did Mark deviate from the usage in Q because he wasn’t aware of it, while Matthew and Luke were faithful to Q? Or did Matthew move the usage to the speech of the Baptist because he thought it had more impact here, and Luke followed suit because Luke follows Matthew pretty faithfully for the most part?

This is. I suppose, a bit of a reductio ad absurdem.  I am not a textual scholar; I do not come from a background of analysing and comparing Scripture. I am not a theologian. Exactly because I’m not, I believe that I look at the problem very differently than Burton Mack, or JD Crossan, or Bart Ehrman. I find a lot of their textual analysis to be a bit thin on the convincing scale. Yes, there are differences. But are all the differences significant? If not, what is the criterion, or what are the criteria that make a difference significant? Too often it seems to be when the scholar has a very firm conviction about what the Evangelist would have done given a particular set of circumstances. “Why of course Luke wouldn’t have ignored that, given his interest in…” I would bet that Matthew took the phrase “unquenchable fire” from Mark, even though he changed the context. Why isn’t that significant? What am I missing here?

But enough of this. Let’s talk about the meaning of the phrase. To us, after 2,000 years of discussion, we immediately assume that the term refers to the fires of Hell. And they may very well do so. But, at this stage of the game, we don’t know that. Remember that Mark’s allusions to damnation were incredibly vague, and maybe only made sense because we could fill in the blanks with our developed Christian knowledge. The fact is, if we were to read (or hear) this passage in isolation, without a lot of background. chances are we would not quite know what to do with this expression. What unquenchable fire? Perhaps new initiates to the faith were given background on this, just as any Christian received in Sunday school or religion class. This is yet another of those threads that need to be watched as we proceed.

My point hereis simple: A lot of the stuff that we know about the NT, about Christianity owes a lot–an awful lot–to several hundred years of inference and inductive reasoning. The leaders of the Reformation understood that, and tried to strip away a lot of the extra-scriptural doctrines that had accumulated, Purgatory being the classic example. The thing is, they still did not question a large body of buried assumptions. Purgatory was nulll and void, but Hell was accepted without question.

 12 cuius ventilabrum in manu sua, et permundabit aream suam et congregabit triticum suum in horreum, paleas autem comburet igni inexstinguibili ”.

13 Τότε παραγίνεται ὁ Ἰησοῦς ἀπὸ τῆς Γαλιλαίας ἐπὶ τὸν Ἰορδάνην πρὸς τὸν Ἰωάννην τοῦ βαπτισθῆναι ὑπ’ αὐτοῦ.

14 ὁ δὲ Ἰωάννης διεκώλυεν αὐτὸν λέγων,Ἐγὼ χρείαν ἔχω ὑπὸ σοῦ βαπτισθῆναι, καὶ σὺ ἔρχῃ πρός με;

Then Jesus came out of Galilee to the Jordan, towards John the Baptist to be baptized by him. But John refused, saying “I have need to be baptized by you, and you have come to me”.

Why did Jesus get baptized? Why did he seek out John to have this ritual performed?  Presumably, this implies that Jesus was, in some way, disciple of John’s. However, saying that assumes that John had disciples. Yes, there was a scene in Mark, or will be a scene in Matthew or Luke where John’s disciples come to Jesus, but there is about a zero probability that this story has any historical value. Really, based on this tale, it doesn’t sound like John had disciples; he was more the hermit-type, and people came out to him. But, in the least, that Jesus sought out this ritual implies that he was on board with John’s message.

Of course this assumes Jesus actually did get baptized by John. Now, Josephus tells us about John, so there is good reason to believe John was historical, and he did baptize people. The question becomes, did Jesus undergo the ritual. Now, there are those who say that having Jesus start out as a disciple of John is embarrassing to the later church, so it seems more likely to be true. However, I disagree with this assessment that it was embarrassing. The story here is longer than the story in Mark. That is not what would happen if the later followers of Jesus–like Matthew, were embarrassed to admit Jesus’ relationship to John. That Matthew expands the story tells me that Matthew wanted to increase the connection to John. This actually mitigates against–albeit in a minor, or marginal way, Jesus being baptized.

However, the decisive point in favor of the baptism is that this is where Mark’s story starts. Yes, Mark had reason to tie Jesus to John, just as Matthew did, in order to put Jesus firmly in the Jewish tradition. The very old, very respected Jewish tradition. But then Mark also has the point about Jesus beginning his ministry when John was arrested, as if there is a causal connection there. As such, I think there was a relationship, with John in the role of the mentor. (And, incidentally, this relationship puts a hole in Mack’s argument that Jesus was a cynic-like sage, more Greek than Hebrew; how big that hole is, however, is a matter worthy of some discussion).

Finally, of course there is John’s demurral. Now, I see absolutely no reason to take this as anything other than later  propaganda foisted upon us by Matthew. Yes, Matthew wanted to stress the connection; no, Matthew did not want to leave it that John was the superior, the mentor. Rather, John is only the herald, a relationship that is underscored by this demurral on the part of John. That Jesus insisted that the ritual occur probably indicates that the tradition of Jesus’ baptism was too strong to be ignored–although John the Evangelist does exactly that. 

13 Tunc venit Iesus a Galilaea in Iordanem ad Ioannem, ut baptizaretur ab eo.

14 Ioannes autem prohibebat eum dicens: “ Ego a te debeo baptizari, et tu venis ad me? ”.

15 ἀποκριθεὶς δὲ ὁ Ἰησοῦς εἶπεν πρὸς αὐτόν, Ἄφες ἄρτι, οὕτως γὰρ πρέπον ἐστὶν ἡμῖν πληρῶσαι πᾶσαν δικαιοσύνην. τότε ἀφίησιν αὐτόν.

But Jesus responding, said to him “Let it happen now, for in this way by us it is seemly to fulfill all righteousness.” The he allowed him.

That translation is a bit awkward, but the sentence is a bit awkward. It gets the point across well enough. Of course it opens (but does not beg) the question of why this is seemly and righteous. This is an innovation of John, so what is being fulfilled. Really, it’s just another little flourish for Matthew to have Jesus put his stamp of approval on the act. On second thought, it’s a bit more that. Perhaps quite a bit. The point here is to let us know that there is some divine purpose being acted upon here, that this has to be done because it’s God’s will, and that this act is about cosmic balance. In this way, we are to realize that Jesus does what he does because it’s God’s purpose that he do it. 

15 Respondens autem Iesus dixit ei: “ Sine modo, sic enim decet nos implere omnem iustitiam ”. Tunc dimittit eum.

16 βαπτισθεὶς δὲ ὁ Ἰησοῦς εὐθὺς ἀνέβηἀπὸ τοῦ ὕδατος: καὶ ἰδοὺ ἠνεῴχθησαν [αὐτῷ] οἱ οὐρανοί, καὶ εἶδεν [τὸ] πνεῦμα[τοῦ] θεοῦ καταβαῖνον ὡσεὶ περιστερὰν [καὶ] ἐρχόμενον ἐπ’ αὐτόν:

17 καὶ ἰδοὺ φωνὴ ἐκ τῶν οὐρανῶν λέγουσα, Οὗτός ἐστιν ὁ υἱός μου ὁ ἀγαπητός, ἐν ᾧ εὐδόκησα.

Jesus having been submerged (dunked), immediately he came up out of the water, and lo! the heavens opened and he saw the spirit of God descending as a dove, and coming upon him. And lo! a voice from the heavens said, “This is my son, the beloved, in whom I delight”.

16 Baptizatus autem Iesus, confestim ascendit de aqua; et ecce aperti sunt ei caeli, et vidit Spiritum Dei descendentem sicut columbam et venientem super se.

17 Et ecce vox de caelis dicens: “Hic est Filius meus dilectus, in quo mihi complacui ”.

It’s important to understand that John did not baptize Jesus; rather, he submerged Jesus completely in the water. Thus our Baptist brethren (and sisteren) practice full-immersion baptism, rather than the symbolic dripping of water as practiced by the Roman Rite, and the Episcopalians (and probably others).

Second, I still haven’t figured out what to do with << ἰδοὺ >>. There just really is not English equivalent.

Finally, we have the heavens opening and the voice. One interesting change in detail is that Matthew calls this the spirit of God, rather than just the spirit, or the sacred breath. The form of the dove again brings to mind Zeus taking the form of a bull or a swan. Granted, when Zeus did this, he had an actual physical body, rather than what is probably meant to be taken as just a general form without physical substance because it’s “as a dove”. That at least leaves it ambiguous. Mark’s language is virtually identical; Luke will be a bit more clear that it’s just a shape.

Now, unlike in Mark, there is no surprise that Jesus is the son. In Mark, that was the first time we were told this; hence, the Adoptionist heresy. Here, we have already been told that Jesus was conceived by the sacred breath of God, so no surprises here.  

 

Summary Matthew Chapters 1 & 2

Something more than half of Chapter 1 was the genealogy of Jesus. Since this is basically a work of creative writing, I didn’t see much point in going through it. I am not even remotely qualified to comment,  or to compare this genealogy with that of Luke. There is one very interesting aspect to the begats, but I’ll get to that in a moment.

I am combining the summary of the two chapters because the major theme of both is the birth narrative. It starts in one and takes up most of Chapter 2 as well. There are a number of interesting aspects. First, if I had to guess, or were forced to chose, I would say that the basic narrative pre-dated Matthew. There are too many clumsy moments, places where what Matthew says and what the narrative say don’t exactly line up.  They are small things individually, but as a composite, they carry weight. The most significant one, I think, deals with Joseph and the working of the spirit to impregnate Mary.  It’s done rather awkwardly, as if Matthew wanted to add things to the narrative, but didn’t feel he could make wholesale changes, perhaps because the community for whom he was writing was too familiar with the pre-existing birth story. Another is the repetition of “the child and his mother”. This almost has the feel of an epithet from epic poetry. Like I said, small things, easy to explain individually, but with a cumulative weight. This is a sense I get, rather than something I firmly believe. It’s hard to pin down. But, if forced, I would say it did pre-date Matthew.

Then there are the parts in which it almost seems the narrative is built around Mary rather than Joseph. The purpose of the birth narrative is to give Jesus both a father and a lineage. The latter effort is wildly successful, putting Jesus into the royal house of Judah, and associating him with Israel, the more renowned of the two kingdoms (that were not unified under David). Jesus was the “son of Mary” in Mark; that was, or could be taken as, an admission that he was a bastard. That simply would not do. But the cover-up was not complete; Mary is the only woman mentioned in the patrilineal list; her prominence cannot be swept completely under the rug. It would be very interesting to know if Matthew was the father of Joseph, if the latter were the creation of the former. I suspect not, given the large role of dreams in the birth story, and the subsequent dearth of dreams in the rest of the gospel. To me this says that Matthew was working with pre-existing material.

And the odd thing is that, in the final analysis, Joseph was not actually Jesus’ father anyway. As H. D. Kitto said in The Greeks. having a god as a forebear was sometimes the equivalent of saying, “And who his father was, god only knows…” And here is where I wonder if we’re not dealing with two separate themes that Matthew tried to weld together. The first version said that Jesus’ father was Joseph; the other said that Jesus was the son of God via God’s sacred breath. In short, Jesus was a demigod, pretty much like Herakles: a divine father and a human mother. And honestly it’s this this second version that truly matters. For here Jesus is, from the outset, from birth and before, divine. Matthew wants to leave no doubt.

And just to make sure we get this, there is added the whole story of the star and the Magoi. And it’s not just any star, but his star. Anyone who has a star pretty much has to be divine, right? He was foretold and ordained from on high, to the point that the Magoi had understood that the universe had arranged not only Jesus’ birth, but the appearance of a star to announce it to those who knew how to read it. IOW, God sent a sign. And as if being divine isn’t enough, Jesus is also of royal birth, of the House of David. The Magoi thus do double-duty; they underscore and affirm both Jesus’ divinity and his royal title by calling him the King of the Jews. And they use this title to describe Jesus to the real King of the Jews, Herod the Great. That’s about as in-your-face as one can get to a sitting king. Finally, just to cover all the bases, we are told that this king is also called the Anointed. However, while it didn’t occur to me at the time, the way this is written, it could easily have been a later insertion.

Then there are the prophecies. One from Hosea, one from Jeremiah, and one from…no one is exactly sure. It seems to echo some of the sentiments found in Isaiah. It’s not a direct quote, but we’re meant to take it as foretold. And there is the whole moving about, from Bethlehem to Egypt to Nazareth in Galilee, all of which seems rather contrived. And recall that Mark said nothing about Bethlehem; this was obviously introduced for the connection to David. Nor is it a very clear narrative. But the truly contrived aspect of this is the creation of an atrocity by Herod, the sole purpose of which seems to be to allow Matthew to insert two of these prophecies. This should provide fairly conclusive proof that we are not reading an author who is writing history.

All in all, on the surface there really nothing very tentative about all of this. Matthew wants us to know from the opening bell that something very special has happened here, that Jesus was someone very special, even from before his birth, conceived as he was by way of the sacred breath of God. And yet, and yet…there are all these little cracks in the edifice, minor things that seem odd, peculiar, and just a bit out of joint. What this points to, I believe, is that we are dealing with another work of assimilation, in which the (nominal) author is actually piecing together a number of different stories. I suppose we should be used to that by now.

Matthew Chapter 2:13-23

We are in the final part of the birth narrative.

13 Ἀναχωρησάντων δὲ αὐτῶν ἰδοὺ ἄγγελος κυρίου φαίνεται κατ’ ὄναρ τῷἸωσὴφ λέγων, Ἐγερθεὶς παράλαβε τὸ παιδίον καὶ τὴν μητέρα αὐτοῦ καὶ φεῦγε εἰς Αἴγυπτον, καὶ ἴσθι ἐκεῖ ἕως ἂν εἴπω σοι: μέλλει γὰρ Ἡρῴδης ζητεῖν τὸ παιδίον τοῦ ἀπολέσαι αὐτό.

They (the magoi) having left, behold, an angel of the lord appearned in a dream to Joseph, saying, “Get up, take the child and his mother and flee to Egypt. And there remain until which (time) I telll you. For Herod to seek the child for his (the child’s) destruction.”

OK, another dream, the third so far. God, the Lord, is heavily involved in all of this. We’ll save the rest for later. 

I really do have to figure out what to do with << ἰδοὺ >>. “Behold” is really out of place in English, but it’s there. If this is going to be useful as a crib, I can’t just ignore it.

13 Qui cum recessissent, ecce angelus Domini apparet in somnis Ioseph dicens: “ Surge et accipe puerum et matrem eius et fuge in Aegyptum et esto ibi, usque dum dicam tibi; futurum est enim ut Herodes quaerat puerum ad perdendum eum ”.

14 ὁ δὲ ἐγερθεὶς παρέλαβεν τὸ παιδίον καὶ τὴν μητέρα αὐτοῦ νυκτὸς καὶ ἀνεχώρησεν εἰς Αἴγυπτον,

He having gotten up, took the child and his mother by night and departed the coutry to Egypt.

Does anyone else have the sense, or get the impression that the wording here is more about Mary than it is about Joseph? The formula “take the child and his mother” is repeated twice. Such formulae are part of a poetic tradition, which starts to take us out of a truly historical narrative. But what it does is make the two of them a unit; it sort of leaves Joseph on the outside looking in. It’s like, ‘take care of them, because they’re the important part here’.  To some degree, I believe this reinforces the message we got at the end of the genealogy, when we are told that the mother of Jesus was Mary, when we have gotten no other female ancestors in the whole lineage. And this is consistent with Joseph’s name not being mentioned by Mark. In the earliest tradition(s), Jesus was the son of Mary; no father was named. This was unseemly; the patronymic was a hugely important part of one’s identity in the Hebrew, Greek, and Roman worlds. Not having a recognized father was pretty much an open statement of bastardy. No doubt the followers of Jesus felt this lack, and so came up with Joseph. And not only that, they came up with a lineage tracing back to the most famous family and forebear in the Hebrew tradition: David.

The question we (or at least I, anyway) would like to answer is who created Joseph and the lineage? Now, there is no reason that these two pieces were created by the same person(s), at the same time, or in the same place. I have said, and I want to continue to stress that there were many traditions about Jesus, not all of them consistent. Remember, Paul has stated in two separate letters that there were different gospels. I hate to keep harping on this, but it’s a staggeringly important fact to remember at all times. Jesus’ identity differed in different traditions, so there is no reason why the name of Jesus’ father, and his royal ancestry had to come from the same group or the same place.

I referred to “the child and his mother” as a formula. The choice of that term is deliberate, because it’s what you get from oral poetic traditions: “The child of Morning, rosy-fingered Dawn”, or “Achilles, fleet of foot”. I seriously doubt that an epic poem was constructed about Jesus; rather, I’m wondering if the same sort of conditions, or impulses, that eventually created The Iliad  weren’t at work in the period between Jesus’ death and the time that Matthew wrote. I suggested that the reason Mark wrote his gospel was to weld some of these disparate traditions into a single narrative. My tentative hypothesis is that Matthew wrote to fill in the holes left by Mark. This would explain the addition of a birth narrative, a father, and a grand lineage.

The point is, assuming that Matthew knew Mark’s gospel, Matthew must have felt that important pieces were missing, that Mark was somehow incomplete. Why else do you sit down to write a different version of essentially the same story? 

14 Qui consurgens accepit puerum et matrem eius nocte et recessit in Aegyptum

15 καὶ ἦν ἐκεῖ ἕως τῆς τελευτῆς Ἡρῴδου: ἵνα πληρωθῇ τὸ ῥηθὲν ὑπὸ κυρίου διὰ τοῦ προφήτου λέγοντος, Ἐξ Αἰγύπτου ἐκάλεσατὸν υἱόν μου.

And he was there until the death of Herod.  This was so the the writing might be fulfilled, according to the prophet of the lord, saying, “From Egypt I have called my Son.” 

The prophecy is from Hosea. The “son” in the quote is the nation of Israel, and the entire quote is a reference to the Exodus. So…Given the original context of the quote, it really makes the insertion of this whole part of the story so that a non-existent prophecy could be “fulfilled” seem like it’s taking the long way around to get to the point it wants to make. I say “non-existent” because , in Hosea, it’s a reference to a event that had occurred long, long ago, not to something that will happen which is pretty much the definition of a ‘prophecy’. That Matthew went so far out of his way to work this in provides, I think, some really keen insight into the purpose, the reason why Matthew wrote. So far, we’ve had an event of such cosmic experience that it required the introduction of a new star. Now, we have the Lord stating flatly that Jesus was the son of the Lord: he is the “my son” of the prophecy. Recall how tentative Mark was about this throughout most of his gospel. I suspect this has a lot to do with why Matthew felt a new telling was necessary. We’ll come back to this in a moment.

15 et erat ibi usque ad obitum Herodis, ut adimpleretur, quod dictum est a Domino per prophetam dicentem: “Ex Aegypto vocavi filium meum”.

16 Τότε Ἡρῴδης ἰδὼν ὅτι ἐνεπαίχθη ὑπὸ τῶν μάγων ἐθυμώθη λίαν,καὶ ἀποστείλας ἀνεῖλεν πάντας τοὺς παῖδας τοὺς ἐν Βηθλέεμ καὶ ἐν πᾶσι τοῖς ὁρίοις αὐτῆς ἀπὸ διετοῦς καὶ κατωτέρω, κατὰ τὸν χρόνον ὃν ἠκρίβωσεν παρὰ τῶν μάγων.

Then Herod, seeing that he had been deceived by the magoi, became enraged, and he sent out to kill all the children of Bethlehem and its surroundings from two years and down, according to the time which he had enquired about diligently from the magoi.

Here is where we really see just how far Matthew has gone to work in the cite from Hosea about calling “my son” out of Egypt. We are told that Herod killed all the (male) children two years and younger in Bethlehem and its environs. There is absolutely no evidence from anywhere that such an atrocity ever occurred. And an event of this magnitude could be expected to have been mentioned somewhere; even the other evangelists ignore it. Josephus was not exactly well-disposed to the memory of Herod; he tells us in prurient detail how Herod murdered many, many members of his family. A crime like this would have been an awfully juicy tidbit to corroborate this reputation, so that Josephus is silent on it must carry weight. There is another reason to doubt this: we do not know that Jesus was born while Herod was alive. Luke places it in the governorship of the Roman Quirinius; the two periods did not overlap. Herod was dead before Quirinius became governor. Now, there are reasons to prefer Matthew over Luke, but the point remains that this was not a settled matter. Otherwise, Luke would not have felt free to change the date of Jesus’ birth the way he did.

As as result, the implication seems to be that Matthew so badly wanted to work in that line from Hosea, that he had to come up with a very compelling reason for Jesus to be in Egypt; he succeeded in coming up with that reason, but only by coming up with a pretty monstrous lie. Or the creation of a monstrous act.

One final point. We are not told how much time passed between the departure from Jerusalem of the magoi and the Slaughter of the Innocents–as it became known in the Roman tradition. But the fact that Herod killed all the boys under two gives us a pretty good indication that the journey of the magoi had taken some time. Granted, no doubt Herod would have erred on the side of caution and raised the age just to make sure, but there is a recognition that some time had passed. I mention this because I find it fascinating that Matthew took this into consideration when making up the story. On the one hand, he has no qualms about telling a whopper, but OTOH, he calculates in that a certain amount of time had elapsed between the birth and the arrival of the magoi. Now, someone might want to point out that this actually provides some support for the whole story, and I would have to agree that it does. However, this slender reed of an argument is far outweighed by the mighty tree of the story of the Slaughter of the Innocents. 

16 Tunc Herodes videns quoniam illusus esset a Magis, iratus est valde et mittens occidit omnes pueros, qui erant in Bethlehem et in omnibus finibus eius, a bimatu et infra, secundum tempus, quod exquisierat a Magis.

17 τότε ἐπληρώθη τὸ ῥηθὲν διὰ Ἰερεμίουτοῦ προφήτου λέγοντος,

Then the pronouncement of the Prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled, which said (lit = saying),

Comment deferred

17 Tunc adimpletum est, quod dictum est per Ieremiam prophetam dicentem:

18 Φωνὴ ἐν Ῥαμὰ ἠκούσθη, κλαυθμὸς καὶ ὀδυρμὸς πολύς: Ῥαχὴλ κλαίουσα τὰ τέκνα αὐτῆς, καὶ οὐκ ἤθελεν παρακληθῆναι, ὅτι οὐκ εἰσίν.

“A great voice in Ramah was heard, with great crying and wailing, ‘Rachel weeps for her children, and she did not wish to be consoled, because they were no more’.”

Overall, this is pretty much the same idea as the quote from Hosea: a reference that to an event that happened centuries before, and one that was backward-looking even when it was written. The only difference is that it’s from a much more prominent prophet, this time Jeremiah. Again, I have to wonder who the intended audience was here; was it fellow Jews who might crinkle their brow at this odd use of an old prophet? Or was the intended listener a pagan, who might be impressed that the destruction of the children Matthew describes had been “predicted” several centuries prior? Remember, Paul sometimes played a little fast and loose with his OT references, perhaps knowing that the audience may not be keenly aware of Hebrew Scripture. And so, in a slightly different way, perhaps Matthew sought OT references that sounded good–if they weren’t scrutinized too closely.

The thing is, I believe that the reason Matthew has Herod kiiling the children od neighboring towns was to allow him to use this verse, thereby including Ramah as one of those nearby towns. Now, I checked a map; there are actually at least two (possibly three) places called Ramah, but none of them are particularly near Bethlehem. Bethlehem of Judea is south of Jerusalem; Ramah is north of Jerusalem, which makes it even more odd. All in all, Matthew certainly went out of his way to work this in. 

18 Vox in Rama audita est, ploratus et ululatus multus: Rachel plorans filios suos, et noluit consolari, quia non sunt ”.

19 Τελευτήσαντος δὲ τοῦ Ἡρῴδου ἰδοὺ ἄγγελος κυρίου φαίνεται κατ’ ὄναρ τῷ Ἰωσὴφ ἐν Αἰγύπτῳ

Then, Herod having died, behold, an angel of the lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, (saying)

Comment deferred

19 Defuncto autem Herode, ecce apparet angelus Domini in somnis Ioseph in Aegypto

20 λέγων, Ἐγερθεὶς παράλαβε τὸ παιδίον καὶ τὴν μητέρα αὐτοῦ καὶ πορεύου εἰς γῆν Ἰσραήλ, τεθνήκασιν γὰρ οἱ ζητοῦντες τὴν ψυχὴν τοῦ παιδίου.

“Get up (and) take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those seeking the life of the child have died”.

First, we’re now up to our fourth dream. The thing is, I just realized how special the whole dream thing is. Matthew will use it again in V-22 below, and once more when Pilate’s wife has her dream. And that’s it. For the entire NT. Five times in Matthew Chapter 2,  once in Matthew Chapter 22. And nowhere else. Admittedly, I don’t know exactly what the significance of this is, but I have no doubt that it is significant. Does this represent an older block of a story that Matthew incorporated more or less whole? Perhaps like the story of the Gerasene demonaic that we found in Mark? The (over)use of the dream motif indicates a certain world-view, an attitude towards the interaction between the divine and the human. But the attitude disappears, or goes dormant, for twenty chapters. Why? I wish I knew.

And again, we have the “the child and his mother” formula. This, in conjunction with the repeated dream motif, may indeed indicate that this had become something like a folk-legend, perhaps in verse? An oral poem? The story of Jesus and Herod and the magoi from the east?

Here’s a question. Why do we call it Israel? This was Judah, or Judea, as the Romans called it. Note that Israel had not existed for half a millennium or longer at this point. But is that the point? Again, I keep coming back to the need for a pedigree, the longer the better, to impress the pagans. As such, “Israel” is perhaps a deliberate archaism. Because how would a Jew react to this? Would there be a sense of wistful nostalgia? Again, hard to say. Regardless of the audience, or the reaction, it’s an anachronism here.

Internal update: I wrote the bit above about Israel a day or two ago. In the meantime, something has occurred to me. Of the two kingdoms, Israel and Judah, Israel had much the more storied past. As such, I believe Matthew is trying to connect Jesus to that more storied past. Here’st the thing: I seriously doubt that there was ever a united monarchy; or, if there was, Judah was under the rule of Israel, and Israel was more pagan than not. But it was more powerful. Much more powerful. So after the destruction of Israel by the Assyrians, the now independent (mostly so, but recognizing Assyrian suzerainty) aspired to place itself as not only an integral part of Israel, but somehow dominant, by placing David at the apex of both kingdoms. But Israel had the name recognition, so Matthew wants Jesus associated with the royal splendor of the unified kingdom.

One last thing: “those who sought the life of the child”. Two things. Again we get “psyche”, in the sense of “physical life” rather than anything non-material.  Second, why “those”? It was Herod who wanted the life of the child. I suppose this could include the court and the sycophants and the hangers-on who surrounded the king, but it seems a bit of an odd formulation. Here’s a thought: is it an indication that this story was in verse? In epic poetry, the formulations would change with the case of the noun. So, in some cases, Achilles was the “son of Peleus”, while in others he was “fleet of foot”. The choice would depend on the requirements of the metre. So, here, did “those who sought” fit the metre, where simply “Herod”, or “the king”, or something else didn’t work?

20 dicens: “ Surge et accipe puerum et matrem eius et vade in terram Israel; defuncti sunt enim, qui quaerebant animam pueri ”.

21 ὁ δὲ ἐγερθεὶς παρέλαβεν τὸ παιδίον καὶ τὴν μητέρα αὐτοῦ καὶ εἰσῆλθεν εἰς γῆν Ἰσραήλ.

Having risen, he took the child and his mother and went to the land of Israel.

Comment deferred

21 Qui surgens accepit puerum et matrem eius et venit in terram Israel.

22 ἀκούσας δὲ ὅτι Ἀρχέλαος βασιλεύει τῆς Ἰουδαίας ἀντὶ τοῦ πατρὸς αὐτοῦ Ἡρῴδου ἐφοβήθη ἐκεῖ ἀπελθεῖν: χρηματισθεὶς δὲ κατ’ ὄναρ ἀνεχώρησεν εἰς τὰ μέρη τῆς Γαλιλαίας,

Hearing then that Archelaos was the King of the Jews, against his (Archela0s) father Herod, he (Joseph) feared to enter (Judea). He was warned in a dream to depart for the land of Galilee.

That’s the last dream until Chapter 22. And, strictly speaking, Archelaos was not the King of Judea. He was a tetrarch, because the territory of Herod the Great was divided into four (tetra) parts as a result of civil unrest bordering on civil war among the would-be successors. The outcome was that four of Herod’s relatives were given nominal privileges of rule, but all were under the auspices of the new Roman governor; Quirinius, of Luke, was the first of these. Pilate would come later. 

22 Audiens autem quia Archelaus regnaret in Iudaea pro Herode patre suo, timuit illuc ire; et admonitus in somnis, secessit in partes Galilaeae

23 καὶ ἐλθὼν κατῴκησεν εἰς πόλιν λεγομένην Ναζαρέτ, ὅπως πληρωθῇ τὸ ῥηθὲν διὰ τῶν προφητῶν ὅτι Ναζωραῖος κληθήσεται.

And coming they dwell in the city called Nazareth, so that fulfilled was the dictum from the prophet that, “He will be called a Nazarene”.

23 et veniens habitavit in civitate, quae vocatur Nazareth, ut adimpleretur, quod dictum est per Prophetas: “ Nazaraeus vocabitur ”.

This is interesting. My hard copy Greek NT (English Bible Society; I bought it at the University of Toronto Bookroom a decade or two or three ago) cites this bit about the Nazarene to Isaiah, 11:1 & 53:2.. However, upon looking, I find no mention of Nazareth. So I googled it. As it turns out, there is no direct quote of this in the OT. Rather, it’s an allegorical interpretation, such as was, apparently, fairly common in First Century Jewish interpretation; Philo of Alexandria, of course, was the most famous of these. So what does it mean? Well, that turns out to be an excellent question. One school of thought believes that this should be read as “He shall be called a Nazirite”, this being a term for one consecrated to God. It seems that Biblical scholars have sought the cite, in vain, for about 2,000 years. Calvin says that St John Chrysostom was baffled by the reference.

One possibility is that Matthew misunderstood what he heard. “Nazirite” is a Hebrew term, and we have already seen that Matthew read his Scripture in Greek. So maybe this came from an oral source, and Matthew garbled it, so that the word morphed into “Nazarene”, as something that he recognised. There is a term in Linguistics for this: where someone hearing a word, especially in a foreign language, and interprets it in terms that the hearer can understand. The example my prof always used was an Anglophone hearing the term “contre danse“, and repeating it as “country dance”. Now, if this is true, it sure shoots holes in the “Jesus of Nazareth” theme. If you’ll recall, based on the internal evidence in Mark, my inference was that Jesus actually lived in Caphernaum. Based on what we’ve read here, I’m not convinced he was from Nazareth.