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.

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About James, brother of Jesus

I have a BA from the University of Toronto in Greek and Roman History. For this, I had to learn classical Greek and Latin. In seminar-style classes, we discussed both the meaning of the text and the language. U of T has a great Classics Dept. One of the professors I took a Senior Seminar with is now at Harvard. I started reading the New Testament as a way to brush up on my Greek, and the process grew into this. I plan to comment on as much of the NT as possible, starting with some of Paul's letters. After that, I'll start in on the Gospels, starting with Mark.

Posted on October 25, 2014, in Chapter 4, gospel commentary, gospels, Historical Jesus, Matthew's Gospel and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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