Matthew Chapter 4:13-17

The chapter continues. This will be a short section. But those are famous last words.

12 Ἀκούσας δὲ ὅτι Ἰωάννης παρεδόθη ἀνεχώρησεν εἰς τὴνΓαλιλαίαν.

Then having heard that John having been arrested, he left the territory (and went) to Galilee.

The main verb in the sentence, << ἀνεχώρησεν >> carries the sense of exiting whatever territory you happen to be in.

But beyond that, this is more or less a direct copy of Mark on this. If you’ll recall, I admitted that I’ve always been perplexed by this. Now, I’m perplexed that I was perplexed by this. And I believe a commentor explained it all pretty well in relation to the entry for Mark, but it didn’t absorb until now. The logical thing is to assume that Jesus was a follower of John; so if John was arrested, then Jesus had reason to believe he might be arrested, too. That makes a lot of sense–on the surface. First, who arrested John? Was it Herod, as we’re told later? If so, Herod was also tetrarch of Galilee, so leaving for Galilee would not put him out of Herod’s reach. In fact, this move would seem possibly to have quite the opposite effect. One suggestion might be that Jesus was returning to Galilee to take up the mantle of the master, to take John’s place. But was John from Galilee? Don’t think so. And since so many were coming from Jerusalem to be baptised, one gets the impression that John was somewhat in the vicinity. The Jordan River flows into (or out of) the Sea of Galilee, so he could have been at that end of the river. But then, would Jesus have been ‘leaving the territory’, thereby ‘returning’ to Galilee?

This is actually a semi-interesting question. Where was Jesus baptised (assuming, for the sake of argument, that he was).  In the Synoptics, we get the impression that Jesus went to Jerusalem once. In John, we are told that Jesus went there multiple times.  If John were baptising in the vicinity of Jerusalem, then maybe Jesus did go there more than once. 

Or maybe Jesus was never baptised by John. That would solve the problem.

The other question is whether John actually had followers. From the description of him, one does not get that impression; he seems rather like the desert hermit type. But there is the story of John’s disciples coming to see Jesus. Given this, the thing to keep in mind is that the story of Jesus’ baptism is not told to relate an accurate description of the situation at the time; rather, it was a set-piece designed to further the tale of Jesus. I have said that Jesus’ later followers stressed, or even exaggerated the tie between John and Jesus; perhaps this sentence is the best example of this. By giving the impression that Jesus had reason to fear arrest himself, then the reader (listener) is left to understand that Jesus was close to John. And maybe the connection was invented, rather than exaggerated? According to Josephus, John had a very favorable reputation among the residents of Judea; that’s reason to invent it.

Note this: a lot of Christians–and biblical scholars–have suggested that Jesus’ relationship to John shows that Jesus was the follower. This is unthinkable, so we are told that the relationship is downplayed. I don’t buy that. Why mention it if it was so detrimental? No, the later followers of  Jesus saw the connection as beneficial to their story. So Matthew makes the story longer. Yup. That sure downplays the episode.

12 Cum autem audisset quod Ioannes traditus esset, secessit in Galilaeam.

13 καὶ καταλιπὼν τὴν Ναζαρὰ ἐλθὼν κατῴκησεν εἰς Καφαρναοὺμ τὴν παρα θαλασσίαν ἐν ὁρίοις Ζαβουλὼν καὶ Νεφθαλίμ:

14 ἵνα πληρωθῇ τὸ ῥηθὲν διὰ Ἠσαΐου τοῦ προφήτου λέγοντος,

15 Γῆ Ζαβουλὼν καὶ γῆ Νεφθαλίμ, ὁδὸν θαλάσσης, πέραν τοῦ Ἰορδάνου, Γαλιλαία τῶν ἐθνῶν,

16 ὁ λαὸς ὁ καθήμενος ἐν σκότει φῶς εἶδεν μέγα, καὶ τοῖς καθημένοις ἐν χώρᾳ καὶ σκιᾷ θανάτου φῶς ἀνέτειλεν αὐτοῖς.

And having left Nazareth, coming to Caphernaum along the sea (of Galilee), in the territory of Zabulon and Naphthali, so that the writing from Isaiah the prophet be fulfilled, saying “The land of Zebulon and Naphthali, on the road to the sea, across the Jordan, Galilee of the nations (= Gentiles), the people having been seated (settled) there in darkness saw the great light, and to those seated in the country and the shadow of death a light rose.

We talked about this to some degree in Mark. I have a very distinct sense that there are a lot of gyrations to get Jesus into Nazareth and Bethlehem, and then to explain why he actually lived in Caphernaum. Given my historical training, I really get the feeling that much of this is after-the-fact rationalizing, intended to “fulfill” the prophecies “about” Jesus. By this I mean that later followers of Jesus kept looking through the Hebrew Scriptures to find rather generic stuff like this, and then moved Jesus about in order to make it all happen; all this despite the fact that everyone knew he was from Caphernaum.  Now, in biblical scholarship, there is the concept of dissimilarity; this means that inconvenient facts are more likely to be true than the stuff that “makes sense”. As I see it, Jesus living in Caphernaum is probably a terrific example of such a fact. It seems so inconvenient that the authors of the NT had to invent reasons why he was from David’s city, or why he was called a Nazarene, or how God called his son out of Egypt. 

Mark called him “Jesus of Nazareth”, but this is the sort of thing that could have been inserted at any time. Mark’s narrative, OTOH, seemed to make the most sense when we had Jesus and his mother and siblings all living in Caphernaum.  Matthew then has to fulfill the prophecies by having Jesus born in Bethlehem, fleeing to Egypt, and then having Herod slaughter the innocents, and then move to Nazareth. Being honest, I have no idea how much, or how often people in ancient Judea/Palestine/Galilee moved about; my sense is that it didn’t happen very often. Being relocated was a major trauma for ancient people; in Greek cities, exile was the equivalent of death. One’s extended family was important to one’s social standing, and to one’s support. One didn’t just leave it behind without good reason. I honestly don’t know if I’m overreacting to this, but it just seems odd.

This is a bit of perplexity on my part: “Naphthali across the Jordan”. The thing is, the Jordan runs north and south. That means that “to be across the Jordan”, one would have to be looking from east to west. And remember that Isaiah was supposedly written prior to the fall of Israel. I looked this up in my Atlas of Biblical History and tried to figure out where this would have been written if Naphthali were “across the Jordan”. Didn’t come up with anything obvious. 

<<  Γαλιλαία τῶν ἐθνῶν>> This transliterates as “Galilee ton ethnown”. The last word is the root of  “ethnic”. This is the word that has usually been rendered as “Gentiles”, and I believe I have done so many times without thinking of it too much. In a lot of more recent translations it has become “the nations”. The word probably means something like “linguistic/cultural group”. Bear in mind that there was no necessary correlation between a linguistic/cultural group and their “nation” in the way we think of Italy and Italian being reasonably synonymous. As such, “nation” is horribly anachronistic. As such, “peoples”–especially as meaning “different peoples” or “other peoples” is probably a better way to render the word. I will try to do so in the future.

So, taking this with the bit about being across the Jordan, we get that this region was not part of the ancient (and largely legendary) Kingdom of Israel. Well, the kingdom is legendary mostly in the sense that there was ever a united monarchy that ruled from Jerusalem.

13 Et relicta Nazareth, venit et habitavit in Capharnaum maritimam 

14 in finibus Zabulon et Nephthali, ut impleretur, quod dictum est per Isaiam prophetam dicentem:

15 “ Terra Zabulon et terra Nephthali, / ad viam maris, trans Iordanem, / Galilaea gentium; /

16 populus, qui sedebat in tenebris, / lucem vidit magnam,  et sedentibus in regione et umbra mortis / lux orta est eis ”.

17 Ἀπὸ τότε ἤρξατο ὁ Ἰησοῦς κηρύσσειν καὶ λέγειν, Μετανοεῖτε, ἤγγικεν γὰρ ἡ βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν.

17 Exinde coepit Iesus praedicare et dicere: “ Paenitentiam agite; appropinquavit enim regnum caelorum ”.

From then Jesus began to preach and say, “Repent, for the kingdom of the heavens has drawn near”.

OK, the kingdom of heaven again. This was what John was preaching back in 3:2. So, IOW, Jesus is preaching John’s message. In fact, this is John’s message verbatim. What are we to make of this?

In Mark, John does not say that the kingdom has come near. Rather, the first mention of the kingdom is made by Jesus, in the same context as it is placed here: it was what Jesus began preaching after hearing that John had been arrested. Here is perhaps the most flagrant example of how Matthew ties Jesus even more closely to John than Mark did: he has Jesus actually repeat what John said. Sure seems like an attempt to link the two together, rather than to downplay the connection. Not sure if I’ve mentioned this, but as for the relative popularity of Jesus and John, Josephus’ treatment of John is significantly longer than his treatment of Jesus; especially if one scrapes away the later Christian accretions.

Now we are left with the idea of the kingdom. What does this mean? At this point, we really don’t know. Nor are we ever given a systematic discussion of the topic, or we weren’t given such in Mark. We were told it is like a mustard seed and other such things, but nothing in direct discourse. Why was that? A lot of scholars claim that this was a–or even the–central doctrine of Jesus’ teaching. Then why was he so cryptic about it? Why no speech telling us that the kingdom is the refuge of te broken and the dispossessed? Why didn’t Mark make that clear?

Being the good historian that I am (!), I can think of a couple of possible answers to that question. Or maybe more. The first is that this was an aspect of Jesus’ teaching that Mark wasn’t much interested in. Can’t exactly say why this might have been, but it should be considered. Another is that Mark was very interested, but this was part of the secret teaching that Mark wished to keep secret; a corollorary to this would be the possibility that Mark did not know because the secret knowledge he alludes to was never told to Mark. No doubt other possible explanations could be presented, but I think we get the picture. It’s also possible that Mark explained it very plainly, but I’m a dullard like Peter who just doesn’t get it.

This is good point to mention this because we’re coming up on the Sermon on the Mount in the next chapter. Many scholars sort of hold that this represents the core of Jesus’ teaching. The Q adherents are dead certain that this teaching was part of Q, since it appears in Matthew and Luke, but not Mark. I am going to have to deal with this, and I intend to do so shortly, but that will probably be te topic of a special piece.

Yes, this sure was a “short” section.

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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 November 7, 2014, in Chapter 4, gospel commentary, gospels, Matthew's Gospel and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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