Monthly Archives: February 2015

Summary Matthew Chapter 8

The overall theme of this chapter is miracles. We had the leper, the centurion’s boy, Peter’s mother-in-law, calming the sea, and finished with the Gadarene demonaic. Most of these stories were in Mark, with the exception of the centurion’s boy. With the exception of the latter, Matthew’s versions of the stories were shorter, with fewer details.

What does this mean? Or imply? The overall sense is an attempt to brush by the exorcism stories, and to de-emphasize the miracle stories; if this latter is true, so why does Matthew invent–or at least insert*–an entirely new miracle story? I think that the lesser emphasis on Mark, and the greater emphasis on the centurion is all part of the same phenomenon. The audience has changed. By and large, the idea of demonic possession was not of much interest to a Graeco-Roman audience. The idea of demonic possession just does not occur all that often in Classical literature. Magic is certainly prominent, but not demons. Why? Because, by and large, the idea of demons was, to a great degree, a Christian phenomenon. I don’t mean that the idea did not exist before Christians; JB Russell certainly disproves that in The Devil, the first volume of his history of the concept of the Devil. And Satan was part of Jewish tradition. But it was the interaction of the new Christian theology in its struggle with paganism that really developed the idea of demons. The pagan gods were largely ambivalent; they would do good, they would do bad. Yes, there was Ahriman, the principal of evil (really, of darkness, but it came to be more or less the same thing) in Zoroastrianism. And the Greeks had kakodaimones, “bad daimons” to distinguish them from the beneficent daimons, such as the one who famously counseled Socrates. But, as a rule, they didn’t go around possessing people.

[*Yes, the official view is that this story was in Q. Preposterous. This is a story that makes much more sense in the 80s than in the 40s or 50s. Q is supposed to be a sayings gospel, on the order of Gospel of Thomas, except when it has all these narrative stories, like the dialogue between Jesus and Satan during the temptations, here with this story, and others. Which is it? A collection of sayings? Or another nearly complete gospel? Gospel of Thomas has nothing like this, so if that’s the paradigm for Q, then there’s no way this was included. The Q proponents want it both ways, and that is a huge problem.]

Christians–as the Jews before them–were a tad ambivalent about the existence of other deities. Strike that. They were very clear about the existence of a single God, but they by no means denied the existence of other supernatural beings. Nor did they deny (for the most part; there were Christian thinkers who did exactly that) that these supernatural beings had power and could create wonders. So it was the steady, and very literal demonization of these pagan gods that really swelled the ranks and the power of Satan, the Great Enemy. We have the “diabolos”, the slanderer who tempted Jesus, and Mark mentions ‘ho satannos’, Satan. So Christians most certainly did not invent these ideas, but they only became the integral part of the culture-world and thought-world after a few centuries of the development of Christian thought. Like with other things, the Christians sort of merged Jewish and pagan thought into something different, even if it wasn’t quite, and certainly not wholly, new.

So what are the implications of the way that Matthew downplayed the story of the Gerasene/Gadarene demonaic?

To start our thinking about this, I believe we are justified in taking this as a story that came to Mark via oral tradition. It’s too elaborate, it has too many details, it’s too different from Mark’s standard laconic style. What this means is that Jesus had been known as, and was remembered as, a wonder-worker by one significant segment of those who were, or became followers of Jesus after the crucifixion. And I think it’s important to understand that this segment of Jesus’ followers probably did not overlap with the groups that Paul founded. It is tempting here to infer that Mark was more attuned to traditions that were localized in the areas around Judea and Galilee, and the traditions perhaps had not percolated to the pagan communities that Paul converted. Thus, the inference is that Jesus was remembered locally–in Judea and Galilee and environs–more as a wonder-worker than as the Christ. Wonder-workers are not outside the Judaic culture- or thought-world. Josephus mentions, and Ehrman talks about Honi the Circle Maker as a figure not dissimilar–in some ways–to Jesus in Judaic lore.

Recall how we discussed that Mark has, seemingly, two thematic components. The first, perhaps the earliest, is the wonder-worker tradition, of which the story of the Gerasene demonaic is one of the climactic pieces. The other component is the Christ tradition, which sort of takes over the narrative towards the end, with Chapters 7/8/9 being sort of the transition ground. This is the tradition of Paul. Matthew, seemingly, picks up the story from the Christ tradition. So we have the transition from the wonder-worker to the Christ in place by the time Matthew decided to write his gospel. The question to ask in conjunction with this is, do we have a change of audience, too?

Traditionally, Mark was part of Peter’s retinue. So, since Peter was, traditionally, martyred in Rome, it was more or less assumed that Mark wrote in Rome. However, a lot of this is based on stuff that the early and later patristic thinkers wrote, culminating with Eusebios and his Ecclesiastical History. The problem is, I do not believe that Eusebios is particularly trustworthy. He was, essentially, writing the official biography of the Church up to that point. He had too much of a vested interest, and so had too much incentive to tell anything but the official line that would best suit the needs of the Church as it existed in his lifetime. The truth is, we have no idea whether Paul or Peter ever went to Rome, let alone that they were martyred there. Peter in Rome suited the needs of the Bishop of Rome in his claims to a primacy over all the other bishops. Even Clement, the fourth bishop of Rome (Linus, Cletus, Clement…that was part of the Catholic mass at one point) has a real interest in claiming to be the successor of Peter, so the tradition is suspect from the outset.

So if Mark didn’t write in Rome, then where? Well, the Aramaic sayings, nicely translated, indicate a place outside of Galilee and/or Judea. OK, that’s great. But there were a substantial number of Jews for whom Greek would have been their native tongue. Paul is perhaps one; Philo of Alexandria is another; and then there’s Matthew, who read the LXX translation rather than the Hebrew Torah. So Mark could still have been writing for a largely, if not exclusively, Jewish audience even if he felt the need to translate the Aramaic expressions. The tradition, again dating back to the patristic thinkers, is that Matthew originally wrote in Aramaic; however, there is no evidence for this other than their say-so, and this was a group who believed that Matthew wrote first. As such, I’m not inclined to take their word on this, or much of anything else for that matter. Claiming that Matthew was originally written in Aramaic is part-and-parcel of their belief (probably more like “fervent wish”) that Matthew was the original gospel. Writing in Aramaic would have put Matthew closer to Jesus, in both time and space. This would make it unnecessary to explain the inconvenient fact that so much of Jesus’ teaching is absent from Mark.

So, let’s put some pieces together. (1) The Christ tradition seems, perhaps, to have taken root largely among pagan communities. That is a bit of a leap, I realize; it’s based on the fact that Paul preached the Christ tradition, and he preached primarily to pagans. We do not know what James and the Jerusalem community taught, but, thanks to Paul, we do know it was something much closer to mainline Judaism, given its insistence on maintaining dietary laws and circumcision for even adult male converts. Given the teachings of the Sermon on the Mount, and those in the Didache, it’s not entirely far-fetched to say that the followers who adhered to more Jewish practice were probably not in the forefront of the Christ tradition. (2) Matthew preaches the Christ tradition. In fact, he insists on not only Jesus as the Christ, but Jesus as divine. The Christ could be fitted into the Judaic mainstream, but the latter could not. Ergo, there exists the strong possibility that Matthew was not directing his gospel at a primarily Jewish audience. A generation had passed since Mark wrote, and since the destruction of the Temple, and more than a generation had passed since the death of James the Just, leader of the Jerusalem community. In addition, much of the Jesus movement in Judea, and possibly Galilee, may have dissipated with the death of James and the destruction of the city. As such, the centre of gravity for the Jesus movement had moved outside its homeland. IOW, the Jesus movement was now concentrated in areas that had been pagan. They may well have had, and probably did have, significant Jewish communities, but they were not traditionally or historically Jewish areas. (3) The idea of a divine son of a god was very familiar to pagans. This was a recurring theme in pagan literature and legend, whereas demonic possession was not. So the fact that Matthew is preaching a divine being, a son of God (rather than a god), and that Matthew is not quite so focused on demonic possession could easily be seen to signify that Matthew had tailored his message to a predominantly pagan audience. Where Mark sort of straddled the middle, Matthew was picking up where Mark ended, and de-emphasizing, or playing down the wonder-worker and exorcist. (4) In Chapter 8, Matthew has a story that was completely absent from Mark. The focus of the story is a Roman centurion, a man of significant position and authority in the Roman army. The centurions were, more or less, the senior NCOs, the sergeants, and everyone who understands the military realizes these are the backbone of the army. They run things on the day-to-day, boots on the ground level. They aren’t concerned with strategy or logistics; their job is to ensure that decisions made at the higher levels got carried out, and effectively. So this is a man who was of the people, but a leader of the people. He was not a born aristocrat as the officers were. He was a career military man. So gaining his respect, and counting him as a follower of Jesus would have been a powerful message to a pagan audience who would have understood the man’s importance. This man came to Jesus for help. And not only did Jesus not spurn him, he not only helped the man, but, to conclude, Jesus held the man out as a sterling example for Jews. And that’s still not the end. Jesus then tells this man that it’s people like him, not the sons of Israel, who will be counted as the heirs of the kingdom of the heavens.

Add these together, and it’s pretty clear why Matthew downplayed the story of the Gadarene demonaic, and substituted the story of the centurion’s boy. Matthew was now writing for pagans. I think we can be reasonably certain of that from this point forward; however, I will continue to tally up the evidence as it presents itself.

Thus, the significance of Chapter 8 is that it represents the point where we can take it for granted that, whatever his personal background, Matthew was not primarily concerned with converting Jews any longer. The Christians he was now preaching to were not former Jews; rather, they were mostly former pagans. That is, admittedly, a pretty bold statement, but I believe it’s borne out by the evidence and the internal logic of the text. This is what happens when one reads this as an historical–albeit an inadvertent one–document.


Matthew Chapter 8:28-34 – Chapter 9:1

This will finish up Chapter 8. I’ve included the first verse of Chapter 9 because it’s really part of this story, that of the Gadarene/Gerasene demonaic, which occupies the first half of Chapter 5 in Mark. Before even starting the translation, there are a couple of points to be made. I’m not sure which is the most obvious,

First, in Mark’s story, there is a single demonaic. Here, there are two. Luke has one; however, this can’t be used as evidence that Luke hadn’t seen Matthew, because Luke could have been restoring the tale to its original form. Why are there two in Matthew? That may be answered as we proceed.

Second, the story in Mark is about three times the length as the one recorded here. It’s one of the longest continuous narratives in Mark; why did Matthew shorten it to such a degree? Luke’s version is about as long as Mark’s, but I haven’t done even a cursory comparison for content. The length and the degree of detail in Mark’s story is so great that I have a strong suspicion that this was a very well-known story about Jesus. As such, it had been elaborated over time, accumulating all the details that we find. But it is the tale of an exorcism; does Matthew shorten it because he doesn’t want to emphasize this aspect of Jesus’ ministry? Again, perhaps this will become more clear as we read the story itself.

28 Καὶ ἐλθόντος αὐτοῦ εἰς τὸ πέραν εἰς τὴν χώραν τῶν Γαδαρηνῶν ὑπήντησαν αὐτῷ δύο δαιμονιζόμενοι ἐκ τῶν μνημείων ἐξερχόμενοι, χαλεποὶ λίαν, ὥστε μὴ ἰσχύειν τινὰ παρελθεῖν διὰ τῆς ὁδοῦ ἐκείνης.

And he (Jesus) coming to the border of the territory of the Gadarenes, two demonaics met him, coming out from the tombs nearby, extremely fierce, so that no one was able to come along that road. 

Regarding the Greek: the last clause is an accusative and infinitive. This is very common in Latin, less so in Greek. It is one instance where I think that the standard NT Greek translation of “to be able”, as opposed to the Classical usage of “to prevail” is perhaps justified. So I have rendered it like that. I spent some time trying to make it work otherwise, but the way I’ve rendered it seems the most likely.

28 Et cum venisset trans fretum in regionem Gadarenorum, occurrerunt ei duo habentes daemonia, de monumentis exeuntes, saevi nimis, ita ut nemo posset transire per viam illam.

29 καὶ ἰδοὺ ἔκραξαν λέγοντες, Τί ἡμῖν καὶ σοί, υἱὲ τοῦ θεοῦ; ἦλθες ὧδε πρὸ καιροῦ βασανίσαι ἡμᾶς;

And, lo, they cried out, saying, “What is between us and you, Son of God? Have you come to torment us before the time?

The NIV adds “appointed” to this, making it “the appointed time”. It’s probably not entirely unwarranted, but it’s still a bit intrusive, IMO. Even more interesting is that this little phrase “before the time” is neither in Mark nor in Luke. What does it mean? The obvious implication is eschatological: before the time of the return of Jesus, before the Last Judgement. At least, that’s obvious to us. Where is the support for this in the text, up to this point? Think of being one of those hearing this story from Matthew for the first time. You get to “before the time” and ask “what time? I don’t get it”. Again, Matthew very consciously and very willfully edited this story down from the much longer version in Mark, and yet he added this phrase? Can anyone explain that one to me? I suppose that, if this is the opening of the eschatology to come, this will make sense as we go along.

As for the plural, I suspect this might just be Matthew being pedantic. “My name Legion, and we are many”, so Matthew turns the single man into two. Again: he edits and pares and does all sorts of stuff, but then makes a change like this. But remember: Matthew is an authorial genius, who organized his material with utmost care. Even if he flat-out added stuff

Now there’s something to note. Matthew is adding stuff, changing stuff in Mark’s narrative. He flat-out added the bit about “the time”. As such, the next time I suggest that Matthew has made something up on his own authority, this passage should serve as evidence that Matthew has done this in other places, so the idea that he did it elsewhere is not so incredible after all.   

29 Et ecce clamaverunt dicentes: “ Quid nobis et tibi, Fili Dei? Venisti huc ante tempus torquere nos? ”.

30 ἦν δὲ μακρὰν ἀπ’ αὐτῶν ἀγέλη χοίρων πολλῶν βοσκομένη.

31 οἱ δὲ δαίμονες παρεκάλουν αὐτὸν λέγοντες, Εἰ ἐκβάλλεις ἡμᾶς, ἀπόστειλον ἡμᾶς εἰς τὴν ἀγέλην τῶν χοίρων.

There was far from them a large herd of swine feeding. (31) The demons beseeched him, saying, “If you cast us out, send us towards the herd of pigs.

This is kind of embarrassing. First we jump to a herd of pigs that is “makran”, far away. Now, “far” can mean all sorts of things, but the idea is that they were something beyond a stone’s throw. But getting to the pigs is a bit of a non sequitur, especially since the <<δὲ>> indicates some kind of connexion with the preceding clause or sentence. And yet, there is no really continuity of content. We go from the demons asking to the herd of pigs. Honestly, one gets the sense that Matthew is summarizing this so quickly because he expects the audience to be familiar with the full story as told in Mark. Which would support my theory that this was a very popular story about Jesus. Because immediately the demons assume that Jesus is going to cast them out of the men, Which, I suppose, makes sense; they would know this, or intuit this. They are demons, after all. Although, generally, demons are not known for foresight. That is the province of the deity alone.

But let’s think about the possibility that this was, indeed, a popular story. Frankly, all of my historical judgement tells me it was. The version in Mark has the feel of something told over and over many times, so that all the little details of the storytelling have been filled out and completed. It is a full story, one that would have taken several minutes to tell. Or longer, if one added some sound effects and did some different voices. This was an oral culture, after all. And sitting around and telling stories about famous people was something that people did of an evening, when the meal was eaten and the chores done, in the minutes before collapsing into the sleep of exhaustion. What I deduce is that this story was popular, and well-known, and so Matthew couldn’t just omit it. But that didn’t mean he couldn’t run through it as quickly as was decent. He couldn’t omit it, but he certainly could abridge it.

So why didn’t he like it? Because it portrayed Jesus as an exorcist and a wonder-worker. Which gets me to a question I’ve often asked myself: why did people continue to talk about Jesus thirty and fifty and more years after he was dead? What was it that they remembered about him? Well, our earliest evidence is from Paul, who tells us Jesus was remembered and talked about because a considerable number of people thought that Jesus was the Christ, and that Jesus’ coming, and second coming were events of cosmic significance. But this story, as told in Mark, provides another reason: Jesus was talked about because he was a wonder-worker, someone who had performed marvelous feats. After all, Apollonius of Tyana was talked about for the same reason. Doubtless, Matthew was aware of these stories about Jesus, but one suspects that he didn’t much care for this tradition. We’ve seen him skip the story of the exorcism in the synagogue, that Mark uses to open Jesus’ public ministry. Now we see him give short-shrift to what may have been the most famous story about Jesus that was told. No, he can’t ignore this, but he can de-emphasize this. So far, we’re at the end of Chapter 8 and this is how Matthew has treated exorcisms to this point. (He did list exorcisms as something Jesus did at the end of Chapter 4, but he mentioned this in passing,without providing details.) 

30 Erat autem longe ab illis grex porcorum multorum pascens.

31 Daemones autem rogabant eum dicentes: “ Si eicis nos, mitte nos in gregem porcorum”.

32 καὶ εἶπεν αὐτοῖς, Ὑπάγετε. οἱ δὲ ἐξελθόντες ἀπῆλθον εἰς τοὺς χοίρους: καὶ ἰδοὺ ὥρμησεν πᾶσα ἡ ἀγέλη κατὰ τοῦ κρημνοῦ εἰς τὴν θάλασσαν, καὶ ἀπέθανον ἐν τοῖς ὕδασιν.

33 οἱδὲ βόσκοντες ἔφυγον, καὶ ἀπελθόντες εἰς τὴν πόλιν ἀπήγγειλαν πάντα καὶ τὰ τῶν δαιμονιζομένων.

34 καὶ ἰδοὺ πᾶσα ἡ πόλις ἐξῆλθεν εἰς ὑπάντησιν τῷ Ἰησοῦ, καὶ ἰδόντες αὐτὸν παρεκάλεσαν ὅπως μεταβῇ ἀπὸ τῶν ὁρίων αὐτῶν.

9:1 Καὶ ἐμβὰς εἰς πλοῖον διεπέρασεν καὶ ἦλθεν εἰς τὴν ἰδίαν πόλιν.

And he said to them, “Get out, ” (and) they coming out went to the swine. (33) And behold, the entire herd plunged from the cliff into the sea, and they they died in the water. And the swineherds fled, and coming into to the city, they announced all and the things about the demonaics. (34) And then the entire city went out in order to meet Jesus, and seeing him they requested that he should go away from their country. (9:1) And embarking on the boat he departed and he came to his own country.

So this ends the Cliff/Spark Notes version of the story of the Gerasene/Gadarene demonaic. The “I am legion” is not here, replaced by two demonaics who lack most of the terror and ferocity of the original in Mark. I made the point before; we have a herd of pigs; these are probably pagans.  Which leads me to wonder if that might be part of the reason this was cut short: so as not to reflect badly on the pagan community. However, that’s admittedly a stretch; I just don’t think Matthew liked the story because it was about an exorcism. And I don’t think he liked exorcism stories in general. This will bear watching as we move through the rest of the gospel.

Now note what I just did: I speculated on an editorial predilection of Matthew’s. This is the sort of thing that annoys me about much of the Q debate: “Oh, Matthew would never have said this unless that were true. Or Luke really likes theme -x- so he would never have made statement -y- unless the latter was in Q. I think my point is slightly different: if Matthew consistently underplays stories of exorcisms, then I think it’s safe to deduce that there is something about the topic that doesn’t sit well with him. What that “something” might be, of course, is speculation and ultimately comes down to a value judgement. But I will admit that. Too much of the Q defense consists of pronouncements about subject matter and the way the material is organized.

But, since this version is so much shorter than the previous, it’s hard to come up with plausible theories about why they are different. The biggest difference is the length, which we’ve covered. And the story of the pigs is better suited to a “legion” of demons, rather than just a pair. That is one change I would like to understand, but given the brevity, there’s really not much to go on. Any reason, or possible explanation would be pure guesswork. Matthew didn’t like the idea of many demons possessing a single person. Luke had no such qualms; he included the “Legion” of demons. So why not Matthew? Was it too supernatural, or just unusual for him? Who knows? I will discuss this further in a separate post.

One final point. “He returned to his own land”. This is now Caphernaum, as Matthew told us Jesus moved there in Chapter 4:13. Now, I still have the sense that Jesus was from Caphernaum. I just looked it up; Nazareth is mentioned by Matthew a grand total of three times. Even more, Mark mentions it exactly once, in 1:9, in a passage that could very easily be an interpolation. In Mark’s discussions of Jesus’ hometown, where a prophet is not honored, the name of the town is never mentioned. Between the paucity of references to Nazareth and Mark’s implications that Jesus owned a house in Caphernaum, and this passage where he returns to his own country, I believe there is good reason to consider that Jesus was not from Nazareth at all. I really won’t be surprised if no one agrees with me; but I am surprised no one, apparently, has ever asked this question before. 

32 Et ait illis: “ Ite ”. Et illi exeuntes abierunt in porcos; et ecce impetu abiit totus grex per praeceps in mare, et mortui sunt in aquis.

33 Pastores autem fugerunt et venientes in civitatem nuntiaverunt omnia et de his, qui daemonia habuerant.

34 Et ecce tota civitas exiit obviam Iesu, et viso eo rogabant, ut transiret a finibus eorum.

9:1 Et ascendens in naviculam transfretavit et venit in civitatem suam.

Matthew Chapter 8:14-27

We continue with Chapter 14. The first part told us of two healings that Jesus performed. The first was in Mark, the second a new story.

14 Καὶ ἐλθὼν ὁ Ἰησοῦς εἰς τὴν οἰκίαν Πέτρου εἶδεν τὴν πενθερὰν αὐτοῦ βεβλημένην καὶ πυρέσσουσαν:

15 καὶ ἥψατο τῆς χειρὸς αὐτῆς, καὶ ἀφῆκεν αὐτὴν ὁ πυρετός: καὶ ἠγέρθη καὶ διηκόνει αὐτῷ.

And Jesus coming into the house of Peter he (Jesus) saw that his (Peter’s) mother-in-law was lying down and being feverish. (15) And he touched her hand, and the fever left her and she got up and ministered to them.

The word here for “ministered” to them is “diakonei”. I’ve mentioned this before, but it’s (I hope) obviously the root for “deacon”. The deacon’s role is to minister to the congregation.

With this story, we’re back into stuff that Matthew found in Mark. As such, we once again have the physical touching of the sick person, unlike what happened with the servant of the centurion. One interesting and probably insignificant difference between this version and Mark’s is that here, Simon’s mother attends to him, = Jesus. In Mark (and Luke), she minsters to them.  Mark also feels the need to tell us that the sons of Zebedee were there, too. In this detail, and even more so when we get to the Gerasene demonaic, it’s Matthew who shortens Mark’s story. I’m not sure how strongly the case for Matthean priority is, but, as I see it, details like this really argue against Matthew writing first. We are to believe that Mark lengthened tales like the Gerasen demonaic, but omitted the Sermon on the Mount, and most of what Jesus taught. That doesn’t entirely make sense.

In the run-up to this incident, Mark and Luke report the story of Jesus expelling a demon from a man in the synagogue; Matthew omits this. Why? Why does he leave that longer story out, but include this much shorter one? Is that our answer? Matthew didn’t want to dwell on the miracles the way Mark did? If so, why not? Does the fact that the omitted story is about an exorcism have anything to do with its omission? Is this part of the attitude I set out as a conjecture in the last segment; that Matthew perhaps thought that the wonder-worker stories in Mark were, I don’t know, a little bit beneath Jesus? That Jesus had become so much more elevated, that working wonders was sort of a side-show carnival trick? This is a very serious matter, because it gets to the heart of the question of what did the early traditions say about Jesus? If we have some sense of that, then we can see more clearly how these traditions evolved over time. Which, in turn, will tell us how the message of Jesus developed until it became the doctrine expressed in the Nicene Creed. Even a comparison of that and the Apostles’ Creed will show how the doctrine of The Church changed over time.

14 Et cum venisset Iesus in domum Petri, vidit socrum eius iacentem et febricitantem;

15 et tetigit manum eius, et dimisit eam febris; et surrexit et ministrabat ei.

16Ὀψίας δὲ γενομένης προσήνεγκαν αὐτῷ δαιμονιζομένους πολλούς: καὶ ἐξέβαλεν τὰ πνεύματα λόγῳ, καὶ πάντας τοὺς κακῶς ἔχοντας ἐθεράπευσεν:

17 ὅπως πληρωθῇ τὸ ῥηθὲν διὰ Ἠσαΐου τοῦ προφήτου λέγοντος, Αὐτὸς τὰς ἀσθενείας ἡμῶν ἔλαβεν καὶ τὰς νόσους ἐβάστασεν.

It having become evening, they brought to him many having demons, and he cast out the spirits with a word, and all those with illnesses he healed. (17) In this way was fulfilled the writing of the Prophet Isaiah saying, “He received our infirmities and the (= our) diseases he carried.”

 The first thing that jumps out at me is “with a word”.  That is, Jesus, as a divine being, has such power over demons that a word is enough to expel them. A simple “Begone!” is all it takes. No touch or other magical device is necessary. I am reasonably confident that Matthew sets up this chapter the way he does specifically to separate Jesus from the pack of mere wonder-workers. And to get back to one point in the last section, Matthew omitted the story of Jesus in the synagogue–that Luke included. Part of that story was the tension it established between Jesus and the local religious establishment. That is wholly gone here, too. The implication is that Matthew does not feel the need to distance himself from the Jewish establishment. Why not? Is it because the destruction of Jerusalem was a generation in the past? And that, as such, it didn’t have the emotional impact that it still did when Mark wrote? Or is it that Matthew doesn’t want to antagonize the Jewish establishment because…well, I’m not sure why. Was he afraid of them? I find that difficult to believe. After the destruction of the Temple, the Jewish establishment lacked a clear focal point, and doubtless lost some degree of its ability to terrorize the new movement the way Paul had done. Or is it that Matthew simply saw such antagonization as pointless, even gratuitous. The Jewish establishment was a shell of what it had been in Jesus’s day; taking that and that the rebellion was no longer a sore point with Rome, picking on them didn’t seem particularly necessary. Or was it because, as a God-fearer, an outsider, Matthew had a good experience with these authorities, and he was much more sympathetic to them than Mark had been?

There are no answers to these questions. However, these are questions that must be asked. We have to look at this in its context. The message has changed from Mark. The change is, perhaps subtle, not earth-shattering, but it’s real. We need to take note of this and ask why. One of the great afflictions of NT scholarship is the underlying notion that the gospels are all telling a single, timeless story. As such, the differences don’t matter as much as the ways that they can be put together to form a whole. Yes, that’s true, but it’s only half of it. The differences have to be noted. And an attempt should be made to explain them; all of this reflects back onto what I said in the previous section about the message of Jesus, as expressed by his followers that never knew him or any of the original followers, developed, just as the message and beliefs of The Church developed. I realize that this may be an uncomfortable thought for some, but it’s all part of the process by which what Jesus taught turned into what we believe. The classic case is the Trinity. Based on Mark alone, the Trinity is pretty difficult to derive; Jesus was only ambiguously divine, and by no stretch is there anything to indicate that he was of the same substance (homo-ousias) and co-eternal with the Father, God from God…

No. We need the other three gospels and a few hundred years of thinking to get to that point. But I made the point before: does this represent a changing message? Or a message that relied on continued revelation until we limited humans were, finally, able to work out all the implications? The answer, I suspect, will depend on from what direction one approaches the question.

This may be a bit anti-climatic after the previous paragraph, but there is one additional point that needs to be made about the text. Matthew clearly indicates why he included this little story, while omitting the longer one: to fulfill what was written in the prophet Isaiah. Now, it’s always been taken for granted that Matthew was so concerned with these HS (Hebrew Scriptures; really shouldn’t be using “OT” any more) because, being a Jew, he wanted to set out how Jesus an integral part of the Jewish belief. How Jesus was a fulfillment of, not a break with this ancient tradition. Well, yes, that could be it. What has been almost entirely overlooked is that this continuity of the ancient tradition was important to another audience: pagans. I’ve said it many times, I believe, but it bears to be kept in mind: the pagans were not impressed by innovation. The only true beliefs were the old beliefs.

“Mos maiorum” was the term in Latin. The “ways/customs and beliefs of our ancestors”. “Res novae”, literally “new things” was the Latin term for “revolution”, as in “political revolution“. This was not a “good thing”. So, in order to make a new religion palatable to the wider pagan audience, it was necessary to associate it with the ancient Jewish tradition, which was definitely respected by a lot of pagans–which is why the God-fearers were such a phenomenon. So, by mining the HS for scriptural prophesies that predicted Jesus, whom was Matthew trying to convince? Matthew as a Jew? Or Matthew as a pagan? Yes, the first is the easy answer, and it’s certainly the opinion of the vast majority (upwards of 98%, I’d say) of Christians over the past two millennia, but can we be so certain? IMO, the answer to this is “no”. As we’ve been going along, I’ve been pointing out instances where we seem–possibly seem–to have clues that Matthew was a God-fearer and former pagan. We will never know this with certainty–barring some astonishing archaeological find–but we have to look at all of these clues as a whole. Any one or two or three can be written off as coincidence, or too ambiguous to be relied on, but what do they say as a whole? Does the accumulated weight of all of these clues add up to something too big to be ignored, or passed off as coincidence. I don’t know. This is a pet theory of mine, and if you ask anyone with any knowledge of the NT, they will tell you I’m a crackpot, because nobody believes that Matthew was a pagan. Which is true. But “nobody” believed the earth was round, either. The problem that I see isn’t that nobody believes this; rather, it’s that nobody has asked the question. The former is forgivable, and may actually be right; the latter is one of those unforgivable (academic) sins. 

Then again, maybe this last point wasn’t anti-climatic.

Then again, maybe this one will be. The other thing that needs to be noticed is the rest of the story that Matthew omits. In fact, he omits it twice. Both in the exorcism in the synagogue, and in the wrap-up at the end of the section, Mark tells us that Jesus commanded the evil spirits to be silent, to tell no one who he was. For the spirits recognized him; the first called him “the holy one of God”. This is gone completely from the story here. Again, we must ask why. Assuming that Matthew didn’t just leave things out for no reason, and since he used virtually all of Mark, then he most likely made a conscious decision to leave out what he did. The messianic “secret” is a recognized theme of Mark. It has given birth to Gnostic teachings, and I have used it as Mark’s attempt at explanation of why Jesus was rejected by so many Jews. The first would not raise many eyebrows; it’s an understood feature of Mark. The second, well, it’s a theory of mine based on an historical reading of the text–which has been sorely lacking to date. The truth is, I don’t know why Matthew chose to omit these passages; in fact, I don’t even have a theory at this point that would, possibly, explain Matthew’s motive. But it’s worth paying attention to. Part of it, I think, is that Matthew is particularly eager to de-emphasize the exorcisms. I’m not entirely sure why, but this is what has been left out to this point. We’ll pay more attention to that as we go along. What else did Matthew eliminate?

16 Vespere autem facto, obtulerunt ei multos daemonia habentes; et eiciebat spiritus verbo et omnes male habentes curavit,

17 ut adimpleretur, quod dictum est per Isaiam prophetam dicentem:

“ Ipse infirmitates nostras accepit / et aegrotationes portavit ”.

18Ἰδὼν δὲ ὁἸησοῦς ὄχλον περὶ αὐτὸν ἐκέλευσεν ἀπελθεῖν εἰς τὸ πέραν.

19 καὶ προσελθὼν εἷς γραμματεὺς εἶπεν αὐτῷ, Διδάσκαλε, ἀκολουθήσω σοι ὅπου ἐὰν ἀπέρχῃ.

20 καὶ λέγει αὐτῷ ὁ Ἰησοῦς, Αἱ ἀλώπεκες φωλεοὺς ἔχουσιν καὶ τὰ πετεινὰ τοῦ οὐρανοῦ κατασκηνώσεις, ὁ δὲ υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου οὐκ ἔχει ποῦ τὴν κεφαλὴν κλίνῃ.

Jesus, seeing the crowd around him, commanded t0 go away to the other side (of the Sea of Galilee, presumably). (19) And coming up, one of the scribes said to him, “Teacher, I will follow you when wherever you may wish to go.” (20) And Jesus said to him, “The foxes have their dens, and the birds of the heavens (have their) nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere that he may lay his head.”   

First, the staging of this is a little odd. He’s pressed by a crowd in one place, so he goes away across…it’s not entirely clear where, exactly. I’m thinking that they’re in Caphernaum, which is on the Sea of Galilee, so it would make sense to embark and cross the sea. But that’s reading a lot into this, because there’s no verb for “embarking”, which is pretty common when getting into a boat, and the “across” is terribly ambiguous. Which is worsened by the apparent circumstance that he no sooner than gets wherever it is he went, than he is set upon by a scribe. So it’s all rather confusing and unclear. This is a hallmark of Mark: very little narrative to put anything in context. And you know, that’s something that doesn’t get enough attention; at least, not from the books that I’ve been reading (the list of which is hardly comprehensive in re: NT scholarship): Mark is not, not truly, a narrative gospel, either. It’s a bunch (albeit a very large bunch) separate episodes with no clear connexion between them. Guess I’m going to have to do some research into that…

Second, this is another Q story. Which means, it’s in Matthew and Luke but not Mark. More, the Greek of Matthew and Luke are virtually identical, at least in the significant sections that include what Jesus and the scribe said. Of course, this is due to the fact that Matthew and Luke both took this from identical copies of Q. Or, it’s because Luke copied Matthew, and changed some of the setting words. What are the odds of two people copying the same source at different times, without knowing of the other? And ask this again bearing in mind that there are numerous places where this occurs. Of course, there are numerous places where each tells the story somewhat differently. So which is it?

I was having a discussion with a friend, who will recognize this. Hope I recount it accurately. There are all sorts of possibilities in historical thinking. We can conceive all sorts of ways to put the same facts together in different ways. But the key question is about probability. How likely is the construct to be true? How many rules of logic does it break? Is it internally consistent? History is not a science. In physics, it’s possible to calculate the likelihood of a given event fairly accurately. It’s possible to be very precise in calculating how likely one is to draw the card needed to fill an inside straight. In history, we can weigh likelihoods, but we can’t properly calculate them. As such, it’s an art rather than a science. It’s judgement, based on experience. And experience from a broad range of historical occurrences helps hone this judgement. The likelihood that the assassination of John Kennedy was the act of a lone gunman is very low. But when you consider the odds of any other set of circumstances, you realize that, in comparison with all the conspiracy theories, the official report is suddenly not so unlikely.

So it is here. Yes, it seems possible that Matthew and Luke copied the same source in the same way. However, this is a contingent probability. First we must ask how likely it was that the copies of Q that Matthew and Luke separately used would be exact copies of each other. To say that Matthew and Luke copied Q in almost exactly the same way requires that their respective copies of Q were identical. If this latter circumstance did not happen, then the likelihood of such exact copies as Matthew and Luke produce plummet. If you bear in mind that there was no central publisher of Q, a scriptorium that was cranking these out from the same fair copy, then the probability of numerous passages being identical enough to show up in both Matthew and Luke the way they do is, I think, very low. This seems much, very much more unlikely than the idea that Luke would have messed with Matthew’s organization. And recall, Matthew and Luke were separated by time as well as distance, which drives the probability down even further. Then compare this with the likelihood that Luke copied Matthew, and the probability goes way, way up. There are half-a-dozen passages like this, at the least. In my considered judgement, as both someone with more than a passing understanding of how probability works (I crunch numbers in my day job) and how history works, I think the most likely explanation is that Luke used Matthew. My apologies to those trained in textual analysis. 

I had hoped that my post on Q would keep me from digressions like this; unfortunately, new reasons why Q doesn’t make sense keep popping up. At some time in the future, I need to cull through these rants and put together a coherent argument, and set it down in a single place.

To conclude on this, the sentiments about foxes and holes and the Son of Man having nowhere to lay his head is supposedly in the earliest stratum of Q. And yet, neither Paul nor Mark have anything even remotely close to expressing a similar sentiment. Why is that? How does it work that this is one of the fundamental teachings of Jesus, and yet it left no trace on Paul or Mark. Someone really needs to explain that. This is part of the counter-culture motif, the, Jesus-the-Cynic, or Jesus-the-hippie theme.

(Note: the nuns at my socially conservative, backwater Catholic elementary school in a socially conservative, backwater part of the American Midwest were not really at all averse to that sentiment. In their opinion, Jesus would most definitely have been marching with Dr ML King Jr, and he may well have been protesting the Vietnam War as late as 1967. And he would have been campaigning for Bobby Kennedy in 1968. They were dead certain about Jesus’ participation in the Civil Rights movement even if they were not quite sure on war protesting. The point is, they at least recognized that it was entirely possible, even probable that Jesus would have been sympathetic to the anti-war cause. They flatly refused to reject this possibility out of hand, as I think a number of Christians would do today. They would have been appalled at the notion of Jesus saying something like “the only good Red is a dead Red”, or advocating increased bombing of North Vietnam, or pretty much anywhere. And note, I’m talking about how these nuns felt and thought back in the mid-1960s.)

Anyway, this counter-culture, poverty is a state of spiritual enlightenment, very different from Mark. It’s a dimension the wonder-worker almost completely lacked, aside from the “eye of the needle” comment, and the admonition to the rich young man to sell his goods, give the money to the poor, and follow Jesus. I don’t think two examples are sufficient to show this was part of Jesus’ teaching, I think it is more likely that this is an attitude that only expressed itself well after Mark wrote. It may have been latent in Jesus’ teachings and outlook, but I don’t think it was fully developed until after the communities had absorbed the teachings that I’m ascribing to James. This is another one where I need to do a tally and see where I fall when I look at the evidence as a whole. 

One last thing: note that Jesus calls himself the Son of Man. And Luke also uses this term. Of course, this was Mark’s most common epithet for Jesus, but it’s much rarer in Matthew and Luke. Now, if this was something that was in Mark, and the latter had used the term, it would be easy enough to conclude that they copied Mark’s term. But they didn’t. So why did they use the term? Is this meant to convey a feeling of being an anachronism, was Matthew using a deliberately archaic term to demonstrate its historicity. Then why not do it more often? Of course, here the simplest solution is to conclude that Q had this as “Son of Man”, so of course Matthew and Luke both got it there. But Q didn’t really use the term “Son of Man”. Or, if Q did, why isn’t the term found more often in Matthew? And if it wasn’t in Q, then why does Luke use it, too? The thing is, this is an anomaly. Now either the anomaly was in Q, or it was in Matthew. If Q used the term frequently, why do Matthew and Luke use it so seldom? There is a glaring inconsistency here. Or somewhere. If the anti-Q people have to explain every variation from Matthew’s order by Luke, then the pro-Q people have to explain this situation. Was this in Q? Then why doesn’t it show up more often in two sources that both supposedly relied heavily on Q. It’s things like this that really make me question the bona fides, or the academic rigour of the pro-Q group. They insist on their themes, but ignore too many other questions that are just as valid. Or more so. 

Matthew used Mark. We can be more than 90% sure of that. So Matthew could have gotten the term there. Why did he choose to use it in a context of something that wasn’t in Mark. We don’t know if it was in Q. (We don’t know if there was a Q.) But in the reconstructed Q, I believe this is the only time the term is used. Why only here? Why not elsewhere? The point is, even if this can’t be answered from a non-Q perspective, what’s truly damning is that it can’t be (at least, hasn’t been) answered from a pro-Q perspective. Since it is incumbent on them to prove that Q existed, it’s enough for the non-Q position to throw enough reasonable doubt into the argument to make the proposed existence of Q seem pretty dicey. I can’t prove a negative. If the Q people want Q, they have to prove their case. Stuff like this makes that really hard, I think.

18 Videns autem Iesus turbas multas circum se, iussit ire trans fretum.

19 Et accedens unus scriba ait illi: “ Magister, sequar te, quocumque ieris ”.

20 Et dicit ei Iesus: “ Vulpes foveas habent, et volucres caeli tabernacula, Filius autem hominis non habet, ubi caput reclinet ”.

21 ἕτερος δὲ τῶν μαθητῶν [αὐτοῦ] εἶπεν αὐτῷ, Κύριε, ἐπίτρεψόν μοι πρῶτον ἀπελθεῖν καὶ θάψαι τὸν πατέρα μου.

22 ὁ δὲ Ἰησοῦς λέγει αὐτῷ, Ἀκολούθει μοι, καὶ ἄφες τοὺς νεκροὺς θάψαι τοὺς ἑαυτῶν νεκρούς.

Another of [his] disciples said to him (Jesus), “Lord, let me be entrusted first to go away and to bury my father. (22) But Jesus said to him, “Follow me, and allow the dead to bury their own dead”.

Now here’s a really obviously created situation, scripted to allow Jesus to speak this aphorism. Here’s the thing: Jews bury immediately. They don’t embalm, so burial must be quick. Is this disciple actually coming out to see Jesus the day his father died? I suppose it’s possible, but this just has a really artificial feel to it.

Or, is this disciple a pagan? That is a very interesting question. Now we’ve gone across (something), and we’re in an area where scribes can be found. Have we crossed a border, into an area where Jews and pagans mingle freely? Was this man perhaps a God-fearer? And note that this was not someone from the crowd. Matthew calls him a “disciple”. This is the same word used by Mark to describe Peter and Andrew and the sons of Zebedee. So this is presumably someone familiar to the group. I suppose he could have been following along and just now got news that his father has died. But he says he will follow, if only he can go bury his father. Again, a bunch of little things that don’t seem to add up.

But this is another of the sayings that are supposed to be in the original stratum of Q. And yet, the whole thing seems awfully contrived. But yet, we’re to take this as something that Jesus actually said. That strikes me as very odd. As if there are two pieces that don’t quite fit together. And then, since it’s another of the “let tomorrow worry about tomorrow” sentiments, could this have been something that James used? Or is it flatly something Matthew made up? It has the earmarks of something written in a room, late at night, away from the hustle and bustle of the actual ministry. It has the feel of, well, scripting, as I said before. Something invented by a writer removed from the scene where it supposedly occurred. In form, and meaning, it’s very similar to “let tomorrow worry about tomorrow”.

But then this raised the question of, if it wasn’t in Q, then why is it in both Matthew and Luke? And in almost identical wording. Well, one possibility is that Luke copied it from Matthew.

21 Alius autem de discipulis eius ait illi: “Domine, permitte me primum ire et sepelire patrem meum ”.

22 Iesus autem ait illi: “ Sequere me et dimitte mortuos sepelire mortuos suos ”.

23 Καὶ ἐμβάντι αὐτῷ εἰς τὸ πλοῖον ἠκολούθησαν αὐτῷ οἱ μαθηταὶ αὐτοῦ.

24 καὶ ἰδοὺ σεισμὸς μέγας ἐγένετο ἐν τῇ θαλάσσῃ, ὥστε τὸ πλοῖον καλύπτεσθαι ὑπὸ τῶν κυμάτων: αὐτὸς δὲ ἐκάθευδεν.

25 καὶ προσελθόντες ἤγειραν αὐτὸν λέγοντες, Κύριε, σῶσον, ἀπολλύμεθα.

26 καὶ λέγει αὐτοῖς, Τί δειλοί ἐστε, ὀλιγόπιστοι; τότε ἐγερθεὶς ἐπετίμησεν τοῖς ἀνέμοις καὶ τῇ θαλάσσῃ, καὶ ἐγένετο γαλήνη μεγάλη.

27 οἱ δὲ ἄνθρωποι ἐθαύμασαν λέγοντες, Ποταπός ἐστιν οὗτος ὅτι καὶ οἱ ἄνεμοι καὶ ἡ θάλασσα αὐτῷ ὑπακούουσιν;

And he having embarked onto the boat, his disciples followed him. (24) And behold, there was a great shaking on the sea, so that the boat was covered with waves; but he (Jesus) slept. (25) And coming to him they raised him, saying, “Lord, save us, we are perishing. (26) And he said to them, ‘What is this fear, you-of-little faith?” Then he got up and he rebuked the winds and the sea, and there became a great calm. (27) The men marveled, saying, “What sort is he, that both the winds and the sea obey him?”

First, “y0u-of-little-faith is all one word. Second, when we talked about him going across back in V-18, I said that I wasn’t sure if they crossed the sea or not, since there was no mention of him getting into a boat. Usually, Mark was very clear about this; since the first part of this was not in Mark, and the second part was, we get the explicit statement about entering the boat in the second. Yes, this is probably trivial, but it seems worth mentioning.

Now, this story is part of the triple tradition, which means it’s in Matthew, Mark, and Luke. Each tells the story slightly differently, but Mark’s version is the longest, and Matthew’s is the shortest. Mark has additional details that are missing here, as well as the disciples’ question to Jesus about whether he cares that they are perishing. So again, Matthew has shortened Mark, even though it’s supposed to be the other way around in the view of some scholars.

One thing that I find very interesting is that Luke’s version is different from Matthew’s, as well as Mark’s version. In the verses above, we have something close to verbatim agreement between Matthew and Luke; here, there are differences. The differences are neither substantive nor substantial, but it’s a marked distinction between the way Matthew and Luke agreed for the verses above. What are we to make of this? As I see it, this another reason to suppose that Luke was aware of Matthew; when Matthew summarizes Mark, Luke feels free to make his own changes. In stories that are not in Mark, Luke follows Matthew much more closely. Of course, this hypothesis is based on this one incident; we’ll pay more attention to it as we go along.

Why does Matthew choose to omit the question the disciples ask Jesus? The consensus on the topic is that Matthew didn’t find it appropriate, or seemly, or whatever for the disciples to ask this. Of course Jesus cared whether or not they perished. How could they think otherwise? And this is another reason to believe that Mark wrote first: Jesus gets sanitized to a certain degree. This is one instance. There are others. IOW, Mark’s Jesus seems more human; he gets annoyed, he’s in the situation here where people may doubt him. This seems like it would be more…authentic. Which makes us ask if this is historical. Of course, we can’t accept–as historians–that Jesus had the ability to still the waves and calm the waters. As such, we cannot believe that the story is factually accurate. And I don’t have a problem with that. So the question becomes, when was this story composed? It can’t date to Jesus, since Jesus didn’t perform the miracle. So when? How early? Does it originate with Mark? Or did Mark get it from some oral tradition?  

This takes us to the question of  how much did the evangelists make up, and how much was part of an earlier tradition? If you read the scholarship, everything came from an earlier tradition. The stuff only Matthew has is called “M”; the stuff only Luke has is called “L”. These are supposedly earlier traditions that came to their ears and their’s alone.

Except I doubt this. I am pretty certain that Matthew and Luke and John composed stories themselves. These guys were authors, remember? And why did they choose to write a gospel? Because they believed they had something to say. Something novel. Something unique. So we have unique stuff in these other gospels; what about Mark? Who composed this story? I find it difficult even to come up with a gut feeling on this one. I do believe that Mark, much more than the others, used oral traditions, received wisdom, as it were. He shaped them, and arranged them, and added to them, but maybe did not create them. For example, in this story, Mark may have heard about the way that Jesus was said to have calmed the storm. But the details about Jesus sleeping on a cushion, or the disciples asking him if he cared whether they lived or died are most likely Mark’s contributions.

So what about Matthew? He shaped the story to suit his own needs. He eliminated the detail of the cushion, and the impertinent question asked of him. But what about the previous story, the one that was not in Mark, and that Luke copied so closely?  

Once again, this is a question that cannot be answered to any realistic degree. The reasons for Matthew trimming this story are pretty easy to understand. The reasons for inventing the story of the centurion, I think, are also pretty clear–on one condition: that we recognize that circumstances had changed between the time Mark wrote and the time Matthew wrote. As such, we have to recognise that the story of the centurion fit the conditions of the 80s, but not so much the conditions of the 40s, or even the 50s. The story reflects the new prominence of pagans in the movement. As such, I think we can give Matthew credit for the story of the centurion and his mortally ill servant. 

23 Et ascendente eo in naviculam, secuti sunt eum discipuli eius.

24 Et ecce motus magnus factus est in mari, ita ut navicula operiretur fluctibus; ipse vero dormiebat.

25 Et accesserunt et suscitaverunt eum dicentes: “ Domine, salva nos, perimus! ”.

26 Et dicit eis: “ Quid timidi estis, modicae fidei? ”. Tunc surgens increpavit ventis et mari, et facta est tranquillitas magna.

27 Porro homines mirati sunt dicentes: “ Qualis est hic, quia et venti et mare oboediunt ei? ”.

Matthew Chapter 8:1-13

1 Καταβάντος δὲ αὐτοῦ ἀπὸ τοῦ ὄρους ἠκολούθησαν αὐτῷ ὄχλοι πολλοί.

When he descended from the mountain, a great crowd followed him.

This closely parallels the narrative of Mark. Of course the latter was making constant references to the size of the crowds, and the amazement of those who heard him, which we got at the end of the last chapter. In fact, this piece fits right into Mark 3:13; I commented at the time that we were at the place in Mark where the Sermon on the Mount should have been. This is why I say that it’s pretty obvious, when looked at with the eyes of an historian, that Mark is the older story. There have been those who suggested that Matthew wrote first, and Mark then summarized. Sorry, don’t buy that. For that to have happened, Mark would have had to excise exactly those parts of the story that are the most “Christian”. Why excise Jesus’ teaching? Without this, most of Mark’s narrative is the story of a fairly generic wonder-worker. No, that feels like a step backwards. People have suggested this, I believe, because it’s what they want to be true. If Matthew wrote first, then the core of Jesus’ teaching is more easily traced back to Jesus. There is no need for a “lost” gospel of Q, or the intercession of James, or for any other sort of transmission mechanism. It can be a straight line from Jesus to Matthew. Otherwise, suggestions like mine, or Q, are necessary. The appeal of that should not be overlooked. It’s a very clear example of how people will take something as factually accurate because it fits what they think should be, or what they want to be factually accurate. That should always always be kept in mind when assessing evidence for Q. Or anything else, including everything that I say.

1 Cum autem descendisset de monte, secutae sunt eum turbae multae.

2 καὶ ἰδοὺ λεπρὸς προσελθὼν προσεκύνει αὐτῷ λέγων, Κύριε, ἐὰν θέλῃς δύνασαί με καθαρίσαι. 

3 καὶ ἐκτείνας τὴν χεῖρα ἥψατο αὐτοῦ λέγων, Θέλω, καθαρίσθητι: καὶ εὐθέως ἐκαθαρίσθη αὐτοῦ ἡ λέπρα.

And, lo, a leper approached him, falling on his face before him (Jesus) saying, “Lord, if you wish you can make me clean. (3) And extending his hand, he (Jesus) touched him (the leper) saying, “I wish (it). Be clean.” And immediately the leprosy was cleansed from him.

This has the feeling of Mark running through it. There is the falling on the face, or groveling, or worshipping of Jesus. Recall that the word is “proskynesis”, which means “adopting a position of submission, like a dog”. This was an act that Asian potentates had required of their subjects for centuries at this point. It’s a behaviour that caused all sorts of problems when Alexander the Great began to require this of his Greek soldiers, for this was decidedly a non-Greek habit. So we have the leper groveling, and then referring to Jesus as “Lord”. This is a funny word in Greek, ambiguous because it captures the Hebrew sense of “lord” as divine, and merges it with the much more secular sense the word has in Greek. In Hebrew, “Lord” was pretty much a euphemism for “God”. For recall the reluctance of the Hebrews to use the name of God. And even today, some Jews will not write the word “God”, but will spell it “G-d” (at least, this was still not altogether uncommon in my university days). So it becomes hard to tell whether the leper is addressing a temporal master, or one he recognizes as divine. This sort of ambiguity is not uncommon in Mark, recall. In fact, this ambiguity is a prominent feature of Mark. And here again: does it make sense for Matthew, who spelled out from the very beginning of this gospel that Jesus was conceived by the sacred breath, to revert to the ambiguity of Mark? No, it makes much more sense that the more uncertain presentation is the older of the two.

And here’s another thing: recall that Mark had several instances where he provides some specific descriptions of the “magical practices” used by Jesus. There was the spitting in the blind man’s eyes, and making mud with his spit. Here, Matthew tells us Jesus touched the man. This, of course, is reminiscent of the bleeding woman who touched Jesus’ garment. The implication here is that physical touch was necessary. Then think ahead to the wedding feast at Cana. Jesus did not need to touch the water   to effect the transformation into wine. So again, this is the story of a wonder-worker, like Apollonios of Tyana. And wonder-workers were not necessarily divine; recall that in 1 Corinthians, Paul includes wonder-working as a gift of the sacred breath, along with speaking in tongues and prophecy. That a wonder-worker isn’t necessarily divine is something often lost when discussing the miracles of Jesus. Someone I read said that, for Mark the miracles were meant to demonstrate that the kingdom had arrived, that these suspensions of the normal rules demonstrated that the new rules of the kingdom were superseding the out-of-date rules of the previous age. How to put this? No. Wonder-workers were, if not a dime-a-dozen, then not infrequent characters in stories of the time. We’ve mentioned Apollonios, but Josephus mentions one or two others, and they are not absent from pagan stories, either.The plot of The Golden Ass depends of the magical transformation of the main character into a donkey.  

Now for the interesting part. So far, we’ve come across a few things that strike me as being almost certainly historical. The crucifixion is the most significant example. And Paul’s use of Jesus’ teaching on divorce is another. I think the wonder-worker tradition is a third. It’s not mentioned in Paul, but it’s the whole point of Mark, and the tradition still exists here. It gets downplayed in the traditional teachings of James (heretofore known as “Q”); and it’s not at all part of the Didache, which I believe to be the continuation of the James school. So, while Paul and James ignore it, the evangelists do not. Now, whether this is because it was so integral to Mark is hard to say; that is a very plausible reason for it to survive into the later gospels. It had become impossible to ignore. And the early church was not terribly fond of Mark, so there has been speculation on how Mark managed to survive, and not simply end up as another of the many “lost” gospels. Interesting question; perhaps the power of the wonder-worker tradition prevented this happening.

Finally, the last line is pure Mark: …and immediately

That last was going to conclude the comment, but I took a glance up and realized that I’d overlooked the “if you wish/I wish”. It would not be wholly out-of-bounds to translate this as “if you will/I will”, in the sense of “thy will be done”. What does this tell us about the attitude of the evangelists? What is the belief that this is expressing? I’m not entirely sure, to be honest. I think there is some sort of code here, that the meaning conveyed may have been completely transparent to Mark & Matthew’s audiences. I’m not so sure it is. Of course, I get that it means that Jesus has power over circumstances, but how far does that power go? Is this part of the wonder-worker power? Or is this meant to convey that, here, we have gone beyond that? I am honestly not sure. But I don’t think anyone else is really certain, either.

2 Et ecce leprosus veniens adorabat eum dicens: “ Domine, si vis, potes me mundare ”.

3 Et extendens manum, tetigit eum dicens: “ Volo, mundare! ”; et confestim mundata est lepra eius.

4 καὶ λέγει αὐτῷ ὁ Ἰησοῦς, Ορα μηδενὶ εἴπῃς, ἀλλὰ ὕπαγε σεαυτὸν δεῖξον τῷ ἱερεῖ, καὶ προσένεγκον τὸ δῶρον ὃ προσέταξεν Μωϋσῆς, εἰς μαρτύριον αὐτοῖς.

And Jesus said to him, “Tell no one (about this), but get yourself up and go straight to the tempe and offer up the gift (sacrifice) prescribed by Moses as witness to them.

Of course this could/should have been included with the two previous verses, but I moved it because the commentary ran on so long. Here we have classic Mark: the secret. Tell no one. We speculated on what this meant when reading Mark. Personally, I still believe that this was a convention Mark adopted to explain why more Jews had not converted by the time Mark wrote. My suspicion is that already by the time Mark wrote most converts were pagans. We are told this specifically in Acts: there, the author says that Paul’s main audience were the pagan “God-fearers” who frequented the Jewish synagogues to learn the religion of the Jews. Many of these did not convert because of the dietary requirements and the requirement for circumcision. This gives the different attitudes of Paul and James on these topics a bit more urgency, doesn’t it? The point is, assuming that the author of Acts was describing his own time, as much as Paul’s, we can realize why Mark may have felt the need to adopt the idea of the secret to explain to these God-fearers why there were still Jews who hadn’t converted. [Of course, the question is whether the author of Acts is describing any time other than his own. That he mentions it most likely indicates that these God-fearers were the source of many converts in the late First Century; whether this circumstance was true in the third quarter of the First Century is entirely a different question. I believe it was true, but this is based on the evidence of the text as well as the affirmation that preaching to the God-fearers was still a common practice in the last quarter of the century. But we cannot simply assume the former based on affirmation of the latter. That’s not how good historical analysis works. ] 

4 Et ait illi Iesus: “ Vide, nemini dixeris; sed vade, ostende te sacerdoti et offer munus, quod praecepit Moyses, in testimonium illis ”.

5 Εἰσελθόντος δὲ αὐτοῦ εἰς Καφαρναοὺμ προσῆλθεν αὐτῷ ἑκατόνταρχος παρακαλῶν αὐτὸν

6 καὶ λέγων, Κύριε, ὁ παῖς μου βέβληται ἐν τῇ οἰκίᾳ παραλυτικός, δεινῶς βασανιζόμενος.

7 καὶ λέγει αὐτῷ, Ἐγὼ ἐλθὼν θεραπεύσω αὐτόν.

He (Jesus) having come into Caphernaum, a centurion approached him, calling out to him (6) and saying, “Lord, my child lies in my house, paralyzed”. (7) And he (Jesus) said to him (the centurion), “I, coming, will cure him”.

There are a couple of things. First, the word “pais”. Now, in a very literal sense, this means “child”, and “child” generally means “boy-child”. So the centurion could be saying “my boy”. Now, the term “boy” can mean things other than “fruit of my loins”. It is also a term used for a domestic servant. For example, anything written about the Nixon White House before 1985 or so will tell you that the Nixons had a “Filipino houseboy” named Manolo. Of course, Manolo was hardly a “boy”; rather, this is very much a patronizing term for “servant”. So, this is often translated as “servant” in this case. There is reason for this; generally, a biological child would be “hyios”, which is the word used when Jesus is called the Son of God, or the Son of Man. So I really think “servant” is the more appropriate term here. I used the more literal word to get the ambiguity across.

Second, now we are in Caphernaum. I talked about this with Mark: I believe that a careful reading of the text, especially of Mark, indicates that this was where Jesus lived, rather than Nazareth. I think Matthew picked Nazareth to fulfill the prophecy that “he will be called a Nazarene”. All of the action of the gospels takes place in Caphernaum, except when Jesus travels to other places. There is no smoking gun, but Mark 3 had the scene where Jesus was being pressed in the synagogue and his family, hearing about this, came to rescue him. This would not have been possible if his family lived in Nazareth. OTOH, in Mark 6, Jesus returns to his “home town”, which is not named, but it’s presumably not Caphernaum. The answer to this would turn on how likely it was that Jesus moved, and that his mother’s family moved with him. Now if Jesus was the son of Joseph (not likely, IMO, but the name is useful as an example), and Mary remarried after the death of Jesus’ father, then maybe Jesus did move away. But regardless, I find it curious that Mark does so much to get Jesus to Caphernaum, whereas Matthew flatly states that Jesus moved. Now, I don’t know what each of these imply, but I believe it’s the sort of detail that’s worth noticing. It’s in these throw-away lines, the stuff that’s not emphasized, and in the differences between the accounts that provides some of the most fertile soil for real historical analysis.

5 Cum autem introisset Capharnaum, accessit ad eum centurio rogans eum

6 et dicens: “ Domine, puer meus iacet in domo paralyticus et male torquetur ”.

7 Et ait illi: “ Ego veniam et curabo eum ”.

8 καὶ ἀποκριθεὶς ὁ ἑκατόνταρχος ἔφη, Κύριε, οὐκ εἰμὶ ἱκανὸς ἵνα μου ὑπὸ τὴν στέγην εἰσέλθῃς: ἀλλὰ μόνον εἰπὲ λόγῳ, καὶ ἰαθήσεται ὁ παῖς μου.  

9 καὶ γὰρ ἐγὼ ἄνθρωπός εἰμι ὑπὸ ἐξουσίαν, ἔχων ὑπ’ ἐμαυτὸν στρατιώτας, καὶ λέγω τούτῳ, Πορεύθητι, καὶ πορεύεται, καὶ ἄλλῳ, Ἔρχου, καὶ ἔρχεται, καὶ τῷ δούλῳ μου, Ποίησον τοῦτο, καὶ ποιεῖ.

10 ἀκούσας δὲ ὁ Ἰησοῦς ἐθαύμασεν καὶ εἶπεν τοῖς ἀκολουθοῦσιν, Ἀμὴν λέγω ὑμῖν, παρ’ οὐδενὶ τοσαύτην πίστιν ἐν τῷ Ἰσραὴλ εὗρον.  11 λέγω δὲ ὑμῖν ὅτι πολλοὶ ἀπὸ ἀνατολῶν καὶ δυσμῶν ἥξουσιν καὶ ἀνακλιθήσονται μετὰ Ἀβραὰμκαὶ Ἰσαὰκ καὶ Ἰακὼβ ἐν τῇ βασιλείᾳ τῶν οὐρανῶν:

12 οἱ δὲ υἱοὶ τῆς βασιλείας ἐκβληθήσονται εἰς τὸ σκότος τὸ ἐξώτερον: ἐκεῖ ἔσται ὁ κλαυθμὸς καὶ ὁ βρυγμὸςτῶν ὀδόντων.

13 καὶ εἶπεν ὁ Ἰησοῦς τῷ ἑκατοντάρχῃ, Υπαγε, ὡς ἐπίστευσας γενηθήτω σοι. καὶ ἰάθη ὁ παῖς [αὐτοῦ] ἐν τῇ ὥρᾳ ἐκείνῃ.

 And answering, the centurion said, “Lord, I am not worthy in order for you to come under my roof. But, only say the word and my servant will be healed. (9) And for I am a man under (i.e., “with) power. having under myself soldiers, and I say to one of them ‘Go’, and he goes; while to another (I say) ‘Come’, and he comes. Or I say to a slave ‘Do that’ and he does that”. (10) Hearing this, Jesus was amazed and said to those following, “Amen I say to you, never this kind of faith in Israel have I found. (11) I say to you that many from the east and west (are/will be) worthy and will be seated with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of the heavens. (12) The sons of the king will be thrown into the shadows. There will be wailing and gnashing of teeth”. (13) And Jesus said, “Arise, as you have been faithful, let it become (as you wish) for you.” And on that hour, the servant [of him] was healthy.  

Oh my. This is truly a fascinating piece, and the juxtaposition with the previous account makes it even more so. Where to start? Back in the leper story, I talked about the way Mark often described the magical practices Jesus followed. In accordance with this, we noted that Jesus touched the man to effect the cure. Then I jumped ahead to the Wedding at Cana, where Jesus had only to say the word. Well, guess what? This is what the centurion says. The point is that Jesus was not simply some wonder-worker who needed to cast spells and perform wonders through magical practice. No, like the centurion, Jesus was a man of power, who only had to order things and they would be completed. Again, we wonder how far to push the metaphor; are we to interpret this that Jesus would order an angel to effect the cure? Possibly. But exactly how the divine powers worked was perhaps not a real concern of Matthew or his audience. Such concerns would come to the fore in the Reformation, when nascent science blended with magic so that the mechanism of cures, wonders, etc. became important in a way they had not been before. Here, I think, lies much of the causation for the witch hunts of Early Modern (not Mediaeval) Europe.

Then there is the fact that this is a man who began life as a pagan, And not only, he was a man of some rank. The centurions in the Roman legions were nominally in command of a hundred men (hence, cent-). In practice, it was often sixty, but the point remains. This indeed was a man of authority. Unlike the modern military, these groups were much more semi-autonomous, so the man in charge had pretty much the power of life and death over the soldiers. So this was not a man to be trifled with. And the centurions were often nasty, maintaining order through fear. So again, not someone to be trifled with. Was he a God-fearer? Luke’s version of this story very much makes this explicit. In Luke, the locals vouched for the centurion, saying that the soldier had built their synagogue. 

This provides a very interesting angle.  Recall the discussion about God-fearers as mentioned in Acts. Maybe, by the time “Luke” wrote Acts, it had become necessary to remind people why Paul was preaching in synagogues, looking for converts there. Maybe in an earlier age, such as when Mark, and even Matthew wrote, the author could simply take it for granted that the audience would understand that God-fearers were especially sought out as converts. As time passed, however, this became forgotten by the community at large. By the time Luke wrote, perhaps the God-fearers were not so plentiful, so Luke had to remind his audience of this state of affairs. He does this by telling us about why Paul preached in synagogues, and inserting the detail that the centurion had built the local synagogue. 

This, I think, would support my contention that the point at which most converts were former pagans came rather earlier than is generally assumed.

Because that, in large part, is what this passage is really about. This is about how the Jesus movement has stopped being a sect of Judaism. When Matthew was writing this, belief in Jesus had become Christianity. As such, Jews no longer held the privileged position that they held at one time. The prevalence of pagans was an issue already in Paul; in Romans, he asks rhetorically if there is benefit to being from a Jewish background. He answers affirmatively, but the question was coming up a generation or more before Matthew. By the latter’s time, he has Jesus predict that they will come from east and west and sit with Abraham, while the erstwhile sons and heirs of the kingdom will be left out. Why? Because they didn’t join with the new belief. They remained adherents of the old; I am not sure when the term “New Covenant” was coined; it wasn’t used in Mark; I suspect it will be used later in Matthew.

As an aside, this, I think, argues against an early Q source. This story is supposedly in Q, but it seems to be clearly part of a milieu in which most Jesus followers are pagan, rather than Jewish. This just as clearly argues for a later date for the composition of this story. It belongs, it makes sense in the 80s; it doesn’t make sense in the 50s.

Given this, once again the juxtaposition is very telling. In the first part, we had the story of the leper, which ended with Jesus commanding the man not to tell anyone. This is right out of Mark. Why the need for secrecy? To explain why the Jews didn’t all become followers of Jesus. And then Matthew follows this up with this story, to contrast the faith of the pagan with the fact that Jews, in large part, ignored Jesus’ teaching.

Something else is very important to realize: this story is not in Mark. It is brand new. Now, of course, the Q people claim that it was transmitted by Q, but I don’t buy this. In this case, I agree that the writing is very well constructed. We have Mark’s story of the leper, and Matthew was so fortunate that Q just happened to have this story to use for compare and contrast? Sure, it’s possible, but this fits with, and contrasts with Mark’s story in so many ways that, IMO, the probability of this story just happening is very, very low. Rather, I would argue that Matthew constructed this story specifically for the purpose of compare and contrast. The fit is just too tight, IMO, for this to be coincidental. I keep harping on this, but it continues to be true: Matthew did not flinch from inventing–out of whole cloth–the story of the Slaughter of the Innocents. Matthew is not interested in history. He was not recording an historical narrative; rather, he has a theological case to make. The Slaughter of the Innocents is undeniable proof that Matthew was both creative, and willing to use this creativity to make his point. So it should not be too much of a stretch to imagine that Matthew invented this story.

Of course, that creates another whole set of problems, especially for the Q people. If Matthew invented this story, then he didn’t find it in Q. And that carries the very heavy implication that, perhaps, Luke did not find this story in Q. If it wasn’t in Q, then where did Luke find it? Well, the obvious answer would be that he read it in Matthew. As such, they will fight this suggestion tooth and nail. They will fight most of what I’m saying, but that’s OK. I don’t recall about which discipline this was originally said, but the aphorism is that the conventional wisdom in academics changes one funeral at a time. If I were entering my graduate work, or if I knew someone who was, I would suggest training in Q in order to argue against it the moment the ink on the Ph.D. was dry. It’s a topic that is just begging for some serious controversy.

Since we’ve drifted a bit from the topic, I will sum up this section. Matthew starts with one of Mark’s healing stories, including the injunction to silence, and then sets up a contrast to a new story about a new miracle. The purpose is twofold. First, it’s to show that Jesus was not some magician, using incantations and magic spit; rather, he was a divine creature, who could work his wonders at a distance, perhaps by commanding other divine agents. Second, the Jesus movement has been transferred from a Jewish sect into its own religion. 

 8 Et respondens centurio ait: “ Domine, non sum dignus, ut intres sub tectum meum, sed tantum dic verbo, et sanabitur puer meus.

9 Nam et ego homo sum sub potestate, habens sub me milites, et dico huic: “Vade”, et vadit; et alii: “Veni”, et venit; et servo meo: “Fac hoc”, et facit”.

10 Audiens autem Iesus, miratus est et sequentibus se dixit: “Amen dico vobis: Apud nullum inveni tantam fidem in Israel!

11 Dico autem vobis quod multi ab oriente et occidente venient et recumbent cum Abraham et Isaac et Iacob in regno caelorum;

12 filii autem regni eicientur in tenebras exteriores: ibi erit fletus et stridor dentium ”.

13 Et dixit Iesus centurioni: “ Vade; sicut credidisti, fiat tibi ”. Et sanatus est puer in hora illa.

Considering Q

When I first started reading books on Q, I would get to the part where the author started talking about the various textual similarities and differences between Matthew and Luke. My eyes would start to glaze over with all the citing of chapter and verse, so I’d more or less skim that part, in order to get to the actual argument to support Q’s existence. Then, I’d get to the end, and I’d stop and scratch my head, because, for the life of me, I couldn’t figure out what the argument for Q was. Somehow, I’d managed to miss the building of the case. Then, finally, it struck me.

The textual comparisons were it. They were the entire argument for Q. There was nothing else.

As someone trained in history, this is absolutely appalling. How can you base the argument for a document as important as Q on textual comparison? Where was the real evidence? The cite by one of the Church Fathers. The allusion in some other writing. Some hint dropped by…someone, at some time, somewhere before, oh, 1800. Guess what? There are no cites; there are no allusions; there are no hints. Nothing. Zilch. Nada. Nichts. Rien. Zero. The entire case for Q rests on value judgements.

In a piece I’ve read, John Kloppenborg, the University of Toronto scholar who appears to be the pointman of the pro-Q camp, says that he is reluctant to state that the case for Q boils down to nothing more than subjective value judgements about aesthetics. Whose gospel is better written? Matthew’s? In which case Luke would never have spoiled the stylistic beauty, the majesty of Matthew’s tour de force. Since Matthew is so brilliantly, so coherently written, no sane person would possibly entertain the notion of changing the order, the structure of Matthew. Since Luke does exactly that, well, it obviously proves that Luke had never read Matthew. So why does Luke agree with Matthew on so many points? Well, because of Q. They were both working from a combination of Mark and Q. So yes, there would be overlaps, but yes, there would be stylistic and organizational differences, too, since each would draw his own conclusions about how best to arrange the material in the two sources.

Now, I’ll be the first to admit that there are reasons to suppose that Luke may not have read Matthew. I will concede this because these stylistic arguments are lost on me. What Kloppenborg and the Q-people say isn’t wholly without merit. I m not trained in textual analysis; were I, no doubt much of what they say would make even more sense. But basing their case on the hypothetical existence of a hypothetical document for which there is no evidence aside from the inference that it must exist seems a very slender reed to use to support the superstructure of ther argument. The historian in me simply rebels. Come on now. There is no evidence for this document. What’s worse is that the pro-Q camp is so bloody smug about it. Well, of course there was a Q. What kind of a plebeian are you? Can’t you tell that Luke didn’t use Matthew? Can’t you just tell?

And the other really neat trick they’ve pulled off is that they have entrenched Q so solidly in the thought-world of NT academia that, somehow, it has become incumbent on the non-Q people to prove that Q didn’t exist. In any nomal world of historical analysis, if you suggest that something existed, you had darn well better be able to make a case to show that there is some, you know, evidence that it did exist. But not here. The burden of proof has been put on the shoulders of the non-Q people, and that is just bizarre. Think of it this way. If I want to purchase something large, like a house, I can’t walk into a bank to take out a mortgage, and expect to get said mortgage unless I can prove that I have some assets. I don’t say: “Prove that I don’t have a job, or 100k saved, or whatever”. A fundamental rule of argumentation is that it’s really hard to prove that something doesn’t–or didn’t–exist. I suppose this could be similar to the sort of inferential argument in evolution: we have form A and form C of a given species, so we can infer form B without any actual proof. But this is history; in science a certan line of development can be assumed based on certain physical laws and probabilities, but history has no such rules. Things can progress alonng a certain path and then, suddenly, go off at 90 degrees without a whole lot of warning.

But in fact, this sort of “fill in the blanks” argumentation is a big part of historical thinking, especially for periods of time like early Greece (or most of Greek history), for which we have but scanty evidence. A classic example is the question “where were the horses?” when talking about the Battle of Marathon in 490. Herodotus goes to great pains to talk about the Persian cavalry; how expert they were, how they built special horse-transports to bring them on the expedition, etc. And yet, he never mentions them in the description of the battle. Did they participate? If so, why didn’t he mention them? Did he feel that it wasn’t necessary? Did Herodotus just assume it could be taken as given that the Persian horse were involved? Or did they not participate? If not, why not? In 1899, Professor Munro of Oxford suggested that the Persians had started to load the horses into the transports to make a sea-borne run on Athens, thinking that they could make the trip more quickly than the Athenian army, thus enabling the Persians to attack while Athens was undefended. This was such an ingenius solution that the “dash on Phaleron” became accepted as fact. And when I reported it as such in my first Greek history essay, Prof Cole put a big red circle around it and informed me that this was only a theory. And, in fact, the theoretical “dash on Phaleron” came under increasing attack, and now is little more than an academic footnote. Sic transit gloria academiae.

That was a very long digression, so my apologies. But I believe it is relevant. It was a great theory; it held the field for upwards of 60 years. But, ultimately, it couldn’t be defended for lack of evidence. Hence, it fell back into the pack, just one of many theories. Q has held the field for almost 200 years, all the time without any real evidence. I believe it’s time that it be recognized for what it is: one theory among many.

Another aspect of this that I find hard to believe is that the idea of Luke using Matthew doesn’t have more proponents. It really is the simplest theory; it explains the status quo, even if it does not present a coherent explanation of why Luke seems to differ so much from Matthew. That is simple, too. It’s different because Luke was writing his own gospel. To think that one theory explains Luke’s editorial choices better than another is interesting, and probably valuable, but it is, ultimately, speculation based on aesthetic criteria. Sorry, but that is the simple fact of it, and even Kloppenborg acknowledged this, even if he stopped short of admitting the full array of implications of this.

Besides, there are a number of things that the pro-Q camp never does. First, no one, as far as I can tell, has ever attempted to explain why Mark was wholly unaware of, or unconcerned with, the existence of Q. Mark is writing about Jesus, the Messiah, the Lord. And yet, Mark is pretty much completely silent of what it was that Jesus was teaching. Does he not know about Q, and the content of what Jesus taught? If he know about Q, then he made a deliberate choice to leave out the Q material. Think about that. Jesus was a teacher; Mark said that all who heard him were astounded by Jesus’ teaching, and that he taught with authority, unlike the scribes. And yet, Mark omits pretty much all of the most important stuff. Like most of the stuff in the Sermon on the Mount, which is the epitome of Christian teaching. How is this even posssible?

OK, yes, it’s possible. But what is the likelihood of this? And more, how did happen? Any theory that accepts Q has to explain that. The pro-Q camp insists to the point of vehemence that any theory that doesn’t accept Q has to have a full-blown explanation for every place where Luke changes Matthew’s narrative. And yet, they do not even acknowledge that explaining how Mark didn’t know about/didn’t us Q is even an issue, let alone attempt to explain it. Sorry, that’s just wrong as an attempted historical thesis of the situation. A valid theory cannot simply ignore the problem of why Mark didn’t use Q material.

When I first started doing this, I blandly assumed Q because it’s so deeply ingrained in the scholarship. It’s just taken as given. Over time I came to understand the problems with the theory. There are others who are aware of this; Goodacre suggests that it should always be referred to as “the hypothetical document Q” as a reminder. I mean, we are at the point where we have reconstructed Q. Think about that: we have reconstructed a document that probably never existed. How slick is that? And even Goodacre acknowledges that Q is “coherent” in the thoughts expressed. More, we have identified the different layers of Q. That is the degree to which Q is simply believed. It’s an astonishing act of faith, really.

Of course this identification of Q strata does not explain where these later strata came from. Where were they when the original Q was written? Which raises questions. The whole point of Q is that it is a very early document, predating possibly even Paul, recording Jesus’ words shortly after his death. And yet, there’s this stuff that was added later. Do we not see a problem with this? This is what is called “internally inconsistent”. It does not work in the terms of its own internal logic.

So with time, I became convinced that the situation was this: Most of what distinguishes Matthew from Mark–e.g., the Sermon on the Mount–had actually been written by Matthew, and then Luke wrote his gospel using both Mark and Matthew. I still believe that Luke used Matthew. All one has to do is compare the “brood of vipers” speech in Matthew and Luke. They are more or less verbatim. The obvious conclusion is that Luke copied Matthew here. Now, the Q people will say that they both copied directly from Q, but the simpler solution is that Luke used Matthew. This doesn’t require the introduction of any hypothetical documents. And note one other thing: Q is supposedly the teachings of Jesus. But it’s the Baptist who utters the “brood of vipers” speech. When did Q become concerned with John? Think about that. Once again, the “coherent” document of Q is internally inconsistent. Well, the riposte would be, this comes from a later stratum, one that wasn’t part of the original. Translated from Q-speak, this means someone made it up afterwards. Who? Well, someone. But not Mark. Well, maybe it was Matthew. Someone made it up. We don’t know who. So we can attribute it to an unknown author of a possibly non-existent text, or we can attribute it to Matthew. While technically, the author of Matthew is just as unknown as the author of Q, at least with “Matthew” we know that the text did actually exist. That’s a big step forward over the possibly non-existent document Q.

One thing needs to be made very clear. Luke wrote a gospel because he felt he could add to the overall story of Jesus. Indeed, that’s why Matthew wrote his gospel. Matthew did not set out to repeat what Mark said, and only what Mark said. What would be the point of that? Matthew added material because he felt he had more to add. The same with Luke. Why did he change Matthew’s inviolable order? Because he was Luke, and not Matthew. Whether the changes that Luke made make sense to us is more or less irrelevant; they made sense to Luke. I know that violates the sensibilities of a lot of biblical scholars, and possibly a lot of Christians. But if we’re going to read this as an ancient text, then we have to throw away an awful lot of prejudices, preconceived notions, and sacred cows. We have to look at the text, and we have to look at the historical process. Luke changed Matthew because he wanted to, because it felt like the best way to tell his story. And Luke wanted to tell his own story. He did not want simply to repeat Matthew; what is the point of that?

It’s perhaps similar to the way a movie changes the book; fans of the book invariably ask, “why did they change it?” Answer: because they wanted to, they wanted to put their own stamp and interpretation on the work, to tell the story in a slightly (or significantly) different manner because it made artistic sense to the director to do so. Luke had his own story to tell. If it meant changing ’round some of the stuff in Matthew, then so be it. This wasn’t Matthew’s story any longer, after all. Luke added so much to the Christian vocabulary and thought world, images that are woven into the fabric of Western thought: the Good Shepherd; the Prodigal Son: the Good Samaritan. These are bywords in the English language. So if he changed the order of Matthew, then that’s really a small price to pay for this enormous addition of new ideas.

And here’s one other thing. Both Matthew and Luke start their gospels with an entirely fictitious historical event. Matthew invented the Slaughter of the Innocents. Luke invented the idea of a census in which you had to return to your ancestral home town. Both of these are grossly ahistorical. Neither of them happened. And yet, given this, we wonder that Luke would scruple to change some of the stuff, the context, the order, of Matthew? He was willing to invent this enormous event that his readers would have known to be less-than-factual; why would he then be unwilling to mess with Matthew’s content?

But the point is, I still firmly believe that Luke knew Matthew’s gospel, and used it to compose his own. I do not see the need to explain every little variation between Luke and Matthew, any more than the Q people feel the need to explain why Matthew chose to change pieces of Mark. Like pretty much everything up through Chapter 7 of Matthew is very different from the opening of Mark. Why don’t the Q people feel it necessary to explain that, and then turn around and demand an explanation for Luke’s changes to Matthew. The discussion, as currently occurring, is being fought entirely on ground chosen by the Q camp. It needs to be shifted onto neutral turf, where the Q argument has none of the inherent advantages that it currently has.

But I am no longer so certain that Matthew wrote all of the new stuff on his own. My new thesis is that much of this came from James, brother of Jesus (why does that seem so familiar?). The plan was to adress that topic in this discussion, but this has already ballooned well beyond a workable post. That will have to be saved for another. In the meantime, let’s hope that I’ve gotten a lot of this Q stuff out of my system. It’s been showing up much too prominently in the commentary. So now maybe, having gotten this down on paper, I can focus on the actual gospel once again.

Summary: The Sermon On The Mount and Matthew Chapter 7

The Sermon on the Mount has occupied the last three chapters that we have read. I think it’s impossible to write a summary of the chapter without also saying something about the Sermon as a whole. To start, let’s review briefly the content of the Sermon.

Of course we start with the Beatitudes. The significant aspect of this is that we have the promise of a positive reward for privation suffered. Most significant is that this reward will come in an afterlife, in the kingdom of the heavens. From there we go to the salt of the earth and the city on the hill, two nice metaphors that have nothing to do with what came before or what will come next, which is the promise not to drop a single iota/jot from the law. But then he does precisely that, telling us what the Jews of old were told, and then telling us how it stands now. Perhaps he’s not dropping the law so much as he is completing, or superseding, the law. All of this is a completely irrelevant introduction to the next topic, which is doing good in secret, not letting others know. This is the transfer from shame to guilt, external to internal; the ostentatious display of good works is all the reward one gets, whereas the one performing the works secretly will have a reward later, in the kingdom. And this is possibly a shot at Paul, and an echo of the later letter of James, when he says that faith without works is dead. More on James later. Here, Matthew does discuss the proper way to pray–in secret–so that’s not wholly divorced from the Lord’s Prayer. And there is a segue in to the idea of forgiving others so that we may be forgiven, which will help us store treasure in the heavens, rather than here on earth. And that does tie back to the Beatitudes, and does anticipate the them of much of Chapters 6 & 7: do not be concerned with materialism. God will provide; tomorrow should worry about tomorrow.Then we have the non-related contrast of the mote and the beam and the still non-related assurance that the one asking will receive, and the door will be opened if we knock. We conclude with the further assurance that, as we the wicked know how to treat our children well, so much more will God the Father know how to treat us well. That does have a marginal connection with the Golden Rule, but not so much with the narrow gate. Although the narrow gate can, sort of, connect to the idea that the good and the wicked shall be known by the fruits we produce. And in here we are told that even if we prophesy or work wonders in the name of the Lord, that may not actually do us much good when our fruits are being inspected. Which is interesting since the Jesus of Mark was pretty much a wonder-worker. Maybe this actually reflects back to Paul’s great discourse on love; we may prophesy, or do other wonders, but without love we are empty shells. To conclude, Matthew pretty much plagerizes Mark’s line that all who heard were amazed, and that Jesus taught with authority, and not like the scribes.

Coincidentally, today in church the gospel was Mark 1:21-28. It’s the story of Jesus first public act: preaching in the synagogue in Caphernaum, while those who heard him were amazed that Jesus taught with authority, and not like the scribes. So that was good, but what really struck me was the contrast between the way Mark describes the first work of Jesus’ public ministry, and the way Matthew does. For Mark, Jesus’ first act is preaching and exorcising an unclean spirit. This spirit then proclaims Jesus’ identity as the holy one of God, so we the reader have no doubt of who Jesus is. Matthew, in contrast, told us that in the birth narrative, right at the start of his Chapter 1. Then he sort of glides over Jesus being out and about, healing, but this is very brief, and the first real act of Jesus is this Sermon.

There is a dictum in writing fiction: show, don’t tell. Mark tells us that Jesus was a teacher; Matthew shows us by having Jesus teach. Matthew says that Jesus was a healer; Mark shows us by having Jesus heal. Sure, technically, it’s a exorcism, but that’s largely a distinction without a difference. But these are very different emphases. To which the question arises, if Mark says Jesus was a teacher, why doesn’t he tell us what was taught? Especially if the teaching was new, and was taught with authority? That Matthew chooses to emphasize the teachings is thoroughly understandable, epecially in light of the subsequent 2,000 years of Christian history, in which the teachings as reported by Matthew are pretty much what is understood as “Christianity”.

For, with the Sermon on the Mount, we have, I believe, crossed the line into true Christianity. More, in many ways, the Sermon on the Mount–the Beatitudes, in particular–is the epitome of Christianity. Given this, most Christian scholars–indeed, most Christians–would have a very hard time believing, or even accepting that these words are not the words of Jesus. Nearly all Christians have been willing to accept that, somehow, Matthew had a more authentic, a more direct pipeline to Jesus than Mark did, despite the fact that Matthew wrote a generation later. From an historical perspective, that is a tough row to hoe, a really tough sell. To make the sale, scholars have inferred the Q source as a way of providing that direct pipeline to Jesus. And by saying “inferred” I’m being kind; what I really want to say is “invented”.

And yet, reading the Sermon, I was struck several times by the sense that much–even most–of this has the feel of a collection of unrelated sayings. IOW, it feels something very like what Q is supposed to be. Mark Goodacre, one of the leading proponents of the non-Q school, referred to the section of 6:19 to 7:27 as a “grab-bag miscellany”. Oddly, one of the major proponents of Q, John Kloppenborg, was very derisive of this comment. Apparently Professor Kloppenborg doesn’t realize that a grab-bag miscellany is exactly what Q should be. Instead, Kloppenborg argues, or perhaps pronounces, that this is a skillfully crafted and tightly-written piece of prose. He cites examples of scholars who have seen elaborate patterns of construction in the Sermon. Of course, the different scholars see different patterns, which obviously causes problems; should not the ‘pattern’ be fairly obvious to most readers, rather than something buried so deeply that scholars have to tease it out? And, once it has been teased out, should different people find and see different things? He says this because Luke had the temerity to change the order and the organization of the Sermon. So, obviously, Luke was working from Q, and had never seen Matthew; because if Luke had read Matthew, the former would never have messed with the latter’s tightly-constructed, skillfully written masterpiece of prose. Since Luke did change the order, then Luke could not have read Matthew’s gospel. Ergo, Q.

This is the entire basis of the “argument” for Q. Heck, it’s pretty much the entire argument for Q.

Kloppenborg, Burton Mack, and others have constructed–they might claim “resurrected”–the “authentic” text of Q through scrupulous textual analysis of the “double tradition” material. That is, the material that Matthew and Luke share, but that is not present in Mark. This “double tradition” material is, more or less, Q. If they both have it, and Luke didn’t read Matthew, then Q must exist. The interesting thing is that a very substantial chunk of this earliest “stratum” of Q deals with topics that relate to poverty. By “poverty”, I mean the idea that we should turn away from material goods, we should turn our backs on our families and who we were and let the dead bury the dead, should leave without turning back to say good-bye, should venture out without a thought about how we will provide for our daily needs because God cares for the sparrows, so of course God will care for us, too. More, the Q text is seriously devoid of miracles, healings, or exorcisms. It is lacking in references to Jesus as a divine personage. Overall, it tells of a Jesus very different from the Jesus Mark portrayed. How is this later tradition the more authentic, the earlier, truer story?

While reading Mark, I frequently mentioned two traditions: that of the wonder-worker and that of the Christ. Of all the traditions that we can actually point to, that we actually have evidence for, the earliest is the Christ tradition. We know this is the earliest recorded tradition because we have the record. It’s Paul’s message. Then, later than that we have a tradition of a wonder-worker. We know this because we have Mark’s message. It’s not until we get to Matthew that we come across the counter-culture Jesus, the Jesus of the Sermon on the Mount. But wait. This latest tradition is actually the earliest! How do we know this? Well…um, it turns out we don’t. We infer it. We believe it. But we have absolutely no evidence to support this.

Look, it has never been proven that Mark wrote first. It cannot be proven, unless we dig up something like a letter of Matthew’s stating that he read that other gospel written by a dude named Mark. However, if you read the two with anything like the approach taken by historical, rather than textua, criticism, it is just completely obvious that Mark is the older tradition. It’s the story before it had accrued too much elaboration. It didn’t have a birth narrative. It doesn’t have much of a resurrection story. It’s missing big chunks of teaching, but the story isn’t about a teacher. Not really. It’s about a wonder-worker. Paul’s Christ wasn’t really a teacher, either. He was the Christ, the one raised from the dead. Once more, this tradition doesn’t appear until Matthew. And yet, we are to believe it’s the more authentic tradition. It’s the earliest one. How do we know this? Because Q was written very, very early. How do we know this? Because it had to be written that early, or it wouldn’t be the earliest tradition; it wouldn’t be traceable to Jesus.

So, we have the counter-cultural Jesus and the teacher-Jesus showing up for the first time in Matthew. And yet, this is the earliest tradition because it was transmitted by a document that we do not possess. It was transmitted by a document that no ancient source has ever mentioned, or even alluded to. But it existed. It had to.

Think about it: Matthew = Mark + teachings of Jesus. From the historical point of view, I cannot stress sufficiently how odd it is to have an entirely new aspect appear so late. From the legend point of view, OTOH, it makes perfect sense. And it makes even more sense if we toss out the idea that the teachings Matthew has recorded came from James, and not from Jesus. I have mentioned this point several times, but it bears repeating: James was the leader of the Jesus movement for ten times as long as Jesus was, given the traditional dates for both, It is impossible that James was the leader for that much time without leaving an indelible mark on the nascent church. And since the teachings of Jesus are what separates Matthew from Mark, it is eminently reasonable to infer that this teaching came from James rather than Jesus via Q. The thing is, James is an attested fact; Paul tells us this, and the early leaders of what was then the Church agree that James was in charge for a period of time. And many of these early leaders were bishops of Rome, who had a vested interest in stressing the prominent role of Peter, and downplaying James.

I have asked several times how Mark could have been so utterly unaware of the Q material. If this is what Jesus was known for, how could it have so completely bypassed Mark? I have never read anything from the Q school that even acknowledges that this is a question that should be asked; so the Q school has made no attempt to answer this question, as far as I know. Until about two weeks ago, I had no answer either. But now I have an hypothesis. Mark knew the Q material, but he chose, deliberately, not to record it. Why? Because Mark had a good inkling that the Q material did not originate with Jesus. Rather, Mark knew that most of it came from James.

Consider the chronology. Mark wrote within a decade of James’ death; that was not sufficient time for the influence of James to percolate throughout the entire community of the Jesus movement. A generation later, enough time had passed for the assimilation to occur. And maybe enough time had passed for the fact that this teaching came from James, and not Jesus, to recede into the background. And let’s face it: there is nothing in Mark or Paul that comes close to the counter-cultural, social justice message of the Sermon on the Mount.

So Matthew in general, and the Sermon in particular, represent an entirely new level, and layer of meaning and belief and action to the Jesus movement. The Sermon is the point where we leave the Jesus movement behind, and enter the world of Christianity.