Matthew Chapter 9:14-26

Chapter 9 continues with more stories that are in Mark.

14 Τότε προσέρχονται αὐτῷ οἱ μαθηταὶ Ἰωάννου λέγοντες, Διὰ τί ἡμεῖς καὶ οἱ Φαρισαῖοι νηστεύομεν [πολλά], οἱ δὲ μαθηταί σου οὐ νηστεύουσιν;

15 καὶ εἶπεν αὐτοῖς ὁἸησοῦς, Μὴ δύνανται οἱ υἱοὶ τοῦ νυμφῶνος πενθεῖν ἐφ’ ὅσον μετ’ αὐτῶν ἐστιν ὁ νυμφίος; ἐλεύσονται δὲ ἡμέραι ὅταν ἀπαρθῇ ἀπ’ αὐτῶν ὁ νυμφίος, καὶ τότε νηστεύσουσιν.

The the disciples of John came to him (Jesus) saying, Because of what do we and the Pharisees fast [much], but your disciples do not fast?” (15) And Jesus said to them, “The sons of the bride-chamber are not able to mourn for so much (time) with them is the bridegroom. But days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them and then they will fast.

Just a quick note: “sons of the bride-chamber” is metaphorical. I noticed that I wasn’t entirely certain when we ran across this in Mark. But also note the use of the word <<υἱοὶ>>, rather than the plural of “pais”, the term the centurion used. This is a pretty clear indication that the centurion was talking about a servant. His ‘boy’–which can be a pejorative and even offensive term now.

This passage is meant to accomplish a couple of things, and it incidentally tells us one or two other things in the meantime. Of the latter, it’s telling us that John’s popularity was still significant at the time Matthew wrote. Was John more popular, more revered than he had been when Mark wrote? I’m not going to go so far as make that claim, but I don’t think it’s out of the question. In the Antiquities, Josephus had much more to say about John than he did about Jesus, and that may have been written a decade after Matthew. The point is, Matthew still feels that the subject of the Baptist is relevant, and realizes that he had to address the situation. Ergo, we need to realize that Matthew is telling us that people knew who John was, independently of the latter’s association with Jesus. Today, and for most of the Christian era, this has not been the case; John has been sort of a footnote to the story of Jesus, a minor character in the movie of Jesus’ life. This was not true in the last half of the First Century. In addition, John’s life as an ascetic was still well-known; hence the question here: why didn’t Jesus fast like John, and the Baptistians, and even the Pharisees? 

Here is where the followers of Jesus had to do a bit of a balancing act. The idea was to remind everyone that Jesus was associated with John, so that Jesus and his followers could tap into the ancient Jewish tradition–which included fasting–in which John was firmly grounded. But at the same time, Jesus’ followers had to start to separate from John because much of that Jewish tradition with its dietary laws and circumcision were a liability to the movement. More, Jesus’ followers had to start to assert that Jesus was actually superior to John, so that John came to be seen as the precursor of Jesus. This, of course, explains why Matthew has John demur from baptizing  Jesus, saying that Jesus should do the baptizing. Now here we have Jesus proclaiming himself the bridegroom. Once again, this story is in Mark, and it has been slightly shortened by Matthew.

The other incidental bit of information is what this says about Jesus himself. He was not one for fasting; indeed, the context is more or less that these disciples of John come to him while he is in the midst of a dinner party with tax collectors and sinners, held at Jesus’ own house. Now, that Jesus had been the host of this occasion indicates that Jesus was a man of some standing; which translated means he had means, as in money. One did not host dinner parties of tax collectors unless one had substantial means. These men were well-off themselves; given the level of snobbery, and attitude that wealth = God’s favor that was prevalent at the time among both Jews and pagans, wealthy individuals did not generally socialize with the less well-off. So the question here is double- or even triple-pointed. There is the obvious question about fasting, but this has implications for social standing–which is code for wealth. John was a wild man in the desert; Jesus owns a house and entertains. People obviously saw the discrepancy there. Which is another reason I suspect that the connection to John was more of a creation of Jesus’ later followers than a reflection of historical accuracy. The third point, of course, was the idea of consorting with sinners and Roman collaborators.

Given all this, the implications of this seemingly throw-away little tale may be enormous. One question that needs to be asked is how seriously we should take the reports of Jesus hanging out with tax collectors. This is a motif that is prevalent, one that is repeated many times by all the synoptics. Does that mean it was historically accurate? Not necessarily. The gospels are not independent of each other. As such they do not constitute what historians would consider independent sources. Just because something is repeated in all three Synoptics, or even all four gospels, does not make it more likely to be accurate. Such recurrence is a measure of its Truth rather than its factual or historical accuracy. If a story is repeated three or four times, this indicates that it was considered very important for the greater Truth of the story, its implications for instructing on how to live, how the cosmos was organized, and how one must behave to enter the kingdom of God/the heavens. 

Rather than mere repetition, we have to ask why it was repeated. Does the repetition rebound to the benefit, or the detriment of the main actor? That is, why would later followers want it to be known that Jesus hung out with Roman collaborators and sinners? First, we have to divide these two categories, something which is not often done. We have the sinners; this is pretty obvious, and doesn’t need much explanation. But note how it’s always, “tax collectors and sinners”. The two are not merged; they are consistently separate categories of people. Why? Because, while they were reprehensible, the tax collectors weren’t garden-variety sinners; rather, they were Roman collaborators. Now, why would it be beneficial, or detrimental, for Jesus to be seen associating with such people? Well, from Mark’s point of view, in the immediate aftermath of the Jewish Revolt, it may have been very politick for Mark to show Jesus as a friend of the friends of Rome. The tax collectors, as a group, probably were underrepresented among the ranks of the rebels, since they made their living from the Roman occupation. This, of course, assumes that the tax collectors were Jewish. But were they? Some of them would have been; here, we have Levi/Matthew and Luke has Zaccheus. So either they were Jews collaborating with Rome, or they were pagans who probably weren’t interested in the Jewish religious matters that touched off the Revolt. Either way, they were clear of suspicion about being involved in, or even sympathetic to, the Jewish Revolt. This would have been, I think, important for Mark.

But what about Matthew? Much of this rationale would have dissipated by the 80s, the earliest time for Matthew is likely to have written. He could easily have just taken this over from Mark and not thought much about it. But a different possibility is that Matthew wanted to stress how Jesus was both part of, and yet stood apart from the Jewish mainstream. He was part of it by associating with John, by taking John under his wing (as Matthew implies happened), but he was apart from it by associating with tax collectors who were certainly outside the Jewish mainstream, and by not fasting like the Pharisees. So Matthew is walking a very fine line here. Now, it’s possible that this speculation is all too-clever by half. Matthew may simply have taken over the story and not really thought much about some–or any–of these implications. But if Matthew is the master of organization the Q proponents say he was, then Matthew didn’t do much without a good reason, so we have to ask these questions. Whether I have provided reasonable answers to these questions is a different question unto itself. The simplest explanation is that this was so firmly embedded in the tradition, that Matthew felt unable to remove it.

The other thing that occurs to me about this derives from the idea that Jesus was a man of means. This, of course, is mentioned nowhere, nor by anyone. And yet, this seems a reasonable conclusion to draw from this story. Jesus has a house. Jesus is entertaining men of substance. It’s not hard to see that Jesus could himself have been a man of substance. Now, he may have given it up, which would explain the “eye of a camel” aphorism. Or, the emphasis on poverty could have been overlaid onto Jesus by later followers, for whom asceticism and voluntary poverty were the ideals. Such a man could have begun as a follower of the Baptist, but then joined Jesus after the execution of the former. And let’s say that this follower happened to become the leader of the Jesus movement after the death of Jesus. Who is this mystery man?

James the Just, the brother of the lord, of course.

Now that inference may take us well beyond too-clever-by-half. We’ve perhas hit too-clever-by-a-whole. The pieces fit, but they could–easily–fit in other ways, too.

But this also works another way. Here we have Jesus cavorting with rich folk and sinners (categories that possibly overlapped to a large degree), but in the Beatitudes we have Jesus preaching about the poor (in spirit, at least, which may have described Jesus himself), the persecuted, and other such downtrodden members of society. There seems a bit of a contradiction, or at least a conflict here, no? The former group are active sinners; the latter are the dirt floor of society. They are not necessarily sinners, unless you subscribe to the notion that God’s favor = wealth, which a lot of Jesus’ contemporaries had, and which is very prevalent even in 21st Century America. My suggestion is that this apparent conflict is best described as being nonexistent, that the two groups of sinners/tax collectors and poor in spirit are, in fact the same. The other best explanation is that we have two schools of thought here because we had two rather different men leading the movement: Jesus and then James. And recall, per Paul, James was more firmly entrenched in the Jewish traditions, so things like fasting and asceticism may have appealed more to him than to his brother. The result is a message that is not entirely consistent.

Now after all of this, my gut reaction is that Jesus did indeed associate with tax collectors as well as sinners. Interestingly, though, now that I try to explain why, I’m having trouble coming up with a case to support this belief. I think the gut comes from a sense that this would have been embarrassing; but, if it wasn’t, if it was something invented for political reasons by Mark, then maybe the case for the embarrassment goes away. This is related to the idea of the kingdom, and who would inherit it. This will require more analysis.

Speaking of invented, let’s address the prophetic element in the story. Jesus predicts that he will be taken away from the party. Since this is not a theological blog, nor a religiously-oriented one I cannot consider the possibility that Jesus was actually prophetic, being a divine being. It’s not that I’m believing or disbelieving; it’s just a matter of scope. It’s like asking if fish can fly when the discussion is about how to broil a piece of cod. Given the bent of the inquiry here, (historion, as Herodotus would have called it), we have to take all such prophetic pronouncements as post facto. Now, this could be a short time, or a long time after the fact; there is no way of knowing. So we have to look for other clues for timing, but there really aren’t any. The predictions of persecution, or the blessing of the persecuted take us into the 40s, a good decade after the death of Jesus, or even later, into the persecutions of Nero, or the time of the Jewish War or later still, into the reign of Domitian close to the end of the century.  This latter seems a bit too late. “Blessed are the persecuted” could be a reflection of the persecutions such as were perpetrated by Saul, so the timing of James the Just making this pronouncement works for that. At least, there is no obvious contradiction. James would have been alive, and lived past them to preach about them. Now, this is to assume that Saul did persecute; to which I say, if it wasn’t Saul, there are enough references to persecution, or trials that something such did happen. Regardless, I do believe the tales of persecution were greatly exaggerated by the later church.  

One final point. Mark says that the guests are not able to fast while the bridegroom is with them; Matthew says they do not mourn. Why the change? This strikes me as Matthew emphasizing the coming death of Jesus, letting the reader know that Jesus knew it was coming, that it would happen. This is why historians have to be skeptical about prophecies written decades after the event. Matthew’s change may be subtle, but it’s noteworthy. 

14 Tunc accedunt ad eum discipuli Ioannis dicentes: “ Quare nos et pharisaei ieiunamus frequenter, discipuli autem tui non ieiunant? ”.

15 Et ait illis Iesus: “ Numquid possunt convivae nuptiarum lugere, quamdiu cum illis est sponsus? Venient autem dies, cum auferetur ab eis sponsus, et tunc ieiunabunt.

16 οὐδεὶς δὲ ἐπιβάλλει ἐπίβλημα ῥάκους ἀγνάφου ἐπὶ ἱματίῳπαλαιῷ: αἴρει γὰρ τὸ πλήρωμα αὐτοῦ ἀπὸ τοῦ ἱματίου, καὶ χεῖρον σχίσμα γίνεται.

17 οὐδὲ βάλλουσιν οἶνον νέον εἰς ἀσκοὺς παλαιούς: εἰ δὲ μή γε, ῥήγνυνται οἱ ἀσκοί, καὶ ὁ οἶνος ἐκχεῖται καὶ οἱ ἀσκοὶ ἀπόλλυνται: ἀλλὰ βάλλουσιν οἶνον νέον εἰς ἀσκοὺς καινούς, καὶ ἀμφότεροι συντηροῦνται.

No one stretches a new piece of cloth upon an old garment, for the fulness of it tears from the garment, and the rent becomes worse. (17) Nor does one put new wine into old skins; otherwise the skins will rupture, and the wine will pour out and the skins will be destroyed. Rather, one puts new wine  into new skins, and both will be preserved.

Again, this is found in Mark. There, I talked about the possible eschatology of the message. This came from the influence of a book by EP Sanders that I was reading at the time.  The eschatological part concerned the sweeping away of the old, the old skins, the old garment, etc. The question is, what is being swept away? Now, I think there are a couple of ways to look at this. There is the truly apocalyptic view, in which everything will be swept away to usher in the kingdom. If we are truly talking about eschatology, that is what we mean. Reading this, however, I have the sense the the sweeping will be much more limited in scope. This is where it’s important actually to read the text. What I get out of this passage now is a discussion about Jewish practices. After all, Jesus is still talking to the disciples of John, and they asked about fasting. So Jesus’ reply should be taken in this context, I believe. So from that perspective, Jesus is breaking with Jewish practice, which is the old skins, or the old garment. Jesus’ message is the new patch, and the new wine.

Now this leads to two questions. Was this the message of the passage in Mark? Or has it changed? Looking back, I’m not sure I see anything more in Mark than talk about Jewish practice. So the second question is about how Jesus intended this to happen. Now that I think of it, there is a third question that’s really more important than the other two: did Jesus really say this, or anything vaguely like this? If we’re talking about Jewish practice, we have to ask when the abrogation of this became an issue. We’ve discussed how we can deduce that Jesus said nothing about the breaking of Jewish dietary laws, or other Jewish customs. This is demonstrated by the way that it was a point of contention between Paul and James; had Jesus said anything about this, the issue would never have become an issue. So, given that, either Jesus never said this or…Or is there an “or”? My suspicion is that there isn’t. Jesus never said this, so it’s rather pointless to ask what he meant by this.

Instead, this was something that came up as a result of the influx of pagans into the following. There is a lot of discussion about whether Mark was heavily influenced by Paul; one blog to which I’ve referred before thinks not, but there is, apparently, a strong cadre of academic thought that believes Mark was so influenced. Regardless, I think there is a case to be made that, influence or not, Mark ran into the same basic question that Paul did: how to assimilate pagans? Did they have to become full-fledged Jews to be a follower of Jesus? And so the tradition came up with solutions like this, admonitions not to put old wine (Jewish practice) into the new skin of the Jesus/Christian movement. As an aside, and sort of as a final note, I think it’s significant that Matthew included this. After all, if he were so concerned about not dropping a single iota of the law, why would he add something like this? He left out other things; why not this?

16 Nemo autem immittit commissuram panni rudis in vestimentum vetus; tollit enim supplementum eius a vestimento, et peior scissura fit.

17 Neque mittunt vinum novum in utres veteres, alioquin rumpuntur utres, et vinum effunditur, et utres pereunt; sed vinum novum in utres novos mittunt, et ambo conservantur ”.

18 Ταῦτα αὐτοῦ λαλοῦντος αὐτοῖς ἰδοὺ ἄρχων εἷς ἐλθὼν προσεκύνει αὐτῷ λέγων ὅτι Ἡ θυγάτηρ μου ἄρτι ἐτελεύτησεν: ἀλλὰ ἐλθὼν ἐπίθες τὴν χεῖρά σου ἐπ’αὐτήν, καὶ ζήσεται.

19 καὶ ἐγερθεὶς ὁ Ἰησοῦς ἠκολούθησεν αὐτῷ καὶ οἱ μαθηταὶ αὐτοῦ.

He (Jesus) having said these things to them, lo, a ruler coming to him (Jesus), groveled to him saying that “My daughter has just died. But coming, put your hand on her, and she will be saved.” (19) And rising, Jesus followed him and (so did) his disciples.

The word to note here is “rising”. Above, it wasn’t entirely clear whether Jesus was still having the dinner party when these disciples came. And recall that, at dinner, he was “reclining”. Now that he is “rising”, I would take this to mean that he was actually still at dinner when the disciples came with their question. First the Pharisees walked by and tut-tutted about the company, then the disciples of John. I’d be curious about the architecture, where it seems that the dinner party was visible from the street.

Next point, compare this to the story of the centurion’s servant. Here, Jesus has to go to the house. For the centurion, Jesus can effect the healing from a distance. Doesn’t the latter case seem like progress? That Jesus is seen as more powerful in that story? And yet, that story is supposedly in Q, which supposedly predates Mark. Not sure I buy that. In fact, I’m pretty sure I don’t buy it.

18 Haec illo loquente ad eos, ecce princeps unus accessit et adorabat eum dicens: “ Filia mea modo defuncta est; sed veni, impone manum tuam super eam, et vivet ”.

19 Et surgens Iesus sequebatur eum et discipuli eius.

20 Καὶ ἰδοὺ γυνὴ αἱμορροοῦσα δώδεκα ἔτη προσελθοῦσα ὄπισθεν ἥψατο τοῦ κρασπέδου τοῦ ἱματίου αὐτοῦ:

And, lo, a woman (suffering from) a discharge of blood for twelve years approached him that she might touch the hem of his garment.

And this is a definite throwback. Here, she has to touch him–or his garment–physically. Do these three stories, the bleeding woman, the ruler’s daughter, and the centurion, not seem to be a continuum of power?

20 Et ecce mulier, quae sanguinis fluxum patiebatur duodecim annis, accessit retro et tetigit fimbriam vestimenti eius.

21 ἔλεγεν γὰρ ἐν ἑαυτῇ, Ἐὰν μόνον ἅψωμαι τοῦ ἱματίου αὐτοῦ σωθήσομαι.

For she said to herself, “If I only touch the hem of his garment, I will be saved.”

Just to comment on “saved”. This is the third use of the word in Matthew, and all three times it’s been used in a physical sense. And, really, here it doesn’t even mean “saving her life” so much as it simply means “cured”, as it also does in the next verse. I looked ahead, and, for the most part, it is used to refer to other physical conditions. We shall have to look for uses of “the life” to see if the two are used in conjunction.

21 Dicebat enim intra se: “ Si tetigero tantum vestimentum eius, salva ero ”.

22 ὁ δὲ Ἰησοῦς στραφεὶς καὶ ἰδὼν αὐτὴν εἶπεν, Θάρσει, θύγατερ: ἡ πίστις σου σέσωκέν σε. καὶ ἐσώθη ἡ γυνὴ ἀπὸ τῆς ὥρας ἐκείνης.

Jesus turned and seeing her said, “Take heart, daughter. Your faith has saved you”. And the woman was made whole from that very hour.

“At that very hour”. A nice melodramatic turn of phrase. But what’s significant about this story is, once again, its brevity. And Griesbach actually wants us to believe that Mark was a precis of Matthew? Seriously? Seems like he got that exactly backwards. But this is what I mean: so many people have been so desperate to put Matthew first that they will do all sorts of mental gymnastics in order to preserve that primacy. They will overlook the many times that Matthew abridges the stories of Mark, and then claim that Mark abridged Matthew. The latter left out details; but Mark would have left out pretty much all of Jesus’ teaching. Man, talk about talking yourself into something. Faith is a wonderful thing, but blind faith is…well, blind.

So yes, once again Matthew shortens a set-piece story in Mark. This was another one that had all sorts of detail, had been rounded out nicely, and would have made a nice, oral story. But the thing that I most note as lacking is Jesus feeling “the power going out of him”. That she was cured without his volition, based on her faith alone. The way it comes across here, Jesus is supremely aware of the whole situation, he knows to turn and look and speak the words. No touching necessary. Again, I hope the development of Jesus’ power as a divine being is coming through in the way Matthew has abbreviated the story. In the other one, Jesus is caught unawares, a physical touch is necessary, the power works on its own, drawn to the magnet of her faith. Here, all happens by Jesus’ will and his foresight to know what is happening around him, his knowing that she is approaching with intent. Mark’s is the story of a wonder-worker; this is the story of a divine being.

22 At Iesus conversus et videns eam dixit: “ Confide, filia; fides tua te salvam fecit ”. Et salva facta est mulier ex illa hora.

23 Καὶ ἐλθὼν ὁ Ἰησοῦς εἰς τὴν οἰκίαν τοῦ ἄρχοντος καὶ ἰδὼν τοὺς αὐλητὰς καὶ τὸν ὄχλον θορυβούμενον

24 ἔλεγεν, Ἀναχωρεῖτε, οὐ γὰρ ἀπέθανεν τὸ κοράσιον ἀλλὰ καθεύδει. καὶ κατεγέλων αὐτοῦ.

25 ὅτε δὲ ἐξεβλήθη ὁ ὄχλος, εἰσελθὼν ἐκράτησεν τῆς χειρὸς αὐτῆς, καὶ ἠγέρθη τὸ κοράσιον.

26 καὶ ἐξῆλθεν ἡ φήμη αὕτη εἰς ὅλην τὴν γῆν ἐκείνην.

 And Jesus coming to the house of the ruler, and seeing the flute players and the crowd in a disturbance (24) said, “Go away, for the maiden has not died, but she sleeps. And they laughed down on him. (25) Then he cast out the crowd, going in he took her hand and the girl was raised. (26) And this story (perhaps tale of this deed would be more poetic)  went out to all of that land.  

Just realized that Matthew does not tell us what this man rules. In Mark it was a ruler of a synagogue. Here, it’s non-specified. Is this another attempt to put some distance between Jesus and Jewish practices? I mean, “ruler” unspecified is just weird in any language. And of course the Aramaic phrase is also missing at the end of the story. So, we’ve become divorced from all cultural references. This is a generic ruler in a generic land. And speaking of land, look at the end: “this fame went out through all that land, (and they all lived happily ever after)” . “All that land”, It has a fairy tale sort of quality about it, and it sounds like something one who lived some distance from “that land” would say. It doesn’t sound like something someone who was familiar with the area would say at all. So, once again, more clues that this was written for pagans, at some remove from Judea and Galilee?

And Jesus retains the air of all-knowing demigod in this story. Coming to the house, he reads the hubbub of the crowd to mean that they girl has died. And Matthew with an economy of words that would have made Hemingway proud tells us this by having Jesus deny that she had died. This is a man in charge of the situation. I like the crowd’s reaction: they laughed down on him is the literal translation of the Greek. That gets the point across rather nicely, I think.

Finally, the word used for “raised” is the same word that Mark and Paul use to describe Jesus being raised from the dead. The implication is an outside actor raising an object; it is not something rising of its own power, the way Jesus rose after his dinner party to come to the ruler’s house.  

23 Et cum venisset Iesus in domum principis et vidisset tibicines et turbam tumultuantem,

24 dicebat: “ Recedite; non est enim mortua puella, sed dormit ”. Et deridebant eum.

25 At cum eiecta esset turba, intravit et tenuit manum eius, et surrexit puella.

26 Et exiit fama haec in universam terram illam.

 

Advertisements

About James, brother of Jesus

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

Posted on March 8, 2015, in gospel commentary, gospels, Matthew's Gospel and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: