Monthly Archives: May 2015

Matthew Chapter 12:22-37

This is another long section of Jesus talking.  In my red-letter edition, virtually this whole section is in red.

22 Τότε προσηνέχθη αὐτῷ δαιμονιζόμενος τυφλὸς καὶ κωφός: καὶ ἐθεράπευσεν αὐτόν, ὥστε τὸν κωφὸν λαλεῖν καὶ βλέπειν.

Then they brought to him one demonizing (being) blind and deaf. And he (Jesus) healed him (the possessed) so that the mute spoke and looked around.

Note the compression in this. The man with the demon is brought in, described, healed, and sent on his way in a single sentence. What is the implication here? It seems that Matthew is not interested in dwelling on the wonders worked. Forz Mark, these wonders were a major part of the story, but for Matthew they are something to be gotten through and brushed aside. Why? Remember that there were a number of wonder workers abroad in the First Century. I keep coming back to Apollonius of Tyana, but his story in outline is very similar to that of Jesus. I don’t need to remind anyone that, for Matthew, Jesus’ divinity goes back to his conception–at least. Jesus wasn’t adopted as a grown man the way he was in Mark.

22 Tunc oblatus est ei daemonium habens, caecus et mutus, et curavit eum, ita ut mutus loqueretur et videret.

23 καὶ ἐξίσταντο πάντες οἱ ὄχλοι καὶ ἔλεγον, Μήτι οὗτός ἐστιν ὁ υἱὸς Δαυίδ;

And the whole crowd standing around being amazed and they said, “Is he not the son of David?”

This is an interesting connection being made. We have Jesus working wonders. Then we jump to the son of David. This latter, of course, is fraught with implications. The question is, can we assume that “son of David” = “the anointed”? On the one hand, it seems like a really obvious conclusion that we should draw. OTOH, we’re not concerned with what we think of it, but how would this have been taken by Matthew’s audience? Would that conclusion have been just as obvious to someone in the First Century CE? Or, can we even answer that question?  I’m not sure the answer to either of those is “yes”.  How much of this depends on whether Matthew was Jewish? Or whether his audience was predominantly Jewish? Remember, back when we read the Beatitudes, I suggested that the term “Christian” was probably appropriate for both the author and the audience of this gospel. I don’t think it was appropriate for Mark or the audience of his gospel. Do I still believe that? And this is a very important question because it has real bearing on whether “son of David” = “Messiah”.

The thing is, if Matthew can be called a Christian, then the chances of him drawing this conclusion is much higher than if he is not a Christian. Part of the very essence of being a Christian is the belief that Jesus was the Christ.  There’s more to being a Christian than this, because Paul believed it, and I don’t think the term Christian can be applied to him. But wait, there’s more. The idea of the Messiah was not a significant part of the HS. There are all sorts of allegories like Isaiah, and there are the apocalyptic writings of the last centuries BCE. As such, we have to ask if the idea of Jesus being the Messiah was harder for Jews to accept, or for pagans to accept. Given that most Jews of the First Century did not become followers of Jesus, I think the answer to this is pretty clear: it was harder for Jews to accept that Jesus was the Messiah than it was for Jews. 

Based on this, the logical deduction is that it’s more likely that Matthew was a pagan, rather than a Jew. Right? Not quite. Just because most Jews didn’t follow Jesus doesn’t mean that some Jews did. Matthew could have been one of the minority that did, so for him, I don’t know that we can draw any conclusions. I think it marginally makes it more likely that Matthew was a pagan, but it doesn’t preclude him being a Jew. I would ask to note that the little things that make it marginally more likely that Matthew was a pagan are beginning to add up. There have been a number of them. I do, however, think this helps explain why the message came to appeal more to pagans than Jews. I think that, as Jesus’ divinity became more of the accepted message, the attraction for pagans grew, largely  because a divine being on earth was not foreign to their mythology. Now, I’ve made a jump from “Messiah” to “divine being”; the two terms are not necessarily synonymous. But based on Matthew’s story so far, I think maybe the two had become entwined to a high degree. “Messiah”, I think, came to mean “divine” for them much in the same way it does for us. By the time Matthew wrote, we are as close to the earliest Christian writings as we are to Jesus. 

23 Et stupebant omnes turbae et dicebant: “ Numquid hic est filius David? ”.

24 οἱ δὲ Φαρισαῖοι ἀκούσαντες εἶπον, Οὗτος οὐκ ἐκβάλλει τὰ δαιμόνια εἰ μὴ ἐν τῷ Βεελζεβοὺλ ἄρχοντι τῶν δαιμονίων.

25 εἰδὼς δὲ τὰς ἐνθυμήσεις αὐτῶν εἶπεν αὐτοῖς, Πᾶσα βασιλεία μερισθεῖσα καθ’ἑαυτῆς ἐρημοῦται, καὶ πᾶσα πόλις ἢ οἰκία μερισθεῖσα καθ’ ἑαυτῆς οὐ σταθήσεται.

And the Pharisees hearing said, “He does not cast out demons except by (lit =in) Beelzeboul the ruler of the demons”. (25) Knowing their thinkings, he said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and every city or household divided against itself will not remain standing.

Can’t quite get the sense of the last verb. It’s a future passive, but with an intransitive verb (to stand). Oh well, can’t get them all.

This section, too, is mostly a direct copy from Mark. Jesus’ retort is elaborated a bit, but neither the content nor the overall implications have changed. I find it a bit odd that the Q proponents are so definite that the Q material is authentic, but they overlook stuff that’s in all three of the Synoptics, or at least in Mark and Matthew. Please don’t misunderstand; just because something is in two or more of the gospels does not mean that this material is corroborated. It’s not. [That’s the other reason that Q proponents insist that Luke was not aware of Matthew; that allows Luke to be an independent source. Unfortunately, this is, I firmly believe, simply wishful thinking,] If I had to pick a passage, or a quote that I thought was authentic Jesus, the “house divided” would be a strong contender. The biggest problem I see with accepting this as authentic Jesus is trying to figure out what it means. I mean, it makes sense in this context, but can we actually take the context at face value? 

To some degree, I think we can. In a way, the sort of awkwardness of the phrase, how it doesn’t fit in neatly with wisdom proverbs (can the blind lead the blind), or spiritual injunctions (blessed are the poor), and it’s certainly not apocalyptic. Quite the contrary, in fact. So what? Well, let’s note the context. Jesus is working a wonder. Later Christians never denied that pagans could work wonders, just as Pharaoh’s magician could turn his staff into a snake. The question was, who is power behind the wonder? Is it God? Or a demon? Even later Christians took magic very seriously, and fully believed that magic was efficacious; but it was also the work of the devil, and not a miracle from God. So this is what Jesus is being accused of: working wonders through demonic power. Not exactly earth-shattering stuff. But Jesus’ response is awkward at best: a house–even the house of Beelzeboul–could not stand if it’s divided. Is that what Jesus is really talking about? Or is this somehow a metaphor?

That Jesus would be accused of working wonders by way of demonic power makes perfect sense. And consequently it makes perfect sense that this story is in Mark, who was very concerned about Jesus’ miracles. But the “divided house of Beelzeboul” metaphor is ambiguous at best. And that ambiguity is what makes me suspect that this might be authentic. It’s rough, unpolished, and it puts Jesus into a position of being accused as one who consorts with demons. Of course, there is an air of “isn’t this accusation the most ridiculous thing you’ve ever heard?” about it, but the suggestion is still there. Is this an accurate reflection of how Jesus was viewed? Or maybe, the echo of an accurate reflection of how people–some people, anyway–saw Jesus? It might be. Look, if we can be convinced that some part of these stories has a 50% probability of being accurate, that’s about the best we can hope for. This one? I’d put it above 33%: a one in three chance of having at least a kernel of truth. “Blessed are the poor”, or “take up one’s cross”? Something less–probably considerably less–than 5% probable.

24 Pharisaei autem audientes dixerunt: “ Hic non eicit daemones nisi in Beelzebul, principe daemonum ”.

25 Sciens autem cogitationes eorum dixit eis: “ Omne regnum divisum contra se desolatur, et omnis civitas vel domus divisa contra se non stabit.

26 καὶ εἰ ὁ Σατανᾶς τὸν Σατανᾶν ἐκβάλλει, ἐφ’ ἑαυτὸν ἐμερίσθη: πῶς οὖν σταθήσεται ἡ βασιλεία αὐτοῦ;

“And if Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself. How would his kingdom be able to stand?

So yes, I think Jesus was accused of consorting with demons. This little addendum–which is in Mark also–is convincing. Not that Jesus said this necessarily–in all likelihood he didn’t. But that Mark and Matthew felt the need to add this for emphasis, to include this as relevant suggests that the accusation was real, and subsequent followers went to some lengths to come up with variations on the divided house metaphor to drive home the point. I think the probability may climb above 40% for the accusation, and I see no reason to doubt the retort.

26 Et si Satanas Satanam eicit, adversus se divisus est; quomodo ergo stabit regnum eius?

27 καὶ εἰ ἐγὼ ἐν Βεελζεβοὺλ ἐκβάλλω τὰ δαιμόνια, οἱ υἱοὶ ὑμῶν ἐν τίνι ἐκβάλλουσιν; διὰ τοῦτο αὐτοὶ κριταὶ ἔσονται ὑμῶν.

“And if I in Beelzeboul cast out demons, the sons of you in who do they cast out (demons)? Through this they will be your judges.

Huh? Your sons will be your judges? That’s a bit odd. We’re sort of getting into playground antics, kinderspiel, sort of “Oh yeah? So are you!” This is not something Jesus said. Matthew should have quit while he was ahead.

Of course a bit of reflection does bring up a different possibility. “The sons of yours” means, “your people”, whether that’s literal, or ethnic, or co-religionists. I think this is an indication that there were, indeed, other wonder-workers about,possibly/probably Jews, who were also expelling demons. Now, I’ve mentioned that it sure seems like First Century Judea/Galilee was suffering from an infestation of demons. And that demonic possession is not something that pagan authors mention. To the best of my recollection, even The Golden Ass doesn’t mention demons. But the authors of the NT are fixated with them. They’re everywhere. So it seems Matthew here is alluding to other wonder-worker/exorcists. Now is this one reason why those subsequent to Mark started to downplay the wonder-worker and focus on the divine aspect of Jesus? Even if they had to sort of create the divine aspect? Was this done to separate Jesus from the pack of other wonder-workers, mere wonder-workers? Peeking ahead, let’s remember Simon Magus from Acts. For chaps like him, working wonders was a source of income. Had wonder-working become something of a profession, perhaps slightly disreputable? So is Matthew sort of killing two birds with one stone here, pointing out that others drive out demons, but Jesus does it because he is the lord of the Sabbath? Because recall this section comes immediately after Jesus proclaims that the son of man is the lord of the Sabbath.

27 Et si ego in Beelzebul eicio daemones, filii vestri in quo eiciunt? Ideo ipsi iudices erunt vestri.

28 εἰ δὲ ἐν πνεύματι θεοῦ ἐγὼ ἐκβάλλω τὰ δαιμόνια, ἄρα ἔφθασεν ἐφ’ὑμᾶς ἡ βασιλεία τοῦ θεοῦ.

“But if in the spirit of God I cast out demons, therefore has not among you come the kingdom of God?

Well boy howdy, isn’t this a loaded question? I’ve forgotten where I read it, but someone suggested or argued that, for Mark, the wonders worked were the outward signs that the kingdom was imminent, or was even already here. Matthew is saying this explicitly. But note: Jesus does not say that the kingdom is at hand, or is coming, or will dawn when the son of man comes (or returns), it is here now. It is among y0u. That sure puts a different spin on things, doesn’t it?

28 Si autem in Spiritu Dei ego eicio daemones, igitur pervenit in vos regnum Dei.

29 ἢ πῶς δύναταί τις εἰσελθεῖν εἰς τὴν οἰκίαν τοῦ ἰσχυροῦ καὶ τὰ σκεύη αὐτοῦ ἁρπάσαι, ἐὰν μὴ πρῶτον δήσῃ τὸν ἰσχυρόν; καὶ τότε τὴν οἰκίαν αὐτοῦ διαρπάσει.

“For how is someone able to come into the house of a strong (man) and steal his good if he does not first bind the strong man? And then the house of him he may ransack.

What does this mean? I mean, yes, I get the analogy, but what does this have to do with the existence of the kingdom? How does this question & statement follow from the statement that the kingdom is among you? Offhand, I think this is referring back to Satan, that he is the strong man whose house is about to be robbed. How can Jesus cast out in the name of Satan without first having bound him? But that doesn’t quite make sense. So is this a reference to the kingdom? Grammatically, it seems like it should reflect back to one of these, but which? Once again, I think that the narrative flow of these couple of verses doesn’t quite make sense either. Once again, we have to wonder about the masterful arrangement of Matthew, when there are sections like this where Point B does not necessarily follow from Point A.

29 Aut quomodo potest quisquam intrare in domum fortis et vasa eius diripere, nisi prius alligaverit fortem? Et tunc domum illius diripiet.

30 ὁ μὴ ὢν μετ’ ἐμοῦ κατ’ ἐμοῦ ἐστιν, καὶ ὁ μὴ συνάγων μετ’ἐμοῦ σκορπίζει.

“The one not being with me is against me, and the one not gathering with me disperses.

The word here rendered as “disperses” is “skorpizo”, which sounds like the root of “scorpion”. Looking at the dictionary, however, it appears that there are two meanings diverging from the same root. The one, of course, deals with scorpions; the other is about scattering. Maybe there is some sort of deeper connection. Scorpions cause things to scatter?

But again, this feels like an aphorism that is sort of stuck in here without context. How does it connect to the strong man? Or does it reflect back to the kingdom, skipping over the strong man? In which case is it the strong man that is the thing that doesn’t go with the others in its immediate neighborhood. 

But this takes away from one of the more curious aspects of this. In Mark, not being with Jesus is the same as being with him; here, unless the allegiance to Jesus is explicit, it’s the same as being against Jesus. This is a much more defensive posture than Mark’s formulation. It reflects a much more hostile environment. For Mark the enmity has to be active; here, passive is enough to be on the other side. What happened in the meantime? This would seem to imply a level of animosity to the new sect, if not (necessarily) outright hostility. By whom? Surely this is no longer coming from Jews. The Temple and it’s power structure had been destroyed; nowhere did Jews have the civic authority to carry out persecution. Any sort of state-sanctioned persecution would have been the work of the Romans. Now, Matthew is likely writing during the reign of Domitian, and this emperor has been associated with persecutions of Christians.

The problem with this is that the evidence for this comes largely from Eusebios, who wrote several hundred years later. Then we have the famous letter of Pliny the Younger, written in the early part of the Second Century. In this letter Pliny seems a little bewildered about these Christians; not only does he not know what to do with them; he doesn’t seem to be terribly sure about what they are. Of course, the Romans did not keep extensive files on subject peoples and their exotic beliefs, so there was no one to brief Pliny when he assumed his duties. But still, this tells me that Pliny, an educated man who was the son of a famous father (Pliny Maior) who got about the empire to an extent beyond the experience of most, had not really encountered Christians in any meaningful way. In his request for instructions, he includes a very brief description of Christian beliefs. This, in turn, tells me that he doesn’t believe that the imperial staff–and the emperor himself–were all that aware of Christians, either. And it’s very relevant to ask if the Romans would really bother persecuting a group of people of whose existence they were scarcely aware? I mean, if I mounted a crusade to persecute Brobdingnagians, I suspect my cries would be met with a collective “What’s a  Brobdingnagian?” Why would the Romans have reacted any differently? And note that Pliny is writing a decade into the Second Century; the persecutions of Domitian would have occurred a generation before, so if the Christians are only showing up on the imperial radar in the Second Century, that doesn’t help an argument that they had been persecuted in the 90s.

So we have evidence that is at least conflicting, if not downright contradictory. I’ve read a good chunk of Eusebios; personally, I have serious reservations about his veracity. Or at least his accuracy. He was writing the “Official History Of The Christian Church”. He is the sole source for a lot of what he claims, much of which has been accepted as, well, gospel truth. The fact is, the earliest suggestion by a non-Christian author for persecution of Christians comes from Tacitus, who wrote a few years after Pliny. Projecting back, he says Nero blamed the fire of Rome on the “Chrestians” (note that he didn’t even get the name right), who were hated for their base passions (very weak translation, but Tacitus doesn’t always take well to translation). By that time, the “crime” was half a century old. But at the same time, how to explain the change in this passage? Or has Matthew–or his source–simply been careless in the way he presents the expression? 

The honest answer is that I don’t know. I’m suspicious of Christian testimony, but it likely wasn’t completely fabricated either. Some of this could be the memory of deteriorating relationships with the Jews, who may have been less than tolerant of a group they saw as…wrong. The Jews and the Samaritans didn’t get along, after all. And maybe this was the same sort of scorn for people who claimed to be Jewish–as the Samaritans sincerely believed themselves to be–but were not fully integrated with the Temple authorities. Or maybe the Christians absorbed the lessons of Saul, and extrapolated this to the wider world. But then, Acts presents the Romans as…what? At this point, I’m not familiar enough to make a judgement on that. We shall have to see.

30 Qui non est mecum, contra me est; et, qui non congregat mecum, spargit.

31 Διὰ τοῦτο λέγω ὑμῖν, πᾶσα ἁμαρτία καὶ βλασφημία ἀφεθήσεται τοῖς ἀνθρώποις, ἡ δὲ τοῦ πνεύματος βλασφημία οὐκ ἀφεθήσεται.

“Because of this I say to you, all sins and blasphemies will be removed from men, except the blasphemies against the spirit will not be removed. 

Right off the bat this gives me pause: because of this… The first word in the sentence, “dia” indicates a direct causal link. But look at the sentence before: the one not with me is against me. Because of this, all sins will be forgiven… Now, do you see the causal connection? If you are not with Jesus, you are against him, and because of that, all your sins will be forgiven. Or am I being too…Anglophone. Or too literal? Should we be taking this as “despite this…”? But all my crib translations render this as “wherefore/therefore”, and even St Jerome used “ideo”, which has basically that meaning. And “therefore” is used for a direct causal connection in English as well. Not that I am suggesting that this should read “despite this” instead of “because of this”; I’m just saying that, to my mind, “despite” makes more sense, unless I’m being needlessly literal. Bottom line is that this strikes me as another non sequitur. Unless this should be understood as sins will be forgiven because we are not with Jesus.

Well, now M Calvin has an interpretation of this. He would say, not that I’m being too literal, but too narrow. I’m assigning the causation to the sentence immediately before, whereas M Calvin says the “dia” should be applied to the entire passage, to everything Jesus has said since he knew the thoughts of the Pharisees. Jesus has set out an argument, and this is the conclusion, referring back to all that has gone before.

Sounds good, but what has gone before? Calvin interprets the strong man as Satan; coming directly after the verse about the kingdom, the idea is that the kingdom could not have come into existence unless Satan had first been nullified. Jesus can cast out demons because Satan has been neutralized. Fair enough. And this would explain the gather/scatter, and it would eliminate all implication of this referring to persecution, which in turn renders much of what I’ve said in commentary null and void. I say this because the one not with Jesus is Satan. This sounds sort of convincing, but I’m not sure I’m convinced. He has tied this together nicely, to a degree that I simply did not see.

http://www.ccel.org/ccel/calvin/calcom32.ii.xiii.html

This still leaves the part about sins & blasphemies being forgiven because of all that has gone before. Oddly–or perhaps not so oddly–M Calvin ignores this, except to say that the causal factor is all that has gone before. Is that because Satan has been neutralized, and so the kingdom has become? I think we can read it that way, and such an interpretation is at least implicit in what Calvin has said about this so far. So this will teach me to read more deeply, one hopes.

Unfortunately, it feels like M Calvin goes off the rails. He gets hung up on why the blasphemies agains the spirit–or Spirit, as he believes, despite this being anachronistic–should be unforgivable while blasphemies against the Son and the Father are not. You can read his explanation. I don’t find it convincing because his conception of the Trinity is an anachronism. And pretty much everyone commits the same mistake, because this is universally rendered as the “Spirit”. 

So why are sins & blasphemies against the breath not to be forgiven? I’m not sure. But I do know that this is in Mark 3, just before his family comes to rescue him. Of course, that is omitted here; a divine being like Jesus would not need the intervention of his family to prevent something unpleasant from happening. If we think about the breath, this is the animating principle, and the sacred breath has been an animating principle since Genesis 1:2. This is the most direct emanation of God, the sole one that can touch humans, that can operate almost on the physical plane. Such a close connection is not to be taken lightly, I suppose. It’s an interesting question. But then, aren’t they all?

31 Ideo dico vobis: Omne peccatum et blasphemia remittetur hominibus, Spiritus autem blasphemia non remittetur.

32 καὶ ὃς ἐὰν εἴπῃ λόγον κατὰ τοῦ υἱοῦ τοῦ ἀνθρώπου, ἀφεθήσεται αὐτῷ: ὃς δ’ ἂν εἴπῃ κατὰ τοῦ πνεύματος τοῦ ἁγίου, οὐκ ἀφεθήσεται αὐτῷ οὔτε ἐν τούτῳ τῷ αἰῶνι οὔτε ἐν τῷ μέλλοντι.

“And the one who may say a word against the son of man, it will be taken away from him. The one who may speak against the sacred breath, it will not be taken away from him, nor in all of this age, nor in the one coming.

This sin is, as Mark said, eternal. Now, of course we “all know” that the age to come is the kingdom of God that will descend from the heavens as described in Revelations. But how does the age to come relate to the kingdom, which is already come? We latter-day Christians pretty much equate the two. Matthew apparently doesn’t. So what does this say about the kingdom? It puts the idea of Jesus (and John) preaching that the kingdom is nigh takes on a different flavour when read in the context of Verse 28 above. And yet, we still have in play the idea of a new age. I’m not entirely sure how to square this circle. But more, I’m not even entirely sure Matthew noticed the discontinuity he’s presented. So far, 12:28 is the only indication of the kingdom being now. Will there be others?

My sense is that 12:28 is some sort of aberration. After all, the Lord’s Prayer says “let thy kingdom come”, in the sense that this is something that has not happened yet. So the “age to come” that we have here is the more orthodox formulation, I think, of what Matthew believed and what was the general message of the nascent Christian belief. Yes, I realise that we can have all sorts of gradations of the becoming of the kingdom; that it is here as in 12:28 in the sense that a seed is in the ground, but that it will not attain full bloom until the next age. What all of this does for me is to reinforce that these were not systematic theologians. These were not ivory-tower intellectuals like…guess we really won’t get any of them for a while. Jerome and Augustine and Ambrose were all bishops actively engaged in the tending of their flock. It won’t be until the age of monasticism, when men of the Church removed themselves from the world that we will get a true Christian systematic theology in the sense that we know it.

32 Et quicumque dixerit verbum contra Filium hominis, remittetur ei; qui autem dixerit contra Spiritum Sanctum, non remittetur ei neque in hoc saeculo neque in futuro.

33 Ἢ ποιήσατε τὸ δένδρον καλὸν καὶ τὸν καρπὸν αὐτοῦ καλόν, ἢ ποιήσατε τὸ δένδρον σαπρὸν καὶ τὸν καρπὸν αὐτοῦ σαπρόν: ἐκ γὰρ τοῦ καρποῦ τὸ δένδρον γινώσκεται.

“Or you make the good tree and the fruit of it is good, or you make the worn-out tree and the fruit of it is rotten; for from the fruit you will know the tree. 

This, of course, is a fundamental of Christian ethics, and the reason why ethics and the code of behaviour is such an integral part of Christianity. It’s also where Christianity fall short so often. In that, Christianity isn’t any different from other religions. I won’t go into the either/or on this, because that really doesn’t pertain here. All Matthew–and Mark before him–are saying here is that we are what we do. This is where the evangelists most notably veer from Paul and his sola fides. But then, it could be argued that true faith creates works consistent with a Christian outlook. But that’s getting into the either/or, so we’ll leave it.

33 Aut facite arborem bonam et fructum eius bonum, aut facite arborem malam et fructum eius malum: si quidem ex fructu arbor agnoscitur.

34 γεννήματα ἐχιδνῶν, πῶς δύνασθε ἀγαθὰ λαλεῖν πονηροὶ ὄντες; ἐκ γὰρ τοῦ περισσεύματος τῆς καρδίας τὸ στόμα λαλεῖ.

35 ὁ ἀγαθὸς ἄνθρωπος ἐκ τοῦ ἀγαθοῦ θησαυροῦ ἐκβάλλει ἀγαθά, καὶ ὁ πονηρὸς ἄνθρωπος ἐκ τοῦ πονηροῦ θησαυροῦ ἐκβάλλει πονηρά.

“Brood of vipers! How can you speak good things being knavish? For from the fullness of the heart the mouth speaks. (35) “The good man from the good treasure throws out good things, and the knavish man from the wicked treasure throws out bad things. 

This is the second of three times that Matthew uses the expression “brood of vipers”. I love the phrase, and I love it in those words, even if they may not be the very-most literal (like “knavish”). The first time, however, this was in the mouth of John the Dunker. It’s not in Mark, and Luke only uses it for John’s speech. Now, does this tell us anything about the sources for Matthew and Luke? In the Q reconstruction, this is seen as part of one of the later strata of Q. Obviously, it didn’t come from Jesus, but it is in Matthew and in Luke, so it’s from Q. And the fact that Luke only uses it in the context of John tells us that this was where Q had the expression. Right? Well, maybe not so fast. First we have to get past the whole idea of “strata” of Q. If Q was written in the 50s–or earlier–then when did these other strata accrue? Where did they come from? And how can a speech attributed to John be said to be the words of Jesus? Sorry. My take is that Matthew came up with this phrase, and liked it to the point that he used it three times. Luke used it for John, but maybe found it a little too harsh for Jesus, so only used it the once. Again, the real appeal of Q is that it allows Luke to be an independent source, one that thereby corroborates whatever else it shares with Matthew or Mark. If Luke read Matthew, we have, essentially, a single gospel tradition, and no more.

The second part is continues to reinforce the idea of the internal attitude, rather than the external actions, being what matters. We do what we are inside. If our hearts are full of evil, we will do evil things. If we’re full of good, we will do good things. This is more of the transition to a guilt culture. And as I’ve been going through the NT, I’ve been keeping Roman behaviour, norms, and mores in the back of my mind. The Romans were, to a large extent, still acting within a shame culture, at least to a much higher degree than Greeks, and certainly more so than Christians would be. For example, I believe it was Suetonius that said that, after being stabbed numerous times, when Julius Caesar fell to the ground, he made sure that he arranged his toga so that his legs were decently covered. Whether this is true or not doesn’t matter; either way, the values are made clear, and clearly the value is that of a shame culture. This is why I say that so much of the HS reflects an attitude that is not consistent with what was occurring elsewhere in the 7th or 8th Centuries BCE. 

34 Progenies viperarum, quomodo potestis bona loqui, cum sitis mali? Ex abundantia enim cordis os loquitur.

35 Bonus homo de bono thesauro profert bona, et malus homo de malo thesauro profert mala.

36 λέγω δὲ ὑμῖν ὅτι πᾶν ῥῆμα ἀργὸν ὃ λαλήσουσιν οἱ ἄνθρωποι ἀποδώσουσιν περὶ αὐτοῦ λόγον ἐν ἡμέρᾳ κρίσεως:

37 ἐκ γὰρ τῶν λόγων σου δικαιωθήσῃ, καὶ ἐκ τῶν λόγων σου καταδικασθήσῃ.

“I say to you that all idle words which people speak they will give over about your word in the day of judgement. (37) “For from your words you will be justified, and from the word s of you (= your words) you will be condemned.”

Now that we realize that the day of judgement theme predates Jesus by a couple of hundred years, we don’t have to spend a lot of time discussing this in relation to what it says about the development of the message. This part of the message was there, pre-packaged, as it were, and ready to be bought off the rack (to mix metaphors). Jesus neither had to create nor develop it. And as we progress through this with this understanding that it was there, we can start to ask ourselves how much of this was an actual immediate expectation, and how much was simply a rhetorical device. Yes, the day of judgement was expected, but we have truly lost the sense of urgency about it. As such, it feels more like a rhetorical device than something that was an integral part of Jesus’ message. Now, what I’m actually saying is that it doesn’t feel as integral now that we’ve reached the time of Matthew. It may have been very different for Jesus; but then again, it may not have. It was different for Paul, but the change in tone between 1 Thessalonians and 1 Corinthians is telling, too. The question then becomes, how deeply imbedded was this in Jesus’ teaching, and how much was brought to the forefront by Paul? Was he so affected by the resurrection of the body of Jesus that he was sure that the End was Near?

Instead, however, of trying to answer that now, we can look past the whole judgement thing and consider the rest of the message. We will be justified or condemned by our own words. This, obviously, flows from the passage before, where what comes out is a reflection of what is within. This takes us back to the either/or of the previous comment, the faith/works dichotomy. Of course, they don’t have to be a dichotomy, a fact which even Paul understood. So here again is the exhortation to good. Implied, of course, is the choice to do good. This could, but does not have to, take us to the free will/grace discussion: can humans choose good of their own accord? St Augustine would later say “no”, that a prior infusion of prevenient grace was necessary. But that is not what Matthew is saying here. Or rather, he’s not saying anything about choices. Rather, he is simply assuming that the choice can be, and actually is, a free one that we each make.  This, of course, takes us to the edge of the Predestination debate, but we’ll save that for Romans.

Here’s , perhaps, the oddest part of this. If you are at all familiar with St Augustine (I personally, am sort of on a nodding acknowledgement level), you know that he had an incredibly pessimistic view of the goodness of the human species. We are so depraved, he thought, that we all deserve damnation, and it was only because God was so loving that anyone was saved. And Luther famously said that he trembled when he thought that God was just. In this passage, we are nowhere near the point of either of these thinkers. The choice is free, we can make it. And we’d better make the right one, or our own actions will condemn us.

That is a very positive message, one very different from later thinkers like (especially?) Augustine. And we should also acknowledge that it’s rather different from what a lot of pagans thought. To some extent, the idea of free will came about in reaction to the pagan ideas that our lives were a matter of fate, or were simply random. It’s interesting how different the Latin and Greek terms are for these concepts. Fortuna vs. Tyche. Fortune vs Chance/Luck. Of course, Latin has that sense, too, but we’ve taken the positive aspect of it and turned in into “fortune”, as in “fame and fortune”, or “that’s worth a fortune”. The Latin term is more neutral, probably closer to our idea of “fate” than our idea of a “fortune” in monetary terms. The Greek Tyche, “luck” can mean something like “fortuna”, but it has a more random aspect to it. Stuff happens. We can’t control it. I have capitalised “Tyche” because Hellenistic Greeks personified (technically deified) the concept, taking it from an abstract and putting it into the divine.* The ideas presented here offer a means of escaping the impersonal, the random elements that “tyche” especially represented. The positive aspect of the message was, doubtless, very appealing. We like to feel like we’re in charge, that we can act in a meaningful way. In some ways randomness is the most horrific idea to humans; hence the appeal of conspiracy theories. With evil cabals running the show from behind the scenes, we can–rather perversely–take comfort from knowing that someone is in charge, is responsible for things happening the way they do, even if that someone is malicious and the events perpetrate evil.

Really, Paul’s message of faith in the Christ had much the same affect. You can’t hope to follow allof the Law; it’s too enormous. So get out from under all that and just believe. You can do that.

And there’s an interesting point in the discussion of Matthew the pagan. We had the bit about not an iota of the Law being dropped, and since then…nothing. Since way back in Chapter 6, we’ve not heard a peep about it. What does this silence tell us? To me it says that Matthew is not concerned with preaching to Jews, for whom the Law was the ideal. In fact, Matthew is not even writing for God-fearers any longer, for pagans who had attached themselves to synagogues to learn about Judaism. He’s not talking about the choice between the Law and the Christ. He’s talking only about Jesus, but in terms that are much more comprehensible to a pagan than to a Jew: a divine creature, sired by a god, but born of a human woman. In short, a demigod, or a Hero, in the technical sense like Achilles. The Pharisees are still there, still playing the role of foil, but in a much more generic way; they have almost become caricatures. Or maybe they have become something like the allegorical figures of Mediaeval times. Figures like Virtue, Poverty, Everyman. They are here, they were in the previous section of the man with the withered hand, but they’re more like cardboard cut-outs than a real presence the way they were in Mark. So here’s some more circumstantial evidence that we’ve passed the tipping point, that the new communities were comprised mainly, or even almost exclusively, of former pagans.

36 Dico autem vobis: Omne verbum otiosum, quod locuti fuerint homines, reddent rationem de eo in die iudicii:

37 ex verbis enim tuis iustificaberis, et ex verbis tuis condemnaberis ”.

[*Anyone with even the most cursory knowledge of Hellenistic philosophy may be cringing at the gross oversimplification of these concepts. I’m sort of cringing. But take it in these simplified terms, realizing that there is a lot more nuance to both of these words and concepts.]

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Matthew Chapter 12:8-21

Chapter 12 continues. We left off with Jesus proclaiming himself the Lord of the Sabbath.

9 Καὶ μεταβὰς ἐκεῖθεν ἦλθεν εἰς τὴν συναγωγὴν αὐτῶν:

10 καὶ ἰδοὺ ἄνθρωπος χεῖρα ἔχων ξηράν. καὶ ἐπηρώτησαν αὐτὸν λέγοντες, Εἰ ἔξεστιν τοῖς σάββασιν θεραπεῦσαι; ἵνα κατηγορήσωσιν αὐτοῦ.

And then leaving, he came to the synagogue of them. (10) And he saw a man with a withered hand. And they asked him, saying, “Is it allowed to heal on the Sabbath?” in order to accuse him.

Well, this is timely. In the verse previous to this, Jesus proclaimed himself the Lord of the Sabbath. Now he gets to test this out. This story is in Mark, but with a slight difference: the bit about the Lord of the Sabbath is separated more from this story. Here, they follow immediately, but the connection is not quite so pronounced. They are in different chapters; this alone isn’t necessarily meaningful, however, because there are times when the break in a story falls after the first or second verse of the new chapter. But aside from that, the composition, and even much of the vocabulary is repeated. Largely because of this, Matthew’s version doesn’t really add much to the message of Mark. Here, “they” deliberately try to provoke Jesus, while in Mark “they” take a watch-and-see attitude.

And the word for “withered” literally means “dried out”. The Latin is “aridem“.

9 Et cum inde transisset, venit in synagogam eorum;

10 et ecce homo manum habens aridam. Et interrogabant eum dicentes: “ Licet sabbatis curare? ”, ut accusarent eum.

11 ὁ δὲ εἶπεν αὐτοῖς, Τίς ἔσται ἐξ ὑμῶν ἄνθρωπος ὃς ἕξει πρόβατον ἕν, καὶ ἐὰν ἐμπέσῃ τοῦτο τοῖς σάββασιν εἰς βόθυνον, οὐχὶ κρατήσει αὐτὸ καὶ ἐγερεῖ;

12 πόσῳ οὖν διαφέρει ἄνθρωπος προβάτου. ὥστε ἔξεστιν τοῖςσάββασιν καλῶς ποιεῖν.

 He (Jesus) said to them, “What man is there of you who having one sheep, and if it falls on a Sabbath (lit= on Sabbaths ) into a ditch/pit, would you not take hold of it and raise it out?”

Now this part is new to Matthew; in fact, it’s unique to Matthew (I believe). So, did this come from a source, the so-called “M” material? Or did Matthew compose this added twist to the story on his own? The orthodox answer would be that it came from the “M” material. And the reason this explanation is so attractive, I think, is that one can be allowed to imagine that, by coming from an earlier source, it could possibly be ascribed to Jesus. No one will say this, but that is the tacit understanding. It derives from an older source, by which we mean, necessarily, that it comes from a time closer to Jesus. So, who’s to say that it didn’t come from Jesus? It’s older, so it could have. And you can’t prove that it didn’t come from Jesus.

I hope we see the problem with the logic there. It takes the possibility that it is from an earlier source, and by a feat of logical prestidigitation, turns that into a known quantity, and then throws the burden of proof onto the one who would deny it’s from Jesus. Now, let me stress that I have never seen this actually stated. No one has put the case for this being authentic into such bald language. But the hidden assumption is there. By stating that it’s from the M material, one allows the entire chain to be set up like dominoes. No, the author never said, that, but if the reader should happen to draw that conclusion, well…

Now, given the way Matthew has to stick stuff into places it really doesn’t fit, Matthew most likely did have earlier sources, and probably more than one. Recall that, already in Galatians, Paul talks about “other gospels”. So other traditions existed. There is probably M material that came to Matthew, having bypassed Mark (probably because it hadn’t been created yet) and didn’t make it to Luke. Or, that didn’t make it into Luke. I make this distinction because I’m relatively sure that Luke did read Matthew. So yes, this could have come from an earlier source, one closer in time to Jesus. But the part about bypassing Mark is significant. My sense is that, after Mark wrote, the legend of Jesus grew, which led to the creation of numerous additional stories about him. The other possibility is that when Mark wrote, the various communities were reasonably autonomous, and more than likely autochthonous, and perhaps didn’t have much interaction. Then, as the communities began to be more pagan in composition, it became easier for the stories from different groups to make the rounds, to cross-pollinate.

I say this because Jews, while plentiful, and while they existed in most towns of any size, were still not part of the mainstream. This had the effect of making communication, the sharing of stories between different locales more difficult. This is especially true because not all Jewish groups would have accepted the teachings of Jesus as a legitimate part of Judaism. Pagans, OTOH, were the mainstream, so the chances of casual and incidental contact between different groups of Jesus followers increased, probably by orders of magnitude. Even if a pagan did not believe in Jesus’ divinity, he could pass along what others were saying about him in different towns through casual contact. Intercity commerce was a benefit of the Empire (along with the roads, the sewers & c as the Peoples’ Front of Judea admitted, however grudgingly). And I don’t mean to downplay the level of participation Jews took in this. It’s just sheer numbers. The fact of the matter is that Jews did not interact with their pagan peers as freely as the pagans interacted with each other. It’s just a matter of numbers: there were way more pagans than Jews, so a growing percentage of pagan initiates, or even pagans who had heard of Jesus, would have resulted in an enormous increase in the amount of communication between communities in disparate locations. So this would have increased the amount of material available to Matthew. Some he put in. Some he doubtless left out. But there is no reason to say that he didn’t add to the material himself. 

One last thing about the pagans. Does the increase of source material available to Matthew make it more, or less likely than Matthew was a pagan? In and of itself, it has no real impact either way, really. But taken in conjunction with other things that we’ve noticed and noted about Matthew, I think it makes Matthew’s pagan origins more likely. By all means, feel free to disagree; but if you do, be sure you have solid reasons to disagree. Not just because “everyone says”, or “everyone has always said”, or, “it’s obvious that he was Jewish, isn’t it?” Actually, I don’t think it is. Much of the “case” for this belief is the bit in Mt 5:17-18 about how Jesus has come to fulfill the Law, not to abolish it, and that not the smallest iota of the Law will pass away. As they used to say in the Classics literature, that’s a very slender reed on which to build such a large edifice.

But seriously, if you think I’m mistaken, let me know. But also explain your reasons why.

11 Ipse autem dixit illis: “ Quis erit ex vobis homo, qui habeat ovem unam et, si ceciderit haec sabbatis in foveam, nonne tenebit et levabit eam?

12 Quanto igitur melior est homo ove! Itaque licet sabbatis bene facere ”.

13 τότε λέγει τῷ ἀνθρώπῳ, Ἔκτεινόν σου τὴν χεῖρα. καὶ ἐξέτεινεν, καὶ ἀπεκατεστάθη ὑγιὴς ὡς ἡ ἄλλη.

14 ἐξελθόντες δὲ οἱ Φαρισαῖοι συμβούλιον ἔλαβον κατ’ αὐτοῦ ὅπως αὐτὸν ἀπολέσωσιν.

Then he said to the man, “Stretch out your hand”. And he extended it, and having been restored, it was as sound as the other. (14) The Pharisees coming they took counsel together against him (about) how they will kill him.

So the wonder has been worked, and the man’s hand has been restored. Presumably as a result of this, the Pharisees enter a plot to kill Jesus. I don’t think we looked too closely at this aspect in the story of Mark. Why did they Pharisees plot to kill him? Or, stepping back, let’s ask ourselves if we think that it makes sense for the Pharisees to begin a plot. Or do we have a chicken-and-egg question here: we can’t say it made sense, unless we know why they began to plot. But why would they begin to plot if it didn’t make sense? But that’s not what I mean by stepping back. A discussion like the why/does it make sense? question isn’t truly stepping back to look at it from the outside. I mean we have to step back and ask if it makes sense that they began to plot, that they wanted Jesus dead from an historical perspective. In a word, the answer I think, is “no”.

Why do I say this? OK, the official line of the Jesus followers is that the religious authorities conspired to elicit Roman aid in condemning Jesus to death. Now, I believe that this thesis is pretty much ridiculous, but assuming it was true, we then have to ask ourselves what the Pharisees in a small town have to do with the religious authorities in Jerusalem. The answer is, pretty much nothing. Mark put this in the story here, and Matthew repeated it, but neither of them ever truly stopped to ask if this made sense. Yes, OK, Jesus is supposedly making the established religion look bad. But then Mark & Matthew commit the fallacy of composition: assuming that the whole of the group has all of the (usually bad) characteristics of some members of the group. This is the basis for racism, xenophobia, clannishness, & c. Some (fill in ethnic/religious/racial/or other group) are bad, so all such members of that group are bad. So it is here. The religious authorities in Jerusalem wanted to kill Jesus, so they all did. Never mind that Pharisees were more like a sect than an official group. That’s actually irrelevant. The point is, they all wanted Jesus dead, because he had a new message, he taught with authority, he made them look like hypocrites, and he could work wonders and they couldn’t. So of course they wanted him dead, right?

But here’s the thing. Yes, this is bad logic, and no, I don’t believe it because I don’t think it follows, and I don’t accept the first premise that the religious authorities, in Jerusalem or anywhere else, had anything to do with Jesus’ death. That is all true, but it’s not the main thing I get out of this. What I get is that this passage so clearly confuses the situation that, a) it’s highly unlikely that the author had almost no grasp on how it all worked; and b) that the audience really had no clue about any of this either. Neither the author nor the audience understood, or cared to understand that provincial Pharisees like these would not have had any influence on the eventual plot to kill Jesus fomented by the authorities in Jerusalem. And, for the moment, it doesn’t even matter that the plot never happened; the salient point is that neither the author nor the audience understood that a plot by these Pharisees would have been wholly unrelated to any plot hatched by the authorities in Jerusalem. All Pharisees, the entire religious structure, all of them wanted Jesus dead, and eventually they all joined the plot.

That is the implication of this part of the story.

As for the implications of this implication, let’s start with what it says about Jesus’ actual death. Given this gross misunderstanding of the situation, we have to question the likely veracity of the story itself. Did the religious authorities manipulate the Romans into killing Jesus? IMO, probably not. We’ve seen that the story of the cleansing of the Temple doesn’t hold water, even though EP Sanders says this is the event that got Jesus arrested. So, without that, then why? Why did the authorities care? Well, based on this story, it’s because Jesus made them look bad. Well, maybe he did, but only at the local level, like that of this story. The authorities in Jerusalem probably wouldn’t have been overly concerned about a rube from the sticks. Overall, I would say that this story actually weakens the likelihood that Jesus was killed at the behest of the authorities in Jerusalem. The association implied in this story makes the overall story less likely, because it shows a profound misunderstanding of the entire situation.

Second, we need to remember that this story comes from Mark. That Mark didn’t see the problems this story presents is pretty good indication that he was not really familiar with the situation in Judea/Galilee prior to the War. So this increases the likelihood that Mark wasn’t from Judea/Galilee, and that he probably wrote after the Jewish War, when most of the people who could have corrected the evidence were dead or dispersed. 

Third, well the third point is a little more conjectural. So let’s pose it as a question: does the conflation of all “religious authorities” have any impact on the historicity of the whole idea that these authorities were responsible for Jesus’ death? That is, do they help us decide if the Passion Narrative is likely to have any basis in actual fact? I think there is, but it’s pretty limited, which is not good for my thesis. I would suggest that the lumping of all religious authorities into a homogenous whole indicates that the story had little basis in truth because it, essentially, gets the bad guys wrong. The failure to distinguish between local authorities and those in Jerusalem seems to indicate that those telling the story really didn’t have any clear idea of the group they were ostensibly blaming; as such, this increases the likelihood that the story is made up out of whole cloth. 

Well, maybe. I do think this confusion indicates a lack of understanding of the situation, which in turn makes the story seem more likely to be fictional. To confuse all religious authorities, or even to assume these provincial Pharisees were actually authorities certainly does indicate a lack of understanding. However, a remove of time and space–telling the story 40 years later, at a point well-removed from the scene of the action–is probably enough by itself to create this sort of confusion. So, as much as I want to use this to argue the increased doubt of the historicity of the Passion Narrative as a whole, this doesn’t provide a great deal of support to my case. It provides some, I think, but not a lot. It’s the sort of thing that be just short of meaningless on its own, but that, taken with other circumstances, may help push the needle the direction I’m trying to go.

What the confusion does do is help show that Mark did not write in Judea/Galilee. I have read that Mark makes geographical mistakes which points that he wrote elsewhere, so this just reinforces that, too. But does it give us a better sense of the time when he wrote. Again, I think it marginally supports a date after 70, but I think suggesting that it was written any earlier is close to unsupportable in any case.

The things that end up evoking the most comment can be odd and unexpected.

13 Tunc ait homini: “ Extende manum tuam ”. Et extendit, et restituta est sana sicut altera.

14 Exeuntes autem pharisaei consilium faciebant adversus eum, quomodo eum perderent.

15 Ὁ δὲ Ἰησοῦς γνοὺς ἀνεχώρησεν ἐκεῖθεν. καὶ ἠκολούθησαν αὐτῷ [ὄχλοι] πολλοί, καὶ ἐθεράπευσεν αὐτοὺς πάντας,

16 καὶ ἐπετίμησεν αὐτοῖς ἵνα μὴ φανερὸν αὐτὸν ποιήσωσιν:

17 ἵνα πληρωθῇ τὸ ῥηθὲν διὰ Ἠσαΐου τοῦ προφήτου λέγοντος,

But Jesus knowing this departed from there, and a large crowd followed him, and he healed them all, (16) and he censured them that they not make him manifest (i.e. = reveal him), (17) in order that the thing having been said by the prophet Isaiah be fulfilled, saying

Kind of an odd place to break, but I wanted to comment before we got to the prophecy. First, a couple of the words are sort of a stretch. The word I translate as “censure” doesn’t exactly mean that. In Classical authors, the base meaning is ‘to value’, as in ‘to put a value upon’. By extension, it becomes a legal term, more or less approximating the idea of a fine, the value of restitution put upon a crime. From there it comes to mean ‘to censure’, again in the legal sense. It generally gets translated as “to order”, or “to charge/admonish”, or something similar. My rendering of “censure” sort of straddles between. Sort of. A censure is an official reprimand, but I think the meaning stretches enough to include the way I’ve used it here. Sort of. So once again we see how NT translations take some liberties. This is not a terribly significant “consensus” translation, but I hope it gets across why I’m a little suspicious of “NT Greek”.

Also, while the bulk of the story is in Mark, this is not a place where Mark has Jesus enjoin people not to tell anyone about him. But Matthew adds it here, rather than in other places. The reason Matthew does this, I think, is largely because these injunctions in Mark often are given to exorcised spirits, although they are occasionally directed at people, too.  This, however, is the first time Matthew has had Jesus say this, and somehow I won’t be surprised if it turns out to be the last. 

The implication of Matthew unenthusiastically includng this–or other parts of Mark that maybe he doesn’t support wholeheartedly–is that Matthew apparently felt that he could not leave out very much at all that was in Mark. I’ve seen the numbers, that Matthew used 220 of 230 verses, or something such. I don’t recall the exact numbers, but Matthew used all but a tiny percent–well less than 10%, I’m sure–of Mark. The question is “why”? The most obvious answer, of course, is that Mark was too well known, and as a result, too many omissions would have made the audience uncomfortable. Mark was the baseline and he had to be followed. So that’s all fine and good, but what does that mean? 

It means that a certain outline had been set down. Mark’s basic story had been acceptet as canonical (in conception, even if the word itself is anachronistic), which is why the fundamental outline provided by Mark was maintained, even tbrough John. Now, stories could be added, and Luke and John both add lots of new stories, even as they stick to the biographical outline set down by Mark.

So Matthew couldn’t skip things, but he could add things. Like the Sermon on the Mount. What, if anything, does Matthew’s reverence for Mark’s outline say about Q? Offhand, and at first glance, I’d guess that Matthew following Mark so assiduously makes Q more likely. After all, if Matthew felt the need to follow Mark, doesn’t that mean he was more likely to follow other sources? Actually, it might. The question becomes do we believe in Matthew-the-creator of new stories, or Matthew as researcher who cobbled sources together? Please note that I came into this gospel pretty convinced of the former; now, however, after having read a bunch of seeming non sequiturs, I’m not so sure. Now I almost think Matthew was too fanatical about sticking to his sources. But, that being said, I still don’t particularly believe in Q as it’s been reconstituted. Or, I don’t believe in Q as reconstituted as material that actually dated back to Jesus. I may be willing to accept Q as a collection of material that dated back to James, brother of Jesus.

The other thing s that there is too much material that is in Matthew and not Mark that simply does not fit into the time frame of the 30s. Taking up one’s cross is a great example. So, while Matthew probably had other sources, I don’t think that Q–as is commonly conceived–was one of them.

15 Iesus autem sciens secessit inde. Et secuti sunt eum multi, et curavit eos omnes

16 et comminatus est eis, ne manifestum eum facerent,

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

18 Ἰδοὺ ὁ παῖς μου ὃν ᾑρέτισα, ὁ ἀγαπητός μου εἰς ὃν εὐδόκησεν ἡ ψυχή μου: θήσω τὸ πνεῦμά μου ἐπ’ αὐτόν, καὶ κρίσιν τοῖς ἔθνεσιν ἀπαγγελεῖ.

 ” ‘Behold the my servant whom I chose,  the beloved of me, the one in whom my life/soul is pleased. I will place my breath upon him, and I will announce judgement to the nation. 

I wasn’t going to break until the end, but want to make a couple of points here. “Psyche” here is generally translated as “soul” (except for the NIV, which takes a completely different tack) in this situation, but I’m not sure I agree. Now, of course, if this is God speaking, rendering this as “life” doesn’t make a lot of sense–if you take God to be eternal, and that wasn’t necessarily the stadard belief at the time, especially when Isaiah was written. The omni/omni/omni God as we conceive and define the term is really a Christian invention. Jewish belief was moving in that direction–as was pagan belief–but God of the three omnis really was a deduction, a logiccal constrct, of the Christians working out theology based on the amalgamation of the HS and NT. I really would like to know what the Hebrew word behind this is. What I do know is that “soul” is probablly wildly anachronistic, especially given all the connotations we have loaded onto the word over the milllennia. “Spirit” might work in its place, but even there, we bring an awful lot of baggage to the word.

And the word is “pais”, rather than “huios”. This is the generic word for child—most likely male–that we encountered in the story of the Centurion. Given that, the choice of the word here indicates that this should be rendered as “servant”. Indeed, this is how my crib translations, even the NIV, give as the translation. The use of “huios” would sigficantly change the interpretation. Then it would be “My Son”, with full implications of “My Heir”, rather than “my boy”. This is an instance when the exact Greek word really does matter. This is another reason why I don’t like rendering “psyche” as “soul” in this situation. It’s one thing to be pleased with a servant, but wholly another to be pleased by a child.  Yes, the relationship with servants, especially slaves, in the ancient world could be very close to familial, but the servant’s role was always clear.

If you hadn’t noticed, I’ve stopped using the word “Gentiles”. I’ve substituted “pagan/s” instead. Here the word is “ethnesin”. Three of my four crib translations render this as “Gentiles”, playing off the Latin “gentes“. But this isn’t a real word; one alternative is “nations” but that’s anachronistic, too. “Peoples” would be more accurate.  

18 “ Ecce puer meus, quem elegi, / dilectus meus, in quo bene placuit animae meae;

ponam Spiritum meum super eum, / et iudicium gentibus nuntiabit.

19 οὐκ ἐρίσει οὐδὲ κραυγάσει, οὐδὲ ἀκούσει τις ἐν ταῖς πλατείαις τὴν φωνὴν αὐτοῦ.

20 κάλαμον συντετριμμένον οὐ κατεάξει καὶ λίνον τυφόμενονοὐ σβέσει, ἕως ἂν ἐκβάλῃ εἰς νῖκος τὴν κρίσιν.

21 καὶ τῷ ὀνόματι αὐτοῦ ἔθνη ἐλπιοῦσιν.

” ‘He will not strive, or quarrel, nor will one hear in the plains his voice. (20) The reed having been bruised he will not break, and flax smoking he will not extinguish until he throws a judgement towards victory. (21) And by his name the peoples will hope’.”

First, the word I translated as “plains”. My NT dictionary says it means “streets”, and such is how it is translated. However, the word, as constructed by my NT dictionary is not in Liddell & Scott at all. It is a form of the word “platus”, which means, “plain”, or “broad/flat”. As the duck-like bill of a platypus. But in Latin, the same word “platea” does mean a broad street leading into a city. But it’s a very late word, more appropriate for Latin rather than Greek. 

I have to say that I would really like to read this bit in Hebrew. Especially this last bit about “throwing judgement”. Now again, the NT dictionary gives “send forth” and “lead out” as possible definitions of the word that, clearly, means to “cast/throw out”. It’s the verb used to “cast out” demons. And this is reflected in the Latin, which is the root for “to throw”. Of course, the Latin is following the Greek, rather than reflecting back to the original Hebrew.

I noticed this a couple of times in Paul, and it’s here again. This is Isaiah 42:1 ff. The REB that I mainly use translates the passage differenly in the original context than it does here, where it’s quoted. Is this just me, or does that not seem a tad strange? In fact, given the subtle shifts in meaning, it seems almost downrigt dishonest. In the quote, the words seem to reflect Jesus much more clearly than they did in the original location. And there the servant establishes justice, but in the quote he leads out justice.  In neither spot does he “cast out” justice as the Greek says here. 

This is even better. I checked out the Septuagint (LXX) version of Isaiah 42:1 ff. It is significantly different from the Greek text quoted here. Now, obviously, different authors translating the Hebrew will come up with different translations. But would Matthew not have been working from the LXX? Is the edition that I found on-line different from the version that Matthew read? 

Still, the idea of this passage is that the servant will be meek. He will not even break a reed that’s already bent, nor snuff out a smoldering wick (which were, apparently, made of flax).

Finally, there is the bit about the peoples (“ethnes). You know, this is what I mean about the dates when the HS were written; this is Isaiah, which is traditionally dated to like the 7th, or even 8th Century BCE. And yet, here we have a prediction that “the peoples”, usually rendered as “Gentiles”, which means specifically “non-Jews” will hope in the name of the aforementioned servant. My apologies, but this does not sound like something that would have been written in the 8th Century BCE. It feels horribly anachronistic for this period. Even supposing that there was a “kingdom” of Israel (of some sort; it’s not unlikely), the chances that its denizens would have been concerned with the well-being of other tribes, or peoples, is pretty unlikely. And again, this is a case where I’d definitely like to see the Hebrew word behind “ethne”. If the Greek catches the sense of that Hebrew word at all, even this concept may be a little too sophisticated for the 8th Century.

Part of the breakthrough of Herodotus was the concept of learning about the history of other peoples. The Greeks were seafarers; they sailed about the eastern–and western Mediterranean. They colonized the western shore of modern Turkey, and Sicily, and Southern Italy in the period of approximately 700-600 BCE. And even this sort of contact didn’t elicit a concept of curiosity about non-Greeks. They were simply “babblers” (barbaroi). It took another couple of centuries for this curiosity to develop. In fact, the key event was the Persian Wars. And, coincidentally, it was Cyrus of Persia that restored the Jews to Judea. Was the Babylonian Captivity the catalyst for creating the sense of Jewish/Hebrew ethnic identity? And the beginning of their starting to look outward, and see other peoples (ethne) as people to be considered, rather than just feared or conquered? To the best of my knowledge, this sort of consciousness of other peoples as somehow…interesting does not really exist in the literature of Assyria, or Babylonia that would have been contemporary to Isaiah in the 8th Century. Now we can debate the remarkability of the Hebrews on this point, but I’m not so sure it should be pushed too hard. If someone can correct my attitude here, please point me in the right direction. I was reading…probably William Dever, and he was talking about those who would put the whole of the writing of the HS to the period of or after the Babylonian Captivity. I believe the term he used was “minimalists”. This was a few years ago, and I more or less agreed with him. Now, as I see some of the thoughts expressed, and compare them with what was happening elsewhere in the ancient Mediterranean, or the ancient Near East, I’m not so sure the minimalists are necessarily as wrong as I believed a few short years ago. And if I think about the Romans, even after the Punic Wars, I’m not so sure they had really gotten over the hump about some of this stuff. I’m becoming ever-more skeptical that the Hebrews did it in the 8th Century

So what, then? I will have to go back and re-read Isaiah, this time looking for allegory, metaphor, and analogy when he talks about the political situation of his “day”. It might make a lot more sense.

In the meantime, is the point of this quotation the last line? The part about “ethne”? I realize I am skirting the edge of a sort of monomania, where I’m seeing references to pagans everywhere. Such single-mindedness has sunk many theories in many different disciplines. But why does Matthew seem to go out of his way to show the precedents for, and the expectations of, the entrance of other peoples into the House of Israel? The religious house, that is.

 19 Non contendet neque clamabit, / neque audiet aliquis in plateis vocem eius.

20 Arundinem quassatam non confringet / et linum fumigans non exstinguet, / donec eiciat ad victoriam iudicium;

21 et in nomine eius gentes sperabunt ”.

 

Matthew Chapter 12:1-8

Now we begin Chapter 12. This first section will be fairly short; the next may be a bit longer.

1Ἐν ἐκείνῳ τῷ καιρῷ ἐπορεύθη ὁ Ἰησοῦς τοῖς σάββασιν διὰ τῶν σπορίμων: οἱ δὲ μαθηταὶ αὐτοῦ ἐπείνασαν, καὶ ἤρξαντο τίλλειν στάχυας καὶ ἐσθίειν.

2 οἱ δὲ Φαρισαῖοι ἰδόντες εἶπαν αὐτῷ, Ἰδοὺ οἱ μαθηταί σου ποιοῦσιν ὃ οὐκ ἔξεστιν ποιεῖν ἐνσαββάτῳ.

3 ὁ δὲ εἶπεν αὐτοῖς, Οὐκ ἀνέγνωτε τί ἐποίησεν Δαυὶδ ὅτε ἐπείνασεν καὶ οἱ μετ’ αὐτοῦ;

In that season Jesus came on Sabbaths through the fields; his disciples hungered, and they began to pluck heads of grain and eat them. (2) The Pharisees seeing, said to him, “Look, his disciples do something that his not allowed to do on the Sabbath. (3) He said to them, “Did you not read what David when he was hungry and those with him?”

My apologies, but it’s pretty obvious that this event never actually happened. It is a made-up story, meant to illustrate a point, rather than to recount an event that actually happened. That they are walking through a field of ripe grain strikes me as odd. If it is ripe enough to eat raw, then why hasn’t it been harvested? Well, perhaps because it’s the Sabbath, and the owners of the field were waiting, in proper observation of the Sabbath, until the morrow to begin the harvest. This is certainly possible. But why are the Pharisees there on the Sabbath? Generally, in Old World farm communities, one lived in the village and walked out to the fields. This was why the invention of the horse collar in the 9th Century CE was such a huge technological breakthrough. Horses are much faster than oxen, so being able to use horse transport to get to and from fields meant that land much further from the village could be effectively cultivated, since much less time was required to travel to and from the village to the field, making the work day longer. So, why are the Pharisees able to see Jesus & the disciples as they walk through (probably alongside) the fields? OK, maybe the Pharisees are in a place at the edge of the village, where they can see the fields closest to the village. But we’re starting to accumulate improbabilities. Nothing is impossible; it could have happened, but there is a very artificial feeling being constructed. Then, Jesus is able to hear what they say. OK, perhaps Jesus divined their mood as he entered the village, passing by the place at the edge of town where the Pharisees had gathered. Some time could have elapsed, but the Pharisees were still in high dudgeon about the actions, and Jesus, of course, has the ability to understand what is in the hearts of those around him.

Which is another reason why I suspect the story didn’t happen. Maybe there’s a kernel of truth in here, but not much more. Rather, the point of this is to set up the comparison to David. Comparing Jesus to David, of course, occurred in Mark. The blind bar Timaios calls Jesus “son of David”.  In so many ways David was the central figure of the mythology of the HS. In many ways, he was more central than Abraham or Moses or Elijah. David is the King, the pinnacle of Jewish (mythological) history, the anointed of God, and Jesus is preaching the Kingdom. Jesus is of David’s house, as Matthew demonstrated in the birth narrative, but Jesus is also more than just a descendant. In many ways, he is David reborn, but a more elevated David. So this story has the feel of something invented to make the comparison, and then to take it a couple of steps further in the next few verses.

1 In illo tempore abiit Iesus sabbatis per sata; discipuli autem eius esurierunt et coeperunt vellere spicas et manducare.

2 Pharisaei autem videntes dixerunt ei: “ Ecce discipuli tui faciunt, quod non licet facere sabbato ”.

3 At ille dixit eis: “ Non legistis quid fecerit David, quando esuriit, et qui cum eo erant?

4 πῶς εἰσῆλθεν εἰς τὸν οἶκοντοῦ θεοῦ καὶ τοὺς ἄρτους τῆς προθέσεως ἔφαγον, ὃ οὐκ ἐξὸν ἦν αὐτῷ φαγεῖν οὐδὲ τοῖς μετ’ αὐτοῦ, εἰ μὴ τοῖς ἱερεῦσινμόνοις;

5 ἢ οὐκ ἀνέγνωτε ἐν τῷ νόμῳ ὅτι τοῖς σάββασιν οἱ ἱερεῖς ἐν τῷ ἱερῷ τὸ σάββατον βεβηλοῦσιν καὶ ἀναίτιοί εἰσιν;

[Jesus continues with the story of David on the Sabbath, saying to the Pharisees: did you not read ] “how he went into the House of God and the bread having been proffered/dedicated (to God) he ate, which he was not allowed to eat, nor those with him, unless one is the priest? (5) Or did you not read in the Law that on Sabbaths the priests in the Temple violate the Sabbath and are without guilt? 

 “Did you not read…?” I’m sure the evangelists had a lot of fun writing that. Honestly, this would have had a lot more impact had it first occurred here, rather than in Mark. But it did occur in Mark, in very much the same form, and the same words as it does here.  In Mark, the conflict with the status quo, with established religious practice is a pervasive theme. It crops up a half-dozen times in the first few chapters. Not so much in Matthew, but the latter dutifully repeats the story. In some ways, I think it almost stands out more here, perhaps because of the way Mark makes Jesus’ conflicts with the religious authorities a much bigger part of his story.

So what does it mean for Jesus to say this? In Mark, it’s Jesus showing up the powers-that-be, letting them know there’s a new sheriff in town. Jesus has a new message. Here, I think the emphasis is more on the scripture: the Pharisees don’t even know what’s in the Law. I say this with the idea that Matthew is the one bringing up numerous quotes from the HS. I say that because it’s not the wording of this particular passage, which hasn’t changed all that much from Mark, but because of the context that Matthew gives to the story and to the wording “did you not read”. Mark is more about Jesus superseding the HS; Matthew focuses more on the continuity between the HS and Jesus, how Jesus was foretold by the HS. This is due, largely I think, to the fact that Mark doesn’t really get around to the Christ part until later in the story, the middle chapter of 7/8/9, whereas Matthew leads with the theme right from the outset in Chapter 1.

So context matters. But the real payoff is coming.

4 Quomodo intravit in domum Dei et panes propositionis comedit, quod non licebat ei edere neque his, qui cum eo erant, nisi solis sacerdotibus?

5 Aut non legistis in Lege quia sabbatis sacerdotes in templo sabbatum violant et sine crimine sunt?

6 λέγω δὲ ὑμῖν ὅτι τοῦ ἱεροῦ μεῖζόν ἐστιν ὧδε.

7 εἰ δὲ ἐγνώκειτε τί ἐστιν, Ἔλεος θέλω καὶ οὐ θυσίαν, οὐκ ἂν κατεδικάσατε τοὺς ἀναιτίους.

“I say to you that the Temple is better (= greater >> more siginficant >> a better example) than this. (7) If you know what this is, “I wish compassion/mercy, not sacrfice, which will not condemn (lit = “judge down upon) the innocent.

I trust “the Temple is greater/more significant” is clear enough. Here, the disciples only took grain from a field. David violated the sanctity of the Temple. So that was much the bigger transgression.

But it’s V-7 that gets my attention. Once again, going back to my upbringing in the heart of the Roman Rite, I was given the impression that Judaism was all about formalized rituals. And that these rituals had become ossified into actions without meaning. The same is held about pagan religion by the First Century CE. Well, RL Fox proved the latter to be very much not true; this quote from Hosea 6:6 helps show how wrong the first belief is. Honestly, quotes like this are why I believe that most of the lesser prophets–and perhaps chunks of the greater–were written much, much later than the standard dates given. If you’ve ever read the Oresteia trilogy by Aeschylus, you will have a sense of the transition from shame to guilt culture.

This set of plays was written in the first half of the Fifth Century BCE; Aeschylus fought at the Battle of Marathon in 490; he was so proud of this that he commemorated his participation on his epitaph, and completely ignored the fact that he had written some of the seminal works of Western Civilisation. The sentiment expressed here in Hosea took place after that transition. Now, did the Greeks make the transition before the Hebrews? That’s a fair question, and one without answer. But I feel pretty certain that the Hebrews were not that far ahead of the Greeks, if they were at all. This may have predated Aeschylus by a decade or so. The return to Jerusalem dates to about 539; Hosea is typically put around 725. I can assure you that this sentiment was not written in 725 BCE. It much more likely dates to the first half of the Fifth Century, at the earliest. This represents the turning from ritualized sacrifice, which had been the mainstay of religious expression from time immemorial, to the internalized religion we know today.

Other cultures in the Ancient Mediterranean had not made the transition even at a time several centuries after Aeschylus. One thinks immediately of Carthage during the Punic wars–which occurred two centuries after Aeschylus, That was not a culture that had made the transition. Even Rome still clung to more of the shame-based value codes pretty much to the end of the Republic, and possibly beyond. One thinks of the Catos, Cato Maior–he of “Carthago delenda est” and even Cato Uticensis (The “c” in Uticensis is a hard “c”.) who committed suicide rather than live under the tyrant Caesar, a hundred years after his forebear died. Indeed, the Roman notion of the noble suicide carried through well into the Empire, and this is arguably a residual manifestation of a shame culture. I bring up these other cultures to point out the improbability of the Hebrews making the transition in the 8th Century, even the late 8th Century. No. This sentiment is much more in line with the social values expressed in Nehemiah and Ezra–both of which were written after the Second Temple was rebuilt. This would put them into the same time frame as The Oresteia. And Hosea, I think, comes after that. It fits much more comfortably with the Hellenistic world, I think, than the world of Assyria.

Besides. such a sentiment helps explain the thought-world into which Jesus was born. Sentiments like this are very similar to what Jesus would teach–or what we are told Jesus taught. They are akin to what the Stoics, and the Epicureans taught. This is the milieu that produced Jesus, and it shows that he was not the revolutionary thinker that I was told he was by those good nuns of the Roman Rite. And this is not a new understanding, as the last couple of decades have done wonders to fit Jesus into his Jewish background, so that we understand that much of what we (or I, anyway, given my upbringing) thought of as traditionally “Christian” values grew out of the Jewish social conscience. Nehemiah and Ezra should demonstrate this pretty definitively.

The upshot is that, once again, what Jesus taught may not have been all that remarkable. It fits with Jewish social mores, it fits with Hellenistic philosophy. So it leads once more to the question of, why was he remembered? What were those earliest communities teaching about Jesus? The ones that Saul was “persecuting”?

The earliest communities that we are aware of, that we have any knowledge of, are the ones started–or tended–by Paul, and the Jerusalem Assembly led by James the Just. The thing is, there’s a chance they were teaching very different things. However, this is not the time nor place. That will have to be examined as a special topic.

6 Dico autem vobis quia templo maior est hic.

7 Si autem sciretis quid est: “Misericordiam volo et non sacrificium”, numquam condemnassetis innocentes.

8 κύριος γάρ ἐστιν τοῦ σαββάτου ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου.

 “For the lord of the Sabbath is the Son of Man. 

8 Dominus est enim Filius hominis sabbati ”.

I left this in the order of the Greek, and for a very good reason (I hope). The way I rendered this is, strictly speaking, grammatically correct. But the usage is a bit off, the syntax is a bit odd; it’s perfectly fine in Greek, however. And what it does is provide a dramatic run-up: the lord of the Sabbath is–after this commercial message. Putting the actual subject at the end is a common rhetorical device that case languages use frequently. Some of Cicero’s speeches use this trick a lot, to build tension and keep the listener hanging on the speaker’s every word. It can be quite effective.

This is the payoff I promised earlier. Who is Jesus? The Lord of the Sabbath. Now this is directly out of Mark, so Matthew hasn’t really added anything. Up above, he played with the context to make his point more effectively than Mark had, to emphasize Jesus’ identity. Now, “lord” is a very common Jewish/Hebrew euphemism for “God”. So, the title “Lord of the Sabbath” clearly equates Jesus to God. This ties to the end of Chapter 11 in which Jesus equated the father and son. And I say “clearly”, because it’s pretty clear here in Matthew. It wasn’t quite that obvious in Mark.

So we have Matthew continuing his theme of Jesus-as-divine combined with Jesus-as-the anointed, and expanding into Jesus as God. We wonder where and when this line got crossed. I think it had to be sometime after 70, or at least after the death of James. During Mark and Paul, I argued that, as the one adhering more closely to the Jewish heritage, that James would have stuck to the human Jesus longer than others not so closely welded to the Jewish traditions, such as Paul and Mark. But Paul says that the resurrected Jesus appeared to James, so maybe that started to change, which is why Mark added this aspect to his tales of the wonder-worker. The thing is, after 70 much of the connexion, and many of those connected directly to Jesus would have been gone from the scene, and many more pagans would have joined the fold. A divine, even god-equal individual would not have been so alien to pagans. From Jesus-as-divine to Jesus-as-god to Jesus-as-God is not an implausible trajectory. It’s not a necessary one, but it’s internally consistent. In the latter stage, I think that we see the full impact of pagan thought on Jewish theology.

It’s no secret that Christian theology took the base-line of Judaism into places where the latter had never gone. This is what has necessitated the refitting of Jesus into his Jewish cultural heritage that we have seen in the past couple of decades, and it’s a correction that is long overdue. However, that is not a topic that concerns us directly here. At this point in the development of the NT, we are, I think, seeing the point where proto-Christianity makes a decisive break with its Judaic past, under the weight of pagan attitudes towards the divine. In fact, we should probably be calling it “Christian” thinking. With the melding of the ideas of the Beatitudes and the concept of Jesus-as-God I think we have definitely crossed into a true Christian set of beliefs.

That last is such a great summation sentence that I should really have ended it there. But there is one more aspect of this to consider. Again, tradition sets Matthew into the Jewish tradition. But if he is the one responsible for detaching Christian theology from its Jewish moorings, to the point of arriving at Jesus-as-God, I think we have to consider seriously whether Matthew was born a Jew, or if he had converted by way of being a God-fearer. Would it have been possible for a born-and-raised Jew to make the equation of Jesus with the Father? Well, I suppose. But I don’t think it’s particularly likely. I think it’s much more probable that a pagan would have made this step. Pagans were thoroughly accustomed to gradations of divinity, and from son of god to god wasn’t much of a leap. As such, I would say that the weight of probability is falling more heavily on the the side of Matthew having been a pagan. Yes, he could have just recorded what others were saying, but is Matthew simply a scribe of what’s going on around him? I don’t think so. I think Matthew, by his condensations and juxtapositions (his masterful arrangement of sources) shows himself to be a high-level thinker, and perhaps theologian. He did, I think, record things that came down to him even if he wasn’t always terribly successful in making them flow. But I think he does, on the whole, show us the mind of an organizer, of someone who was trying to weld these disparate and sometimes contradictory traditions into a unitary whole. 

I said that Mark was trying to create an orthodox position. I think the same is true for Matthew. Each took what was going on around him and tried to make it all fit together.

Summary Matthew Chapter 11

This chapter was not particularly long (30 verses), and, perhaps as a result, it is thematically fairly uniform. In fact, it’s almost to the point of a single theme: the end times.

We started with John asking “are you the one?” This set the tone, because this is not an idle question. We then get to citations of Isaiah and Malachi, both of them predicting the signs of the end times, or even, per Malachi, Judgement Day. To my mind, this quote from Malachi was a real eye-opener. I believe it’s one of the most significant citations of HS that we’ve come across so far. The date that the book of Malachi was written is subject to a lot of conjecture. It had to have been written after the Second Temple was completed in 515 BCE. It uses the Persian term for governor, which nominally puts it sometime before 330 (approx) BCE, when the Persians were overthrown by Alexander. However, note that these are what are called termini post quem; they must date after these two things: after the rebuilding of the Temple and after a Persian governor was installed. However, there is no real terminus ante quem, a point before which this had to be completed. Such an event would be an extremely significant event; well, we could say it had to take place before the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE, but that doesn’t help us much.

Similarities with Nehemiah have led many to believe that it falls into the 400s BCE; however, there s a marked tendency in Biblical scholarship to date the writing of a book to the time in which the events described took place; on this analogy, Daniel was written during the Exile, when use of Greek terms for musical instruments would put it significantly later. I tend to think that a lot of the HS dates to periods later than generally thought. I base this opinion on the inference that much of the “history” in the HS is nothing of the sort. For example, Judges supposedly relates events that occurred in the 1200s BCE, but there is a reference to iron in Chapter 1 that puts it significantly later than that. I have experience with the early books of Livy, who wrote a history of Rome ab urbe condita: from the founding of the city. Most of the history in these early books is borderline nonsense. Even the events of the first century of the Republic–the same period in which Malachi was supposedly written–is legendary at best, fiction at worst. And Rome actually had reasonably good documentation. The fact of the matter is that the HS–and the NT–are primarily religious works; any history contained is incidental and almost beside the fact. In some ways, Malachi could easily fall into the period of the Selecucids, or even later.

The eternal theme–the tendency of Israel (actually, Judah) to abandon YHWH for foreign ways and gods. This scenario is true for almost the entire history (which is much, much shorter than the HS would have us believe) of the “kingdom” of Judah. During the early 1970s in the USA, there was sort of a moratorium on making movies about Vietnam. So war protest movies were set in the Korean War (M*A*S*H) or even WWII (Catch-22). So setting the action of Malachi during the Persian occupation could be a way getting a message about the current situation across allegorically: Hey, this isn’t about now. It’s about what happened a century ago. Any resemblance to the current situation is purely coincidental. Honest!

Just as honestly, an earlier date would actually suit my point as well as the much later date that I suspect. My point is that the existence of Malachi, and it’s predictions of Judgement Day really have to make us stop and reconsider our attitude towards Jesus as a preacher of apocalypse. What I think Malachi shows-and demosnstrates pretty conclusively–is that the idea of a coming apocalypse, a coming Judgement, was thoroughly ingrained into mainstream Jewish thought (whatever that’s supposed to mean) by the time Jesus lived. As such, by talking about a kingdom to come, Jesus may not have been talking about something alien, or even novel, to the minds of his contemporaries. If this is true, then there are several implications. First and foremost, it could mean that Jesus may not have had an interpretation on the topic that was terribly different from that of a dozen other preachers of his time. But that’s not the end of it: Jesus himself may not have really had anything particular, or specific, in mind when he talked about the kingdom. He may not have had a terribly clear notion of what he meant himself. Think about that for a moment or two. Far from being a central part, an integral part of his teaching, this may have been a fairly vague concept that really didn’t have any unique, or even new, aspects to it. Just as the idea of redemption, or repentance may mean a lot of different things to different people, so might the idea of a kingdom to come have meant a lot of different things to the various people who heard the message. In fact, it may have meant different things, at different times, for Jesus himself.

This would explain a few things–or at least one big thing. This lack of specificity would very effectively explain why it’s so hard to piece together what Jesus has in mind when he talks about “the kingdom”, or “the life”, or “saving one’s soul”. I’ve commented on this a few times, about how difficult it is to figure out what, or how exactly one becomes worthy of the kingdom, or rather, what it means to be worthy of the kingdom. It was’nt spelled out in Paul, or even Mark, and hasn’t so far in Matthew–and I suspect won’t be; of course, I could be wrong about that. i can’t figure out what Jesus means because he really hasn’t thought it through and come up with a meaning.

We started with John’s question. Jesus answered by citing Isaiah and Malachi. What Jesus quoted are the signs that Isaiah’s coming of the Lord, and Malachi’s Judgement Day are approaching. Jesus is ticking off the warnings on the list of the prophecies, all of which point to this. But…what will happen? If you stop to think, that question isn’t answered until Revelations. The time of troubles in Mark was hindsight, not a foretelling. Paul is the most specific when he talks about the Lord coming down with the angels on a cloud, and all the faithful rising up to meet him. But we have no real indications–nothing truly definitive–that Mark and/or Matthew were aware of anything Paul wrote. Even then, if I knew my HS better, I would perhaps be able to tell you that Paul got this imagery from the HS. By paying attention to the quotations cited, I’ve come to realize just how much of “Jesus'” message is actually stuff that’s in the HS. IOW, much of Christianity is not new at all; it’s just Jesus’ Jewish heritage coming through.

And while we’re on the subject of John, let’s not forget what his message was. He preached repentence; what did Malichi, and Isaiah, and countless other Hebrew prophets preach? Repentence, of course. And Isaiah and Malachi specifically connected this repentance with a divine event. Jesus continues this (Mk 1:14-16), preaching the coming of the kingdom, which means we should repent. Now, we are not told specifically that John preached the kingdom/day of the Lord/Judgement Day, we have such events preached both before John by prophets, and after John by Jesus. It doesn’t take any great act of logic to fill in the blank and infer that John had such a message, too. The standard Hebrew prophet preached repentance to regain the favour of YHWH. Is that such a big step from the concept of the kingdom? Yes, it’s a step. But how big of a step? The point of all of this is to demonstrate that a coming divine event–a kingdom?–was simply an expectation. It was expected by so many Jews that this aspect of Jesus’ teaching was not anything remarkable so it required no elaboration of teaching. But, I suspect, it would have been remarkable had Jesus not included this in his teaching.

The point is that maybe we should not look too deeply into this teaching of the kingdom. We may not find a coherent answer

But–this message of the kingdom would have been novel for a different audience — pagans. This raises the question of, if Matthew was writing for pagans, and was a former pagan, why didn’t he feel the need to explain the kingdom more fully or effectively. It’s an excellent question. It’s one that I should feel obligated to answer if I’m going to be convincing with my poistion/argument about this. At this point, I don’t have an answer; but, with luck and some more reading and consideration, perhaps  I’ll come up with one. Answers to questions have presented themselves as I’ve gone along. And, if I don’t–or can’t–answer this, then I have to reassess my position on this; but no biggie. I am obligated to reassess in light of all new evidence, or lack thereof.

Another implication would be the need to look again at the message of Mark. If Jesus was not remarkable as a preacher of apocalypse, why did people continue to remark on him after his death? Let me rephrase that: if Jesus was just another preacher of apocalypse, what made him special? Why did his message catch on, and not someone else’s? For much of Mark, the answer to that seems to be that he was a worker of wonders. That, apparently, is how he was remembered by a great many people. So many, in fact that they represented a very strong tradition, perhaps the primar tradition until the Christ-belief gradually took over. The Christ tradition, of course, began with Paul, was carried forward by Mark, and then either merged with an existing tradition of Jesus-as-Divine, or this latter was created by Matthew. Without really analysing, or bothering with anything like evidence or arguments, my suspicion is that this tradition, if not entirely created by Matthew, was finalized, and formalized, and canonized by Matthew.

This idea needs to be pursued further, but it’s probably out of scope for this summary. It’s a wild goose I want to chase, but I need to mention one more thing and then wrap up. Regarding the section of the “woes” to the various towns, I do believe this is meant to be taken, or should be taken as the passing of the torch to the pagans from the Jews. The time of the latter as followers of Jesus has largely passed. The community of Jerusalem, the heart and soul of the movement for the first several decades, is defunct by the time Matthew wrote. The combination of the death of James, followed fairly soon by the Jewish War and the destruction of the city ended Jerusalem’s primacy, and the death of James likely removed the major figure who was keeping the Jesus movement anchored in Judaism. But both anchors, James and the city were gone, and the movement dispersed to the outlying churches. And this meant more pagans, and this meant that the tipping point of the membership to predominantly pagan had passed by the time Matthew wrote. For Mark, when he wrote, I suspect he saw that the future of the church was with the pagans, which meant he had to explain why it had not caught on among Jews. Hence, the great secret of Jesus. He attracted huge crowds, but kept the secret to himself so that the Jews didn’t catch on. That, of course, is speculation, but I think it’s pretty clear here in Matthew that he’s got a largely pagan audience in mind. Whether or not Matthew started life as a pagan or a Jew is something to be argued; to this point, it’s been assumed, and that is not how it should be done. The woes to the towns of Galilee can tell us that their moment as centres of the Jesus movement had passed, but the woes don’t provide much insight about Matthew’s personal origins.

Almost forgot! Perhaps the most theologically significant aspect of this chapter is the identification of the father and the son.  Mark would never have made this statement. We know this because Mark clearly didn’t make a statement to this effect. Ergo, the identity of Jesus had undergone a radical transformation between Mark and Matthew. Hence the birth story, and this equation of father and son. in Mark, Jesus, or the “Son of Man” was clearly acting on behalf of the Father, but that’s just it: the Son of Man was the Father’s agent. He did not know the hour of the time of tribulation. Here, however, the Son has been given all by the Father. There are no secrets. The birth narrative, while demonstrating Jesus’ divine nature, still leaves him in the role of the Greek heroes: one divine and one human parent. This is a step beyond the adoptionism of Mark, but it’s not the Eternal Logos of John. But with the divine birth and the equation of the Son and Father, we’re now closer–much closer–to the latter than we are to Mark. The needle has moved a very long way.

So lots of themes that bear watching.