Matthew Chapter 13:1-9

I’m going to attempt to keep these sections shorter than they have been. Hope this doesn’t make everything too choppy.

1 Ἐν τῇ ἡμέρᾳ ἐκείνῃ ἐξελθὼν ὁ Ἰησοῦς τῆς οἰκίας ἐκάθητο παρὰ τὴν θάλασσαν:

On that day, Jesus going out from his home, he sat beside the sea.

Two really interesting bits here. It’s the same day, and Jesus went out from his home. Now, at the end of the last chapter Jesus’ family had come to extricate him from the hostile crowd of Pharisees. At least, that was Mark’s version, but the idea was that he went home with his family. Now recall that I used this to suggest that Jesus had grown up in Caphernaum, rather than Nazareth. We were told that Jesus moved to Caphernaum, but we weren’t told that his entire extended family came with him. Now, Jesus is a grown man; one presumes that any brothers or sisters would also be adults, or close to it. Were any of them adults, they would have, most likely, been married like any respectable grown-up was in the ancient world, whether Jewish or pagan. It’s what you did, unless there was a good reason. These would include being a slave–although that was not an absolute restriction–or having some physical affliction such as blindness. So the point is, Nazareth is a pretty good hike from Caphernaum. So did this whole tribe of Jesus’ family come all the way from Nazareth? Remember, the news had to get to Nazareth, and then the family had to make the journey. This would account for the better part of a day. And then Jesus would not have had time to go back to Caphernaum to take a seat on shore of the sea. No, the obvious conclusion is that Jesus’ family also lived locally. So, would Jesus’ grown and married siblings have moved with Jesus? That doesn’t strike me as likely, especially not the women. I believe the practice was for Jewish women to join the husband’s family. So, OK, these could have been unmarried sisters, but the overall impression is that the crowd knew Jesus’ family. We get the sense that those gathered knew these siblings, and knew them well. The implication is that they knew Jesus within the context of his entire family. It’s not a sense that they had just moved there, fairly recently. So yes, Jesus of Caphernaum. The Nazareth bit was something that Matthew concocted to fulfill a prophecy. Yes, Mark opens with “the good news of Jesus of Nazareth”, but the “of Nazareth” is easily explained as a interpolation, and likely a very early interpolation. So yes, I believe it is Jesus of Caphernaum.

But, just so I can’t be accused of ducking the problems with my thesis, this does not mesh with Mark 6. That’s when he is said to return to his hometown, and where he can’t work miracles because they had no faith. Honestly, I don’t have a way to square that circle at the moment. I think it’s an issue where one of these stories may have more roots than the other; the question is, can we decide which of the two feels more authentic? Of course, the other possibility is that neither are accurate. In which case, that would augur in favor of the “Jesus of Caphernaum” theory. There is nothing tying Jesus to Nazareth, aside from the demonym bestowed, probably by Matthew and then added to Mark. I say this  because much of the story takes place in Caphernaum; Nazareth seems to be the awkward addition while Caphernaum feels like the organic whole. In which case, it would be the story in Mark 6 that would become suspect. I’m not sure if we get a whole lot more evidence one way or the other. We can revisit when we get to Matthew’s version of Mark 6. 

1 In illo die exiens Iesus de domo sedebat secus mare;

2 καὶ συνήχθησαν πρὸς αὐτὸν ὄχλοι πολλοί, ὥστε αὐτὸν εἰς πλοῖον ἐμβάντα καθῆσθαι, καὶ πᾶς ὁ ὄχλος ἐπὶ τὸν αἰγιαλὸν εἱστήκει.

And a crowd gathered together about him, so that he, embarking on a boat sat down, and the entire crowd upon the shore stood.

This is an interesting detail. It’s preserved in Mark as well. Pressed by the crowd, Jesus gets into a boat and teaches to the crowd on the shore. Could this be authentic? No, because it’s in Mark, so it’s not in Q. Seriously, this is the sort of setting that would be unusual to make up. It serves no real purpose to the narrative. Yes, it indicates the size of the crowd, perhaps, but it’s hardly a necessary fact to get that point across. So I would say there is at least some chance that this is based, to some degree, on an actual event. I’m not quite sure I should hazard a guess, but I’d put it somewhere around 20-30% likely, based on nothing but judgement. Of course, I like to think my judgement is pretty good, and I have nothing very tangible to gain one way or the other, so I don’t feel like I’m risking too much by putting that out there.

2 et congregatae sunt ad eum turbae multae, ita ut in naviculam ascendens sederet, et omnis turba stabat in litore.

3 καὶ ἐλάλησεν αὐτοῖς πολλὰ ἐν παραβολαῖς λέγων, Ἰδοὺ ἐξῆλθεν ὁ σπείρων τοῦ σπείρειν.

4 καὶ ἐν τῷ σπείρειν αὐτὸν ἃ μὲν ἔπεσεν παρὰ τὴν ὁδόν, καὶ ἐλθόντα τὰ πετεινὰ κατέφαγεν αὐτά.

5 ἄλλα δὲ ἔπεσεν ἐπὶ τὰ πετρώδη ὅπου οὐκ εἶχεν γῆν πολλήν, καὶ εὐθέως ἐξανέτειλεν διὰ τὸ μὴ ἔχειν βάθος γῆς.

6 ἡλίου δὲ ἀνατείλαντος ἐκαυματίσθη καὶ διὰ τὸ μὴ ἔχειν ῥίζαν ἐξηράνθη.

7 ἄλλα δὲ ἔπεσεν ἐπὶ τὰς ἀκάνθας, καὶ ἀνέβησαν αἱ ἄκανθαι καὶ ἔπνιξαν αὐτά.

8 ἄλλα δὲ ἔπεσεν ἐπὶ τὴν γῆν τὴν καλὴν καὶ ἐδίδου καρπόν, ὃ μὲν ἑκατόν,ὃ δὲ ἑξήκοντα, ὃ δὲ τριάκοντα.

And he spoke to them much in parables, saying, “Look, the sower of seed went out. (4) And in the sowing some that he (sowed) fell upon the road, and the birds having come they ate it. (5) But other fell upon the rocks where it did not have good earth and immediately it sprang up because it did not have deep soil. (6) The sun having risen it (the seed) was burned on account of the not having roots it was dessicated. (7) Still other fell among the thorns, and the thorns came up and strangled it. (8) Yet other fell on good earth, and it gave grain, some a hundred, some sixty, but others thirty. 

I don’t think it’s particularly necessary to say too much about this. It’s one of the most familiar of Christian parables. We all know the meaning, and there’s nothing in the message that’s out of place for the traditional Jewish message of repentance and the acceptance of the instructions of God. What is novel is the brilliant metaphor, and the way the metaphor is extended as far as it is. This is a remarkable milestone on the road to the development of religious thinking. It’s not entirely sui generis; the reason Aesop’s stories are called fables rather than parables is the different provenance. Aesop was Greek, and the Romans took them over as “fabula”, the meaning of which survives at least partially into the English word. “Parable” on the other hand, entered English as a mathematical term: the parabola. Anyway, the stories predate Jesus by…well, at least several centuries. And they are essentially the same sort of thing: couching a moral into a story that is seemingly about something else. Now, these parables go beyond Aesop in complexity of thought, but the point is the idea of using misdirection–speaking of one thing that really means something else–wasn’t something Jesus created from whole cloth. It’s a stage of evolution in religious thinking and discourse.

The next question is, does this, or any of the parables, actually come from Jesus? That is a much more difficult question to answer. One of the things about Q is that it is usually supposed to consist of exactly that stuff that is not in Mark. From the point of view of the historian, this idea simply doesn’t make any sense. The stuff directly from Jesus should be exactly the stuff that “Q” and Mark share, not precisely where they differ. Plato and Xenophon both have a version of Socrates’ trial; that’s a pretty good indication that the trial did occur. To me, the difference between Mark and Matthew, which almost by definition is Matthew + Q, is the result of stuff that got added later, whether by various traditions, or by Matthew himself. It’s just odd to think that Q should be almost completely absent from Mark. Yes, there are the alleged “Mark/Q overlaps”, but if you think about it, this is the construction of yet another body of material in a way. The necessity of binding the strong man is one such overlap; why this should be considered Q material, but something else is not is a bit of a mystery to me. I have not seen a satisfactory explanation of these overlaps.

And note, per the texts as reconstructed at the website above, this is not in Q. The mustard seed is; this is not. Now, having said that, the absence of this from Q reconstructions really has no impact on my opinion of whether this is genuinely Jesus. If pushed, I would say that it’s more likely than not to be authentic. Why? Let’s start by stressing that there is absolutely, positively NO evidence for my opinion that would count as historical argumentation. Rather, it’s pretty much entirely a value judgement. But then, so is the argument for Q. But my value judgement does not contravene a number of historical processes the way the argument for the existence of Q contravenes historical analysis. It’s really a binary choice: yes or no. I can adduce nothing to support my opinion, but I can’t think of anything that refutes it, either. Now: just because I’m too much a dullard to come up with a contrary, doesn’t mean such a case doesn’t exist. But the point remains.

Why do I think this? Largely because Jesus was remembered, and spoken about, for a reason. He had to have said or done something remarkable that people still talked about him after his death. More, he must have said or done something that prompted people to believe that he had been raised from the dead, from which he underwent apotheosis. This is the sort of ingenious little story that would stick in a person’s mind, the sort of thing that would cause listeners to listen even more. Yeah, sure, fire and brimstone. But that had failed repeatedly: see Elijah and Elisha, both of whom were unable to reform the recalcitrant Israelites who kept on chasing after foreign gods. (I suspect this is largely because the real Israel was another Hebrew-speaking, but largely Canaanite power, that had never been united with Judah under the “United Monarchy”, and had never committed to YHWH the way that Judah would do at a later date. At which point, Judah invented the idea of the United Monarchy in order to claim the rights to Israel’s former domain.) So Jesus offered a change from the way the prophets had preached in the HS, and this was why he was remembered.

Going in, I honestly believed I didn’t have that much to say about the passage. 

3 Et locutus est eis multa in parabolis dicens: “ Ecce exiit, qui seminat, seminare.

4 Et dum seminat, quaedam ceciderunt secus viam, et venerunt volucres et comederunt ea.

5 Alia autem ceciderunt in petrosa, ubi non habebant terram multam, et continuo exorta sunt, quia non habebant altitudinem terrae;

6 sole autem orto, aestuaverunt et, quia non habebant radicem, aruerunt.

7 Alia autem ceciderunt in spinas, et creverunt spinae et suffocaverunt ea.

8 Alia vero ceciderunt in terram bonam et dabant fructum: aliud centesimum, aliud sexagesimum, aliud tricesimum.

9 ὁ ἔχων ὦτα ἀκουέτω.

“The one having ears, let him/her hear.”

9 “Qui habet aures, audiat”.

This injunction is also in Mark. I do not believe this is in Q, but it absolutely should be. This is also something that I would take as authentically Jesus. This is the sort of thing that makes Burton Mack consider Jesus as a Cynic Sage; it’s so obvious and all who have (functioning) ears can hear, so hearing should be a commonplace. But it’s not. Very many people with ears do not hear, largely because they do not listen. They pay no attention. This sort of thing, from what I gather, is fairly well-rooted in the Judaic tradition. Think of the person asking the rabbi to explain the Law–while standing on one foot. It’s a grounding in common sense, but it’s also the understanding that common sense isn’t all that common. People with (functioning) ears should hear, and yet, many don’t. This is the message of all the prophets.


About James, brother of Jesus

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

Posted on June 25, 2015, in Chapter 13, gospel commentary, gospels, Matthew's Gospel and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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