Monthly Archives: July 2015
Ostensibly the them of Chapter 13 should be the parables; the chapter contains a large collection of them, and most of the chapter is almost entirely given over to parables. There is a familiar one, that of the Sower, but most of the ones we find here are unique to Matthew. And here is where we get to the actual them of Chapter 13: that of the provenance of these different parables, and what this collection tells us about Matthew, the early church, the sources for Jesus that Matthew encountered, and perhaps whether we can infer if any of these are actually Matthew’s creations.
One possibility is that some of these parables actually postdate Matthew. That is, they were written later and inserted into the work by someone else. This would provide a ready explanation for why Luke did not repeat many of these: this is because they were inserted into Matthew after Luke wrote. This is a pretty radical thesis. I have never seen it suggested anywhere, and it may be incredibly presumptuous of me even to propose the possibility. However, in the parable of the net, we have some unusual–or even unique–words that are rarely if ever used in the rest of the gospel. A set-piece with an odd vocabulary could easily be indicative of an author different from Matthew. I will not presume to judge on syntax and grammar; no doubt others might be able to do so, whether for or against, but I don’t feel competent to address this. I am not that well versed in Greek in general, and the NT in particular. I can say that Herodotus and Thucydides and Plato and Xenophon had very different writing styles, and it would not be difficult to spot the insertion of something by one writer into the work of another. So far, aside from some aspects of Paul, I have not noted raging differences between the way Mark and Matthew write. Sure, there are dissimilarities, but, by-and-large, they are remarkably homogenous. So I can’t argue that the grammar of the parable of the net is noticeably different from the grammar of the surrounding context.
This suggestion is pure speculation on my part. While my argument may not be convincing, I do believe that it raises some interesting points, and that it deserves a formal refutation. That could be an interesting exercise. Perhaps one of those who find the organization of the Sermon on the Mount to be so masterful could work up an argument to refute this suggestion of mine. I’d like to see it.
Another supporting feature for the insertion of parables at a later time is a difference in attitude, or outlook, or theology. In such situations, the ideas expressed, or the implications of these ideas are different from what is found in the work as a whole. The parables of the Wheat and Tares and that of The Net, IMO, may fall into this category. While the idea of a fiery end to sinners, as expressed in Mark’s Gehenna, probably pre-dates Jesus, and the idea of angels-as-harvesters may not be entirely unique to this parable, what stands out is the fact that there is a description of what will happen at the end time. Note that the other parables included here are simply provide a metaphor of the kingdom; in particular, the other parables provide a metaphor of how the kingdom will grow. The growth is seen as organic, as something occurring without intervention, a natural process like the growth of seed. But in none of these other parables do we have any sort of description of what is to happen at the end. Taken to their logical conclusion, some of these parables may be read as implying the inclusion of all in the final kingdom. The parable of the Mustard Seed could be read in this way.
The Wheat & Tares and Then Net break from this mould. Both of these describe an end when an active sorting of good and bad will occur. In the Wheat & Tares, the sorting will be done by angels; in The Net, the agent is unspecified. In both cases, the evil ones will be cast into the fire. Now the parable of the Sower leaves this sorting implied; only some of the seed will fall on good ground, while the rest will be wasted in the sense that the kingdom will not come to fruition for the seed cast on the road, or among the stones. But the implication is that of a natural process. Those of the good ground will sprout and thrive and produce fabulous returns. The others will not, but the implication is not so much that of a sorting by agents as a process that occurs of itself. More, the implication is that this seed that fell on bad soil will simply die away. Granted, it may be reading too much into this to interpret the different outcomes as meaning that the good will enter Life, and the bad will simply die. For that matter, the good seed will die, too, for only in that way will the spectacular results be realized. The Wheat & Tares and The Net have very different implications.
Thus the question becomes whether these implications are so different because they are the work of another hand? The answer, it seems, should be “yes”, but with qualifications. In these two examples, we have what appears to be a development of the idea behind the kingdom. The idea has acquired additional ramifications and so has become more complex. This is in accord with how thought and theology work. The Trinity is not biblical; the implications may be, but the idea of the Trinity as understood by many modern Christians is not. That is, the idea of the Trinity developed. And we have something similar here. Jesus probably talked about the kingdom, but in ways like the Sower or the Mustard Seed talk about the kingdom. Of the parables presented here, those two are those most likely to trace back to Jesus. But in the fifty years after Jesus’ death, people would naturally want further explication of what the kingdom was, what it wasn’t, how it was attained, and what that attainment meant. To meet these questions, the leaders of the various communities–acting largely independently of each other for several decades–formulated answers, which were put into Jesus’ mouth. Hence the unique parables here. These parables were still suitably vague, but less so than the Sower or the Mustard Seed. In this way the leadership subsequent to Jesus answered the questions of their community by giving out more information than Jesus had done initially. This is how the beliefs of the nascent religion grew–or developed.
But is any of this enough to demonstrate that there were different authors at work? If these other parables are not to be attributed to Jesus, then the answer is affirmative, pretty much by definition. I would suggest that the parables fall into three groups. The first includes the Sower and the Mustard Seed; these are the oldest, potentially tracing to Jesus himself. The second would include the Treasure and the Pearl. These two really don’t provide much more information than the first two. In addition, the level of simplicity would indicate these came from a different mind. These were added after the first two. The final group, the latest group, include the Wheat & Tares and The Net. They form the last layer of addition, including more information–and they agree on the sorting & fire. These are major thematic agreements.
Can any of these be attributed to Matthew? Of course. Is there any evidence that Matthew composed any of these? Absolutely not. Offhand, were I to guess, I would credit the last group to Matthew, based solely on their recent provenance. It depends on how we view Matthew. Was he a teacher, the leader of a community? Or was he retiring by nature, content to work alone at his manuscript, recording what the teachers and the leaders said? Given the nature of writing–an essentially solitary occupation, I would guess the latter role for Matthew. Some of this is based on my own experience, and my own experience of the world. The teachers, the leaders are, usually, not the retiring sort. They want to be in the midst of it all; indeed, they want to be leading–and so controlling–the hurley-burley around them. But that is just an inference at best, a guess at worst.
Once we get past the actual parables, another theme emerges: that of knowledge. There is a quote from Psalms, proclaiming the intention to preach in parables to disclose all the secrets kept from the foundation of the earth. We also have Jesus explaining the parable of the Sower, just as he did in Mark. The difference in this version is that the disciples explicitly confirm their understanding of the meaning. Matthew puts the words of affirmation into their mouth. This is a change from the dullards we encountered in Mark. Which set of disciples is closer to the truth? Most likely Mark’s bunch. If you recall the distinctions between James and Paul, the latter was more fixed on the idea of Jesus-as-Christ than James was. (We’ll discuss this again later in this summary.) Or perhaps the set of disciples in Matthew has become paganised to some extent. This distinction is based on the idea that pagans were more comfortable with the idea of a divine, or at least semi-divine son of a god walking the earth like another human being. Jesus had a later contemporary son of god perambulating the Eastern Mediterranean in the person of Apollonius of Tyana. For Jews, OTOH, this was something of a foreign concept. Was Mark casting the disciples as dullards in order to explain why they hadn’t grasped Jesus’ divinity as quickly as later followers of Jesus thought they should? Think about it: to later followers looking back, it would have seemed to be the height of folly to walk with Jesus and not recognize his divinity. And there is plenty of evidence in Mark that Jesus’ divinity was not universally recognized. How else to explain these scales on their eyes? In short, Mark combined the disciples’ collective lack of awareness with the idea of the Messianic secret to explain the paucity of followers from the ranks of the Jews.
In turn, that Mark felt it necessary to do this would support the contention that the tipping point, the point at which more followers were former pagans than former Jews, likely came much earlier than is usually thought. Mark wrote in the days after the Jewish Revolt. This had obviously not been an action of Jesus followers, but of those Jews who supported national, or at least religious autonomy from Rome. This is the milieu, and the end result that has led to many “Jesus as Zealot” theories. One of the latest is Reza Aslan’s Zealot, in which he argues this very position. One of the attractions of this thesis is that it provides a handy excuse for Jesus’ arrest and execution by the Romans. There is even the argument that crucifixion as mode of execution was largely reserved for sedition. Of course, this position assumes that Rome felt it needed an excuse to execute anyone. This is simply not the case, and is particularly not the case when it came to subject peoples. Spitting on the sidewalk could be seen as justification enough if one happened to be spotted by a Roman soldier having a bad day. And it ignores the testimony of the gospels themselves, in which Jesus was crucified with two thieves, while the rebel Barabbas was set free. Aslan argued that the word used for “thief” was, in Greek, used by the Romans to mean something more like “bandit” or “brigand”, with the nuance of lawlessness that led to revolution. Even a summary glance at the use of the word–and its Latin translation–undercut this argument significantly. The term was generic, as was the method of execution. Crucifixion is brutal; this is the message Rome liked to get across to subject peoples.
So this was the background for Mark. He had a dual purpose: to explain why the Jews hadn’t followed Jesus in larger numbers than they had, and to exculpate the Romans from blame. Fixing the guilt on Jesus’ death on the religious authorities in Jerusalem helped both these tasks simultaneously.
Then we come to Matthew. In this chapter we begin the rehabilitation of the disciples. Here, they understand. They get it. This is the first step towards the later church’s sanctification of the disciples, a process that turned them into the founders of the church and, eventually, saints. If we need evidence to support Mark writing first, this is a good piece. In creating legends, time tends to elevate those integral to the legend, rather than to tear them down. There is the opposite of the process we see here: Mark cast them as dullard, Matthew raised them up. Acts will portray them as wonder-workers who perform miracles. That is how elevation works, and how humans are raised above their humanity, moving into the realm of the divine. Or at least, the legendary, like Roland or Arthur.
For what it’s worth, I’ve begun to have my suspicions that neither Peter nor Paul went to Rome. But that’s for discussion at a later date. I mention it because it’s another good example of how elevation comes to work, especially when it serves the purposes and propaganda of a later corporate body. Like the Bishop of Rome.
The final bit that we find here is the tale of Jesus coming to the home of his fathers. It is unnamed, both here and in Mark. Why? This is the sort of detail that should make any historian sit up and prick up his/her ears. Such a simple thing. And no later copyist saw fit to insert the name of the town. In Mark 3, when Jesus’ family comes to rescue him, we discussed the logistical problems with this. Mark told us that Jesus “set his home down” in Caphernaum. Caphernaum is some distance from Nazareth; I’m not fully confident of the map reconstructions, but they all put the distance at around ten miles between them. It is simply physically impossible for word to travel to Nazareth that Jesus was in trouble, and then for the family to come to Caphernaum to effect the “rescue”. That’s twenty foot-miles. That’s six or seven hours of walking, assuming an average walking speed of three mph. And remember, one of those traveling from Nazareth was Jesus’ mother, who was no longer a young woman at that point. To obviate this, we have to suppose that all of Jesus’ family, including his sisters who are “here among us” moved to Caphernaum as well. Again, aside from the difficulty of the logistics–women married into the family of their husband–we are not told this by the text. We are told that Jesus set down his house, but not that he moved his entire family.
Then there’s the bit about Nazareth. Mark told us that Jesus, came from Nazareth in Galilee to see the Baptist. That is the only time Nazareth is mentioned by Mark. And this is exactly the sort of thing we might expect to be added as an interpolation. To be fair, there are no manuscript traditions that leave out these words, but that’s the sort of thing that could get into the text very early. See the example of the inset into Isaiah. The Dead Sea Scrolls had a manuscript with the verbiage missing, and texts that included the paragraphs. Yes, I know, it’s very convenient to eliminate uncomfortable text by writing it off as an interpolation. But the internal evidence of the “land of his fathers” story is consistent with the lack of Nazareth from Mark’s text. If we eliminate the one occurrence, then Mark consistently does not name Jesus’ birthplace. Then we come to the word “land of the fathers”. This is a anglicized translation of the Greek “patris”. This word is essentially the genitive case for “father”, so the base meaning is “of the father”, and so it could mean any sort of ancestral heritage; but it did come to mean “home of the father”, hence hometown. The important aspect is that this is a very rare word in the NT. It gets used twice here; more significantly, it is also used twice–and only twice–in Mark. And both of those usages are in Mark’s version of this story.
The ramifications of this are large. The most plausible explanation is that this word was imported into Mark as part of this story. It was the word used by Mark’s source. This is an inference drawn from the fact that the word is not used elsewhere. Of course, it’s possible that it wasn’t used elsewhere because it wasn’t germane to the context; Mark never talked about home town elsewhere so the word wasn’t appropriate. But it’s hard not to see the word as embedded in the story as Mark found it. One implication of this is that the source was likely written; to carry an unusual word like that probably meant that Mark saw it printed, rather than heard it as told by someone. There is, of course, no way to prove this either way, save by turning up a copy of the original in some other context. Despite this imperviousness to proof, my sense is that the odd word tips the scales decidedly in favor of a pre-existent word carried by a written source.
There is an additional ramification. If this story came down to Mark, it was necessarily an older source, something that pre-dated Mark. Given this, the lack of a name for the home town takes on an additional weight of significance. The lack of a name implies that the tradition had not yet determined that Jesus was to be from Nazareth. He came from somewhere, but, at that time, no one was particularly concerned with where that might have been. Plus, it implies that the location of Jesus being from Nazareth found in Mark is, indeed, an interpolation, that it was not part of the original text as written by Mark. Thus, the first indication we actually have that Jesus is from Nazareth comes from Matthew; and given Matthew’s penchant to create a story to fit a prophecy from the HS, then his testimony is not very reliable. This does not prove that Jesus was from Caphernaum, but absent the tradition of Nazareth, it is a best inference. There is the statement of Mark that Jesus settled there, which indicates that he did come from somewhere else. This cannot be simply waved off; some explanation for it must be presented. The problem is that any explanation is pure conjecture, meaning one is as good as another–unless there is a clue that I’ve missed. I think that Mark came across a set of stories that took place in Caphernaum; without knowing Jesus’ actual point of origin, he had Jesus settle there and moved on. He tells us that Jesus had a house there, and that could be said to carry more weight than the throw-away line that Jesus settled there. Or maybe Mark felt compelled to add this line to explain the story presented here, about Jesus visiting his home town.
And recall one point made in the comment. Jesus refers to himself as “prophet”. This will support the argument that this story is old by the time it got to Mark. The use of “prophet” refers to a human, a figure well ensconced in Jewish tradition. As such, this is another indication of the age of the story. The reference to Jesus as a purely human, very Jewish cultural ikon tells us that this came from a tradition that saw Jesus as both human and Jewish. That is, this tradition did not see Jesus as divine, or as the Christ, or as anything else–except possibly a wonder-worker, but that role for a prophet has ample precedence in the HS. However, for Matthew, this description was no longer accurate. By the time we reach Matthew, Jesus has become not only The Christ, but of divine birth and origin, something that he was not for Paul, or the earlier part of Mark. In other words, what we have here are several factors coming together, all of them consistent with a story that pre-dated Mark: the odd word (patris), lack of a name for the hometown, and Jesus as a human figure. While this proves nothing, it’s about as good as one gets for creating historical arguments for events in the First Century CE. Yes, there are problems with this, but these problems are outweighed by the evidence that this was an old story. So it seems safe to say that Jesus was not said to be from Nazareth until Matthew.
All of that is a fairly solid reconstruction of history. What will follow is borderline flight of fancy. What if there is more to this story than meets the eye? One aspect of this story that we have not discussed are Jesus’ siblings: the brothers who are named, and the sisters who are not. The list here is not the same as that given in Mark; that has been mentioned. In both cases, though, the name that looms large is James. Of course, the question is whether this provides independent verification for Paul, who says that James, the brother of the Lord was the leader of the Jerusalem community. I believe it does. Furthermore, I believe that the mention of James by Josephus to be real. I don’t necessarily believe all the details in Josephus, but given that it would have become increasingly embarrassing for Jesus to be understood to have flesh-and-blood siblings, there’s not much reason to suppose that some later Christian scribe inserted the passage about James as a whole. The passage may have been expanded by later Christian copyists, as the passage on Jesus certainly was expanded by later Christians, but I don’t believe it was inserted in toto. As such, it’s fascinating to note that the existence of James is perhaps more firmly attested than that of his more famous and (presumably) older brother.
So far, nothing spectacular. But here is where this really takes off in flight. What if the “home town” was actually a metaphor for James? What if this story was a reference to James’ reluctance to accept his brother as the Messiah, let alone as someone divine? It should not be difficult to imagine James feeling this way. Think for a moment: we are all familiar with the prophet being without honour in his home town. But we forget the prophet is also without honour in his own house. Or perhaps this is a reference to the house where they all grew up, which after Jesus relocated to Caphernaum, or after he died, passed to James as the next oldest?
There are many potential implications to this theory. It does not sit entirely well with the idea that this story demonstrates that Jesus was not from Nazareth, although there is no explicit and direct contradiction, or even conflict. The problem arises from the differing intentions; or are they necessarily different? Much depends on how we perceive James and his teaching. One possibility suggested in the reading of Mark is that the wonder-worker stories was the tradition of James. The wonder-worker/prophet is firmly within Jewish tradition; Ehrman makes constant reference to Honi the Circle-Drawer; beyond that, several OT prophets performed wonders, even to the point of raising people from the dead. As such a figure, Jesus would not have been outside mainstream Judaism, whatever that means. Of course, here Jesus complains that a prophet is without honour, which conflicts with the idea that James saw Jesus as a prophet, a very human prophet. However, this may be quibbling over semantics. Also, Paul gives no indication of such a distinction between what he taught and what James taught, and this is also a problem for this particular thesis. But these problems only arise if we take the story completely literally, instead of as an allegory about the differences of opinion regarding Jesus’ role, identity, and heritage.
This thesis deserves more consideration. Unfortunately, it seems like one of those ideas that will never be able to be proved, or disproved. The NT is made up of many working parts, many pieces from many different sources. Because of this situation, half-baked ideas like this last one serve a very useful function: they help point out just how many joints and seams there are in these gospels. The solitary name at the beginning of each is terribly misleading, especially for Mark and Matthew. Prior to examination, it’s hard to assess Luke, Acts, and John, but the sense is that Luke and John are much more the work of a unitary author, with some editorial input, perhaps, added at a later date. “Mark” and “Matthew”, OTOH, are complete misnomers, causing many more problems than each name solves. So wild speculation like we’ve engaged in here is a necessary corrective, one that is all-too-sadly missing from most of the literature. More’s the pity.
This has been a long chapter. This section will finish it off; however, it’s not a particularly short entry. We will have few more parables about the kingdom.
44 Ὁμοία ἐστὶν ἡ βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν θησαυρῷ κεκρυμμένῳ ἐν τῷ ἀγρῷ, ὃν εὑρὼν ἄνθρωπος ἔκρυψεν, καὶ ἀπὸ τῆς χαρᾶς αὐτοῦ ὑπάγει καὶ πωλεῖ πάντα ὅσα ἔχει καὶ ἀγοράζει τὸν ἀγρὸν ἐκεῖνον.
“The kingdom of the heavens is like a treasure hidden in a field. A man finding where it’s hidden, and from all his joy he rises up and sells everything which he owns and buys that field.”
That’s the whole parable. Short and to the point. But what is the point? It required some consideration on my part, but I believe the moral is sufficiently straightforward. When the man sells all he has, he expects a return over and above his purchase price. Naturally, after 2,000 years of Christian thought, we all realize that the treasure is his reward in heaven in the afterlife. One aspect of this interpretation gives me pause: it assumes a lot on the part of the audience. This, on its own, is not enough to make me believe that our latter-day Christian interpretation is wrong, or misguided. It may very well be true. And that’s why it gives me pause. Think about it. To this point, the theme of the kingdom, how one attains it, and what is meant by, or happens in the afterlife has been a very vague proposition. There has been talk about “the Life”, and the wicked being thrown into the fire. And maybe this should be enough for me to conclude that the message was clear and settled. But that is not the overall impression. So to have this little parable proffered without comment implies that this parable was added to the corpus very late, well after the life of Jesus, or even the second or third stratum of Q. But it wasn’t in Q, because it’s not in Luke. And it certainly wasn’t in Mark. So this is unique to Matthew.
While reading these gospels, we need to bear in mind that a lot of the imagery of heaven that became such staples of Christian thought and iconography were not settled until the Book of the Revelation. That’s where much of the Christian understanding of what the afterlife meant, and even the physical descriptions was either codified or established. That’s where it definitively becomes eternal, thus codifying earlier references to eternal life, then adding to our understanding by explaining that heaven consists of our participation in the direct experience of God, It is also where we get the mass-cultural clichés of pearly gates and angels playing harps.
As such, the point here is that caution needs to be exercised when interpreting exactly what the “treasure” is in this parable. There is a very real chance it means what we think it means; however, there is also the chance that it meant something else to Matthew’s audience. Granted, the probability of it meaning what we think it does is likely higher than the alternative. But that does not mean the issue is settled, or should be accepted without question because there is no reason to think that the meaning or understanding of the kingdom, the afterlife, etc was at all settled when Matthew wrote. Perhaps his particular assembly had a reasonably clear understanding of these concepts, but we don’t know that. Ergo, this is potentially a big jump for Matthew to take by accepting on faith that his audience would fully understand the implications without further explanation.
Lurking behind all of this is the possibility that this parable was added to Matthew at a later date. That is, the story was not part of the second gospel as it was originally written, but that it was added later. That would be a tidy explanation for the assumption by the author that the implications would be readily and completely understood. This would also explain why these parables are a) so short; and b) not in Luke. They are not in Luke because they were added after Luke wrote his gospel.
The only problem is that this raises other questions that are not nearly so tidy. Or does it? A later insertion doesn’t require a whole lot of explaining. It requires argumentation to explain why it doesn’t belong, why it’s not an organic piece of the whole, why the Greek is different, why the sentiment expressed doesn’t match the overall rationale of the work as a whole…But do we? We’ve noted here that there is a certain patchwork quality to Matthew; this could just be another patch. Rhetorically and lingustically, there is nothing really connecting these different short parables together; there could be three or four others; there could only be two. Either way, the tenor of the overall piece would not change much.
Just to be completely clear: when I toss out things like this, I don’t necessarily believe them to be an accurate reflection of what actually happened. The intent rather is to point out how sketchy our knowledge actually is. We assume that these gospels are of a piece because they have come to us as a “complete” manuscript under a single name, thereby implying a single author. But none of this is given. There was a passage in Isaiah in which a recently discovered older manuscript showed that what had long been believed to be an integral part of the original work was, in fact, a marginal gloss that had become incorporated into the body of the work. It happens. The thing is, when an odd join, or a rough edge snags at our clothing as we walk by, we need to stop and look at that part of the work, and ask questions. Unlike Herodotus, or Thucydides, whose works were published, meaning that a significant number of copies were created within a fairly short period–as quickly as they could be copied–these gospels were not. As such, we need to understand how limited our knowledge of these texts is. So we need to ask questions, and not take what is presented to us on faith.
44 Simile est regnum caelorum thesauro abscondito in agro; quem qui invenit homo abscondit et prae gaudio illius vadit et vendit universa, quae habet, et emit agrum illum.
45 Πάλιν ὁμοία ἐστὶν ἡ βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν ἀνθρώπῳ ἐμπόρῳ ζητοῦν τι καλοὺς μαργαρίτας:
46 εὑρὼν δὲ ἕνα πολύτιμον μαργαρίτην ἀπελθὼν πέπρακεν πάντα ὅσα εἶχεν καὶ ἠγόρασεν αὐτόν.
“Again, the kingdom of the heavens is like a man of selling (a merchant) seeking some beautiful pearl. (46) Having found one highly revered pearl, he having gone out sold everything so that he might have and buy it.”
Forgive the capitalist exegesis here. In the previous parable, we can assume that the transaction made sense because the treasure would be worth more than the rest of his possessions. As such, it was a net gain from a business standpoint. Here, however, there is no such sense. The value of the pearl is, presumably, understood by the person selling it. The value is approximately that of all the buyer’s other possessions combined. Having purchased the pearl, the buyer has nothing else to his name.
Perhaps this lack of business sense is the whole point. That, even left with literally nothing else, the buyer still felt that he gained from the transaction. Otherwise, this sounds a tad obsessive, the example of someone who put so much value on a single material item that he loses all perspective. Yes, he has his pearl, but how does he live? He can’t just sell the pearl to meet his material needs because then the story makes no sense. The point is that he wants this pearl, and does not value his other possessions.
Of course, insisting on this capitalist perspective completely misses the point. Or perhaps it even underscores the point more: in both cases, the finder of the treasure/pearl sells everything he owns to possess the item of desire; but in the first instance, we can assume he made a tidy profit; but in the second he clearly did not. All he was left with was the pearl, which is the kingdom. This fits very nicely with Mark’s tale of the rich young man who was told to sell all he had, to give up everything except his desire to be part of the kingdom. Both of these tales advocate poverty, at least obliquely. That we are to give up everything in exchange for the kingdom is a theme that is repeated several times in Mark and echoed in Matthew. From a perspective of two millennia, one might idly speculate that this second parable was concocted after it was pointed out that the man acquiring the treasure had also, in fact, made a material profit as well. As such, the author then came up with this second scenario to “purify” the message, to make sure it was crystal clear that the buyer gave up all to possess the pearl, thereby the kingdom.
As such, the initial impulse is to assume/infer that both of these are the product of a single individual. While tempting, there is no reason to take this as necessarily accurate. These could have been added at different times.
45 Iterum simile est regnum caelorum homini negotiatori quaerenti bonas margaritas.
46 Inventa autem una pretiosa margarita, abiit et vendidit omnia, quae habuit, et emit eam.
47 Πάλιν ὁμοία ἐστὶν ἡ βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν σαγήνῃ βληθείσῃ εἰς τὴν θάλασσαν καὶ ἐκ παντὸς γένους συναγαγούσῃ:
48 ἣν ὅτε ἐπληρώθη ἀναβιβάσαντες ἐπὶ τὸν αἰγιαλὸν καὶ καθίσαντες συνέλεξαν τὰ καλὰ εἰς ἄγγη, τὰ δὲ σαπρὰ ἔξω ἔβαλον.
“Again, the kingdom of the heavens is like a net having been thrown into the sea, and from all sort (of fish) are gathered together. (48) When this has been fulfilled drawing up on the shore and having been seated they gather together the good into baskets,but the bad is thrown outside.”
It’s worth pausing here to talk about the Greek for a moment. In this passage there are three very unusual words: the word for net, that for the shore, and the word I’ve translated as bad. In addition, the verb << συλλέγω >> is used seven times in Matthew. Six of them are in this section of Chapter 13 that has all the parables that are unique to Matthew. It was used five times in the parable of the Wheat and Weeds, and it’s used here. The other time it’s used in Matthew, the same word is repeated in the same context in Luke; a pretty good indication that Luke was familiar with the word from Matthew’s usage in that particular passage. But what about the others?
This is the sort of argument I referred to back in the first comment in this section, regarding the treasure in the field. Here we find a section of Matthew with content not repeated in Mark or Luke, with several odd vocabulary words. The word used here for shore is used twice in Matthew; both are in Chapter 13. The word for baskets is unique to Matthew in the NT, but it’s actually used by a few Classical authors, one of them being Herodotus. The word for “bad” is found three times in Matthew. The other two occasions are in the analogy of the good tree/good fruit vs bad tree/bad fruit. The same word is repeated in the same context of this story in Luke. We also have the theme of the angels going out to do the gathering. This was in the Wheat & Weeds, and will occur a second time in the next verse. This is not a common theme.
All of these factors together should be enough to make us ask whether much–or at least some–of this Chapter is not a later insertion. We have the lack of rhetorical and linguistic connexion to the surrounding context, unusual vocabulary, and unique material. No, the evidence isn’t conclusive, but it should be enough to raise the question. This is not often done. Has it ever been done?
47 Iterum simile est regnum caelorum sagenae missae in mare et ex omni genere congreganti;
48 quam, cum impleta esset, educentes secus litus et sedentes collegerunt bonos in vasa, malos autem foras miserunt.
49 οὕτως ἔσται ἐν τῇ συντελείᾳ τοῦ αἰῶνος: ἐξελεύσονται οἱ ἄγγελοι καὶ ἀφοριοῦσιν τοὺς πονηροὺς ἐκ μέσου τῶν δικαίων
50 καὶ βαλοῦσιν αὐτοὺς εἰς τὴν κάμινον τοῦ πυρός: ἐκεῖ ἔσται ὁ κλαυθμὸς καὶ ὁβρυγμὸς τῶν ὀδόντων.
51 Συνήκατε ταῦτα πάντα; λέγουσιν αὐτῷ, Ναί.
“This is how it shall be at the end of the age. The angels will go out and they will separate the wicked from the midst of the worthy, (50) and they will throw them (the wicked, although the antecedent is not entirely sharply defined) in the furnace of fire. And there will be wailing and gnashing of teeth. (51) Did you understand all these things?” They said to him, “Yes”.
Here is the mention of the angels being sent out I referred to in the last comment. And here we get the punishment by fire, and, once again, the wailing and gnashing of teeth (TM). I think I talked about this at some point during Mark, but it bears repeating. The word we get as “gehenna” in Mark, is associated with fire because it refers to a valley outside Jerusalem where sacrifice was made (burned) to Baal (per Wikipedia). So this is a case where wickedness/fire somehow merged with afterlife/punishment and then merged again with the Greek idea of Hades, so that we ended up with our notion of Hell; the etymology of which is Anglo-Saxon. Really, the fiery torment appears to have pre-dated Christianity, or even Jesus. This was, apparently, a concept that Jesus could take off the rack and use as something already understood. Interestingly, and to my surprise, the word “gehenna” is used more often by Matthew than by Mark. The latter only uses it in Chapter 9, verses 43, 45, & 47, when he talks about how it’s better to into paradise with one eye, hand, or foot than to enter gehenna complete. Something just struck me about that passage, but I’ll save it for the discussion of Matthew 18.
A note about the last word. It’s “yes”. Rather than the etymology, let’s consider this from the perspective of content. Recall in Mark that the disciples did not always understand Jesus. More than once he got rather annoyed by the dullards around him. Here, in contrast, the disciples do understand. What this shows is how the legend was progressing: from being the fallible mortals of Mark, they have begun to become elevated in the minds of Jesus’ followers. Matthew holds them to a level of esteem that Mark did not. Matthew’s Jesus and disciples have been scrubbed to some extent; some of the unseemly–by which we mean all-too-human–traits and actions have been polished down. Such is how legends develop; and that is what we are seeing here, is development of the message and of the conception. Too often Biblical commentators bounce back and forth between evangelists and epistles, using one to buttress and/or clarify the other, but almost never do they stop to consider the differences between the two passages they’re citing. That is the element that has been all-too-sadly lacking from Biblical commentary.
49 Sic erit in consummatione saeculi: exibunt angeli et separabunt malos de medio iustorum
50 et mittent eos in caminum ignis; ibi erit fletus et stridor dentium.
51 Intellexistis haec omnia? ”. Dicunt ei: “ Etiam ”.
52 ὁ δὲ εἶπεν αὐτοῖς, Διὰ τοῦτο πᾶς γραμματεὺς μαθητευθεὶς τῇ βασιλείᾳ τῶν οὐρανῶν ὅμοιός ἐστιν ἀνθρώπῳ οἰκοδεσπότῃ ὅστις ἐκβάλλει ἐκ τοῦ θησαυροῦ αὐτοῦ καινὰ καὶ παλαιά.
53 Καὶ ἐγένετο ὅτε ἐτέλεσεν ὁ Ἰησοῦς τὰς παραβολὰς ταύτας, μετῆρεν ἐκεῖθεν.
Then he said to them, “Because of this every scribe having learned about the kingdom of the heavens is like to a man (who is) the master of the house who throws out from his treasure old and new”. (53) And then concluding these parables, Jesus crossed from there.
“Throws out” is a bit misleading if taken too literally. In current American English idiom, “throw out” means “to discard”, as in toss in the dustbin–whether of history or not. Note that this is the word that is used for the “casting out” of demons. All the crib translations render this as “bring out”, but this seems a little too tame or bloodless for a word that also means “expel (demons)”. If this is true, then question becomes “does it matter?”; the likely answer is, “not really”. This is a clear case where it’s possible to debate nuance, but, in the end, as long as we don’t read it as “to discard”, there probably isn’t much reason to prefer one translation to another. And reading this as “to discard” because that is what current American idiom means by “throw out” is to misread this grossly.
So much for the words. What does this mean? I suppose it’s something of a sop to the old-line Jewish learners, those having been brought up in Judaism, and who have studied it in no small degree. That would be the “old” that is brought out. IOW, Matthew is not excluding Jews, despite other places where he tells us they have been superseded by pagans. They, too, can be learned about the kingdom, and so be members of the kingdom just as readily as the “new” adherents.
52 Ait autem illis: “ Ideo omnis scriba doctus in regno caelorum similis est homini patri familias, qui profert de thesauro suo nova et vetera ”.
53 Et factum est, cum consummasset Iesus parabolas istas, transiit inde.
54 καὶ ἐλθὼν εἰς τὴν πατρίδα αὐτοῦ ἐδίδασκεν αὐτοὺς ἐν τῇ συναγωγῇ αὐτῶν, ὥστε ἐκπλήσσεσθαι αὐτοὺς καὶ λέγειν, Πόθεν τούτῳ ἡ σοφία αὕτη καὶ αἱ δυνάμεις;
55 οὐχ οὗτός ἐστιν ὁ τοῦ τέκτονος υἱός; οὐχ ἡ μήτηρ αὐτοῦ λέγεται Μαριὰμ καὶ οἱ ἀδελφοὶ αὐτοῦ Ἰάκωβος καὶ Ἰωσὴφ καὶ Σίμων καὶ Ἰούδας;
56 καὶ αἱ ἀδελφαὶ αὐτοῦ οὐχὶ πᾶσαι πρὸς ἡμᾶς εἰσιν; πόθεν οὖν τούτῳ ταῦτα πάντα;
And coming into his homeland he taught them in their synagogue, so that they were to amazed, and they said, “From whence (is) this wisdom and the powers (probably = ‘miracles’)? (55) Is he not the son of the carpenter/craftsman? Is not his mother called Mariam, and are not his brother Jacob and Joseph and Simon and Judas? (56) And are not all his sisters all before us? So whence is all this from?”
First a note about English. “Whence” = “from where”, implying motion away from the source to the present position. So, “whence is this” means “where did this come from?” In English, “whence” has become more or less archaic, so I’m tossing this out as a reminder. I don’t want to insult anyone’s intelligence, but it’s easily overlooked. And this is specifically what the Greek (and Latin) says. “Whence is this?”
Second, I’m not going to get all hung up on the exact meaning of the work “tekton”. It can be a carpenter, or a worker in wood; it can be a more general term. It doesn’t matter, really. What is interesting about this passage is the way Matthew has changed what Mark said. In Mark, the crowd asks, “Is this not the carpenter?” Here they ask “Is this not the carpenter’s son?” That is a significant shift. Once again, Matthew is trying to put the question of Jesus’ sketchy paternity to rest by giving his father a trade, where earlier he had given the father a name. But odd: he doesn’t use the name of Joseph here. Why not? Because Mark didn’t? But Mark didn’t call Jesus the son of the carpenter. If he’s going to refer to the father’s trade, why not his name? Both give his mother’s name as Mary (Mariam/Miriam). The fact is, we don’t really know the name of Jesus’ father. Did Mary know the name of Jesus’ father? There are all sorts of speculations that Mary was raped by a Roman soldier–not altogether unlikely–but there is simply no evidence for this. Honestly, I think that the name of Jesus’ father is unknown because no one deemed it important until Matthew’s time. Paul was not interested in the person of Jesus. Paul only becomes interested when the person that had been Jesus was raised from the dead, thereby becoming The Christ. For Mark, the interest began a bit earlier, at his baptism. This is when God adopted Jesus as his son, thereby raising Jesus up as The Christ. No human father was needed for either of these events, so no one bothered to think about the name of this father. It was only a generation after Mark, when there had been sufficient denigration of Jesus as a bastard that Matthew had to set the record straight by providing the name of this unknown father. And then Matthew takes that one step further by giving the father a trade. It’s no great leap that, if Jesus was a carpenter, then his father likely had been one as well. This is part of the way legends grow: details aren’t forgotten. Rather, they begin to accrue, to accumulate, like the layers of a pearl. George Washington did not chop down a cherry tree and then demure from lying about it. The incident didn’t happen, but it accumulated to the historical person because it was important to fill out the legend.
Of course, the other question is whether this story actually happened. Personally, I tend to suspect not. First, there’s the problem of Jesus home town. What was the name? Why aren’t we told that? Because it’s not important to the point of this legend. The point is Jesus had no honour there, regardless of whether it was Nazareth or Caphernaum or some other place. That this legend grew up without the name of a place associated to it tells me that the name of the town was not considered important. Assuming this legend grew up after the fact, it tells me that, when Mark wrote, no one really knew–or much cared–where Jesus was from. Mark mentions Nazareth exactly once, in 1:9, in a passage that could easily have been interpolated in later. That the name of the town was not used here increases the likelihood that Jesus’ home town was unknown.
Next we have to ask if or how this causes some problems for my theory that Jesus was from Caphernaum. Upon consideration, I’m not sure it does necessarily. If this legend grew up independently from the other legends of Jesus, then the name of the town could easily have been omitted as unknown and/or inconsequential. In fact, given the number of instances that Mark does set the action in Caphernaum, vs. this incident where he’s in some unknown “home town” would indicate that the story here grew up somewhere else, in a location where the Caphernaum stories were perhaps not known. The other possibility is that what we are translating as “home town” has an allegorical, rather than a literal meaning. The Greek is “patris”, which is “fatherland”, more or less. Or “land of his father”, or something such. Was the reference, perhaps to Judea/Israel/Galilee as a whole? That is, was this story an early attempt to explain why most Jews weren’t Christians? Such a story would not necessarily be concerned with some real, actual place. “Ancestral home” is specific enough for these purposes. In such a case, the story is independent of the Caphernaum site; it does not care where Jesus was actually from, because that’s taking this too literally. The point is that he was not honoured in his fatherland, which would actually be Judea/Galilee/Israel. Looking at this as a whole, I tend to fall on the latter side of this argument. This was story was more of a fable inset, a fable with a moral, in which true physical reality is not important. It is imperative to bear in mind that gospels are neither history nor biography; they are meant to convey Truth. As such, factual accuracy is simply irrelevant to the situation. And there are times when even avowedly secular writers, who are consciously writing history like Thucydides and Tacitus were more concerned with Truth than accuracy. The famous Melian Dialogue in Thucydides is perhaps the best single example. And Tacitus uses many such exempla to impart his belief that the Empire was intrinsically evil. It’s not that facts were invented or ignored; rather, they were massaged. And here, I think, we have a similar situation. It’s not that this did happen, the point is that it could have happened, thereby explaining why all Jews did not become followers of Jesus.
There is also the bit about the names of the brothers. The list is a tad shorter here than in Mark. Joses, for example, is left out. But James (Iakobi) is here, as in James, brother of Jesus, or brother of the Lord as Paul calls him. James is attested also by Josephus, so that plus Paul, I think, is pretty good evidence that Jesus did have a brother named James. And given Paul’s testimony, I think we are safe to identify this brother as James the Just. Given that James was the leader of the Jerusalem Assembly for some decades, his lack of presence in the NT is startling. Of course, this leadership came after the fact, after the death, resurrection, and removal of Jesus in the physical world. As such, most of James’ career is outside the scope, as it were, of the NT. But this is a topic that has gotten much too little attention from NT historians. Of course, part of the problem is that NT historians are a very rare breed.
54 Et veniens in patriam suam, docebat eos in synagoga eorum, ita ut mirarentur et dicerent: “ Unde huic sapientia haec et virtutes?
55 Nonne hic est fabri filius? Nonne mater eius dicitur Maria, et fratres eius Iacobus et Ioseph et Simon et Iudas?
56 Et sorores eius nonne omnes apud nos sunt? Unde ergo huic omnia ista? ”.
57 καὶ ἐσκανδαλίζοντο ἐν αὐτῷ. ὁ δὲ Ἰησοῦς εἶπεν αὐτοῖς, Οὐκ ἔστιν προφήτης ἄτιμος εἰ μὴ ἐν τῇ πατρίδι καὶ ἐν τῇ οἰκίᾳ αὐτοῦ.
58 καὶ οὐκ ἐποίησεν ἐκεῖ δυνάμεις πολλὰς διὰ τὴν ἀπιστίαν αὐτῶν.
And they were caused to stumble by him. But Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not unhonored except in his homeland, and in his own home. (58) And he did not do many miracles due to their lack of faith.
“Skandalizo”, the root of “scandalize”, literally means “to cause to stumble”. So they stumbled because they could not accept him as a prophet. But was this meant to mean the people of Nazareth? Or Jews, as a whole? I would argue the latter.
Another interesting change from Mark. In Mark, we are plainly told that Jesus could no perform miracles. He was unable to. Here we are simply told that he did not perform many. IOW, he could have, but he chose not to do so. That is a huge change in emphasis. Obviously, for Matthew, Jesus is an elevated personage, a divine son, not a man adopted as the Christ upon being baptized as he was for Mark. As such, there could be no question of Jesus’ capability; if he did not perform many miracles, it was because he chose not to, not because he lacked the ability.
Third, why does Jesus call himself a “prophet”. I checked, and apparently this is not a reference to something in the HS. The word is generic. It sort of imbues the story with the quality of an aphorism, and this hearkens back to what I said in the previous comment about this whole story being a fable. But here’s a new wrinkle. In the previous comment, I speculated on the dating of this story in relationship to the Caphernaum stories that Mark includes. I suggested that this story may have sprung up independently of these Caphernaum stories. And perhaps the word “prophet” may substantiate this. If this story grew up apart from other traditions, it likely did so at a fairly early date. Obviously, it predated Mark. And the use of the word “prophet” may indicate that this story is indeed early, since it dates to a time before the Christ myth took over. When this story was told, Jesus was still a wonder-worker, and had not begun the transformation to The Christ in the popular mind. Recall my contention that Mark merges the two traditions, starting with Jesus as a man who becomes adopted by God, then has a career as a wonder-worker, and only towards the last half of the work does he truly and clearly become the Christ. This story dates from a time before Jesus had become the Christ.
Recall that Mark uses the word “Nazareth” exactly once, in 1:9. This is where he describes Jesus, who came from Nazareth in Galilee, goes to John to be baptised. That’s it. IOW, Jesus does not become associated with Nazareth in any fixed sense until Matthew starts the tradition and Luke solidifies it. Given this, in the period before Matthew, Jesus did not have a home town in the oral tradition. He was just Jesus, not “Jesus of (fill-in-the-blank)” and not “Jesus the Christ”. There likely was some sense that he was from Galilee since this shows up in the Passion Story and in Mark, but an exact place of origin had not been specified. Mark’s use of Nazareth in 1:9, like his use of “the Christ” in 1:1, could easily be later interpolations, things inserted into the text either deliberately, or by the eventual inclusion of marginal glosses into the text*. IOW, neither Mark and the originator of this story Jesus believed that Jesus came from Nazareth. More, neither was aware of any tradition that fixed Jesus to a specific town. And, I think, the use of the term “prophet” may indicate that this was not a story that Mark invented, but one that had a different provenance, but one widespread enough that Mark included it, and so Matthew and Luke perpetuated it.
57 Et scandalizabantur in eo. Iesus autem dixit eis: “ Non est propheta sine honore nisi in patria et in domo sua ”.
58 Et non fecit ibi virtutes multas propter incredulitatem illorum.
*Interpolations: For example, take the book of Isaiah. When the Dead Sea Scrolls were found, the Great Isaiah Scroll was missing the second half of 2:9, and all of 2:10. As such, these sections were understood to be a later interpolation.
This is a very large example of a phenomenon that usually occurs more at the level of single words or phrases. What happens is that a copyist makes a note in the margin, generally a clarification, or a memory aid. Then some later copyist assumes that this marginal note (a gloss, as it’s called) is actually part of the original text and includes it as such. Then this interpolated text is passed on. In this case, the expanded version of Isaiah became the standard reading.
The Greek NT hard copy that I have has six or eight footnotes at the bottom of pretty much every page. These show variant readings, letters, or words that are different in the various manuscript traditions. The Greek text that I use for my translation often has words in [ brackets ]. The brackets usually have two or more words in them, a phrase. The brackets indicate that these words appear in some manuscript traditions, but not in others. So interpolations are a reality for any ancient text. Expressions like “the christ”, or “of Nazareth” are particularly prone to being added to a text by later copyists. In the case of the NT, adding things like “the christ” (Mk 1:1), or “who came from Nazareth in Galilee” (Mk 1:9) would or could have been easily added by later copyists who were aware of the content of the other gospels. In many cases, the addition of these glosses is harmless; it was just a marginal note for the benefit of the scribe, or one studying the text. But fifty or a hundred years later, the motive behind these innocent inclusions was forgotten, and the later copyist, not wanting to leave out words from the sacred text, included them in the text just to be sure.
Now we have several more parables, the connecting theme being the kingdom of heaven.
31 Ἄλλην παραβολὴν παρέθηκεν αὐτοῖς λέγων, Ὁμοία ἐστὶν ἡ βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν κόκκῳ σινάπεως, ὃν λαβὼν ἄνθρωπος ἔσπειρεν ἐν τῷ ἀγρῷ αὐτοῦ:
32 ὃ μικρότερον μέν ἐστιν πάντων τῶν σπερμάτων, ὅταν δὲ αὐξηθῇ μεῖζον τῶν λαχάνων ἐστὶν καὶ γίνεται δένδρον, ὥστε ἐλθεῖν τὰ πετεινὰ τοῦ οὐρανοῦ καὶ κατασκηνοῦν ἐν τοῖς κλάδοις αὐτοῦ.
Another parable he put before them, saying, “The kingdom of the heavens is like a seed of mustard, which a man takes to plant in his field. (32) While it is the smallest of all seeds, when it is grown the largest of cultivated plant it is and it becomes a tree, whence come the birds of the sky and build nests in its branches.
The mustard seed. Another extremely familiar parable, too much so to need too much comment. I did run across a website discussing this, and one of the commentors was tying himself in knots to justify the use of “smallest”. Apparently, this is not correct, per current understanding. That such an error should present itself was a problem for him, so that he ended up arguing that << μικρότερον >> was meant as a comparative, rather than a superlative. This just made me sad. I suppose that he couldn’t even argue that the superlative was meant in a rhetorical sense because that would imply that Jesus was knowingly saying something that he knew not to be true.
But botanical discussions aside, what is important, IMO, is that this parable was also in Mark. As such, it was not a part of Q, which makes absolutely no sense. What I said about the Parable of the Sower also, IMO, holds for this: it’s pretty much a brilliant metaphor. Assuming that Jesus was remembered for a reason, and part of that reason was that he was an inspired teacher, this and the Sower should most definitely be considered as highly likely candidates for Jesus’ authentic teachings. As such, how does it make sense to have Q without some of these parables? The Good Shepherd, the Good Samaritan, those are attributable to Luke and that’s fine. But these that appear in Mark really have to be given serious consideration as authentic. This is doubly true, I think, because Mark does not devote a lot of time to Jesus’ actual teaching. (Although it must be said he devotes a lot more time to this than Paul did. Interesting observation, no?) And the Sower and the Mustard Seed also share an agricultural basis, which, I think, makes it more likely that they came from the imagination of a single individual.
Now, for anyone who knows the Q argument better than I do, my apologies if this is crude. But I have seen nothing in my–admittedly limited–reading of the case for Q that explains away what I’ve just said.
31 Aliam parabolam proposuit eis dicens: “ Simile est regnum caelorum grano sinapis, quod accipiens homo seminavit in agro suo.
32 Quod minimum quidem est omnibus seminibus; cum autem creverit, maius est holeribus et fit arbor, ita ut volucres caeli veniant et habitent in ramis eius ”.
33 Ἄλλην παραβολὴν ἐλάλησεν αὐτοῖς: Ὁμοία ἐστὶν ἡ βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν ζύμῃ, ἣν λαβοῦσα γυνὴ ἐνέκρυψεν εἰς ἀλεύρου σάτα τρία ἕως οὗ ἐζυμώθη ὅλον.
Another parable he spoke to them: “The kingdom of the heavens is like yeast, which a woman taking she hides inside three measures of meal until the whole is yeasted.
This parable and that of the mustard seed carry much the same message: something small that grows big. At first glance I thought there might be some subtle differences between the two–and there are–but any differences do not really constitute a real distinction. The small-to-big overrides whatever else may be dissimilar. And this message, especially as put across by the mustard seed is so familiar as to be meaningless to most of us, I suspect. But they tell us that Jesus (presumably, or his followers) felt there was a certain inevitability about the kingdom. This despite the presence of an enemy, or the seed that fell on the road, or among the thorns. Given the somewhat more optimistic view of these latter two, we are justified in asking whether these two represent some sort of evolution from the Sower. Has the message become more confident? And this is legitimate question to ask, and a necessary one because it may give us some clues about the dating of the stories, to provide some hints about whether any or all of them may date to Jesus himself. Now, the teaching of an individual can develop over time, can deepen and change to some extent, but an entirely different attitude may intimate a development so drastic as to necessitate different authors. Such is the thinking about The Iliad and The Odyssey. They seem to belong to different thought-worlds, so there is a school of belief that they are the product of different authors; indeed, they are likely to be of different generations.
Here, I don’t think there’s enough development, or difference, to warrant a similar conclusion. Based solely on this sort of internal consistency, I believe that the Sower, the Mustard Seed, and the Yeast all could have sprung from the same font of creativity. Whether this is Jesus or not is another story. Which leads to the next point. The Yeast is not in Mark, but it is in Luke. Does that mean it’s in Q? Or it’s from Q? Or did Matthew make it up? Or did Matthew get it from another source that isn’t Q? Per the reconstruction I cited before, it’s not in Q, despite being in both Matthew and Luke and not Mark. I suppose one could argue that, because it has a woman featured, this story was concocted at a time, later, after Jesus, when women had become more prominent in the movement. But Paul mentions several women as prominent among his communities. So it’s not necessary to date the Yeast later based on the female protagonist.
Bottom line is that, if forced to choose, I would put all three into the same basket, and say that they did indeed spring from the same forehead. The Wheat and Weeds, OTOH, is definitely a later addition. The addition of the enemy, and the presentation of the final judgement are too different from the sensibility of the other three. The Wheat & Weeds is a later addition because it demonstrates the developing complexity of the idea of the kingdom. The thing to note about the first three is that they are all describing natural, organic processes in which the growth of the kingdom is taken for granted. The W&W, however, introduces an outside agent that gets in the way of the process. And note the idea of added complexity. This is consistent with the ongoing evolution of the story of the Baptist, or the 3 Temptations of Jesus. Both stories are more complex in Matthew than they were in Mark; this is very similar to the way the Arthur legend grew more complex over time. And we will see this process at work with another character in the story: Mary Magdalene.
33 Aliam parabolam locutus est eis: “ Simile est regnum caelorum fermento, quod acceptum mulier abscondit in farinae satis tribus, donec fermentatum est totum ”.
34 Ταῦτα πάντα ἐλάλησεν ὁἸησοῦς ἐν παραβολαῖς τοῖς ὄχλοις, καὶ χωρὶς παραβολῆς οὐδὲν ἐλάλει αὐτοῖς:
35 ὅπως πληρωθῇ τὸ ῥηθὲν διὰ τοῦ προφήτου λέγοντος, Ἀνοίξωἐν παραβολαῖς τὸ στόμα μου, ἐρεύξομαι κεκρυμμένα ἀπὸ καταβολῆς [κόσμου].
All these things Jesus said in parables to the crowd, and aside from parables he said nothing to them. (35) In this manner was fulfilled the writing according to the prophet saying, “I will open my mouth in parables, I will spew things hidden from the foundation (of the world/universe).
Interestingly–and perhaps it’s not all that important–this is not a quote from a prophet, but from Psalm 78. But if you want to see the Greek, it’s Ps 77 in the LXX. I looked it up to make sure that it used the word “parable” because my REB didn’t translate it that way. The first five words of the quote here are identical to the first five words of (LXX) Ps 77:2. Secondly, the word I rendered as “spew” is generally translated as “I will utter”. The KJV, NIV, ESB, and NASB all translate it as “utter”. Curiously, the NT dictionary I checked said that the sense of “utter” is “a usage foreign to Classical Greek”. For example, this is the word in Classic Greek that would describe vomiting, or a volcanic eruption. A different Greek word is used in the LXX, one that is often used as “utter” in Classical Greek. Matthew recast the second half of the quote in different words, using a different term for “secrets” than the one used in the LXX. Perhaps he recast this with different words because the Greek of the LXX was archaic, or arcane, or esoteric enough not to be comprehensible to a general audience of his day?
More, does this indicate that, perhaps, the Greek of his pagan audience was sufficiently different from the Greek of the LXX? If we can take it thus, we have yet another clue, or hint, that Matthew was, indeed, preaching to pagans. Does this also explain why he said these were the words of a prophet? First, he realized his audience may not catch the substitution, and second, he made the substitution because “prophet” would carry more rhetorical weight than “psalm”. One point here is that Matthew was either not completely accurate, or he was not completely straightforward. We can go into logical gyrations to prove that the psalms were prophecies, but they were not the writing of a prophet, but (supposedly) of King David.
The takeaway here, I think, is that Matthew massaged the second half of the quote to make it comprehensible for, and more meaningful to his pagan audience. It also ties back to Jesus’ explanation at the end of the Sower, and to Mark’s “secret” identity of Jesus. These are meant as ex-post-facto explanations–or excuses–for why all Jews didn’t become followers of Jesus. If he were indeed the fulfillment of the HS, then why didn’t all Jews recognize this? That’s a question the evangelists had to answer.
34 Haec omnia locutus est Iesus in parabolis ad turbas; et sine parabola nihil loquebatur eis,
35 ut adimpleretur, quod dictum erat per prophetam dicentem: “Aperiam in parabolis os meum, eructabo abscondita a constitutione mundi ”.
36 Τότε ἀφεὶς τοὺς ὄχλους ἦλθεν εἰς τὴν οἰκίαν. καὶ προσῆλθοναὐ τῷ οἱ μαθηταὶ αὐτοῦ λέγοντες, Διασάφησον ἡμῖν τὴν παραβολὴν τῶν ζιζανίων τοῦ ἀγροῦ.
37 ὁ δὲ ἀποκριθεὶς εἶπεν, Ὁ σπείρων τὸ καλὸν σπέρμα ἐστὶν ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου:
38 ὁ δὲ ἀγρός ἐστιν ὁ κόσμος: τὸ δὲ καλὸν σπέρμα, οὗτοί εἰσιν οἱ υἱοὶ τῆς βασιλείας: τὰ δὲ ζιζάνιά εἰσιν οἱ υἱοὶ τοῦ πονηροῦ,
39 ὁ δὲ ἐχθρὸς ὁ σπείρας αὐτά ἐστιν ὁ διάβολος: ὁ δὲ θερισμὸς συντέλεια αἰῶνός ἐστιν, οἱ δὲ θερισταὶ ἄγγελοί εἰσιν.
Then dismissing the crowd, he went home. And approached him his disciples saying, “Make clear to us the parable of the zizania of the field. (37) Then, answering them, he said, “The one sowing the good seed is the son of man. (38) The field is the world. The good seed are the sons of the kingdom. The zizania is the sons of evil. (39) The enemy who sowed this is the devil. The harvest is the completion of this age, the harvesters are the angels.
Not much that’s surprising here. Technically, << ὁ διάβολος >>, the diabolos, is the “slanderer”, but I think it’s well-enough established that this term had come to mean “devil” by this point. At least, the idea of the slanderer/devil as the enemy of God. It was the slanderer/devil that we met as the tempter of Jesus back in Chapter 3. As such, I’m reasonably comfortable using the term “devil” when I see <<ὁ διάβολος>>.
The idea of the angels as the harvesters is a bit novel. More, it doesn’t really fit with Paul’s notion that the faithful would rise up to meet the lord coming down. Paul is not explicit, but the implication does seem to be that this would occur spontaneously and unaided. Nothing Paul says would contradict the idea of harvesting angels, but nothing he says supports it, either. Here, I would judge that the silence implies that this was not part of Paul’s vision. Ergo, this is a new addition to the End Time scenario.
Now, this means one of two things. It could mean that this had become part of the eschatology, that angels would be sent out to harvest the souls of the good. Or, it’s possible that this is just sort of a throw-away line necessitated by the extended metaphor. If it’s the former, the non-inclusion of this story in Luke becomes more curious. Personally, I suspect that this is a detail that Matthew made up to fit the needs of the story. And the implications for the long term are significance. Later theologians would have to collect all of these one-off lines and try to connect them into a coherent story about the End Times, the Trinity, and all the other theological constructions that were added. The problem with this is that, too often, many of these one-off lines don’t add up into a systematic, consistent picture. The same is true with the HS, too. It’s a commonplace that there are two creation myths recorded that overlap, but aren’t exactly the same. There is a cottage industry in trying to piece together the Apocrapha and the canonical books into a coherent picture of The Fall and any number of other topics. It is a difficult task to reconcile these accounts for various reasons, the first of which is that the accounts are not consistent.
36 Tunc, dimissis turbis, venit in domum, et accesserunt ad eum discipuli eius dicentes: “ Dissere nobis parabolam zizaniorum agri ”.
37 Qui respondens ait: “ Qui seminat bonum semen, est Filius hominis;
38 ager autem est mundus; bonum vero semen, hi sunt filii regni; zizania autem filii sunt Mali;
39 inimicus autem, qui seminavit ea, est Diabolus; messis vero consummatio saeculi est; messores autem angeli sunt.
40 ὥσπερ οὖν συλλέγεται τὰ ζιζάνια καὶ πυρὶ [κατα]καίεται, οὕτως ἔσται ἐν τῇ συντελείᾳ τοῦ αἰῶνος:
41 ἀποστελεῖ ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου τοὺς ἀγγέλους αὐτοῦ, καὶ συλλέξουσιν ἐκ τῆς βασιλείας αὐτοῦ πάντα τὰ σκάνδαλα καὶ τοὺς ποιοῦντας τὴν ἀνομίαν,
42 καὶ βαλοῦσιν αὐτοὺς εἰς τὴν κάμινον τοῦ πυρός: ἐκεῖ ἔσται ὁ κλαυθμὸς καὶ ὁ βρυγμὸς τῶν ὀδόντων.
43 Τότε οἱ δίκαιοι ἐκλάμψουσιν ὡς ὁ ἥλιος ἐν τῇ βασιλείᾳ τοῦ πατρὸς αὐτῶν. ὁ ἔχων ὦταἀκουέτω.
As when the weeds are gathered together and and thrown into the fire, in this way it will be in the end of the age. (41) The son of man will send his angels, and they will gather together (and take out) from his kingdom all wicked and those doing lawlessness. (42) And they will throw them to the oven of fire; there it will be wailing and the gnashing of teeth. (43) Then the just will shine as the sun in the kingdom of their father. The one having ears, let him hear.
First, in V-40, some gymnastics were required to get the English to resemble the Greek. The problem is the verb is the same in both V-40; it’s the verb for “to collect/gather” with the prefix “with” affixed to the beginning. This is to add double emphasis to the action. So, in both cases, the weeds/the wicked are gathered together. But in V-41, they will “gathered together out of the kingdom”. That’s a bit ambiguous, or misleading in English. So a verb like, “to pull from” the kingdom would be more appropriate. Or, “they will be gathered together and plucked from the kingdom” would convey the sense intended.
I love “wailing and gnashing of teeth”, even if “weeping” is actually more appropriate. The KJV used the first phrase to such great poetic effect that it’s difficult to imagine it otherwise. It’s like “they were sore afraid”. Anything else feels a tad weak.
The idea of the just “shining like the sun” is, I think, a new image for the NT. This is the only incidence of this verb in the NT. It’s obviously part of the basis for our idea of the dead in heaven being radiant beings like angels. But while this may be a new image for Christianity, it’s actually very old, an echo of Zoroastrian dualism, where the Good is identified with Light. This is a great example of non-conscious syncretism, in which religious ideas are passed back and forth between different thought-worlds, pulling them closer together. The Greeks and Romans did this consciously; Tacitus claims that the chief god of the Germans is Mercury. This is because Wotan/Woden/Odin was more a god of wisdom, like Mercury/Hermes, rather than the storm god like Zeus or Jupiter. He made the comparison with a fully conscious rationality. Taking over the idea that Good = Light is much more subtle. It’s really just a metaphor, and it gets picked up by a new group and brings a new wrinkle into the way this new group thinks. And the new group may be completely unaware of many of the tenets of the group that invented the metaphor. It’s just this one aspect that made a lot of sense. This is why it’s so tricky when we discuss the affiliation of religions, or sects, or heretical groups. One or two metaphors may be borrowed, but that isn’t really enough to prove a direct affiliation. The second group may only have used those one or two things, without intending to imply the rest of the dogma of the first group. Take Gnosticism. Many Gnostic groups were dualists, but it was possible to be a dualist but not be a Gnostic, or a Gnostic without being a dualist. Plato is implicitly dualistic; Zoroastrianism is extremely so. Christianity is implicitly dualistic; did the latent dualism in Christianity come from Plato? Or from Zoroastrianism? Or did Plato, in fact, get his dualist ideas from Zoroastrianism? Or did both Plato and the Christians come to there flesh/spirit distinction independently? Was it possible to come up with ideas independently in the great melting pot of the eastern part of the Roman Empire?
These questions have no answers. Wc can never know with certainty, so it’s best to hold theories only tentatively; theories should be changed when additional evidence makes the old one untenable. Unfortunately, too many scholars hold a theory until death does them part. This is why theories change one funeral at a time. This was said about…physics, I believe, but it’s so true in so many academic fields, where the old-timers hold onto the theories of their youth, to the point of becoming (almost) a self-parody.
I have neglected to discuss the use of the term “Son of Man” by Matthew. We associate this term with Mark. In fact, it was my impression that the term was nearly exclusive to Mark. As such, it was revealing to go back and count occurrences of the term in both Mark and Matthew. Surprisingly, Mark used this expressions a bare dozen times; we’ve run across it now seven times in Matthew, and there are more to come. OK, so we figure that Matthew took over the term when he included a story from Mark. Again surprisingly, so far this has been true only three times. In the other four, as in this one, Matthew used this expression in stories that are not taken from Mark; that is, Matthew has inserted this term on his own accord, rather than because Mark used it in the same context. And the term will be found more often in Matthew than it was in Mark. IOW, the term has lodged into the vocabulary of the followers of Jesus at this point. It will be used by Luke as well; however, most of the usage in Luke is in stories from Mark. There are those who claim that “son of man” is another phrase for “yours truly”. The problem is, this author (Mack, I believe), provides no citations from other authors who use this term in or around the First Century CE. As such, it is difficult to give credence to this assertion. Rather, it seems as if something specific is meant by the expression, to the point that it’s inclusion in the gospels carried on well past the time of Mark.
Finally, I love the part about hearing if you have ears. Recall that this comes after a series of proclamations that the messenger of God speaks in parables, and after Jesus has said that he speaks in parables specifically so that people do not understand. There’s a bit of irony there. Given that, I think that the “he who has ears, let him hear” may actually trace back to Jesus himself. Mark put this expression into Jesus’ mouth. As such it possibly bypassed intermediaries, such as James the Just. Recall that I have posited much of the eventual Christian message to James. But James’ influence had not spread far enough to affect Mark, I think. As I see it, the material in Mark is much more likely to trace back to Jesus than anything supposedly recorded in Q. The alleged Q material could too easily represent later accretions. And the emphasis on poverty in the Sermon on the Mount and elsewhere is something that I would suggest is more likely to be something from James than Jesus. So with the “let the one having ears hear”, we have something recorded in the period before the James influence had become part of the tributary stream of what eventually became Christianity.
Or something like that.
40 Sicut ergo colliguntur zizania et igni comburuntur, sic erit in consummatione saeculi:
41 mittet Filius hominis angelos suos, et colligent de regno eius omnia scandala et eos, qui faciunt iniquitatem,
42 et mittent eos in caminum ignis; ibi erit fletus et stridor dentium.
43 Tunc iusti fulgebunt sicut sol in regno Pa tris eorum. Qui habet aures, audiat.
We get another parable. This one is unique to Matthew.
24 Ἄλλην παραβολὴν παρέθηκεν αὐτοῖς λέγων, Ὡμοιώθη ἡ βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν ἀνθρώπῳ σπείραντι καλὸν σπέρμα ἐν τῷ ἀγρῷ αὐτοῦ.
25 ἐν δὲ τῷ καθεύδειν τοὺς ἀνθρώπους ἦλθεν αὐτοῦ ὁ ἐχθρὸς καὶ ἐπέσπειρεν ζιζάνια ἀνὰ μέσον τοῦ σίτου καὶ ἀπῆλθεν.
Another parable he told them, saying, “The kingdom of the heavens is compared to a man planting good seed in his field. (25) In the time of men sleeping came an enemy of his and he (the enemy) planted weeds (probably darnel) in the midst of the grain and left.
First of all this is the only use of “zizania” in Liddell & Scott. The definition is largely an inference from the context. Apparently, the root is related to the Sumerian word for “wheat”.
Secondly, does this whole scenario strike you as a bit…contrived? The parable of the sower had a real organic feel to it, like something someone actually said. This, OTOH, feels very forced. Is this why Luke chose to ignore the story, and not carry it into his own gospel?
More, since this story only occurs in Matthew, is it reasonable to conclude that it may be attributed to Matthew alone? There is no need for this to be the product of an earlier source, and it’s certainly not in Q, so why not Matthew. One of the hypotheses that I set out with when I started Matthew was that he was the author of a lot of the new material, the stuff that’s not in Mark. It still seems incredible to believe that he didn’t make up at least some of the new material. This, of course, entails that some of the new material that was supposedly in Q was invented by Matthew. I still believe this, but it’s been harder to sort out than I imagined. So as of this writing I have an opinion that I can’t truly elevate into an hypothesis because I don’t have any real evidence to support or refute the opinion.
But I will go out on a limb and hazard that this story is a creation of Matthew. Why? Quite simply because it’s too clumsy to be compelling. Had this come from a previous source, Matthew the editorial genius would have chosen not to include it. That’s still just an opinion, or perhaps a judgement; whichever tern you choose, it’s wholly lacking in supporting evidence.
24 Aliam parabolam proposuit illis dicens: “ Simile factum est regnum caelorum homini, qui seminavit bonum semen in agro suo.
25 Cum autem dormirent homines, venit inimicus eius et superseminavit zizania in medio tritici et abiit.
26 ὅτε δὲ ἐβλάστησεν ὁ χόρτος καὶ καρπὸν ἐποίησεν, τότε ἐφάνη καὶ τὰ ζιζάνια.
When the fodder grew and made the fruit, then the zizania appeared.
<<καρπὸν>> means “fruit” in the generic sense; with wheat it refers to the heads, the actual kernels of wheat that are used for human food. <<χόρτος>> OTOH, literally, or at its root, means a “farmyard”, or any place where animals are fed. I translated it here as “fodder” because I have the sense that the stalks, the part without the fruit, would have been fed to the animals as fodder. I kinda sorta come from a farming community, and I have the feeling that this is wrong, but it may only be wrong in the 20th/21st Centuries. Back in the olden days, times were hard enough that one didn’t waste anything if one could help it. It was said that when a pig was slaughtered, the only thing that didn’t get uses was the squeal. Just so, I suspect that the stalks of wheat may have been fed to the animals.
And this is a great example of how historical information is conveyed in a very incidental manner. Matthew had no intention of describing farming or animal husbandry techniques, but his choice of vocabulary conveyed that meaning. Not that it’s terribly significant information, especially for our purposes, but it’s information nonetheless. Also, it’s a great example of how words evolve.
26 Cum autem crevisset herba et fructum fecisset, tunc apparuerunt et zizania.
27 προσελθόντες δὲ οἱ δοῦλοι τοῦ οἰκοδεσπότου εἶπον αὐτῷ, Κύριε, οὐχὶ καλὸν σπέρμα ἔσπειρας ἐν τῷ σῷ ἀγρῷ; πόθεν οὖν ἔχει ζιζάνια;
Coming forward, the slaves to the master of the house asked him, “Lord, did you not plant good seed in the field? How then does it have zizania?”
The term <<οἰκοδεσπότης>> can mean a couple of different things. Literally, it’s the “despot of the house”, Of course, “despot” doesn’t have the entirely negative connotations that we now attach to the word. As such, it can mean the master, as in the owner, it can also be used of the steward, or major domo. Since he’s addressed as “lord”, I’m going to guess the former. Again, not that it matters really, but just to point this out. There have been times–especially in some of the more difficult passages of Paul–where the exact shading can have implications, but mostly, a shade here, a nuance there, it doesn’t matter a lot. At least, not as much as is sometimes implied. I do prefer, or have come to prefer, the original, but that’s really a preference. Sort of like my opinion on the provenance of this story. It’s what I feel, whether or not there’s really good reason to do so or not.
27 Accedentes autem servi patris familias dixerunt ei: “Domine, nonne bonum semen seminasti in agro tuo? Unde ergo habet zizania?.
28 ὁ δὲ ἔφη αὐτοῖς, Ἐχθρὸς ἄνθρωπος τοῦτο ἐποίησεν. οἱ δὲ δοῦλοι λέγουσιν αὐτῷ, Θέλεις οὖν ἀπελθόντες συλλέξωμεν αὐτά;
And he said to them, “An enemy fellow did this.” The slaves said to him, “Do you wish us going out to gather them?”
Here, I think, is the purpose behind the addition of the story. “An enemy”. Of course, we as denizens of the current age are well familiar with the idea of the devil, the enemy. But in this story the devil has been given a level of significance that goes beyond what he is given elsewhere in the NT; or more than he has been given to this point in the NT. The devil here has responsibility; he has agency; he is an actor in his own right thereby going well beyond the boundaries of his role as the tempter that we saw in Chapter 3. Whatever else we can say about this passage, I believe it represents a very significant step in the development of the concept* of the devil, and moves him/it closer to the central role he was to play in Christian theology–and theodicy. The devil is a very complex construction, and this agency aspect, ultimately, traces back to Zoroastrianism. There, the principal of evil, Ahriman, is (at least sometimes, in some ways, in some schools of thought) given agency like this. He is independent of Ahuramazda, the principal of light, in a way, and to a degree that Satan only attains very rarely.
Christian theology walks–or tries to walk–a very fine line. Few Christians will grant that God is the cause of evil; he permits it, it’s part of The Plan, but God is not the one causing it. That is the Devil. The problem is that God created the Devil; as such, the former is completely responsible for anything and everything the latter does. Zoroastrianism obviates this by positing the existence of two principals, independent of each other. In this way evil cannot be traced back to the good god. The idea was that the two principals were squared off in an all-or-nothing struggle to determine if the universe would be all good, or all evil, all the time. Of course, there was a bit of hedging even here: it was usually assumed in a nudge-nudge-wink-wink sort of way that good would, in the end, prevail. The problem with this, though, is that it then prompts (but does not beg) the question of “why be good if good is destined to triumph?” Most religions, most schools of thought will, generally, only follow their logic to a certain point. Usually, they will blanche and turn back from the absolute logical conclusion. This was what the Scholastic thinkers at the end of the Middle Ages were famous–notorious–for: actually following the chain of logic to the end. The Humanist, like Erasmus, only took their thought to a certain point and then drifted off in a fuzzy haze. This, of course, is exactly what John Calvin did not do: he followed the argument of Predestination to the end, concluding that God did, indeed, create people that had no chance to get to heaven. They were reprobate, damned from the moment of conception. No, from the foundation of the universe. That is a very ferocious theology.
Given this, we wonder if this is part of the reason Luke demurred from including this story? He didn’t like the independence it gave to the devil? Of course, this is a non-issue if you accept Matthew/Luke independence. But I don’t, so I have to think of stuff like this.
*h/t to Jeffrey Burton Russell’s magisterial series on the devil. There he identified the concept of the concept: the combination of theology, theodicy, cultural impact, and major player in our thought world. He came to my attention as the author of a book on Mediaeval witchcraft that I stumbled upon in a remainders sale. Sometimes you get lucky.
28 Et ait illis: “Inimicus homo hoc fecit”. Servi autem dicunt ei: “Vis, imus et colligimus ea?”.
29 ὁ δέ φησιν, Οὔ, μήποτε συλλέγοντες τὰ ζιζάνια ἐκριζώσητε ἅμα αὐτοῖς τὸν σῖτον.
30 ἄφετε συναυξάνεσθαι ἀμφότερα ἕως τοῦ θερισμοῦ: καὶ ἐν καιρῷ τοῦ θερισμοῦ ἐρῶ τοῖς θερισταῖς, Συλλέξατε πρῶτον τὰ ζιζάνια καὶ δήσατε αὐτὰ εἰς δέσμας πρὸς τὸ κατακαῦσαι αὐτά, τὸν δὲ σῖτον συναγάγετε εἰς τὴν ἀποθήκην μου.
He said to them, “No. You cannot, collecting together the zizania judge between them and the grain. (30) “Leave them both to grow until the harvest. In the season of harvest I will tell the reapers, ‘Gather first the zizania and bind it into bundles for the burning of it, but the grain gather together into my place where things are put’ (i.e., a barn)”
This is also some fairly sophisticated theology. This is the Christian eschatology in a nutshell: good and evil co-exist until the harvest, the end of days. The thing to note about this concept, I think, is that it’s different from the eschatology we’ve come across up to this point. This is not, at least not exactly, the screaming day of judgement we’ve been warned about–and promised–since the latter Hebrew prophets. I’m not saying judgement won’t occur, but it lacks the savour of vengeance that has been an integral part of the End Times in previous discussions of the End Times. Here it feels like a more natural process, like the growing of the plants until the harvest comes in due season.
Here’s a thought. Think back to 1 Thessalonians 4, with the Lord coming down from the sky and the faithful rising up to meet him in the clouds. There is no talk of a fiery time, a time of great turmoil and tribulation, with brother against brother as Mark “predicted” in Chapter 13. This passage here seems more like Paul’s piece than it does Mark’s eschatology. Of course you may disagree, but let’s assume it’s so for a moment. What this tells us, from the historical viewpoint, by reading this as a record of the belief of the nascent Christian community at the particular time when it was written, is that, perhaps, the fire and brimstone and horrific time of tribulation has sort of faded into the background. Why? Because the horrors of the Jewish War were at least a generation from the experience of the author and his audience. All that treachery and death and destruction had become simply stories; terrible ones, but stories nonetheless. In the same way that WWII had become only stories or movies or TV shows (Hogan’s Heroes, anyone?) for kids in the 60s. As such, and now that the Empire had settled back into a peaceful existence–as defined by that period–the idea of wars and rumours of wars maybe started to seem like distant thunder: it was there, sure, but it was too far away to pose any real danger, or cause any real concern.
Paul wrote 1 Thessalonians at a similar period of quiescence. The turmoil of Gaius Caligula had faded, the turmoil of Nero or the Jewish War hadn’t appeared. So there was no reason for him to expect the tribulations that the next generation would experience. When things were running smoothly, the Romans weren’t the worst overlords; all they ultimately wanted was cooperation and taxes. Go along, and you got trade and commerce and a pretty decent standard of living for ancient times, and you didn’t have to live in perpetual fear of the next village, or the next tribe, or the next kingdom showing up unannounced with swords drawn. You got a fairly stable, peaceful life–by ancient standards. Really, the standard of living and the level of security in the first centuries CE were probably not matched again across so wide a spectrum in the cultural West until the 19th Century. So for Paul, and for Matthew, the End Times might just be one of those things that happen, unexpectedly, one day. There was no reason to thirst for revenge against the oppressor, nor to fear the tribulation. And, going one step further, this may explain why the devil’s role has been expanded: the usual earthly suspects were not acting very suspiciously, so a new agent had to be introduced that would spoil things and cause trouble.
So, as it turns out, this is a very significant little anecdote.
And just to underline, this is speculation to some degree. Although I would call this more a case of historical judgement. (But then I would, wouldn’t I?) But we have a new element and a discontinuity of thought. These should be–but never are–explained in non-theological terms. I think what I’m suggesting is plausible, based on internal evidence and external context. It becomes incumbent on me to explain why Luke didn’t include the story. Was he writing during the persecutions that supposedly happened under Domitian, giving him a less rosy outlook. Perhaps. We shall see when we get to Luke.
29 Et ait: “Non; ne forte colligentes zizania eradicetis simul cum eis triticum,
30 sinite utraque crescere usque ad messem. Et in tempore messis dicam messoribus: Colligite primum zizania et alligate ea in fasciculos ad comburendum ea, triticum autem congregate in horreum meum” ”.