Matthew Chapter 13:44-58

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.

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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 July 19, 2015, in Chapter 13, gospel commentary, Matthew's Gospel and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. “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 now settled until the Book of the Revelation.”

    Small typo, looks like it should be “… were NOT settled …”

    Keep up the good work, I’ve enjoyed reading these.

    Cheers

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