Monthly Archives: August 2015

Matthew Chapter 15:29-39 (conclusion)

This post will conclude Chapter 15. I don’t expect this will require a lot of time* since it’s the Feeding of the 4,000, and we just had the Feeding of the 5,000 last chapter. I have never quite understood why both of these stories were retained. They obviously represent a ‘twinning’ of the same event that came down to Mark through two distinct channels. This happens fairly frequently in oral traditions; there are a number of such twins, for example, in Book I of Livy’s History of Rome. What this twinning represents is the same story being told by two different groups that are not in contact with each other. As a result, the details vary to some degree, and when they are collected together, the author compiling the two traditions can’t decide which is the correct–or more correct–version, so both are included. Such is what happened here, I suspect.

*Of course, it took rather longer than I’d anticipated. Oh well.

29 Καὶ μεταβὰς ἐκεῖθεν ὁ Ἰησοῦς ἦλθεν παρὰ τὴν θάλασσαν τῆς Γαλιλαίας, καὶ ἀναβὰς εἰς τὸ ὄρος ἐκάθητο ἐκεῖ.

And having crossed from there, Jesus came along the Sea of Galilee and having gone up the mountain he sat himself there.

This starts much as the 5,000 did: Jesus crossing the sea, then going up the mountain. This opening helps bolster the argument that this is a twinning of one event, since they both start with the same concept. The difference here is that Matthew doesn’t go out of his way to stress just how lonely and desolate and isolated this location is. Recall how he did that in his lead-up to the feeding of the 5,000.

29 Et cum transisset inde, Iesus venit secus mare Galilaeae et ascendens in montem sedebat ibi.

30 καὶ προσῆλθον αὐτῷ ὄχλοι πολλοὶ ἔχοντες μεθ’ ἑαυτῶν χωλούς, τυφλούς, κυλλούς, κωφούς, καὶ ἑτέρους πολλούς, καὶ ἔρριψαν αὐτοὺς παρὰ τοὺς πόδας αὐτοῦ, καὶ ἐθεράπευσεν αὐτούς:

31 ὥστε τὸν ὄχλον θαυμάσαι βλέποντας κωφοὺς λαλοῦντας, κυλλοὺς ὑγιεῖς, καὶ χωλοὺς περιπατοῦντας καὶ τυφλοὺς βλέποντας: καὶ ἐδόξασαν τὸν θεὸν Ἰσραήλ.

And came to him a multitudinous crown having with them lame, blind, maimed, mute, and many others, and they cast themselves down by his feet, and he healed them, (31) so that to amaze the crowd seeing the mute speaking, the maimed whole, and the lame walking about, and the blind seeing. And they glorified the God of Israel.

This is a significant passage, I think. Mark does not include this in either of his Feeding stories. Why does Matthew add it? On the one hand, put here the way it is, the story gets a little lost in the shuffle. On the other, it gets paired with the healing of the daughter of the Canaanite woman, so we have back-to-back wonders being worked. As I look at this, and consider Mark in relationship to Matthew, I am becoming more convinced that the baseline story of Jesus was about him as a wonder-worker. We noted that those are the stories that take up the first half of Mark’s gospel, and that they only give way to the Christ tradition sometime after Chapter 8. Or we could say that we start this in earnest with the story of the Transfiguration in Chapter 9. That is when Jesus more or less stops working wonders and becomes a divine figure.

Here in Matthew, OTOH, the miracles get short-shrift. The stories are shorter, more cursory, including summaries like we get here. Yes, those are present in Mark, too, but I think that we’ve gotten a higher proportion of summaries here in Matthew. What does this mean? Well, I think it’s another blow to the Q theory. The Q proponents would have us believe that Jesus’ teachings were the fundamental story that was told about him after his death. The wonder-worker thesis contradicts that directly, claiming that the miracles were the basis for retelling Jesus’ story. And yet, it was the Christ tradition that Paul stressed, and I don’t believe Paul even mentions Jesus performing any wonders. Even in the Great Miracle of the resurrection, Jesus was a passive object, who was raised from the dead by God. Jesus didn’t do this by himself, because he was God, but God intervened and performed the act. But this gets us back to the James/Paul dichotomy. Paul was preaching outside Judea, mostly to pagans. James was preaching in Judea, in Jerusalem, presumably to Jews. Did they have different messages? Or perhaps different emphases? Remember the “other gospels” of 1 Thessalonians and 1 Corinthians. 

Since Paul was preaching to pagans and stressing the Christ tradition, and Matthew stressed the Christ tradition, is this possibly (more) evidence that Matthew was a pagan?

Did anyone catch the non-sequitur in that last question? The connection between the Christ tradition and pagans made a lot of sense when I wrote it. The connection was absolutely clear and firm in my mind. Now…not so much. If anyone is familiar with Jacques Derrida and Deconstructionism, IIRC this is what is meant by “slippage” between thoughts and writing. The former is a solid connection; we know what we mean when we say it. But once it gets into that email…man, it could be taken a dozen different ways, and most of them bad. While I never quite went the distance with Derrida, he did make it very difficult to argue there is a single correct interpretation, and that even the author may not have been fully aware of the implications. And that is true: think of the unfortunate email you sent to your boss, or a colleague, or a friend that got completely misconstrued. No, that wasn’t what you meant, but it sure could be taken that way.

The point is, we have to ask if the Christ message was more acceptable to pagans. In particular, we have to ask if Jesus-as-divine wasn’t more acceptable to pagans. I’ve made this point previously; the divine god-on-earth, a son of a god was a familiar concept to pagans. It was mostly–if perhaps not entirely–foreign to Jewish thought. I say “mostly” for a reason. I’m reading The Jewish Gospel by Daniel Boyarin, who is a Jewish scholar, expert on the HS. He points out that the so-called “High Christology”, in which Jesus was seen as divine has been seen as a pagan formulation. In the centuries after Jesus, Jews also pressed this interpretation as a disparagement, that Christianity was more pagan than Jewish. The “Low Christology”, in which Jesus was seen as a human has been seen as an outgrowth of Judaism. And this division is more or less my point. As one more versed in pagan lore than the NT, I see the footprints of pagan thought all over the place in Jesus’ teachings; whether they date back to Jesus, or were layered on afterwards, is another discussion. Boyarin isn’t quite so sure. He argues that the “one like a son of man” in Daniel 7 was understood as a divine being, not a human by Jews of the time. However, the point remains that even Jews of the Second and Third Centuries saw the pagan elements of Christianity. Ergo, I’m not completely beyond the Pale on this.

Still, the question remains of proving that stressing pagan sensibilities indicates that Matthew was a pagan. Of course it doesn’t. But once again, we’re in the realm of preponderance of evidence. “Matthew” (whatever the author’s real name was) could have been in the tradition of Paul, emphasizing the Christ. But Paul didn’t take the next step and deify Jesus before the crucifixion. Matthew does. Mark didn’t. It could be a “logical” progression. But what makes it logical? The evolution of the idea in a pagan context, in which gods sired children who walked the earth. This is not at all so logical in a Jewish context. So I think that, in the end, it comes down to whether one believes it’s more likely that Matthew was a Jew who became paganized, or a pagan who studied Judaism as a God-fearer? I’m still going with the latter. 

30 Et accesserunt ad eum turbae multae habentes secum claudos, caecos, debiles, mutos et alios multos et proiecerunt eos ad pedes eius, et curavit eos,

31 ita ut turba miraretur videntes mutos loquentes, debiles sanos et claudos ambulantes et caecos videntes. Et magnificabant Deum Israel.

32 Ὁ δὲ Ἰησοῦς προσκαλεσάμενος τοὺς μαθητὰς αὐτοῦ εἶπεν, Σπλαγχνίζομαι ἐπὶ τὸν ὄχλον, ὅτι ἤδη ἡμέραι τρεῖς προσμένουσίν μοι καὶ οὐκ ἔχουσιν τί φάγωσιν: καὶ ἀπολῦσαι αὐτοὺς νήστεις οὐ θέλω, μήποτε ἐκλυθῶσιν ἐν τῇ ὁδῷ.

Jesus having called to him his disciples said, “I have compassion upon the crowd, that already three days they have followed me and they have nothing to eat.  And to disperse them fasting I do not wish, lest they faint on the road.”

First, I want to know where the three days of following came from. I do not at all get that impression from the text here. But it is in Mark, so there’s my answer. And the last bit about not wanting them to faint on the road is also in Mark.

Second, I read some of the commentaries on this at Several of them fall all over themselves to insist that this is not a mere replication of the 5,000. They cite the different vocabularies and other such; of course, they’re right. The vocabularies are different, even if the set-up is very similar. But that is precisely how twins are formed. They start from the same event, or account of an event, and then the story takes divergent paths for a few years, or a decade. Then they each come to the ear of a single person who is interested in writing the stories down–like Mark–and they are different enough to be judged different events.

32 Iesus autem convocatis discipulis suis dixit: “Misereor turbae, quia triduo iam perseverant mecum et non habent, quod manducent; et dimittere eos ieiunos nolo, ne forte deficiant in via”.

33 καὶ λέγουσιν αὐτῷ οἱ μαθηταί, Πόθεν ἡμῖν ἐν ἐρημίᾳ ἄρτοι τοσοῦτοι ὥστε χορτάσαι ὄχλον τοσοῦτον;

34 καὶ λέγει αὐτοῖς ὁ Ἰησοῦς, Πόσους ἄρτους ἔχετε; οἱ δὲ εἶπαν, Ἑπτά, καὶ ὀλίγα ἰχθύδια.

And the disciples said to him, “Where for us in this lonely place is so much bread so that to feed such a crowd?” (34) And said to them Jesus, “How many loaves do you have?” Then they said, “Seven, and a little of fish.”  

Ah, those disciples. The ever-ready straight-men who always serve up the verbal softball to set Jesus up to knock it out of the park. (Note: “straight man” is an old Vaudeville term. In a comedy duo, the straight man’s job was to deliver the set-up line so that the other partner could deliver the punchline and get the laughs.) That aside, notice that we’re suddenly back in that lonely, desolate place, just as we were in the Feeding 5,000. Finally, the word for “bread” and “loaf” is the same word. It’s one of those circumstances where “loaf” came to mean “of bread” and nothing else. Sort of like, “a cuppa”, as in, “do you want a cuppa” is understood to mean “cuppa tea”, and not “cuppa juice” or anything else.

33 Et dicunt ei discipuli: “ Unde nobis in deserto panes tantos, ut saturemus turbam tantam?”.

34 Et ait illis Iesus: “Quot panes habetis? ”. At illi dixerunt: “Septem et paucos pisciculos”.

35 καὶ παραγγείλας τῷ ὄχλῳ ἀναπεσεῖν ἐπὶ τὴν γῆν.

And he announced to the crowd to sit on the ground. 

Notice this time there isn’t any grass.

35 Et praecepit turbae, ut discumberet super terram;

36 ἔλαβεν τοὺς ἑπτὰ ἄρτους καὶ τοὺς ἰχθύας καὶ εὐχαριστήσας ἔκλασεν καὶ ἐδίδου τοῖς μαθηταῖς, οἱ δὲ μαθηταὶτοῖς ὄχλοις.

37 καὶ ἔφαγον πάντες καὶ ἐχορτάσθησαν, καὶ τὸ περισσεῦον τῶν κλασμάτων ἦραν, ἑπτὰ σπυρίδας πλήρεις.

And he took the seven loaves, and the fish, and having blessed (them) he broke (them) and gave to the disciples, and the disciples to the crowd (gave to the crowd). (37) And all ate and they were satiated, and they took up the pieces, seven measures full.

Here’s another big link to the story of the 5,000. The word rendered as “pieces”, or could be “fragments” is used 6 or 8 times in the NT. In all cases, the word is associated with one of the feeding stories. Now, it could be that this is the only word for “fragment” in Greek. In English, we could say “piece”, or “fragment”, or “morsel”, or “broken bit”; maybe such richness of vocabulary was not available to the authors of the NT. Or it could be that this word was integrally associated with this story even before it split into twins.

Of course the fact that one story has 5,000 while the other has 4,000 is a problem, too. One could argue that it demonstrates that these are, indeed, separate incidents. That is sort of the drift of the NT commentaries that I see at biblehub. Or you could argue just the opposite, that it shows that the early followers of Jesus couldn’t get their story straight, because there was no story to get straight. It was all made up, and the different witnesses couldn’t keep their details from getting muddled. This is, after all, why suspects are interrogated separately. Or you could argue that there was never a count; that it was just “a lot”, and the different people telling the same story came up with slightly different numbers. This last one is a possibil8ity, especially when remembering the suggestion my priest had, that this was the first church potluck supper. The disciples had their contribution, everyone had something, everyone shared, and everyone got fed. How many? A lot. Maybe a thousand. A thousand? You’re nuts. It was three thousand! Way off, it was five thousand? So let’s settle on four? OK, great, Four it  is.

Aside from all that, the process of blessing and breaking is the same in both stories. However, the surprising thing would be if if weren’t the same. This is the sort of thing that later copyists would make sure were coordinated and matched, so this tells me very little about the relation between the two versions.

And of course the two versions end the same way, with the disciples collecting a substantial amount of leftovers.  So, one story split? Or two incidents that were separate from the beginning? I suspect the former, because there is really nothing substantial to indicate that we are dealing with two distinct episodes. It is not my purpose to question whether one or either actually happened, and it’s certainly not my purpose to discuss whether anything miraculous happened; rather, my purpose is to examine what the fact of the story’s inclusion tells us about the mind-set of the followers of Jesus. The twinning is great evidence for a multi-threaded tradition. More: since this is what we have been postulating, and seeing, throughout our examination, starting with Mark, this simply helps corroborate that argument. 

36 et accipiens septem panes et pisces et gratias agens fregit et dedit discipulis, discipuli autem turbis.

37 Et comederunt omnes et saturati sunt; et, quod superfuit de fragmentis, tulerunt septem sportas plenas.

38 οἱ δὲ ἐσθίοντες ἦσαν τετρακισχίλιοι ἄνδρες χωρὶς γυναικῶν καὶ παιδίων.

39 Καὶ ἀπολύσας τοὺς ὄχλους ἐνέβη εἰς τὸ πλοῖον, καὶ ἦλθεν εἰς τὰ ὅρια Μαγαδάν.

Those eating were four thousand men, excluding the women and children. (39) And dismissing the crowd, he embarked on the boat, and he came to the territory of Magada.

And we even get Jesus getting back on the boat. The only thing missing is the storm and him walking on the water.

38 Erant autem, qui manducaverant, quattuor milia hominum extra mulieres et parvulos.

39 Et dimissis turbis, ascendit in naviculam et venit in fines Magadan.


Matthew Chapter 15:21-28

  This should be a very short section. Following will be the feeding of the 4,000. The two together would have been unduly long, so better a short one.

21 Καὶ ἐξελθὼν ἐκεῖθεν ὁ Ἰησοῦς ἀνεχώρησεν εἰς τὰ μέρη Τύρου καὶ Σιδῶνος.

22 καὶ ἰδοὺ γυνὴ Χαναναία ἀπὸ τῶν ὁρίων ἐκείνων ἐξελθοῦσα ἔκραζεν λέγουσα, Ἐλέησόν με, κύριε, υἱὸς Δαυίδ: ἡ θυγάτηρ μου κακῶς δαιμονίζεται.

And having come out of that place, Jesus traveled into the territory of Tyre and Sidon. (22) And seeing (him) a Canaanite woman from that region having come out cried out, saying, “Have pity on me, Lord, son of David. My daughter is badly afflicted by a demon.” 

I’m not entirely pleased with “badly afflicted by a demon”. More accurate would be something like “is badly demonized”, but that has a very different meaning in English than “being afflicted by a demon”. So it will have to stand. Just recognize that the word that begins “daimon” is actually a verb. If it’s any consolation, the Latin reads much like my translation. Or, my translation more accurately reflects the Latin, rather than the Greek.

Tyre and Sidon are old Phoenician cities. They were still important commercial centres in the Roman era, and overwhelmingly pagan. James Tabor believes that Jesus came here to visit his real father, Pantera, because there is a gravestone in Germany that commemorates a soldier named Pantera who was originally from Sidon. Since there is a general overlap in the time frame–or, at least, it cannot be positively shown to be outside a span of time that would make the relationship virtually impossible–Tabor concludes that it commemorates Jesus’ actual father. Well, he’s slightly more circumspect than that, but not very much.  The tradition that Jesus’ biological father was a Roman soldier named Pantera dates from the Second Century, probably close to a century after Matthew wrote. It was meant as slur against Jesus, that he was a Roman bastard, but it seems that Tabor has met very few bits of tradition that he doesn’t accept.

My suspicion is that this story was added late. Or later. The purpose of the story is to show that Jesus was interested in pagans, too. As such, it would have come about when pagans started joining followers in significant numbers. Although thinking about it, the story doesn’t have to be that late. After all, our earliest documents from the NT are written to pagans. More, this story was, more or less in the form of Jesus’ encounter with the Syro-Phoenician woman, to be included in Mark.

What’s particularly interesting is that Matthew calls her a Canaanite. Now, of course, this term is familiar from the HS, but this is the only occurrence of this word–or any form of it–in the NT. It is used nowhere else. So we have to ask why Matthew chose to use this particular word. Why did he spurn “Syro-Phoenician, for example? As a Jew, Matthew should have been very familiar with the idea of Canaan, and should have known that Canaan had ceased to exist centuries before. Is this meant as a nostalgic bit, intended to echo sentiments of the post-Exodus period? Or was it meant to demonstrate the age of Jewish tradition by referring to a long-ago past? Do those questions present a distinction without a difference?  Once we answer that question, we have to ask who this was intended to reach? Other Jews? Or pagans?

On the surface, it would seem that this reference would mean more to Jews than to pagans. Had any of this latter group ever heard of Canaanites? Recall that this term had fallen out of usage several centuries before; likely the only people familiar with the term would be those having read the HS. Was Matthew using the term as a means of solidarity with Jews? “Solidarity” may not capture the correct nuance; perhaps the intent is, by using a term that most pagans would not know, to demonstrate a bond with those in his audience who were Jewish, and who might have been feeling a little marginalized by all the pagan references Matthew has been using, Sort of throwing them a bone, as it were.

These thoughts were on the surface. What happens when we dig down a little? By being deliberately obfuscatory, by referring to a group of people who had long since departed the scene, but who played a big role in the early parts of the HS, was Matthew once again trying to show the connection to the more ancient Jewish tradition? To demonstrate to his pagan audience that this tradition had dealt with this tribe of people long ago, in the past so distant that most of the audience would be unfamiliar with the term? And suppose that Matthew had planted people in the audience* (this was meant to be read aloud to a group, recall) who would ask “Who are the Canaanites?”, which would give the reader the opportunity to expound on the ancient history of the Jews, to which they were connecting by becoming followers of Jesus. In this manner, the use of “Canaanite” would fall in with the predominantly pagan composition of the audience. But feel free to disagree. Just be prepared to provide reasons why this interpretation is less likely than another.

*Of course, this suggestion is deliberately over the top. It’s deliberately a bit ridiculous. However, these are the sorts of assumptions and inferences that Tabor draws in The Jesus Dynasty.

21 Et egressus inde Iesus, secessit in partes Tyri et Sidonis.

22 Et ecce mulier Chananaea a finibus illis egressa clamavit dicens: “ Miserere mei, Domine, fili David! Filia mea male a daemonio vexatur ”.

23 ὁ δὲ οὐκ ἀπεκρίθη αὐτῇ λόγον. καὶ προσελθόντεςοἱ μαθηταὶ αὐτοῦ ἠρώτουν αὐτὸν λέγοντες, Ἀπόλυσον αὐτήν, ὅτι κράζει ὄπισθεν ἡμῶν.

24 ὁ δὲ ἀποκριθεὶς εἶπεν, Οὐκ ἀπεστάλην εἰ μὴ εἰς τὰ πρόβατα τὰ ἀπολωλότα οἴκου Ἰσραήλ.

25 ἡ δὲ ἐλθοῦσα προσεκύνει αὐτῷ λέγουσα, Κύριε, βοήθει μοι.

26 ὁ δὲ ἀποκριθεὶς εἶπεν, Οὐκ ἔστιν καλὸν λαβεῖν τὸν ἄρτον τῶν τέκνων καὶ βαλεῖν τοῖς κυναρίοις.

27 ἡ δὲ εἶπεν, Ναί, κύριε, καὶ γὰρ τὰ κυνάρια ἐσθίει ἀπὸ τῶν ψιχίων τῶν πιπτόντων ἀπὸ τῆς τραπέζης τῶν κυρίων αὐτῶν.

28 τότε ἀποκριθεὶς ὁ Ἰησοῦς εἶπεν αὐτῇ, ω γύναι, μεγάλη σου ἡ πίστις: γενηθήτω σοι ὡς θέλεις. καὶ ἰάθη ἡ θυγάτηρ αὐτῆς ἀπὸ τῆς ὥρας ἐκείνης.

But he did not respond to her speech. And having come forward his disciples besought him, saying, “Send her away, she that shouts after us”. (24) And responding, he said, “I was not sent except to the sheep having been lost of the house of Israel”.  (25) She, having come, groveled at his feet saying, “Lord, help me.” (26) And he, answering, said “It is not proper to take the bread of the children and throw it to the dogs.” (27) But she said, “Yes, lord, and for the dogs eat from the the crumbs having fallen from the table of their master”. (28) Then answering, Jesus said to her,  “O woman, your faith is great. It shall become as you wish. And healed was her daughter from that hour.

The discussion about “Canaanite” was appropriate because Mark told this story about a Syro-Phoenician woman. Most of the details transferred directly, except for the ethnic background of the woman. So it was a deliberate choice made by Matthew. Why did he make that choice? (See previous comment)

Second, we have the word “groveled”. It probably bears repeating that the word <<προσεκύνει>> means something like, “act like a dog before”. The implication is that of a dog lying down before you and showing its belly. This is an act of submission, allowing the superior full access to the dog’s vulnerable underside. It’s an act of surrender. In human practice, the person performing this ritual fell on their stomach, face down, into the dirt. IOW, they groveled. This rite was practiced in the ancient Near East as way to pay respect to a superior, usually a king. At some point during his conquests, Alexander began to insist that his generals perform this before him. Now, as king of Macedonia, he was a primus inter pares, a first among equals. Greeks did not grovel before other Greeks, or before anyone. This was not a Greek, but an Asian practice, and these generals found it offensive. The point is that this woman groveled, face down in the dirt. This was an act of extreme humility.

And Jesus demurs, and calls her and those her ethnic background “dogs”. Not exactly a lot of respect, a borderline ethnic slur. But this was not an uncommon attitude back then. Other groups were just that: others. The Greeks called them “babblers” (barbaroi). The NT calls them, ‘the peoples’, which I will no longer translate as “Gentiles” because the Greek does not have that sense. Jesus is insisting that only the children of Israel are worthy of his attention. 

But, of course, he relents. This text, or the corresponding version in Mark or Luke, was the gospel text one very hot summer Sunday, in a church without air conditioning. The priest decided it was too hot to deliver his sermon. Instead, he asked a question: Do you think Jesus really wasn’t going to help? An excellent point.

But the point is her faith. Recall that Jesus called Peter “of little faith” not so long ago. As I said in Mark, and have said here, this story was probably added to tell us that Jesus was going to visit his father Pantera. Oh, wait. This story was added as an invitation to non-Jews, as a demonstration that non-Jews were part of Jesus’ mission, and to show that, often, non-Jews had a greater faith than Jews. Recall we had the story of the Centurion earlier, who had faith enough to realize that Jesus only had to say but the word and the servant would be healed. This story was in Mark, but the story of the Centurion wasn’t. So we’ve had two very distinct stories to indicate that non-Jews could–and often, or at least sometimes–have a faith greater than Jews. The point, of course, is to explain why the assemblies were predominantly made up of former pagans by the time Matthew wrote.

Now, we also had the paired stories of the Bleeding Woman and Jairus, the leader of the synagogue. Both of these obviously showed a lot of faith, and their requests were consequently granted. Those, I would suggest, are core stories of Jesus, very old, dating well back into the teachings about Jesus and his ministry. Did they happen, in any way, shape, or form? Let me rephrase that: aside from the miracles performed, did Jesus encounter these two people while he was alive? Or, since we don’t know, and will never know, do we think it’s likely that these encounters took place? While the probability is probably against it, I would say that these encounters are at least possible, and that the probability may reach into the range of 20-25%. The likelihood of the Centurion, or this woman, is down in the single digits. The low single digits. The genesis of this story occurred early enough to make it into Mark; the Centurion story did not, so this story is more probable than the Centurion. How much more? We may be talking percents of a percent. Tyre and Sidon are not that far from Caphernaum; the question is whether Jesus would actually go there. And we’re not told he went into either city, but he went into the area attached to the two cities. Most cities at the time had outlying areas, mostly agricultural areas that revolved around the city. Larger cities had larger areas, so it’s not impossible that Jesus drifted into the outskirts of the area attached to Tyre and Sidon. But given the message, and the value of creating the story, I’d say it’s not very likely to have happened. As for Jairus and the bleeding woman, the tales of the wonder-worker came from somewhere, and these two were at least in territory that Jesus probably walked and preached.

23 Qui non respondit ei verbum.

Et accedentes discipuli eius rogabant eum dicentes: “ Dimitte eam, quia clamat post nos ”.

24 Ipse autem respondens ait: “ Non sum missus nisi ad oves, quae perierunt domus Israel ”.

25 At illa venit et adoravit eum dicens: “ Domine, adiuva me! ”.

26 Qui respondens ait: “ Non est bonum sumere panem filiorum et mittere catellis ”.

27 At illa dixit: “Etiam, Domine, nam et catelli edunt de micis, quae cadunt de mensa dominorum suorum”.

28 Tunc respondens Iesus ait illi: “O mulier, magna est fides tua! Fiat tibi, sicut vis”. Et sanata est filia illius ex illa hora.

Matthew Chapter 15:1-20

So we begin Chapter 15. Since there are 28 chapters, this is the beginning of the second half. However, chapters vary in length, so as far as actual length, we may be ahead or behind that milestone.

1 Τότε προσέρχονται τῷ Ἰησοῦ ἀπὸ Ἱεροσολύμων Φαρισαῖοι καὶ γραμματεῖς λέγοντες,

2 Διὰ τί οἱ μαθηταί σου παραβαίνουσιν τὴν παράδοσιν τῶν πρεσβυτέρων; οὐ γὰρ νίπτονται τὰς χεῖρας [αὐτῶν] ὅταν ἄρτον ἐσθίωσιν.

3 ὁ δὲ ἀποκριθεὶς εἶπεν αὐτοῖς, Διὰ τί καὶ ὑμεῖς παραβαίνετε τὴν ἐντολὴν τοῦ θεοῦ διὰ τὴν παράδοσιν ὑμῶν;

4 ὁ γὰρ θεὸς εἶπεν, Τίμα τὸν πατέρα καὶ τὴν μητέρα, καί, Ὁ κακολογῶν πατέρα ἢ μητέρα θανάτῳ τελευτάτω:

5 ὑμεῖς δὲ λέγετε, Ὃς ἂν εἴπῃ τῷ πατρὶ ἢ τῇ μητρί, Δῶρον ὃ ἐὰν ἐξ ἐμοῦ ὠφεληθῇς,

6 οὐ μὴ τιμήσει τὸν πατέρα αὐτοῦ: καὶ ἠκυρώσατε τὸν λόγον τοῦ θεοῦ διὰ τὴν παράδοσιν ὑμῶν.

Then Pharisees and scribes came to Jesus from Jerusalem saying, (2) “Through what reason do your disciples transgress the things having been handed across of our elders? For they do not wash [ their ] hands when they eat bread”. (3) He (Jesus) answering, said to them, “Through what reason do you transgress the commandments of God through your things having been handed down? (4) For God said, ‘Honour your father and mother’, and ‘The one reviling his father or mother, let him be put to death’. (5) But you say, ‘Should one say to his father or his mother, “If a votive offering which from me might profit you, it will not honor his father”‘. (6) And you have annulled the word of God through your things having been handed down (= “traditions)”. 

Whosoever shall say to his father or his mother, It is a gift, by whatsoever thou mightest be profited by me; and honor not his father or his mother, [ he shall be free ]. Thus have ye made the commandment of God of none effect by your tradition.

I’ve provided the text of the KJV of Verses 5-6, just to demonstrate that they don’t particularly translate well into English. And in fact, note that the KJV adds the [ he shall be free ]; this phrase is neither in the original, nor in any of the other translations I checked. I believe the meaning can be parsed out, but it’s not exactly pellucid, as Prof CP Jones used to say. The idea is that people are giving to God (as a votive offering; such offerings are, by definition, offered to God/a god), then one is not using this same gift to honor one’s parents. This is a little tricky, because I think here is a case where my understanding of the verb “to honor” probably doesn’t catch the sense of what the verb would be in the Hebrew reading of the Decalogue. Plus, there is a level of understanding of Jewish custom here that I’m probably missing. Then too, I recall–quite clearly, in fact–that this passage in Mark was also grammatically challenging. I think the thing is that it’s difficult to sort this out unless or until one has a sense of what the topic is. That helps. Even so, the second “honor”, as in the back half of Verse 5, would have a different feel in Hebrew. I think I understand the Greek concept a little too well here. 

Really, though, the point is plain enough. Mark used the Hebrew term, “corban”, which was something given for the sole use of God (or the Temple. Hmmm…potential conflict of interest on the part of the priests?). the idea is that, once dedicated to God, it could not then be taken back and so given over to the use of an aged parent who perhaps had fallen on hard times. Thus, what Jesus is railing against is what reformers of the Roman Catholic church would use as criticism: that the money was sucked out of people, giving it to the church, thereby taking it away from people who may need it worse. It was such “useless” use of Capital that led Engels to conclude that the point of the Reformation, but even more so, the German Peasant War of 1525, was to create what is so charmingly translated as a “cheap church”. This was part of the reason that the Reformed Church, which became, or merged with English Puritanism, was so opposed to the Popish ostentation of stained glass, ornaments of precious metal, etc. Some of these issues have a long subsequent history.

I don’t really have much to say on the actual practice described. From that long and subsequent history, I can appreciate the problems a tradition like this can and did cause. I cannot, however, speak to whether this was a common practice, or just how common. Enough so that Mark assumed his audience would get it.

Which leads to another interesting point. Mark used the Hebrew term; Matthew does not. Why not? Well, the obvious answer that comes to mind is that he didn’t expect his audience would understand the word. He also omitted the “talitha koum’ from the story of Jairus’ daughter. Does this mean that he was writing for Greek-speaking Jews? That is entirely possible. Could it mean that he’s writing for Greek-speaking former pagans? That is equally possible. On behalf of the former interpretation, it can be pointed out that Matthew does not explain the practice here. He essentially re-writes Mark, without that much re-writing. Matthew adds nothing to make the meaning more explicable to non-Jews. But is this a valid point? We have seen that Matthew tends to subtract from Mark’s stories, except when he adds details that would serve to underscore the divinity of Jesus. That would not happen here, so this is not a point where Matthew was likely to add anything. My final assessment is that there is really nothing that would indicate one way or the other. It fits with my perceived pattern that Matthew was writing for pagans, but I cannot say that there is any real evidence here. 

1 Tunc accedunt ad Iesum ab Hierosolymis pharisaei et scribae dicentes:

2 “Quare discipuli tui transgrediuntur traditionem seniorum? Non enim lavant manus suas, cum panem manducant”.

3 Ipse autem respondens ait illis: “Quare et vos transgredimini mandatum Dei propter traditionem vestram?

4 Nam Deus dixit: “Honora patrem tuum et matrem” et: “Qui maledixerit patri vel matri, morte moriatur”.

5 Vos autem dicitis: “Quicumque dixerit patri vel matri: Munus est, quodcumque ex me profuerit,

6 non honorificabit patrem suum”; et irritum fecistis verbum Dei propter traditionem vestram.

7 ὑποκριταί, καλῶς ἐπροφήτευσεν περὶ ὑμῶν Ἠσαΐας λέγων,

8 Ὁ λαὸς οὗτος τοῖς χείλεσίν με τιμᾷ, ἡ δὲ καρδία αὐτῶν πόρρω ἀπέχει ἀπ’ ἐμοῦ:

9 μάτην δὲ σέβονταί με, διδάσκοντες διδασκαλίας ἐντάλματα ἀνθρώπων.

“Hypocrites! It was well prophesied about you by Isaiah, saying, (8) ‘This people may honour me with their lips, but their hearts remain far from me. (9) In vain they worship me, teaching doctrines (and) commandments of men’.”

To be frank, I do not believe that Isaiah lived in the 8th Century BCE. In fact, I doubt that he lived at all. I am becoming increasingly of the opinion that much of the HS was written during the Babylonian Exile. What started me down this path was coming across the term “literary prophets”. It strikes me that this is largely a contradiction in terms. Prophets do not sit in a room and write; they are out prophesying. Yes, the prophet’s words may have been written down later; but then we have to ask if they are still and truly the words of the prophet? Rather, I see Isaiah as another after the fact foretelling of the fall of Judah to Babylon. I feel much the same about Ezekiel; he was written later to explain the fall of Israel. (And I also read Ezekiel to say that Israel was never truly part of the YHWH cultus. The creation of the “unified monarchy”, both parts loyal to YHWH was an after-the-fact creation of the kings of Judah, meant to legitimize their claim to the lands of the former Israel. This sort of mythological propaganda is very, very common.) So, yes, Judah only worshipped YHWH with their lips; that is why YHWH abandoned them to their fate and allowed the Babylonians to conquer Judah. This was an enormously traumatic event, but I would postulate that the Judeans had believed that they were special; perhaps because they had escaped Assyria when Israel hadn’t. Then came their own destruction, and they were faced with two choices: become assimilated into Babylonian culture–to facilitate this assimilation was why empires uprooted entire populations in the first place. The second choice was to remain defiant and retain their cultural identity. They chose the latter, not only retaining, but creating a national mythology, some of which was based on old stories, some of it newly forged.

For let us not forget that this was done in Babylon, the repository of two millennia of culture, of the myths and stories and history dating back to Sumer at the beginning of the Third Millennium BCE. The Judean scribes had access to all of these stories, all of this history. Maintaining records across centuries, as we are to believe the Judeans did, requires an infrastructure of scribes, a temple complex, and numerous other resources. None of this has been discovered, despite a couple of centuries of archaeological research. Yes, Jerusalem was destroyed by the Romans, but so was Pylos in or around 1185 BCE. But we have found records from Pylos to demonstrate an elaborate palace economy. So far, there is nothing comparable from Jerusalem. I believe this is because Jerusalem had nothing comparable to the administration of Pylos, despite the claim that Jerusalem was the capital of a state much larger, and probably richer, than that of Pylos there on the western shore of Greece.

So anyway, yes, Judah only worshipped with their lips. That was the cause of their downfall. And now, after the second destruction of Jerusalem and the second temple, what better time to predict the fate “awaiting” the Jews at the hands of the Romans.

7 “Hypocritae! Bene prophetavit de vobis Isaias dicens:

8 ‘Populus hic labiis me honorat, / cor autem eorum longe est a me;

9 sine causa autem colunt me / docentes doctrinas mandata homi num’.”

10 Καὶ προσκαλεσάμενος τὸν ὄχλον εἶπεν αὐτοῖς, Ἀκούετε καὶ συνίετε:

11 οὐ τὸ εἰσερχόμενον εἰς τὸ στόμα κοινοῖ τὸν ἄνθρωπον, ἀλλὰ τὸ ἐκπορευόμενον ἐκ τοῦ στόματος τοῦτο κοινοῖ τὸν ἄνθρωπον.

And calling the crowd he said to them, “Hear and understand. (11) It is not the coming into the mouth (that) defiles a person, but that coming out of the mouth defiles a person. 

Most of this is a lift and load from Mark. The part about “corban”, the citation of Isaiah, this part about the defilement. We’ve discussed this; there is probably close to zero probability that Jesus ever said anything like this. He almost certainly never directly abrogated the Jewish dietary laws. Otherwise, there would have been no need for the “synod of Jerusalem” between Paul and James to discuss this. Jesus taught to largely to Jews, and the common background of Mosaic law was simply taken as a given. It is only when Paul started converting pagans in large numbers that this became an issue. It was only then, and when Mark wrote, facing a similar problem, that it became necessary for Jesus to say something about this.

What I find more interesting is how this squares with Matthew’s statement that not an iota of the Law is to be lost.

Now, I’ve discovered Bible Hub. It is set up to provide access to a large number of commentaries, all conveniently placed on-line, so you can simply jump to a particular one. A cursory skim demonstrates a variety of ways in which this passage does not mean Jesus was directly contravening Mosaic Law. Here, as in the passage about corban, Jesus is said to be attacking the additional rules added by men. I am not versed enough in Deuteronomy or Leviticus or Numbers to have an intelligent opinion. Even so, I cannot help but see the parallel arguments in the 1500s, as reformers tried to sweep away any accruals to the faith created by the Church and tradition. Of course, it’s likely that many commentators on this passage see this same underlying parallel. As such, it’s best to be cautious about this interpretation. My position that this was not said by Jesus makes the understanding much more straightforward: this passage itself is a later accrual, and I do believe it was meant to revoke the prohibitions against eating pork and the rest. This does not, however, explain how this fits with Matthew’s “not an iota” proclamation, but I wonder if Matthew even saw a contradiction here, or even a potential contradiction. I tend to suspect not. Why not? Because he’s not writing systematic theology, where everything has to fit in a consistent manner. He is telling us a Truth, and Truth defies conventional notions of factual accuracy and consistency.

10 Et convocata ad se turba, dixit eis: “ Audite et intellegite:

11 Non quod intrat in os, coinquinat hominem; sed quod procedit ex ore, hoc coinquinat hominem! ”.

12 Τότε προσελθόντες οἱ μαθηταὶ λέγουσιν αὐτῷ, Οἶδας ὅτι οἱ Φαρισαῖοι ἀκούσαντες τὸν λόγον ἐσκανδαλίσθησαν;

13 ὁ δὲ ἀποκριθεὶς εἶπεν, Πᾶσα φυτεία ἣν οὐκ ἐφύτευσεν ὁ πατήρ μου ὁοὐράνιος ἐκριζωθήσεται.

 Then the disciples coming to (him) said to him, “Do you know that the Pharisees hearing the word/story were skandalized?” (lit = ‘stumbled’) (13) And answering he said, “Every plant which my heavenly father did not plant will be uprooted”.

This is the second, if not third time we have have come across an implication similar to that in Verse 13. Completing the theme from Verses 8-9, Jesus is “predicting” that the Pharisees will be uprooted. It’s hard not to see this as yet another post-facto prediction of the “coming” destruction of the Temple. But the prediction is not the salient point here (or is “salient point” redundant? I believe it probably is…) What matters is that the prediction is leveled at the Pharisees. Who were they? Just a group within the larger body of Judaic beliefs in the First Century. This verse seems to conflate the Pharisees with the religious authorities in Jerusalem. The two where by no means synonymous. The Pharisees were, according to Josephus, a numerous group, one identified by a belief in the resurrection of the body–among other things, no doubt, but this is one that Josephus singles out. The authorities, by definition, were a small group. There was probably a certain clustering of their religious outlook, but this probably centered on believing that they were the most suited to run the province for the Romans under the aegis of the governor, Pilate. To the best of my knowledge, the Pharisees were not destroyed during, or in the aftermath of the Jewish War. The implication of Josephus is that they were too numerous, and probably too widely dispersed to be eradicated, or even decimated, by the War. Saul identifies himself–with some pride, it seems–as a Pharisee, and he was from Tarsus.

The point of all of this is that we are being given a picture of Judea & Galilee that does not reflect the reality of the time of Jesus. The picture is perhaps not so much wrong as it is growing fuzzy around the edges. The situation depicted is not in sharp focus; a generation after the war, close to three after the death of Jesus, probably at a geographic remove, Matthew telling the story is not entirely clear on the details of how it was during Jesus’ life. This has a couple of pertinent implications. First, this should be a klaxon warning us that the tenuous hold on historicity has loosened significantly. The people telling the stories have forgotten a lot of the details; given this, it is imperative that we handle any would-be claims to historical accuracy with extreme caution, to the point of prejudice. And beyond this, the historicity of Luke and John should be largely disregarded unless there is a very powerful reason to accept what they say. And even then, anything that we may be convinced to take as factual should be regarded as isolated incidents. In The Jesus Dynasty, James Tabor swallows Luke’s story that Jesus and the Baptist were cousins pretty much whole, then compounds this horrific lapse of judgement by going along to the claims that Jesus’ father was a Roman soldier named Pantera, that the so-called James ossuary is authentic, and that we have found the family tomb of Jesus. He’s cagey enough that he doesn’t exactly say these things in so many words–except for the relationship between Jesus and John, which he states as definitive–but there’s no doubt about his sentiments. Tacitus was the master of this: present the insinuation in such a way that the reader is left with the impression that it’s true, regardless of the absence of real proof.

The second implication is that this also adds a stroke or two of shading to my contention that Matthew was a pagan. As such, he is less likely to have a decent grasp on the ins and outs of the situation in Judea and Galilee fifty years prior. To stress once again, there is no definite proof that Matthew was a pagan. The default starting position is, and should be, that he was Jewish. However, there is a growing accumulation of little things like this that, IMO, make me question this assumption. At the very least, the question of Matthew as a pagan should be asked and answered in a serious manner. IMO, there is more evidence for Matthew being a pagan than there is for the existence of Q, and yet the latter is simply taken on faith, and taken as a given.

12 Tunc accedentes discipuli dicunt ei: “ Scis quia pharisaei, audito verbo, scandalizati sunt? ”.

13 At ille respondens ait: “Omnis plantatio, quam non plantavit Pater meus caelestis, eradicabitur.

14 ἄφετε αὐτούς: τυφλοί εἰσιν ὁδηγοί [τυφλῶν]: τυφλὸς δὲ τυφλὸν ἐὰν ὁδηγῇ, ἀμφότεροι εἰς βόθυνον πεσοῦνται.

“Leave them. They are blind guides. If the blind guides the blind, both into a ditch will fall”.

Two points about the Greek. The word here is that the blind are guiding the blind; they are not leading them. The difference in some way is slight; it probably has more to say about the English than the Greek. But there is a difference. Yes, we put our trust in a guide, we follow them on faith, but there is also a sense that a guide is a hireling. It’s someone we pay to conduct us through a museum, or in the wilderness, or whatever. A “leader” completely lacks this aspect of the term “guide”. As such, I think the difference is worth noting. It’s also worth noting that Luke repeats this word. So of course, this is a result of Q.

Secondly, the word that I’ve translated as “ditch” is an NT word. There are no extant uses if the word by Classical Greek–or even Hellenistic Greek–authors. I should note that there is a difference between Hellenistic Greek and koine Greek. The Hellenistic Age begins after the death of Alexander, at the point where most of the Eastern Mediterranean is controlled by Greek-speakers. This is no longer Classical Greek, but it hasn’t devolved into koine; many later writers, like Marcus Aurelius, wrote Greek of a complexity comparable to that of Classical authors. Koine, OTOH, has been greatly simplified. So we have no examples of this word outside the NT.

As such, this means that NT scholars and translators have the privilege of deciding what this word means. I tend to suspect that they may have cribbed from the Vulgate. The Latin rendering is a common enough word in Latin, so “ditch” or “pit” is a perfectly reasonable rendering of the Greek here. And let’s face it: when you fall into something, unless we’re using the expression metaphorically, whether it’s a ditch, or a pit really doesn’t make a lot of difference. The point is that, once again, this is a consensus translation. There have been many, many fewer of these in the Gospels than there were in Paul’s early letters, but they do occur,

14 Sinite illos: caeci sunt, duces caecorum. Caecus autem si caeco ducatum praestet, ambo in foveam cadent ”.

15 Ἀποκριθεὶς δὲ ὁ Πέτρος εἶπεν αὐτῷ, Φράσον ἡμῖν τὴν παραβολήν [ταύτην].

16 ὁ δὲ εἶπεν, Ἀκμὴν καὶ ὑμεῖς ἀσύνετοί ἐστε;

17 οὐ νοεῖτε ὅτι πᾶν τὸ εἰσπορευόμενον εἰς τὸ στόμα εἰς τὴν κοιλίαν χωρεῖ καὶ εἰς ἀφεδρῶνα ἐκβάλλεται;

18 τὰ δὲ ἐκπορευόμενα ἐκ τοῦ στόματος ἐκ τῆς καρδίας ἐξέρχεται, κἀκεῖνα κοινοῖ τὸν ἄνθρωπον.

19 ἐκ γὰρ τῆς καρδίας ἐξέρχονται διαλογισμοὶ πονηροί, φόνοι, μοιχεῖαι, πορνεῖαι, κλοπαί, ψευδομαρτυρίαι, βλασφημίαι.

20 ταῦτά ἐστιν τὰ κοινοῦντα τὸν ἄνθρωπον, τὸ δὲ ἀνίπτοις χερσὶν φαγεῖν οὐ κοινοῖ τὸν ἄνθρωπον.

But answering, Peter said to him, “Explain to us this parable.” (16) And he said, “As of yet are you void of understanding”. (17) Do you not know that all things coming into the mouth goes to the latrine and in the running away is cast out? (18) And the things coming out of the mouth come out of the heart, and these things are pollute a person. (19) For the things coming from the heart are inner thoughts (that are) evil ones, murders, adulteries, depravities, thefts, perjuries, blasphemies. (20) These are the things polluting humans, the unwashing hands to eat does not defile people.”

This is another lift and load from Mark, right down to a lot of the vocabulary. Certainly, the “are you void of understanding” is a real hearkening back to Mark. And I had just commented about how Jesus does not get exasperated with his disciples. Here he singles out Peter.

This just occurred to me. We have had very few mentions of the names of any of the disciples so far. This is the fifth occurrence of Peter’s name, and two of them were in the walking on water story. Sneaking a peek ahead (spoiler alert!) I see that Peter’s name becomes much more common as we progress through the rest of the gospel. I’m not sure what this indicates, but there is likely some significance since the same phenomenon occurs, to maybe a lesser degree, in the other three gospels as well. Note this includes John, so it’s not just a matter of following Mark’s lead. I believe that, to some large degree, the disciples represent later additions; we will note that John tells us that Andrew, the brother of Peter, had originally been a disciple of John, and that it was Andrew who recruited Peter rather than Jesus himself. And we have an anecdote about the addition of Nathaniel and Philip; the former is a virtual non-entity in Mark and Matthew. In fact, Nathaniel is a complete non-person in the Synoptics, his name only occurring in John.

The growing role of the disciples–to the point where John adds someone new–is an indication of the way the layers begin to settle on top of the original story. The earlier parts of the story deal with Jesus the teacher; the later parts add the Transfiguration, the warning of the destruction of the Temple, and the Passion Narrative. The disciples play more prominent roles in those sections than they do earlier, when they’re largely relegated to the background.  Mary of Magdala is another such; these are the characters that later join the story to give it a richer sense of narrative. In the same way the Arthur legend accumulated characters: Merlyn was probably the first, then Guinevere, probably then Launcelot, and much later we get Percivale, Bors, Elaine and Galahad, Gawaine and Mordred, until the whole assemblage is complied by Malory in Le Morte D’Arthur in 1485.

There is significance in the roles played by each of the later additions. They represent different traditions; John’s introduction of Nathaniel–who is not in the Synoptics–probably represents someone known by the author of John. To give the source more credibility, John then adds Nathaniel to the original Twelve. If I were James Tabor, I would suggest that Nathaniel was one of the “eyewitnesses” John mentions during the crucifixion narrative (Jn 19:35). In such cases, John may have gotten some of his material from Nathaniel; as the members of the author of John’s circle may have known Nathaniel, so John had to impart a level of credibility to Nathaniel by making him not only a disciple, but an original disciple. Or, given the time lapse, someone known to the author of John may have had an aged teacher named Nathaniel, whom John promoted to original Twelve status. This is often how–or why–such additions are made. 

15 Respondens autem Petrus dixit ei: “Edissere nobis parabolam istam”.

16 At ille dixit: “ Adhuc et vos sine intellectu estis?

17 Non intellegitis quia omne quod in os intrat, in ventrem vadit et in secessum emittitur?

18 Quae autem procedunt de ore, de corde exeunt, et ea coinquinant hominem.

19 De corde enim exeunt cogitationes malae, homicidia, adulteria, fornicationes, furta, falsa testimonia, blasphemiae.

20 Haec sunt, quae coinquinant hominem; non lotis autem manibus manducare non coinquinat hominem ”.

Summary Matthew Chapter 14

Having reviewed the commentary on this chapter, one theme proved consistent. This was the additions vs. the subtractions of Mark’s material made by Matthew. There were three major stories here; or, two, with the second divided into two parts. These are 1) the death of the Baptist; 2) the feeding of the 5,000; 3) Jesus walking on the water. The last two are, at least sometimes, considered to be a unit in the sense that the third is always attached to the end of the second. This is a significant theme because it gets to the heart of a triad of relevant issues. 1) Did Matthew use Mark, in the sense of having a copy of Mark in front of him?; 2) how did Matthew abridge or lengthen the story?; 3) what do the additions/subtractions tell us about the development of the story of Jesus? A corollary to these would be the issue of sources. Can the changes Matthew made tell us anything about potential sources?

The first question is still a question may itself be a question. There is, for example, the Griesbach hypothesis which that Matthew wrote first, and that Mark sort of wrote an abridgment of Matthew. This overlaps largely, but is not syonymous with, the Two-Gospel Theory. I do not know how seriously this is actually taken any more, at least by scholars; however, a cursory Google search showed that this belief is not uncommon, especially among ministries of various sorts. Their reasoning is very similar to that of the not-so-early Church Fathers who put Matthew first. Assuming Mark’s priority means that it is possible to argue that many of the additions to Mark made by Matthew may be “later embellishments” (as per Wikipedia). And, in fact, I have argued, and will continue to argue exactly that. As I see this, simply reading the two in succession is proof enough of Mark’s priority. This becomes even more clear if one reads through the lens of historical inquiry (that is actually redundant) and/or with an understanding of how legends are created. There is sufficient literature available on-line that one can pursue this at leisure.

The second question is really the heart of this entry. And, when we step back to look at the whole, the answer is actually quite clear. Matthew deletes what are, essentially, extraneous details. These would include the name of Salome, or the disciples straining against the oars. He adds pieces that further emphasize his point about who Jesus is, or that underscore Jesus’ power. An example of this would include the setting of Jesus in the lonely place, which stresses that there were no resources available to Jesus to assist in the feeding of this large group, that it was his power alone that managed this feat. Another would be the declaration of the disciples that Jesus is truly the son/Son of God. Taking this even further is the addition of Peter walking–or trying to–on the water. This aspect of the story is unique to Matthew. And really, despite the perplexity I expressed at the outset of my last post on the chapter about why Matthew dropped some details largely answered itself.

More, the answer to the third question was pretty much answered in the paragraph above. The changes that Matthew made were done to create a stronger picture of who Jesus was, and that Jesus was rather–or largely–different from the way presented in Mark. Jesus becomes more elevated, more–in a word–divine. He is less, much less, human than he was in Mark. Matthew’s Jesus does not get angry. He does not complain that he is surrounded by dullards who just don’t get It. And even the disciples themselves have changed in this last regard. When he asked if they understood the parables in Chapter 13, they did. This is reflected by the fact that we’re half-way through Matthew (based on number of chapters) and Jesus hasn’t become cross with them even once. The people, IOW, are less people and moving toward an ideal. Even Peter instinctively has faith: he jumped out of the boat, believing. That his faith faltered, well, that is human. But it falters in a way that does credit to Jesus, rather than discrediting him as the lack of faith in his hometown did in Mark 6. Actually, I just realized that Jesus has become cross, exactly once. It’s when he admonishes Peter as one of little faith. This term, or the idea behind the term, was used frequently by Mark to express Jesus’ exasperation. Since Jesus doesn’t get exasperated often, the term has not appeared frequently in Matthew.

This leaves the story of the death of the Baptist. As mentioned, Josephus corroborates that Herod had John executed to some degree because John spoke out about Herod marrying the widow of his brother. The rest, which mainly involves the dance 0f (s0me unnamed daughter of Herodias per Matthew’s account) is found only in the NT. I have read chunks of Josephus, but hardly the entire thing. I have noticed that Josephus is a bit…gossipy, at times. He has an affinity for lurid details; but then, even supposedly “sober” historians like Tacitus like to report salacious tales and details, all in the pursuit of telling it like it was, of course. My judgement is that, if Josephus had been aware of the story of Salome, he probably would have included it as too juicy to omit. But that is my judgement; it is based on little more than my overall knowledge of historical technique of the time. (And note that Tacitus was writing about 20 years after Josephus, according to the general consensus dating of both authors.)

So the lack of the dance of Salome indicates one of two things. Either Josephus knew of the story in Matthew and chose not to use it, or that Josephus did not know the NT story. The latter seems more likely. At the end of the First Century, there is reason to believe that the burgeoning collection of NT literature wasn’t all that familiar even to Christians, let alone outsiders. Then, by extension, the story of the dance of Salome, and the role it played in the death of the Baptist was probably not known outside of Christian circles. That is, it’s likely that this part of the story was concocted by Christians to put Herod in a bad light. Nothing really surprising there. After all, Matthew invented the story of the Slaughter of the Innocents, which certainly put the other Herod, aka Herod the Great, in a bad light. Like father, like son. The omission of Salome’s dance is all the more striking because Josephus specifically names her as the daughter of Herodias, and niece to Herod the Executor because she was the child of the Executor’s brother.

There are several other glaring differences between the two accounts. One is that Josephus does not describe John as a hermit-figure, dressed in camel skin and living in the desert. That only shows up in the NT version. Now, there is a passage in which Josephus describes how he lived among the Essenes, but nowhere does Josephus even allude to, let alone actively posit, a relationship between John and the Essenes. This relationship has all-but been taken for granted by Christians, and NT scholars–a large portion of whom are present or former Christian ministers, or students of the NT from a background of a believer in the message of the NT. But this connection is based solely on the evidence of the NT, and this is not quite all the evidence we have. We also have Josephus, who tells something of a different story.

Josephus also omits the assertion of the NT that Herod was afraid to kill John because he feared the reaction of the people. Instead, Josephus tells us Herod was afraid of the reaction of the people if he didn’t kill John. This is basically a flat-out contradiction of what the NT tells us. Which is more credible? The bottom line is that there is no real evidence to help us decide one way or the other. Then the question becomes, while we have to choose which is more credible, is there reason to suspect that one party had incentive to be inventive? As for Josephus, by the time we was writing, the Jewish War was thirty years gone, but he was living on an imperial pension. As such, we would suspect his motivation to be to downplay certain events that would not sit well with Rome. On the face, the possibility of John fomenting rebellion would not play well in imperial circles. BUT–Herod’s swift action to stop any rebellion might play well. So Herod has incentive to play John up, or play John down as a potential rebel.

What about the followers of Jesus? What is their motivation? To answer this question, I think we need to bear in mind that the followers of Jesus, dating back to the time of Mark, if not before, had invented the story of Salome’s dance, As such, the credibility of the NT writers is suspect. They also had reason, especially when Mark wrote, to dissociate from any potential seditious elements. Would there be a benefit to them to paint John as a revolutionary? None that I can think of after due consideration. So we have the followers of Jesus, who wished to identify themselves with John, with a pretty strong incentive to squash John the Rebel. Since Josephus could have a reason to either way, and he chooses to portray John thus, the weight of evidence comes down–albeit slightly–on the side of Josephus’ account being more accurate. A caveat should be added, however. Josephus indicates that Herod feared John might do this intentionally, but it is possible that the uprising may have only been inspired by John, who stirred up religious feeling among the Jews to the point that others with more overtly political motives might have turned it–contrary to John’s intent–into a political movement. The division between religion and politics was not all that well demarcated in Jewish tradition.

More, the followers of Jesus had another reason to invent their version. By adding the reluctance of Jewish authorities–here, a secular authority–to kill the Baptist, this episode becomes a foreshadow of the story that they would tell about the attitude of the religious authorities towards Jesus: they were afraid of how the people would react to an execution. And yet, in both cases, John and Jesus were executed, and there were no real repercussions. So, in my judgement, the (proto-) Christian tradition had more reason to suppress a potential rebellion by John more than Josephus had reason to invent it. But this is a judgement, and nothing more. But take it a step further, and think about all of this in context. It seems plausible that Mark inherited several set-piece stories from the tradition. My favourite, of course, is that of the Gerasene demonaic. The death of the Baptist is another. The tandem of the bleeding woman/daughter of Jairus is a third. Another is the story of Jesus returning to his home town. The biggest, of course, is the Passion story. Mark inherited these, but that’s not to say he didn’t adapt them. Mark wrote at a delicate time in Roman-Jewish/Christian relations. He had reason to soft-pedal Roman involvement in the death of Jesus. One way to do that was to downplay any possible seditious motives among Jesus followers. It would also help to downplay them among John’s followers, since there was a perceived overlap of these two groups. Since the motivations of the religious authorities in Jerusalem, and the death of the Baptist have both come to us through the lens of Mark, we need to ask if there weren’t some conscious shaping of the two stories by that author. By the time we get to Matthew, much of Mark’s motivation may have dissipated, but the stories were left behind, and these stories became canonical.

Matthew Chapter 14:24-36

This, technically, is part of the Feeding 5,000 story. If you’ll recall, when last we saw our heroes, Jesus was alone on the mountain, and the disciples were heading off in the boat.

24 τὸ δὲ πλοῖον ἤδη σταδίους πολλοὺς ἀπὸ τῆς γῆς ἀπεῖχεν, βασανιζόμενον ὑπὸ τῶν κυμάτων, ἦν γὰρ ἐναντίος ὁ ἄνεμος.

25 τετάρτῃ δὲ φυλακῇ τῆς νυκτὸς ἦλθεν πρὸς αὐτοὺς περιπατῶν ἐπὶ τὴν θάλασσαν.

And the boat had moved many stadia from land, it was tested by the waves, for there was a contrary wind. (25) In the fourth watch of the night he came to them walking upon the sea. 

First, a “stadion” was the length of a “stadium”. The latter is the Latinized form of the former. A stadion was about 200 yards long, a bit shorter than a furlong. This was considered the premiere event of the Olympic games; well, this and the four-horse chariot race. Years were often designated as the one in which Pentathelos won the stadion, or Hippodromos won the four-horse chariot. So “many stadia” is an indeterminate length. Now, the question is “how wide is the Sea of Galilee?” Well, in verse 34, we’re told that they landed in Genesseret, which is on the western shore. The northeastern part of the shore line looks to be the most empty per a map of the ancient sea. So from there back across to Gennesseret looks to be about 10 km. So the boat could simultaneously be many stadia from both shores. Mark, in fact, says it was ‘in the middle of the sea’.

Now, comparing this story to Mark, there are a couple of things to note. First, Matthew makes a liar out of me. After the big rant about adding the detail of dropping Jesus in a desolate place, here Matthew leaves out the detail of the disciples “straining at the oars”, which would be necessary if the wind was against them. There are ways to sail into the wind, but these were not sophisticated boats. Oars were sufficient when the wind was absent or contrary. So why is the detail dropped? I have no good explanation. Perhaps Matthew thought he could tell a better story than Mark. Or perhaps he saw no need to repeat every detail; although adding them was quite appropriate. Why did he drop Salome’s name from the story of the Baptist’s death?

Finally, in Roman times, the night was divided into four watches, each of three hours (although sometimes it’s only three, starting at 9:00 pm, rather than 6:00 pm.) So this was the last watch of the night, somewhere between 3:00 and 6:00 am. Either very late, or very early. Given that they see Jesus at some distance from the boat, closer to 6:00 would make more sense. And it would depend on the season; I’m guessing warmer weather based on the picnic they just had, so the light would come earlier than in the cold months. Interestingly, Mark says that this occurred “when evening had come”, rather than nearer to dawn. These are the sorts of discrepancies that are truly puzzling. The language overlaps between Mark and Matthew, and Matthew and Luke certainly suggest that the later evangelist had an actual written copy of the previous, or both previous evangelists in the case of Luke (the notion of Q notwithstanding). So if they’re using remarkably similar words, why are they mixing up the details? If the wordings weren’t so close, we could easily ascribe it to different oral traditions, in which case difference in detail would be completely understandable. But the wordings are close, so these differences are difficult to explain.

24 Navicula autem iam multis stadiis a terra distabat, fluctibus iactata; erat enim contrarius ventus.

25 Quarta autem vigilia noctis venit ad eos ambulans supra mare.

26 οἱ δὲ μαθηταὶ ἰδόντες αὐτὸν ἐπὶ τῆς θαλάσσης περιπατοῦντα ἐταράχθησαν λέγοντες ὅτι Φάντασμά ἐστιν, καὶ ἀπὸ τοῦ φόβου ἔκραξαν.

27 εὐθὺς δὲ ἐλάλησεν [ὁ Ἰησοῦς] αὐτοῖς λέγων, Θαρσεῖτε, ἐγώ εἰμι: μὴ φοβεῖσθε.

The disciples seeing him walking about upon the water were disturbed, saying that “It is a phantasm”, and out of fear they cried out. (27) Immediately he [ Jesus ] spoke to them, saying “Buck up, it is I. Do not fear.” 

I would dearly love to know, truly know, what is meant here by “phantasm”. This is a strict transliteration of the Greek word, a simple and straightforward substitution of Latin/English letters for their Greek counterpart. So it’s like dropping the German word “geist” into the middle of an English sentence, untranslated. Most of us would get it, but we may not know all the implications. We would mentally translate it as “ghost” and go about our business. But that’s not to say we would truly understand what the author meant. So it is here, I believe.

Yes, we can parse out the word, but that does not mean we truly understand the concept behind it. For example, I once read a really interesting argument that, to Elizabethan audiences, the ghost of Hamlet’s father would not be understood as a ghost in the sense that we understand ghost, but as an apparition of the devil. What did the Graeco-Roman world understand a ghost to be; or the Jewish world? This is not a simple question. I’ve read enough about magic and the occult as understood in different periods of time to know that the same term can have different emphases, or even meanings, in different times and places. This would be beneficial in this context because it could shed some light on the idea of an afterlife; that is what “ghost” means to us: a post-mortem event. Jesus, however, was not dead yet, so “phantasm” would mean…what, exactly? Sort of an astral projection? Jesus’ disembodied spirit? These are the sorts of questions one asks when one starts to take the mechanics of such “supernatural” occurrences seriously, and try to figure out how something is possible, what it implies. A ghost is the disembodied spirit of someone dead, returning from the afterlife, or never having fully passed to the afterlife. This entails that we have a non-corporeal aspect, and that, while non-corporeal, it can be visible under certain circumstances. But there is also the idea that “supernatural” may only mean we haven’t figured out the natural cause.

Sorry, couldn’t resist “buck up”. But that’s really only a colloquial version of “Take heart!”. Which is a colloquial version of “Have courage!”. 

26 Discipuli autem, videntes eum supra mare ambulantem, turbati sunt dicentes: “Phantasma est”, et prae timore clamaverunt.

27 Statimque Iesus locutus est eis dicens: “Habete fiduciam, ego sum; nolite timere!”.

28 ἀποκριθεὶς δὲ αὐτῷ ὁ Πέτρος εἶπεν, Κύριε, εἰ σὺ εἶ, κέλευσόν με ἐλθεῖν πρὸς σὲ ἐπὶ τὰ ὕδατα:

29 ὁ δὲ εἶπεν, Ἐλθέ. καὶ καταβὰς ἀπὸ τοῦ πλοίου [ὁ] Πέτρος περιεπάτησεν ἐπὶ τὰ ὕδατα καὶ ἦλθεν πρὸς τὸν Ἰησοῦν.

Answering him Peter said, “Lord, if it is you, tell me to come to you upon the water.” (29) And he (Jesus) said, “Come”. And getting out of the boat, Peter walked about on the water and came towards Jesus.” 

This part of the story is only in Matthew. Did Matthew have a source–the so-called ‘M’ material? Or is this the product of Matthew’s own creativity? Hard to say, but my inclination is the latter. Too many–far too many–scholars treat the evangelists as scribes, or compilers, who lack talent as authors. Of course, to admit that the evangelists made up elements, or entire stories, is to admit that they did not come from Jesus. Mark, I think, was probably closest to being a compiler who added very little of his own. Luke and John, were very creative authors. Luke in particular does not get the credit he deserves: The Good Samaritan, The Good Shepherd, The Prodigal Son…the list goes on. Some of the most beloved and widely-recognized stories from the NT come from Luke, and Luke alone.

In the previous section I was close to contradicting myself–or at least appearing to do so–when discussing which stories got lengthened, and which got shortened. Here, I think, we get the answer. Mark’s long stories get shortened; Matthew adds details in specific places. That’s not a contradiction. Matthew added an enormous amount of material, of course, but in different ways. Some was whole cloth, such as the Sermon on the Mount; here, it’s more like a patch, or more like a bit of embroidery. Here’s a theory: dropping things like Salome’s name don’t change the direction of the story. Adding a detail such as Jesus being dropped in an empty stretch of shore doesn’t change the direction, either. It does, however, add emphasis. Adding this piece about Peter leaving the boat does add a new dimension to this story; Jesus not only has the power to defy the laws of nature, but he as the power to give this power to others, This both emphasizes and extends the point. These are the areas where Matthew adds to Mark; overall, they increase the stature of Jesus. That is when Matthew adds to the story, and that is how legends grow, and how the subject becomes increasingly larger-than-life. And some of the omissions serve this purpose too. By omitting that Jesus could do no miracles in his hometown, Matthew eliminates a perceived limit on Jesus’ power. By omitting the bits in Mark 3 that his audience thought that Jesus had taken leave of his senses, and that his family felt compelled to come rescue, Matthew eliminates another perceived limit to Jesus’ stature. 

As for shortening the story of the Gerasene demonaic, or omitting Salome’s name, it’s almost as if he figured that Mark told those stories in full, and so another full retelling didn’t add to the record. As such, some of the details could be eliminated and there would be no loss to the tradition. Recently, I saw someone question why Mark survived as a book. Let’s face it: Matthew does re-use almost all of Mark, so the result is that Mark becomes pretty-much redundant. Or worse. Mark includes some unflattering details about Jesus and the disciples, so he’s arguably worse than redundant. I don’t recall if this was addressed, but the corollary or the converse to this question of Mark’s survival is, if Mark survived as an independent work, why didn’t Q? I would suggest that Mark survived because he was seen as the original, the basis for the Jesus story. He was the foundation. As such, perhaps he was held in a degree of reverence, despite the warts he gives to the portrait of Jesus. Given, this, why wouldn’t Q also survive, as the foundation document for Jesus’ teaching, just as Mark was the foundation document of Jesus’ life and ministry? Why didn’t Q survive? The short answer is because it never existed in the first place. 

28 Respondens autem ei Petrus dixit: “ Domine, si tu es, iube me venire ad te super aquas ”.

29 At ipse ait: “ Veni! ”. Et descendens Petrus de navicula ambulavit super aquas et venit ad Iesum.

30 βλέπων δὲ τὸν ἄνεμον [ἰσχυρὸν] ἐφοβήθη, καὶ ἀρξάμενος καταποντίζεσθαι ἔκραξεν λέγων, Κύριε, σῶσόν με.

31 εὐθέως δὲ ὁ Ἰησοῦς ἐκτείνας τὴν χεῖρα ἐπελάβετο αὐτοῦ καὶ λέγει αὐτῷ, Ὀλιγόπιστε, εἰς τί ἐδίστασας;

Seeing the [ strong ] wind, he became afraid, and beginning to plunge into the sea he cried out, saying, “Lord, save me.” (31) And immediately Jesus taking hold of his [ Peter’s ] hand, he lifted him up and said to him, “Ye of little faith, why did you doubt?”

Just and interesting observation: “seeing” the wind. A bit of poetic license there. Of course, what he saw were the effects of the wind, but let’s not get too pedantic here.

More important is Peter’s lack of faith. Of course, Peter only did the human thing: he freaked out. Actually, this is a bit like Wile E. Coyote in the old Roadrunner cartoons. He could run off a cliff and keep going, until the moment he looked down and realized that he was standing on thin air. Only then did he fall. And so it is with Peter. He believed in Jesus, so when Jesus told him to come, Peter jumped over the side and walked on the water. But when he thought about it, believing–or understanding–that people don’t walk on water, he began to sink. Jesus could do it because he was divine. Peter couldn’t, because he wasn’t. Of course, he could because Jesus allowed it, but Peter’s faith–or lack thereof–didn’t allow it.

In a way, this substitutes for the part of Mark 6 where Jesus couldn’t perform any miracles because of the lack of faith. And so Peter demonstrates this here. But the onus is more squarely on Peter; Jesus grants the power, it’s Peter’s fault he failed. The lack of faith is key in both places, but here it’s not Jesus who is limited. So this is another reason to add this part of the story, to demonstrate the need for faith, and to demonstrate what can happen if one’s faith is strong enough.

30 Videns vero ventum validum timuit et, cum coepisset mergi, clamavit dicens: “ Domine, salvum me fac! ”.

31 Continuo autem Iesus extendens manum apprehendit eum et ait illi: “ Modicae fidei, quare dubitasti? ”.

32 καὶ ἀναβάντων αὐτῶν εἰς τὸ πλοῖον ἐκόπασεν ὁ ἄνεμος.

33 οἱ δὲ ἐν τῷ πλοίῳ προσεκύνησαν αὐτῷ λέγοντες, Ἀληθῶςθεοῦ υἱὸς εἶ.

And climbing up into the boat, the wind ceased. (33) Those in the boat prostrated themselves before him (Jesus), saying “You are truly the son of God”.

This last declaration of the disciples was also added by Matthew. In Mark, they were simply amazed. So here again we have a new detail that serves to elevate Jesus, to emphasize that this is no mere mortal, to set Jesus apart. I have one problem. What does “son of God”, or “Son of God”, or “son of (a) god” mean? To be blunt, we understand, completely, what the last one means. Why? Because it’s so common in Graeco-Roman myth and culture. All of the great Greek heroes were sons of gods or goddesses. Such a being was not immortal, but was certainly a cut above the rest of humanity, superhuman in some sense of the word.

But what about the other two? We Christians have been dancing around for the past 2,000 years pretending that we understand the term, when I don’t think we do. Not really. What is the prayer that Jesus taught us*? Here’s a hint: it starts “Our father”. Not “Your father”, or “His father”, in reference to Jesus, but first person plural. “Our father”. And did not Paul state that we are all children of God?( Literally, he said “sons”, but that’s an archaic grammatical rule and nothing more.) “Our father”; “children of God”. How are these different from Son of God? These expressions entail that we are all a son/daughter of God. Why is this a special category for Jesus? Greek was written in ALLCAPITALSWITHNOSPACESBETWEENWORDS. As such, we cannot glean any insight from whether Matthew capitalized “Son” or not. And the difference between “son of” and “Son of” is marked, and very important. But it’s a difference that did not exist when Mark, Matthew, Luke, John, Paul, & c. wrote.

How did one become a son of God? Perhaps not the same way that one became a son of a god. The latter process was very straightforward, following the rules of human procreation. How do we get to be a son of God? Has that actually been described? Were Adam and Eve the son and daughter of God? No. They were created from the dust of the earth, animated by the divine breath. But wasn’t this the genesis of Jesus? The creature of dust–Mary–was breathed into, so that the divine breath animated a child in her womb. Yes, there is a difference, but is it a distinction that actually makes a difference? So can we truly say that Jesus was the Son of God because the sacred breath conceived him, but Adam was not the Son of God because the sacred breath animated mere dust?

Now that I’m getting started here, I realize that this is not something that can be summed up in the middle of a comment. Regrettably, I must leave the topic for the time being. I will revisit it, at length, I suspect, as a special topic. I haven’t done one of those in a very long while.

* For some reason or another, James P Tabor claims that this was actually handed to Jesus from John the Dunker. I’m not at all sure what his argument for this position might be. In The Jesus Dynasty, he presents this as settled, which indicates to me that this is a thesis he had argued in a previous work that I have not read. Nor will I ever read it, based on the absolutely abysmal understanding of historical process I found in The Jesus Dynasty. Professor Cole in GRH 201–Greek History To The Death Of Alexander–would have failed me if I had handed in an essay so utterly devoid of historical reasoning.

32 Et cum ascendissent in naviculam, cessavit ventus.

33 Qui autem in navicula erant, adoraverunt eum dicentes: “Vere Filius Dei es!”.

34 Καὶ διαπεράσαντες ἦλθον ἐπὶ τὴν γῆν εἰς Γεννησαρέτ.

35 καὶ ἐπιγνόντες αὐτὸν οἱ ἄνδρες τοῦ τόπου ἐκείνου ἀπέστειλαν εἰς ὅλην τὴν περίχωρον ἐκείνην, καὶ προσήνεγκαν αὐτῷ πάντας τοὺς κακῶς ἔχοντας,

36 καὶ παρεκάλουν αὐτὸν ἵνα μόνον ἅψωνται τοῦ κρασπέδου τοῦ ἱματίου αὐτοῦ: καὶ ὅσοι ἥψαντο διεσώθησαν.

And having crossed, they went upon land to Gennesaret. (35) And the men from that place recognizing him (Jesus) sent to the entire surrounding countryside, and they brought to him all those having maladies. (36) And they beseeched him so that only they may touch the hem of his garment. And howsoever many touched were preserved. 

Gennesaret is on the eastern shore of the lake, not terribly far south of Caphernaum. It’s well within credibility that Jesus was known there. This whole story, the landing in Gennesaret, the healings, and the bit about touching the hem of his garment are all in Mark. Once again, the story is shortened somewhat. Matthew, generally, does not dwell on the miracles the way Mark did. This is an interesting distinction to note, since it indicates that Matthew was much less interested in a wonder-worker than he was in the Son/son of God.

34 Et cum transfretassent, venerunt in terram Gennesaret.

35 Et cum cognovissent eum viri loci illius, miserunt in universam regionem illam et obtulerunt ei omnes male habentes,

36 et rogabant eum, ut vel fimbriam vestimenti eius tangerent; et, quicumque tetigerunt, salvi facti sunt.

Matthew Chapter 14:13-22

Now comes the feeding of the 5,000, which is closely followed by Jesus walking on water. This was the text of the gospel in my church on 7/26/15, and according to the sermon, these two are meant as a unity. Apparently, they are put together in all gospels; however, that only necessarily means that Mark arranged them this way, and others followed suit. In any case, rather than one too-long section, I’m going to break them into two too-short sections. Since my “short” sections tend to extend much further than seems possible, perhaps the result will be two sections of a reasonable length.

13 Ἀκούσας δὲ ὁ Ἰησοῦς ἀνεχώρησεν ἐκεῖθεν ἐν πλοίῳ εἰς ἔρημον τόπον κατ’ ἰδίαν: καὶ ἀκούσαντες οἱ ὄχλοι ἠκολούθησαν αὐτῷ πεζῇ ἀπὸ τῶν πόλεων.

Hearing this (of the death of John) Jesus left that territory in a boat to a deserted place by himself. And hearing the crowd followed hum on foot from the town, 

I’m a bit perplexed by this. He left by boat by himself? Are we to take this that he sailed it alone? Or, are we to assume that some of the disciples–the fishermen, for example, sailed it for him? You know, it occurs to me that if Jesus actually sailed the boat by himself, I think this is further indication that maybe he had grown up in Caphernaum. on the sea/lake of Galilee. I suppose the most rational reading of this is that others sailed the boat and dropped him in a deserted place. The word for “deserted” is “eremon”, which is the root of “eremitic”, from which we get “hermit”. So this is a place devoid of people.

And yet, since it was on another point in the lake/sea (I believe “lake” is more appropriate, because the “Sea” of Galilee is fresh water; however, “sea” is too deeply ingrained”), people could follow the progress of the boat visually, and then just go there around the perimeter of the lake. This is actually an interesting bit of narrative. Of course it’s complete fiction; this detail was not in Mark, and I doubt it persisted the additional 10-15 years in a separate tradition. It’s obviously concocted to explain how all those people got to a place that was so isolated from any settlement. Of course, we’re justified to ask if there were actually any empty stretches of shore on the lake at this time. This is fresh water. Water is not exactly abundant in this part of the world. I would have to imagine that this was a significant source of water. As such, there would, seemingly, be a significant impetus to settle on the shore.

We also then have to ask if Matthew’s audience would have known this. Would they simply take Matthew’s word for it because they had no clue? This then brings up the question of who Matthew’s audience was, and where they lived. The traditional view is that this was written in Syria, perhaps Antioch. Since I have no idea on what this is based, it’s difficult to assess the probability of this. As time has gone on, however, I have become increasingly skeptical of anything that is attributed to “tradition”; especially “later tradition”, such as anything dating after Matthew wrote. By that point, by 100, if not 90 CE–or whenever Luke wrote–I suspect that the story has become completely detached from whatever tenuous historical moorings to the life of Jesus it had possessed. Which each passing year, the chance of anything even vaguely historically accurate being added diminishes sharply, and the difference of a decade probably decreases the historicity by an order of magnitude.

Matthew completely invented the entire story of the Slaughter of the Innocents. This was pure fabrication, with absolutely no historical basis whatsoever. That is how he starts. Or, rather, he begins with a genealogy that is most likely also completely made up, and then moves on to the fictions of the Magi and the Slaughter of the Innocents. This does not do much to inspire trust in his historical credibility. As such, the idea that this aspect of the story bypassed Mark and came down to Matthew intact is, well, unlikely to say the least. 

This is very significant. It is extremely important to understand this and to bear it firmly in mind. Again, we are seeing the story grow. It becomes embellished. Details are added; they do not get subtracted, lost in the retelling. Mark was the most circumspect in matters of the narrative setting. He included very little. Matthew, OTOH, adds to the narrative. Why? Because he had access to details that Mark didn’t? Of course it’s possible, sure, but historically very unlikely. That’s not how it works. No, Matthew added to the narrative to make the story more lively, more life-like, to make it more interesting. These sorts of fictitious details actually make the story more believable, because they impart that sense of having been there. The details bring the story to life. 

That was a very long discussion of an extremely minor point. But from the foot, Hercules. This is a saying attributed to Pythagoras, who said he could work out the proportions of the statue from just using its foot. But more figuratively it has the sense that small details that can provide insights into something much larger. Why did Matthew write a gospel when Mark had already done so? Because Matthew felt he had more to add to the story. Were these additions factually accurate? Just asking that question is to miss the point. Some of the additions may have been, but most probably weren’t. Matthew had to add the element of Jesus’ divinity from birth, of his royal lineage, and he added lots about what Jesus taught. It would be ever-so-lovely to think that there was a little book of Jesus’ teachings that got handed down to Matthew (somehow bypassing Mark completely), that accurately recorded stuff Jesus said; but it would be ever-so-lovely to believe in unicorns, too. Oh, there were sources available to Matthew that hadn’t been available to Mark; the problem comes with the “accurately” part. 

I’ve been reading–skimming, really–The Jesus Dynasty by James Tabor. He’s professor of something at UNC Chapel Hill, and he does a lot of archaeology, but he believes that Luke’s embellishments are all–and that should be taken fairly literally–are historically accurate. He wants us to believe that we have found the Jesus family tomb, that we have found the grave stone of Jesus real father, the Roman soldier Pantera in Germany, and that Jesus rode a unicorn into Jerusalem. OK, I made up the last one. But he does believe that Q existed; moreover, he believes that it spoke a lot about John the Dunker, “as one might expect” Q would do. Not sure about you, but I would think a book recording Jesus’ teachings would record, well, Jesus’ teachings, not a lot of stuff about the Dunker. Anyway, my point is this: by throwing in these sorts of “historical” details, of Jesus going off to a solitary place, Matthew is tipping his hand. He is all-but telling us that whatever it is that we’re reading, it’s not history, and it should not be treated as such.

13 Quod cum audisset Iesus, secessit inde in navicula in locum desertum seorsum; et cum audissent, turbae secutae sunt eum pedestres de civitatibus.

14 καὶ ἐξελθὼν εἶδεν πολὺν ὄχλον, καὶ ἐσπλαγχνίσθη ἐπ’ αὐτοῖς καὶ ἐθεράπευσεν τοὺς ἀρρώστους αὐτῶν.

15 ὀψίας δὲ γενομένης προσῆλθον αὐτῷ οἱ μαθηταὶ λέγοντες, Ἔρημός ἐστιν ὁ τόπος καὶ ἡ ὥρα ἤδη παρῆλθεν: ἀπόλυσον τοὺς ὄχλους, ἵνα ἀπελθόντες εἰς τὰς κώμας ἀγοράσωσιν ἑαυτοῖς βρώματα.

And coming he saw a great crowd, and he was moved with compassion upon them and he healed their illnesses. (15) Having become evening, came to him his disciples saying, “This place is solitary, and the hour already has come. Send away the crowd, so that having gone away to the village they will buy for themselves food.” 

A couple of points about the Greek. First, the “great” crowd. The adjective is actually more one of quantity than size. So it’s a reference to the number of people, rather than the physical space that it occupied. Second, the word I rendered as “moved with compassion” is strictly an NT word. As such, we can have it mean anything we want it to. An unknown word is infinite; or it has infinite meanings. Words that we know have been limited, whittled down into a particular meaning. That meaning can be vague and general, like the word “great”; or it can be very specific, like “defenestration”. This is the act of throwing someone or something out a window, and it means nothing else. Very, very specific. So for this word, Bible scholars have decided it means “moved with/to compassion.” The Classical root actually refers to the inward meats that are consumed at a sacrifice; another branch from this root means “womb”. I can see the progression from eating the innards of an animal to feeling compassion. Sort of. I don’t actually have a better meaning for the word, a more plausible meaning based on the root. But I do want to point out that this is very much a consensus meaning. It could mean something like, “and Jesus wanted to eat their internal organs”. However, the word does occur in a number of different contexts, so “moved with compassion” is at least reasonable.

Note once again the reference to the solitary nature of the surroundings. How credible is this, considering that they are on the shore of the Sea of Galilee? I’m skeptical, but I’m always skeptical. Except of my own theories, of course.

14 Et exiens vidit turbam multam et misertus est eorum et curavit languidos eorum.

15 Vespere autem facto, accesserunt ad eum discipuli dicentes: “ Desertus est locus, et hora iam praeteriit; dimitte turbas, ut euntes in castella emant sibi escas ”.

16 ὁ δὲ [Ἰησοῦς] εἶπεν αὐτοῖς, Οὐ χρείαν ἔχουσιν ἀπελθεῖν: δότε αὐτοῖς ὑμεῖς φαγεῖν.

17 οἱ δὲ λέγουσιν αὐτῷ, Οὐκ ἔχομεν ὧδε εἰ μὴ πέντε ἄρτους καὶ δύο ἰχθύας.

18 ὁ δὲ εἶπεν,Φέρετέ μοι ὧδε αὐτούς.

But [ he/Jesus ] said to them, “It is not necessary to go away. You give them (something) to eat”. (17) But they said to him, “We have nothing except five loaves and two fish”. (18) And he said, “Bring them here for me”.

I’m sure that this has been adequately commented, but what strikes me here is the way that Matthew doubly emphasizes how this was a solitary place. There are no people around, no towns, just empty space. This is how Matthew takes care to inform us, to make assurance double-sure as Macbeth put it, that there was nothing else around, that there was no other possible source for the food. They have the five loaves and two fish, and nothing else, and no recourse to anything else. This is why he added the double emphasis by telling us how Jesus went into the boat and sailed to a deserted place. Mark had told us, through the disciples and Jesus, that there was nothing around, but that was insufficient for Matthew. I point this out because it gives a really clear example of how the story grew. And it gives us a really clear reason for why the story, and stories in general, grow, and how such stories grow into legends that are repeated. Finally, this is proof positive of how Matthew added things that simply would not have been included in Q–had anything vaguely resembling the supposed reconstruction of Q actually existed in a single, unitary, written form.

And btw–by having the disciples bring the sum total of all their food to Jesus, Jesus becomes the sole source of provision. What comes, comes from him and nowhere else. Although, I did hear it suggested in a sermon that what this represented was the first-ever church potluck supper. My priest suggested that people would not have traveled out as they are said to have done without bringing some kind of provisions with them. After all, it wasn’t as if they could stop at McDonalds when they got hungry. That struck me as a very interesting suggestion. Maybe Jesus wasn’t the sole source of food. Which brings the legend-making process out into even sharper focus. Matthew had to insist doubly that this common practice of carrying food in your wallet–which Jesus forbade when he sent out the 12–was not followed on this occasion.

16 Iesus autem dixit eis: “ Non habent necesse ire; date illis vos manducare ”.

17 Illi autem dicunt ei: “ Non habemus hic nisi quinque panes et duos pisces ”.

18 Qui ait: “ Afferte illos mihi huc ”.

19 καὶ κελεύσας τοὺς ὄχλους ἀνακλιθῆναι ἐπὶ τοῦ χόρτου, λαβὼν τοὺς πέντε ἄρτους καὶ τοὺς δύο ἰχθύας, ἀναβλέψας εἰς τὸν οὐρανὸν εὐλόγησεν καὶ κλάσας ἔδωκεν τοῖς μαθηταῖς τοὺς ἄρτους οἱ δὲ μαθηταὶ τοῖς ὄχλοις.

And ordering the crowd to recline down in the barnyard, taking the five loaves and the two fish, raising them to the sky, blessing and breaking (them) he gave to the disciples the loaves, and the disciples (gave) to the crowd.

I’ll bet “barnyard” gave you a jolt. The word “chortos” in Classical Greek simply means “enclosed area”, such as a “feeding area”, where cattle are kept, with the sort of tacit understanding that this refers to a barnyard. It is only by several extensions, it comes to mean the fodder–the grass–itself. And yet this word is blithely translated as “grass”, without qualification. The KJV even goes along. Here we have a sterling example of how NT Greek gets shaped into a particular mold.

Actually, when this was the gospel passage in church a couple of weeks back, the use of “grass” caught my attention. Now, I have never been to Israel. I do not have first-hand familiarity of what the topography and the vegetation of the area around the Sea of Galilee are like. I have even less idea what the state of such things was in the First Century. My understanding, however, is that “grass” is not exactly abundant. This is an area of light rainfall, and grass requires a lot of water. This is why it’s so abundant in Ireland. So, we are to believe that there was a large, grassy area here?

But wait, there’s more. What do sheep eat? Grass; and other types of vegetation, but grass is a staple. Recall my comment about the likelihood of an empty spot along the shore of a large body of fresh water, in an area where fresh water was scarce. Now we have a patch of grass large enough for 5,000 people to sit, and yet, there were no shepherds in the area, feeding their sheep on this large patch of grass? We are starting to pile up improbabilities, and layers of improbability. What all of this layered improbability does is to demonstrate the quality of the legend-process. This story was already in place when Mark wrote. And btw, Mark did mention the green grass. I just didn’t pick up on it then. Matthew expanded. It now occurs to me that the presence of the grass may itself have been part of the miraculous nature of the story. Here we have a big, open (when a “chortos” is an enclosed area) patch of grass where the crowd can recline for their dinner; recall, in Graeco-Roman, and upper crust Jewish circles, dinner was eaten whilst reclining on a couch. Perhaps the tale of the potluck dinner wasn’t far off, and maybe a few sheep were purchased, slaughtered, and cooked, or maybe some more fish were caught. Maybe, IOW, there was some sort of historical basis for this story, but within a generation–or slightly more–by the time Mark wrote, it had become a miracle. One that Matthew duly amplified.

Note on the Greek: I’ve come to realise that I’ve been very sloppy and lax about how I translate aorist participles. Some of that is, admittedly, laziness. But some is because it’s often difficult to have put across the ideas of both continuing action (-ing ending) with past tense. If it’s continuing, it’s not past. Here I chose the continuing action; I could just as easily have said “having broken”, but that’s the perfect tense in English. Greek has a perfect tense, too. And it loses the process-implication given by the -ing ending.

Second note on the Greek: here, the word I’ve been translating as “heavens” is singular (ouranos). Matthew talks about the “kingdom of the heavens” (ouranoi). As such, I am not sure that “heaven” is entirely appropriate here, and yet that is what we get, even from the KJV. As such, I have rendered it here as “sky”. Matthew deliberately uses the plural in most cases, and here he deliberately uses the singular. This indicates that he wants to get across a different nuance. And I say he did this deliberately since and manuscript corruption, mis-copying the word, should make it more likely that a later scribe would put this into the plural, since that is what Matthew generally uses. And my hard copy NT does not show any manuscript variations showing this as “heavens”. So I will stick by “sky”.

In which case, we have to ask “why”. Why did he chose singular over plural in this case? This seems to go unremarked by the commentaries I’ve consulted. Does it indicate that, for Matthew, “the sky” and “the heavens” were not synonymous? In Classical Greek, the singular and the plural were not, strictly speaking, synonymous. The sky was singular; the plural indicated “the heavens”, in the sense of the universe: the realm of the sun, moon, stars, & planets. This has all sorts of interesting implications. I checked, and the magoi (Latinized as ‘magi’) saw the star “in the east”. They don’t say whether it was in the sky, or in the heavens. The latter use is especially prevalent in philosophy; but we need to understand that “philosophy” encompasses a lot more than Plato and Aristotle. It also includes what we would call proto-science, and one proto-science is what we would call astronomy. But there was really no distinction between astronomy–the mechanical study of celestial objects (celestial being the Latin for “heaven”)–as opposed to what we would call astrology–the purported influence of these heavenly objects over humans and the events on earth. So does Matthew think that Heaven (our word) is different from the sky? Is the kingdom the heavens a slightly different concept from the kingdom of God? Was the latter meant to appear on earth, while the kingdom of the heavens has taken us into the realm of the afterlife?

This is a fascinating thought. However, I’m going to save it for Chapter 16, when we get additional uses of the singular form, of “the sky”. Based on my sneak preview there, “sky” is the appropriate translation here. That changes the sense of the passage in not a small degree. 

19 Et cum iussisset turbas discumbere supra fenum, acceptis quinque panibus et duobus piscibus, aspiciens in caelum benedixit et fregit et dedit discipulis panes, discipuli autem turbis.

20 καὶ ἔφαγον πάντες καὶ ἐχορτάσθησαν, καὶ ἦραν τὸ περισσεῦον τῶν κλασμάτων δώδεκα κοφίνους πλήρεις.

21 οἱ δὲ ἐσθίοντες ἦσαν ἄνδρες ὡσεὶ πεντακισχίλιοι χωρὶς γυναικῶν καὶ παιδίων.

22 Καὶ εὐθέως ἠνάγκασεν τοὺς μαθητὰς ἐμβῆναι εἰς τὸ πλοῖον καὶ προάγειν αὐτὸν εἰς τὸ πέραν, ἕως οὗ ἀπολύσῃ τοὺς ὄχλους.

23  καὶ ἀπολύσας τοὺς ὄχλους ἀνέβη εἰς τὸ ὄρος κατ’ ἰδίαν προσεύξασθαι. ὀψίας δὲ γενομένης μόνος ἦν ἐκεῖ.

And all ate they were fed, and they took up the abundance of broken pieces twelve baskets filled. (21) Those having eaten were men so much as five thousand, women and children separate. (22) And immediately he compelled the disciples to embark on the boat and they went ahead of him to the (other) side, until he released the crowd. (23) And the crowd having been released he (Jesus) went away to a mountain by himself, and it having become evening, he was alone.

First, the verb << ἐχορτάσθησαν >>, that I rendered as “they were fed” is derived from << χόρτου >>; this is “chortos” which most simply translate as “grass”. Here you can see pretty clearly that the base meaning of this word concerns eating. Since farm animals generally eat vegetation, including grass–and oats, wheat, barley, and hay are forms of grass–the two meanings coalesced. But they coalesced from the feeding place to the food. Second, the idea of being satiated is not an integral part of this verb. It’s used in that way, but it’s a fifth or sixth meaning.

Second, “it had become evening” when the feeding started. It “had become evening” again, when Jesus went to the mountain.

Anyway, I think the symbolism of this story is either fairly clear, or has been made so by lots of commentary. These are the Israelites in the desert, being fed miraculously. Now, the question is whether Jesus should be taken as Moses, or as God might be a little ambiguous. I suppose Moses is the most likely, but that carries implications. This is an old story, already a set-piece by the time Mark wrote. As such, it falls into the wonder-worker tradition. As such, Jesus = Moses. As such, Jesus  is not equal to God. He is not one of the Three Persons, co-equal, co-eternal. This is the sort of tradition that came down to Mark. Jesus was first a wonder-worker, only second a teacher. This is why we get so many stories of wonders worked, and very little of his teaching. Hence the need to invent Q.

I’m going to have to discuss Q again.

20 Et manducaverunt omnes et saturati sunt; et tulerunt reliquias fragmentorum duodecim cophinos plenos.

21 Manducantium autem fuit numerus fere quinque milia virorum, exceptis mulieribus et parvulis.

22 Et statim iussit discipulos ascendere in naviculam et praecedere eum trans fretum, donec dimitteret turbas.

23 Et dimissis turbis, ascendit in montem solus orare. Vespere autem facto, solus erat ibi.

Matthew Chapter 14:1-12

This chapter begins with the story of the death of John the Baptist. As with other of Mark’s long stories, Matthew abbreviates to some extent. Granted, at first glance, this may seem to contradict my contention that stories get longer, not shorter, as legends grow. But recall John’s earlier appearance: it was much longer than what we found in Mark. There is where the legend grew. This part of the story was likely well-enough known that the full details did not need to be repeated. That may seem contradictory, but it’s the legend of Jesus that was growing. In the Baptist’s earlier appearance, he became much more closely attached to the message of Jesus; for the evangelists, that is the part that matters. This story was complete when it came to Mark; it did not involve Jesus. As such, there was no reason to extend it as happened with the earlier part of John’s story.

Also, it’s worth mentioning that Josephus tells a story that agrees in general outline. He says that John was executed for proclaiming that Herod’s marriage to Herodias, the widow of the tetrarch’s brother, was illegitimate, just as Matthew (and Mark before him) reports here. Josephus also agrees that John was respected, if not revered, as a holy man by the people at large; however, Josephus does not tell us about Salome dancing. This makes one wonder where this part of the story came from, and who first told it. Is there any factual basis? The Salome element makes this feel a lot like a morality play, so my initial reaction is towards skepticism; but that’s my default reaction. I always disbelieve first, and then see if the weight of the evidence is sufficient to persuade otherwise.

1 Ἐν ἐκείνῳ τῷ καιρῷ ἤκουσεν Ἡρῴδης ὁ τετραάρχης τὴν ἀκοὴν Ἰησοῦ,

2 καὶ εἶπεν τοῖς παισὶν αὐτοῦ, Οὗτός ἐστιν Ἰωάννης ὁ βαπτιστής: αὐτὸς ἠγέρθη ἀπὸ τῶν νεκρῶν, καὶ διὰ τοῦτο αἱ δυνάμεις ἐνεργοῦσιν ἐν αὐτῷ.

In that season, Herod the Tetrarch heard the hearing (repute) of Jesus. (2) And he said to all his servants, “He is John the Baptist. He has been raised from the dead, and because of this the miracles operate in him”.

I believe we’ve discussed the term “tetrarch”. It means “four rulers”, or conversely, “ruler of a fourth” (as in kingdom). After the death of Herod the Great just before the turn to the Common Era, there were disturbances in Judea as different candidates sought to succeed Herod. As a consequence, the Emperor Augustus eliminated the title of “King”. He divided Herod’s kingdom into four parts, the ruler of each called a tetrarch. This Herod was given the portion that included Galilee.

One thing that seems odd is that Herod is saying this to all his servants. The word used is literally “child”. We came across this in the story of the Centurion; in that case, “servant” seemed to make sense. It likely does here, too. What is interesting is that Herod is talking to his servants, or his attendants. Maybe “advisers” is the best word. It may be that this word is used in distinction with “slave”, perhaps to indicate members of the household as opposed to slaves who labour in a more physical capacity. I don’t know that this is the nuance intended, but here the sense would be “members of the household”. That is, those with whom he interacted most often.

Claiming that Jesus was the resurrected John was, obviously, a way of connecting the two. If later followers were embarrassed by Jesus’ apparent subservience to John, this part of the story could easily have been omitted. But, rather than being embarrassed, my contention is that the followers of Jesus were responsible for coming up with this line. It not only connected the two, but it put Jesus into the superior position as the one who superseded the other. And it mentions that Jesus performed wonders, something that John was never credited with doing.

It’s worth noting that Josephus told a longer story about John than he did about Jesus. On the face of it, this would indicate that Josephus considered John to be more important than Jesus. This is significant because Josephus wrote towards the end of the end of the First Century, probably after Matthew, which means that John was still a significant figure two generations after his death. This provides good reason, it would seem, for Jesus followers to want to associate Jesus with John. And here, I think, is the best place we can see that desire. First, Jesus = John, then by implication, Jesus > John, which would be an attractive feature for John’s followers. That the nascent Christians would want to attract John’s followers is not unusual–especially if we remember that this story first appeared in Mark, when the number of Jews joining the Jesus movement would still be significant. That the story was retained by Matthew, and even Luke, and then told by Josephus demonstrates that the cult of the Baptist had certainly not disappeared, and perhaps had not even waned all that much. That there was a second revolt of the Jews in 132 may show us why John’s cult proved resilient.    

Here is another bit of speculation. What if Aslan was right, but about the wrong figure? What if it was John who was the Zealot? This has, to the best of my knowledge, never been suggested. One major reason is that John is genarally considered to have been associated the Essenes. This group, of course, was the sect that left behind the Dead Sea Scrolls. They had withdrawn into the desert, just as later Christians would do throughout Europe, following the Rule of St Benedict. In truth, however, this association of John with the Essenes is based on the description in the gospels that John lived an ascetic life in the desert. That is, there is just as much evidence to say that John was an Essene as there is to say he was a zealot: none. This, however, refers to direct evidence. Josephus does say that one reason Herod killed John was the former’s fear that the Dunker would foment rebellion. 

This statement does a number of things, but they are probably best left to the discussion of the reason given for Jesus’ execution. Call this a teaser.

1 In illo tempore audivit He rodes tetrarcha famam Iesu

2 et ait pueris suis: “Hic est Ioannes Baptista; ipse surrexit a mortuis, et ideo virtutes operantur in eo”.

3 Ὁ γὰρ Ἡρῴδης κρατήσας τὸν Ἰωάννην ἔδησεν [αὐτὸν] καὶ ἐν φυλακῇ ἀπέθετο διὰ Ἡρῳδιάδα τὴν γυναῖκα Φιλίππου τοῦ ἀδελφοῦ αὐτοῦ:

4 ἔλεγεν γὰρ ὁ Ἰωάννης αὐτῷ, Οὐκ ἔξεστίν σοι ἔχειν αὐτήν.

For Herod overpowering John bound him and put him away under guard because Herodias the wife of Philipp his (Herod’s) brother. (4) For John said to him (Herod) “It is not worthy for you to have her”. 

Josephus also attests this. However, Josephus wrote ten years after Matthew, and a full generation after Mark. At least, we can say that Josephus corroborates what Mark/Matthew have said, that this was the commonly-understood explanation for John’s arrest. I seriously doubt that Josephus would have gotten the account from one of the gospels. Yes, it’s possible, but unlikely.

3 Herodes enim tenuit Ioannem et alligavit eum et posuit in carcere propter Herodiadem uxorem Philippi fratris sui.

4 Dicebat enim illi Ioannes: “ Non licet tibi habere eam ”.

5 καὶ θέλων αὐτὸν ἀποκτεῖναι ἐφοβήθη τὸν ὄχλον, ὅτι ὡς προφήτην αὐτὸν εἶχον.

And wishing to kill him he feared the crowd, that as a prophet they held him. 

This literally says they “held” him. So the idiom is not peculiar to English.

We are told Herod feared the crowd, so he did not kill John. But then, he does kill John. This is where Josephus claims that a defeat suffered by Herod in battle was his just desserts for having killed John, whom they held to be a holy man. In the final analysis, however, Herod did kill John, so we have to ask whether this assessment of Herod’s motive is valid, or accurate. The execution, according to Josephus, occurred in the fortress of Macherus, well away from the pressing crowd. So this imputed fear was hardly an insuperable obstacle preventing the execution. I mention this because fear also supposedly the reason the religious authorities did not act openly against Jesus; they, too, we are told, feared the crowd. But both men were executed, regardless.

In the case of Jesus, the motivation and explanation is a bit more subtle. In Jesus’ death, Mark (and those who followed his reasoning, which is all the other evangelists) had to simultaneously put the blame for Jesus’ death on the Jewish authorities and come up with a reason why they didn’t carry out the deed directly. For this, fear of the crowd served as an excuse, to the point that it’s also said of John. And yet, this fear is not mentioned by Josephus (nor is the dance of Salome), who says that John was bundled off to Macherus and killed. To be fair, Herod could be said to have killed John from fear of the crowd–fear that John would use the crowd to revolt; but that is not the implication here. Here we are told Herod feared the crowd if he were to let John live; he did not fear to kill John.  So John’s death was a pre-emptive strike, as it were. 

The final point of interest is calling John a prophet. I’ve been reading some stuff of James Tabor: his blog and I’ve started The Jesus Dynasty. Per Dr/Prof Tabor, being called a “prophet” is the highest compliment that could paid to an individual among Jews. (In Greece, the supreme epithet was “Lawgiver”.) So the reverence of John was great; or so we are told. This hearkens back to the end of the last chapter, in which Jesus is said to have said that “a prophet is not without honour, except in his home land”. The use of “prophet” then puts that comment squarely into the context of “mainstream” Judaism of the time. That is, Jesus is a Jewish prophet, but not the Christian–or, really, pagan–Christ. So this reinforces, I believe, my contention that the story about the home town is early, one that came down to Mark, and one that either pre-dated, or more likely ran parallel to the  Christ tradition. As such, it’s a good indication that the association of Jesus with Nazareth had not happened yet since the name of the town is not mentioned in the story where it would have been most appropriate.

5 Et volens illum occidere, timuit populum, quia sicut prophetam eum habebant.

6 γενεσίοις δὲ γενομένοις τοῦ Ἡρῴδου ὠρχήσατο ἡθυγάτηρ τῆς Ἡρῳδιάδος ἐν τῷ μέσῳ καὶ ἤρεσεν τῷ Ἡρῴδῃ,

7 ὅθεν μεθ’ ὅρκου ὡμολόγησεν αὐτῇ δοῦναι ὃ ἐὰν αἰτήσηται.

Having become the (day of) the becoming of Herod (his birthday, IOW), danced the daughter of Herodias in the (their) midst and it was pleasing to Herod. (7) When with oaths he promised to give to her what she wanted.

As mentioned above, there is none of this in Josephus. Thus, we must ask why. Either Josephus did not know the story, or he chose to leave it out. Recall that the tale of the death of the Baptist is related as the reason for Herod’s military defeat. We all know where the story is going; Herod wasn’t “pleased”; he was aroused. As such, this reflects really badly on Herod, and it’s pretty salacious as well. Josephus is not exactly a partisan of Herod, so he has no reason to suppress this part of the story to preserve Herod’s reputation. Plus, the salacious aspect would have been, I think, and inducement to Josephus to include it.

So if he likely would have included it had he known about it, chances are he didn’t know about it. This, in turn, implies two things: 1) that Josephus was not familiar with NT writings. This shouldn’t surprise us. These writings were probably not known outside the circle of Christians. And 2) that this story was restricted to the NT. That is, it was not in common circulation, where Josephus would have come across it in his “research”, whatever this consisted of. From there, it’s a pretty short step to conclude–or at least infer–that this aspect of the story was restricted to the NT because the authors of the NT invented this part of the story. It may have been Mark who did so, but this is one of the set-pieces–the Gerasene demonaic is another–that feel like Mark received and transmitted them as a whole. Just because it “feels” like this does not prove that this is true. Conversely, even if Mark did receive as a unit, this does not demonstrate that the story is true, either. The passion story probably came to Mark more or less as we get it, but that doesn’t mean it’s true, in the sense of historically accurate.

So this part–the dancing–was concocted. Why? To discredit Herod. Who had motive to do this? Lots of people, but the Baptist’s disciples would be the prime candidate. Thus, was this entire story created by followers of John? With the salacious details added to make Herod seem like a weak man? This is entirely possible, and has the ring of plausibility as well. What implications does this theory carry? One is that the followers of Jesus were communicant with the followers of John, if only indirectly. Another is that the followers of John & Jesus were creating their own particular historical traditions. Of course, we don’t know–can’t know, given present evidence–the actual factuals; it could be that the story presented here is how it all went down. But I doubt it, for reasons I’ll get to shortly.

6 Die autem natalis Herodis saltavit filia Herodiadis in medio et placuit Herodi,

7 unde cum iuramento pollicitus est ei dare, quodcumque postulasset.

8 ἡ δὲ προβιβασθεῖσα ὑπὸ τῆς μητρὸς αὐτῆς, Δός μοι, φησίν, ὧδε ἐπὶ πίνακι τὴν κεφαλὴν Ἰωάννου τοῦ βαπτιστοῦ.

9 καὶ λυπηθεὶς ὁ βασιλεὺς διὰ τοὺς ὅρκους καὶ τοὺς συνανακειμένους ἐκέλευσεν δοθῆναι,

She (the daughter) having been led on by her mother, “Give me”, she said, “upon a platter the head of John the Baptist. (9) And being vexed the king on account of the oaths and those reclining at meal ordered it (the head) to be given.  

Here’s where this starts to smell a bit. Herod, that weak man, so inflamed with lust by the dancing of his wife’s daughter, makes a rash promise and then is caught by the wiles of this same wife. So not only is he weak in the restraint of his lust, he’s weak in being able to run his own show without the interference of his wife. So the end result is that this starts sounding like a morality play. In Josephus, Herod is the mover, the one who decides to bundle John off to the fort of Macherus–away from the beaten path, away from the crowd, and execute John. Here, Herod is make to look like a bumbling fool, a victim of his appetites. Which is the more accurate picture? It’s very difficult to say.

There is one point to make here. Recall that after his baptism, Jesus seemed to use the arrest of John as the spur to begin his public ministry. But the interesting thing is that Jesus left the area where John was baptizing and returned to Galilee. It has been intimated time and again that Jesus went to Galilee because Herod had arrested John. But Herod was tetrarch of Galilee. So if Jesus were afraid of Herod, why not go somewhere Herod’s power didn’t reach? Retiring to Galilee makes little sense on the face of it if he were afraid of Herod. And what does that tell us about this episode? Anything? 

Perhaps not directly, but put the two of them together, and we may have something. The result of Story 1 + Story 2 = an indication that historical consistency was not a major consideration for the evangelists. They told the story they had, without really worrying whether it all made historical sense. This, in turn, indicates that Mark and the other evangelists were indeed piecing together different pieces from different places. The gospels are, likely, a patchwork rather than a unified narrative. The evangelists put together what they encountered, whether it fit all that well or not. This, I believe, helps explain the lack of narrative unity in Mark, where a large–a very large–number of verses start abruptly with “and”, or perhaps “then”. Matthew here is somewhat better, but I’ve pointed to a number of what I believe feel like non-sequiturs, where bits are sort of strung together regardless of whether they fit.

And this, in turn, has a further implication. If we note, Matthew has more stories than Mark. Luke has an entire panoply stories over and above what Matthew has. Even if we concede Q, how do we explain all the stories that are in Luke, but not Matthew? And then there’s John, who has an entirely different repertoire of tales that do not appear in any of the other gospels. No, what is happening is that the tradition about Jesus is growing. New things are being made up. Mary Magdalene is a great example. We have heard nothing about her in Matthew. She only showed up at the very end of Mark, in a piece that may have been tacked on, even if by the evangelist. And yet, as time passes, we know more and more about her: Jesus had cast out seven devils from her, in some otherwise unknown exorcism. Then she becomes a prostitute (based, as far as I can tell, on no real textual evidence). The tradition is growing, it’s feeding on itself. This is why so much of the later tradition is wholly untrustworthy. We have Peter and Paul in Rome, based solely on the word of the author of Luke/Acts, the same author who did not scruple to create the blood-relationship between Jesus and the Baptist, which is another wholly new “fact” that we are given, one that has been swallowed whole by generations of “historians of the NT”. I started reading a book by James Tabor, and he essentially takes the whole narrative of the gospels as credible history. The point here is that, when looked at, the NT narratives are not internally consistent when compared against each other, or even within a single gospel. The NT is not history; we cannot compile the narrative “facts” from the different gospels and create a unified story. Rather, a closer examination of the structure shows how fragmented each gospel is. 

8 At illa, praemonita a matre sua: “ Da mihi, inquit, hic in disco caput Ioannis Baptistae ”.

9 Et contristatus rex propter iuramentum et eos, qui pariter recumbebant, iussit dari

10 καὶ πέμψας ἀπεκεφάλισεν [τὸν] Ἰωάννην ἐν τῇ φυλακῇ:

11 καὶ ἠνέχθη ἡ κεφαλὴ αὐτοῦ ἐπὶ πίνακι καὶ ἐδόθη τῷ κορασίῳ, καὶ ἤνεγκεν τῇ μητρὶ αὐτῆς.

12 καὶ προσελθόντες οἱ μαθηταὶ αὐτοῦ ἦραν τὸ πτῶμα καὶ ἔθαψαν αὐτό[ν], καὶ ἐλθόντες ἀπήγγειλαν τῷ Ἰησοῦ.

And sending (as in sending word), he beheaded John in the gaol. (11) And the head was carried upon a platter and given to the girl, and (she) gave it to her mother. (12) And coming, his (John’s) disciples took up the body and buried him, and coming the announced (this) to Jesus.

The most striking thing about these three verses is the last half of the last verse: “They announced (this) to Jesus”. It’s remarkable because it’s not in Mark. Overall, Matthew shortened the story, to the point of leaving out the name of Salome. (Whether this was actually her name, of course, is a different matter. This was a common family name of the women in the Herodian family; if this was the daughter of Herodias and her first husband–Herod’s brother–then it’s entirely plausible. This, of course, would make her Herod’s blood-niece.) And yet, as he has done in other places, Matthew has shortened the story, but added to it at the same time.

First, let’s ask what it means that Mark did not include this. In large part the implication–from the historian’s point of view–is that Mark did indeed receive this as a set-piece story, a complete whole. Mark simply inserted it where he deemed appropriate, without making any real attempt to integrate it. He did this because the Baptist was of interest to the followers of Jesus, but he wasn’t an integral part of the story as he would become in Luke, where he and Jesus were cousins. This reinforces what I said in the previous comment about the fragmentary nature of the gospel narratives: they were bits and pieces of tales that were strung together like beads.

This latter is certainly true in Mark, but it’s also true in Matthew, but in a different manner. Here, Matthew does attempt to integrate this story a little more effectively by adding this last line. Of course, this addition has other implications, which we’ll discuss in a moment. But it means that Matthew took some more concern to dress the component stones a little more neatly to make the fit tighter. He took a higher view of the idea of narrative: a continuous flow set out in something like a logical, or an organic order. So this addition of the last half of the last verse ties John more effectively into the overall story by letting us know John and Jesus were connected, rather than leaving John sort of hanging out there by himself, a sort of interlude between the sending and the return of the apostles as this story was in Mark. Even with this concern for narrative flow, however, the joins in Matthew are still there. He gathers like pieces together; this is the creation of the Sermon on the Mount, in which Matthew collects many of the attributed aphorisms and teachings of Jesus into a single place. This is the “masterful arrangement” that makes Q a logical necessity in the opinion of too many scholars. And we saw the same thing in the previous chapter, where Matthew aggregates basically all of the parables of the kingdom that he’s heard. That they are omitted by Luke is perhaps more a testament to Luke’s judgement than anything. Luke had his own theory of narrative, which we will look at when we get there. But back to Matthew, even this method of aggregation shows the welds. Story or aphorism follow each other, no matter how abrupt the transition. In those places–even in the Sermon on the Mount–we can feel that this is beadwork.

Superficially, the addition of the last half of Verse 12 does connect the two stories, putting the death of John into context in the overall narrative. But it does one other thing, and I do not believe this is accidental. It tells us that Jesus would want to know about John’s death, and that John’s disciples understand this about Jesus. That is, it shows that the two groups are still connected in some way, that there is communication and mutual interest between them. This is a splendid example of the legend growing. Bits are added, not forgotten. Salome’s name is not important, but this contact between the two groups is. Matthew chose to stress this. Remember, he had Mark; he would have known that Mark did not say this. Ergo, the addition was a deliberate choice on Matthew’s part. He chose to add this because he wanted to stress the connection between John and Jesus. Ten or more years after Matthew, Josephus would tell of John’s death, too, so the story was still popular, or at least carried some general interest. So this is why Matthew included it, but Matthew takes it a step further by insisting that the groups were still connected.

This has been my position throughout: that, far from being embarrassed by the “subservience” of Jesus to John, the evangelists were eager to promote the connection between the two. Matthew takes decided steps to re-arrange the hierarchy by clearly putting Jesus at the peak, but he does not want to downplay the relationship between them. Just the opposite: he wants to emphasize it.

10 misitque et decollavit Ioannem in carcere;

11 et allatum est caput eius in disco et datum est puellae, et tulit matri suae.

12 Et accedentes discipuli eius tulerunt corpus et sepelierunt illud et venientes nuntiaverunt Iesu.