Monthly Archives: September 2015

Matthew Chapter 16:13-20

Once again we faced the prospect of two short sections or one very long section. I chose the former. The fear is that too short disturbs the sense of continuity and flow. Of course, too long can do the same thing. Of course, what truly destroys continuity is when it takes forever to complete a post. The problem is that I never know how much I’m going to say when I go into one of these. Things occur to me as I’m doing the translation. And if I were to go back to a previous post, no doubt I’d come up with other thoughts. Guess that’s better than writer’s block.

13 Ἐλθὼν δὲ ὁ Ἰησοῦς εἰς τὰ μέρη Καισαρείας τῆς Φιλίππου ἠρώτα τοὺς μαθητὰς αὐτοῦ λέγων, Τίνα λέγουσιν οἱ ἄνθρωποι εἶναι τὸν υἱὸν τοῦ ἀνθρώπου;

Jesus coming into the territory of Caesarea Philippi he asked his disciples, saying, “Who do people say the son man to be?” 

I hate to sound like a curmudgeon, but this is such an obvious set up that I doubt there’s any way that this actually happened. So much depends on how Jesus viewed himself during his lifetime. Did he see himself as “The Son of Man”? Or was he simply a teacher, someone who felt like he had something to say? I think it’s pretty clear he wasn’t a Zealot. Paul doesn’t talk about Jesus’ message; rather, he talks about Jesus’ meaning as the Christ. Did Jesus see himself as the Christ? I have my doubts. Why? Because of the way Paul and James acted during the interim between Jesus’ death and the time Mark wrote. Paul proclaims that Jesus became the Christ upon being raised from the dead.

This is a topic that may require additional thought. My first impulse was to conclude that Paul’s belief precluded that Jesus saw himself as the Christ. Perhaps. Perhaps not. Regardless, this scene has much too much of a dramatic quality to it–in the sense of being stage-managed–to ring true to life. This is myth, Truth. It’s not fact.

13 Venit autem Iesus in partes Caesareae Philippi et interrogabat discipulos suos dicens: “ Quem dicunt homines esse Filium hominis?”.

14 οἱ δὲ εἶπαν, Οἱ μὲν Ἰωάννην τὸν βαπτιστήν, ἄλλοι δὲ Ἠλίαν, ἕτεροι δὲ Ἰερεμίαν ἢ ἕνα τῶν προφητῶν.

 They answered, “Some say John the Dunker, others Elijah, the others say Jeremiah, or one of the prophets.”

The point of interest here is not what it says about Jesus, but what it says about John. Elijah was the greatest of the prophets of the HS, the most revered among Jews; recall that it’s Elijah who appears with Moses during the Transfiguration. Jeremiah was up there, too. So this puts John into some very exalted company.  And here again, if Jesus’ followers were embarrassed about the connexion to John, here is one place that it would have been very easy to edit John out of the picture. After all, the scene is fictional; why not use a different name? That would have been very easy to do, an no one would have been the wiser.

But the author of Mark and Matthew chose to use John’s name. And Matthew could have changed it, just as he changed the nationality of the woman from Syro-Phoenician to Canaanite. But both used the name in a deliberate attempt to emphasize, to underscore the connexion of Jesus to John. And why not? If John was seen to be worthy to be mentioned in the same breath as Elijah and Jeremiah–or any of the prophets–then such a comparison can only be flattering. Why on earth would this be an embarrassment, something to be downplayed and covered up?

Now that I’ve pooh-poohed the possible historicity of the episode, let’s stop and ask ourselves if, perhaps, there might be that proverbial kernel of truth buried under the legend? Was Jesus perhaps compared to the prophets? That is not out of the question. And if this did happen, this may tell us something about the perception of Jesus during his lifetime. A prophet. Important? Yes. Divine? Only by inspiration. Can we draw that inference? That’s the question, isn’t it? Because if this was said about Jesus, then it may have bearing on whether Jesus thought of himself as the Christ. Now, in Jewish belief, the Christ had originally been conceived as human, the descendent of David; however, Boyarin has muddied the waters sufficiently, I think, that we can no longer say for certain that the Messiah had not begun to be seen as a divine being, per the interpretations of Daniel 7. But I think that, for the most part, Jews considered the Messiah to be human; otherwise, Boyarin would not have had to make his elaborate argument to the contrary. If a divine Messiah was a common Jewish belief in the First–or any–Century, then the specialness of Jesus would not have been so pronounced. And Jewish orthodoxy settled on a human Christ, whether in reaction to, in spite of, or without the slightest reference to Jesus.

I’m about halfway through translating the Didache. This is a text containing what are supposed to be teachings of the Twelve Apostles. At least, that’s what the title indicates, but there doesn’t seem to be much inside about the Apostles. The odd thing is, in some ways, I’m not entirely sure that this is actually a Christian document. There’s very little indicating that it is, aside from some non-integral references to Jesus that could easily be interpolations. Absent these and a few other marginalia, and this could almost be a Jewish tract. The main thrust is moral: what to do, what not to do, reminiscent of the sin-lists that we have seen in Paul. Were these specifically Christian? Or did Paul simply repeat what he had learned as a Pharisee? As such, given the Didache, and assuming it was indeed Christian, there is nothing about Jesus life, his death, his resurrection, and almost nothing about his divinity. The lone (possible) exception, is that the reader is instructed to baptize in the name of the father, the son, and the holy spirit. But the instructions are more about the quality, or the type of the water that is used. The point of all this is that, assuming it is Christian, we have a Jesus that is possibly more like a prophet than a divine son of God. 

Thus the question becomes one of when the Didache was written. Is it early? Like the 50s? Is it later, like the turn of the century? The lack of distinction between a Jewish and a Christian sensibility, or even of a clearly defined or recognizable Christian vocabulary might argue for an early date. But there are clear repetitions of things we find in Matthew, but not in Mark; this would imply and entail a later date, one not only after Matthew, but long enough after Matthew that much of his message had become part of the larger, or wider, tradition. If it was later, rather than earlier, closer in time to the composition of Luke than to Mark, let alone Paul, the implications are bigger, I think, because they indicate that a tradition of a non-divine Jesus ran parallel to, and co-existed with the tradition that Matthew followed and helped solidify as orthodox if he did not quite create this tradition.

Two traditions, two ideas about Jesus and what Jesus represented. Does this sound at all familiar? Doesn’t it sound like two gospels? Is it not reminiscent of the a divergence of attitude that separated Paul and James? As we discussed in the reading of Galatians, I believe there was something more at stake than just whether new followers kept kosher (that term is anachronistic, but allow a bit of license due to the familiarity of the term) as James insisted, and Jesus had. The dietary laws were may have been a proxy for the different way that Paul and James understoodJesus’ message and his role, his identity. If Jesus had been the Christ, if he had fulfilled the expectations of the Jews, then why bother with the old laws? What was the point? But if Jesus were another prophet, one who directed us to the way of life–as the Didache calls it–but was not the Christ himself, then maybe it was a good idea to maintain the old ways. Let’s face it, there is absolutely no good reason to doubt that James was indeed the brother of Jesus. Paul gains nothing by referring to James as such–quite the opposite. And Mark does tell us that Jesus did, indeed, have a brother named James. So as Jesus’ brother, James doubtless had good reason not to think of Jesus as in any way divine. A prophet? Sure. The mystical son of man foretold by Daniel, probably not. And unlike the identity of James, Paul would have had a good reason for glossing over this aspect of the disagreement he had with James. Disputing the need to follow dietary laws is one thing; disputing the very nature of Jesus, whether he was the Messiah, is quite another. Better to put that under wraps.

So my suggestion is that the Didache represents the the continuation of the tradition of James. In this tradition Jesus was seen as another prophet, or another Baptist. In this passage Mark and Mattthew are, if unwittingly, corroborating the existence of this tradition that would continue long enough to produce the Didache

14 At illi dixerunt: “ Alii Ioannem Baptistam, alii autem Eliam, alii vero Ieremiam, aut unum ex prophetis ”.

15 λέγει αὐτοῖς, Ὑμεῖς δὲ τίνα με λέγετε εἶναι;

16 ἀποκριθεὶς δὲ Σίμων Πέτρος εἶπεν, Σὺ εἶ ὁ Χριστὸς ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ θεοῦ τοῦ ζῶντος.

17 ἀποκριθεὶς δὲ ὁ Ἰησοῦς εἶπεν αὐτῷ, Μακάριος εἶ, Σίμων Βαριωνᾶ, ὅτι σὰρξ καὶ αἷμα οὐκ ἀπεκάλυψέν σοι ἀλλ’ ὁ πατήρ μου ὁ ἐν τοῖς οὐρανοῖς.

He said to them, “Who do you say me to be?”  

(16) And answering, Simon Peter said, “You are the Anointed, the son of the living God”.

(17) Answering, Jesus said to him, “Blessed are uou Simon bar Jonah, that flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but my father who is in the heavens.” 

So here is the payoff. The identification of Jesus as the Christ. I hadn’t realized that this was only the third time so far in Matthew that this identification is made explicit. The first was in the nativity story, when the magoi ask Herod where the Christ was to be born. The second was when John sent his disciples to as Jesus if he were the one. And the third is here.

This is interesting largely because Matthew has bee taking great pains to tell us that Jesus s divine, but the Christ par has bee relatively neglected. Why do we suppose that Matthew does this? Or perhaps doesn’t do this? Was he under the impression that Mark, and possiby Paul, had done a good enough job establishing that Jesus was the Christ, but hadn’t gone far enough towards the divine aspect? Or is it simply a matter that, up to this point, Mark’s narrative has not bee all that concerned with te Christ tradition? Recall that the first seven chapters or so of Mark were focused on Jesus the wonder worker. In fact, it is in this story, which occurs in Mark 8:29, that Mark first uses the word Christ [note: this doesn’t count the use of the word in Mark 1:1, which could easily be an interpolation.] . This fits with my suggestion that Matthew is following Mark. The implication of this is that Matthew is putting editorial process ahead of theology.

That, I think, is more revealing than a reading on Matthew’s theological outlook. It says that he didn’t necessarily go into the writing of this with something that we could call a thematic agenda. Rather, he went into this as following the basic outline of Mark and filling in where needed. Now, of course, this could be taken to mean that the basic outline of the gospel was set by Mark, and no one would really change it–until John. It would not be necessary for Matthew to maintain the basic outline of events while changing the emphasis of the theology. That is essentially, after all, what John did.

The final point is Jesus stating that Peter did not learn this from any human, but directly from the father. Does this remind us of anyone? This is, after all, what Paul said. Keep that in mind for a minute or two. The implications of this will be discussed in the next comment.

15 Dicit illis: “ Vos autem quem me esse dicitis? ”.

16 Respondens Simon Petrus dixit: “ Tu es Christus, Filius Dei vivi ”.

17 Respondens autem Iesus dixit ei: “ Beatus es, Simon Bariona, quia caro et sanguis non revelavit tibi sed Pater meus, qui in caelis est.

18 κἀγὼ δέ σοι λέγω ὅτι σὺ εἶ Πέτρος, καὶ ἐπὶ ταύτῃ τῇ πέτρᾳ οἰκοδομήσω μου τὴν ἐκκλησίαν, καὶ πύλαι ἅ|δου οὐ κατισχύσουσιν αὐτῆς.

And I say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my gathering, and the gates of Hades will not overpower it (= the gathering).

First, let’s get a couple of incidentals out of the way before getting to the juicy part. To start with, rendering as the “Gates of Hell” has way too much baggage of accrued association to be an effective translation. We have no real clue what this word meant to Matthew; but whatever it was, it was not anything like the idea of Hell as we all understand the word. Given that, the impulse to see this as a later insertion becomes extremely powerful. Now Hades did have gates, because they were guarded by Cerberus–or Kerberos–the three-headed dog. But these gates were designed to keep people out, which is the function of most gates, at least structural ones. Think castle gates, or gates to a city, rather than the gate to a fence that holds livestock inside. So how does a defensive structure overcome something? It would make more sense to say that the gathering would overcome the gates of Hades. Perhaps that is how it should be read.

Now here’s a thought. Mark referred to Gehenna. This is a very Jerusalem-centric reference, naming a location outside the walls of Jerusalem. As such, it would be familiar to Jews, but perhaps not so much to pagans. Hades, on the other hand, is very pagan. Matthew uses Gehenna, but only when he is reproducing Mark. OTOH, Mark does not use Hades. Does this indicate, perhaps, that Matthew’s audience was more–much more–pagan than Mark’s audience? I tend to suspect so. Does it indicate that Matthew himself was a pagan? This connexion is more–perhaps much more–tentative. What makes it more likely is that it’s not simply “Hades”, but the “Gates of Hades”. We go back to the myth, and the story of Cerberus who guarded those gates. This usage pretty clearly indicates that Matthew was familiar with the myth. Would this be something that a Jew–even one living in the Diaspora–would be aware of? Sure, it’s possible. Certainly a general awareness of Hades is likely, but the gates of Hades? That’s pretty specific; it must, however, be conceded that the story of Cerberus was a fairly well-known myth. Even so, the use of this phrase, I think, increases the likelihood that Matthew did, in fact, begin life as a pagan. To repeat, or to emphasize, this is by no means smoking gun proof. We will never have that. But we are accumulating a large number of such hints. At some point, this accumulation will have to become a “preponderance of evidence”. I need to gather up all these little clues and string them together to see what the aggregate body of evidence is. 

Next, I avoided translating as “upon this rock I will build my Church”, or even “church”. Again, “church”, even lower case, is fraught with too much accrued meaning. One of the early English translations of the Bible avoided translating “ekklesia” as “church” so as to avoid confusion with the institution that was run by the Bishop of Rome. And while I have generally translated “ekklesia” as “assembly”, or “community”, here I chose “gathering”. The literal meaning is “a calling out”, as in “a summons”. It was the call for citizens of the polis to gather, to assemble in the agora to discuss affairs of state.

And notice that Peter now has a patronymic: Peter bar Jonas, the son of Jonas. This is the legend-making process at work, resulting in the introduction of a new participant. Why would we expect Matthew to know the name of Peter’s father, when Mark didn’t, even though Mark wrote a generation earlier? As we progress, we will come across an increasing number of such incidental characters, like Clophas, or the member of the Twelve Nathaniel. Luke is particularly adept at introducing these new individuals. How is it that later “sources” knew this stuff while the earlier ones didn’t? The answer is simple: the names had been created in the interim, to fill out the story, to give it depth and richness. Arthur did not have knights name Launcelot, or Percival, or Gawaine. In fact, he didn’t have knights. In addition, a patronymic gives Peter a bit more status. It indicates that people–including Peter himself, or at least his mother–knew who Peter’s father was. Just as Matthew supplies the name of Jesus’ father, and Luke will name the parents of John. These weren’t bastards, or just inconsequential persons with no family background. Their fathers were known men.

Now we get to the real significance of this passage. This is perhaps the most famous pun in history. But more importantly, it is only found here in Matthew. Luke doesn’t repeat it. Why only Matthew? In response, I suggest this is the juicy part.

In the verse before, Jesus says that Peter did not come to understand who Jesus was through the agency of any human, but that the understanding came directly from God. Jesus builds on that (pun intended) to declare Peter as the rock on which Jesus will the community. Kind of sounds like Matthew is trying to elevate the stature of Peter. In fact, I am sorely tempted to see this as something added by a later Bishop of Rome to bolster the position of that office in relation to other bishops. After all, this is exactly what the bishop of Rome did. The problem with this being an interpolation, is that if it had been inserted by a bishop of Rome, I would expect it to be in Luke as well. It would not necessarily have to be in Mark, because the early church regarded Matthew as the original gospel. But regardless, it’s hard not to see this as a deliberate move to put Peter in a position superior to the other disciples. And Peter has “earned” this elevated position because God has chosen to reveal to Peter bar Jonas the identity of Jesus. This was not vouchsafed to any others, but alone to Peter. The question would be “who is doing the elevating?” If it wasn’t a bishop of Rome, then it had to be Matthew.

If Peter is being moved up, who is being moved down? If Peter is being promoted, who is being demoted? At whose expense does the Petrine primacy come? One interesting implication to note here is that Mark has traditionally been identified as a disciple of Peter. This identification is based solely on the coincidence of the name. This despite the fact that “Marcus” was a very, very common Roman name. I would suggest that, if Mark had been a disciple of Peter, why do we not find this passage in Mark? I think that is a very important question; the absence, I believe, blows a pretty big hole in the idea that Mark was connected to Peter. Assuming that Peter did actually make it to Rome (of which I’m skeptical, to some extent; the early traditions on this stuff are grossly unreliable, more wishful thinking than factual), wouldn’t Mark want to help establish the Petrine primacy?

One name I can’t help but think of is Paul. Suddenly, Paul is not the only one to receive direct inspiration regarding Jesus. And we’ve been bantering on whether, and to what degree, the writings of Paul were known. Had Matthew ever heard of Paul, let alone read him? By the time Luke wrote, Paul was obviously known well enough; and after Luke wrote Acts, Paul was famous. Given all of the glancing blows that seem to delineate Paul’s gravitational field, I tend to suspect that Matthew was familiar, to some degree at least, with at least some of Paul’s writing. How much, or which, is very debatable.  Is it possible that Paul’s writings were also coming into wider circulation at this time? The diffusion of Paul’s letters is a difficult topic from what I can gather. I read an impassioned argument that Mark was not aware of Paul, which means that other people are saying that Mark was. Personally, I find it very possible that Mark wrote without knowledge of Paul, but I find it difficult to believe that Matthew did. With Matthew the followers have likely become more pagan. That would put the different stories of Jesus into a wider circulation, as pagans interacted with pagans. It would seem much more likely that pagans would share their stories of Jesus with each other more readily than they would share them with Jews, or more than Jews would share with pagans. With the paganisation of the movement, the different traditions would start to run into each other. Paul helped establish a community in Corinth, and Corinth was a commercial city, which means Corinthians interacted with people from numerous areas of the Empire. It’s not difficult to see how the diffusion occurred.

Now, one thing needs to be clarified. Whether or not the first two evangelists had ever read anything Paul wrote, they could certainly be aware of some of the differences between the various traditions. This is crystal clear in Mark, with his wonder-worker tradition and his Christ tradition. The latter came, to some large extent, from Paul. Even so, the content of the tradition could have easily have gotten to Mark without any mention of Paul’s name. Tradition puts Matthew in Antioch–although I find such tradition largely…unreliable, to say the least. Antioch was a Greek city, named after Antiochus, a descendent of Seleucis, one of the successors of Alexander the Great. So a connexion between Antioch and Corinth is easy to imagine. So it’s very conceivable that Matthew had heard about the Assembly in Corinth, and had heard about Paul. And so, it’s possible that Matthew, aware of the story of Paul’s revelation, re-used the motif, putting Peter in the role of Paul. The motive for Matthew doing this is another matter. Why did he want to help establish the primacy of Peter? Because Paul was not sufficiently on-board with Jesus as a divine personage? That Paul only recognised Jesus as the Christ after, and by virtue of, the Resurrection? So we see the beginning of the elevation of Peter at the expense of Paul, a change in emphasis that leads modern scholars to parse the gospels while entirely ignoring the evidence of Paul’s letters. The Quest for the Historical Jesus falls into this trap, and so did Daniel Boyarin, the Judaic scholar.

There is one final point to be made. This refers back to the translation of ‘ekklesia’. In its purest Greek form, there is nothing tangible about an ‘ekklesia’. It does not exist apart from the gathered citizenry having been called out. A church, OTOH, is tangible, and it does exist outside of the people who really constitute the church, in the sense of the church as truly being an assembly of the faithful rather than a building. The problem comes in with the Greek word “to build”. The Greek verb has a certain tangible aspect to it; the Greek verb is rather narrower than the word “to build” is in English. In English we can build an argument, or a case as well as we can build a building; this sort of abstract construction does not really fit into the Greek word, which is much more focused on something concrete. As in, something made of concrete. From that sense, one could infer that maybe this was meant to refer to a church, as in a building. The only problem with that is that there weren’t any buildings used specifically and solely as a church for a hundred years (rather more than that, actually) after the time Matthew wrote. Given that Christians were not exactly welcome among the pagan population sort of precluded setting aside a building specifically as a gathering place for the eucharist.

So, if one were to attempt to argue that this was, indeed, an interpolation, it would have to be pretty late. Of course, that would really explain why Luke doesn’t have this passage. The earliest church fathers considered Matthew to be the original gospel, so an interpolation inserted at the behest of the Bishop of Rome would have been put into Matthew. But I also think it would have been put into Luke as well. Given this, the soundest conclusion is that this was part of the text from an early period, if not from the outset. That still leaves the question of why Matthew decided to bolster the Petrine Primacy in this way. Or, truly, to create the Petrine Primacy, since it was largely based on this text. 

Interesting point: some of the Protestant commentators try to shave this so that the rock to which Jesus refers is himself, not Peter. This was done to undercut the claims of the Bishop of Rome to be superior to the other bishops. Of course, the Protestants disputed this hotly. I can’t quite shake the sense that this passage was indeed added, fairly early, by, or at the behest of, the Bishop of Rome. Thise would have come at or about the time that the legend of Peter ending up in Rome would have started, that the Roman bishop would have started to circulate this story–for which there is absolutely no evidence other than the later tradition.

18 Et ego dico tibi: Tu es Petrus, et super hanc petram aedificabo Ecclesiam meam; et portae inferi non praevalebunt adversum eam.

19 δώσω σοι τὰς κλεῖδας τῆς βασιλείας τῶν οὐρανῶν, καὶ ὃ ἐὰν δήσῃς ἐπὶ τῆς γῆς ἔσται δεδεμένον ἐν τοῖς οὐρανοῖς, καὶ ὃ ἐὰν λύσῃς ἐπὶ τῆς γῆς ἔσται λελυμένον ἐν τοῖς οὐρανοῖς.

20 τότε διεστείλατο τοῖς μαθηταῖς ἵνα μηδενὶ εἴπωσιν ὅτι αὐτός ἐστιν ὁ Χριστός.

“I give to you the keys of the kingdom of the heavens, and what you bind upon the earth will be bound in the heavens, and that which you loose upon the earth will be loosed in the heavens”. (20) Then he enjoined the disciples so that no one they tell that he was the Christ. 

Now we come to the keys to the kingdom, the genesis of the folk legend that we will meet St Peter at the Pearly Gate (from The Book of Apocalypse) and he will decide where we will spend eternity. The further I go along here, the more this feels like it was added by the Bishop of Rome. As I’ve pointed out, there are a lot of problems with trying to support this hypothesis. What evidence that exists is not convincing; it’s really a matter of…hypothesizing, really. It’s too convenient, it’s unique, it just has all the earmarks of a non-disinterested group creating something for themselves. Anyone who’s ever heard of the Donation of Constantine (link below) will know exactly what I mean. This was an out-and-out fraud, a forgery perpetrated by the See of Rome. Given that, inserting a few lines of text would not seem like much. And the reasons would have been of the highest order, done with complete confidence that they were acting under the inspiration of God.

The problem with the interpolation theory is that placing the timing is really tough; although later would explain the absence of this in the other gospels. Was it done to counteract the story of Paul that began to circulate after Luke? Did Acts seem to give too much priority to Paul? Or did Matthew write this himself, at a time when Paul and his legend–and, perhaps his writings–were becoming common tales, and that it was Paul who seemed to be the real founder of the Church? I don’t know. Nor am I familiar enough with the literature to know if this has ever been suggested. I highly doubt it, given the reverential treatment accorded to the texts of the gospels until very recently. But that is how it feels.

The last bit is the Messianic secret. We needn’t spend too much time on this, as we covered it fairly thoroughly in treating Mark. For now, suffice it to say that my take on this is that Mark was trying to explain to later audiences, 30 or 40 years after the fact, why it was that Jesus was not recognized as the Messiah by the vast majority of Jews. Mark’s answer is the Messianic secret: that Jesus’ identity as the Christ was not more widely known because he actively suppressed this information. I believe that’s an eminently plausible explanation. While Matthew definitely was writing for pagans, as I believe the text tells us, even Mark was most likely already doing the same a generation earlier than Matthew. From a logistical perspective, the destruction of Jerusalem probably destroyed any Community that existed there. And Jews in other places were less receptive to the message of Jesus largely because they–or their parents–had not experienced Jesus first-hand. So the message fell upon pagan ears and this proved to be the good soil that returned thirty, sixty, or a hundred fold. 

19 Tibi dabo claves regni caelorum; et quodcumque ligaveris super terram, erit ligatum in caelis, et quodcumque solveris super terram, erit solutum in caelis ”.

20 Tunc praecepit discipulis, ut nemini dicerent quia ipse esset Christus.

Link for the Donation of Constantine


Addendum: Summary Matthew Chapter 15

Having just come across something extraordinary in my reading, it seemed necessary to add this piece to the summary of Chapter 15. By coincidence, I ran across this right after finishing the section relevant to this discovery.

As mentioned, I’m reading Daniel Boyarin’s The Jewish Gospels. In this book, Boyarin makes the argument that the [divine + human] components of the Christ/Messiah belief that we find in the NT regarding Jesus had actually been put together by the Jews as well, and perhaps this complex was in place before Jesus began to teach. In other words, he’s suggesting that the followers of Jesus took over, rather than invented, the idea of the divinely human Christ. He bases this conclusion on his reading of the Similitudes of 1 Enoch and the text of 4 Ezra. These are apocryphal texts, written around the time of Jesus by Jews, but they are not considered to be part of the canon of either the Hebrew or the Christian Scriptures. The key text that inspired both of these works is the Book of Daniel, particularly Chapter 7, with its description of the Ancient of Days and “one like a son of man”. He reads this to mean that the Son of Man was actually a divine figure in Jewish thought, not at all the human anointed one to be humanly descended from the human David.

It’s an interesting thesis, and it has some merit, even if it has some drawbacks. Overall, I don’t necessarily disagree with him. Daniel is a late work, dating to the period of Seleucid rule in Israel/Palestine/Judea. That is, it was written after the career of Alexander, who was purported to be a semi-divine royal figure. As such, he provides a really good paradigm for a semi-, or divine royal figure who could restore the empire of David by driving the heathen from the sacred land of Israel and Judah. Boyarin insists that the so-called High Christology, in which Jesus was seen as divine, was also a Jewish idea, or was as much a Jewish idea as it was a pagan idea as is usually thought. Boyarin may well be correct to argue that the idea of a divine Son of Man had entered into Jewish thought prior to Jesus’ life and career, but the point remains that the origin of this new concept was probably still Greek. Boyarin talks about a much earlier bifurcation between El and YHWH; this is an intriguing thought, that there was a latent binitarianism (as he calls it) in which there was not one God, but two. And ancient mythology is replete with such twinnings: El and Marduk and then Assur, Chronos and Zeus, etc. In these myths a younger god overthrows and supersedes an older one. Such is how Boyarin reads Daniel 7: the Son of Man is to be seen as superseding–if not necessarily overthrowing–the Ancient of Days.

It’s all very fascinating, but it really doesn’t tell us anything new about Jesus, his followers, and how he came to be perceived, understood, and described by the proto- and then Christian assemblies. It merely pushes the identification of the divine human back a century or two. The idea that the “Son of Man” is divine, however, is relevant, and that will be discussed next time that title is encountered.

But that’s not the purpose of this addendum.

Rather, it has to do with the first story we found in Chapter 15. This is where Jesus seemingly abrogates the Jewish dietary laws by claiming that nothing that goes into a person defiles that person. Now technically, Boyarin is discussing this trope as found in Mark, but that is completely irrelevant. Matthew follows Mark explicitly, and it’s the same information.

As with his position on the Son of Man, Boyarin has a well considered, ably argued position on whether Jesus did, in fact, suggest a break with Jewish law. More, as a scholar of the HS, he has a very deep understanding of the background, of the milieu in which Jesus lived. He understands what being Jewish at the time was probably like. The result is an incredibly nuanced, but apparently very solid explanation of what happened in Mark 7 & Matthew 15. According to Boyarin, the Pharisees represented something of a new movement in Judaism. They had started taking the laws of purity to ever-greater lengths. In the process, they had come adrift from what the Torah actually said, substituting actual Torah for the customs of the elders. Hence Jesus’ condemnation that they had forgotten the laws of God, and now followed the laws of men. IOW, the Pharisees were innovators, insisting on a level of ritual purity not found in Torah. They were educated, and primarily urban. Jesus, OTOH, not the radical innovator; rather he was a conservative from rural Galilee, who was fighting to preserve Torah against the new-fangled innovations of the Pharisees. That is, far from being the one breaking the law, Jesus is arguing to retain it against the new rules like washing of hands.

That sort of turns the argument on its head, doesn’t it?

In addition, Boyarin says that Jesus was making a distinction between unclean and impure. Pigs are unclean, in every circumstance. There are no conditions that would warrant eating pig aside from, say, danger of starvation and such extreme conditions. However, an animal that is clean–such as a cow or sheep–can become impure, defiled by the way it’s handled, or by mixing it with milk products. Jesus and the Pharisees were not debating about clean vs. unclean; they were arguing about conditions that made clean food impure. The Pharisees had begun a programme in which the conditions for impurity expanded. One way a clean animal can be made impure is contact with human excreta, or other bodily fluids. This is part of what is behind Jesus’ pronouncement about “it is what comes out” of the person that defiles that person. Yes, there was a metaphorical element as well, but Jesus also meant this as a purely practical injunction.

Now, I am not in the least qualified to judge this argument on its merits. I’m scarcely able to do the argument justice in condensation and paraphrase. It sounds good, it appears sound, but outward appearance can be deceiving.

The real point of this is that, as with the Son of Man, we have a possible explanation that contravenes about 2,000 years worth of Christian interpretation. More, as far as I can tell, Boyarin’s argument is novel; I don’t know the bibliography, I cannot judge his sources, but he is writing as if this is his thesis, rather than something that’s been out there for any length of time. As such, I always want to stop and ask: What? Two thousand years later, and now someone figures this out? But then I stop and think, Well, I’m suggesting that Matthew began life as a pagan, rather than a Jew. That’s not exactly part of mainstream interpretation, either. Of course, it may be that both Boyarin’s interpretation and my hypothesis have been suggested before, but they were not taken seriously by the scholarly community, so they withered on the vine without producing any seeds that could sprout.

Aside from that, what Boyarin does is to demonstrate how fragile so many of our ideas and understandings are. We think we know what something means, but that’s only because we’ve stopped–or never started–questioning first assumptions. We’ve accepted that matters are settled, and gone our merry way. Like Wile E Coyote, we’ve never stopped to look down to see whether we’re on solid ground, or if we’re actually walking on thin air. We haven’t done this because it’s never occurred to anyone that we should question the writings qua writings. We have accepted that they form an integrated whole, a unitary whole; sure, we can tinker around the edges on grace or transubstantiation or predestination, but the basic message needs no explanation because it’s true. Make that True. This is the attitude of people of faith who come at these problems. And I would include Bart Ehrman in this camp. Yes, he is now agnostic, but his basic views were formulated as a person of faith, and I don’t think he’s quite overcome that. Most NT scholars come from a background of Divinity. This is the mindset that simply assumed the HS story of David and the unified kingdom and the course of history as set out in Joshua and Samuel and Kings was accurate in general outline. This attitude carried through until the last twenty years.

And so we come to our understanding of Mark 7. Boyarin claims that the standard interpretation of this text is that Jesus did indeed abrogate the dietary laws. I cannot vouch for this personally, being too unfamiliar with the literature. The result, of this lack of questioning, or lack of background in Judaic studies is that:

“…according to the traditional interpretation and virtually all modern scholarly ones, in [Mark 7] Jesus declares a major aspect of Torah’s laws, the laws of kashrut (keeping kosher), no longer valid, thus representing a major rupture with the beliefs and practices of virtually all other Jews, pharisaic or not.” [The Jewish Gospels, pg. 107]

He is stating that the “representatives of what are arguably the three most central and important scholarly biblical commentary series in the United States” agree on this and almost nothing else” (emphasis mine). They agree that, in Mark 7, Jesus makes a serious–to the point of fatal–break with Jewish tradition by declaring the dietary laws null and void. IOW, all serious schools of NT study interpret Mark 7–or Matthew 15–to mean that Jesus purposefully and consciously broke with his Jewish background. One could argue that this could very well be the founding moment of Christianity, when it broke decisively with its Jewish background. But we need to ask ourselves what the basis is for this general consensus on Mark 7. Have scholars actually examined the assumptions on which this modern interpretation rests?

I tend to suspect not.

Why not? We discussed this in the commentary on the chapter. I have pointed it out at least in two other instances. In his own words, a full two decades (give or take) before Mark wrote his Chapter 7, Paul told us that he and James had an argument on this very topic. In Acts, written perhaps two decades after Mark wrote his Chapter 7, Peter has a dream telling him that all animals are edible. IOW, this issue was still being contended decades after the fact. All of which means that the likelihood that Jesus made any decisive break with Jewish dietary laws extremely unlikely. In fact, the probability of Jesus making such a pronouncement approaches zero. That is to say, the events of Mark Chapter 7, or Matthew Chapter 15 did not happen.

So what does all of this mean? Several things. The first is that too much of the scholarship of the NT–or the Bible as a whole–is not based on firm principles of historical research. In the NT, this problem is compounded by scholars who start with Mark, and not with Paul. For all his erudition, and all of his knowledge of the Judaic context of Jesus, Boyarin falls completely into this trap. He jumps right in to Mark, the earliest gospel, without ever stopping to consider that he should start with the earliest texts, to see what the (proto-)Christian context was for Mark. But Boyarin is hardly alone. Most all of the research I’ve read on the quest for the historical Jesus, or the arguments for Q, approach their subject as if Mark was the beginning of it all. It’s an easy trap to fall into. Paul predates Mark by decades, but Paul doesn’t talk about the historical Jesus–he barely mentions him. Instead, he focuses his attention on the Risen Christ. So, when questing for the Questing Beast, er, the historical Jesus, too many scholars more or less ignore historical records that are decades closer to the actual events. They prefer to follow documents that have already begun to report the legend and not the history. As someone trained in history, I’m just kind of surprised at this behavior. It just seems bizarre, not to mention flat wrong because it simply warps the evidence too much.

So far, this has been a fairly straightforward critique of the failure to use proper historical method. But let’s change gears and direction and introduce a clever bit on my part. To do this, we return to Boyarin’s hypothesis about what Mark says in Chapter 7. In the course of setting forth his argument, Boyarin mentions something that I had not heard suggested ever before, that Mark was not Jewish. I found this surprising, but he quickly squelches this possibility by presenting a strong case to the contrary by suggesting that Mark is making a very subtle distinction, finessing the discussion to a nuanced correction of the practices of the Pharisees, while not actually disturbing the dietary laws. In Boyarin’s opinion, this shows a grasp of the topic that would probably have been outside the capability of a non-Jew. Boyarin can stop there. He is only concerned with whether Mark’s Jesus does, or does not, abrogate the dietary laws as they existed in the First Century. Once he has demonstrated that Jesus has not (as he is convinced he has done), he drops the topic and moves on. Fine. But we need to take this a step further. We need to ask why Mark felt the need to present this very subtle argument in support of the dietary laws.

Why indeed?

Part of the question must rest on whether we assume that Mark knew about the Pauline corpus. On general principles, this seems unlikely, but certainly not impossible. Regardless, by the time Mark wrote, there were assemblies of pagan converts that were decades old. These assemblies, founded perhaps by Paul and Paul’s acolytes–such as Titus the Greek–would have been breaking the dietary laws for most–if not all–of their existence. And yet the author of Acts still feels the need to reinforce the right to abrogate them by reporting Peter’s dream abolishing unclean animals. Just as Peter’s dream demonstrates that Jesus had not made a pronouncement on this, the need to reinforce that it was acceptable to eat pork shows that there were still those who resisted this practice. If they existed in the 90s, when Luke/Acts was written, they likely existed in the 70s, when Mark was written.  So here’s the clever bit: was Mark 7 written as an attempt to compromise between the two practices that were mutually contradictory? Did he come up with this subtle method to explain, if not fully reconcile, the two traditions?

I think this needs to be considered. For two thousand years, former pagans have read Mark 7 as a way of approving the eating of pork, etc. Former pagans likely were not overly concerned with the differences between the law of Torah and the innovations the Pharisees were attempting to introduce, or to make standard. So pagans could go about their way, understanding Mark 7 to mean they were justified in their non-adherence to the Law. Former Jews, OTOH, like James, brother of the Lord, could take heart that this was not what Jesus actually said. (Yes, James was ten years dead when Mark wrote, but he still serves as a great example for the point.) Yes, this is clever on my part. No, this isn’t proven. And yes, this cannot be proven. But it should, at the very least, be considered, and discussed. There’s a lot more going on here than has been understood for too long. The idea that the NT told a unified story has held the field for too long, and cut off too many avenues of debate. We need to stop thinking in those terms and coming to appreciate the layers and the subtleties buried–and not always deeply–in the text. In short, we need to read the text as a text, and not as a Pronouncement.


Matthew Chapter 16:1-12

At the end of the previous chapter, we had Jesus getting out of the boat at Magadan. Presumably, this is where he still is. Magadan is on the western shore of the sea, about halfway between Tiberias and Caphernaum. 

1 Καὶ προσελθόντες οἱ Φαρισαῖοι καὶ Σαδδουκαῖοι πειράζοντες ἐπηρώτησαν αὐτὸν σημεῖον ἐκ τοῦ οὐρανοῦ ἐπιδεῖξαι αὐτοῖς.

And some Pharisees and Sadducees coming towards, testing they asked him (for) a sign from the sky to show to them.

Question: would Pharisees and Sadducees come out in a group together like this? I seem to have the sense that the two groups were not exactly on good terms. Checking a couple of commentaries ( is really a wonderful resource), I find that the consensus is that the two groups were putting aside their enmity in order to gang up on Jesus. I do not believe this for a moment. I say this because I do not truly believe that Jesus was that much of a radical, or that he was so popular that he threatened the religious establishment. Then, on top of this, we are in Magadan; these people were not part of the religious establishment. That consisted of the high priests and the Sanhedrin. The terms for religious authorities in Jerusalem are different; they are not simply called Pharisees and Sadducees. And it’s even more important to remember that these were groups of believers, types of believers, in no way were they a corporate body. This is perhaps akin to saying that some Catholics and some Lutherans came to talk to Jesus. OK, that’s fine, but there’s really no greater significance to the group. Some people, who have no official standing, get together to talk to, oh, let’s say John Wesley. It’s more of the set up for a joke then a menacing combination. Some Catholics and some Lutherans went to talk to John Wesley (in a bar…).

Now, given this, we may be tempted to suspect that this set-up is meaningless. In a sense that’s true; it really doesn’t have implications for what happens to Jesus eventually. However, there may be another type of significance lying just under the surface here. In effect, Matthew is setting up an unrealistic set of circumstances. More interestingly, neither Mark nor Luke combine Sadducees with Pharisees as Matthew does here. And recall that Matthew is supposed to be the most Jewish of the four evangelists. And yet he combines two groups that normally wouldn’t be combined? And he is using this to set the stage for what happens later to Jesus in Jerusalem, as if he’s implying that this group of interlocutors is related to the group that will later, supposedly, have Jesus executed? What this says to me is that Matthew was not particularly aware of the situation in Galilee/Judea during the governorship of Pilate. It also says that Matthew was not particularly aware of the differences between Pharisees and Sadducees. The latter is the more damning, in my opinion, because a good Jew could be removed from the regions of Judea and Galilee, and live fifty years after the fact and be sort of clueless about the way the government worked there at that time. Happens all the time. But it seems less forgivable that he would be unaware that the Pharisees and Sadducees didn’t really get along. And that he, and he alone, pairs the two of them like this seems to matter, too. It’s like calling the Syro-Phoenician woman a Canaanite.

1 Et accesserunt ad eum pharisaei et sadducaei tentantes et rogaverunt eum, ut signum de caelo ostenderet eis.

2 ὁ δὲ ἀποκριθεὶς εἶπεν αὐτοῖς, [Ὀψίας γενομένης λέγετε, Εὐδία, πυρράζει γὰρ ὁ οὐρανός:

3 καὶ πρωΐ, Σήμερον χειμών, πυρράζει γὰρ στυγνάζων ὁοὐρανός. τὸ μὲν πρόσωπον τοῦ οὐρανοῦ γινώσκετε διακρίνειν, τὰ δὲ σημεῖα τῶν καιρῶν οὐ δύνασθε.]

He answering said to them, [“Having become late you say, ‘Fair weather, for the sky is glowing red’. And in the morning, ‘The sign (is?) winter, for the sky is glowing red and lowering’. On the one hand the face of the sky you know how to judge, but the sign of the times you cannot.]

First, the square brackets indicate that these words of Jesus are not in all manuscript traditions. They may well be an interpolation. If I had to guess, I would guess that they are. Otherwise, we have Jesus reciting an early version of “red sky at night. Sailor’s delight. Red sky at morning, sailors take warning.” This was not in Mark, and it’s not in Luke. My sense is that it is an interpolation.

One thing to note is that he is using “ouranos” in the singular, rather than the plural. As such I think we can translate as “sky”, rather than “heavens” when it is plural. In English, of course. “heavens” is the synonym for “sky” while the singular form is Heaven. But Matthew uses the plural for the “kingdom of the heavens”, or “our father in the heavens”. I think the distinction is fair.

2 At ille respondens ait eis: “Facto vespere dicitis: “Serenum erit, rubicundum est enim caelum”;

3 et mane: “Hodie tempestas, rutilat enim triste caelum”. Faciem quidem caeli diiudicare nostis, signa autem temporum non potestis.

4 Γενεὰ πονηρὰ καὶ μοιχαλὶς σημεῖον ἐπιζητεῖ, καὶ σημεῖον οὐ δοθήσεται αὐτῇ εἰ μὴ τὸ σημεῖον Ἰωνᾶ. καὶ καταλιπὼν αὐτοὺς ἀπῆλθεν.

This generation, wicked and adulterous seeks a sign, and a sign will not be given to it other than the sign of Jonah. And leaving them, he went away. 

I’m sure most of you have been waiting for me to mention that this is something of a rerun. To be honest, I hadn’t realized that we had seen this in Matthew before until we got to the sign of Jonah. I remember it from Mark, but upon checking I note that we ran across almost the exact same story back in Chapter 12. There, Jesus also denied a sign to a wicked and adulterous generation, unless it be the sign of Jonah. In fact, the verbiage is pretty much verbatim, to the point that I pulled out my hard copy and compared the two. From the beginning of Verse 5 through the “sign of Jonah”, the words are all-but completely identical. (They seem to be identical, but I may have missed some minor discrepancy.) Now, it’s one thing when it’s a story, like feeding a large number of people, in which some of the details get changed, but it’s quite another when it’s a short passage like this that is basically word-for-word.

So what does this mean? I’m not even sure it’s appropriate to call it a twinning; more accurately, it’s a repetition. Sure, it’s possible, but it’s not like there’s any real variation between the two, nothing to indicate that it’s a separate story, except for the fact that this iteration includes Sadducees, whereas the first time it was Pharisees and Teachers of the Law. This is such an unusual occurrence that I’m not even sure there’s a term for it. What was Matthew thinking?

Whatever the answer to that last question, I think we have to question Matthew’s editorial skills. Once again, the single most major important argument for Q is that Luke would never have messed with Matthew’s “masterful” arrangement of the Q material in the Sermon on the Mount. That was a work of such extraordinary genius that it’s impossible to conceive of anyone reading it and not slavishly following the example. But if Matthew is not even paying enough attention to notice that he repeated several paragraphs, verbatim, are we really supposed to trust his other instincts as an editor? I think that this repetition gives us the right to step back and ask if Matthew really is such a master. If the answer is no, then a crucial pillar supporting the argument for Q collapses.

One last thing. Jesus is very summary in his dismissal of his interlocutors. In the version in Chapter 12, this episode ends with Jesus’ family coming to get him, in a watered-down version of Mark where some members of the crowd thought Jesus was a bit off, and his family felt that Jesus needed to be “rescued”. Since we will be going off in a boat and talking about leaven, the version here in Chapter 16 is actually the parallel to Mark’s telling of this story. For Matthew, the problem came when he intruded this part about asking for the sign into the section that properly dealt with the House Divided speech. That is, we should not be questioning why the request for a sign is here; we should have asked why it was also included back in Chapter 12. Of course, at that point I didn’t realize we were going to go into reruns quite so quickly.

4 Generatio mala et adultera signum quaerit, et signum non dabitur ei, nisi signum Ionae ”. Et, relictis illis, abiit.

5 Καὶ ἐλθόντες οἱ μαθηταὶ εἰς τὸ πέραν ἐπελάθοντο ἄρτους λαβεῖν.

6 ὁ δὲ Ἰησοῦς εἶπεν αὐτοῖς, Ὁρᾶτε καὶ προσέχετε ἀπὸ τῆς ζύμης τῶν Φαρισαίων καὶ Σαδδουκαίων.

7 οἱ δὲ διελογίζοντο ἐν ἑαυτοῖς λέγοντες ὅτι Ἄρτους οὐκ ἐλάβομεν.

8 γνοὺς δὲ ὁ Ἰησοῦς εἶπεν, Τί διαλογίζεσθε ἐν ἑαυτοῖς, ὀλιγόπιστοι, ὅτι ἄρτους οὐκ ἔχετε;

9 οὔπω νοεῖτε, οὐδὲ μνημονεύετε τοὺς πέντε ἄρτους τῶν πεντακισχιλίων καὶ πόσους κοφίνους ἐλάβετε;

10 οὐδὲ τοὺς ἑπτὰ ἄρτους τῶν τετρακισχιλίων καὶ πόσας σπυρίδας ἐλάβετε;

And coming, the disciples went to the other shore having forgotten to take bread. (6) And Jesus said to them, “Look out and beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees”. (7) But they were dialoguing amongst themselves that they had not taken bread. (8) But knowing, Jesus said, “What are you dialoguing amongst yourselves, ones of little faith, that you did not bring bread? (9) How do you not know, nor remember the five loaves of the five thousand and how many baskets you collected? (10) Nor the seven loaves of the four thousand, and how many measures you collected?   

This is partially what I mean about how the request for a sign belongs here, and not in its previous location back in Chapter 12. The story here follows the progression of Mark, starting with the request for the sign. And here we even get some of the attitude Jesus had in Mark. He’s exasperated, annoyed, and a bit sarcastic. Dullards! Don’t you get it? You’re talking about bread when you witnessed not one, but two feedings of huge crowds with a few loaves of bread. We even get the repetition of “you of little faith” that we first got when Peter decided he couldn’t walk on water. This is not a word that Mark used at all, but it’s a tone and an implication that we often found in Mark. 

The point about the yeast of the Pharisees is that the latter would not believe without a sign. Jesus is telling the disciples that they have seen several signs, notably the dual feedings of the large crowds. So the point becomes, why did Matthew choose to retain this attitude, which is more appropriate to Mark than it is to Matthew? We have the clueless disciples who are of little faith and an exasperated Jesus who has grown petulant with his chosen few. This is how Mark portrayed the inner workings of Jesus and the Twelve (Or the Five: Peter, Andrew, James, John, and Judas Iscariot. Who else is mentioned in the Synoptics? Aside from the passage where their names are given?). So why does Matthew carry this over, virtually unchanged? We have seen him edit Mark before this, cut out a sentence or two, change the direction, or the implication of another, so it’s not like he follows Mark to the letter. So we have to ask, Why? And/or, Why here?

I’m not sure I have an answer at the moment. Mark did this, I have suggested, to explain what happened to the believers in Judea and Galilee. As in, why weren’t there any? So the initial impulse is to suggest the same thing for Matthew here. To explain why, once again, the followers of Jesus were now (as of when Matthew was writing) mostly pagan. Even for Matthew, even the innermost circle of Jesus’ followers were ‘of little faith’, and unable to penetrate the shield of the parables Jesus spread around his teachings. And seriously, the only one of these that is truly attested by an independent source is Peter. James, of course, is mentioned by Paul, but the latter is the brother of Jesus and not the son of Zebedee. Of course, the two are not necessarily mutually exclusive in and of themselves, but the calling of this James makes it clear that we are not referring to James, brother of the lord. The advantage of this explanation is that it has Matthew following Mark’s story, his characterizations, and also Mark’s motives for adding these elements of the story in the first place

That’s going to have to stand for now. I’m open to suggestions. And further stories may provide further clues as to why Matthew did this. I think the one suggested is the most likely..

5 Et cum venissent discipuli trans fretum, obliti sunt panes accipere.

6 Iesus autem dixit illis: “Intuemini et cavete a fermento pharisaeorum et sadducaeorum ”.

7 At illi cogitabant inter se dicentes: “Panes non accepimus!”.

8 Sciens autem Iesus dixit: “Quid cogitatis inter vos, modicae fidei, quia panes non habetis?

9 Nondum intellegitis neque recordamini quinque panum quinque milium hominum, et quot cophinos sumpsistis?

10 Neque septem panum quattuor milium hominum, et quot sportas sumpsistis?

11 πῶς οὐ νοεῖτε ὅτι οὐ περὶ ἄρτων εἶπον ὑμῖν; προσέχετε δὲ ἀπὸ τῆς ζύμης τῶν Φαρισαίων καὶ Σαδδουκαίων.

12 τότε συνῆκαν ὅτι οὐκ εἶπεν προσέχειν ἀπὸ τῆς ζύμης τῶν ἄρτων ἀλλὰ ἀπὸ τῆς διδαχῆς τῶν Φαρισαίων καὶΣαδδουκαίων.

How is it you do not understand that not about bread do I speak to you? But that you beware from the yeast of the Pharisees and the Sadducees. (12) Then understood that he did not speak about the yeast of the loaves, but from the teachings of the Pharisees and Sadducees. 

Finally! He got through their thick noggins! Now the book by Boyarin that I’m reading, The Jewish Gospels, has a really interesting take on the Pharisees. But I’m going to save that for a special topic, because it also touches on whether Jesus abrogated the dietary laws.

In the meantime, is it any wonder why disciples like these did not bear more fruit? Why they did not succeed in converting more Jews to the teaching of Jesus?

11 Quomodo non intellegitis quia non de panibus dixi vobis? Sed cavete a fermento pharisaeorum et sadducaeorum ”.

12 Tunc intellexerunt quia non dixerit cavendum a fermento panum sed a doctrina pharisaeorum et sadducaeorum.

Summary Matthew Chapter 15

This chapter consists of three distinct stories. The first culminates with Jesus proclaiming that it is what comes out of a person that defiles him or her, not what goes in. The second is the story of the Syro-Phoenician woman, who is now described as a Canaanite. Finally, we have the Feeding of the Four Thousand.

The last will come first because, overall, it’s the least significant of the three. I have given my reasons to suspect that this is really just a twin of the 5,000. When I took a look at the chapter as a whole, the “oh, by the way” manner in which it’s handled only reinforces this idea. The story was too well-attested that Matthew, nor Mark before him, felt able to omit it, but Matthew certainly did give it short shrift. There is nothing to distinguish it from the first, except for the minor details of the number fed, the fact that there was a little fish to be distributed, and the number of baskets filled after everyone was satiated. The set-up, the setting, even the end where Jesus leaves by boat are virtually identical to the previous version of the story.

So what does this tell us? As mentioned, it indicates a strong tradition of two feeding stories. Both were well entrenched in the corpus of Jesus stories as they came down to Mark, and through Mark to Matthew. In turn, this indicates the existence of two separate groups of Jesus followers who told stories about Jesus, but neither group was aware of the other. The idea of this happening, of there being two distinct groups is something we’ve inferred for a long time now. The two feeding stories, I think, is as close to proof of this thesis as we will ever get. Really, the fact that we can, more or less, “prove” two groups is probably a good indication that there were many more. We discussed this this with Mark, and with reference to “The Life Of Brian” with it’s “Blessed are the cheese makers” routine. Presumably Jesus spoke to many people over the course of his public ministry; he may not have spoken to as many as Mark would have us believe, but it would have been substantial. And think about a setting like the Sermon on the Mount, or even these feeding stories. In them, Jesus teaches a large crowd, or even a significant crowd of a few hundred persons. These may include groups of people from different villages; upon dispersal, each went back to its native village and told other people about what they heard. Different groups would have heard or remembered different things. So, especially in the early days, there are many, many threads of Jesus lore. Over time, some of the groups coalesced, but some more quickly than others. Groups in more distant places remained isolated longer, but the threads eventually twisted into strings, which got twisted together into cables. Mark was the first to attempt to create a cable. Matthew followed suit because he felt that Mark had not told the whole story. We will come back to that, probably in a special topic entry.

The significance of the Canaanite woman is that she represents Jesus’ outreach to pagans, and the way pagans responded with strong faith. Her belief contrasts to Peter of little faith at the end of Chapter 14. This is meant to indicate that Jesus preached to pagans, and that pagans may, at least in some instances, have stronger faith than the children of Israel. Of course the story never happened; this is a clear case of invention after the fact, meant to give Jesus’ seal of approval to the pagan ministry begun by Paul. In fact, this story is actually (at least, it may be) the punchline to the previous story about defilement. And these two form the climax to the last part of Chapter 14 when Peter walked on the water; or, he did until he lost his faith in his ability to do so. Ergo, Jesus rebukes Peter as one of little faith. This is one of the few times that Matthew has Jesus speaking sharply to Peter, or any of the disciples. As such, I think it’s inclusion is very significant. We have Peter, the prominent disciple, the initial follower, lacking faith. Does he represent Israel as a whole? The first to experience Jesus’ message? And he doesn’t believe. Instead, what Israel does is turn into the Pharisees of the first part of Chapter 15. They are very concerned with washing hands, and such outward actions. But they will give to the Temple, declare something ‘corban’ rather than use it to help their elderly parents who have fallen on hard times. They are concerned with defilement from without.

It should be noted that ritual pollution was a very common notion among all peoples up to a certain point in time. It was a big deal for the Greeks. Unburied corpses were a horror to them, just as they were for the Jews. So the Pharisees’ reaction is typical of the earlier traditions. Acts had to be performed in certain ways in order to be pleasing to the gods. This is part of the rationale used by a professional priest-caste to justify their existence, and to demand that they be supported by the labor of others. But in this story of defilement, Jesus overturns the tables of the money-changers. It is not what is without that matters; it is what is within. To some degree, this is the final step in the transition from shame culture to guilt culture. The former emphasizes form, the outward act, while the latter is about the inward person, the inner self. So in this section of the chapter–or the story–we get Peter’s little faith followed by the Pharisees’ nitpicking about the rules of humans, and not of God. Then comes the clincher: without ever saying so, Jesus torpedoes a good-sized chunk of Mosaic Law. Leviticus gives us a list of stuff that the children of Israel are not to eat; Jesus says this doesn’t matter. In other words, it’s acceptable to eat like a pagan.

Then we get to the climax of this three-part tale. Jesus goes to the territory of Sidon & Tyre. The purpose of the trip is to visit his biological father, Pantera, who was from Sidon, and was soon to ship out to Germany, where he would die and his funeral stele would be found almost two thousand years later. At least, that’s what James Tabor would have us believe. Color me skeptical. The fact is, we don’t know why Jesus went to Sidon & Tyre, because it’s entirely possible that he never did so. There are only a few stories of Jesus interacting with pagans; so far, we’ve had the people living around the Gerasene demonaic (they herded pigs), the centurion, and now this Canaanite woman. The first group is window dressing. Both the centurion and this Canaanite woman, however, serve as examples of the strength of faith among pagans. And in this chapter the woman, the pagan woman, shows up Peter and the Pharisees, the cream of the disciples and the cream of Jewish religious culture–according to Paul, anyway. And so it is. The torch has been passed from the children of Israel to the children of all those other gods that the followers of YHWH despised so mightily. As such, this is a very significant chapter indeed. The history of the development of the Jesus followers into Christians has taken a very big step as it has, in some ways, superseded its Jewish roots and moved out into the broader world of the pagans. This is, of course, where its future would lie.

And perhaps here is the real motive behind calling her a Canaanite instead of Syro-Phoenician. The early books of the Hebrew Scriptures is full of the conflict between Israel (and Israel as a whole as well as Israel without Judah) and the Canaanites. Many of Israel’s greatest victories and Israel’s greatest defeats were over, or at the hands of the Canaanites. True, the greatest defeat was wrought by the Assyrians, but the Assyrians were obvious enemies, and against them the Israelites could only fight. There was no negotiating, nor any fraternizing. The Assyrians were simply implacable. The Canaanites, on the other hand were more insidious, and in some ways posed the greater danger, for the Canaanites were the enemy within. The Israelites married Canaanite women and worshipped Canaanite gods, neglecting the cult of YHWH as they did so. They were seductive and welcoming and much harder to fight. Eventually, on the battlefield, Israel, perhaps, got the better of the Canaanites. But here in Chapter 15, the Canaanites got their revenge, taking the place of the Israelites in service to the One True God and to Jesus the Christ. Is that why Matthew chose to call the woman a Canaanite? Was Matthew of Canaanite heritage? Was he born into a family that worshipped Dagon, or Ba’al, or one of those despised Canaanite gods? Interesting question, is it not?