Matthew Chapter 26:1-13

Based on what was said in the commentary at the beginning of the last chapter, you’d realize that we should be at the penultimate chapter of Matthew that there remains but this one and another. Well, I was wrong! There are 28 Chapters in Matthew, not 27. As such, this is the penultimate. This is what happens to show-offs and braggarts. I was hoist on my own petard, as it were. Regardless, this current chapter is the passion narrative, which likely won’t require too much comment. It’s largely a straightforward narrative account of action, so it is much more plot driven than the material we’ve been considering.

1 Καὶ ἐγένετο ὅτε ἐτέλεσεν ὁ Ἰησοῦς πάντας τοὺς λόγους τούτους, εἶπεν τοῖς μαθηταῖς αὐτοῦ,

2 Οἴδατε ὅτι μετὰ δύο ἡμέρας τὸ πάσχα γίνεται, καὶ ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου παραδίδοται εἰς τὸ σταυρωθῆναι.

When it became that Jesus finished all these words, he said to his disciples, (2) “Know that after two days it becomes Pesach (Passover), and the son of man is given over to be crucified.” 

Just a couple of things quickly. “Pesach” is not actually Hebrew, apparently, so perhaps it’s Aramaic? In either case, I put it in to show the derivation of “pascha”, which is the root of “paschal”. Note that when Jesus is referred to as the “Paschal Lamb”, this is a direct comparison of Jesus to the lamb that was sacrificed by the Hebrews on the night before the Angel of Death camp to Egypt. The Hebrews used the blood of the lamb to mark their doorposts so that the Angel of Death passed over the houses of the Hebrews, and went on to kill the first born of all Egyptians. Now there are some fine theological points in here, and the nickel version I just gave is oversimplified by a lot. As with so many things biblical, there are arguments about some of the points, but they need not detain us here. Mainly because I don’t know them. The second point I was going to make concerns the timing of all of this, but I will save that for a bit later.

1 Et factum est, cum consum masset Iesus sermones hos omnes, dixit discipulis suis:

2 “ Scitis quia post biduum Pascha fiet, et Filius hominis traditur, ut crucifigatur”.

3 Τότε συνήχθησαν οἱ ἀρχιερεῖς καὶ οἱ πρεσβύτεροι τοῦ λαοῦ εἰς τὴν αὐλὴν τοῦ ἀρχιερέως τοῦ λεγομένου Καϊάφα,

4 καὶ συνεβουλεύσαντο ἵνα τὸν Ἰησοῦν δόλῳ κρατήσωσιν καὶ ἀποκτείνωσιν:

5 ἔλεγον δέ, Μὴ ἐν τῇ ἑορτῇ, ἵνα μὴ θόρυβος γένηται ἐν τῷ λαῷ.

Then the high priests and the elders of the people congregated to the palace of the High Priest, whose name was Caiaphas. (4) And taking counsel together in order secretly they should seize Jesus and kill him. (5) But he (Caiaphas) said, “Not in the festival, lest turbulence comes in the people.”

Several things here. First, the transition is very abrupt, even if it follows from the narrative. Jesus predicts his handing over, cut to high priests plotting to kill him. Fade to black, cut back to Jesus having dinner. It’s a bit rough, the sort of thing that most first-year film students would know to avoid, I suspect.

Joseph Caiaphas is attested by Josephus, so Caiaphas is probably an actual historical person, like Pilate. Josephus says he was the son-in-law of Ananas, the Annas of the NT and Jesus Christ Superstar. Again per Josephus, Caiaphas had been appointed by Pilate’s predecessor; all the Jewish high priests were appointed by the Romans because they had a role in maintaining peace among the populace. This was more about influence than about actual power. However, Josephus does say that the Temple authorities–presumably the High Priest–were given the power to execute anyone who ventured too far into the Temple, and not necessarily all the way to the Holy of Holies where only the High Priest was allowed. Josephus says that the High Priest could even execute a Roman who had desecrated the Temple in this way. This puts an interesting twist on the Passion Story.

Finally, it just seems very, very odd that the assembled group should express such qualms about executing Jesus during the festival. Again per Josephus, the festival times were very rocky. The population of the city was swollen with people coming in from all over. Tempers frayed, talk got out of control, there were robberies and murders. So, while it does make sense in a larger context for them to feel these qualms, this does not at all square with what happens: They arrest Jesus and then beg the Romans to execute him, during the Festival. They caution against it, then do exactly that.

When I learned about the power given to the High Priests to execute defilers of the Temple, it set me off thinking about whether this might be the reason Jesus was executed: he went too far into the Temple. The problem is, this does not fit with the rest of the story. If the point was to exonerate the Romans, this power of execution provides a perfect way to do just that. By claiming this as the cause, then the Romans are completely off the hook. There is no need to come up with this elaborate story of how the high priests & elders had to plead with Pilate to crucify Jesus. So this tells me that the Romans were the ones behind the crucifixion, for reasons unknown–to us, anyway. In any case, this reluctance to arrest Jesus during the festival rings hollow.

3 Tunc congregati sunt principes sacerdotum et seniores populi in aulam principis sacerdotum, qui dicebatur Caiphas,

4 et consilium fecerunt, ut Iesum dolo tenerent et occiderent;

5 dicebant autem: “Non in die festo, ne tumultus fiat in populo”.

6 Τοῦ δὲ Ἰησοῦ γενομένου ἐν Βηθανίᾳ ἐν οἰκίᾳ Σίμωνος τοῦ λεπροῦ,

7 προσῆλθεν αὐτῷ γυνὴ ἔχουσα ἀλάβαστρον μύρου βαρυτίμου καὶ κατέχεεν ἐπὶ τῆς κεφαλῆς αὐτοῦ ἀνακειμένου.

Jesus was in Bethany, in the house of Simon the Leper. (7) There approached him a woman having an alabaster of very expensive myrrh and poured it over his head as he was seated.

First, we are in Bethany. Mark told us explicitly that, after the triumphal procession into Jerusalem, Jesus went to the Temple, looked around, and left to spend the night in Bethany. Matthew doesn’t mention Bethany by name, but his narrative agrees that Jesus spend Sunday night outside Jerusalem, because the next morning, Matthew tells us, Jesus returned to the city. So we can, I believe, assume that this is the house where Jesus was staying while he was sojourning in the Greater Metropolitan Jerusalem area. The identity of the homeowner is interesting, and he is named by Mark as well. Was Simon a former leper who had been cured by Jesus? That would make sense, explaining how he had come to be a follower of Jesus. Because, if Simon were still a leper, why didn’t Jesus cure him while staying at his house?

Then the big one. Nowhere, in none of the gospels, is this woman ever, ever identified as Mary Magdalene. Nor is Mary M ever referred to as a prostitute. Magdalene usually only comes into the picture around the time of the crucifixion, and we will discuss her further there. This story is not found in Luke, but it is in the other three. Neither Mark nor Matthew identify the woman by name; John, however, says this was Mary, the sister of Martha and Lazarus. So how this woman came to be identified as Magdalene is an interesting exercise in popular culture. The crowd often gets it wrong. This is an excellent cautionary tale to bear in mind when arguing that the story that exists in the popular mind is accurate. 

6 Cum autem esset Iesus in Bethania, in domo Simonis leprosi,

7 accessit ad eum mulier habens alabastrum unguenti pretiosi et effudit super caput ipsius recumbentis.

ἰδόντες δὲ οἱ μαθηταὶ ἠγανάκτησαν λέγοντες, Εἰς τί ἡ ἀπώλεια αὕτη;

9 ἐδύνατο γὰρ τοῦτο πραθῆναι πολλοῦ καὶ δοθῆναι πτωχοῖς.

10 γνοὺς δὲ ὁ Ἰησοῦς εἶπεν αὐτοῖς, Τί κόπους παρέχετε τῇ γυναικί; ἔργον γὰρ καλὸν ἠργάσατο εἰς ἐμέ:

11 πάντοτε γὰρ τοὺς πτωχοὺς ἔχετε μεθ’ ἑαυτῶν, ἐμὲ δὲ οὐπάντοτε ἔχετε:

12 βαλοῦσα γὰρ αὕτη τὸ μύρον τοῦτο ἐπὶ τοῦ σώματός μου πρὸς τὸ ἐνταφιάσαι με ἐποίησεν.

13 ἀμὴν λέγω ὑμῖν, ὅπου ἐὰν κηρυχθῇ τὸ εὐαγγέλιον τοῦτο ἐν ὅλῳ τῷ κόσμῳ, λαληθήσεται καὶ ὃ ἐποίησεν αὕτη εἰς μνημόσυνον αὐτῆς.

Seeing, the disciples waxed indignant, saying, “To what (end) was this destroyed? For this could have been sold for much and given to the poor.” (10) Knowing, Jesus said to them, “Why do you browbeat the woman? For a good deed she has performed towards me. (11) For always you will have the poor with yourselves, me you will not always have. (12) For she has thrown this myrrh upon my body towards when my burial is done. (13) Amen, I say to you, when the good news has been announced to all the world, they will speak of what she has done in her memory”.

Such an unfortunate thing Jesus said here. “The poor you will always have with you”. While true, it has been used over and over again, countless times, to justify not making attempts to help the unfortunate. It’s easier, it seems, to remember this lesson than the lesson of the “least of my siblings” that we read scarcely ten verses ago in the last chapter.

Myrrh has an association with burial. As such, it was very appropriate in this context as the coming crucifixion looms large as it approaches in the story. This is the sort of story that would be very easy to brush off as apocryphal, an invention of an event that never occurred. However, there is, in my opinion, one problem with this: the very utterance of Jesus that I just described as “unfortunate”. This line expresses a thought, or a way of thinking that we do not usually associate with Jesus. There is almost a callousness involved. This comes to one of those situations in which the story is believable because no one would make it up.

Then too, the idea that he was anointed with myrrh shortly before his execution would be one of those portents that lodged in popular memory as a foreshadow of what was to come. In all twelve lives that he wrote about the Caesars, Suetonius includes portents that presaged the death of the emperor being discussed; many of them are things like two-headed calves being born. They are the sorts of things that happen and are mostly forgotten until something else happens, and the “connexion” is seen as a portent in retrospect. A thousand things like this occur to each of us every day and are forgotten until, by sheer coincidence, one of them connects to a subsequent event.

So, skeptic that I am, I suspect that this story may have some element, a kernel of truth at its core for these two reasons. Plus, it doesn’t hurt that the story is in Mark, indicating that it was an early story that caught on because it was “authentic” in some degree.

Now, here we go on a flight of fancy. I haven’t gone off on one of these for some time, so perhaps it’s forgivable. I said that the sentiment expressed does not sound like authentic Jesus, that it sounds too callous and dismissive. What if this was how the authentic Jesus sounded? Recall that Mark very often describes Jesus as angry, fed up, short-tempered. In fact, “the poor you will always have with you” is very consistent with a Jesus like the one described in Mark. This would add weight to my growing belief that much of what we attribute to Jesus, should be attributed to those who came later. Some, but very little, would trace to Paul; more to Mark, a lot to Matthew and probably a lot can be traced to James, brother of Jesus. This would very neatly explain the very large amount of material found in Matthew, but not in Mark. There is much more than can be easily written off as derived from some fictional Q. 

8 Videntes autem discipuli, indignati sunt dicentes: “ Ut quid perditio haec?

9 Potuit enim istud venumdari multo et dari pauperibus ”.

10 Sciens autem Iesus ait illis: “ Quid molesti estis mulieri? Opus enim bonum operata est in me;

11 nam semper pauperes habetis vobiscum, me autem non semper habetis.

12 Mittens enim haec unguentum hoc supra corpus meum, ad sepeliendum me fecit.

13 Amen dico vobis: Ubicumque praedicatum fuerit hoc evangelium in toto mundo, dicetur et quod haec fecit in memoriam eius”.

About James, brother of Jesus

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

Posted on September 3, 2016, in Chapter 26 and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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