Matthew Chapter 26:46-54

Judas has just appeared on the scene.

46 ἐγείρεσθε, ἄγωμεν: ἰδοὺ ἤγγικεν ὁ παραδιδούς με.

47 Καὶ ἔτι αὐτοῦ λαλοῦντος ἰδοὺ Ἰούδας εἷς τῶν δώδεκα ἦλθεν καὶ μετ’ αὐτοῦ ὄχλος πολὺς μετὰ μαχαιρῶν καὶ ξύλων ἀπὸ τῶν ἀρχιερέων καὶ πρεσβυτέρων τοῦ λαοῦ.

48 ὁ δὲ παραδιδοὺς αὐτὸν ἔδωκεν αὐτοῖς σημεῖον λέγων, Ὃν ἂν φιλήσω αὐτός ἐστιν: κρατήσατεαὐτόν.

49 καὶ εὐθέως προσελθὼν τῷ Ἰησοῦ εἶπεν, Χαῖρε, ῥαββί: καὶ κατεφίλησεν αὐτόν.

50 ὁ δὲ Ἰησοῦς εἶπεν αὐτῷ, Ἑταῖρε, ἐφ’ ὃ πάρει. τότε προσελθόντες ἐπέβαλον τὰς χεῖρας ἐπὶ τὸν Ἰησοῦν καὶ ἐκράτησαν αὐτόν.

“Get up, let’s go. Look, my betrayer approaches”. (47) And while was yet speaking, behold, Judas to the Twelve came, and with him a great crowd with swords and pieces of wood from the high priests and the elders of the people. (48) The one betraying him (Jesus) showed to them (the crowd) the sign, saying, “The one I kiss is the one. Seize him”. (49) And immediately coming to Jesus he said, “Hail, rabbi,” and he planted some love on him. (50) And Jesus said to him, “Companion, upon which you are here (do what you’re here to do)”. Then coming forward they laid hands upon Jesus and overpowered (arrested) him.

As a grammar note, “pieces of wood” usually gets translated as “clubs”, and that’s probably as good as anything. However, just wanted to get across the generic nature of the term.

Other than that, I’m not sure there’s much comment required here. This is very similar to Mark’s version. The most noteworthy detail is the kiss. First, the Greek for this is fairly generic as well. The Latin, however, is much more specific, ‘osculum’ carrying through for centuries as “kiss”. In fact, the “osculum infame” shows up in the witch-hunting manuals and descriptions of the 15-17th centuries. This was the ‘obscene kiss’ demanded by Satan to seal the pact he had made with witches who (purportedly) had sold their souls to the Devil for magical powers. That the action was a fact only in the overwrought imaginations of later churchmen isn’t the point; it’s the verification of the vocabulary word. And, truth be told, had I read more Greek poetry, I might have come across the word once in a while. It doesn’t, IIRC, show up in The Symposium, Plato’s dialogue about erotic love.

But to return to the kiss itself, once again, the detail carries a lot of dramatic impact. Does it represent something that happened? Probably not.

46 Surgite, eamus; ecce appropinquavit, qui me tradit ”.

47 Et adhuc ipso loquente, ecce Iudas, unus de Duodecim, venit, et cum eo turba multa cum gladiis et fustibus, missi a principibus sacerdotum et senioribus populi.

48 Qui autem tradidit eum, dedit illis signum dicens: “Quemcumque osculatus fuero, ipse est; tenete eum!”.

49 Et confestim accedens ad Iesum dixit: “Ave, Rabbi!” et osculatus est eum.

50 Iesus autem dixit illi: “Amice, ad quod venisti!”. Tunc accesserunt et manus iniecerunt in Iesum et tenuerunt eum.

51 καὶ ἰδοὺ εἷς τῶν μετὰ Ἰησοῦ ἐκτείνας τὴν χεῖρα ἀπέσπασεν τὴν μάχαιραν αὐτοῦ καὶ πατάξας τὸν δοῦλον τοῦ ἀρχιερέως ἀφεῖλεν αὐτοῦ τὸ ὠτίον.

And, behold, one of those with Jesus stretching out his hand drew his sword , and, having struck the slave of the high priest, cut off his ear.

This is worthy of note. First, what is meant by “one of those with Jesus”? This would almost have to be one of the disciples, no? We are not told of any followers of Jesus other than the disciples. Second, Mark describes the sword-wielder as “a bystander”. Once again, a minor detail that Matthew chooses to alter. Why? Especially since there is almost zero chance that one of the disciples would have been carrying a sword. I am not certain of the severity of the offense, but this would be seriously frowned upon by the Romans. Civilians in Jerusalem, especially during the festival, when tensions were high, were not likely to be allowed to carry weapons. Since the crowd came “armed swords and clubs”, it would seem more likely that it was a bystander who used the weapon. Of course, it could be a bystander who “was (secretly) with Jesus”, one who tipped his hand at this crucial moment. This sort of thing would actually lend credence to the likelihood of it reporting–in some form–an event somehow based on something almost like an actual event.

Unfortunately, this event suffers from the flaw–a fatal flaw, IMO–that runs through the whole notion of Jesus being arrested and executed on a charge of insurrection. There is no follow-up on the part of the authorities. We know from Paul that Peter and James lived and worked in Jerusalem for decades after Jesus’ death. That is, they were not arrested and executed with Jesus. And I find this leniency on the part of the Romans incredulous. If they thought Jesus was a revolutionary, there is a very high chance that they would have arrested and executed the whole lot–and a few extra, just to make sure. More, there was no Roman suppression of  Jesus’ followers afterwards. Had Jews been gathered in the name of a Revolutionary, there would have been Roman repercussions. In the same way, the crowd has come to arrest Jesus, someone resists, and nothing happens to that resister. Yes, it’s possible that the mob let it slide, but that seems much less likely than the anecdote was fabricated.

That brings up what should be the major question: does the arrest in Gethsemane have any sort of founding on historical events? Which, of course, circles back to the truly fundamental question of why, and at whose instigation, Jesus was executed in the first place. If the Romans did it on their own initiative, for reasons short of insurrection, this whole cloak-and-dagger, middle-of-the-night intruguey sort of thing seems a bit overblown. It’s possible. Perhaps a Roman patrol grabbed Jesus for breaking curfew. That is plausible, and under proper circumstances could be considered a capital crime by the Romans–who had a very broad definition of what constituted a capital crime. But again, if this were the case, any who were with Jesus would have been arrested as well. Paul never mentions the why, and he wrote decades before the Jewish War. So my suggestion is that, since we don’t really know why Jesus was executed, the reason wasn’t considered relevant.

Spoiler alert! The creators of the Passion narrative were fully capable of inventing the entire Barabbas episode. Not only did they invent the man, they invented the custom of releasing a prisoner at the time of the Festival. There is no historical corroboration for this whatsoever. So, if that episode was invented, so too could all of this in the Garden of Gethsemane.

51 Et ecce unus ex his, qui erant cum Iesu, extendens manum exemit gladium suum et percutiens servum principis sacerdotum amputavit auriculam eius.

52 τότε λέγει αὐτῷ ὁ Ἰησοῦς, Ἀπόστρεψον τὴν μάχαιράν σου εἰς τὸν τόπον αὐτῆς, πάντες γὰρ οἱ λαβόντες μάχαιραν ἐν μαχαίρῃ ἀπολοῦνται.

53 ἢ δοκεῖς ὅτι οὐ δύναμαι παρακαλέσαι τὸν πατέρα μου, καὶ παραστήσει μοι ἄρτι πλείω δώδεκα λεγιῶνας ἀγγέλων;

54 πῶς οὖν πληρωθῶσιν αἱ γραφαὶ ὅτι οὕτως δεῖ γενέσθαι;

Then Jesus said, “Put away the sword of yours into its place, for all those carrying swords on the sword will perish. (53) Or think you that my father is unable to order, and to have stand by me now full twelve legions of angels? How then will the writings be fulfilled that in this way it must be?” 

This is full of some very rich theological ideas. Let’s start with the fact that nothing in these three verses is in Mark. The bit about the sword was not necessary for Mark because it was a bystander who did the striking. So Mark’s Jesus need show no concern about general principles in this case. The phrase “live by the sword, die by the sword” has become an aphorism in English.

Here, though, it serves another purpose. This isn’t just some pearl of wisdom–which it is–tossed out by Jesus in some off-hand manner. Rather, it leads into the next verse about the legions of angels. In Mark, Jesus wasn’t necessarily divine. Perhaps his version of the Passion Narrative persists in this belief, whereas for Matthew, the reason that God did not intervene to rescue Jesus must be explained. In fact, this becomes one of the central tenets of post-apostolic Christianity, the idea that Jesus was a king, but not of this world. Paul blazed the trail, creating the idea of Jesus the Anointed, Jesus the Messiah, Jesus the Christos, and he took the novel tack of identifying Jesus the Christ as only the post-resurrection Jesus. Given this, I think what Matthew here is fighting is the reaction of Jews who wanted to know how the warrior scion of David went so meekly to his death at the hands of the very people the true messiah was supposed to overthrow, leading the reborn Israel to a new Golden Age. Recall that the Christ aspect of Jesus was not a major theme in most of Mark, implying that it was a late addition, probably coming about only after the influence of Paul, indirectly, started to permeate the thought-world of the young proto-church.   This indirect influence was still incomplete when Mark wrote, but was the “orthodoxy”* for Matthew. It’s important to recognize that the idea of the Messiah had to undergo this sort of development, that it was not “baked in” from the start. 

*(“Orthodoxy” in quotes because the word is anachronistic, and would remain so for several decades. My suggestion is that the Valentinian controversy would be the point at which the idea of a generally accepted set of beliefs became itself generally accepted. It was after this that the idea of orthodoxy took hold.)

So Jesus here foreswears, as it were, the idea of being rescued, so that the writings could be fulfilled. Which is our last point. The writings, I believe, are usually taken to mean the Suffering Servant of Deutero-Isaiah, with some references to the Psalms as well (My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?). The point, of course, is to assure everyone that the crucifixion had always and forever been part of The Plan. In turn, The Plan had to be fulfilled, or God’s will would have been thwarted. As such, this is all awfully close to flat-out pagan Fatalism, in which a only a single course of action, with a single outcome, is possible. All is ordained, and has been so since the foundation of the universe. That being said, it should be noted that the idea of Free Will is not terribly well-founded on biblical evidence. Rather, like Original Sin, this was something derived on an as-needed basis by later Church fathers. As such, we should not be surprised to see such sentiments expressed.

We should especially not be surprised to hear such a pagan sentiment spoken (written) by a former pagan. Notice the non-specific nature of this “it is written”. There is no real cross reference, no text cited. Just that it has to be fulfilled. This reminds me of the story of the road to Emmaus as told by Luke. There we are told that the “stranger” explained all the texts in the HS that pointed to the coming of Jesus, but we are never told what these texts might be. And, an admittedly cursory skim of commentaries does not specify what texts Matthew might have in mind here. Meyer refers to texts in Acts and Luke–the road to Emmaus, as it happens. It has generally been conceded that Luke was a pagan; odd, then, that Matthew demonstrates the same sort of attitude, despite the “fact” that Matthew is supposedly Jewish. As always, this is hardly conclusive, but it does constitute another small stone on that side of the scale, I believe. 

I’m not sure if this is the point to talk about Judas or not. My question about him is, if the scripture has to be fulfilled, then Judas is God’s chosen instrument to effect this necessary event. How then can we say Judas is damned? We are put on earth to do God’s will, and this is precisely what Judas did. Yes, it led to the arrest and execution of Jesus, but this was not a bad thing, except for the man Jesus. For the Divine Will, and for the rest of humanity, this was an event of cosmic benefit. How can it be that what Judas did was evil, if this was God’s will?

Of course, that question is unanswerable.

52 Tunc ait illi Iesus: “Converte gladium tuum in locum suum. Omnes enim, qui acceperint gladium, gladio peribunt.

53 An putas quia non possum rogare Patrem meum, et exhibebit mihi modo plus quam duodecim legiones angelorum?

54 Quomodo ergo implebuntur Scripturae quia sic oportet fieri?”.

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About James, brother of Jesus

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

Posted on September 30, 2016, in Chapter 26, gospel commentary, gospels, Matthew's Gospel and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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