Monthly Archives: October 2016

Matthew Chapter 27:1-10

There remains this very long chapter, and one shorter one in this gospel. This chapter describes the events of what Christians call Good Friday. The narrative is clear that Jesus died on the day before the Sabbath, so that clearly indicates a Friday. Of course, this assumes that we can trust the narrative. As we shall see, once again, there may be reason to be suspicious. There was less commentary on the previous chapter, and I suspect that will be true for large chunks of this one. Although, one never knows.

1 Πρωΐας δὲ γενομένης συμβούλιον ἔλαβον πάντες οἱ ἀρχιερεῖς καὶ οἱ πρεσβύτεροι τοῦ λαοῦ κατὰ τοῦ Ἰησοῦ ὥστε θανατῶσαι αὐτόν:

2 καὶ δήσαντες αὐτὸν ἀπήγαγον καὶ παρέδωκαν Πιλάτῳ τῷ ἡγεμόνι.

Having become morning, all the high priests took a conference together and the elders of the people upon Jesus in which way to kill him.  (2) And binding him and they handed him to Pilate the Leader.

Once again to point out a fairly glaring internal inconsistency within the story as presented. Last chapter, we were told that the high priests were afraid of the crowd, so they cautioned themselves against arresting Jesus during the Festival. But, here it is, the first full day of Passover, and what are they doing? Deciding, not to arrest him, but how to kill him.

Brief grammatical note: the “to kill” is an aorist infinitive. The aorist is pretty much the standard past tense. In English, the infinitive describes an action that will occur at some point after the time of the narrative. “They discussed how to kill him”. In temporal relation to the discussion, the killing has not occurred. But since the tense of the infinitive is past, it describes an action having occurred prior to the writing. It gets a bit tricky–nigh on impossible–to preserve the full sense of the Greek in such situations. Also, whenever you get to a commentary, and the commentator makes a big deal about explaining the nuance of the aorist, put your skeptical goggles on. The aorist is a standard past tense. I tend not to be terribly impressed with the explanation of why they aorist is so significant. Sometimes it seems that commentators like to toss out the expression “aorist tense” because it sounds so exotic to speakers of post-Latin languages, which includes English since it developed at the same time as the post-Latin languages. The tense worth discussing is the optative, but I believe there are only two of these in the NT. I’m concurrently reading The Anabasis, and the optative crops up all the time. 

“Leader” is the standard Greek word for Leader. Agamemnon is described in several places as the “leader of the Argives”. This signifies that he was the military commander-in-chief, even if not the king of the entire force of the Hellenic-speaking force. It is also appropriate to use the term for “leader of the chorus” at a play, or as a term for The Emperor. The Great Scott indicates that it is used in the NT to refer to the Roman governor. I have to admit ignorance of this. I didn’t get far enough into The Antiquities in Greek to come across the term for Pilate, nor did I read The Jewish War in Greek, so I don’t actually know what Pilate’s title would be in Greek. Shame on me. 

The point, though, is that the term is less than technical. In which case, the question becomes “why use the non-technical term?” There are two reasons, I suppose. The first is that Matthew did not know the term, or that he did not think his audience would know the term. True, there could be literary considerations; perhaps he just liked the sound of the word in this context.  But if either of the first two describe the reality, this throws at least a small monkey-wrench into the machinery of my argument that Matthew was a pagan writing for pagans. Would they not have known the proper title? Perhaps, and I admit that this word cannot be dismissed; rather, it has to be explained if I am to consider my argument credible. One suggestion is that I can never remember if Pilate was the Prefect or the Procurator. The title changed after Pilate, and I can never remember which came first. Matthew may have known that the current title was not accurate, and perhaps he could not remember the previous title, so he fudged with a generic. It’s not like educated children had a civics class in which they discussed the development of the Roman governing apparatus in the Near East. Someone truly educated, like Suetonius or Tacitus or even Josephus would probably have known, but I doubt that any of the evangelists were educated to anything close to that level. The evangelists probably had HS diplomas, but the other writers had Ph.Ds.

1 Mane autem facto, consi lium inierunt omnes princi pes sacerdotum et seniores populi adversus Iesum, ut eum morti traderent.

2 Et vinctum adduxerunt eum et tradiderunt Pilato praesidi.

3 Τότε ἰδὼν Ἰούδας ὁ παραδιδοὺς αὐτὸν ὅτι κατεκρίθη μεταμεληθεὶς ἔστρεψεν τὰ τριάκοντα ἀργύρια τοῖς ἀρχιερεῦσιν καὶ πρεσβυτέροις

4 λέγων, Ημαρτον παραδοὺς αἷμα ἀθῷον. οἱ δὲ εἶπαν, Τί πρὸς ἡμᾶς; σὺ ὄψῃ.

5 καὶ ῥίψας τὰ ἀργύρια εἰς τὸν ναὸν ἀνεχώρησεν, καὶ ἀπελθὼν ἀπήγξατο.

Then Judas the betrayer seeing him that he was condemned, repentant returned the 30 pieces of silver to the high priests and elders, (4) saying, “I sinned giving over innocent blood”. They said, what is it to us? You will see.” (5) And throwing the silver into the Temple, he left, and going away he [did something]. 

Of course, we all know that Judas hanged himself. But the Greek is not really pellucid on that. One NT Greek dictionary says there is no definition available; another translates it as “to strangle” & such, and Strong’s Words agrees with this. Liddell & Scott have nothing, and I looked via a number of different stem changes. The Latin, OTOH, is reasonably clear: laqueo se suspendit. The last two words are pretty much “hanged/hung himself”, and the laqueo is like a snare, so it’s a reference to the noose. So once again St Jerome bails us out.

And while we’re talking about words, there is the ‘innocent blood’. Some manuscript traditions have this reading as ‘just blood’. Here, the ‘just’ is the word that gets translated as “justify” most frequently. Personally, I think that this may be the more accurate reading since it is harder to, well, justify. After all, “innocent blood” is obvious; “just blood”, perhaps not so much. Be that as it may, “innocent” seems to be the more common word. All of my crib translations use “innocent”.

And while we’re on the aorist, note the “I sinned over innocent blood”. The natural way to express this in English is “I have sinned”. All my crib translations translate it this way. Indeed, even the Latin, “peccavi”, is the perfect tense: I have sinned. However, the Greek is an aorist, denoting completed action. Ergo, “I sinned”.

Got to tell this story. One of the British generals was trying to capture the Indian city of Sindh. The Home Office got a telegram from him with a single word. “Peccavi”. IOW, “I have sinned (Sindh).” Love that story, but I’m a Classics geek, so there you go. And there’s the whole imperialist theme there, too, which isn’t something to promote, but sometimes you have to push the envelope a bit.

3 Tunc videns Iudas, qui eum tradidit, quod damnatus esset, paenitentia ductus, rettulit triginta argenteos principibus sacerdotum et senioribus

4 dicens: “Peccavi tradens sanguinem innocentem”. At illi dixerunt: “Quid ad nos? Tu videris!”.

5 Et proiectis argenteis in templo, recessit et abiens laqueo se suspendit.

6 οἱ δὲ ἀρχιερεῖς λαβόντες τὰ ἀργύρια εἶπαν, Οὐκ ἔξεστιν βαλεῖν αὐτὰ εἰς τὸν κορβανᾶν, ἐπεὶ τιμὴ αἵματός ἐστιν.

7 συμβούλιον δὲ λαβόντες ἠγόρασαν ἐξ αὐτῶν τὸν Ἀγρὸν τοῦ Κεραμέως εἰς ταφὴν τοῖς ξένοις.

8 διὸ ἐκλήθη ὁ ἀγρὸς ἐκεῖνος Ἀγρὸς Αἵματος ἕως τῆς σήμερον.

9 τότε ἐπληρώθη τὸ ῥηθὲν διὰ Ἰερεμίου τοῦ προφήτου λέγοντος, Καὶ ἔλαβον τὰ τριάκοντα ἀργύρια, τὴν τιμὴν τοῦ τετιμημένου ὃν ἐτιμήσαντο ἀπὸ υἱῶν Ἰσραήλ,

10 καὶ ἔδωκαν αὐτὰ εἰς τὸν ἀγρὸν τοῦ κεραμέως, καθὰ συνέταξέν μοι κύριος.

The chief priest taking the silver said, “It is not worthy to put this in the Korban, since it is blood honour.” (7) Taking a conference they bought the Field of Potters as a burial for strangers. (8) Because of this the field was called the Blood Field until this day. (9) Then was fulfilled the writing of the prophet Jeremiah saying, “And the took the thirty silvers, the honour of having been honoured, the one they honoured from the sons of Israel. (10) And they gave this to the field of the potters, accordingly the lord arranged to me.”

A bunch of things here. First, we probably should address the translation of Verse 9. This is obviously pretty literal, probably to a fault. The word is << τιμὴ >>, and it’s a really key concept of Greek thought. The problem is, perhaps, that it doesn’t work so well in the context of Hebrew thought. Some form of the word is repeated three times in Verse 9, so I repeated it three times. The base meaning of timē is honour. In particular, it’s the honour due someone, especially to the gods, and to each god. Poseidon felt that Odysseus did not give him proper honour, so Poseidon saw fit to punish Odysseus on his journey home from Troy. In the English versions of this verse, it is rendered as “value”, at least some of the time. Honour and value may have be related in some ways, or may overlap, but they are not the same thing. In English, “value” has too much of a monetary implication that is almost (but not quite) missing from the Greek. The point is that Matthew is trying to shoehorn the words of Jeremiah into a meaning that is not entirely natural.

We’ve run across the term “korban” before, exactly once to be exact. This was in Mark 7:11, when Jesus accuses the Pharisees of not truly honouring their father and mother because they declared their goods “korban”. I didn’t understand the term at all back then, but now I have some inkling, at least. The word is probably usefully rendered as “sacred”; the Pharisees declared their goods to be sacred, dedicated to God, so they weren’t available to be used in support of father and mother. So too, here, the blood money cannot be used for sacred purposes. 

The Field of Potters. The Greek is keramaos, and you should be able to see the word “ceramic” in there. This is backed up by the Latin ‘figulus’, which is a potter. So the field was bought from the pottery section of the city, or probably adjoined this quarter, or was related in some way to the local manufacture of pottery in Jerusalem. This act has given the name “Potter’s Field” to English, meaning a burial place for the indigent. Here, however, it was for foreigners who did not have ancestral ties to the area, so they did not have family burial grounds.

6 Principes autem sacerdotum, acceptis argenteis, dixerunt: “Non licet mittere eos in corbanam, quia pretium sanguinis est”.

7 Consilio autem inito, emerunt ex illis agrum Figuli in sepulturam peregrinorum.

8 Propter hoc vocatus est ager ille ager Sanguinis usque in hodiernum diem.

9 Tunc impletum est quod dictum est per Ieremiam prophetam di centem: “Et acceperunt triginta argenteos, pretium appretiati quem appretiaverunt a filiis Israel,

10 et dederunt eos in agrum Figuli, sicut constituit mihi Dominus”.



Summary Matthew Chapter 26

As I see it, the main issues of this chapter involve credibility and the date. What part, if any, of this story can we believe? When was it written? What are the internal clues for either of these? To some degree, of course, these questions are pertinent for almost any chapter in any part of the NT taken at random. And the answers could almost always be “little to none”, “at least forty years after the fact”, and “maybe a few”. It’s just that, with so few theological or doctrinal issues to be discussed, these questions take on outsized proportions in this chapter. There are a few theological aspects to be considered: the symbolism of Jesus as the Pascal Lamb, the idea that Jesus prayed–fervently-that he not have to die, and the question asked by the high priests if he was the anointed. Let’s start with these; perhaps we’ll find that these aren’t so incidental after all.

The first two are already well-established in Mark. This connexion holds even though John felt it necessary to mess with the timeline so that Jesus died on the Day of Preparation–when the lambs would be killed–rather than on the first full day of Passover, after the Seder had been held. My suspicion is that this connexion can be traced back to Paul, at the very least, if not further. Paul was quite explicit about the sacrifice of Jesus. Perhaps he did not situate Jesus’ death as coincidental with the Passover festival, but from the idea of sacrifice to the idea of the Paschal Lamb is a fairly short step. This also takes us back to the question of whether Paul knew, or whether he thought it irrelevant, but that question will remain barring the discovery of some further evidence of unimpeachable provenance. That John chose to move the crucifixion forward by a day speaks to his theological outlook, and provides even more proof that the evangelists overall, and perhaps John in particular, were more concerned with Eternal Truth than they were with mere factual accuracy. In any case, the connexion between Jesus’ crucifixion and Passover was set at some point after Paul.

But when? And when were the outlines of the Passion Narrative as we have it set? My belief is that the motivation ascribing the role of Prime Movers to the high priests only makes sense after 70. We know that there was a story of Jesus being arrested after dining with his disciples; this is what Paul says, after all. Even if he did receive the story through inspiration–another term for “made it up”–he still put it out there into circulation. As an aside, we always, always have to be very conscious about this aspect of Paul’s writing. After all, he claims that Jesus appeared to him in the same way that he appeared to the others. That is pure inspiration. Paul also had a vision of being taken to the third heaven, so the man was not a stranger to the ecstatic vision, or at least flashes of insight in which the Truth conveyed was so powerful that he took it as True in a way that may have included being factually accurate.

It is, of course, possible that the last layer of causality that pointed out the high priests was added to an existing narrative, but that almost creates more problems than it solves. If not the high priests, then why was Jesus executed? That the question becomes almost impossible to answer in any meaningful way should not be surprising; it is, after all, the question we’ve been grappling with for most of this discussion. But even without historical probability, what did a narrative about the passion give as the reason before the Destruction of the Temple? If a Passion Narrative did exist before Mark, but the blame-the-high priests motive was most appropriate before 70, then what?  Who would have been first atop the list of villains from the perspective of the nascent church?

It’s a serious question, and the answer may have something to do with the “tipping point” that I’ve mentioned any number of times. If the tipping point had come, and if the authorities in the synagogues did engage in some form of systemic harassment of the communities of Jesus as Paul indicates, then it’s entirely possible that Jewish authority figures may have been the ones blamed even before Mark wrote his gospel, and even before the Jewish War. This is a major piece of conjecture, however, and it really deserves a lot of scrutiny before it can even make it to the realm of hypothesis. For the moment, let’s leave it at conjecture until we’ve had time to digest this, and to re-evaluate the preceding narrative in terms of this possibility. Does the narrative support it? Is this, for example, why we have all the stories of Jesus annoying the Pharisees? That would make sense, but we need to go a bit beyond that in our examination.

I don’t want to spend a lot of time on this, but I do want to remind everyone. This chapter contains the story of the woman anointing Jesus’ feet with the expensive unguent. The point is that she is not identified as Mary Magdalene, neither here nor in any of the gospels. In fact, John is the only one to name the woman, and he identifies her as Mary, the sister of Martha and Lazarus, with whom Jesus has several interactions. And yet, despite her anonymity in the synoptic gospels, “everyone knows” that this anointing was done by Mary Magdalene. In the same way, “everyone knows” that she was a prostitute, even though this is nowhere stated. It’s just a great example of the substitution of later tradition for scriptural evidence. This is why it’s so very important to recognize this when we see it. This was the sort of analysis that the Protestants insisted upon, and why they got rid of the idea of Purgatory; it makes sense–why else do we need to pray for the dead?–but there’s nothing in scripture to support it. I do not know whether any Protestant churches identify the woman in this story as Mary Magdalene, or whether she is considered a prostitute in non-Catholic sermons. Or is it the Protestants who consider her a prostitute?

This story of the woman anointing Jesus has one ring of truth to it. As he often is in Mark, Jesus is a bit surly with his followers, and Matthew continues with that. Of course, this assumes that an angry Jesus is a factually-accurate Jesus. The idea is that this is “embarrassing”, because the “authentic” Jesus is the kind, gentle Jesus of the Beatitudes. And honestly, I think there is something to that. Jesus the Wonder-Worker is not necessarily the magnanimous and sweet-natured individual envisioned as the Lamb of God. This is a rare instance in Matthew where that older, less pleasant Jesus with the sharper edges breaks through. Then we should ask why this was retained, since it portrays Jesus in a not-entirely-favourable light. But this could be said about many of the stories that Matthew carries over from Mark. Offhand, the most likely reason that Matthew retained so much, and changed so little is that Mark’s outline and narrative were too firmly entrenched in the tradition to be ignored. Think about it; Matthew belongs to a community, and Matthew has a copy of Mark. Doesn’t this imply that he and his community were pretty familiar with Mark? So when Matthew set about to expand the narrative of Mark with new teachings of Jesus, one has to imagine the difficulty to be encountered by trying to make wholesale changes to what Mark said. Additions would be fine, and even expected; why else does one write a new gospel? But alterations that transform the previous narrative too much would likely cause a bit too much discomfort among the community.

The other issue is Judas. Did he exist? I tend to suspect not, and largely for the reasons I doubt the existence of the Twelve in Jesus’ lifetime: aside from Peter, James, John, and possibly Andrew, they do not figure at all in the narrative of the gospels. Any gospels. Andrew has a cameo when he is called, and the others are nonexistent except for when they are sent out, an activity that is highly dubious. And so with Judas: he is named when the others are, then he disappears completely until called upon to betray Jesus. That’s it. This sort of episodic appearance isn’t conducive to establishing historical credibility; rather, it makes him appear to be much more of a literary convention than anything. And too, Paul says that the words of the Last Supper were spoken on the night before Jesus was arrested, not on the night before he was betrayed, as many forms of the Consecration (Catholic and Episcopalian, at least) say. Again, Paul’s words do not conclusively prove anything, but they support the contention that the theme of Judas-as-betrayer may have, and probably did, come into being after Paul.

There is one other bit about the story of Judas and the high priests. At several points in the narrative, the high priests say that they must not act against Jesus for fear of the crowd. And the same caveat was given about John, that Herod was afraid of the crowd’s reaction if John were arrested. And with Jesus, the priests specifically warn themselves that they must not act during the festival. But that is precisely when they acted, and according to the story, not only did the crowd not protest, but they shouted for Jesus’ death. So there was no rioting. Nor was there any when John was executed. Josephus tells us that there was a certain level of schadenfreude among the populace when Herod was defeated in battle, the populace seeing this as something Herod brought upon himself because he killed John, but there were no disturbances. The implication is that, once again, this represents a literary convention rather than something historically accurate.

Finally, there is the role of Judas and its theological implications. In The Inferno, Judas sits in the bottom-most circle of Hell, along with Brutus, the assassin of Julius Caesar, and Satan himself. But what would have happened if Judas, of his free will, had chosen not to betray Jesus? Would the Divine Plan have fulfilled itself? No doubt, the immediate reaction is “of course”. God’s Will is not to be thwarted. But the implication of this is that Judas was not a necessary agent if it could have happened without him. If that is true, then why was Judas damned? This gets into all sorts of sticky wickets about Predestination & c. I don’t propose to go into that again. But the question, IMO, is valid, and carries a lot of theological consequences. We’ll leave it at that.

Matthew Chapter 26:59-68

This very long chapter concludes. We left Jesus in the hands of sinners, being taken to Caiaphas.

59 οἱ δὲ ἀρχιερεῖς καὶ τὸ συνέδριον ὅλον ἐζήτουν ψευδομαρτυρίαν κατὰ τοῦ Ἰησοῦ ὅπως αὐτὸν θανατώσωσιν,

60 καὶ οὐχ εὗρον πολλῶν προσελθόντων ψευδομαρτύρων. ὕστερον δὲ προσελθόντες δύο

61 εἶπαν, Οὗτος ἔφη, Δύναμαι καταλῦσαι τὸν ναὸν τοῦ θεοῦ καὶ διὰ τριῶν ἡμερῶν οἰκοδομῆσαι.

The high priest and the whole Sanhedrin sought false witness against Jesus in such manner as they were able to put him to death, (60) and they did not find many coming forward bearing false witness. Finally coming forward two (61) said, “He said, ‘I am able to destroy the Temple of God and through three days to build it’.”

First of all, I’ve read a number of not terribly consistent accounts of this “trial”. Some have stated that it could not have happened; for some reason or another, having this trial at night would have contravened some aspect of Jewish law. I am not competent to comment on that. Others, however, have focused on the kangaroo court aspect, that we are immediately told that they wanted false testimony–perjury. The implication is that there was no legitimate foundation for Jesus’ execution.

And certainly we have to ask if this whole affair ever did occur. Josephus seems to believe it did, for he says something about the leading men among us putting Jesus to death. Maybe. The thing is, even if he did actually say that, and it wasn’t interpolated by Christian copyists, he was writing in the 90s. By that point the Christian story had pretty well been finalized; it had acquired its outlines and taken on the certainty of doctrine. It was the story everyone told, and the story everyone believed. By the sheer weight of repetition it became accepted as accurate. So any reference to the Passion story after a certain point cannot be taken as independent evidence, but is rather a demonstration of the tradition that had become accepted. I would suggest that this point is at least as early as Matthew, and possibly even before that. As a postlude, apparently there exists a Jewish tradition from the 2/3 Century claiming that the Council here spent three days looking for people to bear witness in favour of Jesus. This is a great example of something that is dependent on the tradition–factual or not–of the story presented here in the gospels. The gospel narrative has been swallowed and digested and become the accepted story. Jewish thinkers, whom I would guess were under mounting pressure as Christians multiplied while they remained more or less static, rather defensively came up with their own tradition that they had tried to exonerate Jesus. That they failed was due to lack of people willing to speak for him rather than to their overwhelming desire to railroad Jesus into execution. This is a great example how even a false account can spur its own corroborations at a later time.

Some, or even much, of this question depends on whether one believes that the Temple authorities really wanted Jesus dead, and whether they were willing to go to the lengths described to see that he got there. The only evidence we have for this is contained in the gospels; as such, the entire case for this rests on whether one believes that the story presented in the gospels makes sense on its own terms. That is, is the story internally consistent? No surprise, but I do not believe it is. The story presented tries to tie together a number of separate power groups into a single, malevolent whole, and I don’t believe that the case makes sense on these terms. For example, we have the Herodians plotting with the Scribes and/or Pharisees against Jesus earlier, but when Jesus is sent to Herod, the latter seems more amused than angry or frightened.

The point here, of course, is to emphasize the need for false testimony. Of course Jesus was blameless, so it could only be by way of perjury that any sort of charges could be made to stick, or even to seem plausible. Then too, the need to trump up some sort of charge is back-handed evidence that the trial simply didn’t take place at all; or, at least, it didn’t take place in front of the Sanhedrin. Why were there no charges? Because no such trial ever took place. Of course it’s possible that the trial did take place and the gospel writers simply don’t want to provide the real reason for Jesus’ arrest and execution; however, given Paul’s attitude towards the reason for the crucifixion, I find this less than convincing. Paul not only neglects to tell us; he also demonstrates a complete lack of interest in the reason, at least the earthly reason. It’s all about the expiation and/or the sacrifice.

There are two possibilities: either Paul knew, or did not know what the charge was. If he did not know, I would suggest it’s because the charge was trivial. This does not indicate the threat of revolution, or of overturning the Jewish authorities. Those are not trivial charges, and would have been readily remembered. Then, there’s the possibility that Paul knew and chose not to tell us. Why not? Because the charge was embarrassing, and a trivial charge as suggested above could very easily be seen as embarrassing. So if you follow the logic of the binary choices, Knew/~Knew; Significant/Trivial, most of the branches lead to a reason that was trivial or irrelevant, or at least deemed so by Paul. Based on this, an elaborate trial of the nature shown here, is highly unlikely.

59 Principes autem sacerdotum et omne concilium quaerebant falsum testimonium contra Iesum, ut eum morti traderent,

60 et non invenerunt, cum multi falsi testes accessissent. Novissime autem venientes duo

61 dixerunt: “Hic dixit: ‘Possum destruere templum Dei et post triduum aedificare illud’.”

62 καὶ ἀναστὰς ὁ ἀρχιερεὺς εἶπεν αὐτῷ, Οὐδὲν ἀποκρίνῃ; τί οὗτοί σου καταμαρτυροῦσιν;

63 ὁ δὲ Ἰησοῦς ἐσιώπα. καὶ ὁ ἀρχιερεὺς εἶπεν αὐτῷ, Ἐξορκίζω σε κατὰ τοῦ θεοῦ τοῦ ζῶντος ἵνα ἡμῖν εἴπῃς εἰ σὺ εἶ ὁ Χριστὸς ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ θεοῦ.

64 λέγει αὐτῷ ὁ Ἰησοῦς, Σὺ εἶπας: πλὴν λέγω ὑμῖν, ἀπ’ἄρτι ὄψεσθε τὸν υἱὸν τοῦ ἀνθρώπου καθήμενον ἐκ δεξιῶν τῆς δυνάμεως καὶ ἐρχόμενον ἐπὶ τῶν νεφελῶν τοῦ οὐρανοῦ.

And standing up, the high priest said to him, “Do you not answer? To what they testify against you?” (63) But Jesus was silent. And the high priest said to him, “I charge you under oath, according to the living God in order that you should tell us if you are the the anointed, the son of God”. (64) Said to him Jesus, “You say it, except I say to you, from just now you will see the son of man seated at the right of the power and coming upon the clouds of the sky”.

“I charge you under oath” often gets translated as “I adjure you”. The thing is, “ad-jure” means to put under law, as in taking an oath under penalty of perjury. And the Latin in this case is a pretty good one-to-one translation of the Greek. Both have the sense of a legal action, with perjury as the result for not speaking the truth. In English usage, this legal aspect has been blunted, or even lost. I had a Classics prof say, “I adjure you…” before giving me advice. He wasn’t making me swear; he was urging me strongly. So I put back the legal sense of the word. It fits the setting of a trial, even if the trial only occurred in the land of make-believe.

The other thing is the time aspect of “from just now”. The Greek is a combination of a preposition (apo) and a word meaning “just now”. The NT lexicon gives this <<ἀπ’ἄρτι>> construction the meaning of “presently”, or “henceforth”, the implication being that it will happen at some point. “From just now”, technically, carries that meaning. At some point from this moment forward; that rather sums it up without being too liberal with the exact meaning of the Greek.

Oddly, Matthew tones down what Mark has Jesus say about being the anointed. In Mark, Jesus flatly says “I am” when asked if he’s the messiah. Matthew waffles with the “you say it” construction. This less-definitive attitude by Matthew is interesting, given that he has been more insistent on Jesus’ identity as the anointed right from the start. Other than that we notice that Jesus refers to himself as the son of man; hardly unusual, even for Matthew. The point to remark is that the chief priests automatically take this to mean that Jesus is talking about himself. I believe it’s Erhman (or Mack) who claims that “son of man” is a vernacular for “yours truly”. The way it’s used here that would seem to be plausible if this scene had ever truly been carried out in reality. But it’s not reality. That anyone would have had knowledge of what was said in this trial is beyond belief. So it’s a fictional account, even if  it were (which I doubt) based on a true story. 

62 Et surgens princeps sacerdotum ait illi: “Nihil respondes? Quid isti adversum te testificantur?”.

63 Iesus autem tacebat. Et princeps sacerdotum ait illi: “Adiuro te per Deum vivum, ut dicas nobis, si tu es Christus Filius Dei”.

64 Dicit illi Iesus: “Tu dixisti. Verumtamen dico vobis: Amodo videbitis Filium hominis sedentem a dextris Virtutis et venientem in nubibus caeli”.

65 τότε ὁ ἀρχιερεὺς διέρρηξεν τὰ ἱμάτια αὐτοῦ λέγων, Ἐβλασφήμησεν: τί ἔτι χρείαν ἔχομεν μαρτύρων; ἴδε νῦν ἠκούσατε τὴν βλασφημίαν:

66 τί ὑμῖν δοκεῖ; οἱ δὲ ἀποκριθέντες εἶπαν, Ἔνοχος θανάτου ἐστίν.

67 Τότε ἐνέπτυσαν εἰς τὸ πρόσωπον αὐτοῦ καὶ ἐκολάφισαν αὐτόν, οἱ δὲ ἐράπισαν

68 λέγοντες, Προφήτευσον ἡμῖν, Χριστέ, τίς ἐστιν ὁπαίσας σε;

Then the chief priest tore his garment, saying, “He blasphemed! What yet need have we of witnesses? Behold, now you heard the blasphemy! (66) “How does it seem to you?” The chief priests said, “It is sufficient of death.” (67) Then they spat on his face and struck him, the ones striking saying, “Prophesy to us, Christ, who is it striking you?”   

I’ve mentioned–more than once, IIRC–that Josephus tells us that the Romans allowed the Temple authorities to execute anyone who violated the space of the Holy of Holies in the Temple. I suppose this would be on a par with that? Is that why it’s worthy of death? This is what I mean about internal consistency of the story; it seems to be lacking to some (large) degree. Things don’t quite fit, don’t connect, don’t work together. This offense is worthy of death, and yet they have to go convince the Romans to perform the execution, even though Josephus says they actually had the authority to do it themselves. It’s tempting to mention Josephus’ story of the killing of James, brother of Jesus, who was…stoned? Or thrown off the cliff? Something like that, and for religious reasons. However, there is a lot of contention about whether that story is authentic, or a later Christian interpolation. Regardless, the point remains that certain significant elements of the story do not hang together very well. 

The last two verses are especially peculiar. They just simply don’t seem to fit at all. We are told in one of the gospel accounts that this sort of behaviour was the work of soldiers, but here it seems to imply that it’s the chief priests, or members of the Sanhedrin that are doing the spitting and the striking? Does that make sense? Perhaps it does. 

65 Tunc princeps sacerdotum scidit vestimenta sua dicens: “ Blasphemavit! Quid adhuc egemus testibus? Ecce nunc audistis blasphemiam.

66 Quid vobis videtur? ”. Illi autem respondentes dixerunt: “ Reus est mortis! ”.

67 Tunc exspuerunt in faciem eius et colaphis eum ceciderunt; alii autem palmas in faciem ei dederunt

68 dicentes: “ Prophetiza nobis, Christe: Quis est, qui te percussit?”.

Matthew Chapter 26:55-58

This section is very short, because it comes directly before the questioning of Jesus by the Council. That section is long enough on its own; adding this to it would make it impossible. So we have one that’s a bit of a filler and little more.

55 Ἐν ἐκείνῃ τῇ ὥρᾳ εἶπεν ὁ Ἰησοῦς τοῖς ὄχλοις, Ὡς ἐπὶ λῃστὴν ἐξήλθατε μετὰ μαχαιρῶν καὶ ξύλων συλλαβεῖν με; καθ’ ἡμέραν ἐν τῷ ἱερῷ ἐκαθεζόμην διδάσκων καὶ οὐκ ἐκρατήσατέ με.

In that hour Jesus said to the crowd, “How as a thief have you come with swords and clubs to capture me? Each day in the Temple I sat teaching and you did not arrest me”. 

I have to stop for a comment about a particular word, the one I translated as “thief”. Perhaps “robber” would have been better, but it doesn’t matter. Reza Aslan in Zealot has argued, very unpersuasively, that we are to see this word as the equivalent of something like revolutionary. Or insurrectionist. His point is that the Romans only crucified rebels, and since Jesus was crucified, he was a zealot–or Zealot–intent on raising a rebellion against Rome. This is all fine and good, and had the book been allowed to come and go as it should have–very quietly and without much notice, largely because it didn’t particularly deserve any–there would have been no problem. Unfortunately, the FOX News people got ahold of it, taking umbrage that a Muslim should have the temerity to write a book on Jesus. This caused an uproar, and the book lodged in the popular imagination. This is a pity.

Having studied First Century Rome in some detail, I was very surprised to see him suggest that crucifixion was reserved for rebels. It was used on rebels, Spartacus and a few thousand of his henchmen being a perfect example; however, I have never, ever encountered any suggestion in any Roman source that crucifixion was the sole prerogative of rebels. The Romans were much more equal opportunity than that; they crucified people without regard for race, colour, creed, national origin, or offense. This being the case, the attempt to classify this word as having connotations of revolutionary fall rather flat. In fact, this word is more usually used to refer to pirates than to rebels. Nor does the Latin support the case. It’s the word used for the bandits in The Golden Ass. Aslan does make an attempt to argue that bandits were somehow the equivalent of revolutionaries, in that both disturb the peace, but this connexion is weak in the extreme.

As such, among scholars, the book would have died a natural death, mostly ignored. This would be due in part to the fact that he made no attempt to prove this connexion with actual evidence from sources, showing that it was indeed used in this sense. Plus the book has no footnotes, so the combination of these two means that there is no basis for assessing his argument on why he believes this was true. This is the functional equivalent of not having an argument, which he doesn’t.  

Unfortunately, the damage has been done, and an association of crucifixion with rebels has lodged itself in the popular mind. I was on a FaceBook group arguing for the existence of Jesus as a man, and someone brought up the point that only rebels were crucified. More’s the pity. So the next time you hear anyone saying this about crucifixion, tell them that this is completely and categorically incorrect. If they don’t believe you, refer them to me.

55 In illa hora dixit Iesus turbis: “Tamquam ad latronem existis cum gladiis et fustibus comprehendere me? Cotidie sedebam docens in templo, et non me tenuistis”.

56 τοῦτο δὲ ὅλον γέγονεν ἵνα πληρωθῶσιν αἱ γραφαὶ τῶν προφητῶν. Τότε οἱ μαθηταὶ πάντες ἀφέντες αὐτὸν ἔφυγον.

57 Οἱ δὲ κρατήσαντες τὸν Ἰησοῦν ἀπήγαγον πρὸς Καϊάφαν τὸν ἀρχιερέα, ὅπου οἱ γραμματεῖς καὶ οἱ πρεσβύτεροι συνήχθησαν.

58 ὁ δὲ Πέτρος ἠκολούθει αὐτῷ ἀπὸ μακρόθεν ἕως τῆς αὐλῆς τοῦ ἀρχιερέως, καὶ εἰσελθὼν ἔσω ἐκάθητο μετὰ τῶν ὑπηρετῶν ἰδεῖν τὸ τέλος.

“This has all come to be in order that the scriptures be fulfilled.” Then leaving him, all his disciples fled. (57) Those having overpowered Jesus led him to Caiaphas the high priest, where the Scribes and the elders were gathered. (58) And Peter followed him from a distance until the courtyard of the high priest, and going in he say with those serving to see the end. 

I suppose the main point here is that Jesus once again says that this all must happen so that the scriptures can be fulfilled. Once again, no references or citations to specific writings are made. Why not? This led to centuries of Christian scholars scouring the HS looking for connexions, or any sort of vague allusions that could be interpreted so that the possibly referred to Jesus. As mentioned above, the best match was the Suffering Servant of Deutero-Isaiah.

Regardless, it is important to recognize that this insistence on a scriptural prophecy, or a scriptural basis for the execution serves two purposes. First and most obviously, it’s an assurance that the universe is unfolding as it should, so there is no need or reason to be concerned that the Messiah, the Christ was crucified like a common criminal. It is all part of The Plan. There is another aspect to this, however, one that gets lost to us moderns. In the days of Jesus, novelty was not a good thing, especially if the topic was wisdom. In Latin, the term for revolution is res novae, literally “new things”. If you wanted to be taken seriously, especially when it came to religion, you wanted to be old, or even ancient. The Egyptians garnered no end of respect because of the generally acknowledged age of their civilisation. It was the acknowledged (if slightly fudged, or overstated by five or six centuries) antiquity of Judaism that led so many pagans to become “God-fearers”, acolytes of a synagogue where they learned about the ancient wisdom of Moses and Solomon. 

This, IMO, is one of the best arguments that Jesus actually lived. If I were alive in the First Century and wanted to create a new religion, I would most assuredly not invent a founder who had died a decade or two before; rather, I would have claimed to have found wisdom scrolls that were a thousand years old. That would have given them much more credibility, more gravitas, as the Romans called it, more substance and the density that comes with venerable tradition. Of course, this argument is lost on most moderns; the times I’ve used it, my interlocutors have dismissed it out of hand as unimportant. Au contraire! It matters. A lot. So by claiming–without evidence–the scriptural basis of Jesus, from works (supposedly*) written many centuries earlier, Matthew is giving Jesus a respectable pedigree. He is saying that Jesus is the culmination of a thousand years of writings, of predictions and prophecy. He is giving Jesus substance, gravitas.

As mentioned, Luke carries on this tradition with the road to Emmaus. It would be interesting to look back at Mark to see how forcefully he stresses this ancient connexion to a group that had just rebelled against Rome. Mark had reason and incentive to play down the association; by Matthew’s time, this need to dissociate from Jews had passed; plenty of people still remembered it, but plenty more didn’t. Its relevance had faded.

Oh, and let’s not forget that we’ve left Peter in the courtyard of the high priest’s house.

56 Hoc autem totum factum est, ut implerentur scripturae Prophetarum. Tunc discipuli omnes, relicto eo, fugerunt.

57 Illi autem tenentes Iesum duxerunt ad Caipham principem sacerdotum, ubi scribae et seniores convenerant.

58 Petrus autem sequebatur eum a longe usque in aulam principis sacerdotum; et ingressus intro sede bat cum ministris, ut videret finem.