Matthew Chapter 27:39-54

Jesus has been crucified and is now on the cross. This first section can be called the Mocking of Jesus.

39 Οἱ δὲ παραπορευόμενοι ἐβλασφήμουν αὐτὸν κινοῦντες τὰς κεφαλὰς αὐτῶν

40 καὶ λέγοντες, Ὁ καταλύων τὸν ναὸν καὶ ἐν τρισὶν ἡμέραις οἰκοδομῶν, σῶσον σεαυτόν, εἰ υἱὸς εἶ τοῦ θεοῦ, [καὶ] κατάβηθι ἀπὸ τοῦ σταυροῦ.

41 ὁμοίως καὶ οἱ ἀρχιερεῖς ἐμπαίζοντες μετὰ τῶν γραμματέων καὶ πρεσβυτέρων ἔλεγον,

42 Ἄλλους ἔσωσεν, ἑαυτὸν οὐ δύναται σῶσαι: βασιλεὺς Ἰσραήλ ἐστιν, καταβάτω νῦν ἀπὸ τοῦ σταυροῦ καὶ πιστεύσομεν ἐπ’ αὐτόν.

43 πέποιθεν ἐπὶ τὸν θεόν, ῥυσάσθω νῦν εἰ θέλει αὐτόν: εἶπεν γὰρ ὅτι Θεοῦ εἰμι υἱός.

44 τὸ δ’ αὐτὸ καὶ οἱ λῃσταὶ οἱ συσταυρωθέντες σὺν αὐτῷ ὠνείδιζον αὐτόν.

Those passing-by blasphemed him, shaking their heads (40) and saying, “The one destroying the Temple and in three days building it up, save yourself, if the son of God [and] come down from the cross”. 

quick note: the Greek word that gets transliterated as ‘blaspheme’ mostly has the connotations it does in Greek, but it can mean ‘slander’ or ‘speak ill of another’ The point is that the passers-by would not have thought themselves blaspheming, because they did not consider Jesus to be divine. The evangelist uses the word because he did believe this about Jesus. It’s a matter of perspective.

(41) In the same way the high priests with the scribes and elders mocking him said, (42) “He saved others, himself he is not able to save. The king of Israel he is, let him come down now from the cross and we will believe in him. (43) Persuade upon God, let him (G0d) deliver him (Jesus) if he wishes. For he said that ‘I am the son of God’.” (44) In the same way the thieves, they having been crucified with him threw shade at him.

This is pure drama. Ha-ha, all those people mocking Jesus, but we get the last laugh! And it’s an all-star cast: the ordinary Jews passing by and shaking their heads, the high priests, the scribes, AND the Elders! And note that both thieves mock him, too. It’s not until Luke that one of the brigands repents, and that is worth noting. It is another great example of how a story evolves and changes, generally growing in the telling as additional details, and anecdotes, and even entire characters are added. The Repentant Thief is just such a character and anecdote, but Luke is full of them.

Other than that, I’m not sure there’s much to say about this section.

39 Praetereuntes autem blasphemabant eum moventes capita sua

40 et dicentes: “Qui destruis templum et in triduo illud reaedificas, salva temetipsum; si Filius Dei es, descende de cruce!”.

41 Similiter et principes sacerdotum illudentes cum scribis et senioribus dicebant:

42 “Alios salvos fecit, seipsum non potest salvum facere. Rex Israel est; descendat nunc de cruce, et credemus in eum.

43 Confidit in Deo; liberet nunc, si vult eum. Dixit enim: “Dei Filius sum” ”.

44 Idipsum autem et latrones, qui crucifixi erant cum eo, improperabant ei.

45 Ἀπὸ δὲ ἕκτης ὥρας σκότος ἐγένετο ἐπὶ πᾶσαν τὴν γῆν ἕως ὥρας ἐνάτης.

46 περὶ δὲ τὴν ἐνάτην ὥραν ἀνεβόησεν ὁ Ἰησοῦς φωνῇ μεγάλῃ λέγων, Ηλι ηλι λεμα σαβαχθανι; τοῦτ’ ἔστιν, Θεέ μου θεέ μου, ἱνατί με ἐγκατέλιπες;

47 τινὲς δὲ τῶν ἐκεῖ ἑστηκότων ἀκούσαντες ἔλεγον ὅτι Ἠλίαν φωνεῖ οὗτος.

48 καὶ εὐθέως δραμὼν εἷς ἐξ αὐτῶν καὶ λαβὼν σπόγγον πλήσας τε ὄξους καὶ περιθεὶς καλάμῳ ἐπότιζεν αὐτόν.

49 οἱ δὲ λοιποὶ ἔλεγον, Ἄφες ἴδωμεν εἰ ἔρχεται Ἠλίας σώσων αὐτόν.

50 ὁ δὲ Ἰησοῦς πάλιν κράξας φωνῇ μεγάλῃ ἀφῆκεν τὸ πνεῦμα.

From the sixth hour (noon), darkness became upon the entire until the ninth hour (3 pm). (46) About the ninth hour, Jesus cried out in a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lema sabnachthani?” Which is, “God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (47) Some of those there standing, hearing said that he was calling Elias (Elijah). (48) And immediately running one from them and taking a sponge filled with vinegar/cheap/bad wine and placing it on a reed gave him to drink. (49) The others said, :”Go away, let us see if Elijah comes saving him”. (50) And Jesus once again cried out in a loud voice and gave up the spirit.

The part about the darkness will be saved for a bit later. Other than than, most of the details listed here are very similar to what Mark has; Matthew adds almost nothing that is new. He transliterates the Aramaic a bit differently, the result being that it does sound more like the Romanized form of Elias. We discussed this in relation to Mark; it has to be Hebrew, since the members of the crowd would presumably have understood Aramaic, since that was the common, spoken language. This is a quote from a Psalm. The bit about the wine has always perplexed me; again, was it meant as an anesthetic? And at the end, Jesus gives up the spirit; that is, he exhaled his last breath, so the breath was gone. “Giving up the ghost”catches the idea.

Given the similarity to Mark, I suppose the question is why? Why did Matthew pretty much copy and paste Mark so faithfully? It occurs to me to suggest that the weight of tradition had already come down so hard with Mark’s version of the Passion Story that Matthew felt unable to change it. That is certainly possible, but Luke was under no such constraint. Generally, when one author follows another so closely, it’s because the second one doesn’t have anything new or different to add. Why he didn’t have anything to add is entirely a different question, and one that’s much harder to answer. 

51 Καὶ ἰδοὺ τὸ καταπέτασμα τοῦ ναοῦ ἐσχίσθη ἀπ’ ἄνωθεν ἕως κάτω εἰς δύο, καὶ ἡ γῆ ἐσείσθη, καὶ αἱ πέτραι ἐσχίσθησαν, 52 καὶ τὰ μνημεῖα ἀνεῴχθησαν καὶ πολλὰ σώματα τῶν κεκοιμημένων ἁγίων ἠγέρθησαν, 53 καὶ ἐξελθόντες ἐκ τῶν μνημείων μετὰ τὴν ἔγερσιν αὐτοῦ εἰσῆλθον εἰς τὴν ἁγίαν πόλιν καὶ ἐνεφανίσθησαν πολλοῖς. 54 Ὁ δὲ ἑκατόνταρχος καὶ οἱ μετ’ αὐτοῦ τηροῦντες τὸν Ἰησοῦν ἰδόντες τὸν σεισμὸν καὶ τὰ γενόμενα ἐφοβήθησαν σφόδρα, λέγοντες, Ἀληθῶς θεοῦ υἱὸς ἦν οὗτος.

 And behold, the curtain of the Temple was torn from top to bottom in two (pieces), and the earth was shaken, and the stones were split. (52) And the tombs were opened and many bodies of the holy ones having fallen asleep were raised, (53) and coming out from the tombs after the awaking of him, they can again to the holy place and appeared to many. (54) The leader of a hundred (= centurion) and those with him keeping watch on Jesus seeing the earthquake and the occurrences were greatly frightened, saying, “Truly, the son of God was this man”. 

Above, when we encountered the Praetorium, we found the word transliterated into Greek due to a lack of a corresponding word. Here, the Latin “centurion”, who was a leader of a hundred soldiers, becomes in Greek “a hundred leader”. The term is translated very literally, but it’s not just transliterated as “kenturion”, which was a possible solution.

Now for the important stuff. Let’s start by going back to the darkness from noon till 3:00 pm. That set the stage for the events described here. We have to remember that all of this is happening in darkness. Now, it could be the darkness of a very cloudy day, but that’s not how we would normally take this. There is more ominous sense to the description, more atmospheric, something portentous. And now we get to the payoff: as Jesus dies, the curtain is torn in two, the earth shakes, and stones split. Even more astonishing is that the dead saints come forth, and are seen by many. In sense, the darkness is the opposite pole of the star that appeared at his birth; that was shining and bright; this is gloomy and foreboding, and yet still managing to be life-giving. Of all the events described, the holy ones coming forth from their tombs is unique to Matthew, and it is of a piece with his description of Jesus as a cosmic event. The stars proclaimed him, the sending forth of his spirit (pneuma, not psyche) literally breathes life into the dead. That’s pretty darn cosmic.

In a way, it’s kind of surprising that this detail, the dead walking, does not get more emphasis than it does. It’s rarely discussed; in fact, I was a bit surprised to come across it when I actually read Matthew for the first time in toto. Biblical scholars blather on about how embarrassed the follows of Jesus were by the connexion to John–which is utter nonsense; they were proud of it and played it up–but the real embarrassment seems to reside in this event. And it’s not difficult to see why this is. Paul talked about Jesus as the “first fruits”, the first to conquer death. But not exactly. Yes, there were those who were brought back by Elijah and Jesus, but that was something different. This is the cosmos acting, not God through a human agent who is performing a miracle. These holy ones were, really, the first fruits. The difference between these holy ones and, say, the little girl, or Lazarus, or the widow’s son raised by Elijah (and another by Jesus). The difference is perhaps subtle, but it’s real and it’s significant. Just ponder the situations for a moment if you don’t agree with me. And if you don’t agree after that period to ruminate, that’s fine, too. But then explain why the miracle of Lazarus is so famous, and this one sort of gets swept under the rug. How many famous artists have depicted this scene? A cursory Google search turns up dozens of paintings of Lazarus. Has anyone depicted this scene? I tried to Google it, but without results. Part of the problem is how to enter it into Google. The scene really doesn’t have a name. Anything with “resurrection” in it comes up with Jesus, or the resurrection of the dead on Judgement Day. Hmmm. Judgement Day. There’s an interesting connexion, but I’m not entirely sure what to make of it at the moment.

45 A sexta autem hora tenebrae factae sunt super universam terram usque ad horam nonam.

46 Et circa horam nonam clamavit Iesus voce magna dicens: “Eli, Eli, lema sabacthani?”, hoc est: “ Deus meus, Deus meus, ut quid dereliquisti me? ”.

47 Quidam autem ex illic stantibus audientes dicebant: “Eliam vocat iste”.

48 Et continuo currens unus ex eis acceptam spongiam implevit aceto et imposuit arundini et dabat ei bibere.

49 Ceteri vero dicebant: “Sine, videamus an veniat Elias liberans eum”.

50 Iesus autem iterum clamans voce magna emisit spiritum.

51 Et ecce velum templi scissum est a summo usque deorsum in duas partes, et terra mota est, et petrae scissae sunt;

52 et monumenta aperta sunt, et multa corpora sanctorum, qui dormierant, surrexerunt

53 et exeuntes de monumentis post resurrectionem eius venerunt in sanctam civitatem et apparuerunt multis.

54 Centurio autem et, qui cum eo erant custodientes Iesum, viso terrae motu et his, quae fiebant, timuerunt valde dicentes: “Vere Dei Filius erat iste!”.

 

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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 November 29, 2016, in Chapter 27, gospel commentary, gospels, Matthew's Gospel, passion story and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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