Matthew Chapter 28:1-10

We have come to the final chapter of Matthew. It’s short, it deals with the Resurrection. Coming into it, I suspect that the main points of discussion will be the changes from Mark.

1Ὀψὲ δὲ σαββάτων, τῇ ἐπιφωσκούσῃ εἰς μίαν σαββάτων, ἦλθεν Μαριὰμ ἡ Μαγδαληνὴ καὶ ἡ ἄλλη Μαρία θεωρῆσαι τὸν τάφον.

After the Sabbath, at daybreak of the first of the week, came Mary the Magdalene and the other Mary to see the tomb. 

We need to stop at this moment to consider what I believe is a very significant aspect of the text. The fifth word of the sentence, <<ἐπιφωσκούσῃ>>, is a very, very rare word. In fact, in all of NT Greek, and, in fact, in ALL of Greek literature, this word occurs exactly twice. The first time is here. The second time is in Luke 23, which also deals with the death and burial of Jesus. Twice. That’s it. And people are trying to argue that Luke was not aware of Matthew? Where else did he come up with this very, extremely rare word? In fact, had Luke not used it, the usage here would have been unique in the totality of ancient Greek literature. (Can I coin the term “duoesque? No, it doesn’t really work, does it?) That Luke also used the word in approximately the same context cannot be a coincidence, can it? And this is why I’m so incredulous about people not accepting that Luke knew and used Matthew. Not only do stories overlap, but they very frequently repeat the same vocabulary. The best example is the temptation of Jesus. Yes, yes, they both use the vocabulary they both found in Q. But that means that the temptation story was present in a work that only included sayings of Jesus; and there is no way, no how, to stretch Q to include the Passion Narrative. Adding these two stories to Q is basically to stretch the concept of what Q is supposed to be, and turn it into a full-fledged gospel, which is absolutely not the point of Q at all. So it’s like I said, the point of Q, the reason it was created by scholars and is held so tenaciously is that, without it, we have absolutely nothing written about Jesus’ earthly ministry before Mark, a full thirty years later. And we lose the Good Shepherd (more on that in Luke) and the Sermon on the Mount. I can’t help that.

Just one more word on “the other Mary”. We are told she was the mother of James and Joseph. In Mark 6, we are told Jesus has brothers named James and Joses, among others. Who are these two men? Are they Matthew’s equivalent of Alexander and Rufus, members, or forebears of members of Matthew’s community? Is this James the Lesser? Because, at the crucifixion we were told that these two Marys were accompanied by the mother of the sons of Zebedee; as such, James the brother of Joses does not refer to James, the brother of John, the sons of thunder as well as Zebedee. So at the cross we had the mothers of both of the guys named James, but not the mother of Jesus. So who is this “other” Mary? And who are her sons? And why are they mentioned here? My inclination is to take them as members, or forebears of members of Matthew’s community.

1 Sero autem post sabbatum, cum illucesceret in primam sabbati, venit Maria Magdalene et altera Maria videre sepulcrum.

καὶ ἰδοὺ σεισμὸς ἐγένετο μέγας: ἄγγελος γὰρ κυρίου καταβὰς ἐξ οὐρανοῦ καὶ προσελθὼν ἀπεκύλισεν τὸν λίθον καὶ ἐκάθητο ἐπάνω αὐτοῦ.

ἦνδὲ ἡ εἰδέα αὐτοῦ ὡς ἀστραπὴ καὶ τὸ ἔνδυμα αὐτοῦ λευκὸν ὡς χιών.

ἀπὸ δὲ τοῦ φόβου αὐτοῦ ἐσείσθησαν οἱ τηροῦντες καὶ ἐγενήθησανὡς νεκροί.

And behold! There was a great earthquake! For an angel of the lord came down from the sky and coming towards rolled back the stone and sat himself upon it. (3) Indeed, the face of him (was) as lightening, and his garment white as snow. (4) From the fear of him, they shook those guarding and they became as the dead.

This is really interesting. Notice how we jump from the perspective of the women, to that of something like an omniscient narrator who can see all that is happening. This narrator saw the angel come down and roll away the stone, and the narrator saw the reaction of the guards. Remember, in Mark, what we really get is just the women finding the stone rolled away and an empty tomb; or a tomb empty of Jesus, where sits–on the right-hand side, we are told–a young–it is specified–man dressed in white. He was not called an angel. That, apparently, was not sufficient for Matthew, who needed more drama and supernatural occurrences. Recall the holy ones coming out of their tombs when Jesus died. As for the earthquake, the eastern Mediterranean area is prone to earthquakes, although the trouble spot is usually a bit further north, in Turkey. And we had one, again, when Jesus died. This one on Sunday morning could be an aftershock. Or it could be fictitious, the more likely explanation.

I’m trying to remember my HS stories. I know God stopped the sun in the sky so the Israelites could slaughter more of their enemies, and God rained down fire & brimstone on Sodom and Gomorrah and did the whole Ten Plagues thing. I bring this up to compare divine manifestations in the HS with this episode, and then ask if this sort of thing seems more Jewish or pagan. Then the follow-up question is whether there’s a difference. My background, default setting is pagan, because that’s what I’ve studied, so this feels pagan, but I’m not sure there is a real difference. If pushed, I’d say this sounded more Greek than Hebrew myth, but there were Syrian myths, and Lydian and Carian myths, and…& c. So in the final analysis, this is about Matthew inserting the divine into the situation. We are reminded of Jesus’ divinity, just in case we’d forgotten.

This just in. One very familiar part of pagan thought were the divine portents that accompanied the death of Julius and then Augustus Caesar. One that I recall off the top of my head is the eagle seen flying out of the funeral pyre of Julius Caesar. I had thought this was in Suetonius, but it appears I’m mistaken. So while some of the events may have Hebrew origins, perhaps the portents that occurred in conjunction with Jesus death, and his raising do have a pagan feel about them.

2 Et ecce terrae motus factus est magnus: angelus enim Domini descendit de caelo et accedens revolvit lapidem et sedebat super eum.

3 Erat autem aspectus eius sicut fulgur, et vestimentum eius candidum sicut nix.

4 Prae timore autem eius exterriti sunt custodes et facti sunt velut mortui.

ἀποκριθεὶς δὲ ὁ ἄγγελος εἶπεν ταῖς γυναιξίν, Μὴ φοβεῖσθε ὑμεῖς, οἶδα γὰρ ὅτι Ἰησοῦν τὸν ἐσταυρωμένον ζητεῖτε:

οὐκ ἔστιν ὧδε, ἠγέρθη γὰρ καθὼς εἶπεν: δεῦτε ἴδετε τὸν τόπον ὅπου ἔκειτο.

καὶ ταχὺ πορευθεῖσαι εἴπατε τοῖς μαθηταῖς αὐτοῦ ὅτι Ἠγέρθη ἀπὸ τῶν νεκρῶν, καὶ ἰδοὺ προάγει ὑμᾶς εἰς τὴν Γαλιλαίαν, ἐκεῖ αὐτὸν ὄψεσθε: ἰδοὺ εἶπον ὑμῖν.

Answering the herald said to the women, “Do not fear, know that Jesus the one crucified lives. (6) He is not here, he was raised as he said. Come here! you see the place where he lay. (7) And quickly going forth, tell his disciples that ‘I have been raised from the dead’, and look! you go forward to Galilee, where you will see him. Look! I said this to you”.

So we get a great example here of how the story has grown in the time between Mark and Matthew. In the former, yes, Jesus was raised from the dead, but there are no other supernatural events in conjunction with the event. And the man in the tomb was a man. Here, we get much more, complete and replete with earthquakes and an angel*.

I believe it was Ehrman (it might have been Mack?) who suggested that the young man in white presented by Mark was actually one of the junior members of the high priests. They wore garments whitened to an intense degree. He also suggests that the high priests removed his body, and planted the young man to tell the disciples to get out of Dodge and hie themselves back to Galilee. They had two purposes in doing this: the first, to prevent his tomb from becoming a rallying point; the second to get the disciples out of town and back to Galilee where they became Herod’s problem. This has actually struck me as a very good explanation for the events in Mark. Because, there is nothing in any of the other gospels about Jesus being in Galilee port-mortem. And yet, these are the instructions supposedly given to the women to convey to the disciples: get thee to Galilee. That really does seem a bit odd. I suspect the intent was to explain the lack of presence of Jesus’ followers in Judea and Jerusalem. Or something along those lines. Because, as we shall see (Spoiler Alert!) Jesus appears to the disciples in and around Jerusalem. There is no further mention of Galilee. [Update: appears I may be wrong about this…]

This creates a bit of a sticky wicket. Since nothing takes place in Galilee, why has this been left in here? Of course one can say that it’s here because it was in Mark, and there would be some truth to that, but it would not be terribly helpful. The most likely explanation would appear to be a vestige from an earlier, or an alternate, version of the story, perhaps one that originated in the Galilean community. In this vein, let’s notice that these women, who are on their way to the tomb, followed Jesus from Galilee. Does this injunction from the herald of the lord to return to Galilee represent their divine instructions for the founding of the community? That seems plausible, maybe even likely, and it effectively explains the presence of these two elements in the story, and provides a window into how the story was crafted over time. This may be one of the traditions that Mark found, that he incorporated into his mosaic, or tapestry, or whatever unifying metaphor works best.

While this hypothesis may explain some of the pieces, there is one truly serious problem with this whole chain of events and its explanation: there probably was no tomb. As someone crucified, Jesus was probably thrown into a mass grave. I’ve read that in a couple of places, one of them being one of the books of JD Crossan. If there was no tomb, then this story and any alternate versions would have been crafted with the particular perspective of the community that created them, which is why we get the Galilean element. Perhaps we can go deeper into the implications of all this in the chapter summary.

[* Note: I’m reading Xenophon, and there are angels by the score running back and forth between the Greeks and the king. Except they aren’t angels; they are heralds. Here we have another great example of a non-particularly-specific Greek word that has come into English with a very precise and divine meaning. Like dunking. Or baptizing. Remember “Baptizin’ Donuts”? The work in Greek means herald, or messenger, and it was often used of those who negotiated on behalf of another group. In English, the word has come to mean only a messenger from God, and the messenger part is not foremost; it’s a divine creature with a life of its own.] 

5 Respondens autem angelus dixit mulieribus: “ Nolite timere vos! Scio enim quod Iesum, qui crucifixus est, quaeritis.

6 Non est hic: surrexit enim, sicut dixit. Venite, videte locum, ubi positus erat.

7 Et cito euntes dicite discipulis eius: “Surrexit a mortuis et ecce praecedit vos in Galilaeam; ibi eum videbitis”. Ecce dixi vobis ”.

καὶ ἀπελθοῦσαι ταχὺ ἀπὸ τοῦ μνημείου μετὰ φόβου καὶ χαρᾶς μεγάλης ἔδραμον ἀπαγγεῖλαι τοῖς μαθηταῖς αὐτοῦ.

καὶ ἰδοὺ Ἰησοῦς ὑπήντησεν αὐταῖς λέγων, Χαίρετε. αἱ δὲπροσελθοῦσαι ἐκράτησαν αὐτοῦ τοὺς πόδας καὶ προσεκύνησαν αὐτῷ.

10 τότε λέγει αὐταῖς ὁ Ἰησοῦς, Μὴ φοβεῖσθε: ὑπάγετε ἀπαγγείλατε τοῖς ἀδελφοῖς μου ἵνα ἀπέλθωσιν εἰς τὴν Γαλιλαίαν, κἀκεῖ με ὄψονται.

And quickly going out from the tomb with great fear and great joy, they ran to announce to his disciples. And look! Jesus met them, saying, “Greetings. They approaching him, the took hold of his feet and prostrated (themselves before) him. (10) Then Jesus said to  them, “Do not fear. Get up and announce to my brothers in order to go away to Galilee, and there they will see me”.

We are back to the Galilee injunction, and this time it’s Jesus delivering it. The angel wasn’t enough; the word had to come directly from Jesus. This also represents an escalation of the divine element, and the expansion of Jesus’ post-mortem role. These are both excellent examples of the way legends accumulate material as the progress through time. People “remember” things, or think they do, or hear things and interpret–or misunderstand–them as they repeat the anecdotes. Plus, you get into “if it ain’t true, it ought to be”. This is called myth. Everyone loves a good story. No doubt cultural anthropologists, or mythographers, or experts in folklore and oral tradition have a term for this sort of augmentation. But this simple comparison here shows the process in action. It seems a bit absurd how so many biblical scholars will assert–presumably with a straight face; can’t tell from reading what they say–that Luke and John preserve independent traditions. There is some possibility, outside as it may be, that Matthew has some new material that could be traced back to Jesus, and so just might be historical. For Luke and John, however, and really for most of Matthew, anything “new” is a tradition that was created some time after the fact, most of it after Mark.

It occurs to me that the creation of Mark may have been a turning point in the history of what became Christianity. It is very possible that having a coherent account of Jesus’ life–or at least his ministry in Mark’s case; Matthew and Luke would add the biographical details–really helped the movement gain ground among the pagans. Conversion of Jews was probably more or less moribund even by the time of Paul; which would help explain why he devoted himself to the pagans. By the time of the death of James, brother of Jesus, I would expect that the ministry to convert Jews had pretty well ceased operation. The eventual outcome of this would be the ugly anti-Semitism that has marred so much of Christian history. We did not see it in Mark, at least not explicitly. It’s explicit in Matthew.

But back to Mark. Having a written account doubtless helped tell the story to new groups. This would create new members. One of the results of this would be a desire to fill in some of the many gaps in Mark; and there are very many gaps, the most glaring and gaping being the paucity of Jesus’ teachings. So people started to fill in these gaps: a nativity story, fleshing out the temptation story, adding the Sermon on the Mount and a bunch of parables. Luke will take this further. The result of this is that the focusing of the disparate traditions achieved by Mark was now impossible; the traditions splintered and then splintered again, to the point that we get Gospels of Pilate and Peter and Judas. Elaine Pagels treats this topic of continued revelation very nicely in The Gnostic Gospels, describing how what had become the Church had to suppress these new revelations, eventually setting the number of canonical works and shoving the rest into the dustbin of history. So this process started in earnest, I believe, with Matthew. Luke took it to new lengths, adding a whole appendage about Paul. John did much the same, inventing stories and things Jesus said in order to create a treatment more theological than biographical or historical. And after Luke and John there would be dozens of others; we’ve found a number of them in reasonably complete form, and others in small fragments. Most assuredly there were dozens–hundreds?–more that have been lost irretrievably. 

8 Et exeuntes cito de monumento cum timore et magno gaudio cucurrerunt nuntiare discipulis eius.

9 Et ecce Iesus occurrit illis dicens: “Avete”. Illae autem accesserunt et tenuerunt pedes eius et adoraverunt eum.

10 Tunc ait illis Iesus: “Nolite timere; ite, nuntiate fratribus meis, ut eant in Galilaeam et ibi me videbunt”.

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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 December 11, 2016, in Chapter 28, gospel commentary, gospels, Matthew's Gospel, passion story and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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