A (final?) word about Matthew the Pagan


It appears that I am hardly the first person to suggest that Matthew began  life as a pagan. Apparently there was a school of thought that believed and argued this point back in the 1940s. This is not surprising. I have read some sniffy pieces from biblicists complaining about how Classicists have a tendency to see everything revolving around Greece. And this, in some degree, is what I am doing. In fact, the whole Jesus-as-Jew movement of the last several decades was, doubtless, somewhat in reaction to the Graeco-Roman bias that had existed. Let’s not forget that, for several centuries, an education meant a Classical education. I read once that English schoolboys, on the whole, were more familiar with the characters in Livy (Horatio at the bridge, e.g.) than with their Anglo-Saxon heritage. So the attempts to put Jesus into his Jewish context more or less coincided with the decline in Classical learning that took hold in the 1960s, when “relevant” was the buzzword for eduction.

So, I’m not breaking new ground in suggesting Matthew’s pagan background. Rather, it’s a matter of what goes around, comes around. The great cycle. Honestly, though, I think the over-emphasis on Jesus’ Jewish heritage leaves too many things unexplained. The Baptist was thoroughly Jewish; he was more popular than Jesus; but Western Civilisation became followers of Jesus, not John. Why? I suspect it’s because Jesus’ teaching was more amenable to being absorbed by Greek philosophy, perhaps because it was more steeped in Greek thought than the Baptist’s more simple message of repentance.

No, this isn’t close to the final word on Matthew.

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 January 17, 2017, in Matthew's Gospel, Special topic and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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