Luke Chapter 19:28-40

That leads us into the story of the triumphal entry into Jerusalem, now referred to as Palm Sunday. There are still five chapters left after this one, so I suppose I’m a bit surprised that it’s come up to this already. But the chapters of Luke tend not to be as long as they are in Matthew, or even some of those in Mark. What does this mean? Not sure. Perhaps nothing. So, since a long introduction to set the scene does not seem necessary, let’s get right on to the

Text

28 Καὶ εἰπὼν ταῦτα ἐπορεύετο ἔμπροσθεν ἀναβαίνων εἰς Ἱεροσόλυμα.

29 Καὶ ἐγένετο ὡς ἤγγισεν εἰς Βηθφαγὴ καὶ Βηθανία[ν] πρὸς τὸ ὄρος τὸ καλούμενον Ἐλαιῶν, ἀπέστειλεν δύο τῶν μαθητῶν

30 λέγων, Ὑπάγετε εἰς τὴν κατέναντι κώμην, ἐν ἧ εἰσπορευόμενοι εὑρήσετε πῶλον δεδεμένον, ἐφ’ ὃν οὐδεὶς πώποτε ἀνθρώπων ἐκάθισεν, καὶ λύσαντες αὐτὸν ἀγάγετε.

31 καὶ ἐάν τις ὑμᾶς ἐρωτᾷ, Διὰ τί λύετε; οὕτως ἐρεῖτε ὅτι Ὁ κύριος αὐτοῦ χρείαν ἔχει.

32 ἀπελθόντες δὲ οἱ ἀπεσταλμένοι εὗρον καθὼς εἶπεν αὐτοῖς.

33 λυόντων δὲ αὐτῶν τὸν πῶλον εἶπαν οἱ κύριοι αὐτοῦ πρὸς αὐτούς, Τί λύετε τὸν πῶλον;

34 οἱ δὲ εἶπαν ὅτι Ὁ κύριος αὐτοῦ χρείαν ἔχει.

And having said these things, they came forward, climbing up to Jerusalem.

 The famous book by Xenophon, in which he describes the progress of the 10,000 Greek mercenaries upcountry to the Black Sea and back to Greece is the Anabasis. Here we have anabaino. Same verb, different tense.

(35) And it happened as they approached Bethpaige and Bethany, towards the mountain called Olives, he sent to of his disciples (30), saying “Go into the neighboring village in which we are entering, (and) you will find a colt tied up, upon which no one of men ever before has sat on, and loosening him lead him. (31) And if someone asks, ‘Why do you loosen (him)?’, answer thus: ‘The Lord has need of him’. (32) And those sent going forth they found (the situation) according to what he had told them. (33) They having loosed the colt, the lord (=owner) of it (the colt) said to them, “Why do you loose the colt?” (34) And they replied, “The lord has need of him.” 

OK. We discussed this at least once before, in conjunction with this story in either Mark or Matthew, or possibly both. The scene is described the way it is to give the reader the impression that Jesus was prescient, that he knew the colt was there because he knew everything. So he could describe the circumstances, could provide direction, and could predict the reaction of the owner of the colt. My suggestion is that Jesus made prior arrangements with the owner of the colt, and “The lord has need of him” was the code, the signal that they were the emissaries of Jesus, and the owner should comply as arranged. Then, once the disciples were asked the leading question, they replied in the prearranged signal and everything was copacetic. I will suggest pretty much the same thing when it comes time to arrange the Seder on Thursday evening.

As for the “colt”. The Greek word is ambiguous. It refers to a young member of the equine family. It could be the offspring of either a horse or a donkey. Of course, Jesus is always portrayed as riding a donkey. The intervening centuries, in which a gentleman is known in France as a chevalier, or in Spain as a caballero, or the group below the Senatorial class in Rome were known as equites, we have a certain snobbery about donkeys. The three words all refer to someone who owns a horse; that is, he has the wealth to maintain at least one horse. For those of you who don’t know, even today horses are very expensive animals to own and maintain. A lot of people in my social class who own horses make work-arrangements at a barn to reduce the cost of boarding the horse. A horse, in short, was a status symbol, even among the Romans. The equites are often referred to in English as knights; this is both accurate and not accurate. Like the equites, knights attained their status as knights by being able to own a horse. In fact, owing a horse was pretty much a sine qua non for being a knight. Given these centuries of snobbery about horse ownership, we see Jesus riding a donkey as a sign of humility. Well, maybe not. Donkeys are much less expensive than horses, and they are much hardier creatures, able to survive on a lower-level regimen of vegetation. They are better suited to stony, hilly terrain; the friars, the peons in Mexico owned burros, which are donkeys. Judea was not a terribly lush or fertile land, and even to own a donkey was a bit of a status symbol. In fact, Saul and David, kings, rode donkeys. That they were fictional underscores the prestige of a donkey. I mean, if you’re making up a glorious monarchy, why have them ride donkeys, and not horses? So the point is, Jesus riding a donkey, riding anything, is an indication of status and not humility. As for the part about never having been ridden, I suspect this adds to the prestige. So Jesus riding on this donkey, never before ridden, did not present an image of a humble individual.

28 Et his dictis, praecedebat ascendens Hierosolymam.

29 Et factum est, cum appropinquasset ad Bethfage et Bethaniam, ad montem, qui vocatur Oliveti, misit duos discipulos 

30 dicens: “Ite in castellum, quod contra est, in quod introeuntes invenietis pullum asinae alligatum, cui nemo umquam hominum sedit; solvite illum et adducite. 

31 Et si quis vos interrogaverit: “Quare solvitis?”, sic dicetis: “Dominus eum necessarium habet’ ”. 

32 Abierunt autem, qui missi erant, et invenerunt, sicut dixit illis. 

33 Solventibus autem illis pullum, dixerunt domini eius ad illos: “Quid solvitis pullum?”. 

34 At illi dixerunt: “Dominus eum necessarium habet”. 

35 καὶ ἤγαγον αὐτὸν πρὸς τὸν Ἰησοῦν, καὶ ἐπιρίψαντες αὐτῶν τὰ ἱμάτια ἐπὶ τὸν πῶλον ἐπεβίβασαν τὸν Ἰησοῦν.

36 πορευομένου δὲ αὐτοῦ ὑπεστρώννυοντὰ ἱμάτια αὐτῶν ἐν τῇ ὁδῷ.

37 Ἐγγίζοντος δὲ αὐτοῦ ἤδη πρὸς τῇ καταβάσει τοῦ Ὄρους τῶν Ἐλαιῶν ἤρξαντοἅπαν τὸ πλῆθος τῶν μαθητῶν χαίροντες αἰνεῖν τὸν θεὸν φωνῇ μεγάλῃ περὶ πασῶν ὧν εἶδον δυνάμεων,

38 λέγοντες, Εὐλογημένος ὁ ἐρχόμενος ὁ βασιλεὺς ἐν ὀνόματι κυρίου: ἐν οὐρανῷ εἰρήνη καὶ δόξα ἐν ὑψίστοις.

39 καί τινες τῶν Φαρισαίων ἀπὸ τοῦ ὄχλου εἶπαν πρὸς αὐτόν, Διδάσκαλε, ἐπιτίμησον τοῖς μαθηταῖς σου.

40 καὶ ἀποκριθεὶς εἶπεν, Λέγω ὑμῖν, ἐὰν οὗτοι σιωπήσουσιν, οἱ λίθοι κράξουσιν. 

And they led him to Jesus. And and casting their outer garments upon the colt, Jesus mounted it. (36) He proceeding forward, they spread their outer garments on the road. (37) He drawing nigh to the descent fro the Mount of Olives, the crowd of his disciples began rejoicing to praise God in a loud voice about which all knew, (38) saying, “Well-spoken of is the king coming in the name of the lord; in the sky (be) peace and glory to (those) the most high”. (39) And some of the Pharisees from the crowd said to him, “Teacher, rebuke your learners.” (40) And answering he said, “I tell you, if they became silent, the stones would shout.” 

Anyone notice anything missing? This is the story of Palm Sunday; so where are the palm branches? Also, the crowd does not shout “Hosanna”. On the whole, however, the three versions of this story that we’ve heard are very close in a lot of details. Matthew had the disciples bringing both a donkey and its (presumably) colt. And Matthew does state that the donkey was a symbol of humility since it was a beast of burden; however, Matthew conveys this to us in the guise of yet another prophecy to be fulfilled. I did some checking, and the quote Matthew delivered in this situation is a mash-up of a quatrain of Isaiah preceding four lines from Zechariah. This latter is very interesting, since these are the lines that contain the reference to the humility of the donkey. Zechariah is one of the last books of the HS; as such, the thoughts expressed about the relative humility of the donkey could have /would have been rather different from attitudes of a few centuries earlier. Riding horses, it turns out, is a fairly recent invention, due to factors that included the size of horses, the difficulty of training them to accept a rider, things like bits, reins, and saddles (note: stirrups appear to have been invented in China sometime in the 4-5th Century CE. They did not reach the west until sometime between the rule of Charles Martel and his grandson, Charlemagne.) Even the Assyrian Empire, the one that ended the independent existence of Israel, did not have a cavalry. The Persians, however, did. When Darius sent an expedition to invade Athens in 490, Herodotus goes to great lengths to describe the horse-transport ships that the Great King constructed especially for the occasion, because the cavalry was an important arm of the Persian army. Before that, an equid being ridden was likely a donkey, or an ass, or an onager, or perhaps a mule, but not a horse. So, back in the day, even kings rode donkeys. As a result, Zechariah, living a few centuries after the onset of cavalry, would have considered riding a donkey a sign of humility. Isaiah, who was pre-Persian Empire, perhaps not. 

The procession itself deserves a few words, even if we’re repeating things said about the previous versions. As with Mark, this procession seems to be composed almost entirely of Jesus’ followers. This was not the adulation of the great mass of the people of Jerusalem that it has come to be viewed. The scene in Jesus Christ Superstar has Simon Zealotes telling Jesus that there must be over 50,000 people “screaming love and more for you”. We really don’t get that impression from the description in any of the gospels we’ve read so far. A procession is, IMO, a far better description. Jesus is surrounded by his followers, who may be numerous, perhaps 100-200 people, but not much beyond that. That would be enough to annoy the Pharisees, but it would hardly constitute a mob. And even the interaction between Jesus and the Pharisee indicates a fairly modest crowd; how else could they have the exchange if the procession was more of a parade with vast numbers of people shouting? Here is an insight I’m reasonably sure you’ve never heard before. First of all, we need to work from the assumption that the whole episode is pure fiction. It was concocted to give credence to the idea that Jesus was killed because of his teaching. The Passion Narrative is great drama; it impressed the hell out of me even as a kid. In both Catholic and Episcopalian (High-ish Church, anyway) worship, the Passion is read on Palm Sunday and, IIRC, on Good Friday. As a kid, I loved hearing the whole thing. And that’s the point: it’s great drama. The proof that Jesus wasn’t killed because of his teaching is given by the fact that James, brother of Jesus, continued to lead the sect for two or three decades after Jesus was killed. Had Jesus been any kind of threat to any of the prevailing powers, James, Peter, and several dozen–or more–other followers would have been rounded up and executed along with him. Tacitus describes the vast number Christians rounded up and executed by Nero as a point of comparison. That didn’t happen with Peter and James, apparently. So anyway, within this made-up episode we have an exchange that would be difficult to pull off even in the circumstances of a crowd of a couple of hundred people. Think about the last time you were in a crowd of that size that is excited and animated. Communication is reduced to shouting. Yes, Jesus and the Pharisee could perhaps have shouted the exchange at each other, but the implausible factors are adding up. The point is that we have here a great display of why the gospels are not to be taken seriously as history. They are not. The exchange is True; it is not factually accurate. All of this is True. It’s Revealed Truth. It is not, and was never meant to be taken as factually accurate.

35 Et duxerunt illum ad Iesum; et iactantes vestimenta sua supra pullum, imposuerunt Iesum. 

36 Eunte autem illo, substernebant vestimenta sua in via. 

37 Et cum appropinquaret iam ad descensum montis Oliveti, coeperunt omnis multitudo discipulorum gaudentes laudare Deum voce magna super omnibus, quas viderant, virtutibus 

38 dicentes: “Benedictus, qui venit rex in nomine Domini! / Pax in caelo, et gloria in excelsis!”.

39 Et quidam pharisaeorum de turbis dixerunt ad illum: “ Magister, increpa discipulos tuos! ”. 

40 Et respondens dixit: “Dico vobis: Si hi tacuerint, lapides clamabunt! “.

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 23, 2019, in Chapter 19, gospel commentary, gospels, Luke's Gospel and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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