Luke Chapter 19:41-48

If I had realized the rest of the chapter was so short, it probably could have been included in the previous section. However, multiple short sections are probably better, less taxing to read and digest, than some of the interminable tomes I’ve tossed into publication. The disadvantage, of course, is a lack of continuity. The story becomes choppy and loses context.

This section is a mash-up of Jesus “predicting” the destruction of Jerusalem and the Cleansing of the Temple. This is all Triple Tradition material that we have covered before. However, fresh insight can always be found, and, if not, some things bear repeating. By now, I should not have to, but I will, repeat that, IMO, both events are fictional.

So let’s be done with it and get on to the

Text

41 Καὶ ὡς ἤγγισεν, ἰδὼν τὴν πόλιν ἔκλαυσεν ἐπ’ αὐτήν,

42 λέγων ὅτι Εἰ ἔγνως ἐν τῇ ἡμέρᾳ ταύτῃ καὶ σὺ τὰ πρὸς εἰρήνην νῦν δὲ ἐκρύβη ἀπὸ ὀφθαλμῶν σου.

43 ὅτι ἥξουσιν ἡμέραι ἐπὶ σὲ καὶ παρεμβαλοῦσιν οἱ ἐχθροί σου χάρακά σοι καὶ περικυκλώσουσίνσε καὶ συνέξουσίν σε πάντοθεν,

44 καὶ ἐδαφιοῦσίν σε καὶ τὰ τέκνα σου ἐν σοί, καὶ οὐκ ἀφήσουσιν λίθον ἐπὶ λίθονἐν σοί, ἀνθ’ ὧν οὐκ ἔγνως τὸν καιρὸν τῆς ἐπισκοπῆς σου.

And as he approached, seeing the city, he wept upon it, (42) saying that “If you knew on that day (what moves) you towards peace, now it is hidden from your eyes. (43) That the days will come upon you and the enemies will surround you with a trench and encircle you and detain you completely, (44) and flatten you and your children like a floor with you, and not a stone one stone will remain, against whom you do not know the season of visitation of you.

Let’s start with an observation. Note that we are told “as he approached…he wept over the city”. This means that he was not yet inside the city. In turn, this means that Jesus did not make an entry into the city, let alone a triumphal one. Rather, he stopped outside, and there he wept. This sort of turns the narrative of the events of the day around, which seriously undercuts the idea that the adulation of the crowd was a major factor in the religious leaders deciding that Jesus needed to be put to death.

Grammatical point about “moving towards peace”: The Greek is a bit unclear; apparently St Jerome thought so, too, since the Vulgate changes things a bit. I chose to render as I did since the preposition, eis, is most commonly used to indicate motion towards a thing or place, and here the thing is peace. The Vulgate clarifies this a bit and goes pretty much the way I went with this. So the ambiguity is clarified, and we can make sense of this. Luke has had more obscure passages like this than any writer since Paul, but with a difference: one got the sense Paul wasn’t sure what he was doing, whereas one does believe that Luke does. Of course, the other possibility is that I know what I’m doing better when in comes to translating. Indeed, I’m nervous about going back to look at those translations of 1 Thessalonians and Galatians, and even Mark that I did seven years ago. I was still very much a neophyte– for the second time; however, it is reassuring to not that progress was possible, and in fact progress occurred. Let that encourage any of you who are trying to do something as ridiculous as learn ancient Greek. It’s possible, and it’s very rewarding. I think of it as a game; rather than spend time doing Soduku or Fortnight, I do Greek and Latin. The difference is that, at the end, I’ve got more understanding of a piece of writing and the history it reveals.

So with those two things out of the way, let’s talk about the actual content. Of course I believe this is a post-facto prophecy. I believe all of the “prophecies” uttered by Jesus were post-facto. This sort of backward-looking prophecy was fairly common in the ancient world. In his Lives of the Twelve Caesars, Suetonius records the alleged signs and prodigies that portended the death of an emperor, or the accession of the successor. In his Antiquities, Josephus* describes the signs and wonders that foretold the destruction of Jerusalem. To be honest, I got this from Eusebios’ Ecclesiastical History, which I have begun reading; technically, I’m re-reading it, but I honestly don’t remember what I’d read. So far, he’s providing a summary of Josephus, as a means of “proving” the factual accuracy of the NT, especially of Acts. So far, this is the only non-Christian source he’s cited, which is very annoying. Of course, we cannot expect non-Christian sources to be concerned with the early development of the Church as it became established as an institution, so it’s hardly a surprise that no one does, but the implications of this lack source material are profound. It means that all we have for the earliest history of the Church are traditions; and this latter term can readily be replaced by the term ‘propaganda’, or ‘foundation myths’. They are horribly unreliable since the fathers of the early Church had every reason to make stuff up to suit their needs.

For example, the Bishop of Rome greatly benefitted from the story that Peter established the ekklesia there, which gave the Bishop of Rome a claim to primacy, one that was based on the maxim, “Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church”. Interestingly, this is found only in Matthew’s gospel. It is not found in Mark, and yet Mark was supposedly Peter’s secretary, who wrote his gospel based on first-hand information from Peter. All this, and yet Mark neglects the single most important justification of Petrine Primacy in the whole history of Christendom? In fact, it’s not only the most important justification, it’s the only justification of Petrine Primacy. So why is this in Matthew, but not in the gospel written by Peter’s right-hand man? This makes no sense. Without the claim, the entire history of the Latin Church, and the history of northern/western Europe would have been radically different. Absent the prestige of the Pope, there may not have been a Latin Church at all. I can suggest a reason why it’s in Matthew and not Mark: the Latin Church decided that Matthew was chronologically the first gospel written, which is why they put it first in the NT. I would suggest that the Bishop of Rome was responsible for inserting that line into Matthew’s gospel. This is perhaps far-fetched, but perhaps it’s not. It’s a question of manuscript traditions, of getting the line into enough traditions that it became the accepted version. This would mean getting it into all of the versions being copied everywhere. Or, it would mean commissioning Matthew from the outset.

All of these possibilities are remote, of course, and I would say the probability of any one of them being factually accurate is small, but not zero. But if you dismiss all of them, one has to explain where that line came from. The simplest explanation, of course, is that Jesus said it and Matthew had a way of knowing this. Of course, if we accept that there was an actual follower of Jesus named Matthew, and that the author of the Gospel of Matthew was the same Matthew, then it’s pretty simple. This exchange took place in the presence of all the followers, and Matthew was a follower, so Matthew heard the exchange. But that brings us back to the question of why Peter did not tell Mark to insert such an important line into the latter’s gospel. That Luke didn’t include it is not really a problem because Luke had no direct access to the event, so he just missed it. Or, there’s the chance that Luke did know, but chose to leave it out. The problem is, none of these is terribly convincing on face value. It comes down to a question of which one is the least unlikely? I find the idea that Mark knew and left it out the most unlikely. As Peter’s assistant & companion, he had almost no motive to leave it out. I find the idea of an interpolation, at the hands of the Bishop of Rome, the least unlikely. The motive is clear; in fact, it’s overwhelming. And it makes the most sense to find it in Matthew since this was considered the first gospel written; Eusebios validates this claim in the 4th Century, after Constantine had converted. In fact, this premise was not seriously challenged until the 18th or even 19th Century. The improbability is based on the difficulty of the logistics of getting this into enough ms traditions; however, much of this could be avoided if the interpolation happened very early, by the end of the 1st Century. The Bishop of Rome could have “flooded” the market with enough texts with the interpolation that it became the standard, accepted version.

 That was a very long digression, but I believe it was a profitable one. But let’s get back to the content. 

As stated when we came across this “prophecy” for the first time in Mark, the purpose is to reassure followers who had experienced either the destruction of Jerusalem, persecution, or both that this was all foreordained and so necessary. There is one big difference between Luke’s version and the other two. Mark talked about the abomination of pagans entering the Temple, and Matthew more or less followed. Luke describes Roman siege tactics. Surrounding a city with a trench and then putting stakes at the bottom was pretty standard. And the walls were certainly flattened; again, standard procedure. The idea was to eliminate a future threat from the rebellious city by demolishing the defensive walls, thereby giving a future Roman army easier access. Jerusalem rebelled again in the 130s; that time the city was razed. When it was rebuilt, it was given a new name. Again, because I am reading Eusebios, something has occurred to me. I’ve read The Jewish War (Penguin Title) by Josephus, but not all of the relevant parts of the much longer Antiquities. (Largely because the latter is very gossipy, with all sorts of descriptions of the inner workings of the Jewish leadership team, from Herod on down. It has a soap-opera quality that becomes tedious. But, that’s just me, perhaps.) Eusebios, however, has read the whole thing. What is interesting is how he uses Josephus to corroborate some of the material of Acts, which was also written by Luke. What if Luke read Josephus, and used the material from the latter as a basis for material in Acts*? And what if he got the details of the Roman siege, here described, however briefly, from Josephus? The historian would have provided the evangelist with details of who the Roman governors were. The shorter Jewish War was completed in 78; the longer Antiquities in the early 90s, supposedly in 93 or 94. If Matthew wrote in the mid-80s, then Luke writing ten years later would have had, or could have had, access to these works of Josephus, so this theory cannot be dismissed out of hand based on chronology. More, I’ve often suspected that any legitimate material on Jesus found in Josephus may have been based on the Christian story. In particular, Josephus tells us that Jesus was executed at the behest of “some of the best men among us” (= leaders of the Jews). I believe one of the Roman historians says something similar. Because the thing is, there were likely no other records, or even any other memory of Jesus outside the stories the Christians told. No one else would have cared much. Even among Christians, the earliest dates for the publication of the separate Passion Narrative that Mark and all the other evangelists incorporated is somewhere in the 50s. IOW, even the Christians, or the Jewish followers of Christ didn’t bother to come up with an explanation for why Jesus was executed. Even more, scholars of the stature of JD Crossan now doubt the existence of a pre-Markan Passion Narrative; this really undercuts the idea that Jesus was killed for his teachings. Paul mentions no reason for the execution; one presumes this is because he didn’t know, or didn’t deem it relevant. The conclusion of all this is that there could easily have been a cross-fertilization of tales about Jesus, and the state of Judea in the First Century between Christians, Josephus, and even the Roman historians. The bad new of this is that, in the final analysis and for the most part, we have exactly one source for much of the story of Jesus, and that would be the gospel of Mark.

*I’ve just read the first viii or x pages of the intro of a book called James, Brother of Jesus, by Robert Eisenman. I had started this book some years ago, but didn’t get very far for reasons I’ve now forgotten. Anyway, Eisenman sort of throws out the connexion between Josephus and Acts as more or less a foregone conclusion. I would have read this part, since it’s very early in the book, so it is entirely possible that the idea of a connexion between Acts & Josephus had been planted, and that the idea germinated and sprouted when I started reading Eusebios. The good news is that I’m not a complete dunderhead for believing in the possibility of such a connexion; others have seen it, too. The bad news is that I cannot claim it as an original insight. But, to be truthful, a lot of what I had thought might be original insights have turned out to be theories put forth by reputable scholars. So my conclusions appear to be, generally, sound.

41 Et ut appropinquavit, videns civitatem flevit super illam 

42 dicens: “Si cognovisses et tu in hac die, quae ad pacem tibi! Nunc autem abscondita sunt ab oculis tuis. 

43 Quia venient dies in te, et circumdabunt te inimici tui vallo et obsidebunt te et coangustabunt te undique 

44 et ad terram prosternent te et filios tuos, qui in te sunt, et non relinquent in te lapidem super lapidem, eo quod non cognoveris tempus visitationis tuae ”.

45 Καὶ εἰσελθὼν εἰς τὸ ἱερὸν ἤρξατο ἐκβάλλειν τοὺς πωλοῦντας,

46 λέγων αὐτοῖς, Γέγραπται, Καὶ ἔσται ὁ οἶκός μου οἶκος προσευχῆς, ὑμεῖς δὲ αὐτὸν ἐποιήσατε σπήλαιον λῃστῶν.

And coming into the Temple, he began to throw out the sellers, (46) saying to them, “It is written, ‘And my house will be (one) of prayer, and you have made it a cave of thieves.

Sorry, have to stop here for two points. First, it is a ‘spelaion of thieves’;  people who go in for cave exploration are called spelunkers. Here is the root of that. And it’s carried over into the Latin as well: speluncam. I just noted that Mark and Matthew both use exactly the same expression. For whatever reason, I never really noticed until this iteration.

Second, and most importantly, note the word that Jesus uses for “thieves”. It is lestōn, genitive plural of lestēs. Somewhere, biblica scholars with an incomplete understanding of Greek started to propagate the idea that the word lestēs was reserved for insurrectionists. I don’t know the origin, but the book Zealot, by Reza Aslan really put this notion into general circulation. Then again, it is also possible that Aslan only picked up on the general thought and I credit (blame, would be more accurate) him for putting this out there because I read it at the beginning of my studies on the NT. It was not so reserved. It was the general term for thief, or even pirate, as we clearly see here. Aslan then extrapolates from this and claims that crucifixion was reserved for traitors and insurrectionists. This is also patently not true. 

Finally, I really prefer “Den of Thieves” as a translation, if only because it has such a poetic ring to it. 

45 Et ingressus in templum, coepit eicere vendentes 

46 dicens illis: “Scriptum est: “Et erit domus mea domus orationis”. Vos autem fecistis illam speluncam latronum”.

47 Καὶ ἦν διδάσκων τὸ καθ’ ἡμέραν ἐν τῷ ἱερῷ. οἱ δὲ ἀρχιερεῖς καὶ οἱ γραμματεῖς ἐζήτουν αὐτὸν ἀπολέσαι καὶ οἱ πρῶτοι τοῦ λαοῦ:

48 καὶ οὐχ εὕρισκον τὸ τί ποιήσωσιν, ὁ λαὸς γὰρ ἅπας ἐξεκρέματο αὐτοῦ ἀκούων. 

And he was teaching each day in the Temple. The high priests and the scribes and the first ones of the people sought to destroy him. (48) And they did not find the thing (= pretext, or cause) to do this, for the whole people were in suspense hearing him.

Before going into the details, let’s make note of one thing. In these last two sections we have crammed the Palm Sunday Procession, the Weeping Over Jerusalem, and the Cleansing of the Temple into about thirteen verses; or, nearly twenty, if we include the part about the colt. That seems like some epic compression. Why? Here I think we have a great example of Luke deciding that the stories had been sufficiently told, and so he didn’t need to tell them again in any detail. So he gives us the bare-bones facts and we go on our way. And here is another example of why Luke was keenly aware of Matthew; since these stories had already been told twice, they need not be gone over again. Compare this with Luke’s treatment of my favorite story, that of the Gerasene Demonaic. Mark tells the story in full; Matthew abridges; Luke restores pretty much the whole thing.

And here we get even more evidence that Jesus was not killed for threatening the economic basis of the Temple. This was the thesis of JD Crossan in Who Killed Jesus. There he argued that it was this episode which galvanized the Temple authorities into having Jesus executed. By driving out the money-changers and the merchants, Crossan says, Jesus was cutting at the profit machine that was the Temple. But then, as in the other two versions, Jesus has this hissy-fit, and immediately goes into the Temple to teach. Not sure about you, but I am of the opinion that the violent outburst would have had Jesus removed from the premises, and not in any gentle way. Think about it: go into any place of business, tip over some tables or display cases, and then see what happens. If you do this in a restaurant, do you think they would then allow you to take a table? And yet, we are supposed to believe that this is what happened here. Mark told us that Jesus waited until the next day to return to preach, whereas Matthew has Jesus go directly into the Temple and start to teach. The former is slightly more credible, but only slightly so. Which means this episode is likely a fiction. Which means the episode cannot be used to explain anything, let alone something with the consequence and moment of Jesus’ execution.

Then we have the notion that the authorities demurred due to some fear of the crowd. And yet, a few days later, the crowd was more than happy to fill the courtyard of the Praetorium and scream for Jesus to be executed. That performance by “the people” badly undercuts, IMO, the notion of “the people” being “in suspense”– that is, hanging on every word of Jesus. All in all, there seems to be little reason to believe that anything in these last two sections has any historical validity.

47 Et erat docens cotidie in templo. Principes autem sacerdotum et scribae et principes plebis quaerebant illum perdere 

48 et non inveniebant quid facerent; omnis enim populus suspensus erat audiens illum.

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 27, 2019, in Chapter 19, gospel commentary, gospels, Luke's Gospel and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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